All of us love our games (I assume you do too, and that is why you are here) and most of us want exciting new games to come along. We want them fun, we want them nuanced, we want them polised. Oh, and we want them right damn now. Why does it take so long to develop a game anyway? While I suspect that most of us have ideas why games take so long, I think that most of us don’t really think about some realities that govern whether a game is polished (seemingly a large yardstick for measuring the success of a game), fun, and attractive to us. I don’t think most of us have any idea of the scope of these games or the resources required to develop or operate and manage them.
During AGDC this week during 2 separate events Blizzard Entertainment shared what they think makes them unique in this regard.
The first, a Gamasutra interview with Blizzard lead content designer Kevin Martens is relatively simple: Iteration. Taking something and playing and testing it over and over. Tweaking it and playing and testing it over and over again. I suspect that many of us would expect that this is the essence of “polish”. How can something be polished without lots of testing and lots of adjustments from what you found while testing? Of course all of this iteration costs money, so that excludes some studios who may be operating on a shoestring or are under time-pressure to release a game. It’s also clear that this is why Blizzard takes so bloodly long to get anything out.
Hi everyone. Genda asked me to take a few moments and post some thoughts on the end of the world as we know it. No, I’m no a preacher with a wooden sign over my shoulders screaming about Armageddon. No, I’m not talking about people paying 5 grand to watch Kobe Bryant talk at Michael Jackson’s Memorial (And really, Kobe? why?). And no, I’m not talking about Star Wars The Old Republic’s release date (which we all know we’ll be clamoring for).
No, I’m here to talk about The Cataclysm. Not “A” Cataclysm. THE Cataclysm.
The cataclysm is the Greek expression for the Deluge, from the Greek kataklysmos, to ‘wash down’ (kluzen “wash” + kata “down”)* – Source Wikipedia.com
This past week, Blizzard decided to file for copyrights to the name regarding computer games, paper based products, and, lo and behold, online entertainment services. COUGH wow COUGH. Everyone knows with Blizzard you take it as it comes. Some people have already looked at this as the name of their next Generic MMO, rumored to be working on the Xbox. Others have seen it as something to do with Daiblo III or potentially Starcraft II.
One smart guy though saw this… and said, oh wait…
Swirls for the win... or complete wipe-out
Yup, that’s the center of the map from your friendly neighborhood WOW MMO. It’s been like that since pretty much day one. Speculating that this is truly the name of the next WOW expansion, and taking into consideration some facts about WOW Lore, here’s the short run down.
So you have been plodding along playing WoW. You’re over the group that you have been playing with or your guild disintegrates. One of your friends (or a blog writer) convinces you to restart on another server and on the opposite faction. You level that character up, all the way to max or near-max level. You fall in love with the new class you are playing. Then that deal falls apart too.
You get talked into going back to your original faction, but you miss your high-level (insert class here.) Oh, that character also has a few thousand gold. What do you do?
Fret not my friends. Blizzard has sensed your malaise and has offered a solution. According to an article on WoW.com Blizzard will soon be offering a new Faction Switching Service, for a reasonable fee I’m sure, that will allow you to turn your gnome into an Orc or your Tauren into a Space Goat. This wow.com article was derived from this post on the WoW forums, which now has over a hundred pages of responses. People definitely have an opinion on this service.
I opined earlier that a lot of the catering to the user base is bad for the game. I’ve reconsidered. Exploiting a title for all it’s worth is management’s job. So in spite of all the altruistic qualities we gamers would like to see our fearless leaders espouse, at the end of the day they report to their stakeholders. How well they deliver what we want is what is going to drive the revenue to satisfy those stakeholders, so it’s a blade’s edge they walk. This is something at which Blizzard has become expert.
As soon as I brought this up in guild chat, people started thinking and every one of our core players mentioned not one but two high or max-level characters that they would bring over to the guild from the other faction. Myself, I have a Lock and a DK over on Rexxar that I wouldn’t mind playing more. I loved my DK but I haven’t had time to start leveling a new one over on Jaedenar where I play now.
So WoW it coming up on another major sub-version upgrade to 3.2 soon. At the same time that there are critics about what the patch will or won’t contain there is a growing sentiment in the blog community that the thing is just getting old and tired. Some of this is fueled, I believe, by one of the most influential bloggers out there (Tobold) giving WoW a rest. Cries of ONOES! were heard.
I say that the news of WoW’s demise has been greatly exaggerated.
As has been written here, I’m playing Star Wars: Galaxies again. It’s made me think about decisions that we make as gamers and that game companies make as designers/producers. Here’s what this has brought to the forefront for me;
– Fun – is king. If a game has problems (and all of them do to some degree) we are willing to overlook them as long as we are still having fun. What makes a game fun? That’s different for everyone but for me it’s having something to DO.
For example, I’m currently working on making my crafting characters able to make useful or fun items for myself and others. To do that I need a lot of resources. I know this, so I am in my active gathering mode. I know I need this or that, so I go to gather it. I’m stockpiling at the moment, so I haven’t actually progressed the target character that much, but when I next sit down to craft I’ll have what I need to knock out several levels. For me this is fun.
I need help. This week, I actually considered the Station Pass. Here was my logic. I’m kind of in my mid-30’s doldrums with my EQ2 character. This is typical for me. I get to a place where everything isn’t brand new or totally epic and it feels like grinding. This passes, but while I’m in that place I like to let my character work on rested experience. So he’s doing that right now. Tarkheena has seen this before, and I think she recognizes it because she’s been reeeealy patient with me. So I thought; “Maybe if we had the Station Pass, we could play EQ, and SWG, and PotBS, and Matrix, and…” then I realized that was a list of games I either don’t want to play, or play any more.
That got me to thinking; “Why is it that we get to this place? ” I know I’m not the only one. In EQ, it was the dreaded hell levels (GOD! Not 29-30! Ack!). In most games, there is a place in the middle that the designers just don’t know how to keep fun. Gone is the discovery and development of your character of the early stages. Way out in the distance is really interesting raid content and the like. What can they do about it?
As I see the different games that are coming out and listen to the continuing debate as to whether or not PC gaming is dead, Something keeps ringing in my ears. “Monetization” “Risk” “Expensive” and the now-infamous “You can’t make an MMO for half a billion dollars and guarantee that it will compete with WoW.”
It’s time for the consolidation of all the smaller studios into large publishing houses to stop. It’s time for smaller studios to say no to the short-term monetary win and make games for the sake of games, knowing that if it’s good the money will follow. It’s time for the game design process to self-correct.
Here is the major thing that I see as a problem. PC gaming isn’t dead, but today’s development houses are TRYING TO KILL IT. What do I mean by that? Simple. Here is the current process (as seen from the outside, admittedly this is perception and not necessarily true in every (or even most) case(s).
In everything I do, I try to avoid feeling like I’m being nickel and dimed to death. With the exception of my lightly used cell phone, I don’t have any plans or bills that I pay as I go. Why? I always feel that the company that is doing that is actually hoping I spend more than I wanted to or planned.
Home phone? Vonage (flat rate.) Cable? No PPV. Games? Subscription MMO’s.
Now Microsoft Game Studios announce that they have canceled Marvel Universe, at least in part because they have an insane level of expectation for what a successful MMO’s level should be. I understand setting high standards and wanting to impact a market with your product, but to look at the landscape and see WOW and all the other games and proclaim that there is “one successful” MMO out there is INSANE. No wonder they can’t get an MMO product out the door. Then it appears that they considered changing the business model, presumably to some sort of MT kind of monetization, but felt like they couldn’t do that with the product.
Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on design decisions that different studios have made in the quest to build a popular MMO title. Let me start by saying this; the purpose of this article is not to describe all of the different types of MMO that could be popular. It’s mostly about the style, features, and overarching design type and execution that in the end determines what is a Horizons and what is a World of Warcraft as far as subscription numbers are concerned.
I’m going to start by asserting that most MMO fall into one of the “big-two” design philosophies; Amusement Parks and Sandboxes. I know that there are many gray areas in between, but stay with me on this one.
Over the last several years, I’ve been involved with communities that are asking, if not begging, for a sandbox. “I want a world that I can live and play in” is often heard. “I hate Linear Progression” is also heard quite a bit. When game companies actually deliver a Sandbox, it’s often greeted with complaints about “lack of content” or “emptiness”. Well, yeah. Let’s take a look back at a couple of games which might be the best of their “genre” and how they worked out.
I was lucky enough this year to get a chunk of money this Christmas from Tarkheena to build a new gaming rig. My old rig was getting, well, old. So as you can imagine, this was a welcome gift. I took advantage and built a nice value gaming rig with a dual core Intel and an 8800 GT graphics card. All of the games that were balky or wouldn’t run before seem to run pretty dang nice now.
One of the games that didn’t run well before was Hellgate London. Among it’s other well-documented failings it was a sort of a system hog. I could play the single player mode before if I turned down all the graphic options. Once I had my new rig built, I decided to reinstall the games I’m playing or playing with right now. Wow, EVE, COX, TF2 and the other Valve stuff, Tabula Rasa, and Hellgate. All of that other stuff went right back on my computer with no hassle, but Hellgate was a pain in the ass.
For those of you who are my age or older, you may remember that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were an NFL expansion team. In the 70’s, that team had some of the most memorably bad seasons in the history of professional football. One year, on their way to a 1-15 record their coach was asked a question in a post game news conference. The coach, John McKay, had been a successful coach in college at USC and frankly wasn’t used to losing like that. The reporter’s question? “What do you think of your team’s execution?” His answer; “I’m all for it.”
McKay was a smart coach and a competent planner and did what he could do to have his team prepared. The fact was that they were simply incapable of executing to the level it took to win in the NFL on a week-to-week basis.
What does that have to do with gaming? Well I was reading through Steve Danuser’s blog, Moorgard.com, and found a relatively old article that gave me a “well, duh” moment. It’s so obvious, but I never really thought it all the way through. His point? All the folks from Blizzard have been very forthcoming about their design process, and how they build their games and expansions. A lot of other developers are very closed mouth about this process for the fear that others will steal their ideas and thus their game’s thunder.