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Reader Comments (17)

Posted: Oct 23rd 2009 1:55PM breezer said

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WoW proved that MMOs can be successful because they are fun, not just because they are addictive and overloaded with arbitrary time sinks. And while it's a shame that developers have chosen to clone the WoW model instead of build on it, it's sort of expected.

The irony is, and I think anyone reading this blog can sympathize with this POV. Whenever another fantasy quest grinder is announced it's like, "what the hell are you thinking, you are begging to fail". These companies think they are gonna profit on the WoW market forgetting that the WoW market is... playing WoW...

2 things: 1) Innovation is not gonna happen until these companies stop trying to make an MMO with high sub numbers and start trying to make a great game.
2) It's not gonna happen until another Blizzard, another gaming behemoth with the money, experience and confidence happens upon something new.

Posted: Oct 23rd 2009 2:38PM Ayenn said

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I agree with everything you have said, breezer, except:

"It's not gonna happen until another Blizzard, another gaming behemoth with the money, experience and confidence happens upon something new."

I look to the music industry as an example of how innovation can occur without buckets of money.

Music is cyclic in its “innovation”. First I will say that music is, much like the MMORPG, a building on previous manifestations. Changes in music are a result of tinkering and experimentation with manafestant forms and modes, the building upon previous musical expressions. An obvious analogue of MMORPGs, or any other expressive form.

That being said, innovation in popular music happens at the inceptive level. A new young band experiments and twiddles as they give voice to their feelings and ideas. As time passes they can generate a new sound or a new method that then becomes more popular. The result is either, a large company like BMG, Virgin, or Sony picks up that band and promotes them giving rise to a new pop music movement; or, those same companies see something in that young band but instead “encourages” an existing successful band to adopt something of or from the young band to change their presentation to remake them into something “new”

In this analogy i can see how an independent studio (CoH era Cryptic) or an individual with a new vision (Love) can create something that is innovative and then be picked up by a larger company (NCSoft/Cryptic) and be promoted or the innovative design ideas of an individual or small studio can be parsed out, reformatted, and put forward as a new and unique design (Meridian -> UO or EQ)

Sadly, gamers are human and humans do not like change. When a new feature set is developed or coordinated by smaller companies the MMO community knee-jerkingly responds with a resounding “FAIL!” unless it is put forward with advertising and hype by a larger company with a highly recognized brand identity. As crazy as it may sound, if TR were put forward by Blizzard, with all of the complications therein, is probably would not have been shut down and would have had far greater success.

A further sadness is it is nearly imposable for a lone idea-person to be heard or scouted by any MMO development company. There are a lot of people with good ideas that will never be heard because of the gates that business people keep shut in favor of “known profitability”

The young bucks and does who have been playing MMOs for almost half their life coming out of development programs are going to become something akin to middle managers that make up most of the corporate world.

The music industry is an industry essentially founded on theft.People who go through music businesses programs are taught how to engage that institutionalized theft. Game development programs are doing the same thing. They do not teach innovation, they teach back engineering, they are taught that innovators are to be exploited or squelched after they have been sucked dry of their good ides.
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Posted: Oct 23rd 2009 2:05PM Aganazer said

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That is a hilarious pic for this entry. Its ironic because the guy looks more like the gamer and the girl is likely just doing business.

Posted: Oct 23rd 2009 2:08PM Greeen said

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Just take Vanguard - made by ex-MMOers basically (correct me if I am wrong, but wasn't it EQ developers?) and how that went wrong.
AoC - killed by business peeps. The devs behind it had a great vision, and the game is atm developing towards it - but too late, from a business perspective. The rushed out beta was, well, rushed and gamers don't like that.
War suffered a lot from that as well.
Just to name a few recent ones.
Sad.

So business peeps, screw the stock owners, we are not talking ethics as in pharmaceuticals here, do the right thing and you will be even happier!

Posted: Oct 23rd 2009 2:34PM (Unverified) said

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You're speaking of quality and design. Part of quality and design is to identify customer requirements, hopefully with a set of metrics associated with each requirement. Given that each gamer is looking for that special unique experience that appeals to him or her, this list of requirements varies significantly by individual. In addition, the metrics for each requirement varies by individual. Once a studio can identify the customer requirement list with metrics for WoW then they will be leaps and bounds ahead of any competition. Until then, game design is limited to the skill of any team of developers to build that requirement list with a set of metrics.

Breaking down and identifying the design features of your competition (Blizzard, SoE, NC Soft) is called bench marking. Many developers should be using that technique to at least establish a set of criteria to begin building their House of Quality. From those sets of criteria, innovation is needed to surpass the competition by adding additional features. Adding features should add more value per the theory of Value Engineering. Added value will lead to more and more happy gamers.

Posted: Oct 23rd 2009 2:59PM Holgranth said

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No offense dude but what I read there is basically, "Copy the compitition but add more features and call that innovation"

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Posted: Oct 23rd 2009 4:27PM Holgranth said

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Continued now that I have more time: There is a problem with that a big one. To effectively add better features and improve on the existing ones used by your compitition you gotta have a better dev team, a more aggressive development cycle.

So while your theory sounds good and I'm sure a business professor would give it an A++ in reality its crap. You heard me. C R A P. Unless you are a HUGE company with a MASSIVE budget and most importantly of all INCREDIBLY talented dev team its not gonna happen. Blizzard has a team with HUGE amounts of experience and an MMO that has had five years to evolve good luck trying to bench mark and copy that never mind add additional features.

One mans opinion.
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Posted: Oct 23rd 2009 3:17PM toychristopher said

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I think it would be very frustrating to work in the video game industry. When I watched blizzcon it seems like they have so many great ideas but many of them never really get into the game and of course the reason is the time and money it takes to develop games.

Posted: Oct 23rd 2009 5:22PM (Unverified) said

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Business men just need to stop being so arrogant, from what I see. They need to respect the talented as equals, with an equal share not just a salary, and not just as resourced to be used for profits. The problem with business men is that they have money, which is social power, and there's a good chance that they got that money by being arrogant dicks to those around them. If we can't get the business men to behave - be good little boys and girls - then there's only one other option. We have to separate the two. The talented shouldn't be dependent on people who are only trying to take advantage of them for profit, however they justify it, and whatever words they use to describe it. 'it's a business, don't kid yourself' 'just trying to help make you successful' 'this is what the world wants' 'you money leaves if you don't do what I say, i just cant risk it'. etc.

It shouldn't be dependent on 'studies of customer desires'. That's not innovation, that's pandering. True innovation comes from a single individual, or a small group, who realizes that something will be desired, even though nobody knows it will be. That's what we need. Actual artists in control. I've said it before. Actual artists, and not just skilled workers - programmers who can write code, and modelers who can model but can't think up unique concepts and play with existing forms. But guess what? Skilled workers are easier to find, and much easier to control. They're a smarter investment, on the surface. Artists need control, but as it is, business men have control of a product, always. It's disgusting, really.

I have half a mind to go into business just so I can tear apart other business men and women, and put the rightful people back in control of their own work.

That's another thing. In all the arts, the artist actually loses control of his work. It's insane. So what if the company fronted the money to produce it? It's not like they're not going to get paid, but who the fuck says they can mess with the product if they don't actually know anything about it?

Posted: Oct 23rd 2009 6:31PM (Unverified) said

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There seems to be some disconnect here with the idea that businessmen cannot be gamers, when in reality, if you are going to get into the business of making games, you should bloody well love gaming. If you don't love to game, why the hell would you force yourself to remain in that business. You likely have at least a 4 year degree if not more, so you should be able to get into which ever business you are passionate about.

There's a site that was written by a game designer that was created as a sort of guide for newbies to the game industry that want to be game designers, and the requirement to be absolutely crazy about games is constantly hammered on. I recommend reading it all the way through http://www.sloperama.com/advice/idea.htm

Posted: Oct 23rd 2009 6:47PM brookep said

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Businessmen can absolutely adore gaming, but the pursuit for profit drives them to make decisions in their games that are not in the best interest of gamers. For example, they try appeal too broadly and they end up watering down their products. Another example is the implementation of unnecessary or overly punishing time sinks (i.e., long rep grinds, dungeon lockout timers, exponential XP grinds, etc.).
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Posted: Oct 23rd 2009 10:47PM (Unverified) said

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Mea culpa then. I misinterpreted much of the article to say you could be one, or the other in a binary way, as opposed to the common fact that many people that pursue a career in the gaming industry are very much both, recognizing that a game must be successful to ensure their continued gainful employment versus coming releasing a game that may garner critical success but commercial failure.

It's an old bone, but an example of this case would be the game Psychonauts. Granted, not an MMO but the same issue applies. It received praise from many critics for varied reasons, but was a commercial disaster.

Much of the problem lay with the publisher, as the publisher is the money man in essence. They put the cash out and say "This is the game we want you to make." The developer, assuming external development, puts together the required bits and pieces, the two go back and forth, and eventually after much time and money (not forgetting the auld adage of time IS money), a game is released.

Some of the weight can be laid upon the designers back, depending on the constrictions of the publishers' demands (e.g. "I want an innovative WoW clone!"). You often see more innovation when a studio is working on it's own particular pet project in the relative 'downtime' between games. These are the times when they are not beholden to the publisher but, it is very, very, very difficult to shop a game concept. A completed game still has a very high rejection rate with publishers, even from a full time development studio.

As always, this is not always the case, but it is an example. And again, my apologies for misunderstanding the intent Brooke.
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Posted: Oct 23rd 2009 7:16PM (Unverified) said

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There is an important difference between "making money" and "maximizing profit". Sadly, many game developers seem to have forgotten about it.

Posted: Oct 23rd 2009 8:53PM (Unverified) said

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Our societies are so bloody consummerist at this point that I don't know you can truly separate the wants of 'gamers' and 'businessmen'.

Posted: Oct 25th 2009 6:02PM (Unverified) said

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Gentle nudge: business *people*, these days.

Posted: Oct 26th 2009 2:24AM (Unverified) said

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this article really irks me. i read something that's full of assumptions. it reads like a wikipedia article with a bunch of [citation needed] throughout it.

I don't really know where to begin to comment on this one. It depends which business men you are talking about.

I think you're putting far too much stock in the demands of the business man, instead of the failure to design, or correctly implement a design by a development team.

yes publishers (or businessmen as you put it) want to make money, but I am sure in the sense of an mmo, this most definitely is built on a basis of good game play or design, rather than "what will get us quick bucks". i'd wager that most profits in mmo's dont come from initial sales, but from sustained subscriptions or real money transactions etc. You won't get repeat buyers if you dont have a good game for them to keep playing. I think part of the game design is to get people to stay, which probably does tie into "making money".

secondly, as some have said before, you can't build a polished game without great design, great tech, great art, etc without having the skills, experience AND money behind you. sure youth has the ideas and the innovation, but we don't have the experience to make a triple A mmo. Heck, there's really only one company in the world that has the ability to truly make that game.

No one is going to throw sufficient dollars at a young company just because they have a great design. they're likely not in a position to prove that they can get the game finished. there's going to be a long process for new companies to get themselves into the game, and during that time, the old hands will gradually be able to work on their own IP because they proved they can complete a finished product.

In cases like AoC or Warhammer, I just don't think they got their design right from the outset. maybe it was the business men who forced them through that door, but who's going to pay for a game to be redesigned/tweaked for another 12 months without any subscriptions? no doubt we all want to work on our games for an extra year, but sometimes you just have to draw the line and deal with what you came up with - even if it sucks.

Posted: Oct 27th 2009 11:33PM UnSub said

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I'm sorry, but this entire article is just horribly naive.

No-one, business person or gamer, sets out to make a terrible game that fails. Terrible games don't make money (without an existing IP and / or lots of hype) and aren't fun to play. But you can't decouple the business of making games from the product.

Looking at MMOs, the AAA ones cost tens of millions of dollars to develop. Indie MMOs can take years in development prior to release as a labour of love and then get slammed for not having all the bells and whistles of the AAA titles.

On top of this, even talking 200k players is probably over-reaching. Outside of EvE, most indie MMOs are probably looking at less than 100k players. Less than 50k even. ATITD - one of the most unique and innovative MMOs out there - has less than 10k players.

Homegrown MMOs probably aren't going to happen outside of universities / publicly funded entities (which, funnily enough, is where MUDs really hooked in). Why? Because they still cost to operate and develop content for. Perhaps some professor will have an ongoing "build a MMO" project for his computer science / design students, but it isn't going to be a big part of the industry. Look at areas such as homebrew titles - there are plenty of free tools out there to make video games with and a lot of homebrew titles, but 90% of them suck and even those that don't usually appeal to very niche audiences (Dwarf Fortress, for instance). Or look at NWN modules - lots of them, but it hardly revolutionised the genre because the majority were awful.

This whole article will no doubt will be popular among gamers who think that companies exist to spend $60m on a game just for them, but that isn't the case. There are plenty innovative MMOs out there, but they get ignored for the AAA MMOs that chase the same players or overlooked because they are too old or the graphics aren't good enough any more. So the challenge isn't on the business people - they will follow the money anyway. If gamers want something new, the challenge is on gamers to look past the most hyped titles and try something that might not look as pretty but offers something new.

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