Expectations and Potential

I’ve found myself wondering why I’ve been spending so much time within Landmark lately when it is such an unfinished product. The scope is limited, the bugs and issues plentiful and the only thing to really do is build and gather – it’s a great foundation for a game but not one I would have ever though I would play that much or be as popular as it is considering.

When you think about it though every mmo when it releases is usually more of a husk, a platform for ideas rather than something fully formed. Of course this is in varying levels and has become even more true lately with the prevalence of beta and alpha play but even the most polished product, or 200 million dollar gambit will still be missing features, need polish, and require a greater amount of content to keep players engaged.

Looking at the mmo’s I have and do play I’m surprised I spent so long in the ones I did regardless of their flaws. I played Firefall despite its lack of content; Guild Wars 2 despite its abysmal WvW development; Rift despite its lack of alternative progression and PvP; Tera despite well, everything except the dungeons. I played them all for many months, well beyond any reasonable time based on their positives because there is often something we hold close that can be more meaningful than any of this, and that is a games potential.

This isn’t even something we can quantify very well as there are a lot of different facets. Also it seems most of the potential is more personally felt based on what the individual level of interest is in certain things and whether or not they’ve been reflected in your experiences. How a game feels, personally is something extremely subjective and based on the parts we play and how much we play them.

There are some other important parts that keep us playing games longer than the content provides, that keeps you playing despite the flaws. regardless of whether the developers are focusing on your areas. parts that add onto the feeling of potential for a product and extend on its lifespan.

Implementation

Based on how previous features, mechanics and content have been implemented into the game; the level of polish towards them and how well they fit within the whole provides a lot of information about how these sort of things will be implemented in the future. Across a single project you are likely to see the same level of quality and focus on certain feature over the long-term be based on the things that have come before it. You can make predictions about what’s to come; what new features and content you might see which you would then know how well you are going to enjoy it based on your previous experiences.

These are all assumptions but they are often rather apt. First impressions, and even short-term experience with the direction of the game can give you enough of an impression to understand any future interest. The game that ignores PvP will likely do so for longer. The straight and narrow Themepark will likely stay that way, and the incessant need on some sort of ongoing story will likely continue in others.

Roadmap

This seems to be a relatively new feature for MMO’s to show off to the players. These sort of things have usually remained an internal guide for developers but nothing that has ever been shown to the players. The increased transparency in the industry has now allowed us to view these and make more long-term plans for their game of choice and what potential is there. If a mechanic or feature that has been sought after is going to be implemented or fixed in the near future then you might just stay around to see it.

We’ve also seem an increase in developers wanting player input in these roadmaps for the future which I believe is an incredible idea. It’s good to see developers and games have a certain ideal they hold close and are unlikely to change but it’s good to get input for the myriad of other mechanics and features around that. It’s hard to know exactly what the mmo playerbase wants at times, interests change so quickly and forum rhetoric sometimes isn’t that reliable. Being able to anonymously give your input allows for increased input from players and a greater sense of investment in a product as your able to shape the direction of the game in some small or large ways.

Games like Planetside 2 and even Firefall have done this well with integrated, polished and well supported features for submitting ideas and voting on interests and I felt more positive about their potential because of it.

Developer Input

In a lot of older games and MMO’s there has often been little developer input on the forums and conversation between players. When there has there has always been an overwhelming adherence to confidentiality, to keep information about any potential or upcoming feature to a minimum. To keep expectations low… or unrealistic and to always keep to some sort of PR guideline.

So many games do this and still do yet, I believe it will always be a negative feature. I hate being left in the dark regarding features, updates and content. I seek to understand a product that I’m interested and having realistic and up to date information lets me make more informed choices for purchase and long-term play

I’ve noticed that without developer input, real input, forums and websites increasingly fall into a pit of negativity. Speculation runs amok, discussions deviate into faults, and in the end becomes just a bunch of children bickering while their parents are absent. The slow demise of the GW2 PvP and WvW forums is a very recent example.

Recently the new trend has become and an increase in visibility of developer actions, insight into development and transparency about faults and actions. It is incredibly refreshing. I’ve been playing many different beta’s lately and I can say I’m far less negative about the ones that have been more forthcoming with information as my expectations are more realistic. I’m surprised at the positives and understanding of the faults. I don’t feel like I’m being cheated or manipulated either which leads to less backlash in the future.

Waste and Waiting

All these points extend on the potential of a product and how long you will play for but, in the face of controversy or conflicting information how long do you wait? What parts should serve as a greater warning than others and what are you willing to wait for a bit longer than the rest?

Of course all of this, while being a great thing for maintaining a sense of potential for a product and long-term interest it can fail in the end. MMO’s end and you will have to move on regardless. Mostly it seems that feeling of potential will eventually falter and it will all feel like a lot of wasted time. I’m seeing a lot of people now who try to avoid that feeling by continuously bouncing around many titles in a superficial way as a way of avoiding it, never putting down roots so as to never feel dissapointed. The perpetually MMO bachelor.

I can understand that approach as I’ve been through the heartbreak of broken potential a few times before but honestly, I would never trade the amazing moments and feelings as a way of avoiding the eventual negatives. Give in to your inner feeling of potential now and then and indulge in a game above all else. Even if it ends it will always be worth it.

#ArmchairDeveloper #MMODevelopment #Feedback

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9 thoughts on “Expectations and Potential

  1. Good post. I have to agree all-around.

    In particular, I am with you own a lack of communication between developer and player. I don’t mind if they don’t respond to every single criticism launched at them, but I do like developers that are more forthcoming. That applies especially to sub-based MMOs because I feel it is important to know which direct the ship is sailing before you get there, realize you’ve wasted a couple months on an update you wouldn’t of played, and unsub out of spite. The same can probably apply to F2P MMOs, actually.

    I will always favor transparency, especially in products that are meant for me to consume over a longer period of time. MMOs are the rule when it comes to play over time, and developers need to be aware of that.

    • That’s how I think. I hate having my time wasted and the lure of something greater strung in front of me. That’s when I feel the urge to rant more then ever. i guess more communication in the sub based mmo is better as you would feel you’re getting your moneys worth that and. It would also help with making the decision to sub and stay subbed. For any mmo it’s good as you want people to stay and be engaged more in your product. Transparency just helps with feeling invested

  2. There are many reasons why developers aren’t so open. Yeah, it’s great when they can be, but there’s a downside, too.

    First, the type of person who is good at game design and game programming isn’t always good at interacting with a crowd. There are plenty of examples in the past where a developer said something that got them in trouble. For a great example of how it can go wrong, see: http://wiki.onlinegamers.org/index.php?title=Shut_up_and_give_me_my_ten_bucks_per_month

    Sure, there are community managers. But, they’re not developers, and they might end up promising the wrong thing. I know one company in particular cringes when the head honcho posts in public, because he often says stuff they’ll have to scramble to put in place later.

    The other problem is that “no plan survives contact with the enemy.” Every MMO developer has plans, but sometimes stuff doesn’t work out. Or, your plans are disrupted because players act completely different than expected; maybe they latch on to the PvP system that was put in as an after-thought, so you need to scramble to support that instead of adding new raid zones on a regular basis. People really don’t take it well when they feel you “lied” to them.

    So, yeah, it’s kinda neat when developers are a bit more open. But, I suspect eventually it’s going to bite someone on the rump and we’ll see a swing back to the old ways. And, the cycle will repeat again.

    • i understand the downside and the impact… the Phil Fish fall from grace is a good example but these seem more like outliers in the system. I also think I know who you’re talking about haha and I think, even if it does create a lot more work for the company it creates a decent amount of good will and respect. A person rather than a PR machine is a lot easier to put your faith in. I also wasn’t advocating the developers themselves should be the only ones communication, just having a regular source of information and updates from anybody helps.

      Plans will fail regardless of intentions and whether you release information or not their will be blowback. A change in direction is easy to see, as is a failed implementation. I would think in both cases it would be better to release more information, people will always be angry regardless but having a greater understanding serves to placate some.

      In the end it’s a decision between letting people feel lied to or being purposefully mislead. Is misinformation, intentional or not, worse than secrecy and the unrealistic expectations that result. I’m guessing you’ve seen the impact of both far more personally then me.

      • While your intents are noble (and one I can wholeheartedly agree with) the vast majority of internet simply cannot handle being told what they don’t want to hear. And that leads to negative confrontation, which negatively impacts dev morale.

        And in most cases, I side with companies who purposefully mislead, or purposefully withhold information from players. From my general experience, the playerbase in general simply cannot handle the truth. It’s something I personally have to deal with as a software programmer, and so my opinions skew very much towards the devs.

        Like for example, in response to what you said, “it feels disengenuous or you have something to hide.” Look at it from my perspective. I honestly don’t know if I can complete a project in 3 months or not. When I say “I will be done in 3 month” I am outright lying. Want me to keep you updated with the progress? I’ll tell you I was 50% done, but upon further evaluation some things had to be scrapped and I had to re-do everything again. Then I get accused of tossing out meaningless numbers and trying to deceive the client (How do you lose progress? Well, it happens.) What if I told you that I thought of a neat way to do something, but later on decided that it doesn’t work and had to get scrapped. Boss Joe who really took to the idea at first will be angry, and insist on keeping it. More trouble for me. When I said “It will be done when it’s done” I’m being vague but truthful.

        -Ursan

  3. I think in the age of the perpetual “beta” that most MMOs are moving towards the transparency between developer and player is key. I think Firefall was a good example of a Dev keeping in touch (albeit, later on after I had left it did that nose dive with the CEO), I stuck around far longer than I might have because I knew improvements were coming and thus I was willing to put up with some level of discomfort. This isn’t to say they can ride that goodwill forever, it just lengthens the time I am willing to suffer annoying bugs or imbalance.

    Addressing Psychochild’s point I think it is easy for a developer to get off into the weeds with scope. I’m sure most of us armchair developers have sat back and come up with a glorious idea only to later realize just how much work we would have set ourselves up for. Personally I think being forthcoming is the best option; if your system isn’t going to work as you wanted it to, tell your players that, or pull it and give an honest “It’s not what we want, so it’s going to be delayed.” Blizzard’s attitude of “we release it when its done” was a good example of this, except that Blizzard always felt walled off.

    • I think that”s why I stay interested in Firefall longer and why I was also more positive about many of it’s features. It doesn’t last indefinitely but it helps to draw it out.

      I also hate that “when it’s done” attitude. It’s ok to say it now and then but when you’re saying it about everything at every opportunity then it begins to feel disingenuous and like you have something to hide.

    • Everybody says they want to see how the sausage is made, then they get upset when you show the machines that stuff the coagulated blood into the intestines.

      A current example is EverQuest Next Landmark and how people really don’t understand what “alpha” means. This is an opportunity to see development up close and personal, and people would rather complain that things aren’t “finished” and that “stuff is too hard” or whatever. Instead of understanding that they’re getting to see how the sausage is made, and can therefore offer suggestions on how to make it taste better. But, yeah, sometimes a finger gets dropped into the vat and we developers have to throw those sausages out. But, that doesn’t stop people from complaining even though they won’t be eating fingers!

      Yes, there are some people who are savvy enough to understand the ugly bits of game development. I think any player passionate enough to write a blog about games is probably savvy enough. It’s one reason why I write the design articles on my own blog, and why I try to comment on blogs, to give the faithful some insight they might not otherwise get.

      But, savvy people like that are in the minority, and the vast majority will simply not understand the subtleties. That majority will pitch fits when things don’t materialize when the developers realize the proposed changes won’t work, even if they’re completely transparent. I’ve seen it too many times to count, unfortunately. I think especially if the development team is working on something super-innovative, they’re better off not sharing it because there are going to be a lot of missteps. Not to mention they don’t want to give their competitors any more help than can be helped. 😉

      • you are right there.. people expect some sort of magical experience in alpha where everything is near completion with a minimum of polish needed. It’s a romantic vision of development, partly because that’s how must companies have been selling it. In a way I do think it’s good to see how things are made, whether that is absolutely appalling or enlightening. It helps me, personally to gain a greater sense of understand the process but yes, I’m increasingly seeing not everyone thinks like that.. naive I know but I still like to think better of my gaming compatriots than the reality shows and probably will into the foreseeable future.

        I also think Landmark is having a harder time with testers and their response because it is a much larger product produced by a much larger company with greater resource. If it’s indie people are far more lenient.. dayz and starbound forums have been very reasonable through this period

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