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Posts Tagged ‘MMOs’

IRL – In Real Life

“IRL – In Real Life” is a short, light-hearted documentary looking at the effects of World of Warcraft addiction, produced as part of a 3rd Year Film Production project at UCA.

After losing six years of his life on World of Warcraft, third year film student Anthony Rosner decided that enough was enough and started living in the real world. His documentary, IRL, takes a look at the effects MMORPGs can have on people and show that there is hope at the end of the tunnel.

Originally posted on GeeksAreSexy.net it’s been on YouTube since January 15th and already received over 100,000 views. The comments below the original Youtube upload also make for some interesting reading.

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The Myth of the Poor Developer

Image from kavistechnology.com/blog

Almost every other week you read sad stories of studios closing down and talented people losing their jobs. This is a great tragedy within the modern games industry that is evolving faster than you can say, “What’s your business model?”.  With retail sales, subscriptions, 99 cent downloads and free to play the market has a plethora of choices on how to monetize a product and more often than not companies will fail in trying to figure it out. There will be a lot more failures before there are successes unless there’s a shift in thinking, especially in the development side of the business.

Much like in the music industry where the record company is always the bad guy and the bands are the cool creative ones, the same applies in games. Publishers are the money hungry corporate vultures that don’t understand gamers while the developers are the downtrodden and beaten stepchild that’s lucky to get a pay check. Mmhhh, not quite… there are in fact quite a few developers that are extremely well funded either through private investment or publisher backed money. Development studios aren’t poor, they’re just really expensive to run and in certain cases not run effectively.

I know developers that have signed up publishers with no intention of ever delivering a real milestone and strung them along for a almost a year taking 160,000 a month for ‘concepting’. I’ve witnessed games being developed for 5+ years with development teams of over 250 people that are released and tank, I know of studios that haven’t shipped a successful product for 7 years that get bought for 50 million dollars, I worked with a studio that bought their team of 300 an ipad for Christmas – which would be cool if they weren’t 2 years behind schedule. The list goes on but I don’t want to sound like I am ranting. Or actually I do! Not just to rant though – my point is this: There are some accepted losses that come with developing a product but these losses have crept up exponentially over the last four or five years. Look at the Star Wars: The Old Republic, it’s rumored to have cost over 80m USD already, and that’s just pure development before any marketing or server infrastructure. These type of development costs set the ROI bar very high and put a lot of pressure on a publishing org. to turn a profit. If you’re starting 80m down that’s quite a large forecast you need to make up.

There needs to be more control and accountability on the part of developers, at all levels: financial, studio management and individual contributors. Not to be mean and controlling but to stop developers working on something for years only to go bust three months post-launch ala APB (All Points Bulletin). Imagine a marketing director is over budget 2 months in a row he’d be looking for a new job, right? Let alone going over budget for 2 years. So why is it okay for this to happen in a development setting and not anywhere else? It seems that development has become an accepted black hole, and the longer it remains that way the more damage it will cause and more good studios will close. So what are the solutions? This is something that’s not going to change overnight, but here are a few basic suggestions:

1) Stop throwing good money after bad. If the game is bad 3 years in, it’s going to be bad 5 years in. Cut your losses earlier and walk away.

2) Don’t be afraid to not launch. Sure you just spent an arm and leg to get this title to gold master and the main investor put his island in the Caribbean down as collateral but launching is going to cost you even more, and a negative critical reception of a below par product could jeopardize future launches.

3) Make milestones mean something. If a project is a year behind schedule then why have milestones in the first place? Stick to the schedule and if that’s not possible seriously evaluate if it’s financially viable to continue rather than pour more money in blindly.

4) Take individual responsibility at every level. So if you’re on a team that is several years behind and you’re watching Family Guy on your ipad while munching your free lunch in the pool room maybe think about where all that money is coming from and what you can contribute to making this work. Every individual at every level can contribute to changing the mind set of what’s okay and what isn’t.

5) Work with the publishing teams and not against them. Believe it or not all either of you want is to make your product a success. I’ve seen a lot of products stumble due to petty politics. Cut it out and get it done.

The Irony of Innovation

Gamers often shout; ‘We want innovation, do something different!’ The irony is, actually they really don’t. They say they do but ultimately they vote with their wallets. And over the last five years or so the vote has clearly gone against innovation.

Nope, I’m not just making this up let’s look at some of the most successful multi-player games of 2010:

  1. Call of Duty Black Ops – 18.88m
  2. Wii Sports – 16.60m
  3. New Super Mario Bros. Wii – 11.31m
  4. Wii Sports Resort – 11.29m
  5. Wii Fit Plus – 8.87m
  6. Fifa Soccer 11 – 8.44m
  7. Halo: Reach – 7.55m
  8. Red Dead Redemption – 7.21m
  9. Kinect Adventures – 7.17m
  10. Pokemon Heart Gold/ Soul Silver – 6.39m

[Sales are cross platform Worldwide. Figures from VGChartz]

Out of all those products Kinect Adventures is the only new franchise that was launched in 2010, along with the widely promoted Kinect hardware. Every other product has had another iteration pre-2010. If you look at the top 20 there’s still only 1 new franchise launched in 2010, and looking at the top 30 there’s a total of 2 new products launched:  that’s 6%. Of course every few years or so you get a break-out success with something new like a Guitar Hero, Kinect or a new franchise launched like Assasin’s Creed. But these are increasingly rare.

Arguably World of Warcraft did so well because it was part of an existing franchise, in terms of innovation it was the most successful MMO of its generation but it wasn’t the first. It was an established brand visually and by name with the Warcraft franchise. Even the world of Azeroth was known to loyal Blizzardians. Much of the look and feel of the original RTS games was put into WoW, even down to certain icons and sound effect. So to a Warcraft fan everything had a very familiar feel. And even though every  Wow-fanboy now shouts that every MMO since WoW is a WoW Clone you don’t need to look too far back to see that WoW borrowed a great deal from the  MMOs that preceded it. The big difference being that WoW just did it way better than any MMO ever had before. On top of this WoW is firmly rooted in the Fantasy MMO genre.

Which brings us to another interesting aspect with innovation or lack of in MMOs; the only ones that have enjoyed substantial success have all been in a Fantasy setting, by this I mean, Elves, Orcs, Crossbows, Swords, etc… you get the idea. Eve has been the only exception to the rule here, the guys at CCP have done a tremendous job with persistent and slow but steady growth. You could maybe list City of Heroes and a couple of others that have done okay, but nowhere near on the scale of industry leaders. Every other MMO that’s tried to do something a little different has failed faster than you can say ‘server shut down’. Remember The Matrix Online, Star Wars Galaxies, APB, Auto Assault? Tabula Rasa? All games that tried to break out from the fantasy umbrella and do something a little different. Now, were they all amazing games? Probably not and the genre alone is not the root cause of their failure but my point is that the rest of the industry looks at these failures and takes note. No one is going to be developing another driving MMO in a hurry, so if gamers really want innovation they need to broaden their tastes a little and give more niche products the time of day. Otherwise publishers and developers will continue to play it safe, which in an increasingly competitive and fractured market you can’t really blame them for.

You say Beta I say Beta

Betas for MMORPGS have evolved quite a bit over the last five years or so, and I think different publishers, developers and consumers have varying perceptions of what they are, or what they should be. It used to be true that a beta was a period in which the rough or un-finished product was tested out by users and then improved based on player feedback. That’s not really true anymore, now they are much more of a marketing exercise than they have been in the past. Betas used to be primarily something that’s part of the development process and any marketing gained through it was a happy side effect. Now it’s the other way round and they are primarily a pre-launch marketing tool.

Gamers have become more savvy and demanding; it is no longer acceptable to put a sub-par product out into open beta. They no longer accept crashes or bugs like they used to, in the early days of MMORPGS (Ultima, Everquest) players that were in the betas were the hardcore of the hardcore, they loved the fact that they could contribute to the development process. They understood they were looking at something in an un-finished state and their expectations matched that. They posted detailed bug descriptions on forums and despite the games flaws, became invested in it and therefore supported it through to launch and beyond. Probably through a combination of bragging rights, and joy at being able to contribute so closely with the dev process.

The online gamer in 2011 is a lot less forgiving, if you put into open beta anything other than a ready to launch product you’re seriously risking a failed launch. Gamers expect a polished and bug free experience and no longer have the patience to stick it out, partly because consumer habits have changes and partly because the space has evolved. There are so many other competitive products to choose from. During the open beta of Everquest  there weren’t that many other MMOs a player could migrate to, today it’s a very different landscape.

I remember launching a title in 2007 in which we had 80,000 players signed up to the European beta and about double that between North America and Europe. The game was far from ready, and that’s an understatement.  It wasn’t stable at all and had zero polish. As a publishing group we pretty much begged the developers not to move into a Open Beta Test (OBT). Due to various politics, that I won’t go into here, they had the final call and decided to move ahead let the crowds in. It was a disaster: press slammed the game, the forums lit up with negativity and everyone internally started scrambling in a dance of  ‘i told you so’ and ‘what do we do now’. I won’t bore you with all the issues the product had, the main point is the game wasn’t ready and the product never recovered from that very first critical impression because we blew it with our early adopters, the word of mouth was poor and it was downhill from there. We did manage to get some press back to re-look at it post launch and the game was in better shape at that point but it was too little too late, the numbers dwindled and eventually the game was sunset.

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