Home > MMO Games > Polish kills MMOGs?

Polish kills MMOGs?

October 13, 2007

Polished games are certainly a potentially important factor for successful MMOGs, but may it also provide a risk to kill a certain segment of this market?

This past year there has been a number of new MMOGs being worked on that have had their release dates pushed back. Since Blizzard launched a very successful and polished MMOG it seems many companies think they need to get their games polished before releasing them. This has been in particular emphasized by the relative failure of another MMOG from Sigil, which showed a distinct lack of polish at release.

Many of the MMOGs that are now getting close to release and postponing it were probably already in progress and/or had had their budget expectations set before the Blizzard polish mantra entered the mindset of many of the developers. So they have to extend their financial constraints which may potentially be a challenge to convince investors that it will still be a good idea and that in the end the game will still make a lot of money.

It seems Perpetual was not on the lucky end of that bargaining game and as a result Gods & Heroes may never see the light of day.

Now, for any new games that concept/design/development work have just started on or will start, taking the polishing time into account should not be an afterthought and investors should be aware of the time and effort involved, assuming people make reasonable estimates. This likely mean that investors need to consider longer time to release and more investment to get there. More polish should be one factor can make the game successful, so that would reduce the risk of failure.

A polished game that will take 4-6 years to develop can certainly make a lot of money if it works out well and it may not need to get close to Blizzard numbers to get some money back to the investors. But when will the game reach break even? After 1 year, 3 years or 5 years? How long can it be expected to give any significant return back and at what point will it merely be enough to keep it running with some minor updates?

The idea of investing money and perhaps wait 6-8 years before it pays off is certainly fine, as long as it does – or if it flops the amount of loss can be reduced. So why would investors really invest in such MMOGs then? The question is if there are better options for them to invest in or not.

The key part that MMOGs are expanding and taking advantage of is people playing together in various ways, which in general has a huge potential. But this does not only include big budget MMOGs – there are lots of opportunity and potential market for “lighter” multiplayer options.

Lokk at all the Barbie Online, Club Penguin, stardoll.com etc. Users in millions, development cost and time to market a fraction of what big MMOGs require. They may not get as much money back per user, but cost and risk is lower and results come quicker (success or failure). One genre of game does not exclude the other, but I doubt that there will be a steady increase of big MMOG titles. Rather more smaller, perhaps less comprehensive offerings.

Maybe also also more work on expanding existing titles with content, but then the games need to be redesigned with a different kind of progression of the world as such. Many of the aging MMOGs suffer from a pattern of thinking that seem to be a remiscient of the design of single player RPG titles and not evolving persistent worlds.

In the area of software development methodologies are changing to make development more agile and responsive to changes in requirements and more adaptive to the outside world. Can and will this also include big MMOG releases at some point? And what business models will these require?

Categories: MMO Games
  1. Token
    October 13, 2007 at 20:09

    9 out of 10 mmo’s seem to be a bunch of guys adding jumbled art assets into a crappy engine where the mouse pointer doesn’t even feel connected. Most of these dev teams are trying to polish turds that should have been shitcanned after 3 months.

  2. Bhagpuss
    October 14, 2007 at 11:43

    I’d rather have bread and butter today than jam tomorrow. I think the current obsession with “polish” is ruinous to the health of the genre. Building everything up to the size of a Hollywood blockbuster, with budgets and expectations to match is not sustainable, as we are already beginning to see.

    What we need is a plethora of smaller, quirkier MMOs, with shorter development phases and lower entry costs; that’s where the innovation and experimentation should be happening. The trade off for players would be getting to try new fun stuff sooner, rather than waiting for a “polished” product years down the line while hoping the company doesn’t go bust before the game comes out.

    I beta every MMO I can get onto. I play my main characters on Test servers. I relish seeing the trials and errors of the development process. I’d always rather have the game unpolished now than polished later. I am more than happy to pay to play a game that’s still rough round the edges – indeed, it’s at the point where those edges start to smooth down that I tend to look around for alternatives.

    I’m pinning my hopes for the future of the genre on projects that aim to facilitate indie developers – Metaverse and the like. I can’t see much attraction in a future of huge, overblown megagames, limping over the horizon dragging their bloated development costs behind them across the skeletons of failure.

  3. October 15, 2007 at 21:20

    If MMOs offered replayability and dynamics to refresh familiar content, then they could afford to begin much smaller at release. If each asset (such as a particular NPC or weapon) is designed with depth and multiple applications, then you can cut asset production in half and players will be able to enjoy themselves just fine until the expansion. Current MMOs are just too shallow and linear to make small games feasible.

    The long production times might be mostly spent on stability and polish, but the concentration on polish isn’t the problem. All games should be well-polished. The problem is they’re having to tackle too much content because the content they make is so shallow and fleeting. They spend days working on an experience that will last the player 5 minutes, never to be enjoyed again by the same player, and is quickly forgotten because the experience really wasn’t that good.

    The way to lower production time is to design experiences which are repeatable and may be enjoyed in multiple ways (ala a Halo sticky grenade, which can be the catalyst for many different player experiences).

  4. sente
    October 15, 2007 at 23:40

    Polish as such is not the problem, at least not when it is applied on the right things. It may be too much content that they try to tackle at once, or too many game mechanics or systems or too complex backend environments.
    And as you point out Aaron, the right type of content.

    How much of this time is spent developing tools and frameworks to build the game, to support the distributed architecture and infrastructure, to handle billing, customer support, how much is spent on developing the content that the players may experience in some way? How much is reused from other games, how much is built for future use and not used right now?

    How many people involved in developing an MMOG are actually experienced in this area, with multiple MMOGs behind them?

    I do not have answers to all of this. But until the time the answer to the last question usually will be “pretty much all of them” I think too many of the big budget titles strecting over many years will be a risky area. This is still a relatively new area of entertainment, taking smaller steps at a time may be help ful here.

  5. sadlotro
    October 16, 2007 at 18:56

    I think LOTRO is in deep trouble. They polished so much, that the game launched with too little content. Now, people are leaving… My server almost feels like a ghost town!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    October 21, 2007 at 23:13

    Wait, too many Poles on dev teams? Or is the actual nation of Poland at fault here? Someone call NATO!

  7. sente
    October 22, 2007 at 19:44

    AC, it may be the other way around – there need to be developers from Poland in the teams to make it work for all MMOGs.

  8. denright
    November 13, 2007 at 18:14

    Bhagpuss touches on one of the major conundrums that MMORPG developers in particular face. I make a distinction between MMOs and MMORPGs as MMO doesn’t imply a particular feature set while MMORPG does.
    With limited time and budgets MMORPG developers must choose their features carefully and evaluate the time and cost involved in implementing those features well. Unfortunately many developers suck at this. We often see games with a wide diversity of shoddy or non-cohesive features and we say, “Well, that game has some good ideas they are just poorly executed”. Conversely we see games that have only a few features that are highly polished and we say, “Well, it’s a solid game. It’s just really shallow”.
    In both cases the games can shape up over time as the former tightens up their features and the latter adds additional features but it’s a process that can take quite some time depending on the scope of the game. Take EQ2 as an example of the former if you will and CoH as an example of the latter.
    WoW has reached a climax in the MMORPG genre that cannot be surpassed in a reasonable development time-frame and budget. It is the pinnacle against which all other MMORPGs will be measured, and while these developing mmorpgs are struggling to reach that pinnacle WoW is simultaneously raising it by adding features, content, and polish. The next “king of the hill” so to speak will likely not come out of the gates running but will climb that hill slowly and steadily as people trickle down from the mountain and encounter something more captivating climbing its way up.

    My advice to prospective MMORPG developers is simple. Develop something else.
    If you insist on developing an MMORPG then either accept that it’ll be a slow and treacherous climb up the mountain that WoW built, or take the risks necessary to start a new hill by differentiating yourself entirely from the traditional MMORPG approach to game play and content present in games like WoW. In any case, there is no guaranteed success.

  1. October 20, 2007 at 01:23
  2. November 7, 2007 at 04:33
  3. December 27, 2007 at 11:51
  4. February 27, 2008 at 18:32
Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: