The Two Big Issues Plaguing MMORPG Game Developers


Here are the two most common, critical issues of game developers in the MMORPG space:

  • They’re unable to contain scope and go “big game hunting”
  • They’re lagging behind broader industry trends

I’m going to unpack these in detail. The good news is that there are signs that some key players in the industry have come to the same realizations that I have and are trying to sort things out.

For full disclosure, I’ve never worked for a game developer. In 2012, I did interview with BioWare, a studio that I have immense respect for.

My opinions are informed not only as an MMORPG gamer of 8 years and my experience as an online host and content provider for GAMEBREAKER and this blog, but also as a 17-year veteran of the online/digital industry, including extensive work as a software developer, systems architect, large-scale project/program manager, and now product manager. I have led the delivery of rich experiences that users love through huge multi-disciplinary teams in meaningful timeframes. You want to design and deliver a kick-ass product and get it out the door on-time and on-budget, I’m your guy.

They are unable to contain scope and go “big game hunting”

Let me share an illustrative personal story.

Just over a decade ago right after the “Dot Com” implosion, I joined a well-funded startup company in the location services space. That startup was developing IP (algorithms and code) to solve the location services (GPS) problem for mobile devices.

Despite the rest of the startup market tanking, we secured $15MM USD in funding, because everyone expected that location was the next big thing (it was, but we were 3 years too early). What did we do with all that money? We tried to solve a problem that was $15MM big, or as my mentor liked to call it, we were “big game hunting” – trying to catch the biggest fish in the lake, instead of trying to land smaller wins and gaining feedback on real products that spurs incremental development, a la the Agile methodology. Simply put, we were trying to do too much.

Our company tried to develop both a mobile chip and a server product for our GPS solution. The chip and its algorithms were the secret sauce. The server product, which my team designed and built, was just the supporting product.

As it turns out, our startup bit off more than we could chew, and we burned through a lot of cash. I left the GPS startup to start a small business, and afterwards the GPS startup was acquired for $10MM. The kicker? We were acquired because our server product was a common need; the acquirer paid ten million dollars for something that my 4-person development team cranked out in 5 months.

Our startup failed because we went after scope that was too big and difficult to deliver. We were big game hunting. This is the #1 reason why Triple-A MMORPGs have struggled in recent years. There has not been a single AAA MMORPG launched in 2008-2012 that has meaningfully grown its subscriber base post-launch. The list of these games includes Warhammer Online, Age of Conan, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Guild Wars 2.

These games all tried to deliver too much, including multiple of the following:

  • PVE leveling content
  • PVE endgame content
  • PVE raiding content
  • Battleground PVP
  • Arena PVP
  • World PVP

That’s a crapload of content and systems to design, code, and test, let alone (try to) deliver with polish. On top of that, a game with so much scope has many different audiences with dissimilar needs and desires, and you can’t please everyone.

I do believe that it is possible to design a system that supports balance for both PVE and PVP, such as implementing abilities with context-specific coefficients, durations, diminishing returns, targets affected, etc. However, even if a developer were able to implement perfect balance, the players would perceive imbalances. So it may be a losing battle to even attempt to solve it.

While PVP content tends to have high replayability (witness the success of MOBA’s such as League of Legends), the customer expectation for PVE content is that a developer will continue to release new content regularly: quests, zones, instances, raids, etc. It’s not scalable. The ideal product or service for a business is one you build once and customers use a long time. That doesn’t exist in the MMORPG space for PVE content.

Emily Rogers talked about this in her insightful writeup on the rising costs of game development, and former Trion Exec Producer Scott Hartsman said that the traditional AAA style of development and distribution is broken. The root problem is the inability to define and maintain a sufficiently bounded scope that delivers a sticky MMORPG experience without taking on undue implementation or financial risk.

They both use an analogy that I’ve used before: the gaming industry is pursuing the same high-risk/high-reward model as the movie industry. However, the catch is that with a movie, you build once and re-sell forever, whereas an MMORPG has to be evergreen or the players will leave.

There are signs that gaming industry execs are learning, e.g.:

  • Mark Jacobs of City State Entertainment has said that Camelot Unchained will focus strictly on RVR (Realm versus Realm, or World PVP)
  • Scott Hartsman gets it
  • Smaller-scope F2P games are dominating online usage, in particular LoL. These games succeed not just because of the no-cost-barrier to acquisition, but because the developers are able to deliver limited content with high replayability

The new content in LoL is really limited to Champions, not elaborate zones with elaborate storylines with elaborate instances/raids with elaborate boss fight mechanics that then need to be balanced against elaborate classes with elaborate mechanics and elaborate customer expectations, which collectively leads to an elaborately unpolished experience and frustrated players. Ditto goes for the gem of a game, World of Tanks, I’ve been playing recently. The scope of the game is limited to maps, battle scenarios, tanks, and clan wars.

They’re lagging behind broader industry trends

I attended GDC 2012, and one particular panel blew me away, but not for the reason I would have expected. It was the BioWare panel hosted by SWTOR Exec Producer Richard Vogel and Director of Production Dallas Dickenson on the lessons learned from launching SWTOR, a title that by rumor cost $200+MM to launch (and I believe that figure is reasonable, as I explained with simple math of resources x cost x time).

One of their big aha’s was the concept of creating multi-disciplinary strike teams. That’s the idea of assigning a designer, engineer, artist, writer, QA person, etc together to solve problems across disciplines, instead of doing the traditional handoffs or throwing stuff over the wall.

My initial thought was wow, they’ve just learned what the rest of us figured out in the online industry over a decade ago, when we had to sort out how to get creative folks (brand strategists, information architects, visual designers, content strategists/writers, etc), business/strategy folks, and software developers effectively collaborating to deliver user-centered experiences on the web. But it wasn’t just BioWare who recently reached this epiphany. After the panel, I heard developers from other studios, including folks from Microsoft’s XBox360 team, come over and very excitedly share with the BioWare team that they had reached the same conclusion recently.

Granted, I’m close to this sort of thing, as I was the co-creator of a firm’s multidisciplinary methodology back in 1999 when I was at Sapient (at the time a 3000-person e-business consultancy) as a Director of Technology. But what we figured out back then in the online space has been common knowledge for a decade outside the gaming space.

The other signpost that indicates to me that gaming developers are a decade behind is the extent to which every developer seems to over-invest in their own custom stuff, e.g. pipeline management, languages, middleware, data stores, tools, etc. When I was talking to employees at game developers early last year as I was checking out the industry for job opportunities, one common theme was that developers were spending significant effort in building completely custom, proprietary stuff. This was as surprising to me as hearing the SWTOR heads talk about their epiphany about multi-disciplinary strike teams.

To understand this, let’s look outside the gaming industry. Standard libraries and open source have transformed the software development industry. Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, everyone wrote their own reusable code, e.g. string objects, collection classes, object caches, data access layers, etc. Looking back, it was stupidly redundant. Eventually programming languages such as Java and Perl provided these things as part of the language out-of-the-box, and that became a standard expectation for newer languages. Beyond that, the Internet was a fundamental enabler for open source development, by allowing talented people all over the world who were motivated to solve the same problems to collaborate on solutions.

These days, if you launch a product or service and aren’t taking a hard look at all of the polished open source software that that you can leverage and integrate so that you can focus on what was truly your value add, you’re a moron. There are open source packages for operating systems, algorithms, databases, middleware, version control, rules engines, graphics rendering, data caching, etc. Granted, many of these things require integration and experimentation to get working the way you want, but that is generally a heck of a lot easier and cheaper than building everything yourself and then having to maintain it forever.

I’m not saying that game developers aren’t using open source, of course they are, and I am most definitely not saying that developers shouldn’t write custom code. They should write custom code for areas that enable a differentiated experience or where there is no suitable open source option. I’m well aware that game developers face very challenging game performance, scaling, and availability requirements – but the software industry has been solving them for years, and viable open source solutions are out there.

There have been some efforts in the gaming industry to create common development platforms and SDKs. Unity has been a wildfire success.  On the more Triple-A side of things for larger games, Trion announced in 2011 that they were going to license their development tech, but I haven’t kept up with what’s happened with that.

As a last example, most MMORPGs have not caught up on the importance of making player / guild / server / game statistics and achievements publicly available via APIs, to enable the development of an ecosystem of 3rd party apps and web sites around their game. Providing such APIs has been key to the growth of many social media sites and game developers that get it. Wargaming has done an amazing job at this with WoT: I can literally track and measure my performance progress in that game on a per-battle or daily basis. Players love statistics, it’s a way to measure their performance and progression – in PVP or in PVE – or as my guildee Crescens says, “it’s a way for me to prove I’m better than you.” LOL :)

By contrast, games such as Guild Wars 2 have largely missed an amazing opportunity to use stats and leaderboards as a tool for endgame progression, and instead they chose the route of vertical scaling by introducing Ascended gear, which I believe creates long-term barriers to player retention and acquisition, because you can’t perform as well as others without sinking in the time investment first, and vertical gear progression limits a player’s ability to easily transition between different specs or different classes.

I do think there should be horizontal progression at endgame, such as a wide range of gear and abilities that have differing characteristics, a.k.a. “incomparables.” LoL has implemented incomparables with their Champions. While some Champions may be overpowered, they get balanced over time, and players can spend countless hours researching, testing, and arguing which is the better Champion for a given situation or comp, and that in itself makes a game ludicrously sticky.

Conclusion

Not every game developer currently gets it, but there is some hope based on what some studios and executives are or have been doing. The gaming industry is learning!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article, whether you’re a fellow gamer or work in the gaming industry.

Revision History

  • 2013/06/07: for clarity, renamed the 2nd bullet point from “lagging behind software industry” to “lagging behind broader industry trends”

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Posted in Business Analysis, Camelot Unchained, Game Design, League of Legends, PVE, PVP, RIFT, SWTOR, Warhammer Online, World of Tanks, World of Warcraft
67 comments on “The Two Big Issues Plaguing MMORPG Game Developers
  1. Misaligned says:

    This is a very interesting and insightful post. I’m a programmer as well and it is surprising to learn how far behind the MMO industry seems to be relative to other software development..

    I’m also glad to see you producing content more frequently. I’m sure you’re a busy guy but the content is very much appreciated and enjoyable. Thank you.

    • taugrim says:

      I’m a programmer as well

      Just curious, what industry do you work in?

      I’m also glad to see you producing content more frequently. I’m sure you’re a busy guy but the content is very much appreciated and enjoyable.

      Thanks, I appreciate your saying so.

      I now have a full-time job in Product Management, so the content I produce around gaming is what I can squeeze in my spare time. And I want to play games for fun too, not just to write about them :)

  2. The biggest problem developers face is the fast food mentality of society as a whole. We are hungry and we want to be fed now. There is no longer an acceptance of waiting for something, we all want that instant gratification…. well a vast majority do.

    I remember endlessly playing Everquest the game that, lets face it,had no questing. I would grind for hours on end at this camp or that waiting for a rare spawn. I had some of the most fun ever in that game, it wasn’t the game I was attached to though, it was the game bolted to a social chat tool that was cool. It was msn messenger with swords!

    Players of this generation want to beat the game, that’s pretty much a mentality since the main stream consoles this is the mass market. Old school gamers of MMO’s are the minority and that is not the cash cow of the gamer market.

    To cater to this market MMO’s need to launch with all the tools out of the box. LFG tool, meters, mod access etc. I am not sure why a game has not opened up source to modders in early beta stages to get some “free” development for their game. Most of WoW’s tools were developed outside of Blizzard and then the best bought and made part of the base game.

    WoW is so hard to uproot because the game is so much more customizable for every player than any new game out of the box, its just not going to be as user friendly because you just dont get all the tools you want, and they dont have the development time or money to put them all in.

    I think the first company that says hey ok we can use this graphics engine, write the base game and then opens up things like interface and tools to the community to develop will have the next big success. You cut down your labor and can focus on the actual meat of the game and let the community do what they do and make the tools to make the game as accessible as they want it to be.

    • taugrim says:

      The biggest problem developers face is the fast food mentality of society as a whole

      One could argue that our attention spans have been shrinking for the past 20+ years, as customer expectations have been influenced by not only fast food, but MTV, the increasingly short sound bites on news programs (e.g. Pardon the Interruption on ESPN), etc.

      I remember endlessly playing Everquest the game that, lets face it,had no questing

      I didn’t play EQ, but I played games that required grinding, because:
      1. there was no such thing as not grinding
      2. as a kid who grew up loving D&D and fantasy, being able to play in a virtual world was amazing

      To cater to this market MMO’s need to launch with all the tools out of the box. LFG tool, meters, mod access etc

      WoW set the bar high for new entrants.

      IMO it’s pointless to go head-to-head against WoW, as the cost to trying to launch a game and have parity from a functionality perspective (not even talking content) is simply not doable from a budget or scope perspective.

      I think the first company that says hey ok we can use this graphics engine, write the base game and then opens up things like interface and tools to the community to develop will have the next big success

      Yea I spent some time several years ago exploring the concept of building a game that would provide dungeon editors (a la FRUA) and have an integrated crowd-sourcing environment for graphics, etc. But there are legal and copyright issues with this, just as with any crowd-sourcing tool or content platform.

      That said, there have been very successful examples (e.g. map editors in StarCraft, Big Game Hunters anyone) and Neverwinter launched with one as well.

  3. Irulan says:

    As a Gamer for over 8 years, and I have done them all (or most). You are correct. No one has it right. I feel like a rubber ball, bouncing off the walls. It seems unfair to me to launch into all of these games and end with a huge disappointment. The issue is that they seem to try to do it all and none of it well. After a few weeks, or months I feel abandoned. All of a sudden the new content is gone, the achievements unattainable, boring repetition and the exodus begins. I have no inclination to farm, no inclination to do PVE, or to follow useless quests. I do want to PVP and I do want the battle ground to be big with ever changing environmental challenges. Where is this game?

    • taugrim says:

      It seems unfair to me to launch into all of these games and end with a huge disappointment. The issue is that they seem to try to do it all and none of it well

      ^ This

      WAR was a game I loved, even though it had some deep flaws (especially in terms of stability and performance unload), but it was painful seeing players leave in droves in the first 3 months and never come back.

      I stayed with WAR for a year but eventually left, because it was too depressing and the game was still unstable (for me) after a year and multiple CTDs a night are not acceptable.

      I do want to PVP and I do want the battle ground to be big with ever changing environmental challenges. Where is this game?

      Right now we have either the MOBA route (e.g. Smite, Panzar) or have to wait for CU to hopefully get it right.

  4. TriumphSP says:

    I’m such a war nerd. All I could think about was the similarity between software/game development and historical comparisons from WWII of two major offensive advances. The first being the failure of Operation Market Garden and the second being the success of the Island Hopping Strategy in the Pacific.

    New ancient book just released: Sun Tzu and the Art of MMO

    • taugrim says:

      The first being the failure of Operation Market Garden and the second being the success of the Island Hopping Strategy in the Pacific.

      Operation Market Garden, aka A Bridge Too Far, was classic overreach and fail miserably.

      Island Hopping is more Agile – reach attainable targets first, build momentum, learn, refine, and iterate. It’s the approach which is working in multiple industries, and one I think that the gaming industry could really learn from.

      • TriumphSP says:

        Correct.
        I would like to elaborate more however and clarify my exact illustration.

        Operation Market Garden was designed as a knock out punch to force Germany to surrender. To give an idea as to the scale, twice the number of paratroopers as were involved in Normandy were involved in Market Garden . The plan was fairly simple, capture 4 separate bridges with paratroopers and then secure those bridges with advancing armor. Being as there was only a single road by which to advance the tanks, to secure bridge 4, required securing bridge 3, which require bridge 2, after securing bridge 1.

        No room for deviation, it was a plan that ended in complete failure or complete success. Though spun in the media as a victory, it was a failure. Very similar to current MMO Launches.

        Island hopping by contrast didn’t require a linear advance. The speed and success of capturing Island [B] was independent of the speed and success of capturing Island [A]. Since every operation was independent, several operation could be occurring at once whose success or failure was independent of the other assaults.

        The ultimate goal of both strategies were the same, ending the war. The war with Germany ended with hard paid attrition, the war with Japan ended because of an unanticipated advance in technology and a forward bombing base from which that technology could be launched. That base capture via the Island Hopping strategy and incorporated in. The atom bomb too, as an independent operation. Were it to fail in achieving a surrender from the Japanese sever damage would have been inflicted that would only have benefited the final phase of the Island Hopping strategy, a main land invasion.

        Again, the unanticipated technology affecting the final outcome is another correlation MMOs often fail to plan for or take advantage of.

  5. Benny says:

    Taugrim long time no talk! This article is a great read! I have also noticed the same downward funnel of MMO playerbase from launch. Of all the MMOs that I have played the only ones that seem to have some sort of renewable fun are ones that allows people to play with the friends from beginning to end. One example I can really give that is out there now is Final Fantasy XI. FFXI is an 11 year old MMO that is still surviving off of the pay to play model. It excels in vast content and the ability to play with friends at almost all levels of the game with their level sync feature.

    I remember our old times playing RIFT(Seventh of Harrow) together when PVP was still about skill/tactics over gear. I believe what most MMOs do that is a nail to their own coffin is by putting multiple tiers of gear at the max level, causing an ugly tedious gear grind. I recall once hitting max level in RIFT at the time I was bombarded by the 4+ tiers of PVP gear, which meant people who have played before me had an instantaneous advantage in gear/stats. MMOs seem to be like a collapsing bridge from the day of launch. Those who start with the game can enjoy what the developers offer, while those starting behind will see the bridge collapse before them.

    If you have time in the busy schedule again and if you are still in the city, I’d love to catch up with you!

    • taugrim says:

      Of all the MMOs that I have played the only ones that seem to have some sort of renewable fun are ones that allows people to play with the friends from beginning to end. One example I can really give that is out there now is Final Fantasy XI. FFXI is an 11 year old MMO that is still surviving off of the pay to play model. It excels in vast content and the ability to play with friends at almost all levels of the game with their level sync feature.

      You hit on a critical issue with many games.

      The leveling / vertical scaling by nature creates artificial separation between players, making it difficult for them to enjoy the same context together.

      I talked about that a lot in my pitch for horizontal scaling:

      http://taugrim.com/2012/04/19/why-games-should-scale-horizontally-instead-of-vertically/

      I remember our old times playing RIFT(Seventh of Harrow) together when PVP was still about skill/tactics over gear. I believe what most MMOs do that is a nail to their own coffin is by putting multiple tiers of gear at the max level, causing an ugly tedious gear grind. I recall once hitting max level in RIFT at the time I was bombarded by the 4+ tiers of PVP gear, which meant people who have played before me had an instantaneous advantage in gear/stats.

      Yep.

      I also get bored with PVP once I get maxed gear and have an advantage against lesser-geared players. I want to win because our team coordinated better and I played well, not because I hit the player for 1000 DPS and they can only output 800 DPS.

      If you have time in the busy schedule again and if you are still in the city, I’d love to catch up with you!

      Let’s target late June or early July. Going to be traveling and have a lot of offsites for work.

  6. Chaz says:

    I also think that games like LOL or WoW already satisfy the demand for MMOs or mobas and that’s why no other MMO will achieve the same kind of succes, I see a similarity with G+, many people say it’s better than Facebook, but everyone is already settled in Facebook and they are not really interested in having another social network, but Tweeter seems to be succesful because they are niche and do their own thing, they don’t set themselves in direct competition with Facebook, however you have many MMOs that do put themselves in competition with wow because they copy pretty much all the features.

    I also think there is a bit of unrealistic expectations, many people think that if you don’t have wow numbers your MMO is a failure, it’s like telling a musician that if he doesn’t have more fans than the Beattles he’s a failure. Only 12k people backed Mark Jacobs, under a publisher those numbers would be a catastrophe, but since he is beign kickstarted those numbers are ok.

    • taugrim says:

      I also think that games like LOL or WoW already satisfy the demand for MMOs or mobas and that’s why no other MMO will achieve the same kind of succes

      I think you are right *if* you go head-to-head with an much more established player by providing a similar offering.

      That’s where innovation comes in – you have to create distinct, compelling experiences. That’s what attracts players and makes them sticky.

      Only 12k people backed Mark Jacobs, under a publisher those numbers would be a catastrophe, but since he is beign kickstarted those numbers are ok.

      CU raised $2MM USD, which is a lot of money for a game that we won’t see for years.

      Our guild kicked in $1200 between 20 players. I wrote earlier on my blog that I didn’t align with all of MJ’s game design decisions, but I think he’s hitting the most important things. So for me kicking in $60 was partly based on principle; I want to see CSE succeed.

      • Gothic90 says:

        Speaking of that, these “alternative” games can find their player base. There are players who play TOR solely for two reasons: 1) they are familiar with WoW style combat and 2) they like lightsabers.

        Alternative games probably won’t beat the previously established games but they can still be great hits or at least profitable. For example, if there isn’t Dota 2 I’ll be very sad. Yes it is a moba that goes head to head against LoL, but it offers a totally different strategy system. Same goes with GW2, that I still find parts of the game really enjoyable.

        And I’ll also be very sad if there aren’t any more AAA MMORPGs. I understand that it makes it impossible to polish everything, but I don’t think companies should stop making them, unless AAA MMORPGs become unprofitable. However, that day is not today: even ToR, with their new F2P model, is profitable again. I also heard (unconfirmed) that GW2 sold more than 10m copies over the course of nearly a year and that is not bad.

        I understand small themed online games can offer a lot to the players, especially since you come from a competitive background, but a virtual world is usually offered only by triple A MMOs. Since I am growing older I no longer find virtual worlds that appealing, but I understand how they appeal to people.

        They may not be able to beat WoW, but they have their place.

  7. Not sure about everything in your post, but it does offer a lot of insight. I could see in what game companies were doing that they were hesitant to adapt, but I didn’t realize they were also way behind in software trends as well.

    I feel that publishers/devs aren’t completely to blame. I have become increasingly disconnected from other gamers, especially MMO gamers. Reading comments, youtubers, or just talking to people I know in real life, I’ve never met such a loud group of people that demand companies give them what they want and yet have no real clue what it is they truly want. When your audience is like that, I am not sure pleasing them has much to do with your company’s decisions, but instead is most often a case of timing and luck.

    How many gamers ask for something, get it, and then quickly move on and complain about what they got? Gamers seem like a kid who is more excited about getting a toy than playing with the toy once they’ve gotten it. They want to be a perpetual nirvana of that first trip to Toys R Us, and it’s starting to drive all the problems you mention. Trying to please this audience is a waste of time, but listening to them is a waste of time as well.

    WoW tried to please everyone, and it didn’t really succeed at that, but it did succeed financially. The game released at a time where its genre and persistent online play was still a novelty, and the game itself was mostly a step up from what existed before.

    LoL some would argue is not the best MOBA, but it’s the top MOBA and that likely has a lot to do with it being free and the time it released. It survived an initial scrum between the original DOTA, Champions Online and itself. Now there’s a lot of MOBAs, and I actually find some like SMITE far more interesting to play, but I know the community will likely stick like glue to LoL for no reason other than their own behavior traits.

    Even the MOBA popularity perplexes me on some level. I enjoy MOBAs a bit when I can stomach the community, and they do have a lot of replay-ability, but they lack some of the twitch of modern gaming and aren’t especially exciting to me. I had good, competitive PVP with horizontal progression and incomparables way back with the original Guild Wars, but its success was still relatively niche within the genre. I imagine WoW’s Arena got more mainstream attention despite the fact it was an ill-fated attempt to please everyone that ultimately failed, and certainly paled in comparison to the more pvp focused Guild Wars.

    There’s just no reliable formula for an audience with a short attention span, no idea what they like, and an entitled attitude towards life.

    Oh, and also, you mention APIs but it sounded like you weren’t aware ANet made its API available recently. But maybe I am just reading that wrong?

    Anyways, always enjoy your posts. I might try World of Tanks sometime, but I’m not sure its the type of combat I enjoy.

    • taugrim says:

      Not sure about everything in your post

      Well, there’s a fair amount of extrapolation based on what I’ve heard from people.

      That’s why it’s great that we have some game developers posting comments here and on social media.

      I have become increasingly disconnected from other gamers, especially MMO gamers. Reading comments, youtubers, or just talking to people I know in real life, I’ve never met such a loud group of people that demand companies give them what they want and yet have no real clue what it is they truly want.

      A few points:
      1. blaming other gamers, i.e. the customers, will get us nowhere. At the end of the day, customers pay for the products that make the industry viable
      2. people are rabid in any subject area, not just gaming. That’s life in the age of social media. I think gamers were on YT and forums earlier than other demographics. But I’ve followed sports message boards (e.g. Sherdog for MMA) and people are just as crazy. Or just take a look around Reddit on any forum
      3. all companies in any industry have to discern what feedback to listen to and how to incorporate it

      How many gamers ask for something, get it, and then quickly move on and complain about what they got? Gamers seem like a kid who is more excited about getting a toy than playing with the toy once they’ve gotten it

      Keep in mind though, the kid is getting a toy usually designed for a particular purpose or context.

      The problem as I outlined is developers are trying to build too much different types of content, with the result that each section is leaking water, and no one likes their stuff getting wet.

      I know the community will likely stick like glue to LoL for no reason other than their own behavior traits.

      Players will stick with stuff they enjoy.

      A lot of my guildees have “Gamer A.D.D.” – they have to buy/install every new game that comes out. I’m not that way, I’d rather be selective because I value my time and don’t want to waste it on mediocre games.

      I had good, competitive PVP with horizontal progression and incomparables way back with the original Guild Wars, but its success was still relatively niche within the genre.

      Well, GW2 was supposed to deliver a rich extension of the horizontal progression model, but they panicked IMO after launch due to dropping usage and backtracked on expectations they had set prior to launch extremely clearly that they weren’t going to create a gear treadmill, as I wrote here:

      http://taugrim.com/2012/12/01/my-take-on-ascended-gear-in-guild-wars-2/

      Oh, and also, you mention APIs but it sounded like you weren’t aware ANet made its API available recently. But maybe I am just reading that wrong?

      Yes, I know.

      Too little, too late.

      A lot of people have already stopped playing GW2 and will not go back. Lots of my guildees for example.

      • Ascended gear has no impact on sPVP, which is where the endless horizontal progression would apply in Guild Wars 2. It could apply in PVE as well, but Ascneded gear isn’t the big problem there. It’s their PVE encounter design that causes the issue. They often seem afraid to demand their audience learn more about the game or be punished for not knowing the game.

        sPVP interest and participation has started to crawl back up due to spectator mode, their support of casters, and tournaments on Twitch. I still feel they need a mode other than Conquest and a revamp of talents. Once those two things are done, the mode will be interesting to more people.

        The truth for the spvp community is that ArenaNet nailed combat and they’ve historically been better at balance than any other MMO dev. It may take them some time to bring spvp up to par, but they’re still the best bet in the genre.

        Also, it’s not about blaming the customer, but blaming yourself for trying to please them. If you look at what a company like Nintendo did between the Gamecube and Wii then you see a company that realized it was trying to please people who didn’t want to be pleased and learned to circumnavigate the gamer audience.

        The Gamecube was gaming dedicated machine with better third party support than most Nintendo consoles had been getting, a fuller library than most Nintendo consoles have had since, and hardware that was technologically competitive. It did however come in a purple color, had a handle for carrying around and featured colorful Nintendo games, and as the gamer audience was somehow afraid of anything slightly resembling their youth, it did not succeed. You can’t say the console was weak hardware as it had some of the most visually impressive games. You can’t say the software library was lacking as there were almost all third party multi-console titles on the platform, plenty of exclusives, and some of the generations most highly regarded games.

        Nintendo tried doing what gamers asked for and it didn’t get them anywhere. So they went around that audience and stopped trying to please them. They went after an audience that studies had shown to exist, but that nobody had really tapped into before. It worked, and it worked very well for them.

        So you can’t keep trying to please people that don’t know what they want or are more interested in being displeased. It’s not about blaming the customer. It’s about realizing that section of your audience has rot, and that particular customer base is a pointless pursuit for you and then making the wise choice in moving on.

        :”Keep in mind though, the kid is getting a toy usually designed for a particular purpose or context.

        The problem as I outlined is developers are trying to build too much different types of content, with the result that each section is leaking water, and no one likes their stuff getting wet.”

        It doesn’t matter that it leaks water. Is every Minecraft mod actually fun? Not really. However, it gives people like Yogscast something to make a video about, and people watch the video for fun. That’s why ArenaNet went to two week updates with Guild Wars 2. It’s new and also frequent, and that is often what matters most.

        Point being that it is more about the excitement of the new thing than getting the thing that matters. That toy may be designed for a particular context, but the only context that matters to much of the audience is the context of shitting on a shelf and looking shiny. The joy is the feeling of anticipation. Once you have the thing, that feeling is gone, and enjoyment fades for this particular audience.

        This will sound agist, but the pre-frontal cortex of the brain doesn’t fully develop in some adults until the age of 25. That age around where critical decision making is developing for people is also a prime section of the gamer demographic. Following the development of this part of the brain, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is extra time needed for each individual to reflect on past choices, why they made those choices, and how they will make choices in the future.

        Sometimes all this comes together to create an audience that just won’t accept anything new while feeling the need for something new, a pre-frontal backfire to use a car analogy.

        • taugrim says:

          Ascended gear has no impact on sPVP, which is where the endless horizontal progression would apply in Guild Wars 2. It could apply in PVE as well, but Ascneded gear isn’t the big problem there.

          WvW (World PVP) is a PVP context where Ascended gear comes into play, because you use the same gear as in PVE.

          Aside from WoW, there hasn’t been a single game with vertical gear progression that has meaningfully retained or grown subs in recent years. Vertical progression is a carrot on a stick for a while, but players have been learning in recent years that they can eat the carrot in other games without having to deal with the grind.

          Vertical gear progression used to work in the market, because it’s all that existed and all gamers knew.

          PVP interest and participation has started to crawl back up due to spectator mode

          My guess – and I hope I am wrong – is that AN is adding esports functionality too late. I’m glad they’re getting around to it, but a lot of players have already moved on.

          The problem with MMORPG players is that a lot of them stop playing a game and don’t go back to it, because they find other newer games to play. I previously didn’t believe this to be the case but in WAR, RIFT, SWTOR, and GW2, I tended to continue playing longer than the majority of my guildees who started at or around launch with me.

          The truth for the spvp community is that ArenaNet nailed combat and they’ve historically been better at balance than any other MMO dev. It may take them some time to bring spvp up to par, but they’re still the best bet in the genre.

          I love the combat mechanics in GW2, but the balance hasn’t been that great in sPvP – at least in tournaments the range of viable classes and specs has been more limited than what I would have expected

          Hopefully the balance will get better.

          Nintendo did between the Gamecube and Wii then you see a company that realized it was trying to please people who didn’t want to be pleased and learned to circumnavigate the gamer audience.

          This is a bit off-topic from your point, but the Wii controller was a genius move by Nintendo. The use of accelerometer technology to create a controller that enabled natural, intuitive hand movements was brilliant.

          I remember watching my 4-yo niece playing tennis with her 65-yo grandfather, who had probably never played a console game in his life, and it was powerful to see.

          It doesn’t matter that it leaks water. Is every Minecraft mod actually fun? Not really. However, it gives people like Yogscast something to make a video about, and people watch the video for fun

          You’re talking apples-and-oranges.

          Mods are created by the community, not the developer. If a mod is created that sucks, that doesn’t reflect poorly on the developer.

          Of course the developer is responsible for the API that enables mods to exist.

          • I think my points have been kind of lost in this.

            Guild Wars 1 and in comparison to WoW’s popularity was an example of one game that specialized in PvP with an affordable business model that lasted for years in comparison to a game with a please everyone model but a weaker “water leaking” PVP offering.

            Which was more successful? What had more mindshare? Which did you even play? It was WoW despite all the flaws.

            Gamecube/Wii is about having a stubborn and incorrigible audience that’s as fairweather as they are demanding. Nintendo decided to stop wasting their time on them and it worked. Even specializing towards what the people had demanded did nothing for them. So they went elsewhere with their business and it worked for them. (Until the new market got gobbled up by others.)

            So I just don’t find specializing to be the true answer. I also imagine it’s hard to make an indie-esque MMO.

            Also, and this gets to AAA development craziness, but how are we measuring success? If Camelot Unchained manages 200k-300k then I feel its makers will feel successful. If Guild Wars 2 (sorry to keep using it, but its the most successful western MMO in years) sells over 3 million, keeps selling, and has high concurrency, and is one of NCSoft’s highest earners then how is it not a success? Or an even bigger success?

            How do we explain our odd views of success? I always found it weird that people called GW2 a failure.

            As for individual things:

            WvWvW/Ascended – This was never going to be balanced. This really should be an all-out war 24/7 for fun. There’s a competitive nature to it, and I enjoy it for that, but I feel early adopters totally misconstrued the merits of WvWvW. Winning in a giant battle that’s impossible to balance doesn’t really mean a thing. It’s more about the strategy and fun of the handful of good battles you face through the day.

            However, some guilds and groups took it very seriously early on and I think sort of poisoned the well. Free transfers only hurt this and it became a mercenary game where servers poach players from other servers in order to win and it got rather messy.

            Recent changes had stabilized things a bit and activity in WuvWuv is back up to the numbers ANet saw before the turn of the new year. I forget what Colin said about the activity levels, but its healthy and active if nothing else. My server had queues on all borderlands this weekend for the first 10 or so hours after reset and we’re not even a top 10 WvWvW server.

            And while not balanced, WvWvW does reveal some things for sPVP, which gets to…

            Balance – I should have clarified what i mean by balance. When I refer to balance, I mean that the difference in power between classes is relatively small. GW2 has been pretty good about this, with a couple of classes lagging behind, but no one class being overpowered (outside of some D/D Ele incarnations which have seen nerfs since).

            The issue of lack of different specs has to do with the chosen Conquest game mode being the only spvp mode and the traits needing a revamp. That’s why those two things are important to me. Conquest revolves around bunker and burst with little room for any other sort of role to matter. Due to the nature of the game mode, the various other things a class can do or other ways to play a class don’t really matter, so there’s a lack of variety in ways to spec your class that are competitive at high levels.

            One of the recent little trends in WvWvW that have developed is guilds creating their own Guild v Guild out in the middle of a WvWvW match. Gw2gvg.com was set up so that guilds could do this and have their own skirmishes out in the open. It’s not ideal, but its the audience making what they want to do and what they’ve been asking for from ArenaNet since before launch.

            I bring this up because I find I can play a greater amount of different types of specs as a Mesmer in WvWvW than I can in sPVP. Since things like group fights and team fights matter then I can be something other than a shattercat or immortal phantasm Mesmer. I have more roles I can fulfill. I can be a frontline Mesmer, a backline Mesmer, a portal/chaos Mesmer, or a solo ganker. The other day I ran a Mesmer in tanky stats with Imbued Diversion, a trait you never see used elsewhere. Did it work? Surprisingly it was effective because I was a front line Mesmer putting down Veils for the head of the zerg, and then running in to the heart of an enemy group and dazing them all so that our initial burst hits with both surprise and massive debilitation. The fact that I did less damage than I would have with a beserker-based spec didn’t matter because my role was to create chaos on the field of battle. However, there’s just no room for that type of role in Conquest mode and that’s why variety is lacking there.

            Sorry to have hit you with another wall of text. I also made this about Guild Wars 2 which is not the point of your post. I am just not sure the game applied to your example. For a AAA MMO, it was made with a far more reasonable expectation of success in mind than SWTOR or (perhaps) TESO. It lacks the sort of things that drive up cost of other MMOs. No big CGI cinematics and not a lot of money spent on advertising. It’s a budgeted AAA title if that can be such a thing. It’s also the only recent MMO that hasn’t had to cut staff post-launch and is instead hiring people. (Though maybe Trion did, too?)

            I have questions about outsourcing and borrowing pre-existing tech in regards to MMOs, but I’ll ask them in another response since this thread got off-topic too much.

  8. sirgrend says:

    Great read as always, nice to see someone taking a slightly different perspective on the whole thing.

    I delved quite deep into the backend of MMORPG development a few years ago and one thing i took away from it was the fact that when a company started to produce their own engine/backend solutions they had to pretty much go big or go home. The time and the cost to develop a solution that could accomodate even the most basic of MMORPG needs tended to mean that the only way they could ever see a return on it was by chasing the AAA money. So I tend to think the “big game hunting” has been from necessity rather than choice to some extent.

    Really i think the problem of scale stems from the genre itself, MMORPGs are by their very nature big games almost verging on virtual worlds, it strikes me that your first point is hit by most developers by simply wanting to make an MMORPG in the first place. A small scale MMORPG is still much larger than most other games and if you scale it down to much you would be better of making a multiplayer game with some persistance (like World Of Tanks). While it is possible to start small and work up that brings its own problems e.g being forced to adopt sandbox gameplay, suffering from poor graphics, abysmal gameplay and development of close nit, hard to penetrate communities.

    I did come across a few custom MMORPG engines most of which i assume still exist. In fact one is used by SWTOR (http://www.heroengine.com/spotlights/swtor-2/) so i can only imagine what the game would have cost without it. The fact they are recent developments (in MMORPG development time that is) is probably what lies behind them not being used on a lot more releases. The rate at which eastern MMORPGs appear would hint that their use (or at least the use of some kind of shared solutions) is common practise there, so maybe this is much more of as case of western developers being slow on the uptake? Or simply that Western MMORPGs that use more share solutions are still in the pipeline.

    There are cases of “MMORPGs” using non MMORPG engines as the basis of the game, Mortal Online and Vindictus are two examples. Although this has its own set of issues that are reflected in both games so i can see why developers have avoided that solution in the past.

    • taugrim says:

      I delved quite deep into the backend of MMORPG development a few years ago and one thing i took away from it was the fact that when a company started to produce their own engine/backend solutions they had to pretty much go big or go home. The time and the cost to develop a solution that could accomodate even the most basic of MMORPG needs tended to mean that the only way they could ever see a return on it was by chasing the AAA money. So I tend to think the “big game hunting” has been from necessity rather than choice to some extent.

      There are package solutions for engines. Granted, they need to be tweaked for particular games, and there may be compromises based on what the engine can and can’t do, or can’t do without it being a real pain to get working.

      Building an engine from scratch is a high investment, and it’s only worth it IMO if you can build it such that you can leverage for multiple game properties, which is what I perceived Trion was doing.

      Really i think the problem of scale stems from the genre itself, MMORPGs are by their very nature big games almost verging on virtual worlds

      Understood.

      If you think of a real life analogy, most of us spend 95% of our time at the same restaurants, hangouts, places, etc, because they’re things we enjoy. I think that’s the key. In a virtual world you don’t need 300 zones or even 30. 10 might be enough, if there’s enough engagement and excitement in them.

      For years many LOTRO players did PVP with only 1 map (Moors), with an underground map added later.

  9. Soujiro says:

    Taug. It’s been a while since I’ve read your posts. However I’m glad I did, since this was really insightful. I can only hope that game developers pay attention to this, because everyone knows there is something wrong lately, but no one seemed to know what, until now.

    I was just watching an Anime called Sword Art Online, which is about MMORPGs. Don’t wanna spoil anything, all I have to say is that I was thinking to myself: “Man, I really want to play an MMO now!” Not to long after that I realized that there wasn’t any MMOs I enjoyed. Began wondering *WHY* I hadn’t enjoyed any of the last MMOs I had played, but didn’t manage to figure it out.

    Now, after reading your article it is crystal clear. You really break it down and I say to that ‘Kudos’!

    In my head it would make more sense to have ‘smaller but robust’ titles, rather than what we have had the last few years.

    My question 1 is: what about Diablo 3? It’s not an MMO, I know, but as a game I feel it has less ‘mistakes’, didn’t go for the “Big Fish” (and it’s ‘small and robust’) however it failed miserably.

    Question 2. Would you feel that having the following is the right choice:

    -One MMO more PvP oriented, with as much depth in it as possible, however lacking story and more PvE (other than, lets say: leveling, and farming)
    -A second MMO with a PvE orientation, with constant renewable content, but with just a little bit of PvP (maybe duels and a battleground without ratings and all that)

    Or maybe having only *ONE* MMO that consists of:

    -Simple, repetitive and progressive PvE, not renewable (maybe without a level cap, or the ability to get level resets, like older MMOs). Maybe apply a system that when you get a level reset, the game becomes harder and harder each time, or mobs fighting algorithms get more ‘Random’.
    -Simple, straightforward PvP, duels, and open world PK-system (Green players are non-PK, Orange players are criminals, and Red are slayers), and nothing more. No BGs, no Arenas, no Rating.

    Question 3. On these two cases I proposed, I would assume that having a less complicated ‘Game System’ would mean more investment in graphics. Heck we could even get rid of classes, or gear systems (depending on the case), and give more depth to each players skills, professions and whatnot.

    Since there is less investment on getting a wider variety of players, more focus can be made onto things that usually get in the way of game balance, quality and depth?

    Thanks for your article and all your insight.

    Cheers!

    • Viliphied says:

      Diablo 3 sold 10 Million copies. In what possible world is that “failing miserably”?

      That’s part of the problem right there, the fact that a hugely successful game could be considered a miserable failure because of a whiny fanbase.

      • Soujiro says:

        Well, it failed to withstand through time. It isn’t like Diablo 2 where people kept playing it 10 years after. Not to mention that most of the numbers come from the “Anual Pass” which was a giant rip off, just to make sure they didn’t lose more WoW suscribers. They also had the advantage that their previous title was really successful, so they had a loyal fanbase which was let down. Then again, that’s an entire discussion on it’s own.

        • Viliphied says:

          So a game has to retain subscribers for 10 years to be successful? That’s an impossibly high standard, and this attitude is poisoning the gaming community.

      • Conwolv says:

        It’s not a failure so much in the number of units sold. However, player retention has been fairly poor. I think we’ll see the results if/when an expansion for the game comes out.

    • taugrim says:

      In my head it would make more sense to have ‘smaller but robust’ titles, rather than what we have had the last few years.

      Agreed.

      Devs would be better off starting with a smaller scope, engaging the community to get it right, and then gradually growing the game, then going Big Bang and launching a lot of stuff that is leaking water everywhere.

      Even better yet, create APIs that allow the community to extend your game in creative ways and build content for it.

      My question 1 is: what about Diablo 3? It’s not an MMO, I know, but as a game I feel it has less ‘mistakes’, didn’t go for the “Big Fish” (and it’s ‘small and robust’) however it failed miserably.

      I’m going to skip this question since I skipped D3, but there is plenty of material already written about the game.

      -One MMO more PvP oriented, with as much depth in it as possible, however lacking story and more PvE (other than, lets say: leveling, and farming)

      Why even have PVE leveling? What value does it provide in a PVP context? I would argue PVE tends to misprepare players for PVP, which is why so many players struggle with the transition.

      They’re used to predictable mobs and keyboard turning with the default horrible keybindings.

      Start with PVP from the get-go, help players learn from it early and in a fun context, a la Nordenwatch in WAR for levels 1-11.

      WAR had *THE BEST* PVP from the start of a game of any I’ve ever played. It was fun, th learning curve wasn’t too steep given that the # of skills were limited, there were no talent points, and gear was easily acquired but not gamebreaking.

      -A second MMO with a PvE orientation, with constant renewable content, but with just a little bit of PvP (maybe duels and a battleground without ratings and all that)

      The expectations around PVP content would need to be carefully managed.

      The PVE community is going to have the concern that PVP will result in PVE-impacting nerfs.

      I think you either provide meaningful PVP content, or you don’t bother.

      Since there is less investment on getting a wider variety of players, more focus can be made onto things that usually get in the way of game balance, quality and depth?

      That’s the idea.

      Get limited scope out there to Beta test, refine it, and launch the minimum set of scope that makes for an sufficiently engaging experience.

  10. I cringed when I heard about all the problems BW had with the Hero Engine while working on SWTOR. So much time that could’ve been spent elsewhere.

    • taugrim says:

      I cringed when I heard about all the problems BW had with the Hero Engine while working on SWTOR. So much time that could’ve been spent elsewhere.

      Any engine is going to take time to integrate (or build from scratch).

      Part of the hard thing is that while you’re wrangling a 3rd party engine to work the way you want it to, you’re may already be building stuff with it.

      It’s like trying to fly a plane with someone else’s engine that hasn’t been sufficiently integrated with the rest of the plane. You end up band-aiding a lot to get it to work, but if the engine were more sorted out before you tried flying the plane around, life would be easier.

      Of course, it’s easy to say this outside of the context of a launch schedule and such.

  11. I’m an MMO dev. I worked on the game Meridian 59 for over a decade. I worked on some larger projects that sadly never saw the light of day. I’m currently working at Storybricks, implementing AI for a large MMO.

    The problem is that you’re looking at this as a software developer; understandable given your background, but you’re overlooking some bigger problems. Not to say that these two issues you pick out aren’t important, but these are hardly the most important issues. I don’t even think they’d rank in the top 10 issues that are harming MMOs. Going into full detail would require a huge posting, and I suspect this will already be a wall of text.

    Let’s start with your second point on engineering methodology. Yes, MMO (and really, all game developers) are not on the cutting edge of software development methodology. Part of this is that game developers tend to be super-smart people, and super-smart people always think they can do better than others. NIH (not invented here) runs rampant. But, a large part of this is because games tend to follow a boom/bust cycle. Using readily available technology that lots of people are familiar with makes you even more replaceable in an industry where the demand for jobs outstrips supply unless you’re at the top. EA goes through massive layoffs at least once per year, and anything you can do to make yourself irreplaceable helps you make mortgage payments. The problem here is how the business of making games is operated, because it’s organized more like a tech industry rather than a creative industry. Given the volatility of games, it really should be organized more like a creative industry.

    Keep in mind that game developers are behind not only in software engineer methodology, but also in techniques used. When’s the last time you had to hand-tune some of your code at the assembly language level? That’s still a technique in common use in the game industry today, particularly for consoles. We can also talk about the breadth of skills required, where just getting a program to show up is a tiny part of the battle, now you have to worry about rendering, gameplay, sound, peripherals, physics, stupid OS tricks, and a whole host of other things in just a single project.

    What about cross-functional teams? Well, these are a lot different than what you see in traditional enterprise engineering. Again, game development is a creative effort. Take your cross-functional team you organized back in 1999, and let’s pretend that you had to fit a novelist, someone who only knows how to write books and not code, onto the team. Not only does your enterprise code need to fulfill the spec, but it also has to be a bestselling novel. Beginning to get a sense of why it’s taken so long to get to this point? As I’ve quipped before, “there is no unit test to measure fun”.

    So, what about game scope? Honestly, the stupid scope is driven by the audience, not the developers. Developers put in arena PvP and endgame content on top of leveling PvE because that’s what the players demand from a game. If you don’t provide it, your game will be ignored by the audience, so you will just end up guaranteeing the loss of a smaller investment rather than taking a gamble on a bigger investment.

    I ran the game Meridian 59 (M59) for years. Our focus was to make a great PvP game. But, the graphics sucked, and the game was old, and the music was MIDI, and a thousand and one other reasons why someone wouldn’t bother with the game. M59 had no potential for growth, despite as much effort as I poured into it. People expected the game, particularly the production quality, to be far beyond anything that was reasonable for our small team to provide. And, if you hadn’t heard about M59 then you might start to understand part of the downside to running a small game.

    As you start increasing production values, you increase costs, and you start to need to appeal to a wider audience in order to make up those increased costs. The subscription business model was partially to blame for this, because with subscriptions the only way you increase your income is to increase subscriptions sold, which means getting more players. But, some of the diehards have real problems with the free-to-play model that breaks this.

    But, this is a sideshow. Here’s the real scary thing: marketing costs. Marketing costs have been a HUGE drain on budgets. Yes, SWtOR supposedly cost $200M to make, but the marketing costs were *another $100M on top of that*. When you have to spend that much money on marketing, you can’t just build a small, constrained game and expect a profit. You need to build a huge game to justify the huge marketing cost and draw a huge audience to pay back the huge costs. And, it’s not like you can just decide to skimp on marketing costs; as I said, if you haven’t heard of M59 you can see why a game needs a huge marketing budget.

    Yes, AAA development is broken Software engineering practices barely register on the radar, though. The business side of things is a lot bigger, and sadly there’s just not enough interest to deal with that side of development.

    • taugrim says:

      I’m an MMO dev. I worked on the game Meridian 59 for over a decade.

      Small world.

      M59 was my first MMORPG, and I played it back in 1998 and 1999. I was originally on server 200 (first non-PK server) and later rolled on 108 to experience PVP.

      I also went to the high school (TJHSST) with the dudes (brothers IIRC) who built the game out of their parents basement. I think one of them was Andrew, but that was years ago.

      The problem is that you’re looking at this as a software developer; understandable given your background

      I have a rich background in software development, but I would not describe myself as strictly a software developer.

      Thanks to the many incredibly talented creative people I have worked with over the years, I’ve learned a ton about the creative process and user-centered design principles, how various aspects of creative work gets done (e.g. storyboarding -> wireframing -> comps, etc), different types of research (ethnography, experience modeling, etc) and when to use them, etc. The creative folks taught me the essentials of user experience, got me to read Design of Everyday Things, Edward Tufte, etc, and more recently Luke W on mobile.

      I have also worked as a management consultant doing business strategy work.

      So my background, even for the Bay Area, is unusually diverse.

      Not to say that these two issues you pick out aren’t important, but these are hardly the most important issues

      Disagree. Scope is top 3 at least. Devs try to build too much, without defining the target market.

      Going into full detail would require a huge posting, and I suspect this will already be a wall of text.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts.

      Part of this is that game developers tend to be super-smart people, and super-smart people always think they can do better than others. NIH (not invented here) runs rampant

      This is the same in the software dev industry outside of gaming. 100% the same.

      I could talk your ear off about how difficult it was to get developers at companies, my team mates and direct reports, to embrace open source software. NIH.

      Some developers grasped the power of open source and were excited about it, others were bitter about not getting to build everything themselves, just the way they like it.

      The reality is you can go farther, fastest, and with better quality with the good open source options, because open source is a by nature a Darwinian environment where it’s mostly only the really good packages or plugins that rise to prominence, attract more developers, and have a self-sustaining cycle.

      Of course, there are problem spaces where you have to roll your own code, and in those cases, that makes sense.

      It was also incredibly painful trying to get developers to be willing to write unit tests (a la JUnit) for their own code, a la Agile, and to get them to agree that bugs were their problem to identify and not pass the buck to QA.

      Passing the buck to QA tends to create integration nightmares, because stuff wasn’t sufficiently tested by the developers, and poor or incorrect assumptions are not identified until it’s painful and expensive to fix.

      Whereas code that has unit testing tends to be far more easily refactorable and consistently pass regression, and you learn the flaws in your own APIs when you write the tests to use your classes and code.

      When’s the last time you had to hand-tune some of your code at the assembly language level? That’s still a technique in common use in the game industry today, particularly for consoles

      Understood, and the answer is never.

      That said, most development work is in higher-level languages than diving into assembler.
      I did plenty of C++/Java/OO programming in my time, albeit not on rich frontends such as game clients but rather for middleware, databases, etc.

      Given the volatility of games, it really should be organized more like a creative industry.

      Agreed.

      Well, these are a lot different than what you see in traditional enterprise engineering.

      Again, while I *started* my first 4 years in that arena, the rest has been multi-disciplinary.

      Again, game development is a creative effort

      Yep.

      Not only does your enterprise code need to fulfill the spec, but it also has to be a bestselling novel. Beginning to get a sense of why it’s taken so long to get to this point?

      Been there, done that.

      You think this was any different in the online space?

      We had right-brained creative folks who were more concerned about getting the right solution and compelling user experience, and left-brained engineers who were much more structured in how they approached problems and were more concerned about requirements and timelines.

      If anything the web forced the industry to try to adapt to be truly multi-disciplinary, and I had incorrectly assumed those lessons had been passed on to sectors such as the gaming space.

      A big part of what I had to do, to learn to do my job well, was be the translator between disciplines, so that while I couldn’t do their work, I understood how they did it, what they produced, when, and the dependencies.

      Honestly, the stupid scope is driven by the audience, not the developers. Developers put in arena PvP and endgame content on top of leveling PvE because that’s what the players demand from a game

      Audience should not drive the business, as I’m sure you’re aware.

      A company’s job is to understand customer needs, met and unmet, and which customers they want to serve, and why, and how, and where, and when.

      As you start increasing production values, you increase costs, and you start to need to appeal to a wider audience in order to make up those increased costs

      Well, you can have great production value, if you focus your scope enough.

      WoT is a great example. Limited scope, high production quality, high replayability. Fun for the customer, very efficient and profitable for the developer.

      Here’s the real scary thing: marketing costs. Marketing costs have been a HUGE drain on budgets.

      Neither LoL nor WoT had any kind of meaningful marketing budget AFAIK.

      These days, if you have huge spend on marketing, you’re not leveraging social media and the community. The days pre-social and pre-viral and pre-Internet are long gone.

      • Chaz says:

        I don’t know about WoT, but I used to work in an office with 50 guys and overnight half of them started playing LOL, I think it was a combination of it beign free-to-play, having referal programs and beign a simple game that people could understand very quickly. for some people it might have been the fact that it was a succesor to dota.

        Then there’s the snowball effect, when a game population reaches critical mass and everyone is playing it you’re far more likely to start playing yourself to joing your friends, coworkers, family members, etc.

      • I appreciate that you’re trying to figure out the problems. I wish more people did this and tried to really understand what has gone wrong. I disagree with you, but that’s because of my experience. I helped write a book about business and legal issues in the game industry not because I have a passion for business, but because I saw that the business side of games (and really all creative efforts) is horrific and often counter-productive.

        I also went to the high school (TJHSST) with the dudes (brothers IIRC) who built the game out of their parents basement. I think one of them was Andrew, but that was years ago.

        The Kirmse brothers. They were the tech guys on the original dev team, there were two other groups of brothers. I wasn’t one of the original developers, came on later after 3DO had acquired them but a large part of the team had left. I later started my own company and acquired the game, running it as a business for a decade.

        I have a rich background in software development, but I would not describe myself as strictly a software developer.

        I wasn’t being disparaging; that’s just how I saw your analysis. You were focusing on software development when, in my repeated experience, the software development side is not the hard part. Not by a long shot. If it were, then someone like you could start up a game company and beat the pants off of 90% of the companies out there. That happens a lot less often than you might suspect. ;)

        This is the same in the software dev industry outside of gaming. 100% the same.

        I think you misunderstand me. Game programmers/developers on average tend not just to be smart, but super-smart. Literally the type of people who can merely glance at “0100 1101 0100 1110 0100 1111 0101 0010 0101 0000 0100 0111 ” and spot the error, without any reference. The type of people who feel driven to prove to themselves that they are the smartest people in the room.

        You have to be pretty sharp to be a programmer in the first place, but game developers tend to be a whole other level. The truly scary-smart people tend to be the ones that don’t bother going to conferences like the GDC, because they’re busy doing crazy stuff in the office and can’t be bothered to go. The people you see at GDC are the ones who have at least a little room left in their brains for socialization. ;)

        And, this isn’t me bragging. I’m not one of those people. One of the reasons I do more design work these days is because I’m not capable of those sorts of feats. I’m a competent programmer, but not nearly that good. I applied my skills toward understanding the business side and how to organize game design.

        Been there, done that.

        You think this was any different in the online space?

        I’m curious: what project?

        In my experience with enterprise software development, the entertainment elements were non-existent. The “fun” aspect is the thing that enterprise software developers often fail to understand on a fundamental level. You can make a perfectly functional game from a software engineer perspective that just isn’t fun. If the game isn’t fun, then your whole project is a failure even if it’s technically correct and built precisely to spec. Fun isn’t some quantity you can easily measure and track, and it’s something that isn’t always part of the project; fun can coalesce partway into development. Some designers are trying to understand what “fun” is, but it’s still something we struggle to define.

        Audience should not drive the business, as I’m sure you’re aware.

        Yes and no. The audience shouldn’t dictate design, because one path to success is to give the audience what it wanted but didn’t actually know it wanted. But, you can’t cut them out of the loop entirely, because at the end of the day it’s the audience that opens the wallet and lets you recoup your investment. If the audience refuses to touch your game because you have permadeath and that’s a highly niche interest, then you’re in trouble. It’s a careful balance, and again, not something you can measure and track easily.

        WoT is a great example.

        WoT isn’t an MMORPG, which is what you name in your post title. But, this type of thing usually leads to a theological discussion about “what is an MMO?” I don’t think someone who wants to play in a huge world like WoW is going to be satisfied with a MOBA.

        It’s like trying to use Borderlands as an example of how to design an RPG like Baldur’s Gate. Borderlands (and WoT and LoL) are great games, but the similarities are more deceptive than helpful.

        Neither LoL nor WoT had any kind of meaningful marketing budget AFAIK.

        Again, not MMORPGs; they are different beasts that addressed very different markets. And, while their budgets were probably not 1/3rd of the entire pre-launch budget as is the case of modern MMORPGs, I suspect they were non-zero. And, I’ll bet the marketing budgets for DotA2 and World of Warplanes will much higher; these games are a more fair comparison to MMORPGs looking to break into the already established market.

        Anyway, I still stand by my assertion that the bigger problems are business-related based on my first-hand experience. I’d really prefer if you were right, because as you point out there are ready solutions to these problems. But, without addressing the fundamental problems in how games businesses are run, addressing development methodologies is worrying about the potentially toxic chemicals in the paint when the structure was built on quicksand..

        My further thoughts.

        • taugrim says:

          I disagree with you, but that’s because of my experience.

          Understood.

          I don’t have first-hand experience at a game developer, but I suspect my experience translates over in relevant ways.

          I really appreciate your weighing in here, as I wanted to hear from people with first-hand experience.

          I helped write a book about business and legal issues in the game industry not because I have a passion for business, but because I saw that the business side of games (and really all creative efforts) is horrific and often counter-productive.

          This is your book? So cool :)

          You were focusing on software development when, in my repeated experience, the software development side is not the hard part

          OK, the problem is poor framing on my part. I’ll reword my post to clear that up.

          If it were, then someone like you could start up a game company and beat the pants off of 90% of the companies out there. That happens a lot less often than you might suspect. ;)

          I’ve spent some time over the years exploring various business ideas around gaming, but I don’t have capital and I don’t have prior experience, so it would be a tough sell IMO.

          Beyond that, I learned from trying to start my own companies that it’s a lonely experience, and it’s much better to go in with partners that you work well with and have complementary skillsets.

          Game programmers/developers on average tend not just to be smart, but super-smart

          Understood.

          I’m curious: what project?

          Honestly, the list is long, but just going back to my early e-business days: Wells Fargo, Janus, Hallmark, EXPN (ESPN’s action sports sub-brand).

          Worked across verticals including financial services, retail e-commerce, entertainment, etc. and horizontals such as content management, globalization/localization, launching new brands, etc.

          More recently thought I moved into the new media space, extending what I do here to co-host at GAMEBREAKER.

          In my experience with enterprise software development, the entertainment elements were non-existent. The “fun” aspect is the thing that enterprise software developers often fail to understand on a fundamental level.

          I did enterprise software, but what I truly loved doing was leading the delivery compelling user experiences, i.e. combining the “wow” factor from kickass creative work with solid systems implementation.

          Or as you put it, the “fun” aspect.

          WoT isn’t an MMORPG, which is what you name in your post title

          Understood, but I think a lot of the success companies are having is by having a much more specific focus, or scope.

          City State Entertainment is doing that with Camelot Unchained by focusing only on RVR. I’ve been waiting for years for a company to have the kahunas to pick an area and make a great experience around it, instead of building multiple areas that are all leaking water.

          Again, not MMORPGs; they are different beasts that addressed very different markets.

          The world has changed. Kickstarter and social media are the way to generate interest IMO.

          Companies can and should spend if they are trying to reach the mass market, but with all the media companies covering gaming, and the growing base of gamers, there is plenty of free airtime for developers, if they work the network.

          Anyway, I still stand by my assertion that the bigger problems are business-related based on my first-hand experience

          My long-time mentor told me, when I was just starting my role as a development team lead and fretting that I didn’t know this technology or that technology, that business skills were what made technologists successful, not technology skills, which if you are smart enough and have a knack for it you can pick up.

          He was right.

          You always start with the business foundation and customer experience / needs first, then follow with the appropriate technology design and implementation.

          • Sho-Nuff says:

            Just this thread here, with the back and forth between Taug and Mr. Green, could have easily been an awesome and worthwhile panel discussion at any gaming conference. Insightful analysis from both sides with their eyes on the same prize: Identifying what it is about the gaming industry as a whole, and MMORPG’s in particular, that make their development unique and the challenging in different ways than other software development arenas. What dominates current large scale design methodologies, why, and can/should they change? As Taugrim points out, a layered approach to development incorporating 3rd party underlying technologies, can lower development costs and decrease time to market for game studios, and is an established paradigm in many tech based industries for decades. Then Brian raises the point that due to the volatile nature of the gaming market, the high demands of the consumer, and that market penetration is generally gained by differentiation or risk being labeled “a clone”, custom development from the ground up is not just en vogue, but the status quo for companies to hope to make sales. Fascinating and really good stuff.

            It’s really easy for all of us to look at gaming from our “I’m the consumer-entertain me” eyes and say – WHY DON’T THEY FIX THIS? But the real world factors that affect things aren’t always so obvious. In reality, if things were that easy to fix…it would just be done.

            I think it is a great point that the gaming is an entertainment industry based on tech and sometimes producing what the CUSTOMER demands in terms of quality creates non-sustainable business models which require a change at a much more core level to the industry. Just ask the visual effects industry (VFX), where companies that produce visual effects for successful big budget films like the Life of Pi….go out of bankrupt and out of business b/c, at least in part, the current business model for these companies is broken.

            Worth it’s weight in gold….if I could weigh it…and if I had gold. Big thumbs up.

            • taugrim says:

              Just this thread here, with the back and forth between Taug and Mr. Green, could have easily been an awesome and worthwhile panel discussion at any gaming conference.

              I’m really grateful that Brian Green took the time to post here, so that we get some feedback and perspective from someone who’s worked at a game developer.

            • Thanks for your kind words. :) I have a blog where I talk about a lot of game development issues: http://www.psychochild.org/ I have a passion for making games, and I’ve seen the problems repeatedly. I’m happy to get people talking about the issues and potential solutions.

          • I really appreciate your weighing in here, as I wanted to hear from people with first-hand experience.

            Sure thing. I do this a lot, because I want people motivated to think about these issues to be informed. There’s a lot that goes on that people don’t pay attention to. They tend to focus on the game design or sometimes the technology aspects. These are the easy parts, IMHO.

            This is your book? So cool :)

            Yep. We’re working to get rights back, as per our contract, but the publisher is dragging their feet. There might be life for it as an ebook sometime in the future.

            I did enterprise software, but what I truly loved doing was leading the delivery compelling user experiences, i.e. combining the “wow” factor from kickass creative work with solid systems implementation.

            Or as you put it, the “fun” aspect.

            Yes, but if my online banking site doesn’t wow me, I’ll still use it. If it’s good enough, then I’ll probably hold my nose and use it.

            If a game lacks the wow/fun factor, it fails as an entertainment product. (Yeah, there are games that aren’t entertainment, but I’m trying to stay focused here.) It doesn’t matter how clever the code is or how bug-free it is if it’s not fun. This is why you see buggy games, because players are sometimes willing to overlook bugs if they’re having enough fun.

            City State Entertainment is doing that with Camelot Unchained by focusing only on RVR. I’ve been waiting for years for a company to have the kahunas to pick an area and make a great experience around it, instead of building multiple areas that are all leaking water.

            I loved DAoC; I was playing the hell out of that and only stopped when I acquired M59 from 3DO. I respect Mark Jacobs tremendously. I honestly hope that Camelot Unchained does great things and is a huge success because MMO fans and players need that right now.

            But, let’s be honest here: how well would that campaign have gone if they couldn’t have claimed the legacy of DAoC? Even with the strength of the fond memories of DAoC, CU only barely made its fairly modest (for an MMO) goal in the last few days of the month-long campaign.

            A focused game is a hard sell to the audience. When people think MMO, they tend to think of a game with a large scope.

            I happen to agree with you, I would love to see smaller games with tighter focus that can take risks. But, let’s not pretend it’s as easy as “limited game scope = automatic success”.

            there is plenty of free airtime for developers, if they work the network.

            Did you know before I replied here that someone bought Meridian 59 from 3DO and relaunched it? If so, you’re in the minority. I worked the press as hard as I could while still working on the game. I made some serious friends I still have to this day from the game media.

            But, it’s not a wide-open equal playfield. I recounted a story on my blog (http://psychochild.org/?p=128) 7 years ago where I busted my ass to get Meridian 59 featured in a magazine. We bought a high end laptop to show off our new rendering engine we worked on, we had some people drive 2 states away to show the game to some editors after they contacted us. In the end we get a tiny blurb calling us a “throwback” with an image showing the OLD screenshots, where the focus was on the (at the time) upcoming EQ2 which, perhaps not coincidentally, had 5 full pages of ads in the magazine.

            Even today with print media being dead, the websites aren’t equal either. If you do get coverage it’s there and gone under the crush of stories. Unless you can pay for a whole site reskinning or are able to generate new stories every few days (and then when are you going to be doing development…), you’re going to get lost in the shuffle.

            As you should well know, “build it and they will come” is a corny line from an older movie, not a viable marketing plan.

            You always start with the business foundation and customer experience / needs first, then follow with the appropriate technology design and implementation.

            I guess I’m even more surprised that you think the two issues you posted about even register given this philosophy.

            Again, I appreciate that you’re at least trying to address these issues. I hope my perspective gives you some stuff to think on. Feel free to visit my blog and leave massive comments on there as revenge if you want. ;)

            Have fun.

            • taugrim says:

              But, let’s be honest here: how well would that campaign have gone if they couldn’t have claimed the legacy of DAoC?

              But, it’s not a wide-open equal playfield. I recounted a story on my blog (http://psychochild.org/?p=128) 7 years ago where I busted my ass to get Meridian 59 featured in a magazine

              It’s pretty often that game developers have staff who’ve been around the industry.

              To an earlier point I made and that you disagreed with, there are ways to generate buzz around your game, even in the absence of huge marketing spend and a legacy like DAoC.

              Re: your case study of M59, there are some key things to remember:
              1. that happened before social media really took off, and
              2. that was your company trying to get a magazine who had nothing invested in your game to care about it. Having advocates in social media pushing for a game creates a reason for media companies to actually care

              I was reminded while exchanging tweets with Scott Hartsman just how well RIFT was able to build up groundswell in advance of launch. I and many other people heard about RIFT via word-of-mouth.

              Yes, but if my online banking site doesn’t wow me, I’ll still use it. If it’s good enough, then I’ll probably hold my nose and use it.

              Not true for Millenials, actually. They’re the largest generation in American history, 100MM strong, and some of them are in their early 30s now and have purchasing power.

              But I won’t get into non-gaming customer experience design, that’s a very complex subject in itself. Much of what I’ve learned from working with UX applies to *any* product or service.

              Some concepts, like what Donald Norman covered in Design of Everyday Things, are timeless and span any industry.

              But, let’s not pretend it’s as easy as “limited game scope = automatic success”.

              Never said it would.

              I think trying to build 1 skyscraper and getting it right is easier than trying to build 3 at the same time.

              I guess I’m even more surprised that you think the two issues you posted about even register given this philosophy.

              Neither point I made discounted business or customer experience. Think behind the two major bullets and what was written in them.

              #1: was about scope, which is business focus.

              #2: I reworded this from “lagging behind software industry” to “lagging behind broader industry trends” based on your earlier point, but if you read the sub-points, you’ll remember that:
              #2a: was about multi-disciplinary teams (which includes business and creative)
              #2b: this one *was* about software
              #2c: this one was about API / enabling ecosystems, which is much broader than just technology

              • I was reminded while exchanging tweets with Scott Hartsman just how well RIFT was able to build up groundswell in advance of launch. I and many other people heard about RIFT via word-of-mouth.

                Scott is an awesome, active guy, but Trion is likely a poor example. They raised a ton of money from investors and while I haven’t heard specifics, I’d wager that the marketing budget for RIFT was non-trivial. Perhaps not the “industry standard” of 33% of total budget, but probably significant.

                Game players really underestimate the amount of marketing money spent in the game industry, particularly the hard-core players who are acutely aware of the enthusiast media. Even with social media (which a company still has to pay employees to pay attention to), a lot of money gets poured into marketing to attract people who aren’t the hard-core.

                And, I still think Camelot Unchained would not have made its goal without being able to namedrop DAoC.

                Much of what I’ve learned from working with UX applies to *any* product or service.

                Game design is a lot more than just user experience design. While in general UX is a part of game design, game design encompasses a lot more. I can name plenty of games that are fun but have a terrible user experience, particularly older games. I can also point out some games with slick experience that just aren’t fun and therefore failed in the market, particularly mobile social and mobile games.

                It seems we’ll have to agree to disagree on this point.

                I think trying to build 1 skyscraper and getting it right is easier than trying to build 3 at the same time.

                On the other hand, trying to build a skyscraper by just building the windows doesn’t result in a skyscraper, even if that’s the only part most people see. And, building a suburban apartment building is even easier than building a skyscraper, but those are different beasts.

                As I’ve said repeatedly on my own blog, I’d love to see smaller games. But, there are definitely business pressures and audience expectations that are making the games larger. It’s not like someone at (for example) NCSoft goes, “We could make this game smaller, but instead let’s pile on more budget for no good reason!”

                Anyway, great discussion. :) Hope to read more thoughts on this later.

  12. slobodantomic91 says:

    Very.. professional and deep post, if you ask me, good job. I am a fellow gamer and programmer (2nd year studying it). I totally agree with you, and, let’s all hope that gaming industry will learn.

  13. Hey Taug great post and some refreshing insights as always. What do you think of MMO’s that dont go the themepark route and are more sandboxy and let the players themselves control the end game? Eve online is a great example. Lineage 2 as well with its castle seiges and political system, and the upcoming Archeage which is going to be published by Trion.

    • taugrim says:

      What do you think of MMO’s that dont go the themepark route and are more sandboxy and let the players themselves control the end game?

      Themepark vs sandbox is a very complex topic that I won’t go into depth here.

      I will simply say that players like to be able to meaningfully shape their world – this is very sticky. Think Minecraft.

  14. Kichwas says:

    The simple notion that game design companies don’t use much in the way of libraries / APIs of toolsets for common issues, and don’t make use of Agile development just astounds me…

    But I come from frontend web work – I make the pretty pictures and put the colors on the webpage – and these things are just norms for us. However we ‘signed on’ to it because of the push from the ‘real programmers’ – so to learn of such a major camp of software development not working in the modern age is just surprising.

    Makes me wonder if in the backroom of all these companies, there’s still a guy making punchcards to feed to the mainframe, and another yelling out “MORE STEAM!”

    And horizontal progression through expanding APIs that track achievements – seems like a no-brainer. GW2 is only just starting to get on bandwagon for this, despite having intended to be horizontal progression from the get-go.

    It looks like they ‘dabbled’ their toes in the waters of vertical progression with Ascended trinkets, but have backed off only because some other shiny distracted them, rather then because they should back off…

    • taugrim says:

      The simple notion that game design companies don’t use much in the way of libraries / APIs of toolsets for common issues, and don’t make use of Agile development just astounds me…

      It’s not to say they don’t use these things, or don’t use Agile.

      It’s that, as Brian Green talked about earlier, developers have smart people and a bit of the NIH (Not Invented Here) mindset, which I have run into in my own programming work.

      But I come from frontend web work – I make the pretty pictures and put the colors on the webpage – and these things are just norms for us. However we ‘signed on’ to it because of the push from the ‘real programmers’ – so to learn of such a major camp of software development not working in the modern age is just surprising.

      The web and the online space broke a lot of things that needed to be broken.

      The silo’d approach towards work, instead of multi-disciplinary.

      The tendencies for engineers to create solutions that made sense to them, instead of starting with the customer first, a la UX design.

      We were forced to learn these things in the online space because it evolved so quickly and was so visible, and lots of people were trying to solve the same problems. So there was broad inter- and intra-organizational learning.

  15. Conwolv says:

    I think there’s plenty of room for AAA MMOs to develop a rich and competitive title today. What I think is happening is that publishers are too eager to get the title on the market than to allow a developer time to polish. But with the recent EA launch failures and Guild Wars 2 failure, I think publishers might be getting the idea that launching a polished game is more important than patching afterwards.

    What we’ve learned from gamers is that we want a full MMO experience by the way that they flock to a new MMO that has a list of promises a mile long, like GW2. It’s just a matter of delivering it and allowing it to be polished.

    Also, I think the horizontal scaling idea is great on paper, but in practice it doesn’t succeed to keep long term players interested. Only reduces the barrier to entry for new players. To which, that can be achieved by other means (bonus Comms for older content, etc). Players need something to strive for. Some level of content to look forward to that gives meaningful progression to their effort.

    Horizontal Progression turns out to be a gold star, instead of a gold nugget.

    • taugrim says:

      What I think is happening is that publishers are too eager to get the title on the market than to allow a developer time to polish

      I do also think that studios are under a lot of pressure to launch Big Bang type titles, WoW killers, instead of something less grandiose but much tighter, feasible, and polished.

      Also, I think the horizontal scaling idea is great on paper, but in practice it doesn’t succeed to keep long term players interested

      Players who say this IMO may not have experienced some of the really good horizontal scaling systems that have been implemented in the broader MMO space.

      You create a wide array of incomparables for skills and gear in an MMORPG, and you’ll have the manageable evergreen of shinies that LoL has with their Champions.

  16. Toufs says:

    Hey Taug,
    I followed you for about 2 years now and there are two things I had an urge to tell you :D
    (btw. English isn’t my native language – so I guess it may sound retarded lol :D )

    1. I really enjoy watching your videos and appreciate your work (particulary because you do this as a hobby and still manage to be so precise & entertaining which must take a lot of time :)
    2. I’m about to finish my Master of Education & becoming a (hopefully good :D ) teacher – and pretty much at the start of my first semester we were told that education is probably the most important “science”, since anything someone would discover or do, would be meaningless if he wouldn’t teach it to others. And this is actually pretty much what you do on your blog. You share your ideas and knowlege with all of us – and by doing that you make the effort you put into something (e.g. playing a game / working&discussing problems like you did in this blog-entry / or simply anything) much more worthy!

    This may sound pretty lofty now – but I just wanted you to know that you do a great job and I hope you will keep it up & have fun continuing it! You really manage to explain things convincing, but still easily (which isn’t an easy thing to do if I consider my first times planing lessons^^)! And to be honest – isn’t it way more rewarding to share knowledge and receive appreciation and respect in return than discovering interesting aspects and be like “huehue I won’t tell anybody so I can own everyone” ;)

    Just so you know – you do a good job and seem to be a nice guy, “Ed”. Keep it up ;)

    • taugrim says:

      1. I really enjoy watching your videos and appreciate your work (particulary because you do this as a hobby and still manage to be so precise & entertaining which must take a lot of time :)

      Thanks for the kind words. I can’t play as much or cover as much as I’d like, so I have to be pretty picky how I spend my time.

      2. I’m about to finish my Master of Education & becoming a (hopefully good :D ) teacher – and pretty much at the start of my first semester we were told that education is probably the most important “science”, since anything someone would discover or do, would be meaningless if he wouldn’t teach it to others. And this is actually pretty much what you do on your blog. You share your ideas and knowlege with all of us – and by doing that you make the effort you put into something (e.g. playing a game / working&discussing problems like you did in this blog-entry / or simply anything) much more worthy!

      Two things that I derive tremendous satisfaction from:
      a. learning new things / improving my abilities
      b. helping others learn new things and improve their abilities

      I highly value leadership concepts such as mentoring, because I have benefitted from them and seen others grow through my mentoring them.

      And to be honest – isn’t it way more rewarding to share knowledge and receive appreciation and respect in return than discovering interesting aspects and be like “huehue I won’t tell anybody so I can own everyone” ;)

      Well, I find the people who tell people they have a great build but won’t share it to be useless, and I’d rather be very disclosing and help others learn from what I do well and from my mistakes.

      It’s a reflection of my personality.

      btw. English isn’t my native language

      Your written English is excellent :)

  17. Dan Young says:

    Oh hey, I work for Sapient Government Services in Arlington (just finished my first year with the company). I was nodding my head at your talk of multi-disciplinary teams, then found out a few sentences on why it sounded so familiar :) Thanks for the effort back then, it seems to be holding up! And thanks for the WoT recommendation as well, been having a lot of fun in-game.

    • taugrim says:

      I work for Sapient Government Services in Arlington (just finished my first year with the company). I was nodding my head at your talk of multi-disciplinary teams, then found out a few sentences on why it sounded so familiar :)

      When did you join Sapient?

      I was there from 1996-2001, and I left to join that GPS startup I referenced in 2001.

      Even within Sapient, the original OTM (“One Team Methodology”) we published, with decision / process flows and sample deliverables, wasn’t explicit enough for some folks. What we realized is that we had to bake in flexibility / creativity into the methodology, but that was hard to internalize for some.

      And thanks for the WoT recommendation as well, been having a lot of fun in-game.

      It’s a great game.

      I’m in your neck of the woods visiting family, but when I get back home I’ll be posting a WoT video on the bad-ass VK3601H.

      • Dan Young says:

        Joined just in April 2012, so I guess I’ve been osmosing most of the process from projects with my current team. I’m sure I have plenty more to realize :)

        And interested to see the 3601H video, I’ve gone down the 3001P branch myself. Early verdict: fairly powerful and fast, but can be fragile. Which is not made easier by the powerful and fast part, as it makes me want to zoom around and take unnecessary risks!

  18. As a fellow developer (web and backend stuff mostly) I agree with your point about (re)using already existing tools and libraries. And I really hope more of the companies go for the path Camelot Unchained has taken.

  19. Tim says:

    I’m tempted to make a comment about this article being 5years out of date…..but I won’t.

    These flaws in the games industry, and specifically the MMO sector of it, have been widely acknowledged and accepted by gamers for at least the last 5 years, probably longer, and yet companies still do them. Thats just the reality of the market, small visions which are deliverable dont secure funding….

    Kickstarter and similar projects have the potential to change that, but so long as we all buy into the big publishers controlling the market (EA and similar) then this is what will be the inevitable result.

  20. […] Taugrim on two issues plaguing game developers – http://taugrim.com/2013/06/06/the-two-big-issues-plaguing-mmorpg-game-developers/ […]

  21. taugrim says:

    I’m tempted to make a comment about this article being 5years out of date…..but I won’t.

    Well, you just did.

    Can you link some articles from 5 years ago talking about the same points?

    Keep in mind most of the information in this post, especially the 2nd point, is from things I heard first-hand from talking to or listening to devs speak since early 2012.

    Kickstarter and similar projects have the potential to change that, but so long as we all buy into the big publishers controlling the market (EA and similar)

    Kickstarter is still a relatively new phenomenon. Once some MMORPGs have launched successfully that were funded through it, we’ll be in a different world.

  22. Ears says:

    I’m not particularly impressed with this article, to me it is clear as a bell that you are tickling the ears of someone in the industry trying to land yourself a high profile job.

    You are so interested in reducing costs associated with developping games that you have become cynical.

    I don’t want repeatability, I want new content, better story development, all those things that cost money, and as a consumer, I WILL PAY. If I get any inkling that a game is being developped cheaply then forget it.

    • TriumphSP says:

      Since Taugrim is not the type to lash out at trolls, allow me:
      Dude Have Some Fucking Respect or GTFO.

      Take some time to review some of his game related content on youtube, and read some of his responses on this thread containing his work related experience in parallel industries. If he wants a high profile job in the gaming industry I’m pretty sure he knows how to submit a Resume by now.

      A lot of thought, time and work went into his post and the responses. Right or wrong, only the vainest of personalities could under-appreciate that.

    • taugrim says:

      to me it is clear as a bell that you are tickling the ears of someone in the industry trying to land yourself a high profile job.

      LOL.

      If that is what you believe, you are quite ignorant about how things work in the gaming industry, or what would be a savvy way to cover a space that one wanted to work in.

      Here are relevant points:
      1. if my intent was to land a “high profile job” in the gaming industry, I would not be writing articles like this, which may rub some people at excellent studios the wrong way.

      I would probably just stick to non-controversiald content, talking about game mechanics and game design, and my guides. At least, that’s what I think would be the savvy way to go about this.

      1. it’s rather difficult coming from outside the gaming industry to land a “high profile job” – as I learned from talking to multiple people at multiple studios is that it is actually the opposite.

      A lot of people who had more senior roles outside the gaming industry had to take much more junior positions at a gaming studio. They took a lower-level job to get their foot in the door.

      The same would have applied to me just over a year ago, when I interviewed with BioWare as I disclosed at the start of the article..

      I have said almost nothing about this interview in the past 13 months, and I have been careful to not disclose the things I learned that were unique to BioWare in that interview process, both because I signed an NDA, but more importantly to me personally I appreciated their openness to my questions and don’t want to be a dick.

      As it is the closest I’ve come to actually working in the gaming industry, here is my story.

      I spent an afternoon (May 3rd) interviewing with the SWTOR crew about joining the PVP team, and those conversations reinforced my already high opinion of the BioWare team members.

      So what happened? Fate has an amazing way to bring things to a head.

      On Friday May 4th I received a contract offer from a Product Management team which was the *best* Product Mgt group that I had ever collaborated with in my many years of being in the digital space, and it was an opportunity for me to formally step into a Product Mgt role.

      I decided to take the Product Mgt position and wanted to let BioWare, so on Monday May 7th I reached out to the BioWare recruiter to let her know that I was going to take another job offer.

      The BioWare recruiter contacted me the following day (May 8th) saying that they wanted to extend me an offer. I’ve always maintained that one shouldn’t ask for or receive a specific offer for a job unless you were seriously considering taking it, because it’s both disrespectful of the interviewing company’s time and moreover it’s selfish. At this point, I had already made my decision, so I told the recruiter she didn’t need to do assemble an offer.

      You are so interested in reducing costs associated with developping games that you have become cynical.

      Me, cynical? Hahaha, that’s funny.

      You missed the point anyway, it’s not about reducing costs, my points was about delivering games in ways that enhance the probability of sustainable success.

      At any rate, if you think I’m cynical, I wonder what you think of the drama and ranting that is commonplace on “teh Interwebs.”

      • sirgrend says:

        What you say about people with senior roles being pushed into more junior roles is interesting and something I have been mulling over since you wrote this article. The one thing that seems consistent when talking about the games industry is the relatively poor pay it provides when compared to even the same/similar jobs outside of the industry. Would this not be a reason why they are seen as so far behind the software industry standard in a lot of respects? On top of those reasons put forward by others in the comment sections of course.

        • sirgrend says:

          (Sorry omitted the last paragraph by accident and can’t seem to edit the post)

          After all why would someone with the experience and knowledge the games industry needs bother to take a job that is either more junior/or underpaid when compared to what they could get by either sticking to or moving into the traditional software industry? Not to mention the prospect of having to put up with somewhat arcane practices until they are in a position to affect change.

          I’m not saying that people wouldn’t, but that they would be in the minority.

        • taugrim says:

          What you say about people with senior roles being pushed into more junior roles is interesting and something I have been mulling over since you wrote this article. The one thing that seems consistent when talking about the games industry is the relatively poor pay it provides when compared to even the same/similar jobs outside of the industry.

          You go into the gaming industry because you love the work and want to be there, not because you expect to get wealthy doing the work.

          The spouse of one of my co-workers was a senior guy at a studio that had a profitable game that was recently shut down. She’s been trying to encourage him to seek work outside the gaming industry, but his heart is still there.

          Would this not be a reason why they are seen as so far behind the software industry standard in a lot of respects?

          The gaming industry attracts very smart people. It’s not IMO an issue of quality of talent.

          I do think that the industry is a bit more inward-focused compared to other industries, which is why I think the 2nd point I made around game developers lagging behind broader industry trends (multi-disciplinary, leveraging open source wherever it makes sense, and creating an ecosystem via APIs) is relevant.

          As Brian Green wrote, there is the NIH mindset, which btw is not unique to gaming industry. I’ve managed to get a lot of developers to eventually embrace open source, automated unit testing, etc, but they had to try it first.

          That happened at that GPS startup I worked on. There were 4 of us writing all that server product code, and it was heavily optimized middleware. 2 of them (Carlos and Ray) did not want to write automated unit test cases because it seemed like extra work and they hadn’t done it before, whereas Darryl Eaton and I firmly believed in it. We got the other two guys to agree to trying it.

          What we did to help adoption was gamify our bug tracking by creating a 4×4 grid on the whiteboard, aka the Bug Board, with our names across the the top and on the side. The goal for each person was to find as many bugs in other people’s checked-in code while not creating any in yours. It was freaking hilarious. Any time someone found a bug they would gleefully run up to the board.

          It also helped to make our server code watertight. My boss came up to me a month into integration testing with a carrier and was like “why are we finding some many bugs in their code but not in ours.” It’s because we followed a good development process.

          Carlos and Ray both said they’d write automated tests for future software dev – but it’s because they saw the value first-hand.

          • sirgrend says:

            You go into the gaming industry because you love the work and want to be there, not because you expect to get wealthy doing the work.

            A fair point, but without the monetary incentives how does the industry expect to get people, like you for instance, to come into the industry from the outside? They can rely on people wanting to just work in the games industry and will no doubt get the occasional person coming over with the experience needed, but I can see the situation you outline in your second point improving much faster if they at least offered equal pay/positions to those with said experience.

            It may not be feasible for a variety of reasons, but it still strikes me that it at least exacerbates the problems you outlined in your post and correcting it would go a fair way to move the industry forward faster while combating the NIH mindset in a similar fashion as you outlined in your reply.

            It may also be prudent to bring up the problem of attrition within the games industry. I wish I could find the reference (so feel free to call bullshit), but from memory the majority of people leave within the first 7 years of joining. I can see this being a result of your second point as well as a reason for it.

  23. […] for this blog, I can see where traffic to my site originates from. For my previous article on the two issues plaguing game developers, I found the following take by […]

  24. Jack Frodel says:

    Hey, I’m just starting to get a handle on what’s going on in the gaming industry. I’m a 15 year old from Georgia, but I’m really sure where i should go to find a good fundamental programming base. I’ve only seen this one thing thats nearby called IDTech, it offers a lot but I’m wondering on where to get some instruction on nearly everything! I’m really hoping to hear back from you!!!!!

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