Archive for the ‘MMOG’ category

“What should game developers learn from Blizzard failing at Titan?”

April 22, 2016

Over on Quora I was asked to answer this question. Here’s what I wrote:

A few clear lessons come to mind:

  1. Most games fail. Having a team that is smart, passionate, talented, deeply experienced, and insanely well-funded doesn’t change the fact that your game is most likely to fail.

    Let that sink in for a moment.

    Not even having had an enormous success one time means you will be successful the next time. Hard as it is to say, if you’re lucky this happens before the game is released (or even announced!). The long droughts between successful games is part of the landscape of the games industry, and something almost everyone has to internalize.

  2. Failure is not permanent. The story of game development and the games industry is nothing if not one of re-invention. Developers, properties, technologies, and companies all re-create themselves every few years. You try something new, you fail, you try again. Just as success is not a given, neither is failure. You fail, you sit, you cry, you mourn, and then you get up and try the next thing. That’s been my experience in more than two decades in the games industry.

  3. Know who you are. While re-invention is pervasive, it’s also true that success breeds inertia: the longer your company is successful at doing what it does, the harder it is to change that course. Is your company about ground-breaking innovation, or about tweaking known formulas? Both can work. But culture is real. Cultural inertia is real.

    Here’s a story I don’t often tell too publicly: in 2002, I interviewed at Blizzard for the lead design position on this new game they had going, World of Warcraft. I had recently been the lead designer on three MMOs (Meridian 59, SimCity Online, and Ultima Online 2 — one out of three of which were released), along with leading the design on The Sims 2. I had a really terrific day talking with the team at Blizzard. But every time I said something like,”oh that’s cool, and you could really take this in a new direction,” the response was along the lines of, “well… we’re really not trying to reach too far with new things on this project.”

    At the end of the day I sat in a conference room while the managers conferred. While I did, it became really clear to me that this was a great team and a great company — and definitely not the job for me. I’ve spent my career trying (and very often failing) to do things that were really new, and that’s not what they were trying to do. So, when they came back in the room (I’m abashed to say I don’t recall now who it was I talking with), they very graciously said, “we like you, the team likes you, you have a great resume… but we just don’t think you’re the guy for the job.”

    I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to interview for that position, and even more fortunate to have been able to respond, in that moment, “You’re right. This is a great project and team, and I’m not the guy to lead it. But I think I know who is.” I recommended Tom Chilton, a terrific designer who was on the team I had just left, and someone who was a classic fantasy MMO designer in his bones. Not too long after that he took the job, and is still at Blizzard doing great work.

    The point of all this is that at that time, Blizzard knew who they were and what they wanted. They had an established culture and they played into their strengths in phenomenal ways.

    But that strength also made it more difficult for them to in fact do something new, to make whatever it was that Titan would have become. I mourn with them a bit for what might have been, but I also celebrate their re-invention via Overwatch.

Guildwars 2 Breaks the Mold (li’l bit)

July 9, 2010

MMOs have by now evolved a canon of how to deal with combat roles, death, and getting back into play after dying (“resurrection”).  This canon has become so fixed that it’s common to hear about tank/healer/dps as the “holy trinity” of MMO combat that many games just do, well, sorta because that’s how it’s been done.   Every now and again though, some game comes along and pushes the boundaries forward a little.  It looks like Guild Wars 2 is doing that with their approach to combat, dying, and the flow of gameplay.

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“LOST” and the Very Long Form Story

May 24, 2010

So yes, I was among the many people avidly watching the “Lost” finale last night.  I thought it was well done: good writing, pacing, additional character development, and summing things up in a way that was satisfying narratively and emotionally.

We’ve also been watching the series from the start (DVD and Hulu) and I’ve been impressed by how much of the story was in fact present from the very beginning: seeds of characterization, theme, and even plot points were carefully included from the first episode on.  Also how layers of explanation worked to the show’s advantage: polar bears and a smoke monster on a tropical island seem equally improbable, but it turns out only the latter was actually mysterious.  As the layers peeled away with time, we gained much more understanding of the island and of the main characters (who thankfully avoided becoming caricatures).

This six-year run of Lost with its successful conclusion brings me back to how such long story arcs are missing in games.  Most games (especially online/MMO games) present static worlds or have a single arc often with an unsatisfying end.    Can we learn from the success of “very long story forms” like Lost to increase the long-term world and narrative structure in online games? (more…)

How to make a cool $2MM+ with a sparkle pony

April 15, 2010

This morning Blizzard announced the online sale of a new “celestial steed” for use in WoW.    These mounts cost $25 (on top of the retail price plus $15 monthly subscription).  So in a world of free games and virtual items selling for a dollar or two, how popular could a $25 sparkly flying pony be?

Well, the queue for their purchase was at least up to over 91,000 people waiting in the queue.  When I took a screen shot, it had fallen to “only” about 85,000.

90,000 X $25 = $2,250,000.

In one day.  From one item.  In a game that isn’t free to play anyway. (more…)

The (Psychological) Development of “Social” Games

April 1, 2010

At GDC this year I saw a slide in a talk that referenced different developmental styles of play (my notes are sadly unclear as to whose talk this was — if you know, please let me know!).  This has had me thinking about the developmental stages of social games.  Not the software development, but the evolution of the styles of gameplay we put in them as we learn more about creating them.

It should be clear to anyone watching this space that game developers are learning as fast as they can about how to create new gameplay in online (putatively) social games; we know a lot less than we still don’t know.  As such, it’s very interesting to me how closely the emergence of types of gameplay in popular social games is following the path of individual psychological development of play — and what this may tell us about the future of the design of social games.   (more…)

A Moment of Silence at the End of Winter

March 31, 2010

In the last few days there have been at least three notices of MMO or virtual world projects shutting down.  It’s hard for me not to see these as indicators of the generational change in the now-traditional “heavy” MMOs/worlds:  Stargate Worlds, There.com, and Vivaty — all very different takes on the previous age of MMOs/VWs, are gone or going away.

They’re doing so in an online game/world/app market that is growing faster than we can track — just not where they are.  Not to be unkind (any effort in this area deserves some respect), but one way to look at these worlds is that they are the very finest in hand-made carriages for the elite set — right about the time cheap autos are rolling off the assembly line.

But looking forward as well as back just a few years (as I wrote in 2007 about the potential for a “Virtual World Winter“), it may be that this isn’t the depth of winter, but its end.  In December 2007 I wrote:

While I’m still bullish on virtual worlds and MMOGs for a number of reasons, that doesn’t mean we won’t necessarily go through a deep winter before we find spring again.    I’m often asked about what comes after World of Warcraft?  Can this market be sustained?

I think we have the answer; as usual, it’s no — and yes.

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GDC Week & Predictions

March 8, 2010

Like a lot of others, I’m heading to GDC today.  I’m mainly going for a couple of summits, some meetings, and to see people who are good friends whom I see once or twice a year.  It’s a bit of an odd sort of relationship, as it feels sometimes like a deadly serious meeting of circus clowns.

Anyway, I’m not going for the talks (and am not giving one this year)… and so I have pretty low expectations of anything significant coming out of them.  But as this is also sort of the beginning of the game-year, I thought I’d take a few minutes for some pre-GDC predictions for the conference and for the rest of the year – social games, MMOs, 3D, AI, the works.

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