Massively Overthinking: The best and worst MMO developer quotes of 2017
Think of all the wacky things devs have said in public in front of gamers and journalists this year.
Now imagine what gets said behind closed doors!
For this week’s Massively Overthinking, I’ve asked our staff to select the best (and worst) developer quotes from the year and reflect on what we’ve learned from them. Let’s dig in – we’ve got some whoppers.
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Prepare for the deluge, as I was told I could pick a few! No surprise, I’ll be quoting Raph Koster. He had a great one that covers maybe an unstated fear for our genre: the threat of non-MMOs continuing to pick up qualities MMOs were known for:
“It’s also very real that games as a service is slowly swallowing single player games too. I’m sure you have seen that too. Games as a service have implications on business models — ongoing support means ongoing revenue channels, means (these days) drift from DLC to microtransactions and thence to lootboxes for those who go down the slippery slope.” While single player and couch co-op used to be a one-and-done deal, now it’s given DLC, microtransaction, updates, a new multiplayer mode… areas the MMO has spent decades trying to refine as part of its basic survival instead.”
When talking about whether Pokemon Go is or isn’t an MMO, Koster said, “Consider an MMO where no one has chat because The Silence has fallen across the world. But everything else you are used to is the same… you’d still call it an MMO, wouldn’t you?”
Koster’s one of the MMO godfathers, and a developer who actually considers ethics and morality as well as development. Our conversation had sparked because Pokemon Go lacks in-game, written and voice communication, among other things. As much as I play non-MMOs, I’d hesitate to call Overwatch, Splatoon, or still (at times) Pokemon Go an MMO in the purest sense of the word. The first two all synchronous multiplayer and in-game communication, but as Koster agreed, an MMO needs a persistent world.
It’s significant because, to me, the MMOs’ persistent worlds are there for community building, and communication is at the center of that. In POGO, I can leave a weak Pokemon in a gym to show that I don’t care about it, or do that repeatedly against another very active player in a low-activity gym to show that I’m willing to share it, but it requires a lot of context and hopes that the other person understands my actions. If I could lay down items, emote, or better yet, talk to other players within the game client, it’d be easier to try to replicate real-world communication.
Our genre tends to put a bit more emphasis on communication than some other genres, especially with the rise of raiding in place of roleplay, but emotes don’t exactly work the same way as real life non-verbal communication because they’re often asynchronous. POGO has the advantage of having a game avatar with real-life movement/presence granting defacto multiplayer presence, but when there are spoofers in Germany at my rural gym, or if I’m trying to raid near a bunch of high-rises in Los Angeles, I can’t exactly turn to nearby players and physically talk to them.
While we may all turn off general ghat from time to time, being able to roleplay a cool scenario or talk about our day is what makes an MMO an MMO for me. Non-verbal language is fine, especially with an emote system, but Koster’s quote almost makes me feel like FarmVille, a game of timers and clicks with multiplayer used only to gain simple benefits, could be an MMO, and that’s hard to swallow.
Bluehole CEO Hyo-Seob Kim’s recent quote on the genre also deserves mention:
“MMORPGs were very new [ten years ago], with World of Warcraft and all the others. But the play style [stayed] very similar as time passed on, so the players got bored with the system. They started looking to other genres of games.”
TERA was the MMORPG I was really into before being region-locked out when I went to Japan. It was big enough to get mainstream recognition, and I’ve met quite a few non-MMOers who gave it a shot. While maybe not the mega-hit Bluehole was hoping for, it was different enough to lure away my former girlfriend, who was a seriously dedicated World of Warcraft player. It even got her to roleplay, which she’d never done before.
And Kim’s right. As much as I loved going back to Asheron’s Call 1&2 earlier this year, it took their shutdown for me to go back. I saw some good stuff, but also how much the genre’s changed. And how much I’ve changed. While I love persistent worlds without instancing and fast travel as a concept, it’s rare for me to get into it these days. I simply don’t have the time or social circles for me to stick with them, and it’s the same for many of my former MMO pals, both the ones I knew before we MMOed together and the ones I picked up along the way.
Combined with Koster’s earlier quote about single-player games branching out and his emphasis on persistent worlds above communication, I feel like developers are really taking note on stagnation. It’s why things like level scaling and shorter, bite-sized raids are becoming more of a norm. It’s why Square-Enix has both Final Fantasy MMOs and the new FFXV multiplayer mode. Titan died and gave rise to Overwatch. The genre sagged under its own weight, but I feel like we’re only going to move forward as our persistent worlds borrow more from the less persistent. I just hope we can keep communication in game instead of turning our virtual worlds into glorified scoreboards.
Brendan Drain (@nyphur): This would have to be when the lead developer on EVE Valkyrie said this to me at EVE Vegas:
“If it weren’t making money, then we wouldn’t still be developing it.”
That happened just days before CCP announced that it was pulling out of VR entirely and selling the studio that developed EVE Valkyrie. That quote just screams of the disconnect between CCP’s upper management and the devs on the ground. All of the devs at the event were optimistic about the future, and none seemed to have any idea of the boot hovering over their heads.
“There are still many players enjoying [the MMORPG] space and we continue to invest in it as is proven by our relaunch of The Secret World coming this spring. We do see that some players have gotten a bit of fatigue from the very large time commitment that these games tend to require and are moving on to our online social gaming experiences, and we plan to create some of those experiences as well, just like we’re doing with Conan Exiles.”
Fatigue is exactly it; like Andrew, I want this to be a sign that studios understand the problem they’ve created and are working on course-correcting.
Here’s Wargaming Head of Global Competitive Gaming Mohamed Fadl on e-sports betting to a colleague during a roundtable discussion with journalists:
“You’re stupid to say betting is bad. It’s a natural part of sports. […] I believe betting down the road will be one of the major incomes for e-sports or streaming platforms.”
Wargaming’s interviews often highlight a cultural divide between the West and CIS countries, as did this one, particularly in the last year or two as gambling – both skin-gambling and gambleboxes – and competitor Valve has been taken to task over facilitating gambling for criminals and underage gamers.
My final pick is from not a dev but an economist who focuses on virtual worlds, Ramin Shokrizade.
“MMOGs have not been failing commercially from lack of consumer demand. They fail because they are thrown together almost randomly (what I call ‘Frankenstein Style’) without an understanding of the requisite systems for success.”
His whole paper is worth a look, but I think that one line summarizes what a lot of us have seen in our long time playing: We’re all still here. We have the demand for MMORPGs. We have more money than we did as kids 20 years ago too. That demand simply isn’t being met.
“Gazillion would like to assure everyone that the company is functioning normally. We remain a strong publisher/developer with many talented individuals working hard daily to keep us that way.”
“[The gaming press is] just looking for clicks, man. They’re just looking for ad revenue. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, and they’re welcome to print whatever they want – but as far as I’m concerned, they can fuck off.”
Wow, that was really stupid. It isn’t just that Cliff Bleszinski is being needlessly antagonistic; it’s that he’s doing so to basically blame anyone else in the world for the problems that his game is having. The press did not decide how you answered interviews, the press did not choose your marketing materials, and the press did not say “don’t play LawBreakers.” The only thing that outlets like, you know, our own have actually done is present factual reports about player numbers and feedback. If that’s damaging your game, perhaps the problem does not lie with the press, but with the studio. But what do I know? I can fuck off.
“I am fed up of giving someone an estimate – I’d rather say, here’s the data I have, here’s the schedule I see. This is what we are hoping for. Software developers at all levels tend to be optimistic – you have to be to build big things.”
On some level, I understand where Chris Roberts is coming from here; on a big project with lots of moving parts, there will be times when you miss target dates, and that’s normal. It’s frustrating to be treated as if you lied when you were, in fact, making an estimation from the start. But then you contextualize this by remembering that two days earlier we were discussing Star Citizen discussing star pooping (in space), and you realize that the problem is less about “this estimate was wrong” and more about “why are you spending time on pooping when the actual game doesn’t even exist except in tiny fragments?”
The other side of it is that this is, literally, what Star Citizen’s developers signed up for. As part of the perpetual crowdfunding push the game is engaged in, it promised more transparent development. If you want to be more optimistic than I am, you could say that this is the end result of having a game where your investors are also your players. They’re less willing to put up with these ambiguities, and something has to be done on a reliable basis. I have no doubt that Star Citizen has a lot of work going into it to make it playable, but talking about adding exciting new systems to a game that does not yet actually have its base systems in place is… well, putting the cart before the horse to the point where I can no longer even see the horse from the back of the cart.
“We as a team need to discuss the negatives that came from this experience and work to change the workflow and how we check things.”
This isn’t a quote that’s going to light up the airwaves, but it’s a quote that sort of encapsulates why I adore Naoki Yoshida. There is never a problem in Final Fantasy XIV that he doesn’t respond to with an apology and with an effort at understanding. His response to the issues at Stormblood’s launch – issues which, I would hasten to point out, were resolved within a couple of days – was a simple, humble statement that the team needed to understand why this happened and work hard to make sure it did not happen again. Calm, straightforward, and businesslike. It’s a symptom of how the man operates the game and why fans feel a lot of devotion toward him. Which I think is important to highlight in a year when we have so many quotes that are tone-deaf or just plain dumb.
“If we keep adding and adding with every expansion, eventually what we end up with becomes very unwieldy. It’s an issue that we weren’t cognizant enough of early on because we were in uncharted territory, but we are now.”
I don’t know, Ion Hazzikostas, it strikes me as something that you could have been cognizant of a long time ago because of… I don’t know, years of history? And years of people who had developed World of Warcraft who could tell you exactly that? “Why don’t you like Ion Hazzikostas?” It’s because of stuff like this, that’s why.
“The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.”
That line needs to be taught in marketing classes as a great example of deflection and dissemination. It’s an outright lie, of course, because the “intent” was to make money on lockboxes, period. It’s also patronizing and condescending to tell players that something they absolutely hate and find annoying is actually something that they should embrace and love. There were many worthy nominations of PR insanity this year, but this has to take the cake, especially since it sparked an all-out revolt among the community and the internet in general.
MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): There have been a number of quotes that have struck a chord with me during the year. Unfortunately, they don’t always stick in long term memory. Here are two that did, and for very different reasons. The first is a good one, from my conversation with Casey McGeever, CEO of Heroic Games, when we talked at PAX West about Ship of Heroes. He said,
“We’re designing the game with many, many little subtle things to try to bring a more courteous, a more positive community back. We’re willing to be a smaller game to have a more positive community.”
I was really impressed with this line of thinking. More than money, these folks want a positive community. For me, community is a huge part of the game, and when the community is negative or toxic, it isn’t worth playing even if the game is great. This perspective makes me want to play and support the game and company even if it wasn’t really on my radar before.
The not-so-good quote is one that rankled me more than I can express, spoken by Jeremy Stieglitz, co-founder of ARK: Survival Evolved’s Studio Wildcard. His words:
“For me, the thing about video games is this: when you’re a game designer and you have a fun idea, then you feel you have a creative obligation — almost a moral obligation — to give that idea virtual form: to make it happen, to will it into a reality. All other considerations fall by the wayside. In order to make ARK into a reality, I and the other brave folks at Wildcard had to walk through some kinda hellfire. But for ARK to exist, we could do no less.”
I cannot understand how anyone could try to equate breaking a contract (that ultimately cost the company millions and affected development) with moral obligation. I can’t even describe how wrong that is to me. If this is what morals means to a company, if what is right is defined by what a company/person wants, then I fear for how the company would do business and how it would treat customers.