Massively Overthinking: The MMO dev brains we’d like to pick

    
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This week’s Overthinking question comes to us from longtime Patron Roger.

“If you guys could magically open a connection to any dev team, which team would it be? I’ll assume this power includes their answering you as well.”

Sometimes we have this power already! More often than not, however, the devs are piloted by well-intentioned PR machines, and if there’s a question they don’t want to answer, they pretty much don’t have to, which is why so many MMO interviews are a waste of air and time and pixels.

I posed Roger’s question to our staff. Let’s say you have carte blanche to interrogate anyone or any team in the industry. Whom would you want to talk to, and what would you ask if you knew you could get a true and straight answer?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): It may be unexpected from this site, but since I play a lot of console games in Japan, I’m going to go with Nintendo. The company obviously has a lot of power, but even as a fan, I often feel ignored by them. One of my biggest regrets about becoming a part-time games writer is finding out how closed off the company is at a press level as well. Perhaps it’s because they’re as big as they are, or maybe it’s because it’s an old Japanese company, but Nintendo is an old fortress that lets very few people in.

It may seem natural to some people, but during interviews, questions or comments have come up that made developers change their game (I won’t name names, but it’s happened a few times while doing work for this site). Outside feedback is important, but I feel like Nintendo only listens when there is massive backlash, such as with Mario Maker’s original content being released on a daily timer, rather than by the effort put into building.

Even getting translation questions answered is rough, let alone discussing online game play (or the lack of it!). While I’ve gotten review copies for Nintendo games in the past, interviews have always been shot down. I love the company’s games still, but man, I know I’m not the only adult that wants to enjoy their games online with friends spread all over the world. I grew up with Nintendo, but feel like Nintendo’s online growth has only started to kick in. Everyone talks about a Pokemon MMO, and Animal Crossing is just dying to get the same treatment. Being able to ask the right people about this (and why they feel certain models might not work) would make me feel better as a fan. Oh, and I’m sure some people might want to read about it too.

Brendan Drain (@nyphur): Interesting question! Most MMO dev teams are actually quite open to press contact and the challenge they face is often getting the press to pay attention to them in the first place. That’s becoming increasingly true as more independent studios enter the MMO space and struggle to get noticed. I’d be more interested in getting a behind-the-scenes from some of the more closed-off developers or the teams working on new games that haven’t been revealed yet. I’d bet a big sack with a dollar sign on it that Riot Games has been working on a second game for the past few years, for example, and it’d be pretty epic to find out how that’s going. It’d also be pretty awesome to find out what the day-to-day work is like for all the normal developers we don’t normally hear from.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): This is hard because theoretically, we can talk to most devs without much effort. The real trouble is getting them to give good answers, and then secondarily, to get those answers on the record. The pool of off-the-record stuff swirling around in my head is enough to drown in, and it’s quite frustrating from our perspective when we know something and can’t tell you and have to tiptoe around it and keep it all sorted. I sometimes have to stop myself and ask myself whether I am even supposed to know something. But hmm. If I have to pick generally, I’d love to get straight answers out of Blizzard that aren’t dodges or smiling obfuscations. The WoW team specifically, here; most of Blizzard plays pretty straight otherwise. If I have to pick historically, maybe the NCsoft execs who axed City of Heroes. I’d love to see into those minds. If I have to pick right now, I’d love to be a fly on the wall in Daybreak’s new building in whatever room they are planning EverQuest Next PR. Not the game. The PR. I’ll bring the popcorn.

Where the 'hood at.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): Honestly, I would love to be able to talk with Blizzard’s World of Warcraft development team because the decisions and contradictory statements that have been coming out over the past few years are simply baffling. There’s a real wall of silence when it comes to asking what’s going on with the team and the game, and I think that may well be part of the problem. There’s a lot to be written about that, some of which I have written and some of which I will write in time, and all in all it just makes me wish that I could actually open that dialogue with the developers.

If that wouldn’t work for whatever reason? I’d be happy enough to talk turkey with the Final Fantasy XIV developers. Preferably by being able to actually speak the same language as they do; either they all magically know English or I magically know Japanese. I’m not picky.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I think it’d be pretty awesome if Blizzard got down off its high-and-mighty-and-secretive horse and talked with us (the community and press) more often. It’s hard to see that studio as anything but a faceless corporate blob because of the walls it puts up. It’d be cool to just chat with them and get honest responses to questions.

Larry Everett (@Shaddoe, blog): I think my answer is rather simple and obvious: I want to see what’s happening at Daybreak. I would like to know honestly what’s happening with EverQuest Next. There seems to be a lot of speculation, and understandably, not a lot of actual talk about what’s happening at that studio. I have pinned a lot of hope on EQN doing a lot of things that modern MMOs should be doing to push the boundaries of online gaming, but it’s all been talk so far. I’d like to know if what the producers have talked about in the past are still happening and if it’s really going to be something great. I’m starting to lose hope; a trip inside the magical truth of what’s happening would do a lot to raise my hopes back up.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I honestly think that most developers I interact with have been really pretty open — a number of them even having to catch themselves on various occasions to remark that something has to be off the record for now! However, right now I would definitely want to plant myself smack dab n the middle of the Daybreak offices and find out just what is going on over there with EverQuest Next. I know there is some news, and I want to know what it is!

Your turn!

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melissaheather
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melissaheather

EQN.
With Smedley shooting for a cheaper game and Georgeson somewhat disappeared, Daybreak with nothing to say about EQN anymore, I begin to wonder in my heart if the heyday of big-money MMOs has peaked, or may even be fading.

I sorta feel like when Gandalf and Elrond are talking about “the list of allies growing thin” in the FOTR movie.

“It is to Korea that we must place our hopes.” 
“Korea.  Korean games are shallow.  I was there, Gandalf.  Two thousand weeks ago.  I saw the bugs, the gold spamming, the cheating and PvP.  I was there when the charm of Korean games faded.” 

;)

mysecretid
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mysecretid

DPandaren 
Reading about Kern’s craziness, I was reminded of that saying about how the truly crazy think that they’re totally normal, and that everything bad is is always, always, always somebody else’s fault.
Part of why I like Firefall is that Red5 managed to get that game out there, and to keep it going, despite “the Kern years” — a lot of other dev houses, (and publishers) would’ve just put a spike in the troubled project, and walked away.
Firefall may not be everything once promised, but it’s alive, and it’s out there, and it’s a fun game (in my opinion) — despite all of Mark Kern’s toxicity.
My opinions only, of course,
Cheers,

DPandaren
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DPandaren

Mark Kern, why you so cray cray?

gamingsf
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gamingsf

Pretty much agree with the two most common answers in the post. I’d love to ask Blizzard just why it can’t get it’s collective act together to produce content more regularly and I’d love to finally hear something concrete about Everquest Next…

MikedotFoster
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MikedotFoster

Dobablo Oh, as an addendum — one of the best ways to dodge this is strong alignment on the goals/priorities of your studio and games, which is much, much harder at a place of Blizzard’s scale. A small team of 10, 20, even 100 devs can easily align (hey, everyone knows each other), but a team of 3,000, working across disciplines and games? Not quite as simple.

MikedotFoster
Guest
MikedotFoster

Quincha People who buy lockboxes generally LOVE buying lockboxes. It’s weird, but if you ask someone who buys lockboxes “Hey, how do you feel about these lockboxes,” people generally respond, “AWESOME LOVE IT.”
I don’t think lockboxes themselves are intrusive. It’s probably more about the design and implementation than the raw concept.

MikedotFoster
Guest
MikedotFoster

cursedseishi They went to Carbine and other companies because the best way to make more money and work on cool shit in most industry is to hop from one place to the next.

MikedotFoster
Guest
MikedotFoster

Armsbend I have some insight into the EA question. Basically, they won worst company in the world or whatever two years in a row, and Peter Moore called a bunch of people into a room and went “Not again.”
They turned it around, on purpose, to change public perception. Not specifically to make things better for players.

MikedotFoster
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MikedotFoster

mysecretid I can answer the last question: Never.

MikedotFoster
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MikedotFoster

Dobablo This isn’t necessarily a problem with the community, but instead can be a problem with management. A lot of times, controversial decisions are BETTER for the game and BETTER for players, and the dev team behind those decisions thinks they’re better, but the backlash sparks a panic in the leadership ranks.
The right thing to do is to be open about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and to know when to stick with an unpopular decision. This gets harder and harder as more people interact with that decision (and depend on its outcome).
Also, sometimes community people just say the wrong thing — players are often reluctant to look at devs as human when this occurs. Another pitfall.