The Daily Grind: What major blunders in MMORPG history should future devs study?

    
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A week or so ago, Justin penned another entry in his long-running City of Heroes historical pieces, and down in the comments, a reader named Sleepy built on a throwaway line in the piece to make what I thought was an excellent point.

“Those should be required questions for anyone interviewing for a job as an mmo developer: What are your views on: NGE, Trammel, RealID, Monoclegate, etc. Blank looks get shown the door. It might cut down on history repeating itself with such depressing regularity.”

I don’t like being a history snob; I don’t think you need to memorize trivia, like why Trammel was named trammel, which dev penned the Real ID retraction, how much monocles cost in EVE Online, and which day the NGE happened. But I have to agree with Sleepy that these examples are among the biggest mistakes to afflict our genre, and I do think that serious upper-level devs need to understand them to not repeat them (even if they didn’t live through them).

What other gaming history examples do you think all MMORPG designers should know? What major blunders in MMORPG history should future devs study?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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Neurotic

Most of the things I would cite would be publisher-level blunders — NCSoft’s CoH shutdown and the whole EQN/LM fiasco would be top of the list.

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IronSalamander8 .

This would be a long list but number one in my mind is avoid a bad launch like Wildstar had. It was such a mad mish mash of different images and ideas that it confused people and has led to its shut down notice that we all knew was coming.

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Urwendil Ûrîzîr

LOTRO’s LIs, Radiance, Big Battles, misimplementation of slotted armour, LIs redux (ILIs), Radiance redux (LoE) and finally pay-to-win with lootboxes.

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Ken from Chicago

ALLODS ONLINE after a beloved beta, seconds after launch, installed a cash shop and crippled the game to force players to buy from it.

WILDSTAR marketed itself as one game, to a wide spectrum of people and then late in development before launch decided to switch to appeal to a (hardcore) niche market that wasn’t nearly a large as its vocal members like to pretend–and ignored the prevalence of F2P at the time while burying their collective head in the sand that sub-only was the way to go.

STAR TREK ONLINE promised Klingon faction that turned out to be only pvp and only after you had leveled up a way in the Federation and even promised Romulan faction that wasn’t delivered until years later after it was sold to another publisher.

ARCHEAGE (aside from the name, dude, if you don’t want people to call it “arch age” maybe spell it “ARKAGE” or even “ARC AGE”) apparently little to no plan on how to deal with the initial land rush for real estate much less after a glitch block people from logging in or how to deal with server mergers.

NO MANS SKY failed to properly communicate what to expect in the game so player hype ran rampant and exceeded far what was planned at launch. Thus there was major disappoint at launch at what was not there. Worse, official channels went radio silent for seeming forever instead of announcing that they had not given up on the game but were working on upgrades.

WORLD OF WARCRAFT really, you create flying mount and get mad that players want to use them?! Really? Also, you haven’t figured out how to incorporate flying into zones so you have to arbitrarily block flying from zones? Also, having become king of the mmo mountain in the West and coasting and taking forever to release new patches / upgrades / expansions. Worse is saying you’re going to speed of the frequency of expansions and then repeatedly don’t. If you’re not going to speed up your pace, say so.

STAR CITIZEN
— 2014: Persistent Universe rises. The initial 2012 kickstarter video for Star Citizen focused on Squadron 42, a single-player space combat sim. However if the stretch goals were reached they would also develop a multi-player Persistent Universe later. As an unprecedented flood of contributions, so much that they didn’t need to get the support of publishers and the difficulty of retrofitting a multi-player game to the single-player S42 game, which was initially planned on taking certain shortcuts, the decision was made to make the multi-player Persistent Universe first, and make the single-player S42 game as a subset of the multi-player game so the coding would be consistent and more compatible, this resulted in delaying the launch of S42. In the words of EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, they were altering the deal. As is so often the case, while many liked the change, a significant percentage of backers did not especially years after they had contributed to the game.
— 2015: First Person Shooter module this set the narrative of SC being glacially slow in development, in what was reportedly (by Kotaku) a year lost in development as the studio tasked to develop the FPS module (aka Star Marine)–aka the bottleneck basis for the 3rd-person play had a massive miscommunication in basic measurements of various sections of the game didn’t match what CIG headquarters had wanted so by the end of the year that section had been reassigned to another studio.
— 2016: Road to CitizenCon and the famous Squadron 42 trailer featuring Gary Oldman, ending with an impressive cast and a promise of 2016 only it was a no-show. A week or two later, a Road to CitizenCon video revealed that the decision to pull the plug on the S42 “vertical slice” was made only a few days prior to release. However it was NOT announced then, or the next day or the day before or the Sunday morning of the keynote. Nope, the keynote was running about an hour late and not even at the regular time or and only at the point during keynote the S42 vertical slice was supposed to play was it announced that it wasn’t ready so he played the Sand Nomads / Sandworm video. It was impressive but it was not the thing that was promised all year. Had they chose NOT to do two major gameplay videos instead of the ones promised then the S42 might have been ready.
— 2017: Seeing how the “Road to CitizenCon” showed the S42 vertical slice video had been canceled mere days before it would be aired in October, a lot percentage of backers figured it would be released “shortly” certainly by the Anniversary livestream in November or the Holiday livestream in December. Nope, months went by on through 2017 with no news on its release. The silence was deafening. The vertical slice was finally aired during the Holiday livestream December 2017.
— 2018: Digital Ticket of CitizenCon. Unlike previous CitizenCons, the decision was made to feature not one but two stages of presentations and livestream it on high resolution streaming. However they were not able to get a sponsor to pay for the cost. Instead of cutting back, they decided to put the livestream behind a paywall, and announce this change a mere month in advance–without explaining the reason for the change. After huge backlash by even ardent supporters of the game and a partial reverse by the following morning, an almost full reversal was made by the evening, the day after the announcement (the livestream is free to anyone who has a Star Citizen *account*, which you can get for free by registering, even without buying a ship or starter pack–and people are free to retransmit the livestream on their own YouTube or Twitch accounts).

In some cases, the problem is What mmo devs do but often the problem is HOW they do it, more specifically, how it’s COMMUNICATED. Poor communication aggravates a bad situation. Good communication can set help to set expectations and avoid needless confusion.

UNDERESTIMATING GOOD COMMUNICATION is, in my humble opinion, THE major blunder mmos make and continue to make. Part of good communication is answering the questions asked. Silence can allow fear, uncertainty and doubt to take over as people are sincerely confused and unsure what to expect. Then there a small minority who have vested interest in undermining support for game for fun and/or profit. Part of good communication is also correcting wrong information even when it seems positive because overselling the game can also lead to disappointment. Accurately communicating what to expect seems like such a simple obvious thing to do yet so often it’s not done so players and the mmos suffer.

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rafael12104

Welp. All of the majors have been covered from an MMO/MMORPG perspective.

But, I would suggest we look at this question through a broader lense and include all video games.

Why? It seems the gaming industry makes the same mistakes over and over and over again. It’s like a bad Yoko Taro production.

Take Daikatana, John Romero’s swan song. The history and drama of the development of that game clearly shows what not to do. That debacle started in 1997, was put out of its misery in 2001, and yet here we are in 2018 with recent examples of lessons not learned.

Arrogant devs out of touch with their market and business, check.
Devs promising features they can’t deliver, check.
Stupidity causing studios to shutter their doors, fire everyone, and lose investor money, check! check! and check!

For those who don’t know the Daikatana story, let your Google do your walking. The wiki is pretty accurate without some of the salacious details. Level designers posing for Playboy, the team gaming and partying all day every day, devs with rockstar status, ads threatening to make players their bitch, those are some details you might see along the way.

The point is, we need to pay more attention. Today’s debacles aren’t new.

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Joe Seabreeze

Take a look at Archeage and figure out why that wasn’t the best mmo since WoW. It could have easily been the best, but decision from the top ruined its chances.

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Songs for Children

WoW’s dungeon finder in patch 3.3 was the start of the decay of server-based communities in the game. Once people could be grouped with others and have no concern for their reputation on their home server, it affected many people’s behavior…shall we say “negatively”?

What we gained in convenience we lost in community.

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Sally Bowls

Wildstar comes to mind first. A game with personality, humor, Paths, housing, … until people like Eliot pushed it into a hardcore raiding game. :-) (you really should listen to the podcast)

While I think you can’t build a AAA hardcore-raiding MMO anymore, my takeaway is to be careful of “listening to your fans/players.” The people who are in your beta a year or two before launch are very unrepresentative of what it takes to make a financially viable game.

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Schmidt.Capela

An interesting example of how Beta players are different from the general players, for those that were part of the GW2 beta weekends, was how differently the WvWvW felt between Beta and Launch, despite the game systems being exactly the same. The Beta players never gave up, kept fighting to the bitter end, and often staged impressive comebacks; the regular players will often give up as soon as their server is visibly behind, in most cases cementing the week-long match result after the first few hours and preventing comebacks from happening.

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Kickstarter Donor
Vunak23

Wildstar the whole thing

ArcheAge and TRIONs management of the game

SWTOR pouring more into marketing than into the actual game doesn’t necessarily make a good game that will last. Probably shouldn’t of tried to chop an engine up with zero experience with the Engine being used. With zero games under that engines belt.

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Bruno Brito

Wildstar.

Edit: In the video Death of a Game: Wildstar, there was a post of most interest for me. It is just an anonymous poster, so take it with a grain of salt, but enjoy nonetheless.

Sam Noone
2 meses atrás ( 2 months ago, edited because my YT is in portuguese )

“Ex Dev on wildstar here. Watched the video and although it was quiet informative, I just wanted to chime in on some of the key factors on why this game was a huge flop.
I worked on the game for 5+ years and let me tell you.. This games was destined to fail wayyy before there was any issues with servers or not enough updates.

Development on this project was a nightmare. The real Development time frame was closer to 10/11 years. Coming onto the project at the 5 year mark I soon realized that the leads and big boys had no fucking clue what a good game was and they could not commit to any idea. Too many cooks in the kitchen that can’t cook anything other than Mayo and Beef Jerky sandwiches… Look for the double meaning in that. It’s there.

One of the most prevalent issues with the game that I noticed was bad direction from top down. People like Tim Cain specifically made way more problems than they were worth. Honestly the guy was a total dick. Awful to work with and almost nothing he “did” ended up in the game. His lack of leardership I would say was one of the reasons why the first 4-5 years of the game were almost completely thrown out. Literally…

Then you have an art director who couldn’t keep his nose out of anything. His selfishness drove off many of the best artists in the company including cory loftis. Literally… Cory Loftis LEFT the game which is based off of his style almost entirely because of this guy. This same art director was also responsible for hijacking the story and overall vision of the game as well. Wondering why there wasn’t more raids and dungeons? Because the ART DIRECTOR thought several ALREADY MADE LEVELS didn’t fit the story anymore… So they threw them away… He also made calls on gameplay… Which… is a hole other nightmare.

The gameplay was once good… I would say around the 7 year mark. 1v1 combat was very fun at this point and each class felt very unique and fun. Unfortunately most of that was thrown away and replaced with alot of new stuff that was just NOT tested enough. I repeat… most of what launched in Wild star combat wise was BARELY tested. Stuff like Warplots was broken to shit from start to finish. The designers leading WarPlots were absolute lazy trash and would knowingly put in broken systems and call them done just to appease their bosses. The only reason that warplots was even REMOTELY playable on launch was because of some amazing talent on the 3D prop team. I am not joking.. Artists LEANRNED HOW TO SCRIPT TO FIX THIS CRAP.

Pvp in general was absolutely broken. I didn’t even work on paper let alone work in a multi million dollar game. The idea of telegraphs is pretty straight forward and seems to just work for most cases in combat…. except in any fight larger that has more than two characters per team… Attack telegraphs drawing on the ground is very clear when you have a small amount of people fighting but in medium to large pvp fights ( pretty much every fight that matters) the entire ground becomes a multi colored disco dance floor. Casual to moderate gamers were like deer in headlights during the VERY FEW playtests that were had for larger pvp battles. SO MUCH FEEDBACK was given by the teams that participated in these tests and almost nothing was fixed about it.

The leadership was god awful. Proof of this was that most of the BEST things in the games that players loved the most such as Double Jump and Hoverboards were things that were never planned for or schedules by leads. Those were passion projects. Double Jump was made by an ARTIST. That artist got in trouble for making double jump and eventually fired for other reasons. Never got credit either. Hoverboards were snuck in by an animator… He got written up for secretly working on hoverboards in his freetime with other coworkers. The place was a prison of ideas and everyone was getting shanked for even THINKING that they WANTED to think of something to improve the game.

Oh did I mention mandatory Crunch? We would crunch for months at a time. Mandatory. I remember working from 10am to 3 am everynight 6 days a week for about 3 months straight. And I got a talking to once because I was 10 minutes late to work. ONCE. Because Jeremy Gafney saw me coming in late. Everyone working on this game was absolutely DONE with the BS and it shows. The love died way before this game launched. No one in the studio really wanted to play the game. And then we shifted to try to cater to the hardcore audience?! ( this was the version on launch. The hardcore not for pansies mmo) During a time where pretty much almost every successful game was being carried hard by more casual players.

I can go on but… I think you get the picture. These devs thought they were clever enough to ignore pretty much every other successful business model and all other mmorpgs to make this.. There you have it…”