This could be a gruesome topic, but it popped into my head after GIbiz published an article with advice for game developers from Melbourne Games. It’s called Australian devs’ advice to students: Specialise, and kill your darlings, and it grabbed my attention right off. Were developers really going to tell students or recent graduates to give up on their early projects if they don’t pan out quickly? Yep.
“It breaks my heart when I see teams sometimes four years on, having seen them in their final year, still working on getting the same game out the door. They could have killed it off and used the experience to come up with something way better, but they were just emotionally connected to that project and couldn’t let it go.”
Turning that back on the MMO genre, I started wondering about MMO projects that shouldn’t have been made, or should’ve been canceled a lot sooner, and what amazing projects we might have gotten had the developers, well, killed their darlings – not just for their sake but for ours, and for the genre’s. Let’s discuss just that for this week’s Overthinking.
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Darkfall 2. Not a ton changed. It was originally an expansion, but the team made it into a sequel for a game that was, what, 2 years old? I was a veteran of the first game and gave the sequel a good try.
Asheron’s Call 2 gets flack for not being the original turned 2.0, but it still added a lot of features that felt revolutionary at the time. Things that made World of Warcraft mainstream. But DF2? That felt like an expansion wipe that broke a lot of old features. It divided the player base and felt like it killed the company. The fact that multiple groups are resurrecting the original DF and not the sequel really speaks volumes.
…in a distant second would be Animal Crossing Pocket. Not an MMO, but the main series had fun, easy going multi-player for creative and social types. Nintendo made the series’ mobile entry into a gachapon centered game of timers collector. Fans didn’t need that, and neither did the series.
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I can always tell by Thursday morning when I’ve asked a really rough question in Overthinking because most of the writers are hiding under their virtual desks trying to avoid answering it! So it is with this one, and as I try to answer it myself, I see why. It’s not fun trying to be super pragmatic about it. Killing your darlings is hard, and telling other people they should have killed their darlings – when in fact you kinda like those darlings – is unpleasant.
The first example that bubbles up in my mind is actually more the indie scene rather than the corporate scene – the megacorps have no darlings and axe games without sentimentality. But I’ve said before on the podcast that I often wish some of the Star Wars Galaxies emulators would stop making yet another server for 200 people and instead consolidate into one or two really huge ones. I suppose over time, that happens naturally, but all of the effort that went into those other 20 or 30 servers is wasted.
Similarly, I see a lot of people argue this about the City of Heroes spiritual successor games. The three that are still in serious contention for a launch someday don’t see themselves as competitors, but they are, and sometimes I have the same consolidation wish. I don’t think they’re as different as they believe they are. I think keeping the pack together matters more – that banding all of us together would produce a better game with better chances of releasing fully and succeeding. But it’s far too late to go back now.
I bear many side-eyes for games that get do-overs and re-releases that don’t need it, that are overt attempts to shift into different markets, sometimes at the expense of their existing players. Secret World Legends and Defiance 2050 are coming to mind.
From a purely selfish perspective, I’m glad all of these games get made. Even the ones that are truly bad have something to offer, even if it’s nothing more than a warning that future developers might heed. But for the sake of the devs’ health and careers, I hope they bail when the time is right.
Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): As much as I hate Blizzard for canning Project Titan and instead cranking out Overwatch (just think what kind of amazing superheroic MMO Blizzard could have released!), I have to ultimately concede that they clearly made the right decision from a financial standpoint and a gaming one. There’s also the story of Final Fantasy XIV effectively taking its 1.0 dog behind the wood shed. So there’s certainly precedence for these decisions ultimately leading to great things.
The advice to kill your darlings can often be much more gnarly than it seems when you consider MMOs, though. Particularly if you’re in so deep that reeling back would be tantamount to giving up or sacrilege (Star Citizen) or because you’re beholden to some investor’s board (insert any major MMO here, really). Additionally, one of the best parts of MMO and online multiplayer games is their ability to build on top of and expand outward from its foundation, eventually evolving into something that is better than where it started out.
So I guess that ultimately leads to my conclusion: try to grow and build on what you’ve got first. Adapt, evolve, develop, much like Worlds Adrift or Legends of Aria have. And if that doesn’t work, there’s no shame in hitting that reset button. I’m looking at you, Bless Online.