Massively Overthinking: The boring MMO development between bookends of hype

    
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If you watch MMOs being developed for long enough, one truth becomes evident: It’s kinda boring.

I started thinking a bit about this last week when a reader named Bel pointed out that Crowfall doesn’t seem to get much hype on blogs or forums, even though it’s becoming nicely polished and probably closer to release than most of the crowdfunded indie MMOs we cover. While I suspect some of that is a result of ArtCraft avoiding some of the unprofessional tactics we’ve seen from other studios (like sending out brigaders to astroturf and troll), I also think it’s because MMO development is fundamentally tedious and boring as hell for the vast majority of gamers, and at some point in a game’s development, even backers decide to mentally check out. I believe in you, but call me when it’s really ready, right?

So for today’s Massively Overthinking, I want to riff on that idea and then take it further. Is development boredom a problem in general? Is it Crowfall’s issue? And what other in-development MMOs aren’t getting enough love?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): It’s Crowfall’s issue, in a good way. As Bree mentioned, they’re not doing anything overtly underhanded. They’re also careful about not overhyping their product or milking customers. It’s boring, but at least they understand that getting people on the hype coaster means you’d better have a great finish. It’s incredibly difficult to win people over well after launch, especially for an MMO.

Other games may be falling into this trap, and while the launched product may end up objectively better than Crowfall, the high amount of hype could cloud that and kill it on arrival. Hype generation is a big deal for businesses, but hype management really should be a job these days.

Slower than a ray of light.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): Yes, it’s an issue. Most people don’t really want to see behind this curtain, even if they say they do. I watch these games for a living and I’m first in line to admit it’s often boring and exhausting chronicling the minutiae of projects that are cooking. Sure, some days it’s exciting; others it’s basically the video game industry equivalent of watching paint dry. No, it’s worse – it’s writing about watching paint dry.

I do think that Crowfall specifically has sidestepped some gross pitfalls and done a better job climbing out of the traps it fell into (its major delays, its multiple funding rounds, etc.). The kinds of superfans who follow these types of MMOs closely don’t care about that stuff as much as they care about, say, cash-shop shenanigans, so there’s not as much drama. I also suspect that Crowfall’s development has been a tad confusing to follow with all its many campaign stages. I think it’ll do much better with the General Gaming Public once it breaks out of alpha, starts to feel like a Real Product, and cranks up its marketing hype machine. Right now, that machine is pretty limited to influencers/streamers and hasn’t saturated the rest of the genre or the broader media landscape.

My picks for in-development MMORPGs that don’t get enough love? Dual Universe and Fractured, both made by European teams, both shaping up to be spectacular sandboxes, neither getting the player attention it deserves.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): One of the things that definitely sucks with the advent of crowdfunded/open development titles is knowing how the sausage is made. Like, not just the meats and the grinding thereof, but very nearly the chemical composition of each piece of particulate that goes into the sausage. As a fan of the crowdsourced MMO idea, even I have to admit that development boredom is a thing.

Whether it’s a problem or not, though, depends on how much fatigue knowing the sausage recipe one is susceptible to. If you’re able to mentally check out long enough for a new update to genuinely surprise you, then outstanding. If you’re the sort who is upset at the glacial pace of game development nowadays, you’re probably best just sticking to the announcements “of worth” that come out of trade shows and events. In fact, judging whether a developing title’s updates are worthy of your attention can become a mental slog, especially if a number of them don’t excite you. Which then leads to the whole “What’s taking them so long?” complaint, or — in the case of Crowfall — offering updates that are solid and steady, but not exactly barn-busting.

I’m not sure that development boredom is enough of a problem to really worry about, but that combined with the personal biases folks can carry regarding paid-for early access, DLC, and assumptions of how game dev budgets work certainly combines to form a dangerous cocktail.

As for a game that probably doesn’t get a lot of love from me, personally? City of Titans. Like, OK, you can make neat asymmetrical outfits, but I would really really love to see more dev updates on gameplay and where that all stands, please.

Titan-size!

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): I don’t think that development boredom is precisely a problem in development so much as it’s a problem in how development is shown. And this is exacerbated by the nature of games that are in early access, being Kickstarted, or otherwise trying to flaunt “LOOK AT ALL THE STUFF WE DID” as quickly and as early as possible. There’s always going to be a good chunk of time spent going from “ideas that work on paper” to “ideas that work in the game,” but it only becomes a problem if you announce the former as soon as you have the idea and then have to provide some sort of update while you actually make the idea into a reality.

Traditionally, this is why you can stagger out your reveals. You announce the expansion when it’s already had its big ideas and they’re being implemented, you reveal more when you still have more stuff in the wings. It’s an informative cadence that Final Fantasy XIV has worked with for years, and that’s on my mind as the game gears up to tell us more about the next expansion this weekend. No doubt there’s more that’s been done that we won’t be told, but by staggering out the pacing we’re seeing things that have already been finished even as other things are being finished.

Games like Crowfall don’t have that advantage. There’s no backlog for Crowfall, just the stuff that’s being worked on now or is already there, and as such it’s harder to stagger out reveals to cover the parts of development that are… well, bland. That’s fine, it’s part of how projects work, but it’s a little unsettling for fans to realize that a good chunk of this work is just rolling down these systems and making them work correctly.

Guns and ships.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): There’s a reason I’m much happier to write about games than make them: It’s because game creation is a long, difficult, and bonecrushing task – and that doesn’t even factor in the pressure to remain relevant to the community and appease those waiting with information and hype. While it’s not fair that studios have to be selling their audience on the game while the devs are making it, they have to. It’s vital to build up that community and prime them for release in order to maximize the potential for success.

But how best to do this? For a while, the standard in the industry was a weekly dev blog, and while some games hew to that, others have decided on information overload or informational blackouts. Long rambling developer streams might feature important info, but players don’t always have the time and patience to sift through hours of this on a weekly basis. I think the once-a-week article or newsletter is a reasonable pace for both community expectations and developer workloads.

As for games that we should be hearing about more often, there are tons. Ascent: Infinite Realm and New World are putting out spotty info at best, and even Ashes of Creation is more uneven with dev diaries than it should be. Smaller indie titles like Valiance Online need regular communication to spread the word, so they can’t afford to just take off for a few months and expect everyone to stay interested.

Your turn!

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Bryan Correll

I backed Camelot Unchained but I’ve deliberately avoided following the development very closely to avoid burnout.

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Kickstarter Donor
Pandalulz

If there’s anything I’ve learned from this era of Kickstarter, Early Access, and crowdfunding, it’s that I don’t really care. I just want some hype a few months before a game releases and to revel in that, for what it is.

Alyn
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Alyn

Should we, as consumers, even hear about development of any mmo in a pre-alpha at all?

Are over saturated with pre launch hype well before product is ready?

Sure seems as though we are-

tinnis_
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tinnis_

‘book ends’ are very much reflected in MMO subreddit traffic stats as well!

Reader
PanagiotisLial1

I dont think Crowfall is the best example and I will explain

Crowfall took a decision that it thinks will be killing PVP stagnation when smoke sets down. Devs decided the best course of action would be to make persistent(non permadeath) characters on a non persistent world. That is more likely to entice MOBA fans to play it but I never liked MOBAs. I am sure it will find many people who love it but it instantly lost a lot a of potential players with it too. I am one of those.

In any other case I would at least check it out, if not being in my watchlist but I dont play games that really interested me more due to “world resets”, One such example is Star Sonata 2 which normally would be among my favourite indies and has some quite deep elements like space starbase building, setting up and very unusual classes. Also elements like having semi-AI controlled ships you can control too in an RTS-like system. And yet I dont play it.

What I want to say is the reason depends on the game. Crowfall is lack of world persistence. Devs probably made a calculated risk there.

To explain how things work for me, lets take my main game for example, I wasnt hyped into SotA for example and bought the digital version less than 6 months before it went f2p AFTER taking its trial(it only let you check its courage path back then along with other limitations) because it ended up being a pleasant surprise during checking it out. I got hyped AFTER checking it out myself. And that is usually the normal for me – I get hyped after checking something that hits all the right ticks or most of them. A similar case is Project Gorgon that hyped me only after trying its playable alpha in 2 different time periods.

Generally speaking I think me(and others) dont get hyped too easily from pre-release teasers etc because we had seen many times the pre-release promo content to have little relation with the final product.

Also who forgets that many overhyped games never make it to release as well? The last time I got hyped before something releases was Everquest Next. And we all know where is EQ Next today, in the trash bin for abandoned projects.

If you have been “burnt” before its hard to get hyped before you see a game closer to final release

Xijit
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Kickstarter Donor
Xijit

There is persistence Crowfall, it just isn’t the combat zones: your home world / pocket dimension thingy is the persistent world & the combat zones are like mission instances that last days/weeks/months instead of just a couple of hours.

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PanagiotisLial1

I see, but is it possible to have player built settlements like in other sandboxes? I mean like you having your house and your guildmates/friends/neighboors having built a house around? Even if not its better than nothing, but I do like the settlements potential in sandboxes

Xijit
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Kickstarter Donor
Xijit

Kind of: you can grant permissions to your personal lot which allow your friends / guild mates to change things & use crafting stations.

So in effect you can set up your own town if you wanted to, or just have your own personal cave, or just let friends come hang our (but not change anything).

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PanagiotisLial1

I see, that is closer to games like EQ2 permissions I guess

Reader
Daniel Allan

Crowfall is about the only mmo i’m watching now if it wasn’t so heavily marketed at pvpers I prob would have already jumped on board instead im just waiting to see more about the game.

my issue is most of the mmos out haven’t even been bookmarks, or more like those bookmarks that are purely decorative and not actually functional, get all excited waiting for them and they lack any sort of substance to go long term then back to waiting for the next mmo worth playing.
Haven’t had anything out in the last 10 years that’s held my attention for a month and i’ve tried nearly every major mmo.

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Ironwu

I wish companies would look back on World of Warcraft and how it was managed pre-release through launch. The hype on WoW was actually based on deliverables that folks could actually see and touch. For instance, months prior to release there was a complete manual online that anyone could read and all were invited to comment and submit errata. Then there were the open stress tests and numerous play videos.

Just as an aside, WoW did NOT have any trouble at all growing over then next several years. It grew tremendously right up until the disastrous Cataclysm expansion.

One may not like WoW as a game, but there is no doubt at all that they expertly handled the build up of anticipation to launch.

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PanagiotisLial1

To be fair it had the advantage of a successful IP made on the the success of warcraft 1, 2 and 3. Also the company had build a good reputation not only from those but from the releases of Starcraft and Diablo 1 and 2. I mean they were so known they didnt really have to communicate for publicity

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Kickstarter Donor
Pandalulz

Truth, if I hadn’t played, adored, and loved Warcraft 3, there’s a high chance I would’ve let WoW slide right on by. But because of my love for that game (well also WC2, SC, and D2, I guess really Blizzard in general), I was first in line, insane lag and all to get in on the beta.

Reader
Ironwu

Many MMOs have had the same or similar advantages. SWTOR, ESO, Matrix Online, STO, DDO, Neverwinter, and so on. None were as well managed in the run up to launch as WoW, and none had done as well as WoW in the subsequent half decade after launch.

There is much more to it than just a known IP and previous games, I think.

Just my 2c.

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rafael12104

Hmm. Ok. To be honest, I think we are hoisted with our own petard.

Reader
Arktouros

I’ve been beta testing MMOs since they started coming out. I mean I got an EverQuest and Asheron’s call Beta CD around here cause that’s how they used to do it back in the dial up days. MMO development has always been super boring. Always.

The bigger shift I have noticed is that when you have a title that people can buy access to the routes for feedback become just a big, useless cacophony of noise. One tester wants to rant about unless the game devs repent and forsake their evil PvP ways and make a more PvE oriented game it is doomed to fail while another is preaching about how if the game isn’t FFA PvP with full dry looting no true PvPer will ever take the game seriously. There’s dozens of topics all full of people angrily, pointlessly bickering at each other drowning out any kind of actual useful feedback you could possibly provide. That’s always been there, but the ability for John Q Public to buy their way in turns it into a town hall public comments scene from Parks and Rec.

Reader
A Dad Supreme

In the ‘olden days’, you’d have:

1) rumor of game
2) confirmation of rumor of game
3) announcement by company of game
4) long, silent development of game
5) alpha/beta of game
6) launch of game

Then it turned into:

1) announcement of game (no time for rumors!)
2) development/alpha/pre-beta of game (all in one!)
3) pre-soft release, then soft release of game
4) beta 1 of game
5) beta 2 of game
6) closed beta of game
7) open beta of game
8) Early Access launch of game
9) Launch of game

All the pre-release hype along the way now does nothing but lead to a “Hey, I thought this game launched six months ago” feeling.