This week’s Massively Overthinking comes to us from longtime reader KenFromChicago. “As MMO reporters covering the MMO field, having some idea what to look for coming down the pike seems beneficial,” he writes. “As such, what ‘roadmaps’ do you like from MMOs, and what qualities do you like about the best of them?”
I thought this would be a fun one to kick not just to our writers but to our readers too for our weekly overthink. After all, not all roadmaps are created equally. Sometimes we are flying blind, and sometimes developers dish out so many promises that even we lose track of what’s when. So let’s dig in: Are there MMO studios that offer roadmaps of their content that you actually find helpful? And what is it that makes them work so well as content communication devices?
Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): I like it when studios share high-level roadmaps because it showcases checkpoints for progress, and selfishly, easy questions to ask during interviews: “How is x feature coming? Wasn’t it planned for the last patch?” I think comparing roadmaps to actual releases and progress is a good way to track shifting priorities within the studio and possibly even provide a guess into the trajectory of a game’s future direction. What I don’t care about are smaller details like “such and such weapon will be added in patch 0.9.12.6.” That might be of interest to daily players, but it’s not much to write home about, so to speak.
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I’m of two minds on this. Part of me says that most MMOs could do with a very basic public roadmap. The ones that don’t really need one are games that are so consistent with content releases that I don’t feel a roadmap really provides much utility – like FFXIV and Elder Scrolls Online. I have a rough idea when things are going to happen already because they always do. Others, like Guild Wars 2 and World of Warcraft, have been so haphazard about content releases that I think a rough outline actually is useful. For example, Guild Wars 2’s spring and summer roadmap gave at least the impression that there was a plan and someone was following it, and now looking back, I find the fact that ArenaNet has stuck to its published plan instilled a lot of confidence in me that it had lost over the last few years, even when it had to delay the expansion.
My other mind is looking at games like Star Citizen, where the roadmap is so convoluted and granular that I think it does significantly more harm than good. It’s overly detailed, it’s meant more for developers than for players, and it causes the community to be a bit loopy when the things on it don’t happen. The information overload seems a bit handwavy, like they’re trying to convince everyone much more is happening than actually is, and I definitely lose interest when it seems as if studios are trying to technobabble at gamers.
Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I’m going to be honest, I’m not sure I like roadmaps at all. There really is too much information about how the sausage of a game is made nowadays, and I think roadmaps are a part of that problem, owing to the fact that their timetables are too nebulous to be of any worth and lead to lots of frustration.
Honestly, if devs did have to share a roadmap, I would prefer it have hard dates for when things are arriving. Confident update schedules make for confidence in a game’s advancement for me, and it would make the wobbly nature of game development less of a stressor for me as a follower.
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I love getting a good roadmap that’s less about flowery PR language and more about concrete facts and dates (at least, scheduled by months or quarters). An announcement of something really fun or long-wanted for an MMO coming up goes a really long way to keeping players engaged, and it keeps that dialogue going between the studio and community.
I would say that roadmaps always need a disclaimer that these things may change — and I do appreciate when devs make special mention of particular items that have a higher possibility of slipping those dates or going back to the drawing board.
Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I think my favorite roadmaps are the ones posted regularly. That’s really the most important part of a roadmap for me: that I’m able to have some sort of idea as to what is coming up in the game. Now, that isn’t to say that the content of the roadmap isn’t critical but if we can just have regular roadmaps then I can leave my pitchfork at home.
As far as the information goes, I’d like to know if balance patches are on the horizon as well as the scope. Are we talking a full overhaul or minor tweaks? It’s also good if developers could provide a nod in the direction of player feedback. As players we get so invested and enamored with these games, often spending countless hours out of game just researching and discussing key aspects of the game, that even the smallest mention of topics that players are discussing can go a long way. This could be something like X class is over/under powered to issues involving over tuned bosses.
I get that developers don’t want to feel like they are committing to something just by mentioning it but acknowledging or explaining things and keeping a dialogue open with the community means a lot to players.
Tyler Edwards (blog): I think I’ve said before I’m not fond of roadmaps as a rule. Very often, they prove overly ambitious, dates are missed, and it becomes a black eye to a developer’s reputation that could easily have been avoided. Those games that do manage to consistently deliver on long-term roadmaps usually only do so by delivering very static, predictable content, and that’s just boring after a while. One of the reasons I don’t play Elder Scrolls Online much anymore is that I realized there was no meaningful difference in quality between the content of the new, paid zones and the ones I’d played in the base game. MMOs are supposed to grow and evolve over time, not just keep reskinning the same content, but rigid roadmaps make it hard to find the space for experimentation.
Total radio silence from developers has its own issues, but I do think a happy medium is possible. I think we should always have at least some idea of what to expect from the next major update for any major MMORPG (without hard release dates), but let anything beyond that be a surprise.