Vague Patch Notes: The taxonomy of liars in the MMO development space

Those are people who lied, lied.

We have talked before in this column about lies and the lying liars who tell them. Those rotten, rotten liars. But the other day, MOP’s Bree and I were talking about liars and the taxonomy of different lies being told because not every lie is the same as every other. Sometimes a studio is lying about something that’s innocuous or even downright innocent; other times the lie being told is actually much more insidious and exists primarily to make you part with your money for something that’s never going to happen.

This is what’s known as a “confidence game,” or more colloquially, a con.

Our previous discussions have been much more centered around how you can recognize lies about MMOs and their ongoing development process because the reality is that every MMO’s development team will tell you that it’s not lying even when you are being lied to directly and unabashedly. Today, I want to take a look at the taxonomy of liars in the MMO space and how to evaluate them, especially when the lies in question are issued in the service of asking you for something.

In the broad strokes, we can break MMO lies down into three loose categories: lies of motivation, lies of situation, and lies of ambition. They are vaguely escalating in terms of consequence, but the specific context can also have a wildly differing set of circumstances; the key is recognizing what is being lied about and trying to unpack the why.

Lies of motivation are when the studio is telling the truth about what it’s doing and what’s going on with the game as a whole, but it’s not telling the truth about why something is being done. The obvious example is if a studio changes something that players had clamoring about for months and framing it as a problem that could only be solved then. The state of the game isn’t being lied about, but the reasons for actions is.

Lies of situation are a pretty common lie, and they usually take the form of insisting that everything is currently fine when all visible evidence points to something else altogether. If a studio claims that a game is successful despite all player counts being painfully low, for example, that’s a lie of situation; the developers don’t want everyone to fully abandon the game, but it’s clear that things are not going great.

Last but not least, lies of ambition concern more top-level design goals (and that isn’t entirely accurate, but I wanted to make all three of these end in the same four letters). This concerns things like top-end goals, overall design trajectories, and general big-scale planning, often centering around feature lists that are more complicated than any currently extant game that this smaller operation will pull off successfully because mumble mumble immersion.

So gross.

The categories in this particular case also serve as a sort of personal litmus test. I tend to be pretty forgiving of lies of motivation, somewhat forgiving of lies of situation, and really not forgiving of lies of ambition. And there’s a reason for all of the above.

Lies of motivation are, more often than not, an act of ego. Everyone hates a certain mechanic, but the developers love it and think it’s the best idea they’ve ever had, and while I can point to countless pieces of evidence that this is a bad reason to keep things around, it happens. I am a human being, too, and there are things that I am willing to go ride-or-die on when it comes to my columns when it’s really not all that important. I’ve found myself refusing to do content certain ways just out of some bitterness or first instincts.

So you’re finally getting rid of that mechanic everyone hates, but you’re not willing to admit that it was a bad idea that no one liked and made the game worse? Well, whatever, guy. It makes you look worse than the developers who can admit “we made a bad call,” but ultimately the results matter a bit more than your need to avoid admitting you made a mistake.

When it comes to the situation… well, honesty is usually the best policy. I think a lot of people would be more receptive of being told that a game is struggling and it needs more players; fans generally already suspect or are worried about these sorts of things, telling them the truth is unlikely to devastate anyone. But I also understand the fear that being perceived as failing will lead to actual failure, and so I can at least understand the motive to lie in this situation.

Often, though, what leads to requiring a lie about situation is also the same ego and insistence on knowing better that also rears its head in lies of situation. Instead of something being hated and someone not being willing to admit why it’s changing, the developers are doubling down and pretending it’s not hated. Or they’re out of money to actually make the changes needed, or they just don’t particularly care what happens to the game any longer. It doesn’t just mean a lack of honesty; it’s a lack of self-examination.

Lies about ambition, though? That’s when we’re getting into the stuff that usually funds Kickstarters that then collapse upon themselves like a neutron star.

Picture unrelated. Really. Would I lie to you?

I am willing to bet that at least some of the people reading this column right now have ideas for MMOs they would love to see made into reality. Heaven knows I do. However, as I’ve mentioned before, MMOs are big, complicated, and expensive messes. It is much, much easier to turn development of an MMO into a gigantic money pit when you actually have the benefit of a major publisher who will keep giving you money.

It’s even easier to lose all your money when you are being funded by people who have no idea of the sheer difficulties involved in the scope of what is being promised but really want what sounds like a nice idea, and all they have to do is toss down another $50 to see this come to fruition under your banner. That’s not just lying; that’s downright predatory. And it often involves ending up with no game to show for it, to the point where I can think of a good half-dozen MMOs that promised the stars and delivered nothing at all.

We’re not even getting into the games that delivered a fraction of what they promised, here.

Again, the specter of ego rears its head here. Rather than admitting that your goals are far too ambitious for the team and budget you have or that you might have overpromised, you’re lying on the basis of either genuinely believing that things will eventually work… or you’re lying on the basis that you know this will never work, but you want to get paid before it all collapses. So either you’re a fool or you’re a grifter, and in both cases you have more ego and ambition than sense. That’s not a good look.

Obviously, lies are not a good thing. You want to reserve as much of your MMO time as possible for studios that aren’t lying to you at all. But I think it’s useful to think about what kind of lies are being told to you, if for no other reason than to ensure that you’re not getting hoodwinked by someone trying to turn that lie into a hand on your wallet.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.
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