One of my favorite traditions every year is to put a spotlight back on some of the wild things MMORPG developers said every year. OK, the clever things and the bonkers things too, but my favorite are the really out-there quotes. (Although if we could just stoppit with the metaverse stuff, I’d be so very happy.)
For this week’s end-of-the-year Massively Overthinking, I’ve asked our writers to pick out something an MMO developer said in 2021 – smart, sassy, salacious, or senseless – and remind everyone what it was and why it matters to the genre.
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Ugh, this one’s tough because a lot of the great/awful quotes I heard were from GDC, and none are short enough for a quick soundbite. In fact, I had to summarize many and provide context, like Facebook mentioning that it “probably” made “missteps” concerning privacy in a pre-recorded speech at a live event, probably so it could avoid the big “hell yeah” the audience was ready to hit it with. I will mention the state of MMO cycles as a top one though, thanks to WildStar alumni Stephen Frost. It’s a very long quote, so I wanna focus on two specific areas:
“Player counts are dropping, even with improvements trickling in. Content creators are not getting the same clicks they used to, and are struggling to get eyes on their videos. They are trying to stay positive, but they are showing some frustration in their content. Devs notice and know about the frustration and are working hard to fix it. Morale drops at the studio. Other offers come in from other studios who will pay more money on exciting new projects. The game is getting better, but it’s slow going. Some big names leave. Can’t blame em, great opportunities and they are exhausted. Content creators are feeling like they aren’t being listened to, and the devs are now figuring things out. Player counts are dropping. A new patch with content is coming up. The new patch is coming out. Bug fixes, a new zone, balance changes. It barely increases logins. Content creators are getting frustrated and can’t cover the game anymore because the clicks aren’t there. ‘It’s just business. I love the game. I need more eyes to make cash.’ Videos start coming out talking about ‘The MURDER DEATH KILL of X GAME.’ Those get lots of clicks. The game is improving. More devs leave. The team who knew how to make the game is either burned out or gone. Either the game recuperated and profited enough that a team can be funded to make the game better and keep the player base engaged, or it will be sunset in six months.”
So much to unpack here: Content creators who brought people to the table are the same ones who seem to thrive on smashing it, often while devs are trying to improve the game. Ever been fired or dumped while you were improving yourself exactly the way people wanted you to? That’s what this is, but more public, and the empathy pain on this can be very real for me.
I know some people think the media is the same, but as a freelancer, I can tell you we’re not all like this. MOP isn’t like this. Oh, we like eyes, but I have never been in a position where I’ve slammed and apologized to devs I actually liked/respected because “it’s just business.” I’m allowed to be authentic, and it comes from the top down (thank you so much, Bree). I often feel like we’re the adults in the room, trying to be honest with fans and devs alike, bridging communities and game creators. Yes, we may slam poor decisions, and even studios who seem to flagrantly ignore their communities, but we avoid hyperbole while still giving praise when praise is due. Look no further than how we’ve handled Blizzard – I know many writers here (myself included) have complicated relationships with the company and its games.
Game development is hard, especially for online services. As someone who has seen fellow writers and “content creators” at other outlets praise a game they privately disliked without giving honest feedback to people with real power, I honestly feel for many devs who think they have a great game only to have people turn on them soon after release. Hype trains push players to extremes, and while it may help with advertising the unreleased game, it feels like using steroids to prepare for a competition. Yeah, it may get you across the finish line, but the damage it does to the body is long-term.
There’s so much more to unpack in Frost’s full quote: the way content is assumed to be consumed, how timelines never seem to line up, releasing unfinished products… stuff that I think we’ve heard a lot of but is still a good reminder. The complicated relationship with content creators who make money based on hits can’t be overstated in my mind. Maybe it’s because I prefer news over news-entertainment for the most part, but old-man-Andrew over here wishes he could find more honest outlets with informed writers to cover games, rather than people who are in it for the money.
Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): Malik Khatazhaev, the General Manager of Lesta Studios, had a few doozies this year, especially considering the difficulties Wargaming has had maintaining positive customer relations. In the World of Warships Russian language forums, he said:
(translated from Russian):
“There are of course many YouTubers and people in general who think they EXACTLY know how to ‘ride a horse.’ They say Developers are stupid, but everything is obvious to them. Moreover, the better the game, the more such opinions. Always wondered why they themselves don’t make games? Cooperate, make a kickstarter or investment fund would allocate finances. Game design, PR, Marketing, and the internal dryuchilovo [drudgery] of ‘stupid developers’ would be completely in their hands”
While it’s true that players can be highly critical of games and studios, this response from the head of a major developer strikes me as openly hostile and carries an unwillingness to admit that, in fact, sometimes players do see things that developers don’t. If the culture of an organization starts at the top, this post serves as a red flag for how players rate in the eyes of the developers of World of Tanks and World of Warships. In another section, Khatazhaev muses, “I wonder what they will do if the developers forbid them to use their content?” in regard to community contributors who make a living creating gaming videos and streams. It comes off as a subtle threat against those creators who may be saying things that the studio disagrees with.
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): One that stood out for me this year was from Playable Worlds’ Greg Costikyan, who came from a TTRPG background to video games with what is in my opinion a more sharp-eyed view of the evolution of our genre than many old-school MMO developers.
“Most of the time, you will be handed an existing IP (whether that comes from a previous game, a license, or an existing genre) and asked to tweak it slightly,” he laments. “Alas, our industry does not thrive on ideas. It limps on, on clones, brand extension, and tweaks to successful genres.”
The idea that our industry doesn’t thrive on ideas makes me feel uneasy to the point of nausea. It’s one thing to know that the industry is a money printer that grinds up creativity, having watched the effects of it; it’s another to hear creative minds actually acknowledging that the creativity has been sucked out of the space, that there’s little place for it now that the vultures are picking clean the bones.
Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): Here’s a quote from Bitcraft’s Clockwork Games:
“We should avoid selling anything in game that is understood to be earned and we should always sell things that are understood to be bought. That sounds almost like circular reasoning, but we feel it’s actually an immensely important distinction. Since it’s pretty abstract I think it’s helpful to use an analogy: we should never be in the business of selling Medals of Honor and we should always be in the business of selling Lamborghinis.”
This quote made me slap my desk and yell “thank you!” at my screen. You would think this sort monetization policy would be second nature nowadays, but clearly that isn’t always the case still. So I appreciated this sentiment as well as the analogy.
Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): So Nexon’s CEO busted out this particular quote when talking about release dates:
“Crunch mode is one of the most pernicious problems in our industry. The charade of launch timing serves little purpose except this dance with equity analysts. […] Instead, the right thing to focus and push for is a game that blows people’s minds. If we achieve that, the game will last many years, and the revenues will dwarf what we would have made by launching a quarter or two earlier. […] I’m sorry nobody in my industry has explained this to you before. Within the industry, we all know it’s true, and yet few talk about it openly. Everyone should. So rather than giving you a date, this team is going to give to our customers and employees a commitment to make the best game we can, as soon as we can.”
Here’s the funny thing. On the one level, he’s not wrong. Crunch is absolutely a terrible thing that doesn’t lead to better games but leads to industry burnout and often rushed titles that are in no way better than if the developers had gotten space to breathe. I think that he’s absolutely right to take that to task. But at the same time… this is a quote from the CEO of Nexon, a studio that does not actually have a flawless track record of its own. It’s a company that has a number of questionable practices, but seems to be making moves to be better. Still, it’s a good quote because it shows that awareness and rejection of crunch is starting to become more of a commonplace thing, even among leadership.
“We deeply apologize for this…”
Naoki Yoshida, absolutely any time anything goes wrong in any way in FFXIV or anything is inconvenient for people. Because of course.