MMO Leaders Offer Future VisionN. Evan Van Zelfden
Here are the highlights of their four rants…
My rant is about how, as game developers, the fact that we often make changes to core pieces of our games after we launch. It's a critical error. We've made changes to our games that were core changes and, while I can't say they were detrimental to our game, they probably didn't achieve the goals we wanted them to achieve.
As we make these games, we attract a certain type of player. They come to our game because of the things we put in there. The core functionality, the systems, the gameplay we put in, and then for whatever reason, because we see another game that looks really cool, that's maybe doing better than us, or we want to change our billing structure to make more money, or whatever the reason happens to be, we come out and make a systems change to our game, and what does it do? It alienates our current players. The people who are playing our game right now.
We go out and say, ‘'you know what, we want more of those players, we want that 3.5 million from that game over there.' So instead of sticking to the thing that our players really love, we start changing it. And now we're alienating the players playing our game, losing our subscribers. The 3.5 million who are over there playing that game, they're happy. They're playing that game already. We're not attracting them – or, it's very difficult to attract them. So the chance that you're taking as a developer making those changes is so huge. And you see it happen all the time. If you look at the games out there, there's not many big games – or small games that have not made that error. So, that's my rant.
I want to talk about user created content. But before that, I don't know anybody's ever seen Will Wright talk, but I love the way he handles his talks: in the middle of everything he just stops and talks about what he wants to talk about. So I'm going to do the same thing here and read you a letter I'm writing Steven King, so just bear with me here.
Dear Mr. Stephen King,
You do not know me, but I am writing about your book Dreamcatcher. It is a good book, but I think it could be made much better. I am not a professional writer, but I still know how to write. I am sure I know your book better than you do because you have written many books since 2001, but I just read your book so you should listen to me and do what I suggest. I am writing this letter to help you make better books. I have read lots of scary books so I am a master at knowing all about scary books and you could obviously learn a lot from me, so read carefully what I tell you in this letter.
First, what is with the retard kid? Nobody likes retards so you should take him out of the story. Instead you should have a ninja, or maybe a pirate. Everyone likes ninjas and pirates, they are very popular. All my friends agree that ninjas and pirates are cool but nobody likes retards.
And what is with the other guys? They are not cool at all. They are like the loser friends I had from college. They have no cool super powers and they kind of suck. I think they should be changed, too. Maybe they could be cowboys, because cowboys are also cool like ninjas and pirates and aliens.
I also think you suck as a writer. You obviously do not know how to write scary books at all and you should let me write them instead. I have a lot of great ideas that I can share, and I know a lot about scary books because I read a lot of them and obviously that makes me an expert at writing them as well.
You are also too greedy. I think your older books should be like free because they are old and we all know old things are not as good as new things.
In closing, let me say that you should listen to me because I am your paying customer. I have purchased a number of scary books that you have written, and I have given you a lot of money. I have also spent a lot of time reading your books, and I think that I have invested so much time reading Dreamcatcher that I probably own the story. I should have a say in how you write and sell books. I am so much smarter than you are and I write so much better so you should listen to me or you suck and I will go post about it on every Internet forum I know of.
Your friend, Brian.
I see that I'm about out of time, so I'll just summarize three points.
Amateurs can obviously do just as good a job as professionals.
Players always have great ideas.
Just like in books, Player-created content is the wave of the future in online games.
My first rant is about coding before designing. I don't know how many projects I've been called in to troubleshoot. When I go through the documents and I ask them for the design document and I get a three page document. I say, 'You've got three pages of design document and two years of code? Now you know why you're paying me ten-thousand dollars a month.'
You have to have a general idea of where you're going before you get started. Before the ship sails out from the dock, you gotta know what your destination is. I don't know how many design documents I've seen where they didn't know what the destination was. That's one.
Ignoring the Community is another rant. After Brian's brilliant rant here, I am almost ashamed to say this, but you know you can't ignore your community. The one you see on the forums are obviously the very vocal minority. And they can screw you up if you listen to them too carefully. But they are an indicator of a significant fraction of your customer base and where they're going.
Too many developers are scared to death of their own customers. Now who can blame them, because we meet them at conferences! But let's remember, we don't meet the majority of our customers either online or through customer service or at conferences...
Those are the people that are playing and having a great time, and we have to remember that. So you can't ignore the community, you have to find ways to connect and communicate and understand what they have to tell you. Because they can be invaluable resources in some situations.
I have heard of community relations staff from games notifying the players on the forums that they would be at a conference, but they wouldn't be interacting with the players. These were the community relations people. That's just ridiculous. Why don't you just tell them, ‘You're all a bunch of nerds and we just want your money and thanks.'
My last rant is about launching before we're ready. I mean, how many of us has launched before we're ready? Everybody that's ever worked on an MMO should be raising their hand because pretty much every one of them has launched before it was ready. I understand the considerations. Sometimes the money runs out. Sometimes you work for a public corporation and they just basically have to launch or the stock prices is going to tank or be affected. This could all be solved with better planning up front and learning from history. Learning from past mistakes so you're not making those and slowing down your development process.
I'm kind of pissed off because we've managed to put ourselves into a spiral of mediocrity. I'm not really mad at you for getting where we are. Mostly I'm mad at myself because I'm in the same place. I'm a master at risk mitigation. I know all about how to mitigate risk. I'm certainly not the risk taker I was when I entered the business. When I entered the business I thought 'oh, there's these thousand things I could do,' And over time it's gotten narrower and narrower what I'm willing to take home. But have no fear. I'm going to take it out on you.
It's human, when you're mad at yourself the first thing you do is go to other people and make other people mad. So it's good to be human.
So, guess what? We're a herd. We are employing herd strategy in a creative business. So every time something works, what happens in our business? Everybody jumps on it and copies it.
We're supposed to highly rational, evolved, human things, but no. We're just a bunch of frickin' mammals doing stupid stuff because we're not thinking. We're not thinking about what we're up to here. And the thing that we're up to here, is creativity. We're trying to do something that the customers want. And as a customer, what do you want? You want something delightful. You want something novel. But probably not too novel. Having a little problem there. But you do want something that will titillate you in a way you're not titillated by the stuff you're already consuming.
And we see so little of that, particularly in MMOs. Because the stakes are higher. This higher stake thing has driven us to be more and more risk averse. And we've got to get past this, or we're doomed to have this ever shrinking pool of customers.
I really want people to think about, 'What can I do to inject more creativity into this business that we think of as a creative business,' Frankly, everything I see is a retread of something I've already seen 86,000 times. And every once in a while, someone takes two things I've seen eighty-six thousand times, and puts them together in a unique way, and I go, 'Oh, that's pretty cool,' and then 25,000 people do it immediately afterwards and ruin whatever uniqueness it had at the time.
So, I really want everyone...who in this room thinks of themselves as being creative? You don't get into this if you think, 'Oh, I really don't have a creative bone in my body,' So, my goal for you guys is, you know, let's prove it. Let's prove we're creative.