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[Column] General: MMO Development Needs Change

SBFordSBFord Associate Editor - News ManagerThe Land of AZPosts: 16,632MMORPG.COM Staff Uncommon

In his latest in a series of columns devoted to MMO development, Red 5's Mark Kern takes a look at the way development happens and offers some thoughts about why it needs to change. See what he's got to say from his unique developer perspective before heading to the comments to discuss the topic.

The rise in development costs can be attributed to many things, but next-gen graphics are definitely a large part of the cost. On WoW, we used to be able to create a new monster in a week. These days, with millions of polygons and multiple materials and shaders, a single monster can easily take 4-6 weeks to complete and sometimes 8 weeks or more for a boss creature. Also, the feature set for MMOs is getting larger. Every new MMO finds itself competing with older MMOs with years of development. Catching up to the feature sets of these mature MMOs means more programmers, designers and development time.

Read more of Mark Kern's MMO Development Needs Change.

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Associate Editor: MMORPG.com
Follow me on Twitter: @MMORPGMom

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Comments

  • orbitxoorbitxo fort lauderdale, FLPosts: 1,408Member Uncommon

    nice to actually read  thoughts on an actual  current successful game developer (ken)  and not just random posted comments on this site.

    good read-

  • dalewjdalewj woburn, MAPosts: 86Member Uncommon
    Great points and I would say the games I have enjoyed the most I have been in the alpha/beta testing through out.  Not just occasional tests.  I mean full flow gaming all the way thru the development where you accept that your playing an alpha game and play it like a normal game.   Also I think these games created the best overall games because the devs were into the players playing while they dev'd and learned more then ever possible just staring at each other while they code.

    HomePage/Gaming Blog - http://dalewj.com . MMORPGer - Current game: http://AfterWorld.ru .
    Author of Diaries of Afterworld- http://www.jconsult.com/afterworld and the Outside Sci-Fi series- http://www.jconsult.com/outside

  • danwest58danwest58 Cincinnati, OHPosts: 989Member Uncommon
    No we need fewer MMOs we do not need more.  That is why the market has gone down hill is because instead of creating a cheaper single/mutliplayer game every publisher thinks they will become the next Blizzard.  They are dead wrong Blizzard was something that happens once in a while with a good product its not the standard nor will it ever be.  The weak publishers need to stop making MMOs and the few strong Publishers need to continue to change their product without having to worry to get non MMO players into MMOs because thats the only way they will make a profit cause the market is saturated with MMOs or WANNBE MMOs.  

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  • Loke666Loke666 MalmöPosts: 18,012Member Uncommon

    Betas today seems like a pre-order bonus and when you do it like that people are indeed expecting a close to finished product since they are paying for it.

    Longer beta time and actually inviting players from earlier games your company have made should indeed increase the effect of the beta and allowing you to test new ideas. Experienced players who are fans of your previous games are more likely to put effort into testing your future product than random people.

    But beta needs to go back to actually being real beta tests and not a way to hype the game. MMOs really needs to try out new ideas, particularly with combat. 

    Good article.

  • IcewhiteIcewhite Elmhurst, ILPosts: 6,403Member

    This idea would require a “co-development” where the game is shared early to a large group of players for the last 50% of development time. Developers would also share features before they were completed. Sharing these prototype early would ensure that developers could make changes without incurring great cost. Rapid iteration and fast patching would also be essential.

    Which is extraordinarily difficult to do with the company legal team keeping devs locked away from the public to limit liability....

    You need to break that stranglehold first.

    Self-pity imprisons us in the walls of our own self-absorption. The whole world shrinks down to the size of our problem, and the more we dwell on it, the smaller we are and the larger the problem seems to grow.

  • Loke666Loke666 MalmöPosts: 18,012Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by danwest58
    No we need fewer MMOs we do not need more.  That is why the market has gone down hill is because instead of creating a cheaper single/mutliplayer game every publisher thinks they will become the next Blizzard.  They are dead wrong Blizzard was something that happens once in a while with a good product its not the standard nor will it ever be.  The weak publishers need to stop making MMOs and the few strong Publishers need to continue to change their product without having to worry to get non MMO players into MMOs because thats the only way they will make a profit cause the market is saturated with MMOs or WANNBE MMOs.  

    Good games will still get a lot of players while bad will have a few.

    The problem is not that there are too many MMOs around but that almost all around build on the same mechanics and frankly feels very similar. Copying WoW is a bad idea unless you actually can make it better than Wow, and with 5 years in development you have to realize that Wow today is not the same game as it was 5 years ago. People will only change to a better game, not to a worse or similar.

  • IcewhiteIcewhite Elmhurst, ILPosts: 6,403Member
     a

    Self-pity imprisons us in the walls of our own self-absorption. The whole world shrinks down to the size of our problem, and the more we dwell on it, the smaller we are and the larger the problem seems to grow.

  • CraioCraio BredenePosts: 24Member
    Isn't there a market voor an 'mmo-engine' so far it seems as each mmo developer makes their own...
  • HarafnirHarafnir VikingvillePosts: 1,324Member Uncommon

    I remember that in the SWG beta, it lasted a good long while and it was a constant dialouge with the devs, we were discussing everything and when discussions slowed down, they dropped a new idea into the mix and it all started again. As an example, that I enjoyed because it was so random and seemed so unimportant until they dropped the question was "hey guys? When running uphill and downhill, which version would you like the most? Slower uphill and faster downhill? Normal speed uphill and faster downhill, or normal speed both ways?" Simple question, but the forums exploded! Because all are good, in their own way, and noone had even thought about such a minor part of the game. And when they started to think about that, they began to think about other minor things in everyday life that would be nice as well and... it became a creative thunderstorm.

    I will always remember that beta fondly. It was also the last beta I was in where the betatesters were included in the creative process on such a scale.

    "This is not a game to be tossed aside lightly.
    It should be thrown with great force"

  • HjamnrHjamnr Madison, WIPosts: 163Member
    Here you go, Mark; Exactly what you're asking for:  Camelot Unchained
  • strangiato2112strangiato2112 Richmond, VAPosts: 1,538Member Common

    "But if we can do this and work together, we can develop better products at less risk, foster new ideas and bolder innovation, and also give gamers a real voice in game development. Isn’t that what we all want?"

     

    I wouldn't want most gamer's voices in on game development.  We need more Kosters, McQuaids.  Guys that make the games they want to play, as opposed to what they think everyone else wants to play.  

     

     
  • qaladinqaladin KönigsbrunnPosts: 12Member

    Chris Roberts who develops  Star Citizen does it exact in the described way.

     

    A pity that such developing is only with crowd founding possible.

  • VikingGamerVikingGamer Nowhere, TXPosts: 1,348Member Uncommon
    Excellent points Mark. In light of this, how do you think companies should deal with the desire to play things close to the vest right up the last few months before release. companies don't want their great innovations to be scooped up and brought to market ahead of them by a company willing to cut corners to do just that. But the idea of getting crowd sourced feedback early in the process would seem to work counter to that goal.

    All die, so die well.

  • aspekxaspekx Brandon, FLPosts: 2,167Member
    solid article, thank you.

    "There are at least two kinds of games.
    One could be called finite, the other infinite.
    A finite game is played for the purpose of winning,
    an infinite game for the purpose of continuing play."
    Finite and Infinite Games, James Carse

  • worldalphaworldalpha Milton, ONPosts: 403Member
    Well, I pushed out our alpha and early betas to gamers to get feedback.  The problem was that gamers "wrote the game off" because it wasn't polished.  Gamers weren't patient enough with the game, and as a result, I've had a hard time winning them back.

    Thanks,
    Mike
    Working on Social Strategy MMORTS (now Launched!) http://www.worldalpha.com

  • grummzgrummz Aliso Viejo, CAPosts: 56Member
    Not necessarily. The legal risks can be greatly reduced with beta test agreements that allow for this kind of participation.
  • CukshaikCukshaik north lauderdale, FLPosts: 6Member

    Who is we Mark? Use I, not we, when you are the only person typing. I don't think of a beta as a "nearly finished" product, merely as a nearly ready for release product. MMOs are never "nearly finished" until their server(s) population drops.

    You claim "we" need more innovation and less-risk. This will not happen. What game companies consider risky is the money they spent vs the money they will see in return. The all mighty dollar will win every time.

    What game developers need to do is their own thing. MMOs have become too much of a copy cat gaming scene. Game X has this, and if Games Y and Z do not, they will fail. Developers are afraid of going back to their roots of game making. A lot of other things have taken a step back into the past. Music, fashion, cars to name a few. Get back to making games that challenge people, not just pretty looking games.

    Until game developers grow balls and are willing to do something they believe in rather than something that has been done ten times already, but this time with vanilla (flavor), MMOs are going to continue down this path.

  • grummzgrummz Aliso Viejo, CAPosts: 56Member
    It's true that lengthy betas can allow your competition to copy you...but having been copied before on games like WoW, I can say it does take them time to do so, and they often are not copied well due to time pressure or the fact that they are not the original innovators in the first place.
  • ZodosZodos Campo GrandePosts: 12Member

    Indeed. I was part of a beta weekend in the very beginning of Firefall, I think it was a stress test, then saw de open beta and man it changed A LOT! Great job btw.

    I love taking part in development, but most doesn't have the patience or maturity necessary to take part. The selection of beta testers should be more selective imo.

  • Dreamo84Dreamo84 Niagara Falls, NYPosts: 3,437Member Uncommon
    Every game should have a long closed beta like Firefall. Granted you paid for access to it.

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  • NerblasNerblas LeiriaPosts: 32Member Uncommon

    Good read, good ideas... And I know from experience that it can be done... Best of luck to you.

    PS: must.... not... reply... posts....

    "Vidis Fodidis Est"

  • ozmonoozmono Not tellingPosts: 1,211Member
    Made me want to be a better beta tester.
  • Four0SixFour0Six Missoula, MTPosts: 1,181Member Uncommon
    Sounds like we need go back to beta testing as testing, and not hype generation.
  • TheLizardbonesTheLizardbones Arkham, VAPosts: 10,910Member

    They could just call the player participation portion of the game development process "Late Alpha" development, then players don't have the skewed expectations that they have for Betas.

    **

    Also, it seems like some of what he's talking about is not going to change until the development tools add enough automation to take creature development from six weeks (!) back to one week.

    I can not remember winning or losing a single debate on the internet.

  • MindTriggerMindTrigger La Quinta, CAPosts: 2,596Member

    As long as 3D games have been online, gamers have wanted to be involved.  I remember back when Quake 1 first hit the market, one of the best things about it was players being able to make their own maps and share them.  Some player made maps for the Quake series (and I'm sure other shooters), went on to be mainstays and were adopted by companies like id software.  I was part of a project back then that built and released a huge and popular community map pack of 32 player Quake maps (it was a big deal at the time).

    Point being that MMO devs should embrace crowdsourcing for their games.  Just look at some of the long and involved posts some of us make on this very website detailing the problems with games.  Often, many of these problems are spotted by MMO vets long before the rest of the world catches up and then the game starts bleeding players because of them.  This doesn't mean devs shouldn't control their own games, but it does mean that opening themselves up to more input and brain power by embracing more actual gamers, could be very beneficial.

    How hard would it be to build a crowdsource gaming website where people who want to help can sign up and become contributors?  A method of weeding out the useless people wouldn't be all that hard to come up with.  Corporations do this every day with employee performance metrics.

    -----

    On an unrelated note, where's all the procedural programming we were hearing about years ago?  It seemed like a great idea to me, allowing algorithms to handle some of the more mundane and time consuming aspects of graphics development. 

    BTW, Star Wars Galaxies and other games handled their vast planets by having dynamic spawns of creature and NPC lairs and bases throughout the world, and this had a great way of filling up the beautiful maps with things to fight, including rare and elite spawns.  As a Ranger (think survivalist / tracker in SWG), I spent a year of gameplay in that game just adventuring and contract hunting / tracking for other players.  The maps were also peppered with static caves, dungeons and bases that were fun to attack.  Why the hell did this ever not become somewhat standard for MMO games?  

    A sure sign that you are in an old, dying paradigm/mindset, is when you are scared of new ideas and new technology. Don't feel bad. The world is moving on without you, and you are welcome to yell "Get Off My Lawn!" all you want while it happens. You cannot, however, stop an idea whose time has come.

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