Player-driven development is on the rise. Smed from SOE stated that it’s at the core of who they (SOE) are and who they are evolving into. Generally speaking, I think I like the practice of truly listening to players and including them to the degree that SOE has done over the past several months. The open channels of communication truly are awesome, and I think in many ways the game(s) we get in the end will be better as a result.
I have a few growing concerns as I think about the idea of player-driven development as a whole. There’s a lot of room for manipulation, marketing bologna, and errors in logic.
Who are the “players?”
Those who help develop Landmark, for example, are the ones who payed a premium (money) for a free-to-play game upfront. I’m one of them. I’m not the typical player, nor are most of the others helping “develop” or at least provide feedback on the game. This sampling bias can cause a multitude of foreseeable problems.
Who’s to say they really listen?
Developers can say that their game(s) are player-developed, but are they really? It’s not a democracy or up for a vote. Developers can cherry pick ideas and utilize the information players provide in any way they want. Even worse would be saying something is player-developed but simply making the game you wanted to make anyway.
Player-developed games seem really similar to player-driven content. Sometimes the idea sounds amazing on paper. Sometimes the outcomes are amazing. Most of the time it ends up a complete mess.
I’m also curious to think about how much developers might use the players as an excuse or a crutch. Some of the best ideas come from thinking outside the box and trying something new or risky. We don’t have enough risk in this market. We’re stagnant and “innovating” on the same five or six ideas over and over–rather we are pretending to innovate by tossing in one novelty after the next. Reality is, in order to innovate and truly design the future of MMOs we have to be able to discard what has come before in favor of rethinking something entirely new. Complicate that by keeping the crucial, working fundamentals.
Before anyone considers jumping on the “let’s have the players help us develop our game” (and truly mean it) bandwagon, I hope they’ll take a really hard look at their own team and conclude that they have the experience, talent, and vision to see something truly amazing BEFORE the players get involved.