Games need focus and perfection before innovation

As always, the comments are where the discussion is at. Read comment #48 (by me) before you continue to the blog entry.

I have really expanded my gaming horizon this summer.  I’m currently and actively playing in 7 different beta tests, 1 alpha test, and 3 different released games covering the entire gaming spectrum.  I’ve noticed a trend among these games that many people have been aware of for a few years now: They strive to do something entirely different to set themselves apart from their competition and as a result they miss the mark.

The merits of always trying to be different and striking out from the pack could be discussed and argued at length.  My position on innovation and change for the sake of change is simply that I feel it is not always necessary, but I don’t want to get into a discussion about this right now.  I want to focus on what I have noticed is the result of game developers trying to make their game different.  We’re seeing it more and more lately where developers can’t really tell you what type of game they’re making.  Are you making a MMO? FPS? RTS? MMOFPS? MMORTSFPSBBQ?   “Well, err, our game doesn’t really fit into any current category, err, let me ask marketing” is the response we get.  Why?  I’ve deduced, from playing these games and watching the developers behind the scenes, that the number one priority right now for developers is to reach the mass market.  DUH – right?  Of course that’s their goal.  They want to make the most money.

What is the result of trying to make a game appeal to as many people as possible?  It becomes a game that tries to do too much and as a result ends up doing nothing right.  We’re seeing the Real Time Strategy genre dip into the action genre to bridge the gap between them and the RPG games so that they can add a couple tidbits, a lobby, and be able to sleep at night after labeling their game a MMO; Vice versa back and forth, mixed up, and so on.   I find myself enjoying these games less because I can’t figure out how they’re to be perceived.  I’m asking myself questions like: “What am I playing here?” and “Was this their goal?” and “Why did they do this?”.  I can’t lose myself in the game anymore because it has become so superficial that I’m almost embarrassed to be playing.

This all comes back to developers trying to change things up because they want to be the trend setter.  They all want their game to be the next WoW-style success.  I hate overusing World of Warcraft as an example, but it’s really the only game that gets the point across efficiently.  We know why WoW succeeded and it’s not because they suddenly made a game with features and elements we had never seen.  When we look at the EQ model, back when it was the only real MMO model, it was a success.  WoW came along and perfected that model for what they wanted to accomplish:  Mass appeal. WoW is often criticized for being the ultimate copy cat and stealing bits and pieces from other games.  THAT is why WoW is such a great success and why it’s ultimately a fantastic game:  Blizzard pulled the great parts from games, perfected them, and created a pure experience.

I have lost count of the number of times I’ve played a game for the first time and questioned whether or not the developers ever played previous games – really played.  I would rather play a game that, in terms of features and mechanics, does nothing new but perfects upon what we already know to deliver a polished, complete, and fun game than to play one that introduces a lot of new features but perfects nothing and as a result fails to live up to expectations.

If Developers want their games to be trend setters, massive successes, nothing like we’ve seen before, shakers of the foundation, and [insert hyperbole here] then they need to stop with the mad rush towards innovation.  Stop with the slew of new ideas.  Stop with trying to tack on as much as you can to get a label.  Stop trying for mass appeal.  Stop trying make the most money you can (A blog post for another time, but think about how this could improve quality and thus improve your success).  Stop trying to rush forward and take a step back.  Perfect your craft.  Until you have perfected the foundation, perfected the fundamentals, you can’t possibly hope to move forward with innovation.  Building upon a cracked or unstable/unpolished foundation will only lead to greater failures down the road.

Think back to how many times over the past two years alone have you been disappointed in a new game that was going to change things up.  There are several games that I can look back and say “if only they didn’t try to do this, and just stuck with what works, they would have been a success”.   It doesn’t have to be that way.

——- Below is additional commentary added to the original post. ——-

This needs a TLDR version.  It will probably help those struggling to understand.

1) Make sure you have the fundamental elements of your game in order. The ABC’s should all be there.
2) Perfect the fundamentals.
3) Use what worked if it will make a difference. Do not toss away the past if it means success today!
4) Don’t fix what isn’t broken. Don’t remake what already works.
5) THEN innovate

Summary
Games releasing over the next year (many I’m testing and surely many I’m not) do not ensure they have the fundamentals. They’re more concerned with having what it takes to slap on the “MMO” or “FPS” label. They don’t perfect a part of their game that should be perfected; instead they move on with a mediocre foundation. They ignore what worked in the past because they’re afraid of being called the same. They try and change things that are not broken or don’t need to be changed. On top of all of those monumental mistakes they try to innovate and push industry boundaries to boldly go where no game has gone before. The result will be complete failure where it could have been avoided.

Extra special TLDR Version for those extra special people:
A game can include a new and exciting core mechanic, combination of mechanics, and offer something unique, but if they’ve added a slew of things that don’t work or failed to correct mistakes from previous games that are included in their game, then what is the point? <— THAT is the point I’m trying to make.

  • I’m not entirely convinced anyone fully understands why WoW succeeded, Blizzard most of all. You are right that they played it safe but I am fairly certain they succeeded for more than one reason. High on my list would be a loyal following from previous games, attention to solo play and a habit of polishing before release.

    I do think there is a place for these innovative failures though. They provide useful information on what design elements work and don’t work. Painful though it may be, this helps the rest of the industry get closer to success on their own projects. If you’re going to be a copy cat, you have to copy from someone.

  • Oh wow – I don’t think it’s possible for me to disagree with you more here, Keen.

    The last thing in the world that *I* want to play is a super-polished picture-perfect version of the same damned game that I’ve been playing for so many years. Aion, in a lot of respects, tries to be that mega-slick clone that offers no real innovations but is absolutely radiant in it’s presentation and implementation. I played it and was bored to tears. Not because Aion is a BAD game, but because it’s so cliche and over done and I’ve been there before a hundred times.

    The RTS/action/rpg blend you mention having such trouble with is, in concept, exactly the sort of innovation and fresh thinking that *I* want in my games. I don’t want something safe and fluffy – I want something risky and new. Trine and Dawn of War 2 are two single player examples of this….. try to pin down exactly what genre either game is….. they walk the line between a few different ones.

    Furthermore, any game that tries to beat WoW at it’s own game is going to fail at that goal. Sure, it may hold enough users to recoup development costs and go forward, but WoW is such an enigma and a social phenomenon that trying to beat it on sheer polish is absurd.

    I want game designers to keep experimenting, dabbling, innovating, and exercising their creative licenses. I want to stumble from game to game and pick up gems from the rough. All of these things are fascinating to myself, and others….. and all of these things are needed to keep the MMO industry vibrant and moving forward.

    Some day some game will topple WoW, and no one will see it coming. We’ll just look at subscriber numbers one day, and be completely floored. It isn’t something that can be planned for; it is something that will happen on its own.

  • I agree with Larry. I know 2 friends that bought WOW because it was a Blizzard game and no other reason. They were both die hard Diablo fans and to be honest one of them had no idea the game was an MMO or had a monthly fee. He just thought it was the next Diablo type game. Everyone seems to be impressed with WOW and compare every other MMO to it. I think WOW is ok, but thats about it. I find ALOT of things I don’t like about WOW myself.
    The world revolves around the almighty $$ these days and every company looks at WOW’s success as a cash making machine and they all strive to be like it either openly or secretly. It will be almost impossible to change that mindset with the big developers since they have shareholders and suits that don’t game, they just want the most profit. Anytime you have non-gamers in control of a game you got a recipe for trouble.
    It will be the independent developers that love gaming and the games they make that will advance the industry with depth,immersion and innovation.
    As more and more MMOs are pushed into the marketplace there is an increasingly smaller piece of the pie for everyone involved. I have no idea where it will all end up, but in the end we can only vote with our wallets to let the companies know what we want to play. As long as people are paying to play all these bland,crappy releases they will continue to stream into the marketplace.

    Thats my .02

  • I added a few sentences to clarify something. I think there is room for innovation, just not innovation for the sake of innovation as a result of developers always wanting their game to be the bleeding edge trend setter. Additionally, and this addresses Andrew (#2), we won’t always be playing the same thing. I added more clarification to address that I’m not saying that developers should keep making the same games over and over because it works, but they should perfect the foundation of their game before ever thinking of moving forward.

    Now I’ll respond to specifics.

    @Larry: Loyal following or not, had they made a bad game it would have been irrelevant. It contributed to their initial success, but the game as a whole has remained successful and achieved its status solely because of the foundation upon which it was created.

    @Andrew: I want them to keep experimenting too, but not until they’re ready. Age of Conan is a classic example of trying to be different for all the wrong reasons. Failures of that magnitude can be avoided if people take a step back and perfect (or come close/try) the foundation of what they’re trying to create. A little focus goes a long way.

    Side note: Not talking about toppling WoW. It won’t happen. The only game or company to end WoW’s reign will be Blizzard with a new game. They will enjoy the luxury of controlling their own success.

    Over the next year we’re going to see a lot of games release as “different”. They’re going to fail because they don’t have a solid identify, they lack focus, and they’re simply trying to reach out and pull in the crowd that is pandering for something “new”. Once the NDA’s drop on a few games I’m testing it will become apparent. This idea that you can take parts of something (parts that didn’t work to begin with) and expand upon them is really quite silly. They’re going to fall over quick and it will be a shame because it could have been avoided. These very same games could each be a massive success had they only taken what works, perfected it and honed it for their particular game, and then moved forward with the innovation.

  • Age of Conan tried to innovate melee combat.

    It also works in parts, attacking one side (from the left e.g.) and goading the mobs to protect this one and then attacking from the other side is quite nice.

    What not worked and still is clumsy are the combos: press a button and then press another button for a direction to unleash them. Before the latest patches you even had to press several direction buttons before it started. You also have to stand still in melee for the combos to work.
    The other problem is that caster classes still only need to press a button while melees are stuck with combos.

    They already reduced the combos to 1 direction – next thing is to remove them completely and re-think the combat system, but this would probably stir up the playerbase even more.

    Innovation is nice, but only if it works. I guess this is what you wanted to say.
    That many innovative ideas fall short can indeed be attributed to time and money pressure, an unfinished release hurt a lot of MMOs.

  • I don’t think your problem is with innovation.

    Your problem is clearly with bad games. Regardless of innovation, a bad game is bad. I guess you tend to notice games that fail while being innovative more because they fail more spectacularly. There are thousands of failed “perfecting what we already have” games that you have never played or paid any attention to because they were bad games but failed miserably instead of spectacularly. The ratio of terrible clones to terrible innovative games must be at least 100:1.

    You are also making the base assumption that all people want to play the exact same game over and over again with only minor variations. This is certainly not true. Unless you are such a stark raving traditionalist that you can’t look past your comfortable surroundings towards what might be better, you enjoy games that offer you different experiences.

    Aside from these two points, the logistics of developing MMOs make it impossible to do what you claim to want and have successful, profitable games.

  • @Larry

    Blizzard knows exactly what they did with WoW. If they didn’t both TBC and Wrath would of flopped. Contrary to popular belief, WoW actually grew after each expansion.

    @Andrew

    Liar. You DO want to play a polished version of most games you’ve played. Trust me, you do. Chances are you just haven’t experienced enough polished/good games to know that you do.

  • Amen to that. I continue to think that the biggest thing setting WoW apart from all of the ensuing games that emulated its solo questing-centric model with mediocre success at best has been the polished, fluid combat and the fact that each of the major systems is reasonably well designed. (We could argue for a while about whether this detail or another is good or bad, but there’s no clunkers like the useless stats/gear in launch AoC or keep design in WAR.) Add in low system requirements and a decent brand name and you have a hit. At some point a new MMO will need to do more than that, but not right now.

    The importance of polish and strong fundamental systems is why Aion has been my sleeper pick for quite a while, because the polish is there, the engine feels right, and there are working systems all the way through endgame. Of course, what Koreans love for endgame Americans may not love so much. And the first 20 levels are very very similar to what has come before while later levels are pretty different. And there’s no brand to for the game to build on. So the game could easily wind up at or below LOTRO/WAR levels… it’s a pretty good test of how far polish and well-designed systems can carry a game.

    Honestly, I’m seeing a lot more hype for Champions and expect it to sell more boxes just because the setting is non-fantasy even though they’ve been rejiggering the combat system dramatically and are vague enough about endgame that I would bet it will be almost nonexistent or buggy.

  • Agree Keen. I want more Diablo with Diablo 3 (although not an exact copy). I want more modern weapons and a fun single player experience with Modern Warfare 2 – almost exactly what CoD4-Modern Warfare offered and I’d be happy. With WoW expansions i want more of the awesome immersion a la disneyland that makes wandering around Stormwind great, but maybe less lag and less KTR quests. Is this what your getting at?

    ps – (Cant help myself) And this is where mythic failed with Warhammer. They had an awesome foundation in DAOC. If they used the best parts of DAOC in a Warhammer setting – keep scenarios as is but RvR/PvE should have been more DAOC like – huge success would have followed. sigh.

  • @Keen:
    Thanks for the clarifications. The first cut made it sound like innovation should be avoided like the plague, and polishing the tried & tested WoW-model was all that new games should focus on.

    Innovation for the sake of innovation will fail just as much as polish for the sake of polish. A mix of both is ideal.

    @Heartless:
    “Liar. You DO want to play a polished version of most games you’ve played. Trust me, you do. Chances are you just haven’t experienced enough polished/good games to know that you do.”

    No, actually I don’t want to play an uber polished version of the same bloody thing. Trust me, I know. But thanks for trying to speak for me…. always love it when people claim to know me more than I know myself.

    I’m more entertained by novelty than I am polish.

  • I agree with Andrew’s generalities. Keen’s post is quite contradictory and seems to both support and denounce games that try to follow the WoW model or instead aim to be too different.

    I would love to see games that have completely new/different concepts and put the majority of their focus on them. Just thinking out of the box for a second onto crazy tangents gets me excited about the potential for wildly different games. There are so many “standard” game mechanics that people don’t consider changing… yet, if you were willing to use your imagination for a minute and envision a radically different world you might actually come across an idea worth investing time and money into.

  • @heartless: I respect your opinion but I still stand by mine. TBC was really more of the same and so didn’t illustrate that they knew what made them a success, only that they knew they had it. Wrath, well maybe. The vehicle system and the Wrath Gate line did go a few steps further I think. (I freaked out my coworkers by quoting the script of the cut scene word for word to them.)

    On the success and failure of upcoming MMOs, I’m going to make a few uneducated predictions about a few that interest me:

    Global Agenda will be a niche hit and take on the glow that used to surround Unreal Tournament (GOTY). You won’t be able to tell the difference. Really.

    Aion will basically follow the Age of Conan pattern. A big splash followed by disappointment and failure. I don’t think they’ll be able to get all of the grind out of it, they won’t have enough class specialization and there won’t be enough to do long term at cap. Everyone will hang around emoting each other.

    SW:TOR will fail epically, forever making companies fear the cursed SW IP. People will blame the graphics, the endless cheezy voice overs or the irreversible character decisions but in the end, it just won’t be fun.

    Ok, I’ll be playing all three and really wish they’d kick ass.

    What are your predictions?

  • @Phillip: Care to point out a contradiction? In fact, care to try and point out where in this post I talk at all about games that follow the WoW model? You obviously didn’t read for comprehension. You’ve decided to twist this into something entirely different. Andrew’s “generalities” were made on a misconception of what I said and you’re taking that misconception, twisting it, and running with it off into the sunset where no one is going to follow you.

  • The perfect example is Warhammer Online. Instead of focusing and perfecting a part of Dark Age of Camelot that really, really worked, they took the game in a new direction. I have no idea why they did but it illustrates beautifully how, if they had stuck with what works, their game could have been a huge success yet something new at the same time.

    If you try to be innovative, completely new, or “shake the industry” then you’re going to see many more failures and spoil enormous potential far more than you would if you stopped and thought about how much better your game could be if you decided to play it conservatively.

    Don’t fix what isn’t broken. Don’t redo what already works.

  • I think you’ve got a point, Keen. I think games should absolutely continue to be innovate and push the boundaries but they also have to remain polished and get the basics right first.

    SW:G, imo, is a perfect example of this. Amazing scope and innovation but very poor execution on the basics. Had they got the fundamentals down along with all of the sandbox scope they intended then it could’ve really been an amazing game.

  • @Larry

    Aion won’t sell as many boxes as WAR or AoC (or Champions) at launch because the graphics make it easy to dismiss as a Korean grindfest, the first 20 levels are very WoW-like, and it doesn’t have a recognizable IP.

    However it will not crash like AoC either, due to actually having a working PVP endgame and reasonable class balance. We know these things to be the case because it’s been launched for almost a year in Korea and has retained subs there. There will be a good amount of grind in leveling and the AP grind at endgame may be intense and turn some people off, but it will be a lot closer to WoW than L2 or FFXI. By comparison AoC had multiple one-shotting classes and failed to even include a basic honor system at launch.

    Champions I would expect to follow a similar pattern to CoH just with a larger launch. I mean as far as I can tell from the design docs it basically is CoH with better graphics and a little more depth to the missions. Good for casual PVE, a bit of tacked on PVP, and the character creator will again be the best part of the game.

    SW:TOR will do great and be a very solid #2 in NA/EU for a while at least. The combat looks pretty solid from what has been shown so far. How long they stay on top depends on whether they actually develop a working endgame; I’ve got my doubts about that.

  • The predictions are a bit off-topic, but Aion will outdo WAR and AoC. It’s going to be a lot of fun and it has staying power because of the fundamentals it gets right. SWTOR is a no brainer – the game is going to rock. I can’t comment on the others for various reasons. 😉

    @We Fly Spitfires: I knew someone would get it. 🙂

  • Regarding Champions Online, a beta tester just bashed it as a bad City of Heroes clone already… so do not have too high hopes for Champions to innovate or at least copy CoH well.

  • I harped on this during WAR’s beta on the forums.

    Change for the sake of change is bad. The MMO communites are so jaded with WoW they hate anything that is WoW-like, while in reality that is the only MMO that has ever really held their attention.

    They want something like WoW, but improved upon. Simply not adding a feature that works because someone else has it is a terrible business plan. That is why WoW remains a success. They will take any idea another developer comes up with and improve upon it even now. It may not be why they succeded to begin with, but it keeps them on top.

  • I want something risky and new. Trine and Dawn of War 2 are two single player examples of this…..
    Er.. You want something “risky and new”.. and use a remake of The Lost Vikings (A Blizzard game, no less!) and a sequel as examples?-)

  • @Keen: I don’t think Warhammer Online is a good example of what you’re trying to say at all. To me, it didn’t fail because they tried to innovate, it failed because they thought they had a handle on everything (“We know what we’re doing”) and could just slap together a bunch of new parts and some old ones.

    It just plain wasn’t enough of a complete game.

    It is possible to innovate some new things and I dunno, release a full game.

    That’s my whole spin on this topic. It isn’t at all about innovating or polishing up what’s tried and true. It’s about getting quality product out the door, period.

  • I have been looking at Mortal Online and they are labeling themselves as a game by gamers yet this is a quote from thier site.

    “Mortal Online is a next generation PC MMORPG both in terms of graphics and gameplay.”

    Next generation, it is so overused that it has lost it’s value.

    I believe that MO is doing just as you are describing they are taking what they know works from Ultima Online without changing too much.

    Henrik Nyström explains about his game in this vid.
    http://www.mortalonline-szene.de/mortal-online-videos.html

    Near the end he says they are an independent developer and that gives them freedom to make thier game as they see fit.

    Although I have not played MO and I do not plan to, I think they are making a good game. They are not focusing on getting a piece of the wow-subscriber-cake, they are just focusing on making thier game good.

  • Hivox >> I dont know about Trine. But it sounds like you have not played Dawn of war 2 to state that it is a sequel and alike to the first one in the series. Because its not at all. Not in single player anyway

  • @Keen: You are quite sensitive… criticism and discussion are key to moving things forward. I did indeed read your post twice – it is tough to point out specific examples as your post was NOT specific, but I will indeed expand on my thoughts.

    You deny that your entire post is about the “WoW model”? You can call it what you will, but your point is summed up in:

    “I would rather play a game that, in terms of features and mechanics, does nothing new but perfects upon what we already know to deliver a polished, complete, and fun game than to play one that introduces a lot of new features but perfects nothing and as a result fails to live up to expectations.”

    This statement is so loaded. In essence, you say that you would rather play a fun game than a crappy game (one that fails). But you add on the elements that you think result in a game being fun or not – and you add these as if they were fact. I really disagree with this reasoning based on the same general philosophy posted by Andrew. Additionally, you are essentially comparing two extremes. It is definitely possible for a game to successfully add a couple new mechanics/features while still making their own content and perfecting and combining mechanics/features from other games.

    So you would say WoW was a complete and polished game? because it really seems as if WoW is/was the game for you, despite leaving it off of your list of favorite games. I wouldn’t touch WoW and its “polish” with a ten foot pole. It is a complete snoozefest. I played WoW years before it came out – it was called EQ (not to mention UO which I did not play). I would hazard that the majority of people who enjoyed WoW never played EQ or UO or even DAoC for that matter. I enjoyed EQ and DAoC despite their lack of “polish”. DAoC is a great example of a game that built upon previous games but added something NEW and innovative.

    “I think there is room for innovation, just not innovation for the sake of innovation as a result of developers always wanting their game to be the bleeding edge trend setter. … I want them to keep experimenting too, but not until they’re ready. Age of Conan is a classic example of trying to be different for all the wrong reasons. Failures of that magnitude can be avoided if people take a step back and perfect (or come close/try) the foundation of what they’re trying to create. A little focus goes a long way. … Over the next year we’re going to see a lot of games release as “different”. They’re going to fail because they don’t have a solid identify, they lack focus, and they’re simply trying to reach out and pull in the crowd that is pandering for something “new”.”

    The above statements are in response to Andrew’s disagreement. You back off as if you were never being overly zealous in your original statements. This seems contradictory to me, or better put, it seems like you are trying to gloss over your original statements and move away from your previously extreme view point. Your comments regarding AoC are in support of innovation that is focused and results in a strong foundation – I would agree with this! But this is not in line with the first statement I quoted.

    I can’t claim to be beta testing 7 games, but I disagree that games “fail” becase they try to be too different. But instead of talking about “failure” in the market sense, I can only offer the reasons why I think I stopped playing certain games. It is a lack of significant difference, with respect to previous games, that makes them boring after a few weeks or month or two.

    Have you ever played EVE? There is a game that is significantly different. Despites its other shortcomings due to lack of “polish” it managed to keep my interest peaked for a good amount of time.

    “I find myself enjoying these games less because I can’t figure out how they’re to be perceived. I’m asking myself questions like: “What am I playing here?” and “Was this their goal?” and “Why did they do this?”. I can’t lose myself in the game anymore because it has become so superficial that I’m almost embarrassed to be playing.”

    I have no problem with people using their brains – in fact, more people should – but I might suggest trying to relax and attempting to enjoy the game. You aren’t going to enjoy playing a game when you attempt to categorize and analyze it from the get go. I can definitely understand questioning certain mechanics (or the lack thereof), but it sounds like you aren’t giving yourself a chance to be entertained. And this is coming from myself, an EVE player, a game in which I spend the majority of my time thinking. The difference is as you said – you can’t lose yourself in the game. Whether this is a function of your role as a critic or the result of a boring game… who knows.

    Oh and just to add, your latest series of nostalgic posts are meh. I definitely have the same feelings of nostalgia for EQ, but I know that I wouldn’t enjoy playing it again. It is useful to look back and examine what made games fun. This leads me to conclude that it isn’t completeness or polish or whatever you want to call it, unless you really think that EQ and DAoC were polished. The bottom line is that a mmorpg needs to evoke feelings – yearning, awe, surprise, anguish, fear, hope, pride, etc. How does a game accomplish this? Rewards and consequences for one… but what else? Who knows… but I hope someone finds out.

  • @Rog: WAR is a perfect example of not perfecting the fundamentals and ignoring something that worked really well to try something new. It’s a case where using what worked well would have meant a complete 180 from where they’re at now.

    I think we see eye to eye. Read a few of the comments above where I clarify. Let me sum it up:

    1) Make sure you have the fundamental elements of your game in order. The ABC’s should all be there.
    2) Perfect the fundamentals.
    3) Use what worked if it will make a difference. Do not toss away the past if it means success today!
    4) Don’t fix what isn’t broken. Don’t remake what already works.
    5) THEN innovate

    Summary
    What I’m saying, that several people here are missing or that I didn’t communicate, is that games releasing over the next year (many I’m testing and surely many I’m not) do not ensure they have the fundamentals. They’re more concerned with having what it takes to slap on the “MMO” or “FPS” label. They don’t perfect a part of their game that should be perfected; instead they move on with a mediocre foundation. They ignore what worked in the past because they’re afraid of being called the same. They try and change things that are not broken or don’t need to be changed. On top of all of those monumental mistakes they try to innovate and push industry boundaries to boldly go where no game has gone before. The result will be complete failure where it could have been avoided.

  • @Keen: Your next blog post should really be titled “The Fundamentals of MMORPGS”. I’d really love to see what you have to say.

  • Keen>>I kinda have to agree a bit with Phillip. I do enjoy these look backs to EQ, but I think alot of it is nostalgic.
    And it seems that all you want Keen is less bugs. At least thats what I hear from it. I really dont see any problem with trying new stuff. And how will you know if it will work before you have tried it out? You can only test that much.
    I played EVE too. A game that was very different from what i have tried before, and I think that game did it very well. I allso played City of heroes and that game did well imho as well.

  • Keep the discussion on topic please. If you want to comment on my blog entries about what MMORPGs have lost over time then post a comment there.

    @Lost: Again, I never have had a problem with trying new stuff. It’s the how and why of trying new stuff where I have a huge issue.

    If you feel EVE is a good game because it tried new stuff then you need to ask yourself a few additional questions. Do you feel they had all the fundamentals of their specific type of game in order and did they tried their hardest to perfect them? Then you need to ask yourself if they used anything from past MMORPGs that worked and didn’t try to fix what wasn’t broken. (HINT: They used a lot.)

    We all know EVE made some innovative moves. That, and their basic design, are why it started out very slow with a cult following and has remained a niche game. If it’s a good game or not is up to you to decide.

  • I agree with your premise and conclusions, Keen.

    I am currently playing WoW. Been there for just about a month now, having arrived 5 years late. Mrs Bhagpuss and I are both loving it. Why’s that?

    It’s EQ, tidied up and smarter. We were amazed. Having believed all the snide comments and putdowns we’d heard over the years in chat channels in other MMOs, we expected a simple, garish game and what we found was a complex, intricate, vibrant one.

    I started playing MMOs with EQ in 1999. For my money, all I need for the next decade or two , until I’m too arthritic to play any more, is a sequence of polished, shiny new EQs. I want them to be good, not different.

    Of course there will be innovations, improvements, twists, variations on a theme. That’s more than welcome. But “different for different’s sake” I can do without.

  • All games uses something from past games.
    Okay, your turn Keen.
    Name a game that did not use anything from past games?

    And that is all that “if it aint broke dont fix it” attitude
    That way we would still be playing Ping Pong. Maybe with colour 😉

    I agree that there’s alot of crap MMO’s out there, but I really dont think that copy cat is the way to go here. Alot of MMO’s could use more polish before they are released granted. But they dont need to copy more.

    WAR failed in many ways. But not because they tried out new stuff. Sure the keep design could be better in some ways, but they are fixing that now. I never played DAOC so I cant say if it were better in that game, but some1 in here mentioned it. But thats the only thing that was mentioned.

    And I cant name a game that had all the fundamentals from the start. I remember WoW in the beginning, a game which you seem to compare all other games to. Did it have all the fondamentals from the start? Not imho. I got to lvl 60 after a month with a bounch of my mates and there was nothing to do (Okay, you could farm some rep, do that 1 dungeon, and raid once or twice a week). There was a lot of class balancing issius.

    i dont think that WoW succes was due to the fact that the copied from preveus games. They had the right player base and they launched the game at the right time. Blizzard have allways been known to deliver good games. And the ADSL was really comming thru at that time, so more ppl could play online games. And it was very easy to learn and very user friendly.
    Imho they have not copied more than that many other games.

    And if what you say is true, AION will be a huge succes. They dont do anything new, just stick with what works.
    Somehow I just dont think that will happen.

  • Couldn’t agree more, man. People focus on so many little elements of WoW’s success and disregard the basic principle that’s stood them in good stead. Don’t release it until it’s polished, polished, polished. Was it perfect compared to the game it is today? Not by a mile. But every corner of the game, every item, every pixel of the UI had been gone over with a fine-toothed comb and assessed on its own merits.

    Some MMOs you play today, it’s very clear which parts of the game didn’t interest the developers. It’s usually the parts that fail utterly. Blizzard took seriously the “little things” that other developers poo poo, like hardware accessibility, UI design, and art assets.

  • @Lost: Perhaps there is a language barrier. I’m not speaking about MMO’s exclusively. I’m not even sure where your challenge of pointing out a game that didn’t use something from the past comes from. I never said copy cat is the way to go either. I never said a game had to have ‘all’ the fundamentals, I said if you can’t get the fundamentals right then you shouldn’t move forward.

    You’re putting words in my mouth and ultimately making the wrong argument by doing so. I’m really not sure how to respond, sorry.

  • I really dont get your point Keen. What you say is that they should make better games. And thats it. Dont copy more, dont copy less, dont do too much new, dont do too little. Thats all your saying. To me it sounds that all the stuff you wrote could be shorted down to “Make better games!”

    All games have something from the past, ofcouse. But they need something new as well. If the new stuff dont work but the basic stuff works, it can still be a very bad game. If the basics dont work but the “new” stuff does, its allso a bad game.

    A game that only have the basics done and nothing else is crap to me.

  • In Denmark we have this saying. its like this “You need to learn how to crawl, before you can walk”
    Which is kinda the same thing you are saying. You need basics before you can do advanced. But really. You know crawling is safe and stuff, and if you try to walk you might fall on your ass. But still, do you really want to crawl the rest of your life?

  • @Hirvox:

    “Er.. You want something “risky and new”.. and use a remake of The Lost Vikings (A Blizzard game, no less!) and a sequel as examples?-)”

    Have you played Trine? To claim it’s a Lost Vikings “remake” is to prove that you’ve either not played the Lost vikings, or not played Trine… or both.

  • WOW i dont get how people are totally missing Keens ideals, I mean correct me if i’m wrong but what I get ultimately out of his Original post and comments is this:

    1. When u develope a game, Unless the fundamentals of the game are in order, working as best as it could, then dont proceed with adding the Innovation.

    2. I get the feeling that Keen is all for innovation, so long as it doesnt break fundamentals.

    3. Alot of games borrow thier fundamentals from other games, problem is alot of those borrowed fundamentals are twisted with innovations wherein they needed to get the fundamentals correct that they borrowed and then add in the innovation.

    If this is the gist of what keen is saying, then i’m all for it. Any intelligent person knows that in order to move ahead with development, the base has to be Strong, Sturdy and able to be built upon.

    It’s as if a game is a high rise building that will support many people once built. The base of that building cant be faulty, cant be built cheaply, and without thought. You cannot build the foundation while at the same time build the 50th floor which u have planned to look spectacular and trendsetting, and innovative, and will set your highrise apart from all the buildings around it.

    Take the necessary time to build all the floors prior to the Groundbreaking, innovative 50-75 floor.

  • @Hellified b.k.a Chilltownnj: Yeah, that’s the gist of it. At least two people get what I’m trying to say.

    I’m also saying that games should incorporate what worked in the past if their ultimately trying to accomplish the same end result. It’s like Warhammer Online and DAOC – two games made by the same developer ultimately trying to accomplish the same result. WAR missed the mark because it didn’t do what DAOC did right.

  • I’ve never played DAOC so i cant comment on War’s accomplishments in comparison but I played War with you guys for about 2 months.

    IMHO It was fun for a short time until certain fundamentals were not addressed 2 months after launch.

    I think the biggest problem war had was the EA Usurp. Where Mythic had the right ideal, and i felt they had the gamers interest’s at heart, EA Ideals overshadowed development.

    Where mythic may have thought ok let’s polish the base, let’s re-assess the fundamentals, EA thought “we need to start collecting on the money we advanced, enough polish, this is good enough, we’ll polish later when we get money back!”

    In business sense EA isn’t wrong. In the eye’s of the people paying for the product, EA could’nt have been more wrong.

    Big companies nowadays are so used to putting out incomplete products and allowing the purchasers to be “beta testers”, “bug finders” and all around “guinea pigs”. Those bugs should have been found long b4 launch, The only patches with a game post launch should be to add content, not to fix it…

  • First, at no point was EQ1 the real model for MMO success. Not only was UO already well established when EQ1 launched, AC1 was also different and successful, hence that era being referred to as The Big Three.

    You also dismissed EVE as being a niche game in a comment. If EVE is niche, than every game short of WoW is niche as well if we are going by active subs. EVE started as a niche title, but considering its at 300k+ subs now, it’s far outgrown that status. It is niche in much of it’s design, but that has more to do with the talent at CCP and the rest of the industry being unable to keep up than anything else. Most games are still trying to fit 200+ characters into a zone, while CCP is working on getting 3k (the usual total size of a server in WoW or WAR)

    I think overall your view is being tainted a bit by the fact that you are playing so many betas of games that will ultimately fail. We can’t name names, but it’s not like the current crop of alpha/beta MMOs has a slew of winners in them, while some of the current betas can be called disasters. On the flip side, the previous crop of games (LotRO, WAR, AoC) have been improving steadily, so while we might not be entertained by a ‘new’ title, going back to something not full played is a nice option to have.

  • @Keen: In #35 Lost makes the comment: “I really dont get your point Keen. What you say is that they should make better games. And thats it. Dont copy more, dont copy less, dont do too much new, dont do too little. Thats all your saying. To me it sounds that all the stuff you wrote could be shorted down to “Make better games!””

    and in #6 evizaer makes a somewhat similar comment: “I don’t think your problem is with innovation. Your problem is clearly with bad games.”

    As suggested by my comment in #28, I also fail to understand your point and would hazard to say that you are simply asking for better games. What do you specifically mean by: fundamentals, foundation, solid identity, focus, basic design, polish, completeness? You throw these terms around left and right, but all I really get out of it is that some games are not well developed. Again, it always comes back to the same question – what makes a game good/fun and why do you continue to play it? Well of course any fun game has to have a solid foundation/identity/focus/design/fundamentals – it has to do something well. What makes that foundation not solid? a shoddy interface, bugs, too much repetition, poor graphics/animations/sound, “core” mechanics that are useless/broken/incomplete/boring/unbalanced/etc?

    I tend to agree with the idea that some games add too many mechanics such that many are under-developed or some of them end up conflicting with others. That being said, I am really not interested in playing a game that does not include a new exciting core mechanic or combination of mechanics that offer something unique.

    WAR shouldn’t have had scenarios. It is a prime example of where an additional mechanic conflicted with a core mechanic. Mythic made WAR by trying to merge DAoC and WoW – complete and utter failure.

  • @Phillip – “WAR shouldn’t have had scenarios. It is a prime example of where an additional mechanic conflicted with a core mechanic. Mythic made WAR by trying to merge DAoC and WoW – complete and utter failure.”

    I agree that Scenarios in WAR conflicted but I dont think it conflicted completely mechanically, I believe that it was more so poorly implemented.

    Scenarios were just an option, I’m all for options in gaming. But at some point when people realized the potential of scenarios it became overused. At some point if u wanted to pvp it became the only option because so many people only wanted to “scene”. They should have made open world pvp more beneficial, and made scenes less beneficial. I’ve been in big pvp fights in War but they were far and few.

    So fundamentally it was a good innovation in my book, but it fumbled on it’s implementation.

    Honestly, i think part of the problem in the launch of some of these games is proper beta testers. Most people are getting in beta tests just to play something till the game u want is out. I’m just as guilty of it. Back in the day getting in a beta was a process. They questioned you, what type of machine you play down to your os, mem, proc, what type of gamer are you, what beta tests have u been in pror, and then they selected people that would benefit thier tests.

    That isnt the case nowadays, if u pay fileplanet guess what! your in a beta!!! You may not have no intentions on playing the game when it comes out, so you actually trying to find bugs, find flaws, help make a better game isnt going to happen. You know how many times in beta’s that i’ve been in for 4 years i had to hear “This game SUCKZZZ!!! WOW RULEZZZ!!!” in game? Uneccessary to say the least.

  • @Syncaine: You’re incorrect. The EQ1 model was a success and is a success today; at no point did I say “the real model for MMO success” though, so that was pulled out of thin air.

    I never dismissed EVE as being a niche game. I was helping Lost understand something that I was trying to say. He said that EVE is a very different game that did well and I was asking him to try and look at it from the perspective I was presenting – Did EVE get to where it is simply because it was innovative? Again, you’re posturing for an argument over something you’ve misunderstood.

    An observation can not be tainted by the sample when it is the sample giving me said observation.

    @Phillip: I’m making observations about the trappings that game developers are starting to fall into. If asking for better games has become a bi-product, then so what? Shouldn’t that be the ultimate goal for everyone?

    Again, a game can include a new exciting core mechanic and combination of mechanics and offer something unique, but if they’ve added a slew of things that don’t work or failed to correct mistakes from previous games that are included in their game, then what is the point? <--- THAT is the point I'm trying to make.

  • #45″at no point did I say “the real model for MMO success” though, so that was pulled out of thin air.”

    From your post: “When we look at the EQ model, back when it was the only real MMO model”

    You sure you did not say that? Again, at no point was EQ1 the ONLY real MMO model. That EQ1’s model was the easiest to duplicate and mass produce is another story, one not related to this topic.

    As for EVE, a large part of it’s success is indeed it’s innovation, things that even today other companies can’t quite replicate. Of course innovation is not the ONLY thing that made it a success, but that’s just back to the basic statement others have pointed out; a shit game is a shit game regardless of innovation, just like a good game is a good game on it’s own, innovative or not. That EVE is both a good game and continues to innovate in the MMO space is the reason it’s still growing 5 years later while everyone (including WoW) is bleeding subs after 5+ years (and for most games the timeline is far shorter than that)

    As for your sample, you choose to limit it’s size and scope. If I was limiting myself to broken betas or rough alphas, I’d be depressed too. But unlike one-off titles, the MMO space is defined as much by what current games are doing as by what’s coming around the corner. That late 2009/early 2010 might launch a few DOA MMOs does not mean others in the space are not continuing to make innovative and better products. If anything, the upcoming failures will help the current products looking for a second shot (AoC and WAR in particular)

  • @Syncaine: You’ve cleverly attempted to twist my words. “I said: When we look at the EQ model, back when it was the only real MMO model, it was a success.” EQ released after UO, but EQ is the direction the industry went, thus success. EQ was released before AC and well on its way to an expansion before AC released. I stand by what I said about EQ being the model the industry turned to as a success, and not AC or UO (although both were great games).

    As for the rest of comment #46, why don’t you just say “I agree with you Keen”, because that’s exactly what you’ve done. You’re saying exactly what I’ve said about EVE but in a roundabout way. EVE should not even be in this discussion because EVE didn’t fall (mostly) into the pitfalls I’ve been talking about. Lost, living up to his name, brought up EVE and I was trying to show him why it didn’t belong: It innovated but got the rest right, thus innovation = OK.

    I’m speaking to a very specific group of games coming out in a very specific time period. I prefaced my entire entry with that, so I have no idea why you’re trying to pick me apart for it.

    Whether or not the games coming out are “good” or “bad” will be mostly subjective. However, my observations that many of them are falling into the trap of sloppy fundamentals, including past mistakes, trying to include things that don’t belong to get tags, and trying to innovate on top of all of that is something you’ll just have to wait and see. As for my statement that games should focus and perfect before innovation, that’s my opinion and you can agree or disagree.

  • Let me diffuse a lot of this with one really long question and a followup question:

    Would you want to play a game that makes several mistakes at a fundamental level, includes features and mechanics from past games that were flawed already without fixing them, tacks on features to get a label, and ignores what would have worked just to be different?

    If your answer is “No” then we agree. If you answer is “Yes” then we disagree. That’s oversimplified, but if you’re forced to pick an answer what would it be?

    If a game like that released, would innovation even matter?

    If you answer “No” then we agree. If you answer “Yes” then we disagree.

    The meat of this discussion is in that last question. At what point do we stop and say “Stop trying to be innovative and get it right”? The next year is going to make it very apparent to people.

  • I think a bit of the problem Keen is when you use loaded language to make a point, you think it is straight-forward and makes perfect sense to you, but when other posters do this, you say they are twisting words.

    Well as a blogger and reviewer.. this is what people do, usel language to influence.

    I am a bit more concerned of you throwing around this “I am in 7-beta’s, they all are going to suck, but I can’t say anything else (except that I know more than you).” This is a very loaded thing to do.

    Many sportswriters do this, siting unnamed sources, when they are wildly wrong they just shove it under the rug, when even partially right, they use it to justify other suspect language. But accountability, there is zero. NDA’s have become a huge problem around this, with manipulation coming from all quarters. This may sound a bit off topic, and I am in no way trying to bash you, just letting you know other people see this and it makes a difference in opinion.

    Back on topic, while I think we ALL would agree a game needs sound fundamentals, I am of the camp that innovation is > polish.

    In the film industry we call it “polishing a turd” – no matter how much slickness you put into the editing process, if the raw material sucks.. the project sucks. I actually think you may be trying to say this? Not sure… but it isn’t innovation that is the killer, it is usually straight up bad gaming dynamics.

    Gaming dynamics to me = fundamentals.

  • @silverfly: You raise a very valid point. There’s not much I can do about it though. The games are covered by a NDA and that’s all I can say. I’ll happily link back to this post after each of the NDA’s drop so that we can put the pieces together and make some sense out of it. In all fairness I didn’t say they all suck though. Some are actually quite good, albeit a common trend (not in all of them) is the topic at hand.

    Other than reading this simply as obervations I have made, there’s not much you can do. I ask that you think about this from a hypothetical point of view or from examples I’ve given in the past (like WAR and AoC) if you’re having trouble.

    It’s not all about polish either. “Polishing a turd” is applicable. That “turd” would be the features, mechanics, or even ideas that didn’t work in past games. Why incorporate them, without fixing (or polishing, if that’s the word you like to use) them? To compound the issue, and drive home what I’m trying to say, why then would you take a bunch of turds, throw them together, and then toss a cherry on top to say “LOOK AT THIS INNOVATION OVER HERE!”.

    Innovation isn’t the killer. Agreed. Agreed. Agreed. Agreed. Agreed. Agreed. AGREED. I hope that’s clear. It’s the act of trying to be innovative on top of the turds. It’s placing innovation as the priority. It’s that mindset that innovation for the sake of innovation is the key to success. I completely disagree with that philosophy, and to me it’s common sense, yet I continue to see developers releasing games as though this is hasn’t even crossed their mind.

    I appreciate your comments.

  • A theory that has been lingering in my mind since i quit WAR:

    I define success as the ability to keep subscriptions not just sell a lot of copies on launch day.

    Wow is turning their game into something that can only please a first time gamer, ok I may be overgeneralising a bit. The reason why they are doing so is because it is much harder to please someone who has experience in gaming.

    Gaming like a drug addiction or another addiction gives you a kick the first time you do it, but you grow increasingly resistant to it. Therefore games need to give you a greater kick every time to keep you playing.

    Innovation basically means something new and to a new player everything is new. Blizzard realized this and realized experienced players are a lost cause.

    The reason why other games, that try to steal experienced players from wow, do not bother getting the fundamentals right is that innovation sells more boxes and they couldn’t keep experienced players anyway.

    More recent games/mmorpgs are therefore only designed to sell a lot of boxes at launch and any players still in the game after is bonus. Getting “tags” is good because combined with hype/marketing it sells more boxes.

    You can be sure that everything has crossed a developers mind.

    I choose not to believe in this theory but I just can not shake it off.

  • Well I know you’re not against innovation Keen, after all AFAIK you’re a Peter Molyneux fan.

    I think, maybe I’ll try to make my own point here and see if it jives with yours:

    – Not every MMO needs to be an MMORPG in the Diku-inspired vein, but if they are, they should keep the strengths already established from that genre. When your game joins a genre, it either has to pay its dues, or leapfrog them.

    If I were to compare it with the RTS genre for instance, in the 90’s it split into basically two camps, or two forks as it were: Warcraft / Starcraft and Total Annihilation. A few games came close, but those set the “you must be this tall to ride” lines. A ton of similar games are barely remembered.

    Right now, MMORPGs have one big genre, one big fork and it’s WoW. It’s possible to do well outside of that loop (EVE for instance), but if your game is within the big genre, it should meet the baseline.

    WAR and AoC are the bigger examples. They both had innovations that were good, but felt tacked onto something that didn’t measure up to the standards.

    That a bit closer to what you’re saying Keen?

  • All this is a giant way to say “Better games”
    If you have a pile of shit, you can spraypaint it all you want. Its still a pile of shit. Thats obvius to all I think

  • From reading his blog I get exactly what Keen is saying and fail to see how a lot of people totally missed the mark in this regard.Whether or not it has been edited since then due to the various objections to make it more understandable, I do not know.

    Dunno whats hard to understand about
    “Perfect your craft. Until you have perfected the foundation, perfected the fundamentals, you can’t possibly hope to move forward with innovation. Building upon a cracked or unstable/unpolished foundation will only lead to greater failures down the road.”

    Seems quite clear to me :S

  • “Would you want to play a game that makes several mistakes at a fundamental level, includes features and mechanics from past games that were flawed already without fixing them, tacks on features to get a label, and ignores what would have worked just to be different?”

    My issue is in how we define a mistake. For instance, some people consider DF’s control scheme a mistake and would rather it look more like WoW’s UI. I’m of the opinion that while not as ‘polished’, DF’s UI and controls are perfect for the game, even if in some spots they are rough (journal for instance). In some ways AV ignored what ‘works’ in the MMO space in terms of UI/Controls, did their own thing, and clearly some people consider it a mistake. Obviously there is not much to discuss if we are talking about whether a game should include feature X at the expense of CTD issues being left in, but I hope that’s not what you are talking about?

    “If your answer is “No” then we agree. If you answer is “Yes” then we disagree. That’s oversimplified, but if you’re forced to pick an answer what would it be?”

    In the case of DF, it would be Yes, because I’ve played enough games now to realize that just because WoW has a working UI, it’s not the be-all-end-all of UI design. EVE also has a ‘tough’ UI, but again it works better for EVE than if CCP tried to shoehorn WoW’s UI into EVE.

    “If a game like that released, would innovation even matter?

    If you answer “No” then we agree. If you answer “Yes” then we disagree.”

    Again Yes here. DF today is not as polished as Aion is in beta (though technically it’s not a true beta, but still), yet I’ll gladly pay for DF while I would not play Aion if it was free. Polish means nothing when it’s just a makeover to a game I already played a better version in 2005 (WoW and DAoC). Now I’m not saying this is how everyone (or even most) are going to see Aion vs DF, but that’s how I see it (and the niche group playing DF). There is a market for both.

    “The meat of this discussion is in that last question. At what point do we stop and say “Stop trying to be innovative and get it right”? The next year is going to make it very apparent to people.”

    Aion technically gets it right, yet even before it’s release I’m bored with it. In two years, Aion will be an even more polished Asian WoW, while DF is far more likely to continue down the path EVE set. The side issues of the journal being slow or PvE exploits existing will be fixed, while at it’s core it will remain a unique game.

    Games in development always have to choose between adding more and perfecting what you have. Aion has perfected what it has, yet brings so little to the table in terms of innovation that I can’t be bothered. DF brings an almost entirely different experience to the table, and while it’s very rough in many ways, it’s still more enjoyable because it’s innovations overshadow it’s trouble spots.

    Only in make-believe land will you see both a perfected game and one that is unique in it’s approach. Resource/time limitations simply make that impossible in the real world.

  • So what you are saying is that DF “perfected” their game enough to suit you?

    What if they had perfected it a little less and you would have been unable to aim your attacks properly? Or instead what if the aspect of the game that you like would not have been working properly? Would you still have said that it is so innovative that you would keep playing?

    I think everyone has different thoughts of what innovation means and that is the cause of the argument.

    To me innovation does not mean the opposite of polish infact they have nothing to do with one another.

  • @Rog: Exactly what I’m trying to say. I’m seeing games in beta and releasing that are trying to be apart of the big genre, yet they’re not meeting that baseline. They’re like “Look, we’re a RTS game and a FPS game!” and they fail to meet the standards of both. Then, while failing to meet the standards, they tack on all this innovation. While the innovation might be neat, and would have worked, it fails because the game is flawed on a fundamental level. You phrased it well Rog, thanks.

    @Joy-Energiser: So I’m not crazy? 😉 I’ve tried to make it as clear as possible.

    @HXstak: Is your comment directed at Syncaine? For me, Darkfall is neither here nor there in this discussion. In my opinion they did things “different” but not “innovative”. Ultimately, they failed to meet my personal standards. That’s not going to be the same for everyone, as Syncaine in #55 points out.

    @Syncaine: Then what it ultimately comes down to is a disagreement of personal tastes. I do feel like you’re looking very specifically at Darkfall for this example and perhaps letting it cloud the simplisticity of the big question in comment #48, but ultimately I can’t say you’re wrong if that’s your opinion. One man’s treasure is another man’s garbage…or whatever that saying might be.

  • I agree with Syncaine and Keen to a degree on this topic. I think the underling point needs to be is that a game needs to understand what works best for what it wants to become, and use the best features that currently exist… THEN build upon that.

    There are enough games out there that something matches up with what you are desiging. Take the best features from the existing games and then build upon that. Don’t build every feature from scratch and don’t omit a feature simply because your competitior used it.

  • Also it seems a lot of old console and single player games seem to think now the time is ripe for theirs IP to hit the MMO market. I think they think the tech is ripe that they will not have to change the single player experience that much and the masses will tolerate the delay and lag. I think they might be mistaken in the end though. Both with the tech and a lack of understanding how people operate in an MMO worlds vs a single player one.

  • Agree about the core fundamentals being critical. As others have said, this is where WAR failed for me big time. You can add as much crap and innovation on top of the game as you want but until they decide to fix the siege combat component of it (i.e. single choke point), the game lost all interest for me. Like anything, if your foundation is weak, there’s no point building on it.

  • Nobs, but then you wind up just making yet another copy with only minor differences in play, and people get sick of it quickly. That’s what being a WoW clone is, borrowing the best elements from WoW and adding very minor innovative touches, often borrowed from other games (FFXI’s job system seems to inspire a lot.)

    You need to actually spend more time being innovative if you want to stand apart, otherwise you become like one of the many, many F2P Korean games which look and play nearly exactly alike, but then throw in some different way to level, or add something like letting your pets craft. Polish isn’t enough unless the innovation is sound, and I think Aion will show this in the western market.

  • Dblade

    You are missing the point. You act as though I say to only take ideas from existing games without innovation. Everyone in this entire blogs needs to stop trying to see everything as black and white.

    You need the CORE game feature to work properly before you do anything. Let’s use WoW as an example. WoW DID NOT INNOVATE a whole lot in the core features department. It’s a major EQ clone.

    What Blizzard did was took what worked well and used that. They developed a solid core game based on what had worked in the past and then innovated where they felt the games lacked. By the time WoW came out EQ had seen about 4 expansions and the game had evolved alot. They had a very good idea of what the playerbase wanted.

    The two most recent major MMO releases, AoC and WAR, refused to put in features WoW used because they didn’t want to be compared to WoW. They took the very basic of features, such as leveling, that is standard for all modern RPG’s and that was it. They left out alot of the features that made WoW great and tried to innovate new ones.

    Further to the point Mythic left out alot of DAoC features because they didn’t want WAR to be a DAoC 2. Now the community is screaming for those features and we are slowly getting them.

    Everyone is so worried about being labeled a WoW clone that they are intentially ignoring great features that WoW used. That is stupid.

  • I agree with your point 100%. I’ll try to stay away from the MMO debate on this one. We MMO players are a tough crowd when it involves people attacking our MMO. There is a form and function to everything. Function is what you want your product(game) to be. You can simplify a lot of things just by looking at their function. But you cant deny that a car that doesnt work has much less value than one that does. Doesnt matter if we are talking about VWs or Mercedez. If we have this game, where the animation and controls are clunky it wont matter if the game promises a feature that no other has.
    MMORPG is a ganre that is time consuming, they are made so people escape and get lost in the gameplay, immerse if you will. That is why is of outmost importance to at its core make it work. Because if the gameplay lacks no feature will be enough to make me stay more than the customary trial month.
    I hate dviating, but i will just close with a couple of examples outside MMOs. Mario vs Sonic, DS vs PSP, FF vs every other RPG. Those exapmples they get the core right, and that is why those are best sellers (And preferred by most of the people to boot).

  • Now, I don’t really like Keen and I may be a little late to the discussion, but I don’t understand how people don’t understand his point here.

    Let’s look at something different than MMOs, shall we? Let’s look at Mario.

    Go to any of the great Mario games – Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, Super Mario 64 – and just let Mario run and jump around a bit. Run back and forth, jump kick, stop and run the other way, whatever.

    He’s responsive, isn’t he? He turns on a dime. The game’s reaction time is probably better than yours.

    Now, imagine, if you will, that Mario had a half-a-second lag for every input, that when he does a running jump over a gap it takes him time to register that you pressed the button, that when you want to stop and start running the other way it feels like he’s running in molasses.

    THAT’S a fundamental of the platforming genre that needs to be gotten right for a game: the responsiveness of the controls. Now you might be saying “WTF, but every platformer gets that right or at least good enough, that’s easy to do and it doesn’t make or break a game anyway” and maybe you’re right, but certainly I can imagine a platfomer where the developers were thinking “We have to stand out from the crowd, otherwise we won’t make a profit, therefore we have to design and implement a gimmick, so let’s focus on that and if the controls are working then that’s good enough.”

    Now, apply that to MMOs, and I think that there is Keen’s point.

  • Good point Ming –

    Still can’t believe I let myself get caught up in the WAR hype.. For the first week playing the game I literally buried my head in the sand… “there is no combat lag, there is no combat lag…” How could they spew so much hype without having the most basic of basics in line.. unbelievable. Then again remember them talking about how player would be rewarded for non-linear thinking. HA!

    I know alot of people still have much more hate for AOC, but in my opinion WAR was a much larger disappointment.

  • Thanks silverfly. To clarify a little though, I wasn’t trying to point fingers at WAR. The fundamentals of a single-player platformer game is different than the fundamentals of an MMO, so while the responsiveness of the controls is definitely a fundamental for platformers, an MMO as responsive as Mario is probably impossible, considering they have to deal with internet lag as well.

  • I’ll say that the games out or coming out at this point in time hold no interest to me in terms of MMO (ok SWToR I will play but only based on its IP, knowing hardly anything about actual game play). Even the fundamentals need to be shaken up. I would call something like quests a mmo fundamental, make em right and immersive, etc. But after so many quests in so many games, as soon as I enter a new game and see a quest giver, it almost makes me puke. Something new needs to be there, I don’t know what.

    We need to have the failures in these ‘innovative’ games if we want to move forward, as long as I don’t have to play them. We need new fundamentals to come forth, then we’ll have innovation.

    I think I agree mostly with what Keen is trying to say but I’m not convinced that even trying to work off what works in past MMOs is the answer. I think everyone is so obsessed with the current status of MMO games and there are so many, it will be hard to please the masses. I think if WAR came out at a time if there was no such thing as WoW it would be seen completely differently and oogled by all. But since it followed all the games it did and came out when so many others were out there, it didn’t have a chance. SWToR will probably succeed and I’ll be the first to play…but only because I have this obsession with Star Wars and a good cinematic always sucks me in (ala WAR, still love that cinematic) not because it has anything new and exciting.

    A solid IP might get you off to a phenomenal start and might even keep you there awhile (I played WoW way longer than I should have based solely on my love for the IP) but something entirely new is going to have to come along to truly change the status quo imo.

    Not even sure if any of that makes any sense but after reading 69 comments I had to say something.

  • My friends all look at me like a sinner when I tell them I miss exp grinding like in EQ. I would like the option of doing quests or grinding, why do games have to focus on one or the other?

  • Nobs, i think maybe if I run with Ming’s example it might illustrate what I mean better.

    Ming is talking about broken control-in a platformer, regardless of the type, some form of responsive control is needed. However, that in itself is not borrowed from any other game really, it’s just being polished. Technically the in-house mario games count, but this seems to me to be more about new games than pure sequels.

    What I see keen as saying is that unless you can make a platforming engine better than SMB3, copy it. Don’t innovate on what is more polished than perfection.

    However, bionic commando by capcom innovates to the point where they get rid of the jump button entirely, and you use your expanding robotic arm to navigate platform elements. It is less polished, and if Keen were beta-ing it, he probably would have the same reaction. Why are you taking out the jump mechanic when it works perfectly fine for other games?

    That’s the problem I think. Any real innovation is going to clash against an established gameplay system that may work better in practice. To use your example with it, it would be like Capcom listening to the fans and making each Bionic Commando sequel more like the Megaman games, because fans want that instead. It will lead to clones, like it or not.

  • My $0.05 (or “Why Keen’s point is valid, and a lot of people are missing the point…”):

    1) Innovation is a good thing, but not essential to making a fun game. For example, UT3 can be said to be innovative, but QuakeLive is still hella fun to play…

    2) Innovation solely for the sake of innovation is rarely a good thing. In the case of video games, if it’s not actually making the game more fun and interesting, then it’s pointless. Usually referenced when talking gameplay vs. graphics but equally valid here: “Gameplay is king.”

    3) If an essential part of a game, e.g. game content or UI, is poorly implemented then any innovation will be marginalized (at best), or likely rendered moot. I.e. if a game’s playability (and thereby, fun) is reduced because a game developer focused on their new, nifty ideas and ignored everything else, then the innovation is wasted.

    A perfect example of this is Age of Conan, which definitely had some great innovation, particularly with its combat system and visuals, but all the quality content was in the first 10-20% of the game, rapidly diminishing beyond that. (This was at release; I’ve heard it’s become better, but… too late for me.)

    4) More to the point, people have certain basic expectations from their games, based on their experience playing other games. If those expectations are not met, then it really doesn’t matter how innovative a game might be. (E.g. I expect a straight-up, intuitive interface — if that’s lacking, there’s a good chance the game will quickly disappear into the trash bin, innovation-be-damned.)

    5) Finally, too much innovation is bad; people prefer things that are familiar. For example, while it might be interesting — and certainly innovative — to do a Sims first person shooter, I really doubt that would be popular among those that play The Sims. =)

  • I think I’ve identified the source of our collective disagreement.

    Keen’s supporters claim “It all makes perfect sense! Strong fundamentals, lots of polish, and a couple of innovations to put a cherry on top and you are a success.”

    It does make perfect sense. But it only makes perfect sense because the terms keen uses are so vague and abstract as to be meaningless. It renders his advice useless.

    Imagine you’re trying to learn how play guitar and your instructor plays a song for you and asks you to play it by ear, but when you fail to do so–you are a novice so you hit wrong notes and play out of rhythm–he just tells you “No. That’s wrong. Play the song correctly. Play the right notes in the right order. It’s so simple! How don’t you understand?” The instructor is giving you correct advice in that if you followed it you’d play the song correctly, but the advice is useless because it doesn’t actually help you play the song correctly.

    It’s the same way with Keen’s advice: When you try to sit down and apply it, you will start to see that it just isn’t useful at all. He’s telling you to do things a certain way but you don’t actually have the capacity to do them that way–and even if you could, you have no way of actually making sure you are succeeding at any point.

    So keen’s advice ends up breaking down to “Make good games!” Which is good advice in the sense that if you follow it you make good games, but it is entirely useless because it doesn’t actually help you make good games.

  • “But it only makes perfect sense because the terms keen uses are so vague and abstract as to be meaningless.”

    They’re only meaningless if you don’t see what he means. Those of us who support his argument see exactly what he’s talking about.

    There’s an inverse proportion between familiarity and innovation — the more a company tries to innovate, the less familiar the formula is. But if you try to over-innovate, inevitably something goes wrong in the structure of the design that screws it all up.

    WAR’s Renown Rank system might apply under this label. It’s not a new innovation by itself, but Mythic tried to innovate the way it was implemented with the levelling system and screwed up the design. Renown Rank was seen as one of WAR’s biggest design flaws because it came the driving factor of PvP.

    And why? Because Mythic admitted they didn’t expect people to focus so single-mindedly on rewards instead of the “fun” of PvP. They didn’t expect that nobody would play Fort Defense because it offered so much less in rewards. Anyone who’s been in the MMO mix for a few years should have known that. But Mythic was so intent on innovating it that they didn’t see that.

    People want to see, and companies want to make “THE Next-Gen MMO”. There probably won’t BE a “Next-Gen MMO”. The last time we saw a feature on an MMO that could count as being that important was Anarchy Online developing “instances”.

    Instead, small steps of innovation will drive the genre until one day we look up and find we really are in “next gen”.

  • “They’re only meaningless if you don’t see what he means. Those of us who support his argument see exactly what he’s talking about.”

    I see exactly what he’s talking about as well!

    But have you ever designed a game before and had people play it? Have you critically thought about the game mechanics that you view as the “working” core of MMOs?

    “here’s an inverse proportion between familiarity and innovation — the more a company tries to innovate, the less familiar the formula is. But if you try to over-innovate, inevitably something goes wrong in the structure of the design that screws it all up.”

    And that is no different then failing to balance classes, have a solid PvP system, or have good raid content. There does not need to be innovation for “something [to go] wrong in the structure of the design.”
    Failure does not occur “if you try to over-innovate”, failure occurs if you design POORLY. You can only “over-innovate” if you design poorly.

    Poor design and innovative design are not at all correlated. There are far more poorly-designed bland non-innovative games than there are poorly-designed innovative games. Even the best games on the market can’t get the basics right–how can we even figure out what the basics are?

    If you suggest we work out the basics before we innovate, we’ll get no serious innovation. (And it may be impossible to “work out the basics”.) If you suggest it’s OK to innovate in core game mechanics as long as we don’t “over-innovate”, you are doing no more than asking us to avoid designing poor games. There’s no way to tell when you’ve “over-innovated”. There’s no way even to tell “what works” and what is “perfected” enough.

    Keen’s statement is useless. You can’t even reliably define his terminology. And he assumes that game design is objective.

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