Monday, November 29, 2010

A danger of hyped releases.

Taking a break from the tutorials for a different kind of post. Ok, in reality I am on the train and have discovered tutorials written for 'web' languages often are heavily dependent on having an internet connection and getting access to API documentation offline is kinda sucky.. so anyway! This is not going to be one my more coherent posts since, well, trains are not the most distraction free environments, but let us see what I come up with.

I have no idea how universally this applies, but I have noticed a recurring pattern in when I tend to stop playing games. Often games that have an update cycle will, from time to time, move from 'little' updates to something 'big'. This big set of changes will often be hyped and talked about for months with speculation about which features will make it in and how they will work.

Now, one of the problems with speculation.. what gets implemented will never live up to people's imaginations. Often the developers will have the same basic ideas but discover that they did not have the time to implement them or the balance could not be worked out or the feature would simply consume too many resources to execute.

This results in a highly anticipated expansion that, for many, is not as good as they hoped. Now, when it comes out, you usually have plenty of people happy with it anyway and many pointing out that people should not complain (which ends up just making the complainers more annoyed… trivializing feedback is rarely a good way to silence it).

So here is what happens with people like me at least. Usually by the time a major update is in the works current features are a little stale, so the hype serves as a reason to 'stick around'…. I tend to get wrapped up in the discussions about features, sometimes even logging on to test servers to get a taste of how things might start panning out. I can see which features are making it in (sometimes, depends on the game and openness of testing) but hold out hope that 'awesome' features make it in. Here is one of the initial problems… I tend to care about features many other gamers do not… I am not a big 'graphics, combat, and scores' person, which is what most developers cater to… so features I am looking forward to usually get cut in order to get those in.

So I walk away with that initial disappointment.. 'skipped over again'. This was a big problem with EVE, every cycle they promises interesting industrial content but it always got pushed off for combat type stuff. When updates are frequent this is not a big issue, but when updates are big and infrequent the next cycle feels very far off, usually interrupted by at least a cycle of working out bugs related to the new features. Thus, disappointment combined with a feeling of hope being a long way off, results in stopping playing.

Minecraft is my current example. Big halloween update that took months (when updates used to be weakly) that ended up containing nothing of real interest.. mostly things related to fighting (which is odd since it kinda sucks as a FPS) and making things more 'hard core' for the score-oriented people. I played it maybe a week after that and just.. sorta… stopped.

Again, I am not sure how universal the lesson is, but the one I take away from this is one should stick to small, frequent updates rather then highly publicized major updates, at least from the perspective of keeping existing players. I think one of the reasons companies tend to like these big updates is they tend to have marquee value.. something big and different to coax in new players or get older ones to return. For minecraft this makes a lot of sense since it is a 'pay once' game.. for EVE I am less sure since the game depends on keeping players over a long haul. So I guess ultimately it will come down to what the purpose of the update….. gaining new players or keeping an existing community happy.

I think.. I think with games like EVE we are seeing a bit of a problem with business models. Even being a fairly seasoned company at this point, subscription games are still a fairly new area that 'conventional wisdom' is still being sorted out. Even as their internal teams figure things out they will have a constant influx of marketers and executives that adjust even slower, and as more jobs are on the line innovation and risk taking tends to decrease.

I think this is something that a lot of these 'Facebook' and similar games have started to figure out since they have less bureaucratic overhead and thus can adapt quicker. As I watch those games (and older ones like pardus), updates tend to be small and fairly frequent, which I think is one of the reasons they tend to have pretty good retention relative to their complexity. The biggest problem they have is people burning through all the content quickly and leaving, which could be fixed by having a larger team and keeping updates coming.

And now I am pretty much out of battery and track, so this seems like a good place to wrap up.

*humms happily* ask not for whom the mp3, may toll it tolls for thee…. your doomed the moment I cease to sing….

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