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On game features from a student game developer

As a second year bachelor student of game programming and development, there is nothing that interests me more than exploring game features, and discussing the effect they have on games and gamers.

Author: Dreamstrider

Cutting the feature list, defining the core of the game before the fluff.

Posted by Dreamstrider Monday August 11 2008 at 3:05PM
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Who would have thought I would get two hundred views on my first blog post here? I surely did not!
I would like to thank everyone who read and posted comments. For one who is hoping to enter the game industry, getting the feeling on where gamers are at is one of the most important things I can imagine. I wasn't really going to make another post this fast, but I just returned from a meeting and my head is full of thoughts and ideas, making it hard to do anything constructive! Anyway, here goes:
 

It seems clear to me that one of the biggest flaws in new games; be they single player fps games or massive online ones, is that they keep on trying to have everything that everyone else has, and more. I am confused by this. It is my opinion that if you believe you have a good concept, you don't need to also add all the content of other games to make it count for something. What you need to do is to make your concept really stick out of the massive crowd.  When I look at games like Warhammer online and Age of Conan, I see massive feature lists, that both contain the same things as games before them, but also their own little twist on things. Now sure this is great, but just like you guys, I have realised long ago that the more things you try to do in the same timeframe, the less dept you will have on each of these features.
 

Now the problem here, I think, is lack of community / developer integration. Meaning that developers and people from the community don't spend enough time together. But that's a topic for another entry. It is my firm belief that if a game developer instead of trying to do everything at once; made sure that what made their game special would really work as expected. In WAR thats Realm versus Realm, in Conan it's keep battles and the combat system, in planetside it was base combat, and so on.

In the end, what I would like to ask you guys is this:
How important is the feature list to you?
If you want to find a new MMO, does it need to have ALL the features of your previous one, or would you be more than happy with just some of the old features, and some new and really interesting ones working from day one?

Once again, thank you for your time and input.

-The Dreamstrider

Death1942 writes:

another good blog (post?).  i think what devs need to do (as in sport) is get the basics right first THEN do the tricky stuff.  its nice that you can sink a 3pt shot from halfway, or score a goal from the bottom right corner of the square/circle but its nothing if you cant dribble or tackle.

 

development time should ALWAYS be focussed on the basics pre-release.  once that is done (and mastered) then move onto the harder stuff (endgame, better pvp (they should have it 100% balanced at the start), silly features to get 1 over on the competition)

how hard is it to follow such a winning formula?

Mon Aug 11 2008 4:28PM Report
caemsg writes:

i really dont care for the feature list so long as it dosnt have crap features on it if the game looks fun and its game play over graphics i will give a game a shot

also i have seen many publishers spending two thirds of their budgets and time on the graphics does anyone acually care about graphics?

Mon Aug 11 2008 5:52PM Report
WRyan writes:

This is a fun topic, so I'll chime in.

I don't care what game you are playing, it belongs in a genre (unless it's one of those cooky indie games that defines genres.)

So, take any genre you want - FPS.  There are certain things gamers have come to expect from any FPS on the market.  It is by standard, a minimum effort input that must be met.  Otherwise, don't even bother.  It doesn't matter what this standard is - that's beside the point.  The point is, whatever the standard is, it must be in your game.

Now, after your basics are done, solid, finished, polished - whatever word you want to use... THEN you start reinventing the wheel and put in the stuff you really want to set the game apart from the pack.  Call of Duty took your standard FPS and made it better with a few tricks: aiming down the sights, loud and violent guns, heavy recoil, limited ammunition, insurmountable odds.... These are the things that made the game stand out from all the other Shooters (more specifically WWII themed.)

I think the reason why MMO's today are so... "lifeless" is because I don't think the developers really sit down and ask the all important question - "What must we have in an MMO?"  I'm not 100% sure what the answer to that is, but I know it's not quests, and I know it's not as easy as coining the word "content".  There is something else that really and truelly makes or breaks the game.

Mon Aug 11 2008 6:46PM Report
WRyan writes:

Oh yeah... and as far as the feature list goes....

If your box spouts all kinds of fantastical features - I expect those features to be in the game, LIVE, at Launch, and working as intended, 95%  bug free, along with any other game system it utilizes.

That may be a lot to ask for... but so is asking for someone's patience while you charge them a monthly fee to beta test your game that you said worked, but doesn't.

Mon Aug 11 2008 7:07PM Report
Eluwien writes:

5% bugs accepted? now thats generous.

Anyway, I agree completely that its better to bring solid and good work in small surroundings, than hardly working mediocre work in huge surroundings. And latter is where it seems to have gone now, one has to have the areas size of UK at launch to get attention.

Its easy to understand that its not good for the customer point of view, that what comes out is Vanguard or AoC style mostly working 95% bugfree, but still obviously broken product. But I think everyone must dig in deeper to the actual reasons of this attitude these days.

One main thing is, specially related to feature lists, that the games design has to be sold first to investors and then to massive amount of customers. This is only archievable by tossing into the feature list as much as possible to please as many as possible, not only this way you get your hype up and attention to from customerbase, but its also the list that investors will see and make their decissions on.

As you say, as a whole its an inhibiting way of doing MMORPG's, because it makes it almost a forced rule, that game companies have to first build up what every other game has, and then add their own twists on top of that, to make a game that sells to the investors.

Another limitation it artifically creates is that it gets almost impossible to develop actually groundbraking next generation games in a larger scale, because investors hardly ever are gamers and/or have deeper insight to gaming world, thus they may not understand groundbraking and new approaches "just like that". And I could also imagine investors not to be happy with "we build a small world first, publish that and then start adding on top of that with what we come up with" - approach either. It just doesn't make money.

Being multimillion [currency] bussiness to develop a polished new game within certain period of time, its heavily based on how well you're able to sell that to the investors. Sadly that leaves the end user in to the position we are at the moment, games follow already learned feats, are built on old IP's that are known to make money and nothing really groundbraking can be made(sold).

Only direction these groundbraking and new ideas can grow from are indeed the indie direction and small companies that require way less investor money and are not even aiming for hit-markets. Eventually one of these gets so much attention and sells to much that it becomes the new flawor of the genre, and then ripoffs spawn like mushrooms on a wet marsh after rain.

Tue Aug 12 2008 1:23AM Report
Eluwien writes:

Just like the whole MMORPG genre was born.

 

Tue Aug 12 2008 1:25AM Report
craynlon writes:

i agree with eluwien

if you build a mmorpg right now people will ask you about your crafting-, trading-, pvp-, raiding system, how many classes/ races you have and why whatever you have is better then wow.

if blizzard ever would make a wow 2 they would need to have everything from wow plus some radical advancements.

so with every generation it gets more expensive to produce a game unless you come up with something radical or an ip that sells itselve. if startrek for example would say: screw raiding, screw crafting most trekkies would still buy it.

as for how important the feature list is for me:
features are nice but innovation and uniqueness is more important to me. if a new game doesnt have features like raising pets or going fishing id still try it if offers something new like a natural lifespan of the characters or maybe permadeath

some features/ ideas also can go bad:
when i read about combo moves and mounted combat in conan i envisioned something completely different then whats in the game. actually i envisioned street fighter like combat and well mounted combat that you actually would use in pvp.

some other features can evolve:
if you look at whats war doing (besides fokusing on pvp) its that they take features like questing, having a guild and evolve them to features 2.0 (public quests, living guilds). while these features arent new by themselve the implementation seem to have evolved these features putting pressure on new and old games that implement these features in the 1.0 way

Tue Aug 12 2008 5:50AM Report
Azmaria writes:

I agree with Craynlon (and Eluwien), especially on the feature 2.0 part.  There are only so many things you can add right now that are "unique" and have really never been implemented.  However, taking something that is a core feature to most games (ex: crafting) and making it better than every other game out there has it, then you've created a feature that will attract players.  I would put forth that there is no-one in MMOs today that thinks their crafting system is the absolute best that it can be.  Even in Vanguard, which arguably took crafting to the 2.0 level, crafting is no-where near perfect.  So there is always room for upward expansion. 

Think of MMO features like a city - if you can't expand out (by including unique features), expand up (by making the features that you have unique in their implementation). 

However, a cautionary word...if you promise the players that you're adding in a new/improved mechanic, make it work the way you want it before you release it.  Nothing disillusions players like buying a game for a specific mechanic (ex: Age of Conan's siege warfare, WAR's RvR combat) and not having it work at launch. 

The feature list is not important (to me) in its length, but rather its quality and innovativeness.  Most of the free MMOs out today have basically copy-pasted their feature list from every other free MMO that is on the market, and many times including features copied from main-stream MMOs.  That doesn't interest me.  Just as it wouldn't interest me if I had to pay for those exact same features.  So, my advice would be to not overpack your game with mechanics and features, take the time to make the mechanics/features you see as essential as polished as you possibly can, and do the improvements that the existing systems could definitely use.  

Mon Aug 18 2008 10:05AM Report

MMORPG.com writes:
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