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The Quinquennial (or sometimes more often)

Various thoughts on online gaming, often pulled from articles I've written for other sources.

Author: Quizzical

A company's first game is its best

Posted by Quizzical Sunday January 4 2009 at 3:43AM
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Wouldn’t it be cool if there were a game very similar to WoW, except with less content, fewer features, more bugs, and a smaller playerbase? You’d play that, wouldn’t you? We should make such a game!

While the particular reasons depend on what sort of games you like, the appropriate answer to the above questions is almost surely “no”. Someone who doesn’t like WoW isn’t going to like a mediocre clone of it. Someone who does like WoW would have no reason to abandon that game for something so clearly inferior to it.

So who would be likely to state the original paragraph, or perhaps a less satirical version of it? Certainly not random computer game players, who wouldn’t be interested in playing such a game. Nor would such people seriously consider trying to actually make such a game. People who run an established company that dream of copying WoW’s profits, more so than about any particular game mechanics, might find the game far more appealing.

People outside the gaming industry who want to make a game typically want to make a game that they think they would like, but one that doesn’t already exist. Most such dreams of making a game never really go very far, but some do have the talent, ambition, persistence, and naivete to take a serious shot at making their game into a reality.

Sometimes they even succeed. Often the games don’t work the way they were supposed to, run rather inefficiently, or have way too many bugs. Games built on a shoestring budget usually look and feel that way, and lack the polish of a big-budget game. But that doesn’t mean that they never end up being pretty good games.

Indeed, some such games can be quite good, and different enough from the usual standard fare to be worth playing. They may lack the polish and the advertising budget to draw huge subscriber numbers, but a low-budget game doesn’t need to bring in $50 million to be a success.

But what happens once the company is more established? Want to spend $50 million to develop some unproven concept that may not bring in 10% of that in revenue? Not if that would risk putting an otherwise stable company out of business entirely. Rather, an established company usually prefers to take a safer route that will reliably make a profit, or at least not really lose too badly. That leads to mimicking games that have already made solid profits. And that, in turn, leads to players complaining that too many games are too similar.

So which is better, a genuinely new and different game, or a warmed-over rehash of some other game (or perhaps many other games) that you’ve already played? That’s not a trick question, and I’d typically at least give the former a chance to prove itself.

But what if the latter game is a rehash of various other games with which you aren’t familiar? Then it doesn’t matter how many other similar games there are. Indeed, this is the situation that a lot of the big-budget games hope for. And that is how companies end up making games that have less of a point than other games they’ve previously released.

Going back to the title of this post, one could probably come up with a number of exceptions. Still, consider that if a company’s first game is garbage, it is likely to also be the company’s last game. Then again, some of the early games developed by EA were astonishingly awful, but the company is still with us today.

sanders01 writes:

 Indy games are some of the best I've played in the MMO world and outside of it, smaller company gets things done slower, but usally are more creative in their ideas and concepts. But most indy game companies are so small they have to get published by one of the big guys to get the money to make it, which in turn ruins the game. How does it ruin the game? I dont know, someone would have to explain that to me, but I could name a few examples of games that could have been great but got ruined by bad publishers.

Sun Jan 04 2009 12:40PM Report
Jetrpg writes:

I think the reason for this idea is that of the co. that make great games off the bat you remeber then and the ones who don't you forget so when you think of great games or those who made them our brian and the way it works plays tricks on us.

Think of the many mmos that have failed may MOST  of them are small no name co. makign their first game which sucked very much.

Sun Jan 04 2009 3:43PM Report
dcostello writes:

WoW has a monopoly on the genre.  That's about it until some company can prove otherwise.  However, like the op said, most companies aren't willing to take the risk of innovation.  Instead, they'd rather hold onto their meager profits they receive from half-ass games.

Sun Jan 04 2009 4:07PM Report
Quizzical writes:

Sure, there have been a lot of games that were a company's first game and were awful.  And then the company never made another game, so that first game was still the company's best.

WoW hardly has a monopoly.  Someone who wishes to play an MMORPG and avoid WoW has lots of choices. 

Sun Jan 04 2009 6:12PM Report
UnSub writes:

WoW only has a monopoly if you want to play a Blizzard-themed MMO. There are a ton of MMOs out there - some better than others - that do things differently to WoW, but it often means you have to do without some of the things you might have gotten used to in WoW (e.g. an auction house or known raids or epic loot). Apparently a lot of players don't want to do without anything they might be used to, so they go back to WoW despite complaining about it.

Also, second system design flaws are a well recognised issue - I'm going to write a blog about it in the near future.

Mon Jan 05 2009 7:06PM Report writes:
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