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How Some Players and Companies Have It Wrong With Indies

Posted by Stradden Friday September 4 2009 at 3:28PM
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This week’s blog entry, for me, is going to be fairly short and to the point, owing mostly to the fact that there’s been something that’s been gnawing at me all week that I wanted to get off my chest.

My rant this time around isn’t a new one. I can’t for the life of me remember when, but I’m 100% certain that I’ve written about this topic before, but it’s worth repeating one way or the other.

My beef is with Indy MMO studios, both the way that they present themselves and the way that they and their games are viewed by the MMO audience.

I’m going to start by saying that it takes a lot of guts, as an independent MMO developer, to try to jump into a field already crowded with huge players and try to produce something that catches on. There really aren’t too many “big name” indies out there. Off the top of my head, I’m just looking at CCP (though Mythic used to top the list as well, pre-EA).

Now, I’m going to go on to say that, in terms of players and their approach to games developed by independent studios, some folks out there just don’t get it. I often read thread after thread where players complain that the newest indie studio release doesn’t have the highest end graphics, or has a number of bugs at launch. That, or I read unfavorable comparisons between new Indy Release X and Big Studio Game Y. To those folks, I say… well, freaking duh. I mean really. These companies don’t have nearly as much money as their larger corporate counterparts and as a result aren’t going to have the same time and resources available.

It absolutely twists me in knots to watch the way these things progress in terms of public opinion. I mean, if an indie studio produces something less than the AAA benchmark, people tear into them. If that same indie studio decides that they want to produce something bigger and better to appease their fan base and signs up with one of the big corporations, all of the sudden they’ve sold out. I mean, really, it’s a no-win situation.

Players need to understand that there is a world of difference between the two kinds of game. If you’re going to look at supporting many of the interesting and innovative ideas behind independent MMOs, then you have to be willing to accept lesser qualities in other areas of production due to the reduced money that is available. That being said, as we are reminded time after time, players are viewed by the industry primarily as consumers, and consumers deserve to get the quality of product that they pay for.

This is where I turn my attention, and the big ol finger of blame, directly onto the independent MMO developers themselves. I believe that my colleague, Dana Massey actually made this exact same point in one of his columns, but it just makes so much damned sense, it’s hard to not repeat it:

You, as developers, need to be honest with yourselves. If your game can’t compete with the big company financed AAA MMO titles, you need to accept that. Once you do accept that, there are a couple of approaches that you can take:

First, as my colleague Dana suggested, you should stop charging the same amount for your games as the big boys do. The bottom line that is, if you’re one of the ones complaining that everyone is comparing your game to WoW, and you’re charging the same as Blizzard, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Next, make sure that you manage expectations around your game. If you’re an indie studio, and you know that you can’t compete with the AAA titles, don’t try to promote your game that way. Be honest with your potential players, and be transparent about the process that you are using, and you will, at the very least, garner some goodwill.

The bottom line is that we compare your game to WoW and the others because you force us to. Give us a reason not to and we won’t… Well, some of us. Others you’ll never get through to no matter what you do.

Now, just to swing back to the players again so that it doesn’t look like I’m being too one-sided in all of this. You need to educate yourself about what it is you’re buying and manage your own expectations. In order to play the, “we’re consumers and we will vote with our wallets” card… the most powerful one we have, by the way, we have to understand what we’re buying both in terms of quality and context.