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News & Features Discussion  » General: Editorial: Small Dev Team Myth

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Novice Member

Joined: 1/07/04
Posts: 2425

OP  7/19/06 1:46:59 PM#1

Dan Fortier checks in with a new editorial. Today, he examines what he calls "The Small Dev Team Myth". Read on and then let us know what you think on the boards.

Recently there has been some debate as to what gamers should expect from MMOs produced by lower budget development teams. With the recent release of games like SEED and Dark and Light this topic seems more interesting than ever. Should we excuse incomplete products and poor game performance because they lack the resources of the big boys?

To get the answer we are going to have to go back in time a bit to the late 1990's when bunch of guys from two smaller companies formed a company called Mythic Entertainment and with a small, but hard working crew of designers, created Dark Age of Camelot. To this day many gamers still hold it up as one of the top PvP titles for its creative use of Realm vs Realm combat. Although they recently were bought out by EA they still have made an indelible mark on the genre.

The full article is available here.

Dana Massey
Formerly of
Currently Lead Designer for Bit Trap Studios


Novice Member

Joined: 5/27/05
Posts: 437

The Internet. Serious business.

7/19/06 4:59:01 PM#2

A good article.  Please forward this to SOE's "Planetside" Team, which currently consists of one "producer," one "lead" QA guy, and two programmers.  Everything else is shared.

SOE have a bad rep?  NEVER!

Gammit10 Xfire Miniprofile

Novice Member

Joined: 2/06/06
Posts: 114

Designer of Systems

7/19/06 5:23:06 PM#3

While I agree completely with the point of the article, there was this:

... if we all decided to expect more for our money, the gaming world would be a lot nicer place.


In what universe do gamers not expect insane amounts of content for the money they spend? For that matter, nothing seems to stop gamers from making loud and passionate demands of the developers of games that don't charge anything at all.

Certainly developers should deliver on their promises, and game consumers should use their buying power to hold developers to that level of honesty.

But "low expectations" is not a problem!



Novice Member

Joined: 9/10/05
Posts: 26

7/19/06 6:12:03 PM#4

As an original fan-boi of City Of Heroes, I spent months of my time on the forums discussing with fellow players-to-be about what we wanted and expected to see in the game. The super-hero genre was untried, and we had so much hope for the potential. We had TONS of ideas that are still way eyond what is in the games now, and everyone on my pre-game team just bailed after the game came out because so many corners were cut and the cream of our concepts were never even acknowleged.

My only advice at this point is - trust your fans! Dev's (small or large team) all think they know best. The want to convince us to play what they want to build... instead of listening to the ones who pay the bills. They ALL forget the basic tenet of financial success - THEY are overhead, WE are profit.


Novice Member

Joined: 11/28/05
Posts: 326

7/19/06 8:17:33 PM#5

I wonder if the following would work...

A big company would create a comprehensive and flexible set of tools for making a MMOG (graphics engine, client, modeling, world builder, server technology, etc.).  These tools would be provided under contract—but for free—to any interested small group of developers.  The devs would create a game and then they would present the concept, screenshots, and videos to the public.  If they receive enough positive feedback, the big company hosts the game on their servers and handles billing.  They take a cut out of the price for the tools and hosting services they provided.  The big company agrees to keep the game live so long as it maintains a certain number of subscribers (say 10-15k).

This could be a way for small games with unique concepts to see the light of day.  The big company could end up with dozens of niche titles and perhaps offer an all-access price to subscribers.


Novice Member

Joined: 3/08/04
Posts: 499

I'm just here for the cookies.

7/19/06 8:32:07 PM#6

Originally posted by Jumonji

As an original fan-boi of City Of Heroes, I spent months of my time on the forums discussing with fellow players-to-be about what we wanted and expected to see in the game. The super-hero genre was untried, and we had so much hope for the potential. We had TONS of ideas that are still way eyond what is in the games now, and everyone on my pre-game team just bailed after the game came out because so many corners were cut and the cream of our concepts were never even acknowleged.

My only advice at this point is - trust your fans! Dev's (small or large team) all think they know best. The want to convince us to play what they want to build... instead of listening to the ones who pay the bills. They ALL forget the basic tenet of financial success - THEY are overhead, WE are profit.

As an original fan-boi of City Of Heroes, I spent months of my time on the forums discussing with fellow players-to-be about what we wanted and expected to see in the game. The super-hero genre was untried, and we had so much hope for the potential. We had TONS of ideas that are still way eyond what is in the games now, and everyone on my pre-game team just bailed after the game came out because so many corners were cut and the cream of our concepts were never even acknowleged.

My only advice at this point is - trust your fans! Dev's (small or large team) all think they know best. The want to convince us to play what they want to build... instead of listening to the ones who pay the bills. They ALL forget the basic tenet of financial success - THEY are overhead, WE are profit.

Actually, when a game is in development, they are paying for that future product--not you. They are going to go with what they think will work best, it's their money, time, energy, and initial concept.

Once a game is out, it's a different matter--the subscribers are paying for it. But by that point, at least in my experience, it's too late to change much of a game.

It's not only small dev teams that can create shoddy products or lie to their prospective subscribers about what will be in a game--big dev teams do it as well, and do it often. Lying is a manifestation of human ego, not a manifestation of economics.

Apply lemon juice and candle flame here to reveal secret message.


Novice Member

Joined: 9/10/05
Posts: 26

7/19/06 9:32:22 PM#7

The dev's may be investors, but they are building the game for US. If they are building it for themselves, then they shouldn't care if we play it or not, right. But I believe we were talking about commercial success? That means WE have to like the game, right?

I'm just saying - we all know what we want. All the fans, the reviewers, the public - we all keep telling them what we want to play, and they keep promising to give it to us. Then they bail and build something that they calculate we "reallly want but don't know it." Sheesh.

I don't want to be spoon fed some ditto game that is so last year. Come on people! The prize is so vast - why settle for a fraction of WOW's audience? We don't need a WoW clone. We need a team to simply open their ears and listen!!!

It should be easier for a small team, right? The coding is not that hard anymore - it's been done a zillion times already. Just focus on the game play that we all keep harping on ...


Novice Member

Joined: 1/29/04
Posts: 3120

Cynical? Me? Never.

7/19/06 10:20:25 PM#8
Good article. Too many times have I read MMORPG fans try to dismiss the fact that a game completely lacks any content due to it being a small company, or "no MMO is perfect". Sorry, but I expect something for that 30-50 bucks I plucked down and a monthly fee on top of that. You don't order a pizza and when it shows up 2 hours later with only 1/4 of the pizza in the box not complain. No matter if its Pizza Hut or Pop's Pizza Joint. Or pay for 10 gallons of gas, but only get 3.

Somthing I disagree with, though is how you stated "They release a completely unfinished and untested product that has virtually none of the expected features. Thankfully these companies are few and far between". Umm, they come every other month it seems. We are seeing more illegitamate games popping up than ever. D&L, Irth Online, Roma Victor, DDO, and probably more I'm missing. Hell, Turbine has already had one MMO collapse. Somehow they still made one, and are working on ruining another. I guess DDO is debatable, but not by much.

Novice Member

Joined: 1/16/05
Posts: 5

7/19/06 10:46:32 PM#9
What makes you think they are building the game for US?

There is no us.
I am not the guy that raids 5 days a week in wow and is happy with it,
and that guy is not the one, that plays with the stockmarket in eve-online and is happy with it,

Different people,
different games.

When you come to realize that there is no "gamer", you come to realize that you can not listen to everyone when creating a game.

Why? Cause you are not creating it for everyone in the first place!

Staff Writer

Joined: 6/12/06
Posts: 261

Dan Staff Writer

7/20/06 1:15:00 AM#10

Thanks for the replies so far. The article was specifically about small dev teams and although you can say that big companies can be just as bad, not as many people are ready to excuse it.

While it seems that there are a few extremely recent examples of companies using their budget or manpower as an excuse, they are only using ammo we give them by accepting less than working products at a premium price tag.

Notice: The views expressed in this post are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the reviews of or its management.


Novice Member

Joined: 7/07/05
Posts: 3167

7/20/06 4:37:24 AM#11
How small is small?  Were Mythic and Cryptic really just as small as NPCube and Runestone?  Not just in terms of employees, but in terms of financing?  At the time of release, how much money had been spent on each of thier respective games?

When I want a single-player story, I'll play a single-player game. When I play an MMO, I want a massively multiplayer world.


Novice Member

Joined: 7/08/06
Posts: 43

7/20/06 5:47:13 AM#12
The small team sure shows with CIty of Heroes. Their small team bit off more than they could chew with PvP in Issue 4. Fast Forward to today. Two months after Issue 7 the game is still a bit buggy, they have a lot of things to fix, and the playerbase is rather restless after a 7+ month wait.  In the meantime, they spent most of their time chasing the PvP playerbase which is really a very tiny minority of players. So game development was hurt by PvP balancing and bugfixing. So unlike EvE they failed to grow their playerbase. Most of the new players are from expanding markets or genre (villains). So yeah, the small staff didn't spend their money wisely and develop game content where it was needed.  

Novice Member

Joined: 7/20/06
Posts: 1

7/20/06 1:52:44 PM#13
I work at a 4-person company making an MMO space combat game, so I know how hard it is to make one with few people. Our game has been out for over a year and we plan on staying around. We try to oush out an update every week to try to keep things active. We're working as hard as we can but with hundreds of new things to work on and only 4 people, our priorities may not be equal to our players desires all the time. Unfortunately, we have a large turnover rate because we simply can't get enough done quickly enough and can't afford to hire more employees.

Basically, the small dev team is completely doable.

(Personally, I don't consider a company with less that 10 people as small.)

- raybondo

Novice Member

Joined: 10/02/04
Posts: 50

7/20/06 4:30:42 PM#14

Small - Medium-Large - It doesn't matter.

Quality does.  Quality is the main reason a product is successful.

If you make a high quality product - people will pay to play it.  I think the article did a good job of pointing this out.

It's not the only reason that games are successful though - there are lots of other factors such as community and the fan base itself for example.

Also, success is measured in different ways. 

While DAoC might not have the subscriber base of WoW - the company makes enough money.  I did a little research on Mythic and it was one of the state of Virginia's fasting growing company for five years in a row or something like that - i bet their gross sales were and still are somewhere in the annual range of 10 million - and it might have been two to three times as much the first two to three years of it's lunch.

A lot of money huh?  I would love to make $250,000 a year- but these guys are pulling in $10,000,000 a year easy!

It's chump change though when you compare it to EA who's market cap is in the billions.

But I would still call Mythic one helluva success.

"I have live my life by these nine simple words: It sounded like a good idea at the time."
--Livingston Taylor


Novice Member

Joined: 3/08/04
Posts: 499

I'm just here for the cookies.

7/20/06 5:23:33 PM#15

I think gamers are less and less willing as time goes on to cut any slack for the "little" guys, regardless of the actual size of the company. It's certainly been true in the past, though (and just witness how little understanding, say, SOE gets for any actual or perceived problems with their games).

But I think that more and more today, gamers feel that, regardless of whether the company behind the game is worth multibillions or multihundreds, the amount being charged is the same and therefore they, the gamer, should be getting a commensurate product.

Every game has its diehard fans--and at times, those same fans are the ones who in sticking with a game and believing in the designers' vision carry it through a rough launch (and how many games don't have those?) and onward to great success.

I think the responsibility for calling a dog a dog lies in the short-term (in the long-term, it's obviously the customers) with game reviewers, whose standards have been rising along with the finances of the industry, but as of yet are still lagging. There are so many games out and so many disparate opinions as to what makes a good game (and rightfully so, as we're all looking for what we as individual are looking for as entertainment) that it's nigh impossible for an individual to make an informed choice. Then again, reviewers have their own criteria for what they consider a good game--criteria that will be different for many players. Still, game reviewers have to work harder to raise their own standards, reporting skills, and writing abilities.

Harder questions need to be asked and more critical opinions raised as to the direction of games. More should've been made of the changes in SWG, more should be made of the changes in CoH/CoV (and whether or not the inclusion of PvP was a good thing in hindsight). Given its massive playerbase, every patch in WoW should be greeted with a bevy of articles questioning whether or not they are improving the game or not. These are the kinds of issues and direction that sites like this should be striving for.

When MMOs start to be held accountable even by journalistic-light sites like, I think we'll start to see a lot fewer attempts, conscious or not, to foist shoddy products on the gaming public. And regardless, the public's standards will have been raised through education by such game sites--they will learn what to look for, what to ask, and what to be critical of by reading such things for themselves.

Apply lemon juice and candle flame here to reveal secret message.


Novice Member

Joined: 9/10/05
Posts: 26

7/20/06 7:58:37 PM#16

You expect the small teams to be more radical. The big teams - big funders - are necessarily going to be more conservative and go after the gamers they know about, which means, duplicating the biggest drawing game so far. (WoW- this year.)

But smaller teams are expected to be more daring. (rightly or wrongly.) Smaller teams are expected to go after niche markets by blowing out a different concept and giving us a new game play experience. 

What is dissappointing is when the small teams also try and clone the big games. We've done that already dudes! We don't need a WoW clone...we already have WoW!


Novice Member

Joined: 4/19/06
Posts: 244

7/21/06 4:56:11 AM#17


Actually it is a problem. And if you knew something about the bis. you would know that.

Ever heard of BF2 and booster packs? Fanbois and others with low expectations keep buying stuff that isn't really that good. And now BF 2142 comes out with the same crappy engine, just new models and new maps to distract their fans from Quake Wars.
EA does what it does because the mainstream wants dumbed down games with no innovations (or how do you explain that people keep buying those games?) *cough* need for speed *cough*

PS: Everyone that's playing dark and light has low expectations, or else they wouldn't be playing it.


Novice Member

Joined: 12/30/03
Posts: 101

7/21/06 7:38:41 AM#18
IMHO the problem with DnL was that the Devs spent three years designing the terrain and then panicked.  I played the Beta and had a great deal of fun but it was a shallow experience in a beautiful landscape.  That, amongst other things, didn't fill me with confidence in the final product.  I decided not to play the final product.

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
-- The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost


Novice Member

Joined: 4/19/06
Posts: 70

7/21/06 10:47:11 AM#19

Originally posted by Lumster

EA does what it does because the mainstream wants dumbed down games with no innovations (or how do you explain that people keep buying those games?) *cough* need for speed *cough*

IMHO, That is not what they want at all.  Don't underestimate your fellow gamers.  Don't you think everyone is looking for that perfect game? People keep buying that crap because they are tired of the old crap, not because they think "Hey...this looks dumbed down and uninnovative.  I gotta get me some of that!"  No, they think " game!  Bout time something (anything) came out."

You buy enough games, one or two of them is bound to be good.  Don't blame the players because the games suck.  You only have soo many to chose from.


Novice Member

Joined: 4/19/06
Posts: 244

7/21/06 6:54:14 PM#20

You do realize that there are demos, previews, reviews? But that would take time and requires common sense. Ahhh, wth moms gonna pay for it anyway so let's buy it!
It's your own fault if you keep buying cr...bad games. And if you keep buying bad games devs will continue developing bad games. It's easy money for them "never change a running system", you have to force the mainstream and $$$ devs to make good games. Of course there are exceptions, every industrie has it's own share of bad apples.

2000 People are satisfied with a 150hp throttled Porsche, now you could have 350hp for the same money. All those people have to do is complain and raise their voices.

You got 2 choices:

-you fight for what you want
-you just take what's coming along

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