Editor's Note: This is an edition of a weekly column by Staff Writer Dan Fortier. The column is called "MMOWTF" and will look at some of the stranger or more frustrating events in MMOs as seen by Mr. Fotier. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.
It seems to me that MMO players spend a lot of time waiting for something cool to happen. You wait for your group; wait for a spawn; wait for a specific drop; wait for that item to finish being crafted...the list goes on and on. We seem to define our game experience by the amount of time it takes us to do something and it's not uncommon for a player to spend far more than half of his online time just waiting for the cool part of the game to start. This article, however, is going to spare you that tired rant and focus on another waiting game that is just as common: Waiting for a game you've been watching to be released. Join me on a little textual adventure this week as we quest for answers to the secrets behind the Waiting Game.
If you are masochistic enough to read MMO game forums, you probably know that there are tons of people who make a career of waiting for the 'next great game'. These same folks will either find some fault in the game design that is so inimical to their playing style that they will make a big emo 'OMG, I QUIT' thread or they will build the game up in their mind as flawless only to be disappointed when the game doesn't cure cancer or raise the dead. After this, they move on to another game in development to start all over again. Sometimes this process involves whole 'vapor-guilds' that have been around for years and have never even played a game together. Obviously we have all been part of this vicious cycle at some point, but the huge time frame needed to create MMOs seems to foster this kind of subculture like a Petri dish.
The process of designing a fully featured MMO from start to finish is a colossal undertaking and it's no surprise that fans, features and release dates come and go over the length of the game's development. It is also no shock that publishers and developers do their best to keep their game in the public eye as much as possible, since a positive hype going into release can go a long way toward creating a successful launch. No matter how great your game it will have a hard time drawing a fan base without having solid advertising and/or powerful word-of-mouth/grass roots support. This effort to create hype is a factor in the Waiting Game since it involves using the strategic release of information to fishhook players long before the game hits the shelves.
Release dates are often a double-edged sword when it comes to creating expectations for your game. Most players understand that all kinds of things happen during the course of development that can cause the push back of an announced release date, but constant delays can undermine your community's faith in your capability to finish the game in their lifetime. Before you know it, some smart ass article writer is calling your game vaporware in his weekly piece... Some players will adamantly defend the move to extend the development as a sign that 'they want to make a quality product' while others don't like being given false expectations. Unfortunately there are no hard and fast rules and many games that have had the 'courage' to push their release date back several times have released games that are absolute crap. (*cough DnL cough*) Other games that waited till the very end of the development to give a release date, like LotRO, ended up very polished products.
Just like anything that takes time, MMOs will always draw the same 'look but don't touch' crowd that you typically find at swap meets, auctions and strip clubs. While there is nothing to prevent gamers who are already play an MMO from actively following another title, it's often too much work to be an active member of multiple game communities while making time to actually enjoy the game you're paying for. Keeping up with the development of more than a few games can easily be a full time job...just ask our News Manager. While your parents' reaction to this would probably be to pinch their nose and shake their head, it's great that we have the luxury of debating the finer points of sitting on our hands.
I don't have anything particularly insightful or thought-provoking to add so I'm going to let this one stand on its own two shaky legs. In closing, I'd like to thank the fans, my manager and God for blessing me with all my uber leet skillz. Ironically you get to play the Waiting Game till next Friday when I'll drop another bomb. Sayonara!