One of the biggest complaints that we've heard recently surrounding the MMO genre is the idea that game companies care more about making money than they do about making a genuinely exceptional gaming product.
While there are certainly a number of different possible responses to this issue, we thought it might be more productive here at MMORPG.com to ask the developers themselves to answer the question of where the balance lies in MMO development. Today, we ask Fallen Earth Project Manager Colin Dwan.
This week's Developer Question is:
How do developers balance the company's need to make a profitable product versus their desire to create an interesting and innovative game?
Heh, that's a topic you could write many books on. The classic struggle is between utilizing standards (also called formulaic) or sticking to your creative concept (also called disconnected or difficult to understand). Even in a small company, there is a strong pull to make something "safe" or guaranteed to make money since there's so little margin. The danger comes in just making what is already on the market and not defining your own space. It's important to draw a distinction between your game's features and its foundation or setting.
Your players need to understand why they should appreciate your awesome weapon customization or free-flowing storyline. What really resonates on a deeper level with players? It's not the sci-fi setting, it's the combination of wonder and excitement and potential the future holds for humanity. It's not the scary spider dungeon, it's the awe-inspiring effort that the hundreds of years of dwarven society carved and created before succumbing to some unknown fate. What happened to these people that brought them so low? It's often important to study movies and books in a similar genre to understand why they resonate. There are common underlying emotions that can seem so simple but are often missed by focusing on the surface level or just what worked for the last big hit in that genre.
Of course the danger is to be so proud of your backstory that you ignore what is actually fun for the players to do in your environment. The challenge is keeping that theme or creative current in the background and weaving through all the features that make it in the game. By all means, study, modify or borrow good techniques out there, but with every feature implemented, every mission or storyline added, ask how it relates to that theme. When that happens, innovation seems to just fit better. Players will continue to come back to the game time after time because they get it. They feel that tug to experience something awesome, something terrifying, something exhilarating. That's why we love making and playing games. If we use that as a filter, everything else just works itself out.