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Panel: SOE's 'Product vs. Process'

General Articles By Carolyn Koh on September 16, 2006

Panel: SOE's 'Product vs. Process'
AGC Panel: Product vs. Process: Results Oriented Development

Two senior voices from SOE Austin talk about how people should develop games

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At the end of the day, we are all judged exclusively on the results of the products we develop, by the people who play them. The game shipped determines success in the market, so there is a need to ensure that processes give priority to the end product and provide focus on those results as early as possible in the cycle. Players do not care how the product was made. They care only that it is fun, stable, looks good and is complete.

In a presentation similar to the one given by Rob Pardo in his keynote, John Blakely and Todd Fiala shared their philosophy, their methods, mistakes and successes.

Blakely first spoke of product focus.

“Define your audience,” said Blakely. “What do they buy? See what they buy. Play those games.”

It was basic Product Development 101. Laid out in a template which could be applied to most of the content industry. Once you know your audience – your target market, then you can Define your Game. Define the Structure, Outline and Key Features.

Next comes Progress Evaluation. Set your Playable Milstones. In the game market today, you have to create playable trials as the consumer expects to “Try before they Buy” and in this Progress Evaluation, comes Feedback, Feedback, Feedback, ad infinitum.

It was this process that the two speakers concentrated mostly on, sharing anecdotes of how they moved to involving every team in playing the game as it was being developed and providing feedback for each other.

It is the experience of many years and games that they were sharing with the audience, and they spoke highly of the Agile Software Development process – based on the Agile Manifesto which states:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan
They also recommended Scrum Management – a theory of project management that goes well hand in hand with Agile Development. Indeed, they went back again and again to the processes that had served them so well, stopping to respond to attendee questions on where to find more information. Interestingly enough, the Scrum Management site has the URL controlchaos.com a fitting description perhaps.

Finally, they talked about when Development could be deemed Complete. This was when they turned to Player Feedback again (both in house as well as external beta players) and the “Complete” user experience.

An attendee dinged Blakely on the StarWars NGE, asking what they had learned from the experience. As SoE employees often react, he clasped his hands to his head. It exemplified, he said, the need to “be more sensitive to the Target Audience.” What was obvious to them was that they had gone awry somewhere, as subscriber numbers were falling rather quickly and a decision was made that they had to do something about it. Something which resulted ultimately, in the NGE.

We could have gone further into that, but there were more questions about the Agile Development and Scrum process. Blakely reiterated… “Players see what is delivered. Not what you intended.”


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Carolyn Koh / Carolyn has been writing for MMORPG.com since 2004 and about the MMO genre since 1999. These days she plays mobile RTS games more, but MMOs will always remain near and dear to her heart.