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The List: Five Recent MMO Blunders

Developers screw up. Jon Wood counts down five of his favorite blunders in recent MMO history in this week's edition of "The List."

Making an MMORPG is a tough gig. No matter what your opinion is of the current state of MMORPG development or the approach taken by developers, it is very hard to make the argument that being a game developer is an easy way to make a living.

During what is generally the stressful and complicated process of developing and maintaining an MMORPG, certain mistakes are made. Most of those mistakes are minor, and generally escape the notice of most everyone following the industry, but some of them stand out like a sore thumb and end up getting highlighted in some journalist’s top five list.

This list isn’t meant to be a malicious dig at any of the developers involved, but rather it is meant to poke a little fun at the industry in general. This list represents my personal five most memorable blunders from recent years, but I’m sure it’s just the tip of the iceberg. So enjoy my list, then list off some of your own on the forums!

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#5 Star Trek Online – Miscommunication

To tell everyone this story, I invite you all to gather up your impossibly powerful and scientifically improbable red matter and follow me back into the past, to a time when the Star Trek IP rested in the hands of an upstart company called Perpetual Entertainment.

This particular blunder is one of my favorites, probably because it happened during an interview that I conducted back at the Austin Game Developer’s Conference in 2007. Honestly, I feel a little bit bad about it to this day because what I honestly believe was a simple miscommunication actually followed the game until it eventually changed hands, snatched up by Cryptic and began to take on the form that we’re more familiar with today.

The controversy arose when, during the interview, then Producer Daron Stinnett said the following: "We're not building a Trekkers game, we're making a world class MMO."

This single sentence seemed to set people on fire, supposing that Perpetual was wasting the unique and much sought-after IP by looking too much toward the MMO audience and turning away from the famously passionate fans of the franchise. MMO fans wanting something new took this to mean that STO would be, by design, “just WoW in space.”

The thing is, none of this is what Stinnett said. The truth is that this was one of those situations where the first half of the quote got all of the play and the second half, the half that explained the situation where Stinnett said: "We're taking the world of Star Trek," he said, "and adapting it to make a killer MMO."

The intended message was that the game was being designed to appeal to both MMO players and Star Trek fans, not taking either for granted.

I suppose in the end, since it was my article that caused the confusion that this could be considered my personal blunder. If I had it to do over again, I’d probably have presented the meaning of the statement rather than leaving it at the direct quote.

#4 - Star Wars: The Old Republic - John Riccitiello Spills the Beans

I know I’ve talked about this incident in the past, but it really is one of my favorite MMO stories in terms of the general silliness of the whole situation, the way it was reacted to both by fans and by the company in question and how it proves that really anyone can make a mistake and say the wrong thing.

Remember though, many Bothans died to bring us this information, so take it to heart. RIP Emanuel “Many” Bothans, you were a gentleman and a scholar.

What seems like a long time ago in a galaxy far away, Edmonton based video game developer Bioware announced that they were opening a new studio in Austin, Texas and putting their hat into the MMORPG ring. Almost as soon as the press release was published, fans began to speculate about the IP that the game would be based on. A lot of thought centered around the company’s successful titles like Mass Effect and Neverwinter Nights, but the central focus and leading theory was that Bioware was secretly working on an MMO based on their popular Knights of the Old Republic game. The problem was, no one was talking.

As time went on, the fact that Bioware was making a Star Wars MMO became the worst kept secret in the industry. Everyone knew: rival developers, fans, journalists, but amazingly no one would confirm the rumor, so we all kept singing the merry tune of Bioware’s unannounced MMO whilst rolling our eyes and humming the Empire theme. Then, E3 in July of 2008 rolled around and EA CEO John Riccitiello literally announced the damned thing in an interview with Portfolio.com. That really should have been it. It was a mistake, for sure. The PR and marketing departments that had been keeping that baby under wraps must have wept like small children when the big ol’boss blew their secret. So, what’s the best way to deal with the situation? Make the best of it, admit the game exists and start working with fans and the media on that premise? Naw? Why not instead stick your fingers in your ears, rock back and forth in the fetal position repeating, “…he didn’t just say that, he didn’t just say that,” over and over again. Which of these two scenarios seemed more realistic? The former. Which actually happened? The latter, of course.

Really, it’s hilarious proof positive that a strong marketing plan can’t be shaken by pesky hiccups like facts. Instead of forging ahead from that point, we were treated to an official announcement no less than three months later, on October 21st. Really, it’s like a construction team putting up a building in front of everyone, for ages, and then after it’s been standing completed for months someone comes along and covers it with a sheet and a bow for a “grand reveal.” You’re not fooling anyone. We know what’s under the stupid sheet, but you know we’re all going to stand around, ooh and ahh and clap our hands cause we’re predictable that way.

Anyway, in the grand scope, Riccitiello’s slip was pretty harmless. We still clamored all over each other for the “official” confirmation and we’re still all waiting with baited breath for the next morsel of information to trickle out about the game’s design. All hail the mighty marketing machine, I suppose.

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