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Jon Wood: Grinds My Gears: An Unfinished State of Being

Column By Jon Wood on April 15, 2011

Okay, here’s the thing. I’m one of the biggest advocates that you’re likely to find of the idea that an MMORPG is a living, breathing thing and that they’re never really supposed to be “finished”. They’re added to on a near constant basis. It’s one of the charms of  the genre, actually, and a justification for the monthly fees that we pay.

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So, why is this in my “grinds my gears” column if it’s one of my favorite features? Because, in some cases, it’s being done almost, excuse my language here, half-assed. I mean seriously. If you’re going to make a game and charge a monthly fee for it on the pretext that that’s how we’re paying (at least in part) for our new content and fixes.

A lot of this is going to seem like it’s pointing directly at Sony Online Entertainment, but it’s not, at least not entirely.

So, rather than bore you with long descriptions and tirades, I’m just going to write a short list of some of the different issues that I’ve judged to be pretty severe problems in the past:

First of all, and I can’t be too emphatic about this: Don’t use later updates as an excuse to launch a game that just simply isn’t ready for prime time. You can promise all of the updates and fixes in the universe, but if your game is crap out of the gate then don’t expect people to stick around long enough to pay for you to finish it. I honestly don’t see how, from a business perspective, this makes any sense at all. I had hoped that publishers had learned their lessons from the car wreck that was the 2009 - 2010 launch year. I’m looking directly at you big publishers. MMORPGs are not single player games, stop treating them like they are.

Second: Seasonal content should be a fun little addition to your game, at best a sideshow to the game’s content. If you’re genuinely using your seasonal content as a patch over a lack of content in your game, stop wasting time on Goblin Santas and spend your time making real, honest to God, content.

Third: While new fancy features and wingdings are great, after all everyone loves a new shiny, fix the game you have before you make it bigger. I mean, sweet mamma jamma, shouldn’t this be just common sense? Yet still we see it time after time, update after update.

Seriously, what contractor in his right mind would lay a cracked foundation and just keep building the house on top of it? I’m not saying that you have to have every single bug squashed before releasing new features and content, that would be impossible. What I’m saying is that if your game has bugs in it that are genuinely hampering a large number of community members’ ability to enjoy your game... fix those first!

Fourth: Test your updates, thoroughly. That is all.

Finally: Actually do it. Don’t talk about releasing updates, release updates. Give us a realistic timeline and an idea of what’s coming, and then do that. “It’s done when it’s done” is a cute thing to say when you haven’t launched. It becomes way less cute when we’re paying you for updates that never come.

If all of that seemed harsh, that’s fine, but it seems to be that lately game companies have been a little bit too ready to charge us $14.99 a month and then fail to deliver on the things that we need the most. Just because your company made or published an MMO, doesn’t mean that game is worth $14.99 on top of a box price. It’s up to you to justify that price with a solid game and regular, well made updates.

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