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The List: Top Developer Mistakes

Columns By William Murphy on February 08, 2011

Top Developer Mistakes

I think we’re going to have some fun in the next two Lists.  I’ve seen a lot of talk among us about how games don’t do this right, or don’t do this enough.  I’ve seen a lot of chatter surrounding what players should or shouldn’t expect (heck, I’ve led some of those discussions).  So in the spirit of growth for the MMORPG industry, let’s go over the top mistakes that both fields make when it comes to making and buying into a new release.  Players have to put a leash on their own expectations, but this week let’s tell the developers what they should avoid doing when making their next big release.  Every studio wants their title to be a success.  Like all works of art and hard work, video game developers want nothing more than to please their fans (and to roll in the cash that comes from doing so).  But there are some lessons I think the studios would do well to learn, and here’s a list of just a few to get them started in their coursework.  Feel free to plug your own in the comments.  You never know who might actually be reading…

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5.) Not Having a Strong Hook

It could be as simple as an engaging tutorial or as complex as showing how you’re different from the other guys.  But one thing every game needs in the era of also-rans is to show the player just what makes your game special from all the rest.  What’s going to make someone play your title instead of all the rest?  I’m pulling these numbers out of my butt, but developers probably have around fifteen minutes to capture the attention of their audience.  Just because your game needs hundreds of hours to be fully experienced does not mean the time to hook us should scale up with the time to “end-game”.  Show us why we should care about your game early.  And then what’s harder, and probably for another List, is keeping us hooked without making us feel like lab rats.  But hey, if that cheese doesn’t look and smell delicious, we’re not going to care about pressing the buttons for it.

4.) Not Having Official Forums

Granted this hasn’t happened often.  But I know enough people in community management to know that it’s often one of the things on the chopping block from higher ups… thankfully before the community management team talks some sense into them.  Remember how Warhammer Online launched without official forums?  How easy was it for the development and community teams to interact with their players during those rough first months?  The simple truth is that there’s no substitute for having official forums where players can keep an open discussion about pertinent game issues.  Sure enough, often times the discussion is pointless and even juvenile, but forums create a real sense of out-of-game community that can’t be replaced.  On top of it all, it’s the best and most efficient way, even in the age of Twitter and Facebook, to talk to your players.

3.) Not Having a Malleable UI

One of the chief complaints of MMORPG gamers, at least on the PC front, is when a game’s user interface is so rigid in its presentation that there’s simply nothing the player can do to make it fit their style.  It’s a problem that’s only going to worsen as more games attempt cross-platform functionality and reach onto consoles.  But just because your game is aiming for playability on a PS3 or Xbox 360 does not excuse it from having the perks us PC users are accustomed to.  Even if you’re not going to let us modify it at the core, at least let us change the layout to suit our tastes.  We’re PC gamers mostly.  We like choice.  Give it to us, if you please.

2.) Launching too Early

I know that it’s simply not an option most times.  Game development costs money, and money comes from investors and eventually said investors want to see ROIs from all that spending.  But the simple fact of the matter is that your game will always be better served with delays.  Players respect the time it takes to make something great, and the truth is that the investors will be much happier in the long run with a polished product selling more copies too.  Somehow, some way, you have to make the money-shovelers understand that much.  Because we’ll all gladly wait for a great game, and we’ll stay around longer than we would with just something that has “potential”. 

1.) Thinking Your Game Can Make the Same Mistakes

This is kind of an amalgamation of all previous items, but it’s important enough that I think it needs its own spot.  I will likely never fully grasp the sheer magnitude of details that must come together to form a cohesive and competent piece of software.  I don’t work in that field, and I’m not sure I’d want to.  But what I do know is that all too often we see studios making the same mistakes that their forefathers have made.  They launch without proper support.  They launch without enough content.  They launch without a complete game.  And you know what?  I get that money needs to be made and eventually the well dries up.  I also get that as a player I help perpetuate this problem by buying games that suffer from this conundrum.  But for the love of all that is holy, because we all want to see this industry thrive beyond the shadow of one mega-success, try to not fall victim to the faults listed above.  If you know that the aforementioned problems are potential problems, or parts of your Risk Management plan from the start, then why do we see the same mistakes happening year after year?  We want these games to succeed as much as you, so please stop making us suffer the same headaches.

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, and lover of all things gaming. He''s been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all of his pointless rambling.