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Why Some MMOs Suck

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The 99% Rule

So, Studio X's design is awesome. The game features intertwine synergistically in a really elegant way. The schedule is broken down into about 500 discrete features, of which 50 or so are brand-new never-before-seen game elements. Everyone is really excited. Maybe we'll be a WoW killer!

Production begins. Everyone tries super hard, but the schedule is really aggressive. Corners get minisculely cut, or maybe the engineer only understood 99% of the nuances of the feature's design; or maybe the designer only clearly stated 99% of the awesomeness in his design. As a result, each features gets 99% completed and is 99% as awesome as it should have been. 99% is really high, right? Nope, the game will suck. "Already?" I hear you ask. Yup, pretty much.

99% is really good score on an exam. However, an MMO is comprised of lots and lots of features that all work together to create an overall experience. If every facet of the game is only 99% awesome, the awesomeness compounds (like interest) when you try to calculate how awesome the game is overall. I'm not a mathematician, but I'm guessing that 99% awesome on each feature compounds down to about 60% awesome overall. And who wants to play a 60% game?

Now, in reality, not every feature gets completed to 99% awesome. Many are diligently finished to 100% awesome. The point being made is that, due to the synergistic nature of how an MMO gets put together, cutting corners during development, no matter how small, has a massive ripple effect that can damage the play experience overall.

The unfortunate thing is that those 1% awesome shortcuts are often the small glorious bits, the things that would have absolutely made the game shine.

Design vs Vision

Different studios are organized in different ways with different org charts. The words we use to describe people's job titles differ depending on who you ask. For example, a Lead Designer at Sony is most like a Senior Producer at EA.

Each job title has its own job description. Hopefully, each job's description is very clearly outlined and defined. However, studios are often comprised of people who have worked at multiple other studios and have had multiple different job titles and who have different expectations about what each job title "means". This can become very confusing when trying to figure out who's in charge of the gameplay experience.

It's important to know who's in charge of the vision.

There are two nebulous qualities that senior people at MMO studios need to manage: Design and Vision. It should be easy to distinguish between these two things, right? It should also be easy to know who's in charge of Design and who's in charge of Vision, right? Clearly, designers should be in charge of Design. And producers should be in charge of Vision. However, the example at the beginning of this section shows how this can get confusing.

One of the absolute sure-fire ways of ensuring that your game will suck is if your designers think they are producers OR if your producers think they are designers. The latter is the more dangerous by far. It doesn't matter how your studio divvies up these two jobs responsibilities - if the distinction is not clear, your game will suck.

Now no studio is perfect. From my experience, suckiness can be introduced into a game through any of the three mechanisms mentioned above (and many others). However, the important thing to note from this article is that suckiness CAN be no-one's fault.

I'm not saying that it is never someone's fault, just that it can be no-one's fault. There's a huge difference between whose fault it is, and who is responsible for the suckiness. But that's a subject for another day.

So the next time you feel like giving developers shit on a forum because you think a game sucks, take a deep breath, count to ten, and realize that it might not be their fault.

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