MMORPG Panel From Pax East

By Jim Rossignol on April 6th, 2010 at 11:39 am.


MMORPG.com have the full hour of the MMO panel from PAX East up over here. There’s some interesting stuff in there, but the first question kind of wrong-foots the whole thing and makes the panel seem out of touch: “Why are there no sports MMOs?” asks one of the audience. The panel come up with a few reasons, and says that stuff will happen “in the future”, but the truth is there are already some sports MMOs: Empire Of Sports, Football Superstars, Freestyle Street Basketball, Project Powder, then there’s the inevitable browser-based stuff like Football Manager Online, or the American Football management MMO, Goal Line Blitz.

I can’t really blame the panel for not knowing about this stuff because I think it’s illustrative of how wide the MMO space is now. That the traditional subs-based fantasy-MMO teams aren’t in touch with the rest of the material out there just goes to show that there’s more information whirling around the “MMO” now than anyone is able to process. Hell, most MMO developers have never played Eve (of the ones I have met, anyway.)

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47 Comments »

  1. Bobsy says:

    most MMO developers have never played Eve.

    Words cannot express how furious this makes me.

    • Dawngreeter says:

      There should be a law against this sort of abhorrence. Half a year of EVE is a requirement before you’re allowed to think you have an idea about how an MMO is supposed to work.

    • mandrill says:

      ^ This

      It should be a qualification. CCP should hand out certificates to people who play for 6 months or more (possibly graded on the length of time, 1 for 6 months another for a year etc.) which other MMO makers should require their designers to produce when they apply for jobs. Or if they haven’t got one, pay for an account for them and give them a couple of days out of their week to play it.

      You cannot claim to be an MMO designer without studying the medium and seeing what is possible beyone the WoW clone. No wonder there is so little in the way of innovation in the feild.

      It sickens me that the people working in MMOs have no idea of the potential of their medium beyond grindy fantasy games.

    • Vitamin Powered says:

      @mandrill

      I’d go further and ban WoW players from game design, personally. I suppose if we’re feeling generous we could add a detox period of a year or two, after which you can be considered clean again.

    • bob_d says:

      Confession: I’ve worked as a designer on MMOs, and I’ve never played Eve. Let me further raise your ire: I’ve worked on a WoW-like fantasy MMO.

      In my defense let me start by saying that the game designers on that project didn’t decide to make a fantasy MMO redolent of WoW, that was a fait accompli made by the company funders The decision about the fundamental direction of the game is usually made by executives who are not game designers. Lots of the money people saw dollar signs when they saw how much revenue WoW was generating, and foolishly thought they could make “WoW-killers.” This is impossible and all the designers I’m acquainted with know this; anyone trying to do so is doomed to failure (both creative and commercial). So as designers, our job was to try to make the game as non-WoW-like as possible within our limited ability to steer the project; ultimately the game was canceled (perhaps by someone with a clue) so we never had to see it fail, which it probably would have.

      As for why I’ve never played Eve? I haven’t even remotely had the time. Playing a single MMO means you don’t play anything else for however many months are required to get up to the end-game. The average time spent with an MMO is 20 hours a week; if you want to seriously play, you have to keep up with your peers and put in at least that much time. I had co-workers who had played Eve, and one who even persisted. The first thing they told me was that I needed a block of a certain number of hours just to get through the tutorial; I realized I didn’t even have enough free hours in a row to *start* playing the game, much less keep up with it. (I was working 12+ hour days at the time.) I did take the time to read about Eve, watch it being played, and talk to my co-worker who enjoyed the game, in order to understand the dynamics as best I could without having actually played it. This is a strategy I have to adopt to learn about most of the games that are directly relevant to my job; I just don’t have the time to play very many first-hand. I’m aware that many game designers don’t even do that.

      Now I’m between jobs, so I actually have the time to think about playing Eve… but MMO development jobs are disappearing, and all the money is going into casual web games. I guess I should probably spend the time learning “Flash” instead… oh, well.

    • TeeJay says:

      So now those $$$-eyed execs are going to piss millions away trying to make “Farmville-killers”?

    • bob_d says:

      @TeeJay:
      “So now those $$$-eyed execs are going to piss millions away trying to make “Farmville-killers”?”

      Sadly, yes. They will be slightly more successful, however, as for the price of one “WoW-killer” you can make a thousand “Farmville-killers,” and at least one of those is bound to make a profit, unlike the WoW-clones.

    • Wulf says:

      It’s a bit elitist to consider EvE as the be-all-and-end-all of MMOs, isn’t it? There are other ways of making an MMO which have nothing to do with EvE. PlanetSide, for one.

      There are plenty of examples of good MMOs out there, just as there are plenty of examples of bad ones, and I very much doubt that there is one, single definitive MMO for either category.

    • Bobsy says:

      @Wulf:

      That’s not the point. Eve is not the example of a “perfect” MMO. In fact, it’s arguable that it’s even a very good MMO. The reason all devs everywhere need to experience Eve is because it takes a different direction to the standard model, and succeeds.

      a) Single server
      b) Persistant player-held territory and construction
      c) large scale PvP conflicts
      d) player-led manufacturing and trade
      e) sustainable economy without large, blatent money sinks

    • Arathain says:

      I don’t think anyone is saying EVE is the only worthy thing in MMOs, or if they are they’re wrong (so there!). It is, however, the most conspicuously different approach to the whole MMO thing, that really works well. Just as WoW is an excellent, polished, great game with a lot of neat ideas that we can all learn from, so is EVE. They are both the pinnacles of their respective approaches.

  2. Freudian Trip says:

    It’s a shame how many of these panels have been released for once only to find that the sound quality is worse than RPS Electronic Wireless Show Episode 1.

    Does this suffer a similar feat.

  3. GT3000 says:

    EVE is pretty damn gnarly, I cannot blame them. I stop playing when I pulled up Excel.

    • jalf says:

      Gnarly or no, it still ought to be part of your homework if you’re even thinking of making a MMO. The least you can do is check out what earlier games have done, and Eve stands for quite a lot of interesting and unique features.

  4. Andreas says:

    It’s kind of shocking isn’t it? Considering it’s one of the few MMOs which has had long term success and that offers something vaguely different

  5. Uhm says:

    EveVille, more like. Ho ho ho.

    /lazy troll

  6. MadMatty says:

    bunch of dinosaurs

  7. Andy says:

    It’s fairly criminal that the guys who are supposed to be carving the space for the MMO genre don’t have the kind of market knowledge to know there are a bunch of sports MMOs out there.
    I find myself rather hoping that it was because they were put on the spot and when they finished they face-palmed after remembering some.

    • Wulf says:

      Yeah, that I’m rather surprised at. I didn’t like the idea of painting EvE as the be-all-and-end-all because there are plenty of other examples of MMOs doing things very differently and enjoying some success. Sport MMOs is just one of those examples, and I’ve played a couple that were actually quite good.

  8. Okami says:

    It’s a common misconception that game developers actually play games themselves – especially when it comes to more “experienced” designers. There are lead designers of fantasy rpgs that haven’t played a single rpg since Baldur’s Gate 2. There are designers working on rts titles that haven’t played any rts since the late 90s or early naughties.

    And while it’s easy to scoff at such people (and often frustrating to work with them), there is quite a good reason for this: It takes a whole lot of time to play many games. And not all game developers are Uber-nerds who live and breathe games 24/7. If you spend eight to ten hours every day sitting in front of a computer and working on a video game, you somtimes don’t want to play games for another two to four hours in the evening.

    MMO developers have it even worse than “normal” developers in this regard, since they require such a huge investment of time. If you’re playing to analyze a normal title, look at it’s mechanics and understand what it does right and wrong, a few evenings are usually more than enough. But to analyze an MMO, you have to invest a whole lot of time into it.

    Of course it’s still very embarassing for those guys that they couldn’t even name a single sports type MMO…

    • Dawngreeter says:

      I think it is very unfortunate if game developers think they are too cool to spend a lot of time on games, which they develop. Perhaps they might want to pursue a different career path that wouldn’t deal so much with stuff that is below their level of coolness. It reeks of forum administrators who claim forum arguing is below them.

      Can one imagine a writer who does not read? A painter who does not frequent galleries? A lawyer who doesn’t keep track of legal publications? Why, then, is it ok to develop games without playing?

    • bob_d says:

      Working eight to ten hours a day? In the American game industry 10 to 20 hour work days (yes, seriously) is what I’m familiar with (and often working at least one day on weekends as well). You can’t blame people for not doing *anything* after days like that, much less investing the huge amount of time required to seriously play just a single MMO.

    • Taillefer says:

      Well, you could blame them for putting up with those conditions. But nothing’s ever that simple, I know. How did the industry reach that state? Has there been much written about it?

    • bob_d says:

      @ Taillefer:
      That’s the industry, I’m afraid. It’s been that way from the beginning. It’s widely understood that this is the case, although few people in the industry talk very much about it; often it’s neglected spouses who bring it to public attention. The EA lawsuit initiated some discussion, but there were plenty of other companies (*Blizzard North*) egregiously violating labor law without scrutiny, and still are (*Rockstar San Diego*).
      There are a variety of reasons for it. The “start-up” culture has always been a part of games. The idea being that you work long hours for a short period of time while the company is new, and then reap the rewards later. Even after companies are established, and no longer consist of a handful of people, they still adhere to this model, and in start-up studios employees still like to think they’ll be rewarded for their hard work, even if it’s more likely they’ll be laid off when the project is over.

      The industry has cultivated an attitude of “working here is so awesome, you should pay *us* to be an employee.” Even after being around for decades, the industry is still full of young people, because they’re the ones who are excited to devote their entire lives to making games. People frequently burn out and leave the industry, rather than stick around and fight for change (given the sorry results of the few “successful” fights, I can’t blame them). The young people who replace them have no reason to desire any changes…yet.
      The industry has a tradition of bad management. This means projects aren’t planned out properly, and suddenly there’s a need for excessive “crunch time” before a milestone can be reached. Crunch time is especially bad around the time of final release (in *really* badly managed companies, this could mean a year of crunching). If you work on MMOs, with continuously updated content, you have very short production cycles and frequent deadlines, the problem is magnified, with a risk of continuous overtime. Bad management also means things are volatile; everyone works long hours to keep projects (and companies) afloat when management screws up.
      Ten years ago I believe the majority of games didn’t turn a profit. Game costs have exploded since then; it’s now even harder to turn a profit, and the money being risked is orders of magnitude greater. Many jobs are being outsourced; workers know that if they aren’t productive, their job could easily be done somewhere where 16+ hour work-days are mandatory and salaries are a quarter of what they’re making.

      There’s some recognition that things need to change, and a few lawsuits that forced compliance with labor laws. EA got in trouble for requiring employees to work hideous overtime, and restructured as a result. It now hires contract workers for what used to be salaried positions; I hear they no longer *require* working six days a week, they *suggest* you might not have your contract renewed if you don’t work six days a week. Sadly, this is progress.

  9. Arathain says:

    I seem to recall more than one interview with MMO developers who expressed they hadn’t played very many MMOs. I think it’s quite typical. While I understand and accept Okami’s explanation above, it is downright tragic. EVE is the obvious example (best economy, best use of social mechanics as the prime mechanism for driving the game experience. Most of the non-WoW clones have solved problems and added great ideas to aid the issues that still plague the clones.

    City of Heroes, for example, was released 7 months or so before WoW, and the industry has still largely ignored its lessons in customisation (not just of appearance, but of overall player experience) and in team dynamics. The holy trinity of MMO teams, Tank/Healer/Damage, is, to an experienced CoH player, a risible, antiquated concept. Teams can be formed or joined depending on what you feel like at the time, with whoever happens to be around and willing, and the team will usually gel just fine and the content will adapt itself to your team.

    Side note: I happen to know Walker’s ‘bad healer’ character was a Dark Miasma/Dark Blast Defender. Healing is so much the least of what that build can do. If he was using the other powers in the set, and you were dying, I think the fault might lie somewhere else… say with a Blaster with an overactive trigger finger?

  10. Kouvero says:

    On the browser-based side, you should definitely check out Hattrick.

  11. DEnright says:

    “I’d go further and ban WoW players from game design, personally. I suppose if we’re feeling generous we could add a detox period of a year or two, after which you can be considered clean again.”

    I fully condone this proposition.

  12. Dolphan says:

    @DawnGreeter

    Did you actually read the post you replied to? It’s about time, not ‘coolness’. It’s not that designers consider themselves above anyone. It’s just that playing any great number of games, or pretty much any MMO, would require dedicating their entire life to games (remember, many people in games are still expected to work considerably more than 9-5 a lot of the time, and it would be a big ask even at the 40 hours a week point) unless their company is enlightened enough to devote some work time early in a project to research. Prodigies aside, by the time you get up through the ranks to be a senior/lead designer on a big project like an MMO, you’re likely to be in your 30s, and many will have families. It’s just not realistic to expect the majority of them to play games a great deal of the time.

    • Dawngreeter says:

      Perhaps they shouldn’t develop games if they have no time for games, then. I am quite aware that someone might not have the time needed to play games. I am also quite aware that it is unacceptable for my lawyer to tell me in the middle of the hearing that he isn’t really familiar with what’s been going on in the legal world in the past decade because he has a family and he’s in his 30s and reading hundreds upon hundreds of pages of legalese isn’t really working out for him.

      Not to mention that I know people in their 30s, with family, working on average more than 8 hours a day and occasionally on weekends, who still play their MMO of choice, some other single player games which catch their interests and stop by my place on Fridays for a 5 hour game session of whatever tabletop RPG has our collective interest at the time (Geist: the Sin-Eaters most recently, though this week we’ll be doing a one-shot with the new Warhammer 3rd Ed).

      I’m not saying it’s inconceivable someone else can’t manage this. I’m saying they shouldn’t be in the busyness if such is the case.

    • Dolphan says:

      Are you, in that case, happy to pay a hell of a lot more for your games in order to increase the salary of the designers? There are certainly lawyers who spend practically all their time immersed in law (though it’s by no means all lawyers – your everyday solicitor has to do a hell of a lot less to keep up than a top barrister, though it’s still a relatively time-consuming profession). Their salaries reflect that (the aforementioned top barrister will, unless he’s doing a great deal of pro bono stuff, most likely take home a staggering amount).

      The friends you describe must surely spend almost all their free time gaming (which is a wholly different proposition when your day job is not all about games), and unless they either have spouses who take up a lot of the slack, or play their MMO at least in a very casual fashion, I can’t imagine how they fit in all that gaming with the responsibilities of life.

    • bob_d says:

      @Dawngreeter:
      There are plenty of people in the industry who would slap you for saying that… if they had the energy left. If you want to have time to play games… you can’t work making games. I know people in the industry who don’t have time to *sleep* much less do anything else. I talked to one such person a couple months ago: “How much sleep have you had?” I asked. They responded, “Six hours… this week.” It was a typical week. I have a friend I didn’t see for over a year while he was in “crunch mode”; I didn’t feel neglected, I knew his wife hadn’t seen him either. He was working seven days a week, and putting in so many hours he couldn’t even manage to get home but every other day. Every married person in that office ended up divorced by the end of that project. Lawyers get paid to keep up with what’s current; game developers don’t, and often they’re expected to work so many hours it’s impossible to have any free time to devote to it. It’s an industry wide problem that is just only being addressed; blaming individuals is perverse when they can’t control their schedules.

  13. Mark says:

    Okami is dead right here. People always seem under the impression that game developers are all uber gamers that live and breathe games, know everything about them and keep up to date. Some people I work with haven’t played games themselves for fun for the best part of a decade. This is more prevalent among programmer than artists. Funnily enough almost all the QA guys seem to be gaming nutters though (you’d need to be to want to do it I think).

    The real peril is when your designers stop playing and keeping up to date with games, some people have no idea how fast modern gaming is changing and diversifying, especially the effect persistent elements and prevalent online multiplayer are having. A lot of poor games that come out are partly due to developers not keeping up to date with gaming and their genre, they keep producing the same stuff and sticking to the same tried and tested designs. They have a lack of vision and a poor idea of the context and environment in which their game will be judged. The other side of the coin is people become too outward looking and rabidly copy other successful titles i.e. WoW (but who can blame them?).

    I think some people would be surprised how little some devs know or care about games, but they’d also be surprised how truly difficult and complex it is to actually create and ship one of the bloody things too :P

  14. Kieron Gillen says:

    Manface/Furniture Merchant/Mr. Reality/Whatever you’re calling yourself today: Posting as someone else when you aren’t them isn’t acceptable, even when the someone in the public sphere.

    KG

  15. disperse says:

    OK, Curt Schilling, great pitcher in his prime. Not an expert on game design.

  16. trias says:

    Perhaps this is really oversimplifying. But oversimplification is fun!

    Everquest :: WoW

    Eve Online :: Game you should be making right now if you like money

    Eve and Everquest are both punishing, noob-unfriendly affairs. Blizzard took the crack-like leveling elements of EQ and streamlined them. Someone needs to take the social politics and player created content of Eve and streamline it in an equivalent fashion. The fact that Eve has 300k subs considering how absolutely unfriendly it is really reminds me of EQ’s success as a similarly unfriendly game. There is an underlying compelling structure behind the brutal difficulty that, if harnessed correctly, would result in a license to print money hats.

  17. Andre in Chi says:

    Dawngreeter,

    In the legal world I’m familiar with, the amount of time spent in hearings is usually quite small vs the amount of time spent researching. I don’t think the average amount of time in court per week is anything like the amount of time it takes to fully invest in an MMO (again, at least not in my experience). There also tends to be a division of labor between who is trying cases and who is researching them (there is, of course, communication between these parties). That’s not to say that somebody on these development teams shouldn’t be charged with logging some serious hours in their MMOs, just saying that the designer :: attorney comparison isn’t necessarily the best.

    I would venture a guess that the people you know who put in long hours at work + family, who then play MMOs do so as somewhat of a retreat from their “normal” lives. If your day is spent working on MMOs, sitting down and playing one at night might not be quite as relaxing.

  18. Dawngreeter says:

    But I’m not blaming individuals. I am merely stating what one would think is fairly obvious – being competent in your field of work should be a prerequisite for being a developer. Now, My initial response had to do a bit with “coolness” which was an exaggeration of what I perceived to be the general sentiment behind the “devs don’t play games” position. Which it apparently wasn’t, though I still hold that it was phrased in such a manner.

    Never mind all that. If the profession is creating people who, in order to work in the profession must become incompetent at their profession, I have no idea what to say. I’m a programmer, I know how crunch time works. Everyone who decides to fiddle with code for a living knows that every now and again comes the time when sleep is but a distant memory and you have trouble grasping what all those space aliens are talking about when they invoke “weekend”. But I recall quite a huge ruckus raised some years back when it was made known that EA has their developers in permanent crunch. To the best of my knowledge, EA has since become a fair player. If these conditions still persist elsewhere, and indeed do so in the civilized world which does not condone sweatshops, I suggest something should be done about it. Call it a revolution, it need not be personally aimed at developers themselves.

    But having all that as an excuse does not in any way diminish my point – developers who do not game have no busyness developing games.

    • Dawngreeter says:

      Damn this comments system, that should’ve been a reply to bob_d above.

  19. Greg says:

    I think you’re being slightly unfair here. “Why are there no sports MMOs” doesn’t refer to action-pointy KoL-type browser games like Project Powder; it refers to the specific dream of playing an 11v11 football match online in a proper guild, everyone as one player, with proper communication and proper positioning, everyone doing their bit. Or a basketball match, or a rugby match, or whatever. It just doesn’t exist yet on PC, and although FIFA and NBA2k10 on console are steps in that directions, it’s very poorly supported on XBox. Freestyle Street is close, but it’s only 3-on-3, pretty shonky and cheat-filled and there’s no real persistance to the world. “Why are there no half-decent sports MMOs?” is a very good question IMO.

  20. TooNu says:

    Haven’t played EvE ? So they are not doing their jobs correctly then. If you are to be successful in your chosen field you should be interested in all of it, not just parts of it or 75% of it. How can you honestly bring anything fresh and original to the table if you don’t know wtf is going on in the rest of it.

    If you work in MMO’s and have not played EvE online you owe it to your customers/target audience to get that shit sorted right away.

  21. MadTinkerer says:

    @ Dawngreeter (in case this doesn’t reply properly)

    In some cases, it’s not just the crunch time that’s the problem. Let’s say you start at a studio as a games tester. A profession which pretty much forces you to play games until you are sick of them. Now if you do move up and get a job in development, unless you take some time out from exposure to games, your ability to enjoy them has already been screwed up.

    As a comparison, let’s say you start at a Hershey’s (or Cadbury’s or whatever the local equivalent is) as a taste-tester and move up to chocolatier (although it probably doesn’t work that way in that industry). Then one of your family gives you chocolates for Valentine’s. It’s just not the same anymore.

    Now if you don’t start as a full-time tester, and you somehow manage to avoid crunch, both of which are nigh-impossible unless you avoid all major studios, you might end up in a situation where you can still enjoy other people’s games. It still won’t be the same, because you should instead end up like one of the Valve guys*, but then hopefully it’ll be better because you can appreciate the games from a different angle. Like a magician who appreciates another magician’s particular take on a trick they already know how to do.

    *Multiple anecdotal evidence states that if you show certain Valve employees your source mod, they’ll dissect it as they play and tell you a gazillion ways to improve it that you never realized but are obvious in retrospect. Of course, they also constantly test their own game with outsiders to make sure they don’t miss anything.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      I meant “Now if you do move up and get a job in development, unless you take some time out from exposure to games, and good luck with that, your ability to enjoy them has already been screwed up.” in case it wasn’t clear.

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    If you work in MMO’s and have not played EvE online you owe it to your customers/target audience to get that shit sorted right away.

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  24. maxikosr says:

    when MMORPG meets PAX East, something special must happen.

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