Game conference panelists reveal their pet peeves to a packed house of peers, press, and players.
AUSTIN, TX--While many of the panels, presentations, and discussions taking place during the first day of the Austin Game Conference were dry, serious, straight-faced affairs, the afternoon "MMOG Rant" session was anything but.
With an array of outspoken developers representing many of the biggest companies in the industry, the panel was an opportunity to air out serious grievances with the massively multiplayer online gaming scene in a somewhat relaxed atmosphere. The meeting room where the rant session was held filled up early, with a standing-room crowd packed in and expecting fireworks to fly.
Obliging the attendees were NCsoft designer Scott Jennings, BioWare Austin costudio director Richard Vogel, Sony Online Entertainment studio technical director Lorin Jameson, and a pair of consultants with lengthy histories developing MMOG games: former Turbine Entertainment executive producer and creative director Jessica Mulligan and Ultra Mega Games founder Matt Firor, formerly of Mythic Entertainment. Firor was a last-minute replacement for EA Mythic general manger Mark Jacobs, who missed the conference with an illness. Each panelist was given five minutes to rant, with an audience question-and-answer session filling up the rest of the hour.
If there were any doubts about the willingness of the panelists to cut loose with their true feelings, Jennings put them to rest with the opening rant, discussing the topic of service after the sale. He noted that most developers treat continued service as an afterthought, odd for an industry built on subscriptions.
"Many of my examples will use World of Warcraft, because honestly, it's the game most of you are playing, and I have to marshal my limited energy for reminding clueless mass media reporters that other games actually exist."
While Jennings admitted that Blizzard had done a good job with providing enough in-game customer service representatives to serve World of Warcraft's massive player base, he was less then enthused with the company's patching policies. Seeing that World of Warcraft lead designer Rob Pardo was in the audience for the session, Jennings warned that he might want to flee the room before he got going. Pardo laughed and nodded, bravely holding his ground.
"WOW just had a patch a few weeks ago," Jennings noted. "As usual, their patch distribution completely failed. That may be because their patch distribution system is best described as 'Let's make something so frustrating people will just host the damn patches for us.' [laughter, hollers from the audience] It's unacceptable. It amazes me that WOW's peer-to-peer distribution has become accepted practice. Why are you people putting up with it? Part of our core business as an MMO provider is providing the damn MMO."
Jennings also emphasized the necessity of keeping servers up and running and respecting the customers. That means having community relations people set the proper tone when putting out fires on message boards, customer service reps that aren't just regurgitating form letter responses to player problems, and management that won't juice the customer base for every last dollar.
As an example of that last bit, Jennings brought up a new project by Dave Perry and Acclaim that will include in-game classified ads on the screen. They can be turned off, but players won't level up as quickly if they choose to play without them, a point that drew a chorus of boos from the assembled audience. He also suggested facetiously embracing a "wonderland of consumerism," with Coca-Cola-sponsored magic swords, Kobalds corpses that hold Skittles, and a Jet Blue dragon to fly players around.
"When you totally disrespect your consumers like that, I can assure you of one thing: Your project will fail," Jennings said. "And deservedly so."
Jennings ended his rant to a hearty round of applause, leaving Vogel with the task of following his act. Vogel's comments were noticeably less pointed, but no less passionate. His target: World of Warcraft, or more specifically, its many imitators.
"Why are so many companies risk averse," Vogel asked. "Why does everyone want to look at what WOW's doing, say 'Let's just slap on a user interface like WOW and make it look and run just like WOW'?"
Vogel reminisced about the Electronic Entertainment Expo, but not for the reasons one might expect.
"When I went on the E3 floor, I looked at all the new games and said, 'I know how to play that. I know how to play that, I know how to play that. It's just like WOW'...Looking out at E3 this year, there is nothing innovative coming out in the next three years, and that's pretty sad."
What Vogel said he'll miss about E3 are the out-of-the-way corners of Kentia Hall, where no-name foreign developers often showcased their off-the-wall creations.
"There are many, many good ideas out there. Look at Asia for an example. And it's a shame that we can't follow them."
Like Jennings before him, Vogel acknowledged Pardo, referring to one of the main points of the day's keynote address.
"I saw Rob Pardo's speech, and I looked at how many times I said that in five years," Vogel said. "There are so many pressures to releasing, but it's so true: Don't release the game before it's ready. Quality, quality, quality."
Vogel then yielded the floor to Jameson, who also weighed in on the abundance of World of Warcraft-esque games heading to the market.
"I feel like in many ways, people are copying WOW, but they're learning the wrong lessons," Jameson said. "The problem is, from a feature-set perspective, WOW is not an innovative game. It didn't do anything particularly new. The major innovation they did was they executed in a high-quality fashion and released with a depth of quality content that was not broken."
Jameson said there was no other company that would have conceived of spending as much money making the game (he estimated it cost more than $50 million to produce), spending as much time in beta, or making the sort of substantial changes to the game Blizzard made during that extended testing.
"But that is the feature you need to copy," Jameson said. "I don't care about innovation. I would like us to execute well on our noninnovative games. We can copy games and many people are. But if we're going to copy games, we should copy them really well and make sure the product is of a really high quality."
This prompted a roll of laughter from the crowd, followed by Mulligan's comment that "We're not only thieves; we're bad thieves."
For her rant, Mulligan made a single request: "[Venture capitalists] and angel investors, stop funding really crappy games."
While Mulligan admits she spent much of her 20-year career "laboring in poverty and obscurity just wishing somebody would devote significant money" to her projects, she said there are too many people throwing funds after doomed games. She compared it to a quick boom-and-bust cycle in the mid-'90s that saw millions in funding wasted on scores of games that never made it to market.
"We're seeing the same thing happening today," Mulligan said, adding, "Rob Pardo, stand up. Thank you Blizzard for making it possible for really s***** game designs to get some money!"
Mulligan than broke out a two-minute pitch session for a fictitious game that fits that mold, "DarkAge of the WarcraftStrike," touting incredible innovation in features and high-concept ideas that will yield a game exactly like existing successful MMO games. Key to the pitch was an unqualified team of unknowns with little or no experience, a daily milestone schedule, a six-month development span (plus or minus four years).
Firor was up next and quickly apologized for being unprepared, saying he only found out two minutes before the session began that he would be participating instead of watching from the audience. Unlike his fellow panelists, he came not to bury the MMOG industry, but to praise it.
"I was telling my wife that I was flying out to this conference, and I actually talked about this panel...It's basically a panel where six people sit around and tell everyone how stupid they are for being in this industry. And she said 'Wait a minute. Isn't there a game out there making hundreds of millions of dollars a year and other games that are making 10s of millions of dollars a year? Why is that stupid?"
Firor acknowledged that many of the popular MMO games may use the same concepts over and over again, but chalked it up to the medium's relative infancy.
"We've had three or so generations of games right now," Firor said. "Every iteration, they get a little better. There are design features that aren't in the other ones, no matter what they say. The game gets more refined, more fun, less like work. You can see a slow, steady progress."
He compared it to the works of William Shakespeare, which reused themes, settings, and conflicts but also offered a new story each time, a new experience for the audience.
"Everyone talks about how we're making the same game over and over again, yet people are having fun doing this," Firor said. "Players out there actually like this. They actually like going out and getting a +2 sword, knowing if they adventure for two-point-five hours more they'll get another sword and a fancy hat. That's cool to them."
Firor stressed that it's the experience that counts, not a game's similarity to World of Warcraft or its use of a fantasy license. "The important thing here is that the fact that people play the games, have fun playing the games, and spend a hell of a lot of money playing the games--that's something to be proud of, not ashamed of."
After a round of applause for Firor's rant, Mulligan merely muttered "traitor," and quickly moved on to the question-and-answer session amid more laughter. The relaxed atmosphere of the panel discussion followed through to the audience questions, with the developers being asked questions by both their peers and their players, with no feelings spared (one audience member asked Jameson when Sony Online was going to start releasing the "quality products" he talked about).
The question-and-answer session returned to issues surrounding the funding and shipping of MMO games multiple times, with Vogel saying that rushed games are an industry-wide problem, with an emphasis on quality needing to come from the top levels of company management and go all the way down. Firor also touched on the topic, saying that Mythic's decision to ship Dark Age of Camelot was made because the company had run out of money.
"It was an easy decision to make," Firor said. "We weren't thinking about some grand overarching scheme hoping we were sitting around a game-development conference in five years and people love us. It was more like, 'We've got wives and kids to [feed], so we're going to ship the game and make some money."
The question-and-answer session also hosted some brief rants from the audience, including one from BioWare Austin's Gordon Walton.
"That's an extremely common scenario," Walton said of Firor's story. "The fact of the matter is almost everyone's in the exact same place: 'Oh s***, we don't have any more money.' But you're all a bunch of whiny little b******. [laughter] 'We're all victims of the guys with the money!' No. Guess who signs up to make the game. Guess who along the way decides to change things...Somewhere along the way we caved and promised something we couldn't deliver. So you can't say it's the other guy, it's some other motherf*****. Everybody in this thing is responsible for what happens. Every single person on the team had a chance to do better. And I'd like to see more people think about how they're going to make it happen rather than sit up and rant and b**** about it."
Ive never had a problem with wow, even if i did its sorted in a day, the game remains played a year after i started it and compared to mega bore fests like FFXI, D&D anyone with a bad word for it is either a casual gamer, a gamer with no concept of a mmo or just plain jealous that they chose the wrong game and theyve spent thier hard earned allowance. Games are games and its going to make no difference in 10 min let alone 10 years that you were ever a level 1000 at anything, as long as the game delivered what you expected when you payed for it, that should be quite enough.
No one's mentioned "A Tale in the Desert", even though the number of users is so low it doesn't count as a MMOG. Instead of hack and slash it's a crafting game. The result is something that may be very refreshing if you've been stuck on standard MMORPGs for awhile. Granted, you still waste a lot of time doing repetitive tasks. In ATITD instead of killing orcs for hours you pick grass and bake bricks, haha!
@n64nut, i agree. WoW is great. it's just the amount of babies playing the game and chinese farmers that make the game not as great as it could be
They actually like going out and getting a +2 sword, knowing if they adventure for two-point-five hours more they'll get another sword and a fancy hat. That's cool to them
So true :)
btw, lol @ n64nut, someday you'll be able to grasp the point of this conference, patience
N64nut I don't think you truly get the idea of this panel, they gave WoW it's props of being great and succesful, but it's succes made it the example of the discussion.
Sounds like a bunch of fools who are angry because they lack the commitment, resources, and talent to make a game with WoW's level of quality and polish so they demonize it. Maybe if any of the above actually had made a game I had heard of, I might take them seriously. As-is, they are nothing but cry-babies.
WoW is quite fun. You don't totally get hooked when you just sit and play to enjoy all the aspects of the game and not just to get to level 60.
I belive i was being slow at lvling. i need conctant advancement in a game, and change of everything around me, therfor i have quit WoW. It's just not very...wow anymore. I personally think of it as an equal, to other mmorpgs you could download for free, in terms of fun.
Im not a hardcore Gamer and i play City of Heroes, sure i dont have a Lvl 50 (level cap) Hero yet i dont even have a khielidan (Reward for hitting lvl50, new character class) ive been play for a year last july, i dont care if im not lvl50 yet, (im lvl40 at the moment) but what matters to me is that ive had a hell of a good time reaching level40 and when i unlock a khieldian ill have another great time getting that to 50, that is all for now P
I'm a hardcore gamer.. I don't spend 12 hours a day and I sure don't play MMO... and I don't give a **** if I beat the game first... the point of playing a game is to enjoy it, not speed through it like you were racing in a competition...
" But who cares if i'm not one of the first people in the world to beat the game? Does it matter?" No, it does not matter. What does matter is that high level characters spoil your enjoyment of the game when that take out all the monsters, get all the items etc so there is nothing left for you. Also, on some games, you stand no chane if they pick a fight with you.
"Erm no. MMO's are only as time consuming as you want the to be. There is nothing forcing you to play and since there really isn't much to do except level up your character what does it maater if you only play an hour a day or 10." While I disagree about the fact that there's nothing to do except level up (since many play WoW for thousands of hours after maxing out their character's level), the rest is flawless, that's exactly how I feel. They are only as time consuming as you want them to be.
"MMOs are really only for hardcore ganers who send more than 12 hours per day on them. I used to play for a few hours a day but got nowhere compared to other players and eventually I just thought I was wasting my money on what I did not use. i completly agree with u emperorchris. I used to play wow a few hours a day but fell so far behind the ppl who played for like 12 hours that there was almost no point. it was like i was getting punished for actually having a life outside of gaming." I disagree with both of you. What do you mean you "fell so far behind people who played for 12 hours a day"? I don't get it... if I don't play Final Fantasy XII for 12 hours a day when it first comes out, I'm sure I'll fall far behind some of the more hardcore final fantasy people. But who cares if i'm not one of the first people in the world to beat the game? Does it matter? It's the same with WoW, who cares if you're not one of the first people to enter Naxxramas. Does it matter? I'm personally still on MC, I play several hours a day, but sometimes I'll just randomly take a 1-2 week break from the game, I don't fall behind at all. The game isn't a race... the game isn't a race/competition, and all this talk about getting punished for not playing is either: a) an addiction talking ("i gotta play this more! I'll fall behind if I don't! 12 more hours should do the trick! Yes... 12 more hours... then people will respect me... I gotta keep up... with people who aren't even in my guild... gotta... outplay... them..."), or b) Is talk coming from someone who had a friend that played for 12 hours a day and felt a need to keep up with him (although, according to you, 12 hours a day = no life, and since no life = no friends, you couldn't have been his friend and thus had no reason to try to keep up with him...).
Its true, i tried even getting to level 200 in PSO Blue Burst, **** man that would've taken me 8 hours a day for like 2-4 months. How the hell can i do that? And the other thing i'd like to know is who the hell can get that kind of time and be able to afford the computer and everything. I guess of course you could pay at an internet cafe. But hell man thats just sad. I'd love to do it but at the same time there comes a point when the game is a game and life is life and you gotta move forward in life and no matter what you say about games as i do love 'em, you will get nowhere in life playing video games for 8 hours a day or anywhere near that.
"MMOs are really only for hardcore ganers who send more than 12 hours per day on them. I used to play for a few hours a day but got nowhere compared to other players and eventually I just thought I was wasting my money on what I did not use." i completly agree with u emperorchris. I used to play wow a few hours a day but fell so far behind the ppl who played for like 12 hours that there was almost no point. it was like i was getting punished for actually having a life outside of gaming.
I am a solid SquareEnix-fan and FFX-2 was okey (hell, it even did some things better than FFX, the battlesystem for instans) and Advent Children is an awsome movie... but to make so many sequals to FFVII is a sin and FFXIII is supposed to be parted into 6 different games? man that hurts my heart... well at least I have Kingdom Hearts to love and cherish. SquareEnix is a good company, problem is, when they do something wrong everybody gets all freaky while other companies those the same thing all the time. (how many Castlevania games are out there? or Resident Evil?)
Hmm, no mention of Guild Wars.... Would that be because they don't suck $14.95 out of your wallet every month... I played EQ for 5 years, And even though GW isn't as "big" as the other games I have played, in size and popularity, it is a great game for what you do get, and , you don't pay a damn cent per month to play....... I can see it now though, Pepsi Shield, Hemi- Horse armor, Viagra-Daggers of, er, Daggerness... for a "fee" of course........hahhahahaah, in the end, it's all about the money, period.
dominae, I love FFX-2, and so do a lot of other people Pretty cool Rants, though. Some great points.
"WOW is not an innovative game." They sure got that right. I was completely unimpressed with WoW and was suprised at the amount of people who liked the game. Not only that, but they got it right saying that the patching for WoW is terrible. I'm suprised that this game didn't fail horribely with the many problems it has had. Blizzard lost my support long ago because of the bugs in the game. They are better than making a crap game like that.
i completely agree with Sumotaii, granted i always try and be diplomatic when insulting Square's tacky but widely popular/mainstreamed for the masses new direction taken since FF7.
I'm also surprised how WoW is getting the credit for games trying to be like it, when WoW was trying to be like other games when it game out. They may as well have said that Blizzard created MMO's... Give the credit where the credit's due... Ultima, EQ and DAoC. If it wasn't for those 3, do you think WoW would exist? I doubt it. We'd be playing Diablo 3 by now.
Bottom line, . . . video games are a business. What's good for the company comes first. If it's not profitable, it won't happen. I'm unsure when so many gamers donned the illusion that this industry is a service industry. It's about the money. Sorry to let you down, but Square Enix cares more about itself than you (Dirge of Cerberus, FFX-2, FFVII Snowboarding, Unlimited SaGa, etc). They (along with all companies) are a business first and foremost. They knew Dirge would sell, despite having glaring flaws. And it did; and it does. Sorry to be so harsh, but this is something that MUST be understood.
MMOs are really only for hardcore ganers who send more than 12 hours per day on them. I used to play for a few hours a day but got nowhere compared to other players and eventually I just thought I was wasting my money on what I did not use. I would not mind advertising in game as long as there is no monthly fee.
WOW! I'm surprised no one mentioned RMT for over flooding game economies and driving people to buying game currency for real money.
Therabidfrog, I would imagine no one there mentioned Guild Wars, because it isn't truly a MMO when compared to games like WOW or Everquest. Its more of a simple multiplayer online game, where you never get the feeling of it being 'Massively' multiplayer, simply because of how 'instanced' everything is. As for the 'quality' of it, its pretty decent for what it is.
Erm no. MMO's are only as time consuming as you want the to be. There is nothing forcing you to play and since there really isn't much to do except level up your character what does it maater if you only play an hour a day or 10. They are all pretty much the same though. But hey, there is really nobody to blame but the consumers for that, you pay for it, so they will keep on making it. It is no differnet in the non MMO market either, another FPS sound fun to you? How about one based in the WWII time period? Or on consoles another braindead hack-n-slash game sound fun to you? Yet another Final Fantasy game? (they've seen better day btw) Not defending WoW. I have played but stopped months after about 6-8 months because like any game, it got boring. There are new and better games on the way.
While some MMO's have been decent I really just don't like it. It takes forever complete lack of story every fricken MMO is the same. Super time consuming and time wasting. I would take a game like Oblivion over it anyday.
I won't sit here talking a lot of bull about WOW or anything... all I can say is MMO is in my opinion boring since it lacks story and intrigue... I'll just keep to my japanese RPGs and be happy while others can stay on their front... why argue about something that just boils down to a matter of taste? You like this, I like that. What I do want to comment is the fact that many developers just think about filling their pockets full of green (even SquareEnix with all their sequals and **** Companies should think more about the gamers needs not their own... cause it's us who play the damn games. I want more direct relation and an open dialoge between developers and consumers... do not let reviewmagazines or websites (such as this one) be the voice of us gamers. Let us be heard rather then just go by the thoughts of reviewers... I don't agree with them most of the time anyway...
Oh ya.. I agree with Chris.. SWG should have been on the lips of all developers. THAT was and still IS, a travesty of the MMO world. Except for the wonderful world of "free hack" called Lineage II. I play WoW, and at times things can be frustrating, but in the same sense... I do not see it as bad as they do.
The MMO industry is probably one of the worst in gaming. The games sell, yes, but they're almost always horrible. I've played several of the "big" MMOs and they are pretty much the same. You really do get that "I know how to play this" feeling just looking at pictures of the game. Hopefully all the ranting and raving done at this conference wil be put to good use. With all the power of these high-end PCs, Xbox 360s, and PS3s, MMO designers have an opportunity to put it all out there more than ever before.
Why doesn't any one mention Guild Wars? How is that these guys make such a quality game with no monthly premium?
MMO's suck, honestly. man, I played the ancestors of MMO's, MUD's, which were(are, if some still exist) text-based games on Telnet, ten years before ultima online was even out. Those games were good. MMO's aren't even close to being as fun as those games were.
I sure wish I could have attended that panel. It sounds really enlightening, aside from being a lot of fun. :)
Most interesting thing to me about this article is how many industry professionals have bad potty mouths. They would be banned from WOW for talking like that in LFG, or at least given a strict warning.
companies wont take risk. thats why there is copy clone after copy clone after copy clone. welcome to a fascist economy.
Whenever a new WoW patch comes out, I always find the standalone version and download it here at work on my nice, fast T1. Screw Blizzard's P2P patch system. It sucks. And that guy at the conference is right - why the hell should the players host the patches?
Frankly i hate MMO's. I would rather just pay once to play my video game rather than pay every month to play a game I would only really play for a week or so.
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