13 Sep 2011

Smile Week: Dialogue Options

Today’s entry in Smile Week is a bit of compare and contrast. As MMO gamers we’re a bit of a fortunate bunch when it comes to developers and publishers. We’re looked after, listened to and cared for much more than our single-player brethren. What do I mean? Let me show you.

A single player game is revealed, marketed and released to aim for a particular point in time – the point in the year when the game is likely to sell at it’s best. They’re looking to make sure that there’s scarce competition from other similar games for a few months either side. Plus, marketeers want to make sure we’re likely to have money to buy the game or get someone to buy it for us.

The hype for a single player game all tends to be one way. A developer might release some artwork or a gameplay video, or hold an interview with a journalist or blogger. These are all great in sharing the vision of the game and the direction they’re headed, but there’s little room for the fans to give feedback on what they see.

For me though, the most important thing is what happens after the game launches. For the most part things effectively shut down. There might be some token downloadable content or a few minor bug fixes, but usually the team close up shop and move on to the next game. Thanks for buying our game, see you for the next one!

The difficulty is that these same developers are suffering from a surge in preowned or second hand game sales that they see no royalties from. Yet modern consoles come equipped with hard drives, allowing developers to improve their games post-release. I can’t help but think that if they worked closer with their fans during and following launch that their titles wouldn’t end up on the re-sale shelves.

The MMO Dev Story

The single-player game developer works in stark contrast to an MMO one. It’s why we’ve seen more traditional game developers struggle to crack the nut, but the changes are starting to emerge. MMO games are about developing a community around your game that sticks with it long after that release, and building that community starts as soon as the game is announced.

It doesn’t end there. Gamers are given continual updates from developers as an MMO progresses. Their questions are listened to and their feedback acknowledged. They’re invited to take part in game betas, not pre-release demos, in order to help make the game better for all players.
This even continues post launch. Developers still iterate on and patch their MMO titles following release, either by fixing bugs or addressing issues or by adding new content that didn’t make it out for launch. The input that we as gamers provide is hugely important, contributing to the success of a number of games down the years.

You can still see it today. There’s a dialogue, a discussion. Sure there’s some hype as well, but it’s a two-way street.

I agree it’s in the MMO developer’s interest to keep us interested. They keep us playing their game, paying for subscriptions or buying in-game items. But it also means that we get games that are closer to what we want to play, with the tweaks and changes that we’ve asked for.

That we get treated better than our single player brethren is enough to make me smile. That we might finally be teaching them how to build a long lasting community of involved fans makes me grin from ear to ear.

This is day two of Smile Week – my look at the good stuff of MMOs. You can find all about Smile Week, or read my entry for day 1. You’re also welcome to smile along with me – just give me a prod and I’ll include it in my roundup at the end of the week.

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