Friday, February 15, 2013

Surviving the Hype

Hype n.: Excessive publicity and the ensuing commotion

MMO’s have come along way from the golden younger years, but one thing that remains the same; hype. No game can completely counter the hype, nor should they. Hype is necessary to generate excitement for the new and the unknown. Every game needs a little hype to survive especially as the market becomes more competitive with every passing moment.

Every MMO should plan on a long closed beta. Any closed beta not measured by the months is a waste of time. It used to be that open betas were the place to have the large amount of testers for a short amount of time. The advent of F2P titles that not only have no longer have subscription fees, but have also done away with the sixty dollar box to sell to recoup development costs have changed things; it is important to have long closed beta times to not only test the game, but test player reaction to various parts of the game as well as the cash shop.

Yes I said it, closed beta should launch with a working cash shop. Many studios that follow this practice will promise refunds of currency used, though they rarely refund the dollar amount but each developer makes its own rules. NCsoft and ArenaNet did this with Guild Wars 2 and others have followed suit; AAA or not cash shops need to be tested before a game launches, soft launch or hard launch. It’s no longer feasible to have a game launch without a cash shop. I would in fact say that even a game with a subscription should launch with a cash shop. Not only does it make the transition from sub to sub-less easier and more importantly quicker, it allows for choice from those gamers who want to spend money, sometimes even large amounts of money on your game. 

MMO’s have vast advantages to normal video games. They are geared to last for years, instead of months, the development costs are perhaps doubled while the profit potential can be multiplied by as much as ten. Many of the business practices that gamers will not yet accept in single player games, they will by in large ignore in the MMO genre.

One way to minimize hype is to show gameplay videos as soon as possible. Final Fantasy may have become famous for its eye-popping CGI, but times have changed. Gamers will often sniff out CG-influenced video, even if none is there. While, it’s important to have the best foot forward for a new MMO, gameplay is the best watermark for gamers to understand what a developer is trying to say and do.

Developers must talk to gamers. Talk about your hopes, talk about what you enjoy about games. Give them something to hold on to, and do it regularly as much as possible. Some developers have gotten away with the ‘When it’s done’ mantra. Developers are often faceless to the vast majority of people playing their games. Don’t be faceless. The saying ‘one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic’ is just as true for developers. One person is knowable, a neighbor, a confidante, a friend, a pen pal, an acquaintance; no one ever knows a million people. More importantly regular updates give gamers better understanding of what is coming. It gives developers time to tweak ideas that sounded good on paper, but haven’t stood up to reality. It gives gamers a better understanding of what is coming from the developer and leaves less room for that percentage of gamers who quite clearly have been suckered by misinformation. This leads directly into the next point, get in front of controversy.

Developers often use the various social networking sites, and 24 news media sites to trumpet their achievements, but often times it seems they don’t understand the negative sides of the equation. Much of the major news in the gaming world over the last few years has to do with developers seemingly unaware or blatantly uncaring about the bad news traveling at the speed of sound. The internet can be a harsh mistress.

Every MMO wants to be different, wants to set a new standard in an area. Whether it is story, combat, graphics, lore, or character customization; developers often forget that these things fade in time. A game needs more than one giant leg to stand on. Many a game has shined in one or two particular areas only to falter in others. In this then it is most important that a developer not believe its own hype. Many games in development have been trumpeted by the media, by gamers, by developers for certain areas of brilliance, but after launch have faltered in others. They say that success teaches nothing, but failure is the true master. Developers have made great strides in many areas of game development with regards to MMO’s but success should be looked at only as a plateau, a time to rest and recharge while looking for new heights to climb. Perhaps the greatest slayer of hype is the developer who is always striving to do more.

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