Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Should you buy a game from this man?

I just finished reading an interview at Ten Ton Hammer of game designer/producer Bill Roper. It was a very candid discussion, but as a software engineer myself there were things Roper said that set off alarm bells for me. Especially on the eve of the launch of his latest game Champions Online.

First of all let me say I am a bit of an MMO addict. I have to try nearly every one that I see hit the market. I’m also a long time fan of Comic book heroes, so I have played City of Heroes/Villains (COX). I expect to play Champions Online (CO) as well and have high hopes for it as a fan of both genre’s.

The thing that surprised me in the Roper interview was his statement that in the recent Open Beta of CO they were forced to “swing the wheel hard to port to make a big course correction.”  By this I take it to mean that they found something in the Beta that was so broken it required a major change to get it where they wanted it. And while I understand the need to sometimes make these kinds of adjustments in a project, it is sad to hear they are still doing that days before the game releases.

Of course, that was still in Beta and that is the right time to make big changes. However, what I have seen in the past with other games is that the developers, forced to release before the game is really ready, get comfortable making major changes of this kind. They forget that once the paying customers come on board it is no longer entirely “their” game. It becomes a kind of community property with the customers making a financial and emotional stake in the game. At that point major changes will cause major headaches.

The other thing that alarmed me was that he would make this announcement the day before the game goes live. It sounds a bit like a warning: “We’re still making major changes, and people may want to be aware of that before the game launches.” Having problems right up to launch time has become a sort of tradition in MMO’s. Making a point of telling people about it, while perhaps refreshing, is also cause for concern for all those preparing to play the game.

I hope CO has a long run as an MMO, unlike Mr. Roper’s more recent efforts. However, I have to go on record and say that if the game fails, I suspect that interview will come back to haunt him and his team. I’ve pre-ordered the game (after reading the interview in fact) and wish the team a long happy endeavor. If only I could shake the feeling that there will be many bumps along the road.

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