Thursday, August 21, 2008

Reality Check

I recently joined the Game Developers Group on Linkedin and while browsing through the various articles, I stumbled on a link to an "ambitious MMO" plan. That definitely got me curious, and I decided to check it out. By the time I finished reading the post, I was wondering if the guy who wrote it 1) had balls of brass, 2) was on crack or 3) needed a serious reality check.

His very long post didn't actually detail what the game would about, it was more of a recruiting spiel. He first states that a new revolutionary MMO is required because all others that have been done before have miserably failed to meet players expectations and new MMOs are nothing but a reheated version of existing ones. While I think this is an easy generalized statement, I don't disagree that MMOs still have ways to go and that there is too much of the same out there.

The problem was more with the second part where he introduces himself. Essentially, he states he has no design training or experience of any kind (not even fiddling with map editors), has no programming skills either, but that his extensive gaming experience made him an authority in what players seek in a game. His team was still very small (only 2 other people who I seem to recall also had no professional experience) but they would welcome anyone reading the article who were daring, creative and willing to embark on that wild journey. My immediate reaction was "you're joking, right?" but I knew he wasn't.

I'm always a little baffled when I read stuff like that because I wonder why he feels HIS extensive gaming experience makes him a greater authority than other gamers. It's not like game developers aren't gamers themselves. But beyond that, being a great driver doesn't make you a great mechanic, just like being a straight A student doesn't make you a good teacher.

It takes so much more than a few cool ideas to put a game together. Even coming out of school, I didn't realize just how many different talents were required to make a game until I actually started working in the industry. Despite that, I'm still discovering new things today I didn't realize needed to be done because other departments of the team are handling them. And creating a MMO is even more ambitious and demanding.

Generally speaking, I love the idea of an independent developer and there's nothing greater than an unlikely success story. But you also need to douse your ambitions with a bit of a reality check. When the Wright brothers tried creating an aircraft they didn't start on a spaceship, they started with kites, then gliders and then included an engine, etc. If he had talked about making a flash game or a DS kind of game to wet his feet, he would have had more credibility and a better response. It would be a good learning experience and help him develop some tools, build relationships and expand his professional network in a fairly short period of time. And if the game is successful, it would also help him build the financial means to achieve his end goal: a MMO.

But a MMO takes years to create with a large full-time team. If you've got too small a team or only work part-time because your team has to work elsewhere to make a living, by the time your game will be done it will already be dated. In truth, if making independent games was so easy, don't you think a majority of game developers would just go rogue and have their own start up so they can enjoy true creative freedom? And for those who have, how many such start ups have failed?

Even though he's biting way more than he can chew, I hope he won't choke to death on it. And once the piece that got stuck goes down, if he's smart he'll take a step back, take smaller bites and get to live to enjoy his dessert.


Demorde said...

(Sorry about this double comment - Somehow the last comment went all messy and didn't put half of my message, I blame gnomes in the system!)

This isn't something you should be surprised about, I've saw many a non-developer attempt to 'dream up the next hit' and go forum hunting for help. I've yet to see anyone that can back up any of their ideas, or requests with evidence, or material.

Usually these are teenagers who wish to make a game, and because of their youth they therefore do not understand what it takes to create such a heavy project as a game, massively multiplayer or not.

The best advice I give, while harsh can help them quite well in the long run - Think small, and be able to do a little of everything that you would ask your team to do, that way not only can you help out, but you'll have an understanding of what you're doing, as a manager should.

However, it is getting easier to create games now a days, so many 'RPG Makers' or other such programs, boy I wish we had them years ago.

Regine "Sakkarah" Abel said...

No worries, took care of it for you :)

I understand how people can be passionate about certain things and you don't need to be a professional at anything to have some great ideas. It's just mind boggling sometimes to see how people set themselves up for failure.

And you're absolutely right, it's all about taking baby steps and building experience on the smaller successes. And even if you fail, it's less painful if it was on a small scale than if it was a monumental failure that leaves you bankrupt and demoralized.

In truth, just a couple weeks before I discovered the Ubisoft Campus had opened in my hometown, I had just bought a copy of Adventure Maker with the specific intention of creating some small adventure games (1-2 hours of gameplay) that I was going to make available for download for free. The idea was to get some practical experience, do a bit of scripting, build a portfolio and at the same time maybe even build a reputation for myself. Since I had no formal training in the field, I was hoping that would convince potential employers that I meant business, and had both a talent and passion for game design. The campus just made things easier.

It's just sad to see people burning themselves out of a career where they could potentially shine because they try to go too far too soon. I was in the music and movie industry before. And in certain fields, once you lose your credibility, getting a 2nd chance can be nearly impossible.

Anonymous said...

When you don't know that you don't know what you don't know, you post it on the internets!