Monday, January 12, 2009

Troubled Waters

I was having a heated debate with a friend of mine regarding the quality (or lack thereof) of recently released MMOs, upcoming ones, expected expansions and so on. It was interesting seeing how our opinions differ now that I'm on the inside compared to how similar they were when I was on the outside.

The fact is a number of new MMOs have failed despite a strong start and a lot of hype. Some expansions failed to deliver on revenues and player retention while other games have postponed themselves into oblivion. You have to ask yourself why do we always seem to miss our deadlines? Why do we cut corners or deliver stuff (too often) sub par or not to the level of reasonable expectations? Is it bad management? Incompetence? Cluelessness? Carelessness? Some dumb suit/corporate noob making decisions on stuff he doesn't know jack about?

Sometimes, it is indeed a bit of a mix of all of the above. But in truth, most of the time it's just that shit happens. Every time you think you've got a smooth sail ahead, you end up running into a freaking iceberg. If you're lucky, the iceberg just grazed your ship and with some paint you cover the scratches and you're as good as new. But often times, you hit it head on and next thing you know, you're taking water from every side. Fight hard as you may, sometimes there's just not enough escape boats. That's when you hear of games closing and projects being canceled. There was just no saving it. It was taking too much water and you have to make the decision: do we cut our losses and save who/what we can, or do we all go down with the ship?

Some other times, the ship doesn't sink despite a mighty blow. The crew will work around the clock, pull every trick imaginable, do whatever it takes to see that it reaches the shore. It will be banged up, battered and look like crap, but it will have made it. Was it worth saving though? What's the point of a cruise ship that no one will set foot on? I mean, you could take another year and pull the whole fixer upper but are there any funds left to do that? How about the crew? After weathering such a bad storm, a few people will think twice about setting another foot on that deck. And if despite all that you manage to pull through, there is the real possibility that by the time you're finally ready to launch, your potential customers will say "bah, the whole cruise ship deal is so last year!" Too bad you were wallowing neck deep in troubled waters then.

There are never any certainties in game development. Sometimes things simply go your way. You've got wind in your sails and everything is a joy ride. Other times, it's just one squall after the other. As a "sailor" myself, I can empathize with crews who have seen their own ships go down or are struggling to keep it afloat. I know how much blood, sweat and tears gets poured into it.

Whenever you start a journey, you can never know how far it will take you. The (must see!!) miniseries From the Earth to the Moon is a fine example of what game development can be like. Obviously, the series isn't about video games, but it shows how many unexpected hurdles you need to overcome during development process. How even the tiniest mathematical error can cause major setbacks. And that at times, only a near catastrophe can give you that much needed second wind.

I'm blessed to be part of an amazing crew, with a captain I respect and a ship I love. She has withstood her fair share of storms and God only how many more await us ahead. But I have good faith that she and we will take each other home safely.

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