Three Weeks

Time on the internet is a strange beast. Time in terms of the gaming industry is even more bizarre. So when we’re talking about the effects of time on people who use the internet as a gaming platform, things get horribly twisted.


The first challenge, industry-wise, is that we’re all members of a youth cult. Fifty year old men that backpack through the Andes armed only with a machete have one foot in the grave. Thirty year old women with pink hair hide their age, because they’re too old for street cred and too young for management or venture capital. Forty year olds of either variety try very hard not to think about the twenty year olds ready and willing to sleep under their desks and work on weekends for half the salary.

Second, this is an industry still in its infancy. Possibly early adolescence, given the screaming tantrums and the whining. Context: I am an East Coaster who loves the Italian Renaissance. I can’t take California seriously because none of its buildings are old enough. Hearing about gaming “history” is too amusing for words.

Okay, obviously, there is history, but it is difficult to attach the weight of the ages to a “history” that is the same age as David Allen. Or Richard Garriott, if you want to get crazy and count “Spacewar!” as the start of the gaming industry. (And don’t any of you write to me bitching that Spacewar! was 1962 and Garriott hatched out in 1961. Spacewar! was being written in 1961. So there.)

My point here, and I think I still have one, is that we are writing the history right now. Anyone who thinks our greatest days as an industry are anything but ahead of us is a moron.

And that’s the third challenge. I have t-shirts older than my gaming career, and yet I’m one of the old ladies of my specialty. Many of the techniques I brought to the table work very well, but unless I validate them by saying something like “I learned this when I was doing marketing for cable television,” I risk getting that beagle look. (Tilt your head and look confused, and a little hungry.)

I’m talking about community/marketing solutions, but scheduling, planning, budgeting – these are all challenges that have been met and mastered in other industries. Here in internet gaming, we’re still reinventing the wheel every six months. It seems like we collectively have no ability to say “It will take X people Y days to complete this task” and have it work exactly so. But I like to think that’s not because we’re screwups. I won’t speak for anyone else in the industry, but I can speak for myself as a community weenie. The techniques I learned to help sell and deliver something called “broadband” in 1999 don’t cut and paste over to gaming. I had to refine them, and make adjustments for a breed of customer utterly unlike anything HBO has to dazzle.

Speaking of the customer, time has no meaning whatsoever to someone who will reliably get home from work, and spend the next six hours telling his or her spouse “five more minutes, honey.” The passage of time is meaningless to someone who can spend six hours on a raid without moving.

I’m exaggerating. Time has meaning. It’s just that all times are “three weeks.”

When you tell an MMO customer “soon,” it better happen within three weeks. If you say, “in the future,” and it hasn’t happened in three weeks, he’s going to raise hell on a message board about your broken promises. If you say, “someday,” hoping to put an argument to bed without killing it completely, the next argument will start in three weeks. Ditto “eventually,” “we hope,” “not now,” and “ASAP.” Go ahead. Wait a few weeks for the observer effect from this post to die down, and time it yourselves.

Now, compound all of the challenges mentioned above endemic to the internet gaming industry by the fact that most of us are, ourselves, MMO customers with a three week attention span.

No wonder we have trouble with time.

The solutions are easier said than done, but they start with looking at tried and true techniques that have worked for other industries, sharing information as we refine the techniques to suit our unique circumstances, and not acting like a production process is some kind of magical experience with fairy dust and initiation mysteries. Yes, we’re making art, but even at the peak of the Italian Renaissance the artist delivered a complete product on time or went hungry.

Also, call me crazy, but if we’re going to start rolling out the hype machine before beta starts, maybe we could also try educating the customers on what a development timeline really looks like, including all the horrible ways things can – and do – and will – go wrong. If we invite people to be part of the development process, and to spend a year or more getting invested and cheerleading, they deserve an explanation besides “when it’s done.” I don’t think an MMO can be truly “finished” when it launches. But we can do better communicating status, schedules, and intent. I think it’s time.

 

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44 Comments

  1. knockout said,

    May 25, 2007 at 2:22 am

    Lovely writing, you definitely have my bookmark.
    You are right, the customer should be educated, especially about the release plan. But, as nicely put here http://ars.userfriendly.org/cartoons/?id=20070509 even some of the industry players aren’t very clear on what the timeline/roadmap should be.

  2. Squirrel said,

    May 25, 2007 at 2:44 am

    Interesting Tweety. As a veteran of 1,000 psychic wars (ok, just UO, AC, DAoC, EQ, WoW) I think you’ve scratched the surface on a much larger topic in MMOG-land. Time is the currency of MMOG’s. At least from the consumers p.o.v. MMOG stickyness – or the compulsion to pay for a sub to a game you no longer even play – is directly related to a customers vested interest in that game. And that vested interest can generally, at least in MMORPG’s, be boiled down to two influences – social contacts and time invested.

    I know I’m digressing from your point but I think the two things are intimately related. When a customer says “Hey class xxx, skill yyy has been borked for 2 months, when is it getting fixed?” and the response is “soon!” the real conversation is “hey, my time investment here is degraded by this system, wtf?” and the appeasement is the promise of revision in a time frame soon enough to not make that initial investment wasted. If that promise is unfulfilled then players become bitter, but don’t leave because they usually have significant social and time (temporal) interests in the game.

    It’s an interesting topic and IMO is one directly related to the “lock-in” or network effect a game can achieve. DAoC has some terrific examples: In Midgard (which I never played) when Left Axe was changed significantly there was massive wailing and gnashing of teeth. It was a significant change that was perceived by many as drastically reducing the value of the time they had invested in characters affected. But that same investment, coupled with strong social ties, reduced the likelihood these players would walk away. In fact, based on anecdotal evidence (I played pretty seriously at the time), players not only didn’t leave the game, many didn’t even switch realms.

    Anyway, I think it’s an interesting exploration to look at your topic in light of the perceived value of a block of time in a MMORPG. It’s something unique to this genre I think. Time, in MMORPG’s, is not only relative, but inconsistent.

  3. Faymar said,

    May 25, 2007 at 3:49 am

    Speaking of the customer, time has no meaning whatsoever to someone who will reliably get home from work, and spend the next six hours telling his or her spouse “five more minutes, honey.”

    Damn. Busted.

  4. Lawrence said,

    May 25, 2007 at 4:03 am

    I like the article but I think your idea of evolution of the industry, and thinking of how we can continue to move forward towards our “renaissance” degrades a bit into a sort of unassociated and undesirable idea. If I may bring it up for rebuttal. I hope to only spark a friendly debate, please don’t take it as anything but. Different viewpoints and counter arguments are an integral part of change.

    Very few restaurants allow you to look into the kitchen, and that’s with good reason. First it’s loud, messy, and can be distracting to the dining experience, and second you don’t want to see that the person making your meal messed up… maybe a lot, multiple times.

    You end up exposing many of your internal faults, things that “you should fix because that’s what I’m paying you for.” You’re inept, you’re unable to provide a solid product, and even though that’s not true you only fuel the perception that you are. You fuel them with literally giving them with a permanent printout of those instances of failure. I think to some degree it’s just wishful thinking that full disclosure will only work to create bonds of trust and understanding. You want to believe it, I want to believe, and believe you me they will try to convince you that’s exactly what it will do. Sure enough some people are going to be able to accept it as it is and appreciate the additional information, but really what does full disclosure of all development procedures and pipelines provide them when you take their concerns or play experience into hand? I will fully agree that not everything should be shrouded in mystery, but scheduling and task pipelines are just unnecessary. In my opinion. Do what you can to provide necessary and helpful information, but going beyond that just for the sake of inclusion into “the experience of gaming” is a bit naive I think, if I may be so rude.

    I don’t know, maybe I was reading in to your last few sentences a little too much. 😛

  5. Lawrence said,

    May 25, 2007 at 4:57 am

    “but scheduling and task pipelines are just unnecessary.”

    Hrm, no edit function, I’d like to reword that to “but task and completion pipelines” instead. I think letting scheduling be known as much as possible, within your ability to provide valid information, is indeed important.

  6. Apache said,

    May 25, 2007 at 6:47 am

    Did you watch Logan’s Run last night? 🙂

  7. Rayna said,

    May 25, 2007 at 6:55 am

    Ouch! I’m a female game designer and I’m 29 with pink hair 😛

  8. Solok said,

    May 25, 2007 at 8:12 am

    Interesting post and some good comments. Your article brought a couple things to mind. The first is that video gaming is an extension of the broader “gaming” umbrella that extends thousands of years. I look at video games as a fork in the road from card games, board games, live sports, etc. With that view point there is plenty of history to look back to and learn from. Of course, while there are lessons to learn, project management isn’t going to be one of them.

    That brings me to the second thought I had, which was that I think the core of the gaming industries inabilities to quantify activities is based on – again – a larger category called software development. This has been plain to see since software started being sold. Deadlines are constantly being pushed back. I think as you said this can be attributed to the relative “newness” of software development as a human tool. How long did it take before we really understood how to make bridges? It takes a long time for best practices to be developed and become common practices.

    Lastly I thought it’s very interesting to see this stage of video game history as there is this sort of industry wide self realization that things must mature.

    Since I’m not in the industry please forgive this stupid question. However, is there any organization that is composed of the various industry players that is attempting to codify best practices in the hopes that the industry as a whole would benefit from them ? By that I mean excluding academia which I know has started gaming specific programs which should help in the years to come.

  9. Sanya Weathers said,

    May 25, 2007 at 8:21 am

    Lawrence and others – In NO WAY do I claim to have all the answers. Nor do the answers I have necessarily apply to all environments and teams. I fully expect an industry of rugged individualists to disagree with me on occasion, if not daily.

    Solok – there are conferences, academics, the works. The trouble is, everyone tends to hold back to keep from looking silly, or to protect what they think are secrets. I’m suggesting that process issues are not secrets, and given the staff turnover in the industry, we might as well give up and work as a whole.

  10. Megaera said,

    May 25, 2007 at 8:38 am

    I can’t take California seriously because none of its buildings are old enough.

    OMG, I thought I was the only one who felt that way! 😀

  11. Rich said,

    May 25, 2007 at 9:09 am

    “Also, call me crazy, but if we’re going to start rolling out the hype machine before beta starts…”

    Heh. NCSoft rolled out all of their hype before and during the beta of Auto Assault. And seemingly ran out of hype at release. See where that got them?

  12. Rick M said,

    May 25, 2007 at 9:43 am

    “try very hard not to think about the twenty year olds ready and willing to sleep under their desks and work on weekends for half the salary.”

    When I hit my teenage growth spurt and was finally taller and heavier than my father, he said something like “Look, you might be bigger than me now, but you still have to sleep. Don’t think you’re suddenly invulnerable, kid.”

    Get ’em when they’re sleeping under the desk, Sanya 🙂

  13. John P said,

    May 25, 2007 at 9:59 am

    Well sometimes you DO see into the “kitchen.” Sometimes it’s even a performance art… teppanyaki (hibachi-style) comes to mind.

    MMOs live or die based on the loyalty of their community. Players aren’t just customers popping in for a dining experience, they are investors. Time and money, players invest a *lot* into an online game. I think that treating players as “investors” as opposed to “customers” would go a long way to ensure loyalty and continued success in a game.

  14. pharniel said,

    May 25, 2007 at 10:01 am

    about the restauraunt metaphor, i don’t know about wher eyou live, but where I live there are plent of places that have the food prep in plain sight.
    in fact they pride themselves upon it, because when you can see the food prep you are able to ensure yourself the process integrety. i.e. if food is dropped it’s not given to you anyway, if they screw up you can correct it mid-making.

    i think the problem is that software dev in general has no process control or ability to see if a process has integrety and will work before it’s tried.

  15. Rabiator said,

    May 25, 2007 at 10:21 am

    “If we invite people to be part of the development process, and to spend a year or more getting invested and cheerleading, they deserve an explanation besides “when it’s done.””

    I’ve participated in two betas so far (Auto Assault and Seed), and people were quite understanding about incomplete features, bugs and occasional charakter wipes as long as it *was* a beta and free to take part in. In fact, the beta community cooperated nicely with filing bug reports, re-testing the same quests after patches and so on…

    The deal in beta is that you get a free tour in exchange for helping to test an incomplete product. That changes when you go “gold” and charge money. At this point, people will expect a fairly mature product and won’t look so kindly at bugs anymore.
    At least they don’t these days, as the example of Seed shows. When the premature launch was announced, a lot of the beta testers said clearly that they liked the concept but were not willing to pay for a game as buggy as Seed was at the time. The market in general followed that sentiment, and Runestone went bankrupt soon.

  16. May 25, 2007 at 10:59 am

    Hype is something that actaully can be created from nothing. All it takes is a little creativity and the willingness to spend the time on it.

    Auto Assault’s hype ran out b/c of the flaws in the game itself, not b/c of how early they started hyping it.

    Hell look at Duke Nukem, hype is still bubbles up from time to time about that franchise’s next game and we all know at this point its vaporware.

    The 3 week attention span is dead on, I see that all the time with w00t Radio’s listener counts. If we have a major event, for the couple weeks leading up to the event (while we’re hyping it) our average listener count shoots upwards. Then it starts to trickle back down to about where it was before we announced the event, that takes 3-4 weeks to do so.

    I’ve had it happen on a large scale 6 or 7 times since I started the station.

  17. Engels said,

    May 25, 2007 at 11:01 am

    “I can’t take California seriously because none of its buildings are old enough.”

    There’s plenty of old architechture in California, dating back to the 1700s, done by the Spanish. Its often overlooked, I think, simply because the old architechture there doesn’t seem to reflect our northern European heritage.

  18. May 25, 2007 at 11:29 am

    You can’t take California seriously for lack of old architecture? On my family lands (that we lost during the Napoleonic wars) there is a windmill that STILL produces flour the old fashioned way, that is getting to be close to 800 years old. My cousins live in a house that is 500+ years old. Silly East Coasters, you didn’t go far enough east. 😛

    Speaking of old… Sanya, I’m turning 41 in a couple weeks, why did you have to make me feel older than my back already keeps telling me I am.

    /hugs /kisses /slushies

  19. Blackblade said,

    May 25, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    Very nice post. I keep thinking of three weeks like in “The Number 23” now.. It’s everywhere!

    However, the part I found most intriguing was:

    “…but scheduling, planning, budgeting – these are all challenges that have been met and mastered in other industries. Here in internet gaming, we’re still reinventing the wheel every six months. It seems like we collectively have no ability to say “It will take X people Y days to complete this task” and have it work exactly so.”

    In my lowly opinion, to make this kind of parallel between any industries based on binary one’s and zeros and an industry that produces a physically tangible product is a foolish endeavor, and undermines the complexity of the binary industry. I’ll use two industries as an example: The gaming industry, and the slushy industry.

    The slushy industry is one that can easily master those elements because of its finite nature. There are only so many things you can do with a slushy. You will always need water and refrigeration for the ice. You’ll always need sugar, and the chemicals added to that sugar to produce various flavors can easily be accounted for. You’ll always need someone to sell the product, and cups and straws to put it in. Obviously, there are more complex issues working in the background. However, these issues are all based on physical limitations, such as who can grow the sugar, who makes the plastic for the cups and straws, etc.

    To draw ANY comparison between a physical industry such as slushies and the gaming industry, you’d have to have the ability to:

    Reinvent Water
    Reinvent Cold
    Reinvent Plastic
    Reinvent Sugar
    Etc., etc.

    Not only would you have to HAVE that ability, you’d quite often be FORCED to do so. Can they do this? Maybe on a very small scale, such as small changes to the plastic that makes the cup, but drastic changes such as reinventing cold and water (Still waiting for my room-temperature-stored, but ice-cold slushy so that I can stock my pantry) are certainly not common. It’s a rare thing.

    However, in the gaming/binary industry, you’re often times required to do just that. What language will you develop on? For what OS? 2D? 3D? What Genre? MMO? Characters? Plot? Artwork? The directions you can take are literally endless, and is founded on literally infinite foundation. For example, you can say, “Well, there are only so many OS’s out there, so HA!”, but guess what? Nothing is stopping anyone from inventing another one, except their own intelligence and ingenuity.

    The only limitation in a binary industry is the human imagination. We can reinvent everything every time whenever we want, right down to the language, for any type of program you can ever imagine. The industry will never, no matter what the age, be able to master such elements to the degree that physical industries can. Well, I suppose it can if we standardize everything, even imagination, but let’s hope that never happens.

    And for that matter, binary isn’t set in stone either.. Yay for quantum computers!

  20. Brat said,

    May 25, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    Sanya…swing by the boards and say “hello!” Now that you’re no longer the “enemy” I’m sure you’ll enjoy the community that you helped mold (or dare I say smithied in the furnaces of hell).

    Besides, we need to keep track of you and know where you’re headed next so we can continue to torture you…

  21. Servitor said,

    May 25, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    “Here in internet gaming, we’re still reinventing the wheel every six months. It seems like we collectively have no ability to say “It will take X people Y days to complete this task” and have it work exactly so.”

    To be fair, I’ve never worked for any company, gaming or no, that had the ability to say a project would take X people Y days to complete and have it work exactly so. I’ve worked in plenty of places where they *said* that’s what they did, and they had all their duckies in a row in order to be able to do so, but it’s never actually resulted in things going according to plan. Maybe I just have weird luck.

  22. No.6 said,

    May 25, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    “Forty year olds of either variety try very hard not to think about the twenty year olds ready and willing to sleep under their desks and work on weekends for half the salary.”

    No, we’re smart enough not to get in insane coding mode. I don’t work 14 hour days or regularly come in weekends because I have convinced people that it isn’t needed. The convincing comes in the form of code that works when the glazed-eyed always-working H1Bs’ code not only breaks but takes more time to fix than if I’d just written it myself.

    OTOH, I’m not in the gaming industry, either. I know a few who were and it’s all lunacy. I’d never get involved in it as a coder. Brrr.

  23. Adamantyr said,

    May 25, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    “However, in the gaming/binary industry, you’re often times required to do just that. What language will you develop on? For what OS?”

    With games, C/C++ is pretty much the only option for development if you plan on anything more complicated than a casual game. Runescape being a notable exception to the rule… Java works okay as a platform, but it still has too much overhead. Works great if your game runs over a web browser.

    As for the OS, it’s ALWAYS Windows, if you want to make any kind of profit. The question is whether you want to also do a Mac version. Linux almost never gets mentioned; if your game’s popular, you’ll probably have a Linux team badgering you for source code so they can create a port.

    The gaming industry seriously needs to grow up. I think the problem is that money became a factor far too early. It doesn’t help that Mr. Garriot made around $600,000 in 1979 for his first game, which was written in Applesoft Basic! Despite the fact that model is dead and gone, us oldsters still dream…

    Another problem is the increasing rarity of skilled coders. And I don’t mean 15-year old prodigies that can write a two-line bit of code that looks like a garbage disposal was run on a coding primer. I mean real professionals who comment accurately, know the back-end of the platform as well as the front, and write clean, efficient code that doesn’t try and do things in clever ways, and is easy to maintain. I haven’t been to any of those “game programming schools”, but at a convention I went to for game jobs, the representatives from various companies were not praising them much.

    The good C/C++ programmers that the game industry needs are usually far-sighted enough to know a gaming job offers no security, crap wages in comparison to other software industries, and absurd work schedules managed by marketers and accountants. The only reason some of them are still around is a genuine passion and interest in games… but how long can it last?

  24. Stupid said,

    May 25, 2007 at 5:52 pm

    I think that this holds true for ANY industry where, to the end-user, the production is a “black box” that magically spits out some (supposedly) final product.

    I work in construction engineering field. I design and develop documents that my clients will use to construct facilities and pretty much everything posted here holds true in my industry. If we don’t keep a continual dialog open with our clients, outlining exactly what issues we are dealing with, they assume that we aren’t doing anything and expect us to deliver immediately. For me, I have to call every client and ask some inane question of them every week. This lets them now that I -am- actually working on their problems, it involves them in the process (even if it is in an artificial and superfluous way) and it provides me an opportunity to give them a status update on my progress (ie whether I’m ahead/behind/on schedule).

    But even on the largest projects my firm works with, we never have more than a handful of people with their fingers in any particular pie.

  25. Dan said,

    May 25, 2007 at 9:15 pm

    Another solid article, that leaves me feeling pleasantly replete.

    Thank you, Sanya.

  26. imweasel said,

    May 26, 2007 at 12:05 am

    The problem is that the customer thinks 3 weeks is enough time and the devs think 3 years is not enough time. DAoC was a classic example of this.

  27. Evil7771 said,

    May 26, 2007 at 1:11 am

    If Sanya was to post on the VN boards after she isn’t working for EA anymore probably 8 guys would be banned from flaming or something.

  28. Apache said,

    May 26, 2007 at 2:06 am

    Camelot VN boards are pretty tame. 🙂

  29. John said,

    May 26, 2007 at 4:47 am

    First, I am so glad that we have you here to discuss things with. I was sad to see you leave your last position (I always looked forward to the grab bag) but I am sure that new doors will open for you.

    “Three Weeks” is very interesting. Thank you.

    I think that Lawrence has a point. Yes companies do give tours and many companies do let customers view some back room things but over all, companies like FedEx, UPS, USPS, Mervyns, Nordstrom, Safeway, Kroger, The Outback, Microsoft etc… None of them take the attitude, “Let us show you how we do what we do so that when we do not live up to our customers expectations the customer will be more understanding.”

    Yes MMO is a new industry but companies build reputations by saying what the mean and doing what they say. The basics of customer relations has not changed.

    I believe that there are many MMO customers that lack any kind of understanding of the MMO industry. I know that there are many customers out there that are very understanding. There is a limit to how much of a mushroom understanding customers will become before they revolt.

    Once customers feel that a particular company tends to fail to live up to expectations, or if the customers routinely feel ignored, the time that it takes the MMO customers to boil over, due to new problems, probably becomes fairly short and very predictable (“Three Weeks”).

    MMO customers have been conditioned by Microsoft to live with bugs. They understand that programs will not be published on time (again from Microsoft). What they do not understand are bugs/problems being put on the perpetual back burner while the customer watches new (and buggy) product coming out. I do not think that any amount of back room viewing will make such things acceptable to customers yet producing buggy product and ignoring bugs seems to be a standard practice in the MMO industry.

    Customers have not changed. They are basically the same as they always have been. Also, customers that have computers to run MMOs are also somewhat familiar with software schedule problem and bugs (Microsoft).

    There are many software companies that take years to produce new product and people do not yell and scream every “three weeks” unless the old product has problems and the customer feels that the problems are being ignored.

    I think that the symptom of a customers fuse being “Three weeks” is more a result of conditioning by a particular company or even perhaps by a particular industry.

  30. phaylen said,

    May 26, 2007 at 12:24 pm

    omg Sanya, you’ve joined the blogging world. It’s like visiting an old friend seeing your name again, and lately I’ve seen it on just about every forum I haunt! “Worlds Greatest Public Relations/Community Manager (People are indecisive…) Sanya Leaves Mythic!” And have mercy if my veteren gaming days didn’t come back like a flash flood. DAoC was my first MMO, and you should be ashamed of yourself Sanya. You spoiled us. You treated the gamers like human beings. You interacted with us on personal levels. You laughed with us. We came to expect that as a standard. We were consequently Snarf-Slapped. There will never be another you. I still stay in touch with many of my original DAoC friends, even though most of us are married now, with children, back then we were a bunch of college students. It’s bizarre how time flies. As the industry evolved the line between web administrators, or public relations personnel and the public became much more formal, with those omsbudsmens between the public and the company take a relatively detached role. It’s truly sad how things have transpired with comanies in relation to their consumers. You know, my dear, SOE could really use you. Hahaha.
    I’m bookmarking you, chica! Good to have you back in any form!

  31. Tovin said,

    May 26, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    “Also, call me crazy, but if we’re going to start rolling out the hype machine before beta starts, maybe we could also try educating the customers on what a development timeline really looks like, including all the horrible ways things can – and do – and will – go wrong.”

    – Oh so very true!

    But there’s another point you hit on that I find most interesting. The vocal players tend to feel that their financial involvement in a game make them investors, and that therefore, their input on what is right or wrong is important.

    If customers walked into their local Wal-Mart, or called HBO and started talking about all the things that are being done wrong within an infrastructure you’d be laughed at hysterically. Some ideas might be taken into account, but to demand such action based on incomplete knowledge of the system is stupidity itself.

    As a continued point, to be offended that your ideas take longer then the magic 3 weeks to implement, when your feedback forum consists of “plz f1x ths cus it sux” it’s downright hilarous.

    One thing I wonder though, being married to a software engineer. How big a part of the problem is communication of the end result? If you’re not clear in explaining your needs to your coders they can’t give you a realistic idea of time, and even realistic time frames are pushed back often. Or if you’re like my husband he found a better way to do something 3/4ths through the project and it’s cool, and he’s happy with himself…..so he goes through and re-does the stuff he’s already completed in this new way. His poor customers 😦 At least they get a quality product with complete code when he’s done!

    In the meantime, I truly adore your writing and can’t wait to read all your future postings!

    T

  32. May 26, 2007 at 3:57 pm

    Another article worth reading. I have had the experience of playing in a game where the developement team made the mistake of saying the word “Soon”. i7 will be released soon. This was made in the latter part of 2006. By Janurary 2007 my guild had dissinegrated because of lost interest.

    When a developement team tells a community that they will be expanding and improving a game soon, as Sanya said, that will mean witihin the next 3 weeks. Played with a very tight knit group of people and they got their hopes and expectations crushed when 2 months later there was no progress being made on our game.

    I do not know whether the developement team realized how many people they had ostracized by their promise of “soon”, but being a part of the community it was easy to see the growing tension. The community forums were laced with threads from upset subscribers, and within hours those threads would dissapear as if the community manager was trying to hide from the community their own growing dissent.

    Just add the salt to the open wound… i7 was not released till the early summer of 2007 around 7 months after it was promised to be arriving “soon”.

  33. Eric the Grey said,

    May 27, 2007 at 1:19 am

    Sanya, I’ll phaylen said. It’s good to see you again, even if it’s not as a rep. You’ve always been a class act.

    Just one comment:

    imweasel said: “The problem is that the customer thinks 3 weeks is enough time and the devs think 3 years is not enough time. DAoC was a classic example of this.”

    Part of this is because the majority of said customers (myself included) have no idea of the intricacy of computer code, especially gaming code. They think that a change of ‘a few lines’ is all that’s needed to fix a problem. The reality is probably quite different.

    Eric the Grey

  34. Frank said,

    May 27, 2007 at 3:18 am

    Thank you for all you’ve done!

  35. kyan said,

    May 27, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    I liked the “three weeks” aphorism.

  36. Alex Weekes said,

    May 29, 2007 at 12:36 am

    I found myself continually nodding my head as I read this. Time is both a resource and an enemy in this business. Forget the calendar at your peril, because your players won’t.

    One of the worst things you can do is announce new feature X to launch in month Y, have it slip … and then never tell your players. I’ve seen it happen, and the mess it creates is long lasting.

    Thanks for launching your blog now, Sanya. It’s perfect timing for me to pick up some thoughts from someone with more experience as I launch myself into a new CM role.

  37. Nanopy said,

    May 29, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    Time…Reminds me somehow of housing and personal horses at daoc launch 😛

  38. imweasel said,

    May 29, 2007 at 9:36 pm

    “Time…Reminds me somehow of housing and personal horses at daoc launch”

    Not sure if this was ‘promised’ at launch or not, but this is a classic example.

    “I’m exaggerating. Time has meaning. It’s just that all times are “three weeks.”

    When you tell an MMO customer “soon,” it better happen within three weeks. If you say, “in the future,” and it hasn’t happened in three weeks, he’s going to raise hell on a message board about your broken promises. If you say, “someday,” hoping to put an argument to bed without killing it completely, the next argument will start in three weeks. Ditto “eventually,” “we hope,” “not now,” and “ASAP.” Go ahead. Wait a few weeks for the observer effect from this post to die down, and time it yourselves.”

    If ‘3weeks’ is ‘to short a time’, what exactly is ‘to long’?

    3 months? A year? 3 years? When the infamous catch all phrase ‘to difficult to implement at this time’ rears it’s ugly red-headed head?

  39. Izerous said,

    May 30, 2007 at 10:12 am

    Hype gets tiring you drink energy drink / coffee for a week to keep you awake and whats going to happen? Eventually they will crash. No matter how much hype and caffeine you shove down their throat they are just going to lay there sleeping and when they wake back up the won’t care anymore.

    For me I’m going to use StarCraft 2 for my example, I heard rumors about that years ago, including things like “there is going to be a 4th race”, and similar ideas. Until recently I haven’t even cared until blizzard released the game play video (which took disgustingly long to download). Say it took another year from now to release the final version, if they had shown every aspect of the game already this soon people would just be plain tired waiting for it. However if say every month on iterations they give a small update to the site say add 4 more units you can read about. Well gamers/potential gamers will have had a small nap and the overall hype may not be as high but they won’t have crashed and burned and thier interest wont drop before it is released.

    Peeking specifically now at mmorpgs picking on EQ because thats what I have been playing for the past few years. Can you imagine how quickly a game like that would have died if it never made a single expansion. Expansions are like an iteration of the game giving new content allowing for interest spikes. Allow them to take a nap and give them a jolt keep things steady.

    During development of a game these kinds of iterations really need to be put in place also. Give them a smaller jolt just don’t let them crash from too much at once.

  40. Iakimo said,

    May 30, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    Heh… very cool blog site! Kudos to you, and to Raph Koster for giving us a link on his own blog site, raphkoster.com. Which segues nicely with a brief recap of my own MMORPG gaming history, which started with “Star Wars: Galaxies,” from April 2004 to January 2006….

    http://www.thenoobcomic.com/daily/strip235.html

    Think “Jedi,” and “NGE,” and you get the point.

    Talk about squandering your player base’s investment of time….

  41. Bhagpuss said,

    May 31, 2007 at 2:18 am

    If MMOs are going to go truly mainstream and compete with movies, sports, music. consoloe gaming and general socialising for the leisure dollar, the entire concept of “time invested” has to go.

    Pretty much every other mainstream leisure activity you can think of is primarily consumed in bite-size chunks of time ranging from around 1 – 3 hours. Moreover, there is no requirement to “build up” to a certain standard before participating – you don’t need to to do 4 hours in the gym five nights a week to play a game of softball at the weekend; you don;t need to do a two-year course in film studies at night school to go see X-Men 3 after work.

    Currently MMOs are more akin to hobbies or crafts, where people are willing to spend hundreds of hours practicing a very specific skill in order to achieve something that they personally find satisfying; the difference is that if you spend five years learning to paint watercolors, at the end you have a whole lot of paintings, while if you spend 5 years building an MMO character, at the end you have no tangible product.

    What you do have are a set of transferrable skills, which are largely transferred to other MMOs in a search for novelty. As long as the currency of MMOs remains “time invested”, I can’t see the genre ever being more than a niche. WoW has moved furthest away from “time invested”, but still not very far. It has established a large niche presence, but it’s still far from mainstream.

    Whether its possible to make MMOs that can be learned in minutes, played satisfactorily in chunks of 1 – 3 hours and require no significant time investment beyond the time actually spent being entertained remains to be seen.

  42. Taemojitsu said,

    June 4, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    Early hype isn’t always a bad thing. As a specific example, take the attitude towards Warhammer within the WoW PvP community. In a recent interview, Paul Barnett (the creative director) mentioned how the reaction to the announcement that WAR’s release was being pushed back to 2008 was, on the whole, pretty positive, despite the amount of hype it has been getting on the WoW forums and elsewhere. This may be a specific and not really generalizable example in that WAR is seen as the best and perhaps only replacement for the PvP WoW once had, but may also go to show how players are content waiting longer for something when they know it’s going to be good, and that longer development time simply means a better game. (Or as Blizzard themselves emphasized in one of their conferences, don’t release your game before it’s ready! ESPECIALLY with an MMO… => see Vanguard)

    As for the “three weeks syndrome”, and again taking WoW as an example, there are a lot of reasons but a very legitimate one is the rightful concern that some issues simply have greater priority. Certain types of issues are more prone to being looked at and fixed quickly, and other types of issues sometimes end up NEVER being fixed, and this leads customers to misapply this explanation to situations where priority is not the leading explanation for delays, but rather things like patching and code changes are, where it is simply not possible to push the necessary fix without large amounts of overhead and inconvenience.

    That the customer’s particular concern is not a high priority will obviously not be a satisfactory answer, but stuff like “we can’t fix this until the next patch” does work to pacify enraged customers.

  43. Tess said,

    June 4, 2007 at 7:10 pm

    It doesn’t help that half of us game programmers are severely ADHD, and thus have completely distorted internal clocks. I’m sure you’ve seen this before. “Oh yeah, I can get this done in a week!” At the end of the week, it’s “almost done.” They then proceed to work nearly 40 hours over the course of the weekend, with occasional coffee breaks. “Just got this one bug to fix, and then it’ll be done.” Monday, it’s still not done. An 80 hour week later, they finally have it done. “Uh, there was this bug. I don’t know. Can I go home now?” The entire next week, they’re completely burned out, and they end up doing nothing but surfing the web, IMing their friends, and posting on other peoples’ blogs.

  44. Aris said,

    August 20, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    Nice…


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