Polish kills MMOGs?
Polished games are certainly a potentially important factor for successful MMOGs, but may it also provide a risk to kill a certain segment of this market?
This past year there has been a number of new MMOGs being worked on that have had their release dates pushed back. Since Blizzard launched a very successful and polished MMOG it seems many companies think they need to get their games polished before releasing them. This has been in particular emphasized by the relative failure of another MMOG from Sigil, which showed a distinct lack of polish at release.
Many of the MMOGs that are now getting close to release and postponing it were probably already in progress and/or had had their budget expectations set before the Blizzard polish mantra entered the mindset of many of the developers. So they have to extend their financial constraints which may potentially be a challenge to convince investors that it will still be a good idea and that in the end the game will still make a lot of money.
It seems Perpetual was not on the lucky end of that bargaining game and as a result Gods & Heroes may never see the light of day.
Now, for any new games that concept/design/development work have just started on or will start, taking the polishing time into account should not be an afterthought and investors should be aware of the time and effort involved, assuming people make reasonable estimates. This likely mean that investors need to consider longer time to release and more investment to get there. More polish should be one factor can make the game successful, so that would reduce the risk of failure.
A polished game that will take 4-6 years to develop can certainly make a lot of money if it works out well and it may not need to get close to Blizzard numbers to get some money back to the investors. But when will the game reach break even? After 1 year, 3 years or 5 years? How long can it be expected to give any significant return back and at what point will it merely be enough to keep it running with some minor updates?
The idea of investing money and perhaps wait 6-8 years before it pays off is certainly fine, as long as it does – or if it flops the amount of loss can be reduced. So why would investors really invest in such MMOGs then? The question is if there are better options for them to invest in or not.
The key part that MMOGs are expanding and taking advantage of is people playing together in various ways, which in general has a huge potential. But this does not only include big budget MMOGs – there are lots of opportunity and potential market for “lighter” multiplayer options.
Lokk at all the Barbie Online, Club Penguin, stardoll.com etc. Users in millions, development cost and time to market a fraction of what big MMOGs require. They may not get as much money back per user, but cost and risk is lower and results come quicker (success or failure). One genre of game does not exclude the other, but I doubt that there will be a steady increase of big MMOG titles. Rather more smaller, perhaps less comprehensive offerings.
Maybe also also more work on expanding existing titles with content, but then the games need to be redesigned with a different kind of progression of the world as such. Many of the aging MMOGs suffer from a pattern of thinking that seem to be a remiscient of the design of single player RPG titles and not evolving persistent worlds.
In the area of software development methodologies are changing to make development more agile and responsive to changes in requirements and more adaptive to the outside world. Can and will this also include big MMOG releases at some point? And what business models will these require?