Too little game, much too soon? - by Julie Whitefeather
Sep 11, 2007 18:43:20

Now that the Austin Game Developer's Conference (GDC) is over, I am sure you have all had a chance read and listen to the coverage. Not that I am partial (which I suppose I am) but I still enjoyed Brent's coverage the best. There is something about an audio interview that "brings it all home" for me, as it is said.

One of the more interesting interviews I thought was the interview Brent had with David Gardner. Mr. Gardner, as you all know from Virgin Worlds #85, is the executive vice-president of Icarus Studios. For those of few of you who may not have heard of Icarus Studios, I will let Mr. Gardner himself tell you who they are. This quote is from an interview with Mr. Gardner on www.mmo-gamer.com from 2007.
"Icarus was formed in 2001 by a team of industry veterans who wanted to create the first platform and tools designed from scratch for virtual worlds and MMO platforms. Jim Hettinger, our CEO, and other founders created some of the very first online games. I am the new guy at Icarus in charge of licensing our platform and contracting for our project and studio services." - David Gardner, Icarus Studios

In this last article Mr. Gardner is quoted as saying "Calling the Icarus Platform 'middleware' is kind of like calling a super carrier a row boat." However, if Icarus Studios can live up to Mr. Gardner's claims, I will be the first one to dub them a "super carrier". David Gardner talks about virtual worlds and tie-ins with television shows, claiming that starting next year we will start to see commercials in prime time for those Virtual Worlds. When Brent points out how critical the timing would be in developing such a virtual world, Mr. Gardner makes a startling comment:
"The three year MMO is, I think, a dinosaur. Today we talk about time to market in months, not years." - David Gardner

Brent's first comment at this point was "Wow, wow - there might be some people here who disagree with you..." I am one of them. I can only imagine what a product turned out in a matter of months would look like - shades of Vanguard's initial release. Still, if he is right, there era when even a company like Blizzard Entertainment can release a product "when it is ready" may be over. But I doubt it.

What I am afraid is more likely to happen is what Michael Morhaime, the president and co-founder of Blizzard Entertainment spoke about in his key note speech at the opening of the GDC called "How to Rule the World (of Warcraft)."

In the past I have written more than one article about the first impression that games make. Blizzard Entertainment has always excelled at presenting a polished product that is ready when it is finished. Yet it is still a lesson that some companies must learn. Vanguard was a great example of what can happen when a game ships before it is ready. Its launch was disastrous, and Sony, who rescued the game from oblivion, is still trying to pull the now defunct Sigil Company's fat out of the proverbial fryer.

If Mr. Gardner is correct about the timing of a release, but not the quality, any studio that launches a product that fast, as Michael Morhaime put it, will be mortgaging the future to meet the quarter.

Blizzard Entertainment has always guarded its brand name like a bank vault. It stands for something. We all know that when a Blizzard product comes out it will not have so many bugs you will need to call Orkin. When you buy one of their games you know it won't take a Cray super computer to run the game. The key to a Blizzard product has always been access - as the GDC Keynote speech put it, "easy to learn but difficult to master." But you can't learn a game, or learn how to function in a virtual world, if it shipped too early and you spend most of your time fighting the game just to make it work. You can bet that Blizzard Entertainment would never let this happen.

Even if Mr. Gardner's dream of time to market of virtual worlds in term of months never comes true, one thing is for sure. He is correct when he talks about the blurring of different aspects of the entertainment industry. We may no longer think in terms of an "MMO market". If platforms like the one developed by Icarus Studios becomes the wave of the future, rather than game engines, we may indeed by looking at the wave of the future. As Mr. Gardner puts it...
"Things aren't going to fall neatly. We used to talk about 'this is a serious game'. Well that's distance learning. Well that's an MMO. I think those categories are starting to blur." - David Gardner

See you online,

- Julie Whitefeather

Submitted by Brent on Sep 11, 2007 18:43:20 CST (comments: 5)


Comments:


'quickly assembled games' by Brent
Submitted on 2007-09-11 18:54:50 CST
In a sense this day has already arrived.

With Virtual Laguna Beach, Barbie, the Tyra Banks virtual world (not sure if that ever happened or not) we've seen TV studios pumped out virtual worlds in short order.

Clearly, these are not the massive triple-A content-heavy MMOs those of us here are thinking about, but they can be made relatively rapidly because the focus is on socialization and user generated content rather than lore, beautiful art and endless landscapes.

I think when David is talking about months of development time, this is what he's talking about. After all, Fallen Earth (the MMO being made by Icarus with their own toolset) has been in development for a long time, as has Hero's Journey (made with the Simultronics Hero Engine) has been in development for over 5 years, maybe closer to ten. Both of those games are triple-A MMORPG games and those take time, even with an amazing toolset.

On the other hand, a virtual world based on Heroes, Lost or The Price is Right wouldn't take long to assemble. Still the concern over quality is something to be concerned about, but the onus for quality will fall to the studio using the tool, not the tool itself.



'Missing the point' by scytale2
Submitted on 2007-09-12 08:27:28 CST
I am afraid I must disagree with you again, Julie - maybe we will have some common ground at some point...

What are being described which have development times in "months not years" are not the WoW that you are so fond of, not even the Multiverse Firefly "quick to market" type games.

They are more like "marketing campaigns", where you play along for three months and win a crate of Coke, if you manage to beat the boss.

Also, you should consider Raph's "piecemeal" philosophy, where "variety" is far more important than "quantity". For instance, Tonight, I am going to be a train driver on the Orient Express. Tomorrow, I am going to be an archaeologist who opens up the tomb of Tutankhamun. The next day I am participating in the Battle of helms Deep as an uruk Hai.

None of these need years of development and I'd pay for each individually on a "pay as you go" basis.



'Well' by darrenl
Submitted on 2007-09-12 09:54:36 CST
Scytale...wouldn't a game that offers all of those options still take years to develop? Regardless if you do it peicemeal or not, you still got to design, develop and integrate those pieces.

Icarus may give you those powerful tools you need to shorten the dev cycle, but I'm waiting to see how crazy devs go with it in producing content before I believe the "months not years" approach that David speaks of.



'Level of sophistication' by scytale2
Submitted on 2007-09-12 10:46:33 CST
Ok, well let's use my example and talk about the "tools"

Let's presume a "traindriving" set of tools exists, a "dungeon" or "tomb-exploring" set exists and a "Battle" set exists.

I've no idea how long it would take to programme these things, but depending upon the amount of options to players, I would have thought we were talking weeks to months. Guild Wars has been out how many years? Let's presume that the original programme is what might be described as a "sophisticated tool". Their turnaround on expansions has been 9-12 months? These are large expansions which offer more than a few months play, when I would certainly get bored by traindriving in less than three months and want to move on to virtual potholing or similar...

The key is not to write a game which has longevity, as that is not the idea. We've got used to MMORPGs which are designed to take our money for years and most (but not all) are rather frustrated by the lack of choice. I mean if you go to Disneyworld for a month, you'd probably still be having fun, but looking forward to perhaps trying something different?

We're now (I hope) moving into the era of choice and I could see myself spending a lot more than my £8/month Vanguard subscription, if choice was offered.



'Well...' by darrenl
Submitted on 2007-09-13 12:56:08 CST
I don't know, guess everytime I hear someone say "Our tool can reduce your software development time by X", and X is measured in days and months, I usually snicker to myself.

...but that's the bitter techie inside talking.




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