Maybe we aren't complaining about the right thing
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 February 2014, 9:59 am
Over the last few weeks I've read a lot of blog posts on The Elder Scrolls Online in my newsreader. I've repeatedly seen mentioned that the game cost $200 million to make, a number that I consider to be unconfirmed. I've seen multiple people complaining about the monetization of the game, for example the collector's edition, or having both a subscription and an item shop. And from some people breaking the NDA I've read comments that the game isn't actually all that good, or at least nothing special. Overall all those comments don't affect me at all, other than reminding me that pretty much the same was said about many other MMORPGs before: They cost too much to make, are too expensive for the players, and aren't all that good. And I was wondering if there isn't a common link behind all those complaints, other than that this is the internet and people always rant on the internet.

As I mentioned before, a game needs to create revenue which is greater than the sum of the development cost and the running cost. And while pretty much every number you've ever read about the development cost of a MMORPG is disputed, we do know that making MMORPGs is rather expensive. If you make a game that costs over $100 million to make in development cost alone, and add the cost to run the game and do customer support, you need a lot of players paying a lot of money for a long time before that pays out economically.

Now I never ran a game studio or developed a game myself, and I am well aware that it isn't easy. But from various stories one hears, especially when a studio goes belly-up, there is a lot of bad project management going on in game development. There is feature creep, stuff being added to the game before the core is even finished. There are sudden changes of direction, with lots of work being thrown away. And there is a lot of bad communication, turning potential customers off from the game before it is released.

I wonder if we should start complaining about bad project management instead of complaining about the symptoms of bad project management. If a game isn't all that good, but did cost so much to make that the devs are forced to squeeze the last nickel and dime out of every player, that to me appears to be just a consequence of bad project management. If games were better planned and made, they result would be better games that cost less to make and can thus be cheaper. Maybe competence is more important in a game developer than just passion.
Tobold's Blog

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