Thursday, August 18, 2016

Who Has Successfully Changed Horses Midstream?

To start this off, I feel like I first have to address my own point of view on the topic to be covered, so you see where I am coming from.

I actually played right field, but that isn't a metaphor

I actually played right field, but that isn’t a metaphor

I tend to be something of a fatalist in many things, but in video games especially.

For me that means I come to a video game with the view that it is a series of rules and constraints that I have to work within in order to win, progress, succeed, or whatever, and that the idea that the developer ought to change them just to suit me rarely enters my head.  There is more than a bit of the rule following engineer in me.  I take what I am given and try to make it work.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t kvetch about the details of various games.  This blog is a testament to that.  If there is a mechanic that is awkward or horribly inefficient, I will complain about that or suggest improvements.  But that is mostly for myself, to record how I feel about a game at a given moment, and my comments tend to be about tactical issues rather than strategic vision.  I do not expect anybody to be paying attention and I am generally surprised when anything I think might be a good idea actually comes to pass through whatever means. If something changes, I can almost guarantee it had nothing to do with me.

But to suggest that a developer change what is the driving philosophy or core game play elements title to accommodate my tastes would be bizarro world strange.

As an example for illustration, I do not enjoy League of Legends, so I simply do not play the game.  The complete lack of LoL posts here attests to that.  I do enjoy five person PvE dungeons.  Again, plenty of posts to back that up.  But the idea that I should start pestering Riot to make a five person PvE dungeon version of LoL would only occur to me in the context of listing out things I would likely never do.  Despite the fact that their engine could probably handle it, five person dungeons isn’t what LoL is about.  So I don’t post about how they should accommodate my vision here, on their forums, on Reddit, or anyplace else.

And I realize that might just be me, given how often I see people suggest that if only game X had feature/aspect/mini-game Y, then they and thousands to millions of like minded individuals would rush to the game, bringing success.  Many an arm chair developer has a plan to save a given game or even the whole industry based suspiciously on their own tastes in video games.

This all comes to mind because of the persistence of the “walking in stations” idea in EVE Online.  Kirith Kodachi wrote a great post on the topic, a “what if” scenario, where walking in stations becomes a success, which illustrates the whole problem I have with the idea.  The feature essentially requires CCP to develop a new game, distinct from the space focused current game, in order to make walking in stations anything beyond a gimmick.

Whatever you think about it, you cannot deny that walking in stations would require fundamentally different game play than what is the focus of EVE Online today.

However, I don’t want to get into the holy war over whether or not walking in stations would be a good thing though.  And believe me, my own relationship with the idea isn’t as cut and dried as you might think.

Instead, I am looking for examples from other games, especially MMORPGs, where the developer has, after launch, departed from their core philosophy or game play plan, and achieved success beyond what they had previously seen.

When has the idea that more people would play a game if it changed fundamentally actually come to pass?

I can only come up with examples where greater success did not follow.

I think of Trammel and consensual PvP in Ultima Online, or Star Wars Galaxies and the NGE, or that “fine, we’ll give you a PvE progression experience” expansion for Dark Age of Camelot that I cannot remember the name of right now, or the distraction of PvP in EverQuest II.

Which is not to say somebody didn’t like all of those things.  One of the lessons you learn from blogging is that any feature, no matter how bad or annoying it is, will have somebody stand up for it and declare it their favorite thing ever.

But none of these led to greater success.

Even World of Warcraft, which is, as always, the outlier in this, having the budget to add in all sorts of non-core features, still lives and dies on their core PvE content.  Five million people did not drop out of the game last year because of problems with battlegrounds, arena combat, or pet battles, they dropped out because they didn’t like, or too quickly consumed, the overland, dungeon, and raid PvE content.

So plenty of negatives, and I didn’t even start down the path of gaming franchises that remain successful year after year despite offering up nothing substantially different in core game play.  Everything from Pokemon to Civilization to Call of Duty that goes from success to success with only minor variations seems to argue against changing horses midstream.  Find your rut and stick with it forever!

But just because I can’t come up with an example of success in this regard doesn’t mean there haven’t been any.  There are more things in online gaming than are dreamt of in my rather limited philosophy.

Who has done it?  Who has made a success of a fundamental change of game play or philosophy on a live game?  There has to be some example out there, even if it is a special case that worked only because the conditions were just right.  I would prefer an MMO example, but something MMO-ish would suffice.

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