Check out a great post by Eric at Elder Game talking about the cycle a live game goes through as it matures and a new generation of developers comes aboard.
It’s very true that a lot of game developers enjoy shipping a title and then moving on to the next. In the console world this is how it’s done, of course; the MMO universe operates as a live service after launch, which is something even many seasoned developers are not used to or interested in. So having people move on is an expected part of the process.
The first year after EQ2 launched saw a number of its senior people leave, either for new opportunities within SOE or to other companies. But since the game remained SOE’s flagship product for some time, the team still had ample resources and plenty of good people on board. And as Lum mentions, my friend Scott proved an invaluable presence who led the team to make many popular changes to the game. (Oh, what might have been if only so many of the game’s formative years of development hadn’t been squandered… but what’s done is done.)
Speaking as someone who’s done a fair bit of it, fixing other people’s broken shit is not always fun. I’m not referring to the kind of stuff where a design decision was made one way and you’d rather take it another; I mean coming across something horribly broken and convoluted that unfortunately crept into the game because at some point quantity was more of a priority than quality. But you do learn an awful lot from the experience, some of which is applicable to starting a new project from the ground up and some of which is not.
New projects are inherently sexy and fun. It’s a chance to make all new kinds of mistakes instead (you hope!) of repeating old ones. But by the same token, I agree with Eric that there is a lot to be said for working on a live game–especially if it’s one you love and want to see get better. But as he notes, a new generation of developers can sometimes be overwhelmed by good intentions and leap to make changes before fully understanding the implications. Hopefully the transition between the “A” squad and the “B” team is gradual enough that an osmosis of wisdom can occur and leave the new caretakers with everything they need to do the job well.