Wisdom Worthy of Dusting Off This Blog to Restate

Truer words have never been spoken.

“I’m going to go out on a limb here, and assert that setting a realistic scope is one of the most difficult challenges an MMO producer will face.”

Lum understates his point. He shouldn’t.

Scope is a balancing act. When making an MMO that seeks to evolve the genre in some way (assuming you want to do that, of course), you need to figure out how much of the New & Sexy you really need. But more than that, you need to question your assumptions about The Must Haves to be sure you’re not wasting time building expensive features just because that silly Warcraft game added them four years in.

How do you do this? You have to be brutally honest with yourself about the core vision of your game. This core vision is not a 10,000 page document–I’ve seen much-vaunted 10,000 page design documents, and they’re utter jokes. You need a list of four or five bullet points that describe the foundation of what your game is, and you use those four or five things as razors to evaluate every feature you consider putting into your game.

If a feature can’t stand up to your razors, you change it or cut it. It doesn’t matter if the feature in question is your greatest stroke of genius ever, or the most perfect example of design or art or code or music anyone has ever experienced. If it doesn’t advance the core vision of your game, it needs to change or go away.

Check out the director’s commentary on deleted scenes of your favorite DVD and you’re likely to hear how a certain scene was the director’s absolute favorite thing he ever shot, but ultimately he realized that it worked against the film and had to go. It’s painful to murder your darlings, but discipline is necessary in any art form.

Scott is right about something else, too: Nobody is ever going to give a developer an award for thoughtful scoping. But if you have the force of will to trim your game down to the purest core of what it can be, and you have the resources to polish that core so that it is excellent and fun, you will succeed and become very rich in the process.

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Steve Danuser, also known as Moorgard, is a a writer, editor, and game designer.

10 thoughts on “Wisdom Worthy of Dusting Off This Blog to Restate”

  1. Heh I was beggining to think you fell of the edge of the earth…. well hopefully the lack of blog updates is just you buisy working away at My future MMO entertainment :)

    But on topic I agree totally with what you put.

  2. Work has been crazy busy, and I’d rather spend my creative energy making games rather than just writing about them. ;)

    I will try to post a little more often, though. Consider January my blog vacation.

  3. Totally agree with you…..It’ s not just MMO’s tho…. even single player games these days try to add things that don’t fit the core vision of the game.

    Glad to hear work has been crazy :) Copernicus coming along is it?


  4. Heh much better then you saying works been really slow were taking a coupple years off before working on our game again…..

  5. I guess my biggest concern over scope is letting a bad idea “stay” because it fits into the scope of your game better then a good idea. Some other projects have said things in very early testing like “Good idea but that’s not our vision of the game” which results in a game true to the core principals but not enjoyable.

    I think Scott’s more important point is to play game early and make sure people WANT to play. If your own team doesn’t want to play it then you’ve not got this “killer game” you’ve got a copy of a mediocre game at best.

  6. Lum’s article was excellent. It’s nice to see him back writing more substantive pieces instead of his usual attempts at trying to be clever on his blog.

    On the issue of scope, this is something that everyone who’s part of the production end of the video game industry learns in short order. Proper scoping means that you properly allocate resources for every feature/mechanic in your game.

    So it’s nice that finally people who don’t work in the industry can understand why their favorite game or MMO doesn’t have all of the features that they want or demand.

    Nothing can kill a project faster than failing to properly scope out all of the features. Failure to do so means endless hours of crunch time (unpaid overtime and working on weekends) for your employees.

    Another related consequence of failing to scope out a project is that it creates unrealistic publisher expectations. This is why it’s important to keep your design document up to date as it can come back to haunt you.

    It’s far better to create, refine and test a few features well then too many features poorly. Less is more.

  7. I think if your team is playing the game and not having fun, then you are probably doomed and there’s not much you can do about it. Because if the dev team you have didn’t know what would be fun to begin with, how will they ever figure this out and recreate stuff before they have to release the game? Playtesting needs to be done mostly for tweaking things. It’s too expensive to build things and then do major redos. Sure, you can playtest early on with a very imcomplete game, but will anybody really think that is fun? Probably not, unless you can envision all of the other stuff that will go into the game once it is complete.

    The team needs to review design docs, general layouts, concept art, non-detailed prototypes, and other stuff that is relatively easy to create and make the major changes at this point. Occasionally there will be something that gets through to the later stages of development that just needs to be changed (and you can’t be afraid to do so), but you want to avoid this as much as possible.

    Adding features to an MMO that aren’t within its scope can definitely hurt the overall game. Some people think of MMOs as virtual worlds, so anything you can do in real life, (or a realistic fantasy life), should be possible in an MMO.
    The core gameplay element of most MMOs are killing things for loot and experience. Why do we need things like the ability to sit in chairs or lie down in a bed? Also, why do we have things like player housing in MMOs? If I want to sit in a chair or look at the inside of my own house, I don’t need a game to do it. I play games to escape from that mundane stuff. And yet these gameplay features are perpetuated from MMO A to MMO B just so B can say they have some feature that A has.

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