Does an open development style help or hurt game companies?
Last week I was watching the latest patch notes stream for Hi-Rez's upcoming shooter/MOBA Paladins. Unlike the “Chicken Patch” stream, this one wasn't as long, but it did introduce a major change to the game… No. Not Grover.
About halfway through the stream, the topic of cards and decks came up. The cards are an interesting topic in any context, as they are one of the two features unique to the game. They're also the source of the most contention (no one really seems to have a problem with the mounts.) So, while I was there to get notes on the Grover stuff, the cards caught most of my attention – especially since the changes were so drastic.
I immediately started messaging our own Mike Byrne about the entire thing. Starting out with. “OMG… Hi-Rez killed deck building in Paladins. You pick your five cards in the lobby before the match starts.”
Not inappropriately, Mike replied simply with “Wait, what??”
The conversation continued with me explaining the system to Mike as the devs were explaining it on screen.
Mike: “So no picking in match?”
Me: “Nope… AND. While you're in the card picking stage the game will show you who is going to be on the other team so you can coordinate on the cards you need. All the cards will be active at start.”
Mike comments on how Hi-Rez keeps changing everything around and that he literally has no clue about what they're trying to do with the game at this point. I respond that Hi-Rez doesn't know yet either and that they've been saying that all along.
Don't get me wrong here, I'm not implying they literally don't know where they want to go. But after speaking with the developers, what I do know is that they like to let the players help direct the development and will completely switch things around on the fly, toggling back and forth between things or dropping things altogether. It's part of the reason they launch betas as early as they do.
It's part of their goal to make things as eSports friendly as possible.
Mike's response is that this far into the beta, their process is enough to make him ignore the game for now and maybe come back later to check it out.
I can see it. For players who aren't familiar with the Hi-Rez development style (and even some that are), this process has to be incredibly confusing and frustrating. I mean, almost every other game out there is basically going, “Okay, game is almost done, we just need to tweak things so let's start testing. (Either that or the game is done and it's really just a marketing beta to let players get a taste.) So, I can totally understand the sentiment here.
I mean, on the other hand, we have Blizzard who waits to reveal their games until they're probably 75% (totally an estimation) finished. When they first revealed Overwatch, it already felt pretty, well, “Hey they could beta test this now,” level of finished. Of course, this comes from the perspective of a less technically competitive player who just likes to blow things up; but still. With Blizzard, they seem to know pretty much from the start what they want and they do what's required to get to that point before the players ever see the game. It's a big contrast to the Hi-Rez system.
It also – I think – makes the beta much more palatable to most people.
Now, I'll be completely honest. When it comes to development; as a player I don't care nearly as much about the process as I do what comes out of it – so long as the process doesn't involve cheating the players in some way. On the other hand, as a curious person who likes to know how things work, I care greatly about both. But as a player. I just want a game that's interesting and fun to play.
That said, it does introduce an interesting question. What kind of impact does this “open” system of game development have on early player retention?
As stated before, I'm pretty zen about these kinds of things; I'll happily stick around and watch how things happen and how we get to the end product. On the other hand, I LOVE it when a game developer surprises everyone and successfully launches a good game almost immediately after announcing it.
Obviously, a large factor in this is that for a lot of games Open Beta really means marketing beta. This results in a very large portion of players thinking of betas as a way to try out the game out and see if they like it, rather than actually helping to test and develop a game. These players become irritated when they are confronted with a game that not only asks them to test a less finished product but also one that doesn't seem to have any clear idea where it's going or what it's supposed to be.
For other players, it may present a bit of a learning curve. A lot of players take advantage of betas for the purpose of getting a head start on learning how to play the game – particularly if they are planning on being competitive in it in some way. If the game is drastically changing throughout the beta, this isn't possible. They may as well wait a while and let the developers get everything a bit closer to finished.
That said, part of Hi-Rez's system is designed to get input from competitive players and develop a game that they would be interested in playing – possibly professionally. Even the upcoming Paladin's tournament is intended to get direct input from the most competitive players. Due to their intention for their games, it seems nigh impossible for them to ever develop something in a closed environment similar to other developers. Yes, they may lose potential players to confusion and frustration, but they believe this system works for them.
Of course, it may not work for you – it doesn't exactly work for Mike, while I'm pretty okay about it. So, I'm curious to know what you (the gaming community) tend to think of the lengthy, community-based game development system. Is there a style you prefer more, or do you like being part of the process?
About the Author
QuintLyn is a long-time lover of all things video game related will happily talk about them to anyone that will listen. She began writing about games for various hobby sites a little over ten years ago and has taken on various roles in the games community.
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