Playing your game
Posted by Ben Zeigler on June 15, 2007
The ‘nets have been full of discussion over corruption and alleged corruption in Eve Online. I won’t delve in to CCP’s handling of the situation, but there was one point in many of the complaints that stuck out at me: The idea that developers actively playing their own game, and directly communicating with players, is bad.
Basically, there is absolutely no way to competently create an MMO without having part of your team actually play it. The kind of feedback you can get from bug reports, petitions, and message board postings isn’t enough. To really get a feel for how fun a game is, and keep on top of problems that players have a hard time articulating, direct play is essential. Obviously not every team member has to play (a weirdly large number of game programmers don’t play many games), but core devs from each department need to play and get directly involved with their game. And, to truly experience a game, you have to become involved in its community
While playing the game, devs build up the same informal relationships that anyone else does. On top of getting the normal enjoyment of social interaction, they use these relationships to help make the game better. To keep things from getting out of hand, companies place limits on dev to player contact. Because these relationships are informal and friendly, exceptions are inevitable. From a risk-management perspective, all player contact needs to tightly controlled to avoid the chance of things going wrong. The informal dev-to-player relationships are in constant balance with formal business-to-player relationships, and each company chooses where that balance lies. It’s my firm belief that the more successful ones err on the side of allowing informal dev to player contact. By combining sane policies, some non-intrusive monitoring, and common sense, the risk is minimized, and the more involved, more informed, and more motivated developers are well worth it. Or, if the balance doesn’t work out, sometimes you need to fly some people to Iceland to fix it.
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