Where is the Balance Between Quality and Completion?
by: Tony "RadarX" Jones
Today's MMOG industry seems to bear little resemblance to the pale shadow of early games like EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, and Star Wars Galaxies. Thanks to changes in consumer demands coupled with the explosion of the market here in the United States and abroad, game development is held to a new standard of production. Publishers must establish clear deadlines to satisfy both investors and anxious fans while maintaining an ever increasing level of quality expectation. Where is the line drawn between production and polish and how does Tabula Rasa fit in?
Years ago with games such as Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies (it wasn't just SOE, they are just the ones I played) it wasn't unheard of to ship a product with some unfinished content and a few bugs in it. Stability issues were expected and players just turned a blind eye hoping for the best. As time went on the developers fixed up zones and things were ship shape just in time for the next expansion.
While many expansions and games do still release as incomplete products, the current market no longer makes large allowance for getting behind schedule or minor oversight because customers have options. With well over 125 active MMOG's available, many of them "free to play," if they get bored they'll just move to another game. For the customer not only does this mean the beauty of capitalism but increased quality and polish with each game. For developers this has increased costs to meet higher quality expectations not only in gameplay but presentation.
I'm Polished Enough!
Where does Tabula Rasa stand on this? It's no secret that Tabula Rasa has been in development for 6 years, and with a rumored development cost of over $100 million dollars, it's not hard to see why NCsoft would be anxious to get the final product shipped. With little else besides Aion close to launch it could very well decide the short term financial future of the company. How is the diligently working development staff dealing with the looming launch date?
Recent patches and posts from the Community Management have indicated a great effort is being focused on the early areas such as Concordia Wilderness, Divide and Palisades which is essentially the level 1-20 content. Logos positions have changed, mission NPC's have been added, control points have been tweaked, and additional art assets placed. They are wisely concentrating on the "first impression" aspect which can make or break a customers motivation to continue playing.
This isn't to say other areas aren't receiving some polish as well. The Areaki zone creature populations have been recently adjusted and classes still seeing tweaking and examination. Tabula Rasa isn't completely focused on polish however, as a Military Surplus (i.e. Auction House) is currently in development along with high level body armor suits for end game progression. From weapon changes to additional content, the final touches of what the team has envisioned as Tabula Rasa seem to be emerging.
What constitutes polished content in this competitive market? Where is the line drawn between deadlines and quality? A recent and pertinent example is that of the EverQuest 2 launch in 2004. The game launched without allowing access to level 40-50 zones and while normal players didn't notice, many of those who chew through content weren't allowed to advance beyond 40 for a few weeks.
Another recent example is that of Vanguard which provided very little if anything in the end game for players, a problem they are still effectively rectifying. And just to show I'm not picking on just SOE, Turbine's Lord of the Rings Online didn't make any raid content available until months after launch. Game after game, expansion after expansion, we can go down the list and find faults with them all.
The important question in this is, how high do we set that problematic high jump bar for NCsoft to leap over? Are we really expecting perfect content all the way through level 50 on launch day? Is it realistic to expect perfection when little in the industry would suggest it is rarely if ever obtained with MMOG's?
As launch draws nearer and nearer we will see more from the beta test, and review after review bombarding us with opinions on mechanics and other information. It will be up to each individual player to subjectively decide if the game has been polished enough to keep their attention. While there will most certainlty be dramatics from many who emotionally attach themselves to games, the future of Tabula Rasa may lie in the hands of the average player who very likely will form an impression within the first few hours. I look forward to where everyone sits on this issue and we'd love to hear your opinion in the forums.
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Tabula Rasa Game Page.