Well, that brings me to my next question. If you create a game that has a certain kind of play progression, is the solution to try to switch gears on people? Like, "Oh! You've been enjoying your theme park, but now it turns into a systems-based game." It's not going to fly.
CM: [laughs] That's not going to work at all, because you need to set the expectations at the beginning. It's like once you've got someone... once a user base is used to this happening, if you keep the wrong parts of that, you're going to be hitting the wrong motivators in the player base. So you have to make sure that you're -- from the very beginning -- building it to be open, and to have these open systems that the players can feed into.
Because you're right -- if you get a certain way through and then you're kind of, "Here's this big open world", any abrupt change in focus really can separate your player base and they don't want to stick around.
And that's the problem that a lot of these games face now. You build up progression and you get to the endgame and it's only raiding, or it's only PVP, which is completely different to what they've done to get there. And then, "I don't like that type of gameplay! Oh well, it's time for me to go. It's time for me to not play that game."
So I really think that designers have to take a more ground-up and organic approach to making sure that your systems are building on that from the very beginning. And like I said, I don't think anyone's there yet; it's the next step that I'd love to see the genre take.
This is about the future of the genre and kind of where we can take it, and asking those difficult questions that maybe our marketing guys wouldn't necessarily jump at the fact that we're asking. But they're important that we ask them as developers, because we have to figure out how we can leverage all the great potential that these online communities have. Because there's something very different to single player games. When you've got that community around a game, the potential for utilizing that is so massive, and we're doing ourselves a disservice if we're not looking for that in the future.
Speaking of the community question, I read a blog post a few years ago that really stuck with me that made this point. I think that the EVE developers would put this differently, but they have the same philosophy -- especially after their disasters with their in-game purchases. It's "building the game for the audience you have, not the audience you want."
CM: Yeah, exactly.
That's an important philosophy, and that ties into what you're saying about building expectations as well. Do you think that's the path forward? Looking at the audience you have, and then making decisions about the direction?
CM: Yeah, for sure. And again, that's why it would be so much better for developers if we were able to start small. And I think that's a lot of the pressure -- the pressure from sales, and the pressure from the industry as well, and the users.
It's not just an insular problem; a lot of the hype is actually generated by the players. They want you to start huge, and if you don't sell a million copies it's suddenly, "Oh, you're a failure. I don't care about that game anymore."
And I think we need to get people out of that mindset, so that a game can start at like 100,000, or an indie game could start at 10,000. Because a studio game is going to want to have a decent place to start with, and wherever that level may be. But that a game can start, as long as it's cost effective, as long as you budgeted your project to be in that ballpark and you know from the beginning, "Okay, we've set our budget, we're aiming for 100,000 at the start."
And then we need the gamers to not react with, "Oh, well. That's a worthless game then, because it's not going to have a million users." We need the users to be, "Oh cool, this game appeals to me in my niche and my interests, and I want to see this game succeed, so I'm going to support it."
And then if the game takes off and grows, then you can get that kind of organic growth. I think you saw it outside of the MMO genre, with games like League of Legends. They started with that same kind of smaller user base, build it up, continue to invest, tweak it based on the feedback from the users they get, and they didn't try and change what they were to appeal to a broader market. They kept the core of what their game was, and kept building on it and kept tweaking it and poking it based on the feedback, and I think that that gives developers an invaluable opportunity to build their game.
This whole idea that you can expect -- even with a triple-A budget -- an MMO to launch and compete with a game that's been out for seven years, you just have to think about that for a minute. It's ever so slightly ludicrous.
Hasn't the very existence of WoW permanently altered the landscape?
CM: Yeah, for sure.
If you look at what the problem with Star Wars is, and of course it's very easy to sit here and be like an armchair analyst, but it's like, ultimately, "We're going to try to compete with an eight year old game on the same basis."
CM: Yeah, and that's the challenge. In a perfect world, I'd love it where you didn't have to. You could launch and have your users build it up, and then maybe you really start to market the game in year three or year four. You keep your advertising budgets within scope, let's say your revenue, and you allocate a portion of your revenue to advertise.
And then at a certain point once you know that you've tweaked the product and refined your entry funnel, and where people are coming in, and what they're liking about the game, then you can go out and push. But in the current market, that's kind of too late. If you start to market a game a year after it has launched, that's kind of "Well, that's not right -- that's weird."