Our goal with Yokaan Games Studio are to create high-quality games that provide a fun and immersive gaming experience, but without common corporate greed. We aim to involve the community heavily once it starts growing large enough. I know I've been disappointed many times in just the past few years by games that claim to be next-gen, yet are little different than games of the previous generation albeit with better graphics, or maybe a few new gameplay mechanics here and there.
Probably the most recent example of a failure at making a next-gen game is Elder Scrolls Online (prior to Tamriel Unlimited's launch; might be doing a review of TU at some point, as it has improved VASTLY since I originally wrote this post)). Now don't get me wrong- I love the Elder Scrolls series, I want to see the game succeed. I love Zenimax, and I especially love Bethesda, but come on.. I played the betas of the game, and while the game is absolutely gorgeous and there are some fun gameplay elements, it is barely different from the countless other MMOs I've played. Worse still, is that their business model is essentially the business model of about TWO gaming generations ago! Zenimax Online Studios basically claimed that ESO was going to be a next-gen MMO, and before I heard about the subscription fee, I actually thought they may be able to push World of Warcraft off of its throne. However, ESO committed virtual suicide when they decided to go with a subscription fee, because they apparently did absolutely no market research about the way MMOs work. I mean, mistakes are to be expected from a brand new studio like ZMO is, but come on: even an amateur game developer without a degree (myself) knows that you have to do market research to create games that people want to play and can actually afford. Funnier still is how they were using a marketing ploy like this: "Over 5 million people played beta."- well, the thing they're forgetting is that many people who played beta will not play the final game. To a lot of people, beta was just an early access version of the game that they could decide whether or not they want to buy it.
The game is beyond buggy (they announced a release date before they even started testing the game), it has generic MMO mechanics, and it just doesn't feel like an Elder Scrolls game. A lot of the freedom that is a trademark of the series is omitted from ESO. The only thing unique to ESO that actually helps make a slight difference is how well they designed the first-person camera view. No other MMO I've played has such good first-person gameplay. However, that is not enough to save a game that has already lost millions before release due to a cash-grabbing business decision. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed beta and would love to see the game succeed, but I simply can't bring myself to pay $60+$15/month for a single game when I could pay $7/mo for RuneScape membership, or $10/mo for a Daybreak Games All-Access Pass and play their games which I thoroughly enjoy. Not to mention Zenimax Online cheated all of their deluxe edition preordering customers out of a good $20, because I walked into a Walmart the other day, and for $60, I can pick up a copy of not just the REGULAR game, but the deluxe edition, PLUS a premium cloth map included inside. Either that's a sign the game isn't as popular as they hoped, or they just wanted to get more money from preorders...
So now that I've ranted a bit, I'll go into detail of how I feel these games could have improved themselves to really offer a great next-generation gameplay experience. Elder Scrolls Online's primary problems were:
- They didn't add enough unique features that differentiate the game from other MMOs
- They didn't do any market research for the payment model nor did they listen to the outcry over the subscription fee
- They announced their release date before they even started closed beta
So what could they have done to make the game a LOT more successful? First off, they should have done some better research and seen the features that ARE loved, the ones that players hate, and make a game based upon those ideas. You can't satisfy everyone, but it's wise, as a business, to try to please everyone in order to maximize profit. I don't even run a for-profit business and I know that. If they made a game that builds on top of successful features, as well as attempts to create new features that no one else has ever seen before, they could really create a true next-gen gameplay experience. They succeeded at this in some aspects, but also failed at it in some aspects.
On the subscription fee, if a game like RuneScape 3 can turn large profits off of an optional subscription fee of an MMO that many gamers consider inferior, all while taking care of 550+ employees (and their insane benefits at Jagex) without the backing of a multi-billion dollar media company, then Zenimax Online really has no excuse with this subscription fee and initial $60. They only have ~150 employees to take care of, no other products to support, they have a massive starting community in the TES community, and they have the financial support of their parent corporation, Zenimax Media, which is a multi-billion dollar media firm.
Now, this post may come across as though I'm ripping on ESO because I have a grudge or something, but that's not at all true. Yes, I feel betrayed as an Elder Scrolls fan, but I do still like Zenimax Media, particularly Bethesda. The primary reason I use ESO as an example is due to how new it is, and how they claimed it would be a next-gen game. Then again, MMOs are a lot different from normal video games.
However, all of that being said, these are the key things that I believe make a true next-gen gaming experience, coming from both a gamer and a game developer. As you'll notice, it's entirely up to the company or developer involved to make this happen.
- Listen to the players' feedback, but don't forget to only implement features and make decisions that will allow your company or team to survive for many years to come. Players may whine and quit purchasing and playing your games in the short term, but in the long term, making wise decisions now can determine the future of your company/team.
- Use the best engines and talent you can get your hands on, but don't overspend. Efficient money management can make a major difference. If you don't overspend on tools and talent, you can redirect that money and put it into a longer, more in-depth development process.
- Generally, games that have a long development time tend to be a lot more polished and successful. A prime example of this is Bethesda when they create the Elder Scrolls and Fallout games- they start from the ground up every time around, never reusing resources, and they take their time. It certainly shows in the sheer size and quality of those games. So take as long as you can to polish the games!
- Never, NEVER announce a release date of your game before the QA process. That way you can extend your planned release date if necessary without letting your players down. Big games, such as open-world games, RPGs, and MMOs, are near-impossible to release totally bug-free. However, you should NEVER announce your release date before you've tested the game extensively and fixed most of the bugs.
- Reach out to your community with regular polling, surveys, and ensure you take a look at feedback- both on your own forums, as well as on gaming sites and YouTube videos. Always do extensive research into what your players do and don't like, but as I mentioned before, never put the profit of here-and-now above that which will allow your studio to succeed for years to come.
- Always engage with your community- never be too busy to respond to comments and forum posts. If your team can afford it, try hiring a team dedicated specially to community engagement, even if your game isn't an online game. Make the players feel like their voices are being heard. Regularly engaging with your community helps make a connection between the developers and the players, and this way, your players can get to know you. If you're the team leader, CEO, or whatever title the head of your company/team uses, try to make time every day, week, or month to regularly engage with the community. All of this can actually come around and help you in the long run- if you engage with the community and show how truly rewarding it is to be in the games industry, you may just convince some of your players to join your company/team, and that can really benefit you because they KNOW what the players like. Just a word of warning, though: you usually will get kiss-ups following you around wanting something from you. Don't favor them just because they're kissing up to you.
- Always be professional, but don't be a robot. You can be professional but also be kind to your users and have fun with them. If you manage an online game, don't just log into the game and regulate things- make it a goal to play beside your users while they're playing. Naturally, you don't want to use developer tools or codes to get an advantage over the other players, but it is very nice, as a player, to see when the developers of the game you're playing actually enjoy their creation as well.
- Be creative. Never rip off ideas from other people, companies, or games. Rather, use some of the ideas that other games and people may have as inspiration, but make it your own. It's best, though, if you come up with a completely original idea. Refine elements based upon player feedback. Create your own stories. Try to avoid cliches at all costs- the worst experience relating to stories in games is when they're cheesy because they're cliche. This also pertains to dialogue. Many times I've played games with voice acted lines that, while the voice actors did a convincing job otherwise, the lines themselves felt cheesy. If people want to hear, "I am your father", or "It is your destiny", they'll go watch Star Wars (I love Star Wars, so don't get me wrong there either). Video games often allow players to escape to alternate worlds, and cheesy dialogue/elements really ruin immersion.
- Never disregard the minority. Never, never do this. Just don't. I'm usually in the minority in video game communities because I have different interests than most other gamers. Nothing frustrates me more when a developer totally disregards the opinions and feedback of the minority. There should always be a willingness to compromise. If you're running a business, naturally you need to make the vocal majority happy to maximize profit, BUT if you compromise slightly and try to make the minority happy as well, or at least try to play it fair, you will be much more respected as a developer, and you will most likely turn much more profit as you're not leaving a certain portion of your community out.
- Sometimes sacrifice is necessary to create a great gaming experience. After-hours work, working when you want to be doing something different, etc, can really show your players that you legitimately care about them and care about delivering a great game to them.
- Don't always go with the flow. Taking advice is one thing, but make your own path in the industry: don't do something JUST because someone else tells you to. Typically, mistakes lead to wisdom, and sometimes even to success, so yes- be careful, listen to the industry veterans, but don't become a carbon copy OF those industry veterans. Just because someone may put your ideas or games down, it doesn't mean they're bad.
- Finally, ALWAYS be sure to try to innovate. Be mindful of past mistakes, but look to the future: pretend you're a gamer ten years from now, playing your game. Would you say, "This game is so awesome! WAY ahead of its time. It's awesome, even now!"? Or would you say, "Eh, it was probably pretty good back then, but it's not as good as the games I play now."? While there's no way to fully, and accurately predict the way the industry and games market will go, always try to do what YOU think will make for an awesome gaming experience- in the immediate, short term, and long term.
So, what do you think? Do we see much of the above list in the industry these days? I know I rarely see it- instead, I see constant cash-grabbing and robotic, opaque companies who never truly show their love for the people paying their salaries. Have any comments or things to add? Questions? Feel free to leave a comment or leave a friendly tweet on Twitter! God bless!