The Compromise

While having a discussion with a friend of mine about the layoffs at Daybreak Studios (as mentioned last time on the blog), we wondered about what possible changes could be in the works for EverQuest Next.  While hoping for the best, my friend reminded me about the Compromise.

All video game makers have had to make the Compromise at one point in time or another on EVERY SINGLE GAME that’s ever been made.  While the Compromise can take on many forms, it is always generated by the same thing.  A promise was made and now that promise can’t be delivered on.  What has to change to allow us to continue forward?

Sometimes the Compromise is a feature cut.  When City of Heroes was first in development, a promise was made to build a game that would let you make any hero you wanted, much like a pen and paper game.  Pre-alpha testing however, proved that players built only 2 kinds of characters.  You had tank-mages who won everything, and then you had utterly gimped characters incapable of engaging in combat, the chief activity of the game.  It turns out players are actually terrible at making decisions when you give them more freedom to do so.  So a compromise was made and classes were introduced.  While it was not popular at the time, the way the dev team created and then evolved classes over the life of the game, made for one of the best implementations of classes in any game anywhere.  Even though the eventual outcome was good, a Compromise was required to keep the game alive and moving forward.

Other times, it’s in things like story, where a script will be cut to a minimum, or removed entirely as in the case of Titanfall or the upcoming MMOFPS Overwatch.  Sometimes story won’t even be considered until after the gameplay has been created.  I saw a tweet the other day pointing out that lots of video game protagonists (and thus the players) feel like they have no agency because very often a game’s script is written after gameplay has already been created, thus the story gets shoehorned in to match up with what a developer has built.

And then in other areas the Compromise comes in terms of delivery date.  We promised you this by this date and instead have to push it out because it’s not ready.  Pillars of Eternity did this, (the game is still not out).  This was a Kickstarter game, that ended up with tons of money and thus tons of stretch goals it promised to deliver.  When it came time to build those stretch goals, their delivery schedule became swiss cheese.  While these compromises often end up being the most hated (especially by the fan base), they’re also the least destructive (in terms of the game’s vision and functional integrity anyway).  And developers love having more time to work on their stuff.

However, Publishers and studios loathe delays more than any other Compromise in the list.  So much so, that they will scrimp on other areas, cut features to the point where the game is unfun, and generally do anything and everything they can to avoid such Compromises.  Schedule delays have a real, tangible, and measurable cost associated with them.  How do you justify such costs to a business person?  Why should they care about X feature going into the game, when you can’t measure how much money X feature will make them.  All while they are bleeding money, paying people to basically not get their jobs done?  Business people don’t care about how fun you want the game to be.  They don’t care about your artistic vision.  Are you making them or costing them money?  Period.

Personally I think when these kinds of Compromises have to be made, some kind of free DLC should be offered and schedules should be maintained where at all possible.  That’s not really feasible for a lot of games, but how much more respect would you have for a company that said, we can’t release all this content for this game in x time.  Here’s what we’ll have and you can have the rest as free DLC when we get it finished.  Releasing content in episodes or installments?  Inconceivable!  I suppose part of my own frustration with this comes from the fact that thinking on how to handle the Compromise is very rigid and unhelpful.  Consumerism demands a finished product be pushed out the door.  You buy it.  Consume it.  Look for the next one and repeat.  A big ambitious game can’t be finished the way a dev team may want it, but the studio/publisher system ironically can’t Compromise enough to give a dev team the time to do it right.

At any rate, we were talking about all of this because we were speculating as to what Daybreak Studios might try to do with EverQuest Next now that they own it.  The 4 pillars that they were building the game on are half complete.  The class-less class system and the destructible world have been built and are pretty much in place.  Whether or not they can deliver on the other 2 pillars, emergent AI, and a life of consequence, remains to be seen.  While hopes remain strong that these other two pillars will appear, there’s nothing to stop the heads of Daybreak from saying, hey 2 out of 4 is 50%.  Good enough for us.  Release what you’ve got.  We need the money and it looks like we’re just going to have to Compromise.

This would be hugely disappointing as part of the appeal of EverQuest Next comes from it’s forward thinking efforts around MMO’s, and the unfinished pillars are a big part of making that forward thining a reality.  The team working on the game has already had to Compromise on their staffing.  Here’s hoping it’s the only one they’ll have to make.

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