Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Death by Bureaucracy

A recent twitter QOTD by CCPGames asked : "If you could add one thing to eveonline what would that be?"  My response was: "Ban devs from posting to forums. They should READ but never respond. That's what community manager is for."

I've played a few MMOs, not nearly as many as a lot of other EvE players, but enough to see what works and what doesn't.  As Alfred Griswold said,
" Could Hamlet have been written by a committee, or the Mona Lisa painted by a club?... Creative ideas do not spring from groups.  They spring from individuals.  The divine spark leaps from the finger of God to the finger of Adam."
Some of the "best" works of programming come from small development houses.  Rarely do those companies go on to larger and better projects.  A first time developer probably has 10 or fewer employees.  A company really hits it's stride at 35-50 employees...some contract some full-time.  At that point a lot of the individual egos tend to splinter off and pursue projects of their own.  ID software ("Masters of Doom")is one of the prime examples of that fate.  A couple of good reads are "Postmortems from Game Developers" by Austin Grossman and "Dreaming in Code" by Scott Rosenberg--a narrative about the development of an open source application that dies from bureaucratic bloat.

There are games that do grow to large corporations of hundreds of employees (our beloved CCP is one example.)  As these companies grow, decision-making begins to slow down from the bureaucracy.  Rather than simply coding the resistances of the next Boss, a meeting is held to discuss "balance issues" or "deadline management."

The behemoth begins to slow down under it's own weight.  It loses it's agility.  It becomes a predictable "grind."  As Albert Einstein said, "Bureaucracy is the death of all sound work."

Now, back to the original topic...Dev involvement with it's player community.   Casiella Truza points out in the Ecliptic Rift blog that perhaps my meaning was that we keep the devs in a room with no windows, and players in another and never the two shall meet.  Twitter, IMO is not the greatest place to express thoughtful ideas.  Hence Casiella (who whipped out an amazingly well put-together blog in a shockingly short period of time) thought I meant that I'm of the mind that "The Devs make the game, and the players play what they get." Period.  That's not quite what I meant, and again I apologize for my lack of clarity.

EVERY successful product needs to know what it's consumers think of it.  It's not simply a matter of making changes based simply on numbers.  (I hope) our Icelandic friends don't simply say "Hmmm....300,000 subs....Let's build T3 shuttles next expansion and change the paint schemes."  They have staff that are payed to anticipate what the players are going to want in 6, 12 or even 24 months out.  I guarantee the execs have (at least) a 5-year plan for CCP and EvE.

They don't gain that prognostication by consulting tea leaves or interpreting the shapes of drunken, passed-out developers on bar floors throughout Reykjavik.  They listen to the players.  They listen to EvE players and they are reading blogs, listening to podcasts and having roundtable discussions at FanFest *.  I am also sure they monitor the discussions of other games on various platforms to see what people are looking for in order to draw them into the CCP fold.  I am 100% behind the concept of developers listening to the players.

What I disagree with is Devs engaging in discussions about potential changes in such an informal environment.  I believe SiSi presents the opportunity for the devs to demonstrate that they've been listening to the players....these are the ideas they are does the community react?  How does the game react?

I'm sure that a lot of that already goes on at CCP.  Many of the employees likely troll the various fan-based outlets ninja-like, or even covertly discussing topics.  But open discussion of gameplay changes with the community is essentially creating a 10,000 person committee to work on a simple idea.  Could you imagine how long it would take to determine how to "fix" the HUD if 10,000 forum members and 400 CCP employees had to come to agreement?  Oh...wait...bad example. :)

The CSM, I believe was supposed to fill a gap that CCP felt existed in terms of face-to-face contact with it's players.  Those players are expected to monitor the game and the forums and present a prioritized list of concerns and proposals for CCP to investigate.  It's a nice nod to the the players, and may one day prove to be more fruitful than it has.  I'm optimistic that the CSM sets a good precedent for future games and for CCP.

In conclusion I want to be clear that I think developers must listen to the players in order to anticipate the next 'big thing."  But I do not think that individual Devs should be debating whether a certain mod should give a 5% or 8% bonus.  I want them writing the code for the game they think we deserve.  If they see it doesn't work...they can change it.  One other important point: DevBlogs.  I LOVE DevBlogs.  It's amazing that CCP allows that kind of access to their internal development process.  Most of the time it comes as a report on what has happened or is about to happen.  And as we all witnessed recently....the CF that resulted in a certain DevBlog caused a lot of the angst that came at the release of Dominion....after players read it and railed against it.  Then changes occurred....then nobody knew WHAT to expect when release date finally arrived.  THAT's the sort of confusion I think should be avoided.

Final points:
  1. Play on SiSi if you care about what's coming out next on the game.  THATs where your opinion matters....that's where things can/should be changed.  Not enough people participate at that stage.
  2. Be constructive.  Don't waste time whining about how a certain change has made your last year of training worthless...a resourceful pilot is flexible.  "Semper Gumby"
  3. If you are lucky enough to be on the CSM, don't squander that opportunity bickering about minor issues.  80% of what was discussed in the published minutes could have been handed to CCP in a one-page bulletized list.  
Sorry it got long-winded.  I promise to keep them short from now on.

To Casiella: I hope that clears up my opinion.
To a Certain Pirate: My longwindedness allows you another day to live.  But I am close.

*I attended 5 of the roundtable discussions at FanFest '09.  Only one seemed to be really beneficial to CCP and the players.  The others seemed to consist of either player bitch sessions about how they "lost a ship this one time" or complaining about how long the petition queue is (I think they get it by now.)  I did see true, constructive interaction in the meeting with the API guys with the 3d party app developers.  Everyone seemed to be on-board with the coming changes...players and devs.  I look forward to New Eden/COSMOS.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the comments, I appreciate that.

    And yeah, I'm not talking about the sort of feedback and discussion that gets too far in the weeds. "Should the base sig radius for a shuttle be 25m or 20m?" But things like "why do you feel shuttles need a defensive boost?" do belong. I totally agree on your 5% versus 8% example, amen, hallelujah, so mote it be, inshallah.

    And yeah, the CSM should fill a large part of that role. I could rant on and on about that, too, but I'll TL;DR it and say that CCP's management of that process disgusts me.

    But part of the issue around the whole mothership fiasco just prior to Dominion was that dedicated testers had spent time on Sisi with developers, testing and tweaking, rather than just forum trolling. That's a different sort of interaction, one that basically revolves around volunteer QA. CCP failed miserably on #1, and that concerns me.

    The other thing I love to see from devs is general banter about things they love. Not necessarily upcoming changes, that is, but things like how they joked about CCP Tuxford initiating shutdown on TQ before he canceled it, or when 20 different devs all post praise for some bit of player-created content. That humanizes them and reminds us that they're just like us, just with a cooler logo on their paycheck.