6 Worst Developer Decisions
by Tyler Edwards, January 17 2012
Video games are a complex medium. If you were to gather together all the ways a developer could go wrong with one, it would fill a book. Many of these apply to all genres of game equally, but there are also some that are special to massively multiplayer games, unique ways to mess up an online game that are guaranteed to have the game's players foaming at the mouth with rage.
6: Instances galore (Star Trek: Online):
One of the chief appeals of most MMO games is the ability to explore vast, immersive virtual worlds. It's where the "massive" in "massively multiplayer" comes from.
Now, there will always be instances and load screens which cut down on the game's immersion somewhat, but most developers try to keep such things to a minimum so as to keep their game as big-feeling as possible.
But some developers apparently never got the memo about what that first "M" stands for, instead cluttering their games with extensive instancing and huge numbers of load screens. Star Trek: Online is probably the worst offender in this area, consisting almost entirely of various instances, all broken up by lengthy load screens.
Even getting from one end of one of the game's space stations to another can require going through one of the game's countless load screens. You couldn't get away with that in a single player game, and in an MMO, it just makes you wonder what the developers were thinking.
It is, to quote a certain Star Trek character, highly illogical.
5: Remove anonymity (World of Warcraft):
The anonymity afforded by online games does have its dark side, and many people rightly point out that it encourages certain people to trolling and bad behavior, but the fact is that games let you hide your true identity for a reason. The same trolls that abuse it are an excellent example of why it's important to keep your identity private from the hundreds of random people you meet in an MMO.
So one has to wonder what in the Twisting Nether Blizzard Entertainment was thinking when they decided that every player's RealID – literally their real identity – would be displayed whenever someone posted on the official World of Warcraft forum.
We suppose Blizzard deserves some credit for not being stupid enough to add this to the actual game, but this still has to be one of the most mind-bogglingly bad decisions in MMO history.
This decision triggered an immediate and massive negative reaction from the fan base unlike anything seen before. This eventually led to Blizzard canceling the scheme before its implementation, but to this day, you can still hear the occasional grumble from WoW fans about it.
4: Put players in charge (Face of Mankind):
Letting players steer the course of a game is one of those ideas that sounds great until you actually think about it for a second.
Anyone who's ever played an MMO knows that their players are, to put it diplomatically, a mixed bag. There are plenty of decent people in MMOs, but there are also hordes of trolls, griefers, and general jerks that would make the game a living hell for other players given half a chance.
Apparently, the developers of the sci-fi MMO Face of Mankind had never played an MMO before, because they were foolish or idealistic enough to believe that giving players complete power over the game and its factions was a great idea that wouldn't attract every troll on earth like moths to a candle.
FoM did offer features to try to control the less than savory players, such as a law enforcement faction and bounties on the more troublesome players. But the law enforcement faction was also run by players, essentially leading to a case of the inmates running the asylum. Random arrests and item confiscations became commonplace. And as for the bounty system, if you've ever seen a WoW player strive to get as many achievement points as possible, then you know the attitude FoM players had toward the bounties on their heads.
The end result was a game so lawless and anarchic it would make those post-apocalyptic biker gangs from the Mad Max movies blush. Needless to say, Face of Mankind did not prosper as an MMO for long.
3: Voice chat ads (All Points Bulletin):
All Points Bulletin, better known as APB, was an MMO that allowed players to take on the roles of cops or criminals and battle it out in the gritty setting of San Paro. It came from some of the same minds that brought us the acclaimed Grand Theft Auto series and promised plenty of action and gun fights, but the game suffered from many issues, most notably the developer's decision to place advertisements in the game's voice chat.
Yes, you heard that right. Ads in the voice chat. And the only way to get rid of them is to pay a fee. This is the kind of decision that is spectacularly bad that you can't help but wonder if the developers were actively trying to make their customers angry.
Now, to be fair to APB, the ads played infrequently, and never during combat or other important activities. But it still seems like a decision guaranteed to cause annoyance, and is even more confusing when one considers all the other possible venues other than voice chat for in-game advertisements: billboards, in-game TV and radio ads, apparel on NPCs… The list goes on. These might have even helped with the game's immersion, making San Paro seem like a real city, unlike invasive voice chat ads.
MMOs are a social medium. No matter what you do when you design an MMO, you do not want to interfere with your players' social interactions in any way.
2: Completely redesign the game after release (Star Wars: Galaxies):
If you're familiar with the MMO community, you've probably heard the tragic tale of Star Wars: Galaxies. Once a respectably successful sandbox MMO in the Star Wars universe, things changed for SW:G when its developer, Sony Online Entertainment, decided that their tens of thousands of happy subscribers would be even happier if they changed a few things. And by "a few things," we mean everything.
It started with the "Combat Upgrade," which made some changes to the way players leveled and played their characters. That shook things up significantly, but that was just the beginning. A few months later, with almost no warning, SOE rolled out the "New Game Enhancement," which essentially demolished the entire game and rebuilt it from the ground up.
Instead of an open-ended sandbox MMO, players found themselves in a World of Warcraft clone with the name "Star Wars" slapped onto it.
It's impossible to overstate the damage done by the NGE. Entire modes of play vanished. Progression for many players was wiped out. Some zones became permanently broken, as they no longer fit into the new game mechanics.
While there are few gamers who would tolerate something like this, MMO fans in particular are a lot who thrive on predictability and routine. Such sweeping changes are a surefire way to earn their eternal hatred.
1: Wipe on the deletion boss (M2):
A few months ago, little known Asian MMO M2 went down for extended server maintenance. And never came back. Somehow, the technicians working on it managed to delete some of the core code, resulting in the destruction of the entire game. It's simply gone.
Even more unbelievable is the fact that M2's developer and publisher each claim to have no backups, meaning the game will never return.
If there was ever a situation worthy of the term "epic fail," this is it.
Needless to say, the game's players are rather upset by this, especially considering that the game had used a micro-transaction model, meaning many of them had spent a good deal of money developing their character.
There are a lot of conspiracy theories cropping up around this event. Many have suggested that the game was not making enough money, and that this was a way for the developers to cut their losses. Certainly, it is difficult to believe any company could be incompetent enough to accidentally delete an entire MMO.
We may never know for sure, but what is certain is that this is a blunder for the ages, and no other developer mistake could possibly equal it.