Archive for the ‘Ranting’ Category

Free to Play?

Posted: 2012/06/26 by Nick in Ranting
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In the grown-up world, we have a concept known as Risk.  Governments, businesses, and individuals should, if they’re smart, understand Risk and how to assess a risk, mitigate it or avoid it, or at least understand the cost if you have to take the hit.  Back when I was a Project Manager, Risk was my bread and butter.  No matter how much you plan things out, you still need to have  a Plan B for when (not if) something goes sideways on you.  So, I’d have a plan for if the network guy got re-prioritized, or a key developer got sick.  Governments do the same thing.  I guarantee you that somewhere in a desk in the Pentagon or Langley, there’s a document outlining a plan to invade England, just in case.  They’ll never admit it, and it’s unlikely to be used, but if it’s ever necessary it’s good to know someone has put a little thought into it.

So, someone did an interview with one of the BioWare staff.  During this interview, the designer said something and people are taking this to mean that SW:ToR is going Free to Play and the doomsayers are saying dooms, and the forum trolls are trolling, and the podcasters are going blind trying to read the tealeaves.

Let me break this down for you.  BW is a business.  They will do what they can to maximize profits.  If they can make more money on the game by going F2P, they will.  The question is, where is that breakpoint?  The current subscription model brings in (monthly) X revenue for Y cost, yielding profit X-Y=Z.  Going to F2P will bring about a one-time cost,W, to convert the game, servers, etc to support the model (not trivial, by the way.  Just ask the DCUO guys).  I don’t know the amortization period of a game,  so I’m just going ignore that for now.  After converting to F2P, their revenue goes to X2 and the cost is Y2, so the monthly profit is X2-Y2=Z2.  So, there is a breakpoint where Z2 > Z  (adjusted for the Amortized W) and it becomes more profitable to go to F2P.  So, they have a plan for this, just in case.  They’d be crazy not to.  The fact that someone admitted to this plan’s existence is hardly worth the drama that’s going on.


A couple of thoughts on the LFG Tool

Posted: 2012/05/16 by Nick in Ranting

I’m looking forward to an LFG tool, and hope it gets expanded to included cross-server, ops, heroic areas, and anything else.  Wouldn’t it be nice to log on one evening, and say, “You know, I wouldn’t mind killing Nightmare Pilgrim tonight.”  Queue up, go run some dailies or something, and boom, off to Voss.  World bosses are probably not going to be queue-able, but you get the idea.  Remove as many barriers between players and content as possible.

I’m also not a big fan of the shards system.  I play DCUO a bit, and it’s all one server.  Sure, it doesn’t have anywhere near the numbers we’re talking about, but the point is that even if players there are technically on different servers, they can still interact with other players in chat and the group finder tools there are pretty seamless.

That said, whatever BW does, it won’t overcome the negativity of the community.  If it’s perfect, it will be “too late”.  If it lacks something, “It’s garbage”.  If there’s no cross-server, “I don’t use it, queues take too long.”  If it includes cross-server, “Oh, I don’t use LFG, everyone there’s an a$$hat.”  If it farts rainbows and teleports jellybeans onto your desk wherever you are in the world, “The content’s to hard/easy/limited/etc.”

There’s just no pleasing gamers.

Just Quit, Already!

Posted: 2012/05/15 by Nick in Ranting

Here’s an open letter to a select few Podcasters in the SWTOR Community:

Good grief.  I’ve listened to you guys for a while, and a few of you guys are so freakin’ negative, I feel like I’m reading the Community Forums.  I remember how positive and excited you were back in November.  I remember thinking, “These guys are gonna be so disappointed when this thing comes out.”

So, I get that the game isn’t the Nirvana-like paradise you guys thought it would be.  You guys built it up in your head too much.  Reality never measures up to our fantasies.  There is no entertainment software development organization on the planet that can build a product with the feature set you’re demanding in a timeframe that doesn’t result in running out of money before it’s done.  So, we’re faced with a choice: make do with what we’ve got and hope that BW makes good on its promise to improve the game as it moves forward, or take our business elsewhere.

I’ve decided to stick around for a while.  I’m actually having a fairly good time with the game still.  But I can certainly understand someone deciding to pull the plug because they want to go do something else.  But, if it’s not to your liking, why not quit?  What the heck’s keeping you around here?

Seems to me you’re putting an awful lot of effort into killing something that you obviously think is already dead.  Are you guys the stereophonic equivalent of forum trolls, still posting your declarations of how bad the game is months after “unsubscribing”?  I have to ask, if the game is so bad and so dead, why are you still kicking it? And you guys are paying handsomely for the privilege.  I know podcasting ain’t cheap, in neither time nor money.  What’s your motivation?

Personally, if I’m done with something, I just move on.  I find it to be cathartic, and good for my humors.  Perhaps you should consider it.

The Software Development Process, for Gamers

Posted: 2012/03/13 by Rabbi Shekky in Ranting

Stop me if you’ve heard something like this:

“There’s this really cool feature I want.  A lot of other people want it, too.  Here’s post after post on a forum to prove it.  We all agree that this feature would be relatively simple to develop.  The fact that they haven’t done so yet is a huge slap in the face!  This money-grubbing corporation refuses to respect the wishes of the community and give us this feature!”

Chances are, they’re right about the feature, and the chances are, that money-grubbing corporation would love to give us that feature (within reason) because happy customers are nice things to have.  I’d like to try to explain why they haven’t done it.

Any modern software development organization that has evolved beyond a couple of guys hacking code in a garage has what we call an SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle) process.  They may not call it that, and they may not follow it very well, but there has to be some sort of structure to keep the work effort of multiple people in some semblance of order.  I don’t want to exhaustively explain every possible SDLC for you, but let’s just say they consist of a set of steps that let you define what needs to be done, design a solution, create the solution, test the solution, and then deploy the solution.  Somewhere in there, there will usually be some sort of a process that decides whether or not to do the work (a “Triage” process), how to pay for it (Financial process), and to manage the work (usually, some kind of Project Management process).

Just to keep things short, what all that means is there are a lot more people involved in the act of getting “Function X” to you, the customer, than you might think.  Even if creating “Function X” is easy, designing, testing and deploying requires resources from other teams (believe me, you don’t let developers test their own code).  That effort requires coordination and management, and that takes time.

That said, our dreamed-of functionality may not even get created in the first place.  Software is never finished until it dies, and there are always more things to be done than there are resources to do it.  There is some sort of a gate-keeping process, often called “Triage”, that looks over the current universe of bugs, requested features, performance glitches, you-name-it, and decides what will be worked on and when it will be released.  This process tends to have some fairly standard rules.  For instance, “Bugs/issues which prevent the system from working are top priority and will likely be released as a hot fix,” is a fairly common rule.  Every issue, bug, feature, enhancement in their tracking system gets some sort of priority based on these rules.  Then, they sit down and assign these out to the various teams until they’ve consumed all the available capacity.

This can result in a low priority item getting done before a high-priority one.  For instance, let’s take a few genuine issues:

  1. Smuggler/Operative healing output is not keeping up with other healers in certain Ops scenarios
  2. There is no LFG tool
  3. Players using a healing companion  sometimes end up glowing green

Pop quiz: Which one of the above do you think is the least important?  Which one got done first?  (If you’ve been living under a rock, the answer to both is #3)

Now, why would they apply valuable resources to what is essentially a cosmetic annoyance when there’s a fairly significant endgame class-balance issue, and a functional gap that is costing them subscriptions (if you believe the forum posters) sitting out there?

Well, let’s walk through the triage process:

  1. To resolve a class-balance issue, you probably need to bring in a designer who has relevant experience.  That person will need to acquire data sufficient to determine what the problem is (if indeed there is one) and then analyze the root cause.  Once done with that, the designer can design a solution which might be something simple, like adjusting coefficients on a class skill, or may require deeper changes to the combat system, certain boss fights, or something else.  The resulting design then goes to a developer to implement and then has to be tested (and I mean tested like crazy because this is practically brain surgery) before it can be released.
  2. To add a new element to the game, a designer has to develop the features of the tool, the graphics, the look-and-feel, etc.  Then a developer has to implement it, and a tester has to test it.  Since LFG requires several actors, there are probably many testers and many different scenarios to work through
  3. Someone has to figure out why this is happening.  That will usually be a maintenance developer, but might be a second-line support tech or something like that.  A developer then goes in and cleans up the bug.   A tester tests it.

Coming out of the Triage process (assuming they all came into being at the same time), issues 1-3 were probably ranked in the same order, #1 being the highest priority and #3 being the lowest.  However, it’s likely that #1 requires a lot of time from a lot of different teams, whereas #3 requires fewer resources.  Possibly, these resources are not the same ones required for #1 or 2, enabling them to sneak that fix in while other teams are still slogging through the process.  If number 3 was more complicated, it would probably still be in the hopper waiting on resources deployed on #1 or 2 to free up.

Anyhow, the point I wanted to make is that not everything is as straightforward as it might seem.  Scheduling this sort of work is a lot more complicated than most people think.

And that’s why I’m still waiting for my !#$*!#*%* LFG tool!  🙂

An open letter to Empire for Life

Posted: 2012/02/29 by Nick in Ranting

In Episode 9, Rich went on at some length about how certain features are missing, such as LFG, Guild features, Guild Housing/Spaceship, and some other stuff.  You suggested that Bioware could have cut back on the cost of developing the story, perhaps, to pay for these features and have them available at launch.  I almost blew a gasket trying to prevent myself from yelling at you, which would have been really weird as I was at work at the time and listening to your podcast through headphones.  This would have been a Bad Thing.  So now, if you’ll be so kind to permit me, I’m going to vent a bit.

I’ll preface this by saying that I’m loving your show, and the enthusiasm you and Ron show for the game, and the fact that you’re not super negative.  I also don’t want to try and negate your “feelings” on this or any other matter.  That said, on this topic, I think you could not be more wrong without opening a rift to an alternate universe where it is possible to be more wrong.

I think it’s obvious to everyone that the original specs from SWTOR were more or less lifted whole-cloth from WoW’s Burning Crusade expansion, to which were added story elements drawn from Bioware’s own wheelhouse.  It is these story elements that form the differentiating factor that justifies SWTOR’s existence.  Without them, SWTOR really is just “WoW in space”, and I don’t think would be as successful as it has been to-date.  I think any change to the formula could well have resulted in less of a splash out of the gate.

As for these other features (I’m just comparing to WoW, because as I hypothesized, SWTOR’s feature list is based on it):

  • LFG, I’m pretty sure, didn’t hit WoW until well in to Wrath.  Therefore, it probably wasn’t part of the original scope for SWTOR
  • The guild tools in WoW didn’t come along until Cataclysm, right?  I mean, until then, the WoW guild interface was a hellish mass of bugs and reduced me to a gibbering wreck more than once as a guild leader
  • Housing still isn’t in WoW, and I think the reasons it isn’t are valid in SWTOR as well.  In an MMO, we are content for other players.  If we all hang out in little enclaves it will make the game seem “dead” to those passing through what are supposed to be high-traffic areas.  Once folks get the idea that the game is “dead”, they’ll bail.

So, rather than criticize BW for lack of features, I commend them on developing a vision and sticking to it.  In Project Management, we call this “Scope Management.”

Anyhow, all of the items you discussed are stuff I want, too (well, I’m not all that worked up about housing, but I get why others want it).  LFG is critical for me.  I’m not the type to spend my time online in the Fleet, spamming for a group.  I play at odd hours, nobody else in my Guild is at the level cap (they’re a serious bunch of altaholics, if you ask me) and it’s pretty rare for me to even get a group for the Heroics on Illum and Belsavis.  As such, I’ve actually levelled one toon to 50 and another to 40 and I still haven’t hit most of the flashpoints.  It was the addition of this feature (and dual specs) that kept me in WoW beyond Burning Crusade.  At some point, if it’s not added in TOR, I’ll probably have to make a decision.  But, I’m pretty confident that these features are coming so I can sit tight for a bit.