Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Polish

Being an early adopter is hardly ever easy, and things aren’t different in the field of MMOs. Most MMOs have all kinds of issues when they come out. They are buggy, their interface is hard to use, essential functions are missing and they are never able to handle the amount of people that rush into the game at launch. In short, they almost always lack polish.

Many games will iron out these issues within their first year or so and publishers often figure that it is a good idea to get paying customers into the game a couple of months earlier so that there is at least some income while the game is perfected. Alas this is very often the downfall of those MMOs. Many players will try out a new MMO once and if they don’t like it as much as their old one (read: World of Warcraft), they’ll leave and never come back. It is quite common for new MMOs to have decent sales numbers but awful retention rates. Once players have decided that a game is awful, they are very unlikely to return to it even if people claim it has gotten so much better since.

Well, imagine my surprise when I got into the RIFT Beta and the game was really well polished. The UI feels slick and does everything I want it to do in exactly the way I want it to do it. They adapted the de-facto standard interface conventions dictated by WoW, but managed to make them feel even more intuitive and fluent. Little animations in the right places and a well designed interface simply make the game feel right.

Not just the interface of the game is polished however. Just as if it was a Blizzard game, Trion Worlds’ RIFT already has really few bugs in its beta stage and the servers are quite stable. I only experienced one relevant lag spike in the two beta phases I was able to take part in so far, and that was when they first tried a truly massive world event. Even the event itself went fine after said initial lag. Everything else pretty much just worked. Mobs didn’t get stuck much and gathering nodes didn’t spawn in trees. Quests completed properly and skills did what their tool-tips said they would.

I’m not saying RIFT is a good game, I reserve judgement on that for later when I’ve seen more than 20 levels on each faction and evaluated the group play, but the handiwork is truly admirable. So far I don’t see much in the way of innovation in the game or anything else that makes it stand out from a game design point of view, but I surely would like to be a game designer that gets to work with such a talented team of programmers and artists. It must be great to have a vision of how a game should work and not have it fail due to either bad programming (i.e. Elemental: War of Magic) or an incompetent artistic team (i.e. Oblivion).

It seems so obvious that publishing a polished game would be a good thing™, especially since the people at Blizzard have had so much success with their “It’s done when it’s done” philosophy (and earned a lot of angry customers when they didn’t stick to it with Wrath of the Lich King). Apparently though, most publishers either can’t or aren’t willing to afford the extra time needed for such polish to be created. They’d rather rush a game, release the unfinished product and pray that people will like it enough to stay until the issues are fixed. It should be obvious by now that that doesn’t work with an elephant like WoW in the room, but most publishers still stick to the same old idea. (Good riddance Final Fantasy XIV. )