18/08/2014

Content Vs. Features: A Zero-Sum Game

The other week Traitine expressed some annoyance (among other things) about Eric Musco stating that Bioware currently has no plans for expanding Galactic Starfighter, or at least none that they are willing to share with us. I absolutely understand how much of a disappointment this must be if you're a big fan of GSF.

On the other hand however... I was pretty down on the game when GSF launched, precisely because it wasn't my cup of tea and yet every other patch seemed to be "GSF this, GSF that". I have since come to find some enjoyment in occasionally engaging in space PvP, but if you asked me to choose between getting a new gameplay mode for GSF or getting a new operation for example, there would be no contest for me. I'd take the new operation hands down. In fact, I can't shake the feeling that GSF has at least been partially responsible for the fact that we haven't seen a new operation since October, so considering possible trade-offs is probably not as hypothetical as one might think.

I can't help but be reminded of that Massively poll from several months ago about whether people would prefer new content or new features, given the choice of what to add to their favourite MMO next. I think I already linked to it once in the past, and a majority in the comment thread seemed to argue in favour of features and how they supposedly keep players busy for longer than mere new content.

I think what people tend to forget is that many features aren't one-off affairs. Sure, some can be. If your game doesn't have a system that allows people to customise the looks of their gear independent of their stats and then you add such a functionality, that's now something that can keep players busy for a long time and with little to no additional effort required afterwards, as you were probably going to introduce new pieces of armour periodically anyway. But if you add, say, a new gameplay mode, you may soon find that its fans are clamouring for more content for this new feature, and instead of having added something to keep players busy with little effort, you've just made more work for yourself as there is now another part of the game that needs regular maintenance.

I reckon that for most MMO developers, the amount of resources they have available to keep adding to the game stays relatively consistent once the game has found its stride. This means that at first you can dedicate X man hours to making new solo content, Y to group content and Z to PvP. What happens if you add something like Galactic Starfighter though? Now you have a new gameplay mode that also demands attention, and no matter which way you shift your resources, someone is going to get the short end of the stick and be unhappy.

I think the best way to get the most enjoyment possible out of an MMO is to try and find fun in as many aspects of it as you can, as this minimises the effect that resources being shifted around can have on you personally. You can always have fun with something else if your favourite part of the game isn't currently receiving updates. However, realistically few people are going to be interested in all parts of an MMO. When you add new content to an existing aspect of your game, you at least know who you're catering to - you already have players who enjoy that kind of  thing. Introducing a whole new feature to the game on the other hand can be a big risk. How many of your current players are going to like it? How many are going to be negatively affected because suddenly their preferred play style receives less support? Is the mere presence of the new feature going to pull in more new players than it's going to piss off old players?

I think that Bioware has been quite bold to introduce space PvP the way they did, and to now add housing so shortly afterwards. I just worry a little how well they'll be able to keep piling things on without losing some support at the base. We have no numbers to gauge how popular Galactic Starfighter has been, but judging by it going from a much-hyped new feature to "we have no plans to expand on this" within half a year, it probably hasn't been quite as much of a success as they were hoping. For Bioware's sake, we can only keep our fingers crossed that housing does better. I mean, I'm excited about it and I know other people who are as well, but I'm pretty sure that there are also players out there who are annoyed about having to wait even longer for their next operation or warzone because Bioware wants to cater to people who love playing house.

4 comments :

  1. I totally agree with you here. I don't thing GSF is 'popular' in the sense that everyone is doing it. I think it has its niche little following for various reasons. I just wished they'd said 'We plan to add X feature to GSF by the end of the year.' instead of 'No plans'.

    Not sure how I missed this article. Been busier than I thought I guess.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree that it would have been nice if they had talked about having some plans for GSF, even if their implementation was still several months off. You don't really want to give people the impression that space PvP will go the way of the on-rails space game and receive no more support in the future.

      And you probably didn't see this post because I didn't link it on Twitter at the time. ;)

      Delete
    2. It would be silly for a space themed MMO to abandon space features.

      Delete
    3. I'm not sure I'd really call SWTOR space-themed. Star Wars as an IP is about 50% soap opera and 50% lasers in space, but just like some Star Wars games have been purely about space combat, SWTOR has focused very heavily on the character development part from the start and I'd say that space plays a comparatively minor role in it.

      Delete