Friday, January 29, 2010

The Epicly Underestimated Power of Street Cred

Our friend and fellow MMO blogger Game Monkey recently posted an article in which he made a lot of good points. My reply to his post was somewhat too short for my liking so I'm going to ramble here instead.

I do take issue with one of the things he said about WoW. And that is his opening and closing thesis. WoW is popular because  “Because WoW is easy and people like easy.”. I disagree. That is only one factor. Certainly WoW had some hard parts in it also when it launched, and I never managed to raid a number of places. But I'm not here to argue about whether WoW is easy or not. WoW WAS easy to level from 1 to 60 when I played iti. And I'm sure its easy to level from 1 to 80 now.

One elephant in the room that everyone, developers especially, is ignoring though is Blizzard's Street Cred. This quality has other names in English like "reputation" and "track record" and "respect" and so on but I like to use "Street Cred" for a juvenile industry like gaming. WoW/Blizzard is successful because it has more Street Cred than any other development studio known to man. The other game companies that even remotely come close have been Valve, Bioware(now owned by evil EA), Black Isle(now extinct), Nintendo, Bungie, Turbine, and.. did I leave any out? Most others like Cryptic and EA have been doing everything in their power to annoy their loyal customer base. They don't consider that each game they make reflects their companies' production values. Instead they pump out half-baked, or almost good stuff before it's done cooking and ask the same price as the competition. Then they sit and wonder why they can't compete.

Gamasutra once did a good article on how much damage a bad game does to a company's good name, but I want to share my thoughts with my fellowmen on this. Think about it yourselves. How do you react when a company you trust develops a sub-par game? (KOTOR2 was kind of a let down for me for example) I personally stop buying everything they make at face value and I am much more careful and skeptical when examining their new products. In short it damages my reputation with them. And How do they get out of this hole once they dig themselves into it? They have to prove they "get" their mistakes and they have to fix it promptly.

Now as Gamer Monkey also mentioned,  VC's (Venture Capitalists) are part of the problem here. VC's don't care about your company's street cred. The companies with good street cred are not dependent on VC's to develop their dreams because they are already making money, and the small company's who ARE dependent on VC's cannot afford a failure but also cannot afford to defy the VC's wish to get 500% return and do it fast fast fast. This leaves indie dev companies to save the day (leads to lite MMO's like Dofus) or venerable companies to switch to MMO making (see Allod's Online, SWTOR etc...) If you want to enter the MMO arena cold turkey and make a AAA one you need a reality check unless you have a lot of means behind you, therefore, we really can't expect any MMO's of high quality from surprise sources. I think we can expect to see a lot of lite MMO's, a lot of FTP MMO's, and a few AAA ones pumped out at rare intervals over the next few years as the market readjusts through difficult times. And personally I think EA is poison because it does not care about the following adage coined by Miyamoto when he was building Zelda 64 and asking for more time "A late game is only late until it launches, a bad game is a bad game forever".

(Aside: Btw make sure you read the previous post by Anton and play his new game demo. It is really fun and creative.)


Anton said...

I think you've got a good point here. Hollywood goes out of their way to advertise a celebrity, famous producer, or director to help sell their movies, why does the video game industry so often overlook reputation?

Thallian said...

Precisely. There are exceptions like Peter Molyneux (developer of all things Sim, Spore, and Black and White), Nintendo's Sigeru Miyamoto, and Steven Spielberg more recently but usually, especially in MMO's, we frequently see them waste their good name as the developer of Tabula Rasa did or as many others like Warhammer or Champions Online. Consumers aren't stupid. They can remember company names and developer names. Just like they remember Dreamworks and Pixar.