Update Agility

One of the rarely mentioned, but incredibly important, aspects of MMO game development is updating the game. When someone does certain aspects of updating very well, it highlights the importance of it. What I’m talking about at the moment is update agility — responding to real, game altering issues in a timely manner.

I always felt the EverQuest II team was quite good at it. When something major needed fixing, it would be addressed quickly and generally hotfixed in. The team would recognize real issues (as reported by players, team members in the game, and data generated by the game), then address them quickly.

I call it update agility because it requires a team and its update schedule to be very responsive and… agile (able to fix things and change directions quickly).

The latest example of this is with Warhammer Online. Mythic has been addressing the real issues with WAR as quickly as they can without making too many sweeping changes. Some examples: improving the scenario queue process, working to address realm imbalance, increasing quest experience rewards in T3+, making open-world RvR more desirable by increasing XP gain, combating spammers, and others.

Other companies have been less swift (read: slow) about their updates *glances in the direction of an MMO with 11 million subscribers*. I hope more developers learn by example and work on their update agility; I like seeing major issues addressed quickly, because I’m a player, too.

13 Responses to "Update Agility"

  1. If the off-the-charts market leader does not encourage ‘update agility’, while EQ2, which is fairly far from being the market leader and yet displays ‘update agility’ — how can you possibly conclude that it is a good thing? Maybe listening to your players and changing things rapidly in response makes players feel the game is unstable and changes too quickly for them to keep up? Maybe one of WoW’s strong points is that it’s essentially the same player experience as it was when it launched?

  2. One thing about being agile and making updates that is a huge benefit for the company that is taking the time to do it is that your user base gets the perception that you CARE.

    Of course, it’s not as simple as that. I’ve never met a MMO developer that didn’t care. It’s not the kind of industry that you can work in if you don’t. But companies make decisions on how they will approach things, and those decisions can insulate the caring every-day developer guy from the user. When a company makes a commitment to demonstrate openness (to some degree) and responsiveness, it allows users to let their guards down a little and lessens the adversarial nature of the gamer/publisher relationship.

    Good on Mythic for heading down the road more desirable.

  3. @tipa-

    “Maybe one of WoW’s strong points is that it’s essentially the same player experience as it was when it launched?”

    No it’s not the same experience. Far from it, which is why some people are looking for alternatives.

    Blizzard responds, but only when outside pressures dictate it, or they are out of design ideas.

    The difference in market between those two games is that one launched before it should have and one didn’t. (There are other factors as well, but the fact is that EQ2 wasn’t a really good game until after release, and WoW was a really good game at release.) If EQ2 didn’t have “update agility” then it would have been relegated to the scrap heap, and not holding on to the strong niche they now enjoy.

  4. I know it’s been a couple of years since I logged into WoW, but if I did, and made a new gnome rogue, I haven’t heard that anything will change as far as the path I take until level 60, except that there won’t be any other people anywhere and the economy will be ruined by high level players. This is why I started on a new server three years ago, and is what I’d do if I returned.

    And I bet I would be doing the exact same things I did back then.

  5. I agree with this Blackguard. Update agility is a refreshing thing to see from an MMO developer, especially within the game’s first 90 days where every MMO has issues to work through that require hotfixes. I think there was a time when Blizzard may have been like this too, when their game was newer…but not so much now.

  6. I guess if your customer base is predominantly people using game cards in gaming cafes without a steady revolving subscription then changing whenever you want is ok. But, if you want stable paying customers a perception of caring is a big help. And I agree with Genda, a big factor in EQ2’s continued success was definitely proportional to the dev team quickly finding and squashing bugs. I for one applaud Mythic and any developer for identifying problems and resolving them in a timely basis. WoW is an exception to most all rules IMO; I do not think any new title/game can afford to use the same model and still survive, see Vanguard…

    And I still can’t phathom all those sub numbers are counting current monthly subscriptions. It just baffles me :D

  7. Tipa: I’m not talking about making sweeping changes to the overall game experience. What I’m talking about is responding to real issues in a timely manner.

    World of Warcraft is often criticized for taking too long to fix real problems. They DO fix them, it just takes them months (or years) to do so instead of days or weeks.

    WoW is very different from it launched. So is every other MMO that is still around and is more than a couple years old. I can’t even think of a single MMO that hasn’t changed drastically from when it launched unless it launched in 2007 or 2008.

    What Blizzard has done fairly well with their updates is preserve a sense of it being the same game experience even though it has changed significantly since launch.

  8. Bri

    SWG would always leave bugs so long that when they finally did get patched, many players would complain it got “nerfed”, not realizing it was a bug in the first place.

  9. Bryan

    Agility is valuable. So is accuracy. If you respond to every minor flaw in your game really fast and miss the big picture, you’ve done nobody a service.

    Warhammer is agile. WoW is not. But when WoW does update, you can pretty much rest assured that it’s going to fix whatever it is they’re updating.

    Exception: PvP system. It’s been miss after miss for them in that ballpark >.>

  10. WallisHall

    Well, I just went back to EQ2, and am really enjoying myself.

    I quit 2 years ago because of things and have gone to Vanguard (a really great game) then to AOC (stinker game in my book) then tried the monster WOW (gah, it’s OK, but missing something… FUN)

  11. But when WoW does update, you can pretty much rest assured that it’s going to fix whatever it is they’re updating.

    Fair. It is a very questionable thing with many games. “New patch? What did they break this time?” Every. Single. Time.

  12. I have to agree that I am impressed with how quickly Mythic is getting in the hot fixes. It seems like folks will say “This is great but it really needs X.” And X will be in the next patch.

    On the other side of things, however, I’m ready to see a content patch. All we’ve gotten so far are minor corrections. I think the game has been out long enough to look at a few class balance things and maybe adding some of those quests that didn’t make it in.

    As far as WoW not being agile, I don’t see it as a good thing. Saying “#1 doesn’t do it so it can’t be bad” is pretty faulty logic. What it actually says is: We have 11 million players, they can wait. It doesn’t hurt us to lose 1, 10, 100 or 100,000.

  13. […] Mythic is pretty responsive. Nerfbat talks about “Update Agility“. One could wonder if this breaks things more than fixes them. However Mark Jacobs has been […]

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