Sunday, June 26, 2011

Developer Burnout

Syl has written a nice post about how developers tend to cut out everything fun as games mature. Her post is aimed at World of Warcraft and I agree in spirit. It's just that I would really like to know why. Why do developers do this?

Look, if the developers had found some inconveniences unfun, why did they ever put them into the game in the first place? Here's a part of the explanation: Developer Burnout.

Developing a game is like a love relationship: In the beginning you are in awe. What you especially like are the small inconveniences. They give your significant other a soul, character. But, as you know, with time, well. Well, these inconveniences really start to annoy you. Why does she always forget her keys? That's stupid! Wouldn't it be fun if we didn't need keys?

This process also applies to players, of course. In the beginning they love the ten-minutes travel to the capital, but eventually they think it's a time sink and a grind. For developers, however, this is much worse.

As players we have the advantage that we can cut back on playing and even take breaks. That's impossible for a developer. You need to work on the game at least 40 hours a week (probably more), and you need to play it, too. As a consequence developers burn out much faster than the players. Breaks are often impossible.

When a developer has to level a new character for the 20th time he really, really hates leveling. It has to be faster! Much faster! Much, much faster! In fact, the game would probably be better if it could be skipped, but the players would moan and complain. Stupid players: Don't they see that leveling a new character isn't fun?


  1. from one point of view developer have 2 kind of people to deal with.In a game that exist 6+ years there a lot players that have already burnout, I think the majority of them..the other kind is the new players or the players that don't play for so long so they will get burnout, or players that return from a big break.

    so when a developer feel burnout he know that the majority of the players have the same feeling.So to ignore this feeling and stop changing the game according to this feeling is not good.I don't admit that the changes they did was in the right direction though.

    The best thing is to create a game for people that are not burnout and encourage players to take breaks during their gameplay.But I don't know how profitable is this and realistic..

    and as you said in previous post, is better make a game that is fun enough to pay by 500.000 than a game that will be loved by 200.00 and not fun enough to pay for 300.000

  2. That's a very good point - I hadn't seen things from that perspective before. Perhaps it's a reason to rotate teams faster, even if it does lead to accusations of being the B/C/...Z team now.

  3. A woefully under-examined facet of this particular reasoning is accounting for changes in taste, not only in oneself but the greater "gamer community."

    I mean, is the argument really that developer burnout is the cause for these changes? Developers for multi-billion dollar companies getting paid six figures to design videogames? I am not suggesting it is impossible for designers to burn out or fatigue... I'm suggesting that is about as likely as the janitorial staff sneaking in changes on the company white board. The management staff would be morons to allow such obvious decreases in productivity/excitement. What is more likely going on is that they are pulling statistics out of the game and seeing when/where people quit, how long people spend doing X (quest, etc), and are otherwise privy to the evolving trends of their customers and making changes accordingly, as the shareholders demand.

    Six years is a long time. It used to feel worth it to me to "put in my time" when it came to chain-running heroics or otherwise fighting over every upgrade, to get a full matching set, and so on. Now? Meh, who cares? Gear is all transitory - it always was transitory, but now I feel it too. If I ever went over to Rift, the developers emulating the WoW-grind model would not be able to capture my attention because I have moved on from that.

    Everquest and WoW are very much two separate games going after two separate types of players, or perhaps play-style would be more accurate. Who said an MMO had to be locked down to their original play-style once released? There are not as many group quests in WoW probably because there are less players who want to bother with that sort of thing; no doubt the stats were similar my experience in TBC where you might save the stuff in Nagrand, but all other group quests were either abandoned or clogged up my quest log for the entire expansion.

  4. Azuriel, I'll pick one point of your comment, because otherwise my response became a blog post on its own. I'll probably have to make a post on metrics eventually: What they can do and what they can't do.

    Anyway, you say:
    Gear is all transitory - it always was transitory, but now I feel it too.

    Do you think that it is possible that part of the reason this is happening is the new system that got introduced with WotLK?

    You know, the one that makes you swap your entire gear every few months for new gear that is exactly the same, but with 10% more stats?

    Do you think the amount of new items needed due to this might have had an effect on the 3D models? Like Lich King weapons looking exactly the same like other ICC weapons?

    Do you think that the drastically increased amount of items that needed to be produced for the game per expansion allowed item names to become less memorable?

  5. I think it's worth remembering that the developers are part of medium to large companies and other people who aren't developers are affected by decisions and may not understand the design reasons.

    If Customer Service in some game gets tons of petitions about a certain feature pressure will build up within the company on the designers to change it. "Why do we make people do 5 minute corpse runs again?" Because it's a colleague these questions can't just be shrugged off, if your design makes a non-designer's job harder expect to be called on to justify it.

    This effectively means that not only are games designed by noobs (as per Bartle) but also that they're design is heavily influenced by the people at the company who aren't designers.

  6. I'm not sure burnout is the right term for what players experience. It may be more disillusion: the dispelling of comforting false beliefs that enjoyment of the game had depended on.

    Like: you're a hero, destroying dangerous foes and saving the world! Except... you're in the 25th percentile of player advancement, and you actually suck.

    Or: I keep learning new things about playing the game, and I keep getting better. The game is a neverending march upwards! Until... gee, everyone eventually plateaus and this is as good as I'll ever be.

    Or: I enjoy the game because I play with people I like and we have a good time together. Until... gosh, most of them left for better guilds or quit the game without a goodbye. E-friendship doesn't mean much, does it?

    If developers get turned off on the game, maybe they've gone through a their own kind of disillusionment.

  7. Do you think that it is possible that part of the reason this is happening is the new system that got introduced with WotLK?

    In a word: no. I did not burn out until Cataclysm, and other things are going on simultaneously (e.g. guild died, can't raid, etc).

    I also do not believe that TBC was as different as you keep wanting to paint it as. I cannot speak to vanilla since I was not playing then, but TBC had as much grinding and gear progression as in Wrath - remember have to hit Revered reputation with everyone just to even set foot in heroics? The most I would agree with is that the structure of the endgame was such that a lot of the newer gear was simply impossible to get for someone not doing 25m raiding. Once my guild had progressed through Kara and hit a brick wall in ZA (our only OT transferred off server), I was "done" with gearing for the last 6-7 months of that expansion. Yeah, there was MgT and the badge gear, but there was not much of a point in getting it for its own sake. At that point, I primarily spent my time in BGs getting Honor/Arena gear, which I realize is kind of ironic.

    Fundamentally, my argument here would be the game did not change; I changed. Syl's sentimentalism sounds good on paper, but I do not buy it. Would he/she still be as nostalgic about Kara keys and attunements if there had been two more expansions with keys and attunements for every single tier, making alts nearly impossible to use? I seriously doubt it.

  8. "making alts nearly impossible to use"
    What's so great about alts? It's nice to have something to tinker with and to learn a bit about how other classes see the game, but when and why did we get the idea that we must have max-level, max-profession, max-gear alts? That's not an alt, that's a second main! Is one main not good enough? Maybe we need more fun and more to do on our mains, rather than spamming alts and then getting sick of repetiting quests.