More People Equals More Content

While I want to talk more about Hearthstone, I also did not want this particular tidbit about WoW proper to be consigned to Draft Hell:

The team size has increased 40% and another 40% increase is planned, which will hopefully allow for a new content patch every month, a new raid tier every three to five months, and an annual expansion.

Now, this was just unattributed MMO-Champ paraphrasing, coming from some Gamescom interview. I made an effort to try and see if this was an exact quote by watching a few of the Gamescom interviews myself, but didn’t see it anywhere. The statement was, however, “confirmed” in a roundabout way by Nethaera’s response to the thread asking the obvious question of “If more people = faster content now, why not back then?” Neth’s response was basically that circumstances changing doesn’t retroactively make older statements a lie.

That is all well and good, but I seem to distinctly remember Ghostcrawler or somebody saying that more people = more cooks in the kitchen, some problems can’t solved throwing more money at it for everything else there’s Mastercard, and so on. So, after some digging, I dusted off this interview with Ghostcrawler from October 2010, on the eve of Cataclysm’s release:

Slashdot: A lot of players, when they hear you talk about how you didn’t have time to make a feature good, their question is, “Well, why can’t you just go out and hire more people?”

Greg Street: Yeah. The mythical man-month.

Slashdot: Can you explain why you don’t find that to be a viable solution?

Greg Street: The other example that gets used a lot is: if it takes a woman nine months to have a baby, then if you have two women, it’d only take four and a half! Our development process is hugely based on iteration and communication. It’s more important — for, say, class design and item design — it’s more important for me to have a small team that’s totally in sync than to have a large team and have no idea what anyone else is working on. We would end up with Hunter talents working one way, the Priest would work a different way, and it wouldn’t feel polished. It wouldn’t feel good to players. Often, when we say, “We didn’t have time,” players say, “You shipped it before it was ready.” That’s not the way we look at it.

The way we look at it is: we are extremely critical of our own designs. We have very long lists of things we want to fix in the game. Some of these things have been around forever, and some of the things are new that we just added recently. If we waited until we addressed every single one of those things, we would never ship anything. It would be years and years before games came out, and that’s just not realistic. That’s not what players want; they’re not going to wait six years for a new expansion. So, instead, we do what we can and we keep other things on the back burner. We’ve got Paths — this great idea. A dance studio — we’re going to do it some day. Just not yet. We’re saving it for the right time.

It is not quite the smoking gun that I remembered in my head, although perhaps I had a different interview in mind. Or maybe it never existed. Regardless, I still think it is a legitimate question to ask “what exactly changed here?” Are the Blizzard devs less concerned about additional people and faster content leading to less polish? Did Titan getting scrapped free up some additional talent? Or is it simply the case that losing 4.4 million subscribers between October 2010 and today puts things like polish vs actual content into prospective? Given how the status quo a year ago was 8 months without a content patch, I am assuming it’s the latter.

The interesting thing will be to see how “monthly content updates” are integrated with the game overall. Guild Wars 2 has their events every 2 weeks, for example, but I believe GW2 has a much lower emphasis on gear, story, and… well, things one might traditionally associate with RPGs in general. I feel like the dozens of daily quest hubs thing isn’t going to work a second time around for WoW, but neither can Blizzard really afford to hand out gear upgrades mid-tier. Or maybe they will, and simply de-emphasize the sort of full tier/BiS gear game they have crafted all these years.

Either way, WoW is definitely veering off into some uncharted territory here – at least, uncharted for as large an MMO as it still is. I am much more interested in how this particular change with shake out, as opposed to the much more mundane F2P possibility.

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Posted on August 27, 2013, in WoW and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I fear that what they are going to do is the same thing they did since late TBC. Instead of accelerating content creation they are just going to accelerate the treadmill. The problem is that the faster you acquire gear, the less you care about it and the less you care about the content that offers it.

    The solution is all over Pandaria: Slow Down. We don’t have to double our DPS with every new raid tier.

    • I actually don’t know how they plan to do “additional content.” If they go with more horizontal growth, that might work, but I also wonder in which areas they can really expand in. And what about the people not interested in titles, mounts, or pets?

      Then again, maybe it doesn’t matter about the people interested in gear – more frequent patches could mean that they are still acquiring loot on the same basis as today, and perhaps that will be enough.

  2. Well, yes, you must have double the DPS at the end of a new raid tier (BTW it’s less than that), because it’s the fuel driving the auto-nerfing of instances with time.

    BTW with MoP they definitely changed the scope. The gear treadmill is only a small part of the game now, and you participate in it if you’re into raiding, i.e. you’re the minority. There are tons of other activities (lore, achievements, pet battles, collecting, rep grinds, world bosses, soloing/brawlers’s guild, AH, etc.). Ah, and I would say that if you only care about gear you should really stop playing.

    The more people = more content is more true now exactly because there are many independent activities: even if one particular part requires a lot of design iterations, this does not stop another team from working on another part of it.
    And they have a ton of extensibility, they could do turn-based “raids” where you control your pets with a group of friends, and even add a WoW-Hearthstone interaction with e.g. achievements giving cards and card duels starting from ingame.

    • > it’s the fuel driving the auto-nerfing of instances with time.

      The 5.4 LFR will have about the same item level then normal 5.2 gear. If you can’t down anything in 5.4 normal, your raid will not auto-nerf the unfinished 5.2 content. And if you can, why should you return? (5.2 LFR did auto-nerf 5.0 because it had a much higher item level.)

      > BTW with MoP they definitely changed the scope. The gear treadmill
      > is only a small part of the game now, and you participate in it if
      > you’re into raiding, i.e. you’re the minority.

      Which is another problem. The game doesn’t have meaningful rewards besides gear and the best gear is restricted to heroic raids.

      > There are tons of other activities (lore, achievements, pet battles, collecting, rep grinds, world bosses, soloing/brawlers’s guild, AH, etc.).

      The only one of that list which I cared about was pet battles. And what did they do? They thought it might be a good idea to introduce raid only pets.

      And I would have loved to do challenge modes. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to build a group because nobody cared about them because they don’t reward cool items. You can say you don’t need cool items to do challenge mode but you need 5 people and I couldn’t find them.

      > Ah, and I would say that if you only care about gear you should really stop playing.

      I’ve cancelled my account last weekend. But to be honest, that was always my favorite part about WoW. The gearing up my character. It’s like in M:TG. I love creating and building awesome decks. Creating decks was more fun to me then playing them. Playing them was only an activity to make creating them meaningful. If M:TG would be WoW you could only obtain the best cards from heroic tournaments which require you to play at least 3 times a week, every week, at a fixed schedule, with people you don’t like.

      • You answer is scary. It seems like no MMO activity is meaningful unless it gives rewards….
        I must be the minority, I actually play MMOs because I have fun doing it, gear or no gear, rewards or no rewards.

      • I actually fall more in line with Kring on the “meaningful gear” topic, but mainly because I find there is little to no sense of progression otherwise. Many WoW activities are fun, but personally, fun isn’t enough; I have dozens of fun, already-purchased indie games I could be playing too. It’s the fun + progression + (virtual) investment combination that made me play WoW for so much over the years. I’m not looking to kill time between work and sleep, I’m looking to accomplish things (or at least the sensation thereof) in my leisure hours.

        Getting an achievement or rare mount drop is exciting, but it doesn’t much last beyond the announcement fading from my screen. Getting a new gear drop though, suddenly changes all the math behind my stat selections in addition to making me objectively stronger than I was a week ago. That the character strength doesn’t last forever is besides the point – it just has to last until I get bored and crave more progression.

        I don’t think you are in the minority Helistar. It is just that we’re playing different games within the game. You are focusing on the MMO and we’re focusing on the RPG.

    • Ah, and I would say that if you only care about gear you should really stop playing.

      Blizzard specifically called out the fact that MoP had less content for “hardcore” players, which will be remedied in the future. Let’s hope that they do not continue with these wild swings back and forth (TBC=hardcore –> Wrath=casual –> Cata=hardcore — MoP=casual) and instead do both.

      That aside, excellent point regarding how with the newfound breadth of content, adding more designers makes more sense, e.g. not contradicting prior statements. To (ab)use Ghostcrawler’s 2010 analogy: an additional woman might not be able to make a single pregnancy develop faster, but adding more pregnant women = less time inbetween babies.

  3. From a programming perspective, that man-month quote really only applies to tightly-coupled systems, or people working on the same team. If Sally’s work requires Jill to make changes to her code, that doesn’t scale very well. Adding more people just slows everyone down.

    But if the systems are loosely-coupled, you can continue to add people and teams fairly easily. For example, look at the mod community. There are thousands of people working on mods, and the production rate is linear. The more teams you have creating mods, the more mods you get.

    (However, the more people you have working on the same mod, the slower progress is likely to be on that mod.)

    But this only works because the interface layer for WoW is fairly constant. A random mod maker cannot force Blizzard to change the interface. If the mod is unstable or uses too much resources, that is entirely the mod maker’s responsibility.

    The same idea can apply to game engines. If the game engine interface is fixed, it is easier to have more teams creating content. For example, if there is a “scenario” interface that is fixed, it is easier to have multiple teams creating scenarios.

    This is actually a fairly big topic in programming circles these days, structuring elements of your infrastructure as services to be consumed by multiple internal clients, instead of tightly-coupled components.