A Local Peak

Improvements can take place through natural evolution as long as each previous design is studied and the craftsperson is willing to be flexible. The bad features have to be identified. The [designers] change the bad features and keep the good ones unchanged. If a change makes matters worse, well, it just gets changed again on the next go-around. Eventually the bad features get modified into good ones, while the good ones are kept. The technical term for this process is “hill-climbing,” analogous to climbing a hill in the dark. Move your foot in one direction. If it is downhill, try another direction. If the direction is uphill, take one step. Keep doing this until you have reached a point where all steps would be downhill; then you are at the top of the hill–or at least a local peak.

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman

Local peaks are not bad things. They are, within a certain range, as good as it gets. But if you want to go higher, you need to go down to go up. Many have seen the local peak and noted only that all paths away lead down, so we can do naught but muddle about at this height.

Ideally, you are not hill-climbing in the dark and your vision is leading you in the right direction. Some people will head in the right direction but not go far enough to get higher. Some will not even make it to the next hill, backtracking towards the familiar local peak, perhaps getting tired and falling short. You could break your legs trying to straddle the divide. People atop the local peak will point to the failures below.

And then someone proves that the next hill over is higher. They climb and keep climbing. It often seems to be the next guy who makes it to the top first, while the trailblazer was tired from trying all those false paths along the way. And, of course, there is a rush from the last local peak to this one, which is now proclaimed to be the greatest summit ever, the greatest summit possible.

: Zubon

5 thoughts on “A Local Peak”

  1. “They climb and keep climbing. It often seems to be the next guy who makes it to the top first, while the trailblazer was tired from trying all those false paths along the way.”

    Probably the saddest part, because in an environment that really ‘counts’, that’s a very high risk to take when you have hundreds or thousands of people depending on your overall success. This should (but is often not) be mitigated by having more than one climber in the area, so even if the most ambitions trailblazer fails, you have others who reach safe peaks. EA got away from this and is now paying for it, although in recent years they have (somewhat) gone back to what worked.

  2. And where might the higher peak be?

    It’s a lot like Mt. Everest. At some points on the mountain it is said that all the other surrounding mountains poking out of the clouds actually appear to be taller. To the climber, it would certainly seem to be so.

    But the climbers that leave and go off to investigate other peaks, soon find that their original game was much higher overall, and eventually return.

    We’ve all been hurt a lot I think. Just as Syncaine mentioned, the saddest part is all the great developers who tried to do something new, and had these great ideas that everyone was exited about, but the implementation just didn’t cut it. They just couldn’t properly make the game they intended. And in the end, though it had parts of it that were so much better than WoW, WoW just ended up being a more complete/polished game overall (and granted it’s had a lot of time to do so).

    The MMO market is particularly brutal in that respect, because the only real way to have polish, is years of battle-testing, and a beady-eyed newcomer to the scene has to compete with these mammoths that have already moved on past the polish stage.

    I wonder whether trying to hype your MMO as “the next biggest thing ever x infinity” really could work, because NO MMO will be that good at launch. Better to start small and grow. You just take so much less flak that way.

  3. In a word? Humility — something that is considered a “fault” in a society supported entirely on the wheels of investment and marketing; nobody invests in the small idea, the humble man. Nobody listens, nobody cares, and he’s gone before you ever knew he was there.

    So you can’t be humble, otherwise, you get no money.

    If you want to make a game with no money, you’re not making an MMO.

  4. So, go convince some bank in Korea to fund you. I have no idea how some companies manage to get the funding for their MMO projects. Seriously…

    Bank: “So why should we fund your MMO?”

    Studio: “Well, it will have so many cool ideas, like CLASSES! and ELVES! Everyone will want to play an ELF! Um… and it will have FISHING! Every self-respecting MMO has fishing, except we’re actually going to make it the main selling point!”

    Bank: “Hm… sounds marketable… so why will ElfQuestOnlineDragon succeed?”

    Studio: “Well, you see, it’s actually based on the wildly popular World of Warcraft. In fact, it’s practically the same thing in every way! And just look at how well that did, We’re talking MILLIONS. With the same design, just think of how much money we can make!”

    Bank: “Alright, you sold us. Here’s 20 Million$. Knock yourself out.”

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