Well, not really.
So a few guys that worked on World of Warcraft left Blizzard and started their own studio, Red 5, last summer. One was a team lead, another was an art director, and I don’t remember anything about the rest of the guys. I should say here right at the start, that I wish these guys the best and I hope they come up with some really cool stuff. The thing that gets me excited about these guys is the fact that no one knows anything about what they are working on yet. That means there is a chance, albeit however small, that they might come out with something really cool and innovative.
However what I don’t understand is why the hype around these guys is so big, and getting bigger (they announced a worldwide exclusive distribution deal with Asian MMO giant WebZen yesterday)…
How much did these guys really contribute to World of Warcraft? What makes World of Warcraft so good (well popular anyway)? What makes them worthy of all this attention? Did they design the core mechanics and gameplay for World of Warcraft? Did they engineer the backend architecture? What did they do that makes them such hot property? What exactly does an Art Director do? What about a Team Lead? Is their expertise in supervisor/low level management? Or are these guys brilliant designers that can also put together a company from scratch that is capable of building an industry competitive MMO?
Publishers and venture capitalists usually cringe at the very thought of giving money to a group of people that has not previously completed and published an entire title as a team. You can take ten guys from ten companies that are all experts, and they can implode from clashes of ego, arguments over design, confusion about best practices and methodologies, and so forth. You have to have experienced project management and executive management to work with a stellar development and production team to actually get anything created.
This isn’t to say that new unproven teams aren’t worth the risk…they are in my opinion (if they have the right elements in place). It is part of the natural cycle of the industry…group of people get together, have idea, form company, make game, get acquired, and then eventually leave to join another startup.
So, while I think Red 5 should be given a shot (I know some other brilliant people under the radar that have been waiting for their shot and just haven’t gotten a break yet), I think that there is something wrong with the mentality of a lot of people in the industry. I don’t know what Red 5 has in the box, but I suspect that they are able to get doors opened, golden opportunities thrown their way, funding, and business development/distribution deals fall in their lap simply because they were involved with World of Warcraft. I think the same thing of the ex-EQ folks over at Sigil (although I have real low expectations for them based on what they have published on their site so far). It isn’t just the Red 5 and Sigil teams that have had the golden ring of opportunity or mass amounts of cash thrown at them because of what they were involved in previously. There are scores of really dumb games (PC, Console, and MMO) that have been blessed with obscene amounts of money because of “celebrity” developer involvement, only to end up burning through the cash and giving us nothing, or a real crap game.
This is a bad thing about the industry…where “participation” in a commercially successful title = automatic credibility for something else. I get sick to my stomach when I think about how many great ideas and new ventures are passed over and ignored by the money folks because the team hasn’t produced a AAA console title. Seriously folks. Making a console title is completely and absolutely different from building a MMO. That’s the other problem…95% of the people in this industry (INCLUDING MMO DEVELOPERS) still don’t get what the hell an MMO is or what it is supposed to be. I have a really long rant coming on this one in the near future.
One last observation, if we assume that games like Everquest and World of Warcraft are just “good”, and maybe even mediocre as far as gameplay mechanics, design, and so forth (they look pretty on the outside, but as you dig deep you begin to see all the problems and recognize how a lot of things could have been done differently, or at least a lot better), why have these games been so damned successful?
I’ll answer that with a question. If I told you that you must choose between a poke in the eye, and a kick in the shin, which would you pick? Let’s say you and a lot of other people picked a kick in the shin. Is it fair to say that shin kicks are superior or more popular, thus new options should be focused on shin kicking like a double shin kick, or perhaps a shin kick by someone wearing bells on their ankles?
A perfect example of this is the diminishing number of gameplay genres. When was the last time you saw a good Adventure Game? Flight Simulator? Single Player RPG? What about games like Myst? It seems to me that everything is spiraling down to nothing more than a variation of a Third Person Shooter (TPS) with some “story” elements added in as an afterthought. First Person Shooter (FPS) and TPS games sell (or sold) well, therefore all new games must be TPS or with TPS elements. I want to pull all my hair out.
I think that the industry is saturated with mediocre content that just rehashes itself with different MMO makeup, and there is little or no innovation. Even worse, things that were done in the past because of technical limitations (like shards, one of the worst ideas on the planet) have become rules of thumb that everyone follows unquestioningly and assumes is the best idea.
Simply put, there isn’t anything better out there, so people simply play what is available. Crap gets popular, and no one is looking for the diamonds. The few people that know what a diamond looks like aren’t getting the funding. If developers were making better games with more substance and less flash, and with some innovation for a change (instead of the same boring junk) I bet that the mass market would be much more interested in MMOs and our industry as a whole would be MUCH larger than it is now.
Mark my words, unless something happens here in the West and the people holding all the $$ start waking up to the fact that Asian publishers and developers are rapidly gaining in every aspect (design, creativity, innovation, technology, business models, distribution, etc.), they will absolutely dominate the online games market within seven years.
What is the solution? Fresh people, talent, and ideas. Start looking for bright ideas and fund the hell out of them. So what if they don’t have traditional experience making some dumb console title…look for the TALENT. Throw money at TALENT, not just EXPERIENCE. Experience does not equal expertise. And heck, if you are a VC sitting on a fund and you want in on what is arguably one of the largest markets ever conceived…do your best to help the TALENT find the right executive management team to take their ideas and innovations to market.
It’s that simple. Talent + expertise + money = Big Money. Experience + money + generic idea = waste of money that produces mediocre game destined for market failure.
I’ll be watching.