Done Rarely, Done Badly

The book Waiter Rant recommends against varying too much from the menu when ordering. When you order like Sally Albright, you are getting the cook’s first shot at preparing it that way rather than something s/he has made 1000 times. And s/he is also making six other orders and does not have extra time to think about it.

I took a train to a conference last week. The relevant train runs once per day. When your connecting train is late, there is no Plan B beyond waiting for tomorrow. In New England, where Amtrak is profitable and traffic is high, there is a Plan B other than waiting for tomorrow. Airplanes seem to have problems with lateness and cancellation at about the same rate as trains, but there are flights leaving every minute and sixteen alternate routes and four other airlines with reciprocal agreements. The problems that can happen happen so often that the backup plan is already ready.

Most games have just the one release date. Many companies launch games badly. Even if they are doing it well, the scale and number of problems are unknowns that are difficult to plan for. While some big publishers have horrible reputations in terms of game development, they add value by having released hundreds of games and knowing what they are doing there. MMOs get special note: there are only a few big releases per year, and only a few have ever launched really well.

Within games, you rarely see just one of something where that one is really good. If a game does something well, it probably does a lot of that; if it does not do a lot of that, it probably does not do it well. Learning by doing is important. You are not going to create the perfect boss encounter on your first try, whereas Shadow of the Colossus is all boss fights. As much as I loved City of Heroes, for years it had just the one raid, and neither developers nor players ever settled into being really happy with it.

: Zubon

I should note that this is about the intended level of quality. Many companies mass produce crap, but they do it on purpose and very efficiently.

One thought on “Done Rarely, Done Badly”

  1. As much as I loved City of Heroes, for years it had just the one raid, and neither developers nor players ever settled into being really happy with it.

    Well, there was the Rularuu raid-like, in addition to Hamidon. That it only made it live for an incredibly short time is telling. That was a pretty constant issue for Cryptic, especially early in release when they only had a half-dozen employees working on development: they pushed out some systems of incredible complexity fairly quickly (bases, mayhem missions, arenas, crafting, among others), but when something went poorly they just couldn’t afford the manpower to tweak or QA it beyond obvious exploits.

    On the second hand, it meant that we got Dark Astoria, instead of Yet Another Raid Patch. Doing twenty things means that you can get nineteen badly and one that works; doing one thing means you must do it well and are screwed if you can’t improve. If Amtrack ran five more trains a day, they’d probably be really good at running trains — but they’d still probably suck at travel in general, since they more complex things like infrastructure costs and maximum speed and political considerations have pretty much made it impossible for them to compete well with aircraft like that. No matter how long you practice sandbox PvP, you’ll be competing with EVE Online for a very small playerbase.

    On the gripping hand, too little focus is just as limiting. Guild Wars 2 manages some very impressively good jumping puzzles in a medium known for being terrible at them — but that’s not because of amazing talent, but because of practice and learning from failure, and it’s pretty obvious which puzzles were more heavily tweaked than others.

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