Failure is Overdetermined

Success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan.
— exactly the opposite of what we’re talking about here

We are reviewing contract bids at work, and we are having trouble convincing the official buyer that you can lose a quarter of the available points for each of a dozen or more problems. He thinks it is absurd that X could be worth 25% of the whole scoring total. I am at the opposite extreme: if you cut half a leg off a chair, it has only lost 1/8 of the leg content, but I’d say the entire chair just failed even if the seat and back are really good. A system can have many single points of failure, and doing badly at any of them means the entire thing fails. If your MMO does not have a network connection, it is worthless, even if the content is really good.

So I am not entirely in disagreement when you say that Game X failed because it did not have your particular hobbyhorse. It had PvP/no PvP/wrong PvP; it was/was not F2P; it’s combat or guilds or crafting or achievements were this, that or the other — all fine. It is entirely possible for a game to fail on many points, each of which could be worth unsubscribing, or perhaps any one of several combinations of them. We, the online ramblers, tend to ascribe it to the world’s agreeing with our personal preferences, so every other game that comes out should cater to my whims or you’ll be the next Dawn, but we are not even necessarily disagreeing when we say that Game X failed because of ten different reasons. Yes, any or all of them, shame on Game X.

Should we also stop calling games failed when they are still online, running, and profitable? NC Soft has certainly had (enforceable) opinions on what characterizes sufficient return on investment.

: Zubon

5 thoughts on “Failure is Overdetermined”

  1. We (meaning bloggers and commentators) need to expand our vocabulary beyond using the word “failed” to mean anything from “I didn’t like it” to “the servers have shut down and there are outstanding international arrest warrants for the studio head”.
    In my book a game has actually failed when it is shut down (unambiguous commercial failure) or it doesn’t meet specific targets set and announced by the developers. If a studio publicly declares “we’re going to have five million subscriptions at the end of year one” or “we will be the most popular PvP game”, then by all means judge them a failure if they don’t achieve that. If those targets are just the expectations of raving nerd-boys who’ve blown themselves up like bullfrogs on pre-launch hype, then not achieving something the devs never said they’d set out to achieve isn’t failure… that’s just raving nerd-boys.

  2. Totally agree with kiantremayne. My yardstick for MMO success or failure has always been simple: is there still one server up and running reliably? If yes, it’s a success.

    That rather simplistic point of view does struggle sometimes when confronted with MMOs like Alganon (yes, it’s still running) or Aerrevan (not heard of it? Didn’t think so) but I have to assume that these games are, if not “successful”, still not “failed”. If they had failed they would have stopped.

    The City of Heroes debacle raises the ugly face of capitalism, of course. Something can be successful and still not worth doing if you define worth by how much money the resources used to do it could make if they were doing something else. That’s no concern of mine but I have to acknowledge a different criteria for success even though I don’t share it.

  3. Profitable is the key. LoTRO is still online, but I’m guessing those who got fired because its not doing well would indeed call it a failure. Or just the fact that in 2007, turbine was hoping you would join the ‘millions’ playing the game. They never hit that level, sub or free.

    From a players perspective, if the game is online, being updated, and has enough people playing, it’s not a failure TO YOU.

  4. The thing is, “failure” is a hypothetical statement, in the sense that it’s conditional on a certain metric of success. If that metric is profitability, playability, PvP, diverse appeal etc, then its satisfaction of these conditions will determine success or failure.

    So the problem with the ramblers is not the usage of the word “failure” per se, but a failure to agree on the conditions of success. More discussion about that – which would hopefully lead to an acknowledgement that there is an element of subjectivity and perhaps a pluralism of conditions – would make improve the conversation.

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