Disclaimer: It should be noted that these are my personal musings and reflections, and do not reflect the official stance on design for any project I am associated with, nor the official position of my employer.
Years ago I had a gaming experience that has stuck with me to this day. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that said experience informs my decisions on an almost daily basis today, and probably accounts for at least half of the reasoning behind leaving Redmond and coming out to Prague.
I know I talk about Ultima Online fairly often, so I’ll have to ask you to bear with me a little longer as I talk about it some more. While you could probably attribute a lot of the design decisions made early on to Ultima Online to a general lack of industry knowledge on how the then bleeding edge MMORPG space (Meridian 59 was just about the only other thing out there – unless you count The Realm of which I do not), I tend to look at a lot of them as bold and counter to the more commonly accepted norms of AAA design doctrine these days.
While leading designers such as Will Wright, and standard large publisher practices from houses such as Microsoft Game Studios have pushed for the softer experience, the lower bar to entry, quicker reward for player action, and general “hook” to a title to be sooner, easier to achieve – and in general advocate for lowering the frustration factor of a title – I personally can’t help but feel like that whole philosophy is motivated by one thing – and one thing only. The almighty dollar.
DayZ for me was my opportunity to thumb my nose at the given norm – toss away the types of best practices that I so frequently saw pushed in platform feature meetings, and conference calls with 1PP developers early on in my career. I viewed it as my chance to stand apart from the typical executive and publisher pushed design changes and show the industry as a whole that putting the player in situations where they could risk a complete loss of progress – a total reset – was still a viable design.
Don’t get me wrong, I still feel this way. I seriously doubt anything will ever change that. However, I always have that concern in the back of my head – that DayZ will become a victim of its own success. The scale of dollars in tends to proportionately scale the amount of executive and publisher attention up. As we approach our beta milestone, and then eventual release from Early Access – will the single best selling title for Bohemia (to the best of my knowledge) be put under more pressure to lower the investment time for player progression? Will my team be pushed to make the title more accessible? And should I be standing my ground on this issue – especially considering any hypothetical executive or publisher pressure would be coming purely from overwhelming consumer pressure that the title is too hard?
As an Early Access title that was not crowd funded, do I owe my focus to the original design intent of DayZ as the brutally harsh anti-game, or to the evolving demands of the growing consumer audience? My moral compass leans heavily towards keeping DayZ brutal, protecting the integrity of that heart pounding experience while trying to temper the demands of the lighter or more casual experience consumer with full and rich support for modifying what that experience is on both the server, and game modification level.
I suppose time will tell if I was foolishly optimistic, or if there is still room for the unforgiving experience in the AAA persistent multiplayer space.