The part of Joel's post that really intrigued me at first was the idea of purposely having a small launch, so that only the die-hard early adopters would be around to see the problems that you've shoved out the door.
I've mentioned this before, when discussing how EVE and WAR arrived at 300k subscribers by such different paths:
EVE had a very small playerbase to witness its early its mistakes. It actually had a fairly troubled launch: It reviewed much more poorly (with a 69 Metacritic) than WAR did (with it's 86 Metacritic). But nobody remembers that, because nobody was playing it. EVE corrected many of its problems while it still had a very small userbase of devoted players, before trying to reach out to a larger market. WAR probably made fewer mistakes with its launch, but it made them in front of many many more people.What's especially impressive, though, is that many of those early adopters have been remarkably loyal to the game to this day. I saw an interview recently where CCP's CEO stated that ~20% of EVE's subscribers from its launch month (May 2003) are STILL subbed to the game.
This makes me think that a small launch strategy might be the way to go (although I doubt many other companies would have the discipline to pull it off).
[Did anybody else see that video? I'm having no luck finding it again.]
The part of the article that is haunting me, though, is the idea that it takes ten years for a piece of software to really mature. It struck me as a bit ridiculous at first, as something that only makes sense for something huge like an operating system. However, the more I think of it, the more examples I notice of games that fit this profile.
Ten year juggernautsAt first it sounds a little crazy that it would take a game 10 years to really hit its stride, but our first instinct is to only think of the time that a game has been live, not the years of development before release.
CCP was founded in 1997, and developed a board game "in its first three years" to help finance EVE. I can't find anything specifically stating when EVE's development began, but it seems to have been sometime 1999 or 2000. EVE is now a ten year old piece of software.
As of this month, so is World of Warcraft, according to Rob Pardo:
But if you do want to try to be that No.1 MMO, it's hard, because not only are you going up against the five years of development we had, you're up against five more years of development that we've had since the game launched.I find this interesting because from what I've seen so far of the Catyclysm expansion and its revamp of all the old content, I think this will be the year that WoW finally reaches its full potential.
Team Fortress 2 is also a ten-year game. What we now know as TF2 began development in either 1998 or 1999, depending on how you look at it. The timelines on this one are a bit confusing, since TFC was actually a spinoff of an even earlier TF2 incarnation(!), and development may have been suspended for some amount of time, but ten years of linear time have definitely passed.
I also think it took until this year for TF2 to really grow into itself. The class balancing, new gameplay modes, unlockable weapons, and achievements would be sorely missed if the game were reverted to its launch day state. Once the final classes receive their updates next year, I expect the game to feel really complete.
Everquest II is an interesting example, because its launch was a bit rough but its live team is often said to have drastically improved the game in the years since then. I know some people who have tried or returned to the game recently and who have been really blown away by how much they like it.
I can't find any exact info about when development began, but Everquest's success resulted in the formation of SOE in 2000, I'm guessing that game will soon reach its 10 year milestone as well.
So, what do you think of all this? Does it really take that 10 years for these huge software projects to become great? Would you invest that much time into a game if you knew it could be as great as EVE, WoW, or TF2?
I'm beginning to think I would.
[Edit: Eolirin in the comments pointed me towards a great post on a similar topic from Bill Harris. I particularly like his term "inkblot" to describe the slow process of games gaining quality, players, and notoriety.]