Here is a statement by Russ Brown, VP of Development at Trion Worlds, the developer of the upcoming Rift. His words are inspiring as a former industry clone, customer, player and MMO lover...
This kind of talk needs to be passed around to all developers of games, not just MMOs...
Enjoy the read.
"An MMO is a very different beast from other packaged games I have worked on. When you release a standard packaged game, you generally don’t get feedback from your customers until it’s too late. The single focus test you did two months before release is pretty much worthless; it’s just too little time to react and iterate. In Rift I’ve had people playing in alpha and beta for months, and it’s easy to see where players are getting frustrated and where they are jumping for joy.
Most importantly, you can react. You can say, "We were wrong," "We need to change that" and "Sweet, they totally loved that." This leads to changes, fixes, and lets us focus our development time on the features that will make this the best possible game. This is where the game evolves into something great. This is why real time feedback is critical.
Dealing with constant, live feedback is not always easy. Sometimes it can be a morale hit when people are overly critical of a feature. Also, I’ll be the first to admit that it can be tough to schedule a development team’s time if you are constantly reacting to daily feedback. But feedback is good, and I am proud of our team’s ability to respond to it. Most of the time they just dive in and fix it, knowing the customer is right. I have had my artists up until the wee hours of the morning fixing lighting, collision or animation issues that have affected gameplay.
Engineers, who get downright ornery seeing bugs, get seriously ****** that there is a bug in their code. You will find 3 a.m. "check ins" for fixes and changes to features from engineers and designers. There have been times when I’ve come into the office in the morning to find work done by an entire group of developers staying late the night before to fix an instance or invasion. Not because some stuffed shirt told them to, but because they care, and just like the players in our alpha/beta, they want to make the best **** product possible. The only way to do that is to listen to your customers and react.
If you don’t listen to what the players are saying, you may make the game you want, but you are not making the game your customers want. "