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DinofarmGames

IGNORE the expectation to perpetually add content!

23 posts in this topic

This is a post about the pattern of "perpetually adding extra content to a game post-release". We, game developers, are expected by the gaming community in general to degrade our games. This is the situation we are currently in.

Firstly, I have to explain that I am not a believer in the “more is more” philosophy. I believe that just as a good film has only the scenes it needs to tell its story and nothing more; just as a good poem has only the words it needs to make its point and nothing more; a good game has only the mechanics and content it needs to express its gameplay.

While I know that I’m in the vast minority when it comes to the subject of modern digital games on that point, I’m in a very solid majority when you look at other types of games throughout history, and when you consider the very concept of “design” in general. Everyone knows that the more steps in your plan, the more moving parts in your machine, the more of a chance it has of breaking down.

In short: you cannot simply just keep “adding stuff” to a game and have it retain its solid fidelity. There is a point with every game where adding one more monster, one more gun, one more playable class is too much. This may not entirely break the game, but it does degrade it. The quality and significance of each decision is slightly diminished, the identity of elements blurred.

I wrote about this in full over at my site: http://www.dinofarmgames.com/?p=739

What do you guys think?
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I have to disagree with the idea that gamers expect a developer to "perpetually adding extra content to a game post-release". What I do think they expect is some form of support after release (understandable with the state games are often released in) and that a successful game should have some sort of expansion (or DLC now) at some point after release. The latter may be what you're alluding to but honestly I see no issue with it. Games take a long time to develop and expansions are an effective way to bridge the 3+ year long gap between a game and its sequel. The importance of it should not be underestimated or ignored by developers just because players expect it or out of fear of it breaking a well designed game. A decent developer should be able to create a fun and compelling expansion that would not break the original design of the game but improve it. If this added content does indeed degrade your game then it is because you did it wrong and not that you merely added something to it.


There are some genres that do require the developer to perpetually add content but that is down to the expectation that a player will play it over the span of several years. At that point it is reasonable that you are expected to add more to the game and not leave it as is. You use TF2 as an example of a game that has gone too far but I ask you, would you still expect the vast majority of people to keep playing it this long after release without these additions? I'm going to jump the gun and say that even if you would the vast majority would not leaving TF2 in the same position as say BF2, outside of the die hard fans most would occasionally break it out at a LAN party but for the most part no one gives it a seconds thought. Even with all this added it is important to point out that it is still possible for someone to play TF2 in "vanilla" mode if they still wish to.


It's also important not to forget the impact of allowing players to add their own content to the game where possible. The games that live longer than expected lives are those, more often than not, that gave players the power to create their own content. Even if a developer doesn't add content I feel it is important for them to allow players to do so.
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I don't agree that the community always expects for a game to keep gaining extra content. I think that depends entirely on the developer's objective with each game. Minecraft, Terraria, WoW, perhaps are games of which we expect content to be added. LIMBO on the other hand is not.
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I think that the whole paradigm of 'perpetually adding content' is a tool that can be used for good or bad. There are some real benefits for the developer and the player.
[list]
[*]It prevents some wasted time/content/money. If you go content-light with your release and allow for extra content post-release, you can find out if people really like the game before dedicating a lot of resources for extra content. This can also help the player, as they can invest in only the 'core' game and not waste money on the added content if they don't like it.
[*]Some genres lend themselves well to episodic content and can bring renewed joy similar to reading a trilogy of books or watching a series of TV shows. This might apply to anything that is story-driven and less reliant on gameplay mechanics.
[*]In the reality of software development, you often have to scrap many ideas/features that you want in your game in order to release "Version 1.0". These features may actually improve gameplay and would be valuable to players.
[/list]
While there can definitely be cases of added content having little value to the player, or degrading the gameplay, it seems pretty idealist to expect that every game completely nail the content and gameplay 100% within a single release.
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TF2 is *not* in the same position as BF2. BF2 has had some 19 sequels released since then.

Also, I agree with the "expansion" type model, but it has to be elective. In a multiplayer game it's like even if you dont use all the new guns, other people will.
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[quote name='DinofarmGames' timestamp='1327511854' post='4906142']
TF2 is *not* in the same position as BF2. BF2 has had some 19 sequels released since then.
[/quote]

That was my point. TF2 currently isn't like BF2 but it could have been if they had taken the approach you advocate. BF2 had one expansion and two DLC style downloads, if TF2 has done a similar system or even stayed vanilla (bar any bug/balance fixes) it would most assuredly be in the same position BF2 was 5 years after its release, fondly remembered but rarely played. In response developers would most likely have taken the BF2 approach of sequels as a way to gain more money from the franchise. Now yes this is all conjecture, we will never know what could have happened, but the point still stands that TF2 is better off from those additions made to it (from a design and business point of view) than if they had never made them.
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My point is, BF2 is rarely played because DICE has released so many new games in the same line since then. If BF2 was still the latest BF game, it would be played much, much more than it is now.
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[quote name='DinofarmGames' timestamp='1327515562' post='4906160'] My point is, BF2 is rarely played because DICE has released so many new games in the same line since then. If BF2 was still the latest BF game, it would be played much, much more than it is now. [/quote]
No it wouldn't be, because it would have been long ago surpassed by competing games.

Games become outdated over time, and one cannot expect the competition to stand still. You have two choices: produce new games (i.e. the 'sequel' model), or upgrade your existing game (the 'TF2 model').
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I know this is a shocker to video-game people, but a truly great game never ever becomes "outdated". Will Chess ever be outdated? Soccer? Tennis? Go? Tetris?

It seemed to me that Team Fortress 2 was aspiring to that kind of a timeless height with their design, at first.
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Anything gets boring if you play it long enough, except for those few people who truly love the game in question.

Most of us play chess enthusiastically for a year years, and then it sort of tails off to a few matches each year. A few people love it enough to make a lifelong hobby or even a career out of chess, but those people are very much in the minority.

The rest of us move onto another game, and another one after that...
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You losing interest in something is not the same thing as a game becoming outdated. In videogames, I actually agree that games kind of do get out-dated since most of their game designs are not very strong. I advocate for games that you can play for your whole life and enjoy, if you choose.
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Swiftcoder makes a good point. This isn't helped by how many games are released. Any game released now has a lot to compete with and even very good ones are regularly passed over by the majority.

Also using examples of classic games whether they are like chess or soccer doesn't truly work. What we now recognise as those games have had an excessive amount of time to mature (you could say perpetually added to in fact) and they will without a doubt continue to be added to.
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The way, say, soccer or chess was "added to" is not at all the way modern digital games are "added to". Those were essentially a careful balancing process, trying to find the right amount of ingredients, adding, changing and even (god forbid) REMOVING elements as it was needed.

When was the last time a feature got REMOVED from a video game post-release? I'd be shocked if we could find more than one or two instances of this EVER happening, yet sometimes, it's what has to happen to create a balanced and strong and mature game.
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One thing that irks me is that gamers demand longer and longer singleplayer campaigns. But I'd rather take an 8 hour long excellent campaign than 20 hour good campaign. I might not even finish the longer campaign because I get bored, but you can be sure that I will play the excellent campaign multiple times. There are so many excellent games nowadays that I don't have time to play long games that are just good. You just wasted millions in dollars in development if majority of players won't bother to finish the game, no matter how good it is. Quality over quantity any time*!

* Obviously withing limits
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SC2 will have some units removed, or at least they plan to, come the release of the next expansion. A lot of MMOs remove abilities or rework them to the point their no longer recognisable. It's not common but designers do do it and it's often found in those games that require a lot of tweaking and support after release.

Classic games did the process slower, but they had a luxury of time that current computer games don't have as well as an larger set of designers (to say the least). The fact is they still changed dramatically from their recorded origins.
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Other units will be put it but they are removing units for all intents and purposes since these new units have little relevance to the old ones. For instance the removal of the carrier is because it is underused but the introduction of the tempest is because Protos lack an effective AoE air ability, one does not replace the other but merely that the adding/removal happens to be occurring at the same time.
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I agree with the premise that more is not more -- there is indeed a point where adding on does dilute the experience. In terms of design, this is mostly defined at launch -- In terms of expansions, its defined by how long you have a sustainable audience, which is a function of competition, advancement, and player boredom.

For me, I'm happy to consume map packs for a game I like as long as they're willing to sell them to me -- I've done just that with all the Halo games so far. But you make a point about how expansions should be "optional" and that really can't be, because it fragments the user base. On the basis of who-has-which maps, the its course enough to work, but you couldn't, for instance, segment the community based on who-wants-to-play-with-which guns, because its too granular, and would skew matchmaking and global statistics. I like the approach that Bungie took with the Halo 2 Map packs, where they sold for something like a year, then became free downloads. This let them make their money, while ensuring that the community, as it naturally shrunk over time due to players moving on, to coalesce back into one again. Its unfortunate that the bean-counters keep the price consistent for most DLC of this type because I doubt the move actually cost Bungie anything at all -- given that DLC sales spike hard at launch, then quickly settle into the long-tail, they really didn't loose any sales in the end. In fact, the additional cohession in the community probably conspired to extend the life of the game, and continue to sell new map packs well after they might otherwise have been able to.

For games with a heavy multi-player component, I would really love to see a model where an 8-hour campaign is released every year or so, packing in a new engine and some additional multiplayer content (maybe the initial installment would double-down on content to jump-start the community), as long as the new engine remained compatible with all the old content (they could sell stand-alone map packs in between). Basically, make the multi-player component more of a platform, and ride the single-player experience on that, rather than the opposite. Technical hurdles notwithstanding, I believe that you could foster a very strong and long-lived community with this model, if its done right.
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Hi DinofarmGames,

In this day in age of Persistent Multi-player Game Worlds, it is expected that developers [i]perpetually add extra content to a game post-release.[/i] I don't see any reason why single player games cannot take advantage of this philosophy. The fact of the matter is, Commercial Games aren't made for fun! The single and most obvious reason to [i]perpetually add extra content to a game post-release [/i]is: keep the players playing and [i][b]paying[/b][/i]. This has always been the case since the days of dropping Coins into an Arcade Machine to continue...

As a Developer, its more cost effective to create assets for a solid platform with a solid Player base. As a Businessman, this Player base (Customers) can generate additional profit streams, if additional products and services are offered through the platform. For the Player, this is simply adds more [i]bang[/i] for your bucks, if you don't like the new products and services offered, your not forced to buy them.

I'm not necessarily a big fan of all the TF2 features, however, I can appreciate the TF2's evolution and tenacity to survive the ever-changing highly competitive gaming landscape. In closing, I would encourage all game developers who put hard work into their games to design them to last forever.

PS: Auro looks like fun.
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I love forum PR. :P

Another point about DLC is especially true with retailers like GameStop. It is irritating how fans become fragmented depending on what platform you have, where you bought the game, and when. I don't see how this improves the game at all, but I do see how it encourages sales at one establishment at one time as opposed to any other. Maybe it's just "one of those things", but just why?
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[quote name='DinofarmGames' timestamp='1327492600' post='4906073']
In short: you cannot simply just keep “adding stuff” to a game and have it retain its solid fidelity. There is a point with every game where adding one more monster, one more gun, one more playable class is too much. This may not entirely break the game, but it does degrade it. The quality and significance of each decision is slightly diminished, the identity of elements blurred.
[/quote]
Adding stuff to a game has multiple reasons, the majority of reasons have nothing to do with game design, more likely with business.

You can't compare games like chess with BF2/TF2, because chess is a game concept, a rule set, and not a product. To some degree you need to compare chess to a FPS or a RTS or a RPG and then you will see, that a FPS/RTS/RPG has not been greatly expanded since the first nethack,doom or warcraft game. Considering that games like chess evolved over 100 of years, a FPS/RTS/RPG game will be almost the same in 200 years, just the appearance changed, like a chess board from an other manufactory.

Take a look at half-life. This game was mostly a single-player game, but the real success was its multiplayer part due to great modding support. This game was one of the first one which demonstrated the power of solid game community. First, a multiplayer game is much more likely to generate a online community, secondly you need to feed your community to keep it at it. You know that gamers want to play, and that they will leave your game (more importantly your community) to join something else once the get bored. This is the main reason, publisher provided ongoing content: to keep the people in their game until they release the according sequel

It is just standard business, like a payback card from your discounter. They don't want to directly influence the amount of products you consume (that is markting), they want to influence from where you get your products(when you buy it, buy it from us).

It isn't a secred, the industry want your money, not your happieness. So, when you want to make games which makes people happy, don't expect to get rich (play lottory, it is more likely to have success with it).
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[quote name='Heath' timestamp='1327629918' post='4906622']
I love forum PR. [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/tongue.png[/img]

Another point about DLC is especially true with retailers like GameStop. It is irritating how fans become fragmented depending on what platform you have, where you bought the game, and when. I don't see how this improves the game at all, but I do see how it encourages sales at one establishment at one time as opposed to any other. Maybe it's just "one of those things", but just why?
[/quote]

Ashaman73 is correct in that most of the reasons for this are to do with the business side of game design. Not just with the designer/publisher but also the retailers and hardware manufactures. At points it can improve the game (e.g. not making console players face off against PC players in an FPS) and there are companies trying to work around it to an extent (the Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition which was just announced is a nice example of a secondary release that still rewards original purchasers).

The issue of platform segregation will evaporate as cheaper more powerful and portable hardware appears to the point you will only ever need one device that can do everything. Sadly some of the other issues (like special deals at certain retailers) are largely here to stay (unless only one company comes to dominate completely which would result in a much worse situation).
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[quote name='Bigdeadbug' timestamp='1327668401' post='4906725']
Ashaman73 is correct in that most of the reasons for this are to do with the business side of game design. Not just with the designer/publisher but also the retailers and hardware manufactures. At points it can improve the game (e.g. not making console players face off against PC players in an FPS) and there are companies trying to work around it to an extent (the Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition which was just announced is a nice example of a secondary release that still rewards original purchasers).

The issue of platform segregation will evaporate as cheaper more powerful and portable hardware appears to the point you will only ever need one device that can do everything. Sadly some of the other issues (like special deals at certain retailers) are largely here to stay (unless only one company comes to dominate completely which would result in a much worse situation).
[/quote]
I understand that it's games as a business. The butcher, baker, and candlestick maker all want their share. For just that reason, one cheap platform to rule them all won't happen, evenif it would be nice. Instead, people pick favorites, they divide themselves into "camps", and the kings of the marketplace vie with each other to conquer all under heaven intact, or at least a good chunk of it while they can. Yada yada yada. :P

Anyway. I haven't actually commented on the original premise of this thread. :) That's because I really don't see one true way here, or how either method being discussed is orthogonal to the other. But let's discuss one of my favorite video game heroes, shall we?

Megaman has had dozens of sequels and spin-offs. There were 6 Megaman games on NES alone, and that was over a span of about 4 years. They all looked much the same, but each added little things. For instance, Megaman 2 was more playable than the original, you could slide in Megaman 3, and in one of the others you could charge your buster for the first time. However, it definitely got repetitive and "degraded" after Megaman 3. (Megaman 2 is still one of my favorite games ever. [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/smile.png[/img] )

Now, of course, you had all these sequels for the simple fact that you couldn't just connect your NES to the Internet and download the latest episode of Megaman off Steam or what-not. :P So this could be viewed really either way: Was Capcom making expansions and incremental changes or completely new sequels with each game? They sure looked the same. They sure scrolled and tiled and animated the same. They sure sounded the same, except maybe the music. And considering that they were probably written in 6502 assembly, it's understandable if the code didn't change all that much or if only small changes to the core design were ever made. It could thus be said that the first true "sequel" to Megaman, as opposed to an expansion, may have actually been Megaman X, and [i]then[/i] Megaman 7 when that was released.

The fact that the NES Megaman series went on for 3 more "expansions" after Megaman 3, and that I really can't find anything memorable in them except charging a gun ("Whoa, we got a badass over here!") means that the game did start to degrade with each "expansion", as the OP said. It would've been perfectly fine to move onto other things. Ah, but here we come full circle. Because why did Capcom keep expanding this game? Business. :)

Yes, business can be responsible for some really silly things. It itself is a strange game. (One could argue that) the only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?

:P
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