Hope Is Not a Strategy

Courtesy of Lum comes Adam Martin’s frank discussion about Tabula Rasa. Worth a read.

I agree with Lum’s conclusion that Tabula Rasa failed because it took too long, spent too much money, and became incapable of meeting its own expectations. But let’s not beat that dead horse — I’d rather beat the dead horse that Adam brings up:

Re-reading this as I go, I remember there was another big excuse that I never gave credence to: “I’ll bury my head in real work and make *my* parts as good as I possibly can, and hope if everyone else does the same, it will All Come Together In The End”. This one wasn’t voiced so much, but is simply what people did, in some cases.

Hope is not a strategy. Whenever your attempt to avoid disaster revolves around the H-word instead of a concrete averting action, you are doomed.

In my experience this happens an awful lot. Is this you? Are you doing this right now? Hoping that by working harder you will be able to stave off the doom you see coming? Take a step back and look at what you’re working on. “This is going to be the best monster ever. It will save my shitty game.” “This new twist on crafting is going to keep people distracted from the tedious combat!” “With enough back story I can distract players from the lack of content!” Come on. That’s not a plan. It’s hoping for a miracle.

It’s easy to hope against hope that it will all work out, and it’s so hard to rock the boat, risk your job and friendships, and push to make the critical changes happen. But if you can’t or won’t do that, then you need to at least leave. I know it’s hard to leave now, you’re bailing out on your doomed comrades, you’re sealing their fate, you’re… yeah yeah. Whatever. Down deep you know your game is going to die no matter what, and yep, it’s going to hurt like hell knowing that you wasted years of your life. But what would going down with the ship achieve?

I’m not speaking from a higher position, I’ve been plenty guilty of this. And I gotta tell you, changing everybody’s opinion about something they care strongly about is not my idea of a fun time. I have never signed up to change a company, I sign up to make a game! Yet most MMO companies are rudderless ships of overworked, desperately hoping, doomed people. It really hurts me to think about some of the failures I’ve not been willing or able to avert. (This is why I haven’t signed up full time on a new MMO. I would love to work on a live game again more than anything else. But I can’t bring myself to jump back into the doom yet.)

Hope isn’t a strategy, and you and I both know when we’re hoping instead of strategizing. You’re a professional game developer, and you got to this point in life by making sacrifices. You made these decisions in order to make great games. Are you making a great game now?

You’re a brilliant person, and I expect more from you than keeping your head down and hoping for a miracle.

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8 Responses to Hope Is Not a Strategy

  1. Platinumstorm says:

    I think it would be exciting to be working on an MMO right now, intimidating, yes, however whoever breaks that “I must look, act, and be” like WoW in order to be successful is going to be immensely influential in the future.

    My current favorite MMO attempt, though I don’t play it, is that Mabinogi game. I don’t know if it’s in essence different than other asian styled games, but it has a very high degree of charm.

    I have two ideas on how to fundamentally change the structure of the current MMO’s, one of which I really like. If I can think of something, with no experience in game design, that is fundamentally different that what we are currently offered today, then I am sure you can too.

  2. Tesh says:

    Aw, nuts. I was thinking this was a political post from the headline.

    That aside, great article. Far too many MMO devs are hanging their hopes on far too little, with not enough reason to do so.

  3. Swift Voyager says:

    Yeah, lol Tesh. Kinda sounds like the blog posts about President Obama these days doesn’t it?

    Try google’ing “hope is not a strategy, obama”

    About Eric’s post though: I’ve never seen you make such a cynical post before. Do you really think that “most MMO companies are rudderless ships of overworked, desperately hoping, doomed people”? Sure, most video games fail, but the industry and the people who work in the industry cary on and succede in the long run. Not every game can be a blockbuster and the industry doesn’t expect every game to be a blockbuster, do they?

    Is it really accurate to say that people are “keeping your head down and hoping for a miracle”? Perhaps they’re working hard and doing the best they can, hoping to stay employed and make a living. If they are lucky enough to be part of the next big blockbuster title, then great. They can keep the job they have for a bit longer and the game company makes a lot of money. If not, then they go work on another project when this one is done. They gain some experience, meet new people, and generally get to work in a really cool industry.

    I work at a bread factory. Sometimes the bread doesn’t rise. Does that mean the company is a rudderless ship and we’re all just blindly sailing towards the edge of the world? Should I quit my job and go re-evaluate my life before this company sails off the edge of the globe? Naaahhhh, I’ll keep working and try again tomorrow.

  4. Eric says:

    In a word — yes, it’s tragically accurate. Most MMO companies are never heard of because they do not ship a product. They have no leadership, they toil in obscurity, and then they go away when people finally come to repossess their desks. Typically this happens after working until their typing fingers bleed, for no results.

    There is an incredible lack of competent project management and leadership at MMO companies. The thing is that it requires a truly charismatic leader to get one of these game companies off the ground — “yes, I want to get millions in investment money and in three to five years I’ll have something to show you” doesn’t really fly very well with most venture capitalists. But that incredible charisma needed to get the job usually means you have no actual LEADERSHIP skills.

    It may seem amusingly unlikely from the outside, but I’m afraid it’s all too typical of the industry.

    In the bread industry you get to make bread every day. If making a loaf took five years, how would you feel when you knew, a year into the baking, that the bread was going to be shit? What would you do then? Keep cooking the loaf?

  5. J. says:

    “There is an incredible lack of competent project management and leadership at MMO companies.”

    As opposed to more traditional game development, do you think? And is it more or less the same phenomenon 15 years ago when first-person shooters were at their hottest, when everyone and their brother was trying to make the next Doom instead of the next UO? Or is that too academic a discussion, given how much more complex a successful MMO must be to compete for customers or even just to get /done/, than a shooter, and that stupid venture capitalists just don’t seem to understand?

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  7. Eric says:

    I don’t think traditional game companies have any better management than MMO companies, in general. They pull from the same source. The difference is that MMOs are so much harder than other games that your likelihood of it all panning out into a game at the end are much slimmer.

    From what I can tell, very few game companies of any type have tenable career paths — but at least you occasionally get a game to your name before you burn out.

  8. Tesh says:

    Indeed, Eric. The industry at large is a HR and management train wreck. We’re profitable in spite of ourselves.