Do devs need to reinvent the (systems) wheel all the time?

Shintar writes about the recently announced wholesale changes to the endgame gearing system in Star Wars The Old Republic coming in the next expansion. I’ve never really engaged with the endgame in SWTOR so it will not affect me directly, but it did make me think about whether these large-scale revamps of MMORPG systems are actually justifiable or needed?

World of Warcraft’s developers at Blizzard have, I would argue, a bit of a reputation for wholesale change. Since the great talent pruning in the Mists of Pandaria expansion, each expansion of WoW has brought widespread revamps of class abilities. I’m not here talking about the incremental changes that all MMORPGs bring in from time to time, tweaking class power or adding or trimming a few abilities. I mean the large-scale revamps that reset the ability rotations for all classes or that change fundamentally how combat works. Regarding Legion’s big class upheaval – I cannot complain that all such change is bad. I actually enjoy playing Balance again after a four-year break, but overall a session does not go by where I do not think – at least once – “why did they have to remove that ability?” or “where are my buffs?”.

I’ve also read in the deluge of Final Fantasy 14 news coming out of the recent FFXIV Fan Fest event, that this MMO is going to be revising the battle system and skill system in the next expansion (Stormblood). If you consider these forthcoming changes in the context of the recoding of the entire game from version 1.0 to the relaunch with version 2.0 then the game has seen a lot of change in its relatively shorter lifespan.

Some MMOs seem to me to have had more additive change than wholesale revision – Rift and Everquest 2 have had new systems added but do not seem, from my limited viewpoint, to have had old systems removed or revamped to the same extent as the examples given above. I wonder whether all MMORPGs in reality change this much, from a system perspective, simply as part of the expansion and renewal of the game?

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4 Responses to Do devs need to reinvent the (systems) wheel all the time?

  1. Shintar says:

    Personally I obviously don’t think it’s needed, but I can see the appeal:

    – Big system changes are more likely to get attention from the gaming press and other media.
    – “It’s a whole different game” sparks curiosity among players who have left for whatever reason.
    – The company can claim to be bold, innovative etc.

    It is however always a gamble with the existing loyal player base, a large chunk of whom would probably simply prefer the addition of more of the stuff they already like.

    • Telwyn says:

      I hadn’t really thought of the media angle actually. I wonder whether devs get caught up in forever trying to find “perfect balance” between classes or systems. In any case I do get fed up with relearning the same game again and again. Perhaps those players who stick with one MMO need this kind of variety to keep it fresh; from the multi-MMO perspective though it can quickly get fatiguing when each game in turn revamps it all.

  2. bhagpuss says:

    I have always thought of it as primarily a way that developers try to keep themselves in employment. Obviously if an MMO is failing badly commercially then a wholesale revamp may be necessary but for any game running profitably it clearly isn’t. However, a stable, profitable game does not justify the employment of as many developers as an unstable, profitable game so there’s an incentive to ensure the game remains just unstable enough to require constant tinkering.

    I have seen this process in effect in every large company that I’ve worked for (that would be four). I also think the “getting media attention” explanation has a lot of merit – I’ve also seen that happen. And then, of course, there’s the ever-popular “I know better” effect, in which someone either genuinely believes they can improve on what the last guy did or knows that they have to at least *look* as though they can in order to convince management they deserve to be sitting in the last guy’s seat.

    It’s one or some of all of those and almost never an actual problem in the systems that needs fixing, as far as I can see.

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