A few weeks ago I bought my way into the closed beta of EverQuest Next: Landmark and I began to notice something quite interesting. That interesting thing being that the players have a direct impact in how both, EverQuest Next and EverQuest Next: Landmark, are being developed. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this approach, and I began to ask myself whether or not all games should take this route or if it could even work for different types of games.
One of the things that I love about games is the constant feeling of surprise, from beginning to end. This includes finding and exploring all of the interesting mechanics of the game as well as the environments; all of that is what gives games a sense of mystery and adventure. I will always remember the first time that I logged into EverQuest Online Adventures. I had no idea what I was doing or what the franchise meant to so many people. I explored and the only previous information I had of the lore and the world around me was from the little booklet that had came in the game box. All the rest of it was left up for me to find and figure out. Sure I could have used the internet, but at that time there weren’t as many resources as there are now. For most things, such as where to go for quests and what not, I was forced to either interact with other people in-game, or simply figure it out on my own accord. All of this was possible because I had zero idea as to the development process and direction of the game from the developers point-of-view.
Flash forward to today’s MMOs — everywhere you turn you will see developers reaching out to its game’s community in the form of blogs, videos, or questionnaires. EverQuest Next however is taking a more direct route, one in which players have an effect on the game as it’s being developed. Namely through the use of “round-table questions” where democracy reigns supreme. Each question comes with multiple choices (E.G. “Which small race would you like to see in EverQuest Next? A. Gnomes B. Dwarves C. Ratungas D. Frogloks). These are then showed in poll form, and the results directly influence the developers’ plans. This is further elaborated on with the game EverQuest Next: Landmark, the Minecraft-esque sandbox MMO, where players are tasked with building their interpretations of race-based architecture that could potentially be used in EverQuest Next. In essence, everything about EverQuest Next is influenced by the community’s feedback, and in some cases from the artistic work of the community. Is this okay? Sure, I understand the need to interact with your player-base. It would be ill advised to do otherwise. But, on the other hand, can a development team listen a little too much to their playerbase? I mean, simply think about all of the suggestions Gamefreak gets for Pokémon. If they listened to even half of what players wanted, we would have had an MMORPG version of the game years ago, complete with real-time fighting and actual pokémon death instead of K.O.s. The developers at Gamefreak know that player feedback is important, but letting players directly influence game development is something that can’t happen.
While the approach in game development is certainly interesting, it’ll be more interesting to see just how much barings the community has on the end product of EverQuest Next. As of right now I’m skeptical. I want it to work out, but I see some of the popular opinions in the polls and I can’t help but to cringe a little at some of the player choices. BioShock Infinite was great because it followed one man’s vision, EverQuest Next follows the vision of thousands and I can’t help but to think that it’ll just end up as a confused mess due to too much player pampering. I mean, just take a look at what the developers at BioWare did for Mass Effect 3. I was perfectly happy with the ending and I wish they would have stuck to their original ideas. Sure, the ending might have been a little controversial, but do books (or any other medium) go back and change their craft simply because some people were upset with it? No, because those pieces of art were meant to stir controversy and invoke debate – that was their intent. Utopian endings and game mechanics don’t exist and any attempt in doing so becomes a gobbledygook of fan service.
What do you guys think? Do you think too much player influence on development could be a bad thing? Or is this what all video game developers should have been doing since day one?
Mike Morrissette is one of MONG’s Editors. He also has an unhealthy obsession with The Green Lantern and anything involving Nutella. You can follow him on twitter, or friend him on PSN at HaughtyPride