Scripted Content and the Pace of Development

Some of the talk surrounding the new LotRO expanions Rise of Isengard is uncharacteristic (for that community) grousing about the interminable wait between now and then – the expansion is not scheduled until fall of next year, about 10-12 months from now. Current endgame players are asking the question of what they’ll do between now and then.

It’s legitimate to want new content, of course. But I wonder why some people have seen the projected date and instantly jumped to the conclusion that there will be no new content between now and then, when Turbine has talked all over the place about stuff that will be showing up in the meantime, including new stuff for free players and new endgame raids and instances, especially when a 12-month period utterly without new released content would be unprecedented in the development history of the game to date.

One sees the same thing elsewhere, but it’s particularly striking in LotRO, one of the hobby’s most regularly updated and expanded games. Never mind that the last expansion was pretty small (it was,) or that the conversion to a new money model ate development resources over the last year that would have otherwise gone into more new content than we actually got.

So, has there been enough new content to keep everyone happy? Of course not. But that’s never going to happen anyway, because some players (often the more vocal) will rush through new stuff intended to be worked through over the course of months in weeks or days. I understand that these folks want new content too, but I submit that the notion that content must be forced out to accommodate the fastest-moving players results from two things: an overdeveloped sense of entitlement on the part of a vocal minority of players, and a reliance on scripted content that by its very nature consumes developer effort and never gets done at a pace that speedy players are happy with.

I like scripted content as much as the next guy, and think that LotRO in particular has some of the best scripted content in the hobby. Overall, though, the trend in development of AAA titles has been on more and more heavily scripted content and less on mechanisms to provide opportunity for emergent gameplay. Indeed, the big-budget titles on the horizon, namely Star Wars; The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2, look to be built entirely around this kind of content and I have little faith that the potential for unscripted play will feature much in either game. Indeed, the preplanned quests and storylines in SWTOR seem so elaborate that I foresee either mass exoduses (exodi?) of players bored by going through the same old stuff, even if there’s a lot of it to start with, or an unbearable drain on resources during post-launch development, as the team struggles to keep up with the pace of players.

This is a bit less clear in the case of Rift: Planes of Telara, which is a game that appears to have a budget an order of magnitude smaller than SWTOR or GW2. Both Rift and GW2 are incorporating some variety of “dynamic events,” which in the latter case look to be entirely scripted in the manner of the Public Quests in Warhammer Online. Rift’s events seem less scripted right now, but that could be marketing spin for all I know.

Like I said, I’m in favor of scripted content but I think that MMO’s need the potential for emergent content too, and this is something that seems in many high-profile titles to be missing. Players unhappy with the pace of scripted content releases should be aware of this issue. If they’re unhappy with that, I’d suggest playing games that rely less upon the pace of development, but unfortunately there are few of them, and only one high-profile title, EVE Online.

6 responses to “Scripted Content and the Pace of Development

  1. I wonder if some part of that extra grousing now isn’t actually a flavor of the anti-f2p set. It sounds like the same chant you hear from the vocal subset of DDO subscribers post-f2p. F2Ps ruin the game and now there’ll be no new content because the devs will be busy building new stuff for the store to make more cash. Etc, etc.

  2. I suspect that there is indeed a link between the two flavors of complaint, but more in that they originate from the same source than because of any logical link between the two; i. e. both complaints are coming from the same group of people, who (so it seems) simply cannot be made happy. If strippers delivered crates of gold krugerrands to those doorsteps, the strippers would be brunettes instead of blondes, and the coins wouldn’t be shiny enough.

    In the final analysis, F2P will be good for both games, because of Turbine’s early adoption of the model in this market, and because it really is a good implementation of the idea. I am actually not the great champion of F2P that some folks might suppose from recent articles, but in this particular case I’m confident that the course of events will bear me out,

  3. I had not picked up on the fact that Rise of Isenguard isn’t due out until Fall 2011. I think it may have been a little counterproductive to start hyping behind something that’s almost a year out. The implication to many, accurate or not, will be “we don’t have much planned between now and then.” If it were me I’d want the community focused on stuff that’s just around the corner.

  4. Nota bene: Turbine has talked about plenty of stuff, including F2P improvements and new raids and instance clusters, that will be out well before RoI. Implications aside, I am amused that the bunch in question apparently has no knowledge of stuff on the horizon until complainin’ time arrives.

  5. Yeebo – it’s normal to announce expansion packs well in advance and then drip feed information on them, while regular updates have a much shorter information cycle. I’m pretty sure that there were two or three books released between the announcement of Moria and it going live.

    EDIT: Moria was announced after book 12, we had books 13 and 14 in the interim, plus book 15 released alongside Moria.

  6. I still haven’t even got to Mirkwood yet, so I don’t see a problem. Maybe those complainers need to diversify a bit. I like a mix of LOTRO, EVE, and Global Agenda right now.