Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Outsourcing Quality

This post was inspired by a quote I saw from a Blizzard talk at DICE '08

"A lot of studios wouldn’t do QA, tech support, PR internally..."

Really? Well no wonder so many games turn out crappy. How can you adequately perform any of those roles if you aren't invested with the product? And how can you be invested if you don't work closely with it. All of that interaction amongst departments is vital. QA and developers need a close, active relationship. Otherwise its too easy for both sides to be dismissive of the other. Same goes for Tech Support. How often have you been frustrated by talking to someone in tech support who has obviously never talked directly to anyone involved with making the product and has no clue about the product in question beyond what their screen prompts tell them? It's happened to me too many times. And the experience was always awful.

But let's focus some more on QA, because that's where my experience lies. I have worked in QA for almost 10 years now at a variety of companies and with a varied amount of responsibility, including a year and a half at Origin working on UO, and a summer at Sega working on console games.

Sega was awful. I never even set eyes on a developer during my three months there. They were completely isolated from us. You never knew if they saw your bugs or not. Or if they even cared. And, in fact, we were at times told to only enter crash bugs. They didn't even want to hear our thoughts about gameplay, interface, etc. Result? None of the QA folks cared, none of them enjoyed the job after the first few weeks, and the turnover was tremendous. Crappy job, crappy games.

Contrast that to my previous QA job with Origin where we all worked in the same building and QA was right next door to all of the developers and programmers. The developers would come to us when they had a question about a bug and we would do the same when we had questions of our own. Not only was the communication great, but a general camaraderie developed amongst all involved, from HR to the server techs.

Towards the end of my tenure there, we were even getting QA involved with the initial design process, which IMO, worked great! I was the lead for that project (character transfers) and was able to point out potential issues before development began as well as get a head start on creating thorough, informed test plans. Result? What was probably one of the smoothest feature releases in UO's history.

But I'm digressing into personal reminiscence now. In short, all parts of the process should be kept as close together as possible. With distance comes communication issues, estrangement, lack of enthusiasm and a disinterest in taking ownership of the product. And I just fail to see the advantages in that.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Blizzard Still Clueless on How to Make World PvP Interesting

So this recent quote from Blizzard once again proves to me how little they understand the concept of meaningful PvP:

"Based on the information we already know, I think Lake Wintergrasp will be more active than Halaa because one of the things that hurt Halaa was the Diminishing Returns on honor points. With this removed in patch 2.4 people will be able to continue piling up honor points until they've had enough. I know rewards play a huge factor, so with the knowledge that people have now of items we've made available through honor points, I think it will continue to be a busy place for a long time."

Blizzard seems to somehow think this lack of interest in their oh-so-cleverly-designed World PvP Objectives is directly related to diminishing returns on honor gains for killing other players! Obviously, it has nothing at all to do with how worthless Halaa is as an objective. There is nothing there worth fighting over! A couple of vendors selling mostly junk and two quests involving gathering tokens/dust for items that are only interesting to a handful of players in the 66-67 level range.

How about making something worth fighting over for a change!? If they really wanted Halaa to be a point of contention they should have made it THE town in Nagrand. Give both sides small encampments with flightpaths where the current towns are, but move a majority of the quests and vendors into Halaa so there is a genuine reason to want to capture it. As it is, Halaa is just a novelty that quickly wears thin for all players, and thus, completely fails as a PvP objective. Give me a chance to actually make a difference or have an effect on the gameworld! Removing the diminishing returns on honor for killing other players will have no effect at all on the action around Halaa. And if Lake Winterspring is nothing more than a glorified battleground, well, hopefully by then I'll have better options for MMO PvP.

Halaa is by far the most active of their six outdoor PvP objectives, and even then its mostly just one side overpowering the two to three players on the other side. That should be a clear warning that something is seriously wrong with your world PvP designs. And let me give out a little hint: It's not due to diminishing honor returns!

The WoW Battlegrounds are popular due to the carrots available at the end of the racetrack. A lot of those carrots are rather nice and tasty. But the carrot rewards for World PvP are small, stringy things with no tastiness or lasting value, and for some of them (I'm looking at you Zangarmarsh and Hellfire towers), the measly little carrot can be taken away in mere minutes, before you even get a chance to take a bite. Even worse are the towers in Terrokar Forest. It's nice that the bonus from them last for several hours, but, someone then decided that you would also have to run through the local dungeons again, and again, and again, ad nauseum, to gather enough tokens (which are only available while your side controls the towers) to buy items that are also only useful to a very small percentage of players in a very strict, sub-70 level range! Insanity and stupidity all rolled into one!

So Blizzard either needs to come up with some better veggies for rewards from their World PvP Objectives, or completely retool the impact these objectives have on the game. I doubt that either will happen and battlegrounds and arena will remain the only semi-interesting points of PvP in WoW.