Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How Long Should UI/Features Take?

The striking thing about Rift's beta events is how rapidly the developers have been adding things in response to player feedback.  Are they demonstrating remarkable adaptability, or have we as players allowed the industry to get too complacent about the time they can take to improve their products? 

Things that have changed in the week and a half since the last build include:
  • Addition of a badly needed public grouping system to go with the rift/invasion system (which drops group content on players who might not be grouped)
  • Consolidation of Rift currency tokens
  • A new character sheet that will, in the future, store titles, mounts, and collections
From the outside, we can't be sure which of these features were already in the works (e.g. because they weren't ready for testing) and which were actually implemented in the last two weeks.  All of the above are major quality of life issues that have been addressed in Rift's various competitors for years now.  Perhaps deliberately opening the beta without these items was an intentional marketing move intended to impress the community with Trion's responsiveness.  (They've got Pete convinced that they're now too responsive.)

Then again, how hard were any of these changes?  The public group button is elegant in its functionality (and superior to Mythic's original version - e.g. automatically merging two groups if space permits), but all it really does is expand traditional raid assistant group inviting privileges to anyone who happens to be nearby.  Fan UI modders routinely create things like reorganized character sheet skins rapidly, and without being paid to do so.  Consolidating storage is not something that players can do, but turning physical items into spells or lines of character sheet data actually saves server space, because at least the game no longer needs to store which bagslot the item is stored in. 

It's just interesting to me that we don't think twice when something like a mount storage panel is a major announced feature of a quarterly patch in another MMO, but Trion somehow drops it in somewhere between betas.  Have they really built an infrastructure that is so much faster and more responsive?  Or are we routinely waiting months for other studios to patch in days worth of work? 


Jick said...

It's like that joke about the repair bill, right? 5 bucks for hitting it with a hammer, 195 bucks for knowing where to hit it...

If you just let Blizzard do the "figuring out what to do" part for you, the last mile can be run pretty quickly.

Yeebo said...

It is really hard to say as an outsider how much time something really takes. It irks the hell out of me in some games where seemingly simple things like inconsistent items names or switched out stat values stay borked for months on end. I mean it's as easy as correcting a cell in a spreadsheet ...right? Or then again maybe not, the whole game might be written in binary machine code for all I know.

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

Fixing something is many times a very simple thing. But, there are a few things that delay the fix being implemented. The first is having the resources to do so. Game companies tend not to have a whole lot of people sitting around idle; witness the layoffs after a major game ships. The second is testing, where you want to make sure your fix doesn't break anything. Testing can go quickly in a game where, a) there's not a lot of backwards-compatibility issues, and b) you don't have to worry about disrupting paying customers. I'm rather familiar with the first point, as any game with several years and many expansions is going to be a lot more fragile to change than a game still in Beta.

In this case, I suspect the rapid response is because they have some good experienced people, particularly Scott Hartsman, in charge of the ship. I suspect they also want to do what they can to set themselves apart given the other looming MMO launch anticipated in the future.

Anonymous said...

One thing that Blizzard, for example, needs to consider that Rifts' developers do not is that Blizzard's UI improvements are built on an existing system while Rifts is currently in a transient system. So because Rifts is in beta, no one really cares if they lose some currency or some mounts or whatever get lost in the shuffle. But for Blizzard, even if only one in a hundred run into a problem, that's still like hundred thousand people that need their stuff restored.

Melmoth said...

In the case of Blizzard, they generally let their AddOn community create all of the quality of life features the game needs, then they poach the most popular ones and build it into the core UI during the next major patch or expansion. Leaving it to the community means that it's free R&D, and because the AddOns are easily accessible, the quality of life issue is still being resolved despite Blizzard's huge cycle time in merging it with the core UI.

I think, as others here have said, that Trion are using the beta as they should: to prototype and test features that resolve issues the players are having, well before the stable release of the game is due.

I think the thing that is surprising and pleasing about Trion is that their level of QA is high enough that most features released into the beta are already stable and fully-fledged.

Sente said...

Correcting/fixing/improving things pre-release is most likely a very different thing to do changes after you are live. This is no different from any software solution which people depend on and may need to be up and running 24/7.

Quick turn-around in a controlled manner before first release still needs good management and the right resources available and that is probably in place for Rift at this point.

Once they have launched I doubt they will have as quick turnaround, at least not if it is still kept stable.