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The Early Adopter Gets the Worm

June 29, 2012

Dear Reader,

I’ve been dancing around this topic for a few weeks now, and I may very well have mentioned it before, but upon searching my posts, I couldn’t find it anywhere, so I’m tossing it out here in this shorter-than-usual post.

This builds on Gaz’s post on how software has become a service rather than a product, which I think is an excellent post and well worth your time if you haven’t read it yet.  I build on the front end of that problem, the problem of early adopters.

You see, due to my and my buddy’s vague dissatisfaction with a lot of the games we play, we’re always looking for a new port in the storm.  As a result, we’re often willing to shell out top dollar for games we’re looking forward to.  This habit is in direct contrast to our stingy steam sale habits and admittedly only applies to titles we’re really looking forward to.  In the past year, game we’ve bought for full prince include Diablo 3, Star Wars, and Skyrim, so you can see this problem doesn’t strike often, but when it does, the sting of further dissatisfaction is that much greater.

The simplicity of this problem startles me, and I can’t believe this revelation came so late.  As software becomes more service-oriented, it becomes released earlier in its development stage.  As a result, the earliest players – who pay top price – are effectively beta testers.  We’re paying for the right to play buggy games and help developers balance their mechanics.  Early adopters are paying to play imperfect games.

The old saying goes, “The early bird gets the worm.”  This saying is meant to encapsulate the belief that people who rise or arrive early will find more success in their endeavors.  That those who get started before others will find whatever prize they seek.  The software industry has turned this phrase on its head; those who play earliest are actually being punished for their dedication to the IP, genre, or developer.

It’s too late for Star Wars.  It may be a fantastic game that’s ironed out all the kinks now, but I played and finished and am just done.  It’s too late for D3, too, for the same reasons.  It’s even too late for Secret World, because I pre-ordered it, and no matter how much I know I should wait a few months until the game gets better, I won’t.  Most of us wouldn’t, having already purchased and downloaded it, a log in just a few moments away.

Maybe I can learn to adapt to this new problem.  Maybe not.  Either way, regardless of the fact that we, the loyal, excited fools, are mostly to blame for our own purchasing habits, it’s another moral crime that software companies are committing: using their most valuable assets – the players – as guinea pigs.  The scariest facet of this is that I’m not even sure they know what they’re doing is wrong.  Because they’re providing the game earlier, they may think they’re doing us a favor.

If D3 taught me anything, it’s to wait.  Wait for a better product, not an unfinished service.  Know from experience that the earliest forms of the game will be imperfect, and just wait.  The game will be there later, more shiny than ever, and just waiting to be unwrapped.

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and impatient)

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. kaleedity permalink*
    June 29, 2012 2:02 pm

    By playing a newly released game, you agree to put up with technical limitations, the blunted product that has been rushed out the door, and incomplete material. There’s no official time of release that’s worse for crashes, or for game-destroying bugs like characters not being able to get through caves. Even more fun, I’m sure you’ve had the joy of dealing with a character falling through some world’s geometry at some point in a new game. You can become very wary of missed material, like how the woman you save from the spider queen in the first act of d3 was intended to be another artisan, or the final portal that appears in the recent Penny Arcade game once you max out all of your character classes that leads to nothing.

    But there’s something else. When you play a new game that is being played by other people, something happens that fascinates me beyond everything else in gaming media. People learn the game. There’s no gamefaq; there’s no leveling guide. This is unexplored territory — a great unknown. Observations are made on the game, and people act on them. Problems are created, both in the actual challenges purposefully presented by the game, and by the players and technologies interacting with them, and people act on them. The way they act is the interesting part, because so often the way people interact with something they’ve studied with a precise guide compared to something they’ve studied via hearsay is pretty spectacular. Maybe this is my inner misanthrope calling out that I enjoy watching people repeatedly fail to learn. Maybe I like knowing that I, indeed, made some discovery on my own that went against the popular knowledge at the time. Maybe I’m thinking about competitive games where it’s more fun for a group of people to try something new than to take the same path on their hundred thousandth round of de_dust in counterstrike.

    There’s certainly something about dealing with fresh content that will keep me buying new games, even with all the technological drawbacks. Oh, and the $5 Penny Arcade game is pretty good, even though that portal miffed me a bit. The game even tells you the conditions under which the portal appears!

    • June 29, 2012 3:17 pm

      I was just thinking earlier today that I hadn’t heard from you in a while.

      Yes, the attraction of early adoption is learning and playing a fresh game. However, since it seems that everything you learn gets patched and changed anyway, I’m not sure it’s as much of a selling point as it used to be. Consider learning how skills work only to have them change, or learning how to deal with specific enemies just to have them weakened. Or saving up a ton of blacksmithing or jeweler’s pages just to have the quantity you need reduced. Early adopters are put through the wringer for naught but a fresh experience that will likely not exist within a few patches, when a new, fresh experience will still exist (to a lesser degree) for new players who get all the goods.

      I don’t know. Let’s see how TSW turns out, I guess.

      Good to hear from you!

  2. July 2, 2012 1:07 pm

    Seems the same issue over all with every MMO. Perhaps with TSW you will find the niche of enjoyment even when content starts running low. Guess time will tell. But to be honest, FunCom’s track record at getting bugs ironed out fast and then creating new content is…well sluggish. Keep in mind I like their games. But I wouldn’t count on serious content untill at least 1 or 2 fiscal quarters are passed through to see if sales and subs hold fast. I see this issue in a lot of MMO game releases. The fancier the product, the less polished the content for at least a couple of Quarters. FunCom took out a huge set of loans etc to make TSW launch this summer. You can bet now that launch is done, they will be at minimal staffing during the next month perhaps two months. I know we face the same issue on AoC for that. Anyways, just a couple thoughts there. Good to see you at least enjoying a new title for a bit Stubborn!

    • July 3, 2012 10:45 am

      Yeah, people who rush are definitely a problem for designers. Honestly, they’re a problem for themselves, too. I can’t fathom rushing any more – I suppose I used to, perhaps with LotRO and some of the WoW expansions, but rushing just seems emotionally sick to me. Like binging on too much food or alcohol, I don’t see why one would want to consume so much so fast. You’re not getting your money or time’s worth that way.

      Still, people do it. The reward center getting binged over and over can create very obedient consumers. I plan to take my time and see the sights. For all I know (or expect, honestly) in 1 or 2 quarters, I’ll be done with the game, so I’m just focusing on the content that’s there. I suppose we’ll see whether more’s added in that time or not.

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