The Writers' Room

The Writers' Room
A Sea Change at Cryptic Studios

Greg Tito | 22 Sep 2010 21:30
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Emmert must have been taking copious notes during Rob Pardo's panel at GDC 2010 when the Blizzard game design guru detailed his strategy with WoW and other games. Much of what Emmert told me was changing at Cryptic seemed right out of Blizzard's playbook.

To combat the negative player feedback and press that results from a game experience that isn't perfect, Emmert said that he is completely changing the way that Cryptic makes videogames. The biggest development is making the game playable as soon as possible so that they can refine just how fun it is. Neverwinter isn't due out until Q4 2011, yet Emmert can play the game right now.

"[Neverwinter] is almost 100 percent playable, every aspect of it. I can get in right now, and play for hours, content that we think internally is practically shippable," Emmert said.

In addition, because the game is completely playable, they can bring in consultants to determine whether the game is fun over a year before launch, instead of letting reviewers rip it apart after it is already released into the wild, so to speak.

"We can give it to an outside reviewer. So we have an impartial person helping to monitor how well our game is going to do," Emmert said. Using the informed opinions of individuals to assess the quality of Neverwinter is a response to the failure of "focus-groups" to point out anything wrong with Cryptic's other games. "We did [focus groups] with Champions, but that didn't really show any of the flaws, to be honest." Cryptic had allowed independent reviewers to inspect both STO and Champions, and anecdotal evidence suggests that those reviewers raised huge red flags, but it was may have been too late in the design cycle for Cryptic to drastically alter their games before the scheduled release date.

Perhaps Emmert should look at the agreement with Cryptic's publisher and force a shift to another of Blizzard's famous philosophies, which is to only ship a product "when it's done." That way, when these "impartial reviewers" tell them that their games aren't fun, they have the freedom to keep working on it until it is.

In talking to Emmert, it sounds like there is an ongoing sea change at the company, based on the lack of overwhelming success for its recent MMO releases. Emmert sees that the market has changed and that Cryptic must adapt if it is going to stay afloat. "We need to change our perspective," Emmert said. "It's not just a message about Neverwinter, it's about everything that we do."

That's a huge statement to make. Emmert never out and out said that Cryptic had made bad games in the past ("I think that Champions Online was a great game. I still do.") But he realizes that whatever Cryptic has done over the past two years isn't exactly working. Instead of taking that in stride and sticking with the status quo, Emmert is making the changes that he thinks needs to happen to compete with Blizzard's secret sauce. Of course, there is no real secret to Blizzard's winning formula. The company of Warcraft just makes good games, and refuses to ship them until they are 100% satisfied that they will be successful.

Jack Emmert has stopped trying to remake the success of City of Heroes and is instead emulating his biggest competitor, which is exactly what he and Cryptic should be doing.

Greg Tito didn't actually say that STO was unpolished; he was more upset that he had to kill X number of space pirates in order to level up his captain.

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