Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Reexamining the CCP Development Cycle
The problem is that CCP's development cycle for each expansion is quite short. And being quite short, they don't have the time to really give depth of features.
Player expectations (which are always high), simply don't mesh well with the short development windows that CCP gives itself.
The development time for a summer expansion is approximately five months. January to May. Tack on another couple months for fixes and iterations once the expansion is released. Then there are two months of summer holidays, when CCP development slows to a crawl. The winter expansion cycle is much shorter, starting around the end of August. A three month development window, with another two months of fixes and iterations once the expansion is released. This is the CCP development year.
What seems to happen, especially with the big features, is that CCP announces a really exciting upcoming idea at their fanfests and player meets. Then come release day, that reality always seems to be a pale shadow of the original idea. The short development cycles should likely be blamed. There's never enough time to deliver everything, and some of the features of these bold and grand ideas have to be left on the cutting room floor.
Take Inferno's faction warfare, as an example. This probably should have been re-developed from scratch, given a complete rethink. But due to the short window of development, existing features were simply massaged and iterated upon. What resulted was a system that focused on PvE and loyalty points, rather than a system that focused on PvP. The five month summer expansion development window precluded anything but the massaging of existing features, rather than the development of all-new features.
I would suggest a single expansion cycle per year. Each expansion will focus on either a broad theme (i.e., industry or war) or a single big exciting (jesus) feature (i.e., POS revamp or ring mining.) This allows CCP to really give a theme or single concept the development time it deserves and to really pack on the features, deliver to expectations.
As well, throughout the year, various smaller iterations, fixes, and rebalances can be released. Every team will not be working on the main expansion full-time, and when they're not doing so, they can work on some of the low-hanging fruit. The little things. These are released to the players as they are completed.
What we end up with, is a fully-fleshed out concept/theme, once per year. As well, throughout the year, a random collection of little things released in a relatively constant stream.
It would seem to me, with the upcoming POS revamp, that a change in development cycle would be advantageous. The POS revamp, as envisioned at fanfest and player meets, is a massive project. A rethink of what currently exists. Modular structure-cities in space. It will require a lengthy development window. It will require work from most of the CCP development teams (though not all of them simultaneously.) So, while CCP still get the time to develop POSes in the correct way, working to deliver the expectation (rather than the pale shadow), there is still development time throughout the year to tackle little things, release them as they are finished. Players are thus not waiting a full 12 months for one big feature, plus a collection of smaller features. Rather, they wait 12 months for the big feature, and are delivered smaller features throughout the year.
Even with the change in development cycle, CCP doesn't lose out on the marketing potential that expansions bring. The expansion concept remains, CCP is just given time to deliver a yearly expansion of greater depth and scope.
Some will complain, that we're being short-shrifted an expansion per year. That's not really looking at the larger picture. Given the short development cycles to begin with (especially winter), we're being short-shrifted on the larger features with two-expansions per year to begin with. I think, in the long run, CCP will be able to deliver better content if they switch to a one-expansion per year cycle.