Wednesday, October 02, 2013

It's Time - Yearly Expansion Cycle

We're never going to see another expansion like Apocrypha.

You see, CCP learned an important lesson from the Summer of Rage as discussed yesterday: you can't let current features lie fallow forever when they are in a dysfunctional or broken state. Thus since Incarna we've seen massive ship rebalancing on a scale never seen before, Crimewatch 2.0, probing rework, factional warfare redone, graphical updates, unified inventory, UI enhancements, ... the list goes on and on from big to small.

But these iterations take development cycles, and these cycles come from what used to be the pool of new development. Combine that with ~6 month development and hardening time and that means that brand new content comes in smaller, more discrete chunks. Thus why we see new ships more often since Incarna (Tier 3 Battlecruisers, ORE Frigate, Navy Battlecruisers) and new modules (Ancillary shield and armour mods, Micro jump drives, target breakers, etc), but not intensive/extensive new systems like wormholes, factional warfare, or even incursions.

Now CCP is aware that players want those big shiny features as well as the small stuff and iterations and that is what Rubicon is all about: delivering a large intensive/extensive feature over several expansions instead of one expansion so that the small features and iterations can be delivered alongside instead of letting the game get stale.

You've Seen This Before.
This is good, but it leads to the perception that each individual expansion is lackluster since the amount of new big and shiny content is lower and/or in smaller chunks. Out of this perception come comments like "this is not an expansion, its more like a patch". And in MMOs, as in everything else, perception can become reality in the minds of the masses.

To combat this, I suggest that its time CCP considers moving away from the 6 month expansion cycle to something that supports the reality of their two-pronged development of new content plus iteration.

My suggestion is a yearly "Expansion" each summer that gives players 8-9 months of development time of new features, and then during the year there are two point releases that gives iterations and smaller features, one point release in the fall that addresses any immediate concerns from the major expansions as well as normal iterations, and a point release in the late winter/early spring that has iterations and can lay groundwork for the next major expansion.

This would still allow players to get the same content over the same time-frame but would change perception that they are getting more in an expansion as well as maintain the feeling that CCP is continuing to do iterations on existing content.

* * * * *

I realize that the likelihood of CCP changing their entire development methodology structure based on my suggestion in a fansite blog post is low, but I felt the need to put it out there. Someday, when I rule the world, I'll make sure to address this issue personally.


  1. While this might not be too well received initially with their new approach to doing expansions this would make the most sense. When people hear the word "expansion" it implies something new or unique being added.

    I think with the buildup for and actual live announcement of their expansion people were expecting something big and somewhat concrete vision of where this development cycle is going, not another forum post type response.

    I'd also say presentation of the expansion is very important as well. I wonder if things might have been better received had they introduced the new modules or ships first and emphasized and talked more about those things and downplayed the re-balancing part of the expansion.

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  3. William7:22 pm

    CCP has already essentially broken up the 6-month cycle, with point updates like what you describe (Odyssey 1.1 being the most recent) being almost equal in scope and ambition to the named releases. This being the case, it would make sense to separate their releases into 'feature' and 'iteration' updates. Not only would this give them a longer time to work on new-feature development, which in turn would lessen the pressure to break a full-scale, internally consistent feature package into several incrementally advancing, also-internally-consistent mini-packages, but it also would help with their ongoing corporate messaging problems. One reason they haven't touched WiS in years is because of the frequent and vocal assertion that development resources spent there are 'stolen' from the ship-balancing and other iterative programs CCP is working on. If they had a designated new-content patch developed separately from their iteration patches, they could more clearly state the case that this development happens in addition to working on ships in space, rather than instead of it.

    Summary: This is a good idea, for both the reasons you describe and several others.

  4. Chanina8:27 am

    It is an good Idea Kirith, but I don't see it as necessary. In development of such a large project you will always have some small stuff that is finished fast and some big things that need more time. Sometimes you can break the big things down and deliver small chunks of it but sometimes even that doesn't work. You either deliver it or not.

    CCP has multiple teams running and we don't get messages from every team every expansion (I think so at least). There is no problem to develop one large feature in a team that will be released after 12 or 18 month. The 6 Month expansion cycle allows for deployment of the smaller features. To degrade those smaller things to "point releases" is (IMO) not needed.