The rise in popularity of Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) has been a boon for game studies scholars. Not just because it has meant that we have more great games to play, ponder, and write about (of course, the better the game, the less likely we are to get round to the pondering and writing phase, but that is an issue for another day). And not just because the obvious complexity of these worlds is enabling scholars to think about them in interesting ways; as, for example, testing grounds for economic (Castronova) or sociological (Bainbridge) theories. It is because the development of an MMORPG has become a quintessential part of the product and is therefore highly visible in the way that is not the case for other genres of games (even though the visibility for those games is a lot greater, in many cases, than in previous years). Increasingly, members from every major section of a development team are writing occasional and sometimes regular developer logs that describe not just the “features” they are working on but articulate the goals the team has for the game and the writer’s theoretical approach to their particular specialty.
There are some straightforward commercial reasons for this. Making the development process more transparent is a way of building the brand. Unlike your average console or computer title which will typically be forgotten in a couple of months or, with better games, a year or two at the absolute outside, developers and publishers of MMORPGs hope that their brand will endure for many years. The development phase also, therefore, plays a vital role in setting the parameters for the kind of player community the developers hope to see after the game is launched, and the kind of relationship they hope to have with that community.