Monday, February 8, 2010

Software maintenance and RPG Design

So, interesting thing we learned in class today.  As a software engineer, you learn to develop software, but as a help desk worker, you learn to maintain it.  The instructor stated that while ICT education might suggest to you that development is the more expensive of the two processes, in fact, maintenance is the more expensive of the two.  Over the lifetime of a particular piece of software, approximately 30% of all money spent on it will occur during the development phase, and 70% of it will take place over the rest of its life, adapting it to new users, new systems, fixing bugs, smoothing wrinkles and keeping it up to date.  As a result, if you want to save money on a program, the best place to invest is the development phase, as spending 10% more during development to save 10% during the mainanence phase results in a net drop in the total cost of the software.

This instantly brought to my mind the importance of good RPG design.  RPGs resemble software in that they are tools used by an end user, rather than complete products you merely "activate" and enjoy the results of, like you might with a TV or a computer game.  A GM must interpret the rules he's been given, and he must adapt it to the needs of his group, much as a corporation must figure out how best to implement a computer program, and adapt it to their needs.

The fans of broken, sub-par RPG games often defend their system of choice by crying that, with a little love, you can fix any flaw.  The same can be said of any software program too.  You don't need an autosave function, or automatic updates, or security features.  If your program crashes your computer once an hour, well, with a little love, you can work around it.  On the other hand, this costs money and time, and if you had spent a little more money and time during the development cycle, you would save alot more during the actual use of the program.

Thus it is with RPGs.  Time and money factor into RPG enjoyment just as they do any application, though time more than money, and a bad RPG costs more time to work out the kinks than a good RPG, and thus, in a given time-budget, a good RPG allows a GM to spend more of his time worrying about how to make the adventure fun rather than how to make the adventure work.  A little investment up front saves alot of time in the long run.
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