It took me that many iterations for a pen and paper roleplaying game -- a game that can be easily modified at the whim of the author. Now think about how many iterations developers may have to go through for something as complex as an MMO in order to make it fun. Now strap a time limit on your iterations in the form of milestones, release dates, and budgets. Plus, don't forget that programming is nowhere near as easily modified as a pen and paper game.
I have all of the time in the world to make my RPG awesome, and I can change things at will. A professional MMO developer doesn't have that luxury.
Which leads me into my next point...
MMOs are simple to design
Hell no. MMOs are beasts to design. We in the media, and perhaps you at home, frequently gloss over how hard it is to put together an MMO. We sometimes joke that all a developer did was slap some monsters in a world and strap on a leveling system, but even something as simple as that is much more in-depth than it seems.
"Fun takes time to find and everyone, even the best game designer in the world, is going to fail time and time again in the quest for fun."
Don't believe me? Let me ask you a few questions. Did you ever consider how long an average battle should take against a monster? Did you ever think about how long the average player should spend on any given level? What experience values would you set to level up in your game? How much experience should each monster be worth? How many attacks should monsters get, and what should the speeds, damage values, and cooldown times of those attacks be? How many monsters should you spawn in any given area at any given time? How should you design your quests to form a cohesive path across a zone, in addition to telling a compelling story? What bonuses should items of any given level offer a player? How should they be scaled? How often should any given item drop? How many items should be in the game, in total, per character level?
I think you get my point. I only just covered the tip of game design decisions, and I didn't even touch the writing, sound design, art design, world design, server programming, client programming, UI design, class balancing...
So the next time you feel compelled to rip a developer a new one...
Sit down. Cool your heels. Think about it for a moment. Think of all of the decisions a developer has to balance at once. Then, think about how the developers may want to develop their game.
You may hate their design decisions, but they usually have a reason for doing what they do. They might see something you don't, they might want to tweak something to put it in line with their vision, or they may be trying to fix something they already knew was broken.
In short, they're doing this because they want to make a fun game. Fun is not easy to come across. Fun is an elusive little slimebucket that likes to hide in dark corners. Fun takes time to find and everyone, even the best game designer in the world, is going to fail time and time again in the quest for fun.
So be patient. Relax. Point out what you think is wrong and tell the developer, but don't go psychotically crazy over some perceived slight. Understand that developers are just trying to make their game more fun, and they may fail a few dozen times in the process. It's not because they're bad developers, it's just because that's what it takes to make a good game.
Take the time to think about what it's like to actually sit behind the wheel, or try it out for yourself. It's not as easy as it looks.
Seraphina Brennan is the weekly writer of Anti-Aliased who figured out how hard it is to make a game. When she's not rambling here, she's rambling on her personal blog, The Experience Curve. If you want to message her, send her an email at email@example.com. You can also follow her on Twitter through Massively, or through herpersonal feed, @sera_brennan.