Jeff Atwood has written a good piece about why you should ship your product, even if you are not pleased. This is very much the story of Anarchy Online.
When we shipped the game in June 2001, it was at least half a year behind schedule, and it was still a miserable launch that made history for just how bad it was. But, and this is the point of Jeff’s blog posting, what we had been working on in those final 6 months turned out to be not what the real problems were. And the 6 months after the launch were the most productive, goal-oriented work I’ve ever experienced. Because we knew what the customers expected us to work on. And we could point at the prodcut that was live, and tell anyone who was championing another new feature that there were more important things to be done. Before the launch, that was not easy at all.
So I agree with Jeff (and have for some time) that it’s important to stick to your deadlines and ship. Get the customers involved. And don’t talk to me about beta. Beta is all fluffy bunnies.
In the end, even shipping a broken product did not hurt us – the game is still alive today, 9 years after the proposed shipping date. Sure, we gave the early customers free playtime and lots of hugs, but they gave us something more important: reall-life feedback, honest criticism, dedication and a constant sense of urgency.
That, and a few 80-hour work-weeks.