Death of a Genre

Downfall of a Game

One of the problems within the MMO community is that we seem to view each release as a zero sum game.  As such when something new comes out, it threatened to chip away at the player base of whatever game we happen to love and are currently playing.  When that game falters and begins to fail, with this point of view it becomes extremely hard not to take pleasure in that downfall.  The problem is this is an extremely toxic and dysfunctional outlook, and ultimately is what has lead to the current climate in MMOs.  For years companies have been chasing an illusive dream of trying to create another World of Warcraft.

This was an inherently flawed vision because really…  “mmo gamers” are a rather small niche in the market, and most folks who play World of Warcraft are not actually “mmo gamers”.  If you take a look at the size of the market before World of Warcraft, you saw a handful of games with sub-million subscriber numbers.  Before the launch of the first expansion World of Warcraft had boomed to be an over 6 million subscriber game.  This was not the conversion of all of these other MMO gamers, but instead the conversion of fans of the existing Warcraft franchise into the MMO genre.  The thing is…  these new gamers are there for a myriad of reasons, but none of them easily translate into a new franchise.

So as these new games launch they are essentially fighting over the same piece of pie over and over.  All you have to do is look at my immediate circle of friends.  A large chunk of them stuck with World of Warcraft, and it would likely take an apocalypse or the servers shutting down to pry them from it.  Another group has wandered away from the game each and every time something new and shiny showed up on the horizon.  Very few of these players stick around in any game for longer than three months, and more often they play their free month and then return to whatever the status quo was before the new launch.  I watched this pattern play out for both Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar, and the games industry is finally realizing that this is going to happen for every single new game that releases.

Indictment of the Trend

The cancelling of Titan has been a far more contentious issue in the blogosphere than I expected.  At this point my point of view is that this is Blizzard admitting that the MMO genre has no more room for new players.  While there will always be a core group of players in World of Warcraft just like there is still a core group of players in Everquest, Everquest II, and Dark Age of Camelot…  that core group continues to shrink as folks either “grow out” of World of Warcraft as they find it no longer suits their interests, or simply run out of the copious amounts of free time it requires as they get that job, family, whatever.  I think they have done some really simple calculus here and determined that there simply is not enough of a pool of players to make a brand new MMO from Blizzard successful.

With World of Warcraft they have a decade long buy in from a large number of gamers.  They have literal years of memories and hard to acquire items to keep them chained to the game.  With a brand new IP, they are starting from scratch in the same position as all of these games that have floundered have been in.  Blizzard brand name recognition just isn’t enough to guarantee success, so I feel like it was a pure business decision that it just did not make sense to further dilute their subscription player base by trying to launch a new MMO.  As much as I love the clean subscription model, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to launch a new game with it.  After watching what happened to Wildstar and to a somewhat lesser extent Elder Scrolls Online, the market does not want any more subscription games.  So by launching a new MMO they would be converting at least a portion of their subscriber base of easy month to month money to far more dicey and less predictable free to play money.

No Joy Watching Wildstar

I find it impossible to find joy in the unraveling of Wildstar that I see before me.  I am not playing the game, so I am in essence part of the problem.  For whatever reason it was an accumulation of all of the things my BC era self said they wanted in a video game.  The problem is we gamers are notoriously horrible at trying to decide what we want.  “We” said we wanted a hardcore game like Everquest and a return to forced grouping…  then when we got Vanguard no one actually wanted to play that.  We said we wanted a hard core PVP game like Dark Age of Camelot…  and then when we got Warhammer Online no one actually wanted to play that either.  So I find it no suprise that when we said we wanted a return to the golden says of World of Warcraft raiding…  no one actually wanted that either when we got Wildstar.  The truth is we have no clue at all what we want until we actually see it and experience it.

The problem is that the MMO design ethic has been so wrapped up in trying to target what the public is asking for, that it has stagnated into a mire of “wow like features”.  A week or so ago there were a series of posts taking point and counterpoint on whether or not WoW has ruined MMOs.  In a way I have to say yes, but not through anything that they did on purpose.  World of Warcraft has been this juggernaut that everyone else is forced to content with whether or not they actually wanted to.  It is a gold standard that every new game is judged by.  So you either have games that try and out feature it like Rift, or out lore it like Star Wars the Old Republic… but each and every new release is at least in someway a response to the success that World of Warcraft was.  Without that outlier of success we probably would see a much more healthy MMO ecosystem…  albeit a ridiculously smaller one.

Death of a Genre

So I cannot take joy in watching Wildstar, or Elder Scrolls Online or any other MMO falter right now, because I see it as all being part of the same shared ecosystem.  When one of these games fails, it is in essence taking a chunk of players out of the pool that will likely never return.  So many of my friends have simply just checked out of online gaming for one reason or another, but the core thread among them all is they are just tired of the volatility.  The choice is either return to World of Warcraft and make due with the status quo, or jump from game to game to game getting a months worth of enjoyment at a time before the ultimate crash.  None of this sounds like a healthy ecosystem, and all of this is what is driving triple A studios away from the notion of even trying to do an MMO.

If you think about it right now…  there is nothing really on the horizon for gamers to latch onto.  There are a few boutique titles like Pathfinder or Camelot Unchained… that are super focused on a specific niche and that may or may not be at least partially vaporware, unlikely to actually launch with all of the features they are touting.  Then you have a constant spin of Korean titles as they have their own MMO renaissance that we went through several years ago.  However After the launch of ESO and Wildstar…  there is really no big western titles on the immediate horizon.  Everquest Next is the closest thing but realistically it is still several years from release.  The other games that are coming out are more akin to Destiny than they are to a traditional MMO.  So I can’t blame World of Warcraft for this current situation, because in truth it is our flighty nature that has salted the fields in our wake.   We are the reason why there is no fertile ground for a new MMO to take purchase.  It is because of all of this… that I can find no pleasure in watching yet another game fail.

In Memoriam

In Memoriam

Warhammer_Burning

Yesterday was the 5th anniversary of Warhammer Online, and much to the surprise of many people it was seemingly unmarked.  I even retweeted a comment from Sypster that essentially said their ignoring the game was disgraceful.  That they should either support the game or pull the plug.  Well it turns out that is precisely what they had in mind.  Thirty Minutes or so later we got this post on the front page of the official Warhammer Online page.  They were pulling the plug active as of December 18th 2013.

I can’t say that this shocks anyone really in the gaming circles, because the game has been in a constant state of decline since its very early subscriber peak.  A few months back I placed it as the game I was most disappointed in on my list of five biggest gaming disappointments.  The game as a whole just had so much potential, and I enjoyed playing it for quite a while, until myself and my friends ran out of PVE content to consume.  This was he game I had wanted to see the most rebooted as a free to play experience.

Ultimately they are stating that this is the point at which they are losing the license to Warhammer fantasy, and I believe that the statement can be taken one of two ways.  Firstly you could conclude that like Star Wars Galaxies… getting a reissuance of the license by Games Workshop was an unlikely thing.  However I tend to take the point of view that they were likely contractually obligated to run the game at least to the point at which the license period ended.  Considering the complete and total lack of support shown by EA for the game, I feel like this is more than likely.  The game as a whole was just a loss on their balance sheet that they were all to happy to take off as soon as they were able.

warhammer_empire

Free To Play Wishes

I feel the best case scenario would be for some asian game operator like perfect world to swoop in, buy the game assets, renew the license and resurrect it was a free to play game.  I of course find this highly unlikely, but games like Hellgate: London have seen very unlikely resurrections in such fashion.  Back in April I took Mythic up on one of their 14 day renewal passes and gave the game a spin again.  I have to say overall Warhammer Online held up extremely well.  They had greatly streamlined the leveling experience, which destroyed a lot of the originality of the game.  Essentially they funneled everyone down either the Empire or Chaos path to try and make up for lack of subscriber numbers.

warhammer_map

The world still looked good to me, and the ”stylistic realism” still very much fit the Warhammer world.  The game innovated on so many things that have now become part and parcel for an MMO game.  The game map was light years ahead of World of Warcraft at the time, and was the first out of the box map that provided a significant amount of information about what your quest objectives where, and where they could be fulfilled.  If you like Rifts or GW2 events or even FATEs… we can thank Warhammer for giving us the first viable public questing system.  The game still felt like a vibrant modern MMO to me when I played it… which only makes the severe neglect over the years that much more disappointing.

Not Designed For Me

Scenario_-_Mourkain_Temple

For me… Warhammer Online was a game destined to be something I did not want to play.  Everything sold about the game was pushing it into this “hardcore pvp” niche.  This was not me at all and not even something I was vaguely interested in.  However upon testing the game I found that the PVE experience was extremely good.  I loved playing my Dwarven Ironbreaker, and it will go down in history as one of my favorite tank classes.  The dual Grudge and Stamina mechanic meant I could regenerate resources as the fight went on allowing me to spend one while the other was recovering.  I loved the fact that tanks had physical mass, and that you could in theory create human barricades to protect your team mates.

The only problem for me is that around level 25 the forced PVP started… and I simply did not really enjoy this.  Keep raids were entertaining, but it added a level of unpredictability to my game play experience that I just did not enjoy.  Could I complete the quests I had for X zone because we had recently lost it?  I found myself leveling through an ever decreasing path of content, until there just was no meat left on the bone for me.  I had enjoyed the low level scenarios, but as we leveled we kept getting pushed into new tiers of scenarios… and quite frankly the later ones were not as well designed as the first few.  My favorite scenario was Mourkain Temple… aka “Kill the dude with the thing”.  When I stopped being able to play that, I lost interest in the PVP aspect of the game.

Finality

I guess the most depressing part about this entire experience is that it is now over.  Prior to yesterday I could always hold out a sad glimmer of hope that someone would decide to love this game and make it something that players would want to play.  I realize this was a wholy unrealistic hope… but it was something I could hold onto.  There are always games that I wish I could return to those heady days after launch.  This was really the first game that House Stalwart broke out into in a big fashion.  So many of us thought it would be our “new wow” and we stormed into the game with at least 40 active players.  By the three month mark, very few of us were actually playing the game, and the large majority had slinked back into World of Warcraft.

We were PVE players, so each and every one of us hit the same level 25 wall where the content began to shift drastically.  I had some friends that played Chaos that made it at least a year before quitting.  However in the end… everyone DID quit, and move on to other things.  The launch of Age of Conan was ultimately drew my PVP friends away from the game.  However by that time, Mythic had already long since become a neglectful steward of the title.  With no real new content being released and no viable hope of it… folks moved on.  Ultimately Warhammer will always be an example of why I believe that no matter what players may say… they don’t actually want a PVP centric gaming experience.

No Petitions

 

Unlike the shutting down of both Star Wars Galaxies and City of Heroes… I don’t forsee much of a reaction from the community, if there is actually a Warhammer community left at all.  Mythic killed this game long ago by forgetting about it.  It has just been an animated corpse walking along in a stilted and syncopated rhythm for the last few years.  I can’t say it is ever really “time” for a game to be turned off, but if there was this would likely be the poster child.  So much of the brilliant things about this game, require massive armies of players to really pull them off… and quite frankly after about the year month mark they lacked that.  This feels to me so much like the ending of Old Yeller… when you know the dog has to be put down, but you are still immensely saddened to see it get shot.

Wrapping Up

As soon as the news broke, I realized that it would likely be what dominated todays post.  However I did not quite realize that I would ramble on about it for an ENTIRE post.  I am sad to see the chapter drawing closed on the game but I guess at the end of the day I understand, and halfway expected this announcement to occur.  Just sad to see it happen on the fifth anniversary of the game.  I hope you all have a great day, and that whatever game you are really into manages to stay healthy and vibrant.

Mordheim

Good morning people out in internet land.  I am slowly waking up and drinking my cup of coffee.  Usually caffeine makes everything better, so here is hoping it does the trick once again.  I had a pretty chill weekend.  Yesterday I hung out on the sofa with my laptop and play assorted games while watching the tail end of Hemlock Grove and continuing with Luther.  Both really great shows that I would suggest to anyone that is interested.  The more I think about it the more Hemlock Grove reminds me of Once Upon a Time meets Silent Hill.  I really don’t have a ton of ammunition to write about this morning, so here goes nothing.

Mordheim

warhammer-online-dwarf-screenshot-big

I think we all have those games we have a bundle of “what ifs” about, that never quite lived up to our expectations.  One of the biggest for me will likely always be Warhammer Online.  I loved the intellectual property the game was based on, and I think they did a really good job of bringing it to life.  The game introduced so many interesting mechanics like “physical tanking” and “public quests”.  They did several things well and I was happy to see other games adapt their ideas.

Ultimately the problem for me was the lack of a viable PVE experience after level 25.  I realize this was an attempt at making a PVP centric game… and that honestly is its failing.  People just don’t want that, or at least didn’t want that at the time of the release of Warhammer Online.  As a longtime fan of the Warhammer setting, there were various touchpoints they hit for me, and various other ones that I would have liked to have seen.  There is one thing especially that I have always daydreamed about that I wish they could have pulled off.

Mordheim was released as a stand alone boxed game from Games Workshop that takes place some 500 years before the setting of Warhammer Fantasy.  Ultimately the short version of the storyline is that a comet crash lands depositing this new material known as Wyrdstone.  Small warbands that the players control have to enter the city and try and uncover as many pieces of this new mineral as they can.  Not only do they have to contend with other warbands of players, but they also have to contend with the Skaven that have taken up root in the city.

I have always thought it would have been amazingly cool if they were able to either implement a public quest area that was Mordheim.  It would have been a lot like the Darkness Falls experience in DAoC with the ability for one faction or the other to control key points within the city while still having to fend off waves of NPC skaven that will attack the placements.  This would give an interesting three way balance between two factions of players and a third npc faction that wants to kill both of them and take the Wyrdstone for themselves.  I can’t say that this would have turned the tide of a losing game, but it definitely would have made for some interesting gameplay.

Eloping

After this weekend I am more convinced that we did the smart thing when we decided to elope and opt out of a traditional wedding.  One of our friends has decided that she is finally going to marry the guy she has been with for some time.  There have been multiple dates in the past but none of them actually came to fruition.  However now they decided to set a date two weeks from now… and are trying to pull everything together for a traditional wedding last minute.  The end result is complete and utter insanity.

As a result of all of this… my wife literally spent a good chunk of Friday night, most of Saturday and almost all of Sunday dealing with dress shopping.  She came hope with a disturbing looking teal number that appears to have come from Florida circa 2000…  as it seems to have a number of “hanging chads” along the skirt.  It is ugly as hell… my wife knows it, I know it… but it makes the bride happy so you deal with it.  But as we watch this logistical nightmare play out in front of me… we have turned to each other at several points and said “god I am happy we eloped”.

Ultimately I am going to end up as the photographer for the wedding… which should be a decent idea… as it will give me something to busy myself during the whole event.  I really really dislike weddings, and all the fluffy white wonderland that they seem to be.  I try my best not to be a grump about it, because for whoever is having the wedding it is a massive happy occasion.  I would just far rather send a nicer gift and hope they don’t mind the fact I didn’t attend.  I do find myself bringing a crappier gift when I attend the wedding… because I feel as though my suffering should count for something.

Chasing a Dream

 

I stumbled across this video while checking into G+ this morning.  I thought it was a really cool feel good story about how a guy chased down his dream of owning a video game store.  He mentions an IndieGoGo campaign but unfortunately I have not been able to dig up that link.  We have a handful of game stores like this in the Tulsa area and I try to frequent them whenever possible to support the concept of the hometown video game store.  I guess I find this whole thing extra neat because many times my wife and I have talked about the pipe dream of us building a store that fed off our own passions.

Ultimately it would end up as a educational curriculum, traditional book, video game and pen and paper shop.  The franken-shop would have a bunch of only vaguely related things crammed together in one place.  Granted we will never actually likely build said store, but it is a fun daydream.  Logistically any kind of retail venue would be a nightmare and I feel as though you are always teetering on the edge of bankruptcy in this market.  I think it would be cool to have an apartment located over the store like the old type general store clerks used to have.  There is just something special about a stored owned by someone that has a passion for whatever they are selling.  Hopefully at some point I can dig up the IndieGoGo link and post it.

Wrapping Up

This seems like another really short one, but to be honest I did warn you guys that I did not have a lot of ammunition this morning.  Hopefully something will happen throughout the day that I deeply care about.  Fortunately or Unfortunately depending upon the perspective, I have another one of those NDA bound things going on tonight, so not sure if I will have much gaming to be able to talk about tomorrow.  Hopefully you have a great start of the week, I have a lot going on at work that I need to make headway in.

5 Biggest MMO Disappointments

This is one of those days I have zero clue what to write about… but as not to break the chain of constant posts I am going to push through and post something anyways.  In part this post about nothing has been brought to you today by the letters N, D and A.  So instead of a normal post about what I did last night, or what I want to do today…  I am going to make a post about my top five biggest MMO disappointments.  This is kind of the bookend to my post about my five favorite MMOs, so hopefully I can do this without coming off overly negative about each.

The Disclaimer

Some of my picks for this list will be rather controversial… but they are my picks nonetheless.  This list is not about what I consider to be the worst MMOs, or even bad MMOs at all.  In fact most of the ones included on this list are games I have played over and over again… and will likely play again in the future.  On the converse… these are the games I have been the most disappointed by over the years.  This could be due to lack of content, lack of depth, lack of features… or just simply lack of follow through.  This is by no means a death sentence for an MMO…  it wouldn’t be on the list at all if I didn’t care.  For example… I do not care at all for TERA or Aion… but I was not necessarily disappointed in either because I was not expecting to like them in the first place.

5 – World of Warcraft

World-of-Warcraft-Mists-of-Pandaria-Thunder-King-patch If you remember… I included World of Warcraft as number five on my five favorite MMOs list… and I think placing it in the number five spot on this list adequately represents the love/hate relationship I have with this game.  Without a doubt I have had some of the best times playing WoW, but I have also had some of my biggest disappointments in the path they have chosen to grow it.  It feels like an old high school friend… that you were extremely close to… but after years of being apart you grew in two completely different directions.  While you want really badly to be happy for it… you can see the potential that was there… and how it has been squandered.

World of Warcraft was a game that I expected not to like in the first place.  I remember my very first thought when I heard about it… was where the hell would they get their story.  Until Warcraft 3… every Blizzard game had essentially only had enough storyline to keep the game from completely falling on its face.  After experiencing the deep and rich world of Norrath… I did not think that Blizzard could pull off anything that engaging.  I was wrong… they wove together a world that was deep, rich, and filled with lore.  Additionally they incorporated the best features of every game that had come before it… and remixed it in a way that truly represented the absolute best of breed for the time.

However over the years… they have butchered the lore…  and instead of continuing to incorporated the best features on the market… have instead created half assed versions of them.  I have to keep coming back to the Transmogrification system… because it personifies this concept of the modern Blizzard approach.  They took something awesome… alternate appearance systems… and instead turned it into an extremely cludgy money sink.  The same thing happened over and over as they tried to incorporate features of popular mods… but the official version was never anywhere near as solid as the original mod that inspired it.

Then on the other side of the coin… the content was just lacking.  When new content was introduced… it was too little to late.  Like a quick appetizer that never quite turned into a meal.  Shortly after the release of Cataclysm… I started a brand new Worgen Druid… and managed to level it without much effort in under 5 days played time.  Additionally the raid content just felt more and more uninspired…  remixes of previous encounters.  So I will admit… at times I am one of those guys… that views the golden area of vanilla through rose colored lenses.

For certain players the new mix of content and the pacing works.  I have a ton of friends who are still knee deep in the thrall of this game… and more power to them.  I just reached a point where I could not view anything but the disappointment.  As a result I am not playing, and trying my best not to complain on a regular basis about the game.  But… additionally I do not feel this post would be honest if I did not include WoW in the mix.  I feel like it still has so much potential, and maybe if they changed to a content driven DLC style free to play model… they would have the endorsement to build content other than the raid ladder and dailies.

4 – Guild Wars 2

guild_wars_2_allotment This is another title I did not really expect to like when I first heard about it.  I was never a huge fan of Guild Wars 1 despite everyone telling me just how amazing a game it was.  I liked some of the concepts presented, like the Magic the Gathering style ability system and the ability to multi-class…  but everything else about that game I really despised.  If I do not like your games user interface or control scheme… no matter how awesome a game it is underneath  I just cannot bring myself to play it…  no matter how many times I try.  So all of this said I really had written off the concept of Guild Wars 2.

This all changed however when the folks at Arena.NET posted their Design Manifesto.  It basically said everything I thought I wanted to hear, and laid out a great vision for a new game.  So I was amped when I was able to get access to the testing program.  However I was immediately disappointed in the experience I had there, and lack of what honestly felt like a game.  I was disillusioned enough that I actually resigned from testing and wished them luck.  One of my friends remained in the test a little bit longer than I did…  and eventually bailed himself.  I hoped they would find some direction and turn the project around.

When it came time for open beta testing… I gave the game another shot.  The lowered expectations of expecting to dislike the game… caused me to view it through slightly different eyes.  I enjoyed the game enough that I picked it up when it came out.  The problem is… there just was not enough meat on the bones to hold my attention for long.  There are definitely some aspects of the game that I enjoyed, but the whole experience felt very disposable… more so than any game I had experienced. 

Additionally it did not feel like I was progressing my character at all.  By the time I reached level five, I had unlocked all 5 abilities for my primary weapon choices and the signets and other related abilities… just did not feel like they had enough weight to them to make them something worth striving towards.  The game set out to abolish the holy trinity of tank, healer and dps… but the problem is that it didn’t really replace it with anything in the process.  Group content felt like a chaotic mess, and I was extremely disappointed when I did my first dungeon and realized the zerging a boss down from a spawn point was totally a viable tactic.

In the Manifesto they proposed that – Shouldn’t Great MMOs be Great RPGs too?  The only problem is the key means for moving the story along in a role playing game is the questing construct…  but they sought to abolish that as well.  Once again… it is fine that they wanted to change the game… but they didn’t really replace it with anything meaningful in the process.  As a result I felt extremely disconnected to the world around me.  Things were going on around me… on scripted timers… but I didn’t really care about whether or not we won or lost.  I didn’t care about the people and place… and the lack of questing did this.

In the Manifesto they stated that it was time to make MMORPGS more social.  The only problem with that is that they introduced so much passive grouping, and took away any need for player roles…  that the end result is one of the least social games I have played.  When roaming around the world… you may be fighting along side other players, but you do not have to interact with them in any meaningful way.  Each player is a self sufficient independent state… and as a result has no real need for anyone other than themselves.  The game just feels like it is lacking reasons for players to actually be grouping together.

Let me reiterate, there is a lot to like about the game.  It runs amazingly well on low end hardware, and presents a very fluid gaming experience.  It has one of the prettiest worlds I have ever explored, and has a lot of things that incentivize exploration.  While it is presenting a ton of new content in the form of now bi-monthly updates… the problem is most of it is limited time only.  Instead of growing their world… they are creating disposable episodes that only serve to make the game play experience all the more disposable itself.

3 – Star Wars: The Old Republic

Star-Wars-The-Old-Republic-screenshot I’ve loved Star Wars since before I could even fully verbalize it.  My parents tell stories about me seeing the movie when I was one… and then coming home and jabbering endlessly about “Darfa Bater”.  So if there was any game that has enough storied lore to hold my attention… it should have been SWTOR.  I was a huge fan of Knights of the Old Republic, and as a result I was completely committed to the genre they genre they chose to set the films in.  Additionally I love the Bioware style of storytelling, and am a pretty huge Dragon Age and Mass Effect junky.

All of these things should have made SWTOR be the next 8 year game for me.  The problem is… the experience while amazing… is overall disposable once you have made your way through the content.  So much care and feeding were placed on making sure the quests were just right… and the voice acting was flawless… that it greatly cut into the total amount of content available.  The three chapters that were available at launch… felt like an awesome introduction to the game…  but the main course never really arrived.

I hear the Makeb release is extremely nice… and the continuation of the storyline extremely successful.  The only problem is…  that content came a year too late to stave off the players leaving.  I feel like had they had more content in the pipeline and ready to release a month after launch, they would have been able to keep the majority of all the players that started playing.  We just burned through the content way faster than they had expected.  Additionally the fact that there was only one path per faction… and that essentially all the quests were the same minus the handful of class specific ones…  alting became extremely tedious.

Additionally when they chose to go free to play… they adopted one of the most blatantly abusive models I have seen.  Essentially with free to play, you can choose to take the carrot or the stick… and things like gear locks, pay walling what should be base features, and rolling out a never ending stream of unique lockbox gear just feel too much like being beat with the stick for me.  It has however been extremely lucrative for Bioware… and enabled the game to keep its doors open.  If it means they continue to release new content… then in the long run it could be good for the game as a whole.

I am still disappointed however at what could have been.  Had they been able to launch a continuation of the main storyline each month or so…  it would have kept me glued to the game.  The original storyline was amazing… and there is no taking that away from the game.  The Jedi Knight storyline is probably one of the most epic story arcs I have experienced in any game.  It was just over way too soon, leaving me nothing really left that I wanted to do.  The problem is… that content was extremely expensive to produce.  There was never a way that they ever could have kept up with the demand.

2 – Champions Online

champions_online_screen_4 One of my all time favorite pen and paper games is Heroes Unlimited by Palladium games.  I had early experiences with D&D and AD&D… but this was the game that really hooked me on the possibilities of role playing games.  What made the system so cool is that it had rules to create literally any type of super hero or super villain you could imagine.  Of course I created my share of Wolverine or Batman clones…  but the game system was this fertile group that through a series of roles I could create some unique characters as well.  What made the game so engaging was that the sky was literally the limit in the types of things you could create.

I was a huge fan of City of Heroes, because it gave me some of this same rich character building…  but did so in an easy to digest MMO form.  That game however had a lot of short comings… and when Champions Online was announced it looked to be addressing all of these base issues and creating this wild open ended super hero creation system.  You could mix and match power sets… creating your own custom mix for your character… and this was placed on top of a character generator that was even more robust than City of Heroes.  Everything sounded like the perfect super hero game… and I was hooked on it early.

The problem is… the power sets were grossly imbalanced.  This is the first game I had ever played where certain power sets were literally unplayable.  You could reach a point where you just simply could not progress any further due to the choices you had made.  On the other side of the coin… certain power sets were so grossly overpowered that they completely removed any challenge from the content at all.  You could steam roll over the top of anything, while your friend that chose one of the broken ones… could not even fight the lowest rank mobs.

The major disappointment is that they did a very poor job of mitigating the different power sets.  They would buff one…. but then another power set would become the broken one… making it a constant cycle of your favorite power set potentially becoming the unplayable one.  The game had all the potential in the world… and just became grossly mismanaged.  Instead of understanding that this  constant state of power flux and un-playability was what was driving their players away…  they instead decided to streamline the content.

I really do not remember the timing, but I believe this happened around the time of the free to play conversion.  Previously there had been a pretty interesting storyline that had multiple paths your characters could take.  The end result ended up with everything being a big jumbled mess.  The thing that ended up as the nail in the coffin however… is that coming back as a free to play character… I could not play any of my existing characters.  Each and every one included some costume bits that were not open to free players.  This should be a lesson to anyone… grandfather existing characters…  because holding players characters hostage behind a pay wall is never a good call.

1 – Warhammer Online

warhammer-online-1 I had to put this one at number one… because really this game turning out the way it did is one of my biggest gaming regrets.  I love Warhammer… have since I was in middle school and painting my very first citadel miniatures.  I love the world and the lore… and the sheer brutality of the chaos gods.  They took a failing IP and placed it in the hands of MMO veterans… Mythic games… who had brought the world Dark Age of Camelot.  It seemed like a no-fail proposal.  I thought they knew exactly what players wanted… and could borrow from the success they had with DAoC and all the nuts and bolts that make a game work.

Unfortunately Warhammer Online is really the tale of two games.  The one to twenty experience was amazing.  The PVE content rich, the new public questing construct extremely fun, and the early battlegrounds extremely inventive and enoyable to play.  I still think that the early experience in Warhammer Online ranks among some of my favorite leveling experiences.  The problem is that when you hit about 20-25 the bottom fell out… the PVE content ceased to be interesting… and became increasingly more sparse.  The game changed from this fun questing experience to this “go grind pvp to level” experience.

I feel like the game as a whole was a clash between these two seperate games… one of which I enjoyed immensely… the PVE experience… and one I really could care less about.. the PVP experience.  Had they given me a pure PVE warhammer game… I would probably still be playing it.  The game as a whole did so many innovative things, and there were so many mysteries around the world to unlock for your book of deeds.  Additionally it shipped with an Addon system that was on par with World of Warcraft, and presented some extremely interesting class and race choices.

If only they had focused on giving equal time to both the PVE and PVP experience.  The only problem is… I feel like the makers of this game have come to completely different conclusions about why it failed.  Mark Jacobs has gone on to create Camelot Unchained… which serves to be a purely PVP game completely casting aside any PVE aspects.  I feel like his take away was that it failed because it just was not PVP enough.  In truth not a single friend that was playing left because of lack of PVP.  We had a guild of around 40 players… and all of us left when the post 20 forced pvp experience began.  Harecore PVP players are a niche within a niche, and I just don’t feel that you can really build any game solely around them as your target audience.

This is probably the game I feel would beneift the most from a free to play conversion.  Awhile back I signed up for a new free trial account just to give the game a spin and see if it really is as good as I remembered.  Overall the starter experience is still extremely fun, even though they have dumbed down the richness quite a bit by funneling everyone into the empire lands.  I feel like a free to play version, might pump a bit more life into the title and allow it to survive.  The problem is… this has become the textbook example for MMO failure… and I doubt EA would spend a dime on it going forward.  As a result I will always be left with the thoughts of what might have been had the direction been a bit more sound.

Wrapping Up

This post ended up going a lot longer than expected.  I’ve been typing for around an hour and a half now, but finally have reached a point where I have said what I needed to say about each of them.  Hopefully none of them came off as too terribly ranty.  I hope you all have great weekends, I will mostly be trying to relax a bit before Monday.  I am already stressing out quite a bit, because I know going back I will be having to fill in for my boss as he is going out of town.