This morning I want to take a little bit to talk about a game that I used to have a lot of faith in… that just announced they were closing down the servers this coming July. This game was originally announced at Pax Prime 2014 and I first got my hands on it during my very first Pax… the inaugural Pax South 2015. To say they were the belle of the ball was an understatement… they had the biggest booth and also had really awesome media and tournament suites upstairs. On the floor of the convention they had computers set up to have constant running multiplayer battles and in order to make this all work… had called in this legion of devoted fans to help ease the new players into the experience. I managed to get in to the press suite on the first day and was completely blown away with the game that I had seen.
You have to understand this was pre-Overwatch even being announced, let alone releasing and taking the world by the storm. This was also pre-Paladins being a thing… so the only experience similar was Smite which was a fairly faithful port of the MOBA genre to a more player point of view experience rather than the traditional top down isometric. The biggest challenge out of the gate was what to call the game… we largely referred to it as a MOBA but even then… it didn’t quite conform to that concept. The characters were really the part that stood out because they were vibrant and animated extremely well… you had some that played like a traditional shooter and others like The Margrave pictured above that felt very much like an MMO tank.
It felt extremely fresh and when I left Pax I was super excited to the game launch. They had their press game on point giving out these really cool thumb drives that were super detailed vinyl/plastic versions of the games logo… that then had an executable you could run that would connect out to their ftp server and grab whatever were the freshest media assets available.
On Day two I managed to sneak everyone that was attending from AggroChat into the press suite again to do battle against other folks attending the media demo. The above image wound up on the Motiga twitter account and I am super grateful someone took a picture of us playing. Side note… we completely trounced Angry Joe and his entourage, in part because we had devs and community folks constantly trying to help us ease into playing the characters. Basically I went away from Pax South 2015 singing the praises of this game and was super pumped when I got my email a few weeks later getting into the alpha/beta program.
The excitement sorta died off however once we started actually playing the Beta client due to the lack of reasonable matchmaking. What seemed so damned polished at the show… was a carefully cultivated image. The actual experience was anything but, and largely focused on logging into the beta voice server and convincing people to group up with you… then dropping to a private channel and trying to join on each other and queue as a complete group. That said I did this a few times and Lonrem helped ease me into this community a bit, but it felt like too much hassle for me at this point when I am not really even a big player of this sort of genre. My stance had been that I would come back when things were a bit more polished and I could queue on my own without need of the very manual matchmaking.
In November of 2014 the oxygen started being drained out of the room… when Blizzard announced Overwatch. While these were not exactly the same… they were definitely similar enough feeling to be serious competition. I told myself that all Motiga needed to do was get to the market first… and develop an initial foothold. The experience was interesting enough to keep people engaged if they could just launch. In February of 2016… Motiga went through a massive round of layoffs and this is really the first signs that maybe the future wasn’t nearly as bright as we might have hoped. They did a deal with the devil at this point… securing additional funding from Microsoft in a trade for console and windows 10 exclusivity… forcing them down a path of the Windows Store instead of something more mainstream and actually used by gamers… Steam. This also cut them off from being able to do some sort of Steam early release program that has been effective for a lot of games as they worked out the kinks getting them to market.
I kept expecting to hear an announcement that Gigantic was going to be releasing… especially with the support from Microsoft to help them get across the finish line. I went through the hoops to convert my original Gigantic beta account to a Windows Store beta account and downloaded the game to give it a go. The only problem is… the game didn’t feel anywhere near as fresh and unique as I remembered it. I was now standing in a world where Paladins had also released in a pretty widespread beta program and Overwatch was constantly looming over its shoulder. Additionally while match making was a thing… the player base had dwindled to a point where I had to sit there waiting for fifteen to thirty minutes to get a match. When I did… you had one of two options… the map that was awesome and tuned… and the map that was way the hell too big and had some memory leak issues. Once again I put the game away and thought “I will try it again at launch” because honestly I thought surely there had to be a launch window just around the corner.
Things got more complicated in May of 2016… when Motiga announced that it would be inking a deal with Perfect World to become the official publisher of Gigantic. We all knew the writing on the wall with this one… it meant they needed more money and this was a way of obtaining it. This erased that Windows store exclusivity… but also probably watered down any support Microsoft was willing to give. Additionally it set up a scenario where the player base was forever going to be fractured. One version of the game would be working with Xbox One and Windows Store users… and another version of the game would be running through the Perfect World Arc client. Overwatch released in May 2016 and Paladins in September 2016… triggering an arms race of companies trying to create their own version of this new genre that was being branded the “Hero Shooter”… all without even a potential date on the horizon for the launch of Gigantic.
When it finally launched in July of 2017… it was the textbook definition of too little too late. It released on Windows Store/Xbox One and a version that ran on the Arc Client available through the Perfect World store or Steam. At this point unfortunately… nobody really cared. I’ve never actually played the released version of this game because while I filled up a hype balloon at Pax South 2015… over the course of the next few years a bunch of tiny punctures drained every bit of it away to where I was left with a flaccid balloon that could never be inflated again.
Amazing little gem of a game whose light is dying along with its playerbase.
The above quote is from a review on steam… and I feel like it sums up Gigantic as a game nicely. It was in fact an amazing idea and it was doing a lot of things that were revolutionary for its time… but the constant failure to launch caused everyone who was once interested to eventually fade away and start playing something more viable. Multiplayer games live and die by the player base… and once you lose the trust of a large core of gamers… there is absolutely nothing you can do ever to get it back. I have to admit I sort of mourn what might have been when it comes to Gigantic. I still feel like it was a great game concept with extremely interesting characters… the problem is… Overwatch did everything better except for the core concept of having two gigantic monsters duking it out for control of the map.
Motiga was a really cool company, and I hope that each of the folks that managed to hang on through the end… find a good home in another company where they can bring their interesting ideas to a game that actually has a chance. I feel like both Microsoft and Perfect World kept the balloon afloat for way longer than it would have were they not in this story… but in the end we wound up with a really complicated sequence of event and a fractured player base which is a critical fault for any game. This is by no means the complete tale of this game or some gripping piece of journalism, but instead just my personal experience as I watched and hoped that they would get their shit together and make it work.