Summer Holiday; Gone Bad

October 30, 2009 at 6:49 am | Posted in General | 10 Comments
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Wotcha everyone,

Are we heading to The Bad Place™ for MMOs?

I’m very guilty of this terrible crime; I buy an MMO on release because I read a few reviews online that say the game is at the least respectable.  I invest in the game for the 30 days that my initial purchase buys me, and by the end of it I’m pretty sure that I won’t be playing any longer, whilst pretending to myself that I’ve not wasted my money.

MMO tourism at its worst.

It’s not as if I’m unhappy playing the games I’ve already got.

Is this me chasing rainbows?  Am I looking for the El Dorado of gaming?  Or am I just helping to perpetuate the Wrong Sort Of Games by purchasing high-profile games from companies that want their own 9 million subscribers?

I suppose one of the problems I have is that when MMOs are in development, the developers don’t give me a call and ask me what I’d want in a game.  This makes me sad, because if they did, I’d help them create The Best MMO In The World.  Well, for me, it would be The Best MMO In The World.  Your game experience might vary.

So the next best thing is for me to keep trying games out, until I find the one I like.

Gone are the days when I’d take any old MMO tat, and be happy with it.  I’m smart, I’m MMO savvy, and the worst thing is I have an over-inflated ego that thinks it knows enough of game design theory to be dangerous.

In point of fact, I am a very different consumer to the one that first saw a mate playing Everquest so many years ago, and thought; “Cool!  MUD with pictures!”

And yes, I am a consumer.  Publishers don’t release MMOs because they’re a charity, or because the Government is using it as a sneaky form of Care in the Community for geeks.

No, they’re there to make a profit.  Of course, no profit means no product, and if the MMO sector is seen to be a guaranteed loss-maker, soon there will be no more MMO games.

Right now, there are many products vying for our attention.  As well as all those games that are currently hyping themselves up during development.  All of them want our loyalty; all of them want our feeeelthy lucre.

I’m now going to pick on Star Trek Online.  I’m sorry, Star Trek Online (for all our sakes I hope and pray you’ll be wonderful.  But I don’t think you will.  Prove me wrong).  I was never a huge fan of Star Trek; the original series wasn’t bad, but dated horrendously.  Subsequent series failed to ignite my passion; the only series I thought was cool was Deep Space 9, and even that had bad patches.

So there’s brand recognition there.  But not enough to make me feel like I *have* to be there at release day. Stepping further, I have to look at Cryptic’s recent record, and decide if I feel confident that they are creating a game that I want to play.

Many people are prophesying doom and gloom for Champions Online.  What’s been considered a bad launch month, followed by fears over its continuing survival have made people wonder if it will be facing neglect as Star Trek Online becomes Cryptic’s shiny new golden child, and saviour of the company’s finances.

Then I read, courtesy of Are We New At This? through Syp at Bio Break (he’s *so* my Fallen Earth enabler)  that Star Trek Online won’t have npc voice recordings, because they’re not needed and they don’t fit in to their release schedule.  Here’s the quote I shamelessly copied and pasted from Are We New At This? because I’m scared to find and read the whole statement:

“What we want to make sure we do is be able to have a pipeline, is be able to make content and get that content out to the player as soon as possible after launch, and continue to update the game and continue to do things to the game. Putting that big huge VO section right in that pipeline makes things a little bit more difficult in terms of getting content out.”
– Craig Zinkievich, Executive Producer, Star Trek Online

Umm…  Huwah?

Maybe I’m just wrong-headedy-wrong-headed, but if Voice Overs get in the way of releasing content after launch, then what exactly is being released?  Surely voice acting (if it’s going to be a part of a product) gets released as a part of the initial release?  It’s almost as if we’re being told that [Any Given Film] will only be released with subtitles because the film-makers don’t want the nasty speaking bit to get in the way of the DVD release…

Personally, I don’t give a monkey’s chuff about voice overs in MMO games.  I usually find something that annoys the pants off me that occurs a bajillion times per fight (Minstrel banjo-twanging, Aion Cleric nonsense-word shouting), and annoys me enough to play with the sound off anyway.  Reading is not a problem.  The problem is the implication that Star Trek Online *will* be released, whether it’s ready or not, and if that means cutting good game goo, then cut it shall be…  It’s bad enough to hear that the Klingon race has been reduced to a mere PvMP bit-part, but now I fear for other elements of the game.  What if the fun gets cut?

I want a game at launch.  I don’t want a company to release a high-profile contender, what’s known as a “AAA” title, unless it’s fully ready.  The reason I’m paying for it is because it will be ready.  I do not want to pay to beta.  If I wanted that, I could relive my time in Star Wars Galaxies, or Everquest 2.  Or bung Bioware a huge wodge of cash to let me in the Star Wars: The Old Republic beta.

Where is your pride, game developers?  I understand that when you’re creating something, when you’re right in the middle of it, that it is really hard to take a step back and view it objectively.  But maybe the reason that Champions Online didn’t do as well as you wanted is because the product was released On Time, as opposed to a game being released when it was ready.

The reason to go with a big company over an independent is that I want to indulge in the complete gaming product at the start, rather than waiting for six months or a year.  Yes, I want updated content as I play the game.  But that’s one of the reasons I’m happy to pay a subscription; I pay for the game to get a game.  Not the promise of one to come.

The reason I’ve picked on Star Trek Online is that it’s currently set all phasers to Hype, yet everything I learn about it makes me worry a little more.  And it’s probably because I’ve seen them occur elsewhere.  It takes me a while to learn from experience, but it does happen.  Tha Seekrit Wurld worries me just as much, to be honest.

I have a soft spot for the “little guy”.  We British (I’m Colonial British, dontchaknow?) love an underdog.  Us Colonials even more-so.  I’ll sometimes throw money at an independent just so they can use my money to survive another five minutes in the jungle, before the corporate tigers eat them.  And because their resources are far more limited, they get a commensurate amount of slack.  I go in knowing I’m investing time and money into an independent project; I happily trade polish for specific vision on the part of the developers (I also don’t think that independants should charge any less than the big publishers; due to the economy of scale, independants need to charge more than the big boys just to keep going).

As opposed to being told that my thirty shiny golden coins of the realm will buy me the best thing since sliced Star Wars melon.

This is The Bad Place™ that I worry about.  As MMO gamers, we are a lot more savvy than we used to be.  We’re not playing our first MMO any more; we’re fully aware of the genre, we’re capable of making value judgements about it, and we’re not going to just accept what’s being thrown at us because we don’t know any better.  We do.

So when we buy a game and it just doesn’t deliver on its promises, we ditch it.  But whereas we might have played a game for a good few months in the past, nowadays the first month is all that’s needed.  For some of us, a couple of days.

Pretty soon, I’m going to hit a point where I will only buy an AAA game after a glowing personal recommendation from multiple people whose opinion I respect.  Because taking a financial gamble by making my own mind up will just be too expensive, and lead to too many dashed hopes.

It’s got to the point where I have the fear about any MMO in development.  The fear that makes me think that games will be badly implemented, that they will be rushed out with so many promised things cut, that they will be unoriginal and bland.  That includes you, Star Wars: The Old Republic.

That fear, that anger, that loathing: That’s not leading me to the Dark Side, it’s merely paving the way to The Bad Place™.

Cheers,
Hawley.

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10 Comments »

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  1. I guess from the other side, there comes a point where you need to stop spending money making it polished, and start making money to pay the bank back etc. I’m sure it’s one hell of a job balancing expected income from subs / boxed copies v paying developers.

    I guess some of this goes back to the niche argument…less developers, narrower focus, smaller audience = easier maths

    • Well an MMO does not need to be fully VO’ed ala SW:TOR, a few standard lines here and there would have been enough… but to have no VO at all does sound like watching a movie with subtitles and without a sound…

  2. I believe less MMO games are a good thing. I had purchased Champions and was done with it after a month and now back to playing EVE.

    I was a WoW player for years. I don’t find it coincidental that I migrated from one long term fantastic game to another.

    I would be happy if MMO’s were seen as risky business. Then maybe only the truly devoted/inspired would be ready to take a risk on making one.

    Right now there are far too many substandard ones out there.

  3. I like how you base your entire argument on a mistaken quote. It’s ridiculous.

    I’ve read that interview, and it was in a comparison to TOR if I remember right.

    Cryptic is saying that there will be no major VO in STO, because it doesn’t fit. Ever. Only a crazy-person would think they would put it in post-release. He’s saying that if there were VO in every expansion, it would be harder to get out new content.

    you, sir, just lost many respect points from this anonymous internet person.

    • Wotcha JL,
      It’s the fact that they’re saying “It’s too hard” that worries me; I’d much rather developers actually tried harder to get everything right, than cut things that they decide are too much effort for too little gain. Because maybe those things are worth the effort to me. And maybe they start by cutting voice, and end by cutting all the fun.
      I’ve said I don’t overmuch care for voice, or even sound, in online games. But others do.
      Cheers,
      Hawley.

      • Interesting rant. Spot on in the predictions of the likely fate of the Star Trek MMO, yet based on so many wrong assumptions it’s funny.

        First off – any developer that fails to decide to cut things that “are too much effort for too little gain” is doomed. Period. And the sooner they go out of business, the fewer people will get hurt.

        Second, the specific example of VO’s in MMO’s is a prime case in point. MMO’s require huge amounts of capital and time to develop as it is. Voiceovers, as they exist at their current best, just aren’t all that. In fact, they are largely crap. And even in the few cases that they are interesting to hear once or twice, they just haven’t figured out how to make it palatable to hear the same exact same phrase spoken with the exact same intonation the umpty-gazillion times that a player is likely to encounter it during the life of one or more characters in an MMO. By nature, so far at least, MMOs pretty much have to be about repeating things. As such, *ANYTHING* that detracts from an experience just because it was experienced more than a couple times becomes a liablity rather than an asset. Something that gives less and less pleasure each time it is experienced is one thing. Something that actually flips over into an active unpleasantness after just a couple of repetitions is altogether different.

        Third, ST:O is indeed likely doomed to mediocrity at best, and the fault will indeed be the developer’s. But it wont be because they are cutting overly expensive fluff from the game! It will either be because they release before they get the core systems working well enough to tolerate (combat, character generation, inventory, grouping, chat, etc), or because they release before they have enough content completely polished and ready to play from day one. Content is king in MMO’s, and cutting VOs eliminates a HUGE obstacle to creating content.

        Cryptic has a relatively neutral record of getting core systems somewhat right before releasing, so the bigger risk factor would seem to be getting enough polished content. Something Cryptic has failed miserably at so far. So if anything this shows that they might have learned some lessons about the need for good content and are actively pursuing means of ensuring that. It’s mind boggling in it’s unlikelyhood, but maybe, just maybe, this reveals a ray of hope for ST:O?

  4. Hawley

    I’m already at that point. “The Bad Place”.

    After being burned by SWG, Warhamemr, Shadowrun and DDO… I am very very careful about picking any MMO I have to hand money over for.

    I actually enjoy DDO now that its gone FTP. I can dabble in it as I want, without serious commitment and if its gone – I’ll be fine.

    Sticking with WoW for the long-term, at least until Diablo 3 arrives…

    Blizzard knows how to release games when they are ready. I just hope that can keep opposing their Activision overlords for that to continue in the future.

  5. I would have to agree with the sentiment, although I have had the restraint from buying other current MMO’s out there because I am trying to avoid MMO buying mistakes in the past. Like FF11 or City of Heroes games that were simple just not fun especially after an investment of $50+4-5 months of subscription fees. WoW was certainly not a polished as it is now but it was at inception a much superior game from the start. While I’m certainly not spending the big bucks to develop some of these games, substantial decline of customer after just a months time should indicate to these companies that it MMO’s are not deadline games but rather release when they are ready.

  6. I don’t know if it’s burnout or anything, the same is happening to me: every MMOG I pick has a really short lifespan on me, mostly because once the novelty wears, the same old shit pops in and bore me.

    I miss the social part, the community feeling most of modern MMOG completely neglect in favor of mindless checklist-driven cooperative gaming.

    It’s massive anymore?

  7. […] 4, 2009 · Leave a Comment I’ve read a very insightful post at MMOSH about how MMOG gaming is deteriorating in what is Hawley called MMO […]


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