Saturday, July 12, 2008

Call back in six to nine months?

I previously posted that MMORPG launches have been sufficiently hit or miss that it may make more sense to wait a solid six months for the devs to fix the bugs and patching in whatever else they didn't do before the end of beta. Well, there have been two breaking stories on that front this weekend.

Hellgate: MMOWNED
First of all, Scott Jennings linked a writeup on what appears to be the endgame of the Hellgate London debacle. Once upon a time, many of us expected the world of the game, but it was in such horrible shape at launch that the NDA on the beta was left in place until nearly launch day; AFTER all pre-order customers were already admitted to the beta (which is pretty silly, when you consider that pre-orders represent a large chunk of the people who will buy - or not buy in my case - the game a week later). This whole thing was so bad that it made a list of worst PC game launches ever and the folks I know who bought it were back in WoW a few weeks later.

The breaking news here is that the failure appears to have been catastrophic enough to sink the studio. Voodoo Extreme reports that the Korean financiers/publishers have taken over the game. If I understand things correctly, Flagship put the actual games themselves up as collateral for loans they now are not able to pay back, and the two main creditors have decided to cut out the middle man and try and see if they can recoup their losses. If this is how it ends, it's a sad end to a sad story.

Warhammer, now with 17-66% less Warhammer
On the same day, Mythic delivered some serious bad news to the Warhammer Online community.

The whole premise of the game is that three realms (Men, Dwarves, and Good Elves) are fighting three other realms (Evil Men, Orcs/Goblins, Evil Elves). Every action players take in the game is supposed to help their side progress towards ultimately invading and destroying the enemy city. Only problem is, four of the six cities aren't even really started yet. They're apparently so far behind schedule that, months out from their hypothetical "fall" release date, they decided to give up altogether and launch with only two of the Capitols in place (effectively reducing a three front war to a single front war with skirmishes on either side that fail to lead anywhere). To add insult to injury, they also bumped four of the game's 24 announced classes, including two of the six tanking classes (cause there are so many willing tanks in MMORPG's to begin with that this change won't have any dire effects on the community).

Even the game's staunchest advocates are taking the weekend to process what has just happened. I think that's the right call; no one can know what the final game is going to look like after these changes. I think Mythic saw what happened to Hellgate, and Age of Conan, and decided that they'd be better off trying to fix what they could instead of launching with a complete but mediocre game. The issue now is one of confidence; what else are they hiding behind that pesky NDA? What else might be placed on the chopping block when crunch time hits? How many features can be unfinished before MMORPG players won't tolerate being asked to pay full price for less then a full game? I'd argue that this puts a lot of pressure on Mythic to get their game ready enough to drop the NDA; as long as that wall of silence looms, people are going to fear that there's another Hellgate hiding behind it.

The bottom line is, here we have one heavily touted game dead in the water seven months after its launch, I've previously commented that LOTRO took an entire year to get their 1-50 leveling content finished, and now the biggest MMORPG left on the horizon sounds like it's going to have more than six months worth of postponed development work after it launches. (Remember, once they go live, they're going to have to maintain the content that's released in addition to working on the stuff they didn't finish.) At this rate, we're going to need to start waiting 9-12 months, rather than a mere six, to see what things are going to look like when the dust settles.


Moranin said...

Well, having worked for ~8 months on an in-development MMO, and now working for a DOD service on product development teams?

I've gotta say I can understand why MMOs keep over-promising and under-delivering. The right hand (PR/Marketing/Random Lore/Game Guru) promises the moon. The left hand (and it's dozens of specialty fingers) stop what they're doing, turn, gape, and start wondering how the heck they are going to meet even 5% of the right hand's promises within their given schedule.

The to-be-un-named DOD branch and projects? Same process, but since our "investors" are the members of Congress, and the money needed comes to some degree from an enormous pool o' cash, where a "tiny dip" isn't noticed, it's a lot easier to keep that "omg, you decided you want WHAT added to this thing??" cycle going and the project afloat.

DoD can go in front of the General in charge, and ask to trade off usability for performance, to or purchase more capability without a schedule slip (hellloooo contractor labor).

Can you imagine someone going to Warhammer's anonymous golf-loving investors, asking for an extra million so the goblins will have that extra bit of authenticity that Warhammer fans demand? said...

Looks like possible dark days ahead for Hellgate: London players. Though nothing is certain until the official word and IP ownership is decided if a legal battle ends up coming into play.