March 2007

Unleash Nerd Fury!

As spotted by Krones, attracted by a FoH thread on, quote, “why Vanguard attracts such nerd rage”, endquote, Brad McQuaid leaves the Sigil fallout shelter and sees his shadow, which means six more months of crunch patching.

Then there’s the issue of us releasing a bit early because of us having to release when we did due to financial issues. And then there’s the fact that we released so close to the WoW expansion. That didn’t help either, at least short term. I am confident though that as people finish up with the expansion, that many WoW gamers will migrate to Vanguard. People want something new in their lives, and that includes MMOGs. WoW is a fantastic game, but Vanguard is designed with additional polish but also additional depth and freedom to experience more from a virtual world.

So while the game continues to sell well and churn is low, I think we could have done even better had we more effectively addressed what you mentioned and what I talked about above. I’m not worried — I know Vanguard is a great game and getting better every patch. But at the same time, I’m not as happy as I could be about the negativity and controversy surrounding the game, when we launched the game, etc. We will recover and get the message out, of that I am certain. And in a sense, we did know some of this would happen — again, there are those drawn to Vanguard because of our EQ heritage, but we also knew that there would be those who would be turned off by that same heritage.

More followup posts:

We had to agree to a launch date, or there would be no money to continue. This was unfortunate, but we will and are recovering. This game was expensive — probably second only to WoW, although WoW cost more than double. I don’t want to sound jealous, although I probably am to some degree to be honest, but Blizzard put $80M into development. No one else is willing or able to do that. Not Microsoft, not Sony. EA perhaps, and they’re now back in the MMOG business with the Mythic acquisition (but at the time we started Sigil, they were still in a lot of pain over Sims Online, which is rumored to have been around $25-30M — so at the time they were not interested in a game like Vanguard. And certainly not smaller publishers — they definitely don’t have that kind of money.

So I’m not upset in anyway with SOE or Microsoft — again, what they did give us in terms of funding and support is unprecedented. The vast majority of developers would kill for such a budget as we received. It’s just a financial reality that is hurting us short term a bit, but something I know we can and are recovering from. Also, launching around the same time as Burning Crusade wasn’t optimal either, but again, nothing we can’t recover from.

So, my take: Vanguard is the first object lesson in how World of Warcraft has changed the industry. You simply cannot release an incomplete MMO any more and expect users to give you time to finish. McQuaid has been nothing if not honest with his userbase and the public about why Vanguard shipped when it did – but it’s not good enough. WoW is out there on the shelves, telling everyone that the bar has been raised. And while Everquest did very well shipping incomplete product on a regular basis, Vanguard has released into a very, very different market.

Sigil may well spend the next year whipping Vanguard into the shape that it should have been on release; the problem is by that point people will have moved on. It’s a problem Dark Age of Camelot shares; since I’ve been jonesing for a PvP fix I set aside WoW for a bit and took up playing DAOC again on and off (with a, ahem, interesting forum group) and one of the things people can never get over is how fast levelling is. They remember DAOC as it shipped, not as it was changed to be. You can’t patch away that first impression.

Vanguard may well eventually reach a steady level of users, but if they had released a finished product, they would have had far more. It’s a brutal lesson that WoW teaches, and Sigil won’t be the last development team to learn it.

Mudflation 4TW

Given the raging storm and fury about Blizzard’s balancing practices having all the foresight of sex-starved bonobo monkeys still thundering in the last post’s discussion, I think a link over to another view – specifically Damion Schubert’s insightful praise of TBC mudflation is in order.

So to say I was happy about getting something that was, objectively, about 5 times better in every way that actually matters to a priest is a vast understatement.

The gravy train didn’t end there – new robe, new pants, new pimp hat — one by one, all the new quests raise the level of gear. Why? It’s easy – it makes it POSSIBLE for the designers to actually balance the content.

Blizzard certainly hasn’t been shy about shaking up the state of the game in this Brave New Ver 2.0 World. As someone who played a warrior, I’m not wildly happy about the way things shook up for my little dwarf, but I also haven’t really delved much into the new content, either… been busy either slowly leveling up a Draenei and/or playing other games and/or insanely modding still other games. Oh, and I’m finally surrendering to the inevitable and picking up an Xbox360 this month. Expect me to whine about achievement points in 3… 2…

As Damion says, Blizzard’s approach is an interesting way to deal with a balkanized playerbase. Simply buff everyone up to 10% better than the highest tier. Free toys for everyone! It does cause resentment among the hardcore who earned that highest tier, but especially given the raw numbers Blizzard are dealing with? Not an issue. They lose 50,000 raiders and keep 3 million casuals. Hmm. Basic math.