Good Apollo, Dear God The Internet It Burns IV: Srsly, Dude

(Edit: it appears that bells are unringing, or at least the subject of this note took to heart some of the no doubt polite and reasoned criticism that arrived in his email and throughout the Intertubes. In particular, the everything-was-screwed-up-but-what-I-did parts were replaced with an honest mea culpa. So, as you read this, realize that I’m beating up on someone who’s trying to make good on his mistakes. And after that, I might go and punch some babies or something.)

Dear Mr. Rubenfield (I don’t really know you well enough to call you “Dan” and definitely not well enough to call you “Lord_Pall” like some internet weirdo):

OK, you can blame friends who should know better for baiting me into responding seriously. Despite the fact that SWG in general, and the NGE in specific, is basically the Derek Smart of MMO discussion. You bring it up and all the oxygen of coherent discussion just is sucked out of the room. Flames do that.

And why is that? Because in the space of two weeks from the player’s perspective, the entire structure of SWG was tossed aside and replaced with what you freely admit was the result of a few weeks’ mad crunching.

We told them. “If you do this, you will lose all 200k subscribers. It is that significant.”

It was explained that we would gain more due to the marketing push and relaunch.

So, we pushed forward.

Dude. Srsly. You CAN’T DO THAT.

At some point someone – your producer, probably, that being his job and all – should have sat everyone down and said “you. can’t. do. that.”

Those 200,000 customers – customers – you blithely dismiss as “dregs” and “weirdos” – are paying your salary. You can’t just blow them off for the mythical millions of people looking for a better game. Want to make a better game for them? Sure. As you said:

“Can you change an MMO drastically after it launches?”

Categorically, NO.

If we were to do it again, and wanted to make those types of changes, you have to make a new game.

Relaunch with a new title.

Or shut down Galaxies and relaunch for real.

You cannot change it at runtime.

And if you had kept your blog entry at that – just that – it would have all been cool. Hey, the designer of the NGE learned a valuable lesson. You can’t yoink a game and replace it with candy. Even if the candy is yummy. SCRUMPTIOUSLY. The customers – customers – not freaks or weirdos, customers – paid for a game. Not candy. They are paying a monthly fee for a game.

Maybe none of the team LIKED that game particularly. Maybe the higher ups were demanding millions of subscribers to pay for Lucasarts licensing fees. I dunno. I wasn’t there. You were.

But… dude. Srsly. YOU CAN’T DO THAT.

Especially this. Dude. Srsly.

We launched, the marketing push failed, and we lost subscribers.

It was a misread at an organizational level. Marketing, Production, community. You name it.

Epoch grade fuckup.

But.

The fuckup was NOT the changes.

Oh, no, you didn’t.

Oh, no, you didn’t.

You didn’t just point the finger for NGE’s commercial failure at everyone but yourself.

OH NO, YOU DIDN’T.

“It was a marketing failure.” (yeah, marketing makes or breaks games, plus everybody dislikes marketing, it’s easy to blame them!)

“Community dropped the ball.” (yeah, you know, the community person who was FIRED a week after trying to deflect the rage of a community, who for SOME STRANGE REASON en masse felt betrayed. I WONDER WHY.)

Dude. Srsly.

You completely changed the game. You ripped out the guts and replaced it with random bits from other systems. With two weeks notice to a community that you just sold an expansion pack to.

No, really, I’m sure there’s enough blame to go around. I’m sure marketing dropped the ball. I’m sure community could have been handled better (pro-tip: letting them know a bit further in advance may have been a good idea).

But your design – your work – was so smash up wonderful that everyone BUT you was to fault? Everyone BUT you was to blame?

Srsly. Dude.

So. Your final anecdote:

A cancellation email from UO came in. A diatribe, really.

It want on and on about how shitty the game was, how it was the worst piece of crap he’d ever played.

So, someone called him to find out some information.

They asked how long he played for.

His answer?

2 years.

So, what lesson did you get from that, anyway? Because, judging from the rest of your post?

I suspect you didn’t get it. Srsly.

DUDE.

Regards,

Scott Jennings

It's The Fun, Stupid

Age of Conan is a mess, as the twice-weekly massive patch notes attest. But it’s a great and gloriously fun mess. Just take this example that I wrote describing one of the classes for someone who asked:

You BURN THINGS. You BREATHE FIRE AND BURN THINGS while swinging a REALLY BIG SWORD and things DIE in FIRE. All your combos do WTF massive AOE damage. You can also turn into a demon for even more burnination, assuming things are not already burned to death. Eventually you get Fire Lance through a talent which can do thousands of points of burst damage. HoXs are good if you like the combo system, like spells, and like making things burn. In fire.

Sure, there’s hundreds of bugs, including some really head scratching did they REALLY do that ones, and class balance is kind of a sick joke and content gives out eventually… but fire! You SET THINGS ON FIRE! Age of Conan clearly has staked out a niche: people who like burning things. My suspicion is that this may be a fairly large niche.

 

And yet the “established wisdom” is that in the post-WoW world, you have to have a polished launch, you just can’t do the usual MMO screwups that we’re all sadly accustomed to because players just won’t put up with that anymore. Well, clearly this isn’t the case. Age of Conan isn’t polished – in fact it’s almost aggressively unpolished. One especially cringeworthy patch note, for example, announced that a key Mage buff, which had a five minute duration, would have a one hour COOLDOWN when instead they meant it would have a one hour DURATION. The difference is somewhat important. It’s now a tradition to find all the stuff in Funcom’s patch notes that they kind of forgot to add.

But… it’s fun. A critical review (which is almost entirely accurate in all the things it takes Funcom to task for over AoC) has been shouted down on F13 because… the game’s fun. Did I mention you can burn things? Also, there is nudity (NWS). But you’ll note what I fixated on, which probably says a lot more about me than you wanted to know. Also, you can burn things. In FIRE.

Age of Conan has also done some pretty impressive market jiu jitsu, whether intentional or not. The insanely high system specs limit their market to the PC gaming hardcore (at least until the Xbox 360 version is released). The mature environment (which, in addition to immolations, decapitations and nipples includes a very morally dark and corrupt world and a hardcore Shadowbane-esque full PvP implementation on PvP servers) limit their market to adults or people who can pretend to be adults in game stores. But both of these things very much set the game apart from World of Warcraft. It’s a large niche, and a safe one.

Of course, much remains to be seen – will the bugs and the inevitable class balancing nerfs chase off customers? Is there enough stickiness in the largely unimplemented elder game to entice customers to keep playing? But I think we have reinforced one lesson from World of Warcraft that perhaps hasn’t been reinforced enough: fun trumps everything. Everything. You can have a server bugfest and a client that barely runs on year-old machines – but all is forgiven, as long as you can set things on fire.

Oh, and you can set things on fire.

WTF!

No, really, that’s what it’s called.

The time/space continuum of Azimuth has enfolded. A Rift Lord’s unwittingly opened a portal from the earthly netherworld, and the place is crawling with infamous historical thinkers, like Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Mary Daly, each of whom is trying to enlist your help in effort to figure out WTF Azimuth is all about. And… as you might imagine, there’s plenty of conflict as they attempt to make sense of the ways in which, as Mary Daly puts it, “the game naturalizes a Western militaristic heterosexist hypersexualized patriarchal capitalism, played out in relation to a spiritually infused race war – kinda.”

Plus, you can play a gnome.