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WW2O GOES FOR PAY [Author: BruceR]

Version 1.25 was released last week, the second big patch since launch day three-plus months ago. So many niggling little details in this Battle of France simulator were fixed, I couldn’t possibly list them all, but most importantly, the guns finally shoot straight. Engagement ranges have taken another leap, making it even harder for the infantry, whose own observational abilities have not improved commensurately, leaving them on the glassy terrain rather like seals on a Newfoundland ice floe, both in their ability to understand what’s going on and long-term survival chances.

The Germans got a new tank. And defying the doubters (like me), the navy did show up, finally\’e2\’80\’a6 well, one boat type, anyway: a cute little bizarrely modelled subchaser, with a 2-pdr AT gun instead of a 2-pdr pompom and a bridge crew of three whose job seems largely to die unnoticed. Still, it’s fun. Or it would have been if the brain trust at Cornered Rat Studios hadn’t given exact copies of the same British patrol boat to the German Kriegsmarine, despite player outcry.

The decision makes a mockery of the designer’s claims of striving for REALISM ABOVE ALL, of course. Certainly a game where the Royal Navy dominated the Channel, skirmishing with shore forces in the Scheldt estuary, would have been truer, and more fun. As it is, we’ve already had a couple German conquests of England in the last week. (It also would have been more real to forego the “inland ports” on the River Meuse. The fact all the rivers, like the rest of the map, are to half scale, and hence prone to congestion, means any naval action on the inland rivers looks more like a painting of Lepanto than any 20th-century action.) It’s also left the dedicated Allied players (already outnumbered around 60-40), feeling somewhat resentful: they still haven’t got any tactical air support planes, but you didn’t see the designers giving them captured Stukas in the meantime.

The whole fiasco, actually, smacks of something you’d expect to see in an OPEN BETA\’e2\’80\’a6 essentially one the early adopters paid to get into back in June. The designers want to screw around with the boat code they’ve evidently just written: to do that requires them to test with two navies, not one \’e2\’80\ldblquote never mind how it makes players feel. What the devs don’t seem to get is that the point where they could still do that passed months ago: now they should be focussing on community building and support, but they just can’t stop the urge to tinker.

Everyone, INCLUDING MYSELF, has said Cornered Rat Studios/Playnet seem oblivious to the commercial success or lack thereof of their game. Once that seemed reassuring, but it’s really a two-edged Panzer: what decisions like this clearly illustrate is that these guys still see the world they created, three months after launch, as just that, “THEIR GAME,” a big sandbox for them to screw around in\’e2\’80\’a6 when by rights it now belongs to the players who paid for it.

On the upside, Server One is relatively persistent now, so there’s finally a fight worth fighting \’e2\’80\ldblquote or THERE WOULD BE if infantry were made more fun and useful, and some kind of supply system was in place to encourage more sophisticated play. There’s also a rank system now, but it is, like everything else, problematic: basically if you kill enough stuff and despawn before you’re killed yourself, you eventually get promoted. The awards are bragging rights and the ability to post your own missions, and perhaps someday be the only one allowed some l33t piece of uber-equipment.

The whole thing has the makings of another fiasco, of course. There’s no evidence of any understanding by the rank system’s designers of the basic psychology of gamers. Look at it this way: basically, in the 100 per cent PvP environment of WW2O, you have only the two ‘Bartle-types’ (we’re all at least part “Killer”): Killer-Achievers (who go on their l33t sniping raids, unencumbered by much in the way of narrative) and the Killer-Socializers (who want to help their squad to victory, fight desperate holding actions, turn the tide of victory, etc.)

In the last three months, it’s been the Killer-Socializers who’ve stepped up and provided the skeleton on which this volunteer community rests: the websites, the Roger Wilco servers, the maps, the haikus, etc. But the new rank system only awards the Killer-Achievers, who will soon be promoted to the in-game generals and be given all the tools to organize the others\’e2\’80\’a6. Tools they almost certainly won’t, by and large, use. Meanwhile, the Killer-Socializers for the most part won’t be able to power-level up fast enough to get the benefits they could actually use: they’re too busy doing the WW2O equivalents of RP’ing, Smurfing, helping newbies, etc. Instead of giving the Achievers something like an overall PvP tally board (which would really solve their bragging rights needs better, anyway), CRS is counting on the CounterStrike crossovers to stop mastering their powers of twitch and build a community for them \’e2\’80\ldblquote a solution that seems doomed to fail already.

But never mind that: with v1.25 now in place, the game is finally going pay-for-play. As is their wont, CRS was hamfisted here, too, abruptly starting the clock ticking for all who’d bought the game so far on Sept. 14. All the other still-awaited “on-the-box” features, like the supply system, and all those rules that are supposed to limit the still completely silly numbers of tanks, will be implemented in subsequent patches before the 30-day period is up.

No doubt there’s other pressures at work. But with so many major changes still to come, the whole idea flies in the face of the whole point of that 30-day free trial; to, you know, TRY OUT THE FINISHED GAME. Even if all the remaining features CAN be implemented, the result may be so different from what it has been so far that the early adopters, who’ve suffered patiently thus far, end up getting screwed again. Oh, well, the drop dead date is Oct. 12. Given how the plans shape up here, you might have to check this link on Saturday and again on Oct. 13 yourself to see how many people did, despite all the abuse, cough up in the end, out of those still playing today (a number which has seen some resurgence since the latest patch).

The final verdict? The players that are left are some of the most patient, intelligent, and fun potential community members you’ll ever meet. The designers, I have to believe, are still well-intentioned. But the fact they’re going to pay-to-play now is a clear indication that formerly distant point is now approaching when everyone involved may have to scale back their initial ambitions, drastically possibly. I fear the game that results, fun or not, will be rather unrecognizable to the other June diehards. Something may have to give: and the patrol boat decision shows that the big commitment to realism may be the most frayed around the edges.

But no matter. It’s been stupid, but it’s been fun, and it filled a void for many until DaoC came along. And if you fancy yourself a wargamer, and you’ve never tried this at all, you did miss out on a bold, forlorn hope of an experiment in the dynamics of massive group play. Years from now, the WW2O veterans will have their own St. Crispin’s Day memories, no doubt\’e2\’80\’a6. Certainly the happy few I play with could serve as my brothers in any other game, if they wished. If nothing else, the arguments have been great.

No, I’ve played WW2O and I’ve played EQ. And even though the Lum gig’s apparently over and I can choose my own poison again, I know which I’ll be playing tonight, and every other fine night, so long as the dream behind it is still visible. No question. Like World War Two itself, you had to be there, folks. So, from the LTM Brussels bureau, it’s goodbye, farewell, and amen: hope to see you in Flanders, all. I’ll be the third tank on the left.