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.