All the Kings horses and all the kings men couldn't put Humpty together again...or could they?
Over the years I have played and beta'd my share of MMORPG's, from UO to Vanguard, and none have ever launched "perfectly". Oh some have come close. I think the smoothest launch of a game I ever participated in was for the game "City of Heroes". That game was pretty much done when it went live and it had few to no hitches at launch. On the other hand there are launches I have participated in that were nothing less then a gamers worse nightmare. The game was as buggy as one could be, and just getting signed on...we won't even go there. This brings me to the topic at hand. Taking a game from the brink of total disaster due to a poor launch to a game that is considered by many gamers as a fun and very playable game. And redeeming your game companies reputation from the toilet.
We've all seen our share of games that totally crashed and burned. There was nothing that would save the game due to poorly managed teams working on and involved with the game and the lack of a mission goal for the game itself. I think Asheron's Call 2 was such a game. First mistake Turbine made was not making a sequel to the game Asheron's Call. Instead Turbine decided to try to reinvent the wheel and re-imagine Asheron's Call. All this did was cause many players of the original Asheron's Call to say..."huh...what's this? This is not Asheron's Call, it isn't nothing like the Asheron's Call I am use to playing". Because of this Turbine basicly alienated their current player base. I understand where Turbine was going with this. They didn't wish to drain their player base from Asheron's Call, they needed them to keep running, they were hoping to get players from other games to play their newly envisioned version of AC2. However it backfired and backfired badly.
It was rushed to market. It was buggy, broken, and so exploitable that it was doomed before it launched. Players were assured that the game that would go live after beta would be different and a much more stable and fun game with things they had not even seen in game yet. This of course was an outright lie. There was no miracle build or miracle patch and Asheron's Call 2 launched. This not only alienated Turbine current fans of the AC IP but it also made other potential players step back and go "Whoa...what a piece of garbage...what is Turbine trying to push off on us."
Now to be fair, Asheron's Call 2 had its good points. It was a beautiful game graphically. Way ahead of its time. It had some very unique game play and one of the most unique races I have ever seen designed for a game - Tumeroks. What a fun and original race to play in a game. I always give kudos where Kudos are due and to the creators of the race known as Tummies to those of us that loved them...I will never forget the love, passion and effort you must have put forth on that part of the game in AC2. You would be a serious asset to any game company. You are brilliant!
However not even the lovable Tummies could save Asheron's Call 2 from the depths of the bad games abyss. It was a poorly managed game whose producers totally lost their way and the game came crashing to a halt. The players were told that Turbine could no longer keep the servers running due to lack of players. So Asheron's Call 2 died a slow lingering and painful death.
Gamers knew this was coming...it was just a matter of time. Good news is that Turbine was working on Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online. If they played their cards right...maybe they could redeem themselves as a game company. Though D&DO hasn't been pulling in the subscription numbers(not because it is a bad game - its just a niche game) on the other hand Turbines LoTRO has been doing really good. Why? How could a game company come from the brink of disaster to being one of the better game producers on the market once again?
Simple. Turbine learned from its mistakes and made an asserted effort to not have another AC2. The launch of Lord of the Rings Online was a good launch. The game was very polished and ready to play. The graphics in the game is exactly what fans of Turbine come to expect. Turbine does not lack artistic talent that is for sure. Turbine redeemed itself and continues to make huge progress to draw more players to their games.
So we come to what I consider one of the worse launches ever of an online multi-player game - Anarchy Online. This game was a total disaster from the get go. There were massive problems just signing into the game. There were bugs. The game itself was unstable once you did get into it. FunCom was in a bad place. They had put their hearts and souls into their game and it was crumbling before their eyes. Players were up in arms like never before. The forums were on fire and I can just imagine what the guys at FunCom where thinking and doing at the time. It must have been a game companies worse nightmare.
Now many people had never heard of FunCom prior to Anarchy Online. FunCom had made some pretty incredible games prior to Anarchy Online so some of us were all ready huge fans of them. Like one of the best single player adventure games ever made - "the Longest Journey". This game was deep. It was graphically beautiful and way ahead of its time. It won all kinds of awards and FunCom did a great job on this. So I sorta had faith in FunCom that they'd do good...but things were looking so bleak. How could a game maker that gave us the Longest Journey deliver such a poorly made game that was Anarchy Online.
Images below are from the Longest Journey.
The people working at FunCom were looking at a disaster in the making. They had to work fast and furious to save their game. Could they do it? Could they put Humpty back together again and be looked at as one of the premier makers of online games? It wasn't looking like it. FunCom's people scrambled and even went outside their own company and hired consultants to help them get their game back on track. Slowly Anaarchy Online rebounded. The bugs were squashed, the game became stable and players started to come back and new ones signed on to play it. FunCom didn't panic...they kept their heads. They worked with their customers and did what it took to put Humpty together again. Today Anarchy Online is one of the best online games - though it is dated it is still filling the spot that FunCom had envisioned and they continue to make the game better. Like a good wine it gets better with age.
So yes...under the right management and with people passionate for the games they make, it is possible for a game company to salvage themselves, and to salvage their games. It takes heart, soul and a lot of sweat and tears and pure passion for the work you are doing. Both Turbine and FunCom are two companies that people can look to as examples of what to do when things go wrong.