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Vicarious Existence

To blog about what is going on in the MMO genre from a casual MMO player's viewpoint.

Author: UnSub

No Use Getting Angry: Fury Closes Its Doors

Posted by UnSub Tuesday August 19 2008 at 12:33AM
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I know I'm a bit late on this, but I think the passing of Fury (along with the undeath of Hellgate: London and Flagship Studios) hold a lot of valuable lessons and insights into the MMO industry today. Failure can teach people a lot, but the natural reaction is to try to ignore the failure of others as if it were somehow contagious. It isn't, and just because WoW was successful doesn't mean the MMO industry won't see failure after failure until the Rapture (and even then, those left behind will want a MMO to play).

And, in the case of Fury, the failure was quite spectacular.

An image of Fury's hard copy box.

From what is publically available, Fury started development at Australian developer Auran in 2005 and made its first major public appearance at E3 in 2006. It was a MMO title with a difference - a pure PvP arena combat game with no PvE, with huge numbers of powers, a highly customisable character power system and even finishing moves (you might need a codec for that video). Fury had some great ideas on display - no endurance bar (your attacks built up mana that could be then used for more powerful abilities - a similar system is being used in Champions Online), a loot system that saw both winners and losers get copies of loot from their opponents, a very easy respec system - that made it stand out as something different.

The fact it was being developed by Auran, a publisher with a small but solid reputation (Dark Reign, Trainz) also added to the idea that there was a studio out there willing to push the envelope. A lot of PvP orientated players were excited by the potential of Fury as being something different on the horizon.

Fury's alpha started early in 2007 and, from memory (I'll check my emails later) I got an early invite. My PC wasn't up to spec at the time, but the beta forums were quite excited, even if the game had flaws (crashing bugs, it was hard to find opponents - stuff like that). Closed beta happened in July 2007 with a lot of the same bugs and issues still causing trouble. Auran had determined that in order to refine the game as much as possible, they needed a large number of players to beta test Fury despite its instability and short comings. Although this sounds like a sensible idea, the reality is that players get into a closed beta to play, not to act as free quality assurance or to deal with an application that crashes their PC every time they try to remap their keys. Should a player get past the bugs and the waiting time for a match to start, they were then greeted by experienced Fury players / teams, who would then squash their newb face into the dirt. Repeatedly. Often the match was over before you had an idea of what was going on (and yes, I speak from experience :-).

A screenshot of Fury

The large player churn that Fury experienced saw them invite more and more players to the beta test, which became more like an open alpha - players got deterred in playing Fury for a number of factors, declared it sucked and left... and then told their friends about it.

So, Fury was getting quite a bit of negative PR and launch (October 16 2007) was approaching. Gamecock Media Group, who'd come aboard as publisher in February 2007, Auran and Codemasters (the European publisher) arranged the Fury Challenge, a pre-launch event with a prize pool of over US $1 million (and later US $2 million in prizes), to help attract attention to the MMO. This was despite Fury still having a number of issues affecting its playability and the fact it was still technically in beta status.

Suffice to say having a competitive event with real world prizes on a game that is still not completely finished backfired somewhat. A lot of people were interested in the idea of winning prizes, but ran into bugs with downloading Fury, installing it and then actually playing it. Those who played in the event found themselves up against the uber-PvPer who didn't make the play experience particularly enjoyable. Although this article makes the Fury Challenge seem like fun, the key stat for me is that even the top 20 didn't win more than about half the matches they took part in. I think a lot of people were turned off by losing more than they won, especially in a MMO.

All of which, surprise surprise, led to Fury launching very weakly and never really picking up an audience. Reviews of Fury were very harsh and the lifespan of Fury looked short from the beginning. Despite Auran's best efforts - free content updates, the introduction of a PvE play type, free play being offered, players being called "LLLOOOOSSSSEEEERRRRR!"s (who thought that was a good idea?) and so on - but it was too late. Fury "was a financial disaster, it lost Auran a lot of money" (Fury cost US13.2 million, which is a big amount to a small developer) and staff numbers working on the title continually were reduced. The branch of Auran who worked on Fury was forced into voluntary administration and, on August 5 2008, Fury announced the servers would be permanently shut down on August 7.

A screenshot of Fury.

So, who was responsible for this failure? As always, a number of factors go into it. Fury had a good concept that might have been foiled by the real world - do people want to pay a regular subscription fee for a PvP when there are quite a few out there with free online play (especially FPSs)? Perhaps not. The former staff of Auran have been particularly chatty about what went on at the studio, with Adam Carpenter, the lead developer on the title, saw both the difficulty in learning how to play Fury as a new player (correct) and that a certain group at Auran only wanted to work 9am - 5.30pm on the game (incorrect) as key reasons for Fury failing. Former Auran staff blame poor management decisions and a lack of an ability to listen to a wide variety of opinions as reasons for why things went so wrong.

Having been through a lot of articles about Fury and based on my experience with this title, a lot of its problems came down to management decisions. New players had no chance to learn how to play before they were thrown to the wolves, which was a major reason for Fury having very high player churn. The range of power options available were also very confusing for players, especially those who had no idea about the differences between the (say) fire and water power of nearly the same function. How equipment worked and what characters should wear was very hard to work out. These problems are design issues and have to lay clearly at the feet of the developers.

Another management blunder was the handling of alpha / beta. Inviting huge numbers of players to an alpha / beta, only for them to be turned off by bugs, is a great way to get your game some free negative word-of-mouth. Holding a huge contest that attracts a lot of hard core players who also experience bugs / crashes while also destroying the fun of other players new to the game is also a bad move. Bad move after bad move helped sink Fury at launch and it was never able to recover.

Fury is a game that was probably ahead of its time and had a lot of really good ideas behind it. Unfortunately, the execution didn't put those good ideas on the best display and left Fury committing the greatest gaming sin of all: not being particularly fun to play.

Daelus writes:

Fury. Good base game, needed another 2 years.

The skillset was great, the customisation was great, the competitive-ness was great, but the game was simply unfinished. I believe that they completely revamped the game like 2 weeks before it released, between fury challenge and release date. That might go to show why it had a bad launch.

The reason I couldn't stand playing it was there was basically only 3 game modes. Team deathmatch, capture the flag, and deathmatch. And, unlike the accepted modes, they were determined to change them up. CTF was better, TDM was really unbalanced, and deathmatch rewarded people who didn't die rather than people who killed (worst idea ever).

No matter how bad a games PR is, it can still work if the game is there. Tabula Rasa had really bad PR and a bad launch and recently it has seen it's subscriptions slowly rising.

Anyway, good analysis of a game. I liked it.

Tue Aug 19 2008 12:59AM Report
Cursedsei writes:

Yeah. Honestly though, I found that Loser thing funny. Its not really meant to insult you, its more or less a joke. Some people just cant handle jokes though eh? :\

Personally, I was actually following the game for a bit, was a little PO'ed when they put the client on Fileplanet, which required you to pay to download it, not the best way to get beta testers.

It was after release that really killed it for me, I heard alot of bad stuff about it, and decided to give it a few months, but nothing seemed to improve.

Tue Aug 19 2008 1:07AM Report
saturn1234 writes:

really interesting article.  I tried this game and it definitely needed some tutorial content and some kind of ranking to separate players by skill level.  I dont think that would have been too hard to implement either.  The rating system in world of warcraft works perfectly.  Something along those lines so that a complete noob isnt thrown into a fight with no chance of even learning how to get better.

I can remember my first fight after getting online was a 1v1 against someone and he just killed me in like 2-3 seconds. 

In general, the skills were kind of uninteresting and bland, possibly because I only played for a few minutes, but in the beginning a more solid definition in the different specs would have been nice.  I can remember changing to test out a few builds and seeing like mainly a nuke that gives you mana or whatever and then a bigger nuke that spent that mana.  A few random small buffs and thats about it.

But very interesting article to read, thank you.  Developers should definitely start watching what happens to MMO failures.  Not only will it save them millions of dollars, but it will make us alot happier too, we might finally get to be content with a game other than world of warcraft. 

Tue Aug 19 2008 2:39AM Report
Death1942 writes:

i found it sad because it was an Aussie studio (i am Australian) and i am keen on the industry.  this is of course one of the reasons why i dont plan to stay here as most games produced are lackluster at best.  if any other Aussie made MMO's come out i would refrain from buying them unless the company proved themselves (sorry but trainz never did catch my eye)

Tue Aug 19 2008 5:25AM Report
Koddo writes:

Auran did try to fix the problem (wasn't the best) by adding a tutorial. I thought the game was pretty damn good. Honestly the pvp spanked guild wars' pvp. There just wasn't enough game modes to keep me though.

The reason people got paired with more experienced/better skilled players was due to the matchmaking system was designed for massive numbers of players that the game never saw. The original idea was to have multiple servers and have the servers fight each other, rather than players on each server fight the other players on the server. But they didn't have enough players on both alpha/beta servers to get the matchmaker to match up and start games (the reason for it being so hard to get into a game in alpha/beta). And i'm assuming that when the game went live, they modified the system, but performed a rush job rather than recode it for one server and less players. When the matchmaker couldn't fill up a game with like skilled players, after a certain amount of time, it grabbed the next closest to fill it up and start a game. Therefore throwing newbs in with the "uber" players.

Tue Aug 19 2008 8:07AM Report
UnSub writes:

Thanks all for the replies - I remembered some of these issues mentioned in the comments, but thought the article was long enough :-)

I'm also Australian and really, really, really wanted Fury to succeed. But it just didn't have it - the right game play, the right payment model, the right introduction to the game. That Auran is now a shell of its former self is a big hit to the Australian video game industry, with no notable Australian-developed studios left I can think of (Pandemic and Irrational / 2K are of course offshoots of US development houses).

Tue Aug 19 2008 10:18AM Report writes:
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