Yesterday, SOE announced the closure of several studios as well as cancelling The Agency. Many times you hear about games and see all this excitement growing. The first time I saw The Agency was back in 2007 at an SOE event in NY. The team showed off several games with Free Realms, Gods & Heroes, and The Agency as the highlight. At the end there was a brief screen of DC Universe. Talk about going back in time, the games all looked great and were presented very well. The Agency had everyone talking.
The idea behind a spy MMO was not too surprising. It was the one genre that really haddn’t been done. When the game was presented they had some amazing ideas. The fact that you would have a team of operatives working while you were off line who would then text you when your super spy car was completed. Having casinos in the game in the true James Bond style where players could play poker or other games. All of these ideas sounded great and back in 2007 they were revolutionary. The game had a solid demo with a fight in an alleyway against some crazy gang members who looked more steampunk than spy. Still, it all worked very well.
As things moved ahead we didn’t hear about The Agency again. The game had this great showing with all kinds of articles on it and then, whoosh, it disappeared. I remember talking about it at GDC a few months later and things had not changed much. The team was still working hard, the planning was there and bit more information was released. Despite getting less information, our hopes were still high for the game as it definitely offered something different to the market.
After that GDC we didn’t hear much about The Agency for a long time. E3 that year was a bust and not much was shown. There had been some talk, but it faded away. After a while we started to see key team members leave the game to go work on their own projects. These types of scenarios are never good for video games. When you see someone move on it usually has a negative connotation behind it. Not always, sometimes people get amazing opportunities and just move ahead. Still, The Agency only had news about people leaving, they were not showing anything and it just seemed to be slipping away.
At E3 2010 we saw a demo of the game again. This time there was a producer trying to explain everything and an actual playable scenario for the spies to go through. Unfortunately, the game was much more stealth and less action. Walking through a high end party making sure you were not seen by cameras, attempting to meet other spies and work out a mission. It looked okay, but nothing jumped out. It almost seemed too real for players and had less of a wild James Bond feel to it. This demo was a let down and made us start to question what had been done with the game over the last two years.
Much more recently The Agency Facebook app was launched and SOE started to move on some of the ideas we had seen in the past. However, the app did not offer much and the hype on the game really had seen its highlight back when we first saw it. Now it was almost too little to late to bring the game back into the light it was presented in back in 2007. In the end, it seems like the game was cancelled and perhaps rightfully so.
I think there is a great lesson to take away from The Agency for all MMO players and developers alike. The initial demo was amazing and the promises of the game were great. The idea of being a spy online where you would get cell phone texts from your other agents was very interesting, especially before the mobile market really exploded. The genre was a good choice as spies were big at the time with James Bond coming back into play and the first new movie in a long time which really captured spy fans. Overall in the beginning it looked great. What went wrong was the follow through. I am certainly not blaming anyone, nor will I mention any developer names or folks involved. However, I will say that announcing and showing a game to hardcore game press too early will get us talking, but we are also quick to see through the hype and discover what is really going on with the game. Here, The Agency did have a wave of hype behind it, and it quickly washed away.
It makes me fear for other MMOs out there that I have heard of which are only showing an amazing trailer or demo. There are many times we meet with developers and all we want to do is play the demo and see the game. We do not care about the wild trailers and constructed presentations. Can we play it, yes or no? How does it play? Basically those should be our measures for whether or not a game will even get off the ground. It makes you question what they did for two years on the project. I know games and especially MMOs take a long time to make, but companies need to really think about what they show and how soon they show it.
In the end The Agency joins a long list of MMOs which have gone away. More than anything we feel bad for the developers on the project who worked hard, the engineers who spent time writing code and believing in the project. Those people who are impacted by lay offs and closures really deserve better in this business. As players and fans, all we can do is move on and hope that when teams break up or are let go, they can somehow reform and work on a dream project of their own, which will match what we hope to see in the MMOs of the future.