Asheron’s Call 2: I Didn’t Want To Talk To You Anyway
Asheron’s Call 2 launched after many other games, and had to really work hard to find a new and different way to spectacularly fail. Luckily, their engineers were bright and creative and figured out a brand new method of failure: shutting down the ability to talk to other players for two whole months. Surprisingly, talking to other players in MMOs is kind of a big deal, and Asheron’s Call 2 never really recovered (and eventually shut down).
Everquest II: Think Different-er
Everquest II’s failure is somewhat more subtle, yet insidious - it was in being a sequel of a game, yet feeling as though that it had to somehow be different from the still-very-much-alive-and-well-thank-you original (a problem that Asheron’s Call 2 also had, but which was dwarfed by the whole can’t-talk-to-anyone thing.) Thus, Everquest II had a somewhat confusing class system where one started as a base class and then unlocked an advanced class and then a specialty class at which point oh look, World of Warcraft just launched and we’re all doomed. A year later, the class system was totally revamped into something very much like... Everquest I, which no one minded in the slightest.
Auto Assault: Dude, You Messed Up Cars With Guns
CARS! With GUNS! This is a concept anyone stuck in traffic behind a SUV is VERY familiar with. What people aren’t familiar with? Explaining how you wedged a D&D-style class system in your cars-with-guns game. Seriously, if you have a game where your car casts shaman buffs, YOU HAVE ISSUES. It didn’t take long for Auto Assault’s plug to be pulled. Apparently not many other people really got into playing a buffer class for their post-apocalyptic wasteland of automotive devastation either.
Hellgate: London: We Swear, We’re An MMO, Really, Look, Honest, Just Give Us Money Already
Hellgate: London was in development for just long enough for the developers to think “Hey, you know, if we charge a monthly subscription fee, I bet we’ll be FILTHY STINKIN’ RICH!” Unfortunately, they forgot the whole “making it an MMO so people would pay a monthly fee” bit, which in retrospect was kind of important! Most of Hellgate’s management team moved over to Cryptic Studios, where the endless nickle and diming of Hellgate’s revenue stream were mated to Cryptic’s games, which to be fair are at least actually MMOs now.
Tabula Rasa: In Retrospect, Blank Slates Not The Greatest Of Plans
Sometimes failures aren’t painfully obvious. Take Tabula Rasa, which endured several redesigns and refocuses before finally launching as... a massively multiplayer shooter, except for the parts that were an RPG, and from the storytelling mind of Richard Garriott, except there wasn’t really that much story. Combine all that with a disappointing beta and a launch with almost no marketing whatsoever, and you have... “meh”. Many of the games that launched in the wake of World of Warcraft had a fairly high “meh” factor, but Tabula Rasa pegged the “meh” factor at 11. Given another year of development, the cool fun parts such as mech combat and planetary PvP struggles would have been more fleshed out - but Tabula Rasa had already burned through millions of dollars and hundreds of developers. It launched, it failed, it was cancelled, and save for a few diehards at the end who saw the game’s eventual promise, the reaction was mostly “meh.”
Star Wars Galaxies: No, Really, Let’s Launch Again, It’ll Be Great
And then we have the greatest MMO failure of all time.
No, there’s no contest. 50 years from now, students in game design colleges will study Star Wars Galaxies’ “New Game Experience” relaunch, with the instructors shouting “DO NOT EVER DO THIS, EVER EVER EVER”.
From SOE’s perspective, the problem was fairly simple. You have Star Wars, which is a fairly compelling and popular license about blasters and Jedi knights and space war, and then you have Star Wars Galaxies, which was an incredibly intricate economic/crafting/social simulator. At some point, the two needed to merge, and it’s pretty clear that George Lucas wasn’t going to re-write Star Wars to be all about Toshley Station’s moisture vaporators. So... let’s make Star Wars Galaxies more compelling! No, I know, let’s make it a twitch-based shooter! And redo the character system from a free-form skill-based system to experience points, levels and classes! Let’s make it a whole new game! Only... let’s do it with the game we already have. C’mon, it’ll be great!
Except they forgot one thing. The players. Who were already playing a game. That they kind of liked. And were paying for. And with no warning, they logged in one day, literally two weeks after an expansion was shipped (and promptly made completely superfluous), and were literally playing a completely different game.
They were kind of angry about this.
No, really. They were really, really angry about this. And quotes like the one in the previous link from the Lucasarts representative who explained that the older version of SWG involved “too much reading” failed to mollify user complaints for some reason.
The results were predictable in retrospect: thousands of players quit, and the expected hundreds of thousands of new players failed to materialize, primarily because for months every gaming forum on the Internet was full of angry spittle-flecked hatred for everything SOE and Lucasarts stood for.
Did I mention that SWG players were kind of angry about this? Takeaway lesson: never - NEVER - switch out the core of what makes your game what it is while you have paying customers. If you do, they will never forgive you.
Next Week: Conclusions, And How To Fix All Of This Mess