We have discussed MMO launching in previous instalments of TTS, but rarely in the context of anything other than a crash-and-burn scenario. We are all used to the, by now, trademarked beginnings of most virtual worlds: servers too full, lag too horrendous, and memory wipes all too often. For the most part, these early hiccups can destroy a game's credibility for years to come, if not forever, but just recently publishers have managed to reverse the ill effects of a miserable launch.
Of course, the specific piece of software that has prompted this textual soirée is Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. I received this Sqeenix MMO for my 20th birthday, and I'm still wearing the mental scars caused by utter crippling disappointment.
Fast forward almost three years later, and the Japanese mega-publisher is currently shouting very loudly, putting its body in the doorway and blocking sight of the original product like an ashamed bedwetter trying to will away sodden sheets. That didn't happen. La la la. Look over here. Stop pointing at it. Here's some Yen. Tasty, tasty Yen.
Realm Reborn looks like, and hopefully plays like, the product Sqeenix wanted/should have produced in the first place. The graphics look dazzling, the UI less cumbersome, and the whole thing literally stinks of something that might just be playable as outlined by our talented messrs Smith and Lashley.
The contrast seems almost dizzying for a game that I had written off as a zone of exclusion just a few months ago. After playing the last dozen patches that claimed to have fixed the unfixable, I had sworn an oath to my forefathers and half a dozen minor deities that I was done with the Roman numeral XIV - and now? Now I'm scrambling for a beta key and trying to get my Reborn on.
Now, this isn't going to become a pots and pans anthem for the genius of the Final Fantasy development crew, but instead should be taken as an example for a successful relaunch. While I remain wary about RR I do intend to give it another whirl - something that I was almost certain that I wouldn’t. Would it be safe to assume then that we have gotten over the dreaded launch reputation and moved into a more liberal age? Perhaps.
And it isn’t just Sqeenix that has gone the whole hog and attached a new moniker to their product - beating the Japanese developers to the punch are Aventurine and Darkfall: The Unholy Wars. Which, by-the-by, is the best kind of war.
Much like FF, Darkfall had a tough time upon its initial launch, and balancing an open PvP, full loot MMO-cum-sandbox is never going to hit the ground running; the answer? A relaunch to elbow back into the public eye and ensnare those lost veterans and bag a few newcomers in the process like the horseback scene from Planet of the Apes..
Just a few years ago, this tactic would seem ludicrous, but such is the potential earning power of MMORPGs that now we seem to find this phenomenon happening time after time. It could be the sheer weight of software budgets and those pre-watershed moments of 250,000 subscribers, but online games were allowed to emerge and sink in relatively short periods of time.
Adventures such as Ryzom, Horizons, Rubies of Eventide, and Star Wars Galaxies all had moments of success, but ultimately never saw any concerted relaunch to trap in new fans, with some still continuing to this day on limited numbers..
But now we see successful re-launches and attached monikers almost constantly. Usually in the form of F2P conversions, and while the mechanics are rarely drastically changed, the products have come some way since their early days, complete with subscription. And in many ways, lots of MMOs have benefited and flourished from these rebrandings: Age of Conan Unchained, EverQuest 2, Lord of the Rings Online, Dungeons and Dragons Unlimited, and so on.
It seems that with a little effort and a dosage of developer love/financial backing, even the most broken of MMORPGs can be salvaged and provide players with a slither of enjoyment. So is the Realm Reborn tactic something of a future staple of the genre? A tactic we will see time and time again? Scorched Earth policies of apologies, laying off staff in an act of Seppuku, and offering apologies in the form of a, almost, brand new game. Sounds great to me.
But then again, are some games beyond fixing? And for all of their tinkering and fixing, will Final Fantasy XIV remain a broken product, forever blighted by what it was and what it could have been?. Have Square Enix, in an attempt to salvage, just simply laboured on a fundamentally broken and unusable core? Time and audience reaction are the only things that will tell.
What do you think to relaunches? And which games would you like to see opt for a complete rebranding? As ever, leave your thoughts and lamentations in the comments below.
Adam Tingle / Adam Tingle is a columnist and general man-about-town for MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and FPSGuru.com. He enjoys toilet humour, EverQuest-themed nostalgia, and pointing out he's British: bother him at @adamtingle
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