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Darkfall Launch Delayed

Jon Wood Posted:
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Darkfall Launch Delayed

MMORPG.com Manging Editor Jon Wood looks at today's announcement that Darkfall has delayed its launch until February 25th, adding his own commentary to the news.

The developers at Aventurine have announced that they are pushing back the release date of the hotly anticipated MMORPG Darkfall. The new date, according to the announcement, will come on February 25th, 2009.

The reasons for the delay are many and varied and are laid out in the release, but include: partners not being ready (billing, distribution, etc.), A fall behind in beta testing, updates based on tester feedback, and more. The full announcement can be found within this article.

In lieu of a launch, on the 22nd of January, Aventurine will be offering a limited free sample of the game to what they describe as “thousands of players”, with a promise to accommodate as many players as possible. It is interesting that the announcement comes up short of calling the event an Open Beta, although it does say that the company will use the time in order to have players “help us stress test our servers and test the final features of the game”.

Please find below the announcement in its entirety:

We know that the community has been speculating and wondering about the Darkfall release for some time. We haven’t replied until now because there were several complex issues to plan and work out. We also needed to get authorization before we could proceed with this official announcement:

Starting on January 22nd there will be a Darkfall trial with the distribution of the release candidate client allowing thousands of players to sample the game for free, help us stress test our servers and test the final features of the game.

It’s important to understand that there are well over 200 thousand applications by players wanting to get into Darkfall. This number makes it unrealistic to distribute the client and to open up our servers to everyone. We’ll try to accommodate as many players as are possible for us to manage at this stage. Even so, the demand exceeds our current capacity. Interest in Darkfall has surpassed all our expectations to the point that we may need to manage our release differently.

The date of the Darkfall European commercial release has been pushed back to February 25th, 2009. A pre-order will be made available mid-February. The pre-orders will get priority for early access to the game. The pre-orders will also get priority for the game launch if we have to go to a staged release. We’ll go to a staged release only in the case we have more demand than we can handle properly, and until we can upgrade our capacity. The pre-orders are necessary so that we can have some measure of the demand.

The reasons for the new release date follow:

  • At this stage, everything is connected: Hundreds of elements need to come together. When one thing falls behind, everything else tends to follow.
  • Demand for Darkfall at launch could be much higher than expected. If this is the case, we need a different process to better handle the demand.
  • Darkfall’s partners (distribution, billing, account management, support, etc.) entered into the game at a late date and we needed more time than expected to integrate properly.
  • We fell behind on a couple of weeks of beta testing progress and we need to make this time up. We need more playtesting data on several features we haven’t had much chance to test externally.
  • We’ll use this extra time to implement updates based on tester feedback and also make some enhancements we were saving for after release.
  • We want as many players as possible in the game before the launch and we haven’t had the chance to stress test our servers with live players yet.
  • We underestimated the effect the holidays would have on our preparations. While we worked through them, the world around us seemed to stop.
  • We don’t want to rush things more than needed. An extra month may not seem like a lot of time, but it’s enough to allow us to take care of any compounded delays.

Our hope for Darkfall is to have a good game with a tight player base that we can nurture and steadily build up. Hype surrounding Darkfall is huge right now, despite our best efforts. We’re not sure how this will translate on launch day but we have to make allowances for the possibility that demand could be more than we anticipate.

Announcements will follow with more information on Darkfall pricing, pre-ordering information, North American player access, and system specifications.

The Darkfall Team

Before I continue, I think that it is important at this stage to point out that a delayed launch, even after a specific date was set, is not an unusual process for an MMORPG. We’ve seen it many times before with a wide variety of games. The announcement alone does not signify any wrongdoing on Aventurine’s part and should be treated in the same way as other MMO delays.

With that being said, there are a number of issues that come to the forefront when reading this announcement:

The first, and perhaps most important thing to note is the promise of an announcement regarding pre-order information. This stood out to me immediately upon reading it as to my recollection, Darkfall had promised that there would be no pre-orders for their game. This seemed to be done as a response to critics who called the game’s validity into question.

After a little bit of digging, I found the following quote from a Developer Journal on Warcry titled, “On Full Freedom Gameplay and Substance”, originally published on March 28th, 2008:

“Speaking of public beta, I read someone wished we would give a date, and equated that to professionalism on our part. I won't disagree with that, however giving a public beta date in order to get preorders, even if that means you have to announce consecutive delays, while professional, is not part of our business model. We'll announce a public beta date when we know for sure that it's the right date. Until then, at best, we can give you an idea of our milestones. Darkfall preorders by the way aren't applicable. Our hope for Darkfall is that you won't spend a cent on the game until you've tried it and decided you want to play it.”

On the surface, it would appear as though the company has since re-thought its policy on preorders. Whereas this statement has often been used as a defense against the idea that Darkfall is in some way a “scam”, similar to incidents in the past where players are convinced that a new game in development is for them, only to pre-order and find the game is either nonexistent, or not what they were looking for, it should be expected that the sudden mention of preorders might raise alarm bells for some.

Having looked more closely at what was said, it is difficult to deny that something in the company's policies have changed with players who pre-oder getting priority for entrance into the sample and / or launch. that said, the announcement states that preorders are necessary to gauge demand. it is true that many companies use this technique, however, earlier promises made seem to contradict this decision.

Edit (Jan 16th): Having gone back and taken another look at the wording, it appears that I may be confusing free sample with early access. It now looks to me like pre-ordering won't get you into the free sample, but into an as-yet-unannounced early access for the game, giving some players the ability to try out the game before pre-ordering (as they eluded to in the original promise). That being said, only a fraction of interested players will be able to be let into the trial,. so some players will inevitably be left out in teh dark trying to decide whether or not to preorder.

Next, and now I’m more or less just nitpicking, while it isn’t unusual for an announced release date to be altered and pushed back, the timing of this announcement only one week before the initial projected launch date, adds a little bit of fuel to the fire. The reasons given in the announcement seemed to focus on the idea that the development team was caught somehow unaware of a number of factors:

  • Everything is connected: I totally agree, hundreds and hundreds of different departments and elements need to come together to get an MMO off the ground. One small mishap can result in delays or major mistakes that can harm the game’s reputation.
  • Demand was higher than expected: Yes, 200,000 signing up for beta is a huge number, but this isn’t a new piece of information. Even without the numbers, the amount of debate in MMO communities concerning this game made it rather plain that this was one of the most highly anticipated upcoming titles. While impressive, and to some surprising, these numbers shouldn’t have been sudden enough to contribute to a delay.
  • That their partners weren’t ready: This is more or less legitimate. As mentioned above, it does take an amazing amount of coordination to get a proper MMO launch together. Still though, with the original launch date being announced so recently ( December 5th) it is a little bit surprising that these delays weren’t known about either at the time or well before today’s announcement.
  • Falling a couple of weeks behind on beta Testing: Again, this one is something that just happens sometimes. If it were me, I may have announced this fact slightly sooner than today, but there’s absolutely nothing unreasonable about this.
  • Using the extra time to implement updates based on beta tester feedback: Again, this makes perfect sense. If you’re going to have downtime, you should use it wisely and there is no better way to do that than to listen to player feedback.
  • Wanting more players in the game and not having had a chance to stress test with live players yet: Wanting as many people in the game before launch is a great and laudable goal. It’s the second part that throws me for a bit of a loop. Once again, the fact that their game hadn’t been stress tested with live players wasn’t a surprise. That said, it is possible that the company had intended to open up their free sample before now and had to delay because of some of the other issues mentioned on their list. Still, this one probably should have been done a few weeks out from the scheduled launch.
  • Underestimating the holidays: I would be a giant hypocrite if I said anything negative about this, and I think that’s probably true of a lot of us out there. I know that I only just cleared my desk of holiday backlog that I thought I’d have done the day after Christmas.
  • Don’t like to rush things: This fact is pretty self-evident about the Darkfall project as a whole, given the long term of development that it’s had. In terms of MMO launch delays though, one month is a pretty standard number.

While disappointment levels might be running a little bit high for players who were looking forward to Darkfall’s launch, and some who might like to see the game fizzle in flames may point to the delay as “proof” that the game is some kind of “scam”, I think that cooler heads should prevail on the subject. Is the delay a perfect scenario? No. Should we see this and assume that there’s something fishy in the works? Probably not. Should we look at the information presented and perhaps be a little more wary? Maybe. Should it make us ask more questions? Definitely, but that’s almost always a good idea anyway.


Jon Wood