These days, given how jaded some people are with MMORPGs, there’s a lot of talk of both doing something different and bringing certain things back to the genre in a specific game project. With crowdfunding, it’s important that a game appeal to the potential audience, but also that the developers are able to deliver the most complete project in a reasonable fashion. Yet, with a game like Crowfall, riding a successful Kickstarter campaign as of this writing of over $1.3 million with days to go, one of my biggest pet peeves in the genre has popped up again, and is a huge disappointment: gender locked classes.
The Crowfall community isn’t that keen on the idea either, which has gotten much negative feedback over time, and had the devs fielding questions and comments about the decisions ever since these plans were made clear. It has been officially clarified that the decision to gender lock the non humanoid, creature classes (and potentially some of the humanoid ones) was done with consideration for both budget and for estimated popularity of the archetype. ArtCraft has left the door open for additions to the archetypes, but these will take a lot of demonstrated time, interest, and money. Indeed, female centaurs were unlocked as a stretch goal for the 1.3 million mark. The overall idea, however, is outmoded, inconvenient, and simply lazy.
I am taking a wait and see approach with Crowfall. On the one hand, it looks like it could be quite fun, and the different rulesets, colorful archetypes, and community involvement seem to be fun. On the other, it looks maybe a bit too much on the dog eat dog side of things, and the gender locked archetypes are a huge turnoff. If a dev team is planning to make a game, the team should plan a budget around making a whole game, not a game that delivers choice in characters to only a few classes.
Originally, gender locking classes was a transparent way to both save money and also abide by certain stereotypes. Companies saved money and delivered what were often cheap experiences. ArtCraft looks to deliver a full experience, but without full choice in the archetypes, the game will fall short of even games that are many years older. It’s different if you’re creating say, a MOBA, where each character is yours for just the span of one game and there’s little outside progression. In League of Legends, I still use mostly female champions, but I have a lot of guys on my roster too. There’s more variety there. However, the fact that Teemo is male doesn’t mean that in an MMORPG, where you’re going to progress a character and go through a story and perhaps even vie for more, the lack of female Guineceans is excusable.
In a MOBA, you choose a character for a little while, into the lobby and out again. Sure, you might find characters you are good with and decide to make your main choice, but it’s different than spending hours and hours in an MMORPG. A tweet from the Crowfall account made sure to inform that not all archetypes are gender locked, but that just isn’t good enough in 2015. While I do believe that ArtCraft is receptive to the community, this is just a poor decision that few seem to like, and for good reason. Even when this is a business decision, and comes to allocation of resources, as this seems to, it exposes a flaw in the business plan to begin with, in my opinion. It’s a tired solution that yes, can be backed up by lore, but from a community perspective, just looks like corner cutting. Maybe the Fae and Stoneborn are just represented as female and male, respectively, for perfectly artistic reasons - it’s possible--and I’m not discounting that.
I do appreciate the honesty the ArtCraft team has had with regards to the issue. It’s clear that the team is aware that many in the community are unhappy with these decisions. It’s also clear that this is a small team on a more independent budget and that will impact what the game ships with, but that there’s room for more additions later, depending on interest and support. The combination of awareness and openness to create additional art is encouraging. Those people who wish to exclaim that smaller, independent MMORPGs are going to ‘save’ the genre, might also need to make sure their expectations are realistic. I’m still looking toward Crowfall with hope for what it can bring to the genre, but mine are sure tempered.