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Som Pourfarzaneh : Envisioning a Vanguard Reboot

By Som Pourfarzaneh on February 06, 2015 | Columns | Comments

Envisioning a Vanguard Reboot

Earlier this week, we posted our musings about Sony Online Entertainment’s acquisition by Columbus Nova and transition to Daybreak Game Company.  It’s big news for fans of SOE...err...DGC’s games, particularly when considering the potential for seeing their titles released on platforms other than PC and PS3/PS4.  DGC’s new identity - now independent at least from Sony, if not truly “indie” - has also gotten a lot of us thinking about the potential for a shift in their priorities, including (purely speculative) support for franchises previously canned by the developer’s parent company.

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Chief among this speculation is the notion that DGC might at some point revisit everyone’s favorite fantasy MMORPG cult classic, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes.  It sounds ludicrous, and probably is, to think that the erstwhile Sony-housed developer would even have a vision boarding, word clouding, no-ideas-are-stupid meeting to consider rebooting a high-upkeep title with such low profit margins.  Vanguard may have been ahead of its time in concept but behind the curve in execution, and DGC have bigger fish to fry with the Likes of Landmark and EverQuest Next.  Plus, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, in development by Vanguard co-creator Brad McQuaid and Visionary Realms, hasn’t exactly taken the hype train by storm or indicated that there’s widespread interest in a spiritual successor to Vanguard.

Still, it’s not completely unfathomable to say that Daybreak might at some point consider turning the Vanguard servers back on, or, dare I say it, take the community pulse for interest in a Vanguard 2.  From the outside, we really don’t have any idea what kind of profitability criteria were expected of the development team by Sony, or what kinds of resources the game demanded of their time and staff.  It’s entirely possible that with a new parent company, and potentially newfound autonomy, DGC’s priorities may shift enough to allow room for Vanguard on their digital shelves once again, with enough staff to make semi-regular updates, or at the very least, maintenance mode it for a slow but steady revenue stream. 

It’s also feasible to envision Daybreak, with some cajoling and petition-signing by fans, handing the development keys over to the community.  They haven’t done any such thing with previously shutdown games - most notably, Star Wars Galaxies, although that may have had to do more with licensing than other concerns.  It would be amazing to see Vanguard development in the hands of dedicated community members, who have always seemingly loved the game more than anyone else, despite its pitfalls.  The game has consistently had a very loyal core following, and could do just fine with the help of an independent group of dedicated people with the right skillsets.

Regardless of how DGC, another company, or a group from the community could decide to revisit Vanguard, there are several aspects of the game that would need to be reviewed before putting it back on a market that is already saturated with fantasy MMORPGs.  For starters, check out my analysis of Vanguard, followed by three things developers can learn from the game.  Both of these articles look at the positive features of Vanguard, including its open world, three spheres of character progression, race and class variety.  They also critique several areas in which the game and development process were lacking, including leadership, polish, PvP, character models, and a workable monetization model.  Any return to Vanguard would necessitate revisions in these areas to break free of the same problems that plagued the MMORPG since its launch under Sigil Games Online and SOE.

If DGC makes the decision to reboot Vanguard in its original or some other form - and I realize that’s a big if - they’ll absolutely have to address each of these issues in turn.  First and foremost, the game needs a centralized form of leadership that will dictate its direction and provide a consistent level of communication and transparency with the community.  Second, that leadership needs to determine a certain scope for the game that allows it to move forward as a living, breathing world but with a level of polish that is sustainable by its development team.  Third, PvP will have to be addressed - scrap it and embrace Vanguard’s PvE nature, or give us a real PvP system that we can sink our teeth into.  Fourth, put some time into smoothing out those archaic character models and awkward combat animations.  And fifth, if a rebooted Vanguard is under the jurisdiction of Daybreak and not a community venture, the company will need to settle on a comprehensive monetization model that makes the game accessible to casual players while also incentivizing enough in-game purchases to produce a viable revenue stream.

It’s anyone’s guess whether or not SOE’s shift to Daybreak Games Company will denote a change in their design mentality or development priorities.  Their independence from Sony does seem to afford them a whole new world of possibilities and new platform opportunities, but there’s no telling if they’ll have a different agenda with their newfound freedom or if their new owners will dictate that for them.  All I can say is that a little attention towards a certain fantasy MMORPG that captured the hearts of thousands of players, with a little foresight and consistency, could turn into something pretty spectacular.

Or just make the sphere of Diplomacy a standalone mobile game.  That would also be spectacular.

What do you think of the news that SOE is now DGC?  And do you think they’ll take a second look at Vanguard?

Som Pourfarzaneh / Som is a Staff Writer at MMORPG.com and a Lecturer in Media, Anthropology, and Religious Studies. He’s a former Community Manager for Neverwinter, the free-to-play Dungeons & Dragons MMORPG from Cryptic Studios and Perfect World Entertainment, and is unreasonably good at Maze Craze for the Atari 2600. You can exchange puns and chat (European) football with him on Twitter @sominator.