If you need a refresher on the disastrous launch and history of Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, you need only look as far as your favorite forum. However, among the anguish and bitterness of Vanguard’s befouled history are the small (but growing, perhaps?) glimmers of hope for the game that many gamers "wish would have succeeded."
In my last article I discussed briefly how the technical state of Vanguard today is nowhere near the instability of launch. While it is sounder today from a coding and content standpoint, it is in a potentially perilous position when it comes to the future of the game. 2010 may very well be the make-or-break year for Vanguard, as we have seen the adoptive parent company, SOE, seem to have virtually abandoned the game as far as marketing, development, and support are concerned. Some have said that Vanguard is “circling the drain”, and though the sentiment doesn’t do justice to the positive aspects of the game, they aren’t completely wrong to think so.
Vanguard suffers from two major problems, which unfortunately feed into each other: Low player population, and low developer support. The game has been mismanaged and it lacks a solid playerbase, which leads to restricted resources for support and development, resulting in even fewer people playing it, and so on. Vanguard seems doomed to an undetermined lifespan of cyclical decay. This cycle could go on for a few months or even a few years, but we can imagine that unless something changes, Vanguard will eventually just die.
While many of us resent SOE for sacrificing Vanguard to nourish its parasitic EQ-spawn, we can’t really blame them for dropping a game that was showing dwindling subscriptions. (We CAN, however, blame them for destroying a successful-at-the-time title like SWG, but that’s another article altogether). SOE is a business and must operate within the constraints of such. It is, therefore, unlikely that SOE will spontaneously push Vanguard up and out of its downward spiral. Likewise, it is unrealistic of us, the players, to expect them to do so.
So what about the other half of the equation?
Is there something(s) that we, the “fans” (including current and former players) of Vanguard, could do to alter the course of the game’s fate? In this age of social networking and grass-roots movements, I am curious to see if players can take charge of a game, rather than the company who controls it.
In this article I’ll describe a few ideas in brief, but if the 150+ forum responses to my last article (and the several discussions in the forums since then) are any indication, you all have ideas which will dwarf my own.
Let’s start with player-exclusive options—courses of action that the players can take, completely independent of SOE involvement, sanction, or capital.
Viral Video (marketing) contest: A player or player-run organization (guild) holds an independent viral marketing campaign to show off the game and attract new players. Submissions could be compiled on a forum thread (maybe even on MMORPG.com’s forums), and a certain time period in to be voted on by viewers. The video with the most votes wins, and the creator of that video gets a prize or something. (Hell, I’m no money-bags myself, but I’m willing to throw in 2 months of Vanguard subscription/game card or something to the winner). All submissions can be featured on various gaming-related forums and sites.
Social networking group: Create a group on your favorite social network site and get your friends interested in the game. Vanguard is a game that encourages grouping, so bring friends! Even something in the vein of “We can find X number of people who want Vanguard to succeed!” would be better than nothing (and hey, it’s free!).
Guild/Player-organized server social events: This may have happened in the past, but why wait for the devs to put out a fair or something when you’ve got all of Telon at your disposal? Organize a fair just for the hell of it that gets the population of Vanguard socializing and reinforces that community. Have a sailing race around Kojan, or a free-fall contest, or a costume contest, or see who can train the most mobs the furthest distance. You guys are creative, come on! Vanguard isn’t just a game, it’s a virtual world, and the citizens of that world should get together and have fun for fun’s sake.
Mass Petitions to SOE: Old-school and less-effective than Mass Subscriptions would be, but hey it can’t hurt to let SOE know that Vanguard has her supporters, even if there are few behind SOE’s doors.
Now, if we were to get a little cooperation from SOE, we could try some things like the following (just in case anyone from SOE is reading this):
Pricing model change: $14.99/month is the MMO standard for successful games…or is it? DDO switched to a variant of F2P recently and has been better off for it. LotRO regularly offers its subscribers a chance to buy 3 months at a time for $9.99/month. EVE has a system where players can buy game time off of other players in exchange for in-game currency. People may want to play Vanguard, but might not want to pay $14.99/month. Come on SOE, take some risks on this game, it’s not like you have a lot to lose on it anyway.
Enhanced social mechanisms: Some MMOs really nail the social aspect of online gaming. On the simple end of the spectrum, there’s WoW’s dancing (and the thousands of related viral videos). A bit more involved is LotRO’s player-music system which ranges from small-group entertainment to community-wide concerts. Could other social “fluff” elements (in the vein of Slappy, perhaps) be introduced by SOE, and would they improve the Vanguard experience—and more importantly, increase membership?
Player-Generated Content: SOE can’t seem to dedicate creative staff to this game. So why not pull a lesson from the Wil Wright school of thought: rather than having the developers generate content, why not "outsource" it to the players? Granted there’s the initial cost of developing and releasing a user-friendly dev-kit of sorts, but after that it would simply be a matter of Vanguard players putting together some dungeons or raids and submitting for player review. Players test the content on an isolated test server and then rate different aspects of the experience. The submission with the highest rating is incorporated into the world of Telon on some new island, cave, mountain peak, or underwater spot somewhere. Of course I'm talking something like 2 to 4 additions a year here, certainly not monthly. Some MMOs have tried this with varying degrees of success, like City of Heroes/Villains. Other games thrive on these types of user-generated content systems, like Sony's Little Big Planet (PS3). Could such a system work in Vanguard?
Those are just a few rough ideas. I hope the forum discussion will bring out more great ideas, and be a vehicle for organization and execution. (By the way, total props to the folks who organized the MMORPG.com guild on Seradon!).
I should note that I operate independently of MMORPG.com as a guest contributor, so please understand that I’m not offering their resources in any of this. I am, however, willing to help organize anything that the Vanguard/MMORPG.com community wants to move forward in these regards.