MMOWTF: Vapor Where?
Dan Fortier returns this week to talk about his different categories of vaporware games.
Editor's Note: This is an edition of a weekly column by Staff Writer Dan Fortier. The column is called "MMOWTF" and will look at some of the stranger or more frustrating events in MMOs as seen by Mr. Fotier. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.
Do me a favor before we get started: Take a long deep breath. I hope most of you took in a nice lung full of semi-fresh air and now have a mild head rush. For those of you who happen to live downtown or are crazy enough to have a litter box next to your desk, you are probably feeling slightly nauseous right about now. Aside from a bit of internet sadism, my point was that vapors can be good or bad depending on where you’re sitting. This week I plan on dissecting the nature of vaporware in all its forms. Blindfold the kids and buckle up!
First off, we need to clear the air a bit before we wade into the meat of the topic. Vaporware is a bit of an overused term for a game that will never release or is woefully incomplete, but it also implies the fact that the developers know that as well. When I say ‘released’ I mean completed to a degree that is completely playable and has all the advertised features and is free of game-breaking bugs. Using that definition there are more than a handful of titles that were ‘released’ (as in ‘took people’s money’) that would fall under this category. Generally, this term is not applied to MMOs developed by large companies and is basically attached to any game that tries to create undue hype without providing any real information or game play videos. As with any other word it has no meaning except what we give it, but in this case I’ll assume that the above definition is close enough to the norm for our purposes.
There are three main classifications, or levels, of Vaporware each with their own particulars that set it apart from the others. Most games that are considered vaporware fall into one of these broad groups and most of them will move up or down the list as time goes on.
Class One Vaporware is the vapor of all that is vapor. These games exist either as screen shots from an engine demo, a unplayable or featureless client or only in the creator’s imagination. Titles at this stage of vapor are usually part of a scam or the work of a few inexperienced guys in their Mom’s basement looking to make a game. That is not to say that these games are incapable of becoming something more, just that no serious work has been done to make it enjoyable for others.
Games like Lost Colony that attempt to cash in on pre-orders for a staggeringly incomplete and generic title definitely fit into this category. When the only news site that advertises for your game is also the one making it, then you know something fishy is going on. This is also a catch-all grey area for all those MMORPG projects made by some kids with Realm Crafter. That illusionary water you see while driving on a hot road is about as substantial as the projects in this class.
Class Two vaporware is a bit of a step up from the previous class in a couple important ways: They have a good bit of financial backing and/or have undergone serious testing above the alpha level by people outside of the dev team and their flock of faithful fanboys. These are not to be confused with other games in development which are being designed by developers in a real studio with real direction. Typically, games at this level are coordinated across the country via file sharing by people who have day jobs. While more stable and better planned and funded, these projects still have a high mortality rate due to the logistics of planning and the time constraints of the developers. Despite the best intentions, the games need serious work to move up or out of vapor status.
Incomplete games that have been released can also fit into this category which is why games like Mourning and Dark and Light fit snugly into this class along with the likes of Darkfall, Atriarch and Mount and Blade. It’s not really fair to throw some promising, if a bit unfinished, games in with inept Devs and pre order scam masters, but who said life is fair? Titles at this level of vapor can be well thought out or simply thrown together, since the only thing that matters is how close they are to being done. Don’t take your wallet out from its hiding place just yet because we have one more class to go.
Class Three vaporware is really just a placeholder for all those nearly finished or long promised titles that will probably never see the light of day before I’m old enough to collect Social Security. Starcraft Ghost, Duke Nukem Forever and Mythic’s Imperator would be games I would fit in here. The companies involved most certainly have the resources needed to finish these games, but for one reason or another they have chosen to drop them in the ‘waiting basket’ on top of the new Guns ‘n Roses album.
Obviously this not a comprehensive document for grading which games will be finished and which will flounder, especially since everyone has their own idea of what makes a game complete. It also doesn’t take scruples or imagination into account either since a unique and groundbreaking game on paper and a project using photo shopped screen shots and an unlicensed engine would rate about the same on my chart. If anything it gives haters more ammo to mock their favorite whipping boy.
Now that you’re cursing yourself for being suckered into reading the whole thing, you can at least make yourself feel better by telling us all what you think. Don’t forget to lift the seat back up when you’re done.