Lots of news this week and much of it is not very good. I’ll talk a bit more about the impending death of Wildstar another time, but since I was following EQN quite a bit more, I have a bit more to say.
For those who haven’t heard yet, quite a few outlets have reported that the next gen MMO Everquest Next has been cancelled. A summary of the announcement is here and Richard Cobbett over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun has an interesting piece on the death of the MMO genre as a result of the news.
First, to address the cause of death. The game wasn’t fun, as the head of Daybreak Studios stated in their announcement. Was anyone surprised by this news? Because what did they think was going to happen to the game, when they fired their vision person, their lead content creator, a bunch of their community managers, and almost everyone else who wasn’t directly related to programming or art assets? The myth that programmers are good game makers lives on quite handily it seems.
Seriously, where does this come from? I’ve done some early prototyping for making games (board games, card, and pen and paper rpg) and it’s difficult and frustrating and has NOTHING to do with programming. The notion that somehow because you can program in C makes you automatically a good game maker is an amazing leap of logic that has no basis in reality. And yet, it’s pretty much accepted wisdom.
But that’s a discussion for another post. Anyone who’s seen this kind of thing before, saw the writing on the wall as soon as those layoffs took effect. Daybreak came in after the sale from SOE, and made a clear decision to kill EQN from the very beginning. Inflammatory? Yes. Syncs up with company statements? Not in the slightest. Syncs up with company actions? Oh, you betcha!
Without the vision guy, there was no voice driving the others towards success. Without the Lead Content creator, a void opened up in terms of what content they should have done versus what they thought they could do. The community managers, though some remained, were spread thin across their product line, and community managers are so important. They are the glue that holds the fans together and without them, or without enough of them it’s very easy to let things slide away into oblivion.
And how energized do you think the remaining staff were after it was all said and done? Many of them tried valiantly, put on their game faces, and worked hard. They needed the jobs after all. But the notion that EQN was going to happen after such an extensive culling, was always a long shot. Even more so when they dissolved their partnership with the AI firm they were working on for their next gen AI. This was the real red flag for me. When the lead developer for EQN stated publically that they were no longer in need of that partnership and were going to continue to develop said AI in house, I knew shenanigans were in play. You just suffered a huge loss of staff and now one of your key systems that was previously so important you had farmed it out to an external partner, you’re going to now take back in house and do yourself? That never passed the smell test.
No. EQN’s cancellation was always intended. Daybreak came in, took a look at how much money was being thrown at development and cut that spigot right off. They’ve been consolidating their assets and optimizing their revenue streams ever since. They are a corporation after all, and that is a corporation’s job.
The future is now once again an open question. Richard Cobbett is still looking for some magic trick, that some new thing that will come along and make everyone interested in them again and there’s some worth to this discussion. Because many modern MMO’s have failed to innovate on the formula in any meaningful way, it can be hard to figure out what direction they should go. Except, I don’t buy this arguement. Arenanet is doing fine with it’s buy the game once, and offer a cash store for extras, perks, and cosmetics. Black Desert Online is getting all the rave press right now for doing things in a very non-conventional MMO kind of way. DCUO and Star Wars which Cobbett mentions are still cranking out updates despite being subscription based MMO’s. So somebody is doing something right. WoW chugs along, and likely will forever, but nobody asks what they do correctly. Perhaps we should.
Cobbett also laments how modern MMO’s aren’t geared for the social constructs we have today, and cites MOBA’s and less team intensive games like Destiny as the direction to go in. I would argue that an MMO that didn’t have strict teaming requirements and could allow you to do teamed content solo and solo content teamed (scale it up or down depending on team size), could in fact solve that problem. No magic required, just some solid design work at the start.
It’s interesting to me how Cobbett cites games that offer smaller more personal experiences as a way to success, and this is something I think where many of our modern MMO’s have failed to pick up on and implement. But offering a personal stake is just one piece. I need to know that if I am online with a friend, we can do stuff together and we can make memories together just the two of us. A third friend shows up late? Come on and join in, we’ll make it work fine! It’s this flexibility and lack of ability to share, that I think most MMO’s suffer from today. They want the massive but won’t build for the middle without a middle, the massive eventually crumbles. Until this problem gets fixed, we’re going to continue to see studios flounder. Though this isn’t why Carbine is floundering. But we will talk about Carbine very soon.