It’s funny how we (myself firmly included in this) react when an MMO fails. We always ask why, and break down what went wrong based on that specific title, focusing on key bullet points (haha, good one self). APB is the latest MMO in trouble, and Tobold believes it failed because of ganking, specifically the ability for veteran players with more powerful character to fight new, weaker players, effectively driving them away from the game. Other bloggers have other theories as well, uncontrolled cheating being a common theme.
Now I’m not interested in discussing exactly why APB did fail, I never played it and honestly never looked twice at it. What I do want to talk about is how we, MMO bloggers, deal with the aftermath of a failed game.
Is APB the only MMO to have a ganking or cheating problem? Nope. Ultima Online was ganker paradise, and UOextreme did some really… interesting stuff when you ran it. What about bugs or server issues, topics generally associated with a failed MMO? Well I seem to recall WoW launched with a rather crippling item database ‘bug’ that made it near impossible to complete quests for weeks, and certain servers experienced horrid lag and downtime for months. If WoW had failed, we would have seen countless blog posts about how stupid Blizzard was to launch a game with a centralized item database (it was a dumb move), and what a joke of a company they are for not being able to keep a server up months after launch. We called out WAR for having poor RvR in a game based around set-piece conflict, but does anyone remember the great PvP system Blizzard had at launch for Warcraft, a franchise entirely based on conflict between two sides? (Hint: they had nothing, for months/years)
Point being, it’s easy to look at a failed game and try to attribute it’s failures on common themes (PvP, lack of content, lack of character customization, bugs, server issues, etc), and then make the leap that if only games avoided those themes, they would be more successful. It’s the leap part that I disagree with, because if MMO history has shown us anything, it’s that no theme or issue is a make or break concern for an MMO. The smoothest launch can still lead to a disaster 6 months in, while a horrible launch can turn into a game still growing years later.
Like MMOs themselves, a game failing or succeeding is a complex combination of factors, and no one single point is the ‘ah ha’ part of the failure. So while it is interesting to break a game down and examine its pieces, the ultimate conclusion should still always be that any game can fail or succeed based on a large number of factors, rather than a select few. Because another lesson MMO history teaches us is that strange ‘niche’ markets are not always niche (EVE Online), while ‘obvious’ mass market titles don’t always hit their mark (Sims Online).
Chuck-o-the-day: Chuck Norris’s face has only two expressions, one of which has never been seen.