The more things change…

In a sign of the apocalypse, Keen is playing Darkfall again (100% joking, everyone should be playing Darkfall (unless they are playing EVE)), which brings about the old “I’m playing Darkfall until the minute something better comes along” comment we often hear. Darkfall sucks, but it sucks the least amongst fantasy sandbox games (insert Democracy quote here).

Now one could say this is because no one has really bothered to make a quality fantasy sandbox, and so Darkfall is only alive (for three years…) until someone bothers. Sure Mortal Online and Xyson have come out (do we count Fallen Earth here? No, ok), Wurm and ATitD are still out, but shhh. The moment someone bothers DF is dead!

Another popular comment to make here is that fantasy sandbox MMOs are niche and not an area worth pursuing. Yup, only Sci-Fi Excel sandbox MMOs can get 400k subs after 8 years (most successful MMO not called WoW, no big deal), and a fantasy equivalent has no chance. Niche yo. The big money is in themeparks, as clearly demonstrated by… well that one game use to make a lot of money! Ignore that all the other AAA themeparks to come out after are now in the F2P minors selling you the One Ring or wings. They ships (and maybe sold) a million boxes, and only cost about 10 or 1000 times the cost of DF/EVE to make. Success like you read about (in the PR release, telling you that a day after going F2P, F2P-based sales are up 100%. No wai! Still waiting on the follow-up PR release telling me how growth has continued…)

Of course maybe, just maybe, the reason Darkfall is still online, a sub game, with its original servers still up (all two), is because it’s good at what it does, and that what it does is not nearly as easy to get right as people think? Naw, that can’t be it, right? That maybe the fundamental ideas behind the game, ones Aventurine copy/pasted from UO rather than EQ (if you want to do the whole ‘EQ was the original themepark’ thing), work a bit better at this whole “MMO retention” thing the sub model and the genre was built on? Crazy talk.

When I wrote that the genre is finally emerging from the dark ages, part of that is the ability for developers, those talented and those working for EA or SOE, to finally be given the chance to produce something that is not DoA. Post-WotLK WoW is trash, and no matter how talented the dev team, being tasked to copy trash is still going to result in trash. It might have a cool soul system attached, it might have a great fantasy IP, or it might be fully voiced, but at the end of the day you built off of trash, and no amount of good ideas or tweaks is going to change that foundation.

And so now, finally, after 7 or so years of repeating the same mistake and seeing the genre come to a grinding halt in terms of innovation (CCP aside, of course), we are starting to see signs that real MMOs might start getting made again. Be they in the indy space (Pathfinder) or the ‘AAA’ space (GW2), finally the core is not being built on the solo-hero trashheap that everyone was convinced worked so well if you only did X or spent Y.

So hopefully in 2012 or 2013, we do see a game or three that comes out and is that “better than DF” MMO. Maybe then AV won’t have the luxury of not updating the game for A YEAR! Maybe finally as much effort/resources will be put into refining that formula rather than racing to the bottom of the ‘accessible’ failheap, and we end up deciding which MMO to play on merit rather than buying a box and praying the content lasts until the next one ships.

It’s happened before, after all, but not many were paying attention (or had internet) back then.

20 Responses to The more things change…

  1. Mike says:

    I think the best thing that can happen to the MMO industry is for SWTOR to fail and for the industry to finally get we don’t want theme-park trash anymore. It’ll take some time of course, but hopefully once that happens it’ll be clear to EA and everyone else that SWTOR, in the long-term, was a complete failure.

  2. saucelah says:

    God damn this genre takes time to move. I can think of other genres where people are still playing 7 year old games regularly, but I can’t think of any other genre where a 7 year old game is still the most popular and most played. Change is inevitable, and those who declared the sandbox dead and the theme park king were doomed regardless of the niche (or not niche) status of sandboxes. At the very least, the technology will continue to change and open possibilities we really can’t even consider yet, like high res textures with 50 characters on the screen and stuff.

  3. Lone Stranger says:

    It would help if those games copied from UO rather than WOW weren’t also steamy piles of crap. Eve is about the only thing going in the MMO genre and that’s scary.

  4. Hong WeiLoh says:

    “Eve is about the only thing going in the MMO genre and that’s scary.”
    What’s REALLY scary is the bunch of people who’re tired of WoW but in the meanwhile want to turn EVE into “WoW in spaaaaaaccceeee”…. :-/ Blegh.

  5. Azuriel says:

    Am I right to assume you grade “success” on a curve, then? There appears to be 2,609 players on the Darkfall US server. The gender pie chart is the only one that doesn’t add up to 2,609, but whatever. The EU server chart says 1,140. Let’s say that the whole site is off (maybe only counting people in clans) by a factor of… 3. So, 10,000 subscriptions.

    Do you think there are less people playing Warhammer, the pretty universally reviled (these days) waste of an IP game, than are playing Darkfall? Circa 2010, there were still 100k Warhammer subs. Think that dipped below 50k by now? Lower? And hey, it’s been out for 3 years too!

    The big money is in themeparks, as clearly demonstrated by… well that one game use to make a lot of money!

    It’s demonstrated by the ability of even Warhammer to get 800k subs in the first month, for Age of Conan to get 700k, etc. They crashed and burned the very next month, but the demand is clearly there. Whether said demand consists of 800k tourists/locusts or 800k people looking for the right formula is up to debate. And it’s likely worth it to devs to figure that out via trial and error, as most don’t have the 500k minimums that SWTOR requires.

    What’s not particularly up for debate (or at least strains credulity) is that there are 800k or 400k or even 40k people that want what Darkfall is selling. Not updating their game for a year and still having 10k(?) players is not a sign of success. The Warhammer servers could shut down tomorrow and I guarantee you could find 10,000 people that would be devastated by the news.

    • Roq says:

      I don’t think it’s the themeparky aspects of Warhammer Online that attract it’s player base, rather it’s the open world PvP. If they had concentrated on that for launch, as they originally intended to do, rather than rush to add WoW clone features when they got bought out by EA, then it might have been the niche success that the original design was aiming at.

    • SynCaine says:

      Using an example (WAR) where the studio no longer exists is not really going to win you points here. And ‘subs in the first month’ is the same as saying ‘number of people who bought the box’. The MMO sub model is not about selling boxes.

      Spend enough money on advertising, and you could sell ice to Eskimo tourists. But just because 100k units of ice moved, does not mean you made a profit (profitable studios don’t mass fire or shut down, do they?)

      (And DFinfo has long been proved to be horribly, horribly off. It not only limits itself to clans, but also miscounts clans/characters. It’s useful in an Xfire way, for trending, but not for a total headcount)

      • Azuriel says:

        So, again, what kind of curve are you grading on? Is the it the health of a game’s community, the health of its studio, or what?

        We “know” that WAR was profitable as of August 2010, two years after its release. They are merging down to 1 NA server and 1 EU server as of last December. That’s not a good sign, obviously, but there really isn’t an indication WAR is/was not profitable overall. If they made back all the development costs, would not still not be enough for you?

        What are your metrics for success here? Or are non-WoW themeparks that don’t kill WoW automatically failures, whereas any sandbox that breaks even is a success?

        • SynCaine says:

          Wait, we know WAR was profitable in August 2010 why? And we know they made back all the dev costs how?

          What I’m 100% sure of is Mythic was gutted by EA thanks to how WAR performed. Also for the few WAR fans left, how is that games future looking (or how have the past 2 years been?)

        • Azuriel says:

          Because it was widely reported. I put “know” in quotes though, because I understand how often you believe PR tell direct lies to journalists. I expect spin from PR, but not something that could be later verified as patently false.

          As for the game’s future, I imagine WAR’s fans have just as much to look forward to as Darkfall’s. Which was my point about calling one a success, and the other a failure.

        • SynCaine says:

          Wait WAR2.0 is coming out? Sweet.

          And yea, that article is about as much ‘proof’ as me telling you WAR failed. Dig up an earning report showing WAR earning more profit than its total dev cost (not going to happen), and we can call it ‘widely reported’. That link is a fluff piece hyping the endless trial, and those ‘thousands’ joining have not paid a cent.

          Remember the statements made about TR the day before it closed?

        • Azuriel says:

          Wait WAR2.0 is coming out? Sweet.

          Yeah, they’re calling it Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes.

          Kidding aside, it’s amusing how you’re using the idea of a Darkfall sequel as some kind of positive. Shouldn’t MMOs have expansions instead of reboots? Especially ones as “successful” as Darkfall?

          But enough deflection: are you going to answer the original question, or not? I’d settle for a “non-WoW themeparks that don’t kill WoW are automatically failures, whereas any sandbox that breaks even is a success.”

        • SynCaine says:

          You have to look at each game and determine success/failure. Before LotRO was released, the ads stated “join the millions”. LotRO failed by their own expectations, and is a laughable F2P game now (selling UI features, really?). Mythic fully believed WAR was a WoW-killer, or at least a title in its class. Along with that failure, they also all got the boot and the company exists in name only now. Rift cost 60m to create, so that game sitting at 300k is not in the same ballpark as EVE sitting at 400k, is it? If we find out SW:TOR is also sitting at 400k subs next quarter, that’s not going to be ‘good enough’, is it?

          The metric is different depending on the size of the original investment, and its expectations. No one expected DF to hit 500k or 1m subs. Most thought it would crash and burn like SB or other indy titles. 3 years later it’s still going, and is set for a major revamp/relaunch/whatever 2.0 ends up being.

          Or to put it another way, seven years ago, would you have rather invested in WAR, or DF? And today, which investment looks better?

  6. Lone Stranger says:

    I don’t think it is right to use Darkfall as a sandbox standard. There is nothing sandbox about the game.

    You could easily find the 800k people that want a real sandbox to work. One that could happily support both carebears and pvpers alike. Developers took the easy way out though by choosing the bigger player base and excluding the rest. Hopefully, even though I find it doubtful at least not in any near future, Syncaine’s prophecy is true and the theme park cycle runs its course. When it does it just may open the doors to actual creative solutions for the genre.

  7. Bernard says:

    I read somewhere that Darkfall is getting its own Tortage.

    Apparently a certain proportion of the market like to have content that is newbie friendly and has a scripted story.

    Someone should tell Aventurine that this is the kiss of death and will end up leading their game to become a failure like WoW, LOTRO, CoX, DDO, EQ2…

    • Professer says:

      Dunno where you heard that. And while darkfall may lack some ‘sand in the box’ it’s certainly not devoid of sandbox aspects.

    • Coeur-de-fer says:

      I think it’s supposed to more akin to Eve’s empire space (higher security, less lucrative resources, no player sovereignty, etc). Granted, I may have missed the paradigm shift, having not kept up with their DF2 updates for a couple months; given the glacial rate of AV’s blog updates – nevermind content patching – it’s one of those things one can read up on once or twice a year, and not miss much (if anything).

      • SynCaine says:

        When you first start a character you will be in a solo starting area for a short time, to learn the basics of the game before going into the ‘real world’. I’d expect this to be 30min or so.

        I do love how people take such info and absolutely run with it though, always funny (not you personally Coeur).

        • Coeur-de-fer says:

          Ah, I see. I remember the update (and predictable howls of indignation) from this past fall that mentioned the increased tower coverage in the areas immediately surrounding the lawful NPC cities. A brief tutorial would be a positive addition, as I spent most of my 1-hour “newbie shield” figuring out the UI (the 24 hour shield had gone the way of the dodo by the time I picked the game up).

        • SynCaine says:

          Ah tower coverage is a different topic. Those don’t stop PvP, they just make it harder (sorta like Concord in EVE). I think AV wants to extend that a bit, but nothing really clear was ever said. They also mentioned redoing the starter towns, so those areas are more ‘clear’. Hard to tell what the result of that will be until beta.

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