Breaking down failure is fail

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.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in EVE Online, MMO design, Random, Ultima Online, Vanguard, Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Breaking down failure is fail

  1. sid67 says:

    This mirrors my thoughts a few weeks ago about how people point to WAR and it’s failure to support completely unrelated theories about why other MMOs will certainly fail if they attempt something similar.

    Silly comments to the effect of “it failed because it was a WoW clone” or “because it had PvP” and such. And as I wrote a few weeks ago, that’s not why it failed and it’s unfair to use it as some scapegoat.

    It’s also universally true that players are less forgiving of mistakes today than they were when WoW or UO launched.

    Players suffered through gankers in UO because, well, it was the only real option for an MMO in town.

    Players suffered through bugginess at WoW launch because, well, launch bugs for other games had been far worse.

    But today, well, every new MMO is compared to the more successful older brothers. Most notably, WoW, but also EVE, Guild Wars, EQ2, and so forth.

    Is that fair? Not really. But who said business or life needed to be fair?

  2. Scott says:

    I try not to even bother replying to tobold’s drivel, but his last previous article on APB for “ganking” was just ludicrous.

    The game is a FPS, the whole point of the game is shooting other players as every aspect of the game eventually leads you into conflict vs. an enforcer or criminal.

    He’s so biased against PvP and any gameplay that doesn’t fit his ideal PvE MMO, resulting in the type of ignorant posts that only serve his ego and the people that just want to hear what they already agree with. There’s no room for intelligent debate or thought out arguments.

    If you read his last post on APB he’s also wrongly without attributation quoting 100mil development costs for “APB”, again not true and being manipulated to support his post.

    • Sean Boocock says:

      I wouldn’t dismiss the general idea of evaluating the failure of Realtime Worlds or APB as a game, but I do agree that the naive views of some bloggers/commentators that you’ve highlighted are misguided.

      Games are systematic wholes; they are greater than the some of their parts and constituent systems. It’s easy for me as an outsider to criticize Darfall’s inventory management/looting system as frustrating and unintuitive. Yet, you’ve argued somewhat convincingly that the design decision to have the player fight the interface (something I’ve seen argued elsewhere is one of the sources for Starcraft’s high skill ceiling) introduces a crucial risk/reward component to even basic PvE encounters. To examine any one element of a game in a vacuum is to reduce the game to a form the player never experiences or engages with. It’s a conceptual exercise for armchair developers, and worth about as much.

      Also you point out, a game’s success is often as much a product of the circumstances of its release as it is the quality of the experience it provides to its audience. The industry is littered with examples of great games that met with poor receptions.

  3. Bhagpuss says:

    Mrs Bhagpuss and I were chatting yesterday about why we only found WoW fun for about three months, whereas we are still playing EQ2 after 6 years and frequently enjoying it as much as ever. One very instructive thing has been having two people in our new EQ2X guild who’ve come directly from WoW.

    It’s fascinating to hear them ask questions about game systems which we take completely for granted, and to hear their frustration with what they see as poor game design. Just to giive one example, in EQ2 many classes get various abilities that debuff the stats of opponents. For example, an attack may reduce an enemy’s Wisdom by 20 points. One of the visitors from WoW commented “I just want to kill him, not make him dumber”.

    But, in EQ2 the resistances to various types of damage (noxious, arcane etc) are based partially on your wisdom stat. So debuffing wisdom leads to fewer attacks being resisted and more damage going through. Having an attack which debuffs wisdom DOES increase your DPS.

    Now all this is second nature to me, having played many MMOs, but to my ex-WoW guildmate it seemed ludicrous. When I mentioned that in EQ2 there are classes whose main job is to debuff the enemy, he said “If I found my character had that role I’d delete him”.

    My point (yes, I do have one…) is that, as Mrs Bhagpuss and I agreed when we talked it over, in many cases it’s the complexities of a game system that keep you playing longer. The simpler the system is to learn, the sooner you’ve learned it. And once you’ve learned it you do have a sense that you’re done with it.

    To counter this, you have to have something that is compelling to DO with what you’ve learned. That’s where either a PvP endgame with rankings/territory gains comes in. Or, in a PvE game, an endless treadmill of achievements and gear upgrades.

    If you make a game that’s both easy to learn and has an unsatisfying endgame, you’ll lose customers fast. If you have systems that are complex and ambiguous (but still fully functional) you have a better chance of keeping people around for longer while they figure your game out. By which time, with luck, you’ve added in some more stuff they don’t really understand and it all starts over.

  4. pitrelli says:

    APB failed because it just wasnt a good game. The controls were crap and the game play repetitive and boring. It had potential but the game in its current state has not even scratched the surface in my opinion

  5. Stabs says:

    “Is APB the only MMO to have a ganking or cheating problem? Nope. Ultima Online was ganker paradise, and UOextreme did some really…”

    You can’t compare then and now.

    MMOs are judged by the standards set by their competition. That’s why WoW is so disliked in certain circles – it sets standards that are very hard to match. People who would prefer a Darkfall type world play WoW instead because it’s so polished.

    APB would have done well in 1999. But now? If you want to shoot people First Person Shooters are amazing these days. It’s still Doom’s basic gameplay but it’s like being in a film, a virtual reality.

    MMOs in general are very low on cheating. Speedhacks and stuff – it’s almost become an urban legend more than a reality in most MMOs because position is tracked server-side.

    If UO were releasing for the first time this Autumn it would bomb just as badly as APB did.

  6. bonedead says:

    interested* (in discussing)
    out* (WAR)

    Wasn’t APB the game that was hyped as an MMO for a long time then a month before release it was, surprise! Not an MMO, but a stupid matchmaking FPS kind of crap. The biggest downfall of most failures, imo, is the hype machine. Overhyping your game as something it is not or can not ever be is all the rage. Which we could blame on WoW (I mean, why not) by saying that everyone wanted to make a “wow killer”, everyone wanted to try and snag some of the wow playerbase. The WoW playerbase, which we all know, doesn’t pay attention to anything unless a million other people are paying attention. The only hype I remember before WoW was word of mouth forum chanting.

    I guess we can blame the news sites too, I mean why not. The default image for each commenter is the WoW logo, you know. Coincidence? I think not!


  7. Jordan says:

    When a mmo fails, people will pick out one or two design features of the game that they personally don’t like, or design mechanics they love but the game doesn’t have, point and say, “see…told you Ultimate Wow Quest would fail because it has/doesn’t have ‘insert hated/loved design mechanic here’!!”. Happens every single time. Without fail. People seem to take comfort in the fact that the masses think the way they do, and will take the opportunity of a failed game to drive this point home.

    Syncaine is right though. Games succeed or fail for a large number of reasons usually. Although, a game that could otherwise succeed may fail due to one game-crippling issue such as an unstable engine that crashes all the time. But more often than not it fails due to some combination of an unoptimized engine, lack of interesting content, overwhelming amount of bugs, lack of interesting character/item progression etc.

  8. Anonymous says:

    no more Darkfall stories? Burned out waiting for the expantion?

    • SynCaine says:

      League of Legends has just been dominating my gaming time more than anything, but yea, waiting for the expansion as well.

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