Darkfall Re-Launch

Tasos has clearly started trolling ForumFall. With his brief mention of Darkfall 2, new servers, and ‘future plans’, ForumFall has been working itself silly speculating and trying to figure it all out. He somewhat ruins the fun with this explanation, though even that did not satisfy everyone.

The mention of a ‘re-launch’ does bring up an interesting point though, one that is very relevant to recent happenings in the MMO genre. Can you re-launch an MMO that is already live? And if so, what does that exactly mean? It’s certainly not a full wipe or ‘redo’ of launch. That’s called an NGE-level event, and it’s not a smart move. It’s also not as simple as opening up new servers and advertising; that’s called a push, not a re-launch.

No, a re-launch is some rather drastic change to your game that draws the attention of outside gamers, while not totally screwing those who have supported you up to that point. It sounds simple, but it’s a make-or-break event that could potentially go horribly wrong.

DDO was ‘re-launched’ when it went F2P. At its original release DDO was a solid game that, among other issues, simply lacked content. What was there was fun enough, but when you could finish it in less than a few months, that’s a major issue for a company hoping to keep people subbed and paying month after month. Time solved the content issue, as over the years DDO saw many large additions that ultimately fleshed out the entire game and gave the average players months of ‘stuff’ to do.

Combine that major launch issue being solved with just the overall stabilization and bug-fixing that happens from years of being live (plus some graphical upgrades), and to a totally new player, DDO looks like a great game. Make a big splash by going F2P, and hey, re-launch.

And with the dust settling, we are seeing exactly what DDO is, a solid but not mega-hit title that has its place in the genre. It is, at its core, still the same DDO that originally launched. It’s still all about instanced, small-group dungeon-crawls with a semi-action combat system based around D&D. Such a game has less appeal than the ponies-for-everyone WoW, but it does deserve more players than it had pre-re-launch (what?).

In many ways, Darkfall fits that same mold. The original launch drew a lot of people due to the many unique things the game brought to the genre, yet for many the game was simply too raw to continue with. Be it the UI, the graphics, the ‘grind’, etc, Darkfall at launch was more a peek into what could be than a fully delivered end-product. It’s only a sad reflection on the genre that even in that state, Darkfall was already a top-tier sandbox MMO.

But it’s re-launch could make a very significant impact. For starters, more and more players are discovering that Darkfall is more than just a PvP game, and certainly not the gankers paradise PvP haters try to paint it as. As the non-PvP aspects continue to improve and get refined, this word-of-mouth momentum will only continue. Next, the re-vamp of both the graphics and the UI not only draws attention, but helps reduce that initial “first five minutes” shock that many currently experience.

At the end of the day Darkfall’s core is what it is, a sandbox PvP MMO. But much like EVE, that does not mean everyone player is expressly looking for just that. Sandbox PvP MMO also means unique PvE experiences not found in themeparks, a deeper-than-a-puddle economy, and niche roles such as event organizers or political pundits that truly serve a purpose. All of that takes time to develop however, and that’s exactly what has been happening since launch.

With the upcoming (soon…) release of the Darkfall 2.0 expansion, in coordination with a focused advertising push, Darkfall can indeed ‘re-launch’ and capture an entire new audience, while still keeping its very rabid core happy. But like the concept of a re-launch itself, it’s easier said then done, so we’ll just have to wait and see how Aventurine plays its cards.

Me? My money’s on the house.

Chuck-o-the-day: Chuck Norris’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was the first to go supernova.

(DarkFall-related post disclaimer/reminder. If you click the image link near the top-right of this page and buy a DarkFall account, I get paid 20% of the client cost. If you believe this taints my views and reporting on DarkFall, your opinion is wrong.)

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
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19 Responses to Darkfall Re-Launch

  1. Sean Boocock says:

    Can you re-launch an MMO that is already live? And if so, what does that exactly mean?

    That is an interesting question and one that many developers have tried to answer recently with varying degrees of success. Turbine seems to have found a winning formula for rekindling interest in their legacy titles by changing their business model. Other developers like Hi-Res are trying a similar tact after middling launches.

    I think one could take the cynical, and perhaps justified, position that a lot of the “re-launches” of MMOs are last ditch efforts to save flagging titles that nearly floundered on the shoals of a poor launch. A re-launch becomes a marketing exercise, a way of packaging iterative improvements, and a euphemism for “This was the game we should have launched with six months ago, please take us seriously this time.”

    That would be overly dismissive of re-launches in general but I do think a lot of what constitutes re-launches are changes to expand/revitalize the player base (as opposed to changes that cater to “hardcore” players). MMOs are in the unique position of having to maintain a player’s interest over the course of months or years. Failing that, they have to constantly bring in new players, a daunting prospect in an industry driven almost entirely by first month sales.

    In that vein one of the keys to a successful re-launch is a point you brought up it: the first five minutes. First impressions are incredibly important and poor ones tend to take a life of their own, even as the game they are based on improves over time. Even WoW, which I think you would agree qualifies as a very accessible MMO, only manages to retain 30% of the players that try it past level 10.

    It’s interesting to hear that Darkfall is going to readdress its presentation and new player experience, as that seems to be the major focus of WoW’s re-launch ala Cataclysm. So many of the core changes of the latter are directed towards breaking down the relatively short wall that keeps new players from trying out the game past their first hour. Improved UI, an almost entirely new 1-60 (but more importantly 1-5) leveling experience, and an easier to understand skill system are some of the ways that Blizzard is trying rekindle interest in what is now a six year old game. I think Aventurine recognizes this too, that as much as they might value their core players, an MMO lives and dies on its ability to constantly attract a new crowd.

    It’s ironic that you lead with NGE as the negative example of successful MMO re-launches. I think SOE made a better of evils choice, sacrificing a relatively small number of hardcore fans on the altar of making the game accessible to a wider audience. It was drastic and poorly communicated, but it was in the spirit of making a more sustainable game. Turbine seems to have found a third way in navigating the landmines of MMO re-launches. I think Blizzard has too, but we’ll see soon enough.

    • SynCaine says:

      Good points. I think the difference between WoW and DF here is that for WoW they are somewhat ‘retiring’ their older players and trying to re-position WoW for a new crowd. With DF, the plan is to expand the players base much like EVE has. I view them as two very different strategies.

      I brought up NGE in terms of communication and execution. Ultimately, yes, the game gained some players, but give it’s potential, IP, all the rest, the game simply never lived up to expectations, pre or post NGE. A better executed ‘re-launch’ for SWG might have brought in new players while keeping the old, rather than completely swapping them out.

  2. Bhagpuss says:

    The surprising thing to me is how many MMOs *don’t* close down, re-launch or no re-launch.

    There are now literally hundreds of MMOs available, including dozens that were, at least when they launched, “AAA” grade. You’d think the attrition rate would be much higher than it is.

    I can only assume that, once up and running, even a “failed” MMO can continue to bring in more money than it costs to run. Either that or there are a lot of companies using them as some kind of tax shelter.

  3. sid67 says:

    Can you re-launch an MMO that is already live? And if so, what does that exactly mean?

    No idea what a “re-launch” is called.. but I can tell you that if Darkfall launched a brand new server, I would resubscribe and play it. Likely as my primary MMO.

    Now should Aventurine do something like this? Short answer. No.

    Long answer. You might get back some players like me but you are also going to cannibalize your existing server. And the people left on those servers (your current customers) are going to be pissed off that you just decimated their server.

    And then what happens a year from now when you have the same disproportionate vets vs. noobs on the new server? Do you create a 3rd one?

    So as much as I’d like them to restart or do a refresh, that’s the type of thing that would ultimately lead to an angry core group of players and empty servers.

    In a weird way, as frustrating as the “gear resets” in WoW are — they don’t end up with that problem. Every expansion, all the old stuff is invalidated and players need to work on new stuff.

    Heck, and it’s not even just every expansion. My top-end gear was vendor trash 6 months after I quit. So I wouldn’t call that exactly a great solution either.

    • SynCaine says:

      You don’t update your Fantasy Football team noob.

      And DF already had a server open up, NA. EU took a hit, there was a lull in activity, but it recovered and is growing just fine now. I would expect the same here, once DF2.0 is launched. A lot of people are going to come back, some to old characters/clans, some for the fresh server.

      • Billy Hicks says:

        A new server is a HUGE mistake. All it does it move the problem 6 months into the future. 6 months after the new server launches people will be screaming that they need another new server to be competitive.

        What we really need is a faster way to PvP competitiveness WITHOUT making it easy to level. This is where prestige classes should come in.

        Currently to compete in PvP you really need high archery, melee AND high magic (multiple schools)

        What if there was a prestige class called a Fire Mage. This class increases your fire damage (so you do roughly equal damage as a vet), cast fire shields (so you have about the same HP as a vet (HP+shield)) and it opens up a some extra spells that give you a little more utility. In return you lose the ability to use other magic schools and melee+Archery suffer.

        This was a new player can become a fire mage, hunter, warrior etc. quickly and be competitive in a month. The vet however will over time have raised all his skills and so can change his prestige class whenever he feels like going to the trainer.

        The noob is happy because he is competitive quickly

        Thw vet is happy because he can be anything, but he can’t be everything at the same time

  4. Ben says:

    Is Darkfall ever going to institute some kind of skill cap? I tried it, liked it, but realized how little fun it would be to perpetually be a year+ behind everyone else. At least in EVE, you can be competitive in PvP with the right fittings, etc, within a month. To be really useful in Darkfall PvP, I was looking at 6-12 months – and even then, everyone else would still be that far ahead in maxing skills, etc.

    It’s not fun the way it is, for a new player. If skills were capped – and degraded without use (like UO) – DF would be far more appealing to me in some kind of “relaunch” for newbies.

    • Billy Hicks says:

      Prestige classes should fix this.

      You can specialise and become a Paladin or Warrior. By doing this you only need to level up a small number of skills to be viable. Vets will have more options but can only use so many abilities at a time

  5. smee, T says:

    Chuck Norris’ star*

    You will die tomorrow for insulting the Norris in such a manner.

    • SynCaine says:

      Book has it as Norris’s. I’m no grammar wiz though, how sure are you it’s Norris’?

      • Dril says:

        It’s not strictly set in stone. Here in Britain we generally (and confusingly) write it as Norris’ but say it as Norris’s, but I believe both are equally valid and essentially convey the same idea of ownership, although Norris’s is more specific in that it explicity makes it a single person’s (assuming that Norri could be a noun for some reason.)

  6. tariqone says:

    It’s “Norris’s.”

    Mythology aside, there’s only one of him. While dropping the s in the apostrophe-s for singular possessives (“Jesus’s”) has sort of become lazily accepted, “Norris’s” is still the right way to do it

    • Anonymous says:

      English is a fluid language that changes. “Norris'” has gained acceptance among those the MLA polls when creating its guides, English professors and professional writers, which means it is now perfectly acceptable.

      The right way changed to include a new option.

  7. tariqone says:

    I meant to say, “for singular possessives ending in S ….”

    /end commentsjack

  8. Visperas says:

    I think Av won’t open a new EU or NA server until those two are full. It would be a waste of resources. Instead, they’ll open an Asia server whenever Darkfall2010 arrives, and even that could be just an option depending on asian demand. Actually, that looks pretty clear to me.

  9. Kilratha says:

    I would have to agree this is the only thing that makes sense. They would even be OK calling it a re-launch if they were launching it again but in a different area of the world.

  10. Dblade says:

    My guess? Asian server + relaunch = shift to F2P model. If I’m wrong Syn I’ll download the DF trial and you can gank me in person or something.

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