Conan the Retiree

There was only the briefest of times when I was intensely interested in Age of Conan, possibly brought on for my past love of FunCom (The Longest Journey rules!) and the idea of a savage, brutal fantasy world with an edgey, non-PC nature to it.  Then that quickly evaporated as reports of the game started to pour in pre-release, and red flags started popping up for me: bad performance, antagonistic dev-player relationships, a good early game followed by a lackluster mid- and late-game, blah armor sets, an overdependence on instancing, and the mistake of thinking that topless nudity would equal a “mature” setting.

Seriously, it was hard to bump into an article about Age of Conan around May of last year without the author having something to say about breasts and their freewheeling nature in this game.  It was a very sad attempt to pander to the lowbrow sensibilities out there without trying to attain a high standard of gameplay and complex storylines.

Anyway, it came out, had the typical honeymoon where new players and bloggers gushed about it, and then it crashed and hard.  It didn’t help that the PvP system wasn’t quite in the game yet, that it was bugged beyond belief, that the end game was a void wasteland, and that female characters actually attacked slower than the males.  Yahtzee bashed it (in typical hilarious fashion), and a long, brutal expose on MMOCrunch covered its perceived failure.

Today, another kick in the teeth for the title came as Funcom’s CFO resigned over AoC’s massive profit loss and struggling (<100,000) subscriber base.  While the game has made some positive steps toward where it needs to be, it’s hard to debate the fact that this might be too little, way too late.

Age of Conan’s failure — and failure it is — surprised a lot of folks.  This was a AAA MMORPG title developed by an experienced MMO company, it promised faster (“realtime”) combat, mature themes not really seen in the genre at that level, a four-month head start on WAR and WotLK’s releases, and a killer IP.  It wasn’t quite like Vanguard, which had no great IP to draw from and a horrible launch — AoC actually launched fairly well, even amid angry cries of beta testers, but it fizzled faster than anyone could’ve predicted.

Some have tried to run a parallel between AoC and WAR, which doesn’t quite hold up in my opinion.  While there are some similarities — a buggy launch, a severe drop from first-month numbers, PvP focus — WAR looks to be on the increase with many positive factors swinging its way, while AoC doesn’t offer a lot of hope for its players.  Buzz for AoC has died to a mere whisper.

A couple months ago, one of the guys in our WAR guild had come from AoC, and spent the better part of an evening telling us just how awesome Conan was, how much better it’d gotten, and how they never experienced any of the problems that had gotten so much coverage by the press.  Fine and well, but note that he wasn’t currently playing the game, either.  When a game’s most ardent supporters have to cheer it on from a completely different MMO, what does that tell you?

I’m not over here rooting for the death of Conan; on the contrary, it would be a great thing if somehow Funcom could pull a victory from this by sustaining and improving the game over time, and slowly reestablishing it as a worthy title (as other MMOs have done after a rocky start).  It would be good for competition, for the industry as a whole, and for Funcom’s future in the market.  We need more MMO developers, not less, at this point.  How it might turnaround is anybody’s guess, but Funcom’s not going to pull the plug if it’s sustaining some measure of profitability — even if the margin isn’t that great.

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