Proving that more than one blogger can have “sy” in their name, Warsyde handles all sorts of MMO topics over at The Babbling Gamer. I gave him a loaded bomb with this assignment written on it: “Pick three long-standing MMO grudges that the community just… won’t… let… go, and discuss why we can’t move on from the past.”
The MMORPG genre has been around long enough now that it’s starting to develop a distinct history. That history includes, shall we say, “disagreements” between players and developers, players and other players, developers and publishers, publishers and retailers, and just about everything else you could possibly think of. Many of those disagreements have been lost to the sands of time, the rage has blown over and life has continued on as before. Some of those disagreements though, have turned into grudges that many members of the community just can’t seem to let go of, and quite possibly never will.
Sony and the NGE
Early in the last decade Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) released a little MMORPG called Star Wars Galaxies. It was hyped as the savior of the genre and was going to revolutionize the way we played MMOs. Plus, you know, STAR WARS! It . . . didn’t quite live up to the hype, and after a while the player base had dwindled to the point that SOE felt the need to invigorate the game by shaking things up. They did so by instituting the New Game Experience (NGE). The NGE essentially took many aspects of Everquest and pasted them into SWG. The game went from a classless, skill-based sandbox to a class based themepark/sandbox mashup. Not only did everyone’s characters change dramatically, some characters were impossible to recreate under the new system (goodbye Creature Handler) leaving many players with a character nothing at all like what they had before. A good portion of the MMO gaming community has never, ever, forgiven Sony for what they did. For many people, “NGE” is a swear word.
Star Wars Galaxies for many people was a complex mix of shattered dreams and refreshing gameplay. Many players weren’t happy with the way SWG turned out, and didn’t like the simplistic adventuring content available at launch. Nevertheless, the crafting system was top notch, it was still Star Wars, and the skill based advancement system was interesting and different from other things on the market. Even though many people stopped playing SWG, they held a soft spot for it. Then Sony tore the heart out of the game and replaced it with something new. This upset both current and previous subscribers, as the game they held a soft spot for no longer existed. Even if the nostalgia bug bit and you wanted to go play SWG, the game you remembered was gone forever. Current players were hit even harder, as characters they’d spent dozens or hundreds of hours developing were ripped apart and rebuilt in strange ways.
Still, plenty of people still play the game today, so why has it been so hard for many gamers to just forget about the NGE and move on? Probably because the NGE represents a fundamental betrayal of the unspoken pact between players and game providers — that we, as players, will give money to the provider to play in a persistent game world with persistent characters we evolve over time, and the game company will preserve that persistent world and your characters with clear continuity. The NGE shattered character and game world continuity, and broke the trust between player and provider.
Warhammer Online Hype
“Bears, bears, bears.” It’s a phrase that will go down in MMO marketing infamy, and one that anyone who follows MMORPG games has surely heard. “Bears, bears, bears” was used in a marketing video for Mythic Entertainment’s Warhammer Online while describing a system in which players wouldn’t have to wade through dozens of bear corpses to reach a quest giver, only to have the quest giver task them to go out and kill 10 bears. Instead, the quest giver would go “Oh, I have a quest for you to kill 10 bears. I see you’ve already killed 10 bears, judging by the gore, bits of bear fur on your sword, and 10 foot tall stack of bear pelts you’re lugging around. Thanks, here you go! Quest complete!”
Gamers rejoiced, because we’ve all killed dozens of a monster only to have some quest NPC fifty feet further on task us to go kill some for him. Never mind that we just killed dozens right in front of him. The issue, of course, is that Warhammer Online didn’t deliver on this promise. Instead of quest NPCs recognizing your kills for “kill x” quests, there were special “task” NPCs that would reward you for killing certain numbers of a specific monster. That’s not so bad, though not what they promised, right? Except, infuriatingly, there were numerous cases of quest NPCs standing right next to the task NPC, offering “kill x” quests for the same monster type, and they wouldn’t recognize you had killed them already even though the NPC right next to them would. They not only failed to deliver, they rubbed players’ noses in the failure.
This was just one of many ways in which Mythic failed to deliver on their promises for WO, but the fame of the “bears, bears, bears” bit has made this the one MMORPG players will never forget, or forgive. It was just so over-the-top, and so blatantly unfulfilled. Gamers were bludgeoned with the hype for months on end, with all sorts of wet-dream features being promised left and right. What we got was a perfectly solid game that failed to meet the pie-in-the-sky promises of Mythic’s marketing team. Mythic’s reputation has gone from that of a sterling independent MMORPG developer to that of an over-bloated hype-monster that can’t be trusted. Warhammer Online wasn’t actually a bad game, but the community is unlikely to let this grudge pass, and it won’t be surprising if Mythic never releases another AAA MMORPG.
Anarchy Online Launch
One of the grandaddies of MMORPG gamer grudges (yes, UO Trammel is older, but I didn’t play UO so I’m not going to write about it), the launch of Funcom’s Anarchy Online in 2001 was so spectacularly bad that people still talk about it 10 years later. Players attempting to play in the first few days of the game were treated to lag and latency so bad that something as simple as walking across a courtyard could take 30 minutes. I’m not exaggerating, I actually timed it when I was trying to walk my character from one spot to another. Rubber-banding, freezing, everything you could possibly imagine about a bad connection was present, all at the same time, constantly. It was actually easier to force-quit or unplug your computer than log out thanks to the lag.
Funcom has been tainted by the AO launch ever since. Not that people think they can’t make good games, but rather there’s a vague mistrust of their technical competence. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard, read, or participated in an exchange like the following: “Hey, check out this new game by Funcom!” “Oh, err, ah, aren’t those the guys that did Anarchy Online? That game was horrible at launch! I’ll give them 6 months to straighten things out before I even look at this.” Of course, a game that doesn’t sell well in the first six months is generally doomed to a mediocre showing overall. Funcom didn’t exactly allay everyone’s fears with the Age of Conan launch either.
This grudge isn’t going to go away because the launch was just so bad and so memorable. People shelled out $50 to buy the game and were rewarded with something completely unplayable. The Anarchy Online launch is a textbook example of what-not-to-do, and no launch since has been able to surpass its misery. World of Warcraft itself had a pretty bad launch, but almost nobody remembers because comparatively speaking, it just wasn’t in the same league. The Anarchy Online launch was so bad it’s become legendary.
The theme behind all these grudges seems to be betrayal. MMO gamers tend to be a pretty forgiving bunch in the long run (or maybe just forgetful), but the lesson seems to be that if you betray the gaming community spectacularly enough you’re never going to live it down. Sony still has conversations about the NGE, generally along the lines of “we’ll never do anything like that again, ever, we promise!” Funcom is still trying to convince people they’re capable of putting out stable software. Mythic is, well, I’m not sure what Mythic is doing, but I’m sure they’re not letting their marketing department do it, whatever it is.
There are lots of other grudges out there, what’s your favorite?