Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Another one bites the dust

Well, a once promising MMO is going down in flames. All though the arm-chair pundits are all repeating the common-wisdom. We all know that common wisdom is neither.

Its the usual death-watch chatter. "Nothing can beat [fill in current market favorite here]!" We all know from history that's false. If it weren't, we'd be playing Ultima Online right now. "It shipped too early!", well, that certainly doomed Everquest, or a whole host of other MMOs that went out buggy and incomplete and went on to be major market successes.

That one annoys me particularly because I think it shifts blame from the true culprits for AoC's demise. Yes, there were serious technical issues but thats never stopped an MMO from being successful before. Hardcore MMO players will put up with a lot IF they feel they are being included in the process of fixing the issues. Complaints about incomplete content also fail to acknowledge that the content that WAS included at launch was unique and compelling in a way no other MMO (including the much vaunted WOW) has managed to hit. Since then AoC has filled out the gaps in content that did exist.

The game and quest designers did a brilliant job and deserve recognition for that. The artists did an amazing job and also deserve proper recognition. And the programmers... well, they did no worse then on most games these days, especailly early stage MMOs.

The blame for the crash and burn of AoC *must* fall squarely on the shoulders of Funcom management and their total mishandling of their game's community. To begin with, the game shipped with infuriatingly inadequate customer support. You placed a ticket in the queue, and then about 6 hours after you had gone offline, they'd send you a note saying that they couldn't help you because you weren't online any more and wipe out your ticket. This is a true "customer disservice" system, one seemingly designed to take upset customers and make them more so.

To compound the problem, they outright dissed the PvE RP community, refusing to even answer questions as to why they wouldn't give them basic courtesies, like marking one PvE server an RP server, and instead fawned over and catered to the tiny hardcore PvP minority. After being ignored for the better part of the year and by two successive producers, many of the RP PVE people like myself came to the conclusion we weren't wanted and left.

It wasn't long before AoC gained the reputation of a "PVP gank-fest" discouraging further players from even trying it.

No, the blame for this business failure, as is almost always the case, falls squarely on the shoulders of management. In the end AoC was the Commodore Amiga of MMOs. Those of us old enough to remember can think back to when Commodore bought Amiga. They gained what was a brilliant, decade ahead of its time art machine. And they tried to sell it as a business computer for 4 years and ultimately failed. AoC is a brilliant exploration/questing game. But their management decided to sell it as just another ganker-PvP game. And thus, it failed.

If there are lessons to be learned here they are not "don't try to beat WoW" but "take care of your customers and they will take care of you." Its also not to get distracted by the clamoring of a minority, however vocal. Especially one who, by their very nature, chase others *away* from your product. Instead focus on your core strengths and serve the largest group you can find that they address.

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