[Due to Piki Geek’s server crapping the bed, I had to post this here. If you want to see my weekly column, go over here!]
Welcome to the new MMO Update, a weekly column that focuses on Massive Multiplayer Online Gaming. Each week I will discuss an issue or topic relevant to the genre, community, or specific MMOs. Oh, and we’ve moved to Friday. The weekend was just too boring for awesome of this magnitude.
If I’m honest, the MMO genre is pretty divisive. When I first brought up the idea of a weekly MMO column, someone literally threw a tomato at me. Thankfully it missed, but the point still was taken: A lot of people really don’t like MMOs.
The reasons are numerous, but a lot of it boils down to mistakes. The genre has suffered over the years from some pretty hilariously awful screw-ups. While developers are good people who are only trying their best, sometimes they get “good ideas” and run with them, and sometimes that is absolutely infuriating.
Today, I bring you the 4 most absolutely awful MMO blunders. Enjoy.
4). Unleashing the Big Fuggin’ Gun
Primary Offender: Planetside
Planetside was, for a long time, a great game. It was incredibly active despite having virtually no marketing behind it. It was a game of massive, long battles that seemed to require everyone cooperating to win. It had no levels, and it essentially escaped from all of the typical MMO hang-ups. Some dude with cheeto-sideburns wouldn’t have an advantage over you here. All that mattered was how good you were with a gun.
Yeah, that didn’t last.
In 2004, SOE, the developer behind the game, introduced a series of new vehicles to the game known as BFRs or “Battle Frame Robotics.”
There were only two problems: No one asked for them, and, JESUS CHRIST IT’S A GIANT ROBOT, GET IN THE CAR.
While the players desperately wanted new transports, or maybe even a naval vehicle (or how about more air diversity?) the developers decided what they really needed were seventeen thousand ton robots the size of a goddamn supermarket. Oh, and they were customizable. And they had shield generators.
Likewise, to pilot one you had to go through a series of events in the game’s awful Core Combat expansion. See, absolutely no one liked the areas that Core Combat added to the game, so the developers felt that they could entice players to go there by adding in an insane reward. You know, like a tactical nuclear missile launcher.
At least they were right about that. People rushed to the caverns to get their hands on the most powerful weapon the game had seen.
BFRs took platoons of people to take down – and the absolute largest BFR only required two pilots. When they were first introduced, people would log off immediately after seeing one. It just wasn’t worth the frustration. If you were infantry and a BFR saw you, you basically had to just accept your fate. Even armor wasn’t safe. Combat degenerated from tactical battles into giant robots spinning around in circles trying to kill each other.
While the playerbase had always been critical of the developers, the addition of BFRs was ultimately the last straw for many players. While BFRs were eventually nerfed into the ground, the damage had been done. Planetside never returned to what it was. So damaging was the inclusion of BFRs that one of the only things we know about Planetside 2 is that the developers the President of the company has promised not to include them.
3). Giving the Players Control
Primary Offender: Face of Mankind
Face of Mankind was supposed to be a different kind of game – one that was based on skill instead of the typical RPG dice roll. Set in the far off future, it promised a whole lot, especially considering the game was being developed by an unknown studio. The biggest promise though, was that the game was supposed to be completely player driven.
That sounds great, right? I mean, it’s what players have been asking for ever since EverQuest – a world that completely revolves around the people playing the game. Your decisions matter, and all that.
Ever wonder why no one does it? Here’s a hint:
It’s an awful idea.
After all, in reality everyone wants the game to revolve around their character, not the person standing next to them. You’re the guy with the good ideas, not the idiot named xXsepHirothXx. Here’s the thing, though: Have you ever played a single multiplayer game where you were continuously impressed by the intellect of the playerbase?
Face of Mankind saw the problem, so they put “respectable community members” at the helm of most of the in-game factions, figuring that these people would be fair and try to establish a solid reputation with their fellow players. After all, that’s what you’d do, right? You’d be completely honest, and you certainly wouldn’t just give your friends all of the cool stuff.
Needless to say, corruption ran rampant. Did I say corruption? I meant a lack of anything meaningful whatsoever. While the game wasn’t too impressive to begin with, the whole “giving players control” thing screwed over everyone who didn’t have a friend literally controlling their entire gaming experience.
Players were even in control of the law enforcement faction, who had the ability to handcuff your character, allowing them to confiscate anything you had in your inventory, not to mention your pockets.
The developers planned for this too, you see. In order to deter people from acting like idiots, they added a bounty system. If you killed people or harassed people (or acted like an ass in general), your bounty would go up. Unfortunately for the poor developers, they might’ve well just called it the high score system, because that was all the players treated it as.
Lucky for me, I had been friends with one of the faction leaders, so my experience wasn’t too awful. Of course, by “not too awful” I mean I was the one ruining the game. Look, I just wanted to have the biggest bounty, alright?
Duplex Systems, the developers of Face of Mankind, learned the hard way that the internet is not full of respectable people who you’d like to see in power. After a year, the game shut down. It would eventually come back as a free-to-play MMO run by a handful of the original developers.
2). Changing Literally Everything
Offender: Star Wars Galaxies
Star Wars Galaxies was a pretty good game. When it first launched, it was essentially billed as a create-your-own-adventure MMORPG within the Star Wars universe. For anyone who was a fan of the franchise, it seemed like a dream come true. Finally, a game was released that allowed players to freely roam around the galaxy without any handholding.
Likewise, the game itself was pretty unique. It didn’t have traditional levels or classes, and players were rewarded for doing whatever they wanted to do. Feel like crafting? Fine. Go on and make some droids, or something. Want to be a Jedi? Sure – but it will take a lot of work and energy. The game also rewarded exploring, and players were encouraged to go adventuring.
The popularity of the franchise combined with innovative gameplay made for a fairly popular MMORPG. Shortly after launch, the game peaked at 300,000 subscribers – not a shabby number, especially in the days before World of Warcraft. If anything, a subscriber base that large was considered extremely successful.
In 2005, however, the bar to be considered a successful MMO was raised in the minds of publishers. World of Warcraft had come out the year before, and its massive success made many studios greedy. It wasn’t enough now to just be profitable. In order to be considered decent, you had to be building a throne out of the blood and gold of your subscribers.
So SOE decided to change, um, a few things.
First they started with something called the “Combat Upgrade” that changed the way players leveled up and used their abilities. It was supposed to make things more “fair” but in reality, it just pissed the players off. To make matters worse, the developers stonewalled their players, ignoring all of their suggestions or comments.
In November of the same year, SOE then proceeded to roll out what they called the “NGE” or New Game Enhancement. That sounds like something nice, right? Enhancement!
The NGE changed everything: The game now had classes, levels and talent points. Many of the mechanics they implemented looked like direct copy and pastes from World of Warcraft.
Even the way you moved in the game changed. Previously, you could click to move, but the developers desired to make the game more “actiony” so now WASD was the way to go. Oh, and you know how you press space bar to jump in most games with WASD controls? Well, SWG didn’t have a jump. So instead, the space bar made your character emote a jumping animation – but you didn’t actually move anywhere. You just flopped around helplessly as everyone laughed at you for continuing to play a ruined game.
Since the old skill system was now thrown out, many players lost virtually all of their character’s progress. Creature handlers lost all of their pets. Jedi were no longer a unique thing, but a separate character class that anyone could be. The entire unique system was replaced with a clone of WoW that was wearing a Darth Vadar Halloween costume.
The worst part? It literally happened overnight. While Star Wars Galaxies had a test realm like most modern MMORPGs, the patch never showed up on it. Players woke up one day to simply find that everything had changed.
If you’re feeling suicidal, go up to a former Star Wars Galaxies player and ask them what they thought of the NGE. Just walk up and ask ‘em. When you wake up two years later in the hospital, you’ll probably have a pretty good idea of their opinion on the matter.
Needless to say, players were upset. Their outrage reached the New York Times, CBS News and Wired Magazine. No matter how outraged Blizzard’s 12 million players have been in the past, their disgust has never reached the freakin’ New York Times.
Subscriber numbers plummeted, with some claiming that they dropped down to 11,000 active players or less. Despite the outrage, however, developers contended that the only ones complaining about the changes were “a small vocal minority.”
Star Wars Galaxies never recovered from either the CU or the NGE, and while SOE claimed they had sold over a million retail boxes, those numbers never materialized in the game world.
1). Screwing Your Players (Before the Game Even Comes Out)
Offender: Dark and Light
Dark and Light, like Face of Mankind and, well, every MMO ever made, had a lot of hype. A lot of it. For quite some time it was the #1 ranked game on MMORPG.com’s hype meter, and for good reason. The game promised a 15,000 square mile paradise for its players. It was going to be a seamless, loading screen free environment located on a single server. It was going to have customizable classes and free-roaming PvP and a truly awesome story – it was the promise land.
The first warning should’ve come early, as NPCube, the developer of the game, didn’t have a single game under their belt prior to Dark and Light. That didn’t stop them from setting impossible goals, though, as they promised the world with every news update.
Still, when the game first went into beta, there really didn’t seem to be much trouble. People posted screenshots and in-game reports, and things seemed to be going well. Of course, they actually weren’t. What was actually happening was that any negative posts were being quickly deleted by moderators – even if they were helpful, such as bug reports and warnings to others to run the hell away. The developers also refused to give early access to the press, which is incredibly strange considering a young company usually wants a ton of publicity.
It turns out that NPCube didn’t feel that they had the time to moderate their own forums, so instead they hired contractors to do it for them. These contractors had no idea what they were doing, and thought that banning everyone who said anything negative whatsoever was a good business practice guaranteed to keep them employed.
Finally, after a lengthy (and delayed) beta, the game was released to the joyous public, including people who had paid $200 for a lifetime subscription, figuring that the game was going to be made out of their dreams and unicorn blood.
Unfortunately, given the article, you probably can guess how that went.
It was awful. Beyond awful. We’re talking Superman 64 levels of bad here, folks. It turns out the screenshots they had been showing weren’t exactly accurate, nor was the promise of a huge world, nor… well, anything.
The content that did manage to make it was bugged out beyond belief. Simply starting up the game was a quest in and of itself, as it straight up wouldn’t work on most video cards. Not to mention it turned out that chunks of the client had been corrupted and would routinely kill themselves whenever you tried to actually play the game. Always happy to take advantage of a bad situation, hackers used the sloppy code to exploit many holes in the game. Every time the servers were hacked, the developers would wipe the whole thing clean. Imagine losing your characters in World of Warcraft every time someone in the game was hacked.
On top of all that, Farlan Entertainment, the publisher of the game, refused to offer refunds for those that paid $200 for lifetime subscriptions. Those that didn’t pay the massive fee reported that Farlan was charging them monthly for up to 6 months after they canceled. Farlan refused to fix that, too.
The game struggled to stay afloat for obvious reasons, and in 2008 it was finally killed by a lawsuit stemming from a dispute with a former developer. NPCube never took responsibility, stating that their mistakes were due to “pressure from its investors and from the gaming community.”
While all of the MMOs on this list screwed up pretty bad, none quite accomplished the same level of awful as Dark and Light.