From day one I was hooked.
World of Warcraft has everything I want in a game; an immersive world to explore with few obstacles and a support team that actually adds content to the game every few months.
It turns out that I was very fortunate that World of Warcraft was my first online gaming experience, because everything else that has come after has left the players wanting.
After playing for well over a year, I became curious to learn what other online games offered. After playing and researching several, we’ve, at WoW FAQs, come to the unfortunate conclusion that something is wrong with the current online game market.
Imported games lose something in the translation and have awkward game mechanics and often include a second economy that demands real cash for game enhancements, some of these games go so far as to limit how powerful your character becomes or how many levels you can attain until you upgrade your account with real cash.
The graphics are often pretty, but old and the turn-based combat can be boring enough that scratching out your eyes out could prove more entertaining. But some people like that experience, and the longevity and proliferation of these “free” games proves the model works. And at least the games are mostly stable and finished.
Some current American online games, however, offer a sad story.
American games are being rushed out of the door in a very poor state. It is so common now that a new term has emerged in the online community; paid beta. Every game goes through a rigorous period of testing to make sure it is playable, in theory all game-breaking issues are handled before the official launch. A new online game has a host of issues to contend with when they go live, such as server crashes when thousands of people start playing instantly in the first zone.
These issues are resolved within weeks. But now games are pushed to the public who buys the package and creates their subscription accounts only to find that they may have to wait a week or more just to play the game.
In the case of Age of Conan, the many issues are compounded by what appears to be a customer service system that is either incompetent or overwhelmed. A ticket system is in place but each ticket has a limited life span that requires the player to remain online in the game until “maybe” someone gets to your issue. If your issue happens to be one that incapacitates your character and no one gets to you before the ticket timer winds down, you are out of luck; it can be days before you get the help you need.
Furthermore, the game is simply unfinished; players who have reached the level cap had to grind out the last several levels because of a lack of quests. Instead of trying to finish the game, the developers have instead made it more difficult to reach the level cap.
Many copies of the game even shipped without registration keys, so many people couldn’t even play the game after they bought it. With an increasing drop off rate, the game is approaching niche status; that is if it can survive this “paid beta” phase at all.
Age of Conan’s woes are reminiscent of Hellgate London. Unplayable for many out of the box and having shipped in an unfinished state also, the game lost many players after a few weeks. Now several months later, the company behind the game has been forced to lay off most of its staff.
The servers are still running, but no new subscriptions are being taken and current subscribers are not being billed. This is a game that actually fixed many of its problems and became very stable, but it was simply too little too late; its “paid beta” phase proved too damaging.
The upcoming Warhammer online game is already experiencing negative feedback as the developers slash content to meet their deadline.
Even if the release avoids a “paid beta” phase, it will have a difficult time winning over the players who have already developed a negative view based on the content that is being left out; much of which was the actual highlight of the game in the first place.
American game publishers need to take up the Blizzard philosophy and live by it; “the game is finished when it’s finished”. The old strategy of publishing a stand-alone game with bugs simply doesn’t work anymore; online games require a much larger investment of time and money.
If they are not going to publish a complete, playable game, it will fail to produce healthy revenue. In the past, a publisher made its profit off of the sales of the package, whether it worked or not; no longer.
There is so much room for improvement in the online market, the publishers just have to allow their developers the time they require to finish the product and test it thoroughly.
They won’t beat World of Warcraft, but they shouldn’t be afraid to model themselves after Blizzard’s philosophy of only publishing a game that is polished and is playable out of the box.
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