Thursday, June 12, 2008

Age of Conan Troubles Continue to Surface

The Age of Conan (AoC) launch seemed to have gone off without a hitch, but the truth beneath the surface is starting to rear its ugly head. Which is fine with me, since it fulfills my interest in not eating crow.

AoC launched too early. The "Miracle Patch" that did fix some hardware and crashing issues, did not house any miracle fixes to the late-to-end-game content that many believed it did. Lack of quests, bugs, and malfunctioning game systems are plaguing players as they approach level 80 and begin to settle in for the long haul. That is, if they haven't quit already.

I don't even need to go farther than AoC's own developers to prove this point. They have fully admitted the game wasn't finished or tested enough in this Letter from the Game Director. They launched because the game was playable and could be patched into fruition, as evidenced in their aforelinked Letter and quoted below.
1. We will add content, specifically in mid-late thirties and mid-late fifties and make the leveling speed smoother in those areas, reducing the need to grind.
2. We will have an overhaul of the PvP system – adding consequence and a host of small things.
3. We are fixing bugs you reported through all channels we can get information from.
4. We will add a new large outdoor region in the 55-60 range this summer!
5. This is only a small taster! More information about the exciting summer and fall Roadmap will come the end of the next week!
6. We are staffing up Customer Service, Quality Assurance and Community departments!
Here we sit again, another MMORPG launch goes off technically smooth, but it does not take long for the lack of polish to set in. Most of us hate to use the word polish, but honestly it fits the problem perfectly. Blizzard polished World of Warcraft to a squeaky-clean shine. They didn't innovate; they simply executed the same ideas that have been around for years and polished, polished, polished.

I could go on, but I won't. Funcom simply did not heed the warning set down by Vanguard, Lord of the Rings Online, Tabula Rasa, and Pirates of the Burning Seas. Don't launch until the game is ready. Finish the game first, polish while finishing the game, and then launch.

I know it is easy for me to say that. After all, I'm not putting millions of dollars on the line and could really care less about running out of money. I've always stated that MMO developers need to be a business first and a game developer second. Good business practices will assist greatly in ensuring extra time is available if needed.

No, I'm not a game developer. I'm their customer (loyal btw) and I try to stay out of commenting on the business practices of developers. However, it is painfully obvious, especially with MMOs taking off due to WoW's success, that some developers just do not get it.

AoC, like LotRO, may enjoy financial positivity for a time, but I can't help but point out that these two games could of easily wound up in the state of Vanguard. Fortunately, both AoC and LotRO were able to polish enough of their early game to ensure a bleak existence and give hope to the MMO community that they may just be able to get it done.

I am jaded. I understand a lot of people do not like my constant negativity, but I'm not going to lie to myself. I can't be positive for these unpolished games. The MMO industry is very depressing right now, but has grown to immense proportions. There are players looking for games and AoC picked a great time to launch. I just can't excuse an unfinished game simply on the grounds of launching during a sweet spot. I know, I would probably be a horrible failure as a CEO.

To me, it is summed up in the first comment to this post over at Massively.
So... answer this: Why is it that they can do all of this now, instead of delaying release for 30 days and provide the public with a much more playable product?


  1. I didnt have too many issues with LOTRO at release, Tabula Rasa I agree was terrible and lacked content. AoC, well it is kind of already dying out for me.

    I dont know what can be done but to look to the fact that Warhammer is being delayed until it is ready. Still I dont like the fact that they have set a release date for it.

    I kinda bought AoC for something to see, and I guess by doing that I add to their sales numbers and make them think they have a hit on their hands

  2. I had a lot of friend give LotRO a try and all quit after a couple months citing lack of content. LotRO, for them, just fizzled out.

    I would even admit that in the LotRO beta, it could be seen. Just getting up around level 10, content became spread out and when monster play came in, it was very rough around the edges. Then, baffling to me, Turbine does chicken play? WTF.

    A lot of games are getting this idea that they can look brilliant for ten hours and succeed. I will agree that the first few minutes can make or break most players, and that needs to be good, but that has to follow through the entire game. WoW is the only game, that I feel, follows through from the first five minutes to 1000 hours in.

  3. Anonymous1:25 PM

    Don't forget that quote and link. =)

  4. I'm totally with you here. In fact, I'm in the "already quit" group. The game is paper thin imo. Looks pretty and performs well (if your machine is good enough) but has no substance. The substance it does have is buggy or already being done well by others.

    Anyway, I know you probably get this but I'll say it anyway. We (myself included) often blog about developers and mistakes they make in these mmmrpgs. Bugs are their fault, rushing games out of the door too fast is the fault of managers. Heck, even the bugs might be the manager's fault too, if they are working these poor guys to death with 80 hour work weeks and the guys can't even see straight much less write perfect code.

    I am guilty of this, I need to stop mentioning developers per se and get accurate with the blame. Product managers, game designers, marketers and the EXECUTIVES are to blame. This industry gets horrible some times...bleh, I think I smell my own blog post coming on about this. /rant off

  5. Eat shit and die anonymous, quote and link now included.

  6. HA HA Heartless you crack me up.

  7. Anonymous5:18 AM

    Remember that if you've finished AoC and are Level 80, then you are in the minority, as with WoW, most people are casual with their play and will continue for many months to come. Saying a game is bad because of ones own "racing" gameplay style is pretty silly.

    I also don't think WoW was all that special in this regard. Because it was the first, people were more prepared to experience its content more slowly. Now, some old hands are bored with the standard gameplay and simply grind away to get to the top before their fellows. Where WoW did score was in replayability, whether playing as Alliance or horde or trying all the different starting areas. AoC really could do with 3 starting areas tbh.

  8. Anonymous7:10 AM

    "Eat shit and die anonymous" - nice.

  9. I'm enjoying Age of Conan so far but I noticed a lot of old guard MMO players are not impressed. Still the game seems more solid then Tabula Rasa and the classes are more fun then LOTR. I haven't run into any of the leveling problems people talk about but that's probably because I've been doing a lot of group instances.

    I think Funcom's biggest problem is that everyone starts in Tortage. I like the zone a lot but some people hate it. Since everyone is pretty much forced to go there for every new character it can turn some people off the game.

  10. Anonymous1:39 PM

    Wait Heartless are you saying LoTRO now fizzles, or did at launch? Because as it is now, its full of content 1-50, at launch 35+ was rough. If that was your main issue with the game, I would give it another look.

    But more on point, that last quote is spot on. They are coming out with all these patches and saying 'look how quickly AoC is getting better', but the reality is they are just patching in what should have been in at launch, and even then it's still not at 100% launch ready.

  11. Anonymous5:10 PM

    I'm level 27 in Age of Conan. The game is so much fun, I hardly notice any bugs. How long this will last, time will tell. All I know is, it's great to be able to have this much fun in an MMO again. It's been a long time... Fun wins over Polish - for now.

  12. Anonymous12:39 AM

    The sad truth and reality is that this is how the MMO world works. Nothing is "polished" upon release. When you buy an MMO on its launch date, you should know very well what you're in for.

    AoC is still a very enjoyable game, especially considering how young it is.

    I'll tell you what... if you can get the MMO developers to release "polished" games... I'll eat that crow. ;)

  13. Anonymous4:49 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  14. Anonymous12:12 AM

    WoW was so polished that Blizzard spent the first 3mo crediting accounts with extra time to make up for all the server down time. I'm guessing you're so casual you don't actually play the games you talk about.

  15. "Not enough servers to keep up with the massive, unexpected demand" doesn't equal "not polished," and you know it. At least keep your WoW-related canards honest, "Fancy."

    From a business perspective, if AoC was going to launch with dwindling content at higher levels, they should've made leveling take a whole lot longer, which would have allowed them long enough to patch that content in before anyone encountered the gaping void that is the last 25% of the game. Admittedly, I didn't expect a whole lot from a game that (a) was made by Funcom and (b) combined the contradictory elements of "large-scale PvP battles" with "only runs well on high-end machines." (If early reports from the uberguilds are any indication, putting enough people in the border zones to engage in a PvP battles... crashes the zone.)

    This game didn't snare me--I gave it the old college try, but quit at 68 after I realized that Grinding Isn't Fun and that the combat system is actually LESS dynamic than WoW's--but I think Funcom can still make a success of it if they produce the promised endgame content before the casuals get there in 1-3 months.

  16. Ehh, there's only one reason they launched now, unpolished etc. WAR. And I'm no WAR fanboi, either. Just cognizant of the problems they'd run into releasing later in the year. They're doing better sales-wise and subscriptions-wise releasing now, unpolished as it may be, than if they waited until September or October. I'm not sure why everyone is so shocked about it.

    Anyhow, I'll keep playing. I played DAOC and WOW for years and I'm sick of both of them, AOC is fun and a nice change of pace. If you're a working professional and don't have too many hours to waste playing MMOs, you can avoid most of the endgame content-lacking issues some folks are running into simply by not having time to play that often. :)

  17. Anonymous7:00 AM

    "I dont know what can be done but to look to the fact that Warhammer is being delayed until it is ready. Still I dont like the fact that they have set a release date for it."

    So they are never supposed to release it?

    The day it is finished they are supposed to not have sold any to the public?

    Free audio tutorals on how to pick up women, a-z no guess work system.

  18. fancy, I think you may want to go back and do a little fact checking on your WoW hate.

  19. Anonymous9:25 AM

    My beef isn't so much that the game was unpolished at release. I'm pissed that the "unique" content they touted before launch and ON THE BOX weren't in at launch.

    - DX10
    - Noticeable benefits from Guild Cities
    - Sieging
    - Bar fights
    - PvP rewards
    - Jail system to prevent ganking
    - 1500 armor sets (yeah f'ing right)
    - A robust raiding system

    What they did release with was 1 great starter zone and a run of the mill quest grinding MMO.

  20. Anonymous9:32 AM

    Count me in the quit club... back to Guild Wars for me, and back to waiting for Guild Wars 2.

    GW crashes my junk about twice a year, it was great at release. AOC crashes my junk about 5 times a day.

  21. I am willing to admit that Funcom made a mistake by going after the PvP crowd...

    The casual player is more easily satisfied if their PvE game is good...and that is where AoC shines..Notice that anyone who is a lower level still loves the game (Ethic at 27, myself at 44...Relmstein I think is also enjoying the story...and then look to MMOROG who also likes it, and is about level 50 something..)

    By making a game geared toward the hardcore PvP crowd who need to level as fast as possible, and could care less that a story is involved here...the game fails..

    With the latest news that Sieges are a major lagfest, and just not working as intended, this hurts them the most.
    Add to this class balance issues (because this is always an issue in a PvP game)....and this hardcore group is now "heartless".

    Yet, I log in, have fun, read the quests, go from zone to zone enjoying the landscapes, visuals, character gathering, working the trader to make cash...all viable "PvE" playstyles..

    Funcom would be better off polishing their PvE, adding more in the way of PvE styled content...then relaunch...
    This would certainly pull in the LOTRO, Vanguard and EQ2 crowd who like that style of gameplay.

    As to polish and LOTRO...this one always gets me...
    I was there from Closed beta on...and saw things at launch like
    1. AH exploit (surprise)
    2. Floating NPC's (including the infamous leaping hobbit in Bree that was not fixed...for months)
    3. Horrible hitching (which still exists in some places...kinda like Vanguard chunking)
    4. Quests that could not be completed
    5. No content past level 30 except for group quests..
    6. The nasty instances sound delay in the Barrows...where everything was up to a 2 second delay and you were forced to turn off the sound..

    I could list more of these...
    But, the fact remains...polish only means so much...and get a good starting zone (LOTRO and AoC) and you hook that Casual crowd..

    Hardcores...will be ready for the next game in no time..

  22. I'm in the "already quit" club for AoC. But I do find Lum the Mad's comment relevant that Funcom apparently got away with releasing a bugged and unfinished game because it had certain features that very much excited a large group of hardcore fans. Like nipples, decapitations, and setting people on fire.

    AoC sold well enough; even if 1 million shipped isn't the same as 1 million sold, they certainly already sold over half a million. And on every blog or general game forum where someone dares to say that AoC is full of bugs and lacks content, there is an immediate invasion of AoC fanbois flaming any honest review. So AoC unfortunately is a throwback into the times where releasing a bugged game with lacking content was the industry standard, and as long as people paid for that, game companies didn't care. I can't see Funcom being too worried.

    Of course all those hardcore fanbois are also the demographics that reaches level 80 the quickest, and is most likely to burn out fast. So maybe in half a year when WAR and WotLK come out, all those AoC fans will be gone again. Short term fun isn't a viable strategy for longevity.

  23. Anonymous9:35 PM

    I was in AOC beta for about a year. about 90% of the beta testers KNEW that the game was horrid but Funcom promised to patch in all the fixes and content a few days before the game went Live. Guess what? They lied.
    I played AOC anyway for about 3 weeks until I sat back and reviewed just how boring the game really was. I went looking for something better. I took a a 4th time at Vanguard. That was the game that held my hopes and dreams during it's development and that was the game that smashed in my teeth when it was launched. HORRIBLE launch. Guess what? I tried it again and to my surprise the game that should have been launched 18 months ago finally showed up. All you disgruntled Ex-Vanguardians dont believe me? Look for yourself.

  24. Anonymous10:41 AM

    I had absolutely no problems at all with Lotro, not on any levels. Maybe originally the 40+ levels were a bit tougher, but then I did group quests a lot and so there was plenty to do and levelling was easy. For the absolute soloer the game was a bit harder perhaps, certainly not anymore after several content patches.

  25. Anonymous1:19 AM

    Well i disagree that developers should be in to business anyhow. That statement is stupid.
    I do get the point thou, and this product was all about marketing.
    I see only two options - poor testing (but there was a beta) or lack of money. in my opinion (and i do play AoC) this product should not have been released at this stage. But then again if it was testing, it wouldn't go any better :/

  26. Plenty of MMOs that have been successful have started out this buggy and limited.

    But what IMHo is dooming AoC is neither the content nor the bugs, but the attitude of total disdain Funcom has shown their customers. The game launched with a totally broken customer support model which is only somehwat better now. They developers refuse to engage with their community on their forums and reply to nay of the community's concerns.

    If you make your player community partners in the process, they will put up with a lot. If you don't, however, then expect to lose them as soon as they become frustrated with the game as is.


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