Planetside & Hellgate | MMOrgue 5

Planetside & Hellgate | MMOrgue 5

The much-maligned sub-genre of MMO Shooters has been an intense and gorey battlefield since the first of these titles rolled off the production line back in 2001. Since that time, two major titles have come to serve as examples within this archetype: Planetside and Hellgate: London.

Unfortunately, these two titles are frequently held up as examples of what NOT to do, rather than being revered. In today’s episode, I’ll examine each of their failures and see if I can make a solid case for why each of these titles was considered a flop, despite reinventing a whole genre.

Direct Download Links:

HD Video | Large Video | Mobile Video | MP3 Audio | YouTube

MMOrgue iTunes Feeds: MMOrgue RSS Feeds:
HD Video
iPad & Apple TV Video
iPod Video
MP3 Audio
HD Video RSS
Large Video RSS
Mobile Video RSS
MP3 Audio RSS

Show Notes:

E3 is underway, and despite the incredible announcements that’ve so far been made by the big players at their flashy press conferences, very little has come out on the MMO front. Despite this apparent lack of MMO-themed information, I’ll be keeping a close watch on the continued coverage of the event over the next few days and hope to dedicate next week’s episode to a recap of the festivities.

But instead of looking forward to those announcements, today’s episode is going to look BACK on a specific facet of the MMO world that has had a rocky history. Despite FPS ruling the single-player, console, and multiplayer markets to a certain degree, they’ve never found solid footing in the land of MMOs. In order to understand why, today’s episode is going to dig into the meat of two specific MMO shooters:

Planetside, which is long past its days of glory, and gearing up for a sequel at the hands of SOE.

Each of these titles, and many of their unnamed brethren, suffered from many of the same flaws that have plagued the MMOFPS subgenre since its inception in 2001, with the launch of World War II Online. And because of these faults and failures of the past, this type of game has never made a name for itself in the MMO landscape.

However, developers around the world have not yet given up hope on the concept of the MMO shooter. So today’s show is going to review the major faults and faux paus of these two noteworthy titles, and lay out my opinions on what future developers need to do to find success in this area, where others have failed.

PLANETSIDE / NEXT

  • Released in 2003.
  • Balance issues and population imbalances led to widespread loss of subscriptions.
  • By 2009, all 6 original servers had been slowly merged into a single world.
  • Early gameplay also suffered from stability issues, and frequent network lag.

The GOOD:
– Thorough tutorials
– Interesting advancement system with many unique choices to make.
– Instant action is a great feature in a PvP-focused game.

The BAD:
– The ONLY thing to do, is fight over bases against other factions. Very 1-dimensional.
– No reason to defend, except for the love of battle. Nothing gained by claiming territory, except safe passage to another territory.
– Landscapes are all featureless and bland.
– A single battle over a single base can last HOURS, and success can be determined by attrition instead of actual skill or strategy.
– Vehicles are way overpowered compared to infantry unit types.
– Steep learning curve, and the amount of information to absorb may turn players off that just want to shoot enemies (typical fans of shooter games).
– No solo viability. Squad or Die.

Subscription fee may have been the nail in the coffin. In a world of FREE FPS games, why pay for one?

SOE shuts down The Agency
Also confirmed delay of NEXT due to switching development to a new Engine.

HELLGATE

Disclaimer: Barely an MMO.

Hellgate Relaunch!

  • US/EU shut down in 2009, continued actively in Eastern markets by Hanbitsoft.
  • In late 2010, Hanbitsoft obtained the rights to international distribution.
  • Currently undergoing the final phases of Closed Beta.

Why did it fail?

  • Boring gameplay mechanics (hold down the trigger while you spin/move) and lackluster abilities.
  • Massive engine stability issues. The game was rarely playable for more than an hour without crashing.
  • No narrative. With so many Diablo 2 devs on board, more was expected of the story.
  • Incongruity of mechanics and incomplete implementation. (Turret-based shooting gallery, improper scaling)
  • No Social Tools: LFG, Guild Support
    • This was DEATH to a game that launched at the dawn of “Web 2.0” when MySpace and similar sites were connecting people in new and exciting ways.
  • Subscription models … game was compared to Half-Life, Guild Wars and Diablo II (all free) and yet charged $10/mo for a subscription.
    • Box cost got you a stripped down version of the game, had to pay monthly to play multiplayer but the social tools SUCKed, leaving people on both ends of the subscription model feeling gypped.
    • Then there was the Lifetimer/Founder fiasco, when the game shut down…
      • $150 = 15 months. Game was only active for 10 months before the shut down was announced (which actually happened 5 months later.)

General commentary:

  • Another relaunch/resurrection from an Eastern company, of a failed Western title (APB)
    • This trend could represent more than just hope for gamers – it could come to be seen as a bail-out for investors and publishers of upcoming MMOs.
      • Not finding the success you wanted/needed at launch? Pawn the game off to a company that cranks out F2P relaunches, and try and recoup some of your costs.
  • This game is an excellent example of Hype Gone Bad.
    • The developers, many of whom had worked on Diablo and Diablo II, compared the game to Half-Life, Diablo II and Guild Wars at different times.
      • All of these games were defining titles of their individual genres.
        • The buggy, incomplete and LAZY release of Hellgate was a devastating disappointment.

Why the relaunch might find modest success:

  • Leech off the hype for Diablo III
  • Under-represented subgenre (FPS Action RPG)
  • Very low system requirements
  • Free to play!

SUMMARY:

In examining these two flopped FPS, we see a number of similarities…

1 – Subscription models don’t match the playerbase.

  • Fans of shooters can get their online jollies playing a billion different FPS games with no subscription costs. Charging for access puts you at a significant disadvantage.
  • MMO players want a game with more substance than is typically offered in a FPS. With customization of both abilities and avatars.
    • In other words, you’re charging the wrong amount, to the wrong audience.

2 – Social tools added as an afterthought.

  • When you’re creating an online environment, your ability to have players play together must be considered one of your most important gameplay mechanics.
    • Instant matchmaking, auto-grouping, and easy social hotkeys must take the place of conversation-based grouping, when your gameplay is fast-paced and action-centric. (In a word, more FPS-like)
  • Both of the above games seem to make the assumption that their players would talk to eachother and form bonds through conversation and interaction.
    • This is a disconnect with the type of player that would typically play these games.
      • They don’t want to talk, they want to shoot.
  • Seamless voice chat integration will make future MMOFPS games more likely to succeed on this point.

3 – Poor/shoddy implementation of features, rushed development schedules.

  • To be fair, this is becoming more of a common problem in the MMO industry in general, and is not unique to shooters.
    • Given the track record that these “incomplete” launches have, it boggles my mind that it continues to happen on such a regular basis.
  • However, on that note, I’m starting to see more and more release and beta windows get pushed back and delayed, across the industry.
    • As much as this upsets me as a player, it also potentially means more developers giving more care and attention to the product they will have ready at time of launch.

FIREFALL
Firefall avoids industry-only conventions (E3), wants to talk to gamers

Cinematic Trailer (made by Blur)
Gameplay Trailer
10 minutes of gameplay footage
6 minutes over-the-shoulder PVP from PAX East 2011

Release Date: “before the end of 2011”
Official Game Site

E3 Videos from Machinima:
http://www.youtube.com/show?p=dqBjY9Gxj1I&tracker=show0

Download & Comment:

Question? Comments? Contact us here!