Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Can Age of Conan survive is Open Beta?

Age of Conan really dropped the ball on its open beta through Fileplanet. While there had been rumors about the game's performance being spotty on some computers, it wasn't really confirmed until last weekend. It's a shame since the game has some interesting game design behind combat and skill training. None of that is going to produce any positive buzz though if 10% of the testers are crashing every hour. Just by the nature of the internet the portion of players who did have problems are going to get their experience posted about the most.

Now Funcom has admitted they pushed some patches right before the beta which made the client unstable and caused some poor performance. They have assured gamers that the problem will be better by launch but of course this sounds like the same crap every developer has said when pushing out an unfinished product. Everyone says that World of Warcraft has set new standards for launching a MMO but in my experience most games still release unfinished. I mean can you really call it an industry standard if no one follows it?

It's not that Age of Conan is the next Vanguard which some gamers are starting to say on a lot of forums. I beta tested Vanguard before release and in general it was much less of a finished product then Age of Conan. Also I don't think Funcom is being forced to release early because of monetary concerns. The more likely scenario is that they are releasing early to take advantage of Warhammer pushing back their release date. It’s not like Sigil where they are desperate to raise funds by releasing with a ton of bugs.

Age of Conan is going to be worked on and patched by its development team at a decent rate even after launch. I don't expect mass firings if they don't sell 400k boxes or to end up in the SOE all-access pass graveyard. I do expect them to get about 300,000 initial players which will slowly increase as more time without Wraith of the Lich King and Warhammer passes. I thought that Season 4 being timed around Age of Conan's launch might help prevent some players from switching games. But I think Blizzard has made some recent changes to Season 4 which is going to make PvP less popular in the game.

I really think that Age of Conan has been handed a very opportune time to release. Most of its competition only has old content at the moment and Warhammer/WoW seem content to duke it out later in the year. While their game play is unfamiliar I don't think it’s enough to alienate players unless it's accompanied by bad game performance. The intensive button hitting to execute combos is going to appeal to most casual players I think. Its might cause some problems with raiders and other players who stay on for long periods of time but you can expect macros to be created to help alleviate the problem.

As long as Age of Conan can keep their servers up on launch day then I fully expect them to pull off a successful MMO. I pre-ordered it myself and I'll probably be playing as soon as I can login despite some so-so reviews about the open beta. The one thing about Vanguard was that a lot of people broke the NDA to scream "stay away". I mean people were breaking the NDA so often that it made the Warhammer beta look airtight. This stands out from Age of Conan where most of the so-so reviews for it have been based on the open beta/pvp weekend. This probably means that the people in closed beta still care about not getting banned for breaking the NDA. This seems like a good sign to me and I'm keeping the pre-order. If I'm wrong then I'm sure we'll hear about it from around 5 billion blogs on May 17th.

Summary: Yes


Anonymous said...

I am curious why you are so negative in your opening statement, then you summarize a yes in the end. I think you slightly overestimate what negative impact 10% of a player population with connection problems will have versus 90% telling their friends that they are having a positive experience.

Relmstein said...

In general what Funcom did to the open beta was just stupid. These are mostly advertising events and have very little to do with actually testing the game. They should have known that and had a more stable client for fileplanet.

On the other hand I think the timing is good and the game represents the only new MMO content most people are likely to see any time soon. So they can survive the disaster of the open beta but it will be up to how stable the game is on launch day. If its crashing all the time when the pre-order people come in on May 17th then there might not be that many people on May 20th.

Anonymous said...

Now I have played most new mmos since WoW was released (I am including WoW in this) and by far the smoothest release I have ever seen was for Lotro. WoW was hardly the glorified release of stability some people claim that it was (not on the different servers I tried playing on during release at least). Now I am sure AoC has some issues that needs fixing, but the biggest fallacy to me is that they narrows "open" beta down to fileplanet subscribers only rather than letting more people in to truly let people know that they have nothing to hide good or bad. You have to agree that 90% ayes is a pretty good score and if they had a huge crows testing it who give their friends positive reviews then all the better.

Green Armadillo said...

Can they survive a bad open beta, or even a bad launch? Well, technically, yes, of course, anything can happen.

That said, I think you may be underestimating the power of word of mouth. Maybe "finished" isn't an industry standard, but that doesn't mean that your customers are going to wait around for a year for you to patch in all the features and content people expected at launch - case in point, Turbine's free-re-trial of LOTRO this weekend, at its very first anniversary.

The lack of an open beta that you could get into for free pushed this game from "consider" to "wait and see" for me. If the word of mouth at launch is that the client needs work to fix crashes and non-latency-related lag (which it will be if even 5% of paying customers experience the issues that closed beta testers are currently reporting), I will downgrade it further to "maybe a few patches down the line, if they offer a free trial first so I know what I'm getting into". Problem is, they don't have that many patch cycles before the lead time they have on Warhammer and Wrath evaporates.

Captain Angry said...

Count me in the 90% I suppose..

I haven't had many problems with the open beta client at all and I'm actually starting to get a little excited about the launch. I think the audience will certainly be there when the game goes live.

Relmstein said...

Yeah, Its funny but while a lot of people were disappointed with the open beta I haven't heard of anyone cancelling their pre-orders. I think even the guy who does CTRL+ALT+DELETE said he was still going to hold onto his pre-order.

I have heard a couple of people saying they are going to wait until they hear feedback from the launch though.

Zelmor said...

Tim also said, back in the days, that he will keep supporting Sigil with a subscription to Vanguard as he sees the game a success-to-be, as did many of us. I wonder if ha had a change of opinion ever since. :) He probably did.

Relmstein said...

Vanguard is supposed to pretty good nowadays though it will never recover from it's disastrous opening.

At least with AoC it seems no one is canceling their pre-orders. They just had to stop issuing early access key codes yesterday I think.