With the recent launch of Archeage in western markets, my friends and I have been discussing it’s merits and more importantly it’s failings. Archeage is what one friend calls a sand-park game. Meaning that, while it purports to be a sandbox game, it also tries to offer something to the World of Warcraft players of the world in terms of PVE (theme park) content.
This is one reason I think Archeage is struggling. Trying to be everything to everyone will only lead to a game with an identity crisis and no one wants to play a neurotic video game.
Archeage has been called EVE with Elves which is about right. EVE Online is certainly the best comparison in terms of game play mechanics, even if the settings couldn’t be further apart. EVE’s setting has an inherent design advantage that a game like Archeage simply cannot attain: Space. This design hurdle is one of the primary reasons for the recent missteps as well as the downright disastrous Archeage launch.
I had heard my father say that he never knew a piece of land run away or break. – John Adams
Archeage, intentional or not, is a game about land and it’s finite existence. Trion being completely unprepared for even the number of players that had pre-ordered the game notwithstanding, many of the launch problems can be attributed to players rushing to claim premium land plots either for personal use or to resell later.
Within a day of launch, pretty much all land on the handful of servers was claimed. By then the queues were so long that patron players couldn’t get into the game for hours and those no-good free-to-play players might as well not try. One free-to-play player told me that, at the height of the queues, he logged in to the queue in the morning after breakfast and still wasn’t in the game when he went to bed that night.
We’re now about 45 days removed from that nightmare. More servers have been added and the player base has stabilized. As far as I know there aren’t any queues worth mentioning, even for free-to-play players. Trion offered up free patron time to those who paid for patron status but couldn’t even log in to actually enjoy it. Everyone seems happy.
Time for a new wrench…
This week, Trion opened up the Northern continent (think nullsec for you EVE lovers) for settlement. I’m not sure it could have gone worse. For starters, a bug in the patch that released the northern continent prevented a large portion of the player base from being able to connect to the game at all. Not everyone mind you, just an unfortunate majority. However, even though half the population couldn’t actually log in, all of the new land was claimed within seconds of a castle being claimed. Imagine if everyone would have been online. Disastrous.
Now, before you start calling me a casual or a -shudder- socialist for thinking that everyone deserves a fair shake, take this in to account. It’s one thing to get beat out by another player who a) gets lucky or b) wants it more or c) has more resources. It’s an entirely different thing to get culled by a completely avoidable technical glitch.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that I don’t play Archeage. I bought a founders pack and patron status but I have better things to do with my time than sit in a queue so I moved on. And since Archeage is a game about land and all the land is taken, there isn’t much reason to come back. I do have friends who play, however, and just about all of them were affected by the glitch this past week and as a result have no land in the north. Some of them are now walking away from Archeage and that brings me to the question of this post.
Why is Archeage failing where EVE Online has been so successful?
The first reason as I’ve mentioned above is that EVE doesn’t suffer from the land scarcity issue. If the player base grows beyond the current confines of the game, CCP can fairly easily add new systems. They’ve done so several times over the years and there is no reason they can’t continue to do so.
But I believe there is more to this question that simple land availability. Both Archeage and EVE are very complex games with myriad intricacies ranging from social structures, political intrigue and resource competition. But each game arrived at that complexity in very different ways.
EVE Online was launched in 2003 and looked nothing like it does today. Certainly the game is prettier now, but EVE Online is very different in terms of game mechanics as well. The game we know today has grown, step by step, over the past eleven years. Each feature carefully crafted and tweaked to fit nicely into the game while causing as little disruption as possible.
Archeage, on the other hand, while leaning heavily on the lessons learned by CCP, came out of the gate with much of the complexity that EVE possesses today but without any of the historical data to anticipate how all of these features might behave together.
EVE has weathered it’s own storms over the years and ultimately came out the other side. Archeage may do the same, or it may suffer the same fate as so many other MMO games in recent years; a slow painful decline until Trion decides to shut it down.
Regardless of the future of Archeage, I hope the lesson that game developers take away is to start with simple mechanics and perfect each feature before moving on to new functionality. Even the most complex systems are merely an amalgam of many individually simple mechanics.