The first and foremost is that it is being re-launched because it failed. The second is that it gives me a hint of hope that it might actually be a better game when it’s done with. In this article I want to talk about elements of a successful re-launch and what makes for a failed re-launch.
The reason they failed in the first place matters entirely for the re-launch. Some games when they failed did so simply because they sucked.
Some examples of games that just sucked include Dungeons and Dragons Online, Lord of the Rings Online, and Age of Conan. Fixing these games was a lot more work. A successful re-launch for any of these games would involve an almost full re-design of the game… or give them away for free. These games ended up doing both. DDO picked up World of Warcraft style gameplay, LOTRO cleaned up their poor graphics/raiding/leveling, and Age of Conan implemented an actual leveling experience.
When a game dies because it just sucked it means it will essentially have to become a brand new game that will have to attract a new audience. People would never want to go back to a game that just sucked. To this day I have not and will not make a return to DDO. I was hesitant on Age of Conan and still am on LOTRO.
Another common reason for a game to fail is because of corporate problems. Corporate problems are money problems. When you build a game (and especially an MMO) you are investing money over years and not getting any return. Imagine a business model that involves only spending money for many years before making a dime. Usually smaller firms have problems getting their games off the ground and surviving the first month.
I was actually afraid that Trion Worlds would end up like this when their Rift launch did not break (and still has not) the one million copies sold mark. There is a difference between the guy who is getting paid by a large gaming corporation to make his game and the company that is doing it through loans and lines of credit. The truth is the bank will eventually foreclose on you, even if your game is doing well.
Great examples of a game that failed for financial reasons are Hellgate London, All-Points Bulletin and Tabula Rasa. When a game is doing well it actually doesn’t matter how much money you are making if you are taking sub-prime loans without insurance. This was the case for both games, they were just unable to make loan payments and they were forced to liquidate their respective companies. A company is more than just its games, it is designing space, computers, coffee makers and living spaces.
Generally speaking for this kind of game to rebound it will need its original design team back, with some improvements to management. A lot of times when titles are purchased they are done so with a brand new team. This means the spirit that made this game a success, is gone. Usually a team of talented and creative designers get replaced with one that is thinking of the top selling game of that genre. This ends up ruining the title and transforming it from a gem to a clone.
The worst re-bakers are the free to play re-builders. They take a game that is fine and transform it into a game that is going to find ways to trick you into paying extra money for micro-transactions.
Another common reason for re-launched games to fail is because they did not have a subscriber base. What I mean to say is that, despite it being a great game people actually did not know about it. This could go down to being almost any game out right now. World of Tanks for example is a fantastic game that has not been that well publicized and was forced to adopt a free to play model because of that.
When these games fail and are picked up they are transformed into mass marketed games with no development in them at all. They abandon a lot of the strengths of the original development.
When a game fails it does so for a number of reasons previously outlined. When a team is going to succeed it does so as part of a game design team effort. A lot of the time a re-launch will fail because the company that picks it up isn’t exactly going to want to put their best and brightest on the job. They usually throw together a team of misfits that do not have the appropriate skills for the project.
Remember when EA bought out Mythic Entertainment?
Mythic Entertainment was the studio that gave us Dark Age of Camelot, one of the most successful and balanced PvP MMOs ever made. Mythic was in a bind since so many people migrated from DaoC to WOW and they simply were not gaining revenue anymore. At the same time they were developing the Warhammer IP, Warhammer Online. So EA buys Mythic and invades their studios with a lot of EA people and “help” making Warhammer Online.
Mythic did need the help, but they did not need EA hiring more people for them. Many people left Mythic upset about the creative direction of the company. The product that was released was a WoW clone in every single way. Warhammer failed so heavily that they did not even feel the need to reboot it. Instead they just made it an “endlessly free” game. That’s nice and all, but not exactly all that valuable.
A great redesign with a terrible team was Hellgate Global. This is mostly because the design team for Hellgate Global was… Hellgate London. Now given Hellgate London failed for financial reasons a team needs innovation. The top games are always constantly hiring young designers with innovative concepts. Hellgate Global was just the frat boys of Hellgate London going for a second swing.
A relaunch needs a mixture of fresh and old minds. It needs the same core mechanics as the previous version to attract people back but it needs new people to put in some fresh material to attract a new audience. Whether a game fails from economics or design it does not matter. People are going to assume it was just a bad game regardless. The only people who will think otherwise are those that will speak of the “legend of XMMO.”
3. The Payment Method
I don’t know what’s worse, the studio that makes you pay for a game or the one that makes you pay for it again through an “expansion.”
Age of Conan was a pretty successful game, for a month. It was a game entirely based on hype and unfortunately when people loaded up the game they found out that it wasn’t done yet. There was no single player questing. The entire game from Level 10 to Level 40 was leveling up through player vs player (world) and killing mobs. It was an awful failure and despite this people stuck with it because they had reached such a high level of player vs player.
When the game’s first re-launched with Godslayer they were making you pay for another completely different game at an outrageous price. It always bothers me how games that charge a subscription fee can get away with selling a game.
The worst thing about Age of Conan is that 8 months later they went free to play. After making people pay for another expansion they went free to play. Now yes people did get compensated for this by having veteran rewards and free item shop stuff.
When you re-launch a game price is going to matter. You are essentially asking people to play a game that went offline previously. You can never expect them to pay full price for something that isn’t ‘of the time.’
A free to play model is going to bring in more people. A free month will bring in a lot of people. Making them pay another box sale price and start paying a subscription will not. People need to feel like they are being rewarded for sticking with and playing a game that used to suck. You have to bribe your gamer base into coming back.
Final Fantasy 14 had an interesting model where they made a full year of unrestricted free gameplay so that they could prepare the game for PS3 launch. I have a feeling because of this Final Fantasy 14 might rebound.
The seriousness of the content is important in the re-launch. A lot of the old WoW killers relaunched and did so with a game that was… exactly as is. Epic games are epic on launch. They are less epic when they’ve already failed once.
Rift for example does not in any way feel epic. Because of its weak launch the folks at Rift stopped making epic encounters and epic quests and instead made fun quests and fun encounters.
If you drop the seriousness from a game you will find out that it can be quite fun. A game that is ‘serious’ appeal more as a job to complete than something fun to play.
At the end of the day a lot of people do not realize that when you re-launch you want something that feels casual but occupies a lot of time. A re-launch is not going to be a game that will occupy your life like many MMOs are. A re-launch is just that, a second thought, a spare time thing.