Usually when I write this series I’m talking about games that currently exist and are just not doing particularly well. These games are usually like the RC Cola’s of the cola world. They are new additions, they turn a small profit, but they’re not doing so amazingly that they can have rapid development. It is in the same sense that Research in Motion is failing because they are not expanding. When you stop expanding you are suddenly looking grim.
Most of the games that I call fail have either moved on to or will be moving on to the free to play model. Final Fantasy 14 for example revamped their entire game and made it a subscription just recently. They however went free to play for a full year to make up for this. Rift is still subscription and it is getting closer and closer to free. On Black Friday the game went for a mere $2 with a free month of play included.
The reason games go to the free to play model is because well, they suck. They’re not popular enough because they were not able to keep 1M players on launch. By removing the economic restriction on the game people’s friends will come play and the game will swell to 3x to 5x the original size.
But what if a game failed and it was already free to play?
That was the story of Faxion Online and I’m here to tell it.
What is Faxion Online?
It is the ultimate battle for the afterlife!
Yes, that’s the concept.
So the introduction to the game puts you at purgatory. You are not good enough for heaven but not bad enough for hell. In your character creation you push yourself towards one of the extremes and go there.
After this you spawn in heaven or hell and you move out in your afterlife. You are now to become a demon knight of hell or an arch angel of heaven.
UTV Ignition was developing this game. They did this because they felt the MMO genre was too easy to get into. Really crappy 2d games were in this genre and still doing well. So to develop a free to play MMO would be to them the key to making big bucks.
Up until this point UTV Ignition was making casual games for the iPhone, Xbox 360 and PS3. The market for these little games was pretty big and people found out that they could make a pretty high amount of money by selling something very cheaply.
UTV Ignition was ready to make the next step, giving away a game free.
They were encouraged in 2006 when Idea Fabrik launched their HeroEngine. The Hero Engine was an engine designed specifically for making online games… and it was free. The folks at Idea Fabrik felt if they gave away their engine for free they could sell people on their cloud storage system.
Not having to build a gaming engine puts a studio so far ahead on building a game. Unreal 3 is probably the most popular gaming engine in the world and those guys make billions in revenues from it. But it saves the game developer years in their development cycle.
To UTV Ignition by getting this gaming engine they would move from years of gaming development… to months. Their plan was to take a gaming engine, make it into a quick game and put it out there as soon as humanly possible.
The engine is quite good. It is the same engine used for development of SWTOR and it is said to be used for another seven titles that will come out soon.
The Development Cycle
So MMOs go through a develoment cycle.
The first step is the concept. It has to be pitched to the big boys of the company and done so with minimal effort. Usually designers will make renderings on their own to showcase their concept. In the concept is what the game will look like, what market they are looking to go after, what is cool about it, and a cost analysis.
The second step is talent recruitment. In this step you need to find a team of people who can help develop this game. This will usually involve maintaining someone to do press work, some graphics people, some developers and a whole lot of people. Most of the hiring for this project happens in house, but you can tell a new MMO is coming out when a studio starts hiring.
The third step starts during hiring, and this is the initial foundations of the game. The base code is developed from which all other code will be based off of.
The fourth step is to engineer character movements so that all of the character models will work and do something.
The fifth step is to create the world. Usually four and five are done together. Involved in creating the world is also all of the dungeons, raids, and encounters.
The sixth stage is usually where a closed beta begins and this is finding bugs in the gameplay. Usually they will load up 5,000 gamers to do this.
The next step is to touch up the game by adding in high res textures and quickly trying to add in features gamers will want. This is usually where the open beta is.
Open betas have never really been beta testing but marketing packs. The idea here is if you give everyone a taste of the game and give them a connection to the game (OMG I BETA TESTED THIS GAME) they will be more loyal and more inclined to buy it.
Faxion Online skipped steps 1-3. They hired no new people, they got the foundations of the game from HeroEngine, and they didn’t develop the concept until after they were already building the world. The Heaven vs Hell aspect of the game was an after thought.
Because of this they were forced to push this ahead they did not really think through this part of the game. The character were all awkward and weird. Like it’s kind of odd being on the heaven side and seeing Beowulf as a random quest NPC. It is a little disappointing to find out that the only thing Beowulf wants from you is to kill ten wolves…. in heaven.
The game was a hodge podge of MMOs with no real rhyme or rhythm. All of this stuff was left in the game. It was presumed that they would change it, but they never did.
Small company free to play developments are different from those of big companies. What usually happens is they will put the game into open beta early and open an item’s shop. They will hope that the micro-purchases that people make will help fund their project.
So Faxion Online went into open beta the second they started the open world. Initially there was some odd stuff where you would run into nonexistent world and the entire game was untextured. The game would make improvements as it came along but it never reached the final phase of development which I call ‘polish.’
Now few MMOs are actually polished when they launch. They only one I can think of that was polished for launch was Star Wars: The Old Republic. Every other one had some pretty important fixes to terrain and graphics that had to be done post-launch. But this game was REALLY far behind on polish.
Because they released the beta essentially when it should have been a friends and family alpha they really hurt themselves. They lost a lot of promising customers who were shied off by how poor the game was.
The game launches in May and closes in June. In this time the hype machine is at work trying to make this really crappy game into something it’s not. This is called intellectual dishonesty, saying something that is not true when you know it is in fact false. The gaming industry is full of people like this who are trying to pump up games in order to win on sales and advertising revenues.
So the first part of this is the videos. UTV Ignition put out a series of five videos to promote Faxion Online. The title of this was “We Know Conflict” showing videos of conflicts in the UTV Ignition workplace. The most famous of these is Pirates vs Ninjas:
Massively at E3 were asked what game they are most excited about, they answered… Faxion Online. Now to be fair Massively has 100s of publishers and really this was just some joeschmoe saying this. But it was stated as a Massively release. The guy writing for Massively had only positive things to say about the game and rated it very highly.
In all press packages you got this:
The game was actually, this:
Once again, intellectual dishonesty. Everyone who was reviewing this game knew that the game was the second picture and not the first picture. People came expecting some epic PvP game. What they got instead was an unfulfilled empty game.
The game closed in June after UTV Ignition decided that continuing to try and develop this game was not worth their time. They felt (suddenly) that the MMO market was too crowded and they would have to invest too much to compete.
They laid off their entire Faxion staff and now make casual games for PS3, Xbox and handhelds.
Faxion is an example of a game that failed because the developers literally did not care about it. The developers had no passion for it. They were simply in it… for the money.