KOEI released a game for the Super Nintendo called “Uncharted Waters.” Despite having a small audience it’s niche crowd spawned the popularity for years of age of sail games focusing on trade and conquest. Interest in this genre continued to grow to the point where people are actively competing for shares in this industry. The game was uniquely likeable to a Korean audience because of the ability to grind out money and minimal storylines.
The game was ported to America under the traditional name Uncharted Waters Online. The game was done by Netmarble who at this point were working on a title called Anima Online and had a simple fighter game on their system.
I think before going into depth it is important to note the difference between a game made by KOEI for a Korean market and a game ported by Netmarble for an English market. On the one hand you have a game with great finish product with optional item shop items to keep the game alive. On the other hand you have a game with already finish product with necessary item shop items to keep the game alive. What I will be saying failed here is the American release “Uncharted Waters Online” not the Korean release “Daikokai Jidai Online.” I make this distinction just so people do not say something stupid like “well this game is really popular overseas.”
Before delving into any other problems I’d like to first talk about the introduction of a new gamer to it. A lot of the themes of this article will be a difference between Asian and American markets but this one is more a difference between the Asian game and the American game.
So here is a little story about my trek into Uncharted Waters Online. At the time I was pretty hardcore into Starcraft 2 and just needed an MMO that I could use as a break between games. So I looked around and what did I find, Uncharted Waters now had an MMO. It is something that went under the radar for me.
But this was not the kind of MMO I would keep for myself… no I felt the need to share this one. So I got my girlfriend on this game, three of my friends and two of their girlfriends. We would make an effort to play this game one hour a day every day at the exact same time.
So after two weeks everyone but myself up and quit the game. I couldn’t even beg my girlfriend to play this game.
Everyone cited the exact same reason for leaving this game, the tutorial was too long. Keep in mind we were doing this tutorial with seven people, this thing should go instantly. However the tutorial was all individual objectives and co-oping together did not help anything. As well they were all class specific so even if you wanted to you really could not.
The tutorial after I finished it took me 100 hours of game play to finish. That is the introduction for the game, 100 hours long. An introduction to an MMO should either take 2-3 hours or it should be slowly introduced throughout the game.
This game had a poor cultural basis. In Korea they would rather get all of the tutorial stuff out of the way immediately and just jump into the main game with no restraints. In America we like to learn as we go so that we learn becomes more pertinent to the experience.
Worst yet when I actually jumped into the Korean version of the game what I found was that the tutorial was actually only 3 hours long. The remainder of it they labeled off as epic side quests.
Yeah for whatever reason when they ported this game over they decided that instead of them being optional high reward side quests they should be required parts of the tutorial that you will need to unlock more of the game. This turned off so many people who just wanted to do the core mechanics of the game: trade, discover and fight.
Greed: Item Shop
Most free to play games do not want to sell their products in a store for a price for a number of reasons.
The first reason is that these games are not good enough to compete with other commercially available games. These commercially available games are finished products, these games are not.
But that’s not always the case. Many times the problem lies in with game shares. When you buy a copy of Skyrim from Walmart it is not marked up at all, it is the same price it is online. Walmart makes its money by taking a substantive cut out of the sale. They can do this because games have to pay a shelf fee and a sales cut. This means that new games being sold at stores might get back 50% of the box sale. So say Skyrim sold 300,000 copies at Walmart at $60, Walmart will take roughly $900,000 out of those sales.
So for these games it only makes sense to sell item shop cards at Walmart.
So they go online only and free to play only just so they can attract people with the offer of free. The item shop is then how they have to make money.
Successful item shops in Asia usually have gimmicky items to make their characters more social or more creative. Item shops in America usually feature things that will make your character perform better.
Unchartered Waters Online tried to suck people in first by making the item shop do things that would just make the game go faster. But then came the nail in the coffin… the Investment Bond.
The Investment Bond was a particularly unfair advantage. For a pretty cheap amount a person could purchase one of the $1,000,000 Investment Bond.
So some basic understanding of how you play a merchant in this game. You will go from port to port buying commodities at certain ports and trading them at others. The big money route is to go to the Orient, purchase various spices and bring them to any European port in a large fleet. Once you have tones of money you spend it to upgrade your ship and the remainder you will use to dump into ports to gain strategic control of them. By gaining control of the ports you will have more trading options and you will gain better prices for trade.
Certain nations are also at war with other nations. So by creating these transitions you are essentially locking ports from people’s controls.
So you go to the East Indies and the New World where all the money is made and invest all your money there. This will give you better prices on things and worse prices for others. It will also make your company and nation a game leader.
So now that you understand that you understand that doing all of this is a long process that involves long trade routes and days of money making you may understand how agrivating it is when someone purchases one of these Investment Bonds and ‘flips’ a port that you have spent a month working on. These things give you access to insanely high income that would take people a very long time to make. This income is only used flipping ports. It essentially transformed the Merchant side of the game to being mostly about who has more real life dollars.
This was one of the biggest controversies for a year and was something that was never even considered for change. They felt that taking these out was not worth the losses of income they would have. It is possible this is the only money they were making in the game.
Warships were originally designed to just protect and raid trade ships. But eventually they added mini games for the warships, PvP around ports. The item shop responded by adding specialized clothes and sails that would improve your performance enormously in these battles. It came to the point where if you do not have these items you will just get wrecked by smaller and weaker ships.
Yep, items ruin a good game.
Undeveloped Third Way
A third feature of the Uncharted Waters series was the ability to explore and find new and exotic things. This represented the hardest way to do things because you are traveling with very little money and you only make money if you actually find something.
It is this last way that makes this style of play very unrewarding… that it can all be over any time. The problem is that when you have no money you get no money and so you want to have some security.
Every adventurer is then required to be an adventurer and something else. Most people choose to be adventurers and war. But as you do more of the war thing you become less attracted to finding items and discovering exotic locations.
This is because guilds have no place for people who simply want to find stuff. They have no real function. You can use them to scout the locations of trade fleets for large pirate fleets but honestly you would rather just have another warship in for that.
Finding stuff is something you do on your own clock, something that doesn’t really involve a fleet. But as you play the game more and more you find that you will need a fleet to get to most of these exotic places. This means an adventurer has to be highly sociable and find a guild that he can leach off of without having any demands from him.
See how that might be a problem?
I actually did have a friend who wanted to just discover things… thank god she decided to quit before it became an issue.
Not Enough Zeal
When I heard had re-mastered Uncharted Waters to an online version I thought this could be an amazing game. What I have found out is that it is a heaping pile of crap. The problem is the KOEI isn’t just KOEI anymore. They’re not free to work exclusively on what they want anymore.
Now it is Tecmo-KOEI!
The problem with this is that Tecmo’s games have been more popular over the years (think Dead or Alive and Dynasty Warrior). These newer updated versions of Tecmo games have received the collective funding of KOEI and Tecmo.
This leaves Uncharted Waters Online as merely a cash cow for future game developments. The game is popular enough in Korea to keep it afloat and makes enough money in America to keep it afloat, so servers will not turn off in the next year. But it will never be a phenom.
Free to play doesn’t make it a bad game. The most popular game in the world right now is a MOBA called League of Legends.
The developers just did not have enough imagination with this game. They went for profits instead of popularity and that is in the end what makes this chance for greatness… fail.