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Antici…pation: the new games I’m waiting for

Although the industry is in flux, I can’t help but feel that it’s never been a better time to be an MMO gamer, with a ton of interesting games either just released or on the way. Here’s a list of some of the stuff on my radar; I’d be really interested to hear what everyone else is looking forward to.

Warframe: Me and my fellow Tenno on an elevator

Path of Exile
This MMOaRPG just entered open beta. It’s a very well-done Diablo clone with a massive skill progression tree, from an indie development studio in NZ. If DIII let you down, PoE might be what you’re after. I can’t speak to its entertainment value any more than that, as I’m only five levels in, but development seems active and it looks promising.

Warframe
This also just entered open beta as of last weekend. (Or, at least, everyone who was in last weekend’s open beta weekend gets to stay in the beta.) It’s a lobby-based third-person shooter with solo and co-op mission-based content; I’ve been playing it with friends, and it’s surprisingly fun. Like Firefall, you can change your “class” just by buying a new suit of power armour, although unlike Firefall a lot of the gear is locked away behind either a long grind or RL money pricetags. The Founder Pack program is still running until March 16th, and if you’re enjoying the game it’s quite good value.

Defiance
Defiance is an MMOTPS (third person shooter) currently in closed Alpha, with closed Beta weekends, due to launch in April. It’s by Trion Worlds, in tandem with a SyFy TV series. Reports from beta testers say that it’s a third persion shooter, console-compatible (with the associated UI limitations), and mechanically similar to Borderlands. It’s mission-based with a massive world and dynamic events called Arkfalls (much like RIFT’s Rifts), with some (consensual?) open-world PvP thrown in.

Neverwinter
This MMORPG is currently doing closed Beta weekends. You can get beta access by buying a founder’s pack, otherwise they’re scarcer than hen’s teeth. It’s the MMORPG followup to the very popular Neverwinter Nights; it’s based on the 4th Edition D&D ruleset (in the same way that NWN was based on 3rd Edition) and seems to be quite a good port of tabletop rules to an MMO environment. It comes from Cryptic; I suspect they got the license because they have experience with player-created content from the Star Trek Online Foundry, and player-created missions are an integral part of Neverwinter’s heritage.

WildStar
WildStar is currently accepting beta signups, although I don’t think the beta has started yet. They’re aiming for a balance of themepark and sandbox content, with variations to suit different playstyles. It’s an MMORPG, with a steampunk/fantasy flavour, from NCSoft’s Carbine Studios. Looks fun.

ArcheAge
A Korean MMORPG from the creator of Lineage, ArcheAge has been in closed beta in Korea for a while, and Trion has signed a deal to bring it to Western markets, hoping to launch it later this year or early 2014. It’s another sandpark game, with a fascinating and complex class system (it’s a bit like Rift’s “souls” system, except there are a ton of souls and you can mix and match any of them, not just a subset of them).

The Repopulation
This is a sci-fi sandbox MMORPG currently in alpha, from indie devs Above and Beyond. It looks like it’s going to be focused on a lot of non-combat play – which isn’t to say there won’t be combat, but there will be meaningful non-combat stuff to do too. Honestly, it looks like they’re trying to hit the same notes as the original Star Wars Galaxies, which would suit me just fine.

Pathfinder Online
This is the upcoming MMORPG based on Paizo’s hugely popular RPG spun off from D&D 3rd Edition. Again, they’re going for the ‘sandpark’ balance, with a crafting economy, player settlements, offline skill training… you know what; it sounds like they’re trying to make Fantasy EVE. Whether or not it works is yet to be decided, but if it works, it’ll be glorious.

So that’s what I’m keeping an eye on. What about everyone else?

My five favourite MMOs

In the spirit of yesterday’s post, here are my five favourite games that are MMOs.

It’s hard to analyse MMOs in the same way as non-MMOs, because there are so many other factors that affect one’s fun – the quality of dev support, the quality and frequency of new content, the friendliness of the community, the critical mass of players that makes a world feel lived-in, and so on.

Still, here are the five MMOs I’ve enjoyed the most – and, in some cases, miss the most.

  • World of Warcraft

Yeah, yeah, WoW is the opiate of the MMO masses; it’s old and tired and whatever. I don’t care.

Don’t get me wrong: I fell out of love with Blizzard a couple of years ago, and I haven’t been inclined to cut them much slack since them. But despite my dissatisfaction with what WoW has become, it’s impossible to forget the years of happiness and fun it’s provided, or the way it’s shaped an entire industry and brought it into the mainstream.

When WoW was shaping up for release, our SWG guild put its money on EQ2 instead. Most of us weren’t Warcraft enthusiasts, didn’t much care about WoW, and many had a history with EQ that made EQ2 look amazing. When WoW came out, we were snobbish about how ‘ezymode’ it was and how it just gave you stuff on a plate – while we went back to retrieve our corpses again (and corpse runs in EQ/EQ2 were not the simple thing they are in WoW!) and earn some XP to pay back what we’d lost by dying.

And then slowly we all trickled across to WoW, and we realised just how damn good it was. Most importantly, more than any other game at the time, WoW cut away the bits of the MMO gaming paradigm that weren’t fun.1 “I’m a game,” said WoW. “I’m supposed to be fun. Stop doing those stupid grindy chores in other games, and come and play me.” And we listened, and we did, and most of us never looked back.

World of Warcraft

  • Lord of the Rings Online

LotRO is very much a game in the WoW-ish themepark model, but it’s far from just “WoW with a Tolkien theme painted on”. Its crafting system is more interesting (and more relevant), the game’s ambience and atmosphere are absolutely perfect, the narrative does an excellent job of keeping you involved in the story and making you feel integral without overriding the canon, the seasonal festivals are fun and setting-appropriate (instead of just feeling like our holidays pasted onto a fantasy world), its geography is excellent, and the community is generally peaceful, friendly and mature. And it’s got a) what’s probably the single best F2P implementation I’ve seen in any subscription game, and b) the best wardrobe/cosmetic gear system ever. The game design is great: each class feels special, with unique mechanics and clear differentiation – playing a WoW warrior, DK or paladin all feels much the same; playing a LotRO loremaster, minstrel or runekeeper does not.

It’s not perfect, of course; in particular, the animations and movement engine feel unresponsive, which drove away pretty much everyone I was playing with. The housing system is clunky and lonely, and reportedly unlikely to be improved. And there’s been some unhappiness with the direction of the Turbine Store, like the immersion-breaking $50 hobby-horse mount. Those aren’t dealbreakers for me, but sadly I don’t rule the world (yet).

But If I could wave a magic wand and make all my friends and guildmates want to play one MMO; if I could make everyone I know and want to play with congregate in one game — LotRO would, without doubt, be that game. I’m only not playing it now because nobody else is.

(It also has my single favourite MMO class of all time, the Loremaster. That class was made for me, and I really wish more MMOs had classes like that.)

Lord of the Rings Online

  • Star Wars Galaxies

Oh, SWG. I am so conflicted about you.

SWG was really my first MMO love. I’d played UO years before, but not in a particularly involved way, and I’d missed the whole EQ craze.

SWG was so very flawed. It was massively buggy – for instance, you’d quite often lose half your inventory when you crossed an invisible zone line and it wouldn’t come back for a couple of hours, which was irksome to say the least. And being very sandboxy, it didn’t take long to run out of things to do for those of us who hadn’t quite got the hang of making our own fun yet. All up, I only played for eight months or so before being lured away into EQ2 and then WoW.

And yet SWG had so much going for it that no other game has matched. Its Star Wars atmosphere was perfect – much more Star-Wars-y than SWTOR, to be honest. The game mechanics were interesting, the Galactic Civil War actually made open world PvP relevant (and thus people actually did it for reasons other than ganking lowbies!). The game encouraged roleplaying and storytelling with non-combat classes like dancers and musicians. The housing system was excellent. And the crafting – oh, the crafting. The crafting was basically perfect, and hit pretty much every single one of my buttons as far as crafting goes – and unfortunately it’s set an incredibly high bar that no game has since been able to match. I regret leaving SWG behind, more so now than ever – the classic case of “you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone”, really.

I’m very happy to discover, though, that there’s a team of volunteer devs developing a Star Wars Galaxies emulator/private server project, at SWG Emu. I haven’t checked it out yet, as I’ll need to find my original game install discs, but this might be my only chance to get my SWG fix again.

Star Wars Galaxies

  • Glitch

Glitch was a magnificent experiment from a startup studio called Tiny Speck. It launched as a browser-based MMO in 2009 and ran until December 9 this year; they simply couldn’t find a way to make it a viable concern. It also didn’t help that they were tied to Flash, and thus their future in mobile gaming – which would otherwise have been a perfect fit for Glitch – was limited.

Glitch had a sense of fun and whimsy like no other game I’ve ever encountered. Almost entirely combat-free, it revolved around exploration, social and emergent gameplay, and crafting. You gathered cooking materials by nibbling piggies, milking butterflies, and squeezing chickens. The fact that there’s no longer a game where you can milk a butterfly makes the world a sadder place, in my opinion.

Glitch

  • DC Universe Online

I can’t believe I’m putting this on the list, but I actually think DCUO belongs here. (This is the spot where I had about five contenders, all with pros and cons, and eventually I decided DCUO came out on top.) I played it constantly for a couple of months in early 2011 and then dropped it like a hot rock, focusing at the time on all the things it did wrong, and not giving enough love to the things it did right.

So let’s get that out of the way up front: it was a great game, ahead of its time, that was hampered by a horrible console-compliant port, utterly inadequate multiplayer features and a user-hostile interface. (The month-long downtime due to the PSN hack didn’t help, either.)

At the same time, though: it pioneered AoE keybound looting and the limited-toolbar MMO style, its movement engine was the most fun I’d had just running around in any game since WoW’s flying mounts (and it hadn’t been topped until I discovered Firefall’s jump jets), the combat system was unique and even healers got to beat stuff up, instance play supported duos, the instances were fun and interesting, the setting was true to canon, and it had Mark Hamill voicing the Joker. Flying over and around Metropolis was just amazing, and the game deserved a lot more credit for its good points than it got.

DC Universe Online

  • Honorable Mentions
  • All of these games were in competition for the fifth slot which eventually went to DCUO:

    • Star Wars: the Old Republic – would have been on the list, were it not for the limited replayability contributing to a player exodus and stale endgame. As a levelling game, it’s superb and would have been at the top of my list, but the fun stops suddenly when you hit 50. Well, it did for me, anyway.
    • Firefall – without a doubt my favourite surprise of the year, this MMOFPS will almost certainly be on my 2013 favourites list. But right now it’s still in beta, and they’re adding content and changing things quite radically and frequently. It’s unreasonable to assess the game right now, because it’s definitely not a finished product.
    • RIFT – I had a lot of fun in RIFT this year, but it’s just not compelling enough to draw me in when I’ve already got other themepark MMOs on the go. It lost the competition for my time against SWTOR, then TSW, then GW2 and now WoW. I like it well enough, but apparently I just don’t love it.
    • EVE Online – spaceships and lasers; what’s not to love? Well, the community full of toxic asshats, for a start. But more importantly, the existence of easy RMT takes something away from the game. I could spend twelve or fifteen hours mining like crazy to make myself half a billion ISK, or I could spend fifteen dollars in the EVE store and net myself half a billion ISK with about three mouse clicks. Don’t get me wrong, EVE’s still fun, but the existence of RMT (and my introduction to it very early in my EVE-playing career) takes away any incentive to do pretty much any PvE in the game. Add to that the fact that the only way you can improve your character is just to wait for RL time to pass and there’s little incentive to play EVE as anything other than “oooh look at the pretty spaceships”; it’s lost the risk-vs-reward factor necessary to make it a game.
    • The Secret World – another game about which I’m conflicted! TSW’s writing is the best I’ve ever seen in an MMO, the setting is refreshing and novel, the character progression system is very flexible, the missions are compelling and the investigation missions in particular are just amazing. Unfortunately, it’s plagued with a lot of challenging, grindy combat that dilutes the awesomeness down to merely ‘okay’, and it lost the competition for my time and attention. I’m not done with it, but I’m also not feeling the itch to go back any time soon.

So, I imagine some of my choices are pretty unusual — but it’s also true that many MMO players get fixed on just a game or two, and fleshing out a whole list of five can be a bit hard. What would your five favourite MMOs be?

  1. Like XP loss or XP debts for every death. Like corpse runs where you respawn alive but your gear’s still on your corpse waiting to be retrieved, in the middle of all the mobs that killed you the first time when you had all your gear. Like needing a full group of players, including a tank and a healer, just to be able to kill same-level non-elite mobs. Like having to run almost everywhere in a world full of monsters you can’t solo because taxi points are few and far between. And so on.

Firefall frame comparison spreadsheet

For those of you playing Firefall, hopefully this will be useful. It’s a spreadsheet I compiled showing the different abilities and upgrade modules available to each Tier 1 and Tier 2 frame for all five frame types. I’ll update it as soon as Tier 3s are released, and when changes to the existing frames are made. If you spot an error in the data, please let me know!

Click here to view the Firefall Frame Comparison spreadsheet!

What’s nifty about Firefall

I’ve been playing the Firefall closed beta with Kris lately, and enjoying it a surprising amount. It’s a F2P MMOFPS with an open world for PvE and battleground-style instanced PvP, set in a future Earth after a spaceship crash that’s rendered the vast majority of the Earth uninhabitable. At the moment the PvE content is noticeably lacking1, but it’s still heaps of fun tooling around blowing the heads off mutant bug monsters. And the game has the single best implementation of jumpjet-style movement I’ve ever played; just running around is gleeful fun.

Me, demonstrating jumpjets

When you start the game you choose a battleframe, which is basically lightweight power armor originally designed for a combat game in the setting’s backstory, now adapted for the war for survival in which humanity finds itself. Your five options are Assault (AoE DPS and mobility), Biotech (DPS limited healing ability), Engineer (DPS and support devices like turrets), Recon (sniper-range precision DPS) and Dreadnaught (survivability and massive single-target DPS). You’re not limited by your starting choice, though — you can buy different frames with in-game currency (although garage slots are limited and opening extra slots costs RL money).

And I’ll digress here for a moment to highlight my single biggest gripe about the game: yet again, there’s a ludicrous and sexist gender disparity in character gear. As an example: male characters in Assault armor get a tank top and cargo pants; female characters in Assault armor get a sports bra and hotpants. Sigh.

The Assault frame, male and female

(And don’t even get me started on the female dance animations. “Pole dancer” is not a good look for a combat veteran.)

Anyway, that non-minor quibble aside: one of the most interesting things about the game is character progression. Once you’ve got your battleframe, you can improve it by spending Experience to unlock new and upgraded equipment via the tech trees. The Tier 1 starting frame is relatively basic and gives a general taste of the frame’s abilities, but if you spend enough XP you can unlock Tier 2 frames – and Tier 3 and beyond are in development now. Generally the two Tier 2 frames focus on different aspects of the frame’s core playstyle – for instance, for Assault frames, the Tigerclaw frame provides superior mobility while the Firecat frame is focused on DPS.

The Assault battleframe progression

Within the tech tree for each frame, you can unlock specific ability modules and upgrades to your existing gear, which you can then fit to your battleframe in whatever configuration you prefer — subject to weight, power and CPU limitations. Most upgrades come in four flavours – the basic “Accord” variant, which is usually unlocked first, and then variants produced by three corporations: Astrek Association, Omnidyne-M and Kisuton. Each corp’s gear has certain specialties – for instance, compared with the standard Accord gear, Omnidyne-M armor plating gives extra health, Astrek armor plating gives health regeneration and Kisuton armor plating reduces incoming damage.

Tier 1 of the Assault battleframe's tech tree

Tier 2 of the Assault battleframe's tech tree

What really piqued my interest, though, was the sudden expansion of the crafting system as soon as I unlocked my Tier 2 frame. Any Tier II upgrades you unlock (except the basic Accord versions) give you the piece of gear to equip on your frame, and they also give you a crafting recipe.

Everyone gets access to crafting, via stations called Molecular Printers, and there are no skill levels involved. They’re introduced early in the PvE game via an introductory mission, and everyone starts with a selection of crafting recipes (or “nanoprints”) for basic items, consumables, and industrial processes like ore refining.

Tier 2 nanoprints allow you to make a crafted version of the basic upgrade you unlocked with XP, with superior stats (but commensurately higher mass, CPU and power requirements). They also introduce interesting complexity to the crafting system, because they introduce the concept of resource quality affecting the finished product.

Resources are in the form of minerals and are acquired by looting them from mobs, blowing up mineral nodes with sonic detonators, or using a temporary mining device called a Thumper. Thumping is a popular PvE activity because it causes waves and waves of mobs to spawn, providing handy home-delivered sources of XP and loot, so it’s fairly easy to rack up thousands of minerals without even trying. Acquiring good-quality materials takes a little more savvy, however.

Resource attributes

As you can see on the left, each resource possesses a number of attributes with numerical ratings: Conductivity, Density, Malleability, Reactivity and Resistance. These attributes are measured on a scale of 1-1000, and if you want to improve a particular attribute you can actually blend two resources — as you can see on the right — to change their attributes.

A Tier 2 nanoprintSo you take a look at a Tier 2 nanoprint, and you can see that the attributes of the resource used to craft it will affect the product’s attributes. This example is the nanoprint for the Kisuton variant of the Assault’s Tier 2 Crater ability (which lifts you up in the air and then blasts you back to the ground at high speed, conveniently AoEing all the mobs you land on). You can see that Reactivity is the most important attribute to improve the Crater module’s damage and radius, whereas Conductivity is the key attribute to reduce the ability’s cooldown. So to make this, I’d look for a resource high in Conductivity and Reactivity.

This will feel very familiar to former Star Wars Galaxies players, where these mechanics were the linchpin of the crafting system. But wait, it’s about to feel even more familiar: resources in Firefall change quality over time.

The overall quality of a resource is referred to by an isotope number next to the resource’s name – the higher the number, the better the resource. These resources shift over time; although each resource has upper and lower limits on each attribute — Bismuth is always going to have high Conductivity and Malleability — the Bismuth you find this week may well have very different stats from the Bismuth you found last week.

This introduces an interesting and complex crafting minigame, where you can spend hours working out the best materials to blend for the attributes you want. And again, former SWG players will remember the buzz of realising this week’s spawn of a given resource has fabulous stats and promptly spending the next week hoovering up as much as you possibly can.

In fact, the only fly in the ointment is that there’s currently no trading system or player economy in Firefall. Devs have said that trading is on the way, but not the highest priority; no word at this stage on any kind of player vendor/auction house system. So for now, anything you make is for you and you alone; you can’t trade or sell your wares (or even your raw resources) to anybody else. Once the trading system comes in however, if crafted items aren’t automatically bound to the crafter, there’s significant potential for Firefall to be almost as appealing to crafting lovers as SWG was.

  1. But the devs have said that they’re focusing on PvE content next.

Five nonexistent MMOs I’d love to play

In honour of the Friday Five 1, and bearing in mind my opinions about what makes a good MMO setting, here are Five Non-Existent MMOs I’d Love to Play:

  1. An Exalted MMO, based on White Wolf’s tabletop RPG Exalted. This is a non-European post-apocalyptic high fantasy game, based on ancient Asian and Roman civilisations, with strange magitech, terrifying Primordials who want to destroy or enslave Creation, complicated politics, and awesome cinematic wuxia-style action. There’s a whole range of potential threats, with a powerscale that would nicely suit a levelling curve with bonus epic (very epic) endgame.
  2. An Earthdawn MMO, based on the obscure tabletop RPG Earthdawn, originally published by FASA as a prequel to Shadowrun. Set ten thousand years ago in an age of magic, Earthdawn is best described as post-apocalyptic fantasy horror — the world is just recovering from the Scourge, a time of darkness when (evil, twisted) spirits called Horrors invaded and the people of the world hid from them in supposedly-impregnable caers. Horrors would make great enemies on every power level, from evil little skittering minions up to terrifying abominations the human mind was not meant to know, and the world would be perfect for exploration as the races of Earth are just starting to emerge from their caers and take stock of the wreckage.
  3. A Marvel superheroes MMORPG. DCUO was a letdown for a number of reasons, and its arguable failure (and the upcoming closure of CoH) doesn’t make superhero MMORPGs look like a good bet. Disappointing, as I’d always hoped to see a Marvel MMO — I simply prefer Marvel’s setting and universe, and I’ve been thoroughly turned off DC thanks to various shenanigans with their latest universe reboot. I know there’s an upcoming MMO, Marvel Heroes, but a) it’s an action RPG (ie Diablo-style gameplay), and b) you’re limited to playing a canonical character and just customising them, not playing one of your own. I want a “proper” (ie traditional) MMORPG, just set in the Marvel universe. (Although I am tickled by the fact that Squirrel Girl is one of the two dozen playable heroes.)
  4. A Harry Potter MMORPG. One of the things I enjoyed most about the Harry Potter series (and the reason it immediately exploded into such an active, insatiable fandom even among adults) was the wonder and possibility in the world. For everything that was defined in the books, ten more possibilities were hinted at, and there’s so much potential for excitement and adventure within the setting. (Also, Quidditch!)
  5. An Eclipse Phase MMORPG. Eclipse Phase, published by Posthuman Studios, is a tabletop roleplaying game of transhuman conspiracy and horror. It’s set in the future after wars have devastated Earth and (trans)humanity has fled to the stars. One of the most appealing things about the setting is that the technology exists to download one’s consciousness into everything from cloned bodies to battle robots to augmented animals, which suggests a lot of really fascinating gameplay options. The setting itself is also really cool, with a huge range of cultures and civilisations to explore. The game’s been a critical and commercial hit, and I think it’d translate very well to an MMORPG setting — in particular, the cloning and consciousness-transfer mechanics allow you to get around limitations like ‘dying regularly’, which is an obstacle MMO settings always have to justify.

Eclipse Phase, art by Stephan Martiniere

So, that’s my list — how about you? Any other super-awesome-cool MMOs that don’t exist but should?

(P.S. Plug time: Eclipse Phase is an amazing game, and if you have any interest in tabletop RPGs you should totally check it out. It’s licensed under Creative Commons, so you can download legitimate copies of the game and its supplements to try it out, and buy it if you love it. It’s totally awesome.)

  1. A long-standing blogging tradition that doesn’t seem to have migrated to the MMO blogosphere

A letter to game designers everywhere, #1

Dear Game Designers,

If you write events or quests that prompt us to try to capture or defeat an NPC…

…and if that NPC gets multiple cut scenes in which he gets to gloat about how clever he is while standing easily within range of our firearms…

…and if that NPC then gets to run off without us getting an opportunity to stop him at a sensible juncture…

You got me monologuing!

…you have only yourselves to blame when we players complain that we should have been able to shoot him in the face while he was monologuing at us.

This is a lesson that every pen-and-paper GM learns early in their career. Just because there are thousands of miles between your ears and our jeering doesn’t mean you should pretend it’s not happening.

Bad writing, designers. Please, please stop doing it. It’s not exciting or inspiring; it’s weaksauce and mockable.

Love,

Siha,
on behalf of frustrated genre-savvy gamers everywhere.

(This letter brought to you by the Star Trek Online “Diplomatic Orders” mission.)

Shadowrun Online: when being second hurts

As I write this, Shadowrun Online has a little under three days to go before its Kickstarter-based funding drive ends, and it’s not looking good for Cliffhanger Productions. They’re about two thirds of the way to their goal; although the pledges have really ramped up in the last week, it may not be enough to get across the line.

Shadowrun Online backer banner

Shadowrun Online is, of course, based on the popular and long-lived pen-and-paper RPG Shadowrun, which has had a complicated history. First developed by Jordan Weisman at FASA Corporation (and one of FASA’s two big successes, along with Battletech), Shadowrun was licensed to Fantasy Productions when FASA closed its doors. FanPro lost the license to Catalyst Game Labs a few years later, who hold it now. Mind you, the electronic rights (that is, video games) were first spun off along with all the other FASA intellectual properties to FASA Interactive, which was then sold to Microsoft, who then produced the much-hated Shadowrun FPS. In the wake of that, Microsoft closed FASA Interactive and licensed the electronic rights to Smith and Tinker, a new company established by Jordan Weisman. (I feel I should intone “the circle is now complete”, Darth Vader-style, at this point.)

Now, I have a long-standing love affair with Shadowrun; it was the first game I wrote for professionally, back in its Third Edition era, and I’ve been playing it since University. It’s by far my favourite RPG. So seeing the Kickstarter struggling is sad, for me.

Unfortunately, it’s got a few points counting against it.

First of all, a high-profile Kickstarter for a Shadowrun video game exploded across Shadowrun fandom just a few months ago. That was back in April for Shadowrun Returns, a single-player 2D turn-based RPG from Jordan Weisman’s new company, and it did amazingly well. Over 36,000 backers, and they made over four times their funding goal – they asked for $400,000 and got $1.8 million. By comparison, Shadowrun Online has 3,800 backers and has scored (so far) about $330,000 of its $500,000 goal. It’s hard not to suspect that Shadowrun Returns has already leached out a lot of the money and enthusiasm for Shadowrun video games. (Certainly the Shadowrun fans I know are talking about SRO a lot less than they promoted Shadowrun Returns.)

Then there’s the simple fact that MMO gamers – although it feels like we’re everywhere, thanks to WoW’s phenomenal success – are only a fraction of the gaming market. There are a lot of gamers out there who don’t particularly like MMOs, and don’t want to play them. Most MMO players enjoy single-player games as well; the reverse is often not true.

Next there’s the confusion over Shadowrun Online’s subscription model. Originally the Kickstarter launched as a full free-to-play game, which of course necessitates reliance on microtransactions for funding. There was plenty of unhappiness around this, and Cliffhanger’s people put their heads together and came up with an alternative: they’d also offer a “Campaign” model, where you buy the game up-front and then pay nothing for gameplay, Guild Wars style. So as not to invalidate the pre-Campaign model pledges, they’ll be offering different servers for different game types. It’s actually fairly straightforward, and kudos to Cliffhanger for being responsive to their fans, but I suspect the sudden change created unnecessary confusion, which puts people off committing their cash.

And then there’s the setting differences. Shadowrun Online is set in the game’s “present”, in the 2070s; Shadowrun Returns is set in 2050, the setting of the earliest editions of the pen-and-paper game. That’s a huge nostalgia trip right there for long-time fans, and there’s a lot of nostalgia in the Shadowrun fanbase. The current edition of Shadowrun, 4th Edition, shook up the world and changed the playing field when it was released. 1 Although 4th Edition has done very well commercially, and was critically acclaimed, there’s a significant proportion of the fanbase who’d love an opportunity to run around in the 2050s again, and SRO just doesn’t cater to that the way Shadowrun Returns did.

Whether it’s one of these factors, or more likely a mixture of all of them, it looks like this is more of a handicap than SRO can overcome. And that’s a great shame; although I have my doubts about how well Shadowrun would fit a themepark MMO model, I’d love the chance to be proved wrong.

  1. For a sense of the magnitude of these changes, think of the Shattering in WoW’s recent Cataclysm expansion