I started to title this post: ‘Where FLS Went Wrong With Pirates,’ but after receiving my very first negative email in response to a blog post, accusing me of bring overly critical, having an axe to grind, and ‘contradicting myself numerous times throughout…’ I have chosen a more neutral title*. Besides, I don’t necessarily think they went wrong, simply made a few poor choices, which will be hard to overcome and could translate into fewer subscriptions at launch and over the first few months…
FLS has been the single best development team to test for, in all the years that I have been playing and testing online games. They bleed for their game, and approach their work as a parent would a child, rather than as an objective employee on a project that generates a paycheck but no personal pride. They respond quickly to their testers, share insight, problems, and generally appreciated the work we were doing, and *gasp* played the game along side us.
Because of that genuine love for their player-base and their game, I am confident that FLS will eventually fix the issues that I have with Pirates, but I question whether they can do it before the initial media bump and trial periods will turn off a number of potential subscribers…
When I first read about Pirates of the Burning Sea, a number of years ago I was inspired that a company was going to delve into uncharted waters, and give us something new. To me, that was the biggest draw to their title, and what kept me coming back for more information. Ship combat, player economy, RvR… they knew what they wanted to be, and they accomplished their vision and then some. However, someone along the way looked into the MMO space, saw the numbers that the traditional quest based, avatar hack and slash games were putting up, and decided they had to have that to be competitive… If you’ve read the post NDA reviews this week, you know how that turned out. Instead of FLS being evaluated on how well they designed ‘their style’ of game, they opened the floodgates of comparisons to games such as Warcraft, EverQuest II and LotRO, because they chose to emulate the avatar quest model. FLS created a great game in ‘their style’ but a terrible game in the Warcraft style. In an attempt to broaden their appeal, they delayed their release for years and served only to add mediocrity to their overall design.
A famous developer quote during beta was “We know Avatar Combat sucks in this build. We are in the process of squeezing the suck out of it.” While humorous, at the stage of beta we were in, build 25 or 26 I think, having a major game-play element of your overall design suck, is a harbinger of big problems. FLS should have read the writing on the wall, and either extended development further, or scrapped the feature all together. To go into a Stress Test phase with those types of problems is marketing suicide.
Another issue that jumped out at me right away, and never was addressed was the state of the User Interface. When FLS entered development, this type of UI might have been acceptable in some circles, but by the time they entered later test phases, Warcraft had long since made a UI of that nature simply unacceptable for a major game design. We constantly complained about this and received feedback along the lines of ‘we know, but its hard coded and very difficult to address.’ Blizzard approached their UI from an Open Source type perspective. They created a very basic design, but left the door open for others to finish their design for them. Why this was not implimented in recent titles like LotRO and Pirates is just a tragic mystery to me. Pirates should never have gone gold with the UI in the state it was.
A prime example of just how terrible the UI is, is their /who functionality. When you type /who, every single person in your nation is scrolled down through your chat box. When nations had 20-50 people online, this was tedious and annoying, but sort of manageable. After Stress Test II, I /who’d and there were so many names, that the chat box wouldn’t allow me to scroll back past the K’s. Umm.. WTF?
Guild tools are terrible. You can’t tell what class or level that your guild mates are. There is no advanced functionality for guild management. These are basic, minimum spec type items that every single MMO user expects from their game. When they are missing or FUBAR like the /who function, you have major, major problems.
Before I was allowed into the Beta, I was amazed that FLS was advertising ‘over 1000 quests at launch.’ I was impressed that they had been so ambitious and actually pulled it off, because that many quests is time consuming and eats up a lot of development man-hours… in theory. What FLS did was use a content generator, make a small number of quests (maybe 25-50ish?) and Copy/Paste the quest over and over, trusting that their very detailed quest text would be enough diversity for their players.
Of course we all know that the vast majority of MMO players click through quest text, and get annoyed when 150 missions are ‘enter the exact same jungle and save the exact same NPC, whose name is slightly different.’ It is so amazingly terrible, that a Naval Officer gets a noob quest to go save Redbeard lets say, while the Pirate gets the exact same quest but to save Blackbeard (actual NPC names are forgotten, but its close to that) I am not exaggerating when I say the newbie experience for all four nations is IDENTICAL… to the last quest. Not to mention that the towns and cities are nearly exact copies of one another with only a handful of different designs pasted over and over.
Ten years ago, these flaws might have been acceptable, and the fun elements of the game would carry it, but in the current MMO market, a basic standard has been established, and anything less just won’t do. Caring about your game isn’t always enough. Do I think they will address these issues? Yes, absolutely. Will they recover from the flaws? To some extent they will, and I hope that over time their game evolves into the niche success of a game like EVE.
*As an aside, I find it amusing that a reader would suggest that I have some shady motive for the posts I write. Keep in mind that first and foremost, Kill Ten Rats is a player’s opinion site on the games we play. For many different reasons, Ethic has attracted a broad readership throughout the years, and each and every one of us feels a journalistic obligation to those readers. Are we ‘the news’? No, but we make a personal commitment to call it like it is, pull no punches, and ultimatly relay the honest truth as we see it. If you want glowing reviews of mediocre games, I hear GameSpot is the site for you…