Vanguard: A Swan Song or a Call to Arms?

I’ve always been a supporter of not frequenting a game’s dedicated forums. MMO gamers tend to be a negative lot, and, as here, I try to focus on the fun rather than on endless bitching. The one long-term exception has been the LotRO forums, which I’ve been peeking into and occasionally posting on since the game went free to play. It’s nice there, generally, and there’s a lot less tears and rage than on… oh, pretty much the forum for any other MMO you care to name.

Of late, however, I’ve been frequenting the forums at MMORPG.com, one of the better MMO hubs out there. Those forums are imperfect but not all that rotten, at least for the games I’m reading about there, which is pretty much Age of Conan and Vanguard. Interestingly, both have seen a spike of activity there in recent weeks; that of Vanguard is perhaps not wholly unexpected, since there’s free time available right now.

This again gives rise to the hope that Vanguard might be salvageable. I wonder what it would take for SOE to resume some level of active development of the game. Right now nobody can verify that Vanguard has a development team at all; Vanguard hasn’t seen an update in about a year and a half, and anything resembling new content is older than that. But holiday events continue to occur and minor stuff like the welcome back XP and faction buffs show up from time to time, which (it seems to me) must require some level of hands-on management.

I don’t think that an MMO needs a very large team to keep things moving; plenty of games get by on a dev team numbering in the single digits, and manage to push regular updates out. Some of them probably have paying populations comparable to Vanguard’s.

At the same time, Vanguard, while still imperfect, is in very good shape as a game, as I discussed long ago at length. Its primary liabilities are the frighteningly low population, and its lack of momentum in both the marketplace and in the consciousness of the pool of potential players. Nobody’s talking about Vanguard anymore.

So what would it take? At this point, I think that merely going free-to-play wouldn’t really solve Vanguard’s population problem, since such shifts are now old hat – AoC’s recent announcement is getting as much buzz at it is because it’s part of a larger surge and because it’s a much higher-profile game. Such a change might have made a bigger splash a year ago, but not today, when SOE should have moved Vanguard to free-to-play instead of EQ2. A much smaller game (as Vanguard is) would get a much smaller boost, but the current numbers are so low that even additional population number in the hundreds would look very dramatic to those currently playing. What’s really needed, though, is for those players to stick around and provide enough of a long-term boost that SOE would resume development. What would be needed in this kind of transition is for SOE to take some leadership in the free-to-play space, developing new ways to attack that market, rather than ineffectually aping the Turbine model as it did with EQ2X.

What might be needed at this point is for an outside developer to take over, a “white knight” scenario in which some dollar guys either buy the rights outright from SOE or work out some arrangement whereby SOE remains as publisher while the new group assumes development duties. This scenario is… well, not impossible, but fantastically unlikely.

In either case there would really need to be a concerted effort at relaunching, probably including a name change to give prospects the impression that the Vanguard equation has changed substantially. There wouldn’t necessarily have to be a lot of code or development work done initially; a retooling of the existing in-game Station Store with a significant overhaul of the items available there would probably be sufficient… but again, we come back to the need for sustained development.

We have no evidence that anything is happening on Vanguard other than it remaining on life support, where it can probably last for another few years. Smedley has carefully dodged the question when directly asked about it, and Vanguard’s numbers are by any measure so low that it’d be hard to blame him if that was indeed the case.

There’s one other scenario, though… and that’s the one that takes the matter at least partially out of the hands of SOE. If the community can unite behind some leadership and evangelize… it could help a lot. Vanguard is an easy game to evangelize in an era of YouTube and blogs and social networking, because even pushing 5 years old it’s still one of the better-looking MMOs out there, and because it really is a game that has a lot to offer a certain type of player, even without SOE’s support.

Note that I’m not volunteering, because I’m not playing Vanguard right now… although I do plan to drop in for an evening, maybe as early as this weekend, and we’ll see how that goes. I’m fully invested in AoC for the foreseeable future, and don’t have the time for anything else; it’s been hard for the last few days just to keep up with the fast-breaking news. But I would love it and applaud wildly if there was some kind of player-driven movement to revitalize Vanguard, which as moribund as it’s become is still someplace I think is pretty special.

It could start with even one person, but it would take more than that to sustain. You’d have to get active guilds to buy in and contribute resources and start progression groups in-game to give new players folks to group with. You’d want to have a web presence, with blogs and YouTube videos and as much positive talk as you can manage on as many MMO forums as you could find. You’d need to get noob guides written and be able to direct people to some good source of information about aspects of the game – multiple wikis exist right now, and it seems like Silky Venom is still be best one.

If successful, it’d be something to see. It would revitalize Vanguard even if it added a few hundred active players, and if it got into the thousands, SOE would have to take notice. It’s exactly this kind of community involvement that made EVE Online one of the biggest success stories in MMOs, and it feeds on itself. While I don’t think that kind of success is even possible for Vanguard, anymore if it ever was, and there’s still some negativity lingering around the game, it seems to me that it’d be worth doing just for the improvement in the quality of the game experience you’d get from bringing even a few handfuls of additional players in.

There is, admittedly, not a lot of hope. But hey, you never know… sometimes all it takes is hope and a little bit of vision.

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10 responses to “Vanguard: A Swan Song or a Call to Arms?

  1. I kinda liked VG the times I dipped my toe in, but it never quite grabbed me the way EQ2 did, so I never got a character past level 14 in VG, and since a lot of the class defining abilities start at level 15, well. . . . I just didn’t stick with it long enough to see if those would “grab me more.”

    It is pretty, I’ll give it that. I’d be willing to dip a toe in again during the current free time, but I apparently uninstalled it, don’t have physical disks and can’t get to any VG page (other than the vgplayers main page) to try to download it due to webpage apache server errors. If I could download the installer again, I’d check it out some more.

    Ah well.

  2. Vanguard remains my second-favorite MMO of all time. Even as it stands, never having had a single expansion, it had more to offer PvE players than almost any other MMO. The depth, the detail, the sheer scale of the world is breathtaking, and the gameplay is, for me at least, nigh on perfect.

    Sadly, though, I can’t imagine what could be done to attract any significant number of players at this stage. Going to F2P couldn’t hurt, but by current standards Vanguard has a pretty steep learning curve and I find it quite hard to see curious free-to-play visitors sticking with it for long. Pretty much everyone who has a real interest in it must surely have tried it by now, too.

    I just hope that somehow SoE keeps a server up because I like to revisit occasionally and always will. If they decide to let it go, it would be nice to think they’d at least try to sell it on, but of course that won’t ever happen.

  3. Thx for the direct link Gary — I was looking for it the other night but not so much that I looked “hard” so after 3 or 4 apache page errors I just gave up.

    I know what I’m installing again tonight. . . . .

  4. As usual, I echo what bhagpuss said. We have similar MMO tastes. However, for me, Vanguard is my favorite. As Beau has mentioned, Vanguard has immersion in spades. It feels real, full of wonder, and dangerous. I hope it is around forever. I’m not playing right now due to my general academic interest in MMOs and my attraction to the new shiny (Rift atm). But I’ll be back.
    I would love to see a Vanguard Call to Arms. I think it would need a smart/charismatic and dedicated leader to get it going. That’s not me. But if I saw the beginnings of a movement, I would join and participate. When I was playing this winter I found it more challenging that previously to get the information I was looking for on the internet. A central repository for all things Vanguard would benefit all the players. (Not sure why SOE couldn’t at least attempt such a thing.) The game already has all the sandbox features that we are looking forward to in ArchAge (e.g., boat building/sailing, house building), though admittedly not as slick looking and no gardening. I think the game is extremely role-playing friendly. I would love to see new fan lore pages, in game events and out-game calender of those events, player made guides and videos. There should be a Vanguard Renaissance. A slow building word-of-mouth fan-made Renaissance.
    I think SOE could be a big help to improve the game by doing two things: 1) Promise the game will be around for the next…3 years? A promise from SOE may not mean too much to some of us, but it would make people feel more comfortable about investing in the game. 2) Lower the subscription to, say, $10 a month. The game is getting old and they are not supporting development or anything for the game. They should not ask for the same subscription price as the other games. Paying $15 is off-putting and annoying to me, and I’m a huge fan! Lowering the price allows folks to pay for more than one MMO and not have to make the tough decision about which MMO to drop.
    I still challenge people to try the Isle of Dawn for a week. Try to level Adventuring, Crafting, and Diplomacy all up to level 10. It’s a fun and challenging experience (free too!).

  5. I actually believe that making Vanguard free-to-play would be enough to bring it back into popularity. I know I and several of my friends and family would jump back in, in a heartbeat if this were so.

    Think about it. The #1 reason why Vanguard never took off was because of low population. Unlike most MMOs, where players are confined to crowded “theme park” areas, the world in Vanguard is simply too big and open for someone to pay upwards of $15/month to never see anyone. A free-to-play model would generate enough traffic to create cohesiveness and longevity in the player base.

    Vanguard is an incredible game. The quests are tight, the dungeons are epic, the races/classes are varied, and the world is enormous. When you’ve grown tired of a particular area, there are many others to visit, so you never really become tired of the grind.

    I love Vanguard, probably the most underrated mainstream MMORPG ever.

  6. Too tired to comment much on the article, but…

    VG will always remain my favorite PvE MMO of all time. Nothing beets its huge open-ended world and old-school MMO roots. I’m making a full blown return to the game after receiving the free game time from SOE’s downtime… if any one gets in game and group up look me up as Professer (49 psi). I also have a few characters spanning most level ranges.

    VG needs more players, so lets all hop in!

  7. Pingback: Vanguard: The Beautiful, Lost Gem « Massively Multiverse

  8. Some games just need to be pulled of Life Support. Vanguard had its day in the sun, and although I still find it a beautiful game, there is just so much wrong with it — beginning with being owned by Sony.

    Isn’t it better just to pull the plug and let it die with a bit of dignity than to Sony whoring it out as a FTP and then gouging its last loyalist with microtransactions (on top of never supporting it or adding content).

    Adding more players won’t solve the issue — As I said, the game had its day in the sun, but it was obvious then and even worse now, that the game just isn’t fun either short term or long term. Beauty is skin deep, and Vanguard proves it.

  9. There is nothing wrong with the game. It’s fine on life support as it is. You have to take and accept the game for what it is.

    And what is that? Its one of the greatest PvE MMOs in the world since the EQ1 days, and no other game comes closer to its oldschool rpg roots. Even being on life support, there is still 3 years of amazing content to be had in this ever-so-beautiful, adventure packed, world of Telon. I don’t care that there aren’t any dev’s making content for the game, because its 2011 and I sitll haven’t seen half of what Vanguard has to offer.

    Not to be a fanboy and all, just don’t talk down the game. There is nothing wrong with it. If you play the game for what it is, you will have much enjoyment.