Please be warned that this piece contains somewhat more profanity than regular readers of this blog are accustomed to seeing here.
Tabula Rasa had design issues, but I’m not going to talk about those, because while I did try it out, I’m not going to pretend to have had enough time with the game to develop a full understanding of its mechanical weaknesses. I’m sure they’re there, but I’m not at all sure that anything in TR is any more problematic than stuff in other, successful titles.
Then, there’s Richard Garriott. A celebrity game designer can be an asset to a game. On paper. And nobody exemplifies ‘celebrity game designer’ in MMOs more than Garriott – not even Brad McQuaid. This is because Garriott often comes off as a flake, the Michael Jackson of computer games, fortunately without the creepy fixation on children. I happen to think he’s merely eccentric and not bugfuck crazy, but I am admittedly choosing to err on the side of courtesy in saying that. But much of TR’s marketing push, a lot of it from Garriott himself, was clearly of the ‘man with the paper asshole’ variety, based on some grandiose claims that obviously were not going to be borne out in the game, and this was pretty obvious even before the launch.
Also, some bad decisions seemed to have been made during the beta; we’re not talking Sigil bad, here, with an entire development studio in disarray. But some changes to the game were made that struck people as unfun, enough so that people who had planned to play the game at launch never did, even though the launch environment was said to have been better than at the end of beta. The launch was fairly smooth but only a marginal success, and post-launch buzz was lukewarm. Not a bad start, really, but not great.
The real issue, though, was that regardless of what we had been told by Garriott and his marketing harpies, Tabula Rasa was a perfectly serviceable game with a solid development team behind it. It improved measurably during its lifetime by all accounts. While not earthshakingly innovative by any sane measure, it had a number of novel ideas in it, and they were pretty well-executed. I think it’s safe to say that Tabula Rasa is a far superior game to Lineage II, which is in my opinion a miserable peice of goddamn trash, an atrocity perpetrated upon millions of innocent Asians by NCSoft.
MMOs, even MMOs with big budgets, sometimes contract to the point where they have really small audiences. Yet somehow, companies other than NCSoft manage to keep them afloat. It’s said by some that TR was down to 17K subscribers, and if that’s true, it really is a pretty terrible number. But how many people do you suppose are still paying for Anarchy Online or Asheron’s Call? Both games are not only still around, they’re managing to sustain development with small, focused teams. Hell, the best numbers I have for D&D Online aren’t all that much more than 17K. And for what it’s worth, the latest numbers from MMOGChart put TR at about 75K.
The point is that Tabula Rasa did not have to fail – somebody at NCSoft decided to make it fail. It had all the ingredients of a successful third-tier game, and could easily have carved out a comfortable niche from which it could have grown into the very respectable second tier – it was a good enough game to do that. A modest grassroots (i. e. cheap) marketing program and good trial and referral plans could have created a cushion for it. Even if that didn’t save it, NCSoft could have done something to try to make it work. Make it free to play, and drop in some microtransactions. That would have caused some excitement, and, I’ll bet, would have caused a lot of people who had dismissed the game to try it out, or come back. If even that didn’t work, sell it to somebody willing to try to make it successful.
Instead, NCSoft decided to bury it, and throw free time out in their future shitty product as a token show of goodwill. I have noting but contempt for a company that kills a perfectly good and completely salvageable title for what I’m sure were internal political reasons, mere months after they had reps out on the Internets swearing up and down that TR was not going to be shut down. And remember, NCSoft is a two-time loser in this regard – the Auto Assault story is pretty similar.
NCSoft, you’re a lousy company, run by incompetent jackasses. Take your fucking garbage games back to Korea where the players are undiscerning enough to lap them up in all their pathetic glory. Your games are all off of my ‘to-play’ list, permanently, and that includes City of Heroes, even though that was originally designed by a less shitty company, and Guild Wars 2, which is being designed by what is apparently NCSoft’s only remotely functional division. I will not hand over a single minute or red cent to you again.
To that end, I have retail 30-day codes for Tabula Rasa and City of Heroes. I will give them to worthy people who (in the comments to this post) convince me that they will activate them only for their own personal use. No assurance that the poster will not throw money at bad people in the future is necessary – I’m not out to convince anybody else here, just to speak my own mind. Be sure to provide e-mail addresses; I’ll let the posting run for at least a few days before announcing anything.