Mrs. Ardwulf wasn’t in the mood for WoW last night, so I played Vanguard for about two hours instead. I took an already-created Dread Knight character that I’d had on the Isle of Dawn and ran him up to level 9, where he is working the final adventuring quest arc on the isle, which looks to require some grouping to complete, in addition to being fairly intricate in its own right. It was intricate enough, in fact, that I didn’t really have the patience for it and ended up logging. Should I get this character to level 10 I plan to work the Questing and Diplomacy lines to level 10 as well probably aiming for the armorcrafter route.
I’m still listening to the latest Shut Up, We’re Talking, which was released a day or so ago. One of the early topics discussed is the closure of the Matrix Onliine and whether or not it represents a shift in SOE’s stated policy of keeping games around son long as they are profitable. This led, inevitably, to some speculation about the fates of other presumably unpopular StationPass titles, namely Pirates of the Burning Sea, Planetside, and Vanguard.
Of course, I would like to think that Vanguard is not in danger of cancellation. The fact that there has not been an announced replacement for Thom Terrazas since his departure as lead developer adds some uncertainty to the question, but the recent addition of RMT to Vanguard suggests that SOE thinks the title is worth keeping around, at least for the time being.
After thinking about it, I’ve concluded that I would actually be less upset at Vanguard closing than I was at the closure of Tabula Rasa early this year. Part of that is because of Vanguard’s situation, wherein it seems very clear to me that SOE has put a lot of effort into making Vanguard viable. If that didn’t work out, I could understand it from a logical business perspective. NCSoft was much, much less transparent about any efforts they made to save Tabula Rasa. Maybe they tried, but if so those efforts were invisible to me and, I think, to the community at large.
Too, Tabula Rasa was one of those games I’d tried a little of, liked, and wanted to eventually get back to – I even had a box I’d bought sitting on the shelf when the announcement was made – and its closure denied me that opportunity. If nothing else, I feel like I have spent considerable time in Vanguard and at least got to experience the game. I got back some of my emotional investment, in other words, whereas with TR I didn’t. If Vanguard closed I would be upset but not outraged, and I would treasure the experiences I’d had in Telon.
On the other hand, there’s a couple of things that make it seem likely to me that Vanguard is safe at least in the short term. One is the aforementioned inclusion of RMT, which is extra revenue on top of subscription fees that goes directly against the title’s bottom line. It may or may not be much money, but I’ve got to think it’s enough to be a factor.
Another factor is the circumstances surrounding Matrix Online’s acquisition by SOE, and the apparent fact that the game has zero buzz, whereas Vanguard has and has always had at least a litle bit of buzz surrounding it. I’ve heard it said that SOE took on Matrix Online more or less as a favor; it was never their title and was never really at home there, and that fact that the game has had essentially no development team for some time should have been a big red sign on the wall that the future of the game would be short. Vanguard still has developers.
The other one is the nature of the StationPass program, which is that in exchange for paying a double subscription fee, you get access to five or six different games. When you start cutting games out of that plan you decrease the perceived value. With Matrix Online closed, at least a little of that perceived value is gone. How much is hard to say, but my perception is that very few people (and by ‘very few’ I mean ‘virtually nobody’) were in the StationPass program for the sake of Matrix Online. I further suspect that ‘very few’ people whose primary StationPass games are EQ or EQ2 (the most popular titles currently in the package,) spent significant time in Matrix Online.
Now, maybe SOE is moving toward abandoning the StationPass program. But somehow I doubt it, and it’s one way of counteracting the natural tendency of players to drift between games, and is, I think, a key selling point for SOE’s titles. Existing StationPass customers will feel cheated.
Plus, when I’m in Vanguard I see an active game. I see players and activity, with bunches and bunches running around questing and crafting on the Isle of Dawn. Even when I’m not playing, I hear talk about it and read blog entries from people who are playing. I never saw that with Matrix Online.
All this is anecdotal, of course, and I not only have no hard data, but also no idea what’s going on in the minds of the decision-makers at SOE. On SWUT they (Darren, I think) were talking in the vein of “Matrix Online and other games with 50K or so subscribers.” I think that’s off-base, although I think that Vanguard’s subscriber numbers likely aren’t much higher than that. It seems likely to me, though, that Matrix Online’s numbers were far lower, in the neighborhood of the low five figures.
It’s not impossible, of course, that I’m being naively optimistic on the subject. And it’s also true that this situation does not exist in a vacuum. Things like The Agency and DC Universe Online are likely to be part of the StationPass program, and they will certainly have an impact on the appeal of that program. If you subtract a couple of marginal titles from the StationPass but add a couple of new, hot games, the net result should still be a net gain in value for the program.
Outside of SOE, the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic from Bioware is certain to have a negative impact on Star Wars Galaxies, which is a title that went unmentioned, but which I believe to be reasonably unpopular as well. My own suspicion on this is that the license contains a kill clause than can be triggered at LucasArts’ whim, and that it will be some time around SW:TOR’s release, closing SWG on very short notice. If so, SOE is surely aware of the probability.
The lack of mention of these many other factors made, I think, for a discussion of the subject that was surprisingly superficial by SUWT standards.