Vanguard: Doomed?

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.

5 responses to “Vanguard: Doomed?

  1. In some ways I wish Vanguard would go because more people would go back to EQ. As it is right now there are way too many MMO’s draining the life out of other tiles and the ones doing the draining are mediocre at best

  2. I agree that the market is flooded, but I think that the idea that Vanguard closing would increase EQ’s player base strains credulity more than a little bit. EQ is doing very well considering how old it is, but its audience is almost entirely made up of fairly hard core people who stuck with it, and who dabble in other games at most. In contrast, I very strongly suspect that a substantial part of Vanguard’s player base is already made up of people who play EQ on a StationPass anyway.

  3. I play Vanguard on Station Access. I also play EQ and EQ2. I chop and change between them, depending on mood and what’s new in each game. I’d actually be surprised if Vanguard had more than 20k players, including Station Access, but there’s really no way to be sure. Could be half that or double that.

    I’ve started taking FRAPs recordings of Telon now, just in case it does disappear. While I don’t play to progress there much any more, I regularly log in to sail my boat, ride around on my camel or rent a flying mount and go sightseeing. I’ve probably taken more screenshots in Vanguard than in every other MMO I’ve played added together. I’d really miss Vanguard if it went, just from losing the sheer pleasure of being able to explore that most beautiful of virtual worlds.

  4. Here is another thought you are NOT taking into account…

    Free Realms, The Agency and DCUO, all SOE games, which have added value if plumped onto Station Pass with extras can replace lost games.

    Thus close Vanguard which has a small population to begin with (I agree with the 20k posted above), and offer these new titles as part of the pass.

    So, 3 games would need to close. Not counting MxO, which is already gone, and I bet no one misses it. Planetside seems like a good candidate. PoTBS due to costs…and…Vanguard.
    Why Vanguard? Too many servers, upping costs compared to SWG, which is minimal in overhead…is my assumption.

    Also, as a final nail in Vanguards coffin? That pesky Xfire shows the 3 games I call for closure in the 200+ range, or bottom of the rung for time played. MxO was in the 300’s.

    SWG is #91, close to EQ2. Even EQ is around 160 something. Can you imagine how cheap that game is to run?

    And do not doubt the power of Xfire in the eyes of execs…ask Funcom.

    So, there we have it. 3 games to close when all 3 of the new games are fully functional.

    Thoughts?

  5. @Edge: The point of the post was not to insist that vanguard will be around forever, but to work through the various factors that I think apply to its situation, yet weren’t mentioned in the SUWT discussion. I did specifically mention that even though more games equates to a more valuable StationPass, the loss of some marginal games might be made up for by adding a couple of new, hot titles – and listed DCUO and The Agency in particular. (I don’t know that Free Realms will be making it into the StationPass program any time soon – it’s already free to play.)

    I also don’t see why Vanguard would have maintenance costs any higher than SWG, which, last I checked, had quite a few more servers. But I also don’t think that SWG would close due to lack of subscribers, so much as via mandate from Lucas, which could come at any old arbitrary time regardless of what the numbers are.

    I would be kind of surprised if substantially more dollars weren’t being spent on EQ than on Vanguard. It does have, after all, 3-4 times the players (at a guess) and gets a full-blown expansion every year. I guarantee the development team is substantially smaller.

    I’ll look at the Xfire numbers tonight. I think, though, that Xfire stats have a lot more to do with public perception than with exec decisions. The execs, after all, have hard numbers to go by, and we don’t. I have said before that I take Xfire statistics with a mountain of salt – it’s weighted toward people using Xfire, which I tend to think is more shooter and RTS people and fewer MMO people.

    Funcom, like LotrO, launched an XFire-based promotion – of course their numbers went up at that point.