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.