The Soapbox: TERA's rocky road to release

TERA - Castanic avatars
Disclaimer: The Soapbox column is entirely the opinion of this week's writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Massively as a whole. If you're afraid of opinions other than your own, you might want to skip this column.

What a difference a year makes, eh? February of 2011 found me drooling over my keyboard as I devoured all the screenshots and gameplay footage leaking out of TERA's Korean launch (yes, the westernization process really has been dragging on for a year).

Fast-forward 12 months and the game is losing a little bit of its luster because of certain En Masse decisions and in spite of the fact that the firm has a potentially awesome MMO on its hands.

TERA - Human Berserker
Don't get me wrong -- I'm still looking forward to playing TERA, and I'm still hoping that its political system and action combat fill at least part of the void created by the lack of AAA sandbox titles (yes, I'm aware of the fact that TERA is not a sandbox, but it's also very clearly not World of Warcraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic, and that's worth celebrating).

TERA - Female CastanicLegal troubles

TERA's got a long journey to respectability, though, and the first bump in the road comes courtesy of its legal status. If you missed it, here's the recap: NCsoft has sued En Masse in an attempt to block TERA's North American release on account of some pilfering by former NCsoft employees who originally developed the game at Korea's Bluehole Studio.

Confused yet?

It boils down to the fact that these dudes stole Lineage 3 code and art assets, which they worked on while they were at NCsoft, and they turned said assets into TERA after forming Bluehole -- ostensibly because they were pretty far along on Lineage 3 when NCsoft pulled the plug. I'd love to type allegedly stole instead of simply stole, but there's little doubt that the theft did occur since Bluehole employees were found guilty (and served prison time) thanks to a South Korean jury.

While those of us on the outside of the lawsuit will probably never know all the particulars, I can at least sympathize with both sides given the information publicly available. I would be heartbroken if something I had worked on for years were summarily dismissed like the original incarnation of Lineage 3. On the other hand, most game developers -- and most other corporate employees, for that matter -- sign contracts that stipulate that anything they produce while using the company's time and tools is the property of the company.

If the lawsuit fails and the game is indeed playable on May 1st, will this sordid state of affairs affect my enjoyment of it? Not directly, and certainly not in terms of the actual gameplay, but I find my enthusiasm for TERA diminished nonetheless. I don't know whether any of the convicted Bluehole folk have gone on to work at En Masse, but I do know that if I decide to play the game, I'll essentially be funding a couple of firms that have no moral qualms about breaking the rules when they see fit.

You can argue that that's how business works, but frankly this kind of negative PR is the last thing a game like TERA needs, particularly here in the West. It's already something of a tough sell to the casual MMO masses because of its newfangled combat. When you combine that with the wince-inducing Elin race and armor that enrages feminists, you have a game that is at best a niche product.

TERA - Elin
The creep factor

Discourse surrounding TERA's skimpy armor has been going on nearly as long as the game has been in development. Never mind that just about every Korean MMO in the history of Korean MMOs has featured similarly scanty attire, never mind that TERA's male avatars have their own slinky outfits, and never mind that sacred cows like Guild Wars are just as guilty of objectifying the female form -- TERA gets more than its share of flak for the representation of women in video games. This outcry is likely to get louder when/if the game actually releases here in the States.

Then we have the Elin race, and while I can offer a few reasons why TERA's armor is not worth all the hand-wringing that surrounds it when it comes to adult avatars, I have absolutely no defense for the creepiness inherent in showing thigh and cleavage on tweenage girls.

Yes, I know that lore-wise the Elin are not young children, but frankly that's neither here nor there. They look exactly like young children, and this is another black mark against TERA in terms of mainstream acceptance and success in the West. It's not an easily remedied problem, either, and I don't think that En Masse should have excised the race entirely. As distasteful as it is to me personally, at the end of the day I can simply opt out of things I find offensive. That said, the Elin seem to skirt that line between free speech and harmful taboo, and it's unfortunate for TERA on multiple levels.

Are you an MMO-FO?
What were they thinking?

While the game's armor, Elin, and legal troubles are largely out of En Masse's control, there have been some strange goings-on at the company as TERA kicks off its closed beta in earnest. Excitement for the game is ramping up here lately, but it's doing so in spite of a couple of preventable missteps.

TERA - Male CastanicThe first is the unabashedly goofy MMO-FO ad campaign (that's a hybrid of the term MMO and the term for someone who sleeps with his mother, in case you were initially confuzzled). En Masse is clearly attempting to present TERA as edgy and youthfully hip, but the video clip starring mixed martial artist Bas Ruttman struck all the wrong notes, and it ultimately just wasn't funny. At all.

Let's not forget the lingering IP controversy, which is likely going to cost En Masse some customers. Many fans have rightly surmised that the company's decision to block all foreign IP addresses will only deter legitimate overseas customers who wish to play on the American servers. The pirates, gold-farmers, and other unsavory types whom the policy is designed to obstruct can circumvent such measures with relative ease.

Finally there was the collector's edition pre-order fiasco, which was addressed late last week with the addition of the physical CE to the En Masse store. I don't know who fouled up here, as En Masse blamed it on its retail partners and those retail partners (including GameStop, Amazon, and Best Buy) were as monolithic and as unresponsive as ever. The long and short of it, though, is that those of us who wanted the physical collector's edition missed out on the first week of closed beta access. Fortunately, that part of the story has a happy ending, but it's one of a few bright spots on TERA's rocky road to release.

At the end of the day, I take no pleasure is writing all of this. I want to love TERA, as I've been following it for years and am quite intrigued by several of its features. But En Masse has got to buckle down, make better decisions, and stop shooting itself in the foot. TERA has several strikes against it already -- mainly due to its niche design -- and in today's cutthroat MMO industry, there's no reason to keep adding obstacles.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers every Tuesday as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!
This article was originally published on Massively.