As we know now, SOE decided to go a different way. The studio threw its faith behind Vanguard last year by relaunching it as a free-to-play MMO and giving it an actual development team once more. While Vanguard isn't in the league of major sluggers in the industry, the title is now thriving and seeing a renaissance that players new and old are enjoying.
To celebrate Vanguard's 6th anniversary, we got on the phone with Producer Harvey Burgess and Game Designer Corey LeFever to take a brief tour around the latest content in the game and to talk about the road from F2P to the future.
According to the devs, Vanguard has had many strengths that were under-appreciated historically. The game's open world is vast, beckoning to the explorer to check out every crag and valley. Vanguard is deliciously old-school, with non-instanced dungeons and a reliance on group content. But above all of these factors, Burgess said, the community proved to be one of the most helpful and welcoming in the genre.
Taking the game to free-to-play meant that there would be an influx of first-time visitors to Telon, and the devs wanted to make sure that this initial impression would be the best it could be. One of the first tasks the new team undertook was to revamp the central Isle of Dawn, a beginner area that would shoulder the burden of explaining the mechanics of Vanguard and its three "spheres:" adventuring, diplomacy, and crafting. The title's other 15 starter areas (one per race) were boiled down to one per continent to facilitate early grouping.
Next stop on the F2P tour? Bug fixes, and lots of them. The devs admitted that many of them were much newer to the game than the players who had been there for five years, so the team went to the community for suggestions as to what needed fixing first. Vanguard certainly didn't launch in a polished state, but the team wanted to make sure that it would finally make strides toward being all-around better.
Once the bug fixes went in, the next focus was on tuning classes. LeFever said that Druids were first in line for this treatment, but the rest of the classes would eventually get their turn. The entire team, he said, plays Vanguard regularly and contributes to the feedback that is making it more polished.
All of this work paid off handsomely. Vanguard's F2P launch and its subsequent debut on Steam was a "boon" to the game's population, according to the devs.
The stick and the carrot
There was one big problem with Vanguard's new free-to-play approach: restrictions. Namely, there were too many of them, and they were turning potential players away. F2P characters were restricted to certain races, certain classes, denied housing, and had a smaller in-game wallet.
After listening to the community, doing internal playtests, and sampling the game themselves, the developers decided that this needed to change. SOE authorized a less-restrictive Vanguard F2P model that switched from the stick (penalizing players for not subscribing) to the carrot (rewarding players who did subscribe).
City of Brass, a high-level zone with an Arabian theme, had been in the making for a long, long time. With F2P and an increase in staff, the Vanguard team finally had the resources to create new art and finish designing the area. Last November, experienced adventurers were able to check out the first new zone added to the game in just about forever, tackling tough group challenges under a swirling sky of fire and doom.
City of Brass introduced thousands of new items and expanded upon the story of the nasty Effriti and their attempt to wreak havoc upon the world. The zone has plenty of new bosses and culminates in a tricky 12-person raid.
Having an all-new and unique experience in the game was important to the devs, because they felt that the players hadn't seen much in the way of new content for years now. It was also a signal: Vanguard was growing, so don't count it down and out just yet.
Celebrating six years
As we write this, Vanguard's anniversary event is already up and running. Players can talk to the Historian of Telon for a goodie box full of surprises and go on a few missions for the Winter Court faeries. In addition to the usual anniversary activities, SOE is giving all players a special chest for their house tomorrow.
So what comes next for Vanguard and its intrepid development team? The devs say that they're committed to releasing a weekly or bi-weekly patch that could be as small as a couple bug fixes to as large as a new zone or overhauled area. There was a lot of talk of continuing to polish the UI, creating new raids, and adding crafting recipes for the City of Brass. Diplomacy fans, don't fret; love is coming your way as well.
It used to be that celebrating six years for Vanguard would have signaled a lucky break for the struggling game to have survived that long. Now it's a genuine party to toast the accomplishments of the previous year and the anticipation of the coming one.
When readers want the scoop on a launch or a patch (or even a brewing fiasco), Massively goes right to the source to interview the developers themselves. Be they John Smedley or Chris Roberts or anyone in between, we ask the devs the hard questions. Of course, whether they tell us the truth or not is up to them!