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As the Worlds Turn: Learning from the past


2007, by some accounts, has been one of the best years for video games ever. While most would think of the tremendous console releases, MMOs have also seen their fair share of greatness. However, as the saying goes, you can't win them all.

We're going to take a look back at 2007 at some of the higher, and lower, points in MMOs and game development. New Year's is over, so take some aspirin, get yourself a stiff cup of coffee and take a brief stroll through MMO memory lane.

Your gods have abandoned you.
I was probably one of many that where looking forward to Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising, a new MMO from Perpetual Entertainment. Apparently, Perpetual had to take a step back to evaluate their priorities. They were working on the upcoming Star Trek Online MMO at the same time as well as providing support for their "Online Game Platform" business ... whatever that is. I thought the work they had done up to the moment the game was beheaded, or turned to stone, or whatever it is you do when you're working in the Greek mythos, was top notch stuff. Apparently they didn't agree.

The game development community did take note of this and I hope they learned from our disappointment. Perpetual's statement reads something like "We wouldn't be able to provide the quality game we wanted without truckloads of cash. So we scrapped the development." As unfortunate as that sounds, we, as the MMO community, might have been saved the horror of another sub-par, incomplete MMO. As much as I was looking forward to playing a half-naked gladiator, I'm almost relieved that Gods and Heroes withdrew quietly and with honor.

That's not a bug ... that's a feature.
Richard Garriott's Tabula Rasa is doing well. However, there was a time when a good portion of the MMO community wasn't so sure Lord British could pull it off. When Tabula Rasa started getting bad word of mouth and some selected bad press early on in the beta testing phase, hopes for his epic sci-fi MMO dropped. Fortunately for us, and for the man with an authentic vampire slaying kit in his house, Tabula Rasa turned out just fine. What was the problem?

Richard Garriot made a few statements to this affect at 2007's Independent Game Developers Conference in Austin. He said that the problem stemmed from having too many people in the beta before the game was ready. This caused a number of bad experiences and, in turn, left a bad taste in many players' mouths. Tabula Rasa had been in development for a number of years and I'm sure they were just anxious to get it out to the public. Hopefully, the esteemed Lord British and other developers have learned that you should wait until things are a little less busted before unleashing it to the masses.

Laser beams instead of swords?! Blasphemy!
Sticking with Garriot for a moment longer, his Tabula Rasa has shown us that a successful MMO formula can indeed be applied to sci-fi as well as fantasy. Let me clarify before the hate mail comes flying in like shuriken: EVE Online isn't your typical MMO fare. Tabula Rasa has probably set the bar for sci-fi MMO development so far. Perpetual should be taking note of this as they finish work on Star Trek Online. Recent patches and updates have even further refined what is shapping up to be a very fine MMO indeed.

Now that's how you expand!
You all know where you were on January 16, 2007: either waiting in line for the Burning Crusade or watching those crazy bastards waiting in line from the comfort of your couch. The Burning Crusade was an expansion done right. The media coverage was appropriately intense, the servers were correctly prepared, the events were adequately managed and the populace was overwhelmingly geeky. The only things absent from the expansion were game-crashing bugs, unbalanced new races and skills, and service interruptions. Blizzard continues to set the standards and write the book on how to create, manage, and expand upon a successful MMO.

The pen is mightier than the sword ...unless there is cash involved.
I'll only briefly touch on this since it isn't directly MMO related and since Joystiq did such a tremendous job on the coverage. Jeff Gerstmann's unceremonious termination as a GameSpot editor shook the gaming community, MMO players included. If you missed the coverage, I'll let you read as much as you like over at Joystiq. My opinion remains unchanged since I first heard of the incident. I think that money and pressure from the publisher pushed Jeff from his post but that's just my opinion. If anything, it has taught us a few lessons, namely that money talks and poor reviews can get you your walking papers. For MMOs, with multi-million dollar budgets, and loads of recurring revenue on the line, one has to wonder what fuels all the good reviews and hype surrounding our highly anticipated MMOs. I usually read game reviews with a grain of salt. That grain turned into a pinch after Gerstmann-gate.

If you can't beat 'em ... claw your way to second place.
If you've read any of my previous posts, you'll know that I think pretty highly of Lord of the Rings Online. It's a quality game that is worth taking a look at in the least. The beta went well, as did the pre-order numbers. The launch was fairly flawless and the numerous content updates have also gone well and have been well received. It has even won a few awards. While WoW remains king, the upstart LotRO has promoted himself to a duke, maybe, or a distant-cousin prince or something. Either way, WoW wasn't really affected but LotRO's success shows that there is still room for fantasy MMOs out there.

Well, there were plenty of other noteworthy events in 2007. Expansions, updates and new releases made it for one of the best years in recent gaming history. While it may go down as the "Year of the Console Gem" it could also be known as the "Year the PC refused to go down without a fight". 2008 is shaping up to be just as impactful and impressive. These are our times, people! Long live the gamer!

Have a happy new year!

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