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Tabula Rasa: Saving the game

Tateru Nino
11.23.08
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Between desperate battles against the Bane, about all anyone can talk about in Tabula Rasa right now is the impending shutdown of the game service. Website efforts are being touted to solicit ideas for rescuing the game from shutdown, people are discussing the operating costs for the game, some are hoping that Richard Garriott might rescue the game from NCsoft, while others blame him personally for the game's shutdown.

Some are hoping that a player consortium can raise enough capital to buy the game assets from NCsoft itself, much as was attempted with Ryzom (and very nearly worked, until they were outbid by another company which resurrected that game anyway).

Low signup rates have largely been balanced out by attrition from a lack of ongoing endgame content. The focus on trying to improve early and midlevel experience, which caused uncertain, multiple rebalancings of the game six to eight months ago left top tier players, well, falling off the end a bit. "People had done it all," says level 50 player Paddy Oshea, "I know I was one of them."

So, why is Oshea still here?

"When you take away 'end games', don't count the missions, look at the art, the story and gameplay, I can only say one thing. This game is hella fun to play!"

And its hard to argue with that point of view. If Tabula Rasa ticks a few boxes for you, it is a lot of good fun. Oh, it's weighed down with a lot of dense information all at once, suffers from NCsoft Typographical Disorder, and the user-interface design is ... well, let's call it a series of 'brave choices' -- that is, it isn't just a clone of half of the MMOG user-interfaces out there.

But as a third-person shooter that emphasizes (yet mostly does not absolutely require) cooperative play and doesn't require a lot of precision and reflexes -- yes, NCsoft has a good fun game here, and one that players are loathe to relinquish.

One sad aspect to this is that end-game content appears to already be in the development pipe, but may now never actually be seen and experienced.

The operating costs for an MMOG are immense, and according to players, Tabula Rasa has been breaking even, though only barely. Perhaps collapsed to one server and with reduced customer service costs, this game could be a financial success, either for NCsoft or for some new operator.

Ryzom successfully survived some rocky patches and nearly wound up rescued by a player consortium who had raised enough funds to purchase the property from liquidated owner Gameforge. The player consortium was outbid by dark horse operator Spiderweb International Limited.

Still, that wasn't a bad result. Ryzom's essentially back in operation now, which is really what the players wanted. However, there's a whole world of difference between picking up an MMOG property at a liquidation auction, and trying to obtain a property from an MMO developer/operator who simply doesn't want to run the game anymore.

There are a lot of schemes and plans, some well-thought-out others little more than pipe-dreams and wishful thinking. Can the players really save Tabula Rasa? It all depends on how accommodating NCsoft might be. Even under the best of circumstances it would still be a stretch, even if it comes at no cost to the current owners.

Whatever else might be happening, however, for now Tabula Rasa is still open, and is still fun for as long as it lasts. Now, if you'll pardon us, there's a Bane strike team moving in, and we're going to get up on the walls and give them what-for.

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