I saw the warning signs, and I tried to bring it up nicely. I kept seeing the constant staff shake-ups, and continued to grin and hope for the best. I even saw Richard Garriott himself walk away from the development, a very bad omen in hindsight, and the lot of us gamers just nodded along and thought that TR was going to continue along smoothly.
I mean, how couldn't it, when we saw many wonderful improvements to the game coming down the line. The addition of post-apocalypse planet Earth, the inclusion of a first-person shooter camera angle, and actually using scopes on guns like the Torqueshell Rifle. (Author's Note: That probably would have made the sniper class more worthwhile, as you could actually scope and scout.) There were just too many improvements on the assembly line to declare the game as "walking into the sunset."
But, no, the announcement came with a sudden shock to everyone's system. There was no gradual easing into it, there was no winding down of development. It's as if someone just phoned the design team and said, "We're pulling the plug. You can stop now. Surprise!"
What I think makes this so hard for everyone involved, including any MMO player, is that the parent publisher kept smiling, shaking hands, and affirming to us that any fears we had were ill-founded and completely wrong. Yet, they still felt free to turn around, shoot the staff in the foot, and then point and say, "Look, it's dying! Really!"
Certainly, we've been told by David Swofford that this decision was truly a bottom line decision. TR wasn't pulling in the money they wanted to pull in, so they just cut their losses and called it quits -- something I'm actually pretty comfortable with. From the perspective of a corporation, that's what you want to do when things are really going south.
But to have things go from high as pie to six feet under in the span of a two month period is pretty hard to do. Saying things like that makes me feel like I'm being talked down to as a customer; as if I didn't have enough brainpower to go and see that TR was under-performing NCsoft estimations for months. Be honest with us guys. Tabua Rasa was not living up to the company's expectations right from launch. Even with the US economy really getting hit, something in me just finds it hard to believe.
It smacks of the Auto Assault story, where Netdevil was highly interested in keeping the game alive by taking on the publishing rights, yet NCsoft didn't really wish to negotiate and, instead, opted to kill the game.
Or how about Hellgate: London? Where the Asian version is going to keep going under the power of HanbitSoft but the US version is getting the proverbial bucket kick by Namco-Bandai? At least that has a single-player version, right?
But for MMO players, this isn't the first time we've been lied to. No, we're quite accustomed to our companies becoming Januses of the MMO industry. Electronic Arts did the same "shake hand, smile, shoot game" stunt to Earth and Beyond, the old space MMO made by Westwood Studios, The Sims Online/EA Land developed by Maxis, and Motor City Online developed in-house by EA. They almost did the same type of deal to Ultima Online, but we have Mark Jacobs to thank for stepping in and defending the title. Thanks Mark! So, for those of you keeping score at home, Electronic Arts: 3, NCsoft: 2.