Free for All: Zentia closes, MilMo's Junebud declares bankruptcy

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Free for All: Zentia closes, MilMo's Junebud declares bankruptcy
Zentia screenshot
It's always a sad day when a favorite game or games announce some bad news. Over the last week, I read about two of my favorite titles -- Zentia and MilMo -- coming to a end way too early. Both announcements surprised me, but these days there are so many games in so many different genres across so many different devices that any game that becomes successful is somewhat of a triumph. I can list off many, many MMOs, all vying for the attention of players' time and money. That list would reach into the thousands once I counted in the ever-expanding mobile and social market. Heck, a representative from an international games group told me at E3 a few years ago that hundreds MMOs were due out of the East within that year alone.

In the case of Zentia, the closing is not as unexpected. There hasn't been much at all happening with the game for quite a while. MilMo, on the other hand, was a complete surprise.

Zentia screenshot
I remember specifically when I first heard about Zentia: It was E3 of 2010. One of our writers had just finished a press tour of the game, typical for the blur of E3, and she talked about how it looked pretty neat but she remained skeptical. You can see from the very first sentence of the article just how skeptical many in the press were at the time: "ChangYou's Zentia is -- you guessed it -- another free-to-play title coming from Asia." It's a bit odd just how far the press has come in appreciating free-to-play and "games from Asia." I've always raised an eyebrow when someone says "Asian games" simply because that indicates that all games from Asia or all of its 48 countries are the same or use the same style. They're not and they don't. Are there some common traits shared between many titles from that region? Of course. If we sit back and look at the "games from North America," we would see probably more shared traits. The Western audience often ignores how repetitive and bland a lot of its gaming has become. MMOs from Korea, Japan, China, and other Asian countries sometimes make more attempts at newer and unique systems than MMOs from the West. Sure, it can be hard to see that amidst the scores of foreign free-to-plays coming here every year, but that noise doesn't do away with the truth: The West does not own the patent on innovation.

When I first heard about the seeming lack of customization in Zentia, I knew from experience that this only meant each character would probably start off looking similar but be customizable inside the game. Heck, are there that many differences between Taurens in World of Warcraft? Would you really be able to pick out your friend's RIFT character in a line-up? The big differences come in the almost infinite combinations of items and weapons each character might use. Zentia's character models were more like several different, unique races. You could even play as a monkey!

"I tend to use certain words over and over again in my writing, and charm is a favorite. It means "inviting," an experience that leaves the player smiling. So many MMOs go right for the action first. What happened to asking the player to come into a world, showing her wonderful things, and sweeping her away?"

As soon as I played the game, I knew it was different. I was already used to click-to-move movement schemes and odd Anime-style graphics, so I looked past that stuff and saw how wonderfully detailed the world of Zentia was. As I reported early on, I found the game simply charming: "Animated wisps of smoke, tight alleyways, creatures that can look like 1940s-era Warner Bros. cartoons meets Tim Burton, and an accessibility that keeps the game challenging but always moving forward -- these are the footprints of charm."

I tend to use certain words over and over again in my writing, and charm is a favorite. It means "inviting," an experience that leaves the player smiling. So many MMOs go right for the action first. What happened to asking the player to come into a world, showing her wonderful things, and sweeping her away? If we take most major titles as an indicator, we see that developers seem to think we should be jumping right into linear combat with explosions shaking our desks and lore being fed to us in quick batches of quests. Games like Ryzom, Mabinogi, and Zentia are worlds, not just a series of instant adventures tuned for those who want bigger and better armor.

The closing of a game like Zentia is, to me, just another sign that the Western audience tends to grind through a title and move on to the next one. We're often a snobbish bunch as well. We claim we need something new and different, but we flock to games like Star Wars: The Old Republic and RIFT. Western gamers generally do not want something different; they just want something new. Zentia is a game that took a lot of chances and played differently from most games. That doesn't normally pan out.

MilMo screenshot
I think that MilMo has suffered from some of the same forces, plus one. Tacked on top of the fact that MilMo is from another country and runs in a browser (eww, browser games!) is the way the game looks. It has to be a "kid's game." I am often attracted to games with a stylized approach because they speak more directly to my imagination. More realistic games tend to age faster, as well, because newer technologies come along that make us notice just how unrealistic those earlier attempts looked. Stylized games do not depend on realism as a selling point.

MilMo's graphics are some of my favorite. I love how I can make a big-headed character who looks like I do, thanks to the awesome cash shop included in the game.

I asked Ola Holmdahl, Junebud's CEO, for an official statement and got this response:
Junebud has been an awe-inspiring company, staffed from its first moment by remarkable people. I could not be happier to have had the privilege to lead a group of this creative calibre. The company was founded in the fall of 2008 in the midst of a financial crisis of historical proportions. Only through passionate work and brave investors were we able to bring a unique brand of games to market, exemplified best in our much-loved MilMo. We are humbled by the commitment and energy brought to the table by our players, from the very first brave souls to the most recent of all MilMonauts.

Sadly, Junebud recently reached a stage where it lacked the funds necessary to continue operations. This is in part because we had been unable to grow MilMo large enough, but most importantly because we failed to reach any new agreement for the paid development of new games. We worked long and hard to save the company but finally had to accept the realities of the situation. It has yet to be decided what will happen to MilMo. Ownership of the intellectual property has passed to the manager of Junebuds's estate, who is working with the previous management team to look for solutions. In the meantime, a die-hard team of ex-developers, who are now neither employed nor paid, have volunteered to keep the game up for as long as the servers have been paid for. All user data and all game code has been backed up to make sure it's possible to restart the service in the future if the opportunity to do so presents itself.

All I can say is that we expect to know more within a few weeks once we have had time to better assess the different options. On behalf of the Junebud Crew, I wish to thank our wonderful players, our partners in creating a unique internet destination where imagination, at least for a little while, has been able to run free.
It was a good run for Junebud (although MilMo might still survive), and I hope we see it return at some point. It's important to note that Ryzom, for example, has had a long, bumpy road but is still around and maintaining a playerbase. Perhaps the same can happen for MilMo? I certainly hope so. In the meanwhile, I'm not deleting any games or wiping out any bookmarks... both of these titles are staying right where they are on my PC.

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to!
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