Monday, June 02, 2008

Cryptic Studios : driving the nail in.

For those who caught the reposts of comments from WTH's forums probably get the idea that I'm not really fond of Cryptic Studios anymore. It's my opinion that the best developers left to go be with NCSoft, and that Jack Emmert is an idiot.

Not that I mind being handed proof of this on a silver platter, but proof if the latter part has been produced on a silver platter. Cryptic Studios has hired John Needham as CEO. There is just one slight problem with the hiring of John Needham for Cryptic. He was Sony Online Entertainment's Vice President of Business Development and Operations. Just think about SOE's current reputation.

In the fantasy mmo realm there used to be only one game that got everything right, Everquest. It was hands down the largest paid subscription online role playing game, and one of the most famous online role playing games. It's sequel, Everquest 2, was one of the hottest properties to enter the MMO market for years. In fact, SOE was so confident on Everquest 2's release that they pulled a Crysis with the game. While Everquest 2 was quite playable even on low-end computers thanks to massive scaling in the SOE engine, even the fastest most heavily overclocked game systems on sale or in use struggled to run Everquest 2's higher graphic settings. SOE was so confident in the success of the game that they went overboard on all the visual effects and detail levels so that gamers 4 or 5 years down the road who were upgrading would still find themselves looking at what appeared to be a brand new game.

Just one problem... when was the last time you heard Everquest being talked about in a discussion on MMO games? Not recently, the darling of the day is World of Warcraft, which has taken the market by storm.

I'm not going to say that SOE is going under, but the Everquest series simply doesn't have the market power it did before. The continued falling subscription numbers and lack of visible response to new entries like Warhammer Online, occurred on John Needham's watch.

Then there is the case of Star Wars: Galaxies. Do I really need to say anything more than New Game Enhancement? The SWG developers outright stated that the NGE release was to pull players from World of Warcraft. It didn't work. Financially SWG flopped and a vast majority of the original player base has rather rude things to say about SOE over how the Star Wars Franchise was handled.

Other games in SOE's stable include Planetside. Now I love Planetside. I think the current development team has finally gotten a grip on how to build on the mass warfare of Planetside. However, the game recently merged US servers once again because so few people were playing.

So, Everquest and Everquest 2 subscription numbers way down, Planetside and SWG numbers down to the points where other MMO developers have thrown in the towel (looking at NCSoft's Auto Assault on that one). What about Pirates of the Burning Sea? Well, pun intended, that game really hasn't made waves since it launched. Even mere weeks ago listening into global channels on City of Heroes revealed many players who didn't even know the game was out.

Okay, what about other SOE properties? What other properties? That's about it right there.

The point is, SOE has a bad reputation in the video game market from critics and several of their current and former players. SOE is great about coming up with new ideas for games. They did take a chance on an MMO built from the ground up for Multiplayer combat. At the same time, everytime there is has been a bad lag sequence in any other MMO I've played, be it World of Warcraft (yes, I have actually played this), Phantasy Star Online, Phantasy Star Universe, City of Heroes, and Tabula Rasa for specific examples, the standard joke is When did SOE start hosting the servers? When patches break games, like the recent Issue 12 of City of Heroes which has a laundry list of gameplay issues, the near standard joke among players is Why did they let SOE handle the release?

Granted, John Needham was only a Vice President. However, he was the VP of Business Development and Operations, a section of SOE that has widely been criticized by just about everybody whose ever played any SOE game. Given the complete collapse of many SOE properties, somebody with a position of authority in any Operations or any kind of business development is the dead last person I'd want in authority position in any company I ran.

Yet, Cryptic Studios went out and hired one of the guys whom the fall of SOE is in a position of legitimate blame. Then to think that Cryptic Studios wants this guy to be their Chief Executive Officer? A position of even higher authority?

As I said at the start, I consider Jack Emmert an idiot. He's a lot like John Romero to me. Brilliant once, and that's all that was required. City of Heroes is a fantastic concept realized into a playable game. However, John Romero is known for several really bad business decisions and design choices surrounding Diakatana. While Romero's former partner, John Carmack, continues to succeed at ID Software, Romero pretty much languishes in a small mobile game developer. In the same manner, Jack Emmert's design choices for City Of Heroes ranged from the brilliant, to those that resulted in significant amounts of existing players to leave the game in outright anger. Right off hand, the quick shot of pulling anybody from SOE to handle CEO duties? Is a business choice as bad, if not worse, than any Romero ever made. The picture of a parallel is completed by Matt Miller, the person behind Positron, whom despite being on watch on the launch of the bug filled Issue 12, is looking a lot more like the calm and collected John Carmack ever day.

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