Saturday, February 28, 2009

Pulling a Planetside

Before I get started with the topic I wanted to write about, which is City of Heroes, I wanted to answer one of the most common questions I get. Several people have inquired at either the jason at gamenikki dot com address, or the je dot saist at gmail dot com address, what exactly do I mean by Pulling a Planetside.

For those who have never played Planetside, think of it as Tribes Online. For those who have never played Tribes, well, explaining Planetside may take a bit of doing. For starters, Planetside is a First Person Shooter, a real-time first person shooter, on an MMO scale. It is quite possible for three groups of 200+ to all crash into battle with each other, resulting in one of the only true simulations of an active battlefield. Seriously, not even America's Army or Unreal Tournaments WAR modes are capable of duplicating the sheer size of combat possible in Planetside.

At it's start Planetside was really a military simulation, with a focus on prolonged war campaigns. The Terran Republic, Vanu Sovereignty, and New Conglomerate all held home sanctuaries, and the goal was to fight across vast continents and lock and opposing force into their sanctuary. The first several months of the game heavily focused on the campaign aspect as continents were linked in a strict order. In order to advance, players had to first conquer a continent natively attached to their sanctuary, then stage an asssult from the conquered continent onto a new continent. It was, in all aspects, epic warfare.

And then the developers... well... lost it. The story of Auraxis, the reason for the conflict, was never explored. The single expansion pack that hit contained some of the most messed up map design ever, at one of the worst price-points in the history of poor expansions. The game further deteriorated with the introduction of the B.F.R., or Battle Frame Robotics. A game that had once been focused on epic campaigns where you were looking at a good 4, 5, or even 6 hour battle to take just one continent, complete with organization of supply runs, armor columns, and air support, and turned into a session based game where an average fight took 30 minutes, and there was no real need, or reason, to plan assaults.

As I looked back, I stated that the developers didn't know what made Planetside, Planetside. Rather, the developers seemed to focus on changes to the game that mimiced the hottest selling titles of the time, and on how to attract a more casual gamer. So, to attract the people picking up Mech Assault and Steel Battalion, there were B.F.R.'s. To attract the session based players of Unreal and Quake, the access restrictions to continents were largely removed, and it was no longer possible to sanctuary lock an oppossing empire.

As I saw it, the developers had no long term design goals for Planetside, but instead chased after every little change that tickled their fancy.

The result was a disaster, with many of the launch players leaving in disgust, forcing a server-merge. After languishing for a while, Sony even tried low level free-to-play accounts, but back in May 20th of 2008, the North American servers were merged, once again, due to the dwindling player base.

In all honesty, if Sony depended on Planetside to turn a profit, it would have been killed off long ago, but like other SOE games, it rides on the profits of Everquest.

Pulling a Planetside is basically the video-game equivelent of jumping the shark. It's when a game irrevocably changes for the worse, and developers show no intention of fixing the problems, but just charge ahead anyways.

Pulling a Planetside
is when a video game developer fails to set a design goal, or fails to pursue a stated design goal.

Pulling a Planetside is when a video game publisher launches a game to one market, then orders a lot of in-game changes to appeal to a completely different market.

Now, I personally believe that games can recover after having pulled a Planetside. The recovery however, takes a developer and publisher coming out and saying they screwed, they made mistakes, they'll roll back that horrible new feature and stop trying to make it work. I've just yet to see a single MMO publisher / developer actually do this.
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