It looks as if John Smedley’s new game is about to begin hiring in earnest. “We are going to be looking for an experienced Level Designer for my project here at @AMZNGameStudios San Diego soon,” Bill Trost tweeted yesterday.
Trost, a veteran of major MMOs from both SOE and Trion, has been attached to Smed’s new project for almost a year. You’ll recall that following Smed’s 2015 departure from SOE, a company he’d led for almost two decades, he put together a studio called Pixelmage Games, which began work on the ultimately stalled and refunded retro-sandbox Hero’s Song (we’ve discussed why and how that game failed at length right here).
Almost immediately after the collapse of Pixelmage, Amazon announced it had picked up Smed to run an “ambitious new project that taps into the power of the AWS Cloud and Twitch to connect players around the globe in a thrilling new game world.” We quickly realized Smed had just ported most of the Pixelmage team straight over to Amazon for the new game.
As it’s been about a year now, I know that pretty much nobody remembers John Smedley’s ill-fated Hero’s Song. For a while there, we were cheering it on pretty hard, even though it wasn’t a full-blown MMORPG. The retro stylings and promised agile development blossomed some excitement, especially for those of us who wouldn’t mind a modern MMO with a 16-bit aesthetic.
There certainly aren’t a lot of these types of MMOs out there, and those that do exist are pretty niche. Guild Wars 2 has its goofy Super Adventure Box sub-game, Realm of the Mad God makes the most of its permadeath world, and the upcoming Dragon of Legends has had my interest for a while now.
Would you be interested in a retro-styled MMORPG, one that would use pixel art, be presumably in 2-D, and yet have most of the features of modern games?
I didn’t back a single video game in 2017, which is a first for me. The year before, I backed Hero’s Song, and we all know how that ended. I’m looking forward to a few of the games I backed actually coming to fruition this year, like Crowfall and Shroud of the Avatar, while others, like TUG, I just figure represent money I’ll never see paid back in game form. Lesson learned, right?
It’s not as though there weren’t epic games rolling out last year, either; Ashes of Creation, one of the biggest MMOs ever on Kickstarter, owned a lot of headlines last year and it looks really great, but ultimately I decided that I’d just rather wait until it’s actually ready before leaping in. I’m not swearing off the platform on purpose, just more willing to be cautious and patient. Others of you, I know, are over and done with Kickstarter, either because you’re fed up or because you’ve been genuinely burned. And still others are hoping for a revolution in the genre and will gladly throw money at it – if it will just show up.
Will you Kickstart any MMOs in 2018?
We’re taking a time-machine back through our MMO coverage, month by month, to hit the highlights and frame our journey before we head into 2018!
February saw the launch of housing The Elder Scrolls Online’s Homestead patch – a quality addition to a game that once declared MMO housing too hard to implement – and continued teasing Morrowind, both of which drove the game to a new high of 8.5M registered players.
Meanwhile, SOE/Daybreak’s former John Smedley, fresh off the death of Hero’s Song, set up shop with a new studio under the Amazon Games umbrella – with all the same people.
And Funcom declared it had recouped all its costs on Conan Exiles and would reboot The Secret World (while letting its other MMORPGs slide).
Read on for the whole list!
It has now been seven months since John Smedley shut down Pixelmage Games and took his team over to Amazon Game Studios to set up shop in San Diego. We’ve been greatly curious about what game he’s been heading — and if it is an MMO — but until recently Smed has stayed out of the spotlight to get work done.
This is why we’ve perked up to see him sit down with VentureBeat for an extended interview about his new employer and his take on the direction that the industry is heading. He has a lot of opinions on just about everything, ranging from virtual reality to Twitch integration to the rise of e-sports.
If you’re hoping that the notoriously chatty Smedley was going to reveal what game his studio is making, you’re in for disappointment. He indicates that he’s very excited about the project but is tight-lipped about specifics.
Back in February, we learned the fate of MMORPG industry veteran John Smedley: He’s heading up a new game for Amazon Game Studios.
Smed is well known for his 20-year reign at SOE and then Daybreak, which he departed in 2015, and most recently for Hero’s Song studio Pixelmage Games, which closed down last year ostensibly for financial reasons.
While Smed wouldn’t speak about the game on the record back then, Amazon did cite his MMO experience when telling gamers that his game is “an ambitious new project that taps into the power of the AWS Cloud and Twitch to connect players around the globe in a thrilling new game world.” We might have a clue today as he’s tweeted about PC shooters, soliciting opinions on gunplay.
Here’s the million-dollar question of the day: What is John Smedley making for Amazon Game Studio’s San Diego branch? Ever since being handed the reins of a new sub-studio back in February with a bulk of his Pixelmage team, we’ve been intensely curious about whether Smedley is staying close to his MMO roots in his new project.
Perhaps we might glean a few details from the job listings on Amazon’s site. The studio is looking for several positions for art, combat systems, and engineering, and there are a few bullet points in the job descriptions that hint at the project in question.
One of the job descriptions has the best hint yet, with the position being tasked to “architect and develop the real time combat system for a cutting edge action multiplayer game.” Another intriguing entry mentions a “real time terrain deformation system based on physics simulation.”
Amazon Game Studios announced yesterday that it had picked up MMORPG genre veteran John Smedley to helm one of its up-and-coming online game studios. Today, it published a blog post with a photograph of the team, which appears to show that Smed brought along with him several familiar faces from Pixelmage Games. Well, more than several — it looks like the bulk of the team, minus some of the artists and AI expert Dave Mark.
Shown in the photograph is Smed (hiding in the back!), along with Scott Maxwell, Steve Freitas, Andy Skirvin minus a beard (nice try, Skirvin, but we’re canny), Michael Hunley, Jay Beard, Bill Trost, Toby Brousil (pretty sure), Matt McDonald, Jim Buck, Steve George, Paul Carrico, and Michelle Butler. Which is almost all of ’em. No need to worry about whether those guys landed on their feet after their studio folded seven weeks ago– Smed’s new Amazon studio is basically Pixelmage Games, though to be fair, we don’t know what its name is or the particulars of the game it’s working on.
MMOs, like any other hobby, have their own terminology. We have the term “newb” for new players, “noob” for players who aren’t actually new but still make new player mistakes, and “n00b” if you want to sound like an insufferable weirdo from the aughts. But we also have a lot of terminology that just plain doesn’t work any more for a variety of reasons, like “pay-to-win” and “hardcore” and so forth.
That does not, however, mean that we do not need our specialized terminology. Indeed, while some of our older vocabulary is not up to the tasks of modern games, I think a great deal could be accomplished just by adding some new words to our lexicon. So let’s create some brand-new terms (or codify existing ones) so that we can, in fact, have shared words to describe scenarios that we encounter on a regular basis.
If you wondered what John Smedley was up to following the death of Pixelmage Games and Hero’s Song in December, now you have an answer: Amazon Game Studios picked him up to run a sub-studio in San Diego.
“We’re excited to announce an all-new Amazon Games Studio based in San Diego and led by industry veteran John Smedley,” says a PR blast from AGS today. “John’s pioneering work helped define the modern MMO, and his influence can be felt in thousands of games that followed. He helped create the blueprint for fusing massive game worlds with vibrant player communities, a vision that we share at Amazon Game Studios. That’s why we’re excited to announce that John has joined Amazon Games Studios to lead an all-new team in San Diego.”
Apparently, Smed and his team are “already hard at work on an ambitious new project that taps into the power of the AWS Cloud and Twitch to connect players around the globe in a thrilling new game world.”
In July of 2015, MMORPG fans were stunned to hear that John Smedley was stepping down from his post as president of Daybreak. After all, he had been in the captain’s chair at Verant, SOE, and now Daybreak for nearly two decades, helming the company as it handled some of the most influential MMOs of the early generation, including EverQuest and Star Wars Galaxies. Fans were curious to know both what happened and what Smedley was planning to do next.
They didn’t have to wait long for the latter. A month later, Smedley announced that he was starting up his own studio to work on a new game. Using his industry contacts and years of experience in game development, Smedley pulled together a solid team to craft Hero’s Song, an online fantasy survival game that would provide huge, customizable worlds. The team went into a flurry of activity, putting out dev blogs, holding fundraisers, and pushing early access out the door.
Yet by the end of 2016, the project was dead, refunds were being distributed to backers, and Smedley’s studio was dissolved. So what happened? Why did Hero’s Song fail when it had so much going for it? Now that a couple of months have passed, it might be time to step back and perform a post-mortem on this fascinating and doomed game. I posit that there are five key reasons why we’re not right now playing Hero’s Song and anticipating its official launch by the end of the year. Hindsight is 20-20, after all, so what could Smedley have done different?
We apologize in advance. The news of the return of Bree’s most favorite Elder Scrolls setting has jacked up her excitement levels to 11. Be warned that this episode may contain any and all of the following: gleeful giggling, spontaneous singing, half-hour recollections of the old days, readings of player-written poetry, and confetti thrown through your computer speakers.
It’s the Massively OP Podcast, an action-packed hour of news, tales, opinions, and gamer emails! And remember, if you’d like to send in your own letter to the show, use the “Tips” button in the top-right corner of the site to do so.
Chargebacks were a big deal in 2016: Black Desert, ArcheAge, and No Man Sky were all embroiled in community drama thanks to perceived chargeback abuse. PayPal even ended its chargeback protection for crowdfunding donations, making it harder for gamers who hand over cash to abuse the credit card system to get that money back.
But some games are offering you your money back and you’re still not taking it.
Hero’s Song, for example, recently went under, but John Smedley pledged to refund any Steam and Indiegogo purchasers who asked for their money returned. Yet there are folks in our comments who said they wouldn’t take him up on that — they feel they got their money’s worth or don’t feel it’s right to take back what was intended as a gift, risks fully understood. That reminded me of when Glitch sunsetted after a couple years in operation and Stewart Butterfield offered everyone all of their money back from years of play and a lot of players said no way.
How about you? Do you claim refunds on games when available? How often do you do it?