If all goes well, later this year we will finally be treated to an actual Harry Potter MMORPG in the form of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. While that will be a mobile ARG in the vein of Pokemon Go, it will still be a big step into the online space that MMO fans have been craving for nearly two decades now.
Obviously, Harry Potter continues to be a mammoth franchise for J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., and Electronic Arts, which has handled the video game license over the years. While there have been single-player Harry Potter titles, especially on consoles, no MMORPG emerged even at the height of the IP craze that swallowed up Star Trek, Star Wars, Warhammer, and more. So why not?
The truth is that Harry Potter Online almost did happen. Its brief existence and development isn’t too well-known, even today, but the wasted potential has always tantalized me with what could have been. Using a time-turner, we will go back to the late 1990s today and peek in on a possible future that came to fruition.
I have vague memories of ArenaNet talking about Guild Wars 2 taverns prior to its launch and how these spaces would be more than window dressing. Maybe that was a dream or something, but I’ve always respected the effort to make one of the most iconic of RPG locations — the tavern meeting place — more useful and engaging. Warhammer Online, too, was touting tavern brawls that would take place as public events.
We’re so conditioned to run in and out of such places that unless we are roleplaying for some reason, chances are we never stay for more than a few seconds. And that’s kind of a shame, because I like the idea of players spending some time in bars unwinding. I heard a myth of a dead MMO that used to put such an emphasis on this, but it was probably all bunk.
What could MMO taverns do to get you to stick around? Would you hang out for minigames, gambling, special events, or special buffs?
Video games have always been a remarkably insular field; that’s the nature of development. Someone produces Super Mario Bros, and a few years later Sonic the Hedgehog sounds like a really good idea for some reason. But then you have games like The Great Giana Sisters, games that don’t try to just copy parts of what made the inspiration good but just copy the whole thing with one or two changes.
For normal video games, this can work out decently; a game that just doesn’t get much traction still sells some copies, hopefully. Just because Croc wasn’t Spyro didn’t mean that no one bought the former. But for online games, these trend-chasing games are almost always dramatic failures that litter the landscape. Why is that? Well, there are pretty good reasons, and today seems like a good time to talk about that.
The last time we heard from the team behind Eternal Crusade, there were some vague plans of stuff to be done about a battle royale mode and ambiguities with the game’s lead designer. Now, though, there is an update in the works and it should probably be out later this month. The notification of same mentions multiple times that the developers are learning to work with a smaller team, which carries other implications, but the important point is that there will be an update with a fair amount of content.
The update might include a new game mode of an undisclosed nature and will include multiple new maps and items. There will also be a balance pass for combat across the board, especially to improve vehicle health and bolter damage. A new campaign series is also in the works, along with a reorganization of the game’s existing DLC to be easier to purchase and understand for new converts. It doesn’t mention a date, but the signs of life alone should be good news for the fans.
With the insane success — both in terms of popularity and finances — that Dota and League of Legends spawned, you can easily understand why game studios latched onto the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) as a relatively quick cash grab. After all, with players providing the ongoing content (through PvP matches), developers were freed up to focus on balance tweaks and churning out new skins and characters to sell.
In a relatively short span of time, the market became flooded with many imitators that sought to grab that slice of the profitable pie. And while some, such as Hi-Rez’s SMITE, have endured, many games discovered the one key danger with this approach: If you could not generate and sustain a large, active playerbase, you were as good as dead. A critical mass was needed, and when it was not achieved, games started folding up left and right.
In today’s Perfect Ten, we’re going to look at a dozen MOBAs that tried and failed to make it. Perhaps they serve as cautionary lessons to other studios seeking to mimic League of Legends’ format, but we somehow doubt that the era of the MOBA is over just yet.
When we moved over here to Massively Overpowered, some of us transplanted our long-running columns to the new space. I perhaps felt most devastated that I was going to lose all of the Game Archaeologist articles that I had painstakingly researched over the years. So my mission with this space became two-fold: to rescue and update my older columns while continuing to add more articles to this series on classic MMOs and proto-MMOs.
I’ve been pleased with the results so far because TGA is a series that I really don’t want to see vanish. As MMORPG fans, we should consider it important to remember and learn about these older titles and to expand our knowledge past the more popular and well-known games of yesteryear.
Now that we have quite a catalogue of Game Archaeologist columns, I thought it would be helpful to end the year by gifting this handy guide to you that organizes and compiles our continuing look at the history of the genre. Enjoy!
Even Warhammer 40K Eternal Crusade might be jumping on the battle royale bandwagon. That’s according to Behaviour Interactive’s latest pair of player-directed Q&A posts.
“We already have a series of Battle Royale game mode ideas, since it’s one of many ‘standard’ modes today,” says the studio. “Ours are of course adapted to fit with the 40K universe, and with the lore limitations. I also think PUBG showed how execution and nuances to a mode can really kick off something big. Just like LOL. It’s lower down the list of game modes we’ll prototype, as we already have some half-finished modes we’re applying to current maps, part of current maps (cutouts) or unfinished maps.”
The studio also notes it is indeed aware of the “brick wall of boredom” at rank 6 and is working on fixes, maps and storylines are under discussion now, and that a lot of game tweaks are doable – the team “just need[s] engineers” to make them happen. As for Steam Workshop integration – a ton of questions are about this feature – Behaviour says that weapon creation won’t be coming to the core game and that it has its eye on abuse such that it’ll be reviewing all submissions.
The significance of Vanguard’s development, release, long-running drama, second chance, and eventual closure should be of great interest not just to game historians but to everyone who plays MMOs, period. What happened with this game caused a huge fallout in the industry, and we are still feeling some of its effects even today.
As our own Bree once put it in her blog, “Vanguard’s implosion was a big deal at the time and marked the beginning of the post-World of Warcraft destruction of the industry that hobbled Age of Conan and Warhammer Online a few years later.”
While the crash and burn of Vanguard was a very well-known tale several years ago, I’m wondering if today there might be many who are quite unfamiliar with what happened to this unassuming title back around 2007. Let me put on my old fogey glasses and we shall begin!
Do you long to get your Eldar on in Eternal Crusade? We’re unsure of exactly how the Eldar get themselves on, but we assume that’s one of the topics covered in the Eldar campaign from the game’s most recent patch. The Autarch Eldar Hero will be introduced after the campaign along with other associated rewards, so by all means, get your Eldar on. Better yet, make your Eldar happen to other people.
The game has also introduced Challenge, so we can only assume that “get your Eldar on” is one of said challenges; the system is all about repeatable goals rewarding you with requisition points. There are also combat balance updates, improved tutorial points to help new players acclimate to the game, and all of the various bugfixes you would expect. Check out the full set of notes for details on all of the changes that have come to the game.
MOP reader Sally Bowls is on a roll with the good questions lately! She lobbed us one this past weekend that seems a good follow-up to a comment thread discussion about the problems inherent in unregulated three-way factional PvP/RvR (and how a game like Camelot Unchained will regulate it). By way of example, she noted that a certain MMO griefer famously argued in favor of strategy that basically made the opponent not want to log in, using tactics like creating timesinks and hassles in a sandbox. “Should the dominant faction on a RvRvR server ‘camp’ the smallest to try to drive them off?” she wondered.
“If it’s about fair PvP, then that is anathema. But if you see the game as being about your faction being at war with other factions, then not doing your utmost to win that war is incompetence. Neither is bad design per se, just a conflict in understanding of the goals. And will Camelot Unchained really be RvR, doing everything legal for your realm to win? Or will it be about PvP battles, with the RvR rhetoric being more marketing fluff than von Clausewitz and Machiavelli? If camping a mine hurts your kill/death ratio but makes the opponent weaker due to hassles or crafting, is that winning or losing? Is an RvR game really about realms vs. realms or is it just another BG?”
I’ve pitched Sally’s comments to the team for consideration in this week’s Massively Overthinking. Is RvR just a more carebear-friendly way to market FFA PvP? Do you play RvR or factional PvP to win or to have fun, and how does that differ from a more open FFA sandbox? How would you design three-way factional PvP to keep people from quitting and stop griefing before it starts?
Over the weekend, the studio behind crowdfunded RvR MMORPG Camelot Unchained released a hefty chunk of its ongoing beta one document, revealing extensive insight into the way the game’s social systems will be laid out. Parts of those social systems will look familiar to MMO players, such as groups (Warbands), guilds (Orders), and raids (Battlegroups). But there are more layers to contend with, including perma-groups or mini-guilds (Permanent Warbands), as well as project-oriented raids (Campaigns), all designed in the service of an ambitious RvR-centered MMO that makes space for soloers and small guilds by not over- or under-privileging the largest teams in the genre. That’s the goal, anyway!
CU boss and MMORPG veteran developer Mark Jacobs, whom many of you know personally thanks to his ubiquity in our comments section, gamely answered about a thousand of my questions over the weekend, which we’ve compiled into an absurdly long interview about how to properly smush together all these groups into a social system sandwich that makes everybody happy. There’s even a Star Trek quote and a bonus question about Warhammer Online’s development and CU’s budget at the end!
I strongly urge you to check out the original doc first, as the interview assumes knowledge of the basic terminology and structure of the game. Fair warning: While Camelot Unchained’s document is almost 6000 words, this interview itself is close to 4000. You put Jacobs in a virtual room with me and my questions go on forever, and damn if he doesn’t answer them exhaustively. It’s a whopper, but it’s worth reading for a glimpse into what could be the future of MMO community planning.
This particular part of September is loaded with MMORPG and MMO birthdays. In addition to ArcheAge, whose corgipocalypse we’ve been covering already, and Ultima Online, doomed to ding 20 by Monday, there are a few more we’ve not mentioned yet. Let’s remedy that!
is turning eight today, and it’s putting on a pretty sweet party
, plus a different one in the EU
. US players can look forward to bonus experience, cake, and Kroemede’s Revenge; through the weekend in the EU, expect a Cake Hunt, in-game boots, gifts, and temporary mounts, plus an event about poppys. I don’t know, it’s Aion
, man, just go with it. We’ll be streaming some of the US festivities on Saturday, so stay tuned!
Fallen Earth also turns eight today, though you won’t find any hoopla on the official site, where there’s been no news since last year. MOP’s Justin judged it in maintenance mode as of at least this past summer. It’s OK, Fallen Earth. We’ll have a slice of cake in your honor.
Considering that Eternal Crusade takes place in a very far-flung future, you could be forgiven for thinking that the game was set long after the point when firearms had become the only real method of hurting people. But it seems wrong to give your Space Marine a bunch of cool hacky tools like chainswords without making wading into melee the right choice at least some of the time. So it’s good news for players who like to hit things that the game’s most recent patch brings a lot of additional balance to all of these pointy bits of metal.
The patch also includes several matchmaking improvements as well as new map routes to allow more flanking opportunities. That’s in addition to various other balance tweaks, like ensuring that strafing isn’t as fast as running straight forward. Check out the full list of changes to get a sense of how the environment has shifted, and keep your eyes peeled for upcoming announcements today about the next major additions to the game.