Massively Overthinking: Can Amazon actually save Crucible?


Earlier this week, Amazon pulled Crucible back into closed beta for some hefty retooling, a move that surprised basically no one. We’d watched the game’s depressingly low playerbase since its rollout in May, and as MMO fans first and foremost, we were already aware of Amazon’s shaky position in the online space, as it’s previously tanked one game, Breakaway, and delayed another in our genre, New World, for hefty do-overs. To date, the company that should be a gaming giant already, at least based on its funding, still hasn’t managed to produce a launch product.

The question now is… will it actually work? That’s the topic I’ve posed to the MOP staff this week for Overthinking. Can Amazon actually save Crucible? What went wrong along the way? Is this game something that can be turned around at all, and is it actually worth it? And what impact might a failure have on the company’s other prospects?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I’m going to be honest: I didn’t even try Crucible. Nothing spoke to me. I’ve seen it compared with Battleborn and I think that’s unfair for a few reasons. BB had humor going for it right from the start. I knew it was like Monster Hunter or other lobby raiders, which can be fun. And it was released around the time of Overwatch with similar silhouetted characters, so despite being fairly different in terms of basic gameplay, people sat back and waited for the game from the more popular company.

Crucible looked and acted like a typical modern shooter. There was no bear chasing it to the finish line. And Amazon isn’t really known for games. Especially with Amazon’s money, it needed to go big or go home, and news of the release makes it feel like this was a foul ball. Amazon’s got the money to do a do-over like Square-Enix, but I really don’t think it has clout with the gaming community to get much patience or sympathy.

And this will follow it. If it doesn’t turn this game around, in a big way, before its next release, people will steer clear. It’ll be one of the first things critics will need to address, and unlike a smaller, less well know studio, having oodles of money and no talent will put Amazon in a worse light the second round. The company really needs to look hard, not at how they can make a profit, but how they can make a positive impact in gaming, because at this point, anything short of revolutionary is going to look lazy, and that might hurt the Amazon imagine with gamers in other sectors as well.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): Crucible isn’t my kind of game, so I don’t feel comfortable opining on why it failed in its own genre, though the lack of promotion and hype (and the competition with Valorant) sure feels like a missed opportunity. Most of the examples of come-back stories I can think of, however, are for MMORPGs, which start out being in it for the long haul and aren’t as dependent on a critical mass of people in a play queue to function early on. I don’t know many non-MMOs that have fully recovered, although it’s not unheard of for them to try (thinking of Anthem and BossKey here).

I’m a whole lot more concerned about Amazon the whole, thanks to this, Breakaway, and New World’s bizarre development. While Amazon seems to have piles of money and has poached from some of the best studios, it’s also made so many critical missteps and dopey dev statements with New World and now Crucible that I’m concerned not just for New World but for the existence of the studio and Amazon’s interest in gaming period. Frankly, from this vantage point, the company’s design philosophy seems like an overly workshopped algorithmic mess. I certainly don’t want to see New World go through this same cycle later this summer, but I am not feeling optimistic.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX), YouTube): I gave Crucible a try and was immediately turned off by the playstyle. First thought to come to mind was how cynically designed this game was. Roster of colorful characters with a soldier for the Call of Duty players? Check. No single-player? Check. A “unique” take on the battle royale? Sure. I wanted to play Crucible, but I didn’t want to play it the way Amazon wants me to play it. This game could have been a PvE game, but instead we have this half-arsed attempt at a PvPvE game. That pretty much says “we don’t know how to commit.” This game is trying sooo hard to be an esport, but the balance in it is so off I can’t ever recommend this game.

If Amazon wants to save it, it can’t make it an esport. It should be a co-op shooter in the vein of Kane and Lynch or Left-4-Dead. This game is waaay too cynically designed, especially when it’s going up against Valorant, a way superior shooter made by a dev that knows esports.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): Since I’m coming from a place of not really playing the game due to general disinterest and lack of competitive PvP chops, my answer is probably an expected one: I don’t expect this to really turn around, and I don’t think Amazon should try. In fact, I have almost no confidence in AGS’s ability to release a game at all. Breakaway withered on the vine, and New World is looking pretty hum drum.

But hey, I”d rather be proven wrong.

Colin Henry (@ChaosConstant): I think putting Crucible back into development is its best shot at becoming something worth playing. I played a couple of matches at launch, and, while I’m no expert on either of the genres it’s trying to mash up (shooter and MOBA), it just felt boring and joyless to me. I promptly uninstalled.

It seems to me that the game started with the vague idea of “let’s throw League of Legends and Overwatch in a blender and see what happens.” That actually doesn’t sound like a bad concept to me, but it does seem clear to me that the game’s leadership didn’t have a clear picture of what that would look like, which inevitably leads to a mediocre game with lackluster execution. That said, it had some interesting ideas, so I think it’s worth saving. I’m less sure, however, that Amazon Games can deliver.

Turning this Titanic of a game is going to be hard work, especially because so much of the criticism of the game is that it “feels” wrong. There is no quantifiable reason why Hanzo feels good to me when I play Overwatch, even though I’m really bad at playing him and he’s not really that good a character to begin with. You can fix technical problems like framerate drops or the lack of chat, but fixing “feel” is tough. I’m interested to see what Amazon Games’ plan is for fixing the game, and whether it will bring anyone new into the leadership or just keep trying the same thing and expecting different results. If it’s the latter, I don’t have much hope.

If Crucible tanks on its second try, I can see Amazon cutting its losses and getting out of the multiplayer gaming industry altogether. A lot of that will depend on the success of New World, but if they both fail, I doubt we’ll see anything new from Amazon Games. I’d love to be wrong about this! New developers will always be welcome in the MMO genre and its orbiting genres, especially ones with pockets as deep as Amazon’s.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): This question is hard to answer for much the same reason as talking about any of Amazon Game Studios’ projects — the studio is still a rather unknown entity that hasn’t really proven itself or put itself out there enough that I can make any sort of judgment call on its capabilities and motivations. I mean, it’s always good to recognize when something isn’t working and swallow your pride to rework it rather than force it through, but this being the second time Amazon’s done this so far, I think we have cause to be worried that the studio doesn’t really know how to make these games right in the first place. And that’s troubling.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I played Crucible for a couple of nights. It definitely was a buggy mess and took some effort to get past before I could actually play. When I finally did play, it was a solid “meh.” I honestly didn’t feel like it was as terrible as many of the online reviews wanted to make the game out to be, but I really didn’t get much out of playing it either. It just wasn’t especially fun. The matches didn’t feel too long or dragged out, but something was just missing. As far as your multiplayer PvP shooters go, there are a lot of other places to look to get that itch scratched. I would say some of the heroes felt stiff and their attacks didn’t have the right feel when landing a blow.

I do think it’s the right move in pulling it back and taking another sweep at it, though. Things like the stiffness and the bugs can be worked out, but I’m not sure what devs can do to the gameplay loop to make it interesting. Some aspects of the game felt interesting but it was missing that magic sauce. We’ll see if they can find it.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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