Vague Patch Notes: Alas, poor Crowfall, you’re gone now


Dusty dusty, ashy ashy, Crowfall’s plane went crashy crashy. Yes, we are now talking about Crowfall very strictly in the past tense. You could argue that technically it’s just sleeping, but that would be inaccurate, for reasons that I am about to elaborate upon. The point is that the game is going offline toward the end of November, and while something might come back online with the same name at some as-yet-undisclosed point in the future, it’s not going to ultimately make that big a difference.

So let’s talk a little about this particular chronicle of a death foretold. There are a lot of angles to talk about here, in fact, ranging from the problems of trying to make the game work with a Kickstarted budget and another reminder about why Kickstarting major MMOs seldom works (but sure, Ashes of Creation is going to be the one that crosses the finish line, Jan), but I want to start by just examining that first paragraph. Why am I so certain Crowfall is dead if the new owner’s pitch is that it’s just taking the game down for development?

First and foremost, there’s the obvious fact that basically no one believes the statement that Crowfall is going to come back in a revamped form. The obvious point of comparison would be Final Fantasy XIV and its rebirth, but that is an inaccurate comparison. The revamp of FFXIV was announced on December 12th, 2010. Servers closed down in November of 2012, well after a large amount of work had been done and after Yoshida had been talking about what he wanted to do to the game extensively.

Trust me, I know. I was there. I had a steak dinner with Yoshida leading up to the relaunch and wound up driving back to Sacramento in Bree’s car [With my crying newborn in the back! -Bree]. The point is that the servers were not taken down and then plans were announced. Plans were announced and in the works well before the servers actually came down.

But let’s extend that a little further. Let’s assume that there is, in fact, actual development will and intent for keeping the game around. Say you want to build a version of Crowfall that actually connects with players. What, in fact, are you going to keep that makes the game definitively Crowfall and not some other MMORPG with a Crowfall skin?

The answer is, from the announcement, “not a whole heck of a lot.”

Crow fell.

Seriously, take a look at that again. The official announcement says that the future has yet to be determined and nothing is off the table… which means that every part of the game from its fundamental design on down is being rethought. On one level, this is not surprising; on a more important level, it makes it clear that there’s actually nothing about Crowfall that’s seen as a non-negotiable red line by the new owners.

If the real problem were just “it’s too hard to put out new campaigns,” then that would have been the initial announcement, even if it meant taking the game offline for a bit and rebuilding to function effectively when releasing new campaigns. But just taking it offline and saying that nothing is off the table implies that the whole time-limited campaigns thing is not off the table for changing, and if you’ve been paying attention, you might note that time-limited campaigns are literally what the game has that’s unique. That’s its biggest individual draw. If you asked me to explain why someone would invest in Crowfall, that is what I would point to.

Obviously, the game was always going to struggle because of its avowed PvP focus; most such MMOs do. Having time-limited campaigns as a concept was clearly a way to split the difference, to give players the feeling of making serious long-term changes to the game world without the feeling of new players having nowhere to go and no chance of a meaningful impact. If that isn’t doing the job… well, sorry, but I don’t know what else to tell you. There’s not much else to the game in terms of elements that are otherwise impossible to replicate.

Don’t get me wrong; there are elements of Crowfall’s setting, character designs, races, and so forth that I find compelling. But if you retooled the game into being a fairly basic quest-focused PvE game, would any of those things be enough to pull you away from your game of choice? I like Centaurs, Guineceans, Nethari, and Elken as much as the next person, but if the actual game mechanics aren’t grabbing me, those races alone aren’t going to do it.

So therein lies the crux of the issue. If Crowfall even comes back online, there’s no assurance that the game coming back will actually be recognizable as Crowfall any longer. That’s not great. And it’s less a vague possibility that this might happen and more a certainty. Even if the game comes back, it will be significantly different.

Agony and sorrow.

Obviously, the question that one would ask is why a company would pick up Crowfall of all titles if they didn’t want to keep it working in its same basic state, but that’s kind of an open question anyhow. It might have been because of wanting art assets that could be gotten at low prices. It might have been a gamble. It might even have just been a mistake in judgment (those happen sometimes, even at the corporate level). Whatever the case, the game got bought, it is shutting down, and I feel confident that if anything actually comes back, it won’t feature the stuff that made Crowfall unique.

Which means that once again, a major Kickstarted game has crashed and burned badly once it finally got pushed out into a launch state – a situation that, let’s be honest, has followed the vast majority of crowdfunded projects in the MMO space because the simple reality is probably just that most MMOs are too big, too expensive, and too niche to really work with a fundamental crowdfunding model.

I’d like to be wrong about this. I’d like for Crowfall to come back with an easier time rolling out campaigns. But I can’t help but feel like stating that is already an untrue problem. The game’s main issue was that people didn’t want to play these campaigns, however easy or difficult they were to develop. If you can’t get eyes on something, the ease of rolling out new ones isn’t going to be the determining factor. Crowfall fundamentally had a population and popularity problem right out of the gate, and nothing has fixed that; even if the developers could recapture all of the game’s launch players, they would still need more people.

And if there ever is an actual reboot and revival of the title, it’s unlikely to be recognizable as Crowfall beyond the broadest strokes. Whether or not the resultant game will be more popular is purely an exercise in speculation at this point, but my current speculation is that no relaunch is ever going to happen. In the unlikely event that it does, I definitely don’t have high hopes for its reception.

Here’s hoping Monumental manages to surprise me. But at the moment, that ain’t the way to bet. And that’s a sad ending note for a game that at least at one point looked promising.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.
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