Vague Patch Notes: Fractured Online deserved better, even if you think it looked bad

Not like this.

When it comes to upcoming MMOs, there’s always a sense of uncertainty in terms of what the final product is going to look like. You cannot actually tell me that you like or dislike the gameplay of Blue Protocol unless you’ve been in one of the handful of Japanese tests, and odds are you have not. You can, however, brainstorm about the observed mechanics and what the developers have stated are their goals for the game as a whole, and maybe you think the game looks good or bad or whatever. And that’s fine.

But at least that game will probably have a chance to succeed or fail based on those design goals.

Today, I want to talk about Fractured Online because it looks like the whole saga of that game’s ironically fractured early access and silence is at least moving out of active rotation. It seems as if everyone has an opinion about this game, and it likewise seems as if most of those opinions – at least from where I sit – come down to “it looked like it was going to be a bad game, so it’s no shock it’s floundering.” And frankly, I don’t think that’s accurate, and it needs to be said: Fractured Online deserved better, even if you don’t think the game looked good.

The whole tale of Fractured Online is kind of a weird one, and it will take some time to recount, but let’s do our best. It was Kickstarted by indie studio Dynamight back in 2018 to the tune of $NotNearlyEnough, and in December of 2021 Gamigo announced that it was working with Dynamight to publish the game. Even back then it was a contentious deal from the fans’ perspective, but the developers insisted that Gamigo was not making any changes to the game’s monetization scheme or design principles. All right.

The plan for launch was set to winter of 2022, with assurances that all of the planned mechanics like the game’s three races would be in by that point. Early access launched in September to mixed reviews, and development then went… oddly silent. Then, in December, after considerable upheaval at Gamigo, Dynamight’s Jacopo Gallelli finally told backers the game would be moving back into closed development over “platform troubles.” Gamigo silently removed the game from its website site and launcher, and the latest news suggests that the game will be back in February running on different servers than before.

Now, we do not actually know a lot of what happened here. We know that Dynamight studio heads have avoided saying anything blaming Gamigo for anything that happened, and there has yet to be any sort of official statement about a change in the game’s publishing agreement. Any such speculation is just that – speculation. But it sure looks like Gamigo agreed to publish the game, saw that it wasn’t getting much traction for a variety of reasons, performed insufficient marketing, and then quietly abandoned it.

Is that what happened? Maybe. But the “maybe” parts aren’t the most damning bits.

Oh dear.

It’s not up for debate that the game didn’t really get promoted well at all. There were no advertisements or major media push; by the gaming industry’s standards, there was pretty much nothing of consequence. The game just floated into early access with next to no promotional support whatsoever, as if the expectation was that Dynamight would do all the advertising and all of the development and Gamigo would just pay for hosting and then collect the resulting profits.

I don’t know that’s what happened; for legal reasons, it’s certainly nothing that the staff has talked about. But if someone from Dynamight told me off the record that this is exactly what happened, I wouldn’t call that tipster a liar. It matches the observable facts.

Similarly, I can’t say for sure that the game was pushed into early access before it was ready or that the developers had something waiting in the wings that would make this game look like an absolute winner. Even before the Gamigo deal was announced, I did not look at the game and think that this looked like it was going to go well. Just reporting on the game’s plans for managing PvP and completely predictable toxic player behavior make me put my head in my hands and sigh; it’s all familiar stuff, the same sort of stuff a lot of studios try to make work that doesn’t work.

Let me state that more clearly: Based on all early previews and the stated goals of Fractured Online, I didn’t think it would be a good game. I didn’t think that it was going to be a runaway success. I had a feeling that it was going to do its best and fail to catch numbers or take hold of player imaginations.

But that does not mean, for even an instant, that I think the game deserves to have its future cut short by Gamigo’s corporate antics and backroom deals that ultimately kneecapped the game out of the gate. I think the game deserved a proper marketing push, support, and all of the various bells and whistles that are either promised or implied by having a publishing deal. I think it should have been given a fair shot, in other words.

Why? Because every game deserves that.

Even so.

You are not going to be excited for every game that comes down the pike. That’s just the reality of… well, existence. There are games that come out every single day that I am not excited for despite reviewing and covering games for a living, and that is true even if you create an exception for every single annual sports title that I do not and will never care about. I would not be sad in the least if, say, the latest Call of Duty game came out and no one played or bought it.

You can think that Fractured Online did not look particularly great. Heck, early access reviews for the game weren’t stellar, the people I trust who did play it weren’t enthusiastic about it, and so forth. The game never seemed like a future success story. But that was all true before Gamigo agreed to publish it, and Gamigo did not give it a massive push for promotion or seemingly do anything beyond nudge it live to early access, then immediately lose interest when it clear that this was not going to be the Hip New Thing The Kids Like.

All that should have been obvious, though, basically from the word go. This was not something that was unknown from the basic design documents and stated goals of the game. There’s absolutely nothing that was unknown when the publishing deal was agreed to, and rather than throwing the game to the wolves with no promotion, the developers¬† deserved a fair chance to sink or swim on the merits of their ideas rather than being… well, screwed out of it by a publisher that never cared and is known chiefly in the MMO industry for sunsetting or jettisoning 18 games in the last three years.

It’s idealistic, I know. Every single game has a certain degree of corporate unfairness going on in the background, and that’s a shame. But even if you think it looked like Fractured Online was not a great idea and you didn’t think it would work out very well… it deserved support. It deserved better than it got. And it’s not fair, and I think it’s important to say so.

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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