Massively Overthinking: The New World Aeternum debacle

    
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You know that feeling when you can see a trainwreck coming, but you know you can’t do anything to stop it or even warn everyone that it’s coming? That’s how we felt last week ahead of the New World reveal of Aeternum at the Summer Game Fest. It went… actually it went even worse than I expected, as I knew what would be announced, but I didn’t know exactly how it would all go down.

I want to spend this week’s Massively Overthinking chatting about the New World Aeternum announcement, what it means for the game, what we think about how Amazon handled it, and what we might have wished were done differently. The botched reveal definitely hurt in the short-term, if the Steam reviewbombing is any guide, but is this gonna save the game in the long run? Let’s Overthink it.

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Oof, where to start on this. I guess first is to keep in mind I’m not a hardcore fan of Amazon Games or New World, and I don’t really see myself playing the game. I do think there’s an audience for it and that it is leaning into the console players quite well. I don’t know if it’ll save the game in the long run, but that Q&A really should have been released for existing players before the studio tried aiming for new players.

What I think Amazon may have forgotten is that your community is both your greatest ally and fiercest enemy. By attempting to bypass current players and appeal to new ones, Amazon has ensured word spread like wildfire that this is a game to avoid before console players have gotten to really try it themselves. While there has been player input from testing phases, keeping that under wraps really hasn’t helped anyone. As a side note, attempting to sell this to press as a new game didn’t win Amazon any points either (and yes, we did warn PR how it would look before the SGF announcement).

If anything, this should have been marketed as a massive content update that would include a console launch. No current player should be charged a dime for it. Heck, a lot of money could have been saved if they’d used their players to champion the platform extension. Look at all those FFXIV memes the playerbase created to get people to look at the game!

Again, I have no ill will towards the devs, PR, or playerbase, current or future. I do wish the reveal had been more direct, more open, and used the current playerbase first before casting a wide net to try to lure in new players. The game I played at SGF isn’t bad enough to warrant the announcement tactic we saw.

Andy McAdams: I don’t have a clean answer here because I don’t think AGS actually does either. Just listening to the mental contortions it went through to try to justify why New World is a special snowflake and not actually an MMO had me going, “that’s not how words work.” (And for the record, NW isn’t a special snowflake when it comes to the genre of game it is, and it is 100% an MMO. It’s not a discussion, as much as AGS wants it to be.)

MMORPGs and consoles don’t have a great history. There’s are some success stories there (Elder Scrolls Online, FFXIV, Black Desert, DC Universe Online) but not many. I bet that someone at AGS with more title than sense took the exact wrong lesson from that. Instead of realizing, “Oh, this is a really difficult thing to do because MMO playstyles and systems are hard to do on console well, and there’s not a huge overlap in playerbase,” this person decided, “Oh, people don’t play MMOs on console because they are called MMOs. If we just pretend it’s something else, people will play! Great. Ship it.”

The reality is people avoid MMOs on console not because they are called MMOs but because MMOs just don’t translate well to consoles and the types of gamers who play on console. Renaming a thing (especially in this dubious and unconvincing way) isn’t going to suddenly make console gamers who weren’t interested in MMOs suddenly interested and spending money. Fam, that’s not how people work.

I don’t think console alone will Save the New World. It’s hard to get a foothold there anyway when console gamers are fickle in what they play, staying with games for (comparatively) less time than MMOs demand. The success stories there are generally successes on PC before making the jump, not struggling on PC and deciding console will be their savior. If AGS wants New World to stick around, it has to focus on serving its core playerbase – the MMO player – first and the console player second. The console crowd is never going to be able to support NW on its own.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I think it’s crucial to put the announcement into context: PC MMORPG players have been waiting a solid half year for major new content, and we’ve been told for months that June would bring a huge announcement that would make everyone happy and justify the content drought, even as the game’s concurrent userbase sank to its lowest counts ever. Into that frustrated and panicky “ded game” atmosphere, Amazon lobbed a reveal of what turns out to be a reasonable patch and a way to expand the playerbase, but it did so in a tone-deaf way that made its most loyal PC MMORPG players feel like second-class citizens with every reason to riot. Throwing a match into a tinderbox? Killing the golden goose? Both, really.

Put another way, Amazon worked so hard to convince potential console players that its MMORPG was not an MMORPG, contorting itself absurdly to avoid even using the term, that it actually managed to convince a wide swath of clueless mainstream press and PC players that the game is starting fresh as some sort of single-player ARPG, which it is not and won’t be. And they’re still doing it, a week later! It’s like they think both console players and MMORPG players are idiots. The messaging and marketing on this was so bad, unforced errors stacked on top of own-goals… I’ve seldom seen a bigger trainwreck, and I’ve been covering MMOs for Massively/MOP for 14 years.

Amazon needed to ask PC players for a bit more patience as they waited for October, but PC players are now disinclined to give it, even when they read through all the messaging and figure out that yes it’s still the same MMORPG and their characters are fine and all that and the only real thing that’s truly changing is a wink and a nod to get consolers in the door. I hope the game pulls through its self-inflicted drama and that the console playerbase doesn’t read the Steam reviews because honestly, on content and quality alone, this should be a Big Ten MMORPG. But not at this rate.

The other frustrating part is that I’ve been watching the game leads on New World for years now, and up until the last few months when the dissembling began, they were one of the most fluent and communicative teams in the genre. They obviously play the game, care about it, and put a lot of effort into quality and consistent comms, yes even compared to the other major MMORPGs in our genre. They impressed me. I liked them. But their hot streak ended this year when they clammed up and the content dried up. So seeing this kind of reveal out of this specific team breaks my heart a bit because they aren’t idiots; I am quite sure they knew exactly what would happen and clearly felt they had to do it anyway, sitting there awkwardly at the filming table struggling not to say the word MMORPG, even as they are getting (rightly) trounced across the internet for it. It sucks all around, for the devs, for the players, for the game, and for the genre.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): This is now what I count to be the second time that New World has tried to shift itself, from a PvP MMO to a blend of PvP and PvE to now what it’s trying to sell as an action RPG, and while I’m not usually the sort to go absolutely feral when people “misuse” a game’s genre classification, this apparent desperate attempt to unhitch itself from the MMORPG label through Cirque du Soleil-level contortionism is… well, it’s just freaking infuriating, fam. Not to mention worrying for Amazon’s supposed other MMO aspirations.

But let’s ignore Amazon initially creating a word salad with its feet and then being frustratingly bad in its Q&A. The actual content of the update, such as it is, is hardly what I’d call expansion-worthy, let alone worthy of a price tag for those who aren’t already bought in, and certainly not worthy of the reams of hype the dev team was trying to encourage. Also as Tyler pointed out in his earlier column, none of those features are worth that long a wait, especially since major updates won’t be occurring between now and Aeternum’s release. Swimming isn’t content.

As for the game’s long-term prospects, that’s harder to pin down without knowing whether console fans will be into what New World is offering, but it is admittedly difficult not to process this reveal as anything but a Hail Mary toss by the devs. Instead of adding more to the game – recall how Rise of the Angry Earth seemed like such a shot in the arm – the team is instead trying to focus purely on expanding the playerbase, which would be a welcome move in any other moment but now, especially after all of the goodwill ROTAE may have granted looks to be well and truly burnt to ash.

Colin Henry (@ChaosConstant): I see that a roadmap for 2025 is coming after Aeternum’s launch. Will that include the sunset date? Because at this point I’m thinking it should. Maybe that’s a bit of a hyperbole, but I have seldom been so sure an MMO isn’t long for this world than this one, which keeps showing promise and then falling flat on its face. All but saying that PC MMORPG players — the existing playerbase — don’t matter anymore just feels like the nail in the coffin.

I’m sure that marketing Aeternum the way it did was a calculated decision; Amazon Games thought it could pick up more console players by pretending this was a brand-new action game instead of the MMORPG that PC players had been playing for years now, and that adding those new console players would be worth neglecting the existing players by failing to give them new content for the next several months because there is this idea that console players don’t play MMORPGs (Elder Scrolls Online and pseudo-MMOs like Destiny 2 would like a word with you).

But it calculated wrong. I think there is this idea that PC and console gamers are insulated from each other, and while it is true that they are very different markets with different preferences, there is a lot of crossover, and those players read the same news sites, and most importantly, those players talk to each other. Ditching PC players doesn’t earn you clout with console players; it actually hurts your reputation with both groups.

It’s incredibly frustrating because this should be a top 5 MMORPG. I want it to be a top 5 MMORPG. But there have just been so many missteps at this point, I don’t think it can recover. Certainly not before Amazon runs out of patience. I would love to be wrong!

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I don’t think that Amazon was unaware that it was going to take a hit over this; it’s doing that calculus where the players lost now will be more than made up for when a console launches and older players return for a shot of new content.

But yeah, there were plenty of ways to handle this better, starting with not promising the moon earlier in the year. If this was an out-of-the-blue surprise, it might’ve even been a PR coup that generated goodwill. But for now, Amazon’s going to have to play damage control all summer with its established community while straining not to use the “MMO” label for some reason.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): New World has a number of pretty glaring issues, none of which Amazon Games appears to care about actually addressing. I often find myself thinking about returning to see if any of my issues have been fixed, but the more I hear from the team, the less I care to actually check in.

It simply hasn’t given me any reason to believe it wants to be better. Tyler’s impressions have been the only reason I even think about New World still. There’s a good game in there somewhere, but the company just continues to trip over itself and flail about. The announcement could’ve been a nothingburger or a hopeful rise in the playerbase or even a secret bit of positivity; instead, it was a disaster.

Tyler Edwards (blog): I already did a full column on this, so I don’t have a huge amount to add to what I said there. I think fundamentally the problem is Amazon spent months responding to every question about new content with “wait for June,” and then the June news was “wait for October.”

A lot of people really over-hyped themselves on what the June announcement was going to be, and that’s partly on them and partly on Amazon’s vagueness, but I had pretty managed expectations. What we’re getting in the Aeternum update is more or less what I expected Amazon to announce in terms of scale, but I also fully expected it to have the punchline, “And this will all be live in the game by the end of the month!”

The wait until October is absolutely devastating, and the fact the devs have confirmed nothing is coming until then, not even a new season pass, really sends the message that they’ve given up on the PC playerbase until October (and arguably just in general).

As a player, honestly, I find it doesn’t bother me that much. It’s annoying, but I’ve never been one to be shook by content droughts. There’s no sub fee, and I can easily just play other stuff while I wait. But I can’t blame anyone for being angry at this, especially when expectations were so poorly managed by the studio.

I don’t even know what the devs could do to turn around public opinion at this point. You can’t just pull new content out of thin air. I think they need to give everyone who doesn’t have it Rise of the Angry Earth and offer some kind of apology or mea culpa. Cash shop currency, something. At the very least, expedite fixing all the bugs Slayer Script added. But I doubt there’s anything they could realistically do that would be enough for a lot of people at this point.

I know this goes against traditional corporate marketing wisdom, but I wonder if people would have responded better if they just straight up said, “The game isn’t making enough money and we need to do this hail Mary to try to save 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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