(Wanna see what goodies await Team Fortress 2 Medics and Engineers?)
I don't like to pat myself on the back too much. At least, not in a medium other than our weekly Podcasts, where my dry wit and unintelligible vocal mannerisms carry the day. But I just can't resist taking a little mirth at the plight of Pirates of the Burning Sea, the latest MMO to follow the tried-and-true styling of all massively multiplayer launches that don't have the word "Warcraft" somewhere in the title: big hype, big launch, big fizzle.
Although I might be jumping the gun when I say "big launch." Based on the numbers from resident MMO population guru Bruce Woodcock, it appears that Pirates of the Burning Sea--last we checked--has an approximate population of around 65,000 subscribers. Note: subscribers, not active users. While one could assume that yes, in theory, 65,000 people could be playing the game at once, I venture that the total number of active people on the servers at any given time is far less than that. Far, far less.
"I'm all alone... all by myself..."
Yesterday's server consolidation brought the total number of active servers from 11 to 4. Call me crazy, but shutting over half of a game's active servers to "provide customers with the best game play experience" is a pretty drastic amount. Let's work backwards: assume 65,000 players are concurrently playing the game right now. Really, the number can be anything, as I'm more concerned with percentages and projections. Using my assumption, Flying Lab Software thinks that 65,000 divided by four--16,250 people--is the perfect amount that ensures the best possible gameplay experience on a server. Check.
Now, if this number--16,250--is what makes for an awesome gameplay experience, extrapolate that to 11 servers. By launching with this many Pirate realms, Flying Lab Software assumed that the game would be able to hit an ideal mark of 178,750 users at some point--the perfect server number (16,250) times the number of launch-day servers (11). How many users do they have now? We'll run with our original number, 65,000. Divide that by their expectations, and you get a game that's running at 36% of estimated success. Thirty-six percent. That's not just a fail; that's an epic fail.
Flaws in my logic? Well, this math was the long route. You could just divide 4 by 11, giving you the same thirty-six percent difference. But that's no fun. Also, yes, the game could, in theory, be expanding in a rate that I simply don't know about. Only, it's not. Flying Lab Software has the best barometer of anyone as to how it's game is performing, and if they projected any kind of uptake in subscribers, well, they wouldn't be shutting down more than half of the game's servers.
I'm not going to belabor the point. There are two things that destroy new MMOs: The Warcraft Check and the game's population. The former is a simple axiom that I've picked up as an MMO enthusiast over the last few years--is what I'm playing now more [adjective] than World of Warcraft? The Mad Libs adjective can be a number of words: fun, complex, annoying, detailed, pretty. However you want to gauge it, the barometer still remains. If I can find a better gameplay experience with the market leader, odds are good that me--and a number of other people--are either going to keep playing Warcraft, or are going to turn to Warcraft instead of an upstart MMO. This happens time, and time, and time again, with varying success.
Pretty graphics do not for awesome combat make (Backslash Yoda).
Second, even if a game can overtake elements of Warcraft, it has to do so and still have other people playing it. Case in point, Lord of the Rings Online. I played this game for two months and loved the crap out of it. It has style and flair. It's set during an epic storyline with a ton of rich, hard-to-spell history. The combat system follows the same tried-and-true method of most MMOs, buffered by LOTRO's immense customization system that rewards players for individualizing their gaming experiences (and killing spiders). The environments are--dare I say it--on par with the pretty Azerothian landscapes of Warcraft, evoking far more of a naturalistic feel than the more cartoony-fantasy settings of the MMO leader. In short, the game is rock-solid and fun.
Only, there's nobody playing. Or at least, I was pretty much the only adventurer throughout most of the Noob zones, even into some of the game's more mainstay cities. Adventuring by yourself is fun, albeit emo once you've spent 10 hours shooting nothing but deer whilst whistling Concerning Hobbits to yourself. Fire up Warcraft, and you'll see plenty of players in the uber-noob zones, the small city zones, and the uber-capitals.
It's a combination of both that's going to destroy Pirates of the Burning Sea, although I have to give Flying Lab credit: they're doing everything they can to staunch the inevitable. At its core, however, Pirates is simply not that fun of a game. I'll spare you a review, but it's as if everyone is playing a carbon-copy of Sid Meier's Pirates. The ship-to-ship fighting is fun, albeit slow: once you've had your 80th battle, you'll long for a more hack-hack-slash kind of fight that doesn't take 20 minutes to complete. The economy system is interesting, but a player-based economic system in a game with few players (let alone players of the merchant class) seems doomed to fail. The person-to-person fighting is lamentable in its lameness, and world PvP is only fun if you have a 50th-level Battlestar Galactica-style boat. Otherwise, your little 10-level self making his first trek out of the noob zone is going to get smoked over, and over, and over on the mighty Pirates world map.
I give Pirates of the Burning Sea... eight months to throw in the towel. Or at the very least, it'll only survive until Warcraft's new expansion hits.
ON THE NEXT PAGE: Team Fortress 2 updates the Medic class, and drops a huge hint of what's to come!
I got a chance to check out all the fancy new updates for Team Fortress 2 last night, and as a casual player (and awesome Medic), I'm quite impressed with what Valve's been up to! For starters, Medics get 36 new achievements to pine for, listed below:
When you complete chunks of achievements, you unlock new equipable weapons for the Medic class. The three new weapons replace the Medic's default syringe gun, healing gun, and bonesaw, and can be swapped out in the middle of gameplay by hitting up a new equip screen off of the game's main menu. While each gun is fundamentally more powerful than their original counterparts, the weapons come with a bit of balancing: you aren't just trading in your green for a purple.
The Blutsaugher: You lose the ability to nail someone with a critical hit, but the Medic now gains health every time a syringe hits an enemy. Pew pew pew.
The Critzcrieg: Replacing the healing gun, you still... heal. However, your Ubercharge now gives the targeted player a 100% change to nail criticals for the duration. You're both vulnerable, but your recipient (especially if its a heavy), is a Terminator.
The Ubersaw: It swings 20% slower, but you gain 1/4 of your Ubercharge bar whenever you whack an enemy. Kill four people with it and you're good to go!
Feel free to mix and match your preferred weapons if you just really, really like the oldschool bonesaw.
Valve also showed off a new map and play mode last night. The former's called Goldrush, and the latter's called Payload. Each team takes turns attacking and defending (or pushing and pulling) a giant, moveable cart. Basically, it's a mobile capture-point game. Stand near the cart and it moves forward along a track. The more people from a team stand near it, the faster it goes. Your enemies can stop the cart (and roll it back!) by doing the same.
We noticed in last night's game that Valve is also tinkering with upgrades for the Engineering class. While it's not concrete that these additions will go into the game's next Medic-friendly update, Valve is nevertheless looking at adding upgrade options for the Engineer's teleporter and dispenser. The former, when upgraded to Level 3, would reduce teleport recharge times from ten seconds to three. And a fully upgraded dispenser would heal all around it just slightly slower than a Medic--akin to Shadowrun's Tree of Life.