Thursday, November 10, 2011

Salem and Why It Might Not Be For You

That title is a good thing, mind you. I'll be going over some week-old news and an old topic in the blogging circle here.

The week old news is the Salem AMA (Ask Me Anything) that one of the developers held on Reddit rather spontaneously last week. You can find the results here, and I found it extremely interesting despite not having any interest in playing the game.

The old topic is "It's not for you", a kind of phrase that gets passed around very little in the MMORPG community for a variety of reasons, most of which involve alienating potential customers.

Anyway, so reading through this I was surprised at the lack of bile or irrelevant things posted, but perhaps that is due to moderators or maybe the Reddit crowd being more mature or something. I dunno, I don't use that site. However, the tone I got from this guy is that he is completely unapologetic for the various systems in his game that can be considered "unforgiving". If you commit a crime, you have a good chance of having your character killed off, even if you are offline. Your character can be summoned and killed off when you are offline, should the series of clues left after the crime lead to your character. It's a system they used in their previous game, Haven and Hearth.

Let me pull a specific quote from there.

"That being said, I've played our previous game H&H...
...for months and through multiple worlds and I've only died like three times, and when I have died I've done so because I've been a thieving bastard and deserved it. You don't die very often, and if you want to stay out of trouble, you usually can.
But I fully understand that that cannot be everyone's cup of tea. And I'm fine with that. :)"

I'm fine with it too, Björn Johannessen. I have a lot of respect for a developer who can say that. Right now the MMORPG industry is in a place where games fit a certain criteria in order to appeal to a certain playerbase, and that is the theme park playerbase. I can't sit here and chastise companies for funding projects for that, because it is the largest market available and the one with the safest elements. I believe SWTOR will succeed because it is safe and it embraced that, and then went on to improve on the system rather than simply copy it and call it a day.

Whether we like it or not, the industry is in a place right now where it is subjected to the whims of that playerbase, and many companies can't afford to ignore complaints in order to keep subscribers. Despite the raging success of the F2P systems lately, I highly doubt anyone would say that DCUO was made free because it thought the system was a good fit. They did it first and foremost to get warm bodies in the door for revenue.

Independent studios, like the one creating Salem or the one behind Glitch, don't have those large production fees associated with intellectual properties or high-end graphics. Now is a fantastic time for those companies to come in and start building their own playerbases around systems we now consider niche. The sandbox genre, for example. SWG is closing down, but an independent studio can revive that style of gameplay and have a following. Granted, the American economy is not in a place where starting a company is a sound plan, but you understand.

Permadeath might not be your cup of tea, and neither is a game where the main goal is to make a community. But hey, it's somebody's thing, and they'll play it and love the hell out of it. I'm glad that Björn here knows that, because it means more time spent cultivating this style of gameplay and less time scrambling to rope in players who aren't interested in your game to begin with.


  1. Great post, and couldn't agree more with the take-away. It's refreshing when something does something well, not just all things 'meh'. There was one thing, however, that caught my eye: the American economy is not in a place where starting a company is a sound plan. There's never a better time than when things are shaky! Well, ya, unless it's shaky because it's on the verge of collapse.

  2. I generally disagree with you that game companys are subjected the "whims" of a playerbase. In the example you gave of MMOs, those companies *subject themselves* to whims by trying to cater to "everyone" instead of their market demographic. We already saw how overwhelmingly successful this niche marketing can be in *every* MMO that came out between 1999 and 2004. Every one of them was a huge success.

    The waters are muddy now because developers, or more specifically their owners, have seen the cash cow potential and so they no longer make games for specific markets. They make a game that can be sent to every market. This isn't because players are subjecting them to their whims. It's because of poor marketing strategy, at least from the perspective of us gamers wanting *better* games.

    Anyway, I like the other points you make but that one didn't seem true or even fair. It sounds like you're blaming players for the state of affairs and that couldn't be further from the truth.

  3. Ah, my apologies. I didn't mean to come off as blaming the playerbase. My intention was more to convey that too many companies are trying to cater to this one playerbase, rather than the other ones that have been feeling neglected, I.E. the sandboxers, the crafters, and the PVPers. I brought up the quote about people complaining about permadeath mainly because I like his take on it and think independent studios are more at the whims of vocal players than larger studios are.

    If I could blame the playerbase for anything though, it would be that there are too many who expect every MMO to be what they want because they like one aspect of it. "I like the PvE in this game, but I really love PvPing. Make more PvP stuff!" MMORPG gamers don't really have a choice when it comes to quality, polished online games, so voicing their opinions and trying to get the developers to go in there direction is a common tactic.

    Do they listen? I can't say, never worked in a studio. Should they listen? Maybe, if enough voices ask for it. We all know about the fiasco EVE went through when they didn't listen to their playerbase. I think there are a substantial amount of people that believe MMORPG = themepark (which couldn't be further from the truth) and some of those people are the ones being loud, or making the decisions in the industry. Like the people funding these projects. Ask them about WoW, money signs shoot up in their eyes. Ask them about Wurm Online and you'll get a blank stare.