There appears to be a lot of excitement in the MMO community for the Lord of the Rings Online. It seems like almost every blog I read these days has the author leaving whatever game they’d been playing to begin their adventures in Middle Earth. From what I’ve seen in the few days since its release, LOTRO has had a very successful launch, both in terms of number of subscribers and server stability. This launch appears to be a direct contrast to that of Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, a game that I had quite a bit of interest in.
Keep in mind that I have not been involved directly in either of these titles launches; I’ve simply watched from afar, read the blogs, and played the betas. Vanguard had captured my interest almost immediately after I had heard about it; it was going to be the next big MMO. I managed to get into Beta 3 for Vanguard and my first impression was not favourable to say the least. I didn’t think the graphics were that great, the animations were terrible, stability was suspect, and the performance was abysmal. Even the gameplay itself didn’t do much for me; the quests were few and far between, and I just found myself not really knowing what to do. After a couple days of playing I left, thinking I’d never see that game again. I knew it was in beta, and was willing to be very forgiving, but it just did absolutely nothing for me.
I can’t remember why exactly, but I did go back to the Vanguard beta a little later and gave it another chance. I was much more impressed; there had obviously been a lot of changes made to the game, and many fixes implemented. The game had managed to make its way back on to my radar; it wasn’t necessarily a must-buy, but it was a maybe-buy. That changed at the end of beta event when I snagged myself a griffon and began flying around the world. Wow. Flying around the massive continent of Qalia, visiting the volcano, and seeing the other sights, sold me on the game. It had been a while since a game has made me say, “wow”, but Vanguard did it. I was even able to ignore the fact that my flying mount kept bugging out and disappearing from underneath me sending me plummeting to the ground below.
After the beta closed, I think I felt like the majority of people. The game had potential, but it was just not ready to be released due to the bugs, performance issues, and all the other issues that had been listed. I had decided I was going to buy it, just not play it right away. I’ve held true to that, as the game sits unused on my desk.
I also played the Lord of the Rings Online beta. Unlike Vanguard, my first impression of LOTRO was very good. The graphics were good, the game ran very well for me, and the quests were really fun to do. However, the more I played it, the less I liked it. It just didn’t pull me in like it would need to do in order to get me to quit playing Everquest II. It didn’t leave me with a lasting impression; the world felt small, and the biggest deal breaker for me was the fact that it didn’t feel like anything new to me. Maybe I didn’t spend enough time with it, but it felt just like World of Warcraft, only in a different setting, and I couldn’t get into WoW either. The fact that I can’t think of anything else to write about it confirms that it did nothing for me.
I guess this all illustrates that every gamer has different tastes. Vanguard had a crappy first impression for me, but left me wanting to explore its world in the future. Lord of the Rings had a great first impression for me, but quickly became very ho-hum and routine. Yet, it’s obvious that LOTRO is on its way to becoming a very successful game. I keep reading accounts of people flocking to LOTRO, and of people quitting Vanguard. I hear nothing but doom and gloom for Vanguard, with the occasional “perhaps it’ll be good way in the future”.
Why is that? I won’t pretend to know, and Vanguards “failures” have been outlined elsewhere. I do have a few observations however. Whether the developers of Vanguard said it or not doesn’t matter, the perception was widely out there that Vanguard was going to be for the hardcore player. If the developers didn’t want that message out there, they certainly didn’t do anything to remedy that. The so called fans of the game didn’t help things either. The beta forums were full of players telling “noobs” to take off and go back to their stupid WoW, this game wasn’t for them. I personally believe that the early community for Vanguard did massive, irreparable damage to the game, scaring off many potential players. Sigil finally took action and shut down the forums entirely, which was too little too late, and has left the game with no official forums for fans of the game to discuss it.
Secondly, and this has been said time and again by just about everyone, the game just wasn’t ready to be released. There were still too many bugs and performance issues for it to be a retail product. Yes, they were running out of money, or so they say, but then that’s their own fault for not planning the game well enough. I think they’ll probably end up losing more money in the long run due to lost subscriptions (and lost interest), than they would have had they kept plugging away for another few months. They also started their public beta way too early. They’ve admitted themselves that the game was more or less in alpha state when they went public, and despite the non-disclosure agreement the beta testers agreed to, word still got out, and that word wasn’t positive.
Finally, releasing the game at the same time as the Burning Crusade was just pure and utter stupidity. Of course, it wasn’t known exactly when Burning Crusade was going to be released, but there were many hints. What better reason for the publishers to send the game back for some more quality control and delay release? It’s just like back when Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was coming out. All the other movie studios shuffled their releases around so that they wouldn’t be going up head to head with the juggernaut of Star Wars. In addition to that, at least here in Winnipeg, I had to search all over to find a copy of Vanguard on store shelves, which I finally found buried on the bottom shelf (a whopping two copies too!). I’m thinking this is an SOE thing actually, because I always had the same trouble trying to find Everquest II copies; either the original game or its subsequent expansions. I had to search a fair bit to find two boxed copies of EQ2 for myself and my wife, and when the expansions came out, basically if you hadn’t pre-ordered you were out of luck as EB Games only ordered enough copies for the pre-orders. To this day I don’t think I’ve ever seen DoF, KoS, or EoF in a Best Buy or FutureShop here; in fact, it appears as though the only version of EQ2 you can buy off the shelf these days is the EQ2 Classic box for $4.95. Yet, a quick glance down the aisle reveals approximately forty-five billion boxed copies of WoW and the Burning Crusade. Just yesterday I was in FutureShop and saw a whole whack of LOTRO boxes, and one single copy of Vanguard. Which game do you think a casual gamer is more likely to pick up? The one with a boat-load of copies on the shelf, or the one with a single copy buried at the bottom?
But I digress. The point is (is there a point?), games like WoW and LOTRO seem to do the obvious things right. They want to sell a product, so they make sure that product is well made, and widely available. I’m no marketing expert, but isn’t that kind of what it’s all about? I initially played a fourteen day trial for WoW, liked it, didn’t love it, then forgot about it. Despite the fact I didn’t particularly enjoy my time with WoW, I eventually ended up buying it. I think I got suckered in by all the cinematic movies released for it, along with its other advertisements – be it in print, on the web, or through fan websites. The whole “look” of the game pulled me in and made me want to play the game. I managed to reach level 30 before I realized I wasn’t having any fun with it and canceled my account. Then the trailers and ads started coming out for Burning Crusade and it got my interest again. Even watching FRAPS clips of in-game footage from my friends got me thinking about WoW, despite knowing I didn’t like the game. There’s a “coolness” factor to WoW (I really didn’t want to say WoW Factor) that pulls people in, and I suspect LOTRO has something similar going on now. This is what Vanguard and to some extent Everquest II could use. Show us how cool your games are!
I sincerely believed Vanguard had the potential to be a deeper, longer lasting, and just plain better game than LOTRO, but there’s no way it’s going to have as many subscribers. I’m someone who actually ended up enjoying my time in the beta, and yet I still can’t bring myself to play it. I just hope the opportunity to play it at all doesn’t pass me by.