I don’t know about you, but for me, i’ll always support the “good guys” in the genre. Last year, i thought SOE might shape up to be the new good guy on the block, but since SOE went Daybreak, the news we got were more in line with what happened to Trion after Scott Hartsman returned to the company as CEO. Remember Trion? They are the company behind Rift, and they were- i think- the most popular developer of MMOs up until Rift went free-to-play, although Defiance had put a stain on their white vest already. When it was announced that Trion would be publishing ArcheAge, it was met with great positivity.
Nowadays, Trion isn’t so popular anymore. And even pressed hard, i don’t think i could come up with any studio that’s regarded in a similar way. City state entertainment (Camelot Unchained) seems to be quite popular, but in reality, this is easy for people who haven’t released a game yet.
If we’re looking for a good guy in MMORPG development space, for me, there’d need to be some qualities i’d like to see:
- quite open communication
- an honest, straight-forward business model in their game(s)
- a noticeable will to do what’s best for their games and players
- not outright abandoning any games that don’t perform so well
With all that in mind, my current favourite would be Funcom. Yes, they messed up launches in the past- Age of Conan and Anarchy Online are famous for that. And maybe there were “misunderstandings” when you played through Tortage and realized that the game was quite different later on. Also, they seem to be unable to create a compelling crafting system/economy. But i have the feeling, they’re doing the best they can.
Doing what’s best for their games and players
We know their financials aren’t looking too good, and it seems The Secret World is carrying the weight of the other games in Funcoms portfolio- so it is understandable that their main focus in development would be in TSW. But they haven’t forgotten Age of Conan. New content has been released, the achievement system, while not content in a strict sense, is a system where you can play around even if you are a dedicated long-time veteran of the game.
With the focus of the guild project turning to AoC, i also found that the atmosphere in AoC is interesting, very unique (i thought about another MMORPG with that kind of mood, but i don’t know any) and very well done. Funcom were able to deliver on that even before TSW.
Also, their games feel different. The Secret World moreso than Age of Conan, but to call any of them a “WoW clone” would be quite wrong. You won’t find a game similar to TSW (yet), with the huge focus on story, a brave attempt at cutting down on quest log entries which in effect makes quests more noticeable and important as well as easier to follow and pick up again after some absence.
For instance, in TSW i relogged into my character in the Blue Mountains and it was an easy return- she only had one quest open (two if you count the main story quest) and only one hotbar with abilities- getting reacquainted was an easy task. I also found out how their EPE update made life better- the current quest took me to fight Ah’kabs…lots of them. See, i’m pretty sure they were the reason why i logged out the last time i tried to play TSW and haven’t really returned since. This time, they were still annoying, still not easy to fight mobs, especially when you pull more than one of them, but fighting them was enjoyable.
So they also do what’s in the best interest of their games and players- i’m including the current sales which seem to have brought a lot of new players to the game. In game, it almost feels like a relaunch similar to what happens after a business model change.
Business models in Funcom games
I find The Secret World and Age of Conan to be honest in their business models, as well. They are different- TSW is buy-to-play, Age of Conan basically is free-to-play for levelling and a subscription game at level cap. Both heavily rely on dedicated players to pay the bills which is a nice change to all those PLEX/REX/CREDD/WoW token games that monetize new players. With TSW’s sales, you can get all the currently available content (with the exception of the side-stories, maybe) for 50$.
In Age of Conan, i looked for a reason to subscribe, but there’s really no reason to if you aren’t at level cap. My main reason for looking is the ability to unlock a character with a level above 20, so i could create a guild for the guild project- the perks i’d have for subscribing would be menial, though. A little Alternate Advancement that only really starts at level-cap, anyway, more bag space and…that’s it, i think. Well, some Funcom points.
I can’t talk about Anarchy Online because i don’t know the game and business model, but these two, i find to be quite easy to understand, fair to the players and sensible in what they do.
Yes, it seems there is a little bit of complaining around as somehow deals for new players to join are seen as “screwing” their loyal customer base. I don’t agree- games always go into discount some time after release and, especially in MMOs, free-to-play, item shops and digital sales have stabilized prizes somewhat. I mean, Elder Scrolls Online, for instance, was sold for 20$ in january, when they announced the change to buy-to-play. Nowadays, it’s 60$ again, and still one of the best-selling games on Steam and Amazon.
I don’t really know how it is nowadays, after Joel Bylos went to his new project, but when he was around, he communicated very open and honest in the official game forums.
So, for now, i declare Funcom my current favourite developer. I feel like they’re doing their best within their financial abilities, they treat their customers like adults and they aren’t afraid to try new things in their games or change their games in ways that ultimately benefit all their customers.