Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Train Stops Here : City of Steam

It's not often the announcement that an MMO is about to close down deserves to be greeted with a rousing cheer. Can't say I can think of a single example. Until today.

City of Steam was a browser-based MMO with enormous potential. During the long run-up to launch lots of people got quite excited about its quirky mix of steampunk and fantasy tropes, its splendid fin-de-siecle atmosphere and its first-rate art design and graphical polish.

I was lucky enough to spot it early on and I enthused about it in a more than a dozen posts, from the pre-alpha Sneak Peak through the various alpha and beta stages. Throughout the development process Mechanist Games, the internationally-staffed, China-based independent developer, maintained a cheerful and friendly stream of communication with their committed and enthusiastic audience. One of the developers even popped in here and posted a comment.

As all MMOs tend to do, City of Steam changed a lot in development. Whole aspects of the game were mooted, developed, tested and dropped. Systems and mechanics came and went. There were changes I liked and others I didn't but on balance things seemed to be trucking along nicely.

Some day a real rain will come...

Then came the soft launch. I'm not even sure whether the game ever officially came out of extended open beta but somewhere along the way it had acquired a distributor, R2 Games, joining their extensive roster of rather generic F2P MMOs and from that point on things went downhill fast.

As this post from July this year suggests, the wheels were coming off this particular train before it had even left the station. Suffice it to say things didn't improve. I played for quite  while, seeing fewer and fewer people around each time. There were no further additions or developments to the game over the summer and Mechanist Games, previously so chatty, disappeared behind a veil of silence. In the end I just stopped logging in.

On the forums much ire and disappointment was expressed. Various theories on what went wrong were expounded. Plenty of commentators glared darkly in the direction of R2 Games. Rumors abounded but few hard facts emerged. The game, having slumped out of the doors, seemed content to slouch, shiftless and idle, daring anyone to care.

My family and other goblins.

Whatever the truth or otherwise behind all the rumors and speculation, something must have been going on. Someone other than the disenchanted ex-players did indeed care. Statements don't get much more cryptic than the second paragraph of the announcement but what's not being said comes across as clearly as though we were hearing it echo across The Nexus through a megaphone:

"Circumstances have contributed to a significant loss of players and we've decided to cease the current game operations for the Global English version and take City of Steam back. This is a decision we have taken months to reach, and are confident that it's best for the health of the players, the community and the game itself."

The game isn't vanishing forever. Mechanist Games are taking a step back and trying again. Good on them. I dare say that for many long-time supporters of this charming, flavorsome game the announcement that this iteration is no more will come as a welcome relief. And as FFXIV: ARR amply proved, sometimes you do get a second chance to make a first impression.

I look forward with renewed interest and enthusiasm to City of Steam: Arkadia. Do better this time, that's all I ask.

4 comments:

  1. It's a shame. I tried this game once in alpha. It wasn't what I was looking for, but it was obvious that there was something to the game that made it work. It had an interesting setting (just not one I personally was interested in). It seems it lost that setting, and, having not much else to position itself uniquely, floundered.

    You make a good point. FFXIV got a second chance. Maybe other games might, too? I'll have to think what FFXIV actually did better than all the other games that never recovered.

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    1. After I wrote this post I read that Mechanist Games actually bought the rights to the English language version back from R2 Games, which probably explains a lot. I'd just about written this one off but now I'm cautiously optimistic all over again. Whatever they do with it almost has to be an improvement...

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  2. it reminds me of GW2 too much and isn't half as fun, and the only fee i payed to play that game was 60 dollars for the game, here i know to be on top i'll pay 5 to 10 times that amount to be able to keep up with some players

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  3. pretty boring, its just a browser based clone of GW2, which in the long run will cost you 5-10 times more in micro transactions than the 60 bucks you pay for GW2

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