announced that H1Z1, their already-aging but still Early Access zombie survival game, will split in two. Reaction has been predictably negative, as reaction to just about anything with DBG's name attached tends to be. Thanks, Smed.
Keen sums up the general feeling with the very title of his post on the subject: WTF is Daybreak Doing? The very idea of marketing and selling the same game in discrete packages to different audiences is outrageous, desperate, just plain nuts.
I've thought for years - probably since around the time Planes of Power codified the raid end-game - that many MMOs could, very effectively and sensibly, be partitioned off into segments and sold and marketed separately. I used to say back then, often, usually to a thudding silence, that
Raiding, just to take one example, is and should be a game in itself,
not a whole second game bolted on to the end of a perfectly good
Balancing the whole game to meet the needs and requirements of Raiding, PvP, RvR, open world PvE, instanced group PvE, soloing, leveling, roleplaying, crafting, housing and decorating etc etc etc turns almost all long-lasting games into rats' nests of dirty compromise. Diminishing resources end up chasing increasing demands, serving legacy interest groups that frequently contain the game and the company's bitterest critics: players who profess to hate the game they're playing and what it's become, yet still won't leave.
It's not as if splitting a game into two parts (or three or a dozen) is even anything new. It's been happening ever since Ultima Online span off its consensual PvP/PvE shard,Trammel back at the turn of the millennium. When it comes down to it, how different is having two versions of H1Z1 for sale in the digital store from a game having PvE and PvP servers? Or indeed, as EQ and EQ2 used to do, having four different PvP ruleset servers, half a dozen varying PvE ruleset servers, F2P servers, Premium servers and even a Pay-to-Win server (remember The Bazaar?).
Just about every MMO I've ever played that's been successful enough to hang around for a year or two has gone down this route. Almost the only exceptions are the few that operate on a single shard like EVE, and even that's a poor counterpoint, with CCP spinning their IP across multiple games on different platforms, while sharing the same universe.
The idea that having two versions of H1Z1 will negatively impact development resources is just fatuous. Development resources in MMOs are already fatally compromised and always have been. ArenaNet, operating what is unarguably one of the genres bigger and more successful MMOs right now, has a massive development team and yet they profess, perpetually, to be heavily stretched.
The current extensive and much-needed WvW revamp had to wait years beyond the point
at which everyone could clearly see it was urgently needed, simply because resources were not available. Each new, major game development, change or project cannibalizes resources from all the others, spawning anger and resentment in every group that, often rightly, feels its own needs are being ignored.
Splitting a game like H1Z1 into two entirely separate games may not alleviate any of that stress. It may not produce any additional resources or make anything happen any faster. It may not make players feel any happier that their chosen format is getting a fair shake compared to its mirror.
It may not, in other words, make anything better but I fail to see how it can make anything worse. At the very least it adds some clarity. If you want an open world zombie survival game, you can buy one and play it without having to work around a bunch of fight-to-the-death FPS crazies. And vice versa.
What if you want both? Well buy both. It's two games. You want two games? Buy two games. That, as we all know, is the point, because, as we've seen from Trion's recent inelegant (okay, ugly) revisions to their payment model, the latest in a lengthening line of attempts by MMO producers to row back from the supposed commitments they made to "Free To Play", a model whose mechanics and modes most of them seemingly didn't fully grasp at the time, getting MMO players to pay for anything is hard.
I'm the worst possible example. F2P has been fantastic for me. Hardly any MMO locks anything that interests me behind a paywall these days. All the bits of the game that I relish - exploring, leveling, pottering around in low level zones imagining I'm myself aged about eight, just after the last coat in the wardrobe gave way to snowy pine branches - they're all there waiting for me to enjoy them for nothing.
So, if splitting MMOs into their component parts and selling only the bits that interest people to those people, separately, turns out to be more financially rewarding for the people making and maintaining those games then so be it. I don't have any ethical objections.
The big question, of course, is whether it will bring in more money. Maybe it will just split the same audience and make no difference. Maybe it will put some people off, who would like to play both styles but balk at paying twice for the privilege. We'll have to wait and see.
It seems to me, though, to be an experiment very well worth trying. If ANet announced tomorrow that they were going to split the revamped WvW from the base game when it launches and sell it as a standalone with separate development I'd be open-minded. If they announced they were going to spin off an open-world version of GW2 with one-time events, no raiding and no pseudo end-game I'd be ecstatic.
Harder, of course, to pull something like that off in a game that's up and running, which is why Early Access, that period when we players get to watch the band rehearsing before the real show starts, is a better time to try something like this, see how it flies.
Many MMO fans, particularly the more jaded, have been agitating for years for the genre to move to a tighter, more focused, niche-based approach. This is something of a move in that direction and worth encouraging for that reason alone. It probably won't change much but if it should turn out to be successful it may have influence. If there's one thing MMO companies do understand, after all, it's how to borrow each others' clothes.
So, good luck with your new twins, Daybreak. Now can we have some kind of update on EQNext?