Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Counting Crows


I'd forgotten Crowfall was due to launch today. MassivelyOP's announcement this morning came as something of a surprise. Bree, author of the post, and a few readers who dropped comments on the brief thread that followed, seemed more impressed a Kickstarter mmorpg had managed to launch at all than by any possibility it could be any good.

"Yes, a crowdfunded MMO with a real launch!" 

"Big grats to the team for getting the game fully released"

"Congrats on them for crossing that finish line"

The MOP piece linked to a reddit thread called "Estimated Population?" in which the OP expressed some concern over how many people would be playing. So far the thread has drawn comments from around thirty people, the majority of whom don't appear to hold very high hopes for the future of the game. 

On a more positive note, there were reports of ten or fifteen thousand viewers on Twitch and a couple of people who'd bought the Buy to Play title took a moment out from their first day frenzy to pop into the thread and offer anecdotal evidence:

"There are at least 100+ players in the starting area on US West"

 "Game was freaking popping at launch..."

I took a look at the official forums. They were very quiet but as we all know forums aren't the hot ticket they once were. There was some mention of Discord being the place where Crows might be found but I wasn't quite interested enough to join yet another Discord channel just to find out if that was true.

After a while it occured to me to check just how many people had backed the game during its Kickstarter campaign way back in 2015. It was 16,936. Someone on the reddit thread claims that in the five years since then the number "who own the game from backing the game" has ballooned to 300,000 but they don't show their workings so I have no idea whether that's true or not.


MassivelyOP also published a much longer and more detailed "Launch Impressions" post, authored by Andrew Ross. I was hoping for some hard data but although it's an interesting read it's more of a review of the game itself than any kind of account of how the launch is going.

Early in the piece, Andrew goes off on quite a digression about Istaria, the player-owned mmorpg that started out as Horizons a very, very long time ago. It's an unexpected comparison for Crowfall but I can see what he's getting at. 

I played Horizons in beta and for a short while after launch and I've played Istaria a few times since and written about it here on occasion. Both games have a supposedly deep crafting system with considerable inter-reliance in common. They also both feature several unusual non-human player races. 

It had completely slipped my mind, if indeed I ever knew, that Horizons was originally planned as a PvP title. It was pure PvE by the time I got into beta and as far as I know it's been PvE evers since. The comparison does raise the question, re-iterated by a number of commenters in various threads I've seen, of whether deep crafting systems and a PvP focus really go together or not.

The relative success of games like EVE and Albion Online prove the wolves and the sheep can co-exist but two titles in twenty years isn't all that much of an evidence base. Maybe there are more but those are the two people always seem to quote.

From the thirty levels of tutorial I saw in beta I find it difficult to imagine Crowfall attracting a similar audience. There are a lot of PvE mmorpgs that offer a great deal more to players who aren't interested in PvP and the crafting, while it might be quite involved compared to the genre standard, still didn't seem all that original or exciting to me.  

The options for PvP players are a lot more limited but whether there's enough interest to feed the non-stop conflict the game promises very much remains to be seen. There certainly haven't yet been any of the traditional news stories about launch day queues or servers crashing under load that mmo launches often spit up, although I guess we haven't hit North American prime time yet as I write this so it could still happen.


One thing that struck me as I read through the various threads were the number of references to the upcoming open beta for Amazon's New World. Even though I played in both the first closed beta and last year's short open test phase and have the game on pre-order, I'd forgotten it was quite this close to launch.

Most of the people who mention New World suggest that Crowfall has, at most, until that open beta begins to attract and lock down an audience. The sentiment appears to be much stronger in favor of Amazon's game, which feels like it's turned a corner in PR terms over the last year or so. 

Where much of what was being said about the game up until last summer's open testing was cynical and dismissive, what people saw there seems to have changed a lot of minds. The directional shift from open PvP to PvE with optional PvP may have angered a section of the original audience but it seems to have had much the effect Amazon presumably hoped for on the wider marketplace. Amazon have also run a strong publicty campaign in the lead-up to launch, which is something no-one could claim on behalf of Crowfall.

The closely-spaced launch of the two mmorpgs reminds me a little of the summer of 2012, when Funcom opened the doors to The Secret World just weeks before the arrival of Guild Wars 2. I remember a lot of people back then saying they were giving TSW that window to prove itself before they made the switch. The winner of that contest was plain before the year was out.

There are also, of course, several other mmorpgs due to launch in the same summer window this year. Phantasy Star Online: New Genesis is already here, Swords of Legend Online is due later this month and Bless Unleashed follows in August. None of those is likely to trouble either Crowfall or New World and I suspect Crowfall itself will have no more of an impact on New World than the rest, either.

Unless we hear something entirely unexpected, it looks like this summer's Battle of the Mmorpgs is Amazon's to lose.

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