Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Upcycling Crowfall

I had an email yesterday from "The Crowfall Team". I was thrown for a minute. I'd forgotten I'd ever given them my email address. Well, one of my email addresses. Last time I counted I had a couple of dozen. It'll be more now.

After some thought, I realised I'd had to provide an email address when I signed up for the open beta. That was back in 2021. It seems a lot longer. 

The beta itself was an odd experience. Crowfall is a PvP game but for the beta I remember levelling to the cap in PvE, then not being able to find anyone doing PvP at all. I posted about the game a few times, first during that beta and then when it launched; after that I mostly forgot about it.

The name has cropped up now and then in news reports. I remember the developers, Artcraft, sold it on to another company, Monument, which I seem to remember was owned by one of the original investors, although I may be making that part up. There were a few rumblings about the sellout but nothing that sticks in the memory. After that, nothing.

Until this:

The email also contains a whole load of detailed information about the shutdown process, all of which I'll spare you. It's not really meaningful or relevant to anyone not playing the game right now, which I'm guessing won't be anyone reading this.

It's an interesting email as much for what it doesn't say as for what it does. I'm curious about the whole taking the game offline for "development", for a start. I suppose that's by no means unprecedented, dramatic though it sounds; Final Fantasy XIV would be the poster child for the concept but it also happened to Fallen Earth.

Both of those games came back to life, FFXIV famously as a vastly improved and ultimately far more successful product, Fallen Earth as something much the same as before. There's a much longer list of games that closed down then started up again but those are the only two I can think of right now that went dark specifically so they could receive further development before returning.

Usually, even with failing games, the developers try to cobble something together without switching the servers off. Presumably some income is better than none at all, provided it's greater than the running costs. It would obviously be more convenient to change mechanics and systems without having to work around those pesky players as they try to get their dailies done and the savings in customer service alone must be huge but it's still not an option many developers choose.

That makes the statement outlining Monument's vision for the future of Crowfall even odder: they don't appear to have one. It looks as if what they're planning amounts to the creation of an entirely new game even if, as yet, they haven't decided what game it's going to be. 

It reminds me of the Ship of Theseus; if you replace every part of an mmorpg, is it still the same game?

To be fair, the email doesn't say every aspect of Crowfall will be replaced; it says every part will be rethought. Some of that that rethinking might, I suppose, amount to "leave it as it is". When the parts you're talking about "rethinking" include "core technology... tools... art, design, and gameplay", though, the implication is that what's left isn't going to be easily recognizeable as what you started with.

Had this all happened a few months ago, I imagine there'd be a widespread assumption that whatever
zombie game lurched back online some months from now would be riddled with NFTs, blockchain and play-to-earn mechanics. Square Enix aside, that gum seems to have lost its flavor for most developers. At this point I'd probably more surprised if things did go that way for Crowfall than if they didn't.

What might emerge from the mist is a lot harder to predict. If I had to put money on it, which fortunately I don't, I'd bet on "Nothing". Redeveloping, rewriting, redesigning and relaunching a minor league game like Crowfall seems like a great way to throw good money after bad. 

That said, there seems to be no shortage of investors, both individual and collective, ready to throw millions at projects like this when they're based on nothing more solid than wishes, hopes and promises. At the very least, in this case, there is a functioning game with an established market presence from which to build. 

I'd say it's going to be interesting to watch but the depressing fact is mmo development takes so long its all but impossible to maintain any real interest over the length of a project. About as much as I can manage is a flurry of interest when I first hear about something and a glimmer any time some playable demo or test build appears.

What I imagine will happen is I'll once again forget all about Crowfall until it either emerges from its coccoon of silence, bright, shiny and new, or the final post-mortem arrives to confirm it's never coming back at all. 

I hope its the former. Crowfall wasn't a terrible game, just bland, unexceptional and radically over-extended. In an age where asset re-use is positively welcome on ecological grounds, it would be a shame to waste all the work that went into it. I look forward to hearing the outcome of all that rethinking and if there's ever another beta... Monument already have my email.


  1. I think your "nothing" prediction is probably correct. I will be mildly surprised if the game returns at all, and absolutely astounded if we see this game pull a FFXIV style turnaround.

    1. To remake the game entirely would presumably need much the same finance as to make a game from scratch but if it was only a surface pass, why take it offline at all? The whole thing seems weird.

  2. i funded them at the basic level. logged in once during alpha and forgot about it. this email surprised me both due to its content and that I had forgotten it existed. first and last time I kickstarter a videogame

    1. I've backed a couple of kickstarted mmorpgs - Project:Gorgon and Ashes of Creation. PG was already playable and I really just kicked in a donation. AoC, though, I was hoping might become my next main mmo but by the time it comes out, if it ever does, both the world and I will have changed so much I doubt I'll do more than pop in for a look around. I don't even want a "main mmo" any more.

      I think mmorpgs must be one of the worst possible projects for crowdfunding for so many reasons. I won't be backing any more.


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