Saturday, July 11, 2020

This Year, Next Year, Sometime, Never: New World

Just over three weeks ago I wrote this about Amazon's New World:

"Closed Beta starts in just over a month. That really doesn't give it much time before the supposed launch date, 25 August. A month, in fact.  Either they're sure it's ready or they don't intend to keep that date at all. Or they've given up all hope.
I guess we'll find out which, soon enough."

Yesterday Amazon posted this on the New World website:

 "...we will be changing our launch date - and correspondingly, our final beta test - to spring 2021."

We found out, all right. Even sooner than we expected.

The reasons given are curious:
"... We want to ensure that the most dedicated players have plenty of middle and endgame experiences as they venture through Aeternum."
Translation: alpha testers told us they got bored because there wasn't anything to do. PvP players make their own entertainment but a PvE game is like a five year old's birthday party. If you don't fill every moment with cake and clowns you're going to have to listen to a lot of crying.

 "We want our players to feel completely immersed in the game..."

Translation: We finally remembered that MMORPGs are supposed to run for years. It's not like making a single-player, where you hoik it out the door, collect the cash and forget about it. Get it wrong and you're lumbered with a white elephant that bleeds money until you have to shut it down, then listen to everyone saying "We told you so".  

"... and know that our studio stands for quality and lasting gameplay you can trust..."

Translation: Someone from the home office dropped by, took us all outside and pointed to the name over the door. Then stared at us, really hard.

"... that means added time to get things where we want them before we fully release. "
Translation: We don't want another Crucible. Actually, no-one wanted the first one. That was kind of the problem. Let's not do that again, hey?

It's easy to be cynical about the whole affair. Giant megacorp with limitless resources thinks normal rules don't apply; finds they do. We all laugh.

Friendly fire enabled.
On the other hand, isn't Amazon doing exactly what we've been begging, demanding games studios do for years? Namely, run real alpha and beta tests, pay attention to the feedback, change things that need to be changed, take as long as it takes to get everything right. Don't just throw stuff out the door and pray.

Even pulling live games back behind closed doors for a rethink and a refit seems like something we, as players and as customers, ought to be encouraging. What's the alternative? Leave a failing game to flounder, hope everyone forgets about it, then close it down when no-one cares any more? Is that better?

I don't know? Is it? There's potentially a very instructive comparison to be made between the way Amazon is handling the development of New World and how Grapeshot (née Wildcard) have handled Atlas

I bet you forgot about Atlas, didn't you? I know I did and I own it. I bought it when it went into Early Access back in December 2018, played it a handful of times, got a few posts out of it and moved on. It's still in "Early Access" now, by the way.

The notion to take another look has flitted through my mind a few times, mainly because the game's still there in my Steam library, its icon on my desktop. And very, very occasionally a news item pops up to remind me it exists. 

I even heard something about the entire game maybe being stopped and restarted, with a full character wipe, or something. I wasn't really paying attention and from the crickets chirping when the announcement was made I guess no-one else was, either.

Are those vultures?
Wildcard may not be Amazon but the claims they made for Atlas in advance of its release were far more hubristic than anything anyone ever said about New World. I seem to recall it was going to be the biggest MMO ever, with 40,000 players on the same server at the same time. Current Steam stats suggest an average closer to one twentieth of that optimistic figure.

I'm really the worst person to be commenting on any of this. I'm way too easily satisfied. You'd think I'd be mad I spent however much it was on a game that turned out to be nothing like the makers promised, one which remains so radically unfinished a year and a half later it apparently needs to be completely remade. 

Only I'm not. I enjoyed the short time I spent in Atlas. It wasn't really my kind of game but it was fun to explore for a while. I felt I got my money's worth in the couple of weeks I spent messing about there. I still own it so I could go and have another run around any time I feel like it. Not going to happen, probably, but it's nice to know I have the option. 

Also, as Wilhelm says, "A company’s promise is an empty and worthless thing". Companies are not your friends. It's always good to remember that, going in. Then you won't be disappointed.

I could say the same about any number of MMORPGs. I realize that, as Amazon say, they're all supposed to provide "lasting gameplay" but that's something of a Catch 22, isn't it? The more games there are that manage to clear that bar, the fewer games we're all going to play. I mean, do we all want to end up in our own equivalent of Project 1999, still deeply satisfied with a game we bought when we were in short pants? Or at least college?

Authenticity? Who needs it?
So, no, I don't really have an issue with how Amazon is handling the development of New World. I can see how it must be becoming quite embarrassing for them but it's good that they're prepared to look a little foolish in the service of getting things right.

No, my problem is with what they appear to be doing to the game itself. As I said last time, I really liked the game I played back in New World's original alpha. The game they showed off in this video doesn't look anything like as much fun.

There's only so much you can glean from a promo, though. You really need a hands-on and despite the launch being pushed into next year, it looks as if I'm going to get one next month. Amazon
"will be providing a special opportunity for our Beta sign-up and pre-order customers (plus our Alpha testers, thank you!) to play the full game of New World - in its current state, for a limited period of time starting on August 25th."
I have a pre-order and a beta sign-up so I'm looking forward to getting my invite.

There'll be some kind of NDA, no doubt, but there are ways and means around that. It'll be nice to have some kind of record of what we could have had to look back on when we get whatever it is we get.

My money's still on the best version being the one I played in the first alpha.


  1. Hah!

    "Translation: Someone from the home office dropped by, took us all outside and pointed to the name over the door. Then stared at us, really hard."

    This one got me pretty good. I'm glad I wasn't drinking anything at the time. :)

    Otherwise though -- completely agree with you. I'm happy with how Amazon seem to be handling New World. Yes, it probably is quite the worry the number of changes they've had to creative direction. This fact alone might mean everything we fear it means and expect it to mean when applied to games or entertainment media more generally. I struggle to think of a movie where 'extensive reshoots' have resulted in anything truly worth watching.

    But... I also acknowledge this delay to 2021 is a pretty easy thing for me to take in stride.

    I have virtually no investment in the success or otherwise of New World. I've long ago burnt out any ability I had to maintain active interest in an in-development MMO.

    I'll be here when it arrives (presumably) and will assess it as it stands at that point.

    If for some reason, one had been following it earnestly, this might be a much harder and more bitter pill to swallow. (Was anyone, though?)

    1. I was trying to remember what it used to be like, back before Early Access and oversharing as a developmental model. It's easy to imagine things used to be cleaner and sharper but I don't think that was ever the case. There was the odd example of an MMORPG suddenly appearing out of the blue, "finished" and ready to buy, but mostly they got announced years before they were ready and we had to suffer endless cycles of hype followed by silence. Whole communities dedicated to non-existent games arose, prospered and declined before anyone in them had ever seen more than a design document and some concept art.

      There was often a hugely competetive application process for closed beta (alphas were almost always in-house) and beta often lasted a couple of years. There were strict NDAs and no-one outside the process really had much of a clue what was happening inside it. By the time the games finally appeared, often with no open public access at all prior to going on sale, everyone had an idea in their head which the game couldn't hope to match. And the games theselves were no more finished than the early access versions we have today.

      I'm not sure there's any way to build a triple-A MMORPG in less than three years, usually more like five, and have it anything close to ready. Trying to rush it never seems to end well.

    2. Yeah, before all this -- you just had the official news announcements from the developers themselves to go on. And MMO developers were, for whatever reason, notoriously tight-lipped with such communications.

      The odd packet of screenshots was about the best we could hope for 11 months out of 12 -- and that didn't significantly change even when I was writing for WarCry.

      Still. I think I'd rather go back to how it was, with meaningful betas, than the marketing betas we (typically) get now. To Amazon's credit, at least with New World they might be something closer to the old style. Maybe.

      I do remember being remarkably frustrated by the lack of information too though. So I probably can't really say which way is worse to me now. Hah.


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