I Am Obligated to Talk About Crowfall

Perspective is a frightening thing.

A few months back, we got wind of a new MMO called Crowfall which didn’t have a name at the time, but which had a website. Some people I follow seemed interested in this game despite knowing very little about it, but I went to the website and took a look at what little info was available. This is what I found; no kidding, the opening paragraph:

If you’re here, it’s because you’re looking for something.

Something deeper than a virtual amusement park. More impactful than a virtual sandbox. More immersive. More real. A game where decisions matter.

We are, too. We’ve been looking for years, and we still haven’t found it…. because it doesn’t exist. Yet.

When I read this I eyerolled so hard I knocked myself unconscious. What hubris! Sure, the community has long and frequently railed against theme parks and sandboxes, but those are extremely wide classifications of “traditional MMOs”. The conceit displayed by these developers in claiming that they alone could come up with a product that would change the industry through sheer force of PR really soured me on anything they could put in front of me.

More info was revealed over time, and more people seemed to be getting on board the hype train. Crowfall started to pop up more and more often in my Twitter stream, and although I checked back often to see what might be setting of this new round of excitement, I just found more self-important rhetoric, some concept art, and some vague notions of underlying lore.

Yesterday the game started a Kickstarter campaign, and they quickly crested the 50% mark. Holy hell. What are people seeing that I wasn’t seeing here?

Turns out, a lot. Or, at least, the stuff that really mattered.

The team is fronted by a duo of industry veterans, one of which had worked on Wizard 101, Pirate 101 and Shadowbane, and another who had worked on Ultima Online, Star Wars: Galaxies, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. I’ve played all of those (except Shadowbane) and have enjoyed them all. Then I learned that they have Tully Ackland as a Designer (Warhammer OnlineSWTOR), and nabbed Raph Koster as a Design Consultant (every MMO I’ve really, really loved, and MetaPlace – MayItRestInPeace). Uh…

I read the Kickstarter page. Same hubris, but as I progressed down the page, I started picking up what they were putting down. Procedurally generated, time limited worlds? Persistent housing zones? PvP?

/recordscratch

Yeah, Crowfall is being marketed as a PvP-centric game. That’s usually the nail in the coffin for me. I am OK with PvP in the Warhammer Online vein, but that comes with big asterisks because the stars have to align perfectly for me to actually enjoy it. Otherwise, it’s a big turn off — I’m looking at you, ArcheAge. I’m not a fan of being the source of someone else’s fun, especially when it results in having to hand over my fun in the process.

And yet…like I said, I really enjoyed WAR’s PvP. I was in a PvP guild at the time, and always had people to run with. And there was always some kind of unorganized siege in the oPvP areas that I could jump into. Not being singled out for a beating by a group or higher level players went a long way towards endearing me to WAR‘s system, and from what I could tell through the Kickstarter page, Crowfall‘s system could possibly be very similar.

Still, the communities that surround PvP-centric games tend to be more…violent than your traditional bunch of forum trolls. I can understand that since PvP is usually an afterthought in most MMOs, having a new game devoted to PvP is going to cause PvP fans to circle the wagons in a fashion that is true to their aggressive preferences. But I’ve seen forums for PvP centric games in which the company employees went rabid on just the idea of PvE and those who preferred that style of play.

But what about other aspects of the game, like crafting and PvE? Details are very light, and I suspect will continue to be relatively light as the developers continue to appeal to the PvP community, but if they want to reach more and more people, they’re going to need to at least throw a few bones, so long as the sanctity of their PvP, guild and faction based gameplay remains their core focus.

At any rate, I threw $30 into the pot because it’s a B1P4eva, and that’s significantly cheaper than what the game will go for at retail. I figured that if the stars align correctly to bring back that WAR-time feeling, I could really love this game, and if that’s the case, I could forgive the conceited tone of the PR if they manage to make as big a splash as they are so sure they — and their growing legion of rabid fans — believe they will.

During this time I’m seeing a lot of RT’s by the Crowfall Twitter account, from people who are absolutely gaga over the game, and are especially attracted to the claim that this game will break the mold of MMOs forever.

This is where I swirl my brandy with a bemused look on my face that says “Oh dear, how precious”. We’ve been down this road before, with the MMO that’s hyped to change everything. Few have succeeded. WAR actually put public quests on the map, so change has been present, but incremental. Guild Wars 2 was probably the last claimed attempt to do something different, and to this day it’s become a divisive title which separates players into the “gets it” and “doesn’t get it” camps. Doing something different doesn’t automatically equate to doing something successful, something people understand, or even something people want.

Crowfall claims that it can do what it says it will because they’re not beholden to a publisher who’ll want to shape it into something more “commercial”, but that can work against it as well by appealing too strongly to the disenfranchised solely on their dispossessed status while not actually appealing to what they like. The message that Crowfall will be different might be laying it on too thick; the rule of writing — show, don’t tell — is really where the developers should be focusing their attention. Don’t tell us that you  can do better than 20 years of MMOs; show us early, show us often.

I think Crowfall will be great for the hardcore PvP crowd, but in order for the game to be really relevant to the larger MMO community, it’s going to need to throw a wider net and convince non PvPers that there’s something there they should check out. Otherwise, they’ll be no more relevant than WAR, throwing out a few good ideas that the industry adopts for their next sandbox or theme park game, or nothing more than a story generator like EVE Online.

My bottom line, though, is that I’m increasingly interested in the game, but still put-off by the intense ego behind the PR materials. I think the developers are either going to grow into their britches, or they’re going to find them on fire should they not be able to cash the checks that their promo materials are writing.

am looking forward to it, now that there’s slightly more information available able it, but I’ve never been one to obsessively digest any and all information about a game until I have it in front of me, so time will have to tell how the game turns out.