Developing a MMORPG is an arduous and long-term task, and when the game finally hits the shelves the work is still far from finished. Any false step may compromise all your efforts, be it during the design phase or while watching over the community.

Some of the best known examples of the genre and other, yet unreleased names, prove that mistakes, voluntary or not, may have a serious effect on any strategy. MMORPG Gate looks at a few of those situations.

Champions Online – Cryptic Studios
Mistake: Out of special subscriptions

There’s nothing like some goodies (and Star Trek Online Closed Beta access) to make players want to purchase a special subscription. Champions Online had two of these in store: a 6-Month Discount Subscription and a Lifetime Subscription. Until they unexpectedly ran out.

One could argue that it was a limited promotion, but the truth – and Cryptic’s response explains that – is that the demand was just too high: “Again, we just never expected supply to be any kind of an issue. The community response to our offers has been... amazing.”

But who would want to stop offering these great deals and at the same time increase Champions Online’s chances of success? Not Cryptic, obviously, and the offer is reinstated until August 31st, this time without any kind of limit. All’s well that ends well.

Eve Online – CCP
Mistake: Alleged virtual corruption

The huge EVE Online universe has its own politics and economics, where more than 200.000 players pick sides and create their stories. So, when an EVE Online employee under the alias T20 and also a member of the faction Band of Brothers gives his in-game fellows rare and valuable technical blueprints, there were cries of outrage. This would give them an unfair advantage. The blueprints were promptly returned but the harm was done.

CCP later tried to prove they don’t cheat by inviting players to fill in nine positions in the so-called Council of Stellar Management. They would act as overseers and pass on their judgment to the remaining players:

“I envision this council being made up of nine members selected by the players themselves, where you announce your candidacy, and if you win the election, they come here to Iceland, and they can look at every nook and cranny and get to see that we are here to run this company on a professional basis,” said Mr. Petursson, CCP’s chief executive. “They can see that we did not make this game to win it.”

It’s highly unlikely that this council could prevent any CCP employees of misbehaving just by staying a few days in Iceland, but it doesn’t matter. It turns out the council served more for them to suggest changes and improvements to EVE Online, so all is not lost.

Lineage III - NCsoft
Mistake: Source code theft

Lineage III wasn’t even properly announced before a suspected software code theft came to light in April 2007. The Seoul Metropolitan Police was investigating seven former NCsoft employees suspected of having sold the technology to a major Japanese game company. Not only that, but they were also under suspicion of leaking the Lineage III’s program design.

The seven workers left NCsoft in February, following on the steps of a senior game developer who was fired for poor leadership skills. Not only them, but most of the 90-member team quit with their chief.

Potential damages caused by this situation may exceed 1 billion USD, according to a NCsoft representative.

Development of Lineage III began in 2005 and the game was to be announced in 2007. The theft led to a restart of the project in 2008 with a different team and the official announcement is now targeted for 2011.

Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided – Sony Online Entertainment
Mistake: New Game Enhancements update

You’ve got this huge licence - Star Wars - and you have this MMO that isn’t doing as well as you expected. Blame it on the huge fan expectations or whatever, but something must be done. Maybe iron out some more bugs, introduce new and compelling features, polish the overall experience.

But never, ever try to drastically change gameplay as SOE did with their controversial NGE (New Game Enhancements) update.

By introducing this two years after release – “to reverse the deterioration they were seeing in the subscriber base”, according to Sony Online Entertainment’s president John Smedley, they managed to alienate the existing player base and stir up rage in the community. Star Wars Galaxies was now a simpler game, with much less professions and the possibility of starting as a Jedi Knight – so expect to see a lot of them running around, just like the storyline referred to. Or not.

So, the lesson is: don’t go changing your game after release, players won’t like that. Not only SOE learned that lesson with Star Wars Galaxies, most of the industry actually did.

Star Wars: The Old Republic - BioWare
Mistake: Unofficial announcement

There’s nothing like quietly working on a top secret project, something that could generate an incredible amount of buzz when officially revealed to the press. Unless, of course, everyone and their mom already knows about it. Not only did it inadvertently appeared on an Electronic Arts planning, but John Riccitiello decided to confirm all the rumors in an interview to

"We've got two of the most compelling MMOs in the industry in development," said Riccitiello. The first title was Warhammer Online. "And the one that people are dying for us to talk to them about -- in partnership with Lucas, coming out of BioWare, which is, I think, quite possibly the most anticipated game, full stop, for the industry at the point when we get closer to telling you about it."

Does Riccitiello mean the oft rumored Knights of the Old Republic Online? "Yes," he said.

Whoops! Not that there was actually a problem. The good thing about videogames is that the buzz around a given game remains intact from rumors to every piece of info distilled. Just look at Blizzard and how they manage to keep every player excited for years on end. So, Riccitiello’s slip was pretty naive but also harmless, and Star Wars: The Old Republic is regarded as one of the most exciting games to come, MMO or not.

Tabula Rasa - NCsoft
Mistake: Redesign midway through

This was an enticing prospect. A MMORPG designed by Richard Garriott (of Ultima fame) in a fantasy setting. However, the planning stage must have been entirely wrong, since the builds were – in the staff words – just no fun to play, and there was no clear idea of what to achieve.

So, about two years into the project (that started on May 2001) there was a complete revamp. Tabula Rasa changed from fantasy to science fiction, from flying horses to heavily-packed troopers. No big loss there... just a couple of years’ work and a few million dollars.

When Tabula Rasa was released in 2008 for mostly positive reviews, things looked better, but the lower than expected in-game population forced NCsoft to shut down the servers in February 28, 2009. Richard Garriott is suing NCsoft, claiming breach of contract, fraud and negligent misrepresentation. During an Aion presentation, NCsoft CFO Jaeho Lee is quoted as saying "We all want to forget and erase that memory from our performance."

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