Age of Conan Editorial: Delayed Gratification

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This part of the year is particularly exciting for me. We just finished our third term of the school year here in Australia and as we settle in for a well-deserved break, I think about the couple of months left in the school year and the sheer pace of it as we rapidly approach Christmas. Before we know it, Christmas decorations will be put up around shopping centres and city streets, retailers will begin their Christmas specials before the festive rush, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be wondering what the heck to give to your significant other on Christmas Day whilst trying to top the previous year’s effort. This talk of Christmas reminded me of Gaute Godager’s (Funcom Game Director) letter to the community regarding the game’s push-back to March 25, 2008. Yes, yes, I’ve spoken about this a few times since the announcement itself was made on August 10 this year, but with the end of 2007 drawing so near, I felt prompted to touch on this topic once more.

One thing that Gaute said in his letter to the community (if you haven’t read it already, you can read it here) when speaking about the changes to the combat system, was the time it was going to take to re-map everything, make new icons, and so forth. While Gaute said himself that these sorts of things themselves will not take the five additional months to complete (from the old release date, October 30, to the new one), what Funcom did want was a “solid buffer” as Gaute put it, to make any more tweaks if the feedback even then was still “less than stellar”. He said quite explicitly that these changes should be done by about Christmas time. I’m quite sure there are many folks out there who are hoping Funcom won’t have to make full use of that “solid buffer” – wouldn’t that be a great Christmas gift?

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Since the game’s delay announcement and now, we’ve seen Funcom go on the road with Eidos to showcase ‘Age of Conan’ at various gaming conventions, including the Leipzig Games Convention, Dragon*Con in Atlanta, the Austin Game Developer’s Conference (AGDC), and over the last weekend at Festival du Jeu Vidéo in Paris. At these conventions Funcom has shown off their Siege Combat features and given a small taste of how the new combat system will manifest at release. The response from the public and those lucky enough to try out the game for themselves has been exceptionally positive despite the kinks and creases still in the game, but of course there’s still plenty of time to get those things straightened and ironed out perhaps even before Christmas time.

Despite the positive feedback, some critics aren’t convinced. It’s not quite the general feel, but a few in the ‘Age of Conan’ community still for some reason feel betrayed by Funcom and their decision to push the game back. Furthermore, they seem to think that Funcom were in-the-know about the push-back the whole time even long before it was announced. Everyone seems to have their own conspiracy theory, but a self-proclaimed financial “expert” even went as far as questioning Funcom’s integrity when he noticed that a particular investor had cashed out (sold stocks) the day before the game’s delay was announced. Basically, the claim was, “ZOMG! INSIDER TRADING!” It just seems like people are making claims and publically announcing their distrust in Funcom like they want the game to fail or to be delayed again! It also seems that the key earning some credibility on the Internet is to make said ridiculous claims and in the rare event they unfold you can at the end say, “I told you so!”

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Next, there are the individuals that are saying, in essence, that Funcom is not doing enough to inform the community about the game’s progress and to talk more about the game’s features yet to be fully revealed to the ‘Age of Conan’ community. The issue of hot debate recently has been the alleged “lack-luster” Friday updates. While I’m absolutely positive most of us are thrilled to be receiving any sort of update at all from Funcom on a weekly basis, these updates are not living up to the apparent very high expectations of a few. Now, you’ll have to forgive me if I seem to be on a bit of a rant at the moment – I won’t pretend that I’m not ranting – but it feels like some gamer-folk want their Christmas present(s) now, and they’re going to throw a tantrum until they get their way. Honestly, when did we become so needy and spoon-fed?

Have we been spoiled by the rapid development and growth of gaming technology? Have we been spoiled by the “generosity” of other gaming companies’ distribution of game information? Have we been spoiled by the experiences in other MMOs? Or, to play devil’s advocate for a moment, have Funcom peaked with their feature-sharing too soon? I’m of the mind that I think the best is yet to come from Funcom, but if I could play the role of MMO-Freud momentarily, my assumption is that the individual gamer invests so much time and energy into a game – be it a game they’ve played in the past, currently playing, or want to play – that they become emotionally attached to it, hence the spiteful retorts and malicious attacks on developers and community staff when things don’t exactly go the way of the fan. The standard response to this would simply be, “Get over it; it’s just a game” but for some individuals, it’s not just a game, it’s a way of life!

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Gaming is a serious industry, and so now you have serious gamers. But this I ask you: what ever happened to game being played just for fun? Have we lost the ability to invest a lot of time into a game but still have fun with it? I remember when I used to play ‘City of Heroes/Villains’ during my days as a university student spending hours in front of the screen levelling up my Tanker (Invulnerability/Super Strength) to level 50 and enjoying many, many hours of play with that particular character after that, and as it happens with all MMO gamers, there comes a time when the game becomes a bit dull and you ask yourself, “What’s keeping me here?” It’s then you make the decision to cancel your subscription and move on to something else or step away from playing MMOs all together. In the month leading up to the day I cancelled my own subscription to ‘City of Heroes/Villains’, I would go to my PlayNC page, hover my mouse over the ‘Cancel Account’ button only to say to myself, “No, I’ve put in too much time to quit now”. Eventually I did cancel my account but it was only after a game crash that I decided, “That’s the last straw!”

Allow me to be very frank with you for a moment: I was absolutely appalled with myself that I had allowed my own person to become so attached to this game that I struggled to cancel my subscription. Needless to say, I was addicted, and it’s this sort of emotional attachment to a game I’m talking about, if not, the ever-growing dependency we have on needing to be entertained. Delayed gratification isn’t good enough; we want it all now, now, now! There’s a hedonist in every one of us after all.

I think it’s absolutely fantastic that we’re all so passionate about ‘Age of Conan’ in particular, and I’m sure the game’s developers and staff are pleased by this, but the line between passion and obsession is becoming a fine one. Yes, I’ll be one of the first to admit that I’m very excited about ‘Age of Conan’ and look forward to the day that I can actually play it like many others, but having learned my lesson with the other games that I’ve played I know the dangers of becoming too attached. A game is meant to be entertaining, yes, and you’re allowed to have fun with it, but what’s disturbing is, like some of us have seen in other gaming communities, when some of the fan and player-base turn on the game’s development team and staff when certain desires are not being appeased, and like a two-year old that’s just been told they can’t have a lollipop, this is when crying, flaying of arms, head-butting the floor, the holding of breath, whinges, moans, and throwing of the nearest object(s) ensues.

We all want ‘Age of Conan’ to be a great game, but I can assure you, throwing public tantrums and making questionable demands is definitely not going to make the game any better. Sure, you might use the excuse that you’re just getting your voice heard, but as I’ve explained in previous editions of Mitra’s Method, there are better ways for your voice to be heard and in a way that’s civil and constructive. Doom-calling will not work either; you’ll just be ignored. No, no one’s telling you not to be annoyed or disappointed with things, but are those things the end of the world? Will the minuscule short-fallings of any game leave such a void your life will become barren and unbearable? You can definitely afford to invest less emotion into any type of game, especially when you’re beginning to bite the hand that’s feeding you.

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The bottom line is this: unless you’re working on the game yourself, everything is out of your control, and you have to leave those things in the hands of those directly involved. Funcom is confident that they will be delivering a product that will be pleasing to everyone, and they certainly know what they are doing. Are they doing things like Blizzard did them? No. Are they doing things the same way as EA-Mythic? No. Are they doing things the same way as Sigil Games Online and SOE? No. Funcom are doing things the way they know best and concededly, have their own mistakes to learn from. Sure, there’s room for scepticism and questioning, but it has to be warranted – it’s just speculative garbage otherwise.

If you want ‘Age of Conan’ to be the game that you hope it’s going to be, you’re going to have to put your faith in Funcom, and that requires some support on your behalf; they’ve promised to make what was going to be a good game on October 30, 2007, a great game on March 25, 2008. So in the meantime keep yourself occupied; the wait between now and March 25, 2008 (maybe sooner?) is going to be a long one if you’re only focussed on ‘Age of Conan’ day-in day-out. The less you emotional energy you invest into this game, the more you are going to be able to enjoy the journey.

Until next fortnight, this is Stephen “weezer” Spiteri,

Out.

Want to contact me? Then email me here.
© Stephen Spiteri, September 2007


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