A View from Atlas Park: Waiting for Godo… err, I9

I9 seems to have been a long time coming, mostly because it HAS been a long time coming. The devs started to hype it before I8 launched in late November last year. It feels like we’ve been talking about or waiting for I9 so long, by the time it comes out, it’s going to be old news.

Currently I9 is on Test, being played by a select number of players in a controlled beta test of the new issue. Running such a beta test is a thoroughly sensible idea for Cryptic – it should mean that a lot of things get put through the common sense test by a small number of players and fixed before the masses can snort derisively at such mistakes. It is also a time-consuming task and one that further drags out I9 going live.

The fact that I9 is still being beta tested at this point means that I9 probably won’t be going live until May – I expect it to spend a month on “open” Test before it makes the transition to all the servers. The “open” period will see a lot more players grind through the content on Test and further changes will be implemented. It will probably take a month because any other period will be too short – players won’t really be able to get a feel for Invention drops in just two weeks (which is why I think the beta has been extended).

Again, such behaviour is sensible on Cryptic’s side. It is going to make I9 a lot less bug-free (in theory). But it is going to put a lot of pressure on the idea that Cryptic is going to have three issues out this year. Originally, I predicted three evenly spaced issues coming out in 2007, with I9 being a late February, early March kind of deal in terms of going live. Obviously that ain’t going to happen.

But a May launch sees it very likely that the next two issues will be bumped back a few months – the devs will want to see I9 settle in before launching I10 to ensure that things are working as intended. Programming time will be needed to fix bugs or problems with the new systems introduced in I9. The next wave of Veteran Rewards need to be patched in (assuming that they will be announced for the next 12 months at the same time, as was done previously).

So I10 (which, regardless of what it contains, will probably look a poor cousin to I9) probably won’t launch until August, maybe September. That would give I11 two or three months to launch – I don’t believe that a major issue would be launched any time in December, just because that’s already a busy month, given that Cryptic shuts down for a few days and time has to be committed to some sort of Winter in-game event (not that it hasn’t been planned for months at that stage, but it needs to be ready by that stage). It would be unwise for Cryptic to drop a lot of new content in December, since that is the time they can least affort to deal with large number of bug fixes. So I11, at this stage, already looks shakey for a 2007 release in my opinion.

I may be wrong. I10 might be planned to go to Test shortly after I9 launches, meaning it can eat up a month of testing time while most players are still sucked in by Inventions. If that happens, I11 is much more certain for 2007.

If you can sense some exasperation in the tone of this column, you’d be correct. I9 might be a big deal, but for a number of people (myself included) it has reached the point where we are sick of hearing about it and just want to see it go live. 2007 is also a bad year for CoH/V to start slipping on the amount of new content it puts out. Vangard was a bit of a bust at launch, but I don’t think the same will happen for Age of Conan or Warhammer Online, plus the raft of other MMOGs out there (and not counting the single player games coming up on the market either).

If CoH/V doesn’t have some kind of ace-in-the-hole for Q4 (ie October to December) – something that will keep players playing despite the huge number of new games launched at that time – I think player numbers are going to start showing some declines. I don’t see CoH/V as being DOOOOOOOOOOMed, but do believe that Cryptic is currently giving their competitors a lot of opportunities to chip away at the CoH/V player base. CoH is coming up on its 3rd Birthday, which makes it about 40 in MMOG years; it’s now middle aged. It’s going to have to continue to punch on against spritely new MMOGs, all shiney and eager to take their place in the market.

Being late with new content really isn’t going to help. Unlike in Waiting for Godot, players aren’t going going to stand around indefinitely, waiting for something that is always due “tomorrow”.

– UnSub [@UnknownSubject] unsub@warcry.com 23 March 2007

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