These past few weeks have not been kind to HellGate London, and things have hit rock bottom this week as the majority of the employees at FlagShip Studios have been let go and the game will still be available online, but no new content or support will be given. What’s worse is that Mythos, the free to play cartoonish version of Diablo 2 that actually looked good is now on “hiatus” or aka “no one is there to work on it”. I’ve heard discussions over the years of estimating the amount of game time to the money spent on it. With subscription payment options for games these days, this kind of talk is all the more important.
Personality I hate subscription based games, hence why I’m not playing World of Warcraft right now. First is that I hate being charged for something that I’m not using when I’m not logged on, and the only way I feel I get my money’s worth is if I play that game all the time. As someone who likes to switch off to different games during the day, having to play just one game doesn’t suit my style at all. There’s also the fact that I hate paying to play with other people but that could just be my introverted nature rearing it’s head. I’ve also seen payment options that I prefer over the subscription option which I’ll be getting to in a few minutes. Now let’s talk about what HellGate did wrong.
For those not up to speed with the history of the game, HellGate was developed by one of the team members behind Diablo 2 and was billed as the spiritual successor to it. One year before launch this was on the top of my must play list, yet one hell of a buzz kill was announced a few months before launch. HellGate was to have two ways of playing it online, a regular version and a subscription version, that sounds ok but it became bad fast. Subscription players had access to the following: more character slots, better customer support, new content down the line, access to new areas and equipment. Having customer support be used as a reason for people to pay is just screwing the customer in my opinion. Originally Flagship said that they would deliver new classes and content every three months with small updates every month. Since the game has been released last October, no new classes were released and I believe one maybe two content updates were made. Incase that wasn’t bad enough the following kicked the game off my list, if you unsubscribe any subscriber content you had would become locked from use until you resubscribe. To put it bluntly, HellGate was doomed right out of the gate (pun intended).
Not all game genres are the same, and creating content for them is different. Rpgs are some of the hardest to create new content for, just look at all the changes and revisions World of Warcraft has had. Action RPGs do not lend themselves well for new content down the line. The prime reasons to play them is the never ending cycle of beating up enemies, getting better loot, and making yourself more powerful. Everything else is just filler , I don’t want to stop and fish for ingredients while hunting for Diablo . The reasons to play an action RPG are also the downfall of the genre, these games are very repetitive and you can burn out playing them pretty fast. Both the positives and negatives hurt the chance of making action rpgs into a subscription based genre.
Unlike full scaled MMOs, action rpgs stay to the above mentioned reasons meaning to keep players paying for it, requires a huge amount of content to be created fast. There really isn’t anything else to do in the game world and players will become burnt out fast compared to a game like World of Warcraft which has a lot for the player to do. There was no way in hell (no pun intended) HellGate could produce content to keep players entertain and paying for in a month’s time. Hence why it took so long to get one update going, and all in the meantime people were giving them money for nothing. Also whatever they could produce for the game would still be the same type of content in the game already, and MMOs have a greater variety for a few dollars more a month. Removing access to content is just a slap in the face and really doesn’t make sense if the player is only playing the game in the single player. FlagShip was attempting to do something new to the genre like ArenaNet with Guild Wars yet Guild Wars came out on top.
ArenaNet was smart, they knew the same thing I know that an action RPG cannot be shoehorned into the traditional pricing scheme of a MMO and that creating content cannot be feasible in such a short development time. Their strategy was to make the game free to play completely, and instead released full priced expansions which would equal the cost if you were subscribing in that time. Unfortunately they realized that they couldn’t create the amount of content they wanted in that time and had to release it at a later date, but unlike HellGate players they were still playing it for free in the meantime. The other advantage of an expansion based pricing model is designing it for different players. One expansion boasted more PVP options for players, while another had a full PVE campaign. Each had a small amount of everything but was mainly focused on one aspect of game play. HellGate tried to capitalized on the success of World of Warcraft and failed. Besides expansion based models there is one other I think could work for action rpgs.
I’m a fan of the game Albatross 18 and played it for some time. The game is basically an online version of the Hot Shots Golf series. What the designers did was make the game so that new courses were free, and that people could win games without spending money. There are two currencies in the game, one is earned by playing games and can buy some items, the other is bought with real money that can be used to buy rarer items and new characters. I think this kind of token pricing model could work for action rpgs, lets say that areas of the game are locked behind pay booths that require a specific kind of currency to get into. Once paid for they will remain unlocked for that account forever. There should be enough content for fans to get their money’s worth, but the extra stuff is for players who want more.
I feel bad for the designers, artists, and programmers at FlagShip , it was a good idea that was done in the wrong way. I have no remorse however for the management who went ahead and promoted the pricing model, as they should have realized the same thing that we did. That an action rpg is not the best genre for subscription based gaming. It’s a shame that a causality of these events was probably going to be the best thing to come out of FlagShip studios, Mythos which looked to capture the joy of Diablo 2. I am left to wonder what will Blizzard do with Diablo 3, talking to my friend the other day there is a strong possibly of having some kind of pricing model for playing online due to immense popularity of the series. I wonder how closely they’ve watched the success of Guild Wars and the failure of HellGate and how that will figure in.