Of all the games that were supposed to be coming out this year, I’ve really only been focused on LotRO and Pirates of the Burning Sea. Vanguard, Warhammer, etc., meh. Vanguard, well enough said already. Warhammer, that’s already been delayed which is probably a good thing. LotRO is out and I’m enjoying it immensely. As fun and familiar *cough* as LotRO is, PotBS interests me because it actually seems like a different game. Ship-based and land-based content, the swashing of buckles and you get to say booty and not have to snicker. Whats not to look forward to?
Whither then PotBS? Originally slated for a June 2007 release, you may be noticing that with this being May, that June is rapidly approaching. Checking in from time to time, I noticed Flying Lab Software CEO, Rusty Williams’ dev log from a few days ago. I’ve been meaning to parse through this, but Darren at TCS Gamer beat me to the punch. Darren got straight to the part that caught my eye: a possible delay in the release date depending on their distribution strategy. Here’s the part of Rusty’s post that caught my eye though:
But it takes time. When we thought about looking for distribution, we wanted to wait as long as possible so that the game would be in as good a shape as possible. It helps with the deal terms, especially in how aggressively the distributor is going to push your game. Essentially, our job is to make our distributor excited so that excitement rubs off when they’re talking to the retail buyers, so then their excitement rubs off on the branch managers, and so on. But we didn’t realize what the lead time was on selling into the retail channel and so we probably waited later than we should have. That was my fault, in particular.
(Emphasis mine). Oooh boy. I guess this is one of the perils of launching an “independent” game. In reading the entire post, I start to get the sneaking feeling that while the game is getting close, everything else might be a bit thin which worries me. I’m sure they are heavy on the game side, but only recently it appears that they are bulking up on the critical but unexciting infrastructure side. I understand Rusty’s logic on negotiating a distribution deal when the product’s value is more apparent, but sheesh, a month before your original release? As someone who is involved in getting deals like this done, I’m a bit slack-jawed that this “last mile” of track hasn’t been laid (or at least mapped!).
Kinda hard to believe that a month before release the digital-only v. retail question hasn’t been answered. If they went retail, were they just going to have all the employees burn dvd’s on their office PCs, stuff boxes and then run down to Kinko’s to photocopy manuals? This starts to smack a bit of amateur-night on the release-front. While I laud Rusty for his mea culpa, it does make me worry about all the other things that might not have put in place that are critical for the smooth and successful launch that a game that looks this fun deserves.
A smooth release and first impressions matter. Blizzard got Burning Crusade right, but they had 2+ years and an infrastructure built for 8 million users to support it. Turbine got it right with LotRO, but they’ve also had years of experience with other games. SOE did what they could with Sigil/Vanguard and lets face it, the problems were with the game (and timing of the release), not the mechanics of it.
The good news is that beta is likely to be expanding soon. I would dearly love to get in and see what these guys have been cooking up. This still looks to be one of the most unique offerings this year, so lets hope Rusty can get PotBS underway soon.