Shipwreck on the Burning Sea

istock_000004152026xsmall.jpg I’ve given up.

After quite a bit of hand wringing, I decided not to renew my subscription to Pirates of the Burning Sea when my initial 30-day subscription runs out. I mentioned in an earlier post that the best that we bloggers can do when giving impressions of a game is to answer the question “Am I willing to make a $50 bet that it wont suck later?”

As to the first part of the question, despite some misgivings, I was willing to make the bet. I definitely think the bet was worth it. I think the jury is still out on the second part of the question. And to be fair, the second part relates to an individual’s own preferences.

I think we need indie studios producing indie games that are different and innovative. This is good.

I also think that we need to put our money where our mouths are and also vote for quality. While I think FLS has done a great job with certain aspects of the game such as ship combat (which is excellent IMHO), other aspects are still kinda rough. No, not Vanguard rough by any means (not even in the same league), but frustrating enough in these days of $50-a-box and $15-a-month to get in the way of the fun at least for me.

Likewise, there are still a number of core features that are subject to a bit more than tweaking or balancing. Ultimately, the more you explore a game, the more you run into the impacts design decisions have on gameplay (highly zoned or instanced play, etc.). When the goal posts are still moving, however, its tough to decide whether to stick it out.

Keen and Tobold have several excellent posts analyzing the nature of the RvR-based PvP and the in-game economy and some of the challenges FLS (and players) faces in that regard. Some of these continue to be the subject of not so minor tweaking. I still have hope for the game and plan on checking back in a while, but right now, I feel like I’m paying for a beta. A very good beta, but a beta nonetheless.

Unfortunately, I think a few more months with a large closed beta population could have greatly benefited the game in terms of the minor polish issues (UI functionality, mission bugs and tuning, etc. ) as well as having a real opportunity to address game play mechanics (port contention, alt and society interaction, the economy, population/faction balancing mechanics, gank squad PvP, etc.) that are the major source of my frustration right now.

Some of this stems from the unique difficulties in creating a PvP-focused game. Because each encounter among live players is unique, PvP will test every boundary of play mechanics and mercilessly punish faults. It seems that in an RvR game which has persistent effects, these can be multiplied and accelerated (e.g., “accelerated” port flipping). If a PvE quest has a bug or exploit, it may be frustrating, but its hardly a show stopper unless it completely bottlenecks progression. Most PvE players wont care if an encounter has a problem that amounts to an “I Win” button, but such a problem would be utterly game breaking in a PvP game.

Not so in PvP. Every PvP encounter has a winner and a loser, and with a not insubstantial loss penalty, the amount of time invested in acquiring skills, materials and equipment may be simply too high a price to pay when unintended consequences flow from bugs and exploits. So the RvR PvP of PotBS faces unique challenges to accommodate the needs of its ultimate playerbase, but for now, I’m going to sit it out until the dust settles. When it does, hopefully it will be a game I’ll want to play and pay for.

6 thoughts on “Shipwreck on the Burning Sea”

  1. Oddly enough, the issues with PvP you are describing match what happened in UO when it launched almost exactly. The PvP community found each and every bug, and exploited them for gains. Bug got fixed, new ones were created, and the circle continued for years. So strange to see that happening in 2008.

    I’m still amazed FLS never had a massive endgame beta. Almost all the major design issues people like you and Keen are describing would have easily been found, and perhaps fixed. A good lesson learned for future PvP-based games I guess.

  2. I had an opportunity to play a bit in Beta and the first thing I thought at the time was; how is this going to retain subscribers? The more I’ve read about negative-sum PVP and instanced battles, the more I think my first impression was correct. I elected NOT to spend the $50, which is unusual for me, and I’m glad I decided to pass on this one.

  3. I was on the fence and am still not sorry I took the plunge, but before I get back on board, I’ll need to see a bit more direction in how the core game will take shape.

    Apparently, there’s quite a bit which is supposed to hit in the first “content” patch, but the latest rumor I heard was that was coming in March. I may check back then, IMHO the revamps of some towns, etc. that were planned for that patch should have been done before release and probably before open beta.

    That first impression is just so hard to change after the fact. Despite the game’s limitations, Turbine did a very good job in rolling out a well polished early game with LotRO which has probably helped retain those customers even if they blew through the content.

    The impression was that when they do release new content, it will be of the same quality and completeness that the original was. As far as I know, Turbine’s managed to largely meet that goal.

    I’d like to see FLS catch up in that regard because the ship battles are great. I’d probably be willing to pay for that as a non-massive multiplayer game.

  4. @syncaine. Sorry for the delay, I had to fish your comment out of the spam filter for some reason….

    I think you’re right on a massive beta to flesh out stuff like this. Of course in some of the QQing that goes on in the forums (i.e., “exploit” v. “superior tactics”), the tin foil hat types think that the “power gamers” in beta found and kept secret certain exploits rather than reporting them in order to exploit them in retail. Sounds like a PvP community developing already ;)

    I think thats a bit far fetched, but there is no denying that short (at least between wipes) and small betas preclude the masses from getting to those mechanics to test them. And if the beta population was pretty large at least on one server (I’m guessing but I don’t think it was over a few thousand max, probably less), then why didn’t some of these things come to light? And again, if they did, how did they survive into beta?

    Likewise, I think FLS as well as developers of upcoming games suffer to some extent from the “new and different” mantra (aka “not invented here”) mentality. In pursuit of unique, sometimes good design ideas are overlooked or left behind simply because they were used elsewhere.

    A good example is society (aka guild) functionality in a game that relies heavily on group coordination for the economy and RvR. Currently there is little more than a member list, undifferentiated by class, level or rank, etc. There is a forum thread asking users for input on what they’d like to see. My knee jerk response is “everything that has already been developed in every other MMO that works PLUS something new and neat, if such a think exists.”

    To stretch an analogy first offered up by the Ancient Gaming Noob (“they dumbed down travel in my hometown by putting up street signs”), the town down the road is just a “clone” of my hometown because they also use street signs…

    Appreciate the opportunity for input in the process, but at the end of the day, results matter and stuff like this shouldn’t be that hard when you have EQ, EQ2, DAOC, UO, WoW, Lineage, SWG, Vanguard, LotRO, Guildwars, Tabula Rasa, etc. to draw from.

  5. Off topic: I have that same problem with Syncaine’s comments. Akismet seems to think he is a spammer and drops him in that bucket. I think Akismet is run by carebears though, so that might explain it.

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