[ I know I said I’d blather more about randomness, and then I didn’t post for a month… I have 11 drafts on aspects of randomness, but none of them are good enough to subject you to yet. I’ve enjoyed the discussions people have had in the previous post though, good points, well presented! ]
I wanted to give my condolences to the folks who are losing their job at NCSoft due to Tabula Rasa shutting down. Tough luck, guys, and I hope you bounce back. On the other hand, I can’t say I liked the game.
Actually I have two strong memories of Tabula Rasa from before it shipped. One was from an E3 many years ago, when Tabula Rasa was the darling of the show. Groups of four sat down together to play through a prescripted scenario. I played a futuristic warrior that blasted the enemies with my electric guitar, causing musical notes to fly at him and knock him down. As a group, we managed to take out a boss monster and clear a dungeon. It was fun. The cumulative thinking was, “Huh. Really odd setting, but it has fun gameplay.”
There was troubling talk, however. The presenter told us that they were going to add aspects of a Great War, and everybody was going to be fighting everybody else and it was going to be great. That didn’t seem like a very compelling addition to me. It looked like a fun future-space-opera MMORPG with nice dungeons and interesting set pieces. Having a big PK war didn’t sound like the secret sauce this game needed, but whatever. Still reasonably optimistic.
My other strong memory about Tabula Rasa came from the Last Real E3 Ever, a couple years ago. Tabula Rasa was not the same as before. Now it was all about the big war, I guess. Gone were the silly space opera aspects, and now it was a game where you run around as a marine shooting people but not aiming. I watched people play it for a while, feigning enjoyment before wandering away. The presenter asked me if I’d like to play it, and if so I’d get a free T-shirt. I turned him down. In other words, Tabula Rasa didn’t look fun enough to play it for free, even if they paid me with a free T-shirt. I played a lot of other, much more terrible games at that E3. But this was all about market. I didn’t find the “be a space marine!” hook to be at all interesting. And that combined with the “you don’t have to aim!” hook meant nobody was interested. The wacky vibe from the earlier incarnation of the game had actually been a decent hook — something new and fresh enough to at least get people to play it for a few minutes. But that was gone.
I think the moral is threefold:
- Don’t re-make your game from scratch. There’s no surer way to fiscal failure than having to completely change the target audience of your game after it’s already through pre-production.
- Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. They redesigned Tabula Rasa so many times that it became a sterile and bland thing.
- Have a target audience in mind AT ALL TIMES, and for God’s sake, spend a few grand testing to see if your target audience actually wants this thing you’re offering. They have companies to do this, they’re called polling consultants. Use them. They are not prohibitively expensive for an MMO company. $10k can get you a lot of really useful data about whether your $20m game is going to work or not.