Tobold's Blog
Friday, March 12, 2010
Alganon shake-up

As I mentioned before, last year I received a special invitation to play Alganon in beta, and to tell the developers my opinion about that game. I told them that they were copying WoW too closely, which would never work with the budget they had, and that they would have to do something to differentiate themselves from WoW, either in the business model or the gameplay. You just can't make an inferior WoW clone and try to sell it for the same price as WoW. The developers promptly ignored my advice, which wasn't unexpected. I refused to write a review on Alganon, but instead handed out beta keys and let my readers write the review, which unsurprisingly came to similarly negative conclusion.

Now, a few months after release, reality has finally dawned on Alganon, and there has been a big shake-up. Dave Allen was fired, and has been replaced by Derek Smart. Now I don't know Derek Smart, apart from him having a reputation for being overly frank on game forums. But I must say I don't quite get what Lum is complaining about. Particularly these Derek Smart quotes:
The Dec 1st launch of the game should never have happened. It was a mistake that has not only cost the company money but has also cost people their jobs and put an otherwise exceptional product at risk. As a game developer, I know all too well that if your game is not finished and you release it, thats just asking for trouble. No matter how great the game and technology are, it can and will fail. Especially in this industry climate. The average gamer is as finnicky as a hummingbird on acid, with a very short attention span and a penchant for being largely unforgiving. In other words, pulling a stunt like that is the death knell for many a game and company.

This whole “WoW look-a-like” rubbish, is gone. I’ve essentially asked them to throw it all out and for the artists to come up with the game’s own unique look and feel for for both the web UI as well as the game UI itself. You don’t go competiting with WoW when you don’t have a WoW sized budget or the manpower to match. But thats what David wanted to do and I’ve pretty much tossed it all. The team was unable to actually do this previously due to David wanting it that way, even though they knew it was a terrible decision.

We’re also getting rid of the monthly subscriptions. They are currently suspended, but will be gone for good. I put that plan into place since Dec 2009 with a view to making the game “subscription free” but supported via sales (I was the one who had the client price reduced to $19.95 as well btw) of the client as well as micro-transactions. It is not a traditional F2P game, but if thats what we have to do in the long run, then so be it. For now, we’re taking baby steps.
Okay, maybe calling your customers "as finnicky as a hummingbird on acid" isn't usual PR style. But everything Derek Smart says in the above paragraphs sounds extremely reasonable to me. Early releases *are* bad. The WoW look-a-like *was* rubbish (they even copied the part of the WoW interface where there is a keyring next to the bags, but without having keys in the game). And going "subscription free" for a game where nobody in his right mind would pay for a subscription is obviously a good idea too. So, judging the man by what he does now, and not by what controversial stuff he might have done previously, I don't see why people are condemning this move.
I'm not sure I understand why a subscription fee has to be $15 a month or nothing. You could easily make it something like $10 for 3 months, 3 months free with the client. If you actually like the game, paying the $10 is practically an afterthought.
Yea i must say, a few other bloggers put some sort of negative slant on Derek Smart coming into the picture here, but reading the Alganon -specific- comments of his.

Hell's almost refreshing to see him state THE OBVIOUS , you know the "doh" kind of statements -we- the gamers always thought is freaking OBVIOUS.

Yet you get Cryptic and Funcom and Mythic, and well every single MMO-developer in the last few years all doing the same stupid thing OVER and OVer and literally want to kick them in the head and say "wtf, man, don't you know it's not smart to release unfinished crap?" .

Whether Alganon will be saved though, is another story..
Uhm..did I get that wrong or did he really basically say "Our game is no longer like WoW because we decided to be more creative with the game interface".
I don't think its bad to copy from WoWs interface (as long as you don't switch off your brain while doing it..). Many people are familiar with it and it simply works. Copy it, improve some of the usually heavily modded areas and you have something solid. Its the underlying mechanics of the game where you shouldn't just copy WoW because most people are a bit fed up with that kind of gameplay. And those that can still stand it are happily playing WoW and have no need for another game.

The standard WoW UI is terrible and there's no reason why developers should copy it.

Instead, take a look at some of the great community generated UI's. Instead of putting your buttons at the bottom, health bars at the top left, map at the right left and enemies at the top right THINK about what you're doing.

When I look at my screen I want to see all that information asap. Huds are a decent way to do it. You can quickly see your own health, enemies health and buttons.
@Carra: Yeah, its not good. However I have also seen much worse, which is why I wrote that they should improve it. Copying from the community-created UIs is a two-edged sword. Many of those UIs only work if you have a really big monitor, those are out right from the start. In addition to that everyone has a different opinion on whats good and what isn't. I also mod my UI heavily, however I simply hate HUDs. Those thingies might be nice for DDs, but I simply couldn't work with it as a healer. And you need to create a one-size-fits-all UI for your standard UI.
I've posted this info on another blog announcing the changes at Alganon. If you've never heard of Derek Smart before, strap in. This man has the craziest reputation (not in a good way) going back 15 years to his monumental space-sim failure, Battlecruiser 3000.

That he has turned up in MMO-land is unsurprising. That he has fired the head of development is also unsurprising given his colossal ego. That he is making vague, somewhat nonsensical, over-the-top promises is right on cue.

Just google Mr. Smart and words like BC3K or flamewar.

Alganon had issues before .. Mr. Smart cannot fix it .. he can only make the it about himself.
I think we all know examples of game developers who had a good reputation, and then proceeded to produce a really horrible second game. So who says that a developer who failed spectacularly with his first game cannot make a good second game?

Not that I have much hope for Alganon, but I find your comments about the man, and other comments from bloggers, rather judgmental. "Hey, the guy got into a flamewar on the forums for a previous game he made, that must mean he will ruin Alganon!". Must it? I'm just looking at what the guy is saying today, and it doesn't look that outlandish to me.

This is not a situation of a sophomore slump and only a portion of the criticism is around the lack of quality in his productions.

Its about pathological narcissism. Look up the history if you don't know it ..

You say, "Must it?!" I say YES .. keep following Alganon .. drama to come .. it's my prediction.
Bad history or not it is refreshing to see someone in this role admit they screwed up and and telling us what we already know, the MMO community is picky.

Honestly, as I've never heard of this guy before, he gets +2 rep from me. I will judge him based on what he does with Alganon from here on out not on what happend in the past.
Gamers are extremely finicky. He is right to say that launch mistakes can permanently damage a game's reputation.

This is why MMOs get absolutely killed when they release too early.
Smart is a troubled soul, but at least he's calling it right on this one. It *will* be interesting to see the dust settle on this one.

It's also a curious breath of fresh air in a stagnant market. I don't think he's going to be able to deliver anything really fresh as a product, but the mere fact that he's actually paying attention to the market and talking frankly about it is interesting.
Dzerhezinsky is 100% correct, unless you love drama, no good will come to Alganon by having Derek Smart involved. His brief comments may sound "refreshing" to an MMO player who has no prior exposure to him, but Smart has a very long history that paints a completely different picture. Seriously, folks, he makes people like Bill Roper look like saints.
The dude needs a punch in the eye. Just my 2GP.
Derek Smart has a very, very, very long track record of, at best, arrogance, dating back to when he was a one man shop producing the Battlecruiser game. (As I recall, he had already developed quite a reputation on GEnie by the mid-90s.) His shtick has always been that he's the smartest person and most competent programmer he knows and he's not afraid to say so. Given what a buggy mess Battlecruiser was when it finally released, his attitude did not endear him to many ;^)

That being said, many creative people need to have big egos in order to actually pursue their visions. And maybe DS has actually learned enough over the course of his career that he can now competently steer a creative team. Only time will tell....

To clarify: Derek Smart did not "just get in a flamewar over an earlier product he created." He was the source of fuel for a FIVE YEAR FLAMEWAR throughout the time he was developing said game.

I have to admire the man for trying to be a one man show in an age of huge development teams. But adults generally learn to recognize their own limitations at some point....

You might want to read the DS quotes a little more carefully. He never admitted that =he= screwed. He's Derek Smart, he never makes mistakes. He was, however, perfectly willing to admit that his =predecessor= screwed up. That's not a "breath of fresh air," that's more like watching American Presidential politics every four to eight years....
-The original quote doesn't bother me. The way he talked to the community, all 12 of them, in his follow-ups seem to indicate what is to come will not be all positive.
I don't think it is possible for anybody with past experience with Derek Smart to take any quote from him without the past baggage that comes with him. Frankly, he's made his own bed repeatedly in that department, both by being "provocative" online and by shipping unfinished products, so he gets to live with it.

But other than that, there is something of changing horses mid-stream to his statements. When you have already copied WoW's interface in detail, is there much to be gained spending resources on changing that? That got a lot of attention for the game, but is that really what is "wrong" with the Alganon? Is that where they should spend a lot of time and effort?

Where Derek goes, drama ensues. If nothing else, this should be amusing to watch.
Version 2.0 of Alganon was just released. I downloaded it and gave it a try (you have a 7 day free trial) and was impressed enough to purchase the game.

The model now is that you pay $19.95 and the game is free after that...and you can purchase "Tribute" to buy Cash Shop items if you so choose.

The art direction is in the same vein as WoW...but it's different enough imo, it didn't feel like I was in Azeroth.

It is your basic Fantasy MMO and that should be expected. Though it seems on the surface a simple to play game, there is a quite complex character progression mechanic underneath.

For what it is, I found it fun enough to pursue and felt that the $19 was well spent knowing that I would be playing there casually for some time.

I also like to help support any Independent Developer/Co. that produces a product that catches my eye and my interest.

As for Derek Smart, I like his approach and frankness. I think he's the only reason Alganon is online now at all.

He's seems interested in doing all that can be done to listen and provide as fun a fantasy mmo experience as he can given the product he has.

True the budget is no where near WoW, but from what I experienced it doesn't need to to have an enjoyable time in a new mmo world.

I look forward to exploring and growing a few toons there!

I encourage any who were interested in the game before, to take another look, download the new client and see what you think.

All previous accounts were re-set so anyone can receive the new 7 Day Trial now.

Regards & Good Hunting!

Stu :)
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