Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Pirates sinking fast

Pirates of the Burning Seas announced they will close 7 of their 11 servers. In spite of the waffle about how their servers can handle more people now, I don't think anyone is fooled: PotBS is losing customers fast. According to they started with about 65,000 subscribers, which already isn't a whole lot, not even by pre-WoW standards (where we had an informal 100k-is-success rule). Now they probably lost more than half of that initial number, and you have to wonder how long that will be economically viable.

I really tried to like that game. But in the end it was too repetitive, and had too little content. Every nation having nearly the same quests, just copied and pasted, was a killer. I liked the economic game, but the PvP got into my way when I tried to enjoy the life of a trader. And the whole design of the freetrader class was horrible, having a class which sucked at both PvE and PvP just to be good at trading isn't attractive enough. Now you could say its just me, but all the other blogs who took up PotBS with enthusiasm when it came out either went silent or reported that they stopped playing soon after. I predicted PotBS having a lack of longevity, but even I wouldn't have thought it would sink so fast.
I played from launch, and didn't even last a week. Whe sea-based combat was cool enough, although a little bit slow for my tastes, but the avatar-based combat was utterly awful.

I've seen them try to defend it in interviews, but bottom line was it wasn't up to scratch, it was unpolished, totally unintuitive, and completely uninspiring.

Another thing that damaged it for me was the instancing. I was hoping to get that Sea Dogs feel of being out on an exposed and beautiful ocean voyage, but that's totally missing. I understand it from a design standpoint, somewhat, but I would have loved the chance to take a ship and go and explore some beautiful island coastlines, finding hidden coves etc.

They had a nice idea. They didn't execute sufficiently on the implementation. It's not a disaster of a game, it's fairly good, but who's going to pay for that when there are so many quality alternatives?
I think the premise was entirely wrong. Pirates should have been approached from a RTS standpoint and not a MMORPG standpoint.
I had a feeling it would sink this fast. Generally, when the biggest fans who are blogging about it go silent due to lack of anything good to say about it, the game can't be doing very well.

I tried open beta for a couple one hour sessions and found that it wasn't even remotely my cup of tea. Lacking so much polish, it really lent support to EA Mythic's choice to delay and refine rather than release a sloppy pool of crap.
I think they lost a few customers (me included) by targetting the real hardcore PvP crowd also. Having setbacks for dying in PvP isn't a way to attract the more casual crowd. That you couldn't really avoid PvP if you had to enter a port in contention didn't help either.

As Nick said also, the avatar part of the game really wasn't that great.
I think their expectations were too high for what is essentially "EVE Online with Oceans". However, if they manage themselves well, they can be profitable and eventually become a well respected game just like EVE.
I left after 2 week, just the time to see that except for pnj bashing on open see there is not much to do after level 30.

Tradeskill was very good.
I'll chalk some of it up to adding avatar combat, which delayed the game some, and was absolute garbage by all accounts. Had they taken the time to refine ship combat and the economy, PotBS may well be sitting pretty now.

Unfortunately, now they have a crap avatar combat system that will never be able to compete with the likes of WoW or any other game that does that aspect 100x better.
It's definitely not a game for everyone, and has a much narrower appeal than the 900lb WoWrilla. On the other hand, there really isn't anything else quite like it, and it's one of the most ambitious (in the sense of trying something different) new MMOs in some time. EVE is the closest comparison in terms of overall style and feel, but there are some pretty fundamental differences.

I very much hope that it finds its audience and follows EVE's pattern of 'slow but steady' growth. I don't believe that the server merges are necessarily a death knell - the game will be a lot more fun and interesting once the process is complete.
I can understand why there isn't going to be broad appeal for PotBS. It was never supposed to compete against WoW, or any of the standard MMOs. It's not that kind of game. The expectations must not have been managed very well for it to have attracted so many people that got fed up with it for not being like all of the other MMOs.

It's more of a thinking man's MMO. Typical MMO players don't like player skill to be involved. Quantity of time doesn't translate into success on the Burning Sea. A few of us appreciate it for that very reason, but we know we will remain few in number.
I hate it when developers use PvP to try to hide their lack of gameplay.

I'm surprised the game still sells for $40. Amazon dropped Tabula Rasa to $10-15 within a month of launch.
It's sad, because the game had fantastic potential. The sea battles were great, the ship detail inspiring, but there just wasn't enough actual game. The PvP model was a mess, the 'classes' thing didn't really work, and balance was an obvious issue.

I really hoped they'd be able to improve the game over time and I could come back to enjoy the naval battles (which were great), but it sounds like the game is going the way of Auto Assault.

If they were able to salvage their engine and make a single player game with an over-arching storyline (ala Sea Dogs) I would happily buy it. It makes me sad to think I'll likely never get to tack into the wind to deliver a blistering broadside to a hapless enemy again.
Just because Tobold and several bloggers stopped playing Pirates doesn't mean the game is over.

Pirates of the Burning Sea is not for everyone and it will find its audience. So saying "I told you so" just because it is not WOW is petty.

I am still playing and so are many people. Try to be more supportive, guys, what is the point of trying to sink a game while it is still alive. I admit, it is not doing as well as it should, but I believe it still has a lot of potential.

And no I am not trying to troll your blog, Tobold. Not anonymouse either.
The fact that this post and the one on massively only gets one comment says enough ;). Also the forums on have gone almost completely silent.

Only tried the game in Beta and got bored after one session already. Plus the avatar combat was beyond horrible, so to me it's no surprised this game bombed.
Oops now there are more than 12 comments ;).
lukasz no one here is trying to sink your game. they are sharing thier opinions. Unfortunately thier opinions are bad marketing.

And as much as I think its a bad thing, the bar for successful has been moved. niche games will not be kept around for long by these companies that have gobbled up the competition. They want big huge successes.

the game industry is where the motion picture industry was in the 80's. All the little independants are being swallowed and it's going to hurt innovation. Successes will be bigger money wise but a lot of good games will die quick untimely deaths because they don't have enough popular appeal.
The game had great potential but I agree that the focus on PvP really did kill the game for the casual gamer. I enjoy pvp, but sometimes I don't want to deal with it.

I played for 3 or 4 sessions in open beta and never bothered to log in again. The economy idea was pretty cool, but the penalties for PvP and the fact that you had a hard time avoiding PvP made it very difficult for less-than-hardcore players IMO.
the game industry is where the motion picture industry was in the 80's.

That's actually good news in my opinion, because it means that while games like WoW will continue to fund the business, game companies will develop "indie" projects and launch niche games at an expected loss, running them on the profits of the other games.
I hope your right jason but I instead predict the same thing that Stephen Spielburg has complained of in the movie industry. That sales and marketing people start interfering from the idea and design phase and tell the designers what kinds of things they want in the movie (game in this instance) before they've ever started to film. (insert code here).

We'll see as time rolls along.
Going from 11 to 4 realms is not particularly good message from a marketing perspective, but it does not mean that the population has been cut down to a 1/3.
They might just have taken the approach to push in servers based on the number of people playing in open beta, which is hardly a good estimate. Lots of people like to play for free to try it out, but will not pay after that.

Spielberg (and arguably Lucas) is probably more responsible than just about anyone for the "bad" state of the movie industry you're comparing MMOs to. Movie historians/critics/people feel that Jaws and Star Wars almost single-handedly changed the direction of Hollywood from insular to mass-market. Although it's important to note that producers held tight control over projects in either time.

And anyone who doesn't think sales/marketing already has a significant control of the design and have had one for quite some time doesn't know who Electronic Arts is.

If Pirates lasts long enough and caters to their base they'll get their money back and probably turn a profit even. They can be successful without setting subscriber records.
I was on the US servers, and now playing on the Australian server (there is only 1), and it's been an interesting experience.

On population:
When everyone's stuffed in the same melting pot, and your nation is beaten down, there's no choice of "ah stuff this I'm just going to re-roll 'a winning nation' on 'insert another server'".
You fight back, tooths and claw. Or hide under the covers and hope for a breather.

On not wanting to PvP
I consider myself an econ player, but when I have spare ships I'm perfectly happy to take them to war.
I need those shipyard docks for new ships anyway!
I disagree with no risks for economy. There's always risks of piracy if you want the big money.

On few sessions of play:
The first session for wife and I were real shockers. But after subsequent plays we've grown more attached to the game.
Early ships aren't great for either maneuvering or firepower, and they aren't a good example of what the late game would be like.

On swashbuckling:
I thought I had learn all there is to learn about swashbuckling, and then I discovered more tricks. Now I don't claim to know anything about it anymore. Have you achieved perfect defense where 6 NPCs of the same level can't even dent your balance?
I didn't even think that was possible until I re-speced and played properly.
I think when swashbuckling duels come out in v1.3, a lot of people will be shocked at how deep the system is.

I hope to provide some balancing point of views to the game here. I don't claim the game is perfect, it is far from it. FLS can do more for the new players definitely. But I doubt it's "sinking".
You are correct ben but you miss the key point there. The more money the bigger games make the bigger the pressure for the business types to interfere. It's not spielbergs fault the suits bought everything up and began to micromanage things but he was certainly a catlyst for that change.

The same thing will happen in the game industry and 20 years from now we'll be blaming blizzard for starting it.
Here's the thing: It doesn't have to be WoW, but not being WoW doesn't excuse being bad.

Shaking your fist and decrying what WoW is (casual / not-casual / too PvP / not enough PvP) isn't enough to make your game good. It has to stand on its own merits, not shoot for mediocrity by aiming for what it's not.
Just because Tobold and several bloggers stopped playing Pirates doesn't mean the game is over.

No, but closing down 7 out of 11 servers means the game is in a bad way.

It is sad if WoW is used as an excuse whenever a game fails. PotBS did not fail because of WoW, it failed because of bad game design. The closest competitor to PotBS is EVE, and EVE is constantly albeit slowly growing, while PotBS is obviously shrinking.
If EA went into a Pirate game, what would they do? They would get their hand on a nice license to attract that license fansphere crowd. Let's say, they own the license "Sid Meier's Pirates!" (I don't know if they do).

The next thing they would do ---> in our current market situation <--- is to define the crowd they want to attract. In this case, people with money. They would not, repeat not, plan this game (which bears the brilliant title "Sid Meier's Pirates Online!") for hardcore PVPers. They plan it for people who play The Sims or WOW.

What would be the features for such an EA game, funded with many millions of dollars?

1. Visuals
Cool Graphics, lush Caribbean romantic. Pirate ships and frigates which look cool and have the "authentic" Pirates of the Caribbean look. Dark and musky townes with many NPCs that add to the flavor. Sunsets that shade the whole screen in a marvellous red.

2. Customizeability
The Game would allow for almost any variety of creating the own pirate, much like the Sims. Costumes, additional flavor items like parrots, hooks etc. The ships could be customized too.

3. Casual Approach
Tradeskills that don't need a PhD in Economics (sorry Tobold, you might not like the depth, but you would certainly like the variety of tradeskill items produced here). Ship combat and land combat with no twitchy reflexes needed. Fun combat too.

4. Many hours of exploring & entertainment
Just imagine a map of the Caribbean with lots of blank spaces. Those could be added in later addons (why spoil the fun of saleable addons by revealing the whole Caribbean Sea all in one go?) Missions could be to explore new islands (you get the coords by the NPC, until then you can't reach the island). Hours and hours of treasure hunt, jungle exploring, lost temples, natives and head hunters chasing you, bar fights, you name it.

THAT would be the Pirates game EA would do. Funded with $50m and certainly a sincere WOW competition.
Btw, I can't help but start thinking of Auto Assault right now. That story also started with servers merging, although that if I remember correctly wasn't so soon after the launch.

I'm not trying to "sink" the game, for me it could live on forever. It's just a general feeling.
I liked it at the beginning as a big Pirates! Fan.
But everything in this Game takes horribly long.
It isnt fun if youre Guild members want to make PVP hunting with you at the other side of the map, and you need half an hour to get there, thats just wasted time
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