Saturday, July 3, 2010

HiRez Saves Global Agenda

HiRez announced last week that Global Agenda will never charge players subscription fees. Global Agenda will follow the same business model of almost every game in existence: Charge for the box and then charge for expansions. The only twist is that they’ll offer token- (to buy loot with) and XP-boosting services at relatively low real-money prices.

Why did this happen?

AvA was supposed to be the key selling point for the subscription. AvA is a garbage mode. It’s not a good competitive mode and you can’t be competitive in it as a casual. AvA satisfies no one, and there are no fixes forthcoming. On the US servers, one alliance (JL) dominated. Your choices were to join them or lose. The mode only rewards first-place finishers, so competition is shelved in favor of collusion—this renders AvA a complete joke as a competitive mode. HiRez made an attempt to improve AvA by putting everyone into one huge zone with player-set territory opening times instead of having multiple independent geography-based zones that are only open for two hours a day at various times of day and night. This decision led to JL dominating the entirety of AvA instead of just a couple of US zones. AvA went from bad to pitiful in 1.3A, and AvA was the main reason why people would subscribe—at least theoretically.

Without AvA to draw players to the subs, why would players bother? There are only so many good-spirited people who would blindly throw their money at HiRez in the hope that they might get value in return. The potential low number of subscribers would have crippled all of the other subscriber content, each mode of which would have required queues to be busy enough for matchmaking to happen. None of those modes alone—and probably no combination of those modes—would justify paying a subscription (there were two arena, full arranged team modes and a PvE mode). The fact that matchmaking may not even be possible because of a low population of subscribers means that if matches were made, they would be terrible due to the matchmaker being starved of players at different skill levels to match-up.

A Bright Future?

I still don’t have much confidence in HiRez after the half-assed attempt to MMORPG-ize the game in 1.3A. I think that the decision to remove the subscription was necessary to avoid the game completely dying. Now players can reasonably have some hope for the future of Global Agenda. What HiRez will do with that future, we will see.

Current indications show that they are going to continue on the path of adding other diversions that will extend the number of half-baked things that you can do in the game—they’re adding “open-world'” zones in the next patch. I have no confidence that the “open-world” zones are going to be sufficiently “open” to please anyone; early indications show that zone populations won’t break 50. And HiRez had to spend a lot of time and resources reworking the UT engine just to get this excuse for an open world off the ground, let alone fun. Such poor benefit-per-cost decisions don’t bode well.

I have severe reservations about GA, but at least I know now that it will survive to see something of its potential. If HiRez polishes and builds on the strong points of the game instead of implementing, in an expensive and time-consuming way, half-assed MMO-impersonation features, they would have a much brighter future ahead.

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