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Update on the future of Sigil and Vanguard coming soon...
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Vanguard » Top » SOE/Sigil Discussion » Aradune on SOE/Sigil
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Aradune


Developer

Joined: Mar 11, 2007
Messages: 2
Offline

It's all ultimately good news, but complicated enough to justify one of my verbose postings SMILEY:)  I should have my first Sigil/Vanguard update up tomorrow and then look for regular updates as to the future of the game here and on the affiliate sites (probably weekly or so, depending on what's going on).  I will post here first and then immediately copy the post to a set of the Vanguard affiliate sites.

 thanks,

-Brad


Message edited by Aradune on 04/28/2007 21:18:02.

Aradune


Developer

Joined: Mar 11, 2007
Messages: 2
Offline

So here's the first topic, starting with the current official statement from SOE: 

"SOE is in discussions with Sigil regarding the future of Vanguard and Sigil Games in Carlsbad.  Talks are going well and first and foremost, our primary concern right now is what's best for Vanguard and its community.  We want to ensure that this game and its community have a healthy future.  The specifics that we work out over the coming days will all be with that single goal in mind."

What does that mean?  It means that right now Vanguard is doing decently but not as well as we hoped.  If you haven't read my last long post that outlined some of the things that went wrong during development, etc., please do. So the bottom line is that SOE is going to be getting more involved with Sigil and Vanguard - our relationship is going to become even tighter - much tighter.  At this point I can't say much more than that.

Does this mean an acquisition? I can't say at this point.

Does this mean more or less people at Sigil?  I can't say at this point.

Does this mean management changes at Sigil?  I can't say at this point.

What it does mean at this point is that both companies agree that we need more of SOE's involvement if Vanguard is going to continue to get the support it needs to both continue to be worked on and improved and debugged and optimized.   When people start getting burned out of the Warcraft expansion (pardon the pun), we need to make sure that the game is more polished and will play on lower end machines.  As people continue to level up, it means that we need additional higher level content, including raid content.  If we are going to change our marketing message effectively to target those who played a lot of EverQuest but who have ‘grown up' such that they have jobs, families, etc. that they cannot and will not play another EverQuest even though they enjoyed they game years ago.  We've done studies and it's not atypical of an old EQ player, when they hear about Vanguard, to assume that because many of the people involved in Vanguard's development worked on EQ as well, that Vanguard must simply be an EQ 3.  From that point they don't even give Vanguard another look.  They don't do any more research on the game.  They don't go to the official sites. They don't go to the affiliate sites.  Instead they think to themselves, "ah well, were I younger and had my life not changed, I'd give it a shot, but I just don't have the time for another EQ with better graphics right now." 

And that's it - they don't give Vanguard another thought   EQ peaked in late 2001 at almost 500k subscribers.  In its lifetime it's sold over 2 million units.  Putting EQ in a vacuum and that's a lot of people who played and who aren't playing anymore.  And the total number of subscribers didn't start going down until sometime 2002.  I'm also pretty sure up until its peak that the average lifespan of a player was nearing 9-12 months.  And as I mentioned in my last lengthy post, this group of people who played but don't anymore could arguably be put into two sub-groups - those who look back fondly at those months and even years and those who don't.  I have read posts and received emails from people who claim to have played to max level and then quit very angry - the "I just played your game for 2 years and now I hate you" emails.  But realistically how big is that group?  Even if it was half (boggle) the other group is still pretty big.  So ignoring all of the people who have quit or who are growing bored of their current MMOG (WoW, FFXI, DAoC, etc) that need to be reached (and in a very different way, especially the WoW player), both a word of mouth and a formal marketing campaign targeting these people clearly needs to launched.  These people need to know that Vanguard does have the ‘EQ feel' in many ways but that it is much more soloable than EQ was, especially the early EQ days.  They need to know that you can play for short periods of time and advance.  They need to know that the ‘end game' is not all about raiding into the wee hours of the night.  Some subset of these people will still feel burnt out of MMOGs period, but I think there's a lot of people who haven't been reached and our and others research supports that.  False assumptions are being made by a lot of people.  The reality is that Vanguard *is* the game most of these people are looking for - it has the good they remember, but has eliminated a lot of the tedium and necessary long hours that don't fit into their lifestyle anymore.

Then there are the people who are growing weary of their current MMOG.  Given how much larger the MMOG gamespace has grown since EQ's zenith in 2001 (arguably 7 times as large worldwide, and at least 2-3 time as large in North America alone), we have to take advantage of this.  At some point these people are going to want to start a new MMOG (especially after the WoW expansion newness has worn out, which for most of the non-hard-core would be when you really have to start raiding in the expansion).  LoTR Online is an x-factor - reviews from beta testers seem to indicate that the game is more casual like WoW, a small game, and that it looks really good but can run on a lower end system much better than Vanguard (just as WoW can).  So at least for a time the more casual bored WoW player may migrate to LoTR Online.  How sticky (e.g. how long that game will hold onto players) is unknown, but I think it's safe to say that a significant percentage of the more casual bored WoW player will head to LoTR - at least first, given the franchise around it.  Conservatively this leaves the more hard core WoW player (which in Vanguard or EQ terms would be considered either a hard core or, more likely, a core gamer).  That number, even just taking the North American and European gamer is still potentially a large one and needs to be targeted (given Vanguard's high system specs, the time it will take to localize, and Blizzard's name recognition and pre-existing proven marketing ability in Asia, I wouldn't count that group, although a very significant one, until 2008 or so.  Targeting that group is for a future discussion).

Lastly, there's the very real issue of Vanguard's system specs, even for the core and hard core gamer in North America and Europe.  For a variety of reasons and mistakes on our part that I won't get into right now, Vanguard was released with system spec requirements that were too high for January 2007.  Continued optimization will help to a degree, but the game's big hope here is simply Moore's Law and that by the second half of 2007, and certainly by the end of the year, the system spec issue will have been greatly diminished.  The big problem that remains is that you still pretty much need a new system as opposed to, say, simply a new graphics card.  But eventually, gamers do replace their systems.  Given what Vista (especially the Ultimate edition) takes to really run, combined with other games that come out by the end of the year that really push technology, many people will be compelled to buy new systems.  Unlike EQ, which was one of the first hardware only games, Vanguard needs not only a fast graphics card, but also a system with pci-express, fast memory, a fast FSB, etc.  With EQ, you just needed to buy a Voodoo 1 or Voodoo 2 - the rest of your system is fine.  With Vanguard, however, just plugging the fastest AGP card into your 2-3 year old system doesn't cut it.  In fact, Vanguard runs pretty well on a 2 GB system with a decent pci-express video card and fast memory in a 2.6 GHz Pentium; conversely, run the game on an older AGP system, the fastest AGP card you can buy, and a 3.2 GHz CPU and you'll have framerate issues.  The game is simply not CPU bound, nor just graphics card bound, but rather mostly bound by the data that it needs to constantly move from the CPU to main memory to the graphics card, and then all the way back again.  It's all about the various bus speeds and caches - moving data around efficiently is arguably more important than processing that data on the CPU or GPU.   The only fix here, again, is time.  Vista (especially the Ultimate edition, which is what's being pushed to gamers) wants fast components.  Direct X 10 hardware and software will help a lot, especially when there is a DX10 version of Vanguard.  A native 64bit client of Vanguard will eventually help a lot too.  Bottom line:  by the end of 2007, a lot more people should have upgraded, especially if Microsoft succeeds with Vista and native DX 10 games.  And if they really push Gaming for Windows like they did, say, the Xbox 360, the end of 2007 and beginning of 2008 should be a very different landscape for PC games in general and Vanguard specifically.   Was the Vanguard tech ahead of its time?  Yes, and there has been a price to pay for that short term (although many people are able to play with older machines - why? Different configurations, different settings, different thresholds for lower framerates, etc.).  But MMOGs ideally never end and if you've architected your engine to both push the limits of existing and near future technology as well as easily employ future technologies, then you have a game that doesn't look dated one, two, even three plus years down the road.  And that's what we did with Vanguard - so we feel some pain now, but if we can keep the momentum going, this decision pays off in the long run (big time).

In summary, there are arguably a lot of people who by mid to end of this year in the MMOG gamespace for whom Vanguard could potentially be very attractive.  What the game needs is a re-launch of sorts, including targeted marketing campaigns, an all-around successful move by gamers to the next generation of hardware, continued good word of mouth ‘viral' marketing by those who are already playing, enjoying, and re-subscribing.  And all of this could and should ramp up by the end of the year, all the while the Vanguard team is putting in more content, the live team filling out high level content as well as adding to areas of the game's vast seamless world which are a bit empty.  Then a re-launch towards the end of the year plus the first expansion (which is looking like first quarter 200SMILEY8), one that would add RTS style city building, ship to ship combat, jousting, and a second ‘half' of the Kojanese Archipelago that makes ship travel meaningful - and by meaningful I mean not tedious, rewarding exploration, with lots of new areas (both in the existing world and in the extension of the archipelago).  And I'm talking about some re-use of existing art, combined with new art that fits into the existing continents, and then finally some all out new stuff - different styles of terrain (islands) and ocean to look at while making your journey to found a new player city while constantly being attacked by exotic sea creatures, leviathans, and other traditional members of fantasy and crypto-zoology.  Not to mention pirates with canons, or other players and their ships on the PvP servers.  And who knows, could be first expansion or second, but eventually you need to pull from Mesoamerican mythology, encounter empires based on Greco-roman architecture... it goes on and on, it's all planned out, and Vanguard can do all of it given sufficient time.  The tools have matured, both in terms of art and design, and the art process orders of magnitude more efficient because of years of Maya scripting, an in-house terrain generator that creates what you want as opposed to spitting out algorithmically generated hills and valleys, and an art team that has this process down pat - for example, they were able to re-create Tursh and Leth Nurae in a fraction of time it took them to create the original, smaller, and much less interesting ‘versions'.

"SOE is in discussions with Sigil regarding the future of Vanguard and Sigil Games in Carlsbad.  Talks are going well and first and foremost, our primary concern right now is what's best for Vanguard and its community.  We want to ensure that this game and its community have a healthy future.  The specifics that we work out over the coming days will all be with that single goal in mind."

So what does that mean again? Again, I apologize for not being able to go into details and it's the details that need to be worked out.  But I think it's safe to say that both Sigil and SOE see the potential of a mind blowing game by the end of the year.  What's needed, bottom line, is some time, and how to get that time is what's being worked out.  And so I still see a 500k+ game, I was just off by a year for a variety of reasons, some under my control, many not.  And I think SOE sees this as well.  To pull it off however, requires a funded and supported Sigil and a well marketed Vanguard with these different target audiences identified and solid plan on how to reach them all, and then a solid execution of said plan, hitting them hard, pushing these ‘WoW everywhere' point of purchase materials from the front to the very back..  In the meantime, the Vanguard that was launched in early 2007 continues to move forward, with much of what I've talked about patched in over time, and the rest in the first expansion (or re-launch, or whatever we all agree upon in terms of product and service placement).  Bottom line, Vanguard continues to march forward, a solid and fun game today, and an even better one tomorrow.  More ‘state of the game' posts by me, a regularly updated ‘In the Works' http://vgplayers.station.sony.com/inTheWorks.vm. And whatever kind of increased partnership between Sigil and SOE is necessary to make this vision a reality.  And again, as for what that means exactly, more on that later TM.

 


 
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