The folly of Cryptic

So let’s talk about all the weirdness going on with Champions Online.

Let me preface by saying that until a few weeks ago, I was pretty sure I’d be playing Champions Online on launch day. But then Cryptic started making really strange decisions.

First, they tied early-start to a specific retailer (Gamestop). Now, anyone who is a fan of video and computer games should NOT be purchasing games from Gamestop. That outfit is a fat, bloated leech sucking the lifeblood out of the game developer community. I don’t shop there if I can possibly help it (basically I’ll spend gift cards there if I get them). So that means no early access for me.

Not a huge deal, but a bit strange. I get that PC developers don’t have the same issues with Gamestop as console developers do. But where I live, the brick and mortar Gamestops don’t even stock PC games anymore.

Then there’s the Lifetime Membership issue. Cryptic’s Bill Roper used to have a little company called Flagship Studios, and they made a game called Hellgate: London, and they offered a lifetime membership to it. Roper was from Blizzard. I’d met the man, I knew how passionate he was about games (at least at one time). Even though Hellgate was kind of broken at launch, I forked over $140 for a lifetime membership, partially to show how much I believed in Roper. I just knew he’d pull the game together and I wanted to do what I could to help Flagship get that game fixed and awesome.

Of course, that didn’t happen. I would’ve been much, much better off had I bought $140 worth of scratch-off lottery tickets. Or $140 worth of horse manure. Or something.

But now here’s Roper’s next project and next Lifetime Membership offer. But this isn’t Roper’s company and it’s a much bigger team and anyway, everyone produces a dud at some point. So I actually consider this new offer. I also bought a Lifetime Membership to LOTRO and I’ve never regretted the decision in the slightest. Quite the contrary. So I’m thinking about my budget and if I can figure out a way to carve out $200 and be able to play CO indefinitely.

Assuming I like the game, of course. But wait…what? I have to buy the Lifetime Subscription BEFORE the game launches? Hey, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you, Cryptic. How about we trade? What a lack of confidence in their product this deadline broadcasts. This says to me “We don’t think you’ll want to buy this Lifetime Subscription once you’ve seen the game, so we’ll try to bribe you to purchase it pre-release with perks like access to the beta of a totally different game.” Huh? How in the world does that make any sense? “Buy a lifetime sub to this game and we’ll give you early access to another game in a few months.” So presumably you expect I’ll be SO BORED of Champions Online by this winter that I’ll be desperate to play another half-built game?

Less than a month from release, the NDA is still firmly in place. But Beta Keys went out today to pre-orderers and to Fileplanet Subscribers. I’m in the latter camp. I kept an eye on my email all day, assuming the alloted Fileplanet Keys would get snapped up quickly. And I scored one. Yay! Can’t wait to get home and download the client. But wait….what? I can’t actually PLAY the beta until the 17th of August? Then why make this big fuss about sending out the keys today? Downloading the client took all of 30 minutes from Fileplanet, so I don’t buy the ‘pre-load’ bullshit. Release the keys a couple days ahead of beta opening? Sure. But 12 days?
Once again I read a lack of confidence in this decision: “We want to wait as long as possible to let more people into the beta because we want to delay players realizing how bad our game is for as long as possible.” Or more generously, “We don’t want to give players time to hit high levels in beta and find out there’s no content up there.”

I don’t know who is running the marketing and/or sales divisions at Cryptic, but it almost feels like someone is deliberately sabotaging the hype of this game. Every new bit of information I read makes me less inclined to want to play it. It seems really evident that Cryptic has something to hide from us, the potential customers. Folks in the beta remain under an NDA gag-order, so they can’t tell us what’s going on, and the gates are barred from the rest of us getting in.

What’s really going on inside Champions Online?

18 thoughts on “The folly of Cryptic

  1. I have spoken with four guys up to now, one even posted his opinion openly on Twitter, that Champions plainly sucks compared to City of Heroes. I asked around a bit more, and the potentially cool features like one world and so on suffer from huge pvp issues. The effects of skills look all the same right now and the number of “powers/skills” is significantly smaller than in CoH/CoV.

    I heard no positive voices yet, but it seems odd that only negative views should slip through the NDA.

    Their offer is not remotely as fair as LOTRO’s, stay away from it for now! BTW, I have elected you to be my personal LOTRO advisor. I already twittered you about it. 🙂

  2. @Longasc: People with positive views might be more concerned about being permabanned from the retail game for breaking the NDA. 😉

    You know, I hadn’t thought of this until I saw all of the details in one place at once time, but the parallels to Flagship are stronger than I’d realized. Hellgate left its NDA up after letting players into its “open” beta, for good reason – I decided to let Best Buy keep my $5 deposit as a thank you for saving the other $45 of the purchase price. People assume that Cryptic, with multiple forthcoming projects, must be in great shape, but that’s the same mistake we made with Flagship, whose second game (Mythos was it?) was actually more anticipated than the first.

    Perhaps Cryptic isn’t as badly leveraged as Flagship was, but they don’t want to end up there. Establishing a revenue stream early would be a huge part of that plan, and it would actually be worth sacrificing some longterm revenue from lifetime subscribers to get there. The question is whether the game is any good. Personally, I got bored of COH within hours (wow, more muggers on the way to yet another thug-infested warehouse or office building, lots of criminals for a town with so many superheroes in it), so the burden is on Cryptic to prove that their game is more interesting before I’ll even consider putting money down.

  3. Last two beta preview opportunities, including last night’s, the servers have been down every time I tried to play.

    The game does have some cool twists and some stuff borrowed from other MMOs that every MMO should offer, but for me, it’s a sterile, WoW-like solo experience.

    Details when the NDA drops!!!!

  4. I do think it’s rather odd to offer lifetime subs only until launch day, but, I do believe that the game will be in open beta in the middle of August, so hopefully you can get in on that.

    I am tempted to do the lifetime sub myself. $200/$15= roughly just over 13 months of paid gametime, so I am just trying to decide if this is a game that I could see myself playing that long. With attention span, there are very few MMO’s that I have subbed to that long. Very few as in WoW and SWG.

  5. I could be wrong, but my understanding is that the open beta isn’t really open. You still have to get a keep either by pre-ordering or from being a Fileplanet subscriber. If it truly is an open, anyone-can-get-in, beta, then that changes things.

    Now in defense of Lifetime Subs, don’t think of it in terms of “Will I play for 13 consecutive months?” but “Will I play for 13 months over the lifetime of the game?” If you play for 5-6 months, then come back for a month or two every year over a 5-year game span, you’ll be saving money.

    But there’s even more to it than saving money. For me, at least, having a Lifetime Membership changes the feel of a game. It takes a lot of pressure off. I play when I want to and if I get caught up in a single player game for 3 weeks or something, I don’t feel guilty because I haven’t been playing an MMO I’m subscribed to. It’s hard to describe, but for me, getting the LOTRO Lifetime made the game a lot more enjoyable.

  6. Hmm, that would suck if it’s not a true open beta. The only reason I have even considered the lifetime sub with Champions is for the exact reason you state with LOTRO, which is what I wish I had done with LOTRO in the beginning.

  7. Just wondering what’s so horrible about Gestapo–err–Gamestop? Sure, they get “exclusive” content, but so does Amazon and Best Buy. Sure, they rip you off on trade-in prices but so does every other brick-and-mortar store (videogames or otherwise). But to find used games (hopefully) on the cheap, they’re pretty much the only game (pun intended) in town. Goozex is too iffy and unreliable for me to consider…

    1. They make most of their money on used games. In doing so, they rip off the gamer trading in games, the gamer buying a used game (since the prices are so high) and of course none of the money spent on used games goes to the people who developed the game in the first place.

      And it isn’t just that they have used games: they push them on people. They’d rather sell you a used game than a new game because their profit margin is so high.

      Plus, generally, they are staffed by sneering little punks that I’d just as soon not have anything to do with.

      YMMV, of course. But I try not to give them any business if I can help it.

  8. I’m no Gamestop fan by any stretch, but one thing to consider is the early start bonus was probably negotiated with the publisher: Atari. Cryptic has to handle the details for sure, but Atari would be the ones shaking hands with the retailers.

    The limitations on the lifetime sub deal are probably more Cryptic’s, but is it that much different than Turbine’s original deal for LOTRO, AFAIK it wasn’t widely available after launch, they just had a longer open beta. Not that it took that long to decide on a lifetime sub, but I regret not taking it, subsequent offers for LOTRO have been more expensive (it’s now up to $299, ouch).

    I think people are reading too much into this and it’s just indicative of how things have changed in the past two years. Drama gets fueled a whole lot more and frankly, thinking it’s indicative of the state of the game is just well, too tin-foil hat for me. I’m blaming the rhetoric from Funcom and Mythic for the conspiracy theories, the two outspoken blokes at Mythic especially promoted people to jump to conclusions regarding betas, NDAs, etc. when in reality the obvious and perfectly normal business-like conclusions are more likely: It’s just another purchasing option and a promotional deal.

    Of course, that’s not as interesting to blog about.

  9. @Rog;

    Before you impale me on an anti-tin-foil pike, you might want to read more recent posts here.

    Also, Best Buy is also offering Early Access, so those of us who prefer to avoid Gamestop have an option that still lets us into Early Access.

    But I do agree that Warhammer and Age of Conan certainly ‘trained’ us to be suspicious of MMO marketing/sales departments.

  10. I wish the developers would get a cut of the used games sales, true. But as it is, even though I’m paid decently enough that I don’t fret the cost of a single game (even at $60 which I’m not keen on) I still place value on a per-game basis and most just don’t make the “it’s worth $60” but I’ll pick it up used for $20 or so.

    Then again, how nice might it be if developers could drop the publisher and sell you their games themselves? Seems to be working for Trent Reznor and other musicians, perhaps it’s just a matter of time before the idea spreads to other media genres.

  11. I rarely buy games at their full $60 price; by waiting a month or two I can get them for half that, or even less.

    Anyway, I’m not going to get into a big political discussion about used game sales and Gamestop. I choose not to deal with them whenever I can avoid it. Soon enough, digital distribution will put them under anyway, and I’m looking forward to the day it happens.

  12. @Pete: It’s not a super-big criticism, I have been reading and by far you’re not getting into conspiracy theories like some on the forums and blog comments. When I say people are reading too much into it, I’m just generalizing I know. Overall I would say the volume has gone up in the past while regarding the various theories.

    That and until the NDA drops, there’s not a lot else to talk about it. =)

  13. And on Pawnstop going under as digital distribution grows: Hear, hear.

    I wish Atari would publish more games via Steam or at least Impulse. I dunno what it is about Direct2Drive, but I get icky vibes from them.

    1. @Rog – That’s funny, I get icky vibes from Direct2Drive, too. I don’t remember why, though. I must have had some bad experience to put me off the service, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it was!

  14. I think my own “icky vibes” about D2D is based on them being part of IGN… that alone is icky enough for me to avoid. I did buy World in Conflict from them, though, and that was a flawless transaction, though in retrospect if I’d known WiC would appear on Steam I would have waited for that…

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