Monday, May 12, 2008

Funcom's Biggest Problem With Age of Conan

We've all heard it a thousand times over from trade shows, interviews, reviews, editorials, and the like: WoW is so successful in part because just about every modern computer can handle the code and run the client in a playable fashion.

We saw in 2004 two MMOGs come out, WoW and EQ2. Blizzard's soon-to-be behemoth could be run on just about anything while to play EQ2 the way it's meant to be played you needed a powerhouse of a machine. This, according to SOE, was because they wanted to skew with an eye on the future. Meanwhile Blizzard focused on a solid art-style that might look dated down the road but at least it would still be pretty in its own right.

WoW launched with hundreds of issues... but they were all mostly server-side and not problems with people's computers running the game. But EQ2 had memory leaks, crashes, texture cache problems and on top of it all you needed a pretty damn nice gaming computer to play it smoothly... does this ring a bell today? These are the issues that Age of Conan faces now just one week from launch, and you can probably count on them still being a problem on the 17th when pre-orders get in and on the 20th when the game goesf fully retail.

Now, I've made it clear by now that I'm totally digging Age of Conan. But I most certainly would not be were I still on my old AGP single-core system. The only reason I'm so in love with Hyboria today is because my computer plays it flawlessly. And I'm very likely in the minority here. Keen's PC, not exactly an old machine even though it's not cutting edge, it runs the thing like crap and he's made sure to say so on his blog.

It's a misstep by Funcom as the vast majority of gamers who are into MMOGs simply won't be able to enjoy the game. There are plenty who will be able to as the 8800GT and other 8000 series Nvidia cards are now out there in full force, but many systems are still running on ATI 1600 series cards and Nvidia 6 and 7000 series cards. And these are the systems that won't be able to play AoC for sh*t.

When the dust settles after the 20th, the only people playing and enjoying Conan are going to be the ones who can run it on their PC and that I'm afraid is a smaller number than I think Funcom would like. They should be happy WAR's not releasing this summer... not because it's a better game but because you can almost guarantee that its requirements will be more manageable based on the screens and video alone.

As a wise man once said... with great shaders and post effects comes great taxing of video cards.


sam said...

I've been saying this for years. There was a time when the games drove the hardware. The core gaming audience would go out and pay 3 or 4 hundred dollars to upgrade for every new game. But now the gaming audience has grown, a lot of the hard core gamers are married have kids etc, etc, and other responsibilities, and to top it off most people are playing on 500 dollar computers and maybe an upgraded video card that is mid range. My first 386 was a 3000 dollar computer, my first 486 was 2500, a 200 dollar video card upgrade didn't seem so bad back then. Now I have about 650 dollars in my computer (admittedly I built it myself and its a nice one) and 300 dollars for a video card is almost 50% of the price of the computer.

I think the days of a great game driving a huge worldwide computer upgrade for the gaming audience is slowly dieing. Sure their will always be some who'll do it but most gamers aren't going to break the piggy bank every year or two for a new computer anymore.

And I think another thing people are missing on this. I know a lot of old school gamers these days that play with thier wife , kids etc. If you have to buy 3 boxes, 3 subs and then 3 high end video cards you are suddenly in the price range of an 42" LCD TV.

Bildo said...

You're right on all counts, Sam.

Really, the place for bleeding edge visuals is the console space, and maybe Funcom had that in mind since the 360 version is due out next year, but that still means THIS YEAR they're going to be shrinking their user-base.

I wish it weren't true that you needed a high-end system to enjoy the best visuals, but that's the way the cookie crumbles, and on the PC space that simply isn't the majority of people.

But then, maybe Funcom knows this and is anticipating as much. Maybe they just don't care, and this relatively small audience (when compared to the big picture) is all they really want. It's safe to say that the marketing and gameplay of AoC is skewed less towards the typical WoW players and more towards the e-peen stroking power-gamer.

It just happens to be a pretty damn fun game in my eyes, despite these issues.

Thallian said...

well said, both of yer :)

sam said...

I'm waiting to see. The big killer for me is I can't toggle off the nudity when my young kids run around the house. Which means I can only play late evenings.

so probably not gonna try this one due to the inconvience factor.

But I hope it does well. I really would love to see some of the games that release do well and suck up some of the MMO market and inject more competition back into gaming.

Anonymous said...

The thing is, there was never any question over which was the prettier game between EQ2 and WoW.

EQ2 was just plain ugly. They bet on horsepower but never followed through with consistent art direction. Don't even get me started on EQ2's animation, I think they motion captured wooden puppets or something.

It sure looks like AoC will need serious horsepower, unless magically it gets a 20% boost or so on release (who knows, debuggers, etc.). It's definitely pretty, although more when in motion than in static screenshots (and we all know screenshots are what sells).

I think Funcom figured the combination of M rating and high system requirements would be attracting the same crowd. They underestimated that these same players have been playing WoW on laptops and Dells for nearly 4 years.

That said, I don't think it's all doom and gloom, they pulled Anarchy Online out of the fire and in the next few years whenever anyone wants a different MMO, it's going to be one of the stronger considerations.

Oakstout said...

The real question, is Funcom "Future Proofing" their game or just taking advantage of the technology out there. If it can run on a moderately spec-ed gaming system, then I think it will do well. If, unlike EQ2 its spec-ed for the system of tomorrow then they have pretty much screwed themselves.

Blizzard did something different, they made sure the game would run on any system by scaling the graphics. Basically they made sure the 4 yr old machines could run the game, while making it look great. Then they made sure that you could get some extra eye candy out of the game if you had a kick butt system. Nothing as fancy as EQ2, but still, it managed to bring a whole new group into the gaming fold.

This is where AoC could lose. If people aren't willing to upgrade for a new game, then they are pretty much stuck with the die hard gamer and won't pull a lot of people running WoW on an 5 yr old machine.

I still think it could be successful, if they fix the bugs everyone has been talking about and they don't have too many waiting to play on the day of launch. It will also go badly if they have to patch the game a soon after launch, basically proving to all those bloggers out there that they released an unfinished product to soon.

Developers just want to do the coolest stuff with the newest video cards, and they end up losing a lot of the gamers that can't afford to upgrade. Is that their fault?

sam said...

Developers just want to do the coolest stuff with the newest video cards, and they end up losing a lot of the gamers that can't afford to upgrade. Is that their fault?

Yes. from a professional side I understand. network engineers want to work on big complicated networks and setup all the newest technology. But that doesn't always make sense. If someone is just doing what they want because they want too and the game flops, then I'd have to say it's pretty much a systemic failure to know your audience.

I don't think AOC will flop. I think It'll do ok from what I'm hearing. I just don't think it'll be as big as the guys paying the bills would like. And since they pay the devs that could be a problem.

Openedge1 said...

So...just to see the massive amount of money people would have to spend to upgrade..I put together this basic setup of a system...

Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST3320613AS 320GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive - OEM

ECS N8800GT-512MX GeForce 8800GT 512MB 256-bit GDDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Supported Video Card
$179.99 + $20.00 Mail-in Rebate

OCZ Gold Series 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 667 (PC2 5400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory

Foxconn NF4SLI7AA-8EKRS2 LGA 775 NVIDIA nForce4 SLI Intel Edition ATX Intel Motherboard

Intel Core 2 Duo E7200 Wolfdale 2.53GHz LGA 775 65W Dual-Core Processor Model BX80571E7200

And they could steal parts from their old system (cd drive, mouse keyboard, monitor)

So...480+ bucks to totally replace the computer...
And this is ABOVE recommended...
I think Mr. Bush here in the USA just sent us those checks...could use that?

Or better yet, save the earth...walk to work, or ride a bike...1 month of no gas = new computer...

Don't go to anyplace special for vacation, look to your own backyard...we have lakes, waterfalls, mountains here...great fun awaits

Aw heck...who am I kidding, people just want a reason to let 'em...

I will be having fun lopping off heads...

sam said...

You forgot the new copy of XP or Vista you need to be legal.....

But you didn't contradict what I said earlier. 480 per person. 100 dollars for windows, 50 dollars for the box.

If you have a family of 3 gamers that wants to play thats 1890.00 to play the game together. Or the price of a Sony Bravia 42" LCD.

Or 500 dollars less than the latest LG 50" plasma TV.

And these prices are assuming you are talking about technical people that are willing to build thier own systems. Again limiting yourself to niche markets.