What The Hell Is This Robot Game, Anyway
Mechs are simply really big robots, and MechWarriors are their human pilots. (Editor's note: referring to a Battlemech as a 'robot' around a grognard is a method of inducing instant apoplexy; we highly recommend it. Yes, we know they are not actually 'robots' in the Battletech canon.) Set in the BattleTech universe, they fight each other a thousand years in a future where humanity has spread to the stars. These steel titans weigh up to a hundred tons and can fit lasers, missiles, autocannons and a myriad of other weaponry in order to pound the other guy into literal scrap. Okay there’s a lot more to it but the important thing is in this universe it’s all about giant robots shooting each other. I don’t know what more you could possibly want out of a game.
If you are someone who enjoys drowning in an ocean of fiction, BattleTech will not leave you disappointed. With over a hundred novels, decades of tabletop sourcebooks, and a half-a-dozen video games it will provide enough canon to keep even the loneliest of gamers supplied with reading material to keep depression away on Friday nights. Luckily for those of us with better things to do, a quick trip to Wikipedia will yield all the essential information you need to keep up with the lore. For those of you too lazy to do even that, don’t worry. Even if you memorize the pedigree of the ruling elite for each Great House, and the preferred weapon loadout of each character in the books, it won’t make you any better at the actual game.
MechWarrior Online (MWO) is an upcoming F2P MMO BattleTech game being produced by Piranha Games that stirs the loins of everyone who fondly remembers the MechWarrior series as an essential part of their gaming childhood. The graphics are provided by CryENGINE 3 technology and the result is spectacular. Giant robots have never looked better. Beyond the graphics fans have a number of other excuses to be excited as well, with many dev blogs produced detailing what is planned.
While the game is still in closed beta and not yet finished, the gameplay so far has been very well received. The core functionality of getting into teams and stomping around the map is fun and works very well - there is just something very satisfying in marching around in a machine that feels enormous, with the deep thump thump thump of your footsteps reverberating in your ears. They did a wonderful job of giving you the feeling of being in a humongous machine of war with enough weaponry to blow up an average third world country, North Korea notwithstanding. Beyond that the potential of this game is very high, between Role Warfare to give the gameplay depth and Community Warfare to provide meaning and incentive, this could a classic.
Role and Community Warfare: A Metagame with Mechs?
Role Warfare is their shorthand for mechanics that allow you to further customize your mech for a specific type of gameplay: Scouting, Defense, Assault, or Command. As the game already allows you to customize your mech to adjust levels of armor, heatsinks, and add or subtract weapons according to your mech’s hardpoints, this means that there will be a level of customization and choices that almost approaches Eve Online itself. Well, actually it doesn’t come close to matching Eve’s well known skill curve but it does a nice job of finding a middle ground between simplicity and complexity. You have enough to stay interested, but not quite enough to keep a staff of mathematicians in full time jobs analyzing the effectiveness of different fittings.
Community Warfare is what a lot of us have been hoping for, combining the best aspects of World of Tanks Clan Wars and Eve’s nullsec alliance warfare. It proposes to allow Merc Corps to form and fight each other for control of border worlds which are persistent and offer significant and meaningful rewards to the victor. They also have said there will be factional warfare for people to fight on behalf of their favorite Great House.
Details are scarce, but it appears to be a cross between the mechanics of Clan Wars in World of Tanks, forcing even teams to fight in predetermined XvsX matches in order to win real rewards, but with much much more to offer than the rather bland Risk-style chip movements of World of Tanks. Considering that WOT is already a hit with a frankly terrible, restricted and boring Clan Wars mechanics system, it’s safe to say if MWO can pull this off properly it will be a game people will be playing for years to come.
Sounds Too Good to Be True? It Might Be.
To start off, PGI doesn’t exactly have a deep and exhaustive record. This is a very ambitious undertaking, and while all of us who fondly remember MechWarrior growing up are supporting them, wishful thinking doesn’t actually affect the outcomes in the real world. There are a multitude of potential pitfalls and herculean challenges before this game actually becomes a real finished product we can all enjoy.
Read those dev blogs again, they’re basically 90% promises and 10% details. You can say you are going to do something all you want, but I’m more interested in hearing how you are going to do it. Making a game balanced, with everything in harmony is really, really, hard to do. There are an avalanche of details that have to be done just right to keep it fresh, interesting, and challenging for the long term. It’s a very long process to go from a cool concept to actually implementing it, and for every game that succeeds a dozen fail.
When you consider PGI’s meager record it is a very fair question to ask if they are going to be able to fulfill all of the promises they have made. Even if they nail the gameplay perfectly, there’s still a great deal more to a successful game than the code compromising it: we can all think of terrible games that sold well and great games that went unnoticed. Even if you make a ton of money it's still not a guarenteed success.
I’m troubled by two things in particular. At the date of this article’s publication there is still a Stalinesque iron curtain of an NDA preventing anyone in their closed beta from saying anything whatsoever about it, and their advertising budget is mathematically indistinguishable from zero. The NDA for the closed beta is so restrictive that the only thing you are allowed to admit in public is that everyone who preordered and got in the beta as advertised is in the beta. Anything else they could potentially sue and ban you for. This is completely irrational, and a sign of out-of-touch or inexperienced decision making. This late in a beta, you need to be confident enough in your product that you aren’t afraid of people talking about it. This also means that instead of people discussing the game on forums, podcasts, etc and increasing the profile of the game, people are limited to talking about it to those who have already bought it anyway.
Next they have, as far as I was able to discover, a total of exactly zero paid advertising with only a month until their launch date goal of the end of summer. Considering that I was actually looking for any advertising whatsoever and failed to find anything beyond a youtube channel and articles in gaming magazines, it’s fair to say there practically isn’t any. Sure, they get a little bit of press from news releases, twitter, and youtube videos but this isn't some little indie project, this is a funded multimillion dollar game. If they were an indie game this would be more forigivable, but as a studio the money they get from preorders is crucial to the future of their company, and they should be trying to maximize it. They can use it to justify getting more funding from investors, paying lower rates for debt, and reinvesting it back into the game. Their failure to spend money on any advertising to increase their image and income when they could do it so cheaply and effectively demonstrates simply terrible business management, a regretably common problem in the games industry.
How on Earth do you have a product being released in a month with no paid advertising for it, especially for a F2P game? This error is compounded since people could be paying them money at this very moment. I know personally a dozen people who heard the words ‘new MechWarrior game’ and before I could finish they forked over $120.00 for the deluxe preorder package.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had with Mittani, where he made the remark that many gaming companies go belly-up because they are run by gamers and not businessmen, and that while they might know how to make a game it doesn’t mean they know how to run a business. I hope that PGI doesn’t fall into that trap, but for now I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a successful stompy robot MMO with a viable community warfare endgame.