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Why Isn’t Vanguard Overrun By Those Seeking an “Old School” MMO? January 30, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, Vanguard SOH.
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If all the people who wish there was an MMO like MMOs used to be would stop wringing their hands and go play Vanguard, maybe it would get that expansion. Even without one, it remains very close to the best MMO there’s ever been.

Bhagpuss, in a comment at We Fly Spitfires

Oh Vanguard, saga of more than heroes, negative example cited by many.

Here it is, the twin fifth anniversary of the launch of both Vanguard and Microsoft Vista.  And what a pair they are, mirror images of, if not failure, then certainly a failure to meet expectations.  Both sold moderately well, though in ways that did not help them in the long run.

Play Vanguard - Ride a Dragon

Dell, for example, made money selling machines with Vista and then charging a fee to revert them back to Windows XP.  And didn’t Vanguard sell something like 90,000 boxes right off the mark? [242,000 boxes sold according to Wikipedia. Thank you Bhagpuss.]

And then Sigil offering up a mea culpa about the game problems in April then and handing the whole thing over to SOE by May.

I know having played in the beta I was dubious when Sigil announced their launch date, which was both too early and square in the teeth of the first WoW expansion.  And very soon after launch I was pondering how they were going to get out of their mess.

And after the launch… and after SOE took over the game… there was the long march back to sanity and, in some ways, away from the vision.  Server merges.  Graphic revamps.  Bug fixes.  Making the game playable took a while.

But here we are, five years later.  The game is as “fixed” as it is ever going to be.  It is available, stable, and five years down the road you likely have a machine that can run it.

So why isn’t Vanguard the focus of players looking for an old school experience?  Why is something like EverQuest, which is coming up on its 13 year anniversary and which, in many ways, has abandoned many of the old school difficulties, still more popular?

My theory is that many of those seeking such an experience really have something specific in mind.  I suspect that they do not, in fact, seek an old school experience, but rather long to experience their first game as it was when they played it initially.  Basically, I think they want an old school experience in their old school, not in some new world.

And so Vanguard is not regarded as a viable option.  Relatively few people have nostalgia for the game.  I would be willing to bet that the EverQuest progression servers were more popular by themselves when they went live than Vanguard as a whole.

Why do you think, five years after launch, Vanguard isn’t the target of players claiming to seek an old school experience?  The bad launch?  The system requirements?  Too small of a player base with nostalgia for the game?

Anyway, Bhagpuss has a post up celebrating the Vanguard fifth anniversary, which along with his comment quoted above made me think about what will become of the game.

Comments»

1. Tesh - January 30, 2012

I’m not looking for an old school experience, so I’ve avoided Vanguard.

…but yeah, excellent question and good points. “You can never go back”, perhaps.

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2. peacedog - January 30, 2012

I actually tried to play Vanguard last year; indeed I was going to do a game diary for someplace for it. A hacking incident really disrupted my play time. The servers were down for a few days and then frequently unavailable for weeks.

I came to Vanguard as a guy who has done quite a bit of Muding in his day, but who had only played LOTOR, WoW, City of Heroes, and Everquest 2 (and none of them for too long).

I can say what turned me off. The interface was bad, and it was impossible for me to determine how to do crafting/diplomacy without resorting to extensive off-line reading. And this wasn’t so I could master the finer points of either; this was so I could function at a basic level. Actually, I Could function at a basic level in crafting. But I had to endure quite a few failures because I didn’t have the right stuff equipped. And it wasn’t always clear that I needed this or that thing. I would craft 4 gloves of low levelness only to have the fifth fail because I kept rolling some sort of glitch/whatever I couldn’t adequately counter. It takes quite a bit of effort to make something. Too much.

I don’t mind mechanical complexity. Just give me a good interface to deal with it and adequate in-game information.

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3. Sentack - January 30, 2012

I really think that those who were looking for “an old school experience” were really looking for a time machine to take them back to the first time they played EQ, UO or DAOC. That first year of your favorite MMO that really hooked you in and you, as well as thousands of others all learning about a completely different kind of game. It seems a lot of people are stuck with this idea that somehow those older games had some kind of magic that today’s games don’t and really I think it’s all nostalgia.

Now I will agree, some early games did some things better then today (*cough*DAOC RvR*cough*) but I’m not going to say that trying to repeat everything those past games did with a few ‘modern conveniences’ is really a sound idea. In many ways, what worked was a fluke or just the results of good timing.

Things have changed, and I’m just not sure we can really ‘go back’ anymore.

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4. Ferrel - January 30, 2012

I don’t subscribe to the “rose colored glasses” theory that some players try to use to explain away folks like me but there is fairness in your point.

I would very much like a “new” MMORPG that has similar values to old EQ (you have to group, grouping is a slower, more social experience, there is some risk, etc.) but the truth is I couldn’t be near as successful in it as I am in other MMORPGs because my free time is not as available these days.

When the EQ progression servers came out, I absolutely went back and played there but once they progressed too far I lost interest. Things just got so out of hand. Thus, the idea that we not only like hard but hard we remember is valid.

In Vanguard’s case it has the smell of death on it. I don’t mean that as a flame but it is true. You only get to make one first impression and unfortunately that impression was about the most atrocious one in MMO history.

I hear from a lot of people I respect that the game is now fun and “my style” but why would I go give money to a game with a development team of less than ten? There doesn’t seem to be a future in it.

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5. Ahtchu - January 30, 2012

I suspect that they do not, in fact, seek an old school experience, but rather long to experience their first game as it was when they played it initially.
The OP reads like an elaborate ‘rose-colored glasses’ style argument. It reads this way because there are so many alternate, unlisted factors that come into play with any one person’s ‘old school experience’ definition.
What’s the population of the game, right now? Many of us ‘old schoolers’ who long for challenge also long for the *worlds* those challenges existed in. The idea of being online, immersed. One part of immersion in a world means living and breathing players to your left and right. With a sub-base that is dismal, the world might be grand, but activities in said world would be lacking (to put it lightly).
Speaking only for myself, I long very much for an old school experience, but the experience isn’t uniquely tied to one feature or another: it’s a conglomeration of them. A pitifully sized active playerbase does little to attract me to Vanguard, and a troubled history does little to give me ease of mind to stick around. A beautifully crafted world is nice but I can browse screenshots online for aestetics.
‘If only’ is a game that can be played for any product, any industry, but it is meaningless: the only game that matters is ‘what is’.

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6. Tesh - January 30, 2012

Ahtchu, on “immersion”, it’s always seemed to me that a huge part of that is on the player’s head. You have to dive in, you can’t wait for the tide. As such, I think the rose-colored glasses argument holds up; you have to put yourself in the world, and you’ll always have your perceptions and memories colored by your investment. (For better and worse.)

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7. Tremayne - January 30, 2012

Being old and cynical, I think a lot of the people who vocally call for an ‘old school’ experience aren’t actually looking for a game that provides it, they’re looking for an excuse to bash new games for not providing it :)

The Old Republic is currently providing some authentic old school experiences such as having to stand around spamming a public chat channel to get a group, and long (compared to other games) travel times. These are not widely seen as the game’s most attractive features :p

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8. Bhagpuss - January 30, 2012

Thanks for the publicity :P

According to Wikipedia Vanguard sold “around 242,000″ boxes at launch. I was in the beta too and I agree completely that it wasn’t ready. That wouldn’t have mattered so much – lots of MMOs aren’t “ready” when they launch. Vanguard’s problem was that for a lot of that quarter of a million people it simply wasn’t playable.

I was lucky. When I got into the beta around October 2006 the PC I had could barely run Vanguard at all. I read some stuff on the beta forums and bought a new PC specifically with the intention of using it to play Vanguard. Six weeks before launch I had a machine that ran the game adequately and by the time Vanguard went live so did Mrs Bhagpuss.

We suffered all the design bugs, quest bugs and the rest but at least we could stay connected and play with a decent frame-rate. Consequently our initial impression was mostly based around content and atmosphere, not whether the game would ever actually run. If everyone had been able to play as smoothly as we did, perhaps the drop-off would have been less extreme. According to Wikipedia around 50% of the playerbase didn’t sub after the free month and a few months later more than 80% of the population had left.

It’s pretty much impossible to recover from a start as bad as that. Anarchy Online managed it, but there wasn’t the intense competition in those days. It’s a pity Sigil didn’t go bust a year earlier so that SoE could have picked Vanguard up and done the refurbishment work behind closed beta doors. Any way up, I’m just grateful I got to play Vanguard however it happened, and grateful that SoE have kept it running all this time despite the almost-total lack of interest from the MMO public. Let’s hope they don’t change their minds any time soon.

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9. Wilhelm Arcturus - January 30, 2012

@Ahtchu – I was actually trying to skirt the “rose colored glasses” argument.

When I say people want their old school experience in their old school, I meant with all the factors included, population among them.

However, how likely is it that there will be an old school style game with a serious population? One of the reasons that UO or EQ were well populated was that there were not a lot of options. People who role play in LOTRO or raid in WoW today were all stuck with relatively few choices then.

Now though, there are so many MMORPG options that it seems crazy. I used to think I knew about most of the MMO market. Now I feel like I know about just a tiny little sliver.

Anyway, I asked the question “why not” to hear what people had to say. I have freely admitted in the past that my own old school ideals are firmly in the rose colored glasses category, but want to hear from people who do not feel that fits them.

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10. Toldain - January 30, 2012

I played a few months of Vanguard up till Christmas Eve (when I got Skyrim). I enjoyed it a lot, including diplomacy and crafting. I agree with everything @peacedog says about them, I just don’t mind. I took the time to figure it all out and enjoy those systems.

But this, along with the “spider cave of death” I blogged about, shows exactly what’s wrong with the “make it harder” inclination so many people say they have – it scares away a lot of customers, and a big-budget MMO can’t do that and survive. Very few people are motivated to master a system that’s both that complicated and that unforgiving. Far fewer than those that say they are.

The game has gone from absolutely 0 dev support to 10 devs in the past few months, so actually, things are looking up.

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11. Vatec - January 30, 2012

Ah, Vanguard, The Exciting Game Of Standing In Line Waiting For Adventure (TM). Even the advertising showed people waiting in line to do something (board a ship, ride a pegasus, don’t recall the details).

I beta-tested it. I knew it wasn’t for me when my Orc Monk was sent to assassinate a leader of a competing Orc tribe and had to wait in line for his turn to kill the guy. Had the game actually been successful, it would have lost tons of players due to this factor alone, I suspect.

Then there were all the other bugs. Things like holding a one-handed axe backwards and hitting things with the flat side of the head instead of the sharp edge.

It’s a shame, but a =little= bit of instancing and a lot less ambition might have resulted in a game that would have grown into something great.

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12. SynCaine - January 30, 2012

Isn’t the answer somewhat clear? VG is just not that good. It would be like pointing at RYL and saying “see, oldschool PvP MMO, go play it!”. A ‘bad’ game back then is still a bad game today, being ‘oldschool’ does not change that, and for most, VG was bad.

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13. zentr - January 30, 2012

I love Vanguard. Bhagpuss already wrote my post. What he said. I go back occasionally. It really is the true EQ2.

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14. Signus - January 30, 2012

Vanguard doesn’t get the hardcore MMO players for several reasons.

A lot of the unique and oldschool features that Vanguard launched with have been cut by SoE to make it appeal to the WoW audience

SoE doesn’t give it any attention, advertisement, developers, nothing.

It’s too PvE heavy. PvP was coming, but Sigil got shut down before they could launch half of what they had almost finished.

If all of us went and joined Vanguard (which we have, multiple times in the past) SoE would continue to ignore it, and it’d continue to die. I can only do the same content so many times. The first 5 months of Vanguard were the best moments I had in an MMO since WoW came out.

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15. Bior - January 30, 2012

Vanguard is probably the best PvE MMO to launch in the last 8 years. It shows that you only need good game design to make a good MMO without instances.

Instances are the thing killing this genre the most. I never once had to wait in line for anything in Vanguard, because it was designed right.

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16. We Fly Spitfires - January 30, 2012

I tried going back to VG a while ago but couldn’t get into it. If it went F2P like EQ is now, I’d certainly check it out again. And I think you’re right about the nostalgia element as most of my time in VG was rather frustrating more than anything else, not something that really makes me harbour fond memories towards it.

As for playing these old school games in general, personally a lot of my problem with going back to them is rooted in the controls and UI. I played EQ when the latest progression server launched and, as much I enjoyed it, couldn’t get past the horrible controls and camera angels. Same went for Anarchy Online when I last tried it. Surely the devs could implement some updates to make the controls and camera movements feel more modern and natural? It would go a long way to enticing folk back.

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17. Doone - January 31, 2012

All gamers, old school and new generation, want exactly the same thing at its core: A GOOD GAME

And a good game, Vanguard is not. Filled with wonderful ideas, but executed extremely poorly. It was a true at launch, and its triply true today.

How much of this post stems from an opportunity to bash “old schoolers”? I ask this in the same spirit that you ask why old schoolers aren’t playing Vanguard. The basis is silly in both cases.

Old schoolers want good games and in MMOs we want games where the other players actually matter.

@Tesh: True immersion is not about a player logging in and immersing themselves. It’s about the kind of gameplay that engages the imagination to the point where the player becomes immersed. In the former, the player is making an effort to like something; in the latter, the games mechanics draw the player in. Many old schoolers I know crave this kind of experience. New car smell is nice, but its not the reason I buy a car.

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Vatec - January 31, 2012

Sorry, Bior, but the only reason you never had to wait in line for anything in Vanguard was because it was a miserable flop that never experienced crowded conditions in the early zones. Had it actually been a commercial success, you would have had a completely different experience. I tried every starting area in beta: I had to fight to find will-o-wisps to kill in the High Elf area, I had to stand in line to kill the enemy lieutenant in the Orc area, I had to stand in line to complete the core questline in the Kojani area (something to do with collecting essences or ki or something). There were, literally, more people on the servers during beta than during launch.

Really, I’m sorry the game flopped. My first MMO was Asheron’s Call, and I had great hopes for Vanguard providing that same experience after suffering through Dark Age of Camp-a-lot and the first couple of years of EQ2 (before Hartsman et al turned it into a reasonably enjoyable game). But Vanguard was never finished. They spent so much effort trying to make good newbie zones that they simply failed to make anything else. Had they scaled back their ambitions, they might have had a chance; they didn’t, and so they didn’t….

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18. Wilhelm Arcturus - January 31, 2012

@Doone – I am a pretty face value kind of person. If you find offense in what I wrote, it is because you brought it with you. Besides, if you are going to tell me you are more old-school with online games than I am, I fear I must call bullshit on you.

And I would judge from the responses that your opinion of the game is not universal. I wanted to hear what people thought about the game at this point, five years down the road.

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19. Ahtchu - January 31, 2012

@ Tesh
What immerses me, and what immerses you, are going to be vastly different. Your approach to the situation comes with the baggage of the take-away you wish to obtain.

@ Wil
Trying to skirt it makes no difference for those who can see through what you’re getting at. What you offer as retort is a red herring- it matters not the reasons why or why not that ‘old school’ games have populations- again, ref: the ‘what if’ game. Like Tesh, you approach the situation with bias.

The thing I personally never understood about anyone who uses the rose-colored glasses line is… they have no way of knowing whether or not someone else, in fact, knows precisely what they want, remembers precisely how things were, both for good and bad. It is perfectly likely (and in my case, true) that the pros and cons of situations then vs now are perfectly on the money, with opinions formed around facts, and NOT opinions dictating ‘facts’ to the mind of the perceiver.
I know perfectly well what I want in a game (vision superior to 20/20, no glasses to claim rose lenses), and Vanguard is as much a shining light of an ‘old school example’ as Kotick is an honest, upstanding businessman. I’ve cited one reason why. Others in these comments have cited others.

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20. Wilhelm Arcturus - January 31, 2012

@Atchu – Like I said to Doone, if you think you are reading some deep insult about rose colored glasses, you brought it with you, because I certainly didn’t lay it out there for you. I asked a question.

But let’s take a look at your read for a second. Have you read the blog? I am Mr. Rose Colored Glasses. I am Mr. MMO Nostalgia. So if I was calling out people like that, which I will state that I was not, I would be at the top of the list.

As for facts over opinions… I have yet to see anything about Vanguard today that wasn’t an opinion, good or ill. But I was asking for opinions.

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21. smakendahed - January 31, 2012

I haven’t read all the comments, still working on my first coffee, so here’s my take:

I’ve got several friends who want the EQ feeling again and they’re mainly split into two groups. The ones who play Vanguard and the ones that would play Vanguard but feel there is no point because it’s not getting any growth or expansion.

Of course group one is all excited about the possibility of new content, but group two figures it won’t matter because it’ll just be another several years before more content comes after the next dropping. That or it will be closed down.

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22. Joe Birdwell - January 31, 2012

I was really excited about the action based gathering that Vanguard had in the beta. The idea of gathering and crafting being given an adventuring feel is something that I still think was an excellent idea.

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23. flosch - January 31, 2012

The day Vanguard goes F2P, I’ll be on it. That’s not so much about the money, the monthly subscription doesn’t bother me. (And seeing how EQ2 went, I probably would pay the subscription even after F2P, just to have a useful game experience.) The main problem I walked away from Vanguard the last time was that it was just empty. F2P would probably bring a bunch of people back – maybe a few new faces, who knows. A Vanguard with enough people so you can group, now that would be fun I think.

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24. Wilhelm Arcturus - January 31, 2012

There was a response over in the We Fly Spitfires comment thread that expressed the opinion I was trying to get across as “my theory” in the post. There was a distinction over different forms of “old school,” but the essence of it in regards to VG was:

Few old-schoolers are playing VG because EQ is still alive, well, and available any time they want

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25. wizardling - February 1, 2012

Yup – I have EQ1 and the progression servers to boot. Having that, VG just isn’t compelling enough.

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26. Overflow - February 1, 2012

“I suspect that they do not, in fact, seek an old school experience, but rather long to experience their first game as it was when they played it initially.”

Can’t say I completely agree with this assessment. I suppose some players that yearn for the old days would fall into this category, and perhaps they’re a vocal group due to excessive boredom brought on by lack of an interesting game, but I doubt it’s true for the majority of the old school players not satisfied with the new games. I’d lean more towards the idea that many old school players want old school features in a new and polished MMO.

Note: I mean incorporating old school features, whether that be more exploratory leveling progression, skill based progression or whatever, into games with the style, customization and intuitive/fluid game play that is now the standard and not an old game graphically revamped but clunky as ever.

Double Note: Vanguard didn’t fall into the “new and polished” description due at first to the lack of polish and now, at this age, the lack of newness.

On a side note, I’m perfectly happy playing the new MMOs, but it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to try something with a fresh take (which may actually be an old school take) on the genre and actually have it garner mass appeal.

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27. Wilhelm Arcturus - February 1, 2012

@Overflow – I get you, though I would point out that I meant my statement wholly in the context of Vanguard and not a general statement about the search for old school in general. I suspected that the majority of the answers would be along the lines of SynCaine’s, “Vanguard sucks.”

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28. Overflow - February 1, 2012

@Wilhelm – I realize that the discussion questions posted at the end of your article were specific to Vanguard, but I thought the paragraph from which I pulled the quote had a broader context. To revise my comment with Vanguard as the central focus I’d say it could have been the home for many old school gamers had it:

1. Had a more intuitive crafting system.
2. Had more polish and less bugs at launch.
3. Had a less severe hardware requirement at launch.

Games don’t have to do everything at launch, but what they do must be done well or else people will exit the game at the same speed they entered and once that happens, it’s a rough climb back into MMO relevance.

Adam – MMOverflow

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29. Tangurena - February 5, 2012

Along with Bhagpuss’ remarks, I think the sign of doom was that all the fan sites for Vanguard closed years ago. Without vanguardcrafters or vgtact, players like peacedog would have too much learning curve to overcome. Add a low player base means that the likelihood that someone online when folks like peacedog are playing and looking for info becomes slim.

Like Bhagpuss, I had to replace my gaming computer to be able to play VG.

Many of the “old school” gamers I played with in EQ tried VG when it came out, but the bugs and lack of end-game meant their visit was a short one. Some left to try WoW (and then on to other games), some went back to EQ, some quit playing MMOs.

Microsoft made the correct business decision to cut funding when they did. Sadly Sony didn’t fund it enough to make it a great game – just enough to get the worst rough edges off of it.

Diplomacy in VG is different enough from the usual MMO stuff that I try to recommend to wannabe game developers to try VG and diplomacy to mine for ideas.

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30. A Trend Takes Root? | Endgame Farming - February 11, 2012

[...] graphics” is a fairly common statement. Or, perhaps someone might say something about a dwindling population. After all, many computer games of our current time rely on ‘the others’ to create the [...]

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31. milliebii - January 31, 2013

I think the issue here is not what the game is but who the gamers are. Back in the day there was a critical mass of role players in the games, people who had no problem remembering that your character is not you. That what was important was developing a rounded character that you played and not getting all epeen about how you had conquered raid boss x.

How many times have you seen toons jumping down the road in a game? Jumping to move (or for no reason at all) makes no sense, if you remember the character you would be moving normally, walking around the village/town running or riding to distant locations and jumping only when it is necessary to do so.

Today this seems almost quaint, and as players demand more to be based on the player and less on the current avatar so development of games moves from RPG to console action fighter.

Those of us that remember the first years of Ultima and/or Everquest get all nostalgic and ask for an old style game. But what we really want is a game full of old style players with a sympathetic and supportive development team.

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32. stumble2012 - December 25, 2013

In regard to Vanguard I love it, it was what i was looking for after EQ, problem is it is still buggy even today. That is what turned me off from it, as much as I tried to tolerate the bugs when it first came out, I just couldn’t accept it. I got excited later when it went F2P and talk of a major patch that I had hoped would address , besides it had been years since I played it so surely it should be running fine now. Well a lot of bugs were addressed, but it still seemed to me it wasn’t enough near enough and just typical of SOE.

I think a lot of more modern games though can still attract other players with different interest. They just need to consider making specialized servers by turning off or adjusting content. Example , people want hardcore, increase death penalty, and make open world mobs that can actually kill you by buffing them up, triple level xp, no flying mounts, and turn off auto grouping, Last no easy epics. If you want to cater to the far opposite side, you just do the opposite.

I believe a lot of modern games are designed modular enough to do this, looking forward to the first company that actually does it, who ever does IMO will figure out how to appeal to more people. what will be interesting though is actually monitor server pop over various types of server. I don’t think there are as many of us out there that actually enjoy that type of challenge, but i know i do.

” Those of us that remember the first years of Ultima and/or Everquest get all nostalgic and ask for an old style game. But what we really want is a game full of old style players with a sympathetic and supportive development team. ”

In regard to that, a game full of old style players will never happen, unless you make a game where grouping is a must and you cant go off and solo everything. You have to build a game that not just inspires community and interaction, but leaves you very little choice. It is just the nature of people, if there is a easy way to do something, the majority will take the easy route.

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