Needle, needle, who’s got the needle

29 05 2008
I was a toddler when John Lennon was murdered, so I really missed out on the death of the era of the Beatles a decade prior to that.  My parents hadn’t even met when Elvis’ hips began their wobble to stardom so I never was able to watch the demise of doo-wop.  That also rules out being around to witness the downfall of McCarthyism, the Edsel and Prohibition.  Not that any of these ends of eras are on any similar scale to the death of the era of Dark Age of Camelot, this is my first time really experiencing the end of any era of my life.  Even turning thirty passed with more silent dignity than this ordeal.
Oft times I feel like I am clutching to the string of a punctured helium balloon, drifting downwards at an ever increasing rate while praying for a miracle gust to somehow refill the balloon.  I am not normally one who gives much merit to the conspiracy theories proposed by those who don the foil hats; but I cannot help but quirk a brow to some of the more recent hypothesis’ being tossed about.  AoC releases and suddenly DAoC is down for three days of play time.  Now, I cannot find any financial parallels between FunCom and EA/M that would prove any deliberate intent to push players towards AoC, but it is the latest in a long strand of oddities.
Subscriptions are now firmly below 50,000 and we are approaching year two of no expansions; but who needs an expansion when we have the ever popular campaigns?  Who needs advertisement when we have a solid reputation to promote the sale of the game to new players who cannot even find a box 95% discounted on a store shelf, but must instead maneuver through a series of partial downloads that build one atop another to get to the latest expansion of playability?  It was after trying to establish a new account recently that I realized EA/M is holding the needle.
Looking back to one of the last interviews from Walter Yarbrough after the announcement of EA’s purchase, back when “nothing but the business cards was changing”, I thought it worth mentioning where he saw the game going… “In one year’s time, I expect that we’ll be talking about the 2007 expansion pack for Camelot.”  But it seems EA/M kind of squashed that idea.  Walter’s replacement, Chris Rabideau (producer for Ultima Online and Dark Age of Camelot – yeah we have his full attention) made it pretty clear there will be no further expansions as of January 2007 and the best we could hope for in the way of new content would be ‘campaigns’.  Ahh yes, the lovely campaign ideas.  Who doesn’t get hot and bothered at the idea of killing the dragon or variants of the dragon fifty times over for themselves and then rinse repeat to get their guildies and alts through it all?  I know I went through intense withdrawals when I finally got all of my campaign quests cleared and all of my rewarded gear (of which I could actually find a use for one piece of the seven).  It’s a damned shame that in an effort to save money, or was it to make it easier for players across the world to get the game, that EA/M has decided to do away with any box packs of the game or expansions to drum up attention.
If you look at this chart, you will see that the expansions actually did less damage to the player base than the patches.  A lot of people attributed the biggest single loss to the release of WoW, but WoW’s release date was November 2004. The over 60k subscriber downfall was post NF and TOA expansions, pre-Catacombs expansion and triggered almost exactly when 1.72 with the major class overhauls and NF revamping occurred.  I am sure that WoW’s release didn’t help, but when you create the ejection route by paving a path of poor landscape, poor LoS and a complete change to classes’ abilities…what did one expect?
The next big 60k member loss happened following the class overhaul part deux, 1.83 patch.
The third class overhaul and third largest single instance of loss of subscribers happened with 1.88 patch.
Yet they’re still convinced that two million gigabyte patches fix the problems of the world we know.  One would think that after almost seven years of patches that a team could work to ensure and test the implementation of a patch so that players aren’t taken offline for one day to patch and then another half day to fix the patch and then another day to nerf the patch and another to patch the nerf.  I haven’t yet witnessed this novel idea coming to fruition, so I am forced to presume they have yet to figure out how to do this.  But they have recently added a test server in addition to the old test server.  So now we have the test server, the public test server and then the guinea pig servers…err live servers.
What has hurt the game possibily as much, if not more than, the needle wielding producers is the lack of advertising on any notable scale.  Mark Jacobs’ probably summed up it up best, “We are widely credited within the game industry of doing one of the best inexpensive marketing campaigns for DAoC in the US.”
No, say it ain’t so.



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