This post is my day 9 contribution to the 2015 Blaugust Initiative.
On the surface, ArcheAge has many features that should appeal to me. It’s a beautiful Korean import, like my very first MMO, and retains just enough of that flavor to make it feel exotic. There’s truly epic guild vs. guild siege warfare, riveting naval battles, and exciting opportunities for economic domination. And most importantly, it’s localized and operated by a company I trust, with a community team that demonstrates extraordinary commitment to its customers. But just below the surface, a few major factors have kept me away from the game.
Trion’s ArcheAge servers crash frequently, compared to every other game I play. And when they go down, they usually stay down for hours at a time, sometimes days. This is simply not acceptable for a game that relies so heavily on scheduling and routine for its activities. Some unplanned downtime isn’t so bad if you’re leveling a new character; it’s just inconvenient. But if you’re managing a large personal farm with crops and livestock that will die without tending, these disruptions can easily set you back several days. And if your guild has to defend its castle against invaders in timed events, the consequences can be even more severe.
ArcheAge comes bundled with required HackShield software intended to prevent players from cheating. This has proved to be ineffective at best. At worst, it’s intrusive, raises serious privacy concerns, and can even leave your computer disabled. Trion publicly expressed its own doubts about HackShield, and could have insisted that XL Games (the Korean developer) remove it from this version of the game, but Trion chose not to.
Playing ArcheAge in Korea not only requires a paid subscription, but also requires every player to confirm his or her real-life identity with a government-issued resident registration number. Combined with strict computer fraud laws and harsh punishments, these factors probably somewhat lessened XL Games’ focus on security. There are still some hackers in the Korean version, but from what I’ve seen, they’re more often amusing than disruptive.
When Trion chose to localize and operate ArcheAge for the North American and European markets, it decided to begin with an older build of the game. This has allowed the company to continually market a new stream of features as it slowly catches up with the Korean version. An inevitable consequence of this decision is that vulnerabilities in each of these older versions were already well-researched and ripe for exploitation. I can’t remember a single time when I’ve logged in to ArcheAge and not come across at least one disruptive hacker or cheater. In a game ruled by its economy, this just isn’t acceptable.
Punitive free-to-play implementation
I’ve always felt Trion is generous in what it offers free players in its other games. Free players in Rift, Defiance, or Trove can enjoy every activity on an equal footing with patron subscribers. But in ArcheAge, this simply isn’t possible due to the limited availability of plots for housing and farms. Free players can’t own land, which instantly demotes them to second-class citizens. Instead of rewarding patrons, free players feel punished. It’s an unavoidable consequence of the game’s design.
It’s still possible for free players in ArcheAge to participate in some economic activities if a guild or another paying patron grants them permission to farm their land. This has resulted in an uncanny simulation of feudal society, with serfs relying on the continued patronage of landlords. But it turns out feudalism isn’t all that fun when you’re the serf.
Trion’s cash shop for ArcheAge also sells a wide array of convenience items. Some of these are intended to speed up economic activities. Others improve a player’s luck in obtaining favorable outcomes from ArcheAge’s notoriously stingy RNG. Both kinds of convenience lead to an unquestionable advantage for players who are willing to pay for them. It’s the closest Trion comes to “pay-to-win” in any of its games, and it feels unfair.
Poor capacity planning
Trion failed to anticipate how many people would want to play ArcheAge at its launch. This led to outrageous queue times, and wildly unstable servers. I’ll admit, I was one of the tens of thousands of potential customers complaining when I couldn’t even get into the game until a week after launch.
Rather than riding out this initial wave of popularity, Trion gave in to players’ demands to add more servers. Within a couple weeks, queues subsided and restrictions on creating new characters were removed. But in just a few more months, player activity on the newest servers had declined so much that they couldn’t reliably support the robust economy and PvP ArcheAge thrives on.
This was an entirely foreseeable phenomenon. Players lose interest in all games over time, and this decline only happens more quickly in free-to-play games. Now Trion is faced with unhappy customers on servers that are virtual ghost towns. There should have been a plan from the beginning on how to deal with this inevitable scenario.
Instead, we’re nearly one year in and Trion is still brainstorming ideas on how to pull off server merges. To its credit, Trion is listening to helpful suggestions from the community and is attempting to answer every question from players, even when the only answer is, “We don’t know yet.” I just wish Trion weren’t branding this effort as a server “evolution.” This terminology seems intended to avoid the negative press that comes with server merges, and only serves to confuse players more.
Do you like ArcheAge? If so, is anything keeping you from playing it? Give me a good reason to try it again in the comments below.