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MMO Licensing Part 2: The Matrix

In part 1 I discussed what made Star Wars Galaxies fail and the hope that’s on the horizon for the Star Wars license. Today we’re going to discuss a game that should have been insanely easy to design. I mean come on, The Matrix is a movie about a virtual world, how hard can it be to base a virtual world on a movie about a virtual world? Apparently really goddamn hard.

The Matrix Online (MxO) was released in March of 2005, I started beta testing it in September of 2004. I was excited for this game, while the second two movies really spent too much time trying to drive home the Christ analogy, the first film was one of the most impressive and surprising films I’ve ever seen. It’s seldom that I walk out of a movie and go “Wow, I didn’t expect the movie to be like that.” in a good way. Now I had my misgivings, by 2004 I’d spent a lot of time beta testing and a lot of time being disappointed by the games I was playing.

So I rolled up my first character and jumped right into combat. The combat system was one of the big bragging points for the developers. They talked about how different it was and how great it was. Well it was certainly different. MxO was one of the first games to really nail free fire. As in not having to lock a target, however, it only worked at long range. In close you were locked with your opponent. This wasn’t actually a bad design, but the balance was way off and it stayed that way through release. After about a month of the beta I hung up my hat unimpressed with the direction of the game design, as far as betas go it was not bad at all, fairly stable and well handled from what I recall. For me to be a valuable beta tester I need to have a real interest in the success of the game. Any that I had early on was drummed out of me by that first month. So what were the real problems with the game?

First of all things were too complicated. Keep it simple stupid is a very important concept in MMO’s. In game everything needs to be intuitive and easy to understand. MxO really dropped the ball on that one. Upgrading your character, training your skills and even combat proved to be unwieldy at best. Then we have the story.

The story is part of why I play an MMO these days. In the beginning I would hunger for interesting quests but not worry about there being any kind of story, the longer I played and the more similar MMO’s got, the more important the story became. I can only kill so many rats and boars and bears (OH MY!!! Hey, I’m from Kansas I get to make Oz jokes). The Matrix tried to have a story, it really did, but again it was too complex, too many factions, too muddled. MxO just couldn’t pull me in.

MxO was full of problems but I let my cousin convince me to actually buy the damn game. Within 30 days we were both done. Not much had improved and if anything there were more bugs. So we went to cancel our accounts and found out we had to call to do it. What the hell? I mean it was from a first time MMO publisher and all, but did they even look at what else was out there? Of course we called and they did things like offer a free month and all that, which just made me feel like I was talking to the cable company or some other bastard company who wants me to commit to another month so that I forget about it and end up paying for it a couple of extra times. Not cool and it assured I wouldn’t go back to it.

In August of 2005 Sony Online Entertainment (the publisher of Everquest, Galaxies and Planetside) purchased the rights to run MxO from Monolith and things changed. Honestly I have no idea what exactly changed. The MMO continued to lose players and is really only around these days because of the Sony all access pass I think. $25 a month or so gets you access to all of (well most of) Sony’s MMO’s that keeps games like Planetside and MxO around. Another company took a popular license and screwed it up so bad only the most die hard of fans would stick around. Are we noticing a trend here?

Well that’s it for today, in a couple of days expect another article. Next time around I’ll cover two of the newest licensed games, Age of Conan and Warhammer Online. These two have some real potential but they don’t quite make the cut (at least not yet).

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