How to Save Kingdoms of Amalur: No Princess Needed

Amalur currently faces a foe much mightier than anything in it's own world: Debt

On paper, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning sounded like a sure hit. It had a strong (and massive) development team behind it, one with a lot of money to throw around. The story was written by one R.A. Salvatore, a fantasy and science-fiction author with dozens of successful and well-received novels under his belt. The creatures of this fantasy world were largely unique, designed by Todd McFarlane, whose work on Spawn has spawned an entire industry of creative designs. The studio itself was headed and founded by a retired Pro-baseball player named Curt Schilling who wanted to strike out into making games.

Once off paper and into concept, Amalur looked even better. The game looked wonderful, with bright vivid colors, fluid player movement, and a plot that was just a little bit different than the standard "prophesied hero come to save us all." Amalur was setting itself up to be the big competitor of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a title that many had been looking forward to for years, attempting to lure away fans with a massive marketing push that focused on Reckonings use of color, smooth motion, and pretty much anything else Amalur had that Skyrim didn't. Both were very open games with dozens (if not hundreds) of hours worth of sidequests and exploring to be had. Both were RPGs with tools to let the player craft and design their own hero. Both were coming out at the same time.

Ultimately, if you've followed the news at all this last week you know the result. 38 Studios, the developer of Kingdoms of Amalur, is closing up shop. Not only have they been forced to lay off almost all their employees (if not all of them), but it appears that the studio is defaulting on its 75 million dollar loan. The ultimate cause? Simply put, Amalur is not selling nearly as well as the studio had hoped it would. That in turn has left the once swimming in cash 38 Studios facing a complete drought. If things don't look up soon, it sounds as if 38 Studios will be turning over everything it owns to the State of Rhode Island...or selling off the IP in a fast attempt to make up some capital.

The sad thing is, Amalur shouldn't have failed. While I don't think that it would have stolen the crown from Skyrim, I enjoyed my time with the demo and planned on purchasing the game...but the way Amalur's release and sale was handled left me thinking that while 38 Studios had skill at making a game, they definitely had a problem when it came to selling that same game. Jump to the present, and the inevitable result of this has been the folding of the studio. So where did Amalur do wrong, and is there still time to fix it? Curt, if you're out there, this one is for you.

$60 still? Even when your company is going down the tubes?
Let's face it: Amalur was the underdog coming to challenge a well seated champion. Skyrim wasn't top dog, it was top grizzly bear with a massive rabid fanbase that had been eagerly waiting for years. Amalur was the upstart, and the first thing that it did wrong was set itself up at the exact same price point as Skyrim. Now look, it's understandable that having just spent millions on a game you would want to get the most out of it, but when you're trying to be the newcomer, selling yourself at a $60 price point alongside an established brand with a legion of fans isn't going to entice those fans away from a game they know and love. Instead it gives them one more excuse to purchase their favorite instead of your title. Amalur, for all its strengths, should not be a $60 game. Even $50 is pushing it. Especially once both had been out and players of both were quick to point out how much more length Skyrim offered over Amalur. For the type of player that Amalur was aimed towards, this was a kiss of death. No one would buy a high priced game when they knew they'd get more out of another game of the same price and style.You want Amalur to sell? Drop it to $40. Now. Maybe $30.

Worse still, Amalur has completely failed to even begin to compete (although it has amusingly enough tried once) with Skyrims digital sales. In the few months that Skyrim has been out, I can recall at least three different sales on Steam, sales which slashed its price down to $40, even on one occasion (for an entire week) $30. What has Amalur done to compete? Once (and I can't remember if this was against the $40 or $30 sale of Skyrim), Amalur's price was dropped to $50.

Selling a product that many have already declared inferior to a rival product at the same price? Not a smart move. Selling it for more? Terrible move. If you want to get those units moving, drop Amalur fast and start putting it on some real sales.

One of the largest failings for Kingdoms of Amalur has been the overall lack of support from developers and fans. Again Amalur is trying to compete with Skyrim, and if you look at the post-release support for Skyrim, it's easy to see that there is a very clear pattern that helps Bethesda make its game so popular and fuel its growth after launch. Patches, a creation kit to allow fans to create mods, more patches...Skyrims developers have continued to work hard at making sure that their title is up-to-date and functional while giving the fans all the tools that they need to create their own content. To compete, Amalur has released....DLC packs?

Once again this is an area where Amalur is effectively stabbing itself in the foot. One of the most common complaints I've heard from players is that the large number of glitches present in the title, glitches still present after months of time and several DLC packs, have not persuaded them to continue playing the game (the second most common complaint is how easy the game is). Let's face it, bugs ruin the experience, and developers not fixing any bugs, even when they are well known is a sign to players that they simply don't care.

Want something else? Tough luck
Worse, Amalur never even attempted to release any sort of creation kit. Maybe someone assumed that allowing players to create their own content and modify the game would steal thunder from 38 Studios own DLC packs, or maybe, just maybe, no one at 38 Studios was experienced enough to realize that the largest draw of Skyrim was it's huge supply of user created content that draws in players and keeps them playing the game. Regardless of the reasons, Amalur's inability to compete with the thousands of fan created Skyrim mods is just one more reason gamers have to never purchase the title.If Amalur wants to even come close to Skyrims level of success, 38 Studios needs to loosen it's collective mindset and release a mod kit.

One of FOUR DLC packs available for purchase in just three months
Ok, we've all been over this before. DLC has it's good and bad points. While I normally support DLC under the condition that it's done well, Amalur seems to be one of those titles that has missed the point. As I mentioned earlier, many of the complaints against Amalur seem to be focused around the lack of support, which is very likely connected with its very rapid DLC flow. Also, its DLC seems to be suffering from the same problems that Amalur has in regards to price: Too high, no sales.

Additionally, without the player base to support it, the rapid release of so many DLC packs not only gives Amalur a sense of being either incomplete or more costly than it already is (game + DLC) but makes the game almost seem desperate for attention with it's constant flow. While other games can get away with a constant flood due to an established player base (and a season pass), a new title can't follow in their footsteps without raising eyebrows. Realistically, the only way Amalur could have gotten away with a flow this quick is by releasing either a cheap season pass option or making the DLC free.

So how to fix this? Well, the damage here is already mostly done. First, Amalur needs to focus on polishing what it has to offer, not pumping out as much additional content, especially since that's only competing with Skyrims free content. Lay off the new content, polish the old, drop the prices, and most of all offer some free stuff as a sign of goodwill to those who have stuck around hoping Amalur will become something more than it is. Need a role model? Look to Valve. They've given out every bit of their DLC for free and amazingly enough, they're an incredibly successful studio.

Kingdoms of Amalur isn't a bad game by any means, but the way it's been presented to gamers through it's high price, lack of support, and its huge abundance of DLC has damaged its reputation to the point where it's poor sales are killing the studio. If Amalur wants to have any hope of fixing itself and possibly salvaging what's left of its once proud creators, some drastic changes need to be made. Curt, if you're reading this, I don't think anyone wants your creation to fail. As a designer trying to make a go with my own studio, I don't enjoy seeing another studio go down. Amalur was a solid product, but without the support it needs to compete Amalur will be nothing more than a memory along with 38 Studios. Polish up the game, drop the price, release a mod kit so the fans can get involved, and make sure that DLC doesn't label itself as a bid for attention.

For the rest of us, Amalur is a study in how a good game with the right design can still completely fail with all the right (or wrong) mistakes. Just because the game is done does not mean that your job is done. You can build the greatest game in the world, but if the price is too high, the support isn't there, or the game begs too much for players to spend spend spend...you'll fail. No matter who you are.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I gotta get this out there. If you did everything in Amalur on a speed run(skipping cutscenes and doing every side quest) it lasts just over 200 hours. That's just a speed run! It lasts close to 300 hours on a non-speed run. From what I've heard Skyrim is just around the same if not a little shorter.

This game deserved to be a $60.00 price tag. With that much content it's ridicules.