Anarchy Online

Anarchy Online was one of the biggest disasters I ever took part in. I was in the beta and it was painfully obvious that despite the looming launch date the game was nowhere near ready to release. Inside word was there were over 400 bugs rated serious or higher in the bug tracking database when they flipped the switch that sent the game live unleashing a whole world of pain and frustration on a mostly unsuspecting audience. I can still hear the cries of the rabid fanboys assuring all us poor mentally impaired protesters that all the bugs would be cleared up before the launch.

Anarchy Online was the first science fiction based MMO and I was really enthusiastic about having the chance to play it. It used a skill system similar to Asheron's Call and solo play was perfectly viable. It even had randomly generated instanced mission areas where you determined what your reward would be for completion.

The classes all appeared very interesting and offered compelling modes of play. The world was visually appealing for the graphics standards of the day (although it frequently bore a strong resemblance to a carefully manicured golf course). There was nothing about the game's design or intention that I didn't like except perhaps that there was a PvP element included but it appeared to be manageable as long as I was careful to avoid the zones where pvp was enabled.

In execution however, the game failed miserably. The launch was incredibly unstable and at first there was only a single horribly overcrowded server. The 'back yards' or starting areas for characters were created dynamically as demands for space increased but there was no such balance mechanic for the shared areas of the city and outdoor regions. Those of us who struggled through the download and patch on the first day were often rewarded by being locked into the 'back yard' unable to leave or getting trapped in a section of the city that was so overloaded you could barely move and zoning into an instance or leaving to get into an outdoor area was impossible. During those early days it was common for people to get trapped in stores or dungeons and be unable to leave because the area on the other side of the zone line was too overloaded to handle another character or had already crashed completely.

Even as the game became slightly more stable major issues persisted. It was possible to start a group with a friend and be standing right next to each other and yet completely unable to see the other character because the server would not send that persons information.

Eventually they launched a second server and fixed enough of the code that the game started to become playable. Once the performance hurdles were overcome they began destroying the game in all new ways. Patches began rolling out fairly quickly and every single one included a laundry list of nerfs to classes, skills and items. Character classes changed so drastically and so often that an uproar began to build on the official forums. People were getting more and more upset with patches that fixed one thing but broke two others while turning formerly fun and enjoyable classes into virtual cripples. It seriously appeared that Funcom was completely incapable of conducting any sort of change management or quality control. The situation continued like this until at some point about two months after launch 'the post' went up. One person, fed up with the state of the game posted the confirmation message you get when canceling an account which included a confirmation code that proved that this was an actual cancellation and not an idle threat. Within a day the thread had exploded with identical messages from disillusioned players who posted their codes as well. Almost overnight Funcom had succeeded in nerfing the life right out of their game. They went from a peak of roughly 60,000 subscriptions in August to just over 20,000 left by January ( The situation was so bad they instituted total moderation of the message boards so that nothing could be posted without first being approved by the corporate managers and brought in an external consultant to try to work things out. It was far too late and the game never recovered.

Some subscribers later returned or new ones were recruited but AO never again reached the rather meager 60k subscribers it had shortly after launch. The game has had a number of expansions and converted to a free play system where you only pay a monthly fee if you want to gain access to certain items (which give the player an enormous advantage). If you want to try it out you can without having to spend any money on it at all.

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