Planting a Seed
MMOs and the Magic
What would you think of an MMO with no character classes, no combat,
and none of the typical quests you’d find in games like
EverQuest II or World of Warcraft? What if this game was all about
social and political maneuvering in a roleplay-centered environment?
Instead of quests, you’d engage in interactive scenario in
which a unique story template system would generate stories and cast
actors on the fly according to the playing style and role of each
Sounds cool, doesn’t it? It may not be the game for everyone,
but you’ve got to admit that the idea has potential. At the
very least it’s intriguing.
It might surprise you to know that such an MMO exists. Or rather, it
existed. The game was Seed, created by Runestone Game Development, and
on Sunday Runestone drew the final curtain on Seed with an in-game
farewell ceremony. Runestone has publicly announced that they are
filing for bankruptcy.
“For the MMO community and business as such, the rise and
fall of Runestone probably doesn’t mean that much,”
said Runestone’s CEO, Lars Kristensen in an open letter to
the community, “but I hope MMO execs out there...will draw
the right conclusions from Runestone and Seed, and not the wrong
What does the end of Seed mean? And what conclusions does Kristensen
hope that MMO execs will draw...and not draw?
href="http://vanguard.tentonhammer.com/modules.php?set_albumName=article-illustrations&id=wp_characters&op=modload&name=Gallery&file=index&include=view_photo.php"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 150px; height: 113px; float: left;"
hspace="4" vspace="2">You might say that
Seed was aptly named. The game represented the seed of an idea--the
idea that MMOs don’t have to be based on the same tried and
true platform in order to succeed. But was that seed ready to germinate
and come to fruition? Perhaps not, if the ruination of Runestone is any
indication. But before we come to the conclusion that Seed was simply
out of step with what the MMO gaming community wants, let’s
take a closer look.
It would appear that right now the formula for a successful MMO is thus:
- Start with a successful franchise (or borrow heavily from
- Make it a fantasy-based franchise, while you’re
- Mix together some different races
- Whip up some character classes that essentially revolve
around four proven archetypes: heavy fighters, light fighters, arcane
casters, and healers
- Make progression level based
- Have characters level by completing quests and slaying
monsters for experience
- Add a bunch of players, shake well, and watch the profits
You would think that formula is magical. After all, it’s the
formula that earned World of Warcraft its 6 million plus subscribers.
It certainly worked well for EverQuest, which is still rolling along
(with a recently released expansion), and its sequel, EverQuest II
(also rolling out a new expansion). There seem to be no end of MMOs
following the same platform, from Guild Wars to Dungeons &
Dragons Online, to the yet-to-be-released Lord of the Rings Online:
Shadows of Angmar and, of course, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. The
developers of these games are counting on the magic formula working to
turn a tidy profit. It’s a safe bet. But there are signs,
albeit faint ones, that the public may be looking for something new;
something more innovative.
Here’s a sign: Asheron’s Call 2, the sequel based
on the modestly successful Asheron’s Call, shut down its
servers in December, 2005. The game’s developers, Turbine,
pulled the plug on AC2 because the game was no longer self-sustaining.
You might think that developers would see AC2’s death knell
as a harbinger of things to come, but Turbine themselves seemed
oblivious: they went on to develop Dungeons & Dragons Online
(DDO), and are currently at work on the game they’ve
proclaimed to be a potential WoW-killer, Lord of the Rings Online
(LoTRO). If there’s a lesson to be learned by the death of
AC2, no one seems to be heeding it.
But what of those little games that break the mold; games like Seed? It
was compelling enough to href="http://vanguard.tentonhammer.com/modules.php?set_albumName=article-illustrations&id=Seed_screenshot&op=modload&name=Gallery&file=index&include=view_photo.php"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 150px; height: 113px; float: right;"
alt="Seed screenshot" title="Seed screenshot"
hspace="4" vspace="2"> win Ten Ton
Hammer’s E3 2006 award for href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/index.php?module=ContentExpress&func=display&ceid=336#Seed">Most
Original MMO. And yet, Seed didn’t grow. Does this
mean there’s no room in the saturated MMO marketplace for a
game that doesn’t follow the magic fantasy formula for
I think things are about ready to shift. The demise of AC2, and the
insubstantial number of players apparently interested in
Turbine’s latest release, DDO, seems an early indicator that
the gaming public is growing restless and ready for a change. And yet,
the fact that Seed--a unique game poised to play itself out like an
interactive, multi-player online graphic novel--never achieved even a
reasonable degree of success seems to also indicate that
we’re not quite ready for the new paradigm. Not yet, anyhow.
So, where does that leave our game, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes?
Obviously, Vanguard is poised to capitalize yet again on the tried and
true MMO formula that began with early innovators like EverQuest and
Ultima Online. And I believe it will succeed. After all, I’m
still a fan of the fantasy genre myself. I haven’t quite had
my fill of elves and orcs, even after 6 years playing games like EQ,
EQ2, and DDO. It’s apparent that I’m not alone.
Over 100,000 people have registered at Vanguard’s official
forums. Our own Vanguard at Ten Ton Hammer logs millions of pageviews
each month. There’s definitely still an interest. If
anything, the gaming community is open to new fantasy MMOs that follow
the magic formula...as long as they believe they’re going to
be done right. Sigil’s pedigree (its founders, Brad McQuaid
and Jeff Butler, were instrumental in the creation of EverQuest) speaks
And yet, as much as I anticipate Vanguard and want to see it succeed, I
also want to see an MMO succeed at breaking out and taking the MMO
genre in a whole new direction. Seed wasn’t the MMO to do it,
but there are others on the horizon that just might. And hopefully
developers will slowly become willing to take a chance on developing a
brand new and innovative formula.
“I am still fully convinced that a role play-centric game is
not only a good idea: it’s a great idea,” says
Kristensen. “It just needs to be better executed. Seed had
many of the right qualities for such a game, and I still firmly believe
that, given sufficient funding, we could have created a great game.
Unfortunately, we will never know.”
style="font-style: italic;">Can a different kind of MMO like
Seed succeed in the current marketplace?
Are you looking for some
new game to break the mold? While our forums are in
transition, you can style="font-style: italic;"
href="mailto:[email protected]">email me style="font-style: italic;"> your thoughts.
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Vanguard: Saga of Heroes Game Page.