It's no secret that 2012 will be a big year for MMOs. With SWTOR acting as the prologue, there are a number of games stepping into the ring to take a jab at reigning heavyweight champion World of Warcraft. As we all know, that's a significant challenge; we just learned yesterday from Activision-Blizzard's quarterly report that WoW still has over 10 million subscribers, over seven years after its release, during the quarter that SWTOR supposedly challenged its market share.
Among the more serious challengers will be games like TERA, The Secret World, and Guild Wars 2. But there is one game that I think has been seriously undersold as a serious contender for the hearts and wallets of MMO-loving gamers. That game is Firefall by Red 5 Studios.
If you're like me, the first time you heard of this MMO, you took one look at this no-name studio and quickly wrote it off. After all, MMOs are arguably the most complex games to bring to market, given the level of resources and expertise required. But after watching the first gameplay video, I knew there had to be some serious talent behind this game. The sharp art design, tight gameplay, beautiful environments, and innovative design all convinced me I was on to something. dLet's take a minute to look at the minds behind this game:
A former Blizzard Entertainment employee, Mr. Kern left in 2005 to found Red 5 Studios. During that year, he served as Team Lead for a game called World of Warcraft. If your memory is fuzzy, 2005 was the year that World of Warcraft became a social, cultural, and financial phenomenon in the industry. This guy is now in the pilot seat for Firefall.
Mr. Petras, also a former Blizzard employee, worked with Mark Kern on WoW in 2005 as an art designer. If the simplistic, engaging, and colorful art of Firefall looked familiar (and amazing) to you, now you know whom to thank. During his time at Blizzard, he worked on all three major universes, Starcraft, Diablo, and of course Warcraft. Not too shabby - expect big things.
Speaking of character models, you might have noticed the jetpacks on the backs of players in Firefall. This might have something to do with Firefall's Lead Designer, Scott Youngblood, the guy who made the original Tribes games. If you're not familiar with those titles, they were incredible FPS games incorporating three-dimensional movement and combat, vehicle play, massive online battles, and fast-paced high risk combat. All of this way before their time.
A third ex-Blizzard employee rounds out this cast. Taewon Yun was one of the co-founders of Blizzard's Korean localization of World of Warcraft, and one of the guys who spearheaded the charge into the Asian market, where WoW is now doing (if you haven't heard) quite well. No matter how big this game gets, this team isn't lacking the expertise to take it to a global market. Remember, if you will, how small Blizzard was before WoW boomed in 2005.
Obviously, Red 5 Studios is not short on talent. They've seen success and know how to create a smash hit game on the scale of MMOs.
Red 5 is going through all the right motions on the financial and business end as well, garnering a significant amount of support from investors, dating back to December 2006, when they launched their project with a chest of 18.5 million. In the last three months they secured a deal with Garena, a Singapore-based company that has partnered with Red 5 Studios to bring Firefall to Southeast Asian. Garena is also the company that helps bring League of Legends to those same markets, and has paid a whopping $10 million to do the same for Firefall. If that seems like a lot of money, that's because it's the single largest deal ever made to bring an MMO to that market, previously held by none other than Blizzard Entertainment.
One of my favorite aspects Red 5 Studios is its attention to the gaming community. Much of Blizzard's success can be attributed to the attention and support it gives to its vibrant community; they have always understood that fostering a community around their games is key to a game's success and longevity. In the same way, Red 5 Studios took a stand with their gamers against the SOPA/PIPA acts this year, along with many other companies and gaming-related websites that blacked out for the January 18th protest. But Red 5 Studios did much more than their peers - they pulled out of E3 in order to protest the ESA's decision to support the controversial legislation. That's right, they decided to skip out on the most talked about and hyped electronic gaming event of the year in order to support the gaming community, sacrificing a huge chunk of media exposure and news coverage in order to stand up for something they believed in. With the money they would have spent on promotional materials and a booth at the show, they started a grassroots campaign to fight against internet censorship, the League for Gamers.
Of course, there's a lot more on top of talent and business savvy that draws me to this game. Every aspect of this game's development and marketing reminds me of what makes other top-tier companies so successful. A slick website, great community involvement, epic cinematics (see below), great developer diaries, etc. all surround this game and make me feel like something big is about to drop on the MMO community. This game is so unique, that I believe it has the potential to make serious changes to existing market shares in 2012.
If all of that isn't enough to convince you to play Firefall, then you should know that the game is being launched on a free-to-play pricing model. Expect the pricing to be fair, and the solid gameplay to be the backbone that drives player's buying decisions, not the kind of "slippery slope" buying schemes that characterize many of the free-to-play games so far. Digital games are being priced and distributed in new ways, and Red 5 Studios is showing that it knows how to change with the times.
I don't know about you, but I can't wait for Spring 2012. Sign up for Firefall Beta on Red 5 Studio's website here.
See you there.
*You can find more articles by me at my blog, Orcs et Cetera.