Civilization Online is a tasty carrot, tantalizingly dangled in front of fans of Sid Meier’s classic series like a defenseless city on your nation’s borders. In the wake of G-Star, there’s a nice write-up/interview on Games in Asia that sheds some light on some of XLGames’ plans for the MMORPG.
“Uh oh,” you’re thinking. “The same XLGames that really messed up ArcheAge?” Maybe so, but there are a couple of reasons to be more optimistic about Civilization Online. First, as the interview states, it’s been “developed with the free-to-play model as a foundation.” ArcheAge was primarily developed as a subscription game and was hastily – or should I say “barely” – converted to a free-to-play model during development. The conversion was less than ideal, giving the game a distinct pay-to-win, or at least, “free players are scrubs” air. Going free-to-play from the start should help provide for a better overall game.
Also, unlike with ArcheAge, XLGames is working on someone else’s baby here. 2K Games owns Civilization and can theoretically veto any decisions XLGames makes, from gameplay to monetization. Knowing that an American game company is effectively “in charge” of the project grants me a little more peace of mind that it won’t be a strictly Korean-style game.
The game is scheduled for a launch in South Korea “next year soon,” and there are currently no solid plans to bring it to the West, but you’d have to imagine that’s being heavily discussed. Again, if you were put off by ArcheAge, there’s at least a little reason for hope, in the sense that XLGames is probably learning from its experience with that game and with Trion and will adjust its plans for Civilization Online accordingly.
(The more pessimistic view, however, is that XLGames feels that ArcheAge is doing just fine in North America – after all, look at how many people pre-ordered and all the queues! – and that all the negative feedback is just the typical whining that happens with any game launch and they don’t need to change a thing.)
If you’re looking for more specifics on how the game will work, that’s covered too. In short, each player will be a member of one of four civilizations, rather than the omnipotent god-king of a single civ, and players will have to work together to build up their empire. Rather than the typical perpetual nature of an MMO, each “game” of Civilization Online will exist in sessions of about a week. You’ll retain some of what your character learned between sessions, but each civilization will have to start from scratch.
The notion of weeklong game sessions was really the only way they could have done things, I think. Otherwise, the way people play, you’d have nukes and giant death robots within the first few days of the game’s launch, and that’s what people would use for years. A Civilization game needs to spend some time in each “era,” so that managing an army of spearmen is just as important as managing a platoon of tanks.
I’d wonder, though, if one week is too short a time frame. Granted, few people would want to be stuck in a “losing” civilization for weeks, but some might appreciate a longer game and the challenges that come with it. You’ll get more rewards for contributing greatly to a losing civ than you will for barely helping a winning civ, so there are incentives to stick it out until the end, no matter how bad things are. Even the single-player Civilization offers different game speeds, so it would be nice to see the same out of the online version.
The collective nature of the game will be quite a bit harder to pull off, I think. A few strong guilds might be able to influence chunks of the population, but people will still be individuals, wanting to do their own things. And guilds within the same civilization, each with its own city, might have vastly different goals. More and more, I’ve started to think that the reason MOBA players can be so toxic is because they have the feeling that their “teammates” aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do to help their team win. We’ve all been in raids like that, and I’ve seen it in big open-world events, too. It will probably be like that in this game, too, when some cities don’t do what others want them to do.
In a way, though, this seems appropriate and realistic. People in Massachusetts often want something different for the United States than what people in Texas want, for instance. The difference is, that if Texas always gets its way, Massachusetts can’t just decide to “quit” the U.S. the way you quit a video game (well, not easily, at least).
It’ll be a while – probably at least two or three years – before we see Civilization Online in the States, so XLGames and 2K Games have a lot of time to polish up the experience. As a long-time fan of the Civilization series, I’m hoping they can build a winner!