Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen a flurry of activity surrounding NS2. UWE announced that they would be funding a small team of CDT members to work on the game again in an attempt to reinvigorate the franchise and grow the number of people playing the game.
The announcement was met with mixed emotions, and a great dollop of community drama to go with it. Along with the excitement and drama of the new announcement, a variety of new ideas have been hurled around by both the new dev team and community. At face value, it seems like any idea, as outlandish as they may be, aren’t completely off the table anymore.
The new energy surrounding the game is welcome return to the buzz felt during the old beta days before release. However, the new activity and re-focus also raises many obvious questions about the future of the game and of the franchise.
Given the new dev team only has 3 months to prove their worth so-to-speak, one can’t help but wonder what they can possibly do in the space of 3 months towards the ultimate goal of growing the community. We’ve seen many posts by Hugh and others attempting to answer this by stating that these first 3 months will be setting up the framework/tools for community driven content as well as lowering the entry points for newcomers to the game and improving the user experience to retain players.
This is all well and good and has merit, but it still does not address the elephant in the room - why are UWE trying to reinvigorate a game that is 3 years old? (more if you count the beta and alpha periods). Why not simply use this period in time to lay the foundations for NS3 and release all of these new innovative ideas under a new skin, which is fresh with none of the pre-conceived biases that come with NS2?
We all know that the game is at its lowest player count since launch. We also know through various UWE comments that the game has sold many copies through steam. So it would seem odd that UWE is trying to lower the entry point for new players when a seriously large amount of people already own the game.
You might argue that by working on improving the user experience for new players and new player retention, UWE is also in turn targeting past players at the same time and making it easier for them to come back and try the game again. Unfortunately, this line of reasoning doesn’t stick. Gamers are fickle people – especially FPS gamers. They are very particular about what they play, and first impressions are often lasting impressions. It would require a herculean effort to get these players to reinstall the game, let alone spend extended periods of time playing it, especially when there is no guarantee that player numbers will increase to healthy levels.
From a marketing perspective, you can offset this difficulty if you have a large amounts of money to spend on things like tournaments, advertising etc, but UWE has none of these at its disposal. It is relying on world of mouth and the quality of the product itself to do so. It also doesn’t have the gravity that brand such as Valve or Blizzard has, so convincing people that UWE, an indie studio, has managed to turn around NS2 into something they might like to play again 3 years later is an uphill battle.
We might also like to believe that people who play NS2 are different from those who play CoD or Battlefield or any of the other large franchises, but the reality is, we have all been preconditioned by these publishers and studios to want something new and buy into the short development cycle of the industry. There are exceptions to this rule, but if we are to try and draw in more new players to the game, we have to concede that there are indeed players out there that are more likely to try out NS3 than a rehashed NS2, simply because it is a new game with a new shiny label.
At the very least, NS2 needs a big relaunch, or an expansion pack of sorts to be relevant again. Whilst the new development team has been trying to argue the case against monolithic updates, at least one large update is needed to create noise about the game’s new features and improvements.
But even a big relaunch of NS2, at least in my opinion, would not be the best option. It’s a kind of middle ground option that would attempt to mimic the success that TF2 had when it relaunched. Speaking of which, the TF2 relaunch worked due to several reasons – the fact that it was valve doing it, the fact that thousands of people were still playing it and that fact that valve could support it going free to play all made that transition a successful one. This scenario seems unlikely to occur for NS2, which brings me back to NS3.
NS3 doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. It doesn’t need to be a brand new game with tonnes of brand new mechanics that feel completely different from NS2 or NS1. It just needs to take the best of what was in NS2, fuse it together with stable performance and the great new ideas that have been making the rounds and sell at a price point that isn’t unreasonable. It also makes more sense from a fiscal perspective as well – the potential income from a new NS game means that UWE could support paying more CDT members, as well as dedicating more resources to improving the game.
The NS community has always been a generous and supporting one despite what some might say; The NS2WC was proof of that. The DLC packs were proof of that. The passionate discussion in the official forums, the various competitive leagues like the ENSL and AusNS2, some of which are still going, are proof of that. People want to support this game, and they want to help it grow, because it’s honestly one of the most unique gaming experiences out there that we all love to play.
So the question is, after 3 months from now, what will the future be for Natural Selection?