Yesterday saw the launch of New World‘s Heart of Madness Update. Following in the footsteps of every other MMO update from the past six months it’s touting itself as being the conclusion of the game’s current main storyline. This feels a little strange considering that the game hasn’t been knocking around for very long, but I’m not entirely against the idea – it would be refreshing to have an MMO which doesn’t feel the need to drag its stories out over the course of years.
What is stranger though is that the conclusion to a storyline is usually an event reserved either for, or in anticipation of, an expansion. So far, we’ve heard nothing from Amazon Games which suggests that such a thing is in the pipeline, but it seems quite obvious that this is exactly what the game needs right now.
While parts of the games industry (no longer bound by the limitations of physical media) have moved away from the expansion pack model, it is a content delivery format which still retains a potent effect on the communities of MMOs. This is mainly because an endless, steady stream of update patches (be they content releases or bug fixes) is to be expected of any game in the genre save those which have been placed in maintenance mode. These updates are often a cause of excitement within the game’s existing community and may even provoke lapsed players to poke their heads back in again, but they rarely cause ripples in the wider sphere of conversation.
MMOs are low-priority coverage for non-genre specific sites at the best of times. Take, for example, Guild Wars 2‘s recent expansion End of Dragons – an expansion which has been both commercially successful and well received by its community. It has a total of nine critics reviews on Metacritic, less than the 2022 indie PC exclusive Strange Horticulture. An expansion isn’t guaranteed to get the hype train moving outside of genre circles, but Guild Wars 2 is a much older game and one which wasn’t recently one of the most played games ever on Steam.
This fact alone has people invested in New World‘s future in a way that the general gaming populace isn’t in other MMOs outside of World of Warcraft and maybe Final Fantasy XIV. The consensus opinion seems to be that the game is now doomed; each update a mere death spasm. As such the news cycle for this game now rests on either its redemption (an expansion) or the demise that will vindicate the naysayers. It’s no surprise therefore that the Heart of Madness Update is garnering little attention from the mainstream gaming press.
Even fewer articles reported on the release of the game’s 2022 roadmap earlier this month. Again, it’s easy to see why. While it wasn’t necessarily a bad vision of the game’s future, it offered neither anything to get truly excited about nor anything which seemed to confirm everyone’s suspicion that Amazon was set to abandon the game. Like the Heart of Madness Update, it was essentially non-news to anybody but the game’s existing playerbase.
It’s the sort of roadmap that players of an older, mid-tier MMO would be content with (content, but not necessarily enthused). The sort of roadmap that will keep a good percentage of the game’s 15,000 or so daily players hanging around a little bit longer. The sort of roadmap where people are paying a whole lot more attention to the small print at the bottom than the contents of the roadmap itself.
That small print reads: “This roadmap may change and does not include all planned content”. Fairly standard issue for this sort of thing, but in this instance a huge amount is riding on it. The optimist in us all is inclined to read it and instantly draw the conclusion that this “planned content” is an expansion pack whose announcement is being held back for some big industry event in the coming months.
Truthfully however this is really the bare minimum of what we should reasonably be expecting from New World – the flagship game from one of the globe’s largest companies. A company which has shown, through the stacks of money it has thrown at its Wheel of Time and Lord of the Rings TV adaptations, just how eager it is to build itself an IP empire. It’s hard to argue that New World‘s story is anything more than good enough, but it’s a plenty strong foundation to build upon.
If Amazon wants to show the kind of commitment that will get people to sit up and take notice of this game in a way that isn’t just validating their theories that it’s “a dead game”, then they’ll announce an expansion and a whole lot more. A TV show, an animated series, books, comics, heck, the game doesn’t even have a freaking “The Art of” book and every piece of screen media has one of those these days.
I’m not even suggesting that I would want or care about any or all of these things, but in the current age of franchise-building, they’re what I would expect. However, this is perhaps a wider problem within Amazon – consider the aggressive merchandising of Netflix’s Stranger Things compared to Amazon’s The Boys. Still, the fact that we don’t even see so much as a damned New World Funko Pop over six months after the game has launched can’t help but make me suspicious (trust me though I really don’t want one of those).
Despite this, I still plan on returning to New World at some point later this year. I enjoyed the sixty or so hours that I spent there at launch and would have stuck around for longer if things weren’t so unstable. Amazon seems to have steadied the ship somewhat since then, but their lack of transparency on the game’s future has replaced that initial deterrent with another. Its buy-to-play business model is a boon for the consumer, but at some point, the game is going to need to start coaxing money from wallets. I don’t think the game is headed to the graveyard anytime soon, but if Amazon doesn’t prove that they consider New World a premier IP in their portfolio then I truly worry that the studio’s only intention is to slowly transform the game into just another heavily monetised whale-draw.