Last week Jagex announced that it would be pulling the plug on its attempt to make an online Transformers game, much to the disappointment of the game studio, Hasbro Games, and the Beta testing players alike. The Transformers Universe website cited both companies “realigning their plans and focuses for 2015” as the reasoning behind the shutdown which is slated for January 31, 2015. What began as asset harvesting from the previously scrapped Stellar Dawn back in March 2012, the game’s nearly three years of development time proved to be too much of a time and money pit that both companies seemingly didn’t see a means of recovering from. Compact that with a complete overhaul and game engine change, several shifts of game classifications from MMORPG to MOTA (massive online tactical action) to almost a World of Tanks kind of feel to the multiplayer, and you get a mess of problems that a new game simply couldn’t get past. With another failed game to recover from, what does this mean for Jagex’s flagship game Runescape? I’ll try to make sense of it all.
So I never played Transformers Universe, and that was probably the main problem for the game. Tried as they did, Jagex never could get players to make the jump from RS to TU. In the interest of this article, I looked up gameplay and did plenty of homework on the game. It actually looked pretty decent with some major promise. The graphics, made with the Unity game engine rather than now nearly defunct Java that we’re used to seeing, were actually quite impressive (to think of RS with those graphics makes me drool). The Transformers were fluid and detailed. Even the voice acting was decent. It looked like something I would have at least tried out, but never did. The interest wasn’t there. The marketing and advertising of this game stunk and that’s why it never had the following it could have. I didn’t even know what the gameplay was like, and that is what doomed this game.
In its last state, TU claimed itself to be a MOTA, which is unfortunate that it couldn’t fully fulfill the RPG bill that it originally wanted to be. On the TU forums, there was actually quite an active role playing section that even most forums had been closed, the team members saw merit in leaving this section open. In this genre, Jagex should have been fully capable of developing a role playing game. The reasoning for the genre switch was that the modelling for customizable Transformers wasn’t possible with the tech they had at their disposal. A statement that Runescape players should be fully familiar with. I can’t find the evidence, but the switch from RPG to MOTA seems to have lost a lot of the role playing players to the point that you were really only left with fans of Transformers in general, which wasn’t enough to keep a game only in Beta alive.
There were many reasons and complications with Transformers Universe and I could continue about its closure, but it’s more important to focus on the casualties to Jagex and what it means to Runescape. The most glaring and obvious loss was that of CEO Mark Gerhard. The TU announcement was the last piece we needed in understanding why MMG stepped down. When we heard of his leaving soon before Runefest, many were scratching their heads as to why. Jagex seemed to be doing well; RS is enjoying a newfound story arch with the sixth age and release of a major long desired content with Elf City. It had the new major game TU in Beta and it was just about to announce its fourth new game with Chronicle. It all makes sense now. Jagex lost a major project with a large company (Hasbro) with major branding backing (the Transformers brand and likeness) and somebody had to pay the price. MMG took the fall.
So Jagex is without a CEO, just lost a major title and any hopes of profits from it, and now has excess staff that it needs to either reassign or lay off. It’s quite a mess – what’s a gaming company to do? Jagex needs to go back to basics and focus on its strengths and successes. RS has seen amazing updates this year and they need to keep that going. Chronicle is in its infancy, but with a RS theme its still in their wheelhouse of successful concepts and really needs to be hastened to attempt to get the company to recover. TU had some awesome artwork pieces, modellers, and graphics team, apply them to these two games. I may be dreaming big, but how about tinkering with the thought of coding RS to the Unity engine? If not that, then put a rush on the game client for RS so that it can be switched over to what we saw at Runefest as soon as possible. Even though the titles were very different, TU’s team can surely be used to bolster RS’ and Chronicle’s. And pick the next CEO wisely. MMG was an outside selection and turned out to be a great breath of fresh air. Whether they decide with another outside selection or an existing employee, it should be with the intentions of continuing the positive work of MMG because it was working wonders.
To say that Transformers Universe’s closure doesn’t affect Runescape would be naive. While I didn’t have any interest in the game, I definitely didn’t want it to fail. After all, more revenue for the company means bigger and better things across the board. Jagex is an ambitious company and I’ve wrote about that many times, but after the failure of TU it needs to stick to what it knows. Keep and retain the players of your existing games while improving the infrastructure and engines of what you already have. If you create a new game, base it off your already successful franchise and stick to the strengths of that. Get stable and grow and then get ambitious again. Eventually something else will succeed and then Jagex can became a diverse gaming company like it has always wanted to be.