PoxNora: How to kill a success

PoxNora (image from http://fs.gamespress.com/protected/sonyoe/artwork/2010/03/na-1-20100301205953/9f211732e598e0d4/st_2.jpg)This post is an epitaph over my favourite spare time activity: PoxNora.

PoxNora is a online multiplayer game which combines a collectible card game (e.g Magic the Gathering) with a turn-based strategy game (e.g. Sid Meyer’s Civilization). You buy runes (= cards) which you put together in battlegroups.

I fell in love with the game back in 2007, when it was just a year old and was run by Octopi (an Arizona-based game development company). Since May 2007 I have played 1178 multiplayer games + 11 single-player campaigns. Each game takes around 30 minutes on an average, which means I have spent about 595 hours playing PoxNora. That’s 15 hours a month or half an hour a day over the last 40 months!

Add to this the time spent on building battlegroups and sipping through the once lively forums, and we can conclude that PoxNora has been a big part of my life over the last 3 years. And I still just consider myself as being a casual player (compared to many of the other in the player community)…

But then Sony Online Entertainment acquired PoxNora

However, the last 1,5 years haven’t been good for PoxNora, its player community and me. In January 2009 Octopi announced that they had been acquired by Sony Online Entertainment (SOE). SOE is huge in the online gaming business with titles such as EverQuest and Star Wars Galaxies in the portfolio. In the press release Octopi President and creator of PoxNora, Dan Kopycienski was very excited by the acquisition:

“(…) with the support of SOE, we will have the opportunity to take our products to that next level.”

In the player forums however, people were not that excited as many had experienced the direction of some of SOE’s other titles, where short term profit seemed to be the number one goal (see critique of SOE’s EverQuest strategy: Open Letter to SOE at 2004 EverQuest Guild Summit & Money grubbin’…).

How to kill a success

With the arrival of SOE, PoxNora began to change slowly but steadily. Today much PoxNora’s player community openly let go of their frustrations in the forums. Dedicated players like myself write lengthy posts on how much they love the game and how sad they are about the current status. There are many reasons for the frustrations, but for me the biggest mistakes by SOE are:

  • Not listening: It should be common sense that online multiplayer games exist because of the players. It should also be common sense that you should listen to these players if you want to keep them playing. This includes that if you have made a mistake and launched a rune that the community find too powerful or bugged, you should fix it.
  • New expansions rather than fixing existing issues: New runes and new powerful abilities are great. But they should not render the old ones completely obsolete. And they should definitely not be introduced before the bugs and balance issues with the existing runes have been fixed.
  • New easy-to-use game user interface: In theory a great idea, had it only been well executed. It seems as if the developers simply forgot to do thorough usability and user-testing when launching the new UI, and instead just focused on what looked great in Photoshop. Reality is that instead of making the game easier to  play, the new UI made it more difficult because you now have to learn what 50+ different icons mean. Before, you could just read it and get a good idea.
  • Limited sales: At a certain point SOE introduced periodic sales where you could be lucky to get some of the out-of-stock runes. This did not only diminish the value of collector’s items, but it also meant that the player community lost all faith in SOE. Why should I spend money on getting the ultra-limited runes, if SOE just print new ones when they need cash?
  • New forums: When SOE entered the scene they started by moving the forums to Sony’s domain. This sounded fine until they announced that the existing threads would not be migrated. The players themselves could copy-paste the content they found most useful. This can be compared to building a new, great library and then throwing out all the books from the old one. Again, this is not the best way to insure buy-in from a community.

There are many other reasons for PoxNora’s deroute, these are just my personal ‘favourites.’

Left is only to say, is just that I really hope SOE will surprise us all and start listening to the player community. There is much constructive feedback in the forums to be picked up, and many of the things should not be too hard to implement. If they don’t, I think that PoxNora will die.

Note: Comments are very welcome, but I will only approve those that contribute in a constructive manner.

3 comments to PoxNora: How to kill a success

  • FrozenEdge

    I have to say I agree with you on most of these points. A lot of my problems with the current state of the game have been merely the repetitive opponents who seem to just copy the current fad of the faction. I love what the game was in 2007, and even getting bitten by the sting of Frost-Damage Amplification & Spell Striking of several factions did little to diminish the fact I still had fun. Sony made quick work of PoxNora by turning it from an online based strategy game into a quick profit business model.

    However, there is saving grace with new blood on the development staff and hopes that things will soon change before year’s end or at least begin to change for the better. I just hope the next expansion that is released is not a repeat of what happened with the past two.

  • Ragick

    Other game companys would be well advised to take a hard look at how poxnora does turn based strategy and forgot the ccg elements. Its the strategic gameplay that is addicting, not the easter egg effect of finding good ‘cards’ in packs. So when poxnora damaged the the staregic aspects of their game in order to sell increasingly powerful cards, they lost players. ccg is simply not a good model for an online game with only digital game pieces (ie, no real cards).

    the reason the game hasnt failed entirely is because it only takes a handfull of rich players (whales) who provide a majority of the income to keep the game running (and justify the design decision to sell powercreep). They in turn get what they are paying for, in-game advantage, though they will be quick to argue that pox is not a p2w game. Tell that to the 1000′s of Steam players who got a first time look at pox recently and almost all rejected as p2w.

    rip poxnora (the real poxnora, not the pos monstrosity SOE turned it into).

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