Let me give you the ice cream on Anarchy Reigns, since no one has heard of it. You should have, since it's the pseudo-sequel to MadWorld, one of the best action games of this generation, and since that of course means it's developed by Platinum Games, developers responsible (sometimes by different names) for everything from Devil May Cry to Okami to Bayonetta. MadWorld was basically a modernized Streets of Rage - sizable open-ended stages without linear guidance were stocked with respawning goons, mid-bosses, death-traps, and mini-games. Anarchy Reigns expands this into a giant continuous open-world brawl. Since it's just a big city full of hostile brawlers, why not fill it with human combatants? Because, after all, the Internet is a place of magic and wonder.
That's a risk that any multiplayer-centric game takes, but it's a much smaller barrier to overcome in, for instance, a 1v1 fighting game that only requires you to have one friend and allows you to sit in the same room and share a copy of the game. Tatsunoko vs. Capcom had no reason to be successful, but since I could always find at least one person online, or just get a friend to swing by, all was well. Hinging your entire concept on the notion that there will always be like hundreds of people playing requires A.) a giant budget and marketing campaign (Call of Duty, WoW) or B.) a heart full of hopes, dreams, butterflies, and optimism. Sometimes someone strikes gold. Other times it's Anarchy Reigns.
The thing that bugs me is that Sega, Platinum, and everyone involved had to know that the game wasn't going to be popular enough to sustain an online community. MadWorld sold like 35 copies. It's full of weird subject matter, super-mature content, poor graphics, and was launched at a terrible time for this type of title, against the likes of Capcom's gargantuan Devil may Cry and Platinum's own (for a different publisher of course) Metal Gear Rising: Revengreances. That's not a recipe for success. So is this a case where we can say the game is genuinely bad for hedging a bet that definitely wasn't going to pay off? Platinum knew there wasn't going to be community support, but they propped up the game with it anyway. Isn't that the same as developing an offline single-player platformer where there's a 95% chance the game will crash after stage 1? Even if stages 2 and on are the most brilliantly designed levels in history, it doesn't matter if you don't get to play them.
|Americans completely eat up weird shit like this, right? Wait, I forgot my "not a completely moronic thing to say" hat this morning.|
Anarchy Reigns is far from the only offender. Look at Castlevania: Harmony of Despair or the thankfully canceled Mega Man Universe. It's good to experiment, but sticking a power-drill into your pupil isn't an experiment. As a gamer I just shake my head - this is Sega's mistake and their loss, not mine. As to an alternative solution, how we could make that great idea actually come to life... well that would take the genuine commitment of a company with a genuine budget. That discussion is the territory of marketing, not game design, and one that seems could use a heaping dose of common sense.