The sad tale of This is Vegas

_-This-is-Vegas-Xbox-360-_While mostly a table top gamer, I also play video games. It’s an even split between PC and console. One thing I rarely do is jump right on the latest release. I will usually wait for it to be out for a bit and see what the reviews are. However, I will still follow the development of games that sound interesting.

In 2009, I was following the development of a game that I thought looked interesting and was looking forward to see what it would be like. The game was This is Vegas. It was originally being produced by Midway Games, and was going to be a platformer in the style of Grand Theft Auto.

Notice my liberal use of the past tense?

Although not well known to the gaming public at large, This is Vegas is known in the industry as one of the biggest money wasters ever to not result in a title being released.

So let’s take a look at what could have been, why it wasn’t, and what it says about the state of the game industry.

The premise of the game is that you are a street-smart hustler born and raised in Las Vegas. You learn that a large multimedia company is planning to buy up all the casinos (and other property on the strip), with the goal of turning the town into a watered down family friendly version of itself. You set off on a series of missions with the goal of opposing this change, and making sure that Vegas can still live up to its nickname of Sin City.

The game would have broken its missions down into four categories: gambling, fighting, driving, and partying. All we will ever really know about how the game mechanics would have worked is from this video that goes into the partying mechanic. At the time it looked interesting as it was clear the idea was to give the players the feel of being the cool guys, who knows how to party in Vegas.

This was, of course, no guarantee of the game being a hit, but it looked like it would at least have had a shot.

So why did the game get canned?

Development on the game started in 2006. It was meant to be competition for games like the Grand Theft Auto series. This was an era when a successful game could be made for $3 million. It was also a time when game budgets started to rise. At the time, there were warnings about game development costs raising as high as $15 million. It turns out that this was a low estimate.

Midway Games went through bankruptcy in 2009, and that June sold all of their assets (including This is Vegas) to Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment. At the time of the sale, Midway had already put $43 million into production of the game. In August of 2010, Warner announced that the game was being canceled. While there are no precise figures available, it is estimated that about $50 million had been spent on development, and with at least nine additional months needed, it was not cost effective to continue. In the end, it was felt that this title would not be a big enough seller to justify the continuing cost.

What does this say about the industry?

Even though video games bring in several billion dollars a year, you will always hear that, after a game has been shipped, a company will lay off the developers. The truth behind this is that while games may be very successful, the high production costs cut into the bottom line.

Just as an example, it is estimated that the development cost for Grand Theft Auto V was $137 million USD, and $265 million USD once you included marketing. Of course this is a game that broke $1 billion USD in sales within three days of release, so you can argue that the cost was justified. But what if it had been a flop?

Really, it is the same story as any other form of media. The big companies are going to want guaranteed hits before making an investment, leaving innovation to the smaller companies who are going to take risks and probably need a crowd source campaign to fund the project.

And what about This is Vegas. Well since Duke Nukem Forever finally released, This is Vegas now holds the dubious distinction of being the game industry’s most expensive piece of vaporware.  Somehow, I don’t foresee anyone making any effort to rescue it from this fate.





A wrestling MMO, or why I should not become bored.

Last post I made I went over my nostalgia for my old wrestling role-playing game group. Today I want to go over what brought that up.
It all started with me getting bored. Apparently I should not be allowed to become bored. When I get bored I start planning things.
Recently I went on a trip that we need to take my wife’s car because it has more cargo room than mine. I can’t drive a stick shift so she had to drive. It was a long drive. I ended up with a lot of time to think. And where did my mind go?
I started mapping out how you would structure a functional wrestling MMO.
Yeah, really, I went there of all places.
So we went over my history with wrestling role-playing. Go back and re-read it if you need a refresher.
The other link that leads to my boredom inspired plan was a trip to San Diego Comic Con one year. It was when Everquest was the king of the MMO heap.  There was a panel that was about designing MMOs. At the panel I asked the panelist thought were the different genres that could translate to MMOs. The lead designer said that any genre that is successful as a regular video game would work as an MMO.
You know what are fairly successful games? The WWE wrestling games, after all they put out one or more a year.
So these are the elements that came together in my head on this long drive.
So what plan did I come up with? Come with me on my whimsical flight of game design fantasy.
The one major conceit needed to make the game work is that everything shown in professional wrestling is absolutely real.
Also a wrestling game by its very nature is going to be Player vs. Player. There is the ability to have some Player vs. NPC action, but it would not be the focus of the design.
Let’s start with the basics. How a character would work.
When you create your wrestler you would have several choices to make. First would be allocation of points. You would have a basic set of stats to fill: Stamina, recovery, brute strength, technical skill, acrobatics, martial arts, and dirty fighting. All the stats except stamina and recovery represent a style of wrestling and determine the wrestling moves your character can execute and how well. They also define how well the character and defend against that style. Stamina determines how much punishment you can take and recovery determines how well you can regain stamina. Once all the stats are done you will pick your characters finisher (their signature move)
Next you would select the look of your character. Not just what the avatar looks like, but how they stand and walk. You would also select a ring entrance style. Alignment would be next, are you a face (hero) or heel (villain).
Finally you would select personal information. Of course the character’s name would be the most important thing here. This would include a first and last name, plus an optional nickname.  You would also need to pick which one people commonly call you.  You would also select where you are from, and have text field to enter a character bio.
Once your character is finished it would be off to the tutorial. The tutorial would take the form of going to a wrestling school. Here you would go through the basics of how the game works and a few sample matches. All matches in the tutorial would be player vs. NPC. Once you are done it is off to the big bad world of professional wrestling.
The character will start off on the independent circuit. These are shows that have no real storyline outside of the match itself. All matches are set up by the game system itself. It would be possible to have matches some matches that are player vs. NPC here, but they would be worth less points then PvP.
This brings us to rewards. Rewards would take two forms: points and money. Points would be spent on improving your stats, both in raising the overall stat, or buying a special maneuver if you meet the stat requirements for it. Money on the other hand would have several uses. You could by better gear to improve your look. You could upgrade to a flashier ring entrance. You could spend it to hire a manager or valet, which would be an NPC that would go to the ring with you and might provide some bonuses. You can also save it up for one time uses.
Once your character is past the beginner levels they will have the opportunity to join a wrestling federation.
This brings us to the thing you have to deal with if you want to have a wrestling game with thousands of players? In a wrestling game your goal would be to become the champion and hold that championship belt. But how do you do that?
The answer is you base it on a guild structure, an in game organization of players. In most MMOs a guild is a large group that gets together to share resources and go on organized missions. In our proposed Wrestling MMO these would be called federations and would be the crux of the game.
A federation would need 10 people to start. At first it would have a limit of 25 members. There would be a federation point system to allow for growth. Eventually the federation could grow to a membership max of 75. Each federation would start out with a championship belt.  The members would compete amongst each other to be the champion.  As the federation grows it can add more belts.
As with the independent circuit, federation matches would be set up automatically by the system. Getting a title shot would be based on ranking in the federation. The rank would be calculated by various factors, such as overall win/loss record, how active you have been recently, if you had a recent title shot, and so forth.
One rule that would have to be in place is that once you win a belt you have to defend it at least once a week. This way someone cannot just win the belt and sit on it. If you do not the system strips it from you and sets up a tournament to find a new champion. Beside a title match generates more money so there is a reason to get out there and defend it.
The heads of the federation (which would be like officers in a regular MMO guild) could schedule periodic events, called PPV events (named for Pay-Per View events that real wrestling organizations have) They can be whenever they heads wanted them, but no more than once a week. There would be twenty slots available. Getting a slot would be based on how active you were in the week before the event and how well you did in your matches, as well as being logged into the game at the right time for slot selection. If a belt holder is logged in they automatically get a slot defending their belt. All PPV matches are worth double money.
For additional interactions federations can have cross-promotional matches where two feds have a joint PPV with the winner being the fed that wins the most matches.
And I’ll stop here. This is not everything I thought up, but it is the basics I came up with.
Now in all fairness, I am not a game designer, and I do not know if what I came up with is feasible or not. I just know that I would love to play in a game like this.
So what do you think? Cool idea or should I never be allowed to become bored again?