I’ve been covering the goings on of Amplitude Studios quite a bit recently, so I think it’s time we talked about something that has been bothering me somewhat ever since I found out. For the uninformed, Amplitude Studios is a Paris based company behind games like Endless Legend, Endless Space, its rapidly approaching sequel Endless Space 2 and Dungeon of the Endless. They’re one of the top publishers of strategy games in Europe, going head to head with Paradox Interactive’s wildly successful titles like Europa Universalis 4. They do this thing called Games Together. It’s where they actively embrace and work closely with their community of followers (including yours truly) to make a better product. It’s why their so successful, and that’s not just me talking. Take a look at what their creative director had to say about it: We wanted to create, before we even heard this name for it, through live development. We wanted to work live, in front of the players. They wouldn’t just be an audience. They could be actors in the game’s development. We could create games together.
Let’s look at it another way, a bit of an example. For their fantasy RTS Endless Legend, they hosted a competition for a fan-made faction as a major playable race. The community just went crazy coming up with ideas and what they ended up with was The Clut of the Eternal End. They’re a faction that only gets one city, and expands by converting the minor factions to their own. Its the primary method by which the Cultists increase their power. The Cultists have the power to convert minor faction villages, regardless of location, to their cause by spending influence points. A converted village is immediately pacified and begins to provide a number of benefits to the Cultists, it’s a fun way of incorporating the minor factions and making them more important to the gameplay. They're doing the same thing right now for Endless Space 2 actually.
Amplitude has a good relationship with its customers, its come far as an indie developer. And Sega bought it last July. Like a pimp looking for fresh talent to line the seedy inner city boulevards that is PC gaming, they’ve been very aggressive about increasing their holdings on the RTS genre. And like a Pimp they seem less concerned about the love that can be born between two parties and making as much money from something before finding some other hole to replace it.
You’ve got Creative Assembly and their Total War franchise, Relic with Dawn of War and Company of Heroes and now they’ve got Amplitude. Let’s start from the beginning, and then as we go through maybe you’ll start to see some of my concerns, we’ll be going through it nice and slow and looking at some common sense facts and well established ideas so don’t jump on me in the comments section. First there’s Total War, and Rome II’s entire Preorder DLC catastrafuck. Largest preorder in Total War history, as I understand. Absolutely record smashing. Now a big deal of that was that you’d get the three Greek city-states if you preordered, absolutely free. If not then pop open that wallet motherfucker. Athens and Sparta were the two everyone was talking about, I don't think anyone remembers the third one that much, they're not important. Listen, the minute the words Spartan faction popped up on the radar every fanboy in existence was going to be all over that because why be some smelly fucking Germanic tribe that only exists in text books when you can roleplay Leonidas in a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that its Friday night and instead of being out with friends you’re glued to the computer like its life-support.
And then it launched and you actually got to play it.
But that's okay, nothing is perfect, even I have my flaws. I think we can all agree that every long running series eventually gets that game. Games like these are often very similar to the nations that inhabit them, even the greats have periods you'd rather not talk about But then Attila walks out and slaps its big'ol pecker around and does the exact same thing with the Vikings, yet another fanboy group.
And then Total War: Warhammer comes around, and this is the point when all of those tensions, all of those issues bubbling just below the surface, building up year after year and injury after injury exploded to the front in an undeniably ugly kind of way, with the Total War fans on one side and the devs on the other. Lets take a look at what Creative Assembly had to say about it, lets hear their side of the story.
We had our four main playable races sorted, and we've planned for Chaos to have a big role to play later in the trilogy. But we really wanted Chaos Warriors in the main game, even without DLC - to give a big, bad end of game 'boss' enemy Race for all players. But we couldn't do that within the resources for the main game. So we added it as the pre-order incentive that also gets sold on day one - making Chaos Warriors fully playable but also giving us the extra resources to add them as an AI race for everyone.
Which is just....suspicious to me, to say the least. Although I do love it, this isn’t Kickstarter. Developers don’t just get the extra money and resources to develop this stuff by people preordering because money doesn’t tend to change hands until release. Certainly the developers don’t really see the money like they do at Kickstarter. Where are these extra resources magically coming from? From Sega.
It’s a long held belief among the more disgruntled fans that Sega rushed Rome 2 and Empire Total War, two Warhammer games that are very well known for their poor launches among the community and while Sega certainly isn’t the first and wont be the last to rush development on a game and force it to release when it clearly isn’t ready, looking at you Dragon Age 2. It is somewhat concerning that since Sega got Creative Assembly back in 2005, the series have been on a slow but obvious decline, with many of the best being made before 2005 and many of the later ones being either re-makes of the original or from past DLC being made into stand-alone games. As Greg Tito over at Destructiod said, setting even a well-made sequel in the crumbling legacy of the once-mighty may not have been a good choice.
Sega also had enough resources to take the choice pieces of meat from the still cooling corpse that was THQ after it went and Bankrupt itself and walked away with Relic Entertainment, the fine folk behind Dawn of War and Company of Heroes. Now I like Dawn of War, I love Warhammer 40k. I’ve got a massive bookshelf full of the books, even a Dark Angles army from when I used to hang around the folks at the Warhammer store in Edinburgh, about a thousand points worth of it.
I think it’s been too short for us to really see the long term affects of the Sega-Relic relationship, and this new Dawn of War game will be a big indicator to me of how things might go down in the future. Hey, hey, you think Relic will make the same stunt, and make Chaos preorder in 40k as well as Fantasy?
Base building is back in force, as is the idea of colossal armies, led into battle by elite heroes and this is where Dawn of War 2 had the right idea. Cut back entirely on base building so the player doesn’t have to worry about stupid shit like having six foundries so they can make one Leman Russ tank and do away with the big battles entirely in favor of skirmish battles where the units are more valuable, freeing up the screen and allowing for a greater amount of tactical thinking and flexibility and actually ponder about the consequences of sending their squad of very valuable and hard to replace level 3 Assault Marines to tango with that Hive Tyrant. Bigger does not equal better.
But I shouldn’t be too worried, right? I mean, they’re promising a spectacle right? Right? Why does it even need to be a spectacle, why can’t it just be, I don’t know, a good game? The warning signs are too big for me to ignore and my gut instinct is telling me that Dawn of War 3 is going to be a spectacle. And not the good kind.
At current if Creative Assembly’s any indicator, Sega’s been taking these companies, and using them to expand their own influence and power, with little care about what actually happens to the fans. Now it’s still in the early days. Sega wont most likely have much sway over the course that Amplitude Studio is going to take because Endless Space 2 is so close.
Maybe I’m just being crazy, Maybe I’m just being paranoid. That DLC I’m worried about? Maybe it’s not because of Sega, maybe it’s because of the huge success of MOBAs and Blizzard games and the obscene money generated by microtransaction-driven mobile games. Maybe Creative Assembly has actually just gone to shit and Relic and isn’t far behind. Maybe Amplitude is going to be fine. But I think it’s interesting that two very well known and well established companies produce quality games, get incorporated into Sega, and then one starts a downward spiral and the other shows signs of cracks in the foundation and that maybe merits a closer look and a bit more scrutiny.