Like a little kid, Quill was on the edge of his seat for days, waiting for his full-dive machine to arrive. When it did, he brought it into his apartment and tore the box open with enthusiasm entirely unconnected to his age.
Bringing the delicate equipment out and setting it up, he finally began to give some thought to the company behind the new release of World of Fantasy: Golden Impact. There was a reason that this new game was such a big deal and considered the gaming comeback of the century.
The original development company, Wizard, had grown more successful by the day in its first ten years of existence. It had then been bought out by a game publishing company, New Online Vision, and the two had merged, forming NOVisionWizard. NOVision remained the administrative wing, with Wizard and its fantastic game their most profitable subdivision. At first, the merger had been a great success. With more capital and marketing expertise, the game had only grown, thanks in large part to the efforts of the original creative director of Wizard, Lenny Fitzkravitz, and some brilliant new storylines.
But as the years had passed, NOVision had taken note of changing trends, specifically the rise of mobile games and micro transactions. Suddenly, premium games like WoF were making less money than simplistic apps created in basements, where you played candy-shaped puzzles or something, with far less investment required. But what they lacked in real game play, they more than made up for in addictive methodology and gacha (gambling) mechanics that regularly drained users of more and more money.
NOVision began pushing for those same micro transactions and for downloadable content (DLC) to become part of WoF. Fitzkravitz and the Wizard team could only hold off and champion the game experience for so long; the will of the CEOs and shareholders bore down on them, demanding change. This was made much easier when Fitzkravitz was swept from his position and replaced with someone more on board with the direction NOVision wanted to go. Players complained about the new monetization, but went unheard.
Following Fitzkravitz’s departure, the game itself had faltered. In-game systems had suffered from new and overly complicated changes. Lore was retconned, then retconned again. Storylines grew ridiculous and new content was slow to arrive. Wizard’s original creativity had built the foundation for a game that players had fallen in love with and which had become an integral part of people’s lives and relationships. But players now felt betrayed and abandoned as the game became increasingly financially predatory one the one hand, and more about grinding and unwelcome features on the other. No matter how much the player community tried to speak out, the company ignored them, over and over again. Unhappiness festered.
Finally, scandal hit. NOVisionWizard had come under government scrutiny and then multiple lawsuits alleging sexual harassment and abusive working conditions. It had been the straw that broke the player community’s back. Players had formed alliances over their dissatisfaction and feelings of abandonment towards a company that felt increasingly greedy. Beloved for their creativity and fun, Wizard had once felt like a company of gamers working to entertain gamers. Now it had become just another corporation who didn’t give a damn about anything but profits, and both employees and players had had enough.
A horde of players had left the game and enticed many more to follow. After yet another failed attempt at unionizing was bludgeoned into failure by NOVision, and after concerns over work-place harassment and the frat-boy culture were treated with disdain, many employees had simply left for greener pastures where they wouldn’t have to work sixty hour weeks or get passed over for promotion because they didn’t have a penis.
The game had slowly tanked, and others had managed to take the top spot instead, companies who were open with the community about their development process and who listened to players, who wanted to focus on making the best game they could, rather than the most money they could. NOVisionWizard had spent more time in the news regarding lawsuits than in game development, and people had moved on to other, better things.
Would this new release, Golden Impact, be the game that everyone wanted it to be, an experience that took them back to the grand days of yore, when they had every reason to love the game and to support the people behind it?
Like everyone else, Quill was very excited to find out.
He laid on his bed, game helmet on, and clicked the power buton.The full-dive device kicked in and his vision went black.
Slowly, epic music faded into being, building up and causing the heart to race. In front of him, the World of Fantasy: Golden Impact logo appeared. Then it turned to dust and swept away in a wind that Quill actually felt.
A large, red die tumbled into view and continued to spin. Below it, a series of phrases faded in and out:
Reaping souls of the damned
Stocking health potions
Yer fucked now
Quill frowned. Yer fucked now? Had someone left that in by mistake?
A world faded into view, a paradise of golden wheat on rolling hills with snow-capped peaks in the background. A joyous orc came bounding over the horizon, smiling wide, spiked club bouncing on one shoulder. Behind him came a cheerful mule with a princess on its back, the princess wielding a rather large crossbow.
Beautiful singing joined the music, lifting the heart and filling the soul with anticipation.
Quill grinned. You could smell the late summer air, feel the heat, hear the sounds of the trio ahead pushing through the field. It was all so vivid.
The vision flickered.
The song stuttered and the singing crackled, then quit.
The orc transformed into a stick person. It ran in place.
The wheat became lines on curves, as if the scene were now line drawn.
Everything flickered. Then the scene went black again.
Ok, seriously weird. Looks like they hadn’t worked all the bugs out before opening day. Not terribly surprising, but not very impressive either. Quill tried not to let it dampen his enthusiasm.
A new world suddenly popped into place around him. This time Quill found himself in a large stadium reminiscent of the Roman collesium, but made of light gray stone, with doors and supports made of dark brown wood, giving it a medieval, Germanic feel. Along the ring of the stadium, poles bore large flags with a variety of class symbols on them: warrior, druid, mage and so forth. Outside the stadium and a ways away, he could see the towers of a fairytale castle rising up into the clear, blue sky. The sun shone down, bright and slightly warm. There was a hint of flowers and woodsmoke in the air. Everything was incredibly realistic. In fact, Quill found himself unable to tell that it was just a video game. He was in awe.
He looked down at himself and saw that he was a plain-looking, male human in brown rags. Apparently there was no avatar creation screen and no class selection before you started. Perhaps these came later?
He was sitting in one of the many thousands of seats in the collesium. Around him, many other players were also popping into existence, a great crowd of peasants.
Quill sat patiently. They had advertised some sort of grand opening ceremony that was not to be missed if you wanted the huge, secret reward being offered to new players, which was why he and others had all logged in at the same time. Everyone loved a show and free items.
Something like twenty-five thousand people must have soon filled the seats of the stadium. While the initial playerbase had been limited to a million people, these were no-doubt spread over multiple servers. There were probably players sitting in stadiums like this in other cities in the game, too. If this was anything like the previous version of the MMO, there’d be at least two main player cities, one for each faction. If so, having at least fifty thousand players in here at one time was impressive. Could be crowded though when it came to actually playing. Well, it’s not like everyone would always be logging in at the same time though, right?
Trumpets played and colourful streamers and confetti exploded in the sky above the stadium floor. As the confetti descended, it formed into two gigantic figures, which then morphed into human form. They were dressed like European kings of yore, with long, fur capes, golden crowns, and jewel-encrusted sceptors in hand.
“Greetings, everyone!” the older of the kings shouted, raising his arms high. “Welcome to the World of Fantasy, Golden Impact!”
The crowd heartily cheered, Quill included. This was so exciting!
“My name is Whyatt Brown and I am the CEO of New Online Vision.” Brown was an older man, a minor pioneer in the tech industry from decades back, now in his sixties. His skin was mottled and he was very overweight. In his costume he looked a bit like an unhealthy King Henry VIII.
The other king nodded and spoke. “And I am Gary von Duarte, CEO of Wizard and the creative team behind the game you’re now all inside of.” Duarte was probably in his mid thirties, part of the new generation who’d grown up in tech. He had a slick beard, avaricious eyes, and a razor thin body. “Thank you all so much for logging in today. As most of you know, we, this company, and players all around the world have been through so much over the years.”
Brown smiled and looked nostalgic. “WoF was the biggest game in the world. So many great expansions and great characters.”
“Huge esport tournaments, and wild conventions.” Duarte chuckled. “I think a lot of us have some pretty good memories from those.”
“Maybe not all memories we want to share in public though,” Brown joked.
Many in the audience laughed.
Duarte nodded. “Billions of hours of gaming, millions of friendships forged as all of us fought to overcome the many challenges presented by the wonderful world of Corval, which we are now lucky enough to stand in for real for the first time instead of only looking at through the window of a computer monitor. I can’t tell you how moved I am that I live in a day and age when this is possible. After so many years of being involved as a player and now as a developer, this is a treat.”
Brown sighed. “Yessir, we had a great run. World of Fantasy reigned supreme for so long.” His face sobered. “But then things changed.”
Duarte frowned. “After everything we did to make this game great, players turned on us.”
That took people aback and many in the audience turned to give confused looks to their neighbours.
Duarte continued. “No matter how hard we worked, players just complained and complained and complained, more every year. And it wasn’t enough that they did it alone, they took to blogs and social media and carved us up bloody in videos and streams.”
“And it wasn’t just players,” Brown enthusiastically added. “Employees saw opportunities to stab us in the back, too. Attempts to unionize threatened the company’s bottom line. Spurious complaints of inappropriate conduct appeared out of nowhere. People even going so far as to get governments on board to sue us. Ungrateful lot.”
Duarte spoke like he had a bad taste in his mouth. “NOVisionWizard went through hard times. Players abandoned us. Employees took off. We were hit with huge fines. Advertisers turned their backs on us after years of profitable partnership. All in all, it left us on the edge of bankruptcy.”
“Crippled the value of my stock,” Brown bitterly snapped. “Was forced to cutback to a seven figure annual salary.”
Quill felt distinctly uncomfortable. What these guys were saying felt very different from the apologetic and reconcilliatory tone they’d struck in recent public statements and ads. This was not a performance full of contrition or humility at all. And it seemed like many other players were just as surprised, some of them even growing angry. Smiles had vanished and now a lot of frowns were being directed at the two CEOs.
Brown shook his head, then looked up at the audience. “We went through a lot of challenges, took a lot of hits. So, today, we just wanted to say…”
They both spoke at once, “Fuck you.”
Twenty-five thousand people were stunned into silence.