Quake 4: What went wrong?

October 2005 marked the release of another title in the long-running Quake series. Both a singleplayer game (a sequel to Quake 2) and as a multiplayer game (heavily inspired by Quake 3:Arena), Quake 4 was supposed to put the deathmatch crown back in id Software’s head, by way of Raven Software. Things didn’t turn out so well, though.

Quake 3 and Quake 4 - Average number of online players, in thousands - From Oct 2005 to November 2006

At first, the game was anticipated and well-received by many. Angel Munoz (from the Cyberathlete Professional League) liked the game enough that he announced it would be used on their next worldwide tournaments. Initial impressions were favorable. So why did it flop?

There’s no definitive answer for this. I can speculate, though.

First, it’s no news that the good old deathmatch isn’t shining as much as it used to. If you have a look at the most popular FPS games on PC right now, none of them are based on deathmatch game modes (or its cousins, team deathmatch and Capture The Flag). They’re usually team games with specific objectives – planting a bomb, capturing areas of the map, escorting a tank across a level. They’re games that most people can just jump in, play a little while, then jump out; while the same can be done on free-for-all deathmatch games, it’s usually less fun for a new player when he gets spanked left and right after joining a game he doesn’t know and playing with people that are already in control of the level.

Second, the Quake series has come a long way. Ever since the first release of what could be considered a change to the rules – QuakeWorld, which changed the way the network and physics worked on Quake 1 – arguments have been starting on forums and other discussion mediums on the internet about anything that could be slightly controversial. Each new iteration adds more fuel to the fire; on the one hand, you have people who wanted the game to be like game X, and on the other hand you have people who want the game to be something new. Regardless of what gets done by the developer, though, people will be pissed because they won’t be 100% satisfied – the game that gets to be released isn’t the exact game they expected, so it’s an automatic failure.

With games that have been through so many releases, it’s only natural that you will have all kind of different fans, wanting all kinds of different things. Kinda like the ones described on this article from The Escapist. I, myself, was guilty of something like that – I spent countless hours posting my views on how having footsteps sounds, slow rockets, and slow weapon made Quake 2 a worse game than Quake 1 – until I realized that doesn’t matter.

With Quake 4, these kind of expectations have just been amped a good bit because Quake 3 was the most successful game of the franchise, and because it had reached a state where it had all the tools needed for a competitive game – many competition mods, QTV, log parsers, scorebots, demo tools – as well as being extremely polished after years of competitive gaming. Could Quake 4 live up to the hype?

Quake 4 server browser

The answer apparently was a sounding no from the competitive community. Expecting a game that was at least on par with Quake 3’s polished state, they had to deal with a game that was good but lacked many of the competitive features they expected. The game was met with heavily criticism on websites like ESReality, where articles would constantly tell the reader what was wrong with the game, like the sound of certain weapons, the way light was cast on the map, or the overall design of the levels.

To me, it looks like the game never even had a chance – there’s no way it could live up to the expectations of the community. Even the release of subsequent patches, a free map pack, and the appointment of a community liaison wasn’t enough; one could say it was too little, too late. It doesn’t matter that Quake 3 was a much less stable game upon release, and gained adoption and support over time; Quake 4 was meant to be the definitive game, and if it isn’t on release day, then it doesn’t deserve a second glance.

I wonder if any deathmatch game has any chance on that environment. To put it simply, the deathmatch community has seen it all – there isn’t much way to go from here. Every FPS released, specially every new sequel, is ready to be met by heavy criticism from the online, hardcore crowd, who is willing to tell the developers how much they got wrong and oh my god, how could they be so stupid?!?!

Regardless, Unreal Tournament 2007 will be released next year, and it’ll be interesting to see the directions it’ll take the online community. The game hasn’t changed as much since its first version as the Quake series has (certainly releasing different titles under the same Unreal universe has helped) and it’s also featuring different game modes that are not as heavily based on deathmatch (such as the vehicular objective mode Onslaught), so I think it’s safe to say it will do pretty well. But all in all, I can’t shake the impression that deathmatch doesn’t have anywhere to go, and that’s the wall Quake 4 had to deal with. And, it the end, it was too high for it to climb.

Pre-emptive disclaimer: I like deathmatch. QuakeWorld DM is still #1 for me. I play with FrogBots from time to time when I’m bored. This post is not about how much deathmatch sucks; it’s instead about how much it’s not the driving force of game sales anymore, and how vocal the online community has become about their expectations.

6 Responses to “Quake 4: What went wrong?”

  1. Online Gaming Zeitgeist at Garry’s Blog 4.0 Says:

    […] He’s got a blog thing going too, with some pretty interesting analysis stuff, like “Quake 4, what went wrong” (0 clicks) and the more up to date Do Free Game Trials Work? (0 clicks). […]

  2. Ortzinator Says:

    I must know what plugin posted the above comment.

  3. Zeh Says:

    Ortzinator: that’s no plugin. “Trackbacks” or “pingbacks” are just a common/default feature of most blog systems – WordPress (the one used here) included. Simply put, when someone links to a certain post, it “pings” the post page – either because someone accessed it coming from it (a referrer) or because the blog system itself parses the URLs for a post and “pings” the website in advance.

  4. bomber991 Says:

    It’ll be interesting to see how Enemy Territory: Quake Wars will do. Everyone seems to be talking about that game in the BF2 and 2142 community.

    I never gave quake 4 a chance. I played Doom 3 and thought it sucked, and then I tried to play some multiplayer Doom 3 and found out that the max player limit was something like 4 or 8 players. I mean, coming from BF1942 at the time and playing with 64 players, that was just too little for me.

    So with Q4 coming out, my perception was that it’ll mainly be a single player game like D3, and that the online portion will only have servers that support just 4 to 8 players like D3 because it uses the D3 engine.

  5. Jazka Says:

    And now you have your answer.

    I only can [+] this : “[…], so it’s an automatic failure.”

  6. felix Says:

    true. very good analysis.

This website gathers data for various First Person Shooter games for PCs, and then build graphics with those numbers. This brings no answers, just questions. Where do we go from here?