The Great Drug Wars Game-Name Switcheroo

Ever heard of Drug Wars?

And what about Merchants of Brooklyn?

Still nothing? Well, it’s the same game, only with different name. Read the whole story here:

Would a game by any other name still get a 35 on Metacritic?

Let’€™s say you’€™re a game designer, and your latest creation debuts to harsh reviews. You’€™ve patched your game numerous times, adding a multiplayer mode, and you think it’s a better product now. But the original reviews still stand. What do you do?

If you’€™re Paleo Entertainment, you flush the original name, Merchants of Brooklyn, down the memory hole. Since the game was only ever digitally distributed, it’s easy€” a quick change to the Steam servers, and Merchants of Brooklyn becomes Drug Wars.

Presto: bad reviews disappear.

Paleo’€™s creative director John Stookey said that the rebranding is appropriate because the new and improved game is centered around multiplayer, not the single-player experience that the original reviews centered on. Multiplayer was the “true focus” of his development team, he said.

€œThere are thoughts that any press is good press especially when it comes to small indie developers,” said Stookey in an e-mail. €œBut consumers are quick to dismiss indie developers at the first sign of dropping the ball.

Paleo dropped the ball in more ways than one with the original release of Merchants of Brooklyn, a futuristic shooter, this past March. The development studio accidentally uploaded an unfinished alpha version of the game to the Steam distribution service, causing players to think they’d purchased an unplayably buggy game.

I saved a game, and when I reloaded it, I was in the floor,€ went one typical complaint.

But even after uploading the correct version of the game and patching it several times during its first week of release, critics still tore Merchants to shreds. As of this writing, it has a Metacritic score of 35 (generally negative reviews), most reviews citing issues with the game’s framerate, audio quality and overall stability.

Stookey says that the low quality of the single-player game was due to the team’s focus on the multiplayer aspect, which it planned to complete later. Paleo finished the single-player game, he says, in a few months.

Trimming off that kind of time will seriously detract from the overall quality of the product, but we had no choice if we wanted to complete multiplayer,€ he said. €œMultiplayer was our goal from the get-go, single-player was just a means to get there. In retrospect, we (could) have eliminated single-player completely from the project.

In the age of patches, updates, and digital game sales, no version of a game is ever final. Given the always-online nature of the Steam service, updating every user’s copy of a game is practically trivial.

Game reviews, however, aren’t so easily malleable. Once a review is issued, the score usually stands no matter how the game is updated later.

But by changing the name of the game, Paleo might be able to make an end-run around the process by eliminating the negative baggage that accompanies the name Merchants of Brooklyn.

Is it working? The only review of the newly-branded game, as of this writing, says that while the multiplayer is indeed better than the single-player, not very many people are actually bothering to play it. A glance at the game’s thinly-populated forum would seem to confirm this.

Stookey insists that although reviewers should be cognizant of a game’s team size and budget,€ he doesn’t expect them to cut his 12-person crew any slack.

€œI don’€™t think sympathy sells games,€ he said. €œThe review should be on the overall quality of the game, regardless of whether it was made by a dozen people or a hundred.

Stookey said the company will support Drug Wars with new features while continuing to iron out gameplay issues.

We left the title as beta, because we never want to stop improving the game, he said.


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