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A eulogy for World of Darkness, written by (and for) a White Wolf fan

The executive producer of World of Darkness, Chris McDonough, looked uncomfortable. CCP fans and a few members of the press had just seen a presentation showing some of the game’s technology and were given a few details about the ideas that would drive the title. We were warned not to take images of the content or share video. We were told the game was years away. Our expectations had been tempered by any number of disclaimers.

"My role is to minimize the PR. I don’t want to support it. I wasn’t kidding when I said I didn’t want that video up, and we’ll try to get it taken down and if pops up anywhere," McDonough told me. I asked why they had shown anything.

"I think because it’s the tenth anniversary, Hilmar [Veiger, CEO of CCP] wanted us to show some of it, because it’s been a long time and people lose faith. I specifically, as the producer, said I want to lay low. I don’t want to do press for three years, I don’t want to be Duke Nukem. I don’t want to be that product. That’s not us, it’s a different process," he explained.

That was a year ago.

The game was cancelled this week, and 56 employees of CCP Atlanta were laid off. World of Darkness suffered from a long, troubled and likely expensive development cycle, but now the dream is dead. This isn’t the rarest thing in game development, but this particular cancellation hits fans of that universe extra hard.

The possibilities

EVE Online continues to be one of the most interesting games in the industry, and much of what makes it so attractive would be included in World of Darkness. The game would have been a single-shard universe with player-driven politics in a world of vampire clans and an unknowing human population. It would have been about power, and control.

The ability to work with others to manipulate the game’s politics for power and territory was interesting. EVE Online flies those particular skies in a way no other game has been able to match, but bringing the ability for players to write their own stories into a game with human-like characters in recognizably human cities was even more exciting for players not interested in space flight.

EVE Online can be a cold, slightly abstract game. You’re flying ships in the vastness of space, moving into and out of different areas controlled by player-run corporations. The criticism that the meta-game of economy manipulation and risk assessment can feel like a spreadsheet in space is funny and hyperbolic, but it’s also not always far off the mark.

Imagine the same freedom and scope given to human characters sending raiding parties into a city controlled by another group of vampires, where the fighting is hand to hand and power to power instead of the impersonal tactics of naval-style warfare. The table-top vampire role-playing games set in the World of Darkness focused on intrigue and power players in a way that was unique in tabletop role-playing at the time. It’s the perfect setting for CCP to work their magic in a game that would draw a very different audience than EVE Online.

It wouldn't have been a game that delivered a story like so many other MMOs, it would be a sandbox for the players to create their own stories, and that was an amazing sales pitch for those of us who grew up playing White Wolf role-playing games in garages and basements redolent with the smell of cheap pot and cold pizza.

There had been other games set in this world before — if you have never played Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines with the fan-made patches you have a new homework assignment — but taking those core ideas and putting them in a living world controlled in large part by other players? It would feel like a table top campaign that never had to end.

This cancellation left a hole in the industry. No other game offers a similar experience, there are no companies that will directly benefit from its absence. No other games in this universe have been announced. This isn't Star Wars, where the next game is always right around the corner. This loss feels real.

Optimism in the face of reality

We're also thinking of the game as it could have been, however. World of Darkness was announced at the end of 2006, and I was told that there were 70 people working on the game in 2013. It was still in pre-production, and the team would ramp up as the game went into full development. The full release was a long way off.

The number of interested people greatly outnumbered the available seats

That's a hard sell eight years after the announcement, at a time when retail games that carry monthly fees are an endangered species. The game's cancellation isn't a shock, but it's still sad for those of us who love the World of Darkness setting and the various creatures that exist within it.

That Werewolf expansion we hoped for will now never happen, and my friend's hopes for Changeling content has gone from "no chance in hell" to a "definitely not." I think taking a few minutes to mourn my Brujah character is justified, and I always held out hope that I would at least get to fight the Sabbat, if not join their ranks.

Last year I stood inside the theater as CCP showed off the game, playing video that we weren't allowed to show and they never released. The crowd of people had spilled out of the theater and into the hallways of the convention center, those in the back were standing on the balls of their feet trying to catch a glimpse. The number of interested people greatly outnumbered the available seats.

The World of Darkness is still a huge draw for the true believers, and now we have nothing to look forward to. The Masquerade will continue on without us.

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