The Failure of HEX

It was an ambitious project, with deep aspirations for creating a whole new category of online gaming. The kickstarter was a wild success, driven by the vibrant personalities and veteran industry status of its visionaries and the promise of something that had never been done before.

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And today, those same personalities will stand on a podium and tell you that with the release of set two for their digital Trading Card Game (TCG), that this is a cause for great celebration! That you should spend some money buying new packs or to purchase a ticket to enter one of their celebratory drafts. They will tell you that while they introduced three new troop powers and cards that allow for double socketing and double sharding, that there was not power creep in this set and that this will not impact the introduction of PvE at all.

And that is where we have to have some honesty. Hex is a decent, maybe even a good digital TCG. It is flashy, and it has some interesting mechanics. The art is above average. They did a good job of kicking the Alpha and Closed Beta off almost on their projected timeline, which is sometimes tricky with ambitious projects. Backers of the Kickstarter have been able to play the game for over a year now.

The problem is that Hex was never advertized as just a TCG. It was advertized as the world’s first MMOTCG. Create a character, gear them up, take them on cooperative battles against the AI, raid dungeons and face advanced AI bosses, collect treasure, join guilds. A year after backers got their first taste of Alpha, and now well into the game’s Open Beta, not a single one of these advertized features is available.

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And with the release of the “celebrated” second set, all of those features will once again be backed up. Why? While PvP and PvE are confirmed to be separate development teams within the company, they are also very much interdependent. PvE had to create a working AI for players to play against. PvP had to design and balance a card set. PvP had to develop sealed and limit tournaments for players to participate in. PvE had to create starter trials and a tutorial…for PvP.

With the PvP team now releasing new mechanics and cards into the game, the PvE team will be forced to go back to the drawing board to update their AI with these new functions. And while the basic AI package is in place, this basic tweak does not apply to the dungeon and raid content which is forced to work with separate skill and rules sets that define the particular experience and decks they are reenacting.

The end result is that we have no idea when, or at this point if, any of the promises that were made to backers, many of whom dropped significant amounts of money on this game will become reality. Four of the five $250 tier packages in the kickstarter were geared to PvE, and none of them have received their rewards yet. Take a look at how many of the backer rewards are still missing (hint: everything in white).

Posters in the forums and on Facebook claim that the unofficial word is that PvE continues to be in development, and that they “hope” that players will start receiving the first components of PvE before the end of the year. But that word was given before the decision to release set 2, and nobody knows how far back that will push what was already a murky promise.

And communication on the MMO side has indeed been murky at best. The last official update was six months ago, in July. An article earlier in the year noting that they were working on completely redesigning mercenaries (NPC characters to lead your deck in place of your main character in PvE) was the last real word we had, and it was somewhat ominous that the general message of that post was that they were dumbing down the character development process. Mercenaries basically went from being able to level up and unlock four abilities down to just having a single active and single passive ability that were available from the start.

Further cause for concern is the couple of hiccups that HEX has already faced this year. The scrapping of the VIP/Subscription program was a big one. And the well publicized lawsuit from Wizards of the Coast has been another. Adding those two into the exclusive push to get players involved in tourenaments and PvP, and the release of set 2 looks like nothing more or less than a cash grab to make up for lost revenue in subscriptions and increased legal fees.

At this point, with the company remaining completely silent on the subject of the lawsuit and the status of the PvE, and with all the previous updates being negative in nature, I have to draw the conclusion that HEX, the MMOTCG that was advertized, is dead in the water. And that means that since I purchased the King tier at $120 solely for the purpose of backing an MMOTCG, this is the worst and most costly failure I’ve ever experienced as a gamer.

It takes over that dubious distinction from the crew over at Mechwarrior Online, who sold release packages almost right up until the day they cancelled and moved release. Then when development went poorly, they started selling a second set of packages, then ditched their design process to try to bring in more players and revenue, and then begged for players via email with a letter from the president, before finally deciding to do the on thing that has for two decades been the demise of every game set in the Battletech universe: introduce Clans! I only lost $100 to them. Only.

(Note: I guess I could add the SWTOR Collector’s Edition here, but since I did play that game for six months, it wasn’t really a waste so much as it was just overpriced…)

What is sad and disturbing is that HEX seems to have already started down a similar path. And I don’t have anything from other game’s development cycles or this developer that bring me hope. So, I guess I enter 2015 as a wiser person, having now been burned, like so many others, by the dreams sold on Kickstarter. Its almost like the 21st century version of Portobello Road, isn’t it?

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