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Landmark and the Price of a Badly Defined Beta July 28, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest Next.
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1 comment so far

There has been an argument over what “beta” means when it comes to software for as long as I have been part of the industry, which is pushing on 25 years now.

The baseline definition for me has always been that your software is feature complete and you feel it is ready to ship, but now you are going to take some time to get people outside the development group to look at things.  This can be surprisingly important and an eye opening experience, as when you have worked with a piece of software for months at a stretch, your brain becomes adjusted to the way it works.  You stop seeing the flaws and you become invested in the project vision.

And then you hand it to some fresh eyes who will, often almost immediately, tell if what you have been slaving over makes a lick of sense.  It can be a sobering moment when somebody, after five minutes with your product, makes a suggestion for a fundamental change that, upon reflection, seems obvious.  Plus they tend to catch all those quirks that the team has simply learned to work around to the point of developing a blind spot, those bugs that “everybody” knows about yet somehow never quite made it to the bug tracking database.

That is the idea in my book.  I have fought for that ideal now and then.  But I have been through the wringer enough times to know that fight can be futile.  So I have been through internal betas (where we learn how little the rest of the company cares) schedule betas (the schedule says we’re beta as of today so we are) political betas (we’re going beta today because if we don’t, somebody in senior management will look bad) survival betas (we’re going beta because if we don’t they’ll cancel the project and lay us all off) and the occasional investor beta (I gave your company money so install your product on my son’s laptop… and put more RAM in there as well… I don’t care, strip your lab machines if you have to).

But in all of that there is still a certain level feature availability before we hand the software over to fresh eyes, if for no other reason that a fresh perspective is a perishable commodity and you don’t want to waste it on things you should have caught yourself.  Once people have been in your beta a bit they will become fixated on things that are important to them and tend to not notice anything else.  Long betas introduce beta fatigue, as I am going to guess SOE is finding out with Landmark.

Landmark was in alpha for a stretch and then went into “closed beta” a few months back, which meant “paid beta” so far as I could tell.  I was invited in for a couple of seven day runs at the product and, as the joke goes, there wasn’t much “there” there.  I suspect that SOE is feeling interest wain as the software goes on and on with small but important changes but no real end in sight.  So while they fleeced convinced some people to pay money to get into the software early, I am going to guess that even the most hard core fan has some limit and really need more people online and active to test.

Which is why I suspect we got this sale today over at Steam.

LandmarkSteamSale

Yes, Landmark has been marked down to Steam Summer Sale levels of discount.  That is the basic Settler Pack, but the other tiers are available too, including upgrades if you are already invested.

All packages marked down

All packages marked down

I was a tad miffed that people were getting Planetary Annihilation for three bucks less than my Kickstarter pledge back during the Steam Summer Sale.  How would I feel if I was in for a hundred for the top tier Trailblazer Pack and then, still during closed beta, they offered up the same deal for $33.99?  I wonder if any of those early adopters will pipe up?

And given the caveats, I am not sure that $33.99 is a good deal from where I sit.  The warning on Steam as part of their Early Access disclaimer:

ATTENTION: Landmark is in Closed Beta. That means we are still adding core feature sets and that updates are happening weekly. Everything in the game is currently subject to change, which includes the possibility of wipes.

Please make sure to read the Landmark Blueprint, which provides a list of planned feature updates and timing estimates.

We are using an Open Development process to create this game, which means that you are encouraged to interact directly with the development team via the Steam Community, Twitter, Reddit, Twitch and our Forums. If you are interested in helping to create a game from the ground up, Landmark offers that opportunity.

For more information on the Landmark development process, click here.

The Landmark blueprint forum thread shows a list of features and says that they will be unveiling some new things at SOE Live in a couple of weeks.  But there is a long list of features, including almost everything that might turn Landmark into a game as opposed to a wanna-be Minecraft prototype, waiting to be implemented. (But they got the Station Cash store running muy pronto!)  There is certainly no obvious “okay, it is worth my time” point on their blueprint as yet.

While I am sure that for the devs actually working on the project, these changes are coming as fast as they can manage them, from the outside the pace can feel very different.  If you’ve been playing around with Landmark for six months or more at this point there is probably a good chance that your interest has faded somewhat, or that your focus has narrowed to a few things.  There certainly haven’t been a lot of blog posts about Landmark lately, and bloggers as a group tend to be more enthusiastic about their games than the average play.  SOE has gotten a mention here and there due to handing out seven day passes, but people who were on fire early on have been pretty quiet these days.

So, while I am not ready to claim that Landmark is DOA, it could be easily inferred that SOE needs some more people actually coming in to play, to start from scratch, to get involved, and to be enthusiastic about the game.  And for just under seven bucks I am slightly tempted.  But there still doesn’t seem to be enough there yet, and the game is going to be free to play eventually anyway.  So I will probably pass.

SOE has a chance to revive interest at SOE Live, though that can be a double edged sword as well.  They got a lot of people interested in EverQuest Next at the last SOE Live but haven’t said much about it since, and SOE has something of a history of sporadically building up enthusiasm with their customer base only to go silent for long stretches.

Quote of the Day – In Space it is Still Location, Location, Location July 25, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online.
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1 comment so far

To put it bluntly, if you want to catch instawarping interceptors, the most important part is living in London.

-Namamai, Understanding the EVE Online Server Tick

There is an interesting/informative article up over at TMC about how the processing loop of EVE Online dictates if you’ll be able to lock up and point that decloaking interceptor on a gate.

I actually had some experience with a similar scenario just recently.  In our expedition to Brave Newbies’ space our fleet, made up primarily of Harpies and interceptors and other small stuff, engaged quite a few bombers and destroyers and other easily destroyed ships.

Hanging on the station in V-3YG7

Hanging on the station in V-3YG7

It doesn’t take a ton of shots to kill a bomber, the glass cannon of New Eden, and destroyers are fragile compared to tech II frigates.  So when targets presented themselves it was a race to lock things up and get a shot off before they exploded.  Any number of times I would get something locked and have the guns going in the first firing cycle only to be informed that the target had already exploded.

I was not alone in experiencing this.  People were starting to get angry on coms at one point, raging against the interceptors in the fleet… because interceptors…  and wondering who amongst them were running extra sensor boosters to hog all the kills.

Of course, interceptor pilots were quick to point out that they too were getting aced out of kills in exactly the same way.  Somebody on coms started in trying to explain the whole tick thing, but it was neither the time nor the place for such a lesson.  We had a fleet op to fly and a jump bridge on which to get pipe bombed still.

So it was nice to have the article linked at the top show up to get back to the explanation of ticks and why you might be able to target someone and activate your guns and still get shut out of the kill mail.  As I said, interesting stuff, but the informative bit was the punchline, the fact that you can be the fastest guy in the fleet to hit the right button, but if your packets don’t arrive in London, where the main server cluster is housed, in time to be part of the current cycle, you’re not getting on that kill mail.

Latency is still a thing.

The Cape of Stranglethorn July 24, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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9 comments

Once there was a zone called Stranglethorn Vale.  It was a place of jungle and raptors and trolls and missing pages from books and that bastard Hemet Nesingwary who would continue to haunt our existence through every expansion with his wildlife slaughtering requests.

It was a large and somewhat controversial zone… though some appreciated the quest design… that would try your patience for endless running (you didn’t have a mount when you got there back in the day) and managing your bag space.

It was where the Horde and Alliance really started to merge.  Before Stranglethorn Vale, each side had most zones to themselves.  Afterwards, everybody ran down the same list of zones.

And it was placed right in the middle of the leveling curve, in that danger zone when the fun of the first twenty or so levels had receded from your rear view mirror, but the level cap of 60 (way back when) was still somewhere over the horizon.

At one point I had five or six characters stuck somewhere in their mid-30s, bags full of pages from The Green Hills of Stranglethorn and logs full of quests with horrible drop rates, congested “kill a single named mob” choke points, or more variations on slaughter for hire, unable to progress due to a desire never to see that jungle again.

Stranglethorn Vale that was...

Stranglethorn Vale that was…

From the rebel camp to Booty Bay, from the Vile Reef to the Venture Company sites, from Kurzen’s Camp to the Nesingwary Expedition, from the Gubashi Arena to the pirates off the the southeast coast, Stranglethorn Vale has a lot going on.  And while you can blue sky daydream about the good old days in the Vale, you have to remember that Blizzard felt it had to boost the questing experience in Dustwallow Marsh, adding in Mudsproket and a whole range of additional quests around Theramore and Brackenwall.  At the time this was pretty much a mea culpa from Blizzard that old STV might be a bit more of a pain than the expected.

And then came the Cataclysm.  The zone was split into two, with the top half becoming Northern Stranglethorn Vale and the bottom becoming the Cape of Stranglethorn, which strikes me a bit like having North Carolina and the Carolina Strand as states… you tend to call out “north” only if there is a “south” right… but then the whole continent is called The Eastern Kingdoms, which is a vague, hand waving description more than a name in my opinion, so my problems with the geographic naming conventions of Azeroth are long standing.

I had already wrapped up the Northern Stranglethorn achievement with my warrior, Makarov, way back in March of last year when I was back in the game on a seven day pass and still not over my post-Cataclysm malaise.

Northern Stranglethorn Vale

Northern Stranglethorn Vale

But for whatever reason, Makarov moved on to the Plaguelands (of which there is an East and a West, so there), leaving the Cape of Stranglethorn untouched.  And so it remained, until I decided to go for the Loremaster achievement this summer.

More after the cut.

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PLEX and its new Daughter, GRACE July 24, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest II, WildStar.
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5 comments

I do not pay much attention to Anarchy Online.  Well, I don’t pay it any mind at all, really aside from the occasional industry lore aspects around things like rocky starts (“nearly unplayable” -GameSpy) and longevity. (It turned 13 just about a month back.)

AnarchyOnlineLogo

But some people do still pay attention to it.  There was a post up over at Massively announcing that the game had announced a new aspect to their subscription plan.

Called GRACE, for Grid Access Credit Extension, it is an in-game item that can be traded or sold between players that, once redeemed, turns into 30 days of game subscription time.  There is a FAQ.

Basically, this the AO version of EVE Online PLEX.

This is PLEX

No longer this cheap in Jita

PLEX itself has been live in EVE Online for just about five years at this point, where it has been a success thanks in large part to the in-game economy which is all pervasive in New Eden.  There are a lot of aspects of the game you can avoid, but if you want to play you are going to be part of the economy.

The economy is such a big deal in EVE that I was curious if MMOs with much more optional or fragmented economies could really make something like PLEX work.  World of Warcraft, with its large player base and need for gold sinks, seemed like it might be able to, even with the economy sliced up into three markets on hundreds of different servers.  And Blizzard dipped their toe in the water… sort of… with the kitten economy idea.  But they haven’t done much since.

It was left to Sony Online Entertainment to give the PLEX idea a try in the fantasy realm, introducing Krono to EverQuest II about two years back and then expanding it to their other games.

All About Krono

All About Krono

I really have no idea how Krono has worked out.  They still have Krono as an option, even after the big consolidation of game subscriptions into the new All Access plan back in April, but I have never seen more than a couple on the market when I have bothered to check, and the prices seemed wildly different on different servers, so I cannot tell if they just don’t get used or if they are so popular that they sell out quickly to the platinum barons of Norrath.  And the fact that the game is free to play complicates things.

Moving on, earlier this year we had two new MMOs announcing that they were all-in on monthly subscriptions.  First, The Elder Scrolls Online made its position clear, and then WildStar joined the subscription only parade as well.  But their business model also included something called CREDD, which is how they spell PLEX on Nexus I gather.  Because it was that PLEX model again, an in-game item worth game time, which Carbine seemed to be using as a loophole to claim some sort of free to play status since, technically, after you bought the game, you could find a way to play for free if you earned enough in-game money to buy CREDD.

In Carbine’s world, you can play for free so long as they get paid.  But to their credit, I don’t think they have overplayed their definition of free to play… yet.

My first thought when they announced their business model, including the CREDD bit, was whether or not it had worked for SOE by that point.  That seemed like a reasonable question.  Yes, a shiny new game sporting a subscription-only model with a brand new, out of the box in-game economy might not be the best parallel, what else was I going to compare it too?

The question is still unanswered at this point as far as I am concerned.  The idea works in EVE, but I couldn’t tell you if it was worthwhile elsewhere.

And now Funcom is throwing its hat in the ring with Anarchy Online, which doesn’t help my understanding at all, because I am not even sure what their business model is.  I think it is mostly subscriptions, but they have had this short-term “Free Play” option that shows you ads in game since… what… 2004?  So does that make it free to play?  And how many people even play?  The late Game Data site tracked them as peaking at 60K subscriptions just after launch, dropping down to 10K by 2006, but nothing after that.

So who is out there playing Anarchy Online?  What do you think GRACE going to do for the game, if anything?

Or, for that matter, how about CREDD in WildStar or Krono in SOE games?

You Get to Decorate the House You Have, Not the House You Might Want July 23, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, Runes of Magic, World of Warcraft.
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22 comments

Housing is one of the great line-item features that a lot of people think every MMO should have.  There is a strong desire to have a place to call your own in what tends to be an unchanging and unalterable virtual world.  There is some need within us to leave our mark somewhere in the game.  I get that.

And companies have responded to that over the years, offering up various forms of housing.  Housing was a big part of Ultima Online back in the day.  Housing was part of the attraction of WildStar, which just launched a few weeks back.  And over the years I have explored various implementations.  If I play a game long enough, and it has housing, I am usually there to give it a try.

But how well it sticks for me… well, that is another story.

Rift offered up housing with the Storm Legion expansion, but it was so free form that I barely did anything with it.

Dimension by the Sea

Unfurnished Dimension by the Sea

People have done amazing things with dimensions in Rift… they were even doing so back during the Storm Legion beta… but, like most of Storm Legion, it just didn’t hook me.

Lord of the Rings Online, by comparison, offered some very pretty housing that was, in fact, a house.  A house on a lot even.

A house in Bree

A house in Bree

But the options for it were so limited that I ended up letting it lapse.  There wasn’t much advantage to having the house and the customizations were limited to just a few locations within the house.  You could hang up things from the world… taxidermied monsters or fishing trophies… but it still felt very generic.

And then clipping issues...

And then clipping issues…

And while I liked the idea of there being a yard, the instanced neighborhoods were somewhat awkward.

Elves and their damn monuments

Elves and their damn monuments

And it was tough to find a neighborhood where all of us could find a house we could afford.  In the end, the minor storage benefit of my house in LOTRO meant I let the lease lapse.

EverQuest actually threw down and added housing with the House of Thule expansion.  It borrowed a lot from its younger brother, EverQuest II, while using the instanced neighborhood model similar to LOTRO.  And I was reasonably impressed with SOE’s ability to overlay yet another complex interface onto the aging EverQuest client.  Plus the houses looked good.

A more complete development

A Norrathian housing development

The problem there was that I was pretty much done with EverQuest as a main game by that point.  I like to visit old Norrath, so I had to go try it out, but I had nothing really to put in the house and the upkeep, which was aimed at those who had kept up with inflation, was well beyond my means.

And there have been others.  Runes of Magic offered housing that gave you some form of storage, along with a woman in a skimpy French maid outfit.

Go Google the outfit

Go Google the outfit

Landmark seems to be all housing.  It is about as free form as you can get. no game at this point.

Behold Zuul's Sky Altar

Behold Zuul’s Sky Altar

The pity is that there is no actual game around it yet.

Meanwhile, in EVE Online, the Captain’s quarters… the start (and probably the end) of housing in New Eden… allowed you to see your full body at last, and then park that body on a couch to watch something boring on a screen.

What is on Space TV today?

What is on Space TV today?

That might be too meta for me.

And since I am on about different flavors of housing, I will mention Star Wars Galaxies before some fan comes in to remind us all that this was the greatest housing ever.  We will have to agree to disagree on that point.  Yes, it gave you your own little spot in the real world where you could open a store or whatever.  But it was a visual blight on the game,  with huge clumps of houses strewn across the open landscape, encroaching right up to the edge of any in-game landmark.  It made the game look like a Tatooine trailer park.

Looks like a Star Wars trailer park

Literally a Tatooine trailer park

But after having gone through so much in-game housing over the years, I have to say that there has only been one housing model that has really suited me.  And that is the EverQuest II model.

Yes, you do not get your own house in the midst of the world.  At best you share a door to a stately home or guild hall with everybody else who has rented the same facility, so you all live there in parallel in your own instances.  I do not think that is necessarily a bad thing.  It keeps away the blight problem, and while there is the problem of finding somebody’s house from a listing at a door, one of the bragging points I have heard about the SWG model was that finding people was difficult so that knowing where a given person lived and set up a store gave you power.  I’ll take the less blight version.

But the key for me was that EQII housing gave me exactly what I wanted, which was a simple house where I could hang trophies and other rewards from my travels.  I had the option to decorate, and at times Gaff, who had a carpenter, would send me some neat furniture to spiff up my home, but mostly I just decorated with things picked up as I played.  And the important part was that somebody at SOE foresaw that need and provided me with plenty of items to stick in my home.  In fact, whoever came up with the reward of a weapon you could mount on your wall for the Lore & Legend quests was a genius, followed by the person who decided to make heritage quest rewards displayable in your home.  I went through and looked at every character I had played past level 20 the other night, and every single one of them has a house and has at least some Lore & Legend quest rewards hung on the wall.

Weapons on the wall

Weapons on the wall

There are other aspects about it that make EQII housing good.  The interface is simple.  The house models themselves come in a variety of designs, from simple box flats to a whole island if you want a big guild hall.  And the base models are cheap.  You can have a house in any city for five silver a week, which was inexpensive back at launch when SOE was working very hard to keep a lid on inflation and no mob in the game dropped actual coin.

EverQuest II housing is really ideal for my desires. It is just a pity that it is in EQII.

It is a pity because I do not play EQII.  I don’t play it because, for all the little things it does right, I don’t enjoy the main game.  I don’t enjoy the main game, the character progression and zones and levels and what not for various reasons.  Some of the reasons are pretty concrete, such as the fact that none of my close friends play the game anymore.  It is on the official “never again” list for the instance group.  Some of the reasons are very subjective.  I really don’t like the 50-70 zones all that much.  Everything after Desert of Flames makes me yawn, and even that expansion still strikes me as “the new stuff.”

After all of the above, I am finally getting to my point.

Despite the fact that EverQuest II has pretty much the ideal housing setup for me, I do not play EverQuest II.  I don’t play EverQuest II because I don’t play MMOs for the side features, I play them because I enjoy the overall game.

So I love housing in EverQuest II and the music system in Lord of the Rings Online and the old world of EverQuest and the OCD inducing find all the points of interest apects of GuildWars 2 and… hrmm… I am sure sure there is something I could inject here about Rift if I thought about it… but I don’t play those game because the main game just doesn’t click with me.

I play World of Warcraft and EVE Online which, respectively, ten years in has no housing at all and possibly the most useless housing in the genre.  I play them because I enjoy the main game, or the part of the main game in which I indulge.

So if you are out there trolling for page views by raging about garrisons in one breath because they didn’t meet your unrealistic and unsubstantiated expectations, after making it clear you never cared about housing being brought to WoW in the previous breath, in an environment where housing was probably a slip of the tongue to describe the feature, because Blizzard has been pretty clear in the past about their views on housing in WoW… well… I guess I got the punch line at the start of this sentence, didn’t I?  Those who get paid by the page view…

Would I like garrisons to be EQII housing brought to Azeroth?  You bet!  That would be a dream come true.

But unless you have a compelling argument that garrisons are so bad that they are going to ruin the main game, there isn’t much drama to be had in my opinion.  We can talk about how better the developers might have spent their time I suppose.  But this is a pet battles sort of feature.

In the end, I am buying Warlords of Draenor for ten more levels of World of Warcraft and all the zones and stories and pop culture references and silly shenanigans that goes with it.  And I suspect that will be the story for most people.

If garrisons have any merit, people will play with them and maybe even stay subscribed a bit longer.  Or if they have any achievements… and of course they will have achievements… people will play with them for that.  And if garrisons are truly the waste of time and effort as described, then people will use them to the extent that they need to in order to get to level cap and grab the achievements, at which point they will be forgotten like many a feature in the past.

Is somebody going to try to convince me that this was a make or break feature for Warlords of Draenor?

Or, if you want, just tell me about your favorite MMO housing.  Somebody will anyway, so I might as well invite it!

The tl;dr version: If housing really is a must-have important feature for you, you probably aren’t playing WoW now and you probably won’t be playing it in the future.

Anyway, back to happy pictures.  I put a gallery of my housing collections in EQII, plus a bit of the Revelry & Honor guild hall (which is huge), after the cut, because it really is my ideal housing plan.

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Shoes for Industry – Crius Deployed to New Eden July 22, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online.
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1 comment so far

The first of CCP’s smaller, more frequent expansions went live today in EVE Online.  They call it Crius, which I keep wanting to type as Cirrus.

EVE Online - Crius

EVE Online – Crius

The Kronos expansion went live back at the beginning of June, the last of the expansions with a six month run-up to launch.  It was big and had bits and pieces for just about everybody.

With Crius, the age of the more focused expansion begins.  What does it mean?

That is a question with answers on several levels.

Crius itself is focused on industry in New Eden.  You can read the release notes for all the gory details, or the page devoted to the expansion, which at least has some pictures related to the changes for the more visually oriented.  Or there is the video.  There is always a video.   And music.  There is a Crius theme up on SoundCloud, where CCP posts all the EVE Online music.

Anyway, there are some general bug fixes and some small changes in other areas, but most everything is about industry.

Which isn’t very exciting to some.

Not that industry isn’t of absolute, vital importance to the game.  Without the great industrial concerns of New Eden we might very well be flying about in rookie ships with civilian modules, terrorized by that guy who just finished the tutorial and was flying a Bantam or a Kestral.  Every other ship in EVE Online has to be built by somebody.  Some player in the game buys the blueprint, collects the materials, runs the assembly job, and lists the result on the market for just about every ship hull you want to buy.  I am not sure I have played any MMO that depended so much upon player crafting.

So industry deserves attention.  I am just not sure that it grabs much attention.

I went through an industrial phase myself, and my eyes still start to glaze over looking at those patch notes.  I like that you now only need 100 of any ore to refine it.  I have several stacks of 487 units of some ore that used to require 500 to refine.  And it is a good thing that was mentioned at the top of the list, because it kept me from speed scrolling to the bottom of the notes for probably a good five seconds as I looked for something else that made sense to me.  I think it is easier to plant a POS in high sec now.  Maybe.

I’d better stick to the page with the pictures.  Go Teams!  They are a some kind of thing now.

Necessary stuff, but not exactly exciting.  No marketing team’s dream here.  The ingredients required for things to go boom, without any of the actually boom.

And it brings change to what is a fairly conservative group in New Eden.

The core of these changes were supposed to go into the Kronos expansion, but there was such a hue and cry over them and how they might change the dynamics of industry and rob this group or that of their livelihood that it got pushed off to Crius.  Industry is such a basic necessity to the game that even CCP, who have been known succumb to their rash viking heritage from time to time, felt they had better back off and think about this.  But eventually they came up with something that did not start a revolution amongst industrialists against the company, and that is going live today.

Which brings me to the big question, what do these changes mean to the game itself?

Damned if I know.

I am so long out of the industrial side of things that I can’t gauge what will be a popular win and what will be a milestone around the neck of this expansion.  But there are plenty of smart people in EVE Online who can explain things.  You can try these:

I am sure there will be many more posts on the topic.  The general sense seems to be that things will be a bit more expensive.  We shall see.

Meanwhile, the next focused expansion on the list, Hyperion, should be well under way.  We should start seeing dev blogs about that soon.

The CCP Train Schedule

The CCP Train Schedule

While the dates have already changed, we should still see Hyperion about eight weeks down the line if CCP can hold to its planned pace.

Quote of the Day – What Baltec Fleet Really Does July 21, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online.
Tags: , , ,
7 comments

Dreadnoughts were literally a punchline of nullsec jokes until the five-minute siege timer, and now unless in blap mode they scuttle for cover like oversized space-cockroaches​, cap boosters firing wildly, when confronted with bright lights​.

-The Mittani, Traffic Control: Apex Force

The Mittani is continuing his pot stirring over at TMC with his Traffic Control series of columns.  This time around he is on about the current chestnut of favor, power projection, and how it has ruined null sec.  I was particularly amused by the dismissal of dreadnoughts, quoted in part above, as a good percentage of Baltec fleets I’ve stood up for over the last year… from midway through Fountain forward… have been called to cover dreadnought fleets.

Reinforcing the first tower

Baltecs babysitting dreads

Of those call ups, a good half of the time we end up just sitting on a titan, a fleet in being, as much there to dissuade any hostile move as to actually shoot something.  We only get to go out and shoot if the target system is beyond the range of a titan bridge.  And even then, as with recent run down to Delve, we have to move out, cover the system, wait for the dreads to arrive, let them shoot stuff up, then hang out while they head home before we can start for home ourselves.

I actually have all the skills required for a Naglfar dreadnought at this point.  It might be time to buy one so Baltec fleet can sit on a titan or scurry across space to protect me.

Progression, Nostalgia, and Special Servers July 21, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Sony Online Entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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6 comments

One of the questions that comes up all the time in the EverQuest forums is when will SOE launch the next progression server?  It may be the most popular question on the Progression Server sub-forum.

Second place goes to people asking for a Classic server, though those questions are somewhat undermined by both the fact that they are off-topic in that sub-forum and that there is nothing like an agreed upon definition of what a Classic server would actually include.  It ranges from just launch content out to the Planes of Power expansion, though there are a couple of voices that would stretch thing to just shy of Gates of Discord.

So the two most popular topics seem to be about getting a new special EverQuest server from SOE.

And why not?  SOE has something of a history with special servers for EverQuest, going all the way back to the initial PvP server to the first progression servers, The Combine and The Sleeper, which rolled out in June of 2006, to the Mayong 51/50 server back in 2009, to the current Fippy Darkpaw and Vulak’Aerr servers, with their time locked rule sets, which went live in February 2011.

Foggy, foggy Fippy

Foggy, foggy Fippy

So the assumption is that of course SOE is going to roll another one, it is just a question of when.  When will SOE roll out the next progression server?

My gut response to that is “never.”

There are lots of arguments for such a server.  It brings people back to the game.  It rewards long term fans.  It is popular, illustrated by the fact that both times they have done a progression server they have had to roll a second server to accommodate demand.  And in a time when the game is free to play, a luxury item like a special nostalgia server seems like a reasonable way to boost revenue.

On the flip side of all of that there is the problem with nostalgia.  That driving sense of nostalgia often doesn’t last long beyond the point when you return to the time/place/song you were nostalgic for.  I have read a couple of articles about how the internet is going to kill nostalgia as a sensation before too long.  When you have access to what amounts to a historically unprecedented amount of information in the comfort of your own home, the moment you feel nostalgic for something, you can track it down on the internet and watch/listen/read all there is available about, to the point that the sensation is sated.  Having access to the thing for which you are nostalgic replaces nostalgia with reality.  And, often times, the reality includes the downside, the reason the world moved on or the series got cancelled or that you never bought that band’s second or third album.

After "Vacation" there wasn't much point...

After “Vacation” there wasn’t much point…

So while the progression servers… or any special servers… tend to start off strong.  Things taper off over time.  Fippy Darkpaw was packed when it opened and remained popular for the first few expansions.

Crowd on the Kunark Dock

Crowd on the Kunark Dock

After a while though, the feeling begins fade.  Potshot and I joined in on the fun and were quite invested for a while, visiting many old locations in the game.  And while the great PSN/SOE hacking episode of April 2011 knocked us off the path, that episode might have done us a favor.  We ran around a little bit more after that, but for me at least, content after Kunark is still flagged as “that new stuff” in my brain, so our progress was arrested before we made ourselves sick on nostalgia.

But nostalgia does wear off.  And so it is that the question “When will Fippy Darkpaw and Vulak’Aerr be merged?” might be the third most common question on the progression server sub-forum.  In hindsight, SOE probably should have just bit the bullet and stuck with a single server, especially based on the history they had with The Combine and The Sleeper, which had to be merged less than a year into their lives, because now things are very quiet on both servers.

Unless you are in one of the raiding guilds.  They still play, racing to unlock each expansion and then hanging around, farming gear, until the next expansion.  But they are playing their own game and the rest of the server could be empty and it would not bother them.

So nostalgia wears out or the server advances to the point where the current expansion is no longer nostalgia and you end up with something more akin to a special raiding preserve as opposed to a home for old school players.

Thus I think that, given the cost of maintaining such a server and the limited pool of personnel that SOE has to devote to such tasks (as opposed to working on EverQuest Next) I think we may have seen the last special EverQuest server out of SOE.  Smed isn’t going to overtly point you to Project 1999, but SOE hasn’t shown much interest in stamping out such private servers of late either.

And what other game would be prime for such a nostalgia server?  EverQuest is somewhat unique in that not only were there a lot of expansions, but that expansions tended to leave old zones alone.  Blackburrow today looks pretty much like it did back in 1999.

Certainly World of Warcraft would spring to mind for many, but Blizzard effectively shut down that idea when Cataclysm reworked the original game.  There are parts of the old world that were no doubt better for the change, but you cannot go home again.  There is nostalgia for original vanilla WoW in part because you can’t go there any more, and Blizzard isn’t going to support two clients just so you can go back in time.

And what other games would be prime for nostalgia.  RuneScape has an old school server up now, and Dark Age of Camelot did one in the past.  But most other MMOs are too young or have changed so much that the work to create anything like a nostalgia server would make the whole thing a non-starter.  Lord of the Rings Online still delivers about the same experience for the first 40 levels, so who needs a different sort of server.  A few people pine for the early days of EverQuest II, but how would you even roll back to that?

Then there are games like EVE Online, where there is only the one server.

I asked in a post just about two years back if SOE was going to be the sole vendor of a nostalgic MMO experience.  Now I wonder if even they will keep that up.

But then there will be nostalgia.

Maybe, at some point, way down the road, nostalgia will become a viable business decision for some MMOs.

What sort of special server would you want to see?  What game should have a nostalgia server some day?

What Does It Mean to be a “Subscription MMO?” July 18, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, Sony Online Entertainment, Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Elder Scrolls Online, World of Warcraft.
Tags: ,
24 comments

I am on the press release list along with a lot of real media outlets, so my inbox is often stuffed with the raw material that is barely recycled for content a lot of places around the web.

I skim through them every day, but don’t bother to mention 99% of them as they tend to be rather thin on things worth talking about.

This morning through there was a press release from SuperData Research pointing at their June factoid report.  Lots of little bits of data in that from which you can barely come up with to points to draw a line about anything.

The highlight of the report though was a chart listing out revenues for the top subscription-based MMO titles for 2013, worldwide.

Top Subscription MMO Revenue

Top Subscription MMO Revenue

The top spot is unsurprising.  WoW, even down to something like 60% of its peak, still rakes in money like no other.  Then there are a couple Asian MMOs which you might have heard of if you have been paying close enough attention.  Lineage 1 is still NCsoft’s biggest money maker.

And then you come to Star Wars: The Old Republic and Lord of the Rings Online, where you might legitimately ask a question like, “Hey, aren’t those free to play?”

As the title of this post asks, what makes for a subscription MMO these days?  Because if we are talking about needing a subscription to play, several of those titles fall off the list immediately.

But if, as the list here suggests, merely offering a subscription option is enough to be called a subscription MMO, then aren’t we missing a title or two.

Specifically, I would expect EverQuest II to make the list.  I don’t have any hard data to back up that expectation, but my gut impression of the game is that it ought to be somewhere on the list ahead of Lord of the Rings Online, something that is backed up, in my mind, by the fact that EQII has no problems cranking out expansions and interim content for all ranges of player while LOTRO is publicly giving up on raiders for now and doesn’t seem to be able to scrape it together for an expansion in 2014.

But maybe EQII isn’t doing as well as I thought.  Or maybe SOE’s model somehow falls outside of what SuperData considered a subscription MMO.  Or, most likely, maybe SOE just didn’t cooperate with SuperData and its information requests.  And one could also ask about Final Fantasy XIV.

Otherwise, I am somewhat surprised at where LOTRO ranks.  SWTOR is still popular, if not WoW popular, and that its revenue is only 1.65x what Turbine gets for LOTRO seems odd, given the downtrodden way Turbine seems these days.  And Rift seems way down the line.  But that does seem to mostly line up with the 2013 end of year summary for the Digital Dozen over at The Nosy Gamer.  EVE is generally higher on the list than LOTRO, but otherwise it seems about right.  Does that give this chart more validity?  Or the Digital Dozen?

And, of course, one key item missing from this chart is how much subscription revenue played into the totals listed.

Because the follow up chart points out that subscription revenues have been decreasing since their peak in 2010.

Subscription revenue

Subscription revenue

Subscriptions are trending down, while microtransactions are… well…  sort of flat really if you look at that line.  They are not not rising up sufficiently to off-set the loss of subscription revenue overall, which seems to go against what some cheerleaders for the model would have us believe.

Which might be why we saw a couple of subscription based launches this year.  SuperData pulled out the very exact number of 772,374 for The Elder Scrolls Online subscriptions.  That would make for a nice revenue stream.  WildStar was mentioned, but since it just launched in June, there were no numbers.

I would really like to know how much of the revenue for a game like SWTOR or LOTRO comes from subscribers.  If that chart is to be believed, subscriptions still make up most of the revenue.

And what does all of this mean?  This isn’t the range of data I would like, but you look at the industry with the data you have, not the data you want.  But I am not prepared to go all Massively comment thread, where the trend seems to be “lying liars lie!” for everybody whose pet theory is not supported by the data provided.

Anyway, as noted, the full report is here.  If you want more data, you have to pay.

Addendum: Azuriel makes an interesting comparison between the above chart and other MMO data available.

Addendum 2: And Flosch takes the numbers and extrapolates a bit.

Send More Ruptures! July 18, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online.
Tags: , , ,
2 comments

I’d just like to congratulate the entire CFC on losing over 627 ruptures in the last five days.

Good work, all. Keep it up.

### Original broadcast from blawrf_mctaggart at 2014-07-17 01:28:10.494439 ###

It looks like my experience so far with Gamma Fleet Ruptures is not unique.

Ruptures undock

Ruptures undock to meet their doom

Gamma Fleet is a low cost doctrine that is supposed to be expendable.  Lose one and buy another while you’re waiting for your reimbursement because they are cheap.  But I am not sure if they are supposed to be quite that expendable.

Then again, maybe taking on bombers isn’t the right job for them.  That might be the “Never pet a burning dog” lesson of the campaign so far.

You might think we’d be down on Ruptures.  Well, I suppose we are a bit.  Calling a Rupture fleet is a way to get a laugh.  On the other hand, the supply chain has been in full swing getting ships out to Delve to replace losses and we now have hundred of Ruptures on contract just waiting to be blown up.  It has even caused a small bump in the price of Rupture hulls in Jita.

Rupture market for the last 10 days

Rupture market for the last 10 days

The wide reddish area, the Donchian channel, shows that pricing has been changing, with the gap between high and low sales widening as the average price jumped up a bit.

So we are invested in Ruptures.  Maybe.  A lot of fleet doctrines die out or get changed soon after a major deployment starts.  We didn’t end up the war in Fountain flying the same fleets we did at the start.  And I still have a Ferox sitting out in Curse left over from the fleeting “Non-ironic Ferox Doctrine” that was in vogue for about 20 minutes.  That was just long enough for me to buy one on contract.

And if we’re going to continue to chase bombers in Ruptures, I’ve taken the liberty of reworking the lyrics to the WWI tune Bombed Last Night to be our theme.

Bombed last night, Bombed the night before
Gonna get bombed again tonight if we never get bombed no more.
When we’re bombed, we die so damn quickly
God damnn the boxin’ bombers from PASTA and NC

They’re bombin’ us, they’re bombin’ us,
Only one Rupture left for the four of us.
Glory be to God there are no more of us
‘Cause one of us could fill it all alone.

I think I need something better for the last two lines, but it gets the point across all the same.