Looking Back at 2011 – Highs and Lows

Last week I looked forward to figure out where I might be headed online game-wise in the new year.  That list was filled with a lot of not-quite-MMOs.

Now it is time to look back at what came to pass in 2011, or at least what came to pass from my vantage point in this little corner of the gaming world.  So, as I did last year, I present you with a lot of bullet points in no particular order.

Turbine

Highs:

  • LOTRO is still there, still has wonderful Middle-earth charm, still has some of the best role-play tools available in any MMORPG.
  • Their games survived and thrived post free-to-play.
  • They got a nice new chunk of Middle-earth on the map with Rise of Isengard.
  • I made it to freakin’ Moria at last!!11 one one one

Lows:

  • Their stuff still doesn’t feel as polished as WoW or Rift, which is bad in a still-growing field of competitors.
  • Their character models, awkward at launch, are not aging well at all.
  • I am still in Moria and have no plan to buckle down and get to Mirkwood, much less Isengard.
  • They shipped their last new game when?

Sony Online Entertainment

Highs:

  • I say this every year, but EQ still lives!  12 years in and still going!
  • Time locked progression servers brought back a healthy slice of that MMO nostalgia goodness!
  • I got to partake in that goodness with Potshot for a while… and it was damn good!
  • EQ got a new expansion with things like parcel delivery through the mail, more zones, five new levels, and hotbars that look like they are now from this century.
  • EQII still does a ton of things better than other games, like housing interiors.
  • SOE reconciled the Live/Extended split so there is, again, but one Popeye EverQuest II.
  • EQII got a new expansion and actually added a new class, beastlords, to the game after seven years.
  • Star Wars Galaxies goes out with dignity and some fond memories.
  • Planetside 2 announced!
  • Vanguard is actually getting some attention!

Lows:

  • That whole PSN/SOE hacking thing.  It killed our momentum on Fippy Darkpaw and made SOE look bad in general.
  • The nostalgia marketing effort around the EQ progression servers started weak and then totally disappeared once they went live.  A 12 year old game has a big nostalgia card to play, but SOE chose to pretty much ignore it the day after the Time Locked Progression servers were launched.
  • The behavior of some players on the TLP servers reminded us all why we went to instanced dungeons in the first place, plus a lot of other old arguments sprang up anew on the forums.  Too much nostalgia.
  • Hey EQ team, haven’t items through the mail been on every MMO since 2004? What took you so long?
  • EQII still pisses me off with a myriad of stupid little things, like why is “auto loot” when solo and “auto greed” when in a group the same setting.  I want to do one but not another.  The game has more settings than any MMO I have ever played, yet felt the need to combine these two?
  • EQII pissed off members of the instance group and pretty much closed the door on us ever going back there again.
  • SOE remains amazingly unprepared to announce things.  The whole merger of EQII Live and Extended brought up a couple dozen questions, the immediate answers to which were, “Uh… we need to think about that.”
  • I still cannot get past level 60 or so in EQII before becoming bored.
  • There were layoffs and the death of The Agency.
  • Who decided that a double station cash event was a great idea three days after a triple station cash event?
  • Planetside 2? Was the original popular enough to spawn a sequel?
  • Star Wars Galaxies… Lucas pulls the plug, leaves SOE to clean up the mess.

CCP

Highs:

  • The EVE Online CSM actually does some good, gets management to focus on EVE fundamentals.
  • CCP management actually turns things around for the next EVE expansion.
  • Crucible moves the game forward by fixing what we already had.
  • Oh, hey, I am in null sec!  Bet you didn’t see that one coming!
  • Dust 514 looks like it might become real giving CCP… two games.

Lows:

  • Arrogance, blindness, and Incarna nearly lead the company off a cliff.
  • Over-extension of resources meant layoffs and the long-term postponement of a World of Darkness based MMO.
  • EVE is back on the right course… but there are still times when the game is dull.  I had to buy Peggle to play while sitting and watching local.
  • Dust 514 makes sense I guess… CCP clearly has to focus… but with their customer base all on the PC, was going to a console game really the right move?

Blizzard

Highs:

  • WoW still has more players than any other subscription MMO you play… not that there are many of those left.
  • Still immensely profitable.
  • Has plans for pandas.  My daughter is all over that.
  • Oh, and they shipped Star Craft II in the last decade… and are talking about Diablo III and some new game.

Lows:

  • WoW is down 2 million players since this time last year.
  • Cataclysm malaise and the killing of game nostalgia by redoing the world we started with.  Can they ever do a WoW progression server now?
  • The slow response time of Blizzard, which worked out fine when things were going good, is starting to work against them.
  • Pandas?  That was the big news in 2011 from Blizzard?
  • Did they ship a freakin’ thing in 2011?  Does Blizzard and its huge profit margin exist simply to keep Activision from losing money every quarter where they do NOT ship a version of Call of Duty?

Trion Worlds

Highs

  • Rift actually turned out to be well executed.  It is like somebody learned from the last dozen years of MMO foibles.
  • Comfortable and polished enough to pick up and hold on to some defectors from WoW.
  • Public quests… rifts and invasions… done in the way that Warhammer Online should have.
  • Turned out to be a good place for the instance group to call home for now.

Lows:

  • It is, really, just another fantasy MMORPG in the WoW model.  If it had shipped against Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King I am not sure it would have been as successful.
  • Nothing in Trion’s next acts has me interested.

Steam

Highs:

  • I am beginning to reconcile myself with Steam.  I am still not fully on board, but I see the utility of the system as a platform to distribute games.
  • Wow, they put a lot of games on sale for real cheap over the summer and this winter.
  • Steam achievements are… something I guess.

Lows:

  • The internet went down for a couple hours last week and guess what I couldn’t do?  Play any of my games on Steam!  And, of course, Steam is where most of the single player games I would want to play when the internet goes down are.  This is the part I cannot reconcile.
  • Just because a game is marked down from $29.99 to $3.74 does not mean I will like it.  I have a lot of very inexpensive games that I do not like now that I simply wouldn’t have purchased at all were it not for a Steam sale.  Victory for the developer and Steam there, not for me.  Steam now represents the greatest collection of games I do not play on my current PC.
  • Why in the hell did I buy the entire Pop-Cap catalog? I know it was marked down 84%, but I really only wanted Peggle.  Damn you Steam!  And damn me for violating the “never buy anything online after dark” rule.
  • How often does Team Fortress 2 get updates?  Steam was updating it so frequently I had to uninstall it.

Free to Play Movement

Highs:

  • Lots of free to play games out there to sample, like World of Tanks, League of Legends, and Need for Speed World, and a lot more are promised.
  • Older games are getting a new breath of life via an influx of new players via this model.  It seemed to do wonders for EverQuest II.
  • Facebook… there were sure a lot of new games there.
  • Lord British is now the self-designated champion of light platforms and free to play.

Lows:

  • To one degree or another, the current consensus on the business model seems to be that a company must bestow some sort of advantage on or remove some annoyance from players who pay.  It is accelerated experience and golden bullets that support most of the games I see, with the selling of actual content far behind in the pack.  And the idea of supporting a game entirely based on cosmetic items sales appears to be a myth on par with Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster.
  • The games that I play that converted to free to play were the ones I played when they were subscription based.  Time is still the biggest tax on my ability to play games.
  • That a game is free to play does not make it fun to play.  A business model can ruin fun, but it can rarely create fun.
  • Is there any game idea that has not yet been screwed up in attempting to bring it to Facebook?
  • Lord British is now the self-designated champion of light platforms and free to play

Players, Blogs, and Community

Highs:

  • Players, like those in EVE Online, show that a group with limited, rational objectives can make their voices heard and see their demands met.  #Occupy protestors take note.
  • Community and playing together is not dead.  Thrown into the EverQuest progression servers, people got together, formed groups, and played nicely… for a while.
  • Hey, we all like to comment on each others blogs!  Thanks for taking the time to leave comments on mine.

Lows:

  • Every time I go into a game’s official forums, I am saddened. This is surely a symptom of the human condition.
  • EverQuest progression servers were a self-selected population of those who wanted most to group up and play nicely… and that has devolved into all the problems that made the WoW model of solo content and instances so popular.  Remember that when you have your rose colored glasses out.
  • For every rational discussion where consensus is reached I see in a blog comment thread, there has to be a dozen cases of the complete inability to see the other person’s perspective or even admit that it exists.  Can we get over that please?
  • I am still not sure which is worse, people complaining bitterly about a game they do not play and do not understand, or people complaining bitterly about people who do not like their game de jour.  Of course, they are often the same people on both counts, so at least they are easy to spot and ignore.
  • Most of the problems in-game… in any game… such as hacking, cheating, bad behavior, poor community, illicit RMT, and the state of official game forums are all pretty much our own damn fault.  Can we promise to try to behave better next year?

So that was 2011, at least from where I sit.  Yes, I failed to mention SWTOR, but I think that is really part of 2012.  There is still too much new game euphoria for me to get any feel for how things are going, especially since I am not playing.

Still, trying to recall a whole year, even with the blog open in front of my for reference, is doomed to failure.  What did I miss?  What came to pass in 2011 that I should have remembered?

11 thoughts on “Looking Back at 2011 – Highs and Lows

  1. stargrace

    Just a few comments about Steam that may save you some headache in the future. One, you can switch it to offline mode. I know the problem with this is that you can’t switch it while the internet is down, but you can switch it and then just turn it back on when you think you want to update games. No internet required. Also, you can disable each game from updating individually. I only have Skyrim updating, the others are turned off.

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  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Stargrace – Yeah, the problem is that I leave my computer off when I am asleep or at the office, so I usually discover that the internet is down when I boot up the computer and… hey… the internet is down. You cannot go into off-line mode at that point. I won’t ever be fully happy with Steam until I have a solution for that.

    I also forgot one nit to pick about Steam that I had in my notes. I hate buying MMOs from them. I bought Rift and then found I had to log into Steam to launch the game, and then log into Rift to patch and play the game. The utility of Steam in that scenario is nil. I went and downloaded Rift directly from Trion to take Steam out of the scenario at that point.

    In general I like Steam. But I really only want one such platform on my computer (so no Origin or GameFly or whatever it was that GameStop bought) because I do find it a bit intrusive. And I want a solution to the internet down problem that doesn’t require me to know in advance when it will be down.

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  3. Norikue

    I was going to state the same thing Stargrace said about going into offline mode with Steam, until I saw both comments here. So I had to check it out myself.

    I turned off Steam, unplugged myself from my router and tried to start up Steam. It still has the option to go offline even though it’ll boldly state that you do not have a connection. Small print on the bottom gives you the option for offline mode.

    Maybe that was Steam client update you missed?

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  4. coppertopper

    Havent had a problem playing steam games offline in months myself. Once you start a friends list or join a steam group (like Casualties of War ; )) its tough to accept any other distribution platform.

    Also don’t understand your issue with Rift and updates. Yes just have to launch Rift for the updates, not login. This works the same as any other MMO, whether bought off steam or not.

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  5. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Coppertopper – I don’t understand what you you don’t get. When I bought Rift via Steam, I had to log into Steam to run Rift. However, at that point, Steam had no value in the relationship, the way it does with other games. It was essentially just an annoyance.

    And when I am not logged into Steam and try and run a game I bought via Steam, it insists that I log in before it lets me play. The only options are login and cancel, and when I cancel the game doesn’t run, so I must be missing something here.

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  6. Mbp

    Re: Steam and offline mode. If you start Steam with no internet connection it (usually) gives you the choice of offline mode. Perhaps your problem is that the internet goes down while Steam is still running. Maybe disabling the “run on Windows start” feature coupled with closing down Steam after a game would increase your chances of getting in offline.

    PS Surprised to hear that internet outages are still an issue where you live. Is it a rural area?

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  7. coppertopper

    @Wilhelm
    I just assume that everyone has “run Steam on startup” and ‘autologin’ enabled like myself, so its one less step for me. And now that you bring it up, not sure if the Steam overlay works with Rift since I bought the box off the shelf. That would be the only other advantage (besides Steam achievements if there are any).

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  8. Pingback: The Rogue Blogger » 2011, We Hardly Knew Ya

  9. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Mbp – I live in the middle of Silicon Valley which, in the classic case of the cobbler’s children, has absolute crap internet infrastructure if you do not live in the right location. I live less than 8 miles from the fattest network pipe in Northern California, but can only get the lowest form of DSL that the phone company offers. I am too far from my central office.

    Outages are not a big issue these days, but AT&T does seem to think that Sunday when I want to log into a game is the right time for a four hour maintenance downtime window.

    I don’t feel bad that I never know about these windows in advance because AT&T doesn’t appear to even tell their first line tech people either. The net goes down, I call up, ask if there is service going on in my area, the tech tells me “no,” and I spend 30+ minutes rebooting my computer before getting handed off to the next level who tells me immediately that there is service in my area and when I can expect it to be over.

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  10. Pingback: Out with the old year, in with the new. MMO predictions for 2012 « Welcome to Spinksville!

  11. guidetorift

    No problems with turning Steam offline. Just feel it gives me more control. Interestingly I don’t let it run automatically when logging on, maybe that’s the problem.

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