Twelve Questions for 2012

2012 is now upon us, a new year with new possibilities, a time for fresh optimism.

With the new year comes the time for looking forward and predicting what will come to pass.  And we seem to have so many predictions this year.  I am not sure if this is driven by a bright outlook for 2012, a foreboding that we know what is coming, or, like the team at Massively, and editor that made you do it. (They are even trolling for predictions over at Massively.  Must be some new AOL directive along the lines of “sites must increase outrageous predictions by 37%.”).)

Anyway, the prediction list includes Keen, Spinks, Eliot, Beau, Bree, BrendanJef, Jeremy, Justin, Shawn, Green Armadillo, Heartless_, Gazimoff, Stanziel, MMOCrunch, and probably many more I missed, but I will try to fill those in as I spot them.

However, this year I do not seem to have any predictions… or demands… in me.

This year I can only come up with questions.  So here, after the cut, are the twelve questions I have for 2012.

1. What fate awaits the Old Republic?

And I don’t mean that ambitious Senator form Naboo.

Love it, hate it, see it as a revolution in MMOs or as a symbol of that all is wrong, Star Wars the Old Republic is now a force to be reckoned with on the MMO landscape.  It has everybody’s attention for good or ill.  Where will it lead us?  What will become must have features of the future based on the game, and what will be quirks that will stay in the BioWare arena?  And how important is the base story in an MMO?  Do we play for the game’s story, or do we play for our own?

There are plenty of people out there with snap answers… guesses and wish projections mostly… to all those questions and more.

But the real answers will only come with time, and we’ll only just start getting a few of them in 2012.

2. Can Blizzard stem the World of Warcraft subscription trend?

WoW is down 2 million subscriptions since this point last year according to Activision-Blizzard’s own numbers.

That still leaves WoW the big dog in the subscription MMO race, the benchmark against which all other games are measured.  Now, though, WoW is being measured against its own past glory.

Mists of Pandaria, the next WoW expansion, is month away.  The “lock in for a year and we will give you Diablo III” probably went well with those still playing WoW, but did it bring anybody back?  Will they finally hit a post-Cataclysm plateau, or will subscriptions keep slipping?

And will they have drawn the right lessons from Cataclysm going forward?

3. Will Free to Play continue to be the gold mine/panacea for subscription games?

The free to play mantra hit fever pitch in 2012.  Rift and SWTOR really looked to be bucking the trend as games went, announced they were going, or looked to be getting prepared to announce they were going the free to play route.

Part of that is just logical.  In an increasingly crowded and competitive market, any barrier to getting people to try your game… like having to buy a box or enter a credit card number… becomes an six foot hurricane fence that keeps out all but those who just HAVE to play your game.

And when all your competitors are subscription and you are free, that is a clear advantage.  But what happens when just about everybody is free and it is simple the way most games in your segment do business?  What is the state of affairs when it is a check box on the feature list that everybody has?  How do you stand out then?

We have already seen free to play titles like LEGO Universe fall.  What happens when merely being free to play isn’t enough?

4. Who will really win the “Just Like Diablo” battle of 2012?

We have two major contenders for the Diablo Crown in 2012.

In one corner is Blizzard, with all the cash and muscle that implies.  They are making Diablo III, the game with the name to claim the Diablo lineage.  Diablo III has that name and Blizzard’s reputation behind it, but plans to make a game actually more restrictive than any past Diablo titles, with no LAN play, no mods, and a cash grab RMT market.

And in the other corner is Runic and their challenger, Torchlight II.  It is clearly lining up a feature list to make Diablo III players jealous, with to 8 player groups, LAN play, and mods for mod sake.  But their ace in the hole is that the Runic team actually includes people who made Diablo and Diablo II.

Runic’s Achilles heel is not having the Blizzard name or bankroll.  And the team also includes people who thought Hellgate: London was the next evolution of Diablo, and that didn’t turn out so well.  So they are clearly the underdog in this race.

Finally, sitting in the stands, ready to jump into the ring with a folding chair and start swinging if it sees the chance, is Path of Exile, a game that looks and feels a lot like Diablo 2.5, and will be MMO-ish in a Guild Wars sort of way, but without the box sales.  Ambitious, certainly, but realistic in its ambitions?

Somebody is going to come out of 2012 clearly designated the heir to the Diablo franchise.  Who will it be?

5. When will we lose a game to hacking?

We had the big Sony PSN/SOE hack last year, which brought down SOE for weeks and the PSN for nearly two months.  And while that was the headline news, that another MMO company has been hacked is an ongoing drum beat.

So far it seems to be driven by economics.  Regardless of what is said, hackers are going for the user accounts and passwords.  But at some point, some group or individual is going to go in and succeed with the idea of simply destroying a game.

Who is it going to be?  Who will end up having to say their game is gone for good or has to be relaunched from scratch because of a hacking attack?

6. Will SOE remain the only player in the MMO nostalgia game?

SOE tries hard to innovate.  They have some follow-through issues, but they have, for example, offered more subscription plans than any MMO company just for a start.

And, with the EverQuest Progression Server concept, they seem to be the only ones playing the nostalgia card seriously.

They have an advantage in EverQuest, of course.  It was the WoW of its day, played very differently at launch than MMOs do now, and is now past the 12 year mark.  So there is a population out there that remembers the “good old days” and wants to go back and relive them.

Will anybody else join in that game with SOE?

World of Warcraft seems a prime candidate for such treatment, and yet I cannot see Blizzard going in that direction for a long time, if ever.

7. Will Guild Wars 2 be the game changer in the MMO market in 2012?

ArenaNet has been writing a lot of checks in promising that Guild Wars 2 will solve problems that plague the MMO genre currently.  But all that is so much chin music at this point, nice theory no real practical demonstration.  Frankly, if they can improve the genre by a quarter of what they are claiming, they will be stars and deserve all the success they get and more.

And, of course, the other part of the question, will they do it in 2012?

8. Will CCP ever be anything but the company that makes EVE Online?

Not that being the company that makes EVE Online isn’t a worthy position in the world.  For good and bad it is unlike any other MMO out there.  It makes money, has a loyal following, and frankly makes for some of the best MMO news this side of WoW.

But this year we are looking at them shipping a new title. Dust 514.  A shooter.  On the PlayStation 3.

Which still seems like an odd move.

Okay, it is tied in with EVE Online… somehow… so they are staying focused on their main IP… but a console shooter?

9. What will the earth shattering MMO announcements be in 2012?

Are we going to learn about Blizzard’s Titan project at last?  Will EverQuest Next finally be revealed?  Will something new and amazing show up on the MMO scene?

Or, on the flip side, who will be going under?  What MMOs will close?  What ambitious projects will be shelved?

And what plans will get pushed into 2013 or beyond?

10. Will MMOs get redefined in new and interesting (or bad and annoying) ways?

MMOs, massively multi-player online games, some with a particularly elastic name.  Nothing in MMO says the things we often think of when somebody uses the term.  Nowhere is “persistent world” mentioned, or even “virtual world.”

And so World of Warcraft, World of Tanks, Second Life, and Call of Duty: Black Ops all seem to be able to claim the MMO title, despite being very different games.

Will somebody come in from a new angle in 2012?

And while we’re on the subject, will we come up with a term that means what we think it means when somebody says MMO?

11. Are we every going to get another decent MMO news podcast?

I miss the VirginWorlds podcasts of 2007.  It was simple, focused mostly on news with a bit of opinion, and so well produced as to make you tear up in joy.  And nothing has come close to it since.  Van Hemlock was on the right track, and then totally fell off the MMO thing.  And Massively Online Gamer was a most excellent counter-point to VirginWorlds, but a show like that without VW is like a yin without a yang.

So somebody get to work on this please.  Really, this only needs to be a minimalist thing.  Call it an ~30 minute show once a week, one person on the mic, a summary of news, announcements, and press releases, a little commentary, a minimal amount about what you are playing, and no freaking self aggrandizement, debates, witty banter, long music segments, what you saw on TV, politics, religion, hackneyed japes, endless cliches, or anything your grandmother ever said.

I want the BBC/NPR version of of MMO news.  And I am pretty sure I am not going to get it.  But a man can dream.

Somebody is going to say in the comments, “do it yourself.”  That will be somebody who hasn’t heard my voice on a podcast and does not realize the full horror implied.  But the real answer is that I have looked into it.  I work with sound and prompts and have since the 80s, and what I do not know the instance group can fill in.   But I really have just enough free time to either blog and game or podcast and game, but not blog, podcast, and game.  And I would rather have the blog, since that does not involve hearing my own voice… just the ones in my head.

12. What will Lord British do next?

It sounds like his fondness campaign is not going to pay off, and that merely sitting across the room making eyes at Electronic Arts is not going to get him license to revive the Ultima franchise in order to create his ultimate RPG.  In fact, EA and BioWare seem to be going somewhere with Ultima themselves.

How will Dr. Richard Allen Garriott de Cayeux handle this set back?  I know he said he doesn’t need the Ultima franchise in order to go where he wants to with this, but it still has to be a blow.

What Else?

Those are my questions for 2012.  But there are only twelve there, and I am sure I could come up with a hundred given the time.

What questions do you have for 2012?

And, of course, you are free to try and answer my questions… but you’ll have to excuse my skepticism until I see some of these things actually come to pass.

9 thoughts on “Twelve Questions for 2012

  1. bhagpuss

    Massively told us today that Nexon have pulled Mabinogi because of “malicious activity” so #5 is answered !

    http://massively.joystiq.com/2012/01/01/nexon-takes-mabinogi-offline-indefinitely-due-to-malicious-acti/

    Podcasts are a non-optimal way to deliver news (like voice acting is a non-optimal way to deliver quests). It annoys me to listen to someone talking for half an hour to get the same information I could get by reading for 5 minutes. Take out all the commentary and banter and I really can’t see any point at all. I never heard the VW podcast – what did it offer that you didn’t already get from MMO news sites?

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  2. Thilandril

    I miss the Virgin Worlds podcast too. Brent got it just right. The Massively Speaking podcast has been filling in for me for weekly MMO news since the VW pod-fade. I still miss Virgin Worlds, but Massively Speaking is enjoyable in it’s own right.

    @bhagpuss – for me, the podcasts are perfect for the daily commute to and from work. I don’t think its so much an optimal way to get the MMO news (I still read my share of MMO sites), I just enjoy listening to someone talk about things I’m interested in.

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  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – I saw that bit about Nexon, but we’ve seen games taken offline before. SOE during the hacking, for example. I want to know when a game is actually going to have to start over or shut down. This might turn into that, but we do not know that yet.

    And VirginWorlds, which has been offline today due to database issues, was just about perfect. I would prefer to read in your scenario of 5 vs. 30 minutes. But Brent was condensing down an hours worth of reading multiple sources to a five minute excerpt and a little bit of intelligent commentary and analysis. It ran once a week, it covered MMOs, followed up on past stories, an had exceedingly high production values. It was the most professional MMO news podcast to which I have listened.

    I still go back and listen to an old episode now and again.

    The major downfall of podcasts is that the information isn’t searchable without transcription.

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  4. flosch

    It’s not quite clear whether it was a hacking incident or just a plain backup fail, but the Japanese MMO “M2: 神甲演義” (something like “story of the divine armor”? my Japanese is a bit rusty) closed down permanently in October after they lost their complete user database.

    Don’t want to be little Bobby Tables on that one… that can haunt you for a long time.

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  5. Gazimoff

    I’ve done a few of my own predictions, but just to respond to some of your questions:

    2. Warcraft has peaked, but still enjoys a loyal fanbase and makes money hand over fist. I don’t think we’ll see a free to play switch, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they do some kind of bundling with Titan’s subscription.

    3. Free to play isn’t going to be a golden bullet any more. They’re not competing for our cash, they’re competing for our time. That’s going to be a much more difficult game for F2P developers to win at.

    4. Torchlight 2. They have the backing of Perfect World Entertainment, they know what the playerbase wants and they’ve probably learned a lot from their first game. Plus they’ve been building their brand on Steam through regular involvement with promotions, so there’s almost a ready-built market for it.

    7. I’m really pegging some hopes on ArenaNet pushing the boat out with Guild Wars 2. Fingers crossed we’ll see it happen. And yes, it’ll definitely be 2012.

    9. Titan will be announced in October. SWTOR’s first expansion pack will be announced this year. Wildstar will move to 2013.

    10. I have a horrible feeling that we’ll see an alarming number of MMOSport games crop up this year…

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  6. HarbingerZero

    I have a horrible feeling that we’ll see an alarming number of MMOSport games crop up this year…

    That’s probably the best prediction I’ve heard yet. EA has about run the Madden franchise into the ground, but some sort of online franchise game with RPG characteristics would probably suck millions out of the wallets of an almost entirely new crowd.

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