Reviewing My Questions for 2012

At the beginning of each new year I have a special post.  Sometimes if it predictions.  Some times it is demands.  Last year I decided it should be questions.

2012pic

I asked 12 questions of the new year.  12 questions for the year 2012.

I think it is time to see if I received any clear answers.

1. What fate awaits the Old Republic?

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?

That was the position at the beginning of the year.

Unfortunately, the answer since then seems to be “Over a cliff.”  That cliff was described by the chart showing ongoing drops in total subscribers every quarter after launch.

Apparently story and voice acting will only keep people interested for so long.  That works for a single player game.  For a subscription game, not so much.  And so the Tortanic began to sink, and it was heralded as the death of the subscription model for MMOs.  They did announce an expansion, so they will have some content to sell along side action bars and raid access.  But there do not seem to be clear blue skies on the horizon for SWTOR yet.

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

Sort of.  The annual pass option, which got you a shiny mount and a free copy of Diablo III, kept at least a million people locked into their subscriptions.  And while numbers still fell, they rebounded some with the release of the Mists of Pandaria expansion.  The peak of “over 12 million” appears to be in the past, but 10 million isn’t so bad.

And, of course, WoW still rakes in cash like no other MMO out there.  Reports of the death of the subscription model may be a bit premature.

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

Panacea?  It certainly seems so.  SOE has thrown in fully for the free model, bringing all their titles save the original PlanetSide into the fold.  And certainly SWTOR is looking to that model to rescue it and revive their fortunes.

Is it a gold mine though?  Early reports from the LOTRO transition to F2P seemed to indicate that there was indeed gold to be had.  However, since then, there appears to have been some iron pyrite mixed in with the real thing, leading companies to try and cast an ever wider net to get players to buy their RMT currency and then turn around and spend it in their cash shop.

LOTRO, which at least lets you earn their RMT cash in-game, went towards the odious prize boxes and started suggesting things like the hobby horse mount.

SOE screwed up their RMT currency so badly with heavy discounts that they had to stop selling premium memberships and expansions in Station Cash.

And reports I have read indicate that SWTOR might not have figured out the magic formula for F2P success quite yet either.

So there appears to be a lot more work to be done on the F2P front.  Merely being F2P is no longer enough, as there are a lot of choices out there.

Companies keep bringing their games to the F2P altar, but that alone is no longer enough.

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

It depends on what you value.

I started to write a full post about it with the objective of declaring Diablo III the winner, but only on technicalities.  Basically, it does more to capture the atmosphere of Diablo II, while at the same time doing the most to destroy the game.  It just feels more like Diablo II, if you ignore the auction house, the always online aspect, the need to play through the game repeatedly in order to get to the most challenging game play, and a few other things.

That said, I think Torchlight II is, overall, a better game if you take the “heir to Diablo II” aspect out of the picture.  It doesn’t get anywhere close on story or atmosphere compared to Diablo II, but it managed to avoid the manifold mistakes of Diablo III while being light, fun, and full of options denied the players of Diablo III.

Basically, the answer for me is that neither game really wins the “Just Like Diablo” crown, mostly because it just isn’t the year 2000 any more, so neither game could really have the same impact.

5. When will we lose a game to hacking?

We seem to be safe from this still, at least on the MMO front.  Lots of security breaches, but  I haven’t read about a game completely brought down and destroyed, never to run again because of hacking.

So the only answer here I suppose was, “Not yet.”

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

This stems from the Fippy Darkpaw time locked progression server, about which I have posted often.

And my answer up until last week would have been “Yes.”  SOE is the only purveyor of MMO nostalgia.  I even got impatient by mid-year and went after the issue in a blog post.

After all, it seems like WoW could make a bundle with a similar scheme.  There are literally dozens of private WoW servers out there trying to recreate the “old” WoW, that being anywhere from day one to before Cataclysm.  I spent a bit of time on the Emerald Dream server and can vouch for the cathartic effect of playing an old-school version of the game.

But no such official venture looks to be forthcoming.

And then Turbine showed up with Asheron’s Call 2, fresh from the crypt, electrodes bolted on firmly in an attempt to create life where there was none.

I am not sure if it is quite the same thing, but it is something.  And it is nostalgic.

So SOE does not own the MMO nostalgia market completely.

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

Well, a lot was promised for Guild Wars 2.  But did it really change anything?

I have seen a number of GW2 fans lauding The Secret World for adopting the GW2 revenue plan, conveniently ignoring all the details that prove that they did no such thing.  Yes, there is the “buy the box” aspect for a free to play game that sure sounds a lot like GW2.  But what about the continuing monthly subscription model that unlocks things and hands out RMT currency as a reward?  That sounds a lot like an SOE game, doesn’t it?

I suspect that the “buy the box” aspect was a requirement only because they admitted they did not make their sales numbers, so it is either throw away all those boxes or find a way to keep selling them.

And, if we’re honest with ourselves, the “buy the box” plan was from Guild Wars, not GW2, so rationalize harder please.

Anyway, I think it is too early to tell.  GW2 only launched at the end of August, which didn’t leave a lot of time for anybody to react to anything they did in 2012, conspiracy theories not withstanding.

Maybe next year?

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

Of course, they also helped make Lazy Town, right?  Next question.

Okay, yes, DUST 514.  It looms.  It seems like it could be something some day.  But that day was not this year.  So I can only say, “We shall see.”

Call me when DUST 514 is a thing and maybe I will be able to build enough enthusiasm to download it.

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

I have to go with NCsoft shutting down City of Heroes, SWTOR going free to play, and Turbine reviving Asheron’s Call 2.

Oh, and that 38 Studios fiasco.  An MMO that never was will never be.

Anything else?

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

No, nothing new here, move along.

Okay, maybe PlanetSide 2 moved the ball a few inches down field with a really massive online shooter.  But what else was there really?

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

No.

12. What will Lord British do next?

Apparently jump on board the Zynga train just as it drives over a cliff.   Timing is everything in comedy!

So those are my questions and the answers as I see them.  I am sure somebody will remind me of a few items I missed… or will want to argue about Diablo III vs. Torchlight II.  But that is about it for me.

Now to consider next year’s post.

14 responses to “Reviewing My Questions for 2012

  1. Not here to argue about Diablo III vs. Torchlight II, but I do have a Diablo III question:

    Why you feel you need to ignore “the need to play through the game repeatedly in order to get to the most challenging game play” to make it feel like Diablo 2?

    Just because it had four difficulty levels instead of three? That didn’t really seem like a massive difference to me.

  2. @Carson – Well, it wasn’t so much that they added a level, but that the level they added was an easy mode version as the first level. I found the initial mode in Diablo II to be sufficiently challenging. In Diablo III you had to work to put yourself in a bad spot and die.

    And then there is the death penalty thing, but that is another tale.

  3. GW2’s payment model might not change the market for MMOs – as you point out they’re just using the same payment model they’ve been using for GW1 for the last eight years. It certainly isn’t the God Game some hysterics were plumping it up to be, either.

    I do think it will have a few lasting effects that will bleed across the MMO landscape, adding a distinctly GW2 tinge to many existing and forthcoming MMOs. The “playing together apart” thing, the “other players aren’t a threat” thing, the “no holy trinity” thing and perhaps most of all the “everyone can rez” thing – all of those are already popping up all over the place from WoW to Rift (okay, that’s not far…)

    It’s going to be a brave AAA theme-park MMO that launches now without most, if not all of those features. That’s assuming another AAA theme-park MMO ever launches…

  4. Fippy is a neat idea but they don’t revert the game to the state it was in at the time, they just roll back the newer content. I would have played on it if they made all the proper changes.

  5. Regarding CCP and making anything else other than EVE. They still hold and are in production of the World of Darkness MMO. It got slowed down a bit for Dust 514 and needing to move the designers to that, but the scripting has still been going on and they are now moving people back.

    …One of the few waiting to see if it is worth while.

  6. Hacking has done a fine job in GW2, it is no where near being controlled like it should be. They even had to remove a mechanic because it was being abused to badly… still no report hack function in game either.

    GW2 maybe didn’t invent the btp model but it certainly brought it further into the public eye as well as making it look enticing to developers. Expanding the available payment styles can only be a good thing and hopefully developers will continue to experiment in order to find the right payment style for their game… except bioware, someone should really stop them.

    Oh and I so wish ccp went for developing World of Darkness instead of Dust, it sounds so amazing and I’m hankering for more real world type environments.

  7. The thing I hear repeatedly that GW2 brought to the table, and is the real game changer in the mmo sphere, is being able to move and dodge in combat. It’s a small touch that makes all the difference in the world.

    Diablo 3…what a disappointment. Everything about it was to support supposedly a support feature – the AH. Loot drops that you can’t use was the killer for me – the best drops were always 5 levels below my character. That ruined the whole reason to grind thru the completely linear D2 like experience of the game 4 times. The combat was fun, but when you realize that weapons are just stat sticks HUGE disappointment. Hate the graphical style of T2, but it was hands down a better game then D3.

  8. @Coppertopper – Yeah, I wrote about that 5 (or more) level gap thing elsewhere. Basically in D2 I would get drops I would keep around because I would need to level into them. In D3 the drops were all levels behind. That killed a lot of the D2 spirit.

  9. @wilhelm
    Yes one of many disappointments, although yes graphically really well done. Have you played it lately? I keep meaning to give it another chance but had been months since finishing the story at normal difficulty.

  10. I’ve noticed that MMO financial transparency has worsened in the last few years. We rarely see any subscriber/users/cash shop ARPU figures with which to makes our analyses.
    Goodness knows how shareholders feel about this…

    Can we honestly say how any F2P games are doing besides using 3rd party tracking software or the increasingly desperate measures with which developers attempt to monetise their games?

  11. As much as I love TL2 in theory and hate D3 for many things they did (particularly balancing), I must admit I actually played D3 more.

    Because — bugs! TL2 has propensity to slow down a lot (FPS-wise) for no justifiable reason (okay, there are a lot of sparks on the screen, but come on, it’s not like graphics are anything complex) but much worse are desync and crash bugs when playing multiplayer. It gets ridiculous where almost every ‘big boss’ encounter ends up with someone desyncing and becoming some kind of a joke because of that.

    And it’s not like I played TL2 right after release either. Oh well, there’s also Path of Exile…

  12. The AH really wasn’t a big deal in D3. The bigger problems were always online, lack of talent trees, and the fact that you had to play through the storyline every time you played which quickly became tedious. In many ways, D3 was too much like D2.

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