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Looking Back at 2012 – Highs and Lows December 26, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Diablo III, entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, Sony Online Entertainment, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
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Every year I try to come up with a list of highs and lows for the year.  You can go back and read my 2010 and 2011 editions if you so desire.  I often complain about the same things year after year.  As for 2012, this is what I recall.

Free to Play

Highs:

  • Another pile of games went from subscription to free to play as a default business model.  If you are a fan, you have lots of options now.
  • Free to play continues to offer the best “free trial” option for games.

Lows:

  • Clearly the dominant business model to the extent that being free to play no long bestows any sort of competitive advantage as it did back when DDO and LOTRO made the transition.  Merely going free to play will not save your game.
  • Being a primary source of income, with revenue targets to achieve, the in-game cash shop becomes a major focus of free to play games.  Increasingly, it is players who buy from the cash shop who matter most, even in games like EQII that push you to become a subscriber. Subscribing removes some annoyances and restrictions, but you are still pushed to buy from the cash shop.  They even hand you a bit of their RMT currency every month in order to prime the pump.
  • An early justification for cash shops and RMT currency was the idea of selling thing to players that could not be paid for via credit card due to transaction fees.  The idea was that players would be offered many inexpensive items that they would buy en masse.  Instead, items that cost less than $5.00, or one third of a months subscription, seem to be the tiny minority of items available… at least at the generally understood value of the RMT currency.
  • The vicious circle of discounting the RMT currency to drive people to purchase it, followed by cash shop discounts to soak up the ensuing currency glut may be emerging.
  • Some players seem to think they can get something for nothing.  They cheer when a game goes free to play, but then get upset when the inevitable reality emerges.  There is no such thing as free.

Turbine

Highs:

  • The pleasant Middle-earth charm of LOTRO can still be found.
  • The Riders of Rohan expansion has received much praise.
  • Still one of the few F2P MMOs that lets you earn their cash shop currency in-game.
  • Have I mentioned their music system lately?  Why hasn’t anybody shamelessly ripped this off?

Lows:

  • Not actually playing LOTRO, there is little chance I will see any of that cool new Rohan content… well, ever.
  • The heady days of F2P success have clearly worn off, and Turbine’s WB overlords have been cracking the revenue whip.  So we have the despoilment of Middle-earth moving forward in the cash shop.
  • Really one of the great passive-aggressive community relations fiascos occurred when Turbine asked for comments on their awful hobby-horse idea with the caveat that they didn’t want to hear anything negative.  That sort of thing never turns out badly.
  • And the F2P divide continues.  You can be a fan of the game, but unless you are buying stuff from the cash shop, you don’t mean anything.  And so some long time fans of the game seem to be moving on.  Eru wept!

Sony Online Entertainment

Highs:

  • EverQuest still going 13 years in and now has parcel delivery through the mail, more zones, five new levels, and hotbars that look like they are now from this century.
  • EverQuest Mac got a call from the governor while on death row, so lives for a while longer.
  • Planetside 2 launched!  That is a massive shooter!
  • Vanguard is alive and free to play and getting content updates!  And Brad McQuaid is back working on it.
  • The Krono experiment will make for an interesting change to watch.
  • Vague promises of a more sandbox-like EverQuest game in EverQuest Next in hopes of breaking the “me too” MMO mold where everything is basically based on EverQuest.  Sounds interesting, but we’re a long way from reality.

Lows:

  • They screwed up Station Cash valuation through heavy discounting and cash shop blanket discounts to the point of requiring SOE to stop selling expansions and gold subscriptions for Station Cash.  This in turn puts more pressure on the cash shop people to sell a couple of useful items and piles of cosmetic crap.  Meanwhile, the triple Station Cash sales continue because, of course, they have trained us to hold out for that.
  • SOEmote.  Science experiments are cool and all, but SOE is starting to accumulate a few too many such things in its basement.  Voice control, Station Launcher, will SOEmote join these on the scrap heap eventually?
  • EverQuest Online Adventures fell by the wayside.
  • Didn’t SOE already have a sandbox-like game in SWG?  The word is that Lucas was behind NGE and the closure, but SOE still has blood on its hands.
  • The EverQuest time locked progression servers seem to be dying from neglect, which is ironic because every player on those servers is a subscriber.  That is a requirement.  So I guess we see where a server full of subscribers ranks in the free to play world?

CCP

Highs:

  • No major player revolt provoking crises.  There is always some drama and things to piss off players, like the inventory changes.  But there was nothing that came anywhere close to the uproar when flying in space was set aside in favor of space Barbies with the Incarna expansion.
  • Really some cool new features in this year’s EVE expansions.
  • A year in null sec was a whole new experience for me.

Lows:

  • With no crisis to rise to, the EVE Online CSM went back to being just a marketing tool. I can see no tangible benefit to players from CSM7.  Roll on galactic student council.
  • DUST 514?  Have you heard of it?  Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you while you were playing PlanetSide 2.
  • So, yeah, null sec.  The wars are over.  What now?

Blizzard

Highs:

  • WoW still has more players than any other subscription MMO you play… not that there are many of those left.
  • WoW remains immensely profitable.
  • Mists of Pandaria shipped, putting WoW back over the 10 million players mark.
  • Diablo III shipped at last, and sold a lot of boxes, both real and virtual.

Lows:

  • Pretty much done with WoW for now.
  • No StarCraft II expansion yet.
  • Diablo III shipped about five years too late.
  • Customer support dickishness around the ability to shut off future payments when you signed up for the Annual Pass.  You can be a dick about many things, but when you start refusing to stop billing credit cards, you have crossed a line.
  • The Blizz obsession with hacks and cheating turned Diablo III into an “always online” experience that lead to the Error 37 fiasco and much complaining about things like server downtime and patch days.
  • The Diablo III auction house, a clear reaction to the illicit RMT that happened in Diablo II and WoW, managed to kill off the “item hunt” part of the game for some.
  • The level based difficulty of Diablo III meant having to play through the whole game in normal mode just to ramp up some challenge.  Some people will be happy to play through the game four times with each character.  I am not one of those people.
  • Stark failure to plan for more content once Diablo III was played out.
  • Titan?  Hello?

Trion Worlds

Highs

  • Rift continued to evolve and add features to keep players active.
  • Rift launched an expansion, the classic “next move” for a successful MMORPG, that added more content, new styles of quests, and player housing.
  • Trion managed to keep to the subscription model for Rift, thus avoiding the ruination of immersion that cash shops inevitably bring.
  • The instance group made it through all the pre-expansion instances in Rift.
  • I managed to get a level 50 character of each of the four classes before the Storm Legion expansion launched.

Lows:

  • Declining subscriptions, soft server merges, lots of “WoW did it first” additions.  They have spun the server merges as a “good” thing and have gotten all of the servers into clusters for warfronts and the like.  But less people means less subscription money.
  • Layoffs.  Not sure yet what this impacts, but it clearly isn’t a sign of sunshine and lollipops.
  • Rise End of Nations seems doomed.  But I couldn’t play it in any case as it refused to run because I have my default text scaled to 120% in Windows, or so said the error message, and I am not going to reset that every time I want to play a game.
  • Cash shop interface is already in Rift, foretelling a transition to eyesore mounts and ugly cosmetic gear… though, honestly, I am not sure I could tell the difference in Rift.

World of Tanks

Highs:

  • The physics revamp was a huge improvement for the game in my opinion.  Power slide that TD down a hill!
  • Free to play that can actually be free without being oppressive.
  • Made gold ammo available for standard credits.

Lows:

  • Got bit by that NA/EU divide.
  • In the end, it is just a shooter dressed up in vehicles.  I will get bored of the same maps and the same tactics in every game sooner or later.

Steam

Highs:

  • Lots of big sales.
  • Still a reasonable way to buy games and keep them updated.

Lows:

  • Has basically trained me never to buy a game until it is at least 50% off of list price.
  • Even with heavy discounts, I have pretty much stopped buying because I don’t really need any more games.
  • I need to delete some of the games I have on my system because there are too many updates downloading.
  • Came home to find the internet down, which meant I could not play any of my games on Steam once I booted up my computer.
  • I still don’t see why anybody would buy or download an MMO from Steam.  I don’t want to log in and start Steam just to turn around and log in and start the MMO, which will then patch itself.

Misc. Gaming

Highs:

  • GuildWars 2 shipped at last.
  • Torchlight II shipped at last!  And it is pretty good.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic actually has an expansion planned.
  • Kickstarter seems to be getting people excited about games.

Lows:

  • As is typical, the Guild Wars 2 fanboys remain pretty much blind to any faults.
  • Torchlight II still isn’t Diablo II.  But expecting that it would be was probably too much.
  • SWTOR basically slammed the door on the subscription model’s dick, while introducing some new noxious ways to implement free to play.
  • City of Heroes gets the axe based on opportunity cost.  It was making money, just not enough money.
  • Glitch fails to get the quirky/greedy balance right, has to close.  I never played it, but I hope something was learned.
  • Most Kickstarter projects don’t make their funding goal, and apparently most that do make it find that they have underestimated the money they really needed or the time it was going to take to get the project done.  Sometimes things are delayed because the funding went way past the goal and the developer decided to add in all sorts of new things, as with Steve Jackson Games and their Ultimate Edition of O.G.R.E., but that seems to be the exception.  Of the six projects I have backed, two failed to meet goal while three of the other four are way behind schedule.  (Go Defense Grid team!)  I am not saying that Kickstarter is a bad thing, but you have to go in with your eyes open.  It is less Wall Street and more “The Producers” than you might expect.
  • Streaming.  I completely fail to get that whole fad.  Why would I want to sit in front of my computer just to watch somebody else play a game?  And really, most of us aren’t as witty and amusing as we think we are.  I’ll just actually PLAY a game, thank you.

Well, that was all I could come up with.  But sitting at the end of the year looking back, I am sure I missed or forgot some key items.

What else should be on the list of highs and lows for 2012?