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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?

Comments»

1. Jenks - December 26, 2012

I install my MMOs through Steam when possible for the overlay and friends list. It’s nice seeing what friends are playing and have the ability to message them even when they are playing full screen.

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2. bhagpuss - December 26, 2012

I could give you a list of GW2’s faults as long as my arm, not least of which being it’s quite possibly he buggiest MMO I have ever played and that includes Vanguard. I have it in mind to do a “what’s wrong with GW2″ post one of these days.

All the things wrong with it don’t make a blind bit of difference to the fact that I can’t stop playing it even though I rather wish I could. It is ridiculously compulsive.

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3. Wilhelm Arcturus - December 26, 2012

@Jenks – I have more friends on Raptr than on Steam. Actually, I think I only have two friends on Steam, neither of whom purchased their MMOs through Steam. Steam as yet-another-social-network. I get why they want to be one, but I am not sure I need another one.

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4. Green Armadillo - December 26, 2012

“I still don’t see why anybody would buy or download an MMO from Steam. ”

Steam sales sometimes undercut what you’d pay if you bought direct – e.g. I got DDO’s expansion for 50% off of Turbine’s list price. You can then recover the key from steam and go back to using your standalone client. Also, if you add stuff to your steam wishlist, you can ask Steam to email you when it goes on sale. This is useful, because the publisher doesn’t always go out of their way to publicize sale prices – they’re hoping to catch the casual steam passer-by, not let their core market pay less.

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5. Jenks - December 26, 2012

I couldn’t get any of my friends to migrate to Raptr. They have the same reasoning as you, but I think they have a stronger argument. You have Steam installed already if you’ve bought a game through Steam or own any Steamworks title. While Raptr does seem better, especially for someone on multiple platforms, it’s a social network with no other purpose. Owning 199 games on Steam myself, I wasn’t too motivated to argue the point.

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6. gwjanimej - December 26, 2012

On F2P generally, I think that the situation is more that Turbine established a really high bar with DDO and LotRO that when other companies(SoE and EA, generally) go F2P, the difference in how the cash shop functions leaves much to be desired. EA really highlighted this with SWTOR and the myriad cash shop items like hot bars and gear.

On the F2P divide, his comparison of a sub MMO to a F2P MMO seems rather disingenuous, especially since subscribing to LotRO or even having a lifetime sub doesn’t remove the new cash shop buttons or anything. Same goes for advertising; it’s all about dollars and Blizzard has many dollars to spend on advertising. Apples and oranges comparisons abound here. It doesn’t make his complaints invalid, as they’re all subjective and their opinion, but it’s a sure sign of discontent with the game rather than being sick of F2P when they sing praise to EA and SWTOR, which is easily the single worst offender when it comes to a divide between F2P and sub players on the market. Hotbars for sale anyone? That said, Turbine’s handling of the hobby horse was awful and inexcusable. If you don’t want honest feedback on an item, including constructive(this is the important part) negative feedback, then just release it to the public and deal with the backlash. Now they get double the backlash, both from the feedback request and the item itself when it inevitably launches.

On the Annual Pass from Blizzard, we learned that terms are important and also that Blizzard codes their storefront and account management lazily. It shouldn’t have been an issue for them to realize that your account had enough time on it to meet the requirements of the Annual Pass and allow for a removal of the credit card. That said, I’m sure they had to deal with a *lot* of people who weren’t paid through the end of the pass and wanted to cancel anyway, which was a contract violation on the customer’s part. Personally, I did the annual pass, was month to month the whole time playing or not and still am.

I love WoT too. Fantastic diversion, Gold and Premium do nothing but add, although honestly, once you hit Tier 7 tanks advancing reasonably becomes very difficult without premium time. I’m currently staring 100k XP tanks with a 3 mil cred price point in the face. That said, I’m super content to play my various T6 and T7 tanks.

I prefer Steam to Raptr, but I’ve been tied into Steam since The Orange Box came out what, 6 years ago? 7? Raptr never really mattered to me, but the trends you can get from it are very interesting as they’ve shown time and again to be indicative of larger trends within varying communities. So even though I don’t use it, I’m glad that a lot of people do. Weird how that works, I guess.

And in general, I don’t think that SWTOR being unable to stay a sub MMO means anything. The game shouldn’t have been an MMO, and shouldn’t have been built on a sub model if it was one. The game engine was bloody awful for the system requirements, and had zero longevity at the endgame beyond roll an alt. Tons of potential wasted given the license, which is sad.

So with that all out of the way, I agree with or am ignorant of everything else, leaving towards agreement especially on other Steam things. They have definitely trained people who are not on the bleeding edge to wait on sales. I’ve bought games at full price in the last year, but they were games I really wanted RIGHT NOW. Otherwise, I shrug at it blandly and wait for it to hit a Steam sale.

Cheers, and thanks for an awesome rundown of 2012 and apologies for the wall o’ text.

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7. SynCaine - December 27, 2012

I think the waiting for Steam sales thing is actually a good thing. The only time I pay full price is for a game I’m really excited for, the last being Xcom and Skyrim (I think). Both times I was glad I paid full. But games like Fallen Enchantress get put on hold thanks to lurewarm reviews and nothing really grabbing me. At $10, I’m guessing I’ll be happy with that purchase, while at $50 I’d probably feel a bit cheated.

Want my $50? Make a really great game, not just something decent.

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8. Werit - December 27, 2012

I think you mean End of Nations :)

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9. Wilhelm Arcturus - December 27, 2012

@Werit – Yeah, I keep thinking of it as Rise of Nations, which is another game altogether.

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10. whorhay - December 28, 2012

Wall of text indeed AnimeJ! What’s funny is that I rarely look at people’s names in comment sections, I was halfway through your small novel when I noticed it was you.

On topic:
Diablo 3 really disappointed me in a few ways. I didn’t object to the multiple play throughs to raise the difficulty because that’s how Diablo 2 worked and newer games like Borderlands have been doing the same thing. My objection was in that the difficulty scaling was all out of whack, the game was face roll easy on my first character until late in the third play through when it got a little challenging. Then you start the fourth and final play through and the difficulty shoots through the roof basically in the form of a massive gear check for each Act.

The Auction house was borked because in the lower levels people only wanted to sell perfect items due to the limited number of auction slots. And even when people were selling decent gear at reasonable prices finding it was a trial because there were so few filters you could apply at once.

The itemization was also pretty crappy because all the classes wanted the same stats most of the time. Once you hit max level and were trying to progress through Inferno the odds of an upgrade dropping were horribly ridiculously low, something like 1 in 10K or some such. The numbers were padded because in area’s where only max level characters were playing 95% of what dropped was only potentially useful to players up to five levels lower than the cap.

Steam is great! There sales have utterly spoiled me. I was waiting on buying Borderlands 2 and ended up not buying it this time around as $30 still seemed pretty steep for what I expected to get out of it. I think that Skyrim was the last major game I bought at release there. The connection to start games can be worked around when your network goes down but if you don’t remember the trick to doing it you are out of luck. The trick being that you need to disconnect from all networks, even your local wireless router, otherwise Steam thinks you are just trying to avoid the authentication and won’t offer offline mode. You can also launch games through the Steam client that you didn’t buy through Steam to get the overlay if you like.

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11. Mekhios - December 28, 2012

Highs:
– Guild Wars 2. Introducing new concepts to a stale MMO genre. Marvelous production values. Interesting combat.
– PlanetSide 2. I don’t think I can ever play another FPS seriously after playing this. It certainly stomped on all interest I had in BF3 large scale battles.
– EVE Online. Retribution has brought in an avalanche of new players eager to try the game. The ingame help has vastly improved and the learning cliff has softened. We’ve actually managed to start up a new Corp from the influx of enthusiastic new players.
– The rise of indie gaming and Kickstarter. Time to give the big publishers a wake up call.

Lows:
– The amount of jaded MMO bloggers who continue to beat the “woe is me” drum because they no longer like the direction the MMO genre is heading in yet can’t stop themselves from talking about it. Time to accept new paradigms boys and girls.
– EVE Online veteran players. Players who rather than help the new members of our Corp in a positive way would rather snipe from the sidelines and criticise every choice made. Here’s a clue veterans – new players are the life blood of this game. If you can’t say anything constructive then shut the hell up.
– PlanetSide 2. The most unstable and crashworthy game I have ever played. It plays like an alpha build. There’s something seriously wrong with the server when an entire side (Terran in our case) crashes en masse. It’s not fun when this can happen 3 or 4 times in one evenings play.
– Kickstarter campaigns. I have yet to see a single one of subscribed Kickstarter projects actually produce anything except infrequent email updates.

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12. Mekhios - December 28, 2012

One more 2012 High:
Kerbal Space Program. Addictive, educational, fun!

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13. Shadow - January 4, 2013

As an outlier: I far prefer Dust514 to Planetside. Dust514 in it’s last beta build felt more solid than Planetside does now. As great as the open-world, 3-way fight is (and it is), actual play-ability and not cursing at my screen for the 4th time in a few hours because of a crash/glitch/etc… goes a long way to winning me over.

Dust514 does have the ruthless New Eden sentimentality though, and needs to work on matchmaking a bit if it wants to be successful. Getting a pre-made team that drops two Sagarus’ in a match is fun-killing.

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14. Mekhios - January 5, 2013

Shame Dust514 is limited to the Playstation platform. Very strange decision.

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15. Quotes Of The Week « Kitty Kitty Boom Boom - January 6, 2013

[...] “SWTOR basically slammed the door on the subscription model’s dick, while introducing some new noxious ways to implement free to play.” ~ TAGN [...]

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