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Expansion Watch – A General Lack of Excitement September 11, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Gaming Industry Trends, Guild Wars 2, Lord of the Rings Online, Neverwinter, Star Wars: The Old Republic, World of Warcraft.
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Normally I would say it was just me, content in my little gaming routine, that was feeling a lack of excitement about MMO expansions right now.

But after working for a good minute or two on the subject, I began to see some signs, and get a general sense, that I might not be alone on that front.  Certainly the game companies haven’t been doing much to light a fire.  And I say that while noting we are headed straight into the last quarter of the year when some companies traditionally ship, or at least announce, expansions.

This is what I have noted down so far.

EVE Online

CCP has been on the “about two a year” track for ages now.  Just look at the list up to June of this year.  Sometimes they slip one way or another, with their expansions running early or late.  And I am not sure if Revelations II should be counted as its own expansion or not.  But for the most part CCP has a system and it has worked.

Yet here we are into September and we just got Odyssey 1.1 with a whole pile of changes.  That seems awfully close to the margin when you want to start off rolling new features into the main code branch for integration and sanity checking reasons.  There is a hazard in changing things up too frequently.

On the flip side, CCP has not been very successful with the long wind-up for things.  See DUST 514.  And EVE expansions tend to have a pretty short cycle between announcement and go live.  So they may still be operating as normal.

EverQuest

The big news maker at SOE Live was EverQuest Next.  That was what everybody was talking/writing about.  But, somewhere amongst the sand art the talk of voxels was an announcement about the next EverQuest expansion.  The 20th expansion.  A big, fat hairy deal, making it to 20 expansions one would think.  And so this important milestone was named…

um…  where did I put those notes…

It was named Call of the Forsaken!  There is even an official title/logo/graphic thing, which puts it well ahead of the game compared to most other expansions at this point.

EQCotF

Given how much press it has been getting, that name might give the Chains of Eternity expansion a run for its money in the unintended irony department.

SOE has announced beta and pre-orders for the expansion, but as far as I can tell has not bothered to post a feature set or other details on the main EverQuest site.  I suspect that this is in part because the name of the expansion does not follow the standard naming format of “Something of Something,” which has lead to some internal rebellion by the web team.  Or they were part of the layoffs.

EverQuest II

Like its older brother, EverQuest II had an expansion announcement at SOE Live which was likewise completely overshadowed by EverQuest Next.  The new expansion, Tears of Veeshan, was announced in a hallway somewhere and hasn’t been heard from since as far as I can tell.  Unlike the EverQuest site, the EverQuest II web pages appear to have no mention of the expansion whatsoever.  Remember what I said about SOE and keeping excitement going?

The expansion is planned for November, so SOE has some time.  But it is starting to feel like past versions of Norrath are on the back burner while EverQuest Next hogs all the excitement by… uh… talking about whether female dwarves should have beards or not.  Jesus wept.

Guild Wars 2

No expansion for Guild Wars 2 has been announced or even discussed to my knowledge.  But when you are clearly making most of your revenue from selling boxes, and you have a history of selling boxes, it seems like you might want to get another box on the shelves at some point.

Lord of the Rings Online

At last, somebody who has an expansion in the works, who has announced it, and has followed up with… something.  They have a press release posted on their site at least.   And a logo.

LOTROHelmsDeep

And I guess they showed some stuff at PAX.  But if you were just me poking around on the web trying to find information about it, you might wonder if they were really serious.  Usually Turbine is out with the per-order incentives and such about now.  So far it seems pretty quiet for the Helm’s Deep expansion.

[Addendum - There is now an announcement for the expansion release date.]

Star Wars: The Old Republic

SWTOR already had an expansion this year, Rise of the Hutt Cartel.  That came out six months back.  But now, if you are a subscriber, you get it for free.  I am not sure what that says about how well it was doing.  And I have to guess that, if you’re a subscriber, it means you really like the game, so you probably bought it already.  Well, They have a little something for your trouble at least.

World of Warcraft

Ha ha ha, I know.  They just released Mists of Pandaria like a year ago.  That is practically yesterday in World of Warcraft terms.  And they just gave us the Siege of Orgrimmar update with all sorts of new features.  Even Kihei was on her level 90 reaping the rain of loot that is the Timeless Isle at the moment.  I am sure that will be nerfed significantly before I get there, while all the best noodle cart locations will be taken.  Yes, we got noodle carts with the patch as well.  I am not making that up.  Go read the patch notes I linked there, you’ll see.

Anyway, will the new stuff in patch 5.4 be enough?  Can a patch, no matter how feature rich, have the same draw or get the same attention as a full blown expansion.  As much as expansions expose the ludicrous nature of the level based system, often stacking the shiniest new content as far out of reach of new players as possible, it is the sort of thing that will get people to buy boxes and resubscribe.  So I will be surprised/dismayed/annoyed if Blizzard does not announce something like a WoW expansion at BlizzCon this November.  Hints about character remodels are not enough.

As slow as they are, Blizzard did get a Diablo III expansion into the queue for next year, so there should be something.

Others

That is just the stuff that springs to mind.  Are there any other expansions that ought to be noted?

I figure that Final Fantasy XIV and Neverwinter are too new.  Trion is probably too busy with the free to play conversion and their own internal turmoil to have anything set for Rift. And who else is there that might ship an expansion?

I am not sure how well selling expansions mixes with free to play in any case.  LOTRO has kept it up, and SOE is trying.  But other players in the space seem to be just dropping semi-regular content updates in the hopes that they can tempt you into spending at the cash shop, or at least annoy you into returning to the subscription model that I suspect some free to play developers still secretly love.  Why else would you sell hot bars at your cash shop?

But expansions have been, in the past, a community focal point, a way to get both your current and former customers excited about your game again.  Only I am just not feeling it this season.

Am I alone in this?  Are things different this year?  Or is it just too early in the season?

Comments»

1. HarbingerZero - September 11, 2013

Trion does have another expansion in the works for Rift featuring – wait for it – underwater adventures! And four new souls for you to buy! There is no release date yet – and I imagine that its more Trion’s work to get ArcheAge ready for release than the Rift F2P conversion that is stretching them thin.

And while I agree with you to some extent, I have to admit that I’m not sure how much of it is lackluster content and how much of it is lackluster attitude from myself toward said content.

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2. bhagpuss - September 11, 2013

The whole topic of expansions has been a major and ongoing news story within the GW2 community for months now. Yes, you would think that with a buy-to-play model and a history of releasing expansions for GW1 they would be keen to get a new box out to the 3 million plus who bought the first one.

Not so. Very, very much not so. They have been making repeated and consistent statements claiming that they have no expansions planned, no-one is working on expansions, that they do not want to do expansions. At one point they came very close to making a sweeping statement that they would never do an expansion but they have rowed back on that to a “never say never” position.

Arena Net claim, quite aggressively, that they will pump out free content every two weeks and that they will over time include in that content all the types of content that would be in a standard expansion. They are adamant that this will not cost any players any more money and that the revenues they are getting from still selling the main game and from the cash shop are robust enough to support this.

There was an NCSoft conference call a while back that cast significant doubt on whether NCSoft are fully on-side with this approach but ANet came back very fast to deny it meant anything had changed.

Personally I think they are crazy. It’s obvious from the forums, from conversations in-game and from the GW2 fan-o-sphere (I just made that up) that plenty of players WANT an expansion and WANT to give ANet money for one. I know I do. But for the time being we have to take our free content and like it.

The EQ2 expansion has been pushed back to November from October but Windstalker has been communicating about it. The detail’s on EQ2Wire of course. I plan on buying that one.

FFXIV is going with major quarterly updates. The first has the entire housing system AND some of the PvP system plus some dungeons so I think that counts as major. I’m pretty sure they did say there would expansions as well.

I think DCUO might just have had/just be about to have an expansion.

Rift would need to have some people playing it before it was worth an expansion coming out, I would guess. Trion do not look to be in a good place right now. Launching ArcheAge against WildStar, TESO and EQLandmark hardly looks like a golden opportunity to turn the ship around.

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3. Wilhelm Arcturus - September 11, 2013

@Bhagpuss – I have caught some of the “no expansions” song from time to time. But then I looked at that revenue chart I linked and remember just how much control NCSOFT (they now style themselves in all caps, so I imagine it being yelled in Korean) studios have over their own destiny (ask the City of Heroes team, they were making money, just not enough) and cannot imagine that somebody back in Korea isn’t wondering aloud about how much an expansion would bring in.

I don’t think that a box would be a bad thing. Some new lands with a new story line might be worthwhile after some more time passes. I am sure regular customers would snap it up, and it sounds like a better option than getting a directive from Seoul instructing the team to boost cash shop revenue by the usual methods.

Of course, NCSOFT is an odd bird. WildStar is planned to go out with the monthly subscription model while their biggest revenue generator is the now 15 year old Lineage, also a subscription game. What is up with that?

Meanwhile, in SOE land, I hate when their teams decide, despite all the channels that they have available, that just putting everything in the forums is good enough. I guess the Producer’s Letter is on the front page now, buried in the midst of downtime notices and the weekly shill for the cash shop.

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4. Pai - September 11, 2013

GW2 is the only game that seemed to always deny the money I so desperately wanted to throw at it (via a really anemic cash shop, to start with). “Crazy” is definitely one way to put it. Or else it’s just another flavor of their fixation with ‘Their Vision’ without regard to anything else.

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5. Korvus Falek - September 11, 2013

I think the EvE exspansion is going to be pretty awesome. Odyssey 1.1 was pretty awesome with all the ship rebalances and multitude of minor fixes/tweaks to the game. The winter exspansion is only going to continue this trend into marauders and other little things.

TBH, I feel working and focusing on the little things in New Eden for an exspansion or two is a worthwhile goal. With the Incarna exspansion practically a waste, some things that got pushed to the back burner needed to be brought to the front again. Once these “little things” objectives are done, I think putting a big focus on one or two major features per exspansion again will be on the right track.

However, with the collectors edition shipping Oct. 24th, Im already pretty excited for winter to come.

~K

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6. Yeebo - September 11, 2013

DDO just had a pretty decent expansion (came out in August), I’m thinking about buying it. Just the revamps it brought to the existing game (improved enhancement system, many prestige classes that utterly bit are now viable, better random loot from quests) have freshened it up considerably for me.

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7. HarbingerZero - September 11, 2013

@Pai: Arena Net is not the name that comes to mind when the “Our Vision or Else” slogan is brought up.

@Bhagpuss: I don’t think Trion sees ArcheAge being in competition with WildStar. You are talking about different style MMO’s aimed at different crowds.

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8. sleepysam - September 11, 2013

When do I get my ios mmo (expansion?) with built in teamspeak/vent?

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9. valdin - September 11, 2013

and EQ does have a features page up on the expansion:

https://www.everquest.com/expansion-content

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10. Wilhelm Arcturus - September 11, 2013

@Valdin – I saw that page and I mentioned it in the post, though I did not link to it.

Unfortunately, that is not a features page about the expansion, that is the “what you get if you pre-order” page, which is nice, but it doesn’t actually tell me what is in the expansion. I consider that a bit of cart before the horse webistry.

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11. Mekhios - September 11, 2013

@bhagpuss
A common misconception is ArenaNet only makes a small amount of money from the cash shop. This could not be further from the truth. The cash shop generates a huge amount of ongoing revenue for the game. I guarantee if it did not we would not be seeing the regular free contents we are getting now. It is also a credit to ArenaNet’s design process that the cash shop is completely optional and doesn’t gate content behind cash items.

The game has progressed and improved tremendously since release. So much so that my entire clan is back and playing the game. Few other MMO’s have managed to keep our interest well after launch and especially beyond the magic 3 month MMO tourist timer.

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12. Pai - September 11, 2013

@HarbingerZero: Yeah, I’m aware of that. That’s hardly been a unique foible of only one single MMO development studio, however.

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13. Wilhelm Arcturus - September 11, 2013

@HZ – While I know what you mean, ANet clearly had their own vision/Kool-aid thing going on about changing the face of MMO gaming.

@Mekhios – I have two problems with your assertion.

The first is that you obviously don’t have any real data to back it up. But I don’t have any data to refute it, so something of a draw.

The second is the revenue chart, linked in the post, that was part of the NCSOFT Q2 financial report. That follows a line that would totally make sense if box sales were the vast majority of the game revenue. It ramps up quick, peaks, and declines fairly quickly as well. Classic box sales revenue line.

If you are asserting that the cash shop is making up the lion’s share of the revenue, then that chart seems to indicate that the game is dying rather quickly, because that chart is practically the pre-F2P SWTOR subscription line of impending doom.

So either box sales were the vast majority of the revenue so far, in which case I can see NCSOFT demanding an expansion, or the cash shop was bringing home most of the bacon, in which case the game looks to be in serious trouble and you can expect NCSOFT to start cleaning house some time very soon.

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14. Mekhios - September 12, 2013

@Wilhelm
I’ve seen the article you linked but I have also checked the original NCSOFT financial sources. I am just not seeing the bad news the gaming press is so desperately trying to promote. Of course box/digital sales would be down as is the case with any MMO a year after release.

Their revenue position is strong and as a whole they are still making money. With box sales down the only other source of revenue is from the cash shop. I will grant you I am not an accountant but at a basic level if their balance sheet is in the positive that has to be a good thing isn’t it?

Plus they have a surprisingly long list of job vacancies on offer which would also indicate a continued strong success for the game. If a game is struggling they certainly wouldn’t be hiring new staff. The company I work for certainly wouldn’t do that.

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15. Wilhelm Arcturus - September 12, 2013

@Mekhios – I am not saying that GW2 is dying, just that box sales were huge and that it is going to be hard to talk HQ in Korea out of the idea of more boxes. That and I am not sure why ANet is so dead set against it.

And with NCSOFT, the basic level of the balance sheet being positive did not save City of Heroes.

As for job reqs, in the current age of HR taking control of hiring away from managers, we have to list reqs all the time just to give people promotions. We have to create a new position, run a job listing for some amount of time, interview candidates, document how the internal person is the best candidate, the move them to the new position. Job reqs are a pretty squishy thing to base company health on. I had five job reqs open for my team right before I got laid off at one job. Lotsa fun, that.

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16. Mekhios - September 12, 2013

@Wilhelm
Good points. NCSOFT is the big unknown here. I am not exactly thrilled with ArenaNet’s choice of corporate overlords.

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17. Guest - September 12, 2013

The Odyssey 1.1 patch notes are over 9000 words long. 31 pages in Calibri 11. I think CCP reached a stage where they effectively release four expansions every year – expansion, 1.1, expansion, 1.1.

Because of this there’s no single big release to be all ooooorah about, and I think that makes it look like CCP is “lazy” or “slow”.

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18. JameslikesGames - September 12, 2013

With regards to WoW this is the first time I have actually been at level cap for any patch and I have to admit I am pretty excited about taking on Garrosh!

However I do remember all the previous patches and not being that fussed about the new raids because I didn’t see myself meeting the requirements anytime soon.

I think the new patch will draw back some of those who unsubbed because again (as with Illidan and Arthas) we have the opportunity to take out quite a lore heavy character and who doesn’t like the chance to take on someone that is such a bif part of the world.

I know it’s unrealistic but I would really like to see some different character models in the next expansion. Maybe we could have the Nerubians as a playable race, given that they live underground and it looks like we are heading deep into Azeroth.

What do you think would help WoWs levelling structure? Part of me thinks that maybe a few of the older raids should be made scaleable (ala GW2 in general). At least then those starting out would have access to some slightly different content before they get to pandaria, it might make the Grind to 90 more interesting.

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19. Wilhelm Arcturus - September 12, 2013

@Guest – In this, as in so many things, EVE is different. I am not sure what passes for an expansion in EVE sometimes would do anything but enrage players in other MMOs. An expansion devoted to quality of life upgrades? EVE players were all over that. WoW players would revolt. But then, WoW player would have to buy a $40 upgrade while CCP pushes their expansions for free.

Sometimes I think CCP just wants to change the splash screen twice a year. Of course, now they have hidden the splash screen because of the new launcher. Whatever.

@JamesLikesGames – I was at that point at Wrath of the Lich King. It was the first time I spent a long stretch at level cap. And I quite enjoyed myself. I did the Argent Tournament. Spent time chasing titles. Worked on achievements. Worked on alts. I was pretty happy with that. The problem was that Cataclysm was something of a change in direction after all that and did not really stick with me.

I am not sure what Blizz could do to help people along. With our current run through I am somewhat dreading my arrival in Northrend. I spent so much time there pre-Cata that it might be a real grind. XP will slow down by that point I am sure. My only hope is that going through it as Horde will be different enough to keep it interesting.

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20. JameslikesGames - September 12, 2013

@Wilhelm Arcturus Let me know how the run goes, have only really done Northrend on Alliance. At least it’s not outland, for some reason that place really drags!

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21. Jenks - September 12, 2013

” With our current run through I am somewhat dreading my arrival in Northrend. I spent so much time there pre-Cata that it might be a real grind. XP will slow down by that point I am sure.”

It’s not, and it doesn’t. It’s absurdly fast straight through, they even decreased exp requirements for 80-85 and 85-90 since the release of MoP significantly. You can complete Northrend in less than 2 zones, pet battling/gathering cuts it down even more. IIRC the 90 I leveled in MoP did a lot of Borean Tundra, a little Dragonblight (west side), and then a tiny bit of Sholazar before heading to Hyjal.

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