Firiona Vie’s Quinceañera – Happy Anniversary EverQuest

Fifteen years of EverQuest.

This is usually the day every year when I drag out the nostalgia, along with a few appropriate pictures, and reflect on my history with the game and whether it remains relevant to me or not. So why should this year be any different?

10 Years of EverQuest

Some EverQuest Stuff

SOE as well has seen fit to mark the anniversary of the launch of EverQuest at various times.  They have saved some key things for the anniversary.  Back on its 13th birthday the game became an annoying free to play teen (and continues to pop up “Have you gone gold yet?” alerts all the time).  Last year they used the anniversary to announce that they were removing some of the paid unlocks from the game on things like the quest journal.  This year we got free insta-85 characters and a couple other things mentioned in Thom Terrazas’ Happy Birthday Producer’s Letter.

And a 15 years later info-graphic.

How much has changes in 15 years?

How much has changes in 15 years?

Though they have done the info graphic thing a couple of time in the past.  At least one I linked to in past days has disappeared though, as SOE finally decided to delete the Station Blog at WordPress.com, destroying some more history in the process.

StationBlogGone

You can find bits of it at the Internet Archive, but you can’t really navigate it because all the links resolve to the site not the backup.  And ironic thing to happen during a celebration of history.

The EQ Dev blog, untouched since 2010, remains for the moment, so I was able to grab that Secrets of Faydwer timeline that then producer Clint Worley posted for the EverQuest Nine Year Anniversary.  (Expect that link to die as soon as SOE notices I guess.)

A Nine Year Timeline for EQ

A Nine Year Timeline for EQ

As for my reflections, I am still fond of the game in a happy memory sort of way.  I am still interested in seeing how it progresses as time moves on.  And I wonder at this point if it will make it to 20 years.  SOE, or its representatives, have spoken about keeping games going for small core audiences even after the age of expansions or frequent updates has passed.  But given more recent events, it is clear even SOE has a limit.

But for now, the world continues to turn and the fires in Norrath still burn.

Insta-Levels Come to EverQuest

Paid boosts to higher levels were pretty much a given for EverQuest at some point.  The only real question I have is why it took this long.  After all, EverQuest II got its own insta-level scheme… erm, “heroic character” plan… way back in October of last year.

My guess is that they wanted to wait for the game’s 15th anniversary to roll this out.

So here we are.  The anniversary is this coming Sunday, and starting Wednesday of this week you can get a level boosted character.  Per SOE:

Players should find it much easier to begin their adventures in Norrath when they start at level 85 with a full complement of gear, Alternative Advancement Abilities, and a unique mount. Regardless if you’re a veteran player that wants to try a new class, a new player that wants to get caught up to your friends, or a player that hasn’t visited Norrath in a long time, Heroic Characters are a great way for you to get in the game!

And, from this Wednesday through to Wednesday, March 26th, the first one is free.  The second, or the first after March 26th, will run you 3,500 Station Cash, which translates into $35 if you leave aside any possible discounts or stipends.  You can apply this boost to a new or existing character.

$35 is the same price as EverQuest II charges for their version of the boost, which was somewhere near the possible price range for Lord of the Rings Online’s experiment with insta-levels (depending on how you value Turbine Points), but is considerably less than what Blizzard is planning to charge for a level 90 character in World of Warcraft.

That last bit makes you think.  After all, the prices of other services… realm transfers or race/faction/name changes… even expansions… for these games run about the same.  But a boost to a high level character? $35 vs. $60.

What ever your particular market can bear I guess.  Or maybe it depends on the target audience for the offer.

Otherwise, the deals are similar enough.  You get a boost up into what the company considers the current/best/optimum/most up to date content.  You get some good gear and whatever else goes along with the being at that level.  In the case of EQ that means Alternate Advancement points, one of those things that went from a way to keep people busy after they hit level cap to “you must have n AA points to join our very serious guild.”  And there is even a special mount for you.

Not at all awkward on that mount

Not at all awkward on that mount

I remain somewhat indifferent to insta-levels.  They are still something I would only pay money for under very specific, and pretty rare, circumstances.  But I get the appeal.  And in the case of EverQuest, the idea probably makes as much sense as it ever will.

After all, the content in EverQuest has evolved a lot in the last 15 years.  And the bits and pieces of Norrath that I think I “know” represent a tiny fraction of that content.  What I might call “my” EverQuest adds up to the original content, much of Ruins of Kunark, the areas around Crescent Reach up to about level 50, the tutorial, the Plane of Knowledge, and a few lower level locations scattered around the game.  Anything above level 60 or that was added after, say, Planes of Power, is pretty much unknown to me and likely to remain that way.  I mean, I didn’t even find a “lost” dungeon (2003 content) until about two years ago.

If I want to see anything new in Norrath, an insta-85 is probably the best way, as I have long since lost my ability to level up over time in the game, even with reductions in the level curve, mercenaries, and some attempts at directed content.  And I suspect I am not alone in that.

And then there is the cash shop in EverQuest.  SOE was extremely sensitive to what they put in the cash shop in EverQuest II.  In EverQuest though, the felt much less constrained.  Things that would make people’s collective heads explode in EQII… like actual gear or trade skill supplies… are readily available for Station Cash in EQ.

Gear packs available

Gear packs available

But in EverQuest gear acquisition, and the constant flow of gear upgrades, is not as obvious or ingrained as it is in EverQuest II, where you have to pretty much change out everything every 10 levels.

And then there is the whole “this game is 15 years old with a lot of uneven content between character creation and level 85″ aspect.  It might make sense to just put people into the newer content and leave West Karana and Butcher Block to those with a yen for nostalgia.  Of course, you might ask why they chose level 85.  That puts you into the House of Thule content.  If I recall right, that is about the peak before you have to start buying expansions again, so perhaps that is the right point to put people.

So I will likely go and get my free boost to level 85 later this week, and maybe even run around to see what there is to be seen these days.  If nothing else, having a character at that level will make touring the world a little easier.

Actually, I will probably boost a level 85 on both of my accounts.  One curious little tidbit:

For accounts created before Nov 8, 2013, the free Heroic Character option is available one time per account.

For accounts created on or after Nov 8, 2013, the free Heroic Character option is available one time per household.

I seem to recall this “one time per household” thing coming up with the free boost EverQuest II.  I suspect that people were angered… SOE has a knack for angering customers that boggles the mind some days… and now they have spelled it out in a very specific way while grandfathering older accounts into past rules in order to limit the rage level.

Meanwhile, I am wondering who will offer character level boosts next?  Which games have enough content for this sort of thing to make sense.

Is PvP a Requirement for All MMOs?

One of my gripes about the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter campaign was about PvP.

PvP was a stretch goal, but I was annoyed that it was on the list in any form at all.  The promise of Pantheon seemed, to me at least, to be getting back to a difficult and dangerous PvE world that required grouping to take on.  The early days of EverQuest were invoked in this regard.  For a game being made by a small team that declared it was not trying to be “all things to all people,” the mention of PvP seemed like a step in that very direction.

And you should not get me wrong on this.  I am not saying there shouldn’t be PvP.  I play EVE Online, right?  But does every PvE focused game need to spend time developing a PvP mechanism as well?

Going back to the dawn of the first massive successes on the MMO front, Ultima Online was PvP from day one.  But EverQuest was derived from TorilMUD which had no PvP at all.  In fact, the dev staff at TorilMUD split over the idea of PvP, which the PvP faction moving off to follow their dreams with Duris MUD.  But SOE eventually felt that EverQuest needed PvP and so the Rallos Zek server was born.

This moved was widely viewed as a way to concentrate all the griefers into a single thunderdome where they would leave the rest of the player base alone.  It was successful, in that the investment was low (as far as I can tell SOE did very little explicitly for PvP and was pretty hands off when it came to running the server) and it scratch that PvP itch for those who had to have it in a Norrathian context. (Roll stock footage of Fansy the Famous Bard.)  And this lives on today as the Zek server with its own PvP rule set.

Asheron’s Call also had a PvP flagging system and a PvP dedicated server as part of its mix.  So the big generation clearly bought into PvP, as did the next round of games.  Dark Age of Camelot was explicitly PvP and Star Wars Galaxies had a sandbox PvP aspect to it.

Then came World of Warcraft, which had PvP and PvP servers from day one.  Granted, day one was pretty ad hoc when it came to PvP, but Blizzard has a long history with RTS games, so players fighting other players must have seemed a natural to them.  And whether or not you like the various stages WoW PvP has progressed through, it has been pretty successful.  It would be hard to imagine WoW without it.

2 minutes 11 seconds into Wintergrasp

I played a lot of Wintergrasp when it was popular

Of course, WoW also ran into one of the problems with PvP in a heavily PvE game, that of gear and ability balance between the two.  It is really cool that the rogue in your dungeon group or raid can crowd control an off-mob with a stun lock, but I don’t know anybody who likes having that done to them by a rogue in a battleground.  And Dark Age of Camelot ran into similar issued from the other direction, by introducing powerful PvE acquired gear into a primarily PvP game.

So mixing PvE and PvP is rarely a matter of a flagging system or a separate server.  The eternal balance of equipment and abilities… which is already nettlesome in just the PvE environment… takes on an even bigger role when PvP is part of the mix.  It doesn’t come for free, it requires design and development time… unless you take the approach SOE did with EverQuest and just try to ignore the whole PvP aspect of the balance thing, or you take the Guild Wars approach and just keep the two as separate as possible.

And after WoW, things just got went down hill.  The success of the game meant other companies trying to copy WoW features in order to capture WoW numbers.  EverQuest II is probably the most tragi-comic example of this.  So much development and design time has been spent on PvP ideas in that game that it just about breaks your heart.  They have had PvP servers, PvP arenas where you fight with a special sub-avatar of your character, arenas where you fight with your actual character, and, more recently, WoW-like battlegrounds.  And the trend has always been that either the PvP is so bad that nobody uses it or that it is so affected by PvE stats and abilities that a whole array of special rules and exceptions have to be put in place to try to maintain at least some illusion of balance.  The last time I checked in, SOE had gotten to the point where every piece of equipment and every ability essentially had two sets of stats, one for PvE and one for PvP, leading to some of the largest tool tip windows known to man.

Then there was Lord of the Rings Online, which couldn’t bring itself to allow the elf-on-elf combat we all secretly desire (we need more kinslayings) but which felt it had to have PvP, so they gave us Monster Play, a feature convoluted enough that I couldn’t even tell you how it works because I have never once used it.  And I have tried the various PvP options on every MMO I have played.  I know somebody loves Monster Play out there… you can find somebody who loves and will defend any MMO feature ever… but was LOTRO as a whole made better by it?  Could the time spent on that have been better invested?

Warhammer Online at least never had the PvE vs. PvP balancing problem, because I don’t think most of us stuck around long enough for it to be a problem.  Instead, it was bit by the WoW battleground bug, which became the most efficient way to level up, so everybody did those while the open world content languished for want of the numbers needed to make it viable.

And so it goes.  Even today we are looking at The Elder Scrolls Online coming out in a little over a month.  This is an MMO based on an exclusively single player RPG franchise… PvE to its deepest roots… and they are busying pushing the Alliance War, the PvP aspect of the game.  Meanwhile, Star Wars: The Old Republic, an MMO made in the BioWare mold… fourth pillar and all that… has its Galactic Starfighter battleground out and available to everybody now.

Which brings me around to the title of this post.  Is PvP a requirement for all MMOs?  Can you even launch a PvE MMORPG without an announced PvP plan?

Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen and the Realities of Kickstarter Funding

Here we are, less than a day in and Pathneon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter project is just shy of the $50,000 mark.  That would put it at a little over 6% of the way to the first goal of $800,000.

39 days to go

No doubt higher now

As with Camelot Unchained and Lord British’s Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Title Brevity, I am interested in this project and Kickstarter campaign for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the personality driving it.  Brad “Aradune” McQuaid is an name to conjure with in the MMORPG world.

The guy with the flaming sword

The guy with the flaming sword

His is also a name tied with a pretty public meltdown of vision versus follow-through.

Vanguard at launch...

Vanguard at launch…

If you want to spin this from a particular angle, you can draw on the parallels between Brad and Mark Jacobs and Richard Garriott.  All three were key drivers for three of the early MMORPGs that were very successful, drawing in hundreds of thousands of players.  EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, and Ultima Online all left their mark on the MMORPG world.

All three went on to another MMORPG that… failed to meet expectations.  Tabula Rasa closed quickly, Warhammer Online lingered, but closed as soon as it was contractually able, and Vanguard would have shut down a few months in had SOE not bailed it out.

And all three have come back to the MMORPG table pitching a new game based on lessons learned.

Well, sort of.

Mark Jacobs clearly had a “lessons learned” message with Camelot Unchained, and spent weeks talking about it before the Kickstarter was launched.  PvE is out, all focus of the game must be on PvP and RvR and everything in the game must in some way support those two.  The theme is about moving forward into a superior mix that will make for a game that is great within a limited focus and which can be sustained by appropriately small numbers.

Richard Garriott’s “lessons learned” were more along the lines of being true to what made his past single player RPGs popular.  Shroud of the Avatar will have a single player mode and it isn’t exactly clear to me how “MMO” the multiplayer mode will really be.  The theme here is about all the cool games from the past, Ultima IV through VII inclusive, and how to make that sort of thing come alive again.  We shall see.  But there is also a sub-current of focusing on what is important to make sure that gets developed fully.

And then there is Brad McQuaid.  He wants to remake EverQuest in a more modern image… which isn’t a bad thing.  After all, viewed from the right angle, Mark Jacobs simply wants to re-ignite what was great about Dark Age of Camelot and Richard Garriott is clearly after the spirit of the Ultima franchise.  The problem is that while Jacobs and Garriott spent many days before their Kickstarters talking about visions and lessons learned and what is important and where they want to focus, the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen preamble was pretty much this:

And I got what he meant by that, at least in spirit.  The problem is that this isn’t a big enough nail to hang a project on, in my opinion.  There wasn’t a lot of build up to the Kickstarter, the game details and tenets are bullet point lists (copied in my previous post), and there is very little on the whole “lessons learned” front.  I know Brad has said that he clearly bit off more than he could chew with Vanguard.  The game had way too many goals.  But what is the take-away from that?  How is this project, being taken on by a small team, going to pare down the possibilities to the key essentials so that they can deliver both to the vision and at an acceptable level of functionality and polish?

It is here I think that we see the key difference between Mark Jacobs and Richard Garriott, both long time game designers who founded their own companies, lead teams, and delivered many titles over the years, and Brad McQuaid, who has EverQuest (which got a nurturing hand from Sony and John Smedley), Vanguard, and a couple of small efforts he worked on before EverQuest.  This aspect of his skill and experience could be the make or break with the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter.

If Brad McQuaid cannot get people engaged by articulating both the vision he has for the game and how it is going to come together, then my guess is that the funding is going to dry up pretty quickly after the “I want another EverQuest” faction kicks in.  And that time is going to come very quickly.  The first 48 hours of a Kickstarter set the tone.  That is where critical mass is assembled, where you get your true believers to become your evangelists.  Because after that, every dollar is a fight.  Look at the patterns for Camelot Unchained and Shroud of the Avatar from Kicktraq:

Camelot Unchained

Camelot Unchained

Shroud of the Avatar

Shroud of the Avatar

Both of those graphs are very front loaded.  Camelot Unchained got 35% of its $2 million goal in the first two days, while Shroud of the Avatar got 55% of its $1 million goal in the same period.  After that, there was the long dry spell where Mark Jacobs and Richard Garriott got out and did interviews and spoke to everybody who would listen.  Hell, Mark Jacobs came HERE and left a comment on my first post about the Camelot Unchained Kickstarter, acknowledging my statement that it was going to be a tough fight to get to $2 million.  The man was a communications machine, and he continues to be one in the project updates.

Brad McQuaid will need to do the same, because the easy money will dry up soon.  Will he be able to take it to the streets and get people interested?  We will see.  He will have to do more than make comments on Twitter and Facebook supported by a company web site that currently does little more than act as a pointer to the Kickstarter page.  This needs to be a political campaign, a marketing event, and an old fashioned spiritual revival meeting all wrapped up into one to succeed, and Brother Brad needs to step up and testify.  If he is going to bang the nostalgia drum, he needs to bang it loud and often.  He cannot be the lone monarch on the throne.  He has to be out and about.  We need to see him in the press and doing updates and a dozen things in between.

The spirit can't pledge...

The spirit can’t pledge…

While the project “only” needs $20K a day to fund fully, and it will no doubt make more that $50K in its first 24 hours, it has to do a lot better out of the gate to carry things forward.  There will be a last minute rush of people pledging, but that will only matter if there is a big enough base of funding in place.  In looking through a bunch of projects, the last day rarely ever exceeds the first.

What do you think?  Is Brad up to the task of getting out the faithful and getting them to pony up for another run at the EverQuest vision?  Are bullet points enough, or does this whole thing need more substance?

Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter Started

Brad “Aradune” McQuaid has launched his Kickstarter campaign to fund his planned game Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.  I did not see much build-up to it, but maybe I wasn’t paying attention to the right sources.

Aradune's new project

The Project

Aradune, who came through TorilMUD back in the day, is best known for being one of the primary drivers of EverQuest and Vanguard.

Of course, everybody (or everybody reading this) remembers EverQuest, while Vanguard hasn’t always been… appreciated?  I hate to say winner/loser, but one was king of the genre pre-WoW and remains influential today and the other…

So this is the third try.  Can Aradune and his cohorts at Visionary Realms, Inc. (there is that “vision” word again) take what has been learned over the years and craft an MMORPG that brings back the hardcore days of EverQuest while running well and feeling up-to-date?  That certainly seems to be the target.

Pantheon emphasizes the need to adventure with others. The world is dangerous and full of unexpected challenges making it unwise to travel alone. We feel that the best memories are those shared with fellow adventurers and friends. Thus, we are aiming to create a world where grouping is paramount.

He is asking for $800,000 in funding, which if you read my predictions for 2014, means I think he won’t make it.  I figured his name and reputation was good for half a million tops, so I guess we will see if I am wrong in the next 40 days. (The timer runs down on Saturday Feb 22, 11:40am PST.  I’m in for $75.  If the ride starts, I want to be on board.)

I expect it will be a hard fight to make it there no matter what and Brad will have to be out and about and getting people interested pretty much full time.  Remember how hard Mark Jacobs worked to get to two million dollars for Camelot Unchained?

There are the usual aspects of a Kickstarter campaign in place, including stretch goals out beyond the 6 million dollar mark.  You can find all the details on the Kickstarter page for the project.  I expect we will see interviews with Brad coming up where he will have to answer some hard questions about what he learned from the Vanguard project and where something like Pantheon fits in today’s market.

The target date for the game is pegged at three years out, January 2017.

I thought I would copy these bullet points to ponder as the campaign moves on.

Game Details

  • An MMO developed by gamers who aren’t afraid to target an audience of like-minded gamers.
  • A fantasy themed Massively Multiplayer Role Playing game (MMO) with a heavy focus on character development, an immersive world, and teamwork.
  • An MMO for players wanting a challenging and rewarding experience.
  • An open world in which you explore to obtain not only more powerful items but also new spells and abilities.
  • Travel where and when you want to in a non-linear world.
  • A huge world to explore, trade, and adventure in.
  • A complex back-story that players may gradually discover as they grow in power and explore the world.
  • A constantly expanding and evolving world.
  • Group-focused social gameplay using a class based system to encourage teamwork.
  • Customize your class by bonding with the spirits of fallen warriors.
  • Reactive combat where you can determine what the NPC is doing and react to it. (move, counter, deflect, etc.) .
  • Combat will be challenging and involved — your decisions will matter and directly affect the battle’s outcome.
  • Travel the world and profit from selling exotic items collected from distant realms. Different cities and outposts may have local Bazaars.
  • Limited and class based teleportation may get you close, but in order to reach many destinations you will have to traverse the planar scarred lands of Terminus through the use of your own two feet or on the back of your mighty steed.
  • Earning experience is only part of what it takes to level up. Exploring the world you will gain knowledge and power allowing you to overcome more powerful enemies.
  • The game will run on PC, Mac, and possibly other platforms in the future.

Game Tenents

  • An awareness that content is king
  • A belief that game economies should be predicated on delaying and minimizing item value deflation
  • A commitment to a style of play that focuses on immersive combat, and engaging group mechanics.
  • An understanding that a truly challenging game is truly rewarding
  • An expectation that the path of least resistance should also be the most entertaining
  • A mindset that Designed Downtime should be a part of the game to ensure players have time to form important social bonds.
  • A belief that an immersive world requires intelligent inhabitants
  • An understanding that faction should be an integral part of interacting with the world and its citizenry.
  • A commitment to creating a world where a focus on group play will attract those seeking a challenge
  • A belief that the greatest sense of accomplishment comes when it is shared

SOE All Access Changes… yet again… And the Future

Last Friday SOE announced changes for SOE All Access and Gold subscribers.  Come February SOE was going to take away the 500 Station Cash stipend for those accounts, replacing it with the ability to purchase a single Station Cash Store item with a value up to 2,000 SC per month.

Once known as Station Access...

Once known as Station Access…

This did not get a lot of positive response.  The loudest group of people appear to like to accrue Station Cash, not be given a single “use it or lose it” purchase.  And there was the usual concern that nobody would buy anything small with the 2,000 SC single buy because that would “waste” SC.

Smed went on Reddit and talked about why they did this and what else they might do.  The most interesting among the reasons for me was this:

Second – it helps us deal with some internal issues regarding accrual of balances of SC for people who aren’t playing or spending. There are a lot of people who play and have SC in their wallets and don’t spend it ever.. this accrues over time and it’s a problem.

Now, he said that was not the most important reason, but it was a driving factor for this move.  However, the fact that the first reason he gave, that people feel that 500 SC a month isn’t enough to buy anything, turned out to be largely incorrect based on feedback might be seen to move the second reason up to first place.

You might reasonably think that, especially since SOE has been working hard to dig themselves out of their Station Cash monetary problems.  They weren’t exactly Greece-like in scale, but SOE certainly wasn’t anywhere as sound as Germany either, to push a metaphor.

He also mentioned that they were thinking of making SOE All Access, formerly Station Access, available for just $14.99 a month.  At least the All Access Subscribers would be happy.

Then, late yesterday, the latest revision broke.  It is described as “not baked yet” but where SOE’s “head is at” on the subject.  Full details over at EQ2Wire, but the basics are:

  • SOE All Access is $14.99, gives you access to all SOE games.  All subscriptions will be converted to SOE All Access
  • The 500 SC monthly stipend is back, though you have to log in to collect
  • Something vague about European players and PS3/PS4 titles

So that is where we stand today.

This is one of those things where, if SOE had started with this deal, they would have been heroes.  But now, a couple of iterations in… and with things still not set in stone… I sort of want to say “SOE WTF?”  Being a responsive company is good… but tossing out plans that appear not to have been thought through fully and then changing your mind in public after your user base complains loudly?  That seems to be just a way to train players to complain early and often.  As we saw in EVE Online after Incarna, every dolt with a gripe against CCP now goes straight to “shoot the monument in Jita!” because that worked once.  Loudly complaining about SOE has worked… how many times now?  (Note the graphic Feldon chose to use for the EQ2 Wire post linked above.)

Clearly SOE’s stated primary premise for the change was wrong for at least the loudest portion of their audience.  I know I would rather accrue 500 SC a month than be given a “use it or lose it” monthly purchase, which came with its own set of terms and restrictions. (No Player Studio items at one point.)  This strikes me as the sort of option that seems like a good idea after a couple of hours in a conference room; what I call the “sensory deprivation chamber” decision.  Seems fine until you show it to the first person who wasn’t in the room, who should immediately point out the state of the emperor’s casual wear.

Their so-called secondary reason, that people accruing Station Cash is a problem for SOE, still strikes me as the only business reason for this move, and thus more important than Smed made out.  And I guess making people log in to collect once a month will slow down some people who just leave their accounts active but don’t play.  It won’t stop obsessives like me… I log into LOTRO once a month when not active just to get my 500 Turbine Points… but it will serve to punish a class of people who give SOE money for nothing.

And it is interesting to see where SOE All Access has landed in pricing.  It started out as Station Access, a $21.99 option, way back in 2004, jumping to $24.99 as time went on. Station Access peaked in price in 2007 when the price was jacked up to $29.99 a month.  That made it a penny more expensive than just having subscriptions to two SOE games on the face of it, and you could widen that gap considerably with the 3, 6, or 12 month subscription options, which were discounted for individual games but not for Station Access.  Complaints about the price change then didn’t seem to register with SOE.

Then, about two and a half years back, SOE renamed the package to SOE All Access and dropped the price to $19.99 a month, making it a good deal again for people who play multiple SOE games.  Of course, in the age of Free to Play, $30 a month was not a tenable position to hold.

And now here we are, about to say farewell to individual subscriptions to SOE games as SOE All Access drops in price to $14.99 a month.

In the end, I think this could be SOE stepping into the future of PC online gaming.  As Micosoft has their Xbox Live and PlayStation has… whatever it has… I own a PS3 and couldn’t tell you… so the PC online gaming market seems likely to move towards similar deals, where a monthly fee will give players access to bundles of games and benefits.

Actually, SOE lead on that, with Station Access back in 2004, then lost their way for a bit.

And I suspect we will see other companies that focus on online games follow suit.  Blizzard already offers benefits across games when you pre-order or go for the collector’s edition of one of their titles.  And one of my predictions for 2014 is that Blizz will give WoW subscribers some tangible benefit in Hearthstone.  That could lead the way to a Blizzard-wide subscription plan that gave you access and benefits across their Battle.net titles.

How about you?  SOE’s stumbles aside, do you think XBox-live like cross-catalog subscriptions are a coming thing in the PC online gaming world?

Addendum: This looks like it might be the topic of the day, so I’ll link out to others commenting on it.

Station Cash Take Back

I might have picked the wrong company in my 2014 predictions.

As reported over at the EQ2Wire, SOE has announced that they will no longer be handing out a 500 station cash stipend every month to Gold or SOE All Access subscribers.

Once known as Station Access...

Once known as Station Access…

Instead, SOE All Access subscribers will be allowed to purchase a single item in the station cash store, with a value of up to 2,000 station cash. (Some items may be excluded from this option.)  If I read the notice correctly, SOE All Access subscribers will be allowed to do so for each game they play.

So, on the one side, you will, technically, be able to buy more with your single monthly stipend.

On the other hand, you will no long be able to accumulate station cash for a big purchase over several months, instead being granted a monthly “use it or lose it” purchase.  And there are quite a few items in the store over that threshold.  This is, no doubt, SOE continuing to get their station cash house in order after flooding the market with double and triple point deals and store discounts that ended up with people being able to pay as little as $1.25 for their $14.99 monthly subscription at one point.  The joys of the free to play cash shop.

This will go into effect with all subscription renewals on or after February 3, 2014.

As for my 2014 predictions, I guessed that Turbine would make a similar take back move against lifetime subscribers.  I still believe that will come to pass given that the growling forum mob sees lifetime subscribers as freeloaders who are not carrying their weight.  We shall see over the next 11 months.

Addendum: SOE followed up with a “please don’t unsubscribe” offer of other shiny non-Station Cash things they will give you.

Are Level Cap Increases an Aberration?

One of the things I like about doing the predictions post every year is that I try to come up with some random items or take some minor event and run it to its extreme conclusion.  Then I start to think about if what I came up with was even possible.

Such was the case with companies selling jumps up to the current content.  That was a thing in 2013, with SOE offering to sell people a level 85 character in EverQuest II, Turbine experimenting with selling boosts to level 50 in Lord of the Rings Online, and Blizzard offering a character boost to level 90 with the Warlords of Draenor expansion.

In a very short span of time the idea of buying into a high level character went from a subject of theoretical debate to a reality, with three key companies appearing to opt in on the idea.

With those three offers out there, I figured I would declare 2014 to be the year of such offers, with the floodgates opening and MMOs everywhere racing to match these deals.  I even started to make a list of games that I expected to offer insta-levels for cash.

Which ended up being a pretty short list.

The thing is, in my world view, such insta-level offers make sense only in a specific set of circumstances.  You have to have an MMO that was popular/successful enough to have sold expansions that raised the level cap so that there is a large mid-level gulf in the player base between the old hands in the latest (and presumably best) content.  I would call this the classic EverQuest scenario of MMO success.

However, using that scenario as a measure of success doesn’t leave very many successful MMOs.  Listing them out from memory I got:

  • EverQuest – starts the trend
  • EverQuest II – assumed the pattern set by EQ
  • World of Warcraft – refines the EQ pattern, at least in timing
  • Lord of the Rings Online – sets out on the now established path
  • Rift – follows WoW in this as in so many things

These are the games that are, in my mind, the norm for MMORPGs.  (Who else has had expansions with level cap increases?  I am sure I have missed someone there.)

In reality though, that list is not at all the norm for MMOs.  Those five represent a very small fraction of the population of MMORPG titles and certainly are not the only successful titles in the history of the genre.  Leaving aside the Asian imports and browser games, the list of MMOs that were both successful… a disputed term, I know… and have had no level cap increase is substantial.  You can tick off Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, Asheron’s Call, Star Wars: Galaxies, City of Heroes, Guild Wars (close enough to an MMO for this discussion) and EVE Online (or does EVE even fit in this picture?) pretty quickly before getting to titles like Vanguard, Age of Conan, or Star Wars: The Old Republic, that probably did not or will not get EverQuest-like expansions because they were not successful enough.

Which is what brought me around to the title of this post.  Are level cap increases… especially expansion related increases… an aberration that were just part of the genre in its infancy, but which is unlikely to carry on going forward?  Even EverQuest’s direct predecessor, TorilMUD, hasn’t had a level cap increase since launch.

And, as a follow on to that, in a market where the level cap at launch is likely to be the level cap for the lifetime of the game, does the insta-level option have a future?  Or do level cap increases enter into that equation when most of your population ends up crowded at the top of the ladder over time no matter what?  What is pay for a level boost needed?

The 2014 List – Back to Predictions

Welcome to 2014.  At the beginning of every year I have a habit of hanging my monumental ignorance out for public display by trying to write something about the upcoming twelve months in the MMO world.  I have done a few variations on this.  The story so far on that front:

Now here we are, its a brand new day in a brand new year, and it is time to take another stab at it.

DruidWoW2014_450px

(Original 2014 graphic provided by my daughter)

I think I will go back to the predictions routine, complete with point assignments so I can score myself when December rolls around.

I will follow the usual protocol and link to other people’s predictions here, just to share the love.

Reminder: Predictions are different than wishes.  Just because I think something might happen doesn’t mean I want it to happen.  Plus look at my track record.  If you are bad at causation, you might safely assume that my predicting something makes it unlikely to happen.

1 – Ship Dates

My predicted US ship dates for some key launches in and around the MMO genre.

Scoring: 10 points each, with 2 points deducted for each week off my prediction.  That gives me some room for partial credit while not leaving the window too wide.  (I made the EVE Online expansions one entry, so both dates count, because everything is more difficult in New Eden.)  In cases where the company has announced a date and I have something later… such as TESO… color me the skeptic I guess.

  • Hearthstone – April 1
  • The Elder Scrolls Online – April 22
  • EVE Online 2014 expansions – (working names Excursions and Magellan) May 13 & November 18
  • WildStar – June 10
  • Warlords of Draenor – September 9
  • EverQuest Landmark – October 15
  • StarCraft: Legacy of the Void – October 15
  • EverQuest II expansion #10 (working name Cheese of the Ratonga) – November 4
  • LEGO Minifigures Online – November 4
  • EverQuest expansion #21 (working name Return of Lady Vox) – November 25

I also get 10 points of extra credit if any of my working names turn out to be true.

2 – Missed Dates

This is a list of launches that we might expect in 2014, but which I think won’t make it.  Open beta doesn’t count, the games have to be out of beta, live, and going concerns.

Scoring: 10 points each and pretty much a pass/fail exercise.

  • EverQuest Next
  • Heroes of the Storm
  • Line of Defense
  • Lord British’s Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtue
  • World of Warships

3 – Changes, Offers, and Upsets

Predictions as to what we will hear from the industry in 2014.

Scoring: 10 points for each correct prediction.  I am going to declare for partial credit on these if warranted.

  • World of Warcraft will report a small boost in subscriptions for Q4 2013 based on BlizzCon and Warlords of Draenor.  Subs will then resume a slow down trend until the expansion ships.
  • Blizzard will announce that WoW subscribers will get special benefits in Hearthstone.
  • Blizzard’s World of Warcraft 10 year anniversary gift will be a mount for those subscribers who log in during the right time frame.
  • Blizzard’s insta-90 option will be available as a service for $35 by December of 2014.
  • SOE’s naming decision with EverQuest Next and EverQuest Next Landmark will come back to haunt them with some headline grabbing rage as people outside of the hardcore fan circles download Landmark and discover that this was not the game they were expecting.  One (or both) of the products will end up with a new name.
  • ArenaNet will slow down their continuous content update plan and announce they are working on an expansion for GuildWars 2.  Off the record, Anet will report that their master’s in Seoul demanded this.
  • WildStar will be off to the races with a smooth launch and a huge initial spike, but it will fall into the dread “three monther” category as subscriptions will trail off dramatically.
  • The Elder Scrolls Online will have a rocky launch, starting with a delay for the PC side of the house.  But the game will manage to capture enough of the Elder Scrolls franchise to sustain the game, making it one of the rare recent MMORPGs, one that doesn’t peak in the first month and go downhill from there.
  • WildStar will announce plans to move to a free to play model before the end of the year.
  • The Elder Scrolls Online will not budge on to the monthly subscription model in 2013.
  • Turbine will remove the 500 Turbine Points per month stipend from Lifetime subscriber accounts in Lord of the Rings Online.
  • Turbine’s Gift of the Valar insta-level option will be revised after the trial run.  The new version, with a new name, will boost players at least 10 additional levels and include all of the pre-Helm’s Deep expansions.
  • With no support/budget for any raise in the level cap featuring fully voiced content, Star Wars: The Old Republic will follow on the Galactic Starfighter mini-game with more of the same.  First up will be Droid Battles.  Somewhat akin to Pokemon and WoW Pet Battles, to which it will be immediately compared, it will be far more focused on upgrading parts and abilities on a small set of droid models.  Cosmetic options for droids, as well as special models, will be the cash shop aspect of this feature.
  • CCP will announce new areas of space to explore, as they have hinted at since Rubicon.  The new areas will be a cross between null sec and wormhole space.  Local chat will work like W-space and there won’t be any sovereignty.  You get to keep the space you can hold.  But there will be none of the mucking about with wormhole stability.  Jump gates will be the mode of travel.  And this new area of space will be just our of capital ship jump range.
  • CCP will severely restrict drone assist in 2014.  However, it will be done in typical CCP fashion and will pretty much break drones for all purposes until they do a big drone revamp as part of the second 2014 expansion.
  • Funcom will finally have an unequivocal success with the launch of LEGO Minifigures Online.
  • The inevitable rough ride for Chris Roberts will come when Star Citizen needs to start generating revenue beyond the donations of the faithful and features begin to get trimmed down to a more realistic target.  It doesn’t mean that the game(s) won’t be good, but they won’t be everything ever promised by Chris Roberts.  That will make a few big spenders rage.
  • The Brad McQuaid “challenging epic planar high fantasy” Kickstarter won’t fund if he asks for more than $500,000.  I just don’t think he has the reputation/following of Mark Jacobs or Lord British.
  • 2014 will be the year of the “insta-level” option for “levels” focused MMOs successful enough to ship an expansion that boosted the level cap… which, honestly, isn’t that many games when I think about it.  I will count this as fulfilled if I get EverQuest and Rift and one other game.
  • The near-ubiquity of free to play as an option for MMORPGs will start to take its toll on those games for which “it’s crap, but it’s free!” was the prime competitive advantage.  Expect to see more than half a dozen Asian imports fold up shop in North America in 2014.  First on the list appears to be, Lunia.  The second Legends of Edda. The third ArchLord. The fourth Wizardry Online.

4 – Scoring?

Well, that tallies up to 350 possible points, to be scored on or after December 15, 2014.  If I end up getting half that total right, I will be amazed.

5 – Predictions of Others

I put most of this together in the middle of December, altering it from time to time based on news.  I figure any input from game companies is valid input right up until 23:59:59 on December 31st.  On the other hand, I avoided the prediction posts of my fellow bloggers up until now.  I did not want those to color my own view of the world until I had finished this post.  But now that that my list is live, I am adding those in so you can see what others are predicting for 2014.

I will add more to the list as I spot them.

But if you want a really good list of predictions for 2014, go read what Isaac Asimov predicted for 2014 back in 1964.  He was close on some population numbers at least.

And so here we are, at the dawn of yet another calendar year.  What else is bound to happen in 2014?


Looking Back at 2013 – Highs and Lows

This has become a regular end of the year feature here I guess, now that it is in its fourth year.  Past entries, should you be bored and looking for something else to read, are here:

This list isn’t meant to be definitive in any way.  Highs and lows are relative.  My lows are certainly highs to somebody, and vise versa .  This is more of a wash of impressions that I find myself left with at the end of the year.  I am sure I will miss something important, even for more own narrow definition.  Feel free to add or question in the comments or use what I say as fodder for your own blog posts.

The wall of bullet points beings.

Payment Model Wars

Highs

  • F2P vs. Subscription gave us plenty of things to post and/or argue about.
  • We are starting to get Western MMORPGs that were designed from the start to be F2P, which ought to give a better experience than conversions.
  • The “free” part of F2P MMORPGs seem, in general, to be edging further into the “substantially free” zone.
  • World of Warcraft, EVE Online, and… the one people seem to forget… Final Fantasy XIV still holding the fort for the subscription model.  Not dead yet.
  • WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online are determined to test if the subscription model is still valid for new games in this day and age.

Lows

  • A lot of people think WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online are headed for a trouble by going the subscription route.  F2P by fall.
  • SWTOR failing at the subscription model still casts a long shadow, which plays into the line above.
  • When somebody says an MMO is “free to play” that doesn’t tell me anything yet, beyond the idea that it probably doesn’t require a monthly subscription.
  • The dichotomy of the two models still exists for me.  I hate when a game brings up money almost constantly… nothing brings me “out” of the game like a financial calculation… but I won’t stay subscribed to a game for a day longer than I have to if I am not playing it.  Or, to flip it the other way, I like not having a subscription, but I hate that the hand is always out for money even when I do opt for the “yes there is still a subscription” option in a F2P title.  Or something.
  • Subscription to F2P conversions still dominate the Western MMO F2P landscape.  Even if you don’t think they carry the stink of failure, it is still tough to escape the before/after comparison, especially if the F2P model looks like a thinly veiled attempt to make you subscribe.
  • Final Fantasy XIV a Realm Reborn is probably the most interesting sounding MMO I am never going to play.  Not buying a box and paying another monthly subscription.
  • Asian MMOs no longer have an automatic “in” to the market by virtue of being free to play.  Remember when Runes of Magic was a big deal?  Remember when a $10 horse caused outrage?  Dime a dozen complaint these days.   The market is crowded enough that even their tiny cost structures cannot be sustained.  Early entrants are still around… how Silk Road Online survives is one of the mysteries of the universe… but new titles seem to come and go quickly.  I am not sure that is good for the industry overall.  Or maybe it is.
  • Every conversion from subscription to F2P includes an immediate press release about huge success… and then we never hear another word on the subject.  I don’t expect weekly updates, but when you never mention something ever again, it sure seems like the peak came early on.
  • The F2P store balance seems to be a tightrope walk… and some companies are working without a net.

Turbine

Highs

  • Woo hoo, Lord of the Rings Online moves a step closer to Mordor with the Helm’s Deep expansion!
  • Middle-earth still has that Middle-earth charm.
  • I made it THROUGH Moria during my latest vacation in Middle-earth.  Now just two more expansions to get through and I will be caught up with all I have paid for.
  • The change up of classes into a more role specific model seems to be a good thing.
  • No repeat of the hobby horse idea.
  • Yay… other Turbine games.  Dungeons & Dragons Online and all calls routed through to Asheron’s number.
  • Oh, hey, they have Macintosh versions of DDO and LOTRO.  My daughter even tried DDO.

Lows

  • As much as I love Middle-earth, LOTRO is starting to show its age.  Moving to WoW after a summer of LOTRO was like realizing you’ve been driving with your parking brake on.
  • Being just out of Moria, it doesn’t matter how nice the next LOTRO expansion is, I don’t need to buy it.
  • Turbine seems to be rethinking the whole big expansion thing, with no such beast expected for 2014.  How we get to Mordor… or even Gondor at this point… is unclear.
  • Every time I come back to LOTRO, it feels like they have installed another “insert coin here” adjunct to the UI.
  • Insta-level to the mid-game seems like a half baked idea, unless you think Moria is the best content in the game… and you already own Moria.
  • Just waiting for Turbine to give in to the “lifetime subscribers are the problem” mob.
  • DDO reminds you that it pre-dates LOTRO in look and feel.  My daughter said it was confusing and ugly and went back to Minecraft.
  • The return of Asheron’s Call 2 was the big Turbine announcement last year at this time… and not much else has been mentioned since.
  • Infinite Crisis, Turbine’s run at the MOBA genre, sounds more like their financial situation pre-Warner.  And it looks like a no show for 2013 at this point.  Plus, really? Another MOBA?  I am not sure what Turbine brings to the table on this.

Sony Online Entertainment

Highs

  • Finally announced EverQuest Next as an MMO that might bring something new to the genre.  The word “sandbox” has been thrown about liberally.  There has been much excitement.  This is perhaps the only new MMO I am looking forward to at this point.
  • EverQuest Next Landmark, a subset of the tools being used to create EverQuest Next, will be available to players as a F2P title.
  • SOE eased up on the restrictions on free players in EQII.  One notch back on the “really, you should just subscribe to play” focus.
  • EverQuest is still a live an going concern.  It even got an expansion.
  • SOE has actually made some progress getting themselves out of the discount Station Cash hole they dug for themselves with huge discounts up through last year.

Lows

  • EverQuest Mac gets powered down.  Its days were numbered, but it is still sad to see it go.
  • EverQuest Next is way out in the future, and I am not convinced the “design by committee” thing that SOE is doing via the round table… even if is is all illusory… is the best of all possible options.  Still, it beats their past practice of announcing something then going silent for a year.
  • EverQuest Next… how is a F2P sandbox going to work?  SOE has a horrible track record at pricing things in a way that puts the “micro” in “microtransaction.”   If your minimum price is going to be $5.00, you might as well just take VISA up front.
  • EverQuest Next Landmark is closer, but I have no desire to try it for free at this point, much less pay $100 to do so.
  • PlanetSide 2 had so many problems this year.  Aimbots, stability, performance… I stopped playing pretty quickly, but people I follow seem to be bemused about SOE’s progress with the game.
  • I have grown so apart from EverQuest II that all I do when I log in is pay the rent on my house.
  • EverQuest abides in its own form, but SOE seems to be really pushing it to the back burner, and you wouldn’t know there was a Progression Server thing still going the way it has been handled.  I doubt we will see another such special server.
  • Just waiting for SOE to “expire” Station Cash on unused accounts.

CCP

Highs

  • EVE Online, still hanging in there on the subscription model, growing ever so slightly, and unique in so many ways.  Ten years old and as strong as it has ever been.
  • Two decent expansions this year, Odyssey and Rubicon, with some solid features and improvements in each.
  • Giant space battles deciding the colors on the map!
  • Does any gaming company running a live game do Dev blogs that approach what CCP produces?
  • Hints at plans for brand new space frontiers in New Eden.
  • Managed to stay away from controversy when it came to the direction the game is going.  No more “greed is good” talk or other things that caused the Incarna revolt.
  • Gave me a free copy of the collector’s edition.
  • EVE Valkyrie for Occulus Rift sounds very exciting.

Lows

  • Growth is oh so slow, and the question always arises about how many new accounts are just alts?
  • It wouldn’t be CCP without some scandals!  So we had  SOMERBlink and Ishokune Scorpions,  SOMERBlink at EVE Vegas, SOMERBlink and RMT loopholes, preferential treatment by CCP in general (which included SOMERBlink) and who gets what for free (which included some real crybaby attitudes at various points), Terms of Services hair splitting by CCP (which did NOT involve SOMERBlink!), and the usual CCP summer season of foot shooting.  Really, the only thing we were missing was Mintchip accepting an Ishukone Scorpion from SOMERBlink, selling it for a PLEX in EVE, and then using that PLEX to pay some capsuleer to mow her parent’s lawn… while topless, wearing a monocle, and speaking entirely in quotes from Atlas Shrugged.
  • PLEX continues to amaze and horrify people by turns.  It remains a comically divisive aspect of the game.
  • The defining issue for CSM8 seems to be the CSM minutes at this point.  Those minutes had better be worth it.  Still better than CSM7 though.
  • Epic space battles have turned into epic node crashes lately.  Does anybody think the drone assignment feature is a good thing at this point?
  • A good portion of the interesting things that happen in EVE… and 100% of the CCP run events… happen while I am at work.  I read about them online just like anybody not playing the game.
  • After the war in Fountain, the deployment(s) to Curse have felt a little dry.  I have spent more time moving to and fro than in actual fleets.
  • I am still trying to click on the lower left corner of the screen to undock six months later.  Old habits.
  • The future “huge effort to build a jump gate” in order to open up new areas of space idea sounds vaguely like “huge effort to build a titan” from times gone by.  Efforts will thus be limited to large entities and the huge effort will become manageable for those entities over time.  Expect jump gate proliferation.
  • DUST 514?  Hello, is anybody there? *distant occasional gunshot*
  • World of Dakrness?  Lay offs at CCP Atlanta make that an even more distant possibility.

Blizzard

Highs

  • WoW revenues: still laughing all the way to the bank.
  • Returning to WoW this fall was like getting into my own bed made up with flannel sheets fresh out of the dryer on a cold winter’s night.
  • The instance group returning to Azeroth has also revived our spirits and our time spent playing together.
  • Blizz’s work on softening the walls between servers has actually done some good.  The game feels alive still and I have been able to group cross realms with people I haven’t been able to play with since server splits ages ago.
  • I am reasonably sure there are no NSA/CIA/FBI infiltrators in our guild.
  • Warlods of Draenor and the return to the 10 level expansion.  Sounds good to me so far.
  • Mists of Pandaria, meanwhile, is pretty good.  I find it fulfilling in a way that Cataclysm was not.
  • Blizz actually seems primed for a very strong 2014.  The money machine will continue to print.
  • Hearthstone looks good enough to even interest me slightly, and the only card game I ever play is Gin Rummy.
  • Diablo III Reaper of Souls expansion looks promising.
  • The death of the Diablo III auction house is a winner in my book.
  • StarCraft II has Legacy of the Void lined up as the third expansion.
  • Heroes of the Storm sounds like it might be a viable thing.  It is Blizzard’s chance to apply their refinement magic to the MOBA genre.  If only they can find a name and stick with it.

Lows

  • WoW Subscribers down from the peak of “over 12 million” in the quarter after Cataclysm shipped to 7.6 million at last report.  Blizz can still say “more than you ever had” to most everybody, but that is a lot of subscribers gone.  There are whole industries that would disappear if that many people walked away.  And where is that subscriber number headed next?
  • Long term profitability seems to have stifled innovation on the subscription model options front, even considering how slow Blizz is about change in general.  Blizz just rolls along.
  • Coming back to WoW reminds me that there still a number of things that Blizz hasn’t quite fixed over the years, stuff that almost every competitor has worked out by this point.  Fodder for a blog post, coming soon-ish.
  • All that cross-realm and combined server stuff isn’t going to stave off server merges forever unless they stem the subscriber bleed.
  • A cash shop in-game?  Here we go again.  As a developer though, I think I am most offended by problems with the implementation.
  • There isn’t a lot between now and Warlords of Draenor to keep long time WoW players going if they have finished up Mists of Pandaria.  I am happy enough with WoD probably being 9 months out, but I am sure a lot of people are restless.
  • Also on the “Blizzard remains slow front,” even removing a feature they freely admit was a mistake and ruined their game for a lot of people is taking a while to happen.  The Diablo III auction house lives on into 2014.
  • Is the Reaper of Souls expansion, reitemization, and removal of the auction house going to be enough to goose sales and play time for Diablo III?  I cannot see myself going back to play, much less buying the expansion.
  • I doubt we’ll see Heroes of the Storm go live next year, and I wouldn’t bet against at least one more revision of the name.
  • Titan, the “next big thing” from Blizz post-WoW, remains a tiny dot on the horizon.  Or is that just a mirage?

Other MMO Developers

Highs

  • Arena Net has to have set some sort of record for content delivery in GuildWars 2, serving up some sort of new variation every two weeks for… how long now?  Somebody tell the SWTOR team “that’s how it’s done.”
  • Trion manages a pretty sharp F2P transition with Rift.  They went all-in on it and their commitment to the model shows.  The store is clean, bright, and filled to the brim with things to buy.  Once the F2P launch settled down, Trion relauched Rift on Steam with new starter packs and such.  The game remains the definitive alternate to WoW, polished and with plenty of content, even as F2P.
  • Trion also pulled Trove out of nowhere.
  • Cryptic and PWE entertainment seem pretty solid on F2P, delivering Neverwinter as a substantially free game that is both very well put together and provides a content generation system, the Foundry, that yields some excellent content.  Easy to get into, low commitment, looks good, what is not to love?
  • Path of Exile really scratched the Diablo II itch.  Official heir to the Diablo II crown in my book.
  • War Thunder, a title I set out to ignore, turns out to be decent and has low skill roles I can actually fulfill… and lots of cool planes to fly.
  • Wargaming.net joined up accounts across their games, so your World of Tanks account is also your World of Warplanes account and shares currency and so on.
  • SWTOR seems to have struck out on a new path with the Galactic Starfight update.  But what does it portend?
  • Shroud of the Avatar is a thing.
  • There is a minor possibility that I might be interested in the idea of playing The Elder Scrolls Online.

Lows

  • I am unable to understand how any but the most dedicated gamers can adequately handle and play through new content every two weeks in GuildWars 2.  I get physically tired just reading about it.  It feels like a lot of content just melting away, never to be seen again.
  • Storm Legion remains uninspired for me. I want to like it a lot more than I actually do.
  • The Rift F2P model feels too weak to me, like they gave away too much.  I could see no reason to ever give them money again.  I know, I complain when people ask for money, now I complain when people don’t ask for money.  See my entry in the first section about a tight rope walk.
  • Trove seems a little me-to at this stage of the game, with Minecraft already established and EverQuest Landmark showing up soon.  Plus, if you don’t care about that kind of thing, another option isn’t really a big deal.
  • Speaking of me-to, ArcheAge?  Haven’t we seen the “Asian MMO comes West and flops” tale enough times already?  Trion had better have some secret sauce for this one.
  • Neverwinter never really clicked with me.  There is lots of interesting stuff to see, but it never felt like I was in a world.  It was more like an arcade where you lined up to run the Cloak Tower machine, then ran off to play the Dreadmines machine, and then maybe played orc hockey in the open area for a while.
  • Path of Exile has “always online” problems similar to Diablo III.  When you depend on the internet…
  • War Thunder didn’t last all that long on my list.  I managed to tourist up to level 5 for all nations, then wandered off.
  • Wargaming.net still keeps regions separate, so I cannot play with my EVE corp mates without having another client/account just for Europe.
  • World of Warplanes, a title I was determined to play… well… we shall speak no more of that one.
  • Shroud of the Avatar is a thing in the sense that it ought to be worth looking at again in about a year.
  • Seeing what is potentially on offer for 2014, as like as not I probably won’t play a new MMO next year.  If it is just going to be the same game with different art, I might as well play the one I am most invested in.
  • Pirates of the Burning Sea, cut loose from SOE, seems to be more adrift than ever.
  • Warhammer Online goes to its inevitable fate.

Other Gaming and Vaguely Related Items

Highs

  • Sony pledges a long life, new games, and ongoing support for those of us who own PS3s.  And their track record with the PS2 seems to back up their statements.
  • Pokemon X and Y actually looked interesting enough to get some interest in our household.
  • I remain quite fond of my iPad.
  • The used game scene remains, not that I participate.  Good news for Game Stop, but also probably good news for the big publishers, since they have pretty much fessed up that the ability to trade in a game for store credit is probably boosting sales numbers beyond any perceived lost revenue from third party sales.
  • Some interesting projects on Kickstarter in 2013.
  • High speed internet is finally available in our home.  Buying a game on Steam doesn’t mean waiting a day or two to play it.
  • When 60 Minutes can run an NSA propaganda piece and call it news, it makes me think that game journalism isn’t all that bad.  At least motivations are clear; everybody has to earn a living.

Lows

  • Games?  I only use the PS3 to watch Blu-Ray movies and stream Netflix at this point.
  • Nintendo basically doesn’t support any of the platforms that I own any more.  There will be nothing new under the sun for Wii or DS owners ever again, and I have no interest in buying a Wii U or a 3Ds.  But I don’t plan to buy an Xbox One or a PS4 either.  Good thing about the used market.
  • The screens on my Nintendo DS Lite have gone all blurry, so I can’t even go back and finish up Pokemon Black.  Oh, wait, let me put on my glasses.  Damn tiny screens!
  • I remain somewhat less enthusiastic about gaming on the iPad.  Ticket to Ride remains my all time favorite, and board game translations seem like an excellent opportunity for the platform, yet I haven’t found many games I really like otherwise.  And then there is pricing.  EA has the most odious practice in that they will sell you a game and will then insist on running game interrupting ads when you try to play.  Has made me swear to never give EA another nickel again ever.  I find Candy Crush Saga to be a rare gem, a paragon of virtue and restraint compared to anything EA has to offer.
  • I’ve been stuck on level 125 of Candy Crush Saga for like six weeks now.  Still not giving them any money either, but for different reasons.
  • Kickstarter remains a “pay and pray” option.  You toss somebody some money and hope that it turns into something some day.  I can see why some people shun the idea.
  • Buy something on Steam?  I have too many unplayed or underplayed titles already in my Steam library.  Even Steam sales are a bit “meh” now.
  • I still do not see the appeal of streaming.  Except for a few rare cases where something special is happening, I’d rather play the game than watch somebody else play.  And then I saw somebody live blogging somebody else live streaming and my head just about exploded.  Stop the inanity.
  • Runic Games appears to have burnt out creating Torchlight II and has punted on the Mac OS version, the MMORPG version, and hasn’t bothered to get dressed to leave the house for much of 2013 so far as I can tell.
  • Microsoft, determined that there be a single version of Windows and that it run on all devices (q.v. Ballmer remains loyal to Mordor), gives people a tablet button interface for their desktop machines.  When people won’t stop complaining about the missing “Start” menu, which MS trained people for years to depend on, they add it back in to Windows 8… only it just brings up the tablet button interface.  Why Fucking Bother?

Blog Things

Highs

  • Hey, I still post something nearly every damn day, don’t I?
  • A lot more people visit the site, even after my purge from Google search returns, than I ever expected.
  • I have a pretty decent account of my online gaming since 2006.  I am particularly happy with the ongoing tales of the instance group.
  • I have lots of pretty pictures on the site, which helps out when I lose stuff on my hard drive.  I have no idea where all my Warhammer Online screen shots went.

Lows

  • Quantity is not quality, and a lot of what I write is just for me.  Plus, there are times when it is tough not to write “And we did another instance.  Thousands of people have done it before.  There were no surprises.  Consider this milestone marked.”  This has lead to what I might describe as an over-dependence on screen shots.
  • The name of the blog becomes ever more accurate.  I now write mostly about a 9 year old game and a 10 year old game, with an occasional look back at a 20 year old game.
  • It is sometimes tough to find the old post I am looking for.  The search option is primitive in the extreme.
  • Really feel like the blog needs a new look after seven years, yet I am not fond of any of the WP.com options.
  • WP.com has taken it upon themselves to break something about once a month by rolling new (and I would guess untested) code out to their customers without any announcement.  Just this week the “more after the cut” option was broken for several hours.
  • Self hosting seems slightly more attractive at this point, except for the hours of extra work, the need for a domain name, and the fear that I will find out just how many readers visit out of habit as they fall off the moment something changes.

And that is about all that oozed from my brain when pressed to come up with what happened in 2013.  What else should be on the list?