Category Archives: Guild Wars 2

Is One MMO Enough for a Studio?

CCP was on the cusp of becoming a respectable multi-MMO studio, but then it jettisoned World of Darkness and pledged undying loyalty to the EVE universe.

Syp, MMO studio report card: Where are our leaders?

Syp had a post a while back about MMO industry leadership that had a strongly implied and, to my mind, not well supported assumption about what such leadership amounts to.  Subscribers/customers wasn’t a factor.  Not to pick on Syp, but he does tend to see the negative in all things Blizzard, so he would have to either throw that out or say something nice about Blizz.  The latter may have stuck in his throat, thus leadership has nothing to do with audience size or the influence that goes with it.

Nor does it have anything to do with who is following whom, a simple definition of leadership.  That way lies madness… or Blizzard again.  Lots of people have been following Blizzard, adopting features haphazardly over time like EverQuest II, setting themselves up as alternatives with “WoW Plus” games like Rift at launch, or just copying chunks the game wholesale like Alganon.

No, not Azeroth!

Mentioning Azeroth acknowledges its leadership

Whether or not World of Warcraft being viewed as a leader… it is by outsiders if nobody else, and they seem to have all the money… has been good for MMOs over the last decade is an open sore of a topic.  Are the stifling aspects of Blizzard’s behemoth on the industry (go into any MMO beta and count the number of times somebody is essentially complaining in general chat that the game in question isn’t WoW) worth the players that WoW brought into the genre and who went on to play other titles?  So goes the debate.

No, the only aspects that seemed to count on his list was having multiple MMO titles in play and who was making new MMOs.

But are more MMOs better for a company or not?  And do more MMOs really mean leadership?

Perfect World Entertainment, which includes the perennially troubled Cryptic Studios and the “disappeared off the map for two years and not making a Torchlight MMO” Runic Games, has many MMO titles available.  However, aside from the output of Cryptic, their titles tend to be Asian imports that do not play well in the west.  And even the Cryptic titles are not all that strong.  Neverwinter has a following and some features of note, but I rarely hear much good about the rushed to market due to contractual requirements Star Trek Online and almost never hear anything at all about their “let’s remake City of Heroes” title, Champions Online.  Maybe PWE isn’t a good example, especially when they are pointing at their US operations as hurting their bottom line.

How about NCsoft?  Again, they have a range of MMO titles from their home studio in South Korea along with titles from ArenaNet and Carbine Studios.  Certainly GuildWars 2 is a strong candidate, though the financials indicate that the execs in Seoul will be forcing ANet to ship an expansion box to boost revenues.  And all focus at ANet is on GW2, with GuildWars left to run out its days unsupported.  WildStar though… I haven’t heard any good news there.  And when it comes down to it, NCsoft gets most of its revenue from South Korea, and largely from its 1998 title Lineage.  Meanwhile, it has closed a lot of MMOs, which could be bad news for Carbine if they don’t get their act together.  Is this the multi-MMO company model we want others to follow?

And then there is Funcom, which has shambled from disappointment to disappointment.  They launched LEGO Minifigures Online a little while back which, true to Funcom’s history, has failed to meet expectations.

Okay, maybe we should ignore all those foreigners and look at a US-centric company like Sony Online Entertainment.

I love SOE, but at times they seem to be the MMO studio embodiment of Murphy’s Law.  If they can do the wrong thing, they will, and in front of a live studio audience.  Granted, they do tend to fix things in the end and do the right thing, but sometimes getting there is painful to watch.  However, they are the US champion for a multi-MMO company, at least in terms of number of titles.  But has this made them better or just spread them too thin?

They have two flavors of EverQuest and a third on the way at some distant future date.  There is LandmarkMinecraft for people who don’t like pixels, and the engine on which the next EverQuest will someday ride… in progress.  They have PlanetSide, PlanetSide 2, and H1Z1 (Zombie PlanetSide) in development.  And then there is the Asian import flavor of the month, previously Wizardry Online and currently Dragon’s Prophet.

That list of titles feels like too much stuff, and all the more so when you consider that SOE also cranks out an expansion for both EverQuest titles every year.  While those expansions mean revenue, SOE could be operating with as few as 50K subscribed players on EverQuest II and probably less still for EverQuest.  That is a big investment in the past while we wait for EverQuest Next.

Then there is Trion, which does a respectable job with Rift, which remains their best received title.  But Defiance has been problematic.  ArcheAge, which had the potential to be a big hit, has been mishandled. And then there is Trove, which seems to Minecraft for people who want bigger pixels and brighter colors.  Multiple MMOs hasn’t been a stellar success for Trion.

And, finally, on the US front there is Turbine which, inexplicably in hindsight given the size of the company, has the rights for Dungeons & Dragons AND Lord of the Rings and which has manage to turn both huge franchises into awkward niche titles.  Other than that they have Asheron’s Call, the distant third of the “big three” break-out MMOs from the end of the 90s, and Asheron’s Call 2, revived from the dead because… I still don’t know why.  I think it speaks volumes about Turbine’s outlook in that they are betting on a MOBA to save their flagging fortunes.

Stack those up against companies with just a single MMO.

Blizzard.  Do I need to say more about the very, very rich company in Anaheim?  One MMO has been very good to them.

CCP.  They seem to get into trouble only when they wander away from EVE Online.  When they focus on their main product, which in the past meant stealing resources from World of Darkness, things tend to go well for them.

EA.  Okay, EA has three MMOs, but they bought two of them and have farmed them out for another company to run, leaving them with just the BioWare MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic.  It was never a WoW-killer, and it has its problems (roll stock footage about subscriber retention and selling hotbars), but it makes money.  Not as much as EA would like, but that may be as much because Disney gets a cut as anything.  That is the rub with a licensed IP, they come with more overhead.

Zenimax.  The Elder Scroll Online might be the weak point in the single MMO theory.  I don’t know how the game is doing, other than things are still being fixed and that the console versions of the title, a big part of the plan, have been pushed out into 2015.

And then there are the MMO-ish niche titles of the future, Star Citizen, Shroud of the Avatar and Camelot Unchained.  Those are being made by small companies that can only afford to invest in a single game.  And while those titles are playing the nostalgia card for all it is worth, they are also potentially mapping out new paths in the MMO world as smaller titles are able to do.

All of which is just so much talk, punctuated with some admittedly unfair characterizations both of various companies and of Syp.  I am not saying that companies should run one or multiple MMOs.  Clearly some companies do well, or well enough, running multiple games, while others seem best suited to focusing on a single title.  But I wouldn’t categorize any company as not being a real MMO player just because they only have one such title.

What do you think?

Planning for the Coming Summer Hiatus

As inevitable as the turning of the seasons, the summer hiatus of the regular instance group will soon be upon us.  The weather will warm up, kids will get out of school, vacations will be planned, and sometimes we’ll just want to something on a Saturday night besides play video games.  The prospect of getting all five of us online at once will pretty much vanish so long as the weather stays warm.

The timing for this is usually pretty good.  We’ve often spent the fall, winter, and spring playing a single title… World of Warcraft usually… and a summer vacation from that generally goes a long way to restoring our interest in that game.

During the time of hiatus, a couple of us… sometimes just Potshot and I, sometimes more… often pick up another game to play.  With that in mind, I started sorting out potential candidates for a summer run.  My driving criteria was not to spend $60 on a box and to avoid signing up for another monthly subscription plan.  Basically, my commitment is low, so I want to keep my spending on par with that… especially since I will certainly keep my EVE Online accounts active (one paid, one comped by CCP for running a fan site) and likely won’t cancel WoW since my daughter an I still play.

But with the change in the MMO landscape over the last few years, I should have plenty of free to play options available.  I am not saying that I won’t spend money on any of these games, just that I do not want to commit to doing so up front.  That is the point of F2P, right?

Here are the titles that have potential at the moment.

Lord of the Rings Online

This is sort of the default choice for a summer hiatus destination.  I think some combination of our wider group has gone back to Middle-earth at least five times since our first run at it at launch.

Pros:  Familiar, everybody has an account, I have a lifetime subscription, and Middle-earth is still just a nice place to be.  I keep the game patched up and log in at least monthly to get my Tubrine Point stipend, which should be closing in on 10K.  And there is music.  We could literally get the band back together.

Playing together

Playing together

Cons:  With the big class revamp, starting over again seems to be in order.   Relearning classes has always felt awkward in LOTRO after being away for a while, and the revamp pretty much doubles down on that.  Not the worst thing in the world I suppose.  I love the 1-40 game.  But they haven’t revamped 40-55 which, aside from Hollin, I find a bit tiresome.  Things pick up about halfway through Moria, but then get tedious again on the far side.  The lifetime subscription makes this an easier choice for me than others.  Also, I am not sure if anybody else has as much nostalgia for the game as I do at this point.

Rift

This was a game good enough to supplant WoW for a few seasons.

Pros:  Maybe the most generous F2P model of any of the MMOs I have played.  You can get by very well without a subscription.  Most people I know already have an account and some familiarity with it.  I own the expansion and have a pile of their F2P currency, so cannot forsee feeling the need to purchase anything up front.  Lots to like about the game.

Cons: The Storm Legion blues.  The expansion never really clicked with me and repeated attempts to get enthused about it haven’t really worked, and I am not sure that anything has changed in the department.  Starting fresh with new alts isn’t as tempting as there are only four core classes, and I have all four up to at least level 50.  And then there is the usual “we stopped playing for a reason, has that overall reason changed?”

Guild Wars 2

Everybody’s favorite buy-to-play MMO.

Pros: I own a copy, so it is a no-money-down proposition… at least for me.  Lots of bloggers I read still play it.  Most of the likely members of a potential summer hiatus group already own a copy, and for those who do not, the price of the box has dropped.  Looks very pretty.  Dev team is off the overwhelming 2 week content cycle and is adding features to the game itself.

Cons: The usual “never really got into it” problem that also applies to the original Guild Wars.  Never really struck me as a group game in any way.  I still have a “chicken and egg” password recovery issue from way back when.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

The Tortanic still lives in F2P form.

Pros: It has been our for nearly two and a half years at this point, so it should be relatively bug free… right?  Does not require me to install Origin… right?  Devs have committed to content updates every six weeks or so… right?  Can space bar through the long and awkward NPC expositions, which are the curse burden hallmark of recent BioWare games.  It is, you know, Star Wars… in some sense.  I have preferred status as a free player due to pre-ordering and then cancelling the game way back when.  Still seems to have a substantial player base by whatever measure you can find.  Will make me hum Pop Muzik a lot.

Cons: It is an EA game and, as such, I am unlikely to ever want to give them money.  Sorry BioWare team, but that’s who you chose to get in bed with.  Still have to endure the horrible “puts words in my character’s mouth” aspect of the game, which doubles down by rewarding light side/dark side points for consistent use of words you wouldn’t say in any case.  The usual “if I didn’t like it before, what makes me think things will be different now” conundrum.  Not sure my family appreciates my humming. Can you say “tropes?”  Or at least a feeling of having experienced things before?

Age of Conan

Because, Conan.

Pros: Not sure I have found anybody who truly hates this game.  Has been on my “I should try this” list for ages.

Cons: Not sure I have found anybody who truly loves this game.  Haven’t heard much about it in ages.

Other Titles

There are a few titles you might expect me to put on the list, but which did not make the cut.  Perennial SOE diversions EverQuest and EverQuest II are not there.  I am not saying, “never again” for EQII, but it has been black listed by a few friends and has a similar problem as LOTRO, in that I am good with the content up until what is now the mid-game… say level 60 in this case… but after that… not so much.  EQ is much more of a focus of nostalgia… thus part of the post-summer hiatus routine… than a summer option.  I probably need a new progression server option to get me back into it, and I have to wonder if we will ever see the likes of that again.

Other than that, I have yet to read anything to stoke any interest in The Secret World, Star Trek Online is dead to me despite having a lifetime account, and I could never bring myself to play more than a few minutes of Neverwinter outside of time spent with the group.

And I suppose we could forgo the usual MMO venue and spend the summer playing World of Tanks or War Thunder, both of which have a very low commitment, which seems well suited for a summer distraction.  And a bunch of us own Diablo III.

We shall see.

Quote of the Day – MMO Content Delivery Pacing

Every patch has tons of content for nearly every aspect of the game. It’s exciting — there’s almost too much to do. When a new patch releases, we’re in WoW heaven.

Then months go by and that content grows stale. Blizzard doesn’t give us new content at that point, but peeks at future content. We’re starving for a delicious content meal, but we can only look at pictures of the food.

-Scott Andrew, article Blizzard should rethink their content release model

I know that being in WoW right now, this is something that a lot of people are probably mulling over.  The Siege of Orgrimmar update came out way back in September and players are not set to get anything new until the patch that will precede the Warlords of Draenor expansion sometime this fall.

See you guys in the fall?

Lazy Warlords!

Blizzard gets its share of flak for its long expansion cycle.  Ironing things out to smooth averages, we’ll see the 5th WoW expansion around the 10th anniversary of the game, so we get one about every other year.  This is actually kind of amazing when you consider how much Blizzard studied EverQuest during WoW’s development, because SOE appeared to be convinced that they needed to ship two expansions a year to keep subscribers happy and paying the bills.

Even after watching WoW in return for a few years, SOE felt that they could only relax their pace to an expansion a year.  So we are at 20 EverQuest expansions in just over 15 years, but I may not live long enough to see 20 WoW expansions at their current pace.

The flip side of this has been GuildWars 2, which went through a long stretch of dropping new content every two weeks.  I have no first hand experience as to how that felt as a player, but a number of bloggers writing about it managed to transmit a sense of frenzied exhaustion that I am not sure that ANet’s solution was the best of all possible worlds.  If fans seemed a bit frazzled, I can only imagine how the devs felt working at that pace.  And, in the end, a select group of players experienced a lot of one-time content that is likely never to be seen again.

They could run something like Super Adventure Box again I suppose, but storyline stuff that comes to a resolution would be jarring under all but the most specific circumstances, so becomes throw away content.  And you won’t find many devs who like to write throw away code, so I am going to guess the attitude about throw away content would run about as strong amongst game designers.

And then there is what is going on with EVE Online and expansions.

With all the talk about players being content, you might not think that expansions are all that important.  But, if you go look at the population graphs, subscriptions always surge after an expansion.  It turns out we like new stuff and the promise of such will get us to spend money.

CCP is going from their “every six month” content vehicles to what I have always called the “train” method.  Basically, you lay out a series of delivery vehicles… trains if you will… and as teams finish up features, they just assign them to whatever train is leaving the station next.

The CCP Train Schedule

The CCP Train Schedule

I have work with this system before.  We failed badly at it, but that was primarily because the product group that was told they needed to adopt this method was responsible for software that was wholly unsuited to it.  Enterprise software costing hundreds of thousands of dollars does not need six distinct releases a year.  No IT department I have ever encountered wants to roll an update to anything more than once a year.

Were that not enough, we also managed to shoot ourselves in the foot repeatedly.  We would have a big feature that would span many departing trains in progress, and some small features going out, but the big feature would depend on aspects of the product that the smaller features would end up changing every freaking time, thus making it nearly impossible to ship a feature that couldn’t be done in under six weeks.  You need strong leadership, discipline, and good communication for that. (As opposed to my project, which was an acquisition into our group and then had most of the team laid off. We were a mess.)

And then there is still the content question.  The train schedule sounds great in theory, but what happens if you end up with a delivery vehicle where no features are ready?  I am going to predict that there are going to be some uneven releases here, with some seeming amazing and some having us asking why they bothered to have a release at all.  As any child who has gotten a filler gift like pencils for one of the days of Hanukkah can tell you, sometimes it seems like a good idea to save everything up for one big surprise.

Add in how CCP generally handles content releases… which from the outside looks like three months of development followed by three months of fixing what they just shipped… and it will be interesting to see how their new plan plays out.

In the end, I am not sure which one of these methods is the “best,” or even if any of them are optimum in any way for the company using them.  All I can guarantee is that we’ll complain about them all no matter what.

Back to looking at pictures of food.

Why Can’t I Just Turn Off Achievements?

Over in a corner of the blogesphere this week achievements have been the discussion point.

Syl at MMO Gypsy started venting on Twitter about achievements and went on the write about about her hate of them and other like things at her blog.

In the way of the world, that lead to Liore at Herding Cats to express her love of achievements.  Cuppy joined in on that front as well, while Klepsacovic just wonders if they are the right tool for the job.

The lines were drawn, let the battle commence!

Both sides make impassioned, emotional pleas for their point of view.  The ill-defined concept of “immersion,” which I think means something different to everybody, has been flung about.  Comments have popped up trying to explain one point of view to those whole held the other, myself included.  All just the blogesphere functioning as designed.

I fall on the achievement lovers side of the argument.  They went into World of Warcraft five years ago and I have enjoyed Blizzard’s implementation ever since.

Vikund's Achievements

Vikund’s Achievements – Oct. 15, 2008

I don’t think they necessarily belong in every MMO… and some retro-fits, like the EverQuest implementation, make me groan… but for WoW, already a bright and shiny game with a cultural reference around every corner, it seems like a good match.  I especially like the statistics tab which tracks all sorts of little details, but I am that sort of person.

That isn’t to say that I don’t “get” the dislike of achievements.  And while I think trying to describe what immersion is to each other is like trying to describe what blue is to each other, I can understand how some might find that a shiny pop-up in the middle of their experience might break that for them.

And while I was absorbing all of this, a thought popped into my head.

What if you could just turn them off?

I am not even suggesting that they be expunged from the game, but that the game have a check box somewhere in the settings to not pop up achievements, yours mine or ours.  They would still accrue somewhere in the background in case the person in question changed their mind, but while the correct box was checked somewhere in the settings, they just wouldn’t be a thing on that particular game client.  No pop-ups allowed.

And in imagining that, it sounded so simple that I had to believe that such a setting was already there.  I mean, you can turn off all sorts of things in the UI in most games.  How could that not already be a thing?

So I launched World of Warcraft and went to the setting to check.

You can turn on and off lots of UI elements in WoW.  You can toggle the on screen quest list, quest tracking, floating names over players and NPCs, quests markers on the map and so on and so forth.  There are even conditional settings, so you can have NPC names hidden unless they are part of a quest you are on.

But as far as I can tell, there is no setting to turn off achievement pops.

Well, WoW is a big game, with 7.6 million subscribers at last count.  Maybe somebody has filled this niche with an addon!  So I went to Curse to look at achievement related addons.  There are dozens of addons devoted to helping you find, track, and achieve your achievements, but not one to suppress them.  There may be one out there (let me know if there is) but I couldn’t find it in my admittedly limited search.

I decided to check other games.  The next up was Rift.  I downloaded the latest update, which was sizable, and got into the game.  Ignoring the fact that somebody clearly left the realm administration console unlocked during a bathroom break (Or was that server-wide broadcast about Ceiling Cat watching you part of the current event?) and the blinky telling me I earned a reward just for logging in (that I could do without) I started leafing through the settings.

DSEplopachi

Like WoW, Rift has a pretty comprehensive set of things you can turn on and off.  There is even a social media tab where you can annoy your soon-to-be-ex-friends by spamming Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr with all of your achievements.  But I could not find a way to keep achievements from popping on your screen.

I can automatically decline marriage proposals (which I have set) but achievements are sacred.  I even tried editing the UI to see if I could move achievements off screen, but that particular UI element isn’t part of the editor.

No luck on that front.  So I moved on to Middle-earth.

Lord of the Rings Online doesn’t have achievements… at least not in the WoW sense of them.  But there are traits and pop ups and all sorts of little nags that do get on my nerves.  And they also have a pretty comprehensive list of things in the settings.  But on the achievement-like traits front there was no joy there.  Like other games, there are plenty of potentially immersion breaking things you can turn off, but trait notifications… and the accompanying “Visit the LOTRO Store!” message… are stuck on.  So I moved on.

Next I patched up and tried EverQuest II.  EQII has such a half-hearted “I’m just like WoW! Love me too please!” attempt at achievements that even I am not really interested in them.

Which is odd when I think about it, because EverQuest II had a sort of proto-achievements implementation back at launch in 2004.  In addition to server first and world first discoveries, which were kind of neat until they inevitable ran out, there were the slaughter titles you got for killing so many undead or gnolls or what not.  But they felt they needed to tack on the WoW model as well, making EQII even more of a mish-mash of conflicting visions.

SBHHistoryBuff

Anyway, in digging through the “monumentally huge since day one” options window of the game, I figured out that achievements are part of the updates and notifications in the game.  You can set how quickly they are displayed and where the UI element shows up, but it doesn’t appear that you can actually turn them off.  I suppose you could move that off-screen, but since it shows information for things besides just achievements, I am not sure if that is a viable solution.  Call that a “maybe” at best.

I thought about checking Guild Wars 2, but was brought up short by two things.  First, their super duper, point of interest, laundry list, be the completionist mechanism seemed so much a part of the game when I tried it that I seriously doubted you could turn it off.  And it seems to have progressed since then.

Hah, finished!

Hah, finished!

And, second, I’ve forgotten my password and I cannot get Anet to cough it back up again because I’ve changed internet services since I last logged in so they think I am trying to hack the account.  Saved me from patching in any case.

I also considered checking EverQuest, which has had achievements grafted onto it as well, but I was starting to get bored with the whole idea.  Plus the pattern seemed to be pretty clear and I hated to ruin it by finding a contrary example.  Once you have two points, draw the line, calculate the slope, and move on I say!

But this does leave me with a few questions.

First, does any MMORPG with achievements let you turn off the pop ups?  Did I miss an example or a setting or an addon that would do that for any of the above or some other example?  And why isn’t the option to turn off achievement pop ups available?  Do companies believe them to be so important that the game cannot be separated from the achievements?

Then, would turning off the achievements as I have describe be enough for you explorers and those of you who just do not like achievements in general?  Or does the fact that achievements simply exist bother you?

Expansion Watch – A General Lack of Excitement

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?

Charting the Relative Natures of MMO Economies

I think that by this point in time, some fifteen years down the road from the launch of Ultima Online, having a player economy is one of the hallmarks of games I consider to be MMOs, at least when I use the term.

If there is no player to player economy, then the game is something else to my mind.  World of Tanks, not an MMO in my book.  EverQuest certainly is.

And desire for a player driven economy stems from the deep in the roots of the genre.

In 1993 I was playing TorilMUD, arguably the precursor of EverQuest, which was very much a gear driven game.  Despite there being no mechanism at all to handle or encourage a player economy, one spontaneously appeared.  The desire to exchange gear for trade or coin, the need to create an economy, was so strong that an unofficial one was started and developed its own rules and customs.  And it became popular enough that there were standard prices for certain items.  We would sit around in Waterdeep and people would do shout auctions for items, which you would bid on with a direct tell to the seller.  And it you were looking for something, you would shout out a “want to buy” or WTB.

The economy become very popular very quickly, to the point that the people running TorilMUD were not quite sure what to do with it.  First they tried to contain the amount of spam it caused in town, putting a limit on the number of yells you could do over a given period of time and then by trying to get us to do this in a single room rather than shouting across a whole zone.  Eventually, an auction house was implemented, though the devs put the auctioneer in out of the way places, as I think they were still suspicious of the player driven economy.

This suspicion came, in part, from the fact that the player driven economy pointed out flaws in the game.  With little to spend the in-game currency on besides items from other players, some people began to amass huge quantities of cash.  This, of course, drove up the price of everything in the player economy because the long term players could afford to drop a lot of coins on things they wanted for themselves or alts.

But the whole sinks and faucets and inflation aspect of the currency is another discussion.

Likewise, when EverQuest launched, there were no tools to drive a player economy.  It formed around the Commonlands tunnel where people would go to buy and sell, very much in the model of TorilMUD.  This popped up again for a bit on the progression servers, at least until the bazaar showed up.

The Plane of Knowledge kills all this...

Nostalgia at the tunnel

I was thinking about all of this and trying to fit MMO player economies into a two dimensional system for comparison.

What I came up with was how much of a requirement the player economy was to play the game and how much friction there was to engaging in the player economy.

The first seems pretty reasonable to gauge.  Can you play the game, or can you get very far in the game, without engaging in the player economy.  For example, in EVE Online, you have to use the player economy to play the game.  You could, I suppose, try to avoid it.  In fact, it might be an interesting experiment to see what you could do without it.  But I imagine that it would be a long, slow grind to completely avoid the market and it would limit what you could accomplish.

Most other MMOs make the player economy somewhat optional, and have moved more in that direction over time.  The combination of quest rewards and game difficulty have moved in the direction of keeping players independent of the player economy.

Friction, on the other hand, encompasses a whole range of things, such as:

  • How easy is it to access the market?
  • How easy is it to buy and take delivery?
  • How good is the UI?
  • How high are the fees/taxes on transactions?
  • How stable is pricing?
  • Do enough people use the economy to make it viable?

And it is with this that you start to get all over the map.  For example, Guild Wars 2 and EVE Online are oddly similar in how easy it is to view the market.  You can bring it up in the UI wherever you are.  On the other hand, while GW2 shows you everything on the market in the game, EVE limits you to your current region.

Anyway, in order to compare these, I made a little graph and put down where I thought certain games might sit on those two continuum.  This is what I ended up with.

Click to make readable

Click to make readable

The X axis is friction, and the mixed bag of items that represents.  The Y axis is how much of a requirement it is to engage in the player driven economy.  For a few games I made entries for past states of the game and how they seem currently.

EVE Online is, of course, the game furthest down the required end of the spectrum.  I also put it midway along the high end of the friction scale.  On the one hand the market is chopped up by regions, there is no delivery so you have to go get the item from the station in which it was listed, this leads to interesting price differentials based on convenience, there is a double tax/fee system, and then there is the whole contracts economy to confuse the issue.  And pity the poor capsuleer in the middle of nowhere in need of something.

Mitigating that friction is that if you go to the right system, usually Jita, you can find what you want to buy, and there are so many buyers and sellers competing that there is price stability.

At the other end of things is Guild Wars 2, where you can list to sell anywhere and just have to find the right NPC to pick up items you have purchased and proceeds from sales.  The friction is so low that low that lots of people engage in the economy, so commodities for crafting and the like are readily available at reasonable prices.  How much a player is really required to participate is a wild guess on my part.  Gear provided by your personal quest line seemed good if you kept up, but I have no idea if that carries on through the game.

In the middle, well, a few other games.  I ranked LOTRO‘s friction higher than most because of the low participation and the annoying locations and mediocre UI of the auctioneers.  On the other hand, you don’t really need it, and doubly so since Turbine started selling very good armor in the cash shop.

EverQuest II was high friction at launch in some ways… you had to be online to sell, sales were restricted to the storage space of your home (which you had to have to sell), and fees pushed players to go visit players directly in their homes.  And, if you were crafting at the time, there was the interdependence of the crafting skills that required you to use the market or use up your four character slots to make crafting alts.  On the other hand, when you buy something on the broker in EQII, it appears right in your inventory.  A lot of that got smoothed out over time, but dependence on the broker went with a lot of that.

EverQuest started at high friction, you had to be online and see the right person on the auction channel selling something you wanted.  Later the Bazaar came and you could get a listing, but sellers had to be online, in the Bazaar, and you had to go find them.  Finally, things got to offline selling in the more recent expansions, though I think you still have to show up at the Bazaar.

I ranked TorilMUD even higher on friction, if only because the player base was so much smaller.  When your player population is a few hundred, and only 256 can be on at a time, your buying and selling options are pretty limited.

And in the middle there is World of Warcraft, which used to have a segmented market, but which has since been unified.  The UI for it has gotten better over time, and the addons for playing the auction house have grown more sophisticated, but the need for the auction house has diminished over time as quest rewards in the form of gear have become more regular and standardized through the leveling process.

So there is my chart.  It is pretty much a gut-level, unsubstantiated work at this point.  Where do you think I am right and where am I clearly wrong?  And where would other games fit on the chart?

And, of course, where do you think MMOs should sit on that chart?  What would be ideal, if anything?

March in Review

The Site

WordPress.com decided to give us some color in their “visits by country map.”

Actually, we had color, but the choices were limited.  Basically, it was red-orange, orange, or beige.

Visitors from around the world

Visitors from around the world

The map has changed a bit and we have a bit broader spectrum of colors.

A more colorful world

A more colorful world

But Greenland is still appears larger than South America or Africa.  Damn Mercator projection!  What does that say about WordPress.com?

It has also been a little over a year since WordPress.com started tracking this sort of thing, so I thought I would compare the top 10 countries they list with what my Flag Counter side-bar widget shows.

WordPress / Flag Counter

  1. United States / United States
  2. United Kingdom / United Kingdom
  3. Canada / Canada
  4. Germany / Australia
  5. Australia / Germany
  6. Sweden / Netherlands
  7. Netherlands / Sweden
  8. France / France
  9. Brazil / Poland
  10. Poland / Brazil

It is the same ten countries with some difference in the ranking after the third position.  So I guess that means that one is about as accurate as the other.  Or something.

One Year Ago

The family and I went and visited the USS Iowa while it was docked up in Richmond.

April Fools spirit hit Wargaming.net a little early.

It only seemed like Zynga was desperate a year back.

I took a quick peek back into Need for Speed: World.

Raptr said I could be the top WoW player they tracked… if I just played another 18,999 hours.

I also rolled a new character on a new server in LOTRO because… why not?

In EVE voting commenced and The Mittani won the chairmanship of the CSM 7 by a large margin.  And then he named names during his alliance talk and was removed from CSM 7 and banned from EVE for 30 days.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, we were being taunted by a LEGO Rifter that we were doomed never to see and Derek Smart was telling everybody DUST 514 was doomed to fail.

Meanwhile, the war in the north was heating up again even without The Mittani.  The CFC was picking up systems in Tenal as bases of operation for the upcoming offensive.  Then there was the bloodbath at C-J6MT.

In Rift, we had a couple of runs at the Foul Cascade.

EverQuest turned 13 and went free to play.  That saw more than a few of us run in to give it a try.  Fall nostalgia in the Spring.  We ran the tutorial, tried out mercenaries, and created a guild.  I am not sure what became of our little group.  Nostalgia is like that.

It was also announced that Vanguard would be going free to play as well.  While on the Fippy Darkpaw server, LDON and LoY went live… I think.

Then I was trying to find another blog name that used the TAGN acronym as a setup for an April Fools joke.  That totally fell flat.

And, finally, I attempted to bring together as many memories from the early days of Air Warrior as I could.

Five Years Ago

I was again ruminating about the whole “Why So Much Fantasy in MMORPGs?” thing, this time on the shores of chaos.

We started to see the end of the “Brent hand picks the news” era over at VirginWorlds.  The reign of myself and CrazyKinux was near to an end.

I got a Nintendo DS Lite and my own copy of Pokemon Diamond for my birthday!

EverQuest celebrated its 9th anniversary.  A very nice time line print of the game was posted over at the EQ Dev blog to celebrate, along with a video.

In Lord of the Rings Online some sites were speculating about future expansions.  And then Turbine announced The Mines of Moria!  Meanwhile, I was trying to give out some founder’s referrals.  I think I still have one or two of those left.

In World of Warcraft, patch 2.4 was the latest end-of-the-world panic.  I was trying out Alterac Valley trying to get a mount, not reading that I needed to get exalted reputation to buy it.  Meanwhile the instance group made it to Shattrath and then hit the Blood Furnace while my wife and her friends were drinking apple-tinis.

Official forums were the talk again for a bit, as Marc Jacobs said he wasn’t going to have them for Warhammer Online.  No, the Warhammer Herald (to be created in the image of the Camelot Herald) was going to be enough.  Well, we know how that worked out.

And, finally, five years ago Gary Gygax left us.  We still miss him because we still feel his influence every day.

New Linking Sites

The following blogs have linked this site in their blogroll, for which they have my thanks.

Please take a moment to visit them in return.

Most Viewed Posts in March

  1. Running Civilization II on Windows 7 64-bit
  2. The Seductive Comfort of Azeroth
  3. Google Reader Alternatives? Again?
  4. Age of Kings Gets an Unofficial Expansion
  5. Considering Star Wars Galaxies Emulation? Better Grab a Disk!
  6. Five Games I Want to See Revamped
  7. Completionism in the Wayfarer Foothills
  8. Wrapping Up My Seven Days of Azeroth
  9. Backwards in Time to Forgotten Realms
  10. Shroud of the Avatar – Lord British Discovers Kickstarter
  11. Jagdpanther
  12. First Time Out with Tech Fleet

Search Terms of the Month

heir to the empire audiobook
[I have that!]

bond almost dies
[Every Bond movie ever]

spaceship blows up
[Every EVE Online day ever}

churchill i with 100% crue
[Motley]

whats a goon in ancient rome
[Mittanicus Maximus?]

how mcuh isk poer hour can a hulk make?
[How is Veldsparr formed?]

EVE Online

I got in on an op early on in the month, when I was able to use my freshly finished logistic skills to fly my Oneiros at last.  And then there were the homeland defense fleets at the end of March.  However, the rest of the month was mostly passing on fleets where I did not have an appropriate ship handy, skill training, and figuring out what I want do to next in EVE.

Guild Wars 2

Well, that lasted a couple of weeks.  Didn’t hate it, just stopped feeling the need to play it once I hit the next set of zones.  Pretty much the same response I had with the original.  There is probably a lesson in that.  Anyway, I should probably explore the why of that at some point.

Neverwinter Nights 2

We played a bit of this in the Saturday night group.  It went from awkward to fun, and then we stopped playing.  We now have this odd fragmentation on Saturday night where what we play depends on who shows up.  I should make a Venn diagram.

Rift

Hey, we actually played some Rift.  Maybe we will carry on here and actually start in on the Storm Legion instances.  And speaking of Storm Legion, I am trying to figure out why I have no real enthusiasm for the expansion.  It was supposed to be bigger, better, and bolder or some such, right?

World of Tanks

Tanks keep rolling.  This is one of the subset of the instance group games.  I am chugging along towards my tier IX goal.  Russian heavies and German tank destroyers are the thing.

World of Warcraft

I played it for seven days and had about six and a half days of fun.  The last half day was less fun, and managed to convince me that I really did not have to subscribe to the game again.

Coming Up

Well, it is April Fools tomorrow, so tradition dictates that I post something about Blizzard’s jokes.  I have nothing planned for the site.  No, really.  The best I could come up with was to change the theme to something silly, and I think I’ve already done that, or change the site name to “Triaminoguanidine Nitrate” or some such.

I expect there will be a couple of posts about games I am not playing.  And the whole Kickstarter thing going on now with Shroud of the Avatar and Camelot Unchained.  I hope Mark Jacobs holds off until April 2 to launch his.  Too much risk of confusion on April 1.

And we are coming up to the 1 year anniversary of the Burn Jita event last year in EVE Online.  I wonder if there will be any follow up on that?