You Get to Decorate the House You Have, Not the House You Might Want

Housing is one of the great line-item features that a lot of people think every MMO should have.  There is a strong desire to have a place to call your own in what tends to be an unchanging and unalterable virtual world.  There is some need within us to leave our mark somewhere in the game.  I get that.

And companies have responded to that over the years, offering up various forms of housing.  Housing was a big part of Ultima Online back in the day.  Housing was part of the attraction of WildStar, which just launched a few weeks back.  And over the years I have explored various implementations.  If I play a game long enough, and it has housing, I am usually there to give it a try.

But how well it sticks for me… well, that is another story.

Rift offered up housing with the Storm Legion expansion, but it was so free form that I barely did anything with it.

Dimension by the Sea

Unfurnished Dimension by the Sea

People have done amazing things with dimensions in Rift… they were even doing so back during the Storm Legion beta… but, like most of Storm Legion, it just didn’t hook me.

Lord of the Rings Online, by comparison, offered some very pretty housing that was, in fact, a house.  A house on a lot even.

A house in Bree

A house in Bree

But the options for it were so limited that I ended up letting it lapse.  There wasn’t much advantage to having the house and the customizations were limited to just a few locations within the house.  You could hang up things from the world… taxidermied monsters or fishing trophies… but it still felt very generic.

And then clipping issues...

And then clipping issues…

And while I liked the idea of there being a yard, the instanced neighborhoods were somewhat awkward.

Elves and their damn monuments

Elves and their damn monuments

And it was tough to find a neighborhood where all of us could find a house we could afford.  In the end, the minor storage benefit of my house in LOTRO meant I let the lease lapse.

EverQuest actually threw down and added housing with the House of Thule expansion.  It borrowed a lot from its younger brother, EverQuest II, while using the instanced neighborhood model similar to LOTRO.  And I was reasonably impressed with SOE’s ability to overlay yet another complex interface onto the aging EverQuest client.  Plus the houses looked good.

A more complete development

A Norrathian housing development

The problem there was that I was pretty much done with EverQuest as a main game by that point.  I like to visit old Norrath, so I had to go try it out, but I had nothing really to put in the house and the upkeep, which was aimed at those who had kept up with inflation, was well beyond my means.

And there have been others.  Runes of Magic offered housing that gave you some form of storage, along with a woman in a skimpy French maid outfit.

Go Google the outfit

Go Google the outfit

Landmark seems to be all housing.  It is about as free form as you can get. no game at this point.

Behold Zuul's Sky Altar

Behold Zuul’s Sky Altar

The pity is that there is no actual game around it yet.

Meanwhile, in EVE Online, the Captain’s quarters… the start (and probably the end) of housing in New Eden… allowed you to see your full body at last, and then park that body on a couch to watch something boring on a screen.

What is on Space TV today?

What is on Space TV today?

That might be too meta for me.

And since I am on about different flavors of housing, I will mention Star Wars Galaxies before some fan comes in to remind us all that this was the greatest housing ever.  We will have to agree to disagree on that point.  Yes, it gave you your own little spot in the real world where you could open a store or whatever.  But it was a visual blight on the game,  with huge clumps of houses strewn across the open landscape, encroaching right up to the edge of any in-game landmark.  It made the game look like a Tatooine trailer park.

Looks like a Star Wars trailer park

Literally a Tatooine trailer park

But after having gone through so much in-game housing over the years, I have to say that there has only been one housing model that has really suited me.  And that is the EverQuest II model.

Yes, you do not get your own house in the midst of the world.  At best you share a door to a stately home or guild hall with everybody else who has rented the same facility, so you all live there in parallel in your own instances.  I do not think that is necessarily a bad thing.  It keeps away the blight problem, and while there is the problem of finding somebody’s house from a listing at a door, one of the bragging points I have heard about the SWG model was that finding people was difficult so that knowing where a given person lived and set up a store gave you power.  I’ll take the less blight version.

But the key for me was that EQII housing gave me exactly what I wanted, which was a simple house where I could hang trophies and other rewards from my travels.  I had the option to decorate, and at times Gaff, who had a carpenter, would send me some neat furniture to spiff up my home, but mostly I just decorated with things picked up as I played.  And the important part was that somebody at SOE foresaw that need and provided me with plenty of items to stick in my home.  In fact, whoever came up with the reward of a weapon you could mount on your wall for the Lore & Legend quests was a genius, followed by the person who decided to make heritage quest rewards displayable in your home.  I went through and looked at every character I had played past level 20 the other night, and every single one of them has a house and has at least some Lore & Legend quest rewards hung on the wall.

Weapons on the wall

Weapons on the wall

There are other aspects about it that make EQII housing good.  The interface is simple.  The house models themselves come in a variety of designs, from simple box flats to a whole island if you want a big guild hall.  And the base models are cheap.  You can have a house in any city for five silver a week, which was inexpensive back at launch when SOE was working very hard to keep a lid on inflation and no mob in the game dropped actual coin.

EverQuest II housing is really ideal for my desires. It is just a pity that it is in EQII.

It is a pity because I do not play EQII.  I don’t play it because, for all the little things it does right, I don’t enjoy the main game.  I don’t enjoy the main game, the character progression and zones and levels and what not for various reasons.  Some of the reasons are pretty concrete, such as the fact that none of my close friends play the game anymore.  It is on the official “never again” list for the instance group.  Some of the reasons are very subjective.  I really don’t like the 50-70 zones all that much.  Everything after Desert of Flames makes me yawn, and even that expansion still strikes me as “the new stuff.”

After all of the above, I am finally getting to my point.

Despite the fact that EverQuest II has pretty much the ideal housing setup for me, I do not play EverQuest II.  I don’t play EverQuest II because I don’t play MMOs for the side features, I play them because I enjoy the overall game.

So I love housing in EverQuest II and the music system in Lord of the Rings Online and the old world of EverQuest and the OCD inducing find all the points of interest apects of GuildWars 2 and… hrmm… I am sure sure there is something I could inject here about Rift if I thought about it… but I don’t play those game because the main game just doesn’t click with me.

I play World of Warcraft and EVE Online which, respectively, ten years in has no housing at all and possibly the most useless housing in the genre.  I play them because I enjoy the main game, or the part of the main game in which I indulge.

So if you are out there trolling for page views by raging about garrisons in one breath because they didn’t meet your unrealistic and unsubstantiated expectations, after making it clear you never cared about housing being brought to WoW in the previous breath, in an environment where housing was probably a slip of the tongue to describe the feature, because Blizzard has been pretty clear in the past about their views on housing in WoW… well… I guess I got the punch line at the start of this sentence, didn’t I?  Those who get paid by the page view…

Would I like garrisons to be EQII housing brought to Azeroth?  You bet!  That would be a dream come true.

But unless you have a compelling argument that garrisons are so bad that they are going to ruin the main game, there isn’t much drama to be had in my opinion.  We can talk about how better the developers might have spent their time I suppose.  But this is a pet battles sort of feature.

In the end, I am buying Warlords of Draenor for ten more levels of World of Warcraft and all the zones and stories and pop culture references and silly shenanigans that goes with it.  And I suspect that will be the story for most people.

If garrisons have any merit, people will play with them and maybe even stay subscribed a bit longer.  Or if they have any achievements… and of course they will have achievements… people will play with them for that.  And if garrisons are truly the waste of time and effort as described, then people will use them to the extent that they need to in order to get to level cap and grab the achievements, at which point they will be forgotten like many a feature in the past.

Is somebody going to try to convince me that this was a make or break feature for Warlords of Draenor?

Or, if you want, just tell me about your favorite MMO housing.  Somebody will anyway, so I might as well invite it!

The tl;dr version: If housing really is a must-have important feature for you, you probably aren’t playing WoW now and you probably won’t be playing it in the future.

Anyway, back to happy pictures.  I put a gallery of my housing collections in EQII, plus a bit of the Revelry & Honor guild hall (which is huge), after the cut, because it really is my ideal housing plan.

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What Does It Mean to be a “Subscription MMO?”

I am on the press release list along with a lot of real media outlets, so my inbox is often stuffed with the raw material that is barely recycled for content a lot of places around the web.

I skim through them every day, but don’t bother to mention 99% of them as they tend to be rather thin on things worth talking about.

This morning through there was a press release from SuperData Research pointing at their June factoid report.  Lots of little bits of data in that from which you can barely come up with to points to draw a line about anything.

The highlight of the report though was a chart listing out revenues for the top subscription-based MMO titles for 2013, worldwide.

Top Subscription MMO Revenue

Top Subscription MMO Revenue

The top spot is unsurprising.  WoW, even down to something like 60% of its peak, still rakes in money like no other.  Then there are a couple Asian MMOs which you might have heard of if you have been paying close enough attention.  Lineage 1 is still NCsoft’s biggest money maker.

And then you come to Star Wars: The Old Republic and Lord of the Rings Online, where you might legitimately ask a question like, “Hey, aren’t those free to play?”

As the title of this post asks, what makes for a subscription MMO these days?  Because if we are talking about needing a subscription to play, several of those titles fall off the list immediately.

But if, as the list here suggests, merely offering a subscription option is enough to be called a subscription MMO, then aren’t we missing a title or two.

Specifically, I would expect EverQuest II to make the list.  I don’t have any hard data to back up that expectation, but my gut impression of the game is that it ought to be somewhere on the list ahead of Lord of the Rings Online, something that is backed up, in my mind, by the fact that EQII has no problems cranking out expansions and interim content for all ranges of player while LOTRO is publicly giving up on raiders for now and doesn’t seem to be able to scrape it together for an expansion in 2014.

But maybe EQII isn’t doing as well as I thought.  Or maybe SOE’s model somehow falls outside of what SuperData considered a subscription MMO.  Or, most likely, maybe SOE just didn’t cooperate with SuperData and its information requests.  And one could also ask about Final Fantasy XIV.

Otherwise, I am somewhat surprised at where LOTRO ranks.  SWTOR is still popular, if not WoW popular, and that its revenue is only 1.65x what Turbine gets for LOTRO seems odd, given the downtrodden way Turbine seems these days.  And Rift seems way down the line.  But that does seem to mostly line up with the 2013 end of year summary for the Digital Dozen over at The Nosy Gamer.  EVE is generally higher on the list than LOTRO, but otherwise it seems about right.  Does that give this chart more validity?  Or the Digital Dozen?

And, of course, one key item missing from this chart is how much subscription revenue played into the totals listed.

Because the follow up chart points out that subscription revenues have been decreasing since their peak in 2010.

Subscription revenue

Subscription revenue

Subscriptions are trending down, while microtransactions are… well…  sort of flat really if you look at that line.  They are not not rising up sufficiently to off-set the loss of subscription revenue overall, which seems to go against what some cheerleaders for the model would have us believe.

Which might be why we saw a couple of subscription based launches this year.  SuperData pulled out the very exact number of 772,374 for The Elder Scrolls Online subscriptions.  That would make for a nice revenue stream.  WildStar was mentioned, but since it just launched in June, there were no numbers.

I would really like to know how much of the revenue for a game like SWTOR or LOTRO comes from subscribers.  If that chart is to be believed, subscriptions still make up most of the revenue.

And what does all of this mean?  This isn’t the range of data I would like, but you look at the industry with the data you have, not the data you want.  But I am not prepared to go all Massively comment thread, where the trend seems to be “lying liars lie!” for everybody whose pet theory is not supported by the data provided.

Anyway, as noted, the full report is here.  If you want more data, you have to pay.

Addendum: Azuriel makes an interesting comparison between the above chart and other MMO data available.

Addendum 2: And Flosch takes the numbers and extrapolates a bit.

In Which We Feel Smug Relative to Raiders for Just a Moment…

“…matchmaking systems never work…”
“…players never believe they work.”
“Nevertheless everybody believes…”

-Tobold, in comments on his own blog

There is a natural tendency in human beings to project their view of the world on others.  I had a professor back in college who called it the “like me” phenomena, the belief that we’re normal and that most people are like us and view the world the same way.  The Tobold snippets above just happened to be handy, as they showed up just when I needed them, from a post that is, from my point of view, flawed in its very premise.  I have the first comment on that post, asking for a supporting argument which Tobold singularly failed to deliver in my opinion.  He went on, in response to others, in an absolutist tone that spoke for everyone.

Person speaks for a whole group and makes assertions unsupported by the evidence on the internet!

Hardly a special moment.  It happens all the time.  I slip into that mode myself on occasion even though I try to make a conscious effort to speak only for myself and not a wider community onto which I have projected my views.  It is easy to do.  Hell, I used “we” in the title of this post?  Is that a royal “we” or am I speaking for me and somebody else. (I am just assuming some non-raider besides me is going to feel smug, but I am getting ahead of myself now.)

But less often do people get put in their place by somebody with the numbers to back things up.

Last week over at Massively, Syp had an article published which I suspect gave him great joy, in which Lord of the Rings Online community manager Rick Heaton told raiders exactly where they stood in terms of the LOTRO population

Raiders comprise the smallest, by far, group in our game. PvMP players are far larger and even they are small. in fact together the two groups wouldn’t comprise 10% of the total player base and never have (this is important. it’s not a new thing, it’s a long standing historical fact).

Forum posters comprise a slightly larger group than the combined group of PvMP and Raiders. However, Raiders and PvMP players make up the overwhelming majority of forum posters (More than half. Though raiders are the smaller group of the two (PvMP/Raiders)). So you have a tiny group, inside a small group that is grossly disproportionately represented on the forums.

Raiders and PvPers make up less than 10% of the population of Middle-earth, but tend to be vocal (and heavily invested) groups and are thus over-represented in the forums.

Doesn’t this just confirm something you have long suspected?  (Unless you’re a raider/PvPer.)  Haven’t there been times when you have just prayed for somebody from any given MMO developer to show up and say that?  Raiding and PvP aren’t the most popular activities in the game, so stop bringing them up in every single thread.  A bit of the total perspective vortex for a group in need of a being brought down a notch, right?

And you are only 4% of "Here"

And you are only 4% of “Here”

Having long since left raiding behind me, and never having been much for PvP, I feel more than my fair share of that warm schadenfreude glow on reading those words.  In your face, forum loud mouth!  You can bet that those words will be echoed for some time to come.

And yet, the words are incomplete.

All things being equal, Turbine probably shouldn’t spend time working on raid content to the exclusion of other areas if only a small percentage… let’s call it 4%… of their players raid.  Seems fair.  And I am sure that this reinforces what some of us feel, at least at a gut level, that resources are lavished on raiders out of proportion to their numbers in the game.

Unless, of course, we were to find out that raiders made up a greater percentage of paying customers.  Rick Heaton did say “total player base,” which in a free to play game has to include a lot of people paying little or nothing to play the game.  In the free to play market, 4% of your total player base might be a very large number when compare to total subscriber player base.  So if we found out that raiders, as a group, had VIP status… what they call the $15 a month subscribers in Middle-earth these days… at a much higher rate than the player base as a whole, then they might actually be more important than was made out.  And do raiders stay subscribed longer and play more and get more involved in the social elements of the game, including the forums?  Are they more committed to your game than other groups?  And what value does that have?

Basically, Rick Heaton slammed raiders and PvPers without really putting a nail in the coffin.  Turbine not building more content for 4% of their total player base sounds reasonable.  Turbine ignoring a significant portion of their long term paying players might not.  But we didn’t get those last bits as no doubt that would give a greater insight into Turbine’s business than they want to people to know.  I am honestly surprised a community manager came out and said as much as Rick Heaton did.

It also might be interesting to know just how “good” the raiding content in LOTRO really is?  That is a very subjective things, certainly, but does LOTRO raid content attract raiders?  I know that the PvP content has a small, dedicated following that is hampered quite a bit by Monster Play being sort of a side show of the game, but I have no real way to judge raiding in LOTRO, as I have never tried it nor do I know anybody who has.  I cannot name a single raid in LOTRO.  Does that mean raiding isn’t important to players or that Turbine hasn’t done a good job?

And there will be the temptation to generalize from this single statement and to apply it to what is generally terms “end game content” in other MMOs, with the first stop being WoW.

That is, I suspect, destined to a tragically flawed endeavor.  There are the general arguments I already made… who subscribes longer and is more committed.  Plus, I am going to guess, in the absence of any hard numbers at hand, that World of Warcraft sees a much larger percentage of players accessing raid content due to the much-maligned (by “real” raiders) Looking for Raid tool.  That is a matchmaking tool that works… just to circle back to those quotes at the top… for the specific purpose of giving lower commitment player the ability to experience the end game content.

Meanwhile over in EVE Online, where “end game” is a slippery concept, there is always the temptation to rage about null sec and sovereignty warfare getting more than its fair share of attention relative to the population involved.  There is the much quoted “most people never leave high sec” thing (though there is also the “most people who subscribe just leave after their first subscription cycle” thing as well, so most players never seem to get a reason to leave high sec) and the various constituencies throughout the game, most of which are not sovereignty holding entities in null sec.  But even its detractors have to allow that null sec gets press outside of gaming circles.  A giant battle like B-R5RB boosts new account generation.  It is hard to have a more tangible impact on a game than that.

And I suspect there are such arguments to be made around other MMOs and their end game content.  Not all of it is as focused on raid content as, say, the EverQuest time locked progression servers, which are raid driven by design, that being the way the next expansion vote is unlocked.  But end game, and keeping players playing once they reach the level cap is still a concern.  Longevity is tied to profitability in MMOs.

So as amusing as it is to point and say, “Hah, raiders got totally burned!” on that comment, I am still not sure what one should really take away from that particular statement.

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.

Coming Soon: Alamo teechs u 2 play LOTRO

With the announcement that Lord of the Rings Online will be introducing Beornings, the shape shifters/skin changers from The Hobbit, to the game, it can only be a matter of time before Alamo, teacher of all thing durid in World of Warcraft brings his lessons to Middle-earth.

The draft so far starts off with:

*************************************************

ALAMOES COMPLEET BERONIGS INSTURCKSHUN

*************************************************

1) OK, Sum beronigs is bare

almobear1

2) Tehm whos bare, can B 4 tank:

m1a1tankahi

ONLY BERONIGS DONT HAF SUM PEEPS IN THE HEAD AND A GUNZ LOL!

*************************************************

We will have to wait and see how that develops.

Meanwhile, the actual announcement around Beronigs… erm… Beornings… is pretty sparse so far.  The actual quote from the Producer’s Letter:

Of Bears and Bees
Recently we confirmed that LOTRO will be releasing a new class this year. I’m pleased to announce that this class is the Beorning! This will be LOTRO’s first class since the Mines of Moria expansion introduced the Warden and Rune-keeper.

Beornings are noted in The Lord of the Rings trilogy as a race of Man, with close origins to the Rohirrim and the Men of Dale. Most Men are not shape-changers, so we envision the Beorning as a light armor casting class with a focus on control of the battlefield. When a Beorning gathers sufficient rage, they may transform into a mighty bear.

We’ll be sharing early class designs with the new Players Council. Expect more details later this year, as the class progresses through alpha and beta.

A light armor casting class that may, upon building up sufficient rage, transform into a mighty bear?  Alamo may need a re-write.  Or maybe Turbine does.  I am not sure that we have enough information to make sense of this new class yet.  Is it really a class, or a race, or both?

And what do we do with this guy now?

And what do we do with this guy now?

Does LOTRO need a new class?   Is this a way to get the current player base to play through old content, and maybe to sell a few of their “on again, off again” Gift of the Valar level boosts, in this year of no expansion? (Though you still have to play through Moria onward even with the boost.)

Of course, as a casual Lifetime subscriber who keeps playing through the original 2007 content, I might not be Turbine’s key demographic target.  I was happy enough with the quirky old class structure and didn’t think the game needed to go to a specs and talent trees format that seemed to be copied from a 2006 version of WoW.  But the kids seem to like it, and it isn’t like I am spending any money on LOTRO these days.

A bear with a plan!

A bear with a plan!

Is a new class, plus a few high end content updates, enough to keep LOTRO fresh in 2014?

Or will the Beornings be the “Cousin Oliver” to the “Brady Bunch” that the rest of the classes form?

And what will the people who complained about loremasters casting more magic in pursuit of a single quest than occurred in all of the Lord of the Rings say about a mass of Beornings appearing in the fields of Middle-earth?  Bears, bears bears?

 

Quote of the Day – The Magic of Turbine

I admire turbine, they took perhaps the most well known IPs in fantasy and managed to make them small niche mmo

Scott Rankin, in a tweet

Isn’t that just a sarcastic stab at the heart of the truth?  And there is a whole trail of tweets on the topic if you click on the link.

When you think about it, Dungeons & Dragons and Lord of the Rings are huge IPs and ought to be cash cows if you made a decent game.

I cannot speak for Dungeons & Dragons Online, which has never clicked with me, but I really like and have enjoyed Lord of the Rings Online throughout the years.  Getting a lifetime subscription back at launch was one of my best gaming purchases.  It probably even offsets the tragic mistake of buying that Star Trek Online lifetime subscription.

And the landscape of Middle-earth looks so good in LOTRO and there are so many excellent features… I can go on and on about the music feature alone.

Music... and Anderson Cooper

Music… and Anderson Cooper

But I have to admit that things are not perfect.  The interface is still not as responsive as it ought to be nearly seven years down the road, the icons are still poor representatives of the actions they trigger, and every time I see the message, “Item use succeeded” I want to do a facepalm.  Good debug message for a programmer, not something that should be displayed in the game.  And then there is the cash shop.

And with further expansions off the table for now and layoffs and uncertainty as to what will happen between now and 2017, you really cannot help but think that things could have gone better.

Yahoo Headlines

Such promise…

I was a lot more hopeful a year back.

Raptr Corrects My Perceptions – What I Played in 2013

As they did last year, Raptr sent me a nice summary of games that it tracked me playing over the past calendar year.  So I now have my gaming summary for 2013.

This is pretty much why I bother to run Raptr.  It quantifies my play time.

The report for 2012 wasn’t a big surprise.  The three games I said I was playing most of the year, Rift, EVE Online, and World of Tanks,  ended up being the top 3 in about the order I expected.  The three together represented 71% of the play time that Raptr tracked for me.

Raptr2012MostPlayed

I wasn’t keen on the circle displays, but the parity between my fantasy and space faring MMO time was pretty even.

For 2013 though, I have to admit that the numbers surprised me a bit.  My guess as to how things might stack up looked something like:

  • EVE Online in the #1 spot, what with the war in Fountain and Delve along with deployments to Curse.
  • Something close to a four-way tie between Rift, World of Tanks, Lord of the Rings Online, and World of Warcraft, each of which I played for about a season in 2013, but none of which I played all year long.
  • Then maybe Neverwinter, War Thunder, and a couple other games that I played in shorter streaks trailing behind

And what did I end up with?  I will put that after the cut in order to develop some moderate level of suspense.  Plus I have a lot (more) dumb graphics in the post that really look like crap and will clutter up the front page.  Go artistic me.

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You Know Who Else Stopped At Helm’s Deep? Ralph Bakshi

As part of the Middle-earth discussion, Potshot brought up the Ralph Bakshi animated version of Lord of the Rings, illustrating that other efforts to adapt Tolkien’s work to a new medium haven’t always made it to the end.

The Lord of the Rings!

The Lord of the Rings!

But the strange thing is where the Ralph Bakshi movie version ended.  Helm’s Deep.  Right where LOTRO has ended up.

Not that LOTRO is done or anything, but they haven’t announced where they are headed between now and the next panic point in 2017.

As an aside, here is the best review of the Ralph Bakshi movie.  I remember the feelings it describes quite well.

And What of Middle-earth?

Here we are in 2014 and the news coming out of Turbine is… odd.

It was previously announced that there was to be no new expansion for LOTRO in 2014, a change up from their annual ritual of hawking extra pre-order goodies and special cosmetic gear for the Super Special Collector’s Edition of whatever bit of Middle-earth is being targeted.  While the effort behind an expansion no doubt eat up a lot staff hours, those are people on staff.  Turbine isn’t doing binge and purge staffing for projects that I have heard, so there are people on payroll to do the work.   So why not set them to churning out another beautiful cash cow depicting the fields of Pelennor or the Paths of the Dead or the Dead Marshes?  Drop in a few nifty cloaks, a special mount, and another experience boosting pocket item for those who buy in big, and Robert is thus reaffirmed as your mother’s brother or some such.  Basically, the same expansion plan we have every year.

Not that there are not some issues with business as usual.  There is the ever higher pile of levels and Turbine clinging onto the “you must buy every expansion” attitude that I think even EverQuest started to shed this many expansions in by offering “catch-up” bundles of all previous expansions.  Even Blizzard is doing that with their WoW Battlechest at this point (you could have had everything through Cataclysm for $5.00 over the holidays), while SOE went to a model of “the latest expansion gets you all previous expansions and the base game” back when they were a subscription only model, and moved to selling only the last two expansions and offering up everything else for free after the F2P conversion.

That whole thing is getting in the way of Turbine selling you an insta-leveled character, as they seem reluctant throw in an expansion or two with the deal, which leaves them stuck at boosting you to level 50 in a game already at level 95.  I suspect Turbine will see the light on this at some point, but it does call out how the baggage of so many expansions can restrict their options.

But there will be no expansion this year, so compounding the levels/expansions issue has been deferred.  So they must be working on something else then.  What could it be?

Pengail Attacks!

Making Pengail hate goblins eve more?

According to a recent LOTRO event, summed up at Contains Moderate Peril, no new dungeons or raids are planned.  Nor will housing see much attention nor kinships nor any such related items.  There was a mention of a potential revamp of one of the base game regions, though no region had been picked at this time.  There is still some tuning being done on the big skill and specialization revamp that came with the Helm’s Deep expansion.  But this event, taken with the producer’s letter from last month, certainly makes it feel as if Turbine doesn’t have much planned for LOTRO in 2014.

All of which makes me wonder if we are hitting a point of decision when it comes to the game.  As I noted way back in 2008, Turbine and Tolkien Enterprises signed a deal that gave Turbine rights to the property out through 2014.

And here we are in 2014.  How did that happen so fast?

So Turbine has been sitting on those rights for over seven years now.  But now we are at a renewal point.  Turbine has an option to extend to 2017, but the details around what rights Tolkien Enterprises might have at this juncture are unknown.  I suspect they have some ability to deny the extension, for a price, which would certainly leave Turbine in the lurch if that came to pass.  For money makers Turbine pretty much has LOTRO and Dungeons & Dragons Online, another licensed IP.  Meanwhile, Tolkien Enterprises, with part three of the movie series ostensibly based on the book The Hobbit coming out in December, might very well be wondering if their interests might be better served by selling whatever exclusive rights Turbine has been granted to some other studio.

Not that Tolkien Enterprises isn’t making money off of Turbine.  LOTRO has been successful enough when measured against a backdrop where EverQuest is the top dog, peaking at 550K subscriptions.  But few care about where EQ peaked in 2003 since World of Warcraft passed the 12 million subscriber mark post-Cataclysm.  Even the Turbine team is pretty blunt on that point when asked about subscriber numbers, with Sapience saying,

Unless we can say we have 10 million players and are bigger than WoW, what’s the point?

Life in the shadow.

So, do I think LOTRO is doomed to shut down this year?  It doesn’t seem highly likely.  Unless Tolkien Enterprises has another paying customer lined up and ready to go, LOTRO is still a revenue stream.  But I am going to guess that there are some negotiations going on as to the future of the license.  This in turn might mean some uncertainty for Turbine who, quite rightly, might not want to invest time and effort into a game whose future is in doubt.  Since the resources for projects are shared across teams, it might be better for them to bet on something with a more secure future.

But what will a quiet year of minor changes mean for LOTRO?  What will drive revenue if there is no expansion and few changes?

And do you think we will still be able to play the game in 2015?

Addendum: Contains Moderate Peril has a statement from Turbine about having an agreement that goes out until 2017.  “The license was renewed” was the phrase used, but some think there is some wiggle room in that, and it still doesn’t explain Turbine’s seeming mild interest in LOTRO for 2014.

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?