Category Archives: Lord of the Rings Online

My MMO Outlook for 2015

Another of those regular end of the year posts where I either try to reflect on the past or peer into the future.

I don’t do this post every year, but once in a while I am driven to it for one reason or another.  Last year it was because I could come up with five good candidates for what new things I might be playing in 2014.

Granted, one of them was a new expansion, Warlords of Draenor, rather than a new game.  But at least I had four potential new games.

Okay, three potential new games, since I had EverQuest Next on the list, and that was beyond a long shot even a year ago.

Or maybe really two potential new games, since Landmark, still burdened with the EverQuest handle at that point, was also on the list.  Sure, it was available to the public, for a price.  And I even played with it a couple of times.  But it isn’t even feature complete yet, so SOE calling it beta is purely a political move.

And that will be... December?

And that will be… when?

There simply wasn’t enough “there” there to call it a game.

But there were two potentials, two new games coming in 2014 that raised enough interest in me that I could imagine myself perhaps playing them.  The were The Elder Scrolls Online and WildStar.

And I did not play either of those.  I downloaded the beta for TESO, and while it felt like it had an Elder Scrolls vibe, an opinion based entirely on my few hours of playing Skyrim, which shouldn’t be viewed as being at all definitive, it did not really enchant me.  I was more interested in whether or not it and WildStar could pull off the monthly subscription model and last through to the end of the year without going F2P.  They made it, though things look grim for WildStar on that front.

So, in the end, I played one game on my list, which was just an expansion to a game I was already playing and which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year.  I also played EVE Online, which passed the 11 year mark this year, and started in again on EverQuest II, another title in the double digit age range at this point.

I suppose I could throw War Thunder on the list, but that really isn’t an MMO in the sense I mean.  That, and World of Tanks are more lobby based battle match making games than persistent world.  I did take another shot at Star Wars: The Old Republic, but that passed quickly.  I’ve already spent more time in EverQuest II this week than I did in SWTOR all year.

So that was my year in MMOs  2014 was completely rooted in old standards.

And, as I sit here, it looks like that might be the way 2015 rolls, all old school.  Gaff, having patched up EQII and then balked at how dated it feels… and it does feel dated, though for me that is part of the charm… is talking a bit about Lord of the Rings Online.  But I don’t think LOTRO is going to win many points on the fresh-O-meter either.

I cannot, at this moment, bring to mind any new titles for 2015 that I might play.

Sure, I could go do a bit of research and come up with a few.  I know there has to be a few persistent, virtual world-like, MMORPGs slated for 2015, but I figure that if I do not know them without a Google search, then they are unlikely candidates at best.

Yes, I could put up a list like:

  • Landmark
  • EverQuest Next
  • Camelot Unchained
  • Shroud of the Avatar
  • Star Citizen

But I am not feeling it for Landmark really, and of the other four we might see something really playable (not just a badly branded open play test or bits and pieces) from Shroud of the Avatar or Camelot Unchained by next December, given the current state of progress.  Might as well just save those for the 2016 list.  I’m not really interested in doing beta any more.

So there it stands.  My likely slate of MMOs for 2015 appears to be:

  • World of Warcraft
  • EVE Online
  • EverQuest II

Not that such a list is bad.  As long as I am enjoying my time playing, it doesn’t matter if I am playing something new of something I started playing a decade back. And, at least in the case of EVE Online, it is an exciting time to be in the game as things are changing.  But after years of being able to name at least some new stuff coming in the next calendar year, it seems a bit odd to only be looking at the same things for 2015.

Of course, the golden age of the big MMO launch seems to have passed.  It has been a while since there was a list of strong candidates.  The market is too crowded, there are an almost unbelievable number of second or third tier titles, and going forward we seem to be entering the age of the niche title that focuses on a specific strength catering to a specific demographic.

Or so it seems.  I might have missed something.  Is there a new title coming in 2015 I ought to be excited about?  Is there one that you are excited about?

Addendum: And now that I have written this, Massively has a “what are you looking forward to in 2015” post with a list of titles… and most of the staff mention Landmark or EverQuest Next or both.  Their poll lumps the two together in a blatant display of SOE bias. (And the two titles together are still losing to Camelot Unchained, though Mark Jacobs is all over the comment thread, so he might have called out the cavalry.)

Reviewing my Predictions for 2014

Here we are, racing towards yet another new year.  We have gotten into the holidays, a mass of releases and updates have hit so far during November and December, and even another Steam Holiday sale has come and gone.  That was their Holiday sale, right?

It is about time to look back to January and a list of half-ass predictions, most of which I pulled out of… well… my ass.

DruidWoW2014_450pxYou can find the full predictions post here, along with reactions to what I predicted in the comments.  I am not going to quote all of it here, but I will try to get most of the relevant bits in.

I – Ship Dates

When I figured things might land.  10 points each with 2 points removed for each week I was off, plus 10 extra points if any of the names I came up with were used.  None were.

  • Hearthstone – April 1 –  Actual: April 16, 6 points
  • The Elder Scrolls Online – April 22 – Actual: April 4, 4 points
  • EVE Online 2014 expansions – (working names Excursions and Magellan) May 13 & November 18 – Actual: They changed their whole expansion method, and didn’t use my names, 0 points
  • WildStar – June 10 – Actual: June 3, 8 points
  • Warlords of Draenor – September 9 – Actual: November 14, 0 points… but I was a lot closer than most back in January!
  • EverQuest Landmark – October 15 – Actual: Despite being called beta, this is still pre-alpha development and nowhere near live, 0 points
  • StarCraft: Legacy of the Void – October 15 – Actual: Ha ha, is Blizzard ever going to ship this?  0 points
  • EverQuest II expansion #10 (working name Cheese of the Ratonga) – November 4 – Actual: November 25, 4 points
  • LEGO Minifigures Online – November 4 – Actual: October 1, 2 points
  • EverQuest expansion #21 (working name Return of Lady Vox) – November 25 – Actual: November 11, 6 points

Point total: 30 out of 100, no bonus points

II – Missed Dates

Project I said would not ship in 2014, and by ship I mean live, no “beta” tag, real and honest to goodness shipped.  10 points for each, pass/fail.

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

Not one went live.  Hell, EverQuest Next isn’t even a bare-bones pre-alpha yet.  I’ll be putting that one in the 2016 basket going forward.  The rest… it was not unreasonable to expect them  Shroud of the Avatar, as an example, listed October 2014 in its Kickstarter.

Point total: 50 out of 50

III – Changes, Offers, and Upsets

Predictions about things that would come to pass in 2014.  Each is worth 10 points, with partial credit for things that are close.

  • 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.

Mostly right.  There was a surge at the end of the third quarter that seemed to buck that trend.  Three out of four quarters right though, 7 points.

  • Blizzard will announce that WoW subscribers will get special benefits in Hearthstone.

Well, we got a mount for playing.  I am giving myself half credit on that.  5 points.

  • Blizzard’s World of Warcraft 10 year anniversary gift will be a mount for those subscribers who log in during the right time frame.

No, it is only another pet.  The whole mount/chopper thing was another gig, and I am not all that happy on that front.  0 points.

  • Blizzard’s insta-90 option will be available as a service for $35 by December of 2014.

The service is available… remember, it wasn’t even a thing in January… but the price is $60.  5 points.

  • 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.

Oh, hey, EverQuest Next Landmark is now just Landmark.  Not a completely new name, but enough for 3 points I think.

  • 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.

It isn’t clear to me where this is headed.  There was a cut back on the living story for a bit, but now that is back.  On the other hand, there is also something more than a rumor about Anet working on an expansion for 2015.  0 points.

  • 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.

This wasn’t really a stretch, but it feels like WildStar dumped hard on the subscriber front, with the usual NCsoft treatment; big layoffs.  How long until the second NCsoft shoe drops and it gets cancelled?  10 points.

  • 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.

Yeah, shipped on time, things were a bit rocky, but subscribers seem to have faded as well.  0 points.

  • WildStar will announce plans to move to a free to play model before the end of the year.

Hasn’t happened… yet.  But clearly there is talk and rumor of problems and low subscription numbers.  The real question will probably end up being will NCsoft allow them to change business model… possibly good money after bad in the eyes of Seoul… pare them back to profitability, or just put a bullet in them in 2015?  0 points for me.

  • The Elder Scrolls Online will not budge on to the monthly subscription model in 2013.

Well, at least I won on that.  I suspect that no major change will come to their business model until the console versions ship… some day.  10 points.

  • Turbine will remove the 500 Turbine Points per month stipend from Lifetime subscriber accounts in Lord of the Rings Online.

They actually did not do this.  The future of the game is dim as Turbine tries to jump on yesterday’s bandwagon (MOBAs) looking for a cash cow, but they left us lifetime subscribers alone.  0 points.

  • 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.

Nope.  Once Turbine comes up with a half-assed idea, they stick with it.  0 points.

  • 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.

Again, no biscuit.  SWTOR even got a level cap increase, which I guess means more fully voiced content.  I still think the Droid Battles is a great idea though.  0 points.

  • 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.

You know, I was almost on to something with this, compared with what Rhea ended up giving us.  Maybe a little something for the effort?  2 points?

  • 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.

They nerfed drone assist, but they did it in the other typical CCP fashion and put a quick band-aid on it then walked away while various devs denied it was them who touched it last.  5 points.

  • Funcom will finally have an unequivocal success with the launch of LEGO Minifigures Online.

Erm… I couldn’t tell you really, which I guess means no.  Plus, the usual “failed to meet expectations” talk from them.  Couldn’t even win with LEGO.  0 points.

  • 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.

Nope, Chris Roberts is still out there selling the full on dream that Star Citizen will be everything any fan boy has ever projected on the title, with the addition of space bonsai.  Granted, it helps that nothing substantial has shipped, just a couple of teaser modules.  0 points.

  • 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.

Pretty much on the money.  If he had asked for $500K he would have made it.  10 points.

  • 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.

Fulfilled.  Even Funcom has something for Age of Conan running now. 10 points.

  • 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 appeared to be, Lunia, then Legends of Edda, then ArchLord, then Wizardry Online, then Rusty Hearts, and finally… crap, I couldn’t find a sixth.

I bet there is one out there.

I thought somebody said RF Online was going down, but the site is still up.  And I keep expecting Silk Road Online to falter and die.  I suspect it is sustained by the mistaken belief that you can buy drugs there.  Still, close enough for, say, 7 points.

74 out of 200 points.  The future is murky at best when you lack actual, first hand knowledge.

IV – Scoring

  • 30 out of 100 in the first section
  • 50 out of 50 points in the second
  • 74 out of 200 points round up the third

That gives me 154 points of out 350, which would be a failing grade in most classes I took in college.  That psych class with the hilariously altered curve might be the one exception.

On the other hand, getting as much right as I did… and I could have spun the news to make myself seem more on target than I was, but I chose to be conservative on that front… would clearly put me amongst the ranks of those such as Jeane Dixon.  I could re-brand as The MMO Psychic!

Now I have a couple of weeks to bend my mind once again towards the future for a January 1st post.

V – Predictions of Others

Of course, I wasn’t the only one to hang it out there and make some wild guesses about the future.  I counted the following blogs jumping on the futurist bandwagon in one form or another:

While it isn’t a competition, it is always interesting to see what comes to pass. (Their own prediction reviews linked as well, where available.)

When Does an MMO Become a Foreign Country?

One of the tenets of the MMORPG industry these days is that players will come and go.  After a certain point in the life cycle of an MMO the installed base, those who have played the game at one time but who are not currently playing, is the most fertile ground for marketing.  Somebody who has enjoyed your game once may come back to try it again.

And a lot of us do come and go from various MMOs.  There are many posts on this blog about my poking my nose back into this game or that for a summer vacation or autumnal nostalgia tour.

Unfortunately, this sort of revolving door view of MMOs does tend to be at odds with another constant of MMOs: Change.

Change, big and small, is part and parcel of the genre it seems.  Think of how many blog posts and comments have included something akin to, “I liked this game back when…”

Changes can be small, confined to a single class or a single ability, or huge, changing how every class works or even how we look as classes in a game.  Blizzard likes to revamp classes, stats, and combat with every expansion, something we can look forward to yet again with the 6.0 patch before Warlords of Draenor.  And Turbine did a giant turn on Lord of the Rings Online classes shortly after my last time playing the game, remaking classes in the image of the talent tree god.

specs and talents

specs and talents

Change is meant to be good.  These revamps are meant to improve the game, to make it more playable, to balance out the classes, and to make sure there isn’t just a single “I win” skill for a given class.

And if you are playing a game actively and such change occurs, you pick up and work your way through the change with everybody else.  There is a lot of sharing when it comes to adapting.

But if you were away when the change hit, if you were taking a break, on hiatus, or just getting the hell away from a game that was starting to feel more like work than fun for a bit, coming back can be a very different experience.

It can be like a foreign country.

Sure, things look about the same as home at first glance.  But as you look closer, differences start to become apparent.  They call french fries something else on the menu and when they serve them up they have a side of mayonnaise or are bathed in gravy.  The money is all different, so you can’t tell what is expensive and what is a bargain without a bit of math.  And the customs are all different, so people are rolling their eyes or giving you angry glances as you wander about trying to figure out what is going on.

Now, in a foreign country, you have to grow up there in order to really fit in.  MMOs are not so complex.  If you have friends or a regular guild or group, they can help you assimilate to the new state of affairs.  And, when all else fails, you can go back, roll up a new character and, in essence, “grow up” again in the game.

I have used the new character method quite a bit, especially with LOTRO, which seems to change quite a bit between my visits.  But even that has its flaws.  In LOTRO, for example, I have now played through the 1 to 40 content with so many characters that, even though I enjoy it, I do want to see something else.  And in EverQuest there is so much content and so much has changed over the years (and there are so many out of date guides and such on the web), that somewhere between the tutorial zone and some level… somewhere between 20 and 50… I inevitably fall off the rails.  I have not played the game seriously in so long that the game is almost completely foreign to me, to the point that even “growing up” through it again isn’t possible.

It seems like I have simply been away too long to ever really return to EverQuest.  It isn’t what it once was, I do not understand what it has become, and I have no base of friends or other support group to help out.  And I feel that way when I wander into EverQuest II these days as well.  The old guilds are all deserted and the skills on my hot bar are like a foreign language.

This is why the various insta-level schemes haven’t really thrilled me.  If I am lost where I left off in the midst of the game, boosting me further along, and thus removing even the bits of context I remember, isn’t going to help me much.

It all makes me wonder if there is a quantifiable gap in time after which returning to an MMO becomes difficult, a point after which the inevitable divergence between what you remember and the state of the game starts to turn the game into a foreign place.

Or maybe it is just me.  I swap classes in a game and it takes me a while to come up to speed.

Rift Joins the Insta-Level Club with Nighmare Tide Expansion

While I haven’t been in Rift for ages, that doesn’t mean Trion Worlds isn’t still out there plugging away.  During that very busy stretch in August… I thought people went on vacation in August… they announced a new expansion, the Nightmare Tide.

RiftNighmareTide

This will bring the level cap up to 65, adds new content in the Plane of Water, gives you a new bag slot (woot!), and a host of new and improved features you can read about over on their site.  I just hope it isn’t an all under water expansion.  Too much disorientation for me.

The expansion, set to come out on October 8th of this year, is available for pre-order in three flavors.

Nighmare Tide Editions

Nightmare Tide Editions

Selling new content, expansions, is one of the business models I can really get behind. But, as always, we get into the discussion about what is worth the money.  You can go compare the three editions on their site to see if you would drop an additional $100 to get the Ultimate Nightmare Edition.  I am not sure it would be for me, but I am also not playing Rift currently, so the $25 option isn’t for me either.

The interesting thing for me in all of this is the item available only with the $50 and $150 editions which will boost a character to level 60, currently the level cap in the game.  From the site:

Boost one character to Level 60 with a swig of this powerful draught! It comes complete with gear to begin your quests in the Plane of Water and is even tradable to other characters – but be careful, it only works once!

Where have I heard about something like that before?  Oh yeah, back at BlizzCon last November, when Blizzard announced the Warlords of Draenor expansion, which included a boost to level 90 for a single character.

Not that I am trying to scold them for copying an idea that is starting to spread.  Rift has made its mark by working hard to be a better WoW than WoW,  putting themselves directly up against the big gorilla in the room… or something.

No, not Azeroth!

Remember this?

So if Trion is copying a feature from elsewhere for Rift, it generally means it is a feature worth having.  But I wonder how much of the Blizzard playbook they are going to copy?

As of right now, the insta-60 option… which would let me skip past the Storm Legion content I got mired in, and eventually gave up on… is only available by purchasing the top two versions of the expansion package.  It is not available as its own item in the in-game store.

But will it stay that way?

As Silverangel notes in her look at the whole thing, that the idea of insta-levels staying locked to an expansion purchase seems naive.  And Blizzard itself started with insta-90s being tied to the Warlords of Draenor expansion, but eventually moved to make them a cash shop item.  An expensive cash shop item, for sure, ringing in at $60 a pop.  But if you want more than the one you got with the expansion and three double sawbucks burning a hole in your pocket, Blizzard has the deal for you.

The alleged price of level 90

Yours, if the price is right…

So I suppose that just leaves us with two questions.

The first is, “When Trion will offer insta-levels as a cash shop item?”

My gut says that they will be available after the expansion goes live, but before the end of the year, so you’ll be able to buy yourself or a friend a character boost for the holidays.

And the second is, “How much will a Rift insta-60 cost?”

Blizzard wants $60, but even down to almost half of their peak user base, they are still sitting on such a huge revenue stream that they can afford to stick to their notions of the world, like the idea that people should be encouraged to play through the content.  I think insta-levels are more a utility than revenue stream for them.

Back in the real world, where it isn’t raining cash, SOE priced their level 85 boosts in EverQuest and EverQuest II at about $35.  However, that is taking the strict, default valuation of Station Cash and translating it to coin of the realm.  Theoretically it could be much cheaper if you bought your Station Cash during a sale, got one of those Walmart bonus Station Cash cards, or found some other loophole in the SOE accounting system.

And then there is Lord of the Rings Online and their goofy option, which only boosts you to level 50… 45 levels shy of Helm’s Deep content… and which they are trying to promote through scarcity by only offering it on special occasions.  That has run for 5,000 Turbine points which, due to how Turbine’s valuation of their in-game currency vary depending on how and when you purchase it, could put the real world price somewhere between $38 and $70.  Or less, since you can earn Turbine points in the game, one of the outstanding features of LOTRO, so you could subsidize your purchase with that.

Given all of that, I would guess that Trion would price insta-levels in Rift closer to the SOE price range than the Blizzard.

Then again, Trion isn’t shy about asking for money.  They have a $150 option for their expansion and they were looking for $100 if you wanted to be in the ArcheAge beta.

What do you think?

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.