Further Mutterings about MMO Revenue Models May 15, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, Need for Speed World, Rift, Star Wars: The Old Republic, World of Tanks, World of Warcraft.
Tags: Free-To-Play, MMO Subscriptions, No Real Point
A few years back, at the height of the housing boom, we decided to move. We listed our house at the market price for our neighborhood, and the first day on the market we got an offer for roughly 60% of what we were asking. Somebody sensed, as we all were beginning to at that point, that the bubble was going to burst soon, and wanted to know if we were desperate.
We were not, and actually sold the house for what we were asking a couple weeks later. But there was no possibility that we were going to come to an arrangement with the person who made that first offer. Their offer was so insultingly low that it made it completely unlikely to be able to negotiate any deal at all.
We have a garage sale at least once a year. Often we have two, one in the spring and one in the fall. Just the process of finding stuff to sell helps us keep the house clear of clutter, so that our home, with the exception of my office and my daughter’s room, feels clean, open, and spacious.
We tend to put out all manner of things on the driveway for sale. I often have a pile of books that have made it into the category of “won’t read again” out on a table. At one garage sale I had done a big purge and had 40+ paperbacks lined up, with the asking price was 25 cents each. Cheap enough that anybody with an interest would pick them up, and it wouldn’t kill me if I decided to give a couple away to any kid who looked like they wanted to read one. And, as always, quantity discounts are available.
A woman, who rolled up in an expensive car, offered me a dollar for all of the books, and then started gathering them up like it was a done deal. A dollar turned out to be exactly the right price to start a fight.
In the cold logic of hindsight, it was just an offer I could freely reject.
In the reality and emotion of the moment, it was insulting. I started with “no” and worked my way up to using them for kindling before I would sell her one at full cover price. Her offer stayed at a dollar throughout, leavened with sneers and insults. But we could have stopped after our first pass through offer and rejection, as no deal was possible after that point. I cannot imagine she thought her negotiation technique was going to be effective. It is always interesting to meet people who are worse at interpersonal relationships than I am.
What did those two little stories have to do with anything? We’ll get to that. First, a foundation of words needs to be built.
With the announcement that Rift is moving from the once traditional monthly subscription model to a cash shop driven free to play model, there have been the usual range of reactions, from feelings that no good will come of this to expressions of joy at the demise of yet another monthly subscription barrier to entry. Some people really hate the subscription idea.
My own response is somewhere in between.
Good things will come of this change. I know that.
More people will play Rift. It won’t make it suddenly popular with people who wouldn’t play a fantasy MMORPG in the first place. But people who wouldn’t otherwise commit to $15 a month will want to play.
An annoying amount of words, and some irrelevant pictures, after the cut:
What is in the Future for LOTRO? April 22, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Lord of the Rings Online.
Tags: Tolkien Enterprises, Warner Brothers Home Entertainment
Lord of the Rings Online is in the midst of its six year anniversary celebrations.
Six years ago Vanguard was sputtering along, with Brad McQuaid speaking up about all the problems as I was speculating on how they might get out of their mess. (And two of those came to pass.) I was past level 50 in EverQuest II with a fae, the new race that came along with the Echoes of Faydwer expansion. I was also playing with our brand new Wii. And Potshot and I were becoming immersed in Lord of the Rings Online for the first time, an MMO that was getting some buzz.
The timing was about right for us, as the instance group was on something of a hiatus as Earl moved from one coast to another and set up shop in the big city. The four of us who jumped in started what would become a recurring pattern of play in Middle-earth.
At some point, somebody would be unable to play for an extended time and the remaining four of us would roll up fresh characters on a new server. Generally classes and such had changed enough that we really needed the fresh start to build up characters. We would get up to about level 30 or so in the Lone Lands, and then taper off as the fifth person in the group joined back up, leaving us out of sync in Middle-earth.
And so our adventures would end, never having reached Rivendell as we headed back to Azeroth or Telara.
And even those occasional wanderings in LOTRO appear to be at an end for our group, as it has been vetoed for further play by one of the group members. So far only LOTRO and EverQuest II are on the explicit veto list.
The group only ever made it into the end phase of the Lone Lands, while I only ever made it part way into Moria. And that may be the furthest any of us ever get.
And while part of that is because of our past experience, another aspect is the future of LOTRO itself.
A little over five years ago there was the announcement that Turbine and Tolkien Enterprises had signed an agreement to extend the licensing for the game out to 2014. That seemed way out in the future… but now it is next year. And what will happen then? There was an option on the agreement to extend the deal to 2017, but I imagine that both parties have veto power on that. Things have changed since 2008.
Since that agreement was signed, Turbine was been acquired and folded into Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.
And I am not sure how that will affect things.
On the one hand, Warner has other license agreements with Tolkien Enterprises which have lead to some lucrative and fun games, such as LEGO Lord of the Rings.
On the other hand, the Tolkien estate has also felt the need to sue Warner for misuse of the Tolkien IP. And since Warner are no doubt be the ones doing the negotiating for LOTRO now, you have to wonder if that bad blood will color things.
It seems likely that the game is good until 2017, but all of that still makes you wonder. Especially when Turbine suddenly decided to pull Asheron’s Call 2 out of cold storage late last year. Is that a sign that they are worried, that they have nothing else viable in the works, or that they just have plenty of free time on their hands?
How much longer do you think we have for LOTRO?
Missing MMO Music Features – LOTRO Leads, Nobody Follows February 1, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, Need for Speed World, World of Warcraft.
Tags: LOTRO Music, MMO Music
Lord of the Rings Online can be a bit of a mixed bag. Depending on your point of view, you can easily find much to like or dislike about the game.
On the plus side it brings to the table a lush and beautiful environment that brings alive the the world of Middle-earth in ways impossible in the books or the movies. It is one thing to read about Frodo stumbling across the three trolls that had been turned to stone, or to see it projected up on a screen as Peter Jackson’s vision. It is something else entirely to be wandering through the Trollshaws and to discover them on your own. Being given free reign to wander Middle-earth is like a dream.
The game also has classes that do not all fit the standard RPG mold, a variety of different content options fit with various group sizes and skills, and, of course, many an NPC that looks like Anderson Cooper.
On the flip side, we have LOTRO the game, which suffers from many flaws. It is showing its age, and it frankly was never put together as solid as a lot of other MMOs have been in any case. It is another copy of the WoW quest hub model, and as is common in that model, the quests can be too “same-ish,” too repetitive, and too boring, so that even when the route through the game is wide enough for some choices on what to do next, it often ends up as being six of one and half a dozen of the other. For all the beauty of the environment, the character models leave much to be desired. And then there are the elements of its free to play business model which have become more and more intrusive as time has gone along.
And I am sure we as players could come up with more items for each side of the equation.
But do any of these, good or bad, make LOTRO stand out?
Leaving aside the Tolkien lore, we certainly have our choice of beautiful worlds to explore. If that is your thing, you should probably be playing Guild Wars 2. A non-standard, non-traditional class seems to be a line item requirement for the genre. Even WoW had hunters, which were odd at the time, but have become extremely popular. Scalable content and a variety of content options are likewise becoming pretty common. And, frankly, clean shaven and close cropped, who doesn’t look like Anderson Cooper?
Of course, the complaints can find homes elsewhere as well. A lot of games are showing their age and WoW has set a bar for fit and polish that few have reached. The quest model is an issue because it is so damn common. Character models are a bigger issue in other games for me, like Wizardry Online. And the noxious tendrils of the free to play business model are the default in the industry now.
So LOTRO‘s stand out in the genre is the Tolkien lore, which nobody can take from it. At least not until 2014 at the earliest.
But LOTRO has something else, something that sets it apart, something that makes it a joy, and that is its music system.
That your character can pick up a musical instrument and play notes is great.
That you can have your character play a song from a pre-made file, so you can essentially be a street musician is even better.
And that you can have multiple people in a group play different parts from a song that stays synchronized so that you can essential form your own band is a master stroke.
Back when we were last playing LOTRO, we began working with the music system and ended up spending a good chunk of each night just playing music as a group. We would check The Fat Lute, a web site devoted to LOTRO music, ever week for new tunes. Music was a lot of fun for us.
And we were hardly alone. We would run into people playing music alone or in groups all the time on a Saturday night. Bree was alive with music. And this lead all the way up to events like Weatherstock, where bands in matching outfits perform, even bringing their own compositions to perform.
When I go back and log into LOTRO every month to make sure I get my 500 Turbine point Lifetime Memebership stipend (As Abe Simpson said, “I didn’t earn it, I don’t need it, but if they miss one payment I’ll raise hell!”) During my trip to pick up my check, I often spend a few minutes playing the Popeye theme on a horn at a busy street corner, which is often worth a chuckle.
And, as far as I know, no other MMORPG has copied, recreated, or outright stolen this feature.
Which is, frankly, amazing to me. The easiest way to denigrate an MMO you don’t like is to dismiss it because they copied feature x from game y. This is because, of course, they all copy features from each other incessantly.
Yet here is this music system, which has been around for year now, and still remains pretty much a LOTRO thing.
I have to wonder why.
If I were the Rift team, this would be high on my list.
If I were running EverQuest II, weapon smiths and woodworkers would have a huge piles of instrument recipes and New Halas would be a cacophony of music. (Or, if I were Smed, I would totally have this on the list for EverQuest Next. Perfect sandbox feature.)
Hell, it would even fit into World of Warcraft, where their philosophy won’t let them do player or guild housing because it takes people out of the world. A Music feature like this puts people into the world, into towns and other gathering places, and gives them something to do.
Honestly, I think music is a blind spot for most MMO developers. It is graphics and mechanics and classes and skills and balance and… oh yeah, sound.
Yes, sure, there is always a sound track and incidental music. But how many people turn that off or play without sound. And for all of Syp’s Jukebox Heroes columns, the sound track is static thing, released but rarely revisited.
Even Star Was: The Old Republic and its vaunted sound work ends up being hours of (tedious) talking and relatively little music.
I cannot fathom why a game like Need for Speed World doesn’t have a dashboard radio interface to let you play some of the game music tracks as well as control and play music from your own computer. When I was playing the game a lot a while back, I used to play driving music to go along with it.
Hell, in some games we are moving backwards. One of the lesser known “features” of the Retribution expansion in EVE Online was the removal of their in-game music player. They have gone to the more traditional MMO scheme of “you will listen to the music we want you to, when we want you to.”
So what do you think? Does the industry have a blind spot when it comes to music? Is the genre missing out by ignoring music features? Would they help player retention and make games more “sticky” as it were? Or would music be more of a distraction and take focus away from the core elements of such games?
Quote of the Day – Forge This! January 4, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Humor, Lord of the Rings Online.
Tags: Quote of the Day, sarcasm, The Depredations of Free to Play
SynCaine is wrong again!
But here we have proof that it is not so!
They won’t sell you such a ring, just the ingredients!
You have to assemble it yourself.
Totally different from selling it to you outright.
So I think we have settled that!
Oh… the quote… um…
Forge Your Own Ring! Get Your Ingredient Packs Today! January 4-10
There… title requirements satisfied.
Looking Back at 2012 – Highs and Lows December 26, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Diablo III, entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, Sony Online Entertainment, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Tags: 2012, EverQuest Online Adventures, Steam
Every year I try to come up with a list of highs and lows for the year. You can go back and read my 2010 and 2011 editions if you so desire. I often complain about the same things year after year. As for 2012, this is what I recall.
Free to Play
- Another pile of games went from subscription to free to play as a default business model. If you are a fan, you have lots of options now.
- Free to play continues to offer the best “free trial” option for games.
- Clearly the dominant business model to the extent that being free to play no long bestows any sort of competitive advantage as it did back when DDO and LOTRO made the transition. Merely going free to play will not save your game.
- Being a primary source of income, with revenue targets to achieve, the in-game cash shop becomes a major focus of free to play games. Increasingly, it is players who buy from the cash shop who matter most, even in games like EQII that push you to become a subscriber. Subscribing removes some annoyances and restrictions, but you are still pushed to buy from the cash shop. They even hand you a bit of their RMT currency every month in order to prime the pump.
- An early justification for cash shops and RMT currency was the idea of selling thing to players that could not be paid for via credit card due to transaction fees. The idea was that players would be offered many inexpensive items that they would buy en masse. Instead, items that cost less than $5.00, or one third of a months subscription, seem to be the tiny minority of items available… at least at the generally understood value of the RMT currency.
- The vicious circle of discounting the RMT currency to drive people to purchase it, followed by cash shop discounts to soak up the ensuing currency glut may be emerging.
- Some players seem to think they can get something for nothing. They cheer when a game goes free to play, but then get upset when the inevitable reality emerges. There is no such thing as free.
- The pleasant Middle-earth charm of LOTRO can still be found.
- The Riders of Rohan expansion has received much praise.
- Still one of the few F2P MMOs that lets you earn their cash shop currency in-game.
- Have I mentioned their music system lately? Why hasn’t anybody shamelessly ripped this off?
- Not actually playing LOTRO, there is little chance I will see any of that cool new Rohan content… well, ever.
- The heady days of F2P success have clearly worn off, and Turbine’s WB overlords have been cracking the revenue whip. So we have the despoilment of Middle-earth moving forward in the cash shop.
- Really one of the great passive-aggressive community relations fiascos occurred when Turbine asked for comments on their awful hobby-horse idea with the caveat that they didn’t want to hear anything negative. That sort of thing never turns out badly.
- And the F2P divide continues. You can be a fan of the game, but unless you are buying stuff from the cash shop, you don’t mean anything. And so some long time fans of the game seem to be moving on. Eru wept!
Sony Online Entertainment
- EverQuest still going 13 years in and now has parcel delivery through the mail, more zones, five new levels, and hotbars that look like they are now from this century.
- EverQuest Mac got a call from the governor while on death row, so lives for a while longer.
- Planetside 2 launched! That is a massive shooter!
- Vanguard is alive and free to play and getting content updates! And Brad McQuaid is back working on it.
- The Krono experiment will make for an interesting change to watch.
- Vague promises of a more sandbox-like EverQuest game in EverQuest Next in hopes of breaking the “me too” MMO mold where everything is basically based on EverQuest. Sounds interesting, but we’re a long way from reality.
- They screwed up Station Cash valuation through heavy discounting and cash shop blanket discounts to the point of requiring SOE to stop selling expansions and gold subscriptions for Station Cash. This in turn puts more pressure on the cash shop people to sell a couple of useful items and piles of cosmetic crap. Meanwhile, the triple Station Cash sales continue because, of course, they have trained us to hold out for that.
- SOEmote. Science experiments are cool and all, but SOE is starting to accumulate a few too many such things in its basement. Voice control, Station Launcher, will SOEmote join these on the scrap heap eventually?
- EverQuest Online Adventures fell by the wayside.
- Didn’t SOE already have a sandbox-like game in SWG? The word is that Lucas was behind NGE and the closure, but SOE still has blood on its hands.
- The EverQuest time locked progression servers seem to be dying from neglect, which is ironic because every player on those servers is a subscriber. That is a requirement. So I guess we see where a server full of subscribers ranks in the free to play world?
- No major player revolt provoking crises. There is always some drama and things to piss off players, like the inventory changes. But there was nothing that came anywhere close to the uproar when flying in space was set aside in favor of space Barbies with the Incarna expansion.
- Really some cool new features in this year’s EVE expansions.
- A year in null sec was a whole new experience for me.
- With no crisis to rise to, the EVE Online CSM went back to being just a marketing tool. I can see no tangible benefit to players from CSM7. Roll on galactic student council.
- DUST 514? Have you heard of it? Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you while you were playing PlanetSide 2.
- So, yeah, null sec. The wars are over. What now?
- WoW still has more players than any other subscription MMO you play… not that there are many of those left.
- WoW remains immensely profitable.
- Mists of Pandaria shipped, putting WoW back over the 10 million players mark.
- Diablo III shipped at last, and sold a lot of boxes, both real and virtual.
- Pretty much done with WoW for now.
- No StarCraft II expansion yet.
- Diablo III shipped about five years too late.
- Customer support dickishness around the ability to shut off future payments when you signed up for the Annual Pass. You can be a dick about many things, but when you start refusing to stop billing credit cards, you have crossed a line.
- The Blizz obsession with hacks and cheating turned Diablo III into an “always online” experience that lead to the Error 37 fiasco and much complaining about things like server downtime and patch days.
- The Diablo III auction house, a clear reaction to the illicit RMT that happened in Diablo II and WoW, managed to kill off the “item hunt” part of the game for some.
- The level based difficulty of Diablo III meant having to play through the whole game in normal mode just to ramp up some challenge. Some people will be happy to play through the game four times with each character. I am not one of those people.
- Stark failure to plan for more content once Diablo III was played out.
- Titan? Hello?
- Rift continued to evolve and add features to keep players active.
- Rift launched an expansion, the classic “next move” for a successful MMORPG, that added more content, new styles of quests, and player housing.
- Trion managed to keep to the subscription model for Rift, thus avoiding the ruination of immersion that cash shops inevitably bring.
- The instance group made it through all the pre-expansion instances in Rift.
- I managed to get a level 50 character of each of the four classes before the Storm Legion expansion launched.
- Declining subscriptions, soft server merges, lots of “WoW did it first” additions. They have spun the server merges as a “good” thing and have gotten all of the servers into clusters for warfronts and the like. But less people means less subscription money.
- Layoffs. Not sure yet what this impacts, but it clearly isn’t a sign of sunshine and lollipops.
RiseEnd of Nations seems doomed. But I couldn’t play it in any case as it refused to run because I have my default text scaled to 120% in Windows, or so said the error message, and I am not going to reset that every time I want to play a game.
- Cash shop interface is already in Rift, foretelling a transition to eyesore mounts and ugly cosmetic gear… though, honestly, I am not sure I could tell the difference in Rift.
World of Tanks
- The physics revamp was a huge improvement for the game in my opinion. Power slide that TD down a hill!
- Free to play that can actually be free without being oppressive.
- Made gold ammo available for standard credits.
- Got bit by that NA/EU divide.
- In the end, it is just a shooter dressed up in vehicles. I will get bored of the same maps and the same tactics in every game sooner or later.
- Lots of big sales.
- Still a reasonable way to buy games and keep them updated.
- Has basically trained me never to buy a game until it is at least 50% off of list price.
- Even with heavy discounts, I have pretty much stopped buying because I don’t really need any more games.
- I need to delete some of the games I have on my system because there are too many updates downloading.
- Came home to find the internet down, which meant I could not play any of my games on Steam once I booted up my computer.
- I still don’t see why anybody would buy or download an MMO from Steam. I don’t want to log in and start Steam just to turn around and log in and start the MMO, which will then patch itself.
- GuildWars 2 shipped at last.
- Torchlight II shipped at last! And it is pretty good.
- Star Wars: The Old Republic actually has an expansion planned.
- Kickstarter seems to be getting people excited about games.
- As is typical, the Guild Wars 2 fanboys remain pretty much blind to any faults.
- Torchlight II still isn’t Diablo II. But expecting that it would be was probably too much.
- SWTOR basically slammed the door on the subscription model’s dick, while introducing some new noxious ways to implement free to play.
- City of Heroes gets the axe based on opportunity cost. It was making money, just not enough money.
- Glitch fails to get the quirky/greedy balance right, has to close. I never played it, but I hope something was learned.
- Most Kickstarter projects don’t make their funding goal, and apparently most that do make it find that they have underestimated the money they really needed or the time it was going to take to get the project done. Sometimes things are delayed because the funding went way past the goal and the developer decided to add in all sorts of new things, as with Steve Jackson Games and their Ultimate Edition of O.G.R.E., but that seems to be the exception. Of the six projects I have backed, two failed to meet goal while three of the other four are way behind schedule. (Go Defense Grid team!) I am not saying that Kickstarter is a bad thing, but you have to go in with your eyes open. It is less Wall Street and more “The Producers” than you might expect.
- Streaming. I completely fail to get that whole fad. Why would I want to sit in front of my computer just to watch somebody else play a game? And really, most of us aren’t as witty and amusing as we think we are. I’ll just actually PLAY a game, thank you.
Well, that was all I could come up with. But sitting at the end of the year looking back, I am sure I missed or forgot some key items.
What else should be on the list of highs and lows for 2012?
Reviewing My Questions for 2012 December 18, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in blog thing, Diablo II, Diablo III, entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Guild Wars 2, Lord of the Rings Online, PlanetSide 2, Sony Online Entertainment, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Torchlight II.
Tags: Lord British
At the beginning of each new year I have a special post. Sometimes if it predictions. Some times it is demands. Last year I decided it should be questions.
I asked 12 questions of the new year. 12 questions for the year 2012.
I think it is time to see if I received any clear answers.
1. What fate awaits the Old Republic?
Love it, hate it, see it as a revolution in MMOs or as a symbol of that all is wrong, Star Wars the Old Republic is now a force to be reckoned with on the MMO landscape. It has everybody’s attention for good or ill. Where will it lead us?
That was the position at the beginning of the year.
Unfortunately, the answer since then seems to be “Over a cliff.” That cliff was described by the chart showing ongoing drops in total subscribers every quarter after launch.
Apparently story and voice acting will only keep people interested for so long. That works for a single player game. For a subscription game, not so much. And so the Tortanic began to sink, and it was heralded as the death of the subscription model for MMOs. They did announce an expansion, so they will have some content to sell along side action bars and raid access. But there do not seem to be clear blue skies on the horizon for SWTOR yet.
2. Can Blizzard stem the World of Warcraft subscription trend?
Sort of. The annual pass option, which got you a shiny mount and a free copy of Diablo III, kept at least a million people locked into their subscriptions. And while numbers still fell, they rebounded some with the release of the Mists of Pandaria expansion. The peak of “over 12 million” appears to be in the past, but 10 million isn’t so bad.
And, of course, WoW still rakes in cash like no other MMO out there. Reports of the death of the subscription model may be a bit premature.
3. Will Free to Play continue to be the gold mine/panacea for subscription games?
Panacea? It certainly seems so. SOE has thrown in fully for the free model, bringing all their titles save the original PlanetSide into the fold. And certainly SWTOR is looking to that model to rescue it and revive their fortunes.
Is it a gold mine though? Early reports from the LOTRO transition to F2P seemed to indicate that there was indeed gold to be had. However, since then, there appears to have been some iron pyrite mixed in with the real thing, leading companies to try and cast an ever wider net to get players to buy their RMT currency and then turn around and spend it in their cash shop.
LOTRO, which at least lets you earn their RMT cash in-game, went towards the odious prize boxes and started suggesting things like the hobby horse mount.
SOE screwed up their RMT currency so badly with heavy discounts that they had to stop selling premium memberships and expansions in Station Cash.
And reports I have read indicate that SWTOR might not have figured out the magic formula for F2P success quite yet either.
So there appears to be a lot more work to be done on the F2P front. Merely being F2P is no longer enough, as there are a lot of choices out there.
Companies keep bringing their games to the F2P altar, but that alone is no longer enough.
4. Who will really win the “Just Like Diablo” battle of 2012?
It depends on what you value.
I started to write a full post about it with the objective of declaring Diablo III the winner, but only on technicalities. Basically, it does more to capture the atmosphere of Diablo II, while at the same time doing the most to destroy the game. It just feels more like Diablo II, if you ignore the auction house, the always online aspect, the need to play through the game repeatedly in order to get to the most challenging game play, and a few other things.
That said, I think Torchlight II is, overall, a better game if you take the “heir to Diablo II” aspect out of the picture. It doesn’t get anywhere close on story or atmosphere compared to Diablo II, but it managed to avoid the manifold mistakes of Diablo III while being light, fun, and full of options denied the players of Diablo III.
Basically, the answer for me is that neither game really wins the “Just Like Diablo” crown, mostly because it just isn’t the year 2000 any more, so neither game could really have the same impact.
5. When will we lose a game to hacking?
We seem to be safe from this still, at least on the MMO front. Lots of security breaches, but I haven’t read about a game completely brought down and destroyed, never to run again because of hacking.
So the only answer here I suppose was, “Not yet.”
6. Will SOE remain the only player in the MMO nostalgia game?
This stems from the Fippy Darkpaw time locked progression server, about which I have posted often.
And my answer up until last week would have been “Yes.” SOE is the only purveyor of MMO nostalgia. I even got impatient by mid-year and went after the issue in a blog post.
After all, it seems like WoW could make a bundle with a similar scheme. There are literally dozens of private WoW servers out there trying to recreate the “old” WoW, that being anywhere from day one to before Cataclysm. I spent a bit of time on the Emerald Dream server and can vouch for the cathartic effect of playing an old-school version of the game.
But no such official venture looks to be forthcoming.
And then Turbine showed up with Asheron’s Call 2, fresh from the crypt, electrodes bolted on firmly in an attempt to create life where there was none.
I am not sure if it is quite the same thing, but it is something. And it is nostalgic.
So SOE does not own the MMO nostalgia market completely.
7. Will Guild Wars 2 be the game changer in the MMO market in 2012?
Well, a lot was promised for Guild Wars 2. But did it really change anything?
I have seen a number of GW2 fans lauding The Secret World for adopting the GW2 revenue plan, conveniently ignoring all the details that prove that they did no such thing. Yes, there is the “buy the box” aspect for a free to play game that sure sounds a lot like GW2. But what about the continuing monthly subscription model that unlocks things and hands out RMT currency as a reward? That sounds a lot like an SOE game, doesn’t it?
I suspect that the “buy the box” aspect was a requirement only because they admitted they did not make their sales numbers, so it is either throw away all those boxes or find a way to keep selling them.
And, if we’re honest with ourselves, the “buy the box” plan was from Guild Wars, not GW2, so rationalize harder please.
Anyway, I think it is too early to tell. GW2 only launched at the end of August, which didn’t leave a lot of time for anybody to react to anything they did in 2012, conspiracy theories not withstanding.
Maybe next year?
8. Will CCP ever be anything but the company that makes EVE Online?
Of course, they also helped make Lazy Town, right? Next question.
Okay, yes, DUST 514. It looms. It seems like it could be something some day. But that day was not this year. So I can only say, “We shall see.”
Call me when DUST 514 is a thing and maybe I will be able to build enough enthusiasm to download it.
9. What will the earth shattering MMO announcements be in 2012?
Oh, and that 38 Studios fiasco. An MMO that never was will never be.
10. Will MMOs get redefined in new and interesting (or bad and annoying) ways?
No, nothing new here, move along.
Okay, maybe PlanetSide 2 moved the ball a few inches down field with a really massive online shooter. But what else was there really?
11. Are we every going to get another decent MMO news podcast?
12. What will Lord British do next?
So those are my questions and the answers as I see them. I am sure somebody will remind me of a few items I missed… or will want to argue about Diablo III vs. Torchlight II. But that is about it for me.
Now to consider next year’s post.
Riders of Rohan Unleashed October 16, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Lord of the Rings Online.
Tags: Riders of Rohan
Like so many of the new things coming this Fall, it is not on my list. This will be the first LOTRO expansion I have skipped, but I am so far from the content, still being back in Moria with my highest level character, that there seemed no point.
I will, however, be looking into buying that extra bag slot with my accumulated Turbine Points. I get 500 every month for being a lifetime subscriber, so long as I log in… and I make sure I log in at least once a month.
Of those, I am only really signed on for the Storm Legion expansion for Rift.
And the EVE expansion of course. But that is more like a patch update, not something I have to go out and buy.
I am My Character, and He is Mine October 9, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Lord of the Rings Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, World of Warcraft.
Tags: Dungeons & Dragons
There was an AD&D campaign that we started way back in the neolithic age. This was the version 1.0 AD&D era. Our Player’s Handbooks and Monster Manuals still looked good, the dungeon master’s screen was a new and exciting item, and strange philosophies, like the cult of THAC0, were still years in the future.
The older brother of a friend of mine was going to run it. He was one of those very smart and very creative types… and a college boy at a time when we were all in the pre-driving stage of high school… who could generate a campaign out of thin air that would get you excited to play.
So we sat around the living room of his parent’s place, rolling up characters and arguing as to whether characters from other campaigns could be brought in. Arguments broke out over some powerful weapon that had no back story and how in the hell Spit the Spellbinder gained so many levels and whether or not that guy who always had to play a female role would be allowed to bring his character “Bodacious Ta-tas” along or would have to roll up something new that actually fit in a goddam fantasy setting outside of his wet dreams.
The usual stuff. Many a campaign has died a quick death after a session like this.
In the midst of all of this I quietly rolled up, named, and equipped a ranger. It wasn’t a bad class back then. And, of course, I was under the influence of Tolkien at the time, and we know what his rangers are like.
Surprisingly, once a rule lawyering argument wrapped up about the relationship between experience and gold (The rules, as I recall, assumed that gold came with experience and getting experience should always be accompanied by a specific gold payout. Our DM didn’t hold with that, declaring that each was its own reward, but then insisted on holding to the rather steep fees required by guilds to level up a character. It was a more complicated time.), the party actually started to come together. Spit was in, Bodacious was out, and we actually looked like we might get past this first hurdle.
When the call came for my character sheet, I handed it over. The DM glanced at it, tossed it back at me, and said, “No rangers.” Being the only person in the room at this point who had not engaged in a heated discussion with the DM, I began to wonder if an argument was a requirement to join in. I asked why not and the DM said he did not like rangers.
Had I been a more experience player at this time… or at least not a surly teen… I might have accepted that for the flashing red light warning that it was, crossed out ranger, wrote in fighter, and just got on with things.
But, dammit, I wanted to play a ranger. A brief argument started in which it was declared, among other things, that rangers do not go under ground so he couldn’t come along in any dungeon or some such. But the weight of the room was on my side. Everybody else was ready to go and a lot of people were annoyed by the demands of the DM to that point, so I had support for my cause. We just wanted to get on with it.
So with a huff, my ranger was allowed on the list with all the grace of Darth Vader accepting the failure of a subordinate. My ranger would be made to suffer.
Not that it really mattered. It was a diverse group that had not played together as a whole before and, as fate would have it, would never sit down together in the same room ever again. It was the simply the amazing optimism of youth that set us down that path to another failed campaign. And even if we had managed to get the whole group back together, things were not going well.
The DM made one of the classic blunders of campaign starts. He put us all in a small town with an inn and expected us to go where he wanted without being totally strong armed into it. One of the issues with this sort of free form campaign is that many holes come up in the environment, which is the sort of thing that attracts players like moths to a flame. It is like handing the players a map with a town, a castle, a dungeon, and a blank area on it. We will go to the blank area, thinking that the DM is hiding something cool there, never considering it is blank because the DM didn’t finish that bit.
We managed, as a group, to make it to the inn. But we never left. Things fell apart in all the expected ways. For example, our DM was worked up about having a ranger in the party, but didn’t care that an elf and a dwarf were on the list and failed to take into account that Mr. Bodacious, who was now playing the elf (of course), would role play dwarf/elf enmity for all it was worth just because he was in a pissy mood at that point.
And part of the reason that things fell apart was that the DM decided to take over my character. Not literally. But every time my ranger did anything he would roll some dice behind his screen… rolling unseen dice is a DM method of validating whatever the hell he wants to do… and would call out what actually happened, as opposed to what I was trying to do.
Essentially, my ranger became Stomper from Bored of the Rings. If he grabbed his mug of mead, he would knock it into somebody’s lap. If he managed to pick it up, he would spill it on himself. If he stood up, he would knock over his chair… or the table… or both. Other patrons would ignore him or laugh at him.
The DM decided to make a very amusing tale for himself by overriding stats and skills and turning my character into a bumbling oaf.
Most of the details from that day are pretty blurry some 30+ years later. I do not recall how the game broke up, just that we never resumed. I got in a fight with my friend a couple months later that lead to a parting of the ways. I never saw the older brother DM again. Spit never played again that I know of, joined the Army after high school, and ended up on a farm in Montana. (Thanks Facebook.) Bodacious fled the valley for San Francisco after graduation, while another player’s family moved to Minnesota shortly thereafter.
It was a minor moment in my life, a few hours were spent together in a room with this group, after which we were scattered to the winds. Literally. I think of the group, I am the only one who still lives in Silicon Valley.
Yet to this day, I remember this session. It was one of dozens of games played during high school, most of which have been lost to the mists of time.
I remember this session because it represents something I really do not like in games, which is the game putting words in my character’s mouth or otherwise dictating what they do or say.
It was a defining moment in gaming for me, and forever has it dominated my destiny.
Which leads me back to MMOs. And quests. And that sort of thing.
I hate it when games start to dictate how my character behaves, when they try to impose a personality apart from my own upon the game. I will go along with the flow of your story or quest chain, but I will do it on my own terms. That for me is the essence, the “role playing” part of a “role playing game.” If I cannot have at least that, my connection with my character becomes weak. And it is often that connection that keeps my playing.
Beyond my moaning about bad blaster based combat in the game, this was the other big failing for me in Star Wars: The Old Republic. I found their fourth pillar, their dialog wheel, quite alienating. About half the time I wanted a “none of the above” choice for my response.
I much prefer being left to my own devices. And I think this gets reflected in the MMOs I choose. Rift, which presents quests very much in the WoW model, offers up a take it or leave it choice. Accept the mission for whatever reason or don’t, it is up to you.
And in EVE Online… well… nobody even pretends to understand your motivation. You do what you will in the universe for what ever reasons you find. In fact, finding reasons to do things is part of the trick of playing EVE.
Even Lord of the Rings Online, which ostensibly is a very story driven game, doesn’t spend much time ascribing motivations to your character.
Meanwhile, it used to annoy me that once in a while EverQuest II would attempt to put more than bare minimum dialog in the mouth of my character. SOE seemed to start off with dialog based question interactions as a goal, but then quickly reverted to basic “I’ll take your quest” or “Screw off, I’m busy” options most of the time.
But, as always, that may be just me.
How about you? How much do you want a game to dictate your characters motivations and actions?
Wednesday Morning Trends August 22, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Guild Wars 2, Lord of the Rings Online, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags: Free-To-Play, Jagex, Riders of Rohan, RuneScape, Ubisoft
Ubisoft Finds a New Rationalization for Free to Play
From The Register, Ubisoft says more than 90% of PC gamers pirate their game, so they might as well go down the free to play path.
Money quote from CEO Yves Guillemot:
“It’s around a 93 to 95 per cent piracy rate, so it ends up at about the same percentage as free-to-play”
I still find it hard to believe that 90% of gamers pirate their games, and people who spout such numbers rarely go into detail on how they arrived at them, so color me skeptical.
Riders of Rohan Delay
Casual Stroll to Mordor reports that the launch of the Lord of the Rings Online expansion Riders of Rohan will be moved back from September 5th to October 15th. I expect conspiracy theorists everywhere to proclaim that this delay was to get out from under the weight of the Guild Wars 2 launch the way they declared the Mist of Panderia launch date to be a defensive move against the game.
Chalk another one up to the might of Guild Wars 2?
Your Virtual Currency Has Expired!
Massively Multiplayer Fallout brings up a topic from the RuneScape forums. Apparently somebody discovered a statement in Jagex’s terms of service that indicates that RuneCoins, the RuneScape virtual currency, can expire.
Jagex responded, indicating that the terms were correct, but that they had never, to this point, had to expire any RuneCoins. The actual shelf life of RuneCoins was left unstated.
Of course, this makes me wonder when companies like SOE, which seemed to be picking up bad habits from its free to play neighbors, or UbiSoft, which just seems to hate
its customers pirates people in general, will jump on this potentially lucrative idea.
And then there is how local law applies. In my own jurisdiction, companies cannot expire things like gift cards. Where does virtual currency fit in that equation?
Bonus Trend: Windows 8
After watching this, I foresee another Windows Vista level PR fiasco looming.
If Microsoft needs to learn something from Apple, it is how to produce software that doesn’t make people angry.
Apple drops OS updates more often that Microsoft, charges for them, and people tend to be interested to indifferent. Microsoft drops a huge OS update every few years and manages to make people run around screaming like their hair is on fire more often than not.
And don’t get me started on how much I loathe every corporate mandated Microsoft Office upgrade. In my mind, MS Word was perfected with version 5.1a about 20 years ago. Everything since has been… uh… Windows dressing?
[Credit to Derek Smart for finding that video, but his Twitter account is locked down so I can't even link to the tweet.]
Hear Charles Foster Kane Utter His Last Words! August 17, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Lord of the Rings Online.
Tags: Citizen Kane, Riders of Rohan
We are getting close to the release of the Rohan expansion for Lord of the Rings Online, and as such they are sending out more email messages promoting the expansion in addition to their weekly updates as to what is going on sale in the cash shop.
And in doing so, they start walking a dangerous path. Again.
Being based on a story, part of the charm, the vision, the very raison d’etre is to make you and your character part of that story. And so they build up the game and its connection with the story like this.
For the sake of those who cannot read the print and who refuse to click on the image to make it larger, the ad invites the player to:
- Witness the breaking of the fellowship
- Experience the fall of Boromir
- Take part in Frodo’s decision to set towards Mordor alone
- Aid Eomer in his quest to defend Rohan
Wow, get right into things! Can I hold Gandalf’s bathrobe while he reanimates?
There is the purist point of view to consider though. There is that piece of me that always cringes a bit when playing a game as free form as an MMO that is set to take place in a story that has already been written.
Now, one of the greatest aspects of the game is the attention drawn to the fact that while Frodo was off on his adventure, a lot of other stuff was going on in a world full of people not necessarily worried about magic rings. Battles were fought, towns were burned, and partisans from both sides of the conflict go in their own hits. And a lot of other people simply tried to get on with their lives feeding livestock, drying tobacco, and losing farm implements all over their fields.
But the game wouldn’t really come together as well if the whole thing was “A Day in the Life of Will Whitfoot” run repeatedly like a Middle-earth Groundhog Day. You can’t go around trying not to mention the war.
So we meet the characters from the books, Gandalf, Aragorn, Frodo, Bilbo, and so forth at various junctures when it is… safe. You talk to Gandalf and Aragorn in the Prancing Pony before Frodo and friends show up. You find yourself up at Weathertop after they have passed. And you meet up with them in Rivendell when they are recovering, a time when I am sure they met a lot of people, so what is a couple hundred thousand more?
And even then, Turbine has to keep you involved with the main story thread, even if you are just a side story. And so we get the ad pictured above. The main story is why most of us showed up, even if we end up doing other things. And I have to imagine that the claims are not literally true, that we might be treated to cut scenes illustrated at least some of those points.
Frodo’s decision to strike out for Mordor was, for example, one he made alone. Sam only showed up by accident while Gollum was lurking about… and was drawn to Frodo by the ring in any case.
So while riding with Eomer to defend Rohan might be acceptable… who knows what manner of folk he might have picked up, even if they were suspicious of strangers… the rest seem unlikely to be anything your character will witness first hand if Turbine is sticking to the story.
But it still gives me pause. It makes me wonder if they might not try an inject individual players into an instanced version of some of these events. We shall see, I suppose.
Or you might see… I am still back in Moria cleaning up all the stuff stirred up by the fellowship when they came through. I did always wonder what happened to many of these places after the main characters passed through.
As for the odd title of this post, I was inspired by an article over at Cracked.com about plot holes in classic motion pictures. The claim was that in Citizen Kane nobody was there to hear Charles Foster Kane utter his final words at the start of the film, and so that the whole search for “Rosebud” should have never come to pass.
Only that turned out to be wrong. As is almost never the case, the cliche that “the butler did it” turned out to be true.
You just cannot believe everything you read on the internet. That includes ads from game companies I am sure.