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The 2014 List – Back to Predictions January 1, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, EverQuest Next, Lord of the Rings Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, World of Warcraft.
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8 comments

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

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

DruidWoW2014_450px

(Original 2014 graphic provided by my daughter)

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

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

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

1 – Ship Dates

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

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

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

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

2 – Missed Dates

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

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

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

3 – Changes, Offers, and Upsets

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

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

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

4 – Scoring?

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

5 – Predictions of Others

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

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

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

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


Looking Back at 2013 – Highs and Lows December 20, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, EverQuest Next, Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, Sony Online Entertainment, War Thunder, World of Warcraft.
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5 comments

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

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

The wall of bullet points beings.

Payment Model Wars

Highs

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

Lows

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

Turbine

Highs

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

Lows

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

Sony Online Entertainment

Highs

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

Lows

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

CCP

Highs

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

Lows

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

Blizzard

Highs

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

Lows

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

Other MMO Developers

Highs

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

Lows

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

Other Gaming and Vaguely Related Items

Highs

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

Lows

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

Blog Things

Highs

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

Lows

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

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

Quote of the Day – Whiny Old Timers are the Real Problem December 13, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Lord of the Rings Online.
Tags: , ,
13 comments

The truth is, in any community, the veterans, the old hands, are the ones that are the biggest reason why the community doesn’t grow.

Harbinger Zero, post Adventures in Missing the Point (since removed)

And we have the case for insta-levels, spurred by various posts about the Lord of the Rings Online “Gift of the Valar” level 50 offer,  in which Harbinger Zero hurls anything not nailed down at people complaining about the idea.  He manages to complain about the use of loaded terms… he doesn’t like the word “scheme” for example… while raining down a torrent of abuse littered with similarly loaded terms… pot, I’d like to introduce you to the kettle.  His basic conclusion is that the current player base is the root problem.

LOTRO and the Latest Insta-Level Scheme December 13, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, Sony Online Entertainment, World of Warcraft.
Tags: ,
13 comments

As level focused MMORPGs age and expand and boost the level cap again and again, the gulf between the new player starting out and the old hands clustered at the level cap begins to seem like an insurmountable barrier.  The levels problem.  Many a new player has no doubt been lost, never to be seen again, in the attempt to cross the often lonely mid-game, which can be something like levels 20 through 80 and beyond these days, in order to reach an oasis of friends.

Various methods have been tried in order to… well, not to “fix” it, because that there is something wrong with most of the game when often some of the best bits are along the way to the level cap… but to alleviate the pain of somebody trying to catch up.

Companies have eased up on the experience slope so that you level up faster.  They have tinkered with various sorts of mentoring, which generally bestows some sort of experience boost on the lower level player.  Free to play games nearly always stock their cash shop with experience accelerators of various sorts in order to let those in search of higher levels move right along.  Refer-a-friend programs can include some sort of leveling boost.  EverQuest has featured that, as has World of Warcraft.  Blizzard even added in the ability for the higher level player to “gift” levels to the person they referred… with some limitations… as part of their referral program.

And, after years of tinkering around with all that and more, several companies have finally come around and decided just to sell you a high level character.

This is, of course, controversial, and the game companies know it.

First out of the gate in the games I watch was EverQuest II, with its offer to sell you a boost to level 85.  I thought that this was the most interesting case of moving to this sort of thing because you could argue that SOE has done as much as, if not more than, any other MMORPG in trying to bridge the gap between the pool of vets and new players.  That was not enough though, and now you can buy a token in the cash shop for approximately $35… the general rate is a penny per Station Cash point, but if you bought some during one of the now departed 3x sales, your real world expenditure will be less… that will put you within 10 levels of the level 95 cap, which is close enough to group with anybody above you in level and still gain experience.

This actually sort-of works out okay with EQII.  There is still the “too many damn skills” problem with going straight to 85, which isn’t handled very well in my opinion.  And anybody who joins up and jumps to level 85 will, again in my opinion, miss a lot of the best content (biased as I am towards some of the original locations) while being dumped into one of the most awful, boring looking adventure areas in the game.  Snow zones just don’t work for me in EQII.  But overall, with mentoring and the chrono-whatcha-call-it thing that lets you play older content at level, the vast sea of content is still yours to explore if you so desire.  In the end, it gives players an option and gives SOE something new to sell in the cash shop.

Then at BlizzCon Blizzard announced that, with the purchase of the Warlords of Draenor expansion, players would be given the option to boost one character up to level 90.  Oddly, most of the enthusiasm I have heard for this has been from people who already have multiple level 90 characters.  The idea of one more level 90 alt for somebody who has run the content multiple times seems to be a winner.  And while this got a frosty response from some, it does solve a problem for Blizzard.  We are now at a point where there are certainly far more former WoW players than there are current WoW player, probably several fold more.

Those former players represent a pretty big market opportunity.  But how do you get them to come back when your lure is shiny new content that might be many levels above them?  “Come back and play the stuff that made you quit, you’ll eventually get to some new stuff!” isn’t a very good approach.  So now anybody who purchases Warlords of Draenor can play that content right away.

The solution is, as I said, not without detractors, but you can at least see the logic and how it solves a problem for Blizzard.  I am not sure how they solve the “I don’t own Mists of Pandaria or some other expansion” issue.  I suspect everybody who buys Draenor will end up getting all of that.  But it puts a mass of potential players right on the starting line for next year’s expansion. (No sign of this being an item in the new cash shop yet, but you never know.)

Finally, this week, Turbine, after kicking the idea around for months, finally bit the bullet and announced their insta-level plan for Lord of the Rings Online.  It is a limited time offer at the moment as Turbine tests the waters on this.

The Valar aren't what they used to be...

The Valar aren’t what they used to be…

And time is not the only aspect of this that is limited.  For 4,995 Turbine Points… which could be anywhere from $38 to $70 depending on how you purchased your points… gives you the following:

  • Character boosted to level 50
  • A set of level 50 gear
  • 1 Gold piece
  • An LIXP rune, worth enough XP to bring one LI to level 10
  • 4 ranks of each virtue
  • The Riding skill
  • A Dusky Nimblefoot Goat
  • A 25-stack of food that scales with your level
  • A 25-stack of Morale and Power potions that scale with your level
  • 5 +100% XP Boosts
  • A single-use map to Rivendell
  • 25 Mithril Coins

That is not an insubstantial pile of stuff.  The issue for me, when I look at this, is I am not sure what problem it solves.  Leaving aside my bias about some of the 1 to 50 content… I could (and have) run the Lone Lands and Evendim over and over again and be a happy person… the level cap with the latest expansion, Helm’s Deep, is 95.  So, basically, this level boost puts you where?

Well, right into the first expansion, Mines of Moria, which you will note is NOT part of the insta-level package.  So, aside from the troubles of figuring out how to play a character that has been boosted deep into its skill arc… now with archaic skill trees (my opinion of them anyway) to figure out as well… you have to put down more money just to continue advancing your character towards the latest content, which is still 40 levels away.

So SOE put you within reach of the latest content, Blizzard will put you on the doorstep of the latest content, and Turbine is planning to leave you adrift in the mid-game in what seems like the combination of all the complaints about level based character progression.  Players will be too far in to learn their character class skill by skill yet still many levels (and several expansions to buy) away from any friends in the latest content.

What problem does this solve?  I won’t trivialize the 1-50 game, it will take some work to get through it, but the work doesn’t stop when you pass into Moria.  And who is the target audience for this boost?  People who hate the first 300 pages of The Fellowship of the Ring?

And I realize that Turbine’s business model, which includes selling content like Mines of Moria, stands in the way here.  I am just not sure that Moria is the optimal destination.  If you were going to drop a friend into the middle of the game, is that were you would put them?

Anyway, this looks to be a test run for Turbine, with the limited duration.  And I am sure they will sell a few to people who want an alt and who have, perhaps, seen too much of the Lone Lands… as if that were possible.  Pengail escort quest forever!

Pengail Attacks!

He just HATES goblins

There have been other reactions to this around the blogesphere, none of which have been particularly positive on the plan.  Further reading if you are interested:

What do you think about Turbine’s plan, or the idea of insta-levels in general?

Reviewing My Goals for 2013 December 6, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, World of Tanks, World of Warcraft.
Tags:
5 comments

At the beginning of each new year I have a special post.  Sometimes if it predictions.  Some times it is demands.  Back in January I decided it should be goals.

So I wrote out a list of eight goals for 2013, then promptly forgot about them as set out into the year.

2013

Now here we are, into December and we have reached the time to review.  In theory, I could run out and complete at least one of the incomplete goals on my list.  But in reality, it isn’t going to happen.

Each of my eight goals were well within my ability to accomplish.  How many did I manage?

1- Finish Rift

There was a specific definition of “finish” in the goal, since MMOs are pretty difficult beasts to tame otherwise.  And it wasn’t even the whole game I had to finish, just the Storm Legion expansion.  The base game was already finished per my definition.

All I had to do was get a character to the new level cap and finish the five person dungeons with the instance group.  Level cap should have totally obtainable… I had four characters at the old cap, one in each base class… and we were starting in on the first instance back at the start of January.  I figured this was a gimme.

No, not Azeroth!

Um, about that…

And then I had problems getting into Storm Legion.  That dragged.  I wandered off, then came back and gave it another shot and made it a bit further.  But on entering Seratos I lost all momentum and that was that.

Meanwhile, the instance group had problems even getting online at the same time.  We didn’t actually finish the first instance until the end of June.

So that goal was pretty much a bust and Rift lies fallow for me even now.  The group as a whole hasn’t been back since we poked our collective noses in to see how the F2P transition went.

Goal not achieved.

2- Find a new goal in EVE

This isn’t looking good either.  I had some idea about what I could do.  I even trained up some skills.  But here it is December and I am still playing about the same way I was back in January.  I wait for a fleet op to get called, I log in, join the fleet, and go shoot things.  Or fail to shoot things.  My role is still pretty much that of “aligner to whatever, presser of F1, and clicker of PAP links.”

Not that I don’t enjoy that.  I still goggle at large fleet battles.  It is my place in the game for now.  But it isn’t anything new.

I did train up to fly a carrier.  I even purchased an Archon.

First successful jump

My first successful Archon jump

But flying a new ships is a constant and flowing thing in EVE Online.  But unless you have a plan for what you are going to do with that ship once you have it, it isn’t the kind of goal I meant.  And I haven’t done anything with the Archon since I bought it.

Goal not achieved.

3- Get to Tier IX in World of Tanks

Another goal I though would be a gimme.  At the time I was closing in on a tier VIII tank and I was driving the KV-4 by mid-April, leaving me a good 8 months to make my goal.

Maus in the background

KV-4 with a Maus

And then I stopped playing World of Tanks around the beginning of May and I haven’t really been back since.

That is the way it goes with video games sometimes.

Goal not achieved.

4- Finish that Second Instance Group Video

This was to follow up the first instance group video I did, which reviewed our first year as a group in Azeroth.  You can read my post about it, which includes the video and the whole director’s commentary.  It included music performed by Earl and his musical friends.

I did actually start on this.  I had decided that the second video ought to focus on our run through Wrath of the Lich King, which was arguably our peak in the game up to this time.  We ran all the instances and had some adventures in the open world, so it seemed like good enough topic.  I even went through the screen shots from the period and started pulling out and cropping potential candidates.  I got about half way through that.

And then I got hung up on the music.  I mentioned that in writing the original goal, that the music is an important part of the process for me.

I really need something to make the whole thing come together.  At one point I was leaning towards ELO’s Don’t Bring Me Down, which I thought had the right ironic tone for the assault on Northrend, plus is a good tune.  But I never quite got there. Then I got a bit twitchy about music after I ran into some trouble with one of my videos.

I understand the the holders of the rights to the music are entitled to profit from them.  They claim the rights on YouTube, slap ads on them, and collect a bit of revenue.  I am fine with that.  But for one of my favorite videos, the horrible slog through time dilation to the battle at Q1U-UI, the rights holder insisted I remove the music.  Apparently the reputation of the song Theme from a Summer Place, the most stereotypical elevator music ever, was being harmed by association with internet spaceships or something.  Perhaps EVE was too exciting for it.  I don’t know.  But Google muted the audio until I clicked the button and let them remove the music from the audio track.

Google did a surprisingly good job at that, but now the video lacks much of its charm.  It is just a bunch of slow spaceships with people laughing about how slow they are going.

Anyway, this made me a bit leery of doing anything else with musical tracks I happened to have in iTunes.  Maybe I can get Earl and his group to record a version of Don’t Bring Me Down.

And then I got distracted with other things, the instance group was having trouble forming up, and I never quite got back to it.

It remains on my “to do” list, and now that we have actually done the last three instances in the expansion, maybe I will get back to it.  But I still have the music thing to deal with.

Goal not achieved.

5- Retry an MMO That Didn’t Stick

Complete and utter failure on this one, at least for the definition I gave.  I put out a potential list with titles such as Vanguard, Dungeons & Dragons Online, Star Trek Online, Runes of Magic, Warhammer Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Pirates of the Burning Sea.

And I did not go back and play a single one of them.

I did try to log into Warhammer Online, but only after they announce it was going to close, and only for nostalgia tour reasons even then.

I did approve of their stance on elves...

Time to get stuck in…

And I failed at that, as I could not coax Warhammer Online into letting my log into the game.

Goal not achieved.

6- Scout for the Next Instance Group Game

This was just vague enough that I can claim to have done it.  Potshot was really the leader of the scouting expedition in 2013, leading the way into things like Neverwinter Nights 2 and Neverwinter.  Some sort of theme going on there.

With Commander Tann at Fort Locke

With Commander Tann at Fort Locke

But for me to really lay claim to achieving this goal, I think I would have had to scout a game that we actually ended up playing.

Which I did.

I stepped foot into what would become our next game.  I lead the way.  I was there first.

It just happened to be a game we were already invested in, World of Warcraft.  So I am pretty sure the group’s move back there had more to do with our investment in the game, and the BlizzCon announcements, than anything I did.

Goal not achieved.

7- Book My Autumn Nostalgia Tour Early

I think I managed this one.  Every autumn I, usually accompanied by Gaff or Potshot, end up going back and playing some MMO from the past.  This year I managed to this twice.

For the really early nostalgia tour, Gaff and I and our EVE corp went off to Middle-earth and indulged in a summer of Lord of the Rings Online.

Always the same tale

Always the same tale

Then, when that was wrapping up… I was on the far side of Moria and the rest of the corp had wandered off… my daughter wanted to go back and play World of Warcraft.  So that was declared the Fall nostalgia run… for specific definitions of nostalgia in any case.

Riding to Adventure!

Riding to Adventure!

That ended up turning into the destination for the instance group, so it became more current and less nostalgia.  Still, I think I managed this one.

Goal achieved.

8- Blog Stuff

My goal here was pretty much to stay the course… which isn’t really much of a goal.  It is like riding a bicycle and making your goal “continue to pedal.”  334 posts later, I think we can confirm that I managed to carry on as always.

Goal achieved.

Scoring

So that was a meager eight goals, out of which I managed to achieve two.

And the two that I achieved were vague targets to do what I expected I would do in any case.  That certainly doesn’t reflect well on my ability to define a goal and achieve it.

I think that for my 2014 New Year’s post I am going to go back to predictions.  Those are more fun to discuss… I cannot resist throwing in some silly or outrageous ones… and more fun to review at the end of the year.  So look for that come January 1st.

The Patcher of Sauron November 25, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Lord of the Rings Online.
Tags: , ,
12 comments

Is there any in this rout with authority to patch with me? Or indeed with wit to understand me?

Surety you crave! Turbine gives none. If you sue for its updates, then you must do its bidding.

-LOTRO Patcher, Lieutenant of Turbad-dûr

I might be a little down on Turbine’s patcher this week, which no doubt colors the tone of this post.

I haven’t been doing much in Middle-earth since my summer vacation there saw me through to the far side of Moria at last.  I had finally made it through the first LOTRO expansion, which I purchased just five years previously.  But since I owned the next two expansions already, and a third lay out there waiting for me already, you might be able to forgive my lack of excitement surrounding yet another LOTRO expansion.  I am not at all likely to see any of the Helm’s Deep expansion in the foreseeable future.

LOTROHelmsDeep

However, with Helm’s Deep, Turbine was looking to revamp the classes in a way to… if I understand this correctly… make the various roles a given class can perform more distinct.  Previously Turbine just heaped a bunch of skills onto a class, some for one role, some for another, and let the player sort them out, along with the various traits, to do whatever they wanted.  For some classes… especially the Warden and Runekeeper…  the various skills seemed somewhat comprehensible.  For others, such as the Captain, skills were not always clearly role specific.

Still, with understanding and a correct application of buffs or stances or auras or whatever, the old system let you mold your character to fill a specific role.  I am not sure that the Guardian was ever going to be optimal for DPS or the Captain turned into the healer of choice, but your Champion could certainly play either tank or DPS.  Zubon’s recent post on Adaptation probably has some applicability here.

So while I might not see the siege of Helm’s Deep any time soon, there was clearly change afoot that would affect me.  This drove my desire to log into the game and see what was up.  Would this make things better or worse for me?  One of my problems with the game is that, upon returning after a long absence, I often find it difficult to pick up where I left off with a class.  Things often change.  The spread of skills are not always clear in their use.  And the skill icons, tiny and over-wrought, frequently bear only a passing resemblance to what  the skill actually does.  I did a post a couple years back about the icons of the Champion class, which I found more distracting than useful.

champicons
Yeah, tell me what those do based just upon the picture.  I have my own guesses.  So it is often easier to just start a new character and relearn the class than to pick up where I was.

I actually think that redoing the skill icons… making them larger, clearer, simpler… might have been a bigger win than revamping classes.  In fact, I had half a hope that icons might be part of the revamp, making me all the more keen to see what had changed.  But first I had to patch.

Oh, the LOTRO patcher.

We were going out for a bit on Thursday night and I figured I could let the patcher run while we were away.  The Helm’s Deep expansion had dropped earlier Thursday, after a 2-day day delay, and should have been ready to go.  I let it update the launcher itself, then started it off on its patching process before we left the house.

We got back a little over 90 minutes later and I found that the patcher wasn’t even half done yet.

Back before we upgraded to a 25Mbit connection, I expected such updates to run all night.  The old ADSL connection was good for about a gigabyte an hour if nobody else was doing anything online.  I used to start big patches before going to bed in hopes of finding them done in the morning.

Now, with the high speed connection, EVE Online did its 1.21 gigabyte Rubicon patch, along with the update, in about 8 minutes.  So either the Helm’s Deep patch was absolutely huge, or their patcher is crap.

I’m voting for crap.

First, it does things inefficiently.  It seems to go file by file, judging how many individual items it had to download.  And, LOTRO has historically been unhappy about older installs.  After it passes a certain threshold of updates, everything slows down, including game play.  Given that my install is now over three years old, I am probably due for a “delete and install fresh” the next time I want to play seriously.  Finally, sometimes the installer just gets stuck.

When the patching was done on Thursday, I went to bed.  When I tried to launch again on Friday, it appeared to need to repatch all over again.  And then it hung up and stopped.  I started it over again and it carried on, but got stuck again.  I went off and did something else.

Saturday morning I patched again and it got through this time, but then wouldn’t connect to the game.  I waited a bit and tried again, at which point the patcher got stuck yet again.  But at least it got stuck at something I have faced before.

The image gave me the post title

The image gave me the post title

I knew which files to delete and, after it downloaded them again, the patcher finally finished, the glaring eye of Sauron was finally dismissed, and I was able to get into the game.  There, as expected, I was warned that I needed to choose a class specialization for my captain.

Along with other notices

Along with other notices

On my way at last.  And I was glad to find that the specializations bordered on the obvious when it came to which role was which.  For my captain, there was healing, DPS, and tanking.  And it looked like I could pick two out of the three right away and have access to the third by spending some Mithril Coins.

The Captain's Specs

The Captain’s Specs

Unfortunately, tiny undecipherable icons appeared to remain in force, so that wish fell by the wayside.  And then there was the question as to what to pick.  Basically, I liked my captain he way he was pre-patch, so I had to decide which spec fit that.  For solo play, the red DPS spec was probably the right one, but the yellow tanking spec sounded more like what I was used to.  The captain is the guy with the halberd in my book, and I always equip my captain thus, so I went for that spec.

And then I was sent to the talent tree to spend my points in something that felt like it was right out of World of Warcraft in about 2006.  Here are some points to spend, here are some skills and such, good luck making an informed choice.

Spending Points

Spending Points

Now, I realize that some people love talent trees, and I am not necessarily dead set against them, but when you get options where you cannot really answer questions like, “Do I need this?” “Will that change how I play the class?” or “Does even a full 5% boost make any real difference?” then I start getting pissy.  Yes, theory crafters dig this.  I do not.  And, given the many random specs I have seen in days gone by, theory crafters are in the minority.  I want to play the game, not decipher whether or not a 1% change in something has any meaning, so the potential positives of going this route are a bit lost on me.

More % questions

More % questions

It doesn’t have to be this way.  And it does not have to go the route that World of Warcraft chose either, which is admittedly much simplified. (And where there is still an occasional “right/wrong” choice in some brackets according to theory crafters at places like Elitist Jerks.)  EverQuest II, which has a mind boggling array of options for Alternate Advancement points, has some of the best class specific choices that let you focus on what you want your character to be that can make a distinct difference in how you play your character and what skills and buff you get.  And, most of all, I feel like I am given enough information in a majority of situations to make an informed choices as opposed to having to us Google to find out what the trade-offs really are.

Anyway, I won’t be playing LOTRO much in the near future.  And by the time I get back to playing the game, somebody will have deciphered which choices actually impact your play and which are a waste of points.  Then I will be able to use Google to make an informed choice.

Why Can’t I Just Turn Off Achievements? November 7, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest II, Guild Wars 2, Lord of the Rings Online, MMO Design, World of Warcraft.
Tags:
21 comments

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

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

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

The lines were drawn, let the battle commence!

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

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

Vikund's Achievements

Vikund’s Achievements – Oct. 15, 2008

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

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

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

What if you could just turn them off?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSEplopachi

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

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

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

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

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

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

SBHHistoryBuff

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

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

Hah, finished!

Hah, finished!

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

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

But this does leave me with a few questions.

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

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

Destination? Journey? Destination? Journey? October 23, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, MMO Design, World of Warcraft.
14 comments

I always feel a mixed set of emotions when something like a double experience event gets announced.  Lord of the Rings Online has one going now as part of their ramp up to the Helms Deep expansion in November.

30 days of bonus XP!

30 days of bonus XP!

That is a pretty long stretch of double experience.  A lot of games will toss that sort of thing out for a special weekend or maybe a holiday or “please come back and play!” event over maybe a week.  But a 30 day stretch seems like a lot.  I cannot recall off hand any other game going for double for quite that long.  I wonder what SynCaine would say?

And when I saw that offer on the front page of the LOTRO site, a little voice within me said, “Wow, I should totally take advantage of that to get a few level!”

I mean, I made it through Moria with my captain on Brandywine (5th server, 5th guild)  and if I just pushed a little bit forward I could actually get into Siege of Mirkwood content that I purchased a couple of years back.

Not here, but I can see if from here

Look, I made it out the far side!

Basically, opportunity!  I should take advantage of it.

Then another voice in my head coughs and says something along the lines of, “Weren’t you just grumbling about how fast leveling is in MMOs these day?”

And I must sheepishly admit to myself that I have groused about how trivial, for example, the 1 to 60 game in World of Warcraft has gotten.   One of my issues in my quest to see the Horde side of the post-Cataclysm world is that I seem to out-level the quest chains in a given zone long before I am done.  The achievement for doing all the quests in Azshara, as an example, shows 60 quests to be completed.  But the zone had pretty much gone gray to me just after the 40 quest mark with one character.  And with another, with whom I did a couple of instances, I was beyond the zone before the 30 quest mark.  In fact, I was so far beyond that the Warchief’s Call board directed me to essentially skip the next zone in line as well.

Likewise, back in LOTRO, I was skipping whole sections of content.  I actually optimized my path through the game to visit some of my favorite zones… The Lone Lands and Evendim being two where I ran down the whole zone of quests… but otherwise leapfrogged until I could get into Eregion and then Moria.  Even in Moria I ended up skipping a big chunk of the content while running through some of the areas.  As it turned out, I think I picked the better areas… the content in Moria is somewhat uneven, with areas in the old fetch-and-carry quest hub model while other areas are in the more recent, more dynamic vein that Turbine has adopted… but there was still a lot left behind.

Of course, I write that in full knowledge of my own hypocrisy.  What is that I have equipped in my pocket slot?

everybody must get stoned

Everybody must get stoned…

What has it got in its pocketses indeed!  A 25% XP boosting item!

Well there’s your problem.

Or at least an insight into the problem, the competing aspects of such games that pull some people, like myself, in contradictory directions.

While seeing the world, experiencing the content, ought to be the part of the package, at the same time level based progression oriented games like this also push the achievement button for people.  As somebody who tends to be very goal oriented, at times I find myself quite caught up in the progress aspect of games.  Pushing on, getting another level, getting access to another zone, another instance, another expansion, another whatever, can quickly become my focus, especially if the content is nothing to write home about.  A series of fetch-and-carry and solve the local bear/boar/wolf problem quests become an obstacle to overcome in pursuit of the next stage of the progression aspect of the game.

In getting my fourth character to level cap in Rift before the Storm Legion expansion, my run became very much a matter of progress over everything else.

Progress, and giving feedback on progress, can be very powerful motivators.  There is a reason we went from the dark ages of TorilMUD, where you had to travel back to town to speak to your guild leader to see where you stood in your progress to the next level (and he would only give a vague answer that you could translate into which 10% segment of the climb you were in), to the tiny little five bubble experience bar in the character window in EverQuest which used to cause people to track progress in pixels (I had a friend who used to take a before and after screen shot every time he played so he could compare the bars and get an exact pixel count), to experience bars that are part of the main UI and which go from edge to edge across the screen, chopped up into nice little 5% increment.

This whole thing is exacerbated by the general “more levels” expansion plan that MMORPGs have been using since at least Ruins of Kunark.  When you start a game and you are staring at 85-90 levels to get to the latest content… presumably the “best” content, or at least the content where most of the population is playing… It becomes just that much harder to ignore progress in favor of content.

And it is not just the fantasy MMORPG where this holds sway.  I was thinking about why I left off playing World of Tanks earlier this year.  In part I think it was because I had hit a point where I was logging on every night to get my “first win” bonus XP with a couple of tanks on trees that I wanted to advance, and then logging off when I was done.  The fights seemed like they were becoming secondary to progression, at which point you sort of have to ask yourself why you are playing.  In my case, that dialog seems to happen somewhere in my subconscious and I simply stop logging in if it comes out the wrong way.  And now that I have picked up War Thunder, which has a similar daily bonus scheme, I wonder if I will end up in the same rut over there eventually.

It is easy at this point to say that we should focus on games without levels and the like.  But we will find our various progress metrics.  There are no levels in EVE Online, but people will track their progress in ISK, skill points, kills, standings, loyalty points, or being in one of the alliances on the sovereignty map.  We do like to have our cut and dried indicators.  And I think if you worked to eliminate all such things, you might just end up with no game at all.

Progress is in these games for a reason.  It can be both a good and a bad motivator.  I like the idea of getting to level cap.  In a number of MMOs my having arrived at that point meant me feeling done, in both a satisfying and a terminal way.  And progress, in my mind, is invariably tied in with the journey.  I couldn’t really get myself on board with SOE’s play to sell the jump to level 85 in EverQuest II.  In part that was because of the mire of skills and points and what not you are handed without any context.  But it also feels a bit like cheating, jumping up all those levels.  That is my own feeling anyway.  I wouldn’t point fingers at those who chose that path, but in my gut it feels like skipping all that progress… even though I have no inclination to do it myself at this point… is skipping the game.

Which sort of ties progress back to content in some odd way in my brain.  But, in the end, do I play the content in order to progress, or progress in order to play content?  And is there a “right” balance in there somewhere?

How do you feel about the balance between content and progress?

NBI – To All The Guilds I’ve Loved Before… October 22, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, TorilMUD, Warhammer Online, World of Tanks, World of Warcraft.
Tags: , ,
6 comments

Doone’s Permanent Floating New Blogger Initiative II has been up and running for a while now.  It has forums and goals and things to do and participants and all that.

Not the official logo

Not the official logo

And while I signed up as some sort of sponsor, I have so far completely failed to anything very sponsorly.

Of course, I was a bit glib the first time around as well.  In part that is because I have trouble swallowing some of the advice people throw out for bloggers.  And, also, because I have trouble taking myself seriously in this regard.  So while I came up with some bits and pieces of things that worked for me, my only real advice is to be the blog you want to read.  If you look at your blog and cannot answer the question, “Would I read this if it was written by some stranger?” then you might be doing it wrong.

Anyway, I thought it was about time to earn my so-called keep as a sponsor .  Doone has a couple of blogging activities for the month, including something called a “Talk Back Challenge” that appears to be an attempt get a few people tackling the same subject.  One of them happens to be about Guilds in MMOs.

Guilds: What For? What functions to guilds serve in games and what kind do you prefer? You can talk about your experiences in guilds, what attracts you to them, and their role in the games you play.

A broad enough topic, which has been taken on over at Casual Aggro, The Cynic Dialogs, and Away From Game.  And now at Inventory Full.

Rather than going about this by describing what I think guilds should be about and such, I thought I would do a bit of research to see what guilds I am still in (or which still influence me since I have left) and try, from that, to derive some indication as to what a guild appears to actually mean to me.

Because this is just a list of guilds with a few comments, I will hide this after a cut so as not to make the front page a mile long.

(more…)

Expansion Watch – A General Lack of Excitement September 11, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Gaming Industry Trends, Guild Wars 2, Lord of the Rings Online, Neverwinter, Star Wars: The Old Republic, World of Warcraft.
Tags:
21 comments

Normally I would say it was just me, content in my little gaming routine, that was feeling a lack of excitement about MMO expansions right now.

But after working for a good minute or two on the subject, I began to see some signs, and get a general sense, that I might not be alone on that front.  Certainly the game companies haven’t been doing much to light a fire.  And I say that while noting we are headed straight into the last quarter of the year when some companies traditionally ship, or at least announce, expansions.

This is what I have noted down so far.

EVE Online

CCP has been on the “about two a year” track for ages now.  Just look at the list up to June of this year.  Sometimes they slip one way or another, with their expansions running early or late.  And I am not sure if Revelations II should be counted as its own expansion or not.  But for the most part CCP has a system and it has worked.

Yet here we are into September and we just got Odyssey 1.1 with a whole pile of changes.  That seems awfully close to the margin when you want to start off rolling new features into the main code branch for integration and sanity checking reasons.  There is a hazard in changing things up too frequently.

On the flip side, CCP has not been very successful with the long wind-up for things.  See DUST 514.  And EVE expansions tend to have a pretty short cycle between announcement and go live.  So they may still be operating as normal.

EverQuest

The big news maker at SOE Live was EverQuest Next.  That was what everybody was talking/writing about.  But, somewhere amongst the sand art the talk of voxels was an announcement about the next EverQuest expansion.  The 20th expansion.  A big, fat hairy deal, making it to 20 expansions one would think.  And so this important milestone was named…

um…  where did I put those notes…

It was named Call of the Forsaken!  There is even an official title/logo/graphic thing, which puts it well ahead of the game compared to most other expansions at this point.

EQCotF

Given how much press it has been getting, that name might give the Chains of Eternity expansion a run for its money in the unintended irony department.

SOE has announced beta and pre-orders for the expansion, but as far as I can tell has not bothered to post a feature set or other details on the main EverQuest site.  I suspect that this is in part because the name of the expansion does not follow the standard naming format of “Something of Something,” which has lead to some internal rebellion by the web team.  Or they were part of the layoffs.

EverQuest II

Like its older brother, EverQuest II had an expansion announcement at SOE Live which was likewise completely overshadowed by EverQuest Next.  The new expansion, Tears of Veeshan, was announced in a hallway somewhere and hasn’t been heard from since as far as I can tell.  Unlike the EverQuest site, the EverQuest II web pages appear to have no mention of the expansion whatsoever.  Remember what I said about SOE and keeping excitement going?

The expansion is planned for November, so SOE has some time.  But it is starting to feel like past versions of Norrath are on the back burner while EverQuest Next hogs all the excitement by… uh… talking about whether female dwarves should have beards or not.  Jesus wept.

Guild Wars 2

No expansion for Guild Wars 2 has been announced or even discussed to my knowledge.  But when you are clearly making most of your revenue from selling boxes, and you have a history of selling boxes, it seems like you might want to get another box on the shelves at some point.

Lord of the Rings Online

At last, somebody who has an expansion in the works, who has announced it, and has followed up with… something.  They have a press release posted on their site at least.   And a logo.

LOTROHelmsDeep

And I guess they showed some stuff at PAX.  But if you were just me poking around on the web trying to find information about it, you might wonder if they were really serious.  Usually Turbine is out with the per-order incentives and such about now.  So far it seems pretty quiet for the Helm’s Deep expansion.

[Addendum - There is now an announcement for the expansion release date.]

Star Wars: The Old Republic

SWTOR already had an expansion this year, Rise of the Hutt Cartel.  That came out six months back.  But now, if you are a subscriber, you get it for free.  I am not sure what that says about how well it was doing.  And I have to guess that, if you’re a subscriber, it means you really like the game, so you probably bought it already.  Well, They have a little something for your trouble at least.

World of Warcraft

Ha ha ha, I know.  They just released Mists of Pandaria like a year ago.  That is practically yesterday in World of Warcraft terms.  And they just gave us the Siege of Orgrimmar update with all sorts of new features.  Even Kihei was on her level 90 reaping the rain of loot that is the Timeless Isle at the moment.  I am sure that will be nerfed significantly before I get there, while all the best noodle cart locations will be taken.  Yes, we got noodle carts with the patch as well.  I am not making that up.  Go read the patch notes I linked there, you’ll see.

Anyway, will the new stuff in patch 5.4 be enough?  Can a patch, no matter how feature rich, have the same draw or get the same attention as a full blown expansion.  As much as expansions expose the ludicrous nature of the level based system, often stacking the shiniest new content as far out of reach of new players as possible, it is the sort of thing that will get people to buy boxes and resubscribe.  So I will be surprised/dismayed/annoyed if Blizzard does not announce something like a WoW expansion at BlizzCon this November.  Hints about character remodels are not enough.

As slow as they are, Blizzard did get a Diablo III expansion into the queue for next year, so there should be something.

Others

That is just the stuff that springs to mind.  Are there any other expansions that ought to be noted?

I figure that Final Fantasy XIV and Neverwinter are too new.  Trion is probably too busy with the free to play conversion and their own internal turmoil to have anything set for Rift. And who else is there that might ship an expansion?

I am not sure how well selling expansions mixes with free to play in any case.  LOTRO has kept it up, and SOE is trying.  But other players in the space seem to be just dropping semi-regular content updates in the hopes that they can tempt you into spending at the cash shop, or at least annoy you into returning to the subscription model that I suspect some free to play developers still secretly love.  Why else would you sell hot bars at your cash shop?

But expansions have been, in the past, a community focal point, a way to get both your current and former customers excited about your game again.  Only I am just not feeling it this season.

Am I alone in this?  Are things different this year?  Or is it just too early in the season?