Aradune – Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen

Well, we have a name from Brad McQuaid now.  Now all we need is a number.

Is this a metaphor?

Oh, and there is a picture to go with it.

Aradune's new project

Aradune’s new project

You can follow a Twitter feed focused on the project here.

Milestones: In with Wizardry Online, Out with Pirates of the Burning Sea

Wizardry Online is now a live, full fledged member of the SOE stable of games.

WizOnline

While it doesn’t really bring back the spirit of the original Wizardry for me… and really isn’t my cup of tea… it is now part of the line up, free to play if you want or as a subscription or part of SOE’s All Access Pass.

Some find me... disturbing

It was tough just getting past this screen…

It remains to be seen if this title will bring a lasting dungeon crawl experience or if their concept of “permadeath” will be a compelling feature. We shall see whether it lights a fire or languishes in the shadow of SOE’s other fantasy MMORPG titles.

Stropp has been in there for day one fun, if you are looking for a report on that.  He does mention that the “connecting” issue, that so many people have arrived here searching for, appears to be SOE completely lacking any sort of informative “you’re in the login queue” messaging.  You just sit there “connecting” until it is your turn.

Meanwhile, Pirates of the Burning Sea is taking its leave from SOE.

FLSlogo

Flying Lab Software will no longer be the developer and SOE no longer the publisher of this title. The following announcement went out to those of us still on their mailing list:

Ahoy there!

As you may know, Pirates of the Burning Sea (PotBS) will be leaving SOE’s family of games at the end of the month and setting sail with Portalus Games. Portalus may be a new name, but the people behind it are veterans of Flying Lab who love the game. They have banded together to form a new company whose sole focus is PotBS, and will continue running, developing, and expanding the game into the future.

I’m personally very excited about Portalus and I’m looking forward to where they’ll be taking PotBS, but it will be as a player, not as a member of the development team. I’ve had a lot of great moments in the development of Pirates, and while the details of these moments are wildly varied, they all revolve around the same thing: interacting with you, the players. We decided to build an MMO because we wanted to have a more direct relationship with our players, and PotBS came through in spades. I’ve enjoyed going out, and meeting and talking with so many of you, and I wouldn’t trade a moment of it for the world.

I want to thank all of you for your support, and if one day you’re sailing on the open seas, and you meet a grizzled old Pirate who talks about the old days, think a kindly thought for me. Then give him a broadsides and take his ship!! See you on the Burning Seas!

Russell Williams
– Co-Founder Flying Lab

Accounts can be migrated to the new company, which takes over today. The SOE servers will go down at 10:30pm PST. Instructions on how to migrate your account are on the Portalus Games web site.

While Potshot and I were there at launch and before with the pre-boarding pass (and once again adopting the French faction), the game never really stuck with us.

The French have the most attitude

The ship to ship combat was very good. It was about all you could expect from such a game and then some.

Broadside!

Most other aspects of the game fell flat for us however. Ship boarding combat was dull, the economy was convoluted, the strategic game was broken, and even finding ship to ship battles was unsatisfying. In less than a month we felt adrift in the burning sea, rudderless and uninterested in where the current might take us. And so we left the game, though it sailed on.

Onward!

And while I always intended to come back and check on how things had progressed after our short time in the game, it never came to pass. There are always more games to play than time in which to play them.

As with Wizardry Online, the future remains to be written. Will this be a rebirth for the now five year old game, or has it merely been moved to hospice care where it can die quietly?

SOE Station Access Returns to 2004… And Then Some

I was going to wait until SOE posted something official on the SOE web site about the Station Access price reduction, but their community team seems to all be at E3 and unable to do anything besides post pictures to the SOE Facebook page.

I thought a bit of caution might be required, since the stories that announced this coming price reduction all seemed to lack an official original source to which they could link to, only linking to other similarly sparse reports on the subject.  Given how the press “misunderstood” and repeated certain stories during the Sony hacking fiasco, I thought a little care with SOE related stories would be a good thing.

Color me a cynic.  I want the deal in writing.

But I am also impatient, so let’s just treat this as if it is true, and that SOE is going to reduce the price of Station Access to $19.99 a month, down from its current $29.99 a month, at some date which we will refer to as “soon.”

I remember when Station Access was announced, way back in late 2004.  A mere $21.99 a month would cover your subscription fees for all of the Sony Online Entertainment MMOs. (I had to go back to my SOE billing history to get that number.)

For me, the fact that I could be subscribed to EverQuest II and still go tinker around in EverQuest was a decent draw at that price, but the clincher was the fact that, with Station Access you also got a couple more character slots in EQ2.

I will grouse to my dying day about SOE launching a game with 24 character classes that only allowed you to make four total characters.

The price went up to $24.99 later on, and then just a little over four years ago it jumped up to its current $29.99 a month.

The speculation at the time was that this was to help cover Vanguard being brought into the SOE family of MMOs, and there was worry that with each new game a future price increase would come.

Fortunately for those of us at the consumer end of things, the price did not rise any further with the addition of games like Pirates of the Burning Sea.  I would guess that the $29.99 price seemed to SOE to be perhaps the most the market would bear.

For those who are not familiar with Station Access, it is one of the SOE subscription plans.  It allows the subscriber to play any of SOE’s online games as though they have subscribed to that particular game.

In theory you must buy the game box before you can play any particular game.  In practice I was able to download and play Star Wars Galaxies, The Matrix Online, and Planet Side without paying for anything aside from my Station Access subscription.  And the games you play benefit, as your Station Access subscription is allocated out based on what game you play over the month.

At $21.99 it was a hell of a deal.

At $24.99 it was still a very good deal.

But at $29.99 the package deal lost some of its luster.

At that price it was a penny more expensive than simply having two month-to-month subscriptions for any given pair of SOE games.  Furthermore, with a standard subscription you can get a further discount by subscribing in 3, 6, or 12 month increments, something not available to Station Access subscribers who can only pay on a month-to-month basis.

This lead to a rather amusing, in my opinion, Station Access Savings Calculator that would tell you how you could “save” nearly $75 a month in subscription fees (if you otherwise subscribed individually to every SOE game), but could not explain why you should subscribe if you only played one or two SOE games.

So unless you were active in 3 or more SOE games on a regular basis (and there are some of you out there who have been at times… I’m looking at you Stargrace and Tipa… and speaking of Tipa, her comment on this post is worth noting just for context) or really needed one of the few other benefits that Station Access offered (like more character slots in EQ2… of that I am guilty), the value proposition for Station Access was not so hot.

But now, if the news is to be believed, Station Access is being reduced in price, back to a level below what seems like a good deal back in 2004.  At $19.99 a month I would subscribe to SOE games only via Station Access, if only to allow myself to peek into EverQuest now and again and keep myself going in both versions of EverQuest II.

Which leaves me with the usual question, “What does it mean?”

Certainly SOE has been a leader in subscription options.  Just looking at EverQuest II, does any other competing game offer as many ways to subscribe and play?  We have free (EQ2X only, granted), $10 forever (ibid), a 3 day a month plan (EQ2 Passport), a standard monthly subscription, and Station Access.  If there was a lifetime plan and an option to buy your subscription time with in-game currency I think they would have almost all the current options in the MMO sphere covered.

But with all of that, why upset things with a radical change in the price of Station Access?

My speculation, and that is all it is, is that the market has changed, both inside and outside of SOE.

Back when EQ2 launched, $15 a month was the defacto standard subscription fee.  (Remember how we scoffed, well I did, when Mark Jacobs suggested that Warhammer Online might charge more, positioning it as a premium game? And now the first 10 levels are free.)  $15 was the line, and the MMO companies held to that, because there were not a lot of options for your western fantasy MMO dollar.

But with the market now flooded with choices, price has become one of the points of competition.  With Lord of the Rings Online, for example, even before it went free to play if you couldn’t find a way to subscribe at $10 a month (basically a $5 discount off the list price) you were not trying hard enough.  And after going free to play, $10 a month became the standard monthly VIP price.

$15 a month has gone from being the standard to being something of the cap on MMO subscription pricing.  How can you charge MORE than WoW, the bestest MMO ever if we use subscribers as our sole metric like so many people do?

So for something like Station Access to “feel” like a deal, pricing it at double WoW is no longer really viable.

And SOE has changed as well.  When Station Access came out… and even when it went up to $30 a month… SOE games were all monthly subscription that, with the exception of Planet Side, were at the standard $15 a month.

Now, however, we have FreeRealms which is nominally free, as are EverQuest II Extended, Pirates of the Burning Sea, and Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures.  If that does not necessarily break the Station Access model, it certainly adds a new dynamic to it.

And you have Station Cash, which has been around for a while now and which was not met with enthusiasm. (And it still has the purists screaming. See race change potion on Fippy Darkpaw.)  Station Cash has become, over the last two and a half years, an increasingly bigger piece of SOE’s revenue pie.  And this, I am going to guess, is probably the key item.

While market changes certainly had no small influence, I am going to bet that somebody did the math, went through and figured out how much revenue there was in attracting each free to play player and how much that revenue changed… went up… when a free to play player converted to a subscription.

Those would be very interesting numbers to see, but I would guess that Station Cash purchases for a player that commits to a subscription are higher than for a free player.  And, I would additionally be willing to bet that somebody willing to spend Station Cash in one game is more likely to spend it in other SOE games.

And if that is the case, getting somebody to commit to all of your games probably nets out better in the long run if Station Access is less expensive because more people are likely to commit over all.

Or so goes my theory, which I will summarize as “market change and the increasing importance of Station Cash purchases to the SOE bottom line.”

Syp took a look at the value proposition of the change, which for a consumer can simply be said to be “better,” but I haven’t see much on the “Why” front.

What do you think is really driving this change?

Addendum: They posted the webcast to YouTube and mentioned the Station Access pricing change in their post on the Station Blog, so we now have something in writing.  Still no details… like an actual date.

SOE – They Are Back

Gah, I made this graphic a week ago.  Wish I could have used it a bit sooner.

Servers starting to come up.

It is 17:30 Pacific time and I am actually in EverQuest II Extended right now.

Still, I stand by my last post.  They could have said “try later tonight” or something to that effect.

Addendum: the finalized Welcome Back info chart is available here.

No SOE This Weekend – Looking to the Future

SOE has not put up a “not today” message since Thursday.  I’m not sure if that is a bad thing or a good thing. They did say it would be a few more days at that point, so I guess they felt they were covered… at least for a few more days.

So it looks like the weekend is out.

I think the next stage will be to start announcing that the servers will be up “soon.”  Long time SOE veterans know what that means.  There is even an official definition in the knowledge base.

"Soon" Defined - Click for Full Size

Hopefully this will be the last weekend down.

On another comment thread I made a dire prediction that if SOE was down for three weekends or more, it would pretty much be the end of SOE as we know it.  If it is only two… well, what do you think will happen?

This is going to be costly outage for them.  They are not currently billing and won’t bill players for the down time.  Thus every day down costs SOE a lot, in case you were wondering if they were motivated to move as fast as possible on this.  Plus they have promised to give each subscriber an additional 30 days free for their trouble.

Can SOE get back to business as usual while losing almost 2 months of revenue this year?

SOE – Still Down, But “Make Good Plan” Details Released

No news on the “when will things be back up” front, but the “Make Good Plan” has been detailed here.

In addition, the details for the All Clear Identity Theft Protection plan have been posted here.

The announcement, for US customers, is quoted after the break for posterity.

Continue reading

SOE – Still Not Up, Mentions “Make Good Plan”

From the SOE Facebook page (and Twitter feeds)

All SOE games and sites are still offline as of May 11th and will not return today. Thank you again for your continued patience and support as we diligently work on these issues. More information on SOE’s “Make Good” plan to come!

That had better be a hell of a plan. [Plan Details Here]

Addendum; The team at EQ2 Wire has summed up where things stand and how short of real information we really are.

Sony – What Does Taking May Off Portend?

Sony has come out and said that they may not have the PlayStation Network up and going until May 31st.

If they make that date, and who knows what is optimism and what is pessimism these days, that would put them off line for 41 days.

There is no news about SOE specifically, but there is no reason to think that they will be up any time sooner.

May 31st would put SOE games like EverQuest, EverQuest II, Vanguard, and Star Wars Galaxies down for 28 days, including 4 critical weekends.

So in addition to the people who won’t be back because they feel Sony has broken their trust, it seems likely that a segment of the player base that is less than fully invested in SOE games may wander off and find something else to do with their time.

The potential for one weekend down seems easily survivable for SOE.  Things could go back to business as usual.

But four weekends down?  The loss of essentially a month of billing and Station Cash revenues plus another month of billing to be given out as an inducement to get people to return is going to be a big hit.  Q2 2011 is going to be a financial disaster for SOE, a company that just had to shed nearly a third of their staff.

You cut like that when you are in a hole.  Now, rather than climbing out of the hole, the bottom has dropped out and the hole has gotten deeper.  How do you counter that?  You boost revenues (unlikely) or cut costs (even more).

My prime concern is that this will invite SOE’s PlayStation lords and masters into the picture even further.  And when you have a hardware group who only cares about software that runs on the PlayStation 3 getting further involved with decisions and planning, visions of the future start to look grim.

What will SOE look like a year from now?  A small group supporting DC Universe Online, FreeRealms, and EverQuest II Extended?

And with the way DCUO seems to be headed, will that even be in the picture?

No SOE This Weekend

We wanted to let you know that our games will not be up this weekend. We are working around the clock to get our services back up and running soon. Thank you for your continued patience and support.

From the SOE Facebook Page

Ouch.  It is one thing to be offline during the week, but we are now into prime time, the busiest time for an MMO.

But then, the PlayStation Network shows no sign of coming up any time soon either.

Here is hoping for next week.

SOE To Remain Offline Until Friday… Or Longer

The key quote from this article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, noted over at EQ2 Wire:

Rodriguez added that Sony Online Entertainment’s network would be shut down until Friday and possibly longer. The company has contacted the FBI to investigate the attack.

And if the shut down bleeds into people’s weekend free time, their weekend game time, then people will start looking for something else to play.

As Syp sort of asked, can SOE recover from something like that?

There is the player base in general to consider.  Surely the hard core, long time players will return, but I wonder how fragile the EverQuest II Extended player base is.  Dose free to play’s low bar to entry also imply a low threshold to abandonment?

Then there is the who question of confidence in Sony, SOE, SCEA, et al., in holding our personal data.  Should Sony, as Cringley and Lum suggest, outsource the whole thing to the likes of PayPal or PlaySpan?

(PlaySpan is now owned by VISA, which I think gives it the legitimacy to be considered.  Games like World of Tanks use it already.)

Or will we all forget about this in a month or two and things will be business as usual… until it happens again?

Addendum: Develop has posted an excellent time line of the Sony PSN and SOE hacking saga.

(I recall all the grief I got for not wanting to give EA-Mythic a credit card number in order to take advantage of their 10 free days offer.  Doesn’t seem so unreasonable now, does it?)