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Should Guilds Have Levels? October 21, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest II, Rift, World of Warcraft.
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14 comments

According to Blizzard the answer to that question is no, guilds should not have levels.

We got guild levels as part of the Cataclysm expansion, 25 of them, along with perks to go with those levels.  Those levels were not easy to acquire back then.  During Cataclysm our guild only managed to get to level 2.  Granted, we left not very far into the expansion, but we were there long enough to see that progress was going to be slow.

10% Exp Boost! Just what you need in WoW!

And it was work to get that far!

Earl, who actually kept playing WoW while we were away got us to level 3 pretty much on his own over the course of 18 months.

Blizzard revamped leveling with Mists of Pandaria, turning the dial probably too far in the other direction, as getting a guild to level 25 went from something you needed an active raiding guild to accomplish to something I probably could have done solo between the launch of the Siege of Orgrimmar and the coming of the Iron Horde.

We got the guild back together just after Siege of Orgrimmar went live and popped up from level 3 to level 25 relatively swiftly.

It was enjoyable.  It was nice to see those levels show up and get those perks unlocked.

TCLevel21

It was something to celebrate, something that we could all help out with even if we were just doing quests with an alt.  I thought it was great stuff and some of the perks were quite worthwhile.  As a guild we were especially big on the perk that added some coin to the guild bank every time a quest was completed.  It didn’t raise a ton of money, but it made for a nice guild repair fund.

But, with the coming of the Warlords of Draenor expansion and the 6.0 pre-expansion patch, Blizzard has removed guild levels.  We still have a few of the perks.

Twilight Cadre 6.0 perks

Twilight Cadre 6.0 perks

Some of the missing perks have just been made part of the game.  The speed between flight points perk got generally applied if I recall right and among the stats squished was the amount of experience you need to get to level cap, so the exp boost effectively went there.  Others, like our little guild bank filler perk, disappeared completely.  It seems that people were spam inviting new players to exploit them for this perk.

Blizzard took a while to make guilds something more than a name floating over your head and a chat channel.  We didn’t get guild banks until… was it with Wrath of the Lich King?  And then with Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria, and Warlords of Draenor Blizzard fleshed guilds out more with levels, turned it to easy mode, then threw it all away.  Bascially, over the course of four year, we went from no levels, to level 25 being a sign that a group worked hard, to level 25 being a sign that you had people playing, to no levels again.  Boom, gone, we’re done with that idea.

Which is odd, because guilds having levels isn’t exactly a rare thing.

EverQuest II, for example, went live (before WoW) with guild levels in place.

Our day one guild on Crushbone

Our day two guild on Crushbone

Yes, the whole thing was convoluted in that way that only SOE can manage on a first try.  You earned guild experience by acquiring status, but only designated “patrons” in your guild could earn experience for the guild, and the more people (or patrons) you had in your guild, the less of their status went towards guild experience. (Alts were thus not allowed in the guild, but when we made an alts guild, our guild leader got mad at us.)  And if one of the partons left the guild, they took their applied guild experience with them.  I remember our guild leader Wooflin being incensed when Oteb the Traitor, who we had vouched for because he was in our TorilMUD guild, left the Knights of the Cataclysm just after we had hit level 15, which at the time was the level where we got a status mount.  Whoops, no mounts for us until we earned back that guild exp.

Eventually SOE fixed some of the crazier bits and the whole thing settled down.  Earning guild exp got easier, but the fact that they kept piling on levels so that the guild level cap was always somewhere around the character level cap, meant that only the larger, more active guilds could expect to be at level cap and indulge themselves in all of the perks.  Gaff and I managed to ramrod the guild we created on the Freeport server as part of our ill-fated EQII instance group adventure to level 30 mostly on our own so we could have a guild hall, but after that the level curve continued to ramp up and we capped out at 42.

But even at lower levels guilds got identifying marks, like guild cloaks.  Small guilds can still have some nice things.

Shades of Twilight guild cloak

Shades of Twilight guild cloak

And as much of a pain as the guild levels were during the early days, I also remember them fondly (now).  They represented a point where the guild was working together to accomplish a goal.

While I would readily agree that a guild should be more than just what the game mechanics dictate… a guild is a social organization and if you feel yourself constrained by just having a chat channel then maybe you aren’t doing it right… having game mechanics like guild levels that a guild can work on together and which reward the guild can help build the social bonds without which you are just a bunch of avatars with the same guild tag floating above your head.

And it isn’t just EverQuest II.  While EverQuest never went the guild level route, other games have guild levels.  Some of them are similar, as with Rift, where you get perks and guild tasks you can work on together.

Tell me of these perks!

Our perks page early on

Others are of… more dubious value.  In Lord of the Rings Online kinships (guilds) have levels, but they are based on the age of the guild rather than anything anybody has done.  So at this point, having not really played LOTRO in over a year, all of the kinshipss I am in on various servers are at max level, more due to neglect than activity. (See my guild review for details.)

And then there is EVE Online, which turns the whole thing on its head.  In Soviet New Eden, guild levels you!  Sort of.  There are skills around running a corp, the EVE version of a guild, as there are skills for everything.  So while corps do not have levels, as your corp grows the CEO must level up the appropriate leadership skills in order to accommodate the change.  So The Mittani, CEO of Goonwaffe, which has 2,500+ members, might have had to train into Sovereignty, one of the Corporation Management skills, which takes more than 50 days to train to level I.

And I don’t even begin to know how alliances… groupings of corporations… work in New Eden.  But that is straying off the point.

Guilds having levels and such is a reasonably established thing in the MMO market.  And, in my experience, having levels that people can contribute to helps bring a guild closer together.  So I am somewhat disapp0inted that Blizzard has decided to dispense with the guild level thing.  Yes, we still have guild achievements, and those do actually unlock things.  But those are also somewhat focused.  You have to go do a specific thing in a limited group.  There aren’t a lot of them you can help out with by leveling an alt… a couple, but not a lot.  Killing a damn tauren rogue in a battleground, for example, would get us another achievement.  Do people even roll tauren rogues?

Anyway, I wish Blizzard would revisit the guild levels idea again in a future release.  And, Blizzard being Blizzard, if they do I am sure they will model it on an implementation that is already out there and working.  So the question is, who does guild levels best?  Who is totally winning on the guild levels front out there in the world?

Rift Joins the Insta-Level Club with Nighmare Tide Expansion September 5, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, World of Warcraft.
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11 comments

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

RiftNighmareTide

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

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

Nighmare Tide Editions

Nightmare Tide Editions

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

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

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

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

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

No, not Azeroth!

Remember this?

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

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

But will it stay that way?

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

The alleged price of level 90

Yours, if the price is right…

So I suppose that just leaves us with two questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

What Does It Mean to be a “Subscription MMO?” July 18, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, Sony Online Entertainment, Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Elder Scrolls Online, World of Warcraft.
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24 comments

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

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

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

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

Top Subscription MMO Revenue

Top Subscription MMO Revenue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subscription revenue

Subscription revenue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raptr Corrects My Perceptions – What I Played in 2013 February 4, 2014

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

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

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

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

Raptr2012MostPlayed

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

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

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

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

(more…)

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?

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.

What You Get in the Absence of Actual Information… October 18, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Rift, World of Warcraft.
Tags: ,
12 comments

In which I chase my tail in ever smaller circles.

Over the last seven years of blogging I have evolved something of a regular style and structure to my online musings.  There are a few standard posts I make, which I would sum up as:

  • I did a thing!  –  The general log of what I have done lately.  Generally things I want to remember;I moved a ship to Curse, I re-subscribed to WoW, I made it to the 21st hall in Moria.  Simple telling of a tale.  Probably the most common post on the blog.
  • The Instance Group did a thing!  –  A sub-set of the above, the ongoing tales of our group adventure.  Lately it has evolved into “The Instance Group did not do a thing.”
  • Remember that thing? – I pull out memories of some old game… Air Warrior, Stellar Emperor, TorilMUD… and try to assemble them into a coherent post.
  • A month passed with a lot of things – With 85 month in review posts already written, this is clearly part of the standard fare.
  • Things from my email – As you might suspect, something for days when I have nothing else to write about.
  • Quote of the Day – Somebody said something worth discussing.
  • Marking an event – A game shut down, an anniversary or other milestone has come, someone notable has passed.
  • I attempt something akin to a review – This never goes well.
  • Announcement of a new thing!  – A new game, patch, expansion, or feature is announced and I bring it up and try to figure out what it means to me.
  • A thing was announced, what does it really mean?  – Different from the above in the extent of information provided or how it links to the bigger picture are not stated outright, leading me in to speculation mode.

So that is ten standard-ish formats, with bit bucket, catch all, miscellaneous undeclared category to cover the remainders.

But it is that last one on the list that is often the most fun or interesting to write.  You take an announcement and whatever actual information is floating around on the web and you try to come up with a big… or at least bigger… picture assessment of what is going on.  It is a pretty standard format.  You see it on a lot of blogs.

I find it fun because it is the sort of thing I like to talk about.  But it is also pretty meaningless except as a discussion exercise because, as a complete outsider I (and most of my fellow bloggers) lack access to the whole story.  Key facts are missing and we are left to fill in the blanks.

For example, on Wednesday, I put up a post about Rift and the announced server merges.  It seemed to me that this was a sign that the post-F2P transition boom in popularity was over.

This was not unexpected.  It seems to be a standard phenomena when an MMO goes from monthly subscriptions to a F2P business model.  Once F2P hits there is a rush of new and returning players interested to see what is on offer, something I refer to as the “Happy Time.”  There is often a public statement about a revenue increase, which given that the business model transition was done for that reason, seems like a gimme.  Plus, the comparison often seems to be between low ebb of the previous model and the peak of the “Happy Time.”  You had best be able to multiply your revenue in that environment.

Eventually that settles down.  The company stops talking about revenue and players and such, unless they are a public company and it appears in the financial reports, and those of us outsiders are left to try to divine how things are going by inspecting goat entrails, reading tea leaves, and expressing disgust at the latest abomination being offered up in the cash shop.

I think the above scenario pretty much applies to Dungeons & Dragons Online, Lord of the Rings Online, EverQuest II, DC Universe Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and probably a few more;  business model transition, immediate declaration of success with increases in revenue and players, and then not much more on the subject.  No big deal.  All those games are carrying on and I do not expect that any will fold up shop in the next year.

But with Rift there were other data points.  The game had shut down in Korea and is headed the same way in China.  The parent company, Trion, had been through layoffs and office closings.  Outside of Rift, the company only has Defiance as a going concern, which has been awfully quiet while the companion TV series has been in re-runs.  And on the horizon for Trion there is End of Nations, which seemed troubled in beta when I tried it, and ArcheAge, which looks to me, perhaps unfairly, like yet another attempt by an Asian MMO to conquer the West.

So my speculation was that Trion might not be around as an independent entity a year from now.  Given the information available to me, that didn’t seem exactly like a shot out of left field.  The key there is “the information available to me.”

Later, in a special guest star, walk-on appearance, Scott Hartsman, CEO of Trion, left a comment on the post correcting me on my server count and dropping a tasty morsel about Rift’s F2P performance, saying that Rift has had the most sustained success in a F2P transition “by the numbers.”

On one hand, this is a fresh new data point for me, and a fair comment from the person who must certainly know more than I on the subject.  The “Happy Time” might be over, but it is far from gloom and gray skies for Rift.  My relationship with the game is…complicated… but I don’t want the game to go away.  Some day our regular group will return and finish its run through the five person instances.

On the other hand, that comment just opens up a new can of “what the hell does that mean?”  What numbers?  Representing what?  Compared to whom?

Must have more information!  Stop me before I speculate again! (And will Rift then make Raptr’s yearly list?)

Following this up was a comment from another reader who, among other things, expressed a desire to get away from the sharded existence (against which I have railed in the past) that seems to be the norm for MMORPGs and to move towards a single server concept, even if it meant going with instanced versions of zones as Neverwinter is doing.

I could hardly disagree with that idea.

The odd thing about the comment though was that he did not suggest moving away from shards for the good of the community or for letting friends play together rather than being stuck in different versions of the world.  No, he seemed more interested in removing servers so that people like me wouldn’t report server merges as bad news.

With a single server, there are no merges!  Nothing to see here, please move along!

That seemed to be going down the path towards gaming companies making even less information available, which actually seems to invite more speculation about the health and well being of such games, not less.  After all, we will find a way.  We will look at Raptr reports or weekly Xfire numbers or the number of instances of a given zone on a Saturday night (Only 2 instances of the Frostfang Sea? The game is clearly dying!), and build fresh sand castles in the face of the storm.

Which brings me to what I suppose is the question of the day.

Is it better for companies like Trion or Turbine to keep the health of their games under wraps, dribbling out a tidbit now and again but otherwise letting speculation run wild without a retaining wall of fact?

Or is it better to be in the boat with NCSOFT, Blizzard, and EA who must, as part of their financial reporting requirements, pony up an assessment backed up with financial data every quarter?

Which is better… or worse?  Rift announcing the closure of 30% (22 to 15) of its servers in a single announcement or being able to track, quarter by quarter, WoW losing 36% of its subscribers (from “more than 12 million” to 7.7 million) since the Cataclysm peak?

Or should we… you know… just go play the damn games already?

Rift and the End of the Happy Time October 16, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Rift.
Tags: ,
28 comments

The first thing I did when I leaned Rift was going free to play was cancel my subscription.

RiftFree

This was not a rage quit over the business model.  While I have reservations about F2P because of where the quest for monetization seems to eventually lead, I also see, as a player, some upside to the model as well.

The upside for an MMO going free to play is… or generally has been… a surge in players.  Servers, once desolate, are renewed with the very life’s blood of the game as new and returning players crowd into the game.  The world seems alive again.  You no longer have whole zones to yourself.  Queues for battlegrounds and such become tolerable.  Heck, if things are going really well, people might have to wait to log on.

I call this “The Happy Time.”

Every MMO that transitions from a monthly subscription model to a free to play model goes through it.

This is the time of the joyous press releases and the “everything is just grand” interviews.  Player numbers are up, revenues are up, and everything is going so remarkably well.

And then the glow fades.

The people who showed up to kick the tires or see what had happened since they left the game begin to fade away.  If the cash shop was stocked with one-shot purchases, like hot bars or bag slots, and vanity items, the ongoing grind to create and sell players on the next item begins in earnest.  And things begin to settle into reality.  The party is over and the need to make payroll and pay the the electric bill every month looms just a little larger in the gray morning.

The population isn’t likely to drop all the way back to the level it was just before the transition to free.  But the percentage of your population giving you money every month is likely to sink.  The point of free is to boost the population so that the economics of the cash shop work in the game’s favor.  And if you cannot manage that… well… things do not look good for the long term.

The happy time is over for Rift.  The warmth of summer has faded and a cold, dark winter looms.  Server merges have been announced.  The US server count will be dropping from 6 to 3 servers, while in the EU the number will drop from 8 to 4.  And, if I read the press release right, the only reason the number is as high as 4 is because Trion cannot currently support multiple languages in the interface on a single server.  But they are working on that, so you can expect the EU server count to drop further shortly after they get that working.

(Addendum: Per Scott Hartsman in the comments, and the shard status page, the total server count is actually more than that. The US count will go from 10 to 7 servers while the EU count will go from 12 to 8 servers with the planned consolidation.)

Game Director Bill “Professor Farnsworth” Fisher  has presented this in a “Good news everyone!” style announcement under the banner “Shard Unification!”

But this is not good news at all for Rift.  With the game already shut down in Korea and in the process of closing down in China, finding that the US/EU servers, which were running at capacity back in June, now need to be merged to sustain a viable population mix is a serious blow.

Of course, Trion Worlds is in the midst of other issues.  Scott Hartsman, who left as Rift’s executive producer back in January returned as CEO in August and quickly had to make some hard choices.  The Trion offices in San Diego and in the UK were shut down and the staff laid off.  Their game Defiance, which is tied in with the TV show, seems to be on shaky ground, while their MOBA title, End of Nations, remains in development after issues of its own.

So where does Rift stand today?  Once the plucky upstart that, under the “We’re not in Azeroth anymore” banner, was going to be all the things that World of Warcraft was and more while being more flexible and responsive and just better.

No, not Azeroth!

No, not Azeroth!

Rift seems to have lost its way.  The ambitious Storm Legion expansion seemed to get a lackluster response.  I know I had trouble getting into it.  The big transition to the new business model meant the live game faced some neglect.  And now that the big bet on free to play hasn’t paid off as handsomely as one might have hoped, we are left hanging, wondering what will happen next.

I wonder how Trion will move forward.  Will there even be an independent company named Trion in a year?  Or will investors sell the company to another publisher… EA is just up the road and not only has Trion done some work with SOE, but that is also Scott Hartsman’s old home… or merge the company in with some other investment.  Time Warner is one of Trion’s investors, and they also own Turbine.

As for why I cancelled my Rift subscription… well… the free to play plan as presented offered me no real incentive to do otherwise.  The was nothing that comes with being a “patron,” as subscribers are now called, that I felt I really needed.  The deal was, quite possibly, too generous.

Subscribers are called "Patrons" now

Your patron benefits

Meanwhile, the cash shop… which we discovered was linked in with all NPC vendors, so is completely unavoidable… has very little that interests me.

Welcome to every store in the game

Welcome to every store in the game

I haven’t spent many of the 20,027 units of Lucky Charms currency I was given as a veteran reward/pump priming exercise at the free to play transition.

I do not know where Rift will be in a year, but I have cannot imagine it will be sitting where it is today.

Where do you see Rift in a year?

Is Your Faction Getting the Short End of the Stick? August 16, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, World of Warcraft.
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Red Shirt Guy… you remember the Red Shirt Guy from BlizzCon, right… he got his own NPC in game… has an editorial up about the perception in World of Warcraft that the Horde is the favored faction and the the dev team prefers to work on things for the Horde to the detriment of the Alliance side of the coin.

Since he is a well established lore hound in addition to being a dedicated player, it was interesting to see his take on what has been a controversial topic from time to time.

Of course, the bias hasn’t always been that perceived the same way.  I recall a time when it was felt that the Horde was neglected because they did not have a “pretty” race.  And so they got blood elves.  And the Alliance got blue space goats.  Making things right or evidence of bias?

Anyway, this got me thinking about other games, and there are certainly times when I felt a faction was being neglected.

For example, when I started off in EverQuest back in 1999, I chose Qeynos as my starting place.  That was a mistake in some respects.  The city was somewhat neglected, was not the place to be if you wanted to craft, and was on the opposite side of a hostile continent from most of the player base.  They were all in Freeport where all the cool stuff happened.  So while I loved the Karanas, I still had to travel to Freeport time and again to by things or meet up with friends.

On the flip side of all of that, when it comes to nostalgia, being from Qeynos is now superior.  Freeport continued to be lavished with attention, getting a graphics revamp a while back.  Meanwhile, Qeynos remains in pretty much its original state, which is fine with me.

And the Freeport bias continued in EverQuest II, where at launch Freeport was a giant, over-wrought city or intricate detail.  And Qeynos was a nice place to live, but not very memorable.

In EVE Online there used to be some irregularities in the factions.  And I am not talking about the ships, which seem to favor one faction or another with each revision.  Long was the rule of the Drake and Hurricane battlecruisers before their nerfing.  But back when I was starting, there was a clear advantage to picking the Caldari faction and specific bloodlines and background, as you ended up with more, and more useful, skill points to start with.  That has since been fixed, but for quite a stretch there was a “right” choice when creating a new character.

And, to beat a nearly dead horse, there was Warhammer Online, where it sure felt like destruction had been given some better options when it came to character classes back when a lot of people actually played it.

You could go on.  the Guardians in Rift clearly got the better character models.  The dwarves and elves in Lord of the Rings Online get kind of crap starting zones in my opinion, while the hobbits just get a version of the human starter zone, then get jumped from Archet to the Shire, breaking the story line.

But you start to get to nit picking and things that are really opinion.  Some people might like the Defiant character models in Rift.

The question comes down to whether or not it really matters.  I think in a lot of cases, it really does not.  I got over the character models, you don’t spend much time in the starter zone, I’ve moved on to flying other ships, and once in a while it works out, as in the case of Qeynos.  Not that I let anybody forget the slight.

Of course, I am in favor of there being a more difficult faction available, something that makes the game more challenging for those willing to accept the assignment.

What about you?  Is there a faction getting a raw deal in your game?

We Get Around to the Storm Queen at Last July 3, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Instance Group, Rift.
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2 comments

For the first time in over six month, all five members of the Saturday night team were online last week.  And we were not even sure we would have all five until the last minute.  Earl was back from his travels and was on IM asking what he should patch up.  There was talk of tanks or cars or maybe another shot at Neverwinter.  But when it became clear that all of would be on, the choices dwindled down to one.  The only game we all play at the moment is Rift.

So we patched up, got into the game, and grouped up to see who had.  The line up was:

  • Jollyreaper level 51 mage
  • Zahihawass level 51 cleric
  • Earlthecat level 52 warrior
  • Hillmar level 53 cleric
  • Gizalia level 53 mage

And the goal of the evening was obvious.  We had to go finish off the first Storm Legion instance, The Exodus of the Storm Queen.  The last time we took a run at that, we ended up dying a combined total of ~100 times.

But first we had to goggle at the new cash shop some more and explain to Earl and Jolly what we had discovered the week before.  They were suitably impressed/confused by the complete buy-in Trion has committed to with their store interface, where anything you buy from vendor is there in the same interface with the RMT goodie.  And often enough, there are two prices on items, the in-game currency or “iron price” and the RMT currency or “lucky charms” price.

We poked around. I considered buying the 7th and 8th bag slot options, though declined for now because my bags were not all that full.  And we all claimed a few loyalty items, the derby being a popular choice.

Hillmar with a new hat

Hillmar with a new hat

After enough of that, it was time for business.  I was still parked in front of the portal to the instance, so we could ignore the looking for group tool this time around.  Once we were ready, I jumped through and dragged us all in.

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