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SOE Live – The Norrathian Front August 19, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, EverQuest Next, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags: ,
11 comments

SOE Live went off this past weekend in Las Vegas and, in my typical hope in the face of reality sort of way, I tuned in to watch several of the live streams with the idea that SOE might have some magic potion that would tempt me back to one of their games… or would tell me something about the one I was looking forward to.

SOE Live 2014

SOE Live 2014

So the keynotes for EverQuest, EverQuest II, and EverQuest Next were on my list, as well as a couple of the follow up panels and the main keynote.  Norrath is clearly what draws me to SOE.

However, the one thing I did not do was take notes while watching the streams.  Why would I?  Any normal company doing big announcements for various products which they had been working on for weeks, and which obviously had time to get press briefing packs complete with graphics and what not together, surely would have all of that information posted on their web site shortly after the respective keynotes.  Right?  I mean Blizzard had everything from their Thursday morning live stream up for the world to see on their main page by early afternoon the same day.  SOE had all the information together.  It should have been tee’d up so that after each keynote, somebody pressed a button to update the respective site so that all of your user facing media is delivering the same message.

But no, this is SOE.

As of my writing this, there is none of the information from SOE Live on the respective sites or forums as though none of this had happened.  So I had to thrash around looking for what other people wrote to get details that I would have written down had I not forgotten yet again how SOE runs their railroad.

EverQuest – A Return to Pirates

The EverQuest announcement focused on the upcoming expansion, as one would expect.  This time around SOE is returning to the nautical theme last visited with The Buried Sea expansion.  This time it is The Darkened Sea, which will launch on October 26 for All Access Pass members and on November 11 for the unwashed free to play masses.

Firiona Vie wet armor contest!

Firiona Vie wet armor contest!

The level cap goes up from 100 to 105 with this expansion.  There are more zones, access to the bazaar from outside of the bazaar, and a few other goodies.  As essentially an outsider to EverQuest content after… well… The Planes of Power really, though I have gone back for a couple of runs since… it is tough to find something to get excited about here.  Even Bhagpuss seems relatively calm in his words, tucked in at the end of a long post about SOE LiveEverQuest is catering to the installed base, we have long known that.  But even then, I don’t recall The Buried Sea being a fan favorite back in the day.  The blog review of it over at the past version of Mobhunter, when Loral was writing it (internet archive for the win, I miss Loral) seemed to be lukewarm at best.

But there it is.

EverQuest II – And Malice Towards None

Is EverQuest II the current standard bearer for Norrath?  I cannot tell if it is more popular than EverQuest or not.

Anyway, there was a small disturbance in the community force a few weeks back as the EQII forum dwellers started getting a bit testy about SOE’s trend towards social media and streaming and what not, to the point that information that would normally be in the forums first was falling all over the place.  I have long complained that SOE has favored their forums and used them as their primary method of information distribution as opposed to the web site they allegedly maintain for that purpose, and which is the first point of contact for any new player.  But at least with their forum bias they were concentrating in one spot, so at a minimum I knew I had to dive into the forums if I wanted current information.  Now I am not sure where to find things.

Or I wouldn’t be if it wasn’t for Feldon over at EQ2 Wire.  He keeps on top of that game like no other.  So it was a bit disappointing to see that SOE left him off the list of sites to be fed information in advance of Altar of Malice expansion announcement at SOE Live.  The embargo on that news dropped five hours before the EverQuest II keynote, so anybody paying attention knew all the details before the presentation.

So, yes, a new expansion, the Altar of Malice.

A surprisingly well clad dark elf female

A surprisingly well clad dark elf female

The expansion brings in a new race… the Aerakyn, another one with built-in wings that can fly, though unlike that vampire race from a few years back, you won’t have to pay $80 to unlock all of its abilities… new dungeons, new raids, new overland zones, and a boost to 100 for most flavors of levels. (adventure, trade skill, guild)

The interesting bit for me are the level agnostic dungeons.  These run from level 20 to 89 and are suppose to make the process of leveling up to the more recent content… and the main mass of the player base… more fulfilling or some such.  I think the phrase was “not wasted.”  Currently, with the the state of abilities, both alternate advancement related and otherwise, jumping up through the first 60 or so levels tends to be challenging mostly in the form of figuring out what some of the outdated quest text really means.  So I gather that this is suppose to be more of a challenge so as to make game play fun.

Sounds good to me.  A pity that our past run in with EverQuest II with the instance group ended up with it on the banned list, as that sounds kind of like what we needed back then.

And, on the sea theme from EverQuest, there are also some islands involved, including the long lost Isle of Refuge, where we all used to start back in the day via the shipwrecked survivor video game trope.  There is also an island with dinosaurs.

Then there are all the other details.  Rabbit mounts.  A revamp of the extraneous deity system.  Another rank or two for spell/skill quality.  And a cross-server dungeon finder.  I am curious as to how dungeon finder works for EverQuest II, though not curious enough to actually go ruin somebody elses’ day by logging in a queuing up myself.

This all goes live on November 11, which is going to make for a busy week.  The EverQuest expansion above goes live for everybody that same day and just two days later, Warlords of Draenor launches.  (And then Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire come out less than two weeks after that.  Where will I find the time?)

As noted, all the details, live blog of the keynote, slides from the game mechanics presentation, and more are over at EQ2 Wire.  Check it out.

EverQuest Next – Dark Elf Disco

 EverQuest Next is where my hopes truly lie.  The idea that SOE could miracle their way into something that would tempt me back to the two remaining members of the Norrathian franchise (out of what, a dozen total EverQuest games according to Georgeons?) has always been a forlorn hope.

But EverQuest Next is the future.  The lack of news on that front has banked the flames of passion for that title, they remain aglow, waiting for the day when we get something tangible.  This was the keynote to which I paid the most attention, and which was both the most interesting and the least satisfying at the same time.

We got a look at some architecture, especially some of the dark elf stuff in its moody, pointed glory, some of which came from the fan base via Landmark.  SOE’s crowdsourcing/exploitation pays off.  They also showed some examples of the dark elf character models.  Dark elves are apparently the most popular race in both EverQuest and EverQuest II at this point, so it is important to get them right. (Screen grabs from the stream.)

The art all looked very good and very much made me want to go there… wherever “there” was… and explore.

Then the devs introduced the wizard, warrior, and cleric classes and went through some combat situations with them.  This was by far the most impressive bit.  Each was a quick run through of some combat encounters, followed by a step by step replay where he described what was going on at each point.  The combat looked fluid and dynamic and exciting.  Various moves flashed or blurred or exploded in very satisfying ways and there were no little damage numbers popping up, which helped with the visceral feel of the combat.  The little kid inside of me was shouting, “Oooh! Oooh! Let me try that! I want to do that!”

I recommend watching the replay of the keynote, which is available on YouTube.  The combat segment picks up at about the 29 minute mark and runs for about 20 minutes.

Of course, the downside to all of this was that there is no date in sight for EverQuest Next.  Speculation is that a launch is at least two years away.  Certainly they have to get all of Landmark nailed down first, as it represents the foundation on which EverQuest Next will be built.  So until Landmark is solid and stable and fully featured and live there can be no EverQuest Next.

Bummer.

David Georgeson invited us all to go read the ebooks that are being used to build up the lore for the game to tide us over… which I was honestly tempted to do after the combat stuff… but publicly SOE still seems most focused on Landmark and likely will remain so for some time.

Return to Norrath?

So while I found bits and pieces of all of the presentations interesting, is there anything that would make me focus on EverQuest or EverQuest II as my primary game?

Probably not.

I am in the odd duck position of having been away too long for both titles at this point, so the new stuff being piled on top of the level curve is so far away as to be effectively unreachable given my reserve of patience, but the old stuff I would have to work through… well, it didn’t interested me enough when it was new stuff to work through it.   The 20-89 level agnostic dungeons in EverQuest II are interesting, though I probably wouldn’t bother with them until level 40 or so, as the 1-40 game is the heart of my nostalgia for the game.

But who knows.

With the autumn I always seem to be hit with a bout of video game nostalgia.  Maybe I will heed Norrath’s call yet again?  Though unless Warlords of Draenor slips, it seems unlikely.

How about you?  Is Norrath in your future?

A Busy Thursday in August for MMOs August 14, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, EVE Online, Sony Online Entertainment, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
8 comments

Here it is Wednesday night and I am wondering what I am going to post about tomorrow.  I have several choices, as tomorrow appears to be a busy day in the MMO world.

Blizzard

At 9:30am Pacific Time (16:30 UTC) Blizzard is going to do their big announcement for the date for the Warlords of Draenor expansion.

Save the date! Which date?

Tell us the date

That is the date people have been waiting for… and predicting would come early or earlier… since the beginning of the year.  My own pick back in January was September 9th, a date judged as pessimistic by some.  Now I am going to guess November 18th, right near the 10 year anniversary but just before the holiday season begins in the US.

Blizzard will also be showing us the cinematic for the expansion, which will no doubt be much discussed, but won’t tell us much more than the story behind the whole thing.

CCP

Then just a couple hours after that, at 20:00 UTC (13:00 Pacific Time), CCP will be holding their own live stream on their Twitch channel to present the next expansion for EVE Online, Hyperion.

No Hyperion graphic yet...

No Hyperion graphic yet…

So far this has been billed as the big “fix wormhole space” expansion.  I didn’t even know W-space was broken, but players will work whatever system is in place.

Sony Online Entertainment

Then in the evening, at some point past 19:00 Pacific Time (2:00 UTC) SOE will be having their SOE Live Welcome Keynote address.

SOE Live 2014

SOE Live 2014

This will also be on their Twitch channel, though  SOE is trying to get people to put down $20 for their channel, so I am not sure what you get for free.

SOE on Twitch with Goodies

SOE on Twitch with Goodies

While we probably won’t get much in the way of details, this is the likely point during the event for any big announcements.  This will produce news, and I will be watching the EQ2 Wire blog for a summary. (And they have a list of streamed SOE Live events.)

BioWare

And at some point today BioWare will be launching the latest Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion, Galactic Strongholds.

Housing!

Housing!

This will be the housing expansion for SWTOR and I will be interested to hear what path they have chosen for this and how players react.

Addendum: Or maybe not.  I thought there was a live stream planned for today about housing, but I must have dreamed it.  Probably for the best.

Others?

Meanwhile, Gamescom is still running in Germany and I haven’t checked to see if any other developers have decided that the second Thursday in August is THE day to announce something, but I won’t be surprised if somebody else is on board.

Which announcements will you be paying attention to?

SOE Live 2014 – What Are You Wishing For? August 12, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, EverQuest Next, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags: , ,
8 comments

Currently I am not very invested in any SOE games.  I pay some attention to changes in EverQuest, with occasional glaces towards EverQuest II, based mostly on nostalgia for the “good old days,” but otherwise there isn’t much in their current lineup that thrills me.  Landmark has some potential once it gets closer to being feature complete.  EverQuest Next has raised some enthusiasm, but exists only as a blur on the horizon at this point.  And the other remaining titles aren’t really my thing.

But here it is, the week of SOE Live, the time for announcements big and small.  Yes, whatever Smed says during the Thursday night keynote will likely be overwhelmed in the news cycle by Blizzard’s big Warlords of Draenor announcement planned for earlier in the day… I think the timing was more to head off the subscription numbers news than to stick it to SOE, but they seem to have gotten a threefer on that one if you include the SWTOR hit as well… plus there is Gamescom this week as well… but some of us will still be paying attention to SOE.

SOELiveLogo

And because it is that time, I am asking myself what I would like to see and what I expect come out of the event.  SOE Live can bring with it some very big news.  Last year had a lot of people talking about EverQuest Next.  What will we get year?

What I Expect

  • Some firming up of the Landmark timeline, with some more details about specific features, but no real “go live” information
  • Expansion announcements around EverQuest and EverQuest II, though as the F2P years roll along I am not sure expansions have all that much impact any more unless they raise the level cap or add new AA features
  • An open/paid beta plan for H1Z1 with an estimated date for access that will be off by at least a month
  • Something about fixing whatever woes are currently afflicting PlanetSide 2
  • Some more screenshots and in-game video from EverQuest Next, but nothing playable and no concrete details

Things I Would Like to See

  • A date for Landmark to be feature complete and generally available for those who didn’t pony up for a pay-to-test package. (Even if it is off by 3-6 months.)
  • Something solid, tangible, and new about EverQuest Next
  • Or just something that ignites some hope that EverQuest Next will be a game I want to play

Things I Fear Might Be Communicated

  • Closing down PlanetSide… well, that might not be a fear for me, but I do wonder how it is still running
  • Little or nothing about EverQuest Next
  • A draw down of content for EverQuest, no more expansions, limited content updates on a vaguely expressed timeline
  • That some new game is dedicated to the dispossessed players of another SOE title that has been shut down (e.g. The planned science fiction biome in Landmark is really dedicated to former players of Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures)
  • Some new technological dead end like SOEmote or SOE Launcher to eat up dev cycles for no real benefit or follow through (cue Sony Olfactory Enhancements or some such)

Dreams Likely to be Unfulfilled

  • Something about the next EverQuest nostalgia focused server, progression, classic, or otherwise
  • An announcement that an EverQuest II nostalgia focused server… original content, steeper leveling curve, more difficult mobs, or whatever… is in the offing
  • Something that might otherwise revive my interest in either EverQuest or EverQuest II… but I don’t know what… what is the “fix these games for Wilhelm” plan?
  • An open/paid beta plan for EverQuest Next with an estimated date for access… this I might pay for… maybe
  • Something about hats… no… wait…

From Left Field on Bizarro World Unlikely

  • The Agency being revived on the PlanetSide 2 platform ala H1Z1
  • The return of any dead SOE game
  • A new game announcement
  • The EverQuest Next plan being completely revised from last year’s announcement
  • EverQuest Next being cancelled
  • A ship date for EverQuest Next

So those are my various lists.  What do you want to see, expect to see, or fear might come from this year’s SOE Live?

 

Do You Remember Dragon’s Prophet? August 8, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Misc MMOs, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags:
10 comments

Whenever I end up looking at the SOE MMO lineup, I am always surprised to see a new MMO on the list.

SOE Live 2014 list

SOE Live 2014 list

Down on the bottom row, second from the right, is Dragon’s Prophet.  And every time I see it, I think, “Hey, that’s new!”  As recently as my post post about the demise of Wizardry Online I was ready to add in that Dragon’s Prophet was the new Asian import set to replace it in the SOE lineup.

DragonsProphet450

But that isn’t right.  That isn’t right at all.  And it was a good thing I checked up on it before I published that post. (See, I do catch some errors before I click the “Publish” button!)

Dragon’s Prophet has been out for nearly a year at this point, having launched in September of 2013, which means it was already a thing back when SOE announced it was closing four titles back in January… and I totally forgot about it then as well.

I just cannot seem to remember that Dragon’s Prophet is a thing.  I cannot tell if SOE just did a bad job publicizing the game’s launch, if it just go over shadowed by all the excitement around the EverQuest Next at SOE Live just a month before its launch, or if I am just getting old and/or can’t be bothered to care about Asian import MMOs… at least when their not trying to destroy cherished game of my youth with scantily clad horned gnomes.

Could almost change my mind about gnomes

Not part of MY Wizardry head canon

Whatever the reason, the game just could not seem to stay attached to my brain.  Which is odd because, while I do not actually play any SOE games regularly at this time, I do tend to pay attention to what they are up to.

Anyway, I decide I could fix this by giving the game a quick try.  I was encouraged to do this because of who made the game.  Unlike Wizardry Online from Gamepot, which appears to be batting 1.000 on the “games closed in North America” front, Dragon’s Prophet was developed by Runwalker Entertainment who also created Runes of Magic.

Runes of Magic is actually the only decent Asian import MMO that comes to mind.  It managed to cater just enough to western sensibilities to survive and thrive outside of the Asian market.

Of course, five years back, when Runes of Magic landed on the scene, it was kind of a big deal.  It was going to be the Asian import that “got” how to make an MMO for the west and it was coming in as a free to play game by design, at a time when F2P was mostly a niche for MMOs that failed badly at the subscription thing.

And Runes of Magic was even a bit controversial back in 2009, at least in our little corner of the blogesphere.  The game dared to charge $10 for a horse!  This practically set a few people’s hair on fire with the rage.  Doesn’t that all seem charmingly naive five years down the road?  Today if some game has a mount for just $10, it generally means it has been marked down.

But it was still a decent game despite the patcher, which I am reliably informed has remained just as awful to this day.  We actually got out there and gave the game a try, assessing its potential for the instance group.  We even did and instance and got housing and tried crafting and invested a bit of real world cash into the RMT currency before letting it drop.  I am not sure why we never went back at this point.  At the time we were busy with our horde group in World of Warcraft, and after Cataclysm we tried a number of games but never landed in RoM.

Anyway, the remaining impression of the game five years down the line was reasonably favorable.  And my impression of Dragon’s Prophet, after a few hours of play, is likewise reasonably favorable.

The character models themselves look a bit like RoM graphics brought forward five years.  They are a little more real looking, but still anime influenced.  And upon logging in there was just an air about the game… some combo of the fonts and colors and general layout… that made me think of RoM.

Not sure what all those bars actually mean...

Not sure what all those bars actually mean…

The mechanics of the game itself though are different.  It was claimed by some that RoM was very much an attempt by an Asian company to clone WoWDragon’s Prophet is more influenced by the design philosophies of Asian MMOs.  Movement is done with the WASD keys, but you steer with the mouse cursor and combat is much more about mouse clicks than hotbars.

Take that you fiend!

Take that you fiend!

It feels much more like Neverwinter in mechanics than WoW.  You click for attacks, big graphics display for your move, big numbers bounce up showing your damage, and you can jump around avoiding incoming attacks which are often telegraphed in advance by big red indicators on the ground.

Now THAT is a lizardman!

Big orange slash in Neverwinter

The graphics aren’t as… nice… polished… realistic… something… well, they are different from Neverwinter’s style.  And Neverwinter’s draw is, to my mind, more about being in Forgotten Realms and the whole Foundry aspect of the game that lets you run through player created modules.  Neverwinter is more like Dungeons & Dragons (table top game, not DDO), with various modules that exist in the same world but which are not necessarily connected by stories or geography.

And Dragon’s Prophet does feel Asian, with many of the usual conventions, like women in mini-skirts and high heeled boots tromping around in the wilderness hunting zombies.

That's what Wizardry Online said...

That’s what Wizardry Online said…

But even Runes of Magic didn’t get away from that, right down to the housing helper in a skimpy French maid’s uniform.  And there are, of course, the WoW conventions that still must be catered to.

Always exclamation points

Always exclamation points

Otherwise it seems to fit the standard MMO bill.  You are the hero in the Dragon’s Prophet story.  People go about town talking about you like there were no other players in the game fulfilling the exact same role and performing the very same tasks.

Talking about me again

Talking about me again

That NPC comment would have been a lot more impressive if I had not been stuck on that little tree stump at that very moment.  Or maybe the game was being sarcastic.

Anyway, it doesn’t seem to be a bad game.  The graphics are decent.  It ran well for the few hours I spent with it.  The combat is very dynamic.  I am not sure I will be able to find time to play the game seriously.  It isn’t bad, but it is still way down my priority list.  And if I stop playing, I am not sure I will ever get any sort of trigger to start back up again.  As I said above, I almost never hear anything about the game.

So how about you?  Do you remember Dragon’s Prophet?

The PLEX Idea Continues to Catch On as Darkfall Introduces DUEL August 5, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, Sony Online Entertainment, WildStar.
Tags: , , , , ,
4 comments

We have another entry in the PLEX-like game item arena, this time for DarkfallAventurine has been busy revamping Darkfall: Unholy Wars… or Darkfall 2.0 or just Darkfall, since the original isn’t around anymore… with class overhaul, a cash shop, a presence on Steam, and a rework of the UI.

DFLOGO B-450

And with the latest update, Aventurine has joined the ranks of studios offering an in-game item worth subscription time that players can buy and then trade for the in-game currency.  Called DUEL (Or as they style it, D.U.E.L, with three periods because… why?) it can be purchased with Selentine (is that the in-game currency or the cash shop currency?) and then used to wheel and deal with other players.

This scheme has been seen before with SOE’s Krono, Carbine’s CREDD, Funcom’s GRACE, and, of course, CCP’s PLEX, which was introduced into EVE Online back in 2009.

It will be interesting to hear how this works out.

As I have said often in the past, this sort of thing works in EVE Online because the in-game economy is not optional.  If you play EVE, you have to buy in sooner or later or just stop playing.  With the other games on the list… the economy is optional, which has always left me wondering if their economies could support such a scheme.

Unfortunately, I do not play any of the other games offering this sort of item, so I have to go by what other people are saying.  CREDD seems to have been a good investment in WildStar if you got in early.  Some Krono shows up on the market in EverQuest and EverQuest II, but seems to be more active on the Trade channel where it can be used for barter for specific things in addition to being traded for the in-game currency.  And GRACE hasn’t been in Anarchy Online long enough for it to have settled down.

So I am left wondering if Darkfall has the critical mass of players and an active enough economy to make something like DUEL viable.  I was interested to see that, despite its hardcore nature, Aventurine opted to make DUEL unlootable when you kill another player.  No headline comedy.  Of course, CCP started off with PLEX being stuck in stations, so maybe DUEL will change later.

And my final question is, what does DUEL stand for?  That isn’t listed in the FAQ or the forum patch notes.  They are clearly using it as a cute acronym.

PLEX stands for Pilot License EXtension

CREDD is the awkward Certificate of Research, Exploration, Destruction, and Development

GRACE is GRid Access Credit Extension

So what does DUEL stand for?  Darkfall Unholy wars Extended Living?

I think SOE might have been smart to just go with a name rather than an acronym.

And one question past my final question; who will jump on the PLEX-like bandwagon next?

No Tears for Wizardry Online? August 1, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Misc MMOs, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags:
10 comments

I am sure somewhere out there, somebody is angry, sad, or otherwise feeling an emotional effect because Wizardry Online closed its doors yesterday.

I am sure because I have found that even the worst, most widely despised feature in any MMO ends up being somebody’s favorite feature.  And you find out exactly who they are the moment it goes away because they show up on the forums wanting to know what happened.

WOlogo2

So I feel quite confident that somebody, somewhere loved SOE’s imported Wizardry Online MMO.

It just wasn’t me.

But I pretty much guessed that was going to be the case before the game showed up in the SOE lineup back in 2013.

For me, this is Wizardry:

I am sure I'll never use this picture again...

Somewhere in 1983…

Wizardry is something that exists in the context of the distant past along with a lot of hand-drawn graph paper maps and things I described in a post.

So Wizardry in MMO form… or at least in Asian import MMO form with anime style characters… never had a chance with me.  I wrote me feelings about it, acknowledging that my assessment was unfair in the title.

Some find me... disturbing

Porkul… so disturbing

Unlike my previous post, where I eulogized Vanguard and tried to describe its place in the history of the genre, I cannot really place Wizardry Online.  Why SOE chose to publish it, why they decided to close it down after a year and a half, and all the questions in between are unanswered for me.  And, unlike Vanguard, I do not see any posts out there in my corner of the blogesphere mourning its departure.

Who will speak for Wizardry Online?  Who has some final words?

Where is PoliticallyIncorrectJessica now?

[And why won't that link go to the right comment. Some dwarven magic I bet.  You might have to scroll down to see the comment from her.]

Addendum: Oh, hey, Joseph Skyrim cares!

Vanguard – All Sagas Must End August 1, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment, Vanguard SOH.
Tags: , , ,
18 comments

Decades from now it seems likely that Vanguard: Saga of Heroes will be little more than a footnote in the history of the genre.  Facing at best lukewarm reviews and launching into the teeth of World of Warcraft’s expansion The Burning Crusade, some future investigator might not even feel the need to look into the myriad technical problems the game had or the daunting system requirements it took to run it.  As for SOE buying the game at the point when it would have otherwise shut down, I suspect that will be dismissed, along with the purchase of The Matrix Online, as a vain attempt to stay in the big leagues by trying to bulk up its offerings in the face of Blizzard’s Azerothian juggernaut.

Play Vanguard - Ride a Dragon

Play Vanguard – Ride a Dragon?

My theoretical future researcher, reviewing what passes for the Internet Archive in 2080, will probably conclude that the game should have closed down in 2007 because it could not have made enough money for SOE to be worth the diversion of resources from other projects. (Assuming said researcher doesn’t run across references to SOEmote, that EQ voice command thing, or the unified launcher and discover what SOE has a history of doing with its extra development cycles.)

And a more casual investigator might just look at the timeline of the genre and see a game that ran for seven years.  It must have been okay, good but not great, as it outlasted many other titles. While not as good as that Anarchy Online game, it certainly must have been much better than any of those NCsoft offerings that only lasted a couple of years, or even it stablemate Wizardry Online, which didn’t even make it to the two year mark.

Time and distance from events will do that.  Far down the road the timeline from Ultima Online or Meridian 59 out to whatever will be another decade hence will merge into a series of very close dates, which will wring out much of the emotion of the time from the equation.

But back in 2005 and 2006 things were different; they were different than there are now… quite palpably so… and will be practically Bizarro World alien fifty years down the road.

2006 especially was a turning point in the genre.  Before 2006, there was a series of successes, Ultima Online, which was then trumped by EverQuest, which was in turn trumped by World of Warcraft, that seemed to define a pattern.  It seemed like any MMO could make it, even if it suffered from a bad launch, and that subscription growth was a long term organic thing.  The idea of a “three monther” would have been completely foreign.

There also were not that many games.  I bemoan the long slumber of the VirginWorlds MMO podcast, but in a way it feels like perhaps its time has passed.  During its heyday, from early 2006 into late 2008, the MMORPG market what from what I would call a “knowable thing,” where you could keep track of, and develop opinions about, the majority of the titles in the genre.  WoW was big, but it didn’t seem insurmountable, and the idea of a game suffering for not being WoW would have been odd.

The genre was also evolving, in a very Darwinian, natural selection sort of way as it turns out.  Not that we saw it that was at the time.

While the genre seemed to be moving towards WoW at the time, there was a theory that was widely held in certain parts of the fanbase that WoW was but a stepping stone and that all those WoW players would, one day, desire a deeper, more fulfilling, and necessarily more hardcore MMORPG.  WoW was merely the training ground for a mass of “real” players.  If you dig around blogs and forums from the time frame, you will find that theme recurring over and over.

And in the midst of all of that strode Brad McQuaid.  I called his a “name to conjure with” back when he was kicking off Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.  Back then he was a force to be reckoned with, the keeper of the secret flame, the spirit of what made EverQuest great, and the hope for the salvation of the genre.  Having left SOE in alleged disgust over the direction the company was going with EverQuest and EverQuest II, he struck out with a few like-minded individuals in order to re-imagine the MMORPG genre, steering it back to its more satisfying and hardcore roots.

That sounds like a lot of smoke, but I recall night after night being on Teamspeak with my Knights of the Cataclysm guild mates, a group made up mostly of people from EverQuest or TorilMUD… both training grounds for hardcore purists… and hearing them go on and on with Dorfman-like “this is going to be great!” enthusiasm as to how Brad McQuaid… Brad, who understood us and who rejected easy death penalties and instancing… and his game, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, was going drain players from all of these other pretend, pre-school MMOs.

I had not even heard of Vanguard up until then.  In my post-EverQuest “can’t get broadband in the middle of Silicon Valley” era, I had lost touch with the genre, so that first year in EverQuest II included a lot of catching up on what had happened.

Vanguard was going to be it.  The antidote.  The next coming.  The savior.

Of course, all of that talk was based on forum chatter and rosy statements from Sigil about their vision.

Later, when the game was in closed beta, and then in open beta, feelings started to change.

Not that there wasn’t hope.  Not that the vision was seen as wrong or that Sigil had deviated from it.  But it did start to seem like the company might not have the capital to cash all the checks written by their vision.

I first got into Telon, the world of Vanguard, back in open beta, and things were a mess.  Or a relative mess at least.  The 16GB download, quite a chore in early 2007, was just the start.

If it had been 1997… or even 2002… people might have stuck with the game and its myriad of technical problems and huge system requirements.  But by the time it launched at the end of January 2007, the world was proving to be a different place with many options for those who wanted to swing a virtual sword.

Sigil was working hard fixing and polishing the game well into January.  That helped some, but it wasn’t enough.  At the same time SOE decided to jack up the price of its all-you-can-eat Station Access subscription plan, effectively making it more expensive than subscribing to two SOE MMOs directly, which couldn’t have helped.

What looked like a respectable start, with something like 200K players buying a box and joining the game, quickly turned into a route as game issues large and small soured people.  By April Brad was issuing updates about the problems and how they were going to address them and how 2008 Vanguard would be much better than the 2007 version.  But you were still going to need a bigger processor as well as a current graphics card to play the game very well.

The big problem that remains is that you still pretty much need a new system as opposed to, say, simply a new graphics card…

The game is simply not CPU bound, nor just graphics card bound, but rather mostly bound by the data that it needs to constantly move from the CPU to main memory to the graphics card, and then all the way back again.  It’s all about the various bus speeds and caches – moving data around efficiently is arguably more important than processing that data on the CPU or GPU…

-Brad McQuaid, SOE Vanguard forums

Things were clearly not going well.  As April 2007 came to a close, there were rumors and speculation as to what might happen as subscription numbers sagged while technical issues persisted.  SOE started to get mentioned as possibly taking a bigger role with the game.

I came up with my own list of possible future avenues for Vanguard, at least two of which eventually came to pass.

Then came the parking lot layoffs as SOE officially announced it was taking over Sigil and Vanguard.

Then came the SOE years.  They were heroes initially at least, but hard work and hard choices remained.  Servers were merged shortly to try and make the most of Telons dwindling population.  The quiet years began, where SOE spent resources stabilizing the game, fixing the crashes, simplifying the character models, and generally making it run well.  And, as always happens, the march of time and improvements in computer performance washed away many of the woes of 2007.

There was the long, long neglect, as Vanguard sat, barely tended, home to a few dedicated players.  People like Karen at Journeys with Jaye kept the Vanguard spirit alive.  Her blog is home to a wealth of information and images related to the game.

Then, in late 2011, much to everybody’s surprise, SOE suddenly took an interest in Vanguard again.  This led to the game following its SOE stablemates in going free to play in 2012, leaving the original PlanetSide as the only subscription MMO at SOE.

The cash shop in Vanguard sold all sorts of things, especially equipment, that would had raised howls of protest in EverQuest II.  But there wasn’t much protest.  I couldn’t tell if Vanguard players didn’t care, or if there just were not enough of them left for their complaints to be audible.

Free lasted less than two years before the end was announced.  Smed said that the game had not been paying its own way for a few months by then, even after it was put back in benign neglect mode.  Vanguard, along with Free Realms, Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures, and Wizardry Online were to be closed in 2014.  The kids games went faster, done by the end of March, while Vanguard and Wizardry Online were left to run until yesterday.

And so the end has come.  At 6pm Pacific Time last night the servers were shut down.  Vanguard has passed into history, joining many other titles in the genre.

In the end, for me, the ending doesn’t mean much.  I never played the game much.  I gave it a shot early on, I actually still have the retail box on my bookshelf, and then again when it went free to play.

Vanguard Box

Vanguard Box

I did not spend much time playing at either point.  I barely took any screen shots, which is odd for me.  In digging through them, I found a couple of characters.

Fomu from 2007

Fomu from 2007

Teresten from 2013

Teresten from 2013

Both look a bit awkward, as character models in Vanguard tended to.  Neither brought back any memories of adventure.

Instead of a game I played, like EverQuest or LOTRO or whatever, Vanguard is more like a signpost in the history of the genre for me.  Its creation was a sign of its times, and its demise a warning to all who would come later.  The dream that WoW players would evolve and seek greater challenges in games that were more hardcore was debunked, and the idea that WoW could be eclipsed started to slip.

Yes, it wasn’t until Star Wars: The Old Republic that the industry as a whole finally agreed that WoW was an outlier rather than the next hurdle to clear to claim success.  But Vanguard was a warning, a sign that in a world with popular choices that work, the “I’m different” card wasn’t enough.

And so it goes.  Vanguard, which was going to bring back the EverQuest vision, look good, and be all things to all people failed to materialize, ending up a small niche game with too much overhead to survive.  And now we’re looking at a series of lean, niche games pursuing the old school MMO feel; Camelot Unchained, Shroud of the Avatar, Project Gorgon, and of course Brad McQuaid’s own Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.  Small is back, and they are targeting audiences of a size that Blizzard gains or loses between the average quarterly report.

And, in its way, Vanguard was sort of the end of innocence in the genre.  As I said above, before Vanguard the genre seemed small and knowable by a single person.  Since then it has sprawled, with games coming and going at a rapid pace.  The world has changed since we were sitting on TeamSpeak telling ourselves how great the game was going to be.

What an aptly named game, if nothing else.  It was in the vanguard of the genre, in its own failing way, and its tale is certainly a saga.

Other posts remembering Vanguard around the blogesphere:

 

 

Progression, Nostalgia, and Special Servers July 21, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Sony Online Entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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11 comments

One of the questions that comes up all the time in the EverQuest forums is when will SOE launch the next progression server?  It may be the most popular question on the Progression Server sub-forum.

Second place goes to people asking for a Classic server, though those questions are somewhat undermined by both the fact that they are off-topic in that sub-forum and that there is nothing like an agreed upon definition of what a Classic server would actually include.  It ranges from just launch content out to the Planes of Power expansion, though there are a couple of voices that would stretch thing to just shy of Gates of Discord.

So the two most popular topics seem to be about getting a new special EverQuest server from SOE.

And why not?  SOE has something of a history with special servers for EverQuest, going all the way back to the initial PvP server to the first progression servers, The Combine and The Sleeper, which rolled out in June of 2006, to the Mayong 51/50 server back in 2009, to the current Fippy Darkpaw and Vulak’Aerr servers, with their time locked rule sets, which went live in February 2011.

Foggy, foggy Fippy

Foggy, foggy Fippy

So the assumption is that of course SOE is going to roll another one, it is just a question of when.  When will SOE roll out the next progression server?

My gut response to that is “never.”

There are lots of arguments for such a server.  It brings people back to the game.  It rewards long term fans.  It is popular, illustrated by the fact that both times they have done a progression server they have had to roll a second server to accommodate demand.  And in a time when the game is free to play, a luxury item like a special nostalgia server seems like a reasonable way to boost revenue.

On the flip side of all of that there is the problem with nostalgia.  That driving sense of nostalgia often doesn’t last long beyond the point when you return to the time/place/song you were nostalgic for.  I have read a couple of articles about how the internet is going to kill nostalgia as a sensation before too long.  When you have access to what amounts to a historically unprecedented amount of information in the comfort of your own home, the moment you feel nostalgic for something, you can track it down on the internet and watch/listen/read all there is available about, to the point that the sensation is sated.  Having access to the thing for which you are nostalgic replaces nostalgia with reality.  And, often times, the reality includes the downside, the reason the world moved on or the series got cancelled or that you never bought that band’s second or third album.

After "Vacation" there wasn't much point...

After “Vacation” there wasn’t much point…

So while the progression servers… or any special servers… tend to start off strong.  Things taper off over time.  Fippy Darkpaw was packed when it opened and remained popular for the first few expansions.

Crowd on the Kunark Dock

Crowd on the Kunark Dock

After a while though, the feeling begins fade.  Potshot and I joined in on the fun and were quite invested for a while, visiting many old locations in the game.  And while the great PSN/SOE hacking episode of April 2011 knocked us off the path, that episode might have done us a favor.  We ran around a little bit more after that, but for me at least, content after Kunark is still flagged as “that new stuff” in my brain, so our progress was arrested before we made ourselves sick on nostalgia.

But nostalgia does wear off.  And so it is that the question “When will Fippy Darkpaw and Vulak’Aerr be merged?” might be the third most common question on the progression server sub-forum.  In hindsight, SOE probably should have just bit the bullet and stuck with a single server, especially based on the history they had with The Combine and The Sleeper, which had to be merged less than a year into their lives, because now things are very quiet on both servers.

Unless you are in one of the raiding guilds.  They still play, racing to unlock each expansion and then hanging around, farming gear, until the next expansion.  But they are playing their own game and the rest of the server could be empty and it would not bother them.

So nostalgia wears out or the server advances to the point where the current expansion is no longer nostalgia and you end up with something more akin to a special raiding preserve as opposed to a home for old school players.

Thus I think that, given the cost of maintaining such a server and the limited pool of personnel that SOE has to devote to such tasks (as opposed to working on EverQuest Next) I think we may have seen the last special EverQuest server out of SOE.  Smed isn’t going to overtly point you to Project 1999, but SOE hasn’t shown much interest in stamping out such private servers of late either.

And what other game would be prime for such a nostalgia server?  EverQuest is somewhat unique in that not only were there a lot of expansions, but that expansions tended to leave old zones alone.  Blackburrow today looks pretty much like it did back in 1999.

Certainly World of Warcraft would spring to mind for many, but Blizzard effectively shut down that idea when Cataclysm reworked the original game.  There are parts of the old world that were no doubt better for the change, but you cannot go home again.  There is nostalgia for original vanilla WoW in part because you can’t go there any more, and Blizzard isn’t going to support two clients just so you can go back in time.

And what other games would be prime for nostalgia.  RuneScape has an old school server up now, and Dark Age of Camelot did one in the past.  But most other MMOs are too young or have changed so much that the work to create anything like a nostalgia server would make the whole thing a non-starter.  Lord of the Rings Online still delivers about the same experience for the first 40 levels, so who needs a different sort of server.  A few people pine for the early days of EverQuest II, but how would you even roll back to that?

Then there are games like EVE Online, where there is only the one server.

I asked in a post just about two years back if SOE was going to be the sole vendor of a nostalgic MMO experience.  Now I wonder if even they will keep that up.

But then there will be nostalgia.

Maybe, at some point, way down the road, nostalgia will become a viable business decision for some MMOs.

What sort of special server would you want to see?  What game should have a nostalgia server some day?

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.

If It Can Go Wrong, It Will Go Wrong… At SOE July 15, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags:
8 comments

I was actually trying to get to the EverQuest forums this morning.  There was a rumor going around about the Fippy Darkpaw Progression Server.  It was possible that one of the raiding guilds was going to down-vote the unlock of the next expansion, Underfoot, because they wanted a couple more weeks to farm gear from the current expansion live on the server, Seeds of Destruction.  There hasn’t been a down vote since the Gates of Discord fiasco back in mid-2012, when that expansion was voted down three times running before finally going live in June.

Pure rumor, with likely nothing behind it, but it is so rare to hear anything about the server that I thought I would follow it up and see it anybody mentioned on the results on forums.  Only I couldn’t get to the forums.

Sony Online Entertainment appeared to be down.

more titles in the past than in the future

A quick run through the usual sources turned up a post by the ever vigilant Feldon at EQ2 Wire, who noted that SOE had somehow forgotten to renew one of its underlying domains, sonyonline.net, and that, after a considerable grace period, fell off the internet.  Since SOE uses that domain for its own name resolution for its sites and games, that pretty much kicked the company offline.

It is Tuesday, we were expecting downtime in any case, right?

Word is that SOE has reclaimed the domain and that it should be propagating across the net even as we speak.  If you are in a hurry to get to an SOE site, Feldon has some tips over at EQ2 Wire on how to speed things up.

The question remains though, how did this happen?  The rumor is that the email address receiving such notices from Network Solutions had gone unattended.  That is speculation, of course, but I have enough experience to know that if  you lay enough people off, something important like that will get missed.  And, hey presto, your domain resolves to a site offering EverQuest and WoW gold!

What I saw on my iPad this morning

What I saw on my iPad this morning

Interesting that EverQuest gold (which should be platinum) is still a thing.  I thought inflation, F2P, and general old age issues had killed the currency market for EQ.

Anyway, not exactly in the same league as the 12+ days of downtime SOE experienced back in 2011, but it is still an SOE thing.

Addendum: Smed speaks

I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but who gave Network Solutions the “wrong email?”

Better.

Addendum: TechDirt sums it all up.