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SWTOR and a New Twist on Insta Levels October 7, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Tags: ,
7 comments

Star Wars: The Old Republic continues trucking along, successful by all reasonable measures save comparisons to the Azerothian behemoth.  It is arguably more successful than Star Wars Galaxies ever was.   Somebody likes EA’s fourth pillar.

Yes, SWTOR has to walk the free to play path, the reality of the current market, while trying to coax people back into subscribing lest they have to purchase their hot bars a la carte.  But it is still moving along some of the more traditional paths, to the point of some still counting it as a subscription MMO.  It has had expansions and increases to the level cap and what not.

And so it is just part of the normal MMO cycle that they have a new expansion (or new DLC according to some… what is the border between the two?), Shadow of Revan, coming out December 9th.

Revan, sans shadow...

Revan, sans shadow…

I suppose we should be thankful that they decided not to drop in November like all those other MMOs.

But 2014 is shaping up to be the year of insta levels.  The growing trend is to give your players a way to vault past a lot of early and middle content in your game in order to line them up to be able to experience the new hotness that is your latest expansion.  As Tom Chilton said:

By building expansions, you are effectively building up barriers to people coming back. But by including the level 90 character with this expansion, it gives people the opportunity to jump right into the new content.

Of course, Blizzard wasn’t the first to market with that idea.  SOE was out there ahead of them with a level 85 boost in EverQuest II before the Warlords of Draenor announcement.  But the World of Warcraft insta-90 boost made the bigger splash, and sells for the bigger bucks, weighing in with a $60 toll to get to 90.

The alleged price of level 90

The reality in Azeroth

Anyway, insta levels have become a thing and you can get them by one means or another in EverQuest, EverQuest II, World of Warcraft, Rift, and Lord of the Rings Online if the moon is in the right house and you think getting to level 50 in a 100 level game is a worthwhile purchase.  And EA needs to live in the ecosystem.

Which brings us to the Shadow of Revan expansion.  People more knowledgeable than I are talking about the expansion in general and features like dumping talent trees.  You can find some of that at:

While I played a bit of SWTOR this year, it wasn’t enough for me to feel that I know squat about the game or how important a new expansion and five more levels might be.  But I am interested in one pre-order aspect of the whole expansion.

Revan12xBoost

In case you cannot read the fine print, EA is offering subscribers who pre-order a 12x boost to experience earned by class story quests. (Some details on what that means.)  While that isn’t handing out levels, it is making them much less difficult to obtain, though that might not be enough for some.

The interesting/awkward bit is that this is a limited time offer, and the boost expires on December 1st.  That is definitely pushing people to subscribe and buy the expansion sooner rather than later in order to take advantage of the boost.  And if you do roll with this you will no doubt know more about your character and class and the storyline of the game, even having played through at high speed, than you would have if they had just given you a level 55 boost.  The problem comes on December 2nd, when the talent tree system you just spent all those quick levels getting acquainted with goes away, to be replaced by the new discipline system.  That seems like kind of a misstep, but maybe most people don’t have as much problem re-learning how to play a character as I do.

Now, up to this point, you can make a strong argument that this 12x boost doesn’t belong in the same bucket as the other insta level schemes I mentioned.  While there is the whole “but you have to play those levels, even if they are fast” aspect, I think that is much weaker than the limited time nature of the boost.

But if down the road a ways EA puts that 12x boost to level 55 in the cash shop, I am going to say it pretty much falls in the same category, being clearly intended as a way for the player to pay not to play as much of the game as you otherwise might have to, as opposed to the garden flavor of xp boosts most free to play games offer, which I cannot recall ever exceeding 2.5x.

What do you think?

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?

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.
Tags: ,
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.

May in Review May 31, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, Month in Review, Star Wars: The Old Republic, World of Warcraft.
5 comments

The Site

Let’s talk about spam comments!  Won’t that be fun?

The ratio of spam comments to legitimate comments here has been pretty consistent over the years.

98PercentSpam

 

Yes, 98% of the comments that hit this blog are spam.  (But if 99% of everything is crap, what does that say about half of the legit comments?)  The numbers are ~26 thousand real comments to ~1.2 million spam comments.

When you read that number, 1.2 million, you probably feel sorry for me thinking that I somehow have filtered out all those spam comments on my own.  The mere thought of that  is probably enough to put someone off starting a blog.

But it is not that bad.

Comment spam here is filtered through a Akismet, a WordPress plugin, and it is pretty effective.  For me, comment spam comes in three flavors.

The first is spam that Akismet knows is spam.  I never see any of that.  It just gets disappeared, never to bother me.  Most of the time that represents 90% of the 98%.

The third is spam that completely gets past Akismet.  These end up in the moderation queue and I deal with them individually.  Over the life of the blog there have been 1,318 comments up for moderation which I have had to mark as spam myself.  Not bad out of 1.2 million I suppose.  Legitimate comments, usually in the moderation queue because it is a first time comment from somebody or because Bhagpuss has come up with a new way to spell his name, get cleared and posted to the blog.

And then there is the middle zone, the second flavor, the comments that Akismet believes to be spam, but not with enough certainty to just delete outright.  It keeps than for me in a spam queue so I can review it.  Legitimate comments do sometimes end up in there, 167 in total over the life of the blog.  This is why I try to go through this queue regularly rather than just emptying it.  Most of the time I could safely, but there is on occasion a real comment mixed in.  And there are usually only somewhere between 5 and 30 comments in this queue on any given day, so it is no big deal.

However, for about the last three weeks there had been a change in the balance.  According to Akismet’s stats, there was a big spike in spam in May, but that was because April was unusually low in spam comments.  Otherwise May hasn’t been that out of line with the three months before that for total spam.  And there were months in 2013 that saw as much as three-fold greater numbers of spam comments.

But the spammers must have been re-arming with something new for May, because the middle zone, the spam comment that gets queued up so I can review it has gone up dramatically.  Just today there were 600+ in the queue for me when I got up this morning, and less than eight hours later there are 700+ lurking in the queue.  And I do not appear to be alone in seeing this.

Given the total spam numbers Akismet is showing for May, it appears to be literally putting all spam in the queue for review.

So I have had to change my review process for the time being to just search on the names of a couple of people who comment regularly, but whom get stuck in the spam queue for reasons unknown, and dumping the rest of the queue sight unseen.  And even that has problems.  WordPress craps out about half the time when trying to dump more than a couple hundred spam comments from the queue.  It is annoying.

Anyway, that has been the administrative fun time here this month.  If I missed a comment of yours in the spam queue accidentally, I apologize.

One Year Ago

I celebrated the five year anniversary of a blog.  No, not this one.

EVE Online turned 10 (I even made a movie) and reminded us of its true nature, while DUST 514 finally went live for real.

Somebody was saying that there had only ever been two successful MMOs, EverQuest and World of Warcraft.

I checked up on the Newbie Blogger Initiative to see who survived their first year of blogging.

Camelot Unchained made its Kickstarter goal one day before their campaign ended.   Success at the last minute is still success.

The project code named Titan was rumored to have been pushed out to 2016.  Meanwhile Activision-Blizzard announced that WoW had shed 1.3 million subscribers, dropping to 8.3 million total.  And then there was the problems with the Diablo III economy.  Rough times.

The XBox One was announced.  Or the name was.  I didn’t like it.

I made a chart about the relative natures of MMO economies.  I was also musing about dangerous travel.

We were starting to peek into NeverWinter as a possible game for the instance group, in hopes that we might have a hiatus from our long hiatus.  We also played a bit of Need for Speed: World.

Rift, ostensibly the game the instance group was playing (and which I was still playing a bit of), announced it was going free to play, which made me mutter about revenue models again.

Our EVE Online corp decided to go play some Lord of the Rings Online, and so my relationship with Middle-earth continued and I was quickly in the Lone Lands.

And finally, I wrote a bit about the first computer game I ever played, which lead to some charts about my video gaming timeline.

Five Years Ago

I was able to expose the true conspiracy behind the EuroGamer Darkfall review.  Powerful forces have been suppressing this story ever since.

Meanwhile, EverQuest was celebrating its 10 year anniversary by putting up a new server.  Polled on what it should be, people chose the 51/50 rule set.  I’m sure that, somehow, that say something about MMOs and nostalgia.  And did anybody go play on that new server?  How did it work out?

I went back and played some Blizzard classics, Diablo II and StarCraft, both of which have patches now that mean you do not need the CD to play.  This was prompted by Blizzard’s pushing people towards Battle.net and the announcement of the opt-in for the StarCraft II beta.  I opted in right away.  I hear that some people got in to the beta almost a year later. *cough*

In New Eden, it was new ship time, as I picked up both an Orca and a Buzzard.  I also managed to lose my Cerebus.   Oops.

And speaking of EVE Online, it was a year ago that I announced my one year experiment, EVE Online Pictures.  That site is now six years old.

The instance group was moving along slowly.  We did hit Azjol Nerub, but vacations and such kept us down to four people, so we spent a bit of time back in Burning Crusade doing heroics and generally messing around.  That included our run into Ogrimmar to do Ragefire Chasm.

Playboy’s “Massively Casual Online Game” Playboy Manager was announced.  The game was supposed to launch in the summer of 2009 according to the press release.  The site for the game was still there (go Google it, not sure if it is still around) but it still mentions signing up for beta invites.  Casual might refer to the development plan I guess.

New Linking Blogs

The following blogs have linked this site in their blogroll, for which they have my thanks.

Please take a moment to visit them in return.

Most Viewed Posts in May

  1. A Consolidation of Empires
  2. Running Civilization II on Windows 7 64-bit
  3. Considering Star Wars Galaxies Emulation? Better Grab a Disk!
  4. Is the Learning Cliff EVE’s Biggest Problem These Days?
  5. Worst Sith Ever – Escape from Korriban
  6. Level 85 in EverQuest… Now What?
  7. Pantheon: Just Brad has Fallen
  8. Tackling in Syndicate
  9. Quote of the Day – Getting the Dev’s Attention
  10. The Mighty Insta-90 Question – Which Class to Boost?
  11. Civilization – The Big Map
  12. Pandaria – Jade and Ale

Search Terms of the Month

Unstinting porn galleries
[Totally! Screw those stinting porn galleries!]

did blizzard cancel warlords of draenor?
[No, it is just in a timeline far, far away.]

“oculus rift” “clockwork orange”
[Pretty much Facebook's plan, I'm sure.]

bio break
[How does that even get you here? It should get you there. Wait, are you using Bing?]

gratuitous linkage
[We love nothing more around here!]

Civilization V

The multiplayer game of Civ V, now on the big map, continues forward.  The couple hours a week that the group plays tends to whet the appetite rather than sate it, so I have been playing more Civ V during the rest of the week.  Single player matches do not really lend themselves to a blog narrative though.  What would I say?  The AI is erratic, the game is bloated and slow, and while I like the game, the way certain mechanics like happiness were handled this time around annoy me.  I think Civ II still might be my favorite.

EVE Online

Lack of a war in null sec would seem to mean lack of things to do… or at least a lack of things to do that  I enjoy.  I enjoy operations that have a mission, a goal.  Sitting on a gate to gank random passers by seems dull by comparison.  Just me, I know.  Lots of people enjoy gate ganks.  Fortunately, there has been no shortage of nightly ops of late, generally to clean up bits of null sec in our area of influence that were infested by NPC null sec players while we were away in the south.  That may eventually wind down though, and then what will happen?  If there is nothing, then boredom will prompt an implosion or two.  That alone can lead to war.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

I actually downloaded this and played through the starter zone.  I got up to level 11 and to the next planet.  And then I sort of stopped.  I still log in a bit, but I do not find the game very compelling.  I do not come home aching to log in.  Rather, I log in after I have played some WoW and when there is no op current for EVE.  It isn’t bad, I just don’t find it very engaging as yet, though I have to admit the obligatory voice acting for every quest does wear me down some, even when I space-bar skip through them.  I will give them points for using in-game art assets for that, but the animations look awkward and wooden when used for long stretches of dialog.

World of Warcraft

I have been playing a bit more WoW this month, though mostly solo.  The instance group is heading towards its usual summer hiatus with people going on vacation.  The patch update that brought in more levels for gear got me to get out my level 90 hunter and return to Timeless Isle.  That has been fun.  And the current “double your valor points” buff has a lot of people out and playing.  And it looks like “scenarios with level 90 alts” might be part of the summer plan.  We shall see.  It is still a long way to Draenor from here.

Coming Up

The WildStar head start launched at some point this morning.  Good luck to those who were there for the first moments of the live game.  The timing for the launch seems just about perfect.  It is still month from Warlords of Draenor but just in time to catch those disillusioned with The Elder Scrolls Online.

The Newbie Blogger Initiative new blogger campaign for 2014 is wrapping up.  I barely contributed anything, though I had one more half-done post on the topic of blogging.  I will probably save that for next year.  I will have to post a list of the class of 2014 tomorrow, if I can find a definitive listing, to help spread the word.

I should finish up the Pokemon Y story line… tomorrow.  I tend to play on Sunday afternoon.  Then I will write up what I thought about it.  Lots of good new things, though a few mixed blessings in the bunch.

And somewhere in the not too distant future looms a Steam Summer Sale.  What else could I possibly need though?

 

Worst Sith Ever – Escape from Korriban May 20, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Tags:
10 comments

As part of my “planning for the coming hiatus” operation, I started on my list of candidates to see which MMO might serve for a summer vacation spot.  The first on the list, because it happened to be May 4th, was Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Plus I happened to remember my account name and password.  Also, due to EA’s usual ability to keep a tight rain on their data, my account was flagged as preferred despite my having never given EA or BioWare a nickel for the game.

Preferred

Preferred

I am not sure what that gets me beyond an additional crew slot.  BioWare was more interested in telling me what I would get if I subscribed.  The up sell started immediately upon logging in after downloading the client.

Preferred vs. Subscriber

Preferred vs. Subscriber

Not that I want them to pop up more alerts, but throwing this in front of my face in the first minute after logging in was something of a wasted effort.  The game would, of course, go on to remind me to subscribe in various ways, but this chart was no longer part of the pitch.

And, while we’re here and staring at that blurry screen shot… it gets better if you click on it to view it full size… I have to ask if I missed a memo somewhere that said that science fiction MMOs must have a blue user interface?  Star Trek Online was blue.  Blue was a significant color in some parts of the the UI for Star Wars Galaxies.  I think WildStar trends blue doesn’t it?  And if I recall right, Clone War Adventures trended to blue as well.

Anyway, the SWTOR UI is in blue by default, which made me feel they were trying to tell me “hey, it is a space game!”  But then, I guess it is a space game of sorts, so why not?

More after the cut.

(more…)

Planning for the Coming Summer Hiatus May 5, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Guild Wars 2, Lord of the Rings Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Tags:
15 comments

As inevitable as the turning of the seasons, the summer hiatus of the regular instance group will soon be upon us.  The weather will warm up, kids will get out of school, vacations will be planned, and sometimes we’ll just want to something on a Saturday night besides play video games.  The prospect of getting all five of us online at once will pretty much vanish so long as the weather stays warm.

The timing for this is usually pretty good.  We’ve often spent the fall, winter, and spring playing a single title… World of Warcraft usually… and a summer vacation from that generally goes a long way to restoring our interest in that game.

During the time of hiatus, a couple of us… sometimes just Potshot and I, sometimes more… often pick up another game to play.  With that in mind, I started sorting out potential candidates for a summer run.  My driving criteria was not to spend $60 on a box and to avoid signing up for another monthly subscription plan.  Basically, my commitment is low, so I want to keep my spending on par with that… especially since I will certainly keep my EVE Online accounts active (one paid, one comped by CCP for running a fan site) and likely won’t cancel WoW since my daughter an I still play.

But with the change in the MMO landscape over the last few years, I should have plenty of free to play options available.  I am not saying that I won’t spend money on any of these games, just that I do not want to commit to doing so up front.  That is the point of F2P, right?

Here are the titles that have potential at the moment.

Lord of the Rings Online

This is sort of the default choice for a summer hiatus destination.  I think some combination of our wider group has gone back to Middle-earth at least five times since our first run at it at launch.

Pros:  Familiar, everybody has an account, I have a lifetime subscription, and Middle-earth is still just a nice place to be.  I keep the game patched up and log in at least monthly to get my Tubrine Point stipend, which should be closing in on 10K.  And there is music.  We could literally get the band back together.

Playing together

Playing together

Cons:  With the big class revamp, starting over again seems to be in order.   Relearning classes has always felt awkward in LOTRO after being away for a while, and the revamp pretty much doubles down on that.  Not the worst thing in the world I suppose.  I love the 1-40 game.  But they haven’t revamped 40-55 which, aside from Hollin, I find a bit tiresome.  Things pick up about halfway through Moria, but then get tedious again on the far side.  The lifetime subscription makes this an easier choice for me than others.  Also, I am not sure if anybody else has as much nostalgia for the game as I do at this point.

Rift

This was a game good enough to supplant WoW for a few seasons.

Pros:  Maybe the most generous F2P model of any of the MMOs I have played.  You can get by very well without a subscription.  Most people I know already have an account and some familiarity with it.  I own the expansion and have a pile of their F2P currency, so cannot forsee feeling the need to purchase anything up front.  Lots to like about the game.

Cons: The Storm Legion blues.  The expansion never really clicked with me and repeated attempts to get enthused about it haven’t really worked, and I am not sure that anything has changed in the department.  Starting fresh with new alts isn’t as tempting as there are only four core classes, and I have all four up to at least level 50.  And then there is the usual “we stopped playing for a reason, has that overall reason changed?”

Guild Wars 2

Everybody’s favorite buy-to-play MMO.

Pros: I own a copy, so it is a no-money-down proposition… at least for me.  Lots of bloggers I read still play it.  Most of the likely members of a potential summer hiatus group already own a copy, and for those who do not, the price of the box has dropped.  Looks very pretty.  Dev team is off the overwhelming 2 week content cycle and is adding features to the game itself.

Cons: The usual “never really got into it” problem that also applies to the original Guild Wars.  Never really struck me as a group game in any way.  I still have a “chicken and egg” password recovery issue from way back when.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

The Tortanic still lives in F2P form.

Pros: It has been our for nearly two and a half years at this point, so it should be relatively bug free… right?  Does not require me to install Origin… right?  Devs have committed to content updates every six weeks or so… right?  Can space bar through the long and awkward NPC expositions, which are the curse burden hallmark of recent BioWare games.  It is, you know, Star Wars… in some sense.  I have preferred status as a free player due to pre-ordering and then cancelling the game way back when.  Still seems to have a substantial player base by whatever measure you can find.  Will make me hum Pop Muzik a lot.

Cons: It is an EA game and, as such, I am unlikely to ever want to give them money.  Sorry BioWare team, but that’s who you chose to get in bed with.  Still have to endure the horrible “puts words in my character’s mouth” aspect of the game, which doubles down by rewarding light side/dark side points for consistent use of words you wouldn’t say in any case.  The usual “if I didn’t like it before, what makes me think things will be different now” conundrum.  Not sure my family appreciates my humming. Can you say “tropes?”  Or at least a feeling of having experienced things before?

Age of Conan

Because, Conan.

Pros: Not sure I have found anybody who truly hates this game.  Has been on my “I should try this” list for ages.

Cons: Not sure I have found anybody who truly loves this game.  Haven’t heard much about it in ages.

Other Titles

There are a few titles you might expect me to put on the list, but which did not make the cut.  Perennial SOE diversions EverQuest and EverQuest II are not there.  I am not saying, “never again” for EQII, but it has been black listed by a few friends and has a similar problem as LOTRO, in that I am good with the content up until what is now the mid-game… say level 60 in this case… but after that… not so much.  EQ is much more of a focus of nostalgia… thus part of the post-summer hiatus routine… than a summer option.  I probably need a new progression server option to get me back into it, and I have to wonder if we will ever see the likes of that again.

Other than that, I have yet to read anything to stoke any interest in The Secret World, Star Trek Online is dead to me despite having a lifetime account, and I could never bring myself to play more than a few minutes of Neverwinter outside of time spent with the group.

And I suppose we could forgo the usual MMO venue and spend the summer playing World of Tanks or War Thunder, both of which have a very low commitment, which seems well suited for a summer distraction.  And a bunch of us own Diablo III.

We shall see.

The 2014 List – Back to Predictions January 1, 2014

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

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

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

DruidWoW2014_450px

(Original 2014 graphic provided by my daughter)

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

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

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

1 – Ship Dates

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

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

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

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

2 – Missed Dates

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

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

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

3 – Changes, Offers, and Upsets

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

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

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

4 – Scoring?

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

5 – Predictions of Others

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

This is what I have noted down so far.

EVE Online

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

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

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

EverQuest

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

um…  where did I put those notes…

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

EQCotF

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

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

EverQuest II

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

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

Guild Wars 2

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

Lord of the Rings Online

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

LOTROHelmsDeep

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

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

Star Wars: The Old Republic

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

World of Warcraft

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

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

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

Others

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

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

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

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

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

Quote of the Day – Defending SWTOR… Badly August 21, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, MMO Design, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
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11 comments

Was this supposed to be sarcastic?

kuja1988a

That was my exact thought when reading the Massively Hyperspace Beacon post Six misconceptions about SWTOR free-to-play.

The post purports to defend the SWTOR free to play model from people who “make it out to be something that it’s not.”

And yet, for me, the article managed to damn the game through defensiveness and hair splitting to the point that I really had to question if the author was secretly trying to undermine the game while pretending to be a fan.  Was this SynCaine writing under a pseudonym?  The author seemed more keen to reinforce than debunk a couple of his assertions.  For anybody looking to play the game for the first time, the post is not much of an endorsement.

I certainly had some trouble reconciling that post with the words of SWTOR’s lead designer, who says he has gotten religion about free to play, and who recently wrote:

One of my mantras about being a free-to-play game is that, in order to call yourself that, your evangelists have to feel good about telling their casual friends, “Yeah, you can totally play for free!”

I guess you can still feel a little guilt for not telling your casual friends that the restrictions on free will come early and often and will seem at times like they are specifically designed to make the game frustrating to play unless you pay.

Not that such methods makes SWTOR unique in any way.  I seem to recall that at one point somebody from SOE came right out and said that their model was to drive people to subscribe if they really wanted to play. [citation needed]  And LOTRO, which I have been playing a lot this summer, sure seems to have its hand out all the time, reminding me there is a cash shop almost constantly.

It comes with the territory, and doubly so with a subscription game that has been retrofitted into the model.

I have rambled on about my ambivalence towards the free to play model as currently implemented in popular MMORPGs.  I can see the upside.  New players, for example, are the life’s blood of such games, and free to play seems to be the only way to keep them showing up.  But I can also see the cost, the fact that revenue generation always gets a primary focus.  So if your model is based on unlocks and cash shop companions, that becomes the top priority and anything beyond that shares whatever resources are left.

The free to play model is certainly here to stay.  I am just not sure if were “there” yet when it comes to the model maturing into something I am really happy with.  But that might be a futile hope.

Further Mutterings about MMO Revenue Models May 15, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, Need for Speed World, Rift, Star Wars: The Old Republic, World of Tanks, World of Warcraft.
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20 comments

A few years back, at the height of the housing boom, we decided to move.  We listed our house at the market price for our neighborhood, and the first day on the market we got an offer for roughly 60% of what we were asking.  Somebody sensed, as we all were beginning to at that point, that the bubble was going to burst soon, and wanted to know if we were desperate.

We were not, and actually sold the house for what we were asking a couple weeks later.  But there was no possibility that we were going to come to an arrangement with the person who made that first offer.  Their offer was so insultingly low that it made it completely unlikely to be able to negotiate any deal at all.

We have a garage sale at least once a year.  Often we have two, one in the spring and one in the fall.  Just the process of finding stuff to sell helps us keep the house clear of clutter, so that our home, with the exception of my office and my daughter’s room, feels clean, open, and spacious.

We tend to put out all manner of things on the driveway for sale.  I often have a pile of books that have made it into the category of “won’t read again” out on a table.  At one garage sale I had done a big purge and had 40+ paperbacks lined up, with the asking price was 25 cents each.  Cheap enough that anybody with an interest would pick them up, and it wouldn’t kill me if I decided to give a couple away to any kid who looked like they wanted to read one.  And, as always, quantity discounts are available.

A woman, who rolled up in an expensive car, offered me a dollar for all of the books, and then started gathering them up like it was a done deal.  A dollar turned out to be exactly the right price to start a fight.

In the cold logic of hindsight, it was just an offer I could freely reject.

In the reality and emotion of the moment, it was insulting.  I started with “no” and worked my way up to using them for kindling before I would sell her one at full cover price.  Her offer stayed at a dollar throughout, leavened with sneers and insults.  But we could have stopped after our first pass through offer and rejection, as no deal was possible after that point.  I cannot imagine she thought her negotiation technique was going to be effective.  It is always interesting to meet people who are worse at interpersonal relationships than I am.

What did those two little stories have to do with anything?  We’ll get to that.  First, a foundation of words needs to be built.

With the announcement that Rift is moving from the once traditional monthly subscription model to a cash shop driven free to play model, there have been the usual range of reactions, from feelings that no good will come of this to expressions of joy at the demise of yet another monthly subscription barrier to entry.  Some people really hate the subscription idea.

My own response is somewhere in between.

Good things will come of this change.  I know that.

More people will play Rift.  It won’t make it suddenly popular with people who wouldn’t play a fantasy MMORPG in the first place.  But people who wouldn’t otherwise commit to $15 a month will want to play.

An annoying amount of words, and some irrelevant pictures, after the cut:

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