I am My Character, and He is Mine October 9, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Lord of the Rings Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, World of Warcraft.
Tags: Dungeons & Dragons
There was an AD&D campaign that we started way back in the neolithic age. This was the version 1.0 AD&D era. Our Player’s Handbooks and Monster Manuals still looked good, the dungeon master’s screen was a new and exciting item, and strange philosophies, like the cult of THAC0, were still years in the future.
The older brother of a friend of mine was going to run it. He was one of those very smart and very creative types… and a college boy at a time when we were all in the pre-driving stage of high school… who could generate a campaign out of thin air that would get you excited to play.
So we sat around the living room of his parent’s place, rolling up characters and arguing as to whether characters from other campaigns could be brought in. Arguments broke out over some powerful weapon that had no back story and how in the hell Spit the Spellbinder gained so many levels and whether or not that guy who always had to play a female role would be allowed to bring his character “Bodacious Ta-tas” along or would have to roll up something new that actually fit in a goddam fantasy setting outside of his wet dreams.
The usual stuff. Many a campaign has died a quick death after a session like this.
In the midst of all of this I quietly rolled up, named, and equipped a ranger. It wasn’t a bad class back then. And, of course, I was under the influence of Tolkien at the time, and we know what his rangers are like.
Surprisingly, once a rule lawyering argument wrapped up about the relationship between experience and gold (The rules, as I recall, assumed that gold came with experience and getting experience should always be accompanied by a specific gold payout. Our DM didn’t hold with that, declaring that each was its own reward, but then insisted on holding to the rather steep fees required by guilds to level up a character. It was a more complicated time.), the party actually started to come together. Spit was in, Bodacious was out, and we actually looked like we might get past this first hurdle.
When the call came for my character sheet, I handed it over. The DM glanced at it, tossed it back at me, and said, “No rangers.” Being the only person in the room at this point who had not engaged in a heated discussion with the DM, I began to wonder if an argument was a requirement to join in. I asked why not and the DM said he did not like rangers.
Had I been a more experience player at this time… or at least not a surly teen… I might have accepted that for the flashing red light warning that it was, crossed out ranger, wrote in fighter, and just got on with things.
But, dammit, I wanted to play a ranger. A brief argument started in which it was declared, among other things, that rangers do not go under ground so he couldn’t come along in any dungeon or some such. But the weight of the room was on my side. Everybody else was ready to go and a lot of people were annoyed by the demands of the DM to that point, so I had support for my cause. We just wanted to get on with it.
So with a huff, my ranger was allowed on the list with all the grace of Darth Vader accepting the failure of a subordinate. My ranger would be made to suffer.
Not that it really mattered. It was a diverse group that had not played together as a whole before and, as fate would have it, would never sit down together in the same room ever again. It was the simply the amazing optimism of youth that set us down that path to another failed campaign. And even if we had managed to get the whole group back together, things were not going well.
The DM made one of the classic blunders of campaign starts. He put us all in a small town with an inn and expected us to go where he wanted without being totally strong armed into it. One of the issues with this sort of free form campaign is that many holes come up in the environment, which is the sort of thing that attracts players like moths to a flame. It is like handing the players a map with a town, a castle, a dungeon, and a blank area on it. We will go to the blank area, thinking that the DM is hiding something cool there, never considering it is blank because the DM didn’t finish that bit.
We managed, as a group, to make it to the inn. But we never left. Things fell apart in all the expected ways. For example, our DM was worked up about having a ranger in the party, but didn’t care that an elf and a dwarf were on the list and failed to take into account that Mr. Bodacious, who was now playing the elf (of course), would role play dwarf/elf enmity for all it was worth just because he was in a pissy mood at that point.
And part of the reason that things fell apart was that the DM decided to take over my character. Not literally. But every time my ranger did anything he would roll some dice behind his screen… rolling unseen dice is a DM method of validating whatever the hell he wants to do… and would call out what actually happened, as opposed to what I was trying to do.
Essentially, my ranger became Stomper from Bored of the Rings. If he grabbed his mug of mead, he would knock it into somebody’s lap. If he managed to pick it up, he would spill it on himself. If he stood up, he would knock over his chair… or the table… or both. Other patrons would ignore him or laugh at him.
The DM decided to make a very amusing tale for himself by overriding stats and skills and turning my character into a bumbling oaf.
Most of the details from that day are pretty blurry some 30+ years later. I do not recall how the game broke up, just that we never resumed. I got in a fight with my friend a couple months later that lead to a parting of the ways. I never saw the older brother DM again. Spit never played again that I know of, joined the Army after high school, and ended up on a farm in Montana. (Thanks Facebook.) Bodacious fled the valley for San Francisco after graduation, while another player’s family moved to Minnesota shortly thereafter.
It was a minor moment in my life, a few hours were spent together in a room with this group, after which we were scattered to the winds. Literally. I think of the group, I am the only one who still lives in Silicon Valley.
Yet to this day, I remember this session. It was one of dozens of games played during high school, most of which have been lost to the mists of time.
I remember this session because it represents something I really do not like in games, which is the game putting words in my character’s mouth or otherwise dictating what they do or say.
It was a defining moment in gaming for me, and forever has it dominated my destiny.
Which leads me back to MMOs. And quests. And that sort of thing.
I hate it when games start to dictate how my character behaves, when they try to impose a personality apart from my own upon the game. I will go along with the flow of your story or quest chain, but I will do it on my own terms. That for me is the essence, the “role playing” part of a “role playing game.” If I cannot have at least that, my connection with my character becomes weak. And it is often that connection that keeps my playing.
Beyond my moaning about bad blaster based combat in the game, this was the other big failing for me in Star Wars: The Old Republic. I found their fourth pillar, their dialog wheel, quite alienating. About half the time I wanted a “none of the above” choice for my response.
I much prefer being left to my own devices. And I think this gets reflected in the MMOs I choose. Rift, which presents quests very much in the WoW model, offers up a take it or leave it choice. Accept the mission for whatever reason or don’t, it is up to you.
And in EVE Online… well… nobody even pretends to understand your motivation. You do what you will in the universe for what ever reasons you find. In fact, finding reasons to do things is part of the trick of playing EVE.
Even Lord of the Rings Online, which ostensibly is a very story driven game, doesn’t spend much time ascribing motivations to your character.
Meanwhile, it used to annoy me that once in a while EverQuest II would attempt to put more than bare minimum dialog in the mouth of my character. SOE seemed to start off with dialog based question interactions as a goal, but then quickly reverted to basic “I’ll take your quest” or “Screw off, I’m busy” options most of the time.
But, as always, that may be just me.
How about you? How much do you want a game to dictate your characters motivations and actions?
BioWare Not Learning Lessons September 11, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Publicly announcing metrics that are easily tracked and can be assumed to denote success or failure… isn’t that kind of how we got here in the first place, with the second most popular subscription MMO in the US/EU being hailed as a failure as it tries to change its fortunes by going free to play?
So color me mildly disappointed that some lessons remain unlearned as BioWare publicly commits to a major update to Star Wars: The Old Republic every six weeks.
“Well we’re committed to about every six weeks, doing a major update for the game — which would be a new warzone, a new operation, a new flashpoint, a new event — and to doing that on a really frequent cadence, every six weeks. So we’re going to stick to that”
Matt Bromberg, BioWare General Manager
Well, he did say “about” every six weeks.
And I suppose the things he mentions are self-contained enough.
But still, six weeks down the road, nobody is going to remember “about” or “frequent cadence,” they will only be looking at the calendar and saying, “Where is it?” And if it isn’t there… well, we are back to Failsville, Arizona man.
Not that it cannot be done. Look at what Trion has done with Rift.
But can BioWare, with its staff reduced and in the midst of a transition to free to play even begin to track to a six week tempo for “major” content updates? Their track record so far doesn’t support this sort of pace. Then again, without this sort of pace, they probably won’t succeed. And I am sure they know it. I suppose we shall see.
In the mean time, does this spell the end of the fully voices fourth pillar in SWTOR? Is story dead?
SWTOR – Did The Lore Choice Hurt It? September 6, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Tags: Star Wars
As part of writing my homage to the stylings of SynCaine when it was announced that Star Wars: The Old Republic was going to go free to play, I spent a bit of time looking for the right picture to go with the piece.
While I eventually went with another graphic, I was initially drawn to this piece which Google images was kind enough to bring to my attention.
I really like the picture. If it is yours, I apologize for using it without credit or permission. I will happily assign credit where credit is due. It is a master work of referential parody.
The reason I did not use it is pretty obvious; none of the characters pictured actually appear in the game. That fact seemed to distract from the Titanic metaphor, and so I set the picture aside and went with another choice.
Later, I ran across the picture again in a folder of collected images on my hard drive and, in looking at it, I began to wonder if there wasn’t another message in it altogether.
If you were to make the picture correct for the SWTOR/Tortanic reference, what characters would you include?
Now, I fell off the SWTOR wagon pretty quickly in beta, so I may be way off base in saying that there are no of sufficient stature in the game to stand in for the original cast. The game lore struck me as completely of Expanded Universe quality, which can be indifferent, and characters in such lore have a tough time breaking out enough to match even third tier characters who happened to be around for some screen time during the life and times of Anakin Skywalker.
Which makes a Star Wars MMO, where one of your key selling points is “Hey, Star Wars stories,” a bit more challenging. Not that I think a Star Wars MMO has to trot out Han Solo the moment I show up just to get me to play. That is crazy talk.
But looking at Star Wars games in general, those taking place in and around the movies out number those outside of that time frame by a fairly lopsided margin. Just being original trilogy focused obviously doesn’t make a bad game good, but it certainly seemed to make some mediocre games more popular than they might have managed otherwise.
I realize that this ignores the popularity of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which is clearly the standard bearer for Expanded Universe games. Certainly when it was announced back in 2008 that BioWare was going to be making what was essentially a KotOR MMO, there was quite a bit of cheering. But were the cheers because the lore from KotOR was so good, or was it because KotOR was a good SINGLE PLAYER game regardless of the lore?
And I will also admit that eulogizing a game that was still, at last report, the second most popular subscription MMO in the US/EU, might seem more than a bit premature. But even the stalwarts have to admit that the subscription trend was going badly and the decision to go free to play is the sort of radical change you do not make if things are going well.
All of which brings me around to my real question.
Do you think SWTOR would have been better, more popular, or longer lasting had it been framed in the lore of the movies as opposed to BioWare’s setting 4,000 years before the movies?
Free to Play and the Implied Social Contract August 13, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Vanguard SOH, World of Warcraft.
I am going to start sounding like I hate free to play if I am not careful.
I do not hate free to play.
Free to play can bring a lot to a subscription game that transitions to the model.
The primary benefit is more players.
Bringing more players to a declining MMO can be a wonderful thing. When I was playing the short-lived EverQuest II Extended, one of the best things about it was that the world seemed quite alive relative to the subscription side of the house.
It is also very nice to not be tied to a monthly subscription plan when it comes to games that you no longer play regularly, but still like to drop into now and again. For example, I doubt I would have resubscribed to EverQuest II just to be able to see… well… whatever it was they did to Qeynos.
These are clear benefits on which I think most people can agree.
But I am also mindful that there are costs as well.
There are the inconveniences, the nagging, the intrusion of crass commercialism into an alleged escapist fantasy world, and the inevitable realization that, unless you’re buying what they have on offer in the cash shop this month, you really aren’t important to the company any more.
But you can get used to that. Or some people can. Probably most people can.
The problem, as I see it, is that you may have to get used to the way things are over and over again. Currently, “free to play” is a pretty empty phrase, since it can mean so many things.
A long and winding thread of “logic” follows after the cut in order to spare the front page a wall of text.
WoW Drops More Subscribers Than SWTOR Has Left August 3, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, Star Wars: The Old Republic, World of Warcraft.
Tags: Mists of Pandaria, Subscription Numbers
Welcome to the Wrath of the Burning Panda Cataclysm.
Well, it hasn’t been a good week for news if you are a fan of subscription only MMOs. Star Wars: The Old Republic threw in the towel and declared for free to play while other games that already converted continued to dig themselves further into the cash shop morass, whose depths I am sure we have yet to plumb.
And now it has come out that World of Warcraft has shed another million or so users, bringing the game from 10.2 million subscribers at the end of Q1 2012 to 9.1 million subscribers at the end of Q2 2012. More people picked up a copy of Diablo III in Q2 (10+ million) than remained subscribed to WoW.
Which leads me to some thoughts.
The stability of Q1 must have been partially because of subscription overhang. People cancelled but their subscriptions hadn’t run out. Then again, WoW only shed 100K subscribers in Q4 2011. How much overhang could there be?
Oddly, there was a report towards the end of Q1 that SWTOR was having an impact on WoW. I wonder how that idea works in retrospect? In Q1 WoW was stable and SWTOR shed 400K subscribers.
While WoW hasn’t taken the short term dive in subscribers that SWTOR has, at least as a percentage of total, it is still down from a post-Cataclysm peak of “more than 12 million” at the end of 2010 to 9.1 million midway through 2012. That is a 25% drop in 18 months.
There is still no breakout of the subscription numbers between Western and Asian subscribers, who pay very different rates to play the game. Losing a million Western subscribers would probably be a much bigger hit to the bottom line than a million Asian subscribers.
It is probably no accident that Mists of Pandaria is set to launch about a month before the first of the million players (around 20% of the Western subscriber base) who signed up for the Annual Pass plan, which got you a free copy of Diablo III, wrap up their one year commitment. I am free to cancel come Halloween.
My gut says that we are past the point where a new expansion can boost subscriptions significantly. If nothing else, there is the curse of the level based game with which to contend. 90 levels and four expansions start to look daunting to new players. You cannot just join up and play with your friends who are at level cap. Think EverQuest’s long, graceful decline into old age. (For a game at least.)
Unlike early MMOs, no one game seems to have replaced WoW. EQ siphoned off PvE players from Ultima Online. WoW became the new EQ. But WoW’s decline is not due to one game… there is no “WoW Killer”… but to a profusion of games in the market. And many of those games came about because WoW was so profitable that other players wanted in.
And, of course, all that crowding pushed alternate payment models, and so “free” became the operative word. Not only do you have a lot more choices now, but for a lot of them you no longer need to buy a box and sign up for a monthly subscription. It is hard to compete with free… at least for specific definitions of free.
WoW still remains an outlier in the subscription MMO world, with a huge subscriber base and an insane profit margin, and still seems likely remain so for some time to come.
So what is it going to be? Will Pandas give Azeroth a decent surge in subscriptions? Or will things remain flat tapering into the long, slow decline?
Tortanic to Offer Custom Deck Chairs August 1, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
SynCaine is on vacation so somebody has to pick up the slack. That title is dedicated to him for having brought the SWTOR nickname “Tortanic” to my attention.
As usual, I want to mark the moment in time when we finally got the word. But first, a choice quote. I like an opening quote to set the tone.
This is transpiring exactly as Bioware anticipated. They planned to transition to F2P from the very beginning.
-Best Rationalization, from the RPS comment thread
I love that comment. Things are all going exactly to plan!
Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that there was very little in the way of plans. EA and BioWare had a more than a decade of MMOs to study and learn from, and yet they made the same mistakes we have seen multiple times.
I think, looking back on things, that the most surprising thing about Star Wars: The Old Republic has been its total lack of surprises.
It wasn’t a surprise when it was announced BioWare was going to make a Star Wars MMO. It wasn’t a surprise when the budget ballooned to around half a billion dollars all told. It wasn’t a surprise when all that money invested meant that no risks could be taken. It wasn’t a surprise when EA got LucasArts to kill off Star Wars Galaxies to limit the competition. It wasn’t a surprise when it played like a BioWare single player RPG. It wasn’t a surprise when sales spiked initially and then fell off. It wasn’t a surprise when subscription numbers began to crash.
And, finally, after weeks of hinting, it wasn’t even in the same ZIP code as anything resembling a surprise when EA announced yesterday that SWTOR was going to go free to play. (Massively was in such a rush to post the story that they missed the whole “another big subscription drop” aspect and had to go back and revise it.) Some gaming news sites went out of their way to make sure everybody knew this was in no way a surprise.
The whole SWTOR charade, from kick off to current day, has been tedious and predictable and, like the game itself, brought exactly nothing new to the table. Nothing. The game even opened up like its predecessor almost point for point. The problems were all foreseen by too many to be a lucky guess.
The last four years of SWTOR has been like a grotesque parody of MMORPG development. Things have gone from the peak of hubris, when EA was targeting 11 million players, to the CEO of EA saying that SWTOR really isn’t their most interesting property in a mis-guided effort to direct attention away from it. (Now though he says SWTOR performance was disappointing.)
And you know what else won’t be a surprise? When EA screws up going free to play by giving away too much for free at the start and then turning around and pissing everybody off by having to “take” some of the “free” back. You watch. They have messed that up in the past, and they will be anxious to boost numbers in the short term to show that the transition to F2P is a success.
But they have the weight of the game to support. They have said on numerous occasions that they need 500,000 subscribers to make money. With George Lucas’ hand in the til, that isn’t a surprise. And with the subscriber count having fallen below the 1 million mark, the break even number keeps getting closer despite their… um… best efforts.
However, what they plan to be giving away seems to be the levels 1-50 single player BioWare RPG aspect of the game. You know, the part that people seem to like. The complete change up to old school raiding at the end game, they’ll charge for that. And they will charge for their WoW battleground knock-offs. And they will charge for some travel options, if I read things right, which I guess means mounts.
So, if I were a SWTOR player, I might be very tempted to drop my subscription and just work through the story again at my own pace. Or can somebody convince me that there is a significant call for raiding in SWTOR?
Likewise, battleground… or flash points… or whatever? Anybody? Anybody? Beuller?
Which is going to put a lot of weight on the shoulders of the cash shop.
Are custom speeders and cosmetic gear going to be able to fund the game to the point of profitability? Granted, some people will stay subscribed, but the incentives to stay subscribed seem weak if you simply want to play the main level 1-50 game.
We shall see where the money ends up coming from to keep the lights on for SWTOR. Maybe EA will surprise us at last. Or maybe they will tinker with the things via their usual crowbar-like subtlety in order to try to get more juice out of the system. I expect, in the end, that SWTOR will end up the embodiment of all that I dislike about cash shop games. And that won’t be a surprise, because to drive the cash shop pay the bills, you have to work that money maker and get it in everybody’s face.
Meanwhile, many are saying this is the death knell for subscription MMOs. If Star Wars cannot make it, then who can? (Though Star Wars Galaxies seemed to be surviving right until it got the bullet in the head.)
I mean, who is left on the subscription model? Who is still thriving while charging a monthly fee?
World of Warcraft doesn’t really count. Blizzard is the crazy sperg outlier that put in its 10,000 hours of multi-player online gaming practice before trotting out its first MMO.
So there is EVE Online, the nutty sandbox spaceship game that somehow turns 100,000 players into 400,000 paid accounts.
There is Rift, which has now danced between being WoW, where being WoW is a good thing, and being light and responsive and providing new content in a way Blizzard never does, for more than a year now. (Though they do seem to emulate EVE in that every patch needs a couple more patches.)
And then there is… who? Who else is left thriving on the monthly subscription plan? There are lots of games still using it… PlanetSide, Dark Age of Camelot, and Ultima Online pop to mind… but are they really going anywhere or are they just waiting out the clock?
Oh, there is one more. I love this.
TOR is free. WAR is sub. EA forums may well explode.—
Grimnir (@grimnir_) July 31, 2012
When did EA say that WAR would go free to play? Never? And yet their flagship MMO…
Well, there is no shortage of irony. And the monthly subscription model lives on.
Finally, at the price point of free, I might actually go back an give SWTOR a try. After playing it in beta, I decided it was not worth a $60 box and $15 a month to me. But for free it could be amusing, at least until the cash shop begins to loom heavily.
We shall see when the day comes.
Sandbox in Seattle? June 21, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Tags: Craig's List, Hero Engine
From the SF Bay Area Craig’s List job ads today:
We are assembling a team to build a technology demo of a fantasy sandbox MMO using the Hero Engine. This is a 90-day contract. Work to be performed in the Seattle area. Housing provided. Successful team members may be offered long-term contracts to work on the full development of the MMO following the completion of the Technology Demo.
- Location: Seattle
- Compensation: Based on experience and skill set
- This is a contract job.
- OK to highlight this job opening for persons with disabilities
- Principals only. Recruiters, please don’t contact this job poster.
- Please, no phone calls about this job!
- Please do not contact job poster about other services, products or commercial interests.
This might be more relevant to some people in Austin, since BioWare was using the Hero Engine with SWTOR and some of those people are now out of a job.
I am still waiting for somebody to come out and praise or repudiate the platform based on their experience on that project.
Fantasy sandbox though. I wonder what is up?
A Simple Question about The Secret World… June 18, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Misc MMOs, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Tags: The Secret World
The Secret World has a beta test weekend this past weekend. I have seen a couple of posts up about it. From them I have learned that there are essentially three weapons disciplines, melee, magic, and firearms.
The game is set in the modern world, so firearms are pretty much a requirement. But has Funcom gone the SWTOR route? When two people with firearms face each other, is it a matter of tab-targeting and standing there toe-to-toe blasting away?
Because that pretty much killed SWTOR for me. Even Star Wars Galaxies was more complex because, even though you stood toe-to-toe, you did have to actually aim your blaster.
So what is combat with firearms like in TSW?
In the absence of data, my mental model for this is The Matrix Online, and I hated combat in that game.
Look Out Clone Wars Adventures, EA is Gunning for You! June 15, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Humor, Sony Online Entertainment, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Tags: Cone Wars Adventures, Star Wars Galaxies
That surely must be the reasoning behind dropping a very public message about SWTOR going free to play. These things do not happen by accident.
Yes, they may downplay it [edit: or maybe not], back peddle, twist their words after the fact, pressure sites to pull their stories, and wrap it up in some nonsensical statements. But the message has been sent.
It is a clear shot over SOE’s bow!
How will the plucky little game with its frequent content updates contend with the might of this fully voiced and operational fourth pillar behemoth out of Redwood City? Will they be able to stand up to Emperor Riccitiello and Darth Muzyka?
And how will the fourth pillar be applied to mini-games and a cash shop devoted to selling pets and clothing? Surely this will make for the best cash shop ever! Like a Nordstrom among the stars!
Will SOE prevail with a Valve/Target gambit? Stay tuned!
38 Studios – The Legend, The Myth, The End May 25, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Gaming Industry Trends, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Vanguard SOH.
Tags: 38 Studios, Azeroth Advisor, No Real Point, Rambling Friday
Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse
John Derek in Knock on Any Door (1949)
Well, I cannot speak to whether or not 38 Studios lived fast, and six years can be a long time in technology, so you can argue that the company did not die young.
Legends have been created out of less.
And now nobody will ever say that Copernicus, their as yet unnamed flagship game, to which the main effort of the company had been devoted for almost six year, sucks.
Nobody will complain about unbalanced classes or broken game mechanics or servers being down or sever queues being too long or any of the thousand other things that we find to pick on when it comes to MMOs.
Copernicus is pristine, a blurry mirage doomed to ever been in the distance, on which some will overlay their hopes and dreams for the future of MMO gaming. I’ve seen it already, with some bloggers mourning not just the fact that we will now never see this game come into full bloom, but that it somehow represented our last, best hope to return greatness to the genre. Some future games will find themselves compared to Copernicus that might have been. It was to be the holy grail game that brought joy back to fantasy MMOs.
Which is a tune I have heard before.
It was the sort of thing some of our guild members were saying about Vanguard in 2005 when we were playing EverQuest II and it had fully sunk in that the game really wasn’t a sequel to the EverQuest experience. And so Vanguard became the dream, the game destined to be the true successor to EverQuest.
And, well… we know how that turned out. Sigil Games, facing their own financial woes, opted to go to market early with a game clearly not ready for prime time.
In one of those twists of timing, it was just five years ago this month that Sigil folded up shop with the now infamous parking lot layoff, sans Brad McQuaid. But we got the word from Smed that SOE was swooping in to save the day. SOE was a hero for the moment, but I wondered how long they would remain a hero. Not very long, it seemed, as soon all the problems with Vanguard became SOE’s problems, and SOE’s fault for not fixing them fast enough.
It makes me wonder what image Vanguard would have ended up with had Brad opted to run out of money before launching the game.
And, alas, there will be no SOE white knight to rescue Copernicus. Those days are clearly done. Back when SOE was under Sony Pictures, which I am convinced really didn’t know, and didn’t care, what was going on in San Diego so long as the money was coming in, was able to collect orphaned MMOs like Vanguard and The Matrix Online. Now though, under the PlayStation people, who clearly want to hear about things that sell PlayStation hardware when they aren’t being evil, things have been trimmed back substantially.
There was an estimate that the assets of 38 Studios might be worth up to $20 million, though that sort of talk denies the reality of software development. If you buy a software company with no people, you have pretty much bought nothing. The people who write the software, they are the assets. Without them you have some source code, which can be interesting, but is tough to make your own. You can bring in your own people to try. I’ve been down that path. If you just want to be able to build the software and maybe make some small fixes, it can even be viable. But if you want to own the software and be able to use it to its full, you have to know it well, which is hard work. And the first thing that will happen is the devs will start saying that it is easier to rewrite some section of code from scratch than figure out what is really going on, and that way lies madness and repetition of the same mistakes to gain the same knowledge as the original authors of the code.
And then there is the outside influence of Star Wars: The Old Republic which, according to analyst Michael Pachter, has killed off interest in investing in MMO projects. To quote the money line:
Nobody is buying MMOs after Star Wars fizzled
So yeah, we can blame SWTOR! Because if EA can’t get MMOs right, then it is clearly some sort of once-in-a-lifetime black art not worth exploring.
Life in the big money lane.
I feel a bit sorry for Curt Schilling for not getting to live out his dream of creating a great MMO. But only a bit. I mean the guy had fame, fortune, and three world series wins coming into this deal, all while deliberately and maliciously being younger than me. He can go back to that. Maybe he can be a champion for small studios that reflect some of the things he was trying to bring to MMOs.
But I identify more with the team at 38 Studios, the worker bees who have to scramble to find another gig to pay the mortgage. I’ve been down that path a few times. The joy of Silicon Valley start ups, here today, gone tomorrow. I worked for eight different companies in the 90s, and only one still exists. I was there twice for the “everybody go home” company meeting. It doesn’t get easier with repetition.
I do want to throw out a minor “screw you” to 38 Studios for buying and shutting down the Azeroth Advisor. Grudge holding… we have that here at TAGN.
But other than that, I am sorry to see things turn out as they did. We won’t ever see Copernicus now, and so I will be denied the privilege of playing it while complaining about insignificant details that annoy me.
Addendum: And then there is the industry insider view of this debacle from the newly returned to blogging Lum and how it is killing the very concept of massively multiplayer online gaming.
Further Addendum: And there are always methods to make a bad situation worse.
R. A. Salvatore says Copernicus was awesome, but can’t actually back that up. He was right on one thing in that comment, he shouldn’t be commenting. More for the myth and legend department.
Steve Danuser puts the blame on the governor of Rhode Island.
It looks like 38 Studios may have screwed some employees worse than others. Was that the governor of Rhode Island’s fault as well?
Everybody wants to know where the money went.
Of course, there is Curt.
And then Derek Smart chimes in with a dump truck load of reality. Refreshing to see him poking at a subject that needs it.