Category Archives: The Elder Scrolls Online

My MMO Outlook for 2015

Another of those regular end of the year posts where I either try to reflect on the past or peer into the future.

I don’t do this post every year, but once in a while I am driven to it for one reason or another.  Last year it was because I could come up with five good candidates for what new things I might be playing in 2014.

Granted, one of them was a new expansion, Warlords of Draenor, rather than a new game.  But at least I had four potential new games.

Okay, three potential new games, since I had EverQuest Next on the list, and that was beyond a long shot even a year ago.

Or maybe really two potential new games, since Landmark, still burdened with the EverQuest handle at that point, was also on the list.  Sure, it was available to the public, for a price.  And I even played with it a couple of times.  But it isn’t even feature complete yet, so SOE calling it beta is purely a political move.

And that will be... December?

And that will be… when?

There simply wasn’t enough “there” there to call it a game.

But there were two potentials, two new games coming in 2014 that raised enough interest in me that I could imagine myself perhaps playing them.  The were The Elder Scrolls Online and WildStar.

And I did not play either of those.  I downloaded the beta for TESO, and while it felt like it had an Elder Scrolls vibe, an opinion based entirely on my few hours of playing Skyrim, which shouldn’t be viewed as being at all definitive, it did not really enchant me.  I was more interested in whether or not it and WildStar could pull off the monthly subscription model and last through to the end of the year without going F2P.  They made it, though things look grim for WildStar on that front.

So, in the end, I played one game on my list, which was just an expansion to a game I was already playing and which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year.  I also played EVE Online, which passed the 11 year mark this year, and started in again on EverQuest II, another title in the double digit age range at this point.

I suppose I could throw War Thunder on the list, but that really isn’t an MMO in the sense I mean.  That, and World of Tanks are more lobby based battle match making games than persistent world.  I did take another shot at Star Wars: The Old Republic, but that passed quickly.  I’ve already spent more time in EverQuest II this week than I did in SWTOR all year.

So that was my year in MMOs  2014 was completely rooted in old standards.

And, as I sit here, it looks like that might be the way 2015 rolls, all old school.  Gaff, having patched up EQII and then balked at how dated it feels… and it does feel dated, though for me that is part of the charm… is talking a bit about Lord of the Rings Online.  But I don’t think LOTRO is going to win many points on the fresh-O-meter either.

I cannot, at this moment, bring to mind any new titles for 2015 that I might play.

Sure, I could go do a bit of research and come up with a few.  I know there has to be a few persistent, virtual world-like, MMORPGs slated for 2015, but I figure that if I do not know them without a Google search, then they are unlikely candidates at best.

Yes, I could put up a list like:

  • Landmark
  • EverQuest Next
  • Camelot Unchained
  • Shroud of the Avatar
  • Star Citizen

But I am not feeling it for Landmark really, and of the other four we might see something really playable (not just a badly branded open play test or bits and pieces) from Shroud of the Avatar or Camelot Unchained by next December, given the current state of progress.  Might as well just save those for the 2016 list.  I’m not really interested in doing beta any more.

So there it stands.  My likely slate of MMOs for 2015 appears to be:

  • World of Warcraft
  • EVE Online
  • EverQuest II

Not that such a list is bad.  As long as I am enjoying my time playing, it doesn’t matter if I am playing something new of something I started playing a decade back. And, at least in the case of EVE Online, it is an exciting time to be in the game as things are changing.  But after years of being able to name at least some new stuff coming in the next calendar year, it seems a bit odd to only be looking at the same things for 2015.

Of course, the golden age of the big MMO launch seems to have passed.  It has been a while since there was a list of strong candidates.  The market is too crowded, there are an almost unbelievable number of second or third tier titles, and going forward we seem to be entering the age of the niche title that focuses on a specific strength catering to a specific demographic.

Or so it seems.  I might have missed something.  Is there a new title coming in 2015 I ought to be excited about?  Is there one that you are excited about?

Addendum: And now that I have written this, Massively has a “what are you looking forward to in 2015” post with a list of titles… and most of the staff mention Landmark or EverQuest Next or both.  Their poll lumps the two together in a blatant display of SOE bias. (And the two titles together are still losing to Camelot Unchained, though Mark Jacobs is all over the comment thread, so he might have called out the cavalry.)

The Elder Scrolls Online Wants My Opinion, But Only if I am Quick About it!

The launch of The Elder Scrolls Online came and went back in April.

I played a bit during the beta.  Not that much, just enough for me to get the flavor of the game which, in my narrow point of view on the subject, was an Elder Scrolls game.  The necessary elements were there.

But since I am not a huge fan of the whole Elder Scrolls series, I opted not to buy the game.  It just wasn’t for me, and that was fine.  On to other things.

Bethesda though, they noted that I played in the beta but then didn’t drop $60 on a box, virtual or otherwise.

Late Monday evening they dropped me a note to find out why.  It was a request to take a survey.

Asking for Feedback

Asking for Feedback

It arrived too late for me to consider taking at that moment, and Tuesday turned out to be a very busy day.  But Wednesday morning I had a moment free, so I got out the email and pulled up a blank document for notes to see what they had to ask.

I wanted to give them an honest assessment as well as seeing how they structured their survey.  Bad surveys can be amusing while good ones can be almost as instructive for those taking it as those administering it.

So I clicked on the “start survey” link and… got this:

You snooze, you lose...

You snooze, you lose…

Apparently they had enough responses… or weren’t that interested… or had some sort of artificial time limit.

So they may never find out why I was not among the reported 772,374 people who did join them in Tamriel

What Does It Mean to be a “Subscription MMO?”

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.

The Elder Scrolls Online – It’s Here

Today is the official go-live date for The Elder Scrolls Online.  I was a bit skeptical about them hitting their target in good order, especially after a couple of the beta weekends, but here we are.

I'm skeptical about that date...

The Date has Arrived

And what I have read online so far seems to indicate that things are going well.  SynCaine, something of a bellwether on this front for me due to his past investment in Skyrim and such, making him a good point for telling whether this is really an Elder Scrolls game or not, seemed to be happy during the head start.  I will take that as a good omen.  And I like his advice on how to approach such a game.

I am still not ready to dive in.  The game isn’t off my list, but I really don’t feel the need to go some place new right now.  I am still in the midst of reliving 2008 or some such with WoW and Pokemon and the like.  But when the usual Summer instance group hiatus comes and I have ground out all the factions in Azeroth I can stand and it is time for a vacation in some different world, TESO is very likely candidate.

Others looking at launch day (as I find them):

 

The Elder Scrolls Online – Mission Accomplished

In which I type the word “Skyrim” over and over.

My to “beta or not to beta question” of the other week was answered in the affirmative.  I did download the client and I did go play in The Elder Scrolls Online beta weekend of the 7th through the 9th of this month.

TESO_small

The client download for the beta was big… at least as big as World of Warcraft is these days… I had to download a fresh copy to my daughter’s new computer late last year… but thanks to high speed internet and a couple of movies the whole thing was set and installed in a pretty reasonable amount of time.

I did not get to spend as much time playing as I wanted.  Since it was the load test weekend, part of the testing seemed to be focused on the login queue, where I spent a chunk of my time.

Waiting to get in

Waiting to get in

However, I did play enough to answer what was for me the burning question of TESO:  Is it an Elder Scrolls game?

I said previously that Zenimax pretty much had to do one thing to make an Elder Scrolls MMO work.  They simply had to scratch the “I want to play Skyrim with my friends” itch.

Yes, execution is important.  If the game doesn’t actually work, then there is no point.  But if they failed to make you think you were playing un-modded Skyrim, then they were doing it wrong.

Well, now that the NDA is down, I can say that the game feels like Skyrim.  I have the advantage of having first played Skyrim this past summer, when I bought it as part of yet another Steam Summer Sale, so my impressions are pretty recent, all things considered.

The character creator felt about the same, and I was able to make a non-traditional character to play.

Wilhelm as you've never seen him

Wilhelm’s Abyssinian cousin

The game intro… the first act or whatever… felt about the same.  There are only a few standard tropes for starting an adventure game as a fully formed person who happens to have nothing.   Escape from prison, come back from the dead, or survive a ship wreck spring to mind as being over-used.  TESO manages to combine two… you escape from a prison for the dead… which I am not sure gets them bonus points or demerits… but it was close enough to Skyrim, where you escape from prison, that it feels about the same in spirit… if you leave out the dragons.

The intro is very linear, as with Skyrim, and everybody is extremely patient while you get your bearings and try to find your way out… as with Skyrim.  In fact, I am going to try to stop writing “as with Skyrim” at this point unless absolutely necessary… like when I talk about the UI, which… yeah, Skyrim.

At the end of the intro...

At the end of the intro…

The minimalist “see the world not the buttons” UI is pretty much straight from Skyrim.  It is all about immersion.  If you are used to raid frames and rotation helpers and hot bars and a dozen quest tracker entries and what not, this will no doubt be confusingly sparse.  You may hate it.  You will not be alone.  If I could find it, I would link to a blog post that Richard Bartle did about Skyrim in which he bagged on the lack of things on screen to poke.

And, of course, the whole UI is designed to work across PCs and consoles, which will make it annoying to PC gamers.  It feels better than DC Universe Online, which suffers from that same cross-platform requirement, but it will still make you angry until you get used to it.  Unless, of course, you liked it in Skyrim.

And, once you get out of the starter area and get situated, there is a linear quest line to follow to keep the completionist achievers happy, as with… you know.  Skyrim had a main quest line too.  But, you can also still says bollocks to that and head off in another direction and run into side quests and other things to do.  These are not post-Cataclysm WoW 1-60 areas with exactly one quest thread running through the whole zone.  Explorers can explore and will be rewarded.

I did not get enough time to run around to be able to say that there were enough side paths as to make it just like Skyrim, but it certainly seemed to be building towards that.  So Zenimax learned its lessons well.

There were bugs.  I ran into a few and I saw people complaining about more.  There was also nearly two months to go until launch when I was playing, so I assume that Zenimax will be working hard to squash between now and then.

And how did I like it?  Enough that I wanted to go back and play it some more.  However, my key appeared to be only good for the load test weekend.  So I guess I am done with any beta access.  But what I had was enough.

And will I be pre-ordering it and playing the game at launch?

No.

Not because I do not like the game.  While I still think a Borderlands 2 4-player co-op model with plenty of post launch DLC was the winning move for an Elder Scrolls game, the MMO version still works.  The lack of mods will annoy the Elder Scrolls purists and the masses of adventurers swarming across the lands changes the essential feeling of the game relative to Skyrim… I often felt really alone in that game, something that drove the desire to play with friends… but those are things that just come with the MMO territory.  So we have a decent MMO based on an established franchise that isn’t a complete WoW clone.  I approve of this.

I just don’t need another MMO to play and nobody with whom I play with regularly is interested in the game at this point.  So I will be sticking with WoW and EVE Online for now.

Maybe come the usual summer hiatus of the instance group Potshot or Gaff will want to go play and we’ll run off to see what has become of the game.  Or maybe I will finally tire of Pandaria dailies and will have ground all the factions I care to before Warlords of Draenor launches.

After my 2014 MMO Outlook post, that was really the best you could expect from me.  It is still higher on my list than Landmark or WildStar.  It could have been worse.

Anyway, that wasn’t much of a look at the game, just a superficial scouting report.  Others in the blogesphere with more passion for the game (and the Elder Scrolls series) have deeper thoughts on the subject.  For me, it was just a matter whether they could make TESO feel like Skyrim to me. They succeeded in my opinion.

For further opinions, I suggest starting with this list.

Wilhelm’s Elder Scrolls Soliloquy

To beta, or not to beta – that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The puzzled apprehension of the outside observer,
Or to download this vast sea of trouble
And by participation, to end all doubt.

TESO-let, Act II, scene 3

There is a beta this weekend.  It starts today.

TESO_small

I have a code.  I have speedy broadband.  I could, should I so desire, participate.

But do I want to?  Do I care?  We are indeed at the point that tests those questions.

I tend to be down on betas in the first place.  If I want to play a game, I will wait until launch so that the game is fresh then.  So betas tend to be for me to check out games on which I am undecided.  My track record on that front favors a “played in beta, avoided at launch” result.

Add in the fact that we are less than two months from the planned launch date on April 4, 2014 and the game is still under a tight NDA and I start to think that my play time might be better spent in Azeroth or New Eden or in any one of the neglected titles in my Steam library.

Soft you now, the fair-to-middling  ESO! –
MMO, in thine temptation be all my sins remembered.

So will you play?

My MMO Outlook for 2014

There are three posts I have done around this time of year for most of the last few years.  There is the looking back post, which I did for 2013 a ways back.  There is the predictions/questions/whatever sort of bigger picture post which I posted on the first of the year.

And then there is a look at what might launch in the coming year that could be of interest to me.  I usually do that one first because it is usually the easiest.  The other two, theoretically, take some thought, while that post is mostly about emotion.  What upcoming game speaks to me?  What will I have to buy on day one just to play it?

This year though, I am just not feeling much of that emotional tingle, the burning desire to stomp around on some new world.  The list of potential contenders did not spring immediately to mind.  Still, I march forward out of habit if nothing else.  Here is what I have.

5 – EverQuest Next Landmark

On the list because… I felt I needed five titles… sort of.

Ars Technica Reports...

For specific definitions of “MMO”

I am mostly uninterested in Landmark because it is billed as a tool not a game.  Not that tools can’t be fun.  I’ve spent the last 15 years working on development environments of one sort or another… tools, in essence… and have had more than my share of fun in doing so.  But for gaming time, I am not sure I am in the tool zone any more.  Somewhere between Pinball Construction Set (or Adventure Construction Set) and the level editor in StarCraft, I fell out of the desire to build levels and such.  I am pretty much just a consumer of content now, at least when it comes to me leisure time.

That said, SOE seems to be on something of an “It’s a dessert topping! No, it’s a floor wax!” riff when it comes to Landmark, so my lack of interest could change when the people who paid to get into the early user guinea pig test cycles start reporting back on what it really is.  Until then though, it is a very unlikely candidate for me in 2014.

4 – WildStar

A step ahead of Landmark by virtue of it being solidly in the “it’s a game!” category.

Wildstar_logo

WildStar is also the latest attempt to break out of the stock MMORPG template with some change-ups to combat and movement and special development paths that you can select for your character. The latter are supposed to represent the different Bartle types,  though I recall Bartle himself writing a bit about such an implementation representing a misunderstanding of what he meant with his types.  Explorer types will want to try all options, as an example, not just the explorer path.  It’s what makes them explorers.  Or something.

Otherwise, it looks to be very much a product of the last decade of MMO development.  Will its “different” bits be different enough to make it stand out while its “same” bits remain familiar enough to not scare people off?  And can it struggle out from the massive shadow cast by World of Warcraft?  And will NCSOFT race to put a bullet in its head if it turns out to be a “3 monther?”

WildStar is a title where I have no real desire yet to be in-game on day one, but I wouldn’t discount it as a title I try eventually.

3 – The Elder Scrolls Online

Now we’re getting into more likely territory.

I'm skeptical about that date...

I’m skeptical about that date…

Despite the reports of boring sameness, seeming to be another MMO in the post-WoW mold, and the annoying official acronym change from TESO to ESO, I actually feel like I might want to play this one.  Maybe even on day one despite… or maybe because of… my prediction about it.  I am guessing it will be a disaster on launch day… well, more so than your typical MMO launch.  But sometimes being part of the disaster can endear a game to you.

Anyway, why am I even looking at this, give the combo of alleged sameness and the potential for day one catastrophe?

I guess that the key here is that I cannot imagine that the developers of this MMO could be so daft as to create a game based on the Elder Scrolls franchise without looking deep within themselves to ask the most important question: Does it capture even a bit of the essence of the series?  Because that is the vital ingredient here, the winning proposition, the thing that would make people knock over their grandmother to grab a copy of the game.  If they can come up with something that feels just enough like Skyrim, but lets me play with my friends, then they will prevail . The only issue I have with Skyrim is that I cannot play with my friends.  Solve that, profit.

Of course, if they fail to do that, they are toast.

2 – EverQuest Next

On the list because, as of a date in early August of last year, this has been the official “next game” for me.

Firiona Vie makes it to 2013

Will Firiona Vie make it to 2014?

Even after several months of SOE trying to beat any enthusiasm out of me by almost exclusively talking up Landmark while relegating the actual freaking game to inane roundtable discussions on topics like whether or not female dwarves should have beards and what color barbarian toe jam should be rendered in, this is still the only upcoming MMO I am actually really looking forward to at this time.

Of course, part of that is no doubt the stunning lack of tangible information available about the game.  Between the inane, like the beards, and the broad stroke terms, like “sandbox,” and the promise of Storybricks technology and voxels and what not, there are huge gaps in which one can build castles in the sky founded on hopes, dreams, and aspirations that might not enter into the reality of the game when it ships.

But, even now, knowing all the gaps, it is still the game I lust for.

Which is a pity, because I cannot imagine it being in any sort of playable state in 2014.  Still, if it shows up, I am there.

1 – Warlords of Draenor

This one, this is the gimme.  The default choice.  The Meryl Streep nomination.

The New Expansion

The New Expansion

Unless something radical happens, this is the one game… well, expansion to a game, because frankly I couldn’t even come up with five NEW MMOs I would consider… that I know I will be picking up this year.  Maybe even the collector’s edition this time around.

Yes, I know, for every new feature in Warlords of Draenor there is going to be a dozen re-skinned or re-used items and that they are pulling out the time travel gimmick yet again and that we’ll be fighting a bunch of orcs… the same thing we do every night, Pinky.  I’m not even bursting at the seams, “gotta have it now!” excited about this expansion.  I’m content to let show up in good time.

But I didn’t end up back playing the 9 year old fantasy MMORPG (along side the 10 year old internet spaceships game) because they don’t know how to make a smooth, comfortable, playable game with plenty of attractive rides/treadmills for me to while away the hours on with my friends.  Yes, it isn’t the early days any more, or even the 2006 heyday of classic WoW, but I am back and have found I like it.  And I expect that I will like Warlords of Draenor as much if not more.  Go boring old me.

And Into 2014…

The new year is upon us, and what I say at the start of a year doesn’t always come to pass by the end.  At the beginning of 2013, where I lumped my predictions and outlook into a single post… hey I was in Hawaii at the time… I said I would “finish” Rift and and make it to tier 8 in World of Tanks.  Didn’t happen.  In past years I have also declared myself for such titles as Star Wars: The Old Republic and Neverwinter, neither of which ever gained a lot of traction with me.  So this is just the usual stake in the ground, declaring the lay of the land as I see it today, not knowing what tomorrow might bring.

And since, in looking back on these sorts of posts, I always seem to end them with a poll, I will keep with tradition, adding in a couple more titles that did not make my list.  Which of these will you likely play in 2014?