Landmark and the Price of a Badly Defined Beta

There has been an argument over what “beta” means when it comes to software for as long as I have been part of the industry, which is pushing on 25 years now.

The baseline definition for me has always been that your software is feature complete and you feel it is ready to ship, but now you are going to take some time to get people outside the development group to look at things.  This can be surprisingly important and an eye opening experience, as when you have worked with a piece of software for months at a stretch, your brain becomes adjusted to the way it works.  You stop seeing the flaws and you become invested in the project vision.

And then you hand it to some fresh eyes who will, often almost immediately, tell if what you have been slaving over makes a lick of sense.  It can be a sobering moment when somebody, after five minutes with your product, makes a suggestion for a fundamental change that, upon reflection, seems obvious.  Plus they tend to catch all those quirks that the team has simply learned to work around to the point of developing a blind spot, those bugs that “everybody” knows about yet somehow never quite made it to the bug tracking database.

That is the idea in my book.  I have fought for that ideal now and then.  But I have been through the wringer enough times to know that fight can be futile.  So I have been through internal betas (where we learn how little the rest of the company cares) schedule betas (the schedule says we’re beta as of today so we are) political betas (we’re going beta today because if we don’t, somebody in senior management will look bad) survival betas (we’re going beta because if we don’t they’ll cancel the project and lay us all off) and the occasional investor beta (I gave your company money so install your product on my son’s laptop… and put more RAM in there as well… I don’t care, strip your lab machines if you have to).

But in all of that there is still a certain level feature availability before we hand the software over to fresh eyes, if for no other reason that a fresh perspective is a perishable commodity and you don’t want to waste it on things you should have caught yourself.  Once people have been in your beta a bit they will become fixated on things that are important to them and tend to not notice anything else.  Long betas introduce beta fatigue, as I am going to guess SOE is finding out with Landmark.

Landmark was in alpha for a stretch and then went into “closed beta” a few months back, which meant “paid beta” so far as I could tell.  I was invited in for a couple of seven day runs at the product and, as the joke goes, there wasn’t much “there” there.  I suspect that SOE is feeling interest wain as the software goes on and on with small but important changes but no real end in sight.  So while they fleeced convinced some people to pay money to get into the software early, I am going to guess that even the most hard core fan has some limit and really need more people online and active to test.

Which is why I suspect we got this sale today over at Steam.

LandmarkSteamSale

Yes, Landmark has been marked down to Steam Summer Sale levels of discount.  That is the basic Settler Pack, but the other tiers are available too, including upgrades if you are already invested.

All packages marked down

All packages marked down

I was a tad miffed that people were getting Planetary Annihilation for three bucks less than my Kickstarter pledge back during the Steam Summer Sale.  How would I feel if I was in for a hundred for the top tier Trailblazer Pack and then, still during closed beta, they offered up the same deal for $33.99?  I wonder if any of those early adopters will pipe up?

And given the caveats, I am not sure that $33.99 is a good deal from where I sit.  The warning on Steam as part of their Early Access disclaimer:

ATTENTION: Landmark is in Closed Beta. That means we are still adding core feature sets and that updates are happening weekly. Everything in the game is currently subject to change, which includes the possibility of wipes.

Please make sure to read the Landmark Blueprint, which provides a list of planned feature updates and timing estimates.

We are using an Open Development process to create this game, which means that you are encouraged to interact directly with the development team via the Steam Community, Twitter, Reddit, Twitch and our Forums. If you are interested in helping to create a game from the ground up, Landmark offers that opportunity.

For more information on the Landmark development process, click here.

The Landmark blueprint forum thread shows a list of features and says that they will be unveiling some new things at SOE Live in a couple of weeks.  But there is a long list of features, including almost everything that might turn Landmark into a game as opposed to a wanna-be Minecraft prototype, waiting to be implemented. (But they got the Station Cash store running muy pronto!)  There is certainly no obvious “okay, it is worth my time” point on their blueprint as yet.

While I am sure that for the devs actually working on the project, these changes are coming as fast as they can manage them, from the outside the pace can feel very different.  If you’ve been playing around with Landmark for six months or more at this point there is probably a good chance that your interest has faded somewhat, or that your focus has narrowed to a few things.  There certainly haven’t been a lot of blog posts about Landmark lately, and bloggers as a group tend to be more enthusiastic about their games than the average play.  SOE has gotten a mention here and there due to handing out seven day passes, but people who were on fire early on have been pretty quiet these days.

So, while I am not ready to claim that Landmark is DOA, it could be easily inferred that SOE needs some more people actually coming in to play, to start from scratch, to get involved, and to be enthusiastic about the game.  And for just under seven bucks I am slightly tempted.  But there still doesn’t seem to be enough there yet, and the game is going to be free to play eventually anyway.  So I will probably pass.

SOE has a chance to revive interest at SOE Live, though that can be a double edged sword as well.  They got a lot of people interested in EverQuest Next at the last SOE Live but haven’t said much about it since, and SOE has something of a history of sporadically building up enthusiasm with their customer base only to go silent for long stretches.

If It Can Go Wrong, It Will Go Wrong… At SOE

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

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

Sony Online Entertainment appeared to be down.

more titles in the past than in the future

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

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

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

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

What I saw on my iPad this morning

What I saw on my iPad this morning

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

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

Addendum: Smed speaks

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

Better.

Addendum: TechDirt sums it all up.

You Don’t Have ProSiebenSat.1 to Kick Around Anymore

Well, that de-escalated quickly.

Sony Online Entertainment announced today that European players of DC Universe Online, PlanetSide 2, and EverQuest II will have their accounts merged back into the SOE fold and become direct customer of SOE, which is what they were two years ago when this whole PR disaster started. (The sordid history is over at EQ2 Wire.)

SOE_Logo

Since those three titles do not represent all of SOE’s games, I am not sure what this means to European EverQuest players (Did that ever get migrated? It was promised/threatened at one point.) but it seems to be a move in the right direction.

ProSiebenSat_logo

Never a popular proposition, the whole thing was summed up early on by a cartoon that depicted SOE selling off their European customers, represented by a protesting child, to a dubious looking man in a van.  A child molester as the metaphor for your plans is never a good thing.  Once that image took hold, there was probably no hope of a happy ending.

There is, of course, a FAQ about the transition up on the SOE forums.  The official cut off between the two is July 1, but it appears that the two year old region locking has been turned off as of today players can now play on any server they so desire.  The rest of it… changing launchers, updating accounts, conversion of SevenCash to StationCash, and the “you know it is going to happen” complaint from somebody who prefers ProSiebenSat.1 to SOE.. will transition over the coming weeks.  Read the FAQ for a vague guess at how this will roll out.

Anyway, put this on the list with the NGE and the Station Launcher as another SOE scheme that did not quite work out as planned.

Authenticators… Are They Still a Thing?

In which I demonstrate I am clearly running out of things to write about.

There was a point in time, a few years back, when account authenticators were very much a thing.  Back when WoW accounts seemed to be getting hacked almost constantly and people were even phishing for EverQuest II account data, authenticators were news.  I, my daughter, and my mother all have authenticator fobs for our respective WoW accounts.

How many times have I used this shot?

How many times have I used this shot?

I also have an authenticator fobs for SOE games, although I stopped using it.  Blizzard managed to streamline the authenticator process, requiring it only weekly so long as my IP address/login computer doesn’t change.  SOE’s “append your token to the end of your password” method, which was always a bit awkward, is also resistant to any streamlining.  (And they show a freakin’ SOE mini-splash screen for two seconds when you hit the button? WTF?)  So I decided a long password would suffice for them  Plus, who steals SOE accounts these days?  Is there any money in that?

Other companies offered them as well.  Square Enix had them for their Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV MMOs.  EA offered up an authenticator fob for Star Wars: The Old Republic as part of the collector’s edition.

The key item for me

Look, a fob!

If I recall right, CCP even gave out an authenticator fob, or at least talked about one, for EVE Online at FanFest a couple years back, though they have not to my knowledge, implemented multi-factor authentication with it so far… which seems odd, given the meta game there.

All of these are branded versions of the VASCO Digipass Go 6 device.  The trend seemed to be to go that route, no doubt because VASCO has a package that made integration manageable and ability to supply a company like Blizzard, which has millions of customer accounts.  This also allowed companies to go with a “mobile authenticator” option, giving players access to authenticator functionality on their smart phones.   Some companies, such as Trion, have opted to go solely with such an options.  Others, like SOE, only have the authenticator fob option, but promise to get smart phone functionality in the near future.  (But not soon.  We know what SOE means when they say “Soon™”.)

Not that the SOE approach bothers me.  I do not actually own a smart phone, and while I have an iPad, it tends to be a device I only use when away from my computer.  So the authenticator fob works out well for me.  It is a small, single purpose device that sits right where I need it, next to my keyboard.

But, aside from SOE and Blizzard, not many companies seem to be pursuing the who authenticator fob idea.  Square Enix was perpetually out of st0ck on fobs, while I am not even sure you could buy one independently from EA.  And even Blizzard seems to go hot and cold on the idea.  For a while they were giving them away if you knew where to look, while at other times they haven’t been available for love or money.  That was most recently the case when they split the Blizzard Store into the Battle.net Shop and the Gear Store. (Hint: It is in the Gear Store.)

Then again, WoW is the only game where accounts getting hacked seemed to reach epidemic proportions, with nearly everybody in our little guild who didn’t have an authenticator having their account hacked or otherwise compromised at one point a couple of years back.  So I am not sure I really need to bother with an authenticator for other games.  Somebody tried to access my GuildWars 2 account last month… I got three email messages that were in response to a request for a password reset… but there isn’t anything there to steal.  I am not sure I would even notice if somebody got in and did something.  But I changed the password on that email account ahead of schedule, just in case.

So where do people stand on the whole authenticator thing these days?  I wouldn’t remove mine from my WoW account given past history, and I might like the option for EVE Online, given its meta-game tone.  But I feel comfortable enough with decent, unique passwords on other accounts.

How about you and authenticators, fob or mobile based?

H1Z1… Because… Zombies?

SOE has announced their previously hinted at zombie apocalypse (I get a twofer on that word today, because lasers) horror survival “dedicated to Star Wars Galaxies players” game yesterday.

I think it is just that sort of dedication that brought about the NGE, no?  I guess if SOE can figure out that Landmark isn’t an EverQuest game, maybe they can eventually sort out who H1Z1 is really for as well.

So far all we have for official word is a web site with a moonrise, some spooky music, and a link to the H1Z1 subreddit, Smed’s current favorite venue.  I guess Reddit is the demographic he wants to reach.

The night is dark, I think I'll go to bed

The night is dark, I think I’ll go to bed

The H1Z1 subreddit has a “what we have learned so far” thread that attempts to summarize what is known.  The state of affairs as it currently stands:

Gameplay Details

  • First Person or Third Person shooter
  • Zombie Survival
  • Night is dark and full of terrors
  • Player versus Player at it’s core.
  • More than just zombies in the world
  • Base Building, Town building, Fortress creation
  • Can burn down things others build.
  • Lots of crafting. Probably the biggest thing about the game.
  • Vehicles are already in. Possibility of aircraft in the future.
  • Based off the United States.
  • If you die, you lose your gear. It stays on your corpse.
  • “No skills or levels”.
  • “Thousands of players”. I’m willing to bet this will be larger, playercount wise, than planetside 2.
  • There will be Hunting.

Tech Details

  • PC first, PS4 later. “Well, we are Sony” when asked about the PS4 version.
    • In terms of cross-platform play, Planetside 2 will not be doing cross platform due to the logistics of updating the game on the PS4 vs the PC. I expect that this has not changed so I don’t see cross-platform play happening. SOE has made no comment on this point however, so I could be talking out of my ass.
  • “If you can run Planetside 2, you can run H1Z1 better”.
  • “Orders of magnitude larger than Planetside 2″.
  • Based of Planetside 2. Shares no tech with Everquest Next (so no Voxels).
  • Built in voice chat options.

Monetization Details

  • Free to play
  • Part of the All-Access subscription that SOE is launching this month. $15/mo for premium sub in all SOE games.
  • “you seriously don’t need to spend a dime. We’re still figuring out the monetization but we will telegraph our plans early and let people comment and we’ll listen if they don’t like something and come to a place where people feel good about it.” -Smed, in this thread
  • Early Access ($20ish, on steam) in 4-6 weeks.

I’ll just leave that there as a baseline to compare against as things move forward.

For those hoping that this will be a Landmark or EverQuest Next based zombie game, disappointment is already in the cards.  The cynic in me sees this as PlanetSide 2 tech re-purposed as a zombie game with some PvE and building elements.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  There could be a market for this, so long as it doesn’t degenerate into the aimbot hack hell that PlanetSide 2 became.  It doesn’t thrill me at the moment, but a shooter with more to it could have a draw.

Of course, the cynic in me also wants to know how it will work in a world where you already have a lot of choices on the zombie front?

How will SOE differentiate H1Z1 from the pack?

I suppose we shall see.

Others talking about H1Z1:

Insta-Levels Come to EverQuest

Paid boosts to higher levels were pretty much a given for EverQuest at some point.  The only real question I have is why it took this long.  After all, EverQuest II got its own insta-level scheme… erm, “heroic character” plan… way back in October of last year.

My guess is that they wanted to wait for the game’s 15th anniversary to roll this out.

So here we are.  The anniversary is this coming Sunday, and starting Wednesday of this week you can get a level boosted character.  Per SOE:

Players should find it much easier to begin their adventures in Norrath when they start at level 85 with a full complement of gear, Alternative Advancement Abilities, and a unique mount. Regardless if you’re a veteran player that wants to try a new class, a new player that wants to get caught up to your friends, or a player that hasn’t visited Norrath in a long time, Heroic Characters are a great way for you to get in the game!

And, from this Wednesday through to Wednesday, March 26th, the first one is free.  The second, or the first after March 26th, will run you 3,500 Station Cash, which translates into $35 if you leave aside any possible discounts or stipends.  You can apply this boost to a new or existing character.

$35 is the same price as EverQuest II charges for their version of the boost, which was somewhere near the possible price range for Lord of the Rings Online’s experiment with insta-levels (depending on how you value Turbine Points), but is considerably less than what Blizzard is planning to charge for a level 90 character in World of Warcraft.

That last bit makes you think.  After all, the prices of other services… realm transfers or race/faction/name changes… even expansions… for these games run about the same.  But a boost to a high level character? $35 vs. $60.

What ever your particular market can bear I guess.  Or maybe it depends on the target audience for the offer.

Otherwise, the deals are similar enough.  You get a boost up into what the company considers the current/best/optimum/most up to date content.  You get some good gear and whatever else goes along with the being at that level.  In the case of EQ that means Alternate Advancement points, one of those things that went from a way to keep people busy after they hit level cap to “you must have n AA points to join our very serious guild.”  And there is even a special mount for you.

Not at all awkward on that mount

Not at all awkward on that mount

I remain somewhat indifferent to insta-levels.  They are still something I would only pay money for under very specific, and pretty rare, circumstances.  But I get the appeal.  And in the case of EverQuest, the idea probably makes as much sense as it ever will.

After all, the content in EverQuest has evolved a lot in the last 15 years.  And the bits and pieces of Norrath that I think I “know” represent a tiny fraction of that content.  What I might call “my” EverQuest adds up to the original content, much of Ruins of Kunark, the areas around Crescent Reach up to about level 50, the tutorial, the Plane of Knowledge, and a few lower level locations scattered around the game.  Anything above level 60 or that was added after, say, Planes of Power, is pretty much unknown to me and likely to remain that way.  I mean, I didn’t even find a “lost” dungeon (2003 content) until about two years ago.

If I want to see anything new in Norrath, an insta-85 is probably the best way, as I have long since lost my ability to level up over time in the game, even with reductions in the level curve, mercenaries, and some attempts at directed content.  And I suspect I am not alone in that.

And then there is the cash shop in EverQuest.  SOE was extremely sensitive to what they put in the cash shop in EverQuest II.  In EverQuest though, the felt much less constrained.  Things that would make people’s collective heads explode in EQII… like actual gear or trade skill supplies… are readily available for Station Cash in EQ.

Gear packs available

Gear packs available

But in EverQuest gear acquisition, and the constant flow of gear upgrades, is not as obvious or ingrained as it is in EverQuest II, where you have to pretty much change out everything every 10 levels.

And then there is the whole “this game is 15 years old with a lot of uneven content between character creation and level 85″ aspect.  It might make sense to just put people into the newer content and leave West Karana and Butcher Block to those with a yen for nostalgia.  Of course, you might ask why they chose level 85.  That puts you into the House of Thule content.  If I recall right, that is about the peak before you have to start buying expansions again, so perhaps that is the right point to put people.

So I will likely go and get my free boost to level 85 later this week, and maybe even run around to see what there is to be seen these days.  If nothing else, having a character at that level will make touring the world a little easier.

Actually, I will probably boost a level 85 on both of my accounts.  One curious little tidbit:

For accounts created before Nov 8, 2013, the free Heroic Character option is available one time per account.

For accounts created on or after Nov 8, 2013, the free Heroic Character option is available one time per household.

I seem to recall this “one time per household” thing coming up with the free boost EverQuest II.  I suspect that people were angered… SOE has a knack for angering customers that boggles the mind some days… and now they have spelled it out in a very specific way while grandfathering older accounts into past rules in order to limit the rage level.

Meanwhile, I am wondering who will offer character level boosts next?  Which games have enough content for this sort of thing to make sense.

Quote of the Day – Hearthstone, SOE, and Historical Inevitability

Actually after seeing what Blizzard did with Hearthstone it’s given us some other ideas…. LoN is an awesome card game. We can take that to the next level.

John Smedley, Reddit AMA on plans for Legends of Norrath

Okay, that is actually a quote from a few days back, but the Reddit Ask Me Anything that John Smedley did last Friday is a gold mine of quotes.  I have to salute Feldon at EQ2 Wire for picking out some of the prime samples for his post.

And I have to hand it to Smed for not flinching from some tough question and answering things the way he did.  He laid out a lot things there, and not all of them were flattering to SOE.  He also left a lot of meat on the table to discuss, from SOE operating Vanguard at a loss for “a long time” to consolidation of IPs plan (again, is DC Universe Online safe with that going on?) to EverQuest Next being headed for the PlayStation 4 (not good news in my book, at least when it comes to a ship date… or user interface choices).  You could get a month’s worth of blog posts out of that AMA.  I am sure bloggers will be feeding on this all week.

But the item quoted at the top… I think speaks volumes in just two sentences.

The online collectible card game Legends of Norrath was launched back in late 2007, when it was integrated with EverQuest and EverQuest II, giving players a game to play within a game.  No mixed message in that.  Later it got its own stand-alone client, but the integration with the EverQuest games was still prime.  Legends of Norrath borrowed the stories and metaphors of the EverQuest games for theme and mechanics, and offered up in-game goodies for players of the two MMOs along with throwing out the occasional reward to the community by including somebody on a card.

Brent from VirginWorlds got a card

Brent from VirginWorlds got a card

And, as far as I know, the game has been a success.  It survived the great purge of the Denver and Tuscon studios that seemed to spell the end of online card games being anything like a focus at SOE. (There are some good historical Smed quotes on the old SOE Blog, and some interesting posts from others about company plans. I am surprised it hasn’t all been sent down the memory hole yet.)  Legends of Norrath survived along with Magic The Gathering: Tactics, though the latter is slated to be shut down at the end of March.  Another aspect of the recent blood bath I guess.

And then along came Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.

HearthstoneWhite_450

Actually, it hasn’t really come along yet.  It just got out of closed beta and is now downloadable by anybody who wants to be in the open beta (Europe too now) and who has a Battle.net account.

Hearthstone compares directly to Legends of Norrath.  It is an online collectable card game based on the lore of a popular MMO, it is free to play with its own client, you can buy cards, play against other online, and so on.

However, unlike Legends of Norrath, Hearthstone isn’t integrated into World of Warcraft.  For now the linkage is only in lore and sharing a Battle.net login with WoW and your other current Blizzard games.  Also unlike Legends of Norrath, Hearthstone has gotten a lot of praise from both inside and out of the MMO player community.

Not that I have heard people slam Legends of Norrath, but it never seemed like a big deal either, not the way Hearthstone has been hailed.  Part of that is no doubt the fact that Blizzard games are much more visible, popular, and highly rated than games from SOE.  A lot of people will try anything Blizzard ships.  Simple truth: Blizzard has a lot more fans than SOE.

And part of that is no doubt the application of Blizzard magic to the Legends of Norrath idea, which made Hearthstone shinier, easier to get into, and more appealing to players for whom collectible card games were never really a thing to do.  Plus there is the promise of an iOS and Android version of the game.  The iPad will likely be the Hearthstone platform for me.

This is, of course, pretty much a parallel to EverQuest and World of Warcraft.  SOE got out there first and succeeded, but then Blizzard took what they saw SOE doing and created something an order of magnitude more successful.  And so I suspect will be the case with Hearthstone.

Of course, not everybody loves Hearthstone.  As the hardcore early EverQuest players derided World of Warcraft (even as EverQuest tried to become more and more like WoW ), so some serious CCG players have declared that Hearthstone is a shallow game only fit for casual scrubs, bitter that people are not playing “more deserving” games.  And so it goes.

But the generally favorable reviews of the game got even me to download the Hearthstone open beta, and I am well into the “CCGs are not for me” camp. (I tried the Pokemon CCG a few times, but never enjoyed it.)  I haven’t actually played it yet… or even launched the app… but I have it downloaded.  And that brings me to yet another SOE vs. Blizzard parallel.

In downloading and installing Hearthstone, I found out that to use it required the still-in-beta Battle.net launcher… erm, excuse me… the Battle.net Desktop App.  Oh, and that replaced the launcher for all of the current Blizzard games, including World of Warcraft and Diablo III.

The Hearthstone install did not warn me about that and I was PISSED!

I was pissed because I have been through the single, unified launcher/updater wringer before.  Of course, that was with SOE which was trying to push their version of that sort of thing quite a while back.

Station Launcher of yore...

Station Launcher of yore…

The fact that Station Launcher never quite worked right was compounded by the fact that the SOE website kept telling people to use it after they had stopped supporting and it had ceased to function.  I had to open a support ticket to get the response of “don’t use that” from SOE.  So my anger was entirely based on having problems with this sort of thing before.  I would have avoided downloading Hearthstone had I known what it meant.

Only, in the ongoing parallel between SOE and Blizzard, the new Battle.net launcher… Desktop App… just works.  I log into Battle.net through it and can kick off World of Warcraft just fine.  It shows me all the news tidbits that the WoW launcher did and, in addition, shows which of my Battle Tag friends are online and in which game.  No problems at all.

My anger was thus short lived, which brings me back around to the quote at the top of this post.  SOE deciding to copy Blizzard, who copied SOE in the first place seems to be the natural order of things.  I am sure somebody can make quite a list of the things that SOE copied back from Blizzard.  So it is no surprise to me that, upon seeing what Blizzard has done with Hearthstone, that SOE has been moved to action.  Because, when left to their own devices, SOE can come up with some clunkers. (Not to mention being a bit tone deaf at times.)

I suppose the only thing wrong with Station Launcher was that SOE didn’t leaving hanging around long enough for the Blizzard version to appear so that they would know what to do.

Bloodbath at SOE – Four Titles Closing Down, PlanetSide Goes F2P

In one of those “Good news, bad news, more bad news, even more bad news, how about a tiny bit of good news, now can I bring up some more bad news” scenarios, Sony Online Entertainment announced that they had finalized their plans for their change over of all subscriptions types to the full boat SOE All Access plan, which they fumbled on earlier in the month, but which will now be just $14.99 a month and which will still come with a 500 Station Cash monthly stipend.

Once known as Station Access...

Now the plan for everybody

There is a new FAQ up in the official SOE forums describing the plan., which will be put in place “on or about” April 2, 2014.  (No April Fools Jokes for SOE!)

Down in the FAQ there are a few rather less-than-minor details, like the fact that SOE will be closing down four of their games.  Those on the list:

So SOE is going to expand their “all the MMOs you can eat” plan while at the same time cutting back on the number of MMOs on the menu.

I always say, there will be plenty of time for recriminations later.  I expect a lot to bubble up after this.  I await the SynCaine post on the F2P business model for openers.

As for the games themselves, I never really played any of them for any long duration, so my feelings on the closures are pretty subdued.

Clone Wars Adventures was an adjunct to a TV show that is no longer on the air, plus EA snagged the rights to all Star Wars video games in May of last year, so this one closing isn’t a real surprise.  It will just stand as a lesson in not investing in virtual hats.

Free Realms was never a thing for me.  My daughter played it for a bit until they broke the Mac OSX client one too many times, which weaned her from the game.  She had a lifetime membership, which I am sure means nothing.  This was SOE’s first game designed to be free to play, one Smed wanted to play with his kids.  I guess the kids grew up in the last five years.

Wizardry Online was awful in my opinion, but I came in saying I am not big on Asian imported MMOs.  I won’t miss this one at all.  I am surprised it made it this long.  I am, however, counting it towards my prediction that more than half a dozen crap Asian F2P MMOs will fold up shop this year in the US market.

And then there is Vanguard.  There is a bit of strange timing here, with Brad McQuaid launching a Kickstarter for a new game just as his last one is finally getting the axe.  I was comparing him to Mark Jacobs and Lord British in that their first MMOs were good and their second MMOs got the axe… except for Vanagurd.  Well, now the comparison is complete.

Surprisingly, the original PlanetSide did NOT get the axe.  I have no idea why.  I would have put it on that list first thing.  But it is a Smed favorite I guess.

In fact, they are going to make it a free to play title.  They are actually expending some effort on that ghost town.  Did they learn nothing when they converted Vanguard?

So, in the end, the shiny SOE All Access subscription plan to be introduced “on or about” April 2 will buy you gold memberships to:

  • EverQuest
  • EverQuest II
  • PlanetSide
  • PlanetSide 2
  • DC Universe Online

And I think with this move, SOE has stolen the crown from NCSOFT for the most closed MMOs.  Because SOE.

Addendum: Oh, and I apparently forgot about the completely forgettable Dragon’s Prophet in the SOE lineup.  When did Asian imports become a thing for SOE?  Anyway, it just opened late last year, so it was probably too soon to shut it down contractually.  But it looks like it ranks with Wizardry Online when it comes to potential.

More comments from other sources:

Quote of the Day – For Specific Definitions of “Next”

EverQuest Next — which is a totally different beast — has no current timetable. It could release in 2015 or 2025 for all we know right now.

Massively, Leaderboard: EQN vs. EQN Landmark

Therein lies the rub.

Last August, when SOE Live was done, I was quite excited about EverQuest Next.  It was the big announcement out of the event.  I wrote ~2,500 words about EQN, less than 100 of which were about Landmark, which was a Minecraft-esque tool set pseudo-game that I did not quite understand.

Firiona Vie makes it to 2013

The EverQuest Next Vision

I did not really care about Landmark.  I wanted the core game that was described at SOE Live.  The one that was… well… a freakin’ EverQuest MMORPG, with emergent AI and a new class system and all the things they presented.

I worried that, after the huge splash the EQN announcement made at SOE Live, that SOE would follow past patterns and let the excitement die off through neglect.

And, I guess if I am speaking strictly of of EQN, my worries were well founded.  EQN has been relegated to a series of banal survey questions that the same few people debate on their forums.  Such is the Round Table.  It apparently only seats about a dozen.

However, if we just follow from SOE Live, then excitement has been maintained to a certain extent… only occasionally interrupted by the usual SOE foibles… if we include Landmark in the picture.  Since SOE Live, Landmark has grown to take up almost the whole of the SOE marketing and community interaction effort.  At this point somebody stumbling onto the scene might justifiably conclude that EQN is just shorthand for EverQuest Next Landmark.

So I am… well… “frustrated” or “annoyed” are too strong… bemused, I guess, that SOE led with EQN at SOE Live, talking that up a great deal, only to let it fall by the wayside while all focus was devoted to Landmark, which looked like an adjunct product at the time of the announcement.

Yes, I understand that SOE ought to focus their marketing on the project shipping soonest… these days we ship at alpha and charge people for the privileged… and that there is an audience for Landmark… but dammit, they talked about this other thing I wanted and now barely acknowledge its existence.  Validate my selfish needs, damn you!

I guess I just fear another outcome like The Agency.

SOE All Access Changes… yet again… And the Future

Last Friday SOE announced changes for SOE All Access and Gold subscribers.  Come February SOE was going to take away the 500 Station Cash stipend for those accounts, replacing it with the ability to purchase a single Station Cash Store item with a value up to 2,000 SC per month.

Once known as Station Access...

Once known as Station Access…

This did not get a lot of positive response.  The loudest group of people appear to like to accrue Station Cash, not be given a single “use it or lose it” purchase.  And there was the usual concern that nobody would buy anything small with the 2,000 SC single buy because that would “waste” SC.

Smed went on Reddit and talked about why they did this and what else they might do.  The most interesting among the reasons for me was this:

Second – it helps us deal with some internal issues regarding accrual of balances of SC for people who aren’t playing or spending. There are a lot of people who play and have SC in their wallets and don’t spend it ever.. this accrues over time and it’s a problem.

Now, he said that was not the most important reason, but it was a driving factor for this move.  However, the fact that the first reason he gave, that people feel that 500 SC a month isn’t enough to buy anything, turned out to be largely incorrect based on feedback might be seen to move the second reason up to first place.

You might reasonably think that, especially since SOE has been working hard to dig themselves out of their Station Cash monetary problems.  They weren’t exactly Greece-like in scale, but SOE certainly wasn’t anywhere as sound as Germany either, to push a metaphor.

He also mentioned that they were thinking of making SOE All Access, formerly Station Access, available for just $14.99 a month.  At least the All Access Subscribers would be happy.

Then, late yesterday, the latest revision broke.  It is described as “not baked yet” but where SOE’s “head is at” on the subject.  Full details over at EQ2Wire, but the basics are:

  • SOE All Access is $14.99, gives you access to all SOE games.  All subscriptions will be converted to SOE All Access
  • The 500 SC monthly stipend is back, though you have to log in to collect
  • Something vague about European players and PS3/PS4 titles

So that is where we stand today.

This is one of those things where, if SOE had started with this deal, they would have been heroes.  But now, a couple of iterations in… and with things still not set in stone… I sort of want to say “SOE WTF?”  Being a responsive company is good… but tossing out plans that appear not to have been thought through fully and then changing your mind in public after your user base complains loudly?  That seems to be just a way to train players to complain early and often.  As we saw in EVE Online after Incarna, every dolt with a gripe against CCP now goes straight to “shoot the monument in Jita!” because that worked once.  Loudly complaining about SOE has worked… how many times now?  (Note the graphic Feldon chose to use for the EQ2 Wire post linked above.)

Clearly SOE’s stated primary premise for the change was wrong for at least the loudest portion of their audience.  I know I would rather accrue 500 SC a month than be given a “use it or lose it” monthly purchase, which came with its own set of terms and restrictions. (No Player Studio items at one point.)  This strikes me as the sort of option that seems like a good idea after a couple of hours in a conference room; what I call the “sensory deprivation chamber” decision.  Seems fine until you show it to the first person who wasn’t in the room, who should immediately point out the state of the emperor’s casual wear.

Their so-called secondary reason, that people accruing Station Cash is a problem for SOE, still strikes me as the only business reason for this move, and thus more important than Smed made out.  And I guess making people log in to collect once a month will slow down some people who just leave their accounts active but don’t play.  It won’t stop obsessives like me… I log into LOTRO once a month when not active just to get my 500 Turbine Points… but it will serve to punish a class of people who give SOE money for nothing.

And it is interesting to see where SOE All Access has landed in pricing.  It started out as Station Access, a $21.99 option, way back in 2004, jumping to $24.99 as time went on. Station Access peaked in price in 2007 when the price was jacked up to $29.99 a month.  That made it a penny more expensive than just having subscriptions to two SOE games on the face of it, and you could widen that gap considerably with the 3, 6, or 12 month subscription options, which were discounted for individual games but not for Station Access.  Complaints about the price change then didn’t seem to register with SOE.

Then, about two and a half years back, SOE renamed the package to SOE All Access and dropped the price to $19.99 a month, making it a good deal again for people who play multiple SOE games.  Of course, in the age of Free to Play, $30 a month was not a tenable position to hold.

And now here we are, about to say farewell to individual subscriptions to SOE games as SOE All Access drops in price to $14.99 a month.

In the end, I think this could be SOE stepping into the future of PC online gaming.  As Micosoft has their Xbox Live and PlayStation has… whatever it has… I own a PS3 and couldn’t tell you… so the PC online gaming market seems likely to move towards similar deals, where a monthly fee will give players access to bundles of games and benefits.

Actually, SOE lead on that, with Station Access back in 2004, then lost their way for a bit.

And I suspect we will see other companies that focus on online games follow suit.  Blizzard already offers benefits across games when you pre-order or go for the collector’s edition of one of their titles.  And one of my predictions for 2014 is that Blizz will give WoW subscribers some tangible benefit in Hearthstone.  That could lead the way to a Blizzard-wide subscription plan that gave you access and benefits across their Battle.net titles.

How about you?  SOE’s stumbles aside, do you think XBox-live like cross-catalog subscriptions are a coming thing in the PC online gaming world?

Addendum: This looks like it might be the topic of the day, so I’ll link out to others commenting on it.