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H1Z1… Because… Zombies? April 10, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment.
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7 comments

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 March 10, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, Sony Online Entertainment.
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5 comments

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 January 29, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment.
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5 comments

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 January 24, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment, Vanguard SOH.
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12 comments

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” January 22, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest Next, Sony Online Entertainment.
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5 comments

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 January 7, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Sony Online Entertainment.
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17 comments

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.

Station Cash Take Back January 3, 2014

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

I might have picked the wrong company in my 2014 predictions.

As reported over at the EQ2Wire, SOE has announced that they will no longer be handing out a 500 station cash stipend every month to Gold or SOE All Access subscribers.

Once known as Station Access...

Once known as Station Access…

Instead, SOE All Access subscribers will be allowed to purchase a single item in the station cash store, with a value of up to 2,000 station cash. (Some items may be excluded from this option.)  If I read the notice correctly, SOE All Access subscribers will be allowed to do so for each game they play.

So, on the one side, you will, technically, be able to buy more with your single monthly stipend.

On the other hand, you will no long be able to accumulate station cash for a big purchase over several months, instead being granted a monthly “use it or lose it” purchase.  And there are quite a few items in the store over that threshold.  This is, no doubt, SOE continuing to get their station cash house in order after flooding the market with double and triple point deals and store discounts that ended up with people being able to pay as little as $1.25 for their $14.99 monthly subscription at one point.  The joys of the free to play cash shop.

This will go into effect with all subscription renewals on or after February 3, 2014.

As for my 2014 predictions, I guessed that Turbine would make a similar take back move against lifetime subscribers.  I still believe that will come to pass given that the growling forum mob sees lifetime subscribers as freeloaders who are not carrying their weight.  We shall see over the next 11 months.

Addendum: SOE followed up with a “please don’t unsubscribe” offer of other shiny non-Station Cash things they will give you.

Can SOE Keep the EverQuest Next Excitement Going? August 14, 2013

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

For fate strums a mournful tune
For those those campaigns peak too soon

-Stomper (aka Arrowroot of Arrowshirt), Bored of the Rings

Companies get reputations for reasons.  They aren’t always for good reasons, and sometimes those reputations are far more about perception than reality, but once you get a reputation, it tends to stick.

And Sony Online Entertainment has a… colorful reputation.

They have lots of fans, certainly.  I count myself among them.  And for many, the simple fact that they made EverQuest cuts them some slack on things.  They also saved and fixed… such that they could… Vanguard, kept EverQuest Mac going for free, and anybody who starts talking about player housing in MMOs and doesn’t bring up SOE should… well… stop.  They have also pretty good about trying new things.  Has any other company tried as many subscription options or come up with anything as enticing as SOE All Access (formerly Station Access)?   Who has anything like Player Studio? They have done many good things.  But a lot of people only remember the bad.

SOE has done its share of that as well, enough so that it sometimes becomes difficult to expect anything beyond the worst.

And it isn’t just “they screwed up my favorite game,” though that is a big one.  SOE owns the industry crown for single change alienation of a gaming population with the NGE in Star Wars Galaxies.  That happened nearly eight years ago, but if you put John Smedley in a room with some gamers, somebody will bring up the NGE and still be angry about it.  Smed did a Reddit AMA last year to talk about PlanetSide 2.  The NGE came up, of course, and that question ended up being the one with the most up votes, because NGE hate is like a living, breathing being at this point.  The NGE is a particularly ugly monkey on Smed’s back, to destroy a metaphor.  I am pretty sure he could arrange world peace, limitless cheap power, and a decent nickel cigar and somebody would still be asking about the NGE.

SOE also has a reputation for acting first, then realizing the implications only after the story has fled from their grasp, leaving damage control as their only option.  There is, as a minor example, the Station Cash for Subscriptions fiasco, that smacks of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is up to.  And for letting the narrative escape, few stories can beat the ProSieben.Sat1 debacle, where the whole affair managed to get summed up pretty quickly by a cartoon showing SOE selling an 8 year old to a shady guy with a van.  Once a child molester is a key metaphor for your plan, you are in trouble.  That took a lot of back peddling and changes to bring the flames down to a merely manageable level.  And this remains an extremely sore spot today with SOE’s European “customers,” coming up again immediately after the EverQuest Next keynote presentation, largely through a failure to convince those players that there is any benefit to them at all from the change.

And then, probably far down the list for most, maybe past “recent UI models all seem to be console oriented,” there is SOE’s hot and cold marketing messages.  And the poster child for this has to be The Agency.  Before it was killed in 2011, The Agency had been the on again, off again darling of SOE.  In 2007, in SOE Podcast #19, Brenlo was talking about builds for the game and nearly slipped and said a ship date.  At SOE Fan Faire, people who saw the game were excited and the vibe seemed to be that it would ship soon.  Then it faded from view and nobody said a thing.  And then it popped up again.  And then it was gone.  And then they made a Facebook game.  And then they killed the Facebook game.  And the web site got updated.  We would hear a bit of news, then nothing.  Finally the whole thing was cancelled and that was that.

An extreme example, sure.  There were clearly problems with the project.  But the external messaging was a mess, and not exactly uncharacteristic.  There have been years where it wasn’t clear if EverQuest or EverQuest II we going to get an expansion until very late in the season.  They announce new projects, like Station Launcher, then let them die on the vine, falling out of date while still up on the web site.  The SOE web sites tend to have out of date items on them on fairly regularly.  And SOE’s ad campaigns have had their questionable moments.

What exactly was the message here?

What exactly was the message here?

Even EverQuest Next has gone through an odd cycle.  It was announced, we saw artists sketches, possible parameters were discussed, then we were told to forget all about that.  And while that reflected the realities of the project… and was handled in a tolerable manner… there is still that history, that reputation.

So when I see EverQuest Next building up a huge amount of momentum, being talked about all over the place, and generally able to bask in the rapt attention of the MMO gaming community, I can only wonder to what extent they can keep that going.

While there was a lot to digest after SOE Live, everybody who wants to will be able to review all the panel videos, tease out all the facts, hopes, and dreams, read and/or write opinions about what they have seen, and generally come up to speed on what has been released to the public.

And then what?

Well, we have the so-called EverQuest Next Round Table over on the official site.  So far that seems to be a series of polls where the answers are pretty much foregone conclusions and links to a special forum where people can argue about their choices.  However, the forum dev tracker either isn’t working or the devs are busy elsewhere.  So there are nearly 60 pages and more than four thousands forum posts around whether races should have class restrictions, all based on “I want” and assumptions with sand castle strength foundations, and featuring the same small cast of characters battling over the same ground endlessly.  I think you have as much chance influencing the game by going to a bar near SOE headquarters after hours and expressing your opinions at anybody who looks like a programmer.

There is the EverQuest Worlds mobile app, which seems to be built around SOE’s slightly-behind-the-curve obsession with Facebook.  The reviews are predictable.

Not really what people wanted

Not really what people wanted

And then there is some activity on Twitter.  A few key people saying things now and again, while supporting player StoryBricks is out there driving a whole emergent AI discussion that carefully says it is not necessarily EverQuest Next focused, pointing people towards relevant threads on Reddit, and retweeting things on the topic.

But otherwise, things are starting to slow down.  The initial buzz of excitement has faded a bit.  A whole bunch of stuff is out there and those interested have run through it.  Now we’re waiting for SOE to build on that foundation.

Which brings me back up to the title of this, can SOE keep the excitement around EverQuest Next going?  What should they be doing?

And what shouldn’t they be doing?

And, finally, should they even worry about it?

What The Hell Do You Spend Your Station Cash On? January 18, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Sony Online Entertainment, Vanguard SOH.
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As mentioned previously, in writing about eight years of EverQuest II last week, I got all nostalgic for the game and went back and played for a bit.  Such is the power of the blog.

And in going back I did go visit some places, added about 10 levels to a character, and generally did the tour.

And then the tour petered out, as these nostalgia ventures usually do, I unsubscribed and went off to other things.

But when not subscribed, SOE sends me a monthly Station Cash account balance message via email.  I am not sure why they don’t do this when I am subscribed.  Maybe they want me to stay subscribed and are afraid that bringing attention to themselves will remind me to unsubscribe?

Anyway, the last one I got said I had more that 9,000 Station Cash on my account.

Some of this was left over from a triple value event back when EverQuest II Extended was fresh and young, along with the 500 SC you get every month when you have Station Access, which I tend to subscribe to when playing SOE games.  (And then Station Access became SOE All Access, because if marketing can’t change the names of things every so often, they might as well just go home I guess.)

500 SC a month doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up when you never spend it.

And no matter how I got it, it seems like a lot of Station Cash to have hanging around.  Theoretically, that has a cash value of $90, though my actual out of pocket investment is probably $20 at the most.  Having that big of an asset sitting around seems wasteful, so I started to poke around in the to see if there was anything worth buying.

Well, you cannot buy expansions with Station Cash any more.

And you cannot buy a subscription with Station Cash.

You cannot buy any of those shiny Krono.

And you certainly cannot simply buy the in-game currency.  Not that I expected to be able to do so, but looking at my actual in-game currency balance, I might have gone that route had it been an option.

You cannot buy armor, or weapons, or crafting materials, all of which you could buy during the EverQuest II Extended experiment, when Smed was calling them “convenience” items.  I imagine a Wand of Obliteration would be very convenient to have around now and then.

One shot, one kill, no longer available

You can buy account services, but I think I have done my fill of transfers, renames, and the like.  And I have too many characters already, so I do not need any more character slots or race or class unlocks.

I might be tempted by experience boosting potions if I did not already have a giant stack of those sitting around on every character from veteran rewards.  And if I ever used them.  I don’t like the “timer” aspect of them, as they make me feel like I need to save them until I am going to be in an hour of constant combat or crafting… which is almost never.  I much prefer the way Turbine does some of there boosts, where it matches you gained exp for a given amount of exp over however much time it takes you to earn it.

Which sort of leaves cosmetic aspect of the game.  That includes cosmetic gear.

And I did buy a rabbit hat once.

Who you calling, "fuzzy?"

Who you calling, “fuzzy?”

But so far that is the only cosmetic appearance item that has appealed to me.

There is housing.   And while SOE has some stunning housing options, my housing needs are pretty simple.  I did buy that first player created housing item, the chest, just to support the person who made it.  And it looks good.  But it doesn’t do anything and it doesn’t have any particular meaning to me, so I doubt I will go down that path again.

And then there are mounts.

The setup to a "frog in a blender" joke

~sigh~

Let’s just skip over mounts before I start ranting on the many variations of ugly that SOE seems to have discovered.

Which leaves me with… what?

Well, there are bags.  I did buy one of those.  And I unlocked all the bag slots on Sigwerd so I could play him when not subscribed.  But with the removal of weight as an aspect of the game, he has that single 44 slot bag and some storage crates that give him more storage on his person that I think any three of my WoW characters have in total.

And I did that already and still have all that Station Cash.

There are some things I would pay for in Station Cash if I could.

I would pay the weekly Guild Hall fee now and again to have access to that.  That Guild Hall rent isn’t bad in currency… I think it is 4p a week… but it does eat up a lot of status, and I haven’t earned much of that in ages.

I might consider paying for access to the broker, though not via the current “per item” method SOE currently has.  Though since there is a back door way to sell without that, and selling is 99% of what I do with the broker, they could easily make that one over priced.  Still, I would be interested in buying broker access for a week as opposed to for 10 items.

One thing SOE has on its side is that you can use Station Cash in all of their games… or all of them that aren’t on FaceBook or on the PlayStation 3 at least.

So I could spend Station Cash in EverQuest… except that the choices are even more limited, the cosmetic items more grim, and the mounts even uglier.   Oh, and I am not actually playing EQ.  Details.

Likewise, PlanetSide 2 is an option.  I do log into that now and again, though my recent World of Tanks revival has eaten up all of my shooter mental bandwidth.  And I did buy an experience booster once… I think… when I was playing PlanetSide 2 early on.  It was hard to tell.  There were a lot of options and boosts and weapons and unlocks and other crap on screen which were difficult to distinguish or compare, all of which got me to skip the whole thing and just go out and die while trying to shoot at some people.

But given how freely I can spend gold at times in World of Tanks, PlanetSide 2 seems like it might be a place to spend my Station Cash some day, once they rationalize things a bit.

And, really, there are no other SOE games I play right now.  I said I might look into Vanguard at some point this year, but I suspect that the Station Cash store there will look like its EQ and EQII brethren.  So I am pretty “meh” on my Station Cash prospects.  Not that that is a big change.

Which makes me pretty much “not a customer” in SOE’s eyes, no matter how much Station Cash I have, since I do not spend it.  Idle currency has no influence.

So what should I do with 9,000 Station Cash?

(And no, I am not going to just give it to you.)

Misplaced Loyalty December 18, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment.
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I got an email from Sony Online Entertainment this morning with the title:

Thanks for your Loyalty – Here’s Your Exclusive Reward

Cool!  A reward!  An exclusive reward!

I figured it was because when I went back to play EverQuest II as part of the annual autumnal nostalgia run I signed up for Station Pass so I could also peek in on EverQuest and enjoy some benefits in PlanetSide 2.  So while it did not say what kind of reward, there were clearly some options.

So imagine my disappointment when it turns out Superman was on the email.

Man of steel... rewards

Man of steel… rewards

Yet another reward going unclaimed.

Still, I am sure this made somebody happy today.