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Quote of the Day – Hearthstone, SOE, and Historical Inevitability January 29, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
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.

Will Vanguard’s Closure Help Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen? January 27, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, Sony Online Entertainment, Vanguard SOH.
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11 comments

On Friday afternoon SOE chucked a huge stone into the lake of MMOs, and now we are watching how the ripples spread and wondering what they will impact.

more titles in the past than in the future

more titles in the past than in the future

What does Friday’s blood letting say about SOE’s all-in attitude on free to play, or about one company running more than a couple of MMO titles?  Should we avoid the niche titles from SOE and NCSOFT, as they appear vulnerable to closure at a whim compared to similar titles where that is all a given company has going for it? You seem safe playing in Norrath (on Windows) and in whatever the PlanetSide universe is called, but other titles… not so much.  How long does the contract for the DC Universe Online IP go?

Will people who invested a lot in cosmetic gear in Clone War Adventures or Free Realms feel burned and thus be less likely to spend money now that these two cosmetic funded titles are being shut down with 9 weeks notice?  Has SOE poisoned the well on this front?  And what does Smed’s “no more titles for kids” pronouncement mean?  I guess the myth that many MMO players were kids with daddy’s credit card has been dispelled.

Have we seen enough Asian MMOs ported to the US market only to languish and fade yet?

Can Smed be naive enough to believe that a vague promise to former Star Wars Galaxies players about SOE’s next, unannounced title being for them, that they can come “home,” means anything?  I am sure that those driven out by the stick that was the NGE are pretty sure that their home is elsewhere these days.  And as for those who remained, how many stuck with the game just because it was set in the Episodes IV-V era of Star Wars?  Is a different IP going to scratch that itch?

And then there is Vanguard and Brad McQuaid and the kickstarter for his new game, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.

PROTF04

On the one hand, part of his “trust me” appeal for the Kickstarter campaign is his leadership in producing two enduring MMORPGs, EverQuest and Vanguard.  Sure, Vanguard had a tough launch.  That was just the situation at the time and he had to roll with it.  But once it was “fixed,” the game was good.

So SOE “sunsetting” (Because that makes us all feel better than just saying “closing” or “shutting down” right?) Vanguard kind of puts a pin to the balloon of that argument.  *POP*

Because if Vanguard was good enough, popular enough, and profitable enough, SOE wouldn’t have found security updates to be too difficult.  Money talks, and enough money gets your fixes done.  So we can assume there wasn’t enough.

So Brad now has one successful, still running MMO on his resume, even if it has been drastically changed from back in the day, and one that is being shut down… the announcement for which went out during his Kickstarter.

And then there was the talk about Brad buying Vanguard from SOE.  Fine, I know a small crowd of fans were really for that, but for me that was a red flag moment.  My concern for Pantheon, should it fund successfully, is that it will end up being another case of trying to do too much and ending up launching with an unready product.  A small team really needs to pare down projects to the essentials to deliver.  I still cringe that PvP is on the stretch goals, as that seems like a distraction, something totally outside of the vision set out for the game.  And it doesn’t matter that they will likely not make it to that stretch goal, it is the fact that they even consider it an option that worries me.

So, in the middle of a campaign for a new game, sudden talk about buying up the old game seems like a moment where somebody should be saying in Brad’s ear, “Stay on target!”

On the flip side, I wonder if the timing of this announcement from SOE… delivered after lunch on Friday, the time slot chosen by PR people who hope the news will be too late to make a splash in the news cycle and will end up forgotten by Monday… might turn to something of a boon for the Pantheon Kickstarter campaign.

Certainly, there is the potential to get the news about the Kickstarter in front of a few more faces.  The coverage of the closure of Vanguard inevitably rolls around to what Brad is up to now.

And Vanguard shutting down puts paid to some of the comments I have seen about the Pantheon up to this point, which basically amount to “Why do I want this when I already have Vanguard available?”  Well, you won’t have Vanguard around for much longer.

Will these two points help boost the Kickstarter campaign?  It currently sits at just over $238,000 of the $800,000 initial goal, with 26 days left to go.  That seems like a lot, but pledges have fallen short of the daily minimum to make goal since the initial surge of support.  So the campaign clearly needs a shot in the arm.

Can this news do the job?  It looks like there was already a small uptick in people supporting the project over the weekend, and there is some sentiment about for supporting Pantheon as a replacement for Vanguard.  But is it enough?

Projecting on to EverQuest Next July 30, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest Next, MMO Design.
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17 comments

Enough about internet spaceships for the moment and on to a topic that will loom large this week.

We are going to hear a lot about EverQuest Next very shortly.  The clock is running down and SOE Live (formerly SOE Fan Faire) will begin this Thursday.

Freeport Next? I guess not!

I am hoping for new pictures this week

The big news will be whatever John Smedley chooses to reveal about EverQuest Next.  Everything else will pale by comparison.  And the reason it will be big is that just over a year ago it was reported that SOE was throwing out their current plan, which included some very basic lessons learned, and going for a much more dramatic change.  A year ago everything you knew about EQN was declared wrong.

So now we all wonder what we shall see.  And I am sure that we all have some hopes or wishes.  I have teased Keen about investing himself in the idea of the new game, and I see Wolfshead has come out of hibernation to issue a list of demands, which I tend to agree with in spirit if not exactly on a point by point measure.  The heroes bit resonates with me especially.

So I too have been thinking about what is coming, but it is tough to know where to begin.

There is the word “sandbox” that gets thrown about, even by Smed.  Especially by Smed.  That has been his opening.  But “sandbox” can mean so many things in so many circumstances that I am reluctant to hear get invested in that idea until I hear what the SOE definition of “sandbox” is.

And along with that, there are the realities of the SOE business model.  They have completely declared for free to play.

Well, who hasn’t, aside from Blizzard these days?

But free to play brings with it certain requirements.  A high amount of churn is expected.  A lot of people will try the game and for them to become paying customers, the game has to welcome them in and hold their hand for a bit, and presumably not just to guide them to the edge of a cliff so as to be better positioned to push them over into the abyss, ala a certain internet spaceship game I said I was not going to write about.

So EQN cannot be EverQuest of old, letting you create a character then dropping you on the doorstep of Qeynos with a pat on the back and a “have fun!”  There is a certain lowering of bars to be expected for the opening.  In free to play you cannot frustrate people straight off, you do not have their money yet!  You have to get them pointed in the right direction, teach them how to play, how to group, and how to interact. (Who does the last two nowadays?)

And then there is the StoryBricks angle.  StoryBricks announced at one point… and then turned around and denied everything… then got permission from the right people so they could announce it… that they were involved with EQN, which would be ‘the biggest sandbox ever designed.’  There is that word again.

Anyway, StoryBricks, if I can borrow a phrase from somewhere, is about bringing NPCs to life.  So, one might presume that we can expect a more complex relationship with the world of Norrath and its permanent citizens when we get to EQN.  Quests are unlikely to go away or become less common, but one would hope that we might be asked to dine on more than the common staple of ten rats.

I don’t know if we’ll get the salesman of Waterdeep or some sort of crazy Eliza interpretation, but it should be different.

And then, despite the rework of the system, I suspect that what previously seemed to be the lessons learned from previous games will still have influence.  I recounted them as:

  • Single world without the need to load zones
  • Instanced dungeons
  • Low system requirements
  • Stylized character models
  • Fewer classes, relative to EQII
  • PvP from day one and “done right”

A single seamless world sounds so “2004″ at this point, but I think it is important and I hope they stick to it.

Instanced dungeons will be controversial.  Some insist that this kills the worldliness of a game.  Frankly, some of my fondest memories at this point are of dungeon crawls with just our group without other people in chat, trying to rush past us, stealing mobs, or otherwise turning a group adventure into a bad trip to the mall.  I think there is clearly a place for instanced content.  It should be special and rare and have a connection to the full world.  The instanced dungeons in World of Warcraft lost their charm for me when they ceased to be part of the world and, with the introduction of Dungeon Finder, became a way to avoid the world.

Low system requirements and stylized character models I think are pretty non-controversial on the surface.  Not that SOE couldn’t screw this up and makes us hate it, but it could be good.  And, with free to play in mind, it is probably a requirement.

Fewer classes relative to EQII.  I have to agree.  24 classes at launch was too much.  Adding a 25th years later was interesting, but not all that helpful.

PvP from day one and “done right” scares me.  PlanetSide 2 hasn’t had a charmed existence in my world.  I hope that “sandbox” doesn’t mean slaughter and fast respawns.  It doesn’t have to.  But SOE and PvP has something of a checkered past to my mind.  I hear it was good in Star Wars Galaxies at launch, but what have they done since?

So given all of that, what dare I wish for?  What would I like to see come to pass with EQN?

I would like to see a a lot less emphasis on levels and content that goes obsolete when you out level it.  We have had Band-Aids applied to that problem in the form of various mentoring and leveling down schemes, but they have all been unsatisfactory to my mind.  Yes, you have to have some sort of progression and character advancement.  That is part of what drives many of us in MMOs.  But our addiction to levels has to stop.  They start off great, but always betray us in the end.  They are a dead end street.

I couldn’t tell you how to replace levels, or even de-emphasize them sufficiently, but I hope that SOE has come up with something.

I want long, multi-stage quests like the heritage quests in EverQuest II.  I realize that WoW does similar things with long chains of quests, but the start and stop breaks the concentration for me.  Heritage quests are long term commitments, things you do not get done in a day, and which often require a group a various stages.  I want that again.

While we’re on quests, and as a nod to my gripe about levels, I also wouldn’t mind seeing quests get out of the experience delivery business.  They ought to reward items or equipment.

I want live, open world group content. I do not want to be able to solo every mob in the world.  I do not want to have to go into an instance for every group experience.

And while we’re at it, I do not want to get punished for grouping.  EverQuest had this about right.  WoW did not.  EQII started down the right path and then screwed up open world grouping completely. Trying to run our instance group through New Halas was an exercise in frustration because the whole thing expected you to solo.

I want my weapon choice to mean something.  If I choose a sword over a dagger or an axe, I want that to mean I gain some benefit at the cost of something else.  The damage per second calculation should not be my only factor in weapon choice.  Lord of the Rings Online tried this, but I do not think they went far enough.

I want weapon skills back.  I do not think I should spend ages swinging a sword and then suddenly pick up a spear and find myself equally adapt.

I would like to see crafting materials handled more in line with how EVE Online does things (sorry, internet spaceship reference again), where the materials do not change every ten levels.  I want to be done with this sort of thing.

LOTRO Ore - Most Wanted

LOTRO Ore Variety

I want some staples that are in high demand and which anybody can harvest.  And these should be good for making basic things.  Then I want some rare items to mix in that can be used to create special things.  And when I say rare, I mean rare.  Special things should be special.

I want crafting to be a bit more… I don’t know… organic?  Is that the word I want?  Organic to the game as opposed to being something of a side effort where you make 38 blue silk hoods to level up your tailoring skill and then just vendor them because nobody wants them because the auction house is full of them being sold at under cost.

Speaking of the auction house, if you give me buy orders as part of things, you will probably exceed all my expectations.  My view of such things is pretty low in the fantasy MMORPG realm.

And… and… and… well… a lot of things.  I could ramble on ad nauseum about the minute and trivial.  Basically SOE, make this all fit together with UI conventions that make sense.  And what Keen said about stories.  Mostly.  You can tell me stories.  You can make me part of stories.  But just remember that my own stories about what happened to me and my friends, those are the ones that really matter.

So I am waiting to hear what Smed has to say.  I realize that there are going to be compromises.  They have a business to run and we live in the world of free to play where fantasy MMORPGs are over abundant.  And I am going to hate some of the things he says this week.  You watch.  I know it will be true.

But I will be happy if I hear something new or different or exciting.  It doesn’t have to be from my alternately vague and oddly specific and somewhat emotional list above.  SOE is full of smart people.  Hell, SOE has brought back some people who made EverQuest lately.  They get it.  They played TorilMUD and decided to bring that sort of experience into a 3D world.  Find some of that essence for me.  Combine the mundane into something beyond the sum of its parts, into something magical.

Make me believe again.

Is that too much to ask?

I will be watching EQ Next Wire for news about the game.

How about you?  What do you want to see?

John Smedley Talks To… The Mittani! September 7, 2012

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

A year ago, hearing something from John Smedley, the CEO of Sony Online Entertainment was something of a note.  If he was interviewed or updated his blog or actually tweeted something, that got coverage as much for the novelty of it.

Random SOE Logo

He helped bring EverQuest to life nearly a decade and a half ago, and he spoke at fanfest and like events, but for long stretches you wouldn’t hear much from him.  My personal theory is that the Star Wars Galaxies NGE sent him into hiding from the general public.  How often do you image he got accosted about that?

But in 2012 all that seems to have changed.

He is in the news, on the floor at E3, doing the keynote at GDC Online, answering anything on Reddit, saving the Macintosh version of EverQuest, and announcing big new plans at SOE.  Meanwhile his Twitter account is so alive it dominates my feed some days as he seems to be trying to drive the PlanetSide 2 beta partially through sheer force of will. (No more beta key spam please!)

Back in May I chuckled at the idea of Smed in a Drake.  I actually got an email from him regarding that post in which he pointed out he was an EVE player, went to fanfest, flew in null sec, and happened to be on the same side as I was in the war in the north.  Well, that last bit came out because he sent me a picture of his gaming rig (3x 30″ monitors… color me jealous) which included GARPA, the CFC route planning tool on his screen.  Busted!

(No, I am not going to send you the picture, and all of the above came out in other ways already, so no confidences betrayed.)

So I suppose it is no surprise that over at The Mittani dot Com, which has been covering games of potential interest to EVE players, such as PlanetSide 2, Smed sat down with Mittens himself to talk about what it took him to get into EVE Online, rumors of Sony buying CCP, the importance of sandboxes, and where online gaming needs to go in the future.

Meanwhile, if you want in on Planetside 2, you can join the Alpha Squad for a mere $39.95.

You say alpha, I say beta, let’s patch the whole thing up…

Inferno, Missiles, and Smedley’s Drake May 22, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags: ,
15 comments

Things that make you go, “Hrmmm?”

John Smedley.  In a Drake.  In EVE Online.

Many Drakes

Many Drakes

I mean, sure, it isn’t like he said he had a titan or anything.  And Drakes are pretty common.  But you still don’t get one in a day.  You have to play the game a bit.

It is one of those things… I know he says he loves online games.  But he runs the online game division for Sony, so he would be foolish to say anything different.

And I know he says he loves SOE’s games… especially PlanetSide.  But again, that is one of his products, he would be a fool to say otherwise.

But he appears to know what a Drake is and that its main business is shooting missiles.   It is not an obvious aspect of the game.  I bet Bhagpuss, who has skimmed many a post here about Drakes, couldn’t have made the “Drake = missiles” association. Not because he isn’t paying attention, but because he hasn’t played EVE.

It implies that Smed might really play online games… games besides Free Realms.

That is somewhat reassuring.

In the mean time, it is Inferno launch day… which is where the whole missile thing got started.

Direct link here.

I will most definitely be firing some missiles tonight.

Smed Says EverQuest II Up in Europe Since Free to Play Conversion January 10, 2012

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

More tweets from Chairmen Smedley, this time about how EverQuest II is doing in Europe since the consolidation of the game into the F2P business model.

Summary:

  • 40% boost in daily logins
  • 300% increase in players [accounts]
  • 200% increase in item sales

Of course, that last might be tied to them having three Station Cash sales in December and there being a new expansion to buy.  But still good stuff.

And good competition might be things like… Star Wars: The Old Republic?

Anyway, it appears that EverQuest II and its customers are adapting to the new way of business.

Smed Tweets that DC Universe Online Doing Well as Free to Play November 21, 2011

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags: , , ,
8 comments

John Smedley,President of Sony Online Entertainment has been active on Twitter again, this time giving updates on how DC Universe Online has been doing since the transition to a free to play business model.

QFT – You never know when a tweet will face a delete:

Really happy with how DCUO is doing. Here are some interesting facts

DCUO’s playerbase is growing at 6% a day.. great to see all the new players!

700% increase in daily revenue (47% PC / 53% PS3)

More than 85% of daily log-ins are returning players.

Additional character slots and the Vanguard of the Heavens character skins are the two most popular marketplace items

The change in business model appeared to have lured blogger Green Armadillo of Player Versus Developer into the game, and he has been posting about it quite a bit.

Have you joined the rush into (or back into) DCUO since the business model change?

The Hazards of Console Gaming… January 28, 2011

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Humor, Misc MMOs.
Tags: , , , ,
5 comments

Somebody else might come along and want to use the TV.

The computer, though, is safe from intrusion.

At least that is the way it goes at my house, where computers out number TVs 3 to 1.

DCUO – PS3 vs. Windows Sales Ratio January 24, 2011

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Misc MMOs, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags: , ,
10 comments

John Smedley, whose Twitter account has come alive with the launch of DC Universe Online (he never Tweets about EQ or EQII), has been providing some tidbits of information about how things have been going with DCUO.

This mornings gem:

52% PS3 to 48% Windows seems more balanced than I thought would end up being the case.

Which along with:

…seems to indicate that things are kicking off well for DCUO.

We’ll see what he’s tweeting (if anything) when the 30 days of free play runs out for the PS3 players.  Will console players go for a subscription?

John Smedley on the Expectations You Can Have With a Monthly Subscription Fee January 15, 2011

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags: , , ,
14 comments

The monthly subscription fee means players can expect a lot of new content from us. And I say a lot — I really mean that. This is something that we feel obligated to the players, because they are paying monthly sub fee…”

From this DCUO post over at Massively.

I’m just going to let that hang there, something of a quote for truth thing.

It will give me something to check back on in a few months.

I’m sure nobody would disagree with that as SOE’s position on the subject.