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MMO Blogesphere Feed – Version 3 September 19, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in blog thing, entertainment.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
8 comments

This was going to be something for the top section of the month in review, but it ended up being a bit longer than I would like, so I’ll just complain about WordPress.com or something on the 30th.

So over there in the side bar on the right hand side of the blog, there is my latest attempt to create a unified feed for a small corner of the MMO blogesphere.  This is, of course, driven entirely from jealousy at the wonderful blog roll widget that people using Google’s Blogger platform have access to.  WordPress.com will never give us anything like this because, as I have been told by a designated representative of the organization, blog rolls are a thing of the past.

Such is life.

Now, there are any number of ways with a sufficient application of effort, technology, and/or money, I could enable a comparable feature on my own side bar.

Hell, I could just move to the Blogger platform.  Simple and done.  I just happen to like just about everything else about WordPress.com better than Blogger, up to and including the whole not being an insignificant part of Google and thus always in danger of being discarded for some new vision of the future or if Sergey is having a bad day.  WordPress.com and I disagree on any number of things, but being a blogging platform is their thing.  Plus my blog is too big to export at this point, so I am stuck with them unless I want to start again fresh.

Anyway, while I could throw money and ~effort~ at the problem, I am both cheap and lazy.  So I have sought out solutions that were both low effort and low cost through various iterations of the project.  The story so far…

Version 0

My original plan was just to stick the VirginWorlds feed in the side bar.  That was a fine solution back in the day.  Viva Brent!

But since about 2009 or so, when Brent wandered off with other priorities in his life, it has been less and less of an ideal.  The site is still up and running, and its accompanying feed is still in my side bar.  However, the site no longer gets updated with new blogs any more, so the feed itself tends to be dominated by Massively.  Not that I dislike Massively in general, but I want to promote my fellow bloggers and not a commercial site.  So I started looking for a way to add a new, more blogger focused feed.

Version 1

Back before the advent of Google+, Google Reader was a wonderful thing.  It was fast and simple, tied in with your Google account, and generally the standard across the board for online RSS readers.  The only reason not to use it was fear of the monster Google might become.

And among its many features was the ability to flag items from your reading list to be posted to an RSS feed.  And so I used the WordPress RSS feed widget to put that feed in my side bar, flagging new stories for inclusion every day.  This was probably a bit more “hands on” than I wanted… somewhat akin to the early days of VirginWorlds, when each link on the site represented a manual submission… but it worked.

The came Google+.

google-plus-logo-640

Google proceeded to wreck Google Reader in both form and function in a transparent effort to get people to stop using it in favor of Google+.  Amongst the feature casualties was the RSS output.  So while Google was busy kicking me off of Google+ for using a pseudonym (then quietly asking me to return) and generally annoying people by forcing integration with other services (Remember when your YouTube account HAD to be linked to Google+ for about a week? People were pissed.) they managed to alienate just enough Google Reader users to be able to claim the service was in decline and to shut it down.

Google Reader had fallen so low that when they finally turned it off, the resulting diaspora of users literally swamped all of the competing services to the point of making them unusable due to excess load.  I had to swap to Feedly at a too late date when The Old Reader staff threw their hands in the air at the onslaught and walked away. (They later returned, realizing that they could, you know, make money at this, but I had already moved to Feedly.)

Which is to say, it was still pretty damn popular.  Just not popular enough.  That was also the fate of Google+ which, when it did not eclipse Facebook (and dear Lord, Facebook only looks good when compared to Google+, which is simply awful when it comes to usability) was “De-emphasized” in favor of other initiatives.  Like finally closing down Orkut and figuring out exactly where the line is between “evil” and “not evil.”

Version 2

So, even before the end of Google Reader I was out looking for an alternative.  I tinkered with a few things, including Yahoo Pipes.  Pipes actually looked promising, but I could never get it to create output that would work correctly with the WordPress RSS widget.

Eventually I found a site called RSS Mix.

They don't really have a logo...

They don’t really have a logo…

The service was free… so it met that requirement… and was relatively low maintenance.  Basically, you gave it a list of RSS feed URLs and it would mash all those together and give you an output URL for the combined RSS feed.  And it mostly worked.

It was a bit of a pain to maintain.  Every time I wanted to update the list of blog feeds to draw from I had to submit the whole list again for a new RSS feed, which meant keeping revisions on hand locally.

It also wasn’t terribly reliable.  About half the time I would hit the blog, the feed to fail to load.  That was irksome, but when it did load it did the job.  The service just wasn’t meant to be polled every time somebody showed up at the site, and the WordPress.com widget doesn’t keep a cached version or anything.  So a lot of the time people just saw this:

FeedDown

Then a few people began to note that something about the whole thing was causing ping-backs on Blogger based blogs, including one serious “stop doing that!” complaint, at which point I pulled the widget and started looking for a new solution.

Version 3

I played around with some different options.  Mail Chimp offers a free RSS consolidation feature.  However, it appears to be completely static.  It takes the URLs you hand it, makes a feed, and then never updates it.  Not terribly useful, but it was free so what do you expect.

Feedly sent out an update about a site called Zapier.  If you were a Feedly Pro subscribe, and I am, you could take advantage of the data integration tools that Zapier offered.  This included some RSS feed tools.  I got that to work, but to have more than a couple blogs in the feed I would have to subscribe to Zapier as well, which wanted monthly fee in the subscription MMO range.  That failed the cheapskate test.

Eventually I stumbled onto a site called IFTTT, which is short for “If This Then That.”  This was mentioned at one point as a service that could access Feedly Pro features.  It could take output from Feedly and turn it into something else, I just wasn’t sure what.

I signed up for an account, which was free and thus right in my price range, and started tinkering with it.  I couldn’t get it to output directly to anything in WordPress that seemed useful, at least not for a side bar widget, but I found that,  among the things it could output to, was a site called Pinboard.

Pinboard is described as a “social bookmarking” site, akin to what Delicious was at one time.  I had never used Delicious, but reading through the descriptions at Pinboard, it could take bookmark input and would turn it into an RSS feed output.  That sounded like the ticket.  However, in order to keep spam and such down, Pinboard charges an up front, one time fee to join the service.  It is based on how many people use the service already, basically you have to pay a penny for everybody who got there ahead of you.  My total to join was $10.46, which was well within the cheapskate budget if it worked out. (I suspect that they would change that pricing policy if a lot of people started showing up.  I think a $10 barrier to entry is fine, but if it had been $35 or $50, I might have walked on by.)

Between the three services, I was able to create a rule that takes updates from my MMO Blogs category in Feedly (making me glad I set up categories when I started using the service) and posts them to my Pinboard account.

FeedlyPinboard

And it basically worked.  Items showed up in Pinboard and they were tagged correctly so I could pull them from an RSS feed associated with that tag.  All I had to do was get the data being passed to work with the WordPress RSS widget.  That turned out to be the tricky bit.  It took a bit of trial and error to see what worked and what did not, something that went a bit slowly because I had to wait until somebody posted something new before the feed would update and pass along my changes.  Ideally I wanted something similar to what the Blogger side bar widget offered, with Blog Name, Post Name, and how long ago it was published.  Eventually, paring down the data being passed to the bare minimum, I got the WordPress widget to display what I wanted.

The IFTTT Recipe

The IFTTT Recipe

And I ended up with something that is mostly what I want.

It doesn’t put a nice little icon next to each blog title, the format or title and blog name differs depending on which service is being used, and the the published time is displayed as an absolute in Pacific Time rather than a friendly “2 hours ago” sort of way.  But it mostly works and, now that the one time expense is out of the way, it is both cheap and easy to maintain.

Furthermore, it is flexible.  I can sort our who goes into the feed easily, by just moving things around in Feedly categories.  I moved some of the blogs that are in the VirginWorlds feed to a special “no feed” category, since I still have that feed in my side bar as well.  Trying to limit double exposure there, which mostly affects Syp and Tobold at this point.  I can create additional RSS feeds from my Feedly account.  I am looking into making one for EVE Online blogs for my other site and another for official game company feeds to put somewhere on the sidebar here. (There is currently an experimental version down at the very bottom of the side bar, if you scroll way down.)

So, mission accomplished!

Yeah, But Why Bother?

So all of that work… and all of those words… later, you might well ask why I deemed this important enough to pursue at all.

Yes, there was a certain amount of envy that Blogger based blogs had a feature that WordPress.com hosted bloggers lacked.  But that envy was based on the empirical observations that such a dynamic side bar widget actually attracts clicks.  Both the stats related to who sends traffic here and where people here click out to, a dynamic side bar widget attracts attention.  People will click on something that is both identified and visibly new or updated.

I can see from my own outbound traffic that almost nobody clicks on the static blogroll on a daily basis.  But with the new feed up in the side bar, I can see multiple clicks going to specific posts that have popped up and been displayed.

I did it because it is an effective way to send people to other blogs in our little community.

Savior of Blaugust – That Video Game Questionnaire Thing August 22, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Ancient Gaming, entertainment.
Tags:
11 comments

In which I again prove I am old and grumpy.

Blaugust is past the three week point.  You can see all the posts piling up over in our little corner of Anook, with more than 500 submitted at this point.  People are putting in the effort.

Blagust_No_BR

For somebody like me with a routine,a  pattern, a plan (I already know what I am posting 5 of 7 days next week, even if I haven’t written more than a title for most of them yet), and incredibly low standards (I’d rather write something than write something good as I theoretically get better with each post, right?), the addition of a few more posts in a month isn’t such a big deal.  Go look down the side bar to the archives menu.  I already effectively write one post a day most months as it is.  It is just a matter of spreading them around.

But the strain is beginning to show for some.  Somebody without a plan, for whom each day is a blank slate and an empty text editor, and who has standards they feel they need to maintain, this sort of sustained effort can be a trial.  Or so it seems.  I’m the guy with a plan and no standards after all.  Anyway, it has been a voyage of discover for some and a pain for others.

But a lifeline has been thrown to the Blaugust team, in the form of a video game questionnaire.  Jaysla over at Cannot Be Tamed has put together 21 questions for people to answer on their blogs, and the Blaugust team has gone for this like a drowning man grabbing for a… lifeline… I already used that metaphor, didn’t I?  See, complete crap.

Anyway, in the spirit of community spirit… or something… I too shall take the quiz, as well as linking out others who have taken the quiz in that community spirity spirit thing which I mention so recently in this run-on sentence.  Also, it allows me to be grumpy, pick nits, write about stuff as far as 40 years in the past, link back to a bunch of old posts where I covered bits of this in detail, and generally ramble on in my accustomed Friday fashion.  My previously planned Pokemon piece will be moved out to next week.

Others who have taken the quiz, some of whom aren’t even in Blaugust, but I am feeling expansive today:

And that is surely not all, just the ones I could find easily.  I will add more as they pop up.

As for my own answers, I am hiding those after the cut.  The whole thing is kind of long, there are pictures, I get a bit testy about a couple of the questions, there is a moment of sexual innuendo, and the whole ends up being something best hidden in the back room so that random passers by don’t inadvertently see it.

This is a choice, what will you choose?

(more…)

What Does It Mean to be a “Subscription MMO?” July 18, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, Sony Online Entertainment, Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Elder Scrolls Online, World of Warcraft.
Tags: ,
24 comments

I am on the press release list along with a lot of real media outlets, so my inbox is often stuffed with the raw material that is barely recycled for content a lot of places around the web.

I skim through them every day, but don’t bother to mention 99% of them as they tend to be rather thin on things worth talking about.

This morning through there was a press release from SuperData Research pointing at their June factoid report.  Lots of little bits of data in that from which you can barely come up with to points to draw a line about anything.

The highlight of the report though was a chart listing out revenues for the top subscription-based MMO titles for 2013, worldwide.

Top Subscription MMO Revenue

Top Subscription MMO Revenue

The top spot is unsurprising.  WoW, even down to something like 60% of its peak, still rakes in money like no other.  Then there are a couple Asian MMOs which you might have heard of if you have been paying close enough attention.  Lineage 1 is still NCsoft’s biggest money maker.

And then you come to Star Wars: The Old Republic and Lord of the Rings Online, where you might legitimately ask a question like, “Hey, aren’t those free to play?”

As the title of this post asks, what makes for a subscription MMO these days?  Because if we are talking about needing a subscription to play, several of those titles fall off the list immediately.

But if, as the list here suggests, merely offering a subscription option is enough to be called a subscription MMO, then aren’t we missing a title or two.

Specifically, I would expect EverQuest II to make the list.  I don’t have any hard data to back up that expectation, but my gut impression of the game is that it ought to be somewhere on the list ahead of Lord of the Rings Online, something that is backed up, in my mind, by the fact that EQII has no problems cranking out expansions and interim content for all ranges of player while LOTRO is publicly giving up on raiders for now and doesn’t seem to be able to scrape it together for an expansion in 2014.

But maybe EQII isn’t doing as well as I thought.  Or maybe SOE’s model somehow falls outside of what SuperData considered a subscription MMO.  Or, most likely, maybe SOE just didn’t cooperate with SuperData and its information requests.  And one could also ask about Final Fantasy XIV.

Otherwise, I am somewhat surprised at where LOTRO ranks.  SWTOR is still popular, if not WoW popular, and that its revenue is only 1.65x what Turbine gets for LOTRO seems odd, given the downtrodden way Turbine seems these days.  And Rift seems way down the line.  But that does seem to mostly line up with the 2013 end of year summary for the Digital Dozen over at The Nosy Gamer.  EVE is generally higher on the list than LOTRO, but otherwise it seems about right.  Does that give this chart more validity?  Or the Digital Dozen?

And, of course, one key item missing from this chart is how much subscription revenue played into the totals listed.

Because the follow up chart points out that subscription revenues have been decreasing since their peak in 2010.

Subscription revenue

Subscription revenue

Subscriptions are trending down, while microtransactions are… well…  sort of flat really if you look at that line.  They are not not rising up sufficiently to off-set the loss of subscription revenue overall, which seems to go against what some cheerleaders for the model would have us believe.

Which might be why we saw a couple of subscription based launches this year.  SuperData pulled out the very exact number of 772,374 for The Elder Scrolls Online subscriptions.  That would make for a nice revenue stream.  WildStar was mentioned, but since it just launched in June, there were no numbers.

I would really like to know how much of the revenue for a game like SWTOR or LOTRO comes from subscribers.  If that chart is to be believed, subscriptions still make up most of the revenue.

And what does all of this mean?  This isn’t the range of data I would like, but you look at the industry with the data you have, not the data you want.  But I am not prepared to go all Massively comment thread, where the trend seems to be “lying liars lie!” for everybody whose pet theory is not supported by the data provided.

Anyway, as noted, the full report is here.  If you want more data, you have to pay.

Addendum: Azuriel makes an interesting comparison between the above chart and other MMO data available.

Addendum 2: And Flosch takes the numbers and extrapolates a bit.

A Rumor of War in Delve July 11, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online.
Tags: , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

It isn’t much of a war, but it’s the only war we’ve got, so enjoy it

-Major General Charles Timmes, Military Assistance Advisory Group 1962

We’re going to Delve.  Again.  There is something that draws Goons and their allies to Delve every summer.

And I swear, I am never making an effort to move anything out of Delve again.  Not only can it be annoying, we just end up going back there in any case.  Remember the Rifter that got blown up while I was tackling a while back?  I left that in Delve after the 2012 war.  But I was able to pick it up again in Delve… twice.  That Rifter lasted through two summers and almost made it to a third.

Guns blazing

The late Rifter “FNG Style”

So I am not going to worry about hauling anything out of Delve anymore.  It will just wait for the next war… unlike all that crap I left in Curse.

I have some useful ships sitting, gathering dust in a couple of the NPC stations in Curse.

But I digress.  More after the cut.

(more…)

Picking My 15 Most Influential Games March 21, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo II, entertainment, EverQuest, Pokemon, TorilMUD.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
28 comments

Jackie at Kitty Kitty Boom Boom, prompted by lvling life, put up a list of her top 15 video games.

There was a methodology by which you were supposed to generate that list.  It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal.  You were not supposed to spend a lot of time with it.  And, of course, I tossed that aside.  Rather than a quick list of 15 special games, I ended up with my list of the 15 most influential video games in my gaming career so far.

And what do I mean by “influential?”

I mean that they opened up new idea, new genres, or new points of view for me when it came to video games.

Influential does not mean that they were my favorites, the games I played the most in a given genre, or even all that good in a few cases.  So, for example, I have played a LOT more World of Warcraft than EverQuest at this point in my life, and I am not really all that keen to go back to EverQuest.  But EverQuest is the more influential of the two.  Without it, there would be no WoW, and without me playing it in 1999, I might not have made it to WoW.

Anyway, on to the list.

1. Star Trek (1971) – many platforms

Star Trek in vt52

Star Trek in vt52

I have covered this as the first computer video game I ever played.  While incredibly simple, this game showed me the way, let me know that computers were going to be an entertainment device

2. Tank (1974) – Arcade

Tank!

Tank! In Black and white!

This was the game AFTER Pong.  Not that Pong was bad.  Pong was new and fresh when it came out, but I must admit that it did become a little dull after the first pass or two.  And then Tank showed us that man need not entertain himself with virtual paddles alone.  I wouldn’t touch Pong after a while, but Tank was always good.  You just needed somebody to play with.

3. Adventure (1979)  – Atari 2600

This Castle is Timeless!

This Castle is Timeless!

Yes, I got that Atari 2600 for Christmas way back when, but then there was a matter of what to play.  It came with the Combat cartridge, which included Tank.  And I also had Air-Sea Battle and a few others. But the problem was that these games were all unfulfilling unless played with two people.  And then came Adventure.  Not only wasn’t it the usual 27 minor variations on three two-player themes, it was specifically, unashamedly single player only.  Here, loner, good luck storming the castle!  And it had odd behaviors and minor flaws.  I tried putting that magic bridge everywhere and ended up in some strange places.  It also had a random mode, that might just set you up with an unwinnable scenario.  And there was an Easter egg in it.

It was both different and a harbinger of things to come.

4. Castle Wolfenstein (1981) – Apple II

Graphics - 1981

Graphics – 1981

This was the first game that I saw that indicated that I really, really needed to get a computer.  An Apple II specifically, because that was what Gary had.  And he also had Castle Wolfenstein.

It was not an easy game.  You lost.  A lot.  The control system left something to be desired.  You really needed a joystick to play.  And there were so many quirks and strange behaviors that somebody created a utility program a couple years after it came out that basically “fixed” a lot of the worst annoyances.  I bought it gladly.

Achtung! Give me your uniform.

Achtung! Give me your uniform.

But this game was the prototype for many that followed.  You’re in a cell and you need to escape.  You need make your way through the castle, picking up guns, keys, ammunition, German uniforms, and grenades.   Oh, grenades were so much fun.  There were other, later games I considered for this list, but when I broke them down, I often found that Castle Wolfenstein had done it already, in its own primitive way.

5. Wizardry (1981) – Apple II

Apple ][+ The Upgrades Begin

Apple ][+ and Wizardry

Basically, the party based dungeon crawl in computer form.  Monsters, mazes, traps, treasure, combat, and death.  Oh, so much death.  NetHack was a potential for this list, but I realized that randomness and ASCII graphics aside, Wizardry had pretty much everything it did.

And I spent hours playing.  I mapped out the whole game on graph paper, including that one level with all the squares that would turn you around.  The one with the pits of insta-death.  It also taught me the word “apostate.”

6. Stellar Emperor (1985) – Apple II

The GEnie version of MegaWars III at its inception, it was my first foray into multiplayer online games.  I have written about the game, even about winning.

Emperor of the Galaxy

Emperor of the Galaxy

But it was the online, playing with other people, usually the same people, making friends and enemies and having ongoing relationships that sold the game.  Again, it was primitive, even in its day, with ASCII based terminal graphics.  But there was magic in the mixture.

7. Civilization (1991) – Mac/Windows

The flat world of original Civ

The flat world of original Civ

Sid Meier was already something of a star by the time Civilization came out, but this cemented things as far as I was concerned.  I was considering putting Civilization II on the list rather than this.  Once I got Civ II, I never went back and played the original.

But that wasn’t because the original was crap.  That was because the sequel built on what was great in the original.  It was purely an evolutionary move.  But it was the original that hooked me, so that has to get the nod for influential.

8. Marathon (1994) – Mac

Spooky

Spooky

For me, this was the defining first person shooter.  There was a single player campaign.  There was a multiplayer deathmatch mode.  There were a variety of weapons.  There was a map editor and some mods and an online community that built up around it.  Everything after Marathon was just an incremental improvement for me.

Marathon on my iPad

Marathon on my iPad

There have been better graphics, better rendering engines, different weapons, plenty of variety on arena options, all sorts of updates on match making and connectivity, but in the end those are just updates to what Marathon already did.  To this day, I still sometimes say “I’ll gather” when creating a game or match for other people to join.  That was the terminology from 1994.  I wonder what Bungie has done since this?

9. TacOps  (1994) – Mac/Windows

Before video games I played a lot of Avalon Hill war games.  Those sorts of games made the natural transition to the computer, which was ideal for handling much of the housekeeping chores.  However, in the transition, some old conventions got dragged along as well, like hexes.  And I hate hexes.  Yes, on a board game you need to use that hexgrid for movement.  I could accept that for Tobruk set up on the kitchen table.  But a computer was fully capable of handling movement without such an arbitrary overlay.  A couple of games tried it, but they tended to fall into the more arcade-ish vein, which wasn’t what I wanted.

And then I picked up a copy of TacOps.

Giving orders on an open map

Giving orders on an open map

I bought it on a complete whim, picking up the very rare initial boxed version off the shelf at ComputerWare before it went completely to online sales.  And it was a revelation.  Hey, terrain governs movement.  And cover.  And visibility.  That plus simultaneous movement phases rather than turn based combat meant wonderful chaos on the field.  The game was good enough that the military of several countries contracted for special versions of the game to use as a training tool.

I originally had Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin on my list.  That is where Battlefront.com really came into their own with the Combat Mission series.  But aside from 3D graphics, TacOps had done it all already.

10. TorilMUD (1993) – various platforms

Have I not written enough about the last 20 years of TorilMUDPrecursor to the MMORPG genre for me.  Without it I might not have understood that camping mobs for hours at a stretch was “fun.”

11. Diablo (1996) – Windows

A simpler time... in HELL

A simpler time… in HELL

I have written quite a bit about my fondness for Diablo II, while I haven’t gone back to play the original Diablo since the sequel came out.  But I wouldn’t be still talking about Diablo II or comparing the merits of Diablo III, Torchlight II, and Path of Exile had the original not been something very, very special.

12. Total Annihilation (1997) – Windows

Total Annihilation

Total Annihilation

Total Annihilation was not the first RTS game I played.  I am pretty sure I played Dune II and Warcraft before it.  It is not the RTS game I have played the most.  I am sure I have more hours in both StarCraft and Age of Kings.  But it was the first RTS game that showed me that the genre could be about something more than a very specific winning build order.  All the units, on ground, in the air, on the water, were amazing.  The player maps were amazing, and player created AIs were even better.  The 3D terrain and line of sight and all that was wonderful.  And new units kept getting released.  And you could nuke things.  I still find the game amazing.

13. EverQuest (1999) – Windows

Fifteen years later and nothing has made my mouth hang open like it did on the first day I logged into Norrath.  I can grouse about SOE and the decisions they have made and the state of the genre, but that day back in 1999 sunk the hook into me good and hard and it hasn’t worked itself loose since.  Pretty much what this whole blog is about.

Froon!

Froon!

14. Pokemon Diamond (2006) – Nintendo DS

Before we got my daughter a DS lite and a copy of Pokemon Diamond, Pokemon was pretty much just a cartoon on TV and a card game somebody’s kid at work played.  Sure, I knew who Pikachu was, but I had no real clue about the video game.

And then in watching my daughter play, I had to have my own DS and copy of the game.  Make no mistake, despite its reputation as a kids game, Pokemon can be deep and satisfying.  It tickles any number of gamer needs.  My peak was in HeartGold/SoulSilver, where I finally caught them all.

Back when 493 was all

Back when 493 was all

While I have stopped playing, that doesn’t mean I don’t think about buying a 3DS XL and a copy of Pokemon X or Y and diving back into the game.  It is that good.

15. LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy (2006) – many platforms

Filling this last slot… tough to do.  There are lots of potential games out there.  For example, I like tower defense games, but which one sold me on the idea?  But for a game that launched me into a lot of play time over a series of titles, I have to go with LEGO Star Wars II.

LEGO Star Wars II

LEGO Star Wars II

That is where Travelers Tales really hit their stride.  The original LEGO Star Wars tried to hard to be a serious and difficult game.  With this second entry, they realized the power of simply being fun and irreverent.  That was the magic.

And I only have to look at the shelf of console games we have to see that LEGO games dominate as a result of this one title. They have evolved, and in some ways I think they have lost a bit of their charm by trying to do too much.  We got the LEGO Movie Game for the PS3 and it didn’t have the joy of LEGO Star Wars II.  Still, 8 years down the road, the influence of LEGO Star Wars II got us to try it.

Fools Errand?

Of course, putting limits like an arbitrary number on a list like this means it must ring false in some way.  And what does influential really mean?  I know what I said, but I can look back at that list and nitpick that, say, Castle Wolfenstein might not belong.  And what about genres I missed, like tower defense?  I could make the case that Defense Grid: The Awakening belongs on the list.  What about games like EVE Online?  Actually, I explained that one away to myself, seeing EVE as sort of the bastard child of Stellar Emperor and EverQuest or some such.  And while TorilMUD is so powerful in my consciousness, would I have played it had it not been for Gemstone? Where does NBA Jams fit?  And what other Apple II games did I miss?  Should Ultima III be on there?  Lode Runner Karateka?

And somehow this all ties into my post about platforms and connectivity options I have had over the years.

Anyway, there is my list, and I stand firm behind it today.  Tomorrow I might change my mind.  You are welcome to consider this a meme and take up the challenge of figuring out your 15 most influential games.

Others who have attempted to pick their 15, each with their own history:

Broadsword and Niche MMOs February 7, 2014

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

Did Electronic Arts actually do us a favor this week with the whole Broadsword thing?

I mean, it may have been inadvertent… EA may have been trying to be its usual evil self, envisioning an attempt to create some layer of contract studio serfdom in order exploit an IP they own to the maximum amount of return… but does this benefit us?

What Broadsword thing?  Well, this:

Broadsword!

Broadsword!

Broadsword Online Games will partner with EA’s Mythic Entertainment to operate, support and develop Dark Age of Camelot on EA’s behalf. Electronic Arts will continue to provide billing and account services through its Origin™ portal. Broadsword and Electronic Arts will work closely together to ensure a bright future for Dark Age of Camelot.

Broadsword site, DAoC Producer’s Letter

There is also an Ultima Online Producer’s Letter, where Ultima Online has been substituted in for Dark Age of Camelot for that bit of text.

EA is… allegedly… handing over the running of these two now-pretty-damn-old and long neglected MMORPGs to what appears to be… theoretically… an external team that is… presumably… made up of people who care about these two games and want to keep them alive.

This is EA though, so it pays to pay close attention when they say things like they are making a SimCity game, or that they are creating a successor to Dungeon Keeper on mobile OSes, or that the sun will rise in the east come the morning, because the expectations that get set in your brain based on your past experience may be at odds with what is actually being planned in the dark recesses of their San Mateo keep.

Fun Created Here!

Fun Created Here!

And how would this be a boon to us… where “us” is a legion of long term MMORPG players who haven’t been really happy since who-knows-when and who have traded in our rose colored glasses for rose colored long term contacts so we can avoid the harsh light of reality at all times… right now?

Does this move validate or otherwise legitimize the often Kickstarter focused, niche oriented MMO projects that have been popping up since the genre fell from grace… which was when?  LOTRO?  WAR?AoC? SWTOR?

Does this move legitimize projects like Camelot Unchained, Project: Gorgon, Shroud of the Avatar, and Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen?  Is there hope for similar ventures?

Or is this just EA trying to squeeze the last bit of toothpaste from the tube in the most economically expedient way possible?

And is this even a good thing for Dark Age of Camelot and Ultima Online?  Will being out from under the yoke of BioWare subsidiary of EA, whose founders cashed out at their earliest possible convenience, lead to a revival of either game?  You still need to wear the mark of the beast, in the form of an Origin account, in order to play them.  Will that keep people away?

The Mighty Insta-90 Question – Which Class to Boost? January 24, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, polls, World of Warcraft.
Tags: , ,
19 comments

The question of the hour in our guild is, “What class should I level up to 90 with the Warlords of Draenor expansion?”  For some of us, it represents an opportunity to change up the group and play something new.  For others… well, me… who have changed up their character a couple of times already, it is still a chance to try something new after all these years without having to go through the work of catching up.

Through the years in Azeroth

Through the years in Azeroth

This question became all the more pressing when Blizzard announced that your free insta-90 boost would be available as soon as you pre-ordered the expansion. (If you pre-order the collector’s edition, you also get the pet and the mount and whatever else in-game they offer.)  Leaving aside the “that sure sounds like we won’t be getting WoD any time soon” aspect of the announcement, it seems like we could be granted our level 90 boost in the near future. (My pre-ordering as soon as it becomes an option seems per-ordained.  I am pre-pared… or something.)

So this seems like a perfect opportunity to bore people and start arguments by looking at the classes in World of Warcraft and my relationship with them.   And I might as well break them up into arbitrary categories to further horrify people.  So on with the debacle!

Already 90s

Classes out of the running for an insta-90 boost because I already have one at level 90, or will have one there before WoD ships. A look at what I guess I like in WoW.

Paladin – Back in March 2005, when I finally broke down and bought World of Warcraft, having been otherwise devoted to EverQuest II since November 2004, the first character I made was a dwarf paladin.

That was a mistake.  The paladin’s life was a hard one back then.  The only ranged attack you could pull with was limited to undead and demons.  Judgement was a strange beast.  Their epic mount quest was a serious chore, and no cheaper in the end for all the work.  Warriors were better tanks, priests were better healers, and just about anybody was better DPS.  The joke was that a paladin never dies, but neither do his foes.  Add in the fact that the snowy dwarven starter area that was the least interesting of the bunch and that I started out hating the dwarf character models and you might begin to understand why it took me some time to warm to WoW.  I deleted that character after not too long.

However, I did return to the class later, and stuck with it in the end.  Paladins have evolved over time and I have been happy enough playing one.  Picking up engineering as a profession filled in some of the class gaps back in the day.  I was always fond of the wrist mounted rocket launcher enchant that engineers could add.  The character I consider my “main” in the game is Vikund, my one and only paladin. (Ignore that low level blood elf! He means nothing!)  He was my first to level 60, 70, 80, 85, and 90.  He’s the guy, my “do all the things” character.  I don’t need another paladin.

Hunter – The go-to class for a lot of people when they want to solo.  I have always enjoyed the class, I have several on various servers.  If my pally was first to all those levels, my hunter, Tistann, was second.  He just hit level 90 this week.  I have always enjoyed the pet taming and interaction aspects of the class.  And while people often groan aloud when they see a beast mastery hunter show up in their Dungeon Finder group, you can be quite competitive with other DPS if you play right.  But I don’t need another one at level 90 just yet.

Druid – I think everybody has a class they are dumb for.  I would have told you that, for me, the class is hunters.  Then I noticed I had five druids over level 60, including two above level 80 on the same server in the same faction.  So as Earl has his warriors, and my mother has a collection of hunters, I have an army of druids.  There is a lot to like.  I tell people I have two druids on the same server so I can play all four druid specs… druids are so special that they get four specs… but I think I really just like flight form.  I jump off of high places just to invoke flight form mid-fall.  It is too cool.  But with two druids in the 80s, at least one of which will be level 90 before WoD drops, I don’t need to use my boost on this class.

The Mid-Level Blues

Classes I have worked on at various points, but which have never quite made it to level cap.

Death Knight – This seems to be cheating a bit as Death Knights start at level 55 and are close to 60 by the time they get done with their starter zone.  Mid-level at birth, depending on where you set the bar for “mid-level,” I never really thought much about DKs until I was pushing druid #2 through Outland and Northrend as a healer.  Then I noted how durable they were and figured that maybe this was a class even I could play the tank in.  So I rolled one up and he currently sits at level 64.  My main problem with him is that he is in 5th place after my pally, hunter, and two druids, so I do not get around to him very often.  But DKs totally seem like a class I could play up to 90… once the two druids are there… so perhaps it would be a waste to use an insta-90 on mine.

Priest – The first thing I rolled up when our old TorilMUD guild finally said, “screw this!” to EverQuest II, just as Kingdom of the Sky squelched onto the scene, and headed to WoW, was a priest.  This never quite worked out.  For me, a priest is a cleric in the D&D vein, wearing heavy armor, wielding a mace mostly for show, and dispensing heals while taking repeated punches to the face.  So it was in TorilMUD, EverQuest, and EverQuest II.

In WoW a priest is a holy guy that wears cloth vestments.  On what sort of Bizarro world does that make sense?

Plus we never really formed a group where I could be the healer, so my priest made it solo to about Stranglethorn Vale before I said, “To Hell with this!” and just focused on my pally and hunter.  The pally was the cleric I really wanted to play in any case.  Now though, with Dungeon Finder, having another healer around wouldn’t be a bad thing, and I am still pretty sure I wouldn’t want to level one up.  So there is possibility here.

Rogue – I actually rolled up a rogue for the instance group back in late 2006.  Blintz was going to be our DPS, lockpicker, and stealthy scout.  He is in at least one of the group shots at the top of the post.

And then as soon as the group hit 40, I swapped out Blintz for my paladin and barely ever played him again.  The rogue class and I aren’t very compatible.  Attacks are very positional, I never had a good feel for the skills, and I can never quite use stealth right.  These are things I also struggle with as a feral druid, but at least with the druid I can claim status as a backup tank and healer when Ula and Bung are blowing me away on the DPS chart.  So I am not sure being a level 90 rogue would change any of that.

Still, I keep thinking about him.  Every once in a while I will play him for a bit.  He has managed to make it to level 46 in the last six year.  But is a level a year really progress?

Never Got Very Far

And then there is everything else.

Warrior – I’ve rolled up any number of warriors over the years, but never found the time to focus on one.  Way back in the day there were drawbacks to being a warrior, at least if you didn’t have a healer along.  You needed potions, bandages, and lots of food around.  I chose a paladin to avoid all of that, and of course ended up with another set of problems.  Later on, when that was less of a big deal, I did tinker with warriors now and again.  But like the Death Knight, warriors were never high enough on my list to get enough play.  And the question remains, what would I do with one at level 90 is I had one?

Shaman – I recall leveling up a shaman once into the 20s, but I can’t remember when or on what server.  I think I was horde.  Maybe.  Clearly the class never stuck.  As with warriors, back in the day the class used to be a bit of a trial to get used to.  Later, with things smoothed out, it was simpler, but it still didn’t do anything I couldn’t already do, which is what you get when you play two classes that can do it all I guess.

Warlock – I rolled up a warlock once, but only played a couple of levels in.  This was back when warlocks were completely OP, as opposed to just being mostly OP.  Still, everybody I know who has a level cap warlock can burn stuff down like no other, so there is some allure there, even if I have never been good at the DPS caster role.  But if Bung decides he wants use his insta-90 boost to swap out his warlock and try something new, I might be up for the challenge.  The utility value of warlocks, with health stones, soul stones, and a variety of pets, is high enough that I would feel useful.  I’d just have to learn the class, though you could argue that I need to do so even with the classes I already have at level 90.

Mage – I do have a mage who is in the 30s.  He was part of the Worgen instance group we rolled up for Cataclysm.  I never really liked him all that much.  In part because of the Worgen thing… which I could stand until I found out the racial mount was just them running around on all fours… but also because of the “I’m not really a cloth wearing caster type,” which I have mentioned above.  I do not find the mage all that alluring as a class, so even if Ula decided to trade out, I am not sure I would step up to play one again.

Monk – And, finally, there is the latest class added to Azeroth.  I rolled one up and played it for a bit when we first jumped back into WoW last August, but wasn’t really fond of it, so I never bothered to get him out of the Pandaren starting area.  So I went and made a hunter… and a druid… because that is apparently how I roll.  The one thing that the monk has going for it is that it does fit my pattern of playing classes that can be all the roles.  Paladins and druids can play tank, healer, or DPS, and so can a monk.  If I play to that type, the monk should be good.  But, as I said, I didn’t enjoy the class when it started and, for no good reason, Pandaren monk tanks annoy me.  I cannot explain why.  So this is not a sure thing.

Make a Choice Already

So those are the options.  And, honestly, I am not sure what I will choose.  It likely won’t be until the very day the option becomes available… and maybe not even then.  There will be a point when I will press the button and do this, and I guess  I will just stew until then.

I will say that, at the moment, the leading contenders are the warlock, the monk, and the death knight.  My gut response way back when WoD was announced was a warlock.  But I could easily be swayed elsewhere.  I will be watching what other people say on the topic.  I see that Liore already has a post on this.  I expect that others will follow suit.

In the mean time, I’ll throw out a poll asking what you would do.  You can, of course, attempt to influence my decision in the comments.

Looking Back at 2013 – Highs and Lows December 20, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, EverQuest Next, Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, Sony Online Entertainment, War Thunder, World of Warcraft.
Tags: , ,
5 comments

This has become a regular end of the year feature here I guess, now that it is in its fourth year.  Past entries, should you be bored and looking for something else to read, are here:

This list isn’t meant to be definitive in any way.  Highs and lows are relative.  My lows are certainly highs to somebody, and vise versa .  This is more of a wash of impressions that I find myself left with at the end of the year.  I am sure I will miss something important, even for more own narrow definition.  Feel free to add or question in the comments or use what I say as fodder for your own blog posts.

The wall of bullet points beings.

Payment Model Wars

Highs

  • F2P vs. Subscription gave us plenty of things to post and/or argue about.
  • We are starting to get Western MMORPGs that were designed from the start to be F2P, which ought to give a better experience than conversions.
  • The “free” part of F2P MMORPGs seem, in general, to be edging further into the “substantially free” zone.
  • World of Warcraft, EVE Online, and… the one people seem to forget… Final Fantasy XIV still holding the fort for the subscription model.  Not dead yet.
  • WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online are determined to test if the subscription model is still valid for new games in this day and age.

Lows

  • A lot of people think WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online are headed for a trouble by going the subscription route.  F2P by fall.
  • SWTOR failing at the subscription model still casts a long shadow, which plays into the line above.
  • When somebody says an MMO is “free to play” that doesn’t tell me anything yet, beyond the idea that it probably doesn’t require a monthly subscription.
  • The dichotomy of the two models still exists for me.  I hate when a game brings up money almost constantly… nothing brings me “out” of the game like a financial calculation… but I won’t stay subscribed to a game for a day longer than I have to if I am not playing it.  Or, to flip it the other way, I like not having a subscription, but I hate that the hand is always out for money even when I do opt for the “yes there is still a subscription” option in a F2P title.  Or something.
  • Subscription to F2P conversions still dominate the Western MMO F2P landscape.  Even if you don’t think they carry the stink of failure, it is still tough to escape the before/after comparison, especially if the F2P model looks like a thinly veiled attempt to make you subscribe.
  • Final Fantasy XIV a Realm Reborn is probably the most interesting sounding MMO I am never going to play.  Not buying a box and paying another monthly subscription.
  • Asian MMOs no longer have an automatic “in” to the market by virtue of being free to play.  Remember when Runes of Magic was a big deal?  Remember when a $10 horse caused outrage?  Dime a dozen complaint these days.   The market is crowded enough that even their tiny cost structures cannot be sustained.  Early entrants are still around… how Silk Road Online survives is one of the mysteries of the universe… but new titles seem to come and go quickly.  I am not sure that is good for the industry overall.  Or maybe it is.
  • Every conversion from subscription to F2P includes an immediate press release about huge success… and then we never hear another word on the subject.  I don’t expect weekly updates, but when you never mention something ever again, it sure seems like the peak came early on.
  • The F2P store balance seems to be a tightrope walk… and some companies are working without a net.

Turbine

Highs

  • Woo hoo, Lord of the Rings Online moves a step closer to Mordor with the Helm’s Deep expansion!
  • Middle-earth still has that Middle-earth charm.
  • I made it THROUGH Moria during my latest vacation in Middle-earth.  Now just two more expansions to get through and I will be caught up with all I have paid for.
  • The change up of classes into a more role specific model seems to be a good thing.
  • No repeat of the hobby horse idea.
  • Yay… other Turbine games.  Dungeons & Dragons Online and all calls routed through to Asheron’s number.
  • Oh, hey, they have Macintosh versions of DDO and LOTRO.  My daughter even tried DDO.

Lows

  • As much as I love Middle-earth, LOTRO is starting to show its age.  Moving to WoW after a summer of LOTRO was like realizing you’ve been driving with your parking brake on.
  • Being just out of Moria, it doesn’t matter how nice the next LOTRO expansion is, I don’t need to buy it.
  • Turbine seems to be rethinking the whole big expansion thing, with no such beast expected for 2014.  How we get to Mordor… or even Gondor at this point… is unclear.
  • Every time I come back to LOTRO, it feels like they have installed another “insert coin here” adjunct to the UI.
  • Insta-level to the mid-game seems like a half baked idea, unless you think Moria is the best content in the game… and you already own Moria.
  • Just waiting for Turbine to give in to the “lifetime subscribers are the problem” mob.
  • DDO reminds you that it pre-dates LOTRO in look and feel.  My daughter said it was confusing and ugly and went back to Minecraft.
  • The return of Asheron’s Call 2 was the big Turbine announcement last year at this time… and not much else has been mentioned since.
  • Infinite Crisis, Turbine’s run at the MOBA genre, sounds more like their financial situation pre-Warner.  And it looks like a no show for 2013 at this point.  Plus, really? Another MOBA?  I am not sure what Turbine brings to the table on this.

Sony Online Entertainment

Highs

  • Finally announced EverQuest Next as an MMO that might bring something new to the genre.  The word “sandbox” has been thrown about liberally.  There has been much excitement.  This is perhaps the only new MMO I am looking forward to at this point.
  • EverQuest Next Landmark, a subset of the tools being used to create EverQuest Next, will be available to players as a F2P title.
  • SOE eased up on the restrictions on free players in EQII.  One notch back on the “really, you should just subscribe to play” focus.
  • EverQuest is still a live an going concern.  It even got an expansion.
  • SOE has actually made some progress getting themselves out of the discount Station Cash hole they dug for themselves with huge discounts up through last year.

Lows

  • EverQuest Mac gets powered down.  Its days were numbered, but it is still sad to see it go.
  • EverQuest Next is way out in the future, and I am not convinced the “design by committee” thing that SOE is doing via the round table… even if is is all illusory… is the best of all possible options.  Still, it beats their past practice of announcing something then going silent for a year.
  • EverQuest Next… how is a F2P sandbox going to work?  SOE has a horrible track record at pricing things in a way that puts the “micro” in “microtransaction.”   If your minimum price is going to be $5.00, you might as well just take VISA up front.
  • EverQuest Next Landmark is closer, but I have no desire to try it for free at this point, much less pay $100 to do so.
  • PlanetSide 2 had so many problems this year.  Aimbots, stability, performance… I stopped playing pretty quickly, but people I follow seem to be bemused about SOE’s progress with the game.
  • I have grown so apart from EverQuest II that all I do when I log in is pay the rent on my house.
  • EverQuest abides in its own form, but SOE seems to be really pushing it to the back burner, and you wouldn’t know there was a Progression Server thing still going the way it has been handled.  I doubt we will see another such special server.
  • Just waiting for SOE to “expire” Station Cash on unused accounts.

CCP

Highs

  • EVE Online, still hanging in there on the subscription model, growing ever so slightly, and unique in so many ways.  Ten years old and as strong as it has ever been.
  • Two decent expansions this year, Odyssey and Rubicon, with some solid features and improvements in each.
  • Giant space battles deciding the colors on the map!
  • Does any gaming company running a live game do Dev blogs that approach what CCP produces?
  • Hints at plans for brand new space frontiers in New Eden.
  • Managed to stay away from controversy when it came to the direction the game is going.  No more “greed is good” talk or other things that caused the Incarna revolt.
  • Gave me a free copy of the collector’s edition.
  • EVE Valkyrie for Occulus Rift sounds very exciting.

Lows

  • Growth is oh so slow, and the question always arises about how many new accounts are just alts?
  • It wouldn’t be CCP without some scandals!  So we had  SOMERBlink and Ishokune Scorpions,  SOMERBlink at EVE Vegas, SOMERBlink and RMT loopholes, preferential treatment by CCP in general (which included SOMERBlink) and who gets what for free (which included some real crybaby attitudes at various points), Terms of Services hair splitting by CCP (which did NOT involve SOMERBlink!), and the usual CCP summer season of foot shooting.  Really, the only thing we were missing was Mintchip accepting an Ishukone Scorpion from SOMERBlink, selling it for a PLEX in EVE, and then using that PLEX to pay some capsuleer to mow her parent’s lawn… while topless, wearing a monocle, and speaking entirely in quotes from Atlas Shrugged.
  • PLEX continues to amaze and horrify people by turns.  It remains a comically divisive aspect of the game.
  • The defining issue for CSM8 seems to be the CSM minutes at this point.  Those minutes had better be worth it.  Still better than CSM7 though.
  • Epic space battles have turned into epic node crashes lately.  Does anybody think the drone assignment feature is a good thing at this point?
  • A good portion of the interesting things that happen in EVE… and 100% of the CCP run events… happen while I am at work.  I read about them online just like anybody not playing the game.
  • After the war in Fountain, the deployment(s) to Curse have felt a little dry.  I have spent more time moving to and fro than in actual fleets.
  • I am still trying to click on the lower left corner of the screen to undock six months later.  Old habits.
  • The future “huge effort to build a jump gate” in order to open up new areas of space idea sounds vaguely like “huge effort to build a titan” from times gone by.  Efforts will thus be limited to large entities and the huge effort will become manageable for those entities over time.  Expect jump gate proliferation.
  • DUST 514?  Hello, is anybody there? *distant occasional gunshot*
  • World of Dakrness?  Lay offs at CCP Atlanta make that an even more distant possibility.

Blizzard

Highs

  • WoW revenues: still laughing all the way to the bank.
  • Returning to WoW this fall was like getting into my own bed made up with flannel sheets fresh out of the dryer on a cold winter’s night.
  • The instance group returning to Azeroth has also revived our spirits and our time spent playing together.
  • Blizz’s work on softening the walls between servers has actually done some good.  The game feels alive still and I have been able to group cross realms with people I haven’t been able to play with since server splits ages ago.
  • I am reasonably sure there are no NSA/CIA/FBI infiltrators in our guild.
  • Warlods of Draenor and the return to the 10 level expansion.  Sounds good to me so far.
  • Mists of Pandaria, meanwhile, is pretty good.  I find it fulfilling in a way that Cataclysm was not.
  • Blizz actually seems primed for a very strong 2014.  The money machine will continue to print.
  • Hearthstone looks good enough to even interest me slightly, and the only card game I ever play is Gin Rummy.
  • Diablo III Reaper of Souls expansion looks promising.
  • The death of the Diablo III auction house is a winner in my book.
  • StarCraft II has Legacy of the Void lined up as the third expansion.
  • Heroes of the Storm sounds like it might be a viable thing.  It is Blizzard’s chance to apply their refinement magic to the MOBA genre.  If only they can find a name and stick with it.

Lows

  • WoW Subscribers down from the peak of “over 12 million” in the quarter after Cataclysm shipped to 7.6 million at last report.  Blizz can still say “more than you ever had” to most everybody, but that is a lot of subscribers gone.  There are whole industries that would disappear if that many people walked away.  And where is that subscriber number headed next?
  • Long term profitability seems to have stifled innovation on the subscription model options front, even considering how slow Blizz is about change in general.  Blizz just rolls along.
  • Coming back to WoW reminds me that there still a number of things that Blizz hasn’t quite fixed over the years, stuff that almost every competitor has worked out by this point.  Fodder for a blog post, coming soon-ish.
  • All that cross-realm and combined server stuff isn’t going to stave off server merges forever unless they stem the subscriber bleed.
  • A cash shop in-game?  Here we go again.  As a developer though, I think I am most offended by problems with the implementation.
  • There isn’t a lot between now and Warlords of Draenor to keep long time WoW players going if they have finished up Mists of Pandaria.  I am happy enough with WoD probably being 9 months out, but I am sure a lot of people are restless.
  • Also on the “Blizzard remains slow front,” even removing a feature they freely admit was a mistake and ruined their game for a lot of people is taking a while to happen.  The Diablo III auction house lives on into 2014.
  • Is the Reaper of Souls expansion, reitemization, and removal of the auction house going to be enough to goose sales and play time for Diablo III?  I cannot see myself going back to play, much less buying the expansion.
  • I doubt we’ll see Heroes of the Storm go live next year, and I wouldn’t bet against at least one more revision of the name.
  • Titan, the “next big thing” from Blizz post-WoW, remains a tiny dot on the horizon.  Or is that just a mirage?

Other MMO Developers

Highs

  • Arena Net has to have set some sort of record for content delivery in GuildWars 2, serving up some sort of new variation every two weeks for… how long now?  Somebody tell the SWTOR team “that’s how it’s done.”
  • Trion manages a pretty sharp F2P transition with Rift.  They went all-in on it and their commitment to the model shows.  The store is clean, bright, and filled to the brim with things to buy.  Once the F2P launch settled down, Trion relauched Rift on Steam with new starter packs and such.  The game remains the definitive alternate to WoW, polished and with plenty of content, even as F2P.
  • Trion also pulled Trove out of nowhere.
  • Cryptic and PWE entertainment seem pretty solid on F2P, delivering Neverwinter as a substantially free game that is both very well put together and provides a content generation system, the Foundry, that yields some excellent content.  Easy to get into, low commitment, looks good, what is not to love?
  • Path of Exile really scratched the Diablo II itch.  Official heir to the Diablo II crown in my book.
  • War Thunder, a title I set out to ignore, turns out to be decent and has low skill roles I can actually fulfill… and lots of cool planes to fly.
  • Wargaming.net joined up accounts across their games, so your World of Tanks account is also your World of Warplanes account and shares currency and so on.
  • SWTOR seems to have struck out on a new path with the Galactic Starfight update.  But what does it portend?
  • Shroud of the Avatar is a thing.
  • There is a minor possibility that I might be interested in the idea of playing The Elder Scrolls Online.

Lows

  • I am unable to understand how any but the most dedicated gamers can adequately handle and play through new content every two weeks in GuildWars 2.  I get physically tired just reading about it.  It feels like a lot of content just melting away, never to be seen again.
  • Storm Legion remains uninspired for me. I want to like it a lot more than I actually do.
  • The Rift F2P model feels too weak to me, like they gave away too much.  I could see no reason to ever give them money again.  I know, I complain when people ask for money, now I complain when people don’t ask for money.  See my entry in the first section about a tight rope walk.
  • Trove seems a little me-to at this stage of the game, with Minecraft already established and EverQuest Landmark showing up soon.  Plus, if you don’t care about that kind of thing, another option isn’t really a big deal.
  • Speaking of me-to, ArcheAge?  Haven’t we seen the “Asian MMO comes West and flops” tale enough times already?  Trion had better have some secret sauce for this one.
  • Neverwinter never really clicked with me.  There is lots of interesting stuff to see, but it never felt like I was in a world.  It was more like an arcade where you lined up to run the Cloak Tower machine, then ran off to play the Dreadmines machine, and then maybe played orc hockey in the open area for a while.
  • Path of Exile has “always online” problems similar to Diablo III.  When you depend on the internet…
  • War Thunder didn’t last all that long on my list.  I managed to tourist up to level 5 for all nations, then wandered off.
  • Wargaming.net still keeps regions separate, so I cannot play with my EVE corp mates without having another client/account just for Europe.
  • World of Warplanes, a title I was determined to play… well… we shall speak no more of that one.
  • Shroud of the Avatar is a thing in the sense that it ought to be worth looking at again in about a year.
  • Seeing what is potentially on offer for 2014, as like as not I probably won’t play a new MMO next year.  If it is just going to be the same game with different art, I might as well play the one I am most invested in.
  • Pirates of the Burning Sea, cut loose from SOE, seems to be more adrift than ever.
  • Warhammer Online goes to its inevitable fate.

Other Gaming and Vaguely Related Items

Highs

  • Sony pledges a long life, new games, and ongoing support for those of us who own PS3s.  And their track record with the PS2 seems to back up their statements.
  • Pokemon X and Y actually looked interesting enough to get some interest in our household.
  • I remain quite fond of my iPad.
  • The used game scene remains, not that I participate.  Good news for Game Stop, but also probably good news for the big publishers, since they have pretty much fessed up that the ability to trade in a game for store credit is probably boosting sales numbers beyond any perceived lost revenue from third party sales.
  • Some interesting projects on Kickstarter in 2013.
  • High speed internet is finally available in our home.  Buying a game on Steam doesn’t mean waiting a day or two to play it.
  • When 60 Minutes can run an NSA propaganda piece and call it news, it makes me think that game journalism isn’t all that bad.  At least motivations are clear; everybody has to earn a living.

Lows

  • Games?  I only use the PS3 to watch Blu-Ray movies and stream Netflix at this point.
  • Nintendo basically doesn’t support any of the platforms that I own any more.  There will be nothing new under the sun for Wii or DS owners ever again, and I have no interest in buying a Wii U or a 3Ds.  But I don’t plan to buy an Xbox One or a PS4 either.  Good thing about the used market.
  • The screens on my Nintendo DS Lite have gone all blurry, so I can’t even go back and finish up Pokemon Black.  Oh, wait, let me put on my glasses.  Damn tiny screens!
  • I remain somewhat less enthusiastic about gaming on the iPad.  Ticket to Ride remains my all time favorite, and board game translations seem like an excellent opportunity for the platform, yet I haven’t found many games I really like otherwise.  And then there is pricing.  EA has the most odious practice in that they will sell you a game and will then insist on running game interrupting ads when you try to play.  Has made me swear to never give EA another nickel again ever.  I find Candy Crush Saga to be a rare gem, a paragon of virtue and restraint compared to anything EA has to offer.
  • I’ve been stuck on level 125 of Candy Crush Saga for like six weeks now.  Still not giving them any money either, but for different reasons.
  • Kickstarter remains a “pay and pray” option.  You toss somebody some money and hope that it turns into something some day.  I can see why some people shun the idea.
  • Buy something on Steam?  I have too many unplayed or underplayed titles already in my Steam library.  Even Steam sales are a bit “meh” now.
  • I still do not see the appeal of streaming.  Except for a few rare cases where something special is happening, I’d rather play the game than watch somebody else play.  And then I saw somebody live blogging somebody else live streaming and my head just about exploded.  Stop the inanity.
  • Runic Games appears to have burnt out creating Torchlight II and has punted on the Mac OS version, the MMORPG version, and hasn’t bothered to get dressed to leave the house for much of 2013 so far as I can tell.
  • Microsoft, determined that there be a single version of Windows and that it run on all devices (q.v. Ballmer remains loyal to Mordor), gives people a tablet button interface for their desktop machines.  When people won’t stop complaining about the missing “Start” menu, which MS trained people for years to depend on, they add it back in to Windows 8… only it just brings up the tablet button interface.  Why Fucking Bother?

Blog Things

Highs

  • Hey, I still post something nearly every damn day, don’t I?
  • A lot more people visit the site, even after my purge from Google search returns, than I ever expected.
  • I have a pretty decent account of my online gaming since 2006.  I am particularly happy with the ongoing tales of the instance group.
  • I have lots of pretty pictures on the site, which helps out when I lose stuff on my hard drive.  I have no idea where all my Warhammer Online screen shots went.

Lows

  • Quantity is not quality, and a lot of what I write is just for me.  Plus, there are times when it is tough not to write “And we did another instance.  Thousands of people have done it before.  There were no surprises.  Consider this milestone marked.”  This has lead to what I might describe as an over-dependence on screen shots.
  • The name of the blog becomes ever more accurate.  I now write mostly about a 9 year old game and a 10 year old game, with an occasional look back at a 20 year old game.
  • It is sometimes tough to find the old post I am looking for.  The search option is primitive in the extreme.
  • Really feel like the blog needs a new look after seven years, yet I am not fond of any of the WP.com options.
  • WP.com has taken it upon themselves to break something about once a month by rolling new (and I would guess untested) code out to their customers without any announcement.  Just this week the “more after the cut” option was broken for several hours.
  • Self hosting seems slightly more attractive at this point, except for the hours of extra work, the need for a domain name, and the fear that I will find out just how many readers visit out of habit as they fall off the moment something changes.

And that is about all that oozed from my brain when pressed to come up with what happened in 2013.  What else should be on the list?

What You Get in the Absence of Actual Information… October 18, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Rift, World of Warcraft.
Tags: ,
12 comments

In which I chase my tail in ever smaller circles.

Over the last seven years of blogging I have evolved something of a regular style and structure to my online musings.  There are a few standard posts I make, which I would sum up as:

  • I did a thing!  –  The general log of what I have done lately.  Generally things I want to remember;I moved a ship to Curse, I re-subscribed to WoW, I made it to the 21st hall in Moria.  Simple telling of a tale.  Probably the most common post on the blog.
  • The Instance Group did a thing!  –  A sub-set of the above, the ongoing tales of our group adventure.  Lately it has evolved into “The Instance Group did not do a thing.”
  • Remember that thing? – I pull out memories of some old game… Air Warrior, Stellar Emperor, TorilMUD… and try to assemble them into a coherent post.
  • A month passed with a lot of things – With 85 month in review posts already written, this is clearly part of the standard fare.
  • Things from my email – As you might suspect, something for days when I have nothing else to write about.
  • Quote of the Day – Somebody said something worth discussing.
  • Marking an event – A game shut down, an anniversary or other milestone has come, someone notable has passed.
  • I attempt something akin to a review – This never goes well.
  • Announcement of a new thing!  – A new game, patch, expansion, or feature is announced and I bring it up and try to figure out what it means to me.
  • A thing was announced, what does it really mean?  – Different from the above in the extent of information provided or how it links to the bigger picture are not stated outright, leading me in to speculation mode.

So that is ten standard-ish formats, with bit bucket, catch all, miscellaneous undeclared category to cover the remainders.

But it is that last one on the list that is often the most fun or interesting to write.  You take an announcement and whatever actual information is floating around on the web and you try to come up with a big… or at least bigger… picture assessment of what is going on.  It is a pretty standard format.  You see it on a lot of blogs.

I find it fun because it is the sort of thing I like to talk about.  But it is also pretty meaningless except as a discussion exercise because, as a complete outsider I (and most of my fellow bloggers) lack access to the whole story.  Key facts are missing and we are left to fill in the blanks.

For example, on Wednesday, I put up a post about Rift and the announced server merges.  It seemed to me that this was a sign that the post-F2P transition boom in popularity was over.

This was not unexpected.  It seems to be a standard phenomena when an MMO goes from monthly subscriptions to a F2P business model.  Once F2P hits there is a rush of new and returning players interested to see what is on offer, something I refer to as the “Happy Time.”  There is often a public statement about a revenue increase, which given that the business model transition was done for that reason, seems like a gimme.  Plus, the comparison often seems to be between low ebb of the previous model and the peak of the “Happy Time.”  You had best be able to multiply your revenue in that environment.

Eventually that settles down.  The company stops talking about revenue and players and such, unless they are a public company and it appears in the financial reports, and those of us outsiders are left to try to divine how things are going by inspecting goat entrails, reading tea leaves, and expressing disgust at the latest abomination being offered up in the cash shop.

I think the above scenario pretty much applies to Dungeons & Dragons Online, Lord of the Rings Online, EverQuest II, DC Universe Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and probably a few more;  business model transition, immediate declaration of success with increases in revenue and players, and then not much more on the subject.  No big deal.  All those games are carrying on and I do not expect that any will fold up shop in the next year.

But with Rift there were other data points.  The game had shut down in Korea and is headed the same way in China.  The parent company, Trion, had been through layoffs and office closings.  Outside of Rift, the company only has Defiance as a going concern, which has been awfully quiet while the companion TV series has been in re-runs.  And on the horizon for Trion there is End of Nations, which seemed troubled in beta when I tried it, and ArcheAge, which looks to me, perhaps unfairly, like yet another attempt by an Asian MMO to conquer the West.

So my speculation was that Trion might not be around as an independent entity a year from now.  Given the information available to me, that didn’t seem exactly like a shot out of left field.  The key there is “the information available to me.”

Later, in a special guest star, walk-on appearance, Scott Hartsman, CEO of Trion, left a comment on the post correcting me on my server count and dropping a tasty morsel about Rift’s F2P performance, saying that Rift has had the most sustained success in a F2P transition “by the numbers.”

On one hand, this is a fresh new data point for me, and a fair comment from the person who must certainly know more than I on the subject.  The “Happy Time” might be over, but it is far from gloom and gray skies for Rift.  My relationship with the game is…complicated… but I don’t want the game to go away.  Some day our regular group will return and finish its run through the five person instances.

On the other hand, that comment just opens up a new can of “what the hell does that mean?”  What numbers?  Representing what?  Compared to whom?

Must have more information!  Stop me before I speculate again! (And will Rift then make Raptr’s yearly list?)

Following this up was a comment from another reader who, among other things, expressed a desire to get away from the sharded existence (against which I have railed in the past) that seems to be the norm for MMORPGs and to move towards a single server concept, even if it meant going with instanced versions of zones as Neverwinter is doing.

I could hardly disagree with that idea.

The odd thing about the comment though was that he did not suggest moving away from shards for the good of the community or for letting friends play together rather than being stuck in different versions of the world.  No, he seemed more interested in removing servers so that people like me wouldn’t report server merges as bad news.

With a single server, there are no merges!  Nothing to see here, please move along!

That seemed to be going down the path towards gaming companies making even less information available, which actually seems to invite more speculation about the health and well being of such games, not less.  After all, we will find a way.  We will look at Raptr reports or weekly Xfire numbers or the number of instances of a given zone on a Saturday night (Only 2 instances of the Frostfang Sea? The game is clearly dying!), and build fresh sand castles in the face of the storm.

Which brings me to what I suppose is the question of the day.

Is it better for companies like Trion or Turbine to keep the health of their games under wraps, dribbling out a tidbit now and again but otherwise letting speculation run wild without a retaining wall of fact?

Or is it better to be in the boat with NCSOFT, Blizzard, and EA who must, as part of their financial reporting requirements, pony up an assessment backed up with financial data every quarter?

Which is better… or worse?  Rift announcing the closure of 30% (22 to 15) of its servers in a single announcement or being able to track, quarter by quarter, WoW losing 36% of its subscribers (from “more than 12 million” to 7.7 million) since the Cataclysm peak?

Or should we… you know… just go play the damn games already?

Rambling About Motivation and What Makes a Good Story November 2, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, Guild Wars 2, MUDs, Rift, World of Warcraft.
Tags: ,
23 comments

Anybody can use public transport, darling!

-Edina Monsoon, Absolutely Fabulous

Warning: this post does not actually lead anywhere and may not actually make sense.

Freedom seems to be a theme since the launch of Guild Wars 2.

Freedom from ever having to find a group.

Freedom from ever having to find a mailbox.

Freedom from ever having to stand still while casting a spell.

Freedom from much of the baggage of past MMOs, like subscriptions and the holy trinity and levels that get more difficult as you progress.

Not that this freedom drive is anything new.

At one point World of Warcraft, which now represents the status quo from which we are being freed, was once the harbinger of freedom.

It offered freedom from corpse runs and experience loss, freedom from having to find a group to advance your character at all past level 10 or so, freedom from fighting over who gets to run dungeon or raid content on a busy Saturday night, and freedom from simply grinding mobs for most of your leveling experience.

Not to mention freedom from relatively onerous system requirements.

Cutting this wall of text.  You’ll see it all in RSS anyway.

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