What You Get in the Absence of Actual Information… October 18, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Rift, World of Warcraft.
Tags: No Real Point, Rambling Friday
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, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, Guild Wars 2, MUDs, Rift, World of Warcraft.
Tags: No Real Point, Rambling Friday
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.
38 Studios – The Legend, The Myth, The End May 25, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Gaming Industry Trends, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Vanguard SOH.
Tags: 38 Studios, Azeroth Advisor, No Real Point, Rambling Friday
Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse
John Derek in Knock on Any Door (1949)
Well, I cannot speak to whether or not 38 Studios lived fast, and six years can be a long time in technology, so you can argue that the company did not die young.
Legends have been created out of less.
And now nobody will ever say that Copernicus, their as yet unnamed flagship game, to which the main effort of the company had been devoted for almost six year, sucks.
Nobody will complain about unbalanced classes or broken game mechanics or servers being down or sever queues being too long or any of the thousand other things that we find to pick on when it comes to MMOs.
Copernicus is pristine, a blurry mirage doomed to ever been in the distance, on which some will overlay their hopes and dreams for the future of MMO gaming. I’ve seen it already, with some bloggers mourning not just the fact that we will now never see this game come into full bloom, but that it somehow represented our last, best hope to return greatness to the genre. Some future games will find themselves compared to Copernicus that might have been. It was to be the holy grail game that brought joy back to fantasy MMOs.
Which is a tune I have heard before.
It was the sort of thing some of our guild members were saying about Vanguard in 2005 when we were playing EverQuest II and it had fully sunk in that the game really wasn’t a sequel to the EverQuest experience. And so Vanguard became the dream, the game destined to be the true successor to EverQuest.
And, well… we know how that turned out. Sigil Games, facing their own financial woes, opted to go to market early with a game clearly not ready for prime time.
In one of those twists of timing, it was just five years ago this month that Sigil folded up shop with the now infamous parking lot layoff, sans Brad McQuaid. But we got the word from Smed that SOE was swooping in to save the day. SOE was a hero for the moment, but I wondered how long they would remain a hero. Not very long, it seemed, as soon all the problems with Vanguard became SOE’s problems, and SOE’s fault for not fixing them fast enough.
It makes me wonder what image Vanguard would have ended up with had Brad opted to run out of money before launching the game.
And, alas, there will be no SOE white knight to rescue Copernicus. Those days are clearly done. Back when SOE was under Sony Pictures, which I am convinced really didn’t know, and didn’t care, what was going on in San Diego so long as the money was coming in, was able to collect orphaned MMOs like Vanguard and The Matrix Online. Now though, under the PlayStation people, who clearly want to hear about things that sell PlayStation hardware when they aren’t being evil, things have been trimmed back substantially.
There was an estimate that the assets of 38 Studios might be worth up to $20 million, though that sort of talk denies the reality of software development. If you buy a software company with no people, you have pretty much bought nothing. The people who write the software, they are the assets. Without them you have some source code, which can be interesting, but is tough to make your own. You can bring in your own people to try. I’ve been down that path. If you just want to be able to build the software and maybe make some small fixes, it can even be viable. But if you want to own the software and be able to use it to its full, you have to know it well, which is hard work. And the first thing that will happen is the devs will start saying that it is easier to rewrite some section of code from scratch than figure out what is really going on, and that way lies madness and repetition of the same mistakes to gain the same knowledge as the original authors of the code.
And then there is the outside influence of Star Wars: The Old Republic which, according to analyst Michael Pachter, has killed off interest in investing in MMO projects. To quote the money line:
Nobody is buying MMOs after Star Wars fizzled
So yeah, we can blame SWTOR! Because if EA can’t get MMOs right, then it is clearly some sort of once-in-a-lifetime black art not worth exploring.
Life in the big money lane.
I feel a bit sorry for Curt Schilling for not getting to live out his dream of creating a great MMO. But only a bit. I mean the guy had fame, fortune, and three world series wins coming into this deal, all while deliberately and maliciously being younger than me. He can go back to that. Maybe he can be a champion for small studios that reflect some of the things he was trying to bring to MMOs.
But I identify more with the team at 38 Studios, the worker bees who have to scramble to find another gig to pay the mortgage. I’ve been down that path a few times. The joy of Silicon Valley start ups, here today, gone tomorrow. I worked for eight different companies in the 90s, and only one still exists. I was there twice for the “everybody go home” company meeting. It doesn’t get easier with repetition.
I do want to throw out a minor “screw you” to 38 Studios for buying and shutting down the Azeroth Advisor. Grudge holding… we have that here at TAGN.
But other than that, I am sorry to see things turn out as they did. We won’t ever see Copernicus now, and so I will be denied the privilege of playing it while complaining about insignificant details that annoy me.
Addendum: And then there is the industry insider view of this debacle from the newly returned to blogging Lum and how it is killing the very concept of massively multiplayer online gaming.
Further Addendum: And there are always methods to make a bad situation worse.
R. A. Salvatore says Copernicus was awesome, but can’t actually back that up. He was right on one thing in that comment, he shouldn’t be commenting. More for the myth and legend department.
Steve Danuser puts the blame on the governor of Rhode Island.
It looks like 38 Studios may have screwed some employees worse than others. Was that the governor of Rhode Island’s fault as well?
Everybody wants to know where the money went.
Of course, there is Curt.
And then Derek Smart chimes in with a dump truck load of reality. Refreshing to see him poking at a subject that needs it.