Tag Archives: The Agency

Can SOE Keep the EverQuest Next Excitement Going?

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

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

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

And Sony Online Entertainment has a… colorful reputation.

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

But a lot of people only remember the bad.

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

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

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

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

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

What exactly was the message here?

What exactly was the message here?

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

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

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

And then what?

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

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

Not really what people wanted

Not really what people wanted

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

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

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

And what shouldn’t they be doing?

And, finally, should they even worry about it?

Reviewing My 2011 MMO Outlook Eleven Months Later

Back at the end of December 2010 I wrote a piece that summarized the key MMOs which were slated for 2011 in which I had some interest.  There were six games on that list and I was pretty sure that I could only invest myself into one of them.

Here we are about 11 months later and I think the results are about as solid as they will ever be.  I thought I also might get in the first year in review post, but somebody beat me to it by hours.  Oh well.

So in something like reverse order, let me review those six picks for 2011.

The Agency – Gone …and Mostly Forgotten

A really, really secret agency

Even back when I wrote the initial piece on the subject, I was skeptical that we would see The Agency.  There had been a strange hype and silence roller coaster going on with the title for too long for me to pin much hope on it dropping in during this calendar cycle.

And then the word came down.  The Agency had been cancelled by SOE.  It is gone and given its rocky progress (as seen/interpreted from the outside) it isn’t coming back.

All of which pretty much made my choice for me.

TERA Online – The Exiled Realm of Arborea Remains Exiled

Not Terra, no no no
TERA Online was always a long shot for me in any case, but how can you ignore a game that puts out statements like this?

TERA is the first true Action MMORPG, providing all of the depth of an MMO with the intensity and gratification of an action game. Players fully control their characters using the game’s dynamic battle system. Player actions can change the balance of power in a world threatened by dark powers as six allied races try to work together to protect their lands from marauding monsters, underworld dwellers, and evil scheming gods.

TERA raises the bar, setting new standards in the gaming industry. It is a visually stunning world with graphic quality above all other games in the industry. You will experience a new ground-breaking gameplay system where stereotypes of traditional MMORPGs will be broken. You will have full control over the attacks and the fate of your enemy. No more ‘pointing and clicking’ and playing combat relay with the enemies. Furthermore, not only do you control the action, TERA is also set in a world where the players will dictate the flow of the economy and individually impact the community environment.

That just reads like a desperate plea for help/attention when I say it out loud, but that might just be me.  I had to stop following them on Twitter because they would tweet well beyond the amount of information they had to share.

In any case, the release date for TERA Online has been pushed out to “Spring 2012″ for Europe and North America, which put it out of reach for this year.

Guild Wars 2 – The Game Changer?

space bar... space bar!

Still the best logo of the bunch.

And for those fans closely following the dev reports and press leaks, Guild Wars 2 is the MMO that is going to fix all of our current MMO woes. At least that was the way it felt for a while this year, where it seemed like you couldn’t kvetch about any MMO without somebody popping and and commenting how GW2 was going to solve that (and every other) problem.

I remain skeptical.  It isn’t that I do not want it to be true.   It is more that I expect the game will probably find its share of new problems while discovering why some things have been done the way they were in the past.

Just like real life, two steps forward, one step back.

Unfortunately, one of the old school problems ArenaNet is having is getting to market.  One of my caveats for the game was that it might not ship in 2011.  If I were writing a 2012 MMO Outlook… and I just might… I would probably say the same thing, since it seems possible that it might not ship in 2012.

So a Guild Wars 2 was non-event in 2011.

DC Universe Online – A Rags to Slightly Nicer Rags Story

Men in Tights
At last, an MMO that actually shipped in 2011!  It went live on 1/11/11/

Granted, it has been through some rocky times since, but it has since made the transition to a free to play business model, which has shown some increase in the fortunes of the game.  As Smed tweeted last week:

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

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

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

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

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

Good for SOE.  I hope it lasts.  And I haven’t seen anybody beat Smed over the head for his quote earlier in the year about the expectations one should have for a subscription MMO.

The downside, for me, is that it is a superhero game and I am not really a superhero person.  And so my first update on the outlook list came while DCUO was still in beta.  I tried it.  It wasn’t really for me.

Star Wars: The Old Republic – Just Barely in 2011

But it is Star Wars!
Here we come to the more recent tribulations.  Star Wars: The Old Republic is going to squeeze into 2011 with less than two weeks to spare.  John Smedley said [citation needed] that he thought SWTOR was going to be the last big subscription MMORPG.

He may be right.

But even if he isn’t, I hope it is the last one that fails to learn from the past.

Oh, sure, SWTOR has learned a lot from looking at other MMOs.  It is an utterly conventional MMORPG in the World of Warcraft sense of the term.  It is an easy to learn, easy to level up in standard themepark that guides you through a linear story line like… well… a BioWare game.  Story as fourth pillar and all that, though I have to wonder how big of an improvement giving me choices during a dialog really is when I end up tasked to kill ten rats no matter what I choose.

Well, it will be successful, at least for certain definitions of success.

It will be hugely popular on day one, which will be December 20th.  And to accommodate the rush there will have to be literally hundreds of individual servers in Europe and North America, most of which will have long queues.  It has to go that way because despite saying they want a smooth launch, EA wants to sell boxes before the end of the quarter.  So I have my doubts that there will be any throttling on that front.  And once somebody has the box, what kind of PR disaster would result from saying, “We would like you to wait for a couple of weeks before you start playing.”

So I predict that this will be the same old story.  Crowding, queues, angry customers, more servers, dispersed population, and then the usual problems of “Hey, I want to play with my friends, but we’re on three different servers,”  followed by some “Hey, my server is really empty” when a significant portion of the initial crowd hits level cap.

Anyway, my experiences in the beta and the way that the game is trending, which is to say down the same old path, made me cancel my pre-order.  I won’t be playing this is 2011.

I will be interested to see how EA and BioWare handles the server issue.  I hope they have a good plan in place and can execute on it.  But I also hope this will be the last huge fuck up hurrah for shards.  There are other options and the idea of server communities is grossly overrated in my opinion.

I will also be keeping an eye on how they handle the content question, whether they buy into Smed’s quote or whether they go the downloadable content route and sell any new content in addition to charging a subscription fee.

Plus, I want to see how soon they even get some new content online.  There might be six months to a year of work just making the game run smoothly if history is any guide.  And the bar they have set for content… fully voiced and such… will make it even a taller order than it would for other games.

So I will check back in six months and see what has happened.

Any bets on the price of a box in June 2012?

Rift – Comfortable Familiarity

Not a dye nor a floor wax

The twist here is that SWTOR is at about the same point in beta that Rift was when I said I was not going to play at launch.  Waiting half a year served me well.  The box price dropped to… well… free if you caught it at the right moment.  And everybody who rushed in early spotted key game play issues that Trion went on to fix.

So you can see how I might be keen to replay that plan.  I have benefited from all of you people pre-ordering the game and playing it on day one.  Thanks for clearing the path for me!

Well, I had another objection to Rift.  Another damn fantasy MMORPG when I was literally up to my ears in other choices.  And then the other choices pretty much stepped out of the picture.  Cataclysm grew dull, only part of the instance group was invested in Middle-earth, the Sony hacking shut down killed our momentum in EverQuest, EverQuest II didn’t fly for a number of reasons, Dungeons & Dragons Online didn’t click with the group scouts, and why get invested in Guild Wars when Guild Wars 2 is just around the corner and is going to solve all MMORPG issues known to man?

Plus nobody else seemed to be clamoring for a superhero game either.

So there we were at the start of autumn wondering what game might suit us.  Then faster than you can say “Deus ex machina,” Rift went on sale again.

And so we are in Telara, which actually seems to be sticking for us.  I think the whole group has logged in outside of the usual group play hours.  A few of have alts, are working on crafting, and are generally enjoying the game outside of the regular group.

It is similar enough to other titles to deliver what we want while being different enough to keep us interested.

Rift became the one game on the list that I was able to play… for one reason or another.

We will no doubt be playing Rift well into 2012.

What will happen after that… well… we will have to see what else is new by then.

Requiem for The Agency

It has been a week since the news broke.

It seems that there are no other surprises, retractions, or last minute reprieves coming.

The time has come for The Agency.

A really, really secret agency
I’ve been riding The Agency for a while now.

I have bemoaned the hype and silence cycle that seemed to part of its life.

I have predicted it not shipping for the last few years.

I played, and mocked, the Facebook tie-in game, The Agency: Covert Ops.

It was listed on my MMO Outlook for 2011 list, which I used to take another shot at its long gestation.

Doing something about it was one of my demands for 2001.

But by now most of us have read this official statement from SOE which includes the cancellation of The Agency.

As part of a strategic decision to reduce costs and streamline its global workforce, SOE announced today that it will eliminate 205 positions and close its Denver, Seattle and Tucson studios.  As part of this restructuring, SOE is discontinuing production of The Agency so it can focus development resources on delivering two new MMOs based on its renowned PlanetSide and EverQuest properties, while also maintaining its current portfolio of online games.  All possible steps are being taken to ensure team members affected by the transition are treated with appropriate concern.

This strategic decision will have no impact on SOE’s current portfolio of live games; additionally SOE will transition development efforts for the Denver and Tucson studios’ suite of products to its San Diego headquarters.  This strategic alignment of development resources better positions SOE to remain a global leader in online gaming and deliver on its promise of creating entertaining games for players of all ages, and servicing the 20 million players that visited SOE servers in just the past year.

And so it is done, and with all I have said about it before, I felt I ought to note the closing of this chapter in MMO history.

A lot of people were excited about The Agency.  People came back from SOE Fan Faire and repeatedly communicated that excitement, which spread through the MMO community.  The fact that it seemed close to shipping so far back and that we would get news about it one day and then hear nothing for months created discontent in the fan base.

They put up some sexy pictures now and again.

Nobody who plays the game will ever be this hot…

They talked the talk and had some interesting game play videos.

But now the fate of The Agency has been sealed and the studio working on it has been closed down.

Sorry – No Positions Available at This Time

This is a disappointment to the community, and no doubt heart breaking to many who worked on the project.

But now The Agency joins the list of unshipped MMOs that have been canceled along with Ultima Online 2, Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising (the first one), Heroes Journey, and many more that never made it to the announcement/press release stage.

Now we can only wonder and what might have been.

My Demands for 2011

It is the new year, and with that comes predictions.  You can find plenty of them out there.  Lots of people have them, like Tipa, Spinks, Lum (those were predictions, right?), Green Armadillo and Keen. (More linked as I find them.)

Me?  I’m done with predictions.  Predictions come from a position of weakness!  I think my 2008, 2009, and 2010 predictions pretty much prove that.

For 2011 I am making demands!

And if my demands are not met, there will be consequences!  Consequences I tell you!

You have until December 15th to meet these demands!

Blizzard:

Stop looking so damn smug.  Tell us what Titan is,  ship Diablo III, and add some more content to the top end of World of Warcraft.  I swear half the game is already level 85.  Oh, and another sparkle pony, but something a little less frou-frou this time.  And an expansion for StarCraft II.  Somebody has to sell some PC games this year.

Sony Online Entertainment:

Smedley? SMEDLEY!  Pull yourself together.  I know those PlayStation people are bossing you around, but you make money.  Certainly more than they make on hardware.  Refine what you have.  More server merges.  Reconcile EverQuest II Live and EverQuest II Extended.  Work on the PC controls for DC Universe Online because I am NOT hooking up a console controller to my PC just to play it.  And finish with the Agency already, you’re starting to embarrass us all.

Cryptic:

Just go free to play across the board already.  Champions and Star Trek Online.  Everybody else is doing it.  But don’t screw over the lifetime subscribers.  And when you go free to play, make sure you have something shiny and new to bring people back.  Oh, and Neverwinter, get it out this year and don’t screw it up!

BioWare:

Everybody is watching you.  You’re not making some single player game.  You’re making an engine, an engine that is supposed to take in money and deliver the joy of being in the Star Wars universe.  Don’t let those wankers in San Mateo make you ship early.  Meanwhile, since you guys seem to be in the MMO driver’s seat at EA, for now, don’t screw around with Ultima Online, but do something about Warhammer Online.  You’re bright guys, you’ll figure something out.

CCP:

Will you put that drink down already?  EVE is still going, still making money, still popular, still unique, I get it.  And you are improving it over time.  But really, you’re starting to look like a one-trick pony.  What are all those people in Atlanta doing?  You don’t have to ship something new this year, but at least make us believe you’re really working on something new.  We’re starting to think you’re spending all that money you make on akvavit and exotic dancers.

NCsoft:

Aion, City of Whatever, and Guild Wars.  Is that really all you have going in North America?  Well, there is Lineage II I suppose.  And what do you have on your to do list?  Blade & Soul?  Really?  Don’t bother.  And let Guild Wars 2 gestate to full term, which means don’t ship it in 2011.

Trion Worlds:

Your big opportunity is coming.  Ship Rift at just about the time when WoW Players have finally wrapped up the high-end content and you could get… a stable half a million subscribers.  Okay, that isn’t WoW numbers, but history shows that most people just stick with their favorite MMO forever due to the social network they develop.  Hrmm… that is sounding like a prediction, not a demand.  Okay, go and get a half a million subscribers already!  By June!  With your shield or on it and all that!

Other MMO Studios:

Which of you is even poised to do anything in 2011?  TERA is going to be another Asian oddity, soon forgotten by the mainstream.  It was all that Aventurine could do to ship Darkfall, they won’t be doing anything else. Funcom won’t get The Secret World out in 2011, they’re more likely to cut more staff.  All of you other studios, select a champion and send it out to do battle.  Yes, it can be TERA if you cannot find anything else, but I’m telling you it is going to be completely forgettable.

Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw:

When Star Wars: The Old Republic ships this year, review it.  I know, it is a muh-more-puh-gah, but this is Star Wars and BioWare.  I demand it.  We all demand it!

Dr. Richard Bartle:

You were awfully quiet in 2010.  And you’ve got your three level 85s in WoW now. (A very common claim these days.)  Go say something controversial.  Declare WoW dead.  Predict SWTOR will be a failure as a virtual world.  Make some news.  Do an interview with those people at Massively.  They’ll print anything you say.

Points?

I suppose you expect me to assign points to these, and to score my success at the end of the year?  Screw that.  If my demands are not met, I will just sit back and announce the consequences.  And I have 11 or so months to work on that.  Remember, you have until December 15th!

My MMO Outlook for 2011

More of that “end of year” stuff we bloggers are required by law to do.

Next year looks like it has the potential to be a banner MMO year.  Lots of stuff is coming out and much of it looks to have some serious potential.

The real question is, what should I spend time with and what should I skip.

There is only so much time to play, and MMOs have a certain “Hotel California” aspect to them… at least for me… I can check out any time I like, but I can never leave. (I was exploring EverQuest yet again this fall.  See.  I was first playing that in March 1999.)

My current MMO baggage is pretty heavy already.

There is World of Warcraft.  The instance group has returned to Azeroth.  It is also the game, because of Macintosh support as much as anything else, that I play with my daughter.  So it is unlikely to fall by the wayside completely, even if the instance group decides it wants to try something new.

And after WoW, there is the every changing hierarchy of “other” MMOs that I play in addition to WoW, the most prominent of which are Lord of the Rings Online, EverQuest II, and EVE Online, but which could, given  the right whim or pang of nostalgia, include a half dozen other games.

So realistically, out of the MMOs coming out in 2011, I can probably pick up and play one seriously.

The problem is picking which one.  There are a few to choose from and they each have their own appeal.

Here is my list of MMOs to consider:

Star Wars: The Old Republic – The De Facto Choice

But it is Star Wars!

Star Wars: The Old Republic is at the top of the list for 2011.  How can it not be?

I mean, it is Star Wars from Pete’s sake!  Star Wars!  We’ve already covered the ratio of Star Wars to Star Trek in terms of literary popularity.

Star Trek vs. Star Wars

I have even created a category for it in WordPress already in anticipation of its release next year.

Which assumes that it will actually come out in 2011… and that it will be playable.

EA has a history of “gun to the head” ship dates, so it seems likely to hit the shelves in 2011, but you never know when they might suddenly learn their lesson on that front.

And I am going to guess that BioWare, shipping its first MMO, is going to face a set of unexpected (by them) issues at launch that will gum up the works good and hard, a situation that won’t be helped if EA kicks SWTOR out the door prematurely.

Plus the whole thing is going to be on the Hero Engine, a platform as yet unproven in a real world, subscriptions in the six figures and up environment. Danger, danger, danger.

None of these are deadly sins, especially if the game is good.

EverQuest was in all sorts of trouble on day one, but was so different (yet familiar) that we all rode it out and stayed subscribed in numbers well beyond the expectations of the EverQuest team.  With SWTOR though, a possible forced early launch with a noob MMO crew on an untried third party platform presents a series of real risks.  And if the game doesn’t stand out as delivering a unique experience, failure is a distinct possibility, especially to a cynic like me.

On the plus side, it is Star Wars, it is BioWare, it is an MMO.  If I had to make my choice today without any additional input, this would be the game I’d take.

DC Universe Online – More Super Heroes

Men in Tights

DC Universe Online is coming, and it is coming soon.

Very soon.

January 11th (1/11/11, I guess they couldn’t wait until November) will see the release of Sony Online Entertainment’s entry in the super hero MMO genre.

This is the only game on my list I have tried as part of a beta, primarily because I haven’t really liked super hero games up to this point.  I spent more time creating characters than playing them in both City of Heroes and Champions Online.

DCUO seems to be less about costumes and more about action.  Exciting, frantic, quite visceral action.  It has a very arcade-ish in feel… which it probably should because it is clearly a console game.

This is all a good thing, except when it comes to controls on the PC.  A real console controller (which is to say, not a Wii controller) has a second analog stick to control the camera.  As Yahtzee said in his review the other week, “The camera is like the working class.  If you cannot control it, it will plot to destroy you.”  And the camera in DCUO seemed hell bent on doing me in, mentally and physically. Having to try to fix the camera angles while running around like crazy fighting was a serious annoyance.

Camera control issues aside, small doses of DCUO were enough to satisfy me.  I could not see myself playing this game for a stretch of more than an hour.  It is fun but can be almost exhausting.

Not that that is necessarily a bad thing.  And if I wanted a game that was both an MMO and very much unlike anything I was currently playing, DCUO would not be a bad choice.  I just cannot tell if it was something I would stick with over time or not.

A key deciding factor: How much will Station Cash play into things?  Given how SOE decided to present the whole Freeblood race in EQII, it could be a deal breaker.

Rift – Mr. Familiar

Not a dye nor a floor wax

A lot of people seem interested or excited about Rift – Planes of Telara… or Rifts of Telara… or just Rift.  I’m not really sure what the official name is at this point.  Anyway, people whose opinions I respect are writing a lot about it.

And it is being made by people with solid track records who have proven they can do good things.  Reports about the game, now that the beta NDA has been dropped, tell a tale of a polished and really good looking game, with some special twists to help it stand out in the fantasy MMO genre.  And then there is Wolfshead with a recipe for fixing the game.  It is never too early to start on that.

Unfortunately, my dance card is kind of full when it comes to the fantasy MMO genre.

One of the things Rift has going for it is the latest and greatest version of Public Quests, which sounds like it is working great in the beta.  Unfortunately, Public Quests were a also a key differentiator for Warhammer Online back in the day, where they also worked well in beta.  Will Rift fare better when it goes beyond the self-selecting beta crowd and has to capture an audience that will need to buy a box and pay a subscription fee?

And then there is the soul mechanic, which has described as multiple mix-and-match talent trees so you can have greater character differentiation.  Again, sound great in theory, but we’ve all seen diversity packed up and put away because there turns out to be one “optimum” talent point distribution for a given role or task and all else is considered crap.  Maybe the team at Trion is wily enough to have avoided this… or maybe showing up with the soul that gives you a pet will mark you as a loser as surely as showing up in a WoW dungeon finder group with the title “the Explorer” will.  We shall see.

And while I have enunciated what is probably the most pessimistic possible view of what these features portend, I still have to ask what Rift really has going for it that would draw me in and keep me playing.

Guild Wars 2 – Return to the land of no jumping

space bar... space bar!I really like that logo.

Logo aside though, Guild Wars 2 is probably a reach, given I could never really get into the original Guild Wars.

I own it.  I actually own the original and one of the expansions.

I like the idea of it. Not so many levels, emphasis on group adventures.

And there is the subscriptions model, which is “Buy the box, play forever.”  You have to love that.

I’ve installed it a few times and have tried to get into it, but I never stick with it.

The scenery is gorgeous but I find the character models off-putting.  I have mocked Darren about his complete aversion to any anime-like Asian character models, but I kind of see his point here.  And you have to look at your character all the time, so if you don’t like how they look….

That and the space bar doesn’t make you jump.  This is one of those trivial things that suddenly becomes annoying when you can’t do it.  I watch our instance group when we travel across zones and several of us are practically addicted to jumping.  We jump at the crest of every rise, over every obstacle, on every down slope just to see how far we can go.  So when Potshot and I last played Guild Wars it almost caused us physical distress not to be able to jump.

Okay, those are, admittedly two lame reasons not to play a game.  But I could never find some huge bonus to the game that would off-set those two things that I couldn’t get in a game where I didn’t mind the character models and I could jump.  So Guild Wars lost by default.

Still that is yesterday’s news.  I hope.

Guild Wars 2 could change all of that.  They’re keeping the same no-subscription model, which everybody loves, the heavy instancing, which I don’t mind, and trying to simplify skills a bit, which is probably good, while working with a new “quests not from a guy with an exclamation point over his head” model of events for players (if I read it right).

On the other hand, they’ve upped the level cap from 20 to 80, no doubt to capture the achiever types, and while they promise it won’t be a grind, I find that hard to swallow.  Either levels have value, in which case you are automatically encouraged to push towards level cap, or they are not, in which case why bother with them?

And of course, like Rift, GW2 is yet another fantasy MMO, which isn’t exactly what I need.

Plus it might not ship in 2011.

So I am probably unlikely to go here unless I get an ironclad guarantee that the space bar will let me jump.

The Exiled Realm of Arborea, TERA Online – The Pretty Face

Not Terra, no no no

TERA seems to be lurking in my periphery.  I saw it back at GDC.  The person in the cube next to me at work has TERA screen shots as his desktop patterns.  Tipa just tweeted the other day asking who was looking to play it.

But what do I actually know about TERA?  Well, it looks really nice in screen shots and demos I’ve seen.  But it is still another fantasy MMO.  What does it bring to the table?  Here is a marketing quote for the game:

TERA is the first true Action MMORPG, providing all of the depth of an MMO with the intensity and gratification of an action game. Players fully control their characters using the game’s dynamic battle system. Player actions can change the balance of power in a world threatened by dark powers as six allied races try to work together to protect their lands from marauding monsters, underworld dwellers, and evil scheming gods.

TERA raises the bar, setting new standards in the gaming industry. It is a visually stunning world with graphic quality above all other games in the industry. You will experience a new ground-breaking gameplay system where stereotypes of traditional MMORPGs will be broken. You will have full control over the attacks and the fate of your enemy. No more ‘pointing and clicking’ and playing combat relay with the enemies. Furthermore, not only do you control the action, TERA is also set in a world where the players will dictate the flow of the economy and individually impact the community environment.

Well, I suppose I should be thankful that they didn’t talk about the oft-mentioned “fourth pillar” at least.

And while I have probably been influenced by the beta, but it sounds like it might play a lot like DCUO.

Or maybe not.

Some of the superlatives are hard to digest.  What does it mean to have full control over the attacks (who else has control over my attacks in other games… we are talking about my attacks right) and the fate of my enemy?  Does that mean I can force them into indentured servitude and make them go do my trade skill harvesting?  Can I make them quack like a duck?

And remember, setting new standards can include standards for failure.

This seems an unlikely bet for me, but what I don’t know about it could fill a book.  I’ll look for some beta reports to see how much of the marketing is empty hype.

The Agency – The Covert Ops Hero’s Journey

A really, really secret agency

Oh, The Agency.

The trailers sure look good.

But does anybody think this is going to ship in 2011?

I’ve been on The Agency hype and silence ride a little too long to put money on it.

Other Factors

There are things that can sway which games I might try over the next year.  The ongoing reviews and reports from the various betas and the like will certainly influence me.

The instance group is also a key factor.  The five of us represent a wide range of interest in the genre.  At one end, there is Potshot who plays more betas than any of us and myself, who keeps a candle lit for the MMOs of the past.  And at the other end of the spectrum we have Earl and Bung who are pretty happy with WoW as our weekly vehicle and who really only have time for one game in any case.

If one of these games ends up being a must play for Potshot, I’ll probably go play as well.  If any become a must-play for Earl or Bung, the whole group will probably migrate over for a while.

And if group sizes in a given game go beyond the WoW limit of 5, there are other potential players would would come along for the ride.

What Will It Be?

I am sure I will end up playing at least one of these games in 2011, I’m just not sure which one yet.

How about you.  Which of these are on your must-play list?  If you had to pick one, which would it be?

And did I leave MMOs off of the list that I should be considering?  What other logos should I be clipping from game sites?

TERA is the first true Action MMORPG, providing all of the depth of an MMO with the intensity and gratification of an action game. Players fully control their characters using the game’s dynamic battle system. Player actions can change the balance of power in a world threatened by dark powers as six allied races try to work together to protect their lands from marauding monsters, underworld dwellers, and evil scheming gods. TERA raises the bar, setting new standards in the gaming industry. It is a visually stunning world with graphic quality above all other games in the industry. You will experience a new ground-breaking gameplay system where stereotypes of traditional MMORPGs will be broken. You will have full control over the attacks and the fate of your enemy. No more ‘pointing and clicking’ and playing combat relay with the enemies. Furthermore, not only do you control the action, TERA is also set in a world where the players will dictate the flow of the economy and individually impact the community environment.

Reviewing My 2010 Predictions

Oh yeah, I made a bunch of crazy predictions back in January, didn’t I?

For some reason last year I changed my predictions format from a set of paragraph long generalizations to a series of one line, very specific (well, mostly) guesses at the future.  I think I was pressed for time and the humor muse had not bothered to visit.  Plus it was always hard to score those paragraphs, especially since I seemed to insist on points. (I have accounting in my background, I must quantify everything!)

Now, of course, we’re here at the end of the year and I have discovered the flaw in my plan; I need to go figure out whatinthehell I got right or wrong.  And there are like a bunch of them, some of which I have not bothered to pay attention to and others about which I really didn’t give a damn in the first place but was trying to get to a 200 point total for some maniacal round-number reason.

Anyway, what’s done is done.  Next year I think I am going to go back to big predictions and a pass/fail model.  Or something.

I started on this Thanksgiving weekend and, because of apathy, I haven’t found all the answers yet.  Fortunately, other people have started posting their prediction results, so I can crib from that a bit.  Plus I’ll make you, the reader, correct my mistakes.  How about that?

So let’s see how good that cold medication was last December.  What did I predict?

Predictions for Blizzard in 2010! (5 points each)

  • StarCraft II – Will ship second quarter 2010 – Missed by 27 days, 0 points
  • Cataclysm – Will ship fourth quarter 2010 – A pretty safe guess, 5 points
  • Cataclysm – Will beat WotLK’s 24 hour sales record – Yes indeed.  I do wonder how much digital pre-orders helped.  5 points
  • Diablo III – Will not ship in 2010 – Another safe one, in my opinion, 5 points
  • New MMO – An announcement at BlizzCon with the usual Blizzard mystery build-up – Nothing at BlizzCon, 0 Points

15 out of 25 points

Big Miss – RealID and Battle.net focus?  I’m not sure those were that big in the end.

Sony Online Entertainment predictions! (5 points each)

  • Planetside – Dead by December – Still alive… barely… but I always thought that The Agency had to come online before it went. 0 points
  • Norrath – Official details about the next Norrath based MMORPG some time in 2010 – We artist conceptions and some vague information, so I’m claiming 3 out of 5 points
  • Norrath – The next Norrath based MMORPG won’t be called EverQuest III – Do we have that in writing? No? 0 points
    EverQuest II – All digital distribution after the February expansion – I don’t see Destiny of Velious listed at Amazon.com, so I’m taking this as a yes. – 5 points.
  • EverQuest – The next round of server consolidation will happen, and it will be a good thing – And so it was.  I should have predicted it for EQII as well. – 5 points
  • The Agency – Won’t ship in 2010 – Saying The Agency won’t ship is like betting against the Cubs, and no, the Facebook game does not count – 5 points
  • PlayStation 3 – SOE still won’t have a PS3 MMO title by the end of 2010 – The put Free Realms on the Mac, but no PS3 support yet.  They’ve been talking about stuff on the PS3 since E3 in 2008 at least… go listen to VW Podcast #125… and still nothing.  You guys at SOE work for the PlayStation people now, right? – 5 points

23 out of 30 points

Big Miss – A free to play version of EQII

What will EA do? (5 Points each)

SWTOR – Not in 2010, no no no. – Another safe bet – 5 points

WAR – Won’t die in 2010, but won’t magically spring back to life either.  It will just trudge on with enough resources to keep it going and improve it slightly, but not enough to change anything dramatically. – Vague enough for 5 points

10 out of 10 points

Big miss – Umm… Lord of Ultima?  Was there a UO expansion or something?

Turbine predictions (5 points each)

  • LOTRO – Next expansion, announced in 2010, will be the Riders of Rohan! – Isengard, not Rohan – 0 points
  • LOTRO – Riders of Rohan will feature real mounted combat – 0 points
  • DDO – Continued success under the free to play banner with a push into some overland content – vaguely fulfilled – 1 point
  • New – We’ll hear about Turbine’s next project in 2010. – Not so much – 0 points

1 out of 20 points

Big Miss – LOTRO going free to play

CCP Predictions (5 points each)

  • Station ambulation – Still just a myth in 2010 – Again, like betting against the Cubs – 5 points
  • Dust 514 – Not for 2010 – What was that? – 5 points
  • EVE – Two Content Releases, don’t we always get two a year? – Well, we got 1.1 expansions - 2 points
  • EVE – Tech III ships will finally become common enough that you might actually see one now and again. – I have one and, while flying it, have ended up at a jump gate with another, is that common enough? – 5 points

17 out of 20 points

Big Miss – What was the big CCP story this year?

Runic Games (5 points each)

  • An inexpensive expansion will be released for Torchlight to keep funding going for Runic’s MMO – Nope – 0 points
  • Runic will give us some concrete details about said MMO – Nope – 0 points
  • That MMO won’t ship in 2010 – Well, they didn’t announce it, so 0 points
  • But said details will make some pundit say, “Wow, that’s what Dungeon Runners should have done.” – 0 points

0 out of 20 points.  I thought they would move faster than they are.

Big Miss – Multiplayer Torchlight, sort of the interim step between the first game and the MMO.

NCSoft (5 points each)

  • Aion – Going to seem like a replay of Lineage II, popular in Asia, less so in the west.  Still, it will have enough customers to keep going.  Given how readily NCSoft shuts things down, that will be saying something. – Um, I can’t even answer that – 0 points
  • GuildWars 2 – Not for 2010 – 5 points
  • PlayStation 3 – NCSoft still won’t have a PS3 MMO title by the end of 2010 – I guess I can let that old SCEA/NCSoft agreement die now – 5 points

10 out of 15 points

Other Titles (5 points each)

  • Darkfall – Will continue walking the tightrope between hardcore PvP focus and giving players something to do when they aren’t actively engaged in battle.  Slow growth with at most a single server added to the game for 2010. – Sounds vaguely right, but SynCaine will correct me – 5 points
  • Star Trek Online – Won’t disappoint Trek fans, but we’re all co-dependent on the franchise after years of reckless treatment by the studio.  We’ll all still be there after the first 30 days playing with our pre-order bonus items.  The rest of you people though… – I stopped playing, so there is a big claim I missed - 0 points
  • Hero’s Journey – It was best of show at E3 in 2005, but it will still be a no-show in 2010. – Like betting against the Twins – 5 points (Amusingly, Simutronics now has a somewhat whiny entry in their Hero Engine FAQ about Hero’s Journey, saying that the work for it is all in the Hero Engine so stop bugging them about it already.  Anyway, Star Wars: The Old Republic will be the eventual showcase for their work, pretty much the make or break I’d guess.)

10 out of 15 points

MMO Industry

The following people will have new companies and new projects announced in 2010 (2 point each):

  • Mark Jacobs – No word here – 0 points
  • Richard Garriott – Some awful Facebook thing – 2 points
  • Bill Roper – Still at Cryptic doing… something – 0 points
  • Brian Green – Umm… The Fae’s Wyrd was a project, right?  – 2 points
  • Scott Hartsman – Rift, about which so many are talking of late – 2 points

6 out of 10 points

One of the following companies will announce their first/next project, and it won’t be an MMO (5 points):

  • Aventurine – no announcement
  • Carbine Studios – no announcement
  • Red5 Studios – Firefall – it is an online, co-op shooter, so not really a traditional MMO –   5 points
  • Simutronics – no announcement
  • Turbine – No announcement

5 points

One of the following people will move to Canada (5 points):

  • Scott Jennings
  • Mark Jacobs
  • Brian Green
  • Scott Hartsman
  • Richard Bartle
  • Alan Crosby
  • David Reid

Isn’t there some Canadian sovereign territory at Disneyland?  No?  0 points

Spurious Logic Random neurons firing for the following guesses.

Most subscription MMOs that sell vanity items like pets or appearance gear will sell custom mounts by the end of 2010.  WoW and EQ2 will be the benchmark. (5 points) – erm… can’t really say yes to that – 0 points

“Yahtzee” Croshaw will review exactly ONE muh-more-puh-gah on Zero Punctuation during 2010, and it will be Star Trek Online.  He won’t like it (duh) but the Trekkie humor will be too much for him to resist doing a review. (5 points) – Nope, 0 points

We will find out that the following people will be appearing or doing voice work in the Warcraft movie (IMDB  shows no actors as of this date – 1 point each):

  • Jack Black
  • William Shatner
  • Keanu Reeves
  • Ben Stein
  • James Earl Jones
  • John Ratzenberger
  • Bruce Campbell
  • Sarah Silverman
  • David Spade
  • Lucy Lawless

Nothing – No cast announcements yet.  IMDB puts it as a possible 2013 release – 0 points

0 out of 20 points

Total Points

My first pass, hand-waving total is 97 out of 200 points.

Not bad for my mix of obvious slam-dunks and way off the reservation guesses I suppose.

Now, I will look to comments for corrections and will post an updated score once people point out that I was really wrong about those 97 points and that my total should be much lower.

So correct me already.

Meanwhile, I’m working on a less intensive set of predictions for next year.

The Agency… I Hear It Will Feature Duke Nukem and Harvey the Rabbit

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

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

The Agency.

Sony Online Entertainment announced this game on June 11th, 2007.

We'll get back to you when positions are available

In SOE Podcast #19, recorded June 18th, 2007, Brenlo said that they had seen builds of the game for a couple of years at that point.  He also nearly gave a release date then caught himself.  Who knew how prophetic that would be.

People were discussing the subscription model even then.  After all, it sounded like the game was just around the corner.

I happened to be listening to some old podcasts this week that, for no reason I could figure, iTunes felt should be on my iPod.  Amongst them was VirginWorlds Podcast #127 with Brent and Jonathan at SOE Fan Faire in August of 2008 where they were very big on The Agency, though not as excited as they were for DC Universe Online.

It sounded like The Agency was just around the corner.

It felt so close that GameFly let people put it on their game queues in anticipation of it arriving on the PS3.  Then they removed the game from their list and announced that it had been canceled.

For 2009 I started making “The Agency won’t ship this year” one of my standard predictions.  It was a gimme, like Harold Stassen running for president.  People were joking that it would be ready to ship on the PS4.

In 2010 I continued with that prediction, even though SOE announced a 2010 release date for the game.  It was just around the corner.  SOE showed it at E3… again.

But even as I was listening to VirginWorlds Podcast #127 the other day, Massively was posting a story about The Agency being pushed out until late 2011.  All we got for 2010 was a Facebook game, The Agency: Covert Ops.

Were there even games on Facebook back when The Agency was announced?

I’ll give you a preview of my 2011 predictions:  The Agency… it won’t ship in 2011.  But I am a card carrying cynic.

And it isn’t that I am down on the team developing it.  Nobody is saying their job is easy.  I mean, a twitch based shooter as an MMO… and on the PC and PS3 to boot.  No matter what some zombie lovers say, this ain’t easy.

The company though… I suppose it is easy, in hindsight, to say they were premature in announcing the game.

There is an art to knowing when to announce something, when to start building hype.  The long run from announcement to actual ship… whenever that may be… just invites unflattering comparisons.  Look at the games that have been announced, shipped, and had sequels since The Agency was announced.

Blizzard has shipped two expansions since The Agency was announced.

Microsoft fixed (mostly) Windows Vista and renamed it Windows 7 since The Agency was announced.

What do you think?

Is The Agency actually going to make it in 2011?  Will it be worth it if it does?

SOE has talked a good game and shown us some spiffy trailers, but can they get past the PR nightmare of the long wait?