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Quote of the Day – Innovation? December 15, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, PlanetSide 2.
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4 comments

With Planetside 2, the innovation is in how you buy it. For a massively multiplayer online game like this, you’d expect to pay a monthly fee like millions of people do to play World of Warcraft. Instead, Planetside 2 is free to play. Sony makes money when you purchase new weapons, add-ons for tanks, and other items, though you can also earn these upgrades by successfully completing objectives as you level up. Plenty of smaller games found on Facebook or on smartphones use this freemium model; now the model has entered the MMO world.

Popular Mechanics, The 10 Most Innovative Video Games of 2012

We do piss and moan about the poor state of the video game press.

Often it is our closeness to the subject and our own motivation and bias (journalists are not allowed to have that unless, of course, we agree with it, in which case it is just telling the gospel truth) that leads us to jump on comment threads (here is the cesspit that fertilizes the whole thing) or blogs (:blush:) to decry an article as totally biased or invalid because the writer in question was paid off, did not spend enough time with the game, included something that was clearly a matter of taste or option, or used “your” when they meant “you’re” in paragraph twenty-seven.

It is really our own little culture war, where if you do not agree with me about game X, then you must be the enemy.

Part of me is annoyed by this.  When I foolishly look at comment threads on gaming sites, I become depressed at the state of humanity.

And part of me sees video games as an entertainment medium and, thus, deserving of the same sort of coverage as any similar medium.  How does the journalistic integrity meter rate TMZ or Entertainment Tonight or any of that ilk?  Do we get out the torches and pitchforks when somebody gives a bad review to a movie we love? (If you don’t think we do, then you aren’t reading the right comment threads.)

But in the midst of that, nothing can rally gamers together like a non-gamer journalist covering games.

And so we have that quote at the top, retweeted by SOE in what I have to imagine was a moment of mixed emotion, where PlanetSide 2 is lauded as innovative because… if I read that right… they ripped off the business plan being used so successfully by Facebook and iPhone developers.  As they said, “…the model has entered the MMO world!”

Zynga should sue!

PlanetSide 2 does merit some praise.  How about getting a shooter to work in a huge sprawling environment where thousands of players face off?  That seems to be a pretty decent accomplishment.

But to call it out because of its business model… which is pretty much the same as all of SOE’s other games at this point… plus all of the other free to play MMO titles out there… seems like calling out Heath Ledger‘s performance in The Dark Knight because of the cool clown makeup.

Not to mention that in the current online market, a subscription model MMO is about as common as a silent movie in the age of talkies.  But here is somebody for which MMOs are World of Warcraft.

And so we must put the hapless noob in the pillory for his transgression.  Point and laugh, people, point and laugh.

And rightly so, I would say.

But is this banding together against the ignorant outsider, the gamer Gaijin, a tribal thing?  Is so-called professional video game journalism the worst… except when compared with the alternatives?

Or is this just the hubris of journalists… or the hubris of people in general… that we feel we can rush into anything, clearly ill informed on the subject at hand, and add something of value?

Oh, and that Popular Mechanic’s article was probably right on target with Journey…. and perhaps the rest of its list.

I don’t know.  I didn’t actually play any of them besides PlanetSide 2.  I am only indignant about the part of which I have first hand knowledge.

Which sort of describes my relationship with the daily newspaper.  I believe whatever they write, except when it comes to articles about which I have first hand knowledge.  Those are always riddled with errors and are as often as no flat-out wrong.

There is probably a lesson in that.

Musing on Torchlight II’s Real Potential… July 11, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Diablo III, entertainment, Torchlight II.
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5 comments

I wrote a post a while back comparing the game play, and other items important to me in a Diablo style game, between Diablo III, which had just launched a couple of days before, and Torchlight II, which happened to be having a beta weekend at the same time.

It was a post of opportunity, as I had played neither game before that week and so I was able to have a fresh look at the pair of them, side by side.

And the conclusion to my post was that, for game play, Diablo III and Torchlight II were close enough that what really separated them was a matter of details.  Those details were minor to some and major to others, but they were not worlds apart.  I said I would be playing both games.

The prime criticism I received about that post was that I did not spend much time on the always online aspect of Diablo III.

The thing is, to my mind, and in my experience, always online is a subordinate issue when it comes to the big picture.

Yes, it is a deal killer for some people.  But the history of online gaming shows that will put up with a lot of crap for good game play.  Day one EverQuest is a good example.  The first year of World of Warcraft is a good example.  And the post-release period of most versions of Civilization are prime examples of people putting up with often horrible technical and environmental issues to get to game play they desire.  The auto-save every turn function in Civ II and beyond was put in because the original Civ crashed so damn often it was practically heart breaking.

Game play trumps absolutely.

Very annoying, but you kept retrying

Players have proven time and again that we will put up with horrible technical issues and oppressive DRM for good game play.  So the negative aspects of always online (lag, downtime) were comparable in my eyes to things people have put up with in the past, while the positive aspect (really easy to play with your friends) seemed a plus.  My opinion, naturally, but I suspect that people who liked the game play would agree.  Unless they died to lag in hardcore mode.

On the flip side of the “always online” issue, one thing I mentioned in that post (along with a couple of other posts) and on which NOBODY commented, was the sentiment that I sure hope Blizzard has some sort of follow up plan for content, game modes, or something, because while I liked what they delivered on day one, there wasn’t enough there to keep me interested in the long term.

My big question is what will Blizzard do with the game they have created?  Eventually it will be played out for most people.  Will it get expansions or new game modes or new games on the same platform?

Yeah, that.

Well, we got the answer to that.  The quote has popped up in a lot of places.

“We recognize that the item hunt is just not enough for a long-term sustainable end-game. There are still tons of people playing every day and week, and playing a lot, but eventually they’re going to run out of stuff to do (if they haven’t already). Killing enemies and finding items is a lot of fun, and we think we have a lot of the systems surrounding that right, or at least on the right path with a few corrections and tweaks. But honestly Diablo III is not World of Warcraft. We aren’t going to be able to pump out tons of new systems and content every couple months. There needs to be something else that keeps people engaged, and we know it’s not there right now..”

That appears to be the tragic flaw which is likely to turn Diablo III into a “flavor of the month” in play time relative to the long term popularity of Diablo II.  “Always online” is small compared to that.

Their key game play driver is flawed and they have no options in the pipe.  Content comes slowly to WoW and this, as they say, isn’t WoW, which sounds like they’ve got nothing.

The first part, the item hunt, as has been well discussed in many other places, Blizzard themselves killed with the auction house.

Even I noticed early on that every drop I saw was usable by characters of much lower level than my own.  So to get equipment at my level, I have to buy it from the auction house.  Drops lost most of their value except as items for alts or fodder for the auction house to finance other purchases.

Chasing loot is dead.  The only point in comparing stats between what just dropped and what I am wearing is to see if drops are closing in my equipped gear, in which case it is a sign that I need to hit the auction house again.

I didn’t start out with that in mind.  I told myself I wasn’t going to use the auction house.  Then, when I started getting frustrated at the low level requirements of the weapons that were dropping, I went there to get a weapon upgrade.  That was easy.  The one piece of equipment I always try to keep current is my weapon, operating on the theory that if my enemy is dead, the rest of my equipment is irrelevant.

But as the gap between my own level and the level requirements for equipment drops grew larger, I started going to the auction house “just to see” what was available.  Uber leet stuff was outrageously expensive, of course.  But items that were a serious upgrade over what I was currently wearing seemed pretty cheap.  Fair to middling gear close to your own level is cost effective, readily available, and usually a huge upgrade over the drops you see.  The auction house won.

So, for me, there is basically the story and group play keeping the game going.

I really like the story.  But the story doesn’t change with subsequent plays.  I can vouch for that.  (Though the need for AH bought equipment goes up.)  And I picked the most amusing companion, the soundrel, for my first run through, so swapping out for the enchantress then the templar in the second run actually made the whole story less enjoyable.

Meanwhile, group play requires me to actually log into the game.  Since my return from vacation, the war in Delve has been my main focus, so I haven’t actually logged in.  We’ll see what happens this weekend, but for the moment Diablo III is looking like a pretty weak entry in the “Games I Play” section on the side bar.

So what does this have to do with Torchlight II?

Well, to start with, TL2 has no auction house.  So, in theory at least, the “item hunt” game is more viable.  That remains to be seen, the itemization in Torchlight was kind of quirky… 1h and 2h weapons seemed to have the same DPS at points, so why would you go 2h if you can dual wield… something I also saw in the TL2 beta… but at least they haven’t shot the whole thing in the head the way Blizzard has.

But, probably more importantly, TL2 has support for mods, so users can create more content for the game.  More content is the gaping hole in Blizzard’s plan, and likely the only thing that can save them.

So Torchlight II is poised to wipe the floor with Diablo III, right?

Not so fast there, sport.

First, I am not sure what winning and losing even means in the context of these games beyond day one sales.  For once, we are not talking about subscription numbers.  The money comes in when people buy the box and that is about it.

And Blizzard has sold a lot of boxes, in part just because they are Blizzard.  Success leads to success, and not only did Blizzard set some sort of record moving boxes in the first 24 hours, a lot of those boxes were going for close to $60, which is about three times the list price Runic is charging for Torchlight II.

Torchlight II will likely not set such records.  The company is not that well known outside of core gamers.  My wife knows who Blizzard is, but I am pretty sure that Runic Games would just get a blank look.  And they do not have the budget yet to make themselves well known.  TL2 could change that for them, but they won’t be going into this deal with that name recognition.

Furthermore, TL2 is going out in a limited sales channel.  You can, to my knowledge, buy it online through Perfect World Entertainment or via Steam.  That is it.  And while digital sales may very well be the future… and digital is clearly the right fit for Runic with its “keep it lean” philosophy… boxes on shelves, even if those boxes are on shelves in an Amazon warehouse, still make up a big part of the sales channel.

So it seems that, at least in the short term, Diablo III will eclipse Torchlight II in sales.

“So what?” I hear a voice in my head say, “TL2 is providing the tools to keep it viable long after we’ve stopped playing D3!”

Runic seems poised to pick up the slack in the one area that Blizzard has admitted failure, additional content.  More content gives you more reasons to play the game.  And there are two potential avenues for this.

Runic can actually sells us more content.  This might even be in their plan, post-launch DLC adventures or what not.  But I have not seen anything to indicate that this will come to pass.  And since they seem to have plans for a game beyond Torchlight II, a Torchlight MMO or some such, it seems more likely that we will see a replay of Torchlight.

With Torchlight we got a game, we got some patches, we got some ports to other platforms, and eventually we got a box on the shelf.  What we did not get was an ounce more content.  This was fine because they were clearly headed off to do Torchlight II, which sounded more like the game we wanted in the first place.

Maybe it won’t be that way this time around.  Maybe the Runic team won’t rush off to the next project.  We shall see.

But if they do, that still leaves mods.

Mods.  I am even going to link to a definition of mods, just because it has some good examples.

A well done mod is a thing of beauty, something that can transcend the framework of the original game.  A good mod can make people buy your game.  About a decade back I bought Battlefield 1942 specifically to play the Desert Combat mod.  I installed the game, installed the mod, and then never went back and played the original.  The mods for it were far more appealing.

The problem is that, for every great mod, for every Counter-Strike or Defense of the Ancients, there is a huge pile of… well… crap to sort through.  It is the eternal issue of user created content, the signal to noise ratio is always very bad.  How many variations of the Lost Temple map have people made for StarCraft that really added nothing beyond more resources or maybe better defensive positions so people can turtle relative to the number of truly new and well thought out maps?

And that is compounded by the fact that finding out a mod even exists is a crap shoot as well.  I am past the age where I will go out and hunt down mods on various gaming sites any more.  Mods pretty much have to come and find me.  I am also past the days of the epic install to get a mod to work.  Desert Combat required a whole series of steps, installs, patches, and mods layed down on mods, all done in the right order with the right versions that I am not sure I would have gotten the thing running had not someone in the gaming clan I was in made up a document with all the steps written out in detail with links to the appropriate software.  And people in the forums still screwed up that install.

For me, I need something like what Steam has cooked up.  Their Steam Workshop for Civilization is the level of mod organization and management that is required to make mods more than the domain of the serious hardcore fan.  Since Steam is one of their channels, I hope they will get Valve to put up that sort of interface for them.

So there is a potential there.  I will be interested to see how it plays out, and disappointed if mods fade into a quiet background, as with so many other games.

What do you think?  Blizzard is clearly going to win the money achievement with their sales.  Will Runic be able to make their mark on the content front?

Who Drives Cash Shop Content… January 20, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Dungeons & Dragons Online, entertainment, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, World of Tanks.
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9 comments

I was somewhat bemused at SOE introducing wings as a flying mount in EverQuest II.

I have such a long history of bemusement with SOE on that front.  I have literally been complaining since the Desert of Flames expansion… the very first expansion… introduced lying carpets as a mount.  I have posts more than five years old on the subject at this point.

So many things wrong with this picture...

And while the flying carpets still bug me a bit, I have gotten over them for the most part.  Though the reason I have gotten over them is because much worse has come since.

The setup to a "frog in a blender" joke

And while ugly mounts pre-date the Station Cash store, the whole drive of mount mania… mounts with stats, hideously ugly mounts, hovering mounts, flying mounts, leaping mounts, gliding mounts, and now wings as mounts… seems to have been accelerating ever since the store went live.

As Raph Koster pointed out in his recent post on the free to play model, the ongoing process of buying decisions by the free to play players acts as a safety valve to keep the company from doing anything the comes across as too greedy.

The flip side though is that the cash shop, being an essential part of the revenue model, will have a sales quota to meet because people won’t buy your RMT currency if they cannot buy anything cool with it.  You need a plan for every month, every quarter, and every year that lays out your sales goals and how you plan to get there.

It is nice if you can sell consumables, things that boost experience or faction gain.  But if you’ve already drastically softened the leveling curve and handed out dozens of experience boost potions as veteran rewards in you game (I have even more unused potions sitting around now that all my characters are six year vets) that might not be enough.  I am sure SOE sells some of those potions (though they seem a bit pricey for a consumable), but I am far more likely to buy a deed accelerator in LOTRO since deed are still grind-tastic and I do not have a pile of them already.

An expansion is nice to have, though I bet the cash shop only gets partial credit on those sales.

You can always juice things up a bit by having a sale on your RMT currency.  The thought of everything in the store essentially being half off will get some people to buy, but only if there is something they want in the first place.

And on the flip side, you can always put things on the store on sale as well.  We all read that splash screen that comes up with the latest sale items in detail every time we log in, right?  Okay, maybe not.  And most people won’t buy something they didn’t already want even if it goes on deep discount.

All of which has to lead the cash shop planners to focus on what people have bought in the past.  What was a success before?  Just looking around on the Freeport server, I am going to have to say that mounts have sold well in the past.

And if mounts were a success in the past, that is a big incentive to make more.  And while there are no doubt people out there who will buy any new mount just to collect them all… and I speak as somebody whose main in WoW has 87 mounts… a lot more people will buy in if the latest mount is cooler than, or at least different from, anything that has gone before.

And so, as tough as it is for me to admit, wings on your character as a flying mount do seem cooler than just a flying mount.  I am sure that sales will be brisk, and not just with people who name their characters something like “Stabzudead.”

So that will cover some part of sales quota.  But eventually sales will slow and, to repeat that success, SOE will have to top the whole wings thing.  And so the chain of events that lead us to wings goes on, and something new and more outrageous will likely replace it.

And so it is.  Due to its success, we will likely see something in World of Tanks that will top the Type 59.  And, if they sell well, I am sure that LOTRO will offer us more gear with stats.

Raph Koster was certainly correct in the summary at the end of his post in saying, “Free to play is not evil, it’s just different.”

It is just different, and one of the differences is who and what matters when a cash shop is part of the plan.  If goofy stuff sells in your game, be prepared to see a lot more of it.

Meanwhile, I wonder what will come after those wings in the Station Cash store.