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Rift and the End of the Happy Time October 16, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Rift.
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28 comments

The first thing I did when I leaned Rift was going free to play was cancel my subscription.

RiftFree

This was not a rage quit over the business model.  While I have reservations about F2P because of where the quest for monetization seems to eventually lead, I also see, as a player, some upside to the model as well.

The upside for an MMO going free to play is… or generally has been… a surge in players.  Servers, once desolate, are renewed with the very life’s blood of the game as new and returning players crowd into the game.  The world seems alive again.  You no longer have whole zones to yourself.  Queues for battlegrounds and such become tolerable.  Heck, if things are going really well, people might have to wait to log on.

I call this “The Happy Time.”

Every MMO that transitions from a monthly subscription model to a free to play model goes through it.

This is the time of the joyous press releases and the “everything is just grand” interviews.  Player numbers are up, revenues are up, and everything is going so remarkably well.

And then the glow fades.

The people who showed up to kick the tires or see what had happened since they left the game begin to fade away.  If the cash shop was stocked with one-shot purchases, like hot bars or bag slots, and vanity items, the ongoing grind to create and sell players on the next item begins in earnest.  And things begin to settle into reality.  The party is over and the need to make payroll and pay the the electric bill every month looms just a little larger in the gray morning.

The population isn’t likely to drop all the way back to the level it was just before the transition to free.  But the percentage of your population giving you money every month is likely to sink.  The point of free is to boost the population so that the economics of the cash shop work in the game’s favor.  And if you cannot manage that… well… things do not look good for the long term.

The happy time is over for Rift.  The warmth of summer has faded and a cold, dark winter looms.  Server merges have been announced.  The US server count will be dropping from 6 to 3 servers, while in the EU the number will drop from 8 to 4.  And, if I read the press release right, the only reason the number is as high as 4 is because Trion cannot currently support multiple languages in the interface on a single server.  But they are working on that, so you can expect the EU server count to drop further shortly after they get that working.

(Addendum: Per Scott Hartsman in the comments, and the shard status page, the total server count is actually more than that. The US count will go from 10 to 7 servers while the EU count will go from 12 to 8 servers with the planned consolidation.)

Game Director Bill “Professor Farnsworth” Fisher  has presented this in a “Good news everyone!” style announcement under the banner “Shard Unification!”

But this is not good news at all for Rift.  With the game already shut down in Korea and in the process of closing down in China, finding that the US/EU servers, which were running at capacity back in June, now need to be merged to sustain a viable population mix is a serious blow.

Of course, Trion Worlds is in the midst of other issues.  Scott Hartsman, who left as Rift’s executive producer back in January returned as CEO in August and quickly had to make some hard choices.  The Trion offices in San Diego and in the UK were shut down and the staff laid off.  Their game Defiance, which is tied in with the TV show, seems to be on shaky ground, while their MOBA title, End of Nations, remains in development after issues of its own.

So where does Rift stand today?  Once the plucky upstart that, under the “We’re not in Azeroth anymore” banner, was going to be all the things that World of Warcraft was and more while being more flexible and responsive and just better.

No, not Azeroth!

No, not Azeroth!

Rift seems to have lost its way.  The ambitious Storm Legion expansion seemed to get a lackluster response.  I know I had trouble getting into it.  The big transition to the new business model meant the live game faced some neglect.  And now that the big bet on free to play hasn’t paid off as handsomely as one might have hoped, we are left hanging, wondering what will happen next.

I wonder how Trion will move forward.  Will there even be an independent company named Trion in a year?  Or will investors sell the company to another publisher… EA is just up the road and not only has Trion done some work with SOE, but that is also Scott Hartsman’s old home… or merge the company in with some other investment.  Time Warner is one of Trion’s investors, and they also own Turbine.

As for why I cancelled my Rift subscription… well… the free to play plan as presented offered me no real incentive to do otherwise.  The was nothing that comes with being a “patron,” as subscribers are now called, that I felt I really needed.  The deal was, quite possibly, too generous.

Subscribers are called "Patrons" now

Your patron benefits

Meanwhile, the cash shop… which we discovered was linked in with all NPC vendors, so is completely unavoidable… has very little that interests me.

Welcome to every store in the game

Welcome to every store in the game

I haven’t spent many of the 20,027 units of Lucky Charms currency I was given as a veteran reward/pump priming exercise at the free to play transition.

I do not know where Rift will be in a year, but I have cannot imagine it will be sitting where it is today.

Where do you see Rift in a year?

Monday Morning Panda Blues October 1, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warplanes.
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8 comments

Last week there was the usual rush to declare victory or defeat, at least on the sales front, when it came to Mists of Pandaria.

Pandas; heroes or not?

Retail sales were pegged at 600-700K units, which is down considerably from past expansions.  Of course, that is only physical boxes shipped.  There are only pulled-from-various-orifices estimates on digital downloads. (Some of which were pretty positive.)  Only Blizzard knows the real answer there, though if there is no press release from them you can guess that they did not set any records.  We will have to wait for the quarterly report for those numbers if that is the case.

Blizzard was pushing the digital side pretty hard, and the option does come with the advantage of having everything pre-loaded and ready to go come launch.

Did anybody NOT see these ads?

And Blizzard itself is offering free server transfers due to queues on a few servers.  Eight US servers with long queues does not seem like a lot compared to the full list of servers, but how many MMOs get queues after 3 months, much less after nearly eight years?

Another press release I don’t expect to see is one announcing how much money Trion Worlds raised from their own little jab at Mists of Panadaria.

Our expansion saves pandas… sort of

Trion Worlds announced their own “buy our expansion and save a panda” offer, where they declared… well, I’ll used their blurb.

Trion Worlds, Inc. will donate US$1.00 to Pandas International for each copy of Storm Legion that is pre-ordered through StormLegion.com, worldwide (excluding Alabama, Massachusetts, and South Carolina, even though we really wish they’d let us), between 12:00am PDT September 26, 2012 through 11:59pm PDT October 3, 2012, up to a maximum amount of US$10,000.00. Know why we have to do that? Maine. Weird, right? We don’t know what they have against Pandas, or why $10,000 is a magical number, either. This contribution is not tax deductible, but it would be pretty awesome if it were. Pandas International is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization located at P.O. Box 620335, Littleton, Colorado 80162, whose mission is to ensure the preservation and propagation of the endangered Giant Panda.

The reason I suspect that we won’t see a follow up press release on this because even if they make the 10,000 mark, it would still be during the same week when Blizzard sold more than 600K boxes.  And if they don’t make that mark… well, really nothing to brag about then.  This sort of publicity works better for somebody like The Oatmeal, who just wanted to annoy someone, than as a method to sell game boxes.

Then there is actually playing the game itself.  I have a number of friends who pre-ordered the expansion because… well… its WoW and they always get the expansion… who seem reasonably happy.  I did hear more than once a little bemusement that after the panda starting zone it was a bit of a bummer to then have to work their way through all of the old content to get to the rest of the expansion with their new character.

One friend failed to outsmart the system by using a refer a friend bonus to grant levels to their new panda monk.  Unfortunately, impatient with the starter zone, they apparently applied those levels right away and ended up with a level 30 monk they didn’t know how to play.  Let that be a warning to you.

I decided to give the new panda starting area a look.  I think one of the smarter things that Blizzard did was opening up the full selection of races to all players, regardless of which expansions they own.  Selling boxes is a good boost to income, but keeping people subscribed is the winning strategy.

Anyway, a new panda warrior was born.

Up next, the panda obesity problem…

The panda starter area is very nice and does not, I gather, degrade Asian culture for western consumption, or play to western stereotypes of Asian culture, since nobody seems to be out there protesting.  I guess pandas are too cute… or Victoria’s Secret models are too thin.

My patience for starting a new character in WoW is fairly low at this point, but I made it pretty far into the tutorial.  The monkeys who climb on your back and need to be shaken off might be a joke too close to home for some who spend too much time in Azeroth, but the whole thing is good for new players as it introduces new game concepts at a measured pace.  It might be too slow for veterans, but you will come out of it knowing the basics of the game.

The only real surprise was that on a Sunday afternoon I only saw a single other person in the starter area.  I realize that, being on the conveyor belt of such an area, you won’t run into a clump of people, but just one seemed quite sparse.  But my own server, Eldre’Thalas, seems to be somewhat sparse overall these days.  I couldn’t even take care of my item level needs at the auction house the previous week.  It has fallen quite a ways from the launch of Wrath of the Lich King, when the queue to get on during the first few days was 700+ players deep at times.

But, nice though the starter area is, it did not respark any desire for WoW in me.  I did not run out and buy the expansion or decide to stay subscribed.

There is still a great deal of nostalgia for WoW in our regular group.  The topic comes up now and again, even when I am not making videos designed to ignite those emotions.  But our own time in the game peaked about the time our server’s population did, during Wrath of the Lich King.  WoW has moved towards the point EverQuest occupies in my heart.  The disappointing part is that, unlike EverQuest, we cannot go back to revisit old WoW as Blizzard washed it all away with Cataclysm.

And the world keeps turning.

Armored White War Tiger – Rift Steals Another Page from the Blizzard Playbook July 12, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Rift.
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3 comments

Mounts are where the money is at, right?

Blizzard has been selling sparkle ponies in World of Warcraft for a couple of years now.  The initial queue to buy one was 140,000 transactions deep.  Multiply that by $25.

SOE says that mounts make up the biggest chunk of their cash shop purchases in EverQuest II, which is why they offer… um… such a variety.  Lord of the Rings Online will sell you mounts of many colors for Turbine Points, and they keep cranking out new ones, so they must be moving.  In F2P, if it sells, you start making more.

So if you are looking for another revenue stream, mounts seem like a pretty safe way to go.

And so Rift is now offering up an Armored White War Tiger mount at a special opening price for subscribers. (Who else would want it?)

SPECIAL OFFER ARMORED WHITE WAR TIGER MOUNT AT A SPECIAL PRICE FOR A LIMITED TIME

We’re offering this special Armored White War Tiger to all active RIFT account holders at a special introductory price.

Cold. Unforgiving. The frozen wastelands of Telara can be a deadly place. Stride across the icy tundra atop this fearsome and powerful Armored White War Tiger. Opponents will quake in fear as your mount swiftly covers huge distances, slicing into all attackers with its deadly claws and armored blades. Strong and relentless, this fierce tiger will carry you through your adventures wherever you go in Telara!

Be the envy of your friends as you race into battle on your new mount. This is a limited time offer so act now.

Purchase of this item entitles you to one Armored White Tiger on each character on your RIFT Account.

Your Armored White War Tiger will match the speed of your fastest mount, or grant you 60% run speed if you don’t have another mount.

Trion has offered up mounts in Rift as part of collector’s editions and other special packs.  That is where I got my two headed turtle mount.   But I believe this is the first time they have offered up a mount all by itself.

No word on how limited the time is on the offer, nor what the regular price will be.  At least they are going with the same model as Blizzard where buying the mount gets you a White Tiger on every character associated with your account.

Run Tiger, Run!

I do wonder what all that stuff is hanging out over its butt.  I guess I will have to wait until I see one in-game.  I imaging there will be a few hanging out in Meridian by tonight.  You just have to head to the Trion Worlds account management page to pick one up.

I imagine that this tiger will more than pay for itself… from Trion’s perspective.

Will you be buying one?

Reviewing My Demands for 2011 December 19, 2011

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, blog thing, Diablo III, entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment, Star Trek Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, World of Warcraft.
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5 comments

This year I eschewed the traditional practice of making predictions and issued a series of demands for the MMO industry for 2011.

Why demands?

Well, when you make predictions and you are wrong, it is your fault.  If you make demands though, and the company does not live up to them, it is THEIR fault!  Ha!  Rather than scoring my own predictions, I get to score their behavior.

So it is time to review my demands for 2011, made way back on January 2nd.  I gave everybody until December 15th to meet my demands.  Now it is time to see who complied.

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.

See, this is what is wrong with Blizzard these days.  I threw a crapload of demands at them, six if you include “stop looking so damn smug,” and they barely made any of them.

To sum up, we still do not know what Titan is, Diablo III is out in 2012 somewhere, and no expansion for StarCraft II.  I mean, how tough was that last one?  Oh, and they still look damn smug.’

All we got was a new sparkly pony, the Winged Guardian Mount, and some more content at the top end of Cataclysm.  Not enough I say! Not enough.

Sparkle Kitty vs. Sparkle Pony

For this I decree that Mike Morhaime will have to come up with more public rationalizations about WoW subscription numbers, including at least one additional convoluted SWTOR impact denial.

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.

SOE on the other hand, complied with almost all of my demands.  We certainly got server merges on a number of fronts, and some are still coming, including the merger of the Live Gamer EverQuest II servers into standard servers. EverQuest II Live and EverQuest II Extended were reconciled, with Live eating and then becoming Extended.

And they certainly finished up The Agency.  Ouch.

In fact, the only demand they missed on was fixing the controls for the PC version of DC Universe Online, and they were so busy launching, consolidating servers, and then converting to free to play that I guess they can have a pass on that.

For this I grant favorable portents for Planetside 2… provided they don’t pull an “Agency” move with it and string us along for several years.

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!

Cryptic… Well, everything is either free to play or in the works.  They’ll be a month late on the demand in the case of Star Trek Online.

Neverwinter though… just where are you guys even going with that title these days?  Cryptic is supposed to be your company name, not your business plan.

I put a curse of market confusion upon Cryptic for Neverwinter… which they deserve just for choosing that name.  There are OTHER locations in Forgotten Realms you know.

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.

Wow, talk about delivering.  I am pretty sure they moved the early access back to the 13th of December just to be clearly within the scope of my demand.  And yet it is late enough that we cannot really tell if the engine is set to vacuum up money from Star Wars loving fans.

Plus they didn’t screw around with Ultima Online and they came up with a DoTA-like game reusing Warhammer Online assets and branding it as Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes.

Full points all around.  For this the force will be with them… for three months.  They are on their own after that!

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.

CCP is the only company that actually responded directly to my demands.  CCP Manifest dropped my a note just 8 days after my post promising that we would all see amazing things from CCP this year and that my demands would be fully met.

And then, of course, Incarna hit, the player base blew up… more than usual…  plans were re-assessed, people were laid off, projects were set aside, and the summer of discontent basically loomed over the staff at CCP.

And then they refocused, shipped the Crucible expansion to mostly favorable reaction (it sure is pretty), and plans seem to be solid for DUST 514, with a release target (Spring 2012… which means by Christmas, right?) and a platform (PlayStation 3 works for me).

So I guess, in the end, they met my demands.

I would suggest that we did not need all the drama, but that seems to be one of the vital ingredients to any CCP operation.  That and alcohol.  I know they aren’t spending all their money on booze, but I suspect there is still a line item in the budget for it.

For this I grant an early Spring and no bankruptcy in 2012.

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.

I didn’t ask much from NCsoft, and they delivered.  No Guild Wars 2 in 2011.  Now the question is will we see it in 2012?

Your boon is the usual subscriber boost as you move all of your titles to free to play business model.

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!

Trion, you made it.  While you were out there claiming a million customers, I am going to take it as read that that meant more that half a million subscribers at one time.  And you even kept them for a while, thanks to Cataclysm backlash, a late ship date for SWTOR, and essentially no new competitors in your field.

For this you get favorable portents for End of Nations and a soft landing from the SWTOR effect.

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.

Nothing?  Really, no small studio champion has arisen?

Fine, you’re all doomed to mutter about the success of Minecraft and Angry Birds.

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!

Alright, you’re absolved because of the late ship date of SWTOR.  But  I expect a review of it next year.

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.

Dr. Bartle was kind enough to comment on my original demands list that, while I found the past controversies surrounding his statements in the gaming press amusing (remember the “I’d Close WoW” headline or his positive view of Stranglethorn Vale), the whole thing tends not to be so much fun for him.

And he managed to steer clear of such controversies, despite my egging on certain members of the Massively staff.

So he gets a pass as well.  We can just hope that somebody takes note of his idea of how to break the current state of stagnation in MMOs and that he has a good fortune in 2012 as he attempts to educate us on the obvious.  I personally look forward to further education.

Scoring

What is there to score?

Okay, if you want to view my demands as predictions, I think I did okay this year.  But I did not really go out on a limb with anything either.  2011 was a quiet year in many ways, with titles being pushed off into 2012.

Now, do I go back to outrageous predictions for 2012 or stick with unreasonable demands?

Rift is Triple-A and Here to Stay! August 16, 2011

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, Rift, World of Warcraft.
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15 comments

David Reid, who previously said that he knew where World of Warcraft’s missing subscribers were hiding, came out this week with some comments on the state of the MMO industry, including some subscription numbers for Rift.

Not a dye nor a floor wax

I am not sure if he made the Dr. Evil face when he said it, but Rift apparently has ONE MILLION subscribers customers, making it the number two subscription based western MMO after World of Warcraft.

That is not only quite impressive, but it is a great indication to MMO fans that the genre isn’t dead or headed completely to the realm of Free to Play.

It also bears out the contention that many people have made, which is that MMOs are no longer rare birds, and merely offering a 3D world is no longer enough to assure success.  EverQuest could afford to make lots of mistakes.  There alternatives were pretty slim back then.

Now, though, MMOs are everywhere.   Go look at that chart again!

These days, an MMO needs to execute well and play an aggressive game.  Rift certainly came out of the gate more polished than most games and Trion has played the recruitment and retention game very hard from day one.

This aggressive posture has lead some to believe that Rift must not be doing well, and they might well be forgiven that point of view.  Certainly, in the past, game companies have waited until things have gone sour before trotting out the inducements that Trion has offered up, from free copies of the game to generous price breaks on subscription plans to free server merges (at least under specific circumstances).

But if Rift has a million subscribers customers, clearly they have been showing all the right moves.  This is a game that, I must admit, comes across as “yet another fantasy MMORPG” to me.  That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the the fantasy segment of that chart is the most crowded segment, which makes it all that more difficult to succeed.

So to make it to the million subscriber customer mark is (still) a big freakin’ deal.

Of course, I said “if” they have a million subscribers customers.  I have no evidence to say that they do not, just that past experience with David Reid being a less than reliable source of information. (I know a former Massively Editor-in-Chief who is still spitting nails about that one.)

Let’s hope that at Trion Worlds he is on solid ground and that Rift is succeeding as well as he represents!

That would be good for the whole genre.

[Edit: As somebody pointed out in the comments, Mr. Reid said "customers" not "subscribers."  They still may very well be in second place behind WoW, but the number of subscribers might not be a million.]

Trion – Those 600,000 Missing WoW Players, They Play Rift June 8, 2011

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

In an interesting follow up to a question I posed a while back about where the 600,000 players who left World of Warcraft went, David Reid of Trion Worlds says he knows where they went.  They went to Rift.

Rift has sold nearly a million boxes.  Did they all go to former WoW players?

Blizzard, Trion Worlds, and Obvious Juxtapositions May 23, 2011

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, Rift, World of Warcraft.
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21 comments

Now this made for a pair of eye opening announcements.

Last week Blizzard mentioned that it might charge a premium to allow players to group up and do instances with their Real ID friends on other servers.

Then today, Trion Worlds announced that they were going to allow free, once a week, server transfers.

On the surface, this is very easy to cast as “Trion = Good, Blizzard = Evil.”

I mean, Blizzard wants you to PAY to play with your friends!  Granted, they are such good friends you rolled up  on different servers, but they are still your friends!  And you have to use their dubious Real ID service to do it.  That is two strikes right there.

You want to shake your head in disbelief when you read this sort of thing.

Meanwhile Trion is giving us what we want, mobility amongst the many server silos.  Once a week, you can move.  Blizzard charges you $25 for the privileged, and I seem to recall that the you cannot move again for another 30 days. (And $25 seemed like a good price a couple years back, when SOE was charging $50 for character transfers.)

It is hard not to stand up and cheer for Trion Worlds.

But it makes you wonder what is really going on.

Because, almost assuredly, something other than the obvious is going on.

On the Blizzard side of things, you might wonder if they really want people to use this service.  Or if they want the overhead of server transfers.  As was pointed out over at Blessing of Kings, charging for them is a barrier that keeps only those who really want the service from using it.

The realities of having so many players means that sometimes you want to allow flexibility, but discourage it just to keep costs under control.  A certain percentage of server transfers end up in a call to customer services.  So even if the transfer is no more than a database entry, once a live human is on the line an individual transfer is probably a loss.

Not the best justification in the world, but I can’t tell you how much a customer service call really costs Blizz.

Meanwhile, here is Trion Worlds, with Rift a couple of months old now.  I have to wonder if they are being clever about dealing with a contraction of population, if the initial rush has peaked and they now have more servers running that are really viable.

Announcing server mergers is always viewed as bad news.

But announcing free server transfers, that is a huge win.  Not only will your population take care of your server mergers for you, how and when they want to (some people love to play on nearly deserted servers), but the good publicity makes Rift look like a game you really want to play.

Each announcement may be more a reflection of the situation in which the company finds itself.

Of course, this is speculation on my part, but it seems like reasonable speculation.  And it all seems like an indictment against this many separate servers architecture, which is the real problem with which both companies are attempting to deal.

What do you think is going on?

Rift Coming to Amazon’s Gold Box Today May 18, 2011

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Misc MMOs, Rift.
Tags: ,
4 comments

Today’s Amazon US Gold Box specials are all video game related, and come 14:00 Pacific Daylight Savings Time (21:00 UTC), it looks like Rift will be the featured product.

The rest of the selections today look to be console focused, but it was interesting to see that Trion got Rift on the list.

Unless I am totally wrong and there is some other game featuring Guardians and Defiant.

Anyway, we’ll see what kind of deal they offer in a few hours.

Addendum: By way of a follow up, here was the price.

Not a bad price I suppose, but not low enough for a game I don’t have time to play.

Who Would Be in the 2011 Gartner MMO Company Magic Quadrant? April 6, 2011

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment.
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12 comments

Gartner, a well-known (at least here in the states) IT research and advisory firm, had a pretty amusing April Fools joke.  They announced a new magic quadrant which was literally focused on magic. (Thanks to Xyd for sending me that link.)

But this got me thinking about applying the Gartner Magic Quadrant idea to the MMO industry.

Gartner divides up industries into grouping around specific technologies or foci and then rates all of the players in that industry based on two criteria: Ability to execute and completeness of vision.

I would show you the chart for my industry, IVR Systems and Enterprise Voice Portals, except that it would cost me $2,000 to get a copy from Gartner and I am pretty sure they wouldn’t let me just post it on the web.

But making it onto the chart at all, especially if you are a smaller company, is a big deal.  It means you are considered a player in that market space and need to be taken seriously.  And to arrive in the magic quadrant, the upper right hand corner, is practically money in the bank as you will be invited to bid on projects at big companies.

Of course, the irony here is that with many projects with big companies like, say, Dell or Wal-Mart, you are lucky if you break even.  Projects with small to medium size companies have the highest margins because unless you screw up, they tend to be happy and rarely ever call support.

This also does lead to more than a bit of the tail wagging the dog.  I have worked on more than a few features that were thrown in because it was felt we needed that for our Gartner review.   There was Gartner driving vision rather than measuring it.  And more than once I have pointed out to the marketing people that we have new feature X in our latest release only to hear that we told Gartner we had that a couple years back.

But I digress.  Let’s just say I have had some experience with prepping for Gartner.

And the standard Gartner chart looks like this:

The four quadrants are defined as:

  • Leaders score higher on both criteria; the ability to execute and completeness of vision. Typically larger industry developed businesses with vision and potential for expansion.
  • Challengers score higher the ability to execute and lower on the completeness of vision. Typically larger, settled businesses with minimal future plans for that industry.
  • Visionaries score lower on the ability to execute and higher on the completeness of vision. Typically smaller companies that are unloading their planned potential.
  • Niche players score lower on both criteria: the ability to execute and completeness of vision. Typically new additions to the Magic Quadrant, or market fledglings.

And the magic of the whole thing is how they score companies and place them in the different quadrants which is based on two criteria.

The first is ability to execute.  Can the company in question do what they say they are going to do and do it well.  That one is not so tough to figure out, at least in hindsight.  Funcom for example, not so good on the execution side of things with Anarchy Online and Age of Conan.

The second part is a bit tougher to judge because, for those of us who follow MMOs, “Vision” is a loaded word.  But vision is not what we are looking for, but “Completeness of Vision.”  Sigil Games, pre-Vanguard launch, laid claim to a lot of vision, but at the same time was clearly staking out too much territory without being able to explain how they were going to get there.

The vision we are talking about here is less the that of a wonderful future with flying cars than that of company both knowing what they want to do and being able to explain how they are going to do it.  They can make a game that is both fun as well as polished and keep it going.

They end up publishing something like this.


Success, as much as anything, seems drive you to the upper right quadrant, since that is seen as a validation of ability to execute and completeness of vision.

So if I were the Gartner analyst for MMO companies, I would surely put Blizzard in the Leaders category.  You can argue against that, but you’d better be able to pull out something better than “WoW sucks!” because they have the biggest claim to success currently.

Trion Worlds, with how they have done with Rift so far, would be squarely in the Challengers category.  They have shown they have the ability to execute so far, but are still too youthful to be able to prove their completeness of vision.  SOE would be there as well I think.  I think they have fallen out of the leaders quadrant for now.

There is a temptation to put Aventurine in the niche category, but I think they might just squeak into the visionaries quadrant.  They started off there, but seem to be working towards a more complete and sustainable vision.

I have no idea where to put CCP.  People call them niche, and they have certainly fumbled the ball when it comes to completeness of vision (features that end up not working as planned and are left to die on the vine) and ability to execute (maybe the root cause on the feature failure, plus a lot of down time and that UI), which could leave them candidates for either the challengers or visionaries quadrants.  On the other hand, they have seen steady growth over time, something that sets them apart from most MMO companies, so you could make the case for leadership.

But maybe you should be the Gartner analyst instead of me.

Who else should go on the chart and where should they be placed?

Not Much Rift For Sale at My Best Buy March 2, 2011

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Misc MMOs, Rift.
Tags: ,
2 comments

I saw this tweet from Trion Worlds.

So I decided to see if anybody was in line or what the situation looked like.

I went over to the Best Buy near my office, however they did not seem to be quite Rift-central.

Now, granted, the Best Buy that is walking distance from my office is undergoing some remodeling, so video games have been shoved into the back corner of the second floor… and PC video games in the farthest corner of all.  Still, I expected to find more than this.

Rift Collector's Edition

That is all I saw, three copies of the Rift Collector’s Edition.  No standard copies were to be seen anywhere.  These were crammed into the last rack in the darkest corner of the video game section. (Picture taken with cheap phone.)

I am thinking that Rift was, perhaps, not a priority for Best Buy.  They seem to think highly of Blizzard, who had an uncrowded rack nearly to themselves… in an area where light actually shown onto it.

A little DCUO on the bottom shelf

And Best Buy had shipper displays of yesterday’s movie releases like 127 Hours right up by the front door.

But somebody didn’t get the memo about Rift it seems.

I bet Fry’s had it on the shelf and visible yesterday.  I should have gone to Fry’s.