Memorial Day 2017

Wait For Me

to Valentina Serova

Wait for me, and I’ll come back!
Wait with all you’ve got!
Wait, when dreary yellow rains
Tell you, you should not.
Wait when snow is falling fast,
Wait when summer’s hot,
Wait when yesterdays are past,
Others are forgot.
Wait, when from that far-off place,
Letters don’t arrive.
Wait, when those with whom you wait
Doubt if I’m alive.

Wait for me, and I’ll come back!
Wait in patience yet
When they tell you off by heart
That you should forget.
Even when my dearest ones
Say that I am lost,
Even when my friends give up,
Sit and count the cost,
Drink a glass of bitter wine
To the fallen friend –
Wait! And do not drink with them!
Wait until the end!

Wait for me and I’ll come back,
Dodging every fate!
“What a bit of luck!” they’ll say,
Those that would not  wait.
They will never understand
How amidst the strife,
By your waiting for me, dear,
You had saved my life.
Only you and I will know
How you got me through.
Simply – you knew how to wait –
No one else but you.

Konstantin Mikhailovich Simonov, 1941

Mineserver – It Could Still Happen

But backers still don’t know when they will get one.

A regular reader… somebody like Jenks maybe… might recall my post about the Mineserver Kickstarter campaign back in early October of 2015.  The Mineserver was to be… and may yet be… an inexpensive and easy to administer Minecraft server you could put on your home network that would allow your friends to play with you from their homes.

It was all but done according to the Kickstarter.  Specifically, the money was just supposed to help them ramp up production.  Per the campaign:

All that still needs to be finished is the final case tooling, which is coming from a U.S. supplier. That tooling — and pre-ordering a large enough supply of other components at volume prices — is what the $15,000 is for.

That was the story, while the plan was:

Full production will begin at the start of November and our goal is to deliver all Mineservers™ — burned-in and tested — by Christmas.

That was Christmas 2015.

It seemed like a good idea, and was being driven by a Silicon Valley notable Mark Stephens, aka Robert X. Cringely.  Surely his public reputation would keep the project on track.  I went in for a Mineserver Pro.  I figured we could host our group’s Minecraft world there so I wouldn’t have to pay for hosting.

Of course, the devil is in the details… or the software.  Yesterday I chided Blizzard for complaining that something they had proved they had done already was too hard.  This was the flip side, the usual scenario in software development, where a goal as yet unachieved is considered to be trivially easy right up until the coding actually starts.

And so a year after the Kickstarter I wrote a post about project, the ups and downs, the over ambitious statements, the long silences, and most of all, the lack of delivery when it came to the Mineservers.

There was a quick update just after my post, which I linked to as an addendum, holding out hope before the backers that maybe the last problem had been solved and that perhaps we might see Mineservers delivered in 2016.

I haven’t written anything since as there has been nothing to write about.  No Mineservers were delivered, though there was faint hope of that, and between early November and this week there were no updates posted about the project.  More than six months of silence on a project only 19 months in… and 17 months past due.

And then finally Cringely stepped up to the podium and posted an update on his blog.

The gist is that while they raiser over $30,000, they have spent $90,000 on the project and it still isn’t done yet.  Rather than folding up shop and leaving us all hanging forever, Cringely decided to push forward, get more funding, and turn the whole thing into a real business.

This meant negotiations and business development and finding funding and so on, stuff you cannot do in the public eye.  You can go to his post for details.  And there is the promise that those who backed the Kickstarter campaign will get their servers.

Yet I find some of his post irksome, and not because we are again left to guess when we might see the hardware or even if the software is done.  I think it is more a matter of having seen some Kickstarter campaigns run well… campaigns that shipped even later… that it is difficult to be tolerant of an alleged industry expert who clearly doesn’t get it.

I think the issue stems from his mode of operation over the years.  He is somebody who tells you things or repeats stories or other items he has heard and thinks are important.  Sometimes that leads to interesting works.  His main claims to fame, the book Accidental Empires and the InfoWorld column from which he took his handle (though he was neither the first nor the last to use that name there) involved retelling the anecdotes of others.  And he has continued that with his blog, where he ranges from personal tales to the trials of IBM to the non-issue of “buffer bloat,” something that led him to endorse that useless LagBuster product. (I own one; it is snake oil except under very specific circumstances.)

That has all been very much a one-way street of interaction with his audience.  He talks, we listen, and no discussion or interaction is welcome… unless you’re somebody in the industry and drop him an email directly.  But then, that is fodder for future posts to keep the cycle going.

Backers on Kickstarter expect interaction though, and that was something Cringely just wan’t going to give us.  Backing a project is a leap of faith.  The project can take the money and run and there is very little available by way of recourse.  Because of this, backers expect to be heard, and it wasn’t clear anybody was ever listening once the campaign closed.

So his post scolds people for being impatient about long delays and few updates and expects people to be grateful for even as much as he has done.  He ends up trying to make backers feel guilty by claiming that the average price paid was a mere $63 for something that cost him $99.

That number is a few flavors of bullshit from where I stand.  First, he set the price, not the backers.  If he set the wrong price, blaming the backers is bullshit.  Second, doing simple math, the average paid in was just over $70 for basic Mineservers.  I will assume he isn’t bad at math and he is trying to exclude Kickstarter’s cut, as though backers somehow didn’t pay that.  That is bullshit.  Third, blaming a whole group for the average when some people ponied up $99, or even $109 in one case, is bullshit.  Using the average was just a transparent attempt to make people feel sorry for him.  Fifth and finally myself and 52 other backers paid for Pro models, so paid at least $179.  From that vantage point having that average price paid for the base model thrown in my  face becomes an extra special brand of bullshit.

And then there was the sop to backers at the end, the suggestion that he might look into us getting some sort of equity.  I suspect that this was added just to make him look like a good guy and so he didn’t have to end on a note that involved trying to make his backers feel like ingrates.  I also suspect that if we ever hear of this offer again, it will be to explain how it just couldn’t be managed.  My experience in Silicon Valley tells me that doing this will involve way too much work to be likely to happen.

And the final item, the clincher to “Cringely doesn’t get Kickstarter” is that he posted this update to his blog, but not to the Kickstarter updates.  So unless, as a backer, you follow his blog… and perhaps his ego dictates that we all must… you might still be sitting in the dark thinking the November 10, 2016 update was the last word on the project.  Part of the reason you use the campaign for updates is that it sends the updates to backers via email.

Of course, some of that is me being my grumpy old self.  This is hardly the worst or longest delayed project, Kickstarter or otherwise, that I have been involved with.  I have been on the developer side of some bad ones, so I am not unsympathetic.  But I also know bullshit when I see it.

And the question remains as to what kind of product the Mineserver will be.  Once I get one I will most certainly use… our Minecraft world, hosted on Minecraft Realms, still gets regular use… and will write about it here.  If it works as advertised I will no doubt have good things to say about it.

But all these Mineserver plans still have to come to fruition to get to that point.  Perhaps for Christmas 2017 I will find one under the tree.

SuperData Splits WoW into East and West Again

As the end of a month approaches SuperData Research publishes their digital market top ten lists for the previous month on their blog, so here are the stacks from April.

SuperData Research Top 10 – April 2017

This month sees World of Warcraft split out into East and West on the PC list.  This arrangement  first showed up on their January chart.  It was initially on their February chart, but the chart was revised to combine East and West later.  The March chart saw the single combined WoW on the list.  And here we are in April with East and West split out once again.

There is a temptation to ask SuperData to make up their mind.  But, as I have noted before, an analyst firm like SuperData requires the cooperation of the companies they study if they want access to raw data… data they can slice and dice and package to sell to investment managers and such.  That gives the company leverage, so I am going to say that if WoW is split into East and West, or combined into a single enter, it is because somebody at Activision-Blizzard wants it that way.  And I follow the changes just to see if they’ll tell me which way the wind is blowing.

Anyway, for this month League of Legends continues its reign at the top of the PC list, followed by three Chinese titles, then WoW West.  That seems to indicate either a boost in fortune for WoW outside of China, or a fall in the fortunes of World of Tanks, which dropped to sixth place.

Behind that is a new title on the list, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, a $30 early access game on Steam that more than a million players pain in for and which might be bad news for H1Z1: King of the Kill as it seems to be targetting the same audience with a survival battle royal theme.

Then there is WoW East followed by Overwatch, which overtook its nemsis CS:GO after falling behind it the previous month.

Dropping off the list from last time is Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands and Lineage.

On the mobile side of the house, Pokemon Go held on to 8th place again this month.

The notes for the month talk up Overwatch’s MAUs, which confirms to me that Activision-Blizzard is pushing their agenda.  A jump up the revenue list would have been more impressive.  Other notes from the post include:

  • U.S. digital slows down but still shows year-over-year growth. U.S. digital revenue is up from April 2016 but down from March 2017. Free-to-play MMO, console and mobile all had high-single-digit revenue growth, more than offsetting slight declines in social and premium PC revenue.
  • PLAYERUNKNOWN’s Battlegrounds tops this month’s premium PC digital revenue despite being in Early Access and breaks into the top 10 PC overall list with titans like League of Legends.  While still in Early Access, made an estimated $34 million in gross digital revenue in April.
  • March’s new releases, Mass Effect: Andromeda and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands, experienced sharp declines in digital revenue in April, possibly due to mediocre reviews.
  • Hearthstone mobile fully recovers from February, one of its worst months ever in terms of digital revenue, on the back of its latest expansion “Journey to Un’Goro”.
  • EA dominates the top console rankings. FIFA 17 and Battlefield 1 were the top grossing console titles in April. FIFA 17 digital revenue jumped double-digits y/y, a large portion of which came from Ultimate Team. Battlefield 1 was down slightly from March but still showed strong traction for the recent DLC “They Shall Not Pass”.
  • Grand Theft Auto V benefits from a new online update. GTA V digital revenue is up from last year. This was primarily driven by an uptick in GTA V Online micro-transaction revenue on the back of the “Tiny Racers” update, which was a unique throwback to retro, top-down, racing games.

Finally, in a post earlier this month, SuperData mentioned that  the Chinese giant Tencent Holdings, which counts Riot, developer of League of Legends, in its portfolio, might be looking to license Daybreak’s H1Z1: King of the Kill.  The quote from the May 2nd post:

Sources show that Tencent WeGame is surveying users’ intention if H1Z1 is to be moved to a “non-Steam platform,” leading to the discussion around whether the company has decided to publish H1Z1 on its newly rebranded WeGame platform. The game’s launch of a China-limited patch, altering police cars to cabs and blood to black fluid, are also considered signs of DayBreak prepping the game for officially entering China.

The source of the information is a web site in Chinese, so I’ll take their word for it since Google translate barely helped make the statement clearer.  The news, should it come to pass, could be a big bonus for Daybreak.

Agnarr Server Success and the Nostalrius Question

It looks like Daybreak did manage to get their new EverQuest nostalgia server, named Agnarr for a raid boss of old, up and running and open to the public around their 2pm Pacific time target.

While I was at work, I make this assumption after the fact because there was already a thread up in the EverQuest forums by 2:01pm complaining about overcrowding.

Agnarr the Stormlord approves… I think…

Reading the forums there was apparently over a 4 hour queue to log into the server, problems with user creation, problems with disconnects, problems with zones crashing under load, and a problem with some starter zones being denuded of MOBs by the rush of new characters.  And, just to pile on, Massively OP reports there is even a duping situation on the server, something that can destroy a server economy.

Just another day at Daybreak where “dey break games” in the grand SOE tradition, right?

And there is certainly an element of that in the situation as the crew down in San Diego carries on the SOE habit of being unprepared as events carry the day.  Laugh at them, they’re used to it by now.

But the element that pervades every nostalgia server opening is overwhelming popularity.  Before the Agnarr server launcher, the most popular EverQuest server was Phinigel, also a progression server, followed a ways back by Firiona Vie, the RP preferred live server.

After Agnarr launched, looking in last night and this morning, Angnarr and Phinigel both have full server status indicators and Firiona Vie is out in third place.

Nostalgia sells, these servers are popular, they offer something people want and, more importantly, something people are willing to pay for.  You have to have a Daybreak All Access subscription to play on these servers, so everybody sitting in the queue trying to get on is a paying customer.

This is all the more interesting when you recall that just over two years back SOE blessed Project 1999, the EverQuest classic server emulation project, which you can totally play on for free.

Conclusions one might draw:

  • Nostalgia is popular
  • People are willing to pay for it
  • People want an official server

All of which brings my mind back to another MMO that stopped talking about subscription numbers because they were tanking so bad a while back, World of Warcraft.

Things are better now, or were better with the WoW Legion expansion at least until the end of Q1.

And yet Blizzard wants nothing to do with this nostalgia stuff.  A development team that probably has a larger head count than all of Daybreak combined won’t even glance in the direction of a special server.  Last year Blizzard were keen to shut down Nostalrius, the rogue WoW classic server emulation project, but had not plan to offer anything of the sort on their own, claiming to be unable to even manage what a small group of outside amateurs did.

Initially unmoved by the ensuing drama, Blizzard did eventually agree to meet with the Nostlrius team, listened to them politely, took their user data and code, said a few bland words, mumbled something about maybe a special server of some sort at some future date, then threw the whole thing in the trash bin and went back to working on their master plan to make unlocking flying in the Broken Isles a horrible grind.

In a situation where the burning question for the WoW team ought to be, “Do we have a wheel barrow big enough to hold all the money classic servers would bring in?” the team has stuck to their trifecta of responses, claiming that it would be too hard, nobody wants it, and that the current game is better in any case.

The first is offset by money.  Doing that difficult task would earn money that would make it worthwhile.  And I know it won’t be easy, something you assign to the summer intern, even if that was pretty much the Nostalrius level of effort.  Blizzard has quality standards that they would not want to compromise.   But this isn’t the impossible task that some are making it out to be.  We are not living in some dystopian fantasy future where mankind has lost the ability to make a pre-2007 World of Warcraft server.  While I hate to that guy, since I have been on the recieving end of this quip several times in my career, but it is only software.  When you have coded something once, doing it again is much easier because you solved all the real problems the first time around.

Again, The WoW team is huge, beyond 300 members last I heard, and yet they cannot do what the tiny EverQuest team does and put up a nostalgia server… and get an expansion out every year?  Yes, the two courses are not parallel.  The Daybreak team is a lot more keen to take risks, that they fall on their face before us as often as they do is evidence of that.  And, of course, the EQ team didn’t destroy their original content when pressed for an expansion idea, a fact that does make WoW’s path to nostalgia more difficult.  But a game that is still bringing in more than half a billion dollars a year has the budget to get past that.

The second is just bullshit.  The popularity of the Nostalrius server, the popularity of the EverQuest nostalgia servers, and the willingness of EverQuest fans to pay to play when a free alternative exists argues heavily in favor of any official WoW server offering being off the hook popular.  WoW and EQ share a common bond in that they were, in their times, the first and formative MMO experience for a lot of players.  The key difference is that while EQ peaked at 550K players, WoW peaked beyond 12 million.  That means there is a huge patch of fertile ground on which Blizzard could farm nostalgia.

And the third… the third just seems like ego… ego or fear.  If the current WoW team did roll out some sort of nostalgia flavored server and it turned out to be as hugely popular as I suspect it would, it would be, in the parlance of the genre, a slap in the face.  Nothing hurts like being the new guy and people loudly and exuberantly extolling the virtues of the old guy.  There has to be a strong desire to avoid that sort of public comparison on the team.  It would be bad for them if WoW fans voted with their wallets heavily in favor of the old stuff.  Better to claim it can’t be done.

However, while I argue in favor of some sort of special WoW server, I doubt we shall ever see such a thing.  Even as Blizzard is exploring the idea of farming nostalgia… there was the unsatisfying attempt to recreated Diablo in Diablo III along with the coming remastered versions of StarCraft, Diablo II, and Warcraft III… the WoW team doesn’t seem at all enamored with any such move towards the past.

Still, the ongoing popularity of EverQuest nostalgia does seem to be getting around.  Over at Trion, a team with some old SOE members, there is some talk about special servers for Rift.  I am not at all keen on the challenge server idea, but Trion rolling up an original content server with some special achievements and such might get me to install their launcher again.  Original Rift… vanilla Rift… had some of the tightest, well put together zones I have ever played through.

Anyway, if you’re keen for nostalgia in Norrath, you’re in luck yet again.  If you’re seeking other worlds, your mileage may vary.

The Agnarr Server to Open Another Door to Norrath Nostalgia

Over on the EverQuest front a new progression server is slated to open up this evening.  The Agnarr server, named for the raid boss Agnarr the Stormlord will add a new facet to Daybreak’s nostalgia farming techniques.

Agnarr the Stormlord is judging you…

As I mentioned in my post about progression servers last week, Agnarr is perhaps not really covered by that name.  It will, in fact, progress, though it won’t go through any of that voting or content unlocking in order to do so.  The Agnarr server already has a fixed schedule:

  • May 24, 2017 – Agnarr server opens with original EverQuest content
  • August 16, 2017 – Ruins of Kunark expansion unlocked
  • November 8, 2017 – Scars of Velious expansion unlocked
  • January 31, 2018 – Shadows of Luclin expansion unlocked
  • April 25, 2018 – Planes of Power expansion unlocked
  • July 18, 2018 – Legacy of Ykesha expansion unlocked
  • October 10, 2018 – Lost Dungeons of Norrath unlocked

And once there, progression will stop, as laid out in the server FAQ.

This will give a very vocal segment of the EverQuest forum community something they have been asking for since progression servers started; a server locked in the past, that will sit at content released in September of 2003.  It is the classic server that has been demanded for so long.

While Daybreak is calling it a “PoP-locked” server, PoP being the Planes of Power expansion, one of the most ambitious (and bug plagued at the time) raiding expansions in the game, a watershed in the game’s history, and the last hurrah for open world contested raiding, two more expansions will follow on, Legacy of Ykesha and Lost Dungeons of Norrath.

There is a certain irony here, or a certain symmetry if you want to look at it from a different angle, in stopping at LDoN.  That is where SOE introduced instanced group content to the game, a full year ahead of the launch of World of Warcraft.  Who copied whom here?

But the Agnarr server will include all of the features and details of the past servers.  It will be a “true box” server, so no multi-boxing will be allowed.  The server will be able to spawn multiple instances of zones to deal with any crowding issues.  And raids will be instanced.

from the FAQ:

Q: How Does Raid Instancing Work on Agnarr?

The system will allow a full raid (72 players) into an instance. You will need at least 6 players in your raid to request a raid instance, and the players in your raid need to be level 46 or higher.

When you request a raid instance, the player that requested it, and his or her entire raid, will be given an account-wide request lockout for that specific raid for 2.5 days.

Each “boss” in the zone will grant a 6.5 day account-wide lockout. For the most part, this is just the big boss (Lord Nagafen, for example) and the stuff in his/her/its immediate vicinity.

For launch, Plane of Sky is an exception to the above instancing rule. Each island will have a lockout. Kill any NPC on that island and everyone in your raid will receive a 6.5 day account-wide lockout for that island.

You will be able to raid in peace with your guild, fighting the boss when you can get your group together rather than having to worry about vying with other guilds.  Raid PvP won’t be a thing.  Even the nostalgia experience has to bend to the reality of player behavior.

The server is set to go today at 5pm 2pm Pacific time, which is UTC minus 7 currently.  Given past launches, I expect there to be some delays.  But maybe they have this progression server thing locked down by this point.  We shall see.

I am sure some people are excited.  I see Keen is hyped up for this server.

I am a bit indifferent.  I like the idea, but even with casual grouping generally a thing, going in alone without friends of a regular group doesn’t appeal to me.  Also, the initial time frame before the first expansion feels a bit short to me.  But the server won’t have moved too far along if I join later.

Anyway, the classic server idea, locked in time, that some have been clamoring for will soon be a thing.  Again, you can find the server FAQ here for the details.

New Skill Injectors for Those on an ISK or Skill Point Budget

In addition to the announcement earlier about new PLEX being paid out to those remaining holders of Aurum, today also brings a new type of skill injector to New Eden.

With today’s update (I’m a bit surprised CCP didn’t hold this for the YC119.6 update, but sometimes you undock as soon as you’re ready to go I guess) there will be two flavors of skill injectors/extractors on the market.

Things capsuleers do to themselves…

The previously existing injectors, which hold 500,000 skill points will now be prefaced with the word “Large,” while a new set of injectors/extractors will be available today with the word “Small” up front.  These new small units will work pretty much the same as the old injectors, they will just do so in increments of 100,000 skill points.

As with the original extractors the amount of skill points delivered will depend on how many skill points your character already has.

For Small injectors:

  • For characters with less than 5mil SP:  100k SP
  • For characters with 5mil – 50mil SP:  80k SP
  • For characters with 50mil – 80mil SP:   60k SP
  • For characters with more than 80mil SP:   30k SP

For Large injectors:

  • For characters with less than 5mil SP:  500k SP
  • For characters with 5mil – 50mil SP:  400k SP
  • For characters with 50mil – 80mil SP:   300k SP
  • For characters with more than 80mil SP:   150k SP

Of course, skill injectors have been around for a while.  They went in with the YC118.2 update on Mardi Gras last year and there was immediate activity. as well as the usual comedy and abuse and commentary in the community.  At Fanfest this year CCP gave us a peek at how popular the skill trading, as they refer to it, really was.

Skill trading stats as of Fanfest 2017

There is something telling in those most extracted/injected skills.

For me, with the characters I use well over 80 million skill points, injectors seem like a waste of ISK.  I continue to skill up the old fashioned way, by simply waiting.  But I have an alt who, when he isn’t training a skill he needs, just trains up skill points to extract, something that has provided a decent income.  I sold an injector in Jita on Sunday for 740 million ISK which, less the price of the extractor (I bought a pile of those when there was a bit of a glut on the market) netted me some spending money for other things.

Now we will have both large and small injectors on the market.  Price wise, large injectors should be five times the price of small injectors, so small injectors ought to show up somewhere between 140 and 150 million ISK, if the price of large injectors holds stable.

But will there be demand for smaller injectors?  All things equal, one large is the same as five small and the prices should be locked together by the 5 to 1 ratio in Jita.  However, markets are not always logical, at least not in the short term.   If 100K skill points isn’t as desirable as 500K, will the new injectors end up being a drag on the price?  We shall see as time rolls on.

CCP to Pay Out Remaining PLEX for Aurum

CCP announced earlier that after downtime today those who had less than 1,000 Aurum when New PLEX went live back on May 9th would be getting the PLEX owed them.

The New PLEX in New Eden

You can find the announcement here, but it is short enough to quote:

We are happy to announce that all pilots who had Aurum balances outstanding from the PLEX changes have now had their converted PLEX balances delivered as of downtime May 23rd.

In order to protect the market and value of PLEX during the transition, all pilots who had less than 1000 Aurum in their wallets did not have this converted to PLEX when the changes were deployed on May 9th, and were notified that they would receive their Aurum balance in PLEX three months after the deployment of the PLEX changes.

After careful consideration and close monitoring of the market, we have decided to reimburse these PLEX earlier.

Today’s daily downtime was extended slightly in order to allow for a reimbursement script to be run, and all pilots should now have their outstanding PLEX balances reimbursed.

As it turned out, the market did not need much in the way of protection.  The price of 500 new PLEX (needed for the 30 days of game time that a single old PLEX would grant) went up after the conversion and has remained up.  This wasn’t all that surprising to me.  It seemed akin to a 500 for 1 stock split, and the price of a stock almost always goes up after such a change. (If it doesn’t, you shouldn’t have done the split.)  And new PLEX can be used for more things (even if character transfers are no longer on the list) so more demand, and an accompanying rise is price, seemed likely.

That means ISK is effectively cheaper if you want to sell PLEX.  If you are buying PLEX to pay for your null sec Rorqual mining alts in the face of nerfs and low mineral prices however, this might be a painful time.  I will be interested to see what the monthly economic report for May and June will show.

Anyway, I will have to check in and see if I have 42 more PLEX on the accounts that had the 300 gift PLEX.