The New Year is upon us again, a time when we frequently assess the past 12 months ended up handing us and examine what the next 12 might bring.
Last year I had no plans to make any predictions until I read some of the vague, wimpy, or tepid guesses at the future that some of my fellow bloggers had posted. They seemed to want to be right versus being interesting. For me, being right is perhaps a third tier goal. I would much rather stimulate some thought or discussion on what might come. But I am a fan of Robert Cringely, so what can you expect. To do that you have to go outside of the easy answer and be wrong. And if I can make a joke or two along the way, so much the better.
This year, the blogging community has some more interesting predictions up (and here, and here, and here, and here), but I am caught up in the predictions thing now, so I have to display my ignorance again this year.
Of course, sometimes the hardest thing is pushing the envelope and coming up with a prediction that is outrageous. I got to the end of some of my guesses below and they did not sound so far fetched. That still doesn’t mean any of them will be right.
So let’s see how far off-base I can get.
1 – Private Citizen British
Fresh from his out of world experiences, plus that trip to the space station, Richard Garriott will start a new studio, (Mid-Point Games, somewhere between Origin and Destination), and begin talking up some “New Ideas” ala Gary Hart.
He will point to what he learned making Tabula Rasa and inspiration that he gained in the zero gravity of space, looking down on the Earth from on high, though it will later be discovered that his oxygen mix was a little off during his last few hours in space.
He will then wave his arms a lot in an attempt to articulate his vision. He will actually use the word “vision.”
That will be his undoing.
He will make no real progress selling his ideas in 2009 and will have to settle for being merely successful, rich, famous, and smart this year.
Of course, I thought this was going to be outrageous and amusing when I wrote it a couple weeks back, but then I read yesterday that Garriott is already throwing his hat into the ring. My prediction stands however.
2 – Bartle’s Test
Dr. Richard Bartle will stun the massive gaming community by making controversial statements about a popular MMO and will actually mean what he says. He will not give follow up interviews with Massively to clarify his position nor post comments to blog sites to correct misinterpretations of his statement.
This will confuse the community greatly. Massively, Joystiq, and other sites will run their own articles explaining what Dr. Bartel really meant while Dr. Bartle himself will eventually resort to posting to his own blog and various forums imploring people to take what he said at face value, as quoted, and to please stop trying to soften his message.
3 – Age of Anarchy
Funcom, bedeviled by problems with the Age of Conan release and still dragging along Anarchy Online will decided that costs can be reduced by taking the next logical step in server merges: Game merges. Age of Conan and Anarchy Online will be folded into a single game. Depending on which client you log into the game with, you will either be playing in a gritty universe of the future or in a vision of Robert E. Howard’s Conan world.
Age of Conan players will benefit from a sudden influx of stable if somewhat non-canon content while Anarchy Online players will get more cleavage options and DX-10 support.
This will give FunCom some financial breathing room and allow CEO Trond Arne Aas to speak with confidence about their next massive title, The Secret World. Mr. Aas will say that FunCom really learned a lot from their first two MMO releases and won’t make those mistakes again. He will then remind people that his last name is spelled with two a’s and one s and not the other way around.
4 – EverQuesting
The 10 Year Anniversary of EverQuest will be a big deal in 2009, with another Living Legacy-like promotion and special events, so be sure to cancel your account early in 2009 so you can play for free.
The 2009 EverQuest expansion, Realms of Valor, will have a huge boost in the level cap, taking it all the way to 100, and will include a series of planned raid progressions (because you know they won’t all make the ship date) that will be hailed as the best ever in game all based around a huge new overland zone.
There will also be off-line player sales along the lines of the broker in EQ2, an improvement in the minion system so that a guild can fill a whole party with minions to round out a raid (it will be awkward for guild leaders, but will work well), and at least one method of advancing your character while off-line. Not experience, nor AAs, but maybe skills or some other new character attribute. It will be very slow, but will only work while you are subscribed, showing that SOE is trying to tap some of that EVE Online training magic to keep subscriptions going.
Finally, this will be the last EverQuest expansion to appear in a box on store shelves.
5 – Call Your Agency
Sony Online Entertainment will continue to talk about The Agency, FreeRealms, and DC Universe Online in 2009. We will hear cool things and see exciting trailers, but no actual games will come our way.
Maybe, just maybe, we will see The Agency in November/December of 2009, but everything else is further out in the future, especially the new Norrath-based title they will announce.
By the end of the year, the reason for these delays will leak out. It will turn out that SOE’s new masters at Sony Computer Entertainment are insisting that all SOE game launches include a PS3 version on day one. They can launch PS3 and do PC later, but PS3 must never be a delayed release. This will hold up all new game launches while SOE works to align its skills and tools.
6 – Elves of the Burning Sea
Flying Lab Software, in an attempt to revive the subscriptions of its flagship product, will introduce a new server type that will replace the nations currently represented in Pirates of the Burning Sea with fantasy creatures.
The factions will be elves, humans and halflings, dwarves and gnomes, and goblins, orcs, and trolls filling out, respectively, the old French, Spanish, English, and Pirate factions. Cannons will be replaced on ships with ballistas and catapults (except on the dwarf/gnome faction, who will get gun powder), the artwork will be update over all, and a “new” new hand to hand combat system will be introduced to accommodate the anticipated on-deck melees.
The freedom of the new environment will allow Flying Labs to tune the game more for fun than reality. The server will end up being their most popular and they will have to do a server split to keep up. This will all lead to another round of blog posts on why fantasy seems to rule the genre.
7 – LEGO Dalaran
The team that did my favorite LEGO project of 2008, LEGO Booty Bay, will get back together in 2009 and do a magnificent LEGO rendition of Howling Fjord by mid-year, but will top this effort with a intricate model of Dalaran done in LEGO bricks. WoW Insider will be on the ground for step by step coverage of the construction that will inspire more LEGO-Azeroth construction projects.
This may or may not inspire a LEGO Azeroth video game.
8 – Station Cash Balance of Payments
A prediction that I made on Shut Up We’re Talking #40. Any current SOE game that does not get Station Cash is at its end development-wise. SOE is not going to turn off any game that is making money, but expect resources to be drawn off to new projects. Then will begin the slow decline into oblivion. As economic conditions tighten the purse strings, expect the end of PlanetSide to be announced at about the same time The Agency is expected to launch in a thinly veiled “here’s your new shooter” marketing plan.
9 – Star Wars Galaxies to Take A Bio
We will find out in 2009 is that LucasArts is only willing to sanction a single Star Wars based MMO running at any given time. SOE has known this all along and this is part of why they did not bother going to LucasArts with their Station Cash idea.
Seeing that BioWare is set to launch a Star Wars: The Old Republic… well… some day… the sense that time is running out will grip Star Wars Galaxies. There will be a resurgence of subscriptions as a wave of nostalgia washes over the old hands while along with an equal surge of tourist who want to see the game before it goes away.
This enthusiasm will not last as long as SWG remains on the scene, thanks to BioWare’s creeping pace, and Galaxies will go quietly into the night a few months before SWTOR launches.
10 – Dawn of Darkfall
Dakrfall will ship, though what is available on day one will be a subset of the over-ambitious feature list they have promised. It will even enjoy some modest success, enough to keep Aventurine going through 2009, while suffering the usual round of “just launched” MMO issues and patches.
It will not be the second coming of Ultima Online nor EVE Online in plate armor however, and Aventurine will have 2009 to figure out how to fix the problem that plagues cut-throat PvP; that a ready supply of victims tends to dry up once the hard core players settle in and take over.
Aventurine will walk a tightrope between keeping subscriptions up and pleasing their hard core followers who will cry out at any dilution of the unforgiving nature of the game. Failure to find the sweet spot will mean closure of the game by the end of 2010.
11 – Hero’s Slumber
Darkfall shipping will make Hero’s Journey the vaporware champ of the MMORPG genre. It will not ship in 2009. I consider this a “gimme” prediction so I will at least get one thing right when I do my accounting at the end of the year.
The fact that Simutronics cannot ship an MMORPG on its own development engine will continue to be the source of much snarkiness.
12 – Blizzard is Smarter Than You
And me too.
There will be lots of tuning of World of Warcraft along with some small content additions, but nobody is expecting an expansion this year, are they? Blizzard has proven that they can take their time and succeed beyond the wildest dreams of their competitors. This will continue to be an eye-opener at SOE who insisted on EverQuest expansions every six months for so long.
Diablo III and StarCraft II news will come out and there will be lots of whining and complaints. StarCraft II, when it ships this year, will top the charts and be embraced fully in South Korea.
Information about Blizzard’s new MMO will be released in 2009. It will lead to a blog firestorm of “Blizzard is run by idiots” style posts, all based on the faulty premise that Blizzard needs to develop another MMO in the mold of every other MMO or that the hard core edge that bloggers represent are the ideal target market.
Overall, Blizzard will continue to succeed despite not doing what a small number of vastly less successful pundits tell it to do.
13 – The New Guys
Red 5 Studios, Carbine Studios, and 38 Studios will all provide a lot more detail on their MMORPG projects this year, but it is going to be a tough climb for all three of them as they will need to prove that what they are creating will move the genre forward in a significant way to be taken seriously, as the fantasy MMORPG market is saturated by games that seem a lot like WoW (whether they came first or not) and WoW.
Maybe, just maybe, one of them will break the mold and go beyond WoW in a significant way, but my gut says no. Nothing we will see from them in 2009 will set a fire in the MMORPG market.
38 Studios has a lot of talent well versed in fantasy and how to make a current MMO. That path seems, in my mind, to lead refinement of the way things are, but not a change of the genre.
And then there is Carbine, founded by some guys from Blizzard, and Red 5, founded by some guys from Blizzard. Would I believe that a company founded by some guys from Apple would be able to beat the iPod or the iPhone based on their resume? I’ve already see that start-up. The answer is no.
Innovation will come from elsewhere in my opinion. (Maybe MetaPlace will become a talent incubator for the next generation?) We might see three successful, Lord of the Rings Online to Warhammer Online sized games from these studios, and they could be a lot of fun, but they won’t be different enough to spark enthusiasm.
14 – Heroes and Champions
President of NCSoft West, David Reid, will mention in an interview that City of Heroes is doing well and is here to stay. The resulting panic and exodus from the game will cause NCSoft to announce just three months later that City of Heroes will be closing by the end of 2009.
This will turn out to be perfect timing for Champions Online, which will be delayed until the Fall of 2009, to scoop up the remaining City of Heroes players to what many consider to be City of Heroes II in any case.
Later David Reid will mention that his marriage is fine, causing his wife to leave him, and that his position with NCSoft is secure, leading to his termination by the end of year. When asked about his health, he will wisely have no comment.
15 – Tobolderized
A Cult of Tobold will surface in 2009 with the publication on Wikia of Toboldipedia. This “Wiki of Love” will have the goal of categorizing, summarizing, and linking to all of the posts on Tobolds blog.
By mid year, however, there will a philosophical split between inclusionists, who seek to cover ALL of Tobold’s work, and exclusionists who seek to expunge Tobold works that they consider “non-canon” and which reflect, in their opinion, badly on Tobold.
By the end of the year there will be a ToboldWiki competing with Toboldipedia, and full scale war will erupt between the two sites when one publishes a picture they claim is of the actual Tobold. The other side will declare it a forgery (it will turn out to be SOE’s Brenlo wearing Groucho Glasses) while a third faction will arise at this point and declare that pictures of the anointed one are heresy and will work to destroy the other two factions and their sites.
A bemused and somewhat disturbed Tobold will find that he has no influence at all over any of these groups and, after a futile attempt to get them to “stop all this nonsense,” he will just ignore the whole thing and go back to his daily writings.
Looking Forward to 2009
With all that in store for us, 2009 should be an interesting year. Did I miss something? Am I even more off-base than I think I am? And to which Toblold camp do you belong? Let me know.