Reviewing My 2011 MMO Outlook Eleven Months Later

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

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

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

The Agency – Gone …and Mostly Forgotten

A really, really secret agency

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

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

All of which pretty much made my choice for me.

TERA Online – The Exiled Realm of Arborea Remains Exiled

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

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

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

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

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

Guild Wars 2 – The Game Changer?

space bar... space bar!

Still the best logo of the bunch.

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

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

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

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

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

DC Universe Online – A Rags to Slightly Nicer Rags Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star Wars: The Old Republic – Just Barely in 2011

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

He may be right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rift – Comfortable Familiarity

Not a dye nor a floor wax

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We will no doubt be playing Rift well into 2012.

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

13 thoughts on “Reviewing My 2011 MMO Outlook Eleven Months Later

  1. Maarkean

    Sad to see you won’t be in SWTOR at launch. But I would be lying if I didn’t say I had considered it as well. My experience in beta wasn’t everything I had hoped for, though the story was still quite fun. But with a kid on the way, the first two months of launch are the best time for me to play so I’m still going for it. My whole old SWG guild is going to play which should overcome everything else.


  2. Aufero

    “Wait six months” is generally good advice for MMO launches – I’m just not very good at following it. I might have stuck with Rift for more than four months if I’d waited to play it.

    I’ll have to see how long I stick with SW:TOR. I’ll be playing at launch, (I really like the story lines and voice acting, despite the too-familiar standard MMO mechanics of the rest of the game) and I may stick with it longer than usual for a new MMO because I’ll want to see the stories for other classes. Or I may not. I’m a bit of a short-term MMO tourist these days. Spoiled for choice?


  3. saucelah

    “Wait six months from launch” is a pretty solid plan for any MMO and has been my plan with most games for years. The only exception is Guild Wars 2 partly because (A) it will solve all the problems of MMOs but mostly due to (B) the lack of a subscription means I can keep checking in to see how it’s doing without paying for the privilege.

    I’m really not convinced about A, but I do want to encourage B.


  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    There is a certain part of me that revels in the troubles and shenanigans of the first few weeks of an MMO launch. It is a period of time unlike any other in the life of an MMO, where everybody is new to the game, and the difficulties can be a bonding experience.

    But that is also based on past experience when a new MMO launch was kind of a rare thing. Now that there is an embarrassment of choices in MMOs, I feel better just sticking with the game I am already enjoying.


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  6. HarbingerZero

    There are other options and the idea of server communities is grossly overrated in my opinion.

    I’m not sure they are grossly overrated so much as grossly under-tested. Its been a good 7+ years since a game has made a reasonable attempt to build them. And I still think the key to this is dropping the cap on the number of players per server, and that’s just not going to happen. So either way…same result.

    I would normally endorse the six months, that is, after all, what I did with Rift as well…but honestly, I wish I had just jumped in. Hindsight = 20/20 and all that jazz.


  7. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @HZ – But dropping the cap on how many players there can be on a server just means more servers, more queues, more backwater dead servers, and more fragmentation of the community as a whole. Plus it makes the “I want to play with my friends” problem just that much worse. And in the end, with so much solo content, it doesn’t make anybody feel closer, it just makes the world feel more empty.

    I think saying that community is a small group of people is a mistake. EQIIx’s Freeport server had one of the better communities despite being the largest EQII server because it had a constant inflow of new players. It was large, vibrant, and full of players at all levels of the game.

    I’ve already seen posts on the EQII Live forums about not wanting new, F2P players on their servers because they will wreck the community. I am not sure they understand what community is, but I suppose we all carry around our own definition.

    Anyway, EVE Online, with all players on a single server, has a pretty good sense of community. I want more of that.


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  9. Me

    One way that Rift has dealt with the “i wanna play with friends” issue is to have free transfers to lower pop servers. I moved all of my toons to my friend’s server for free.

    Also, I didn’t have any issues at all when Rift started. I didn’t get a lot of downtime on my server. I also work when most server restarts and patches take place so maybe that is why I didn’t notice.

    I preordered SWTOR and will likely have early access, but since I can’t pick up the game until Best Buy allows me to, I will let others work out the issues for the 4 or 5 early access days. Besides, I’m sure that is the point of giving us early access – to work out the bugs before they go officially live.


  10. Toldain

    @wilhelm #9. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Working out how to do the “single world” model in a world that doesn’t break down so naturally as EVE does is a bit of a challenge, but not an insuperable one.

    It could have worked out well for SWTOR, it being another space game, but I think designers think too much in the model of having just a few hubs, which wouldn’t be able to withstand the traffic.

    This is a place where I think CCPs technology really shines. I don’t think any other MMO infrastructure could handle the traffic that the Jita servers do.

    I expect CCP to do this again with Dust, whenever that is launched. And eventually someone will copy it for some other theme of game. Some day.


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