Daily Archives: July 24, 2014

The Cape of Stranglethorn

Once there was a zone called Stranglethorn Vale.  It was a place of jungle and raptors and trolls and missing pages from books and that bastard Hemet Nesingwary who would continue to haunt our existence through every expansion with his wildlife slaughtering requests.

It was a large and somewhat controversial zone… though some appreciated the quest design… that would try your patience for endless running (you didn’t have a mount when you got there back in the day) and managing your bag space.

It was where the Horde and Alliance really started to merge.  Before Stranglethorn Vale, each side had most zones to themselves.  Afterwards, everybody ran down the same list of zones.

And it was placed right in the middle of the leveling curve, in that danger zone when the fun of the first twenty or so levels had receded from your rear view mirror, but the level cap of 60 (way back when) was still somewhere over the horizon.

At one point I had five or six characters stuck somewhere in their mid-30s, bags full of pages from The Green Hills of Stranglethorn and logs full of quests with horrible drop rates, congested “kill a single named mob” choke points, or more variations on slaughter for hire, unable to progress due to a desire never to see that jungle again.

Stranglethorn Vale that was...

Stranglethorn Vale that was…

From the rebel camp to Booty Bay, from the Vile Reef to the Venture Company sites, from Kurzen’s Camp to the Nesingwary Expedition, from the Gubashi Arena to the pirates off the the southeast coast, Stranglethorn Vale has a lot going on.  And while you can blue sky daydream about the good old days in the Vale, you have to remember that Blizzard felt it had to boost the questing experience in Dustwallow Marsh, adding in Mudsproket and a whole range of additional quests around Theramore and Brackenwall.  At the time this was pretty much a mea culpa from Blizzard that old STV might be a bit more of a pain than the expected.

And then came the Cataclysm.  The zone was split into two, with the top half becoming Northern Stranglethorn Vale and the bottom becoming the Cape of Stranglethorn, which strikes me a bit like having North Carolina and the Carolina Strand as states… you tend to call out “north” only if there is a “south” right… but then the whole continent is called The Eastern Kingdoms, which is a vague, hand waving description more than a name in my opinion, so my problems with the geographic naming conventions of Azeroth are long standing.

I had already wrapped up the Northern Stranglethorn achievement with my warrior, Makarov, way back in March of last year when I was back in the game on a seven day pass and still not over my post-Cataclysm malaise.

Northern Stranglethorn Vale

Northern Stranglethorn Vale

But for whatever reason, Makarov moved on to the Plaguelands (of which there is an East and a West, so there), leaving the Cape of Stranglethorn untouched.  And so it remained, until I decided to go for the Loremaster achievement this summer.

More after the cut.

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PLEX and its new Daughter, GRACE

I do not pay much attention to Anarchy Online.  Well, I don’t pay it any mind at all, really aside from the occasional industry lore aspects around things like rocky starts (“nearly unplayable” -GameSpy) and longevity. (It turned 13 just about a month back.)

AnarchyOnlineLogo

But some people do still pay attention to it.  There was a post up over at Massively announcing that the game had announced a new aspect to their subscription plan.

Called GRACE, for Grid Access Credit Extension, it is an in-game item that can be traded or sold between players that, once redeemed, turns into 30 days of game subscription time.  There is a FAQ.

Basically, this the AO version of EVE Online PLEX.

This is PLEX

No longer this cheap in Jita

PLEX itself has been live in EVE Online for just about five years at this point, where it has been a success thanks in large part to the in-game economy which is all pervasive in New Eden.  There are a lot of aspects of the game you can avoid, but if you want to play you are going to be part of the economy.

The economy is such a big deal in EVE that I was curious if MMOs with much more optional or fragmented economies could really make something like PLEX work.  World of Warcraft, with its large player base and need for gold sinks, seemed like it might be able to, even with the economy sliced up into three markets on hundreds of different servers.  And Blizzard dipped their toe in the water… sort of… with the kitten economy idea.  But they haven’t done much since.

It was left to Sony Online Entertainment to give the PLEX idea a try in the fantasy realm, introducing Krono to EverQuest II about two years back and then expanding it to their other games.

All About Krono

All About Krono

I really have no idea how Krono has worked out.  They still have Krono as an option, even after the big consolidation of game subscriptions into the new All Access plan back in April, but I have never seen more than a couple on the market when I have bothered to check, and the prices seemed wildly different on different servers, so I cannot tell if they just don’t get used or if they are so popular that they sell out quickly to the platinum barons of Norrath.  And the fact that the game is free to play complicates things.

Moving on, earlier this year we had two new MMOs announcing that they were all-in on monthly subscriptions.  First, The Elder Scrolls Online made its position clear, and then WildStar joined the subscription only parade as well.  But their business model also included something called CREDD, which is how they spell PLEX on Nexus I gather.  Because it was that PLEX model again, an in-game item worth game time, which Carbine seemed to be using as a loophole to claim some sort of free to play status since, technically, after you bought the game, you could find a way to play for free if you earned enough in-game money to buy CREDD.

In Carbine’s world, you can play for free so long as they get paid.  But to their credit, I don’t think they have overplayed their definition of free to play… yet.

My first thought when they announced their business model, including the CREDD bit, was whether or not it had worked for SOE by that point.  That seemed like a reasonable question.  Yes, a shiny new game sporting a subscription-only model with a brand new, out of the box in-game economy might not be the best parallel, what else was I going to compare it too?

The question is still unanswered at this point as far as I am concerned.  The idea works in EVE, but I couldn’t tell you if it was worthwhile elsewhere.

And now Funcom is throwing its hat in the ring with Anarchy Online, which doesn’t help my understanding at all, because I am not even sure what their business model is.  I think it is mostly subscriptions, but they have had this short-term “Free Play” option that shows you ads in game since… what… 2004?  So does that make it free to play?  And how many people even play?  The late Game Data site tracked them as peaking at 60K subscriptions just after launch, dropping down to 10K by 2006, but nothing after that.

So who is out there playing Anarchy Online?  What do you think GRACE going to do for the game, if anything?

Or, for that matter, how about CREDD in WildStar or Krono in SOE games?