H1Z2 or The Daybreak “Divide and Something” Plan

SOE, in cleaning up its act in order to get sold off and become Daybreak, cleared its decks of a number of titles.  The list of titles Daybreak has today is substantially shorter than what SOE had on offer just few years back.  Since 2012 it seems like they’ve shut down a lot more titles than they have launched.

It follows you as you move about the room!

The eye seems angry today…

I’m not sure how many people really miss Wizardry Online or Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures or a few of the other titles that have fallen by the wayside.  But Free Realms had a following and I have to think, with the current emphasis on nostalgia in Norrath, that closing down the EverQuest Macintosh Edition server rather than making that the basis of a classic server usable by a Windows client must be wistfully regretted in some corner of their office.

Anyway, once the company became Daybreak it had rid itself of a lot of baggage, but also had less to sell… and then proceeded to get rid of Dragon’s Prophet.

Meanwhile, new titles are few and far between.  EverQuest Next, more than five years since it was announced, seems no more likely to ship than it did two years back.  Landmark continues is desultory existence.  Planetside 2 remains dubious.  DC Universe Online, which just passed its fifth birthday, is getting ported to XBox One.  That was the big liberating factor in becoming Daybreak, that Smed would no longer be limited to the Playstation, but I am still dubious as to whether or not this will be a huge win.

The only bright points over the first year of Daybreak’s existence (we heard about the merger just about a year ago) have be the super awesome legacy Norrath team, which runs EverQuest and EverQuest II, and which has worked hard to give players some things they have been asking for, and H1Z1, which managed to sell a million units in early access.

So I guess the email note I received while in Hawaii shouldn’t have come as a great surprise.

CUSTOMER SERVICE NOTIFICATION
Notice Regarding Your H1Z1 Account!
Hi
On Wednesday, February 17, 2016, H1Z1 will be branching off into two separate games: H1Z1: Just Survive and H1Z1: King of the Kill. Since you previously purchased an Early Access copy of H1Z1, your account will be upgraded to include both H1Z1: Just Survive and H1Z1: King of the Kill.
Your existing keys, crates, and items will be also duplicated and available in both games.

H1Z1 is splitting into two games, H1Z1: Just Survive, which is the zombie horror survival game, and H1Z1: King of the Kill, which is an arena cash cow that Daybreak has convinced itself is going to be some sort of esport.

On the bright side, at least you get a copy of each if you already purchased H1Z1 via early access.  Of course, there is one more unplayed game in my Steam library because, while the base H1Z1 had some comedic co-op survival charm to it, Daybreak’s whole “pay to compete” battle royale thing had no appeal to me whatsoever.

I think we can safely predict Daybreak will have to change the name of one of these games in a month or two once the whole brand confusion thing finally dawns on them.  My own pick would be H1Z1 and H1Z2, but even those two might be too close in name to avoid the inevitable confusion.

Was this split a surprise?  I suppose so.  It certainly wasn’t without a bit or irony, at least when compared to this motivational quote from the Daybreak web site.

Was this a left turn then?

Was this a left turn or a risk then?

But in hindsight, I guess trying to package the different needs of the two modes of play together might have become an obstacle to one branch of the game or the other.  I doubt, however, that this split means that there will be any more people working on the combined projects, despite the statement about two development teams, so one branch will likely languish as the other gets attention.  My bet is that Just Survive will see its advance towards release… whatever that means to Daybreak these days, since they put our a press release indicating that H1Z1 had already been launched a year back.

But the act of splitting titles in order to beef up their catalog isn’t exactly a new thing at Daybreak.  We of course had the EverQuest Next and Landmark split, where Landmark was just going to be a dev tool for people to use to make things for EverQuest Next, but which got turned into an early access project as well as all we’ve ever really seen of the EQN code.

And H1Z1 itself started life as a branch from the PlanetSide 2 code base, a way to use work already done to make a new game… though I am not sure if the time that has gone by says more about the state of H1Z1 or PlanetSide 2.

I might even argue that DC Universe Online being ported to XBox One at this late date is something of a split, since it will be its own code base by necessity, will draw of resources from the other branches, and won’t be able to play cross-platform.

Finally, we are seeing this sort of thing in what I would consider the core Daybreak, the legacy Norrath team, which has gone from something of a tepid relationship with special rules servers to embracing them fully.  There is now a pretty clear divide between the free to play servers and the subscribers only, special rules servers, splitting up the audiences for both EverQuest and EverQuest II.

That sort of split was something SOE decided was a bad thing back during the EverQuest II Extended experiment.  But there you had two different client applications and the fear that the old servers would wither and die because all new players would be steered towards the free version, from which they could not transfer.  Now the spin is different, with the free servers being the old news and the shiny new special rules servers drawing off a significant percentage of the long-term fans of the game.

Aside from a hunch about the two H1Z1s needing more distinct names, I am curious to see how this will play out.

Of course, the hidden bit of news in the FAQ is this little gem:

At this time, we do not have any plans to make either H1Z1: Just Survive or H1Z1: King of the Kill Free-to-Play titles.

I knew that early access was simply too lucrative for them to let go of to depend on free.  “Free to Play. Your Way” seems to be dead at Daybreak.  H1Z1 is not a free to play game.  It will be buy to play, with a subscription, and an overbearing cash shop, complete with lock boxes.  Expect no less from anything else coming out of Daybreak.

At least they will be dropping the early access moniker this summer, or so the FAQ alleges:

H1Z1: King of the Kill will be coming out of Early Access and will launch on PC, the PlayStation® 4, and Xbox One in summer 2016

We shall see.

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7 thoughts on “H1Z2 or The Daybreak “Divide and Something” Plan

  1. anon

    “At this time, we do not have any plans to make either H1Z1: Just Survive or H1Z1: King of the Kill Free-to-Play titles.”

    Wilhelm, you used to be better at telling when the ancestral SOE modus operandi was showing up. It is very clear to me that, eventually, Daybreak wil have to eat those words mixed with sand and offer the game as F2P, with some kind of optional sub. I do agree with your remark about cash shop and lockboxes, though.

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  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @anon – Among the classic SOE MOs is the one where something seems to be a success, accidental or not, so they decide that this is the one true path… right up until it is obvious to everybody that it isn’t

    In this case I have been wondering how they are going to take that early access needle out of their vein, since it appeared to worked out very well this one time. The answer seems to be that they have decided NOT to take it out, but to keep it jammed in there and screw all that F2P nonsense they were spouting earlier.

    That they may come to see this as a mistake later… well, we shall see if they back themselves off of that ledge. I suspect that the sweet sweet cash flow will be too much and that they will discount themselves drastically at times, but never quite get themselves back to free. Look for one or the other H1Z1 crazy flavor to be 50% off for the Steam summer sale and 80% for the Steam holiday sale.

    Plus, they are run by an investment firm now who also saw how well that early access deal worked out, so they may be holding the needle in rather forcefully.

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  3. bhagpuss

    I dunno. Is this Daybreak or is it just the new industry trend? Are they, were they ever, doing anything much more than following the herd?

    When EQ started, subscriptions were the thing for online games. Everyone had one, pretty much. They stuck to that rigidly for years until WoW beat everyone down so hard that the only way to compete seemed to be to give the games away. By the time Smed jumped on the F2P bandwagon most of his erstwhile competitors had clambered on already.

    Early Access, there they may have been ahead of the curve. I can’t remember if I’d heard of the idea of charging money to get into a beta (or indeed an alpha) before. If they weren’t the first they were certainly one of the most noticeable. But was Landmark “Early Access” as we understand it now? They definitely didn’t use the term.

    By the time H1Z1 rolled around Early Access was already very much established and since then it seems to have gone through the roof. Now I am looking at Steam like everyone else I can see just how many Early Access titles there are out there.

    It’s all marketing, isn’t it, when it comes down to it. Subscriptions seemed utterly crazy to all gamers other than MMO players – they are still barely accepted as less than pure evil in some quarters even now. You only have to read the comments on Amazon from gamers who’ve bought various titles only to find out there’s a subscription attached to see that.

    Subscriptions had a good run then faded out, giving way to F2P and now it very much looks as though F2P is on the way out as well. Early Access is the current developers’ darling and it probably has a year or two left at the top of the heap. Then it too will fade, to be replaced by some other bright idea.

    Only today I heard a woman on the radio explaining how the current generation of 16-24 year olds aren’t even interested in owning anything any more. They want to pay a monthly fee and have access to far more choice than they could ever buy outright. She wasn’t just talking about videos and music either – she was talking about household goods, furniture and even clothes. Generation Rent she called it.

    If there’s even a grain of truth in that then the Subscription should be coming right back around any day now. When it does you can bet Daybreak will be all over it – about six months after everybody else.

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  4. Pingback: Subscriptions comeback? | GamingSF

  5. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – “I dunno. Is this Daybreak or is it just the new industry trend? Are they, were they ever, doing anything much more than following the herd?”

    Oh, come now, we both know that SOE has lurched off on its own time and again, only to fall on its face. How far out ahead of the pack were they when they tried to create a unified launcher for all their games? By the time they totally mangled that and abandoned it (but left it on their website for download for another year) other companies came along and did the same thing… only successfully. Or how about a collectible card came based on their fantasy IP? They were years ahead of Blizzard… a pity they bungled it. And think of the goofy alternate subscriber plans they tried and things like SOEmote.

    If only SOE had followed the pack on a few more things, or at least focused on their core competency. But they will both screw things up in their own way AND follow the pack too late as well.

    So what this will end up being is Daybreak trying to turn H1Z1: King of the Kill into some sort of esport and failing, a too-late follow the pack move, while leaving H1Z1: Just Survive to languish in the early access purgatory, ignored and incomplete, which is more of a signature SOE/Daybreak move.

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  6. Jenks

    I miss Al’Kabor (EQ Mac) very much. It will probably be my last serious “classic” EQ run.

    I am glad it was put down before Daybreak got its hands on it, though.

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