Category Archives: Dungeons & Dragons Online

2017 – Predictions for Another New Year

Has 2016 stopped looking our way yet?  Yes?  Good.

Glad to be done with that, because a new year is like a new roll of the dice right?  Completely independent of the last year/roll?  Aren’t they?

My daughter even drew me a brand new pic for a brand new year.

kidpixtigerredraw2017

That is her re-draw of a picture she did in 2009 to celebrate getting her first mount in World of Warcraft.  Her talent has grown over the years.

Anyway, here we are again at the arbitrary point in time where we declare a “new” year and start yet another roam around the star we call the sun.  And with that, I will carry on my own minor tradition of greeting the new year by attempting to foresee what may come to pass.

Previous runs at this sort of thing:

Given past low scores I persist in making predictions.  So here is my list for 2017.  All predictions are worth 10 points each, with partial credit possible.  And, just a reminder, these are predictions and not wishes.  I am not rooting for many of these things to come to pass, it is rather that I fear they will.  A list of my actual wishes would look different and probably be even less likely to happen.  Such is life.

1 – Long in the Legion – Blizzard is going to use their ongoing content additions to WoW Legion as an excuse to not announce a new World of Warcraft expansion in 2017.  BlizzCon will come and go without a word about a new box and people will predict that it means the death of the game.

2 – Roll Credits – A second Warcraft film will be announced… for the Chinese market.  There will be no plans for a theatrical release in the West.  The announced plan will have it arriving as a dubbed straight-to-video option on the market some time in 2018.

3 – Really Big Storm – Blizzard is going to make radical changes to Heroes of the Storm in 2017 in an attempt to get it at least somewhere in the same market as DOTA 2 and LoL.  Different modes, different maps, and better stats will be featured, the latter accompanied by changes that will make individual contributions stand out much more.  So rather than talking about a new WoW expansion, Blizzard will be talking about this.

4 – CEO of the Kill – I am going to re-roll last year’s prediction and say that Daybreak is going to get a new president… a real new president, not the current Columbus Nova overseer… with actual game industry experience; console or mobile experience, take your pick.

5 – More Than Just a Title – Daybreak also has a lot of positions open on its home page, which seems to indicate that they have some new project plans under way.  We will hear about the first of those projects in 2017, and the biggest shock will be lack of support for the PC platform.  In a world where Daybreak’s sweetest paying title is probably DC Universe Online on the PS4 and where Nintendo is cranking out hit after hit on mobile (or at least licensing to companies making hits for them), Windows will seem like yesterday’s market.

6 – Milestone Really – Yesterday’s market will get smaller at Daybreak as well as they close down Landmark and the aptly named H1Z1: Just Survive.

7 – Trash Cash – The change with H1Z1: King of the Kill getting its own currency was just the start of death of Daybreak Cash good across all games.  The real money currency market at Daybreak will continue to fragment, with DCUO and PlanetSide 2 getting their own currency.  Only EverQuest, EverQuest II, and Landmark will keep Daybreak cash.  As with King of the Kill, there will be an open period where you can transfer your Daybreak cash to one of the new currencies.

8 – My Card – When the currency revamp is complete, Daybreak will launch new retail game cards for some, but not all, of the currencies.  Daybreak cash won’t get cards.

9 – Point Break – At Standing Stone Games, the statement about nothing changing will last for a bit, and then changes will come.  Among those will be changing Turbine Points to have new, game specific names, since you couldn’t transfer them between LOTRO and DDO in any case.

Those new currencies for SSG titles will be part of Daybreak’s currency revamp and you will be able to buy into the new currencies with Daybreak cash for a limited time.

10 – And Access for All LOTRO and DDO will be on Daybreak All Access before the end of the year.

11 – Hardcore Death – NCsoft will announce the end of WildStar by the end of 2017.  Another re-roll from last year.  Yes, I know you love it, but look at the numbers the NCsoft financial statements.

12 – Cloud Imperium Crisis – Push will come to shove at the house of Star Citizen in 2017… as in the need to shove something out the door that they can sell, both to generate revenue and to establish some credibility that they can ship something.  Star Marine will end up as a stand-alone purchasable product by the end of the year.  You won’t need to buy it if you’re already invested, but it will only be available after its “launch” a la carte.

13 – Hello World – Hello Games will continue to quietly grind out updates for No Man’s Sky, eventually turning it into a decent single player space sim/RPG.  Game sites will re-review it and give it a positive nod.  Multiplayer however will remain a lie that will haunt the game and its developer.

14 – Future Gates – CCP will wait until FanFest where they will finally announce the next step in their road map forward.  The announcement will be new space.  It will be available only through one-way gates that will only allow frigate sized ships to pass and once you’re on the far side you’re stuck there.  No death clones back even.  Return will depend upon completion of a giant, dozen-keepstar level of effort project has been completed by your corp/alliance/coalition.  Said gates will not allow capital ships to pass, but you can always bring blueprints.

15 – PCME? PCU! – The lasting effect of the Ascension expansion will settle down to a PCU count of about 3- 5K addition players online at any given time over the pre-expansion numbers.  For a game that runs on one server that handles time zones around the globe, that adds up to a lot of additional people, but it still isn’t the heyday of 2013 and the “EVE is dying” chorus will continue sing its near constant refrain.

16 – Switcharoo – The Nintendo Switch will hit store shelves come the Fall, but the big deal for this “is it a bit handheld or a small console?” unit will be the announcement that versions of Pokemon Sun & Moon will be available for the unit, so you will finally be able to play Pokemon on your big screen TV and even stream it on Twitch or Yahoo or Facebook if you want.  But you still won’t be able to take screen shots.

17 – Let’s Hear It for the GameBoy – Following on the success of the 3DS Virtual Console versions of Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow, Nintendo will follow up with an ongoing series of legacy Pokemon titles, with the generation 2 titles of Pokemon Gold, Silver, and Crystal next up.

18 – Forsaken AvatarShroud of the Avatar will finally hit its launch state and announce it is live and ready for the wide world to join in.  However, in yet another hard lesson about early access, sales won’t jump.  The core audience has already bought in and new comers will be scared off by the reviews on Steam that are the outcome of the early access run.  If it even appears on the front page of Steam’s the top seller list, it won’t stay there for very long.

19 – Not ShippingCamelot Unchained, Crowfall, Pantheon: Rinse and Repeat, and Amazon’s New World will all be no-shows on the release market for 2017.

20 – Back on Track – After another year of tinkering with the game, NCsoft is going to put the screws to Arena Net and a new expansion will be announced for GuildWars 2.  That will give ANet something to talk about for months. It will also kill of any Heart of Thorns purchases given past behavior.  And, sure enough, as the new expansion gets close HoT content will become free.

Extra Credit Wild Ass Guess – Daybreak hires an ex-Riot person as chief exec and announces they going to make a MOBA!  Double points if it is Norrath based!

So those are my guesses at the new year.  At ten points each, that is a possible of 200 total, with an extra ten extra credit points for the wild guess of the year.  I will be back in eleven and a half months to score that, and if I do better than 40% it will be yet another Festivus miracle.

Others forecasting events of 2017:

 

Looking Back at 2016 – Highs and Lows

Lord, what did we do to deserve this year?  I’ll just steer away from politics, the world, and celebrity deaths for this if you don’t mind.  Wow, 2016.

Blog2016

Still, it is time for this post, where I look back at the year gone by and look at some aspects over it, a tradition going back to 2010.  Past entries:

This annual post tends to be even more haphazard than my standard fare, an exercise in stream of consciousness writing as I add things to the list as they pop into my head.  No links, no explanations, minimal punctuation, and lots and lots of bullet points.

Blizzard

Highs

  • Still makes tons of money, actually has several popular, profitable games
  • Just to reiterate, “Money, money, money, money, money!”
  • Celebrated the 25th anniversary of its founding… and the 22nd anniversary of when it was first bought by another company
  • Shipped a WoW expansion, Legion, which sold well
  • the lead-in preview events before the Legion launch were pretty good
  • Actually appears to have a plan to keep content coming for Legion rather than the usual year long drought
  • Blizz still does a good job with new players and level boosts to let you jump straight to the current content with your pals
  • WoW Tokens haven’t destroyed the in-game economy or anything
  • Overwatch is totally a stellar success, you can tell by the amount of rage that comes from one character getting just an okay holiday outfit
  • Oh, and Overwatch got its own paid professional league
  • Hearthstone is doing pretty well, getting new expansions and coverage on Twitch as a casual alternative to whatever
  • Diablo III is getting some new stuff
  • Hell, even StarCraft II is still chugging along selling mission packs

Lows

  • If you are a fan of just ONE Blizzard game, you probably don’t think they give your game enough attention
  • If you are a WoW fan, you’re probably pissed about how much attention all the new shit is getting
  • The old instance group… totally not playing WoW, except for Earl who never stops playing it
  • Chris Metzen, Mister Lore Enthusiasm, retired
  • BlizzCon has become mostly a Blizzard eSports event
  • Legion made the long, long tradition of alts a pain in WoW
  • WoW classes in Legion are pretty much designed around a legendary weapon, so feel off until you get into the current content
  • Have you seen the path to get flying in the Broken Isles?
  • The whole Nostalrius saga, which really brought out some horrible people on both sides of the issue
  • Blizzard continues to steadfastly fail to understand why somebody would want to play an old version of WoW
  • Mark Kern injecting himself into the Nostalrius saga, which just seemed to make any progress forward less likely
  • Nostalrius expecting fast action from Blizzard and just relaunching when they didn’t get it… this will end well
  • The Diablo III new stuff is really nostalgia driven… which is okay for an older IP, but won’t sell many boxes as, say, Diablo IV would
  • Uh… Heroes of the Storm… you still there?

Daybreak Game Company

Highs

  • Really, things seemed to be well if you were a long time EverQuest or EverQuest II player; expansions, updates, free things, all good
  • DC Universe Online has a happy community and seems to be doing well, especially on PlayStation
  • H1Z1 King of the Kill seems to be popular on Twitch and is getting off of Station Cash
  • Some sort of publishing deal for LOTRO and DDO through the new Standing Stone Games… that should be worth some money, right?
  • Lots of job reqs on the Daybreak site, so they must be working on something new

Lows

  • EverQuest Next got the axe after the traditional SOE long silence
  • Without EverQuest Next, Landmark got shoved out the door, ready or not… mostly not
  • Has Daybreak hit the point of diminishing returns for special/nostalgia servers for EQ/EQII?
  • “Free to Play, Your Way!” became “There is a cover charge at the door and a two drink minimum”
  • If you think you’re going to buy a level boost for EQ or EQ2 in order to play the new content, think again!  This ain’t WoW, the path through Norrath is not well marked
  • Haven’t heard much about PlanetSide 2 since its console launch
  • H1Z1 Just Survive might have a name that is too close to the reality of its situation
  • If Station Cash is so bad that they’re getting H1Z1 King of the Kill off of it, what does that say about the games left behind?
  • Pulled support for retail game cards; no more bringing your allowance to GameStop to pay your subscription, you have to pay online now
  • Good-bye Legends of Norrath
  • No more open world PvP in EQ2 (I’m sure somebody considers this a low point, even if I don’t really)
  • No more EQ2 Worlds mobile app either (That’s bad, right? Or was that just another distraction?)
  • With Russell Shanks gone, Columbus Nova doesn’t even have the pretense of a gaming exec running the show

Standing Stone Games

Highs

  • No longer part of Turbine or on WB’s balance sheet, so no more margin requirements… can actually spend money on development
  • Being able to just run DDO and LOTRO is probably the best thing possible for both games at this point
  • Mordor is in sight in LOTRO
  • DDO still seems to be in good shape

Lows

  • Asheron’s Call and Asheron’s Call 2 have taken their final call and are being shut down
  • With nothing new in sight, SSG is playing through its own company end game as a caretaker
  • As their own company they gain the overhead for internal tasks that WB was likely doing for them, things like HR and payroll and such
  • LOTRO and DDO are both licensed properties, so SSG still needs to send out checks for that every month, which is more overhead than a fully owned property like EveQuest or Ultima Online has to deal with
  • Daybreak is now their publisher, which means they will need to get paid too
  • Despite the “nothing is changing” FAQ, this move will mean changes eventually
  • Able to run their own show, the first reaction seemed to be “revamp avatars!” which is code for “screw the current player base, I want new people around here!”
  • Can they even afford to make new avatar models that are good enough to make a difference to anybody?

CCP

Highs

  • They have the most popular VR app for the Oculus Rift in EVE Valkyrie
  • Two big expansions, Citadel and Ascension that changed the face of New Eden
  • A new New Player Experience in EVE; this time for sure!
  • Citadels everywhere!
  • Rorqual becomes the most popular capital ship in the game, figuratively if not literally
  • We had a great big war, a two year PCU high mark, and the most people ever in a single battle this year
  • CCP ends gambling, confiscates tainted ISK, and bans the RMT barons who fomented The Casino War after the Imperium called them out for being involved with RMT
  • Skill injectors let new players “catch up” to vets in training
  • The new CSM hasn’t been a distraction/embarrassment/hostile force this year

Lows

  • DUST 514 went dark
  • Rated 6/10 due to the shallowness of the game, EVE Valkyrie doesn’t have much competition and costs $99 if you didn’t get it for free
  • Being the most popular VR app in the Occulus Rift fragment of the market is like being the most proficient thumb sucker in pre-school, an honor that just isn’t going to last
  • F2P option boosted average PCU for EVE, but it is still 15K below the 2013 peak
  • Banning RMT tainted casino accounts came too late to save the Imperium, but a dish served cold was better than no dish at all
  • After the The Casino War Goons went to Delve while PL and NCDot started a rental empire at the expense of their erstwhile allies… nothing new in space, so just replay the greatest hits I guess
  • Ummm… no, really, citadels everywhere
  • Welcome to the new super cap arms race in null sec!
  • Suddenly becoming the most popular anything in New Eden is a sure sign of a balance issue
  • Not sure where the New Eden road map is headed next, and we probably won’t hear until Fanfest
  • Skill injectors pretty much made the powerful more powerful, as the rich now can have insta-trained alts
  • Not sure CCP is actually listening to the CSM
  • RIP New Eden solo industrialists
  • Still a loud faction out there that thinks walking in stations will “save” EVE Online
  • Rumors of CCP being sold… you may not love those vikings, but who else would have even tried to make EVE what it is today?

Nintendo

Highs

  • 20th Anniversary of Pokemon
  • Re-release of Pokemon Red, Blue, & Yellow on Virtual Console
  • Pokemon Sun & Moon, a great new core Pokemon RPG, was a bit seller
  • Pokemon Go takes the world by storm, boosting Pokemon related sales on all fronts
  • Super Mario Run followed on Pokemon Go as a huge immediate success on mobile
  • Announcement of a new mobile console thing, the Switch

Lows

  • End of the line for the Wii U… but at least it outsold the Saturn and the Dreamcast
  • Pokemon Sun & Moon performance on old model 3DS units is laggy
  • They must Amiibo all the things these days I guess
  • Pokemon Go problems… it wasn’t ready to be a phenomena
  • Will the Switch be more of a handheld or a living room gaming console?
  • The “not a successor” designation for the Switch no doubt means no backward compatibility for any of your current Wii U or 3DS games.

Other Games

Highs

  • Star Trek Online made its way to consoles
  • Star Citizen shook off Derek Smart eventually
  • Rift got an expansion out, as did SWTOR
  • Black Desert Online had the MMO spotlight for a while
  • The Elder Scrolls Online seems to have turned a corner to success/stability
  • Minecraft continues to boom, with new updates, high sales, and a happy fans
  • Project: Gorgon has been available and improving and got some more funding via Indiegogo
  • WildStar lives yet!
  • Dark and Light sputtered back into existence after an eight year server downtime
  • No Man’s Sky had everybody excited for a cool, new indie space exploration game
  • Stardew Valley shows one dev can make a compelling game

Lows

  • The usual array of F2P fuckery, as J3w3l would put it, in various titles trying to boost income; I think Rift and Black Desert Online get a special mention for 2016
  • A special bonus mention for SWTOR and its “new content is for subscribers” plan; can’t buy it ala carte, gotta pony up
  • Black Desert Online fulfilled its prophecy and pretty much a re-run of ArcheAge, but that seems to be the way of these things no matter what MMO launches
  • ArcheAge got an update, the main feature of which seemed to be killing the servers
  • Consoles seem to be the main focus for Star Trek Online, so if you play on the PC you are probably behind on new features.
  • Just because Derek Smart hasn’t posted about Star Citizen in a couple months doesn’t mean all is happy, as the whole package is still in alpha, still nowhere close to all those promised features, has moved to a new engine (which they forgot to mention for months), and still seems to be run in a haphazard and/or amateurish fashion
  • Jesus, did any fucking Kickstarter I back even ship this year?  Camelot Unchained? No!  Shroud of the Avatar? No! Project: Gorgon? No! MineServer? No!  Even Jason Scott’s documentary trio hasn’t shipped a single video yet.  Dammit people, you know when you promise and don’t deliver you screw over the people trying to get funding after you, right?
  • While I am complaining, early access has turned into something like, “We got the code to run, give us some money!” of late
  • If WildStar’s revenue drops any further the studio is going to turn into a tax write-off for NCsoft
  • Main line PC Minecraft needs to get off Java already
  • The return of Dark and Light hardly seemed worth the effort
  • No Man’s Sky was just the intersection of many bad things, with unmet promises, overreacting fans, and a level of post launch company support that might be best summed up with, “Have you tried turning it off and then back on again?”
  • Seriously Hello Games, if you go on TV and say people can play No Man’s Sky with their friends, and they cannot, you have earned a pile of negative reviews
  • The LEGO Minifigures Online closer punches Funcom in the gut yet again
  • The rocky ride and sudden end of Hero’s Song
  • Yahoo shut down Yahoo games, because literally anything Yahoo touches turns to shit… and then just gets worse from there

Media

Highs:

  • Rogue One, a new Star Wars movie, was pretty okay
  • Fantastic Beasts, a new Harry Potter universe movie, was pretty okay
  • Westworld kept me going for ten weeks
  • I am not a big super hero movie fan, but Deadpool did make me laugh

Lows:

  • The end of Downton Abbey
  • Rogue One isn’t going to get anywhere close to $2 billion in the box office revenue, probably due to a lack of Skywalkers
  • Also, Rogue One continued the tradition of crying about a vast SJW conspiracy because a female got a lead part in an action movie
  • Akin to Rogue One, a lack of Potters does limit the appeal of Fantastic Beasts
  • The Warcraft movie was really a for-the-fans-only venture, unlikely to expand the player base of the franchise
  • I think super hero movies have hit saturation point… maybe we can do some westerns or something?
  • So many celebrity deaths… crap, I wasn’t going to mention that… but Jesus Christ, even Carrie Fisher?

The Blog and Blogging and The Internet

Highs:

  • Continues to chug along with 360 posts this year, or almost one a day, up 7 from last year
  • I still enjoy writing
  • I still very much enjoy writing after I have writ and can go back and see what was up a year later
  • Still a decent rang of blogs out there to read
  • Massively OP still does a regular call out to blogs
  • Reddit does has some very good and informative subreddits

Lows:

  • My enthusiasm for new and different MMORPGs has largely faded, so I tend to write about the same half dozen games over and over
  • My style… crank out a first draft then press “publish,” after which I start to find errors and typos… remains largely unchanged
  • I still have to fight the urge to start every paragraph after the first with, “And,” “So,” “Then,” and “Meanwhile.”
  • Readership is down to about 2009 levels, though I suspect the core regular readership is about the same, it is just less new people showing up… sort of like an aging MMO, which seems oddly appropriate
  • I still don’t link out to other blogs as often I think I should
  • Blog attrition and fading has passed the replacement level in our corner of the net, or maybe I am so out of the loop that I simply no longer see new blogs as they pop up being an old fart
  • Other MMO gaming news sites pretty quickly forgot about blogs after a flurry of paying attention to them last year
  • AOL killed the Massively and WoW Insider archives… or at least broke all the links going to them… At least we still have the Internet Archive
  • Reddit does make blogs feel redundant unless you are a fan of long form
  • /r/eve

Anyway, that is what I have in my brain here at the end of 2016.  I am sure I left a lot out, so feel free to add anything you feel needs a mention in the comments.

A new year approaches, which at least implies two more of my yearly posts are yet to come, my outlook for 2017 and the inevitable New Years Day predictions post.

Others looking back at 2016:

A Standing Stone Gathers No Momentum

Well, today’s big announcement in the MMO world has to be this bombshell about the development teams formerly part of Turbine.

All it does is spin...

All it does is spin…

I am going to quote the text in full lest the site disappear next week.

Today we have some momentous news! The game teams responsible for The Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) and Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO) are now moving from Turbine to Standing Stone Games, a newly formed indie game studio. In addition, we’ve partnered with Daybreak Games to provide global publishing services. They’ve had a long, successful history developing and publishing MMOs, and we’re happy to lean on their expertise.

With the announcement out of the way, I wanted to talk to you about what all this means.

We’re embarking on an exciting adventure as Standing Stone Games, a newly-independent studio staffed by people who have been working on DDO and LOTRO for many years. The teams remain very much committed to both games and are thrilled to continue development and operations of these games as an independent studio.  This is an opportunity for us to bring about our dreams while still working on two of the biggest licenses in video games. It’s a huge honor, and for you this means your games will continue to grow and improve. We love to focus on games with a high level of depth and scope, and we can’t wait to show you what the future brings.

Although a great many exciting things are happening on our end, you’ll be able to continue playing the game(s) you enjoy with as little interruption as possible. Our development continues on track, and the plans we have already announced remain firmly in our future view. Again, although we are a new studio, we are also the same developers who have been and will continue to work on our games.

Our success has always been possible because of your support. As we move forward, this is more important than ever. The ultimate goal of our new studio is to continue to bring you amazing experiences. We are excited for the future, and we’re thrilled to have you with us on this journey.

Here’s to great games, epic adventures, and memorable times with friends!

~Sev

Momentous news indeed.  That is a lot to take in, so let my try and parse it out into bite size pieces, for my own benefit at least.

  • Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online are no longer part of the WB owned game studio known as Turbine.
  • Those two remaining money making online properties from Turbine will now be part of a newly formed studio known as Standing Stone Games. (SSG? Like the Strategic Studies Group?)
  • The studio is alleged to be “independent,” but doesn’t really describe what that means.  I am pretty sure Warner isn’t just letting them go without any financial interest or compensation.
  • SSG is partnering with Daybreak Games Company, our favorite lovable band of west coast cowboys, to provide global publishing services.

There is a whole FAQ that goes with this, which I can summarize as “Don’t Panic!” as it doesn’t really add much in the way of details.  We won’t know what all this really means until some time passes and things shake out.

What it sounds like WB is doing is getting LOTRO and DDO off the books the way that EA did with Ultima Online and Dark Age of Camelot when they handed over to those two properties to Broadsword, a studio that they probably had a hand in creating.  Rather than having the headcount and servers and what not counting against margins… and Wall St. is obsessed with margins, so if you’re a public company you are as well… the whole things becomes a licensing deal that just generates income.  And the fact that “Standing Stone Games” appears to be a trademark of “Standing Stone Games, LLC” certainly makes it sound like it is fully spun off.

All of which probably means that we are pretty much done with any big investments in either game.  They have to survive on their own.  But they just got new servers and upgrades over the last year, so they should be set there.  Now the team will slowly move towards Mordor in the case of LOTRO, and something else in the case of DDO, getting bug fixes and updates so long as the money keeps coming in.

In the end, this is probably a good thing for both games.  They seem much more likely to carry on over time than they would in a company where accounting is looking to chop under performing assets.  Asheron’s Call and Asheron’s Call 2 however are probably going to disappear for good.

The strange bit is the Daybreak tie-in.  Why would you go to a company that has no significant presence outside of the US for your “global publishing services?”  Didn’t SOE/Daybreak spend a couple of years trying to ditch their European customers by selling them off to ProSiebenSat.1 before finally giving up on the whole thing and bringing as many resources back to the US as possible?

What does a deal with Daybreak bring to the table?  Unless the SSG team didn’t get the billing department for the games and needs somebody else to charge credict cards for them, I can’t see the logic.  Will Daybreak be running their data centers?  Or will SSG be moving into Daybreak’s data centers?  What else could Daybreak do for them as a “publisher” for a game you download directly?  They can’t even run their own physical game card sales without problems, why would you go to them?

We shall see.

I don’t think this is going to mean LOTRO and DDO will end up on Daybreak Access, but stranger things have happened.

Addendum: And, as predicted, AC and AC2 will soon be gone… or sunsetted… or whatever the current term of art is.

Others on this bit of news:

LOTRO Headed for the Grey Havens?

Turbine is transitioning into a free-to-play, mobile development studio…

-Warner Bros. PR statement to Massively OP

Well fuck.  It has not been a good… erm… few years for Turbine.

Yahoo Headline 2007

We were so optimistic back in 2007

There was this moment of optimism a while back.  They were going to bring back Asheron’s Call 2, they were going to let you run your own Asheron’s Call server, the Lord of the Rings Online contract situation was good for a couple more years and we seemed on the way to Mordor, Dungeons & Dragons Online was chugging along, upbeat and getting new stuff, and they were going to take on the hot new MOBA market with Infinite Crisis.

And then plans started falling apart.  Infinite Crisis was cancelled, the Asheron twins were put on life support with what seemed to be a DNR notice, and the company was left with two somewhat long in the tooth free to play MMOs to carry things forward.  LOTRO has already called out raidersDirty laundry was being aired.  And even LOTRO’s plans seemed subdued, with server merges and fixing long standing bugs being key part of one producer’s letter.  Even the upside bit, the upgraded servers, turned into a problem for a while.

But things seemed to be settling down.  The servers became usable, new content was being added to the game, and a new baseline routine seemed to have been reached.  And now this.

Of course, Warner is telling people to remain calm:

The Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons online games will continue to operate as they do now.

But they HAVE to say that.  Those two games are the only income generating assets Turbine has now, and to say anything else might adversely impact that income stream.  And it is likely true for the short term.  But what happens next?

Warner could let the two games run on as before, with even less support and unlikely to get much in the way of substantial updates.  Given their new focus, that does not seem like sticking to the plan.

Warner could close the games down or, in the case of LOTRO, let the contact with Tolkien Enterprises run out in 2017 and not renew.  Both LOTRO and DDO, being licensed properties, likely have monthly minimum payments required to go to the rights holders, so an immediate shut down would leave Warner with bills to pay.  But at contract renewal it might be the time to walk away.

Or Warner could sell off the MMO part of Turbine to somebody like Perfect World Entertainment, where the LOTRO and DDO might each get a longer, if somewhat different, life going forward.  That would keep things going, provided that either game is a viable, money making venture that Warner can hand off to another company.  Anything with the name “Asheron” in the title seems to be doomed no matter what route Warner takes.

Anyway, it feels very much like we are waiting for the other shoe to drop on this one, that Warner has a long term decision to make… or announce if they have already made it… that will affect the fate of those two titles.

Play the games while you have the chance, as the future is more uncertain than usual and nobody is likely to make a game like LOTRO again.

Others on the topic:

Reviewing My 2015 Predictions

Here we are, approaching the back half of the last month of 2015, making it about time for a few “I do this every year” posts.

A graphic with the number 2015 on it!

A graphic with the number 2015 on it!

First on the list is predictions.  Back on January first I published a post with a series of guesses at events of the coming year.  The first set were about specific things I expected to come to pass.  Each was worth 10 points, with partial credit possible.  How badly did I fare there?

Predictions

  • At BlizzCon we won’t hear about the next World of Warcraft expansion.  Blizz is going to avoid the year long run up to a new expansion and focus on what we’ll get in Draenor in 2016.  That’s the plan going forward; a shorter run up to the next expansion, more focus on the current one, same two year gap between launches.

Well, I was way off on that.  Due to the way that Warlords of Draenor was failing to hold the user base Blizzard couldn’t even hold out until BlizzCon for the announcement, so the year long run-up to launch remains, unless they launch a lot earlier than they have said.  Zero points.

  • Blizzard will also punt on its PLEX-like item idea as foes of the idea in the forums will keep screaming “Diablo III real money auction house fiasco!” until the idea is put back on the shelf.

Wrong again.  Blizz decided they were good with the idea, so WoW Tokens are a thing.  Zero points.

  • BlizzCon will also see the announcement of a new expansion for Diablo III, breaking the “one expansion” trend for Diablo games.

This should have been.  Instead the Diablo franchise was barely mentioned at BlizzCon.  Zero points.

  • Heroes of the Storm will go live, at last, after BlizzCon.

Well, HotS did go live… just about five months before I predicted.  Zero points.

  • Overwatch, though, will stay in closed, invite-only beta in 2015.  We’ll hear good things, but we won’t get anything until next year.

Okay, I seem to be on track with this one at least.  Invite-only beta and not going live until Spring.  10 points.

  • EverQuest Next will not ship in 2015.  At least not by any definition I would consider a real release.  Rather, it will enter the “pay to play our unfinished free to play game” state that has haunted Landmark for the last year.  And it won’t even get to that state until after SOE Live.

I wish.  No word on EverQuest Next… and no SOE live either this year.  Zero points.

  • Push is going to come to shove at SOE, with EQN and Landmark drawing on more in-house resources but not necessarily providing more revenue.  One of the two Norrath games,EverQuest or EverQuest II, is going to get shorted on the expansion front this year.  There will be a virtual box to buy, but it will really be just a features and fixes expansion with no new levels, races, classes, or overland zones.  A few dungeons/raids and the usual set of AA options will be all somebody gets.

You know, this one looked like it was going to be spot on… my prediction wasn’t even dire enough, as SOE-cum-Daybreak was ready to abandon the expansion idea for Both EverQuest and EverQuest II at one point.  And then sanity… and a desire to make money… returned and both game got an expansion.  Zero points.

  • Also on the SOE front, Dragon’s Prophet will get the axe in 2015 and some new Asian import will get its chance.

Well, Dragon’s Prophet got the chop, but no new Asian import has replaced it, so half right.  5 points.

  • GuildWars 2 is going to ship an expansion in a box, virtual or otherwise, that will be the classic “give us money and get new content” exchange that we are all quite used to.  It will be a big win, hugely popular with the fan base, have many jumping puzzles, and ArenaNet will grumble all the way to the bank about how NCsoft made them do it.

I don’t know if there were as many jumping puzzles, but I wrote that just to tease Syp.  Otherwise, I think this is mostly on track, enough for 8 out of 10 points.

  • WildStar will go free to play.  NCsoft has a deal for the China market, so they can’t shut the thing down just yet.  But to get to China I am going to bet they have to go F2P.  And if you’re going to do the work for China, you might as well apply it in the west as well.

This one seems like “well duh” at this end of the year, but back at the end of 2014 things looked pretty dire for WildStar.  NCsoft just shutting it down seemed like a reasonable guess.  10 points.

  • CCP is going to break sovereignty in null sec in 2015 and cause a great upheaval in EVE Online.  Most sov will effectively be dropped and chaos will ensue.  Much mocking will come from other quarters of the game, until the wise realize that all those null sec players need to go somewhere, and it is either leave the game or bunk with them.  Soon the cry to fix null will be universal, just to save the game and everybody’s sanity. CCP will take one of their full five week dev cycles to fix it, but there won’t be any roll back.  Instead they will have new sov mechanics in place and will declare a null sec gold rush/thunderdome.  Hilarity will ensue and it will become one of the great legends of the game we tell to new players.  Meanwhile, the sov map will look pretty much the same at the end of the year.

Okay, nothing that bad happened.  And yet there is a thread of reality in the midst of all of that.  Certainly some old null sec alliances bailed on the whole idea of holding space when Fozzie Sov rolled out and made it far to easy to troll.  And some of them did end up in low sec space, the face of which changed as well.  But the map does look different here at the end of the year.  I’ll give myself one point out of ten for that thread of reality.

  • CCP will sell, transfer, or otherwise hand off responsibility for DUST 514 to Sony, including the employees left working on it.  It will remain connected to EVE Online, so orbital bombardment will remain a possibility, but Sony will be running.  It will end up in the laps of SOE in San Diego which will prompt another round of “SOE is buying CCP!” hysteria.  (But that won’t happen until 2016.)

Nope.  Instead White Wolf got sold off.  DUST 514 still lingers on at CCP.  Zero points.

  • The Elder Scrolls Online will muddle along in 2015, fixing bugs and waiting for the console version to ship.  The console version won’t ship until after summer however, and things will seem somewhat grim as the push to get it out becomes an “all hands on deck” development task, leaving the Windows version to drift for a couple months.

The console versions shipped on time.  I really don’t have a feel for how grim things may or may not be, or if they are muddling along, going downhill, or have seen a resurgence.  Zero points.

  • Funcom will also be in a bit of a muddle as LEGO Minifigures Online continues to under perform.  This will cause a replay of the LEGO Universe fiasco, with LEGO HQ wresting control of the software from Funcom, as they did with NetDevil, leading to about the same result as LEGO runs the thing into the ground and shuts it down.

The Lego Group hasn’t yanked the license from Funcom yet, but LEGO Minifigures Online has continued to under perform.  3 points.

  • Hacking and cyber attacks will be on the rise, and a major MMO studio will be kicked completely offline for a full week at some point during 2015.

I think we got past 2015 without this happening to a major studio.  Zero points.

  • EA’s claim that Star Wars: The Old Republic’s earnings are disappointing is a sign of something.  I expect less voiced content, if any, and more features like Galactic Starfighter, things that can boost cash shop sales.  Double credit if they use my droid battles idea from last year.

EA has taken the opposite tack with SWTOR and is pushing story and trying to force people to subscribe again.  I suppose that says something about the fickle nature of cash shops.  Zero points.

  • At Turbine, things will go as they have been for the last few years, with a slow retreat into its core money making items.  Asheron’s Call and Asheron’s Call 2 will go the way ofEverQuest Mac the first time they need an update for a vulnerability.  A WB exec will order the plug pulled before the end of 2015.  They will be gone along with the pipe-dream promise of running your own server.

I thought this one was in the bag at one point, with AC down for a few weeks.  But somebody fixed it in their spare time it seems.  Their days still feel numbered, but for now, zero points.

  • Likewise, it will be a slow year for Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online unless Infinite Crisis is a break-out success in the MOBA world.  It looks like it will be lining itself up against Heroes of the Storm, so that looks like a vain hope indeed.

Well, Infinite Crisis went down almost before it was actually live.  Content wise, it has been a slow year for Turbine.  On the LOTRO front we got a bit more of Middle-earth, but work seemed more focused on server merges and a new data center.  Still, that was more than I expected.  2 points.

  • Brad McQuaid, failing to find a reliable source of suckers funding, will throw in the towel on Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, leading wags to ask if this was supposed to be the rising part of the prophecy or if it was still part of the fall.

Brad soldiers on, continuing in his quest to relive 1999 yet again.  I just hope he has set his sites on a small target… a world that will feel alive with a few thousand people and a business model that will work for a similarly small number, because it just isn’t 1999 any more. Zero points.

  • Project: Gorgon will finally catch a break and gain traction via early access at Steam.  Some money will come in and allow development to move more quickly.

Well, I am going to declare a win on technicalities on this one.  Project: Gorgon did get green lit on Steam AND some money did come in… it just came in when the third Kickstarter attempt finally paid off.  For that I am claiming 8 points.

47 points out of 200 points possible.  Not a very good set of predictions.

No Shows

The other set from the predictions post was about which titles you might fully expect to ship in 2015, given past statements or promises given, which wouldn’t make it.  Those were five points each, pass/fail.

  1. Line of Defense
  2. Lord British’s Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtue
  3. Camelot Unchained
  4. World of Warships
  5. H1Z1
  6. Star Citizen
  7. EVE Valkyrie

Of that list, I think only World of Warships managed to go live in a form we would all agree upon.   Everything else on that list is still in some sort of alpha or early access or some form of not being actually done yet.  And of those that did not go live, EVE Valkyrie seems most likely to ship next, since it will be bundled with Occulus Rift when it ships.

The rest… I would be hard pressed to guess as to which one would actually cross the barrier and become a live, shipping, salable product.

Anyway, that gives me 30 out of 35 points there, for a total of 77 out of 235 overall.  Not a banner year for my guesses.  But that likely won’t stop me from making more when the new year comes again.

How did you do on your predictions?

What Future for Turbine after Infinite Crisis?

Unfortunately, as the MOBA market matured around us as we were building the game, we simply couldn’t find enough of an audience.

Floon, Infinite Crisis Art Director, quoted at Massively OP

InfiniteCrisisIt is one of those times when I hate to be right.  I was dubious that Turbine had the gravitas to get into the MOBA genre at this late date, and it turns out that they do not.  Turbine announced yesterday that they would be shutting down their entry into the MOBA market, the perhaps all-to-aptly named Infinite Crisis.  The statement on their site was terse.

After much deliberation, we regret to announce the official shutdown of Infinite Crisis. We will end development efforts today and will close the service on August 14, 2015.

The announcement was made all the more poignant as it came on the same day that Blizzard’s champion for the MOBA arena, Heroes of the Storm, officially went live. (And now I don’t have to do a post about that, having mentioned it here.  At least until I earn the pet from it.)

I hate to be right because, while I had no real interest in the game, its abject failure leaves me wondering where Turbine goes now?  As they invested their time and resources in Infinitie Crisis, they left Asheron’s Call and Asheron’s Call 2 on auto-pilot, neither charging to play the titles nor paying much attention to them.  So I doubt there is any more revenue to be had on that front.

Which leaves only two staples in the Turbine bag, Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online.

Not that either title is dead, but at least on the LOTRO front it feels like the game is well past its prime.  The producer’s letter for the title early this year felt short on enthusiasm for me.  Expansions were out the door, server merges were going to be a fact of life, and talk of a new data center could be a bright spin on further resource consolidation for all we know.  And then there was the insider insight in to the turmoil at Turbine that no doubt sank a few optimistic spins on how things were going at the studio.

The more recent producer’s letter spun more of the same items (monster play maps, server merges, data centers, a new store) and, while it brought tales of “major content initiatives” for 2015, complete with hints about Minas Tirith, details were sparse.  Dare we speculate on what a “surprising take on the siege of Gondor” will look like from Turbine?

Meanwhile the game has been monetized to about the maximum extent they can likely manage.  The once promising F2P model that Turbine offered, where you could earn the RMT currency in-game, has expanded and consumed all, like the very darkness of Mordor, so that there is a “buy now” button of one sort or another on nearly every dialog in game.

Then there is DDO, whose 2015 producer’s letter was much more upbeat, and which felt better adapted to the F2P market to start with, never having been a “worldly” game but rather more akin to the adventure module model like table top Dungeons & Dragons.  Still, as much post-F2P conversion success as Turbine can claim for the title, a lot of that has to do with how badly it fell over after launch.  Everything is up when you have hit rock bottom.

Those two titles, in whatever shape you wish to claim they are in, look to be all Turbine has for now.  Their investment in a MOBA has yielded naught and in order for them to start working on something new they will have to continue, to a certain extent, to neglect the products that are paying all the bills.

This is practically an every day Silicon Valley dilemma, where a start up gets success on one product, does well enough, but can never get that second success as the first eventually fades.  During that stage there can be a huge amount of tension between groups. One group will want to continue to focus on, enhance, and nurture the first product.  Another group will insist that the main focus must be on finding that second product, because they know the first can’t last forever.

I’ve seen some comments out there from people who, if not cheering the demise of Infinite Crisis, are happily assuming that its fall will mean more resources for LOTRO or DDO.  I suppose Turbine could go that route, hunker down and focus on current products and hope for the best.  However, that seems unlikely, as is spells eventual death for the organization.

To survive in the long term, Turbine will need a “next” product.  But what will it be?  They have shot their bolt with Asheron’s Call by making it free.  Likewise, they played the nostalgia card with Asheron’s Call 2, only to give up and make that one free as well.  Infinite Crisis is behind them.  I don’t know what else they can do with DDO, and LOTRO is likely too mired in F2P for Turbine to play any sort of premium retro-server sort of games, like Daybreak is doing with EverQuest and the Ragefire and Lockjaw servers, in order to boost revenue.

So it feels like they have to make something new.  But in which direction will they go and do they have the resources to go very far?  I have to imagine that, after Infinite Crisis, which was purported to be eating $4 million a month in expenses, their corporate masters at WB may be unlikely to write a check to fund any big new ventures.

Yes, they have an iOS app under way in the form of Batman: Arkham Underworld.   But that sounds almost like contract work, doing a knock-off version of another title just to collect a bit of reflected glory, and is unlikely to save the farm. 

Then there is the Game of Thrones based game, which sounds a bit like an RTS from the minimal description in that Eurogamer article from a couple months back.  But that is way out in the future.  Both entail working with somebody else’s IP… again… as well as sending the company further from its MMORPG roots.

If you were running Turbine, what would you do?  Is it time for them to give up on MMOs?

Quote of the Day – A Treasure Trove of Turbine Turmoil

LOTRO’s launches in Japan and Korea were so disappointing they were immediately and quite effectively brushed under the carpet and never spoken of again.

-Aylwen, LOTROCommunity forums

Well, if you were looking to kick Turbine while they were down, Massively Overpowered linked to some forum posts earlier that will both set the “down” scenario and give you plenty of targets to kick.

In fact, if there is some Turbine issue you want to pick at, you’ll probably find it.  Infinite Crisis as an ill-conceived disaster that is hemorrhaging money?  Check!  Self-destructive rivalries between groups?  Check!  F2P conversions that did not meet expectations despite the external hype? Check!  Cheaping out on expansions?  Check!  Blizzard induced paranoia?  Check!  Leadership problems and rampant self-deception?  Check!  Neglect from corporate overlords?  Check!

It is like Ikea!

Bad marketing ideas? Well, we had proof of that already, didn’t we?

I picked the quote at the top because that was an event I couldn’t even recall.

And while the author of these posts, a former Turbine employee, says he is not disgruntled, this does feel like an EA Louse-level event for Turbine, and I haven’t even gone through half of it yet.