Category Archives: Dungeons & Dragons Online

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.

And What of Another Middle-earth?

Turbine hasn’t been much of a standard bearer for the hopes of the future in MMOs over the last few years, or even for the hopes of their own long term success.  Their next game is a MOBA, being launched into a market where there is already a very dominate leader in League of Legends, and which doesn’t even seem likely to beat Blizzard’s MOBA to release.

Can’t even beat Blizzard?  Asheron wept!

In what looked like a sign of something happening, they brought back Asheron’s Call 2 back at the end of 2012, only to have both it and the original Asheron’s Call dropped into the MMO hospice care that is the free zone.  How many other free, can’t pay money even if you wanted to, MMOs are there out in the world?  There is Planet Side.  There WAS EverQuest: Macintosh Edition, but then the plug got pulled on that.  And what else is there?  And how long can we expect that situation to last?

I mean, Asheron’s Call had several competitors from back during its launch, and some of those are still around and making some money.  Ultima Online is being supported by Broadsword (along with Dark Age of Camelot), so it must be a producing asset for EA, since they shut stuff down as soon as the money dries up.  EverQuest is still getting new expansions and being milked by SOE.  And did you see where Lineage was on NCsoft’s revenue chart?

But AC and AC2… they are free and unsupported and, call me a pessimist, I think they will probably go away as soon as something breaks the client or somebody finds a vulnerability in their server code that requires an expensive update.

Which leaves the two money makers, Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeon’s & Dragons Online.

I would have called LOTRO the company flagship product up until the 2015 producer’s letters went out.  The DDO letter was full of exciting, new, and somewhat specific things, while the LOTRO version was much more vague and included bullet points about fixing bugs and closing servers.

Paralyzed with dread

How I felt about the Producer’s Letter at first read

Yes, those are things that need to be done.  But bugs are something they should be working on in any case.  And, while closing servers will doubtless benefit the remaining population of the game, it is a pretty clear reminder that the remaining population is running well below the peak they hit at the free to play conversion, when they put some new servers online.  I will be interested to see if the soon-to-be closed servers are made up mostly of those “new” servers or not.

Then there is Turbine itself, which generally opts to say nothing until it absolutely has to, and then comes out with something vague or ambiguous that only gets people riled up.  I mean, how many clarifications have there been to the LOTRO producer’s letter at this point?  And, in all of that, it took them more than a week to come out and say that transfers off of closed servers would be free.

That seemed like a key bit of information, and its absence from the producer’s letter felt like a huge oversight, while failing to respond to the immediate questions on that front was almost baffling, given how many other things got clarifications before Vyvyanne finally got around to that.  And yet, to judge by the reactions of those close to the game, this is better communication than they are used to.

I could go on.  There are plenty of other missteps I could catalog.  We haven’t even gotten into the game itself!

But I am sure the fans of the game are already starting to steam and consider me a hater.

Take a deep breath.

This is more of a Jeremy Clarkson piece.  If you watch Top Gear regularly, you may have noticed his style when he wants to praise a vehicle.  First he has to tear it down, listing out all the things going against it before getting to the “but,” where he tosses that aside and talks about the good things, the bits that ignite his passion.  Let’s head for that.

With all of those negatives, you might be wondering what the end game, so to speak, for LOTRO really is?  We are two years away from the expiration of the contract with Tolkien Enterprises that was announced back in 2008.  The original was good through 2014 with a pre-set extension to 2017.  Turbine announced in 2014, at the very last minute and only after many questions on the topic, that things were good until 2017.

But as we sit here today, you might reasonably ask if 2017 will be it, the end of the road for the game.  Doubly so as we have seen what happens to MMOs based around licensed IPs in the past.  That additional overhead, along with the plans and pretenses of the license holders, shut down The Matrix Online, Warhammer Online, and Star Wars Galaxies.

However, I think Lord of the Rings Online is going to make it past 2017 and be around for a while longer.  I don’t know if we will ever make it to Mordor, or if the game mechanics will become more of a mess, or if the cash shop will grow to consume all within its shadow, but there are two reason I think it won’t be done in 2017.  Well, three actually.

The first is that Turbine doesn’t have a lot of options, so they pretty much have to stick with LOTRO, which means that they will want to renew the contract.  Not much of an endorsement of the game itself, but that looks like the reality of the situation.  Turbine will be motivated to keep things going.

The second isn’t much of an endorsement either.

We are in something of a “post MMO” age.  MMOs were once a thing that, when you used that term, you knew what somebody meant.  The term has evolved in usage to the point that MMO means any online multiplayer game that can group together a few players.  Look at what gets lumped into the term these days.

SuperData 2014 YTD Numbers

SuperData names some MMOs…

I see World of Warcraft there.  That is what I would call an MMO.  But League of Legends?  World of Tanks?  Counter-Strike?  Freakin’ Hearthstone?

Anyway, in this post MMO age, where even the term has lost meaning, where the market is saturated, where there has been a couple of big winners and a host of followers scrambling for crumbs, the idea that Tolkien Enterprises is going to have a better offer from somebody who wants to make a Middle-earth MMO seems unlikely.

Yahoo Headlines

Back when MMOs were a thing…

Sure, there are people out there who would want to do it, developers and designers who would love to sink their teeth into Tolkien’s world and “do it right” or at least “do it better” than Turbine has managed.  And I am sure you could find a small crowd of fans who would cheer for such a game being announced.

But is anybody going to invest in such a venture?  Who is going to lay down the cash to fund a new MMO version of Middle-earth for 2018 or beyond?  And what would such a game even be like?  Sprawling, open world MMOs are not on an uptick currently.

Somebody will suggest that at least a new version of Middle-earth would “do free to play right.”

The problem is that LOTRO is doing free to play right.  There is no version of free to play that succeeds without a cash shop stocked with things players will actually buy and in your face reminders to buy those things.

It is like Ikea!

It is like Ikea!

So I do not think anybody is going to show up on the doorstep of Tolkien Enterprises with a wheelbarrow of cash and a desire to make the next Middle-earth MMO any time soon.  Certainly not in 2017.  The investment in such a project is too high, the returns too uncertain.  So Turbine, with the WB lawyers at the table, has a pretty strong case in the “Hey, at least we’re giving you some money on a regular basis!”  That is something.

Estimated Top Subscription MMO Revenue 2013

Estimated Top Subscription MMO Revenue 2013… see, money!

Also, Turbine has been pretty good to the lore… though with Tolkien Enterprises licensing LEGO Lord of the Rings, you have to ask where lore ranks in the grand scheme of things… so I do not think there is any strong desire on the part of the heirs of Dr. Tolkien to get the license out of Turbine’s hands.

Basically, LOTRO wins by default.  Not a huge endorsement, but it is something.

And LOTRO does have something else going for it.

For all of its foibles and missteps and questionable game mechanics and awkward character models and cash shop transgressions, Turbine has created a beautiful and unlikely to be duplicated any time soon vision of Middle-earth in the late third age.

This is Turbine’s ace when it comes to the Middle-earth license.  This is the big win, the payoff for playing the game, being able to travel through the places that made the story, being able to see The Shire, climb Weathertop, explore Moria, see Rivendell, cross the Midgewater Marsh, travel across the Lone Lands and the Trollshaws.

In fact, once of my many annoyances with the game is that their insta-level option only boosts you to level 50 and into Moria (2008 content), rather than putting you closer to the latest content and the bulk of the dedicate player base.  If I were going to buy a boost, I’d do it to see parts of the world I haven’t been to yet.  But I’ve already been to, and through, Moria.  It is great, but why would I pay to get yet another character there?

Anybody who comes after Turbine will have to compete with the world that was created for LOTRO.  Who is going to invest in such a landscape with so many off-the-beaten-track locations to explore in the age of the lobby MMO?  That we got such a world was an artifact at the time, when MMOs were seen as never-miss money machines that had to have virtual world aspects to them.  Who is going to want to have that hanging over their heads as they try to launch a new Middle-earth based MMO?

The Annuminas waterfront

The Annuminas waterfront

You cannot launch a new game without a constant stream of comparisons to World of Warcraft, how are people going to react to anything less than the vision of Middle-earth that Turbine has provided?

Then again, somebody tried to remake The Manchurian Candidate, so who knows what goes through people’s minds at times.

But I do not think, the way the industry stands right now, that anybody can get together both financing and a desire to remake (and be compared to) Turbine’s vision of Middle-earth.

Barring Turbine making some colossal blunder that wrecks the game and drives away its loyal following, I think it will find a way past the contract talks around 2017 and into at least a few more years online.  Or such was my view over the weekend.

You adventure in the Middle-earth you have, not the Middle-earth you may want.

Middle-earth in 2015

In my predictions for 2015 I did not have a lot to say about Turbine.  I basically called it as another slow year for Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeon & Dragons Online and expressed a good deal of skepticism that Turbine could pull off their idea of free versions of Asheron’s Call and Asheron’s Call 2 with WB looking over their shoulders.  Reality just won’t respect good intentions.

Then we got a couple of Producer’s letters from Turbine for 2015, which were enough to make me consider which game might be the big fish at the company.

Opposing the orcs and wargs of misfortune?

Opposing the orcs and wargs of misfortune?

The LOTRO Producer’s letter was short and, by their own admission, more than a little vague.  The six initiatives for the first half of 2015 listed out were:

  • Legendary Weapons: More bling for those at the level cap.
  • Fellowship Challenges: More small group content, though no mention if it will be new or recycled.
  • Episodic Content: I don’t think this means what it means in Guild Wars 2.  I read this more as “There will be no more big expansions, so this is how we’re going to move towards Mordor now.”
  • Quality of Life: When you have to add bug fixes to pad out your list, you might be reaching.  The letter literally says bugs, so this doesn’t sound like CCP’s type of quality of life changes.  It sounds like they’ll just bet getting to stuff that probably should have been fixed already.
  • Server Populations: They want to get everybody onto more populated servers.  This will involve closing some servers as well as hardware upgrades and location changes for remaining servers.  This was described as a “large and complicated process.”

That was fairly weak tea compared to the DDO Producer’s Letter which was all about new monsters, new storylines, new festivals, a new class, and more levels.  No bullet points for fixing bugs or closing servers there. (The DDO Producer’s letter didn’t get a spiffy graphic at the top to make it seem bigger either.)

I have always considered DDO to be LOTRO’s somewhat impoverished cousin… Turbine was willing to gamble on free to play with it first… but the tone of the two letters makes me wonder if that is the case.  Of course, DDO might just have a better producer… or at least one better at writing updates… than LOTRO.  But DDO certainly seemed to shine in this instance, whereas LOTRO felt a bid sad.

Still, some of what was said can be seen as encouraging.  The lack any further expansions and the limited scope of initiatives going forward might incline one to think that Turbine is just riding things out to 2017 when the current contract extension with Tolkien Enterprises comes to an end.

But does a company upgrade hardware and move servers… moving some back to Europe even… if it is just running down the clock and trying to milk the last few Turbine Points out of players?

The one thing that did sort of left me hanging on the whole server population front was how the transfers will be handled and, more specifically, will they be free?

I mean, my gut says that if a company closes my server so that I have to move to another one in order to play, of course that transfer is going to be free.

But it also seems like an obvious reassurance that a community manager might give as part of a message where they mention closing servers but not doing server merges… at least by the second clarification.  I appreciate them saying they want to make this as seamless as possible, but if such moves are anything but free, prepare for an explosion.  Not heading off that speculation now is only going to cause the pot to boil on other topics.

Anyway, the future is not certain.  We shall see how this plays out.  But if you want to enjoy Middle-earth some more, it might be wise to follow Roger Edward’s advice in his look at the LOTRO Producer’s Letter; live in the moment and play the game now.

Other blogs posting about this:

The 2015 List – A New Year Brings New Predictions

Hey, it’s 2015!

A graphic with the number 2015 on it!

A graphic with the number 2015 on it!

And as happens with the change of the calendar around here, it is time for some forward looking silliness that I can evaluate at some point 11 months or more down the road, giving me something of a framework for what really happened versus what I predicted.  There is, at this point, a history of this, which you can find at the links below.

Since I squandered my free time before the new year playing video games rather than writing about them, this will be an even more hasty, pulled from my posterior end list than usual.

Predictions

For scoring purposes, predictions are worth 10 points each unless otherwise noted and partial credit is possible.  Remember, I am taking a stab at what might happen, not listing out what I want to happen.  The latter would be a very different list indeed.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • BlizzCon will also see the announcement of a new expansion for Diablo III, breaking the “one expansion” trend for Diablo games.
  • Heroes of the Storm will go live, at last, after BlizzCon.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Also on the SOE front, Dragon’s Prophet will get the axe in 2015 and some new Asian import will get its chance.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 of EverQuest 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

No Shows in 2015

A quick list of titles I do not think will ship in 2015, with “ship” being defined as no longer in beta or otherwise restricted or branded as being in development.  These are worth 5 points each and are pretty much pass/fail.  Things either go live or they do not.

  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

That gives me a total of 200 points in the first category and 35 points in the second for a total of 235 points.  We’ll see how I did in about a year.

Other Predictions

Elsewhere in the blogesphere others are making their own predictions, which are probably more rational than my own.  I will link those I find below:

Quote of the Day – The Magic of Turbine

I admire turbine, they took perhaps the most well known IPs in fantasy and managed to make them small niche mmo

Scott Rankin, in a tweet

Isn’t that just a sarcastic stab at the heart of the truth?  And there is a whole trail of tweets on the topic if you click on the link.

When you think about it, Dungeons & Dragons and Lord of the Rings are huge IPs and ought to be cash cows if you made a decent game.

I cannot speak for Dungeons & Dragons Online, which has never clicked with me, but I really like and have enjoyed Lord of the Rings Online throughout the years.  Getting a lifetime subscription back at launch was one of my best gaming purchases.  It probably even offsets the tragic mistake of buying that Star Trek Online lifetime subscription.

And the landscape of Middle-earth looks so good in LOTRO and there are so many excellent features… I can go on and on about the music feature alone.

Music... and Anderson Cooper

Music… and Anderson Cooper

But I have to admit that things are not perfect.  The interface is still not as responsive as it ought to be nearly seven years down the road, the icons are still poor representatives of the actions they trigger, and every time I see the message, “Item use succeeded” I want to do a facepalm.  Good debug message for a programmer, not something that should be displayed in the game.  And then there is the cash shop.

And with further expansions off the table for now and layoffs and uncertainty as to what will happen between now and 2017, you really cannot help but think that things could have gone better.

Yahoo Headlines

Such promise…

I was a lot more hopeful a year back.

Great Moments in Exploits – The Ressurection

There were corpses all around the great fountain in Waterdeep.

Not that there aren’t usually a corpse or three sitting around there, preserved and waiting for a resurrection.  There was one there even as I started to write this.

Another day in Waterdeep

Another day in Waterdeep

But this different.  This was a lot of corpses.  And they were all from the same player who, I recalled, was a high level barbarian warrior.

Even as I stood there pondering the corpses the warrior, whose name I cannot recall all these years later, entered the room and attacked the elite guard.  He was killed almost immediately and another corpse joined the pile.

This went on for a while, the corpse count growing, while several of us pondered what he was up to.  Was this an attempt at an epic rage quit?  Was he working on some sort of corpse based art project?  Was this some sort of science project?

After a while, with many corpses on the ground, he gave up and went away.  Somebody was casting preserve on the corpses so that they would not rot and disappear as quickly, but otherwise we had a bunch of empty player corpses and some speculation about what had just happened.

As it turned out, of our possible answer, the last one turned out to be correct.  It was MUD science in action.

The player in question had apparently discovered that, in the character database, the key unique value for any character was the character’s name, as opposed to some unique never-seen number.  And why not?  Names were supposed to be unique in the world.  So what linked anything in the world to your character… equipment, corpses, money… was your character’s name.

The player had also discovered that when you die, part of the information saved with the corpse was how much experience it should restore to you if you received a resurrection.  When you died, you lost 25% of the experience of your current level.  If you got a successful ress, about 80% of that lost experience was returned to you.

And, finally, the player had noticed that when you deleted a character, any corpses that character left behind remained in the game.  The corpses were not tied to the character but were just objects in the world related to the character only because they were flagged with the character name.

Do you see where I am going with this?

So the player had taken his level 50 barbarian warrior, a somewhat common sort of character in the game and one of the easier classes to get up to level 50, and turned it into a pile of experience laden corpses strewn about the streets of Waterdeep.

The player then deleted what remained of that character, leaving the corpses behind.

The player then rolled up a new character, an enchanter, one of the most in-demand and difficult to level classes in the game.  He gave this character the same name as the warrior he had just deleted.  This character and name was approved by the admins… the naming rules were rigorously enforced by the people who ran TorilMUD… sort of… and this fresh level 1 enchanter entered the world.

This newly minted magic user made his way to Waterdeep, where a friendly cleric began resurrecting the corpses left behind by the old character.  And it worked.  The enchanter leveled up rapidly with each resurrection.  The enchanter did not make it to level 50, or even level 40 if I recall right, but he got far enough into the level curve to get past the awkward “got no spells” and “got no useful spells” points in his career and straight into the “I have key spells that make me useful to a group” zone, wherein he could expect to find experience groups easily and be able to make his way to the level cap with some diligence.

Experiment success!

Except, of course, for the whole part where he got caught almost immediately by the game admins.

The admins get a little message every time somebody levels up if they have the right feed turned on.  So while I understand that the player in question waited until no admins were visible online, there were a couple on that were hidden.  And they swooped down on him right away.

Now, this did not happen in the bad old days, when he likely would have been banned for life from ever playing TorilMUD.  There was a time when the admins would ban whole blocks of IP addresses just to rid themselves of one person, occasionally screwing over somebody else in the process.  But he had still be caught red-handed using an exploit to his own advantage.  He lost his new enchanter, all his experience, and probably some equipment along the way.  He was no doubt put on probation and might have even been given a temporary ban.  But if I recall right, they did not actively seek to ban him for life or burn down his house or anything that might have happened if he had tried this in the early to mid 90s.

And, shortly thereafter, a fix went in that wiped out any corpses remaining in the world when you deleted a character.

Or so I recall.

That is the rub here.  This happened nearly a decade ago.  I was not directly involved.  Everything I heard at the time was second or third hand and might have included a fair amount of speculation being passed off as fact.  And, of course, my own memory might have enhanced the tale as well.  The details might be totally out of alignment with what actually happened, and if you know something, feel free to correct me in the comments.

The essence of the tale is true though.  Somebody got their character killed repeatedly, saved the corpses, deleted the character, created a new character with the same name, and received repeated resurrections that rapidly leveled up the new character.  And I was around for bits of the whole thing.  Well, at least the killing and corpses bit.

And the whole event certainly does say something about players.  I am sure that this is covered somewhere in Raph Koster’s list of Laws of Online World Design.

I had actually forgotten about this event in TorilMUD history.  I was only reminded of it when I read Psychodhild’s post about the reincarnation game mechanic in Dungeons & Dragons Online.  That trigger the memory of somebody really attempting to recycle a character in order to bring it back as something new.

Which brings up the question if players ought to be allowed to do something with level cap characters that they do not play any more.  Could you use that as a re-roll mechanism that bestowed some benefit or which acted as a gate to new content for another run to level cap?

The 2013 List – This Time it is Goals

At the beginning of every year I write a post about the upcoming 12 months.  Sometimes it is silly predictions.  Sometimes my predictions are even correct, but not very often.  I have made demands.  I have asked questions.  Here is the story so far:

Now it is time for the 2013 version of my yearly post.

2013

This year I think I am going to set goals, which is just another way of drawing some marks in the sand to measure what happened when the year finally comes to a close.

1- Finish Rift

Well, finish Rift for a specific definition of “finish.”  MMOs are designed to never truly be finishable and Rift, with all its possible class builds, especially so.

In this case, it means hitting the level cap and running all of the five person instances with my main character, Hillmar, and the rest of the regular group.  And, just to put another parameter in the mix, I would like to see this happen before the inevitable Summer hiatus when we head out for vacations and other distractions.

2- Find a new goal in EVE

2012 was about learning to live in null sec and flying in large fleet operations.  There were large wars going on throughout most of the year and I flew all over null sec in fleet ops.  Now, however, things have quieted down.  There was no “Winter Break War” as there was last year and the prospect of any big conflict seems pretty remote right now.  We have been effectively ordered to not do anything that might result in the CFC having to deal with any more sovereignty.

Which puts me out of a job.

So I am in training mode with a little bit of ratting and selling now and again.  That can be lucrative, but it is also dull, as is mining.  (Though I hear from Gaff that with the new NPC AI, he has to actually tank all his mining ships as the rats now change targets.   And they pop drones without mercy, making drones pretty much useless for mission running and the like. So mining is dull AND annoying now!)

There are some things I could train up.  There are a few decent guides on planetary interaction out there, if I wanted to add that do my EVE resume.  There are some player skills I could work on, like scanning.  I am hopeless at scanning at the moment and, historically, every time I make an effort to figure it out, CCP changes how it works.

But as for what would essentially be a new vocation in EVE, I do not have a plan… or even a general direction.  It might be time to go back to that chart.

3- Get to Tier IX in World of Tanks

This is something of a vague goal, as I do not really have my eye on any specific Tier IX tank in WoT.  For now the Soviet heavy tanks seem to be my favorites, followed by the German tank destroyers.  But who knows, I might be mad for French self propelled guns or get the itch to nip about the field of battle in one of those Cromwells.  And then there is the Chinese tank line coming along soon.  Or so they say.

Anyway, barring any dramatic need to start up on another branch of the tree, Tier IX ought to be an obtainable goal even with my somewhat sporadic play schedule.  I just need some focus.

Good luck on that.

4- Finish that Second Instance Group Video

Almost a year back I put together a video about the first year of the regular instance group in World of Warcraft.  Fun stuff.  I like to go back and watch that video now and again.  Not quite as emotionally evocative as Sayonara Norrath, but a lot closer to home.

Originally I was going to make a video about our whole experience, but that was a huge project, so I cut it back to just the first year with the idea that I would do one for each of our six… headed into seven… years.

But while the first year was a good plan (for me at least) as it gets our origin, how do you distinguish it from year two, three, four, and so on?  So I decided I needed another specific subject.

I chose our time in Wrath of the Lich King for the next video.  I even started in on the long job of reviewing and editing pictures.  WotLK was the pinnacle of the instance group in WoW, where we finally got our act together.  It was also our downfall, the last happy time in WoW.  We got good at the game only to find that it isn’t that much fun when you are good.  When you are a random, badly equipped group running comedy specs in the wrong roles, every boss kill is a major victory.  When you are geared appropriately, using the right spec, and playing your role correctly, it starts to become a matter of just figuring out the gimmick for any given boss.

Archaedas was exaltation.  By the time we hit King Ymiron, he was just another boss on the long list.

Still, those were good times and set a standard of effort and fun that Cataclysm couldn’t match.  And it was a nice, discreet time frame.  We were there the day the expansion launched through to finishing off the last instance.

Piece of cake to put it together, right?

Except I cannot find the right music.  I need that to inspire me.  Earl’s rendition of Eleanor Rigby, with its twangy sounds and great mix of nostalgia and irony (all the lonely people indeed!) really moved me to finish the first video.  But I have not found the right music to get me excited to finish this video yet.  What will capture Northrend and the instance group, our travels, our defeats, and our victories?

So really my goal is really to find the right music.  We shall see if I can get there.

5- Retry an MMO That Didn’t Stick

There are a number of MMOs out there which I have tried and let drop after some effort.  For one reason or another the games just did not hold my attention or otherwise compel me to keep moving forward.

There are a number of options for this goal.  Possibilities include Vanguard, Dungeons & Dragons Online, Star Trek Online, Runes of Magic, Warhammer Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and probably a few more I have forgotten.  Pirates of the Burning Sea maybe!

The trick here of course is to find a game where whatever made me stop playing has either been changed/fixed or was something that I have since changed my mind about.  And that, in turn, is something of a function of the time that has passed since I last played the game.

SWTOR, for example, is just a year gone by, and I did not like blaster combat or having dialog forced on my character. The former probably hasn’t changed, while the latter is the vaunted “fourth pillar” that was going to distinguish the game, so it seems like unlikely that I am going to like the game any more than I did the first time around.

At the other end of the spectrum is Vanguard, which I haven’t really played since late beta, and which I only recall as being an ugly, lagging, broken, resource hog of a game that was clearly not ready for prime time.  Six years down the road it is possible they may have addressed some of those issues.

6- Scout for the Next Instance Group Game

With the downfall of WoW as our default game, it has become an ongoing task to scout for the next game we might try.  We are currently settled in Rift, but since the first goal on my list is to “finish” Rift before the Summer hiatus, it seems likely that we will need something new come the end of vacation.

As always, the usual parameters are in place.  It must have content that caters to groups of five or six people.  It has to work for a variety of play time budgets. (Some of us will play all week long, others will only play on group night.)  It has to have content that we can enjoy in our standard “three hours on a Saturday night” parameter.   And it has to be something that we can all buy into.

There are a lot of options out there, even discounting things some of us have already played.  I think that, as a group, we might find a month or two of fun in PlanetSide 2.  Four of us would probably find Need for Speed: World or World of Tanks good fun, but I am not sure about all five.  And there are candidates from both the previous and the next goal that are possibilities.  Picking one though and getting everybody to download and commit, that can be a challenge.

7- Book My Autumn Nostalgia Tour Early

Every autumn I get the urge to go back and play some game from my past.  Sometimes it is EverQuest or TorilMUD.  This past year is was EverQuest II.  And given my long time attachment to the games, you can probably put WoW and Lord of the Rings Online on the list of potential candidates.

The thing is, the urge tends to hit me rather suddenly and I run off, play for the requisite month or so solo, then the urge tapers off and I am pretty much done. (Pro Tip: Always subscribe month-to-month for nostalgia based events.)

But while this is often fun, it is usually a lot more fun if I can get Gaff or Potshot in on the tour.  Nostalgia is a meal best served family style or some such.  So if I can just peer into the future and maybe decide on my target, we can get together on the plan and have a great time.  The thing is, which game?  Do I book a room in old Qeynos for the rainy season, or is the Forsaken Inn a more likely holiday spot?

8- Blog Stuff

Often when I look at the future, I will tack on something about “playing more and writing less.”  Over time though, this has increasingly looked like nonsense.  Writing here on the blog is clearly part of the process of playing games… or at least online games… for me.  The writing, the remembering, the picking of screen shots, and the clicking of the “publish” button are all part of the package.

So my goal for the blog is pretty much “stay the course.”  And maybe find a new theme.  Though I have been saying that for about six years and I am still using the same WordPress theme that I had on day one.

So those are my goals for 2013.  Not very exciting.  We shall see how they play out.

How does 2013 look to you?  And any ideas for music for that video?