Category Archives: entertainment

The Elder Scrolls Online – No Subscription Required

I mentioned a while back that The Elder Scrolls Online was ditching their subscription required business model and heading down one of the various paths to free game access.  Well, that date arrived this week, overshadowed a bit by St. Patrick’s day I suppose.  I got a note via email pitching the new tagline for the game, Tamriel Unlimited.

TESONoSub

And so it was that the reality of the current MMO market overcame some of their initial guiding principles, such as:

The fact that the word “monetized” exists points to the heart of the issue for us: We don’t want the player to worry about which parts of the game to pay for – with our system, they get it all.

-Matt Firor, General Manager of ZeniMax Online, on the original subscription model choice

Things will now be “monetized” in Tamriel, the world in which The Elder Scrolls Online is played.  The newly added Crown Store will sell cosmetic and convenience items and additional content added to the game will need to be purchased unless you choose to maintain the optional subscription.  And, of course, you still need to buy the box in order to play, something that will no doubt stay in place at least until sales of the upcoming PlayStation and Xbox versions of the game taper off.

No "separate but equal" message in this picture...

No “separate but equal” message in this picture…

All of which isn’t to say that this is not the right decision for the game.  There was certainly some skepticism about TESO going with the subscription model back when they announced it in late 2013.  They seemed to be bucking the trend, heading in a direction that proved false for so many games before it.  And, as it turns out, they didn’t even last a year, having dropped the subscription model just shy of the April 4th launch anniversary.

And now we shall see what happens.  The market is still crowded with competitors and dropping the subscription model is not a guaranteed key to success.  In just the last month or so we have had a look into the turmoil at Turbine, we have seen the newly minted Daybreak Gaming Company shed a lot of staff because its games could not support their financial weight, and just yesterday there were headlines about Perfect World Entertainment cutting staff as well due to financial issues.

Free won’t wash away your sins.

Anyway, TESO still has a few cards in its hand.  It can still get revenue from box sales and it has the two console versions headed to market this June.  It may not have to monetize every nook and cranny with a button to buy something, as happened in LOTRO.

All that said, I still remain convinced that the best case scenario for Bethesda was to create a four (or more) player co-op successor to Skyrim so that people could roam the wide world with a few friends… Tamriel always struck me as a large and lonely place… maybe even with a Minecraft-style private server option where you could control the setting and apply mods.  That, to me, was the winning hand.

Get Meganium, Typhlosion, and Feraligatr By Subscribing to Pokemon Bank

Nintendo has an offer up that will allow you to get the fully evolved versions of the starter Pokemon from Pokemon HeartGold & SoulSilver, each with a bonus special ability.  All you have to do is be up-to-date with Pokemon Bank.

Pokemon, with banking logo

Pokemon, with banking logo

Nintendo giving people special Pokemon… even starter Pokemon from past games… isn’t a new thing.  They have been doing it since the most primitive networking days of the GameBoy.  I wrote about a download even for the Pokemon Black & White starter Pokemon just about a month back.  (That event is still active, so don’t miss your chance.)

What makes this event ever so slightly different is that rather than being just a promotion for the installed base, it is really a subscriber bonus that is showing up at just about the time people will need to resubscribe.

Subscriptions?  Resubscribe?  In Pokemon?

Well, yes… at least with Pokemon Bank.

Pokemon Bank is an online service for the Pokemon franchise.  It was put in place to allow users to move Pokemon between versions of the game without having to have two Nintendo DS/DSi/3DS hardware units (OMG, solo play wins out over social again!) and to give players a place to store Pokemon beyond the limits of any particular game.

All you had to do was get your Pokemon into Pokemon Black & White or Pokemon Black Version 2 & White Version 2 via the old fashioned method in place since Pokemon Diamond & Pearl.

From that point you could then use the special Pokemon Transporter application on your Nintendo 3DS to send your Pokemon on a one way trip out of the DS/DSi generations of the series and into the 3DS generation and Pokemon Bank.

Pokemon Bank - $5.00 a year

Pokemon Bank Process

Once in Pokemon Bank any 3DS generation version of Pokemon could withdraw or deposit your Pokemon.  I wrote about running Pokemon through the process back in September, if you want more detail on it.

The thing of it is that, in order to fund this service and keep it a viable, ongoing proposition for Nintendo, they charge a yearly subscription fee for it.  For the princely sum of $5.00 you get a year’s worth of access to Pokemon Bank.

And, as I mentioned a little ways up the post, Pokemon Bank has been out for a little more than a year now, so that first year’s subscription has started running out for the early adopters.  Faced with this, Nintendo could either send out nagging reminders asking people to re-up for another year of Pokemon Bank or, I suppose, they could just put out a special offer only available to those who have active Pokemon Bank accounts.

Well played Nintendo, well played.

All you have to do is log into Pokemon Bank between February 27, 2015 and November 30, 2015, at which point you will then be able to download the special Pokemon.  Details about the even are available here.

Meanwhile, Nintendo is tentatively glancing in the direction of smart devices like iPads and such, while still vocally sticking to its long tradition of control over both software and hardware.

Sweet Sixteen for Norrath

It was sixteen years ago today that I picked up a copy of EverQuest at Fry’s on my way home to work, only to get completely hooked on the game almost immediately.

EverQuestHere it is, many years, many changes, and twenty one expansions down the road and thinking about that first evening of discovery still strikes a chord within me.

I haven’t played the game by any definition of the word for over a year now, but I still might at some future date, if Daybreak takes a run at another round of progression servers.

So, without much to say, I’ll point you at Bhagpuss who is reliving some EverQuest moments in Neverwinter, thanks to Tipa’s hard work.

Of course, if you are still actively playing EverQuest, there are a whole series of events going on for the anniversary.

Meanwhile, Back in Azeroth

I haven’t written much of late about actually play World of Warcraft.  That hasn’t been due to a lack of play time really.  It is more a lack of doing anything worth writing about, a problem of sorts that I lay directly on the cumulative doorsteps of the five garrisons I have running right now.

The Draenor Contestants

My five garrison characters, pre-Draenor

Seriously, when I log in and go through each character, collecting all their work orders, checking all their buildings, doing all the harvesting, upgrading follower equipment and then sending them out on new missions, and then finally go through the various daily pet battles to continue work on my pet army, I am about done with time on an average weeknight.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  At least Blizzard has given me a reason to log in every day to check on things, but sometimes days go by before I do anything besides garrison maintenance.

But occasionally I do get out and do things.

I did, for example, run Alioto through the gnomish section of Spires of Arak in order to finally pick up the level 1 plans for the Salvage yard.  I am what, four months late in doing that?  And then when I found out you get a follower as well when you finish that chain I started pushing the rest of the Draenor crew through it.  I think only Trianis is left.

The instance group has not been completely idle either.  I see Earl, Skronk, and Ula on regularly, no doubt tending to their own garrisons and working on alts as well.

We also went out and did the Iron Docks as a group… like five times already.

Flushing out all the NPCs in the Iron Docks

Flushing out all the NPCs in the Iron Docks

It is kind of a neat instance.  There are several interesting mechanics that you have to learn as you move through the whole thing, so there was some trial and error, which is always good.  There is at least some satisfaction in figuring things out.

But once we figured things out the whole thing was pretty easy in normal mode.  Easy enough that the first two times we ran the instance Ula was not feeling well so we ran it as a foursome.

And, as an at-level four person party, we beat it on our first run through.  Granted, we died a lot as we learned the mechanics, but once we figured things out the fights were not all that tough.  So after our first run through as a team of four, we did it again.

Then the next time we were one, we ran it three more times with Ula in tow.  We did it that many times because, by that point, the run was pretty quick and because she was level 93 still and Blizzard decreed way back in Pandaria that you cannot even walk into a dungeon, much less enter it through the Dungeon Finder, unless you meet the minimum level requirements.  Heaven help the nanny state.

So our last couple of runs through we tried to maximize experience by killing every mob we would find.  We even tried to take on that big open area that you roll the giant iron wheels through to clear.  We did well on the periphery, but the big mass in the center overwhelmed us, so we rolled one wheel through to thin that out and then cleared the rest.

Of course, part of the problem is that Tistann and Earl are both over-equipped.

Tistann with the big gun and the big pet

Tistann with the big gun and the big pet

Tistann has the full upgraded purple engineer’s gun and a couple of the item level 630 crafted pieces, while Earl has a Garrosh heirloom weapon and level 630 pieces of his own.  So we have way more DPS than anybody would ever need to take on instances at level 94.  That advantage will get pared back as we level up, but right now we are OP.

If we were a more active group, I might even suggest we all just drive for the level cap and work on the heroic versions of all of these instances.  I am just not sure we are that active.

Still, we have conquered the normal mode version of the Iron Docks.

The instance group in the Iron Docks

The instance group in the Iron Docks

And then there was the whole 6.1 patch thing, which I have not yet begun to explore in any depth.  Garrisons keeping me busy and all that.

I was happy with how the heirloom changes turned out.  While Blizz warned us that we might need to log on and dig through every character’s bank in order to get all of the heirlooms we socked away over the years to show up in the new heirloom tab, mine seemed to all get picked up automatically.  I still logged everybody in all the same… that was kind of interesting to go visit some old characters… but it wasn’t really necessary.

All told I had 19 heirlooms, which was enough for three achievements.

HeirloomAchiI then turned around and went to the guild vendor in Stormwind and the heirloom vendor in Ironforge and filled out some missing slots by buying a pile of the now readily available for gold level 1-60 heirlooms.

I then used Darkmoon Faire tickets and ancestral coins from the Lunar Festival to upgrade some key heirlooms that I just bought, and which I thought might be useful in the near future, to the level 1-90 versions so I can drive some alts straight to Draenor when the time is ripe.

Blizzard figured out a way to get me to participate in holiday events again.

I mentioned my 2006 vintage Orc Hunter Garnatz as the prime candidate to get me a Horde version of the Garrison thing, because I clearly need more freakin’ garrisons!  Well, he is heirloomed up the butt to level 90 now.  I can have a whole army of forgotten and idle… but well equipped… alts now.

And, finally, I did take the obligatory selfie with the new camera.

Vikund in his garrison

Vikund in his garrison

So that is about all the news I have from Azeroth of late.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go attend to my followers.  Some of them might be idle!!!

Does Crowfall Have a Mid-Game Plan?

So the Crowfall Kickstarter campaign has passed the halfway point and they sit at just over $1.1 million with over 12,000 backers.

Crofall13DaysLeft

They made it to their goal of $800,000 13 days ago and, since then, the fundraising has flagged some.  You can see that in the charts over at Kicktraq.

Daily pledges and backers

Daily pledges and backers

And that is totally expected.  A good campaign builds up interest and comes out of the gate strong.  A campaign that appears to be a winner is easier to back.  But once the goal has been met and the invested base for the game has backed you, it is time to move to the next stage.  The fight moves to the mid-campaign doldrums where a two pronged attack is required.

The first prong is to work the installed base.  People who gave you money already, who believe in you, are the most likely group to give you more money.  One way to get that is with good stretch goals.  So far Crowfall has underwhelmed me with their stretch goals.  They are not horrible, but they aren’t things that would get me to kick in an extra nickel.  And, while that is my subjective view of them, you have to admit that the announcement of those stretch goals hasn’t exactly set the pledge rate on fire.

The second path is the provide more backer tiers as part of the campaign that add new benefits that will get your invested followers to up their ante.   The campaign has a lot of people in the $30-$60 tiers.  About now they should be rolling out a new tier in one of the gaps they left in the dollar amounts… something at the $80 or $115 level maybe… that includes something really special, and in-game item that will set players apart or some such to get those at a lower level to boost their pledge.   You can give it to everybody above that level, no problem, but you want to bring up the average pledge.

Wait, what?

What would get me to give more?

The second prong of attack is to start the publicity drive to get people who haven’t even heard about the campaign… and, in this, you and I and most of the backers are the weirdos who pay attention to this sort of thing, most of the potential Crowfall players haven’t heard a thing about the game yet… to drive fresh backers to the table.

This… hasn’t done much so far.  I saw that Gordon Walton did a YouTube interview with long-time illicit RMT baron Markee Dragon.  And somewhere I saw Todd Coleman quoted about being surprised that they hit their $800,000 goal as quickly as they did and something else where he said some practical things about stretch goals.  But all of that is sort of playing to the installed base.  I mean, if you know who freakin’ Markee Dragon is, you’re already flagged as the odd duck, and while those Todd Coleman bits were interesting, they only seemed to play in the narrowly focused MMO press.

What the campaign needs is the big interview at some place like EuroGamer which, despite its failings, does get a lot of page views and does seem to be one of the sites that the mainstream press actually deigns to notice.  Of course, to get that, and to get enough buzz for the mainstream press to throw you a bone, there needs to be a story that contains some drama.

I previously suggested a tell-all, what-went-wrong interview about SWTOR or Shadowbane or something along those lines.  Everybody loves to watch somebody confess their sins and admit their hubris and announce how their new and humbled selves have come through all of that wiser and better able to make a great game.  They don’t have to go full-on Lord British nuts, but there needs to be a story beyond “Hey, we have a Kickstarter!” to get two second/third tier famous names from a niche genre in the gaming industry a front page story.

And I know I have said all of this before.  But that was in the theoretical, when the need for this sort of thing was still a future possibility.  Now though the trend is clear, the numbers are in the doldrums, the rubber has hit the metaphorical road, and while the little bit they have done seems to have generated a small bump in interest, there has been no big mid-campaign surge in activity.

As I said before, I think they could easily hit $2 million and beyond in this campaign if they could find the right mid-game message.  I am just waiting to see if they can do it.

What do you think would work?

Has Rift Only Been Around for Four Years?

I ask because in my gut it feels like Rift has been around longer, that it has joined the pantheon of elder games, that it has traveled a long, long road to get where it is today.

I think Rift has just lived life at an accelerated pace, having gone through various stages of its existence at a run.  I mean, we had the game show up and receive accolades in beta.  Then there was the “aimed straight at World of Warcraft” marketing campaign just as WoW subscription numbers were flagging.

No, not Azeroth!

No, not Azeroth!

David “Triple-A and Here To Stay” Reid was quick to claim that those missing citizens of Azeroth were swarming into Telara, boasting of the game having one million subscribers… I mean customers… or maybe it was just a million boxes sold.

Meanwhile, the open beta finished up and the game went live to the immediate cries that the game was better in beta, thus punching that ticket on the game’s journey.  No transition to live is complete without that!

Then there was the inevitable “dumbing down” and solo play focus, the initial drop in subscribers and server consolidation, the Raptr deals, and a raft of updates and features like mentoring and instant adventures.

That rolled into the first expansion, Storm Legion, which seemed to be missing some element that made the original game so compelling.  I ran four characters to level 50 but couldn’t bring myself to get those next ten levels.  Something just didn’t click.  Maybe bigger isn’t necessarily better.

Storm Legion so far

About as far as I got in Storm Legion

After the expansion failed to bring subscriptions back to the game’s peak, there was the inevitable descent into the free to play model.

RiftFreeThat changed things.  There were no more individual vendors, just a store window you could invoke to purchase things with the various currencies available.

Welcome to every store in the game

Welcome to every store in the game

Free, being a price anybody can theoretically afford, brought a pile of players back, but every surge tide must ebb at some point.  The server count was reduced again, the game shut down in China, and Trion closed its office in San Diego.

The game carried on.  A new expansion, The Nightmare Tide, was announced and Trion joined the insta-level craze, allowing players to boost a character to level 60, effectively past the Storm Legion expansion.  Somewhere along the line Trion decided that they needed to compete with Steam and Origin and forced their Glyph game service on all of their customers.  I mean, even EA had the good sense not to force Origin on their SWTOR customers.  Anyway, the Glyph requirement, along with Trion’s cavalier attitude to what they feel they can install (but not uninstall) on my computer, now pretty much blocks my ever returning to Rift or trying any other game they might publish.

Such is life.

Still, it wasn’t a bad game.  For a season or three it served as a home to our regular group, giving us a place to play during our crisis of confidence with Blizzard and World of Warcraft.  We enjoyed our time there, adapting as the game changed beneath us.

Freemarch before us

Freemarch before us

That was enough to put Rift at the top of the list of games I spent time playing in 2012. (It fell well down the list in 2013 and, if Raptr publishes a report for me for 2014, it likely won’t be visible at all.)

All of that in four years.  It hardly seems possible.  It is like a compressed timeline of the genre in a way, having passed through so many familiar phases.

Anyway, the team at Trion has put together an infographic about the game to celebrate four years of Rift.  A crop of the very top of the 976×7223 pixel document is below.  Clicking on it will bring up the whole thing.

Top of the Rift Infographic

Top of the Rift Infographic – Note “pretty” race bias

More than a billion quests completed and nearly a quarter of a billion rifts closed in four years.

At this point the game has probably hit that foreign country status for me… more so than other, much older games such as EverQuest II.  Too much has probably changed at this point and I hadn’t even finished up what was on my plate before I left.  But it was fun while it lasted.