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Quote of the Day – Never Shutting Down EverQuest April 2, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, EverQuest Next, Sony Online Entertainment.
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EverQuest and EverQuest II? We hope they never die. We have no intention of ever shutting those games down.

-David Georgeson, interview at IGN

I was just picking on Georgeson this week because of a quote from a year back about the idea that MMOs should never die.  Of course, this week we saw SOE shut down two of them, Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures and Free Realms.

CWA is understandable.  That was a tie-in with a TV show and clearly had an expiration date.  But Free Realms, that was all SOE’s to do with as they pleased.  Ah well.

Still, I am more likely to take him at face value when it comes to talking about the EverQuest franchise, the bedrock on which SOE rests.  SOE without Free Realms is still SOE.  SOE without EverQuest though?  I am not sure that is an actual thing that can survive in our universe.  We’re fifteen years in and the game is still playable and getting new content.

Valmont Mounted

My new char, 15 years into the game

So EverQuest forever and all that.  At least I expect to see EverQuest hit 20.

But I still wonder how things will play out once we have EverQuest Next in the house… probably about when EverQuest hits 20 if we keep getting updates about it at the current rate.

Two EverQuests on the scene I can fathom, but three?

I suppose it depends on what the plan is.  I am pretty sure SOE figured people would move from EverQuest to EverQuest II and they would shut that down in a couple of years.  Instead, people either stayed with EverQuest because they were invested or, as like as not, ended up in WoW.

Is EverQuest Next expected to coexist with its two direct predecessors?  Given recent history, how long can that last?  And who goes into the night first?

Maybe they can recreate EverQuest on the EverQuest Next platform.  You can say that it won’t be the same, but when has EverQuest ever stayed the same for long in the last 15 years?

Is PvP a Requirement for All MMOs? February 24, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, MMO Design, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, World of Warcraft.
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28 comments

One of my gripes about the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter campaign was about PvP.

PvP was a stretch goal, but I was annoyed that it was on the list in any form at all.  The promise of Pantheon seemed, to me at least, to be getting back to a difficult and dangerous PvE world that required grouping to take on.  The early days of EverQuest were invoked in this regard.  For a game being made by a small team that declared it was not trying to be “all things to all people,” the mention of PvP seemed like a step in that very direction.

And you should not get me wrong on this.  I am not saying there shouldn’t be PvP.  I play EVE Online, right?  But does every PvE focused game need to spend time developing a PvP mechanism as well?

Going back to the dawn of the first massive successes on the MMO front, Ultima Online was PvP from day one.  But EverQuest was derived from TorilMUD which had no PvP at all.  In fact, the dev staff at TorilMUD split over the idea of PvP, which the PvP faction moving off to follow their dreams with Duris MUD.  But SOE eventually felt that EverQuest needed PvP and so the Rallos Zek server was born.

This moved was widely viewed as a way to concentrate all the griefers into a single thunderdome where they would leave the rest of the player base alone.  It was successful, in that the investment was low (as far as I can tell SOE did very little explicitly for PvP and was pretty hands off when it came to running the server) and it scratch that PvP itch for those who had to have it in a Norrathian context. (Roll stock footage of Fansy the Famous Bard.)  And this lives on today as the Zek server with its own PvP rule set.

Asheron’s Call also had a PvP flagging system and a PvP dedicated server as part of its mix.  So the big generation clearly bought into PvP, as did the next round of games.  Dark Age of Camelot was explicitly PvP and Star Wars Galaxies had a sandbox PvP aspect to it.

Then came World of Warcraft, which had PvP and PvP servers from day one.  Granted, day one was pretty ad hoc when it came to PvP, but Blizzard has a long history with RTS games, so players fighting other players must have seemed a natural to them.  And whether or not you like the various stages WoW PvP has progressed through, it has been pretty successful.  It would be hard to imagine WoW without it.

2 minutes 11 seconds into Wintergrasp

I played a lot of Wintergrasp when it was popular

Of course, WoW also ran into one of the problems with PvP in a heavily PvE game, that of gear and ability balance between the two.  It is really cool that the rogue in your dungeon group or raid can crowd control an off-mob with a stun lock, but I don’t know anybody who likes having that done to them by a rogue in a battleground.  And Dark Age of Camelot ran into similar issued from the other direction, by introducing powerful PvE acquired gear into a primarily PvP game.

So mixing PvE and PvP is rarely a matter of a flagging system or a separate server.  The eternal balance of equipment and abilities… which is already nettlesome in just the PvE environment… takes on an even bigger role when PvP is part of the mix.  It doesn’t come for free, it requires design and development time… unless you take the approach SOE did with EverQuest and just try to ignore the whole PvP aspect of the balance thing, or you take the Guild Wars approach and just keep the two as separate as possible.

And after WoW, things just got went down hill.  The success of the game meant other companies trying to copy WoW features in order to capture WoW numbers.  EverQuest II is probably the most tragi-comic example of this.  So much development and design time has been spent on PvP ideas in that game that it just about breaks your heart.  They have had PvP servers, PvP arenas where you fight with a special sub-avatar of your character, arenas where you fight with your actual character, and, more recently, WoW-like battlegrounds.  And the trend has always been that either the PvP is so bad that nobody uses it or that it is so affected by PvE stats and abilities that a whole array of special rules and exceptions have to be put in place to try to maintain at least some illusion of balance.  The last time I checked in, SOE had gotten to the point where every piece of equipment and every ability essentially had two sets of stats, one for PvE and one for PvP, leading to some of the largest tool tip windows known to man.

Then there was Lord of the Rings Online, which couldn’t bring itself to allow the elf-on-elf combat we all secretly desire (we need more kinslayings) but which felt it had to have PvP, so they gave us Monster Play, a feature convoluted enough that I couldn’t even tell you how it works because I have never once used it.  And I have tried the various PvP options on every MMO I have played.  I know somebody loves Monster Play out there… you can find somebody who loves and will defend any MMO feature ever… but was LOTRO as a whole made better by it?  Could the time spent on that have been better invested?

Warhammer Online at least never had the PvE vs. PvP balancing problem, because I don’t think most of us stuck around long enough for it to be a problem.  Instead, it was bit by the WoW battleground bug, which became the most efficient way to level up, so everybody did those while the open world content languished for want of the numbers needed to make it viable.

And so it goes.  Even today we are looking at The Elder Scrolls Online coming out in a little over a month.  This is an MMO based on an exclusively single player RPG franchise… PvE to its deepest roots… and they are busying pushing the Alliance War, the PvP aspect of the game.  Meanwhile, Star Wars: The Old Republic, an MMO made in the BioWare mold… fourth pillar and all that… has its Galactic Starfighter battleground out and available to everybody now.

Which brings me around to the title of this post.  Is PvP a requirement for all MMOs?  Can you even launch a PvE MMORPG without an announced PvP plan?

SOE All Access Changes… yet again… And the Future January 7, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Sony Online Entertainment.
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17 comments

Last Friday SOE announced changes for SOE All Access and Gold subscribers.  Come February SOE was going to take away the 500 Station Cash stipend for those accounts, replacing it with the ability to purchase a single Station Cash Store item with a value up to 2,000 SC per month.

Once known as Station Access...

Once known as Station Access…

This did not get a lot of positive response.  The loudest group of people appear to like to accrue Station Cash, not be given a single “use it or lose it” purchase.  And there was the usual concern that nobody would buy anything small with the 2,000 SC single buy because that would “waste” SC.

Smed went on Reddit and talked about why they did this and what else they might do.  The most interesting among the reasons for me was this:

Second – it helps us deal with some internal issues regarding accrual of balances of SC for people who aren’t playing or spending. There are a lot of people who play and have SC in their wallets and don’t spend it ever.. this accrues over time and it’s a problem.

Now, he said that was not the most important reason, but it was a driving factor for this move.  However, the fact that the first reason he gave, that people feel that 500 SC a month isn’t enough to buy anything, turned out to be largely incorrect based on feedback might be seen to move the second reason up to first place.

You might reasonably think that, especially since SOE has been working hard to dig themselves out of their Station Cash monetary problems.  They weren’t exactly Greece-like in scale, but SOE certainly wasn’t anywhere as sound as Germany either, to push a metaphor.

He also mentioned that they were thinking of making SOE All Access, formerly Station Access, available for just $14.99 a month.  At least the All Access Subscribers would be happy.

Then, late yesterday, the latest revision broke.  It is described as “not baked yet” but where SOE’s “head is at” on the subject.  Full details over at EQ2Wire, but the basics are:

  • SOE All Access is $14.99, gives you access to all SOE games.  All subscriptions will be converted to SOE All Access
  • The 500 SC monthly stipend is back, though you have to log in to collect
  • Something vague about European players and PS3/PS4 titles

So that is where we stand today.

This is one of those things where, if SOE had started with this deal, they would have been heroes.  But now, a couple of iterations in… and with things still not set in stone… I sort of want to say “SOE WTF?”  Being a responsive company is good… but tossing out plans that appear not to have been thought through fully and then changing your mind in public after your user base complains loudly?  That seems to be just a way to train players to complain early and often.  As we saw in EVE Online after Incarna, every dolt with a gripe against CCP now goes straight to “shoot the monument in Jita!” because that worked once.  Loudly complaining about SOE has worked… how many times now?  (Note the graphic Feldon chose to use for the EQ2 Wire post linked above.)

Clearly SOE’s stated primary premise for the change was wrong for at least the loudest portion of their audience.  I know I would rather accrue 500 SC a month than be given a “use it or lose it” monthly purchase, which came with its own set of terms and restrictions. (No Player Studio items at one point.)  This strikes me as the sort of option that seems like a good idea after a couple of hours in a conference room; what I call the “sensory deprivation chamber” decision.  Seems fine until you show it to the first person who wasn’t in the room, who should immediately point out the state of the emperor’s casual wear.

Their so-called secondary reason, that people accruing Station Cash is a problem for SOE, still strikes me as the only business reason for this move, and thus more important than Smed made out.  And I guess making people log in to collect once a month will slow down some people who just leave their accounts active but don’t play.  It won’t stop obsessives like me… I log into LOTRO once a month when not active just to get my 500 Turbine Points… but it will serve to punish a class of people who give SOE money for nothing.

And it is interesting to see where SOE All Access has landed in pricing.  It started out as Station Access, a $21.99 option, way back in 2004, jumping to $24.99 as time went on. Station Access peaked in price in 2007 when the price was jacked up to $29.99 a month.  That made it a penny more expensive than just having subscriptions to two SOE games on the face of it, and you could widen that gap considerably with the 3, 6, or 12 month subscription options, which were discounted for individual games but not for Station Access.  Complaints about the price change then didn’t seem to register with SOE.

Then, about two and a half years back, SOE renamed the package to SOE All Access and dropped the price to $19.99 a month, making it a good deal again for people who play multiple SOE games.  Of course, in the age of Free to Play, $30 a month was not a tenable position to hold.

And now here we are, about to say farewell to individual subscriptions to SOE games as SOE All Access drops in price to $14.99 a month.

In the end, I think this could be SOE stepping into the future of PC online gaming.  As Micosoft has their Xbox Live and PlayStation has… whatever it has… I own a PS3 and couldn’t tell you… so the PC online gaming market seems likely to move towards similar deals, where a monthly fee will give players access to bundles of games and benefits.

Actually, SOE lead on that, with Station Access back in 2004, then lost their way for a bit.

And I suspect we will see other companies that focus on online games follow suit.  Blizzard already offers benefits across games when you pre-order or go for the collector’s edition of one of their titles.  And one of my predictions for 2014 is that Blizz will give WoW subscribers some tangible benefit in Hearthstone.  That could lead the way to a Blizzard-wide subscription plan that gave you access and benefits across their Battle.net titles.

How about you?  SOE’s stumbles aside, do you think XBox-live like cross-catalog subscriptions are a coming thing in the PC online gaming world?

Addendum: This looks like it might be the topic of the day, so I’ll link out to others commenting on it.

Station Cash Take Back January 3, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Sony Online Entertainment.
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I might have picked the wrong company in my 2014 predictions.

As reported over at the EQ2Wire, SOE has announced that they will no longer be handing out a 500 station cash stipend every month to Gold or SOE All Access subscribers.

Once known as Station Access...

Once known as Station Access…

Instead, SOE All Access subscribers will be allowed to purchase a single item in the station cash store, with a value of up to 2,000 station cash. (Some items may be excluded from this option.)  If I read the notice correctly, SOE All Access subscribers will be allowed to do so for each game they play.

So, on the one side, you will, technically, be able to buy more with your single monthly stipend.

On the other hand, you will no long be able to accumulate station cash for a big purchase over several months, instead being granted a monthly “use it or lose it” purchase.  And there are quite a few items in the store over that threshold.  This is, no doubt, SOE continuing to get their station cash house in order after flooding the market with double and triple point deals and store discounts that ended up with people being able to pay as little as $1.25 for their $14.99 monthly subscription at one point.  The joys of the free to play cash shop.

This will go into effect with all subscription renewals on or after February 3, 2014.

As for my 2014 predictions, I guessed that Turbine would make a similar take back move against lifetime subscribers.  I still believe that will come to pass given that the growling forum mob sees lifetime subscribers as freeloaders who are not carrying their weight.  We shall see over the next 11 months.

Addendum: SOE followed up with a “please don’t unsubscribe” offer of other shiny non-Station Cash things they will give you.

The 2014 List – Back to Predictions January 1, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, EverQuest Next, Lord of the Rings Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, World of Warcraft.
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Welcome to 2014.  At the beginning of every year I have a habit of hanging my monumental ignorance out for public display by trying to write something about the upcoming twelve months in the MMO world.  I have done a few variations on this.  The story so far on that front:

Now here we are, its a brand new day in a brand new year, and it is time to take another stab at it.

DruidWoW2014_450px

(Original 2014 graphic provided by my daughter)

I think I will go back to the predictions routine, complete with point assignments so I can score myself when December rolls around.

I will follow the usual protocol and link to other people’s predictions here, just to share the love.

Reminder: Predictions are different than wishes.  Just because I think something might happen doesn’t mean I want it to happen.  Plus look at my track record.  If you are bad at causation, you might safely assume that my predicting something makes it unlikely to happen.

1 – Ship Dates

My predicted US ship dates for some key launches in and around the MMO genre.

Scoring: 10 points each, with 2 points deducted for each week off my prediction.  That gives me some room for partial credit while not leaving the window too wide.  (I made the EVE Online expansions one entry, so both dates count, because everything is more difficult in New Eden.)  In cases where the company has announced a date and I have something later… such as TESO… color me the skeptic I guess.

  • Hearthstone – April 1
  • The Elder Scrolls Online – April 22
  • EVE Online 2014 expansions – (working names Excursions and Magellan) May 13 & November 18
  • WildStar – June 10
  • Warlords of Draenor – September 9
  • EverQuest Landmark – October 15
  • StarCraft: Legacy of the Void – October 15
  • EverQuest II expansion #10 (working name Cheese of the Ratonga) – November 4
  • LEGO Minifigures Online – November 4
  • EverQuest expansion #21 (working name Return of Lady Vox) – November 25

I also get 10 points of extra credit if any of my working names turn out to be true.

2 – Missed Dates

This is a list of launches that we might expect in 2014, but which I think won’t make it.  Open beta doesn’t count, the games have to be out of beta, live, and going concerns.

Scoring: 10 points each and pretty much a pass/fail exercise.

  • EverQuest Next
  • Heroes of the Storm
  • Line of Defense
  • Lord British’s Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtue
  • World of Warships

3 – Changes, Offers, and Upsets

Predictions as to what we will hear from the industry in 2014.

Scoring: 10 points for each correct prediction.  I am going to declare for partial credit on these if warranted.

  • World of Warcraft will report a small boost in subscriptions for Q4 2013 based on BlizzCon and Warlords of Draenor.  Subs will then resume a slow down trend until the expansion ships.
  • Blizzard will announce that WoW subscribers will get special benefits in Hearthstone.
  • Blizzard’s World of Warcraft 10 year anniversary gift will be a mount for those subscribers who log in during the right time frame.
  • Blizzard’s insta-90 option will be available as a service for $35 by December of 2014.
  • SOE’s naming decision with EverQuest Next and EverQuest Next Landmark will come back to haunt them with some headline grabbing rage as people outside of the hardcore fan circles download Landmark and discover that this was not the game they were expecting.  One (or both) of the products will end up with a new name.
  • ArenaNet will slow down their continuous content update plan and announce they are working on an expansion for GuildWars 2.  Off the record, Anet will report that their master’s in Seoul demanded this.
  • WildStar will be off to the races with a smooth launch and a huge initial spike, but it will fall into the dread “three monther” category as subscriptions will trail off dramatically.
  • The Elder Scrolls Online will have a rocky launch, starting with a delay for the PC side of the house.  But the game will manage to capture enough of the Elder Scrolls franchise to sustain the game, making it one of the rare recent MMORPGs, one that doesn’t peak in the first month and go downhill from there.
  • WildStar will announce plans to move to a free to play model before the end of the year.
  • The Elder Scrolls Online will not budge on to the monthly subscription model in 2013.
  • Turbine will remove the 500 Turbine Points per month stipend from Lifetime subscriber accounts in Lord of the Rings Online.
  • Turbine’s Gift of the Valar insta-level option will be revised after the trial run.  The new version, with a new name, will boost players at least 10 additional levels and include all of the pre-Helm’s Deep expansions.
  • With no support/budget for any raise in the level cap featuring fully voiced content, Star Wars: The Old Republic will follow on the Galactic Starfighter mini-game with more of the same.  First up will be Droid Battles.  Somewhat akin to Pokemon and WoW Pet Battles, to which it will be immediately compared, it will be far more focused on upgrading parts and abilities on a small set of droid models.  Cosmetic options for droids, as well as special models, will be the cash shop aspect of this feature.
  • CCP will announce new areas of space to explore, as they have hinted at since Rubicon.  The new areas will be a cross between null sec and wormhole space.  Local chat will work like W-space and there won’t be any sovereignty.  You get to keep the space you can hold.  But there will be none of the mucking about with wormhole stability.  Jump gates will be the mode of travel.  And this new area of space will be just our of capital ship jump range.
  • CCP will severely restrict drone assist in 2014.  However, it will be done in typical CCP fashion and will pretty much break drones for all purposes until they do a big drone revamp as part of the second 2014 expansion.
  • Funcom will finally have an unequivocal success with the launch of LEGO Minifigures Online.
  • The inevitable rough ride for Chris Roberts will come when Star Citizen needs to start generating revenue beyond the donations of the faithful and features begin to get trimmed down to a more realistic target.  It doesn’t mean that the game(s) won’t be good, but they won’t be everything ever promised by Chris Roberts.  That will make a few big spenders rage.
  • The Brad McQuaid “challenging epic planar high fantasy” Kickstarter won’t fund if he asks for more than $500,000.  I just don’t think he has the reputation/following of Mark Jacobs or Lord British.
  • 2014 will be the year of the “insta-level” option for “levels” focused MMOs successful enough to ship an expansion that boosted the level cap… which, honestly, isn’t that many games when I think about it.  I will count this as fulfilled if I get EverQuest and Rift and one other game.
  • The near-ubiquity of free to play as an option for MMORPGs will start to take its toll on those games for which “it’s crap, but it’s free!” was the prime competitive advantage.  Expect to see more than half a dozen Asian imports fold up shop in North America in 2014.  First on the list appears to be, Lunia.  The second Legends of Edda. The third ArchLord. The fourth Wizardry Online.

4 – Scoring?

Well, that tallies up to 350 possible points, to be scored on or after December 15, 2014.  If I end up getting half that total right, I will be amazed.

5 – Predictions of Others

I put most of this together in the middle of December, altering it from time to time based on news.  I figure any input from game companies is valid input right up until 23:59:59 on December 31st.  On the other hand, I avoided the prediction posts of my fellow bloggers up until now.  I did not want those to color my own view of the world until I had finished this post.  But now that that my list is live, I am adding those in so you can see what others are predicting for 2014.

I will add more to the list as I spot them.

But if you want a really good list of predictions for 2014, go read what Isaac Asimov predicted for 2014 back in 1964.  He was close on some population numbers at least.

And so here we are, at the dawn of yet another calendar year.  What else is bound to happen in 2014?


Looking Back at 2013 – Highs and Lows December 20, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, EverQuest Next, Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, Sony Online Entertainment, War Thunder, World of Warcraft.
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5 comments

This has become a regular end of the year feature here I guess, now that it is in its fourth year.  Past entries, should you be bored and looking for something else to read, are here:

This list isn’t meant to be definitive in any way.  Highs and lows are relative.  My lows are certainly highs to somebody, and vise versa .  This is more of a wash of impressions that I find myself left with at the end of the year.  I am sure I will miss something important, even for more own narrow definition.  Feel free to add or question in the comments or use what I say as fodder for your own blog posts.

The wall of bullet points beings.

Payment Model Wars

Highs

  • F2P vs. Subscription gave us plenty of things to post and/or argue about.
  • We are starting to get Western MMORPGs that were designed from the start to be F2P, which ought to give a better experience than conversions.
  • The “free” part of F2P MMORPGs seem, in general, to be edging further into the “substantially free” zone.
  • World of Warcraft, EVE Online, and… the one people seem to forget… Final Fantasy XIV still holding the fort for the subscription model.  Not dead yet.
  • WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online are determined to test if the subscription model is still valid for new games in this day and age.

Lows

  • A lot of people think WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online are headed for a trouble by going the subscription route.  F2P by fall.
  • SWTOR failing at the subscription model still casts a long shadow, which plays into the line above.
  • When somebody says an MMO is “free to play” that doesn’t tell me anything yet, beyond the idea that it probably doesn’t require a monthly subscription.
  • The dichotomy of the two models still exists for me.  I hate when a game brings up money almost constantly… nothing brings me “out” of the game like a financial calculation… but I won’t stay subscribed to a game for a day longer than I have to if I am not playing it.  Or, to flip it the other way, I like not having a subscription, but I hate that the hand is always out for money even when I do opt for the “yes there is still a subscription” option in a F2P title.  Or something.
  • Subscription to F2P conversions still dominate the Western MMO F2P landscape.  Even if you don’t think they carry the stink of failure, it is still tough to escape the before/after comparison, especially if the F2P model looks like a thinly veiled attempt to make you subscribe.
  • Final Fantasy XIV a Realm Reborn is probably the most interesting sounding MMO I am never going to play.  Not buying a box and paying another monthly subscription.
  • Asian MMOs no longer have an automatic “in” to the market by virtue of being free to play.  Remember when Runes of Magic was a big deal?  Remember when a $10 horse caused outrage?  Dime a dozen complaint these days.   The market is crowded enough that even their tiny cost structures cannot be sustained.  Early entrants are still around… how Silk Road Online survives is one of the mysteries of the universe… but new titles seem to come and go quickly.  I am not sure that is good for the industry overall.  Or maybe it is.
  • Every conversion from subscription to F2P includes an immediate press release about huge success… and then we never hear another word on the subject.  I don’t expect weekly updates, but when you never mention something ever again, it sure seems like the peak came early on.
  • The F2P store balance seems to be a tightrope walk… and some companies are working without a net.

Turbine

Highs

  • Woo hoo, Lord of the Rings Online moves a step closer to Mordor with the Helm’s Deep expansion!
  • Middle-earth still has that Middle-earth charm.
  • I made it THROUGH Moria during my latest vacation in Middle-earth.  Now just two more expansions to get through and I will be caught up with all I have paid for.
  • The change up of classes into a more role specific model seems to be a good thing.
  • No repeat of the hobby horse idea.
  • Yay… other Turbine games.  Dungeons & Dragons Online and all calls routed through to Asheron’s number.
  • Oh, hey, they have Macintosh versions of DDO and LOTRO.  My daughter even tried DDO.

Lows

  • As much as I love Middle-earth, LOTRO is starting to show its age.  Moving to WoW after a summer of LOTRO was like realizing you’ve been driving with your parking brake on.
  • Being just out of Moria, it doesn’t matter how nice the next LOTRO expansion is, I don’t need to buy it.
  • Turbine seems to be rethinking the whole big expansion thing, with no such beast expected for 2014.  How we get to Mordor… or even Gondor at this point… is unclear.
  • Every time I come back to LOTRO, it feels like they have installed another “insert coin here” adjunct to the UI.
  • Insta-level to the mid-game seems like a half baked idea, unless you think Moria is the best content in the game… and you already own Moria.
  • Just waiting for Turbine to give in to the “lifetime subscribers are the problem” mob.
  • DDO reminds you that it pre-dates LOTRO in look and feel.  My daughter said it was confusing and ugly and went back to Minecraft.
  • The return of Asheron’s Call 2 was the big Turbine announcement last year at this time… and not much else has been mentioned since.
  • Infinite Crisis, Turbine’s run at the MOBA genre, sounds more like their financial situation pre-Warner.  And it looks like a no show for 2013 at this point.  Plus, really? Another MOBA?  I am not sure what Turbine brings to the table on this.

Sony Online Entertainment

Highs

  • Finally announced EverQuest Next as an MMO that might bring something new to the genre.  The word “sandbox” has been thrown about liberally.  There has been much excitement.  This is perhaps the only new MMO I am looking forward to at this point.
  • EverQuest Next Landmark, a subset of the tools being used to create EverQuest Next, will be available to players as a F2P title.
  • SOE eased up on the restrictions on free players in EQII.  One notch back on the “really, you should just subscribe to play” focus.
  • EverQuest is still a live an going concern.  It even got an expansion.
  • SOE has actually made some progress getting themselves out of the discount Station Cash hole they dug for themselves with huge discounts up through last year.

Lows

  • EverQuest Mac gets powered down.  Its days were numbered, but it is still sad to see it go.
  • EverQuest Next is way out in the future, and I am not convinced the “design by committee” thing that SOE is doing via the round table… even if is is all illusory… is the best of all possible options.  Still, it beats their past practice of announcing something then going silent for a year.
  • EverQuest Next… how is a F2P sandbox going to work?  SOE has a horrible track record at pricing things in a way that puts the “micro” in “microtransaction.”   If your minimum price is going to be $5.00, you might as well just take VISA up front.
  • EverQuest Next Landmark is closer, but I have no desire to try it for free at this point, much less pay $100 to do so.
  • PlanetSide 2 had so many problems this year.  Aimbots, stability, performance… I stopped playing pretty quickly, but people I follow seem to be bemused about SOE’s progress with the game.
  • I have grown so apart from EverQuest II that all I do when I log in is pay the rent on my house.
  • EverQuest abides in its own form, but SOE seems to be really pushing it to the back burner, and you wouldn’t know there was a Progression Server thing still going the way it has been handled.  I doubt we will see another such special server.
  • Just waiting for SOE to “expire” Station Cash on unused accounts.

CCP

Highs

  • EVE Online, still hanging in there on the subscription model, growing ever so slightly, and unique in so many ways.  Ten years old and as strong as it has ever been.
  • Two decent expansions this year, Odyssey and Rubicon, with some solid features and improvements in each.
  • Giant space battles deciding the colors on the map!
  • Does any gaming company running a live game do Dev blogs that approach what CCP produces?
  • Hints at plans for brand new space frontiers in New Eden.
  • Managed to stay away from controversy when it came to the direction the game is going.  No more “greed is good” talk or other things that caused the Incarna revolt.
  • Gave me a free copy of the collector’s edition.
  • EVE Valkyrie for Occulus Rift sounds very exciting.

Lows

  • Growth is oh so slow, and the question always arises about how many new accounts are just alts?
  • It wouldn’t be CCP without some scandals!  So we had  SOMERBlink and Ishokune Scorpions,  SOMERBlink at EVE Vegas, SOMERBlink and RMT loopholes, preferential treatment by CCP in general (which included SOMERBlink) and who gets what for free (which included some real crybaby attitudes at various points), Terms of Services hair splitting by CCP (which did NOT involve SOMERBlink!), and the usual CCP summer season of foot shooting.  Really, the only thing we were missing was Mintchip accepting an Ishukone Scorpion from SOMERBlink, selling it for a PLEX in EVE, and then using that PLEX to pay some capsuleer to mow her parent’s lawn… while topless, wearing a monocle, and speaking entirely in quotes from Atlas Shrugged.
  • PLEX continues to amaze and horrify people by turns.  It remains a comically divisive aspect of the game.
  • The defining issue for CSM8 seems to be the CSM minutes at this point.  Those minutes had better be worth it.  Still better than CSM7 though.
  • Epic space battles have turned into epic node crashes lately.  Does anybody think the drone assignment feature is a good thing at this point?
  • A good portion of the interesting things that happen in EVE… and 100% of the CCP run events… happen while I am at work.  I read about them online just like anybody not playing the game.
  • After the war in Fountain, the deployment(s) to Curse have felt a little dry.  I have spent more time moving to and fro than in actual fleets.
  • I am still trying to click on the lower left corner of the screen to undock six months later.  Old habits.
  • The future “huge effort to build a jump gate” in order to open up new areas of space idea sounds vaguely like “huge effort to build a titan” from times gone by.  Efforts will thus be limited to large entities and the huge effort will become manageable for those entities over time.  Expect jump gate proliferation.
  • DUST 514?  Hello, is anybody there? *distant occasional gunshot*
  • World of Dakrness?  Lay offs at CCP Atlanta make that an even more distant possibility.

Blizzard

Highs

  • WoW revenues: still laughing all the way to the bank.
  • Returning to WoW this fall was like getting into my own bed made up with flannel sheets fresh out of the dryer on a cold winter’s night.
  • The instance group returning to Azeroth has also revived our spirits and our time spent playing together.
  • Blizz’s work on softening the walls between servers has actually done some good.  The game feels alive still and I have been able to group cross realms with people I haven’t been able to play with since server splits ages ago.
  • I am reasonably sure there are no NSA/CIA/FBI infiltrators in our guild.
  • Warlods of Draenor and the return to the 10 level expansion.  Sounds good to me so far.
  • Mists of Pandaria, meanwhile, is pretty good.  I find it fulfilling in a way that Cataclysm was not.
  • Blizz actually seems primed for a very strong 2014.  The money machine will continue to print.
  • Hearthstone looks good enough to even interest me slightly, and the only card game I ever play is Gin Rummy.
  • Diablo III Reaper of Souls expansion looks promising.
  • The death of the Diablo III auction house is a winner in my book.
  • StarCraft II has Legacy of the Void lined up as the third expansion.
  • Heroes of the Storm sounds like it might be a viable thing.  It is Blizzard’s chance to apply their refinement magic to the MOBA genre.  If only they can find a name and stick with it.

Lows

  • WoW Subscribers down from the peak of “over 12 million” in the quarter after Cataclysm shipped to 7.6 million at last report.  Blizz can still say “more than you ever had” to most everybody, but that is a lot of subscribers gone.  There are whole industries that would disappear if that many people walked away.  And where is that subscriber number headed next?
  • Long term profitability seems to have stifled innovation on the subscription model options front, even considering how slow Blizz is about change in general.  Blizz just rolls along.
  • Coming back to WoW reminds me that there still a number of things that Blizz hasn’t quite fixed over the years, stuff that almost every competitor has worked out by this point.  Fodder for a blog post, coming soon-ish.
  • All that cross-realm and combined server stuff isn’t going to stave off server merges forever unless they stem the subscriber bleed.
  • A cash shop in-game?  Here we go again.  As a developer though, I think I am most offended by problems with the implementation.
  • There isn’t a lot between now and Warlords of Draenor to keep long time WoW players going if they have finished up Mists of Pandaria.  I am happy enough with WoD probably being 9 months out, but I am sure a lot of people are restless.
  • Also on the “Blizzard remains slow front,” even removing a feature they freely admit was a mistake and ruined their game for a lot of people is taking a while to happen.  The Diablo III auction house lives on into 2014.
  • Is the Reaper of Souls expansion, reitemization, and removal of the auction house going to be enough to goose sales and play time for Diablo III?  I cannot see myself going back to play, much less buying the expansion.
  • I doubt we’ll see Heroes of the Storm go live next year, and I wouldn’t bet against at least one more revision of the name.
  • Titan, the “next big thing” from Blizz post-WoW, remains a tiny dot on the horizon.  Or is that just a mirage?

Other MMO Developers

Highs

  • Arena Net has to have set some sort of record for content delivery in GuildWars 2, serving up some sort of new variation every two weeks for… how long now?  Somebody tell the SWTOR team “that’s how it’s done.”
  • Trion manages a pretty sharp F2P transition with Rift.  They went all-in on it and their commitment to the model shows.  The store is clean, bright, and filled to the brim with things to buy.  Once the F2P launch settled down, Trion relauched Rift on Steam with new starter packs and such.  The game remains the definitive alternate to WoW, polished and with plenty of content, even as F2P.
  • Trion also pulled Trove out of nowhere.
  • Cryptic and PWE entertainment seem pretty solid on F2P, delivering Neverwinter as a substantially free game that is both very well put together and provides a content generation system, the Foundry, that yields some excellent content.  Easy to get into, low commitment, looks good, what is not to love?
  • Path of Exile really scratched the Diablo II itch.  Official heir to the Diablo II crown in my book.
  • War Thunder, a title I set out to ignore, turns out to be decent and has low skill roles I can actually fulfill… and lots of cool planes to fly.
  • Wargaming.net joined up accounts across their games, so your World of Tanks account is also your World of Warplanes account and shares currency and so on.
  • SWTOR seems to have struck out on a new path with the Galactic Starfight update.  But what does it portend?
  • Shroud of the Avatar is a thing.
  • There is a minor possibility that I might be interested in the idea of playing The Elder Scrolls Online.

Lows

  • I am unable to understand how any but the most dedicated gamers can adequately handle and play through new content every two weeks in GuildWars 2.  I get physically tired just reading about it.  It feels like a lot of content just melting away, never to be seen again.
  • Storm Legion remains uninspired for me. I want to like it a lot more than I actually do.
  • The Rift F2P model feels too weak to me, like they gave away too much.  I could see no reason to ever give them money again.  I know, I complain when people ask for money, now I complain when people don’t ask for money.  See my entry in the first section about a tight rope walk.
  • Trove seems a little me-to at this stage of the game, with Minecraft already established and EverQuest Landmark showing up soon.  Plus, if you don’t care about that kind of thing, another option isn’t really a big deal.
  • Speaking of me-to, ArcheAge?  Haven’t we seen the “Asian MMO comes West and flops” tale enough times already?  Trion had better have some secret sauce for this one.
  • Neverwinter never really clicked with me.  There is lots of interesting stuff to see, but it never felt like I was in a world.  It was more like an arcade where you lined up to run the Cloak Tower machine, then ran off to play the Dreadmines machine, and then maybe played orc hockey in the open area for a while.
  • Path of Exile has “always online” problems similar to Diablo III.  When you depend on the internet…
  • War Thunder didn’t last all that long on my list.  I managed to tourist up to level 5 for all nations, then wandered off.
  • Wargaming.net still keeps regions separate, so I cannot play with my EVE corp mates without having another client/account just for Europe.
  • World of Warplanes, a title I was determined to play… well… we shall speak no more of that one.
  • Shroud of the Avatar is a thing in the sense that it ought to be worth looking at again in about a year.
  • Seeing what is potentially on offer for 2014, as like as not I probably won’t play a new MMO next year.  If it is just going to be the same game with different art, I might as well play the one I am most invested in.
  • Pirates of the Burning Sea, cut loose from SOE, seems to be more adrift than ever.
  • Warhammer Online goes to its inevitable fate.

Other Gaming and Vaguely Related Items

Highs

  • Sony pledges a long life, new games, and ongoing support for those of us who own PS3s.  And their track record with the PS2 seems to back up their statements.
  • Pokemon X and Y actually looked interesting enough to get some interest in our household.
  • I remain quite fond of my iPad.
  • The used game scene remains, not that I participate.  Good news for Game Stop, but also probably good news for the big publishers, since they have pretty much fessed up that the ability to trade in a game for store credit is probably boosting sales numbers beyond any perceived lost revenue from third party sales.
  • Some interesting projects on Kickstarter in 2013.
  • High speed internet is finally available in our home.  Buying a game on Steam doesn’t mean waiting a day or two to play it.
  • When 60 Minutes can run an NSA propaganda piece and call it news, it makes me think that game journalism isn’t all that bad.  At least motivations are clear; everybody has to earn a living.

Lows

  • Games?  I only use the PS3 to watch Blu-Ray movies and stream Netflix at this point.
  • Nintendo basically doesn’t support any of the platforms that I own any more.  There will be nothing new under the sun for Wii or DS owners ever again, and I have no interest in buying a Wii U or a 3Ds.  But I don’t plan to buy an Xbox One or a PS4 either.  Good thing about the used market.
  • The screens on my Nintendo DS Lite have gone all blurry, so I can’t even go back and finish up Pokemon Black.  Oh, wait, let me put on my glasses.  Damn tiny screens!
  • I remain somewhat less enthusiastic about gaming on the iPad.  Ticket to Ride remains my all time favorite, and board game translations seem like an excellent opportunity for the platform, yet I haven’t found many games I really like otherwise.  And then there is pricing.  EA has the most odious practice in that they will sell you a game and will then insist on running game interrupting ads when you try to play.  Has made me swear to never give EA another nickel again ever.  I find Candy Crush Saga to be a rare gem, a paragon of virtue and restraint compared to anything EA has to offer.
  • I’ve been stuck on level 125 of Candy Crush Saga for like six weeks now.  Still not giving them any money either, but for different reasons.
  • Kickstarter remains a “pay and pray” option.  You toss somebody some money and hope that it turns into something some day.  I can see why some people shun the idea.
  • Buy something on Steam?  I have too many unplayed or underplayed titles already in my Steam library.  Even Steam sales are a bit “meh” now.
  • I still do not see the appeal of streaming.  Except for a few rare cases where something special is happening, I’d rather play the game than watch somebody else play.  And then I saw somebody live blogging somebody else live streaming and my head just about exploded.  Stop the inanity.
  • Runic Games appears to have burnt out creating Torchlight II and has punted on the Mac OS version, the MMORPG version, and hasn’t bothered to get dressed to leave the house for much of 2013 so far as I can tell.
  • Microsoft, determined that there be a single version of Windows and that it run on all devices (q.v. Ballmer remains loyal to Mordor), gives people a tablet button interface for their desktop machines.  When people won’t stop complaining about the missing “Start” menu, which MS trained people for years to depend on, they add it back in to Windows 8… only it just brings up the tablet button interface.  Why Fucking Bother?

Blog Things

Highs

  • Hey, I still post something nearly every damn day, don’t I?
  • A lot more people visit the site, even after my purge from Google search returns, than I ever expected.
  • I have a pretty decent account of my online gaming since 2006.  I am particularly happy with the ongoing tales of the instance group.
  • I have lots of pretty pictures on the site, which helps out when I lose stuff on my hard drive.  I have no idea where all my Warhammer Online screen shots went.

Lows

  • Quantity is not quality, and a lot of what I write is just for me.  Plus, there are times when it is tough not to write “And we did another instance.  Thousands of people have done it before.  There were no surprises.  Consider this milestone marked.”  This has lead to what I might describe as an over-dependence on screen shots.
  • The name of the blog becomes ever more accurate.  I now write mostly about a 9 year old game and a 10 year old game, with an occasional look back at a 20 year old game.
  • It is sometimes tough to find the old post I am looking for.  The search option is primitive in the extreme.
  • Really feel like the blog needs a new look after seven years, yet I am not fond of any of the WP.com options.
  • WP.com has taken it upon themselves to break something about once a month by rolling new (and I would guess untested) code out to their customers without any announcement.  Just this week the “more after the cut” option was broken for several hours.
  • Self hosting seems slightly more attractive at this point, except for the hours of extra work, the need for a domain name, and the fear that I will find out just how many readers visit out of habit as they fall off the moment something changes.

And that is about all that oozed from my brain when pressed to come up with what happened in 2013.  What else should be on the list?

LOTRO and the Latest Insta-Level Scheme December 13, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, Sony Online Entertainment, World of Warcraft.
Tags: ,
13 comments

As level focused MMORPGs age and expand and boost the level cap again and again, the gulf between the new player starting out and the old hands clustered at the level cap begins to seem like an insurmountable barrier.  The levels problem.  Many a new player has no doubt been lost, never to be seen again, in the attempt to cross the often lonely mid-game, which can be something like levels 20 through 80 and beyond these days, in order to reach an oasis of friends.

Various methods have been tried in order to… well, not to “fix” it, because that there is something wrong with most of the game when often some of the best bits are along the way to the level cap… but to alleviate the pain of somebody trying to catch up.

Companies have eased up on the experience slope so that you level up faster.  They have tinkered with various sorts of mentoring, which generally bestows some sort of experience boost on the lower level player.  Free to play games nearly always stock their cash shop with experience accelerators of various sorts in order to let those in search of higher levels move right along.  Refer-a-friend programs can include some sort of leveling boost.  EverQuest has featured that, as has World of Warcraft.  Blizzard even added in the ability for the higher level player to “gift” levels to the person they referred… with some limitations… as part of their referral program.

And, after years of tinkering around with all that and more, several companies have finally come around and decided just to sell you a high level character.

This is, of course, controversial, and the game companies know it.

First out of the gate in the games I watch was EverQuest II, with its offer to sell you a boost to level 85.  I thought that this was the most interesting case of moving to this sort of thing because you could argue that SOE has done as much as, if not more than, any other MMORPG in trying to bridge the gap between the pool of vets and new players.  That was not enough though, and now you can buy a token in the cash shop for approximately $35… the general rate is a penny per Station Cash point, but if you bought some during one of the now departed 3x sales, your real world expenditure will be less… that will put you within 10 levels of the level 95 cap, which is close enough to group with anybody above you in level and still gain experience.

This actually sort-of works out okay with EQII.  There is still the “too many damn skills” problem with going straight to 85, which isn’t handled very well in my opinion.  And anybody who joins up and jumps to level 85 will, again in my opinion, miss a lot of the best content (biased as I am towards some of the original locations) while being dumped into one of the most awful, boring looking adventure areas in the game.  Snow zones just don’t work for me in EQII.  But overall, with mentoring and the chrono-whatcha-call-it thing that lets you play older content at level, the vast sea of content is still yours to explore if you so desire.  In the end, it gives players an option and gives SOE something new to sell in the cash shop.

Then at BlizzCon Blizzard announced that, with the purchase of the Warlords of Draenor expansion, players would be given the option to boost one character up to level 90.  Oddly, most of the enthusiasm I have heard for this has been from people who already have multiple level 90 characters.  The idea of one more level 90 alt for somebody who has run the content multiple times seems to be a winner.  And while this got a frosty response from some, it does solve a problem for Blizzard.  We are now at a point where there are certainly far more former WoW players than there are current WoW player, probably several fold more.

Those former players represent a pretty big market opportunity.  But how do you get them to come back when your lure is shiny new content that might be many levels above them?  “Come back and play the stuff that made you quit, you’ll eventually get to some new stuff!” isn’t a very good approach.  So now anybody who purchases Warlords of Draenor can play that content right away.

The solution is, as I said, not without detractors, but you can at least see the logic and how it solves a problem for Blizzard.  I am not sure how they solve the “I don’t own Mists of Pandaria or some other expansion” issue.  I suspect everybody who buys Draenor will end up getting all of that.  But it puts a mass of potential players right on the starting line for next year’s expansion. (No sign of this being an item in the new cash shop yet, but you never know.)

Finally, this week, Turbine, after kicking the idea around for months, finally bit the bullet and announced their insta-level plan for Lord of the Rings Online.  It is a limited time offer at the moment as Turbine tests the waters on this.

The Valar aren't what they used to be...

The Valar aren’t what they used to be…

And time is not the only aspect of this that is limited.  For 4,995 Turbine Points… which could be anywhere from $38 to $70 depending on how you purchased your points… gives you the following:

  • Character boosted to level 50
  • A set of level 50 gear
  • 1 Gold piece
  • An LIXP rune, worth enough XP to bring one LI to level 10
  • 4 ranks of each virtue
  • The Riding skill
  • A Dusky Nimblefoot Goat
  • A 25-stack of food that scales with your level
  • A 25-stack of Morale and Power potions that scale with your level
  • 5 +100% XP Boosts
  • A single-use map to Rivendell
  • 25 Mithril Coins

That is not an insubstantial pile of stuff.  The issue for me, when I look at this, is I am not sure what problem it solves.  Leaving aside my bias about some of the 1 to 50 content… I could (and have) run the Lone Lands and Evendim over and over again and be a happy person… the level cap with the latest expansion, Helm’s Deep, is 95.  So, basically, this level boost puts you where?

Well, right into the first expansion, Mines of Moria, which you will note is NOT part of the insta-level package.  So, aside from the troubles of figuring out how to play a character that has been boosted deep into its skill arc… now with archaic skill trees (my opinion of them anyway) to figure out as well… you have to put down more money just to continue advancing your character towards the latest content, which is still 40 levels away.

So SOE put you within reach of the latest content, Blizzard will put you on the doorstep of the latest content, and Turbine is planning to leave you adrift in the mid-game in what seems like the combination of all the complaints about level based character progression.  Players will be too far in to learn their character class skill by skill yet still many levels (and several expansions to buy) away from any friends in the latest content.

What problem does this solve?  I won’t trivialize the 1-50 game, it will take some work to get through it, but the work doesn’t stop when you pass into Moria.  And who is the target audience for this boost?  People who hate the first 300 pages of The Fellowship of the Ring?

And I realize that Turbine’s business model, which includes selling content like Mines of Moria, stands in the way here.  I am just not sure that Moria is the optimal destination.  If you were going to drop a friend into the middle of the game, is that were you would put them?

Anyway, this looks to be a test run for Turbine, with the limited duration.  And I am sure they will sell a few to people who want an alt and who have, perhaps, seen too much of the Lone Lands… as if that were possible.  Pengail escort quest forever!

Pengail Attacks!

He just HATES goblins

There have been other reactions to this around the blogesphere, none of which have been particularly positive on the plan.  Further reading if you are interested:

What do you think about Turbine’s plan, or the idea of insta-levels in general?

EverQuest II Tears of Veeshan Expansion Launches Quietly November 15, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest II.
Tags: ,
4 comments

Quietly is relative term in this case.  I am sure that if EverQuest II is your main game you were fully aware of what was going on with the game, including the Tears of Veeshan expansion that launched this week.

EQ2ToV_450px

But as something of an outsider to the SOE line of games these days… I am playing nothing from SOE at the moment… it seemed a bit quiet to me.

EverQuest II seems to be falling into the “Jan Brady” role in the EverQuest franchise family.  EverQuest, the older sibling, has already done most everything already, and when somebody wants to talk about the “good old days” or “classic MMOs,” EverQuest is the clear go-to title.

And how can EQII compete?

Tears of Veeshan is the 10th EQII expansion?  EQ launched its 10th expansion 8 years ago and already pushed out expansion number 20 this year.  And EQ even co-opts stuff that makes EQII unique, like housing.  You can just hear the sibling argument in your mind as EQII cries, “But housing was MY thing!  Why couldn’t you just let me have that for myself?”

Meanwhile, all attention is on the new baby, EverQuest Next.  Everybody loves that cute little tyke.

So there is EQII in the middle, “Hi everybody, I launched a new expansion!  Hello?”

As I said, I am not paying close attention to SOE games these days, not the way I would if I were playing them.  But I do watch the news.  I have EQ2 Wire in my RSS feed, which covers just about everything you need to know.  I was right there when SOE announced the straight to level 85 option and loosened up some of the restrictions on the free game.  Still I felt like I knew nothing about this expansion, though expansion excitement seemed to be low in a lot of places this year, which is odd.  Expansions are, in part, about re-igniting passion in your followers and giving people a reason to return to your game.  Look at BlizzCon and the Warlords of Draenor announcements.  Not everybody loved what was announced, but by the end of the weekend everybody seemed to have an opinion on what Blizz had on tap.   Yeah, not a fair comparison, orders of magnitude and such. But I still wasn’t sure what was Tears of Veeshan bringing to the table after SOE Live.

Now I do.

And a lot of what was in the expansion does seem a bit mundane when listed out.  Feldon has the meat of the details, but the overview is kind of a yawn for an outsider.

  • New Dragon based Alternate Advancement tree
  • Alternate Advancement point cap raised to 340
  • A new overland area, Vesspyr
  • More quests of all shapes and sizes
  • 9 new dungeons
  • 2 new raid zone
  • More trade skill stuff
  • A new equipment tier for PvP
  • New Guild Hall options

Nothing there is going to make somebody think, “Ah, I must go play EverQuest II!”  There is substance there.  EQTraders has a big post up about just the crafting updates with the expansion.

Oh, and one more thing.  I left one item off the list.  It probably wasn’t that important, as it only made it as the 5th bullet item on SOE’s feature list for the game. SOE added a new class to the game.

Wait, what?  A Channeler class was added?

That seems like huge news for the game.  Why wasn’t this the headline?  Everything else almost drops to the level of trivia when you add that to the list.

I have long bitched and moaned about the fact that SOE launched EQII with 24 classes, which I felt was too many and really limited their expansion options, since “add a new class” is a clear go-to option for these sorts of things, a way to experience the game afresh, a way to get old hands at the game to re-roll and play through the older content again (and thus slowing down their consumption of the new content I suppose), or at least a way to sell more instant level 85 options.

And so, in the nine years of EverQuest II, they have only ever added one class to the game, the Beastlord… which, like so much else, was borrowed from Marcia… I mean EverQuest.

Anyway, to the outsider like me, this seems like the lead item, the big news, something that the EQII team should be talking up.  How will this change the game?  How will this make me want to re-roll?  What makes this class unique and the thing to have?  And maybe they are talking that up.  Maybe I just can’t hear them over the noise of the new baby and the ongoing nostalgia for the older sibling.

Being the middle child can be tough.

Why Can’t I Just Turn Off Achievements? November 7, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest II, Guild Wars 2, Lord of the Rings Online, MMO Design, World of Warcraft.
Tags:
21 comments

Over in a corner of the blogesphere this week achievements have been the discussion point.

Syl at MMO Gypsy started venting on Twitter about achievements and went on the write about about her hate of them and other like things at her blog.

In the way of the world, that lead to Liore at Herding Cats to express her love of achievements.  Cuppy joined in on that front as well, while Klepsacovic just wonders if they are the right tool for the job.

The lines were drawn, let the battle commence!

Both sides make impassioned, emotional pleas for their point of view.  The ill-defined concept of “immersion,” which I think means something different to everybody, has been flung about.  Comments have popped up trying to explain one point of view to those whole held the other, myself included.  All just the blogesphere functioning as designed.

I fall on the achievement lovers side of the argument.  They went into World of Warcraft five years ago and I have enjoyed Blizzard’s implementation ever since.

Vikund's Achievements

Vikund’s Achievements – Oct. 15, 2008

I don’t think they necessarily belong in every MMO… and some retro-fits, like the EverQuest implementation, make me groan… but for WoW, already a bright and shiny game with a cultural reference around every corner, it seems like a good match.  I especially like the statistics tab which tracks all sorts of little details, but I am that sort of person.

That isn’t to say that I don’t “get” the dislike of achievements.  And while I think trying to describe what immersion is to each other is like trying to describe what blue is to each other, I can understand how some might find that a shiny pop-up in the middle of their experience might break that for them.

And while I was absorbing all of this, a thought popped into my head.

What if you could just turn them off?

I am not even suggesting that they be expunged from the game, but that the game have a check box somewhere in the settings to not pop up achievements, yours mine or ours.  They would still accrue somewhere in the background in case the person in question changed their mind, but while the correct box was checked somewhere in the settings, they just wouldn’t be a thing on that particular game client.  No pop-ups allowed.

And in imagining that, it sounded so simple that I had to believe that such a setting was already there.  I mean, you can turn off all sorts of things in the UI in most games.  How could that not already be a thing?

So I launched World of Warcraft and went to the setting to check.

You can turn on and off lots of UI elements in WoW.  You can toggle the on screen quest list, quest tracking, floating names over players and NPCs, quests markers on the map and so on and so forth.  There are even conditional settings, so you can have NPC names hidden unless they are part of a quest you are on.

But as far as I can tell, there is no setting to turn off achievement pops.

Well, WoW is a big game, with 7.6 million subscribers at last count.  Maybe somebody has filled this niche with an addon!  So I went to Curse to look at achievement related addons.  There are dozens of addons devoted to helping you find, track, and achieve your achievements, but not one to suppress them.  There may be one out there (let me know if there is) but I couldn’t find it in my admittedly limited search.

I decided to check other games.  The next up was Rift.  I downloaded the latest update, which was sizable, and got into the game.  Ignoring the fact that somebody clearly left the realm administration console unlocked during a bathroom break (Or was that server-wide broadcast about Ceiling Cat watching you part of the current event?) and the blinky telling me I earned a reward just for logging in (that I could do without) I started leafing through the settings.

DSEplopachi

Like WoW, Rift has a pretty comprehensive set of things you can turn on and off.  There is even a social media tab where you can annoy your soon-to-be-ex-friends by spamming Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr with all of your achievements.  But I could not find a way to keep achievements from popping on your screen.

I can automatically decline marriage proposals (which I have set) but achievements are sacred.  I even tried editing the UI to see if I could move achievements off screen, but that particular UI element isn’t part of the editor.

No luck on that front.  So I moved on to Middle-earth.

Lord of the Rings Online doesn’t have achievements… at least not in the WoW sense of them.  But there are traits and pop ups and all sorts of little nags that do get on my nerves.  And they also have a pretty comprehensive list of things in the settings.  But on the achievement-like traits front there was no joy there.  Like other games, there are plenty of potentially immersion breaking things you can turn off, but trait notifications… and the accompanying “Visit the LOTRO Store!” message… are stuck on.  So I moved on.

Next I patched up and tried EverQuest II.  EQII has such a half-hearted “I’m just like WoW! Love me too please!” attempt at achievements that even I am not really interested in them.

Which is odd when I think about it, because EverQuest II had a sort of proto-achievements implementation back at launch in 2004.  In addition to server first and world first discoveries, which were kind of neat until they inevitable ran out, there were the slaughter titles you got for killing so many undead or gnolls or what not.  But they felt they needed to tack on the WoW model as well, making EQII even more of a mish-mash of conflicting visions.

SBHHistoryBuff

Anyway, in digging through the “monumentally huge since day one” options window of the game, I figured out that achievements are part of the updates and notifications in the game.  You can set how quickly they are displayed and where the UI element shows up, but it doesn’t appear that you can actually turn them off.  I suppose you could move that off-screen, but since it shows information for things besides just achievements, I am not sure if that is a viable solution.  Call that a “maybe” at best.

I thought about checking Guild Wars 2, but was brought up short by two things.  First, their super duper, point of interest, laundry list, be the completionist mechanism seemed so much a part of the game when I tried it that I seriously doubted you could turn it off.  And it seems to have progressed since then.

Hah, finished!

Hah, finished!

And, second, I’ve forgotten my password and I cannot get Anet to cough it back up again because I’ve changed internet services since I last logged in so they think I am trying to hack the account.  Saved me from patching in any case.

I also considered checking EverQuest, which has had achievements grafted onto it as well, but I was starting to get bored with the whole idea.  Plus the pattern seemed to be pretty clear and I hated to ruin it by finding a contrary example.  Once you have two points, draw the line, calculate the slope, and move on I say!

But this does leave me with a few questions.

First, does any MMORPG with achievements let you turn off the pop ups?  Did I miss an example or a setting or an addon that would do that for any of the above or some other example?  And why isn’t the option to turn off achievement pop ups available?  Do companies believe them to be so important that the game cannot be separated from the achievements?

Then, would turning off the achievements as I have describe be enough for you explorers and those of you who just do not like achievements in general?  Or does the fact that achievements simply exist bother you?

Destination? Journey? Destination? Journey? October 23, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, MMO Design, World of Warcraft.
14 comments

I always feel a mixed set of emotions when something like a double experience event gets announced.  Lord of the Rings Online has one going now as part of their ramp up to the Helms Deep expansion in November.

30 days of bonus XP!

30 days of bonus XP!

That is a pretty long stretch of double experience.  A lot of games will toss that sort of thing out for a special weekend or maybe a holiday or “please come back and play!” event over maybe a week.  But a 30 day stretch seems like a lot.  I cannot recall off hand any other game going for double for quite that long.  I wonder what SynCaine would say?

And when I saw that offer on the front page of the LOTRO site, a little voice within me said, “Wow, I should totally take advantage of that to get a few level!”

I mean, I made it through Moria with my captain on Brandywine (5th server, 5th guild)  and if I just pushed a little bit forward I could actually get into Siege of Mirkwood content that I purchased a couple of years back.

Not here, but I can see if from here

Look, I made it out the far side!

Basically, opportunity!  I should take advantage of it.

Then another voice in my head coughs and says something along the lines of, “Weren’t you just grumbling about how fast leveling is in MMOs these day?”

And I must sheepishly admit to myself that I have groused about how trivial, for example, the 1 to 60 game in World of Warcraft has gotten.   One of my issues in my quest to see the Horde side of the post-Cataclysm world is that I seem to out-level the quest chains in a given zone long before I am done.  The achievement for doing all the quests in Azshara, as an example, shows 60 quests to be completed.  But the zone had pretty much gone gray to me just after the 40 quest mark with one character.  And with another, with whom I did a couple of instances, I was beyond the zone before the 30 quest mark.  In fact, I was so far beyond that the Warchief’s Call board directed me to essentially skip the next zone in line as well.

Likewise, back in LOTRO, I was skipping whole sections of content.  I actually optimized my path through the game to visit some of my favorite zones… The Lone Lands and Evendim being two where I ran down the whole zone of quests… but otherwise leapfrogged until I could get into Eregion and then Moria.  Even in Moria I ended up skipping a big chunk of the content while running through some of the areas.  As it turned out, I think I picked the better areas… the content in Moria is somewhat uneven, with areas in the old fetch-and-carry quest hub model while other areas are in the more recent, more dynamic vein that Turbine has adopted… but there was still a lot left behind.

Of course, I write that in full knowledge of my own hypocrisy.  What is that I have equipped in my pocket slot?

everybody must get stoned

Everybody must get stoned…

What has it got in its pocketses indeed!  A 25% XP boosting item!

Well there’s your problem.

Or at least an insight into the problem, the competing aspects of such games that pull some people, like myself, in contradictory directions.

While seeing the world, experiencing the content, ought to be the part of the package, at the same time level based progression oriented games like this also push the achievement button for people.  As somebody who tends to be very goal oriented, at times I find myself quite caught up in the progress aspect of games.  Pushing on, getting another level, getting access to another zone, another instance, another expansion, another whatever, can quickly become my focus, especially if the content is nothing to write home about.  A series of fetch-and-carry and solve the local bear/boar/wolf problem quests become an obstacle to overcome in pursuit of the next stage of the progression aspect of the game.

In getting my fourth character to level cap in Rift before the Storm Legion expansion, my run became very much a matter of progress over everything else.

Progress, and giving feedback on progress, can be very powerful motivators.  There is a reason we went from the dark ages of TorilMUD, where you had to travel back to town to speak to your guild leader to see where you stood in your progress to the next level (and he would only give a vague answer that you could translate into which 10% segment of the climb you were in), to the tiny little five bubble experience bar in the character window in EverQuest which used to cause people to track progress in pixels (I had a friend who used to take a before and after screen shot every time he played so he could compare the bars and get an exact pixel count), to experience bars that are part of the main UI and which go from edge to edge across the screen, chopped up into nice little 5% increment.

This whole thing is exacerbated by the general “more levels” expansion plan that MMORPGs have been using since at least Ruins of Kunark.  When you start a game and you are staring at 85-90 levels to get to the latest content… presumably the “best” content, or at least the content where most of the population is playing… It becomes just that much harder to ignore progress in favor of content.

And it is not just the fantasy MMORPG where this holds sway.  I was thinking about why I left off playing World of Tanks earlier this year.  In part I think it was because I had hit a point where I was logging on every night to get my “first win” bonus XP with a couple of tanks on trees that I wanted to advance, and then logging off when I was done.  The fights seemed like they were becoming secondary to progression, at which point you sort of have to ask yourself why you are playing.  In my case, that dialog seems to happen somewhere in my subconscious and I simply stop logging in if it comes out the wrong way.  And now that I have picked up War Thunder, which has a similar daily bonus scheme, I wonder if I will end up in the same rut over there eventually.

It is easy at this point to say that we should focus on games without levels and the like.  But we will find our various progress metrics.  There are no levels in EVE Online, but people will track their progress in ISK, skill points, kills, standings, loyalty points, or being in one of the alliances on the sovereignty map.  We do like to have our cut and dried indicators.  And I think if you worked to eliminate all such things, you might just end up with no game at all.

Progress is in these games for a reason.  It can be both a good and a bad motivator.  I like the idea of getting to level cap.  In a number of MMOs my having arrived at that point meant me feeling done, in both a satisfying and a terminal way.  And progress, in my mind, is invariably tied in with the journey.  I couldn’t really get myself on board with SOE’s play to sell the jump to level 85 in EverQuest II.  In part that was because of the mire of skills and points and what not you are handed without any context.  But it also feels a bit like cheating, jumping up all those levels.  That is my own feeling anyway.  I wouldn’t point fingers at those who chose that path, but in my gut it feels like skipping all that progress… even though I have no inclination to do it myself at this point… is skipping the game.

Which sort of ties progress back to content in some odd way in my brain.  But, in the end, do I play the content in order to progress, or progress in order to play content?  And is there a “right” balance in there somewhere?

How do you feel about the balance between content and progress?