Category Archives: EverQuest

A Vision of Norrath at Daybreak

…because the Everquest franchise is our lifeblood and we treat it with the respect it deserves.

EQN has the largest development team at SOE. It is going to be more than ok.

John Smedley, on Twitter (one and two), post layoff.

The web sites are all still flavored “Sony Online Entertainment,” and I haven’t even seen an official logo yet for Daybreak Games Company, but the wheels of the Columbus Nova Prime acquisition continue to grind forward.

The week before last we had the “straight from the acquisition playbook” layoffs when DGC shed those it saw as redundant, low performers, or possible trouble makers when it came to their plans.  None of those who were let go had anything bad to say about DGC, but a good severance package can have that effect.  I don’t know if Columbus Nova Prime when full EA in the fine print, telling people they would want their money back if they said anything negative about Daybreak, but I wouldn’t count that out.  Not that I expected negativity.  The first day there is generally too much shock and dealing with the business at hand, and later, if you’ve left friends behind, you don’t want to shit all over them.

With that settled for the moment, DGC had to turn around and reassure the customer base, and especially those customers who are invested in the company and who are paying the bills for just about everything, which is the Norrath fan base.  Smed himself seems to spend all his time and energy on everything besides Norrath.  I think he may have said more about EVE Online in the last few years than he has about straight up, old school, made the whole company possible, EverQuest.

H1Z1 isn’t making any money yet, Dragon’s Prophet seems dubious as a cash cow, PlanetSide 2 is finally carrying its own weight, and DC Universe Online appears to be doing well on the PlayStation, but I wonder how much of that money flows back to SOE and how much stays behind to bolster PlayStation Plus revenues.

So, from the outside, it feels like Norrath is still paying the bills.  Michael Zenke came back from talking with Smed some years back with the impression that EverQuest was so cheap to operate on a day-to-day basis that it might literally hold out until the last subscriber walks away.  Throwing away the cash cow, or letting it starve, seems like a bad play.  And when the layoffs seemed to be focused primarily around people working on Norrath related projects, some of the vocal members of the fan base were clearly running scared and talking about swearing off any form of EverQuest before the place ended up a stagnant backwater.  So something had to be done.

That something was live streams.

I will say right now that I hate live streams for developer updates.  They are fine for a special announcement or some such… SOE Live or BlizzCon level events are okay… but as a method for delivering more mundane updates or plans, I really don’t like them.  They involve too much personality and not enough detail and you end up with half-considered statements that people will glom onto, like Tom Chilton saying that he felt Warlords of Draenor was further along back at BlizzCon in 2013 than Mists of Pandaria was when it was announced at BlizzCon.  That practically became “Draenor by February!” in some corners.   Plus, I must admit, I am old and grumpy and actively resent a developer group making me sit and watch something for an half an hour to glean maybe five minutes worth of actual details if I am lucky.

So I skipped what I could on that front and have depended on the MMO focused gaming media to deliver tidbits about what transpired.

Most of the coverage was about EverQuest Next, as that is the future of Norrath on which any number of former, but never again, EverQuest and EverQuest II players have pinned their hopes on.

Firiona Vie makes it to 2013

Still looking at this picture of EverQuest Next vision…

On the interesting side of things, there is apparently some hedging as to whether or not EverQuest Next will be free to play, or at least free to play in the current SOE model.  I suspect that might be wishful thinking, because unless Daybreak really has something new and different that can command a box price or a mandatory subscription, they might do themselves more harm than good going that route.  And my confidence in Daybreak being able to recognize a good idea from a bad one, given their track record, is pretty low.  But I couldn’t tell you if, in the long term, F2P has been the salvation that has been claimed on the Norrath front.

Then there is EverQuest Next on consoles.  Given what Smed has been preaching since the acquisition has been announced, that feels more likely an outcome than not.  The question then becomes one of balance… as in how many PC players will stop playing the game when they find a clunky UI designed to be used with a gamepad?  There is going to have to be a lot of XBox and PlayStation interest to counteract shitting all over the main fanbase if we end up with a DCUO interface.

And then there is the question of what EverQuest Next will be now that Daybreak has cut its ties with Storybricks.

I refuse to go full Tobold here and declare that this move means that EverQuest Next is likely to be a boring old WoW clone.  On the break with Storybricks, Senior Producer Terry Michaels said,

We made the decision that it was in the best interest of the game to take that work in-house. They did a lot of work for us and we’ll be utilizing that. It’s not like that work is lost.

So I am not sure you can make the logic-defying leap and declare that EverQuest Next is going to be completely 2007 or whatever in makeup because of this change, at least not without a supporting argument along the lines of “SOE is lying to us again” or some evidence that they are, indeed, trashing all the code related to Storybricks’ involvement.  Of course, bringing all of that work in-house isn’t likely to make EverQuest Next appear in the “near future” as was recently mentioned.

Anyway, that is the meat of what I saw over the weekend, which really wasn’t all that much, as the game is still out in the future.  I am sure I missed some details on the EverQuest Next front, I’m just not sure they matter until the game is an actual thing on Steam access at a minimum.

I had to go to a more a dedicated site, the ever alert EQ2 Wire, to find out what was going on when it came to news from the EverQuest II stream.  That appeared to be much more focused on simply reassuring the fan base that EverQuest II was still a going concern.

This treasure... you cannot have it

Is there still treasure in post-cataclysm Norrath?

The core of that seemed to be that updates and events and what not would continue on as before along with an acknowledgement around some pathological desire in the fan base to have a duck mount.

Then there was the EverQuest stream, which as far as I can tell, no MMO news site even bothered to dig into, so I had to actually go listen to that video once it was up on YouTube. (I put the video in the background because people sitting around talking wasn’t exactly adding to the flow of information.)

There the talk started off with some of the diminished team introducing themselves, and a statement that Holly Longdale was taking over as executive producer, putting her in charge of both EQ and EQII.  There was mention of new updates coming up in the next couple of months, including a new loot system and some vague statements about this year’s expansion, so I suppose that isn’t totally out the window, along with some minor talk about what they want to add to the game going forward, including making the UI better.

The biggest part of that whole stream for me was the mention of continuing to do things that work well with EverQuest, including progression servers.  There wasn’t anything concrete about how they want to do them going forward or what form they would take, but they were definitely on record that they want to do them again, which is great.  I thought we had kissed that idea good-bye forever once free to play hit everywhere.

Timeline stuck in time

So many expansions to unlock

For a game that has such nostalgia value for so many people, the whole progression server idea has always been a winner, delivering a lot of bang for the buck for bother players and the company.  There are a lot of players who will jump on board, even if it is subscription only, to have a “Day one, everybody level 1, lets go camp bandits!” experience.  It would just be nice if Daybreak could actually really run with the idea and promote it and keep people interested.  My past experience has been that progression servers get attention for about five minutes on the front page and then never get mentioned again, while in the forums, the most common company presence is SOE-MOD-04, the harbinger of locked threads.  The Fippy Darkpaw progression server just passed the four year mark last week and I still can only find updates about it when Daybreak screws something up.

Anyway, those are my notes from the weekend on the Norrathian front at Daybreak. (I will also say that the new company name is just the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to post titles.)

A few other blogs are writing a bit about these topics as well, including:

And the beat goes on.

The 2015 List – A New Year Brings New Predictions

Hey, it’s 2015!

A graphic with the number 2015 on it!

A graphic with the number 2015 on it!

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

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

Predictions

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

  • At BlizzCon we won’t hear about the next World of Warcraft expansion.  Blizz is going to avoid the year long run up to a new expansion and focus on what we’ll get in Draenor in 2016.  That’s the plan going forward; a shorter run up to the next expansion, more focus on the current one, same two year gap between launches.
  • Blizzard will also punt on its PLEX-like item idea as foes of the idea in the forums will keep screaming “Diablo III real money auction house fiasco!” until the idea is put back on the shelf.
  • BlizzCon will also see the announcement of a new expansion for Diablo III, breaking the “one expansion” trend for Diablo games.
  • Heroes of the Storm will go live, at last, after BlizzCon.
  • Overwatch, though, will stay in closed, invite-only beta in 2015.  We’ll hear good things, but we won’t get anything until next year.
  • EverQuest Next will not ship in 2015.  At least not by any definition I would consider a real release.  Rather, it will enter the “pay to play our unfinished free to play game” state that has haunted Landmark for the last year.  And it won’t even get to that state until after SOE Live.
  • Push is going to come to shove at SOE, with EQN and Landmark drawing on more in-house resources but not necessarily providing more revenue.  One of the two Norrath games, EverQuest or EverQuest II, is going to get shorted on the expansion front this year.  There will be a virtual box to buy, but it will really be just a features and fixes expansion with no new levels, races, classes, or overland zones.  A few dungeons/raids and the usual set of AA options will be all somebody gets.
  • Also on the SOE front, Dragon’s Prophet will get the axe in 2015 and some new Asian import will get its chance.
  • GuildWars 2 is going to ship an expansion in a box, virtual or otherwise, that will be the classic “give us money and get new content” exchange that we are all quite used to.  It will be a big win, hugely popular with the fan base, have many jumping puzzles, and ArenaNet will grumble all the way to the bank about how NCsoft made them do it.
  • WildStar will go free to play.  NCsoft has a deal for the China market, so they can’t shut the thing down just yet.  But to get to China I am going to bet they have to go F2P.  And if you’re going to do the work for China, you might as well apply it in the west as well.
  • CCP is going to break sovereignty in null sec in 2015 and cause a great upheaval in EVE Online.  Most sov will effectively be dropped and chaos will ensue.  Much mocking will come from other quarters of the game, until the wise realize that all those null sec players need to go somewhere, and it is either leave the game or bunk with them.  Soon the cry to fix null will be universal, just to save the game and everybody’s sanity. CCP will take one of their full five week dev cycles to fix it, but there won’t be any roll back.  Instead they will have new sov mechanics in place and will declare a null sec gold rush/thunderdome.  Hilarity will ensue and it will become one of the great legends of the game we tell to new players.  Meanwhile, the sov map will look pretty much the same at the end of the year.
  • CCP will sell, transfer, or otherwise hand off responsibility for DUST 514 to Sony, including the employees left working on it.  It will remain connected to EVE Online, so orbital bombardment will remain a possibility, but Sony will be running.  It will end up in the laps of SOE in San Diego which will prompt another round of “SOE is buying CCP!” hysteria.  (But that won’t happen until 2016.)
  • The Elder Scrolls Online will muddle along in 2015, fixing bugs and waiting for the console version to ship.  The console version won’t ship until after summer however, and things will seem somewhat grim as the push to get it out becomes an “all hands on deck” development task, leaving the Windows version to drift for a couple months.
  • Funcom will also be in a bit of a muddle as LEGO Minifigures Online continues to under perform.  This will cause a replay of the LEGO Universe fiasco, with LEGO HQ wresting control of the software from Funcom, as they did with NetDevil, leading to about the same result as LEGO runs the thing into the ground and shuts it down.
  • Hacking and cyber attacks will be on the rise, and a major MMO studio will be kicked completely offline for a full week at some point during 2015.
  • EA’s claim that Star Wars: The Old Republic’s earnings are disappointing is a sign of something.  I expect less voiced content, if any, and more features like Galactic Starfighter, things that can boost cash shop sales.  Double credit if they use my droid battles idea from last year.
  • At Turbine, things will go as they have been for the last few years, with a slow retreat into its core money making items.  Asheron’s Call and Asheron’s Call 2 will go the way of EverQuest Mac the first time they need an update for a vulnerability.  A WB exec will order the plug pulled before the end of 2015.  They will be gone along with the pipe-dream promise of running your own server.
  • Likewise, it will be a slow year for Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online unless Infinite Crisis is a break-out success in the MOBA world.  It looks like it will be lining itself up against Heroes of the Storm, so that looks like a vain hope indeed.
  • Brad McQuaid, failing to find a reliable source of suckers funding, will throw in the towel on Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, leading wags to ask if this was supposed to be the rising part of the prophecy or if it was still part of the fall.
  • Project: Gorgon will finally catch a break and gain traction via early access at Steam.  Some money will come in and allow development to move more quickly.

No Shows in 2015

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

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

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

Other Predictions

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

Looking Back at 2014 – Highs and Lows

As the month of December bleeds out before our very eyes and the new year looms, it becomes time for certain standard posts to appear.  Looking back at the year gone by, revision 5.

Past entries, should you be bored and looking for something else to read, are here:

Payment Model Wars

Not much new to add since last year, so you can go back and read that.  I still don’t like where free to play inevitably leads games, but in a market where free is now the norm, you have to be extra special to warrant a subscription.

Turbine

Highs

  • They still seem to be a going concern.
  • They have had updates out for Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online.
  • Lord of the Rings Online is still a great way to get a feel for Middle-earth.  I like to go back and just visit places.
  • They aren’t actually killing off Asheron’s Call or Asheron’s Call 2. There is a promise to keep the servers up and running and some effort to allow players to run their own servers.  And, hey, it’s free.
  • They have a new game waiting in the wings… somewhere.
  • WB Games management exhales carbon dioxide, which helps plants grow.

Lows

  • More layoffs.
  • No expansion for LOTRO.
  • All I do is visit and look.  The last big change to classes pretty much made me give up on going back to play.
  • How is that “PvP and Raiders make up less than 10%…” stance working out?
  • Asheron’s Call series is in some state that is probably less than maintenance mode.  No income generally means no attention unless something is literally on fire.
  • The “run your own server” option sounds like a hollow promise at best.  How much effort do you think they will expend on this while struggling with other projects and laying people off?
  • Is Infinite Crisis a thing yet or not?  It isn’t going to save the company sitting in closed beta or whatever.
  • Management’s main function at this point might merely be contributing to global warming.

Sony Online Entertainment

Highs

  • Leaner, more focused organization
  • A new game, H1Z1 in the pipe
  • Fixed a bit of confusion by splitting out Landmark as its own title without the EverQuest name attached.
  • Ongoing support and new expansions for both EverQuest and EverQuest II
  • EverQuest II ten year anniversary!  Isle of Refuge prestige house!
  • Closed the exp loophole in Dungeon Maker in EQII.
  • Station Cash is strong enough again that they could actually sell a bit at a discount for a holiday sale.  People actually complained because they couldn’t buy Station Cash up to the set limit of 30K per day during the sale.
  • Didn’t get brought down by the latest Sony hacking incidents… well, except for the PlayStation titles.
  • I think people have finally stopped accosting Smed in the street about the NGE.

Lows

  • The organization got leaner and more focused by killing off four titles, Clone Wars Adventures, Free Realms, Vanguard, and Wizardry Online.  As many as three of those will be missed, and all four will get Smed accosted where ever he goes.  Okay, maybe not Wizardry Online.
  • Apparent revolving door, flavor of the whatever, Asian import MMO plan.  Out with Wizardry Online, in with Dragon’s Prophet.
  • Landmark is still a work in progress with no real end in sight.  Worked for Notch and Minecraft because he got some good, tangible stuff in early.  Not so much with Landmark even with the latest code drop.
  • EverQuest Next is still a blur on the horizon.  Is it getting closer or not?  My gut is starting to feel like another EverQuest title might be too much to hang on that lore in any case.
  • SOE now has two titles, EverQuest and EverQuest II, with level caps that started at 50 and now are into triple digits.  Not sure if that is bad, but it makes you go “whoa!”
  • SOE’s History of EverQuest II – 10th Anniversary Documentary was completely lacking in substance.
  • So what is the Dungeon Maker good for now?  Can I go in there and play with SOEmote?
  • Never got my promo code for Station Cash, despite signing up well in advance of the date, a problem a lot of people had.
  • With people buying up gobs of Station Cash with up to a 3x bonus, will that flood the market again?
  • Still no idea what people could possibly spend 30K of Station Cash on, much less the 90K somebody must have tried to buy over the three days of the sale.  Seriously, is there some special tab that is not visible in my version of the Station Cash store?

CCP

Highs

  • The change in development strategy for EVE Online has really invigorated the game for the installed base.  Fixing shit and making the game better is a win.
  • Some good PR moments have brought a lot of new players to the game.
  • CCP is focusing more on their core competencies.
  • EVE Valkyrie gets people excited whenever they see it.
  • DUST 514 is still a thing… right?

Lows

  • A lot of the cool things CCP is doing for EVE Online are good, short term wins, but are they the kind of things that keep people invested and subscribed?
  • What happens when the low hanging fruit is consumed?
  • CCP admits that bringing new players to the game isn’t even the battle, as 90% of those who subscribe cancel before their subscription period runs out, and that doesn’t even get to the number of people who don’t subscribe.  The conversion rate for the trial accounts was what then? 1%?  Less?
  • Better not mess up on any of these changes to EVE Online, because it is all that is paying the bills right now.  One slip up and SOE will buy them and… do I even want to think about that?  I mean sure, Smed was in the CFC… but in SMA.
  • For all the changes to the game this past year, we just need AAA to take some sov again and all the usual suspects will be back on the map again.
  • Not enough hats in New Eden.  We need some decent hats.
  • Yeah, EVE Valkyrie sounds cool, and looks cool, but will VR headsets make us vomit after 30 minutes or go insane after extended use?  There are some doubts on that front.
  • I barely know if DUST 514 is still a thing.  I have yet to bomb anybody from orbit, and I feel poorer for it.

Blizzard

Highs

  • As usual, laughing all the way to the bank pushing wheel barrows full of cash.
  • WoW subscriptions way up with Warlords of Draenor and a solid change of focus.  Orcs make the best bad guys.
  • New plan for global domination means having one winning product in each important gaming genre.
  • Glad they fixed Diablo III by removing the auction house and fixing itemization.  The “real money” aspect was a side issue, the auction house itself and the original itemization, which felt like it was designed to push you to the auction house, were the problems with the game.  I went back and played through the game again.
  • Some rumbling that Heroes of the Storm is actually good and might do to MOBAs what Hearthstone did for collectible card games.
  • Overwatch looks like money in the bank at this point.
  • StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void might actually see the light of day in 2015.

Lows

  • The balance sheet might as well read “WoW and the five dwarves,” because Azeroth is the big breadwinner.  Blizzard without WoW is just a very successful studio, not an obscenely successful one.  They have to keep WoW going or change their lifestyle.
  • Some moon-eyed dreamers out there are going to hang on to the idea of the now-cancelled Titan project and moan about how it could have changed things despite it never having been a thing.
  • Rough start going into Warlords of Draenor.  Everybody says being too popular is the problem to have, but it is still a problem.
  • WoW subscriptions still below the 12 million peak going into Cataclysm.  No new class or race means no real drive to create new alts while insta-90 means those alts that get made are quickly at the level cap.
  • The low water mark for WoW subscribers was this summer, during the great content drought of 2014, and it isn’t clear that Blizz learned a lesson from that.  They say they did, but will they live up to that.
  • Five expansions in, occasionally hit by the realization that this is two years of busy work that will be washed away by the next $50 box.
  • And after playing through Diablo III again I didn’t buy the expansion and pretty much put it away.  It is still there if we get a group together, but soloing through a couple times was enough.
  • Is Heroes of the Storm live-ish yet?  I’m not sure you can change the world in closed beta.
  • Really not sure what Hearthstone did for collectible cards games, now that I think about it.
  • Anybody who thinks Blizz has learned any lessons about timeliness is kidding themselves.  They ship when they are good and ready… which is a luxury they enjoy… but if you think another WoW expansion is coming in less than two years, think again.  I think the best we can hope for is that they won’t dole out the add-on content for the game as quickly.

Other MMO Devs

Highs

  • Trion rolls out an expansion for Rift and brought out ArcheAge which boasts a feature set that gets a lot of people very excited.
  • Two big titles came out in 2014, The Elder Scrolls Online and WildStar.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic got an expansion and a level cap increase.
  • ArenaNet plays its living story hand to the fullest in GuildWars 2.
  • Jagex is trying hard to not be just the RuneScape studio.
  • Funcom gets a property that looks like a potential gold mine, LEGO Minifigures Online.  They surely learned from the failure of LEGO Universe.
  • Chris Roberts continued to bring in the cash for Star Citizen.  They are past the $66 million dollar mark at this point.  Op success!
  • Some other Kickstarters I backed made some progress.  Camelot Unchained’s promise date is still a year out, and while Shroud of the Avatar is behind their original schedule, you can get in the game and do things.
  • Project: Gorgon, despite a name that really isn’t helping things, and despite failing the second Kickstarter, is still progressing and could very well be one of the prime examples of what a niche MMO title can be.

Lows

  • Trion botches the ArcheAge launch to the point of alienating some of their most ardent fans.  The game went from being worth a four hour queue to not being worth logging on at all for a lot of people I follow.
  • The Elder Scrolls Online has spent months working on bugs and will likely be at least a year late in shipping the console version, while WildStar is facing an uncertain future after subs dropped off a cliff, since they were published by NCsoft, whose motto is “kill the weak.”
  • Despite claims that SW:TOR is a cash cow, EA is officially saying it isn’t meeting expectations.  Not sure that bodes well for the future.
  • GuildWars 2 may have lots of fans, but the revenue chart seems to indicate that they will need another box to sell to keep NCsoft happy.
  • Jagex stumbles again with Transformers Universe shutting down before leaving open beta.  So they’re still just the RuneScape company, at least when it comes to revenue.
  • LEGO Minifigures Online is not meeting revenue expectations according to Funcom.  But then, I barely knew that it launched and I thought I was paying attention.
  • The original Star Citizen promised launch date has come and gone and we have a hangar module and a mini space sim module.  Meanwhile, the new go date for the real game is out in 2016.  More space bonsai needed to raise money.
  • Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.  Awkward name, asked for too much money, the follow-on plan was just “give me money, no strings attached!” all while having too many goals.  I have doubts we’ll ever see a finished project.  It is sort of the anti-Project: Gorgon.

Non-MMO Gaming Things

Highs

  • Nintendo scores a big win with Maro Kart 8, a game that actually moved some Wii U units.
  • The 3DS line continues to be a bright spot on the Nintendo balance sheet.  It is still selling well, updated units are coming, and it is getting some decent titles.  I am very happy with my 3DS XL, it is a quality unit and worthy of the high standard set by the DS Lite.
  • Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire keep the Pokemon tradition going.
  • Sony still releasing PlayStation 3 titles.
  • Steam is still a good platform, and Steam sales keep me looking for things to add to my wishlist.
  • I finally hit level 8 on Steam.
  • My iPad 2 is still rolling along, I still use it daily.  The iOS 8 update didn’t kill it completely.
  • Really looking forward my copy of A History of the Great Empires of EVE Online next year.  Andrew Groen has been making regular updates and things seem to be on track.

Lows

  • Nintendo still hasn’t sold enough Wii U units to make the whole thing worth the effort.  It remains their worst selling mainstream console, a bitter pill to swallow after the Wii.
  • While Nintendo’s handheld rules the portable roost, it’s success is mainly reliant on remakes and the same small cast of characters.  How much longer can Mario and Pikachu carry this show?
  • Part of the Pokemon tradition includes cool features that only appear in one game, then are gone for the next release.
  • Have to suppress the realization that, despite all the updates and tweaks, Pokemon has not changed in any fundamental way since it was on the original GameBoy.
  • I only bought one PlayStation 3 title in 2014… and it was Assassin’s Creed III, which came out in 2012.  And I had to wait to buy it (for my daughter) because the PlayStation Network was down due to hackers… again.  All we use the PS3 for is streaming video most days.  It is great at that, but frankly a $100 Roku box would give us more options.
  • I literally won’t buy anything that isn’t at least 50% off on Steam at this point.  And even then I let my wishlist pass.
  • Steam competitors?  How many software sales platforms do you think I am going to invest in?  So far, the answer is one.
  • Steam blocked me one point shy of level 8, where you get a serious boost in cards and stuff, until I bought something.  I bought the original Wasteland for $1.49.  I’ll have to see if it plays like it did back on my Apple //e way back when.
  • I really just use my iPad 2 to browse the web, read news, and text my wife.  The only games I play regularly at this point are Ticket to Ride, DragonVale, and Candy Crush Saga.  The same three titles I was playing 2 years ago.  And I am only to level 301 in Candy Crush Saga, because I won’t give King a dime.
  • Where the hell is my copy of Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls?  The Kickstarter date was a “pessimistic” August 2013, back in February of that year.  2014 is about done and there is no ship date in sight.

The Blog and the Internet in General

Highs

  • Hey, I kept blogging for another year.  Gotta love the force of habit!  375 posts so far in 2014.
  • Still feel like I am connected in some minor way to a lot of the other bloggers out there in our little corner of the net.  You all write great stuff and I don’t link out to you all nearly enough.
  • The blog continues to live up to its name, as the games I played the most this year are all pretty old in internet terms.  World of Warcraft and EverQuest II both just turned 10, EVE Online is 11, and the Pokemon franchise is 18 years old at this point.
  • Turns out what I said last year about it being nice having a blog because so many of my screen shots are there came to pass when my power supply blew out and fried my motherboard, video card, and both drives… which actually sounds like a low, but I got a replacement board for one of the drives and it spun up and I was able to recover data.

Lows

  • WordPress.com seems determined to force horrible design choices on their users.  Most of their 2014 updates have offered less functionality, worse layout, and slower performance.  Seriously, WTF WordPress?
  • The randomness of Google and the internet means my most read post this year is the one I wrote about considering which class on which to use my WoW insta-90.
  • I remain at a loss as to what gamer social networking ought to be.  I keep getting invites to sites, and spent some time with Anook, but I dropped off after a while.  I already have a blog and too many ways to interact with people, why do I need a site that appears to be primarily looking to me to provide free content?
  • When did Yahoo’s motto become, “Well, we’re not the best, so let’s just be complete shit?”  Their site, their mail interface, their mobile app for mail, all have gone to utter shit.  I am pretty sure if I install Ad Block, Yahoo would simply disappear.
  • Also, Apple, WTF is it with iTunes?  Why must it get worse and worse?
  • GamerGate: Failed to learn the lesson of Occupy Wall Street (no leadership or unified platform or goals), so now any reasonable message under that hash tag is forever tainted by death threats, doxing, and revenge porn.  You cannot disavow something if nobody/everybody speaks for you movement.  You just managed to reinforce all the negative gamer stereotypes.

That is what came to mind for 2014 when I sat down to write this.  I am sure somebody will point out some big things I missed… which is the purpose of the comments section, so have at it.

And other people in the blogesphere have been looking at 2014 for good or ill, so you can see what they had to say as well.

Is One MMO Enough for a Studio?

CCP was on the cusp of becoming a respectable multi-MMO studio, but then it jettisoned World of Darkness and pledged undying loyalty to the EVE universe.

Syp, MMO studio report card: Where are our leaders?

Syp had a post a while back about MMO industry leadership that had a strongly implied and, to my mind, not well supported assumption about what such leadership amounts to.  Subscribers/customers wasn’t a factor.  Not to pick on Syp, but he does tend to see the negative in all things Blizzard, so he would have to either throw that out or say something nice about Blizz.  The latter may have stuck in his throat, thus leadership has nothing to do with audience size or the influence that goes with it.

Nor does it have anything to do with who is following whom, a simple definition of leadership.  That way lies madness… or Blizzard again.  Lots of people have been following Blizzard, adopting features haphazardly over time like EverQuest II, setting themselves up as alternatives with “WoW Plus” games like Rift at launch, or just copying chunks the game wholesale like Alganon.

No, not Azeroth!

Mentioning Azeroth acknowledges its leadership

Whether or not World of Warcraft being viewed as a leader… it is by outsiders if nobody else, and they seem to have all the money… has been good for MMOs over the last decade is an open sore of a topic.  Are the stifling aspects of Blizzard’s behemoth on the industry (go into any MMO beta and count the number of times somebody is essentially complaining in general chat that the game in question isn’t WoW) worth the players that WoW brought into the genre and who went on to play other titles?  So goes the debate.

No, the only aspects that seemed to count on his list was having multiple MMO titles in play and who was making new MMOs.

But are more MMOs better for a company or not?  And do more MMOs really mean leadership?

Perfect World Entertainment, which includes the perennially troubled Cryptic Studios and the “disappeared off the map for two years and not making a Torchlight MMO” Runic Games, has many MMO titles available.  However, aside from the output of Cryptic, their titles tend to be Asian imports that do not play well in the west.  And even the Cryptic titles are not all that strong.  Neverwinter has a following and some features of note, but I rarely hear much good about the rushed to market due to contractual requirements Star Trek Online and almost never hear anything at all about their “let’s remake City of Heroes” title, Champions Online.  Maybe PWE isn’t a good example, especially when they are pointing at their US operations as hurting their bottom line.

How about NCsoft?  Again, they have a range of MMO titles from their home studio in South Korea along with titles from ArenaNet and Carbine Studios.  Certainly GuildWars 2 is a strong candidate, though the financials indicate that the execs in Seoul will be forcing ANet to ship an expansion box to boost revenues.  And all focus at ANet is on GW2, with GuildWars left to run out its days unsupported.  WildStar though… I haven’t heard any good news there.  And when it comes down to it, NCsoft gets most of its revenue from South Korea, and largely from its 1998 title Lineage.  Meanwhile, it has closed a lot of MMOs, which could be bad news for Carbine if they don’t get their act together.  Is this the multi-MMO company model we want others to follow?

And then there is Funcom, which has shambled from disappointment to disappointment.  They launched LEGO Minifigures Online a little while back which, true to Funcom’s history, has failed to meet expectations.

Okay, maybe we should ignore all those foreigners and look at a US-centric company like Sony Online Entertainment.

I love SOE, but at times they seem to be the MMO studio embodiment of Murphy’s Law.  If they can do the wrong thing, they will, and in front of a live studio audience.  Granted, they do tend to fix things in the end and do the right thing, but sometimes getting there is painful to watch.  However, they are the US champion for a multi-MMO company, at least in terms of number of titles.  But has this made them better or just spread them too thin?

They have two flavors of EverQuest and a third on the way at some distant future date.  There is LandmarkMinecraft for people who don’t like pixels, and the engine on which the next EverQuest will someday ride… in progress.  They have PlanetSide, PlanetSide 2, and H1Z1 (Zombie PlanetSide) in development.  And then there is the Asian import flavor of the month, previously Wizardry Online and currently Dragon’s Prophet.

That list of titles feels like too much stuff, and all the more so when you consider that SOE also cranks out an expansion for both EverQuest titles every year.  While those expansions mean revenue, SOE could be operating with as few as 50K subscribed players on EverQuest II and probably less still for EverQuest.  That is a big investment in the past while we wait for EverQuest Next.

Then there is Trion, which does a respectable job with Rift, which remains their best received title.  But Defiance has been problematic.  ArcheAge, which had the potential to be a big hit, has been mishandled. And then there is Trove, which seems to Minecraft for people who want bigger pixels and brighter colors.  Multiple MMOs hasn’t been a stellar success for Trion.

And, finally, on the US front there is Turbine which, inexplicably in hindsight given the size of the company, has the rights for Dungeons & Dragons AND Lord of the Rings and which has manage to turn both huge franchises into awkward niche titles.  Other than that they have Asheron’s Call, the distant third of the “big three” break-out MMOs from the end of the 90s, and Asheron’s Call 2, revived from the dead because… I still don’t know why.  I think it speaks volumes about Turbine’s outlook in that they are betting on a MOBA to save their flagging fortunes.

Stack those up against companies with just a single MMO.

Blizzard.  Do I need to say more about the very, very rich company in Anaheim?  One MMO has been very good to them.

CCP.  They seem to get into trouble only when they wander away from EVE Online.  When they focus on their main product, which in the past meant stealing resources from World of Darkness, things tend to go well for them.

EA.  Okay, EA has three MMOs, but they bought two of them and have farmed them out for another company to run, leaving them with just the BioWare MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic.  It was never a WoW-killer, and it has its problems (roll stock footage about subscriber retention and selling hotbars), but it makes money.  Not as much as EA would like, but that may be as much because Disney gets a cut as anything.  That is the rub with a licensed IP, they come with more overhead.

Zenimax.  The Elder Scroll Online might be the weak point in the single MMO theory.  I don’t know how the game is doing, other than things are still being fixed and that the console versions of the title, a big part of the plan, have been pushed out into 2015.

And then there are the MMO-ish niche titles of the future, Star Citizen, Shroud of the Avatar and Camelot Unchained.  Those are being made by small companies that can only afford to invest in a single game.  And while those titles are playing the nostalgia card for all it is worth, they are also potentially mapping out new paths in the MMO world as smaller titles are able to do.

All of which is just so much talk, punctuated with some admittedly unfair characterizations both of various companies and of Syp.  I am not saying that companies should run one or multiple MMOs.  Clearly some companies do well, or well enough, running multiple games, while others seem best suited to focusing on a single title.  But I wouldn’t categorize any company as not being a real MMO player just because they only have one such title.

What do you think?

The Darkened Sea Brings EverQuest to Level 105

Leaving aside the whole “launching two days before Warlords of Draenor” aspect of things, who at SOE decided to launch both Norrathian expansions on the same day?  Have you no pity for your IT people?

So we have the Altar of Malice expansion on the EverQuest II front, which I mentioned in the previous post, and for EverQuest there is The Darkened Sea.

Firiona Vie wet armor contest!

Firiona Vie wet armor contest!

This, the 21st EverQuest expansion and officially launches today.  It was actually available to All Access subscribers two weeks back, but now it has been unleashed for even the unwashed masses… who still have to pay $40 for the content, so I am not sure why the head start.  Are there a lot of people who buy EQ expansions but who are not signed up for the All Access subscription?

Anyway, it contains the usual ration of content, taking stuff that worked in the past and adding more.

  • Level Cap Increase — You can now level up your characters to an unprecedented 105!
  • 8 New Zones — Brand new zones such as Thuliasaur Island and Combine Dredge offer immersive and captivating adventures.
  • Mount Key Ring — Easily access your entire mount collection in one easy location!
  • New Tradeskills, Spells, AAs and Items
  • New Quests, Missions and Raids

I am not sure how “unprecedented” going up to level 105 really is.  I am sure we can find some Korean grinder MMO that has 250 levels or the like.  But I guess for more mainstream western MMORPGs, going past level 100 is at least uncommon.  Now it will stand out from EverQuest II and World of Warcraft, which both get a boost to level 100 this week.

Anyway, the expansion should be live at some point soon.  Until then you can watch the trailer for the expansion over at YouTube.  Watching that video is interesting both to see how far the game has come as well as what still lingers from the old days.  At one point you can hear the sound of a spell that takes me right back to 1999.

When Does an MMO Become a Foreign Country?

One of the tenets of the MMORPG industry these days is that players will come and go.  After a certain point in the life cycle of an MMO the installed base, those who have played the game at one time but who are not currently playing, is the most fertile ground for marketing.  Somebody who has enjoyed your game once may come back to try it again.

And a lot of us do come and go from various MMOs.  There are many posts on this blog about my poking my nose back into this game or that for a summer vacation or autumnal nostalgia tour.

Unfortunately, this sort of revolving door view of MMOs does tend to be at odds with another constant of MMOs: Change.

Change, big and small, is part and parcel of the genre it seems.  Think of how many blog posts and comments have included something akin to, “I liked this game back when…”

Changes can be small, confined to a single class or a single ability, or huge, changing how every class works or even how we look as classes in a game.  Blizzard likes to revamp classes, stats, and combat with every expansion, something we can look forward to yet again with the 6.0 patch before Warlords of Draenor.  And Turbine did a giant turn on Lord of the Rings Online classes shortly after my last time playing the game, remaking classes in the image of the talent tree god.

specs and talents

specs and talents

Change is meant to be good.  These revamps are meant to improve the game, to make it more playable, to balance out the classes, and to make sure there isn’t just a single “I win” skill for a given class.

And if you are playing a game actively and such change occurs, you pick up and work your way through the change with everybody else.  There is a lot of sharing when it comes to adapting.

But if you were away when the change hit, if you were taking a break, on hiatus, or just getting the hell away from a game that was starting to feel more like work than fun for a bit, coming back can be a very different experience.

It can be like a foreign country.

Sure, things look about the same as home at first glance.  But as you look closer, differences start to become apparent.  They call french fries something else on the menu and when they serve them up they have a side of mayonnaise or are bathed in gravy.  The money is all different, so you can’t tell what is expensive and what is a bargain without a bit of math.  And the customs are all different, so people are rolling their eyes or giving you angry glances as you wander about trying to figure out what is going on.

Now, in a foreign country, you have to grow up there in order to really fit in.  MMOs are not so complex.  If you have friends or a regular guild or group, they can help you assimilate to the new state of affairs.  And, when all else fails, you can go back, roll up a new character and, in essence, “grow up” again in the game.

I have used the new character method quite a bit, especially with LOTRO, which seems to change quite a bit between my visits.  But even that has its flaws.  In LOTRO, for example, I have now played through the 1 to 40 content with so many characters that, even though I enjoy it, I do want to see something else.  And in EverQuest there is so much content and so much has changed over the years (and there are so many out of date guides and such on the web), that somewhere between the tutorial zone and some level… somewhere between 20 and 50… I inevitably fall off the rails.  I have not played the game seriously in so long that the game is almost completely foreign to me, to the point that even “growing up” through it again isn’t possible.

It seems like I have simply been away too long to ever really return to EverQuest.  It isn’t what it once was, I do not understand what it has become, and I have no base of friends or other support group to help out.  And I feel that way when I wander into EverQuest II these days as well.  The old guilds are all deserted and the skills on my hot bar are like a foreign language.

This is why the various insta-level schemes haven’t really thrilled me.  If I am lost where I left off in the midst of the game, boosting me further along, and thus removing even the bits of context I remember, isn’t going to help me much.

It all makes me wonder if there is a quantifiable gap in time after which returning to an MMO becomes difficult, a point after which the inevitable divergence between what you remember and the state of the game starts to turn the game into a foreign place.

Or maybe it is just me.  I swap classes in a game and it takes me a while to come up to speed.