Category Archives: Kickstarter

Mineserver – It Could Still Happen

But backers still don’t know when they will get one.

A regular reader… somebody like Jenks maybe… might recall my post about the Mineserver Kickstarter campaign back in early October of 2015.  The Mineserver was to be… and may yet be… an inexpensive and easy to administer Minecraft server you could put on your home network that would allow your friends to play with you from their homes.

It was all but done according to the Kickstarter.  Specifically, the money was just supposed to help them ramp up production.  Per the campaign:

All that still needs to be finished is the final case tooling, which is coming from a U.S. supplier. That tooling — and pre-ordering a large enough supply of other components at volume prices — is what the $15,000 is for.

That was the story, while the plan was:

Full production will begin at the start of November and our goal is to deliver all Mineservers™ — burned-in and tested — by Christmas.

That was Christmas 2015.

It seemed like a good idea, and was being driven by a Silicon Valley notable Mark Stephens, aka Robert X. Cringely.  Surely his public reputation would keep the project on track.  I went in for a Mineserver Pro.  I figured we could host our group’s Minecraft world there so I wouldn’t have to pay for hosting.

Of course, the devil is in the details… or the software.  Yesterday I chided Blizzard for complaining that something they had proved they had done already was too hard.  This was the flip side, the usual scenario in software development, where a goal as yet unachieved is considered to be trivially easy right up until the coding actually starts.

And so a year after the Kickstarter I wrote a post about project, the ups and downs, the over ambitious statements, the long silences, and most of all, the lack of delivery when it came to the Mineservers.

There was a quick update just after my post, which I linked to as an addendum, holding out hope before the backers that maybe the last problem had been solved and that perhaps we might see Mineservers delivered in 2016.

I haven’t written anything since as there has been nothing to write about.  No Mineservers were delivered, though there was faint hope of that, and between early November and this week there were no updates posted about the project.  More than six months of silence on a project only 19 months in… and 17 months past due.

And then finally Cringely stepped up to the podium and posted an update on his blog.

The gist is that while they raiser over $30,000, they have spent $90,000 on the project and it still isn’t done yet.  Rather than folding up shop and leaving us all hanging forever, Cringely decided to push forward, get more funding, and turn the whole thing into a real business.

This meant negotiations and business development and finding funding and so on, stuff you cannot do in the public eye.  You can go to his post for details.  And there is the promise that those who backed the Kickstarter campaign will get their servers.

Yet I find some of his post irksome, and not because we are again left to guess when we might see the hardware or even if the software is done.  I think it is more a matter of having seen some Kickstarter campaigns run well… campaigns that shipped even later… that it is difficult to be tolerant of an alleged industry expert who clearly doesn’t get it.

I think the issue stems from his mode of operation over the years.  He is somebody who tells you things or repeats stories or other items he has heard and thinks are important.  Sometimes that leads to interesting works.  His main claims to fame, the book Accidental Empires and the InfoWorld column from which he took his handle (though he was neither the first nor the last to use that name there) involved retelling the anecdotes of others.  And he has continued that with his blog, where he ranges from personal tales to the trials of IBM to the non-issue of “buffer bloat,” something that led him to endorse that useless LagBuster product. (I own one; it is snake oil except under very specific circumstances.)

That has all been very much a one-way street of interaction with his audience.  He talks, we listen, and no discussion or interaction is welcome… unless you’re somebody in the industry and drop him an email directly.  But then, that is fodder for future posts to keep the cycle going.

Backers on Kickstarter expect interaction though, and that was something Cringely just wan’t going to give us.  Backing a project is a leap of faith.  The project can take the money and run and there is very little available by way of recourse.  Because of this, backers expect to be heard, and it wasn’t clear anybody was ever listening once the campaign closed.

So his post scolds people for being impatient about long delays and few updates and expects people to be grateful for even as much as he has done.  He ends up trying to make backers feel guilty by claiming that the average price paid was a mere $63 for something that cost him $99.

That number is a few flavors of bullshit from where I stand.  First, he set the price, not the backers.  If he set the wrong price, blaming the backers is bullshit.  Second, doing simple math, the average paid in was just over $70 for basic Mineservers.  I will assume he isn’t bad at math and he is trying to exclude Kickstarter’s cut, as though backers somehow didn’t pay that.  That is bullshit.  Third, blaming a whole group for the average when some people ponied up $99, or even $109 in one case, is bullshit.  Using the average was just a transparent attempt to make people feel sorry for him.  Fifth and finally myself and 52 other backers paid for Pro models, so paid at least $179.  From that vantage point having that average price paid for the base model thrown in my  face becomes an extra special brand of bullshit.

And then there was the sop to backers at the end, the suggestion that he might look into us getting some sort of equity.  I suspect that this was added just to make him look like a good guy and so he didn’t have to end on a note that involved trying to make his backers feel like ingrates.  I also suspect that if we ever hear of this offer again, it will be to explain how it just couldn’t be managed.  My experience in Silicon Valley tells me that doing this will involve way too much work to be likely to happen.

And the final item, the clincher to “Cringely doesn’t get Kickstarter” is that he posted this update to his blog, but not to the Kickstarter updates.  So unless, as a backer, you follow his blog… and perhaps his ego dictates that we all must… you might still be sitting in the dark thinking the November 10, 2016 update was the last word on the project.  Part of the reason you use the campaign for updates is that it sends the updates to backers via email.

Of course, some of that is me being my grumpy old self.  This is hardly the worst or longest delayed project, Kickstarter or otherwise, that I have been involved with.  I have been on the developer side of some bad ones, so I am not unsympathetic.  But I also know bullshit when I see it.

And the question remains as to what kind of product the Mineserver will be.  Once I get one I will most certainly use… our Minecraft world, hosted on Minecraft Realms, still gets regular use… and will write about it here.  If it works as advertised I will no doubt have good things to say about it.

But all these Mineserver plans still have to come to fruition to get to that point.  Perhaps for Christmas 2017 I will find one under the tree.

Who is Backing Ashes of Creation?

What makes the Hottentot so hot?
What puts the “ape” in ape-ricot?
Whatta they got that I ain’t got?

-C. Lion

The Ashes of Creation Kickstarter seems to be a rousing success so far.

The ask was $750,000 and, with nearly a month left to go until the June 2 end date, they have already passed a million dollars and are talking about stretch goals and the like.  Op success.

One million dollars and change so far

And this didn’t happen by magic or anything.  Intrepid Studios went by the numbers for this success with a long build up over time and clear advance notice that the Kickstarter campaign was coming so fans of the title were ready to go.

You can go over to Massively OP and search on “Ashes of Creation” and see the series of articles that they posted about the game, like stepping stones leading to this day.

This is the way it is supposed to be done.  That whole, “Hey, surprise!  We have a Kickstarter!” thing is generally a bust.  Amateurs run out half cocked, professionals lay the groundwork so that the success which follows isn’t really a surprise.

And the team at Intrepid Studios has industry experience, even if they seem a bit young.  If you show me a dozen people and say something like, “There’s over 40 years of MMO experience here in this office…” I am going to point at a co-worker of mine and tell you the pair of us are past 50 years experience in our industry combined.  But youth can mean vigor and the desire to tackle problems and older hand might just dismiss with, “we tried that before, it didn’t work.”

The experience of the team seems to be a bit focused on SOE/Daybreak, which is probably why some of what they are talking about has an air of EverQuest Next about it.  Again, not necessarily a bad thing.  EQN certainly got many people excited back in the day.  And the whole “node system” also seems to have a bit of EVE Online null sec in its mix as well.

All of this adds up to an enticing package and ought to spark the embers of hope that maybe there will be something new under the sun when it comes to the Fantasy MMORPG genre.

So why am I not excited about this?  Why isn’t this helping me shake off the MMO malaise?

I have been watching that march of articles at Massively OP for a while now, yet the fact that the Kickstarter was on and doing well really didn’t hit me until Bhagpuss posted about it.  Maybe I just pay more attention to him than Massively OP? (Also, not many of the bloggers I follow have weighed in on the Kickstarter.  What does that say?)

Meanwhile, I think I may have had my enthusiasm for Kickstarter projects weighed down by past projects.  I need to do another summary post about my experiences with Kickstarter.  That might actually be a good one for next Wednesday due to the timing of a particular campaign.  It won’t be a tale of all sunshine and lollipops as some of the projects in my post from two years back are still not done, with MMORPG projects being the most likely not to have wrapped up.

Complex software projects are complex.  It is known.  So any dates given for such projects… and in the case of Ashes of Creation, December 2018 is being bandied about… are automatically suspect in my book.

And then there is my capacity for enthusiasm over long periods of time, which is essentially zero.  As I noted in a comment on Syp’s post about backing or not backing the project, I lack the wherewithal to pay close attention to/care about such a project as it winds its way through development, alpha, early access, beta, pre-release, and whatever other gyrations the creation cycle takes.  (Cue footage of me collapsing from feigned exhaustion at the idea of a project that has an “Alpha 3.0” target some six years into the development cycle.)

From my investment in the genre about a decade back to now I have regressed to the point where I really just want to exchange money for some entertainment.  Keep your development laundry to yourself.  I can’t even bring myself to pay much attention to expansions for games I follow, at least not beyond the barest details, like ship dates.   You have to have something really, really, and I mean really, special to get me to jump on the pre-release bandwagon at this point.

But I am jaded and cynical and in that state of malaise I keep talking about, all of which tends to add up to a hammer of an emotion which makes every new MMORPG project look like a bent,  mis-aligned, and somewhat rusty nail.

So what is the fresh and enthusiastic perspective here?  Am I missing something special?  If you are backing this, what is the selling point for you?

Kickstarter MMO Metaphor

There were too many of us, we had access to too much equipment, too much money, and little by little we went insane.

Francis Ford Coppola, not at all describing Star Citizen

There is, even as I write this, a Kickstarer campaign running for a video game based on the movie Apocalypse Now.

ansplash

I have no real opinion when it comes to the game itself.  It might be the best game ever or allow one unique depth and perspective into the movie.  It might be all they promise and more.  I just know that it looks pretty sure that the campaign is not going to make its $900,000 funding goal.

Wilhelm’s Rule of Kickstarter campaigns is that if you don’t make 20% of your funding goal in the first 24 hours, you might as well go home.  You haven’t rallied your base or given enough notice or come up with the right pitch or simply just don’t have the draw to get there.

The campaign sits at 18% and is at day 14 of 30.  The prospects look grim.  They even have a backer in at the $10,000 mark, but not nearly enough backers in at the sane funding levels.

I didn’t even hear about the title through the gaming news media.  I stumbled on it by mistake on the Kickstarter site, and I was only there because I saw Bob Cringley had time to do another post on his blog so was wondering if he might have also found time to update people on when the hell their Mineservers might be showing up. (If ever.)

Still, when I found the campaign I had to laugh.

I wasn’t laughing at the campaign or what it was trying to accomplish.  Like I said, the intent there might be pure.

Rather, I was laughing at what a perfect metaphor the movie was for the big ticket, grandiose plans, uncontrolled feature creeping, perennially behind schedule, and always over budget crowdfunded MMORPG market.

And lets face it, the grand champion poster child for all of that is Star Citizen. You could make this it several others, but Star Citizen is the big fish, so let’s just go straight for the jugular on that one.

Every Star Citizen fan boy about to tell me Chris Roberts is a great man...

Every Star Citizen fan boy about to tell me Chris Roberts is a great man…

How can you have this thought… this mixing of media minds… and not put Chris Roberts up there in the role of Colonel Kurtz?  Surrounded by loyal followers who continue to give him money to driving a project that seems to have gone beyond being a viable venture.

I suppose if he could keep his posts a little more terse I might have to cast Derek Smart as Captain Willard.

They told me that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound.

-Capt. Willard, on meeting Col. Kurtz

That is a fun mental image to play with, but it is too much.  The movie is too large, too dramatic, too bloody, too wrought with peril to really be a metaphor for Star Citizen.  The real metaphor requires you to pull back a level, to consider the making of Apocalypse Now.

There is a great documentary about the making of the movie, Hearts of Darkness.  It illustrates the parallel between the theme of the movie and the reality of making the movie, with Coppola himself taking on the Kurtzian role, out in the jungle, making a movie that nearly grew beyond his ability to shape.

I can picture Chris Roberts in that situation as well.  He had a vision, but the scope may well have grown beyond his ability to shape and bring to fruition.  Some of the problem is letting things grow because the wider scope is what he really wants.  But not every problem is of his making.  Coppola in the jungle face expensive problems with sets, actors unprepared (Brando) or ill (Sheen had a heart attack) and a range of studio execs back in the states wondering what he was doing with all the money and reminding him that he was past his deadline.

For Chris Roberts you can substitute in technology not up to his vision, the need to build some things from scratch, the need to change engines, and of course a whole range of people wondering what he is doing with the money and pointing out that the promised November 2014 ship date disappeared in the rear view mirror quite a ways back.

Coppola got an enduring classic for all his problems, explosions, and a million feet of film.  We are still waiting to see what Chris Roberts will deliver.

And the irony is that the game that inspired this metaphor in my head, it isn’t going anywhere if it is depending on its crowdfunding run.  But it has been a down time for video game crowdfunding, so they might have to go back to more traditional methods.

Defense Grid the Board Game

As down as I currently am on recommending any sort of video game related Kickstarter, I do have to mention the title that disappointed me the least over the last five years, which was the Defense Grid 2 campaign.  As a project, it shipped the content that was funded just a mere month late and then went off to finish the unfunded content and sent it out to all backers as well.

Hell of a deal.

The only tiny disappointment was that Defense Grid 2 just wasn’t quite as much fun as the original Defense Grid.  The problem with sequels and all that.  Still, Hidden Path Entertainment did put out a pair of excellent tower defense games as well as doing the Age of Empires 2: Age of Kings HD update that brought that classic forward into the Steam era. (Oh, and they were involved with a little game called Counter Strike: Global Offensive.)

So I was interested to see that somebody is turning Defense Grid into a board game.  Not Hidden Path, but Hidden Path has clearly signed off on and fully endorsed the project.  And so we have a Kickstarter campaign for Defense Grid: The Board Game!

Tower Defense on your table top

Tower Defense on your table top

If you want to see what a tower defense game might look like in board game form, you can give this a look.

The campaign has already funded at this point, so they are working on stretch goals.  And physical games seem to have a better history with Kickstarter than video games.  Coding is always more complicated than you think it is going to be.

Not my thing… I don’t have anybody to play board games with any more, and even if I did I came to computer games so that the machine would do the accounting for me… but I am interested to see how it turns out.

Looking Back at 2016 – Highs and Lows

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

Blog2016

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

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

Blizzard

Highs

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

Lows

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

Daybreak Game Company

Highs

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

Lows

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

Standing Stone Games

Highs

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

Lows

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

CCP

Highs

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

Lows

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

Nintendo

Highs

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

Lows

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

Other Games

Highs

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

Lows

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

Media

Highs:

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

Lows:

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

The Blog and Blogging and The Internet

Highs:

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

Lows:

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

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

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

Others looking back at 2016:

Reviewing My 2016 Predictions

Roll over Beethoven, here we are again.  There is still some time left in the year, but I pretty sure we are far enough along that anything I predicted back in January will have either come to pass or just won’t happen this year.

Blog2016

Back at the start of the year I listed out sixteen predictions for 2016, the sweet sixteenth birthday of the 21st century.  And then somebody spiked the Kool-aid and the party ran out of control in a way that even a National Lampoon script writing team would deem too implausible to put to paper.

So my predictions look pretty tame compared to reality.

Anyway, here is what I predicted back then.  As usual, the questions are worth 10 points each, with partial credit available.

  • 1WoW Legion will ship on August 16th, which will give Blizzard both one of the fastest expansion release cycles in its history along with one of the longest content droughts, leaving few happy.

Pretty close on that one.  Yes, I know that is two weeks off the actual date, but given the number of people insisting June simply had to be the date, not too shabby.  And it was one of the longest content droughts, about which nobody was really happy.  I’m giving myself about half credit on that – 6 points.

  • 2WoW Legion will be heavily criticized for the small amount of content it delivers at launch.  It will turn out that Blizzard can’t figure out how to make any more content than usual, so the plan will be to dole it out in more, but smaller, chunks over the life of the expansion.

Hrmm, not so much.  I mean, you could argue that the initial four zones and the run to level 100 were pretty darn quick.  But Blizz did have a bunch of level cap content ready, has rolled out the first content update and talked about future updates.  So I think I get a nada here – 0 Points.

  • 3 – The Warcraft movie will be a modest success, though after it settles down somebody will calculate that more people have probably played World of Warcraft than saw the movie in the theater.  The movie’s impact on the game will be negligible.

I think modest success is about spot-on.  The Chinese box office wasn’t all that profitable.  If you saw the movie in the theater you probably live in China and being the best movie in a traditionally crap niche still isn’t saying much.  As for impact on the game… meh.  Did anybody subscribe because they saw that movie?  And I think I saw that players vs. viewers calculation at one point in July.  I’m giving myself full points on this one just to make you angry.  If you disagree, go watch this then channel your rage into the comments – 10 Points.

  • 4Diablo IV will be announced at BlizzCon.  Really.  This time I am serious dammit!

Blizzard, however, was not serious.  We did get an announcement about a treat, a remake of the original Diablo in the game, plus something that sounds a bit like a new expansion vehicle for the return of the Necromancer class, but that was about it – 0 Points.

  • 5 – Daybreak will get a new head honcho who will be selected from another company and will have little or no experience with the fantasy MMORPG genre that has kept the team in San Diego funded for most of its existence.  Expect this person’s past experience to be the hammer and any Daybreak problem to be a nail.  They’ll be just like that VP we once hired from Oracle, for whom every solution required a database.  So if, for example, they have a history with first person shooters on the XBox, you’ll know what to expect.

How to score this?  I wrote a whole post about this two weeks back.  Long time SOE veteran Russel Shanks stepped in back when Smed got the axe… erm, stepped down… almost a year and a half ago.  I wasn’t sure if that was an interim move back then.  That lingered until October when Shanks stepped down and Ji Ham, a Columbus Nova Prime operative was put in the top slot, no doubt to make sure the spice cash was kept flowing. And while he has no notable experience with fantasy MMORPGs, he also isn’t exactly what my prediction implied either.  Also, is seems that we was co-president or some such this whole time.  Still, I suppose that appointment does mean we’ll know what to expect.  I’m going to go with Bree’s call on the score here – 8 Points.

  • 6 – It will be more tough times and harsh realities for Daybreak.  The EverQuest/EverQuest II teams, which pull their own weight, will be safe so long as they can sell expansions, but everything else will be up for grabs.  As a result I expect two of the following to happen:
  • EverQuest Next pushed out prematurely for early access dollars.
  • EverQuest Next and Landmark merged back into a single product/project, but you have to buy it again it you bought Landmark.
  • Legends of Norrath shut down.
  • Legends of Norrath turned into a stand-alone iOS and Andoid game, where it fails and gets shut down.
  • PlanetSide 2 shut down, relaunched with a new name as a buy-to-play title for consoles only, old version not compatible with the new one.
  • DC Universe Online shut down on Windows, left running on PlayStation.
  • H1Z1 basic package launched as a buy-to-play title, but seriously gimped unless you are a Daybreak All Access subscriber or plan to spend big in the cash shop.
  • New, console-only project announced.

You know, that list isn’t nearly as divorced from reality as I thought it was eleven and a half months back.  I even got one on the nose, as Legends of Norrath went away back in August.

And I could make the case that some variation of the first two on the list came to pass as Daybreak kicked Landmark out the door into the cold marketplace for the few players that remained.

Meanwhile, bits of that H1Z1 prediction contained threads of reality, while DCUO moving to XBox seems to confirm what was said in the past about the game being popular on consoles as opposed to being a big deal in the Windows market.

In the end though, I am only going to claim one, if only to off-set those ill-gotten points from the Warcraft movie prediction – 5 Points.

  • 7 – Turbine needs a splash in 2016 with LOTRODDO rolls along as is, sharing the Dungeons & Dragons license with Neverwinter.  But the contract with Tolkien Enterprises for LOTRO wraps up in 2017.  While a renewal seems pretty likely, barring a complete disaster, it would go over much better if some additional cash were flowing in.  So, after a couple years off… and perhaps learning from the market… a big expansion will be announced that will bring us to Mordor.  Cirith Ungol or maybe just to the main gates, but the end of the journey will be in sight.  Expect a special Blessing of the Valar level boost to be bundled in with it that will get you stuck straight into the new content.  Yes, I know this isn’t in the current 2016 plan for Turbine, but this will change before the end of the year.

Poor Turbine.  I don’t think they have it in them to get an expansion out anymore.  They’ll just slowly update their way to Mordor and toss in the ring eventually – 0 Points.

  • 8 – In EVE Online, citadels will be big. (Ha ha!)  Everybody will want one, which will cause a boom in construction and a spike in mineral prices and a rise in concurrent users.  It will be the new shiny.  This will wane as the close of summer comes to an end and we all figure out the flaw in the citadel plan and the game grinds to a halt while we argue about how CCP should fix it.

Well, I was certainly right on the “everybody will want one” side of the equation, with more than 7,000 of the things having been deployed across New Eden.  We never did get to the horrible flaw in them.  Some small ones, but no game breakers.  Then again, I think that part of the prediction might simply have been premature.  Wait until they want to kill null sec stations and POSes – 4 Points.

  • 9 – CCP will either close down the CSM or change it so drastically that it is essentially a different beast.  We’ll get CSM XI, but it will carry on the now familiar tradition of institutional animosity from certain sectors within CCP, something that won’t be helped by the fact that most CSM veterans will decline to run for election, leading to a fresh CSM with Xenuria and DurrHurrDurr (or a reasonable facsimile of the latter) as the permanent Icelandic duo.  That will force CCP to act.

I am claiming a few points up front for predicting Xenuria on the CSM and the whole “veterans decline to run” thing.  As for change, the most drastic was pulling CCP Falcon and CCP Leeloo off of CSM duty, as the pair of them seemed to be a major part of the drama creation machine that had been the CSM for a while… CCP Falcon especially, as he seems to thrive on building a reputation of being combative and confrontational… and putting in the ever-chill pair of CCP Guard and CCP Logibro.  After that and the election, the CSM almost disappeared into obscurity as they simply tried to get the job done.

So not a drastic change, but CCP seems to have succeeded, for now, in turning the CSM back into an asset rather than a public relations nightmare – 7 Points.

  • 10 – The return of The Fountain War Kickstarter will succeed when it kicks off in March, being better thought out.  Drama will be way, way down compared to the initial run.

Ha ha ha ha!  Ever the optimist am I!  CCP ran away from The Fountain War book idea like a scalded cat after the disaster of the first attempt.  We shall not hear of that again – 0 Points.

  • 11 Black Desert, the new anticipated hotness, combining an Asian MMO import with the word “sandbox” yet again, is going to be a replay of ArcheAge, with a big rush, overcrowding, disappointment and recriminations, before settling down for the core audience that will remain after everybody who pinned sky high hopes on it storms off in a fit of pique.

I mean, pretty much, right?  For a bit it was all anybody could talk about, then it pretty much fell off the map when it comes to the blogs I read.  I see update posts about it over at Massively OP, and it had a server merge recently, so it seems to fit in the ArcheAge mold well enough – 10 Points.

  • 12 Project: Gorgon, after being in the shadows for so long, will have a banner year in 2016, with early access success on Steam leading to the game going live for real before the year runs out.

Not quite there yet.  The game is on its way, but everything always takes longer than you think when it comes to software – 0 Points.

  • 13 – NCsoft will announce that WildStar is closing down, it’s free to play conversion having been a brief flash in the pan.

I keep expecting this as WildStar sets new revenue lows in the NCsoft quarterly reports, yet it is still around.  Congrats to a 2016 survivor I guess – 0 Points.

  • 14 – Despite all the back and forth and talk of lawyers and lawsuits and who is going to sue who for what and where, the Derek Smart vs. Star Citizen brouhaha will fade away without a metaphorical legal punch being thrown.

Okay, maybe I was looking for a gimme trying to get to 16 predictions.  No lawsuit, no how – 10 points.

  • 15 – Somebody will buy Funcom… for cheap… to rescue a couple of their titles, but Anarchy Online won’t be on the list of the saved.  LEGO Minifigures Online is the prize there.

Meanwhile Funcom remains in trouble, still wobbling around on its own, while LEGO Minifigures Online went the way of LEGO Universe back at the end of September – 0 Points.

  • 16Crowfall, will still be in development, allowing only limited access for backers by the end of 2016.  It won’t really be a thing until 2017.

I don’t think Crowfall is even that far along now.  It certainly won’t be a thing until late 2017 at the earliest – 0 Points.

  • Special Bonus Prediction – A big Pokemon announcement to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the series on February 27, 2016.

My make up gimme prediction.  We got the Pokemon Sun & Moon announcement and the launch of Pokemon Red, Blue, & Yellow on the 3DS Virtual Console on the anniversary.  I think the former counts – 10 Points.

  • Big 2016 Question – Will VR be interesting enough to spur people to spend money upgrading their systems in order to spend more money to buy an Occulus Rift rig?

Pretty much no.  VR is a fragmented niche market without a killer app currently.  Not a scored item, since it wasn’t a prediction but a question.

70 points out of 170 possible, including points for the extra credit question, which at about 41% would be a failing grade in any class I ever took.  But in the land of prognostication, that is a positively stellar record… or at least in the land of my own blind guesses at the future.  And so ends the year.

As for others scoring their predictions, this is what I have seen so far:

It just wasn’t the thing to do in 2016, so I expect I won’t have many on the list.

Meanwhile, I have the self-linking bonanza that is my summary of past predictions and results here at TAGN:

Now to think on what I should do for 2017.  First item on the list, get my daughter to make me another graphic.

The Mineserver Kickstarter Campaign One Year Later

The first 90 percent of the code accounts for the first 90 percent of the development time. The remaining 10 percent of the code accounts for the other 90 percent of the development time.

— The Ninety Ninety Rule, Tom Cargill, Bell Labs
Way back in October of last year the Mineserver Kickstarter campaign was wrapping up.
MineserverLogo

The campaign was being run by author, pundit, and former InfoWorld columnist Robert X. Cringely and his three pre-teen sons and the plan was to take some off-the-shelf hardware, some available Minecraft server software, combine it with an admin interface of their own, and create an easy to use Minecraft server that you could setup at home and that mom could admin from her iPhone.  The Cringely team had been working on this for a year and it was all done save for some details.

The campaign ended on October 21, 2015 with 388 backers pledging $35,452, well over the $15,000 the campaign sought.  Thus funded, the team was working towards wrapping things up and shipping out units to customers by the end of the year.

Full production will begin at the start of November and our goal is to deliver all Mineservers™ — burned-in and tested — by Christmas.

-Mineserver Campaign Page

The final line on the campaign spelled out the attitude towards their goal.

This is not rocket science… That’s next year.

-Mineserver Campaign Page

So it was off to production.  There were some updates through October and November about finishing up the admin software and sourcing parts and getting units ready.

And then things got a bit quiet in December, until on December 21st there was an update with the title “Man Overboard!

Their Linux consultant, needed to tie the whole package together, had gone missing and had to be replaced.  He was a rare person, being a very familiar with Minecraft, but they found another guy who was very familiar with the hardware, but wasn’t up on Minecraft.  Shipments, already a behind schedule, would be delayed a bit longer.

Again, we’re sorry, but shipping will be delayed about one week.

-Man Overboard update

And then began the long dark winter, as more than a month went by before the next update titled “Better Late Than Never!”  More problems had cropped up.  The compiler they were using for their chosen version of Linux wouldn’t work with the ARM based motherboards they had chosen, motherboards which they had purchased and were waiting for installation.

Mineserver motherboards - January 2016

Mineserver motherboards – January 2016

This was going took a bit of time to solve, but wasn’t insurmountable.  The custom admin software was moving along and they had support for the server flavors they wanted, except for Cuberite, which they expect to add soon.

Server flavor choices

Server flavor choices

While they worked on Cuberite support and a WiFi issue, they put up some test servers so people could try them out for performance and use the routing software to see if it resolved correctly. (It never did for me, I had to use the IP addresses to connect.)

Comments from backers, which started to take a negative turn after the last gap, got a bit darker when a month and a half went by before we heard another word from the Mineserver team.  On March 17th we got an update titled “The Devil is in The Details.”  There was a statement up front that they won’t delay between updates that long again.

Getting the Cuberite server software to work with the admin application had been problematic, it being the odd man out on the Minecraft server front as it is compiles in C++ rather than Java.  This however was what made Cuberite desirable, as it is way out in front of the other options in terms of performance and really needs to be on the box for the Mineserver to meet its supported players claim.

Meanwhile, the dynamic DNS system and a the WiFi support also had issues which needed to be solved before they could ship.  And, finally, there is what they think is an Ethernet issue causing the boxes to drop off the network occasionally.  But the mood was still upbeat.  These were solvable problems, solved already really save for the last one, so the update ended with optimism.

It’s the final bug, we’re approaching it with planning, gusto, and plenty of Captain Crunch, and fully expect to solve this last issue and start shipping next week when the kids are off school for Spring Break.

-The Devil is in The Details update

Three weeks later there was a small update that included a call to help test the Mineservers they have setup and a mention that the Ethernet bug may not yet be solved.

Then there was another month and a half gap, proving that they in fact would do “that” again, before we got the Science Experiments/Finally Nearing the End update.  Cringely’s son Fallon used the Mineserver setup for a science fair entry, which features at the top half of the update, which then goes on to the fact that the underlying management software still doesn’t support the Cuberite server.  Support for Cuberite will be available at some point in June, so they are going to wait for that.

Meanwhile Mojang has released Minecraft 1.10, which comes up in the comments as to how updates like this are going to be handled.  There is no response to that question or, frankly, any question ever that comes up in the comments.  Cringely doesn’t do comments, he just drops updates and goes away it seems.

An early July update said that the Cuberite support had been delayed, but that they continued to work on the product and that it will support Minecraft Pocket Edition at launch, which needs its own flavor of server.  There is a promise of regular updates.

At this point we’re going to start doing updates every Thursday with the idea of keeping you better informed. Thank you for your patience.

-Still waiting for AIM update

By July 22nd there seemed to be a breakthrough, with an update that says Cuberite support is now a thing, and getting it to work right is all that is delaying shipping.  Optimism still reigns.  They have only missed one Thursday update since making that promise  Again we are told, “This isn’t rocket science. ”

The next Thursday update has an admin interface issue solved, but there is still the Cuberite support issue.  A week later, on August 5th, things seem really close, plus now the Mumble voice server software will be bundled in with the Mineserver.

And then summer vacation ends and Thursday updates cease.  I expect that with three young boys heading back to school that the Cringely household has its hands full.

Finally, on September 14th we got an update that says the WiFi doesn’t work reliably.  WiFi hasn’t been mentioned since January, and the comments indicate that some people have been taken aback by this. (One person claims to have filed an FTC complaint.)  Apparently the part they chose isn’t compatible with Arch Linux, so they have ordered a replacement that should fix the problem.

No further updates have been posted, so the status of the WiFi and Cuberite support remains a mystery.

On September 23rd the one year anniversary of the launch of the Kickstarter campaign passed, and on October 1st it had been one year since campaign met its funding goal.

Welcome to crowdfunding.

Ah, but a project’s reach should exceed its grasp, or what’s a Kickstarter for?

-Me, abusing Robert Browning’s quote

Last week over at Massively OP there was a post about 10 questions you should ask before backing an MMO Kickstarter.  In the comments I, along with several other, proposed some additional question, mine being focused on your readiness to accept that any dates promised during the campaign are generally blind optimism at best.  I mean, Star Citizen, right?

Being late is part of the experience.

About a year and a half ago I reviewed the Kickstarter campaigns I had backed, and those that had shipped were universally late.  Not all drastically so.  Defense Grid 2 shipped just a month after the promised date.  Go, go Hidden Path Entertainment!

In fact, I have been meaning to do a follow up on that post as time has passed and a number of promised delivery dates have gone by, but I was waiting for the Mineserver issues to get resolved, since it seemed like that would just been a few weeks off… for the last nine months.

Ah well.

I am not particularly annoyed by the delay.  This is not a rage post, but a summing up of the tale so far.  If I want something delivered on time, I order it from Amazon.  I did rather optimistically plan to move our Minecraft world to the Mineserver at a couple of points, but not being able to do that hasn’t really changed much.  Instead it got moved to different hosting providers.

This is more of a review post to look at how things were handled.  These days I am more interested in HOW people run campaigns as the campaigns themselves, having come up with my own success predictors and such.

The campaign itself went very well.  It got enough publicity, in large part because of the Cringely name, and hit funding milestones that indicated it was going to be a success early on.

No, the problems here have all been post-campaign.  Success is a problem everybody wants to have, but how you handle it can make any victory Pyrrhic.  For example, No Man’s Sky was a huge financial success (yes, I know, not a Kickstarter campaign, but work with me here), however the gap between what was promised and what was delivered will likely haunt the studio and key devs going forward.

For the Mineserver campaign I think there have been two obvious problems.

The first has been over-optimism, which is ever a curse here in Silicon Valley.  At several points during the campaign it sounded like problems were just about solved and we were told that units would be shipping soon.  And then they didn’t ship.

You cannot foresee all problems, and people will forgive you a couple of slips.  But after a while your predictions lose their credibility.

The second problem has been communication.  Updates have been sporadic and the comments might as well be turned off for updates section since they never get any sort of response.

At one point Cringely said he didn’t want to do updates unless he had good news to share.  In my experience though, any update is better than no update.  And that is doubly so when combined with optimism, when an update says there will be a week’s delay and then the next update doesn’t show up for a month.

I think the campaign was on the right track for a bit with the “every Thursday” updates.  But, as I noted, those fell by the wayside and now we are in limbo again, waiting for some news.

So we shall see.

At this point, with our current server happily chugging away on Mojang’s hosting, I will probably use the Mineserver to play with Minecraft mods.  When it finally arrives.

Addendum: We got an update on October 7, there are new problems, a possible solution, and shipping is still a few weeks beyond the horizon.