Category Archives: Lord of the Rings Online

March in Review

The Site

My RSS feed isn’t quite the problem it was at one point, but I have noticed that the direct feed from the site seems to propagate more slowly that the Feedburner feed.  This is doubly bizarre as the Feedburner feed works from the direct feed, so there is some sort of voodoo going on there.  And then, for some reason, Blogger seems to have it in for my feed again as it is once again updating very slowly in some (but not all) blogroll side bars on that platform.  The mysteries of Google.

I took the VirginWorlds feed off the side bar for now as the site seems to be in a state of neglect.  It isn’t updating feeds correctly and some of the longstanding feeds have been taken over by new sites that are not related to MMO gaming.  I dropped Brent a note, but I think he may be busy with other aspects of his life.

Meanwhile, on the WP.com front, they are now pushing the new editor and stats page rather aggressively.  I can no longer edit a post from the main page without using the Fisher-Price “Babby’s First Text Editor” option, as they remove the “classic editor” link from it.  At least the classic editor is still available from within the admin page for posts, so I just have to go that route now to fix my inevitable typo.  And the new stats page is now the default, though you can can still get to the old one via a link down at the bottom.  I don’t mind progress… WP.com has improved things over the years… but this is one of those lessons in why re-writing things from scratch is often a bad ideal; you lose functionality that was added to the old code base over time.

Also, what is with this pop-up I get from WP.com every day?

Howdy yourself!

Howdy yourself!

I just click the ‘x’ to dismiss it most days, but yesterday I decided to click the up arrow just to see what I would get, and that also dismissed it.  I suspect they are not that interested in being helpful.

One Year Ago

I was thinking about the word “free” and how it really brings up negative connotations.  Basically, “free” is usually a scam, so why should we expect “Free to Play” games to viewed as anything else?

A year back my other blog, EVE Online Pictures, qualified for inclusion as an EVE Online fan site.  We’ll see if that gets renewed this year.  Meanwhile CCP lost money through “derecognizing” an asset which would turn out to be the demise of World of Darkness as a project for them.  CCP was also taking a stab at cosmetic options for ships.

I picked my 15 most influential video games, and got some other people to pick theirs as well.

WalMart was going to get into the used video game market.  Did that ever go anywhere?  I don’t shop at Wally World.

Something called MyDream wanted to be a Minecraft killer or some such.

It was the end of the line for Free Realms and Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures as SOE chief John Smedley vowed never to make kids games again.  While over in EverQuest the 15 year anniversary included the introduction of instant level 85 characters.  I gave that a try and got lost immediately.

Facebook bought Occulus Rift.  Where is your VR now?

Brad McQuaid was a month past his unsuccessful Pantheon Kickstarter and I was wondering what the plan was.

In a set of short items, I also noted that EverQuest Next Landmark became simply Landmark, two of the founders of Runic games left the studio to try their luck elsewhere, while King, the makers of Candy Crush Saga, went public and are now one of the most shorted stocks on the market! (They were mentioned on the Planet Money podcast about shorting.)

The ongoing “Blizzard isn’t giving you…” series continued. while Diablo III: Reaper of Souls went live, an event which included the end of the auction house.  I had gone back to the game to try some of the changes.

Also on the Blizzard front, they managed to find a hook to get me to play Hearthstone… or at least a couple rounds of it.

I was also musing about WoW and when the expansion would launch and the stat squish and guild levels and pseudo-server merges and my insta-90 choice and Warlords of Draenor being $50… which was at least better than it being $60.  While, actually in the game the instance group took on Zul’Aman.

We formed something I ended up calling the “strategy group,” if only to distinguish it from the “instance group” which started out playing some Age of Empires II.

And I wrote another installment of my ongoing TorilMUD series, this time about the Faerie Forest.

Five Years Ago

With the March 2010 month in review I was able to announce that the site had passed the one million page view mark.  A minor milestone.

FarmVilleWe all tried it as research for Shut Up We’re Talking #60.  We didn’t inhale.

I ran through GDC and had dinner.

I was waxing nostalgic for some flavor of Rome.

EA was saying very stupid things about how many subscribers Star Wars: The Old Republic would need.  It is never too early to set the bar for failure.  Also they were threatening to taint 38 Studios.

I was also wondering about greater challenges in MMOs.  Must all paths be equally easy?

I held an April Fools contest, which got a few entries.

Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver launched and, after some delay,  I was picking that initial Pokemon.

I was still invested in Star Trek Online… I was trying…. well, they were giving us lifetime subscribers some perks.

In EVE Online I hit 50 million skill points.  I also had my first Tengu.

World of Tanks was staring to announce some of their progression trees, starting with the Russian and American sets.  Those have changed a lot since then.

The instance group was beginning to embrace the Dungeon Finder.  However, we found we still had to do a chunk of external legwork to prepare for our Sunken Temple run.  I also got a chopper along the way, on my birthday no less.

And, finally, that whole Derek Smart/Alganon thing was just kicking off.

New Linking Sites

The following blogs have linked this site in their blogrolls, for which they have my thanks.

Please take a moment to visit them in return.

Most Viewed Posts in March

  1. Progression Server Progress in EverQuest
  2. Quote of the Day – A Treasure Trove of Turbine Turmoil
  3. WoW Tokens – PLEX with Price Supports
  4. Tech 3 Destroyers and Other Tidbits from EVE Vegas Keynote
  5. Considering Star Wars Galaxies Emulation? Better Grab a Disk!
  6. Reviewing My Kickstarter History
  7. A Return to Writing about the Blogesphere
  8. Running Civilization II on Windows 7 64-bit
  9. Hitting 50 Yet Again
  10. A Sad Day for Sims
  11. Scylla Overshadowed
  12. Has Rift Only Been Around for Four Years?

Search Terms of the Month

eq2 is crap
[That is not an uncommon opinion]

how far away.is everquest next from launch
[How far away is the Moon from Tuesday?]

toontown axis
[of evil?]

qctffivhlbbgi
[Grundoon? Is that you?]

do you need help pitching a tent
[It is largely a mental exercise at my age]

EVE Online

I was bitching earlier in the month about being required to click on participation links, which can be annoying when there isn’t a war or a deployment in progress.  Then war were declared and that problem went away pretty quickly.  I have gone well beyond the minimum quota.  The war itself has been okay, though being in Reavers I have found myself a bit jealous that I haven’t been in-system for some of the cap fleet engagements.

Then there was this epic troll that got people worked up for about 30 minutes.  The EVE Onion got scooped on that one!  Also, deductive subscription numbers for Tranquility based on various tidbits that CCP has left laying about.

Lord of the Rings Online

I haven’t started playing it again, but earlier this month when I logged in to ensure I would get my monthly lifetime subscriber Turbine Points stipend (and to keep Gaff from usurping the leadership of our kin yet again) I ended up buying the Riders of Rohan expansion because it was on sale (1,747 points) and I had close to 11K Turbine Points socked away.  I am not sure what that will mean to anybody, including myself, except that all my characters got a new title.  Woot.

World of Warcraft

World of Garrisons continues on.  Seriously, having five characters in Draenor means daily garrison maintenance eats up a lot of my daily play time.  If only I could force myself to NOT do that, but the OCD gamer in me requires it.  The instance group has been out a couple of times doing things, and I have been spending some time working back through all of the zones to make sure I have finished up every single quest line, lest there be a follower I missed.  And I have spent a little bit of time with my Orc hunter, though he is still a project for later.

Coming Up

Tomorrow is just another day, right?

Anyway, after that, it looks like a lot of the same things on my agenda.

Yes, I got my copy of Pillars of Eternity like nearly everybody else.  And I have played a bit.  But, my garrison… and the war… must play MMOs!

Okay, I did start in on a run through one classic game from my past.  I’ll get around to posing about that at some point this month.

It looks like WoW Tokens will go live this month.  That will be interesting to watch.  How much gold will Blizzard sell you for $20?  And how will that compare to how much gold you will need to pay to get 30 days of play time?  I still suspect that those numbers will be different.

The five week expansion schedule for EVE Online means that there won’t be an expansion in April.  That is fine.  I barely noticed that last one… well, except for an issue I will get to later. [Okay, the next expansion is April 28. I need to consult a calendar before I hit “publish” I guess.]

Quote of the Day – A Treasure Trove of Turbine Turmoil

LOTRO’s launches in Japan and Korea were so disappointing they were immediately and quite effectively brushed under the carpet and never spoken of again.

-Aylwen, LOTROCommunity forums

Well, if you were looking to kick Turbine while they were down, Massively Overpowered linked to some forum posts earlier that will both set the “down” scenario and give you plenty of targets to kick.

In fact, if there is some Turbine issue you want to pick at, you’ll probably find it.  Infinite Crisis as an ill-conceived disaster that is hemorrhaging money?  Check!  Self-destructive rivalries between groups?  Check!  F2P conversions that did not meet expectations despite the external hype? Check!  Cheaping out on expansions?  Check!  Blizzard induced paranoia?  Check!  Leadership problems and rampant self-deception?  Check!  Neglect from corporate overlords?  Check!

It is like Ikea!

Bad marketing ideas? Well, we had proof of that already, didn’t we?

I picked the quote at the top because that was an event I couldn’t even recall.

And while the author of these posts, a former Turbine employee, says he is not disgruntled, this does feel like an EA Louse-level event for Turbine, and I haven’t even gone through half of it yet.

And What of Another Middle-earth?

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

Can’t even beat Blizzard?  Asheron wept!

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

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

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

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

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

Paralyzed with dread

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take a deep breath.

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

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

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

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

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

The second isn’t much of an endorsement either.

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

SuperData 2014 YTD Numbers

SuperData names some MMOs…

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

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

Yahoo Headlines

Back when MMOs were a thing…

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

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

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

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

It is like Ikea!

It is like Ikea!

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

Estimated Top Subscription MMO Revenue 2013

Estimated Top Subscription MMO Revenue 2013… see, money!

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

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

And LOTRO does have something else going for it.

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

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

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

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

The Annuminas waterfront

The Annuminas waterfront

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

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

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

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

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

Middle-earth in 2015

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

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

Opposing the orcs and wargs of misfortune?

Opposing the orcs and wargs of misfortune?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other blogs posting about this:

The 2015 List – A New Year Brings New Predictions

Hey, it’s 2015!

A graphic with the number 2015 on it!

A graphic with the number 2015 on it!

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

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

Predictions

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

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

No Shows in 2015

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

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

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

Other Predictions

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

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.

My MMO Outlook for 2015

Another of those regular end of the year posts where I either try to reflect on the past or peer into the future.

I don’t do this post every year, but once in a while I am driven to it for one reason or another.  Last year it was because I could come up with five good candidates for what new things I might be playing in 2014.

Granted, one of them was a new expansion, Warlords of Draenor, rather than a new game.  But at least I had four potential new games.

Okay, three potential new games, since I had EverQuest Next on the list, and that was beyond a long shot even a year ago.

Or maybe really two potential new games, since Landmark, still burdened with the EverQuest handle at that point, was also on the list.  Sure, it was available to the public, for a price.  And I even played with it a couple of times.  But it isn’t even feature complete yet, so SOE calling it beta is purely a political move.

And that will be... December?

And that will be… when?

There simply wasn’t enough “there” there to call it a game.

But there were two potentials, two new games coming in 2014 that raised enough interest in me that I could imagine myself perhaps playing them.  The were The Elder Scrolls Online and WildStar.

And I did not play either of those.  I downloaded the beta for TESO, and while it felt like it had an Elder Scrolls vibe, an opinion based entirely on my few hours of playing Skyrim, which shouldn’t be viewed as being at all definitive, it did not really enchant me.  I was more interested in whether or not it and WildStar could pull off the monthly subscription model and last through to the end of the year without going F2P.  They made it, though things look grim for WildStar on that front.

So, in the end, I played one game on my list, which was just an expansion to a game I was already playing and which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year.  I also played EVE Online, which passed the 11 year mark this year, and started in again on EverQuest II, another title in the double digit age range at this point.

I suppose I could throw War Thunder on the list, but that really isn’t an MMO in the sense I mean.  That, and World of Tanks are more lobby based battle match making games than persistent world.  I did take another shot at Star Wars: The Old Republic, but that passed quickly.  I’ve already spent more time in EverQuest II this week than I did in SWTOR all year.

So that was my year in MMOs  2014 was completely rooted in old standards.

And, as I sit here, it looks like that might be the way 2015 rolls, all old school.  Gaff, having patched up EQII and then balked at how dated it feels… and it does feel dated, though for me that is part of the charm… is talking a bit about Lord of the Rings Online.  But I don’t think LOTRO is going to win many points on the fresh-O-meter either.

I cannot, at this moment, bring to mind any new titles for 2015 that I might play.

Sure, I could go do a bit of research and come up with a few.  I know there has to be a few persistent, virtual world-like, MMORPGs slated for 2015, but I figure that if I do not know them without a Google search, then they are unlikely candidates at best.

Yes, I could put up a list like:

  • Landmark
  • EverQuest Next
  • Camelot Unchained
  • Shroud of the Avatar
  • Star Citizen

But I am not feeling it for Landmark really, and of the other four we might see something really playable (not just a badly branded open play test or bits and pieces) from Shroud of the Avatar or Camelot Unchained by next December, given the current state of progress.  Might as well just save those for the 2016 list.  I’m not really interested in doing beta any more.

So there it stands.  My likely slate of MMOs for 2015 appears to be:

  • World of Warcraft
  • EVE Online
  • EverQuest II

Not that such a list is bad.  As long as I am enjoying my time playing, it doesn’t matter if I am playing something new of something I started playing a decade back. And, at least in the case of EVE Online, it is an exciting time to be in the game as things are changing.  But after years of being able to name at least some new stuff coming in the next calendar year, it seems a bit odd to only be looking at the same things for 2015.

Of course, the golden age of the big MMO launch seems to have passed.  It has been a while since there was a list of strong candidates.  The market is too crowded, there are an almost unbelievable number of second or third tier titles, and going forward we seem to be entering the age of the niche title that focuses on a specific strength catering to a specific demographic.

Or so it seems.  I might have missed something.  Is there a new title coming in 2015 I ought to be excited about?  Is there one that you are excited about?

Addendum: And now that I have written this, Massively has a “what are you looking forward to in 2015” post with a list of titles… and most of the staff mention Landmark or EverQuest Next or both.  Their poll lumps the two together in a blatant display of SOE bias. (And the two titles together are still losing to Camelot Unchained, though Mark Jacobs is all over the comment thread, so he might have called out the cavalry.)