Category Archives: Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen

Predictions in the Face of 2022

We’re here again at the arbitrary start of another year.  I remember a time when New Years Day was a day of optimism, a day of resolutions about making yourself a better person.  Now… now I am reminded of a Life in Hell comic where Bongo prays every night for tomorrow to be better than today despite the fact that his prayers are never answered.

2022 is what we get

So, yeah, welcome to the new year.  It is an even numbered year which means national (but not presidential) elections in the US and some sort of Olympics… I think we get the cold kind this year, but they’re in China, so time to celebrate repressive regimes I guess.  I’m sure the year will be just dandy.

I am going to go with predictions this year, after having taken a year off with questions for 2021.  As I always point out, I have a history here, checkered and/or dubious and mostly wrong.  But as my boilerplate for this post says every year, I’m fine being wrong if the discussion is interesting.  Anyway, past events:

I was tempted to run with questions yet again, but I made a bold prediction back in 2021 and promised that I would include it in any New Year’s predictions post, so let’s get straight to that.  You will probably be able to tell from the tenor of some of my predictions that I am not exactly in a happy, optimistic, “everything will be great” sort of mood.  So be it, maybe the new year can step up and prove me wrong.  I would be happy enough to let it do so.

1 – Activision-Blizzard will drop “Blizzard” from the Corporate Name

I made this call back in August, when things seemed really bad for Blizzard, and committed to making it a prediction, so here it is in the first spot.  There was a possibility that they could have straighten up and fixed their issues, but I have such confidence in the indelible nature of corporate culture… every time somebody says “we’ve always done it this way” they might as well add “because this is who we are” to it… that I remain unsurprised by the company’s inability to clean house effectively.  Even when they admit that there might be a problem, it is all they can do to keep from fighting that idea, pushing back on the state and, by proxy, all the complaints against the company.   If you cannot candidly admit there is an issue then you cannot fix it.

And the problem has damaged their brand, damaged their income, and alienated them from a chunk of their once loyal fan base.  Meanwhile, Activision, having finally figured out how to milk the Call of Duty cow year round, doesn’t really need to be dragged down with all those problems which, outside of Bobby Kotick’s connivance, seem to be focused just on Blizzard’s team.

The prestige of leading the Blizzard brand has already been downgraded over time.  Morhaime was CEO, Brack was President, then it was Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra were “co-leaders” of the studio… until Oneal left because the company sill pays men more for the same jobs.  I think Ybarra became Office Manager at that point.

All of that points to the Blizzard brand not being as big of a deal.  The only counter to this slide in the brand is how Bobby Kotick has taken center stage of late in the company issues.  It is possible that his bad behavior, and endorsement of the bad behavior of others, could draw enough heat directed solely at Blizzard so far.

Overall though the trend for Blizzard has been to be third of three when the quarterly reports come out, so even if the Blizzard name isn’t gone I’ll give myself a small partial credit win (2 points) if the company name is officially Activision Blizzard King by the end of 2022.

2 – No WoW Expansion in 2022

I am going to go out even further on a limb when it comes to Blizzard and suggest that the disruption they have been facing and the need to retool things a bit to look better when compared to FFXIV are going to slow down their development process even more than usual. As such I think we’ll be seeing the largest gap between expansions in the history of the game as the next expansion wanders out into 2023.

3 – The Arthas Hail Mary

Wrath of the Lich King Classic will be announced to great fanfare.  This will be the big 2022 announcement for the WoW franchise, and it will be as stale as you expect.  While I love the whole retro server scene, and WotLK as well, there is a reason that Daybreak doesn’t put out a press release every time an EverQuest progression server unlocks a new expansion.  And it will be tainted by the same things that hurt Burning Crusade Classic, like a special deluxe package with a horrendous mount to single you out for ridicule.  It will be more popular than whatever is going on with Shadowlands, an admittedly low hurdle, but it won’t launch until Q4 so we won’t see any financial impact during the 2022 calendar year. (Q4 financials won’t show up until February 2023.)

4 – Immortality is Overrated

Diablo: Immortal will finally ship in time for summer… after all, NetEase is the one doing the work here.  It will get a lot of hype from the company because WoW Classic and Hearthstone updates can only carry so much water for them.  It will be briefly popular, because we do in fact all have phones, combining as it will everything Blizzard promised (something like Diablo) and everything fans feared (cash shop from hell), but the Q3 2022 financials will only mention it in passing.

5 – Activision Will Settle with the State of California

The cost of fighting on multiple fronts… the company is being assailed in various ways by the government, its employees, customers, and shareholders… will wear the company down because none of it is good for business.  Somebody on the board will eventually force the issue and make the company do something to make these problems go away… something besides denial, platitudes, and union busting tactics, which has been the Activision tack so far.

Riot, which played the same game for years, largely due to being able to turn a big profit for Tencent even as the fight went on, eventually settled and agreed to pay out $100 million, $80 of which went to compensate employees and contractors mistreated by the company.  The state is tenacious and the price of fighting eventually becomes more of a burden and it will make sense to simply not be discriminatory jerks as a matter of policy going forward.

As a public company Activision, and with Blizzard development seemingly moribund in the face of the crisis, won’t be able to diddle as long as Riot.  A year of this will be too long for stockholders.  The company will have to pony up double what Riot did, so they will have to write a check for at least $200 million in penalties and compensation, agree to mandatory training for management (though everybody VP and above will just have their admins do the training for them, so no change there), and agree to let the state keep an eye on the for a few years.

6 – Bobby Kotick Will Remain in Charge at Activision

I feel I have to remind people now and then that these are predictions, not wishes, and this is one of those times.  Bobby owns too much stock and is in too deep with the board, which has backed him all the way, to lose his seat.  Any sense of irony is completely lost in the executive suite, so the fact that he knew about and endorsed what was going on that caused the company so many problems won’t disqualify him from continuing to collect a huge compensation package for running the company.

7 – Enad Global 7 will Announce Marvel Universe Online

Maybe they won’t call it exactly that, but there will be a new MMO from them based on the Marvel IP, which Daybreak had the rights to make before EG7 purchased them, that will look suspiciously like DC Universe Online to those who know where to check.

And it will be on the PC and consoles and it will be kind of a big deal when it ships.  But I’m only saying they’ll announce it in 2022.

8 – H1Z1 Will Remain in Limbo

Of all the titles in the Daybreak portfolio, none must be as vexing for EG7 as H1Z1.  It sold a ton of copies, it was huge for a season or two, and it was the type of brand that Daybreak always dreamed of creating.  Then Daybreak screwed it up and has spent a few years now trying to catch that lightning in a bottle again.  And with Fortnite and PUBG out there still making bank, there is always that hope for a comeback, yet the chances are so sketchy that the company can’t bring itself to actually invest in it.  They simultaneously know it won’t happen and yet still believe it could.  So they’ll keep talking about H1Z1 in 2022 yet do nothing new.

9 – LOTRO Old and New

There won’t be a console release for LOTRO, but there will be news.  We will find out that, in order to support current generation consoles, the game needs to be re-written, a process that will end up with there being an old LOTRO, the current game, and a new LOTRO, for PC and consoles.  This will put old LOTRO in semi-maintenance mode, with limited updates and no new expansions, while the team focuses on the new LOTRO.

10 – Nothing New in Norrath

And that won’t necessarily be a bad thing.  Despite being the foundation of the company, EverQuest and its younger sibling will just continue on as before, with an expansion each in Q4.  EG7 talks up the original IPs it owns, but it only sees potential in the popular IPs which it has licensed.  EverQuest Next, EverQuest III, or EverQuest the small group RPG, those are all still dead until Amazon or Netflix wants to make a Norrath streaming series.

11 – Ji Ham Confirmed as CEO of Enad Global 7

His acting career pretty much demands it at this point.  The search for a suitable candidate will come up dry and he will be the default choice.  Things could be worse.

12 – CCP will Circle the Wagons to Defend Against Player Feedback

The last year has demonstrated that CCP will stick to its own pet theories when it comes to the game, ignoring player feedback by covering its collective ears and repeating over and over that everything is fine, that the players don’t understand, that the company can dictate the correct way to play, and blah blah blah “I can’t hear you!”  Angry players should be ignored, where “angry” is defined as anybody who disagrees with the company line.  Nice players agree wholeheartedly with everything the company says.

To further support their position 2022 I predict that we will see the company start cutting back on the data players have been using the assail the company.  The Monthly Economic Report will cease to be published.  The data feeds that EVE Offline uses to create its PCU charts will be turned off.  The current online player count will disappear from the launcher.  Dev blogs will be more message, less substance than we’ve been used to.  Then CCP will be able to control the message without having their own data constantly contradicting them.  How can you say “EVE is dying!” if you don’t have any data to back it up?

13 – New Eden Economic Times

To make it abundantly clear, scarcity is not the new reality, this is a temporary phase and it will end.

-CCP, December 2020 Economic Outlook

While taking measures to silence dissent, CCP Rattati will continue to lead the charge against the economy.  The tenants of their economic outlook from 2020 remain unchanged.  They were:

  • Abundance breeds Complacency and Scarcity breeds War
  • Predictable Inputs lead to Stagnant Outputs
  • Autarky is Anathema to Free Trade

And while they appear to have had the opposite effect… scarcity ended a war for a starter… CCP will continue to fixate on the idea that if they just keep putting the screws to players and making them poor and miserable that we will all snap to and play the game the correctly sooner or later.  The idea that the game should be fun, that players might not want to fret about losing ships they can no longer afford to replace, or that the economy is the critical aspect of the game will not enter the company’s philosophy in 2022.  More of the same, the economic beatings will continue until subscriber numbers improve.

14 – New World on Consoles Announcement

One of the odd things to master in New World has been the UI, which is decidedly different that the WoW-centric UI conventions of the MMORPG genre.  It isn’t bad, though it sometimes seems a bit awkward, but for the most part it just takes some getting used to.

And then I started playing Forza Horizon 4 and 5, which is a title designed to play on Windows PCs and XBox consoles, and some similarities clicked for me… the New World UI is setup to be playable on consoles (in a way that, say, LOTRO is completely not).  They have minimized the keys used for many things, movement and positioning can all be done via the analog sticks, special combat moves map to buttons, the main attacks… I guess the shoulder controls.  It all pretty much fits.

This is probably a blinding flash of the obvious for some of you, but to a non-console player it didn’t spark until I had another cross platform title in my face.

Add to this the fact that Amazon seems fine letting Steam host its front end and the XBox or PlayStation store aren’t likely to get in the way either.

The official stance is that there is no plan for consoles, but it sure feels like it was made to be on consoles, so that might just be Amazon playing coy after getting pestered for five years about when the PC launch was going to happen.  As with above, the announcement only is being predicted, though I wouldn’t be completely surprised by a Q4 2022 ship date.

15 – New World Store Update

New World did very well on box sales in 2021, and I am sure they plan to repeat that on consoles as well, but the in-game store will still change in 2022 as the pressure to keep bringing in cash begins to mount.  Those AWS servers don’t pay for themselves.

The store has been entirely focused on cosmetic gear, the one in-game store item that seems the least objectionable.  It is kind of expensive to my mind, but some people seem to be buying the stuff.  I see it around Windsward now and then.  But it won’t be enough in the end.  Every MMORPG with a cash shop goes down the same path in the end.  So before the end of 2022 I predict that at least three of the following will be available in the cash shop:

  • Premium Housing
  • Fast Travel Tokens
  • XP Boosters
  • Faction Boosters
  • Trade Skill Learning Boosters
  • Learning Speed Boosters for Weapon Mastery
  • Cosmetic Items with Stats
  • Mounts
  • A second character slot on your server

16 – Crypto Mania will Continue and yet Yield Nothing of Value

UbiSoft, EA, Pearl Abyss, and a host of smaller studios and studios started for the express purpose of jumping on the bandwagon, will continue to talk about crypto, blockchain, play to earn, and NFTs.

And it will all net out to nothing a year from now because, despite the bleating of the crypto bros and the sheep following them, there is really no upside for a studio like EA to hitch its titles up to somebody’s block chain and give up income when there is nothing crypto could do that they couldn’t already do… or haven’t already done… themselves.

And the downsides? Whoa Nelly, if you think lock boxes look like gambling, I am pretty sure when they become NFTs with the intent that they can be bought and sold for real world money that even the government will suddenly agree that it is gambling.  Even skirting that, there are tax implications for “play to earn” if it gets too lucrative… and that will fall outside of the studios hands… that make the whole thing a nightmare.

The UbiSoft test case will fall flat because they will end up having to impose such restrictions to stay within the law and away from expensive entanglements as to end up not achieving any of its promise, and no studio with live games will see fit to follow suit.

17 – Metaversary Rhymes

Then there is the whole fairy tale metaverse aspect of crypto that people are on about.

The main item here are the crypto bros who think NFTs are the future and will act as transferable tickets for virtual goods so that you can buy a car in Need for Speed and drive it in Forza or Mario Kart.  That ain’t gonna happen.  Leaving aside the complexity of getting different studios with different motivations needing to get together on some sort of agreed upon standard for… well… literally anything anybody would want to move from game to game, no studio is going to buy into that.

Any game that makes money selling cars, using the example above, wants you to buy their cars.  That is how they make money.  If you can just bring all your Mario Kart stuff into Forza Horizon… again, leaving aside the huge elephant in the room issue of standards… Forza loses.  So Forza isn’t going to join that venture.

And we’ve been to the internet, right?  How long do you think it would take for somebody to mass produces knock-off cars for a buck that could be used in all those metaverse titles?  This is a dead end as there is no upside for the development studios that would need to implement it.

So this will go absolutely nowhere in 2022, despite the myriad start ups jumping on board the bandwagon trying to milk a bit of that sweet venture capital by throwing around buzzwords.

18 – Non-Fungible Fiascos

Even with the above pair of predictions I know that some company’s won’t be able to help themselves and will stick their hands in the fire and get burned.  I predict crypto/NFT/play to earn nonsense will at least get an official announcement and plan for the following titles (2 points per correct call):

  • EVE Online
  • Star Citizen
  • Black Desert Online
  • Final Fantasy XIV
  • Wild Card: Some Gamigo Title

I am not saying that any one of them will be implemented… player push back will be huge… but the blue sky press releases will go out.

19 – Chapter and Metaverse

Meanwhile, there is the other metaverse story, where Mark Zuckerberg, who apparently missed out on Second Life, wants to create a VR world that he controls.  He is so bent on it that he renamed the company Meta… and totally not because Facebook has a horrible reputation and he needed to distract from that.

In his metaverse there is none of this NFT movement nonsense, because you won’t ever leave his domain once you strap the VR headset onto your face and log in.  In Zucktopia you will see what he wants you to see, which is generally the right wing propaganda that pays top dollar.

The problem is that you can’t goose-step around with your neo-fascist buddies if you don’t have legs, which means all torchlight rallies will be limited to less than a dozen people.  Limitations of the platform I’m afraid.

And so this too will go nowhere in 2022.  At best we’ll see some more creepy demos with uncanny-valley Mark Zuckerberg… and I leave you to decide if I mean his avatar or himself… talking up his dystopian future where all the bad parts of Facebook will be injected straight into your eyeballs via a VR mask strapped to your face like something reminiscent of Clockwork Orange.

20 – A Better Metaplace

The year started out with me poking at some of the vague statements that Raph Koster was making about his own multiverse plan, wondering at how his new company was going to address some of the more obvious issues, like who would be paying for all of it.

But that was me quibbling over details.  Here at the dawn of 2022 I don’t know anybody else I would trust as much as Raph to speak of a future vision of virtual worlds.  Most of the metaverse talk is castles in the sky, next to which Raph seems to be a guy with wood, nails, and a hammer, ready to build something real.

So, to try and turn this editorial into a prediction, I am going to say Raph Koster and Playable Worlds will deliver something tangible in 2022.  Not a complete product, but enough to get past the vague teases that have gone before and cement the company as serious in a sea of pretenders.

21 – Non Starters

I have to have a couple of gimme predictions on the list, so lets run down the quick list of things that won’t ship in 2022 (2 points per correct guess):

  1. Crimson Desert
  2. Star Citizen
  3. Squadron 42
  4. Camelot Unchained
  5. Pnatheon: Rise of the whatever will get us a headline

Extra Credit Guesses

A bonus 10 points each if these come to pass

  • CCP will go really overboard on defense and decide that electing the CSM is a bad idea, since that process tends to fill the seats with people who have independent ideas.  Instead, taking a cue from Blizzard, they will let players apply to be on the CSM, picking the candidates that most suit the company needs.
  • Meanwhile, the WoW Player Council will be a one-time production.  After a year of shooting down ideas from the current council, Blizzard will thank members for their service, declare the whole thing a wonderful success, then not ask for applications for a new council as the team goes off to do whatever they were planning to do in the first place.

Scoring

As I usually do, each prediction is worth 10 points if I get it correct, with partial credit available.  I have already marked some of the predictions with “points per correct call” for multi-title guesses. With 21 predictions, that is 210 possible points.    Extra credit predictions don’t count against my win percentage, which I assume will be very low, as it is most years.

Again, I want to remind some readers that these are predictions, not wishes.  My wishes for would be sunshine and lollipops compared to what I have laid out above.  This is just what I think could happen after having been through both 2020 and 2021, a pair of years that saw fit to try and beat any cheery optimism out of me.

Which isn’t to say I don’t want to hear any contrary positions.  As I said at the top, discussion is an aspect of the whole thing and  I expect to be right on 30% of these tops, so in disagreeing with any one of my predictions you are more likely to end up correct in the end.

Anyway, the coming twelve months will reveal the truth and I’ll be back in December to count up the score.

The Perils of Entering the MMORPG Market

The MMORPG market has been rolling along for about 25 years at this point, depending on when you want to start counting.  I like to think of Meridian 59 as the starting point of the things, but you could make arguments that the roots of the genre go back to MUD1 or Island of Kesmai or any of a number of antecedents. 

Live in 95 is you count early access

But M59 was an early, commercial, 3D world MMORPG and, to the point of this post, while I haven’t seen anybody running a server for a while, the code is out there and the game could reappear if somebody felt the need to bring it back.

And that is kind of the problem here.  Fans of the genre tend to bemoan its stagnation and blame WoW or free to play or whatever for the fact that things can seem stale.  But the real problem is that old games don’t go away, or at least not fast enough.

Leaving aside M59, the next game on the list is Ultima Online, which will turn 24 years old come September.  Unlike M59, it is still there, ready to play.  It has been hanging out all this time, holding onto a group of players that might otherwise have gone off to explore other games… or maybe they have and then returned… and generally holding its own in a corner of the market.  I mean, EA owns it (Broadsword just has a contract to run it), so if it isn’t making some sort of return it wouldn’t be around.

That is, of course, a core aspect of the MMORPG space, games as a service, where players have an ongoing relationship with your game as it grows and evolves.  But games that make the transition to success and achieve financial stability tend to stick around forever. 

Scott Jennings gave a presentation at IDGA Austin back in 2014 titled Let It Go – A Modest Proposal, which I would link to if I could find it again (maybe here or here), which suggested that maybe these games shouldn’t hang around forever, that maybe it doesn’t make anybody happier or healthier to perpetuate these games past a certain point, that maybe there ought to be an exit strategy, a denouement, an end to the story.

Wishful thinking.  The only sure exit is to stop being profitable, and even that is no sure exit.  The fans, unwilling to let go themselves, will build their own private/pirate servers just to prolong the experience.  I would suggest that it is easier to list shuttered titles that don’t have some sort of emulator or server project running except that I am not sure I could even list one title.  Club Penguin maybe?  Is there a Club Penguin emulator out there?

We have reached a point in the genre where farming nostalgia for the old days and the old ways and the old experiences is a certified path to keep the fans on board and paying. (Because, it turns out, they’ll make emulators for that too if you won’t provide it yourself.)  So we have EverQuest progression servers, WoW Classic, Old School Runescape, Aion Classic, and others out there serving that portion of the user base.

As Jennings pointed out, these games have come to belong, emotionally at least, far more to the fans than the companies. It is their experiences and histories now and they won’t let it go.  It almost isn’t up to the company anymore because the fans will take matters into their own hands if the developers won’t cooperate.  And if the game is going to be running in some form with or without the studio, the studio might as well keep its hand in and make some money from an official version rather than losing what control they do have.

So the market never really contracts.  Nearly everything that ever was is out there in some form.  Think of all the video games you played over the last 25 years and how many of them are viable and playable still today.  Yes, nostalgia farming has arrived in the rest of the industry and we have some remasters and 4K remakes of older games, but I cannot go back and play every game. Of the ones I can, anything over a certain age that had some form of online support has probably lost that aspect of the game.  As an example, literally every Pokemon DS/3DS title has lost its online support.

But if you want to play The Sims Online or Dungeon Runners or most any past title, there is probably a project out there for you.

Which brings me around, at last, to the point I think I was aiming for when I started out this wall of text, which is what does this mean for new games in the genre.  One of the complaints about MMORPGs is that there is nothing new, nothing interesting, nothing different, just the same old stuff, mostly WoW or WoW knock-offs, along with a few pre-WoW titles.

But, in a market segment where nothing ever dies and the fan base is constricted by the level of commitment the genre demands (a “causal MMORPG player” is almost an oxymoron) where is the incentive to actually try something new, to invest in something in an increasingly fragmented and entrenched field?

I do not have an answer, and the fact that most of the Kickstarted, will arrive some day (just not today), titles that some have pinned their hopes on all seem to be grounded solidly in nostalgia doesn’t strike me as a hopeful sign.  Pantheon, Star Citizen, Camelot Unchained, and others all carry the message “Remember that cool thing we did nearly 20 years ago? We’re going to do it again!”

Thus endeth the genre, drowning in a pool of nostalgia, always asking for something new and never getting it because nobody seems to want it.

I suppose this should be a warning to the rest of the industry, which has been going down the path to games as a service for a while now.  I saw a quote from Chris Livingston at PC Gamer about Grand Theft Auto V about how he had by this point completely forgotten the original story of the game having spent so many years since in the sprawling open world content of the game.  And there it is on SuperData’s digital revenue charts every month.  It has essentially become an MMORPG in all but name.

So the question, to which I most assuredly do not have an answer, is can we get out of this situation?  Has the genre become like the RTS genre before it or, I would argue, the MOBA genre now, where the dominate players have so defined the genre that it is locked into stagnation?  And, were something fresh and new to come along that fit within whatever definition you might choose for MMORPG, could we pry enough people away from the treasured memories long enough for it to find an audience?

End of a Vision

I was shocked tonight to see the announcement that Brad McQuaid passed away.  I first saw the news from the Pantheon MMO account on Twitter and wondered if it was real, it seemed so out of the blue.

It is with deep regret we share that Brad McQuaid passed away last night. He will be deeply missed and forever remembered by gamers worldwide.

Thank you for bringing us together through your worlds. Rest in peace .

VR offers our deepest condolences to Brad’s family.

But it appears to be true.  There are reactions all over the MMO space, including some words from the EverQuest team.

From the EverQuest Teams,

We are devastated to hear of the passing of Brad McQuaid and are eternally grateful for the EverQuest Universe he was instrumental in creating. His effect on all of us, the gaming industry overall, and fans of EverQuest and RPGs is immeasurable, and been life-changing for so many.

Continue your great quest, Aradune. May your next adventure be even more grand than this one.

I am kind of in shock.  I’ve been dismissive of his vision and pretty hard on how Vanguard turned out, but without him there would have been no EverQuest and the landscape of the MMORPG genre would have been very different.

Always the guy with the flaming sword

I played with him on TorilMUD back in the day.  It is hard to believe that was more than 20 years ago, that EverQuest is now past 20, and that he is gone.  He even dropped by here to comment a few times, always in his long winded way. He had an impact on the industry that will carry on.

Other reactions:

 

What is a Niche MMORPG?

A Massively Overthinking topic came up at Massively OP last week that struck me as… well… a bit silly.  Not that every post has to be razor sharp intellectually, but this one was almost the straw man fallacy illustrated, as the staff was asked whether they would prefer a niche MMORPG that focused just on on a couple of strengths or an all-in-one MMORPG that covered all the bases.  Somehow, that became a measure of features as everybody weighed in.

Unsurprisingly, the entire staff decided that they would prefer an MMORPG that had it all.  It was like asking somebody if they preferred a lover who only satisfied some of their needs or one who satisfied them all.  Absent any other details, why wouldn’t you choose the latter.

Left completely out of the post, except in the minds of those opining on the topic (something I wouldn’t swear to even that in court given some of the responses), was any sort of attempt to define what niche vs. all-in-one comparison even looks like.  You know, some details that might serve as illustration.

It is very easy to say that you’d prefer an MMORPG that did 10 things pretty well than one that did 2 things better than anybody else, or that you’d trade graphical fidelity for features (Is graphical fidelity even something niche MMORPGs offer as a comparative feature?), but what does that look like in the real world?  Where is the comparison?  Show me that niche MMORPG that does 2 things so well and compare and contrast it to you favored jack of all trades.

Sure, World of Warcraft, the one live MMORPG that gets a mention,  can stand in for the “does everything” title I suppose.  But what about the niche side of things?  Where is that?

My first thought went to Project: Gorgon.  That is as niche as it gets in the MMORPG world, right?

But I would be hard pressed to declare that Project: Gorgon has focused on doing anything “better” than the rest of the genre, unless you count being weird and quirky.  I mean, graphic fidelity certainly isn’t on the list.  And it does a whole bunch of things… whether they are better or worse than you want seems to be pretty much up to you.

Basically, its niche status is set more by its low production values and departure from the beaten path than anything the MOP staff was railing against.  Maybe of its 10 things, some are you wouldn’t suspect, but it does them.

Then there is Pantheon: Shadows of the Past.  But that hasn’t shipped yet, so while it has been declared niche, we cannot really be sure what that means.  Given Brad McQuaid’s enthusiasm in embracing any feature that gets brought up, I wouldn’t bet on the focus aspect.  And, in any case, I think its niche status is less about features and more about being old school, for whatever value you care to assign to that.  Is walking to school uphill, in the snow, both ways a feature?

Likewise, Camelot Unchained is still under wraps.  It could be the chosen niche game, being focused on RvR and crafting… and building… and housing… and a few other things I think.  Can it be more than 2 but less than 10 features?  Anyway, it isn’t an option yet, so it doesn’t count to my mind.

Shroud of the Avatar came to mind as well, but that doesn’t fit the bill either.  It is niche in its approach I suppose, but it does many things… many of them badly… does being bad make you niche?

Anyway, as I trotted down the list I started to suspect that you couldn’t really be an MMORPG… and my definition of such means worldly online games like EverQuest or World of Warcraft or EVE Online or Star Wars Galaxies, and not instanced lobby games like Diablo III or World of Tanks or whatever… without focusing on more than a couple of features.  Being a two feature MMORPG is like being a two legged tripod, something that just doesn’t work out well in the real world.

In the end, I couldn’t really come up with a live niche MMORPG that met the seeming criteria of the post.  I could, however, come up with examples of MMORPGs that went too far with features, to the detriment of the game.

So I am left with some questions.

What is a niche MMORPG?  Is it something defined only by features?

What defines an all-in-one MMORPG?  I mean, WoW is the easy answer.  But is it?  I suspect that people on that panel would argue against it because it lacks some feature they feel a “real” MMORPG needs, like player housing.

When does an MMORPG have to have all those features?  The response “at launch,” or even “on a detailed roadmap at launch,” seems unrealistic.  EverQuest, which I dare anybody to tell me isn’t as full features as they come, shipped with a feature set that would probably be considered inadequate in the context of “all-in-one.”  But it grew with expansions.  Then again, it also came from an era where MMORPGs didn’t peak on launch day and fall off after that.

Finally, what counts as a feature in any case?  Seriously, how granular can one go before things count or do not count?

In the end I remain unconvinced that features are the defining benchmark that post suggests.  There are plenty of MMORPGs out there with a lot of features that do nothing for me.  I certainly go back to WoW time and again in part because of the feature set it offers.  But there is more to my affinity for the game than that.

Of course, we could dial this back another step and start in on what an MMORPG really is.  I may be defining that more narrowly than others.  But, then again, I am not sure comparing and contrasting World of Warcraft against something like Occupy White Walls leads us anywhere fruitful either.

Reviewing My 2017 MMO Outlook – What The Hell Happened?

Or will I be sitting here a year from now writing about how, once again, I mostly played EVE Online and Minecraft while alternating between World of Warcraft and EverQuest II for my fantasy fix?

-Me, about a year ago

I guess it sort of turned out that way.  That might be my most accurate prediction of the year, really.  I mean, I started out the year playing EverQuest II and here I am at the end of the year playing World of Warcraft.  I still dabble a bit in Minecraft, but I am between projects on that front.  And then there was EVE Online.

Going around on the same ride

So in my MMO Outlook post for 2017 I listed out a dozen titles, games I had either not played or had barely touched, with an eye to trying something new.  And did I play any of them?  Even one of them?

No!

Still, I am going to say that this isn’t entirely my fault.  Yes, I have been in something of a state of ennui when it comes to our favored genre, but lets go back down that list from a year ago and see what I was up against.  How likely was it that I could even play these games?

  1. Project: Gorgon – Not done yet
  2. Albion Online – Went live, but didn’t appeal
  3. MapleStory 2 – Still only in Korea
  4. Star Citizen – Hahahaha… some day maybe, but not any day soon
  5. Camelot Unchained – Nothing to play yet
  6. SkySaga: Infinite Isles – Development ceased
  7. Lost Ark – Not yet released
  8. Sea of Thieves – Target is 2018 now
  9. RuneScape – Unambiguously playable!
  10. Shroud of the Avatar: Unnecessary Secondary Title – What test release are we at this week?
  11. Life is Feudal – Seems to still be slated for 2017 as I write this
  12. Pantheon: Saga of Heroes – Just a vision and some demos

Given that list and my criteria that the game must be in some form of viable, released, not hiding in some criticism deflecting “beta” or “early access” mode while charging for the privilege state of affairs, I was left with two titles out of the dozen.

And that was even with setting the bar pretty low for fan favorite Project: Gorgon, which I said I would play regardless of state so long as it was together enough to be up on Steam.

No joy there.

So of that list of a dozen I could have realistically played two of them, Albion Online and RuneScape.  I’ve played a bit of RuneScape in the past, I just never went back to it while there was nothing on the feature list that attracted me to Albion Online.  Again, differentiation in fantasy MMORPGs is a pretty narrow thing these days.

My metaphor for MMOs… picture by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

So what they hell did I play in 2017?  I mean, besides EVE Online, Minecraft, and EverQuest II at the start then World of Warcraft at the end.

I actually did play a few other fantasy MMORPG titles.  Overall, this was what I played, month by month, on that front:

  • January – EverQuest II
  • February – EverQuest II at the start of the month
  • March – none
  • April – Glanced at LOTRO
  • May – Runes of Magic
  • June – Guild Wars 2
  • July – EverQuest II
  • August – LOTRO
  • September – very short bursts of LOTRO and Guild Wars 2
  • October – World of Warcraft
  • November – World of Warcraft
  • December – World of Warcraft

Nothing new.  Games I already had installed, save for Runes of Magic, and in which had some previous investment.  And none of them stuck for very long, save for WoW.

On the non-fantasy side, in addition to EVE Online, I played a little War Thunder and World of Tanks during the spring and summer, but not enough for it to be really noteworthy.

So that was it, which makes me wonder if I should continue the tradition of the “MMO Outlook” posts here at TAGN.  Is this sort of post simply a holdover from a time when new MMOs seemed full of promise, a tired attempt to relive past bouts of enthusiasm when I am fairly sure that the future only offers bland, “me too” alternatives that are barely alternatives at all in a world where World of Warcraft offers as much as it does?

Or is there something out there that I should be looking into, a star by which to navigate my online gaming obsession into the future?

Syp says he is “keeping an eye on” 44 different upcoming MMO and MMO-ish games, though for that number I’d have to consider it a pretty minimalist definition of the phrase.  But there are still things in the pipeline.  Hell, I could make an outlook post and just recycle ten of the twelve I had listed and call it a day.

Part of me thinks I should shelve the idea.  I have shown myself to be a creature of habit there being, to paraphrase the quote about Alexander, no vaguely interesting new worlds to conquer.   Cynicism is part of my makeup to be sure, and a conservatism and a strong sense of the past.  I still have more TorilMUD posts to finish.

But I have an optimistic side as well.  I want to believe there is something new and different and interesting and exciting possible, that somebody will turn a corner or find a new angle that will ignite a new spark in the genre.

We shall see how I feel.  It will likely be that or another post about pet battles.

Did you play anything new and different this year in the MMO sphere?  Is there something I should be paying attention to for the future?

2017 – Predictions for Another New Year

Has 2016 stopped looking our way yet?  Yes?  Good.

Glad to be done with that, because a new year is like a new roll of the dice right?  Completely independent of the last year/roll?  Aren’t they?

My daughter even drew me a brand new pic for a brand new year.

kidpixtigerredraw2017

That is her re-draw of a picture she did in 2009 to celebrate getting her first mount in World of Warcraft.  Her talent has grown over the years.

Anyway, here we are again at the arbitrary point in time where we declare a “new” year and start yet another roam around the star we call the sun.  And with that, I will carry on my own minor tradition of greeting the new year by attempting to foresee what may come to pass.

Previous runs at this sort of thing:

Given past low scores I persist in making predictions.  So here is my list for 2017.  All predictions are worth 10 points each, with partial credit possible.  And, just a reminder, these are predictions and not wishes.  I am not rooting for many of these things to come to pass, it is rather that I fear they will.  A list of my actual wishes would look different and probably be even less likely to happen.  Such is life.

1 – Long in the Legion – Blizzard is going to use their ongoing content additions to WoW Legion as an excuse to not announce a new World of Warcraft expansion in 2017.  BlizzCon will come and go without a word about a new box and people will predict that it means the death of the game.

2 – Roll Credits – A second Warcraft film will be announced… for the Chinese market.  There will be no plans for a theatrical release in the West.  The announced plan will have it arriving as a dubbed straight-to-video option on the market some time in 2018.

3 – Really Big Storm – Blizzard is going to make radical changes to Heroes of the Storm in 2017 in an attempt to get it at least somewhere in the same market as DOTA 2 and LoL.  Different modes, different maps, and better stats will be featured, the latter accompanied by changes that will make individual contributions stand out much more.  So rather than talking about a new WoW expansion, Blizzard will be talking about this.

4 – CEO of the Kill – I am going to re-roll last year’s prediction and say that Daybreak is going to get a new president… a real new president, not the current Columbus Nova overseer… with actual game industry experience; console or mobile experience, take your pick.

5 – More Than Just a Title – Daybreak also has a lot of positions open on its home page, which seems to indicate that they have some new project plans under way.  We will hear about the first of those projects in 2017, and the biggest shock will be lack of support for the PC platform.  In a world where Daybreak’s sweetest paying title is probably DC Universe Online on the PS4 and where Nintendo is cranking out hit after hit on mobile (or at least licensing to companies making hits for them), Windows will seem like yesterday’s market.

6 – Milestone Really – Yesterday’s market will get smaller at Daybreak as well as they close down Landmark and the aptly named H1Z1: Just Survive.

7 – Trash Cash – The change with H1Z1: King of the Kill getting its own currency was just the start of death of Daybreak Cash good across all games.  The real money currency market at Daybreak will continue to fragment, with DCUO and PlanetSide 2 getting their own currency.  Only EverQuest, EverQuest II, and Landmark will keep Daybreak cash.  As with King of the Kill, there will be an open period where you can transfer your Daybreak cash to one of the new currencies.

8 – My Card – When the currency revamp is complete, Daybreak will launch new retail game cards for some, but not all, of the currencies.  Daybreak cash won’t get cards.

9 – Point Break – At Standing Stone Games, the statement about nothing changing will last for a bit, and then changes will come.  Among those will be changing Turbine Points to have new, game specific names, since you couldn’t transfer them between LOTRO and DDO in any case.

Those new currencies for SSG titles will be part of Daybreak’s currency revamp and you will be able to buy into the new currencies with Daybreak cash for a limited time.

10 – And Access for All LOTRO and DDO will be on Daybreak All Access before the end of the year.

11 – Hardcore Death – NCsoft will announce the end of WildStar by the end of 2017.  Another re-roll from last year.  Yes, I know you love it, but look at the numbers the NCsoft financial statements.

12 – Cloud Imperium Crisis – Push will come to shove at the house of Star Citizen in 2017… as in the need to shove something out the door that they can sell, both to generate revenue and to establish some credibility that they can ship something.  Star Marine will end up as a stand-alone purchasable product by the end of the year.  You won’t need to buy it if you’re already invested, but it will only be available after its “launch” a la carte.

13 – Hello World – Hello Games will continue to quietly grind out updates for No Man’s Sky, eventually turning it into a decent single player space sim/RPG.  Game sites will re-review it and give it a positive nod.  Multiplayer however will remain a lie that will haunt the game and its developer.

14 – Future Gates – CCP will wait until FanFest where they will finally announce the next step in their road map forward.  The announcement will be new space.  It will be available only through one-way gates that will only allow frigate sized ships to pass and once you’re on the far side you’re stuck there.  No death clones back even.  Return will depend upon completion of a giant, dozen-keepstar level of effort project has been completed by your corp/alliance/coalition.  Said gates will not allow capital ships to pass, but you can always bring blueprints.

15 – PCME? PCU! – The lasting effect of the Ascension expansion will settle down to a PCU count of about 3- 5K addition players online at any given time over the pre-expansion numbers.  For a game that runs on one server that handles time zones around the globe, that adds up to a lot of additional people, but it still isn’t the heyday of 2013 and the “EVE is dying” chorus will continue sing its near constant refrain.

16 – Switcharoo – The Nintendo Switch will hit store shelves come the Fall, but the big deal for this “is it a bit handheld or a small console?” unit will be the announcement that versions of Pokemon Sun & Moon will be available for the unit, so you will finally be able to play Pokemon on your big screen TV and even stream it on Twitch or Yahoo or Facebook if you want.  But you still won’t be able to take screen shots.

17 – Let’s Hear It for the GameBoy – Following on the success of the 3DS Virtual Console versions of Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow, Nintendo will follow up with an ongoing series of legacy Pokemon titles, with the generation 2 titles of Pokemon Gold, Silver, and Crystal next up.

18 – Forsaken AvatarShroud of the Avatar will finally hit its launch state and announce it is live and ready for the wide world to join in.  However, in yet another hard lesson about early access, sales won’t jump.  The core audience has already bought in and new comers will be scared off by the reviews on Steam that are the outcome of the early access run.  If it even appears on the front page of Steam’s the top seller list, it won’t stay there for very long.

19 – Not ShippingCamelot Unchained, Crowfall, Pantheon: Rinse and Repeat, and Amazon’s New World will all be no-shows on the release market for 2017.

20 – Back on Track – After another year of tinkering with the game, NCsoft is going to put the screws to Arena Net and a new expansion will be announced for GuildWars 2.  That will give ANet something to talk about for months. It will also kill of any Heart of Thorns purchases given past behavior.  And, sure enough, as the new expansion gets close HoT content will become free.

Extra Credit Wild Ass Guess – Daybreak hires an ex-Riot person as chief exec and announces they going to make a MOBA!  Double points if it is Norrath based!

So those are my guesses at the new year.  At ten points each, that is a possible of 200 total, with an extra ten extra credit points for the wild guess of the year.  I will be back in eleven and a half months to score that, and if I do better than 40% it will be yet another Festivus miracle.

Others forecasting events of 2017:

 

Adrift: My 2017 MMO Outlook

As I noted in my ten year anniversary post, my own outlook as an MMORPG gamer has changed over the last decade.  I came to blogging in a time when the genre was growing and ambitions seemed unlimited.  We would get a continuous stream of newer and shinier things as MMOs expanded into new territory and conquered the world.

Now I feel like Estragon, nodding off as we wait for the promised future that never arrives.  To my mind somebody could do an easy parody of the song Little Boxes to describe the state of the genre.

There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all poor copies of WoW
And they all look just the same.

Stoking the embers of enthusiasm is difficult.  It isn’t so much “no new worlds to conquer” as “no new worlds worth giving a damn about” these days.  Differentiation seems like variations of the same over used tropes and standards.

Also, not done with the "Little Boxes" theme... picture by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Also, not done with the “Little Boxes” theme… picture by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

And yet I persist, sitting here at the end of the year, looking into the mists of 2017 and wondering if he will come.  Is there something out there that might spark the imagination and rekindle the enthusiasm for virtual worlds I felt back in 2006?  Or will I be sitting here a year from now writing about how, once again, I mostly played EVE Online and Minecraft while alternating between World of Warcraft and EverQuest II for my fantasy fix?

What is even an option for 2017?

Well, EverQuest Next is out, having been cancelled earlier this year after the traditional SOE “months of silence” indicator that it just wasn’t going to happen.  But I wasn’t even optimistic enough to put that on the list last year.

Blizzard isn’t going to do any more MMOs… not that I am sure we would want them to… but that is out.  And then there is the perennial list of “maybe this year…” titles like Star Citizen that probably won’t be anything more than tech demos and pre-release “don’t you dare criticize me!” tiny tastes of past promises.

Still, there are MMOs that may come out in 2017.  Time to fake some enthusiasm.  Plus there was a nice list over at Massively OP from which I plan to crib.   There are even some titles in which I am invested, allowing for a variety of definitions for the word “invested.”  So here are a DOZEN titles that I am going to throw out there as possibilities for me in 2017.  That is more options than any previous list ever!  Go me.

1 – Project: Gorgon

  • Gut Reaction: Why doesn’t this have a Wikipedia page yet?
  • Rationalization: I’ve paid for it, my peeks in have shown it developing nicely, it could be a thing!
  • Chance: 100% if it hits Steam or otherwise goes live.

2 – Albion Online

  • Gut Reaction: You woke me for this?
  • Rationalization:  Feels like the 2017 version of either ArcheAge or Black Desert Online
  • Chance: There would have to be some very special feature I overlooked.

3 – MapleStory 2

  • Gut Reaction: Ummm… Canada? Pancakes?
  • Rationalization:  Not quite sure how side-scroller and 3D fit together.
  • Chance: It isn’t impossible. I went and tried RuneQuest and was impressed, why not this?

4 – Star Citizen

  • Gut Reaction: Confusion as to how this made the list after what I wrote above
  • Rationalization:  I’m in for $30, but I have no interest in testing something that probably isn’t ready to be called “Alpha” in my book.
  • Chance: I mean, if it “shipped” for any rational definition of the word, I’d be in… but that ain’t happening in 2017.  I just want you to know that I am up for it if it somehow did.

5 – Camelot Unchained

  • Gut Reaction: slipping enthusiasm
  • Rationalization:  I probably like this game more in theory than I will in reality.
  • Chance: I am in from the Kickstarter, so I will play at some point, but nothing has really sparked my enthusiasm. Also, seems likely to miss 2017.

6 – SkySaga: Infinite Isles

  • Gut Reaction: *glassy stare*
  • Rationalization:  My Minecraft itch is already filled by Minecraft
  • Chance: Not sure that islands floating in the sky is really something I am missing, so very low

7 – Lost Ark

  • Gut Reaction: Raiders of the?
  • Rationalization:  A clicky action MMORPG might be an idea!  And at least it has a placeholder for a Wikipedia page.
  • Chance: Given that Diablo III is going to try to eke out another year at least with seasons, nostalgia, and a new class, it might be worth a try.  30% chance if it goes live, higher if it is on Steam and goes on sale.

8 – Sea of Thieves

  • Gut Reaction: Pirates!
  • Rationalization:  The urge to play with tall ships and cutlasses balanced with memories of Pirates of the Burning Sea… which were not all bad, but I also never went back and played it again either.
  • Chance: Dampened by the cross platform aspect, as the Windows version will likely have the horrible console interface. If I could find a compelling feature though, it might have a shot.  Oh, and it would have to ship.

9 – RuneScape

  • Gut Reaction: Didn’t I make an account for that at Thanksgiving?
  • Rationalization:  I did play a couple hours of it already and it did have a flavor and charm of its own.  The old grand dad of F2P titles, it has a huge following for some reason.
  • Chance:  It also had a somewhat odd control scheme, and the fact that I am only now recalling that I played it probably doesn’t bode well.  But it has at least fucking shipped already!  That raises the odds dramatically!

10 – Shroud of the Avatar: Unnecessary Secondary Title

  • Gut Reaction: Hey, didn’t I pay for this already?
  • Rationalization:  I am in with the Kickstarter, I have it up in Steam where it updates weekly, and I tried it a couple of times in 2015 when it was pretty rough.  Also, it was on last year’s list.
  • Chance: I’m in if they hit a “done” milestone, which seems semi-likely.  I’m just not sure what the game is about now.  2013 was a while back.

11 – Life is Feudal

  • Gut Reaction: Hrmmm… but that name…
  • Rationalization:  I long ignored it based on the name alone, but it does have some interesting ideas.
  • Chance:  Maybe… long-shot, but if it went live… I keep using different euphemisms for what is essentially “actually end-customer ready” I might be up for it.

12 – Pantheon: Saga of Heroes

  • Gut Reaction: Why Brad, why?
  • Rationalization:  Part of me wants to believe that 1999 can be recreated.  Maybe he can get Smed over to help now that he is at loose ends and really get the 1999 party rockin!
  • Chance: You know, if something ships… I’ll probably buy-in and play.  But despite the long demo videos, I am not convinced yet that something will ever ship… and 2017 seems like an extreme long-shot if it does.

So there are dozen MMO-esque games that I am going to lay out there and semi-sort-of commit to looking into if it doesn’t take too much time away from Minecraft, EVE Online, and EQII / WoW.

Which on that list do you think I should prioritize should the opportunity arise? (i.e. should it actually ship if it isn’t there already?)  Here is a Poll (which you may not see if you have an AdBlocker running):

Naturally I left the “other” option open, you can use that or add other options in the comments if my list is missing a key title for 2017.

And, of course, if you want to see how this sort of post has played out in the past, you can check out attempts from past years:

  • 2016 – I played none from the list, but most didn’t ship
  • 2015 – literally nothing I listed went live
  • 2014 – I played Warlords of Draenor, which was a gimme really
  • 2012 – Actually tried most of the items on the list
  • 2011 – Tried 3 out of 5 eventually, but then The Agency was on the list
  • 2007 LOTRO (shipped!)
  • 2007 Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising (Didn’t ship)

In Which I Ramble About Being All Things to All People

Yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man

-The Dude

If you asked me what the most egregious flaw in MMORPG development has been over the history of the genre, I would say it was a “lack of focus.”

All together now, "Stay on target!"

All together now, “Stay on target!”

Overreach, trying to have too many features, trying to appeal to too many different audiences, listening to too many voices saying that they will give you money if only you support their pet feature, has ended up with a lot of time wasted on features that did not enhance a given game over time.

Vanguard is probably the poster child for this, a game that launched with too much breadth and not enough depth. (Star Citizen could claim that crown from Vanguard, save for the “we’re still in Alpha” loophole that will be going on for the foreseeable future.)  All those races, all those starting zones, PvP and different types of PvP servers, huge landscapes devoid of content, all running on server code not ready for prime time.

The game wanted to leap past day one EverQuest and be EverQuest five expansions into its life.  Instead it jumped down a well and was on life support for the next seven and a half years, finally being let go when even a free to play conversion couldn’t make it economically viable.

That trajectory might have been different had the vision for launch not been so grandiose.  A few races, one continent, and a focus on content around that might have led to a different outcome.  Maybe.  They still would have needed more time on server code, but maybe with less emphasis on a huge world they could have spent some money on the underlying mechanics.

When Brad McQuaid showed up again with his Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter campaign three years back, I was happy with his vision… back to the core of what made EverQuest a success… and doubly so at him saying that the plan was to keep things small and focused.  And then people started pestering him about features they wanted to see in his new game and vision creep seemed to have returned.  When he caved in to a loud corner of players and said PvP would be a thing, I gave up on following the game.  What attracted me to it was his statement about focus, and once that was gone the project ceased to be special to me.

Not that I am anti-PvP.  I have enough posts about EVE Online here to show a commitment to that as a play style.  But I am not convinced that PvP needs to be a feature in every single MMORPG.  It needs to be an integrated, core feature and not something tacked on in the hope of a few more box sales.  That is where it works, where it is good.  However, there is a loud group of players who will show up and rant about any game that dares not have PvP on its feature list.

EverQuest II is my favorite example of time wasted on PvP.  It is a game where the core feature set and audience is PvE that spent way, way too much time trying to make PvP viable by tacking it on to the game in all sorts of ways.  There battles with avatars, and arena battles, and battle grounds, and different servers with different rule sets over time, and eventually there was a point where they redid all the gear so that it have both PvE and PvP stats.  And, in the end, after attempt after attempt to make PvP a thing, they finally gave up and went back to focus on the core game play, the PvE questing and dungeons and raiding, that keeps its main audience going.

Of course, I have a flip side example for EQ2 in EVE Online.  There has always been a persistent rumbling from people about making New Eden more PvE friendly or making high sec completely safe from non-consensual PvP.  CCP has admirably stuck to its vision of the game on that front, but they nearly slipped at one point.

When we speak of the Incarna release, a lot of people jump straight to cash shops and monocles and the insider talk of selling “gold” ships or ammo ala World of Tanks.  But the cash shop still exists and monocles are just as expensive today as they were five years back.

That was all fluff.

The main issue was the captain’s quarters and the diversion from flying in space to avatar based game play.  That was what was rejected after Incarna, but only after a dismissive attitude from CCP about ship spinning… something that was even in their CSM summit statement…  and the like.

But results trump attitude, and after Incarna we got a renewed focus on flying in space with the Crucible expansion that started a long series of reworks of broken or ignored features that were part of the core game play, after which the game reached its subscriber peak.  They seem to get that they have a core they need to maintain. (Which they even mentioned in an interview today.)

And yet there remains a loudly vocal group of players who insist that EVE Online needs avatar based game play, the dreaded “walking in stations” crowd, despite it being such a non-core feature that to make it viable CCP would have to essentially develop another game within EVE Online in order to make it any sort of real attraction.  And to do that it would need to shift resources away from space, which is where everybody who plays the game today is invested.

Arguments about avatars attracting new players are all pie in the sky wishful thinking, while ignoring core game play and the primary audience for the game simply cannot be justified.  But still somebody brings up “walking in stations” every time the future of the game is discussed.

Straying from your core audience can be a win, but only if you know the demand is there, and there is no evidence that an investment in avatar based game play would add a single player to New Eden.

You can point your finger at me and rightly say that I am not a game developer, so how would I know.  And it is true, I work in a different segment of the tech industry, enterprise software.  It pays better and is much more stable.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a sack full of stories about companies with solid products that bring in 99% of the revenue ignoring them to chase some pie in the sky vision because the VP of sales heard some analyst at Gartner say that the future was in “nano-plastic biometric IPv6 reporting schemas” or some other nonsense feature.

And let me tell you, the urge to stray from your focus is tested a lot more by a fortune 50 retailer telling you that they will only consider your product for their seven figure RFP if you support crazy feature X than by any number of gamers grumbling in your forums.

So I certainly have a sense of what happens when you lose focus along with a series of “no customer ever used” features I on which I worked for my resume.

All of which makes me a bit more optimistic about the MMORPG market these days.  WoW clones attempting to appeal to all demographics are dead for now.  Even WoW has felt the pinch for being too much of a bland reflection of early versions of the game.

Instead we have a range of “niche” titles in development, games that set out to be smaller and so can focus on what makes them what them special rather than feeling the have to have every feature ever present in any MMORPG ever shipped.  We wait upon Shroud of the Avatar, Camelot Unchained, Project: Gorgon, Crowfall, and probably a bunch more to validate once again that an MMO can be small and focused and successful.

But if you’re still out there shouting that every game needs to support your pet feature, you’re might want to reflect on whether you’re actually part of the problem that got us to the grim state of big MMORPGs in the first place.

The Coming Death of Deathtoll and PvP in EverQuest II

The story of PvP in EverQuest II is one of brief flashes of modest popularity interspersed amongst great stretches of general ennui.  It is an object lesson in lack of focus.

Because SOE certainly spent a lot of developer time on PvP when it came to EQII in an attempt to find a way to make it work.  But in what is almost completely a PvE oriented game, with classic level and gear progression, PvP never quite fit right.  Over the years SOE tried a number of things, limiting levels at which you could engage other players, nerfing stats when used in PvP, and eventually just giving all gear both PvE AND PvP stats.   They have had open world PvP, arenas, duels, and WoW-like battlegrounds.

And all of it was, in my opinion, a waste of development time.

PvP is not at all core to what made EverQuest II (or EverQuest) the game it is today.  I won’t say nobody played EQII for PvP, because there is always a small group that likes it and shouts loudly for it in the forums, but you would be hard pressed to convince me that all the work done on PvP over the last 11 years was a sound investment based on how many players it attracted.

Back in June when the legacy Norrath team started talking about nostalgia servers for EQII, I was pretty quick to discount the PvP idea.  Not core.

That is Daybreak's graphic for the idea

Generic TLE graphic

So it was a bit of a surprise to me when Daybreak announced not one, but two Time Locked Expansion servers, Stormhold for PvE, and Deathtoll for PvP.

I am not saying that people haven’t had fun with PvP in EQII, because clearly people have.  But it has never been a serious draw relative to the PvE side of the game, a fact proven once again by yesterday’s forum announcement:

Deathtoll will be merged with the PvE Time-Locked Expansion server Stormhold. This is currently scheduled for Tuesday, April 5, 2016. If you haven’t chosen to transfer your character before this date, we’ll be moving characters that remain on Deathtoll to Stormhold on April 5.

Deathtoll is dead, gone before it made it to the Secrets of Faydwer expansion.

And, in keeping with how these things go, that forum announcement has responses complaining about how Daybreak isn’t supporting the PvP community, completely oblivious to the fact that there apparently isn’t a big enough PvP community to even keep one server going.

If you have a character on the Deathtoll server… and are still subscribed to Daybreak All Access… you should be getting a token via in-game mail for a free transfer to any other EQII server.  If you are a PvP fan still on Deathtoll, I might have suggested transferring to that Russian PvP server… Harla Dar wasn’t it… but the Russian servers are being merged into the Splitpaw EU server.

Thus endeth PvP in EverQuest II… and good riddance to it.

Yes, I know a few people liked it.  And there will still be battlegrounds.  But in the end, non-core feature was non-core, and you cannot argue otherwise without creating castles in the sky built on magical clouds of “what if…” and “If only SOE had…” speculation.

This sort of “must cater to all play styles” idea should die, especially now in this era of the niche MMORPG.  Like so many other unsustainable MMO industry trends, you can probably blame this is one on WoW as well.  They managed to carry it off through sheer size.  You can afford support a small part of your player base if the total numbers are big enough to staff up for it.  More people probably play on PvP servers in WoW than ever played EQII at any given time.

But it still persists.  Maybe Lord British has enough bandwidth to manage it with Shroud of the Avatar… color me skeptical though, no matter how much people love to talk about the good old days of Ultima Online… but when Brad McQuaid is talking about PvP as a feature for Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, that is enough for me to write the whole project off.  That is too big of an additional feature.  But scope creep was his problem with Vanguard as well.

Addendum: EQ2Wire has a summary of EverQuest II PvP posted.

Reviewing My 2015 Predictions

Here we are, approaching the back half of the last month of 2015, making it about time for a few “I do this every year” posts.

A graphic with the number 2015 on it!

A graphic with the number 2015 on it!

First on the list is predictions.  Back on January first I published a post with a series of guesses at events of the coming year.  The first set were about specific things I expected to come to pass.  Each was worth 10 points, with partial credit possible.  How badly did I fare there?

Predictions

  • 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.

Well, I was way off on that.  Due to the way that Warlords of Draenor was failing to hold the user base Blizzard couldn’t even hold out until BlizzCon for the announcement, so the year long run-up to launch remains, unless they launch a lot earlier than they have said.  Zero points.

  • 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.

Wrong again.  Blizz decided they were good with the idea, so WoW Tokens are a thing.  Zero points.

  • BlizzCon will also see the announcement of a new expansion for Diablo III, breaking the “one expansion” trend for Diablo games.

This should have been.  Instead the Diablo franchise was barely mentioned at BlizzCon.  Zero points.

  • Heroes of the Storm will go live, at last, after BlizzCon.

Well, HotS did go live… just about five months before I predicted.  Zero points.

  • 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.

Okay, I seem to be on track with this one at least.  Invite-only beta and not going live until Spring.  10 points.

  • 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.

I wish.  No word on EverQuest Next… and no SOE live either this year.  Zero points.

  • 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.

You know, this one looked like it was going to be spot on… my prediction wasn’t even dire enough, as SOE-cum-Daybreak was ready to abandon the expansion idea for Both EverQuest and EverQuest II at one point.  And then sanity… and a desire to make money… returned and both game got an expansion.  Zero points.

  • Also on the SOE front, Dragon’s Prophet will get the axe in 2015 and some new Asian import will get its chance.

Well, Dragon’s Prophet got the chop, but no new Asian import has replaced it, so half right.  5 points.

  • 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.

I don’t know if there were as many jumping puzzles, but I wrote that just to tease Syp.  Otherwise, I think this is mostly on track, enough for 8 out of 10 points.

  • 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.

This one seems like “well duh” at this end of the year, but back at the end of 2014 things looked pretty dire for WildStar.  NCsoft just shutting it down seemed like a reasonable guess.  10 points.

  • 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.

Okay, nothing that bad happened.  And yet there is a thread of reality in the midst of all of that.  Certainly some old null sec alliances bailed on the whole idea of holding space when Fozzie Sov rolled out and made it far to easy to troll.  And some of them did end up in low sec space, the face of which changed as well.  But the map does look different here at the end of the year.  I’ll give myself one point out of ten for that thread of reality.

  • 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.)

Nope.  Instead White Wolf got sold off.  DUST 514 still lingers on at CCP.  Zero points.

  • 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.

The console versions shipped on time.  I really don’t have a feel for how grim things may or may not be, or if they are muddling along, going downhill, or have seen a resurgence.  Zero points.

  • 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.

The Lego Group hasn’t yanked the license from Funcom yet, but LEGO Minifigures Online has continued to under perform.  3 points.

  • 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.

I think we got past 2015 without this happening to a major studio.  Zero points.

  • 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.

EA has taken the opposite tack with SWTOR and is pushing story and trying to force people to subscribe again.  I suppose that says something about the fickle nature of cash shops.  Zero points.

  • 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 ofEverQuest 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.

I thought this one was in the bag at one point, with AC down for a few weeks.  But somebody fixed it in their spare time it seems.  Their days still feel numbered, but for now, zero points.

  • 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.

Well, Infinite Crisis went down almost before it was actually live.  Content wise, it has been a slow year for Turbine.  On the LOTRO front we got a bit more of Middle-earth, but work seemed more focused on server merges and a new data center.  Still, that was more than I expected.  2 points.

  • 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.

Brad soldiers on, continuing in his quest to relive 1999 yet again.  I just hope he has set his sites on a small target… a world that will feel alive with a few thousand people and a business model that will work for a similarly small number, because it just isn’t 1999 any more. Zero points.

  • 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.

Well, I am going to declare a win on technicalities on this one.  Project: Gorgon did get green lit on Steam AND some money did come in… it just came in when the third Kickstarter attempt finally paid off.  For that I am claiming 8 points.

47 points out of 200 points possible.  Not a very good set of predictions.

No Shows

The other set from the predictions post was about which titles you might fully expect to ship in 2015, given past statements or promises given, which wouldn’t make it.  Those were five points each, pass/fail.

  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

Of that list, I think only World of Warships managed to go live in a form we would all agree upon.   Everything else on that list is still in some sort of alpha or early access or some form of not being actually done yet.  And of those that did not go live, EVE Valkyrie seems most likely to ship next, since it will be bundled with Occulus Rift when it ships.

The rest… I would be hard pressed to guess as to which one would actually cross the barrier and become a live, shipping, salable product.

Anyway, that gives me 30 out of 35 points there, for a total of 77 out of 235 overall.  Not a banner year for my guesses.  But that likely won’t stop me from making more when the new year comes again.

How did you do on your predictions?