Category Archives: Pirates of the Burning Sea

Looking Back at 2018 Highs and Lows

The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.

-James Branch Cabell, The Silver Stallion

We stand together again at the end of of another year; at least those of us who survived the journey do.  And, as has become the tradition here, I set aside some time to reflect and sum up the year that was 2018.

As usual, this is more of a stream of consciousness sort of affair as opposed to a rigorous study of the year.  Some things loom larger in my mind than others, especially the more recent.  I can’t really remember what happened in January, but BlizzCon was in November so my brain is still full of that.  Because of the method, and my general laziness, I don’t link out in this post (save for one exception this year).  You sort of have to know what I am talking about or else just let it pass.

For comparison… I suppose there is a study that could be done on my moods and views over the years… you can read the versions of this post that has come up in past years.

Not everything listed as a “low” is necessarily a tragedy, nor is everything listed as a “high” really something that was headline news to celebrate.  One year I inserted a “middle” category and then found I wanted to put most everything in there, so I set that aside.

There is also something of the accountant in me that tries to turn this into a balance sheet, with every “high” having a corresponding “low” on the list.  That works a lot of the time, but not always.  Some things are just one or the other.

Also, I remain undecided on punctuation in this sort of post.  To my mind, bullet points shouldn’t get punctuation.  Sort of.  They do when the bullet point is a question.  Also, I use a lot of semi-colons while eschewing the sentence ending period.  And then there is that exclamation point.  Does that wreck everything?  I think my life would be easier if I just made them sentences, but I am writing this after all the stuff below and I am NOT going back to change all that.

Anyway, on with the show.

Blizzard

Highs

  • A decent start of the year for Blizzard, building momentum for the WoW expansion and BlizzCon
  • Battle for Azeroth launched very well, with the build-up to the expansion drawing a lot of attention
  • Hearthstone did very well, even breaking into the digital revenue top ten on the PC platform
  • BlizzCon for once did not ignore any of the main Blizzard franchises
  • Blizzard showed they were very serious about getting WoW Classic right
  • There is even going to be progression in WoW Classic so the raiding is done with the right gear
  • We got an official announcement for the second of the three planned remasters, Warcraft III Reforged
  • Plans for upcoming Battle for Azeroth content
  • New expansion for Hearthstone
  • New hero for Overwatch
  • New champion for Heroes of the Storm, plus more plans to fix the game
  • New co-op commander for StarCraft II
  • New game for the Diablo franchise
  • Hey, Lindsey Stirling was one of the BlizzCon closing ceremony acts

Lows

  • BlizzCon seemed to kill fan enthusiasm for the aforementioned momentum
  • Even I am starting to feel that the BlizzCon formula might be wearing a bit thin
  • They say that all press is good press, but burning down that tree is going to take a while for some people to get past
  • After a strong start, flaws in Battle for Azeroth around gear and such began to tarnish the experience
  • Wait, as my ilevel gets higher mobs actually get harder rather than easier to kill?  And Blizz thinks this is fine?
  • BlizzCon divided up by six franchises means a preciously small slice of pie for any fan of only a single franchise
  • WoW Classic might be so authentic as to do to retro servers what WoW did to fantasy MMORPGs
  • Did you say WoW Classic would have progression?  This will inevitably lead to people wanting progression into expansions
  • Still waiting for news on that third remaster, Diablo II
  • The Battle for Azeroth content wasn’t all that exciting, even for a year with no expansion announcement
  • Unsure if the Battle for Azeroth content wasn’t exciting because the game is getting old and tired or I am… or both
  • Heroes of the Storm is losing its epsorts league and most of its devs as Blizz restructured it to keep it going with a smaller staff
  • I’m not even sure what a co-op commander is in StarCraft II
  • Complete fail on the part of Blizzard for expecting core Diablo fans to embrace  the mobile title Diablo Immortal
  • Failed to mitigate the above by not mentioning anything about Diablo VI, more Diablo III content, the Diablo II remaster, or anything else the core fan base might care about; vague references to multiple Diablo projects doesn’t cut it
  • Trifecta of Diablo franchise fails when rumors hit that they were going to announce Diablo IV but pulled it at the last minute, followed by a statement that the rumor wasn’t true, all of which will pretty much pull the punch from any future Diablo IV announcement
  • Gaming press proceeded to vilify Diablo fans, pretty much going full on “Imma let you finish…” over Blizz even as Blizz was owning up to badly setting expectations
  • Few people attended, and no press covered, the “Play Nice, Play Fair” presentation at BlizzCon which, among other things, presented evidence on how vilifying your player base as toxic tends to actually enable toxicity from your worst fans while alienating the 99% of your fan base that isn’t a problem
  • Allen Adham says senior devs at Blizzard are playing mobile games now, and Blizzard makes games they want to play by improving the games they are currently playing, so expect anything new from them to be on your phone

Daybreak

Highs

  • Company not shut down due to connection to Russian oligarchs via Columbus Nova
  • EverQuest still holding on as the standard bearer
  • EverQuest turned 19 and launched a new progression server called Coirnav
  • The Fippy Darkpaw EverQuest progression server is still running
  • Likewise, EverQuest II celebrated its 14th anniversary
  • EverQuest and EverQuest II both got an expansion again in 2018
  • DC Universe Online continues to hum along, getting some updates
  • As rumors indicated, PlanetSide 2 got a new map and some updates
  • Rumors also mentioned a new Norrath game, possibly EverQuest 3
  • H1Z1 actually left early access and went live, adding in a new vehicle mode along the way
  • H1Z1 became a success on the PlayStation 4
  • Some sort of joint venture with NantWorks to redo H1Z1 as Z1 Battle Royale
  • Just Survive looked to have received a last minute stay of execution
  • They finally announced a new game, PlanetSide Arena, the first since they ceased to be SOE
  • They actually sold out their 4,000 lifetime memberships at $299 a pop for a nice influx of cash

Lows

  • Not sure who is still playing on the Fippy Darkpaw EverQuest server, its been up for eight years
  • Company changed its mind rather abruptly about who owned it when asked about Russian oligarchs, deleting all references, attempting to scrub Wikipedia, and claiming that they misstated who actually owned the company for three years and on just about every document and press release they published
  •  After all that, Jason Epstein is/was still clearly tied to Columbus Nova
  • In the midst of changing its mind on the ownership question Daybreak took a moment out to lay off a chunk of their staff, showing that all is not well
  • Then, earlier this month they laid off another big chunk of the team
  • H1Z1 pretty much fell by the wayside in the market under pressure from PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds then Fortnite
  • The deal with Tencent to bring H1Z1 to China also failed when the Chinese ethics review board rejected H1Z1 because of “blood and gore” and “vulgar content”
  • There went that H1Z1 esports league
  • The NantWorks joint venture, NantG Moblie, seems pretty nebulous so far, and uncertainty isn’t helping
  • The NantG Mobile plane, such that it has been stated, sounds suspiciously like “What if H1Z1 were more like Fortnite?
  • EverQuest is tied up in this deal in some way, but nobody has explained how
  • Just Survive’s stay of execution turned out to be an illusion and it was shut down
  • The new game, PlanetSide Arena, seemed to be just PlanetSide 2 with well worn shooter modes… including battle royale, of course
  • Lifetime subscribers are all people who won’t be paying a subscription going forward, so Daybreak essentially took a one-time buyout from some of its core fanbase
  • Lifetime subscriptions only apply to the four oldest games, nothing new-ish is covered nor are any console players covered
  • Not sure if NantG Mobile ought to come under the Daybreak heading
  • Not sure how many products Daybreak really has now
  • Not sure how healthy Daybreak is at this point
  • Nothing so far has really quashed the rumors from early in the year about Daybreak’s plans, for good or bad

Standing Stone

Highs

  • Found new ways to expand LOTRO and hey, it was free content
  • Raised the level cap in LOTRO to 120
  • Continued updating character models
  • High elves were added in, because we need more elves in Middle-earth
  • Possibility of a new class for the game
  • Female dwarves in Middle-earth, so now the Tolkien purists can be angry
  • Some mention of a 64-bit client in the offing
  • LOTRO Legendary server proves so popular they have to open a second server
  • A new musical instrument was added, so now you can play the bassoon
  • LOTRO lifetime subscription remains the best MMO deal I have ever made, all the more so since I am back playing
  • DDO got a new race, so you can unlock your inner wood elf; go team elf
  • DDO also got some other updates I think and sold some of those two year subscription deals

Lows

  • Nothing else on the horizon for the company at all
  • Still really don’t know who owns SSG
  • LOTRO remains difficult to pick up with an aging and awkward UI, a balky client, a patcher that is in no hurry to get you patched, and that whole legendary weapon thing which should have been left behind in Moria
  • The rise in the level cap was not universally applauded, but you have to gate content somehow
  • Managed to screw up the Shire for a bit like they were Sarumann
  • The need to make money meant more focus on lootboxes and making the in-game currency situation worse by adding “ember” currency to the list
  • An announced new Middle-earth game won’t shut down LOTRO, but it won’t help it either
  • The “legendary” aspect of the LOTRO Legendary server seemed more than a bit oversold
  • And yet SSG managed to poorly promote the whole LOTRO Legendary server thing at the same time
  • LOTRO Legendary seems most popular with those already invested in the game, so likely pulled a lot of its population from the live servers of players
  • Those LOTRO Legendary queues pretty much went away inside of two weeks
  • A second server and no more queues portends a server merge when the new server joy wears off
  • DDO news was so sparse that I don’t really have anything besides the wood elf to add
  • There was bluster about what the two year subscription might get you, but since two years of normal VIP actually cost $100 less I expect to hear some buyer’s remorse

CCP

Highs

  • CCP purchased by Pearl Abyss ends having to please direct investors
  • CCP and Pearl Abyss claim to be sympatico in their outlook on games
  • CCP says they will get to keep operating on their own
  • CCP got recognition from Guinness finally for the battle at 94P-I
  • A new war in null sec has made some additional headlines
  • Lots of people got to get their titans out and shot things
  • Lots of updates and improvements over the course of the year
  • Abyssal Deadspace was especially popular
  • It is a good time to be farming Gilas
  • In game events are generally getting better
  • CCP is FINALLY trying to fix War Decs
  • With FLEX structures the problematic POS code is almost ready to be expunged from New Eden
  • New Activity Tracker shows you what you’ve been doing in New Eden
  • New games, EVE Echoes and Project: Nova coming next year
  • Working with NetEase, their new partner, to re-launch EVE Online in China
  • Didn’t lose any major third party sites on which EVE Online depends
  • EVEMon is actually back again after the swap to ESI
  • EVE Vegas was a lot of fun
  • I gave a presentation at EVE Vegas

Lows

  • Pearl Abyss, whose reputation from Black Desert Online is that of “cash shop pay to win atrocity horror show” now owns EVE Online.
  • We will see just how sympatico the two companies really are
  • CCP trading external investors for one owner probably means a lot more direct scrutiny
  • CCP will get to run their own show only as long as the money keeps flowing, you can bet on that
  • Monthly updates, some of which can be quite meaty, do make it hard for named expansions to stand out for EVE Online
  • The New Eden concurrency number keeps slowly moving down
  • Null sec wars only last so long, then we all go home and mine
  • Peace is boring since I neither rat nor mine anymore
  • I may, in fact, be a bitter vet at this point
  • The null sec balance of power is now skewed such that the China syndrome seems a possibility, where one power bloc essentially “wins” null sec and everybody else quits
  • Faction Warfare has gone stagnant, with key players leaving it completely
  • The change from passive income to active moon mining sent some low sec groups into decline, hurting low sec even more
  • I’ve added “when will the in-game economy collapse?” to my list of concerns about the game
  • Even the people who used to bristle when it was claimed low sec was dead are starting to feel that low sec has gotten much less active
  • Abyssal Deadspace depends on RNG to stay fresh and still has become mostly a solved problem save for some very bad luck draws
  • Still can’t figure out how CCP went this long without looking into War Decs given how completely problematic the data ended up showing they were; they were pretty much universally declared as horrible years ago
  • Seems likely that CCP will muff fixing war decs, though in their defense there is no simple answer that will please everybody nor one that adheres to the spirit of the game
  • I am going to miss the good old POS bubble when they’re finally removed
  • What were they thinking with that Federation Grand Prix event?
  • Activity Tracker is essentially achievements for New Eden
  • Activity Tracker doesn’t count anything you did before Nov. 13, 2018, which kind of stings for those of us around for more than a decade
  • EVE Echoes is a NetEase mobile game completely disconnected from the main game
  • Project Nova looks nice and could connect to New Eden, but otherwise seems to lack a distinct personality and CCP wants to make it as complicated as EVE Online if they can
  • Oh, and even CCP thinks Project Nova has issues, so it has been delayed
  • Total EVE, EVE Files, and Dotlan EVE Maps all stumbled this year, making us all aware of how fragile the third party ecosystem for New Eden really is
  • There is always a period of post-event malaise for me after the excitement of an event like EVE Vegas wears off
  • In a room with seating for 800 people easy, I had 30 people at my presentation at EVE Vegas, with even some fellow bloggers blowing me off
  • My presentation was also neither streamed nor recorded, so it remains just a special moment in the memory of a very select group
  • Whatever happened to that EVE Online TV series?  I am sure Netflix would buy it

Nintendo

Highs

  • The Switch continues to prove itself a surprising force in the console market
  • Among titles arriving on the Switch was Diablo III
  • Pokemon for Switch looking to be popular
  • Pokemon Go revenues keep on going
  • Pokemon Go released the 4th generation Pokemon, which was a nostalgia rush for me
  • There will be a link between Pokemon Go and the new Pokemon titles on the Switch

Lows

  • The Switch version of most games cost more than on other platforms
  • The Switch isn’t up to supporting ports from other platforms for some games
  • All that Switch news is cold comfort if you’re invested in the neglected DS handheld platform
  • The Switch is not a handheld, portable platform; it is too big, too fragile, and lacks the battery life to be considered as such
  • No more Pokemon on the DS line, ending more than 20 years of the franchise’s link with Nintendo handheld platforms
  • Hilarious attempts to justify the easy nature of the Switch Pokemon games by claiming that those games are “for children” as though the past 20 years of Pokemon handheld games were not
  • Nintendo actively pushing its latest/last handheld model, the 2DS XL, while pretty much winding down the new game queue for the platform in something that feels a lot like dishonesty
  • Pokemon Go is pretty much the only winner in Nintendo’s mobile strategy
  • Pretty much have to admit that Pokemon games on handhelds were the last thing Nintendo had that interested me, in case you missed that, so they probably won’t even get a category here next year

Other Games and the Gaming Industry

Highs

  • TorilMUD made it to 25 years; long live the MUD!
  • Fortnite found its niche and conquered
  • I enjoyed some time with Rift Prime
  • Having enough leftover credits from the free to play conversion, I didn’t even have to spend a single dime on Rift Prime
  • Shroud of the Avatar left early access
  • Project: Gorgon arrived on Steam
  • No Man’s Sky seemed to be finally living up to some of its pre-launch promises
  • The Elder Scrolls Online seems to be a rock, able to carry on even as other titles falter and fall into neglect, maintenance mode, acquisitions, or closure
  • Everybody seems to be raving about Red Dead Redemption 2
  • Finally, somebody mad about loot boxes and set to do something about them
  • A ruling from the Library of Congress extending DMCA exemptions for video game archiving and study to include server/client based games like MMORPGs
  • We got a good Minecraft expansion with the Aquatic Update and Pandas are on the way
  • Steam declared they weren’t going to reject any games based on content, save for those titles it felt were just “trolling”
  • Civilization V got an update… it was only to the launcher, but the launcher needed it
  • Bomber Crew ended up being a nice little game, I should write about it

Lows

  • This section is getting harder to write every year as I rarely seem to play anything new
  • Fortnite has become popular enough to start facing backlash like a ban by the NHL
  • Battle Royale as a feature is now a requirement in all shooters
  • Rift Prime, like Rift the first time around, was guaranteed to lose my attention at Storm Legion; as it was I didn’t even make it that far
  • Trion’s games were bought by Gamingo as Trion folds up shop leaving an uncertain future for their titles; I guess I wasn’t the only one not spending money on Rift Prime
  • Shroud of the Avatar then proceeded to go free while the studio laid people off
  • I still haven’t given Project: Gorgon much of a shot
  • I can’t really tell anymore, is Star Wars: The Old Republic on an uptick or a down tick this year?
  • Pirates of the Burning Sea developer Portalus Games is calling it a day, leaving it to an even smaller group to run which does not fill one with confidence
  • Wildstar and Carbine Studios are no more, victims of their own hype as much as anything
  • Tried Anarchy Online and, as it turns out, nostalgia for the “good old days” only applied to reliving your own hardships, not the hardships of others
  • Every time I see “RDR2” my brain converts it to “R2D2”
  • RDR2 is a console game and my latest console was a PS3, not counting the 2DS XL
  • Loot boxes became a political football for those looking to score points on the “Won’t somebody please think of the children!” front; actual change outside of Belgium was pretty much zero
  • Riot  Games giving the industry an even worse reputation as Kotaku exposes their caustic bro culture
  • Riot Games attempting to fix their horrible culture through platitudes and PR; I only wish I played League of Legends so I could quit dramatically
  • Library of Congress ruling is essentially useless as it only allows museums and the like to archive MMORPGs if they can legally obtain the server code, which just isn’t going to happen
  • The eventual crashing of fan euphoria as they found out the DMCA exemption also prevents remote, off-site connections to preserved MMORPGs; The Library of Congress is not interested in letting you play SWG just because you miss it
  • The last refuge of closed MMORPGs remains the pirate emulator, which live a perilous existence in the gray space between popularity and a lawsuit
  • The Civilization V launcher update seemed primarily put in place to serve as an advertising platform to push the disappointing Civilization VI
  • Just to repeat, Civilization VI was quite the disappointment so I uninstalled it and play Civilization V when I have the Civ urge
  • As it turns out “trolling” isn’t well defined and Steam pretty much rejects the same games it always has, only now that is their excuse
  • All the same, the number of new games to hit Steam every day continued to grow, leaving only those studios that can afford marketing or who have a solid reputation likely to make any money at all
  • Many game developer careers remain Hobbesian in nature (nasty, short, and brutish) as studios abuse the seemingly endless supply of young developers seeking to do what they love in order to live the dream; the dream being 80 hour weeks, low pay, and no long term employment stability
  • Gaming media, another realm where an endless supply of replacements await those who can’t generate clicks, continues to play both sides of the game as they stoke up fan expectations with uncritical assessments of studio promises and then tar video game fans with whatever negative euphemism comes to hand (e.g. entitled, man babies, entitled man babies) over any backlash when the expectations they helped set fail to deliver; but controversy gets views man
  • And yes, some fans just need to shut the fuck up; but drawing attention to them, bringing them fame, and reporting their every complaint isn’t going to make that happen… and conflating the words of a tiny minority with the views of a whole community remains asinine

Media, Social and Otherwise

Highs

  • Even more Star Wars in theaters
  • Lots of new shows and movies on services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu
  • Season five of Bojack Horseman was excellent
  • The First was slow, but good; despite his personal life, about which I could stand to never hear about again, Sean Penn remains an actor dedicated to his craft
  • Still some really nice, serviceable shows on what one might still call “basic cable” these days
  • Better Call Saul might be better than Breaking Bad
  • Honest Trailers and Honest Game Trailers just never get old for me; the Screen Junkies team is awesome
  • Honest Trailers Commentaries is my new YouTube addiction
  • Somehow Zero Punctuation has stayed pretty fresh for me as well despite the fact that I still reference videos Yahtzee made over a decade back
  • Twitter, for all its faults, remains pretty useful to me

Lows

  • Even Disney now believes that there can be too many Star Wars movies now
  • Solo was there to answer questions nobody was really asking
  • Is there any series or movie so bad that Netflix won’t pick it up as an exclusive?
  • House of Cards ends on a silly/disappointing season though, like the original, the first season was all that really made it matter
  • Whoa, have you seen the Netflix earnings lately?
  • Every network now seems to think they need to get on the exclusive streaming service train to gate in their content leading to market fragmentation and, likely, eventual failure for all but the strong
  • The strong are, inevitably, Amazon and Disney, and we know what they’re like
  • There are so many options on basic cable that I often miss good stuff until a season is part way through and then have to wait until it makes it to Hulu or Netflix in order to watch it
  • Kind of starting to resent shows that only drop an episode a week; I want to binge… and binging helps me keep the plot and characters straight
  • Screen Junkies owned by yet another new company now, I hope they continue to survive
  • CinemaSins has gotten pretty stales for me; I like to hear Jeremy talk on the podcast, but the same old complaints, like “47 seconds of logos,” have been beaten to death
  • Pretty sure at this point that Zero Punctuation is all that is keeping The Escapist alive at this point
  • The Escapist pretty much broke being able to watch Zero Punctuation on their site back in July; I hope they get revenue from posting it to YouTube, because that is where I go to see it now
  • Google announced that, due to low usage and a security issues, they would be closing Google+ in August 2019
  • And then another security issue came up and Google moved the end date for Google+ to April 2019
  • That threat by people to leave Twitter made me realize how much I depend on it
  • Mastadon, a Twitter alternative, is great… if you just want to be in a tiny echo chamber of stifling conformity
  • Facebook looks worse as a company with each passing day

The Blog, Internet, and Like Items

Highs

  • Somehow, after a dozen year, here I am still
  • The month in review posts have become pretty special to me as I get to review past posts every month
  • The MMO Blog Feed in the side bar continues to function, amazing given the hack that it is and that several times the companies involved were set to make changes that would break it completely
  • A really nice Blaugust event this year, combining both the usual activity with some of the Newbie Blogger Initiative stuff
  • Blaugust was low pressure and not even gaming blog oriented, which brought in a lot of faces, new and old, to participate leading to a lot of good cross-pollination
  • Blaugust Discord was fun and has kept going as a place to chat for some of us
  • The whole thing was objectively a success on many fronts, including traffic, which ticked up noticeably
  • Traffic to this site was not only up for August, but stayed up for the months following
  • For the first time since 2012 traffic is actually up for the year when compared to the previous year
  • Average word count per post was up this year; I assume that is a good thing
  • Also, and odd metric, but “likes” were up quite a bit on the site, something I think was directly from Blaugust
  • Stalking the tags and categories feature in the WordPress.com Reader has actually led me to several new blogs, which should be a reminder that people should try to use standard tags if they want their blog to be found

Lows

  • Blogging continues its decline as an influence, remaining a hold out for those of us who prefer long form, words, and being able to collect our thoughts into a single site
  • The month in review posts are becoming more bloated and no doubt helping to inflate that average word count
  • Always somebody keen to declare any social event like Blaugust a “failure” if their own independent measure wasn’t met, even if they did not participate or understand the premise
  • Not sure traffic boost was solely related to Blaugust as search engine quirks seem to be in play as well given the specific posts that are seeing ongoing interest
  • While likes were up, comments were down for the year, and rather dramatically so; on balance, a good comment is worth a half a dozen likes in my book
  • There are days when I feel I am stuck between people who can accept no criticism of their current favorite game and those who feel that in order for their game to fully succeed somebody else must fail
  • My cynicism about new titles remains driven by the unwarranted optimism certain repeat offenders seem willing to invest in studio generated hype even after they have time and again become resentful when reality fails to meet their inflated expectations
  • So much for net neutrality
  • So much for the alleged benefits of dumping net neutrality as the promised increase in infrastructure building actually went the other way
  • So many bloggers use bad tags or categories for their blogs (e.g. “wow” rather than “warcraft” or “world of warcraft” and “eve” instead of “eve online”) which makes finding them a low percentage accident at the best of times
  • WordPress.com ads have officially crossed the line into obnoxious, proving once again that ad block is pretty much a requirement on the internet
  • My brain has started auto completing words for as my fingers type them, and the result is even worse than when my iPhone does it

Final Thoughts

My temptation is to continue to beat to death the “and so it goes” line from Vonnegut.  I read a lot of Vonnegut in college… I actually read all of Vonnegut in college, or all that there was at the time, short stories included… and it clearly influenced my somewhat fatalistic outlook on life.  Maybe “no damn cat, no damn cradle” would be better.  That might be the lesson of life in the end.

Another year has passes and the trivial pursuits of our lives continue.

Pirates Reef Sails for the Storm Ahead

Pirates of the Burning Seas, one of the odd MMORPG titles from the failed post-WoW golden age of the genre looks set to close at the end of September.

My sloop back in the day

An interesting concept in an age of WoW clones, the title never really took off, spending five years with SOE under the Flying Lab banner.  I played it at launch but, while there was some interesting aspects to it, the game didn’t really hold my interest.  Then it broke off as Wizardry Online was coming on with SOE and spent another five or so years solo under Portalus Games, a company made up of some of the original devs set to take on sole responsibility for the title.

Now, however, Portalus Games is planning to close up shop, and with it will likely go the game.  However, the company has left the option open for somebody else to take over the game.  It doesn’t seem a likely course unless somebody who knows the code is along for the ride.  A similar venture with Merdian 59 was only viable because Brian “Psycochild” Green, one of the game’s creators, was there to run it.

The message is copied below.  I will be interested to see if anybody will be able to take up the game and make a go of it.  Otherwise the end is nigh.

Portalus Games Closure

SOE and Its MMORPGs

This started as just me attempting to see if I could list out all the MMORPGs that spent time under the SOE banner.  Then I started adding in some details and soon I had wasted my usual allotted writing time working on this, so it became a blog post.  Perhaps it will be something of historical interest at some point.  Anyway, I guess I am carrying on with Daybreak week here, because you know I’ll have another related post tomorrow.

For this list I have stayed with what I would consider “worldly” MMORPGs that SOE developed or published, not venturing into some of the other online games they did early on, such as Tanarus, Infantry, or Cosmic Rift, any of the collectible card games, or other games that were just published under their name without any real involvement, such as Payday.

That left me with the following list of titles in something like chronological order.

EverQuest

EverQuest

  • Launch Date: March 16, 1999
  • Current Status: Still Going
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

The original SOE MMORPG, the crown jewels, the foundation upon which everything else was built.  John Smedley gets Brad McQuaid, Jeff Butler, and a few other people to make a graphical version of Toril MUD.  Most popular of the “big three” early MMORPGs, which also included Ultima Online and Asheron’s Call.   Gave SOE the impetus to try to make more such games and Edward Castronova something to study for a few years.  Slated to get its 22nd expansion this fall.

Sovereign

  • Launch Date: Announced July 28, 1999
  • Current Status: Cancelled February 11, 2003
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info
Sovereign on display

Sovereign on display

Jenks brought this up in the comments after the post went live, so I am adding it after the fact.  Before The Agency and EverQuest Next, there was Sovereign, the MMORTS that never was. (Screen shot borrowed from Matthew Cox.  More screen shots are available on his site.)  There are bits and pieces about the game still bobbing about amongst the flotsam and jetsam of the internet, but I’ll let Chairmen Smed set the expectations:

We pushed the envelope of massively multiplayer gaming with 989 Studios’ EverQuest and created an entirely new set of expectations for the fantasy role player. Building on what we’ve learned and applying it to a strategy game will result in an incredible new product. Sovereign is this product, ”

-John Smedley, President and CEO of Verant Interactive.

EverQuest Online Adventures

  • Launch Date: February 11, 2003
  • Current Status: Closed March 29, 2012
  • Platform: PlayStation 2
  • Info

EverQuest moved to the PlayStation 2. (“Sony’s Cash Machine” according to CNN.)  The fact that it lasted through until 2012 speaks to the longevity of the PlayStation 2 platform and the one-time tendency for MMORPG players to settle down in a game for a long stay.

PlanetSide

  • Launch Date: May 20, 2003
  • Current Status: Still going… sort of…
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

SOE attempts to make a first person shooter MMO and mostly succeeds.  Blighted over the years by hacks, aim bots, and company neglect, it lives on today in something of an undead state, shambling around but largely ignored, because Smed was sentimental about the game and refused to close it.  I expect it will get shut down when somebody figures out where Smed hid the last server.

Star Wars Galaxies

  • Launch Date: June 26, 2003
  • Current Status: Closed December 15, 2011
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

A controversial game.  Some people loved it and swear to this day that it had the best crafting or housing or classes or whatever.  Others look at it and saw only the problems that plagued it, which included overly complex crafting, ugly trailer park stretches of indistinguishable player housing, and the whole Jedi issue.  Famously the focus of the New Game Enhancements in November 2005 (ordered directly by Lucas Arts or Smed depending on who you listen to) which either made the game more manageable or destroyed everything that was good about it.  It is the subject of thousands of reflective editorials.  Closed down (again, on the orders of Lucas Arts at the request of EA or by Smed) so as not to compete with Star Wars: The Old Republic.

EverQuest Macintosh Edition

  • Launch Date: July 2003
  • Current Status: Closed November 18, 2013
  • Platform: Mac OS
  • Info

EverQuest on the Mac, called out on its own because it had its own client, its own server, and had a very different trajectory than the game from which it was spawned.  Launched with the expansions through The Planes of Power, it never got another expansion.  Long ignored by SOE, it became the home of the “classic” EverQuest experience, with home brew instructions available on how to make the Windows client run on the Mac server.  When EverQuest went free to play, the Mac version was simply made free, since SOE still did not want to invest any time or effort into the game.  That lasted from early 2012 until late 2013, when the game was finally shut down.

EverQuest II

  • Launch Date: November 8, 2004
  • Current Status: Still Going
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

The Prince Charles to EverQuest’s Queen Elizabeth II, often better informed or more progressive yet still doomed to live forever in the shadow of its parent on a small island that used to rule half the known world.  EQII has always had a funny path to walk, needing to keep some affinity for old Norrath while trying to distinguish itself at the same time.  After a decade, 12 expansions, and 4 adventure packs, I think it is safe to call it a success or sorts, with its own dedicated following.  It has also had to live long in the shadow of WoW, which is probably the ascendant new world in that initial analogy.   Was two games for a while, when the EverQuest II Extended free to play trial was going, but that was merged back into the main game line.

The Matrix Online

  • Launch Date: March 22, 2005
  • Current Status: Closed July 31, 2009
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

The first of the misfit MMOs for SOE, and another in the long line of troubled titles.  Launched by Sega, the game had problems, but SOE took it over in August 2005 and revamped it.  A strange game, and one I found dissatisfying when I tried it.  Perhaps best summed up by Ben Kuchera when he wrote, “The Matrix Online offered a weirdly meta experience, as real people created virtual players to go online in a virtual world pretending to be a virtual world.”

Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

  • Launch Date: January 30, 2007
  • Current Status: Closed July 31, 2014
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

The next on the island of misfit MMOs, the way, way over ambitious brain child of Brad McQuaid was supposed to be launched by Microsoft.  That agreement fell through, so Brad cut a deal with his old pals at SOE to publish the game.  The launch was so bad… the game was essentially broken, while going live within a week of World of Warcraft’s Burning Crusade expansion helped bury any news about it… that in something of an anti-Victor Kiam move, SOE ended up buying the company.  A hero for saving the game for its few fans, SOE spent a lot of time simply fixing it.  After running hot and cold on the game for years, SOE finally converted it to a free to play title in August 2012… and then closed it when it still didn’t make any money after the initial conversion enthusiasm died.

The Agency

  • Launch Date: Never launched, originally announced July 11, 2007
  • Current Status: Still a legend told around the campfire, but died on March 31, 2011
  • Platform: Imagination
  • Info

In something of a foreshadowing event for EverQuest Next, SOE showed demos of The Agency at a couple of Fanfests and even sounded like they had a launch date in mind at one point. (Brenlo nearly slipped and said it on one of the SOE podcasts.)  Then there was a horrible Facebook game launched as The Agency: Covert Ops. to tide us over while development continues.  But the spy shooter MMORPG never made an appearance, finally being laid to rest on March 31, 2011.

Pirates of the Burning Sea

  • Launch Date: January 22, 2008
  • Current Status: Left SOE January 31, 2013
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

SOE using its expertise to go into the MMORPG publishing business.  In this case, the Flying Labs Caribbean ships and pirates game.  Ship to ship combat was pretty neat, but everything else was poor by comparison.  Eventually the game left SOE and is now run by Portalus Games.

Free Realms

  • Launch Date: April 28, 2009
  • Current Status: Closed March 31, 2014
  • Platform: Windows, PlayStation 3, Mac OS
  • Info

SOE was going to burst onto the free to play scene with a dedicated free title… a free title for the whole family.  Amusing to me was the fact that it took a year longer to get it out on PlayStation 3 than Mac OS.  Like most online games, it garnered a small but dedicated following.  However Smed seemed to think it was more trouble than it was worth.  After the shut down announcement Smed said, “No more kids games.  Kids don’t spend well and it’s very difficult to run a kids game.  Turns out Kids do mean stuff to each other a lot.”

Star Wars: The Clone Wars Adventures

  • Launch Date: September 15, 2010
  • Current Status: Closed March 31, 2014
  • Platform: Web launched Windows and Mac OS client
  • Info

Considered by me to be the bone that Lucas Arts threw SOE when they were told they would have to close down Star Wars Galaxies, this mini-game focused online encounter is getting to the far edge of what I might consider an MMORPG.  There was a lobby as opposed to a world, but you could still interact with other people.  It was from a period when every show on Cartoon Network got a web launched MMO like this.  Still, it got 10 million registered accounts.  Thrown out with the bloodbath of 2014.

EverQuest Next

  • Launch Date: Announced August 2010
  • Current Status: The dream was over on March 11, 2016
  • Platform: Windows and PlayStation 4
  • Info

I, and a bunch of other people, just wrote a lot of words about this.  (Words and links here)  Years after saying that MMORPG sequels were a bad idea, SOE decided it needed to carry on the world of Norrath in a new way.  Every fan of EverQuest then proceeded to project their dreams on this title.  It was The Agency all over again, only on steroid enhanced expectations.  I still think the name was a bad idea.

DC Universe Online

  • Launch Date: January 11, 2011
  • Current Status: Still Going
  • Platform: Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, coming to XBox One
  • Info

SOE’s entry into the super hero market.  Started as a subscription game, which got Smed to make statement about regarding what subscribers should expect from such a business model, expectations which were not met.  Later converted to free to play.  Alleged to be an economically viable title on PlayStation, causing Daybreak to want to move this five year old title over to XBox.  Not my cup of tea, but super heroes never were… and the console focused control scheme on the Windows client made it even less enjoyable for me.

PlanetSide 2

  • Launch Date: November 20, 2012
  • Current Status: Still Going
  • Platform: Windows, PlayStation 4
  • Info

Smed’s pet project, PlanetSide redone.  Has, at times, suffered from the same neglect and hacking issues as the original.  A troublesome title when it comes to revenue (“really struggling” was the quote, also “China“), since you can shoot people for free, and the pay to win options that people might spend money on don’t grant enough advantage.  Not sure that this will be on the train to an XBox One port.

Wizardry Online

  • Launch Date: January 30, 2013
  • Current Status: Closed July 31, 2014
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

SOE decides to see if it can make any headway with an Asian import game.  Wizardry Online at least had some name recognition in the West because of its roots in the old game on the Apple II.  However, the game’s lineage changed a lot since the early 80s, having turned decidedly… well… Asian in flavor since then.  Fails to grab a big enough audience to survive.

Landmark

  • Launch Date: Announced August 2013, set to launch Spring 2016
  • Current Status: Early Access
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

Originally a tool that was to be used to create EverQuest Next, it was weaponized and made into its own product.  Something of Minecraft with higher resolution graphics, I am still not sure what niche it will really fill.  More on that here.  Will not be free to play.

Dragon’s Prophet

  • Launch Date: September 23, 2013
  • Current Status: Closed November 16, 2015 (US only)
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

After grabbing Wizardry Online, somebody at SOE apparently felt they needed for another title from Asia, only this time without any name recognition to carry it along.  Its main claim to fame was being from the same developer who made Runes of Magic.  I completely missed its launch and barely noticed when it closed down.  Still available in Europe where a different company published it.

H1Z1

  • Launch Date: Announced April 2014
  • Current Status: Split into two games
  • Platform: Windows, PlayStation 4
  • Info

The original… and I use that word a bit ironically… zombie genre game idea from SOE.   Built off of the PlanetSide 2 platform, sold a million copies in Early Access.  Was slated to be a free to play game… until it sold well in Early Access.  No longer a single title.

H1Z1 – Just Survive

  • Launch Date: Announced February 8, 2016
  • Current Status: Early Access
  • Platform: Windows, PlayStation 4
  • Info

The spirit of the original, the small world co-op MMORPG (despite what Smed said) vision of the game.  Has its moments.  Currently no launch date has been announced, is clearly in the back seat relative to its sibling King of the Kill.

H1Z1 – King of the Kill

  • Launch Date: Announced February 8, 2016, slated to launch Summer 2016
  • Current Status: Early Access
  • Platform: Windows, PlayStation 4
  • Info

The arena death match vision of H1Z1, with clear esports aspirations.  This is Daybreak looking for something they can grab a headline with.  Also, no longer free to play.  Daybreak will continue to collect $20 if you care to give it a try.

So that is the list, 22 games of various sorts.  I decided that the title of this post had to be SOE and not Daybreak because everything here was started before the Daybreak era began a little over a year ago.

From that list, Daybreak has the following to work with:

  1. EverQuest
  2. EverQuest II
  3. PlanetSide
  4. DC Universe Online
  5. PlanetSide 2
  6. Landmark
  7. H1Z1: Just Survive
  8. H1Z1: King of the Kill

And of those, only half are on the Daybreak All Access plan… though the other half are either in Early Access or free.

Daybreak All Access - March 2016

Daybreak All Access – March 2016

So that is the Daybreak lineup.  I suppose the real test of what Columbus Nova Prime has planned for the company will be if we ever see another new title.  A new title would mean plans for the future, while none would seem to indicate that the plan is just to milk the old SOE cow until it is dry.

Milestones: In with Wizardry Online, Out with Pirates of the Burning Sea

Wizardry Online is now a live, full fledged member of the SOE stable of games.

WizOnline

While it doesn’t really bring back the spirit of the original Wizardry for me… and really isn’t my cup of tea… it is now part of the line up, free to play if you want or as a subscription or part of SOE’s All Access Pass.

Some find me... disturbing

It was tough just getting past this screen…

It remains to be seen if this title will bring a lasting dungeon crawl experience or if their concept of “permadeath” will be a compelling feature. We shall see whether it lights a fire or languishes in the shadow of SOE’s other fantasy MMORPG titles.

Stropp has been in there for day one fun, if you are looking for a report on that.  He does mention that the “connecting” issue, that so many people have arrived here searching for, appears to be SOE completely lacking any sort of informative “you’re in the login queue” messaging.  You just sit there “connecting” until it is your turn.

Meanwhile, Pirates of the Burning Sea is taking its leave from SOE.

FLSlogo

Flying Lab Software will no longer be the developer and SOE no longer the publisher of this title. The following announcement went out to those of us still on their mailing list:

Ahoy there!

As you may know, Pirates of the Burning Sea (PotBS) will be leaving SOE’s family of games at the end of the month and setting sail with Portalus Games. Portalus may be a new name, but the people behind it are veterans of Flying Lab who love the game. They have banded together to form a new company whose sole focus is PotBS, and will continue running, developing, and expanding the game into the future.

I’m personally very excited about Portalus and I’m looking forward to where they’ll be taking PotBS, but it will be as a player, not as a member of the development team. I’ve had a lot of great moments in the development of Pirates, and while the details of these moments are wildly varied, they all revolve around the same thing: interacting with you, the players. We decided to build an MMO because we wanted to have a more direct relationship with our players, and PotBS came through in spades. I’ve enjoyed going out, and meeting and talking with so many of you, and I wouldn’t trade a moment of it for the world.

I want to thank all of you for your support, and if one day you’re sailing on the open seas, and you meet a grizzled old Pirate who talks about the old days, think a kindly thought for me. Then give him a broadsides and take his ship!! See you on the Burning Seas!

Russell Williams
– Co-Founder Flying Lab

Accounts can be migrated to the new company, which takes over today. The SOE servers will go down at 10:30pm PST. Instructions on how to migrate your account are on the Portalus Games web site.

While Potshot and I were there at launch and before with the pre-boarding pass (and once again adopting the French faction), the game never really stuck with us.

The French have the most attitude

The ship to ship combat was very good. It was about all you could expect from such a game and then some.

Broadside!

Most other aspects of the game fell flat for us however. Ship boarding combat was dull, the economy was convoluted, the strategic game was broken, and even finding ship to ship battles was unsatisfying. In less than a month we felt adrift in the burning sea, rudderless and uninterested in where the current might take us. And so we left the game, though it sailed on.

Onward!

And while I always intended to come back and check on how things had progressed after our short time in the game, it never came to pass. There are always more games to play than time in which to play them.

As with Wizardry Online, the future remains to be written. Will this be a rebirth for the now five year old game, or has it merely been moved to hospice care where it can die quietly?

SOE Station Access Returns to 2004… And Then Some

I was going to wait until SOE posted something official on the SOE web site about the Station Access price reduction, but their community team seems to all be at E3 and unable to do anything besides post pictures to the SOE Facebook page.

I thought a bit of caution might be required, since the stories that announced this coming price reduction all seemed to lack an official original source to which they could link to, only linking to other similarly sparse reports on the subject.  Given how the press “misunderstood” and repeated certain stories during the Sony hacking fiasco, I thought a little care with SOE related stories would be a good thing.

Color me a cynic.  I want the deal in writing.

But I am also impatient, so let’s just treat this as if it is true, and that SOE is going to reduce the price of Station Access to $19.99 a month, down from its current $29.99 a month, at some date which we will refer to as “soon.”

I remember when Station Access was announced, way back in late 2004.  A mere $21.99 a month would cover your subscription fees for all of the Sony Online Entertainment MMOs. (I had to go back to my SOE billing history to get that number.)

For me, the fact that I could be subscribed to EverQuest II and still go tinker around in EverQuest was a decent draw at that price, but the clincher was the fact that, with Station Access you also got a couple more character slots in EQ2.

I will grouse to my dying day about SOE launching a game with 24 character classes that only allowed you to make four total characters.

The price went up to $24.99 later on, and then just a little over four years ago it jumped up to its current $29.99 a month.

The speculation at the time was that this was to help cover Vanguard being brought into the SOE family of MMOs, and there was worry that with each new game a future price increase would come.

Fortunately for those of us at the consumer end of things, the price did not rise any further with the addition of games like Pirates of the Burning Sea.  I would guess that the $29.99 price seemed to SOE to be perhaps the most the market would bear.

For those who are not familiar with Station Access, it is one of the SOE subscription plans.  It allows the subscriber to play any of SOE’s online games as though they have subscribed to that particular game.

In theory you must buy the game box before you can play any particular game.  In practice I was able to download and play Star Wars Galaxies, The Matrix Online, and Planet Side without paying for anything aside from my Station Access subscription.  And the games you play benefit, as your Station Access subscription is allocated out based on what game you play over the month.

At $21.99 it was a hell of a deal.

At $24.99 it was still a very good deal.

But at $29.99 the package deal lost some of its luster.

At that price it was a penny more expensive than simply having two month-to-month subscriptions for any given pair of SOE games.  Furthermore, with a standard subscription you can get a further discount by subscribing in 3, 6, or 12 month increments, something not available to Station Access subscribers who can only pay on a month-to-month basis.

This lead to a rather amusing, in my opinion, Station Access Savings Calculator that would tell you how you could “save” nearly $75 a month in subscription fees (if you otherwise subscribed individually to every SOE game), but could not explain why you should subscribe if you only played one or two SOE games.

So unless you were active in 3 or more SOE games on a regular basis (and there are some of you out there who have been at times… I’m looking at you Stargrace and Tipa… and speaking of Tipa, her comment on this post is worth noting just for context) or really needed one of the few other benefits that Station Access offered (like more character slots in EQ2… of that I am guilty), the value proposition for Station Access was not so hot.

But now, if the news is to be believed, Station Access is being reduced in price, back to a level below what seems like a good deal back in 2004.  At $19.99 a month I would subscribe to SOE games only via Station Access, if only to allow myself to peek into EverQuest now and again and keep myself going in both versions of EverQuest II.

Which leaves me with the usual question, “What does it mean?”

Certainly SOE has been a leader in subscription options.  Just looking at EverQuest II, does any other competing game offer as many ways to subscribe and play?  We have free (EQ2X only, granted), $10 forever (ibid), a 3 day a month plan (EQ2 Passport), a standard monthly subscription, and Station Access.  If there was a lifetime plan and an option to buy your subscription time with in-game currency I think they would have almost all the current options in the MMO sphere covered.

But with all of that, why upset things with a radical change in the price of Station Access?

My speculation, and that is all it is, is that the market has changed, both inside and outside of SOE.

Back when EQ2 launched, $15 a month was the defacto standard subscription fee.  (Remember how we scoffed, well I did, when Mark Jacobs suggested that Warhammer Online might charge more, positioning it as a premium game? And now the first 10 levels are free.)  $15 was the line, and the MMO companies held to that, because there were not a lot of options for your western fantasy MMO dollar.

But with the market now flooded with choices, price has become one of the points of competition.  With Lord of the Rings Online, for example, even before it went free to play if you couldn’t find a way to subscribe at $10 a month (basically a $5 discount off the list price) you were not trying hard enough.  And after going free to play, $10 a month became the standard monthly VIP price.

$15 a month has gone from being the standard to being something of the cap on MMO subscription pricing.  How can you charge MORE than WoW, the bestest MMO ever if we use subscribers as our sole metric like so many people do?

So for something like Station Access to “feel” like a deal, pricing it at double WoW is no longer really viable.

And SOE has changed as well.  When Station Access came out… and even when it went up to $30 a month… SOE games were all monthly subscription that, with the exception of Planet Side, were at the standard $15 a month.

Now, however, we have FreeRealms which is nominally free, as are EverQuest II Extended, Pirates of the Burning Sea, and Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures.  If that does not necessarily break the Station Access model, it certainly adds a new dynamic to it.

And you have Station Cash, which has been around for a while now and which was not met with enthusiasm. (And it still has the purists screaming. See race change potion on Fippy Darkpaw.)  Station Cash has become, over the last two and a half years, an increasingly bigger piece of SOE’s revenue pie.  And this, I am going to guess, is probably the key item.

While market changes certainly had no small influence, I am going to bet that somebody did the math, went through and figured out how much revenue there was in attracting each free to play player and how much that revenue changed… went up… when a free to play player converted to a subscription.

Those would be very interesting numbers to see, but I would guess that Station Cash purchases for a player that commits to a subscription are higher than for a free player.  And, I would additionally be willing to bet that somebody willing to spend Station Cash in one game is more likely to spend it in other SOE games.

And if that is the case, getting somebody to commit to all of your games probably nets out better in the long run if Station Access is less expensive because more people are likely to commit over all.

Or so goes my theory, which I will summarize as “market change and the increasing importance of Station Cash purchases to the SOE bottom line.”

Syp took a look at the value proposition of the change, which for a consumer can simply be said to be “better,” but I haven’t see much on the “Why” front.

What do you think is really driving this change?

Addendum: They posted the webcast to YouTube and mentioned the Station Access pricing change in their post on the Station Blog, so we now have something in writing.  Still no details… like an actual date.

SOE Joins PlayStation Network Hacking Woes

I thought I was safe, not having given my credit card to Sony on the PlayStation Network.

Then Sony Online Entertainment brought down all their servers this morning, purportedly for “an investigation into an intrusion.”

And now it seems there was a reason for it.

While the shut down has been covered around the webKotaku is now reporting that hackers may have stolen more than 12,700 credit card numbers from Sony Online Entertainment players.

That is a small-ish percentage of the players of SOE games such as EverQuest II, and considerably fewer credit card numbers than were obtained through the hacking of the PlayStation Network (last count, 10 million!), but it is still a disturbing reminder of the problems Sony is currently having with network security.  And who knows what the final numbers will be.

No word on how to tell if your credit card has been compromised, though SOE Community Manager Amnerys encourages you to call SOE customer service if you have concerns.

Good luck getting through!

You might as well read the alarming security update from SOE.

I guess I picked a bad week to quit WoW.

Addendum: Sony says this was not a second attack, which I guess means they still haven’t figured out how bad the attack nearly two weeks ago really was.

Addendum 2:  Per ZAM, SOE is granting customers 30 days of additional time on their subscriptions, in addition to compensating them one day for each day the system is down.  No word on how long the system will be down.

(SOE Offline graphic from the Kotaku story.)