Category Archives: PlanetSide 2


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.



  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.

February in Review

The Site

Here we are, another month gone by as we move through the tenth year of the blog.  Despite the extra day we get this year… the third leap day for the blog… it has been a quiet yet active month here.

It was quiet because I was pretty much gone for a week as we went to Hawaii for my wife’s birthday.  I wrote a few posts in advance, but nothing spectacular.


Obligatory “I was in Hawaii” picture featuring Diamond Head

But then it was busy because somehow, even with that interruption, I ended up writing 29 posts this month, if you include this one.  Things happened I guess, like the DUST 514 shut down announcement (I wrote that post while waiting for my wife to get ready to go to the airport!) and skill injectors and the Pokemon 20th anniversary.  Another lesson that, if you have low standards, you will never run out of things about which to write I suppose.

One Year Ago

Sony Online Entertainment ceased to be, having been sold off to Columbus Nova and rebranded as Daybreak Games Company.  The launch was not auspicious to my mind, with Columbus Nova issuing a questionable press release while the new company shed many old hands.  Still, classic Norrath seemed to be safeNew progression servers for EverQuest were announced fairly quickly thereafter.

H1Z1 was out in early access (or “recently launched” according to Colubus Nova) and having some issues.  Polygon took my own point of view in stating that if a company is out there taking money for a game then they felt entitled to review it as it stood.

The Crowfall Kickstarter campaign launched and the game quickly hit its initial goal.  Meanwhile, I was wondering how Nebula Online, another project with a Kickstarter, was going to make any money.

Massively and WoW Insider were recreating themselves as Massively OP and Blizzard Watch.

I was still playing WoW , which still had 10 million subscribers, while looking towards the 6.1 patch was due.  I was doing pet battles and looking at my addons.

I was also still flailing about a bit with Elite: Dangerous.

Star Wars: The Old Republic seemed headed back to that vaunted fourth pillar.

The Tiamat expansion hit EVE Online, unleashing the Svipul menace.  CCP was bribing people to vote in the CSMX election. And for the monthly blog banter walking in stations came up again.  I was also figuring out how to change my space clothes and Reavers were making a difference.

The now defunct BattleClinic had just finished their site overhaul, allowing players to mine more data out of their kill mails.

Then there was Juche.

And, finally, a farewell to Leonard Nimoy.

Five Years Ago

At one point I was declared influential.  We got over that pretty quickly though.

Hulkageddon IV came and went.  We all survived.  And then there was the new character creator in EVE Online.  It had… options.

LOTRO had a welcome back event… even though it is free to play.

There was yet another sign of the coming apocalypse.

NetDevil got pulled out of LEGO Universe.

Nintendo was banging the drum for Pokemon Black and White.  We were certainly ready for it at our house.

Van Hemlock was slumming back in MMOs for a bit.

I was taking a look at the holy trinity of roles through a historical lens.  It wasn’t always Tank/Healer/DPS.

The instance group was still playing World of Warcraft Now we just get nostalgic about it.

World of Tanks.  It was in beta and set some sort of bogus record.

Rift was getting ready to launch.  People were freaking out in the absence of calm words.  Personally, I wasn’t buying into the game.  Who needed a WoW clone when we had WoW?

Nostalgia was officially on with the launch of the Fippy Darkpaw Time Locked Progression server.  Characters were rolled.  Low level zones were crowded and experience was slow.  But the tour was a go.  We hit the Qeynos Hills, Blackburrow, West Karana, and the Qeynos SewersImportant spells were rediscovered and camping trips were planned.  Not everything was as we remembered it, but it made for a pretty darn good nostalgia adventure.

And while that was going on, SOE shipped the Destiny of Velious expansion for EverQuest II.  But I couldn’t be bothered.

And, finally, one of our cats was on top of the refrigerator.

Ten Years Ago

EVE Online reached the 100,000 subscriber mark, back when companies talked about such things publicly, and launched the Bloodlines expansion.  That expansion, which basically complicated character creation and made everybody go Caldari, would be the current state of the game when I made my first character in New Eden a few months down the road.

James Cameron was jumping onto the MMO bandwagon with Multiverse Network, which was going to lower the barrier to entry for MMO creation.  The plan was for there to be an MMO released alongside his next movie, but Avatar had to go it alone in the end, while Multiverse Network shut down in 2011.

SOE launched the Kingdom of Sky expansion for EverQuest II, which became the first bit of content that I did not buy for the game.  I never purchased the expansion, getting it for free as part of the later Echoes of Faydwer expansion.  It marks the line between “classic” and “new stuff” in my brain, as illogical as that seems ten years down the road.

Dungeons & Dragons Online went live.  I remember picking up the box at Fry’s and reading the label on the bottom of the box that declared the game required group play, that no solo play was supported.  I put the box back on the shelf and moved on.  How times have changed.

Featured Sites of the Month

For this month’s feature site I want to bring your attention to:

While I remain confused as to what to call him some days… the blog is the “Nosy” gamer, but he goes by “Noizy” when he signs his handle… his is the blog you go to if you want to see somebody track and follow up on topics like illicit RMT in EVE Online and other such goings on.  He is a respected source in the EVE Online community.

Then of the “other” site of the month, I want to point you at is:

This is a long form blog that delves in depth into video games and other related digital entertainment topics.  Posts come up about weekly, but they usually dig deep into the meat of the topic at hand.  Take a look at the table of contents for the site.

Most Viewed Posts in February

  1. WoW and the Case for Subscription Numbers
  2. MMOs and their Middle Age Problems…
  3. Running Civilization II on Windows 7 64-bit
  4. First Night of Skill Point Trading in Jita
  5. Pokemon 20th Anniversary Download Events Kick Off with Mew
  6. CCP Continues to Confound Recognized Financial Expert
  7. Further Anecdotes from the Skill Injector Front in New Eden
  8. Diablo III Season 5 and into Chapter IV
  9. Our Automated Farms in Minecraft
  10. DUST 514 to Shut Down on May 30, 2016
  11. LOTRO and the Great Server Merge
  12. Quote of the Day – CSM members have no agency

Search Terms of the Month

elder scrolls online 1 million
[I wouldn’t pay that much, wait for a Steam sale]

need someone to hack my empires and allies accnt
[Wouldn’t you be better of just letting that go?]

what expansion is fippy darkpaw in
[They were trying to unlock Underfoot back in July 2014…]

wow token useless for free players
[For specific definitions of “free” I suppose]

Diablo III

I have carried on with Season 5, finding fun in chasing down the various goals and achievements laid out for this round.  This has led me to my highest level character yet in the almost four years since the game launched.  That probably says something, though I am not sure what.

EVE Online

The month started with the Reavers and some of KarmaFleet down in Querious having a good time brawling with the locals.  Then we got called back home because we had a real war… or as real of a war as we can manage these days… to fight.  The Casino War, pitting the Coalition of the Billing against SpaceMonkey’s Alliance.  So that has been the main focus for the last couple weeks, with content being delivered to our doorstep fresh daily.  And it looks set to continue on.

Meanwhile, the theme of the month seemed to be skill injectors.  I have yet to be in a fleet since they were introduced where somebody hasn’t announced they have a new ability thanks to injecting billions of ISK worth of skill points straight into their head.

Finally, we seem to be ending up the month with server issues and extended downtime.  I hope that isn’t a sign of things to come.


It has been a quiet month on the Minecraft front.  I’ve still played some, and Aaron built another automated device for us, but there hasn’t been much to write about.  However, the 1.9 update looks like it is finally threatening to arrive, and that should stir things up a bit.

PlanetSide 2

In a moment of odd timing, just as the Casino War was heating up to the point that Reavers were called back home, The Imperium decided we should go play PlanetSide 2.  The deal to get us there was no doubt struck with Daybreak ages ago, so the timing was what it was.  Still, it is free to download and a pretty easy game to jump in and out of.  I’ll be interested to see if it sticks.


Pokemon turned 20 years old just two days ago, which got me focused on the game somewhat.  There is a series of legendary download events over the course of the year to celebrate.  And the next installments in the core RPG game, Pokemon Sun & Moon were announced three days back, so we have those to look forward to.  Meanwhile, the most immediate action was the release of the original games, Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow, on the 3DS Virtual Console.

In order to experience the origins of the series, I grabbed a copy of Blue, while my daughter picked Red.  We shall see how far we get.

Coming Up

What is coming up next month… aside from the dreaded start of Daylight Savings Time?  For a week or two I will be extra groggy every morning as I try force the reality of my sleep pattern to line up with the illusion that is time.

As noted above, there is the distinct possibility that we will get the Minecraft 1.9 update in March.  That could lead to some fun as we try to upgrade our server.

In EVE Online the CSM XI elections kick off today.  That will mean something to somebody I am sure.  There will likely be a March (YC118.3) Update coming, though I am not sure what we’ll get besides fixes.  I am not sure what features are slated to hit before the big Citadels expansion later this year.  Are we getting that new watchlist update?  And, of course, the Casino War will carry on for a while I am sure.  We’ll see who gets tired of nightly content first I suppose.

There may or may not be some PlanetSide 2 times worth writing about.

I will no doubt have something to say about Pokemon Blue as I play to discover just how far the series has evolved in 20 years.  I played quite a bit yesterday and I was actually a bit surprised at where things stood “in the beginning” as it were.

And I suspect that Season 5 of Diablo III might be winding down for me.

Couch Podtatoes Podcast Episode 80 – A Daybreak Retrospective

In one those “a joke that ends up with a life of its own” moments, a “demand” that I appear on a podcast ended up with me actually appearing on one.

Izlain at Me vs. Myself and I apparently drew the short straw amongst the podcast community and so I ended up on the Couch Podatoes Podcast episode 80.

CouchpodtatoeGraphicThe topic discussed was Daybreak Game Company, formerly Sony Online Entertainment, and how they and their games have fared over the year since that transition.  We track the timeline, gush about the state of EverQuest and EverQuest II, ponder DC Universe Online and PlanetSide 2, cast a critical eye on the H1Z1 split, and wonder whatever became of EverQuest Next.

For those interested, you can find the podcast here.

It has actually been a while since I was on a podcast.  I think the last one I was on was the VirginWorlds five year anniversary podcast, and the ten year anniversary is next month.  Doing the podcast was fun.  I enjoy talking about video games.  Actually listening to myself on the podcast is another matter.  My voice never sounds like I think it sounds and I can hear every malady that afflicts me in it.  I am clearly not completely over that bout of pneumonia I had in December.

Anyway, there it is!  Enjoy!  And a big thanks to Izlain for having me on!

(Also if you’re not into the “what are you playing” segment, which I must admit, as a listener, can be tiresome, you can jump to the 10:50 mark where the meat of the discussion begins.)

A Strange Time to Shoot Monkeys on Auraxis

These are great days we’re living, bros. We are jolly green giants, walking the Earth… with guns. These people we wasted here today are the finest human beings we will ever know. After we rotate back to the world, we’re gonna miss not having anyone around that’s worth shooting.

Crazy Earl, Full Metal Jacket

Life is heating up in the north end of null sec space.  As noted elsewhere, what has been dubbed the Casino War between SpaceMonkey’s Alliance and the gambling site I Want ISK has escalated into a concentrated attack on SMA’s home in the Fade region by groups hired by the gambling site to attack our Imperium allies.  SMA has abandoned their foothold in Cloud Ring and, after some of there own internal drama, set about to defend their space.

Of course The Imperium is there to stand by and defend SMA.  Reavers were recalled to the north.  Forces have been focused to help cover their space.

Suggestions by our foes that we reset or otherwise abandon SMA in the middle of this fight are beyond ludicrous.  Nobody gets reset in the middle of a war.  That is a recipe for disaster.  If anybody deserves to get cut, they’ll get cut when things settle down.

Besides, a war, one with regular action right in the middle of our home space, one that has fleets going up every night, with kill mails to be had, along with a brand new shiny doctrine to fly… well, is that made-to-order content or what?

So with that pot boiling, it seems like an absolutely perfect time to… tell the coalition to go play another game!

Yes, The Mittani is monetizing his followers in conjunction with Daybreak and/or/by (pick the one that suits your narrative) encouraging a team building expedition to PlanetSide 2! 

As with the H1Z1 invasion last year, there is a code you can get from the site to collect a few exclusive items.

Official graphic or something

Official graphic or something

I think the “and more” is the title Imperator.

Members of The Imperium are being encouraged to run off and play… in the middle of our war… as part of the Vanu Sovereignty on the Emerald server.

On the upside of all of this PlanetSide 2 (unlike H1Z1) is free (to the point of being problematic for Daybreak), relatively stable (though we broke the server on the first night), and being a shooter, is easy enough to jump into and out of quickly if there are no fleet ops going on at the moment.

So, good line member that I am, I went and downloaded the PlanetSide 2 client again and started trying to figure out how to play over the weekend.  It is a shooter, but it is also an MMO with advancement and upgrades and a cash shop and blah blah blah… plus, while I played it for a bit when it launched, that was a couple years back.

I think I’ve sort of got a handle on the medic role at this point.  The graphics, and thus the world, as somewhat bland.  But for a shooter where you can get a hundred people in a pretty small area killing each other, that is probably a requirement just to keep frame rates up.  The cash shop is as confusing as ever.  I have nearly 12K in what was once Station Cash on my account from subscribing to EQ and EQ2 over the last few years and I couldn’t tell you want I should spend it on.  So it just sits in my wallet.

I’m also a little less impressed with the game’s Guinness Book record.  Not only was the number (1,158 players) something of a yawn compared to EVE (4,070 at 6VDT-H) but it is clear that it was an all effort staged event because there is a hard population limit… a limit which seems to be considerably lower than the record…  and a queue for continents when that number is reached.

But those are minor gripes.  The game is fun enough in that frantic way that shooters are.  A decent distraction.  And aim bots, often the bane of such games, seem to be under control.  It is hard to tell with snipers… and I get sniped often enough… but with combat in visual range nobody seems to magically hitting their targets, a situation even I have been able to detect in the past when playing shooters.

The small yet ironic twist to all of this is that our SMA allies in The Imperium were already active on the Emerald server in PlanetSide 2.  According to their Dead Monkey Gaming site, they were headed there last October.  However, they went to the New Conglomerate on the Emerald server while, as noted, the call from TMC has been to join the Vanu Sovereignty.

So we appear to be shooting Monkeys in our own way on Auraxis, the world on which PlanetSide 2 takes place.  I know I’ve been killed by a couple.  The timing of this is interesting, even if it is accidental.

H1Z2 or The Daybreak “Divide and Something” Plan

SOE, in cleaning up its act in order to get sold off and become Daybreak, cleared its decks of a number of titles.  The list of titles Daybreak has today is substantially shorter than what SOE had on offer just few years back.  Since 2012 it seems like they’ve shut down a lot more titles than they have launched.

It follows you as you move about the room!

The eye seems angry today…

I’m not sure how many people really miss Wizardry Online or Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures or a few of the other titles that have fallen by the wayside.  But Free Realms had a following and I have to think, with the current emphasis on nostalgia in Norrath, that closing down the EverQuest Macintosh Edition server rather than making that the basis of a classic server usable by a Windows client must be wistfully regretted in some corner of their office.

Anyway, once the company became Daybreak it had rid itself of a lot of baggage, but also had less to sell… and then proceeded to get rid of Dragon’s Prophet.

Meanwhile, new titles are few and far between.  EverQuest Next, more than five years since it was announced, seems no more likely to ship than it did two years back.  Landmark continues is desultory existence.  Planetside 2 remains dubious.  DC Universe Online, which just passed its fifth birthday, is getting ported to XBox One.  That was the big liberating factor in becoming Daybreak, that Smed would no longer be limited to the Playstation, but I am still dubious as to whether or not this will be a huge win.

The only bright points over the first year of Daybreak’s existence (we heard about the merger just about a year ago) have be the super awesome legacy Norrath team, which runs EverQuest and EverQuest II, and which has worked hard to give players some things they have been asking for, and H1Z1, which managed to sell a million units in early access.

So I guess the email note I received while in Hawaii shouldn’t have come as a great surprise.

Notice Regarding Your H1Z1 Account!
On Wednesday, February 17, 2016, H1Z1 will be branching off into two separate games: H1Z1: Just Survive and H1Z1: King of the Kill. Since you previously purchased an Early Access copy of H1Z1, your account will be upgraded to include both H1Z1: Just Survive and H1Z1: King of the Kill.
Your existing keys, crates, and items will be also duplicated and available in both games.

H1Z1 is splitting into two games, H1Z1: Just Survive, which is the zombie horror survival game, and H1Z1: King of the Kill, which is an arena cash cow that Daybreak has convinced itself is going to be some sort of esport.

On the bright side, at least you get a copy of each if you already purchased H1Z1 via early access.  Of course, there is one more unplayed game in my Steam library because, while the base H1Z1 had some comedic co-op survival charm to it, Daybreak’s whole “pay to compete” battle royale thing had no appeal to me whatsoever.

I think we can safely predict Daybreak will have to change the name of one of these games in a month or two once the whole brand confusion thing finally dawns on them.  My own pick would be H1Z1 and H1Z2, but even those two might be too close in name to avoid the inevitable confusion.

Was this split a surprise?  I suppose so.  It certainly wasn’t without a bit or irony, at least when compared to this motivational quote from the Daybreak web site.

Was this a left turn then?

Was this a left turn or a risk then?

But in hindsight, I guess trying to package the different needs of the two modes of play together might have become an obstacle to one branch of the game or the other.  I doubt, however, that this split means that there will be any more people working on the combined projects, despite the statement about two development teams, so one branch will likely languish as the other gets attention.  My bet is that Just Survive will see its advance towards release… whatever that means to Daybreak these days, since they put our a press release indicating that H1Z1 had already been launched a year back.

But the act of splitting titles in order to beef up their catalog isn’t exactly a new thing at Daybreak.  We of course had the EverQuest Next and Landmark split, where Landmark was just going to be a dev tool for people to use to make things for EverQuest Next, but which got turned into an early access project as well as all we’ve ever really seen of the EQN code.

And H1Z1 itself started life as a branch from the PlanetSide 2 code base, a way to use work already done to make a new game… though I am not sure if the time that has gone by says more about the state of H1Z1 or PlanetSide 2.

I might even argue that DC Universe Online being ported to XBox One at this late date is something of a split, since it will be its own code base by necessity, will draw of resources from the other branches, and won’t be able to play cross-platform.

Finally, we are seeing this sort of thing in what I would consider the core Daybreak, the legacy Norrath team, which has gone from something of a tepid relationship with special rules servers to embracing them fully.  There is now a pretty clear divide between the free to play servers and the subscribers only, special rules servers, splitting up the audiences for both EverQuest and EverQuest II.

That sort of split was something SOE decided was a bad thing back during the EverQuest II Extended experiment.  But there you had two different client applications and the fear that the old servers would wither and die because all new players would be steered towards the free version, from which they could not transfer.  Now the spin is different, with the free servers being the old news and the shiny new special rules servers drawing off a significant percentage of the long-term fans of the game.

Aside from a hunch about the two H1Z1s needing more distinct names, I am curious to see how this will play out.

Of course, the hidden bit of news in the FAQ is this little gem:

At this time, we do not have any plans to make either H1Z1: Just Survive or H1Z1: King of the Kill Free-to-Play titles.

I knew that early access was simply too lucrative for them to let go of to depend on free.  “Free to Play. Your Way” seems to be dead at Daybreak.  H1Z1 is not a free to play game.  It will be buy to play, with a subscription, and an overbearing cash shop, complete with lock boxes.  Expect no less from anything else coming out of Daybreak.

At least they will be dropping the early access moniker this summer, or so the FAQ alleges:

H1Z1: King of the Kill will be coming out of Early Access and will launch on PC, the PlayStation® 4, and Xbox One in summer 2016

We shall see.

Others on this topic:

The Perils of PlanetSide and Payment Models

The game is really struggling, and it isn’t just on PS4 to be honest, and we are actively looking at things that can try and help change that in the short term. I hope everyone will be open minded that in order for the game to have a bright future and be supported it needs to not only retain people but find ways to generate revenue to support the team’s efforts.

-Jens Andersen, Daybreak Executive Creative Director, Reddit AMA

The big news item that came out of the Reddit AMA with Jens Andersen was that PlanetSide 2 is “really struggling.”  That is MMO press headline material and fodder for blog posts. and not great news for a game that is just turning three and purportedly had plans for other platforms.

Mental image of my expectations...

Mental image of my PS2 expectations way back when…

That wasn’t really shocking news.  PlanetSide 2 has always had its share of problems, not least the one it shared with its predecessor, the proliferation or aim bots and other hacks in the game, some exacerbated by the F2P business model.  Banned for hacks?  Download an update to the aim bot and make a new account!

Add in the fact that it is a mediocre shooter at best… is anybody throwing over Call of Duty to go play PlanetSide 2… that smacks of pay to win, that also doesn’t really scratch the persistent world MMORPG itch for people either, and so sort of sits between genres, neither fish nor fowl nor good red meat.  All the dubious records in the world won’t fix that.

Clearly I am not a big fan, but my FPS days tapered off back with the Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942 more than a decade back, so you’ll have to allow for my bias.

Still, not really news at this point.  H1Z1 seems to be the money maker in the FPS MMORPG, selling early access boxes with a cash shop already selling power and lock boxes, and, more importantly, giving people a decent, co-op survival experience.

The interesting bit for me was another quote, which Bhagpuss pulled out and used in his post, which had to do with getting people to subscribe:

You know what is funny? No matter how many things we heap into membership on all of our games, it makes no difference in the appeal of membership to non members. This is something we saw on DCUO for sure. The amount of benefits to DCUO membership is staggering, but people don’t take advantage of it. It’s just not a really good strategy for us to keep trying to lead horses to water that do not want to drink. And the fact is, current members already get huge benefits from the monthly fee they already pay.

Basically, there are some people who will simply never opt-in for your subscription model, no matter how cheap you make it nor how many benefits you heap on.  And, likewise, there are some people who will subscribe so long as some minimum threshold of benefits are given… just “let me just play and not worry about having to buy or unlock anything” in my case… after which diminishing returns kick in pretty quickly.

I recently… on Tuesday if I recall right… cancelled my Daybreak All Access subscription.  As part of that they sent me an exit survey which I filled out.  One of the questions asked me to stack rank the importance of five subscriber benefits.

My top choice was the rather open ended “Game Specific Benefits,” which to me is the whole “just let me play” aspect I mentioned above.  That is why I subscribe.

I did choose “Monthly 500 Daybreak Cash Reward” as the second in the stack, because I am at least aware of that.  I still barely buy anything from the cash shop… I think I bought a character rename potion this last time around… so the Daybreak Cash tends to accumulate.  But I know it is there and my approximate balance (12K).

The remaining three I ranked as follows:

  • 10% off Marketplace Items
  • Special Member Only Promotions
  • Membership Forum Badge

I vaguely recall that you get a discount as a subscriber, but since I so rarely ever buy anything from the cash shop, that doesn’t really play into anything.  Member only promotions… I cannot recall one off hand.   Maybe some special discount on The Rum Cellar at some point?  And the forum badge… well, I don’t post to the forums, and when I go read them, the special snowflake badges kind of annoy me.

And I suspect that my stack ranking of things is not totally out of line when it comes to how most subscribers feel.  Maybe I lack the insight, but I cannot imagine anything ranking ahead of the “Game Specific Benefits,” at least when it comes to the core games like EverQuest and EverQuest II.

Which doesn’t mean Daybreak could take anything away easily.  They tried to take away those 500 store credits at one point and people blew up because that was actually a tangible item and because they now felt entitled to it, having gotten it for several years up to that point.  So the compromise was that you have to log in and claim those credits every month.  People grumbled about that as well, though at least that had some precedent.  Turbine only gives you your VIP stipend if your account has been active recently.

So where does that leave Daybreak?

Here is where I chuckle a bit at people who were so happy that they were going to be an “indie” studio now, able to do whatever they wanted.  In fact, they are owned by an investment firm that wants their cut every month, so they have to keep Columbus Nova Prime happy in ways that they probably never had to under the semi-benign neglect of Sony’s bureaucracy.

So the emphasis, starting in the latter half of 2015 and likely to continue in that direction for some time to come, will be to make more money.  And it looks like everything can’t be about the cash shop.

As we saw with EverQuest and EverQuest II, expansions are back.  This is most likely because you can get away with charging $140 for a “Premuim” edition loaded up with virtual items, the production of which is probably covered after the first five copies are sold.


Premium prices for virtual goods

That will likely continue, though I suspect that they will still try to slip in a spring DLC pack as well, bringing us back to the old “one good expansion, one half-assed rush job” that some will remember from the good old days of EverQuest.  This time the rush job will be appropriately priced though.

I imagine that nobody thinks selling early access is going to go away.  Landmark did okay on that front, and by all accounts H1Z1 has been a rousing success selling those on Steam.  Expect more of the same when it comes to any new titles.

The change I do expect is an end to “Free to Play, Your Way” for future games and a return to selling boxes.  Virtual boxes, to be sure, but boxes all the same.  If a million people will pay $20 for a half-finished version of H1Z1, why would you start giving it away for free?  You don’t have to make it $60 at launch.  $20 is fine.  You can work with that price and what a value it is, and that gives account bans some bite… but not so much bite that some people won’t just buy another copy.

Expect the same for EverQuest Next, whenever that should be, and whatever the secret new title is.

Meanwhile, on the classic Norrath front, it feels like reality has set in and the team has finally admitted that the cost of attracting new customers far outweighs the economic benefit they bring.  They won’t say “no” to new players, but  we have seen a renewed focus on the installed base with new nostalgia servers and bringing back old favorites like the Isle of Refuge as both a prestige home and the starting zone on the Stormhold and Deathtoll servers.  I expect that to continue to be the theme going forward.

Despite an unfounded rumor earlier this month, I do not expect Daybreak will attempt to revive any old games.  No Vanguard revival, no reskinned SWG, and no adults only FreeRealms.   What is dead cannot die… it just remains dead.  I also expect that once Dragon’s Prophet is finally shut down, that there will be no more half-assed Asian imports.  You can find an audience for any game, but finding a big enough audience to make these ventures profitable has clearly eluded SOE/Daybreak.

Finally, with Smed gone, I suspect that the original PlanetSide will be shut down and, barring any new revenue stream discovery, support for PlanetSide 2 will dwindle over time.  It is tough to go back and sell access when you’ve been giving it away for free.  And it certainly does not seem like a candidate for conversion to XBox if it isn’t a money spinner on the current platforms.

With no Daybreak equivalent of SOE Live in the offing, I don’t know when we’ll see announcement about the various project going on at Daybreak.  The nice thing about a regular convention is that it does put some pressure on the company to come up with some actual news and details about things.  But that is where my gut says things may be headed.  Subscriptions are good, cash shop sales are okay, but boxes are back.  Get some money up front.

On to 64-Bit Gaming

A long tale that is vaguely related to video games and recent news that has been sitting half finished in my drafts folder for over 18 months.

What were you doing in 1997?

One of the tasks I had at work during that year was “WinLogo certification” for our software.  That was the term used at the time for going through the process of getting Microsoft to declare you compatible with their operating system.

Anybody could, of course, claim that they were  Windows 95 compatible.  But to get the official Microsoft Windows compatible logo on your software, Microsoft had to affirm that your software was indeed up to spec.

win95_designI think it says something that in searching for that logo the best one I could come up with was in .gif format… is there anything in that format these days that isn’t also animated?  I feel cheated that the logo isn’t moving.  Also, I feel old.

I was installing Windows 95, which was the style at the time

I was installing Windows 95, which was the style at the time

Moving on.

For logo you had to go through a Microsoft approved testing lab.  The closest one to us was down in Los Angeles because the Microsoft position has nearly always been, “Screw Silicon Valley.”

Getting that logo on our product was my job for a couple months, and it was kind of a big deal for the company.  We made most of our money through OEM agreements with computer manufacturers like HP, Dell, Compaq, Micron and a few other, and for them to keep their Windows logo (and be able to sell the Windows OS) they had to make sure that all of the crap shovelware fine software they included on your new computer was also Win logo certified.  So that was dropped in my lap, which was kind of odd.  I was the new guy, so I understood getting the crap assignment.  But given how much of our income was riding on it, I am not sure that “stick it to the new guy” was the optimum strategy for success.

In the end I did succeed, so I guess their trust was well founded.  And I actually enjoyed the whole thing in a perverse way sort of way.  It involved a lot of minutia and making sure everything was “just so.”  And while I have forgotten most of the arcana involved with the process over the years… I moved to enterprise level software on Windows shortly thereafter, and enterprise doesn’t really care about that sort of thing, then eventually to Linux based enterprise level software, which double-double doesn’t care about that stuff… two things stand out in my mind fourteen years later.

First, I had to fly down to LAX, rent a car, and drive out to the certifying lab because could not figure out how to run our installer.  And, seriously, it wasn’t hard.  It was in freaking InstallShield.  And we had sent them a computer all setup with the right hardware.  All they had to do was put the CD-ROM in the drive.  I don’t know how they managed to mess that up.

Anyway, I had to travel about a thousand miles round trip in a day to pretty much press “Next,” “Next,” “Next,” and “OK.”  Not the biggest travel fiasco I ever had… there was that one trip down to New Mexico with another company to figure out why we were having so many hardware defects only to find out that the guy soldering on the power connector was Red/Green colorblind… but it certainly wasn’t the most efficient method.  And it worked, so blunt force method for the win I guess.

Second was the 32-bit requirement for the certification.  In order to get that Win logo approval, your application had to be 32-bit.  No 16-bit executables or DLLs or whatever were allowed.

Which seemed kind of silly at the time, since Windows 95 would run 16-bit software just fine.  There was a ton of 16-bit software laying around, left over from the Windows 3.1 days.  Hell, Microsoft was installing some 16-bit code with the Windows 95 operating system.  And it shouldn’t have been an issue because our software was all 32-bit already.

Unfortunately, the version of InstallShield we were using was not.

Here is how the software check worked.  The lab would run a program that would scan and catalog everything on the hard drive.  Then you would run your installer.  After that, they would run their scan again, it would identify all changes to the system and list out all of the components installed.  They gave you the software so you could run it yourself in preparation for the certification.  I ran it many times.

And every time I ran it, it came back with several items highlighted in red because they contained 16-bit code.

I was quickly able to identify the offending DLLs as being part of InstallShield.  And, since there was a process for getting an exemption for 16-bit code under certain circumstances, it was deemed a better use of the company’s time to have me get the exemption than to upgrade our version of InstallShield.  Given the number of hoops we had to jump through in order to get through each computer manufacturer’s OEM process and that the installer had to support both Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 95, both of which included a number of special OEM requirements, and had to do so in seven languages (I could install Windows NT 4.0 in Japanese without a hitch… eventually) I could see the point.

Of course, that didn’t make the exception process any easier.  One of the rules of any sort of exception procedure seems to be to say “No” to any first request on the theory that it will weed out those looking for an easy exit and then only those with a real need will move forward.  So on we went with that process, with Microsoft making it extremely frustrating to complete, with them responding with rejections that seemed to indicate that they had not bothered to actually read our submission.  As I recall, one of the acceptable reasons for an exception was third party DLLs that were not used during run time.  We would point out that it was just the uninstall that had a couple of 16-bit DLLs and that our software was all 32-bit.

This was made all the more frustrating by the fact that Windows 95, by necessity, had to run 16-bit software.  There was a huge library of software available and Microsoft was not at all keen to piss off its installed base… and maybe save IBM from itself on the OS/2 front along the way… by turning its back on that foundation.  So it wasn’t as though we were shipping something that didn’t work.  Our software did not even violate the rules, it was just the installer… an installer that almost no customer would ever use because our software came pre-installed.

Eventually we hit some sort of persistence threshold and were granted our logo certification.  By that point I had moved on to another company, but I was friends with the person who took over for me so got to hear the ongoing tale of getting Microsoft to grant us our exemption.

And then, for at least the next decade, actually being a 32-bit application was not all that meaningful.  I went on playing the original, 16-bit version of Civilization II for a long time on Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 2000 Professional, and then on Windows XP.  16 bit applications were supported, and remain so, on Microsoft’s 32-bit operating systems… at least to the extent that they support anything.  A lot of apps have been broken by changes and updates over the years, 16 and 32-bit alike.

16-bit apps didn’t lose support until Microsoft got to 64-bit operating systems.  But almost nobody went there initially.  It wasn’t even practical until Windows Vista… which had its own serious problems and which was effectively rejected by the marketplace… and didn’t really start becoming a popular choice until Windows 7 came along about five years back.

By which time the market had probably weaned itself off of 16-bit applications.  Even I had to finally give up the 16-bit version of Civilization II and go with the 32-bit version, the Civilization II Gold Edition, that could at least be patched to work with Windows 7 64-bit.

That is basically the inertia of the market.  Getting millions of people to upgrade both their computer and get onto a 64-bit operating system took a while, and the groundwork for that started way back with Windows 95 and the push to get developers onto 32-bit apps.  What I was doing in 1997 was part of the many steps to get to the point where companies could make these sorts of system requirement announcements:

It is almost a requirement to have a 64-bit client to play in the big leagues these day.  The bleeding edge gamers all have 64-bit systems and lots of memory and get kind of antsy if you don’t support their hardware to its fullest extent.

But it was a bit of a surprise to find somebody actually dropping support for their 32-bit client.  Daybreak just announced that 32-bit support is on its way out for PlanetSide 2.

We wanted to let you know that with the next Game Update (tentatively scheduled for next week), PlanetSide 2 will no longer support the use of the 32-bit Operating System client. We do note, based on our internal metrics, that a very small group of folks are still using this client. We hope this doesn’t prove too inconvenient to anyone impacted, and we appreciate your understanding.

That is actually a big step and I would be interested to know how big “a very small group of folks” really is.  And I wonder if we’ll hear anything else like that at E3 this week. (Topical!)

I suppose by the time most mainstream software finally becomes 64-bit only we’ll be about ready for 128-bit operating systems.