Category Archives: polls

My 2018 MMO Outlook – Mining for Old Gold

Here we are again, a common refrain at the top of these annual posts, but what else have I got going for me?  This will at least be the last of the annual posts for quite a while.

Last month I posted my review of my annual MMO outlook and found that I had played nothing on the list.  That was in part because most of the list didn’t ship, but also because I just reverted to the mean and played what I always play, which is WoW, EQII, and EVE.

So this year I am going to eschew the looking forward aspect of my annual post.  Let’s face it, there isn’t that much coming that both interests me AND is likely to ship in 2018.

I am going to, here at the start of the new year, buckle down and commit to playing a new MMO in 2018, but only one that is new to me.  There are plenty of old MMORPGs still knocking around, classics of the genre, storied in their time, that I have never touched.

I will spend at least a month playing one of these titles seriously and blogging about it, because that it the point of the exercise to a certain extent, so that old timers can come by and mock my ignorance and tell me how things were back in the good old days and all of that.

So here is the list I am mulling over with some pros and cons as I see them from the outside.  Each game has some minor claim to fame in my mind, has come up occasionally, and is more than ten years old.

1RuneScape

A re-tread from my last year’s list and a bit of a cheat since I have actually spent a few minutes playing this.  But it is an old title, having launched back in 2001

Pros:  I have, in fact, tried it so know that I can get it running, create a character, and play.

Cons: Was not in love with the camera and controls.  Also, as it has been modernized so much that I wonder if I should go play the “old school” version of it.

2 – Ultima Online

Hard to leave this one off the list seeing that it was the first of the big wave of popular titles in the MMORPG genre.

Pros: Really getting to the old school thing, might be a free to play option soon.

Cons: Isometric, third party camera view always seemed odd to me in screen shots.  Might indirectly lead me into giving money to EA.

3 – Dark Age of Camelot

I had some friends who left EverQuest back in the day and found it a pretty decent time.  At that point I was living in a house with spotty internet at best so wasn’t keen to invest in it.  But now connectivity is no problem.

Pros:  It was supposed to take the “suck” out of MMORPGs and also has some sort of free plan.

Cons: It is really a realm vs. realm sort of game as I understand it.  Am I ready for old school PvP?  Also, as above, some of this money goes to EA, which does not please me.

4 – Anarchy Online

The original MMO launch disaster movie and one of the early free to play titles by necessity.

Pros: It is one on the list that isn’t fantasy based and Funcom is talking about rolling a new server.

Cons: The stories about it might be true and most MMORPGs are fantasy for a reason.

5 – Silkroad Online

Token Asian MMORPG?  There were some people in an old guild that went off to play it and reported having a decent time.  It is old-ish, and still around.

Pros:  7th century Chinese theme, a bit different, free to play, and has survived this long.

Cons: PvP-centric, grindy to get you to pay, everything else on this list has survived even longer, and I might be thinking of a different game when it comes to where those old guild mates went.

6 – Maple Story

Why wouldn’t I put a 2D side scrolling MMORPG on the list?  Another one of those “been around for freakin’ ever” titles that I have never tried.

Pros: Low system requirements… hell, there was a single player Facebook version of the game at one point… free and it has lasted this long.

Cons: Browser based 2D side scrolling MMORPG might be warning enough, right?

7 – Entopia Universe

Unbridled virtual capitalism where some guy bought a moon and then resold it and because rich or something… the details are kind of vague.

Pros: Very much free, storied, and still around.

Cons: Very much designed to make you spend money and I am not sure what the real objective of the game is besides the Burnsian “make more money!”

8 – A Tale in the Desert

A non-combat, social MMO that resets to a new “telling” of the tale every so often, one of those games that gets mentions a lot but rarely by anybody actually playing it.

Pros: The first 24 hours are free.

Cons: Social might be a problem for me going in solo, especially since the current “telling” has been going on for over two year now, so I might feel late to the party.  Also, after the first 24 hours you have to subscribe.

So that is a list of eight possibilities.  I won’t be jumping straight into any of them.  This will likely be a spring-to-summer sort of event.  That means if I am missing some vital option from the list you can chime in via comments or the poll below using the “other” field.  Otherwise take a moment to pick which one of the above might be the most worthwhile venture.

If there isn’t a poll above this line AdBlock may have eaten it.  It happens.

I won’t say I’ll follow the will of the respondents, but if one title seems to be leading the pack substantially I will give that some weight.  Also, a bit of trivia; I had previously made tags for every game on the list above.  I suppose that says something, though I am not sure what, besides that I have mentioned them all here at some time before.

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

Will BlizzCon 2017 Announce a New WoW Expansion?

It is that time of the year again and BlizzCon looms, just a few days off.  I am now in the midst of my internal monologue BlizzCon Virtual Ticket debate.

Virtual Ticket Decision Time

The Blizzard watching portion of online gaming journalists seem to think it is pretty much a lock that the next World of Warcraft expansion will be announced on Friday.  If that is the case, then I definitely want the Virtual Ticket.  As I have said before, there is often as much in the way people say things as the text they are speaking.

I have found, in years past, the quick transcriptions and summaries of video game journalists to not only fail to deliver the “feel” of a presentation but to occasionally boarder on near deceitfulness, albeit unintentional, when passing on information.

A problem of journalism in all areas of the press.  I used to swear at the local paper because every story I had first hand knowledge of would invariably contain errors in material fact.

Anyway, if there is to be an announcement about the next WoW expansion, I want to get the Virtual Ticket so I can watch and re-watch key presentations.

And certainly such an announcement seems likely, if only because of historical precedent.  Every other BlizzCon tends to be an expansion announcement, with the off year being the year the expansion ships.  The only exception this decade has been WoW Legion, and they had to announce that before BlizzCon in 2015 because Blizzard so badly fumbled content pacing for Warlords of Draenor that they needed some good news to off-set the record loss of subscribers they had to announce just two days before. (They subsequently stopped talking about subscription numbers, except for that Tom Chilton slip.)   They didn’t even have the cinematic set to go, a standard part of past announcements, which I found indicative of their haste to find good news to spread.

So aside from that exception, BlizzCon on odd numbered years seems to be a pretty likely time to hear about the next bi-annual-ish expansion.

The problem is that there hasn’t been the usual smoking gun.  Nobody who has been dumpster diving in the game assets has found a map of a new area or splash screen with a new name, just some sporadic items that could be part of a new expansion, but might not be.  And it is awfully early for Blizzard to be putting assets into the live game files for something that is likely to be at least a year off.  That makes me think all of that speculation is just finding the black cat in the dark room that isn’t there.

Meanwhile, Blizzard itself hasn’t screwed up and accidentally posted the new expansion page on their site early again or had somebody on the team leaking information, the usual harbingers of an expansion announcement.  Of course, the week is still young.  There is time yet.

And the BlizzCon schedule itself doesn’t exactly scream “expansion coming!” with extra WoW sessions with vague titles.

The kick-off of the BlizzCon 2017 schedule

Yes, after the opening keynote the next thing on the big stage is an hour of WoW, but aside from pride of place, that isn’t much different than the Overwatch or Hearthstone panels on the main stage.  (Well, Hearthstone doesn’t get a full hour because even *I* can tell you “what’s next” there, more card packs to buy lest you fall behind the meta.)

So while logic and my gut both agree that an expansion announcement is highly likely, but I haven’t seen anything yet that guarantees it.

And, without that announcement and the subsequent discussions wallowing in what details Blizz cares to share, is there anything else I want out of BlizzCon?

Overwatch – I don’t play it, so any announcement there has naught to do with me.

Hearthstone – Play it occasionally, very casually, with the free cards, so the inevitable new card pack announcement isn’t going to mean anything beyond being beaten by newer and more powerful decks.

Heroes of the Storm – Hahahaha!

StarCraft – I don’t care so much about StarCraft II and we already got the remastered version of the original StarCraft earlier this year, so not much for me there.

Diablo – Blizzard has said there won’t be anything for the Diablo franchise.  The schedule only shows two presentations, one about visual effects and one about community.  There is no “what’s next” panel.  Last year was the 20th anniversary, which got us a special event, and we got the necromancer mini-pack earlier this year, so unless they have news about that Diablo II remaster that came up back in 2015 (along with the StarCraft remaster which, as noted, we got!) it would be hard to come up with something that would interest me much.

Which leaves me with World of Warcraft and maybe a Warcraft III remaster, the third leg of that remastering thing from 2015.

So what do you think?  Expansion announcement or not?  Sounds like an excuse for a poll.

There is a poll above this line, which might get eaten by AdBlock.  I pay not to have ads here, so blocking them is mildly futile I suppose.

As I said above, I am inclined to believe there will be an expansion announcement, not only because of past history, but also because I am not sure how WoW goes forward for another year without one.  How could they NOT have an expansion announcement?  But one might also ask how they could let some past expansions molder for as long as a year with no updates.

I will probably get the Virtual Ticket.

But if there isn’t an announcement, will there be anything else worthwhile?

Would You Rather Fight Than Switch?

We got all sorts of new information about the upcoming Nintendo Switch console yesterday including price ($300), launch date (March 3rd), region locking (none), and that you can pre-order RIGHT NOW!

And of course there will be Mario Kart

And of course there will be Mario Kart

Every gaming news sight worth that title has some sort of story up about Nintendo’s new console today, with more to follow as demos commence.  This is the moment we have been waiting for since the initial announcement back in October.

I have to admit I like the Switch on paper at least.  I like the size, the light weight design, the mobility, and the built-in screen that makes it a portable.  The latter is important in a one TV household.

Oddly, one feature that drew my attention is the ability to take a screen shot of game play.  As a blogger who charts his gaming journey through his writing, the ability to set a scene with a screen shot rather than the MS Paint that are my words has direct appeal.  Not sure that is a tipping point level feature, but it is interesting.

And then there is the price.  $300 seems like a good compromise price.  I think at $250 it would be a no-brainer purchase for people and that at the $350 mark that was rumored just before the announcement the Switch started to creep too close to XBox and PS4 territory so that you might have to start considering is games exclusive to the Switch would be worth the commitment.  But at $300 it is just far enough away that it can fall into the impulse purchase zone for some.

On the flip side, I am not really a console gamer.  We got a Wii back in 2007 and I picked up a PlayStation 3 in 2011 after the prices had gone way down.  The Wii got a LOT of play at our house.  My daughter and I used to play games on the Wii every weekend for hours and hours.

However, my daughter was 5 years old when we got the Wii and would wake me up early on Saturday morning so we could start playing.  Now she is 15, I am not sure she has seen a Saturday morning before 10am lately, and if she wants me to do anything with her on the weekend it is to teach her to drive so she can get her license in a year.

Meanwhile the PlayStation 3 has been mostly a video playing device since we bought it.  My daughter did enjoy Little Big Planet, but after that wore off it has been more about Netflix and Amazon Prime.  We could replace it with a Roku box if it wasn’t for the fact that it is also our Blu-Ray player.

And the last console I owned before those two was a SEGA Genesis back in 1992.  And the console before that was an Atari 2600 way back in 1977.  I’ve been a PC gamer since 1983 and online since 1986.  I never had a NES or a SNES or an N64, so lack any Mario nostalgia.  My Nintendo franchise of choice is Pokemon, which probably explains why we have more DS series handhelds (2x DS Lite, 1x DSi, 1x DSi XL, 2x 3DS XL) sitting around the house than the count of living room consoles systems I have ever owned.

So for me, while I like the idea of the Switch, I haven’t seen anything compelling that makes me want to run out and pre-order today.  $300 isn’t a bad price, but that same $300 would go a long ways towards replacing my 14 year old Dell 1600×1200 monitor with something bigger and better, which would have a much greater impact on my gaming… and would probably also require me to upgrade my video card.

That is where I stand.  I like the Switch.  At this point in time, if I was going to buy a living room console, the Switch would be a serious contender.  But there isn’t enough there yet to make it an automatic purchase.  It seems fresher than the Sony and Microsoft offerings, but it isn’t as magical as the Wii seemed back in 2006.

How about you and the Switch?  Any interest?  Time for a poll?

If the poll above doesn’t appear for you, there are always the comments below.

Adrift: My 2017 MMO Outlook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is even an option for 2017?

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

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

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

1 – Project: Gorgon

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

2 – Albion Online

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

3 – MapleStory 2

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

4 – Star Citizen

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

5 – Camelot Unchained

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

6 – SkySaga: Infinite Isles

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

7 – Lost Ark

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

8 – Sea of Thieves

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

9 – RuneScape

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

10 – Shroud of the Avatar: Unnecessary Secondary Title

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

11 – Life is Feudal

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

12 – Pantheon: Saga of Heroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overwatch Goes Live

Blizzard’s new game, Overwatch, launches today, or yesterday depending on where you live.  May 24, 2016 is listed everywhere on the promotional material, though the worldwide launch schedule was a bit more complicated than that.

Ovwerwatch launching in a time zone near you

Ovwerwatch launching in a time zone near you

I think it is live everywhere it is supposed to be on launch day as of the time this post goes up.  There is a press release from Blizz about it and everything.

I had to be educated on this worldwide go-live because, I must admit, I haven’t been paying a lot of attention to the game.  Not that my not paying attention is in any way indicative of what other people have been up to.  The open beta was such a success that it got an infographic.

So many players in the open beta

So many players in the open beta

The reason I haven’t been paying much attention is… well… I suppose three out of four Google responses can help me out with that:

Back to this game...

Back to this game…

I wonder if people search on “Overwatch is bad” are looking for reasons to dislike the title or searching out people who don’t like the game?  I suppose that at least Overwatch isn’t dead yet.  Give it a few weeks.

Anyway, the game being bad isn’t one of the reasons.  I suspect the game is actually good, given what I have seen people writing about it.

No, it is more of the other three, where it feels something like Team Fortress 2, cast as a MOBA, for which somebody expects me to pay $40/$60/$130, depending on which edition, which adds up to totally not worth it in my book.  But, as noted previously, I am long past my FPS days.  If I don’t care enough to play the free ones, I am not going to pay to play one.

And then there is the fact that it is one of the few Blizzard titles not to appear on Mac OS.  That is a factor in our house because my daughter has a nice iMac.  She has been into TF2 off and on, which is available on Mac OS, so had her eye on Overwatch… right up until Blizzard said support for Mac OS was off the table.  Then she was pissed and will hear no more of this game.  She feels let down by Blizz.

Then there is the MOBA aspect.  Blizz has been making a big deal about playing heroes rather than classes for Overwatch.  So you choose a hero with a special set of skills and abilities, which sounds very MOBA-like.  I think I said something about that back when the game was announced at BlizzCon 2014.

But then there is also the MOBA monetization coming as well.  They haven’t started selling new heroes… yet… but skins are already available for purchase along with my least favorite aspect of free to play, called Loot Boxes this time around, where in you can pay money… and Blizz doesn’t go for that microtransaction currency stuff, they straight up value things in real world currency and bill your credit card directly… for random items.  I didn’t like that system when I was a kid and tried collecting baseball cards and nothing has changed my mind about it ever since.

Ah well, that might just be me.

So I won’t be playing Overwatch.  But it is a major launch from a developer who also happens to run an MMORPG, so seemed worthy of note, and doubly so since bits of Overwatch were salvaged from the wreckage of Titan, the MMO project from Blizzard that was cancelled a while back.  Also, it seems to be dominating the gaming news cycle right about now.

So will you be playing Overwatch today?

[A multiple choice poll appears above this line which gets blocked by some browsers]

The Warcraft Movie Approaches

We are just about three weeks away from the release of the long anticipated Warcraft movie… I mean, I was making silly guesses at possible actors more than six years ago.

It can take a long time for things to go from an idea in progress to an actual production in Hollywood.  But the day is finally coming.  June 10, 2016 is the big day.

And, I must admit, I’m not all that excited.

I will still go see Warcraft.  And, of course, Blizzard is happy to remind me it is coming.  They sent me a note about it.

Coming June 10, 2016

Coming June 10, 2016

It remains to be seen if this will be such a blockbuster that one would need to reserve tickets.  The trailer left me a little flat.  But that might just be my proximity to the franchise.  And Blizz is also putting some incentives out there.  If you go to the right theater chain… which isn’t local to me… you could win tickets to BlizzCon.

I have to drive past a lot of theaters to get to a Regal...

I have to drive past a lot of theaters to get to a Regal…

But if there is a Regal cinema near you, watch the promo to see what you have to do in order to win.

Meanwhile, Blizz is also using the launch of the movie to get more people playing World of Warcraft.  The link between the movie and the game is obvious to us, but perhaps not so to everybody.  So when you go see the movie you will also get a code for a digital copy of the game which includes 30 days of play time… if you go to the right theater chain.  Blizz has a post up about which chains will get you into Azeroth.

That seems like an odd box to include

That seems like odd box art to use

Here in the US the freebie is limited to United Artists Theaters, Edwards Theaters, and the aforementioned Regal Cinemas.  No break for those of us in a sea of CineMark, and AMC outlets, not to mention the local independents.

Blizzard even sweetened the deal for those getting a free digital copy by including Warlords of Draenor as part of the base package, an unprecedented move.  Generally the next expansion has to ship before previous content gets included in the base game.  Of course, that also means you have to call support if you have a copy of Warlords of Draenor you haven’t activated yet, otherwise you won’t get your free level 90 boost.

And for those of us who already have the game, who bought Warlords of Draenor, and who aren’t in range of any of the participating theaters in any case… well… we get some nice transmog items if we log in between May 25 and August 1, 2016.

Shiny movie transmog stuff

Shiny movie transmog stuff

It isn’t clear if you have to be subscribed or can log in your level 20 or under characters to collect.  I suspect that a subscription will be necessary, but I will likely subscribe by August in any case to get in on the build up to WoW Legion.

So the movie is coming.  Will you be going to see it?  Time for a poll I think!

[There is a multiple choice poll above this line, which gets blocked in some browsers.]

Market Saturation and the Cash Shop

In which I prove I can be both cranky and cynical at the same time.

I seem to have two standard sort of Friday posts.  One is a set of succinct bullet points.  The other is a rambling wall of words that never quite gets to a real conclusion.  This is Friday post is the latter.  You have been warned.

So the topic du jour lately has been Black Something Online.  I honestly cannot remember as I write this, and I have probably read the name five dozen times over the last two weeks.  So I suppose you can add “jaded” to the my blogging super powers.  (The missing word is “Desert,” but I had to tab out and look Feedly to find it.  Black Desert Online.  I kept wanting to write Black Diamond Online.)

Anyway, since it is free to play, the cash shop became an issue… once everybody was done gushing about the character creator at least… though there is some contention as to what the actual issue is.  Is it that the cash shop is too expensive or that people are too cheap or that the whole thing lacks ethics or what?

I think only Bhagpuss has spent much time talking about actual game play, and even he seemed to be tiring a bit.

But game play isn’t where I want to go.  I want to join in on the cash shop fun.

Random internet picture captures the morality...

Random internet picture captures the morality…

I have my own view on cash shops and free to play, which I generally sum up as tired resignation.  They are the reality of the MMORPG market today.  What started as an attempt to by troubled titles like Anarchy Online, Silk Road Online, and eventually Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online, to grab some sort of competitive advantage over their monthly  subscription based rivals quickly became the default method of operation.

Remember back during the pre-launch hype around Warhammer Online when Mark Jacobs said he was considering charging MORE than the then industry standard $14.99 a month for the game’s subscription?  Those not caught up in the hype dismissed the idea while even those who were looking forward to the game seemed to think that Mark had better have something pretty fucking special up his sleeve in order to go that route.

He didn’t and that whole idea sank quietly into the swamp, foreshadowing the story of the game itself.

But that is sort of how things are today.  If somebody comes along and says they want to launch a fantasy MMORPG with a $14.99 a month subscription as the only option, you would be right to dismiss that as crazy talk.  The Edler Scrolls Online and WildStar certainly got schooled on that front, both admitting defeat in under a year.

Only three games seem to be good enough for that route, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, World of Warcraft, and EVE Online.  Basically, the new champion of the fanatsy MMO experience, the old favorite, and the odd-ball that doesn’t fit nicely into the genre.  And the latter two have the WoW Token and PLEX, so you can play for free so long as you can get somebody else to pay.

As a business model the “monthly subscription only” idea is nearly extinct.

But now the cash shop is the market default.  Free is no long a competitive advantage, it is now a requirement to even sit at the table.  Everybody is free.  Everybody has a cash shop.  And most MMORPGs seem to be able to eke out some sort of livelihood in that market… which is a problem in and of itself.

MMOs don’t die very easily.  They linger on and on.  They don’t necessarily attract new players or grow, but they figure out how to hold onto their core players and get them to cough up enough money to keep the servers on and development going.  EverQuest and EverQuest II still have expansions for their core base.  Star Wars: The Old Republic has gotten past hot bars and seems to be doing okay selling content… and the forcing people to subscribe to access it. (But a new Star Wars movie probably helped a lot as well.)  Hey man, whatever you have to do.  DDO still have levels to add and new classes to sell.  LOTRO has… erm… let me think about that… no more expansions… no more Euro data center… oh, yeah, Tolkien!

But the market has grown, there are a lot more MMOs out there than back in 2004 when WoW and EQII launched.  Go look at the list of games that launched back in 2004.  It feels like ancient history.  Battlefield: Vietnam! Half-Life 2!  Halo 2!  Katamari Damancy!  Pokemon FireRed & LeafGreen… on the GameBoy Advance!

Imagine a market when you wanted to launch a new shooter but people wouldn’t stop playing something that went live 12 years ago?  And not just a few cranky hold outs on old hardware who couldn’t run your game even if they wanted to, but the mainstream of your market.  This is sort of what SWTOR launched into and for all of its faults, it was in large part fighting for market share of an audience that tends to stay fairly loyal to their favored game for years.

We’ve heard and dismissed past estimates of how big the potential MMO market is.  People thought it was 100,000 players big or 500,000 or a million or five million or whatever.  Those estimates turned out to be far too low.  But there was an effective upper limit out there somewhere, a hard stop where the genre simply ran out of players willing to commit the time and effort that MMOs demand.  I don’t know how big that number is, but it feels like it has stopped growing and may even have begun to shrink.

This was another Mark Jabobs thing, that the MMO market was going to be bigger than anybody thought… which was true enough.  But maybe not as true as he hoped, as he has gone from ironically saying “MMOs are a niche market” to making a niche title because the market isn’t all that big after all.

So in a genre where there are only so many people who will even hear about any new MMO coming out (MMOs are no longer news unless EVE Online has another big space battle or WoW launches an expansion), a subset of which would be willing to commit the time that an MMO requires, and where a good number of those players are already in a long term relationship with their favored MMO, any new title shows up has a steep hill to climb for success.

I am therefore not surprised that any new MMO that comes along goes straight for the cash shop antics that piss a lot of people off.  Any MMO that launches eventually has to buy into the trifecta of annoyance with over-priced items (to harvest whales), lock boxes or random card packs (to prey on those with poor self control), and constant reminders about the cash shop and sales and what is new and hot (to cajole the rest of us to buy and keep buying) because that is what it takes to survive and they don’t yet have the luxury of a core audience that would buy things like expansions.

What does surprise me is that anybody thinks they can wander into the MMO market with a game that is a rehash of WoW (2004)… which itself was just a rehash of EQ (1999)… with a few cosmetic differences (as I noted, most of the non-cash shop things I have seen about BDO has been about character models) and some slightly different game play (which is true to anybody besides the connoisseur) and expect market success.  It boggles the mind.

Of course, there is no doubt a message in the fact that the last few attempts have been Asian imports warmed over for the western market.  Nobody who has to pay salaries in US Dollars or Euros seems interested in going there from scratch.  (And just on cue, EverQuest Next has been cancelled.  More on that in another post.)

The right move seems to be to go niche, stay small, and build a following around a specific vision, as with Shroud of the Avatar, Project: Gorgon, Camelot Unchained, Crowfall, or Star Citizen…  and then maybe gouge the whales on the real estate or spaceship market.  Even Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen and its plan to farm the failed mechanics of the past seems to be a better plan in today’s MMO market than going for a release with broad appeal.

Of course, we have yet to see any of those titles… aside from Project: Gorgon, which may be the smallest of the lot… actually deliver on their vision in any substantial way yet.  We shall see if that ends up being a good path forward when… and if… those titles reach a salable product state.

So that was about a twelve hundred word stream of consciousness ramble.  But at least I linked out to a few people.  Hi blog neighbors!

I suppose I need a point of some sort to sum up now.  Let me see… here are a few.  Pick one you like.

(There is an oh-so-clever poll below this, which sometimes gets eaten by AdBlock, in case you don’t see it.)


I look forward to a few angry comments about completely tangential items that I brought up briefly along the way.  Early guesses include “BDO isn’t like WoW,” “LOTRO is doing great,” “Game X has changed/will change everything,” and something about Star Citizen.

Now when is WoW Legion going to ship?