Category Archives: Shroud of the Avatar

In Which I Ramble About Being All Things to All People

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

-The Dude

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

All together now, "Stay on target!"

All together now, “Stay on target!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was all fluff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My MMO Outlook for 2016

Here we are again with one of those end of the year posts I trot out every December.

This once hasn’t been as regular as some of the others, in part because it has become more difficult to write as time has moved on.

There was a time during the life of this blog where I was enamored to some degree with almost any new MMORPG on the horizon.  I remember the run up to Lord of the Rings Online, Warhammer Online, Star Trek Online, and even Star Wars: The Old Republic as being exciting.

But as time wore on, I was overwhelmed by what I will call “the great sameness” of every new MMORPG.  They all differ some in details… graphics, classes, skills… but they all started to feel the same.  It turns out that killing ten rats doesn’t feel all that different no matter how you dress it up.

My post last year was essentially what I was already playing, EVE Online, World of Warcraft, and EverQuest II.  Why run after the false promise of a new experience when you’re already invested in one that isn’t all that different in the end?

And of those three I am only still playing EVE Online at the moment, that being the only one that doesn’t fit directly in the generic WoW-influence MMORPG role.  Minecraft has filled the void on that front, judging from my hours spent with it since June.

So it is tempting to just skip this post.  Do we really need another “burned out on MMORPGs” screed?

The thing is, some seeds planted in the last few years might actually come to fruition in 2016.  Kickstarters, long funded and past due, might actually deliver something in the coming year.  Here is what I think might be available… and yes, I know you can play bits and pieces of all of these right now, but among the things beaten out of me over the years is the desire to test somebody else’s product.  I want a shipping, ready for public consumption version of your game.

Shroud of the Avatar

ShroudoftheAvatar

Lord British attempts to bring back the wonder of the Ultima series in a sandbox-like, full 3D environment.

Attraction: I have fond memories of the first half of the Ultima series.  Seems like it might be an excellent place to explore.  I backed it on Kickstarter.  I already have it setup in Steam.

Worries:  Might be too cash shop focused and who knows what Mr. Garriott will glom onto as a good plan.  He has had some odd ideas over the years.

Camelot Unchained

CamelotUnchained_450pxMark Jacobs attempts to bring back the wonder of Dark Age of Camelot and some of the interesting bits of Warhamer Online, without all that mucking about with PvE levels and what not.

Attraction: While I never played DAoC, I do recall a few fun PvP moments in WAR.  Mark has owned up to lessons learned and has skin in the game, investing some of his own money.  And I backed it on Kickstarter.

Worries: PvP works best if you have a regular group and I will likely be showing up solo.  Also, recent history has shown some nifty large scale PvP ideas defeated by the players just forming an unstoppable zerg mob.

Project: Gorgon

ProjectGorgonLogo

Eric Heimberg and Sandra Powers make the MMORPG that they really want, quirky and a bit different and quite pretty… and you get used to the ill-fitting name after you have said it about five thousand times.

Attraction: Quirky, pretty, fun world to explore that might just be different enough to not make me sigh in boredom a few hours into playing.  And I backed all the Kickstarters, including the one that actually succeeded.

Worries: Quirky does have its limits, and where are you left when that wears off.  As a small budget project, will never be as polished as WoW or the like.  Not sure who will run off to play with me.

Star Citizen

Star_Citizen_logo

Chris Roberts promises to take every single cool feature from every space related game he has ever touched and meld them together into the most awesome persistent universe space game ever… and a single player campaign… and a first person shooter… and probably something else I missed.

Attraction: Love me some space games.  I  still log into EVE Online sometimes just to fly around and look at things.  Could be the game that steals me away from New Eden.  And I backed it post-Kickstarter, when it was at about the $20 million level of total funding.

Worries:  I don’t want to go all Derek Smart, but Chris Roberts has promised a whole lot of stuff.  I actually wish it was less.  That would make it more likely for 2016 if nothing else.  Also worried it will have an Elite: Dangerous level of difficulty just to do the most simple things, like undock and dock your ship.  Has very little traction amongst the people with whom I play regularly.

H1Z1

H1Z1logo

One of these things is not like the others… and kind of a long shot as well. Not an indie Kickstarter game like the previous four.  No, this is Daybreak’s attempt to leverage their work on PlanetSide 2 into something that will make some money.  And it has, selling a lot of early access copies.

Attraction:  It is actually pretty fun in a group.  Interesting combination of PvP, crafting, base building, and general survival.  And I own an early access copy.

Worries:  Daybreak will monetize it into oblivion, and they might have to based on the peak early access sales, lest Columbus Nova Prime be angered.  PvE version seems tedious while the esports aspects hold no interest for me.  It does need a regular group to be fun, and I am never great at making friends.  Suffers from all the usual PvP problems.

Other Candidates

I suppose I could put in a couple of comedy additions, like Landmark or EverQuest Next, but I strongly suspect neither will be much in 2016.  And then there is Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, which Brad McQuaid is still hanging on to.  Another one not for 2016 I would guess.  Crowfall, which I did not back, seems like it has its shit together, but I would call that yet another one for after 2016.

So I am going to stick with those five.  Which will be the winner in 2016?  And will any of them end my new MMO malaise?

 

Or are WoW Legion and the EVE Online Citadel expansion all I have to look forward to in 2016?

Meanwhile, if you want to see how previous versions of this mostly yearly post have fared, here are some links.  A bit of comedy to be mined in those.

 

Reviewing My 2015 Predictions

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

A graphic with the number 2015 on it!

A graphic with the number 2015 on it!

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

Predictions

  • At BlizzCon we won’t hear about the next World of Warcraft expansion.  Blizz is going to avoid the year long run up to a new expansion and focus on what we’ll get in Draenor in 2016.  That’s the plan going forward; a shorter run up to the next expansion, more focus on the current one, same two year gap between launches.

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

  • Blizzard will also punt on its PLEX-like item idea as foes of the idea in the forums will keep screaming “Diablo III real money auction house fiasco!” until the idea is put back on the shelf.

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

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

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

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

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

  • Overwatch, though, will stay in closed, invite-only beta in 2015.  We’ll hear good things, but we won’t get anything until next year.

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

  • EverQuest Next will not ship in 2015.  At least not by any definition I would consider a real release.  Rather, it will enter the “pay to play our unfinished free to play game” state that has haunted Landmark for the last year.  And it won’t even get to that state until after SOE Live.

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

  • Push is going to come to shove at SOE, with EQN and Landmark drawing on more in-house resources but not necessarily providing more revenue.  One of the two Norrath games,EverQuest or EverQuest II, is going to get shorted on the expansion front this year.  There will be a virtual box to buy, but it will really be just a features and fixes expansion with no new levels, races, classes, or overland zones.  A few dungeons/raids and the usual set of AA options will be all somebody gets.

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

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

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

  • GuildWars 2 is going to ship an expansion in a box, virtual or otherwise, that will be the classic “give us money and get new content” exchange that we are all quite used to.  It will be a big win, hugely popular with the fan base, have many jumping puzzles, and ArenaNet will grumble all the way to the bank about how NCsoft made them do it.

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

  • WildStar will go free to play.  NCsoft has a deal for the China market, so they can’t shut the thing down just yet.  But to get to China I am going to bet they have to go F2P.  And if you’re going to do the work for China, you might as well apply it in the west as well.

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

  • CCP is going to break sovereignty in null sec in 2015 and cause a great upheaval in EVE Online.  Most sov will effectively be dropped and chaos will ensue.  Much mocking will come from other quarters of the game, until the wise realize that all those null sec players need to go somewhere, and it is either leave the game or bunk with them.  Soon the cry to fix null will be universal, just to save the game and everybody’s sanity. CCP will take one of their full five week dev cycles to fix it, but there won’t be any roll back.  Instead they will have new sov mechanics in place and will declare a null sec gold rush/thunderdome.  Hilarity will ensue and it will become one of the great legends of the game we tell to new players.  Meanwhile, the sov map will look pretty much the same at the end of the year.

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

  • CCP will sell, transfer, or otherwise hand off responsibility for DUST 514 to Sony, including the employees left working on it.  It will remain connected to EVE Online, so orbital bombardment will remain a possibility, but Sony will be running.  It will end up in the laps of SOE in San Diego which will prompt another round of “SOE is buying CCP!” hysteria.  (But that won’t happen until 2016.)

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

  • The Elder Scrolls Online will muddle along in 2015, fixing bugs and waiting for the console version to ship.  The console version won’t ship until after summer however, and things will seem somewhat grim as the push to get it out becomes an “all hands on deck” development task, leaving the Windows version to drift for a couple months.

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

  • Funcom will also be in a bit of a muddle as LEGO Minifigures Online continues to under perform.  This will cause a replay of the LEGO Universe fiasco, with LEGO HQ wresting control of the software from Funcom, as they did with NetDevil, leading to about the same result as LEGO runs the thing into the ground and shuts it down.

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

  • Hacking and cyber attacks will be on the rise, and a major MMO studio will be kicked completely offline for a full week at some point during 2015.

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

  • EA’s claim that Star Wars: The Old Republic’s earnings are disappointing is a sign of something.  I expect less voiced content, if any, and more features like Galactic Starfighter, things that can boost cash shop sales.  Double credit if they use my droid battles idea from last year.

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

  • At Turbine, things will go as they have been for the last few years, with a slow retreat into its core money making items.  Asheron’s Call and Asheron’s Call 2 will go the way ofEverQuest Mac the first time they need an update for a vulnerability.  A WB exec will order the plug pulled before the end of 2015.  They will be gone along with the pipe-dream promise of running your own server.

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

  • Likewise, it will be a slow year for Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online unless Infinite Crisis is a break-out success in the MOBA world.  It looks like it will be lining itself up against Heroes of the Storm, so that looks like a vain hope indeed.

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

  • Brad McQuaid, failing to find a reliable source of suckers funding, will throw in the towel on Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, leading wags to ask if this was supposed to be the rising part of the prophecy or if it was still part of the fall.

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

  • Project: Gorgon will finally catch a break and gain traction via early access at Steam.  Some money will come in and allow development to move more quickly.

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

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

No Shows

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

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

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

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

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

How did you do on your predictions?

Costly Castles in Crowfall

I must admit that I have not paid a lot of attention to Crowfall since the end of the successful Kickstarter campaign back in March of this year.

More money, we would like that!

More money please!

In part that is because a bit of Kickstarter fatigue on my own part, having backed my share to this point, and in part because I have enough problems keeping up with the games I play that keeping track of things that might see the light of day somewhere down the road is very much a secondary activity.  And the fact that I didn’t even back their campaign… again, feeling some Kickstarter fatigue, at least when it comes to “indy” MMORPGs… means I have not been getting direct mail updates that backers get.

Still, every so often something bubbles up that catches my eye, like when J. Todd Coleman said that what Crowfall really needs is Goons.

I’m sure that stirred a few people up.

(And how did we end up becoming The Mittani’s soldiers of fortune?)

Or when somebody pointed out that Crowfall was selling an $800 castle.

On sale for only

On sale for only $599!

I have to admit that such a costly item didn’t exactly raise an eyebrow for me.

Yes, we’re in what I guess one would call the post-Second Life world, where virtual real estate speculation is no longer a boom industry. (Not that Second Life is gone, but I haven’t seen it mentioned in the news for ages.  Even Lum has been quiet on that front for a long, long time.)

But in a world where Star Citizen is a thing and people are throwing money at virtual spaceships for a game that is barely recognizable as a game as yet, what is an $800 castle?

You could probably destroy a castle with this...

You could probably destroy a castle with this…

As Shaw Schuster says in that MMORPG.com post, this is sort of the place we’re at right now.  This isn’t a “cash grab” this is “crowdfunding,” where those whose enthusiasm reaches all the way to their credit card.  Whales, right?  And hey, Lord British had $4,000 towns for sale in Shroud of the Avatar at one point, though I no longer see that in the store.

Your Town Options

Towns were a bit spendy…

But there are still thousand dollar city lots (marked down from $2,100, and supplies are limited) available at the SotA add on store.

28 of 50 already sold at this price!

28 of 50 already sold at this price!

If you’d bought the town when it was available, you would have had some city lots to divvy up with your friends. (I don’t think you can real money sub-let ala Second Life.)

Anyways, it is easy to wail about the items for whales, those high priced items meant to let somebody far more free with their money than I am to “support” a given project to the fullest extent the desire.  I suppose if they give advantage in proportion to their expense, they can be considered bad.  If not, then they are at worst neutral I suppose.  I think perhaps a decent measure is how many more reasonably priced options there are available for those with more limited means.

For Crowfall, it looks like you have some choices.

Crowfall forts and keeps

Crowfall forts and keeps

Some of those seem reasonable enough, though like real estate in Silicon Valley, the prices look sure to rise for now.

I suppose the lack of fist shaking outrage at the idea of spending $800 on a virtual castle has come about because I have become inured to the idea of pricey virtual items, be they shiny spaceships or pretend towns or just splashy addons that boost the price of an expansion four fold.

Somebody out there will buy them.  It just isn’t likely to be me.

Quote of the Day – Lord British and Sandbox Newsworthiness

If you look at what Blizzard does really well, like Diablo.

Lord British, to The Observer on sandbox games

We haven’t had a good Lord British quotable article for a while.  He hasn’t flirted with EA or Zynga or called his fellow game designers lazy for quite a while.  But here he is, finally back, and with a sick burn on Blizzard.

#winning

Yeah, yeah, am I right?

Okay, I snipped that quote out of its context and you could take it in a number of possible ways, but that is still Lord British, speaking in an interview about his sandbox MMORPG, mentioning what Blizzard does well, and then going for what I might have ranked as the third item on the list, after StarCraft, which was an esport before esports were a thing, and perhaps World of Warcraft, which is actually in the MMORPG genre he is attempting to re-enter and which has been eating everybody’s lunch for a decade now.

Something of an “Elephant? What elephant? No elephant in this room!” moment for me.

And lest you think he just has words for Blizzard, he also takes a shot at NCsofts Lineage, a game still more popular today than Ultima Online at its peak.

Anyway, a bit of silliness that made me chuckle.

Still, there is some merit in the article.  It gets into sandbox MMORPGs and Lord British is very quick to equate Shroud of the Avatar with EVE Online, which ranks pretty high on the “successful sandbox MMORPG” list for most people, aside from Tobold.  And in the next breath he puts SotA up there with Star Citizen as an important sandbox game slated to release in the next year.  Also, did you know he’s been in space?  A clear head start into the heads of the EVE Online team!

Okay, maybe I haven’t gotten to the merit part yet.

But there is an interesting thread in the whole thing about reporting on events that happen in-game that is largely the preserve of the sandbox end of the genre.  This is why Lord British wants his game to be equated with EVE Online, because things that happen in New Eden actually make the news in the non-gaming press now and again.

To get that sort of thing going in SotA, Lord British mentions that they are working on a way to enable “reporters” to be able to cover live events with special views.  This contrasts with the approach CCP has taken, which was the subject of another Observer article that asked why they were not supplying special ships so reporters could cover battles…. to which CCP essentially responded by gesturing at its player base, rolling its eyes knowingly, and shaking its head.  We would exploit that in a heart beat.

And all of that ties into another article at The Observer… I had no idea they paid this much attention to video games… which interviewed The Mittani about his news site and which has its own thread about what games are structured so that interesting, newsworthy things can happen and be reported on.  EVE Online is a natural for that, as we have seen, but Mittens also brings up H1Z1… though given the tight relationship between TMC and Daybreak I am not sure how much credence to give that.

The machete is the clincher

The machete is the clincher

But he also throws out the potential for SotA, having its roots in Ultima Online and such.

So I guess the question of the day what other MMORPG has as much potential as EVE Online for the newsworthiness of in-game events?  Will the BBC and other non-gaming news organizations be covering player events in Shroud of the Avatar… or Star Citizen… or any other sandbox MMORPG the way they have EVE?

Anyway, hat tip to Neville Smit who got me started on this with a tweet:

 

Reviewing My Kickstarter History

With some Kickstarter campaigns of interest running of late, like the Massively Overpowered funding campaign and the much-talked-about Crowfall campaign, I decided to look back at the projects I had funded to see how the whole Kickstarter thing has treated me.

NOT the official drink of Kickstarter

NOT the official drink of Kickstarter

Fortunately Kickstarter has a nice little page that lists out the campaigns you have supported.  It was then just a matter of figuring out where everything stood.

Successful Campaigns

1 – Campaign: The Jason Scott Documentary Three Pack

  • Date Funded: November 11, 2011
  • Date Promised: December 2015
  • Project Status: Not late yet

My first ever Kickstarter.  Jason Scott, who did the documentaries BBS: The Documentary and Get Lamp had a plan to do three more.  He wanted to cover tape as a recording medium, the 6502 processor, and video game arcades.  What is not to love about those three topics?

I was a little annoyed when he went out and did another documentary after getting funded, but the man is like a force of nature and cannot be controlled.  And I have no doubt I will get all three documentaries.  We’ll see if it happens by December.

2 – Campaign: Defense Grid 2

  • Date Funded: August 14, 2012
  • Date Promised: December 2012
  • Project Status: Delivered January 2013

Hidden Path Entertainment wanted funding to do a sequel to their game Defense Grid: The Awakening.  They only made their initial goal, which was enough to fund an expansion to the original game as opposed to a whole new game.  That got delivered just a month behind schedule, which is pretty good for a Kickstarter so far as I have seen.

Then they went on to get other funding for Defense Grid 2 and eventually everybody who backed the Kickstarter beyond a certain level got a copy of that, including me.

3 – Campaign: Planetary Annihilation – A Next Generation RTS

  • Date Funded: September 14, 2012
  • Date Promised: July 2013
  • Project Status: Delivered September 2014

Here was the promise of a successor to Total Annihilation, one of the three great RTS games of 20th Century, along with StarCraft and Age of Empires II: Age of Kings.

Of course, the project ran long, Uber Entertainment thought it was a good idea to sell pre-orders on Steam for less than the cheapest Kickstarter backer price, and when the game finally showed up I found it kind of blah.  Still, not the worst $20 I ever spent.

4 – Campaign: Project Eternity

  • Date Funded: October 16, 2012
  • Date Promised: April 2014
  • Date Delivered: March 26, 2015

Obsidian Entertainment said that they were going to make a spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate and a few other great single player RPGs.  What is not to love about that.  And, again, $20, what the hell, right?  And while it is nearly a year late, it got there and I should get my Steam code next week for Pillars of Eternity, as the game has been christened.  We’ll soon see how it turned out.

5 – Campaign: Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls

  • Date Funded: February 5, 2013
  • Date Promised: August 2013
  • Project Status: Soon

Tunnels & Trolls was the first RPG rules set that I spent a lot of time with.  We started with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, but getting all three books was expensive back then and there was Tunnels & Trolls all in one book at less than half the price of of the TSR tomes.  Also, you could plunder that copy of Risk in the back of the hall closet and have all the dice you needed.  Anyway, I’ll write more about the rule set when I get the new edition.

Getting the new edition though…  The promised date was August 2013, and that was viewed as conservative because they were sure it would be done by July of 2013.  Well, here we are in March of 2015 and they keep sending out updates, but it is still somewhere over the horizon.

6 – Campaign: Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues

  • Date Funded: April 7, 2013
  • Date Promised: October 2014
  • Project Status: Alpha releases available to backers

The Lord British successor to whatever aspect of the Ultima series he is speaking about at the moment.   Clearly optimistic on dates, it is still in an unoptimized alpha state that does not run very well on my CPU.  But it is there and you can poke at it if you want, and it has been in that state for more than a year, improving slowly while trying to raise more money.  I am still waiting for it to get more solid before I devote any real time to it.

7 – Campaign: Camelot Unchained

  • Date Funded: May 2, 2013
  • Date Promised: December 2015
  • Project Status: First alpha just available

At some point Kickstarter became “spiritual successor” central.  Anyway, like the previous entry, I have written a few posts about Camelot Unchained, Mark Jacob’s run at capturing all the good of Dark Age of Camelot in an updated package.  Promised for December of this year, it just had its first alpha last week if I read the update correctly.

8 – Campaign: Planet Money T-shirt

  • Date Funded: May 14, 2013
  • Date Promised: July 2013
  • Project Status: I got a shirt in December 2013

Planet Money is one of the few podcasts I listen to regularly, in part because it covers a wide range of interesting financial topics, and in part because shows tend to run 20 minutes or less so I can listen to a whole episode during my rather short daily commute.  Their Giant Pool of Money episodes on the financial crisis were great stuff.

Anyway, Planet Money decided to do a practical project on how T-shirts are made, starting with the basic materials, raw cotton for example, and ending with people actually getting a shirt.  So there is a series of shows in their backlog about this.  The shirt showed up late, but it is nice.

Men's and women's versions of the shirt

Men’s and women’s versions of the shirt

I wear it around the house on weekends because, while it is soft and I like the graphic, it is a bit snug on me.  I am not sure anybody at the office needs to know that much detail about my body contours.

9 – Campaign: A History of the Great Empires of Eve Online

  • Date Funded: May 25, 2014
  • Date Promised: May 2015
  • Project Status: Still has two months to run.

Andrew Groen’s epic attempt to write the story of the null sec conflicts in EVE Online.  The campaign, which only asked for $12,500, funded in seven hours and hit nearly $100K.  I am not sure we’ll get the books on time, but his monthly updates have covered his progress in some detail.  He is even now up in Iceland, having given a presentation about his work.  But when we do get it, you can be sure I’ll review it here.

Failed Campaigns

And then there were the campaigns I backed but which did not fund.

1 – Storybricks, the storytelling online RPG – May 2012

I am still unclear as to what I was actually getting in exchange for backing this project.  They were working on a development tool, which doesn’t translate well for end users.  Believe me, I know that pain.  I have been working on development tools for the last 17 years.  But Brian Green was part of the project, so I kicked in before the campaign ended.  Eventually Storybricks got in bed with SOE for the whole EverQuest Next project, then the buyout happened, Daybreak ended their contract, and they folded up shop… dropping a final bit of crazy on us on the way out the door.  I am not at all sure what the trajectory would have been had this campaign succeeded.

2 – Project: Gorgon – An Indie MMORPG by Industry Veterans – October 2012

The first Project: Gorgon campaign.  Eric Heimburg wanted $55K, but barely got past the $14K mark.  Too obscure to get the backing it needed, the project soldiered on without it.

3 – Tinker Dice from Project Khopesh – June 2013

Tesh makes some dice.  While this first campaign did not fund, he later went on to have success in subsequent campaigns.

4 – Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen – January 2014

Brad McQuaid decided he was going to get into the whole spiritual successor funding thing with a throw back to EverQuest.  He asked for too much money… at least more than his name and reputation could draw… and spread his focus too wide in my opinion.  The project is theoretically still going, but post-campaign funding has been problematic at best.

5 – Project: Gorgon – A new approach to MMOs – August 2014

The second coming of the Project: Gorgon kickstarter campaign.  By this point there was a solid, playable game to be supported.  Asked for $100K, got just over $23K in pledges.  Eric Heimburg just isn’t a name with much draw, and as has been discussed before, the project name itself isn’t doing him any favors.  The project doesn’t even have a page on Wikipedia.  Still, Project: Gorgon lives and you can go play it right now.

Summary

Overall, Kickstarter has worked out pretty well for me.  I have managed so far to back only projects that have come to fruition. (I don’t count the failed campaigns.)  I like to think that I have chosen wisely, picking only campaigns run by teams with a track record of success.  But it is probably more likely that, in backing just a few projects, I managed to get lucky.

There was clearly a stretch of time where I was more enthusiastic on the whole Kickstarter thing.  That has faded somewhat, and you will no doubt notice some omissions from the list, popular projects I opted to pass on.  There is no Crowfall on my list, as an example.

The only project I have mild regrets about not backing is the Ogre Designer’s Edition campaign from Steve Jackson Games.  I played Ogre and G.E.V. back when they came in a zip-loc bag, so there was a strong nostalgia factor present when the campaign launched.  That said, I am not sure what I would do with the 29 pound box that resulted when the campaign raised nearly a million dollars when they only asked for $20K.  I don’t have anybody to play table top games with and I have more than enough stuff around the house I do not use, so another huge box in a closet probably wasn’t necessary.

So that is my Kickstarter tale.  I am still waiting on some projects to finish, and every single project I have backed has been late to one degree or another, but things have still turned out okay so far.  How have you done with Kickstarter?

Is Paid Early Access a Good Thing for MMOs?

We just had the launch of early access for H1Z1 this past Thursday and it was not an unqualified success.

H1Z1DisasterIt started with delays as bringing servers up and getting out last minute patches ran through the 11 am PST kick off target and well into the afternoon.  Then when things were finally up there were G29 errors and G99 errors and “you do not own this game” errors and “no servers visible” problems and the overwhelming of the login servers, which actually affected other SOE games.  And, of course, this being based on PlanetSide 2, the hacking seems likely to commence.

That was all exacerbated by the fact that SOE was clearly trying to make this a big deal, an event, and was hyping the whole thing up, making sure people who wanted to stream the game had access, and that there were hundreds of servers online, so the whole thing was rather a public spectacle.  I tried watching LazTel stream the game over at the TMC feed and every time I checked in there was an error on his screen.

And that leaves aside Smed riling up the carebears earlier in the week and the whole controversy over “pay to win” air drops that was brewing as well where, despite early statements on how H1Z1 would be financed through cosmetic items, things changed. Smed was taking a tough line in defending the air drop scheme.  (Plus air drops seemed to be having their own issues.)

anyone that wants to “complain” about H1Z1 being P2W shouldn’t buy it. In fact I encourage you not to. Let’s not let facts get in the way.

John Smedley, Twitter

Scathing quotation marks around the word “complain” there from Smed.  Feel the burn.

(Also, in looking at some older posts this past weekend, I see that I need to quote Smed rather than simply embedding his tweets.  He appears to go back and clean up his feed, deleting quotable items later on.)

Cooler heads were apologizing about the change in views on buying things like guns and ammo in the game on the H1Z1 Reddit, SOE’s favorite forum of the moment.

And then, I gather, at some point over the weekend, the game started working more reliably… or people gave up on it.   Either way, I pretty much stopped hearing about it, except for Smed on Twitter assuring people that things would be fixed and posting links to posts on Reddit detailing what the latest patch would include.  Maybe the Massively post More Boredom than Terror rings true?

Either way, I was happy I was only reading about it.  The whole thing seemed not ready for prime time.

Of course, it was “early access,” so that much is to be expected I suppose.  Certainly that is the line that Smed, and SOE, and their more ardent defenders will stick to.  SOE had to offer up refunds again, as they did with Landmark, for people who were expecting a bit more.

So SOE has themselves covered by that “early access” label.  But it does feel like SOE was trying to be on both sides of the fence.  The whole thing was built up like a game launch.  But is it reasonable to set those sorts of expectations, with that many people piling in and all those servers being put online, along with charging money for the box and running your cash shop from day one, for something a company is running under “early access?”

My own view is that if you are charging money and have worked to get a cash shop in the game, your ability to hide behind words like “early access” and “beta” is somewhat diminished, an opinion I have held since the FarmVille days, when Zynga products seemed to be in eternal beta even as they earned buckets of money.

Anyway, while what SOE does with H1Z1 is of some interest to me, I had no interest in being part of their “pay to test while we develop the game” agenda.  That is pretty much the same song I have sung about Landmark, which has been in early access for nearly a year now.

My cynicism on display

My cynicism on display

At the end of the day though, I have to ask myself how these sorts of early access routines affect my desire to play a given game.  And the answer isn’t exactly favorable.  I am happy enough to have passed on an early investment in both games, but the drawn out nature of even watching from the sidelines has diminished Landmark for me, while H1Z1 running through what looks like PlanetSide 2 problems… which PlanetSide 2 is still having two years after launch… makes me willing to wait for a long, long time before I will bother trying.  Add in the fact that pwipes will be unlikely after a very early point in order to keep the hardcore fans invested and sweet in both games, where it certainly seems like location will matter, and it feels like SOE is selling advantage on top of charging people to test their incomplete visions over the long haul.  Both make me less likely to buy in.

And at some point in the middle-to-distant future, we will be getting EverQuest Next and the current pattern from SOE indicates that it will go through the whole early access routine as well, which gets something of an eye rolling frowny face from me.  Certainly the way Landmark has gone and the way H1Z1 has started has not endeared me to the early access idea.

I am not convinced that early access is a good thing, even when it is done better.  Over in the realm of Lord British, Shroud of the Avatar is also up on Steam for early access.  It is still in a rough state, too rough at least for me to want to devote much time to it.  I log in once in a while to see what it looks like, but am otherwise biding my time.

However, I feel differently about Shroud of the Avatar.  I bid on the Kickstarter to get a copy of the game, which was expected to cost money at some future date anyway.  And, despite the real estate focus of the game, I feel less like I will be missing out by not getting in early, there being a whole campaign to follow.

So maybe it is just the type of games that SOE has been launching of late, where there is contention over location.  Or maybe it is just the way they have gone about things in the traditional SOE way, where there are intense moments of hype and energy followed by long periods of quiet.

I think early access has worked well enough for other games.  At least I can point and some good examples, like Minecraft or Kerbal Space Program, where early access delivered something worthwhile, made people happy, and kept on evolving.  But for MMOs I feel less certain.  Is there a good early access story for an MMO? Should we avoid judging based on SOE?  How about ArcheAge or Trove?

What do you think about early access for MMOs?

 

Anyway, at some point H1Z1 will actually launch, at which point maybe I will give it a peek.  Until then the eager supports are welcome to it.

My MMO Outlook for 2015

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

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

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

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

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

And that will be... December?

And that will be… when?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, I could put up a list like:

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

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

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

  • World of Warcraft
  • EVE Online
  • EverQuest II

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

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

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

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

Is One MMO Enough for a Studio?

CCP was on the cusp of becoming a respectable multi-MMO studio, but then it jettisoned World of Darkness and pledged undying loyalty to the EVE universe.

Syp, MMO studio report card: Where are our leaders?

Syp had a post a while back about MMO industry leadership that had a strongly implied and, to my mind, not well supported assumption about what such leadership amounts to.  Subscribers/customers wasn’t a factor.  Not to pick on Syp, but he does tend to see the negative in all things Blizzard, so he would have to either throw that out or say something nice about Blizz.  The latter may have stuck in his throat, thus leadership has nothing to do with audience size or the influence that goes with it.

Nor does it have anything to do with who is following whom, a simple definition of leadership.  That way lies madness… or Blizzard again.  Lots of people have been following Blizzard, adopting features haphazardly over time like EverQuest II, setting themselves up as alternatives with “WoW Plus” games like Rift at launch, or just copying chunks the game wholesale like Alganon.

No, not Azeroth!

Mentioning Azeroth acknowledges its leadership

Whether or not World of Warcraft being viewed as a leader… it is by outsiders if nobody else, and they seem to have all the money… has been good for MMOs over the last decade is an open sore of a topic.  Are the stifling aspects of Blizzard’s behemoth on the industry (go into any MMO beta and count the number of times somebody is essentially complaining in general chat that the game in question isn’t WoW) worth the players that WoW brought into the genre and who went on to play other titles?  So goes the debate.

No, the only aspects that seemed to count on his list was having multiple MMO titles in play and who was making new MMOs.

But are more MMOs better for a company or not?  And do more MMOs really mean leadership?

Perfect World Entertainment, which includes the perennially troubled Cryptic Studios and the “disappeared off the map for two years and not making a Torchlight MMO” Runic Games, has many MMO titles available.  However, aside from the output of Cryptic, their titles tend to be Asian imports that do not play well in the west.  And even the Cryptic titles are not all that strong.  Neverwinter has a following and some features of note, but I rarely hear much good about the rushed to market due to contractual requirements Star Trek Online and almost never hear anything at all about their “let’s remake City of Heroes” title, Champions Online.  Maybe PWE isn’t a good example, especially when they are pointing at their US operations as hurting their bottom line.

How about NCsoft?  Again, they have a range of MMO titles from their home studio in South Korea along with titles from ArenaNet and Carbine Studios.  Certainly GuildWars 2 is a strong candidate, though the financials indicate that the execs in Seoul will be forcing ANet to ship an expansion box to boost revenues.  And all focus at ANet is on GW2, with GuildWars left to run out its days unsupported.  WildStar though… I haven’t heard any good news there.  And when it comes down to it, NCsoft gets most of its revenue from South Korea, and largely from its 1998 title Lineage.  Meanwhile, it has closed a lot of MMOs, which could be bad news for Carbine if they don’t get their act together.  Is this the multi-MMO company model we want others to follow?

And then there is Funcom, which has shambled from disappointment to disappointment.  They launched LEGO Minifigures Online a little while back which, true to Funcom’s history, has failed to meet expectations.

Okay, maybe we should ignore all those foreigners and look at a US-centric company like Sony Online Entertainment.

I love SOE, but at times they seem to be the MMO studio embodiment of Murphy’s Law.  If they can do the wrong thing, they will, and in front of a live studio audience.  Granted, they do tend to fix things in the end and do the right thing, but sometimes getting there is painful to watch.  However, they are the US champion for a multi-MMO company, at least in terms of number of titles.  But has this made them better or just spread them too thin?

They have two flavors of EverQuest and a third on the way at some distant future date.  There is LandmarkMinecraft for people who don’t like pixels, and the engine on which the next EverQuest will someday ride… in progress.  They have PlanetSide, PlanetSide 2, and H1Z1 (Zombie PlanetSide) in development.  And then there is the Asian import flavor of the month, previously Wizardry Online and currently Dragon’s Prophet.

That list of titles feels like too much stuff, and all the more so when you consider that SOE also cranks out an expansion for both EverQuest titles every year.  While those expansions mean revenue, SOE could be operating with as few as 50K subscribed players on EverQuest II and probably less still for EverQuest.  That is a big investment in the past while we wait for EverQuest Next.

Then there is Trion, which does a respectable job with Rift, which remains their best received title.  But Defiance has been problematic.  ArcheAge, which had the potential to be a big hit, has been mishandled. And then there is Trove, which seems to Minecraft for people who want bigger pixels and brighter colors.  Multiple MMOs hasn’t been a stellar success for Trion.

And, finally, on the US front there is Turbine which, inexplicably in hindsight given the size of the company, has the rights for Dungeons & Dragons AND Lord of the Rings and which has manage to turn both huge franchises into awkward niche titles.  Other than that they have Asheron’s Call, the distant third of the “big three” break-out MMOs from the end of the 90s, and Asheron’s Call 2, revived from the dead because… I still don’t know why.  I think it speaks volumes about Turbine’s outlook in that they are betting on a MOBA to save their flagging fortunes.

Stack those up against companies with just a single MMO.

Blizzard.  Do I need to say more about the very, very rich company in Anaheim?  One MMO has been very good to them.

CCP.  They seem to get into trouble only when they wander away from EVE Online.  When they focus on their main product, which in the past meant stealing resources from World of Darkness, things tend to go well for them.

EA.  Okay, EA has three MMOs, but they bought two of them and have farmed them out for another company to run, leaving them with just the BioWare MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic.  It was never a WoW-killer, and it has its problems (roll stock footage about subscriber retention and selling hotbars), but it makes money.  Not as much as EA would like, but that may be as much because Disney gets a cut as anything.  That is the rub with a licensed IP, they come with more overhead.

Zenimax.  The Elder Scroll Online might be the weak point in the single MMO theory.  I don’t know how the game is doing, other than things are still being fixed and that the console versions of the title, a big part of the plan, have been pushed out into 2015.

And then there are the MMO-ish niche titles of the future, Star Citizen, Shroud of the Avatar and Camelot Unchained.  Those are being made by small companies that can only afford to invest in a single game.  And while those titles are playing the nostalgia card for all it is worth, they are also potentially mapping out new paths in the MMO world as smaller titles are able to do.

All of which is just so much talk, punctuated with some admittedly unfair characterizations both of various companies and of Syp.  I am not saying that companies should run one or multiple MMOs.  Clearly some companies do well, or well enough, running multiple games, while others seem best suited to focusing on a single title.  But I wouldn’t categorize any company as not being a real MMO player just because they only have one such title.

What do you think?

Shroud of the Avatar, Virtual Real Estate, and Keeping Control

We do not, to my knowledge at least, have a live MMORPG that has started life financed via Kickstarter as yet.  There are a few on their way, such as Shroud of the Avatar and Camelot Unchained, but we still seem to be a long way from a state of “this is how these things work.”  A trend does seem to be forming, or two trends really.

The first uses Kickstarter as a marketing scheme and litmus test for the popularity and financial viability of a given project.  That a project can raise a given amount of cash from its Kickstarter campaign is used to secure further financing after the campaign.  You can often pledge money afterwards for the same reward tiers as during the campaign, but player pledges were not, nor were ever planned to be, the primary financing for development.  Oculus Rift is a good example of this.  It had a successful Kickstarter that helped the project get off the ground.  The ask was for $250K, and it came back with nearly ten times that much, falling shy of $2.5 million raised.  But other financing based on that success helped it carry on, and the project raised a total of $91 million in capital before it was bought out.  And while not everybody is happy that Facebook stepped in to buy up the whole thing, that is the way things work in what is essentially a very traditional way to raise capital.

On the Kickstarter MMORPG front, Camelot Unchained appears to be using this method.  Their Kickstarter was very aggressive, setting a $2 million goal which they achieved with less than a day left to run on their campaign.  But the promise was that if they could make that goal, other financing would be forthcoming, including Mark Jacobs himself kicking in a substantial amount of cash.  So there was the new Kickstarter front end to what seems to me to be an otherwise traditional financing process;  seed capital leads to further funding.

The other trend eschews traditional financing in a bid to maintain control over the project.  As much as John Carmack has tried to sooth people, the idea that Mark Zuckerberg has the final say on what Occulus Rift becomes drives some up the wall.  There is a great tradition of large companies buying smaller ones and just screwing them up and into extinction.  To avoid this, you don’t sell out and you don’t give up control.  That means after the Kickstarter campaign is done, you keep going after people to give you money.   You keep taking money for same pledge tiers you had in the Kickstarter.  You start up a cash store to sell additional special items to your fans.  And you keep banging the drum, marketing hard, selling a dream or what might be the result.

The poster child for this trend is, without question, Star Citizen.

Star_Citizen_logo

With $44 million already raised, Chris Roberts is selling the hell out of his vision of a space combat simulation RPG with MMO and single player elements, which is pretty damn good for somebody who hasn’t shipped a game in over a decade.  And while you may believe that this will be the killer space sim app that will destroy EVE Online and every other space game or that this is the most spectacularly public long con in the video game industry ever, Chris Roberts has been able to both get funding and keep control of his baby.

And, in what I take as a blessing on some of my posts from last year, Richard “Lord British” Garriott de Cayeux appears to be taking this route.  I spent some time comparing and contrasting Lord British and Mark Jacobs and their respective visions and Kickstarter campaigns because they feel, to me, like two very different personalities with different views.  And now I get to carry on with that as their projects head down their separate paths. (Though, to be honest, I am probably making more out of this that is really there, but it keeps me amused.)

While we have been getting updates on Camelot Unchained, money is not something that gets brought up.  They are much more likely to mention Nerf gun wars than money raised.  Not that you cannot give them more money.  They have that setup on their site.  But it isn’t being played up as much as it could be. (So they have “only” raised another half million dollars since their Kickstarter at this point.)

Shroud of the Avatar, taking the control path, is becoming more focused on raising money.  There is the usual running tally of funding.  The project ended its Kickstarter campaign with just over $2 million, but now boasts of having raised over $4 million total for the project.  And then there are the offers for backers such as the “add-ons” that people can purchase for use in New Britannia.  These were enhanced considerably with the latest “Epic” project update, which looks to buy heavily into the Chris Roberts approach to raising more money.  There are new pledge tiers, new stretch goals (ever the siren’s song with Star Citizen), and new add-ons.

And while the stretch goals (mounts and elves and boats and such) are supposed to help move along the funding, it is the add-ons that grab your eye.

Or, rather, it is the price of some of the add-ons.

Among the items added to the add-on store are whole towns, which run between $750 for a “Holdfast” to $4,000 for a whole “City.”

Your Town Options

Your Town Options

And while towns will be purchasable with gold in-game at some point (QFT: “There will be a path to achieve this in game via in game gold purchase but the ownership of the scene will incur a rental fee.”) there will be ongoing rental overhead for the in-game option.  So if you want to run your own town free and clear, real world cash is your option.  Money talks and bullshit rents month to month.

And what do you get for your $750, assuming you are a cheapskate and just want a Holdfast?  The add-on store says:

  • 12,600 m2 of player lots
  • A design session with the Dev Team to define details including:
    • Name of Town
    • Location: Roughly which quadrant of the map. (Exact hex will be determined by Portalarium, Inc.)
    • Biome: Forest, Mountains, Grasslands, Swamp, etc.
    • NPC Building Definition (inn, smithy, etc.)
    • NPC names and stories
    • Lot Selection: Determine which lots of which size you want. For example at this size:
      • 21 Village Lots
      • 5 Village Lots + 1 Castle Lot
      • 20 Row Lots + 1 Castle Lot
      • 13 Village Lots + 1 Keep
      • 13 Village Lots + 4 Town Lots
      • etc.
  • X Keys to X Locked Lots:Central Square with 1 NPC owned building
    • Keys equal to the number of lots chosen
    • Owner of the keys can lock and unlock lots at will so they can actively control who gets to live there
    • The key owner can evict an occupant and lock the lot using the key
    • Players will still need lot deeds to claim the lots once the town owner unlocks the lots
  • 1 Add On Store House

That is a considerable amount of “stuff” I suppose, including developer interaction.  I wonder if naming is going to be more flexible for those who pay in real world cash versus coin of the realm.  And, note, lot deeds are not included.

And while the comic/drama potential of being able to lock people out of lots in a town  is intriguing (do you get a title like “Dictator for Life” when you buy one?), the sticker price makes me recoil in horror.  WildStar plus a year’s worth of subscription ($60 + $180) is less than a third of that price, and will probably go down with time.  But I can be a notorious cheapskate.  I am sure somebody out there is happy/amazed/ready to lay down the dollars for a town to call their own at that price.

And real estate, done akin to the real world variety, as it is being approached in SotA, is a limited resource I suppose, unlike the fancy space ships and lifetime free repairs that Star Citizen is selling to an eager audience, so should be priced accordingly.  But that price makes me cringe. (Not to mention the “bought the farm” metaphors that spring up.)

What do you think?  Is this the right direction for SotA?  While I would bet that Lord British has greater name recognition than Chris Roberts, the Wing Commander series, on which Chris Roberts’ reputation is largely built, was the biggest franchise to come out of Lord British’s own studio.  The Ultima series was a clear second place. (Which one got an animated series? Hint: It wasn’t anything set in Britannia.)  You can say, “Chris Roberts” and get no response, but say, “Wing Commander,” which Chris Roberts does as often as is polite, and suddenly things are different.

With that in mind, can Lord British reasonably aspire to be a “sword and sorcery” Star Citizen in terms of funding?