jump to navigation

Quote of the Day – When You Have a F2P Hammer, Every Nail is a Microtransaction April 17, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags: , , ,
7 comments

The micro-transaction is so strong and it’s definitely a much better model. I think all companies have to transition over to that.

Tommy Palm of King.com, interview at IGN

IGN is becoming the place to talk about free to play and micro transactions.  And King.com, the new Zynga, certainly has reason to support that point of view.  They are making a lot of money and, true to Tommy’s word, you can “win” Candy Crush Saga without paying.  But they are also monetizing frustration, as has been pointed out by Laralyn McWilliams, which I am not sure gets them a lot of love.

Buy now or start over

Buy now or start over

People defend King.com by pointing out that a lot of people play through the whole game without paying or by noting how much money they make.  But I do not see many F2P advocates examining their monetization scheme (Laralyn McWilliams aside) and asking if that is the best approach.  The monetizing of frustration aside… which alone has kept me from giving a damn about any other game King.com has made… there is the question of buying progress.

Buying my way out of a level with their boosts… and as far as I can tell, there are no levels you cannot win on the first try if you have spent enough money… feels a bit like cheating.  It is like dealing out a hand of solitaire and then giving somebody $1.99 to tell you it is okay to re-arrange the cards so you win any given hand.  I would say that is, in essence, pay to win, except you are not actually playing against anybody but yourself, so I am sure somebody would take me to task.

So maybe it is more like pay to skip playing, in which case why bother playing?  That might explain why only 30% of players who beat Candy Crush Saga paid any money.  Where is the feeling of victory or the bragging rights if you paid your way through the tough bits?

Or to flip that around, I wonder how many of that 30% would admit to paying?  Sure, King.com knows they did, but would they tell their friends?

Anyway, you might excuse Tommy’s exuberance because of the corner of the market he is in and how much money his company is raking in.  They have likely spent more on TV ads for Candy Crush Saga than they did on actually developing the game initially.

But we also had David Georgeson talking about all games being free to play as well, and he definitely lives in a world where there is a lot of development expenses before you can start ringing up microtransaction dollars.

We’re effectively street performers: we go out there and sing and dance and if we do a good job, people throw coins into the hat. And I think that’s the way games should be, because paying $60 up front to take a gamble on whether the game is good or not? You don’t get that money back.

-David Georgeson, busking out in front of IGN

This is, of course, the utopian ideal, the big upside to the whole free to play thing, the idea that you only shell out money for what you like.

And I can certainly find examples to support this idea.

I spent a lot of money… bought the collector’s edition and a lifetime sub… on Star Trek Online, which ended up being a game I really didn’t enjoy playing.  A big fail on my part.

In comparison I spent no money at all on Neverwinter, which also ended up being a game I really didn’t enjoy playing.  But at least it was only time invested.

Those, however, are both negative examples.  Games where I was better, or would have been better off, with free to play.

But when it comes to the whole persistent world MMO genre, of which I am a big fan, I do not have any real positive examples where a free to play game really sold me.  Sure, I have played a lot of Lord of the Rings Online, even after they went F2P, and I was enthusiastic about EverQuest II Extended when it first showed up.  But those were converts from the old subscription model into which I had invested and I have had my ups and downs with both.  I think I am done with EQII, and if I return to LOTRO again, it will be because of Middle-earth and despite the microtransaction in every window nature of their business model.

So, while I am okay with microtransactions in many forms… I have enjoyed games like World of Tanks and War Thunder, and I think the iOS version of LEGO Star Wars has a great model where you get the base game and a few levels for free, then can buy additional content if you like the game… it doesn’t seem to work for me in certain areas.  The money-where-my-mouth is proof is the persistent world MMOs I am currently playing, World of Warcraft and EVE Online.

Fortunately, as small as the world of game development may seem, it still encompasses a broad spectrum of opinions on many subjects.  So while some are gung-ho on F2P, others are sticking with older models.  The Elder Scrolls Online just launched as a subscription model MMO, and WildStar plans to later this year.  Maybe EverQuest Next or Landmark or something else will change my mind, but for now I seem happiest with the alleged outdated model.

There is no one true path, and I always wonder and people who make declarations in defiance of that.  The industry cannot even decide on DRM.  We have had industry voices wondering while companies bother, yet just this week Square Enix was saying that DRM is here to stay.

Meanwhile, I hope we’re all spending our dollars on things we actually enjoy playing.

H1Z1… Because… Zombies? April 10, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags: , , ,
7 comments

SOE has announced their previously hinted at zombie apocalypse (I get a twofer on that word today, because lasers) horror survival “dedicated to Star Wars Galaxies players” game yesterday.

I think it is just that sort of dedication that brought about the NGE, no?  I guess if SOE can figure out that Landmark isn’t an EverQuest game, maybe they can eventually sort out who H1Z1 is really for as well.

So far all we have for official word is a web site with a moonrise, some spooky music, and a link to the H1Z1 subreddit, Smed’s current favorite venue.  I guess Reddit is the demographic he wants to reach.

The night is dark, I think I'll go to bed

The night is dark, I think I’ll go to bed

The H1Z1 subreddit has a “what we have learned so far” thread that attempts to summarize what is known.  The state of affairs as it currently stands:

Gameplay Details

  • First Person or Third Person shooter
  • Zombie Survival
  • Night is dark and full of terrors
  • Player versus Player at it’s core.
  • More than just zombies in the world
  • Base Building, Town building, Fortress creation
  • Can burn down things others build.
  • Lots of crafting. Probably the biggest thing about the game.
  • Vehicles are already in. Possibility of aircraft in the future.
  • Based off the United States.
  • If you die, you lose your gear. It stays on your corpse.
  • “No skills or levels”.
  • “Thousands of players”. I’m willing to bet this will be larger, playercount wise, than planetside 2.
  • There will be Hunting.

Tech Details

  • PC first, PS4 later. “Well, we are Sony” when asked about the PS4 version.
    • In terms of cross-platform play, Planetside 2 will not be doing cross platform due to the logistics of updating the game on the PS4 vs the PC. I expect that this has not changed so I don’t see cross-platform play happening. SOE has made no comment on this point however, so I could be talking out of my ass.
  • “If you can run Planetside 2, you can run H1Z1 better”.
  • “Orders of magnitude larger than Planetside 2″.
  • Based of Planetside 2. Shares no tech with Everquest Next (so no Voxels).
  • Built in voice chat options.

Monetization Details

  • Free to play
  • Part of the All-Access subscription that SOE is launching this month. $15/mo for premium sub in all SOE games.
  • “you seriously don’t need to spend a dime. We’re still figuring out the monetization but we will telegraph our plans early and let people comment and we’ll listen if they don’t like something and come to a place where people feel good about it.” -Smed, in this thread
  • Early Access ($20ish, on steam) in 4-6 weeks.

I’ll just leave that there as a baseline to compare against as things move forward.

For those hoping that this will be a Landmark or EverQuest Next based zombie game, disappointment is already in the cards.  The cynic in me sees this as PlanetSide 2 tech re-purposed as a zombie game with some PvE and building elements.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  There could be a market for this, so long as it doesn’t degenerate into the aimbot hack hell that PlanetSide 2 became.  It doesn’t thrill me at the moment, but a shooter with more to it could have a draw.

Of course, the cynic in me also wants to know how it will work in a world where you already have a lot of choices on the zombie front?

How will SOE differentiate H1Z1 from the pack?

I suppose we shall see.

Others talking about H1Z1:

Quote of the Day – Never Shutting Down EverQuest April 2, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, EverQuest Next, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags:
7 comments

EverQuest and EverQuest II? We hope they never die. We have no intention of ever shutting those games down.

-David Georgeson, interview at IGN

I was just picking on Georgeson this week because of a quote from a year back about the idea that MMOs should never die.  Of course, this week we saw SOE shut down two of them, Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures and Free Realms.

CWA is understandable.  That was a tie-in with a TV show and clearly had an expiration date.  But Free Realms, that was all SOE’s to do with as they pleased.  Ah well.

Still, I am more likely to take him at face value when it comes to talking about the EverQuest franchise, the bedrock on which SOE rests.  SOE without Free Realms is still SOE.  SOE without EverQuest though?  I am not sure that is an actual thing that can survive in our universe.  We’re fifteen years in and the game is still playable and getting new content.

Valmont Mounted

My new char, 15 years into the game

So EverQuest forever and all that.  At least I expect to see EverQuest hit 20.

But I still wonder how things will play out once we have EverQuest Next in the house… probably about when EverQuest hits 20 if we keep getting updates about it at the current rate.

Two EverQuests on the scene I can fathom, but three?

I suppose it depends on what the plan is.  I am pretty sure SOE figured people would move from EverQuest to EverQuest II and they would shut that down in a couple of years.  Instead, people either stayed with EverQuest because they were invested or, as like as not, ended up in WoW.

Is EverQuest Next expected to coexist with its two direct predecessors?  Given recent history, how long can that last?  And who goes into the night first?

Maybe they can recreate EverQuest on the EverQuest Next platform.  You can say that it won’t be the same, but when has EverQuest ever stayed the same for long in the last 15 years?

A Farewell to Free Realms and Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures March 31, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags: , , ,
8 comments

No.  No more kids games.  Kids don’t spend well and it’s very difficult to run a kids game.  Turns out Kids do mean stuff to each other a lot.

John Smedley, Reddit AMA

Back towards the end of January, SOE announced that it would be closing down four of its titles this year.  The closures were set out with the following dates:

While some at SOE have, in the past, expressed a desire that MMOs should never die, the financials and resource constraints companies face do not always support those ideals.  Smed said, it wasn’t a cost issue… and then turned around and said that it was, in fact, a cost issue:

This isn’t a big cost issue. The real problem is maintaining the code bases when we update our authentication or security updates. It’s really that simple. The costs scale with the userbases. It’s just getting prohibitively expensive in terms of time to maintain these games.

So today we say farewell to the first two titles on the list, the two titles in the SOE lineup aimed at kids.  As you can see from the quote at the top of the post, it seems unlikely that SOE will try that focus again.  So goes the myth of the kid with daddy’s credit card that was so popular some time back.  It turns out that they don’t spend money.

Oh, and they are mean to each other.  I guess that fits the stereotype that WoW problem players are all 13 year olds, though I would not discount the 18-24 year old demographic when it comes to excelling at obnoxious behavior.

Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures seems like a natural for closure.

SWCWE_Logo

It was tied in with a TV series that has since ended… sort of… Netflix might revive it.   But as a game, it struck me as little more than a shared lobby for mini-games in the hour or so I spent on it on quiet Sunday afternoon.  A vehicle for selling Jedi hats.  I am sure some will miss it, but it never seemed to me to be a high point in the history of SOE.

Last Day...

Last Day…

More like a bone thrown them by Lucas because they were yanking the Star Wars Galaxies license just before Star Wars: The Old Republic went live.  I hope SOE made some money from it to fund other things, though I doubt they would be closing it if it was bringing in a lot of money.

Still, SOE gave people their fill of Jedi hats during the last days of the title.

Dear Clone Wars Adventures Players,

As previously announced, we wanted to remind you that game services for Clone Wars Adventures will be discontinued the evening of March 31, 2014. We have had many incredible experiences with you in the game – from insane battles to unbelievable memories – and we thank you for all of the great adventures and support over the years.

On Tuesday, March 18th, most items in the Clone Wars Adventures Marketplace will be reduced to 1 SC each for you to enjoy over the last couple of weeks. For more details, information and FAQ, please visit SOE Customer Service.

May the Force always be with you!

Best,

Sony Online Entertainment LLC

Out in style I suppose.

And then there is Free Realms.  This was the big experiment.  This was the high quality, family focused, designed as free to play from day one experiment.

FreeRealmsLogo

A lot of people were excited about Free Realms.  Even the “What is Free Realms?” marketing blurb sounds exciting.

What is Free Realms?

Free Realms is a free 3D virtual world where you can do whatever you want, whenever you want! Jump in straight from your web browser! Once you create your character, you’ll be in and playing in just a few minutes.

Decorate your house, then invite your friends over for a party! Teach your pet a new trick or dress them up in a sweet costume! Battle enemies as you search for lost treasure or duel other players, mine for gold, cook up a meal, or race your car! When you’re ready for a different kind of challenge, play a wide variety of fun minigames, jump into the trading card game or check up with your friends on your profile page. Free Realms is the place to join up with your friends to discover, explore, compete, chat, share achievements and just have fun! In Free Realms, YOU RULE.

YOU RULE, until the bank forecloses.

The game ran into its own “gotta pay the bills” problems not to far into its life, and the velvet ropes vision that Smed put out there had to grow more restrictive in order to shake some coins out of the players.  I am sure that SOE’s problems with Station Cash and “triple Station Cash” offers did not help.  And when they were offering lifetime subscriptions for just $30, I suppose that was a sign that the cow wasn’t giving enough milk.

Is that a squirrel or what?

Still not sure if that is a squirrel

Still, Free Realms was interesting. (I think Tipa kept track of it best.)  It came out on multiple platforms, starting on Windows and then moving to Mac OS and then eventually to the PlayStation 3.  Amusingly, while PlayStation support was announced early on, the Mac OS version came out first.  My daughter played it on the Mac, though support for the game was a bit spotty.  After the third time SOE support responded to a problem with “delete everything and install from scratch” we decided that maybe it was time to move on.

We also tried it on the PlayStation, but since you cannot share accounts, that meant that anything my daughter had was gone.  So that did not gain much traction.

It also seemed a much deeper title than its Star Wars stable mate, which probably made it just that much more expensive to maintain.  And then there is the engine problem.  SOE seemed to be all over the map developing games on different engines, which leads to support and maintenance issues over time.  We have seen with the whole Landmark and EverQuest Next thing that SOE is moving towards consolidation.

There were no cost reduced hats to celebrate the end of days in Free Realms.  The last producer’s note was from back at the closure announcement.

Hi everyone,

Usually I’m in here telling you about cool new developments in the Realms. Today is a much different day for me. I’m deeply saddened to announce that we will sunset Free Realms on March 31, 2014.

Free Realms has truly been a labor of love for SOE (even our own president’s kids are huge fans and active players of the game!). In a nutshell, the game has reached a stage in its life cycle where players are growing up and moving on to other games.

When we first released the game in 2009, it was one of the very first free-to-play MMO for kids and teens, and we couldn’t be prouder of everything we have accomplished together in the game. While today’s news might be a disappointment, we’re sincerely excited about what’s to come for the game before we say goodbye, including player celebration in-game events and more!

We will share details on the upcoming activities and sunset soon, but we wanted to give you plenty of notice so you can truly enjoy your remaining time left in the game. We thank you for all of the memories we have made together in the Realms!

Steve George

Producer, Sony Online Entertainment

And so the end of Free Realms will be marked.

As for kids MMOs, Smed might have a point.  While Club Penguin still abides, and WebKinz continues to shift its model away from real world toys into virtual world goods, other online titles aimed at kids have faded as well.  Gone are Toontown Online, Pirates of the Caribbean Online, and Fusion Fall.  It isn’t an easy market and it competes with a lot of other entertainment options for kids.

And then there is free to play in general, which one of the original Free Realms team was talking about recently.

So today is the day.  And the clock keeps on ticking down for Vanguard and Wizardry Online.

Insta-Levels Come to EverQuest March 10, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags: , ,
5 comments

Paid boosts to higher levels were pretty much a given for EverQuest at some point.  The only real question I have is why it took this long.  After all, EverQuest II got its own insta-level scheme… erm, “heroic character” plan… way back in October of last year.

My guess is that they wanted to wait for the game’s 15th anniversary to roll this out.

So here we are.  The anniversary is this coming Sunday, and starting Wednesday of this week you can get a level boosted character.  Per SOE:

Players should find it much easier to begin their adventures in Norrath when they start at level 85 with a full complement of gear, Alternative Advancement Abilities, and a unique mount. Regardless if you’re a veteran player that wants to try a new class, a new player that wants to get caught up to your friends, or a player that hasn’t visited Norrath in a long time, Heroic Characters are a great way for you to get in the game!

And, from this Wednesday through to Wednesday, March 26th, the first one is free.  The second, or the first after March 26th, will run you 3,500 Station Cash, which translates into $35 if you leave aside any possible discounts or stipends.  You can apply this boost to a new or existing character.

$35 is the same price as EverQuest II charges for their version of the boost, which was somewhere near the possible price range for Lord of the Rings Online’s experiment with insta-levels (depending on how you value Turbine Points), but is considerably less than what Blizzard is planning to charge for a level 90 character in World of Warcraft.

That last bit makes you think.  After all, the prices of other services… realm transfers or race/faction/name changes… even expansions… for these games run about the same.  But a boost to a high level character? $35 vs. $60.

What ever your particular market can bear I guess.  Or maybe it depends on the target audience for the offer.

Otherwise, the deals are similar enough.  You get a boost up into what the company considers the current/best/optimum/most up to date content.  You get some good gear and whatever else goes along with the being at that level.  In the case of EQ that means Alternate Advancement points, one of those things that went from a way to keep people busy after they hit level cap to “you must have n AA points to join our very serious guild.”  And there is even a special mount for you.

Not at all awkward on that mount

Not at all awkward on that mount

I remain somewhat indifferent to insta-levels.  They are still something I would only pay money for under very specific, and pretty rare, circumstances.  But I get the appeal.  And in the case of EverQuest, the idea probably makes as much sense as it ever will.

After all, the content in EverQuest has evolved a lot in the last 15 years.  And the bits and pieces of Norrath that I think I “know” represent a tiny fraction of that content.  What I might call “my” EverQuest adds up to the original content, much of Ruins of Kunark, the areas around Crescent Reach up to about level 50, the tutorial, the Plane of Knowledge, and a few lower level locations scattered around the game.  Anything above level 60 or that was added after, say, Planes of Power, is pretty much unknown to me and likely to remain that way.  I mean, I didn’t even find a “lost” dungeon (2003 content) until about two years ago.

If I want to see anything new in Norrath, an insta-85 is probably the best way, as I have long since lost my ability to level up over time in the game, even with reductions in the level curve, mercenaries, and some attempts at directed content.  And I suspect I am not alone in that.

And then there is the cash shop in EverQuest.  SOE was extremely sensitive to what they put in the cash shop in EverQuest II.  In EverQuest though, the felt much less constrained.  Things that would make people’s collective heads explode in EQII… like actual gear or trade skill supplies… are readily available for Station Cash in EQ.

Gear packs available

Gear packs available

But in EverQuest gear acquisition, and the constant flow of gear upgrades, is not as obvious or ingrained as it is in EverQuest II, where you have to pretty much change out everything every 10 levels.

And then there is the whole “this game is 15 years old with a lot of uneven content between character creation and level 85″ aspect.  It might make sense to just put people into the newer content and leave West Karana and Butcher Block to those with a yen for nostalgia.  Of course, you might ask why they chose level 85.  That puts you into the House of Thule content.  If I recall right, that is about the peak before you have to start buying expansions again, so perhaps that is the right point to put people.

So I will likely go and get my free boost to level 85 later this week, and maybe even run around to see what there is to be seen these days.  If nothing else, having a character at that level will make touring the world a little easier.

Actually, I will probably boost a level 85 on both of my accounts.  One curious little tidbit:

For accounts created before Nov 8, 2013, the free Heroic Character option is available one time per account.

For accounts created on or after Nov 8, 2013, the free Heroic Character option is available one time per household.

I seem to recall this “one time per household” thing coming up with the free boost EverQuest II.  I suspect that people were angered… SOE has a knack for angering customers that boggles the mind some days… and now they have spelled it out in a very specific way while grandfathering older accounts into past rules in order to limit the rage level.

Meanwhile, I am wondering who will offer character level boosts next?  Which games have enough content for this sort of thing to make sense.

Landmark and a Dire Vision of Things to Come… February 11, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest Next, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags: ,
11 comments

Rowan Blaze over at I Have Touched the Sky has managed to sum up in one picture what I expect eventually to happen everywhere in SOE’s Landmark.

Freedom's just another name for...

Freedom’s just another name for…

I cropped his screen shot down to the essential message.   Free Donuts.

And therein lies the seeds of destruction.

Not that I object to the sign.  It is just a cute example of what one can do in a sandbox like Landmark.  Innocent fun.  And I am sure if the person with the adjacent claim was trying to build something with a different theme that contrasted with the idea of free donuts… maybe a place where donuts were currency, or perhaps some fantasy setting where donuts aren’t really a thing… Rowan would take down his sign.  Heck, his sign… and his claim… might disappear on their own at this point in development.  But even if it remained, I am sure he wouldn’t prop it up next to his neighbors medieval castle or whatever.

Landmark is in alpha after all, and a pay-to-play alpha at that.  Everybody who is playing in the alpha really wants to be there and, judging from what I have seen, are very quick to let you know you can get a full, no-questions-ask refund the moment you complain about anything in Landmark.

That is pretty common with pre-release communities.  They tend to be the most invested in the game and are always the ones to moan about how the community for a given game went down hill after release.  How often have we heard, “The game/The community/People were much better/nicer in beta?”

So Landmark is in that happy, like-minded, orthodoxy enforced, pre-release community state where everything is new and people seem to care more about the game and the idea of the game than the current state of the game.  If you worry about the current state of the game… well… you can get a full, no-questions-ask refund.  It is a happy time of newness and excitement.

But the game will not remain in alpha… or beta… or pre-release… forever.  The happy pre-release community that cares about the game will, if things go to plan, eventually be dwarfed by the a larger community that will not, in general, hold exactly the same values when it comes to Landmark.

Landmark will be an amusement, a distraction, a toy, a way to pass the time, and a way to express themselves.

One way that people have shown they enjoy expressing themselves in the past is through griefing their fellow players.  And the more freedom you give people the greater the of griefing that will occur and the hard it ends up being to stop it.

Basically, the proposition I am putting forward is that the more sandbox-like an online game is, the more there will be griefing.  And, with that in mind, I made a little chart.

Continuum_450That is my “pulled straight from my posterior end” assessment of the sandbox nature of some online games that came to mind given a few minutes thought.  Feel free to object or suggest a re-ordering or inject where other games may sit on the continuum of sandboxiness.  I am already reconsidering my placements, but I am too lazy to edit the picture.

At one end is Webkinz, in which your ability to do anything is pretty well constrained and interactions with other players is severely  limited.  This is a game for small children and their mothers.  Your ability to touch the game is limited to decorating your own house, which only a select few individuals… if anybody at all… will ever see.  Arrange your furniture in a swastika or penis shape and nobody will likely know or care.

I put League of Legends down the line towards Club Penguin because, despite its reputation, it seems to me that your freedom of action is pretty limited, and saying bad words in either game will get you banned eventually.

I put EVE Online in the middle, trending a bit towards the pure sandbox end of things.  The thing is, for all of its sandbox reputation, it really isn’t all as much of a sandbox as you might think.  The game is quite constrained by its mechanics.  What gives it the air of sandbox is more about the lack of central narrative… there is so little “game” in the game… the range of potential career paths, and the tolerance by CCP for what one might consider griefing in another game.  A sandbox attitude in a universe constrained by some occasionally strange mechanics.

I compare this to Wurm Online, about which I only know by what Stargrace has written.  She had a number of tales of people clear cutting her trees or stealing her livestock, or making pests of themselves, or just general drama.  That all sounded much more sandbox-like and much more grief prone… at least relative to the rules of the respective games… than EVE.

At the sandbox end of my little list I put Second Life.  This is the bugbear, the thing that should scare you about sandbox freedom, as things sometimes end up looking like this.

Second Soviet Life

Second Soviet Life

I actually find that picture amusing.  But then, I don’t have to look at it every day.

That picture is from a tale of an ongoing attempt to grief a player in Second Life, which including buying up adjacent properties and filling them with things meant to annoy the player.  The tale of that is over at Broken Toys, from where I swiped the screen shot.  So there is that, flying penises, and… well… you have to visit the place to see the range of things.  Griefing… like porn… isn’t everywhere in Second Life, but it can be brought to a level of art that would surprise you.

Just down the line from Second Life I put Landmark.  Again, my own gut call, and you can argue where it really belongs on the line.  But given the sandbox claims and Rowan’s sign, I have to think that it is far closer Second Life than any traditional MMO.

And while I do not think SOE is going to allow anywhere close to the amount of freedom to do… whatever… that Second Life has allowed, there is going to be a line somewhere.  The sign that says “Free Donuts” might be okay, but what if it gets changed to “Free Penises?”  What if Rowan builds a tower that happens to look like a penis?  What if he reconstructs St. Basil’s Cathedral, only with the onion-shaped domes looking suspiciously penis-like?  What is with Rowan and his obsession with phallic imagery?  (Do I need to say “just kidding” here?  I will, just in case.)

What happens when we get this?

Happy FarmVille Memories

Happy FarmVille Memories

At some point SOE is going to draw a line, and then there will be a group of people who will push right up to that line and dare SOE to do something about it.  And people will complain about those within the letter but perhaps not the spirit of the rules and there will be arguments and rage and rule lawyering and all the fun stuff we expect from online games, only magnified by the freedom allowed by Landmark.  Is it any wonder that SOE canned that other sandbox title before launch?  They were not ready for it then and I am not sure they are ready for it now.

Sure, SOE might believe they can police the internet.  But will they be able to handle the conflicting visions and personalities that will eventually flock to Landmark?  Has SOE articulated a plan for this?  Is my vision too dire, or not dire enough?  And how much enforcement can they impose and still keep things happy and sandboxy?

Anyway, I’m still waiting for EverQuest Next, which may or may not be as sandbox-ish in nature, but about which SOE has been very quiet.

Quote of the Day – Hearthstone, SOE, and Historical Inevitability January 29, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
5 comments

Actually after seeing what Blizzard did with Hearthstone it’s given us some other ideas…. LoN is an awesome card game. We can take that to the next level.

John Smedley, Reddit AMA on plans for Legends of Norrath

Okay, that is actually a quote from a few days back, but the Reddit Ask Me Anything that John Smedley did last Friday is a gold mine of quotes.  I have to salute Feldon at EQ2 Wire for picking out some of the prime samples for his post.

And I have to hand it to Smed for not flinching from some tough question and answering things the way he did.  He laid out a lot things there, and not all of them were flattering to SOE.  He also left a lot of meat on the table to discuss, from SOE operating Vanguard at a loss for “a long time” to consolidation of IPs plan (again, is DC Universe Online safe with that going on?) to EverQuest Next being headed for the PlayStation 4 (not good news in my book, at least when it comes to a ship date… or user interface choices).  You could get a month’s worth of blog posts out of that AMA.  I am sure bloggers will be feeding on this all week.

But the item quoted at the top… I think speaks volumes in just two sentences.

The online collectible card game Legends of Norrath was launched back in late 2007, when it was integrated with EverQuest and EverQuest II, giving players a game to play within a game.  No mixed message in that.  Later it got its own stand-alone client, but the integration with the EverQuest games was still prime.  Legends of Norrath borrowed the stories and metaphors of the EverQuest games for theme and mechanics, and offered up in-game goodies for players of the two MMOs along with throwing out the occasional reward to the community by including somebody on a card.

Brent from VirginWorlds got a card

Brent from VirginWorlds got a card

And, as far as I know, the game has been a success.  It survived the great purge of the Denver and Tuscon studios that seemed to spell the end of online card games being anything like a focus at SOE. (There are some good historical Smed quotes on the old SOE Blog, and some interesting posts from others about company plans. I am surprised it hasn’t all been sent down the memory hole yet.)  Legends of Norrath survived along with Magic The Gathering: Tactics, though the latter is slated to be shut down at the end of March.  Another aspect of the recent blood bath I guess.

And then along came Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.

HearthstoneWhite_450

Actually, it hasn’t really come along yet.  It just got out of closed beta and is now downloadable by anybody who wants to be in the open beta (Europe too now) and who has a Battle.net account.

Hearthstone compares directly to Legends of Norrath.  It is an online collectable card game based on the lore of a popular MMO, it is free to play with its own client, you can buy cards, play against other online, and so on.

However, unlike Legends of Norrath, Hearthstone isn’t integrated into World of Warcraft.  For now the linkage is only in lore and sharing a Battle.net login with WoW and your other current Blizzard games.  Also unlike Legends of Norrath, Hearthstone has gotten a lot of praise from both inside and out of the MMO player community.

Not that I have heard people slam Legends of Norrath, but it never seemed like a big deal either, not the way Hearthstone has been hailed.  Part of that is no doubt the fact that Blizzard games are much more visible, popular, and highly rated than games from SOE.  A lot of people will try anything Blizzard ships.  Simple truth: Blizzard has a lot more fans than SOE.

And part of that is no doubt the application of Blizzard magic to the Legends of Norrath idea, which made Hearthstone shinier, easier to get into, and more appealing to players for whom collectible card games were never really a thing to do.  Plus there is the promise of an iOS and Android version of the game.  The iPad will likely be the Hearthstone platform for me.

This is, of course, pretty much a parallel to EverQuest and World of Warcraft.  SOE got out there first and succeeded, but then Blizzard took what they saw SOE doing and created something an order of magnitude more successful.  And so I suspect will be the case with Hearthstone.

Of course, not everybody loves Hearthstone.  As the hardcore early EverQuest players derided World of Warcraft (even as EverQuest tried to become more and more like WoW ), so some serious CCG players have declared that Hearthstone is a shallow game only fit for casual scrubs, bitter that people are not playing “more deserving” games.  And so it goes.

But the generally favorable reviews of the game got even me to download the Hearthstone open beta, and I am well into the “CCGs are not for me” camp. (I tried the Pokemon CCG a few times, but never enjoyed it.)  I haven’t actually played it yet… or even launched the app… but I have it downloaded.  And that brings me to yet another SOE vs. Blizzard parallel.

In downloading and installing Hearthstone, I found out that to use it required the still-in-beta Battle.net launcher… erm, excuse me… the Battle.net Desktop App.  Oh, and that replaced the launcher for all of the current Blizzard games, including World of Warcraft and Diablo III.

The Hearthstone install did not warn me about that and I was PISSED!

I was pissed because I have been through the single, unified launcher/updater wringer before.  Of course, that was with SOE which was trying to push their version of that sort of thing quite a while back.

Station Launcher of yore...

Station Launcher of yore…

The fact that Station Launcher never quite worked right was compounded by the fact that the SOE website kept telling people to use it after they had stopped supporting and it had ceased to function.  I had to open a support ticket to get the response of “don’t use that” from SOE.  So my anger was entirely based on having problems with this sort of thing before.  I would have avoided downloading Hearthstone had I known what it meant.

Only, in the ongoing parallel between SOE and Blizzard, the new Battle.net launcher… Desktop App… just works.  I log into Battle.net through it and can kick off World of Warcraft just fine.  It shows me all the news tidbits that the WoW launcher did and, in addition, shows which of my Battle Tag friends are online and in which game.  No problems at all.

My anger was thus short lived, which brings me back around to the quote at the top of this post.  SOE deciding to copy Blizzard, who copied SOE in the first place seems to be the natural order of things.  I am sure somebody can make quite a list of the things that SOE copied back from Blizzard.  So it is no surprise to me that, upon seeing what Blizzard has done with Hearthstone, that SOE has been moved to action.  Because, when left to their own devices, SOE can come up with some clunkers. (Not to mention being a bit tone deaf at times.)

I suppose the only thing wrong with Station Launcher was that SOE didn’t leaving hanging around long enough for the Blizzard version to appear so that they would know what to do.

Will Vanguard’s Closure Help Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen? January 27, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, Sony Online Entertainment, Vanguard SOH.
Tags: , ,
11 comments

On Friday afternoon SOE chucked a huge stone into the lake of MMOs, and now we are watching how the ripples spread and wondering what they will impact.

more titles in the past than in the future

more titles in the past than in the future

What does Friday’s blood letting say about SOE’s all-in attitude on free to play, or about one company running more than a couple of MMO titles?  Should we avoid the niche titles from SOE and NCSOFT, as they appear vulnerable to closure at a whim compared to similar titles where that is all a given company has going for it? You seem safe playing in Norrath (on Windows) and in whatever the PlanetSide universe is called, but other titles… not so much.  How long does the contract for the DC Universe Online IP go?

Will people who invested a lot in cosmetic gear in Clone War Adventures or Free Realms feel burned and thus be less likely to spend money now that these two cosmetic funded titles are being shut down with 9 weeks notice?  Has SOE poisoned the well on this front?  And what does Smed’s “no more titles for kids” pronouncement mean?  I guess the myth that many MMO players were kids with daddy’s credit card has been dispelled.

Have we seen enough Asian MMOs ported to the US market only to languish and fade yet?

Can Smed be naive enough to believe that a vague promise to former Star Wars Galaxies players about SOE’s next, unannounced title being for them, that they can come “home,” means anything?  I am sure that those driven out by the stick that was the NGE are pretty sure that their home is elsewhere these days.  And as for those who remained, how many stuck with the game just because it was set in the Episodes IV-V era of Star Wars?  Is a different IP going to scratch that itch?

And then there is Vanguard and Brad McQuaid and the kickstarter for his new game, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.

PROTF04

On the one hand, part of his “trust me” appeal for the Kickstarter campaign is his leadership in producing two enduring MMORPGs, EverQuest and Vanguard.  Sure, Vanguard had a tough launch.  That was just the situation at the time and he had to roll with it.  But once it was “fixed,” the game was good.

So SOE “sunsetting” (Because that makes us all feel better than just saying “closing” or “shutting down” right?) Vanguard kind of puts a pin to the balloon of that argument.  *POP*

Because if Vanguard was good enough, popular enough, and profitable enough, SOE wouldn’t have found security updates to be too difficult.  Money talks, and enough money gets your fixes done.  So we can assume there wasn’t enough.

So Brad now has one successful, still running MMO on his resume, even if it has been drastically changed from back in the day, and one that is being shut down… the announcement for which went out during his Kickstarter.

And then there was the talk about Brad buying Vanguard from SOE.  Fine, I know a small crowd of fans were really for that, but for me that was a red flag moment.  My concern for Pantheon, should it fund successfully, is that it will end up being another case of trying to do too much and ending up launching with an unready product.  A small team really needs to pare down projects to the essentials to deliver.  I still cringe that PvP is on the stretch goals, as that seems like a distraction, something totally outside of the vision set out for the game.  And it doesn’t matter that they will likely not make it to that stretch goal, it is the fact that they even consider it an option that worries me.

So, in the middle of a campaign for a new game, sudden talk about buying up the old game seems like a moment where somebody should be saying in Brad’s ear, “Stay on target!”

On the flip side, I wonder if the timing of this announcement from SOE… delivered after lunch on Friday, the time slot chosen by PR people who hope the news will be too late to make a splash in the news cycle and will end up forgotten by Monday… might turn to something of a boon for the Pantheon Kickstarter campaign.

Certainly, there is the potential to get the news about the Kickstarter in front of a few more faces.  The coverage of the closure of Vanguard inevitably rolls around to what Brad is up to now.

And Vanguard shutting down puts paid to some of the comments I have seen about the Pantheon up to this point, which basically amount to “Why do I want this when I already have Vanguard available?”  Well, you won’t have Vanguard around for much longer.

Will these two points help boost the Kickstarter campaign?  It currently sits at just over $238,000 of the $800,000 initial goal, with 26 days left to go.  That seems like a lot, but pledges have fallen short of the daily minimum to make goal since the initial surge of support.  So the campaign clearly needs a shot in the arm.

Can this news do the job?  It looks like there was already a small uptick in people supporting the project over the weekend, and there is some sentiment about for supporting Pantheon as a replacement for Vanguard.  But is it enough?

Bloodbath at SOE – Four Titles Closing Down, PlanetSide Goes F2P January 24, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment, Vanguard SOH.
Tags: , , ,
12 comments

In one of those “Good news, bad news, more bad news, even more bad news, how about a tiny bit of good news, now can I bring up some more bad news” scenarios, Sony Online Entertainment announced that they had finalized their plans for their change over of all subscriptions types to the full boat SOE All Access plan, which they fumbled on earlier in the month, but which will now be just $14.99 a month and which will still come with a 500 Station Cash monthly stipend.

Once known as Station Access...

Now the plan for everybody

There is a new FAQ up in the official SOE forums describing the plan., which will be put in place “on or about” April 2, 2014.  (No April Fools Jokes for SOE!)

Down in the FAQ there are a few rather less-than-minor details, like the fact that SOE will be closing down four of their games.  Those on the list:

So SOE is going to expand their “all the MMOs you can eat” plan while at the same time cutting back on the number of MMOs on the menu.

I always say, there will be plenty of time for recriminations later.  I expect a lot to bubble up after this.  I await the SynCaine post on the F2P business model for openers.

As for the games themselves, I never really played any of them for any long duration, so my feelings on the closures are pretty subdued.

Clone Wars Adventures was an adjunct to a TV show that is no longer on the air, plus EA snagged the rights to all Star Wars video games in May of last year, so this one closing isn’t a real surprise.  It will just stand as a lesson in not investing in virtual hats.

Free Realms was never a thing for me.  My daughter played it for a bit until they broke the Mac OSX client one too many times, which weaned her from the game.  She had a lifetime membership, which I am sure means nothing.  This was SOE’s first game designed to be free to play, one Smed wanted to play with his kids.  I guess the kids grew up in the last five years.

Wizardry Online was awful in my opinion, but I came in saying I am not big on Asian imported MMOs.  I won’t miss this one at all.  I am surprised it made it this long.  I am, however, counting it towards my prediction that more than half a dozen crap Asian F2P MMOs will fold up shop this year in the US market.

And then there is Vanguard.  There is a bit of strange timing here, with Brad McQuaid launching a Kickstarter for a new game just as his last one is finally getting the axe.  I was comparing him to Mark Jacobs and Lord British in that their first MMOs were good and their second MMOs got the axe… except for Vanagurd.  Well, now the comparison is complete.

Surprisingly, the original PlanetSide did NOT get the axe.  I have no idea why.  I would have put it on that list first thing.  But it is a Smed favorite I guess.

In fact, they are going to make it a free to play title.  They are actually expending some effort on that ghost town.  Did they learn nothing when they converted Vanguard?

So, in the end, the shiny SOE All Access subscription plan to be introduced “on or about” April 2 will buy you gold memberships to:

  • EverQuest
  • EverQuest II
  • PlanetSide
  • PlanetSide 2
  • DC Universe Online

And I think with this move, SOE has stolen the crown from NCSOFT for the most closed MMOs.  Because SOE.

Addendum: Oh, and I apparently forgot about the completely forgettable Dragon’s Prophet in the SOE lineup.  When did Asian imports become a thing for SOE?  Anyway, it just opened late last year, so it was probably too soon to shut it down contractually.  But it looks like it ranks with Wizardry Online when it comes to potential.

More comments from other sources:

Quote of the Day – For Specific Definitions of “Next” January 22, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest Next, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags: , ,
5 comments

EverQuest Next — which is a totally different beast — has no current timetable. It could release in 2015 or 2025 for all we know right now.

Massively, Leaderboard: EQN vs. EQN Landmark

Therein lies the rub.

Last August, when SOE Live was done, I was quite excited about EverQuest Next.  It was the big announcement out of the event.  I wrote ~2,500 words about EQN, less than 100 of which were about Landmark, which was a Minecraft-esque tool set pseudo-game that I did not quite understand.

Firiona Vie makes it to 2013

The EverQuest Next Vision

I did not really care about Landmark.  I wanted the core game that was described at SOE Live.  The one that was… well… a freakin’ EverQuest MMORPG, with emergent AI and a new class system and all the things they presented.

I worried that, after the huge splash the EQN announcement made at SOE Live, that SOE would follow past patterns and let the excitement die off through neglect.

And, I guess if I am speaking strictly of of EQN, my worries were well founded.  EQN has been relegated to a series of banal survey questions that the same few people debate on their forums.  Such is the Round Table.  It apparently only seats about a dozen.

However, if we just follow from SOE Live, then excitement has been maintained to a certain extent… only occasionally interrupted by the usual SOE foibles… if we include Landmark in the picture.  Since SOE Live, Landmark has grown to take up almost the whole of the SOE marketing and community interaction effort.  At this point somebody stumbling onto the scene might justifiably conclude that EQN is just shorthand for EverQuest Next Landmark.

So I am… well… “frustrated” or “annoyed” are too strong… bemused, I guess, that SOE led with EQN at SOE Live, talking that up a great deal, only to let it fall by the wayside while all focus was devoted to Landmark, which looked like an adjunct product at the time of the announcement.

Yes, I understand that SOE ought to focus their marketing on the project shipping soonest… these days we ship at alpha and charge people for the privileged… and that there is an audience for Landmark… but dammit, they talked about this other thing I wanted and now barely acknowledge its existence.  Validate my selfish needs, damn you!

I guess I just fear another outcome like The Agency.