Category Archives: Star Citizen

The Perils of Entering the MMORPG Market

The MMORPG market has been rolling along for about 25 years at this point, depending on when you want to start counting.  I like to think of Meridian 59 as the starting point of the things, but you could make arguments that the roots of the genre go back to MUD1 or Island of Kesmai or any of a number of antecedents. 

Live in 95 is you count early access

But M59 was an early, commercial, 3D world MMORPG and, to the point of this post, while I haven’t seen anybody running a server for a while, the code is out there and the game could reappear if somebody felt the need to bring it back.

And that is kind of the problem here.  Fans of the genre tend to bemoan its stagnation and blame WoW or free to play or whatever for the fact that things can seem stale.  But the real problem is that old games don’t go away, or at least not fast enough.

Leaving aside M59, the next game on the list is Ultima Online, which will turn 24 years old come September.  Unlike M59, it is still there, ready to play.  It has been hanging out all this time, holding onto a group of players that might otherwise have gone off to explore other games… or maybe they have and then returned… and generally holding its own in a corner of the market.  I mean, EA owns it (Broadsword just has a contract to run it), so if it isn’t making some sort of return it wouldn’t be around.

That is, of course, a core aspect of the MMORPG space, games as a service, where players have an ongoing relationship with your game as it grows and evolves.  But games that make the transition to success and achieve financial stability tend to stick around forever. 

Scott Jennings gave a presentation at IDGA Austin back in 2014 titled Let It Go – A Modest Proposal, which I would link to if I could find it again (maybe here or here), which suggested that maybe these games shouldn’t hang around forever, that maybe it doesn’t make anybody happier or healthier to perpetuate these games past a certain point, that maybe there ought to be an exit strategy, a denouement, an end to the story.

Wishful thinking.  The only sure exit is to stop being profitable, and even that is no sure exit.  The fans, unwilling to let go themselves, will build their own private/pirate servers just to prolong the experience.  I would suggest that it is easier to list shuttered titles that don’t have some sort of emulator or server project running except that I am not sure I could even list one title.  Club Penguin maybe?  Is there a Club Penguin emulator out there?

We have reached a point in the genre where farming nostalgia for the old days and the old ways and the old experiences is a certified path to keep the fans on board and paying. (Because, it turns out, they’ll make emulators for that too if you won’t provide it yourself.)  So we have EverQuest progression servers, WoW Classic, Old School Runescape, Aion Classic, and others out there serving that portion of the user base.

As Jennings pointed out, these games have come to belong, emotionally at least, far more to the fans than the companies. It is their experiences and histories now and they won’t let it go.  It almost isn’t up to the company anymore because the fans will take matters into their own hands if the developers won’t cooperate.  And if the game is going to be running in some form with or without the studio, the studio might as well keep its hand in and make some money from an official version rather than losing what control they do have.

So the market never really contracts.  Nearly everything that ever was is out there in some form.  Think of all the video games you played over the last 25 years and how many of them are viable and playable still today.  Yes, nostalgia farming has arrived in the rest of the industry and we have some remasters and 4K remakes of older games, but I cannot go back and play every game. Of the ones I can, anything over a certain age that had some form of online support has probably lost that aspect of the game.  As an example, literally every Pokemon DS/3DS title has lost its online support.

But if you want to play The Sims Online or Dungeon Runners or most any past title, there is probably a project out there for you.

Which brings me around, at last, to the point I think I was aiming for when I started out this wall of text, which is what does this mean for new games in the genre.  One of the complaints about MMORPGs is that there is nothing new, nothing interesting, nothing different, just the same old stuff, mostly WoW or WoW knock-offs, along with a few pre-WoW titles.

But, in a market segment where nothing ever dies and the fan base is constricted by the level of commitment the genre demands (a “causal MMORPG player” is almost an oxymoron) where is the incentive to actually try something new, to invest in something in an increasingly fragmented and entrenched field?

I do not have an answer, and the fact that most of the Kickstarted, will arrive some day (just not today), titles that some have pinned their hopes on all seem to be grounded solidly in nostalgia doesn’t strike me as a hopeful sign.  Pantheon, Star Citizen, Camelot Unchained, and others all carry the message “Remember that cool thing we did nearly 20 years ago? We’re going to do it again!”

Thus endeth the genre, drowning in a pool of nostalgia, always asking for something new and never getting it because nobody seems to want it.

I suppose this should be a warning to the rest of the industry, which has been going down the path to games as a service for a while now.  I saw a quote from Chris Livingston at PC Gamer about Grand Theft Auto V about how he had by this point completely forgotten the original story of the game having spent so many years since in the sprawling open world content of the game.  And there it is on SuperData’s digital revenue charts every month.  It has essentially become an MMORPG in all but name.

So the question, to which I most assuredly do not have an answer, is can we get out of this situation?  Has the genre become like the RTS genre before it or, I would argue, the MOBA genre now, where the dominate players have so defined the genre that it is locked into stagnation?  And, were something fresh and new to come along that fit within whatever definition you might choose for MMORPG, could we pry enough people away from the treasured memories long enough for it to find an audience?

Reviewing my 2020 Predictions

It is that time of year where I go back to my post from the first of the year where I have generally thrown out some rash ideas as to what might come to pass over the next twelve months.

2020 banner by my daughter

There is a long history of this around here:

I am generally wrong on most of my predictions, though I usually excuse/rationalize those predictions as just a thought experiment as to what might happen.

This year however, I ended up being more wrong than usual, and that is in part because I failed to predict the global pandemic.  COVID 19, the Cornavirus, has done me in, figuratively if not yet literally.

Anyway, it is still that time of year, so I’ll go through the predictions and see if I managed to score any hits at all and where I was thwarted by the ‘rona.

Each prediction is worth 10 points if correct, unless otherwise noted, and partial credit is available.

1 – Daybreak Up

When your predictions don’t come to pass… well, maybe you were just ahead of your time.  So I am going to recycle this one.  By the end of the year Daybreak Games won’t exist in its current form.  New owners, new acquisitions, new partners, or just spun out into a couple smaller studios built on geographical locations (San Diego and Austin being the basis), there will be drastic changes.

Not so much.  I mean sure, they did their little internal studio division thing, and tried to declare them “indies,” so now we have Darkpaw, Rogue Planet, and Dimensional Ink “studios,” but they’re all effectively the same company.  Daybreak even acquired another studio this year.  No parts were sold off… individually at least.  We’ll get to the who shebang later.  But otherwise they seemed to hang on.  Did they even have a layoff in 2020?   If not I suspect that was due to the ‘rona boom in video games.  0 points.

2 – Norrath Forever

Pessimism about the company overall aside, I expect the EverQuest franchise, fresh off a couple of big anniversaries, to continue humming along as before no matter where it lands.  There will be the usual content updates mid-cycle, a special server launch for each, and then the standard end-of-year expansions for each game.  You don’t mess with things that are working.

This one on the other hand pretty much came to pass.  I guess I covered myself both ways, but I have to have a gimme or two so I don’t completely zero out.  10 points.

3 – Struggling Royales

H1Z1 and PlanetSide Arena will both be toast on the PC platform.  I wrote this before we got the word on PSA.  I won’t take half credit up front.  The burden will just be on H1Z1 or Z1 Battle Royale or whatever it is called now, to prove me wrong.

How is H1Z1 still alive?  I guess it is still rolling okay on PS4, but I can’t even take some partial credit for the PC side getting shut down.  More ‘rona bonus?  0 points.

4 – PlanestSide Promises

Daybreak has been telling people they will have a big PlanetSide 2 related announcements in the new year.  But no matter what they announce, it will fall flat.  Daybreak has another game in decline and cannot figure out what to do about it.  I guess when your only answers in your bag are “battle royale” and “retro server,” you are kind of stuck.  What else do they have?  PlanetSide 2 on the Switch?  Expect little and you won’t be disappointed.

PlanetSide 2 seems to be rolling along under the Rogue Planet banner.  It got some updates over the year.  I don’t think there was anything that qualified as a big announcement. I mean, they were hinting that PlanetSide Arena would lead to PlanetSide 3 and we’re nowhere close to that.  Do outfit wars and shattered warp gates get there?  I think the biggest surprise was how many people actually play the game… and how few pay.  I’m giving myself 5 points here as it was just business as usual.

5 – Unexpected Party

Standing Stone Games will take a page from their… well… we still aren’t sure how Daybreak and SSG are connected so lets just say “partners” for now… partners in San Diego and roll out a new special rules Lord of the Rings Online server.  Like Blizz, SSG needs something splashy for LOTRO for its non-expansion years and the 2018 LOTRO Legendary server went pretty well for them.  However, rather than just replaying the nostalgia card once more they will make up a much more convoluted rule set for this new server.  It will go badly.

Nope.  SSG just goes on and on telling people that they can’t make a real retro server while they let the current one languish.  Instead they wrapped a game update and a quest pack with a $99 bow and called it an expansion.  0 points for me, though we do know how they are connected to Daybreak now.

6 – Avatar’s Shroud

Lord British has washed his hands of the whole thing and the new company (Catnip Games, no doubt because you’d have to be on drugs to think things are going well) has already reneged on more promises, a sign that times are bad for this strange, very much not for everyone title.  I expect that online play will be shut down before the end of the year, leaving backers with local single player as their only option.

Once again I see the hand of the ‘rona here saving another title that seems to be slipping into oblivion.  Lord British is still long gone, but the servers still seem to be up.  This will probably be the last time I ever mention this game in a post, unless it falls over dead.  0 points.

7 – Shadowlands Forseen

I am calling an August 18th launch for the next WoW expansion, Shadowlands.  That month has become the Blizz sweet spot for WoW launches.  Not a lot else tends to launch in August, there is the summer for pre-expansion events, and things tend to settle down by BlizzCon when the company likes to start talking about the next thing.  2 points lost for every week I am off the date.

Not even freaking close.  Who knew back in January that Blizz would decide to break the “time between expansions” record for the franchise?  Not me.  I can’t even blame the ‘rona for this… much.  I guess work from home might have slowed down progress.  Still, 0 points.

8 – BlizzCon Announcements

Read my lips: No new games.  Just reworks, remasters, and expansions of the current games and franchises.  Maybe a mobile version of something… a tablet version of StarCraft or a watered down phone game with a Warcraft theme… but nothing new.  Need more pylons.

No BlizzCon, no BlizzCon announcements.  My cynicism was wasted as the ‘rona did for this event.  0 points.

9 – Diablo Before

At BlizzCon there will talk about Diablo IV, along with some art and a bit of game play video.  What there won’t be is a release date announced in 2020.

Again, no BlizzCon, 0 points.

10 – Wait of Immortals

For reasons that will not be disclosed, Diablo Immortal will fail to ship again in 2020.

Hah!  Cynicism pays off this year at last!  10 points.  Booyah!

11 – Classic Future

At BlizzCon, and not one minute before, Blizzard will announce a very conservative, no dates given save for maybe with a hint towards summer of 2021, plan for a classic server based on The Burning Crusade.

No BlizzCon… have I said this enough already?  0 points.

12 – Activision Encroachment

By the end of the year the Battle.net launcher will feature the Activision logo more prominently as it becomes the Activision-Blizzard launcher.  No need for the team in Santa Monica to roll out their own launcher when the team in Irvine already has one.

No logo change yet… but there are FOUR freakin’ Call of Duty titles on the launcher.  I’m giving myself 2 points for that.

13 – New Eden in Decline

As mentioned before, CCP has gone into a very tactical phase of development with EVE Online.  That isn’t a bad thing.  The game needs it.  But there is no vision for the game, no future path being sketched out, and space nerds require optimism and forward motion.  Retaining another percent or two of new players won’t help much if the old guard can’t pass on enthusiasm to them.  I expect the 2020 PCU and MER numbers to show a slow, consistent decline.

It was looking this way… and then came the ‘rona surge and the PCU popped through the 40K mark for the first time since 2017.  0 pointsEVE is dying, but not any time soon.

14 – The Eternal POS

CCP will fail to remove the storied Player Owned Starbase from New Eden yet again.  They are growing exceedingly rare, but they are still out there.

I’ll be going on POS shoots until I retire it seems.  With the war on they aren’t even all that rare.  10 points.

15 – CSM XV

The usual round of CSM election nonsense will carry on.  In the end, it will be eight null sec representatives dominating the council again, with any null sec incumbent that runs getting returned.

Well, seven null sec representatives dominating the council in any case, and one incumbent, Sort Dragon, didn’t make the cut, though he was an alternate and only got on after Killah Bee dropped out.  3 points for being somewhat close.  I don’t think the ‘rona had any influence here, except for increasing voter turnout.

16 – HyperNet Relay End Point

CCP will shut down its HyperNet Relay within a  year of it launch due to issues related to local gambling regulations, which will be spurred by the situation in the next prediction.  It is always a risk to chain predictions together, but I’ll go there yet again.

Nope.  The in-game gambling mechanism has turned into an in-game scam machine where the people listing buy most of the tickets, get their item back when they win it, and make some ISK from the few suckers who bought in.  There is nothing EVE players cannot corrupt.  0 points.

17 – Gacha Movement

After predicting no movement on lockboxes and gambling for a few years now, the pot seems to have heated up enough that the frog might be in trouble in 2020.  My assumption up to this point has been that the industry wouldn’t be dumb, that the ESA would promise that the industry would police itself with a few concrete proposals while dumping a lot of contributions on key political players.  But the industry has been greedy and dumb and arrogant and even antagonistic, what with “surprise mechanics” and trying to upstage hearings on the subject by loudly announcing a set of empty promises.  You have to look contrite and helpful in order to give politicians the cover they need to roll over and take your bribes contributions.  Also it is a presidential election year in the US, so politicians will be looking for softball issues to champion, and when the NRA is telling you that video games cause violence…  Anyway, the industry is going to have to actually put up something real to avoid regulation beyond Belguim.  Look at what happened to Juul when politicians decided it was a safe vote getter to jump on vaping.

Turns out politicians have better things to do during a global pandemic that worry about video games.  The ‘rona strikes again.  The world was distracted enough that EA thought it was a good idea to put a lockbox ad in a kids toy catalog.  Way get attention back on the topic.  Still, nothing really changed.  I should have kept betting against Gevlon on this.  0 points.

18 – Guild Wars Decline

With the contractions and departures at ArenaNet, Guild Wars 2 will potter along with small updates, bits of content dressed up as living story seasons, and replays of tried and true things like the Super Adventure Box.  The game won’t be in “maintenance mode” the way Guild Wars is, but it will be clear a year from now that its heyday has passed.

Everything got a boost during the ‘rona, but then Mike O’Brien left to form a new company called Mana Works and… well, I don’t pay close enough attention.  I know the Super Adventure Box came back for another visit.  But there was also that End of Dragons expansion thing, so I guess that was a “no.”  0 points.

19 – City of Villains

NCsoft will finally make a public announcement about the City of Heroes servers out in the wild using the original code.  It will come from a lawyer and will include the words “cease” and “desist.”  NCsoft will attempt to stomp out these servers and will force them to be much lower profile than they have been in 2019.  But they won’t go away.  Software, once freed, is very difficult to contain.

Nope.  Can’t even blame the plague.  0 points.

20 – New World Order

Amazon’s New World will be delayed past May to launch in the fall.  Once launched it will be… fine.  An Ark: Survival Evolved kind of game, probably what Smed wishes H1Z1 had been like at launch.  It won’t break any new ground and after a flash at launch will fade into the crowd, successful but not headline worthy.

I actually thought about starting to write this post back when New World was delayed until fall.  I seemed to be right on the money.  And then the can got kicked down the road again, this time into 2021.  5 points for being right for half the year.

21 – Won’t Ship Yet Again

The following titles won’t go live or otherwise be available to customers in any way that we would agree on was complete.  Early access, open beta, or eternal alpha states do not count.  Two Points per title.

  • Camelot Unchained
  • Crowfall
  • Torchlight Frontiers
  • Dual Universe
  • Anything at all from Chris Roberts

I’ll go negative points on that last one if he ships two things.  But I think we all know that isn’t going to happen.

I could argue that nothing called Torchlight Frontiers shipped, but there is that pesky, and apparently mediocre Torchlight III running around.  Still, the others were not a tough call.  This is sort of me annual “I dare you to ship!” category.  8 points.

22 – GameStopped

The only way GameStop is going to be around a year from now is if they shed enough weight to make it into the Christmas season.  Black Friday might as well be “life or death” Friday for them.  But I don’t think they will make it that far unscathed.  In order to get the freedom of movement required to get that far they are going to have to declare chapter 11 bankruptcy.  That will let them get out of store leases and give them the breathing room to carry on.  But even then they will be a shell of their former selves by the time I write up the results post come December.

I thought this one was a freakin’ shoe-in back in January.  GameStop looked to be on its last legs.  And then the ‘rona hit and video games became essential toward maintaining our sanity.  GameStop, like gun stores, was on the essential businesses list.  And now Microsoft has invested in them.  They live to fight another day.  0 points.

23 – Steam Engine

Life as usual for Steam.  The four usual seasonal sales.  Epic will keep sniping away and trying to get people to pay attention by throwing free games at them while most people will still see Steam as the default source of PC games.  It is the post office of gaming.  Steam will continue to revise their game acceptance policy, but otherwise carry on as always with no big changes in 2020.

I guess.  This gets back to the idea that predictions, like team goals, should be measurable.  Maybe if I paid closer attention I could make a hard call one way or the other, but I am going to just go with the fact that it feels like this happened and give myself half credit.  5 points.

Bonus Prediction – Guild Wars 3 Announced

Sure, why not?  Guild Wars 2 is slowly ebbing, NCsoft needs something to keep fans in that area happy, and I am sure there is a crew around that believes they have learned enough from GW2 to do it RIGHT this time!  They don’t have to ship anything.  At most they have to do some hand waving about another monuments thing for specific achievements, which will get people grinding away again.  Give me 10 bonus points if this comes to pass, though it is so out there that I ought to ask for more.

Ha ha ha ha… no.  0 points.

Super Double Bonus Prediction – PA buys Daybreak

This one came up a couple months back when Daybreak was registering new names for itself and CCP announced that EVE Vegas was going to become EVE San Diego.  The obvious (to me) conclusion was that Pearl Abyss MUST be buying Daybreak and then merging their fan events together.  I left this as a comment and it became a post over at Massively OP.  I figured I ought to codify it here as a prediction.  Have a couple of drinks and say it three times fast and it sounds pretty logical.  And if it comes to pass I want 20 bonus points.

It was a wild conspiracy theory when I made it, but I still had a hope that it might come to pass.  But no, Pearl Abyss did not bit.  But then EG7 came along and bough them!  I am going to give myself 1 Point for at least being right about them being acquired in 2020.

That gives me 59 points out of a total of 230 possible, not counting bonus points against me.  That gives me a 26% correct ratio, which is pretty bad considering how many of those picks I thought were gimmes back in January.

But it is still a tiny bit better than my 2017 picks, so not my worst year ever.

And now to consider what 2021 will bring.

Will the ‘rona boom continue for a while?  What will happen if the vaccines are a success and we can all go back to work, school, travel, and the other activities we’ve been denied over the last year or so?  Are video games going to take a hit when we can all go out to eat and see movies again?  Will there be any theaters operating in 2021?

Quote of the Day – This Cynicism is Inconceivable!

My biggest disappointment with modern internet discourse is that there’s a significant amount of cynicism, especially in forum or reddit debates, and a portion of people assume the worst.

-Chris Roberts, forum post in response to player complaints

This is one of those “irony is dead” moments.

I mean, I’ll give him his “you’re looking at this from the outside” so you don’t know what is really going on, which is true enough.  But that also speaks to transparency.  We’re on the outside looking in, so we depend on what Chris Robert’s and his team tells us.

We are now eight and a half years down the road from the Kickstarter campaign, almost six years past the promised launch date, with a game that is still in alpha, with many promised features not yet available, and which has consistently and repeatedly missed promises.  All the while, Chris Roberts has milked his following for $300 million for a game that hasn’t shipped yet.

In that atmosphere, it seems comically oblivious to bemoan the state of cynicism on the internet when his actions have created a situation where cynicism is the natural, normal response.  Chris Roberts is in a world of his own making.  To whine about people not believing him after he has, to be polite, misinformed people since day one strains credulity.

Yes, I get the optimism inherent in software development, and can wax for pages about why it is more art that science and how almost any big project is built on a foundation of quicksand.  But at some point your optimism starts to work against you.  The people you’re trying to keep with you will get to one blown promise, one missed date, one broken feature too many and will feel the fatigue of the effort of believing.  You will lose their trust, they will turn on you, and they won’t believe any more of your empty statements.  You don’t have to be Derek Smart to figure out that the plan is a lie and that the milestones of progress are mirages that remain firmly fixed on the horizon.

And he cannot stop.  At the end of his post he says:

I can promise you the gameplay I described is not a pipe dream, nor will it take 10 to 20 years to deliver

We’re already more than eight years down the road, so ten years seems like optimism at this point.  How can you even write that and not feel your fingers burn from the self-delusion?

So my gut response to the quote at the top of the page is, “Tough shit!  You made this bed, you sleep in it!”

Seriously, the cynicism is there because he and his team have repeatedly promised people things that have failed to come to pass.  Most people are not stupid enough to keep believing every new promise after so many have been broken.  Some will, because they have invested so much in the projected, financially and/or emotionally, but a rational person will stop accepting things at face value from somebody with a track record like Chris Roberts.

And it isn’t like Chris Roberts is alone in this arena.  I lost my faith in Camelot Unchained earlier this year when Mark Jacobs announced that they were working on another gameCU was already in the years delayed category as well, having also failed to meet many milestones, so credulity was at the breaking point.

Then there was Lord British, who pushed out Shroud of the Avatar and ran, leaving backers with something that didn’t much match what was promised up front, save in the most general ways.

Nearly every crowd funded MMO projected has disappointed and sowed the seeds of discontent along the way.  I am surprised when anybody these days even floats the idea of crowd funding an MMO because it has been proved to be a path to disappointment.

And this is cast against a culture of undeserved hype from the video game industry overall, of over promising and under delivering, of demos that don’t reflect reality, and of reviews where the acceptable score range to keep your site in game company advertising is 8-10 out of 10, that has laid a groundwork of cynicism.  A game developer must sail in a sea of skeptics who will doubt their every promise because so many before them have polluted the waters.

Chris Roberts ought to know this.  He has been in game development since the late 80s.  He should know better.

But apparently he does not.  And so he whines about the unfairness of it all, this cynicism that he helped create.

Get Your Camelot Unchained Refund Now

The thing that kind of separated the ongoing bullshit that comes out of Chris Roberts around Star Citizen and Camelot Unchained was that at least the latter had not gone down the rampant feature creep path.

Because, otherwise, there are a lot of similarities between the two projects… and the two personalities.  Even their previous games were failures that they blamed on their corporate overlords, but now that they run the show the projects keep spinning out into infinity and you start to feel their overlords might have had a point.  With nobody holding them to their plans they do as they please.

And then yesterday Mark Jacobs told the world in an interview over at Massively OP that his company, City State Entertainment, has been working on another game for the last half of a year. It is named Colossus or Ragnarok or something… it isn’t clear… and boy was it a surprise.

If that isn’t the ultimate in feature creep, I don’t know what is.  They now have two in development games with no ship date instead of just one.  This is not progress.

In the interview Mark says in the same sentence that the new game both has and has not slowed down Camelot Unchained, which means that it has and he is just spinning bullshit now.  He learned well from his time at EA I guess.

I thought maybe his bit of pre-Kickstart campaign self-flagellation about Warhammer Online, where he sort of took a bit of the blame on his shoulders, meant something.  But it clearly didn’t.  In looking back I had forgotten how, despite everything, he still clung to the Metacritic score the game got at launch, like he was holding out for a “Best Score for an Otherwise Failed Game” award at GDC or something.

So now Camelot Unchained is just fantasy Star Citizen in my eyes, minus the broken alpha demo content you can play.  It is put up or shut up for them both.  Until they ship something real it is all just bullshit.

The difference for me is that I am in on Star Citizen for the minimum bid, but I pledged a lot more for Camelot Unchained and I am feeling all the more the sucker for the faith I showed.

I want a refund.

City State Entertainment says on their FAQ page that they will give people refunds.  Just send an email to support@citystateentertainment.com asking for one.  You won’t get the full amount back.  They will subtract the fees the incur giving you the refund, but at least you ought to get something back.  And it is about the only message one can send that Mark won’t just hand wave away.

We shall see what I get in response.  I expect them to stonewall me on the request.   And I will certainly post updates here on how it goes.

I had already pledged never to Kickstart an MMO again, so I cannot really swear further on that.  But this certainly hasn’t done anything to soften my view on this.

Finally, I am curious that he went to Massively OP first for this announcement.  It isn’t like a gaming site with a bigger audience wouldn’t have been happy to have the scoop.  Did he expect it would slip by or that he would get a more favorable response going there?  The big sites will pick up the story anyway.

Related:

Quote of the Day – But Can You Do It Like This?

No one is attempting to do what we are doing, in the manner we are doing it, nor being as open about as we are.

Chris Roberts, October Letter from the Chairman

As reported over at Massively OP, Star Citizen having crossed the $200 million mark for crowd funding go a message from Chris Roberts about reaching that milestone.

In his post he warns people not to reduce his project down to just that $200 million number, though that is the attention getting headline for most news sites.

He spends some time going on about the current state of alpha and the upcoming sixth anniversary event of the end of the original Kickstarter campaign (and the fourth anniversary of failing to meet the project deadline set by that Kickstarter I suppose) before getting into thanking everybody for believing in him and his project.

But the paragraph that stands out the most for me is the one that ends with the quote above.  Something about it does not ring true to me.

Is how you build a video game so important that you want to call it out?

I mean, I suppose there are extremes to compare it against.  Mark Pincus has told the tale of all he did to promote FarmVille, a game idea which, among other things, he pretty much stole from another developer.  So I guess saying you’re not as shitty as that is good, though if you’re selling inaccessible real estate and pictures of ship models people might be able to fly at some future date for a game that is in alpha, you are not exactly going to come of as a paragon of virtue, no matter how pure your intentions.

But I don’t think that is what he meant.

I think he was more about how they’re doing this whole project in front of a live audience, sharing details, promised, setbacks, and the reality of software development.  I guess that is something to brag about, though so is writing a novel while on a unicycle or while sitting at a desk while it is on fire.  That you can complete the task is interesting, but you have to ask if it was a method that yielded the best possible output.

People are impatient, the world is changing around you, and most of the audience has no idea how programming remains much more art than science these days.  Sometimes it is better to go off and work on something for a long stretch, then come back when you have some sort of solid foundation.

As for nobody being as open, I think Mark Jacobs and the Camelot Unchained team might have some words on that.

The Vulture Venture

This actually started up before I left on vacation and, honestly, I thought it would lose steam and fade away in a day or so.

But this involved Star Citizen, so drama blew up everywhere and proved once again that if you complain aggressively about some perceived slight you can get everybody to focus on it for a week or more.

I am, of course, referring to the Venture/Vulture design thing.

More than a week back Star Citizen announced a new ship called the Vulture from Drake Industries.

From Star Citizen, the Vulture

As images spread out on the web, those familiar with EVE Online noticed a decided similarity between that ship and the ORE industrial frigate in the game call the Venture.

From ORE the Venture

This led to some immediate poking of fun at Star Citizen, kicking off a couple dozen threads on /r/eve about the similarities of the ship (starting with this one I believe) as well as a tweak from CCP on Twitter.

This led to some rage from some parts of the Star Citizen community who protested that it was CCP that copied from some past Chris Roberts game, producing screen shots from the 1990s of something of a vaguely similar configuration while also tossing out any ship model they could find that featured twin booms out front to prove that the concept hasn’t been original for ages.

However, that barely had any impact as the EVE Online community made more memes and bad puns and pointed out more strange coincidences.

The Prospect is also the name of an ORE industrial ship in EVE Online, based off of the Venture, so Prospector is hitting close to home as well.

Meanwhile, on Reddit the two communities were… well… like this:

Smug versus Rage

The Star Citizen moderators on Reddit began banning people who brought up anything about the two ships, which only encouraged the EVE Online players.  The Star Citizen mods complained to the EVE Online mods and were said to have reported the /r/eve subreddit for vote brigading in an attempt to get it banned outright.  More fuel for the fire, more attention drawn to the issue, more memes.

Meanwhile CCP, never shy about poking some fun at other games, had another arrow in its quiver, putting up the Venture Capitalist SKIN Bundle in the New Eden Store.  The copy made pointed reference to the Venture which, in its cheapest form, will run you $120.

Head on over to the New Eden Store and pick up the “Venture Capitalist” SKIN bundle, which contains three Venture SKINs that are ideal for mining below the belt. Just beware of sneaky vultures attempting to swoop in and loot your assets!

The best part about this SKIN bundle is that it won’t cost you $120 – You can get all three of these SKINs for just 120 PLEX – that’s more than 50% off their total value when they’re sold separately!

Score a direct hit with that.  There is more in the post, but that is probably the bit most requiring AN application of burn cream.

However, CCP Falcon also posted a statement over in the Star Citizen subreddit to try and bring a little peace to the situation.  That seemed to be appreciated by the crew there and the whole things seemed to finally be receding from the forefront in both forums.  Of course, this spread everywhere, including the forums of other games in the genre like Elite: Dangerous.

Yes, this is all last week’s news, but I was away last week so I am catching up.  And no, I do not think RSI deliberately or directly copied a ship from EVE Online.  It would be dumb to lift a design from a game in the same space, so to speak, and it is too much to ask that every design be completely new and unique.  And, in any case, we know where this design really originated from:

Space Forklift Simulator 2009

More recently there has even been a LEGO version of the Venture… Vulture… one of them over on Reddit.

Other sites that dug in on this while I was away:

Friday Bullet Points Gaze into the Future

Another Friday where I have a few items that I could probably force into full length posts, but I just don’t have the stamina to get there.  So I will pack them into one post.

Truth in Advertising?

There was a recent Star Citizen weekly update from RSI that seemed to unintentionally confirmed my suspicions.

It barely feels like it has been 25 years

The update itself was a lore item about some in-game entity celebrating its 50th anniversary, but the first glace at the top of the message made me wonder if they were admitting it was going to take 50 years to get where they plan to go.

Apple and OpenGL

One tidbit that came up at Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference was the plan to deprecate OpenGL support with the Mojave release of the MacOS and in iOS 12.  This led to a panic about there being no more video games on the Mac.

I haven’t been to a WWDC since 1995…

OpenGL has been around for a long time and, among other things, its openess helped nVidia get in and dethrone 3dfx Interactive and their proprietary Glide API back in the day.  And deprecate doesn’t mean pulling it out wholesale.  It will still be there for a couple of years.  But if you find a problem or need an update, Apple isn’t going to help you.

Still, Apple will drop it eventually.  Past history says that will probably get announced in 2020 or so.  Apple would like you to use their Metal interface instead, and some companies have support for that on the way.  You can use Metal with World of Warcraft currently if your hardware and OS are current. (And probably should use it, as it fixes a crashing issue with WoW.)  But if you are a serious PC gamer you probably have a Windows partition on you Mac, if not a Windows machine already.

Blizzard and Diablo IV

It was noted that Blizzard had posted a job listing looking for a dungeon artist for an as yet unannounced Diablo project.  This led to a hysteria of complaints and the projection of personal feelings onto the idea.  Just Google “diablo iv” and look at the headlines. (And yes, I am going to call it Diablo IV at this point.)  Everything from “when are we going to get it?” to “Oh lord, no!” pops up.  So I figured I ought to note this as the week the controversy began.  We know nothing so far, but some people are already angry.

I for one welcome our new demonic overlords.

Despite the one-two punch of the auction house and the horrible itemization (the latter which I remain convinced was there to drive you to the auction house), Blizzard eventually got the game in order by killing the auction house and fixing itemization, making Diablo III a pretty decent game.  The “always online” bit is still annoying, but Blizz is hardly alone in demanding that.  And they have continued to tend the now six year old game, which is more than they ever did for Diablo II.  By any practical measure the game is a success and warrants a sequel. (It sold lots of copies on the PC and consoles.)

Hopefully Blizzard will run with what they have learned and stick with the roots of Diablo as the foundation for the next game rather than, say, making it a Battle Royale title or something.

Minecraft Subnautica

On a closer horizon, the Minecraft Java Edition 1.13 release, the Aquatic Update, looks to be slowly making its way to us.

Under the sea…

The update entered pre-release at the start of the week, whatever that means, so I think we should be getting the official release soon.  I have actually been avoiding our Minecraft server, knowing that I’ll want to go play when this hits.

Free Games for Amazon Prime Subscribers

In yet another benefit for Amazon Prime subscribers, you can now download any of five free games before the end of June.

Amazon Prime benefits

The games are Tumblestone, Treadnauts, Strafe, Banner Saga, and Banner Saga 2.  You need to have the Twitch client to download them (the Twitch client is what the old Curse client became when Amazon bought Curse… and Twitch) and you need to have linked your Twitch account to your Amazon account.  This sounds like a recurring deal, so there will likely be more games in the future as the Amazon Prime largess train continues on.

As an aside, the first version of this Amazon post I saw said it was six games.

Is it five or six?

However the image only shows five games and I didn’t click on the link until later, so I don’t know if there was a sixth game at one point, if a sixth game was planned but was removed and the word didn’t get out, or if it was always five games and somebody just messed up.  (h/t to Corr who first linked this to me and who had that second image handy.)

Pokemon Zygarde Download Event

Despite the impending end of Pokemon on the Nintendo 2DS/3DS, download events continue for the current core RPG titles.  During the month of June in the US you can go to your local GameStop for a download code for a shiny Zygarde.

Zygarde

This event is only for Pokemon Sun & Moon and Pokemon UltraSun & UltraMoon.  Instructions for claiming the legendary Pokemon are available at the Pokemon site.

Reviewing My 2017 MMO Outlook – What The Hell Happened?

Or will I be sitting here a year from now writing about how, once again, I mostly played EVE Online and Minecraft while alternating between World of Warcraft and EverQuest II for my fantasy fix?

-Me, about a year ago

I guess it sort of turned out that way.  That might be my most accurate prediction of the year, really.  I mean, I started out the year playing EverQuest II and here I am at the end of the year playing World of Warcraft.  I still dabble a bit in Minecraft, but I am between projects on that front.  And then there was EVE Online.

Going around on the same ride

So in my MMO Outlook post for 2017 I listed out a dozen titles, games I had either not played or had barely touched, with an eye to trying something new.  And did I play any of them?  Even one of them?

No!

Still, I am going to say that this isn’t entirely my fault.  Yes, I have been in something of a state of ennui when it comes to our favored genre, but lets go back down that list from a year ago and see what I was up against.  How likely was it that I could even play these games?

  1. Project: Gorgon – Not done yet
  2. Albion Online – Went live, but didn’t appeal
  3. MapleStory 2 – Still only in Korea
  4. Star Citizen – Hahahaha… some day maybe, but not any day soon
  5. Camelot Unchained – Nothing to play yet
  6. SkySaga: Infinite Isles – Development ceased
  7. Lost Ark – Not yet released
  8. Sea of Thieves – Target is 2018 now
  9. RuneScape – Unambiguously playable!
  10. Shroud of the Avatar: Unnecessary Secondary Title – What test release are we at this week?
  11. Life is Feudal – Seems to still be slated for 2017 as I write this
  12. Pantheon: Saga of Heroes – Just a vision and some demos

Given that list and my criteria that the game must be in some form of viable, released, not hiding in some criticism deflecting “beta” or “early access” mode while charging for the privilege state of affairs, I was left with two titles out of the dozen.

And that was even with setting the bar pretty low for fan favorite Project: Gorgon, which I said I would play regardless of state so long as it was together enough to be up on Steam.

No joy there.

So of that list of a dozen I could have realistically played two of them, Albion Online and RuneScape.  I’ve played a bit of RuneScape in the past, I just never went back to it while there was nothing on the feature list that attracted me to Albion Online.  Again, differentiation in fantasy MMORPGs is a pretty narrow thing these days.

My metaphor for MMOs… picture by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

So what they hell did I play in 2017?  I mean, besides EVE Online, Minecraft, and EverQuest II at the start then World of Warcraft at the end.

I actually did play a few other fantasy MMORPG titles.  Overall, this was what I played, month by month, on that front:

  • January – EverQuest II
  • February – EverQuest II at the start of the month
  • March – none
  • April – Glanced at LOTRO
  • May – Runes of Magic
  • June – Guild Wars 2
  • July – EverQuest II
  • August – LOTRO
  • September – very short bursts of LOTRO and Guild Wars 2
  • October – World of Warcraft
  • November – World of Warcraft
  • December – World of Warcraft

Nothing new.  Games I already had installed, save for Runes of Magic, and in which had some previous investment.  And none of them stuck for very long, save for WoW.

On the non-fantasy side, in addition to EVE Online, I played a little War Thunder and World of Tanks during the spring and summer, but not enough for it to be really noteworthy.

So that was it, which makes me wonder if I should continue the tradition of the “MMO Outlook” posts here at TAGN.  Is this sort of post simply a holdover from a time when new MMOs seemed full of promise, a tired attempt to relive past bouts of enthusiasm when I am fairly sure that the future only offers bland, “me too” alternatives that are barely alternatives at all in a world where World of Warcraft offers as much as it does?

Or is there something out there that I should be looking into, a star by which to navigate my online gaming obsession into the future?

Syp says he is “keeping an eye on” 44 different upcoming MMO and MMO-ish games, though for that number I’d have to consider it a pretty minimalist definition of the phrase.  But there are still things in the pipeline.  Hell, I could make an outlook post and just recycle ten of the twelve I had listed and call it a day.

Part of me thinks I should shelve the idea.  I have shown myself to be a creature of habit there being, to paraphrase the quote about Alexander, no vaguely interesting new worlds to conquer.   Cynicism is part of my makeup to be sure, and a conservatism and a strong sense of the past.  I still have more TorilMUD posts to finish.

But I have an optimistic side as well.  I want to believe there is something new and different and interesting and exciting possible, that somebody will turn a corner or find a new angle that will ignite a new spark in the genre.

We shall see how I feel.  It will likely be that or another post about pet battles.

Did you play anything new and different this year in the MMO sphere?  Is there something I should be paying attention to for the future?

Quote of the Day – The Optimism of Software Developers

Software developers at all levels tend to be optimistic – you have to be to build big things

Chris Roberts, EuroGamer interview

In my experience, developer optimism is the true state of affairs on every software project, big or small, and I can think of a few on which I have worked that wouldn’t have been started had we known up front how long they would take.

One of the tricks in managing software projects is understanding that the estimates that software developers give often need to be decoded to understand what the real number is likely to be.

There is an old saw about software project estimates that says you should take the time a developer says a task will take, double it, then go up a unit of measure.  So if your dev says it should take a day, you should assume it will be delivered in two weeks.

Of course you can’t develop a project plan that way.  If all your developer time estimates add up to a month and you say the project will take two years, you’re going to get fired.  And, in any case, with any software project you’ve probably been given the feature list and the deadline in advance, so you really have to start stack ranking features by importance to know where to focus.  Of course, marketing will rank every feature as a “1” so good luck there.

Still, if you know your team you’ll know how to interpret estimates.  You’ll know who chronically underestimates and who has other tasks that might interfere with the project.  I used to work with one dev who was always spot-on with his estimates of how long it would take him to finish any task.  The problem was that he was the key database guy on a product that was completely database driven, so spent more than half his time debugging field issues and helping out with new installations, tasks always deemed more critical than project work.  So his estimate of a day of effort for a task would be correct, you just wouldn’t know when he would have a day to focus on it.

And don’t even get me started on having a dependence on third party libraries and such.

Anyway, this is why most companies keep their projects vague and under wraps until they get close to launch.  Maybe a company will put out a road map with some general milestones, but even those tend to fall over beyond a six month window and get swept under the rug to be forgotten.

So running a project where you’re trying to do everything out in the open in front of customers… that way lies madness.  It would be nothing but outsiders kibitzing, asking for updates, and holding you to account for everything you’ve ever said would be a feature.

I am not sure why anybody would subject themselves to that.

Kickstarter MMO Metaphor

There were too many of us, we had access to too much equipment, too much money, and little by little we went insane.

Francis Ford Coppola, not at all describing Star Citizen

There is, even as I write this, a Kickstarer campaign running for a video game based on the movie Apocalypse Now.

ansplash

I have no real opinion when it comes to the game itself.  It might be the best game ever or allow one unique depth and perspective into the movie.  It might be all they promise and more.  I just know that it looks pretty sure that the campaign is not going to make its $900,000 funding goal.

Wilhelm’s Rule of Kickstarter campaigns is that if you don’t make 20% of your funding goal in the first 24 hours, you might as well go home.  You haven’t rallied your base or given enough notice or come up with the right pitch or simply just don’t have the draw to get there.

The campaign sits at 18% and is at day 14 of 30.  The prospects look grim.  They even have a backer in at the $10,000 mark, but not nearly enough backers in at the sane funding levels.

I didn’t even hear about the title through the gaming news media.  I stumbled on it by mistake on the Kickstarter site, and I was only there because I saw Bob Cringley had time to do another post on his blog so was wondering if he might have also found time to update people on when the hell their Mineservers might be showing up. (If ever.)

Still, when I found the campaign I had to laugh.

I wasn’t laughing at the campaign or what it was trying to accomplish.  Like I said, the intent there might be pure.

Rather, I was laughing at what a perfect metaphor the movie was for the big ticket, grandiose plans, uncontrolled feature creeping, perennially behind schedule, and always over budget crowdfunded MMORPG market.

And lets face it, the grand champion poster child for all of that is Star Citizen. You could make this it several others, but Star Citizen is the big fish, so let’s just go straight for the jugular on that one.

Every Star Citizen fan boy about to tell me Chris Roberts is a great man...

Every Star Citizen fan boy about to tell me Chris Roberts is a great man…

How can you have this thought… this mixing of media minds… and not put Chris Roberts up there in the role of Colonel Kurtz?  Surrounded by loyal followers who continue to give him money to driving a project that seems to have gone beyond being a viable venture.

I suppose if he could keep his posts a little more terse I might have to cast Derek Smart as Captain Willard.

They told me that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound.

-Capt. Willard, on meeting Col. Kurtz

That is a fun mental image to play with, but it is too much.  The movie is too large, too dramatic, too bloody, too wrought with peril to really be a metaphor for Star Citizen.  The real metaphor requires you to pull back a level, to consider the making of Apocalypse Now.

There is a great documentary about the making of the movie, Hearts of Darkness.  It illustrates the parallel between the theme of the movie and the reality of making the movie, with Coppola himself taking on the Kurtzian role, out in the jungle, making a movie that nearly grew beyond his ability to shape.

I can picture Chris Roberts in that situation as well.  He had a vision, but the scope may well have grown beyond his ability to shape and bring to fruition.  Some of the problem is letting things grow because the wider scope is what he really wants.  But not every problem is of his making.  Coppola in the jungle face expensive problems with sets, actors unprepared (Brando) or ill (Sheen had a heart attack) and a range of studio execs back in the states wondering what he was doing with all the money and reminding him that he was past his deadline.

For Chris Roberts you can substitute in technology not up to his vision, the need to build some things from scratch, the need to change engines, and of course a whole range of people wondering what he is doing with the money and pointing out that the promised November 2014 ship date disappeared in the rear view mirror quite a ways back.

Coppola got an enduring classic for all his problems, explosions, and a million feet of film.  We are still waiting to see what Chris Roberts will deliver.

And the irony is that the game that inspired this metaphor in my head, it isn’t going anywhere if it is depending on its crowdfunding run.  But it has been a down time for video game crowdfunding, so they might have to go back to more traditional methods.