At the beginning of each new year I have a special post. Sometimes if it predictions. Some times it is demands. Last year I decided it should be questions.
I asked 12 questions of the new year. 12 questions for the year 2012.
I think it is time to see if I received any clear answers.
1. What fate awaits the Old Republic?
Love it, hate it, see it as a revolution in MMOs or as a symbol of that all is wrong, Star Wars the Old Republic is now a force to be reckoned with on the MMO landscape. It has everybody’s attention for good or ill. Where will it lead us?
That was the position at the beginning of the year.
Unfortunately, the answer since then seems to be “Over a cliff.” That cliff was described by the chart showing ongoing drops in total subscribers every quarter after launch.
Apparently story and voice acting will only keep people interested for so long. That works for a single player game. For a subscription game, not so much. And so the Tortanic began to sink, and it was heralded as the death of the subscription model for MMOs. They did announce an expansion, so they will have some content to sell along side action bars and raid access. But there do not seem to be clear blue skies on the horizon for SWTOR yet.
2. Can Blizzard stem the World of Warcraft subscription trend?
Sort of. The annual pass option, which got you a shiny mount and a free copy of Diablo III, kept at least a million people locked into their subscriptions. And while numbers still fell, they rebounded some with the release of the Mists of Pandaria expansion. The peak of “over 12 million” appears to be in the past, but 10 million isn’t so bad.
And, of course, WoW still rakes in cash like no other MMO out there. Reports of the death of the subscription model may be a bit premature.
3. Will Free to Play continue to be the gold mine/panacea for subscription games?
Panacea? It certainly seems so. SOE has thrown in fully for the free model, bringing all their titles save the original PlanetSide into the fold. And certainly SWTOR is looking to that model to rescue it and revive their fortunes.
Is it a gold mine though? Early reports from the LOTRO transition to F2P seemed to indicate that there was indeed gold to be had. However, since then, there appears to have been some iron pyrite mixed in with the real thing, leading companies to try and cast an ever wider net to get players to buy their RMT currency and then turn around and spend it in their cash shop.
LOTRO, which at least lets you earn their RMT cash in-game, went towards the odious prize boxes and started suggesting things like the hobby horse mount.
SOE screwed up their RMT currency so badly with heavy discounts that they had to stop selling premium memberships and expansions in Station Cash.
And reports I have read indicate that SWTOR might not have figured out the magic formula for F2P success quite yet either.
So there appears to be a lot more work to be done on the F2P front. Merely being F2P is no longer enough, as there are a lot of choices out there.
Companies keep bringing their games to the F2P altar, but that alone is no longer enough.
4. Who will really win the “Just Like Diablo” battle of 2012?
It depends on what you value.
I started to write a full post about it with the objective of declaring Diablo III the winner, but only on technicalities. Basically, it does more to capture the atmosphere of Diablo II, while at the same time doing the most to destroy the game. It just feels more like Diablo II, if you ignore the auction house, the always online aspect, the need to play through the game repeatedly in order to get to the most challenging game play, and a few other things.
That said, I think Torchlight II is, overall, a better game if you take the “heir to Diablo II” aspect out of the picture. It doesn’t get anywhere close on story or atmosphere compared to Diablo II, but it managed to avoid the manifold mistakes of Diablo III while being light, fun, and full of options denied the players of Diablo III.
Basically, the answer for me is that neither game really wins the “Just Like Diablo” crown, mostly because it just isn’t the year 2000 any more, so neither game could really have the same impact.
5. When will we lose a game to hacking?
We seem to be safe from this still, at least on the MMO front. Lots of security breaches, but I haven’t read about a game completely brought down and destroyed, never to run again because of hacking.
So the only answer here I suppose was, “Not yet.”
6. Will SOE remain the only player in the MMO nostalgia game?
This stems from the Fippy Darkpaw time locked progression server, about which I have posted often.
And my answer up until last week would have been “Yes.” SOE is the only purveyor of MMO nostalgia. I even got impatient by mid-year and went after the issue in a blog post.
After all, it seems like WoW could make a bundle with a similar scheme. There are literally dozens of private WoW servers out there trying to recreate the “old” WoW, that being anywhere from day one to before Cataclysm. I spent a bit of time on the Emerald Dream server and can vouch for the cathartic effect of playing an old-school version of the game.
But no such official venture looks to be forthcoming.
And then Turbine showed up with Asheron’s Call 2, fresh from the crypt, electrodes bolted on firmly in an attempt to create life where there was none.
I am not sure if it is quite the same thing, but it is something. And it is nostalgic.
So SOE does not own the MMO nostalgia market completely.
7. Will Guild Wars 2 be the game changer in the MMO market in 2012?
Well, a lot was promised for Guild Wars 2. But did it really change anything?
I have seen a number of GW2 fans lauding The Secret World for adopting the GW2 revenue plan, conveniently ignoring all the details that prove that they did no such thing. Yes, there is the “buy the box” aspect for a free to play game that sure sounds a lot like GW2. But what about the continuing monthly subscription model that unlocks things and hands out RMT currency as a reward? That sounds a lot like an SOE game, doesn’t it?
I suspect that the “buy the box” aspect was a requirement only because they admitted they did not make their sales numbers, so it is either throw away all those boxes or find a way to keep selling them.
And, if we’re honest with ourselves, the “buy the box” plan was from Guild Wars, not GW2, so rationalize harder please.
Anyway, I think it is too early to tell. GW2 only launched at the end of August, which didn’t leave a lot of time for anybody to react to anything they did in 2012, conspiracy theories not withstanding.
Maybe next year?
8. Will CCP ever be anything but the company that makes EVE Online?
Of course, they also helped make Lazy Town, right? Next question.
Okay, yes, DUST 514. It looms. It seems like it could be something some day. But that day was not this year. So I can only say, “We shall see.”
Call me when DUST 514 is a thing and maybe I will be able to build enough enthusiasm to download it.
9. What will the earth shattering MMO announcements be in 2012?
I have to go with NCsoft shutting down City of Heroes, SWTOR going free to play, and Turbine reviving Asheron’s Call 2.
Oh, and that 38 Studios fiasco. An MMO that never was will never be.
10. Will MMOs get redefined in new and interesting (or bad and annoying) ways?
No, nothing new here, move along.
Okay, maybe PlanetSide 2 moved the ball a few inches down field with a really massive online shooter. But what else was there really?
11. Are we every going to get another decent MMO news podcast?
12. What will Lord British do next?
Apparently jump on board the Zynga train just as it drives over a cliff. Timing is everything in comedy!
So those are my questions and the answers as I see them. I am sure somebody will remind me of a few items I missed… or will want to argue about Diablo III vs. Torchlight II. But that is about it for me.
Now to consider next year’s post.