Category Archives: World of Warcraft

Darkmoon Faire Once Again Gives Trade Skill Increases

Back during the summer, back when Blizzard was ramping things up for the Battle for Azeroth expansion, some changes landed for trade skills which, in a disturbingly typical lack of foresight, broke a couple of things.

As usual, the desire was to… well… not fix trade skill levels, but to make them less onerous.  So they were changed from one continuous level grind… you have to skill up the original classic and through all the expansion to get to the current trade skill options… to a discreet, expansion based set of skills.  This allowed you to go directly to the BfA harvesting and recipes without all that mucking about in the past.

The cost was, besides the usual amount of confusion, was breaking the ability to get your trade skill backlog filled in when you did a character boost.  I just missed the window before the change so my blood elf got boosted to 110.  I suppose at least I didn’t waste my time getting him to 60 before hand.

The other item was the trade skill boosts from the monthly Darkmoon Faire quests.

Behold, Darkmoon Faire

The problem there was that the quests still told you that you were getting a +5 skill bump for doing the quest there in the rewards, but when you did one and turned it in you found out that was a lie.

Almost six months down the road now, Blizzard has finally gotten around to addressing the Darkmoon Faire quests.  They have been updated so they actually give you a boost to your trade skills again.

An engineering boost

I was worried a bit when I saw that it specifically said “Kul Tiran” with relation to the skills that it might only apply to the current expansion.  However, when I rolled out a low level alt to try it, the quests for them did not specify “Kul Tiran” and when I turned them in they added skill points to their current focus.

Just a normal trade skill boost

That happened to be at the original WoW end of the trade skill spectrum.  My characters tend to be in the current expansion or in the 1-60 content.   Still, I managed to dig through and find somebody with a skill in the middle just to see if the quests correctly reflected all the new trade skill tiers.

An alt back in Draenor for fishing

Of course, this leads to another oddity of the new trade skill system.  That particular alt only had a fishing skill of 293 back under the old reckoning.  However, having built a garrison and fished a bit out in Draenor… fishing no longer being restricted by skill level, you can dip your pole anywhere… he had acquired the Draenor fishing skill, which basically opened up his skill bar all the the way up to that point.

However, under the new system he only has base game fishing, still at 293 and Draenor fishing, which is now at 6.

Fishing levels

I cropped together two screen shots for that, since it only shows the level for each when you mouse over them.  But it illustrates how changing one thing ends leaving ripples in your system if you’re not careful.  Can I get, for example, Northrend fishing with this guy now?  If I go train it, can I level it up?  If I go train Legion fishing, will that now be the target for the quests?  I am not certain.

Anyway, I am at least happy to see that Blizzard got around to restoring the trade skill boost for the Darkmoon Faire quests.  I am not sure that this update is going to get me to jump back in the game full time, but it did get me logged in to visit the faire with a few characters I suppose.  And given where trade skills have gone since Draenor, this is about all the advancement I am getting on that front.  But some advancement is better than none at all I suppose.

My MMO Outlook for 2019

I’m going to try this again.  It isn’t quite the famous quip about insanity being repeating an action and expecting different results, but the results have not always been spectacular.  Though, in my defense, that has on occasion not been my fault.

For those seeking a history of this particular post, I have a list:

This time around I am going to make this less of a goal setting session, where I declare I am going to run off and play some new games… or some old games… or some games in between that I have not played before.  Instead, this is going to attempt to be more predictive.

Didn’t I just do predictions yesterday?

Well, I didn’t attempt to predict what I was actually going to play in 2019, so this is a different avenue.  I’ll open up with the usual suspects.

Easy Picks

  • EVE Online

Pretty much a lock since I played it 12 out of 12 months in 2018.  If I log in today and play, I’m covered, and it seems likely that I will do so and continue to do so over the course of the year.  As long as Reavers deploy a couple of times I’m probably good.

  • Pokemon Go

The other game I played pretty much daily throughout 2018.  It helps that this is the one video game that my wife and I play together.  Also happens to be the only active Pokemon title on a platform I own, since Nintendo is abandoning the handheld model and throwing everything onto the Switch.  Not that I am bitter or anything.

  • WoW Classic

I think this one is a no-brainer.  I will certainly subscribe and log in for the spectacle that will be the launch of WoW Classic.  The real question is how bad will it be?  I don’t mean to suggest there will be any glaring lack of fidelity.  I feel Blizz will be about as true to the idea as they can be.  The question will be how slammed will the servers be and how fragmented will the community end up as Blizz opens up more and more servers?

  • WoW Not-So-Classic

This one is likely a gimme as well.  While Battle for Azeroth just didn’t capture me, the fact that the same subscription will get you into both WoW and WoW Classic makes it very likely that I will log into the former to play.  There will probably be a boost in people on regular WoW servers corresponding to the length of the server queues on WoW Classic.

  • Lord of the Rings Online

Lifetime subscription and the Legendary server… and the fact that I am still playing it right now, if not as actively as I was when the server kicked off… makes this another shoe-in for the list.  I may not last once it gets past Moria, but up until then I am probably in.

Somewhat Likely

After those titles we get into a more gray area.  Still, there are some candidates that don’t seem to be complete long shots.

  • EverQuest II

If things go badly for Daybreak, or if they have a good plan for the 15th anniversary of the game, it seems reasonable that I will be in for either a last look or another visit.

  • Project: Gorgon

The game I keep meaning to play seriously but somehow never quite get to.  I own it already, always a plus, and it gets good marks for its quirky nature.

  • Minecraft

Our server has been pretty quiet for the last year, but the panda update is coming.  That might at least get me back on long enough to scout out a bamboo grove to find them.  Technically not an MMO, but close enough.

Wildcards

Titles that might happen, if certain conditions come to pass… being something other than early access garbage being a key item.  I’m trying not to encourage the developer line about, “I’ll gladly ship on Tuesday if you’ll just buy my game today” by paying into that sort of thing any more.

  • EverQuest

Hey, it will be the 20 year anniversary of the game shipping come March 16th.  There is a distinct possibility that Daybreak will have something lined up that will make me want to log in, at least for a bit.

  • Atlas

Whether you see this as re-skinned Ark or not, a some people I know are getting into this… when it is running and you can log in… so there is the glimmer of a possibility that I might give it a try.  The whole early access aspect of it will be the factor keeping me away if I don’t play it.

  • Torchlight Frontiers

I don’t think it will ship in 2019, and I am not going to beta test it, which is what makes it a wildcard.  I’m interested to try it even if I am not amongst those publicly wetting themselves in anticipation of it.

  • Camelot Unchained

Didn’t I pay for this almost five years ago now?  It would be cool if there was something there both playable and worth playing.

  • Destiny 2

We got the base game for free back in October and I downloaded it.  So it is installed and ready to go if I decide I want to try it.

  • Diablo III

Also technically not an MMO, at least by my own measure, but if maybe Blizzard were to add something fresh to the game I could find myself playing again.  I enjoy it, but can only play through the story and seasons so many times.

  • War Thunder and/or World of Tanks

I have a bunch of time invested in both over the years.  They tend to be good games for quick action, but neither hole my attention for very long either.  Battles often become the same situation repeated ad infinitum.

  • Something Else New

I mean, somebody is going to ship something new this year, aren’t they?

Non-MMOs

Again, I don’t like to set goals, but I look at my Steam library and it there are games I know I will play and games I want to find time for.

In the former category are:

  • Civilization V
  • RimWorld
  • Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings

In the latter:

  • Pillars of Eternity
  • Grim Dawn
  • Afghanistan ’11
  • Space Engineers
  • Valkyria Chronicles

And then there are games on my wish list that maybe I might yet buy.  The Steam Winter Sale still has two full days left to run.

  • GTA V (mostly for the mod where you can play as the police)
  • O.G.R.E. (played the original board game)
  • Darkest Dungeon (The Wizardy-esque vibe keeps in on my list)
  • Frostpunk (Overlaps a bit with RimWorld though)

So there are some options.  We’ll see at the end of the year what I ended up playing and what fell by the wayside.  As like as not something else will come up mid-year and I’ll divert into that.

New Years Predictions for 2019

The start of a new year is always heralded by resolutions and predictions and, while I am no good at resolutions… I’m old and I am unlikely to change… I am certainly willing to throw my hat in the ring when it comes to predictions.  I’m no good at those either, but since they don’t require me to lose weight or be a better person I’m game.

2019 banner provided by my daughter, who basically used her favorite EVE Online screen shot this year.

For those who are keen to see my past attempts… or are bored and looking for something to do today… my record of new year’s predictions are here, complete with results:

I will add in my usual disclaimer up front.

My predicting something is not the same as my wanting something to happen.  Well, at least when it is bad.  I don’t want studios to fold, games to shut down, or Derek Smart to be right about Star Citizen.  It is more a matter of looking at the world and making a guess at how things will look on December 1st, the cut off date for all of my predictions.  Inevitably there will be some good and some bad that happens, and some of it will be visible in advance even to me.

Also, I tend to go a bit over the top simply because that is more fun than “not much will change really.”

The usual prediction rules apply.  Each prediction is worth ten points unless otherwise noted, with partial credit available.  Predictions should be written in a style that will make scoring easy and obvious eleven months down the road, but won’t be because about three predictions in I will forget that and veer off into vague, hand waving trends that are pretty much impossible to pin down.  All I can promise is that I will grade myself poorly on poorly written predictions.

So off we go.

1 – Early Classic Date

WoW Classic will launch on May 28, 2019.  As is the standard for this sort of guess at a date, I knock off 2 points for every week I am off.  That is about as concrete and clearly defined as a prediction can possibly be.  The early date will be to coincide with the end of the six month subscriptions that Blizz sold back in the fall as Battle for Azeroth isn’t holding people otherwise.

2 – Classic Rush

The WoW Classic launch will be 2004 all over again.  There confluence of nostalgia and the end of the Battle for Azeroth expansion will conspire to cause WoW Classic to overflow quickly.  There won’t be enough servers leading to long queues to get on to the servers available.  This will lead to new servers being spun up and the classic server split routine from back in the day.  Blizzard will publicly compare the day one WoW Classic crowds to how things went at the WoW launch in 2004.

3 – Classic Plans

By the time BlizzCon roles around… we’ll get to BlizzCon itself in a bit… there will be a panel, or at least a mention in the keynote, about WoW Classic and moving on from vanilla into some of the early expansions.  How to do an expansion like The Burning Crusade without necessarily progressing the vanilla servers will be a key point of contention, with transfers and boosts straight to level 60 being discussed.

4 – Classic Acceleration

By September 1, 2019 the WoW Classic rush will be over.  As we have seen time and again, the initial pile-on to play on a nostalgia server peaks pretty quickly as players, familiar with the old game and reliving their experience, move much more quickly through the game than back in the day.  This will lead to complaints about dead servers and calls for server merges or free transfers.  This will be even worse if Blizz goes full purist mode and doesn’t use the sharding tech that allows more people to use a single zone/server.

5 – Next WoW Live Expansion

The early launch of WoW Classic to cover the Battle for Azeroth collapse will mess with the Blizzard’s timing the way that Warlords of Draenor did.  Look for Blizz to cover their sagging Q2 2019 earnings by announcing the next expansion in August, just after Activision releases their quarterly earnings report.

6 – The Long BlizzCon

There will be a BlizzCon 2019 on November 8 and 9.  The main stage will be taken over by new titles as Blizzard announces no fewer that five projects.  Three of them will be mobile titles and an actual PC Diablo franchise game will be another.  However, a Diablo II remaster will go missing yet again.

7 – Full Steam Ahead

Expect Steam to stay strong despite Epic, Discord, and Amazon trying to undermine it with better deals for developers.  Steam can and will play that game while carrying on as the one stop shop for all games PC.  Devs won’t get as big of a cut on Steam, but the installed base and success stories will keep any but the biggest studios from cutting ties.

8 – All Things PlanetSlide

PlanetSide Arena will launch… or go into early access or whatever… as planned at the end of January.  It will sell some boxes and make Daybreak some quick money.  But it isn’t going to steal back the Battle Royale market for the company.  Before spring turns to summer it will be showing peak numbers on Steam down near the H1Z1 end of the spectrum, lagging far behind PUBG and nowhere close to whatever Fortnite will report on its own.

9 – Sayonara Norrath

I am going to go with the Prophecy of May and say that this will be a fateful anniversary year for EverQuest titles.  The 15th anniversary for EverQuest II and the 20th anniversary for EverQuest will see both titles celebrated, given special new content, and then put in what will be effectively maintenance mode.

10 – NantGo Away, I’m No Good For You

The NantG Mobile joint venture between Daybreak and NantWorks will deliver on none of its promises.  They’ll keep H1Z1 alive, but there won’t be any new Z1 Battle Royale (unless they just straight up rename H1Z1), there won’t be any new esports league, there won’t be an esports venue next to the LA Times, and there won’t be any mobile version of Z1 Battle Royale, and there won’t be any hint, word, or anything about any EverQuest game, mobile or otherwise.

11 – Something Has Gotta Daybreak

All of this is going to add up to hard times at Daybreak.  By December 1, 2019 it won’t be the company it was on January 1, if it exists at all.  It will either be acquired wholesale by another company or be parted out, with somebody like Gamigo taking the the three traditional MMORPGs (EverQuest, EverQuest II, and DC Universe Online) while the rest either tried to stand alone with the what I will call “the children of PlanetSide” or being folded into the NantWorks joint venture.  I’ll be writing a farewell history of the studio before the year is out.

12 – Standing Alone Games

Standing Stone Games will feel the impact of Daybreak’s misfortune as well as the sting of losing a key LOTRO developer.  They will carry through the first half of 2019 on momentum, but the latter half will leave people wondering what is up as they scramble to fill the void that Daybreak’s collapse will leave on their marketing/publishing front.  The company will soldier on, but you won’t be getting anything like a 64-bit client from them.

13 – Non-Shippers

The following titles won’t ship in 2019, defining “ship” as being available for sale with having to hide their unfinished state behind terms like “early access,” “beta,” “alpha,” or anything that falls into that realm.  2 Points per title on this one.

  • Squadron 42 (forget Star Citizen overall, that one is just a gimme)
  • Camelot Unchained (beta would be a step forward)
  • Atlas (ARK all over again)
  • Torchlight Frontiers (beta will be enough for the hype to turn to whines)
  • Crowfall (a relative babe in crowdfunding years)

14 – CCP Anomalous

The ISK problem in New Eden will be one of CCPs targets for 2019, so expect null sec anomalies and the rats that infest them to change to try and slow down the titan and super gravy train while not stomping too hard on the line members in the VNIs.  Mining, however, will remain unchanged.  Ore doesn’t bring ISK into the economy and should be self regulating based on price.  It isn’t, but it should be.

15 – High Sec Changes

The War Dec changes will lead CCP to change up how suicide ganking works as well.  Right now it is too by the numbers, a solved problem for most cases.  CCP doesn’t want high sec to be safe, but right now the gankers kill with impunity and need a shake up.

16 – Low Sec Attention Span

CCP has to do something radical for low sec in general and faction warfare specifically.  My guess is that low sec will continued to be screwed in general, but that CCP will decide they need to greatly restrict, if not outright ban, the deployment of Upwell structures in FW space.

17 – CSM XIV

CCP will change up the election process yet again, trying to get the candidate list out further before the actual elections, but it will be for naught.  Eight of ten seats will still go to null sec alliances.

18 – POS Bash

Player Owned Starbases, already left with little relevance in the game, will see their end come June, when CCP finally pulls them from the game, symbolically burning the source code on the summer solstice.  And so will go the POS, long a staple of the game.

19 – Key FOB

The POS announcement will come earlier as part of CCP introducing a new Upwell structure, the player forward operating base.  The FOB will be something akin to a corp/alliance sized mobile depot that will allow players to repair, refit, and resupply.  It will lack tethering or defenses and, give how cheap a Raitaru is, will barely get used.

20 – 3DS Exit

Nintendo, after paring down the platform releases to almost nothing, will announce the end of their long running handheld line.  They will cease manufacture, blow out the last units, and throw themselves fully onto the Switch.  It will be the end of the Pokemon era.  Pokemon will just be another game, not something that made a platform worthwhile.

21 – MADE Pirates

Pirates of the Burning Seas will end up being the first MMORPG to make it into The Museum of Digital Art and Entertainment.  The unique state of its current ownership will create a situation where the game will actually be preserved, mostly because it won’t survive on its own.  And that will be it.  The games people ache to see enshrined, SWG or CoH, will never get there.  The only possible entrants will be games so small and unknown that few will notice.  So The Saga of Ryzom will be a possibility.  The MADE should work on preserving MUDs.  That is something they could make happen.

22 – Shlock Boxes

No wide spread change to the legal status of lockboxes or the selling of power or pay to win.  Some small jurisdictions might try to put something in place, as happened in 2018, but nothing will go in that will change the bottom line.  There simply isn’t a political power block against this sort of thing that could make any difference for politicians.  At best it will be used as a political football to try and divert attention away from other things.  For example, the NRA doesn’t care about video games… until there is yet another mass shooting, at which point they need something to blame.  More of that.

23 – A Prime New World

Amazon’s survival sandbox whatever MMORPG New World won’t be ready in 2019, but the company will announce special benefits for Prime members when the game does launch.  I hope it will be something more than expedited delivery from the in-game version of Whole Foods.

24 – Behindcraft

While Microsoft and Mojang haven’t given up on Minecraft – Java Edition, which is the Mac, PC, and Linux version of Minecraft that lacks a cash shop, it has clearly slowed down development.  The rest of Minecraft has pandas and new cats and stuff while Java is getting development snapshots still.  This trend will continue as the Java code base won’t release the panda update until March and that will be the only update to be released for Java in 2019.

25 – Avatar’s Shroud

Shroud of the Avatar will see further constrictions, if not an outright closure, in 2019.  Like most early access games, it used up the goodwill of all but the most dedicated fans as it was being built out and now nobody is left interested in buying a copy.

26 – Guild Wars 2 Continues

The pattern seems to be an expansion every could of years.  That is about as deep as my insight into the game really goes at this point.  But given that, I expect they will announce an expansion this year set for launch in 2020.

27 – Cattle Royale

As we saw the final rounds of the MOBA shake out with Blizz cutting back on Heroes of the Storm, the culling of the Battle Royale pretenders will commence in earnest.  Anybody for whom Battle Royale is just a mode tacked on to an already solid franchise, as with CS:GO, won’t have much to worry about, but anybody all-in on that alone… that isn’t Fortnite or PUBG… will be dead or dying by the end of the year.  This will be most unfortunate for the late comers that show up this year.  Also, how they hell am I even going to score this one.  See what I mean?

Bonus Wild-Ass Prediction:  Sony buys back some, if not all, of Daybreak from Jason Epstein at the bankruptcy sale at discount prices.  If Daybreak is headed for a fall, who has the most to lose?  At this point, aside from Daybreak itself, Sony makes a tidy sum on the PlayStation 4 from DC Universe Online and, for the moment, H1Z1.  Maybe they also make a bit from PlanetSide 2, but I’d be surprised at that.  20 bonus points if it comes to pass.

Double Bonus Wild-Ass Prediction: Daybreak announces a new EverQuest title, sells pre-orders, never makes it to early access, and shuts everything down without any refunds.  I want 40 bonus points if that happens.

So there it is, my guesses for 2019.  That is 270 points possible, with some extra credit bonus predictions.  Looking at them as a whole, I can see I’ve probably been too pessimistic along some lines… Daybreak can’t possibly fall that far… and too optimistic along others… like CCP has ever shown itself to be able to jungle that many balls at once… but I am going to let them stand as it.

You can tell how limited my range of games is by how few studios I feel I know enough about to even venture a guess.  Me even dipping into GW2 was a stretch, and I can’t even begin to tell you where SWTOR sits.  And then there are all the crowdfunded, kickstarted, early access games.  I just pulled five from that gaggle for the “won’t ship” list, but I could have as easily picked five others.

Anyway, that is what I am calling for 2019.  We shall see how the year plays out.  Look for a recap some time in December… or tell me what you think I missed right now.

December in Review

The Site

Here we are at the last day of 2018 and the 402nd and final post of the year… unless something big and/or stupid comes up and I feel compelled to post about it before the end of the day.  I think we’re pretty safe though.  Who announces things on New Years Eve?

402 posts is kind of a lot for a single year, especially when my goal is just a post every weekday. I didn’t post every single day.  You can see by the chart below I missed more than a few days.

Graphical Representation of Days Posted – I added the day guide to clarify it

The gray squares mean no post.  But I made up the missing days with double, and occasionally triple, post days.  Those are the darker squares.  I did not post more than three times in a single day.  I usually like to leave a time gap of a few hours between posts, since it is my impression that some visitors only read the top post.  And most things I write aren’t all that time sensitive.  I make a point of writing about things soon after I have done them, things like fleet ops, more because my memory is fresh than anything else.

(The same chart for my other blog is all just black squares as I never post more than once a day.)

Anyway, a lot of posts in 2018.

But 402 is not the most posts in a single year.  The current ranking is:

  1. 2007 – 490 posts
  2. 2011 – 488 posts
  3. 2012 – 442 posts
  4. 2010 – 406 posts
  5. 2018 – 402 posts

2007 is explicable in that I hadn’t really settled down on what I wanted to do, so I was posting a lot of very short and random stuff.  The run from 2010 through 2012 corresponds with the peak of the blog in many ways; traffic, posts, games I was playing and writing about, interest in new games, and so on.  That probably represents the final gasp of the pre-cynical era for me.

Well, pre-cynical relative to my current outlook anyway.

There is also a correlation between the wave of Kickstarted and early access games and the end of blog’s peak era.  I’m not saying they’re connected, but the coming of one seemed to herald the end of the other.

In total words, or even average words per post, 2018 is at the top of the list

  1. 2018 – 427,278 words (without this post, so add another 2K words)
  2. 2014 – 395,517 words
  3. 2013 – 346,436 words
  4. 2015 – 342,813 words
  5. 2016 – 334,911 words

That gives me another correlation.  Traffic has gone down as my word count has gone up.  Again, I cannot definitively say that one caused the other… I’m not going to follow the madness of Gevlon and assume correlation means causation without evidence… but it sure looks suspicious.  Or it would, except, as I noted in the highs and lows post on Friday, traffic to the site went up a bit this year.  So who knows what it all really means?  As I have said in the past, there are many factors in play here, including Google’s search result algorithms.

One Year Ago

We got the Ring of Scale expansion for EverQuest.

Nintendo and Game Freak released what might end up being the last Pokemon title to arrive on their handheld hardware in the form of Pokemon Crystal for the Virtual Console.

I was kind of bummed when Blizzard took away my sunglasses.  But I was still out fishing and doing pet battles in World of Warcraft.  And, most important of all, I unlocked flying in the Legion expansion.  I also spent some time trying to find an objective way to measure my favorite WoW expansion.

CCP launched the Arms Race expansion for EVE Online which included expanded Alpha Clone abilities and special skill injectors just for them.  The Agent Finder also got moved into The Agency completely.  Meanwhile, the Yule Lads weren’t delivering presents to us in New Eden.  We had to go find them ourselves.

I also hit a tipping point in the game, where now most of my time playing was now in null sec.

Actually out in space Reavers were deployed into Pure Blind and were quite active in December, with the following posts about fleet ops:

There was the usual set of review posts for 2017.  I looked at my predictions, my MMO outlook, highs and lows, and some MMO bloggers.

And there was, of course, a Steam Winter Sale.  I was in the “not enthusiastic” part of my relationship with Steam.

Five Years Ago

It was the final shut down for Warhammer Online.

It was also the end of the road for World of Darkness at CCP, which shut down the project and laid off much of the staff.

CCP did give me a copy of the EVE Online Second Decade Collector’s Edition.

Actually in EVE, I was looking at flying a dreadnought, looking at my hull tanking certificate, and actually went on a couple of ops, blowing things up in NS2L-4 and BW-WJ2.

Shroud of the Avatar was an actual thing.  You could log in and see stuff.  Granted, a year later it was still in alpha and had a long way to go, but at least progress was being made I guess.

Turbine threw their hat in the ring with their own insta-level scheme for Lord of the Rings Online.  It got you all the way to the doors of Moria.  I was not impressed.  Not only was the level cap well beyond Moria at that point, I tend to believe that the best content in the game is the 1-50 run.  But that is the nature of level based games.

Blizzard put a cash shop in World of Warcraft.  But don’t call those microtransactions, because they are not.  Microtransactions require an intermediate currency.  If you’re selling in straight up dollars, pounds, and euros, it isn’t a microtransaction.

The instance group in World of Warcraft ventured under the sea and into the Mount Hyjal region, then ran through the Throne of Tides and Blackrock Caverns instances.  Meanwhile, I had an alt finish up The Burning Crusade for me.  And then there was my character a level cap, swamped with options including Timeless Isle.

I reviewed my goals and tried to sum up 2013.

I did some book reviews of a sort, looking at The Kindly Ones, The Circle, and some space operas.

Finally, we were very sad at our house when our cat Fred died.  We still miss him.

Ten Years Ago

December seemed to be all about the micropayments and the like.  Sony Online Entertainment surprised some by putting Station Cash driven stores into EverQuest and EverQuest II.  The selection wasn’t great and the pricing seemed a bit off, but I was more interested to know what other SOE products would get the Station Cash treatment.

In EverQuest II I ran Reynaldo Fabulous from creation to level 50 in an very short (to me) stretch of time.  And then I stopped.

And then EA announced that Star Wars: The Old Republic would be microtransaction financed.  Or maybe they didn’t.  It ended up that way eventually, but three years later when it launch it was very much a subscription game in the classic sense.

In Azeroth we were still coming to grips with the Northrend instances.  In Utgarde Keep we managed to kill off Prince Keleseth, but couldn’t hold it together to finish the instance.  Outside, we were running around doing quests.

Meanwhile, somebody was working on a WoW code, akin to the old geek code that used to clutter many a .sig file back when Usenet was cool and we knew the spammers by name.

I actually found some time to play Lord of the Rings Online.

And on the MUD nostalgia front I was reminding people what quests used to be like and sharing some really bad limericks.

Best selling PC Games from 2008:

  1. Spore
  2. Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures
  3. Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning
  4. The Sims 2: FreeTime
  5. Spore Creature Creator
  6. Sins of a Solar Empire
  7. The Sims 2: Apartment Life
  8. The Sims 2: Kitchen & Bath Interior Design Stuff
  9. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War: Soulstorm
  10. The Sims Castaway Stories

Twenty Years Ago

The original Baldur’s Gate was released.

And, in something of a reductive cycle, the first video game version of the physical Pokemon Trading Card game, itself based on the Pokemon Red & Blue video games, was released on the GameBoy in Japan.  In a nod to simplicity, it was called the Pokemon Trading Card Game by the time it arrived in the US.

Most Viewed Posts in December

  1. How Many People Play EVE Online?
  2. Finding Evendim
  3. Rumors of Future Daybreak Projects and the End of EverQuest
  4. Minecraft and the Search for a Warm Ocean
  5. Alamo teechs u 2 play DURID!
  6. Burn Jita 2018 Aftermath
  7. Delta Force – A Memory of Voxels
  8. A Short Rant About the State of the MMORPG Market
  9. Gamers are Not a Unified Demographic
  10. Daybreak Offering a Lifetime All Access Deal for $299
  11. Some Better Luck with Operation Permafrost
  12. My Five Books of 2018

Search Terms of the Month

lotro emulator
[Let’s not go there quite yet]

whats the orcs name from warcraft
[Azog? Gorbag? Grishnakh?]

how much.gold.can.a.portable.hole.hold
[All of it?]

eve online spider tank
[I don’t think that is a thing any more]

images of people reenlisting inside a battleship barrel
[Gun barrel? Pork barrel? Pickle barrel? I am not sure I get this.]

Spam Comments of the Month

Do not underestimate the power of contemporary flowers.
[Well, alrighty then!]

When guests click on advertisements, publishers earn money.
[So that’s how that works!]

No matter funeral particulars you favor, it is important that you make your wishes clear in writing.
[Just put me on the curb with garbage on pick up day]

Now YOU Can Grab Our New Web Traffic “Robot” That Works 24/7 to Bring You Free Traffic and Subscribers!
[Act now!]

This site was… how do I say it? Relevant!!
[Spam bots are the worst liars]

EVE Online

My time in New Eden this month was dominated by the events in wormhole J115405, known as Rage, where the Initiative setup operations to destroy Hard Knocks structures there, including the first Keepstar deployed in the game.  After that I mucked around with some high sec alts playing the Operation Permafrost event and logging in every day for the holiday rewards.  The only other item of note was that, after a bit too much red wine on Christmas Eve, I signed up for Liberty Squad, one of the Imperium SIGs and squads that are responsible for much of the activity during what one might otherwise call peace time.  We’ll see how that plays out.

Lord of the Rings Online

I carried on with the Legendary server, keeping up a pace of logging in almost every single night.  At least until I got to the holidays and the Misty Mountains.  Those two together caused me to slack off a bit.  But I remain determined to get through the epic quest line and up to level 50 before SSG gets around to unlocking the Mines of Moria expansion.

Pokemon Go

I managed to make another level this month, largely thanks to the bonus points you get for achieving friendship levels with other players.  Still, it is a long way to level 40.  I am also stuck on the task where you have to make an excellent curveball throw.  This is the second time that has come up.  I got it done the first time, but this time around I have yet managed it.

Level: 35 (+1)
Pokedex status: 380 (+9) caught, 400 (+9) seen
Pokemon I want: Rhyperior, the Rhydon evolution, but I need about 70 candies
Current buddy: Togetic

RimWorld

RimWorld left early access and went live a while back this year.  Some people I read/know started playing it this month, which got me back to playing it a bit.  It is still an epic consumer of free time.  My usual loop tends to have me playing for a stretch, then some huge bad event hits and I save and go away for a while.  Then I come back later, clean up the mess, or the corpses, or both, and carry on.

World of Warcraft

My account hasn’t quite lapsed, so I keep thinking I’ll go play a bit.  I did log in to get the holiday present and achievement.  But other than that it is in limbo.

Coming Up

Happy new year I guess.  I’ll have to remember to put the right year on checks.

Of course, the first thing out of the gate every year here is a predictions post.  Look for my doom and gloom about 2019 tomorrow.  Also, some sort of MMO outlook for the year will likely show up as well next week.

The Steam Winter Sale will wrap up come Friday morning.  I’m sure there is a post in what I bought… if I end up buying anything.  So far I haven’t purchased anything for myself.  I did grab a title for my daughter however.

With the new year there will also likely be some news and forward looking statements from various studios about what they plan for the year.

In addition to all of that, I still have quite a few half done posts in the drafts folder to work on.  I shan’t fall off the face of the internet, at least not for lack of topics.

Otherwise it will be EVE Online and Lord of the Rings Online and Pokemon Go I suppose.

Looking Back at 2018 Highs and Lows

The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.

-James Branch Cabell, The Silver Stallion

We stand together again at the end of of another year; at least those of us who survived the journey do.  And, as has become the tradition here, I set aside some time to reflect and sum up the year that was 2018.

As usual, this is more of a stream of consciousness sort of affair as opposed to a rigorous study of the year.  Some things loom larger in my mind than others, especially the more recent.  I can’t really remember what happened in January, but BlizzCon was in November so my brain is still full of that.  Because of the method, and my general laziness, I don’t link out in this post (save for one exception this year).  You sort of have to know what I am talking about or else just let it pass.

For comparison… I suppose there is a study that could be done on my moods and views over the years… you can read the versions of this post that has come up in past years.

Not everything listed as a “low” is necessarily a tragedy, nor is everything listed as a “high” really something that was headline news to celebrate.  One year I inserted a “middle” category and then found I wanted to put most everything in there, so I set that aside.

There is also something of the accountant in me that tries to turn this into a balance sheet, with every “high” having a corresponding “low” on the list.  That works a lot of the time, but not always.  Some things are just one or the other.

Also, I remain undecided on punctuation in this sort of post.  To my mind, bullet points shouldn’t get punctuation.  Sort of.  They do when the bullet point is a question.  Also, I use a lot of semi-colons while eschewing the sentence ending period.  And then there is that exclamation point.  Does that wreck everything?  I think my life would be easier if I just made them sentences, but I am writing this after all the stuff below and I am NOT going back to change all that.

Anyway, on with the show.

Blizzard

Highs

  • A decent start of the year for Blizzard, building momentum for the WoW expansion and BlizzCon
  • Battle for Azeroth launched very well, with the build-up to the expansion drawing a lot of attention
  • Hearthstone did very well, even breaking into the digital revenue top ten on the PC platform
  • BlizzCon for once did not ignore any of the main Blizzard franchises
  • Blizzard showed they were very serious about getting WoW Classic right
  • There is even going to be progression in WoW Classic so the raiding is done with the right gear
  • We got an official announcement for the second of the three planned remasters, Warcraft III Reforged
  • Plans for upcoming Battle for Azeroth content
  • New expansion for Hearthstone
  • New hero for Overwatch
  • New champion for Heroes of the Storm, plus more plans to fix the game
  • New co-op commander for StarCraft II
  • New game for the Diablo franchise
  • Hey, Lindsey Stirling was one of the BlizzCon closing ceremony acts

Lows

  • BlizzCon seemed to kill fan enthusiasm for the aforementioned momentum
  • Even I am starting to feel that the BlizzCon formula might be wearing a bit thin
  • They say that all press is good press, but burning down that tree is going to take a while for some people to get past
  • After a strong start, flaws in Battle for Azeroth around gear and such began to tarnish the experience
  • Wait, as my ilevel gets higher mobs actually get harder rather than easier to kill?  And Blizz thinks this is fine?
  • BlizzCon divided up by six franchises means a preciously small slice of pie for any fan of only a single franchise
  • WoW Classic might be so authentic as to do to retro servers what WoW did to fantasy MMORPGs
  • Did you say WoW Classic would have progression?  This will inevitably lead to people wanting progression into expansions
  • Still waiting for news on that third remaster, Diablo II
  • The Battle for Azeroth content wasn’t all that exciting, even for a year with no expansion announcement
  • Unsure if the Battle for Azeroth content wasn’t exciting because the game is getting old and tired or I am… or both
  • Heroes of the Storm is losing its epsorts league and most of its devs as Blizz restructured it to keep it going with a smaller staff
  • I’m not even sure what a co-op commander is in StarCraft II
  • Complete fail on the part of Blizzard for expecting core Diablo fans to embrace  the mobile title Diablo Immortal
  • Failed to mitigate the above by not mentioning anything about Diablo VI, more Diablo III content, the Diablo II remaster, or anything else the core fan base might care about; vague references to multiple Diablo projects doesn’t cut it
  • Trifecta of Diablo franchise fails when rumors hit that they were going to announce Diablo IV but pulled it at the last minute, followed by a statement that the rumor wasn’t true, all of which will pretty much pull the punch from any future Diablo IV announcement
  • Gaming press proceeded to vilify Diablo fans, pretty much going full on “Imma let you finish…” over Blizz even as Blizz was owning up to badly setting expectations
  • Few people attended, and no press covered, the “Play Nice, Play Fair” presentation at BlizzCon which, among other things, presented evidence on how vilifying your player base as toxic tends to actually enable toxicity from your worst fans while alienating the 99% of your fan base that isn’t a problem
  • Allen Adham says senior devs at Blizzard are playing mobile games now, and Blizzard makes games they want to play by improving the games they are currently playing, so expect anything new from them to be on your phone

Daybreak

Highs

  • Company not shut down due to connection to Russian oligarchs via Columbus Nova
  • EverQuest still holding on as the standard bearer
  • EverQuest turned 19 and launched a new progression server called Coirnav
  • The Fippy Darkpaw EverQuest progression server is still running
  • Likewise, EverQuest II celebrated its 14th anniversary
  • EverQuest and EverQuest II both got an expansion again in 2018
  • DC Universe Online continues to hum along, getting some updates
  • As rumors indicated, PlanetSide 2 got a new map and some updates
  • Rumors also mentioned a new Norrath game, possibly EverQuest 3
  • H1Z1 actually left early access and went live, adding in a new vehicle mode along the way
  • H1Z1 became a success on the PlayStation 4
  • Some sort of joint venture with NantWorks to redo H1Z1 as Z1 Battle Royale
  • Just Survive looked to have received a last minute stay of execution
  • They finally announced a new game, PlanetSide Arena, the first since they ceased to be SOE
  • They actually sold out their 4,000 lifetime memberships at $299 a pop for a nice influx of cash

Lows

  • Not sure who is still playing on the Fippy Darkpaw EverQuest server, its been up for eight years
  • Company changed its mind rather abruptly about who owned it when asked about Russian oligarchs, deleting all references, attempting to scrub Wikipedia, and claiming that they misstated who actually owned the company for three years and on just about every document and press release they published
  •  After all that, Jason Epstein is/was still clearly tied to Columbus Nova
  • In the midst of changing its mind on the ownership question Daybreak took a moment out to lay off a chunk of their staff, showing that all is not well
  • Then, earlier this month they laid off another big chunk of the team
  • H1Z1 pretty much fell by the wayside in the market under pressure from PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds then Fortnite
  • The deal with Tencent to bring H1Z1 to China also failed when the Chinese ethics review board rejected H1Z1 because of “blood and gore” and “vulgar content”
  • There went that H1Z1 esports league
  • The NantWorks joint venture, NantG Moblie, seems pretty nebulous so far, and uncertainty isn’t helping
  • The NantG Mobile plane, such that it has been stated, sounds suspiciously like “What if H1Z1 were more like Fortnite?
  • EverQuest is tied up in this deal in some way, but nobody has explained how
  • Just Survive’s stay of execution turned out to be an illusion and it was shut down
  • The new game, PlanetSide Arena, seemed to be just PlanetSide 2 with well worn shooter modes… including battle royale, of course
  • Lifetime subscribers are all people who won’t be paying a subscription going forward, so Daybreak essentially took a one-time buyout from some of its core fanbase
  • Lifetime subscriptions only apply to the four oldest games, nothing new-ish is covered nor are any console players covered
  • Not sure if NantG Mobile ought to come under the Daybreak heading
  • Not sure how many products Daybreak really has now
  • Not sure how healthy Daybreak is at this point
  • Nothing so far has really quashed the rumors from early in the year about Daybreak’s plans, for good or bad

Standing Stone

Highs

  • Found new ways to expand LOTRO and hey, it was free content
  • Raised the level cap in LOTRO to 120
  • Continued updating character models
  • High elves were added in, because we need more elves in Middle-earth
  • Possibility of a new class for the game
  • Female dwarves in Middle-earth, so now the Tolkien purists can be angry
  • Some mention of a 64-bit client in the offing
  • LOTRO Legendary server proves so popular they have to open a second server
  • A new musical instrument was added, so now you can play the bassoon
  • LOTRO lifetime subscription remains the best MMO deal I have ever made, all the more so since I am back playing
  • DDO got a new race, so you can unlock your inner wood elf; go team elf
  • DDO also got some other updates I think and sold some of those two year subscription deals

Lows

  • Nothing else on the horizon for the company at all
  • Still really don’t know who owns SSG
  • LOTRO remains difficult to pick up with an aging and awkward UI, a balky client, a patcher that is in no hurry to get you patched, and that whole legendary weapon thing which should have been left behind in Moria
  • The rise in the level cap was not universally applauded, but you have to gate content somehow
  • Managed to screw up the Shire for a bit like they were Sarumann
  • The need to make money meant more focus on lootboxes and making the in-game currency situation worse by adding “ember” currency to the list
  • An announced new Middle-earth game won’t shut down LOTRO, but it won’t help it either
  • The “legendary” aspect of the LOTRO Legendary server seemed more than a bit oversold
  • And yet SSG managed to poorly promote the whole LOTRO Legendary server thing at the same time
  • LOTRO Legendary seems most popular with those already invested in the game, so likely pulled a lot of its population from the live servers of players
  • Those LOTRO Legendary queues pretty much went away inside of two weeks
  • A second server and no more queues portends a server merge when the new server joy wears off
  • DDO news was so sparse that I don’t really have anything besides the wood elf to add
  • There was bluster about what the two year subscription might get you, but since two years of normal VIP actually cost $100 less I expect to hear some buyer’s remorse

CCP

Highs

  • CCP purchased by Pearl Abyss ends having to please direct investors
  • CCP and Pearl Abyss claim to be sympatico in their outlook on games
  • CCP says they will get to keep operating on their own
  • CCP got recognition from Guinness finally for the battle at 94P-I
  • A new war in null sec has made some additional headlines
  • Lots of people got to get their titans out and shot things
  • Lots of updates and improvements over the course of the year
  • Abyssal Deadspace was especially popular
  • It is a good time to be farming Gilas
  • In game events are generally getting better
  • CCP is FINALLY trying to fix War Decs
  • With FLEX structures the problematic POS code is almost ready to be expunged from New Eden
  • New Activity Tracker shows you what you’ve been doing in New Eden
  • New games, EVE Echoes and Project: Nova coming next year
  • Working with NetEase, their new partner, to re-launch EVE Online in China
  • Didn’t lose any major third party sites on which EVE Online depends
  • EVEMon is actually back again after the swap to ESI
  • EVE Vegas was a lot of fun
  • I gave a presentation at EVE Vegas

Lows

  • Pearl Abyss, whose reputation from Black Desert Online is that of “cash shop pay to win atrocity horror show” now owns EVE Online.
  • We will see just how sympatico the two companies really are
  • CCP trading external investors for one owner probably means a lot more direct scrutiny
  • CCP will get to run their own show only as long as the money keeps flowing, you can bet on that
  • Monthly updates, some of which can be quite meaty, do make it hard for named expansions to stand out for EVE Online
  • The New Eden concurrency number keeps slowly moving down
  • Null sec wars only last so long, then we all go home and mine
  • Peace is boring since I neither rat nor mine anymore
  • I may, in fact, be a bitter vet at this point
  • The null sec balance of power is now skewed such that the China syndrome seems a possibility, where one power bloc essentially “wins” null sec and everybody else quits
  • Faction Warfare has gone stagnant, with key players leaving it completely
  • The change from passive income to active moon mining sent some low sec groups into decline, hurting low sec even more
  • I’ve added “when will the in-game economy collapse?” to my list of concerns about the game
  • Even the people who used to bristle when it was claimed low sec was dead are starting to feel that low sec has gotten much less active
  • Abyssal Deadspace depends on RNG to stay fresh and still has become mostly a solved problem save for some very bad luck draws
  • Still can’t figure out how CCP went this long without looking into War Decs given how completely problematic the data ended up showing they were; they were pretty much universally declared as horrible years ago
  • Seems likely that CCP will muff fixing war decs, though in their defense there is no simple answer that will please everybody nor one that adheres to the spirit of the game
  • I am going to miss the good old POS bubble when they’re finally removed
  • What were they thinking with that Federation Grand Prix event?
  • Activity Tracker is essentially achievements for New Eden
  • Activity Tracker doesn’t count anything you did before Nov. 13, 2018, which kind of stings for those of us around for more than a decade
  • EVE Echoes is a NetEase mobile game completely disconnected from the main game
  • Project Nova looks nice and could connect to New Eden, but otherwise seems to lack a distinct personality and CCP wants to make it as complicated as EVE Online if they can
  • Oh, and even CCP thinks Project Nova has issues, so it has been delayed
  • Total EVE, EVE Files, and Dotlan EVE Maps all stumbled this year, making us all aware of how fragile the third party ecosystem for New Eden really is
  • There is always a period of post-event malaise for me after the excitement of an event like EVE Vegas wears off
  • In a room with seating for 800 people easy, I had 30 people at my presentation at EVE Vegas, with even some fellow bloggers blowing me off
  • My presentation was also neither streamed nor recorded, so it remains just a special moment in the memory of a very select group
  • Whatever happened to that EVE Online TV series?  I am sure Netflix would buy it

Nintendo

Highs

  • The Switch continues to prove itself a surprising force in the console market
  • Among titles arriving on the Switch was Diablo III
  • Pokemon for Switch looking to be popular
  • Pokemon Go revenues keep on going
  • Pokemon Go released the 4th generation Pokemon, which was a nostalgia rush for me
  • There will be a link between Pokemon Go and the new Pokemon titles on the Switch

Lows

  • The Switch version of most games cost more than on other platforms
  • The Switch isn’t up to supporting ports from other platforms for some games
  • All that Switch news is cold comfort if you’re invested in the neglected DS handheld platform
  • The Switch is not a handheld, portable platform; it is too big, too fragile, and lacks the battery life to be considered as such
  • No more Pokemon on the DS line, ending more than 20 years of the franchise’s link with Nintendo handheld platforms
  • Hilarious attempts to justify the easy nature of the Switch Pokemon games by claiming that those games are “for children” as though the past 20 years of Pokemon handheld games were not
  • Nintendo actively pushing its latest/last handheld model, the 2DS XL, while pretty much winding down the new game queue for the platform in something that feels a lot like dishonesty
  • Pokemon Go is pretty much the only winner in Nintendo’s mobile strategy
  • Pretty much have to admit that Pokemon games on handhelds were the last thing Nintendo had that interested me, in case you missed that, so they probably won’t even get a category here next year

Other Games and the Gaming Industry

Highs

  • TorilMUD made it to 25 years; long live the MUD!
  • Fortnite found its niche and conquered
  • I enjoyed some time with Rift Prime
  • Having enough leftover credits from the free to play conversion, I didn’t even have to spend a single dime on Rift Prime
  • Shroud of the Avatar left early access
  • Project: Gorgon arrived on Steam
  • No Man’s Sky seemed to be finally living up to some of its pre-launch promises
  • The Elder Scrolls Online seems to be a rock, able to carry on even as other titles falter and fall into neglect, maintenance mode, acquisitions, or closure
  • Everybody seems to be raving about Red Dead Redemption 2
  • Finally, somebody mad about loot boxes and set to do something about them
  • A ruling from the Library of Congress extending DMCA exemptions for video game archiving and study to include server/client based games like MMORPGs
  • We got a good Minecraft expansion with the Aquatic Update and Pandas are on the way
  • Steam declared they weren’t going to reject any games based on content, save for those titles it felt were just “trolling”
  • Civilization V got an update… it was only to the launcher, but the launcher needed it
  • Bomber Crew ended up being a nice little game, I should write about it

Lows

  • This section is getting harder to write every year as I rarely seem to play anything new
  • Fortnite has become popular enough to start facing backlash like a ban by the NHL
  • Battle Royale as a feature is now a requirement in all shooters
  • Rift Prime, like Rift the first time around, was guaranteed to lose my attention at Storm Legion; as it was I didn’t even make it that far
  • Trion’s games were bought by Gamingo as Trion folds up shop leaving an uncertain future for their titles; I guess I wasn’t the only one not spending money on Rift Prime
  • Shroud of the Avatar then proceeded to go free while the studio laid people off
  • I still haven’t given Project: Gorgon much of a shot
  • I can’t really tell anymore, is Star Wars: The Old Republic on an uptick or a down tick this year?
  • Pirates of the Burning Sea developer Portalus Games is calling it a day, leaving it to an even smaller group to run which does not fill one with confidence
  • Wildstar and Carbine Studios are no more, victims of their own hype as much as anything
  • Tried Anarchy Online and, as it turns out, nostalgia for the “good old days” only applied to reliving your own hardships, not the hardships of others
  • Every time I see “RDR2” my brain converts it to “R2D2”
  • RDR2 is a console game and my latest console was a PS3, not counting the 2DS XL
  • Loot boxes became a political football for those looking to score points on the “Won’t somebody please think of the children!” front; actual change outside of Belgium was pretty much zero
  • Riot  Games giving the industry an even worse reputation as Kotaku exposes their caustic bro culture
  • Riot Games attempting to fix their horrible culture through platitudes and PR; I only wish I played League of Legends so I could quit dramatically
  • Library of Congress ruling is essentially useless as it only allows museums and the like to archive MMORPGs if they can legally obtain the server code, which just isn’t going to happen
  • The eventual crashing of fan euphoria as they found out the DMCA exemption also prevents remote, off-site connections to preserved MMORPGs; The Library of Congress is not interested in letting you play SWG just because you miss it
  • The last refuge of closed MMORPGs remains the pirate emulator, which live a perilous existence in the gray space between popularity and a lawsuit
  • The Civilization V launcher update seemed primarily put in place to serve as an advertising platform to push the disappointing Civilization VI
  • Just to repeat, Civilization VI was quite the disappointment so I uninstalled it and play Civilization V when I have the Civ urge
  • As it turns out “trolling” isn’t well defined and Steam pretty much rejects the same games it always has, only now that is their excuse
  • All the same, the number of new games to hit Steam every day continued to grow, leaving only those studios that can afford marketing or who have a solid reputation likely to make any money at all
  • Many game developer careers remain Hobbesian in nature (nasty, short, and brutish) as studios abuse the seemingly endless supply of young developers seeking to do what they love in order to live the dream; the dream being 80 hour weeks, low pay, and no long term employment stability
  • Gaming media, another realm where an endless supply of replacements await those who can’t generate clicks, continues to play both sides of the game as they stoke up fan expectations with uncritical assessments of studio promises and then tar video game fans with whatever negative euphemism comes to hand (e.g. entitled, man babies, entitled man babies) over any backlash when the expectations they helped set fail to deliver; but controversy gets views man
  • And yes, some fans just need to shut the fuck up; but drawing attention to them, bringing them fame, and reporting their every complaint isn’t going to make that happen… and conflating the words of a tiny minority with the views of a whole community remains asinine

Media, Social and Otherwise

Highs

  • Even more Star Wars in theaters
  • Lots of new shows and movies on services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu
  • Season five of Bojack Horseman was excellent
  • The First was slow, but good; despite his personal life, about which I could stand to never hear about again, Sean Penn remains an actor dedicated to his craft
  • Still some really nice, serviceable shows on what one might still call “basic cable” these days
  • Better Call Saul might be better than Breaking Bad
  • Honest Trailers and Honest Game Trailers just never get old for me; the Screen Junkies team is awesome
  • Honest Trailers Commentaries is my new YouTube addiction
  • Somehow Zero Punctuation has stayed pretty fresh for me as well despite the fact that I still reference videos Yahtzee made over a decade back
  • Twitter, for all its faults, remains pretty useful to me

Lows

  • Even Disney now believes that there can be too many Star Wars movies now
  • Solo was there to answer questions nobody was really asking
  • Is there any series or movie so bad that Netflix won’t pick it up as an exclusive?
  • House of Cards ends on a silly/disappointing season though, like the original, the first season was all that really made it matter
  • Whoa, have you seen the Netflix earnings lately?
  • Every network now seems to think they need to get on the exclusive streaming service train to gate in their content leading to market fragmentation and, likely, eventual failure for all but the strong
  • The strong are, inevitably, Amazon and Disney, and we know what they’re like
  • There are so many options on basic cable that I often miss good stuff until a season is part way through and then have to wait until it makes it to Hulu or Netflix in order to watch it
  • Kind of starting to resent shows that only drop an episode a week; I want to binge… and binging helps me keep the plot and characters straight
  • Screen Junkies owned by yet another new company now, I hope they continue to survive
  • CinemaSins has gotten pretty stales for me; I like to hear Jeremy talk on the podcast, but the same old complaints, like “47 seconds of logos,” have been beaten to death
  • Pretty sure at this point that Zero Punctuation is all that is keeping The Escapist alive at this point
  • The Escapist pretty much broke being able to watch Zero Punctuation on their site back in July; I hope they get revenue from posting it to YouTube, because that is where I go to see it now
  • Google announced that, due to low usage and a security issues, they would be closing Google+ in August 2019
  • And then another security issue came up and Google moved the end date for Google+ to April 2019
  • That threat by people to leave Twitter made me realize how much I depend on it
  • Mastadon, a Twitter alternative, is great… if you just want to be in a tiny echo chamber of stifling conformity
  • Facebook looks worse as a company with each passing day

The Blog, Internet, and Like Items

Highs

  • Somehow, after a dozen year, here I am still
  • The month in review posts have become pretty special to me as I get to review past posts every month
  • The MMO Blog Feed in the side bar continues to function, amazing given the hack that it is and that several times the companies involved were set to make changes that would break it completely
  • A really nice Blaugust event this year, combining both the usual activity with some of the Newbie Blogger Initiative stuff
  • Blaugust was low pressure and not even gaming blog oriented, which brought in a lot of faces, new and old, to participate leading to a lot of good cross-pollination
  • Blaugust Discord was fun and has kept going as a place to chat for some of us
  • The whole thing was objectively a success on many fronts, including traffic, which ticked up noticeably
  • Traffic to this site was not only up for August, but stayed up for the months following
  • For the first time since 2012 traffic is actually up for the year when compared to the previous year
  • Average word count per post was up this year; I assume that is a good thing
  • Also, and odd metric, but “likes” were up quite a bit on the site, something I think was directly from Blaugust
  • Stalking the tags and categories feature in the WordPress.com Reader has actually led me to several new blogs, which should be a reminder that people should try to use standard tags if they want their blog to be found

Lows

  • Blogging continues its decline as an influence, remaining a hold out for those of us who prefer long form, words, and being able to collect our thoughts into a single site
  • The month in review posts are becoming more bloated and no doubt helping to inflate that average word count
  • Always somebody keen to declare any social event like Blaugust a “failure” if their own independent measure wasn’t met, even if they did not participate or understand the premise
  • Not sure traffic boost was solely related to Blaugust as search engine quirks seem to be in play as well given the specific posts that are seeing ongoing interest
  • While likes were up, comments were down for the year, and rather dramatically so; on balance, a good comment is worth a half a dozen likes in my book
  • There are days when I feel I am stuck between people who can accept no criticism of their current favorite game and those who feel that in order for their game to fully succeed somebody else must fail
  • My cynicism about new titles remains driven by the unwarranted optimism certain repeat offenders seem willing to invest in studio generated hype even after they have time and again become resentful when reality fails to meet their inflated expectations
  • So much for net neutrality
  • So much for the alleged benefits of dumping net neutrality as the promised increase in infrastructure building actually went the other way
  • So many bloggers use bad tags or categories for their blogs (e.g. “wow” rather than “warcraft” or “world of warcraft” and “eve” instead of “eve online”) which makes finding them a low percentage accident at the best of times
  • WordPress.com ads have officially crossed the line into obnoxious, proving once again that ad block is pretty much a requirement on the internet
  • My brain has started auto completing words for as my fingers type them, and the result is even worse than when my iPhone does it

Final Thoughts

My temptation is to continue to beat to death the “and so it goes” line from Vonnegut.  I read a lot of Vonnegut in college… I actually read all of Vonnegut in college, or all that there was at the time, short stories included… and it clearly influenced my somewhat fatalistic outlook on life.  Maybe “no damn cat, no damn cradle” would be better.  That might be the lesson of life in the end.

Another year has passes and the trivial pursuits of our lives continue.

Players Will Optimize

I remember back to the early-ish days of TorilMUD, back when I was first getting into groups to do zones.  Doing a zone was akin to what we would call raiding now, where a max size group, sixteen characters total, would set out to fight their way through a series of rooms and bosses, culminating the in the main boss of the zone.

Specifically, I remember doing the City of Brass zone.  It was a popular zone to do for quite a while, one done almost every boot. (See an old post about how MUD crashes were a good thing back in the day.)  It was an older zone, it wasn’t too big, there were a couple of possible drops for class quest items so somebody was always keen to go, and the general loot was pretty decent if you were just starting off doing zones.  There were upgrades to be had and everybody wanted that flaming halberd for an alt.

Back then the approach to the zone was slow and plodding.  Once through the Plane of Fire (you needed flying gear or the spell plus a fire protection item to go on this run) , the group would assemble and prepare outside the first room.  Once spells were up the tanks would roll in, engage the mobs in the room, call everybody else to come in, and we would unload everything to clear the room.

We would then sit down, mem up our spells, then stand when we were done.  When the call “spell up” came again, we would hit all our targets… as a druid I would cast vitalize, a hit point boosting spell, on some of the non-melee characters and maybe barkskin on the tanks and anybody who requested it… then the tanks would move into the next room, call us to come in, and we would burn down the next room.

It was rinse and repeat, taking down every room as a set piece battle.  At boss mobs we would get special instructions.  When spell feedback was introduced, a mechanic that would damage players if two people cast the same area effect damage spell at the same time, there would be some coordinating of who would cast which spell first.  But otherwise it was the same thing every room, and it stretched out the time it took to run the City of Brass into a three hour event.

But as time went along the runs began to speed up.  First, the overall quality of people’s gear began to improve.  This made players more effective at slaying mobs as well as surviving fights.

Then there started to develop an ideal group composition.  For example, whoever was leading the zone would never take more than one druid unless there was an empty slot that they couldn’t fill.  They wanted a caster who could do the “dragon scales” spell on the tanks rather than the lesser spell “stone skin.”  There were classes with buffs that were deemed essential for a run.  Getting the right group comp made runs go more smoothly, especially at boss fights.

And the zone itself became a solved problem.  The efreeti never changed.  There were a couple of random spawns, but otherwise how to do the run was well understood.  There were no surprises, a well defined route existed, and the boss mechanics were old hat.

Finally, there was a big change in how zones were run.  Groups stopped doing each room as a set piece battle.  Clearing up the trash mobs on the way to the boss was now easier due to gear upgrades, so we would roll through all of that with the various casters just keeping critical buffs up, refreshing them at need.  To sustain this, the concept of “mem out” was introduced, where the raid leader would call “mem west” or the like to indicate where the casters could move to refresh their spells while the battle was still raging.

The latter kept everybody busy.  Rooms with trash mobs took marginally longer without everybody blowing their whole catalog of damage spells, but that was heavily outweighed by the reduction in pre and post battle activity.  Only boss fights got the big “spell up” treatment. The time to run the zone, from starting out in to returning home to Waterdeep, approached an hour if everything was going right, and it almost always did.

That is a pretty big speed up compared to three hours from the doorstep of the zone.  And the time improvement didn’t stop there.  TorilMUD, around for more than 25 years at this point, has never raised its level cap.  Instead, it has maintained some semblance of stability by adding in new, harder zones for those at the level cap while re-balancing equipment over time with an eye towards keeping most level 50 zones viable.  That generally means any gear that seems over powered, like the glowing crimson dagger or the haste enhanced grey suede boots, are likely to get a nerf sooner or later.

Still, even with that optimization happens.  Old hands who have run a thousand zones have a bag full of gear so can pull out a set perfect for each task.  I bet if I told long time zone leader Lilithelle I needed something from the City of Brass today, she’d throw together a group of eight to ten people and drag me along, finishing the zone in 30 minutes or less.

As the kids say, “Cool story bro.”  But what am I getting at here?

This is what happens to content over time.  Player optimization alone pretty much cut the run time for City of Brass by two thirds.  And that three hour number was after the “learn the zone and the bosses” part of the process.  Add it some of the usual gear inflation and that time is now down to one sixth the original time, and doable by half a raid group.

This is what happens to content over time, especially PvE content.  It becomes a solved problem.  Players learn how best to assault things and share that knowledge.

Sometimes that is okay.  In MMORPGs where expansions use levels and gear to gate content, it is pretty much expected that older content will be made obsolete.  Often, after enough time has passed, old raids become solo projects that people run to collect gear for cosmetic reasons or to fill out missed achievements.  That is certainly the accepted state of affairs in World of Warcraft.

In other games it can be problematic.  In EVE Online optimization is an ongoing battle for CCP.  Without levels as a gating mechanism any new PvE content is pretty much solved immediately.  So, despite there being something like four thousand NPC missions in the game, the PvE is generally considered boring and is subject to pretty extreme levels of optimization.  This goes especially for null sec anomaly running, where titans are the latest high yield ratting option.

Only the Abyssal deadspace content isn’t completely solved, and that is only because it has a random aspect to it.  Once you start one you are committed and cannot go back and refit if you have chosen poorly.  And even that is only an issue for the level five runs.  CCP last said that the percentage of Abyssal deadspace runs that ends in a PvE death is very, very low.  I cannot find the number at the moment, but 3% springs to my mind.

Then there is PvP content in New Eden, where The Meta constantly strives to find the optimum ship for given circumstances and CCP is constantly tweaking ships in order to try to bring balance to the force, only to find that suddenly every big alliance is now focused on a specific hull for its main doctrine while the small gang and low sec forces have a new favorite of their own.  And then there is suicide ganking in high sec.  That has become one of the few PvP solved problems at this point, something CCP needs to shake up somehow.

And so it goes.

The thing is, a game’s core player base will always optimize.   But outliers and new players tend to get left out of that.  If a studio focuses only on the core, a game can become impenetrable to new players.  But if you don’t focus on the needs of the core your most loyal fans may get bored and walk away.

A Short Rant About the State of the MMORPG Market

This started as a response to a post over at Massively OP about the worst MMO trend of 2018.  However, a few paragraphs in I realized I wasn’t really on topic, focusing as I was on MMORPGs, since MMO pretty much means “online multiplayer” in today’s market, and I wasn’t keen to dump this much text into their comment section where about a dozen people might see it before it scrolls off the front page into oblivion.  Better to bring it over here where I can regret it again later.

So we’ll call this another end of 2018 post and I’ll run with what I had.

The most disappointing trend for me isn’t really a trend, but more the realization that MMORPGs are a trap for most studios, a tar ball that they find they’re stuck with once they have one. An MMORPG can bring in money, sometimes lots of money, but they have expensive infrastructures to maintain and they need a continuing stream of content to hold enough of an audience to keep them viable. They can eat up all the focus of a smaller studio, so they neglect or never start other projects because you have to keep feeding the monster or it will stop crapping out money.

But the population peaks, often very early these days, and then every content update pisses somebody off and they go away like it is a game of musical chairs and each patch is another point where the music stops. Or it would be like that if people wouldn’t also leave if you don’t patch often enough.  You can’t sit still or you will lose players and you can’t change anything or you will lose players.

Meanwhile MMORPGs have only gotten more expensive to make, which makes innovation a risk that few can afford. And then there is the target player base which complains about every game being a WoW clone and yet will also complain even more bitterly about anything that strays from the WoW formula.

And don’t even get me started on the false hope that is PvP.  It seems like a great idea, and a true money save, to just get the players to be the content.  In reality, anything beyond a tiny, consequence free instance of PvP in an MMORPG will be shunned or ignored.  Few developers who follow that path and go in on PvP are rewarded with any success and trying to move PvP out of its tiny corner is almost always a waste of development time.  Add in a capture the flag arena game… or a battle royale game these days… and move on.

The customers are no better, myself included.  The loud demographics that haunt any developer’s forums should serve as a warning, but if that is the only feedback you’re getting then where are you going to go?  There is always somebody agitating loudly for their favorite thing.  Some want PvP everywhere, others think your game will die if it doesn’t have player housing, another group hates walking and wants to fly everywhere, and somebody in the back seems to believe in time travel and that everything would be great if you could just teleport everybody back to 1999 or 2004 or 2007 or whenever they felt they were having the most fun playing your game.

And none of them has a fucking clue about the level of effort their one “simple” request entails.  But if you’re not doing exactly what they want or it is taking too long then you are “lazy” or “stupid” or both.

If players could keep their focus on actual game play issues it might not be so bad.  But they are on about how you charge money for this or that, with “greedy” or “cash grab” being favored terms.  They complain about how they just want to play the game and not worry about real world politics, a sentiment that is usually the opening salvo about how they’re bent out of shape that the CEO or some dev or some rumor indicates that the company has somehow transgressed the whiners personal stance on the topic of the day is; gamer gate, gender politics, overtime, unions, campaign donations, boarder walls, or whatever.  And then there are the truly loopy who see conspiracies, collusion, and corruption in the machinations of a studio that is really just trying to keep the lights on and the customers happy.

Add into the mix the players who see the genre as a zero sum game, so feel they need to constantly crap on every game that competes with their favorite.  The worry is that they might be right.

So we see studios going under, the weight of their MMORPGs around their necks pulling them down.  The revenues are no longer enough to keep them afloat, much less fund anything new, but they cannot let go because what else do they have?

Even Blizzard, long addicted to the huge income stream from WoW, once past a billion dollars per year, is in trouble now that the game is stumbling again. They don’t want to depend on WoW, but they haven’t made another game that has come anywhere close to the money WoW was bringing in at its peak.  And even their best, Overwatch, could only sustain its peak for a few months at a stretch and is now reported in serious decline.  Companies, like people, size themselves to match their income, and when it drops tough choices loom.

Someone in Blizzard at least recognized a bit of the problem, so we don’t see the company making any more MMORPGs.  But WoW was enough to distort the company and change investor expectations.  They can’t go back to selling stand alone games.  They have to keep WoW going or die, because there is no replacing it.

Game development is a bad business to start with. But at least with a stand alone game you can walk away to work on the next thing. An MMORPG never goes away, unless you have several and you have to make Sophie’s choice. Studios tied to MMORPGs die and other studios with less ambition buy the remains, put the games on life support, and try to milk the remains for some more cash. But only the unbalanced jump into the MMORPG market to create a new game and expecting happiness and success.

And so it goes.  Expect more studios to shut down operations, more games to be closed or put in maintenance mode by some third party game aggregator like Gamigo, and more loud complaining from players that if the studio had only listened to their completely uniformed opinion, then everything would have been fine.

Oh, and expect the usual level of optimism for every new MMORPG title announced because we also apparently never learn.

There, with that out of my system, let’s move on… or not.