Tag Archives: 2011

Looking Back at 2011 – Highs and Lows

Last week I looked forward to figure out where I might be headed online game-wise in the new year.  That list was filled with a lot of not-quite-MMOs.

Now it is time to look back at what came to pass in 2011, or at least what came to pass from my vantage point in this little corner of the gaming world.  So, as I did last year, I present you with a lot of bullet points in no particular order.

Turbine

Highs:

  • LOTRO is still there, still has wonderful Middle-earth charm, still has some of the best role-play tools available in any MMORPG.
  • Their games survived and thrived post free-to-play.
  • They got a nice new chunk of Middle-earth on the map with Rise of Isengard.
  • I made it to freakin’ Moria at last!!11 one one one

Lows:

  • Their stuff still doesn’t feel as polished as WoW or Rift, which is bad in a still-growing field of competitors.
  • Their character models, awkward at launch, are not aging well at all.
  • I am still in Moria and have no plan to buckle down and get to Mirkwood, much less Isengard.
  • They shipped their last new game when?

Sony Online Entertainment

Highs:

  • I say this every year, but EQ still lives!  12 years in and still going!
  • Time locked progression servers brought back a healthy slice of that MMO nostalgia goodness!
  • I got to partake in that goodness with Potshot for a while… and it was damn good!
  • EQ got a new expansion with things like parcel delivery through the mail, more zones, five new levels, and hotbars that look like they are now from this century.
  • EQII still does a ton of things better than other games, like housing interiors.
  • SOE reconciled the Live/Extended split so there is, again, but one Popeye EverQuest II.
  • EQII got a new expansion and actually added a new class, beastlords, to the game after seven years.
  • Star Wars Galaxies goes out with dignity and some fond memories.
  • Planetside 2 announced!
  • Vanguard is actually getting some attention!

Lows:

  • That whole PSN/SOE hacking thing.  It killed our momentum on Fippy Darkpaw and made SOE look bad in general.
  • The nostalgia marketing effort around the EQ progression servers started weak and then totally disappeared once they went live.  A 12 year old game has a big nostalgia card to play, but SOE chose to pretty much ignore it the day after the Time Locked Progression servers were launched.
  • The behavior of some players on the TLP servers reminded us all why we went to instanced dungeons in the first place, plus a lot of other old arguments sprang up anew on the forums.  Too much nostalgia.
  • Hey EQ team, haven’t items through the mail been on every MMO since 2004? What took you so long?
  • EQII still pisses me off with a myriad of stupid little things, like why is “auto loot” when solo and “auto greed” when in a group the same setting.  I want to do one but not another.  The game has more settings than any MMO I have ever played, yet felt the need to combine these two?
  • EQII pissed off members of the instance group and pretty much closed the door on us ever going back there again.
  • SOE remains amazingly unprepared to announce things.  The whole merger of EQII Live and Extended brought up a couple dozen questions, the immediate answers to which were, “Uh… we need to think about that.”
  • I still cannot get past level 60 or so in EQII before becoming bored.
  • There were layoffs and the death of The Agency.
  • Who decided that a double station cash event was a great idea three days after a triple station cash event?
  • Planetside 2? Was the original popular enough to spawn a sequel?
  • Star Wars Galaxies… Lucas pulls the plug, leaves SOE to clean up the mess.

CCP

Highs:

  • The EVE Online CSM actually does some good, gets management to focus on EVE fundamentals.
  • CCP management actually turns things around for the next EVE expansion.
  • Crucible moves the game forward by fixing what we already had.
  • Oh, hey, I am in null sec!  Bet you didn’t see that one coming!
  • Dust 514 looks like it might become real giving CCP… two games.

Lows:

  • Arrogance, blindness, and Incarna nearly lead the company off a cliff.
  • Over-extension of resources meant layoffs and the long-term postponement of a World of Darkness based MMO.
  • EVE is back on the right course… but there are still times when the game is dull.  I had to buy Peggle to play while sitting and watching local.
  • Dust 514 makes sense I guess… CCP clearly has to focus… but with their customer base all on the PC, was going to a console game really the right move?

Blizzard

Highs:

  • WoW still has more players than any other subscription MMO you play… not that there are many of those left.
  • Still immensely profitable.
  • Has plans for pandas.  My daughter is all over that.
  • Oh, and they shipped Star Craft II in the last decade… and are talking about Diablo III and some new game.

Lows:

  • WoW is down 2 million players since this time last year.
  • Cataclysm malaise and the killing of game nostalgia by redoing the world we started with.  Can they ever do a WoW progression server now?
  • The slow response time of Blizzard, which worked out fine when things were going good, is starting to work against them.
  • Pandas?  That was the big news in 2011 from Blizzard?
  • Did they ship a freakin’ thing in 2011?  Does Blizzard and its huge profit margin exist simply to keep Activision from losing money every quarter where they do NOT ship a version of Call of Duty?

Trion Worlds

Highs

  • Rift actually turned out to be well executed.  It is like somebody learned from the last dozen years of MMO foibles.
  • Comfortable and polished enough to pick up and hold on to some defectors from WoW.
  • Public quests… rifts and invasions… done in the way that Warhammer Online should have.
  • Turned out to be a good place for the instance group to call home for now.

Lows:

  • It is, really, just another fantasy MMORPG in the WoW model.  If it had shipped against Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King I am not sure it would have been as successful.
  • Nothing in Trion’s next acts has me interested.

Steam

Highs:

  • I am beginning to reconcile myself with Steam.  I am still not fully on board, but I see the utility of the system as a platform to distribute games.
  • Wow, they put a lot of games on sale for real cheap over the summer and this winter.
  • Steam achievements are… something I guess.

Lows:

  • The internet went down for a couple hours last week and guess what I couldn’t do?  Play any of my games on Steam!  And, of course, Steam is where most of the single player games I would want to play when the internet goes down are.  This is the part I cannot reconcile.
  • Just because a game is marked down from $29.99 to $3.74 does not mean I will like it.  I have a lot of very inexpensive games that I do not like now that I simply wouldn’t have purchased at all were it not for a Steam sale.  Victory for the developer and Steam there, not for me.  Steam now represents the greatest collection of games I do not play on my current PC.
  • Why in the hell did I buy the entire Pop-Cap catalog? I know it was marked down 84%, but I really only wanted Peggle.  Damn you Steam!  And damn me for violating the “never buy anything online after dark” rule.
  • How often does Team Fortress 2 get updates?  Steam was updating it so frequently I had to uninstall it.

Free to Play Movement

Highs:

  • Lots of free to play games out there to sample, like World of Tanks, League of Legends, and Need for Speed World, and a lot more are promised.
  • Older games are getting a new breath of life via an influx of new players via this model.  It seemed to do wonders for EverQuest II.
  • Facebook… there were sure a lot of new games there.
  • Lord British is now the self-designated champion of light platforms and free to play.

Lows:

  • To one degree or another, the current consensus on the business model seems to be that a company must bestow some sort of advantage on or remove some annoyance from players who pay.  It is accelerated experience and golden bullets that support most of the games I see, with the selling of actual content far behind in the pack.  And the idea of supporting a game entirely based on cosmetic items sales appears to be a myth on par with Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster.
  • The games that I play that converted to free to play were the ones I played when they were subscription based.  Time is still the biggest tax on my ability to play games.
  • That a game is free to play does not make it fun to play.  A business model can ruin fun, but it can rarely create fun.
  • Is there any game idea that has not yet been screwed up in attempting to bring it to Facebook?
  • Lord British is now the self-designated champion of light platforms and free to play

Players, Blogs, and Community

Highs:

  • Players, like those in EVE Online, show that a group with limited, rational objectives can make their voices heard and see their demands met.  #Occupy protestors take note.
  • Community and playing together is not dead.  Thrown into the EverQuest progression servers, people got together, formed groups, and played nicely… for a while.
  • Hey, we all like to comment on each others blogs!  Thanks for taking the time to leave comments on mine.

Lows:

  • Every time I go into a game’s official forums, I am saddened. This is surely a symptom of the human condition.
  • EverQuest progression servers were a self-selected population of those who wanted most to group up and play nicely… and that has devolved into all the problems that made the WoW model of solo content and instances so popular.  Remember that when you have your rose colored glasses out.
  • For every rational discussion where consensus is reached I see in a blog comment thread, there has to be a dozen cases of the complete inability to see the other person’s perspective or even admit that it exists.  Can we get over that please?
  • I am still not sure which is worse, people complaining bitterly about a game they do not play and do not understand, or people complaining bitterly about people who do not like their game de jour.  Of course, they are often the same people on both counts, so at least they are easy to spot and ignore.
  • Most of the problems in-game… in any game… such as hacking, cheating, bad behavior, poor community, illicit RMT, and the state of official game forums are all pretty much our own damn fault.  Can we promise to try to behave better next year?

So that was 2011, at least from where I sit.  Yes, I failed to mention SWTOR, but I think that is really part of 2012.  There is still too much new game euphoria for me to get any feel for how things are going, especially since I am not playing.

Still, trying to recall a whole year, even with the blog open in front of my for reference, is doomed to failure.  What did I miss?  What came to pass in 2011 that I should have remembered?

Reviewing My Demands for 2011

This year I eschewed the traditional practice of making predictions and issued a series of demands for the MMO industry for 2011.

Why demands?

Well, when you make predictions and you are wrong, it is your fault.  If you make demands though, and the company does not live up to them, it is THEIR fault!  Ha!  Rather than scoring my own predictions, I get to score their behavior.

So it is time to review my demands for 2011, made way back on January 2nd.  I gave everybody until December 15th to meet my demands.  Now it is time to see who complied.

Blizzard:

Stop looking so damn smug.  Tell us what Titan is,  ship Diablo III, and add some more content to the top end of World of Warcraft.  I swear half the game is already level 85.  Oh, and another sparkle pony, but something a little less frou-frou this time.  And an expansion for StarCraft II.  Somebody has to sell some PC games this year.

See, this is what is wrong with Blizzard these days.  I threw a crapload of demands at them, six if you include “stop looking so damn smug,” and they barely made any of them.

To sum up, we still do not know what Titan is, Diablo III is out in 2012 somewhere, and no expansion for StarCraft II.  I mean, how tough was that last one?  Oh, and they still look damn smug.’

All we got was a new sparkly pony, the Winged Guardian Mount, and some more content at the top end of Cataclysm.  Not enough I say! Not enough.

Sparkle Kitty vs. Sparkle Pony

For this I decree that Mike Morhaime will have to come up with more public rationalizations about WoW subscription numbers, including at least one additional convoluted SWTOR impact denial.

Sony Online Entertainment:

Smedley? SMEDLEY!  Pull yourself together.  I know those PlayStation people are bossing you around, but you make money.  Certainly more than they make on hardware.  Refine what you have.  More server merges.  Reconcile EverQuest II Live and EverQuest II Extended.  Work on the PC controls for DC Universe Online because I am NOT hooking up a console controller to my PC just to play it.  And finish with the Agency already, you’re starting to embarrass us all.

SOE on the other hand, complied with almost all of my demands.  We certainly got server merges on a number of fronts, and some are still coming, including the merger of the Live Gamer EverQuest II servers into standard servers. EverQuest II Live and EverQuest II Extended were reconciled, with Live eating and then becoming Extended.

And they certainly finished up The Agency.  Ouch.

In fact, the only demand they missed on was fixing the controls for the PC version of DC Universe Online, and they were so busy launching, consolidating servers, and then converting to free to play that I guess they can have a pass on that.

For this I grant favorable portents for Planetside 2… provided they don’t pull an “Agency” move with it and string us along for several years.

Cryptic:

Just go free to play across the board already.  Champions and Star Trek Online.  Everybody else is doing it.  But don’t screw over the lifetime subscribers.  And when you go free to play, make sure you have something shiny and new to bring people back.  Oh, and Neverwinter, get it out this year and don’t screw it up!

Cryptic… Well, everything is either free to play or in the works.  They’ll be a month late on the demand in the case of Star Trek Online.

Neverwinter though… just where are you guys even going with that title these days?  Cryptic is supposed to be your company name, not your business plan.

I put a curse of market confusion upon Cryptic for Neverwinter… which they deserve just for choosing that name.  There are OTHER locations in Forgotten Realms you know.

BioWare:

Everybody is watching you.  You’re not making some single player game.  You’re making an engine, an engine that is supposed to take in money and deliver the joy of being in the Star Wars universe.  Don’t let those wankers in San Mateo make you ship early.  Meanwhile, since you guys seem to be in the MMO driver’s seat at EA, for now, don’t screw around with Ultima Online, but do something about Warhammer Online.  You’re bright guys, you’ll figure something out.

Wow, talk about delivering.  I am pretty sure they moved the early access back to the 13th of December just to be clearly within the scope of my demand.  And yet it is late enough that we cannot really tell if the engine is set to vacuum up money from Star Wars loving fans.

Plus they didn’t screw around with Ultima Online and they came up with a DoTA-like game reusing Warhammer Online assets and branding it as Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes.

Full points all around.  For this the force will be with them… for three months.  They are on their own after that!

CCP:

Will you put that drink down already?  EVE is still going, still making money, still popular, still unique, I get it.  And you are improving it over time.  But really, you’re starting to look like a one-trick pony.  What are all those people in Atlanta doing?  You don’t have to ship something new this year, but at least make us believe you’re really working on something new.  We’re starting to think you’re spending all that money you make on akvavit and exotic dancers.

CCP is the only company that actually responded directly to my demands.  CCP Manifest dropped my a note just 8 days after my post promising that we would all see amazing things from CCP this year and that my demands would be fully met.

And then, of course, Incarna hit, the player base blew up… more than usual…  plans were re-assessed, people were laid off, projects were set aside, and the summer of discontent basically loomed over the staff at CCP.

And then they refocused, shipped the Crucible expansion to mostly favorable reaction (it sure is pretty), and plans seem to be solid for DUST 514, with a release target (Spring 2012… which means by Christmas, right?) and a platform (PlayStation 3 works for me).

So I guess, in the end, they met my demands.

I would suggest that we did not need all the drama, but that seems to be one of the vital ingredients to any CCP operation.  That and alcohol.  I know they aren’t spending all their money on booze, but I suspect there is still a line item in the budget for it.

For this I grant an early Spring and no bankruptcy in 2012.

NCsoft:

Aion, City of Whatever, and Guild Wars.  Is that really all you have going in North America?  Well, there is Lineage II I suppose.  And what do you have on your to do list?  Blade & Soul?  Really?  Don’t bother.  And let Guild Wars 2 gestate to full term, which means don’t ship it in 2011.

I didn’t ask much from NCsoft, and they delivered.  No Guild Wars 2 in 2011.  Now the question is will we see it in 2012?

Your boon is the usual subscriber boost as you move all of your titles to free to play business model.

Trion Worlds:

Your big opportunity is coming.  Ship Rift at just about the time when WoW Players have finally wrapped up the high-end content and you could get… a stable half a million subscribers.  Okay, that isn’t WoW numbers, but history shows that most people just stick with their favorite MMO forever due to the social network they develop.  Hrmm… that is sounding like a prediction, not a demand.  Okay, go and get a half a million subscribers already!  By June!  With your shield or on it and all that!

Trion, you made it.  While you were out there claiming a million customers, I am going to take it as read that that meant more that half a million subscribers at one time.  And you even kept them for a while, thanks to Cataclysm backlash, a late ship date for SWTOR, and essentially no new competitors in your field.

For this you get favorable portents for End of Nations and a soft landing from the SWTOR effect.

Other MMO Studios:

Which of you is even poised to do anything in 2011?  TERA is going to be another Asian oddity, soon forgotten by the mainstream.  It was all that Aventurine could do to ship Darkfall, they won’t be doing anything else. Funcom won’t get The Secret World out in 2011, they’re more likely to cut more staff.  All of you other studios, select a champion and send it out to do battle.  Yes, it can be TERA if you cannot find anything else, but I’m telling you it is going to be completely forgettable.

Nothing?  Really, no small studio champion has arisen?

Fine, you’re all doomed to mutter about the success of Minecraft and Angry Birds.

Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw:

When Star Wars: The Old Republic ships this year, review it.  I know, it is a muh-more-puh-gah, but this is Star Wars and BioWare.  I demand it.  We all demand it!

Alright, you’re absolved because of the late ship date of SWTOR.  But  I expect a review of it next year.

Dr. Richard Bartle:

You were awfully quiet in 2010.  And you’ve got your three level 85s in WoW now. (A very common claim these days.)  Go say something controversial.  Declare WoW dead.  Predict SWTOR will be a failure as a virtual world.  Make some news.  Do an interview with those people at Massively.  They’ll print anything you say.

Dr. Bartle was kind enough to comment on my original demands list that, while I found the past controversies surrounding his statements in the gaming press amusing (remember the “I’d Close WoW” headline or his positive view of Stranglethorn Vale), the whole thing tends not to be so much fun for him.

And he managed to steer clear of such controversies, despite my egging on certain members of the Massively staff.

So he gets a pass as well.  We can just hope that somebody takes note of his idea of how to break the current state of stagnation in MMOs and that he has a good fortune in 2012 as he attempts to educate us on the obvious.  I personally look forward to further education.

Scoring

What is there to score?

Okay, if you want to view my demands as predictions, I think I did okay this year.  But I did not really go out on a limb with anything either.  2011 was a quiet year in many ways, with titles being pushed off into 2012.

Now, do I go back to outrageous predictions for 2012 or stick with unreasonable demands?

2011 – Second MMO Checkpoint: Rift Edition

Here we are at my second follow-up post to my MMO outlook post for 2011, and we’re going to talk about Rift.

Rift is shiny.

Shiny even in battle

It looks good, even from the moment you step into the game.

Peeking out into the Guardian starter zone

It is hard to credit Trion Worlds enough.  They have handled this game like pros, from the way the game looks and feels to the slow drip open beta events that have kept people clamoring for more. (This is something I think Blizzard totally blew for Cataclysm, at least from a marketing perspective.  The all summer/fall continuous open beta seemed to take the edge off for people.)

They have grabbed all the good stuff, the stuff people have shown they love, buffed them up and put them in Rift.

We all love achievements, right?

Everything is familiar yet up a notch or two in quality and presentation.  Simple things just look better.


I mean, look at those buttons.  They are comprehensible!  (Well, to me at least.)  How many MMOs do you start off in and the buttons for key functions look this good?  A tiny little feature, way down in the lower left hand corner, but indicative of the whole package.

And then there are the skill icons.

action action bar!

Those skill icons are all done so very well.  Granted, I got a bunch of skills pretty quickly in the game (I have to give Wolfshead a nod. While you need to get that 2nd soul pretty quick to to fill the skill voids in all of the classes I tried, I think maybe that 3rd soul comes in a little too soon.) but the icons are all clear and distinct.  And you know what that first one does for sure, just by looking at it, and most of the rest are some form of “hit the bad guy, hard!”

And the soul tree, any veteran MMO player will get it at first glance.

<make Soul Train joke here>

Everything is… well… shiny.  Like the song from Cats Don’t Dance, Trion Worlds seems to get that people like it Big and Loud.

Actual size Level Up text

And shiny.

When you get into the world, which is dark and has a feel similar to that of Warhammer Online (not to mention using the same font for player names), action is close at hand.  And you do not have to go too far down the quest chain to run into that which gives the game its name, rifts.

These are big zone-wide events and you are invited.  Just click the “Join Public Group” button that appears at the top of and you’re on the team.

I'm in the raid now!

And, being open beta with a large and enthusiastic following, prime time Rift hunts had the feel of mass migrations as people thundered across the landscape.

It's the tier 1 Telara marathon!

At midnight when I couldn’t get to sleep and logged in for a while, things were a little less tenable.

The whole package is shiny, familiar, and seemingly as tight as a drum.

At least for those first 10 levels.  I rolled up a few characters, but never went past 10 with any of them.  I wanted more breadth, trying out classes on both Guardian and Defiant sides of the world, those being the two opposing factions of Telara.

All of the things I like about other MMOs are there.  Which is, of course, a problem.

If World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, and EverQuest II disappeared tomorrow, I’d be all over this like white on the proverbial polished rice.

But those three games, and many more, are still around and won’t be going anywhere any time soon.  I mean, look at EverQuest.  It is turning 13 soon and it is still hanging in there.  They even launched a new progression server for it.

So my anxiety about the game seems to have proven true.  It is more of the same stuff I am already consuming, and I can only consume so much at once.

Furthermore, Rift doesn’t do anything about the things I don’t like about MMOs.

Servers for example.

Or shards, which is the term Trion Worlds has chosen.  But servers, shards, realms, or whatever, here is something that only EverQuest II Extended seems to have come close to solving.

There it was, open beta, and Trion already had a long list of shards, all of which were full, something which seems to indicate that the “I want to play with my friends, but they are on a different shard” issue is going to replay the way it always does.

And, of course, there is the whole level thing, the other great separator that keeps people from playing with their friends.

These are issues that I’ve had to reconcile through various means already in other games, and I groan a bit at the thought of having to do it again.

If I was tired of the games I already had on my plate, Rift would be a fine choice.  It has much to recommend it, as long as you are looking for a game that is clearly located in the center of the fantasy MMORPG genre and proud of it.

But with my plate already heaped with fantasy MMORPG goodness that I am invested in because of friends (WoW), lore (LOTRO), or nostalgia (anything involving Norrath), I really have to finish with a couple of those before I look into Rift.

So I won’t be pre-ordering.  I won’t be playing on day one.

And that certainly is not because of any game issue.  It just isn’t 1999 or 2004 any more.  There are a lot of choices for games and I can’t play them all.  And while the game looks solid, I just didn’t see anything, nor have I read about anything, that stands out as a must-have differentiator for me.

I might get back to Rift at some later date.  It certainly looks like it will do well enough that it will still be there waiting for me.  But for now, Rift is scratched.

How long until Star Wars: The Old Republic comes out? I think either it or Tera are the next games on my 2011 watch list due to ship.

2011 – First MMO Check Points

I wrote a piece at the end of last year looking at 2011 and the MMO the titles that I might consider playing.

One premise of the the article was that, given past experience, I can probably only pick up and play one of this year’s titles in any sort of regular or serious fashion.

I also put up a poll asking people what they would pick, if they could only choose one of the leading titles that might hit the market in 2011.  The results of the poll so far actually ended up just about where I thought they would.

Most people picked Star Wars: The Old Republic, which is what I expected.  It was certainly the favorite going in.  And it certainly needs to be to not cause serious fallout in the MMO world when it ships.

Guild Wars 2 also had a strong showing, but the Guild Wars people tend to be pretty dedicated.

Rift was a distant third, which surprised me a bit, since so many of my fellow bloggers seem to be all a bubble about the game.  Well, the sample size is pretty small. Or maybe they just didn’t vote.  I don’t think you can through Google Reader.

Eight people chose other, but given their choices (two for Diablo III (not an MMO), two for EVE Online (not a new MMO), one each for Firefall (maybe an MMO, maybe not), World of Darkness (not shipping in 2011), The Secret World (an unlikely candidate for 2011), and none of the above) I’m not sure everybody understood the question.

And then there were five for TERA, two for DCUO, and one for The Agency.  (I didn’t know that Smed read my blog.)

But I am now at what I would call the first MMO check point of the year and the second one is not too far behind.

DC Universe Online goes live Tuesday.  The beta ended at 6:55pm PST last night with everybody getting logged off before I got to see Batman (apparently wearing green), and now I have to make the go/no go choice.

And I think I am going to pass.

It isn’t the camera controls, though they do still annoy me.  I could never make the camera stick over the shoulder and in frantic fights ended up looking the exact wrong direction more often than I liked.

It isn’t the interface, which is clearly geared towards consoles.  That makes it feel a bit slow and awkward on a PC, but it is not a deal killer, and it is a necessary compromise to accommodate console controllers.

It isn’t the game play, which can be intense and satisfying.  I like being able to break up much of the environment, though it does seem to respawn very quickly.

It isn’t even because, for some inexplicable reason, their Superman model reminds me of The Penguins of Madagascar.  There is just something about the shape of his head…

You didn't see anything...

No, the game is a gritty, well detailed world, full of action with a bit of a Matrix Online feel to it, if I had to draw some comparison.  Not a bad thing at all.

It is just that the superhero thing really isn’t my schtick. But I knew that coming in, so DC Universe Online was always a long shot with me. I enjoyed it in small doses, but never felt that burning need to get back in and play.  I wasn’t hooked.

Capt. Wilhelm to Retire

So I wish DCUO a happy and successful launch next Tuesday.  I enjoyed my short time with it, but cannot see myself getting invested.

Which leads us to the next check point; Rift.

Trion Worlds has announced that Rift is going live on March 1st.

Pre-orders, collectors editions,  and all the usual tidbits are being dangled to get people to buy early and often.

But I am really on the fence when it comes to this game.  I’ve said that before.  I’m still there.

People have had quite a number of good things to say about the quality of the game.  But nobody has really said anything to trigger the “must have” effect.  I am interested, but not excited about this game.

Meanwhile, almost universally, commentary about the game cops to the sameness of the game relative to other fantasy MMORPGs. While over at  Massively their latest beta review had four out of five generally positive views of the game overall, though still mired in sentiments of sameness, while two of the five staff members polled savage the initial stage of the game.

But the theme still seems to be running through all reports: Sameness.  And not in a subtle way.  It is always out front and loud.

Not that more of the same is necessarily a bad thing, but I still have a whole bunch of “same” on my plate.  What does Rift bring to the table, what does it do better than my other current choices?  That is the question I need to answer.

Well, there are almost two months to go until launch.  Plenty of time to make a decision.

But every time I read something that sends me towards the Rift pre-order, something else pops up that makes me think again.

Spam Comment of the Year Competition is Now Open

I wasn’t really planning such a competition for 2011 or for any other period of time.

Then I got this comment.

I have a website with free WoW guides that cost money!!

-Nick

That was just too cute and too good of a yardstick by which to measure all other spam comments.  This comment now stands as the best spam comment of the year (so far) for this site.  I will let you know when it has been potentially surpassed.

Meanwhile, just in case you are selling WoW Guides or in-game currency or anything of the sort and you want me to advertise your site, read this post first.

That is pretty much how I foresee any negotiations proceeding.

Good luck.  Now waiting for the next great spam comment.

(Note: Nothing you say in comments counts SynCaine… not for this competition at least.)

My Demands for 2011

It is the new year, and with that comes predictions.  You can find plenty of them out there.  Lots of people have them, like Tipa, Spinks, Lum (those were predictions, right?), Green Armadillo and Keen. (More linked as I find them.)

Me?  I’m done with predictions.  Predictions come from a position of weakness!  I think my 2008, 2009, and 2010 predictions pretty much prove that.

For 2011 I am making demands!

And if my demands are not met, there will be consequences!  Consequences I tell you!

You have until December 15th to meet these demands!

Blizzard:

Stop looking so damn smug.  Tell us what Titan is,  ship Diablo III, and add some more content to the top end of World of Warcraft.  I swear half the game is already level 85.  Oh, and another sparkle pony, but something a little less frou-frou this time.  And an expansion for StarCraft II.  Somebody has to sell some PC games this year.

Sony Online Entertainment:

Smedley? SMEDLEY!  Pull yourself together.  I know those PlayStation people are bossing you around, but you make money.  Certainly more than they make on hardware.  Refine what you have.  More server merges.  Reconcile EverQuest II Live and EverQuest II Extended.  Work on the PC controls for DC Universe Online because I am NOT hooking up a console controller to my PC just to play it.  And finish with the Agency already, you’re starting to embarrass us all.

Cryptic:

Just go free to play across the board already.  Champions and Star Trek Online.  Everybody else is doing it.  But don’t screw over the lifetime subscribers.  And when you go free to play, make sure you have something shiny and new to bring people back.  Oh, and Neverwinter, get it out this year and don’t screw it up!

BioWare:

Everybody is watching you.  You’re not making some single player game.  You’re making an engine, an engine that is supposed to take in money and deliver the joy of being in the Star Wars universe.  Don’t let those wankers in San Mateo make you ship early.  Meanwhile, since you guys seem to be in the MMO driver’s seat at EA, for now, don’t screw around with Ultima Online, but do something about Warhammer Online.  You’re bright guys, you’ll figure something out.

CCP:

Will you put that drink down already?  EVE is still going, still making money, still popular, still unique, I get it.  And you are improving it over time.  But really, you’re starting to look like a one-trick pony.  What are all those people in Atlanta doing?  You don’t have to ship something new this year, but at least make us believe you’re really working on something new.  We’re starting to think you’re spending all that money you make on akvavit and exotic dancers.

NCsoft:

Aion, City of Whatever, and Guild Wars.  Is that really all you have going in North America?  Well, there is Lineage II I suppose.  And what do you have on your to do list?  Blade & Soul?  Really?  Don’t bother.  And let Guild Wars 2 gestate to full term, which means don’t ship it in 2011.

Trion Worlds:

Your big opportunity is coming.  Ship Rift at just about the time when WoW Players have finally wrapped up the high-end content and you could get… a stable half a million subscribers.  Okay, that isn’t WoW numbers, but history shows that most people just stick with their favorite MMO forever due to the social network they develop.  Hrmm… that is sounding like a prediction, not a demand.  Okay, go and get a half a million subscribers already!  By June!  With your shield or on it and all that!

Other MMO Studios:

Which of you is even poised to do anything in 2011?  TERA is going to be another Asian oddity, soon forgotten by the mainstream.  It was all that Aventurine could do to ship Darkfall, they won’t be doing anything else. Funcom won’t get The Secret World out in 2011, they’re more likely to cut more staff.  All of you other studios, select a champion and send it out to do battle.  Yes, it can be TERA if you cannot find anything else, but I’m telling you it is going to be completely forgettable.

Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw:

When Star Wars: The Old Republic ships this year, review it.  I know, it is a muh-more-puh-gah, but this is Star Wars and BioWare.  I demand it.  We all demand it!

Dr. Richard Bartle:

You were awfully quiet in 2010.  And you’ve got your three level 85s in WoW now. (A very common claim these days.)  Go say something controversial.  Declare WoW dead.  Predict SWTOR will be a failure as a virtual world.  Make some news.  Do an interview with those people at Massively.  They’ll print anything you say.

Points?

I suppose you expect me to assign points to these, and to score my success at the end of the year?  Screw that.  If my demands are not met, I will just sit back and announce the consequences.  And I have 11 or so months to work on that.  Remember, you have until December 15th!

My MMO Outlook for 2011

More of that “end of year” stuff we bloggers are required by law to do.

Next year looks like it has the potential to be a banner MMO year.  Lots of stuff is coming out and much of it looks to have some serious potential.

The real question is, what should I spend time with and what should I skip.

There is only so much time to play, and MMOs have a certain “Hotel California” aspect to them… at least for me… I can check out any time I like, but I can never leave. (I was exploring EverQuest yet again this fall.  See.  I was first playing that in March 1999.)

My current MMO baggage is pretty heavy already.

There is World of Warcraft.  The instance group has returned to Azeroth.  It is also the game, because of Macintosh support as much as anything else, that I play with my daughter.  So it is unlikely to fall by the wayside completely, even if the instance group decides it wants to try something new.

And after WoW, there is the every changing hierarchy of “other” MMOs that I play in addition to WoW, the most prominent of which are Lord of the Rings Online, EverQuest II, and EVE Online, but which could, given  the right whim or pang of nostalgia, include a half dozen other games.

So realistically, out of the MMOs coming out in 2011, I can probably pick up and play one seriously.

The problem is picking which one.  There are a few to choose from and they each have their own appeal.

Here is my list of MMOs to consider:

Star Wars: The Old Republic – The De Facto Choice

But it is Star Wars!

Star Wars: The Old Republic is at the top of the list for 2011.  How can it not be?

I mean, it is Star Wars from Pete’s sake!  Star Wars!  We’ve already covered the ratio of Star Wars to Star Trek in terms of literary popularity.

Star Trek vs. Star Wars

I have even created a category for it in WordPress already in anticipation of its release next year.

Which assumes that it will actually come out in 2011… and that it will be playable.

EA has a history of “gun to the head” ship dates, so it seems likely to hit the shelves in 2011, but you never know when they might suddenly learn their lesson on that front.

And I am going to guess that BioWare, shipping its first MMO, is going to face a set of unexpected (by them) issues at launch that will gum up the works good and hard, a situation that won’t be helped if EA kicks SWTOR out the door prematurely.

Plus the whole thing is going to be on the Hero Engine, a platform as yet unproven in a real world, subscriptions in the six figures and up environment. Danger, danger, danger.

None of these are deadly sins, especially if the game is good.

EverQuest was in all sorts of trouble on day one, but was so different (yet familiar) that we all rode it out and stayed subscribed in numbers well beyond the expectations of the EverQuest team.  With SWTOR though, a possible forced early launch with a noob MMO crew on an untried third party platform presents a series of real risks.  And if the game doesn’t stand out as delivering a unique experience, failure is a distinct possibility, especially to a cynic like me.

On the plus side, it is Star Wars, it is BioWare, it is an MMO.  If I had to make my choice today without any additional input, this would be the game I’d take.

DC Universe Online – More Super Heroes

Men in Tights

DC Universe Online is coming, and it is coming soon.

Very soon.

January 11th (1/11/11, I guess they couldn’t wait until November) will see the release of Sony Online Entertainment’s entry in the super hero MMO genre.

This is the only game on my list I have tried as part of a beta, primarily because I haven’t really liked super hero games up to this point.  I spent more time creating characters than playing them in both City of Heroes and Champions Online.

DCUO seems to be less about costumes and more about action.  Exciting, frantic, quite visceral action.  It has a very arcade-ish in feel… which it probably should because it is clearly a console game.

This is all a good thing, except when it comes to controls on the PC.  A real console controller (which is to say, not a Wii controller) has a second analog stick to control the camera.  As Yahtzee said in his review the other week, “The camera is like the working class.  If you cannot control it, it will plot to destroy you.”  And the camera in DCUO seemed hell bent on doing me in, mentally and physically. Having to try to fix the camera angles while running around like crazy fighting was a serious annoyance.

Camera control issues aside, small doses of DCUO were enough to satisfy me.  I could not see myself playing this game for a stretch of more than an hour.  It is fun but can be almost exhausting.

Not that that is necessarily a bad thing.  And if I wanted a game that was both an MMO and very much unlike anything I was currently playing, DCUO would not be a bad choice.  I just cannot tell if it was something I would stick with over time or not.

A key deciding factor: How much will Station Cash play into things?  Given how SOE decided to present the whole Freeblood race in EQII, it could be a deal breaker.

Rift – Mr. Familiar

Not a dye nor a floor wax

A lot of people seem interested or excited about Rift – Planes of Telara… or Rifts of Telara… or just Rift.  I’m not really sure what the official name is at this point.  Anyway, people whose opinions I respect are writing a lot about it.

And it is being made by people with solid track records who have proven they can do good things.  Reports about the game, now that the beta NDA has been dropped, tell a tale of a polished and really good looking game, with some special twists to help it stand out in the fantasy MMO genre.  And then there is Wolfshead with a recipe for fixing the game.  It is never too early to start on that.

Unfortunately, my dance card is kind of full when it comes to the fantasy MMO genre.

One of the things Rift has going for it is the latest and greatest version of Public Quests, which sounds like it is working great in the beta.  Unfortunately, Public Quests were a also a key differentiator for Warhammer Online back in the day, where they also worked well in beta.  Will Rift fare better when it goes beyond the self-selecting beta crowd and has to capture an audience that will need to buy a box and pay a subscription fee?

And then there is the soul mechanic, which has described as multiple mix-and-match talent trees so you can have greater character differentiation.  Again, sound great in theory, but we’ve all seen diversity packed up and put away because there turns out to be one “optimum” talent point distribution for a given role or task and all else is considered crap.  Maybe the team at Trion is wily enough to have avoided this… or maybe showing up with the soul that gives you a pet will mark you as a loser as surely as showing up in a WoW dungeon finder group with the title “the Explorer” will.  We shall see.

And while I have enunciated what is probably the most pessimistic possible view of what these features portend, I still have to ask what Rift really has going for it that would draw me in and keep me playing.

Guild Wars 2 – Return to the land of no jumping

space bar... space bar!I really like that logo.

Logo aside though, Guild Wars 2 is probably a reach, given I could never really get into the original Guild Wars.

I own it.  I actually own the original and one of the expansions.

I like the idea of it. Not so many levels, emphasis on group adventures.

And there is the subscriptions model, which is “Buy the box, play forever.”  You have to love that.

I’ve installed it a few times and have tried to get into it, but I never stick with it.

The scenery is gorgeous but I find the character models off-putting.  I have mocked Darren about his complete aversion to any anime-like Asian character models, but I kind of see his point here.  And you have to look at your character all the time, so if you don’t like how they look….

That and the space bar doesn’t make you jump.  This is one of those trivial things that suddenly becomes annoying when you can’t do it.  I watch our instance group when we travel across zones and several of us are practically addicted to jumping.  We jump at the crest of every rise, over every obstacle, on every down slope just to see how far we can go.  So when Potshot and I last played Guild Wars it almost caused us physical distress not to be able to jump.

Okay, those are, admittedly two lame reasons not to play a game.  But I could never find some huge bonus to the game that would off-set those two things that I couldn’t get in a game where I didn’t mind the character models and I could jump.  So Guild Wars lost by default.

Still that is yesterday’s news.  I hope.

Guild Wars 2 could change all of that.  They’re keeping the same no-subscription model, which everybody loves, the heavy instancing, which I don’t mind, and trying to simplify skills a bit, which is probably good, while working with a new “quests not from a guy with an exclamation point over his head” model of events for players (if I read it right).

On the other hand, they’ve upped the level cap from 20 to 80, no doubt to capture the achiever types, and while they promise it won’t be a grind, I find that hard to swallow.  Either levels have value, in which case you are automatically encouraged to push towards level cap, or they are not, in which case why bother with them?

And of course, like Rift, GW2 is yet another fantasy MMO, which isn’t exactly what I need.

Plus it might not ship in 2011.

So I am probably unlikely to go here unless I get an ironclad guarantee that the space bar will let me jump.

The Exiled Realm of Arborea, TERA Online – The Pretty Face

Not Terra, no no no

TERA seems to be lurking in my periphery.  I saw it back at GDC.  The person in the cube next to me at work has TERA screen shots as his desktop patterns.  Tipa just tweeted the other day asking who was looking to play it.

But what do I actually know about TERA?  Well, it looks really nice in screen shots and demos I’ve seen.  But it is still another fantasy MMO.  What does it bring to the table?  Here is a marketing quote for the game:

TERA is the first true Action MMORPG, providing all of the depth of an MMO with the intensity and gratification of an action game. Players fully control their characters using the game’s dynamic battle system. Player actions can change the balance of power in a world threatened by dark powers as six allied races try to work together to protect their lands from marauding monsters, underworld dwellers, and evil scheming gods.

TERA raises the bar, setting new standards in the gaming industry. It is a visually stunning world with graphic quality above all other games in the industry. You will experience a new ground-breaking gameplay system where stereotypes of traditional MMORPGs will be broken. You will have full control over the attacks and the fate of your enemy. No more ‘pointing and clicking’ and playing combat relay with the enemies. Furthermore, not only do you control the action, TERA is also set in a world where the players will dictate the flow of the economy and individually impact the community environment.

Well, I suppose I should be thankful that they didn’t talk about the oft-mentioned “fourth pillar” at least.

And while I have probably been influenced by the beta, but it sounds like it might play a lot like DCUO.

Or maybe not.

Some of the superlatives are hard to digest.  What does it mean to have full control over the attacks (who else has control over my attacks in other games… we are talking about my attacks right) and the fate of my enemy?  Does that mean I can force them into indentured servitude and make them go do my trade skill harvesting?  Can I make them quack like a duck?

And remember, setting new standards can include standards for failure.

This seems an unlikely bet for me, but what I don’t know about it could fill a book.  I’ll look for some beta reports to see how much of the marketing is empty hype.

The Agency – The Covert Ops Hero’s Journey

A really, really secret agency

Oh, The Agency.

The trailers sure look good.

But does anybody think this is going to ship in 2011?

I’ve been on The Agency hype and silence ride a little too long to put money on it.

Other Factors

There are things that can sway which games I might try over the next year.  The ongoing reviews and reports from the various betas and the like will certainly influence me.

The instance group is also a key factor.  The five of us represent a wide range of interest in the genre.  At one end, there is Potshot who plays more betas than any of us and myself, who keeps a candle lit for the MMOs of the past.  And at the other end of the spectrum we have Earl and Bung who are pretty happy with WoW as our weekly vehicle and who really only have time for one game in any case.

If one of these games ends up being a must play for Potshot, I’ll probably go play as well.  If any become a must-play for Earl or Bung, the whole group will probably migrate over for a while.

And if group sizes in a given game go beyond the WoW limit of 5, there are other potential players would would come along for the ride.

What Will It Be?

I am sure I will end up playing at least one of these games in 2011, I’m just not sure which one yet.

How about you.  Which of these are on your must-play list?  If you had to pick one, which would it be?

And did I leave MMOs off of the list that I should be considering?  What other logos should I be clipping from game sites?

TERA is the first true Action MMORPG, providing all of the depth of an MMO with the intensity and gratification of an action game. Players fully control their characters using the game’s dynamic battle system. Player actions can change the balance of power in a world threatened by dark powers as six allied races try to work together to protect their lands from marauding monsters, underworld dwellers, and evil scheming gods. TERA raises the bar, setting new standards in the gaming industry. It is a visually stunning world with graphic quality above all other games in the industry. You will experience a new ground-breaking gameplay system where stereotypes of traditional MMORPGs will be broken. You will have full control over the attacks and the fate of your enemy. No more ‘pointing and clicking’ and playing combat relay with the enemies. Furthermore, not only do you control the action, TERA is also set in a world where the players will dictate the flow of the economy and individually impact the community environment.