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Looking Back at 2012 – Highs and Lows December 26, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Diablo III, entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, Sony Online Entertainment, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
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15 comments

Every year I try to come up with a list of highs and lows for the year.  You can go back and read my 2010 and 2011 editions if you so desire.  I often complain about the same things year after year.  As for 2012, this is what I recall.

Free to Play

Highs:

  • Another pile of games went from subscription to free to play as a default business model.  If you are a fan, you have lots of options now.
  • Free to play continues to offer the best “free trial” option for games.

Lows:

  • Clearly the dominant business model to the extent that being free to play no long bestows any sort of competitive advantage as it did back when DDO and LOTRO made the transition.  Merely going free to play will not save your game.
  • Being a primary source of income, with revenue targets to achieve, the in-game cash shop becomes a major focus of free to play games.  Increasingly, it is players who buy from the cash shop who matter most, even in games like EQII that push you to become a subscriber. Subscribing removes some annoyances and restrictions, but you are still pushed to buy from the cash shop.  They even hand you a bit of their RMT currency every month in order to prime the pump.
  • An early justification for cash shops and RMT currency was the idea of selling thing to players that could not be paid for via credit card due to transaction fees.  The idea was that players would be offered many inexpensive items that they would buy en masse.  Instead, items that cost less than $5.00, or one third of a months subscription, seem to be the tiny minority of items available… at least at the generally understood value of the RMT currency.
  • The vicious circle of discounting the RMT currency to drive people to purchase it, followed by cash shop discounts to soak up the ensuing currency glut may be emerging.
  • Some players seem to think they can get something for nothing.  They cheer when a game goes free to play, but then get upset when the inevitable reality emerges.  There is no such thing as free.

Turbine

Highs:

  • The pleasant Middle-earth charm of LOTRO can still be found.
  • The Riders of Rohan expansion has received much praise.
  • Still one of the few F2P MMOs that lets you earn their cash shop currency in-game.
  • Have I mentioned their music system lately?  Why hasn’t anybody shamelessly ripped this off?

Lows:

  • Not actually playing LOTRO, there is little chance I will see any of that cool new Rohan content… well, ever.
  • The heady days of F2P success have clearly worn off, and Turbine’s WB overlords have been cracking the revenue whip.  So we have the despoilment of Middle-earth moving forward in the cash shop.
  • Really one of the great passive-aggressive community relations fiascos occurred when Turbine asked for comments on their awful hobby-horse idea with the caveat that they didn’t want to hear anything negative.  That sort of thing never turns out badly.
  • And the F2P divide continues.  You can be a fan of the game, but unless you are buying stuff from the cash shop, you don’t mean anything.  And so some long time fans of the game seem to be moving on.  Eru wept!

Sony Online Entertainment

Highs:

  • EverQuest still going 13 years in and now has parcel delivery through the mail, more zones, five new levels, and hotbars that look like they are now from this century.
  • EverQuest Mac got a call from the governor while on death row, so lives for a while longer.
  • Planetside 2 launched!  That is a massive shooter!
  • Vanguard is alive and free to play and getting content updates!  And Brad McQuaid is back working on it.
  • The Krono experiment will make for an interesting change to watch.
  • Vague promises of a more sandbox-like EverQuest game in EverQuest Next in hopes of breaking the “me too” MMO mold where everything is basically based on EverQuest.  Sounds interesting, but we’re a long way from reality.

Lows:

  • They screwed up Station Cash valuation through heavy discounting and cash shop blanket discounts to the point of requiring SOE to stop selling expansions and gold subscriptions for Station Cash.  This in turn puts more pressure on the cash shop people to sell a couple of useful items and piles of cosmetic crap.  Meanwhile, the triple Station Cash sales continue because, of course, they have trained us to hold out for that.
  • SOEmote.  Science experiments are cool and all, but SOE is starting to accumulate a few too many such things in its basement.  Voice control, Station Launcher, will SOEmote join these on the scrap heap eventually?
  • EverQuest Online Adventures fell by the wayside.
  • Didn’t SOE already have a sandbox-like game in SWG?  The word is that Lucas was behind NGE and the closure, but SOE still has blood on its hands.
  • The EverQuest time locked progression servers seem to be dying from neglect, which is ironic because every player on those servers is a subscriber.  That is a requirement.  So I guess we see where a server full of subscribers ranks in the free to play world?

CCP

Highs:

  • No major player revolt provoking crises.  There is always some drama and things to piss off players, like the inventory changes.  But there was nothing that came anywhere close to the uproar when flying in space was set aside in favor of space Barbies with the Incarna expansion.
  • Really some cool new features in this year’s EVE expansions.
  • A year in null sec was a whole new experience for me.

Lows:

  • With no crisis to rise to, the EVE Online CSM went back to being just a marketing tool. I can see no tangible benefit to players from CSM7.  Roll on galactic student council.
  • DUST 514?  Have you heard of it?  Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you while you were playing PlanetSide 2.
  • So, yeah, null sec.  The wars are over.  What now?

Blizzard

Highs:

  • WoW still has more players than any other subscription MMO you play… not that there are many of those left.
  • WoW remains immensely profitable.
  • Mists of Pandaria shipped, putting WoW back over the 10 million players mark.
  • Diablo III shipped at last, and sold a lot of boxes, both real and virtual.

Lows:

  • Pretty much done with WoW for now.
  • No StarCraft II expansion yet.
  • Diablo III shipped about five years too late.
  • Customer support dickishness around the ability to shut off future payments when you signed up for the Annual Pass.  You can be a dick about many things, but when you start refusing to stop billing credit cards, you have crossed a line.
  • The Blizz obsession with hacks and cheating turned Diablo III into an “always online” experience that lead to the Error 37 fiasco and much complaining about things like server downtime and patch days.
  • The Diablo III auction house, a clear reaction to the illicit RMT that happened in Diablo II and WoW, managed to kill off the “item hunt” part of the game for some.
  • The level based difficulty of Diablo III meant having to play through the whole game in normal mode just to ramp up some challenge.  Some people will be happy to play through the game four times with each character.  I am not one of those people.
  • Stark failure to plan for more content once Diablo III was played out.
  • Titan?  Hello?

Trion Worlds

Highs

  • Rift continued to evolve and add features to keep players active.
  • Rift launched an expansion, the classic “next move” for a successful MMORPG, that added more content, new styles of quests, and player housing.
  • Trion managed to keep to the subscription model for Rift, thus avoiding the ruination of immersion that cash shops inevitably bring.
  • The instance group made it through all the pre-expansion instances in Rift.
  • I managed to get a level 50 character of each of the four classes before the Storm Legion expansion launched.

Lows:

  • Declining subscriptions, soft server merges, lots of “WoW did it first” additions.  They have spun the server merges as a “good” thing and have gotten all of the servers into clusters for warfronts and the like.  But less people means less subscription money.
  • Layoffs.  Not sure yet what this impacts, but it clearly isn’t a sign of sunshine and lollipops.
  • Rise End of Nations seems doomed.  But I couldn’t play it in any case as it refused to run because I have my default text scaled to 120% in Windows, or so said the error message, and I am not going to reset that every time I want to play a game.
  • Cash shop interface is already in Rift, foretelling a transition to eyesore mounts and ugly cosmetic gear… though, honestly, I am not sure I could tell the difference in Rift.

World of Tanks

Highs:

  • The physics revamp was a huge improvement for the game in my opinion.  Power slide that TD down a hill!
  • Free to play that can actually be free without being oppressive.
  • Made gold ammo available for standard credits.

Lows:

  • Got bit by that NA/EU divide.
  • In the end, it is just a shooter dressed up in vehicles.  I will get bored of the same maps and the same tactics in every game sooner or later.

Steam

Highs:

  • Lots of big sales.
  • Still a reasonable way to buy games and keep them updated.

Lows:

  • Has basically trained me never to buy a game until it is at least 50% off of list price.
  • Even with heavy discounts, I have pretty much stopped buying because I don’t really need any more games.
  • I need to delete some of the games I have on my system because there are too many updates downloading.
  • Came home to find the internet down, which meant I could not play any of my games on Steam once I booted up my computer.
  • I still don’t see why anybody would buy or download an MMO from Steam.  I don’t want to log in and start Steam just to turn around and log in and start the MMO, which will then patch itself.

Misc. Gaming

Highs:

  • GuildWars 2 shipped at last.
  • Torchlight II shipped at last!  And it is pretty good.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic actually has an expansion planned.
  • Kickstarter seems to be getting people excited about games.

Lows:

  • As is typical, the Guild Wars 2 fanboys remain pretty much blind to any faults.
  • Torchlight II still isn’t Diablo II.  But expecting that it would be was probably too much.
  • SWTOR basically slammed the door on the subscription model’s dick, while introducing some new noxious ways to implement free to play.
  • City of Heroes gets the axe based on opportunity cost.  It was making money, just not enough money.
  • Glitch fails to get the quirky/greedy balance right, has to close.  I never played it, but I hope something was learned.
  • Most Kickstarter projects don’t make their funding goal, and apparently most that do make it find that they have underestimated the money they really needed or the time it was going to take to get the project done.  Sometimes things are delayed because the funding went way past the goal and the developer decided to add in all sorts of new things, as with Steve Jackson Games and their Ultimate Edition of O.G.R.E., but that seems to be the exception.  Of the six projects I have backed, two failed to meet goal while three of the other four are way behind schedule.  (Go Defense Grid team!)  I am not saying that Kickstarter is a bad thing, but you have to go in with your eyes open.  It is less Wall Street and more “The Producers” than you might expect.
  • Streaming.  I completely fail to get that whole fad.  Why would I want to sit in front of my computer just to watch somebody else play a game?  And really, most of us aren’t as witty and amusing as we think we are.  I’ll just actually PLAY a game, thank you.

Well, that was all I could come up with.  But sitting at the end of the year looking back, I am sure I missed or forgot some key items.

What else should be on the list of highs and lows for 2012?

My 2012 Sorta-MMO Outlook December 22, 2011

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo III, entertainment, Guild Wars 2, Neverwinter, Path of Exile, Torchlight II, World of Warplanes.
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8 comments

At about this time last year I wrote a post about my MMO Outlook for 2011.

There were six games I was looking forward to in 2011 that were… mostly… in the traditional MMORPG, virtual world, shared experience with thousands of fellow players mold.  The real question was on which of the six would I be able to focus.  It seemed likely that I would only have time for one, so there was a choice to be made.

Two of the candidates were pushed out into 2012 (TERA and Guild Wars 2), one was cancelled (The Agency), and two I played in beta (DCUO and SWTOR) and decided to pass on.  The choice ended up being Rift, which is where the instance group is playing currently.  Despite my “Oh no, not another fantasy MMORPG!” initial reaction, and probably because that was exactly what it was, it filled the niche for our group.

Sitting here now and looking out at 2012, I find that the MMOs I am looking forward too… really aren’t traditional shared virtual worlds.

There is a shared experience in each, be it cities, towns, lobbies, or chat channels.  But the actual world in which you adventure, those are instanced.  You an your group are on your own and you will never run into anybody who is not on the guest list one way or another.

Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 was actually on my 2011 Outlook list, but it fell out of 2011 and there seems to be some risk of it falling out of 2012 when it comes down to it.  That is certainly Zubon’s prediction!

The game is certainly the most traditional looking of my choices for 2012 when comparing to other MMOs.  The original Guild Wars was fully instanced with just cities available as locations where players could interact with the population as a whole.  But the people at ArenaNet never claimed it was an MMO.

This time around they are stating that it is an MMO with a persistent world, with dynamic events, described as being scalable and to “encourage impromptu group play,” seeming to be the primary draw in that regard.

And, of course, it will solve all the problems from which current fantasy MMORPGs, and their players, suffer.  Or so one might be lead to believe reading some of the fan comments.

Still, the game does appear to be trying to break some past trends while keeping its subscription-free business model.  (Hey, Guild Wars was free to play back in 2005!  What trend setters!)  That ambition alone, along with the no subscriptions, is probably enough to get me to buy the box.

But I also own two Guild Wars boxes, and it was never sticky enough to get me to stay, so we’ll have to see how they do this time around.

Diablo III

And now we get into the items that are either Diablo III or very much like Diablo III, and where any MMO pretense starts sliding away.  No shared virtual worlds here.

I will, almost assuredly, buy this game.  But the true key to this list is whether I will play it with other people.  While I played a lot of the original Diablo with other people, Diablo II settled down into an almost all solo affair.  Part of that was the syncing of maps, where joining up with somebody would redo the random elements of your world to match theirs and your maps would be gone.  And part of it was the scaling difficulty levels in Diablo II.  Back in Diablo, we would sometimes just play in the same game but in different areas just to be chatting and such.  In Diablo II the monsters all scaled up as people were added, so three people running around solo wasn’t a viable option.  You had to stick together.

Then there is the group size aspect of things.  Diablo III, like its predecessors, will be limited to four players.  Given our regular group runs five people regularly, and can get expanded up to eight pretty quickly, this means it will be a game played on off-nights, which means no regular group.

So while I might play Diablo III, it may just get the treatment I give most games I play solo, which is a mention or two and a summary.  Unless Blizzard loses its roots and fails to capture what made the Diablo games great, in which case it likely be one complaint post and silence ever after.

Torchlight II

Torchlight II is clearly trying to be the Diablo III you want versus the Diablo III Blizzard is going to give you.  It will offer LAN play, server options, up to eight players in a game, PvP games, 100 levels, pets, fishing and so on.  Look at the comparo chart.

All done by a team that includes people who made the original two Diablo games.

The problem, for me, is that Torchlight, as solid as it was, did not capture the “feel” of the Diablo games.  Much like one of my early and often complaints about WoW, it has a very cartoon feel to it, in the Team Fortress 2 sort of style.  It failed on the atmosphere aspect of the Diablo essence, though it certainly had the simplicity part down.

So Torchlight II certainly gets past the group size issue and has many things to recommend it… and I will almost certainly buy it.  But will it end up being a side game I play solo, or something the whole group can dive into?

Path of Exile

I wrote about Path of Exile the other day.  This is another entry in the Diablo-like category.

If I can summarize the game badly, it is attempting to be Diablo 2.5 with a Guild Wars world and a free to play business model.  All of which may be very good things indeed.  Rather than the lobby system, it will have shared towns ala Guild Wars, where you can group up and then go out and adventure in instanced zones and dungeons all with Diablo style clicky game mechanics.

The problem is that while I give it high marks for graphic qualities and capturing some of that foreboding feel of Diablo, it hasn’t really grabbed me.

Now, to be fair, the game is in closed beta and has a ways to go.  And I haven’t played all that much.

It could be a contender, but I get the feeling we won’t be talking about a go-live date for quite a while yet.

Neverwinter

Honestly, I don’t even know where Neverwinter is going these days.  It started off sounding like a LAN party D&D adventure with five player groups.  Perfect.

But times have changed, Atari has been a pill, Cryptic has been bought up by Perfect World Entertainment (who is also Runic’s publisher for Torchlight II), and things seem to be bending to become a free to play MMO style game with the addition of Cryptic’s usual player created content system being added on.

All of which sounds fine on the surface.  I have been known to pine for an overland Forgotten Realms campaign MMO.

However, my experience in software development shows that things that start in one direction and then bend to another often fail to come together as well as one might like.  Ask me some day how the multi-server, no single point of failure, custom voice banking app development environment aimed at financial institutions with over a billion dollars in assets worked out when after launch it was decided it should become a canned, fits on one box, minimal configuration necessary, to be sold to the low end, price sensitive credit union and local bank market.

And only ask if you’re buying the beer.

Okay, maybe it won’t be that bad.  It is a multiplayer game that is now going to be integrated into a more MMO-like environment.  Cryptic has done the MMO thing a few of times now and has no doubt learned a thing or two.  It could go smoothly this time!

The real killer for this though is that it is not likely to be shipping in 2012.  Go Zubon predictions!  It is already slated for “late 2012,” and we know how that works out.

World of Warplanes

Finally, the “one of those things is not like the other” entry into the mix, World of Warplanes. (Not to be confused with World of Planes, which sounds sort of similar.)

I will play this.  It will be free to play, free to download, I will try it.

Yes, there are many questions, like how will controls work.  Somewhere at the simple F-15 Strike Eagle from my Apple II days end of the spectrum seems more likely than the IL-2 Sturmovik “so many damn controls I can’t keep track” end.  This will piss people off.

And it will probably be much like World of Tanks as far as business model, where money buys faster advancement, gold planes, and special ammo.  This will also piss people off.

My only real hope though is that it will capture the fun of World of Tanks in airplane form.  For all of its faults, I have fun playing World of Tanks, which should be the key metric, right?

So What Will It Be?

My list last year was in search of a single game out of six that would stick.  That, as I said, came to pass, with Rift being the winner.

This year it looks likely that I will play all of the items on my list, at least if they manage to ship in 2012.  The distinct lack of subscription fees certainly help on that front.  Six boxes to by at most, and maybe just three really, since three of the games seem to be going the online free to play route.

The real question is whether any of them will make it into the regular group as a title we play together.

As with last year, I am going to end this post with a poll.  This time around though, it will be multiple choice.  Which of the games on my list will you play if they are available.  I included a “none of the above” option, but only click that if you do not click anything else.

What else might come along in 2012 that I should be looking for and which fits in the sorta-MMO or MMO genre?