Welcome to the first day of 2021. A new dawn on a new year greeted us this morning.
2020 plus 1
Traditionally the first day of the year sees a post from me about the upcoming twelve months. Usually it is predictions, but as the history of links shows, I occasionally diverge and try something else.
This year is going to be one of those “something else” years. This year I have questions.
Oh, I have many questions about what 2021 will bring. Many questions. But for the purposes of this post, I am going to keep them focused on video games. And, when it comes down to things, asking a question is just one step removed from a prediction. A prediction is just an attempt to answer the question, but even formulating the question requires a bit of speculation as to what the future may bring. You just look less wrong because, hey, you were only asking a question!
What will a return to normalcy bring to the video game industry?
I remember from my history classes that a return to “normalcy” was one of the campaign slogans of Warren G. Harding, which made it in to the word we have today. And here in 2021, we have been offered a vision of normalcy. If the vaccines work, if the pandemic subsides, if some new horror doesn’t step in to fill the COVID-19 void, we could, come the summer, be back to some of our old pastimes.
Movie theaters. Restaurants. Sporting events. Family gatherings. Air travel.
All that and more may return.
That will leave less time for video games. 2020 was a story of success for many video game companies as we all stayed home. Does the end of the pandemic portend a market crash and layoffs and all the other things that come with an industry down turn?
Also, some of us will likely have to go back to the office. I know that some managers and most of HR hate having the employees out of sight. Back to open plan fish bowls for some people. That will mean an increase in productivity for some, including in the video games industry, which has blamed the pandemic and work from home for some delays over the last year. Will they get back on schedule or just find new excuses for delays?
Overall, what will the impact be?
This is probably the big general industry question.
Will Shadowlands hold players?
Blizz made a few risky changes last year, including the level squish. But making Shadowlands an expansion where getting to level cap is basically the intro and the rest of the expansion is all what one might call “end game” is another level. It is a change and a gamble and we will have to see how it plays out.
Will we get more classic WoW content?
The rumors and leaks seem to indicate that we will see The Burning Crusade Classic at some point this year. However, there are serious questions as to when we’ll see it and how it will be rolled out. There have been surveys asking players how they should handle TBC. They won’t want to kill off the vanilla vibe that has worked so well for them, so transfers or new servers seem likely, but we don’t know anything really. As for when, there was a rumor that May was a launch target, but that seems laughably quick for the slow and steady Blizzard bunch. Maybe some time in the fall?
Will Diablo Immortal ship?
It has been two years now. More of us have phone now. Some of us have even upgraded our phones since BlizzCon 2018. Are you going to ship this thing or what? If it is any good at all it will do okay. The BlizzCon 2018 reaction was largely due to you pitching to the wrong audience after having hinted about Diablo IV. Just let people have it. It couldn’t possibly be taking this long to finish it, could it? This is just Blizz being conservative and not indicative of some horrible problem with the game, right?
Does Blizzard have anything new planned?
In a way, 2020 returned Blizzard to 2010, where so much of the revenue came from World of Warcraft that almost no other game really mattered when it came to the bottom line. While Blizzard isn’t quite back to WoW being the only game in their portfolio that matters yet, but Diablo IV is years away, Hearthstone can only put out so many expansions per year, Overwatch is static, and they’ve put StarCraft on the shelf with Heroes of the Storm. If they don’t have something big, then we’re back to all Azeroth all the time.
What does Daybreak under EG7 really portend?
It is ever so with the things that Men begin: there is a frost in Spring, or a blight in Summer, and they fail of their promise.
-Gimli, The Lord of the Rings
Here we are in a new year with a new company running Daybreak and they sound like they want to be serious about video games and expand their holdings and invest in the titles and IPs they have just acquired. But what will really come to pass? Lots of people have been bitten hard by the reality of the video games industry. You have to make enough money to maintain your current project as well as fund any new projects. Daybreak was hard pressed to do that on their own, will EG7 be able to change that?
Will Norrath continue to boom?
As bad as Daybreak management could seem at times, there is an argument to be made that EverQuest and EverQuest II rolled right along, got an expansion every year, got a big updates, ran holidays, and did all the things expected of such games quite steadily during the Daybreak era. It was, in its way, a golden era with little in the way of shake ups to disturb them. Gone were dumb ideas like SOEmote… as well as any hope for a new EverQuest game. What happens now? EverQuest seems secure, profitable as it was, but EQII was the low earner with the smallest customer base in 2020. Does EG7 keep pouring money into that? Is there plan?
What happens with H1Z1?
Somewhere behind EverQuest II is H1Z1, which didn’t even get a mention in the EG7 presentation when it came to numbers. The acknowledged it as a valuable Daybreak IP, but how much of that was fluff?
Where is Cold Iron Studios?
Not even acknowledged by EG7 so far, so the question about them remains. Where are they in the EG7 corporate structure?
What does ArenaNet do after all the departures?
Yes, there is still a plan for another expansion for GuildWars 2, and the game isn’t going anywhere. But when the leadership wanders off… usually for reasons of dissatisfaction… that is a bad sign.
Where does CCP go next with New Eden?
The Trigalvian invasion is over. A new region, Pochven, has been carved out of New Eden. The huge, two year event has come to its conclusion So what is next? What will be the next venue to expand the lore of New Eden and give players something fresh to explore?
Will CCP stop strangling the New Eden economy?
CCP spent 2020 treating the player base like a bunch of ISK addicts and has been trying to dry us out. The impacts of their efforts have been quite clear in the monthly economic reports. The company has said that this situation is temporary, but how will they get to something less onerous without letting players return to old habits? If they introduce new revenue streams that players reject, then things won’t get better… and CCP has something of a history of new ideas that don’t pan out… but if they restore the old streams then they might has well not have bothered.
How Will World War Bee End?
Assuming it ends in 2021. We are about at the six month mark of the war and, while the invaders have pushed their way into Delve, the Imperium hasn’t rolled over and given up. The great predicte evac has yet to occur. The extermination goal, oft repeated by Vily, seemed unlikely to be accomplished at the start of the war and seems no more likely today. That is especially true when Pandemic Horde, which has done the bulk of the work in the war, says that is not one of its goals. At what point does PAPI declare victory and move on to other things? And can TEST afford to see the war wind down with the Imperium vowing revenge on them for starting the war in the first place?
The war has set recorders for losses in both ship numbers and ISK value as well as total players participating in battles. Will it end with a bang or a whimper?
Will Nintendo announce a remake of Pokemon Diamond & Pearl?
We’re overdue on this. Seriously, one of my major gripes about Game Freak dumping development for the 3DS line of devices is that when it came to remakes Pokemon Diamond & Pearl were next on the list. They are the oldest titles of the Pokemon main line RPG titles that have not had a remake. My daughter and I are so on board with this as a game idea. But Nintendo and Game Freak have a different play and Pokemon Sword & Shield looks to be taking its time to play out, with two expansions so far. I fret that we’ll never get this remake and that the current title is being treated like an MMO and will carry on for years.
Will crowd funded MMOs finally find their way?
Seriously. There seems to be three paths for crowd funded MMOs up to this point. There are the quirky little hobbiest games like Project: Gorgon or Shroud of the Avatar. There are the “we totally missed our promises and have no ship date in sight” titles like Star Citizen and Camelot Unchained. And then there are the ones that just took the money and folded up shop.
Right now I wouldn’t back a crowd funded MMO, endorse one, or even write a post mentioning one to draw even an iota of attention to it because the track record on that front is so abysmal that I feel complicit by my past enthusiasm.
Is there anything new possible for MMORPGs?
Yes, we have MMOs and games treated as services as pretty much the default way to deal with titles these days for a lot of studios. Grand Theft Auto V, a game from 2013, appearing on the monthly SuperData Digital Revenue chart every month for the last five years of so is testament to that.
But I am talking about MMORPGs, where you play a character in a shared, persistent virtual world. Ultima Online, EverQuest, World of Warcraft, and EVE Online are key in defining the genre. The problem is, all of those titles are still there. Furthermore, WoW Classic and EverQuest retro servers, seeking to recreate the early experiences of those games, are significant draws in the genre.
Is it possible to create something new in the genre, something different? Or would anything different enough to be interesting end up classified as something else? Is WoW the unbreakable definition of the genre now?
Will I play anything new this year?
You think the MMORPG genre is stale? Look at my posts about what I have been playing. If it were not for WoW Shadowlands, you might mistake some of my posts from 2020 as being from 2006 or 2010.
I suppose I did play a couple of new things. There was Minecraft Dungeons and Among Us. But for the most part, it was the same titles long covered here. Am I the problem with the MMORPG genre?
Will VR get a killer app this year?
I should go back and see if I still have any of those VR sales projections from a few years back which predicted everybody and their mother would have one of those devices strapped to their heads by now. VR headsets have gotten better and cheaper and some good games have come out, but I have yet to see anything that would make me jump on that bandwagon still. Consoles seem to be the way forward at the moment. And now I get unsolicited email from analysts talking about “XR,” which is VR mixed in with AR, to give them a bigger market to talk about… and probably so they can make new projections that cannot be compared apples to apples with their old ones.
Will the industry be smart enough to keep regulators away?
I am looking at you EA. You managed to make lockboxes a headline issue again in the middle of 2020 by putting an ad for them in a children’s toy catalog. Once the pandemic is in the past… and I dearly hope it will be some time this year… legislators looking to make some headlines for attention may turn back to lockboxes and gambling and the safe refrain of “won’t somebody think of the children?” yet again.
Will We lose Section 230 Protection?
Not strictly a video game issue, but it would have its impact on that industry as well as others.
You can read all about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of the United States over at Tech Dirt, which has a post about it and the many bogus arguments against it, but in a nutshell it protects people hosting sites on the internet from liability for what users may say or write.
For example, if I post something libelous on Twitter, Section 230 says you can sue me but not Twitter. Easy to understand, right. Twitter, or Facebook, or Massively OP, or you on your blog, are not liable for the wrongs of users. It essentially allows the internet to be interactive.
And it is under political assault here in the US, most visibly by Trump, who is angry about the fact that Twitter very occasionally tries to make him comply with the terms of service he agreed to abide by when he signed up for the platform.
Those assailing Section 230 like to pretend they are defending free speech, but the opposite is actually the case. There is a high correlation between rich people against Section 230 and rich people who like to sue anybody who says anything negative about them.
If Section 230 is repealed, if you write something objectionable on the internet, the hosting site can be sued. They will then have the choice between spending money to fight a legal case over your dumbassery or deleting what you wrote and promising to keep you and anybody else from posting such things. How do you think that is going to work out?
Removing Section 230 would basically give the litigious veto power over internet content and hosting services would start to behave in ways to avoid getting sued, which would mean disallowing comments in many places and preemptively deleting most anything political.
And if you don’t think that is going to spill over into your favorite online video game forum, you are wrong.
The only bright side is that while many people hate Twitter and Facebook, other tech and telecom companies are starting to realize that this would affect them as well, so they’re beginning to pull the appropriate strings on the politicians they’ve paid for in order to keep things as they are.
What will I do when the blog turns 15?
I mean besides write a long post full of stats and start including a “Fifteen Years Ago” section into my month in review posts? Having almost 5,800 blog posts gives me data set of information that I always feel I could do more with. Though, that said, you’ll get a bit of historical data next week, driven largely by the tenuous historical record that is this blog. We’ll see how that flies.
That is all I have right now. am sure there are a lot more questions I want the answers to in 2021. What did I miss?
Anyway, we shall see if I get answers this year. Some of them are clearly going to have simply “no” as an answer which, while unsatisfying, is still an answer. At least I do not have to score questions, just figure out what happened with them. Roll on 2021.