Tag Archives: 38 Studios

Friday Bullet Points

Small items that I feel compelled to bring up, yet couldn’t really build a post around, so I will just steal somebody elses format.

  • You’re not really rage quitting until you have compared your situation to the Holocaust. Quartzlight Evenstar Icefluxor cries out about the extremists who blew up… wait, it wasn’t blown up… who put his station tower into reinforce. (Hint: It’s the evil Goons again.)
  • Free to play might be a nice idea, but when you make your $15 a month subscription available for $1.25, you may have made a wrong turn somewhere.  SOE suddenly yanks the ability to pay for your subscription with Station Cash.  Sounds like somebody did the math.
  • Is the Diablo III auction house going to kill off the game early?  The reward patterns are apparently reversed when compared to its long lived predecessor, Diablo II.  Somebody tell Dabigredboat he can stop now. (Ah, I see Blizzard picked up the assist in sending that message.)
  • What do those points mean?  Jester details how the EVE Online kill boards calculate the points you are awarded for your kills.  Except the Battle Clinic kill board, which does something else.  They make EVEMon, so I guess we can forgive them.
  • Oh, and the EVE devs have another great economic post up examining the price of minerals since the Inferno update and Hulkageddon.  I love that sort of thing.
  • Nexon plunks down $687 million for 15% of NCsoft.  I am not sure what that will mean in the long run.  Maybe I’ll get to play a US version of Kart Rider on my PC some day?

38 Studios – The Legend, The Myth, The End

Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse

John Derek in Knock on Any Door (1949)

Well, I cannot speak to whether or not 38 Studios lived fast, and six years can be a long time in technology, so you can argue that the company did not die young.

But they left a good looking, if sparse, corpse in the form of a three pictures and a less than two minute fly through video of their planned virtual world.

Somewhere in Copernicus

Legends have been created out of less.

And now nobody will ever say that Copernicus, their as yet unnamed flagship game, to which the main effort of the company had been devoted for almost six year, sucks.

Nobody will complain about unbalanced classes or broken game mechanics or servers being down or sever queues being too long or any of the thousand other things that we find to pick on when it comes to MMOs.

Copernicus is pristine, a blurry mirage doomed to ever been in the distance, on which some will overlay their hopes and dreams for the future of MMO gaming.  I’ve seen it already, with some bloggers mourning not just the fact that we will now never see this game come into full bloom, but that it somehow represented our last, best hope to return greatness to the genre.  Some future games will find themselves compared to Copernicus that might have been.  It was to be the holy grail game that brought joy back to fantasy MMOs.

Which is a tune I have heard before.

It was the sort of thing some of our guild members were saying about Vanguard in 2005 when we were playing EverQuest II and it had fully sunk in that the game really wasn’t a sequel to the EverQuest experience.  And so Vanguard became the dream, the game destined to be the true successor to EverQuest.

And, well… we know how that turned out.  Sigil Games, facing their own financial woes, opted to go to market early with a game clearly not ready for prime time.

In one of those twists of timing, it was just five years ago this month that Sigil folded up shop with the now infamous parking lot layoff, sans Brad McQuaid.  But we got the word from Smed that SOE was swooping in to save the day.  SOE was a hero for the moment, but I wondered how long they would remain a hero.  Not very long, it seemed, as soon all the problems with Vanguard became SOE’s problems, and SOE’s fault for not fixing them fast enough.

It makes me wonder what image Vanguard would have ended up with had Brad opted to run out of money before launching the game.

Alas, there will be no SOE white knight to rescue Copernicus.  Those days are clearly done.  Back when SOE was under Sony Pictures, which I am convinced really didn’t know, and didn’t care, what was going on in San Diego so long as the money was coming in, was able to collect orphaned MMOs like Vanguard and The Matrix Online.  Now though, under the PlayStation people, who clearly want to hear about things that sell PlayStation hardware when they aren’t being evil, things have been trimmed back substantially.

There was an estimate that the assets of 38 Studios might be worth up to $20 million, though that sort of talk denies the reality of software development.  If you buy a software company with no people, you have pretty much bought nothing.  The people who write the software, they are the assets.  Without them you have some source code, which can be interesting, but is tough to make your own.  You can bring in your own people to try.  I’ve been down that path.  If you just want to be able to build the software and maybe make some small fixes, it can even be viable.  But if you want to own the software and be able to use it to its full, you have to know it well, which is hard work.  And the first thing that will happen is the devs will start saying that it is easier to rewrite some section of code from scratch than figure out what is really going on, and that way lies madness and repetition of the same mistakes to gain the same knowledge as the original authors of the code.

And then there is the outside influence of Star Wars: The Old Republic which, according to analyst Michael Pachter, has killed off interest in investing in MMO projects.  To quote the money line:

Nobody is buying MMOs after Star Wars fizzled

So yeah, we can blame SWTOR!  Because if EA can’t get MMOs right, then it is clearly some sort of once-in-a-lifetime black art not worth exploring.

Life in the big money lane.

I feel a bit sorry for Curt Schilling for not getting to live out his dream of creating a great MMO.  But only a bit.  I mean the guy had fame, fortune, and three world series wins coming into this deal, all while deliberately and maliciously being younger than me.  He can go back to that.  Maybe he can be a champion for small studios that reflect some of the things he was trying to bring to MMOs.

But I identify more with the team at 38 Studios, the worker bees who have to scramble to find another gig to pay the mortgage.  I’ve been down that path a few times.  The joy of Silicon Valley start ups, here today, gone tomorrow.  I worked for eight different companies in the 90s, and only one still exists.   I was there twice for the “everybody go home” company meeting.  It doesn’t get easier with repetition.

I do want to throw out a minor “screw you” to 38 Studios for buying and shutting down the Azeroth Advisor.  Grudge holding… we have that here at TAGN.

But other than that, I am sorry to see things turn out as they did.  We won’t ever see Copernicus now, and so I will be denied the privilege of playing it while complaining about insignificant details that annoy me.

Addendum: And then there is the industry insider view of this debacle from the newly returned to blogging Lum and how it is killing the very concept of massively multiplayer online gaming.

Further Addendum: And there are always methods to make a bad situation worse.

R. A. Salvatore says Copernicus was awesome, but can’t actually back that up.  He was right on one thing in that comment, he shouldn’t be commenting.  More for the myth and legend department.

Steve Danuser puts the blame on the governor of Rhode Island.

It looks like 38 Studios may have screwed some employees worse than others.  Was that the governor of Rhode Island’s fault as well?

Everybody wants to know where the money went.

Of course, there is Curt.

And then Derek Smart chimes in with a dump truck load of reality.  Refreshing to see him poking at a subject that needs it.

Items from the Mail Bag – Back to School Edition

Time for the monthly look into what has found its way into the inbox of the blog email account that didn’t make it into any other posts.

Surprisingly, I did not get any offers from bots to write spam injected guest posts for the site, nor requests that I send people to read interesting articles not really related in any way to the site.  Instead, this was the take:

  • Zynga sent me a note to let me know they were having a back to school sale on in-game currency.  That one took a second to sink in before I went, “Ah, you think with the kids at school, mom can get back to FarmVille.” (Or is it PioneerVille these days?) That is probably a more canny viewpoint than I care to admit.  I keep thinking, “Who buys currency in these games?”  Then I look at Zynga’s valuation and have to admit it must be a lot of people.
  • 38 Studios and Big Huge Games sent me a notice about Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, which just wouldn’t display correctly in Yahoo mail. But Yahoo mail just forced another update on me recently, so I have no idea who is at fault.  Anyway, the provided a link to view it elsewhere, and the key item for me is that it is shipping on February 7th of next year, and even that is just so I know when to look for other people to post about it.  I have no plans to buy.
  • EverdreamSoft dropped me a line to tell me they are going to release their iPhone game MOONGA on Facebook.  Of course they are.  Never heard of the game, and unless they have a plan it seems likely to sink from sight on Facebook in short order.  Or get knocked off by Zynga.  The game itself appears to be yet another trading card game, so it is probably not for me in any case.
  • Nexeon Technologies, which I initially guessed was some branch of Nexon (it isn’t), wants me to know about updates to their MMO, Face of Mankind.  My first thought was that this must be a new game, quickly followed by a second thought about how we seem to be running out of decent names for games.  But then I looked at the Wikipedia article and found that they chose this name quite a ways back and that it has been live in some form since 2006. (it is on the chart!)  I had never heard of it.  And that name… really?
  • Ibrahim, who operates the site in the UK called PictureOne, wants to do a link exchange.  That is so late 90s.  And I don’t do straight up link exchanges.  My blogroll policy is long, complex, and still incompletely formulated.  Blogrolls are complicated.   I am looking to get a first draft of the policy out in the next couple of years.  (Plus I notice that people view link exchanges as temporary, free to remove from their end once you link to them, like those sell-out bastards at MMO Crunch.  I pulled their link in turn, that’ll show them!) In fairness, at least his site does not appear to be infested with malware like an Italian site that sent me a similar message, and it appears to be about MMOs and gaming.  So good on you, Ibrahim.
  • Firefly Studios wanted to make sure I knew they were going to show Stronghold 3 and Gamescom.  If I read their press release, it differs from console games in that it is medieval based and voiced in bad Ren-Faire accents, though that last bit is just a guess.  Oh, and it is a Windows game, so I am not sure why they brought up consoles games in the first place.  Trying to inflame those PC vs. Console emotions no doubt.
  • Mike at MMO Raid wants a link (there, you got one… another one!) and to let me know I can submit my articles to his site, by which I previously thought he meant write for his site.  Instead he seems to be shooting for the aggregation site thing instead, which means submitting your articles to be listed there.  The site has had more than 900 articles submitted, though they appear to have mostly been submitted by Mike himself, so I would guess he is looking for a little help.    His site looks clean, only clips an excerpt, and directs people back to the original site for the full story, so I guess I can at least declare the site “not a bad thing.”
  • My mom wanted to let me know they are planning a Star Trek themed resort in Jordan.  I am sure that will keep people from overthrowing the king.  Not that King Abdullah II is in the class of, say, Asssad or Mubarak, but he is the richest guy in the country and he wants to spend a lot of money on his rather narrowly focused obsession, which is the sort of thing that might make the average crown subject a bit restive.   Still, live long and prosper, Abdullah II, and good luck on your quest.  (My mom actually sent this to the blog mail account through the form on the About page, so it counts.)
  • And, finally, Bronte wanted to let me know that his comments seem to be getting stuck in the spam filter.  Yeah, it was the spam filter… *whistle*

Always Go With Your Gut…

Back to my 2010 predictions, and one in particular.

One of the following companies will announce their first/next project, and it won’t be an MMO (5 points):

Carbine Studios
Red5 Studios

Only, when I first made that list, I had 38 Studios on it.  It seemed logical.  I had lumped them together with Red 5 and Carbine last year.

Then I talked myself out of it.

They had already announced Copernicus.  Of course an MMO would be their first release.  I was thinking crazy thoughts.

Then there was yesterday’s press release.

The key item is:

Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ: ERTS) today announced an agreement with 38 Studios, LLC to publish the company’s first video game, an epic single-player role-playing game codenamed ‘Project Mercury’.

I just hate it when I talk myself out of things that come to pass.

And then, of course, there is the whole “OMG! EA is the devil!” reaction, for which, I must admit, I have some sympathy.

Still, it is probably better than reading that Activision is involved, know what I mean?

And So Went The Azeroth Advisor

I’ve meant to do a quick post on this cool thing called the Azeroth Advisor for a while now.

When I first tried it my main characters were level 80 and its value was somewhat dubious.  But then we re-rolled horde and its guide to where to adventure and annotated maps became useful.

But this morning I found this in my mail box:

Thank you for being a subscriber to the Azeroth Advisor.

We are writing to inform you that as of February 17, 2010, the Azeroth Advisor service will be discontinued. Over the past two years, we’ve really enjoyed providing personalized guidance for new and experienced players of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. However, we’ve decided to focus on the development of our own entertainment products, including our upcoming MMO codenamed Copernicus.

For the next 2 weeks, please continue to use the Advisor services, and take the time to save your maps and newsletters offline for future reference. After February 17, we recommend removing the Advisor add-on from your WoW AddOns directory and deleting the service from your launch items (instructions for doing so can be found below).

If you’ve enjoyed the Azeroth Advisor, we encourage you to sign up for the 38 Studios newsletter to ensure that you’ll be among the first to hear news about Copernicus and other products. You can also follow our feeds on Facebook and Twitter, or visit our official website. (Please note that this will be the only email you receive from 38 Studios unless you opt-in to receive the 38 Studios newsletter.)

Look forward to exciting news from 38 Studios in the coming months. We’ve sincerely appreciated being able to contribute to your enjoyment of World of Warcraft, and we wish you all the best.

The Azeroth Advisor Team at 38 Studios

So that is one more post I waited long enough on for it to be moot.  Yay for efficiency.

38 Studios, which sounds like they are a bit on the edge when it comes to money, or at least when it comes to Curt’s money, bought this little site, tinkered with it a bit, then threw it away.

Buh-bye Azeroth Advisor.

What else do you say at that point?

We’ll never know how Azeroth Advisor might have done if 38 Studios hadn’t bought it.  It was a pay-to-play service before 38 Studios acquired them, which might have fit in better with some site like FilePlanet or Curse.  I was never clear on why 38 Studios did buy it, not that I expect them to explain such things to me personally.  There was some tech there they wanted I would guess.  But they did buy it, I hope they got what they wanted, because now they’ve killed it.

If you were using the tool because you played WoW and found it useful, you might be excused for not jumping for joy and running off to sign up for the 38 Studios newsletter.

2010 MMORPG Progdictionations

MMORPG predictions, now in its third year here at TAGN.

Having done the same thing for both 2008 and 2009 predictions, I thought I would change it up a bit and go for a series of short, sharp, and easily scored predictions for 2010.

Yes, I still have that cold I mentioned the other day, so I’m not feeling very creative at the moment.

Of course, other people are putting out their predictions for next year, so I am putting this sentence in as a place to link to them as their posts show up.

See!  Creativity, out the window!  On with the floor show!

Not Nine, Just Six

Polar Bear in a Blizzard

My quick predictions for Blizzard in 2010! (5 points each)

  • StarCraft II – Will ship second quarter 2010
  • Cataclysm – Will ship fourth quarter 2010
  • Cataclysm – Will beat WotLK’s 24 hour sales record (early 2012 prediction: whatever follows Cataclysm won’t do as well)
  • Diablo III – Will not ship in 2010
  • New MMO – An announcement at BlizzCon with the usual Blizzard mystery build-up

Every Station but PlayStation

Sony Online Entertainment predictions! (5 points each)

  • Planetside – Dead by December
  • Norrath – Official details about the next Norrath based MMORPG some time in 2010
  • Norrath – The next Norrath based MMORPG won’t be called EverQuest III
  • EverQuest II – All digital distribution after the February expansion
  • EverQuest – The next round of server consolidation will happen, and it will be a good thing
  • The Agency – Won’t ship in 2010
  • PlayStation 3 – SOE still won’t have a PS3 MMO title by the end of 2010

Electronic Arts and Science

What will EA do? (5 Points each)

  • SWTOR – Not in 2010, no no no.
  • WAR – Won’t die in 2010, but won’t magically spring back to life either.  It will just trudge on with enough resources to keep it going and improve it slightly, but not enough to change anything dramatically.

Turning the Turbine

(5 points each)

  • LOTRO – Next expansion, announced in 2010, will be the Riders of Rohan!
  • LOTRO – Riders of Rohan will feature real mounted combat
  • DDO – Continued success under the free to play banner with a push into some overland content
  • New – We’ll hear about Turbine’s next project in 2010.

Glory to the CCCP!

(5 points each)

  • Station ambulation – Still just a myth in 2010
  • Dust 514 – Not for 2010
  • EVE – Two Content Releases, don’t we always get two a year?
  • EVE – Tech III ships will finally become common enough that you might actually see one now and again.

Leading by Torchlight

(5 points each)

  • An inexpensive expansion will be released for Torchlight to keep funding going for Runic’s MMO
  • Runic will give us some concrete details about said MMO
  • That MMO won’t ship in 2010
  • But said details will make some pundit say, “Wow, that’s what Dungeon Runners should have done.”


(5 points each)

  • Aion – Going to seem like a replay of Lineage II, popular in Asia, less so in the west.  Still, it will have enough customers to keep going.  Given how readily NCSoft shuts things down, that will be saying something.
  • GuildWars 2 – Not for 2010
  • PlayStation 3 – NCSoft still won’t have a PS3 MMO title by the end of 2010

Other Titles

(5 points each)

  • Darkfall – Will continue walking the tightrope between hardcore PvP focus and giving players something to do when they aren’t actively engaged in battle.  Slow growth with at most a single server added to the game for 2010.
  • Star Trek Online – Won’t disappoint Trek fans, but we’re all co-dependent on the franchise after years of reckless treatment by the studio.  We’ll all still be there after the first 30 days playing with our pre-order bonus items.  The rest of you people though…
  • Hero’s Journey – It was best of show at E3 in 2005, but it will still be a no-show in 2010.

MMO Industry

The following people will have new companies and new projects announced in 2010 (2 point each):

  • Mark Jacobs
  • Richard Garriott
  • Bill Roper
  • Brian Green
  • Scott Hartsman

One of the following companies will announce their first/next project, and it won’t be an MMO (5 points):

  • Aventurine
  • Carbine Studios
  • Red5 Studios
  • Simutronics
  • Turbine

One of the following people will move to Canada (5 points):

  • Scott Jennings
  • Mark Jacobs
  • Brian Green
  • Scott Hartsman
  • Richard Bartle
  • Alan Crosby
  • David Reid

Spurious Logic

Random neurons firing for the following guesses.

Most subscription MMOs that sell vanity items like pets or appearance gear will sell custom mounts by the end of 2010.  WoW and EQ2 will be the benchmark. (5 points)

“Yahtzee” Croshaw will review exactly ONE muh-more-puh-gah on Zero Punctuation during 2010, and it will be Star Trek Online.  He won’t like it (duh) but the Trekkie humor will be too much for him to resist doing a review. (5 points)

We will find out that the following people will be appearing or doing voice work in the Warcraft movie (IMDB  shows no actors as of this date – 1 point each):

  • Jack Black
  • William Shatner
  • Keanu Reeves
  • Ben Stein
  • James Earl Jones
  • John Ratzenberger
  • Bruce Campbell
  • Sarah Silverman
  • David Spade
  • Lucy Lawless

Total Points

If I count correctly, that should be 200 points total at stake.  I’m a little woozy at the moment, so I wouldn’t put money on it, but we’ll call it 200 for now.

If history is an accurate predictor of success I will probably get 40-60 points total.

Check back in December 2010 to see how I did.

In the mean time, what do you think will happen in 2010?

Daily Bog Roll 7/11 – Two Ply Edition

We at TAGN, who have apparently started using the royal first person plural, have decided to pitch in and help Tipa while she is adjusting to a new work schedule.  So, we give you the Daily Bog Roll!

It gets readable if you click on it

click to make the text legible

Our top story today: Blogalissimo Francisco Tolbold is still dead!

Or at least he is taking a break from blogging.  Work on Toblopedia has been suspended out of respect for the auteur.  Candle-light vigils have been reported in major cities.

In a change of editorial policy, Syncaine put out a Friday post that did not attack World of Warcraft, but rather defended the standard $15 a month subscription plan in the case of well established, triple-A titles.  Don’t cry for me Rob Pardo.

Potshot, tiring of the “Horse Dialogs,” runs off and actually plays Runes of Magic to see if it is even worth worrying about their cash shop policies.

Scott Hartsman was deported from Ohio or something.  Anyway, he is out of a job.

Eric the Elder Gamer points out that the live team, the team that runs an MMO after it ships, often isn’t the same group that built it.  Wasn’t that Scott Hartsman’s job at SOE?  Anyway, he calls them the “B-Team,” at least when it comes to WoWLive team people commiserate.

Another former EverQuest II guy, Ryan Shwayder, wants to know where all the “social” went in our MMOs.  He has a laundry list of things that have made us solo-nauts in these games and then says that the Copernicus project at 38 Studios is going to fix all of them.  How it will do this though is left as an exercise to the reader.

Chiming in on the Professor Goodbar drama, Gevlon says that winning is everything and the ends more than justify the means.  But he says that about everything.  Meanwhile we find out what the Professor thinks about somebody quoting from his work… though  he uses the word “srsly.”  No word yet on a coconut powered netbook.

Recently some nun said space is boring. (To be fair, I am pretty sure that is church doctrine.)  But Mynxee at Life in Low Sec doesn’t find it boring, though she did find it a bit exasperating being lost in wormhole space.

Meanwhile, Evony (a contraction of “Ever Annoying”) the self-proclaimed “World’s Best Web Game” fresh from its stunningly successful web ad campaign has begun spamming the comment threads of all the cool blogs just to make sure everybody knows they’re still alive and they have this awesome cool game and that it is free forever… or until it shuts down… whichever comes first.

And, finally, Beau Turkey wonders if his relationship with Darkfall ended too soon.  What is the MMO equivalent of the phrase “Booty Call?”

Anyway, go enjoy your free Slurpee at participating 7-Eleven stores.  It is National Slurpee Day.

2009 MMORPG Progdictionations

The New Year is upon us again, a time when we frequently assess the past 12 months ended up handing us and examine what the next 12 might bring.

Last year I had no plans to make any predictions until I read some of the vague, wimpy, or tepid guesses at the future that some of my fellow bloggers had posted.  They seemed to want to be right versus being interesting.  For me, being right is perhaps a third tier goal.  I would much rather stimulate some thought or discussion on what might come.  But I am a fan of Robert Cringely, so what can you expect.  To do that you have to go outside of the easy answer and be wrong.  And if I can make a joke or two along the way, so much the better.

So I made my 2008 Progdictionations.  I scored myself at 22% at the end of the year, which was higher than I expected.

This year, the blogging community has some more interesting predictions up (and here, and here, and here, and here), but I am caught up in the predictions thing now, so I have to display my ignorance again this year.

Of course, sometimes the hardest thing is pushing the envelope and coming up with a prediction that is outrageous.  I got to the end of some of my guesses below and they did not sound so far fetched.  That still doesn’t mean any of them will be right.

So let’s see how far off-base I can get.

1 – Private Citizen British

Fresh from his out of world experiences, plus that trip to the space station, Richard Garriott will start a new studio, (Mid-Point Games, somewhere between Origin and Destination), and begin talking up some “New Ideas” ala Gary Hart.

He will point to what he learned making Tabula Rasa and inspiration that he gained in the zero gravity of space, looking down on the Earth from on high, though it will later be discovered that his oxygen mix was a little off during his last few hours in space.

He will then wave his arms a lot in an attempt to articulate his vision.  He will actually use the word “vision.”

That will be his undoing.

He will make no real progress selling his ideas in 2009 and will have to settle for being merely successful, rich, famous, and smart this year.

Of course, I thought this was going to be outrageous and amusing when I wrote it a couple weeks back, but then I read yesterday that Garriott is already throwing his hat into the ring.  My prediction stands however.

2 – Bartle’s Test

Dr. Richard Bartle will stun the massive gaming community by making controversial statements about a popular MMO and will actually mean what he says.  He will not give follow up interviews with Massively to clarify his position nor post comments to blog sites to correct misinterpretations of his statement.

This will confuse the community greatly.  Massively, Joystiq, and other sites will run their own articles explaining what Dr. Bartel really meant while Dr. Bartle himself will eventually resort to posting to his own blog and various forums imploring people to take what he said at face value, as quoted, and to please stop trying to soften his message.

3 – Age of Anarchy

Funcom, bedeviled by problems with the Age of Conan release and still dragging along Anarchy Online will decided that costs can be reduced by taking the next logical step in server merges: Game merges.  Age of Conan and Anarchy Online will be folded into a single game.  Depending on which client you log into the game with, you will either be playing in a gritty universe of the future or in a vision of Robert E. Howard’s Conan world.

Age of Conan players will benefit from a sudden influx of stable if somewhat non-canon content while Anarchy Online players will get more cleavage options and DX-10 support.

This will give FunCom some financial breathing room and allow CEO Trond Arne Aas to speak with confidence about their next massive title, The Secret World.  Mr. Aas will say that FunCom really learned a lot from their first two MMO releases and won’t make those mistakes again.  He will then remind people that his last name is spelled with two a’s and one s and not the other way around.

4 – EverQuesting

The 10 Year Anniversary of EverQuest will be a big deal in 2009, with another Living Legacy-like promotion and special events, so be sure to cancel your account early in 2009 so you can play for free.

The 2009 EverQuest expansion, Realms of Valor, will have a huge boost in the level cap, taking it all the way to 100, and will include a series of planned raid progressions (because you know they won’t all make the ship date) that will be hailed as the best ever in game all based around a huge new overland zone.

There will also be off-line player sales along the lines of the broker in EQ2, an improvement in the minion system so that a guild can fill a whole party with minions to round out a raid (it will be awkward for guild leaders, but will work well), and at least one method of advancing your character while off-line.  Not experience, nor AAs, but maybe skills or some other new character attribute.  It will be very slow, but will only work while you are subscribed, showing that SOE is trying to tap some of that EVE Online training magic to keep subscriptions going.

Finally, this will be the last EverQuest expansion to appear in a box on store shelves.

5 – Call Your Agency

Sony Online Entertainment will continue to talk about The Agency, FreeRealms, and DC Universe Online in 2009.  We will hear cool things and see exciting trailers, but no actual games will come our way.

Maybe, just maybe, we will see The Agency in November/December of 2009, but everything else is further out in the future, especially the new Norrath-based title they will announce.

By the end of the year, the reason for these delays will leak out.  It will turn out that SOE’s new masters at Sony Computer Entertainment are insisting that all SOE game launches include a  PS3 version on day one.  They can launch PS3 and do PC later, but PS3 must never be a delayed release.  This will hold up all new game launches while SOE works to align its skills and tools.

6 – Elves of the Burning Sea

Flying Lab Software, in an attempt to revive the subscriptions of its flagship product, will introduce a new server type that will replace the nations currently represented in Pirates of the Burning Sea with fantasy creatures.

The factions will be elves, humans and halflings, dwarves and gnomes, and goblins, orcs, and trolls filling out, respectively, the old French, Spanish, English, and Pirate factions.  Cannons will be replaced on ships with ballistas and catapults (except on the dwarf/gnome faction, who will get gun powder), the artwork will be update over all, and a “new” new hand to hand combat system will be introduced to accommodate the anticipated on-deck melees.

The freedom of the new environment will allow Flying Labs to tune the game more for fun than reality.  The server will end up being their most popular and they will have to do a server split to keep up.  This will all lead to another round of blog posts on why fantasy seems to rule the genre.

7 – LEGO Dalaran

The team that did my favorite LEGO project of 2008, LEGO Booty Bay, will get back together in 2009 and do a magnificent LEGO rendition of Howling Fjord by mid-year, but will top this effort with a intricate model of Dalaran done in LEGO bricks.  WoW Insider will be on the ground for step by step coverage of the construction that will inspire more LEGO-Azeroth construction projects.

This may or may not inspire a LEGO Azeroth video game.

8 – Station Cash Balance of Payments

A prediction that I made on Shut Up We’re Talking #40.  Any current SOE game that does not get Station Cash is at its end development-wise.  SOE is not going to turn off any game that is making money, but expect resources to be drawn off to new projects.  Then will begin the slow decline into oblivion.  As economic conditions tighten the purse strings, expect the end of PlanetSide to be announced at about the same time The Agency is expected to launch in a thinly veiled “here’s your new shooter” marketing plan.

9 – Star Wars Galaxies to Take A Bio

We will find out in 2009 is that LucasArts is only willing to sanction a single Star Wars based MMO running at any given time.  SOE has known this all along and this is part of why they did not bother going to LucasArts with their Station Cash idea.

Seeing that BioWare is set to launch a Star Wars: The Old Republic… well… some day… the sense that time is running out will grip Star Wars Galaxies.  There will be a resurgence of subscriptions as a wave of nostalgia washes over the old hands while along with an equal surge of tourist who want to see the game before it goes away.

This enthusiasm will not last as long as SWG remains on the scene, thanks to BioWare’s creeping pace, and Galaxies will go quietly into the night a few months before SWTOR launches.

10 – Dawn of Darkfall

Dakrfall will ship, though what is available on day one will be a subset of the over-ambitious feature list they have promised.  It will even enjoy some modest success, enough to keep Aventurine going through 2009, while suffering the usual round of “just launched” MMO issues and patches.

It will not be the second coming of Ultima Online nor EVE Online in plate armor however, and Aventurine will have 2009 to figure out how to fix the problem that plagues cut-throat PvP; that a ready supply of victims tends to dry up once the hard core players settle in and take over.

Aventurine will walk a tightrope between keeping subscriptions up and pleasing their hard core followers who will cry out at any dilution of the unforgiving nature of the game.  Failure to find the sweet spot will mean closure of the game by the end of 2010.

11 – Hero’s Slumber

Darkfall shipping will make Hero’s Journey the vaporware champ of the MMORPG genre.  It will not ship in 2009.  I consider this a “gimme” prediction so I will at least get one thing right when I do my accounting at the end of the year.

The fact that Simutronics cannot ship an MMORPG on its own development engine will continue to be the source of much snarkiness.

12 – Blizzard is Smarter Than You

And me too.

There will be lots of tuning of World of Warcraft along with some small content additions, but nobody is expecting an expansion this year, are they?  Blizzard has proven that they can take their time and succeed beyond the wildest dreams of their competitors. This will continue to be an eye-opener at SOE who insisted on EverQuest expansions every six months for so long.

Diablo III and StarCraft II news will come out and there will be lots of whining and complaints.  StarCraft II, when it ships this year, will top the charts and be embraced fully in South Korea.

Information about Blizzard’s new MMO will be released in 2009.  It will lead to a blog firestorm of “Blizzard is run by idiots” style posts, all based on the faulty premise that Blizzard needs to develop another MMO in the mold of every other MMO or that the hard core edge that bloggers represent are the ideal target market.

Overall, Blizzard will continue to succeed despite not doing what a small number of vastly less successful pundits tell it to do.

13 – The New Guys

Red 5 Studios, Carbine Studios, and 38 Studios will all provide a lot more detail on their MMORPG projects this year, but it is going to be a tough climb for all three of them as they will need to prove that what they are creating will move the genre forward in a significant way to be taken seriously, as the fantasy MMORPG market is saturated by games that seem a lot like WoW (whether they came first or not) and WoW.

Maybe, just maybe, one of them will break the mold and go beyond WoW in a significant way, but my gut says no.  Nothing we will see from them in 2009 will set a fire in the MMORPG market.

38 Studios has a lot of talent well versed in fantasy and how to make a current MMO.  That path seems, in my mind, to lead refinement of the way things are, but not a change of the genre.

And then there is Carbine, founded by some guys from Blizzard, and Red 5, founded by some guys from Blizzard.  Would I believe that a company founded by some guys from Apple would be able to beat the iPod or the iPhone based on their resume?  I’ve already see that start-up.  The answer is no.

Innovation will come from elsewhere in my opinion. (Maybe MetaPlace will become a talent incubator for the next generation?)  We might see three successful, Lord of the Rings Online to Warhammer Online sized games from these studios, and they could be a lot of fun, but they won’t be different enough to spark enthusiasm.

14 – Heroes and Champions

President of NCSoft West, David Reid, will mention in an interview that City of Heroes is doing well and is here to stay.  The resulting panic and exodus from the game will cause NCSoft to announce just three months later that City of Heroes will be closing by the end of 2009.

This will turn out to be perfect timing for Champions Online, which will be delayed until the Fall of 2009, to scoop up the remaining City of Heroes players to what many consider to be City of Heroes II in any case.

Later David Reid will mention that his marriage is fine, causing his wife to leave him, and that his position with NCSoft is secure, leading to his termination by the end of year.  When asked about his health, he will wisely have no comment.

15 – Tobolderized

A Cult of Tobold will surface in 2009 with the publication on Wikia of Toboldipedia.  This “Wiki of Love” will have the goal of categorizing, summarizing, and linking to all of the posts on Tobolds blog.

By mid year, however, there will a philosophical split between inclusionists, who seek to cover ALL of Tobold’s work, and exclusionists who seek to expunge Tobold works that they consider “non-canon” and which reflect, in their opinion, badly on Tobold.

By the end of the year there will be a ToboldWiki competing with Toboldipedia, and full scale war will erupt between the two sites when one publishes a picture they claim is of the actual Tobold.  The other side will declare it a forgery (it will turn out to be SOE’s Brenlo wearing Groucho Glasses) while a third faction will arise at this point and declare that pictures of the anointed one are heresy and will work to destroy the other two factions and their sites.

A bemused and somewhat disturbed Tobold will find that he has no influence at all over any of these groups and, after a futile attempt to get them to “stop all this nonsense,” he will just ignore the whole thing and go back to his daily writings.

Looking Forward to 2009

With all that in store for us, 2009 should be an interesting year.  Did I miss something?  Am I even more off-base than I think I am?  And to which Toblold camp do you belong?  Let me know.

Thoughts on a Sharded Existence

Warhammer Online is live, the head start has commenced for all eligible parties now, and by Friday night the full weight of the popularity of the title will be brought to bear on Mythics server farm plan.  The Monday morning blog titles will no doubt tell the tale of how well that comes off.

But I am sure there are some lingering doubts after the Sunday Collectors Edition head start kick off.

Genda, rightfully grumpy after the server chosen by Casualties of War backed up with queues almost immediately, wanted to know why there were not more servers available for the head start.  Certainly it affected the guild turnout on the destruction side.  Personally, I gave up on Volkmar after a crash left me in a long queue Sunday afternoon.

Even the Warhammer Herald now has Volkmar listed as one of the servers at “maximum capacity.”

Mark Jacobs says that everything went about as well as they could have hoped on Sunday, that queues were expected but that more servers would have diluted the population.  He has a valid point in that.  It is no fun playing an PvP oriented game on an under populated server.  And not all the servers had queues.

Yet some people were unhappy, upset, or angry about the situation.

Of course, the of root problem here isn’t the number of servers, or bad server choices, or head starts, or any other odd notion.  The problem is that when you make a character on a server, or when your friends form a guild on a server, you are stuck with that server unless you want to start anew.

It is the server model that we have had to accept since MMORPGs crawled out of the MUDs and became booming financial successes, since the word “massive” became affixed to them.

It is the seeming necessity of running multiple version of the same world in parallel to accommodate all the people who want to play MMORPGs that causes the problem.

Multiple servers, or shards, have been with us at least since Ultima Online.

New servers, server splits, and the friction those situations brought showed up with EverQuest in a big way.  I was sundered from a number of regular group members due to server splits.

And then there was World of Warcraft.  The pain of server queues and sever splits was joined by the simple pain of having a game with so many damn servers.  I know a couple of dozen people who play WoW, but they all play on different servers.

Even the instance group we run every week formed as a result of people leaving one server to start fresh on another.

What is the solution?  If there is a clear answer here, I don’t know what it is.

A single server for everybody? It works for EVE Online, but I have contended in the past that EVE is a special case.  And even EVE suffers from the single server situation at times.  Just fly into Jita on a Saturday night for a start, or try to fly in a region where a major alliance like BOB has decided to take up residence on short notice.

Easy, fast, and cheap character transfers? WoW has the easy and fast part down, but cheap is tough even to define.  WoW is cheap compared to EQ or EQ2, but still too expensive.  Even getting the price down to the five dollar range still means too much cash for those who need to move multiple characters or want to move often.  And there is still the problem of coordinating moves with friends and guilds to overcome.

A central character server? You can’t store characters locally on end user computers, that is just begging people to hack their data, so maybe you can store all the characters in a central “library” and have the owners check them out to play on any server that is currently up and running.  Of course, that is another complicated mechanism up front and another point of failure in the system.  Plus, what does that do to the perception of persistence in an MMORPG?  What about things like housing, auction houses, and stored items and cash? How would they be affected?  Do you abandon some of those concepts, or do you let your game turn into a gold farmers dream situation?

What else can be done?

And who is going to do it?  I am going to guess that BioWare, 38 Studios, or other companies that are licensing foundation technology for their planned games are probably going to be stuck with the same server model.

How about CCP?  Will they come through on this front with their next game, assuming that it is a more traditional avatar based game?