Tag Archives: Amazon

New World and the Winter Convergence

With the holiday season on us every MMORPG worth its salt has some sort of event running that picks up some of the Christmas holiday traditions while steering away from being overtly religious.  Everybody loves presents and decorations, nobody wants to go to midnight mass or be the human sacrifice at the winter solstice ritual.

New World is no different, so they had their own event, the Winter Convergence Festival.

The totally not Christmas holiday event

I can be indifferent at times to in-game holiday events.  Mood, rewards, and effort required all play into the mix, and I wasn’t sure I was going to bother when I first noticed snow on the ground and special banners at the gate of every town.

Snow in an otherwise tropical setting

But there was a tree in town with presents under it, from which you could take one daily.  And since it handed me 100 coins as part of the deal, I was down with that part of it.  Some day I want to own a house, if only for the town storage upgrades you can get, and I have been mostly treading water with around 7,000 coins in my pocket.

Probably the oddest part of the event was the “lost presents” aspect.  As you ran around the world, lost presents were scattered along the roads, to be collected.

Who loses this many presents

As you collect them, the presents begin to add up in your inventory, and they have weight, so eventually you want to do something with them.  For that you have to head off to one of the Winter Villages, which are marked on the map.

Winter Village spotted

At the Winter Village you can convert presents into Winter Tokens, the currency of the event.  It is also there you meet the Winter Wanderer, the abominable snowman role model and faction leader of the event.

He’s a big boy, though no word on whether he bounces or not

I say faction leader because, like your normal faction leader, he has a quest or three for you and is also the vendor at which you can spend you Winter Tokens.  Oh, and you have to gain status with him just like you normal faction as well, which you can do by running down his quests, collecting your present at the big pile in every town, and picking up lost presents.

Just like your faction there are a series of ranks to earn

The first rank gets you some food options, while the other ranks, which you must earn, get you gear for levels 15, 30, 45, and 60

There is gear you can buy with your Winter Tokens, and some furniture as well, though the gear was what was most attractive to me.  Though, even on the gear front there were only a few pieces worth claiming.

For my one and only character… I still want an alt on my server… the kite shield seemed like a decent upgrade, and the musket was good too, though that was mostly because I don’t use the musket very often.

All of the other gear was not very well oriented towards being a tank, which calls for maximum constitution.

So I wasn’t really excited about the whole thing, but I figured I would earn my way into the level 30 gear and maybe the level 45 gear if I was feeling ambitious.  And then somehow I managed to get myself all the way to Holiday Regent and the level 60 gear and the pile of recipes that are also at that level.

Made it all the way

I guess if I made it to the maximum faction rank I can’t really claim I was indifferent to the whole thing, though I will once again say that handing me 100 coins for grabbing a present from various town trees daily was a strong motivator.

Probably the most annoying aspect of the whole thing, aside from picking up presents by the side of the road, was the need to go all the way to the Winter Village to figure out where you stood on the climb through the ranks.  But that seems pretty typical of the New World UI.

And, even at Holiday Regent rank, I still keep going to the tree in town… because 100 coins.

There is money under the tree for me

That was my MMO holiday event for the season really.  I have socked away the high level gear I bought in Monarch’s Bluff to retrieve once I level up… if I even remember where I have left them.

Sent to a New World in New World

We have been at New World for a while now as a group… we’ve finished the first dungeon finally… but we came in late, long after the initial surge of players had abated.  The game isn’t dying as some would have you believe.  It still gets a concurrent user count that keeps it well within the top ten titles on Steam according to the charts, but that is still well down from the 900K numbers we saw early on.

Welcome to a New New World

We started getting notifications last week that our server… as well as the server my alt was on… were on the list for merges.

These servers were on the list

There was also a count down clock, which was a helpful reminder, but which also put an obvious damper on activity on our server.  Nobody was going to spend any time working on upgrading trade skill stations or bother taking territory if it was all going to be gone once the counter was done.  That meant a continual stream of server messages about various things being downgraded due to lack of effort put in to maintain them.

It took a while before our destination was announced.

We got our destination the day before the merger

There was a FAQ available, for those who could find it, the indicated that the target server that your server was getting merged into would retain all of its territorial control and you would just be a new player injected into that situation.

On the plus side, the merger seemed to go smoothly.  Amazon seems to have planned well enough for this and worked out whatever kinks there were in the system with the first couple of test merger.  When I logged in that afternoon my characters were on their new servers.

Stan is now on Lintukoto

There was also a brief reminder as to what the merge meant to people.  You kept your stuff and your company, but lost territory and didn’t get any refund on fees for listings in progress.

The merger impacts explained

Logging in for the first time though, we were clearly strangers in our old home of Windsward.  The Covenant owned the center of the map, including Windsward, while the Marauders owned the west coast, while our Syndicate faction had just the three high level areas on the east coast.

The before and after maps for us

That meant higher taxes, higher travel fees, and fewer freebies for us.  But at least the Covenant held Windsward had upgraded trade skill stations.  After watching everything drain out on Parima over the last week, it was nice to have access to better facilities.  And the town was very crowded, like Windsward was back in the early days of New World, thick with players.  So mission accomplished on that front.

And the Syndicate wasn’t taking this situation lying down.  Within hours of the merge the syndicate players had formed up and were focusing on taking Windsward, so it might be our town again.  Syndicate groups were out hunting the other faction and assailing the Windsward fort.

Unfortunately, hovering around level 30 as we were, there didn’t seem to be much we could do to help the cause.  As I understand it, only PvP faction quests help undermine the ownership of a town, and that seemed like an invite to get ganked constantly by level 60 players.

So, for now, we’ll just have to get used to Windsward being under new management.

The banner of Bunny Co is no longer a familiar site

The hardest thing for the moment is just remembering the name of the new server.  I had barely memorized the old one.  Otherwise, things seem to be working as advertised.

New World and the Peril of Choice

A game is a series of interesting choices

Sid Meier

As we delve further into New World I am watching closing the effects that our choices in the game have.  The game is trying to have its way as a sandbox-ish title in things from specs to which town you call home, each being a series of choices.

How interesting they are remains to be seen.  I don’t want to knock Sid, but I’ve been known to start a dozen games of my current favorite Civilization title before settling on a map and situation to which I am willing to commit.  And even if the one I choose doesn’t pan out, the cost to start over is minimal, the first hundred moves often being the most interesting in a game.

I am not committed in any serious way to my game in Civ, not the way I am to my character and choices in your typical MMORPG.

New World wants you to commit, which is a bold choice in a genre where games like WoW, which has classes, has basically given up on class specs and commitment and you can just respect in town or simply when you’re not in combat. And it isn’t just with your character spec.

New World is divided up into series of zones, 11 of which can be captured by a company and held in the name of one of the three factions.  Each of those zones has a town and the game would really like you to commit to one town.

In furtherance of that, there is no magical bank that has all of your stuff ready and available in every settlement.  There isn’t even a supernatural postal system that allows you to drop a full suit of armor in an envelope to be sent off to yourself, a friend, or one of your alts, an accessible at every post box world wide, for just a few coins.

Instead in each town you have a personal storage shed.  It is probably too small by half, and all the more so due to the raw materials needed for the crafting changes they implemented, but it does have a magical property or two, like the ability to use materials from it when using the crafting stations in town.  You can also have stuff moved from your storage sheds in other towns… if they are owned by the same faction and you can afford the rather steep pricing… so the game isn’t completely absent magical delivery systems.

But having the shed localized to a specific town forces you to commit to that location, as do the crafting stations available.  Those have to be leveled up to be able to craft at higher tiers, and maintained over time.  It isn’t a lot of good committing to a town that only has tier 2 crafting available if you plan to advance those skill and make useful items over time.

Housing as well.  While it is instanced, it does give you more storage and a recall point with a cool down… or so I am told, I cannot yet afford a house… and it is fixed to a specific town as well.

All of which offers you a choice of where you want to commit and, once committed, to support and defend the town that you choose.

Amazon hedged a bit on the trading post.  I am sure there is a statement in a design document somewhere that says trading posts should be restricted to the zone in which they are located, that cross regional trading is bad.  But somebody probably foresaw the inevitable population decline… the server groups they created seemed like a pretty transparent method of doing server merges when I first saw them… so trading posts are server-wide.

On our server we have committed to Windsward, which seems to be the popular spot.  It is always bustling when other towns I visit are fairly sparse.  The Bunny Company of our faction, the Syndicate, holds the Windsward region and has defended it successfully since we showed up.

Passing the Bunny Co banner at Windsward

There crafting stations are all upgraded, though they have been slipping of late.  They were all tier 5 when we first arrived.  Many have now slipped to tier 4 though.  That is still good enough for my own needs, but does not portend well for the future.

We are in the post-queue era of New World now.  Populations have tapered off.  On our server the list of companies shows only a few of them beyond the “1-5 players” level.  I want to get another person into our company as it would apparently make us the more of a stand out on the server.

As I noted, Windsward is starting to atrophy a bit, with crafting stations falling down to tier 4. (And our kitchen is a mere tier 2 affair now.)  Bunny Company has successfully defended Windsward so far, but other Syndicate territories has fallen.

The Parima server map as I write this

The slackening of effort appears to be completely related to the lack of end game and the erring too far on the theme park side of the equation.  Crafting as a vocation seems like something of a dead end, at least where I sit.  I have been focused on armoring, and am wearing heavy steel gear that I crafted.  But the market almost always has an upgrade available for 20 coins or less for nearly every slot.  Gear is bind on equip and, unless you fail to repair it, is good forever or until you upgrade.

Salvaging gives the game a bit of an outlet for excess gear besides the rather stagnant trading post, but the market seems destined to stagnate aside from consumables and crafting raws.

Oddly, a couple of things I would like to be able to buy… repair parts, which our Amrine run ran me out of, and Azoth… are not items in game.  Oh well.

And things could be much worse.  When I was grousing about alts I decided to log back in with my first character and his server has faded pretty hard.

The map has gone green

Ten of the eleven regions are held by one company and Windsward, where I had been working, is very quiet with all the crafting stations fading.  (Technically, three companies hold ten regions, but they all have the same name with a -1, -2, and -3 appended.)  While there are lots of companies in the 26-40 size range that are members of different factions, whenever I check in the ownership status does not change.

So there were a lot of people on that server at one point.  I joined it early on launch day and then it ended up with a deep queue by the first evening.  But now things seem to be settled.

In the end Amazon has setup a game where we have to make choices and commit to them to various degrees… skills and stats can be respec’d for a cost, while settling down in a town means contributing and hoping it stays in your faction and upgraded… but hasn’t given players something that they are willing to commit to in the longer term.

As I mentioned at the top, we’re in the post-queue era.  While the game is still rising up past 100K daily and past 150K on weekends according to the Steam charts, a concurrent player count that many games no doubt envy, that is a far cry from the 750K daily norm that the first few weeks saw.

It feels like Amazon either better have a card up its sleeve to play to bring people back to the game or that it might be time to collapse some of those server groups down into fewer servers to keep the player count steady all around.

A Week in the New World

It has been quite a week for Amazon Games and New World.  There was clearly quite a bit of pent up demand for a new MMORPG launch.

Welcome to a New World

I was digging through lists of MMO titles to see when the last big launch really was.

WoW Classic was huge when it hit in 2019, reviving Blizzards fortunes as they shambled about with Battle for Azeroth.  But that was a nostalgia play, and while it did stand out, it was delivering something old.

I suppose there was Black Desert Online in 2015.  That got a lot of attention.  And there was Guild Wars 2 in 2012, which shares a business model with New World.

But I really thing that the last big budget, major studio, all eyes on the launch event might have been Star Wars: The Old Republic in late 2011.  At least that is the way it feels to me.  I mean, you could make an argument for WildStar perhaps or, more convincingly, The Elder Scrolls Online, both 2014 launches, but they feel a bit short of the mark.

No matter which mark you choose, it has been a while and New World is reaping the benefits of that thirst for a new experience.  And it manages to deliver, bringing on board things like skill based classless advancement and a more active combat paradigm for which a some players have been loudly asking loudly for year.  Even the setting feels different.

This combination of a hunger in the market along with getting something fresh, or different enough for the norm to feel fresh, led to success beyond expectations.

I logged on early on Tuesday and created a character and there were already queues for some of the popular servers, with the Valhalla served in US East running up to the 25K mark by the early afternoon.

Server queues on Tuesday

Over on US West the El Dorado server pushed past the 17K mark.

Servers were said to be setup to allow only 2,000 players in at once, so for Valhalla there were 12.5 times as many people trying to get in as the server could hold.  The game quickly began to be called Queue World as Amazon rushed to open more servers.

The irony is that the servers were setup in groups that were clearly designed to be collapsed down into a single server should populations dwindle.

Server groups detail

A classic “plan for failure” mode, which given how the MMORPG market has gone over the years where many a title has seen a huge surge at launch only to have their player base dwindle in months, or even weeks, when the fresh game smell has worn off, is a wise move.  They may yet need that option.  We’re still in the fresh moment of discovery.

Over on the SteamDB charts, New World was vying with CS:GO as the most popular title on Steam.  During the week the game surged past 700K concurrent players, getting into the 900K range with the weekend.  As with EVE Online, the peak concurrent time seemed to hit around 19:00 UTC, when Europe is still online, North American is in full swing, and a few early risers in the Pacific are on and playing.

SteamDB numbers at 19:04 UTC on Sunday Oct 3rd

The queues quickly spread to all the servers.  I thought I had been clever, rolling up on a low population server, but by Tuesday night my character was locked behind a 4 digit queue and I honestly didn’t care that much about the game to wait.  I went and played more Diablo II Resurrected.

As the week went on, some more friends got interested in the title and jumped in.  The plan seemed to be just to get into a server in the same region and work out getting together when the free server transfers Amazon promised came into being.

I gave up on my first character and went to roll up a new one on a server without a queue.  There were plenty of new ones to choose from so it seemed like my problems might be over.  But it was not to be.  I was able to create characters on new servers, but whenever I tried to connect I got a connection error trying to get into the game.

No queue does not mean no problems

My guess is that the starter zones on various servers were full up with new players so the game wouldn’t load me in.  I tried on half a dozen otherwise low population and zero queue servers before giving up.

So by Thursday evening there were a lot of people upset at the game.  Amazon put out a statement that they were working hard to address the situation.

Posted Thursday evening

But promises and good intentions only buy so much.  Belghast summarized the situation and mood very well in his Friday morning post.

But Friday morning also saw an update from Amazon.

At lunch I opened up Steam and went to log into New World, just to see how deep the queue was on my first character and had that awkward moment of suddenly being in the game when I didn’t have any time to play.  I was almost in a bit of panic.  I had better do something while I was able to log in lest I not get another opportunity any time soon.

But I need not have been in a state.  As it turned out Amazon pushed a number of changes into the game including raising the cap on the number of players allowed on a server, adding a much more aggressive idle timeout, and designating some servers as “full” so that new characters could no longer be created on them.  That and more new servers seemed to settle things down quite a bit.

Of course, it isn’t perfection yet.  While in US West as I write this the server queues are all in single or double digits and most servers have no queue, US East still has a dozen servers with four digit queues.  EU Central, which is at its peak time as I write, has four digit queues on a lot of servers and it looks like about two thirds of servers have a queue over 100 deep. But there are still a pile of servers with zero queue.

And Amazon still has work to do on idle timeout.  They’re going after those people you see doing things like running against walls to appear active while they’re AFK.

Meanwhile, the impact of simply allowing more players onto servers has yet to be assessed.  There is already a bit of harvest competition going on as people vie for rare resources and settlements are very crowded.

But overall they seem to have at least momentarily improved the situation.  In these circumstance you fight the battle in front of your and worry about tomorrow when it arrives.

Jeff Bezos was out in the press declaring the game a success.  And with probably a couple million boxes sold at $40 a pop, it has no doubt been a nice payday for Amazon.  Those are some enviable first week numbers.  But, as we know, an MMORPG is a marathon and not a sprint.  We’ll see how it goes in the long term.

Related:

A New World Dawns

The day has come at last.  After changes and postponements and what not, New World goes live today.

Just how new and how worldly?

I received an email yesterday morning from Amazon with the Steam key that was the fulfillment of my pre-order.  I launched Steam and plugged that in and downloaded the client, which weighed in at about 39GB, putting it about on par with the Diablo II Resurrected client I downloaded last week.

After that all there was left to do was wait.  And even the wait wasn’t that long.  The various server regions were all set to start up at 8am local time… except Australia for some reason.

It is 8am somewhere

That means pretty much everything is live now.  But I won’t bother to log in until later today, after work and the usual rest I need.  It is hard to sit at you desk at home all day working and then transition to games.  I need to be somewhere else for a while.

Amazon has provided a whole bunch of details about the launch in a post on their site, including the list of servers available.

Meanwhile, somebody has also put together a whole web site about which streamers will be on what servers for launch so you can avoid  the servers that are going to get slammed because somebody with 100K followers is going to swamp the server.

As for why I am playing, a legitimate question after my somewhat tepid summary of the latest beta relative to where the game stood a few years back, there are a few reasons.

First, I remain interested in how it turned out.  The change to a theme park stance has worn away any hype I might have had for the title, but that might be a good thing.  Hype knows no sense or logic, it only knows hype and it is very easy to let hype inflate your expectations.  Lower expectations mean a more appraising look at the title and less likelihood of real disappointment.

Second, it has been a bit of a ride getting here since the game was announced back in 2016.  Five years isn’t that long of a stretch… let me tell you about some Kickstarter backed MMOs that promised to ship more than five years ago that still aren’t even in beta… but given the gyrations and the delays and the change of course… again, I am interested to see where it ended up.

Third, it is a bit of an event in the genre, the first big studio launch of an MMORPG in a while.  How it goes will likely be read as a barometer for the genre as a whole.  Are MMORPGs a thing again?  Is the market ready for new blood?  And how long has it been since I was at an MMORPG launch?  Expansions don’t count and I cannot remember the last time I was there on day one for a new title.

Finally, it is kind of a low commitment.  New World is buy to play; grab the box for $40 and no subscription required.  I am down with that.  Not having a subscription cuts both ways of course.  While it makes it easy to buy in, I also have a tendency to prioritize the games I am paying a monthly fee for when it comes to play time.  But we’ll see.  I also want to see the day one cash shop versus what it looks like a year from now.

I have no idea where I will end up server-wise.  And the fact that companies (guilds) are capped at 100 people means I’ll likely not join one any time soon if only to avoid taking up a limited resource for some group.

And, of course, we’ll see if Amazon is really ready.  There is certainly a chance that there will be issues.  It would barely be an MMORPG launch without some problems.  I’ll be along for the ride.  Let’s see how it rolls.

Addendum: I peeked in this morning just to see how things were going and it is queues everywhere, rolling up into the 25K zone for some “cool name” servers, like Valhalla in US East.  I expect we might see some additional servers coming online before the weekend.

Addendum 2: Oh yeah, new servers inbound

New World Blues

Heroes are not to cry
So hold your head up high
The future is ours to see
So come on and rescue me
So tell me what I have to lose
I am ready to feel these new world blues

-New World Blues, Gov’t Mule

It has come to this.  Once I was annoyed by people always telling me that this MMO or that was so much better in beta, and now here I am treading down that same path.  I am here to say that New World was better.

Kinda… sorta… in a way.

Just how new and how worldly?

I’ve been meaning to write about New World for some time now.  At first it just wasn’t possible.  I was in some of the very early testing, back when the Imperium got a blanket invite to come play test the game.  Everything was under an NDA back then.  No screen shots, no blog posts.

More recently I just haven’t been moved to write because the way the game evolved just didn’t move me.  But the launch date it growing near and soon we’ll be awash in posts and news and whatever about the game.

I am sure that my not being all that enthusiastic says more about me than it does about the current state of the game.  But the way the game evolved also says a lot about what players want, or what they think they want.

Back in the early beta the game felt very much like what H1Z1 was supposed to be… H1Z1 Just Survive that is, not the clownish battle royale game it became.  This was going to be Smed taking what was learned from that and refining it into a better game that would deliver on that promise.  It was going to be sandboxy and allow players to group up and hold territory… you don’t invite a pile of null sec EVE Online players to your early beta for anything else I bet… and have a whole survival aspect to it.

And the initial world felt rough and dangerous.  There wasn’t a lot of guidance, PvP was on out in the open world so people were wary of each other, it had a really interesting vibe to it.  Crafting was raw but good.  You had to make things, and to do that you had to gather resources.

There was an early element in the beta where I had made a bow and was out learning how to hunt deer and wolves that felt really right.  It was that same sensation that later drew me into Valheim.  The early New World felt a lot like Valheim did, only it looked a lot better.

It was easy to get lost in that stage of New World, both on the map and on your path forward.  It definitely needed something more to keep enough people engaged and playing to be viable, but it felt like a world you could get into.

Maybe making it an MMORPG was a mistake.  Maybe it should have been a co-op, host your own world game like Valheim.  I have to imagine that Amazon would have happily come up with an AWS plan to host private instances of the game.  But and MMORPG was what was promised and an MMORPG was what had to be delivered.

That early beta test culminated in a giant PvP battle in a valley.  It was probably as big of a fight as one could have with the current state of rendering tech, and it was strange and laggy and fun.  That was the other promise of the sandbox, something to at least approach the grand battles of New Eden.

Then the beta was over and Amazon went off to work with what they had found and the feedback they have received.  More beta events came and went as the launch was pushed back again and again in order to get the game right.

Which brings us to the current state of the game.  That rough feeling, that survival vibe, that sense of danger, all gone, paved over by a slick guided PvE experience.  I had skipped some of the interim beta events, having decided that the game was going to be worth the effort when it finally showed up.  But it changed so much.

Some of the early version still comes through.  The crafting is still similar, though it feels a bit out of place, almost awkward now, in the shiny quest drive PvE world the game has become.

It isn’t a bad game.  Far from it.  And clearly a lot of people like the way it has turned out.

It is quite possible that I just haven’t gotten into it enough to find the hook that would keep me invested.  I am notoriously reluctant to get too involved in beta, to get took deep into any game before launch, before everything is “for keeps,” because that advancement is part of the hook a lot of games have in me and dulling that with early play and resets could turn me away… or make me that person who always says that the game was better in beta.  One of my minor claims to fame is that when Aradune asked me over on TorilMUD if I wanted to get into the EverQuest beta I turned him down.  So I might just be bad at getting a read in beta.

But still, I am wary.  I saw an article over at PC Gamer that sort of put a finger on a bit of my angst, the idea that the game had evolved from something different into something trying to be the next World of Warcraft… though even early WoW was a lot less hand-holdy that New World is now.

I will be there at launch all the same.  Like I said, I could very well be wrong, though I’m still just tagging posts “New World” rather than making it a full fledged category yet.  And it is sill another event in the genre.  We’ll see where it ends.

Friday Bullet Points in the Dog Days of Summer

It is hot out, the price of everything seems higher, Covid infection rates are rising, and here in California we’re in a drought and the state is once again starting to catch fire again in a major way.   At least Friday Bullet Points is a category on the blog now, so they’ll be easy for future generations to find.

  • New World, New Delays

I suppose we ought to be used to this by now.

Just how new and how worldly?

After their final round preview beta over the last few weeks, New World was slated to ship on August 30th.  That date has been moved out to September 28th in an update from the company.

We are humbled by the support New World received from players around the world throughout Closed Beta. During Beta, more than a million adventurers entered Aeternum. Thanks to your support, New World became one of the most watched games on Twitch, and one of the most played games on Steam. The passion and enthusiasm you’ve shown for New World validates the work we’ve put in over the past year, improving the game based on your feedback.

Along the way, you’ve also given us a ton of feedback that we’ll use to make New World even better. We want New World’s launch to be a smooth and fun experience for all players, and that means making some improvements based on what you encountered during Closed Beta. So we’re going to take a few extra weeks to smash bugs, improve stability, and polish the game. New World’s new global launch date is September 28, 2021.

This was not an easy decision to make. We know this isn’t the first time we’ve changed our launch date in pursuit of quality, and that it can be disappointing to wait a bit longer. But we want to be sure we deliver you the highest quality game possible at launch. Thank you for your support and feedback. We’re listening. We’ll see you in Aeternum

Given past delays, another month probably isn’t going to change the launch day pile on very much.  I hope they use the time well.  A month seems like a long time when you’re waiting for something, but it can feel like a vanishingly brief interval when you have code to ship.

  • Switch Sales Hit 89 Million

Nintendo announced that total Switch units sold had passed the 89 million mark as part of their Q2 2021 financial update.  That is a lot of Switch units out in the wild.

My Switch Lite

Looking at the list of best selling consoles of all time, that number puts the Switch within striking distance of the Wii, a huge seller for Nintendo that moved over 100 million units during its reign.  The Switch is still quite a was from the top spots, occupied by the PlayStation 2 and the Nintendo DS line, which solf 155 and 154 million units respectively.

Despite that big number, Nintendo said that sales were down some compared to last year, which was attributed to the fact that everybody and their brother bought a Switch and a copy of Animal Crossing: New Horizons during the pandemic.  Hot vax summer strikes again.

  • FFXIV Subscribers are Up

We have suspected for a while that Final Fantasy XIV has been benefiting from discontent in the WoW player base over the delay in the release of the first major Shadowlands content update.  Anecdotal evidence was mounting, with major WoW streamers jumping ship and word that FFXIV was having to limit new players.

But with the Square Enix Q2 2021 financials, the company confirmed that FFXIV subscriptions were in fact up.  They didn’t say how much they were up, but I bet we’ll hear that they are up even more when the Q3 financials are announced.

  • Chinese Government Frowns Once More on Video Games

You can always count on totalitarian governments to let you know what their leader’s pet peeves are, and video games appear to be on the list.  The Chinese state media lashed out video games, comparing them to opium and declaring that video game addiction was harming children’s growth and eyesight.

For the Chinese “opium” is an especially loaded word as it is associated with western imperialism and interference in Chinese affairs due to the opium wars fought with the European powers that led to a dismemberment of the country.  So using that word about something tends to signal that the government is serious.

This new government displeasure with video games caused Tencent’s stock price to drop as the company, sensing which way the wind was blowing, vowed to implement stronger restrictions on video game abuse, restricting the time minors are allowed to play.  China already has strict limits on video games, and this will no doubt expand those limits.

  • EQII Free Character Boost

A new Producer’s Letter came out for EverQuest II which included an outline for their summer plans including yet another free level 120 character boost for players subscribed via the all access pass.  I am not sure I would have enough character slots, were I to subscribe, to find space for another level 120 character.

  • EVE Echoes Anniversary

EVE Echoes, the mobile spin-off of EVE Online created by NetEase is celebrating its one year launch anniversary.   The game has some big new content in place for the anniversary.

EVE Echoes

The game launched to some acclaim last August, but has its share of issues.  The fact that they started publishing weekly ban stats is a reminder of the perils of free to play I suppose.

  • Amarr Foundation Day

Finally, it is time for another holiday in New Eden, as the Amarr Empire celebrates Foundation Day.  That means specials in the shop, daily challenges, a themed proving grounds event, new monuments, and of course login rewards.

Your Federation Day login rewards

No ISK this time around, but the usual SKINs, fireworks, and skill points are on the menu.  There are five days of rewards and you have seven days to log in daily to claim one, so you can miss two days and still get them all.

Friday Bullet Points from a Leading Smoke Exporter

Fires have begun burning on the west coast of the US as predicted, thanks to droughts, record heat, and dry lighting strikes.  But the smoke from the fires, which in past years has settled in on top of the SF Bay Area where I live, has decided that it too wants to travel this summer and has been hazing up sunsets back east.  So while we’re sending out smoke I thought I would cover another set of things that I didn’t want to work up a full post around.

  • Blizzard Blows Up

Already foundering for being unable to bring home a win with retail WoW and the 9.1 update, causing many players to head for Final Fantasy XIV, the company took another body blow this week when the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued the Activision Blizzard for creating a hostile work environment.  While Activision got most of the headlines, the complaint is full of examples of how Blizzard specifically let a wide range of egregious behavior go unchecked and failed to respond to complaints.

Singled out in the complaint was Senior Creative Director Alex Afrasiabi, who had been with the company since 2004 and who had left quietly last summer.  He is referenced in WoW in a number of places, including as Field Marshal Afrasiabi out in front of Stormwind.

Welcome to Stormwind baby!

The disturbing nature of the issues detailed in the complaint was topped by the company’s response to the suit.  With the Blitzchung affair they didn’t seem to know what to say, but this time around they lashed out immediately (text at the end of this post) at the state agency, decrying government overreach and complaining about unaccountable State bureaucrats driving companies from the state, very much politically motivated talking points.

Otherwise the company statement claimed that while some of the things detailed may have been true in the past, the company is all better now, everything is fine, and nobody needs to be held accountable for anything.  They want to have it both ways, saying both that the state is wrong and that they’ve fixed everything in any case.  It is usually better if your statements don’t tend to contradict each other.

Any adult that has worked for a big company knows that corporate culture doesn’t change quickly.  It takes a lot of effort, and the word is that the company hasn’t gone there yet.  That references to Afrasiabi remain in the game is a testament to the lack of progress they have made.  And the internet is compiling testimonials about the company’s problems.

Anyway, the Q3 2021 Activision Blizzard financial report ought to be a real charmer after this.  Massively OP, in their coverage, rehashed the litany of problems the company has been facing in recent years.  It ain’t pretty.

  • A New World Beta

Amazon’s MMO New World went into what is supposed to be a final, pre-launch beta this week.  I don’t think they’ll yank the game back from the precipice this time around, but you never know.  I have been interested in the game and was in one of the big early NDA protected test runs a couple of years back

Just how new is it at this point?

I liked what I saw back then… it seemed like what H1Z1 ought to have been before they went all-in on battle royale, but I guess John Smedley being at Amazon Games now might explain that.  I did not pre-order, so no beta invite for me, but Bhagpuss seemed happy with how things looked.

The one thing that seems to be dominating the press coverage is a problem where high end video cards seem to be failing in the beta.  We’ll see how that works out.

  • EverQuest and the Ghost Collector’s Editions Past

EverQuest pretty much lives on nostalgia, with their retro and special servers keeping a good portion of their players invested in a $15 a month subscription.  But they have to farm the live servers as well, so they get an expansion every year an a cash shop that is always looking for something new to sell.  Now they are trying to farm a bit of nostalgia from the live server players by offering a pack that features items from the collector’s editions of no longer available expansions.

Missed out? Fear not!  But act fast or you WILL MISS OUT!  AGAIN!

For just 7,999 in Daybreak Cash, which is about $80 in real world cash depending on your purchase quantities, a selection of no longer available items can be made available to you.  It is like nostalgia for fear of missing out!

  • Path of Exile Expedition

I have something of a checkered past with Path of Exile.  On paper I should enjoy it, and I am always into it when I start out.  But something… network performance, bugs, no knowing what to do next… always seems to stymie me.  But I think about it every time the offer up a new expansion, and one if launching today.

Play the Expedition Expansion Today

This one is interesting in that Grinding Gears Games has decided to try and roll back player gear and power in an attempt to revitalize the feel of the game and to give it an overall more satisfying experience.  But it is always a risky move, taking power away from players.  Destructiod’s headline about the expansion is an illustration of that risk:

Path of Exile is nerfing everything, and players are unhappy

We shall see how it plays out I suppose, but a power reset might be a good time to jump back in.  Maybe? I took a look at the patch notes, which are a freaking book, but can’t tell either way.

Quote of the Day – Streamers Should Pay

Streamers worried about getting their content pulled because they used music they didn’t pay for should be more worried by the fact that they’re streaming games they didn’t pay for as well. It’s all gone as soon as publishers decide to enforce it.

-Alex Hutchinson, Creative Director for something owned by Google, on Twitter

This was sort of toss out of left field I wasn’t expecting.

This all started on Wednesday when Amazon’s Twitch streaming service delete a large number of saved video stream for DCMA takedown requests without notice or an option to appeal, followed by an email about how streamers should familiarize themselves with the DCMA process… which isn’t supposed to work like that.

Twitch is Twitch

That is a whole tempest in itself, and Ars Technica has a good summary.

So a lot of streamers were pretty upset about this.  And onto the hot coals of their ire, Mr. Hutchinson decided to pour is own oil of scorn.

This was followed by two more tweets:

Streamers worried about getting their content pulled because they used music they didn’t pay for should be more worried by the fact that they’re streaming games they didn’t pay for as well. It’s all gone as soon as publishers decide to enforce it.

The real truth is the streamers should be paying the developers and publishers of the games they stream. They should be buying a license like any real business and paying for the content they use.

Leaving aside the whole “kicking people when their down” aspect of this tweet, which is loathsome in itself, I can think of no quicker way to put an end to video game streaming that trying to extract a license tax from streamers.  A few streamers make some decent money, but most make little to nothing, and any fee would just put a stop to them.

And he seems to be pretty sure that game publishers can make this happen.  I’m not sure if the EULA and or ToS of every single video game is up to the task, but it is possible I suppose.  Shut it all down.  That is what he appears to want.

Remember, this comment is in a world where some game companies give popular streamers free copies of their games to play and often promote such streams.

And that isn’t the only problem with this sentiment.  It also appears to equate video games with forms of entertainment like music or movies, things that yield the same experience if you buy it yourself or listen/watch somebody play it online.  That seems to be a stretch for me.  Watching people play video games is a very different experience in my book than actually playing a video game.

Then there is the fact that, here in 2020, that horse appears to be well and truly out of the barn and gone.  If you can’t stream it, or have the saved recordings of those streams, what does that mean for YouTube?  We’re about fifteen years down the road on game videos on that front.

However, I think the most shocking thing about these statements is that they don’t really seem to be something others in the industry have been grumbling about.  “Streamers should be paying us!” isn’t something I’ve heard, and this is an industry that boils over now and then about used game sales, Steam sales, the cut apps stores (and Steam) take on sales, the cut physical retail stores take on sales, any barrier between them and publishing, too much competition due to lack of barriers to publishing, and the fact that people won’t spend their money on crappy 99 cent games rather than their morning latte.

Oh, and piracy.  Always piracy.  Literally a “make devs angry” thing for at least forty years, and one that has seen more money thrown at it for less benefit than anything I can think of.

But Mr. Hutchinson clearly sees this as piracy, so there is no doubt that fire in his belly on the topic, having been a game developer himself in the past.  And, as was pointed out over at MMO Fallout, he has had his own issues in the past. and might even be stretching the truth in his Twitter bio.

The funniest thing about today’s streaming drama is that everyone thinks Alex Hutchinson runs Google Stadia (because his Twitter bio says “Creative Director @ Google Stadia”). He’s actually a creative director at a Montreal game studio that was purchased by Google last December

[He has since updated his profile to reflect this.]

Anyway, being a creative director of some sort at Google’s means he likely isn’t in a position to do anything about this.  It looks like just so much hot air.  And I doubt there are many studios out there keen to press this issue and make enemies of streamers.  This is akin to the Mark Twain saying about not arguing with a man who buys ink by the barrel.  The videos are already blossoming on YouTube and elsewhere about this.  It may die down soon, but the embers will remain, ready to burst into flames it stoked.

I’m also pretty sure most game studios or publishers are smart enough give this idea a wide berth.  Even EA can’t be dumb enough to get on board with this idea.  And Google has made sure to carefully distance itself from the idea.  In a statement they said:

The recent tweets by Alex Hutchinson, creative director at the Montreal Studio of Stadia Games and Entertainment, do not reflect those of Stadia, YouTube or Google.

Google is not keen to burn bridges or throw away whatever small success they have managed to eke out with Stadia.

So, in the end, one person’s noxious opinion did not represent their company or the industry and probably would have largely ignored if their profile had not represented their position as a senior exec at Stadia and not somebody in a subsidiary far from Google HQ.  The status quo was maintained.

But, as we well know, the internet is a place where bad ideas find followers easily.  This might come up again.  Some other company exec, one with actual influence this time, could grab on tot his idea and run with it.  And if they do, I’ll buy some popcorn.  The drama will be excellent.

Others on this topic:

Challenging Steam

I suppose the real questions are how Steam got to be so popular in the first place and why it hasn’t really felt much in the way of heat from challengers up until now?

In hindsight it seems like some sort of crazy accident. A little over 15 years ago, in September 2003, Valve launched a replacement for World Opponent Network, the Sierra Online created platform and which Valve ended up owning, because they wanted something that would do software updates, DRM, anti-cheat, and online matchmaking in one package.

And thus Steam was born.  First it was for Counter-Strike, but the real test came with the launch of Half-Life 2, the first game that made it mandatory to register with Steam.  Problems with that, including inadvertent suspending of a lot of people whose only mistake was buying the retail box (myself included) did not seem like an auspicious moment for the fledgling platform.

That’s me being beaten by the metro cop

Me being me, that soured me on Steam and all things Valve for a good five years.  I burned my account and walked away.  The arbitrary nature of my experience and the whole “I have the physical disk why can’t I just play the damn game?” question kept me away.  But it was an era where the physical disk was still king, so one could do that.  I walked by the Orange Box on the shelf at Fry’s with my nose in the air, knowing it was another Steam scam.  I wasn’t going to play Portal because I felt Steam was the lie.

But things changed over time.

The coming of Civilization V was the turning point for me.

Up until then I had purchased every new version in the Civilization series at the first possible opportunity.  The fact that the game required you to register it and use it with Steam gave me pause for a couple of days, but eventually I caved.  I created a new Steam account, which is the one I still use today, so I could get in on that traditional day one Civ fun.

Same as it ever was

I remained wary of the service.  Again, the idea that one company could basically remove my ability to play video games I had purchased… not MMORPGs, but single player games… kept me from getting comfortable with Steam for a long stretch.

But then we entered the era of the Steam sale.  I think that, more than anything, made people get on board with Steam.

The concept, as initially explained, was quite simple.  Any game that launches… and we’re talking about games from big studios with marketing budgets, not indies… will have a certain amount of demand for it at the list price.  Once that market has been exhausted one can stimulate further sales by lowering the price.  That gets people who weren’t going to give you any money to buy in.  You get less money, but it is better than no money.

This was the price/demand curve from Economics 1A of my freshman year of college.  This was supposed to make developers more money.

What it really did was train a lot of people to wait for the inevitable Steam sale, or at least that is one of the complaints you hear from devs now and again.  Steam ruined the concept of list price.

Along the way Steam went from being a service for Valve games to being the DRM and matchmaking for certain third party games, to being the sales platform for just about anybody.  At the same time Valve went from being the company that make good games (that inevitably arrived late) to the company that runs Steam.  Being an online retailer turns out to be a pretty profitable business compared to video game development.

The problems of success are the best problems to have, but they are still problems.  Over time Valve removed just about every barrier to entry that kept any dev from getting on to Steam.  And every dev wanted to be on Steam because, during a short period of time, being on Steam was the key to success.  That was the visibility you craved as an indie dev.  But the mad rush towards success and Valve simply letting everybody in got us to the pile of garbage that is most of the games on the service today.  Getting on Steam is no guarantee to sales or even visibility anymore.

Meanwhile, competitors lurked.

Sure, a lot of people were happy to sell through Steam.  Buying a discounted Steam code for a title at Amazon or Green Man Games is a pretty normal thing.

Others were unwilling to cut Steam in on their action.  You don’t find any Blizzard games on Steam.  They don’t need to sell there, they are big enough on their own.

For some reason Activision was okay putting Call of Duty on Steam for ages.  I suspect that, in a world where a lot of CoD sales are on consoles where the retail channel and the platform owner take their cut off the top, Steam taking their due didn’t seem like a bad deal.   But with the coming of digital distribution that seems to have changed finally.

There were small players who tried to get into the Steam-like sales platform business.  I remember the late Trion Worlds trying to turn their Glyph launcher into a third party storefront.

Then there was EA, who wanted to take on Steam by being, in their words, the Nordstrom to Steam’s Target.  That didn’t work out for them as well as they had hoped.  EA’s reputation, hardly akin to anything like Nordstrom, kept them from being a overall competitor to Steam. But with their Origin storefront they were able to opt out of Steam with SimCity and The Sims 4, depriving Steam of some revenue.

Which brings us to the situation as it stands now.  Steam is a mess.  New titles get lost in the morass of new titles that spring up every day.  Steam wavers on how to deal with its problems on that front.  Meanwhile, Steam’s cut of sales, once tolerable in the age of physical media, is now starting to be a drag on margins, a concern to any dev who is publicly held.  So things are running against it.

Big devs like Activision are more than happy to sell Call of Duty to you directly (or via the Blizzard launcher).  Fallout 76 also chose to give Steam a miss, a first for the franchise in a long time.  And it seems like that plan is going to become more common.  To counter that Valve has announced a new revenue sharing plan, so if you make more money Steam will take less of a cut.

And then there was Epic Games’ announcement earlier this week that they plan to offer their own platform and only take 12% off the top compared to Steam’s default 30%, even waving the fees for using their Unreal Engine if you go with them.  They even have a nice revenue split chart with their announcement.

Look how much more Steam takes

And if that were not enough, both Discord and Twitch have been backing their way into becoming game selling platforms.  Amazon, which owns Twitch, has been priming the pump with free games available via the Twitch client (the one time Curse client that a lot of us had already installed to manage WoW addons) for Prime members.  And you can just bet that will be the platform used to sell their upcoming games.  And Discord has had its own storefront going since August.

What is Steam going to do?

Well, they do have all the advantages of the incumbent, including a lot of players with large investments in their Steam libraries.  I’ve said in the past that this is a huge barrier to any competing service showing up.  I certainly do not want to have to keep track of which game I have on which service.  I have problems enough remembering which show or movie I want to watch is on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, or Comcast.

And then there is all of the community stuff like mods that Steam has accumulated over the years.  You can’t make that sort of thing happen overnight.

So how do you assail an incumbent?  Be better, be cheaper, or be different.

There are certainly ways to be better than Steam.  I do wonder what Epic’s plan on that front is.  By lowering their take so dramatically compared to Steam they are going to see a lot of interest from smaller devs who will feel like they are getting the shaft from Steam and the announcement that big players pay less.  Epic just has to figure out how to curate so they get quality rather than quantity.

Being different is hard to assess, so I’d have to see more from any Steam competitor.  I don’t like the Steam storefront interface, but I dislike it less than most competitors.

And then there is being cheaper, which Epic went for in a big way.  Not cheaper for you and I, but cheaper for the developers using their platform.  At the percentage they are talking, and with the muscle they have developed pushing Fortnite, they might be able to woo some bigger titles their way.

We shall see.  The path of Steam over the years has been a strange one from time to time.  I doubt it will be over any time soon, but Valve’s dominance does seem to be under an actual threat for the first time.

Others assailing this topic: