Tag Archives: Asheron’s Call

A Standing Stone Gathers No Momentum

Well, today’s big announcement in the MMO world has to be this bombshell about the development teams formerly part of Turbine.

All it does is spin...

All it does is spin…

I am going to quote the text in full lest the site disappear next week.

Today we have some momentous news! The game teams responsible for The Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) and Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO) are now moving from Turbine to Standing Stone Games, a newly formed indie game studio. In addition, we’ve partnered with Daybreak Games to provide global publishing services. They’ve had a long, successful history developing and publishing MMOs, and we’re happy to lean on their expertise.

With the announcement out of the way, I wanted to talk to you about what all this means.

We’re embarking on an exciting adventure as Standing Stone Games, a newly-independent studio staffed by people who have been working on DDO and LOTRO for many years. The teams remain very much committed to both games and are thrilled to continue development and operations of these games as an independent studio.  This is an opportunity for us to bring about our dreams while still working on two of the biggest licenses in video games. It’s a huge honor, and for you this means your games will continue to grow and improve. We love to focus on games with a high level of depth and scope, and we can’t wait to show you what the future brings.

Although a great many exciting things are happening on our end, you’ll be able to continue playing the game(s) you enjoy with as little interruption as possible. Our development continues on track, and the plans we have already announced remain firmly in our future view. Again, although we are a new studio, we are also the same developers who have been and will continue to work on our games.

Our success has always been possible because of your support. As we move forward, this is more important than ever. The ultimate goal of our new studio is to continue to bring you amazing experiences. We are excited for the future, and we’re thrilled to have you with us on this journey.

Here’s to great games, epic adventures, and memorable times with friends!

~Sev

Momentous news indeed.  That is a lot to take in, so let my try and parse it out into bite size pieces, for my own benefit at least.

  • Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online are no longer part of the WB owned game studio known as Turbine.
  • Those two remaining money making online properties from Turbine will now be part of a newly formed studio known as Standing Stone Games. (SSG? Like the Strategic Studies Group?)
  • The studio is alleged to be “independent,” but doesn’t really describe what that means.  I am pretty sure Warner isn’t just letting them go without any financial interest or compensation.
  • SSG is partnering with Daybreak Games Company, our favorite lovable band of west coast cowboys, to provide global publishing services.

There is a whole FAQ that goes with this, which I can summarize as “Don’t Panic!” as it doesn’t really add much in the way of details.  We won’t know what all this really means until some time passes and things shake out.

What it sounds like WB is doing is getting LOTRO and DDO off the books the way that EA did with Ultima Online and Dark Age of Camelot when they handed over to those two properties to Broadsword, a studio that they probably had a hand in creating.  Rather than having the headcount and servers and what not counting against margins… and Wall St. is obsessed with margins, so if you’re a public company you are as well… the whole things becomes a licensing deal that just generates income.  And the fact that “Standing Stone Games” appears to be a trademark of “Standing Stone Games, LLC” certainly makes it sound like it is fully spun off.

All of which probably means that we are pretty much done with any big investments in either game.  They have to survive on their own.  But they just got new servers and upgrades over the last year, so they should be set there.  Now the team will slowly move towards Mordor in the case of LOTRO, and something else in the case of DDO, getting bug fixes and updates so long as the money keeps coming in.

In the end, this is probably a good thing for both games.  They seem much more likely to carry on over time than they would in a company where accounting is looking to chop under performing assets.  Asheron’s Call and Asheron’s Call 2 however are probably going to disappear for good.

The strange bit is the Daybreak tie-in.  Why would you go to a company that has no significant presence outside of the US for your “global publishing services?”  Didn’t SOE/Daybreak spend a couple of years trying to ditch their European customers by selling them off to ProSiebenSat.1 before finally giving up on the whole thing and bringing as many resources back to the US as possible?

What does a deal with Daybreak bring to the table?  Unless the SSG team didn’t get the billing department for the games and needs somebody else to charge credict cards for them, I can’t see the logic.  Will Daybreak be running their data centers?  Or will SSG be moving into Daybreak’s data centers?  What else could Daybreak do for them as a “publisher” for a game you download directly?  They can’t even run their own physical game card sales without problems, why would you go to them?

We shall see.

I don’t think this is going to mean LOTRO and DDO will end up on Daybreak Access, but stranger things have happened.

Addendum: And, as predicted, AC and AC2 will soon be gone… or sunsetted… or whatever the current term of art is.

Others on this bit of news:

Friday Morning in a Hot Spell

It has been close to 100 degrees here almost all week… which is actually pretty normal in Silicon Valley at this time of year.  My memories from childhood and the start of school always included some really hot days a week or two into things, just in time to find that the air conditioning in one building or another had broken down over the summer.  And so my daughter gets to experience the same.

So in the cool of the evening I am throwing together a few items too short for posts of their own.  The return of bullet point Friday!

  • Asheron’s Busy Signal

Asheron’s Call was put into unsupported limbo, being free but essentially unsupported, by Turbine some time back.  Now we are getting a taste of what that might mean in the long term.  MMO Fallout reported earlier this week that the game had been brought down for maintenance a couple weeks back and failed to come up again and has been unavailable ever since.

asherons_call_full_logoThe thread reporting the problem has been updated and indicates that moving that transferring the Asheron’s Call to Turbine’s new data center, where the LOTRO servers are going as well, would be expedited, but that the game would not be up again until that happened.  The statement was that the game should be up by Friday.

They just did not say which Friday.

However, it appears it might be today, as people at the end of the forum thread are reporting that they can log in.  There has been no official announcement or update since August 31.

Addendum: Turbine posted about the servers being up on Facebook, though no word yet in the official forums, where players are looking for compensation for the down time.  I say refund them double their money!  Wait, the game is free?

  • The Wonder about Drunder

Daybreak announced their isle of misfit players, the Drunder prison server, back in August.  However, we haven’t heard much since.  Over at Atheren’s Adventures there was a report of a thread about the new server over on the Daybreak forums.

Fortress of Drunder is included on the Drunder server

Fortress of Drunder is included on the Drunder server

The thread kicks off with a post from somebody who has been banished to the new server and has found that it isn’t actually working yet.  How do you open a ticket on a server where you have been denied all support?  Anyway, there is clearly a hole in the system if people so banned can still post on the forums.  The rest of the forum thread is mostly scorn for cheaters, questions about what gets your there (as opposed to just outright banned), and why Daybreak has bothered with this at all.  Key comment from the announcement thread:

Update from drunder: server was a complete flop, no one plays there. Banned people continue to just make new accounts.

Still some of the old SOE “Hey, let’s just try this!” moxie left in Daybreak I guess.

  • Transfers Begin in Middle-Earth

The server consolidation effort for Lord of the Rings Online, which was referenced at the beginning of the year in the Producer’s Letter and for which we finally got some concrete details early last month, looks to be kicking off next week.

There is a post up on the forums indicating that the first two servers up for free, one-way transfers will be the US server Elendilmir and the EU server Estel.

Players on EU servers will be able to transfer to one of the following servers:

  • Belegaer
  • Evernight
  • Gwaihir
  • Laurelin
  • Sirannon

Players on US servers will be able to transfer to one of the following servers:

  • Arkenstone
  • Crickhollow
  • Gladden
  • Landroval

The US server Brandywine remains off the list of possible destinations for the time being.

  • Saying No to Windows 10

Long gone are the days when I would install a new operating system on day one or, heaven forbid, during beta.  I think the last beta OS I installed on a machine I owned was Mac OS 7.1, part of the System 7 chain of releases, and I regretted it.  I don’t even want to  get into the pros and cons of Windows 10.  I am happy and everything is working on Windows 7, so there is no reason to change.  I’ll move when I need to.

However, Microsoft seems quite intent on telling me about Windows 10 every day when I start up my system.  I am not interested in a “free” copy of Windows 10.

This, every single day

This, every single day

Finally sick of that, I decided to try to at least do away with that notification.  As it turns out, Microsoft slipped that in as part of the Windows Update cycle as KB3035583.  Uninstalling that update removed the daily reminder about Windows 10.

Unfortunately, Microsoft is so eager to hand out copies of Windows 10 that they might be pushing it to people who haven’t even opted in.  Just what I need clogging up space on my SSD.  Something else to fix.

What Future for Turbine after Infinite Crisis?

Unfortunately, as the MOBA market matured around us as we were building the game, we simply couldn’t find enough of an audience.

Floon, Infinite Crisis Art Director, quoted at Massively OP

InfiniteCrisisIt is one of those times when I hate to be right.  I was dubious that Turbine had the gravitas to get into the MOBA genre at this late date, and it turns out that they do not.  Turbine announced yesterday that they would be shutting down their entry into the MOBA market, the perhaps all-to-aptly named Infinite Crisis.  The statement on their site was terse.

After much deliberation, we regret to announce the official shutdown of Infinite Crisis. We will end development efforts today and will close the service on August 14, 2015.

The announcement was made all the more poignant as it came on the same day that Blizzard’s champion for the MOBA arena, Heroes of the Storm, officially went live. (And now I don’t have to do a post about that, having mentioned it here.  At least until I earn the pet from it.)

I hate to be right because, while I had no real interest in the game, its abject failure leaves me wondering where Turbine goes now?  As they invested their time and resources in Infinitie Crisis, they left Asheron’s Call and Asheron’s Call 2 on auto-pilot, neither charging to play the titles nor paying much attention to them.  So I doubt there is any more revenue to be had on that front.

Which leaves only two staples in the Turbine bag, Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online.

Not that either title is dead, but at least on the LOTRO front it feels like the game is well past its prime.  The producer’s letter for the title early this year felt short on enthusiasm for me.  Expansions were out the door, server merges were going to be a fact of life, and talk of a new data center could be a bright spin on further resource consolidation for all we know.  And then there was the insider insight in to the turmoil at Turbine that no doubt sank a few optimistic spins on how things were going at the studio.

The more recent producer’s letter spun more of the same items (monster play maps, server merges, data centers, a new store) and, while it brought tales of “major content initiatives” for 2015, complete with hints about Minas Tirith, details were sparse.  Dare we speculate on what a “surprising take on the siege of Gondor” will look like from Turbine?

Meanwhile the game has been monetized to about the maximum extent they can likely manage.  The once promising F2P model that Turbine offered, where you could earn the RMT currency in-game, has expanded and consumed all, like the very darkness of Mordor, so that there is a “buy now” button of one sort or another on nearly every dialog in game.

Then there is DDO, whose 2015 producer’s letter was much more upbeat, and which felt better adapted to the F2P market to start with, never having been a “worldly” game but rather more akin to the adventure module model like table top Dungeons & Dragons.  Still, as much post-F2P conversion success as Turbine can claim for the title, a lot of that has to do with how badly it fell over after launch.  Everything is up when you have hit rock bottom.

Those two titles, in whatever shape you wish to claim they are in, look to be all Turbine has for now.  Their investment in a MOBA has yielded naught and in order for them to start working on something new they will have to continue, to a certain extent, to neglect the products that are paying all the bills.

This is practically an every day Silicon Valley dilemma, where a start up gets success on one product, does well enough, but can never get that second success as the first eventually fades.  During that stage there can be a huge amount of tension between groups. One group will want to continue to focus on, enhance, and nurture the first product.  Another group will insist that the main focus must be on finding that second product, because they know the first can’t last forever.

I’ve seen some comments out there from people who, if not cheering the demise of Infinite Crisis, are happily assuming that its fall will mean more resources for LOTRO or DDO.  I suppose Turbine could go that route, hunker down and focus on current products and hope for the best.  However, that seems unlikely, as is spells eventual death for the organization.

To survive in the long term, Turbine will need a “next” product.  But what will it be?  They have shot their bolt with Asheron’s Call by making it free.  Likewise, they played the nostalgia card with Asheron’s Call 2, only to give up and make that one free as well.  Infinite Crisis is behind them.  I don’t know what else they can do with DDO, and LOTRO is likely too mired in F2P for Turbine to play any sort of premium retro-server sort of games, like Daybreak is doing with EverQuest and the Ragefire and Lockjaw servers, in order to boost revenue.

So it feels like they have to make something new.  But in which direction will they go and do they have the resources to go very far?  I have to imagine that, after Infinite Crisis, which was purported to be eating $4 million a month in expenses, their corporate masters at WB may be unlikely to write a check to fund any big new ventures.

Yes, they have an iOS app under way in the form of Batman: Arkham Underworld.   But that sounds almost like contract work, doing a knock-off version of another title just to collect a bit of reflected glory, and is unlikely to save the farm. 

Then there is the Game of Thrones based game, which sounds a bit like an RTS from the minimal description in that Eurogamer article from a couple months back.  But that is way out in the future.  Both entail working with somebody else’s IP… again… as well as sending the company further from its MMORPG roots.

If you were running Turbine, what would you do?  Is it time for them to give up on MMOs?

Turbine Time Machine – Asheron’s Call 2 Returns

Be careful what you ask for, because people will take note of what you do if you get it.

Turbine has announced in their forums that they are going to bring Asheron’s Call 2 back from the dead.

It has been seven years since it was shut down.  I never played it, nor its predecessor, but I have seen more than a few posts over the years bemoaning its demise.

Google Image Search Finds All...

Google Image Search Finds All…

Now, I can hardly criticize people for being nostalgic for a game like this.  I run back to EverQuest just about every autumn, which is when the nostalgia bug seems to bite.  But the whole act of reviving a game seven years gone does raise some questions.

I would assume that Turbine has done some work on the game in the interim.  But I suspect it will still represent the state of the art at Turbine circa 2004.  And while AC2 may have done some things right,  is that going to be enough of a draw for any but the nostalgic and those with an archaeological bent?  Has what made people leave AC2 been addresses, or is this just hope against hope?

What will be the business model this time around?   For the beta you need an Asheron’s Call subscription.  I am sure that the nostalgia bug will make for a spike in subscribers just to get in on it.  But this was a game that was shut down seven years back because of a paucity of subscribers.  And Asheron’s Call itself was always a distant third in the UO/EQ/AC triumvirate when it came to subscribers.  Is Turbine planning to make this another free to play title?  And are there enough interested parties out there to make this a viable venture either way?

And finally, what does this say about Turbine itself?  It has been more than five years since they last launched a new game, which was Lord of the Rings Online in the first half of 2007.  In all the time since then, the best they could come up with was to pull a game they shut down out of cold storage?  That is a big bet on the nostalgia card with a game that purportedly peaked at 50K subscribers and had dwindled to less than a third of that by the end.  Is this a love letter to long time fans or a desperation move?

Like I said, I can hardly criticize anybody for nostalgia, since it drives much of my own gaming patterns.  I can never fully answer the question about reliving the past.  But there is a lot to this that makes me raise a quizzical eyebrow.

Anyway, Turbine has set the WABAC Machine to 2005.  Are you going to go for a ride?

Turbine and Warner Brothers

And while eyeballing the Massively post about the new EQII subscription plan offering, I also saw the headline about Turbine being purchased by Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.

Thus the “largest privately-held online gaming studio in North America” joins a conglomerate.

As noted elsewhere, the number of independent MMO studios just went down by one.

And while I have no idea what impact this will have on their games, Asheron’s Call, Dungeons & Dragons Online, and Lord of the Rings Online, it did put one thing in mind.

Warner also happens to own TT Games, the parent company of Traveler’s Tales, the studio which makes all of the LEGO games, like LEGO Star Wars and LEGO Indiana Jones.

So now we have a parent company that owns rights to make a Lord of the Rings game and the very popular LEGO game franchise.

Over two years ago I thought up five LEGO games I would like to see.  One of them was LEGO Harry Potter, and we’re getting that one pretty soon.

Another was LEGO Lord of the Rings.

Now, I know that we’re talking about two different studios and that the licensing as it stands won’t allow such a game.

But I’m just thinking that this moved the ball ever so slightly in the right direction.

I can dream, right?

What to do with $40 Million?

Ars Technica reported over the weekend (via Private Equity Hub, which unfortunately charges for their content, so I couldn’t follow up on details) that Turbine has secured $40 million in additional venture capital (bringing their total up to $88 million) and will be announcing a new project soon.

That brings up two immediate question.

First, what will Turbine’s new project be? Another MMO surely, but an original IP or will they be licensing again?

So far they have two original IP MMOs:

Asheron’s Call – success
Asheron’s Call 2 – failure

And two licensed IP MMOs:

Lord of the Rings Online – success
Dungeons and Dragons Online – still open, but hardly a smash

Which route to go?

Second, what is the cash out plan? Those venture capitalist dollars are not angel investments, they will want their money back somehow.

For the second question, there are two obvious routes, go public and sell the company to somebody bigger.

Going public for the sake of going public (to pay off the VCs) is almost always a mistake and ends up damaging the company in the end.

But selling to another company can also shake things up more than people like. Plus, my thoughts immediately stray to one big company that wants to get into the MMO market, but that has failed to so far: Microsoft.

The cash out plan is almost inevitable because of the venture capital involved. It is just a question of how and when.

On the new project though, speculation can go wild. What will Turbine do?

Is their commitment to Dungeons and Dragons and their relationship with Wizards of the Coast strong enough that there might be another IP in that domain they want to try? Say, a nice outdoors IP like Forgotten Realms?

Or will Turbine lay down the sword this time and pick up the gun or the laser?

What will be the next project?

What do you think Turbine should do?

[addendum: Turbine’s Press Release]