Tag Archives: EA

Friday Bullet Points Roller Coaster

More bits and pieces that I feel like bringing up but which I don’t care enough about to turn into full blog posts.  And I wasn’t really in the mood.  Plus, my office chair was take over by cats.

And the top one gets all frisky if you move him...

And the top one gets all frisky if you move him…

So this is what you get.

Wild Times for WildStar

Fans of WildStar cannot be happy with the news of late.  The F2P conversion was done in hopes of reviving the games fortunes, but Korea’s Daewoo Securities, which keeps a close eye on NCsoft, thinks the game is going to tank in 2016.

Wildstar_logo

And if it wasn’t bad enough that analysts close to NCsoft were down on the game, former employees of Carbine, the studio which created WildStar, were following the long tradition of recriminations, exemplified by EA Louse and that guy from Turbine, have come out to tell people just how screwed up the organization was.  The whole thing was summed up on Reddit.

My take away: In the second decade of the 21st century they chose an old school, price per seat, source control system like Perforce, and then used it badly?  They could have saved a lot of money doing things wrong with any of the equally bad open source options available.

The Force Awakens Many Things

As I often note, timing is everything.  EA released Star Wars: Battlefront into the teeth of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens hype and, hey presto, despite mixed reviews (PC, PS4, Xbox, and Yahtzee) EA says they have made bank on the venture.

And, as the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats, even the Tortanic it seems.  EA says that, in addition to the above, they also saw a surge in revenue for Star Wars: The Old Republic as well, reporting subscription levels for the four year old game were at their highest level in almost the last three.  Quite a change from the time when John Riccitiello didn’t want to talk about the game on an investor call because it wasn’t a very important property for EA.

As I noted in a previous Friday post, even my daughter was keen to give SWTOR a try… and then the whole Boot Camp drivers issue got in the way.

One wonders how Star Wars Galaxies might have fared in this mood of revival.

Anyway, I hope this doesn’t go to EA’s head.  Not that I had a lot of hope in their plans for a “make nice” campaign plan, but it was something at least.

Paving the Way for Xenuria 2016

As part of the run up to the CSM 11 elections CCP reworked some of the CSM Whitepaper… again… including some updates about who could run for the CSM. The result was vague enough to make people think if the ran a blog they might not be eligible.  After some outcry there was a slightly less ambiguous version that still wasn’t all that clear, so CCP eventually had to come out and just say that if you were affiliated with The Mittani dot com you couldn’t be on the CSM, it being professional gaming media site compared to the fan sites that are EN24 and Crossing Zebras.

Or something like that.  CCP has a couple stories on that front, but I guess they have to put a question like, “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Commumittanist Party?” on the CSM application.

This means that Sion Kumitomo, the loudest critic of the relationship between CCP and the CSM, is barred from running for another term.  Funny how that worked out.  A statement from the Church of Siontology expressed both smugness and a sense of relief at the rule change.

Meanwhile, the slate of candidates for The Imperium now looks to be Xenuria, Suzy RC Mudstone, and that KarmaFleet guy who links all those cat videos in local… and I’m not sure about those last two.  Onward the Goon plan for world domination!

Contest

Finally, you still have a chance to win ISK by entering the Signal Cartel anniversary screen shot contest.  Act now.

And that is all I have.  I will have to make my search minions work harder next time.

Same stories in here as the last time I looked...

Same stories in here as the last time I looked…

A Flirtation with The Sims

After about a week of pondering, my daughter came to me and told me which game she wanted to play instead of World of Warcraft.  The choice of a summer game was at hand.

Then she said, “The Sims!” and I went, “Huh?”

Specifically, she had decided on The Sims 4 based on something she read somewhere on the internet.

Just in case you need a picture

Just in case you need a picture

I had to ask if she was doing this because she read something about murdering Sims by trapping them in basements or pools or doors without rooms and, if that was her plan, could I watch.  That did not appear to be her plan at all, but her response made it clear that these were things worth looking into.  A proud parenting moment, where the values of one generation are transmitted to the next.

To my somewhat mild surprise, The Sims 4… and the evil of Origin that is required to play it… were both available for Mac OS.  I didn’t think EA still did anything on Apple products, aside from horrible iOS apps that you have to pay for up front and which then still show you ads.

And, as it turned out, The Sims 4 had been marked down from its original list price to something approximately equal to the three month World of Warcraft subscription, which made the math easy.  I told her she would be giving up WoW for at least three months and using that subscription money to buy The Sims 4.

She was fine with that, so off we went.

First I had to create an Origin account, which proved to be awkward.  EA has apparently somehow come into contact with every single email address I have ever used and had set aside a pre-made account for each.  Seriously, a couple old addresses I hadn’t used in years came up with, “You cannot create a new account with that address because we have already absorbed it into the Origin Collective! One of us! One of us!”

Not creepy at all EA.  I know you’ve tried to meld everything into your evil plan.  I’ve run across these account merges before.  But seriously, I had never before downloaded the Origin software or specifically created an Origin account.  It might be nice to at least make me think this was my idea or something.

Eventually I picked an email address, went through some password reset hoops, downloaded the software to the iMac, and had everything setup short of entering my credit card information.  At that point I asked my daughter one last time if she was sure.

She was sure.

So the deed was done.  The Sims 4 was purchased and downloaded and she began to play.

And play she did.  I have to admit she threw herself into The Sims 4 and played it to death.  She would have taken all her meals at her computer and stayed up all night playing if she had been allowed.  That went on for three days when she suddenly approached me and told me that she absolutely NEEDED to get the Get to Work expansion for the game.

Best expansion name ever

Best expansion name ever

I explained that she had used up the house gaming subsidy for the quarter, which only covers a video game subscription to WoW or other MMO or the cash equivalent.  She understood that and was prepared to spend her own money for this expansion, which ran $30.

I made her hand me the money before I would even get out the credit card.  This made my wife roll her eyes, but I wanted to be very solid on the fact that she was paying for this… plus I am bad at debt collection, so I want cash on the barrel head.

So the cash was forked over and the expansion purchased.

She immediately went to town on that for another day or so.  At one point I came over and found her designing the most efficient eight person sweatshop possible, a veritable North Korean work camp without the political indoctrination, and wondering how long the workers would survive.  A true child of Silicon Valley, where we are all big on fair trade coffee and work/life balance until we’re put in charge and every expense comes out of the bottom line.

The next day I came home from work and she said she had to reboot the iMac for an update and needed me to log back into Origin for her.  I said I would be over in a bit, but she didn’t seem in a hurry.  When I put my stuff down and wandered over to see what she was up to, she was playing Minecraft on some PvP server and didn’t really want to pause.  I came by a couple more times that evening, but something else was always going on, Minecraft or drawing or looking at cat .gifs on Imgur.

Days passed and I kept offering to log her in.  Eventually I checked while she was away and saw that Origin had actually been logged in the whole time. (Don’t remember telling it to do that, but you know, EA.)  So I asked her why she stopped playing.

She said the Get to Work expansion had been a disappointment and did not really open up the game the way she thought it would from the description.  The base game was still okay and she liked some of the creative aspects of it, but the lack of an open world limited the game’s appeal over time.  Having read some follow-up items on the web, she felt that she might have been better off with The Sims 3.

There was clearly some buyer’s remorse, enough that she wasn’t ready to spend her own money to jump into The Sims 3 despite it being only $20 on Origin. (At that point it was even cheaper on Steam, but only the Windows version was available.)  Still, she got quite a few hours out of the game.  If it hadn’t been for the expansion, the cost/hours ratio would have probably put it ahead of what we get out of a lot of gaming purchases.  And I am sure she will revisit it at some point.

But that was sort of how we ended up playing Minecraft on Father’s DayThe Sims were off the menu for a bit, but Minecraft was still there for her and for us.

Need for Speed World and Three Others to Get the Chop

Earlier today Electronic Arts announced that it would be shutting down four of its online F2P titles, Battlefield Heroes, Battlefield Play4Free, FIFIA World, and Need for Speed: World.  The games will be around for another 90 days, finally going dark on July 14, 2015.

Of those four, Battlefield Heroes is probably the most well known, being one of EA’s early forays into the F2P market and because its art style looks suspiciously like that of Team Fortress 2, back when you had to buy TF2. (Later it went F2P and became a bigger success, so go figure.)

TF2 and Battlefield Heroes explore the square jaw...

TF2 and Battlefield Heroes explore the square jaw…

It had some early issues with the whole free model, and how hard it can be to “take things back” once you have made them free.  And our group actually tried to play Battlefield Heroes one Saturday evening, though without much success.  We couldn’t figure out how to all get in the same battle on the same side at the same time.

But of those four games, the one I will actually miss is Need for Speed: World.

I first tried the game back in 2011 after Tipa mentioned it in a post.  It ended up being a fairily unique game for me, a free to play PC title I actually enjoyed and where the business model seemed just about right.  While I was never a whale (per that question from SynCaine) I was happy enough buying some neat cars now and again.  And for a stretch I just enjoyed driving around with the TRON Legacy sound track playing.  The instance group even spent some evenings playing.  We bought cars and I even made a video or three.

It was light fun.  There were things I liked and things I did not, but over all it was some good fun.  I like cars (just not enough to own a nice one) and this allowed me to play around with some interesting ones. (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift was my favorite of the series, so I ended up with a lot of Japanese cars.)

Pimpmobile!

74 Nissan Skyline GT-R Pimpmobile!

Now, however, the count down to the final day is on.

The Race is Coming to an end.
By: rhiordd | 04-15-2015

After five years on the race track, Need for Speed World is about to run its last lap. The free-to-play PC action racer will be permanently shutting down its servers on July 14th 2015. Purchases of SpeedBoosts will be disabled as of today.

When it launched 2010, Need for Speed World brought together best-in-class action racing with an unparalleled social experience on PC. However, five years on, we feel that the game no longer lives up to the high standard set by the Need for Speed franchise. The steady stream of live content kept our players engaged but unfortunately we were not able to keep pace with feature development. At this point, the major overhaul needed to bring the game up to speed is not viable for us, so after careful review we came to a decision to stop development and begin winding down support of Need for Speed World.

We’re still leaving Need for Speed World on for a couple more months. If you have a balance of in-game currency, we encourage you to spend it before July 14th. While you can spend the currency you already have, we are disabling the functionality to purchase SpeedBoost, as well as the ability to register new accounts, from now until the closing date.

It’s been a great ride. We would like to thank our community for a wonderful five years. We’re grateful for the time we spent together.

Need for Speed World development team

This is, of course, one of the problems playing a game from a big organization like EA.  They have lots of games, so if one isn’t doing as well as expected, they can chop it, save some money, and move the devs to another project. (Or lay them off to really cut expenses.)  A smaller company might fight… might have to fight to survive… to keep these games viable.

I was also interested to see that the press release included a bit about SWTOR doing fine, as if EA was patting that team on the head while showing them a reminder of what happens to games that fail to meet revenue goals.

Anyway, I will have to find some time to log in and take a last tour of the game in its final state.

A Sad Day for Sims

Upon seeing the news about Maxis yesterday, I realized that I had probably not sat down and really played a game from Maxis this century.

I bought a copy of SimCity 2000 from GoG.com for some tiny price back when EA/Maxis was busy shooting itself in the foot with the latest SimCity.  That was the last game in the series I could recall having played.  And I put SimCity 4 on my Steam wishlist and a reader actually bought it for me. (Thank you again!)  But I never managed to sit down and focus on playing either for any real length of time.  The crude graphics and the awkward interfaces of both chased me away pretty quickly.  Minecraft seems more palatable to me these days than either of those.  And I certainly wasn’t going to give EA any money for their latest version.

And without SimCity, what is there when it comes to Maxis?

Well, I guess there is The Sims, the best selling game series ever and probably the one reason that there is still a Maxis left to shut down in 2015.  EA seem dumb, evil, and heartless… often on the same day… but they do love the sound of money.  It’s just a good thing they haven’t figured out how to make money via malware or we would… oh, wait, I forgot about Origin.  Never mind.

However, I never played The Sims, aside from a brief dalliance with the Facebook version, back when that was how all game companies were going to get rich like Zynga, and we saw how that turned out.

And your father smelt of elderberries...

My usual interaction options with Tobold… we flirt shamelessly

And if I understand the history correctly, EA had already brought The Sims into their Redwood Shores lair, placing it directly under their control before letting it return to the Maxis logo, creating a taint that explained to some why The Sims 4 seemed like a step back from The Sims 3 in many ways.  So that wasn’t going to keep Maxis viable any more.  EA could just snatch The Sims back any time they felt like it.

Fun Created Here!

Fun Created Here!

And without The Sims, that left Maxis with… um… SimCity 2013 and… Spore maybe?  Talk about a couple of titles that failed to live up to expectations.  I didn’t even know that Spore had a follow-on game, which was even more poorly received.

So I suppose the real question is why it took EA so long to finally shut Maxis down and close their no doubt pricey digs across the bay in Emeryville. (I had a job interview right around the corner from Maxis back in 2010, with another company that is no longer around.)

Still, I feel some lingering nostalgia for Maxis.  I remember back when the original SimCity came out, when it was something new and different and people were struggling with the idea of it being a game because there was no obvious win condition.  Some were insisting we call it a computer “toy” or some other ambiguous title.

SimCity back in the day

SimCity back in the day

Back then I played many, many hours of SimCity.  Likewise with SimCity 2000 (which like a lot of games of its era, was much better on Mac OS).  I would let my city run while I was in the other room or at work (with disasters turned off naturally) to build up a tax base and then spend the evening expanding my domain and fighting off fires and alien invasions, all while trying to keep my ungrateful population happy enough to not flee the city.  I’ll tax you little bastards back to the stone age!  I remember the music especially, the jolly, bouncing, honky tonk tones of a happy thriving city or, more commonly, that trudging, day-to-day, we’re just getting by melody.  Is the SimCity 2000 sound track available on iTunes?

I am pretty sure I also bought SimCity 3000, but can only recall a mild sense of disappointment.  Plus it came out in 1999 when EverQuest pretty much owned my play time.

A bunch of other “Sim” games came from Maxis over the years, none of which really appealed to me.  Looking at the list of Maxis games, there are a lot of titles there that I let pass on by.  I think Maxis might have been ahead of their time in some ways.  SimFarm, as an example, was never a hit back in the day, but Farming Simulator has sold millions of copies on Steam.  Gaff can’t get enough of that one.  The simulation craze came too late for Maxis.

The only other Maxis titles I can muster much nostalgia for are RoboSport and Marble Drop.

RoboSport was a simultaneous move, multiplayer combat game, something of a precursor to the Combat Mission series of games, where both sides give their units instructions during the orders phase, then both sides act on those order at the same time during the combat phase.  For a season, when we were not playing Full Metal Mac or Bolo or NetTrek, it was the after work game of choice.

Then there was Marble Drop, which was probably the last Maxis game I purchased.  It apparently got poor reviews, but I recall it as being a fun little puzzle game that I played all the way through… though time may have fuzzed the edges of those memories.

A level in Marble Drop

A level in Marble Drop

And that is about it for the history of Maxis as viewed through the prism of my experience.  They mostly made games which I did not play.  Then they were acquired by EA which kept them around a lot longer than some other studios they have purchased.  But now Maxis has joined the list of the departed, along with Mythic, Origin, Kesmai, Westwood, Pandemic, and Bullfrog.

You can argue over whether Electronic Arts buys studios that were destined to die anyway or, if by buying them, EA destroys them on its own.  Either way, there does seem to be a pretty strong correlation between being bought by EA and being shut down by EA.

But the world of video games is volatile and it isn’t like the only studios that shut down are the ones owned by EA.  So we say farewell to Maxis and wish good luck to those who are now out there looking for a job.

I feel like I have been writing a lot of these nostalgic/memory/milestone/obituary posts lately.  What is up with 2015?

SWTOR Returning to that Fourth Pillar

Some of you might remember before launch, we talked a lot about the “four pillars” of RPGs – combat, exploration, progression and story. Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ is an MMO, but it’s also a BioWare game. Three years ago, we set out to deliver a product that contained the best of two worlds – the immersive story experience from a single-player RPG and the vast array of systems and social connection from an online multiplayer game. Since launch, we have mainly focused on the latter, adding Galactic Strongholds, achievements, legacy perks, reputation tracks, and Galactic Starfighter. But with the success of the Shadow of Revan expansion, we think it’s time that we return to our roots and what truly makes our game unique: story.

SWTOR 2015 Producer’s Road Map

BioWare games have their own special feel.  I am not a particular fan… I rebel against that whole “putting words in my mouth” aspect they insist on with their dialog wheel… but it is undeniable that there are a lot of people out there who do enjoy them.

As noted in that quote above, BioWare has expended a lot of resources in trying to make SWTOR an MMO in the old model, where social was a thing, while still trying to have the single player RPG aspect in the middle of the whole thing.  That sounds familiar, a studio insisting that their MMO needs to be all things to all people.

Roll stock footage of Smed trying to somehow graft PvP onto EverQuest II in yet another awkward and unsuccessful way.

But now they are back to story… story allegedly because of the success of the Shadow of Revan expansion that went out late last year.

Revan, sans shadow...

Revan, sans shadow…

The Shadow of Revan expansion wasn’t the first SWTOR expansion.  It wasn’t even the first attempt to go back to that fourth pillar as a driver for the game.  It did, however, come with a pretty special pre-order offer.

Revan12xBoostYes, if you bought the expansion in advance, and you were a subscribers, you got a 12x experience boost that essentially allowed you to play a character to level cap by simply following your class story.  Or, to put that on its head, it allowed you to get to the cap while avoiding all of those annoying MMO aspects of the game.

This was, if nothing else, a new twist on the whole insta-level thing that came into vogue in 2014.  And I guess it worked, turning SWTOR into a BioWare game, which is something that BioWare understands.

So I suspect that, in addition to a return to the fourth pillar, we will see another round of things allowing people to play only their class stories, be it 12x experience boost or just better paced content that doesn’t require the player to break stride and go after unrelated side quests.

Meanwhile, at BioWare Austin, they have announced that they are discontinuing work on their “sounds remarkably like Evolve” title, Shadow Realms.    The announcement said that the Shadow Realms team would be moving off to work on Dragon Age: Inquisition DLC, the next game in the Mass Effect series and other new IPs.  The key item though would be SWTOR.

But the biggest focus for our team in BioWare Austin will be on Star Wars: The Old Republic™. As every Star Wars™ fan knows, this is a massive year in the Star Wars universe. We have some great plans for expanding this epic game this year, and look forward to sharing the news about those plans with our players in the coming weeks.

So BioWare has discovered they can make a BioWare game out of SWTOR again.  Oh, and they clearly also want to position themselves for a revival of interest in the Star Wars franchise as the next movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is slated to hit theaters at the end of the year.  That too.  Details.

Anyway, if you are a fan of BioWare games and like the story driven aspects of SWTOR, this looks like it might be a good year for you.  We are in the post development age of the game and EA has an asset positioned to take advantage of a clear pop culture trend.

Authenticators… Are They Still a Thing?

In which I demonstrate I am clearly running out of things to write about.

There was a point in time, a few years back, when account authenticators were very much a thing.  Back when WoW accounts seemed to be getting hacked almost constantly and people were even phishing for EverQuest II account data, authenticators were news.  I, my daughter, and my mother all have authenticator fobs for our respective WoW accounts.

How many times have I used this shot?

How many times have I used this shot?

I also have an authenticator fobs for SOE games, although I stopped using it.  Blizzard managed to streamline the authenticator process, requiring it only weekly so long as my IP address/login computer doesn’t change.  SOE’s “append your token to the end of your password” method, which was always a bit awkward, is also resistant to any streamlining.  (And they show a freakin’ SOE mini-splash screen for two seconds when you hit the button? WTF?)  So I decided a long password would suffice for them  Plus, who steals SOE accounts these days?  Is there any money in that?

Other companies offered them as well.  Square Enix had them for their Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV MMOs.  EA offered up an authenticator fob for Star Wars: The Old Republic as part of the collector’s edition.

The key item for me

Look, a fob!

If I recall right, CCP even gave out an authenticator fob, or at least talked about one, for EVE Online at FanFest a couple years back, though they have not to my knowledge, implemented multi-factor authentication with it so far… which seems odd, given the meta game there.

All of these are branded versions of the VASCO Digipass Go 6 device.  The trend seemed to be to go that route, no doubt because VASCO has a package that made integration manageable and ability to supply a company like Blizzard, which has millions of customer accounts.  This also allowed companies to go with a “mobile authenticator” option, giving players access to authenticator functionality on their smart phones.   Some companies, such as Trion, have opted to go solely with such an options.  Others, like SOE, only have the authenticator fob option, but promise to get smart phone functionality in the near future.  (But not soon.  We know what SOE means when they say “Soon™”.)

Not that the SOE approach bothers me.  I do not actually own a smart phone, and while I have an iPad, it tends to be a device I only use when away from my computer.  So the authenticator fob works out well for me.  It is a small, single purpose device that sits right where I need it, next to my keyboard.

But, aside from SOE and Blizzard, not many companies seem to be pursuing the who authenticator fob idea.  Square Enix was perpetually out of st0ck on fobs, while I am not even sure you could buy one independently from EA.  And even Blizzard seems to go hot and cold on the idea.  For a while they were giving them away if you knew where to look, while at other times they haven’t been available for love or money.  That was most recently the case when they split the Blizzard Store into the Battle.net Shop and the Gear Store. (Hint: It is in the Gear Store.)

Then again, WoW is the only game where accounts getting hacked seemed to reach epidemic proportions, with nearly everybody in our little guild who didn’t have an authenticator having their account hacked or otherwise compromised at one point a couple of years back.  So I am not sure I really need to bother with an authenticator for other games.  Somebody tried to access my GuildWars 2 account last month… I got three email messages that were in response to a request for a password reset… but there isn’t anything there to steal.  I am not sure I would even notice if somebody got in and did something.  But I changed the password on that email account ahead of schedule, just in case.

So where do people stand on the whole authenticator thing these days?  I wouldn’t remove mine from my WoW account given past history, and I might like the option for EVE Online, given its meta-game tone.  But I feel comfortable enough with decent, unique passwords on other accounts.

How about you and authenticators, fob or mobile based?

Broadsword and Niche MMOs

Did Electronic Arts actually do us a favor this week with the whole Broadsword thing?

I mean, it may have been inadvertent… EA may have been trying to be its usual evil self, envisioning an attempt to create some layer of contract studio serfdom in order exploit an IP they own to the maximum amount of return… but does this benefit us?

What Broadsword thing?  Well, this:

Broadsword!

Broadsword!

Broadsword Online Games will partner with EA’s Mythic Entertainment to operate, support and develop Dark Age of Camelot on EA’s behalf. Electronic Arts will continue to provide billing and account services through its Origin™ portal. Broadsword and Electronic Arts will work closely together to ensure a bright future for Dark Age of Camelot.

Broadsword site, DAoC Producer’s Letter

There is also an Ultima Online Producer’s Letter, where Ultima Online has been substituted in for Dark Age of Camelot for that bit of text.

EA is… allegedly… handing over the running of these two now-pretty-damn-old and long neglected MMORPGs to what appears to be… theoretically… an external team that is… presumably… made up of people who care about these two games and want to keep them alive.

This is EA though, so it pays to pay close attention when they say things like they are making a SimCity game, or that they are creating a successor to Dungeon Keeper on mobile OSes, or that the sun will rise in the east come the morning, because the expectations that get set in your brain based on your past experience may be at odds with what is actually being planned in the dark recesses of their San Mateo keep.

Fun Created Here!

Fun Created Here!

And how would this be a boon to us… where “us” is a legion of long term MMORPG players who haven’t been really happy since who-knows-when and who have traded in our rose colored glasses for rose colored long term contacts so we can avoid the harsh light of reality at all times… right now?

Does this move validate or otherwise legitimize the often Kickstarter focused, niche oriented MMO projects that have been popping up since the genre fell from grace… which was when?  LOTRO?  WAR?AoC? SWTOR?

Does this move legitimize projects like Camelot Unchained, Project: Gorgon, Shroud of the Avatar, and Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen?  Is there hope for similar ventures?

Or is this just EA trying to squeeze the last bit of toothpaste from the tube in the most economically expedient way possible?

And is this even a good thing for Dark Age of Camelot and Ultima Online?  Will being out from under the yoke of BioWare subsidiary of EA, whose founders cashed out at their earliest possible convenience, lead to a revival of either game?  You still need to wear the mark of the beast, in the form of an Origin account, in order to play them.  Will that keep people away?

Quote of the Day – SimCity to Become a SimCity Game

We look forward to getting Offline for SimCity into your hands as soon as possible.

-Patrick Buechner, General Manager of the Maxis Emeryville studio, in an official blog post

After all of the protestations that SimCity really needed to be an always online experience, which helped feed unrest as part of the disaster that marked the game’s launch, EA has finally seen the light as to what made past SimCity games enduring classics.  Beuchner goes on in his blog post about the offline mode to describe pretty much a baseline of expectations fans of past SimCity games might have reasonably expected to find in the game at launch.  Soon to be available, just a year late.

Of course, not everybody is happy and there are still plenty of problems to be fixed in the game, like city sizes and performance.

SimCity in 2013

SimCity in 2013

But with offline mode I might consider the game… if only it were free of the Origin malware content delivery system required to purchase and play it.  Always another hurdle with EA.

Looking Back at 2013 – Highs and Lows

This has become a regular end of the year feature here I guess, now that it is in its fourth year.  Past entries, should you be bored and looking for something else to read, are here:

This list isn’t meant to be definitive in any way.  Highs and lows are relative.  My lows are certainly highs to somebody, and vise versa .  This is more of a wash of impressions that I find myself left with at the end of the year.  I am sure I will miss something important, even for more own narrow definition.  Feel free to add or question in the comments or use what I say as fodder for your own blog posts.

The wall of bullet points beings.

Payment Model Wars

Highs

  • F2P vs. Subscription gave us plenty of things to post and/or argue about.
  • We are starting to get Western MMORPGs that were designed from the start to be F2P, which ought to give a better experience than conversions.
  • The “free” part of F2P MMORPGs seem, in general, to be edging further into the “substantially free” zone.
  • World of Warcraft, EVE Online, and… the one people seem to forget… Final Fantasy XIV still holding the fort for the subscription model.  Not dead yet.
  • WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online are determined to test if the subscription model is still valid for new games in this day and age.

Lows

  • A lot of people think WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online are headed for a trouble by going the subscription route.  F2P by fall.
  • SWTOR failing at the subscription model still casts a long shadow, which plays into the line above.
  • When somebody says an MMO is “free to play” that doesn’t tell me anything yet, beyond the idea that it probably doesn’t require a monthly subscription.
  • The dichotomy of the two models still exists for me.  I hate when a game brings up money almost constantly… nothing brings me “out” of the game like a financial calculation… but I won’t stay subscribed to a game for a day longer than I have to if I am not playing it.  Or, to flip it the other way, I like not having a subscription, but I hate that the hand is always out for money even when I do opt for the “yes there is still a subscription” option in a F2P title.  Or something.
  • Subscription to F2P conversions still dominate the Western MMO F2P landscape.  Even if you don’t think they carry the stink of failure, it is still tough to escape the before/after comparison, especially if the F2P model looks like a thinly veiled attempt to make you subscribe.
  • Final Fantasy XIV a Realm Reborn is probably the most interesting sounding MMO I am never going to play.  Not buying a box and paying another monthly subscription.
  • Asian MMOs no longer have an automatic “in” to the market by virtue of being free to play.  Remember when Runes of Magic was a big deal?  Remember when a $10 horse caused outrage?  Dime a dozen complaint these days.   The market is crowded enough that even their tiny cost structures cannot be sustained.  Early entrants are still around… how Silk Road Online survives is one of the mysteries of the universe… but new titles seem to come and go quickly.  I am not sure that is good for the industry overall.  Or maybe it is.
  • Every conversion from subscription to F2P includes an immediate press release about huge success… and then we never hear another word on the subject.  I don’t expect weekly updates, but when you never mention something ever again, it sure seems like the peak came early on.
  • The F2P store balance seems to be a tightrope walk… and some companies are working without a net.

Turbine

Highs

  • Woo hoo, Lord of the Rings Online moves a step closer to Mordor with the Helm’s Deep expansion!
  • Middle-earth still has that Middle-earth charm.
  • I made it THROUGH Moria during my latest vacation in Middle-earth.  Now just two more expansions to get through and I will be caught up with all I have paid for.
  • The change up of classes into a more role specific model seems to be a good thing.
  • No repeat of the hobby horse idea.
  • Yay… other Turbine games.  Dungeons & Dragons Online and all calls routed through to Asheron’s number.
  • Oh, hey, they have Macintosh versions of DDO and LOTRO.  My daughter even tried DDO.

Lows

  • As much as I love Middle-earth, LOTRO is starting to show its age.  Moving to WoW after a summer of LOTRO was like realizing you’ve been driving with your parking brake on.
  • Being just out of Moria, it doesn’t matter how nice the next LOTRO expansion is, I don’t need to buy it.
  • Turbine seems to be rethinking the whole big expansion thing, with no such beast expected for 2014.  How we get to Mordor… or even Gondor at this point… is unclear.
  • Every time I come back to LOTRO, it feels like they have installed another “insert coin here” adjunct to the UI.
  • Insta-level to the mid-game seems like a half baked idea, unless you think Moria is the best content in the game… and you already own Moria.
  • Just waiting for Turbine to give in to the “lifetime subscribers are the problem” mob.
  • DDO reminds you that it pre-dates LOTRO in look and feel.  My daughter said it was confusing and ugly and went back to Minecraft.
  • The return of Asheron’s Call 2 was the big Turbine announcement last year at this time… and not much else has been mentioned since.
  • Infinite Crisis, Turbine’s run at the MOBA genre, sounds more like their financial situation pre-Warner.  And it looks like a no show for 2013 at this point.  Plus, really? Another MOBA?  I am not sure what Turbine brings to the table on this.

Sony Online Entertainment

Highs

  • Finally announced EverQuest Next as an MMO that might bring something new to the genre.  The word “sandbox” has been thrown about liberally.  There has been much excitement.  This is perhaps the only new MMO I am looking forward to at this point.
  • EverQuest Next Landmark, a subset of the tools being used to create EverQuest Next, will be available to players as a F2P title.
  • SOE eased up on the restrictions on free players in EQII.  One notch back on the “really, you should just subscribe to play” focus.
  • EverQuest is still a live an going concern.  It even got an expansion.
  • SOE has actually made some progress getting themselves out of the discount Station Cash hole they dug for themselves with huge discounts up through last year.

Lows

  • EverQuest Mac gets powered down.  Its days were numbered, but it is still sad to see it go.
  • EverQuest Next is way out in the future, and I am not convinced the “design by committee” thing that SOE is doing via the round table… even if is is all illusory… is the best of all possible options.  Still, it beats their past practice of announcing something then going silent for a year.
  • EverQuest Next… how is a F2P sandbox going to work?  SOE has a horrible track record at pricing things in a way that puts the “micro” in “microtransaction.”   If your minimum price is going to be $5.00, you might as well just take VISA up front.
  • EverQuest Next Landmark is closer, but I have no desire to try it for free at this point, much less pay $100 to do so.
  • PlanetSide 2 had so many problems this year.  Aimbots, stability, performance… I stopped playing pretty quickly, but people I follow seem to be bemused about SOE’s progress with the game.
  • I have grown so apart from EverQuest II that all I do when I log in is pay the rent on my house.
  • EverQuest abides in its own form, but SOE seems to be really pushing it to the back burner, and you wouldn’t know there was a Progression Server thing still going the way it has been handled.  I doubt we will see another such special server.
  • Just waiting for SOE to “expire” Station Cash on unused accounts.

CCP

Highs

  • EVE Online, still hanging in there on the subscription model, growing ever so slightly, and unique in so many ways.  Ten years old and as strong as it has ever been.
  • Two decent expansions this year, Odyssey and Rubicon, with some solid features and improvements in each.
  • Giant space battles deciding the colors on the map!
  • Does any gaming company running a live game do Dev blogs that approach what CCP produces?
  • Hints at plans for brand new space frontiers in New Eden.
  • Managed to stay away from controversy when it came to the direction the game is going.  No more “greed is good” talk or other things that caused the Incarna revolt.
  • Gave me a free copy of the collector’s edition.
  • EVE Valkyrie for Occulus Rift sounds very exciting.

Lows

  • Growth is oh so slow, and the question always arises about how many new accounts are just alts?
  • It wouldn’t be CCP without some scandals!  So we had  SOMERBlink and Ishokune Scorpions,  SOMERBlink at EVE Vegas, SOMERBlink and RMT loopholes, preferential treatment by CCP in general (which included SOMERBlink) and who gets what for free (which included some real crybaby attitudes at various points), Terms of Services hair splitting by CCP (which did NOT involve SOMERBlink!), and the usual CCP summer season of foot shooting.  Really, the only thing we were missing was Mintchip accepting an Ishukone Scorpion from SOMERBlink, selling it for a PLEX in EVE, and then using that PLEX to pay some capsuleer to mow her parent’s lawn… while topless, wearing a monocle, and speaking entirely in quotes from Atlas Shrugged.
  • PLEX continues to amaze and horrify people by turns.  It remains a comically divisive aspect of the game.
  • The defining issue for CSM8 seems to be the CSM minutes at this point.  Those minutes had better be worth it.  Still better than CSM7 though.
  • Epic space battles have turned into epic node crashes lately.  Does anybody think the drone assignment feature is a good thing at this point?
  • A good portion of the interesting things that happen in EVE… and 100% of the CCP run events… happen while I am at work.  I read about them online just like anybody not playing the game.
  • After the war in Fountain, the deployment(s) to Curse have felt a little dry.  I have spent more time moving to and fro than in actual fleets.
  • I am still trying to click on the lower left corner of the screen to undock six months later.  Old habits.
  • The future “huge effort to build a jump gate” in order to open up new areas of space idea sounds vaguely like “huge effort to build a titan” from times gone by.  Efforts will thus be limited to large entities and the huge effort will become manageable for those entities over time.  Expect jump gate proliferation.
  • DUST 514?  Hello, is anybody there? *distant occasional gunshot*
  • World of Dakrness?  Lay offs at CCP Atlanta make that an even more distant possibility.

Blizzard

Highs

  • WoW revenues: still laughing all the way to the bank.
  • Returning to WoW this fall was like getting into my own bed made up with flannel sheets fresh out of the dryer on a cold winter’s night.
  • The instance group returning to Azeroth has also revived our spirits and our time spent playing together.
  • Blizz’s work on softening the walls between servers has actually done some good.  The game feels alive still and I have been able to group cross realms with people I haven’t been able to play with since server splits ages ago.
  • I am reasonably sure there are no NSA/CIA/FBI infiltrators in our guild.
  • Warlods of Draenor and the return to the 10 level expansion.  Sounds good to me so far.
  • Mists of Pandaria, meanwhile, is pretty good.  I find it fulfilling in a way that Cataclysm was not.
  • Blizz actually seems primed for a very strong 2014.  The money machine will continue to print.
  • Hearthstone looks good enough to even interest me slightly, and the only card game I ever play is Gin Rummy.
  • Diablo III Reaper of Souls expansion looks promising.
  • The death of the Diablo III auction house is a winner in my book.
  • StarCraft II has Legacy of the Void lined up as the third expansion.
  • Heroes of the Storm sounds like it might be a viable thing.  It is Blizzard’s chance to apply their refinement magic to the MOBA genre.  If only they can find a name and stick with it.

Lows

  • WoW Subscribers down from the peak of “over 12 million” in the quarter after Cataclysm shipped to 7.6 million at last report.  Blizz can still say “more than you ever had” to most everybody, but that is a lot of subscribers gone.  There are whole industries that would disappear if that many people walked away.  And where is that subscriber number headed next?
  • Long term profitability seems to have stifled innovation on the subscription model options front, even considering how slow Blizz is about change in general.  Blizz just rolls along.
  • Coming back to WoW reminds me that there still a number of things that Blizz hasn’t quite fixed over the years, stuff that almost every competitor has worked out by this point.  Fodder for a blog post, coming soon-ish.
  • All that cross-realm and combined server stuff isn’t going to stave off server merges forever unless they stem the subscriber bleed.
  • A cash shop in-game?  Here we go again.  As a developer though, I think I am most offended by problems with the implementation.
  • There isn’t a lot between now and Warlords of Draenor to keep long time WoW players going if they have finished up Mists of Pandaria.  I am happy enough with WoD probably being 9 months out, but I am sure a lot of people are restless.
  • Also on the “Blizzard remains slow front,” even removing a feature they freely admit was a mistake and ruined their game for a lot of people is taking a while to happen.  The Diablo III auction house lives on into 2014.
  • Is the Reaper of Souls expansion, reitemization, and removal of the auction house going to be enough to goose sales and play time for Diablo III?  I cannot see myself going back to play, much less buying the expansion.
  • I doubt we’ll see Heroes of the Storm go live next year, and I wouldn’t bet against at least one more revision of the name.
  • Titan, the “next big thing” from Blizz post-WoW, remains a tiny dot on the horizon.  Or is that just a mirage?

Other MMO Developers

Highs

  • Arena Net has to have set some sort of record for content delivery in GuildWars 2, serving up some sort of new variation every two weeks for… how long now?  Somebody tell the SWTOR team “that’s how it’s done.”
  • Trion manages a pretty sharp F2P transition with Rift.  They went all-in on it and their commitment to the model shows.  The store is clean, bright, and filled to the brim with things to buy.  Once the F2P launch settled down, Trion relauched Rift on Steam with new starter packs and such.  The game remains the definitive alternate to WoW, polished and with plenty of content, even as F2P.
  • Trion also pulled Trove out of nowhere.
  • Cryptic and PWE entertainment seem pretty solid on F2P, delivering Neverwinter as a substantially free game that is both very well put together and provides a content generation system, the Foundry, that yields some excellent content.  Easy to get into, low commitment, looks good, what is not to love?
  • Path of Exile really scratched the Diablo II itch.  Official heir to the Diablo II crown in my book.
  • War Thunder, a title I set out to ignore, turns out to be decent and has low skill roles I can actually fulfill… and lots of cool planes to fly.
  • Wargaming.net joined up accounts across their games, so your World of Tanks account is also your World of Warplanes account and shares currency and so on.
  • SWTOR seems to have struck out on a new path with the Galactic Starfight update.  But what does it portend?
  • Shroud of the Avatar is a thing.
  • There is a minor possibility that I might be interested in the idea of playing The Elder Scrolls Online.

Lows

  • I am unable to understand how any but the most dedicated gamers can adequately handle and play through new content every two weeks in GuildWars 2.  I get physically tired just reading about it.  It feels like a lot of content just melting away, never to be seen again.
  • Storm Legion remains uninspired for me. I want to like it a lot more than I actually do.
  • The Rift F2P model feels too weak to me, like they gave away too much.  I could see no reason to ever give them money again.  I know, I complain when people ask for money, now I complain when people don’t ask for money.  See my entry in the first section about a tight rope walk.
  • Trove seems a little me-to at this stage of the game, with Minecraft already established and EverQuest Landmark showing up soon.  Plus, if you don’t care about that kind of thing, another option isn’t really a big deal.
  • Speaking of me-to, ArcheAge?  Haven’t we seen the “Asian MMO comes West and flops” tale enough times already?  Trion had better have some secret sauce for this one.
  • Neverwinter never really clicked with me.  There is lots of interesting stuff to see, but it never felt like I was in a world.  It was more like an arcade where you lined up to run the Cloak Tower machine, then ran off to play the Dreadmines machine, and then maybe played orc hockey in the open area for a while.
  • Path of Exile has “always online” problems similar to Diablo III.  When you depend on the internet…
  • War Thunder didn’t last all that long on my list.  I managed to tourist up to level 5 for all nations, then wandered off.
  • Wargaming.net still keeps regions separate, so I cannot play with my EVE corp mates without having another client/account just for Europe.
  • World of Warplanes, a title I was determined to play… well… we shall speak no more of that one.
  • Shroud of the Avatar is a thing in the sense that it ought to be worth looking at again in about a year.
  • Seeing what is potentially on offer for 2014, as like as not I probably won’t play a new MMO next year.  If it is just going to be the same game with different art, I might as well play the one I am most invested in.
  • Pirates of the Burning Sea, cut loose from SOE, seems to be more adrift than ever.
  • Warhammer Online goes to its inevitable fate.

Other Gaming and Vaguely Related Items

Highs

  • Sony pledges a long life, new games, and ongoing support for those of us who own PS3s.  And their track record with the PS2 seems to back up their statements.
  • Pokemon X and Y actually looked interesting enough to get some interest in our household.
  • I remain quite fond of my iPad.
  • The used game scene remains, not that I participate.  Good news for Game Stop, but also probably good news for the big publishers, since they have pretty much fessed up that the ability to trade in a game for store credit is probably boosting sales numbers beyond any perceived lost revenue from third party sales.
  • Some interesting projects on Kickstarter in 2013.
  • High speed internet is finally available in our home.  Buying a game on Steam doesn’t mean waiting a day or two to play it.
  • When 60 Minutes can run an NSA propaganda piece and call it news, it makes me think that game journalism isn’t all that bad.  At least motivations are clear; everybody has to earn a living.

Lows

  • Games?  I only use the PS3 to watch Blu-Ray movies and stream Netflix at this point.
  • Nintendo basically doesn’t support any of the platforms that I own any more.  There will be nothing new under the sun for Wii or DS owners ever again, and I have no interest in buying a Wii U or a 3Ds.  But I don’t plan to buy an Xbox One or a PS4 either.  Good thing about the used market.
  • The screens on my Nintendo DS Lite have gone all blurry, so I can’t even go back and finish up Pokemon Black.  Oh, wait, let me put on my glasses.  Damn tiny screens!
  • I remain somewhat less enthusiastic about gaming on the iPad.  Ticket to Ride remains my all time favorite, and board game translations seem like an excellent opportunity for the platform, yet I haven’t found many games I really like otherwise.  And then there is pricing.  EA has the most odious practice in that they will sell you a game and will then insist on running game interrupting ads when you try to play.  Has made me swear to never give EA another nickel again ever.  I find Candy Crush Saga to be a rare gem, a paragon of virtue and restraint compared to anything EA has to offer.
  • I’ve been stuck on level 125 of Candy Crush Saga for like six weeks now.  Still not giving them any money either, but for different reasons.
  • Kickstarter remains a “pay and pray” option.  You toss somebody some money and hope that it turns into something some day.  I can see why some people shun the idea.
  • Buy something on Steam?  I have too many unplayed or underplayed titles already in my Steam library.  Even Steam sales are a bit “meh” now.
  • I still do not see the appeal of streaming.  Except for a few rare cases where something special is happening, I’d rather play the game than watch somebody else play.  And then I saw somebody live blogging somebody else live streaming and my head just about exploded.  Stop the inanity.
  • Runic Games appears to have burnt out creating Torchlight II and has punted on the Mac OS version, the MMORPG version, and hasn’t bothered to get dressed to leave the house for much of 2013 so far as I can tell.
  • Microsoft, determined that there be a single version of Windows and that it run on all devices (q.v. Ballmer remains loyal to Mordor), gives people a tablet button interface for their desktop machines.  When people won’t stop complaining about the missing “Start” menu, which MS trained people for years to depend on, they add it back in to Windows 8… only it just brings up the tablet button interface.  Why Fucking Bother?

Blog Things

Highs

  • Hey, I still post something nearly every damn day, don’t I?
  • A lot more people visit the site, even after my purge from Google search returns, than I ever expected.
  • I have a pretty decent account of my online gaming since 2006.  I am particularly happy with the ongoing tales of the instance group.
  • I have lots of pretty pictures on the site, which helps out when I lose stuff on my hard drive.  I have no idea where all my Warhammer Online screen shots went.

Lows

  • Quantity is not quality, and a lot of what I write is just for me.  Plus, there are times when it is tough not to write “And we did another instance.  Thousands of people have done it before.  There were no surprises.  Consider this milestone marked.”  This has lead to what I might describe as an over-dependence on screen shots.
  • The name of the blog becomes ever more accurate.  I now write mostly about a 9 year old game and a 10 year old game, with an occasional look back at a 20 year old game.
  • It is sometimes tough to find the old post I am looking for.  The search option is primitive in the extreme.
  • Really feel like the blog needs a new look after seven years, yet I am not fond of any of the WP.com options.
  • WP.com has taken it upon themselves to break something about once a month by rolling new (and I would guess untested) code out to their customers without any announcement.  Just this week the “more after the cut” option was broken for several hours.
  • Self hosting seems slightly more attractive at this point, except for the hours of extra work, the need for a domain name, and the fear that I will find out just how many readers visit out of habit as they fall off the moment something changes.

And that is about all that oozed from my brain when pressed to come up with what happened in 2013.  What else should be on the list?

Quote of the Day – No Love for EA

First, the bad news: EA bags Star Wars games rights

Still waiting for the good news

-Headline over at The Register

The word has gone out that EA has acquired the rights to the Star Wars franchise when it comes to video games, something garnering about as many cheers as a wicked step-mother in a Disney story.  It is hard to be happy about the prospect of the potential for uninspired games with always online DRM which require servers that EA has a propensity for shutting down as soon as they think they can get away with it.

Of course, Disney should get its share of jeers as well, as not only did they farm out Star Wars video games to the likes of EA, but they did so on the back of laying off most everybody at Lucas Arts.

Wasn’t this easier when it was just George Lucas pissing us all off, but we would occasionally see a decent Star Wars game rise amongst the trash?