PlanetSide Arena is up on Steam today and available to download as its Early Access launch begins.
This is the first stage of Daybreak’s announced path forward with the game, which was first revealed to the public late last year with an initial goal of a beta in late January of this year.
That was scrapped and pre-orders were refunded as the whole project was pushed out until summer, with the desire for a simultaneous console launch given as the reason for the delay.
Then we had one of those long stretches of silence, so familiar to watchers of Daybreak and SOE before them (and maybe of Rogue Planet Games at some future date), until a new set of dates was announced on August 30th.
PlanetSide Arena – August 2019 Schedule
Today the company met the first of their revised dates and, despite having pushed console support out into the future, they did managed to release something still within the months of summer. Autumn begins on Monday in the northern hemisphere, or so say the calendar makers.
The game is free during early access on Steam, so it only costs the download time to get into it. There are, of course, starter packs available for a price. Daybreak has to fund this somehow. Reviews are currently “mixed,” though there are only 70 as of this writing and the negatives seem to be coming from PlanetSide purists.
Further details about the game are available at the Daybreak web site. And, of course, there is a trailer:
We shall see how it goes, but Daybreak is off to the races today with their only new game since the SOE era.
Remember PlanetSide Arena? It has a new ship date.
But first, a recap of the story so far… the ship date being in the headline and all.
Back in mid-December of 2018 Daybreak’s big new game announcement was a rework of PlanetSide 2, bringing it back to the realm of shooters of old by taking their MMOFPS and turning it into a match based game with a bunch of old school modes… and Battle Royale too, of course.
Meet Battle Modes
Those looking for an actual NEW game went away disappointed, but even cynics like myself had to admit that this seemed like a viable plan of sorts. After all, what could it take to turn PlanetSide 2 into a Battle Royale game? H1Z1 was literally built off of PlanetSide 2.
Daybreak was confident too, declaring that season one for the game… because of course it would have seasons and battle passes and whatever, it has to pay for itself… would commence on January 29, 2019.
January 29, 2019
However, nothing in software is as easy as it seems, and people often confuse something being simple to articulate (e.g. PlanetSide 2 Battle Royale) with being easy to do. They are not. So a couple days before the 29th, the date for PlanetSide Arena was pushed to March 2019. Still pretty aggressive, but with a bit more breathing room.
And then come mid-February the whole thing got a moved to “summer” as a release, though this would now include a simultaneous launch on the PlayStation 4. They also refunded everybody’s Steam purchase, which seemed the decent thing to do.
And then summer came, moved along its merry way, until yesterday, the Thursday before Labor Day, the traditional end of summer in the US, regardless of what the calendar tells you, when we finally got some news about PlanetSide Arena. There is now a four stage release plan, spanning from Early Access availability this coming September to the actual game release at some point in Q2 2020.
PlanetSide Arena – August 2019 Schedule
There is also a FAQ page, which is good, as the announcement itself is pretty sparse. Call me a pessimist, but I made sure that FAQ page was saved to the Internet Archive right away in its current state.
The first question is, naturally enough, about what the game actually is. I’ll quote that one:
PlanetSide Arena is a massive-scale, match-based, scif-fi arena shooter that reintroduces players to the revolutionary PlanetSide Franchise – the record-breaking MMOFPS that redefined all-out planetary warfare. PlanetSide Arena features class-based combat, combined arms gameplay, compelling team tactics, and a deep tech tree with weapon mods and in-game progression.
It is still a match based shooter. The various modes mentioned back in December 2018 have gone missing, and when you click on the link in the FAQ that mentions modes, it just directs you back to the page with the above graphic.
The graphic itself gives few details, aside from the emphasis on teams (3 people), squads (12 people) and outfits (your space shooter guild).
What is coming in September is Window only… so no more PlayStation 4 simultaneous launch… and in Early Access mode, available via Steam. Given Daybreak’s Early Access history, that probably means a rough alpha with obvious missing features coming at you. Pay to help test.
Daybreak will have achieved their “summer” launch window… minus the PlayStation 4 part… rolling in just four days before the calendar maker’s official end of summer in the northern hemisphere, though that assumes you consider Early Access a launch. I am unconvinced. But I am sure we’ll hear about it if the game is totally broken.
The day arrived earlier this week as Project: Gorgon, long in an alpha that you could play for free, finally moved to Steam. It is early access, to be sure, but it has arrived.
A New Logo for Steam
For a very small project that took three tries to get a Kickstarter funded, this is a pretty big deal.
Yes, I expected it would get there sooner. I’m pretty sure Eric Heimberg expected it to get there much sooner as well. After all, the post-Kickstarter plan was to get to Steam some time in October.
October of 2015.
Welcome to the problem with Kickstarting a beast as complicated as an MMORPG.
At least the promise was only to get onto Steam. Other ventures in which I have a minor stake, Shroud of the Avatar, Camelot Unchained, and Star Citizen, have all blown past their promised ship dates. Shroud of the Avatar might hit something that looks like a finished project by the end of this year, but Star Citizen continues to recede from the horizon while Camelot Unchained is shooting for a beta at some point this summer.
So the two people pretty much baking an MMO on their own project looks pretty good by comparison. Sure, it still doesn’t have a Wikipedia page yet (Project Gorgon there references an US Navy missile program) but there it is on Steam at least.
Of course, there are something like 35 games arriving on Steam every single day, threatening to bury us all in a bottomless pit of derivative crap that should never see the light of day, so getting there isn’t exactly the leap over the high bar it was once upon a time. But, woo hoo, go indie dreamers all the same I guess. (Just don’t quit your day jobs.)
I am in a mood to bitch, aren’t I? Well, I shall complain no more… or not as much… for this should be a happy thing, something to celebrate. You can actually find Project: Gorgon on Steam and read all about it. And, honestly, it sounds better than I remember. The bullet points are all good.
Each non-player (NPC) you meet has their own goals and interest, and reward players that choose to be their friend.
You can drop items on the ground, and other players can pick them up. What’s so great about that? Imagine laying down a trail of literal (virtual) breadcrumbs to guide your friends (or lure your enemies) into the woods.
Shopkeepers keep inventory, so you can buy items that other players have sold to them. Want to help out new players? Sell your cast-off items to the shopkeeper in the new player zone and watch the new players go to town.
If you are on fire, you can jump into a lake to put it out. This type of mechanic can have a subtle effect on your strategies, especially when you are fighting a fire mage!
You can inscribe messages onto items, write books, and even leave notes for other players. Make your name as an in-game poet, or pronounce your greatness to the world!
Some of that sounds like classic MUD stuff that has gone missing in the more modern revisions of the genre. Likewise this batch sounds interesting.
Battle Chemistry: Create huge explosions, inject yourself with mysterious mutagens or program a pet golem!
Unarmed Combat: Grapple and control enemies using a situational-aware combo system that varies based on where you are and what day it is.
Animal Handling: Tame animals and train them to become ferocious fighters. Then breed your best and sell their offspring to other players.
Necromancy: Seek out corpses and graveyards to raise an undead army. No graveyard around? Well, there are always the corpses of your friends.
Cow: Got turned into a cow by that boss? That sucks. But learn some kicks and how to stampede, and you’ll be right back out there kicking grass in no time!
That’s just a few! There’s also Sword Fighting, Combat Psychology, Staff Fighting, Sigil Scripting, Mentalism, and more.
In addition, there is a reasonable list of goals to achieve before the game moves from Early Access to Live, like fleshing out the content, which currently runs up to level 70, to level 100.
All in all I am impressed. And if you act now, you can buy it on Steam for 25% off the normal $40 price. Or if you are like me and paid back in 2015, there is a Steam key waiting in your in your email. I got mine.
Project: Gorgon moving to Steam has long been my stated trigger point to start playing, and I am going to get right on that… once I am done with Rift Prime.
Okay, I’ll probably get Project: Gorgon loaded up on Steam and take a peek but, in my dotage, I have become mostly single threaded when it comes to fantasy MMORPGs. I kind of just want to play one at a time, enjoy myself as the world washes over me, then change up when I am starting to tire. And for the moment that world is Telara.
For us, Early Access is not something that should be taken lightly. It should be considered a final release in the sense that you’re on a path to finishing the game and you’re going to get it out there.
We are in the age of early access for video games, and Steam has been a huge enabler on this front. When going through my queues during the winter sale I saw this plastered on many a page.
Warning: Not a finished product
Steam has a statement about Early Access (that “Learn more” link), but it is really up to the developer as to when they go for early access and what it means.
The interview with Rapczak linked above represents the world from which I came… more than 25 years ago at this point… where you don’t give half finished items to customers, that you let them in only when you think you’re ready to ship but want feedback before the official launch.
And this seems to have worked out pretty well so far for Studio Wildcard’s gameArk: Survival Evolved. They wanted/needed feedback as opposed to funding to finish the project and, judging from what I have heard about the game, things have worked out very well for them.
Of course, not every developer has the luxury of delaying funding until the game is nearly ready to go. There are some indie projects out there that need the dollars to just keep going.
But there are established companies out there that ought to be able to get further along without the cash infusion. Derek Smart said he was charging $99 to be in the Line of Defense early access program because he didn’t want any freeloaders using his resources. A $99 barrier to beta so that only the truly motivated would join in.
Then there is Daybreak (née SOE) and its two Early Access children, Landmark and H1Z1.
Landmark is two years in with no release in sight, while H1Z1 will be a year in Early Access next week. Certainly Landmark seems to be the poster child for how to build some excitement quickly and then let it dissipate slowly as development grinds on for years. I am actually much happier about the state of EverQuest Next. Yeah, we’ve been talking about it for more than five years now, but at least nobody has paid for it only to lose interest in a less than half done product.
Meanwhile, I don’t think it is unreasonable to be concerned about the future Landmark. What happens if too many Early Access customers lose interest before it launches? Do you ship a product that can’t keep enough of your truly dedicated fans?
And then there is H1Z1, which at least seems to have some excitement around it now and again… there is at least enough activity to keep its subreddit aboil. Then again, according to the official statement on Steam, it was supposed to go “live” last year. Of course, Daybreak apparently told their lords and masters at Columbus Nova Prime that they had shipped the product already… like 11 months ago. There were probably some revenue recognition issues which lead to that, but at least somebody there thinks the game is live already despite the soon to be year old Early Access banner on its Steam page.
We live in interesting times when it comes to game development funding, with crowd funding and Early Access, and variations on the theme all looking to get money up front for project to be delivered down the road… often much further down the road that originally estimated.
Sometimes it works… and even works well. As noted, Ark: Survival Evolved seems to be doing well, and of course Minecraft started out that way and is now so ubiquitous that I see references to it or related products everywhere I go. (Your favorite game may be popular, but it likely isn’t on the shelves at Target, doesn’t have a series of LEGO kits devoted to it, or its own market segment devoted to hosting servers. Minecraft has quietly taken over my daughter’s generation.)
But sometimes Early Access just seems like a good way to make a quick buck as your product peaks too soon. Community involvement and growth is one thing, but too long in that pre-launch state can take the bang out of the eventual go-live. And if you’re charging money, you reap the press response you sow with your state of readiness, which may set the tone for your product.
It started with delays as bringing servers up and getting out last minute patches ran through the 11 am PST kick off target and well into the afternoon. Then when things were finally up there were G29 errors and G99 errors and “you do not own this game” errors and “no servers visible” problems and the overwhelming of the login servers, which actually affected other SOE games. And, of course, this being based on PlanetSide 2, the hacking seems likely to commence.
That was all exacerbated by the fact that SOE was clearly trying to make this a big deal, an event, and was hyping the whole thing up, making sure people who wanted to stream the game had access, and that there were hundreds of servers online, so the whole thing was rather a public spectacle. I tried watching LazTel stream the game over at the TMC feed and every time I checked in there was an error on his screen.
Scathing quotation marks around the word “complain” there from Smed. Feel the burn.
(Also, in looking at some older posts this past weekend, I see that I need to quote Smed rather than simply embedding his tweets. He appears to go back and clean up his feed, deleting quotable items later on.)
And then, I gather, at some point over the weekend, the game started working more reliably… or people gave up on it. Either way, I pretty much stopped hearing about it, except for Smed on Twitter assuring people that things would be fixed and posting links to posts on Reddit detailing what the latest patch would include. Maybe the Massively post More Boredom than Terror rings true?
Either way, I was happy I was only reading about it. The whole thing seemed not ready for prime time.
Of course, it was “early access,” so that much is to be expected I suppose. Certainly that is the line that Smed, and SOE, and their more ardent defenders will stick to. SOE had to offer up refunds again, as they did with Landmark, for people who were expecting a bit more.
So SOE has themselves covered by that “early access” label. But it does feel like SOE was trying to be on both sides of the fence. The whole thing was built up like a game launch. But is it reasonable to set those sorts of expectations, with that many people piling in and all those servers being put online, along with charging money for the box and running your cash shop from day one, for something a company is running under “early access?”
My own view is that if you are charging money and have worked to get a cash shop in the game, your ability to hide behind words like “early access” and “beta” is somewhat diminished, an opinion I have held since the FarmVille days, when Zynga products seemed to be in eternal beta even as they earned buckets of money.
Anyway, while what SOE does with H1Z1 is of some interest to me, I had no interest in being part of their “pay to test while we develop the game” agenda. That is pretty much the same song I have sung about Landmark, which has been in early access for nearly a year now.
My cynicism on display
At the end of the day though, I have to ask myself how these sorts of early access routines affect my desire to play a given game. And the answer isn’t exactly favorable. I am happy enough to have passed on an early investment in both games, but the drawn out nature of even watching from the sidelines has diminished Landmark for me, while H1Z1 running through what looks like PlanetSide 2 problems… which PlanetSide 2 is still having two years after launch… makes me willing to wait for a long, long time before I will bother trying. Add in the fact that pwipes will be unlikely after a very early point in order to keep the hardcore fans invested and sweet in both games, where it certainly seems like location will matter, and it feels like SOE is selling advantage on top of charging people to test their incomplete visions over the long haul. Both make me less likely to buy in.
And at some point in the middle-to-distant future, we will be getting EverQuest Next and the current pattern from SOE indicates that it will go through the whole early access routine as well, which gets something of an eye rolling frowny face from me. Certainly the way Landmark has gone and the way H1Z1 has started has not endeared me to the early access idea.
I am not convinced that early access is a good thing, even when it is done better. Over in the realm of Lord British, Shroud of the Avatar is also up on Steam for early access. It is still in a rough state, too rough at least for me to want to devote much time to it. I log in once in a while to see what it looks like, but am otherwise biding my time.
However, I feel differently about Shroud of the Avatar. I bid on the Kickstarter to get a copy of the game, which was expected to cost money at some future date anyway. And, despite the real estate focus of the game, I feel less like I will be missing out by not getting in early, there being a whole campaign to follow.
So maybe it is just the type of games that SOE has been launching of late, where there is contention over location. Or maybe it is just the way they have gone about things in the traditional SOE way, where there are intense moments of hype and energy followed by long periods of quiet.
I think early access has worked well enough for other games. At least I can point and some good examples, like Minecraft or Kerbal Space Program, where early access delivered something worthwhile, made people happy, and kept on evolving. But for MMOs I feel less certain. Is there a good early access story for an MMO? Should we avoid judging based on SOE? How about ArcheAge or Trove?
What do you think about early access for MMOs?
Anyway, at some point H1Z1 will actually launch, at which point maybe I will give it a peek. Until then the eager supports are welcome to it.
And sometimes he stabs right at the unvarnished truth that others are skirting around, as with some comments about the demise of 38 Studios two years back.
The latter is the case with the quote at the top about Line of Defense.
We have been wringing our hands about companies like SOE charging for what they call alpha access to Landmark… in a world where “alpha” apparently now means a stable platform devoid of most of the planned features… but this is the real reason you ask for money up front. Sure, a bit of income is nice, but if your company is at a point where it needs that revenue, you are probably have other problems to worry about.
No, what charging for early access like this does is put up a barrier to entry that filters out all but those who are truly interested in what you are creating. This gets you the people who really believe and want to help you out.
It is a double-edge sword however. If you are going to make people commit, you had best have something ready for people to commit to. You have your true believers, the core of your core audience, lined up and ready to go, so you screw them over or leave them hanging at your peril.
We have seen quiet periods with Landmark where the user base starts to idle as it waits for the available tool set to take another step towards the vision of what the game might be. Not much testing getting done. And then there is the true believer syndrome, where the forums start to feel like the domain of a few such who are committed to a particular version of the vision and who shout down any who challenge their orthodoxy. Such are the risks.
A bunch of very happy people got this message in their email. They can start playing Star Wars: The Old Republic today. A list of servers await them, or one server if their guild has been assigned.
Early Access Invite
I hope nobody missed out because they sent one to me. Sorry!
And, on a tangential note, I hope EA and BioWare have a lot of authenticators lined up to sell and can get them in the EA store soon. Judging from my Google traffic, a lot of people want one. SWTOR authenticator, and variations thereof, lead my search engine traffic by a wide margin.