Tag Archives: EG7

Ji Ham Speaks about Enad Global 7

I am finally catching up on things that happened a month ago at this point.  In this case there was a change at Enad Global 7 that saw Ji Ham, who was heading up Daybreak, become the acting CEO of the company, displacing the well liked Robin Flodin.

Enad Global 7

This led to an interview with Ji Ham, posted to YouTube, where most of us not only saw him for the first time, but heard his voice for the first time as well… which is a bit odd for somebody who has been CEO of a video game company for six years, but hardly the most unusual thing about the Daybreak era.

So I finally sat down and watched the video.

I haven’t seen much written about the video, and that which I did see dismissed it as a whole lot of nothing.

And, I will attest, if you were expecting some detailed information about the company, its operations, or its games, there wasn’t much to chew on.

That said, the 27 minute video was not completely devoid of information.

Ji Ham’s ascension to the CEO role, which was again stressed as an acting position and that he will not be moving to Stockholm, was attributed to the change in the business model that EG7 is now pursuing.  Having grown through acquisition, the company now has a number of live products generating substantial revenue, meaning a different outlook may have been needed in the leadership position.

There was no mention of Robin Flodin’s interview gaffe, so the party line is apparently this was planned and completely normal.

But, while live games are now part of the mix, the company is still seeking more acquisitions to fill what it sees as holes in its offerings or that would fit well within their portfolio.

I have mentioned in the past that growth through acquisitions is a popular choice for publicly held companies as any asset they buy is always assumed to be worth what they paid for it so there is no hit against margins; writing your own code costs, buying somebody else’s’ code is a wash.

No acquisition targets were mentioned, but I suspect that if you looked at what is missing from their current ecosystem that keeps them from being self-contained you might at least come up with some potential segments.

Which isn’t to say that they are giving up on developing their own titles.  Once again a triple-A title was mentioned, but no specifics were given.  However, I think some of us just assume it is going to be a Marvel version of DC Universe Online.  We shall see.

Long time followers of Daybreak will no doubt be amused that Ji Ham said both that communication from the company had been lacking and that titles in their portfolio had not seen much in the way of investment during the Daybreak era, something EG7 would like to rectify.  Whose fault might that be?

I guess at least he didn’t blame it on Smed.

Acknowledging that the Daybreak portfolio was old… most of the titles are over a decade old, with H1Z1 being the young one in the bunch, having only passed the six year mark back in February… one wonders where they might throw some resources.

He did mention two titles specifically when it came to targets for investment, DC Universe Online and Lord of the Rings Online.

DCUO is the most popular title in the Daybreak lineup, claiming more than 400K monthly active users last year and bringing in more total revenue than any of its siblings according to last December’s reveal. (Though EverQuest still beat it for net earnings.)

DCUO has a lot of players on consoles, and was at one time the top earning free to play title on PlayStation, so worth keeping up to date.  One of the investments it needs is to get it onto the latest generation XBox and PlayStation 5 hardware.   Also, it would totally make sense to invest in it if you were going to make a Marvel version of the game.

As for LOTRO, it was singled out because, in his words, it is the only Tolkien online world currently available.  True enough, that statement.  The problem is that I am not sure EG7 has the resources available to make LOTRO into a viable, competitive title fourteen years down the road.  While the world is beautiful in game, character models, responsiveness, and the general interface was poor relative to the standards of the industry in 2007.  While there have been a few graphical upgrades over the years, the UI and the character models are still garbage and all the more so on any monitor over 1920×1080 in resolution.  And that leaves aside the layers of monetization piled onto the game, where every dialog wants to sell you a short cut to get around whatever effort game play asks of you.

There is no financially viable road forward that fixes all of its fundamental issues… and I am not even going to go into garbage mechanics like legendary items, which they’re kind of hand waving a fix for because they can’t get rid of it as the grind is so horrible that it likely leads more players to the cash shop than anything else… when it made maybe $15 million tops last year.

I know, that sounds like a lot of money.  But Tolkien Enterprises gets their cut right off the top I bet, then there are the servers and infrastructure to maintain and keep up to date, and the staff needed to keep things going as they are, and then the amount needed to keep Jason Epstein and Ji Ham in the lifestyles to which they have become accustomed.  And now the whole thing is owned by a public company, so the pressure to earn is even higher.  The time to invest and fix things is when you’re private and can get away with a few quarters of loss without the market calling for your head.

I’ve spent a lot of time with LOTRO and cherish those memories, but the wide appeal of its theme is held back by the raggedly old mechanics of the title.  Such is life.

Not mentioned, much to my surprise, was H1Z1.  Robin Floodin used to bring up H1Z1 every time he spoke about the titles that EG7 held, promising its player base that they were looking to revive the title.  I guess it is the newest title in the bunch and, for a brief stretch, was the flagship battle royale title, a position in managed to squander and is unlikely ever to recover. (NerdSlayer has a new Death of a Game video about H1Z1 that covers all the main fumbles.)

But perhaps Ji Ham, who was the CEO when H1Z1 flailed, flamed out, and ceased to be a force in the market, knows better than most what its value now is.

Anyway, those are the bits that stuck out for me.  There was more in the interview, including a caution on earnings, but I was mostly interested in the product related side of things.  The YouTube page has bookmarks in the description that divide up the whole thing into the various topics discussed.

The next thing we hear from EG7 is likely to be Q3 earning in about a month.

Enad Global 7 Q2 2021 Financials and Concerning News

I keep having to remind myself that Daybreak’s parent is a public company once again, and a small enough one that Daybreak’s products aren’t hidden in the numbers but are big enough in the company to get highlighted at every report.  EverQuest is a big name at Enad Global 7.

Enad Global 7

Fortunately I have a Google alert setup for Enad Global 7 which, unlike some of my other alerts, has proven effective at catching updates about the company.  So early this week I got the nod that their Q2 2021 preliminary financials had been announced.  The statement was short and sweet:

During the second quarter, we delivered a net revenue growth of 179%, EBITDA growth of 360% and meanwhile having successfully integrated the acquisitions we closed in the first quarter of 2021. With our rapid acquisition growth, we have digested, integrated and built up the necessary processes to continue our strategic focus. I am delighted to announce that the relaunch of MechWarrior 5 was profitable already after a couple of weeks. It was a testament of the collaboration power between the subsidiaries of the group.

There was also a slide deck investor presentation to go with the announcement. (The income statement covers much of the same ground.) Quite a bit of the deck was information previously shared.  They did note that Daybreak’s seven titles account for 50% of the company’s revenue.

Daybreak, owner of 7 IP’s that are live and account for 50% of the revenue, mainly PC and Console.  Distributed mainly through our own platform.

Elsewhere in the presentation they say that live games make up 50% of the revenue for 2020, which includes My Singing Monsters as the 8th title, so I am not sure how that breaks out.

And, as always, the like to talk about the strong IPs and long running titles that came with Daybreak.

This slide from March was re-run, featuring 6 Daybreak titles in the highlights plus My Singing Monsters

Compared to that 16% of the revenue comes in via Innova’s 4Game platform which hosts titles licensed from other companies for distribution in the EU and CIS including Lineage II, Aion, and Ragnarok Online.

The presentation wasn’t big on news.  The previously announced plan to migrate all their titles onto the 4Game platform was reconfirmed.

We’ll all play on 4Game

Not a big news day for EG7 really.  A good financial report, some rah rah, and back to work.

As I was tracking down the financials I found that the same day a bomb dropped at EG7.  Robin Flodin, the chipper, young, and enthusiastic CEO of EG7 that gave us all such good feels when the Daybreak acquisition was announced, was being given the boot, with Ji Ham of Daybreak stepping in to fill the role as acting CEO.

The Board of Enad Global 7 AB (publ) and Robin Flodin have agreed that effective immediately Robin will transition away from his current role as CEO of EG7 and will be replaced by the current CEO of Daybreak Game Company, EG7’s largest subsidiary, Ji Ham. During this transition Robin will stay on for six months to assist Ji as he assumes his new role within the EG7 family of companies. Ji will be appointed acting CEO of EG7 as a search for a permanent CEO has been initiated. Ji has an extensive background in both gaming and finance and has for the last six years been the CEO of Daybreak. During his tenure at Daybreak Ji has overseen extensive growth and profitability of the company.

Of course, this made hearts sink, and not just because some of us had crushes on Robin.

Ji Ham should have an entry on the IMDB given his ongoing acting roles.  After Smed got the heave-ho from Daybreak, long time SOE exec Russel Shanks took over for a bit.  But that did not last long and Daybreak quietly updated its information to indicate that Ji Ham had stepped in as acting president of Daybreak.

Nobody outside of the company was quite sure who he was.  His profile over at Bloomberg, which has since been scrubbed from the site (classic Daybreak move), indicated that he was with Columbus Nova’s renewable fuels group, working closing with the Russian Renova Group, which owned Columbus Nova.

The profile probably disappeared during the 2018 panic when Daybreak tried to gaslight everybody , though “gaslighting” implies some subtlety and skill that was not present in the act, into believing that the company had never had anything to do with Renova, Columbus Nova, or any other Russians that might be facing sanctions from the US government.  And that is what the Daybreak era reminds many people of, a regime of obvious lies.

So why is Ji Ham in and Robin Flodin out?

I suspect we’ll never know the real dynamics of the situation, but looking at the slide deck from the quarterly numbers, Robin didn’t own a lot of the company.  The combined management and board of directors own 49% of the company, broken out like this:

EG7 board and management ownership stakes

I have pasted in the total ownership stake in the company for each individual (you might need to click on the image to view it full size to make those numbers readable) and in that mix that represents 49% of the company, Robin holds just 3.504%  That is a lot of shares, but not enough to maintain any sort of control

Meanwhile our old Columbus Nova friends, Jason Epstein and Ji Ham, own more than 9% of the company.  Add in the fact that Daybreak is responsible for 50% of EG7’s revenue and it probably isn’t a huge mystery as to how Jason Epstein and his partner Ji Ham got themselves in the driver’s seat again.

As for what it means… well, I am skeptical.  The press release says this about Ji Ham:

During his tenure at Daybreak Ji has overseen extensive growth and profitability of the company

That seems to be, from the outside, counter factual.

From the outside Ji Ham’s tenure was one of cancelling new titles, shutting down old titles, laying off staff, and tarnishing the reputation of the company with outrageous historical revisionism.  The company may have seen profits, but it wasn’t due to growth.  Growth didn’t enter into it.  Profits came by cutting costs and not investing in anything new, it came from maintaining the status quo at the cheapest possible rate.

Is that the future now holds for EG7?  Have they finished with their growth through acquisition phase and moved to consolidation and profit seeking?  Is Ji Ham being put on the throne to do to EG7 what he did to Daybreak?

Yes, I know he is “acting” CEO, but he was “acting” President and CEO at Daybreak too, and he had a long run in that role. He has recast his LinkedIn profile in the Daybreak tradition to indicate that he was CEO of the company since the date of Smed’s departure.  There was no Russell Shanks, only Ji Ham.  He did a modest attempt at downplaying the fact that he was deep in Columbus Nova, that company that never had nothing to do with Daybreak ever.

CN? What is CN?

I suspect he hopes people think he worked for Canadian Northern Railway and not a Russian oligarch investment front.

I might be borrowing trouble here, taking the dimmest possible view of events, but back in December, when EG7 announced their acquisition of Daybreak with a vision of growth and investment, a lot of optimism bubbled up for the future of the company and its titles.  That optimism came from the grim times that the Daybreak era represented, so bringing back the same actors to run the new show can hardly be expected to be received with enthusiastic applause.

Of course, some of that December optimism was likely misplaced, especially on the LOTRO front.  Making a console silk purse, as the initial announcements hinted at, out of the sow’s ear that is LOTRO now… and that, honestly, LOTRO has always been… would require an investment in funds that would likely never see a return.

And who knows, maybe EG7 is still looking to expand and grow.  Maybe Ji Ham will be given resources and instructions by the board to go in directions he could not when he was at the helm of Daybreak.  Hey, maybe the “acting CEO” bit isn’t a lie, maybe the company is really looking for a new CEO and Ji Ham will be just a caretaker… though why he needs a six month transition from Robin Flodin raises some questions on that front, though likely it means Robin gets paid as CEO for another six months while not having anything to do after a week or two.

But it is concerning.  It smacks of a return to the habits of Daybreak writ larger as they now apply to even more studios.  As I said with the initial burst of optimism about EG7 I will now say about this dark turn; we will have to wait and see.

Addendum: As pointed out here in the comments, Robin Flodin apparently had problems during an interview he was giving on Swedish television where he couldn’t explain the difference between sales and revenue.

That Tweet, which I also linked in the comments, points to an article about the interview.  Google translates the headline as, “Robin Flodin is forced to leave the position of CEO of EG7 after a high-profile interview.”

So the ascension of Ji Ham was perhaps not premeditated, though we have yet to see what it will mean in the long term.

Related:

A Shift in the Breeze for EverQuest

The problem with advertising is that it isn’t magic.  It won’t make people who were not otherwise inclined buy your product… except maybe your grandparents when they see something and think you’ll like it.  We know how that works out.

So spending money on blanket advertising for a niche product… like an MMORPG… is generally a waste of money.  Your ad budget is more wisely spent trying to target people who might otherwise be inclined to be interested in your product.

For video games that used to mean full page ads in gaming magazines… though it was always better, and cheaper, to get the magazine to advertise your game for free on its cover.

Firiona Vie in all her mounted glory

Certainly, that cover was probably a lot more effective than some of SOE’s own attempts.

What exactly was the message here?

These days video game magazines are pretty much online or a distant memory.

Advertising online started off as very much a mirror of print advertising, and was done just as badly by SOE at times.

Tell me why you think these colors are cool, NOW!

That was actually an SOE ad, the details of which are at the link above.

And that sort of blunt force ad is still a thing, but since the SOE days ended and the Daybreak era began, I hadn’t seen much advertising for their games.

So I was a bit surprised to see some promoted tweets on Twitter about the new Mischief server for EverQuest.

In my feed

I mean, my experience over the years has been that you have to be pretty proactive to figure out if anything new is going on with any of the Daybreak games.

But then I remembered that we are no longer in the Daybreak era.  Enad Global 7 has taken over the reigns and I guess their team is a little more open towards advertising.

I am actually kind of happy to see their stuff getting promoted into my feed.  It is certainly closer to my interests than a lot of the stuff that appears as promoted content.  And, if anybody is in the right target demographic, it is certainly me.

I don’t know if this will be a big win for them, but it is nice to see some effort being put in after so much time of no effort or bizarrely directed effort.

EG7 Will Consolidate MMOs onto 4Games Platform, Hints at New MMO Title

Enad Global 7 did a live video presentation for their Q1 2021 results.

Enad Global 7

Highlights from the presentation:

  • Highest revenue and profit in the history of the company
  • Live games, including the Daybreak titles, made up 50% of their revenue, with recurring revenue items making up 80% of the total
  • There are plans to consolidate all their titles to the Innova 4Games platform, which currently handles some of their European licensed IPs; this includes all of the Daybreak titles
  • Acquisitions will continue
  • There is a new AAA MMO in the works based on “one of the greatest brands in the world”

You can watch the replay of the presentation on YouTube:

There is also a PDF of the presentation available at the EG7 investor relations site here.

Related:

Some Words from EG7 about Daybreak Plans

Hello All !! We’ve had lot’s of questions and interest from fans and communities on the future of the games under Daybreak after the EG7 acquisition. We’ll have a community focused update later in April. In this we will shed some light on our vision for the games going forward.

Enad Global 7 tweet, April 2, 2021

The rather jaded part of me that has followed SOE and Daybreak for years was eager to snark that EG7 was following along in the grand tradition of the past companies by delivering their promised update at the last minute on a Friday afternoon.  Low expectations met.

Enad Global 7

And my initial skepticism was reinforced by the letter to the community from EG7 founder and CEO Robin Flodin, which was posted on the Daybreak site.  It is short, upbeat, and empty of any but the most blandly vague statements about the company.  It feels like boilerplate that could have been posted four months ago.  I won’t bother reprinting it here as it was so nebulous I fear it might blow away in a stiff breeze, leaving an empty space in the middle of the post.

But there was also a 14 minute video linked in small print at the end of the statement that does have some more meat to it.

The video starts with some background about Robin Flodin and EG7, then actually gets into some meaty information about H1Z1.

The PC side of H1Z1 doesn’t have a team working on it, which explains much… like why, when Daybreak introduced their new studios, that title seemed left out in the cold.  EG7 put together a team to examine and asses the game, which took them a while.  I can attest that taking over somebody else’s code base is a sure fire way to get most devs to start talking about the whole thing being easier to re-make from scratch.  They have builds of H1Z1 and Just Survive running, which is a not a trivial achievement.  Devs start muttering about starting over for a reason.  They are now evaluating where to take these titles.

While there was no news and no plan announced beyond that, Flodin did acknowledge that a lot of fans were asking for older mechanics and a return of Just Survive and they were assessing how to get there.  He also noted that the game had been previously handed off to another team unsuccessfully, the whole NantWorks fiasco that ended with the PC version of the game being handed back to Daybreak.

For other titles in the Daybreak stable, including LOTRO and DDO, he said that, at the corporate level, they were looking for ways to help the various teams/studios work on long standing issues… the idea of Daybreak is starting to seem a bit superfluous as anything beyond a historical reference in a world where EG7 is working directly with the dev groups… but the teams themselves are handling the directions the games are headed. Hrmmm…

He did say that the HQ was listening to fan feedback, but I don think EG7 is going to save us from LOTRO legendary item grinds and other things the SSG dev team is completely invested in, but maybe they’ll push the team towards large screen support or UI scaling.

Overall the video was a solid performance.  Flodin came off well and, even though he didn’t have many answers or specific plans to share, I came away with a positive impression.  It laid some groundwork, gave us a few concrete details, but didn’t make any promises that we would later use against them.  I’m still not betting completely against EG7 turning into Gamigo once they hit some critical mass of studios and games, but for the moment I am feeling okay.  I mean, at least he didn’t go on about synergy.

Other Coverage:

Mischief is Coming to EverQuest

I suppose one of the problems with the special server thing, at which the EverQuest team has done very well over the years, is that after a while you end up having done the basics, done what the fans have asked for, and even done a few things that didn’t make a lot of sense.  At that point you start searching for new gimmicks to keep the special server idea fresh.  And so the EverQuest team is going to give us the Mischief, which is billed as a random loot server.

Coming May 26, 2021

So far as I can decipher the rules, the Mischief server will be a time locked progression server based on the Mangler server rules when it comes to xp gain (the Mangler server was one of the 20th anniversary special servers that they had to tweak the rules on before they got it right), with some random loot magic in the mix.

The rules, as listed right now (but, you know, might be subject to change):

  • Agents of Change Enabled
  • Pick Zones Enabled
  • Truebox Enabled
  • Free Trade Enabled
  • Random Loot Enabled
    • The Mischief server is a new experimental server that randomizes loot.
    • Rare NPCs will drop loot from other NPCs of a similar level within the same expansion.
    • Raids will drop loot from other raid NPCs of a similar level within the same expansion.
    • We may add other special case randomization.
    • Rare NPCs have a greater chance of spawning
  • Unlock Cadence:
    • Expansions:
      • 1 month Classic
      • 2 month Kunark
    • 2/3 month regular release cadence
      • 2 months for no level increase
      • 3 months for level increase
    • Exception: LDoN will only be one month

I am not even sure what “Pick Zones” means in the context of EverQuest servers these day.  Maybe Bhagpuss can help me out on that front?

“True Box” is the no multi-boxing rule, “Free Trade” means no drops will be bind on pick up, so you can sell or trade whatever you grab, and then there is “Random Loot,” which honestly doesn’t sound as exciting as I expected.

Though that lack of excitement might be because, as a rule, it seems to impact mobs that I likely won’t ever see, much less bring down.  I was kind of hoping that random, run of the mill mobs might get something special.  That would have been exciting to me, even if it was lotto scratcher level of rarity.

The unlock cadence seems a bit quick, jumping out of Classic in only a month… dude, that is 50 levels at slow xp… though, honestly, I could make the case that they ought to just start at Ruins of Kunark and go for three months just on that.  I think that would be an interesting way to start a progression server.  But I do kind of favor just the first expansion or two in any case.

One interesting side item is that not only will the May update bring this new server onto the scene, but a new feature will be introduced.  EverQuest will get item compare!  When you get a drop there will be an option in the details to compare it to your currently equipped item.  It looks a bit clunky… but so does just about everything in this 22 year old MMORPG.  Let’s face it, this game is old.  The week it launched Cher was at the top of the Billboard Hot 100, and she’s older than my mom.

This is the first new special rules server for EverQuest in the Enad Global 7 era and I am going to guess the first one to be planned from scratch since Holly Longdale left the Norrath team for Azeroth.  We will have to see what kind of reaction this new server will get.  The game’s fans can be particular and the team has been known to bend with any particularly strong wind when it comes to special server rules.

Is LOTRO Effectively in Maintenance Mode?

I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread

-Bilbo Baggins

There was a lot of optimism when EG7 announced their plans to purchase Daybreak Games.  It was a heady moment for many of us when EG7 gave us a bunch of data about the various titles.

Enad Global 7

There was also statements from EG7 about investing in titles like Lord of the Rings Online, including what seemed like crazy talk about a console version.  It felt like good things could be coming.

Almost five months down the road the, now that the afterglow of the announcements has passed, some of us are now getting a little impatient to see what changes, if any, the coming of the new Swedish overlords actually bring.  As with other such transactions, you only get so much goodwill time before the old problems become your problems.

Unfortunately, the message coming from the LOTRO team seems to be the usual litany of deferral and excuses.  Last week the community got a Q&A with the executive producer and to say it was a disappointment would be something of an understatement.  All sorts of things people have been asking after for years like a scalable UI or wide screen support to make the game playable on larger monitors are nowhere in sight.  They mostly seem to be on about bugs and whatever new content they can scrape together.

Most disturbing to me was the response about legendary items, a horribly grindy feature that should have been left behind in Moria:

We want players to have things to do while they are leveling. I know that some players are ‘Oh, this is too grindy and sometimes we overdo it,’ but ‘grindy’ doesn’t scare me as much as ‘I don’t have enough to do.’ I don’t have enough to do is worse because players want to play the game but they don’t really have goals to pursue.

This betrays such a basic misunderstanding of what makes people stick with these sorts of games that I despair for any future for the game, even if EG7 decides to throw some money at it.  This is all of the worst conspiracies about MMO devs confirmed, that they make things purposely grindy to keep us with the game longer.  Have you met your players?  We do stuff just because we can.  We don’t need enforced mandatory grind, we’ll make our own thank you.

I honestly thought we were past that somewhat when WoW launched as was relatively easy to level up in compared to the industry as a whole and yet people still found things to do in the game.  I guess not.

The legendary items thing really strikes home for me.  Despite my enjoyment of Lord of the Rings Online over the years… I bought a lifetime subscription back at launch and own every expansion… I have never made it very far past Moria in the game.  Part of the reason is that Siege of Mirkwood is just an uninspired expansion where Turbine was clearly just mailing it in while they threw resources at some of their fruitless projects.  But it has been mostly due to the constant need to attend to the legendary weapon… and not the one legendary weapon I got back before Moria, but whichever drop I happened to get that was an upgrade.

Yet somehow they are worried that if they dumped legendaries that players wouldn’t be able to depend on drops to keep up with DPS… though we pretty much have to depend on drops for that anyway.  I guess maybe I should be happy they aren’t planning to make them more grindy, which was pretty much the message back in January, but adjusting the “suck” setting back 10% still means things suck.  And they’re talking about challenge modes that will make grinding your legendary even more of a requirement.  They seem 100% locked into “grind makes the game” as a philosophy.

Leaving aside my personal investment in the demise of legendaries, the whole tone of the Q&A was as depressing as any of the worst periods of the Turbine or Daybreak eras.  Even the positive bits, like the new bit of content, The Further Adventures of Bilbo Baggins, turned out to be hollow, being made up of reused assets and mechanics.

A development team that was going to get an infusion of resources to help it along would surely be able to offer a more convincing vision for the future.  Instead I am beginning to wonder if EG7 isn’t simply perusing the Gamigo business model of buying up tired titles and milking the last bits of life out of them before shutting them down.  I previously dared to speculate as to what LOTRO needed.  Now I wonder what the game can even hope to get.

It should be a good moment for the game.  It is celebrating its 14th anniversary and a major potential competitor, the Amazon funded Middle-earth MMO, has been cancelled. (Though the LOTR series under development is still on, so there may still be a renewed interest in all things Middle-earth.)  Instead, the game is starting to feel like Bilbo at the top of the post, stretched too thin for the resources they have with no relief in sight.

Friday Bullet Points with a Sore Arm

It is time for some bullet points again.  My arm is sore because I managed to get my first COVID-19 vaccine shot this week.  How easy it is to get an appointment for a shot varies from place to place, but here in Silicon Valley it was rather like trying to get Madonna or Lady Gaga concert tickets… only there were about half a dozen different web sites to check.  The state had one, my healthcare provider another, and then a few different store chains with their own.

Several times I had an appointment slot, but by the time I filled out the necessary form, all the appointments had been taken.  I finally lucked out on Safeway’s site and ended up getting my first shot on Wednesday at the store I worked at back in college.

I’m a bit tired still, which is a common side effect, and my left arm hurts.  But I still have enough in me to write up some bullet points.

  • Diablo II Resurrected Alpha

We first officially heard about Diablo II Resurrected at BlizzConline back in February, with a promise that it would ship at some point in 2021.  This weekend is the start of the technical alpha and it is getting some buzz.

The testing has begun

Some of the buzz is due to Blizz doing a give-away for access, but there does seem to be some general excitement about the remaster of this classic ARPG.  For this stage those invited to participate will be able to play the amazon, sorceress, or barbarian, single player, through acts one and two, with no level cap restrictions.  Acts one and two are the best of the game, so I am feeling a bit jealous that I opted in for testing and didn’t get picked. (Invites were all sent by 7am PDT and there was nothing for me.)  But I’ll be able to play soon enough I guess.

  • Enad Global 7 Completes Another Acquisition

I alluded to the fact that EG7 was buying another studio in my EverQuest at 22 post in March because Daybreak titles are now highlighted when EG7 speaks about the IPs they have.  They have now closed the deal, announced back in February, to acquire Innova, a publisher that runs MMORPGs in the EU and Russia.  The price was 109 million Euros (and not $109 million as was reported elsewhere.  The dollar amount is closer to $130 million.  But what’s ~$20 million between friends?)

Crowfall released in 2018? Who knew?

While the titles they have listed do not excite me, Daybreak having access to people on the ground to run games further afield than the greater San Diego metropolitan area might mean something good for them in the long term.  It would certainly be a better plan than selling their players to Pro.SiebenSat.1 or the like.

  • CCP Talks About A Shooter They’re Not Talking About

About two years back CCP said that their planned shooter, Project Nova, which they had been hyping up as late as EVE Vegas 2018, when we were encouraged to sign up for alpha, was going into a transitional stage.  It was going to get a new name and they would not be telling us the name or talking about it until it was ready.

Project Nova no more

Well, now CCP is talking about it, whatever it is now, again.  Sort of.  There are no details, but the new head of the UK studio that is working on the project, Adrian Blunt, gave an interview where he brags that they’re working on a “hugely ambitious” and possibly “genre defining” shooter.  The Nosy Gamer took a look at the whole thing and, so far as I can tell, the only solid information was that 40 people are working on the project.  I’ll be impressed when they have something to actually demo.

  • Runes of Magic has More Things for You

I wrote a bit about Runes of Magic and their twelfth anniversary on Monday, and they were soon back with an addition.  Later that day a message arrived with an offer of more goodies.

You actually have no idea how fast I have leveled up ever

Clicking on the “collect your gifts” link got me to a page that said they had given me a advanced experience charm, a potion of some sort, and 250 gold.  However, where all of that was delivered remains a bit of a mystery.  It wasn’t on my character on the super new EU server.  A friend suggested that it might be a US server thing, but it wasn’t on my character there.

At this point I suspect it went to my old account, which I mentioned they managed to block me from accessing, so the charm and the potion are probably hanging out with my lost diamonds wondering when I will return.

And that is all I have.  I get to head back for my second vaccine shot on the 28th.  Until then, I am still staying home and safe.

EverQuest at a Crossroads as it Turns 22

In the US at least, your 21st birthday is generally your last achievement “happy to get older” birthday.  At that point you can drink, smoke, gamble, and do whatever, where allowed.

Turning 25 used to be a bit of a goal.  There were a couple quiet unlocks, like the ability to rent a car without it being a huge hassle, that came with the age, but some of those have passed away since I turned 25.  Then, after most of your life looking forward to being older, there is often some euphoria momentum left.  But at some point you realize that you’re just getting old and the years begin to weigh on you, and you start to feel your age and wonder if it wasn’t a mistake to be in such a hurry to get there.

So there are no fun analogies for EverQuest turning 22 today.  Their official Discord channel still has the 20 year anniversary logo up, which kind of proves my point I guess.  That is a hell of a run, but like me, the game does show its age as soon as you look at it.

There is, of course, still a celebration.  A Producer’s Letter has been posted and there will be bonus XP and new quests and prizes, including an extremely tall hat.

The Othmir Fez

Even though the game’s youth is behind it, EverQuest is still moving ahead, still holding players and making money according to insights we received late last year.

Page 15 – Year to Date numbers as of Sep. 30, 2020

It is also the most profitable game in Daybreak’s portfolio.

Page 16 – Revenue and Earnings compared YTD through Sep. 30 2020

Not bad for a game that old.  A solid title and certainly in no danger of getting the SOE sunset treatment.  Enad Global 7 continues to highlight Daybreak titles in their presentations even as the continue scooping up more studios.

6 out of 8 of those are from Daybreak

However, happy talk and banner positions can only take you so far.  The game’s future lays with its new Swedish masters, and we don’t really know what that means yet.  We’re still in the honeymoon period.  It has been just over three months since the acquisition of Daybreak was announced, and that only closed at the end of December.  That isn’t a lot of time to have an impact… or a positive one.  There has been plenty of time to get the Gamigo treatment of slashing staff and crushing expectations, so perhaps we can breath easy on that front for the moment.

The question still remains about what the future holds for EverQuest and other titles in the Daybreak stable.  The Daybreak era was something of a trauma at times for some titles.  There was the bloodletting at SOE that was, in hindsight, a clearing of the decks for the sale of the division, the cancellation of EverQuest Next and the closing of Landmark, and the fumbling of H1Z1 after they briefly had a hit on their hands, along with the lies, half truths, and long awkward silences that became the hallmark of the Jason Epstein team.

But, in that era, the Norrath team quietly flourished.  There was an initial stumble when the declared an end to expansions in favor of smaller bites of DLC in the form of adventure packs, but community push back got annual expansions back in the plan.  And since then they have chugged along putting out an expansion for both EverQuest and EverQuest II every Q4 along with mid-cycle game updates and holiday revamps and special servers.  The time hasn’t been without its missteps… a vocal core of EQII fans remain a surly and restive bunch… and there have been layoffs and server issues and games down for a couple or days, but for the most part the games have carried on doing what they do without any real fear that they’ll be closed or reworked in some crazy, right angles to reality sort of way.

Let me reiterate: A paid expansion every year for both titles.

That is kind of an amazing rate of content growth in the genre.  EverQuest has had 27 paid expansions, and EverQuest II has had 16. (I don’t think Age of Discovery, which brought in free to play, was a paid expansion.  Was it?)

Companies don’t keep doing that unless they are making money on it.  Having the luxury of doing expansions is a sign of success, and not a lot of other titles have even come close.

So the question is whether or not EG7 will continue down that path, perhaps nurturing the Norrath titles to allowing them some additional resources for projects to enhance and update the aging titles.

Or does EG7 have other plans?

Their jump into video games through acquisition has an end goal somewhere beyond “let’s be a company that owns a bunch of video game studios!”  Some bright person in the board room has a series of steps up on a white board that ends with, “Profit!”

I assure you, somehow these add up to “Profit!”

What does this mean for Norrath?  The latest EG7 purchase was of Innova, a company that localized MMOs for the Russian market and runs a number of them there.  That seems like a move to expand more of their titles there, though EQII at least already has a Russian server. (Did Innova do that work?)

And even that seems like a stepping stone, not an end goal.

One has to wonder if the golden age of EverQuest might be over or if some new horizon beckons that will see it flourish even more so.  People are usually done growing by the time they turn 22, at least in physical height, and video game years are more like dog years than people years, making EQ a very old game indeed.  We will have to see if EQ7 has a fountain of youth up its sleeve or if the retirement home might be in the offing.  The Gamigo route is always a threat.

What Does LOTRO Need?

Yesterday Massively OP reported that Standing Stone/Daybreak/Enad Global 7 had announced a new expansion bundle for Lord of the Rings Online which allows one to purchase the six expansions between the base game and the current War of Three Peaks expansion for one… price…. that is lower than buying all of them individually.

The headline at Massively OP declared that the bundle “smashes its huge barrier to entry,” a suggestion that made me grimace.

The LOTRO Expansion Trove if you’re were interested

While not exactly a “people aren’t wearing enough hats” level of analysis, if I were to make a ranked list of problems that keep people from playing the game, buying all the expansions would be far down the list, as it is something I suspect never becomes an issue for the vast majority of the people who bother trying the game.

The problem there is that, as with my list about EVE Online from a few years back, there are lot of things that are simply outside of the scope of reality to address.

Yes, thanks to EG7 giving us a peek behind the curtains, we know that LOTRO is a viable, money making concern, but its income is more in the range of “sustain the status quo” rather than “rebuild and revamp.”

Page 15 – Year to Date numbers as of Sep. 30, 2020

That number is only through Q3 2020, so we might be able to assume that the game brings in maybe $13 million a year.  That is sustainable, but there is no bonaza of cash for updates in that number, and it falls well short of the estimated $100 million the game was reported to have made back in 2013.

I was honestly a bit surprised when SSG decided to upgrade the client to 64-bit, though that was more of a long term survival plan than something that would make things better.  At some point in the not too distant future Windows will stop supporting 32-bit apps, so better to get that done before it is a critical item for survival.  Certainly that move did not improve the client’s actual behavior in any noticeable way.

And I fear that anybody who is holding out hope now that EG7 is running the show that they will pour a bunch of money into the game is going to be disappointed.  The idea of there being a console version seems so far from reality that the only answer could be a completely new game build for modern consoles, which would leave the current game out in the cold.

So LOTRO is likely going to stay pretty much as is, a cranky old fantasy MMORPG from 2007 with a difficult to read UI (at just HD resolutions, don’t get me started on how it looks on my new monitor) and a lot of mindless repetitive game play.  Has anybody ever counted how many bears, board, and wolves you slay following the quest chains to level cap?

What can they do?

They are stuck because at their current revenue they clearly cannot make any large changes to the game.  And they are even more restricted than some comparable MMORPGs because they have to stick with approved Tolkien lore and have a game that tells a linear story so the expansions are not independent.  EQ could copy Blizzard’s parallel expansions idea is they had the mind and the budget, but would LOTRO be allowed to even tinker with having Moria and Rohan as parallel experiences on the way to Mordor?

The EQ version would have 26 parallels

Without something dramatic… and I have my doubts about what would even qualify… making money off of new players seems unlikely, so they’re left with the MMORPG standard policy of farming the installed base.

One way to do that is via expansions.

The SSG team can’t simply crank out more expansions for revenue.  I mean, the are trying, but they have trouble keeping up their current pace, have made some customers wary due to lightness of the Battle of Three Peaks expansion, and they’re running out of places to expand into in any case.  They do have another expansion coming this year, but the next thing needs to be in planning.

The other way to farm the installed base is special servers.  LOTRO has played this card once already, and successfully so far as I can tell, with the LOTRO Legendary server of late 2018.

They can always just play that card again.  I am sure there would be a decent response to a fresh start.  But if they want something different, I have an idea.

I’m grabbing this idea from something Star Wars: The Old Republic did a few years back.

I call this the LOTRO Epic Storyline server.

Turn off the side quests… if possible… and tune the xp output/curve so that players can level up through the story just running the epic quest line.

Maybe you don’t even need a special server for that.  Maybe you just have players buy a token for a character on a live server that boosts xp for the epic quest line.  It would be a nice way to catch up and get past some of the less inspired content that lays astride the path to level cap. (Looking at you Siege of Mirkwood.)

There are problems to be solved with the idea.  You would have to have a mechanism to keep player gear up to level along the way.  And then there are the special mechanics like legendary weapons or mounted combat that players would need to be guided through.

But it seems like a possible, reduced if not low effort way to attract some players and boost revenue a bit.

Or is there something else they can do?

Addendum: I mean, besides irritating their installed base by making the awful legendary system even worse.