Tag Archives: H1Z1

SuperData Splits WoW into East and West Again

As the end of a month approaches SuperData Research publishes their digital market top ten lists for the previous month on their blog, so here are the stacks from April.

SuperData Research Top 10 – April 2017

This month sees World of Warcraft split out into East and West on the PC list.  This arrangement  first showed up on their January chart.  It was initially on their February chart, but the chart was revised to combine East and West later.  The March chart saw the single combined WoW on the list.  And here we are in April with East and West split out once again.

There is a temptation to ask SuperData to make up their mind.  But, as I have noted before, an analyst firm like SuperData requires the cooperation of the companies they study if they want access to raw data… data they can slice and dice and package to sell to investment managers and such.  That gives the company leverage, so I am going to say that if WoW is split into East and West, or combined into a single enter, it is because somebody at Activision-Blizzard wants it that way.  And I follow the changes just to see if they’ll tell me which way the wind is blowing.

Anyway, for this month League of Legends continues its reign at the top of the PC list, followed by three Chinese titles, then WoW West.  That seems to indicate either a boost in fortune for WoW outside of China, or a fall in the fortunes of World of Tanks, which dropped to sixth place.

Behind that is a new title on the list, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, a $30 early access game on Steam that more than a million players pain in for and which might be bad news for H1Z1: King of the Kill as it seems to be targetting the same audience with a survival battle royal theme.

Then there is WoW East followed by Overwatch, which overtook its nemsis CS:GO after falling behind it the previous month.

Dropping off the list from last time is Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands and Lineage.

On the mobile side of the house, Pokemon Go held on to 8th place again this month.

The notes for the month talk up Overwatch’s MAUs, which confirms to me that Activision-Blizzard is pushing their agenda.  A jump up the revenue list would have been more impressive.  Other notes from the post include:

  • U.S. digital slows down but still shows year-over-year growth. U.S. digital revenue is up from April 2016 but down from March 2017. Free-to-play MMO, console and mobile all had high-single-digit revenue growth, more than offsetting slight declines in social and premium PC revenue.
  • PLAYERUNKNOWN’s Battlegrounds tops this month’s premium PC digital revenue despite being in Early Access and breaks into the top 10 PC overall list with titans like League of Legends.  While still in Early Access, made an estimated $34 million in gross digital revenue in April.
  • March’s new releases, Mass Effect: Andromeda and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands, experienced sharp declines in digital revenue in April, possibly due to mediocre reviews.
  • Hearthstone mobile fully recovers from February, one of its worst months ever in terms of digital revenue, on the back of its latest expansion “Journey to Un’Goro”.
  • EA dominates the top console rankings. FIFA 17 and Battlefield 1 were the top grossing console titles in April. FIFA 17 digital revenue jumped double-digits y/y, a large portion of which came from Ultimate Team. Battlefield 1 was down slightly from March but still showed strong traction for the recent DLC “They Shall Not Pass”.
  • Grand Theft Auto V benefits from a new online update. GTA V digital revenue is up from last year. This was primarily driven by an uptick in GTA V Online micro-transaction revenue on the back of the “Tiny Racers” update, which was a unique throwback to retro, top-down, racing games.

Finally, in a post earlier this month, SuperData mentioned that  the Chinese giant Tencent Holdings, which counts Riot, developer of League of Legends, in its portfolio, might be looking to license Daybreak’s H1Z1: King of the Kill.  The quote from the May 2nd post:

Sources show that Tencent WeGame is surveying users’ intention if H1Z1 is to be moved to a “non-Steam platform,” leading to the discussion around whether the company has decided to publish H1Z1 on its newly rebranded WeGame platform. The game’s launch of a China-limited patch, altering police cars to cabs and blood to black fluid, are also considered signs of DayBreak prepping the game for officially entering China.

The source of the information is a web site in Chinese, so I’ll take their word for it since Google translate barely helped make the statement clearer.  The news, should it come to pass, could be a big bonus for Daybreak.

Daybreak Doomsaying

Since the announcement last week that Daybreak would be shutting down Landmark, there has been quite the hum of doom and gloom and wondering what other titles in their catalog might be headed for the chop.  Over at Massively OP they turned this into two posts, one asking if you’re worried about any Daybreak titles and then a poll as to which game people think is next.

It follows you as you move about the room!

It is watching you

The articles themselves are not big thrills, but the comment sections of both are rife with wild speculation and what I would consider unfounded and counter-factual claims.  All of that got me to mentally stack ranking the titles based on what I perceive as their viability based on what we can all see in the news and the occasional rumor that has come my way.

Given that, here is my list, from least to most vulnerable.

EverQuest – Bedrock

Emotionally I am tempted to say that SOE/Daybreak without EverQuest is a ship without a rudder.  EQ is the cornerstone on which the empire was built, so widely popular and wildly profitable in the days before World of Warcraft, it spawned a port, a sequel, two false starts at a second sequel, and likely represents the most valuable IP the company holds.

Also, a lot of people still play it.  And they pay to play it.  Two of the three most popular servers require Daybreak All Access subscriptions.  Every time Daybreak stands up a nostalgia server it gets swamped, to the point that they had to write a login queue and take the zone instancing tech from EverQuest II in order to keep from having to put up overflow servers.  And as the pre-WoW subscription champ, it has a lot of former players to pitch nostalgia at.

And it isn’t just nostalgia.  The game still gets an expansion every year, which is something you don’t bother doing if people aren’t buying enough copies.  Expansions would have to stop before I would consider the game was closer than five years from being shut down.

DC Universe Online – Profit

This is sort of a blank spot for me.  I don’t play the game, not liking it on Windows.  However I have heard, throughout its life, that it is profitable… at least on PlayStation, where at one point Smed said it generated more revenue that any other F2P option on that platform.

It is also unencumbered by Station Cash/Daybreak Cash, at least on consoles, which makes its accounting all the more simple.  And DCUO is the only game to actually expand during the Daybreak era, having been ported to XBox.  I have heard that did not go as well as it could have, but a game has to be doing okay to expand its base.

EverQuest II – Stalwart

The other game that gets people to subscribe to Daybreak Access.  Never the star and not as successful selling nostalgia as its older brother, EQII still has a solid following.  It must have been doing okay for a long stretch, as it seemed to be the focus of SOE’s oddball science experiments with things like SOEmote.  And, of course, it does get an expansion every year, which I think marks it as pretty safe for the near future.

Still, I can’t mark it as solid as EQ, and I roll my eyes every time somebody in the comment sections assumes that it has many more subscribers than EQ merely because of their relative ages.  EQII also remains the one Daybreak game I play regularly so, strictly speaking, I am not even picking my favorite as safest.

H1Z1: King of the Kill – Wunderkind

I hesitated to put this below EQII as it is Daybreak’s darling, the star of Twitch, and is getting its own currency in order to break it free of the burden that is Station Cash.  But it is the new kid as well, so that decided the ordering.  Safe so long as it remains popular, it seems to be getting all the development resources when it comes to the H1Z1 duo.

PlanetSide 2 – Struggling

The favored child of former Chairman Smed, the seemingly simple sequel to the original PlanetSide has had a whole host of issues over the course of its career.  It managed to get all the aim-bot and hacking problems of its predecessor while not having as much draw as $60 shooters like Call of Duty.

The executive creative director said the game was “really struggling” a little over a year ago, unable to get people to subscribe to Daybreak All Access just to play.  The game has been shut down in South Korea and China, hasn’t come close to Smed’s old feature list, and there hasn’t been much in the way of news about the game, a danger sign at a company where silence leads to closure.

H1Z1: Just Survive – No News is Bad News

Not done, not loved, and not very high in the queue for resource, Just Survive doesn’t need a blood red mark the size of a doubloon on its cheek to cement its position at the bottom of the safety list.  SOE/Daybreak have a long tradition of neglecting titles, failing to mention them, promising some news “soon” in the run up to the point that they are canned.

Not a bad game, this base building zombie survival variation, but you have to play with a regular group on a server where there are other players but where you are not overwhelmed.  But if somebody at Columbus Nova showed up and said that their research indicates that Daybreak should only have five games, I have no doubt this is what would get cut.

Not Candidates

I keep seeing Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online come up as doomed in the dystopian  Daybreak future.  However, while we still don’t know the full extent of the relationship between Daybreak and Standing Stone Games, I doubt the team in San Diego is going to be able to shutter either title of their own accord.

Furthermore, WB isn’t spinning those games off out of the goodness of its heart and a love of the player base.  WB expects to get paid over time, and it wouldn’t have bothered setting them up as an license revenue income source if it didn’t think it would at least pay back the lawyers fees needed to setup Standing Stone.

When?

While I may have picked H1Z1: Just Survive as candidate for closure in my 2017 predictions post, I don’t think we’re going to hear anything about the game for a while, if we do hear bad news.  Its code connection with King of the Kill may be close enough still for it to get some attention.  Eventually though Daybreak will either need to do something with the game or stop wasting resources on it.  The more time that passes without any real change, the more likely it seems to me that closure will be the end result.

And then there is PlanetSide 2.  I am still stuck on that “really struggling” statement.  Then again, it is linked to King of the Kill in its code base and does seem to be getting some attention.  If Smed were still around I wouldn’t even consider PS2 for closure, as it was his baby.  Without him around and the harsh realities of being an “indie” studio nothing is strictly safe any more.

Anyway, that is my outsiders opinion on the subject.  We shall see what 2017 brings.

The Further Diminution of Station Cash and Additional Intrigue

Daybreak Games announced yesterday that they would cease selling physical game cards for Daybreak Cash (which I am going to call Station Cash from here forward out of habit/tradition) or All Access membership effective last week.  The cards should have been pulled from stores as of September 26.

Soon to be gone

Soon to be gone

Naturally, in the grand SOE tradition, ads for these cards are still all over the various Daybreak game web sites despite the order to pull them from shelves.

Probably not coming to Target now...

Probably not coming to Target now…

Should you find such a card still on the rack at your local WalMart, because there is always somebody who doesn’t get the word, their ability to be activated will cease on November 8, 2016.  After that date they will just be colorful bits of plastic.

If you have an activated card, you can still redeem it for the foreseeable future, likely in part because California state law does not allow companies to expire or invalidate gift cards that customers have paid for.

The timing of this is… if not interesting, at least worth a moment of thought.

Daybreak sending out the word to pull Station Cash cards off the rack a full week before they announced to customers that the cards would be going away was not accidental.  They clearly wanted to get at least some of the cards off the rack before they told people.

But why?

There are downsides to such cards.

The cards have a bit of a checkered history, being one of the sources of Station Cash that helped devalue the currency back in the day with “Triple Cash” deals for redeeming cards and the inevitable bonus cash that WalMart demanded its customers get.

TripleSC01

Triple your take!

As a revenue source, Daybreak has to share a cut with the retailer and the card processor so, as Blizzard would rather you buy digital direct so they don’t have to share the loot, so Daybreak no doubt wishes you would just buy straight for them and leave them with the cut the middleman would otherwise take.

Then there is the accounting annoyance of such cards.  When a customer buys the card you cannot claim it as revenue until it is actually redeemed.  You have to carry that money on the books as an obligation.  In one of those way that accounting goes from measuring reality to becoming reality, you get the money and can spend the money, you just can’t claim the money towards revenue or profit.  But that likely doesn’t apply if Daybreak straight up sells you the Station Cash, because that transaction is done and you have your virtual good and/or service right away.

On the upside, those cards were low effort sales.  Somebody else has to ship them, put them on the shelves, ring them up and so on.  Daybreak just has to redeem codes and keep the accounts at their end.

And, of course, these cards are how players who do not have credit cards can buy Station Cash and All Access for their accounts.

So why kill them off?  If they were not selling enough, removing them from the shelves THEN announcing they were going away doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Doing it the other way around might have gotten them an injection of cash as people who wanted/needed to use them rushed out to pick up a few before they were gone.

And killing them off doesn’t end the accounting hassle.  That goes on for a while because you already have  this ecosystem of cards and some percentage always go missing and never get redeemed.

For this, I think we have to go back to a bit of news almost two weeks in the past, the announcement that one of Daybreak’s games, H1Z1: King of the Kill, was no longer going to use Station Cash and would be getting its own virtual currency with the generic name “Crowns.”  Not “Daybreak Crowns,” just “Crowns.”

So while Connor over at MMO Fallout attributes this to possibly more Daybreak financial woes, I wonder if this portends further changes at the company.  They have cut one of their games out of their Station Cash herd and now they are shutting down a somewhat passive revenue stream without trying to give it a final, farewell milking.

Are we looking at the start of some sort of splitting up of Daybreak into smaller, perhaps more saleable parts?  The Crowns announcement started people wondering that.  Does the retail card cut further that?  Is this another preparatory move, or just Daybreak trying to simplify their business?

Anyway, the announcement and brief FAQ is available here.

A Brief History of Station Cash Complete with Tirade

(Warning: Tirade contains less than 20% new content)

Whenever the topic of currency for “microtransactions” comes up, I think back to the origins of the term, more than 20 years past at this point.  The idea, back in the day, was to let people use their credit card to buy another currency so that they could make purchases that were smaller than would be practical for a credit card transaction.

Basically, at about the $5.00 mark, it stops making sense to take credit cards due to transaction fees, and these currencies were supposed to let people make payments down below a dollar if they wanted.  That was the goal.  It never really panned out despite some serious attempts over the years.

The idea was picked up in other places though.  Almost eight years ago SOE grabbed the idea and stumbled off with it, introducing Station Cash and a lackluster store with a meager list of depressingly priced items for sale.  Even four years after it launched, I couldn’t find anything worthwhile in the Station Cash store.

The pricing there, and in other in-game cash shops since, strongly indicate that the transaction cost had ceased to be the prime motivator.  In fact, the tragicomic tale of SOE and their virtual currency points straight to what companies want.  They want to separate their customers from some cash up front and worry about the cash shop later.  SOE went so far trying to boost their bottom line with Station Cash sales that they devalued the currency like a Latin American dictator.

TripleSC01

Stock up now? Don’t mind if I do!

For a stretch they had to stop letting players pay for their subscription or buy expansions with Station Cash because, if you worked things just right, you could have ended up paying as little as $1.25 a month for your Gold Access subscription.

Where were those people who love to study virtual economies when this was happening?

Anyway, SOE had to have a Station Cash austerity program (did the Virtual World Bank step in?) for a while, going so far as to suggest they might stop giving out the monthly 500SC stipend for subscribers at one point, as they worked out how to get people to spend their giant piles of cheap Station Cash.  I think they actually got a few useful items in the various stores after that, plus some mounts in EverQuest II that were not hideously ugly.

Still, SOE carried on.  They were committed to Free to Play.  The term was part of their marketing slogan for a while.

My way includes constant pop-ups asking me to subscribe...

My way includes constant pop-ups asking me to subscribe…

They were invested in the cash shop and getting people into their game for free, so that they might become paying customers later. (Via an unsubtle combination of inconveniences and incentives, but that is another tale.)  They were at least trying to be a stand-up player in the market. (For all its mistakes and missteps, SOE always tried to do the right thing in the end.)   Station Cash was pegged to the real world at a penny a point (except when on sale of course) so players could figure out how much something really cost without getting out a calculator.

Failure to do this is generally a bad sign.  Customers do not like it.  Microsoft fiddled with that in the XBox store for a while before going to a penny a point.  Nintendo dumped points altogether, assigning straight up dollar values in their shop.

I think companies suffer in the long term by trying to obscure the value of their in-game currency… which leads me to Turbine and Lord of the Rings Online, which has one of the more arcane RMT currency systems around.  Turbine Points can have a wide range of values depending on how you purchase them, and once in the game Turbine has added in subsidiary currencies, like Mithril Coins, that you have to buy with the main currency, in order to purchase certain unlocks.  Trying to fool the customer is only ever a short term strategy and I am sure LOTRO has suffered over the years for going all in on that.

Anyway, at least SOE didn’t go down that path.

And SOE stuck to having a single currency wallet across all of their games. (Well, on the PC at least.  There were complications in the land of PlayStation.)  If you played EverQuest II and wanted to move over to PlanetSide 2, your station cash went with you. (Again, looking at you Turbine, and how Turbine Points in LOTRO and Turbine Points in DDO are two separate and distinct things.)

Then came bad times at Sony and SOE was sold off to the investment bankers at Columbus Nova Prime, a group with a reputation for milking their acquisitions.  SOE became Daybreak, Station Cash became Daybreak Cash, and so on down the branding line.  No longer covered by Sony’s checkbook, reality set in quickly with layoffs and changes to the business model.

EverQuest and EverQuest II, perennial foundations of the company, managed to get back on their old track of an expansion a year after dabbling with the idea of more frequent, but less fulsome DLC.  I think the fact that loyal followers of the game have a habit of buying collector’s editions probably helped there.  How much DLC do you have to ship to equal on CE?

The Broken Mirror? Try the broken gaming budget!

$140 offsets a lot of DLC

Also, the expansion thing keeps the player base from getting totally fragmented and unable to play together because somebody doesn’t have the right DLC for the night’s content.  Add in some special servers for subscribers only and the classic Norrath part of the company seems secure for the moment.  They did have to kill off PvP for the most part, but that is what happens when you have to focus on your core.

Over in another part of the company, quiet yet solid DC Universe Online got ported over to the XBox One.  Not bad for a five year old title.  But then, access to XBox and other platforms was supposed to be one of the big upsides of the acquisition.

Other titles were less secure.  Somebody found where Smed hid the last PlanetSide server and turned it off finally.  Dragon’s Prophet was sent packingPlanetSide 2 was having problemsEverQuest Next became EverQuest Never, heralding the end of the classic mainstream fantasy MMORPG. That is a niche genre now, but it probably always anyway.  Legends of Norrath was finally taken off life support, then its loot card organs were harvested for the cash shop.  And my question about how Daybreak would get off the sweet, sweet Early Access money drug was answered when they ditched free to play for Landmark and H1Z1, charging $20 a pop to get into either.

Ars Technica Reports...

Still have to replace that founder’s pack revenue stream though…

Well, $40 a pop for all of H1Z1 unless you already had a copy, since they split that into two games, each with its own $20 price tag. There is now H1Z1: King of the Kill, the money making one that turned out to be mildly popular on Twitch, and H1Z1: Just Survive, the mostly neglected worldly survival game for oddball old school MMO players.  King of the Kill got a “Summer 2016” ship date, which it has since pushed off (though there was already a press release saying it had launched quite a while back), while Just Survive seems to be living up to its name.

All of which brings us up to yesterdays fun new announcement that King of the Kill will not be using Daybreak Cash, ditching that for its own currency.  From the King of the Kill site:

INTRODUCING: CROWNS

Daybreak Cash will no longer be used in H1Z1: King of the Kill after the game update on September 20. Instead, the new currency will be called Crowns. Crowns are a unique currency, available and usable only in H1Z1: King of the Kill. With Crowns, you will be able to purchase crates and bundles as you did previously with Daybreak Cash

Beginning on September 20, you will have the option to convert all or some of your existing Daybreak Cash into Crowns. This is a one-to-one conversion: 1 Daybreak Cash = 1 Crown. This conversion is only one way; once you convert your DBC into Crowns, you cannot convert Crowns back to DBC. This conversion opportunity will only be available for a limited time. You will be able to convert your Daybreak Cash into Crowns from September 20 through December 31, 2016.

Daybreak Cash is still usable in other Daybreak games, including H1Z1: Just Survive. Crowns can only be used in H1Z1: King of the Kill.

So there it is, another turn in the long tale of Station Cash/Daybreak Cash.  You can, until the end of the year, change your Daybreak Cash into the new currency, Crowns.  But from then on Crowns are Crowns and Cash is Cash, and never the twain shall meet.

The question is, what does it mean?  Why separate the one game from the rest of the of the Daybreak family in this way? (On the PC at least, consoles are a different story.)

One of these things is not like the others... also, why a pig?

One of these things is not like the others… also, why a pig?

Does this mean that there are special plans for King of the Kill?  Does Daybreak see the game as especially promising when compared to the rest of its stable?  Is this a one-time event in special circumstances or a chilling portrait of things to come where Daybreak Cash gets stranded on specific games?

Not much of a tirade in there, unless you read it aloud in the right tone of voice ( I recommend whiny/sarcastic for the best effect) or you’re somebody who conflates criticism with hate.  I’m often critical of the games I play, but the ones I hate get no mention at all.  When it comes to H1Z1, at least in the King of the Kill flavor, I am largely indifferent, except where it intersects with Norrath.  This is really just another marker on the long journey of the company that made EverQuest back in the day.

Though when I go back to EverQuest II now and again, I still can’t find anything worthwhile in the cash shop.

Related topic: SOE and its MMORPGs, a post from a while back.

Couch Podtatoes Podcast Episode 80 – A Daybreak Retrospective

In one those “a joke that ends up with a life of its own” moments, a “demand” that I appear on a podcast ended up with me actually appearing on one.

Izlain at Me vs. Myself and I apparently drew the short straw amongst the podcast community and so I ended up on the Couch Podatoes Podcast episode 80.

CouchpodtatoeGraphicThe topic discussed was Daybreak Game Company, formerly Sony Online Entertainment, and how they and their games have fared over the year since that transition.  We track the timeline, gush about the state of EverQuest and EverQuest II, ponder DC Universe Online and PlanetSide 2, cast a critical eye on the H1Z1 split, and wonder whatever became of EverQuest Next.

For those interested, you can find the podcast here.

It has actually been a while since I was on a podcast.  I think the last one I was on was the VirginWorlds five year anniversary podcast, and the ten year anniversary is next month.  Doing the podcast was fun.  I enjoy talking about video games.  Actually listening to myself on the podcast is another matter.  My voice never sounds like I think it sounds and I can hear every malady that afflicts me in it.  I am clearly not completely over that bout of pneumonia I had in December.

Anyway, there it is!  Enjoy!  And a big thanks to Izlain for having me on!

(Also if you’re not into the “what are you playing” segment, which I must admit, as a listener, can be tiresome, you can jump to the 10:50 mark where the meat of the discussion begins.)

H1Z2 or The Daybreak “Divide and Something” Plan

SOE, in cleaning up its act in order to get sold off and become Daybreak, cleared its decks of a number of titles.  The list of titles Daybreak has today is substantially shorter than what SOE had on offer just few years back.  Since 2012 it seems like they’ve shut down a lot more titles than they have launched.

It follows you as you move about the room!

The eye seems angry today…

I’m not sure how many people really miss Wizardry Online or Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures or a few of the other titles that have fallen by the wayside.  But Free Realms had a following and I have to think, with the current emphasis on nostalgia in Norrath, that closing down the EverQuest Macintosh Edition server rather than making that the basis of a classic server usable by a Windows client must be wistfully regretted in some corner of their office.

Anyway, once the company became Daybreak it had rid itself of a lot of baggage, but also had less to sell… and then proceeded to get rid of Dragon’s Prophet.

Meanwhile, new titles are few and far between.  EverQuest Next, more than five years since it was announced, seems no more likely to ship than it did two years back.  Landmark continues is desultory existence.  Planetside 2 remains dubious.  DC Universe Online, which just passed its fifth birthday, is getting ported to XBox One.  That was the big liberating factor in becoming Daybreak, that Smed would no longer be limited to the Playstation, but I am still dubious as to whether or not this will be a huge win.

The only bright points over the first year of Daybreak’s existence (we heard about the merger just about a year ago) have be the super awesome legacy Norrath team, which runs EverQuest and EverQuest II, and which has worked hard to give players some things they have been asking for, and H1Z1, which managed to sell a million units in early access.

So I guess the email note I received while in Hawaii shouldn’t have come as a great surprise.

CUSTOMER SERVICE NOTIFICATION
Notice Regarding Your H1Z1 Account!
Hi
On Wednesday, February 17, 2016, H1Z1 will be branching off into two separate games: H1Z1: Just Survive and H1Z1: King of the Kill. Since you previously purchased an Early Access copy of H1Z1, your account will be upgraded to include both H1Z1: Just Survive and H1Z1: King of the Kill.
Your existing keys, crates, and items will be also duplicated and available in both games.

H1Z1 is splitting into two games, H1Z1: Just Survive, which is the zombie horror survival game, and H1Z1: King of the Kill, which is an arena cash cow that Daybreak has convinced itself is going to be some sort of esport.

On the bright side, at least you get a copy of each if you already purchased H1Z1 via early access.  Of course, there is one more unplayed game in my Steam library because, while the base H1Z1 had some comedic co-op survival charm to it, Daybreak’s whole “pay to compete” battle royale thing had no appeal to me whatsoever.

I think we can safely predict Daybreak will have to change the name of one of these games in a month or two once the whole brand confusion thing finally dawns on them.  My own pick would be H1Z1 and H1Z2, but even those two might be too close in name to avoid the inevitable confusion.

Was this split a surprise?  I suppose so.  It certainly wasn’t without a bit or irony, at least when compared to this motivational quote from the Daybreak web site.

Was this a left turn then?

Was this a left turn or a risk then?

But in hindsight, I guess trying to package the different needs of the two modes of play together might have become an obstacle to one branch of the game or the other.  I doubt, however, that this split means that there will be any more people working on the combined projects, despite the statement about two development teams, so one branch will likely languish as the other gets attention.  My bet is that Just Survive will see its advance towards release… whatever that means to Daybreak these days, since they put our a press release indicating that H1Z1 had already been launched a year back.

But the act of splitting titles in order to beef up their catalog isn’t exactly a new thing at Daybreak.  We of course had the EverQuest Next and Landmark split, where Landmark was just going to be a dev tool for people to use to make things for EverQuest Next, but which got turned into an early access project as well as all we’ve ever really seen of the EQN code.

And H1Z1 itself started life as a branch from the PlanetSide 2 code base, a way to use work already done to make a new game… though I am not sure if the time that has gone by says more about the state of H1Z1 or PlanetSide 2.

I might even argue that DC Universe Online being ported to XBox One at this late date is something of a split, since it will be its own code base by necessity, will draw of resources from the other branches, and won’t be able to play cross-platform.

Finally, we are seeing this sort of thing in what I would consider the core Daybreak, the legacy Norrath team, which has gone from something of a tepid relationship with special rules servers to embracing them fully.  There is now a pretty clear divide between the free to play servers and the subscribers only, special rules servers, splitting up the audiences for both EverQuest and EverQuest II.

That sort of split was something SOE decided was a bad thing back during the EverQuest II Extended experiment.  But there you had two different client applications and the fear that the old servers would wither and die because all new players would be steered towards the free version, from which they could not transfer.  Now the spin is different, with the free servers being the old news and the shiny new special rules servers drawing off a significant percentage of the long-term fans of the game.

Aside from a hunch about the two H1Z1s needing more distinct names, I am curious to see how this will play out.

Of course, the hidden bit of news in the FAQ is this little gem:

At this time, we do not have any plans to make either H1Z1: Just Survive or H1Z1: King of the Kill Free-to-Play titles.

I knew that early access was simply too lucrative for them to let go of to depend on free.  “Free to Play. Your Way” seems to be dead at Daybreak.  H1Z1 is not a free to play game.  It will be buy to play, with a subscription, and an overbearing cash shop, complete with lock boxes.  Expect no less from anything else coming out of Daybreak.

At least they will be dropping the early access moniker this summer, or so the FAQ alleges:

H1Z1: King of the Kill will be coming out of Early Access and will launch on PC, the PlayStation® 4, and Xbox One in summer 2016

We shall see.

Others on this topic:

Quote of the Day – What Should Early Access Be?

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.

Studio Wildcard co-founder Jesse Rapczak over at gameindustry.biz

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

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 game Ark: 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.