Tag Archives: John Smedley

Smed Sings Hero’s Swan Song

Earlier today John Smedley announced that PixelMage games, his post-SOE/Daybreak venture, would be shutting down and that their game Hero’s Song was officially dead.

Hero's must face turmoil, it is what makes them heroes, right?

Hero’s must face turmoil, that is what makes them heroes, right?

The text from the announcement is as follows:

Hello Hero’s Song Players,

It’s with a heavy heart that I have to report that Pixelmage Games is going to be shutting down and we have ceased development on Hero’s Song. For the last year, our team has worked tirelessly to make the game we’ve dreamed about making, and with your support, and the support of our investors, we were able to get the game into Early Access. Unfortunately sales fell short of what we needed to continue development. We knew going in that most startups don’t make it, and as an indie game studio we hoped we would be the exception to that rule, but as it turned out we weren’t.

We sincerely value our customers. You’re our most important focus and have been from day one. We’re going to offer 100% refunds to all of the people who bought Hero’s Song.

For our Indiegogo customers, please email refunds@pixelmagegames.com with your name and information about which one of the packages you bought so we can make sure you get your money back. Our team will respond to confirm we received your email and we’ll make sure you get your refund quickly.

For players that purchased via Steam you will be able to claim your refund through the normal Steam refund process. Go to https://help.steampowered.com and you can get your refund right away.

Thank you for all the support you showed us. We’re sorry things worked out the way they did, but we feel strongly that we gave it our all and we’re proud of how far we came with the game. The fact that we weren’t able to finish the game is painful, but the journey of making Hero’s Song has been a great experience for us and we’re just sorry we couldn’t take it all the way.

Thank You,

The Hero’s Song team

Hero’s Song had something of a troubled time from the beginning, starting with Smed playing the “hardcore” card yet again.  There was a cancelled Kickstarter campaign that had too many problems to overcome, the search for funding elsewhere, and the Indiegogo campaign that only got them $94K out of the $200K they were looking for to finance the development.  Then there was the “money is tight” statement from earlier this month.

And then there was the game itself, which appeared on Steam in its early Alpha state and ended up with mixed review frankly because there wasn’t much “there” there at that point.

Still, it was an interesting idea, a retro-feel pixel graphic top down 2D open world Rogue-like adventure game where you could setup your own server, choose deities and tweak the rules to suit your own needs.  I got in and played for a little bit early on, totalling up all of 90 minutes of play time, including the two minutes that got added when I launched the game today.

That's all there will be

That’s all there will be

I took a few screen shots in Steam along the way, but that won’t leave much to remember the game by.

As noted above, if you bought the game on Steam you can get a refund via Valve, but if you contributed to the Indiegogo campaign (as I did) you have to send an email directly to PixelMage with your information and hope they get back to you.  Right now the email address provided is replies with an automated response with a promise to be back in touch “very soon.”

You’d think a game dev of long standing would be wary of using the word “soon,” but we shall see.  Where will Smed end up next?

Others posting on this topic:

After the cut, the description of the game from the Steam page, just for the sake of posterity:

Continue reading

Hero’s Song Returns to Crowdfund Again

You might remember Hero’s Song, the John Smedley/Pixelmage Games project in development, which launched a rather poorly thought out Kickstarter back in January of this year.  The flaws in the campaign were manifold, and by the time I wrote a list of them up the campaign had been cancelled.

Hero's must face turmoil, it is what makes them heroes, right?

Hero’s must face turmoil, it is what makes them heroes, right?

The team found other funding and carried on development of Hero’s Song, which is currently described as:

Hero’s Song is an open world rogue-like fantasy game done in a beautiful 2D pixel art style. Create epic fantasy worlds uniquely shaped by your choices, the power of the gods, and thousands of years of history. Become a legendary hero in a dangerous and mysterious world of magic and monsters. Explore endless dungeons and ancient cities in long forgotten lands in search of knowledge, treasure and the power of the gods!

Well, as the title of the post says, Pixelmage is back with a new crowdfunding effort.

This time around they the goals are more modest, the pledge tiers are better, the details are expansive, Smed isn’t using the word “hardcore” all over the place, and there is a somewhat more realistic timeline for the project.

Dates quoted for truth... again

Dates quoted for truth… again

I still think that schedule is optimistic, but more than 25 years in software development has made that my knee jerk reaction to any schedule I suppose.  Still, it is better than the last one (shown in this post), which had launch in October of this year… so I was right in calling it out on optimism that time at least.

Also different this time around is the platform they chose to run their campaign.  Rather than going with the perennial favorite, Kickstarter, PixelMage chose to go with Indiegogo.

The choice of Indiegogo gives them at least one advantage; there is no minimum threshold to allow them to collect some money.  Unlike with Kickstarter, where you have to make your goal to get paid, even if PixelMage does not make it $200,000 stated target, they get to keep any money pledged at the end of the campaign.

If you pledge it, they get it

If you pledge it, they get it

There are, however, some downsides.

First of all, while Indiegogo isn’t exactly unknown, it still isn’t Kickstarter.  Kickstarter is more famous and, I suspect, more trusted when it comes to giving them payment information.  I mean, Kickstarter has been around a while, to the point that the verb “to kickstart” has practically acquired a new meaning largely associated with them.

NOT the official drink of Kickstarter

Verb also used for motorcycles and energy drinks, which is pretty powerful

The second downside, for me at least, stems from one of the advantages, the fact that PixelMage gets the money pledged even if they do not make their stated goal.

I mean, that is GREAT… for PixelMage.  But how great is it for those pledging money?  If a company says they need a given amount to complete a project, and they only get, say, 25% of that amount, what does that mean to those who kicked in?

Now, in the case of PixelMage, I suspect that, at worst, it will mean some delay in the schedule.  I have no doubt they will deliver the game whether they make their goal or not.  But, in general, I guess I have become accustomed to the Kickstarter method where you only get your funding if you can raise the amount of money you said you needed for the project.  There is a certain logic to that.

Finally, as something an adjunct to the previous item, the lack of a hard “must meet” funding goal also takes a bit of the edge off of the campaign.  Not having an “all or nothing” goal mutes any sense of urgency.  Let’s look at where the campaign stands today, a couple of days in:

September 9, 2016 - Morning status

September 9, 2016 – Morning status

The campaign is 23% of the way to its goal… which seems to be okay.

I have to say that among its disadvantages, Indiegogo doesn’t have the range of external trend and activity tracking tools that Kickstarter does, and also seems to be a bit coy with things like the actual end date.

Anyway, Hero’s Song seems to have made my rule-of-thumb metric for campaigns, which is that if you haven’t hit 20% of your goal in the first 48 hours, you aren’t going to make it.  However, they are going to get that money whether or not they get to $200,000.  The goal is just a line in the sand, more of a “we’d like” rather than a do-or-die proposition.  You can’t really call for a last minute surge if they are short of their goal because they are still going to get something.  And even the stretch goals seem like you might get them anyway, so why throw money down now?

Races and housing

Races and housing

But that might just be me.  I am ever the cynic and/or critic.

Then again, Bree over at Massively OP put it this way in the comments of a post over there:

They get the money even if they don’t get to the soft target. They are plainly using Indiegogo as a preorder system and publicity stunt; there’s no way the “we need 200k more” thing is legit (plus they really want more than that for the hardcore housing feature).

And I think I am a cynic!  The again, there is the “Smed factor” I mentioned when the Kickstarter campaign was going.  He has a lot of history and not everybody likes him.

Anyway, the Indiegogo campaign is on and running for… a month… again, end date on that?  You can check it out here if you are interested, pledge if you want to pre-order and get a T-shirt (or limit Smed’s diet), or wait until it hits Steam about this time next year. (My needlessly pessimistic prediction there.)

Or you can go to the PixelMage site and read up about the project itself.

Smed Goes to Kickstarter for the Hardcore

John Smedley, formerly of SOE and Daybreak, went public with his new company and their first project.  The company name is Pixelmage (according to the trademark application), which is “Pixel Mage” and not “Pixe Image,” something that could be sorted out with a space or a capital “M” in the middle.  Or, just look at their logo.

Pixel Mage Games

Pixel Mage Games

And, in announcing this he has also pointed at the company’s first project which will, of course, be financed via a Kickstarter Campaign.  Pixelmage wants $800,000 minimum for their game Hero’s Song which is described as follows:

Sing this Hero!

Sing this Hero!

Basically a 2D retro-pixellated multiplayer action adventure RPG game thing… for the hardcore!

Hardcore action RPG for Hardcore Gamers!

It is a sign of my age I suppose that my brain always links the word “hardcore” with the word “porn,” which always makes this sort of discussion just that much more amusing.

Missing from the Kickstarter page at the moment is the platform it will run on, but I guess we can all assume Windows 64-bit will be required, though maybe it will run on the Nintendo 3DS.  It certainly looks like it could.

There are all the usual hallmarks of such a Kickstarter campaign, including dev bios, stretch goals, a range of backer options, some grand sweeping statements, and an overly optimistic time line.

Dates quoted for truth...

Dates quoted for truth…

Give the standard Kickstarter multiplier for multiplayer software video game projects, this ought to launch in late 2017 or early 2018.

Anyway, Smed and his new company are off to the races.  You can see the Kickstarter campaign here.  We shall see how things develop.  Pledge now ($25 minimum) or wait until it comes out and get it for $20.

 

The press embargo appears to have lifted so deeper coverage is available at:

Addendum: And a statement on supported platforms at last:

Addendum: Sanity kicked in and you can now pledge $15 and get a copy of the game when it is done, and if you pledge more you get a second copy now.

Quote of the Day – Let’s Not Talk About Money

I am tired of having my conversations with players be about the money. I want it to be 100% about the game.

John Smedley, Twitter

I can buy that… so to speak.  I’m tired of games constantly reminding me that I need to buy things.  And a lot of people seem to be jumping on Smed’s post about not going with the F2P model after being such a proponent of the business model.  SynCaine, Keen, and Massively OP all went there pretty quickly, each with their own take. (Oh, and I missed Jewel somehow.)

Not that Smed has ceased to be a fan of the model.

I still think F2P is a great model, but for the reasons I stated we’re going in a different direction.

John Smedley, Twitter

Sure.  Certainly some companies have made it work very well.  It is hard to argue with success.  But I am not sure where to go with this next quote.

too many people not related to development end up having a lot to say about the monetization part of games and that sucks shit.

John Smedley, Twitter

My gut response to that is, “Good.”  Part of me is glad that making the decision to bring real-world money transactions into a game so that they are pretty much a constant and intrusive part of the experience doesn’t come without cost to the developer.  I don’t know if he is more concerned about marketing, accounting, senior management, investors, or the customers, or all of the above, but when playing the game is about revenue, as opposed to just buying the game or subscribing to the game, then of course it becomes a focus all around.

Another strike against anybody arguing that business model is somehow separate and distinct from the game itself.  It ain’t, not for the customer, not for the company, and, as we now see, not for the developer either.

And some day Smed will actually have a game to talk about, now that we’ve beat business model to death… though if it ends up not being $20, expect more NGE-level rage! Hah!

Quote of the Day – The End of Smed?

Daybreak Games confirms that John Smedley will be taking some time off from the company for the near-term and transitioning to a different role to be determined. Upon finalization of his plans, further communication will be provided.

RadarX, EverQuest II forums

l go away for a few days and this happens.  While I was down at Pismo Beach watching the beach bunnies and avoiding the horde of German tourists… seriously, they were everywhere… only to come back home and find that Smed is out as the boss at Daybreak.

I will cut you

The Daybreak era Smed

There is plenty of speculation about why he is out, where he will end up, and how it may or may not relates to his run-in with Lizard Squad and the deletion of his Twitter account.

Smed was, of course, a pillar of the MMO development community who helped make EverQuest possible.  He was also a staple of “Quote of the Day” posts here and not universally loved, having run SOE and Daybreak through various controversial periods including the NGE, the transition to free to play, the current era of early access sales, and the sale of SOE to Columbus Nova Prime.  While he has fans both inside and out of Daybreak, not everybody will be sad to see him step down.

But that just brings us to the next question; who will replace him at the helm?

Smed was at least a gamer through and through.  Russel Shanks, another long time member of the Daybreak team is stepping up for now, but it is not clear to me if that is a permanent move of not.  So the next person running Daybreak may not be cut from the same gamer mold.  And while Smed stepping down may have had something to do with his online conflict coming home to roost at Daybreak, it could be about something else as well… something like money even.

Having worked for a company that was acquired by an investment group in the past, I can tell you that I was often reminded of that scene from Goodfellas:

Now the guy’s got Paulie as a partner. Any problems, he goes to Paulie. Trouble with the bill? He can go to Paulie. Trouble with the cops, deliveries, Tommy, he can call Paulie. But now the guy’s gotta come up with Paulie’s money every week, no matter what. Business bad? Fuck you, pay me. Oh, you had a fire? Fuck you, pay me. Place got hit by lightning, huh? Fuck you, pay me.

This may be simply the first round of, “Fuck you, pay me.”  Or it could be something else.

What will Daybreak be without John Smedley?

 

The Unblinking Eye is Watching You!

Daybreak Game Company now has a logo.

It follows you as you move about the room!

It follows you as you move about the room!

It sort of makes me feel like an angry owlbear is watching me.

They also apparently have a working domain at daybreakgames.com now and a new site that seems to be pretty much free of Sony or SOE mentions along with new terminology like Daybreak Cash rather than Station Cash.  It is like they are a real company now!

Addendum: There is also an interview with Smed about the site and logo update. It includes this:

The Daybreak logo was designed to reflect that brand, with a nocturnal aspect, (the owl’s eye), a technological aspect (the gear within the eye), and a more literal aspect (the “Daybreak” of a rising sun within the gear). The red, black, and yellow of Daybreak logo is starkly different from the familiar blue and white of the Sony Online Entertainment label, which might serve to emphasize a separation from the company’s past. Internally, Smedley said that separation has already happened.

Summarizing the rest of the interview, there is nothing but geezers left in the company, WoW is dead, and long live cash shops or something.

And a further interview over at Polygon that talks about being the odd duck at Sony, which we all sort of knew.

Off topic:  This new official Smed picture seems like it is aching for a Daybreaking Bad joke or something.

I will cut you

I will cut you

Quote of the Day – Is H1Z1 an MMO or Not?

I look at H1Z1 not as an MMO at all. It’s got nothing whatsoever to do with MMOs. It’s a session based persistent online game.

John Smedley, Twitter

So H1Z1 has been a thing… at least an early access thing… for almost a week now and, as I have noted, it has gotten a variety of reactions.  Whether you believe early access is a good thing or not, H1Z1 is out there, the latest MMO from SOE.

The night is dark, I think I'll go to bed

And, of course, will IT survive?

Only there is that Smed quote from Twitter.  This was in reaction to a story posted over at Massively, More Boredom than Terror, that describes Syp’s venture into H1Z1 on a PvE server.

Putting together the full series of tweets from Smed, they read out:

Watching [Massively’s] story about how H1Z1 is boring and seeing other commentary along the same lines from people playing PVE.  Makes me realize just how stratified the online gaming industry is. Not a bad thing at all. just interesting. Basically the review is from the perspective of an MMO vet coming into it. The comments are identical to stuff we heard from our own company.

My perspective is different – new kinds of experiences with comparisons to current MMO experiences mean people are looking at it through a different lens then we made it. All still valid points of view though and can’t disagree with them.

I look at H1Z1 not as an MMO at all. It’s got nothing whatsoever to do with MMOs. It’s a session based persistent online game.  session based because lots of people play until they die. It’s an easy stopping point.  anyways… just a bit of rambling about it, but I find the experience an MMO vet has coming in to H1Z1 (or Day Z for that matter)

I will say that at least Smed didn’t go for the cheap “It’s a PvP game” shot like so many comments over at Massively did.  SOE provides PvE servers and the team has, in Smed’s words, “…really have gone out of our way to make sure PVE players will be happy” so the idea of “not playing it right” can be discounted.

But how about the idea of not looking at it right?

That does bring us back to the age old question of “what’s an MMO anyway?”  I know what I mean when I use the term… when I write it, it is almost always short hand for persistent world, progression based, multiplayer, online, servers and shards, role playing game.  I also usually mean “fantasy” as well, but there is EVE Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic out there, so maybe I should stop thinking that automatically.

But what I mean when I say it clearly carries little weight, as the term gets used for games like War Thunder and World of Tanks and League of Legends, and probably quite a few more games that would not, in any way, meet my own personal definition.

On the flip side, H1Z1 does seem to press most of my MMO buttons.  You have a character, a persistent world, the whole shards concept with many parallel realms, a form of progression… it is equipment based progression, but that is hardly a new thing… and there is the whole multiplayer aspect.  Common mechanics we find in MMOs, quests and raids and auction houses, are missing, but so what?  Common isn’t the same as required, while the hardcore nature… gotta eat and drink or you’re gonna die… doesn’t disqualify it.

In the “quacks like a duck” view of the world, H1Z1 seems like an MMO to me.  Also, SOE calls it an MMO right there on the SOE main page, thus planting the seed rather firmly.

H1Z1 is a zombie survival MMO set in a post-apocalyptic world where thousands of players must strategically align with friends and against enemies in order to survive the worldwide infection.

And then there is the description on the H1Z1 site itself:

Tell me about H1Z1 please...

Tell me about H1Z1 please…

And “sandbox” is a common subset of MMOs, at least for purposes of argument most days.

Of course, you might say that marketing needed to call it something, and they call everything else at SOE an MMO… except of course, they do not.

They manage to avoid the term, at least on the SOE main page, with Landmark and with H1Z1’s antecedent, PlanetSide 2…. and also with EverQuest and EverQuest II, which are clearly examples of the MMO genre.  Maybe marketing was just lazy.  After all, they also say that EverQuest is the “online game that started it all!”  Though, to be fair, they don’t really define “all.”  However, you get the possible implication swimming in that vagueness, don’t you Ultima Online and Meridian 59 vets?

But I digress.

The usage of the shorthand term MMO could also just be the lens through which we… me, Syp, SOE marketing… are seeing things as well.  The human brain loves to categorize things.  It was a key survival instinct out on the African savannah and remains so in many modern situations, like crossing a busy street in a big city. (Hint: Cabs are predators.)  But it doesn’t always help in situations that are more nuanced… or even when recognizing which situations might be more nuanced.

I know the idea of an MMO is more nuanced than the industry treats it.  A lot of things seem to get that label more because of marketing than any deep thinking on genres and classifications.

But even with that, H1Z1 still feels more like an MMO than any other option.

Is H1Z1 an MMO?  Is it something else?

Are we too fixated on MMOs to be able to tell?  Is Smed to close to be able to see beyond the details?

Quote of the Day – President of PvP

even the disgusting PVE carebear servers will be ready day 1. I’m not happy about that but people tell me I need to get over it.

-John Smedley, on ramping up for H1Z1

I found that quote amusing if only because I thought I read somewhere that H1Z1 was striving to be more of a cooperative survival MMO, at least when compared to Day Z and… wasn’t there another one… zombie apocalypse games aren’t really my thing… which by all reports quickly devolved into solo ventures where you fought or avoided any other players you encountered.  PvE seems like a way you could fix that problem and make the game more social or cooperative.

But maybe SOE has a fix for that end result when it comes to PvP servers.  We shall see.

Anyway, I am sure Smed was kidding around with that quote.

Then again, he is the PvP loving boss of a company that caters to a lot of carebears.  He has always championed Planet Side and PlanetSide 2 even as PvE in Norrath paid the bills. (Planet Side isn’t paying any bills, having no revenue at all now, and, as noted recently, PlanetSide 2 just hit the point where it brings in more money than it costs to operate.)  And I would guess that he might have pushed some of the unsuccessful ventures into PvP with EverQuest games. (How many EQII PvP servers are there now?)  So I guess it is no surprise that the PvP side of H1Z1 is where his heart is.

Zombie checkout counter

Zombie cleanup on checkout six please!

Still, it sounds like SOE is going into this… closed beta… early access… Landmarkian zone of featureless despair… whatever it is… in a big way.

looking like we’ll have 150-200 H1Z1 servers on 1/15.

we’ll be announcing the distribution of them (i.e. rulesets, etc) in the next day or two. I think people will be happy.

John Smedley, on Twitter (first and second)

150-200 servers?  I am going to guess that server populations are planned to be pretty low.  That is a WoW level of servers, and I don’t think this game will get WoW numbers when it comes to players.  Also, good luck playing with friends if you don’t coordinate in advance. (Also, wasn’t early access going to be 4-6 weeks from April of last year?)

l will be interested to see the rules sets and distribution of servers… that is to say, how many of each type they run with.  And I will be even more interested to see how things shake out as the game goes live, gets past its initial burst of activity, and settles down to a steady pace.  Will the “disgusting PVE carebear servers” end up paying the bills?

Addendum: I see Syp picked up that quote as well, though he had a more direct response to it.  So did Aywren.

Addendum 2: Smed has some further words:

so for you PVE loving folks, we will have vanilla PVE and hardcore PVE that requires headshots, and only support First Person. (twitter)

so despite my jokes, we really have gone out of our way to make sure PVE players will be happy. Not everyone enjoys KOS (twitter)

for PVP we will support hardcore as well.. first person only, headshots required and you lose recipes when you die (ouch). (twitter)

The More Things Change… Oh, And Marketing 101

It was just over five years ago I was writing about a free to play first person shooter, Battlefield Heroes, causing a furor because they changed up the game by making things more favorable for people who paid versus those who played for free.

The hue and cry was… something.  We’re all familiar with the term “pay to win” at this point.  No lesser source than the generally respected Ars Technica ended their article on the topic with a dire statement about how this change might end the game.

Here we are today and there is something of an outcry because SOE just did something marginally similar by decreasing the effectiveness of a few implants in PlanetSide 2 in order to be able to put some Station Cash only implants into the game without making them too over powered.

People hate when you nerf stuff, and when you nerf stuff in favor of a cash shop item, people will rightly suspect that the move was motivated by money.  Also, pay to win.  Smed, being Smed, stood up and admitted as much, that they want to make money off of the game.

Unfortunately, Smed made a classic “land war in Asia” level PR mistake when he used somebody else’s terminology in his response.  And so Massively got to use the term “Money Grab” in its headline.  You take your click bait where you can get it. (But hey, look at Conner over at MMO Fallout who when with Smed’s real statement for the headline!)

Massively doesn’t actually include the tweet in its article, otherwise it might be clear that it was a direct response to somebody’s accusation… basically, echoing somebody else’s words.

But the quote is fair game as anything Smed says about the game in public is there for everybody to see.  He should have known better that to feed the press a line like that because, as has been demonstrated in the past, that will become the headline and will effectively deliver the opposite message.  People see the denial and will immediately think “PlanetSide 2 Money Grab!”

Live and learn.

As for the dire news five years back about Battlefield Heroes, the last I checked it was still up and running which, considering it is an EA game and they will close down anything that isn’t making enough money, says something.  There is an appropriate Mark Twain quote out there that I think fits the situation.

Meanwhile, the Ars Technica article with the dire prediction for the game is still up and available on their web site.  Because that is what journalists do, they stand by their work as it appeared in the moment.  Or, if they really screw up, they issue a correction.  They don’t, you know, delete their shit and hope nobody notices.  That is what hacks do.

And the world continues to turn.

Quote of the Day – Hearthstone, SOE, and Historical Inevitability

Actually after seeing what Blizzard did with Hearthstone it’s given us some other ideas…. LoN is an awesome card game. We can take that to the next level.

John Smedley, Reddit AMA on plans for Legends of Norrath

Okay, that is actually a quote from a few days back, but the Reddit Ask Me Anything that John Smedley did last Friday is a gold mine of quotes.  I have to salute Feldon at EQ2 Wire for picking out some of the prime samples for his post.

And I have to hand it to Smed for not flinching from some tough question and answering things the way he did.  He laid out a lot things there, and not all of them were flattering to SOE.  He also left a lot of meat on the table to discuss, from SOE operating Vanguard at a loss for “a long time” to consolidation of IPs plan (again, is DC Universe Online safe with that going on?) to EverQuest Next being headed for the PlayStation 4 (not good news in my book, at least when it comes to a ship date… or user interface choices).  You could get a month’s worth of blog posts out of that AMA.  I am sure bloggers will be feeding on this all week.

But the item quoted at the top… I think speaks volumes in just two sentences.

The online collectible card game Legends of Norrath was launched back in late 2007, when it was integrated with EverQuest and EverQuest II, giving players a game to play within a game.  No mixed message in that.  Later it got its own stand-alone client, but the integration with the EverQuest games was still prime.  Legends of Norrath borrowed the stories and metaphors of the EverQuest games for theme and mechanics, and offered up in-game goodies for players of the two MMOs along with throwing out the occasional reward to the community by including somebody on a card.

Brent from VirginWorlds got a card

Brent from VirginWorlds got a card

And, as far as I know, the game has been a success.  It survived the great purge of the Denver and Tuscon studios that seemed to spell the end of online card games being anything like a focus at SOE. (There are some good historical Smed quotes on the old SOE Blog, and some interesting posts from others about company plans. I am surprised it hasn’t all been sent down the memory hole yet.)  Legends of Norrath survived along with Magic The Gathering: Tactics, though the latter is slated to be shut down at the end of March.  Another aspect of the recent blood bath I guess.

And then along came Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.

HearthstoneWhite_450

Actually, it hasn’t really come along yet.  It just got out of closed beta and is now downloadable by anybody who wants to be in the open beta (Europe too now) and who has a Battle.net account.

Hearthstone compares directly to Legends of Norrath.  It is an online collectable card game based on the lore of a popular MMO, it is free to play with its own client, you can buy cards, play against other online, and so on.

However, unlike Legends of Norrath, Hearthstone isn’t integrated into World of Warcraft.  For now the linkage is only in lore and sharing a Battle.net login with WoW and your other current Blizzard games.  Also unlike Legends of Norrath, Hearthstone has gotten a lot of praise from both inside and out of the MMO player community.

Not that I have heard people slam Legends of Norrath, but it never seemed like a big deal either, not the way Hearthstone has been hailed.  Part of that is no doubt the fact that Blizzard games are much more visible, popular, and highly rated than games from SOE.  A lot of people will try anything Blizzard ships.  Simple truth: Blizzard has a lot more fans than SOE.

And part of that is no doubt the application of Blizzard magic to the Legends of Norrath idea, which made Hearthstone shinier, easier to get into, and more appealing to players for whom collectible card games were never really a thing to do.  Plus there is the promise of an iOS and Android version of the game.  The iPad will likely be the Hearthstone platform for me.

This is, of course, pretty much a parallel to EverQuest and World of Warcraft.  SOE got out there first and succeeded, but then Blizzard took what they saw SOE doing and created something an order of magnitude more successful.  And so I suspect will be the case with Hearthstone.

Of course, not everybody loves Hearthstone.  As the hardcore early EverQuest players derided World of Warcraft (even as EverQuest tried to become more and more like WoW ), so some serious CCG players have declared that Hearthstone is a shallow game only fit for casual scrubs, bitter that people are not playing “more deserving” games.  And so it goes.

But the generally favorable reviews of the game got even me to download the Hearthstone open beta, and I am well into the “CCGs are not for me” camp. (I tried the Pokemon CCG a few times, but never enjoyed it.)  I haven’t actually played it yet… or even launched the app… but I have it downloaded.  And that brings me to yet another SOE vs. Blizzard parallel.

In downloading and installing Hearthstone, I found out that to use it required the still-in-beta Battle.net launcher… erm, excuse me… the Battle.net Desktop App.  Oh, and that replaced the launcher for all of the current Blizzard games, including World of Warcraft and Diablo III.

The Hearthstone install did not warn me about that and I was PISSED!

I was pissed because I have been through the single, unified launcher/updater wringer before.  Of course, that was with SOE which was trying to push their version of that sort of thing quite a while back.

Station Launcher of yore...

Station Launcher of yore…

The fact that Station Launcher never quite worked right was compounded by the fact that the SOE website kept telling people to use it after they had stopped supporting and it had ceased to function.  I had to open a support ticket to get the response of “don’t use that” from SOE.  So my anger was entirely based on having problems with this sort of thing before.  I would have avoided downloading Hearthstone had I known what it meant.

Only, in the ongoing parallel between SOE and Blizzard, the new Battle.net launcher… Desktop App… just works.  I log into Battle.net through it and can kick off World of Warcraft just fine.  It shows me all the news tidbits that the WoW launcher did and, in addition, shows which of my Battle Tag friends are online and in which game.  No problems at all.

My anger was thus short lived, which brings me back around to the quote at the top of this post.  SOE deciding to copy Blizzard, who copied SOE in the first place seems to be the natural order of things.  I am sure somebody can make quite a list of the things that SOE copied back from Blizzard.  So it is no surprise to me that, upon seeing what Blizzard has done with Hearthstone, that SOE has been moved to action.  Because, when left to their own devices, SOE can come up with some clunkers. (Not to mention being a bit tone deaf at times.)

I suppose the only thing wrong with Station Launcher was that SOE didn’t leaving hanging around long enough for the Blizzard version to appear so that they would know what to do.