Tag Archives: John Smedley

A Timeline of SOE and Daybreak Games

We are entering a new era for the games of Daybreak which made me think it might be a good time to review the story so far.  We’re around the 25 year mark for when the seeds of the company were planted and, with the Enad Global 7 purchase, the time seems ripe.

  • The House that EverQuest Built

First there was EverQuest.

Firiona and friends at launch, 1999

At some point around 1996 John Smedley, working at Sony, managed to get Brad McQuaid, Jeff Buttler, Steve Clover, Bill Trost, and a host of others together to create a 3D online multiplayer fantasy game loosely (or not so loosely in places) based off of Sojourn MUD / TorilMUD.

Launched on March 16, 1999, a variety of Sony organizational names were connected to the game at different times including Sony Interactive Studios America, Verant Interactive, 989 Studios, Sony Computer Entertainment America, Sony Pictures, and Sony Online Entertainment.  My original disk and manual both display the 989 Studios logo prominently and names a couple others in the fine print.  As I mentioned in my 20 year anniversary reflections post about EverQuest, one magazine referred to the company running the game as Sony, Verant, and 989 in different parts of the same issue.  It was a confusing time.

Clarity came eventually though when EverQuest exceeded all expectations for success.  That was a bit of a surprise.  March of 1999 pre-dates the age of influencers and social media.  The internet wasn’t seen as a serious news source, though Matt Drudge breaking the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal had at least made a few start paying attention.  But a lot of us were still getting our gaming news via glossy monthly magazines where full page ads at the covers were the best way to gain attention.

I don’t recall any such ads for the game back in early 1999.  I only knew about the game because almost everybody then active on TorilMUD got invited to beta, usually by Brad McQuaid’s Aradune character in game.  I declined the beta invite, but came for the opening.

Not only were ads scarce, there wasn’t a lot of background to draw attention to the game.  Compare that to what most see as its direct competitor of the era, Ultima Online.  The Ultima franchise had been rolling along for more that 15 years when UO launched in late 1997.  The series spawned a studio, Origin Systems, that created other well known games.  And then there was Lord British, who ended up living in a castle and going into space on the proceeds of his Ultima empire.  UO had the fame, reputation, and lineage that EQ lacked.

And yet, at their respective peaks, EQ would have more than double UO’s subscribers.

EQ seemed to spread by word of mouth.  After buying it at Fry’s on my way home from work on launch day, I came into the office and told a bunch of people about it.  They all went out and bought copies and we ended up playing together.  And they told people and I told more people and others who played told people and soon the people I was telling already knew about it and there was a song “Has anybody seem my corpse?” being passed around and the whole thing had become something of a minor social phenomena.

And its success cemented the idea of online gaming at Sony so that the plethora of names was eventually pared down to Sony Online Entertainment.  25 years down the road from Smed collecting a team to get the ball rolling, this is all still the house that EverQuest built.

  • A Timeline of Events

This is not an exhaustive list, and I am not going to try to piece together things that came before March 16, 1999 or betas for various games.  Early access though, that is another story. I am also going to try not to editorialize, which won’t be easy for me.  If I have missed anything important, drop me a note or a comment and I’ll update the post.

  • 1999
    • Mar 16 – EverQuest launches, servers are quickly overloaded and a long series of new servers kicks off
    • Jul 28 – MMORTS Sovereign announced
  • 2000
    • Apr 24 – The Ruins of Kunark, the first EverQuest expansion, launches
    • Oct 5 – SOE acquires Infantry
    • Dec 5 – The Scars of Velious, EQ expansion #2
  • 2001
    • Apr 17 – Cosmic Rift launches
    • Dec 4 – The Shadows of Luclin, EQ expansion #3
  • 2002
    • Oct 29 – The Planes of Power, EQ expansion #4
  • 2003
    • Feb 11 – Sovereign MMORTS officially cancelled
    • Feb 11 – EverQuest Online Adventures launches on PlayStation 2
    • Feb 25 – The Legacy of Ykesha, EQ expansion #5
    • May 20 – PlanetSide launches
    • Jun 24 – EverQuest Macintosh Edition launches
    • Jun 26 – Star Wars Galaxies launches
    • Sep 9 – Lost Dungeons of Norrath, EQ expansion #6
    • Nov – Star Chamber: The Harbinger Saga launches
    • Nov 17 – EverQuest Online Adventures: Frontiers expansion launches
    • Dec 1 – Lords of EverQuest, a single player Windows RTS, launches
  • 2004
    • Feb 10 – Gates of Discord, EQ expansion #7
    • Feb 10 – Champions of Norrath launches on PlayStation 2
    • Mar – EverQuest subscribers hit a peak of 550K
    • Sep 14 – Omens of War, EQ expansion #8
    • Oct 27 – SWG Jump to Lightspeed expansion
    • Nov 8 – EverQuest II launches
    • Nov 12 – A second round of EQII servers are launched to absorb the surge of new players
    • Nov – SOE introduces the Station Access plan that gives players a combined subscription to EQ, EQII, and Planetside for $22 a month
    • Nov – EQII subscribers who opt for Station Access get two extra character slots on their account and access to the EQII Players stats page
    • Dec – EQII is down for almost two days as an update breaks the live servers
  • 2005
    • Jan – SOE Announces SWG is being added to Station Access
    • Feb 7 – Champions: Return to Arms is launched on PlayStation 2
    • Feb 8 – EQ server consolidation starts with the four PvP servers being combined into the single Zek server
    • Feb 15 – Dragons of Norrath, EQ expansion #9
    • Feb 17 – SOE temporarily adds the /pizza command to EverQuest II as a cross promotion with Pizza Hut allowing players to order a pizza from within the game
    • Mar 21 – The Bloodline Chronicles, the first EQII adventure pack launches
    • Mar 22 – Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade, a PSP title, launches
    • Apr – SOE begins a series of EQ server merges to bolster the populations, which runs on until the end of June
    • Apr – EverQuest II – East, developed for China, Taiwan, and South Korea, launches
    • May 5 – SWG Rage of the Wookies expansion launches
    • Jun 28 – The Splitpaw Saga, the second EQII adventure pack launches
    • Jul 20 – EQII gets new servers, Shadowhaven, The Bazaar, and The Vox PvP under the Station Exchange program, which allows players to sell in-game items for real world money; players are allowed to transfer characters there from other live servers
    • Aug 15 – SOE takes over operation of The Matrix Online
    • Sep 13 – Depths of Darkhollow, EQ expansion #10
    • Sep 13 – Desert of Flames, the first EQII expansion
    • Nov 1 – SWG Trials of Obi-wan expansion launches
    • Nov 8 – SWG New Game Enhancements update lands, changing character progression
    • Nov 9 – The “SOGA” character models from EverQuest II – East become an available option in EverQuest II
  • 2006
    • Jan – SOE announces they will be merging 10 low population EQII servers into 10 medium population servers because players are “too spread out” on the low population servers.
    • Feb 17 – Shadowhaven Station Exchange server is merged into The Bazaar server
    • Feb 21 – Prophecy of RoEQ expansion #11
    • Feb 21 – Kingdom of Sky, EQII expansion #2
    • Mar 28 – Untold Legends: The Warrior’s Code, a PSP title, launches
    • Mar 29 – EverQuest II – East is shut down, with all Chinese accounts transferred to the Mistmoore server, all Taiwanese accounts to the Najena server, and all Korean accounts to the Unrest server
    • Jun – EQ launches the first progression servers for the game, The Combine and The Sleeper, which let players play though all of the game expansions in order
    • Jun 14 – The Fallen Dynasty, the third EQII adventure pack launches
    • Sep 19, The Serpent’s Spine, EQ expansion #12
    • Nov 13 – Echoes of Faydwer, EQII expansion #3
    • Nov 15 – Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom, a PSP title, launches
  • 2007
    • Jan 30 – Vanguard: Saga of Heroes launches with SOE as publisher
    • Feb 13 – The Buried Sea, EQ expansion #13
    • May 9 – Legends of Norrath collectible card game is launched, running within EQ and EQII
    • May 15 – SOE takes over operations for Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
    • Mar 21 – The Sleeper EQ progression server is merged into The Combine server
    • Apr 30 – The EQII Darathar– UK PvP, Gorenaire– FR PvP, and Talendor– DE PvP servers are merged into the Venekor – RP PvP server
    • Jul 11 – The Agency is announced
    • Jul 19 – EQuinox, the official print magazine of EverQuest II is announced with issue #1 featuring Rise of Kunark information and beta access
    • Oct – Station Access pricing peaks at $30 a month for subscription access to all SOE titles including The Matrix Online and Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
    • Nov 13 – Secrets of Faydwer, EQ expansion #14
    • Nov 13 – Rise of Kunark – EQII expansion #4
    • Dec – SOE is caught after moving the level 60 Unholy Trinity guild off of the test server to a live server, an action against stated company policy and not something ever made available to the average player, causing a fierce reaction from players
    • Dec – A false rumor spreads that Zapak Digital Entertainment is planning to purchase SOE and its games for $300 million, an amount close to what the company will sell for in December of 2020
  • 2008
    • Jan 22 – Pirates of the Burning Sea launches with SOE as publisher
    • Feb 14 – EQuinox issue #2 is announced, featuring Legends of Norrath cards
    • Apr 16 – LiveGamer is brought in to run financial transaction for the Station Exchange RMT servers The Bazaar and The Vox PvP
    • ~Sep – EQuinox issue #3 is cancelled and the magazine idea is scrapped
    • Oct 21 – Seeds of Destruction, EQ expansion #15
    • Oct 24 – The EQII Venekor– RP PvP is merged into the Nagefen, the final remaining PvP server
    • Nov 18 – The Shadow Odyssey, EQII expansion #5
    • Dec – SOE introduces Station Cash, a virtual currency, and an in-game cash shop in EQ and EQII
  • 2009
    • Jan 23 – SOE games become available on Steam starting with EverQuest and EverQuest II
    • Apr 28 – Free Realms launches
    • Jul 31 – The Matrix Online is shut down
    • Dec 15 – Underfoot, EQ expansion #16
  • 2010
    • Feb 16 – Sentinal’s Fate, EQII expansion #6
    • Mar 4 – The Combine EQ progression server is merged into the Druzzil Ro live server, ending the first retro server run for the company
    • Apr – SOE tries a new EQII Passport subscription plan where for just $5.00 a month you can play for three consecutive days during a single month
    • May 5 – SOE announces The Agency: Covert Ops, a free to play title on Facebook
    • Jun 10 – Tanarus, a title that predated EverQuest was shut down
    • Jun 22 – EQ server merges come again, paring down the server count by ten as low population servers are merged into more populated ones
    • Jul – EverQuest II Extended, a free to play version of EQII launches
    • Aug – Plans for EverQuest Next announced at FanFest
    • Sep 15 – Star Wars: The Clone Wars Adventures launches
    • Oct 12 – House of Thule, EQ expansion #17
  • 2011
    • Jan 11 – DC Universe Online launches on Windows and PlayStation 3
    • Feb 15 – The Fippy Darkpaw EQ time locked progression server launches, with the Vulak’Aerr server being added soon thereafter to handle the crush of players (I have a whole timeline for those servers)
    • Feb 22 – Destiny of Velious, EQII expansion #7
    • Mar 31 – The Agency is officially cancelled
    • Apr – Flying mounts introduced into EQII
    • May – SOE games are down for almost two weeks as part of the PlayStation Network security breach in which personal data from a reported 24.6 million accounts were compromised
    • Jun – At E3 SOE announced that pricing for Station Access, now called SOE All Access, would drop from $30 to $20 a month, but extra character slots for EQ, EQII, and Vanguard would no longer be part of the plan
    • Aug – SOE finally gets a unified server status page
    • Nov 1 – DC Universe Online goes free to play
    • Nov 15 – Veil of Alaris, EQ expansion #18
    • Dec 6 – Age of Discovery, EQII expansion #8, which also ushers in the free to play era of the game as EverQuest II Extended is folded into the live server list
    • Dec 15 – Star Wars Galaxies is shut down
    • Dec 18 – The Vox PvP Station Exchange server for EQII is merged into the Nagefen server
    • Dec 21 – The Bazaar Station Exchange server for EQII is merged into the Freeport server ending the Station Exchange program
  • 2012
    • Feb – SOE announces it is selling its EU customer accounts to a German media company, ProSiebenSat.1
    • Mar 16 – EverQuest goes free to play
    • Mar 29 – EverQuest Online Adventures shuts down on PlayStation 2
    • Mar 29 – Infantry is shut down
    • Mar 29 – Cosmic Rift is shut down
    • Mar 29 – Star Chamber: The Harbinger Saga is shut down
    • Aug 7 – Vanguard: Saga of Heroes goes free to play (a week earlier than planned)
    • Aug 7 – SOEmote is introduced to EverQuest II
    • Sep – SOE introduces Player Studio for EQII, which allows players to create cosmetic items to sell in the in-game cash shop, for which they will be paid a cut of the sale
    • Nov – SOE introduces Krono for EQ and EQII, an in-game item that can be redeemed for 30 days of subscription time, which users can purchase for real world cash and sell at the broker to other players for in-game currency
    • Nov 13 – Chains of Eternity, EQII expansion #9
    • Nov 20 – PlanetSide 2 launches
    • Nov 28 – Rain of Fear, EQ expansion #19
  • 2013
    • Jan 30 – SOE publishes the import Wizardry Online as a F2P title
    • Jan 31 – Pirates of the Burning Sea ceases to be published by SOE
    • Aug – A new vision/plan for EverQuest Next is announced at FanFest, which includes the involvement of Storybricks
    • Aug – The FanFest presentation mentions a dev tool EverQuest Next called Landmark
    • Sep 23 – SOE publishes the import Dragon’s Prophet as a F2P title
    • Oct 8 – Call of the Forsaken, EQ expansion #20
    • Nov 12 – Tears of Veeshan, EQII expansion #10
    • Nov 13 – SOE starts selling early access packs to EverQuest Next Landmark
    • Nov 15 – DC Universe Online launches on PlayStation 4
    • Nov 18 – EverQuest Macintosh Edition is shut down
  • 2014
    • Jan – Station Access/SOE All Access pricing drops to $15 a month, the price of a single game subscription, but keeps the 500 Station Case stipend after the forums erupt when Smed suggests they may remove that benefit
    • Jan 24 – SOE announced they will be shutting down Free Realms, Star Wars: The Clone Wars Adventures, Wizardry Online, and Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, which is seen as the reason they have cut the price of SOE All Access
    • Mar – EverQuest Next Landmark becomes just Landmark
    • Mar 31 – Free Realms is shut down
    • Mar 31 – Star Wars: The Clone Wars Adventures is shut down
    • Apr 10 – H1Z1 is announced, a zombie horror title oddly dedicated to SWG players
    • Jun 18 – The ProSiebenSat.1 experiment ends and all EU accounts are transitioned back to SOE
    • Jul 31 – Wizardry Online is shut down
    • Jul 31 – Vanguard: Saga of Heroes is shut down
    • Oct 28 – The Darkened Sea, EQ expansion #21
    • Nov 11 – Altar of Malice, EQII expansion #11
  • 2015
    • Jan 15 – H1Z1 releases as early access
    • Jan 22 – The class action suit for the PlayStation/SOE security breach of May 2011 is resolved, awarding the lawyers $2.75 million and each affected player 450 station cash… but only for US players and only if you filled out a form and could prove you were affected
    • Feb 2 – Sony announces it has sold SOE to Columbus Nova and the organization will be known as Daybreak Game Company going forward
    • Apr 28 – The Rum Cellar, the fourth EQII adventure pack launches
    • Apr 30 – Daybreak acknowledged and blessed the existence of the Project 1999 EQ retro server being developed by a private group, with the P1999 team and the Daybreak EQ team coordinating updates so as not to overlap each other
    • May 22 – EQ opens the Ragefire progression server, the start of a regular run of special servers that help boost the game’s popularity by pulling back many lapsed players
    • Jul 24 – Daybreak announces that long time studio head John Smedley is leaving the company
    • Jul 24 – EQII launches the Stormhold progression server and Deathtoll PvP server, the first retro servers for the game
    • Aug 21 – EQII announces the Drunder server, where rule breakers will be sent to play and no customer support will be available
    • Oct – Nine of the lower population EQII servers, including the final PvP server Nagefen, are merged down to three PvE servers, all with new names (Maj’dul, Halls of Fate, and Skyfire), while the Antonia Bayle server remains unto itself
    • Nov 16 – Dragon’s Prophet is shut down
    • Nov 17 – Terrors of Thalumbra, EQII expansion #12
    • Nov 18 – The Broken Mirror, EQ expansion #22
  • 2016
    • Feb 8 – H1Z1 King of the Kill the battle royale game and H1Z1 Just Survive, the co-op zombie horror game, are split into two products, both remain in early access
    • Mar 8 – The EQII Deathtoll PvP retro server is shut down
    • Mar 11 – EverQuest Next officially cancelled, leaving Landmark the remaining active part of that project.
    • Apr 29 – DC Universe Online launches on XBox One
    • Jun 10 – Landmark leaves early access and goes live
    • Jul 1 – PlanetSide is shut down
    • Aug 17 – Legends of Norrath is shut down
    • Nov 15 – Kunark Ascending, EQII expansion #13
    • Nov 16 – Empires of Kunark, EQ expansion #23
    • Dec 19 – Daybreak acquires Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeon & Dragons Online from Warner, setting them up under the name Standing Stone Games, never mentioning in public that they are the actual owners
  • 2017
    • Feb 21 – Landmark is shut down
    • Jul 31 – LOTRO launches the Mordor expansion
    • Sep 22 – The Vulak’Aerr EQ time locked progression server is merged into the Fippy Darkpaw server
    • Oct – H1Z1 King of the Kill renamed H1Z1 again due to a desire to release the game in China, where having “kill” in a game name is frowned upon by government censors
    • Nov 28 – Planes of Prophecy, EQII expansion #14
    • Dec 12 – Ring of Scale, EQ expansion #24
  • 2018
    • Feb 28 – H1Z1 leaves early access and goes live
    • Apr 24 – In response to a question about Russian sanctions Daybreak issues a statement declaring it was never owned by Columbus Nova, in open contradiction to three years of information, and was always solely owned by Jason Epstein
    • Apr 24 – Daybreak removes all references to Columbus Nova from its web site and attempts to edit the Wikipedia page about the company to hide any Columbus Nova connection
    • Aug 7 – H1Z1 launched on PlayStation 4
    • Sep 4 – The EQII progression server Stormhold is merged into the Antonia Bayle server, ending its run
    • Sep 6 – Daybreak announces a deal with NantWorks to create NantMobile G which will take over H1Z1 on PC with a plan to revitalize it, starting by rebranding it as Z1 Battle Royale
    • Sep 6 – NantMobile G project also proposes mobile versions of Z1 Battle Royale and EverQuest
    • Oct 24 – H1Z1 Just Survive is shut down
    • Nov 13 – Chaos Descending, EQII expansion #15
    • Dec 11 – The Burning Lands, EQ expansion #25
    • Dec 14 – Planetside Arena is announced, an attempt to bring battle royale to PlanetSide 2, with pre-orders for early access for sale
    • Dec 18 – Daybreak offers 4,000 lifetime subscriptions for sale at $299 each
    • Dec 24 – Daybreak announces that they have sold out the 4,000 lifetime subscriptions
    • Dec 28 – Daybreak puts 6,000 more life time subscriptions up for sale through Dec. 31st
  • 2019
    • Feb 18 – PlanetSide Arena launch is delayed until summer, allegedly to have a simultaneous launch on PlayStation 4, all pre-orders are refunded
    • Jul 11 – After over a year being offline, Daybreak announces that Player Studio for EQII has been shut down
    • Apr 6 – NantMobile G hands Z1 Battle Royale back to Daybreak having failed to revitalize the game, after which little is heard about the PC version
    • Aug 6 – DC Universe Online launches on Nintendo Switch
    • Aug 30 – A PlanetSide Arena roadmap is released with plans for early access soon, with an official launch in 2020, PC only
    • Sep 19 – PlanetSide Arena arrives in early access just barely making the declared “summer” launch plan
    • Oct 21 – A PlanetSide producer’s letter states that PlanetSide Arena is a stepping stone towards PlanetSide 3
    • Nov 5 – LOTRO launches the Minas Morgul expansion
    • Dec 14 – Daybreak announces that PlanetSide Arena will be shut down in January
    • Dec 17 – Blood of Luclin, EQII expansion #16
    • Dec 18 – Torment of Velious, EQ expansion #26
  • 2020
    • Jan 10 – PlanetSide Arena is shut down
    • Jan 21 – Daybreak announces a series of sub-studios, with Darkpaw Games responsible for EverQuest and EverQuest II, Dimensional Ink handling DC Universe Online, and Rogue Planet Games handling PlanetSide 2
    • May 20 – The Fippy Darkpaw EQ time locked progression server ends its nine year run as it is merged into the Vox live server
    • Oct 20 – LOTRO launches the War of Three Peaks expansion
    • Dec 1 – Enad Global 7 (EG7) announces plans to acquire Daybreak
    • Dec 2 – EG7 presents an unprecedented array of previously private information about Daybreak to its board, shareholders, and the general public proving, if nothing else, that the company made money
    • Dec 8 – Claws of Veeshan, EQ expansion #27
    • Dec 15 – Reign of Shadows, EQII expansion #17
    • Dec 23 – EG7 completes the acquisition of Daybreak Game Company

And that brings us up into the new year.  We shall see what 2021 and beyond holds for the company

  • Sources

The joy of me blogging the way I do is that I have a blog post that corresponds to most every item on the above list that happened in the last decade.  I considered linking to each and every one, but decided against it.  You can use the search box at the top of the page if you want to find posts here about things like EQII Passport.

Before 2010 I was more chaotic in my blogging and, of course, before September 2006 there was no blog, so nothing to reference.  Fortunately, I had done a post about SOE and its MMORPGs back in 2016 where I had recorded the status of their games, and had researched a bunch of other items in the past.  This blog isn’t all just about Blackrock Depths and World War Bee.

And, where that failed, Wikipedia remains a wonderful source.  There are well maintained pages about most of the games and lists of all the expansions for both EverQuest and EverQuest II that helped me quite a bit.  And over at Daybreak there is even a server merge page for EverQuest and another for EverQuest II servers deep in their site.  There are some errors, but the dates seem solid.

As for what to include, I am obviously biased towards the games I play or played.  I did try to include every paid expansion for games, as those were generally pretty easy to find.  Game content updates are more obscure, though somebody has charted all of the episode drops for DC Universe Online on that Wikipedia page.  I just wasn’t that dedicated to the post.  I started getting into special servers, but decided once they became an annual thing in 2015, I declared them as such and moved on.

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.