Tag Archives: NCsoft

WildStar Survives Another Day by Going Free to Play

Back in January one of my least controversial new year predictions was probably this:

WildStar will go free to play.  NCsoft has a deal for the China market, so they can’t shut the thing down just yet.  But to get to China I am going to bet they have to go F2P.  And if you’re going to do the work for China, you might as well apply it in the west as well.

The issue seemed in doubt when the NCsoft Q1 2015 financials were released and amongst the data it was revealed that WildStar was officially doing worse than City of Heroes was before it was shut down.  But Carbine appears to have dodged that bullet for the time being (though they were very touchy about the business model subject for a while) as they announced today that WildStar would be going free to play this autumn… provided it doesn’t tank even further… a possibility when you tell be subscriptions will be optional in a few months… and simply get shut down.

Wildstar_logoFor me the biggest surprise was that Elder Scrolls Online went for the free to play option first, given the dev team attitude about monetizing things in-game.  But then they had the big console release coming up and subscriptions are even more out of favor on that front.

But when it comes to WildStar, I have never really been a fan of the game.  I was skeptical of a team that left Blizzard in 2005 because they felt World of Warcraft was doing it wrong even as it was becoming a popular sensation.  I was dubious that their CREDD plan … which allowed Carbine to claim that they were offering up a “hybrid” model since you could play for free if you bought CREDD with in-game currency… would make an iota of difference, or that there was any evidence that WildStar could build up an economy that would support a PLEX-like scheme.  And I was somewhat exasperated at their near tragic misuse of the Bartle types for their path system.  Also, the graphic style did nothing at all the encourage me to play.

So, yeah, I wasn’t really all that interested when it was announced, it clearly wasn’t my thing when it launched, and going free is unlikely to change my mind.  There are simply too many other things I would rather play ahead of WildStar on my list.

But for those who enjoy the game, at least it will be around a while longer.  As I have noted, the conversion from subscription to free to play usually brings about a happy time, a resurgence of interest, and the joy of populated servers… at least until that dies down and the whole thing descends into the usual in-your-face cash shop focused lockbox monetizaion hell that is the standard for MMO F2P games these days.  A mixed blessing indeed.

The question, of course, will be just how free is “free” really going to be.  Well, there is a FAQ posted, because there is always a FAQ somewhere with these things.  And Carbine does seem to be serious on the free thing, emphasizing it throughout the FAQ, summing up with this paragraph:

We place no restrictions on any of the game’s content. Every zone, every dungeon, every raid, every battleground… they’re all available. All players will be able to create characters of every race, class, and path while choosing any tradeskills they like. Characters can achieve level 50 and path level 30, just as they can under the current system.

The nudge to get people to subscribe… which is being called a Signature player or some such… is the usual set of perks and restrictions on various aspects of the games.  The list from the FAQ is available after the cut because it is a bit long to stick in the middle of the post.  Saved for posterity, because we know how these things can change.

So another bow to the inevitable in an MMO market crowded with competitors.  Moment noted.

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Surprise! GuildWars 2 Announced an Expansion!

While the GuildWars 2: Heart of Thorns expansion announcement today at PAX Whatever didn’t feel as nearly per-ordained as the one about BioWare making a Star Wars MMO a few years back, the surprise factor on the whole thing was pretty limited.  You only had to look at the NCsoft financials to come up with the idea that more boxes for sale was in the cards.  (Also, analyst hints.)

NCsoftQ32014

(Financials image borrowed from MMO Fallout.  I added the captions.)

Still, if I were invested in GuildWars 2, I would be excited.

GW2HeartOfThornsLogo

Expansion are a time of change and anticipation and speculation and worry and excitement.  I expect that this will drive a flurry of blogging from now through the expansion launch.

Did we get a date on the launch?  More speculation!

ArenaNet has a whole page on their site about the expansion and has, if I read some other posts correctly, promised not to make every single item currently available in the game completely worthless through the usual mechanic of expansion gear inflation.

There is even a trailer up on YouTube.

Anyway, that will be an item checked off my list of 2015 predictions… if they ship it this year.

First round of blog posts about the expansion:

Farewell to Paragon City

Tonight at midnight Pacific Standard Time, City of Heroes will be shut down.

Or sunsetted.

Or whatever it is they have chosen to call it.  But it will be gone all the same.  The heroes will be told to hang up their capes and move on with their lives.

CityofHeroes

CoH will join Tabula Rasa, Auto Assault, and Dungeon Runners, on the list of closed NCsoft MMORPGs.

The closure was announced back in August, which galvanized a chunk of the CoH player base.

SaveOurCity-450

Those players protested, created petitions, and questioned whether NCsoft was exploring any alternatives besides simply closing the game.  Even as time ran out there was hope of a Disney miracle.

But, at this point, it does not look like there will be any last minute reprieve.

The appointed hour approaches.

Among other things, CoH is another former subscription MMORPG that looked to boost its bottom line by going free to play.  However, we are now in an age where free to play is the norm.  Subscription only MMOs are now the rare breed. “Free” is no longer the inducement it once was.  And so, while reportedly still making money, CoH became a very small percentage of NCsoft sales, being folded into the “other” category for the last quarterly report.

I think if City of Heroes had been more core to the NCsoft corporate story, the way EverQuest is to SOE, we would have seen a lot more work on the part of the company to keep it around.  However, from NCsofts point of view, CoH might seem like Cryptic’s game.  A game that NCsoft published, then bought out, which was never a huge source of revenue for them, and was always something of an outsider.

Heroes are ever loners.

It is Lineage that is to NCsoft what EverQuest is to SOE.  It is core to their culture, popular in their home country, and still bringing in a lot of money after 14 years.  City of Heroes is just something in the “other” category, soon to be struck from the list altogether.

And so it goes.

How soon until there is a private server?  Somebody must be working on that.

I Guess I Won’t Be Going Rogue

Some time back, as part of a sale now forgotten in the mists of time, Steam had a deal on City of Heroes, complete with the new Going Rogue expansion.

Woman pictured: Not Sarah Palin

I think it was $5.00 or some such lowball number.

That was a price which, at the time, I felt I could not resist.

A couple of years has passed since then.  City of Heroes has changed a lot, the most radical change of all being the conversion from a subscription game to a free to play title a little over a year ago.

But somehow I never quite found the time to play City of Heroes.  It was always too far down the list of games I wanted to play.

So while I had it installed on my system, but I never once clicked on the Play button in Steam.

And now there seems little point in clicking that button.  In fact, I will probably unintsall the game now without ever playing the copy I purchased. (Technically I played the demo back in 2007, so I have “played” the game a bit.)

NCsoft has announced that City of Heroes is going to be shut down.

November 30, 2012 is the target date for turning the game off.

And what lesson should we take from this?

That free to play is not a magic bullet?

That the MMO market space is over crowded?

That super hero games are a niche market?

That an awesome character creation tool (so good it gets you sued) won’t save you?

That NCsoft is good at shutting down MMOs?

When it comes to that last point, City of Heroes is another notch on the belt after Auto Assault, Tabula Rasa, Dungeon Runners, and Dragonica, so it seems difficult to deny it.

City of Heroes did last longer than most though, and no game lasts forever.

Friday Bullet Points

Small items that I feel compelled to bring up, yet couldn’t really build a post around, so I will just steal somebody elses format.

  • You’re not really rage quitting until you have compared your situation to the Holocaust. Quartzlight Evenstar Icefluxor cries out about the extremists who blew up… wait, it wasn’t blown up… who put his station tower into reinforce. (Hint: It’s the evil Goons again.)
  • Free to play might be a nice idea, but when you make your $15 a month subscription available for $1.25, you may have made a wrong turn somewhere.  SOE suddenly yanks the ability to pay for your subscription with Station Cash.  Sounds like somebody did the math.
  • Is the Diablo III auction house going to kill off the game early?  The reward patterns are apparently reversed when compared to its long lived predecessor, Diablo II.  Somebody tell Dabigredboat he can stop now. (Ah, I see Blizzard picked up the assist in sending that message.)
  • What do those points mean?  Jester details how the EVE Online kill boards calculate the points you are awarded for your kills.  Except the Battle Clinic kill board, which does something else.  They make EVEMon, so I guess we can forgive them.
  • Oh, and the EVE devs have another great economic post up examining the price of minerals since the Inferno update and Hulkageddon.  I love that sort of thing.
  • Nexon plunks down $687 million for 15% of NCsoft.  I am not sure what that will mean in the long run.  Maybe I’ll get to play a US version of Kart Rider on my PC some day?

Reviewing My Demands for 2011

This year I eschewed the traditional practice of making predictions and issued a series of demands for the MMO industry for 2011.

Why demands?

Well, when you make predictions and you are wrong, it is your fault.  If you make demands though, and the company does not live up to them, it is THEIR fault!  Ha!  Rather than scoring my own predictions, I get to score their behavior.

So it is time to review my demands for 2011, made way back on January 2nd.  I gave everybody until December 15th to meet my demands.  Now it is time to see who complied.

Blizzard:

Stop looking so damn smug.  Tell us what Titan is,  ship Diablo III, and add some more content to the top end of World of Warcraft.  I swear half the game is already level 85.  Oh, and another sparkle pony, but something a little less frou-frou this time.  And an expansion for StarCraft II.  Somebody has to sell some PC games this year.

See, this is what is wrong with Blizzard these days.  I threw a crapload of demands at them, six if you include “stop looking so damn smug,” and they barely made any of them.

To sum up, we still do not know what Titan is, Diablo III is out in 2012 somewhere, and no expansion for StarCraft II.  I mean, how tough was that last one?  Oh, and they still look damn smug.’

All we got was a new sparkly pony, the Winged Guardian Mount, and some more content at the top end of Cataclysm.  Not enough I say! Not enough.

Sparkle Kitty vs. Sparkle Pony

For this I decree that Mike Morhaime will have to come up with more public rationalizations about WoW subscription numbers, including at least one additional convoluted SWTOR impact denial.

Sony Online Entertainment:

Smedley? SMEDLEY!  Pull yourself together.  I know those PlayStation people are bossing you around, but you make money.  Certainly more than they make on hardware.  Refine what you have.  More server merges.  Reconcile EverQuest II Live and EverQuest II Extended.  Work on the PC controls for DC Universe Online because I am NOT hooking up a console controller to my PC just to play it.  And finish with the Agency already, you’re starting to embarrass us all.

SOE on the other hand, complied with almost all of my demands.  We certainly got server merges on a number of fronts, and some are still coming, including the merger of the Live Gamer EverQuest II servers into standard servers. EverQuest II Live and EverQuest II Extended were reconciled, with Live eating and then becoming Extended.

And they certainly finished up The Agency.  Ouch.

In fact, the only demand they missed on was fixing the controls for the PC version of DC Universe Online, and they were so busy launching, consolidating servers, and then converting to free to play that I guess they can have a pass on that.

For this I grant favorable portents for Planetside 2… provided they don’t pull an “Agency” move with it and string us along for several years.

Cryptic:

Just go free to play across the board already.  Champions and Star Trek Online.  Everybody else is doing it.  But don’t screw over the lifetime subscribers.  And when you go free to play, make sure you have something shiny and new to bring people back.  Oh, and Neverwinter, get it out this year and don’t screw it up!

Cryptic… Well, everything is either free to play or in the works.  They’ll be a month late on the demand in the case of Star Trek Online.

Neverwinter though… just where are you guys even going with that title these days?  Cryptic is supposed to be your company name, not your business plan.

I put a curse of market confusion upon Cryptic for Neverwinter… which they deserve just for choosing that name.  There are OTHER locations in Forgotten Realms you know.

BioWare:

Everybody is watching you.  You’re not making some single player game.  You’re making an engine, an engine that is supposed to take in money and deliver the joy of being in the Star Wars universe.  Don’t let those wankers in San Mateo make you ship early.  Meanwhile, since you guys seem to be in the MMO driver’s seat at EA, for now, don’t screw around with Ultima Online, but do something about Warhammer Online.  You’re bright guys, you’ll figure something out.

Wow, talk about delivering.  I am pretty sure they moved the early access back to the 13th of December just to be clearly within the scope of my demand.  And yet it is late enough that we cannot really tell if the engine is set to vacuum up money from Star Wars loving fans.

Plus they didn’t screw around with Ultima Online and they came up with a DoTA-like game reusing Warhammer Online assets and branding it as Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes.

Full points all around.  For this the force will be with them… for three months.  They are on their own after that!

CCP:

Will you put that drink down already?  EVE is still going, still making money, still popular, still unique, I get it.  And you are improving it over time.  But really, you’re starting to look like a one-trick pony.  What are all those people in Atlanta doing?  You don’t have to ship something new this year, but at least make us believe you’re really working on something new.  We’re starting to think you’re spending all that money you make on akvavit and exotic dancers.

CCP is the only company that actually responded directly to my demands.  CCP Manifest dropped my a note just 8 days after my post promising that we would all see amazing things from CCP this year and that my demands would be fully met.

And then, of course, Incarna hit, the player base blew up… more than usual…  plans were re-assessed, people were laid off, projects were set aside, and the summer of discontent basically loomed over the staff at CCP.

And then they refocused, shipped the Crucible expansion to mostly favorable reaction (it sure is pretty), and plans seem to be solid for DUST 514, with a release target (Spring 2012… which means by Christmas, right?) and a platform (PlayStation 3 works for me).

So I guess, in the end, they met my demands.

I would suggest that we did not need all the drama, but that seems to be one of the vital ingredients to any CCP operation.  That and alcohol.  I know they aren’t spending all their money on booze, but I suspect there is still a line item in the budget for it.

For this I grant an early Spring and no bankruptcy in 2012.

NCsoft:

Aion, City of Whatever, and Guild Wars.  Is that really all you have going in North America?  Well, there is Lineage II I suppose.  And what do you have on your to do list?  Blade & Soul?  Really?  Don’t bother.  And let Guild Wars 2 gestate to full term, which means don’t ship it in 2011.

I didn’t ask much from NCsoft, and they delivered.  No Guild Wars 2 in 2011.  Now the question is will we see it in 2012?

Your boon is the usual subscriber boost as you move all of your titles to free to play business model.

Trion Worlds:

Your big opportunity is coming.  Ship Rift at just about the time when WoW Players have finally wrapped up the high-end content and you could get… a stable half a million subscribers.  Okay, that isn’t WoW numbers, but history shows that most people just stick with their favorite MMO forever due to the social network they develop.  Hrmm… that is sounding like a prediction, not a demand.  Okay, go and get a half a million subscribers already!  By June!  With your shield or on it and all that!

Trion, you made it.  While you were out there claiming a million customers, I am going to take it as read that that meant more that half a million subscribers at one time.  And you even kept them for a while, thanks to Cataclysm backlash, a late ship date for SWTOR, and essentially no new competitors in your field.

For this you get favorable portents for End of Nations and a soft landing from the SWTOR effect.

Other MMO Studios:

Which of you is even poised to do anything in 2011?  TERA is going to be another Asian oddity, soon forgotten by the mainstream.  It was all that Aventurine could do to ship Darkfall, they won’t be doing anything else. Funcom won’t get The Secret World out in 2011, they’re more likely to cut more staff.  All of you other studios, select a champion and send it out to do battle.  Yes, it can be TERA if you cannot find anything else, but I’m telling you it is going to be completely forgettable.

Nothing?  Really, no small studio champion has arisen?

Fine, you’re all doomed to mutter about the success of Minecraft and Angry Birds.

Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw:

When Star Wars: The Old Republic ships this year, review it.  I know, it is a muh-more-puh-gah, but this is Star Wars and BioWare.  I demand it.  We all demand it!

Alright, you’re absolved because of the late ship date of SWTOR.  But  I expect a review of it next year.

Dr. Richard Bartle:

You were awfully quiet in 2010.  And you’ve got your three level 85s in WoW now. (A very common claim these days.)  Go say something controversial.  Declare WoW dead.  Predict SWTOR will be a failure as a virtual world.  Make some news.  Do an interview with those people at Massively.  They’ll print anything you say.

Dr. Bartle was kind enough to comment on my original demands list that, while I found the past controversies surrounding his statements in the gaming press amusing (remember the “I’d Close WoW” headline or his positive view of Stranglethorn Vale), the whole thing tends not to be so much fun for him.

And he managed to steer clear of such controversies, despite my egging on certain members of the Massively staff.

So he gets a pass as well.  We can just hope that somebody takes note of his idea of how to break the current state of stagnation in MMOs and that he has a good fortune in 2012 as he attempts to educate us on the obvious.  I personally look forward to further education.

Scoring

What is there to score?

Okay, if you want to view my demands as predictions, I think I did okay this year.  But I did not really go out on a limb with anything either.  2011 was a quiet year in many ways, with titles being pushed off into 2012.

Now, do I go back to outrageous predictions for 2012 or stick with unreasonable demands?

I’m Pretty Sure This Wasn’t From Scott Jennings…

His style is usually a bit more… coherent.

When you receive this message at the same time means that you have a routine account of our recent examination, was checking your account we have the evidence to prove that involved in the controversial game currency transaction so we had to take the necessary measures.

Please visit our web site https:[bogus URL] as soon as possible to activate your account or we will suspend your account.

The NCsoft Team

Worst phishing attempt so far this year.  Not only is the grammar attempting to work under extreme duress, but I don’t even have an Aion account.

Oh, and this may be my first Aion related post ever.