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Quote of the Day – When You Have a F2P Hammer, Every Nail is a Microtransaction April 17, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment.
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10 comments

The micro-transaction is so strong and it’s definitely a much better model. I think all companies have to transition over to that.

Tommy Palm of King.com, interview at IGN

IGN is becoming the place to talk about free to play and micro transactions.  And King.com, the new Zynga, certainly has reason to support that point of view.  They are making a lot of money and, true to Tommy’s word, you can “win” Candy Crush Saga without paying.  But they are also monetizing frustration, as has been pointed out by Laralyn McWilliams, which I am not sure gets them a lot of love.

Buy now or start over

Buy now or start over

People defend King.com by pointing out that a lot of people play through the whole game without paying or by noting how much money they make.  But I do not see many F2P advocates examining their monetization scheme (Laralyn McWilliams aside) and asking if that is the best approach.  The monetizing of frustration aside… which alone has kept me from giving a damn about any other game King.com has made… there is the question of buying progress.

Buying my way out of a level with their boosts… and as far as I can tell, there are no levels you cannot win on the first try if you have spent enough money… feels a bit like cheating.  It is like dealing out a hand of solitaire and then giving somebody $1.99 to tell you it is okay to re-arrange the cards so you win any given hand.  I would say that is, in essence, pay to win, except you are not actually playing against anybody but yourself, so I am sure somebody would take me to task.

So maybe it is more like pay to skip playing, in which case why bother playing?  That might explain why only 30% of players who beat Candy Crush Saga paid any money.  Where is the feeling of victory or the bragging rights if you paid your way through the tough bits?

Or to flip that around, I wonder how many of that 30% would admit to paying?  Sure, King.com knows they did, but would they tell their friends?

Anyway, you might excuse Tommy’s exuberance because of the corner of the market he is in and how much money his company is raking in.  They have likely spent more on TV ads for Candy Crush Saga than they did on actually developing the game initially.

But we also had David Georgeson talking about all games being free to play as well, and he definitely lives in a world where there is a lot of development expenses before you can start ringing up microtransaction dollars.

We’re effectively street performers: we go out there and sing and dance and if we do a good job, people throw coins into the hat. And I think that’s the way games should be, because paying $60 up front to take a gamble on whether the game is good or not? You don’t get that money back.

-David Georgeson, busking out in front of IGN

This is, of course, the utopian ideal, the big upside to the whole free to play thing, the idea that you only shell out money for what you like.

And I can certainly find examples to support this idea.

I spent a lot of money… bought the collector’s edition and a lifetime sub… on Star Trek Online, which ended up being a game I really didn’t enjoy playing.  A big fail on my part.

In comparison I spent no money at all on Neverwinter, which also ended up being a game I really didn’t enjoy playing.  But at least it was only time invested.

Those, however, are both negative examples.  Games where I was better, or would have been better off, with free to play.

But when it comes to the whole persistent world MMO genre, of which I am a big fan, I do not have any real positive examples where a free to play game really sold me.  Sure, I have played a lot of Lord of the Rings Online, even after they went F2P, and I was enthusiastic about EverQuest II Extended when it first showed up.  But those were converts from the old subscription model into which I had invested and I have had my ups and downs with both.  I think I am done with EQII, and if I return to LOTRO again, it will be because of Middle-earth and despite the microtransaction in every window nature of their business model.

So, while I am okay with microtransactions in many forms… I have enjoyed games like World of Tanks and War Thunder, and I think the iOS version of LEGO Star Wars has a great model where you get the base game and a few levels for free, then can buy additional content if you like the game… it doesn’t seem to work for me in certain areas.  The money-where-my-mouth is proof is the persistent world MMOs I am currently playing, World of Warcraft and EVE Online.

Fortunately, as small as the world of game development may seem, it still encompasses a broad spectrum of opinions on many subjects.  So while some are gung-ho on F2P, others are sticking with older models.  The Elder Scrolls Online just launched as a subscription model MMO, and WildStar plans to later this year.  Maybe EverQuest Next or Landmark or something else will change my mind, but for now I seem happiest with the alleged outdated model.

There is no one true path, and I always wonder and people who make declarations in defiance of that.  The industry cannot even decide on DRM.  We have had industry voices wondering while companies bother, yet just this week Square Enix was saying that DRM is here to stay.

Meanwhile, I hope we’re all spending our dollars on things we actually enjoy playing.

Quote of the Day – Never Shutting Down EverQuest April 2, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, EverQuest Next, Sony Online Entertainment.
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EverQuest and EverQuest II? We hope they never die. We have no intention of ever shutting those games down.

-David Georgeson, interview at IGN

I was just picking on Georgeson this week because of a quote from a year back about the idea that MMOs should never die.  Of course, this week we saw SOE shut down two of them, Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures and Free Realms.

CWA is understandable.  That was a tie-in with a TV show and clearly had an expiration date.  But Free Realms, that was all SOE’s to do with as they pleased.  Ah well.

Still, I am more likely to take him at face value when it comes to talking about the EverQuest franchise, the bedrock on which SOE rests.  SOE without Free Realms is still SOE.  SOE without EverQuest though?  I am not sure that is an actual thing that can survive in our universe.  We’re fifteen years in and the game is still playable and getting new content.

Valmont Mounted

My new char, 15 years into the game

So EverQuest forever and all that.  At least I expect to see EverQuest hit 20.

But I still wonder how things will play out once we have EverQuest Next in the house… probably about when EverQuest hits 20 if we keep getting updates about it at the current rate.

Two EverQuests on the scene I can fathom, but three?

I suppose it depends on what the plan is.  I am pretty sure SOE figured people would move from EverQuest to EverQuest II and they would shut that down in a couple of years.  Instead, people either stayed with EverQuest because they were invested or, as like as not, ended up in WoW.

Is EverQuest Next expected to coexist with its two direct predecessors?  Given recent history, how long can that last?  And who goes into the night first?

Maybe they can recreate EverQuest on the EverQuest Next platform.  You can say that it won’t be the same, but when has EverQuest ever stayed the same for long in the last 15 years?

Quote of the Day – More Pessimistic Than I About Draenor February 12, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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9 comments

There’s also no mention of expecting Warlords of Draenor to boost 2014 sales. It feels natural enough to infer that the expansion won’t launch until next year. While this expectation wasn’t exactly uncommon already, it seems at least a little more credible now.

Richard Aihoshi, MMORPG.com post looking at Blizzard’s Q4 financials

And I was called out for predicting early September for the Warlords of Draenor expansion and then feeling that Blizzard might have been hinting at that themselves.

See you guys in the fall?

See you guys in the fall, right?

The whole post strikes me as working to try and take a negative spin on anything Blizzard said.  No doubt there is some link bait appeal for the site in that. (It worked on me.)  But I cannot recall anybody saying before that Warlords of Draenor might not ship until 2015.  Is that something new?  Has that been going about?  I mean, I thought people who were calling April for the expansion back during BlizzCon were way off base, but this seems a bit of an excess in the other direction.

Of course, he didn’t say where that expectation wasn’t exactly uncommon, so maybe it wasn’t uncommon in his own mind.  That would fit in with his whole post.

No Warlords of Draenor until 2015?  Credible or not?

I am sticking with September 9th… of this year.

Quote of the Day – Hearthstone, SOE, and Historical Inevitability January 29, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment.
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5 comments

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.

Quote of the Day – For Specific Definitions of “Next” January 22, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest Next, Sony Online Entertainment.
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5 comments

EverQuest Next — which is a totally different beast — has no current timetable. It could release in 2015 or 2025 for all we know right now.

Massively, Leaderboard: EQN vs. EQN Landmark

Therein lies the rub.

Last August, when SOE Live was done, I was quite excited about EverQuest Next.  It was the big announcement out of the event.  I wrote ~2,500 words about EQN, less than 100 of which were about Landmark, which was a Minecraft-esque tool set pseudo-game that I did not quite understand.

Firiona Vie makes it to 2013

The EverQuest Next Vision

I did not really care about Landmark.  I wanted the core game that was described at SOE Live.  The one that was… well… a freakin’ EverQuest MMORPG, with emergent AI and a new class system and all the things they presented.

I worried that, after the huge splash the EQN announcement made at SOE Live, that SOE would follow past patterns and let the excitement die off through neglect.

And, I guess if I am speaking strictly of of EQN, my worries were well founded.  EQN has been relegated to a series of banal survey questions that the same few people debate on their forums.  Such is the Round Table.  It apparently only seats about a dozen.

However, if we just follow from SOE Live, then excitement has been maintained to a certain extent… only occasionally interrupted by the usual SOE foibles… if we include Landmark in the picture.  Since SOE Live, Landmark has grown to take up almost the whole of the SOE marketing and community interaction effort.  At this point somebody stumbling onto the scene might justifiably conclude that EQN is just shorthand for EverQuest Next Landmark.

So I am… well… “frustrated” or “annoyed” are too strong… bemused, I guess, that SOE led with EQN at SOE Live, talking that up a great deal, only to let it fall by the wayside while all focus was devoted to Landmark, which looked like an adjunct product at the time of the announcement.

Yes, I understand that SOE ought to focus their marketing on the project shipping soonest… these days we ship at alpha and charge people for the privileged… and that there is an audience for Landmark… but dammit, they talked about this other thing I wanted and now barely acknowledge its existence.  Validate my selfish needs, damn you!

I guess I just fear another outcome like The Agency.

Quote of the Day – Difficulty is the Point January 20, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, World of Warcraft.
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6 comments

But you should never forget the fundamental contract every game seeks to forge with its players: accept this world and these obstacles in the name of experience, and make of them what you will. Difficulty is the point, not the problem.

-Tom Chatfield, Ars Technica article When it comes to video games, difficulty is the point—not the problem

An interesting read that explores how video games have a different relationship with the end user compared to various other mediums.  I like that he dips into things like nostalgia for Vanilla WoW.  Things difficult at the time… or difficult relative how things are now… look better in hindsight.  Things annoying at the time often become the best tales after the fact.  That, in turn, also pokes a bit at the game guides question I suppose, as presenting things to overcome and then handing out (or selling) the teacher’s answer key no doubt changes the relationship.

Of course, when speaking of gaming difficulty, I suppose that it says something that the graphic chosen for the article was an EVE Online desktop picture.

Lost in Space...

Lost in Space…

There is difficulty, and then there is the passive-aggressive, near hostility with which EVE Online greets the new player.  EVE Online is a game where I find simple travel to be post-worthy at times.

Quote of the Day – SimCity to Become a SimCity Game January 13, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment.
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6 comments

We look forward to getting Offline for SimCity into your hands as soon as possible.

-Patrick Buechner, General Manager of the Maxis Emeryville studio, in an official blog post

After all of the protestations that SimCity really needed to be an always online experience, which helped feed unrest as part of the disaster that marked the game’s launch, EA has finally seen the light as to what made past SimCity games enduring classics.  Beuchner goes on in his blog post about the offline mode to describe pretty much a baseline of expectations fans of past SimCity games might have reasonably expected to find in the game at launch.  Soon to be available, just a year late.

Of course, not everybody is happy and there are still plenty of problems to be fixed in the game, like city sizes and performance.

SimCity in 2013

SimCity in 2013

But with offline mode I might consider the game… if only it were free of the Origin malware content delivery system required to purchase and play it.  Always another hurdle with EA.

Quote of the Day – Working with a Really Tricky IP January 8, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Misc MMOs.
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17 comments

We hold the Bible completely sacred, and we’ve gone to great lengths to maintain authenticity. For this reason, we formed an advisory team of four well-respected pastors and ministry leaders to make sure all of our storylines and characters are historically accurate. Although we consider ourselves devoted Christians, it’s amazing how many details this team has caught and adjusted to make sure we stay accurate to the biblical record.

-Phoenix Interactive Studios, on their Bible Chronicles RPG Kickstarter

Yeah, you think working with Tolkien or the Star Wars IP is difficult?  Think again!

While they have wisely opted to stick to the Old Testament, even there it isn’t like we have a universally accepted interpretation to work with.  Cornerstone of three major religions?  Sure, let’s make a video game out of that!  I cannot foresee anybody getting angry about choices made around interpretation!

Color me a pessimist, but they may have chosen more wisely than they suspect when it comes to the main image used for their web site.

Metaphor or premonition?

Metaphor or premonition?

Of course, on the flip side of that, teaching the Bible… or a given interpretation thereof… seems to be pretty much perfect for the WoW model MMO format, where quests have only one possible end state.  The story will move on only when you do the right thing.

It will be interesting to see if people will be any more likely to read the quest text in this game than they are in WoW.  The forum questions about that ought to be amusing.  I foresee “Can’t watch the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah without being turned into a pillar of salt!”  Any other likely candidates?

No word on the business model… subscription vs. free to play… that this project will follow on release. [Addendum: because it isn't an MMO. Silly me.]  Of course, they still have a $100,000 Kickstarter goal to surmount.  But for $2,500 you can have a character in-game modeled on your appearance, and for $5,000 that character will be one of the kings of the local city-states.  You could be Melchizedek!

Quote of the Day – WoW, Legacy Raids, and The Squish January 4, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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5 comments

There’s nothing at all wrong with going back and doing legacy raids and other content. The achievement system, cosmetic rewards and titles, and most recently transmogrification all serve to reward that playstyle. There’s also a lot to be said for just being able to revisit old locations, for the sake of nostalgia or getting to experience them for the first time, without needing to find a like-minded group. As Rygarius noted, we’re committed to making sure that we don’t disrupt players’ ability to engage in that gameplay.

Without getting into the math, our goal is to make sure that if Kael’thas’s Pyroblast does damage equal to 10% of your maximum health today, it will take off no more than 10% of your health post-squish. And if you kill Onyxia in 30 seconds today, you’ll be able to kill Onyxia in 30 seconds post-squish.

Watcher, on a forum question about soloing legacy content

I am not sure where I stand on this.  On the one hand, it can feel a bit cheesy to go back and slam-dunk level 60 raids with your purple equipped level 90 character.

On the other hand, that cheesy feeling never stopped me!

Temple of Ahn'Qiraj Solo

40 people for just this guy?

Or our group.  Roll on with the status quo I guess!

Quote of the Day – He Knows ALL the Cheat Codes, But Doesn’t Need Them! December 16, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment.
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6 comments

If God played video games, what do you think would be his top three games and why?

Liel Leibovitz, author of God in the Machine: Video Games as Spiritual Pursuit

That quote was from a press release that dropped into my in-box promoting the author and his availability for interviews, centered around the exploration of video games and morality.  The serious side of the press release included things like the following:

By placing players in closed environments where every action has far-reaching consequences, where the rules are all-important but, never entirely understood, and where notions of free will and reincarnation are seminal, video games have created a system of thought and feeling closely resembling religion.

That seems like meat for a serious theological discussion, arguing the spiritual benefits of video game and such.  The press release closed with what it listed as “sample questions,” though it wasn’t clear to me from the context if those were questions he was prepared to explore during an interview or questions that people might bring to the table when approaching the topic in a more general sense.  And the questions were mostly what you might expect, looking at concepts of evil, exploring the spiritual, and considering the differences between games like Pac Mac and Grand Theft Auto.

But then there was the last question, which I have quoted at the top of the post.  I don’t know how you even consider such a question, argue for any sort of legitimate answer.

That said, if pressed, I would go with Tetris being on the top three.  How about you?

Those Famous Tetrominoes

How can you not see perfection in this?

Meanwhile, Liel Leibovitz is available for interviews through his PR agency, Goldman McCormick PR.  It might be nice to see him being interviewed next time something is blamed on video games.  It won’t happen, as his views do not fit the pre-planned media narrative about video games, but it would be interesting.