Looking back at 2014, looking forward into 2015

December 15, 2014

Time to review 2014 and make some 2015 predictions (I don’t get as fancy as some people and do two posts!)

Here are the 2014 predictions:

EQNL will have everyone loving it the first month of release. Shortly after just about everyone will be asking “now what?” and drift away.

Anyone want to comment this isn’t 100% accurate, other than the whole “release but its beta” scam?

EQN will continue to attempt to copy/paste from my design docs, and will continue to SOE them into failure.

Nope, but only because literally NOTHING happened with EQN, because SOE, so 50/50?

ESO will have a big launch, followed by a quick death (F2P). I’d like to pretend that THIS massive themepark failure will teach the industry to stop, but if SW:TOR didn’t, nothing will.

Big launch; check. Quick death; nope. Game isn’t F2P (yet?), and I wouldn’t be totally surprised to hear it has more subs than we expect (not a ‘huge success’ amount, but not skeleton-crew numbers).

WildStar won’t suck. Just throwing a dart here, as WildStar doesn’t interest me personally, but what little I know about the dev team, I like. If they stick to their ideas/goals post-release, I can see WildStar being a solid ‘niche’ MMO. We might even be calling it “themepark done right”.

Mostly wrong here, other than I think WildStar clearly is a niche MMO, although I don’t think the plan was for it to be SO niche.

The GW2 train will continue to roll, although with less steam and more heavy-handedness towards the cash shop. Such is F2P life.

I guess? So little gets posted about GW2 its really hard to follow, but I’m assuming Anet is doing something with the game?

LotRO will continue to provide us with amusing stories, perhaps selling you a character 3/4th of the way into the game, or something equally dumb. 50/50 on being able to play Sauron. 75% chance you will be able to buy the One Ring in the shop.

Guess 3/4th of the way into the game was giving Turbine too much credit. My mistake.

CCP will go bankru… haha just kidding. Best MMO out will continue to play chess while the genre learns checkers. 450k subs in 2014. Edit: Since we are at 500K already and this isn’t WoW, raising this to 600k.

600k didn’t happen, so nope. On the other hand so far CCP is showing what they can do with quicker releases, which is basically more than anyone else, and I think they are in a good spot going forward to once again return to growth after a stagnant 2014.

WoW will bounce back with the next expansion and have a strong 2014. Now that the interns are back to being interns, and the real devs are back from failing to make anything with Titan, WoW will prosper. It will also help that 2014 won’t offer it much real competition (Unless WildStar draws away a significant portion of the raiding crowd, which is a possibility). WoW will end with more subs in 2014.

Other than the WildStar bit, rather accurate.

2015 predictions:

DF:UW will shut down. The population is at an all-time low, AV is completely lost with the title, and Forumfall continues to stick daggers into the one game even trying to give that crowd something to do. I don’t see how the game survives 2015 short of a miracle turnaround or wipe/DF3 plan.

WoW will lose subs. Yea, going for easy points here. I think the WoD bounce will fade, and I’m not sure New Blizzard is capable of really fixing the game to return it to growth.

FFXIV will gain subs. More easy points. With an expansion coming, a solid foundation, and a studio not called SOE or Trion supporting it, I think 2015 will be an even better year than 2014 was for this gem.

EVE will gain subs. Again more ‘in the right direction’ thinking here, although less confident in this predication than I am in FFXIV, especially if Star Citizen launches (it won’t) and isn’t completely horrible.

LoL will continue to sit atop the gaming world. I don’t see Riot slipping in 2015, I don’t see any game challenging its popularity, and the MOBA genre has a long-established history of longevity. The eSport side of the game will also continue to grow and dominate that segment.

CoC isn’t budging either. Similar story to LoL; solid developer, solid foundation, no serious challengers, CoC will finish 2015 as the top mobile game, just like it finished 2014.

Hearthstone will continue as Blizzard’s least-successful title. A weak foundation, core design flaws, and a complete lack of long-term hook will continue to see the title float between unknown mobile titles on the revenue list, while occasionally getting a jump when new cards are released and the whale famewhores dive in, only to drop back down shortly after. Won’t be much of a factor in the 2015 eSports scene either.

ArcheAge will continue to be comically mismanaged by Trion, giving us as least half a dozen “Trion being Trion” moments in 2015.

EQN won’t release. Nor will Landmark move out from under it’s ‘beta’ tag.

The rest of the ‘that’s still online huh’ F2P junk titles like LotRO, SW:TOR, EQ2, etc will float on in who-cares-land. None will be put out of their misery, but none will move up either.

I think game funding via Kickstarter will see an uptick as more Kickstarter-funded games launch and are well received. Pillars of Eternity is the one that has my eye (and money), and the continued positive development of MMOs like Camelot Unchained will show people that the platform, when used correctly, does work.

I honestly don’t see any MMO in 2015 shocking us and restoring faith in the genre. It will be more of the same, with some good (FFXIV), some bad (pick a F2P MMO), and most being meh.


LoL – The future is here, and everyone is watching

December 3, 2014

As mentioned before, I greatly enjoyed watching much of the League of Legends world championship, taking in about two dozen or so matches (though all on replay due to the time zone differences), including watching the final matches on the big screen TV with the wife. Just in terms of pure entertainment, the product was on par with other offerings on cable TV.

In other words, if I had the choice between LoL Worlds and say, Game of Thrones, it would be a 50/50 situation (I’d end up watching both, but gun to my head and being only able to watch one… think I’d lean towards LoL honestly).

The production quality was top-notch, the matches were filled with surprises, upsets, and comebacks (though the final winner was the favorite going in, so ultimately things played out as expected in that regard), and technically the product was error-free from what I watched.

All of this is especially impressive considering the size of the audience. Riot has provided the numbers here, and again if we compare this to TV viewership, the LoL Worlds would have been amongst the highest rated shows on TV, and extremely valuable due to it catering to the highest-sought demographic (18-35 males) in terms of advertising. Network execs would KILL for those numbers in that demo for a prime-time show or event.

Consider that by far the most valuable TV property right now, the NFL, averages just under 20 million viewers per game (granted Worlds is closer to the Superbowl in terms of frequency and importance, but the Superbowl blows EVERYTHING out of the water in terms of viewership, and the Superbowl comparison is like comparing MMO success using WoW as the starting point). The average prime-time TV show averages around 7 million viewers, and more and more the viewership is NOT the key 18-35 demo.

I was going to say I wouldn’t be surprised if, at some point in the near future, we see eSports on TV here in the US in a major way (this is already the case in Korea), but that might not happen simply because the TV model itself is a dinosaur. Pro players today aren’t looking to get on TV, they are looking to build streaming viewership numbers, which in turn result in more ad revenue and sponsorships. They don’t NEED a network or TV deal, because they have Twitch, and anyone can start up a Twitch channel. In a way it’s like how the news business has changed; in days past a reporter and the newspaper company behind him were in control of the information and when/how it was shared, while today anyone with a Twitter account can tweet and ‘break the news’. For better or worse, technology has changed the news industry, just like today it is changing the TV industry.

And because change is scary and the internet allows us to view fear as it happens, the Massively comments section does it big once again on this story. Worth reading if only for GoldenGirl, clearly a new gem to keep an eye on going forward.


Burnout is a myth

November 25, 2014

When WoW was declining due to one crappy expansion after another featuring accessibility-inspired dumbing down, some people tried to write this off as not being about the content, but just due to ‘burnout’. They would have you believe that after 1, 2, or 4 years, people were just getting burned out on WoW and that’s why sub numbers were declining. The counter point the entire time was EVE, but now you can toss WoW itself into the mix.

Related is this recent info about Payday 2. The highest activity in the game, which is now more than a year old, just occurred this October. Perhaps FPS gamers are just immune to burnout? Or maybe its because the content that is constantly added to Payday 2 is fantastic. Deathwish difficulty raised the bar and gave even the most experienced players a real challenge (or for most people, an unreachable/impossible tier, which sounds vaguely familiar to something else…), the mix of paid DLC and free updates have been solid and steady, and the game today doesn’t just have more ‘stuff’, but it has more stuff that fits and actually expanded all of the original content, rather than replace it (now where have I heard about that approach working long-term…).

LoL (4 years+, peak numbers), CoC (2 years+, top grossing app today (oddly Hearthstone didn’t show up in the top 150 for either downloads or revenue, wonder why)), DoTA2 (crazy growth this year), etc etc etc. I think you get the point.

If a game is great and keeping being great, while giving you more of that greatness, you don’t get burned out. If a game stagnates, or especially if it gets worse (hi Trion), people leave because of that, not burnout.


Hearthstone: New Blizzard vs Old Blizzard

November 13, 2014

TL:DR – Hearthstone is the perfect example of New Blizzard, and the perfect example of why I miss Old Blizzard so much.

It’s still Blizzard, so they still have the whole polish thing going. For a great example of this, open up Trion’s Glyph, then open up Blizzard’s Battle.net. They both do the same thing (try to be Steam), but it’s immediately obvious that one is well-crafted while the other is a clownshow.

Hearthstone has that polish. As a mobile game its well done and ‘works’ as you would expect a game to work. It has a ton of nice touches like bringing back classic Warcraft sound bites and themes, and there is just well-executed detail all over the place. The PC port of Hearthstone isn’t bad, but it’s bare-bones and very minimal; it’s very clear Hearthstone is intended to be a mobile game that also happens to run on your PC.

Hearthstone also has Blizzard’s easy of entry design. It gets you in and playing quickly, and ramps you up well. This again is critical in the mobile space given the amount of competition, and the expected patience/time the average player will have.

Where New Blizzard steps in is the depth and longevity aspects. Hearthstone is a very, very dumbed down version of Magic the Gathering. The number of difficult decisions you need to make in an average game is rather minimal (a scary number of games don’t even require one), and even deck building is heavily neutered compared to MtG.

For example, in MtG you have colors, which Hearthstone replaces with classes. Only classes lock you into one set of cards. No mixing. You then fill out the rest of your deck from a ‘open to everyone’ stack. This alone cuts heavily into deck building, and ultimately deck variety and strategy.

Another example; deck size is 30 cards with a max of two of the same card (one for legendary super-power cards). MtG (perhaps back in the day, its been a while) had a deck limit of 60, with a max of four of the same card (max 2 for certain cards in tourney format). On the surface this might look like it comes out to the same thing, yet it’s not. Plenty of decks benefited by having just one copy of a card, but still using that max of 60 as an advantage. All of those decisions are gone in Hearthstone.

The fact that you can’t trade cards in Hearthstone is a giant removal of ‘gameplay’, and it’s replacement (crafting) is a math-tax test of idiocy.

There are likely hundreds of other examples, but at the end of the day Hearthstone is just a much simpler, much easier card game, and that poor and short-sighted design kills its longevity as mastery comes rather quickly.

Now some might argue that because Hearthstone is a mobile game, it has to be simple and shallow. “That’s what works in mobile SynCaine!”. Except that’s not actually true. The most popular and profitable mobile game out (for years now) is Clash of Clans. CoC has Blizzard-level polish and easy of entry, but it also has Old Blizzard design in terms of depth. If you want to just pick the game up and derp around, you can do that. If you want to dive into the deep end, the game has one. Hearthstone doesn’t, as was made embarrassingly clear at the world championships.

If we move past Hearthstone and look big-picture, since when is Blizzard the studio that produces middle-of-the-road titles? Because that’s exactly what Hearthstone is; it’s a good-enough mobile game, but it looks like an SOE product compared to top mobile games like CoC. Heroes of the Storm, the upcoming MOBA title, sounds like a good-enough game that again won’t really compare/compete with League of Legends (another game with Old Blizzard levels of quality/design). Overwatch turnout out to be a good-enough TF2 clone won’t be a surprise. WoW going from vanilla/TBC to Cata/MoP? Old Blizzard vs New, and the sub numbers reflect that.

For whatever reason (talent drain, resting on past success, the Activision merger) Blizzard isn’t the company putting out instant classics like Warcraft, StarCraft, and Diablo 1-2 anymore. Instead we have been getting decent/meh titles and WoW updates, which is what’s most disappointing. I miss Old Blizzard.


Games I’m playing these days

November 4, 2014

Little roundup of what I’ve been playing recently, because this is info you need to know.

Clash of Clans: “Supreme Cream!” has hit 50 clan member, although a few are alts as we are holding two spots for former members taking a break. Wars have been interesting and really fun, though we haven’t had a real nail-bitter in a while. We got smashed by a clan with way more TH9s and 10s during a recent war, but otherwise we have been rolling everyone rather consistently. Good times. I’m at TH9 now working on upgrades, and really enjoying the added depth at this level. Very much looking forward to TH10, although that’s still a few months off at my current farming pace.

Payday 2: Started playing this little gem again recently and loving it. All of the new additions are great, and the devs (Overkill) do a really good job of mixing free content updates with new DLC releases. Currently my favorite loadout is a heavy with two shotguns, as the new weapon and ammo options give you more flexibility while still retaining that ‘shotgun’ feel.

Civ:BE : The more I play the more I’m thinking that this game would be a blast multiplayer, but I haven’t been able to line that up just yet. Coming off the wealth of options and systems in Civ V with all expansions/dlc, Civ:BE does feel a bit too limited to play single player over and over again. Still worth the cost to play a few rounds IMO.

Endless Legend: I’m enjoying this one more than I expected, but its on the back burner right now as I do run into some slowdown on larger maps, something I expect the new machine (Xmas gift) to solve. Another title I think would absolutely shine with a second player in the game.

LoL: Season 4 has just about come to an end, and I’ll finish it in platinum in the solo queue. Watching the world championships on a big screen TV in the living room with the wife thanks to a wireless bluray player was pretty great. Speaking of Aria, she is going to finish solo queue in Gold, meaning we both moved up a tier since Season 3. Doubt I’m going to hit diamond in season 5, but you never know.

FFXIV: Subbed but not playing due to time constraints. Expecting us to get back into this in a big way after Xmas when we have two machines capable of running it maxed out. Been somewhat keeping up with the news on this game, and the new additions of late sound good.

EVE: EVE Offline’ing my main. 40 day skills never felt so easy.


So dumbed down its just dumb

November 3, 2014

There is a good post and fun comments thread over at K&G about Blizzard’s upcoming League of Legend’s clone (get it), Heroes of the Storm.

Here is Keen’s basic statement of the game:

Heroes of the Storm is, essentially, a dumbed down version of other mobas at least where mechanics are concerned. There isn’t last hitting or denying. There are no items. Experience is shared across your entire team. Everything is super basic, but remarkably it works.

My initial reaction to reading this is “so what exactly do you do?”. Obviously you fight the other team, but the above sounds like an extremely simplified version of LoL’s ARAM game, which itself is already a really, really dumbed down version of LoL you fire up to kill some time, but if it was the main game, I’d have quit LoL years ago. Go even further and remove items from that equation and yikes, wtf are we even doing here?

But that’s not the real point here; the real question/speculation is how well will HotS ultimately do. LoL is, by a wide margin, the most popular game out right now (outside of Asia, because :Asia:), and DoTA2, while only being a 1/3rd of what LoL is, still ranks in the top 5. Blizzard being Blizzard clearly wants a piece of that pie and has fired up the cloning factory, but what slice are they aiming at is the current debate.

Blizzard cloned EQ1 to make WoW, they were taking a successful niche product and smoothing out the rough edges to make something that would appeal to more people, but the key here is they were starting with something that was complex and difficult to get into, with design flaws begging to be fixed. LoL is the WoW to DoTA1’s EQ1. A dumbed down WoW is Farmville, and once Zynga was forced to stop their shady/illegal practices, they went poof. HotS sounds like the Farmville of MOBAs, and that’s not a good thing IMO.

As I said over at K&G, Blizzard could get 10m+ free accounts out of people if they produced a grass growing simulator. But 10m active players is a blip on the LoL radar, especially if that 10m doesn’t stick around for years and years. A lot of LoL’s success is not only that Riot made DoTA1 easier to get into and fixed a lot of the core issues (no hyper-carry, very limited snowballing), but that they retained the depth and growth potential that kept people playing DoTA1 for so long. Combined with the best implementation of F2P going, along with top-tier talent that continues to improve, and the result is an industry juggernaut.

2014 Blizzard isn’t the Blizzard that made Diablo 2 or even vanilla WoW. 2014 Blizzard is the studio that released Cata/MoP and Diablo 3. To say they have lost some talent is a rather large understatement, and now they are going to compete not with SOE and EQ2 (lulz), but Riot/Valve and LoL/DOTA2. It will be interesting to see what ultimately becomes of HotS, but I’m betting the under.


Gamasutra getting its EG on

August 12, 2014

This article about LoL is a wonderful piece, if you define ‘wonderful’ as containing at least one factual error per sentence whenever possible. Honestly if this was published on April 1st everyone would call it a terribly lame attempt; that’s how bad this thing is ‘researched’. If you don’t play or actively follow LoL, the comment section will give you a good rundown of things (I’d do it but this week is not ideal for blogging, sorry).


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