The Niche is Real

January 4, 2013

Massively has linked to a video about 38 Studios. It’s worth watching. In the comments section, there is a link to an article about the entire thing. I’m pretty sure I’ve read it before, and perhaps even linked it here, but still, it’s worth reading (or reading again).

Not that I want to rehash the entire 38 Studios story, but I do want to bring up how much money was spent to almost-create a game that, by their own admission, was not fun to play. We are talking tens of millions of dollars, if not more than 100 million.

Along those same lines, SW:TOR cost north of $300m, and we know what $300m bought us in terms of MMO gaming or genre progression.

And at least according to EAWare, SW:TOR needed to cost 300m+ because hey, that’s just what MMOs cost to produce. Prior to closing, Curt and 38 Studios would have backed that up.

Darkfall 1 cost 10m or so to make (I’d link to the source video but lazy, find it if you doubt it). Now sure, DF1 did not have special celebrity guests mailing in voice acting, or the 100+ devs 38 Studios had doing… something. But even if you hate FFA PvP gaming, it would be hard to argue that the game did not delivered something that people enjoyed, brought some new things to the table (combat), and sustained itself for 3 years until DF2010 came along and… NDA beta in 2012/13 :grumble:

The thinking that MMOs are always expensive and in order to deliver anything you have to spend $100m or aim for the WoW crowd is not only outdated, it’s just wrong. Everyone (literally, everyone) who has aimed at being WoW has failed; either by shutting down or selling TheOneRing/Hotbars/Wings. And yes, plenty of titles that did NOT aim to be WoW have failed as well, but plenty is still better than all, and the financial impact of Dawntide never exiting beta are not on the same level as SW:TOR’s failure causing a studio to gut itself and the docs in charge to ‘retire’.

So as we roll ahead in 2013, I’m expecting/hoping we seem more titles in the 10m range. Titles that don’t feature add-nothing IPs, content designed for ‘everyone’, or the attempt to be WoW but with X (but yes, this will still happen, and the results will be the same). Rather, we’ll see titles that aim to get one thing REALLY right, and attract and retain fans looking for exactly that.

Furthermore, a return to titles that are actual MMOs. Games not designed to be consumed and discarded like far too many ‘MMOs’ today that wonder why no one stuck around after the first few months/weeks. They don’t need to demand 100% of your gaming time, but they do need to offer you limitless entertainment. No more ‘personal’ stories with a final boss. No more zones that you move on from after X hours. No gear tier X that is current for a few months until it’s replaced by Y. All of those things are anti-MMO design, and just because one titles remains profitable DESPITE them, does not mean they work or are needed. (Or make that and do what Anet did, just sell the box and call it a day).

I think Kickstarter is showing that such interest/demand exists. Whether anything of substance comes from Kickstarter is a separate issue, but what is fact right now is that not only are people showing interest, they are showing it in a very real way (with their wallets). This is not Turbine announcing 4m characters created as a metric for success; this is some indie title that has little chance of ever becoming a game getting a million dollars of support thanks entirely to word-of-mouth.

It’s far too early to tell if all of this is some fad and nothing will come of it, or if this is indeed the first step to getting the MMO genre back to what many of us remember it being (and when it was actually working). That said, it’s encouraging to see people attempt it, and even more encouraging to see many others support those efforts. Maybe as we begin 2014, we will be talking about which little MMO we are playing, rather than which dream might actually happen as we uninstall some title we just finished that called itself an MMO.


What 2012 was, and what 2013 will be

December 26, 2012

The good for me in 2012 was more of the same (EVE, LoL), while the bad was highlighted by disappointment (GW2) and delay (DF:UW). The MMO genre as a whole continued to struggle with its identity, from massive failures like SW:TOR to mis-marketed ones like The Secret World. WoW’s bleeding continued, although with fuzzy math thanks to Diablo 3, and MoP has fully transitioned the game from vanilla to… whatever it is now. F2P continued its comedy laugh track, be it from the reigning champ, wings factory SOE, to uppity newcomers such as Hotbar EAWare and pony-fun-time Turbine. So what will 2013 bring?

Well, more wings from SOE of course, thought how that will work in Planetside I’m curious to see.

Snark temporarily aside, I do believe 2013 will be the year the MMO genre figures itself out, and a clear distinction is made between games that are ‘real’ MMOs, and titles with MMO-lite qualities that we consume.

It’s funny that in 1997, when UO was releases, it was understood that this was a title you experienced, and the locations and creatures were tools to further whatever you happen to be doing. The ‘end’ was what you made it, and the only sure sign of a ‘game over’ screen was when you moved on. Then came EQ1 and AC1, and while both titles had a beginning and end, the content was such that few if any ever reached it, and again the ‘game over’ screen only came when you decided it was time.

In 2004, WoW was a refined EQ1, and while the path to the ‘end’ was shorter and yes, more accessible, it was still long enough that most did not see it, and the formula still worked. You certainly could see the ‘end’, but it was always just beyond your reach, and the journey was of such quality that even at a very slow pace, you were happy to keep playing/paying.

Fast forward to more recent times and titles like SW:TOR, where not only do you know the ‘end’ from day one, the game is designed such that you see it shortly. Distractions may exists after you consume the main course, but they have little if anything to do with the reason you showed up in the first place, and those distractions are poor-at-best in quality. SW:TOR biggest crime was not its massive budget blown on voice dialog, or its second-rate engine, or even the fact that it’s from EA; it was the expectation that millions would still be around and paying for months AFTER having completed the game.

At least Anet realized this with GW2, and planned around selling just the box to most, and some gems to the diehards. The game still falls into the “play and finish” trap of too many recent so-called MMOs, but at least the here the problem is mainly in how the PR department marketed the game rather than what the devs and bean-counters expected.

Which brings me back to the main topic. I believe in 2013 we will see MMOs that succeed because they are MMOs, and they do contain the months and years of content that an MMO needs. These titles will be ‘niche’ when compared to WoW, but such a distinction is already outdated as everyone finally comes to grips with the fact that WoW has always been an outlier, rather than the standard. With proper expectations and execution, these titles should prosper, especially as general MMO tastes swing back towards something more meaty rather than flashy.

At the same time, along with ‘real’ MMOs, we will see more games with MMO-lite features like GW2, and hopefully like GW2, they will ship with payment models that fit that style of game. These play-to-consume titles will refine their own space, and will provide nice breaks when needed for both MMO players and gamers in general. Their success will be measured not in retention, but in reacquisition; did they leave a positive-enough taste in your mouth to come back when more consumable content is out for sale?

More direct predictions:

EVE will reach and retain 500k subs in 2013.

SW:TOR will shut down or go skeleton crew by 2014.

LotRO will directly sell you The One Ring and a chance to play Sauron.

DF:UW will actually release and exceed the first year of DF1.

GW2 will have 9 tiers of gear by the end of 2013.

A bunch of MMOs will have kickstarter campaigns. Few will actually make it, almost all will be meh.

 


On second thought, the hobby horse seems very reasonable

December 13, 2012

Pay to Travel, Turbine style.

It’s going to be a really sad day when LotRO shuts down, because this kind of entertainment is almost priceless, and I’d hate to rely solely on SOE to provide it.

(This is the part of the post where I mockingly predict the next ridiculous item Turbine will sell, but I just can’t do it. After a $50 hazing implement and P2Travel, what’s left? BiS gear sets for $7000? $5 Hotbars? $6 for a token that promises not to sell your credit card info to shady Russians?)


Darkfall: Beta blues

December 12, 2012

Darkfall Delay; part 72,343.

First off, massive points for announcing the delay minutes before you are set to go live. There is trolling, and then there is AV. Just next level stuff that gets forumfall to exactly where it needs to be; on the bleeding edge of suicide (get it). The delay sucks, but at least beta is going to start Monday (hahaha).

Having the beta sucks a lot more though. We live in a world where everything in an MMO is known and well documented before the game even comes out, so it would have been fun to have everyone go in blind for DF:UW. Especially because DF is a virtual world rather than a generic themepark, so things like city locations, farming spots, and builds matter more here than knowing the layout of the next zone in something like GW2.

Having this beta and letting organized guilds pre-plan everything is also going to take away some potential fun. Pre-beta, everyone was going to scramble and take cities they believed would be worthwhile, but that very well could have ended up with powerhouse guilds in below-average cities. That would have resulted in motivation for sieges and conflict. The pre-release meta-gaming was already great fun, with alliances spreading misinformation about their plans and where they will go.

With beta, all of this will be known, and so the most powerful alliances will grab the best locations, while the have-nots will have to settle for lesser spots. That right there will reduce conflict, at least initially. A pity.

Another pity is what day one will look like now vs in a no-beta state. Without beta, day one would have been a wild scramble with unpredictable results. With beta, organized clans will be following a tight script for success, while those less organized will instantly fall behind much further than they would have otherwise. The scramble would have been a chaotic mess of fun. The script execution will be doing what needs to be done, which is important and ultimately leads to what we want (winning), but short-term is a lot less fun.

Of course things could be a lot worse. Instead of a delay, Aventurine could announce that they plan to sell UI elements for $5 apiece in the cash shop, or mount skins for $50. They could have announced the addition of a new race, the pink anime bunny from outer space. Or a RM auction house. Or that they plan to add a new gear tier a week after release. Or that they have downgraded their graphics engine to EQ2-quality. Or just done basically anything that SOE has ever done.

Now that would be worth raging about. A delay? Welcome to Darkfall.


Kappa Sigma Turbine

December 5, 2012

Forumfall loves to bitch about Aventurine. It’s basically a tradition at this point, and it’s pretty well deserved considering DF2010 is (maybe) coming out 12/12/12. Like how hard would it have been for someone from AV to just provide a quick “don’t worry, first person view is in DF:UW”? Not that hard. And then we got the first role preview video, with 3/5 skills shown. Why did you not just show all 5? Because :AV:

But the MMO genre being as wonderfully entertaining as it is, you only have to take a small step back to realize :AV: or :CCP: is still god’s gift to gaming compared to SOE or Turbine. The latest pants-head development to fall out of the clowncar is the $50 hobby horse in LotRO. As others have mentioned, if this was an April 1st post it would fail because it would be too obvious, but no no, Turbine is serious.

Now sure, LotRO is already a F2P MMO, so the bar is meh high, but even at that level this is good stuff. First off, the ‘mount’ just looks stupid, in Middle Earth or otherwise. If it was a free drop for new players as their first mount, people would call it cyberbullying new players by making them ride around on something that looks so insulting and is often used as a hazing ritual. That Turbine wants $50 for it must be some social experiment (I think the question is “How many LotRO players would pay to get kicked in the balls?”), with the ultimate joke being on said players.

Because let’s make no mistake about it, LotRO players will buy this, just like WoW players got in line to buy a sparkle pony. We are not talking about the EVE playerbase that turned back CCP and Incarna here with the Jita Riots, we are talking about a F2P playerbase who already purchase The One Ring in their shop, and subject themselves to the game perma-spamming them to buy more every two seconds. Furthermore, if you think this is the only time this is going to happen (or even worse, that you think THIS is the START of a slippery slope…), let me introduce you to EQ2, a game basically funded on F2P dummies buying fairy wings, magic carpets, or whatever the SOE brain trust has devoted 90% of their development time and effort to. The only question left unanswered here is what will Turbine call the panda expansion for LotRO?

Bonus points to former MMO blogger Tobold for this gem as he attempts to defend Turbine:

Let me get that straight: You would rather that Turbine makes no money and shuts the game down than allow them to “break your immersion”? Sounds extremely selfish to me.

Because it’s either hobby horse or death people! That’s the only option in the MMO genre. Nothing else works. Providing a consistent, quality service and charging for it is for suckers. Massively successful games with a huge playerbase like EQ or LotRO are doing it right, and you are all just way behind the curve.

Never change F2P people, never change.


How to look senile (FBW Thursday edition)

November 15, 2012

Former MMO blogger Tobold is having a rough year. First his EVE prediction is set to be confirmed as idiotic in just over a month, the industry has nothing for him to play and banished him back to the tabletop, and ‘soon’ the reality that Darkfall is coming back for round two is once again going to haunt everyone’s favorite thin-skinned, hyper-sensitive whipping boy.

Of course, a track record a mile long of simply being wrong does not stop him from posting. He is very tackle-titan-Gevlon in that regard, though with less blog-editing-after-the-fact. Today’s troll bait, which embarrassingly I’m going to bite on (in part because, as is most often the case over in dream land, the commenters that don’t get filter out beg for my opinion), revolves around keeping/losing subscribers.

Much like predicting EVE shutting down because “financial reports don’t lie”, it seems the old man’s memory has also lead him to forget which MMO he is talking about here. Because I’m pretty sure making a post about losing subscribers over the last three years, with examples such as WAR, AoC, Aion, LotRO, SW:TOR, and WoW itself around, picking the hardcore niche PvP MMO from an indie studio that remained a sub MMO all three years and with an increased staff is launching a sequel ‘soon’ is a poor choice.

But what do I know. I’m pretty terrible at this predictions thing, having been totally wrong about SW:TOR 4th pillar in 2009, GW2 lack of progression dooming it, WoW with WotLK, LotRO selling its soul, Aion being Aion, Rift 3.0, Tobold rage-quitting blogging yearly, etc etc.

So let’s keep his little post in mind 6 months after DF:UW releases (so 2035), so we can all link back to it and write glowing posts about how Tobold was right about something in the MMO genre. First time for everything right?

Or, after said 6 months, we can link back to it much the same way we link back to the EVE prediction, and have a little fun while DF:UW is down for the expansion patch. Assuming, of course, Tobold is not on a rage-quit cycle.

Also how is he still screwing up FBW, posting this on a Thursday?


Bernie Madoff was a great investor. Used the wrong payment model.

November 8, 2012

“I think there will definitely be failures within the next 12 to 24 months. Many who are entering the market right now are doing it as almost a money-grab. But subscription is dead. [Star Wars:] The Old Republic was the biggest possible swing for the fences. There is no longer any argument over whether that can be done.” – Craig Zinkievich, COO of Cryptic Studios

Do you think Craig said/wrote the above with a straight face? And if so, do you think he really believes it? It would take a pretty epic level of stupid, but then this is someone from Crypic, so I’m kinda 50/50 on it.

On the other hand, Craig is right. The ‘argument’ that sub games can be done is indeed over, mostly because it was never an argument to begin with. Pretending WoW, EVE, Rift, etc don’t exist must be nice, but probably not helpful in terms of sanity. Maybe Craig will also consider the argument over once EA shuts SW:TOR down for good. Time for a new ‘6 months’ meme I guess.

“I suspect that if you’d launched Fallout 3 as a free-to-play title rather than paying $60 for the disc it would have had equal or greater success.” – Someone working on games not as successful as Fallout 3.

“Riot Games’ Brandon Beck sees the matter differently. As a co-founder of the company that created League of Legends, Beck is at the top of the West’s biggest free-to-play success story, and perhaps the most compelling example of a free game that rivals the experience of the very best $60 AAA products. However, he stops short of proclaiming a free-to-play Uncharted as inevitable – it’s an easy thing to say, but actually making it work would be a daunting challenge, with higher upfront costs than the typical free-to-play game.”

Great stuff right? The failures in the pack telling the ones who are successful how to do their job. How about instead of making F2P ‘awesome’ games like Star Trek or Champions Online, you make outdated and ‘dead’ model games like Fallout, Skyrim, or Grand Theft Auto? Maybe then you won’t get bought out?

This really hammers home a major problem in the industry today; devs think their shitty game doing poorly is not because they made a shitty game, but because ‘market conditions’ ‘payment model’ ‘timing’ ‘toothfairy’ etc. Try making a good game. I’m pretty sure more than enough people will drop $60 for it. Or if you want, try making a good game that is worth playing longer than a month, and I’m sure people will be willing to pay the measly sum of $15 a month to do it.

Or yea, keep making SW:TOR, Star Trek, Champions, WAR, LotRO, DDO, etc, and keep thinking it’s not the game sucking that’s the problem. The magic future where people pay for crap is coming.

Update: Magic future already came? Zynga made a lot of money selling trash games? Magic future is over now? Zynga is worth a buck? Damn.

So close Craig, so close.


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