Candyman, candyman, candyman

August 18, 2014

Trollbold is back it seems, and in classic style.

Let me just cut that post down completely with one question before moving into the details: What day-one F2P MMO has been more successful than recently launched sub MMOs?

Because if the sub model is dead, surely some new F2P mega-hit must have replaced it, right? That’s what everyone must be playing now? The new F2P hotness called… what was its name again? You know, that F2P from day one MMO that is doing so well. Never can remember its name, or all those other really successful F2P MMOs before it…

I do find it hilarious that Tobold is linking to Superdata as well. Just trolls linking trolls and dancing around in a fantasyland circle together.

But let’s put aside fairyland numbers and look at something solid shall we? That recent NCSoft financial report for instance, that showed WildStar bringing in more money than GW2. Now GW2 isn’t F2P, but it’s also not good enough to be a sub MMO either, and NCSoft’s numbers back that up. An MMO made for the “1%” pulled in more than the MMO who’s manifesto told us was changing everything for everyone; funny how that works. And yes, WildStar will drop because its box sales drive the numbers up, but isn’t it cute that the “1%” consists of about 450k people initially? One would think you could sustain an MMO off such a population if you did it right, huh?

Of course the most glaring omission from the two troll sources is FFXIV, but it’s hard to call something dead when a 2m+ account behemoth is standing right in front of you, more than a year after launch. And while you’re at it, you should probably also ignore its previous iteration, FFXI, because that also isn’t helping your case.

The problem here is the same one we have had since day one; in order to remain a subscription-based game, an MMO has to be good-enough for its core audience to keep them. There are some MMOs at that level, and then there is a near-endless landfill of F2P titles below them trying to sell you a hotbar or the One Ring, because if you aren’t a quality game, you might as well try to dupe suckers out of a few bucks before they catch on. But just like with FFXIV, whenever someone has something they know is better than average, they go with the business model that best supports good games, and unless the genre just up and decides to stop making worthwhile games, the sub model will remain.


Reviews vs Facts

March 19, 2014

A while ago I had a conversation with someone about reviews. My basic point was that they don’t matter all that much, and that we sometimes think they do because the media that produces and relies on reviews tries to convince us that they do.

I think Metacritic is good for a quick glance, but a score of 82 vs 91 doesn’t tell me much, especially for a niche or ‘acquired taste’ title. If a random gamer reviews Darkfall after 10 hours, I’d expect that review to be fairly negative. Unless of course our random gamer happens to be someone who has been looking for a different take on the MMO genre and is really into exactly what DF does well (combat, competition, etc). Then the review is a ‘hidden gem’ type of deal.

On Steam I’ll often look at the forum of a specific game before I buy it (on sale, usually), but I’m not looking for opinion about details so much as I’m looking for “This game is terrible and lies about having X Y, Z” with 3-4 replies confirming the message. Or “This game is a totally buggy mess”, especially when looking at early access titles. I view those not as someone sharing an opinion, but rather confirming facts.

Most reviews are not about confirming facts, but rather the written opinion of the reviewer. Is the reviewer a gamer in my vein, or is he someone who thought WotLK was a great expansion? Because if it’s the latter, what he hates I might find perfect.

Side note: I think ESO is going to be a review nightmare. On the surface and in the first 8-9 levels, it’s a strange and honestly fairly poor mix of not quite Skyrim, but not quite anything worthwhile as an MMO. But then it really opens up, brings a lot of new stuff to the genre, and does a lot of sneaky-great stuff.

The contrast between ESO and WildStar is of particular note. Many expected WildStar to be the next-step MMO, and have been disappointed, while those same people expected ESO to be a clone title and instead found (assuming they got deep enough) something surprisingly better.


Themeparks: Raid or die

January 8, 2014

I’m on record here saying I have little interest in WildStar, but that from the outside looking in I think the game has a chance. One reason is the devs acknowledging that their game won’t be for ‘everyone’, and that they accept that. We’ll see if they keep to those words post-release, but I’d rather have a dev tell me that then talk about a 4th pillar or a manifesto of lies.

Reason two, and the topic for today, is the focus on raiding.

To me there are basically only two ways to keep MMO players entertained long-term; either you give them tools and make them create ‘content’ (usually via PvP in one form or another), or you produce content at a rate similar to what players can consume. I think sandboxes aim for the first, and themeparks aim for the second.

Currently, I believe raiding is the ONLY form of themepark content that developers can create at anything close to player consumption levels, and retaining players is the name of the game in this genre. WildStar is focused on raiding, and while that does limit its appeal on the mass market level, it also gives it a real chance to attract a niche and keep it (and a niche in the themepark space could easily mean 500k subs. If you can’t make $15x500k work for you financially, game design is not your main issue).

I also think there is more you can do with ‘raiding’ than what many of us remember it as (40 man, 3-5hr runs in WoW). There certainly is a place for large-scale, top-end raiding, where the upper tier throw themselves against highly tuned, very difficult encounters that, over time, become more accessible (not Blizzard ‘accessible’) to lower-tier guilds. I also think you can have a ‘lower level’ of raiding, where the encounters still take weeks/months to learn/complete, but can be done with 10 players, or with a guild that only raids two nights a week.

I don’t know enough about WildStar to know if they are aiming for some of the above, but if they are or eventually do, I think not only will that allow them to retain a certain crowd, but slowly expand to draw in ‘raiding lite’ players. Either way I’m interested to see what happens, and for that reason alone I hope all the other factors that could doom a game don’t happen to WildStar.


Closing out 2013. 2014 predictions

December 30, 2013

2013 ends much like it began for the MMO genre, with a collective ‘meh’, and this blog overall has reflected that both in post volume and the number of posts about MMOs vs other games.

My most played MMO this year was Darkfall: Unholy Wars, and while I had a lot of fun with the title for a good number of months, right now it feels far too much like an oversized arena PvP game than a sandbox MMO. Character progression is short, top gear is trivial to horde, and if you don’t PvP for the sake of PvP, you don’t have much else to really do. I’ll see what AV does with the title in 2014, but right now I have little reason to log in.

I played some EVE online, but wormhole life is not something you can’t do without serious dedication, and I just couldn’t find the will to do that consistently. I’m currently out in low-sec with the alliance, and looking forward to jumping into some fleets there. Ultimately however I need to figure out a big-picture goal, either for myself or the corp. We’ll see if that happens in 2014.

I started 2013 playing UO:Forever with Keen and crew, and while that only lasted a few months, it was fun going back to early-days UO. Some aspects aged very well (PvE, housing, the worldly feel), others not so much (combat, PvP), and ultimately I drifted away because I had accomplished what I wanted, in large part thanks to the server setting character progression to Panda-WoW speed. A lesson that sadly the genre is still learning and trying to come to terms with.

So yea, 3 MMOs in 2013, one a sequel to a title announced in 2003, one a title launched in 2003, and one a title launched in 1997. Sums up the genre pretty accurately IMO.

Let’s look back at my 2013 predictions, shall we?

“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.”

Nope.

Might as well make the same prediction for 2014. It’s going to happen eventually… right?

“EVE will reach and retain 500k subs in 2013.”

Didn’t hit 500k, but did increase to just under 400k. Edit: Yes it did. Got this one correct without even knowing it…

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

Didn’t shut down. Does sell you hotbars. Recently released a Starfox mode as the big update. 50/50?

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

Skeleton crew didn’t get around to Sauron, but you can pay Turbine to skip half the game, so… 50/50?

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

Yes and no. Yes because it launched, the launch was solid, and the game fixed a lot of the core issues DF1 had. No because the fixed issues from DF1 exposed more core issues with the game, and those remain as 2013 draws to a close.

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

I honestly care so little about GW2 and even reading about it is terribly boring so I can’t comment on this. Has it happened? I know you can pay for high tiers of harvesting tools, but what else?

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

No kickstarter MMOs launched, did they? I know some got funded, others failed to reach their goal, and nothing that I saw made me go “yes, that is brilliant, take my money and do that”, so I’ll call this one a win.

On to 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.

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

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.

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”.

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

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.

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.

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.

Did I miss anything?


Today’s Kool-Aid flavor is grape. Grape and failure

August 28, 2013

A lot of funny stuff is happening in this post over at TAGN, please go check it out. My only major complaint is that Wilhelm was light on the actual insults. I’m going to try and correct that here.

I think the biggest gain from that post is my discovery of a new blog: Zen of Design. The title is a bit misleading though; I think it would be far more accurate to call the blog “Tales from a hotbar salesmen”. That aside, its great reading, in much the same way the comments section on Massively is ‘great reading’. Just quotes on top of quotes of goodness.

But before we get to that, a few quick points from the TAGN piece; has anyone ever considered that while you benefit from having multiple accounts in EVE, the real reason so many do it is because they really, really like the game? We talk all the time about what a huge insurmountable barrier $15 a month is, so what are EVE players telling you about their game when they happily pay $30, $45, or more per month, for months if not YEARS at a time? (I really only want replies to this from people who have an above-Tobold understanding of EVE, thanks).

On the chances of TESO or WildStar being successful; in a genre with F2P abominations like SW:TOR, B2P 3-week titles like GW2, and “I have nothing in common with my 2004 version” WoW, is it really that unimaginable that there are hundreds of thousands of players just looking to play/pay for 2005/6 WoW in 2014? I don’t mean an exact copy/paste job, but I’m not buying this notion that all gamers have evolved into something unrecognizable from 2005. Not saying that either TESO or WildStar will become that game, but if/when someone does, my bet is they will be successful (just not perfect-storm WoW successful)

Those points aside, let’s get back to my new favorite blog, shall we?

I’ll state this up front; the below is a little unfair. The writer is working for EA and SW:TOR, so perhaps a lot of this is just singing the company line rather than personal belief. That said, no one (I think) is forcing the guy to write this, so it’s fair game.

“It probably comes as no surprise that I have discovered religion about Free 2 Play in a big way. It’s very clearly the way that the future of the genre is going, and any new competitor that enters the space is going to face immense competition from the rest of us that now provide a pretty substantial amount of gameplay for free. Right now, WoW is the only successful subscription-only MMO in the west, and even they seem to be sticking their toe in the pool.”

Let’s do a real quick recap of SW:TOR and its initial aim:

1) It had a built-in audience thanks to its IP (Star Wars), the devs (BioWare), and prior games (KOTOR)

2) It had the biggest budget of any MMO, with the marketing power of EA

3) Its goal initially was to challenge WoW, a title that retained millions of subscribers year after year (until everyone with talent left the company, and the interns started doing updates/working on Diablo 3)

What actually happened:

1) The launch was a disaster, with ridiculous bugs (invuln dancing), high-res textures being held out, and countless PR embarrassments

2) Players were jumping ship at an amazing rate, thanks to the game being a shallow, sub-par sRPG on a tragically terrible engine that couldn’t handle more than 5 players in one area

3) The game was forced into the F2P minor leagues

4) The F2P model itself might be the biggest joke amongst all offerings, including the beyond-ridiculous option to buy hotbars. It’s so bad that when Massively put up a “it’s not that bad guys!” piece about it, readers were not sure if it was satire or not.

5) EA has been trying to distance themselves from the title ever since, downplaying its impact during financial calls and trying to redirect attention to its successful properties

6) The heads of BioWare threw in the towel shortly after SW:TOR crashed.

So, that is the basis of Damion’s new ‘religion’. Whelp.

(Talking about NVN and Marvel Superheroes) “It also means they get to avoid the stigma of ‘failure’ that comes from a hasty conversion. Perhaps the most painful part of transitioning SWTOR from subscription to Free-to-play was reading all of the commentary describing us as a failed game, when all of the internal numbers we had showed that F2P completely reinvigorated the game.

So wait, SW:TOR isn’t a failed game that was forced into F2P, but yet was reinvigorated by F2P? I was not aware something already successful can get reinvigorated. Usually we call that “more of the same”.

Which again brings up the question seemingly no one has an answer to; why is it that only failed MMOs go F2P? Why is it that failed F2P games don’t go subscription? Why is it that when a F2P game does really well (Allods, somehow…), it goes from F2P to subscription? Why is it that successful MMOs (EVE, WoW for now) stay subscription? If F2P is so awesome, so amazing, so “the future”, why is it only used when you either have a subpar MMO out of the gate, or you fail as a sub? Anyone?

Free-to-play is all about making the game accessible – getting more people into the front door. SWTOR’s success here is no fluke – DDO reported that their concurrent players increased 5x. For LOTRO, the number was 3x. If anyone wants to see the effects of Free to Play on logins, check this chart

Again, that “SW:TOR success” part cracks me up, as does including a link to DDO from 2009 (at the time of the F2P conversion) and LotRO from 2010. Damion, why have you not provided more recent links to DDO and LotRO success stories? It can’t possibly be because going F2P from subs is a one-time boost for a failing game that fades and you return to just being a failed game, can it? Based on those 2009 and 2010 stories, Turbine must be straight killing it today right? What’s that, Turbine has been in financial trouble for a while now? But F2P really saved those games, didn’t it? Just like it’s going to save SW:TOR, won’t it?

Whether or not the billing model of Eve’s economic-spreadsheet driven libertarian paradise is right for a fledgling mass market MMO remains to be seen. But I doubt it.

As I’ve mentioned before, if someone associated with SOE or SW:TOR tells you something is bad, put the house on that something working out. Easy money.

One of my mantras about being a free-to-play game is that, in order to call yourself that, your evangelists have to feel good about telling their casual friends, “Yeah, you can totally play for free!”

You sell hotbars. Your fluff piece about your F2P model over at Massively was ridiculed. YOU MIGHT HAVE THE WORST F2P MODEL IN THE GENRE. Dude…

And all of those delicious quotes off just one post. So, so much more to dig into in the days to come.

Edit: F2P ALL THE WAAAAYYY (out the door)


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