GTA V: A monster of quality content

April 21, 2015

Quick plugs first: The CoC clan has one spot currently open. Anyone with a non-rushed TH7+ that will be active please apply to “Supreme Cream!” and mention the blog. Also the Boom Beach group “Hardcore Casual” has spots open as well. More relaxed in that game so no reqs to join.

Moving on.

GTA V is an example of a massive budget used well. For example, the amount of top-notch voice work you will miss or have in the background easily outnumbers the total amount of voice work in most ‘AAA’ games total. Or how some of the side activities are better ‘games’ than other products that do just that one thing. Or just the sheer size and detail of the world, right down to traffic patterns. It really is mind-blowing when you stop and think about all of the work put into the game, and how somehow, amazingly it all comes together to form such a great game. From a project management aspect the game is a huge accomplishment.

It has been said in the past that WoW is impossible to replicate because it has so much content, but WoW over time has been replacing stuff rather than just adding more and more on (unlike, say, EVE). It’s why you can launch FFXIV and not have it feel like a much smaller version of WoW, despite WoW having nearly a decade head start. GTA V isn’t that. Sure, it builds off of what worked in previous GTA games, but GTA V itself is a massive package of content that few if any games can even come close to matching (Skyrim is really the only title that comes to mind).

It also brings me back to when I played Saint’s Row 3 (a solid game itself), and why that game is smart to push what it does well (over the top action and comedy) and not just try to straight-up be a GTA clone. If it did that, it would get slaughtered, because it would be nearly impossible to stack up in terms of quality AND quantity, and the corners cut would be noticeable.


FFXIV: Playing different roles on one character is brilliant

March 18, 2015

Quick note to start with: Playing the relaunch of The Elder Scrolls Online just reinforced how much better FFXIV is at being a thempark MMO. I might still try to get back into ESO at some point, but after spending 15 minutes with it, I’m more than fine waiting a bit longer.

Anyway, FFXIV. Having finally hit level 30, I’ve dug more seriously into leveling other roles using other (non-questing) systems, and man oh man is it fun. As I keep saying about FFXIV, what makes the game great isn’t the addition of some new magical feature, but rather taking the existing themepark formula and significantly refining it towards perfection. Rift certainly wasn’t themepark 3.0 (thanks Trion!), but FFXIV is. The order of significant themepark evolution now goes EQ1->WoW->FFXIV.

When I play MMOs I want to play my avatar, which is why I’ve always hated alts. I don’t want to be a bunch of characters in a game; I want to be ONE character in a world experiencing things. I don’t have multiple people playing my account, so I shouldn’t need multiple characters to play the game.

FFXIV nails this by letting you switch from role to role, and also by making the gathering and crafting roles a real thing rather than just a single skill bar to max out. Finally I can ‘play an alt’ in an MMO while still being my one character. That sounds so simple, but at least for me goes such a long way.

But that feature alone wouldn’t be nearly as great if FFXIV did what most other themeparks do and force you into the normal questing grind until you can do other stuff. FFXIV has that option mind you, there are three separate leveling chains from 1-cap (I believe), but that is but one choice among many (how sandboxy huh?), and you can mix and match all of the options as you go, which is also brilliant. Whether you decide to chase Fates, run dungeons, do guildhests, or just farm mobs for xp and crafting resources, how often and in what order you do all of this is up to you.

What turns a lot of MMO players off from a sandbox is the lack of direction, while what annoys others in a themepark is the on-rails experience. FFXIV has plenty of guided content (and also plenty of not-so-guided content), but at almost any point you can stop the ride and do something else, potentially never returning to that ride again (the main quest chain aside). I love that, because I can play an MMO ‘my way’, but it’s not as investment-heavy as a sandbox often requires.


FFXIV: 4 million ‘registered accounts’

February 27, 2015

Square Enix, in announcing 4m players, continues to troll all of us with their use of the term ‘registered accounts‘ in a world where F2P exists and the Turbines of the world announce number of characters created as an example of success.

As stated before, for whatever reason Square uses ‘registered accounts’ instead of subscribers, but they mean subscribers. So 4 million before the release of the game’s first paid expansion is rather historic; only WoW ever hit that mark, and if we are tracking growth since release, the chart for FFXIV looks very similar to WoW in 2004-2006.

With the expected sub dip for WoW coming ‘soon’, the question comes up once again; when will FFXIV have more subs than WoW? I think the safe money is just after the launch of the expansion, especially if it launches during one of the many and very long content lulls that WoW is infamous for, that FFXIV continues to show is more Blizzard being lazy than any real constraint in terms of content delivery pace/quality.

The other interesting question is at what number will WoW officially be dethroned? It dropped to 7m or so subs before, but perhaps it drops further this time around? Will the number be 6.5, 6, 5.5? What will FFXIV be at after the expansion? I’d put my money on the number being around 5.5-7 million. I think WoW will drop rather sharply, and I think a lot of those players, if they haven’t already, will head to FFXIV.

Either way, interesting times. FFXIV in many ways is a modern vanilla WoW; fitting that the ‘WoW-killer’ will be a game that is, in many ways, WoW’s best version that it itself has moved away from that their own expense. There is a very solid lesson in that for the genre, so I’m all for it.


Hearthstone is Blizzard’s first non-hit, that’s important

February 11, 2015

Let’s keep talking about Hearthstone, if only because talking about it is way, way more fun than playing the game, and because HS is IMO a perfect example of New Blizzard in a nutshell and perhaps a good indicator of things to come.

Latest post from Az can be found here, where he admits that HS made $5m or so in revenue. Respect for that. Also if a game has an interface designed for one gaming platform, and said interface is constrained for other platforms, that’s a port Az. HS being as awkward with its UI on the PC is because the game was designed as a mobile app, as Blizzard continues to remind us. That it’s mostly failed as a mobile app (unless we consider a AAA developer hanging out in the 50s in revenue as success now, but more on that later) and instead somehow has a decent monkey following on PC doesn’t suddenly make the game a for-PC designed title, sorry.

“But Syn, HS is like really, really popular on twitch, with some people even getting like, a few thousand views! It must be making a truckload!”

Yes, because twitch views = money, as we can clearly see by WoW being a fraction of HS on Twitch. Guess that drop in subs must be like a 99% drop if the oracle that is twitch is to be believed. Who needs dodgy financial reports; the famewhores and their sheep can’t be wrong!

(Since calling them famewhores seems to confuse people; the term is a play on the more common term ‘instawhores’, the ‘models’ who will do basically anything for a ‘like’ or ‘follow’ on Instagram or beg for attention on other social media platforms. If you don’t know what I’m talking about with that, how new to the Internet are you? Anyway, some (not all, relax) of these streamers are little different, taking every opportunity and basically doing anything for attention, no matter how much personal respect and dignity has to be sacrificed for said ‘like’. If you are entertained by that in a non-mocking way, we likely wouldn’t be friends in RL.)

Jokes and stupidity aside, and now that we have confirmed that, while profitable, HS is a little footnote amongst such giants as WoW, Destiny, CoD, Skylanders, and… well basically everything not called HS over at Activision, let’s talk why someone like Az and others still sees this as a major victory for Blizzard.

Blizzard, at least prior to HS, wasn’t a studio known for making ‘me-too’ products. They weren’t the studio putting out flawed, poorly designed titles that were barely a blip on the gaming radar. When Blizzard made an RTS (Warcraft, StarCraft), those games defined that genre and became the standard. When Blizzard made an action-RPG (Diablo), that series become the standard, with everyone else making Diablo-clones. When Blizzard made an MMO, well we all know that to many the MMO genre is WoW.

So why, just given the above, is a Blizzard release that has failed in its intended market (mobile) basically given a pass or even seen as a great thing? Why is it crazy to say a Blizzard mobile game SHOULD be competing with other top mobile games? Let’s look at this this way; bigger barrier of entry and harder hill to climb, the MMO genre back in 2002 with EQ1 being the top title, or 2015 with CoC? It’s not even close, and remember back in 2002 everyone though the 500k subs mark was THE top a title could achieve in the ‘niche’ market that was the MMO genre, so don’t bring up how dominant and mainstream CoC is today; for all we know in 2020, 2014 CoC will look just as dominant as EQ1 did back in its prime. The point being, a major AAA developer like Blizzard not only can, but absolutely SHOULD be making a top-tier mobile game (imagine how great it would have been to get a real Blizzard-quality mobile game? I’d love to play that!), not something lost amongst the dregs of the app store.

Again, prior to HS, every other Blizzard release not only competed with the top titles in those genres, they generally dominated and set a new standard. HS is the ONLY title released by Blizzard to not only fail to live up to that standard, but not even come remotely close.

That high Blizzard standard and track record of delivery has value too, a great deal in fact. How many people bought the originally flawed Diablo 3 because it was a Blizzard game? How many people might not insta-buy the next Blizzard title after that experience? How many people played HS and had the perception of “everything Blizzard makes is awesome” shattered? So yes, HS itself is profitable (mostly based on the likely fact it cost next-to-nothing to produce and had free advertising due to being on battle.net, but hey, details), but how much brand damage has the title caused by being a below-average-at-best title?

Moving past HS itself, what does the delivery of HS hint at for Blizzard’s next title, Heroes of the Storm, which is already not exactly blowing down doors as the next big thing? Is HotS going to be called a success by some if it has to fight tooth and nail with some random minor game for the coveted 4th or 5th spot in the MOBA genre, accomplishing a tiny fraction of the success LoL see’s, much like HS is today compared to CoC? Is that what New Blizzard is now, just another Ubisoft or any other second/third tier studio putting out something we maybe pick up for a few weeks before moving on and forgetting them entirely? If so, that’s a huge, huge drop from what Blizzard was in the past, and sooner rather than later Blizzard titles won’t automatically attract attention based on the studios previous track record.

And that, ultimately, is the real story of interest related to HS. The game itself, other than getting a chuckle at some of its sillier aspects (famewhores, world championship of dice rolls), isn’t all that important. It’s a footnote. But the low expectations for the game (at least from the outside by people like Az, as I’m not sure Blizzard is thrilled to have launched a mobile game that isn’t moving the needle in the mobile space, and is just a marginal success overall) and being the first non-hit title for Blizzard, is in my opinion a significant event and worth discussing.


State of the MMO genre, 2015 edition

February 4, 2015

First things first, it’s now 2015, and just like in 2014, 2013, and really since the beginning of time, we still haven’t seen an as-successful F2P MMO as we have sub MMOs (WoW/FFXIV/EVE). Until we do, this isn’t a debate. It’s a simple yes/no situation: Is your MMO really good? It’s using the sub model. Is your MMO not that good? It’s F2P, sub, ‘B2P’, or… who cares your MMO isn’t really good. Maybe by 2016 we will have a single example of a really good, as-successful-as-sub F2P MMO. I wouldn’t hold your breath on it though.

Now, moving past that still-dead horse, let’s take a broader view of the MMO genre as we head deeper into 2015. In my view the MMO genre has gone through four major phases. Note that these phases don’t have a definitive “it started on this day” date, but rather are more of a general ‘around this time’ deal.

Phase one (1997-2002ish) was UO/EQ1/AC; the birth of the genre, when we weren’t sure if this whole ‘virtual worlds’ thing could even work, and being online with thousands of others in one world was something new and awesome. Amazingly all three of the original MMOs (sorry M59, but you weren’t big enough to really count here) were solid and brought something really unique and special to the table. UO had an amazing virtual world and sandbox gameplay, EQ1 was the original themepark (I thought I had written a post about what the genre would be if EQ1 had never been made, but can’t find it now, so maybe I never wrote it…), and AC had weird, interesting systems and character growth, along with the awesome patron ‘guild’ system.

Phase two is WoW and EVE (2003-2007ish). WoW blew up what everyone thought a successful MMO could be, and refined the clunky themepark that was EQ1 into a game a lot of people could actually get into, while (in vanilla/TBC anyway) still retaining the core qualities of an MMO to keep people playing/paying. EVE started very small and very rough, but would go on to show that despite aiming to be super-niche, super-niche done better than anyone else can eventually, and naturally, grow into a mini-monster in the genre. It also showed that, if you do it right, there is no timetable on when your MMO should fade or go into maintenance mode. A good MMO really should be able to go on ‘forever’. This is also the time when a great many MMOs failed for countless reasons; the main one being ‘Making an MMO is really, really f’n hard’.

Phase three is the WoW-clone era, or the dark ages (2007-2011?). Post-WoW blowing up, everyone and their dog started cranking out WoW-clones, each thinking they could either be a ‘WoW killer’ or just casually pick up a few million players because ‘hey, WoW did it so it must not be that hard!’. LotRO, AoC, WAR, Aion, Rift, etc. In addition to getting a bunch of ‘bad’ games, the real crime here is that developers who might have been able to give us something interesting instead wasted time trying to be WoW. The genre (EVE-related stuff aside) didn’t advance forward much, and in terms of new offering things mostly sucked.

Phase four is the ‘F2P, ALL THE WAY’ era (2011-2014, hopefully). After failing to clone WoW, ‘bad’ devs all jumped aboard the good-ship F2P. MMOs that were struggling/dying as sub MMOs (because they were bad games made by bad devs) converted and saw ‘amazing’ revenue immediately after the conversion. We got a lot of press releases stating it, so it must be truth forever and ever! We also saw a bunch of F2P-based MMOs released, because the sub model was outdated and ‘everyone’ was going with the ‘new standard’ of F2P. Then the too-predictable reality kicked in, the one-time boost that was a F2P conversion not only faded, but in many cases faded below even what sub was bringing in, and F2P after F2P MMO was shut down or skeleton crewed. SOE being sent to the slaughter house is, one can only hope, the crowning jewel and definitive statement on just how much of a failure the standard F2P model is for MMOs.

Which brings us to today and the original question; where is the MMO genre? It’s not at the high it was in 2005/6, where everyone was making an MMO because it was perceived as a gold mine. At the same time, we are out of the dark age of cloning WoW blindly. We are also hopefully beyond the state of believing that F2P works, but I suspect there are still more Smeds out there who will put junk out and wonder why it’s not working financially after getting a billion accounts or whatever foolish metric they get mislead by.

In some ways we are in a spot similar to 1999/2000ish times, with three big successful MMOs (WoW, FFXIV, EVE), and a new crop of MMOs on the horizon that has our interest (Camelot Unchained, Star Citizen, Life is Feudal, Pathfinder, to just name a few). But that interest isn’t tainted in believing any of those titles will be ‘WoW Killers’ or dominate the market, nor are the people behind those titles setting such expectations. For perhaps the first time in far too long, devs have a plan to make a game work with 50k subs, which sounds so stupidly simple yet really is a giant leap forward for the genre.

Will some if any of those games work out? Hopefully. They at least have a much better (more than zero) chance than ‘WoW killers’ and F2P MMOs, so that’s a plus. But as always, making an MMO is hard, and even if you get 80% of it right, that 20% wrong can sink you.

Personally I feel better about the genre today than I have in a long, long time, perhaps even as far back as the early 2000s, in large part because I think more than enough devs have finally figured out that the MMO genre is a niche market, and not the mass-market illusion that WoW’s success tricked people into believing. I also don’t think ‘AAA’ levels of spending are needed to make a great MMO. I’m more than fine with playing something that I expect to grow over time, so long as that initial baseline is solid, and again I think at least some devs are finally catching on to this as well. Not only is gameplay king, but sub-AAA production values don’t mean crude sprites and homemade sound effects anymore, it just means I won’t have to hear someone ‘famous’ during a cutscene, or have a CGI intro movie that’s 20 minutes long that I skip every time after the first.

So while the future of the genre isn’t all rainbows, it’s also not as hopeless as it looked in years past. Baby steps are good, and hopefully at least a few of the upcoming games deliver, while the success’ we have today continue to get better (or in WoW’s case, don’t go full ‘accessibility’ on us again and shed almost half the population).


WoW has shut down, per Massively

January 2, 2015

Massively just doing Massively things (link no longer works as Massively just deleted the entire post), or just being Blizzard and copy/pasting from Polygon (This link still works because lulz Polygon). Pick one?

I few weeks ago Square released a video about FFXIV weddings, and at the end of that video they had a line about joining the 2.5m registered accounts. This was an increase from the 2m accounts they talked about previously. At the time of the 2m announcement, they also said 500k players play every day. The 500k active, 2m total number makes sense in terms of an activity ratio (if anything 1/4th of your total playing daily is rather high), which despite Square not being clear on what exactly they mean by ‘registered accounts’, the 500k number suggests they meant subscribers. I bet if Blizzard released a “X number of subs, Y number of daily logins”, the ratio would be lower than 1/4th.

So yes, when Square does actually release financials for 2014, and Polygon reports on it, and Massively copy/pastes it, expect 2.5m+ subs for FFXIV. What’s really interesting is what that number will be after the expansion is released. FFXIV gets a lot of content updates already, but a major event like an expansion will only help bump the number up.

Remember a long, long time ago people talked about how no MMO would ever surpass WoW for sub numbers so long as Blizzard was still supporting the game? Are we all still 100% sure about that?

Correction: WoW hasn’t shut down. Sorry for the error.

 


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.


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