[2012] The Everything List of the Year

olympic opening ceremony

Olympic Opening Ceremony (Summer 2012)

So December is upon us and with it the season of holidays, consumer frenzy, rain (if you are in the UK), and most of all … making lists! Arbitrary and I have sat down together to figure out some of the main games,  other media, online and news events this year that most caught our eye. Some of these are a ‘best of’ and some are more ‘wtf were they thinking.’

We hope you enjoy the lists, that they bring back some good memories, and we do not apologise for the UK bias.

2012 in Gaming

It’s been a heck of a year for the computer games industry. We have seen big studios flounder or fall and profit warnings all over the place, yet at the same time game sales have been breaking records. Diablo 3 and CoDBLOPS2 (yeah I just like writing codblops) have led the charge, although neither appear on anyone’s “best of” lists this year. “Expectations” has been a key word – games have met or failed expectations, profits have met or (more often) failed expectations, MMO payment models have met or (oh boy have they ever) failed expectations.

SWTOR announced a switch from a subscription model to F2P within 6 months of release, The Secret World switched to a B2P model in less time than that. Does it mean subscriptions are dead? Well no, EVE recently announced increasing sub numbers and Mists of Pandaria, the 2012 WoW expansion,  by all accounts is doing well. F2P with cash shops is still a very popular model but there have been inklings that all is not well in the world of Turbine, whose vaunted F2P conversions were in the forefront of the industry (with respect to converting MMO monetization, not F2P in general).

The Wii U is the first of the next gen consoles to see release, and we still have no indication of what Microsoft or Sony are planning to do which means that 2013 is likely to see the PS3 and xbox continue into their older years, falling further and further behind PCs technically and way behind mobile devices in convenience.

Lived Up to Expectations

Cat paws at GW2screen

8 out of 10 cats prefer GW2

In a gaming industry increasingly defined by hype, living up to expectations is actually like listing our games of the year.

  • Journey. Does exactly what I expected it to, provided an immersive flow-ful gaming experience with amazing (and award nominated) soundtrack. It’s not a long game, clocking in at about 3 hours for my first play through. But it was a good 3 hours.
  • SWTOR. My expectation was for a Bioware style of storytelling with a lot of MMO influence from WoW, which is pretty much what I got. Arb and I both enjoyed our time with SWTOR. You could argue that our expectations were met because we filtered out a lot of the hype, compared with Journey where everything the devs said about it pre-release was about spot on.
  • Guild Wars 2. It may not be the saviour of MMOs/ the world that was promised, but Arenanet have made good on their gorgeous new B2P MMO with its expansive world, dynamic events, server based WvW PvP and rich world events. We are still enjoying it quite a lot.
  • Torchlight 2. If you were expecting a sequel to Torchlight with open world, multiplayer, more pets, and more classes then you’ll find this one meets your expectations too. We like the multiplayer (and the ferret pet – Arb)
  • Mists of Pandaria. Met expectations (and may have exceeded them) because expectations weren’t all that high. But I’m enjoying WoW more than ever at the moment, so props to Blizzard for delivering a solid and fun new expansion for an aging game.

Didn’t Quite Live Up to Expectations, But Only Just

cat in front of Diablo 3 screen

Stop playing Diablo 3 and look at me, dammit!

  • Diablo 3. Blizzard had terrible issues with this game on release, because of server downtime, the impact of the auction house on the gameplay, bonkers story,  various balance issues and so on. They still haven’t released a PvP arena for the game. But for all that, Arb and I both had fun playing through it. I also love the crafter NPCs and companions (except the sorceress who is annoying). Will buy any expansions, no doubt.

Year of the Zombie

We like zombies. And so do other game designers.

  • The Walking Dead. The surprise winner of many people’s game of the year, Telltale Games TV/comics tie-in RPG/ adventure has won a lot of people’s hearts (and then eaten them.)
  • The Walking Dead TV show also went from strength to strength in its third season, with the introduction of some fan favourite characters and a better pace than season 2. The comics reached and went past issue no. 100 which coincided with Comic Con and the series really has done amazingly well in all mediums.
  • Rakghouls! For our money, the best MMO event this year was the SWTOR Rakghoul invasion. I wrote about this at the time and you can see how thrilled I was with the whole thing. There were quests, collections, dailies, new instances, cosmetics, lore, and the infamous plague parties on the fleet. (PLAGUE PARTIES – my fave bit of emergent play this year – Arb)
  • Zombies, Run. Is it a game? Is it a keep fit app? Is it all about zombies? Yes yes yes.
  • Blood of the Zombies. OK, it’s a fighting fantasy game book and not a computer game, but it’s a long time since Ian Livingstone wrote a FF book and this years’ effort is … zombie themed! There is also a mobile version so it’s almost a computer game.

Storytelling

This has been a theme in some of our favourite games of the year, most notably The Walking Dead but I didn’t want to list that twice in two successive lists.

  • SWTOR. Ah the notorious fourth pillar didn’t really help the Old Republic Star Wars game establish itself in the MMO scene as Bioware had hoped. But for all that, there was some good quality writing and storytelling in the levelling game. We did enjoy our Imperial Agent and Sith Warrior respectively.
  • Knights of the Old Republic 2. Was in the Steam Sale for the first time ever, and I Iove it. Is it flawed? Sure, it’s an older game and awkward in places, but the storytelling is great.
  • Mists of Pandaria. More of a storytelling emphasis than Blizzard had in Cataclysm and it seems to have paid off. I’m certainly enjoying the story and lore at the moment.
  • Mass Effect 3. Well who could forget the mass outcry at the ending to ME3? It was loud enough and strident enough for Bioware to release a free patch with an alternate/updated ending.

Mobile Games

We’re both mostly PC gamers, but occasionally mobile games catch one of our eyes.

  • Angry Birds Star Wars
  • Draw Something
  • Curiosity. More of an experiment than a game, and one with a flaky start. (Got boring extremely quickly – Arb)

Kickstarters

Verily, 2012 has been the year that crowdsourced funding for games went big and several kickstarter gaming projects raised over $1m. And perhaps that trend has already peaked and backers/ prospective players are deciding they prefer to buy games more conventionally. Still, these are some of the names that caught our eyes.

  • Elite. Well, it’s Elite isn’t it, a new version of the feted classic space flightsim/trader/ dogfighter. Except that this version is also going to be more MMO/sandboxy. Oh and the studio recently laid some people off. In any case, this kickstarter has raised about 2/3 of it’s $1.25m goal and finishes on Jan 4th.
  • Star Citizen. Another sandboxy space fightsim/ trading/ MMOish type of prospect, this time a successor to Freelancer. And this one has been rather more successful at the fundraising. Unfortunately it has attracted the attention of the EVE crowd who will probably make other players regret the MMO aspects.
  • Doublefine Adventure. The project that kicked off the gaming kickstarter bandwagon, raising $4m on an initial target of $400k. So there are a lot of people out there who rather like the idea of another adventure game along the lines of the legendary Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango, etc which Tim Schafer previously designed. And I’m one of them!
  • Project Eternity. In what may seem like a trend, Obsidian sought backing from kickstarter for a big party based isometric RPG along the lines of Baldurs Gate, Planescape: Torment et al, and of course they have those designers (Chris Avellone, Tim Cain, Josh Sawyer) on board. And kickstarter said “yay, let us give you all our money so that you can make something that might be a bit like Planescape!” and they raised about three and a half times their initial goal of $1.1m.
  • Godus. A successor to god games (sorry, I mean “delightful reinvention of the god game”) such as Black and White and Populous, Peter Molyneux has sought the blessing of kickstarter for his new project. Currently has raised £367k out of a target of £450k with three days to go. So if you want to see this one, give them some money. They have one backing tier just for students where one of the rewards is that Peter will go give a talk at that university, and also they’re offered access to a forum where they can ask about career advice (in the gaming industry I assume)  and get feedback on their own games which I thought was quite interesting.
  • Old School RPG. A kickstarter which was withdrawn (but would have failed to meet targets) from industry vets (Brenda Braithwaite and Tom Hall and incidentally stories seem to switch between her single and married surname a lot so I’ve no idea which she prefers) which just had a badly thought out and not very compelling pitch. An example of why you need to get your ducks in a row before you jump on the bandwagon and other metaphors. Plus there were a lot of things to dislike about old school RPGS which were never going to be as appealing as “a new freelancer”, “a new day of the tentacle” or “a new planescape” which were genuinely beloved by many gamers.

Funding Fiascos

Sometimes the predictions are way out, the finance guys are on interesting drugs, or the management just can’t bring a game in on time and to budget and decided not to tell anyone in advance. It’s terrifically sad for any industry pros caught up in the inevitable wave of redundancies that follow this kind of failure.

  • 38 Studios/ Curt Schilling. What’s to say, they made a game that was quite warmly received and would have been viewed as a success if they hadn’t predicted stupid high sales (and possibly other mismanagement along the way). And then the whole thing turned into a crashing bankruptcy disaster which involved the State of Rhode Island, some pretty dreadful treatment of staff, and we’ve been subjected to occasional videos of their prospective MMO which will never exist, because it’s very easy to talk up the amazingness of the game that no one will ever get to actually play.
  • SWTOR. Most expensive MMO of all time, allegedly. The sales figures might have been viewed as a success if they hadn’t a) spent so much on it in the first place and b) pitched it as being a rival to WoW – I’m not sure what the long term traction would have been (ie. how long the average player sticks with it) but there’s no reason to think it would not have been at least as good as the industry average (which used to be about 6 months, and is probably less now). I really like a lot of things about the game and recommend it as a F2P offering, but … yeah… switching to F2P so soon makes this a financial fiasco. Also likely the reason why the Bioware doctors retired this year.
  • Popcap layoffs. Financial fiasco or just insensitive timing? Popcap (now owned by EA) announced a successor to Plants vs Zombies this year, which would normally have featured in the ‘year of the zombies list’ if they hadn’t laid off a bunch of people the day after the announcement.
  • Zynga. This would be a pure schadenfreude entry if not for the employees who got caught in the fallout. This is quite a good rant about the causes of Zynga’s plummeting stock price. The company also lost a lot of senior staff, who jumped ship. But now they’re getting into online gambling (aka real money gaming) because that’s not sleazy at all.

Best Games Bought in Steam Sales

  • The Walking Dead.
  • Crusader Kings 2. I am still so rubbish at this game, but it is so entertaining even if you just play it as a medieval soap opera and focus on marrying your family members off and seeing what shenanigans they get up to. And that’s even before you try it with the Game of Thrones patch. The game is a marvel.
  • KOTOR 2. Bargain for any RPG fans. I’d only ever heard about how buggy and unfinished this game was. But with the completed content patch, it’s actually fairly amazing in many ways.

Popular Game that isn’t a Shooter, Shock!

  • FIFA 13. In the news this year because it sold 1 million copies /in the UK/ in its first week, a feat which had previously only been achieved by Call of Duty games. I keep hearing good things about it. But it’s also good to know that the sought after AAA audience is there for non FPS. Bit of good news for EA amongst the wreckage.

Not Played Yet

A special category for games that are coming to my house over Xmas. So they caught my eye (or my partner’s) enough to be on the requested gift list. Arb has also convinced me to pick up The Walking Dead if it’s in the Steam Sale again.

Cash Shop Shenanigans

  • LOTRO Hobby Horse. $50 for a mount which looks like a hobby horse in a game based on Middle Earth. You’re taking the piss, right? Well, said hobby horse was withdrawn from the test server shop after being less than well received.
  • GW2 Halloween Holiday Boxes. The plague of ‘boxes with random items inside’ in cash shops is with us to stay, because some people really enjoy buying them in the hope of getting something rare/ cool.  Arenanet made the chances of getting something cool rather too rare in their Halloween Event, so that would be a 0.2% chance per box of getting a fun holiday themed cosmetic armour/weapon skin. Enjoy your $1.50 per box lottery.
  • SWTOR Hotbars. The SWTOR F2P offering has changed somewhat from the initial proposed version, which allowed F2P players to access only 2 hotbars unless they paid to unlock more. They also pioneered paying to be able to hide your hat, which is not the sort of thing usually sold in cash shops. Marks for innovation, I guess. It sounds a lot less painful now.

Games we are looking forwards to

tattoo of ultima symbols

Her love of Ultima knows no bounds

For the first time in many years, there are no MMOs on this list. (Maybe Ultima Forever counts.)

  • Dragon Age 3.
  • Walking Dead Season 2.
  • Fables.
  • Ultima Forever.

Hardware of Note

All tablets, all the time.

  • iPad Mini. Finally, a smaller factor iPad. Would this have happened if Steve Jobs had been alive and does it matter, and should iPad lovers wait for the next version with the inevitable retina screen?
  • Nexus 7. I <3 my Nexus.

Other Media

This is a catch all for some of our favourite films, TV, theatre etc of the year. No books on this list, although at least one (Hilary Mantel’s Bringing Up the Bodies) is expected in my house this Xmas.

  • Favourite Films: Argo, Looper, Skyfall, Avengers. Arb and I both agreed that Argo was the unexpected winner here. I have heard great things about Lincoln and have long been a fan of Daniel Day Lewis but it hasn’t been released in the UK yet so that’s why it’s not on the list. Looper probably engendered the best rants because fun as it was, there are Plot Holes.
  • Prometheus. A mixed bag, this film. There were some great parts and amazing visuals, but at the end of the day, it’s an incoherent mess. It did inspire me to see Laurence of Arabia, which is phenomenal, so there is that.
  • Olympic Opening Ceremony. I was expecting to be either bored or excruciatingly embarrassed but Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony was bonkers (in the right way), entertaining, and made us all proud to be British. I don’t think anyone was actually expecting that.
  • The Hollow Crown. A set of three BBC Shakespeare productions which Arb and I both thought were great. And not just because of the monkey in Richard II (and Ben Whishaw – Arb!) or Tom Hiddleston dressed only in a towel in Henry IV Part 2.
  • Hebburn (a personal one for me here, because I live in Hebburn and now there’s a sitcom based here and people have heard of the place I live! Also, it’s quite sweetly entertaining – Arb)
  • The Great British Bakeoff. This will sound weird to non-Brits but this TV show has been a huge hit over here. It’s mild mannered, polite, and features nice people making cakes. And suddenly everyone wants to get baking. Including us.  Arb and I posted up some of our efforts on a tumblr. ( We were trying to bake the same things that the GBBO contestants were baking each week, until they started doing challenges that were either hard or were things we didn’t really want to eat.) Note: even our failures tasted nice.
  • Jesus Christ Superstar. Stadium tour. (Not as good as some of the great productions of JCS, but Tim Minchin as Judas made it worth the trip – Arb)
  • Richard III. I saw this version with Mark Rylance at The Globe but it’s now moved to The Apollo if any Shakespeare fans in London want to catch it. Very good production, with one of the great UK stage actors.
  • English Electric Part 1, by Big Big Train. I asked my partner to nominate his Prog Album of the Year, and this was it. (You can listen to some samples here.)
  • Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, live on stage. A production bringing together all the living members of the original radio shows and getting them to retell the story online, with guests appearing as The Book. It’s happening again next year.

Online Community

Stories, events or other online stuff that caught our eyes this year.

  • Reddit. We’ve seen reddit feature much more strongly this year for gaming communities, either because it has been used to host ‘ask me anything’ live Q&A events, or effectively functioned as a GW2 player forum before Arenanet put up their own official forums. The big reddit event of the year was the Q&A session that Obama did there.
  • Reddit sleaze. The second biggest reddit event of the year was the story about sleazy creepshots mod Violentacrez being ‘outed’ in real life via a Gawker article.
  • GW2 talk about bannings on reddit. A highpoint of the year was the discussion on reddit where GW2 GMs discussed with players why they had been banned. And surprise, the vast majority had been banned due to acting like idiots.
  • #1reasonwhy. Discussions about women and/ or sexism in gaming have been really coming to the forefront this year. The #1reasonwhy twitter hashtag made it into the mainstream media.
  • Anita Sarkeesian. Attracted an online hate campaign for the heinous crime of setting up a kickstarter to fund her making a video about sexism in gaming.
  • Felicia Day. Was called a ‘glorified booth babe’ by Destructoid writer Ryan Perez, among other unprovoked jerkish comments. He got fired in the fallout. It’s pretty darned cheeky (not to mention rude) for an unknown writer to call anyone out for ‘does X provide anything useful to this industry’ unless X is an industry analyst in which case we all wonder that. Also introduced me to the concept of ‘the felicia day moment’ which is when someone from a minority who also has huge geek cred steps into a geek related argument and cuts it dead.
  • Aisha Tyler. Yeah, it’s been a year in which geeky women who also happen to be pretty and/or on TV have been accused of being ‘fake geek girls’ FOR NO REASON. Aisha (who is now one of my heroes, although I hadn’t heard of her before) responded by posting about her geek credentials in a facebook poem/ rant of wonderousness.
  • Girlfriend mode. The Borderlands 2 devs got into hot water when it came out that they had been calling their easy mode companion ‘girlfriend mode’ because everyone knows that women (esp. girlfriends) are rubbish at games and need an easy mode to get them to play. Right? It might not have been a big deal in itself but throwing this into the powderkeg of sexism in gaming that has been going on this year was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. It doesn’t seem to have harmed the game’s reception though.
  • Mittani cops a 30 day ban from EVE. In a game that is infamous for how horrible its players can be to each other, The Mittani (leader of one of the biggest corps in the game) got banned for 30 days after he encouraged corps mates to harass another depressed player and said “Incidentally, if you want to make the guy kill himself, his [in-game] name is [REDACTED]”. What a colossal tit.
  • IWillDominate banned from League of Legends. This guy copped a permanent ban from Riot Games for “persistent toxic behaviour.”  This will have had more effect on him than the above, because aside from the ban being permanent, he was also a pro player. Well, that’s his career down the pan. And yay say we all.
  • PInterest. Became the fastest site in history to break the 10 million user mark in January 2012. Opened to everyone without needing an invitation in August. Has become part of the social media landscape.
  • Instagram Policy Change. This is a very recent story, included because it’s going to be big and also is a pretty blatent ‘all your photos belong to us’ grab. Instagram, now owned by Facebook, is changing policy in a way that lets them use your photos for adverts without your permission or any payments.
  • Nate Silver and the US Election. Silver was one of the most successful predictors of the election,  correctly predicting the results of all 50 states. Obama won, in case you’ve been hiding in a cave and didn’t know.
  • Trump vs Sugar on twitter. I like the title mogulgeddon for this twitter spat, it amused both of us at least.

Anarchy in the UK

olympic stadium

  • Omnishambles. Coined to describe the arcane and wildly incompetent workings of our current government, omnishambles is our word of the year.
  • UK Uncut. One of the big mass social media/ activist movements this year has been UK Uncut’s activism about getting large businesses to pay their taxes. One of the reasons that they have been so successful is that they have largely avoided political bias – you don’t need to vote Labour to think that Vodafone should pay tax.
  • Jimmy Savile, child molester. Big story over here, because it touches on aspects of 60s/70s culture, the BBC, child abuse, popular TV children’s presenters and basically involves the story breaking that Savile had molested children on a truly massive scale. He’s dead, so will never be brought to justice. Hopefully his victims can find some peace and institutions that stood by and didn’t protect children in their care can do better in future.
  • Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Yay for an extra bank holiday/ day off work.
  • Olympic Coverage. The BBC did an absolutely stellar job of covering the home Olympics, where viewers in the UK could select from multiple different streams and watch just about any sport that was going on, with commentary that was mostly really great apart from a few slips. The #NBCFail hashtag showed on twitter around complaints about how poor the coverage that American viewers were getting into comparison was. And it is pretty tragic that NBC failed to show any of the Paralympics, which was an incredible, phenomenal success.
  • Jessica Ennis. Gold medal winner in Heptathlon, but mostly in this list because the Daily Mail (aka Daily Fail) had dissed the opening ceremony for its diversity, opining that it would be hard to find a educated middle class family with a black dad and white mum as shown in the dramatics. To which more forward thinking publications, and anyone with a sense of humour, responded with pictures of Jessica Ennis and her parents. Then of course, the Mail had to deal with Mo Farah (a Black Muslim who immigrated from Somalia as a child) becoming a national hero. Sucks to be a hater.
  • Chipgate and the Olympic Brand Police – it came to light that the contract for caterers for the Olympic stadiums weren’t allowed to use chips unless they were a. McDonalds who had the rights to the word, or b. selling fish & chips (a cultural British icon that escaped the McDonalds clause). There was a bit of a stir and outrage about it all, McDonalds relented, even though they may not have asked for the clause in the first place. It was just one the LOCOG (London Olympic organisers) brand police silly stories of the summer, where shops/libraries/etc weren’t allowed to use all sorts of words relating to the games in promotions.
  • Waitrose social media fail. Poor Waitrose (they’re an upmarket supermarket), all they did was try to engage people on twitter with a contest to say “I shop at Waitrose because ….” and didn’t quite expect that people would take the piss. I love this story because one of the twitter users who all the papers was quoting is a friend of mine. Now that’s fame.

[News] TSW drops subscription charges, Layoffs at Trion

Just a couple of links today because the news is rolling.

Rock Paper Shotgun have an interview with Funcom, AHEAD of the announcement that TSW is going to drop sub fees. I don’t really understand this whole concept of the pre-announcement announcement, but moving to non-subscription is going to make the game much more appealing to anyone who was on the fence because of the costs.

I’m certainly much more likely to take a longer look. We knew Funcom had issues with TSW sales from previous layoffs, hopefully this will help the game to find an audience. Alongside SWTOR, this is another nail in the coffin of the subscription MMO — not to mention another example of an MMO changing its payment model fairly shortly after launch.

And in other, sadder news, Trion is laying off a number of developers from the Rift team. (What is it about US firms that they like to have a round of layoffs just before Christmas?) We heard very little about the sub numbers for Rift recently, so I can only guess this means that expansion sales weren’t enough to keep the boat afloat. I have been curious about how well Trion is managing to cost all of it’s projects (Rift, End of Nations, and Defiance). 2012 is certainly turning out as an anno horribilis for the gaming industry,  in the West at least. Moorgard notes that he has friends who have spent the year moving from one layoff to the next; I can only feel for them and hope next year works out better.

Oh, and Darkfall put back their release until January to allow more time for testing. This will likely be interpreted by a lot of people as a failure, but I tend to view delaying launch to allow more testing time as a success that bodes well for the future.

[Thought of the Day] The own goal of cash shops, in bullet points

  • So: bizarro news story on the F2P cash shop front this week was LOTRO trialling a $50 Hobby Horse on the test server. I know, right? What’s the point in putting a price tag on something that no one would want? Unsurprisingly the feedback was negative and it went away again.
  • There’s some magical thinking with cash shop games that goes along the lines of “Mysterious ‘whale’ spenders will throw money ay anything!  Put anything in the shop with a big pricetag and someone, somewhere is bound to buy it.” It’s not clear if there’s any actual demand from players for a rideable Hobby Horse (maybe there is!), or whether someone thought ‘meh, someone will buy it.’
  • This isn’t about jealousy of people who are willing to spend more money on their favourite F2P game. It’s about wondering what happened to the laws of supply and demand. Do F2P devs measure demand?
  • Kids games are especially susceptible to the ‘put up bizarro crap for ludicrous prices’ because they know their players don’t know the value of stuff. Thank goodness for bronies (ie. adult gamers who do understand value)  intervening for players of My Little Pony.
  • There is another side to this. When I play a game, I am using a service. When I am presented with a shop, I go into Super Saiyan Shopping Mode! I want good bargains! I want value for money! If I buy luxury goods, I still want value for money (like: it has to be cool, trendy, make me feel great, well made, anything else you might want from a luxury good).
  • So if a F2P game wants to make money from me via a cash shop then the shop needs to be stocked with shoppers in mind, not gamers. Regular sales work well for this.
  • But the thing I actually value from my game is playing the game.
  • Michael Pachter comments that CoD is a failure for not pushing subscriptions for the multiplayer game. (Like, you pay for your game and then get 12 months of multiplayer gaming thrown in at the moment, he thinks they could charge more for that.)
  • He’s wrong, obviously the game isn’t a failure in any sense at all.
  • But maybe some of the F2P games are failures for not asking players to pay the price of a single player game for their annual gaming. A cheap annual sub would open up players who simply cannot justify to themselves paying for overpriced virtual tat which they don’t want, but would still happily contribute to the game.
  • Actually Arb and I did check out the LOTRO cash shop last time we played, just to see if they had anything else weird. We both bought mounts for our characters that had been reduced in the sale (and both thought they were decent value). So maybe, just maybe, the community has been trolled in a rather successful PR stunt. Food for thought.

Are Bungie working on a new MMO?

destiny1

Actual concept art, from the horse’s mouth

Big gaming news this week was that IGN got access to leaked materials about story details and concept art from Bungie, who confirmed that this document was an outside look at Destiny, which is their follow up to the Halo games.  It sounds to be a full on Space Opera Star Wars-esque science/fantasy futuristic setting and the take out quote about the gameplay is that it is to be “social at its core.”

Bungie had a particularly classy response to the leak, releasing the concept art shown above and saying:

Go ahead. Take a peek. It’s alright. We weren’t quite ready, but we will be soon, and we can’t wait to finally show you what we’ve really been up to.

We do actually know a bit more about Destiny than the above links would imply.  Polygon read through Bungie’s contract with Activision that was unsealed as part of the Activision/Infinity Ward lawsuit earlier this year. They described Destiny as a “sci-fantasy, action shooter” and list out a schedule for future releases and expansion packs.

The contract describes the Destiny franchise as a “massively-multiplayer-style,” detailing the genre as “client based mission structures with persistent elements.” The franchise plans to go beyond four games and four add-ons, comprising “a blend of retail packaged goods sales, subscriptions, downloadable content, value-added services and micro-transactions.”

While the latter sentence is a bit off putting, I doubt any game would sound attractive if you described it purely from a monetisation point of view. But  they do include subscriptions as a planned payment option, and “massively-multiplayer-style” with “client based mission structures” sounds more CoD than full-on virtual world.

So how about it, Halo fans? Does a space-fantasy mission based massively multiplayer shmup appeal? Because Bungie might well be going there. Is Space Opera going to be the new hotness, now that Disney is making more Star Wars films?

It does also make me wonder how Blizzard will plan to position Titan, given that best conjectures I’ve seen on that have been based on some kind of science-fantasy MMO shooter.

Kickstarter, older games, and the packaging up of gaming nostalgia

kotor2

KOTOR2 featured in the Steam Autumn Sale this week for the grand sum of £1.74. And you know what? I realise I never stopped loving this style of RPG.

Let it be widely known that the long-awaited Kickstarter gaming backlash has officially kicked off!

Oh, there had been stirrings in the blogosphere previously. People wondering if punters really thought about projects before they hit ‘donate’, projects that collected money for ‘tech demos’  or ‘demo videos’ on the backs of a zealous fanbase, projects that raised their funding but failed, projects that simply failed to raise the funding required (maybe the fanbase just wasn’t zealous enough.)

None of that indicates a broken system. When you throw money at a kickstarter you are taking a risk. And it is the nature of crowdfunding to favour creators with an established fanbase.

But the more recent trend is for old designers to come out of the woodwork with a shiny new kickstarter to produce some updated version of a nostalgic fan favourite. It worked when Double Fine reminded people that actually they did like point and click adventure games, or Jane Jensen reminded them that she was still writing and still liking these games too. Chris Roberts’ Star Citizen, aside from showing convincing video, reminded people that they liked open world space sims.

I’m an old enough gamer to have loved all those genres too the first time around, and to miss the lack of those genres in the current scene, so I wish the devs and backers all the best of luck.

But then we move to the pitches that just failed to convince. Brenda Romero and Tom Halls ‘Old School RPG’ kickstarter seemed to just remind people of all the things they didn’t like about old school RPGs. For once, even having big name designers didn’t stop punters from murmuring (check the comments on this thread) that it looked like a half thought out cash grab, not a fully realised project. David Braben’s Elite Kickstarter (currently just under halfway to its $1.25m goal)  made people wonder why someone with a successful studio behind them couldn’t get some funding together without going to the fans – or maybe Star Citizen just got to those fans first. And now Peter Molyneux is proposing a God Game kickstarter (aka Populous remake).

I liked all of these games back in the day – apart possibly from the old school RPGs which could get pretty tedious. There are genres that could use a remake with a modern sensibility for gamers who never played the classics of yore. Particularly because some of these games, being designed for old slow hardware, don’t require heavy twitch skills. And they date from before the era of everyone-has-internet, compulsory multiplayer features. (Obviously both of these features will probably get designed out to match more current trends.)

But I am down with letting the teams actually build and release the games before I buy them now. Some of these projects are way too ambitious in scope for my taste. By all means be ambitious, but when Tim Schafer says he’s going to build a single player adventure game in the style of the old adventure games he became known for, I believe him.  When Chris Roberts says he’s going to build a new Wing Commander with a huge sandbox online component as well as a single player game, I think “Good luck, I’ll believe it when I see it. And I’ll happily buy in once its done.”

Also the amounts being asked for don’t bear much resemblance to costs so much as a ‘how much can we get?’ approach. Kickstarters were once seen as a way for indies with good ideas to get some backing from people who liked those ideas too, and now we’re looking at some kind of nostalgia cash grab. Not only that, but as backers get bored of the endless stream of ‘hey pay us money to remake XYZ, we have a sketchy outline and we’re working on a demo’, other creators are going to find themselves on the downturn of a trend that once offered them an airing and a genuinely innovative way to do business.

Jeff Minter  (icon of my gaming childhhod!) commented on twitter that he’d love money to do a T2K remake but that people who are already rich have taken the wind out of the kickstarter sails.

Matt Barton has a particularly good analysis of kickstarter and gaming. I’m just not sure whether I agree with his conclusion that everyone who cares about games should be supporting kickstarters. I’m through that phase now, and would rather wait for a demo.

As an alternative, how about playing the actual older games?

As you can see from the screenie at the top, I’ve been playing KOTOR2 this week ( I’m using the restored content mod,  if anyone is interested). It cost a pittance, and I’m really enjoying it. I like story heavy RPGs, especially if they have combat that lets you pause. And while the graphics are dated, it makes surprisingly little difference to the basic fun of the game. Having good voiceover work and/or music is particularly effective at making an older game feel more convincing. That game is 7 years old, which makes it a spring chicken compared to Elite or even Day of the Tentacle, but the core gameplay is fine. It isn’t fine due to nostalgia or my memories of an earlier era, it’s fine because I was playing it this morning and thinking ‘this feels a bit old school but still pretty fun.’ (Although wtf with having  my character run around in her undies for the first hour or so, Obsidian?)

Older games have never been more accessible to gamers, via Steam Sales, GoG,et al. Even my local library has a load of PS2 games amongst its collection to be borrowed. Some of the older games date horribly. I picked up Ultima: Martian Dreams when it was a free download from GOG earlier this year. I know it’s a really cool game, I loved the steampunk setting back in the day. I couldn’t play it for more than 5 minutes before sadly laying that piece of nostalgia to rest. I’m pretty sure I would do the same with Elite.

An alternative – maybe even a happy medium — is the Balders Gate approach, where an enhanced version is offered. Not a complete overhaul and upgrade, but some new characters, a graphics update, and tweaks.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go sort my characters out for raiding in another game I’m still playing and enjoying that is 8 years old.

[Links] Pandarian musings, Brawlers Guild, cash shops, SWTOR F2P

Welcome to another links post!

Before I kick off some links to posts about Pandaria and how players are settling into the new WoW expansion (or not), here are some words of wisdom from Alexander Brazie, one of the designers. In this blog post, he discusses how and why players get bored, “Ennui is inevitable. It can only be slowed, never stopped.” And what tools game designers have available to work with this.

    • The first tool is to increase the stimulation provided to the players. You can see this in the increased quality of art, boss fights, questing and game systems.  By increasing the quality of the game, the novelty and learning reactivates the brain and helps keep the player engaged.
    • The next tool is to have a nigh-unreachable ceiling on the game, coupled with a steady sense of personal growth and progress. This sense of growth and mastery helps reinforce the player’s investment in the game world.
    • Finally, you can accept that players need a break and build systems that allow players to leave for a while and come back unpenalized.

I think Pandaria does very much reflect the use of these tools, and having now playing it for a couple of months, I also agree that that game itself is probably stronger than ever. Which doesn’t mean that it’s right for everyone who ever loved it in the past. Just that there’s some solid game and game thinking under the covers, a good balance of fun and that particular grind which is characteristic of good MMOs. Also the raids are good fun and they’ve got the balance between ranged and melee dps much better this time around.

Sheep the Diamond talks about the REAL barrier to raiding, which is finding a compatible guild. Truth is, playing an online game in a good guild (defined according to personal tastes) is a very very different experience to playing solo and it’s always been a puzzle to me why devs don’t put more time into good guild finding tools. The current trend as per GW2 et al is for more raid/sociable experiences that don’t require the player to sign up for a guild, which is a viable and different direction. But it still doesn’t give the same sense of being part of a community that a good guild would.

Kadomi also shares her feelings about looking for a guild in WoW, and why the official ‘looking for guild’ forum isn’t really helping.

One of the latest conversation starters in WoW is the new Brawlers Guild feature that is coming with the next patch.

Blizzard are playing contrarians with this one – it is content that can only be completed by one player at a time, although others can watch; access is limited and gated by buying tickets for gold on the in game black market. And you know what? I LOVE it. I love that they’re experimenting and trying out new ways to push interesting server content out into the community. Maybe the whole thing will go tits up and explore in a storm of ragequit, but you know what? It’ll be interesting to find out, both as a player and as a blogger. I’ll be curious to see who the best brawlers are on my server too.

Rohan shares his thoughts on the brawlers guild invitations (and concludes, like me, that it hasn’t been done before and is a low key way to experiment.)

BBB suggests another way that Blizzard could have distributed tickets for the brawler’s guild.

The Grumpy Elf also shares his thoughts on the brawlers guild, and agrees with problems that other bloggers have raised.

I suspect that the people who feel strongest on this issue play classes that are stronger in 1v1 PvE content. That’s my personal main issue with the brawler’s guild idea, it’s not really fair to expect a warrior to be able to perform as well as a hunter or death knight in that kind of scenario so my personal interest is pretty much tanked from the get go. I suspect they may end up having class based leader boards though, at least that is what I would do.

The Godmother writes a thoughtful post about alts in MoP, and particularly about how shared achievements and the rep grinds affect how much time people are prepared to spend on their alts this expansion. She also shares a considered, reflective view on crafting (the bolding is mine).

The main killer for me is the professions ‘gating': if I want that Royal Satchel recipe for my Tailor I have absolutely no choice but to level my Tailor to 90, get the Golden Lotus and Shado Pan dailies to a certain level and then spend however long it is on the Augusts. How on Earth am I supposed to do that when at this stage I’m probably a month away from being rep maxxed on the person I want to raid with? ((…))  I am still sticking by my assertion that this is by far the best way to prevent server economies collapsing, and to preserve the sanctity of professions saleability. Our #1 Tailor is now capable of making those bags, and it will be Quite Some Time (TM) before I see people flooding the market with them. That is the way it should be. I’ll just have to accept the fact that having a family that I can rely on for self-sufficiency takes more time this time around.

Kurn has written a lengthy series of posts behind his decision to retire from WoW. I’ve linked to the first post here but go to his blog and read the rest if you find this one interesting.

Anyhow, I’m not out to convince anyone to quit or that the game sucks or anything of the sort. Play or don’t play, that’s your choice and your choice alone. ((…)) I’ve become more interested in the decision to game/raid/etc than the actual content of the game and so exploring my own reasons seems like a good place to start.

Tobold discusses his decision to cancel his WoW subscription. As usual he generalises too widely from his own experience.

Klepsacovic takes a farewell from WoW blogging. I will miss his posts, but I agree that it is a struggle blog about a game that you’re not enjoying. (You can do it, but it will tend to be a chronicle of burnout.)

You may be thinking, gentle reader, that all these links are about people burning out on WoW or deciding its no longer for them so that must indicate something larger. I can’t answer that question (the sub numbers will do that) but I personally am enjoying the game more than ever at the moment so expect more upbeat posts on WoW in the future.

Liore has a rather different angle on things.

So here’s my hypothesis: for various reasons WoW got extremely popular and suddenly lots of people were playing MMOs. But that was just a fluke of the times as much as anything. The fact is that MMOs are a niche genre that appeals to a smaller group of players, and the genre is now sloughing off those people who were just kind of along for the WoW ride.

Make a commitment to a social group or an activity or a hard challenge or whatever, or go find another genre.

Time for the 2 minute hate on cash shops

ausj3w3l shares his feelings on buying gold from the cash shop in GW2, and using cash shops in general.

I think the reason I feel so dirty and why the experience irritates me so much is that in a way I am now essentially paying more than a sub for basic quality of life things. I go to TSW and I have repertoire that is more than suitable to the game and never once made me feel like I was being purposefully limited so as to nudge my wallet further to the store.

I also don’t understand why upgrading an account to be more useable costs more than purchasing an entire new one ((…))

NB. It’s only more than a sub if you do this every month. But the sense of feeling purposefully limited to encourage use of the cash shop is endemic in F2P games. On the other hand, the sense of feeling purposefully limited to encourage grinding is pretty much a part of old school MMOs too.

This dynamic is driving a lot of the reactions to SWTOR F2P scheme as well, I think. People who might have been fine with grinding for some of the extras are not fine with being directed to the cash shop. (It also obscures the amount you might need/want to pay for your game.) But also, some of their restrictions are not equivalent to ones that have been placed on non-F2P games. I don’t recall any game that ever asked you to grind for extra skill bars or for the ability to turn off your hat graphic or raise the amount of cash you can hold in your wallet. Grinding for extra bag space isn’t the sticking point here.

Green Armadillo muses about currency caps and cash shops.

Rock Paper Shotgun discuss microtransactions in Assassin’s Creed 3.

All things Star Wars!

I’d have to give in my geek credentials if I didn’t include a link on the news that Disney has recently bought Lucasfilm and announced that they intend to produce and release new Star Wars films. I’m down with them making more big budget epic space fantasy, especially if they throw out the expanded universe stuff that tends to revolve around original film characters being raised to godlike status.

Shintar answers the question, “Should I play SWTOR?” with her review after 10 months in the game. I would say yes if you like Bioware games and WoW type games. It is pretty much what you might expect from a marriage of the two genres and I had a lot of fun in my 7 months or so in the game.

Syp shares his thoughts on the recent State of the Game blogpost.

Targeter takes a look at the new cash shop and finds something he hadn’t expected, that some of the items look quite fun.

And the best of the rest

Every games blogger should read this post by Tadhg Kelly.

It’s a rite-of-passage thing. Also an age thing. You’re probably around 25, have jumped, slaughtered and strategised your way through at least 1000 games, and found them amazing and entertaining. Then something happens.

You start to get bothered by the sameness. You start to notice that games recycle the same ideas on a generational timeline, that every 5-7 years or so game developers repackage the same concepts for new platforms. And also keep making the same mistakes.

Over time, you start to think that games need to be saved.

Rampant Coyote predicts that the AAA Games Industry is Screwed.

Unsubject writes a typically thoughtful, analytical post about gaming projects on Kickstarter. He is analysing how many gaming projects have actually delivered so far.

ausj3w3l writes about the culture of gaming journalism, looking at a specific article that kicked off a whole furore about the ethics (or not) of the whole arena.

Doone has a very powerful post on one particular Kickstarter game, iBeg, which is about being homeless (sort of).  He shares his own experiences of being street homeless, and this is another post that everyone should read – particularly if you are a developer who is thinking of using the experiences of vulnerable people as the basis for a game.

It’s very difficult to write this article without being at least a little upset about how this iBeg project is being sold. All I keep seeing in my mind is the words on Kickstarter saying all the money is going into the making of the game. Nothing is mentioned of contributing to homeless people or shelters (unless you buy in-game items, only *some* of which will go to help the homeless). You might be asking: why should they? To that I say, they proclaimed concern for the homeless and they claim to want to do something about it. No, it’s not ok to profit from the stories of the deprived.

Garrosh writes the best article I’ve seen on the US elections from the perspective of Garrosh who is still playing Earth Online.

Anyway, as much as it was annoying having to hear about this world event, like, CONSTANTLY, it actually WAS kind of fun to see it play out.  The event had a lot of parts to it, going on for months, but it all capped with the big Election Day world event earlier this week …

Jacob at tl-dr is trying to make a list of non-violent video games, feel free to add suggestions. I’m wondering whether Fruit Ninja would count or not, it’s quite violent when Arb and I play it (to be fair, so is Monopoly). I’m also not convinced by Skyrim being on that list – sure you could play it without fighting but that’s not really what it is about.

Another post from Jacob is on Riot Games and how their methods to clean up the LOL in game community have been bearing fruit.

Good on ya Riot, you’re implementing systems to get rid of trolling, griefing, harassment, racism, and many other bad things in your game. Keep it up.

It has also been the week/s of quarterly reporting, which is how we know that WoW now has over 10 million players again (and Diablo 3 sold over 10 million copies!), and Arenanet has a guarded success on its hands with GW2. Syncaine comments that he is surprised GW2 didn’t perform better given the amount of hype, and like him I’m curious about the drop off from here on in.

Werit notes that the company formerly known as Bioware Mythic is now just Mythic again, just a name change.

Azuriel describes the recent GW2 Halloween event from the perspective of someone who just jumped straight in.

Talk to a Pumpkin-Carving NPC that says I need to carve an unspecified number of pumpkins before I can get a title or join his order, or possibly both. On my way to the Commander icon I see a toilet paper roll go flying through the air. After clicking on a table, it looks like a Candy Corn monster appears, but I keep walking.

Jeromai discusses WvW in GW2, and particularly why some of the big guilds on his server have just server swapped elsewhere. What does this say about  the future of WvW?

Bernard wonders whether one time events are a good investment of time/effort for developers, considering GW2 in particular.

… my main interest is whether one-time events offer a good return on investment for developers.

If this is not the case, Arenanet is burning money and will have to stop at some point, removing any good will generated by failing to meet the expectations they have created in the player base.

Different types of fun, and is SC2 really doomed?

Melf_Himself quotes from an entertaining rant by reddit user Neodestiny on the subject of Starcraft 2. More specifically, why he thinks the game is doomed (bold font added by me).

“((Blizzard)) are continually proving themselves utterly incompetent when it comes to managing a game as a competitive sport backed by a casual community.

People, ESPECIALLY people in this community seem to fail to realize that a game’s competitive success lives or dies by its casual accessibility. Yeah, in a dream world we all want this ULTRA CUT-THROAT COMPETITIVE FUCK YOUR FACE game where OH MY FUCKING GOD SKILL CEILING SO HIGH NO MULTIPLE BILDING SIELECT FUK AUTO-MICRO OH MY GOD SO COMPETITIVEEE!1111…But in the real world, no one wants to play that game except competitive people.

Competitive games are not fun.

It’s not fun to play ranked matches that affect a ladder ranking. Why on earth would you play a game that gives you ladder anxiety? Why would you play a game where 11/11 or 6 pools or 4gates can kill you in under 4 minutes? Why would you play a game that punishes mistakes so cruelly?

The average, casual player wouldn’t.”

There are a lot of players for whom competitive games are very fun. So his statement that they aren’t seems a bit obscure. Yet, at the same time, anyone who has played a competitive game against people who take it very seriously, where a loss will seriously affect your ranking,  will probably find themselves nodding along. It might be fun, but it’s not Fun. Right?

It doesn’t take much thought to start wondering whether there are just lots of different types of fun. The fun of being in a new relationship is different from the fun of writing a story or playing music, or the fun of playing a particularly tough game of Scrabble. And there has been a fair amount of research into theories of fun. I thought it might be interesting to explore a few ideas and see how they might apply to MMOs and their players.

Nicole Lazzaro writes about 4 keys to fun:

  • Hard Fun (involves challenge and adversity)
  • Easy Fun
  • Serious Fun (meaningful accomplishments, real objectives)
  • People Fun (socialising)

These aren’t exclusive, she explains that people often shift between them in a single play session.  She also posits that the most successful, best selling games offer at least three of these ‘keys’ to players. This matches Bartle’s argument that virtual worlds need a mixture of different types of player (although his player types don’t tend to switch types several times in a play session.)

I like this model because of the Serious Fun category. The most compelling MMOs can feel meaningful in play, maybe because of the persistent elements. But meaningful play isn’t always fun because it can feel like work, it can feel like having to grind out something you don’t really want to do in order to get to the thing you do, it can feel like having to be on your best form always so as not to slip down the PvP ladder. It may be though that the sense of having to work is one of the things that helps make a game feel meaningful.

And very few players want to play a game that is purely Serious Fun, we have real life for that. Sometimes you want to let off steam, either by zoning out with some easy fun or chatting with guildies for some social fun. The other smart thing is that she’s separated Serious Fun from Hard Fun. So for example, in EVE you might have longterm goals which mean you need to mine. Making those plans and executing them might be part of your Serious Fun, but that doesn’t mean mining is Hard in the sense of top LoL matches.

So for your favourite game, do you think it engages at least three of these keys? I would argue that WoW offers all four keys, although  the Serious Fun aspect of the game felt stronger back in TBC, and you have to look for the Hard Fun via Challenge Modes, Arenas, and hard mode raids, or making up your own difficult achievements. EVE, in my brief explorations, lacks easy fun, so maybe one of the ways CCP could make the game more appealing is to make the basics of flying around and mining more fun to do. And it’s interesting to ponder whether even a single player game can offer social fun if you talk to your friends/community about your experiences and strategies for playing afterwards.

Marc LeBlanc describes 8 types of fun:

  • Sensation
  • Fantasy (RP, immersion, escapism, make-believe)
  • Narrative (story)
  • Challenge
  • Fellowship (social)
  • Discovery (exploring)
  • Expression
  • Submission (he describes this as ‘a mindless pastime’)

I’m not sure these work as well as Lazzaro’s categories for MMOs, but he does bring in the idea of stories being fun for some players and the escapism of being in a fantasy world as another source of fun. Sensation might also include games with great visuals, or the feel of flying or swimming in a virtual environment.

As for Starcraft 2, I couldn’t really say how it is doing, although the momentum of eSports is clearly with League of Legends now, a game I’ve never tried because I don’t much fancy the hard, challenging, social fun of being abused by the playerbase while trying to learn it. And that matters too, because it plays into Neodestiny’s argument that competitive games aren’t fun for average, casual players. I would say they could be fun for those players, but they might need to learn some skills first. If the process of learning those skills isn’t fun, then your average player never becomes one of your core competitive gamers and I suspect that this may be where SC2 misses the mark.