Thought of the Day: What should you expect from an SOE sub?

The big MMO launch this week was DC Universe Online, now available on both PC and PS3 (anyone tried the console version?). Unsubject posts a thoughtful look at some of the plus and minus points of the launch.

Intriguingly, in an interview with Eurogamer (which is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the game who wants to know more about it), John Smedley commented with respect to subscriptions:

“Just like the PC gamers, once they see the amount and level of content they’re getting compared to a normal game with bits and pieces of DLC, they’re going appreciate this a lot more.”

So while the rest of the MMO industry is following a trend of PC games morphing towards F2P payment models, SOE is trying to persuade console gamers that subscriptions are best.  Which is fine, but I think that claiming that console gamers should learn from what PC gamers want may be the wrong argument for that model.

And as for:

The monthly subscription fee means players can expect a lot of new content from us. And I say a lot — I really mean that. This is something that we feel obligated to the players, because they are paying monthly sub fee

… I wonder how players of SOEs other subscription games feel about that.

Gaming News: Free Steam Game, Comic Con MMO News, GTA Rothbury, Women spend more on virtual goods, 38 Studios big reveal, Starcraft did not cost $100m

Happy Sunday!

This week brings lots of announcements from Comic Con, including new trailers.

EA/ Maxis also announced that they are producing a game called Darkspore which seems to have nothing at all to do with Spore, except that they claim that they were inspired by the Spore character creator. Perhaps they realised that people enjoyed playing with the character creator more than they did with the game.

Having said that, “players battle across alien worlds to save the galaxy from the mutated forces of Darkspore in a four-player co-operative and full single-player campaign” sounds just a little bit like Alien Swarm, the free 4 player co-op top down shooter which was released for free (free as in beer) along with its base code on Steam this week. (It had good reviews too, go grab a copy if that sounds like your type of game.)

But riddle me this: Does the  “build your own pet dickmonster and watch it dance” play of Spore character creator really translate into a successful “build your own weapon out of monster body parts” type of shooter? Surely a Pokemon type of “Build your cute monster and then make it fight other monsters!” game would have been more logical.

DC Universe Online launch trailer

Fans of lycra-clad men, woman and aliens with improbable body shapes look no further, the Who do you trust? DCUO trailer is here.

Is it bad if every time I saw Wonder Woman, I wished they’d put her in the new costume? Also Batman looks terrifically butch in this trailer, I prefer him with the voluminous cloak.

DCUO is due to launch in November. Hopefully we’ll soon hear much more about the game itself and how it plays.

Space Battles to feature in SWTOR

Another announcement made at Comic Con confirms that the SWTOR team plan to include space battles in their upcoming MMO. It sounds as though it will involve some kind of self contained gameplay – and there’s more information to come in next month’s PC Gamer (a magazine which has been working hard to earn MMO fans’ money recently).

Dragon Age 2 at Comic Con

Lots more news this week about Dragon Age 2, also. I can’t sum it up any better than Arbitrary, who was there at the DA2 panel:

There’s a couple of big differences which I think will prove quite interesting, but obviously which we can’t really see in a short playtest. First of all, the hero is voiced! No more silence.

Secondly, the narrative structure of the game has changed. The game covers a much longer period than Dragon Age, and is told by a couple of (not necessarily reliable) narrators – the tale of The Champion (that’s you, that is!) and who s/he was. This allows Bioware, and the player to play key points in the life of the character, with each being able to have a massive influence on the rest of the story.

The section of playable game was chosen to show off some of the fighting and a little of the dialogue, but it was pretty short. I thought it definitely looked like the combat flowed more and I liked what I heard of the voices and what I saw of the new art style. In fact, there really wasn’t much I didn’t like about the changes and I’m now really looking forward to playing the game, due out in Spring next year – in perfect time for my birthday!

More from Comic Con

Arbitrary has been filing more reports from Comic Con here and there are a few more to come, also. Lots of news there.

And a link to Super Hero Squad Online (I couldn’t get this to work in Firefox but it’s fine in IE) which sounds like a terrifically fun little kid-friendly MMO where you collect Marvel Superheroes into a team and get them to go fight for you.

GTA Rothbury

Recently in the UK we had a manhunt for an ex-prisoner who went on a shooting rampage. There was a lot of criticism about media coverage, claiming (with good justification) that they turned it into a media circus with journalists reporting next to armed police squads whilst negotiating was going on and in earshot of the subject of the manhunt, and so on.

The final stand took place in a small village called Rothbury. This is only relevant because one of the crappier UK newspapers was taken in this week by a faked screenshot showing the cover of what purported to be Rockstar’s next game – Grand Theft Auto Rothbury.

Whilst any actual gamer would not have given that even a second of thought, clearly the Daily Star has none on staff because they ran with it. They got mocked widely in the gaming press, and then Rockstar got some lawyers involved. The Star had to apologise.

Women spend more than men on virtual goods

A survey published this week shows that women spend more than men on virtual goods. As you’ll see in the link, there’s room for some queries on the survey methodology, in particular running a survey on a micro-transaction site is likely to show that users spend more on casual games than ‘traditional’ ones,  but it wouldn’t surprise me if the general trend turned out to be correct. Hopefully there will be more surveys to follow.

But this does raise the question: in an era where online games are leaning more and more heavily on ‘micro’-transactions, how will they change to lure in more women if women are actually their best customers? Or is there a way for them to get men to spend more? Will it involve guns and/or porn?

Lots of questions. You can bet that many business heads in the industry are thinking about this right now.

38 Studios reveal Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning

Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios have been teasing a reveal of their first game for many moons now, and this week they brought out a trailer and some information.

Previously known only as Project Mercury, their single player RPG has been announced as Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning (or KOAR for short.) There’s a trailer to go with the announcement, and it looks pretty sleek.

38 Studios always claimed to be about MMOs, and this single player RPG is to be a testbed for their rich game universe and background, as well as a good game in its own right. While the long long trail of hype without any supporting substance has put a lot of bloggers off, it’s hard to argue with talent like:

People working on the game
– Lead Designers: Ken Rolston (Redguard, Morrowind, Oblivion), Mark Nelson (Morrowind, Oblivion, Fallout 3)
– Lead Narrative Designer: Erik J. Caponi (Oblivion, Fallout 3)
– Lead Systems Designer: Ian Frazier (Ultima 5: Lazarus, Titan Quest, Dawn of War: Soulstorm)

And that’s even before you include Bob Salvatore and Todd McFarlane. So either way, this has to be great news for fans of single player open world RPGs. It isn’t due to be released until Autumn 2011 though.

No, Starcraft did not cost $100m

Last week, I noted rumours that SC2 had cost $100m to make. It turns out that the commenter who said “no way” was absolutely right. Starcraft 2 did not cost $100m, the Wall Street Journal got its figures mixed up and had to print a retraction.

Gaming News: Landmarks for Wizard 101 and Free Realms, Rumour Control (SWTOR beta, DCUO pricing, APB adverts), CoH expansion dated, Blizzard writing contest

If you have somehow escaped knowing this, Steam have a really good sale on at the moment. Also, we’re about to lose at football again. Is that really news?

Numbers are up for Free Realms and Wizard 101

Good news everyone! Kid friendly non-subscription MMOs have posted some great numbers this week. Wizard 101 registered its 10 millionth player this week, with Free Realms claiming it’s jaw-droppingly 12th million signup.

Obviously the majority of these players are not actually paying to play, and many of them probably registered, checked out the game, and never came back. But props to both studios for getting the word out. Millions of players found out about those games  somehow – probably not through the gaming press — and came to check them out. That is not a small accomplishment.

If you want to join the party, you can get to Wizard 101 here, and Free Realms here. They’re both solid, kid oriented games.

Assorted Rumors, we’ve got them here!

The beta test for Star Wars: The Old Republic is widely rumoured to have started this weekend. Apparently 100-200 people received invitations to a game testing program, and SWTOR community managers have clarified what is and isn’t covered by their NDA (a fairly good sign that there’s something going on.)

Anyone care to bet that Blizzard will end up releasing Diablo 3 in the same month that SWTOR goes live? Anyone?

Sony confirmed this week that they’re going with an old fashioned subscription pricing setup for DC Universe Online. Or should I say, “old fashioned subscription model but probably with a cash shop anyway”? It’s interesting that they decided not to distinguish their game from CoH and Champions Online by going with a different pricing model. Clearly they’ve looked at their various portfolio of games and run the numbers, and think that they’re playing to a more hardcore audience here.

APB continues to flirt with controversy by deciding to play audio ads to players – even paying players. I don’t personally feel that one advert every three hours or so is something to get worked up about, is this even the sort of game that people play for three hours straight? Still, it takes double dipping to a new level if you look at income sources. Players pay for hours, plus there’s a cash shop, plus income from advertising.

I don’t imagine there’s all that much cash YET in in-game advertising, but I’ll be interested to see if it catches on.

Turbine is rumoured to be working on a new console MMO, with the assistance of Twisted Pixel. Scott@Pumping Irony guesses that this might be a Harry Potter game, given that Turbine is now owned by Warner Brothers who own that licence. I think I’d go with that as my guess also.

On a more local level, politicians had been talking excitedly here about the possibility of some kind of tax break for gaming companies. This went out of the window in the recent ‘austerity’ budget. But was there undue influence from outside companies lobbying against this? Did ‘one of the biggest gaming companies in the world’ really sabotage the tax break? The local gaming industry body says no, government made that decision all on their own. I’m inclined to believe them, this wasn’t a budget in which there was ever going to be much support for tax breaks.

And finally, is Linden Labs (the developer of Second Life) in trouble? They’ve just sacked their CEO and earlier this year they made 30% of the staff redundant. There is no good spin for that sort of story. They’re going down.

Going Rogue goes live in August

NCSoft announced that 17th August is the date for City of Heroes players to pencil into their diaries.  Going Rogue always sounded to be an interesting expansion, promising moral choices for players and the possibility for heroes to become villains or vice versa. I’ll be curious to hear more about it (probably from my husband since he’s a huge fan :) ).

I think they’ve done well to pick a date which is in the traditional MMO doldrums, before the rush of new games in the Autumn and Winter months. Maybe players who are bored with their other games will be lured into picking up an old fan favourite to see what they have to offer.

Anyone thinking of trying this?

Blizzard seeks fanfic writers

Last year’s contest was evidently popular because Blizzard is again running a fanfic competition. If you have any stories to tell that are set in the gameworlds of Diablo, Starcraft, or Warcraft, this could be your chance to shine.

These are last year’s winners if anyone wants to gauge the possible standard of entries. I rather enjoyed the winner (bit too elfy is my only criticism.)

Gaming News: LOTRO goes F2P, Zynga buys Warstorm Dev, Sony announces Clone Wars Online, DC Online, Buzz about Halflife 3

Good news everyone, I didn’t have to make up any news this week!

LOTRO, Darkfall: Free as in Beer (the first round is on the house)

In case anyone had escaped the internet LOTRO blogging blitz, yes Turbine have announced that their  AAA Lord of the Rings MMO will be offering a wider variety of payment schemes from sometime this Autumn, so probably around November. Which does, yes, include some non-subscription cash shop options.

The big news from my point of view is that this is going to happen for the Euro servers as well as the US ones (unlike DDO). So we may actually retain some players. We still don’t know exactly how the changeover will affect existing players. So expect to hear more about that as the deadline approaches.

In other freemium news, Darkfall has announced a new 14 day free trial. So if you’re curious to test Aventurine’s claims that their MMO is not just a hardcore PvP gankfest with a confusing UI but actually does sport some challenging PvE also, this is your chance.

Zynga pays a high price for Challenge Games

Continuing to buy their way to dominance of Facebook games, Zynga announced a new acquisition this week. Challenge Games have made a name for themselves producing innovative social games like Warstorm (a collectible card type game) and Ponzi (a game that pokes fun at corporate life), with the obligatory cash shop purchases built in.

So it’s clear that Zynga recognise that they’ve been weak at innovation in this area – all of their more popular games right now were based on polishing other existing games. And this is how they plan to plug the gap. Challenge now becomes Zynga’s Austin office.

Sony announces two new MMOs, internet ignores one of them

Sony announced that they are releasing two new MMOs this year:

Care to guess which one got all the attention? Hint: It wasn’t DCU Online. This can’t bode well for the superhero MMO, maybe the popular interest in playing superheroes just isn’t there or is already well catered for with City of Heroes (due an expansion later this year too) and Champions Online. I was actually surprised by how few of the blogs and news outlets I read had much to say about it.

Everyone seems far more taken by the notion of Clone Wars Adventures, myself included. Maybe Sony have some agile PR campaign planned for DCUO later this year to stir up some excitement.

November is looking pretty busy this year for MMO releases, especially if Cataclysm ends up with a November release date too (which is likely). And we still don’t have dates for Final Fantasy 14, which also could potentially release this year, not to mention other smaller games (Jumpgate Evolution, Black Prophecy, TERA, etc.)

Valve cancels the Portal 2 demo at E3… what are they planning?

Lots of gaming journalists this week received a note from Aperture Science to announce the cancellation of the Portal 2 demo at E3. It will be replaced with A Surprise. RPS speculate whether the surprise might be related to a Half-Life 3 announcement.

From working my way through Portal (what a great game!!), I can only say that I regard announcements from Aperture Science with a degree of .. uh … cynicism. My 2c says that it is in fact going to be the Portal 2 demo, but maybe they’ll zap visiting hacks with cake guns or something similarly amusing to the public.

In any case, Valve could teach Sony a thing or three about PR campaigns. Maybe Portal 2 could include a Batman level to hype DCUO or something…

Puzzling PR #2, and a great article on casual/ hardcore gaming

Most puzzling comment made in an interview I saw this week was from Bioware, on the topic of Mass Effect 3. Apparently the third story is where they are going to bring some more fun and lightness into the trilogy, like the ewoks in Star Wars.

But I thought that everyone hated the ewoks and also, what if existing players love the games BECAUSE they aren’t fun and light hearted. Just a thought. Why are devs so scared of the grimdark, I wonder. It obviously does sell.

And because I forgot this from yesterday’s link post, everyone should go and read Greg Costyikan’s great article in The Escapist in which he ponders why publishers and retailers have been trying so hard to drive a wedge between casual and hardcore gamers. After all, don’t lots of people play both, and have been since the very dawn of gaming?