Gaming News: Roguelikes!, Kinect is a winner, should screenshots be exclusives?, LOTRO F2P is a winner too, pre-ordering gets complex, melee misery in Cataclysm raiding, Rift thoughts

I enjoyed writing a series of Gaming News posts on Sundays through the latter half of 2010, but did become very aware of how the gaming news cycles work and how non-news (like whatever random musings Michael Pachter pulls out of his hat) end up becoming headlines.

So I’m going to try to focus this year on stories that are actually news or have some interesting commentary that relates to current gaming news. Feel free to send me links during the week if you see anything you’d like to suggest! All contributions will be attributed.

Best Roguelikes 2010

Any fellow fans of Roguelike games out there? Andrew Doull posted the results of his Roguelike of the Year poll (981 people voted!)

Winner by quite a high amount, with a total 39% of the vote was ToME so if you are a fan of the genre and want to see what’s hot at the moment, go check it out. It’s F2P of course. No, wait, I mean it’s freeware, you can play for free and if you like the game and want to support it, you can donate.

Kinect ships over 8 million units, coming to PCs ‘soon’

According to Steve Ballmer (Microsoft’s CEO), they have shipped 8 million Kinect units so far. Winextra (the link above) do some figure checking and conclude that MSoft have actually sold 2.5 million units, the 8 million figure is the number that they have shipped to suppliers (figures for how many of those have sold are not actually in yet, they might all have done). In any case, this is an astounding figure for a controller which is still not very well supported with games and requires a large amount of room space to even set up.

I’m still hoping to see someone take a shot (sic) at making a Kinect based shooter, I think out of all the current genres that would benefit from being able to drop the controller, it’s sports/ dance games, FPS and ‘point and click’ adventure games that would benefit the most. But really the ball is in the developers’ court at the moment. There are probably some awesome things that could be done with it, as soon as people can imagine them.

And my gut feel is that the biggest Kinect application, in the end, will not actually be a game. Maybe it’ll just be people using it for controlling the TV, maybe Kinect Avatar will spark off a whole new slew of virtual world mania, but this way of interacting with technology is only going to grow and spread.

However, I still find it creepy to think that my computer might be watching me. It’s bad enough with the cat.

Exclusive Screenshots

One thing you will notice if you read professional gaming blogs/ sites is that there’s a strange cosy relationship that they sometimes have with developers. I’m not sure at what point money changes hands, but this is why you’ll see exclusive interviews, screenshots etc on sites that you normally would not touch with a bargepole (Ten Ton Hammer with your annoying popups, I’m looking at you).

The guys at Rock Paper Shotgun went head to head with this culture this week when they published exclusive screenshots from another site WITH ATTRIBUTION and got threatened with legal action for their pains.

Standard internet posting etiquette usually states that it’s ok to quote other sites as long as you link back to them. We normally consider this polite. But how does that fit in with the idea of exclusive screenshots? I think swiping exclusive screenies should probably be off limits but there is also a point at which you have to say ,”the internet just doesn’t work like that.”

John Walker at RPS commented, “”But really, the idiocy of publishers giving out adverts for their games like precious, secret jewels has got to end. It’s self-defeating, and it’s deeply tedious for the readers of every other site/mag in the world who want to know about a game they may want to play.”

It’s certainly tedious for readers to be directed all around the houses for information rather than just being able to pick it up from their favourite news feed. In fact, I’d rather be able to pick up my gaming news straight from the official site and my pet bug is developers (Mythic used to do this a LOT) who publish all their news as exclusives on random news sites rather than on their own.

LOTRO revenue triples since they went F2P

In an interview with Ten Ton Hammer (podcast interview, no transcript), LOTRO’s executive producer reports that revenues on the game have tripled since it went F2P.

That’s great news for Turbine, and it’s unlikely that we’ll see any figures from Codemasters to be able to compare the EU numbers (or see how much of an advantage Turbine had from launching their version several weeks in advance). So we can assume that they’ll continue to do whatever they are doing. More bizarrely marked horses for all!

Perhaps not such a great result for players who don’t particularly want to be spammed with inducements to check out the cash shop, especially if they are already paying by subscription.

Rage Quit Jane offers another analysis of F2P players, “Thanks Suckers” (for buying expensive shiny cosmetic stuff for real money and keeping the game going). The bloodsuckers she’s talking about are the new EQ2 race which is being sold at a premium to people who want one now, and will be offered free to subscribers in a couple of months time. Or maybe she’s just talking about SOE.

The complexity of pre-order offers

A couple of pre-order deals that made my radar this week are the slew of Rift pre-order special deals, and Dragon Age 2 announcing a DLC which is included free if you pre-order the signature edition – ie. only if you PRE-order, as opposed to last time where you got the DLC free if you bought a copy that wasn’t second hand.

Hawley ponders on this trend in more detail, nostalgic for a time when you could just go buy the damned game and not feel that you have to check every possible pre-order combo to make sure you got the best deal.

I think this is one of the downsides of F2P. Not everyone enjoys the process of shopping or having to waste brain cycles figuring out how to get the best deal on something commodity based like a game or book or film. Whilst it leaves a gap in the market for blogs or websites that can do the analysis for you, it isn’t really fun.

Obviously for studios it’s all about the bottom line, but I wonder if making a simple process (buy box and play/ log in and play) into one that involves complicated buying decisions is really a good thing.

Melee vs Ranged in Cataclysm, round 2, and 3

I mentioned a week or so back that I thought there was some imbalance between ranged and melee in Cataclysm instancing. Just to show I’m not imagining it, here are a couple more authoritative views, from raiders.

Paragon got the world first kill on some heroic raid boss last week (has anyone else totally lost interest in the world firsts?), and published a note together with the kill shot on their website.

Dropping out melee characters in favor of ranged ones has been a recurring theme throughout this whole raiding tier, but we hope that it’s over now with only the end bosses and Sinestra left. Here’s to hoping next tier of raiding won’t favor ranged by design. Maybe even go wild and give some incentive to bring in melee, too.

(Incidentally, it’s a sign of how mature a guild Paragon are that they decided to use the publicity which they knew they’d get from a world first kill to highlight imbalances they saw in the game.)

Karuki at World of Ming also writes a very well written, heartfelt post about the woes of playing a melee class (Death Knight in this case) in Cataclysm heroics and raids.

My experience is with heroics at the moment. And I’m getting pretty good now at staying alive *flexes at heroic Stonecore* but the cost is spending more time out of melee range and being more cautious of the mobs. Which is fine, but won’t make the numbers look good.

Also an ex-guildie of mine, who is one of the finest melee dps players I know, isn’t pleased with how dps warriors are working out at the moment. So that’s something to look forwards to.

Reactions to Rift

Out of all the reactions I’ve read about Rift and the Rift beta/s, these two caught my eye. Caveat: I think it’s a very fun game.

Abalieno @ The Cesspit sees connections between Rift and Warhammer Online, in terms of the game engine, the programmers, and other themes, and doesn’t think Rift compares well.

Wolfshead writes about how he thinks combat in Rift could be improved. I don’t think there’s even a remote chance that they’ll redo the combat system at this stage in beta, and it’s not broken in any case. But I really enjoyed his analysis of how combat is the main way we communicate with the game world in MMOs these days.

And one of the reasons I stick with WoW and keep coming back to it is that underneath everything, Blizzard made the basic combat experience very snappy and fun. PvD is wondering though whether some of the WoW classes/ specs are edging a little close to each other in play style these days.

Gaming News: Pirates of the Burning Sea goes F2P, Jedi Sage in SWTOR, EQ2 Vampires, Betas for Rift and TF2, LOTRO F2P tweaks

This week will mark the release of possibly the biggest PC game launch of the year. It’s also a game which will be downloaded directly by a large number of players (possibly even the majority) and will no doubt be showing up in a lot of Xmas stockings and making a lot of gamers, both casual and hardcore very happy, especially if the developer is up to their usual standards.

I speak of course of Bejeweled 3 (subtitle – what else can we do with a 3 colour match game?).

Joking aside, I love Popcap and there’s no reason not to think this’ll be great. I can see me buying a few copies as presents for gamer-friendly friends/ family. Plus it’s something to do while waiting in WoW server queues for Cataclysm.

Speaking of which, Blizzard have released a final release trailer for the new WoW expansion. It’s called The World Reborn and is a flythrough of some of the new stuff – that elemental plane of air looks incredible.

In other news, EA have announced that they will be looking to cut down their game output next year. I thought they said that last year too.

The post that caught my eye this week was Larisa’s discussion about why she’s not doing anything special to prepare for Cataclysm. This in an environment where hardcore players probably have all the maps and quests planned out from various beta information already.

RPS have also, astoundingly, finally found a writer who likes WoW to write about it.

Pirates of the Burning Sea launches F2P

Ever wanted to be a pirate, sailing the spanish main? Well now you can do it without a monthly sub in PotBS, it’s a pretty game and a rather different setting to most other MMOs on the market. There’s also quite a sandbox economy/ PvP vibe alongside the quests and naval combat and most importantly, characters can have the best range of beards I think I’ve ever seen in a game. I liked the female customisation a lot also, the costumes are just that cool.

Jedi Wizard gets renamed

The unfortunately named Jedi Wizard class is being renamed to Jedi Sage in SWTOR, following an online poll.

They also have a developer blog up this week about crew skills and crafting in the game. One of the things I like is that they definitely have a notion of casual crafters vs hardcore crafters and that each type of player should be able to get something out of the system. So casual crafters should be able to fairly easily make gear that is on par (or slightly above) drops, but there will be better gear available to be crafted by players who want to put more time into it.

I’m rapidly thinking that the crafting in this game is looking like one of the big plus points. I’m also getting fonder of the graphics, it’s not fancy but it doesn’t need to be.

New vampire race for EQ2

Well, at least they aren’t vampire elves. Arkenor says what a lot of other people are thinking, which is wtf SOE? (I’m more puzzled that he thinks this is a step towards becoming more like WoW which wasn’t especially vamped out last time I checked.) Having said that, maybe people would like a bloodsucking race. It’s certainly been part of fantasy gaming since at least original D&D.

But if you do want one, hang in there because it’s being given as a reward  for people who remain subscribed between Dec and Feb. What we don’t know is how overpowered it will be compared to the other races – a usual tactic to ‘encourage’ players to want one.

Green Armadillo suspects it will show up in the cash shop as a buyable race sometime later.

Beta Watch: Rift and TF2

A couple of betas that we heard more about this week. Trion Worlds’ Rift has a beta weekend event this weekend. It sounds from the website to be a very classic WoW-like MMO but with some interesting twists and lore. It isn’t a typical fantasy setting and the races and background look quite fun.  It also looks very pretty in screenshots.  There’s an NDA up to stop beta testers talking about it too much but expect to hear more about this game as it nears launch. Might be one to watch if you preferred vanilla WoW to the current version.

The other game with some extra beta zing is Team Fortress 2, for which Valve have opened a public test server where you’ll be able to try some of the new patch changes and give feedback before they go live.

Tweaks to the LOTRO F2P setup

The December Producers’ letter for LOTRO explains some of the changes they have made recently, including removal of radiance and changes in some of the pricing. For example, Lonelands is now free to all players whereas at launch of F2P, you had to buy access to the quests in the zone.

There are also going to be cosmetic pets.

As a player, the main take home message for this is wait as long as you can before buying anything because prices are tending to go down and more content being made available for free the longer you wait.

And also, if you do buy something, do so because you want it at the time and try to be sanguine about the notion that prices are likely to change later on.

[LOTRO] A walk in Enedwaith, with farmyard animals

enedmap

So the long awaited F2P update arrived in LOTRO EU last week, and with it the new high level zone and epic book story associated with Enedwaith (a new zone to the south of Eregion).

Welcome to anyone who is trying the game for the first time. Have fun, it’s a beautifully wrought world.

This is the first new content that EU players have had in the game for over a year, so even aside from the new F2P crew, it’s not surprising that the servers have been buzzing.

One player on my kinship forum was quite dismissive of the whole affair. He said he had been playing the Cataclysm beta and doubted that Turbine would come anywhere near to Blizzard’s storytelling ability. But having played through some of the new book, I wonder if he’d actually tried it at all before coming to that conclusion.

The storyline is this: The Grey Company – all the remaining rangers of the north – are riding south to meet up with Aragorn, their leader, in Rohan. As brave adventurers who have worked with the rangers in the past, you have been invited to join their ride. And Arwen has also entrusted you with a special gift for her beloved. (Because let’s face it, by this time you are beloved with every single free people faction in Middle Earth … pretty much.)It’s a dangerous journey through the wilds. Go!

What I love about Turbine’s storytelling is that they do a much better job than Blizzard in giving you a nice variety of things to do, gameplay wise. I think the recent cultist plots and elemental invasions in WoW prove this quite nicely – they’re fun in themselves but very reminiscent of other quests or events.

Whereas in this new book, in short order I was playing through some scenes in Aragorn’s history through the eyes of several different rangers, exploring a mazelike dungeon — with extra achievement for finding lots of extra out of the way spots that weren’t required for the main plot (a fun little sop for the explorers, I thought), sneaking around another cave to snatch a key from a sleeping jailor without waking him up, and fighting off waves of wolves to keep an NPC alive.

They’ve done a particularly nice job on the solo quest instances – always a strength of the game – with good use of outdoors locations as well as indoors ones.

I do find LOTRO to be a much slower paced game than WoW, which is something to bear in mind when you are playing. If you are not in a hurry, it’s extremely chilled out.

And then there are the farmyard animals

I present to you, the wildlife of Enedwaith.

enedanimals

Yes, I am fighting an evil goat at night in that last picture.

Gaming News: Champions Online goes F2P, LOTRO EU F2P dated, Biggest ever online battle in EVE, Zynga aims to patent virtual currency, is Zynga worth more than EA?

The rise of the F2P MMO has given our gaming culture a new way to celebrate Halloween. As well as the inevitable (and inescapable) “Halloween holiday quests” there’s also now a Halloween sale, probably featuring skimpy costumes for female characters. Welcome to the future, where there’s some kind of sale on in the cash shop for 364 days of the year.

One of the blog posts which caught my eye this week was Larisa’s disappointment with the new worgen female dance – released this week onto the Cataclysm beta servers. It’s a copy of Lady Gaga’s dance from Pokerface (yeah, I wouldn’t have known that either and I quite like Lady Gaga).

The first thing I thought on seeing that video was what an amazing job the animation team did with that dance animation. It’s pretty much perfect.

It’s also a really poor fit for the worgen theme and  — even worse – has none of the charm which so amused people about the original WoW racial dances. Say what you like about silly pop culture references but it’s still comedy gold to see an orc dude do the MC Hammer dance, or the human female dance the Macarena. What happened to the lols, Blizzard? Blood elves dancing like Britney Spears was still vaguely funny because belves have a blonde airhead theme. But worgen dancing like Lady Gaga? Not really getting it.

Ah well, Alliance sucks anyway. Here’s a video of a goblin girl doing Beyonce’s Single Ladies dance.

Champions Online joins the Free to Play party

The big MMO news of the week is that another AAA subscription based MMO is switching to a F2P pricing model. This time it’s Cryptic’s Champions Online which is taking the plunge.

The news has been met with the usual round of commentary on the future of the genre, and guesses as to which game might be next. Truth is, with every AAA game that switches payment models, that future comes just a little bit closer. And no matter how many games do successfully switch over (and we hope that they’re all successful!), this is still not really proving anything yet about the types of communities that a F2P game can engage over time.

Pick of the week for me on the commentary was MMO Gamer Chick’s thoughts on what this means for lifetime subscriptions.

I’m still keeping an eye on Pirates of the Burning Sea which is due to switch to F2P sometime ‘soon’.

LOTRO EU gets a date for F2P

On a similar topic, European LOTRO players can rejoice. The F2P patch, alongside the new zone of Enedwaith and the harvest festival (better late than never), is going live this week.

Hurrah! Well, hurrah for new content and new players at least.

Biggest battle ever in an MMO?

It’s a tribute to whatever CCP have done with the EVE servers that they held out during a massive battle involving several thousand players.

Massively note that lag set in at around the 2400 player mark, and presumably the thing played like a slideshow when all 3100+ were there. But like a singing dog, the amazing thing is not that it sings out of tune but that it sings at all.

Anyone involved in that battle? It sounds like quite a remarkable experience.

Zynga and more Zynga

We haven’t had any stories about Zynga being evil for awhile. They’re currently trying to get a patent on virtual currencies. Surely they can’t have been the first company to use those, but the US patent laws are bizarre to me so who knows?

It is however clear that if spending real money to buy virtual currency is something which can be patented, it would be worth big money. This is because the next step would be for Zynga to threaten legal action against any company (assuming they get the patent) using a similar scheme if they don’t pay some kind of licensing fees.

Partly because of this patent application, Zynga has recently been valued at the colossal sum of approx $5.5bil (yes billion.) To put this in context, the valuing of a non-public startup is something of a black art. During the dot com boom, plenty of companies which later went bust boasted huge valuations on paper (and I worked for at least one of them.)

On globalisation, consumerism, and F2P

(Even for me, that’s one heck of a subject line.)

What if developments in MMOs over the past few years really do model the real life experience in some ways? After all, virtual worlds are modelled on the real one … sort of.  Have gamers in virtual worlds been through their own virtual industrial revolution, and are heading on the road to  wherever it is that we are now in the real world?

Globalisation

Globalisation in MMOs, and specifically in WoW, happened when cross server transfers were enabled. Suddenly the population of a single server had much less of an impact on the progression of that server. Or to put this another way, there was a time when progression guilds took quite a strong interest in less progressed raiding guilds on their server and how they were doing. This might have been with a view to poaching players, but it was also because they knew that the server rose and fell together. There was an element of trying to foster the server community because progression guilds knew that earning a bit of goodwill with newer players now might result in better applications a few months down the line.

By the same token, if a raid guild on a server was well liked, non-raiders on the same server might share some pride in their achievements. I remember congratulating people I barely knew when their raid got C’thun down for the first time.

Servers now have become less relevant to a lot of players. Progression minded guilds and players think little of transferring servers or factions, advertise across servers and don’t feel the same sense of connection. Compare this with the way global industries set up call centres wherever the costs are cheapest and don’t feel such a strong connection to any local national interest.

You’ll still see some guilds, mostly more social ones, recruiting and training newer players off their own bat. If anyone remembers the post I wrote a few months back about running a TotC-25 to bring some less experienced raiders along, you might also be interested to know that some of them got the raiding bug and are keen to raid with our main crew in Cataclysm. Which is great because we’ll need the people.

Consumerism and F2P

Consumerism is a style of society in which people are defined less by their job and more by their purchasing power, and what they choose to buy. People are less interested in saving money (except if it means better consumption in future) or being thrifty with time or money, and more in having the newest latest most exciting items and experiences. We do see this as a trend in MMOs at the moment.

Players are less inclined to put all their focus into one alt on one game. Less inclined to define themselves as their main character or guild. Less inclined to pigeonhole themselves. Less inclined to put up with a long grind to get a minor benefit for one alt when they could get a new shiny more easily on another, possibly in a different game. And less inclined to value the achievements of people who do focus so much on one character – after all, look at how many options they have to give up to do that.

F2P games are bang in line with this type of play. A F2P game needs people to be constantly spending, so they need to offer a constant stream of new shiny items, which won’t last very long. This is the key — consumers like shopping. They like to have new and cool items to choose from. They bore quickly. They want to be seduced into making frequent purchases, not one-time permanent buys which would mean an item that never will be replaced. Consumables (by definition) are ideal candidates. If a player runs multiple alts then a F2P game can also try to lure them into buying shiny items for each alt separately. An item shop should frequently offer new things, time limited offers, anything to lure consumers through the virtual doors.

WoW in this context is actually pretty conservative with the cash shop options. They’re still good value compared to other games IF you have a lot of alts – the sparkle pony for example requires you to pay once and then all your alts can have one. Compare that with EQ2 which asks you to spend the same amount for every alt who wants the cool mount.

So it’s not necessarily about showing off to other players and keeping up with the Jones’, but might be just about being able to do a lot of shopping and choosing stuff you like for your own characters. Obviously the more money you pay, the more choices you have. Consuming is also a more solitary lifestyle. It’s all about your individual choices which you make privately with your own personal money, and less about having to fit in with the rest of the workforce. Again, this fits with the more solo friendly gameplay which MMOs are introducing.

The new breed of player may not be so interested in the endgame. Most of the F2P players won’t get that far – even if they stay interested in the game they’ll be cautious of committing too much time and money into it because that would restrict future options. This does not bode well for raiding as a playing style, at least not in its current form.

But can consumerism in games really support the sorts of communities that lead to long term growth? It’s a solo focussed mindset. And one effect of excessive consumption is that people can get jaded. The sparkle pony is new and exciting now, but how will it compare with future mounts, for example? Will there be a constant stream of people who will buy? In the real world there are also all sorts of issues to do with greater inequalities in society – in order for this to also be the case in MMOs, the cash shop would have to take on far more importance compared to in-game items.

Gaming News: Halo Reach breaks sales records, APB is dead or is it, Pirates to go F2P, Activision to sell cut scene movies, Steam introduced new wallet

This week heralded the Tokyo Game Show, with more news about forthcoming Japanese games.

Stories from Tokyo that caught my eye were the announcement of Valkyria Chronicles 3, but not for the PS3. I think that’s a shame, the first game is a super RP tactical strategy game with a very different type of tactical strategy combat from games like Final Fantasy.

Never mind, the trailer of Studio Ghibli’s Ni No Kuni should keep PS3 RPG fans happy for now. (WANT!!)

And Phantasy Star Online 2 was also announced and due for the PC in 2011. I never played the original but I remember it had a huge cult following, so MMO fans might want to keep their ears peeled.

Microsoft also took the opportunity at their TGS conference to predict 3m sales of Kinect this Christmas and announce some Kinect exclusive games. More interestingly, they predict that there could be 5 years of life left in current gen consoles (admittedly they have a vested interest in encouraging people to buy them, but it may also be true.)

In WoW news, wow.com has changed its name back to WoW Insider and moved domains to wow.joystiq.com. They answer questions about the change here. But you have to wonder whether a domain name like wow.com will be allowed to rot in limbo.

Halo Reach breaks $200m in first day sales

Halo Reach has been breaking sales records, recording over $200m in sales in America and Europe on it’s first day. This actually makes it the biggest US entertainment release of the year, beating opening weekend sales for top blockbuster films as well as gaming releases. Amazingly, this still falls short of the Modern Warfare numbers last year. The game has been getting great reviews in the media, too.

And this is why we will always have AAA shooters.

The sad demise of APB

Realtime Worlds failed to find a buyer for APB as a going concern, and the servers closed down this week, about 80 days after launch. This is a record, as far as I know, for MMOs.

It isn’t clear what sort of legal rights any buyers have, although requests for refunds are being directed towards retailers. That’ll certainly make them keep to take more new MMOs in the future. There is a rumour that a buyer may have emerged for APB, but even if true that doesn’t mean they want to actually run the game. They may be more interested in the codebase.

Pirates of the Burning Sea announces switch to F2P

Flying Lab software have announced a change in charging scheme for their pirate themed MMO, Pirates of the Burning Sea. The producer comments in his post:

Finally, in the modern MMO environment, players often rotate through several games that they’re engaged in. With a subscription, it’s a hassle to cancel and then re-subscribe as they move back and forth between games. With F2P, players can play the games they want to play right that moment without having to keep in mind what they committed to weeks or months ago. F2P is a win for the player, and it’s a win for a more diverse MMO community.

I remember thinking that Pirates was a rather cool game when I tried it in beta, just I didn’t want to commit to subscriptions. And I think his point that players often rotate through different MMOs these days is a really interesting one. May add more thoughts about that this week, but the idea of finding an MMO to become your virtual home is probably looking old fashioned right now to a lot of players.

They haven’t announced a date for the switchover but fans of nautical combat and economic PvP might want to give this one another look. It’s very different in theme and style to other games out there, having more in common with EVE than with WoW.

Anyone want to pay for a collection of cut scenes? Activision says yes

Bobby Kotick is keen to monetize cut scenes. Although he was talking about selling them separately as a movie, I can’t help wondering whether they’d be keener to sell them as extras to existing games (which is probably a bonus if you hate cutscenes and never want to see them again.)

Speaking about these cutscenes, Kotick said: “If we were to take that hour, or hour and a half, take it out of the game, and we were to go to our audiences for whom we have their credit card information as well as a direct relationship and ask, ‘Would you like to have the StarCraft movie?’, my guess is that … you’d have the biggest opening weekend of any film ever.”

Does anyone else find it creepy when he reminds everyone that they have the credit card information from their audience (not to mention untrue because I don’t recall that you are forced to buy the game direct from Actiblizzard)?

My thought is that sure, you could have a fairly large opening weekend if it was CHEAP. No one who spend £45 on a video game is going to want to spend half again on the same cutscenes … are they?

Still, I could  imagine paying a fiver for a collection of nicely edited together cutscenes for a game I really liked. I enjoyed watching through the video collection of warcraft 2/3 clips showing Arthas’ story pre-WoW.

Speaking at the same conference, Kotick also claimed that Activision have no wish to charge online fees for CoD, or in-game ads at all. It is quite odd to hear him talking about showing respect for his customers, wonder what happened to the real Bobby Kotick.

New Steam wallet

Steam are planning to let you load your account up with cash, which will be available via prepaid cards (ie. if you want to give one as a gift or don’t have a credit card) as well as via credit card purchase or offer codes. They have chosen not to go with their own virtual currency.

This will be a boon to people who want to sock some cash away when they are feeling flush in order to get the most out of the infamous Steam sales later on.

They do note though:

Funds added to the Steam Wallet are non-refundable and non-transferable

Gaming News:Zynga as Farmvillains, Medal of Honor needs to sell 3 mill to get sequel, Move not a pre-order product, LOTRO goes F2P

OK, taking a brief break from Recettear to write up some news.  (RPS found it as addictive as I am, but I’m not really sure I’d be so fast to pin ‘game of the year’ accolades on a roguelike with an economic sim attached, however engagingly executed.)

It strikes me this week that gaming ‘news’ that makes the rounds is just as likely to be reactions to some strongly worded opinion piece (as per this week’s wave of excitement about yet another article noting that Zynga made a reputation from copying game ideas) as actual news.

Zynga as Farmvillains

The SF Weekly article that got everyone going this week includes some prize quotes from ex-Zynga employees.

“I don’t fucking want innovation,” the ex-employee recalls Pincus saying. “You’re not smarter than your competitor. Just copy what they do and do it until you get their numbers.”

This isn’t really news, as anyone who had ever compared Farm Town to Farmville can attest, and it isn’t illegal either – game mechanics aren’t really copyrightable per se.

CEOs in general prefer to gain a reputation as evil than as incompetent, and since Zynga actually makes more profit than Facebook, I imagine Mark Pincus is laughing all the way to the bank. And of course, now they’re busy buying up more innovative companies and probably will be keener to open up new markets for gamers who don’t actually like Farmville. Who knows?

What’s more interesting is the assumption that social gaming on facebook is a waning phenomenon. I’m not entirely sure how much of this is wishful thinking.

And whether you like Zynga games or not, journalists are reluctant to give much credit to developers or companies who do a really good job of polishing an existing design and selling it to a new crowd. It’s rarely just as simple as copying. The more evil things that Zynga did were to do with pushing dodgy or even fraudulent ‘free’  offers on people, and spamming the known universe with farmville and wants-to-be-viral marketing spam.

If you find yourself playing a F2P game and are annoyed at all the in-game adverts, inducements to recruit friends, or other anti-immersive popups, blame Zynga et al for bringing the levels of success enjoyed by these forms of sales to people’s attention. (Meanwhile I’ll be playing Recettear.)

Sell 3 million or go home for Medal of Honor

In a brief look into the mindset of gaming executives. the Medal of Honor executive producer this week said that if the game doesn’t sell at least 3 million copies, there won’t be a sequel.

This is just another indication of how the gaming industry is taking its lead from Hollywood.

Maybe Steve Jobs was right about iDevices owning 50% of the US gaming market …

Venturebeat has some numbers in on which devices Americans choose to play mobile games. And they claim that Apple is chasing hard on Nintendo’s heels in that department.

There’s a point where you have to take these figures with a pinch of salt, because people don’t necessarily play the same sorts of games on a DS as they would on an iPhone. It’s the same logic which says that minesweeper is the most popular PC game around the world. It may technically be true, but it’s all in the interpretation.

In any case, a larger gaming market should be a good thing for everyone, right? I also wonder how well the iPhones will be holding on vs Android in a year or so. Yes, people love their iDevices but do they really care whether it’s Apple under the hood as long as they have a nice shiny gadget with friendly UI (as many of the more recent Android devices do) to play with? Or at that point, do other factors come into play?

Paypal freezes indie developers account

Having mentioned Minecraft last week, it’s sad to report that the developer has had his paypal account frozen.

Hopefully it will just be that they weren’t expecting the sort of economic activity that comes with coding up a breakout indie hit game and when that’s sorted out and proven, they’ll release the cash. But paypal has a poor reputation, and if they are still allowing payments to go into the frozen account, that’s bad practice for any bank.

But if I were him, I’d be getting a lawyer.

LOTRO goes F2P (US Only)

Lord of the Rings Online, Turbine’s AAA MMO, has opened the doors to free to pay/ freemium players for the first time. It hasn’t been without some teething troubles – the usual queues and lag as masses of extra players hop over to check out the new free shinies.

Back in Europe, F2P launch has been delayed until at least the end of the month. I don’t have much to add on this except that it’s disappointing but better not to launch if the code or infrastructure isn’t ready.

Sony gearing up to go head to head with Microsoft over Move

Sony have been busy setting expectations this week about the forthcoming launch of the PS3 Move.

According to an interview with MCV this week, they have deliberately avoided a big, expensive wave of hype prior to next week’s launch. Instead, they’re looking for an ‘evergreen seller’ with the advertising set to ramp up after the device is available on shelves. In fact, their retail promotional tour in the UK is mostly heading for big supermarkets and not specialist games shops.

I thought that was an interesting, and probably wise, angle compared to the crazy hype campaigns that kick in for software launches.

And VP Marketing from the US Sony campaign agree that it’s not a huge budget endeavour. They can’t outspend Microsoft and won’t try.

Is crossplayer the fusion of single player and multiplayer?

This was an article on The Escapist that caught my eye, discussing where the lines are drawn between single player games, multiplayer online, and story driven.

Coming from an MMO perspective, I find myself puzzled because in games like WoW et al, that problem has been solved (for some value of solved). Feel like soloing? Fine, go solo. Feel like a battleground? Sure, go queue for one of those.

But this is a different approach, and one more akin to monsterplay in LOTRO, where you might not know in advance whether you are fighting NPCs or actual players. So there is the possibility for any of the AIs to be taken over and controlled by a real opponent.

I’m not really convinced about how fun that’s going to be. But it’s an interesting read.

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?