Gaming News: Gamescom News (GW2, Diablo III et al), Skaven for Warhammer Online, Age of Empires goes F2P, Blizzard sues private server, 90% kids in the US play online games

It’s been a week of new trailers and press releases, as opposed to actual news.

One of the more interesting forum snippets that Player vs Developer picked up is that the majority of F2P players in Dungeons and Dragons Online don’t reach the endgame. I’m not surprised by this, given that the free to play model encourages more casual players who’ll tend to be less engaged with a game and probably more likely to drift away if it gets grindy. And also that we know that even in WoW, most casual players don’t get past level 10 in any case. But I also wonder how much of this is the model that allows you to unlock content for all alts at the same time. So once you have bought a few low level instances, you might as well level a few alts through them because … hey, you’ve already paid.

There are also rumours that Realtime Worlds (devs for APB) have found a buyer. Hopefully more news on that shortly.

Bits and Pieces from Gamescom

I thought the Best of Gamescom awards were quite interesting this year in that although Star Wars: the Old Republic was nominated for both best game and best online game, it didn’t win either. Guild Wars 2 won best online game of the convention, though. And that’s via voting from people who were there and tried the demos. I suspect that to be more of a judgement on the demos than anything else, but I really think that the Best of Gamescom category should be made up of games which already won their own categories. And maybe they should make the developers have a steel cage death match fight too.

Also any voting in which Gran Turismo 5 wins out over Kirby’s Epic Yarn is not reflecting my personal tastes so is largely irrelevant to me ;)

Blizzard turned up with some more information about crafting in Diablo III. Comments have noted seeing similar elements to WoW, but I suspect that’s missing the point. Or maybe it is the point. I’m looking forwards to hearing more about D3 at Blizzcon, it’s probably going to be the biggest ever PC game when it does launch. They also commented in interview that Cataclysm needs a couple more months before release.

Arenanet brought a video of Guild Wars 2 gameplay.

(edited to add: Yarr suggests in comments that people might find this to be a better and more informative link.)

There is also a Portal 2 trailer.

THQ also ruffled the Warhammer 40k fans by noting in interview that their upcoming MMO would not allow players to play as space marines from the beginning. I don’t really get why people are upset about this since inquisitors are way cooler!! *ducks the flames* but you probably won’t be able to play those either.

Bioware Mythic mention skaven, fans go wild

Mythic discussed future plans for WAR in an interview this week which mentioned ‘an RvR pack’ which would involve skaven but not as a standard race that players could play from level 1.

They expanded on this  in a chat session. There will be a new PvP zone, new renown ranks to earn, and a focus on open world RvR. We’ll expect more announcements on this fairly soon.

Age of Empires to go Free to Play

Microsoft is planning to release an online version of their popular RTS, Age of Empires. And it will use the free to play/ freemium model.

Apparently there will be levelling and quests and incentives to team up with other people. It will be quite interesting to see how this works out for a RTS game and why they aren’t going the battle.net route of matching opponents instead.

I suspect it’s easier to make and balance a cooperative game. And also, they’re keen to provide some permanence for your capital city which means that it can’t be nuked while you’re offline.

Blizzard sues private WoW server, wins $88mil

So the story is that someone was running a successful private WoW server, with a F2P type model. Blizzard found out and sued them. And was given a huge punitive award by the courts.

Lum notes that the private server had more players than most other MMOs out there, although I think that since it was F2P that most of them probably weren’t paying, or else registered to see what it was all about but didn’t play much. What is real is that the owner earned $3 million from the private server, and with that kind of money on the table, you can see where the incentive lies. And also why Blizzard pressed for a large award.

The question on the table is whether this indicates a large latent demand for WoW to go free to play. I suspect there probably are plenty of people who’d love to pay their way past bits of the  game they don’t want to play, and lots of others who think it would work out cheaper for them with a F2P model.

The kids are online

A report this week based on a survey of 5000 kids across the US showed that over 90% of ‘tween’ kids (8-15) play online games. My first reaction is to be surprised that 90% of kids in the US have access to game capable PCs or consoles and internet connections, so I’m assuming this survey is based purely on those in families which do have these things.

I mean, who gives an 8 year old an iPhone anyway?

More worrying was the facebook statistic:

Facebook is now the favorite website among tween (8-11) boys and teen (12-15) girls.

This is interesting because Facebook’s policy states:

  • No information from children under age 13. If you are under age 13, please do not attempt to register for Facebook or provide any personal information about yourself to us. If we learn that we have collected personal information from a child under age 13, we will delete that information as quickly as possible. If you believe that we might have any information from a child under age 13, please contact us through this help page.”

Yes, you can play facebook games through someone else’s account, but … I wonder. Or is it just that it’s the easiest website for kids to remember and to tell surveys if asked to name one?

EQ2 Extended in Open Beta, has a bumpy ride

The free to play version of EQ2 is now in open beta, so feel free to go try it.

But don’t buy anything (who buys anything in a beta? Honestly, people!!) if you already have a subscriber account, because you might accidentally lose everything. I’m sure SOE will figure out a way to give all the stuff back and fix the bug, but that one is pretty epic.

Having said that, it’s great that people actually do buy stuff in the beta because it helps to find these sorts of bugs.

Gaming News: Earth Eternal for sale, Layoffs at APB dev, Spellborn closes down, Rage runs on an iPhone, Valve trademarks DotA, Digital Sales chart for the UK

Not a week of good news for the MMO milieu with various layoffs and closures hitting the headlines. Usually when a game is being run down, it won’t be a surprise to anyone who was paying attention because they will have noticed the ever decreasing numbers (and interest).

Even so, some publishers will keep the servers going right up to the end. SOE in particular has a reputation for supporting (for some value of support) less popular games like Vanguard. Compare that to Zynga, who took flak a few weeks ago for closing one of their less popular (but still hundreds of thousands of players) games without any warning at all.

On the subject of new games, there is also a rumour that Atari is set to announce a new Neverwinter Nights based MMO, from Cryptic.

Plus we are knee deep in convention season with Gamescom next week in Germany looking to be the highlight of the summer, with representation from Blizzard, Arenanet, Bioware, et al. (Anyone planning to go to that?)

Earth Eternal for sale, APB not for sale

Earth Eternal, the cute anthropomorphic animal based game, is on shaky ground at the moment. The developers, Sparkplay Media, are closing down due to having run out of money. The CEO’s letter is particularly poignant:

I’m sorry. I’ve failed you despite my best efforts. I’ve never worked harder in my life, but it wasn’t enough. Things that we planned on happening didn’t, and things we didn’t plan on happening did. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail and I don’t want to try to shift responsibility to anyone but myself. There’s really nothing I can say other than I am very very sorry to have let you down.

So here’s hoping they are able to find a buyer.

Rumours this week were also flying about Realtime Worlds, developers of APB (the Grand Theft Auto MMO-alike). They announced layoffs of 60 staff, the entire team of the MyWorld project which was only announced last month.

The rumour that APB was actually for sale were denied, but it’s never a good sign to see so many people go. The developers commented in reponse to the rumours:

“As we’ve announced we had to restructure the company to make it so that we can focus totally on APB.”

“APB is still going strong and we fully intend to support 100 per cent. In fact we have a cool announcement coming this afternoon, so keep your eyes peeled.”

Chronicles of Spellbourn, a game I rather liked in beta, is definitely in the process of closing up shop. The game has been in limbo for the last few months, after changing payment methods to free to play didn’t solve any cashflow issues. But now it has been announced that the servers are to shut down for good in September.

Rage! On an iPhone! And on everything else in September

Fans of shooters will likely be looking forwards to Rage, id’s next title which is due for release on all platforms on 13th September.

John Carmack wowed the crowd at Quakecon last week by demonstrating the game running on an iPhone 4. I’m now intrigued by how a shooter could work on a touchscreen machine. Surely if you can aim by touching, that rather takes the effort out of the whole thing and turns it into a straight forwards whack-a-mole? cnet aren’t sure about this either but fact is, this was presented as a cool demo rather than a release candidate. (Carmack did comment that the lack of buttons on the iPhone presented a hurdle. Maybe he’ll be happier with the new PSP phone …)

The PSP phone, incidentally, sounds like a dreadful idea to me. We all know how well the Nokia NGage concept went. Not. Sure, Sony Ericsson know a few things about phoned but so did Nokia. We’ll just have to see if they can lever their game console expertise into the design mix and come up with something people want to use.

In other action/gaming rumours, Valve have filed a trademark for Defence of the Ancients which presumably signals some intent do do something with the popular IP which was originally developed as a mod for Warcraft III.

Come to think of it, WC 3 also spawned tower defence as a genre (OK, apparently there were tower defence games before that but I think the WC mods made them much more prominnt) so it has a lot to answer for. I wonder if SC2 mods will also generate entire new genres of games.

Digital Download Sales Charts for the UK

I thought this was an interesting post about moves towards generating more accurate digital games sales charts for the UK. The key is that the publishers involved (so far: Ubisoft, THQ, Sega, NCsoft, Mastertronic, Kalypso Media, Midas Interactive and Square Enix) are going to include sales data from third party resellers such as Steam.

It’s still early days, but good to see some movement on trying to track PC sales more accurately. Because anyone who has been into a game shop recently will know how little of the shelf space is given to PC games these days.

What we might be playing after WoW

Larisa posts about the heart and soul of branding and the kind of work the WoW guys are doing to keep an old brand alive  (I never actually thought marketing people cared about anything but now I’m going to feel bad about every time I’ve passed up an aging brand in favour of something new).

I did momentarily feel a pang of sympathy, but I do struggle to see WoW as any kind of underdog in any sense at all. But for all that, I think future studies will centre on the amazing job that Blizzard have done to keep the game new and fresh and appealing. There are so many things to love about Wrath and despite the bum notes (like the whole of patch 3.2) Blizzard do know how to make fun games.

Sadly, my sympathetic side lasted all of about 5 minutes … which was the time it took me to go check out the Guild Wars 2 trailer. SHINY. Armoured bears and giant robots? Sign me up please. And again I stab Blizzard’s  poor marketing peons in the heart  with my shallow, fickle and feckless consumerist ways. (Sorry, Larisa.) If you weren’t excited yet, Ravious@Kill Ten Rats discusses some of the ways in which the Guild Wars 2 team plan to change questing and make it a more dynamic and involving experience. I do wonder why they’re so obsessed with using ships as bridges though, Isembard Kingdom Brunel might have had a word or two to say about that.

Here’s a more expansive Eurogamer article about the game and what lies in store for players.

And if that wasn’t enough, I then spotted the Final Fantasy XIV trailer. FFXIVcore.com snagged an interview with Square Enix at Gamescom this week to talk to them some more about their plans. Nothing really revolutionary here (other than running on a PS3) but they’re clear on their target market. It’s to be a PvE game, subscription based, with plenty of content for both casual and hardcore players that builds on what they learned with FFXI.

So that’s at least two games coming down the pipeline that might appeal to people who enjoy WoW at the moment. The Everquest team have also been dropping hints that they are working on a next generation version of Everquest, plus of course there’s whatever secret MMO project Blizzard are working on.

I can’t remember a time when I’ve been so upbeat about what the future holds for MMOs. And this is discounting all the free to play games in production, and the non-fantasy games, and the FPS or fighter type MMOs.

As far as other games go, Hudson has a collection of  gameplay trailers and videos debuted at Gamescom this week and it reads like a list of ‘Games Spinks might want to play’ so I’m hyped. (and not a single WW2 shooter among them.) How about you?