[Links] Gaming news: Sony due to reveal next gen playstation in Feb, Hartsman leaves Trion, gPotato gets sold to company with less daft name

My aim with the links posts this year is to separate out gaming news (which I’ll post about once a month) from links to other gaming blogs or links that caught my eye. So this is a news focussed post, with some blog posts to illustrate how bloggers have reacted to some of the games/news! Feel free to send or tweet me links to interesting gaming related news for inclusion in future posts.

playstation

seanmasn @ flickr

The biggest gaming news of January is that Sony are implying that they are going to reveal the next Playstation on February 20th. This is big for obvious reasons, we’re at the end of a console cycle and games companies turning in poor figures have been blaming them on the console cycle for most of last year. There have also been rumours that Microsoft also plan to announce their next generation console  this year, so expect to see a lot of gaming press on the issue.

Sony posted a trailer on their blog which ended with the date: February 20th, 2013. The Wall Street Journal discusses the new console in context of the ailing video game market (I hesitate to say ailing, maybe changing would be closer to the truth.)

Gala Net (aka gPotato portals), publishers of Allods amongst other F2P titles, has been bought by Webzen, another F2P publisher. Take this as another date point on the “maybe F2P isn’t the answer for MMOs” graph. It seems from the financials that Gala Net had been well into the red for all of last year.

Wizardry Online, a new F2P MMO noted largely for a hardcore death penalty, released this month. When you are marketing your game as “the most hardcore fantasy MMO ever created”, it is a fair bet that you are aiming at a fairly specific audience. Still, Dark Souls sold well on a “this game is really hard and unforgiving” tagline so  the players are out there. Stropp gives his first impressions of the game:

The game promises a hardcore level of difficulty, and yep it is hard. Nearly every modern MMORPG tries to insulate its new and low level players from death. You’d have to be playing pretty badly to die to a mob under level 20 in WoW, even a mob 2 levels above player level. In WO, I died a few times early on.

Brian Reynolds resigned from Zynga, where he held the post of Chief Game Designer. It’s another very high profile flight from Zynga, which has been bleeding senior executives over the last few months. He wrote a blog post for GamesBeat talking about the decision to leave and what he plans to do next. And it sounds as though what he plans to do next involves starting a new game studio, this could be very good news indeed for strategy fans (as long as they don’t hold shares in Zynga).

I want to experiment more than might be appropriate for a publicly traded company, and I might want to do something that would be “off strategy” for Zynga or otherwise too risky. ((…))  I suspect that “starting a little studio with a few wingmen” — for the fourth time in my career — is likely to be on the menu.

CCP is working hard on getting Dust 514 ready for release. The game, which will be F2P for PS3 only,  is in beta at the moment. MMO Melting Pot sums up some bloggers’ thoughts on the beta and none of the people they quote actually like the game or seemed inclined to want to play it on release. That could be really bad news for CCP, these are people who were already invested in the genre and probably also play EVE and have Playstations: ie. their target audience. Stabs has some nicer things to say about the game. I predict that we’ll get to know how Dust is faring in the market by how keen CCP is to add more cash spending ‘opportunities’ to their cashcow, EVE later in the year.

Scott Hartsman announced that he is leaving Trion Worlds, where he has been the executive producer on Rift. I think this came as a surprise to observers and players, especially as the influence he has had on Rift has been so widely praised. Two questions left to answer are “How will this affect Rift?” and “What is Hartsman planning to do next?” Rift bloggers ponder whether his departure clears the way for a transition to F2P for the game, although the devs haven’t made any formal announcements to that end. I also wonder quite how financially successful Rift has actually been with its current model, a lot of bloggers have been keen to give it as an example that subscriptions can still work in the current market. But what if the financials aren’t actually in that great a shape?

Trion also have their hands full with releasing ArcheAge (F2P fantasy MMO) later this year, and Warface (a F2P MMOish shooter) as well. Not to mention Defiance (multi platform shooter MMO, that will tie in with a Syfy TV series).

Jay Wilson (Diablo 3 lead designer) has moved on to another role within Blizzard. Posters on the official forum have been so arsey about the poor guy that Rob Pardo commented on the thread, defending him. I quite enjoyed Diablo 3 and have no regrets about buying and playing, it’s not going to be my go-to game for the next three years (in fact I dunno if it will be my go-to game ever) but I’m interested enough to pick up the inevitable expansion at some point. Wilson is very low down on the list of game designers I’d like to have a quiet word with. Tipa has had at least 230 hours of entertainment from the game and it sounds as though she isn’t done yet.

Even though we played this game for half a year, it didn’t overstay its welcome. It’s time to move on while we’re still having fun with the game. I don’t think it will be leaving any of our hard drives any time soon.

Gas Powered games set off a new kickstarter for Wildman, an action RPG and then announced a few days later that they were sacking most of their development team in a round of layoffs, leaving people to wonder exactly who was going to make this new game if it did get funded. Unsubject, as usual, does a great evidence based takedown of Gas Powered, and notes that the state of the company’s financies is the sort of risk that investors should have been told about in advance. I doubt the game is going to reach its target, but it’s worth noting as an example to kickstarter funders of caveat emptor.

Leigh Alexander writes about the kickstarter fad for gaming, and wonders whether letting your fans be your publisher is a good idea. She has a point, we know how ‘reasonable’ fans can be when a game doesn’t meet their expectations.

Curt Schilling is selling one of his socks to raise funds to pay debts owing due to the failure of Amalur. Apparently it’s expected to fetch at least $100k. Who knows what he might have earned if he’d sold the other one too.

Bioware announced that planet Makeb, star of the next paid DLC for SWTOR  (I hesitate to say expansion) will feature same sex relationships. Naturally the non-gaming media siezed on this to report on the gay planet. Whilst it would be way preferable to adjust all the existing in game content to include same sex relationships, it’s easy enough to see that this is a) a cheaper way and b) probably technically easier than altering all the existing romances to include same sex options. I understand the criticisms but if it’s this or nothing, surely this is better.

Anna Anthropy also released an adventure called Hunt for the Gay Planet as a commentary. It’s probably NSFW.

Tera, a MMO known mainly for the decent combat and lasciviously clad characters, has gone F2P – it’s nine months after launch, if anyone is counting. j3w3l argues the case for why you should give it a go. Keen has some issues with the spin on their announcement (but really, can you imagine a dev ever saying “we’re going F2P because we suck”?)

Obviously they have to somehow make the best out of a situation where they change or die.  Just don’t believe for a second that they’re changing because things are going really well for them.

zomboobies

Racing ahead of the pack for “most tasteless special edition of the year” are Deep Silver for the bloodied female torso (with perky boobs) model they are giving away with preorders for Dead Island Riptide.  Conveniently Placed Exhaust Port is not impressed (nor is anyone else, to be honest, even people who like schlock horror.) I’m not even going to start on the sexism angle.

What Deep Silver has done here goes far beyond just creating something horrible. Lots of people have done that (there’s a sequel to The Human Centipede.) I’m sure somewhere out there is an entire line of photo-realistic busts of bloody nude torsos that enthusiasts of such things can fawn over. No, what Deep Silver has done is so much worse. It made such a thing and then, with a wink and a nudge, said “Dude, you’d love this.”

Gaming News: Shattering hits Azeroth, Elder Scrolls 5 in production, Skills change in EVE, casting for Uncharted film, details on FF Agito XIII

As you can see from the subject line, this is a quiet time of year for gaming news. But there are some moves afoot to change that.

Bioware has already been issuing teasers for a new game announcement to be made after the Spike VGA awards, and now Sony have also announced that a new exclusive PS3  title will be announced then also (word is that it will be Uncharted 3, which probably blows Bioware out of the water.)

As predicted last week, there have been a lot of heavy discounting sales this week. Steam’s indie bundles have been particularly good value if you had any interest in some of the games, and their sale still has a few days to run. I picked up a copy of Audiosurf for approx. zilch a couple of days back, which has been good fun. Anyone else make any good sales buys?

Interestingly, Steam are encouraging people to make a wish list. When I tried, I struggled to think of many games to put on it, on the grounds that if I really wanted something I probably have bought it already. Not really sure what to make of that. Amazon is also entering the world of digital download, at least on their US site.

An article from Massively that caught my eye was about Wurm Online which has revamped its tutorial. WO is very much a sandbox game, I never had much time to play other than checking it out and thinking that it reminded me a bit of Tale in the Desert. But if that sounds like your thing, then this might be a good time to jump in.

The Shattering hits Azeroth

Phase one of the Cataclysm hit World of Warcraft this week, transforming all of the low level zones and quests and introducing some new class/ race combinations. The rest of the expansion (the new races and new high level zones and content) is what you will be buying if you purchase the expansion on 7th Dec.

There are no comprehensive reviews out yet, and I’ll be writing more about my experiences next week but the lower level game is now incredibly slick, story focussed, and bang up to date with lots of interesting ways to stitch the quest based play together. I’ve been impressed at the parts I have seen.  No one does this type of thing better than Blizzard and possibly only Bioware even come close. Or in other words, if you like themepark quest-led style RPGs, there has never been a better time to join the party. And Blizzard are sweetening the deal at the moment with some pretty good discounts on WoW and all of the existing expansions. Come on in, the water’s lovely :)

Also, Blizzard announced more details of the various Cataclysm launch events which see their dev team sent off around the world to host in different cities. London gets Ghostcrawler, and … does anywhere else really matter anyway? (Me, I’ll be in bed at midnight on 7th Dec.)

Elder Scrolls 5 in production

Eurogamer quote an unnamed source that Bethesda is working on a 5th game in the Elder Scrolls series. This would be a sequel to Oblivion, but hopefully not with the same dreadful levelling system.

Still if – as is likely – this is true, it means good news to come for fans of the single player RPG. Or is it? Various commentators have wondered if the new game might be an MMO. (I think this would be a pretty bad idea, but who knows?)

EVE Online ditches the learning skills

As you may know, EVE is based on characters learning skills. Currently, a whole batch of metaskills exist which make it possible to learn other skills more quickly. So a savvy player would train those up first and the save hundreds of hours in skill training time for future skills.

But as from an upcoming patch, this will no longer be the case. Learning skills are disappearing from EVE, and players who spent time learning them will get the skill points back – the link is to the official announcement and it has graphs and everything to explain why they did this.

Another entry on the dev blog this week touched on the issue of F2P and item shops. Short summary: they will soon be selling vanity items via some kind of a cash shop. We don’t know if the vanity items will also be craftable in game.

Casting announced for Uncharted film

It’s a sign of how weak the news has been that this even gets a mention here. But for those interested, Mark Wahlberg will play Nathan Drake (ie. the lead) in the film of Uncharted, and the producers are talking to Robert de Niro about playing his father.

This has caused a large amount of concern amongst fans who don’t think he fits the role. But that’s likely to have been the case whoever was cast, although my personal pick would have been Tom Hardy (Eames in Inception).

Final Fantasy Agito XIII

I think anyone could be excused for being confused about the various different games being touted around in the FF13 series. Some details about this one, which is to be a PSP game, have been released this week, but frankly I’m still confused. And I don’t think we’ve had much mention of FF Versus 13 (which I think was to be a fighter) yet either.

Gaming News: Bioware’s Mystery Game, LOTRO takes hobbits to Isengard, Music games nosedive, Jagex beats patent suit, Activision closes more studios

blackfriday

So apparently this is a traditional week of sales in the US, which brings me to the picture to the left. What’s odd about this screenshot?  It’s from amazon.co.uk. Yes, I’m puzzled too.

In any case, keep an eye out for sales from your favourite US vendor (eg. steam, etc) this week. There does come a point when virtual shops become almost indistinguishable from any other type of online shop with the various sales, time limited offers, etc … which is of course the point.

CODBLOPS duly and predictable broke some sales records last week, despite reviews generally agreeing that it isn’t as good as the predecessor. I presume people are keen for their annual shmup purchase and if it’s disappointing will just whine about it until they get a chance to buy next years’. But it is interesting that the quality of the game doesn’t seem to affect buying decisions unless it really does dip below some kind of acceptable level.

Speaking of which, Activision now claim that Infinity Ward (the studio which made MW2) has now been successfully restructured which means that they have 3 studios working on Call of Duty games. But we don’t know which one will be tapped for next year’s episode.

A lot of MMO bloggers have been writing about Perpetuum this week, an EVE-like game featuring giant robots which is in beta and giving out beta keys at the moment. Interestingly, even the home page gives me an EVE vibe.

EVE itself has released footage of a rather stunning character generator that will go live alongside Incarna (the upcoming expansion that will allow characters to walk around inside space stations). I do still have my doubts about a game where in a standard starter guide, trying to scam other players is listed as a standard way for newbies to make in-game money.

Posts of the week are from Rhii and Alas, both on the subject of having to choose between friendship and progression in WoW. And this illustrates nicely some of the  structural issues in WoW which break up the community (not to mention stressing out players unduly) and which Blizzard has shown no interest in addressing by adding support for raid alliances or multiple guild membership. (ie. anything that would make it easier to be a member of multiple social organisations, some of which might be focussed on different in game objectives.)

The notion that if you want progression you need to pay for it by dumping your mates just reminds me of Fame (“Fame costs and right here’s where you start paying!!”). It doesn’t have to be that way.

Bioware’s Mystery Game

Bioware have been dropping teasers this week about a new unannounced game, promising to reveal all at the VGA awards.

Clues so far have been translated as:

Amazingly, people are attempting to sound somewhat excited about the picture of the man with the gun. I’d say it’s either going to be Mass Effect 3 (in which case they should have teased with a picture of Garrus without his top on) or … some shooter. Kotaku are guessing that it’s a multi-player spinoff of Mass Effect, but surely if it was a scifi game they’d show space or something cool?

I wouldn’t begrudge Bioware if they wanted to take a shot (sic) at a FPS. Good luck to them. But I don’t think they really get the whole PR thing sometimes …

We’re taking the hobbits to Isengard … in Autumn 2011

Turbine announced that the next expansion for LOTRO, The Rise of Isengard, is due next Autumn. It isn’t going to be a huge expansion like Moria, Turbine are moving away from that kind of update due to pacing issues. But it sounds as though there will be plenty to do.

Also they are due to release more raid content next year before that.

I think the pacing comment was very telling. Maybe players would prefer more piecemeal content releases rather than waiting around a couple of years for a big chunk of content all in one piece.

Music games face a downturn

Remember those halcyon days when Rock Band and Guitar Hero were the big thing? All in the past now, apparently gamers just aren’t buying the things in the same quantities any more.

Jagex beats patent suit

Jagex, developers of Runescape, won a patent suit this week and the CEO took the opportunity to have a snipe at the dreadful US patent system. I don’t have much to add except for yes, the US patent system is extremely awful and allows people to pursue frivolous patent claims which end up being very expensive to the defending party on very little evidence.

(I was surprised that the losing party wasn’t required to pay costs, I’d have assumed that to be standard.)

Activision closes more studios

Apparently if your last game wasn’t a huge hit, Activision loses interest. This week they moved to close Bizarre Creations (maker of Project Gotham Racing), although there is a rumour that Microsoft is among several companies interested in buying the developer.

They also closed Budcat Creations, a studio that has been working on Guitar Hero and Band Hero games (see above note about music games being down on sales).

Gaming News: CODBlops breaks records, Rock Band dev up for sale, APB bought by F2P publisher, Fixes for FF14

CODBlops, if anyone is curious, is the going shorthand for Call of Duty: Black Ops which has been breaking sales records this week. I don’t play shooters, and I’m not really sure from reviews whether people think it’s actually better than the last entry in the series, Modern Warfare 2. More details and news snippets on CODBlops (a word I’m going to keep using now) below.

Another minor (ish) news story that came up was the notion that SC2 hasn’t really taken off yet in South Korea in the way Blizzard might have wanted. This is the report, from Edge magazine.

A newspaper report out this week disclosed that thousands of prisoners in the UK are allowed to play computer games. This was greeted with the usual howl of outrage which happens whenever prisoners are treated like human beings (such as being given the vote, for example). But if you actually read the article, the consoles are paid for by the prisoner’s family and access to them is part of an incentive scheme for good behaviour. So the games are part of a schema of behavioural therapy. Lest we forget, part of the prison remit is still to rehabilitate and even if the consoles just encourage more civilised conditions and behaviour behind bars, then they are a Good Thing.

Also of interest to WoW players, Blizzard announced that race changes to the new Cataclysm races will be available on launch night.

Post of the week is Dusty’s time travel imaginings of an evening in the near future when you sit down to play your favourite game …

CODBlops Breaks Records

Ah, watch those first day sales records tumble as another entry in the CoD franchise rappels its way onto the shelves.

And as usual, players immediately start to find and exploit any bugs they can find to gain advantage in multiplayer mode. Treyarch took the unusual step of biting the hand that feeds by criticising the gamer culture that makes people ‘nerd famous’ who have posted details on how to exploit a glitch. This, btw, is the same gamer culture that has made it lucrative business for guilds to race to be first to post strategies and kill videos of new WoW raid bosses. Yup, maybe he has a point.

The other rumour doing the rounds is that the next instalment in the franchise is to be set in space and to feature space marines.  Personally I think they should go back to Napoleonic times, because surely people are sick of space marines now … or is that just me?

Viacom to sell Harmonix

Viacom has lost a lot of money on its video games arm, has decided that it doesn’t really have the expertise to manage the games business, and is planning to sell Harmonix (maker of Rock Band.)

Gamepolitics.com wonders whether the developer would be a good fit for EA. That’s my guess also.

APB bought by F2P publisher

There is an unconfirmed rumour floating around that APB (current holder of the shortest-time-from-launch-to-closure MMO of all time) has been bought by a free to play company. The comments on the RPS post which I linked here are quite an interesting read also.

Whether or not APB will ever go live again we really don’t know. Presumably with all these rumours there should be an announcement soon.

And on that note, what’s with CCP not having announced World of Darkness yet? Developers discussed it at the grand masquerade and still nothing on the website.

Square Enix announces update for FF14

I haven’t said much about Final Fantasy 14 on here since the game launched. This is because I’m still sore that I never was able to get a free trial so never found out whether/ how well it would work on my machine and consequently didn’t feel inclined to dig into my pockets to buy a game which I might not be able to run. (Or in other words, la la la I’m waiting for the PS3 version …)

Anyhow, the game looks gorgeous in screenshots, but there have been some issues. Squenix have a fairly extensive plan to fix this and it sounds as though they’re going to cover a lot of ground. Any FF14 players have any comments on the plans?

Gaming News: Red Shirt Guy immortalised in WoW, Kinect Launches, EA halves losses, Lego Universe, Genetic Algorithms beat SC2

EA held an investor call this week and although I have summarised the main points of note below, it is instructive as to how most mainstream news blogs deal with new stories. A single investor call from the CEO was chopped up and served as multiple different news stories, one point in each. But they’re mostly based on various points made in the same presentation.

It’s really very different from the way the regular news is shown (I think I’d kick the BBC if they tried to report news this way) where usually there’s one main news stories and then some associated commentary to fill up the extra slots.

Compare mmo-champion to WoW Insider to see an example of comprehensive news vs chopped up news. (Not wishing to diss WoW Insider who do provide some added value via commentary and analysis on their news items rather than just posting a stream of single paragraphs.)

This week’s prophet of doom for SWTOR is BigPoint boss, speaking at the London Games Conference, who said:

“If you look at Star Wars from EA and BioWare, they estimated a development budget of over $100m,” he explained.

“This is an online game for many million of subscribers, so the publisher does not understand that a subscription model is not the future. With micro-transactions maybe I see the game having a chance but I don’t think that EA or BioWare will ever be profitable with this game.”

(Feel free to send me links to any blog posts, forum posts or news items about anyone being dubious about SWTOR’s future. Maybe I can make this a regular weekly item.)

And speaking of Star Wars: The Old Republic you’d like to vote on the new name for the Jedi Wizard, place your mark here.

The Story of Red Shirt Guy

It’s a fairytale story of geek meets geek king, impresses king with knowledge of obscure law, and wins a kingdom. OK, not a fairytale story although you wouldn’t really know that from the way people are spinning it.

Red Shirt guy distinguished himself by showing up at the Q&A session at Blizzcon (in a red shirt, yes) and asking a lore question that caught out Chris Metzen, Blizzard’s lore supremo.

I haven’t followed the story to a great extent after that but there were some videos on youtube, and Blizzard fixed the lore problem and also included a red shirt dwarf guy NPC in Cataclysm as a nod to the guy. Blacksen and his guild also decided that they’d like to do something nice for him so invited him to come raid with them and pick up a very nice and very lore-inspired mount in ICC.

Oh, and he also has Aspergers.

Kinect launches

This week also saw the launch of the Xbox Kinect controller, which allows a user to control a game by gesturing and moving around, rather than by using a manual controller.

Destructoid review Kinect, with answers to all your questions about ‘how much room do you actually need.’ I have also seen a report that Kinect has some issues with face recognition on dark skinned users (but I’d be astounded if they hadn’t tested that thoroughly before going live, because the PR would be pretty awful if that’s true.) It does highlight one of the difficulties with testing face recognition and voice recognition software – you need to test against a very wide range of faces, accents etc. so as not to be accidentally racist.

Kotaku review a bunch of launch titles here.

In an interview with Gamasutra, a spokesman claims that Kinect is going to outsell the iPad, and Microsoft commented elsewhere that they are forecasting 5 million sales this year.

EA halves losses

EA announced this week that they had a strong quarter and halved their losses compared with Q2 last year. Of course, they had a lot fewer sales as well and this is likely due to their current strategy of releasing fewer but ‘stronger’ games.

Recently released Medal of Honor also apparently picked up 2 million sales in the first two weeks. There’s also a slightly mismatched message coming out of EA about that game. One of their VPs said that MoH didn’t meet their quality expectations. Riccitello on the other hand said that it was a clear success and likely to become another franchise.

2 million sales is hardly a failure in anyone’s book, but still the game will likely be blown away by Black Ops which is due for release next week.

In F2P FPS news, EA also announced that they plan a PC Battlefield game that will be free to play. It is to be gritty and realistic. It sounds as though there will be some progression elements (learn skills, buy equipment and weapons) as well as the usual battleground gameplay. If you think it sounds a bit MMOish, so do they.

This is more about you jumping in with 32 players, maybe playing against strangers, a bit more of an RPG experience, more of an MMO way of approaching things.

If you like the sound of that, you can sign up for the beta here.

Other EA related news this week is that they apparently now have an agreement with Facebook to use Facebook Credits for virtual transactions in their FB games for the next 5 years.

Lego Universe

There was a time a few months ago when people were actually excited about a Lego Universe MMO. Then Minecraft came out and players realised that it provided all the building block related gameplay anyone would want without the annoying MMO Conventions. Right?

In any case, Lego Universe MMO went live a couple of weeks ago and the reviews are trickling in, it doesn’t sound as though it’s quite there yet.

I do very much suspect that Minecraft has sucked in many of the adult players who were intrigued by the idea of a building block world.

Genetic Algorithms applied to Starcraft 2

This is a story to warm the cockles of any computer scientist’s heart.  It came from slashdot, which linked to Louis Brandy, a compsci blogger who explains how someone else was able to use a genetic algorithm to calculate optimal SC2 build orders for the zerg.

If you’d rather read this in English, RPS have a summary here.

It’s pretty cool that the game strategy in SC2 is deep enough that this type of approach throws up some interesting new ideas. I don’t in any way think that knowing some great build orders makes the game faceroll, that’s crazy. Chess Grand Masters still beat chess computers too … for now at least.

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.)

Gaming News: Blizzcon, Why LOTRO F2P delay in EU, Medal of Honor and Fallout: New Vegas disappoint, Prof Layton vs Phoenix Wright, DDOS Minecraft attack, EQ2 Server Merge

demon hunter

 

So, Blizzcon was this weekend and as I noted yesterday, there weren’t any huge announcements from Blizzard.

Still, here’s a picture of the last Diablo 3 class, the Demon Hunter. And a link to the (cheesy) trailer.

Badass female? check.

Spiky plate armour? check.

High heels? DOH!!!

And of course, in D3, all classes are available as both genders so there will be a male demon hunter too, we just haven’t seen him yet. We can only hope that he gets to totter around in high heels too. (btw this trailer, despite the heels, is way more female friendly than 90% of the stuff you get from other game companies.)

Main announcements were:

  • Demon hunter for D3
  • PvP arenas will be available in D3. Apparently during the Diablo Q&A they clarified that they don’t plan for Diablo to be an e-sport, so they aren’t aiming to balance all builds.
  • Cataclysm to be available digitally so you can download it from Blizzard and have it ready to run on release day.
  • Defense of the Ancients style map to be available (free) for SC2, along with other new maps/ minigames. The SC2 DotA is going to use characters from Warcraft and Diablo as well as Starcraft, and sounds like a Big Deal.

Relating to DotA, Blizzard chiefs have commented in interviews that they are talking to Valve about rights to use ‘Defense of the Ancients’ and it sounds as though there is some confusion about who owns what. Doubtless the mod designer does own the name, but it’s true that a lot of people would associate it with Blizzard’s wargames.

Why was the launch of F2P delayed for LOTRO in Europe?

The general manager of Codemasters posted an explanation for the delay in the EU LOTRO forums. As has been widely suspected, it was due to legal/ contractual issues rather than technical ones.

We can confirm the launch is imminent and we should be able to announce the dates later this week/early next week.

I still resent Turbine for going ahead and launching in the US even though they knew these contractual issues had not been resolved. Will certainly bear that in mind in future.

Medal of Honor and Fallout: New Vegas both disappoint

Two big games were released recently but neither has really achieved greatness. Reviewers have not been thrilled and sales back that up.

Professor Layton to meet Phoenix Wright!

Apparently there is going to be a crossover DS game featuring Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright in a game that is described as a combination of puzzles and crime mystery.

That is just too much awesome for one tiny game cartridge to contain! If it doesn’t get released over here there will be … troub^D^D^D^D^D frantic ordering from overseas and heavy use of any friends who happen to speak Japanese.

Of course, I’d have to actually finish DQ9 first which doesn’t look to be happening any time soon. I was quite impressed that Reggie Fils-Aime claims to have spent 150 hours playing it too.

DDOS attack on Minecraft

How stupid exactly do you have to be to think that the best way to encourage an indie game designer to add more content to his game is to take down his server?

I’m not sure if the source of the DDOS attack has actually been proved but 4chan was mentioned in the link above, where a post was made claiming that the attack came from impatient fans.

I have no words. Tobold had a similar reaction.

EQ2 Servers Merge

SOE announced some server merges this week. These are (of course) subscription servers, which are still kept separate from the EQ2X F2P plebs.

This isn’t really a surprise because it’s been known for ages that the populations on some of those servers has been getting quite low. Whatever server merges may or may not mean for the game, it’s usually a good move for players on those low pop servers when a merger is done.

Player vs Developer comments about what it’s like being on one of the low pop servers that isn’t being merged. In this case, SOE have been reluctant to merge a RP server with a non-RP server, and he’s feeling as though his character has been abandoned.

Gaming News: EA Louse denounces WAR + SWTOR, Lolapps unplugged, DA2 Signature Edition, SC2 single player bans, Valve announces DoA2

This week has been an object lesson in how gaming news is made. Aside from the EA Louse effect, which I discuss below, there was a whole slew of articles claiming that Steam was all set to allow trade-ins.

The source? A rambling guess from a gaming analyst. There was never any actual evidence except that he thought it might be a good idea. This is one of the differences between real journalism and pretend journalism – a real journalism site (like Eurogamer, yes) checks sources.

Of course, this process gets complicated because sometimes an analyst comes up with an idea which actually does get taken on board later by manufacturers. Or an idea which appeals to management who force it on unsuspecting studios. Or an idea which is so blindingly obvious (hey everyone! Prices will go up!) that they can claim some kind of foreknowledge when everyone else is saying, “Uh, that was kind of obvious.”

As an aside, is there actually any (paid) analyst in the industry other than Michael Pachter? He gets quoted in the press so much sometimes that I wonder how much he’s paying them off.

In other news, FF14 is granting new players an extra free month on top of the free 30 days that they get with the box. I actually think this is a very smart move on their part, I hope it tempts players to hang in there and see how much a MMO can change in a couple of months and I think future sub MMOs need to look at offering longer subs in the box price too.

Also, apparently Nintendo think that the DS has a great future as a sort of shopping list. Sorry, I mean, “interactive grocery helper.” Personally, the only interactive grocery helper I want is the one that will go fetch all the grocery while I finish essay plans and type up more blog posts.

The Saga of EA Louse

It’s the oldest story in the world:

  • Boy meets gaming studio.
  • Boy gets job.
  • Gaming studio is in trouble.
  • Boy gets notice of redundancy.
  • Boy writes a scathing “kiss and tell” blog post about terrible shenanigans in gaming studio

This time it is Bioware Mythic which is in the firing line, as one of their artists (maybe former artist by now), decided to weigh in on the subject of why WAR failed. Something that will be news for the people still playing it.

I don’t have the heart to go through the blog post in detail, but check it out and read through the comments too. To me, a similar article could have been written by engineers for any number of companies I have worked for in the past. The description of management conflicts is actually par for the course, and it doesn’t sound as though EA Louse was treated especially badly in any way (other than being fired when times were bad, which is also an all too common story.) So I wouldn’t dismiss this. But it’s also biased, he’s not necessarily right in his particular spin on the internal politics, and even if he is, who cares?

The industry cares to some extent and the blog post has stirred up some responses, neatly summarised here by gamepro. My thought is that anyone who has ever worked in management in engineering will have some sympathy with David Jaffe’s view that, “Everyone always thinks they know better than the people in charge.”

More interesting are EA Louse’s allegations that SWTOR is costing more than $300mil to make. Bloggers have seized on this number and asked, reasonably, is it even possible for a game that expensive to be successful?

We’ll find out in a few month’s time.

Facebook unplugs LOLapps games

An interesting story from social gaming came up this weekend. LOLapps claims 150M users for their Facebook games. So when users found that they weren’t able to access their favourite games this week, questions began to be asked. It must be fun relying on a platform that you don’t control to run your business.

A little more digging reveals the suggestion that LOLapps had been exploiting bugs on Facebook which allowed them to spam gaming messages to people’s walls without permission.

If that’s the case, then I hope the ban is upheld. If Facebook has any ambitions at all to show more interest in concerns about users privacy and their privacy controls then they need to bear down hard on deliberate infractions, especially when its done in pursuit of profit. After all, it isn’t as if there aren’t a zillion other similar Facebook games that people could play instead.

Dragon Age 2 Signature Edition

Bioware have announced a fairly hefty package of rewards for players who pre-order DA2 before January 11th, including in game items, an unlocked extra character and a downloadable soundtrack.

Pre-order bonuses certainly aren’t unknown in the industry, but this is a step further than the extra downloadable content (eg. Shale et al) that was available to everyone who bought a new copy of DA, whether pre-ordered or not. And the fact that they’re advertising the freebies as worth $20 is a fairly clear sign that they’ll be selling them to buyers who don’t pre-order.

So if you know already that you want the game, don’t forget to get your pre-order in early. And make sure it’s from vendors who are offering the signature version (the FAQ has a list.)

Blizzard bans people for cheating in SC2 single player

Does a cheat still count as a cheat when it’s a single player game and no one else is involved? Apparently it does for Blizzard who are cracking down on cheats … but in-game cheat codes are still OK.

They explain that it’s because cheating mods often contain cheats for multiplayer as well as single player. And they have a zero tolerance for third party hacks that could contain multi player cheats.

This comes of the game only being playable via battle.net. Eurogamer also echo my thoughts which is to wonder whether it’s fair on Achievement hunters if some people are able to use hacks or cheat mods to complete Achievements. Except in my case I’d love to see more people cheating their way to Achievements, because it just shows how dumb achievements are in the first place!

Defence of the Ancients 2 announced

Valve announced this week a forthcoming sequel to Defence of the Ancients (which was originally based on a Warcraft III mod). Naturally it will be tied in deeply to Steam, with achievements and in-game rewards for participating in the community.

They even note the idea of a coaching system by which experienced players can tutor newer ones (if they can reward the vets well enough to make this work, it could be quite an interesting approach.)

I’ve never actually played DotA, but I’m quite intrigued by what I’ve heard about this version.

Gaming News: Panasonic’s new handheld, DC Online delayed, Chinese gamers bored of MMOs, Layoffs at Paragon, F2P LOTRO doubles revenue

Today is World Mental Health Day, so not a bad time to consider your own work/ life/ gaming balance, whether you’re getting enough sleep and enough time with your friends, and how you plan to level in Cataclysm without driving yourself into the ground.

I really believe that gaming can be a very positive thing for mental health. Sometimes being able to log in and chill out is exactly the right thing to do. Being able to practice  taking on responsibility in a game can also be a great way to increase confidence iRL. But, as with anything, it’s important to keep a handle on it. Anyway, enough preaching … on with the news!

Big news for WoW players this week was the announcement of the Cataclysm release date: 7th December.

Blizzard also announced that subs to WoW were up to 12 million this week, following the release of the game in China. However, the percentage of the subscription gaming market held by WoW in North American and Europe is down from 60% to 54%. Next week will doubtless see more news coming out of Blizzcon, and I’m looking forwards to hearing more about Diablo III.

Daft news of the week is that Tim Langdell, who was trying to sue EA for using the word ‘Edge’ in ‘Mirror’s Edge’ lost his case.  This was based on the fact that he to held a trademark for the word ‘edge’ which turns out to have been gotten on dodgy grounds. In any case, he’s now lost all his trademarks, been told off for ‘trolling’ in court and been royally smacked down.

Blog of the week: Blacksen’s End. If you are at all interested in hardcore raiding in WoW and how a hardcore raid leader is planning for Cataclysm, check it out. He’s a very thoughtful writer who knows his stuff.

Welcome to the Jungle

Panasonic this week unveiled plans to launch a new handheld console. This one apparently is aimed at online gamers who would like to be more mobile and they’re looking to support MMOs.

The Jungle homepage is rather aggressively red and features an icon of a stickman with a gun. And … I’m still wondering if this is for real. Nope, still not really seeing it.

DC Online delayed until 2011

Anyone who read last week’s news and links will share my unsurprise that SOE announced this week that DC Online is now delayed until ‘early 2011’.

If they’re really unlucky they will have dodged the bullet of releasing against Cataclysm and will instead release against SWTOR.

Chinese gamers are bored of MMOs

A report published this week claims that hardcore Chinese gamers are flocking from MMOs to social gaming sites. Notice the use of the word ‘hardcore’ in the quote in that report – they think hardcore gamers are looking for a more diverse player base.

This sounds vaguely implausible to me. They may well be getting jaded of current MMOs (which doesn’t bode all that well for WoW if it just launched there) but trying to imagine hardcore gamers of any nationality deciding that they want to play with the noobs and non-gamers … stretches my powers of belief.

This is the press release from the company which produced the report. One of the interesting aspects that hasn’t been reported on so much is the trend for Chinese gamers to play more on PCs at home rather than in internet cafes.

Layoffs at Paragon

News hit this week that Paragon Studios, who produce City of Heroes, have had a round of layoffs. I don’t have much to say about this other than that it’s a shame we haven’t heard more  from bloggers about Going Rogue, their latest expansion. (My excuse is that my husband promised to jot down a few notes but is still too busy playing it to have actually done so.)

F2P LOTRO doubles revenue

Turbine have announced that the F2P version of LOTRO (US online at the moment) has been going well for them.  Apparently it has doubled the amount of money it is bringing in, and gained 1 million new account registrations since last month.

Would it be churlish to ask how many of those are EU players who weren’t able to access F2P via Codemasters?

EVE Online’s next update will include raids

What do you give to the space/ economic MMO that has everything? A PvE raiding endgame, obviously.

The EVE devs are currently doing some public testing with their next update, Incursion. This will include raid instances/ dungeons which are scaled for up to 40 players at a time.

Aside from the mental dissonance of calling EVE instances dungeons (they’ve always done this), I don’t really see the issue. It is a step away from their traditional direction but I’m big in favour of large public encounters in any MMO and there’s no reason why it wouldn’t be fun in EVE too.

Gaming news: Zombies in Black Ops, FFXIV released, MSoft wants Second Life, Recettear and Minecraft huge hits, Skaven in WAR

So, yesterday was Eurogamer which bore a surprising resemblance to a bunch of gaming zombies wandering around a huge exhibition hall, half of which was full of demos of Assassin’s Creed II.  Arb and I will talk more about our Eurogamer thoughts next week.

  • Things I saw which caught my eye were:
    PS3 Move. I saw a few demos with the Move and … they looked fun. I don’t think my living room is large enough or tidy enough to justify a purchase but it did look cool.
  • Dragon Age 2. Now with less blood spatters but still with some so you know which game you are playing. We cheered when there was a closeup on the blood spatter.
  • Indie Arcade. Didn’t have time to look at all the games, so focussed on a bizarre passive aggressive game which kept telling you to stand away from the computer and not press buttons. Also a fun explory/ platformy game where I amused the guy standing next to me by falling off a cliff and exclaiming, “Oh! I guess that’s not how you use the stairs.”
  • Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Absolutely adorable, and looked pretty fun too.
  • Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Reminded me of Uncharted 2, mostly down to the graphics, gameplay and camera angle.

In a press release about SWTOR, Bioware revealed more information about the smuggler. It’s sounding increasingly as though the smuggler IS Han Solo rather than just being inspired by him, and one of the latest reveals is that there is a wookie companion.

Also in gaming news this week was another spat between Bobby Kotick and whoever. I’m getting bored of following these arguments but they seem to get a lot of gaming press. I imagine it will be EA’s turn next week.

Gaming post of the week is Unsubject’s admiration of DCUO’s courageous and brave brave marketing decisions. The game is due to be released in November and we still know virtually nothing about the gameplay – it doesn’t bolster confidence.

Zombies in Black Ops

Activision revealed that Call of Duty: Black Ops will feature a multiplayer zombie mode. Apparently it will involve “brand new zombie experiences”. Your guess is as good as mine.

I don’t pretend to understand where it makes sense for a franchise that has always been fairly solidly based on well researched real world settings to go all zombie on us but zombies are cool, right? (Maybe the new zombie experience is that you actually get to play a zombie!) The game is due to launch on 9th Nov.

Another shooter which is drifting away from being too realistic is Medal of Honor, from which it was confirmed that references to the Taliban were dropped this week. Instead they have been renamed as “Opposing force.” Personally I think they should have just reskinned them as zombies.

Final Fantasy 14 launches on PC

September 30th marked the launch day for FF14.

Feedback I have heard so far has been positive, but keen to point out that the game harkens back to an older style of MMO than recent WoW fans (for example) may be comfortable with.

Microsoft interested in Second Life

The Escapist reported this week on a rumour that Microsoft has a bid in for Linden Labs, noting that LL laid off a lot of staff recently and is known to be in some trouble.

They think that Second Life would fit in great as a virtual world for xbox players. I’m not sure about that one myself, but it’ll be interesting to see what comes of it if the rumour is true.

Minecraft and Recettear show good sales

You may notice on the right hand margin of this page that I’ve included both Recettear and Minecraft under the current list of games we’re playing. (Arb is playing Minecraft, I haven’t gotten around to it yet, but I will!).

We think they’re both ace, and so do lots of other people.

RPS reports that Recettear has sold over 26k copies, which is pretty darned good for a little indie PC game relying mostly on word of mouth, a near zero marketing budget, and digital downloads.

However, Minecraft makes that look paltry by apparently taking in $350k profit per day.

These trends all bode well for the indie market. With every awesome game that gets successful, players will be more and more willing to try another one if the word of mouth is good. Both of these games are excellent value for money –- obviously there’s no guarantee either will be up your street but both have demos and it won’t be hard to google a review online.

Skaven in Warhammer Online

Werit writes about (Bioware) Mythic’s announcements of their plans for WAR. Plans which include playable Skaven … sort of. Players will be able to control Skaven, but not in a way that replaces their main character.

I’m a little unclear on the details but it sounds as though players will be able to assume a Skaven role in PvP but there won’t be any supporting PvE for the rat people. Werit compares this to monster play in LOTRO which, to be fair, is enjoyed by a lot of people.