[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.

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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.

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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.”

Allods Online, and Putting a Price on Virtual Goods

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This week sees the soft launch of Allods Online, a fantasy MMO with steampunk and space opera influences from Russian based Astrum Nival.

Although the game is free to play, they’ve been careful to emphasise the phrase subscriptionless, or no subscription required. Because of course, it’s only free up to the point where players dip into the cash shop. Which may not be absolutely required, but should certainly be stocked up with things which are nice to have.

This is not a review, as I’ve only dipped into the game briefly. It reminds me a lot of launch-era WoW, with a strong influence from older games such as DaoC in areas like class design. The UI in particular will feel very familiar. As will the inevitable paladin vs warrior forum wars when people warm to the game and realise that two classes are, again, competing to tank.

But it isn’t launch era WoW, there’s more to the game than that. The classes themselves feel lively and interesting (I’m sure PvP will soon remind everyone of why having a specialist crowd control class is a bad idea but damn if it isn’t fun), and world design is gorgeous. In short, it’s a great place to be a tourist.

Still, my brief time in game was also long enough to be utterly wowed by the Empire-side Aesthetics and equally turned off by the League-side. The Empire is the slightly more evil faction, which you can tell by the fact that it includes orcs, gorgeously designed cyber zombies, and a human race who are just a bit too fond of uniforms.

Alternatively you could go with the League and their faerie winged elves, families of fluffy gerbils, and humans who are slightly less uptight about uniforms. But if you can resist the lure of soviet-style steampunk aesthetics then you’re a stronger wo/man than I.

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Empire recruiting poster, I guess.

Pricing the Cash Shop

There is a famous (and possibly fictitious) story attributed to George Bernard Shaw, which is that he once approached a famous starlet and asked if she would sleep with him for one million dollars. She laughed and said yes. So he told her he only had $10 on him and asked if she would take that. She was outraged and asked, “What kind of woman do you take me for?” He said, “We’ve already established that, now we’re just haggling over the price.”

Now here’s the thing. If you play a F2P/ subscriptionless game as anything other than a pure tourist, there’s a level on which you accept that this game is funded via a cash shop. The only question left to answer is what would you be willing to buy, and how much would you be willing to spend.

In the western market, F2P cash shops have found most purchase by selling fripperies and items which make the game more convenient, rather than actual power ups.

Today gPotato released the first version of the Allods cash shop, which caused consternation among the player base. They are currently charging $20 for a bag upgrade which involves 6 extra bag slots.

I’m in two minds about this. On one hand, it sounds like a lot to pay for a few bag slots. On the other hand, if Blizzard sold a larger backpack for $20, players would be queuing up to pay for it. And people on Second Life regularly spend more than that on items which have far less utility. And it’s going to be very tedious if these debates break out every time some cash shop decides to charge for anything.

I think the gaming market, and F2P games in particular, are still feeling out what the market will bear in terms of cash shops. I noted in links last week that Farmville was now selling an item for $42 – it doesn’t need a lot of players to buy that to make it worthwhile for the developers. So what if players ARE willing to spend that much on a few bag slots? Is a bag slot essential to play the game? Or would they make more by lowering the price to about $5?

In any case, players are raising hell on the forums. It will be interesting to see how this all comes out in the wash.