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.

6 Rules for Enjoying Hype (and some cool videos from GW2 and Clone Wars)

Some people just don’t deserve hype.

Here we are, stuck in the doldrums of the MMO year and going through the motions in games or expansions where the shine has long since worn off. You’d think that injecting some optimism and excitement about upcoming games would be welcomed with open arms, right?

But some players (and bloggers) seem to take it personally every time their expectations are raised and then shattered on the jagged rocks of a cruel reality that may ship with bugs and not offer some random class/ race option on which the player had set her heart.  This is precisely NOT the way in which to enjoy well presented hype. It’s a thrill ride, a trailer, an insight into the hopes and imaginations of the artists and producers. That’s all it is. Not a promise graven in stone.  Sometimes it’s more fun to go along with the ride and then – just like a rollercoaster – enjoy the inevitable emotional fall through the floor later on.

Film style trailers have become a big part of game advertising. They range from gorgeous high budget “artists impressions” that bear no resemblance to the game, all the way through to Bioware style mini-documentaries about how some part of the game was made. I think the Mythic crew have a lot to be proud of in the way that their regular videocasts used to promote different aspects of Warhammer Online and why fans might be excited about them before that game was released. It has obviously had an effect on the rest of the industry.

A couple of trailers released this week did a particularly good job of capturing my imagination:

  • Guild Wars 2 Manifesto – manifesto implies some actual promises and debate and the GW2 team don’t disappoint. It is also gorgeous. The game looks as though it’ll be great, although I don’t quite understand (from the voiceover) how if you love MMOs you’ll love it, and if you hate MMOs you’ll love it too.
  • Star Wars Clone Wars – this is SOE’s Free Realms style Star Wars game that is launching next month. This trailer sold me on it and I’m definitely going to check the game out. It just looks FUN.

But what happens when hype seems to promise something that no real world game can deliver? Whose fault is it really if people are disappointed when they see the real thing and it fails to live up to their hopes? It’s our fault. We are not naive little flowers. We know how the media works. We know how advertising works. We know that trailers intended to sell you on an idea and a setting may not be 100% game accurate.

So here are some basic guidelines to help you enjoy the hype for what it is, and not let the hype ruin your experience in the game when you see it later on.

  1. Enjoy playing the game in your head. Trailers are meant to be inspiring and to encourage you to imagine how the game world might be. If one catches your imagination then enjoy the ride.
  2. But play the game in front of you when/ if it arrives. You can choose to either look for the fun in the game you have, or complain about all the ways in which it fails to match the game in your head.  For example, people who complain because hunters in LOTRO don’t have pets, ignoring the fact that there is another ranged class which does have pets that they could also play. Sometimes you have to either say, “No this is not the game for me, I must have a bow class with a pet,” or “OK, I can change my concept a bit.”
  3. Don’t take the trailer too literally. Just because you thought you saw a blurry shot of an elf with a broadsword doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to play elf fighters as PCs. A dev team may also not be able to implement everything exactly the way they would have wanted it when the trailer was released. It’s not a guarantee.
  4. Take the trailer literally. Don’t assume that it implies something which the narrator didn’t say or show. For example, Gordon wonders how much instancing will be used in GW2 to let players feel that they affect the world around them. We don’t know the answer to that yet (although he’s probably right), as the trailer didn’t touch on it.
  5. Enjoy the emotional journey. We’re fans. This is our hobby. Getting worked up about trailers and arguing the minutae of minor lore details is what we do. If you read general MMO blogs you’ll notice that a lot of bloggers position themselves quite early on in the hype cycle as either fans or cynics. That’s the most fun way to ride the hype out. (I’m a huge Bioware fan, for the record. They won my heart with DAO and I can’t wait to play a smuggler in SWTOR. So I’m not going to post anything too dismissive of that here.)
  6. But don’t take it personally if you later change your mind. It’s OK to hype a game and then find, when you actually see it, that you don’t enjoy playing it much at all. Laugh and move on, on to the next wave of hype.

Guild Wars 2 breaks the shackles of life, death, and the holy trinity

I feel increasingly that big upcoming MMOs are now marketing to the post-WoW player base. Instead of “If you like WoW, try this too; it’s like WoW with new content/ free,” we’re getting more targeted messages which can be interpreted as, “If you liked WoW but are tired of it, try this; it’s like WoW with a new twist.”

So we have Final Fantasy 14 with the ability to switch classes any time you like. We have SWTOR with the long class specific storylines and smart companions. And then there is Guild Wars 2.

Of all the new AAA MMO devs, Arenanet seem most inclined to pry apart and rebuild their MMO from the ground up. Maybe once we all get to play it, the reaction will be, “Huh, it really is just like WoW with a couple of minor twists. Psych!”  Or maybe they’ll be forced to make the game more WoW-like after taking player feedback.

But the current dev blog slips some intriguing details about their plans.

Always look on the bright side of death

In GW2, there will be a two stage death process. After your character has lost all their health, they are downed. They will still have some special last ditch abilities that can be used in a downed state, so they can still contribute to the fight while hoping someone else will come heal them. If you actually manage to kill an enemy when you are downed, then you recover!

Then if a downed player is attacked some more, they can be defeated – which sounds more like a classic MMO death. You can either be ressed by another player or return via a waypoint/ graveyard (and they will let you pick any waypoint which you have already discovered on the world map which opens up some possibly unintentional opportunities for death travel.)

This has similarities with the current D&D rules, in which a player isn’t actually dead until they are on –10 health. At 0 health, you’re down and bleeding but not yet out.

I find this concept very appealing. I like the idea of having a last ditch chance to throw a rock at an enemy, get in a lucky shot from prone position, or something similar. I do think it will make near death experiences a lot more exciting in the game.

Also, does any warrior not wish they had this ability (given as an example of how some character abilities will interact with the fallen/ defeated state). Res/ rally someone by killing a monster nearby? Yes please!

… when a warrior uses “I Will Avenge You,” and then kills an enemy nearby his fallen allies, his allies will rally.

It’s always people who hate healing who want to destroy the tank/heal/dps trinity

Every time I’ve read an article by a player or developer who wanted to destroy the holy gaming role trinity, it’s always been someone who hated healing. Is it really only healers and support classes who benefit from the trinity setup? I always rather liked having such different roles available.

Anyhow, the GW2 devs want to go a different route.

We keep hearing other MMO developers espousing the “holy trinity” of DPS/ heal/tank with such reverence, as if this is the most entertaining combat they have ever played. Frankly, we don’t like sitting around spamming “looking for healer” to global chat.

It might be truer to say that they aim to redefine the trinity and share the responsibility across all classes. So instead of dps/heal/tank, they discuss dps/support/control. I think it’s a great idea to identify tanking with control and share the responsibility around the group.

But their definition of support is focussed on short term buffs and situational abilities rather than healing. I think it sounds fun and fast paced, but not entirely sure how much dedicated support players are going to like it.

Healing is for when you are already losing. In Guild Wars 2 we prefer that you support your allies before they take a beating. Sure, there are some healing spells in Guild Wars 2, but they make up a small portion of the support lines that are spread throughout the professions.

Having said that, the idea of someone at the back of the group casting heal spells while you take damage has never been particularly immersive.

Maybe it’s because I could use a break from the WoW-type formula that I’m intrigued to try this myself. I wonder though whether this new scheme will tend to encourage an ‘each for himself’ mentality in groups as opposed to deep roles for players to learn. It will be interesting to find out.

Does the notion of a more PvP style of PvE appeal to you?

(Hm, I wonder if it’s really a good idea to tag this post with ‘holy trinity’ …)

Make your Google background awesome

googlewarrior

Anyone checked out Google yet today? They’ve gone all bing on us, with eye-bleedingly bright backgrounds.

But it is possible to swap in something altogether better, like the Guild Wars 2 Warrior wallpaper shown above.

googlechange

This is a screenshot of the google homepage, showing the ‘”change background image” option on the lower left of the page.

If you select this you will be given the choice to pick your google background from a selection of pre-approved images, or you can pick something that is on your computer (as long as it is at least 800×600 in size).

Once you have done that, the background will switch over, and the tag on the bottom left will change to show, “remove background image” for whenever you get sick of it.

Or until Google gets sick of messing around with backgrounds and goes back to plain white.

Yes but what about the Guild Wars 2 Warrior?

The GW2 team has been releasing pockets of information lately and this week’s info concerned the warrior class. I don’t have a huge amount to say about either the game or the class yet. Except that the warrior will make every plate wearing, weapon swinging, warrior at heart happy.

Abilities that change depending on what weapon you are carrying, battle shouts, plate armour, shields, everything is in there.

Guild Wars has always had a good reputation for artwork, and the GW2 art certainly doesn’t disappoint. Check out the other backgrounds if you don’t like the warrior one (this one is a female warrior in plate btw, she has a waist.)

SWTOR, GW2: A game trailer is not a film trailer

You know that you have seen a really good piece of game hype when your reaction is not, “Ooo, pretty,” “I want to see more of that,” “great music, I’ll be humming that all night,” or even “I wonder how they’ll balance that?” but instead, “I want to PLAY that!”

It’s a very visceral reaction. It can be illogical. It can be unexpected. But to me that’s how a game trailer should be different from any other kind of trailer. Sure, interest me in the world, the background, the story, and the mechanics. But if I don’t end up thinking, “Yeah! I want to play that!” then it hasn’t hit the spot.

Bioware released a new trailer for Star Wars: The Old Republic last week to show off some of the combat moves in the game. I think it’s a fascinating trailer to watch because the graphics are not exceptional. There’s nothing unexpected in there and no real indication of how the game will play. Very likely it’ll be a minor adaptation of current MMO mechanics. You’ll press buttons and use cooldowns. Even the fights they they showed were fairly predictable: jedi with a lightsaber, some cool acrobatics, dual wielding, a cool bit with a big gun, someone casting lightning bolts like the emperor in return of the jedi, some flashy tech gadgets and yet … when that trailer came to an end I thought “Hell yeah! That looked fun! I want to play that.”

The current MMO player is exactly who they are trying to attract with this trailer. They’re showing that their game will offer your favourite current combat type. You like dual wielding? How about dual wielding lightsabers? You like ranged? How about a massive gun? Whatever you like right now do not fret because the SWTOR team thought of YOU.

The only curious exception so far is the lack of any pet class. I wonder if a more active use of NPC sidekicks will just mean that everyone effectively has pets.

The Guild Wars Manifesto

We are still mid-election rush over here, so it’s certainly the right season for a manifesto. Arena.net have opened the floodgates on the Guild Wars 2 information with a new blog and a new design manifesto.

This is another document that is aimed at current MMO players. Read it with the thought, “like your current MMO but better” in the back of your mind and you will get the full hype effect.

Main points:

  • It’s an enormous, persistent, living, social world
  • You fill out a biography at character creation time that defines your background and your place within the world.
  • GW2 tells story by allowing the player < to >adventure with key characters, by presenting him with moral dilemmas <…> and by having him live through world-changing events
  • With GW2 <…> you can just naturally play with all the people around you
  • When someone kills a monster, not just that player’s party but everyone who was seriously involved in the fight gets 100% of the XP and loot for the kill.
  • worlds can compete against each other, through the mists that separate them, for scarce resources that benefit an entire world. ((I think this means some kind of server vs server competition))
  • So much of traditional MMO combat is rote and repetitive. <…> we’ve put a huge focus on strengthening our combat, giving the player limitless choices, and providing the thrill and joy of being in combat.

The combat discussion isn’t easy to sum up in bullet points. One of the great strengths of Guild Wars is the combat system. Each character has a large selection of abilities, but must select only 8 before leaving town and going out to adventure. You can freely change which 8 you want any time you are in a town. So players are encouraged to adapt their skills towards each encounter. There is a lot of choice. And this is something arena.net plans to build on for GW2.

There is more on the combat system and skills, if you are curious to delve more deeply into the design.

Again, reading through the documents leaves me keen to actually play the game myself and try it out. I wonder if I am some kind of easy sell with these things … and I’m staying tuned to the GW2 blog to hear more about their plans.

If this talk of Guild Wars mechanics has intrigued you, Steam is having a sale on GW at the moment. You could either get the whole trilogy and start from the beginning, or do what was recommended to me and just grab Nightfall.

Another day, another wallpaper

Yesterday saw two upcoming MMO teams with announcements about classes and races, complete with trailers and fun stuff to download like wallpaper for your PC.

Guild Wars 2 presented a video showing their races. This is fantastically atmospheric stuff with great voice acting (Dragon Age players may recognise Oghren, and fans of The Guild will recognise Felicia Day), and the stunning art direction we’ve come to associate with Guild Wars.

There’s a website also, which is where you can check out what a female Charr looks like and download wallpapers for each race. It certainly did the job of making them all look fun to play, I think I’m torn between the Charr and the viking shapeshifter dudes. I can’t decide also whether people who come from the frozen north should be wearing more clothes — I remember seeing girls walking around in mini-skirts in Newcastle in Midwinter when I lived there, so maybe they just get acclimatised.

The Star Wars team ‘announced’ the Jedi Consular (well, announced in the sense of making official what everyone already knew), a class that looks to be taking silly hats to a new height.

They also offer a wide selection of wallpapers on their site — a couple for each announced class and some pretty landscapes from different planets as well. Although their style is not as high art as Guild Wars, the Star Wars team make up for it with some amazing flash animations of the different classes in action on their class pages – the Jedi Knight is a particular favourite.

So, game themed wallpapers, do you like them or hate them? I am one of the people who rushes to download these things when I find them, and I love having cool game related art on my PC.

But despite the artier Guild Wars pictures, it’s the smuggler who sits in pride of place on my wallpaper at the moment. I admit this is mostly because I find it easier to locate my icons on a dark background.

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?