Quote of the Day: On Endgame

I had forgotten how good the Blizzard designer notes usually are. This is another great example of designers sharing their thinking about MMO endgame, with reference to Pandaria. (They are also very open about where they think Cataclysm failed.)

No developer wants to hear "I want to play your game, but there’s nothing to do." For Mists, we are going out of our way to give players lots to do. We don’t want it to be overwhelming, but we do want it to be engaging. We want you to have the option of sitting down to an evening of World of Warcraft rather than running your daily dungeon in 30 minutes and then logging out. We understand we have many players (certainly the majority in fact) who can’t or aren’t interested in making huge commitments to the game every week and we hope we have structured things so that you don’t fall very far behind. The trick is to let players who want to play make some progress without leaving everyone else in the dust.

This. This is why you never bet against Blizzard.

[Links] So are we finally at the end of the (MMO) era?

In a week where I’m still struggling to move my armies around in Crusader Kings 2*, I’m sensing a sort of existential gloom around the MMO blogosphere. Not quite what you’d expect when WoW have just announced a release date for their next expansion, perhaps.

* I know, total fail. But the bizarro thing with CK2 is that you can play it like a sort of medieval soap opera even if you suck totally at the military side.

But let’s start with some upbeat links.

Huw at the MMO Melting Pot does a great job at curating MMO blog posts into a small daily digest. If you are interested in reading good writing from actual players (as opposed to  paid journalists or for-profit sites) about their experiences, thoughts and feelings with MMOs, put the Pot on your regular feed. I feel that we as a community (ie. gamers) don’t appreciate enough the value of our own gaming expertise. But I’m darned sure I would prefer to read views from a wide range of players, covering the full range of casual-hardcore, PvE-PvP, and other ways of playing I’d never even have considered, than a small selection of gaming journos.

Arb writes a paean to the Ultima games, and explains why she’s so excited about Ultima Forever. (It took a fair while, btw, for her to say anything nice about my boyfriend/husband – but we’ve been married 11 years now, so perhaps he’s been accepted by my family. A bit :-) ).

Any Rift fans in the house? Scott Hartmann (Exec Producer at Trion)  has hosted an extensive Q&A thread on reddit. This was part of an answer to a hardcore raider complaining that it wasn’t fair that some guilds had better access to beta tests than others:

If people require more fairness than “a guy is working a 16 hour day just so my guild can test,” to be happy in an MMO, I guarantee the MMO they are looking for simply does not exist.

Also, anyone catch the Olympic Opening Ceremony? Everyone British I know really loved it; I think it captured a certain irreverent spirit at the same time as touching on some national traits/people/ culture that we’re actually very proud about. I especially loved the bit where Tim Berners-Lee tweeted live from the stadium “This is for everyone” and it literally showed up as a RT on my twitter stream about a second later (obviously I had twitter up while watching the opening ceremony, doesn’t everyone?) This is the best review I’ve seen (comparing it to the Chinese one), and the whole thing is available on the BBC iPlayer to anyone who can access that.

Maybe F2P isn’t the answer to life, the universe and everything

This week, Zynga stock prices are falling through the floor. I don’t think this will surprise many gamers, as their model of F2P, fast turnabout on new games, and heavy reliance on Facebook was never really convincingly long term. Especially since so much of their initial growth relied on cross-fertilisation between games using features that FB has since heavily restricted (due to them being massively annoying), and various other underhanded semi-exploits such as deliberately working with scam advertisers and “… did every horrible thing in the book just to get revenues right away”.

However, now that they are a public company, this type of stock performance triggers analyses in fairly mainstream publications as well as gaming sites.

Mashable suggests Zynga try making better games rather than aiming for more gambling applications (note: they will do the gambling thing though.)

Forbes asks why Zynga is bleeding users.

The best analysis I have seen is on gamesindustry.biz (you’ll need to create a login to read the whole thing), which notes that although they’re still gaining players overall, fewer of those players are paying. This is not the trend that F2P believers want to see.

Free-to-play mechanics mean that you expect the vast majority of users to play for free, effectively acting as cost-effective marketing to entice the small minority of players who’ll pay money and make the service profitable overall. However, in Zynga’s case, the trend is all wrong. Back in Q2 2011, 1.5% of Zynga’s players were paying money for things. A year later, the figure is 1.3%. That 0.2% figure may not seem like a lot, but it’s a trend moving in the wrong direction – and it actually translates to about half a million players who ought to be paying, if Zynga could maintain its ratios, but aren’t. Moreover, that isn’t being compensated for by “whales” dragging the average expenditure of the paying players upwards – in fact, the company’s average income per DAU (Daily Average User) dropped by 10% year on year. In short – costs are up, and revenues aren’t rising to match them.

So does this mean that F2P is perhaps not the answer to life, the universe, and everything, or just that Zynga is ‘doing it wrong’? Probably a bit from column A and a bit from column B. Cash rich Zynga could have put more of that cash and effort into developing better, more engaging games, but they haven’t done so, nor have they really ported their success to non-Facebook or mobile platforms. Pincus is almost certainly more comfortable running traditional casino games, so it’s not surprising he wants to take the company that way.

But the general trend of players drifting from one F2P game to the next, tending to spend less as they go, is one to take on board. You are NEVER as invested in any MMO as you are in the first one you play. It’s entirely possible that this is as true for F2P social games as for AAA MMOs.

Since we don’t really get meaningful numbers from most F2P MMOs (eg. LOTRO, STO, etc) it’s hard to know if this signals a general trend. Maybe companies do have to work harder to get F2P customers, even the fabled whales, to keep spending enough to make their games truly sustainable once the flood of new players has dried up. We know that regular paid expansions is one way to keep the money flowing in (you could think of this as similar to the subscription model, if you only had to pay once every year or so), but if a F2P game cannot sustain a fairly massive base, can the model still work?

Whither SWTOR, and can any new MMO have a longterm future?

EA have an earnings call this week, and it’s likely that SWTOR subscriptions are significantly down from the last time they were announced. They will drop further in August when the six-monthly subs from people who took those out at launch run out. Even as someone who still enjoys the game, it’s hard to feel positive about SWTOR’s future. Bioware have let a lot of SWTOR staff go, and leavers include some of the more influential senior designers. That’s never a good sign in a new MMO, because their vision is the thing which made the game appealing to the players who actually like it.

There have been comments about new content such as a new companion and new planet before the end of the year, but if EA want to retain players, they need to give out some actual timescales. If you bought the game and enjoyed the content and were hoping for a long lifecycle of regular content updates, it isn’t really clear whether that is still the plan at all.

As a fan who has been subscribing, if they kept a reasonable pace, I would retain a subscription. Possibly even for years. That offer (from me as a player) was on the table when I bought into the game.  If they can’t and the community crumbles and my guild/s wander off … then I won’t keep paying them. I’ll follow the players. I wish them luck with a F2P conversion if they decide to go that way and I hope a lot of new players get the chance to try SWTOR, enjoy it, and realise that it’s actually a pretty darn good game if you can enjoy it for what it is, and not whine about what it isn’t. But if they renege on what I expected at launch, I will leave them to it, albeit with fond memories.

UnSubject has been writing a super set of posts at Vicarious Existence about recent MMO failures. And he tops it by looking at factors that contributed to these failures, and predicting the end of AAA MMOs (it’s been said before, but this is a good analysis.)

I’m having difficulty thinking of a Western AAA MMO that has launched since 2006 that’s managed to grow its player base post-launch (well, without switching to free-to-play (F2P) anyway).

And with all that choice, the MMO player base is more fragmented than ever. It’s hard to get enough of them engaged for long enough to earn your development budget back (well, without switching to F2P anyway).

One of the interesting things about his analysis is that this doesn’t depend on how ‘different’ the new MMOs are from existing ones. Unless they are genuinely different enough to appeal to a different market, in which case existing MMO players may well not like them. motstandet writes a reply to my post about not minding MMO clones, describing how he looks for games with depth that he can play for years. (Clearly this also requires other players to play with/against if they aren’t single player games.)

From Zynga’s example (see above), it’s not clear whether F2P is a good long term solution either. So maybe the destiny of these games is never to be longterm again in the way they have in the past. Old dino players will look back to the days in which a core player would subscribe to a game for YEARS as if it were truly prehistory. And that will affect in-game communities also, because people engage differently with a game that they genuinely expect to be spending significant amounts of their free time around than a game which they expect to be done with in a month or two.

EVE is often cited as an outlier, with a steadily growing subscriber base. I’m always unclear how to analyse this, since so many of the core players seem to pay for their gametime and multiple accounts using in game credits/ PLEX. Gevlon has been theorising this week about which segment of the EVE player base actually pay for time – I have no idea if he is right. Theoretically, every PLEX that is bought in game had to be paid for at some point with real money, so it shouldn’t matter to CCPs bottom line how people finance their gaming (ie. if a player buys PLEX for in game cash, that PLEX still got bought by someone else before they sold it in game  so CCP still got the money for it).

But I’m not sure. I’m not sure if a model where the more hardcore players get to play for free is really a solid one, especially since the playerbase will tend to become more hardcore over time. If it’s really that easy to make money in game (which seems to be implied in comments to just about every EVE blog I’ve ever read), then are there enough players who like the game but can’t be arsed to make money in it to pay the subs for everyone else (and their alts)? I do take their subscriber base with a pinch of salt, given the preponderance of multiple alts though. That game is not as big as people think, and if Dust fails, we’ll see CCP feel the pinch.

People seem more dubious about MoP already

Let me be clear on one thing: I would never bet against Blizzard. They consistently make games that players enjoy, and even games that have garnered plenty of criticism such as Diablo 3 have broken sales records and generally pleased the majority of their players. I will not be surprised if Mists of Pandaria breaks sales records, even if they have to invent a record for it to break.

But I look on my guild boards and for the first time before an expansion, I see people wondering how long other players will find MoP engaging. I see one of the hardcore raid guilds on my server (which is the most populated RP server in the EU) take their entire guild to another server for the expansion. I think MoP will please many many players, and I like the new emphasis on a wider endgame. But for how long?

Anne at Wow Insider riled up readers by talking about how players got bored with Cataclysm and comparing it to the smart kids at school who are bored with lessons aimed at those who are merely average. The reason this annoyed people is because of the implication (which I don’t think was her intention) that if they’re not bored, then they were not ‘the smart kid at school.’  Redbeard has some good comments on her post here also.

I’m going to use a different analogy. When I was a kid, we moved around the country a lot, so I went to lots of different schools. And they taught the syllabus in different orders. I remember sitting in a beginner’s French class and being bored rigid because I’d already studied French for 2-3 years in previous schools. This is a type of boredom that comes of experience, rather than just being ‘the smart kid’. Experienced players in a game/genre will always get bored more quickly than new ones, because they don’t face the same learning curve. Wrath kept the experienced players interested for longer than Cataclysm because it came with a much larger set of zones and storylines than Cataclysm (10 new levels rather than 5, plus a new class, plus hard mode instances, plus longer raids such as Ulduar and even Naxx). Also for many casual raid guilds, Wrath represented the pinnacle of their raiding existences, where some of the barriers that had kept them stuck in TBC were removed.

Pandaria on paper offers more new content than Cataclysm for max level characters. The new continent seems larger and more connected (as opposed to the bittiness of Cataclysm). Cataclysm’s focus on remaking the old world didn’t sustain either old or new players. There will be a wider variety of endgame experiences. But now maybe the rot has set in, and players will be more willing to unsub once they are bored rather than hanging in there. Perhaps Blizzard will have to work that bit harder to keep them – after all, these last months represent the longest WoW has ever gone without a solid content patch.  Yet at the same time, more players than ever have tried the MoP beta. Does that mean they’ll get bored more quickly when the expansion goes live? Soon enough, we’ll find out.

[WoW] Bits and pieces about MoP: Future of raiding, dailies all the way down, pay for more powerful pets

Mists of Pandaria looks set to offer a very different style of endgame to Cataclysm. While the traditional raid and instance setup will still be present, along with a group/raid finder to let players jump into a PUG, Blizzard look to be making a definite push to provide more content and options for non-raiders and soloers. For example, there will be:

  • Many more daily quests
  • More factions to grind (rather than being able to earn faction points while running instances via tabards)
  • A farmville setup
  • Pet battles, including being able to tame pets from the wild
  • Scenarios (like mini instances/ events that only require 3 players, all of whom can be dps)
  • Challenge modes for regular instances (ie. more loot if you complete the instance more quickly)

And those are just the gameplay mechanics that someone who hasn’t  been following the beta closely has picked off the top of their head, I have no idea what the PvP plans will be. This could be an incredibly successful expansion for Blizzard if they can attract those more casual or solo focussed players with an ‘endgame’ balanced for their interests. Ignore the panda haters, there’s some genuinely new direction here.

Whither raiding?

Raiding, I think, in the sense of dedicated raid groups, will suffer more in this expansion than it ever has before. Players have pondered whether the relative popularity of 10 man raids over 25 man ones is purely due to ease of organisation of smaller groups. If the rewards (and difficulties) from gold level challenge modes are in any way comparable to hard mode raids, we may see whether 5 man instances will be preferred over 10 man raids by a hardcore PvE crowd.

Casual raid groups who got trashed by Cataclysm – and they did — may find a resurgence. (Although not as much as if Blizzard relaxed the 10/25 man raid locks.) There will be plenty of players who are happy to do a weekly 10 man run with the friendly guild and spend the rest of their time pursuing less directed, more solo focussed, or more casual play which lets them chat while they work on the pet collecting or faction grind.

There was a sad thread on the official boards that caught my eye called “Don’t let the 25 man raids die” which asked whether Blizzard was planning any changes to the 10/25 man setup, rewards etc in response to how much 25 man raiding has dropped off in Cataclysm. The CM answered:

The devs don’t have, at this time, any plans to incentivize 25-man raiding. They want to make 10 and 25-man raids close enough, so that you choose whatever you find more fun.

The thread is quite poignant if you like that sort of thing, with lots of reflection from people who preferred 25 man raiding but now feel 10 man is their only choice.

I’ve come to the conclusion that 10 man raiding is too small to sustain a healthy guild. Having multiple 10 man teams leads to the formation of cliques, and having a single 10 man team doesn’t have enough people to be able to support a pool of substitutes who’ll be there when you need them.

…not everybody who wants to raid 25-man rather than 10-man will be able to do so… not even remotely. If I think back to WotLK, when my guild was born… I came from a guild that raided 25-man on a rather casual level. You won’t find that anymore. It’s all or nothing with 25-man raiding nowadays, because players in general tend to choose the easiest way they can.

I liked doing 10man with guild and pug 25man in wowlk it was soooo fun. Now we can only do 1 or the other there is no choice in doing both before the 1 week reset.

10-man rosters are a nightmare… if you have 10 people that show up 95% of the time you get floored when 1 person can’t show up. People just leave if they get put on backup so rotating is almost impossible (unless you have a very casual / forgiving players).

I’ve seen that phenomenon, people who would rather quit than be put on backup even for just one night.

The real problem in Cataclysm is the survival of semi-hardcore or semi-casual 25 man raiding guilds. There were a lot of them and in the advent of Cataclysm they were the guilds that suffered the most. … With this system, Blizzard are killing off a specific breed of guilds. The semi-hardcore 25 man guilds that were so prevalent in TBC and WotLK, and that makes me really sad. That was the kind of guild many players liked to join, they knew they weren’t the best of the best, but I bet they had a hell of a lot of fun before Cataclysm came around.

I’ve ran and led 25man raids in WoTLK, and that’s something I know I’ll never get back to. The ingame rewards don’t override the out-of-playing hassle for me, not at all. Even if 25man had 50ilvls better gear, I wouldn’t bother with 25man if I had to be the one taking care of most organization.

So maybe there are plenty of players who would prefer 25 man raids in a semi-casual environment to 10 man raids, but can’t find those raids any more. (I think part of the problem was that officers/ raid leaders always had to be pretty hardcore in 25 man guilds, even if the rest of the guild was semi-casual.) Anyhow, Blizzard has no plans to tweak this or add any incentives for 25 man raiding. Expect to see 25 mans continue to die out.

Yo dawg! We heard you like dailies so we put dailies in your dailies …

So, daily quest lovers, in MoP you will be able to run about 48 daily quests per day should you so wish. There’s actually no limit so you can always do some lower level dailies from previous expansions if you finish all of those and are still bored.

Vaneras comments:

Mists of Pandaria is actually the expansion where we have emphasized dailies the most… ever!

I don’t have any issues with this myself. At that point in the game, people just want to log in and do something fun that will progress their character in some way. Assuming dailies are at least as fun as normal quests and that people who like PvE are happy with normal quests, the only issue is whether players get bored and how many dailies you have to do to get whichever reward you are aiming for. I’d assume players will be less bored when they have a wider variety of daily quests to choose from, so this is probably a good change.

This is also likely to provide quite an influx of gold into the economy, with the usual inflationary effect. People who play the AH will no doubt profit greatly. There will be a new gold sink in the black market.

Olivia@WoW Insider worries that players will feel forced to do as many dailies as possible. I don’t think anyone is ever actually forced to get in game rewards as fast as is humanly possible and maybe the people who do feel that pressure just need to chill and let the people who can control their own playing times enjoy the extra choice.

I find it quite tiresome when choices in games are deliberately restricted because ‘hardcore players would feel forced to do everything.’ Well sucks to be them then.

Cash shop pets to be more powerful in pet battles

Ah, you probably saw this one coming as soon as Blizzard announced that some pets would be considered ‘rare quality’ (ie. more powerful in pet battles) and they would add some non-capture pets to this list. Non-capture means pre-existing pets as opposed to ones that are captured from the wild in MoP.

The full list is here and it does include many of the previous pets that were rare drops in the game. It also includes pets bought from the in game shop.

Blizzard comment:

We decided which pets to change based on how difficult they are to obtain. This approach makes sense since it means that more time was put into getting these particular pets than other ones.

It did not take much time to click ‘buy’ on the cash shop, just saying. Still, I did get warm fuzzies when I saw my crimson whelpling on the list – that pet was given to me by Arb during Vanilla WoW Smile Happy days.

[Links] A medley of links for early summer

The clocks changed here yesterday so let’s call it summer!

Last week was fairly heavy on MMO news, another sure sign that developers/ publishers are firing shots across the bows in anticipation of the summer convention season. (That’s a second sign of summer.)

Also, I saw The Hunger Games at the weekend, which may be this year’s first ‘summer’ blockbuster. (Enjoyed it a lot, in case anyone is wondering. We don’t see enough teen girl power fantasies that are about survival, purity of heart, and fighting social injustice rather than about romantic entanglements.)

The Mists of Pandaria beta started last week, without an NDA, so expect increasing amounts of news/ screenshots/ live video feeds etc on the internet from now until launch. I am bitterly regretting the WoW-blogger tendency to focus in hard on a single class because if (like me) you play a class that isn’t popular in the blogosphere, it’s actually quite hard to get a) a sense of excitement for your class and b) any information without having to delve around the bowels of patch notes/ dev comments on the mmo-champion front page. On the other hand, if you’re interested in druids or hunters, you’ll get it all analysed about several zillion times.

Anyhow, I suspect there isn’t much interesting to report on warriors. Even the glyphs look a bit dull, although there is one cosmetic one that makes your character look on fire when it is enraged. I’ll call it the “girl on fire” glyph.

Cynwise wonders where all the warlocks went in Cataclysm and looks at levelling data to find out how many people abandon their warlocks along the way. Warlocks in MoP beta, incidentally, have some tanking abilities (ie. proper tanking abilities, not just an attack with high threat.)

Apparently Blizzard have confirmed that they have started working on the next expansion after MoP. Are there any NPCs left to become raid bosses?

Green Armadillo is considering SWTOR 3 months after launch, and takes a look at how much money he would save if he buys it now compared with going in at the start, and how many bugs will have been fixed and extra content added (in 1.2).

This also reminds me I was going to write a post sometime about how fun Arb and I have found it to play our alts as a duo. There are times when the characterisations are almost uncanny.

Rohan has been playing TERA during a beta weekend, and isn’t impressed by the beta community.This is a game I dismissed automatically as soon I saw videos of female characters running in a way which involved panty shots. Call me psychic if you like…

Still, you live by the sword, you die by the sword. TERA choose high heels, skimpy armor, and lolicons. And thus they get the audience that is primarily attracted by high heels, skimpy armor, and lolicons.

Pete at Dragonchaser reports that Notch is apparently working on a new space trading sandbox game. He mentions the magic word ‘Elite’ and I start doing the pavlovian dog thing :)

CCP presented some information about the World of Darkness game at EVE Fanfest 2012. I had to read that article twice to be sure I’d gotten it right that they said “The game will have a focus on fashion”. So just like EVE then :P

[WoW] Never underestimate the power of bloodthirst

So the NDA for press information about Pandaria has been dropped, and information about Warcraft’s next expansion is all over the internet.

I was especially intrigued that they’ve decided to inform the playerbase already about what the last fight of the next expansion is going to be. Horde and Alliance are going to siege Orgrimmar together and kill Garrosh. Won’t that be fun? It’ll be just like going to the Undercity in Wrath, but with different scenery.

One of the flaws of Cataclysm has been stated as players not really caring enough about killing Deathwing. He’s one of the Big Bad’s of the setting, but how much did most players really want him dead? Evidently not enough for many of them to stay subscribed. If I compare this with Wrath, the desire to put down the Lich King was genuinely one of the factors that kept my subscription going all expansion.

Now, about Garrosh. He’s been very inconsistently written all through Wrath and Cataclysm. In one zone, he’s a big damn hero (Stonetalon), in another he’s a windbag, and in another, he’s a romantic hero (Twilight Highlands) or a failure (same zone). Many players and characters see him as a dangerous warmonger. Who knows what Blizzard plan to do with him in Pandaria? (I’d guess ‘corruption’ since that happens to so many of WoW’s raid bosses in their backstory.)

But one thing is for sure, no horde player wants the Alliance to get involved in this. An internal coup is one thing, an entire expansion around a storyline in which the alliance are heroes who get to siege Orgrimmar and horde are losers …. that’s less appealing. This does sound like an ending in which the Alliance win.

I’m not sure I need to play to the end of Pandaria to see this one play out. I don’t like being on the losing faction all that much. But I do wonder if the expansion after Pandaria will see the Horde absorbed more into Alliance under Wrynn, with cross faction grouping included in the game.

[WoW] Thought for the day: What happens when the content fits F2P but the model is subscription?

I read recently that Blizzard have removed the “Scroll of Resurrection” offer on WoW — this was a longstanding deal by which if you had been unsubscribed from the game for a few months, a friend could send you a code to get a couple of weeks free to entice you to return.

One can only speculate whether this is because, now that people can hop into LFR to check out new raid content and gear gets an (easily accessible) update with each patch, that a motivated player could actually check out ALL the recent content within the 7-14 free days and then wander off without resubbing. Or in other words, maybe they found that the resubscription rates in people who used the scroll of resurrection weren’t as high as they’d hoped.

I don’t feel that the motivation to keep playing for months in WoW is the same as it used to be — you can see the new content without having to turn up for your weekly raid group (albeit in easier form) with easy random group finders, you know that any gear you get will be immediately replaced in the next content patch, I don’t know how compelling PvP/arena is these days but I do know that it isn’t a majority pursuit and there are many competing games with PvP. And if the social fabric is disintegrating also then that’s another longterm hook that is disappearing.

I don’t think WoW will ever go free to play while there are so many people happy to pay monthly subs. The justification for changing model has to be that it would make more money and I don’t think it would for WoW. But I do think that the pattern of ‘turn up to play the new stuff and then unsub and go do other things for a few months’ is going to be seen more and more in the coming months, at least from players who didn’t take the annual pass. And funnily enough, this is one of the typical F2P playstyles – I know I drop into LOTRO when there is new single player content, and then wander off again.

I also think that in Pandaria, Blizzard do have a chance to change this. But to do it they need a new type of gameplay that people will want to engage in longterm, because ‘log in just for the weekly raid/s’ won’t cut it in a LFR world. I also think that a pokemon style MMO could be wildly, crazily successful. Ignore the naysayers, pokemon is a solid game with good collection/ card-style-combat that could support large numbers of players. So I wouldn’t bet against Blizz being able to implement a good WoW version of this for their next expansion. In many ways, the game’s future depends on whether they can provide a fun and engaging endgame replacement for raiding, because with LFR the traditional raiding endgame is largely dead. It just hasn’t realised it yet.

Out with the old year, in with the new. MMO predictions for 2012

I didn’t make a great job of my predictions last year. TAGN has a super gaming roundup of 2011, covering what actually did happen.

I was right about mobile gaming becoming ever more popular although I’m not sure any specific game has rivalled Angry Birds yet for popularity, and also right about the Android market growing. I predicted something big for Zynga and sure enough they went public, although the share price hasn’t been performing well.

I predicted e-sports to grow, which I’m not really sure has happened.

I also predicted more emphasis (in the PC and Xbox world at least) on Indie games/ bundles/ etc. I don’t think we’ve yet seen the breakout indie MMO, but this year has seen some super and well received new indie games. Dungeons of Dredmore and Terraria have been two that have seen particular play round my house. Avadon the Black Fortress is the one on my backburner, as it’s on my hard drive but I’ve just not had the time yet to play it.

Any fans of roguelikes out there? Check out the results of the Ascii Dreams Roguelike of the year 2011; TOME4 heads the list with Dungeons of Dredmore close behind.

I said, of the Nintendo 3DS, “This year also marks the release of the Nintendo 3DS, the 3D version of the DS. Whilst it will sell well enough to be marked as a success, they will signally fail to persuade most users to upgrade.” And also said I didn’t think it would be a good year for handhelds. Well I should have had the courage of my convictions, the 3DS was very disappointing for Nintendo. 3d in general has failed to really sell itself to gamers.

Blizzard failed to announce Titan, and also didn’t announce an emphasis on crafting features in the next expansion, preferring to focus on Pandas and pet battles.

Sure enough, GW2, TSW, and WoD failed to launch this year. However, D3, ME3 both also did not get released in 2011. And I’m not sure Microsoft has been able to do much to clear up the Xbox live chats.

MMOs I have played most this year have been Rift with bursts of WoW and LOTRO. I did (and still do) like Rift a lot, but for me the pace of new content and sameish events was a bit overwhelming. I wound up feeling that my lifestyle just didn’t support keeping up with Rift, not because it was grindy but because new stuff kept turning up so often. I think Trion did a super job with the game and will look forwards to seeing future games from them.

And as it turns out, the game I bought and played on Steam most last year was actually Duels of the Planeswalkers, the MTG computer game. I still think this is a pretty excellent game so there ;)

Predictions for 2012

I’ll keep things tight this year. The recession/ economic climate is affecting players and their expectations more now, and although you might think this would benefit F2P games, I wonder if people are preferring to both save their money and stick to more manageable games (ie. standalone indie/ older/ games) with known good reviews. Has the F2P sheen worn off? Are there so many F2P competitors now that it’s easy for players to hop from one game to the next before they get in deep enough to be wanting to spend much money? I suspect this may be the case. Zynga’s share price implies that others wonder the same thing.

Is it that the MMO fad is over? No, SWTOR’s release proves that there are plenty of people still willing and able to plonk down their cash for a solid AAA Diku style MMO. I think this game will have better legs than the naysayers are predicting – yes some of us will have level 50 characters by the end of the first free month, but if you enjoy the basic gameplay, there’s replayability in the alts, and the game itself is just good fun which is worth a lot. I know I’m recommending it to friends who I wouldn’t normally point towards an MMO.

Better legs in this case may mean stays strong for 6 months rather than 3, it’ll be down to Bioware in the end to persuade people to stick with it. I personally would like to see better social features, but they will have to balance this up with adding more content in other areas too.

There has been a fair amount of upheaval involved this year with sub games switching to a F2P model. While a sub game can survive on retaining players, a F2P game needs to either keep raking the newbies in or focus hard on retaining the actual spenders. So expect the big name AAA F2P games to push out paid for expansions/ patches this year even if the value for money isn’t great. LOTRO will continue to expand Isengard but Turbine will find a way to release something that the max level player base will want to buy (probably extra content in some way).

Diablo 3 will release this year, and although it’ll be a solid game, it won’t be the massive excitement that fans had been hoping. I’ve seen hints of this in beta reviews – people liked it, but there was something lacking. There will however be much focus on the real money auction house, which may overwhelm the rest of the gameplay in commentary (like the game is just a basic mechanic to support the AH). Torchlight 2 will also release this year, and will actually be the better game in many ways (world design, pace) although I would put my money on Blizzard when it comes down to solid game mechanics and class design. I will play and enjoy both of them.

Mass Effect 3 will release this year, will be highly successful. It’s hard to say whether Bioware are over-expanding when they have different teams to do all of these things, however being able to release a hugely successful standalone game at the same time as running a successful MMO will be quite an accomplishment. They will also announce DA3.

Pandaria (WoW expansion) will not release before the Summer. This will be at around the 6 month mark for SWTOR and a lot of players will go back to WoW to check out the new stuff. Blizzard has a real chance to keep them if they play to their strengths. But now the poor WoW voice acting will be more in the spotlight (it’s not that players need voice acting but if it’s there, the bar has now gone up.)

The Secret World will release, to mixed reviews. I still feel that I don’t know much about this game, except that they’ve been relying on ARGs to push out word of mouth. If they stick to that type of model, it could gain a small but very dedicated hardcore following and keep them. I wish them luck.

GW2 will release towards the end of 2012. I really cannot decide how I feel this one will do – but it will depend a lot on how well the dynamic quests and PvP work with the player base, and whether they make the WAR mistake of balancing it with the assumption of constantly full servers at all levels. I’d like to see GW2 succeed.

CCP had an anno horribilis in 2011 and are now claming to have cut back development on everything except Dust and space stuff in EVE. I predict slowly falling numbers for EVE – devs have been leaving, and I suspect internal confidence at CCP is falling. They hopefully will be able to keep most of the core fanbase happy but I think the events of this year will have affected player confidence too.

Other MMOs which have been hyped for 2012 include Tera and ArcheAge (both korean MMOs, I think), and Battle for Dominus (or Dominus as it is now known) which is a more PvP/DaoC type of western MMO. I wish them all luck but I don’t see any breakout successes there. I think Dominus could do well in its niche if it can attract a solid core playerbase.

Aion is going F2P in early 2012, as is Startrek Online (I recommend STO for people who want a more involved space combat than either SWTOR or EVE) there aren’t many other games left to do so other than WAR and WoW.

The games I am currently most looking forwards to in 2012 are (aside from D3/ Torchlight 2): Journey (PS3), and Dragon’s Dogma (PS3) — based on having seen/demoed them both at conventions last year.

There have been several large browser based MMOs launched in 2011. It will be interesting to see whether this trend will continue and how devs adapt the gameplay to the general strengths of browsers. In my opinion, browser games are fantastic for strategy, but I still am not really sold on them for straight out action. Still, that’s my pick for MMO trend in 2012, more browser games.

I will also be keeping an eye out for more news of Three Rings work on a new Doctor Who MMO (they made Puzzle Pirates and Spiral Knights, and were recently bought by SEGA.)

The LoL gameplay model has been fantastically successful in 2012 (and previously), which makes me wonder if some dev (maybe Valve or even Blizzard) will announce an MMO with combat based on that mechanic. A left field prediction might even be that Popcap would be encouraged to enter the MMO field with their polished casual gameplay.

2012 will end with no major new AAA MMO being announced as in development (other than possibly the one stated above), and will be seen as the end of an era. But the success of Skyrim in 2011 may mean more companies are considering large sandbox style open world single player games … will that take us back to the start of a new RPG cycle?