[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?

Blizzcon: Thoughts on the annual WoW pass and challenge dungeons

mmo-champion has a roundup of the various panels and announcements from the first day of Blizzcon. Highlights include

  • some new units for SC2 (can’t really comment on that since I don’t play it)
  • a new trailer for Diablo 3 (in which the protagonist looks very Final Fantasy – I think it’s the hair)
  • announcement of the next WoW expansion which will indeed be the ‘oriental’ themed Mists of Pandaria
  • New expansion will include pokemon style pet fighting, and a high score table for speed of completion of the new ‘challenge’ dungeons (which are actually regular 5 man instances)
  • a new incentive to pay for a year of WoW.

(Apparently the female mage in the Diablo 3 trailer is Decard Cain’s niece. Poor girl.)

After the flailing around of Cataclysm, it sounds as though the WoW team have come up with genuine direction for the next expansion and decided who they want to try to appease. I think there’s plenty of evidence that many players enjoy collecting pets and loads more enjoy dungeon speed runs so there’s good logic behind designing extra mechanics around both of those playstyles.

The new annual pass

The way I /think/ this works is that you sign up for the pass and continue paying your sub as usual. You get some bennies for being signed up, including a shiny flying mount, entry to the beta of the next expansion, and a free copy of Diablo 3. If your sub terminates at any point before the year is up, you lose access to all of those things. But if it doesn’t (ie. you pay for 12 months worth of subscriptions) then they become yours to keep.

Or maybe if your sub terminates before the end of the year, they bill your card anyway. I’m honestly not sure.

In many ways this is sheer genius. Anyone who was vaguely planning to play WoW for the majority of the year anyway is now getting some extra stuff to play during the slow periods (ie. Diablo 3 and the expansion beta, whenever that may be). And that extra stuff is of course Blizzard based and may discourage people from straying to other games – after all, they’ve already committed to paying for the whole year anyway so might as well get their money’s worth.

If you were considering dipping back into WoW occasionally, but definitely planned to buy Diablo 3, this might be worth a look too. Just for comparison, D3 is likely to cost the rough equivalent of 4 months subs if you buy it from battle.net.

If you’re meh on WoW, think there is likely to be a stretch of time longer than 4 months next year with no new content, or had sourced a cheaper version of D3, then it’s a wash.

The other reason this is genius is that unless there are plans to release the new expansion unusually early, it’s practically guaranteed that there will be a long stretch of time with no new content after 4.3 drops. This annual pass locks players in now to paying for that long break.

I think it’s likely that the expansion won’t turn up before Q4; they wouldn’t release against D3 even if they could, there will need to be a decent length of beta testing, and I don’t think they’d want to release in the Summer as it’s traditionally the MMO low season.

You pays your money and you takes your choice. I already have D3 on pre-order and I’m not currently seeing anything that would draw me back to WoW. I imagine I’ll check out the new expansion when it goes live because I enjoy their levelling content, but that could be a long way away.

Challenge Dungeons

I’m not that fond of speed runs, but I think having a high score table for dungeon speed runs is likely to be a popular move. Especially with repositioning Pandaria heroics to be more similar to Wrath ones, which were emminently speedrunnable.

A red flag for me though with my tanking hat on is how much timed speed runs can favour tanking and healing specs which produce more damage whilst they tank/ heal. The difference between the amount of damage that a tanking death knight puts out and a tanking warrior puts out in Cataclysm, for example, can be quite significant. In 5 mans where speed is of the essence, that will be more noticeable. Also expect the bloodlust classes (shamans and mages) to be in high demand for speedruns, especially mages.

I’d expect the new monk class to be well designed for this type of environment, and imagine both tanking and healing specs will involve a fair amount of damage on the side.

This could leave traditionally low dps specs like protection warriors and resto druids feeling sidelined. (Yes you can gear and spec your prot warrior for dps but that’s never really felt satisfying to me, YMMV.)

I predict this is going to have a huge impact on balance if it takes off.  But who knows, maybe the new redesigned talent system will even things out.