Gaming News: Bungie signs up with Activision, EQ2 removes starting zones, Fallen Earth Dev cuts staff, and Vote Norman!

It’s that time of the week again. I feel I should thank the entire gaming industry for coughing up interesting news regularly since I started this column! Especially since all news in the UK has been postponed until next Thursday because of the election.

Bungie signs soul away for 10 years to Activision

Activision will be have been pleased to distract investors from the continuing saga of Infinity Ward (can we start calling it Finite Ward yet?) by announcing that the highly respected studio – best known for the Halo franchise, as well as Myth and Marathon – has inked the deal on a 10 year exclusive worldwide partnership.

Bungie were however careful to retain ownership of their IP. And this is all good news for PS3 owners because future games are likely to be multi-platform.

But lest we forget about Infinity Ward, this week 38 members of the Modern Warfare 2 team launched a lawsuit against Activision in respect of unpaid bonuses.

More Obstacles for Starcraft 2

As if it wasn’t bad enough that SC2 was rated 18+ in Korea, Blizzard is now in dispute with KeSPA (the Korean e-Sports Players Association) about which organisation is in charge of managing the sport of SC2 in Korea.

I think this is likely a bigger story than it seems, and that we’ll hear more about this one. It also sheds some light on the tricky relationship between a developer and the third party organisation responsible for organised player events.

Blizzard sets up a Cataclysm in the WoW Raiding Scene

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Blizzard has also switched into full-on information mode about Cataclysm recently. As well as the well publicised announcement about raiding changes, they’ve also started to release screenshots such as the one above.

The substance of the planned raid changes is:

  • 10 and 25 man versions of all raid encounters. They will drop the same loot, and offer approximately the same difficulty.
  • 10 and 25 man locks will be exclusive, players will not be able to run both on the same character. Instead they will have to choose.
  • The aim is to make 10 man raiding seem like a stronger option rather than the lesser and easier way to go.
  • Class designers will also be tweaking classes to make 10 man groups easier to form (that means spreading out raid buffs and abilities even further). So if you are deciding what class to play in Cataclysm, at least wait a couple of months until they’ve announced all the details because they may yet surprise you.

A lot of bloggers came out either in favour or against the changes, and you can see from the comments on my post how strongly people feel about their raiding. I’ve been most surprised by the number of people who feel that they’re carrying half the members of their current 25 man raid and can’t wait to ditch them. Really? But if you feel like that, why don’t you just go apply to a more hardcore raid guild yourself that will do a better job at winnowing the chaff than your current leadership? I thought that was how it worked.

And also at the people who think that if people flock to 10 man raids it must mean that they hated the other ones. It might, but more likely it just means that players will always take the easiest available route to the rewards. If Blizzard decided to put the same loot on 5 man instances, they’d do that instead.

Still, the jury is still out about whether this change will actually make the raid game more accessible or not. Bearing in mind that any group of friends who just want to run 10 mans can do that right now. And that to my mind depends a lot on the accessibility of PUGs.

EQ2 cuts out a starting zone

The new EQ2 producer, Dave Georgeson, has already started to make his mark at SOE. A couple of recent changes in the latest test-patch have riled up the player base because they’re removing content rather than replacing or updating it.

If anyone tried the EQ2 trial, you might remember the Trial of the Isle. This starting zone involved players learning their trade on an island zone, before graduating and being transported to their respective capital city. Well, treasure those memories because that zone is due for a Catac^D^D^D^D^D to be removed.

As a former (albeit brief) player, my reaction is that they could have just nuked Qeynos from orbit and left the harmless newbie zone (which really wasn’t at all bad) to drift under its own steam towards happier waters. Ysharros claims that some players loved the saccharine Wood Elf village in Qeynos. I agree 100% with her view which is that the districts were poky little racial ghettoes and when I tried playing a (ugh, can’t remember the name of the race, slender bald magic using humanoids) I quit the character in disgust at how awful the city was. Say what you will about WoW, it has awesome racial starting zones.

And I think the EQ2 devs made the right call here, their newer starting areas are SO MUCH BETTER than those tedious old cities with the constant zoning. I still think an actual nuking would be the way to go.

Level up in your sleep in Age of Conan

Funcom announced a new feature this week for Age of Conan, which is a variant of rested xp.

With this new feature you will get additional levels gained over time that can be allocated to characters in the character selection screen if you wish. It is designed to earn and allocate additional levels to gain over time even while being offline and it’s only available to put on characters that are at least level 30.

Again, the blogosphere has exploded with collective outrage at the notion that you might be able to level up a character without playing it (*coff* WoW register-a-friend *coff*).

I actually think it’s a pretty good idea. Probably a super turbo charged rested xp bonus would have done the same job without ruffling as many feathers but if I’ve been playing a game for long enough to have accumulated lots of offline xp then I probably do want the option to skip any levels or zones I didn’t much like the first time.

Now if AoC wasn’t so boobs and blood oriented I’d be tempted to give it another look. I keep hearing good things about improvements that the team has made since last year, and they have an expansion due out on May 11th.

Fallen Earth Dev cuts staff

Icarus Studios announced a restructuring this week which involved laying off 75% of the original staff. That’s not good news whichever way you cut it.

And if you get bored of the real election, why not vote for William the Conqueror instead?

This is a great story. A teacher in Northamptonshire decided to use the election as part of a history lesson. He set up a 1066 election between Harold Godwinson, Harald of Norway and William of Normandy (guess they didn’t want to call him William the Bastard). Connoisseurs of English history will remember that what actually happened was that Harold beat Harald at Stamford Bridge before marching down to Hastings to take an arrow through the eye from one of William’s men.

Anyhow, he took the whole thing onto twitter and that’s where the rest of the universe got involved.

I think it’s adorable and p.s. vote Norman, for change you can believe in.

The slow but inevitable death of 25 man raiding

As widely reported, yesterday Blizzard released their plans for changing the raid game in Cataclysm.

My bullet point summary:

  • They like having 10 man and 25 man versions of the same raids, so that will continue *cough* lazy *cough*
  • They like the Ulduar/ ICC scheme where raid leaders could decide whether to stick to normal or hard mode on each individual boss. (eg. take the first boss on easy mode, and then hard mode on the next one, et al.)
  • They don’t like that hardcore raiders felt forced to run 10 AND 25 man raids on their characters for optimal gearing up, so ….
  • … 10 man and 25 man raids will share the same lock. This is the big one. No more running the 25 man raids with your raid group and the 10 man raid with your friends in the same week. (Or rather, if you want to do that you’ll need separate alts.)
  • 10 man and 25 man raids will also drop the same loot. Just 25 man raids will drop more of it (more per person, I assume).
  • 10 man and 25 man raids will also be of the same difficulty (*coff* pigs, fly *coff* This is probably a subject for a different post.)
  • There will be two tiers of badges, much like at present. One tier will be available via heroics and will be unlimited, the other will be available from raids and heroic dailies.
  • These badges will also be available via PvP. So now the hardcore will have to PvP as well as PvE (or vice versa), instead of running 10 mans as well as 25.

Someone set us up the 25 man time bomb

Leading large raids is a harsh job at the best of times. It isn’t just due to making sure 25+ people each know what they are supposed to be doing and then checking that they are doing it. Nope, much of the difficulty and challenge of leading large raids is behind the scenes work, making sure that 25 people of appropriate classes and specs turn up on a weekly basis and are ready to raid.

And as if this wasn’t a harsh enough time to be a 25 man raid leader, they now are all aware that if this scheme proceeds as planned, Blizzard is setting them up to fail in Cataclysm.

The particular dilemma of rewards for different raid sizes is this:

  • for the individual raider, 10 mans are often more challenging. Each individual carries more responsibility.
  • for the group as a whole (and specifically for the leader), 25 mans are hugely more challenging. 25 people have to execute the fight correctly, as opposed to just 10. And the logistic overheads of 25 mans are a lot higher. Plus there is often more going on just due to the number of players wandering around.

But WoW is moving towards rewarding individuals for individual effort, and away from rewarding groups for group effort. If 10 and 25 man raids give the same rewards, then the 10 man raids offer by far the easiest path to getting them. At least for the stronger raiders, without whom more casual 25 man raid guilds will flounder.

So raid leaders will be asking themselves now whether enough people will still want to run 25 mans to make 25 man progression viable. To put this in context, you have to understand that for the majority of 25 man raid guilds, there will be a core of players who are more hardcore and a core who are less. It is significantly easier to put together a hardcore progression 10 man raid than a progression 25 man raid because you only have to find 9 other people (assuming that you are one of them). Any time a 25 man raid falters, or wipes more often than people would like, the temptation for the more hardcore 10 people to go it alone and ditch the guys who are holding them back will be there for the taking.

So how many of those more hardcore players will choose progression above 25 mans. The answer is … unknown at present, but never bet against people choosing progression. Or how about people ditching the 25 man because some friends just joined from another server who want to run 10s? Or ditching the 25 man because they found a 10 man group which raids on more convenient days (easier to organise when there are only 10 of you)?

In Wrath, no one had to choose. You could run 10s with your mates or hardcore set and 25s with your usual raid comm. In Cataclysm, everyone will have to choose. Some will use alts for different raids – but still, whenever the 25 man has a hiccough, the danger of people fleeing to the easier to arrange 10 mans will be there, like the elephant in the room.

And now, because hardcore raiders are unable to control their work/life balance – yeah seriously, just say no if you felt you were being ‘forced’ to raid too much –  we’re being forced to choose by being given a choice that isn’t really a choice at all.  The current setup is far better for casual raiders than what Cataclysm offers. There are plenty of PUGs (bored 25 man raiders running 10 mans for kicks or vice versa), casual 25 man raid guilds can flourish … wave goodbye to all of that.

All this has happened before. All this will happen again.

My first reaction to this news was one of those cold flush style flashbacks, you know where you get shivers down your spine? I’d put the trauma of the guild dramas that followed the end of 40 man raiding to the back of my mind.

And now here it is, all over again. People will be ditched from the core ‘clique’ because “sorry, you’re not one of the 10 best.” Guilds that had grown around a 25 man social dynamic slowly losing raiders, bleeding them away until there is nothing left. Drama laden guild break ups.

Will there be a typical Cataclysm guild?

Myself, I view the news with mixed reactions. I have loved running large raids, whether they be the old 40 mans, or the newer 25s. I hope that we can keep running 25 man raids into Cataclysm – however silly it is, I still think there’s a cachet to tanking 25 man raids.

And yet. And yet.

Imagine being in a small scale, tight knit guild with friends which raids together and runs rated battlegrounds together. That will be the Cataclysm model. It does sound fun. But is it worth the number of eggs that Blizzard will have to break?

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