eSports, and Catering to the pro players

This was an interesting post spun out of a comment made by Starcraft II’s lead designer at Blizzcon last weekend. He said that promoting the game as an eSport was one of their main goals and they cut some content and toned down graphics to make sure it would run as fast as possible for professional gaming.

To me, this highlights the risks in playing and loving a genre which is primarily aimed at some other type of player. If you love the competitive eSport side of SC2 then you’ll look at the trade-off between content and competitive play and see it as reasonable. If you have no interest in that side of the game, then you might feel gypped. Although, to be fair, they are working on free extras such as the DotA mod, so it isn’t all eSport all the time.

But this is part of the reason why I was concerned when I heard that PvP arenas were part of the Diablo 3 plans. I’ve never had the slightest interest in engaging in Diablolique PvP so darned if I want Blizzard spending too much effort in balancing classes for PvP or presenting the game as an eSport.

I am somewhat mollified by the comment in the same interview as above where he says that the designers made a conscious decision not to make PvP the centerpiece of D3.

“With Diablo III, if we made it viable for an e-sport, it would destroy the game”

Despite this, we do also know that there will be ranked team PvP  battles, with points awarded that feed into achievements and ‘other rewards’. But I’m still feeling shocked (and maybe a bit betrayed)  that turning one of the archetypal PvE games into an eSport was even on the agenda. I wonder how much content they had to cut to do that.

Do you like playing a game that has genuine pros playing it too?

Despite all that, there is something appealing about knowing that you are playing a game which has hardcore players practically making a living (or at least a nice bonus) out of playing it.

It underlines the “easy to play, difficult to master” mantra. It affects whether players think it’s worth trying to master the game – for a lot of people, knowing that world class opponents are waiting if they do is one of the lures.

Gaming News: Starcraft 2 numbers, Torchlight 2, Gameforge buys majority of Frogster, Google Wave ditched

Starcraft 2 sells well, but not as well as WoW

The SC2 numbers are in and they’re good. Blizzard claims best selling PC Game of 2010 with over 1 milion copies sold within the first 24 hours. Kotaku compare this number with WoW expansions, and finds that both TBC and Wrath sold over twice as well in their first 24 hours of release.

I’m dubious as to how much weight to put on the first 24 hour sales with this game, since it’s expected to have a very long tail indeed if it follows after the example of its predecessor.

SC2 fans will probably also enjoy this article by Sirlin about the game’s online ranking mechanism.

In other Blizzard news, the developer has announced intentions to try to police roleplay on one of the US RP servers. Apparently Moonguard US has zones which are notorious for people cybering in public and some hapless GM/s have been assigned the least enviable job in the community management arena by being told to go in and stop people doing it.

So good luck with that then. And in Activision’s Q2 investor call it was confirmed that Blizzard is working on a new MMO with a new IP. (I’m not sure if this is news, I had thought they already said as much but it’s official now.)

Torchlight 2 announced! Not a MMO but will include multiplayer

Runic Games announced this week that they plan to release a sequel to fan favourite Diablo-alike Torchlight, to be released around March 2011. Torchlight 2 will include multiplayer functionality so you can adventure with your friends, and they also intend to offer a free peer-to-peer matchmaking system.

Also overland areas, more classes, more customisation … and so on. We still have no dates for Diablo 3 so this might well beat it to market. I am curious to hear more from Blizzard on how they’re going to differentiate D3 from the increasingly slick looking competition.

Gameforge buys Frogster

Frogster, best known in the MMO community  for distributing Runes of Magic is now majority owned by Gameforge. Massively have some comments on Gameforge’s current portfolio and where this purchase fits in.

Also in commercial news this week, Google picks up social gaming app/ widget maker Slide. There’s no doubt that they intend to be a major player in the social gaming field, I can’t wait to hear more about their plans.

And in the same week, they announced the demise of the much hyped Google Wave.

So farewell, Google Wave

understood by no one.

You failed to make waves.

‘Never seen that before’ MMO news

Why I’m not playing SC2

sc1_races

Thanks to all who commented on my SC2 post last week in which I explained why the beta had put me off. I’m definitely intrigued by the game now (which is good because it’s taking over the internet) but decided to buy the original Starcraft and play through that first.

My hapless minions lurch from one disaster to the next, having barely held their base for 30 mins until the friendly drop ship arrived  (they actually held on for 29 mins, 59s – the zerg were nomming my last building at the timeout), but it’s very fun and I’m not finding the old graphics a drawback.

You can tell a game like this is fun if you keep wanting to retry old missions because you’ve learned some new tricks. Bunkers can fit more than one unit! Who knew? We’re currently trying and failing to reach the downed Norad II.

It is just unfortunate that while out with friends this weekend, we ended up chatting to a guy in a pub with a strong Yorkshire accent and consequently I keep thinking that Raynor et al would be indescribably cooler if they were from Yorkshire and not Texas. (Sorry, Texans!)

I do still have my doubts about SC2, and the large price tag doesn’t help. And neither does a post I read today from Kotaku about how to pick your race in SC2.

you shouldn’t pick Terran because they are human, Protoss because they are cool and high tech, or zerg because of their monstrous appetite. Each race has a distinct play-style and/or play-styles unique to their race

If wanting to play a cool high tech telepathic robot is wrong, then I don’t want to be right!

Gaming News: Free Steam Game, Comic Con MMO News, GTA Rothbury, Women spend more on virtual goods, 38 Studios big reveal, Starcraft did not cost $100m

Happy Sunday!

This week brings lots of announcements from Comic Con, including new trailers.

EA/ Maxis also announced that they are producing a game called Darkspore which seems to have nothing at all to do with Spore, except that they claim that they were inspired by the Spore character creator. Perhaps they realised that people enjoyed playing with the character creator more than they did with the game.

Having said that, “players battle across alien worlds to save the galaxy from the mutated forces of Darkspore in a four-player co-operative and full single-player campaign” sounds just a little bit like Alien Swarm, the free 4 player co-op top down shooter which was released for free (free as in beer) along with its base code on Steam this week. (It had good reviews too, go grab a copy if that sounds like your type of game.)

But riddle me this: Does the  “build your own pet dickmonster and watch it dance” play of Spore character creator really translate into a successful “build your own weapon out of monster body parts” type of shooter? Surely a Pokemon type of “Build your cute monster and then make it fight other monsters!” game would have been more logical.

DC Universe Online launch trailer

Fans of lycra-clad men, woman and aliens with improbable body shapes look no further, the Who do you trust? DCUO trailer is here.

Is it bad if every time I saw Wonder Woman, I wished they’d put her in the new costume? Also Batman looks terrifically butch in this trailer, I prefer him with the voluminous cloak.

DCUO is due to launch in November. Hopefully we’ll soon hear much more about the game itself and how it plays.

Space Battles to feature in SWTOR

Another announcement made at Comic Con confirms that the SWTOR team plan to include space battles in their upcoming MMO. It sounds as though it will involve some kind of self contained gameplay – and there’s more information to come in next month’s PC Gamer (a magazine which has been working hard to earn MMO fans’ money recently).

Dragon Age 2 at Comic Con

Lots more news this week about Dragon Age 2, also. I can’t sum it up any better than Arbitrary, who was there at the DA2 panel:

There’s a couple of big differences which I think will prove quite interesting, but obviously which we can’t really see in a short playtest. First of all, the hero is voiced! No more silence.

Secondly, the narrative structure of the game has changed. The game covers a much longer period than Dragon Age, and is told by a couple of (not necessarily reliable) narrators – the tale of The Champion (that’s you, that is!) and who s/he was. This allows Bioware, and the player to play key points in the life of the character, with each being able to have a massive influence on the rest of the story.

The section of playable game was chosen to show off some of the fighting and a little of the dialogue, but it was pretty short. I thought it definitely looked like the combat flowed more and I liked what I heard of the voices and what I saw of the new art style. In fact, there really wasn’t much I didn’t like about the changes and I’m now really looking forward to playing the game, due out in Spring next year – in perfect time for my birthday!

More from Comic Con

Arbitrary has been filing more reports from Comic Con here and there are a few more to come, also. Lots of news there.

And a link to Super Hero Squad Online (I couldn’t get this to work in Firefox but it’s fine in IE) which sounds like a terrifically fun little kid-friendly MMO where you collect Marvel Superheroes into a team and get them to go fight for you.

GTA Rothbury

Recently in the UK we had a manhunt for an ex-prisoner who went on a shooting rampage. There was a lot of criticism about media coverage, claiming (with good justification) that they turned it into a media circus with journalists reporting next to armed police squads whilst negotiating was going on and in earshot of the subject of the manhunt, and so on.

The final stand took place in a small village called Rothbury. This is only relevant because one of the crappier UK newspapers was taken in this week by a faked screenshot showing the cover of what purported to be Rockstar’s next game – Grand Theft Auto Rothbury.

Whilst any actual gamer would not have given that even a second of thought, clearly the Daily Star has none on staff because they ran with it. They got mocked widely in the gaming press, and then Rockstar got some lawyers involved. The Star had to apologise.

Women spend more than men on virtual goods

A survey published this week shows that women spend more than men on virtual goods. As you’ll see in the link, there’s room for some queries on the survey methodology, in particular running a survey on a micro-transaction site is likely to show that users spend more on casual games than ‘traditional’ ones,  but it wouldn’t surprise me if the general trend turned out to be correct. Hopefully there will be more surveys to follow.

But this does raise the question: in an era where online games are leaning more and more heavily on ‘micro’-transactions, how will they change to lure in more women if women are actually their best customers? Or is there a way for them to get men to spend more? Will it involve guns and/or porn?

Lots of questions. You can bet that many business heads in the industry are thinking about this right now.

38 Studios reveal Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning

Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios have been teasing a reveal of their first game for many moons now, and this week they brought out a trailer and some information.

Previously known only as Project Mercury, their single player RPG has been announced as Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning (or KOAR for short.) There’s a trailer to go with the announcement, and it looks pretty sleek.

38 Studios always claimed to be about MMOs, and this single player RPG is to be a testbed for their rich game universe and background, as well as a good game in its own right. While the long long trail of hype without any supporting substance has put a lot of bloggers off, it’s hard to argue with talent like:

People working on the game
- Lead Designers: Ken Rolston (Redguard, Morrowind, Oblivion), Mark Nelson (Morrowind, Oblivion, Fallout 3)
- Lead Narrative Designer: Erik J. Caponi (Oblivion, Fallout 3)
- Lead Systems Designer: Ian Frazier (Ultima 5: Lazarus, Titan Quest, Dawn of War: Soulstorm)

And that’s even before you include Bob Salvatore and Todd McFarlane. So either way, this has to be great news for fans of single player open world RPGs. It isn’t due to be released until Autumn 2011 though.

No, Starcraft did not cost $100m

Last week, I noted rumours that SC2 had cost $100m to make. It turns out that the commenter who said “no way” was absolutely right. Starcraft 2 did not cost $100m, the Wall Street Journal got its figures mixed up and had to print a retraction.

Have you tried the Starcraft 2 beta?

So, it’s about a week now until the launch of Starcraft 2, which is undoubtedly going to be one of the big gaming events of the year.

I linked yesterday to reports that the game cost more than $100m to develop, and at least one commenter wondered what they had spent it on. (edited to add: this rumour has since been debunked.) One of the interesting comments made by Mike Morhaime in the interview was this:

We’ve brought in a lot of new players in the beta testing who’ve been playing ‘World of Warcraft’ but have never tried Starcraft

So it sounds as though just about every WoW player who opted into the SC2 beta will have had an invite. Players and bloggers have noted that beta testing phases have increasingly been used as marketing tools over the last few years, and here it is in black and white.

Alas, in my case the marketing may have backfired. I did try the game and thought it was fun. But after losing every single match I ever tried, I conclude that I’m just not experienced enough an RTS player to play this thing. And maybe not really motivated enough to spend hours reading guides and watching replays to learn from scratch.

My conclusion from my beta experience: Good game, will make a lot of SC players happy, but not for newbies. This could be completely wrong if the single player game (not part of the beta) actually turns out to have a top notch tutorial. But then again, if you are deliberately trying to get new players to try your beta, perhaps it would be a good idea to include the tutorial parts of the game …

So have you tried the Starcraft 2 beta, and if so, what did you think? Did it look as though it cost $100m? You looking forwards to release?

Gaming News: Warner Brothers buys Turbine, Brain Training doesn’t work, Will Facebook take over the Web?

It’s Sunday again and time for another dose of the weekly gaming news.

Warner Brothers acquires Turbine

The developers of LOTRO and Dungeons and Dragons Online was acquired this week by Warner Brothers. This deal means that Turbine loses their independence and that WB now owns all the rights to Lord of the Rings.

WB have been buying up a few games studios over the last few years, most notably Rocksteady (makers of Arkham Asylum) and TT Games (Lego Starwars). Although we don’t yet know if WB have plans for any of Turbine’s existing games, the MMO developer stated that fans can rest easy because nothing much is expected to change in the foreseeable future. But they would say that, wouldn’t they? We also know that Codemasters will continue running LOTRO in Europe.

In view of this announcement, I wonder whether the DDO offer wall which hit the headlines last week was less of a money making effort and more an attempt to prove the technology for Turbine’s new corporate masters. I suspect LOTRO will be fine, in fact it’ll probably be good for the developers to have access to the rest of the LOTRO canon. As for DDO, that’s a more interesting issue because Atari owns the D&D sublicence.

And if anyone is wondering what other IPs Warner Brothers owns which might be gameworthy, here is the list. The IPs which most intrigue me as possibilities are Harry Potter (duh) and The Wizard of Oz (the Oz books themselves are in the public domain, and it is a very well defined universe.)

Nolan Bushnell is Back at Atari

The legendary gaming entrepreneur who founded Atari in 1972 is back on the board. A couple of other senior directors left the board at the same time, including David Gardner who was Atari CEO until last December. Night of the Long Knives, anyone?

Brain Training Doesn’t Work, or Does It?

A study published in Nature (a respected scientific publication) this week showed that Brain Training games do not actually improve your memory or a host of other skills.

What they actually said was:

Statistically, there are no significant differences between the improvements seen in participants who played our brain training games, and those who just went on the internet for the same length of time.

So basically, messing around on the internet or playing just about any other kind of game would keep your brain ticking over as much as ‘brain training’. This is not to say that gaming can’t be good for you. There has been research showing that computer gaming helps people with dementia to keep their skills and memories, for example.

But good news! You don’t have to play a boring brain training game! Plants and Zombies for everyone!

You can like Facebook, but does Facebook like you?

Facebook’s F8 conference was used as a platform for announcing a whole slew of new changes and features.

Finally, giving permission to a third-party applications will become a one-click action, meaning that applications can get more data more quickly, and then keep it. Privacy concerns from users aside, this is the developers’ dream.

(My bolded text.) Facebook is not your friend. It is funded by advertising and by application developers. Any changes they make are with their funders and future funders in mind. This doesn’t mean that changes might not make life more convenient for users in future, but that isn’t the goal.

Social media sites, usually keen to support anything involving more people using social media have been awkwardly trying to backpedal on this one. Maybe, just maybe, it might not be a good idea to give facebook this much information?

Mashable, for example, explain the new ‘like’ button but with a caveat.

It’s in Facebook’s interests to lock up your social graph, and it’s in your best interests that it doesn’t.

Pete@Dragonchasers has also experimented with the new like button, and shares some of his concerns. My main concern is not so much whether I want to like webpages, it’s whether my friends might inadvertently share information about me. Just because I don’t mind my friends knowing my interests, that doesn’t mean I want every website they ever visit to know them as well.

Here’s more on how to protect your personal information on Facebook.

And if you run a blog on wordpress.com and would like to add a facebook ‘like’ button to the bottom of a post, you can generate some code to do that via GetSocial Live! There’s an example at the bottom of this post. I’m inclined to keep doing it, because Facebook users might like it and it’s really your choice whether or not to click.

Starcraft II gets an 18 Rating in Korea

This is bad news for the Blizzard team if the rating stands, given that Starcraft is practically a national sport in Korea. This week, the South Korean government’s Game Ratings board gave SC2 an 18+ rating.

Overclocker reports that an official cited:

the “game’s level of violence, foul language and depiction of drug use.”

Blizzard has gone back to them with their release candidate code to appeal for a second look at the rating. If they do have to adjust content to satisfy the Koreans, expect a delay in release.

Like This!

We need bigger links!

  1. In a week where Blizzard announced their plans for upgrading Battle.net to support online Starcraft 2 play, RPS asks whether people really want to play online RTS. If you’re a casual player, do you want to be thrown in amongst the hardcore even if the vaunted ‘skill matching’ works as intended? Do you even see them as PvP games, or prefer your strategy to be player vs environment?
  2. Farmville sells its most expensive item, would you spend $42 on a ‘cheat code’?
  3. Would older gamers rather play together than die alone? wired.com asks whether shooters with the associated hyper-competitive online posturing are really a young man/woman’s game. (Note: this is why it could be a mistake for MMOs to drift to more shootery gameplay, do they not know the age of their demographic?)
  4. Tamarind@Righteous Orbs has an unfortunately named alt (but at least people will remember his name!)
  5. Tanking class comparisons? We got ‘em. Big Bear Butt Blogger has been playing both a paladin and druid tank lately and has written a couple of posts comparing them. Shintar has another angle on paladin vs druid tanking – I wonder if she’s more objective because neither is her main. Gameldar also writes about paladin tanking for warriors (ie. if you’re switching), but again he steers clear of actually making any value judgements.
  6. evizaer has been playing and writing about Global Agenda recently and in this post he explains why DPS Medics are a design failure. This will be a familiar argument to anyone who has ever played or whined about healers who don’t heal in PvP.
  7. Nerf the Cat plays through the Dragon Age DLCs, Warden’s Keep and Return to Ostagar.
  8. James Wallis proposes a new standard for distinguishing between games and … non-games (eg. software toys.)
  9. Locke Webster on the MTV blog looks at how Mass Effect changed the way he roleplays. (I have a longer post planned on this.)
  10. We like stories about good vs evil, but what is evil anyway? Jon Evans on the tor.com blog argues that every society has its own, changing notions of evil. And fantasy or futuristic societies even moreso. It’s an interesting thought for roleplayers.
  11. Syp explains why no one cares about Taris, referring to the latest SW:TOR infosnippet. I think the SW:TOR team should hire some cricket commentators, they have plenty of experience in filling airtime with chatter while raid stops play.
  12. And finally Mattel unveils … Computer Engineer Barbie. I’ve heard complaints that the laptop is Bismuth Pink but I think they miss the actual subversive nature of the new career — it shows that computer engineers can be girly too, and that’s the point.