[Blizzard] Plan B in patch 4.3, and Diablo 3 trailer

Happy Sunday!

Let’s start with a link to the new D3 trailer that was premiered last night (this is an RPS link since the Spike TV one is inaccessible to people in my region. )

If you want to compare with previous ones:

Maybe I’m jaded from awesome computer game trailers these days. It looks fine. I just want to know the release date.

Of greater interest to prospective players, Blizzard also released some more details around how the auction house/ battlenet/ money thing is going to work. So you’ll be able to ‘charge up’ your battle.net balance via paying money into your account, but you cannot withdraw money from it – this isn’t a bank. Proceeds of a D3 cash auction can either go into the battle.net balance (ie. if you want to use the money to pay future subs or something), or they can be cashed out if you pay a cashout fee. What this basically means is that you cannot store auction profits on battle.net until you have a decent amount and then cash all of it out for a single cashout fee. You’ll have to pay a fee on every individual auction you want to cash out.

Or as Mike@MMOCrunch puts it, quadruple dipping. This rather makes the cash AH  useful only if you either want to ‘earn’ money for your WoW subs/future D3 expansions or intend to sell rather large/ high value items. I suspect gold selling/ buying for Diablo 3 in large amounts will be the dominant model on the real money AH, and people will just use the gold AH for selling most gear.

What does a successful patch look like anyway?

Earlier this week I asked readers how they had found the difficulty of WoW’s latest patch, 4.3. Thanks to everyone who responded! The main impression I get is that people are enjoying the content, so that’s definitely a win for Blizzard.

But still, I see concerns around how difficult or challenging the raids and instances are (or more accurately, around how difficult they aren’t). I see this as very much tied into longevity. Ideally every player would like to spend their time working towards clear short and medium term goals, and seeing actual progress towards those goals with every session. (The goals don’t have to be gear related, maybe you’re making gold, making friends, or learning how to play your class/spec better.) So there’s an idea that “Well yes, this is really fun now. But what happens next? It won’t stay this fun for long …” It’s like a protestant work ethic – we cannot admit that we are having fun with the new content because dammit, we didn’t have to work hard enough. And it feels as though admitting that a patch is fun right now is like saying that it won’t be fun next week, or maybe the week after.

So–  when a player meets their medium term goals quickly, what happens then? Either they make new goals, or take a break until new goals present themselves. Some people are better than others at thinking up interesting personal goals, and some goals appeal more to some people than others (eg. I’m not motivated by achievements, personally.) And after you have played a game for long enough, maybe you’ve run out of potential medium term goals that can still hold your interest. There are only so many times you need to get the Loremaster or Crusader achievements, after all.

Blizzard is aiming to offer heroic modes as future goals for people who complete the content on normal modes, AND a much larger proportion of the player base will complete the content on normal or LFD mode than previously. Will the player base buy it, and will people then want to spend time working on the harder modes? If so, it’s a good model for Blizz. Lots of fun things for everyone to do and see when a new patch drops, as they check out the content on LFR/ normal mode. And then when they have completed that, extra challenge on heroic. Plus the new PvP season, and any other new content/ daily quest Blizzard can drop in (Darkmoon Faire in this case.)

And all that is required for that to work is for people to really care about repeating content they have already seen in normal mode in a harder heroic mode.  Let’s see how that pans out. I’d also have concerns about how LFR will affect turnout to casual raid guilds. Again, if people are motivated by seeing the content, how keen will they be to turn up to weekly raids to see it again in a harder form?

Still, it’s undoubtedly a good deal for players who wanted to see the cool lore stuff from patch 4.3 and be done with it (assuming they don’t care about harder modes) when SWTOR is released.

Call of Duty to get a subscription option

What is this I don’t even …?

News today is that Activision-Blizzard are planning on introducing a subscription option for CoD. This itself is not surprising as there have been rumours about it for months. But what is perhaps unexpected is that apparently this is going to take the form of an ‘elite’ social network  to which players can subscribe.

So the idea is that you pay your $60 or so for the main game, and then they’re going to try to sell you a subscription on top. It sounds as though some content (such as map packs) will be included, as well as being able to compare stats with other players and find people with similar interests (if ‘likes to play shooters’ isn’t similar interest enough).

But no, the surprise here is that they broke the story in the Wall Street Journal and not a gaming publication. That sends a message about who Activision really want to hear about this development. No doubt we’ll hear more at E3 next week. (And I guess, the other surprise is that they’ve decided subscriptions will make more money for them than expanding F2P options, so opposite to the way the MMO world has been trending. Wonder if they’ll offer a cash shop on top of this.)

So if you are a CoD player, how do you feel about this option? Better value than buying occasional map packs as DLC? What could they put in to make it tempting? And how much would you be prepared to pay per month/year?

And if you aren’t, don’t worry, chances are that if it’s popular, your favourite online multiplayer game will go this way too:

Rob Dyer, senior vice president of publisher relations at Sony’s U.S. games division, said only a few games have the audience loyalty and size to support a subscription service like Call of Duty Elite. Mr. Dyer said he is “very confident” other publishers will follow Activision’s lead. “There’s money to be made there,” he said.

And a video trailer for the new service has also been leaked in advance of E3. I wonder if CoD counts as an MMO yet …

Gaming News: Pirates of the Burning Sea goes F2P, Jedi Sage in SWTOR, EQ2 Vampires, Betas for Rift and TF2, LOTRO F2P tweaks

This week will mark the release of possibly the biggest PC game launch of the year. It’s also a game which will be downloaded directly by a large number of players (possibly even the majority) and will no doubt be showing up in a lot of Xmas stockings and making a lot of gamers, both casual and hardcore very happy, especially if the developer is up to their usual standards.

I speak of course of Bejeweled 3 (subtitle – what else can we do with a 3 colour match game?).

Joking aside, I love Popcap and there’s no reason not to think this’ll be great. I can see me buying a few copies as presents for gamer-friendly friends/ family. Plus it’s something to do while waiting in WoW server queues for Cataclysm.

Speaking of which, Blizzard have released a final release trailer for the new WoW expansion. It’s called The World Reborn and is a flythrough of some of the new stuff – that elemental plane of air looks incredible.

In other news, EA have announced that they will be looking to cut down their game output next year. I thought they said that last year too.

The post that caught my eye this week was Larisa’s discussion about why she’s not doing anything special to prepare for Cataclysm. This in an environment where hardcore players probably have all the maps and quests planned out from various beta information already.

RPS have also, astoundingly, finally found a writer who likes WoW to write about it.

Pirates of the Burning Sea launches F2P

Ever wanted to be a pirate, sailing the spanish main? Well now you can do it without a monthly sub in PotBS, it’s a pretty game and a rather different setting to most other MMOs on the market. There’s also quite a sandbox economy/ PvP vibe alongside the quests and naval combat and most importantly, characters can have the best range of beards I think I’ve ever seen in a game. I liked the female customisation a lot also, the costumes are just that cool.

Jedi Wizard gets renamed

The unfortunately named Jedi Wizard class is being renamed to Jedi Sage in SWTOR, following an online poll.

They also have a developer blog up this week about crew skills and crafting in the game. One of the things I like is that they definitely have a notion of casual crafters vs hardcore crafters and that each type of player should be able to get something out of the system. So casual crafters should be able to fairly easily make gear that is on par (or slightly above) drops, but there will be better gear available to be crafted by players who want to put more time into it.

I’m rapidly thinking that the crafting in this game is looking like one of the big plus points. I’m also getting fonder of the graphics, it’s not fancy but it doesn’t need to be.

New vampire race for EQ2

Well, at least they aren’t vampire elves. Arkenor says what a lot of other people are thinking, which is wtf SOE? (I’m more puzzled that he thinks this is a step towards becoming more like WoW which wasn’t especially vamped out last time I checked.) Having said that, maybe people would like a bloodsucking race. It’s certainly been part of fantasy gaming since at least original D&D.

But if you do want one, hang in there because it’s being given as a reward  for people who remain subscribed between Dec and Feb. What we don’t know is how overpowered it will be compared to the other races – a usual tactic to ‘encourage’ players to want one.

Green Armadillo suspects it will show up in the cash shop as a buyable race sometime later.

Beta Watch: Rift and TF2

A couple of betas that we heard more about this week. Trion Worlds’ Rift has a beta weekend event this weekend. It sounds from the website to be a very classic WoW-like MMO but with some interesting twists and lore. It isn’t a typical fantasy setting and the races and background look quite fun.  It also looks very pretty in screenshots.  There’s an NDA up to stop beta testers talking about it too much but expect to hear more about this game as it nears launch. Might be one to watch if you preferred vanilla WoW to the current version.

The other game with some extra beta zing is Team Fortress 2, for which Valve have opened a public test server where you’ll be able to try some of the new patch changes and give feedback before they go live.

Tweaks to the LOTRO F2P setup

The December Producers’ letter for LOTRO explains some of the changes they have made recently, including removal of radiance and changes in some of the pricing. For example, Lonelands is now free to all players whereas at launch of F2P, you had to buy access to the quests in the zone.

There are also going to be cosmetic pets.

As a player, the main take home message for this is wait as long as you can before buying anything because prices are tending to go down and more content being made available for free the longer you wait.

And also, if you do buy something, do so because you want it at the time and try to be sanguine about the notion that prices are likely to change later on.

[E3 Best of the Rest]: WH40K, Black Prophecy, Jumpgate Evolution, Final Fantasy 14

Of the other upcoming MMOs showing at E3, these are the ones which caught my eye.

Final Fantasy 14

Why you want to play it:

  • It’s Final Fantasy. It will also be very pretty.
  • Squeenix have promised to build on their previous MMO experience with FF11. (This may or may not be a good thing depending on how you liked the previous game.)
  • They promise a very flexible job system, where it’s possible to change class within the game … or even create your own.
  • Intriguing Guild Leve system, which sounds as though it involves instanced quest areas, tailored to your group.
  • Will be possible to level as a crafter.

Why don’t you want to play it:

  • Is your PC a beast? If not, don’t apply. Squeenix have thoughtfully released an official benchmark program which will tell you just how much your setup fails. (I wish more MMO devs would do this actually, it’s nice to know if you can actually run a program before you buy.) There are plans to release the game on consoles also – still awaiting more information on this.
  • Story sounds incoherent.
  • It’s more of the same old fantasy MMO. Favourite FF races have been reskinned, there’s the obligatory tiny people, elves, catgirl race, etc. The costumes actually aren’t anywhere near as bad as most asian MMOs, so that’s something.

What’s the magic number?

  • 2010. Yup, they plan to release this year!

Where can I see more?

Now I like Final Fantasy and I’m intrigued to play this game, but since it looks as though my PC would struggle, it’s on the back burner for me. Having said that, I do appreciate the availability of the benchmark. Apparently they’re about to go into beta, and as I said above, they’re still talking about a 2010 release.

This is probably the largest of the MMOs to be released this year.

Jumpgate Evolution

Why you want to play it:

  • Space battles, dogfighting, all that cool stuff you can’t do in EVE because the autopilot does it instead.
  • 3-way PvP. Massive space combat focus – that’s what they’re aiming for.
  • Jumpgate. It’s also a sequel to an older MMO. Fans of the latter may be interested.

Why you don’t want to play it:

  • All PvP all of the time? We don’t yet know.
  • Too twitch-based for the typical MMO crowd?
  • Previous version has apparently been completely retooled. Whether this means good or bad things we’ve yet to see.

What’s the magic number?

  • 3. Fans of DaoC will remember that players raved about the PvP setup in the game, and in particular that there were three factions. This game also uses the three faction setup. Could it work again?

Where can I see more?

I’m interested in Jumpgate Evolution but it does sound as though the emphasis is increasingly on PvP. I still think a good space combat simulator with PvP territory control and fast, responsive gameplay should be able to find an audience (for example, all the fanboys who are currently agitating because SWTOR may not release with space combat). If they can pull this off I think they’ll do well. Good luck to them.

Black Prophecy

Black Prophecy is another space combat PvP style MMO. We don’t know a whole lot about this one although they did release some information about how players will be able to design and customise their own ships.

There is an E3 trailer but I’m not sure what state the demos are in. Black Prophecy is intended to be free to play (or at least, no subscription required) but obviously no final information about the pricing yet.

You can find the official website here.

Covers similar ground to Jumpgate, may the best game win.

Warhammer 40k

*sigh* One flashy trailer does not a game make.

However, THQ has a good track record and has made some popular RTS games based on the same IP. I’m not entirely sure how great a traditional MMO WH40k can really make –- it really is an exceedingly grim setting, plus of course all the trademark teenboy-friendly Games Workshop stylings (read: stupid armour, spikes, sexism, etc). But there’s plenty of scope for THQ to produce something genre-bending that could make a lot of fans very happy.

Here’s the Warhammer 40k Online fansite.

This is the official site, but not much on it yet.

Fallout Online

They don’t even have a trailer yet, just a website. You can however sign up for something, I don’t know what because the flash was loading very slowly and I couldn’t be bothered to wait and see.

I’m intrigued at the current popularity of post-apocalyptic games. But again, a Fallout MMO would make a lot of fans very happy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Guild Wars Manifesto

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

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

Main points:

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

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

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

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

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

Darth Dafydd and the fully voiced trailer

If you haven’t seen it yet, the latest trailer for Star Wars: The Old Republic is a video documentary showing off the voice-overs and how they’re recorded.

It looks and sounds fantastic, I’m sold. Even the wacky part where the director asks the actor to do “Darth Maul, but Welsh” hasn’t yet deterred me from the game. In fact, it’s a tribute to the pulling power of the video that it’s only afterwards that you stop to think ‘Wait, isn’t that kind of dumb?’ – might as well get Dave Prowse to do the voices and have done with it.

I’m also now sold on the idea of having a fully voiced game. Even in the video you can see how immersive the soundscape can be, and maybe since I’m playing through Mass Effect at the moment I’m inclined to want more of the same. Sure, there are issues with this. How will the game play for deaf players? Will you be able to skip the sound files if you want to play through again on an alt? But those are soluble. Less easy will be the issue of whether they translate it for foreign markets – if not, then this game may be for English speakers only and that cuts down the potential audience right from the start.

But what I haven’t seen yet from the SW:TOR team is any compelling reason they decided to make their game an MMO. What is it that really comes alive when you have massive amounts of players in the same gameworld? WAR, Darkfall, and Aion sold us on the huge PvP battles. That might work here too, although I’m not sure I see it as a big PvP game. Will there be massed space battles (because that’s probably what players want) or will we have to go to Jumpgate: Evolution or EVE for that? Maybe there will be a complex, fully functional economy – that needs lots of players to really make it sing. Or raids perhaps?

So far I feel as though I’m being sold SW:TOR as a single player/ small group game. Which is fine, but doesn’t answer why it’s being created as a MMO.

But maybe the clue is in the welsh accent. Competitive multiplayer sheepdog trials? That must be it!

Some Star Wars: The Old Republic Thoughts

So there’s been a lot of buzz about SW:TOR this week, it’s E3 week anyway so it’s hardly unexpected.

1. New Trailer

Vwoom Vwoom blue tentacle girl lots-of-jedis plane-crashes-into-a-building bullet-time DROID omg-that-battle-looks-awesome vwoom

It’s exciting, it’s beautiful, it looks like Star Wars, I’d go see the film if it came out tomorrow. (Incidentally, does anyone else think that ‘plane crashing into a building’ has become cinematic shorthand for a really really evil enemy?)

Tobold is grumbling that the hype machine is kicking into action too soon on this MMO. After all, it probably won’t be out for years (I reckon 18 months at the absolute soonest) and when it is, it probably won’t look anything like this trailer.

I’m undecided about hype, but I do think he misses what trailers are all about. A game trailer simply isn’t the same kind of beast as a film trailer. It isn’t supposed to be an edited highlight of the final version, carefully cut together to make sure you get to see the only funny line and some total spoilers.

It is a simple appeal to mindshare. It has to say ‘Hey hey hey! Look at this gameworld! Does this look cool? Is this a world you might want to come explore virtually? Do you wanna be like this person? How about this one?’.

Blizzard have been very keen on releasing trailers for Warcraft; each expansion has had one and many of the major patches also. They in no way are supposed to represent actual gameplay. They’re flavour. They’re meant to stir up some excitement. Maybe let the player catch a glimpse of the world they’re being invited to enter.

WAR released a stunning cinematic trailer before they launched. Again, it was never meant to represent accurate game footage. But it did show a cool battle in a city, and showcased some of the races and classes – this did tell players what the game was intended to be about. Maybe the players didn’t all stay, but the trailer helped to stir up interest in the Warhammer background, setting, and game.

My main issue with the Star Wars trailer is that it doesn’t have enough droids. I am still hoping against hope that at least one of the as-yet-unrevealed classes will be a droid of some kind. Meanwhile, I shall shun the hype machine by finishing KOTOR because that will not at all make me pine for SW:TOR …. DOH!

2. Announcement made that SW:TOR will be the first ever fully voiced MMO

Broken Toys points out that EQ2 also made this claim 5 years ago. I will note that not every quest in EQ2 is fully voiced, which is a good thing because it can be really annoying.

More to the point, how much disk space is this MMO going to take? How long to download patches? Will we have to run it with the CD in the machine?

Tune in for more later this week. I’m still hoping that Bioware will have some kind of playable demo to show.