Gaming News: Landmarks for Wizard 101 and Free Realms, Rumour Control (SWTOR beta, DCUO pricing, APB adverts), CoH expansion dated, Blizzard writing contest

If you have somehow escaped knowing this, Steam have a really good sale on at the moment. Also, we’re about to lose at football again. Is that really news?

Numbers are up for Free Realms and Wizard 101

Good news everyone! Kid friendly non-subscription MMOs have posted some great numbers this week. Wizard 101 registered its 10 millionth player this week, with Free Realms claiming it’s jaw-droppingly 12th million signup.

Obviously the majority of these players are not actually paying to play, and many of them probably registered, checked out the game, and never came back. But props to both studios for getting the word out. Millions of players found out about those games  somehow – probably not through the gaming press — and came to check them out. That is not a small accomplishment.

If you want to join the party, you can get to Wizard 101 here, and Free Realms here. They’re both solid, kid oriented games.

Assorted Rumors, we’ve got them here!

The beta test for Star Wars: The Old Republic is widely rumoured to have started this weekend. Apparently 100-200 people received invitations to a game testing program, and SWTOR community managers have clarified what is and isn’t covered by their NDA (a fairly good sign that there’s something going on.)

Anyone care to bet that Blizzard will end up releasing Diablo 3 in the same month that SWTOR goes live? Anyone?

Sony confirmed this week that they’re going with an old fashioned subscription pricing setup for DC Universe Online. Or should I say, “old fashioned subscription model but probably with a cash shop anyway”? It’s interesting that they decided not to distinguish their game from CoH and Champions Online by going with a different pricing model. Clearly they’ve looked at their various portfolio of games and run the numbers, and think that they’re playing to a more hardcore audience here.

APB continues to flirt with controversy by deciding to play audio ads to players – even paying players. I don’t personally feel that one advert every three hours or so is something to get worked up about, is this even the sort of game that people play for three hours straight? Still, it takes double dipping to a new level if you look at income sources. Players pay for hours, plus there’s a cash shop, plus income from advertising.

I don’t imagine there’s all that much cash YET in in-game advertising, but I’ll be interested to see if it catches on.

Turbine is rumoured to be working on a new console MMO, with the assistance of Twisted Pixel. Scott@Pumping Irony guesses that this might be a Harry Potter game, given that Turbine is now owned by Warner Brothers who own that licence. I think I’d go with that as my guess also.

On a more local level, politicians had been talking excitedly here about the possibility of some kind of tax break for gaming companies. This went out of the window in the recent ‘austerity’ budget. But was there undue influence from outside companies lobbying against this? Did ‘one of the biggest gaming companies in the world’ really sabotage the tax break? The local gaming industry body says no, government made that decision all on their own. I’m inclined to believe them, this wasn’t a budget in which there was ever going to be much support for tax breaks.

And finally, is Linden Labs (the developer of Second Life) in trouble? They’ve just sacked their CEO and earlier this year they made 30% of the staff redundant. There is no good spin for that sort of story. They’re going down.

Going Rogue goes live in August

NCSoft announced that 17th August is the date for City of Heroes players to pencil into their diaries.  Going Rogue always sounded to be an interesting expansion, promising moral choices for players and the possibility for heroes to become villains or vice versa. I’ll be curious to hear more about it (probably from my husband since he’s a huge fan :) ).

I think they’ve done well to pick a date which is in the traditional MMO doldrums, before the rush of new games in the Autumn and Winter months. Maybe players who are bored with their other games will be lured into picking up an old fan favourite to see what they have to offer.

Anyone thinking of trying this?

Blizzard seeks fanfic writers

Last year’s contest was evidently popular because Blizzard is again running a fanfic competition. If you have any stories to tell that are set in the gameworlds of Diablo, Starcraft, or Warcraft, this could be your chance to shine.

These are last year’s winners if anyone wants to gauge the possible standard of entries. I rather enjoyed the winner (bit too elfy is my only criticism.)

Lord of the Rings Online offers a budget a la carte.

buffet (kawanet@flickr)

What is it with MMO payment plans and food metaphors?

Subscription games are often described as all you can eat buffets, and now Turbine is describing their plans for LOTRO as offering an a la carte option (if you don’t eat out much, ‘a la carte’ just means you get to order what you want from the menu). I guess we all just relate to food. Can’t wait to see the menu fixe, catch of the day, and pre-theatre quick dinner offers.

In any case, Lord of the Rings Online is about to become more accessible to new players – at least from a financial point of view. When the switchover happens (sometime in the Autumn, so probably Oct/Nov) the starting content/ zones will be available for free. And Codemasters also dropped a press release stating that the EU version of the game is going the same way.

Free players get a cut down version of the game, but as much time as they like to play around with it. And then if you want more, you can select which options you want and pay for those as you wish. Want another character slot? Buy one. Want more bank bags? Buy some. Want access to another zone? Buy that too. Plus the obligatory cosmetic gear. And as soon as you give Turbine any money at all for anything, you are classified as a Premium User and get a few extra perks for free. So there is a good incentive to make that first purchase, however small. You can tell that Turbine have some experience under their belt with F2P games and what western customers might want to buy.

Here’s the big (UK) list as to which types of subscriber get what. The ‘quest packs’ are zones, and since LOTRO zones do pack a lot of content, that’s going to be an interesting model to watch.

We won’t know for sure what is on offer until they finalise the cash shop. And yes, the F2P (free to play) players do get a limited subset. Only one character slot, a low gold cap, few bags, limited traits, self-service customer service (err, maybe that means access to web based help). But it’s enough to play the game and decide if you want to buy more.

ScreenShot00099

My gut feeling: feels like a smart conversion to me. LOTRO is a quality game – much heavier on the exploring and immersiveness than WoW. The quest design will increasingly feel old fashioned as newer games are released, so this is probably the right time to open it up, while people still remember and are nostalgic for earlier times.

Current players have mixed reactions. Turbine is evidently trying to give decent value to those who already have lifetime subscriptions – they still get pretty much unlimited access to the buffet plus a package of cash shop points every month. Whether monthly sub payers will also still feel that they are getting good value isn’t so clear. But at least they will have more choices on how to pay and if they decide to stop paying for a few months, they can still access their characters. The player base in general is also wary of an influx of F2P players. The LOTRO community has a good reputation, and for good reason.

But at the end of the day, an injection of new players should improve the game for everyone. The game is slower paced than WoW and casual friendly, and the type of people who will get into it enough to want to pay Turbine/ Codies are likely to be the same type who currently pay.

As for the lifetime sub, I noted when I picked mine up at half price that I was wondering what the future held for LOTRO. I don’t really feel burned that the game is going F2P. I still get about 6 months worth of subs out of it, plus the equivalent of lots of free stuff when they switch. I probably wouldn’t have bought it if I had known what they planned to announce and this doesn’t particularly endear me to Turbine/ Codies (a bonus for people who bought lifetimes recently would have done this), but I knew the risks.

And the chance of being able to get my husband and friends to try the game out in a regular group is something I look forwards to greatly. Maybe we can get even an EU blog/ reader guild going!

If you are curious then you could sign up for Turbine’s F2P beta. LOTRO is one of my favourite MMOs, and I’m happy that more people will get a chance to try it.

So what does this mean for current endgame players?

No expansion announcement. There is to be a new endgame zone, with quests and a new book in the epic story, which will all be released when the game goes F2P. It’s been about a year since the endgame players last got a new raid. Think about how WoW players start climbing the walls if they have to wait 6 months and you’ll get an inkling for how things have been.

Does F2P mean that the emphasis in LOTRO is going to be much more on casual or lower level players? We’ll have to see.

Massively have a great interview with Turbine, which picks up on many of these questions.

Cheap LOTRO Lifetime Subscriptions! But what does it mean?

Codemasters surprised us this afternoon by announcing a special offer on LOTRO lifetime subscriptions. This week, you can buy a lifetime sub to the game for £75 (that’s around half the normal price, I think).

It could be a clever promotion to encourage players like me who have dipped in and out of the game since it went live to finally take the plunge. And at that price, I have no hesitation about picking up a lifetime subscription myself.

Or does it herald a change in direction at Turbine? A move to more paid-for content patches and item shop together with a cheaper lifetime offer might be the new scheme. Or maybe if Turbine are shifting resources to a new game (say .. Harry Potter based maybe, since they’ve just been bought out by Time Warner) and plan to ease up on the LOTRO content, it would be time to charge less for the lifetimers.

In any case, it’s a good game with plenty to see and do, especially for Tolkien fans. And although no one knows what the future holds, it’s as good an offer as you are likely to get for the lifetime subscription.

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!