[Links] “I wasted time and now doth time waste me”

Summer is the usual season for exciting gaming announcements about upcoming release schedules, usually made at one of the big gaming conventions such as E3 or Gamescom. It is less usual for large MMO releases to take place over the summer, which is traditionally the low season (due to players being outside or on holiday). 2012 breaks with that schedule smartly, with The Secret World (TSW) in headstart for a release this week, and Arenanet announcing an end of August release for Guild Wars 2.

Bloggers have been very positive about TSW, finding it substantially different in pace, setting, and playing style to more DIKU based MMOs (yeah one day I’ll write something about MUD codebases and why DIKU tends to spawn different types of games than Godwars or Circle).

Windsoar writes about how a game’s setting affects the way he plays. He gives a good example of LOTRO as a slower paced game than WoW, where he is more inclined to run around the map than to mount up and use a horse. LOTRO is a slower paced game in many ways, and I personally always finds it takes a session or two to get myself back into that headset which doesn’t automatically get frustrated if a quest takes more than 10 mins from start to completion. Windsoar also ponders how his playing style in LOTRO might change if he decided that it was his main game and not just a casual ‘stepchild.’

“LoTRO is a stepchild in my gaming time. I pick it up and drop it off, much more like a console game than my main MMO. I’m not max level,  I have yet to see all the content, and who knows if I’ll even be max level when the next expansion rolls around. I’m in a guild. They didn’t even kick me during my extended hiatus. I think they have some guild stuff they do when they feel like it, but that’s not my role. I show up, I hang out, and I grats people when they announce they leveled up their 3rd bard.”

I compare this with how people are playing TSW because I’m picking up a sense that it also is slower paced than other more familiar MMOs.

Xintia helps people to figure out, “Is The Secret World for you?”

Stabs finds it a fun game to dive into and just learn to play by playing. Which is an interesting perspective from someone who is usually way more hardcore a player than I am.

“… not having much idea about anything it’s quite soothing to be eased into a slower pace more exploratory frame of mind.”

Syp comments that he has a good feeling about the game, and lists out some of his favourite and least favourite features.

“I’ve spent maybe five hours in the game so far, and have come away charmed by a very different type of MMO experience.  I think “different” is good in TSW’s case, because even if it relegates to a permanent niche status, at least it’s hard to label as a copycat of anything else.  It’s just kind of its own beast, and it takes a large mental shift to get into the game’s desired groove.”

Pete at Dragonchasers has been enjoying the ambiance in TSW also.

What I’ve been reading

Entombed writes at Divinity’s Reach about whether you need to be in a guild to play GW2 and concludes that you probably don’t, at least not for any of the mechanical reasons players usually join guilds for. That has some implications for in game communities, and this could turn out to be one of the least sociable MMOs ever created if that is the case. For some players, that could be a big selling point.

I’ll reiterate the question, are guilds needed in Guild Wars 2? If you are in the majority of players that cares about seeing all of the content, having fun, but not necessarily being the best in the world. Then my answer is no, but they can help you create and form groups for specific content.

MMO Gamer Chick writes about how her MMO playing pattern has shifted from sticking to one game for a long run to “MMO hopping.”

I think while the MMO playerbase has grown, it has not grown anywhere near fast enough to keep up with the rate the new games are being pumped into the market. Obviously, we can’t play all these games at the same time. The result is a chunk of the population that goes from game to game, leaving a game once the new car smell has worn off to check out the next big thing.

Do games get hyped more these days? Tobold feels that blogging against the hype cycle attracts a lot of angry comments, even though people (or at least regular MMO blog readers) must know the cycle by now: There is an extremely predictable news cycle for every new MMORPG, with early hype always being followed by disappointment, and then the game not being mentioned at all any more.

Liore discusses the hype cycle too and why she’s trying to opt out of it by sticking to one game for a year.

… the hype cycle we have now.. despite my happily participating in it on many occasions, I’m not sure it’s healthy for the playerbase. It creates this culture of animosity, and always jumping around trying to find the greenest virtual grass.

Bree blogs about Hi-Rez Studios insistence (to the point of rudeness) of keeping Hindu deities in their mythological themed MOBA. Apparently including Jesus was considered too risque though. She wonders why Jesus or Moses couldn’t make it into the game. I’d have thought throwing in a few archangels and demons from Judeo/Christian mythology, rather than prophets, would fit quite well into a game called SMITE myself. Ultimately, mythological characters are generally out of copyright, and some genres like JRPGs tend to use world mythology as a grab bag (remember Shiva in Final Fantasy) without attracting much comment. It’s the rudeness of the response that is the more newsworthy item here.

Melmoth presents the 16 rules of altitis in MMOs.

Shintar, having expressed her concerns about SWTOR server transfer, made the leap and describes her first night on the new server.

Targeter discusses patch 1.3 in SWTOR with the new group finder, noting that this is a systems patch and doesn’t contain any new content. I’ll add some of my experiences later this week.

The Grumpy Elf presents a series of 5 posts discussing problems facing a new player in WoW. He sounds quite pessimistic, and I don’t think these experiences will be universal. But none of them will be surprising to a more experienced player. They are all things that COULD happen.

First time in a battleground, unless they pick up really fast it is going to take a new player some time to understand the concept of how the battle is done.  If they do anything wrong, someone in this wonderful community will be so kind as to point out that they are a noob, a retard, a moron, and the worst player they have ever seen.

M at Killing ‘em Slowly discusses social games and how they seem to have a constant stream of new content.

I’m sure this is a completely unfair comparison. Apples to Snapples, if you will. Still, it was a thought I had as I was looking at my CastleVille quest log. I’ll exhaust the novelty of the gameplay long before I run out of quests. When was the last time that happened to me in an MMO? Ever? I can’t say that I rightly know.

Belghast explains why he’s back in WoW after a long break.

Syl links to many posts written by bloggers responding to her invitation to explain “How has WoW changed you?”

Boatorious explains why he’s done with Diablo 3.

Ryan Shwayder discusses Sandbox PvP MMOs and why there aren’t many around other than EVE.

To see why they haven’t generally worked out, let’s briefly examine what makes them so fun: Dominating other players, doing almost anything you want to do, exploiting, holding territory, griefing, taking things from other players… in short, the Wild West. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Well, it is fun as long as you’re one of the people doing those things to other people instead of having them done to you.

The evolution of LFG groups

Today SWTOR is updating with patch 1.3, which will include a LFG (looking for group)  functionality. That means if you want to find a group for a flashpoint/instance, you will be able to bring up the LFG tool and select your chosen destination and the roles you are willing to fill in a group (ie. tank, healer, dps) and the request will enter a queue. When the group is ready, you’ll be notified and will be able to jump into your new shiny pick-up group to complete the instance. (You can still also use the old fashioned method of putting the group together yourself via friends list/ guild/ general chat.)

A lot of MMO players feel that this type of group-creator tool is now mandatory in any game which contains group content. That is an indication of how popular these tools have been in WoW and other games which offer the facility. It could also be argued that battlegrounds also have this functionality, where you queue separately and are placed in a random group when the instance comes up. So it seems like a good time to evaluate how random groups are doing in WoW, partly because I’ve seen a couple of posts come up on my reader over the last week that suggest that people are having issues.

First thing to note is this– The general idea with the random group finder is:

  • It should be quicker to find a group this way than by other methods, and also less hassle. This assumes a lot of people are queueing and with a decent mix of class roles, so that the maximum time you have to wait for your instance is reasonable. Also some people have an aversion to talking to anyone else in game so this way they can group without ever having to do so.
  • Playing with a random selection of people means you’ll end up with a mix of player skill/knowledge in the group but should hopefully be good enough for everyone to complete the instance. That is to say: you can’t be too fussy if you voluntarily sign up for a random group, but the mix should be manageable.
Since WoW introduced LFG (in Wrath) the way people use the tool has changed, depending on the position in the patch cycle and difficulty of the instances. I remember when it first came in I had a new level 80 Deathknight and threw myself into LFG to gear her up, and it was amazing. The groups just zipped up, most of the players were decent (or at least the instances were easy which made everyone look decent) and the gear and tokens flew like water. People were generally happy as long as you seemed to be actively helping the group and it was viewed as a great success.
Later Blizzard added extra inducements to players to queue, in the form of a group buff and extra rewards for whichever role was the most in demand in the queue at the time — usually tanks but occasionally healers. My experiences with using LFG were occasionally amusingly bad, but generally worked out well. Some groups were a bit rubbish but the vast majority were fine. Players in general started to feel more stressed in LFG groups as some of the hardcore players weren’t tolerant of people who didn’t play at their level, wanted speed runs, and criticised other people’s performance even when it was perfectly adequate for the instance. (ie. somehow they forgot that random means random.) So on the whole things were working out well, even though tanks and healers in particular were feeling the strain of expectations, and dps were beginning to be quite judged on their dps.
Getting that mix of experienced and inexperienced players into the queueing system means that both sets of players need to have an incentive to grind instances. Typically this has been extra tokens and the lure of a short queue and fast run. At the beginning of an expansion or after a new patch, everyone is after tokens so the queue is populated and there are plenty of good players to pad out the mix. (This is both good and bad, because some of them are elitists who ruin other people’s experience with their unreasonable expectations.) But right now, at the tail end of a WoW expansion, experienced endgame players are not very incentivised.
WoW did also convert the daily LFG bonuses into weekly bonuses, where instead of getting a bonus for the first LFG you run per day, there are seven bonus LFG runs per week so if you want to log in on Wednesday night and do seven runs, you can get your weekly bonus in a lump. This may well have incentivised hardcore players to do this very thing rather than spreading their LFG queuing more evenly across the week. So it could be that if you are unlucky enough to be queueing at the end of the week, you are more likely to end up with a bunch of worse players. I don’t know if that’s the case, I’m not in WoW at the moment so can’t test it. But it is possible, and would mean that Blizzard had sabotaged their own LFG system and forgotten that the primary need is to keep a variety of players in the queue at all times.

The Grumpy Elf and Stubborn both report recent experiences with very poorly performing PUGs in WoW. If random players are queueing evenly, this probably shouldn’t happen because you should generally get a mix of good and poor players.

My usual reaction would be “You chose to queue for a random group, don’t complain if the random players you got were rubbish,” but if this is more than a few isolated experiences and has become a trend, it may speak to something more systematic in the player base. As well as hardcore players having no incentive to queue, what would make other players actively not care about trying to play well. Or just adequately. For example, my experiences in PUGs in SWTOR where none of us really knew what we were doing were still positive, the groups worked together to try to figure things out. There were enough MMO dinos to explain concepts around tanking and healing to people and the instances were mostly tuned so that we could manage them.

So what would make players actively ignore this in favour of just running off and hitting random stuff? Could be that they’re kids. (This may be a bit unfair to kids but we don’t really expect them to know how to play nice with others if they haven’t been shown — or in other words “blame the parents.”) Could be that they’ve learned from interaction with LFG that they can do what they want. Could be they just don’t give a shit (this quite likely happens in low level or easy instances). Or is this a natural evolution of LFG functionality, that the more hardcore players will hit the queues hard at the start of a patch/ expansion but will exit the system in large numbers as soon as they have got all the goodies they need, leaving it to less experienced players? And even then, why would less experienced players be so bad? Or does that truly represent that average player who queues for LFG?

Have you experienced player quality in LFG dropping recently if you play WoW? I’m quite looking forwards to trying the new tool out in SWTOR when I get home next week, I have a fairly new level 50 Bounty Hunter healer to play around with.

[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] Annual pass thoughts, class design, end of expansion blues?

One of the interesting snippets that came out of Activision’s last earnings call was the information that about 10% of WoW subscribers took up the annual pass offer. Green Armadillo shares his thoughts on this, and I agree that this is higher than I would have expected to see. That’s a lot of people who have committed for the long term, even knowing that there was no new content due, D3 wasn’t likely to be out before the Summer and the next expansion beta probably at around the same time.

I think it speaks for a large number of players for whom WoW has become part of their lives, so they either don’t mind paying a premium for the privilege of only logging on occasionally, or else it’s too much hassle to unsub and then worry about resubbing again later (in the same way that people don’t tend to shift their bank accounts around much, even if they could get a better deal elsewhere.) It’s not fair to say that the annual pass decision is made completely without reference to what new content Blizzard will be providing, because D3 and the MoP beta were thrown into the deal. But I bet a lot of the people who picked it up thought “I’ll probably be subbing for the year anyway, might as well.”

Which mostly boils down to a lot of people being happy to pay Blizzard £92 pa for access to WoW, plus Diablo 3 (when it comes out) and beta access to the next WoW expansion (oh and a mount, I forgot about that). There’s not much more to read into that, except maybe that older established players who are glommed onto their game of choice are much less fussy about new content and bug fixes than players hopping into a new and shiny game. Next year, Blizzard won’t be able to offer as tempting a deal to annual pass holders so it’ll be interesting to see how that goes.

What I do wonder is whether subscription game players in general would prefer the option of an annual sub. (At that point, you’re getting quite close to the old Guild Wars model where they aim to release one paid expansion a year and that’s all people have to pay, the only difference is in the amounts charged and how much extra content you get for your money.)

Watercooler on Class Design

Ghostcrawler posted one of his neat thought blogs, this time on class design and roles  in WoW. And it sounds to me as though they know all the issues inside out and the base problems with  some classes being way more hybrid than others (compare the druids’s 4 roles with the mage’s 1 role) would just be too much hassle to change at this point in the game.

I think that’s fair. No point annoying the players who like their classes just the way they are – well not more than totally shaking up the talent trees every expansion would have done anyway. But it sounds a bit weary to me, the tone of designers who’ve mostly given up. Maybe they got burned on the old DK talent tree model, where each tree was intended to be able to perform both melee and tanking roles. It’s a shame because I thought that was good fun, but I can see why sinking back into one tree per role for hybrids and … uh … one tree per different play style for non-hybrids is an easier and more comfortable fit.

I felt tired just reading it. Tired of the game design which involves always having to chase after ‘OK, so which is the best class/ spec for this role I’d like to do’ or ‘ohnoes, my class/spec  got nerfed and no one will want me for role X any more’  or ‘class X can fill 17 different roles, what do I get to make up for not being able to do that?’ (There’s a theme around balance and how your class ends up as the lens through which you see the game here.) Ultimately, you either pick a class/ spec because you love the theme and feel and playstyle, or you pick your preferred role (possibly because of theme/ playstyle) and try to pick the class that best embodies it – and these two approaches don’t always match.

As a player, I just want to be able to pick my class because I dig it and be able to perform whichever role I want to a level that’s acceptable to the rest of the player base. Is it really that much to ask? (yes :P ) Oh, and I don’t want to play a melee class in PvP but I really like melee classes in PvE. Come back to me when you’ve thought it over again.

Is it that end of expansion time already?

Usually the end of an expansion is marked by an upswing of hype for the next expansion. I think in WoW, this changed during Wrath, because there was a long slow period between the last major raid being patched in and the new expansion. So now in Cataclysm, it’s not surprising that people are already talking about this being the end of the expansion. (Incidentally, it also makes me suspect that the  slow period at the end of Wrath is  setting the pattern now for future WoW expansion cycles).

I noticed that WoW Insider has a column on “what to do when you’re bored at the end of an expansion” to mark this. They suggest speed running heroics (just in case you’re not bored of running heroics yet, I guess), soloing stuff from the last expansion, or joining their new social guild. There is plenty of other stuff to do in WoW, including collecting achievements, PvP, levelling alts etc etc.

Or you could unsubscribe and play something else, the MoP ‘open’ beta isn’t likely to start until Summer at the earliest. Just a thought.

[Links] May the links be with you

Oo, it’s been ages since I wrote a links post. Let’s see what’s in the can.

For the record, I’m still enjoying SWTOR and will write a post about my experiences in the endgame sometime next week. While both Stabs and Richard Bartle comment on how unusual it feels in an MMO for the levelling part to actually feature an ending, they come to different conclusions on whether or not this works.

I’ll note only that I think the original endgame-ish model borrowed a lot from original D&D in which it was assumed the game would turn into more of a simulation/ sandbox/ war game after your character reached the dizzying heights of level 10 or so and there were originally rules for what types of settlements/ strongholds each class would build and what types of followers might be attracted to them. Bear this in mind: the MMO model was based on a game where levelling was an RPG and endgame was sandbox. This accounts for a lot of the confusion for both players and designers I think.

For what it’s worth, I subbed for 6 months. I am in fact in the habit of always taking out a 6 month sub for a new MMO that I really liked in beta/ opening month. It’s one of the ways I try to support my hobby, plus I get to explore the game without feeling rushed. Will I be in for the full 6 months? That gentle readers is a future we’ll explore together ;P

I don’t really have a good list of SWTOR blogs; if you know any good ones or want to advertise your own, feel free to mention them in comments. One SWTOR post that did catch my eye was Calli’s post on Dude, Where’s My Bantha about some patterns and issues she’s (edited: HE I mean. Sorry Calli!) noticed with the republic-side romances. Food for thought!

It’s almost as if Bioware think that everyone playing The Old Republic fantasises about being the kind of tough, strong and ruggedly handsome man that damsels in distress everywhere need to shelter them from all the ugly in the world.

I recommend Imperial Agent, a good dose of Kaliyo will clear away any of those sorts of thoughts.

What’s buzzing round the blogosphere?

Kingdoms of Amalur is released next week, and here are Tipa’s thoughts on the demo. I did briefly try the demo on the PS3 and my thoughts mostly can be summed up as “combat looks as though it’s going to be fun and engaging, the world and story didn’t really grab me.” So if you want an open world fantasy type game with engaging combat, roll a coin. If it’s heads get Amalur, tails get Final Fantasy 13-2. (I’m still looking forwards to Dragon’s Dogma, though.)

Zubon doesn’t like games that have achievements that can only be completed at certain points in the game, so if you miss the right time, you can’t go back later and do it. Good discussion in comments here between people like me who think achievements are just a bit of fluff and fun and not to be taken too seriously, and more achiever/ completionist players.

Keen talks about sandbox games, and particularly some of the design notes that Goblinworks have been putting out about their upcoming (although probably not any time soon) Pathfinder fantasy sandbox game. They’ve been discussing links between PvP, trading/ economy, and resources/ building in a sandbox world. There is more to sandboxes than just giant economic-war simulations though, and it would be nice to see sandbox games experiment more with the sorts of social challenges that featured in Tale in the Desert. Or anything that would encourage players to build working in game communities rather than always be focussed on in-game profit and achievements.

Brian at wasdstomp gaming wonders why in F2P games, he always buys a bundle of points just before he gets bored of the game, so ends up not spending them.

F2P games have been in the news again, with Star Trek Online and SOE announcing that Everquest will be taking the plunge in March. Aion is due to go F2P soonish (in the EU at least), and Rift now offers the first 20 levels free. Anyone planning on taking up any of those? Everquest F2P hold any interest for anyone who didn’t fancy it before?

Scott Andrews at WoW Insider discusses the current (dying) state of 25 man raid guilds in WoW. Syl at Raging Monkeys has a thoughtful look at social control in MMOs and how WoW players have been getting streamlined over the years into small groups of similar ability.

I don’t wish to be in a guild where every person is exactly like me <…> Nor do I mind slower learners or players who simply fail at the odd mechanic <…>  – as long as you can compensate for them somehow during specific encounters.

Zynga has been in the news recently following accusations that they cloned/ copied another game (Tiny Tower). This wouldn’t be the first time for Zynga, whose big hit Farmville was also ‘strongly inspired’ by another similar game. Brian Reynolds (Zynga’s head of design) discusses copycats and cloning on Gamasutra, but only if they don’t ask about Tiny Tower :) Tadhg at What Games Are shares his thoughts on how you can tell if a game is a clone, and what to do about it (if you are the designer of the cloned game.)

Sente reflects on how difficult it can be to remember how to play a game if you return after a few months, and wonders what MMO devs in particular could do to help.

[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?