[Links] No news is good news edition

I wish I could package some of the good cheer that has enveloped us here from hosting the Olympics the last couple of weeks; whatever doubts people had beforehand, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t enjoyed the whole thing. Plus Paralympics still to come (that’s the one where I actually have a ticket to go see the Athletics Winking smile ). I’m surprised that the blogosphere hasn’t picked up on the Olympic theme more, I was half expecting to see discussions around sportsmanship in gaming (like: hardcore Olympic athletes don’t smack talk each other, and they congratulate each other after a good race/ bout) and whether e-sports might ever be included in a modern modern pentathlon. Alas, it was not to be.

Big up though to The Godmother who does share my Olympic enthusiasms!

The Secret World: one month in

The Secret World launched on June 29th, which means that it has now passed the one month mark, which also means time for some punditry on how things are going. Short form: not meeting publisher expectations. Blogger reactions on the other hand have been very positive. Players are enjoying the game and the general buzz has been good; unfortunately not in projected numbers, it seems. (So: philosophically, does that mean the game is a success or a failure?)

Scott at Broken Toys quotes from Funcom’s note to shareholders, highlighting  that projected sales for TSW will not be met. This is bad news for players, and likely worse for employees as at least 10% of them will be laid off.

Flosch at Random Waypoint gives his first reaction to this:

I really want TSW to succeed. It’s earned its right to succeed, and it shows that Funcom seems to be a company able of learning, which in and of itself is rare enough that it should be rewarded, not punished. Plus, I am having so much fun in the game now! It would be sad to see Funcom fail 100 meters before the finish.

Sente at A Ding World notes that the sales for TSW are pretty much in line with his expectations, that it’s likely that retention will be better than for similar MMOs, and that TSW is going to be available on Steam which might also extend its reach.

I did not expect then to sell over a million copies of the game and if they sell 500K copies of the game the first year I think that is fairly reasonable actually in todays market. Not because the game is bad, far from it. I think the game is great – but I think it is also a game that does not go out of its way to attract the big masses.

I see a general theme that solid games are being released onto the market but because the pre-launch predictions by publishers have been wildly over optimistic, costs aren’t kept in line and a game that probably should have been a success may end up labelled a failure. We’ve seen it with 38 Studios, SWTOR, and now TSW. It’s a failure of the marketing team (stupid projections) and bean counters, not necessarily of  design.

Terra Silverspar also writes a good review of TSW at one month in, explaining what she does and doesn’t like about it.

If I were to give this an overall, I would say wait until it goes Free to Play. I’ve heard they are adding more hairstyles and such, but hell, I hear a lot of things about MMOs that just launch that turn out to actually do very little. I really did want to like this game, as I said, but it just buried itself under the weight of a lot of things that just make it not very fun for me to play.

EQ2 will require players to pay for future content in cash, not coins

SOE have been very up front about tweaking their F2P offerings if the money isn’t coming in quickly enough, and I wonder if this heralds a general trend.

Starting Monday, August 27th, 2012, we will no longer accept Station Cash as a payment method for Expansions and DLC Packs. Real-world currency will be the only way to purchase these products.

So basically: like most other F2P publishers, SOE allow you to buy their in-house virtual currency with real money and then spend that virtual currency in their cash shop. They are now not going to sell expansions and DLC in that cash shop, instead you’ll have to buy those in actual cash from their website (which we could call the real cash cash shop, or something.) The cash shop will now be restricted to cosmetic items, bag space, and the other usual suspects.

Presumably this was because players were stocking up on the virtual currency when there were sales on with the aim of using it to buy future expansions/ DLC – we can call this “acting like sensible and forward thinking consumers who are confident in making a long term commitment to the game.” So rather than just making the DLC more expensive in virtual currency terms, they decided to remove it from the cash shop altogether so I guess they have more control over what people pay for it and when.

Monetization changes in MMOs generally mean that not enough money was being generated using the previous method. So maybe the virtual currency is now being seen as a hindrance in selling that type of content. This is likely to be pretty rough for anyone who was stockpiling virtual currency in EQ2 with the aim of buying future DLC; that’s now money down the drain that they can only spend on virtual goods and other stuff they might not want.

In a quite prescient post, Green Armadillo wonders if it’s possible to monetise an MMO via DLC. I think games like Wizard 101 seem to manage OK but I don’t follow them closely enough to know if they are also putting more pressure on players to spend more.

My conclusion is that it’s better not to plan too far ahead with MMOs these days. Don’t assume that your game of choice won’t shift to F2P in under 10 months. Don’t assume that your virtual currency hoard will pay for an expansion next year. In a genre that’s traditionally all about the long term planning, it rather sucks to be forced into short termism but c’est la vie.

In vaguely related terms, Jester discusses specific money making strategies in EVE connected with the faction wars.

CCP in general and Dr. EyjoG in particular have been bemoaning the fact that there is too much ISK in the game for quite some time which is why you’re seeing an increasing number of sinks in the game.  The recent addition of the need to purchase data-cores for ISK is a good example.

There are two main reasons for a dev to want to introduce more money sinks into a game. One is for game balance reasons, to keep people who have built up huge money hoards motivated and give them stuff to spend the cash on. EVE has a second reason, which is to generate more income, because of the mechanic by which players can exchange RL money for in game cash (via PLEX). Players can never really be sure whether changes are made for the balance reason or the monetisation reason (or both).

Dust to Dust

CCP’s new FPS game, Dust 514, is in beta at the moment, and we’re starting to get some feedback from players. The exciting thing about this concept is that it hooks into EVE so players can interact by blowing each other up or something. The rather unexciting thing is that EVE is a PC game and Dust is a Playstation 3 exclusive, so it looks as though CCP are aiming for very different audiences (ie. as opposed to EVE players who like FPS games.)

Chris at Game by Night casts a FPS-fan’s eyes over the game. He finds the learning curve steep, and wonders whether existing console FPS players will find that a turn off.

CCP makes it pretty clear that they’re looking to expand the MMO audience to a whole new demographic, which is awesome. <…> My concern, however, is that they’re stacking the chips against them. Excel Online is alive and well in DUST. Look at the first video in this link. I see that depth and think “wow, that’s awesome.” Your average Call of Duty player will probably think, “holy sh*t, that’s a lot of stuff to worry about.”

My prediction is that players who get over the learning curve will absolutely fall in love with the game. There’s really nothing else like it or even trying to be. There are design quirks but I’m also very much aware that this is CCP’s first try at something other than a PC MMO.

TAGN notes that CCP have recently raised $20mil in new funding. If that is based on Dust popularity, then CCP may have a lot riding on this one. Will their funders give them enough time to build a core playerbase slowly and grow it, or would an indifferent launch hit the parent company hard? It will be interesting to watch this one from the sidelines, because a game with a steep learning curve might not be the one to pull in loads and loads of F2P players.

What else is in the links file

Ratshag hangs up his blogging hat; he’ll be greatly missed and I wish him and his family the best of luck for the future. (I was going to say that he’s always been a voice of reason, but maybe voice of unreason is more accurate Winking smile )

Pixelated Executioner tells the story of what happened when he reported another player for racism in WoW.

Stropp explains why he thinks that Windows 8 will be a catastrophe for gamers.

G. Christopher Williams writes in PopMatters about why some people are really interested in whether their opponents are upset in PvP.

Many bloggers and current SWTOR players share their reactions to the news that SWTOR is transitioning to F2P in November. Ravelation compares her experiences in LOTRO with the proposed SWTOR setup.

Welshtroll reflects on why he loses enthusiasm for games when they go F2P.

It seems that the GW2 honeymoon period may be over as the cold light of reality breaks over the darkest hype. One of the questions seasoned gamers are asking is what sort of longevity the game might have without a traditional PvE endgame. Kadomi presents a carefully thought out list of pros and cons for the game, explaining her final decision not to play.

Kurn writes about his decision to leave WoW after playing and raiding for many years:

It’s not just because I’ve been playing for nearly seven years. It’s not just because I’m tired and have other stuff in my real life I should really be paying attention to, either.

It’s because I have satisfied my curiosity.

Tzufit wonders where new or inexperienced players are going to learn to raid in WoW these days. I suspect they might go to older content, as I do see raids run to Wrath and TBC raids for transmog purposes. But Cataclysm certainly didn’t provide an easy learning curve for new raiders.

Day Z, the incredibly popular zombie survival mod for ARMA is being turned into a stand alone game.

Keith Stewart at Hookshotinc shares his confessions of a middle aged gaming writer.

I am aware, when I go on press trips now, that I am old enough to be the father of some of the other journalists I am with. <…> I am ancient enough to remember playing games in black and white, on old Grandstand consoles; I played Pac-Man in a Blackpool arcade when it first arrived in Britain; I even remember when Sega was a serious force in the industry. That stuff makes me feel like Rutger Hauer as the majestic yet dying replicant in Bladerunner – I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.

Aly at Mistress of Illusions muses on why L2P (learn to play) is such a popular insult in MMOs, and what this might mean for GW2:

Speaking of Guild Wars 2, there has been criticism regarding the learning curve. Namely, that there is one. People don’t want watered down game play or another WoW clone, but when presented with something different, some people can’t handle being taken out of their comfort zone. Don’t get me wrong, there’s valid criticisms to be made but no complaint should ever begin with the phrase “I had to learn…” It’s a new game. You should have to learn. There’s nothing wrong with learning, and it’s a shame that a generation of gamers have stigmatized the act of learning.

Jeromai urges players, and particularly bloggers, not to let other players’ opinions of a game affect their enjoyment. He also admits to his love of cheesy games, and notes in the comments:

But my real point is, Popcap and other casual game manufacturers can hide some seriously solid gameplay behind initially unappealing to the so-called ‘hardcore’ gamer looks, and we will slowly get to that as I fiddle around with the games.

13 thoughts on “[Links] No news is good news edition

  1. Voice of unreason is right. Man, I’ll miss Ratters.

    I’ve thought about writing something Olympic-based, but I could decide what I wanted to say. I’ve already said the “more good sportsmanship needed” piece several times (along with the bad sportsmanship part), and no MMO I know of has a special event that roughly coincides with the Olympics. Although it would be awesome if some did…..

    Kudos to you Brits for putting on a helluva show, Spinks. Everything I’ve read across the pond indicates that things went very smoothly from an operations standpoint.

    • A lot of us had doubts, but I think the games has totally won people over here. I’m so proud of my mates who have been volunteering and if I lived in London, I’d have wanted to do that too.

      In a way, we have a sort of national lack of confidence on many levels. It’s nice to remember that actually we do a lot of things very well still. And props to all the sportspeople. I was going to write a post on sportsmanship but it got a bit sappy — ended up concluding that it doesn’t really matter who gets the medals; in a way, we ALL win.

      • I was in a pub on Thursday night (say it ain’t so) and the whole pub full of people went silent for a brief minute and then erupted into cheers as Bolt won the 200m final. That was pretty cool.

        And Mo is just amazing, what a hero.

      • And, as is seemingly traditional by now, the closing ceremonies are on a tape delay. The Mars Rover does a better job of getting a signal to the U.S. than NBC does again.

  2. Thanks for the reminder about EQ2. I had picked up quite a lot of SC when it was cheap. I just logged on and found I had 18k. I bought both of the last 2 expansions for 3k total. Guess I’ll have to make a Beastmaster.

    Regarding DUST I think CCP have been led by a series of rational decisions into a dumb place.
    – we want to make a new game – great!
    – we want to attract a different audience – great!
    – we’re going to go for a shooter because shooters are the best selling video games – great!
    – we’re going to make it console because shooters are on consoles – great!
    – Microsoft are being dicks and Sony are promising wonderful things if we make it PS3 exclusive – fine!

    – we’ve made an Eve expansion that our PC gamer population can’t play which is also a shooter that’s too obscure and neckbeardy for console players – wait, WHAT!

    Regarding plex to some extent the plex economy is not connected to the level of isk inflation in Eve. If I can make 30 million isk per hour and a plex costs 300 million it’s not much different to being able to make 50 million isk per hour and a plex costing 500 million. The real currency in all MMOs is units of player work.

  3. For a genre that is about the persistence of its worlds, it seems to me that one of the great drawbacks of MMOs is their impermance and vulnerability.

    38 Studios is dead, but double clicking the icon on my desktop for ‘Kingdom’s of Amalur: Reckoning’ works just as well as it did when they were alive – a thing that would not have been the case if that had been a Copernicus icon. Not only do my ‘Vampire – The Masquerade: Bloodlines’ and ‘Titan Quest’ disks still work, but if I didn’t have them I could still buy the games off of Steam, despite the studios that made them being long gone.

    Hell, I can run single-player games under Dosbox I first bought in 1984 when I was 11 for completely different platform.

    However, if I wanted to go out and buy SWG or Tabula Rasa and play them today, I’m SOL. And its not just games that are officially dead and the servers switched off I have to worry about. If I wanted to go out and buy and play Vanilla WoW or EVE v1.0, or LoTRO in Shadows of Angmar guise, I couldn’t do it, despite my having the original disks, No, I have to play the current versions with enormous massive mechanics and design changes, that in many ways make them entirely different games from their original incarnations.

    Any novel I read five (ten, twenty, a hundred) years ago, I can pull off my shelf today and get the exact same words. Any single player game I enjoyed five or ten years ago, I have a pretty good chance of making work again just as it did back then (sometimes better than it did then). But for an MMO I’m at best going be playing a different game that has mostly only a familial resemblence to the game I played back then.

    How much, I wonder, is the churn in new MMOs, the rush to burn through the content at lightning speed, and to get in and out as fast a possible, a reaction to the fact that experience tells us that we can’t count on those parts of the game design we like surviving long term, even if the game itself manages to do so?

    How much of the drop-off in players after the first 1,2,3 months, is down to to players who actually like the game making a brutally rational assessment that not enough other people do or will agree with them, and cutting their loses before the hammer falls?

    Not all of it, most definitely not. But I’m betting at least some.

  4. I may just have to steal that quote from Aly. She is absolutely right, in that having to learn something is never grounds for criticism. On the other hand, even though we know gamers are not a monolithic bunch, we often treat oursleves that way. “Gamers” want something different, but then “Gamers” complain about differences. It’s probably not the same set of gamers complaining about both stagnation and progress, though it is possible there is some overlap.

  5. Well, the “modern pentathalon” of e-sports would need to be as anachronistic as testing the bona fides of a cavalry officer at the start of WW1. 😉 So, a twitchy, text-based game circa the release of Doom?

    And yes, that L2P quote from Aly is great. Games are fun because there’s a learning curve, and the great ones have you always figuring out new things. I think one of the big reasons most MMO’s (in particular, WoW) feel so bland right now is they put everyone into the same pool, a pool that’s deep enough to frighten the first time swimmers but too shallow to let anyone actually dive.

  6. I wanted to talk about olympics but honestly, my blogging has been so thin this summer Im sure it wasn’t a real surprise to you. Still, I watched them daily and cheered on every underdog as usual …and of course applauded the supreme athletes who broke crazy records this year!

    Great Linkspam! This edition was full of stuff I hadn’t heard about yet. Ill be catching up on the blogosphere and industry this week. I may even indulge your challenge and write something gaming-olympics related.

  7. As an Austrian living in the UK, the Olympics were quite an odd experience. I’m not hugely interested in sports on the best of days, but even then all my country’s best athletes are skiers. The summer games are a total non-event for Austria as we never win anything. It was weird to see even people who usually aren’t that into sports talk about the Olympics all day… but I just smiled and nodded, and in the end I did get at least a glimpse of what excited everyone so much. 🙂

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