Gaming News: Changes at Cryptic and Mythic, Bioware SWTOR multiplayer demo, Steam Sale, World of Tank and Need for Speed beta

News is a bit thin on the ground this week, must be the silly season.

Crew Changes at Cryptic

Craig Zinkievich is leaving his role as executive producer of Star Trek Online. In his leaving letter, he says that he’s decided to take a break from Cryptic and focus on other things, none of which seem to be work related.

Hope he enjoys his break, whether it was enforced or not. The vacant position has been filled, but it’s hard to know what this might mean for STO. It’s not usually a good sign when the producer packs up.

Mythic changes name again

Mythic has changed its name again and is now Bioware Mythic, in a move which makes the actual organisation of MMO studios within EA very clear (ie. Bioware has not also changed its name to Bioware Mythic.)

They also this week finally completed the handover from GOA for running the EU servers. Remind me why we need special EU servers again? Aside from various beta shenanigans and a really awful website, I found GOA did a decent job on running the EU side of WAR. Bootae’s Bloody Blog agrees. Let’s hope Mythic can at least do as well.

SWTOR multiplayer demo

Some of the E3 reports mentioned that journalists had played through a multiplayer SWTOR demo which showed different classes taking up different roles. The official multiplayer demo trailer has now been released. Moon over Endor discusses this along with the rest of the E3 news.

Steam continues to demonstrate how to run a cash shop

Today is the last day of the infamous Steam Summer Sale. If you don’t yet own World of Goo then I do not know you! (Mount and Blade, and Portal are also awesome.)

Syp writes a plaintive post about all the great deals he was forced to pick up this week.

I snagged Gothic 3 and Thief 3, two games I always meant to try but never got around to. I might still never get around to it but at least they’re there on my PC now … or something.

Steam has basically eliminated the myth of the short tail for computer games. Older games will sell, they just need to be enticingly priced and easily available. There have also been some good MMO deals this week, including EVE and Champions Online.

A couple of beta announcements

Yup, struggling for news this week.

World of Tanks enters its closed beta. Sounds dull to me but it’s nice to see the genre expanding. Not sure what you do with your tank other than drive around in it and shoot other tanks – does that make for a good MMO?  But what do I know?

Need for Speed: World is also opening up its beta this week. It is technically an MMO, and to be honest, this sounds way more interesting to me than the tank one. At least with a racing sim, I see the possibilities in training up your car/driver/support team/ manufacturer. Either way, I’m definitely intrigued to hear more about this one.

Monster Hunter Frontier Online tops Japanese xbox sales

This was an interesting story from Massively. An xbox exclusive MMO has made it to the top of the sales charts in Japan. No mention of it being released abroad but with all the anxious discussions about MMOs on consoles, it’s interesting to see proof of concept.

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Perks for the Old Timers

Star Trek Online recently announced a slew of perks for lifetime subscribers.  Cryptic liked the idea so much that they offered similar perks to Champions Online players as well.

Customers who are dedicated to being with either of these games for the long run get a special chat channel, VIP lounge in game, title, costume piece, and the ability to skip to the front of the queue any time the game has login queues.

I’m not a lifetime sub holder for either of those games, but I think it’s a great idea. After all, the lifetime players are potentially the core of the player base. They are the people who liked the game so much that they put up a lifetime sub up front, which is a kind of pledge to say that they are interested in seeing how it develops and will be inclined to keep dropping in. If you are a committed player, one of your big issues up front is knowing that so many of the people you meet when the game is new will not still be there in a month or two’s time.

It’s very easy to put a lot of energy into forming guilds, making friends, laying down foundations for long term game relationships and then find … that your guild and group of friends has vaporised. So having a chat channel and meeting room for other players who are in for the long term can at least offer the option to hang out with other people who are less likely to just vanish.

City of Heroes took another approach. They offered  account rewards to players who had subscribed for different amounts of time. On your characters three-month/six-month/etc birthday, the new item would appear, as if it was a kind of gift. Here’s the list of CoH veteran rewards – they include titles, pets, costume pieces, wings… and towards the longer end of the spectrum, extra abilities and perks are also included.

I’ve always been dubious of this scheme because I see how keen my husband is to keep his sub active even when he isn’t really playing much CoH, and it’s because he’s keen not to lose any possible future veteran rewards. But it doubtless works well for NCSoft.

(Note: I have nothing against gambling. I just don’t see the point in paying a sub for a game you don’t play. If these perks could be bought from the cash shop, I’d think nothing of it.)

EVE Online is notorious for its real time training system, which means that a new player will never have as many abilities as an older one. They cannot catch up. A new player can still be effective, they just won’t have the wide range of skills to choose from. So in a sense, flexibility is the EVE veteran reward. And after a point, either CCP start to put in new abilities (where everyone starts to train at the same time) or else diminishing returns means that the effect isn’t very marked in most situations.

Old vs New, Lifetime vs Sub

As I play LOTRO, I wonder if the player community is fragmented between lifetime subscribers and regular subscribers. The lifetime group know that they all will probably keep coming back, although they may also take long breaks, whereas regular subs might get bored and decide to quit at any time.

Lifetimers, because they’re more committed, are also more likely to pursue some of the grindier endgame options. They’re more likely to have maxed out crafting, more likely to have several alts, more likely to be raiding. I know that if I need crafting done, it’s likely to be one of the lifetime players who I will ask, because they have the maxed out skills.

Of course, there will also be lifetime players who later went off the game. Maybe they felt they got their moneys worth and lost interest, or maybe they just took a long break, forgot to come back, and then felt it wasn’t worth the effort. But you won’t generally meet them in game (because they aren’t there!)

I’m not entirely sure what they think of transient me. Even my recent three month stint is probably a drop in the ocean to lifetime players, who think more in terms of years than of months. (It’s kind of like being a hobbit in amongst the elves!) This is not to say that they aren’t all very nice, they are. But I like the sense that the community has different depths, and that there’s a place for different levels of commitment to the game.

What is a good veteran reward?

It is generally assumed in MMOs that the more time you put in, the more your character will progress. So there’s always been a vague notion that people who have played longer and put in more hours deserve to have better characters.

Unfortunately, if this was actually true, it would be difficult to attract new players. It’s not impossible; a design like EVEs which rewards old timers with more flexibility still leaves room for a newbie to play alongside the rest of the playerbase.

So the best of the veteran rewards compensate the vets for the fact that they are not actually immortal demigods compared to newer players, and for the fact that endgame is often reset with each expansion.

Probably the best ever veteran rewards came with MUDs, which allowed longterm players to become imps (implementors) and help create new areas and quests in the game. Others included new veteran classes, that could only be started if you had one character at max level (Death Knights in WoW are a similar type of reward).

But it is an interesting and ongoing issue. MMO Devs would like to reward longterm players, if only because it encourages people to keep playing. (This is irrespective of whether the game is paid by subs or a cash shop.) But they have to find a way to do it that won’t put off the new blood which they also so desperately need.

In that context, I think Cryptic has done a good job with their lifetime rewards. Time will tell.

Is Champions Online on the ropes?

Eric@Elder Game reckons that CO has about a month to determine whether or not it will be able to survive for a couple of years or not. (It’s worth reading his post partly because he’s an insightful writer with some industry inside perspective but also because this one has a funny story about a profanity filter.)

I’m not a great fan of superheroes but even so, I had noticed that I’ve heard very little about CO in the blogosphere recently. There was an upsurge of interest when the game launched, with quite a few people picking up lifetime subscriptions and explaining what they enjoyed about the game. But I haven’t heard much recently. I’d assumed that the people who played were settling down quietly to do just that, but Eric has a different view.

We know that CO was not a huge hit. We also knew that Cryptic were planning to launch a second AAA MMO within a few months – Star Trek Online, which is a much much bigger IP. Eric wonders if this will put more pressure on the CO team within the company.

This is very bad news for Champions players. Champions has been relegated to the role of red-headed stepchild… it’s that crappy failure of a game that keeps stealing resources from Star Trek Online, which is the game that’s going to save the company.

But here’s the thing. There are certainly publishers who run several successful MMOs at once — mostly free to play type games like Aeria Games, or social games like Zynga (creators of Farmville, Mafia Wars, etc). But these are much less demanding games (in terms of artwork, music, coding support) than the lush top of the line subscription MMOs that Cryptic is producing.

Will they be able to sustain both CO and STO without one game losing out in the long run? Because if one does lose, it won’t be Star Trek. How many people who took out lifetime subs for CO are still happy with their purchase, I wonder.