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?

Maybe they should just rename EVE to Con Artists Online?

90% of the time I hear news stories about EVE Online doing the rounds, it’s because of some intricate con or scam which one player/ corps has inflicted on others. The other 10% is when CCP do something players don’t like. In regular MMOs it’s more like the other way around (ie. 90% of the stories are about devs doing something players dislike, 10% is about players doing something interesting/ awful.) I do note that in non-EVE games I’m more likely to hear about players doing something awesome in a good way. EVE seems to only generate interest when players act like dicks. That’s the power of player generated content in a nutshell.

This week’s con-du-jour is a fully fledged Ponzi scheme. A couple of players set up an investment company in the game and accepted deposits, promising investors a stupidly high return (which they presumably said they’d get by investing the money in EVEs auction house or something.) You can follow the link to read the rest, but it did involve a truly vast amount of EVE money so either there are a lot of suckers around or a lot of EVE players have excess cash to burn.

The only things stopping people running these types of scam in other MMOs is devs policing the trades (not sure how often that happens, but Blizzard for example do monitor large gold transfers so that’s probably not unusual, they’re also not keen on player-run lotteries), and players not thinking it’s worth the effort. (The most unusual thing about EVE is how much effort the hardcore players are prepared to put into it.)

I think the issue with EVE is not that players have too much power but that players have too little power to act in these situations. That game would be ripe for trialling player policing – maybe some players would be interested in forming the equivalent of an in game fraud squad with powers to trace dodgy trades and shut these operations down. I’d be curious to know whether many players would take on this role in the interests of cleaning up the game, given that it likely pays a lot less than being a successful con artist or trader. Or would no one care because they like their wild west unpoliced game space just the way it is?

I’d like to think that at least a few people either playing EVE or reading about the scam might go away more informed and able to not get conned by rogue investment schemes in real life. Sadly I think more of them might be attracted by the idea of scamming money out of naive (read: M&S) investors.

The times we live in. Clearly running a successful con makes you a winner in games, not a loser.

Power to the players! The power of consumer voice, exit, and loyalty.

As players, we often feel powerless in the face of buffs, nerfs, and patches. The devs provide and we consume. But when a big player protest breaks out, as happened with EVE this weekend, it’s time to reconsider how much power the player base actually has. Turns out that it’s not insignificant at all.

List of ways in which WoW players showed displeasure with realID proposals last year:

List of ways in which EVE Online players have shown displeasure with new cash shop and associated disclosures this weekend:

  • massive complaint threads on official forums
  • in game protests
  • LOTS of angry blogposts
  • Mass unsubscriptions
  • (they’ve probably been doing most of the other things too, but I don’t follow the game closely enough to know)
  • Result: CCP convening emergency meeting of player council in Iceland this week to discuss plans for cash shop.

Conclusions

In both cases, the companies can have been in no doubt as to what players thought because they were being told loud and clear in as many forums as were available. It’s all very well to say “players always yell a lot when a new change comes down the pipes” (which is true) but there’s a point where a consumer facing company will have to buckle or lose more customers than it can afford.

Theories on consumer power show that there are three main ways for consumers to confront providers if they aren’t happy with the service. They’re called voice, exit and loyalty. And the easier it is to exit, the less likely people are to bother complaining (eg. people are more likely to complain if it’s a service they don’t want to leave, or don’t have an easy replacement for.)

voice: making your voice heard, probably in large numbers via group protest or forming consumer groups. It’s likely to be confrontational.

exit: Leave the service. Stop paying. Unsubscribe. Find another provider. Exits tend to be silent – other consumers can’t actually see them, they only know what the exiting consumers say/ claim to have done.

loyalty: This affects how consumers respond – loyal consumers will a) try to raise their voices before they exit and b) will try to persuade others to complain in a less combative way. But when that loyalty is dislodged, they’re likely to actively try to persuade other loyal players to rebel with them.

When we see a largescale player protest, all of these forms of confrontation come into play. And all of them are important. So it’s not true that companies only look to the bottom line and unsubscribing is the only action which ‘counts’. Attention grabbing antics like mass protests, huge threads, media coverage, and similar voiced excitement are at least as important to a consumer company as silent exits.

And if games can provide a forum for practicing real world skills and practicing being good workers and good consumers, let’s not forget that they can also let us practice being very angry and very effective consumers indeed :) Remember these lessons next time your government screws up.

[News Bits] DA2 DLC, How much do popcap want for that zombie?, CoH goes F2P, Diablo 3 followers for normal mode only, more on EVE

Apologies for a bits and pieces posts, there’s a lot of news out this week that I thought was interesting but not really enough to write a whole blog post about.

First DLC announced for Dragon Age 2

Arb and I are keeping a weather eye out for announcements about Comic Con 2011 since we’re going to be there (have I mentioned this enough times yet? :) It’s less than a month away now.)

Bioware chipped in this week with the announcement that they’ll be offering demos of Mass Effect 3, SWTOR, and Dragon Age 2 Legacy – the first DLC for that game. The SWTOR announcement is in a different link but I’m sure that was a no brainer anyway. We’ll be aiming to check those out, if only in the hope of picking up freebies such as the inflatable swords which have been on offer the last couple of years.

We don’t know much about Legacy apart from the title, but already starting to wonder whose legacy we’re talking about here, exactly. I would be quite curious to find out what happened to Kirkwall after I left in a blaze of glory skulked out in the night with my batshit insane blond boyfriend of doom. Surely the world can’t keep on turning without Hawke to set it straight/break it horribly??!

ArenaNet will also be demoing Guild Wars 2 at Comic Con this year, so hopefully we’ll be able to report on that as well. As well as snag freebies, obviously.

Is Zynga going to buy Popcap?

Venturebeat reports rumours that Popcap (makers of Bejewelled and Plants vs Zombies, amongst many others) is in talks to be acquired. It’s not known yet if it is true, but they naughtily bander Zynga’s name around as a prospective suitor.

I think the most depressing sentence in the article is:

PopCap is an appealing target for almost any game company because it has several extremely popular games that can be turned into franchises.

I suspect that a lot of us would rather have new games than Bejewelled 17: the slightly sparklier version.

City of Heroes (finally) goes free to play

This is good news! City of Heroes announces that later this year, they’re switching to a model which will allow players to play for free or go with a subscription model. It sounds as though they’re going with a LOTRO-type of approach where subscribers get some free currency to spend in the game shop (which has plenty of fun cosmetic costumes) as part of their monthly deal.

Here’s the side-by-side comparison of what subscribers get in comparison to F2P players. And again like LOTRO, if you have ever paid a sub for CoH previously you get some perks when the game switches over compared to a new F2P player (Note: F2P players are limited to 2 alts unless they buy more slots, it’s not clear to me if older players will be able to keep all their alts if they come back except for directly purchased slots.)

I’m happy about this news partly because it’s a fun game which I think will lend itself very well to this model, and also because I have friends who play and now it’ll be way easier for me to join them occasionally.

Followers in Diablo 3 are for noobs only

Anyone who thought Blizzard had caught the companion bug from Bioware and were planning to amp up the importance of  followers in Diablo 3 can think again. Apparently the main use for followers is to help new players in normal mode in single player (and get them used to playing in a group – although this may backfire once they find how annoying real people are compared to their faithful NPCs). They will become less useful in hard mode, pointless in nightmare, and not available at all in multiplayer.

They’re there to make the single-player, normal difficulty experience feel more cooperative and to aid in enhancing the story. These factors lose some importance in multiplayer and in the higher difficulty settings of the game, and as such, the followers won’t be as relevant there.

EVE and Microtransactions

The latest on EVE is that someone has leaked an internal memo about plans for microtransactions in CCP’s games. Eve News 24 discusses the cosmetic cash shop prices and the data in the memo.

One of the main reasons that I think long term players get concerned about some of these microtransaction plans is that there’s a point where you wonder how far game devs are putting profit above making fun games. And if your main concern as a consumer is to buy (and pay for) fun games, you’d probably like THAT to be their main focus.

Clearly it’s great if companies that make good products do well. But at what cost?

The other main issue – probably mostly for old dinos like me – is that we like virtual worlds because they’re separate from the rat race of the real world. It’s because the real world doesn’t have much effect on the game world that the game world can be relaxed and fun, and being relaxed and fun is important for being able to play. The more the game favours real world tilts, the less ‘fun’ it gets. It’s like the way people always seem to have more fun in betas, because they know there’s no major consequence for failure or not optimising.  Maybe fun is a minority interest.

[EVE] Vanity costs, and here’s where you start paying!

The latest EVE patch introduced the ‘Noble Exchange Cash Shop’ where players can spend real money on cosmetic gear for their prettified new toons (which are very pretty, I think I wrote about the new character generator a while back). Here’s their dev blog about the vanity store.

Jester at Jester’s Trek sums up what a lot of other people are thinking about CCPs pricing strategy.

I love plain grey just as much as I know all of you do, and CCP is being good enough to cater to my need for bland grey clothing by charging me 3600 AUR for a plain grey shirt.  This is about $20 U.S., which coincidentally, is how mucha real plain grey shirt costs in the EVE Online store.

But when he let out some snark about a monacle that costs the equivalent of $68 I thought “no way, he’s joking,” but apparently not. (There’s a 21 page thread on the EVE forums already.)

Now cash transactions in EVE are fundamentally different from cash shops in games like WoW or LOTRO because it is possible to convert game money into other forms (the dev blog above tries to show this graphically), so the price level may be something that experienced players will laugh off as the EVE equivalent of a WoW motorbike (ie. luxury goods designed to take some moolah out of the market). But judging from the tone of that bboard thread, I’m guessing it’s high even for that crowd.

Would you consider spending as much on a virtual piece of gear for a character as for a real life piece of clothing for yourself?

Gaming News: Shattering hits Azeroth, Elder Scrolls 5 in production, Skills change in EVE, casting for Uncharted film, details on FF Agito XIII

As you can see from the subject line, this is a quiet time of year for gaming news. But there are some moves afoot to change that.

Bioware has already been issuing teasers for a new game announcement to be made after the Spike VGA awards, and now Sony have also announced that a new exclusive PS3  title will be announced then also (word is that it will be Uncharted 3, which probably blows Bioware out of the water.)

As predicted last week, there have been a lot of heavy discounting sales this week. Steam’s indie bundles have been particularly good value if you had any interest in some of the games, and their sale still has a few days to run. I picked up a copy of Audiosurf for approx. zilch a couple of days back, which has been good fun. Anyone else make any good sales buys?

Interestingly, Steam are encouraging people to make a wish list. When I tried, I struggled to think of many games to put on it, on the grounds that if I really wanted something I probably have bought it already. Not really sure what to make of that. Amazon is also entering the world of digital download, at least on their US site.

An article from Massively that caught my eye was about Wurm Online which has revamped its tutorial. WO is very much a sandbox game, I never had much time to play other than checking it out and thinking that it reminded me a bit of Tale in the Desert. But if that sounds like your thing, then this might be a good time to jump in.

The Shattering hits Azeroth

Phase one of the Cataclysm hit World of Warcraft this week, transforming all of the low level zones and quests and introducing some new class/ race combinations. The rest of the expansion (the new races and new high level zones and content) is what you will be buying if you purchase the expansion on 7th Dec.

There are no comprehensive reviews out yet, and I’ll be writing more about my experiences next week but the lower level game is now incredibly slick, story focussed, and bang up to date with lots of interesting ways to stitch the quest based play together. I’ve been impressed at the parts I have seen.  No one does this type of thing better than Blizzard and possibly only Bioware even come close. Or in other words, if you like themepark quest-led style RPGs, there has never been a better time to join the party. And Blizzard are sweetening the deal at the moment with some pretty good discounts on WoW and all of the existing expansions. Come on in, the water’s lovely :)

Also, Blizzard announced more details of the various Cataclysm launch events which see their dev team sent off around the world to host in different cities. London gets Ghostcrawler, and … does anywhere else really matter anyway? (Me, I’ll be in bed at midnight on 7th Dec.)

Elder Scrolls 5 in production

Eurogamer quote an unnamed source that Bethesda is working on a 5th game in the Elder Scrolls series. This would be a sequel to Oblivion, but hopefully not with the same dreadful levelling system.

Still if – as is likely – this is true, it means good news to come for fans of the single player RPG. Or is it? Various commentators have wondered if the new game might be an MMO. (I think this would be a pretty bad idea, but who knows?)

EVE Online ditches the learning skills

As you may know, EVE is based on characters learning skills. Currently, a whole batch of metaskills exist which make it possible to learn other skills more quickly. So a savvy player would train those up first and the save hundreds of hours in skill training time for future skills.

But as from an upcoming patch, this will no longer be the case. Learning skills are disappearing from EVE, and players who spent time learning them will get the skill points back – the link is to the official announcement and it has graphs and everything to explain why they did this.

Another entry on the dev blog this week touched on the issue of F2P and item shops. Short summary: they will soon be selling vanity items via some kind of a cash shop. We don’t know if the vanity items will also be craftable in game.

Casting announced for Uncharted film

It’s a sign of how weak the news has been that this even gets a mention here. But for those interested, Mark Wahlberg will play Nathan Drake (ie. the lead) in the film of Uncharted, and the producers are talking to Robert de Niro about playing his father.

This has caused a large amount of concern amongst fans who don’t think he fits the role. But that’s likely to have been the case whoever was cast, although my personal pick would have been Tom Hardy (Eames in Inception).

Final Fantasy Agito XIII

I think anyone could be excused for being confused about the various different games being touted around in the FF13 series. Some details about this one, which is to be a PSP game, have been released this week, but frankly I’m still confused. And I don’t think we’ve had much mention of FF Versus 13 (which I think was to be a fighter) yet either.

Thought for the Day: On limited attempts

Latest raid news this week is that Blizzard has scrapped the notion of limited boss attempts in normal mode ICC. Previously, a raid was only allowed a certain number of tries on some bosses before the boss despawned for that week.

From now on, you can wipe as many times as you like and the boss will still be there laughing at you.

Why scrap that now in particular?

Guesswork says that it was failing to work as intended. The more hardcore guilds ran 10 man raids and/ or alt raids to spend more time learning the fights before going in with their main 25 man raid.  I’ve heard of one guild who all switched both server and faction in order to reset their number of attempts for the week. So rather than encouraging progression guilds to raid fewer hours but to raid smarter, it seems to have wound people up into running many more raids than usual.

Limited attempts might have seemed like a good idea in theory, but when they  are too limited and even an unlucky disconnect can screw up an attempt, it puts a lot of extra stress on a raid group.

However, the main issue with the limited attempts on this specific week  is that in order to unlock hard modes for next week, a raid must kill Arthas this week. So any raid who doesn’t do that will be a week behind on progression. For most of us, this is a /shrug issue. Why Blizzard would care about that I can’t imagine, it’s all more competition for the ultra hardcore which is presumably what they want, right?

But there’s always someone who takes it just a bit more seriously.

So imagine you are a raid guild who didn’t manage to kill Arthas within the limited attempts this week. So you are facing the prospect of being a week behind the other ultra hardcore guilds who did kill him. But what if there was a way to get the hard mode lock without actually killing the boss?

Premonition lured a mage from a successful Arthas kill to join them. So they can use his raid lock next week and go for those hard modes.

All these games merge into one

This is the sort of bizarre metagaming strategy that you expect to read about in EVE blogs. It isn’t an exploit – or at least, it may involve some severe rules lawyering about the raid locks but it isn’t technically a cheat. It does involve one player screwing over a raid guild slightly, although in EVE the mage would also have emptied the guild vault on his way out.

And is it bad if I’m thinking, ‘Oh, Premonition bought a higher ranking bridge officer?’ And now I am imagining raiding as a sport-style strategy game where players buy and sell raiders and then set up their weekly raid fights via tactics for each player.

Things to read over the holiday weekend

  1. John Tynes (who is an awesome designer) starts a new column at The Escapist, and there was much rejoicing. Here’s the first installment, where he solves the problem of Good vs Evil in games (ie. games like Knights of the Old Republic)
  2. The Rampant Coyote discusses why most spells in games just blow things up. Where’s the magic? Why is thinking outside the box considered an exploit? (Edited to add: Oops, link is fixed now)
  3. Andrew of Of Teeth and Claws takes some time out from WoW to check out EVE Online and posts his first impressions. Is he a WoW tourist? Well, he’s giving the game an honest chance and pointing out some fairly obvious failings in the newbie experience, how much more can anyone ask?
  4. Ixobelle has been to a Sandcastle Festival in Japan and posts some amazing  pictures to prove it. I have sandcastle envy …
  5. Back with the Eurogamer review, IainC ponders why bad reviews are so rare, and the relationship between the gaming press and the developers.
  6. WoWInsider has rejigged itself as wow.com, the all singing,  all dancing, blogging, social networking, big brother is watching you, new WoW portal. Larisa is not the only person who says, ‘thanks but no thanks.’
  7. Vectivus discusses whether addons have gotten out of hand these days, and where he hopes Blizzard in particular will go with their next MMO.
  8. Dusty@Of Course I’ll Play It is working on a new MMO and looks at why picking a fantasy genre makes things so much easier. He touches on some sacred cows too: melee is more fun, players want magic, etc.
  9. Tesh wonders about the appeal of raiding. Running the same instance every week just doesn’t sound fun.
  10. Still on the topic of raiding, Belghast has some advice for people looking to get a permanent spot in a raid group. (I’m still not sure it sounds fun when you put it like that.)
  11. James Portnow talks about the challenges (and benefits) of designing a single server MMO in Game Set Watch. Would you prefer to have everyone on the same server, if it was technically possible?
  12. And in a week where people have been talking about analysing games with more of a view to artistry, this is an awesome article in The Escapist about the actual art and visual design of games.
  13. Still on the topic of art, Art Order is the blog of Jon Schindette who is Senior Art Director for D&D at Wizards of the Coast. He posts a lot of artwork, and every Tuesday, he runs a fantasy-themed art challenge that’s well worth a look. This is a link to last week’s challenge.