Smartphone Usage and MMO Mobile Apps

Mashable had an interesting post a couple of months back about smartphone usage. It is titled, “Why smartphone adoption might not be as big as you think.”

They show that smartphone adoption in the US is currently running at about 17%. (In Italy it is 28%, something that will not surprise anyone who has been there – it’s the only place I’ve seen shops selling fake smartphones so that you can pretend to have one even if you don’t.) Smartphone users are also predominantly male and predominantly earn more than $100k per year.

So why is it that MMO developers are so keen to roll out more and more smartphone apps? Does this user base have a huge overlap with MMO players? Or is it just that this user base has a huge overlap with MMO devs …?

Is it not enough to ask that people have a decent PC (more so for recent games), internet connection, and the ability to play for hours at a time?  Since everyone who plays a PC game has access a PC (by definition), logic would say that there’s a wider reach to be had from rolling out mobile applications as web apps that could also run on mobiles rather than iPhone/ Android specific programs.

Unless you can also charge extra for the iPhone/ Android/ etc special purpose programs. And that’s the only reason to do it that makes sense. Otherwise, all you are doing is giving away an in-game advantage to the smartphone owning demographic.

I know that if I don’t own a compatible smartphone, the fact that an MMO offers mobile apps to others is a negative factor for me. If I’m paying a subscription, I want to see a level playing field.

Gaming News: Earth Eternal for sale, Layoffs at APB dev, Spellborn closes down, Rage runs on an iPhone, Valve trademarks DotA, Digital Sales chart for the UK

Not a week of good news for the MMO milieu with various layoffs and closures hitting the headlines. Usually when a game is being run down, it won’t be a surprise to anyone who was paying attention because they will have noticed the ever decreasing numbers (and interest).

Even so, some publishers will keep the servers going right up to the end. SOE in particular has a reputation for supporting (for some value of support) less popular games like Vanguard. Compare that to Zynga, who took flak a few weeks ago for closing one of their less popular (but still hundreds of thousands of players) games without any warning at all.

On the subject of new games, there is also a rumour that Atari is set to announce a new Neverwinter Nights based MMO, from Cryptic.

Plus we are knee deep in convention season with Gamescom next week in Germany looking to be the highlight of the summer, with representation from Blizzard, Arenanet, Bioware, et al. (Anyone planning to go to that?)

Earth Eternal for sale, APB not for sale

Earth Eternal, the cute anthropomorphic animal based game, is on shaky ground at the moment. The developers, Sparkplay Media, are closing down due to having run out of money. The CEO’s letter is particularly poignant:

I’m sorry. I’ve failed you despite my best efforts. I’ve never worked harder in my life, but it wasn’t enough. Things that we planned on happening didn’t, and things we didn’t plan on happening did. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail and I don’t want to try to shift responsibility to anyone but myself. There’s really nothing I can say other than I am very very sorry to have let you down.

So here’s hoping they are able to find a buyer.

Rumours this week were also flying about Realtime Worlds, developers of APB (the Grand Theft Auto MMO-alike). They announced layoffs of 60 staff, the entire team of the MyWorld project which was only announced last month.

The rumour that APB was actually for sale were denied, but it’s never a good sign to see so many people go. The developers commented in reponse to the rumours:

“As we’ve announced we had to restructure the company to make it so that we can focus totally on APB.”

“APB is still going strong and we fully intend to support 100 per cent. In fact we have a cool announcement coming this afternoon, so keep your eyes peeled.”

Chronicles of Spellbourn, a game I rather liked in beta, is definitely in the process of closing up shop. The game has been in limbo for the last few months, after changing payment methods to free to play didn’t solve any cashflow issues. But now it has been announced that the servers are to shut down for good in September.

Rage! On an iPhone! And on everything else in September

Fans of shooters will likely be looking forwards to Rage, id’s next title which is due for release on all platforms on 13th September.

John Carmack wowed the crowd at Quakecon last week by demonstrating the game running on an iPhone 4. I’m now intrigued by how a shooter could work on a touchscreen machine. Surely if you can aim by touching, that rather takes the effort out of the whole thing and turns it into a straight forwards whack-a-mole? cnet aren’t sure about this either but fact is, this was presented as a cool demo rather than a release candidate. (Carmack did comment that the lack of buttons on the iPhone presented a hurdle. Maybe he’ll be happier with the new PSP phone …)

The PSP phone, incidentally, sounds like a dreadful idea to me. We all know how well the Nokia NGage concept went. Not. Sure, Sony Ericsson know a few things about phoned but so did Nokia. We’ll just have to see if they can lever their game console expertise into the design mix and come up with something people want to use.

In other action/gaming rumours, Valve have filed a trademark for Defence of the Ancients which presumably signals some intent do do something with the popular IP which was originally developed as a mod for Warcraft III.

Come to think of it, WC 3 also spawned tower defence as a genre (OK, apparently there were tower defence games before that but I think the WC mods made them much more prominnt) so it has a lot to answer for. I wonder if SC2 mods will also generate entire new genres of games.

Digital Download Sales Charts for the UK

I thought this was an interesting post about moves towards generating more accurate digital games sales charts for the UK. The key is that the publishers involved (so far: Ubisoft, THQ, Sega, NCsoft, Mastertronic, Kalypso Media, Midas Interactive and Square Enix) are going to include sales data from third party resellers such as Steam.

It’s still early days, but good to see some movement on trying to track PC sales more accurately. Because anyone who has been into a game shop recently will know how little of the shelf space is given to PC games these days.

Thought of the Day: Addressing the whole of the player base

I mentioned earlier than Bioware apologised for the fact that their latest competition/ promotion was open only to people in some US states, and not the rest of the world.

I think the basic concept of the Bioware Bazaar is harmless enough, although you wouldn’t know it from the rpg.net reaction. Because no company EVER encourages customers to spam twitter and facebook in return for prizes, do they? (I’m thinking of those companies who got everyone spamming retweets in return for a chance to enter a draw for free iPhones or some apple related prize.) Frankly, if it’s going to happen (and it is), I’d rather see spam about games I like.

But it does raise the issue, why should companies treat their whole player base the same? And when are smartphone users who don’t have iPhones getting an apology from all those MMO developers who have special apps for iPhones but not any of the rest? (Hint: that’s almost as Americanocentric as anything Bioware did.)

Spicing up farm raids, external auction access, and the Lich King is dead

First up, congratulations to Blood Legion on the world first 10 man Lich King kill. (I did think it was funny that they praise their non-vent voice chat in the bboard post at mmo-champion but their website has an advert for vent hosting.)

I suspect  no-one was surprised that Arthas didn’t even last until the end of the night, and I’ll be amazed if at least one of the EU guilds doesn’t kill him tonight also after our patch goes live. None of which means that it was particularly easy, just top guilds are that good and this isn’t a hard mode that was set up specifically to test them.

edited to add: Yup, as expected, Ensidia got a kill in on 10 man Arthas this afternoon, on their 5th attempt. They comment that some of their raiders were quite moved by the lore and RP, which is sweet.

External Access to the Game and Auction House

Bornakk announced yesterday on the official forums plans to let players access the Auction House without being logged into WoW, either through the Armoury or an iPhone application.

Today, we wanted to give you a heads-up about a new service now in development that will let players access the Auction House directly through the Armory website or Armory App for iPhone or iPod touch.

It’s important to note here that certain elements of the service will be premium-based, which we’ll go into more detail on once the service functionality is finalized.

Player vs Developer discusses some of the implications of this functionality. He suspects Blizzard will require the use of an authenticator to use the Auction House remotely, which does seem likely.

The biggest implication for me is that Blizzard is eyeing up the casual gaming market. Maybe some Farmville fans (who also happen to be WoW players) would also enjoy playing the WoW auction house during lunchtime at work. If this is successful, it could herald the way to more mini-resource management games which could be played outside the game client but still give some bonuses in game. That would certainly fit into the something-for-every-playstyle model of MMO.

I could also imagine far more automation of Auction House activities. Imagine an addon which logged into the AH once an hour remotely and could be set to check current prices on desirable commodities and automatically buy or sell if the price is right. For example: check the price of  titansteel and buy if it is selling for less than 150g.

And finally, Blizzard are showing a marked preference for the iPhone, which has got to be disappointing to anyone with a different smartphone. (Possibly even one that features true multi-tasking :P ) There’s a balance between offering neat functionality to the Apple lovers and saying ‘actually, you really need this gadget to really get the most out of our PC game.’ Although I applaud their business nous at realising that iPhone users will probably happily cough up premium rate subscriptions for the privilege of gaming via their favourite toy.

The Advent of the Weekly Raid Quest

I almost missed this one but today’s patch has also added some extra weekly quests to the Icecrown Citadel. They’re available from various NPCs inside the Citadel, and hopefully we will soon know more about them.

They feature extra mini-bosses, and reward extra frost badges, gold, and … inexplicably … xp. Here’s the quest list from wowhead.com.

I love the idea of throwing in some random extra encounters to spice up otherwise dull farm raids. Comments from wow.com imply that these weeklies aren’t a walk in the park, so they might also add some extra optional difficulty and rewards for guilds that are bored of normal modes but maybe struggling with hard modes.