New betas, and trends in upcoming games

Truly it is the season of the year for game announcements, otherwise known as the convention season. This weekend will see another slew of hype, trailers, interviews, and competitions trailing excitement across the blogosphere like empty beer cans after a rock festival. Imagine the hype-mobile as a shiny tug boat, the initial wave of excitement as its wake, and then the game itself as a heavy old steamer being pulled along behind.

Anyhow, today sees a couple of new MMO beta announcements.

  • Go sign up here for the Star Trek Online beta. For my money, this sounds to be by far the more innovative and interesting game in Cryptic’s current stable, and will have you playing the captain of your own starship with crew of your own to train up as you boldly go where no split infinitive has gone before.
  • Ysharros and Arbitrary point out the intriguing Initiate Quiz for A Secret World, which also invites you to sign up for their beta. Secret societies and cabals, templars, illuminati, modern urban fantasy … a geek would need a heart of stone not to be even a little tempted by that.

LOTRO have also announced their new digital expansion, The Siege of Mirkwood. No prices announced yet but it sounds to be introducing enough new features that a charge would be reasonable.

A few common upcoming features

So here are a few of the upcoming trends:

Companion Characters — LOTRO will let players train up their own soldiers to fight alongside them in Mirkwood. STO also features crew members who the player can train. Guild Wars made great use of companion heroes and they were so popular that GW2 will probably continue along the same lines. And Star Wars: The Old Republic has mentioned in the hype that they consider companions to be very key to their play also. (I am particularly hoping for droids because you can’t really complain if an actual bot acts like a bot.)

Guilds are the new black — Cataclysm features a new guild levelling system. The Final Fantasy XIV developers were keen to show off their Guildleve system at Gamescom this year, which is a set of portals into instanced content that reminds me very much of the trumps in Amber. Now the FFXIV system is likely to be available from NPC-run guilds and WoW is arguably behind the times in allowing guild levelling but I think that guilds in general are going to be more than just a chat channel in future.

More social networking features — Champions Online gives each of your characters its own web page and lets you spam twitter relentlessly from in game, Blizzard is frantically updating to allow chat across games too, and if anything they are slightly behind the curve (I know SOE has been providing guild websites in EQ2 and Free Realms for awhile). We’re going to see companies exploring more ways to interact with the games when you aren’t logged in, whether it means tweeting your friends from work in character or using iPhone applications to manipulate the auction house.

More dynamic contentGuild Wars 2 will be introducing an Event system in which Public Quests spontaneously erupt in the game world and players are notified in case they want to go and join in. I think this is potentially one of the more exciting upcoming feature in any MMO and I’m curious to see it for myself. LOTRO is bringing in skirmishes with Mirkwood in which you can grab a few friends from anywhere in the world and go run some instanced and randomised PvE content (it sounds like a PvE equivalent of WAR’s scenarios, which I loved). Blizzard have not yet mentioned how they plan to use phasing in Cataclysm but I’d bet that we haven’t heard the last of it yet.

Different charging schemes — I mostly write about subscription based games, but it would be silly to assume that this is the way things will always be. Devs are realising that most people don’t want to play more than one subscription based game at a time and may be willing to pay a premium for permanent access. We’ve seen how popular the Champions Online lifetime offer was, for example. I wish sadly that WAR had a lifetime sub offer, I would have happily taken it at the time and I think it would have worked out well for Mythic.  RMT is another option that is on the table, and we’ve been seeing more and more different variations on how to make that one work (check out Relmstein’s micro-summary of micr0-transactions). I’m also intrigued by the notion that FFXIV may end up using a similar anniversary system to Japan (you pay for 30 days and that’s for actual time played, not calendar months) so let’s hope the EU and US marketing teams don’t talk them out of it.

More hype, prettier trailers. Still waiting for that Vampire trailer … hopefully tomorrow. I’ll look like a twat if I’m wrong though 🙂

And last but not least — although admittedly this isn’t a trend — Torchlight has an October release date, so is something else to look forwards to for the heartbroken Diablo fans who otherwise need to wait until 2011 for their next fix.