Gaming News: What’s hot at E3, APB and the embargo of doom, WAR drops producer, Microsoft still has no sense of humour shock

Mourn with me now for the ongoing death-by-boredom of English football, coming to a TV near you on Wednesday night.

And in other news, another E3 industry convention has come and gone. So what did 2010 have to show? I’ve covered much of the MMO news here with a special SWTOR post here.

The two biggest stories of the convention, to my mind, are hardware related.

  • Sony and Nintendo are betting that we’d all like to see our gaming in 3D – the PS3 will get a compatibility patch for 3DTVs and Nintendo’s new 3DS handheld (no glasses required) will offer a 3D experience. In fact, if I had to pick one single news story from E3, it would be that everyone who tried the new 3DS said – in shock – it just works. And it will also apparently be able to show films in 3D.
  • Sony and Microsoft also showed off their respective motion controller technology. The Sony Move looks like a stick with a ball on the end, and Microsoft’s Kinect (the renamed Natal technology) doesn’t require the player to hold a physical controller at all, it picks up your actions as you move around. But somehow, despite giving a new XBOX to everyone at their presentation, Microsoft doesn’t seem to have captured the journalists’ attention.

Jon Shute blogs at VanHemlock about the various new hardware on offer, and concludes that neither of the two motion controllers seem to be aimed at the hardcore gamer.

The big three E3 presentations

Each of the big console manufacturers traditionally gives a big presentation at E3. The aim is to build up some excitement about their hardware, future plans, and what’s in store for their customers over the next year.

This year, I think Nintendo did the best job of capturing people’s imaginations. The 3DS wowed everyone who tried it. Their software lineup includes new outings for a lot of old favourite franchises (well, if you are a nintendo head anyway) including Zelda, Goldeneye, Kirby, Metroid, and Donkey Kong (yes really). There’s a strong lineup of software on offer for both of their consoles and as an avowed DS fan, I can’t wait to get my hand on a 3DS. I also look forwards to more DS RPGs and puzzlers. All very crowd pleasing stuff.

What Nintendo do extremely well is put the message across that their portfolio offers something for everyone. I’d be surprised if anyone saw that presentation and didn’t find at least one game or genre that caught their interest.

By comparison, Microsoft just can’t seem to get it right. Even when they have technology as potentially exciting as the Kinect, they somehow … miss the mark. Instead of a coherent ‘we offer something for everyone’ message, they just give the impression that they’re incoherent and confused. On the one hand, they’re chasing the 18-30 male gamer with a slew of shooters and a deal with ESPN to show premium sports on Xbox live. To hammer the point home, EA introduced a new Xbox loyalty program called ‘the Gun Club’ – I guess they won’t be including any family type games with that then.  … And then there’s Kinect with some dancing games which M/soft is trying to portray as the Xbox’s great white hope. It does not compute.

Then there’s Sony who are trying to sell people on the future of 3DTV – a rather expensive future given the current recession for sure. Their presentation leaned heavily on third party games, but what a great lineup. Sorcery – a magical combat game based on using the Move controller – sounds amazing, exactly what you’d want of a Harry Potter knockoff.

They also put one over on Microsoft by actually announcing prices for the Move. And also, whilst confirming that the PSN (online aspect of the PS3) will remain free, they plan to offer a premium service which will include extra downloadable content. I think we’ll need to see what’s on offer before people decide whether to go for this or not. The other big news from the Sony presentation is that Portal 2 will be available for the PS3, along with steamworks.

Some of the other games that caught my attention at E3 were Tron, Bulletstorm, Portal 2, the obligatory SWTOR and a whole slew of games for the DS.

No reviews for APB until a week after release?

All Points Bulletin, the GTA-alike PvP based MMO is rumbling towards release at the moment. And the developers decided that now would be a good time to demand that reviewers not release any reviews until a week after the release date. RPS state in this link that response to the beta has not been positive – I’m not so sure. Plenty of rpg.net players seemed to like it well enough.

In reponse to press complaints, Realtime Worlds produced another press release and moved the embargo forwards.

Whilst I understand that MMOs take time to review, the answer is glaringly obvious and is just to read impressions from several different sources – blogs, bboards, professional sites. A MASSIVE multiplayer game needs to be seen from a massive number of views, and most casual blogs also treat foolish press embargoes with the disdain that they deserve. Trying to get a blogger to not tell their mates what they think of their latest purchase is a fool’s game.

Drescher leaves WAR

I had hoped that WAR might be settling on an even keel but in news this week, Josh Drescher (the producer) got the boot. I wish him luck in future – I still do have a soft spot for that game, but it cannot be a good sign.

No more red ring of death

I cringe for Microsoft, I really do. There will not be a red ring of death (the nickname for the indication that hardware has failed) on future XBOXs because …. they’ve removed the red LED.

That’s a classic marketing solution to an engineering problem, by the way.

Stories of the Week

I thought it might be fun to experiment for a month or so by summarising some main gaming related stories of the week on Sundays, with some links and comments.

Warhammer Online takes your lunch money

Another nail in the coffin of the subscription based MMO was placed this week, as Mythic Entertainment made one of the worst possible customer relations faux-pas and billed many of their playerbase several times by mistake. i.e. to the tune of several hundred dollars (plus any bank related expenses if the account went overdrawn). Charges are being reversed, but it’s likely that the PR damage has already been done. wasdstomp gives his personal experience of being charged 16 times.

Now, if you engage in a lot of online commerce, then it’s quite likely that you’ve had to deal with mistaken payments on at least one occasion. This happens more frequently than anyone likes to admit. Arkenor relates a billing error from STO, for example, although this isn’t anywhere near the same scale as Mythic’s screwup.

But still, there’s an element of trust in passing credit/ debit card details around online and although the system is only as secure as users can make it (and it is a good idea to check through your monthly statements regularly, just to keep an eye on these things), this kind of breach of trust is the sort of thing which persuades players not to bother with MMOs at all.

Having said that, old timers are used to all sorts of wacky game-related screwups and as long as the company turn it around, fix the problem and reimburses everyone speedily, many of the playerbase will give them a second chance. Especially if EA (Mythic’s parent company) could sweeten the deal with … say  … beta spots for a certain upcoming MMO which really could use some good word of mouth.

It always makes me sad to report bad news about WAR. There were so many things to like about that game, it feels like kicking a puppy.

Anyhow, if you were affected, Chris at Game By Night has some advice on practical advice on how to sort out your refund and complaint, from a banking insider.

Apparently WoW has an expansion coming out

No dates yet for Cataclysm but various press outlets report that they’ve had emails about registering for the press beta.

And in case you somehow missed it, Blizzard have been coming out with some class previews for Cataclysm, including wide ranging changes and new abilities. None of this is yet set in stone, but is a useful pointer to where they are heading.

One of the early reviews was for priests, who will get an ability to pull a raid/group member to their location (Leap of Faith). This received a lot of kneejerk reaction, including a stern shake of the head from Tobold, and epic QQ from Tamarind.

Personally I think it sounds like fun and I hope that this does make it into the game in some form. But the fact that I could think of at least three ways to grief people with it before figuring out even one legitimate use doesn’t bode well.  I think something a little more subtle (maybe a spell to wipe threat from a friendly player) would have been more priestlike, but then that has different issues in PvP.

What I like about the idea is that it shows that Blizzard understand that standing passively at the back is one reason that healing isn’t as fun as it could be. So giving priests more power to affect a fight directly, rather than at one step removed, is one of the ways they are exploring to make heals more fun.

Other high(?)lights of the preview:

  • Bye bye tree form (Will try to comment more on this next week since I do also play a resto druid – basically I’m really happy with the proposed changes.)
  • Bye Bye blood dps and unholy/ frost tanking builds. (I guess the great DK flexibility experiment either failed or was too much effort. DK tanks are my prediction for more overpowered tank next expansion.)
  • Mages get the bloodlust/ heroism analogue. (I wonder if they should have just removed that buff from the game or toned it the hell down, it makes way too much difference in 5 man instances and I’m still not sure whether 10 mans are balanced around it – Blizzard claims not but is that really possible?)

And there were also announcements about the rage normalisation changes and hunters using focus instead of mana, neither of which was unexpected although they’ll both be sweeping change.

Over the next few weeks, a lot of current players will be analysing these previews and trying to decide which class to play in Cataclysm. The classes with the sexier updates will attract more people. I didn’t really see anything which made me wonder ‘why the hell are they doing THAT?’ Well, except maybe leap of faith …

One thing is for sure, that’s a hell of a lot of balancing for Blizzard to try to get right.

And if you were wondering about the paladin update, that isn’t due out until next Friday (16th). For the class which has most epitomised Blizzard’s Wrath ethos,  will it be more buffs, the nerfbat, or a complete redesign? Paladins have certainly rocketed in popularity over the course of the expansion, and they were never an unpopular class. But has Blizzard decided to call time?  Personally I’ll call it a win if they can make it impossible for low level tankadins to forget Righteous Fury (their tanking buff).


Darth Riccitello does not tolerate failure

So EA are merging Mythic and Bioware (or just handing Mythic to Bioware to manage) and Mark Jacobs is out of the door. Truly we live in interesting times.

I’m sad to hear it, really. I always thought Mark was a great communicator whose vision helped to shape some of my favourite games in the genre. I’m guessing this is a result of Warhammer Online performing below expectations.

Warhammer of the Old Republic, anyone?

Mythic bets on the blogosphere. Would you?

I love reading (and writing) MMO blogs. If you’re reading this and you’re a blogger, THANK YOU. I love the level of conversation, the thought provoking writing, the platform for people to explain very different play styles and perspectives, the theorycraft, the rants, and the interaction.

Mythic Interactive

Ever since the development stages of Warhammer, Mythic employees have been actively chatting to bloggers.

So perhaps it isn’t surprising that they’ve chosen to publicise their two long awaited upcoming classes via (not very) obscure gift packages sent in the mail to bloggers. One to Keen and Graev (who have a cute post puzzling about it, of course it’s about Slayers, you berks!!) and one to The Greenskin.

Apart from the side-effect of inciting jealousy in all the other Warhammer bloggers, I can’t help wondering how effective this is for getting the word out.

How many people read gaming blogs?

But how many people really read blogs? We know that most MMO players don’t even read official forums, and blogs are surely a smaller proportion than that.

As a rough guide, when the Book of Grudges was at its peak, we used to get about 1000 visitors a day. We were one of the more popular Warhammer Online blogs but my guess is that blogs like Waaagh and The Greenskin would get two or three times that. (A lot of blog readers will just pick one favourite blog and not regularly read several). A popular but more generalist blog like Tobold’s may get at least that many, possibly more.

And presumably the big WoW blogs may be on 5000+ hits per day. WoW Insider may have much higher numbers, I suspect that as a site they have a lot of readers who don’t typically read blogs.

I am assuming that gamers  are more interested in specialist blogs about the game they are currently playing than are interested in general MMO issues/design. And since WoW is the big gorilla on the block, that translates into more traffic for the big WoW blogs than for those of other games. It might be incorrect, there may be some games which just foster a higher level of web activity than others.

This is not to say that I don’t love and appreciate both of my readers :)

How influential is the blogosphere?

Obviously it’s cheap PR to send a few pieces of tat in the post. And certainly the pro online gaming news sites do keep an eye on the bigger blogs (this is the story from Eurogamer.net about the Slayer) . It also enhances the company’s reputation for engaging with its players/fanbase on a very grass roots level. (Can you imagine Blizzard doing this? Thought not.)

Anyhow, it is because of being picked up by the larger media sites that this method seems sound to me. It’s just an alternative, cute way of putting out a press release. I thought it was all quite fun!

An addendum about the word blogosphere

I love the word blogosphere. It has a “trendy media talking about web2.0″ vibe to it, but according to dictionary.com, the word dates back to 1997 (ie. practically the dark ages.) Now that it’s out of my system I promise that I will never use it again.