SWTOR rumoured to launch in September. DOOM foretold.

We haven’t had a story in awhile about how SWTOR is inevitably doomed, but fortunately an analyst has stepped into the breath with a breathtaking report that “EA investors are wary.”

But how does he know? Maybe he’s spoken to a few in the games industry, but we don’t know how he knows. So he’s probably just guessing based on the fact that everyone knows SWTOR has cost a lot of money and is a risky endeavour. In fact, anyone who knows anything about the game, even staunch fans who are looking forwards to paying for long subscriptions, are nervous about how well it will do.

I do sometimes wish people would pay me for stating the obvious.

In more upbeat news, MCV (which is a reputable trade mag) got the tip from “development sources” that SWTOR is due for release this September. If that is the case, expect to see official announcements about beta in a month or two. I’m assuming there’s some kind of beta testing going on at the moment.

I think that assuming it’s reasonably polished, September is a good timeframe. It may clash with a Blizzard patch but crucially, it would get in before the October/ November release rush and catch college students after the summer holiday. I am wavering now on my desire to play a smuggler, on the grounds that everyone else probably will too. Plus the last trailer for the trooper showed a female character in heavy armour, and any regular readers will know I’m a sucker for that!

Star Wars: The Clone Wars–Renewing My Interest in a Galaxy Far, Far Away… (via Split Screen)

The big MMO news today is that SOE have announced that in Autumn this year they will be releasing a new game. Described as a Virtual World rather than an MMO, this is to be a bright, colourful, kid-friendly, free/freemium game in the Free Realms mould.

And it’s all about Star Wars: Clone Wars. If you’re curious about the Clone Wars setting, check out the blog post below for a description of the animated series and discussion of why the writer prefers it to the films.

Is the world big enough for not one (Star Wars Galaxies), not two (Star Wars: The Old Republic) but THREE Star Wars MMOs? I guess we’ll find out.

One thing is for sure, it’s a great time to be a Star Wars fan if you are a MMO gamer. And interestingly, each of these three games represents a very different view of the genre. I think people could happily play more than one, if they have the time.

I have a soft spot for Free Realms, it’s a very cool game if you’re looking for something casual friendly, and I can’t wait to see what Sony do with the best licence in the Star Wars Universe.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars--Renewing My Interest in a Galaxy Far, Far Away... I’ve been a bit starved for entertainment lately, so forgive me one last non-gaming related post to get it all out of my system. During the Dark Days leading up to my graduation, I spent a portion of my dwindling down-time programming my DVR with things that I’d rather be doing. Somehow Star Wars made it onto the list, not because I have any great love for the new timeline–the recent trilogy effectively killed off any good will I’d accumulated d … Read More

via Split Screen

Sharing predictions, and looking forwards

This is the time of year where everyone traditionally makes some predictions for the next year, so that we all can laugh at how wrong they were in 12 months time.

Here’s a few links to bloggers who are putting their necks on the line:

The big trend in 2009 was the rise and rise of social gaming via facebook games. They’re not strictly MMOs, although massive numbers of players are involved and they are online. But a lot of investor interest is focussed again on online gaming, so I’m sure this will have some kind of knock-on effect on more traditional styled MMOs. We’ll see more effort next year put into translating the fantastically successful social networking, gift giving, strategy/ resource focus and virtual goods buying mechanisms into other gaming areas. And we’ll probably see more of this type of approach in non-gaming sites as well.

Many of the new MMOs of 2009 seem to have disappointed fans and pundits with their subscription numbers. Champions Online in particular has seemed like a flash in the pan from where I have been sitting. I’m still intrigued that so many people were happy to line up to pay for a lifetime subscription though, and I think that’s a trend worth noting.  Aion has been fairly successful but again, the pattern of excitement at launch followed by a few months of disillusionment (with the grind, on this one) is repeated. People will simply have to revise their expectations for how new MMOs behave at launch — they won’t actually revise their predictions though.

Free Realms is one that I was predicting to possibly take a slice of the WoW market. I liked the game when I tried it, but the non-existent social side failed to hook me in. SOE have struggled with their free to play model here, and shifted to an ‘all pay after level 5′ model which isn’t the same thing at all. I hope they see more success with the game in 2010 and find their audience because it was nicely executed.

Darkfall launched to a finely targeted hardcore PvP audience and has flourished, despite criticism. But this largely on the basis of catering to their core audience (not a bad idea for any business, really) rather than aiming to be something that they are not.

Fallen Earth surprised a lot of players with its focussed old style crafting and scavenging post apocalyptic playstyle.  Again, it’s a game that is focussed squarely at a core audience and aims to make those players happy.

Another trend (this is another gimme) will be the rise of gaming on smartphones. I don’t think the iPhone will take over the world, and it might be that cross-platform games will be the biggest success of 2010. It may come down to the social networking in the end and not wanting to be restricted to playing with people who use the same model of phone, rather than the better graphics you could get by tailoring to a single hardware platform. There will be some big game that uses location based technology and maybe even augmented reality — it may look better in demos than in practice but it will get vast amounts of press attention.

And the last trend I wanted to highlight was the snap sales we have seen on Steam and other online digital vendors. The sales have been very successful, and the unpredictable nature of them and the huge discounts has gotten a lot of player attention, even though there is now a good chance that you will feel like an idiot if you buy any game at full price only to see it at deep discount for one day only a couple of weeks later. I think we’ll see MMOs trying to experiment with a similar model, and maybe even occasional sales on 3 or 6 month subscriptions to keep interest up (in sub games at least).

WoW

Much of the remaining Icecrown Citadel content will be dazzling.  Players will love the cut scenes the first time they see them and will generally agree that the raid encounters are as fun as anything Blizzard ever designed — at the same time as complaining that they’re too accessible. The hard modes will have a better difficulty ramp than TotGC (ie. more people will get past the first boss) to give midcore guilds something to aim at.

The Oculus will be blown up in one of the pre-Cataclysm events.

A few months down the line, it will be generally agreed that the  dungeon finder is more successful in the EU and Taiwan than in the US. No one will dare to comment on why this might be, except to bitch that the rest of the world is cheating by having a less individualist culture.

Cataclysm will launch in Q3 2010. All the people who quit WoW in the first six months of the year due to boredom at having nothing to do with their pimped out characters will return to create new worgen. The updated Azeroth will be widely lauded but everyone will complain again as soon as they get to Outland. They will mess up the tuning again and return to the harder dungeon instances of TBC, which will be nerfed again after lots of complaints. But people will never be sure whether the dungeons actually were harder or whether players had just forgotten how to handle hard content.

People will get bored with the new expansion quickly. The guild changes will be successful but too late to save the shattered social fabric of the game. WoW players will continue to devastate other new games, but now they’ve also failed to learn standard dungeon etiquette (ie. stay till the end of the run, work with the rest of the group, play nice with loot, etc etc) in favour of hopping in and out whenever they want to and complaining if an instance takes longer than 10 minutes.

There will be at least one major unexpected announcement before Cataclysm that will throw the hype machine into overdrive. Possibly solo instances or something that involves more solo content. Hopefully also they’ll sneak in some extra ideas which won’t garner so much attention but will make seasoned gamers happy (like cosmetic clothing).

Then there will be the expected announcements about underwater zones, dance studios, and lots of pictures of female worgen.

LOTRO

There will be another expansion in 2010 but it still won’t be Rohan. Turbine will start playing around with more methods to help players catch up more quickly. The game will chug along happily and although they will make tuning mistakes, the players who like it will mostly be pleased with any new additions. Zombie Columbus will continue to delight with every new design he gets involved with.

Other new games

Star Wars won’t release before Cataclysm, even if it means delaying until 2011.

Star Trek Online will meet with more success than Champions Online. It’s hard to call this one without having seen the beta but I was intrigued by the demo that I saw, there’s plenty of interest in the IP, and I think many players would like a space combat MMO that isn’t EVE. The longevity of the game will depend on social factors rather than solo content.

Final Fantasy XIV will do very well, surprising the pundits who forget how many fans the Final Fantasy franchise has, and that FF gets a shot in the arm with the release of FFXIII towards the beginning of 2010. Their separation of crafting and fighting classes will make a lot of crafting fans happy. If they are able to release before Cataclysm, they will have a huge influx of bored WoW players looking for something to do before their world resets.

Torchlight will release an MMO (or at least a beta) before the end of the year. Everyone will exclaim that it is fun, and then move on to Cataclysm.

Guild Wars 2 won’t release in 2010.

Neither will Diablo III.

CCP will announce their Vampire MMO which will go into beta in 2010.

Mass Effect 2 will be amazing. Voice acting is the new black?

Blizzard will still not announce anything about their next MMO because they actually threw away the current design this year and are starting again from scratch.

Neither will Jumpgate Evolution (it makes me sad to write this because I was looking forwards to that game, but we really haven’t heard much about it.)

Although there will be a lot of talk about free to play models, there will be a better understanding of how and where that model works. WAR may try to convert from subscription to F2P, but it won’t help (again, makes me sad to write that). AAA developers will continue to push the payment model of subscriptions plus virtual goods plus anything else they can think of. However, extended trials will be more common, and maybe even WoW will offer the first 10 levels free as a Cataclysm enticement.

I think 2010 will be a better year for MMOs than the past one, we’re moving out of a recession for a start and lessons of the last year will also have been learned. The games I am mostly looking forwards to are the final fantasy ones, both single player and MMO. And if buzz from the STO beta is good, I’m also jonesing for a good space fighting game so I hope that one will fit. Because there isn’t much else in the pipeline.

Do you have any predictions? Anything you are particularly looking forwards to, gaming wise?

How many classes do you like to see in a game?

After reading the announcements about the final two classes in Bioware’s Star Wars MMO (for more info, read Moon over Endor’s excellent summary of the Total PC Gaming article), I’m still stuck on the notion of only having four classes on each faction. Even allowing for subclasses, it’s hard to gauge how differently they all will play.

There are some great advantages to having lots of different class choices. It’s more likely that a player who strongly favours one style of MMO play will be able to find a class that suits them. Love bow users but hate pets? Like melee healing but want to be able to shape shift too?  Only play healers but want something a bit different, yet still familiar? Dual wield rapiers? Want a class that’s exactly like some other class in a completely different game or genre? And if your favourite class gets altered via patches and stops being fun (for whatever reason), is there another class you might want to try?

Players will also get to mix with a wide range of classes and class abilities when they group. So grouping might be deeper and more complex, with more emphasis on having to adapt because you can’t assume all classes will be present. And because some classes will be rarer than others, people who like to be different should be able to do it. It also means that designers can allow for some classes being more complex than others; so for example the stereotype hardcore gamer with the more casual partner can both find fun classes, even if one of them doesn’t want the same level of challenge.

Not only that but if the classes play very differently (different mechanics, different lore and class quests, etc) then the game adds some extra replay-ability. It is also easier to manage group invites when a class  represents a role, as any hybrid will tell you who is tired of being asked if they’re specced to heal.

A lot of those factors could work with  fewer but more customisable classes. More flexibility within a class means that people can adapt better if their tastes change. It means more flexibility in forming groups too, and a higher skill cap if people want to really master their class.

For me, more flexibility in a class is also more fun, and means more time spent learning to play the different roles without having to reroll. But it’s also nice to have a strong class identity, and to have the widely different replayability options.

With Star Wars, I keep coming back to the thought that I have a lot of friends who like to play support classes, and there’s one option for that on each side. I wonder how that will work out.

Do you like games with a lot of classes to choose from? Or do you prefer fewer classes with more flexibility?

 

 

To test or not to test

Yesterday saw two large and long awaited projects either begin a new phase of testing or open signups for beta testers. I’m talking about Google Wave and Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Google Wave is The Next Big Thing that is going to change online communication as we know it, etc (until the next thing comes along). From what I can gather, you can treat a wave as though it was email, twitter, instant messenger, or even a blog. You can embed video, links, pictures, games, comments, edits, voice chat … and anything else anyone can write an addon to do. Or in other words, I actually have no specific idea how I’d use this thing at all but I see the possibilities there for collaborative working and gaming, and I want to experiment with it myself and find out. Naturally I’ll do my best to break it along the way and pass on any bugs I locate.

SWTOR is just a game.

No guesses as to which beta I’m more keen to get into at the moment.

Just like Han Solo

Do you think it’s possible that there are any smugglers in the Star Wars universe who are *gasp* not either Han Solo, or exactly like him?

Me neither. And if you had any doubts, check out Hal Hood’s developer post about smugglers. As a thought experiment, try two different readings:

  1. Add ‘just like Han Solo’ to the end of every sentence. Read in awe as it continues to make perfect sense.
  2. Add ‘just like Han Solo, but without your pants!’ to the end of every sentence.

OK, so we get it. If you want to play a character like Han Solo, play a smuggler in SW:TOR. And .. well bad luck if you didn’t, I guess. They do sound fun though, and now I’m wondering if Jedi really will be the most popular class in the game after all.

Jedi may see things before they happen, but Smugglers always shoot first.

And after all, who doesn’t like Han Solo?

Some Star Wars: The Old Republic Thoughts

So there’s been a lot of buzz about SW:TOR this week, it’s E3 week anyway so it’s hardly unexpected.

1. New Trailer

Vwoom Vwoom blue tentacle girl lots-of-jedis plane-crashes-into-a-building bullet-time DROID omg-that-battle-looks-awesome vwoom

It’s exciting, it’s beautiful, it looks like Star Wars, I’d go see the film if it came out tomorrow. (Incidentally, does anyone else think that ‘plane crashing into a building’ has become cinematic shorthand for a really really evil enemy?)

Tobold is grumbling that the hype machine is kicking into action too soon on this MMO. After all, it probably won’t be out for years (I reckon 18 months at the absolute soonest) and when it is, it probably won’t look anything like this trailer.

I’m undecided about hype, but I do think he misses what trailers are all about. A game trailer simply isn’t the same kind of beast as a film trailer. It isn’t supposed to be an edited highlight of the final version, carefully cut together to make sure you get to see the only funny line and some total spoilers.

It is a simple appeal to mindshare. It has to say ‘Hey hey hey! Look at this gameworld! Does this look cool? Is this a world you might want to come explore virtually? Do you wanna be like this person? How about this one?’.

Blizzard have been very keen on releasing trailers for Warcraft; each expansion has had one and many of the major patches also. They in no way are supposed to represent actual gameplay. They’re flavour. They’re meant to stir up some excitement. Maybe let the player catch a glimpse of the world they’re being invited to enter.

WAR released a stunning cinematic trailer before they launched. Again, it was never meant to represent accurate game footage. But it did show a cool battle in a city, and showcased some of the races and classes – this did tell players what the game was intended to be about. Maybe the players didn’t all stay, but the trailer helped to stir up interest in the Warhammer background, setting, and game.

My main issue with the Star Wars trailer is that it doesn’t have enough droids. I am still hoping against hope that at least one of the as-yet-unrevealed classes will be a droid of some kind. Meanwhile, I shall shun the hype machine by finishing KOTOR because that will not at all make me pine for SW:TOR …. DOH!

2. Announcement made that SW:TOR will be the first ever fully voiced MMO

Broken Toys points out that EQ2 also made this claim 5 years ago. I will note that not every quest in EQ2 is fully voiced, which is a good thing because it can be really annoying.

More to the point, how much disk space is this MMO going to take? How long to download patches? Will we have to run it with the CD in the machine?

Tune in for more later this week. I’m still hoping that Bioware will have some kind of playable demo to show.