Category Archives: Game Industry

Payment Models in MMOs: Yeah, Still Don’t Care

It’s the never-ending topic whenever games have a bad launch, a mid-term low, a one-year crisis: it’s the payment model’s fault. Tobold goes as far as saying it’s the players’ fault when investment companies with chilling grey websites acquire a videogame developer like Sony Online Entertainment. If players aren’t willing to pay for games, well that’s what happens.

When it comes to this particular topic, I am out of fucks to give. Either I am not a very representative MMO player or an awful lot of people have it wrong when it comes to the effect of payment models and the viability of MMOs. The very first podcast discussion I joined was Liores’ Cat Context episode 28, and to this day my opinion is largely the same:

I want to play good games. I am more than happy to pay for good games. I’ve paid subs in WoW, LOTRO, Rift, Wildstar and Final Fantasy, to name a few. I’ve bought into buy-to-play and free-to-play games; free-to-play is just another word for “I’ll buy dresses and mounts instead” and I am vastly disappointed when developers present me with a lackluster shop I can’t spend any money on. That is on them (and happens all the time).

As for pay-to-win, hardly an MMO exists that truly deserves that label. What pay-to-win definitely is not is paying for airdrops in H1Z1 that fall visibly and audibly from the sky, for everyone on the server to see and retrieve, with a minuscule chance for upgrades. H1Z1 airdrops are paid chaos – there is more P2W in buying a silly hat in GW2 that distracts the enemy in WvW.

It cannot be up to players to know which payment model is the right one for a given game and it cannot be up to players to finance MMOs of a particular payment model just to “make a statement”. Heck, players don’t know what they want or what’s needed half of the time. Don’t put that type of impossible responsibility on their shoulders. Want me to pay for your sub? – Make a great game! Want me to pay your box? – Make a great game! Want me to invest in your f2p? –

Make a great game!

Make a game I actually want to play and that doesn’t crash and burn within three months because you’ve epically miscalculated your budget. Thanks!

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lolcat knows her numbers!

Wot I Read: A New Golden Age of Videogaming

“Wot I Read” is a new category on MMO Gypsy because I needed another one! This is where I spotlight smart stuff written elsewhere and that needs to be passed on to my fellow bloggers and readers!

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One of the very few online mags I read regularly on all things life, politics and culture, is the Montreal-founded VICE network which among many other things, features outstanding (sometimes highly risky) independent journalistic work in the field of video news reporting and cultural series on their youtube channel. While not dedicated to gaming in a big way, the Tech section of VICE regularly delivers commentary to popular events happening in the world of videogames, as well as musings on meta topics or the industry as a whole.

In the wake of the new year, videogame columnist Mike Diver whom I have come to appreciate greatly for past articles such as “The Importance of Aimlessness in Gaming” (yes!), shared his optimistic view of the industry’s future while putting our rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia under heavy scrutiny:

I’d argue that, right now, video games are at the cusp of a new transition, another positive shift in public perception. And that’s entirely down to the wonderful variety that the industry can offer to its audience—through myriad devices both games-exclusive and multipurpose, a fantastic array of game types and challenge levels to suit all. Gaming today is the healthiest it’s ever been, and if we’re going to assign the banner of “golden age” to any era in gaming history, now might be a good time to pin up the bunting and get a cake baked: 2015 could be amazing. [source: ‘We’re in the New Golden Age of Video Games’ by Mike Diver, VICE]

The entire article is a comprehensive and most earnest appreciation of this fantastic era of tech we live in. Needless to say I agree completely – gaming has never been more advanced and diverse than it is today, more widely accepted, independent or exciting in terms of technical possibilities. If there was ever a “golden age of video games” it is the one we live in right now and the one that is yet to come for future generations.

Games, in 2015, can and will mean many different things. Perhaps by the end of the year we’ll all be playing in blissful isolation, virtual reality headsets supplying all our sensory needs. Or we’ll be down the bar, playing Mario Kart between beers, a big screen showing competitive gaming after the soccer matches. But however we play this year, we should do so with eyes on the future. Mindless celebrations of dead technology will always hamstring the pursuit of new heights of artistry in an industry that, with the huge possibilities afforded by current hardware, is only limited by a lack of imagination. Dream golden dreams, and let’s leave the yellowing systems of our past where they belong: in the loft, beneath the guest bedding. [source: ‘We’re in the New Golden Age of Video Games’ by Mike Diver, VICE]

Other recent articles at VICE you might enjoy:

 

Gaming in 2014, Worrying Trends and Great Expectations!

One more for #listmas before it’s too late! Looking back on a year of gaming, I realize that 2014 was for the most part, a year of small releases for me or rather a year of indie gaming and digging through my steam backlog. There are no blockbuster titles to list, no Bioshock Infinite like last year and no new MMOs I enjoyed save one. If there’s something that has changed in 2014 for me personally, then that MMOs are more and more taking a backseat and not for lack of trying. Generally, there are three industry trends that have me concerned right now and that are expected to continue:

  • This era of the classic MMORPG and AAA-MMOs is over
  • Early Access gaming with a wide range of definitions is here to stay
  • Console exclusivity is back with a vengeance

While online coop and multi-player games are thriving at least, it is especially that third trend which is both surprising given the state of console gaming only two years ago and annoying in an age of digital gaming and connectivity. If you’re browsing 2015 previews on any major gaming site right now, you will find a large amount of releases exclusive to either XBOX One or PS4, not to mention the usual Nintendo IPs (which have always been insular). Heck, even franchises that were born on PC, such as Tomb Raider, are going console exclusive in 2015.

There was a window early into the turn of the millennium, when the rise of online gaming seemed to finally overcome the boundaries of systems; multi-platform titles were all the rage and had the gaming community united. Now, the future bodes ill for multi-platforming and anyone sticking to just PC. Certainly anyone with a smaller budget. Meh?

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

The stunning vistas of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

My “GOTYs” of 2014

I am putting “GOTY” in quotation marks because I don’t really have one best game of the year – much rather, these are the games I had most fun with in 2014 and that I poured the most hours into, in no specific order (and not necessarily 2014 releases either):

  • Wildstar; My MMO of the year for what its worth!
  • Warlords of Draenor; A pleasant surprise and fuzzy feels.
  • The Wolf Among Us; A must-play for any Fables and Telltale fans.
  • Papers, Please; You may call yourself queen of multi-tasking afterwards.
  • Cook, Serve, Delicious; I am wildly proud of my five star restaurant!
  • The Vanishing of Ethan Carter; A dark horse, original and very sad.
  • Child of Light; A beautiful, poetic, otherworldly journey despite Uplay.
  • Rayman Legends; The greatest classic J&R/platformer I have played since the 90ies.
  • Don’t Starve Together; Already lots of fun in coop despite being beta.
  • 7 Days to Die; A solid building and survival game (with zombies!), alpha.

I could also list some disappointments of the year, such as ESO or Destiny, but let’s not dwell on low lights and move straight to great expectations for 2015 – of which there are many!

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Fun and games in Don’t Starve Together

My Most Anticipated Games of 2015

I cannot recall the last time I looked forward to new releases as much before a new year! The line-ups for 2015 are packed and fingers crossed, we got an awesome year of new games ahead of us for every preference. Definitely on my radar in 2015 (mostly available on PC):

  1. The Witcher 3; NO WORDS! I am taking holidays for this one!
  2. The Division
  3. No Man’s Sky (eventually on PC)
  4. Kingdom Come: Deliverance
  5. Black Desert
  6. Everquest Next(?)
  7. The Long Dark
  8. Evolve
  9. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (PS4)
  10. Minecraft Storymode
  11. Overwatch
  12. [Insert too many small indie/KS gems to name here]

With two MMOs still among my picks, I realize that I have never branched out as much in terms of genre as I do nowadays. I enjoy coop titles a great deal no matter the setting and look forward to more online multi-player in the future. This last quarter of 2014 has also re-lit my love for survival and building games, so along with classic exploration mode, I hope there will be some surprises on that front in 2015!

Not a bad way to start a new year! What are your most awaited games of 2015?
Oh and happy New Year, everybody!

The Year of Un-Deception: A 2014 Pre-Recap

As the articles on “2014 – the worst year for videogames” are piling up (gotta love sensationalist headlines), I am contemplating my personal year of gaming. I usually start preparing my best games of the year-post around this time, as well as a round-up of the greatest videogame soundtracks. I have no plans to deviate from this course at present and when it comes to the actual games at least, my 2014 really wasn’t half as bad as apparently some people’s. But more on that another time.

Of course it’s gamergate that has marked 2014 as a black year for gaming and on a more personal note, it has impacted on bloggers, podcasters and people I call friends from this here MMO blogosphere. This is something I eye with much concern because if there’s something that gaming needs more of, it’s the type of diverse and welcoming community that has been established within the micro-cosmos of my blogroll. I am down when my friends are down and especially when one of them is taking their leave. However on a very personal and direct level, I am still evaluating my own feelings in regards to how gamergate has affected me. And it’s almost chilling to admit that I don’t feel particularly anything over all the ugliness that has come to light since August 2014. It’s too familiar – so unlike this tiny blogging niche that I inhabit and which is special in so many ways.

Is this really the darkest year for gaming or is it not much rather the year where some rotten dams broke and a lot of taboos were finally (and in some places aggressively) challenged and put on the spot? Did parts of the gaming community get toxic all of a sudden or were they not much rather always a hostile place for anyone not bowing to the established, unspoken norm? What gamergate stands for is that greater societal issues which are very much alive in gaming too, have finally been given a prominent voice and are receiving mainstream attention (time they caught up). That is threatening and it’s only when a status quo is truly challenged when things get ugly. But this also means that things are finally in motion.

While speakers don’t realize it anymore in everyday language, the German word for “disappointed” has a rather intriguing, literal meaning: it’s to be “un-deceived”. If we feel disappointment, it is generally because we were let down on our expectations – our hopes, dreams, illusions maybe. In any case, there was a deception of some kind involved and quite often it’s a self-created one as much as the other way around. [source]

We keep reading about or preaching how change hurts but when we find ourselves in the middle, we can’t stand the heat. Societal change of any magnitude is tough and no eye will be left dry – no, not the advocate’s either. Yet, gamergate and all the disappointment and pain it has caused is preferable to illusions we may have allowed ourselves to live in and which lulled us in treacherous passivity. There is nothing worse than a false sense of security while the years go by with nothing truly improving.

So, this year we’ve established that gaming and gamers aren’t a better society than any other – tadaa? What is there to be had other than working with and from within our very own, tiny and handpicked communities anyway?

It always gets worse before it gets better

International media have recently exploded over police violence in the US against black citizens. It’s easy to get involved and upset over cases like Eric Garner’s because for once, they are getting attention and are being widely reported on. That doesn’t change the fact that this reality has been many people’s reality always – or that black men are disproportionally more often ending up in jail or getting killed resisting an arrest compared to white men, on any given day. This isn’t news, yet right now everyone is up in arms about it. The fact that there’s been demos and in some places not-so peaceful riots, well…you don’t get to choose the face of change. If riots seem ugly to you, think of the ugly reality some people deal with every day of their lives that drives them to such extreme and dangerous (for them as well) measures. I don’t condone violence but it’s hypocritical to shake your head over Ferguson when you probably never even knew about the place beforehand and about everything that pushed so many marginalized people to a breaking point. Condemning riots is the tone argument of the privileged. It is also a tool of maintaining the establishment when ironically, violence has so many way more harmful and insidious faces.

"Whatever you do, don't swear."

Whatever you do, don’t swear.

Social change isn’t about making you feel comfortable, it’s about changing things. This brings me back to gamergate and all the ways it’s been uncomfortable but also, all the ways it heralds progress if we manage to perceive it that way. I’ve said it on a related CMP podcast before, the fact that so many people have started to talk about gaming culture or in support of women in gaming this year, is bewildering in a fantastical way. And yes, it also brings the most toxic of our non-community to the table but they have always been there, driving individuals out of this hobby. Did we believe they would welcome more and more diverse forces claiming games for themselves with open arms?
Thankfully, gamegate has brought new allies to the table too and like Liore started vetting her twitter community more closely, mine has not just seen people removed over gamergate but many join as well. Things have been moving and becoming clearer.

On an recount of my gaming background on Gameskinny a while ago, I talked about how I was driven out of a male-dominated gaming forum I had been active in for a decade. The type of treatment and in some cases harassment (not detailed in the article) I’ve received over the years cannot be compared to what some female developers and journalists targeted by the 4chan gamergate crowd went through, but there are all too familiar parallels. I know perfectly well how it feels not to be accepted as a legit member of a community you are contributing to because of your gender. I know how it feels to be scared because the usual rules of online life versus offline don’t apply in your case. This has been my reality and many other female gamers’ always, just as it’s been the reality of women professionally involved in the games industry. It’s just that nobody ever talked (much) about it and the topic certainly didn’t make it into the Colbert Report.

Only when I discovered this small community of MMO bloggers I barely dare call myself a part of, for fear of finding this fragile butterfly shatter too, did I realize there is still a place for people like me – women like me, gamers like me.

You gave me hope and hope was a change. Now change gives me hope. So no, for me personally 2014 is far from the worst year in gaming; a tough year for sure but also a year of more discussion, critical debate and alliances than ever before. And if the “community” has gotten more polarized over it in the long run, that too is part of the process that leads to inevitable change. I live in a country whose relatively consensual and pragmatic way of handling a rare form of representative democracy is in fact not grounded in consensus but on polarities so far removed and so established, that they cannot deal with each other in any other way but with compromise. If radicalization is how it’s gonna be, best get it over with.

I believe in inevitable, bumpy progress. Most of all, I hope to see everyone who is, with an open heart and mind contributing to gaming culture, back in 2015! To my fellow bloggers, podcasters, streamers, commenters and twitterers: your voice matters, more than ever. The only way this 2014 could be the worst year in gaming is if niche communities like ours went quieter and lost faith in their power to reach kindred spirits and change the face of gaming for somebody out there. Somebody like me.

A good Friday to all of you – the un-deceived who are struggling, the un-altered set to alter and all those who will find their strength renewed. Thank you for being my company.

Returning to WoW: Everything is the same, everything is different

It is a mixed bag of feelings going back to an MMO you convinced yourself never to return to for lack of better judgement. An MMO you once called home and then were absent from for three years, maybe looking for closure. When I played WoW between 2004 and 2010, I did like so many of us in our mid-twenties, with passion and zeal and an exclusive all-or-nothing attitude. All or nothing, that also means quitting when you feel things ain’t going your way any longer.

Warlords of Draenor is nothing I had planned on; that too was a mixed bag of spontaneous curiosity, lack of content in new MMOs like Wildstar and winter is coming. And I made it very clear to myself: This time around, it will be about me taking my time re-discovering Azeroth in peace. I will sub for one month and find out if I still like this, no pressure. I will enjoy running around incognito after all this time, minding my own business.

Or something.

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Where do I go from here?

Everything is the same
WoD was off to a rocky start with DDoS attacks and massive server queues (how very vanilla!) making it impossible for many players to log in during the first week. After I spent launch day re-installing the game, it took another day before I managed briefly to log in for the first time in three years, finding my character standing in front of the Dark Portal, lagging horribly. After ten seconds of being unable to move like this, I got my first whisper from a very old guild mate from vanilla WoW: “SYL!”.

I disconnected right away. My game wasn’t stable and I really didn’t expect to be discovered so early into my return. But this is how it’s always been on my server – those who have been on Stormrage since 2004, the early guilds and raiders, they remember each other. And so many have come back for Draenor, it is bewildering. My friendlist shows names online I had never expected to read again. Already I find myself guilded once more in the very same raidguild I helped build in vanilla WoW, with almost its entire core and founding team back. A decade later it’s as if no time had passed at all. Sure, everyone’s gotten a bit older, some are married now and some have kids or better jobs. Everyone definitely agrees they won’t be raiding ever again but there’s much else to be enjoyed nowadays.

The player base has aged and so have Blizzard with them. Yet, on the surface everything about WoW feels and looks exactly as before. I spent my first week in Draenor getting used to and then charmed by the beauty of its dated graphics (especially in the old world) and cringing over its messy, gargantuan UI that has been so aptly compared to the old “Weasley’s house” in a conversation between Rowanblaze and Belghast. After I discovered void storage in combination with transmogging, I wasted another day on costumes until I finally felt prepared to see the world, which is why I ran straight into Elwynn Forest, love of my life. To my delight, it was not deserted and not any of the old zones I went to visit from there were either – Duskwood, Redridge, Burning Steppes, everywhere I went I saw players. After 10 years, there is still life in these old zones, I have no idea how that works.

As is tradition, I went to pay Ragnaros and Illidan my respects and announced my coming. They still dropped hunter loot mostly, so nothing has changed in that respect either. Even on the auction house, the same items that used to be expensive in vanilla are still on top of the list today (who would buy a Burning Brightwood Staff today is beyond me but I still want that blasted Greenwing Macaw!). So far, so familiar.

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Draenor is beautiful.

Everything is different
In their mushy Looking for Group documentary from this Blizzcon 2014, which has played no small part in bringing more WoW veterans back to Draenor, Chris Metzen talks about how WoW really has always been about two entities – the world and the player, and he couldn’t be more correct. The successes of this MMO are as much thanks to developers trusting their instincts as to a very passionate and creative player base that has an undying love for Azeroth. This huge and rich canvas of a world with its plethora of maps and music has been such a welcoming and ever more accessible home to players of every color and creed for years.

All the while, Blizzard have continued to re-invent themselves and I believe this is the secret of WoW’s long lasting success. With every expansion, they pushed further to offer something new to more people without dismissing the hard core entirely. Comparing WoD today to when I left three years ago, I can confirm that WoW is a changed game in so many ways, trying to keep up with increased standards, never daring to rest on its laurels. This is apparent in today’s casual and solo-friendly approach to grouping, dungeons and raids for one thing, with flexraids and bronze, silver and gold heroics. It’s the democratic spread of loot and gear models, combined with all the tier look-alikes available. It’s adding small stuff like treasure hunting similar (but more involved) to Rift, jumping puzzles like in GW2, pet battles à la Pokémon and a pseudo-housing system with private nodes, the way Wildstar has them (only in WoW, the Garrison is actually a lot more useful). The talent system has been simplified to match modern MMOs with more minimal action bars and while quests and loot aren’t FFA, important quest mobs are shared nowadays.

All of these changes and additions make WoW not just one of the most approachable MMOs today but the richest in terms of content diversity. Draenor is the pinnacle of that philosophy: jump in right away as a level 90 character, learn basic skills and talents from scratch by playing through the intro scenario (which for once ain’t in a cave!). Get some money and bags to start with and oh, we also boosted your professions so you can join for all these new quests! As for the Garrison, it might be the first example of useful ‘player housing’ with meaningful choices in over a decade.

The genius of Blizzard
In a competitive industry as this, Blizzard’s achievements are really twofold:

  1. Making a niche genre more accessible and creating their own faithful player base in the process.
  2. Continuously re-inventing themselves rather than resting on the laurels of vanilla WoW.

Some will say this is the mark of smart decision making and market observation over at Blizzard. However and without denying the aforementioned, another more simple answer also lies in the Looking for Group documentary where an aging core of lead designers and developers is still creating for a game “they themselves would like to play”, more casually now than in their late twenties. More mature too, giving more thoughts to their diverse target audience than before. It’s not just the players in WoW that have grown older.

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And so it’s the greatest irony of all that, while so many MMO developers raced to emulate what was essentially vanilla WoW’s successes, Blizzard themselves moved on and branched out, leaving their past to others. According to the latest news WoW is back to 10 million subscribers, something that is difficult to swallow when new and shiny titles like Wildstar are struggling to maintain an audience. But who is to compete with a ten-year old AAA-fantasy themed MMO this rich and loaded on diverse content? Comparing other titles to WoW is never fair.

To be continued
As for me and Draenor, two weeks in I admit that I am charmed once more by the world of Warcraft – more patiently this time, more laidback and happy to smell the roses on the way. There is so much to do and learn for me after three years and I am not rushed to get anywhere with anyone. Most of all, this explorer is enjoying the vistas of Draenor (and there are so many beautiful ones nowadays) and a soundtrack so reminiscent of our vanilla days. Yes, for now I believe I do like this again and that is all that matters.

So, why is Wildstar not doing better?

Yesterday, Rohan tried to put a finger on why Wildstar isn’t doing so well only 3 months into launch. Wildstar the great AAA-hope of 2014, the polished, cartoony WoW-esque holy trinity, theme-park MMO that appeared different yet similar enough to accommodate the mainstream. I agree with Rohan that WS has a higher difficulty level than WoW, although the leveling process never struck me as hard or tedious on my Esper. WS is packed with some fun quests and a very linear, well-paced progression to level 50. I’d happily place bets on FFXIV:ARR being grindier than WS, only FFXIV is so fortunate to have a faithful, asia-based community on top of all the western influx since revamp.

However, it’s true that WS dungeons are tough and by the looks, raids even tougher. Even if you’re not after the attunement, bronze runs are a tricky to pug. That said, I don’t think endgame is the problem either – at least WS has an endgame that poses a bit of challenge and brings guilds back to the table. What does GW2 have? No endgame, failing guilds and not even great housing. Somehow, there’s always something to complain about.

My veranda in Wildstar.

I’m not convinced anymore that WS would be faring better if endgame was toned down to accommodate pugging. What I will say is that like ANet before them, Carbine took their good time to fix long-standing player concerns as far as the UI, submenus and other optimization concerns went and they are still far from done in my book. I personally know three potential subbers that still cannot run WS smoothly on their machine and have therefore given up playing. Then there’s players like this one who believe Carbine aren’t doing such a great job in marketing their title to a wider audience – but how big an issue is this, really?

Maybe it’s just that simple: WS isn’t WoW just like none of them are. And we have crossed the notorious 3-month mark. The dwindling player base was to be expected. Today’s MMO market cannot reproduce the successes of WoW, not with titles that are “similar enough” and not with titles that are completely different or exactly the same. Even if you own a niche like EVE does, you need to content yourself with 500k subscriptions. And while some WoW attachment still lingers on and declines only gradually, the rest of the market must cope with grazers and players opting for f2p or b2p over subscriptions.

Wildstar is a fine game. It can’t be helped that it wasn’t released in 2004. We’ll see if mega-servers are a blessing or curse for its core community. Maybe it doesn’t matter either way.

The 150th CMP Round-Table and the Evergreens of MMO Discussion

For the illustrious 150th anniversary of their CMP podcast Roger and Brian invited a bunch of guests to discuss such trivial topics as hardcore vs. casual, sandbox vs. themepark, free-to-play and crowdfunding. It was a unique experience for me to join a podcast together with so many fellow bloggers and a pleasure to personally talk to some of my new MMO blogosphere buddies. Naturally, we never finished and could have gone on forever discussing substantial and divisive topics such as these.

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A while ago I started compiling what I call the list of “big MMO Evergreens” as far as those topics go that have been the greatest cause of passionate debate (and strife) among lovers of the genre since forever. No doubt, they will be keeping us busy decades from now. Typically, these are questions that do not have one definite answer but boil down to personal preferences and opposing camps with an equally strong wish to well, enjoy the games they’re playing. I’m not always up for heated debate but then, I also believe it’s polarizing issues that are most interesting because they teach us the most about ourselves and others. I have always blogged for myself and a big part of that journey is defined by personal growth, formal and otherwise. Returning to posts I’ve written more than two years ago is often a bad idea. As for the greatest changes in my views, they have been brought upon by listening to you – to other gamers, being touched or educated by what they had to say. Of course a lot of that is timing too, maybe all of it is.

So, we should be thankful for the casual vs. hardcore debates, the holy trinity role discussions or never-ending payment model gripes; they make sure we’ll never run out of opportunities to butt some heads and more importantly, test our views and empathize with other people’s positions if nothing else. Advancing age, or rather time and opportunity to meet someone different from us, become quite the hindrance to extreme opinions (not to mistake for strong opinions). That’s why I also love to travel – international blogging is travelling in many ways and requires a similar attitude.

Where I am right now

As a personal summary of the evergreen topics we brushed in the 150th CMP episode and as reflection of where I am right now, I’ll make a few generalized statements until such a time as I feel they require revision on this here blog!

  • All future MMOs, whether subscription based, F2P or B2P, should come with a free trial/guest month (or free first 20 levels) at launch, so players can try the new game before making final purchasing decisions.
  • Sandboxes and themeparks may exist at either end of the casual-hardcore spectrum. Many sandboxes are as casual or hardcore as players make them (and as game design allows) but it’s probably also true that the big majority of not-so imaginative competetive players prefer linear games with defined progression aka themeparks. “Winning a sandbox” is a great deal more work than winning a themepark.
  • I can’t be the MMO player I was 10 years ago when WoW came out. There is a sacred magic to early MMO gaming that cannot be reproduced, no matter our longing and despite the best design efforts. Maybe it’s time we gave up the search for a “second home” and accepted new games for what they are – which is not our first MMO. We’ve grown older and better at everything at the price of blissful collective naïveté.
  • Crowdfunding is scary when it encourages every vocal player and their distant cousin to think they just bought their share of “co-developer rights”.

The future is welcome to change my views on any or all of these matters at hand. I can’t wait.

SOE and the All-you-can-eat MMO Buffet. Are we afraid yet?

It’s almost old news now, SOE and their single-subscription plans for all players. You can head over to Wilhelm’s for a roundup of what that means and why they’re doing it and check the other, related blogger links there. I am of course with Bhagpuss when it comes to feeling rather outraged about the whole Pro7Sat-deal for European players. If you’ve sorta grown up with those TV channels, it fills you with all kinds of dread thinking of them as MMO publishers, all other issues of this arrangement aside. I’ve been bewildered about this for a while now. First time I heard about it, I thought they were pulling my leg.

Syp explained today how the single-sub is really a “big win-win situation for both the studio and its customers” and a move towards rewarding brand loyalty. I can see how cross-financing more and less struggling products makes sense and why friends of SOE games might feel this way. After all, what’s cooler than getting more games for a single subscription, right?

For now. I just can’t help but puzzle over all the included implications for this genre that’s made for longterm, dedicated play. A genre that’s not the most suitable for switching games constantly – a thing that gets incentivized by the way sub bonuses will affect all of SOE’s involved products at the same time.

Don’t get me wrong; this is essentially not much different from free-to-play MMO gaming. You could say that you’re paying a sub for one game and get the rest for free. A single-sub MMO buffet doesn’t “destroy” player commitment any more than free-to-play does, any more than any payment model can. I have never believed in subs being great or in fact genuine tools of facilitating player commitment. I don’t believe they decide over how, when and why MMO players leave a title. Great games keep players. Great games create great communities that keep players. It’s all connected in one direction for me.

soes

Another thing this frontrunner of all-access MMO deals is doing, is inspiring wild industry speculations on what we can expect from here. It’s a no-brainer that other companies will follow suit; certainly other giants such as Blizzard or NCSoft have their own, big enough game palettes to offer. There will be a point in time where business analysts with a very large clip-board will have proven beyond doubt that, in these times of plentiful micro transactions, the pros of single-sub buffets outweigh the cons (such as losing multi-subbers) by far. Once you have access to more games and are actively encouraged to play them in combination, that opens up all types of new avenues of getting hooked and spending money with that one sub payed on top of everything else. As Tesh rightly pointed out on Twitter, it’s opening the floodgates to MMO meta-gaming and cross-overs, too – and we haven’t even properly begun to explore those. Frankly, I am scared to explore them. I do not appreciate those Steam trading cards at all.

But one can almost feel it now: a ripple in the fabric of the MMO market as we knew it. I can’t shake the gloomy feeling that SOE has just rung the bell for an entirely new era of MMO development – or opened a particularly disgusting cans of worms, depending on your viewpoint. One sub to rule them all and in the darkness bind them?

At this time and considering existing games, there may be clear upsides to this model. However, what it may cause in the long run and what types of new games it might inspire to be developed….especially for the traditionalists among us…..

I am afraid to even consider.

Deliberating TESO

The beginning of a new year is a time for predictions good and bad. Gamers look forward to their most wanted launches of the year in enthusiastic or more reluctant anticipation. As for mainstream media, it’s an opportunity to be sensationalist and snide because nothing brings more hits than condemning yet-to-be-released titles or already revealing the GOTYs of 2014 in January. January.

I have no MMO predictions to share for 2014 and even if I did, I’d like to keep them positive. Whatever feeling one might have about upcoming AAA-titles, 2014 will be a year of new releases – of buzz and growth and lots of discussion. The genre is moving forward or at the very least, it’s moving and new games will infuse our conversations. For this reason, 2014 is already the better year for MMOs in my book than 2013 ever was. There’s no real failure for this genre as long as new games keep coming out. Once they stop being developed that’s when we’re in trouble.

sadponie

What do you mean, no more MMOs? [belen02 @ deviantart.com]

Condemning TESO – A brief Chronology

So, what happened? A few days ago in good old Kotaku stunt manner, a member of said news site declared publicly on twitter that The Elder Scrolls Online “apparently has a price tag of $200 million”, only to delete the tweet soon after because it’s bad journalism to make claims without any fact to back them up. However, that’s exactly how effective internet rumors start and that brief tweet was enough to set the gaming community completely ablaze over a simple, uncorroborated figure.

As if that wasn’t silly enough, Zenimax’ own Matt Firor then added more fuel to the fire by making very unfortunate, sarcastic remarks on how TESO could never ever have cost nearly that much because hey, look at our game – it’s crap! (just to paraphrase mildly). Now, I do somewhat appreciate the obvious eyeroll from Firor but it wasn’t the greatest way to address the budget question and infuse trust and enthusiasm in your anxious player base.

After all of that commotion had already spawned myriads of sub-tweets, message board threads and blog posts, Forbes (yes, they do video game journalism) ventured forth to declare TESO the “Greatest Videogame Disaster of 2014” two days ago. The article is essentially a summary of old news and concerns long debated among MMO players, but since the rest of the world needs time to catch up with us, it has gone viral not least thanks to its sensationalist headline.

All the while, I am scratching my head a little over what exactly has caused some of the vocal TESO malady in the wake of this budget rumor. Mainly, I have three questions regarding the most popular concerns (in the Forbes article and elsewhere) that I just can’t seem to figure out:

1) What does $200 millions even mean?
Maybe the person holding authority over efficient MMO budgeting could please come forth and enlighten the rest of us what TESO at its current state should legitimately have cost. Of course nobody knows similar figures for AAA-ventures Wildstar or Everquest Next and it seems the best course of action to make sure your numbers never get out lest you not be met with omg-SWTOR-hysteria. By the way, wasn’t it $300 millions for SWTOR? Or $500? If you really want to bore google, you can find them all. In truth, I’ve never found an MMO player nor videogame journalist who had an inkling of all the costs related to a particular MMO development (they tend not be public!) but now that we know (not) that TESO cost 200 MILLIONS….that changes everything!

2) How is it news that this is “just a Skyrim Online”?
It’s been clear from the beginning that an ES MMO wasn’t going to re-invent the genre wheel. When TESO was finally officially confirmed in 2012, the game had been in development for several years, which also means prior to Skyrim’s success and during an era of still solid WoW rulership. You can bet a franchise as traditional as Elder Scrolls dipping their first toe into MMO territory, was going to keep things conservative under these circumstances. There is also the ES fanbase to consider which doesn’t necessarily consist of online players. So yes, of course an ES MMO will essentially boil down to something like “Morrowind/Oblivion/Skyrim Online”. What else would it be? One doesn’t turn to TESO for big MMO innovations in 2014. Duh?

skymmo3) Nobody ever wanted an ES MMO. Really?
Considering TESO’s imminent launch this April 2014, it’s not only a grossly cynical statement that nobody ever wanted an Elder Scrolls MMO, it is also simply untrue. For every new installment be it Oblivion, Morrowind or Skyrim, fans have debated and fervently hypothesized up and down social networks how awesome an online Elder Scrolls or at least coop function for Skyrim could have been. I myself addressed this topic after Skyrim on this blog, preferring a coop option to the MMO. Of course TESO was already being developed then but the general MMO discussion for Elder Scrolls games is a thing among gamers and an old thing at that. To say the developers has no legitimate reason to believe such a project might be of interest to their fans, as the Forbes article has done, is bogus. If anything, that interest has increased over the last few years.

From where I personally stand nothing has changed in terms of looking forward to TESO this 2014. I trust all the beta testers who have told me that it’s essentially “just Skyrim Online” and all those who have mixed feelings about the game’s polish or long-term appeal. It’s more or less what I am expecting. Of course, there is the subscription concern and a free-to-play switch is probably in the books for TESO as is the case for so many MMOs nowadays.

No doubt, TESO is going to be the traditionalist among 2014 MMO releases and it will need to charm franchise fans. Pre-condemning the title for these reasons however, seems rather oblivious to the fact that many players still like traditional MMOs and that we’re living in times where switching to free-to-play is not a failure but proven business model. Either way, I’ll be playing TESO with or without a sub and I will make final judgements after all the big contenders of 2014 have had their fair shot. For now, my MMO sky is still lit with promise and lots of opportunity!

masky

Holding a torch for MMOs until proven otherwise.

Tunes of Magic VII: Listmas Edition – Greatest Videogame Soundtracks of 2013

With Xmas almost here, I have one more promise to fulfill which is celebrating a year of beautiful soundtracks. 2013 has brought me many a new tune to delight in and of course as Battle Bard, it is my sacred duty to share rather than keep them all to myself.

While we are all listing across the blogosphere, I officially dedicate this post to happy #listmas – a fun blogger initiative started by Murf vs. Internet bringing all the blogosphere lists together over the holidays. There is still time to join for that!

Videogame Soundtracks of the Year

I will add that not all of these games were released in 2013 and at least one of them is actually still in the future(!) Some have had their soundtracks released later or then they have come to me late. My year of videogame music is therefore truly my year although there are mostly 2013 releases among them.

1. Dust – An Elysian Tail (2013)
My GOTYs tend to be games that also come with a brilliant soundtrack. Dust AET is such a title and there are no VGM aficionados who haven’t shed a tear over the beautiful music created by Hyperduck Soundworks this year. My favorite tracks are Falana and Cirromon Caverns.

2. Don’t Starve (2013)
Another GOTY, Don’t Starve’s soundtrack echoes every bit the quirky, playful and creepy “Nightmare before Christmas”-style of the game. This OST by Vince de Vera and Jason Garner is a lot of fun and despite its generally shorter tracks, not to be missed. My favorites are the Main Title and Work To Be Done.

3. World of Goo (2008)
WoG is a special little game with a spooky and magical soundtrack, that opens the door to childhood memories such as Beetlejuice or King Arthur for me. The best part? The complete OST has been made available for free by composer Kyle Gabler so what are you waiting for? Personal favorites: Rain Rain Windy Windy and Are You Coming Home, Love Mom.

4. The Legend of Zelda – A Link between Worlds (2013)
Possibly my favorite game on the 3DS, ALBW comes with a splendid soundtrack full of familiar Zelda cues. My favorite tracks include Dark Palace Maze, Swamp Palace, Lorule Castle and the good old acid flashback that is the Lost Woods.

5. Animal Crossing New Leaf (2013)
The second best handheld title I played this year, it was lovely to dive back into the world of Animal Crossing with New Leaf. This franchise is loaded with a unique charm and quirkiness, accompanied by a wonderfully diverse soundtrack. Every hour of the day plays a different tune in animal town, so I have too many favorites to count (although I am partial to 7PM, 11PM and the Main Streets) . Check them out for yourself!

6. Phoenix Wright – Dual Destinies (2013)
Ambivalent about some of the characters and dialogue in DD, the game has produced many memorable and high tension tracks such as Announce the Truth, Logic Trinity, Last Promotion, Cross Examination and Court Begins. Fans of the typical Japanese anime flavor will love this.

7. Professor Layton – Miracle Mask (2012)
Although the Azran Legacy has only come out this November, I love the more haunting tracks from its predecessor, Miracle Mask; Puzzles Abound and Illusion are definitely among my top sparkly tunes of the year!

8.  Final Fantasy – A Realm Reborn (2013)
Moving away from indie games and handheld titles, FF:ARR delivered some of the most beautiful music as far as MMO releases go in 2013. While the game wasn’t quite reborn for me personally, I will listen to beautiful tracks such as Ul’dah at Night or Sacred Bonds for a long time to come. Now if only SE added the ARR-OST to their store.

9. Wildstar (2014)
While the Battle Bards have already paid homage to Wildstar and Jeff Kurtenacker this year, we have no doubt much to look forward to as far as its complete OST release is concerned. WS is all about thematic fusion and I especially love the Character Customization or Highland Vista themes.

10. Lime Odyssey (unreleased?)
A lesser known MMO title that cannot quite make it to launch, my thanks go to @Soltanis for providing me with a link to the music of Lime Odyssey by legendary composer Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross). It’s a sad thing when great soundtracks are tied to unfortunate launches, never making it to a wider audience. Tracks such as Bluecoral Town and many of the beautifully uplifting BGMs deserve to be heard by a wider audience.

11. DOTA 2 (2013)
Not surprisingly, DOTA 2 has some glorious and epic music composed by none less than Jason Hayes, former lead composer for WoW and WCIII, as well as Tim Larkin (Portal). There is much to love here despite shorter length . My favorite tracks would be Laning 1 (and many tracks of a similar name), World Map and many a Main Menu theme.

12. Various Bits & Bobs
Some OSTs don’t warrant purchasing the entire album but leave a mark in our memory nonetheless, thanks to an outstanding title or two. For completeness sake, I’ll mention them here in no particular order, in case you’d like to browse further from there:

13. Lucky number thirteen: Chrono Trigger Symphony
Saving the best for last, my special bonus recommendation for you are both albums of the amazing Chrono Trigger Symphony by Blake Robinson’s Synthetic Orchestra. Die-hard CT fan or not, there is not much that comes close in terms of quality and stellar orchestration in the world of VG OSTs. A third album is in the works – until then, you have Yearnings of the Wind, The Trial , Frog’s Theme and sooooo many more to keep you company. Do not miss this!

wv

With that, I really hope I included my most important picks for 2013 in this post. I’ve a feeling I forgot something but hey, it’s a start right? I included links to official distribution pages in the titles where I know them but you will still need to browse youtube here and there to find out more. Videogame OSTs do still not receive the attention they deserve from some publishers or even developers, which is a sad affair for fans worldwide waiting to purchase the soundtrack and support composers. However, we can spread the word, let the artists know how much we appreciate them and bring as many players (and potential music lovers) onboard as possible. Here’s to another great year of VG music and hopefully much goodness to share in 2014! Happy Holidays all!