Wednesday, September 26, 2018

As Sand Slips Through the Hourglass...

I knew this day would come, but it doesn't make the transition any easier.

One of the mini-Reds has reached 20.

Oh, she still games and does all sorts of other geeky things --she recently was one of the people who put together a D&D 5e gaming group among her band friends-- and I'm still really proud of her.

But she's no longer a mini-Red.

A mega-Red, perhaps.

Happy birthday, Kid:

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Fun With MMOs: The Elder Scrolls Online

The Elder Scrolls Online is one of those MMOs that was built on an existing (and wildly popular) video game property. Unlike other well known properties turned into MMOs, The Elder Scrolls franchise is strictly a video game property, as opposed to the broader scope of the properties behind MMOs such as LOTRO, SWTOR, Neverwinter, etc., etc.

But that's not a bad thing. After all, the biggest MMO out there, WoW, is a video game property. As is Final Fantasy XIV, for that matter.*

The Elder Scrolls Online was developed by Zenimax and published by Bethesda, and after a reported seven years in development was released for PC on April 4th, 2014. In June 2015, ESO released for the PS4 and XBoxOne.

And I'll freely admit that when I first heard of ESO, my first thought was "Why?"
This never gets old.
From all over the internet, really.

After the WoW-killer failure of Rift and SWTOR** as well as the tremendous success of Skyrim, it seemed very foolish to tempt the MMO gods by creating a huge MMO for the Elder Scrolls franchise. Additionally, the release date in 2014 didn't really have the same buzz for ESO that another 2014 release, Wildstar, had. Wildstar was also getting a lot of press because it was moving in the direction of "old school MMO" in a way that most major MMOs had long abandoned, such as heavy grinds, really tough raid bosses, and tons and tons of attunement. When ESO was mentioned, one of the first items that you'd typically see was "oh, it's a subscription only game, just like Wildstar". Not exactly the sort of hype you want to see in an upcoming game.

However, the year is now 2018 and ESO is still adapting and thriving, while Wildstar is about to be shut down. ESO has moved into the buy-and-play model of GW2 with a cash shop and an optional subscription, and with that move along with several critical major updates the game is chugging along quite nicely. The developers at Zenimax must be doing something right, so it's time to login to The Elder Scrolls Online and find out.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

...and Even More Contraction in MMO Space

For some reason, I've not been paying too much attention to some of the other MMOs that I've tried out, but while Rift Prime seems to be doing fairly well at the moment TERA has just completed a bunch of server merges.

The TERA merges went live yesterday, and in NA (at least) the PC version of TERA is down to one PvE and one PvP server each. Prior to the merge, if you logged in you could get a boost of 20 character slots to cover your stable of toons across the servers, but naturally I was unaware of that so I lost three toons (two of which were only L1, so it's not too bad).

So all of those "TERA is doing fine, much better than [insert MMO here]!" comments I've seen on other MMOs make me wonder whether that was just wishful thinking or whether TERA isn't even close to as popular as the MMO community thought it was.

From my perspective, it seems that the MMO shakedown that began with Marvel Heroes' shutdown is continuing, and even gathering a bit of steam.

Does that mean the MMO is becoming a genre of one (WoW) with a couple of hangers on? No, but I also believe that the MMO genre is retreating to a much smaller footprint in much the same way that a fad comes and goes. MOBAs are the new hotness, and in about 5-6 years they'll fade from view as well to be replaced by something else.

I don't think TERA is on life support, but it definitely isn't doing as well as it could be.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

In Other News....

Although it was not as directly impactful to me as Wildstar shutting down, there was other MMO news last week: EVE Online developer CCP was sold to Pearl Abyss, the developer of Black Desert Online.

I found it somewhat amusing that the EVE Online fans --who play in a cutthroat open universe PvP game-- are looking askance at this buyout. After all, isn't a buyout perfectly in line with EVE Online's gameplay?

Saturday, September 8, 2018

End of the Road for another MMO -- With Updates

Age of Conan has outlasted another MMO.

After multiple years worth of speculation, Wildstar is shutting down.

When I tried the game in Beta I never thought I'd say this, but I'm gonna miss the storyline. Unfortunately for Wildstar, the subscription model coupled to a truly hardcore Vanilla WoW-esque experience wasn't a model for success in today's market.

The past 2+ years I played Wildstar I thought that Carbine had corrected their launch problems and had pivoted to growth in the future, but by then the MMO market had passed them by.

To be honest, I have no idea how Age of Conan is still going after all this time while Wildstar and Marvel Heroes are on the dustbins of history, but I do have some ideas why Wildstar and Marvel Heroes failed.

I don't believe it's an accident that both games were the only games from a development studio. There was no other source of income, and failure of any sort was catastrophic. Even back in 2004, if WoW failed after launch Blizzard had quite a few games/properties that they could use to survive and give WoW a chance to find its feet. Likewise, SWTOR and Elder Scrolls Online have well established and diversified development houses behind those games and can weather the capricious nature of the video game market. Wildstar had a good launch but then discovered that items such as truly nasty attunement turned people off, which led to people dropping subs almost immediately.*

Judging by this info alone, that would likely peg LOTRO as the next MMOs to potentially shut down. LOTRO keeps chugging along, however, and they have more items in the development pipeline, but we'll see how things look in a year from now.

Right now, I don't see the MMO market as a growth area; the MOBA and eSports movement has sucked the hardcore PvPers away, and WoW still takes up most of the oxygen even in a reduced MMO space. A game company that develops an MMO would have to recognize that WoW will be the only sub (or the primary sub) of almost all MMO gamers**, and at the same time a F2P MMO carries with it tremendous risks or being accused of monetizing the game or creating a P2W environment. B2P, like GW2 or ESO or FFXIV, is likely the best option. But even then, a development house shouldn't put all of its eggs in one basket but instead create some other games or software products first. That way, a game company doesn't have to fret quite so much if it takes a while for an MMO to find its feet.

I do have to wonder whether an MMO based in a classic style isometric RPG format might succeed where others failed, given all of the good CRPGs that have come out in that space recently.

But I'm not one for reading the tea leaves, because I'm lousy at prediction. (And I drink coffee anyway.)

I hope the people at Carbine Studios land on their feet. It's never fun to lose your job.

Thanks for the memories, Wildstar.

EtA: There is a post in the comment section of the Kotaku article by an ex-Carbine dev who worked on Wildstar, and this dev has some really cogent points about the Wildstar debacle. It's a fascinating read, and while it doesn't completely eliminate my point of having only one game being very risky for a software studio, it does highlight the extreme mismanagement at Carbine Studios itself. (And also Paragon Studios, whose title City of Heroes was shut down by NCSoft a few years ago.) Yeah, while I'd like to think mismanagement doesn't happen, I know from experience in years past that it does in software companies. And that mismanagement finally did Wildstar in.

*Blizzard has no such illusions about WoW Classic, which is why they're taking it slow and not trying to keep people's hopes up.

**I realize I'm the exception in that my sub is SWTOR, but numbers wise I think I'm pretty accurate in that statement.