On MMO’s recent numbers

I’m the first to say Xfire numbers are unreliable. If you look at Eve-Online the game had a HUGE increase of active players during the holiday, that now seems dying down. This coincides to when they reactivated all canceled accounts for a period of time, so it may explain the surge of activity.

But the “real” numbers looked almost unaffected by that. Look at these graphs. These measure the activity in the same way of Xfire, only of all the players instead of a smaller sample. It is weird that the huge activity increase that Xfire showed is only very slightly reflected in the other graph. The recent weeks also aren’t showing the same consistent dip on Xfire. How can this be explained? Maybe they had a special promotion through Xfire that rigged those results, maybe some bug on the client or database.

In any case Eve-Online seems to have stalled during the last year, maybe reaching its full potential within the constraint of game design that sure isn’t made to be appealing to the large public (along with basic flaws that they simply decided to not address). Now it is slightly growing again, but probably as result of momentary situation related to promotions or launch of expansions. They have already another in the works where they rewrite for the 10th time the tutorials (hint: it’s gameplay that should be reworked, not the tutorial text).

Hard numbers: currently Eve-Online has 250k subs. Putting it head to head with DAoC at its peak.

Now lets see Warhammer. No real numbers to see, beside it vanishing from forums discussions and relevance overall. Xfire is all we have. Not meaningful or reliable, but reasonable. The game is relatively stable, slightly dropping as players burn out. We don’t have real subs numbers, not even projections. Sure is that we won’t have them as EA is likely not too pleased to the point of publicizing them. MJ public “target” was at least 500k, but from other interviews it was quite obvious that his and EA target potential started from 1M going up (or better, a target to reach. didn’t mean to have 1M in 1 month).

Warhammer doesn’t likely have 1M now, I doubt it has 500k. I doubt it has 400k. From Xfire and general reception it is likely that by now its success is set. Meaning that I doubt it will see a relevant increase or even a sudden relevant decrease. It is whatever it is. We can only guess that number, but we know that to sway it now it will take some “extreme triggers” that it is not realistic to expect (especially from Mythic’s righteous game design).

On Warhammer potential subscribers I’ve said a whole lot of different things. Now I’ll explain so people won’t accuse me of writing all kind of things to the different forums and then only link those that were right (I’m not one who wants to win arguments when in fault). When Mythic decided to sell out to EA, I said that Warhammer would have never surpassed DAoC at its peak. 250-260k then. This was as a reaction to the sellout. I explained that I thought it was a bad move. Mythic needed money to be more “secure”, so they went with EA that was working like a guarantee and put them out of troubles. My point was that this transition also had negative aspects to not underestimate. One of them is that if you get much more money to make the product, then this product also HAS TO be much more successful. So if Mythic could be successful by reaching a certain target, with EA’s acquisition that target would become much, much bigger. It’s like as if going from 1 to 10 Mythic didn’t want to go through all the steps, but make a big leap and find itself at 10. I’m against those sort of things.

This year, in August, I got the occasion to try Warhammer. I was surprised, found a game much better than how I was expecting. Good execution, good artistic talent and direction, overall well done and strong in potential. Under these conditions and in a moment favorable for MMO market (no matter what you are going to argue), I thought that the potential subscriptions would climb from my own first “blind” guess. So I wrote on F13 that I expected it to be between 250-500k, with the potential for more if they solved some basic problems (irony: look two posts down and there’s another revelatory in retrospective question).

Well, not too shabby for a prediction. Four months later Warhammer didn’t solve those basic problems, but made them worse in some cases. As I wrote in various occasion I don’t think the game moved in a positive direction, but actually did a number of counterproductive and wrong moves. Pretty obvious that all the potential I saw wasn’t and isn’t going to be realized. The game’s real performance seems rather close to my view.

Today, it is a meaningful thing to notice Eve-Online is probably going to be more successful than Warhammer. We won’t know when exactly since we don’t have numbers. But it is happening.

It is also an obvious defeat for all those who thought EA’s marketing power was enough to attract the big numbers.

P.S.
About showing numbers and naysayers: this will never affect the market in a relevant way. Sure, forum warriors use numbers all the time to prove validity of their opinion (I did it here), but they do not influence results. If there’s a site who shows a chart of a game population going down the game won’t continue to go down because of that chart. The numbers are consequences, not causes. So: fire all marketers, hire competent game designers with eyes that can see.

Warhammer: post-launch state of the game

I don’t need to wait Friday to read Mark Jacobs’ own.

Putting aside client performance and stability for once, even if it should remain the very first-priority effort, I’ll focus on the gameplay. Class balance is also an argument on its own that I won’t comment here.

I said before, and repeat again, that Warhammer’s biggest strength is in the variety of gameplay it offers. This variety comes in four different flavours: straight PvE quests, Public Quests, Scenarios and Open RvR.

The game is in the best shape when these four systems are always accessible and equally rewarding (or comparably rewarding). All four of them.

Removing Scenarios doesn’t make a better game, it’s the wrong solution to a problem. Reducing the number of scenarios also doesn’t make a better game since it reduces once again the variety. The main reason why everyone says the game is an awful grind is because the game entered a dead end where there’s scenarios and just scenarios. It’s repetitive, and repetitive is “grind”. And grind means that you worship your exp bar. And worshiping your exp bar means that you aren’t having fun and just hope to reach the “promise of a different end-game”.

This is the state of the four gameplay paths coming from my personal experience in the game and what I read in other players’ feedback:

– PvE Quests yield crap experience, especially in Tier 3 and 4 (or so I read)
– PQs don’t have enough players and bag loot should be improved
– Scenarios outbalance everything else, but should be balanced between each other to be more equal in rewards
– Open PvP is non existent and with piss poor rewards

PvE Quests
I don’t have the data, but I think that the experience curve throughout all the levels should be improved. Things should scale more uniformly and quests, scenarios, PQs, direct kills, these all should scale with the levels following a smooth, predictable curve. Instead I read reports that quests yield less and less experience and something similar happens for scenarios too. The escalation of level requirements isn’t perceived as smooth, and I’m willingly to trust the feedback I read on this.

I don’t have any experience in Tier 3 so I can’t comment the details. For sure the solution is NOT to add repeatable quests to fill the gaps. If the are gaps they need to be removed entirely, not just bridged with fluff. In any case it’s a problem of boosting or decreasing the xp rewards so that even the normal quests make your experience bar move perceptibly.

Public Quests
Big issue. Problems coming from different aspects that aren’t easily fixable without significant coding efforts. Difficulty scaling, to begin with.

The real reason why Mythic is scared about making leveling faster is because the faster the players move to the cap, the quicker the tiers will depopulate. The quicker the tiers depopulate, the less fun the experience for new players. The less fun the experience of new players, the smaller the influx of new subscriptions to the game. With less players sticking, the game has no future.

Right now for Mythic is crucial that the first tiers are vibrant with activity. The band-aid they have for this is to keep the leveling so slow that people “pool” in the tiers for longer, maybe even encouraging them to create alts more than pushing to the cap.

The real problem is that no matter how slow the leveling speed, these problems will arise anyway. The depopulation of the tiers is the big thorn in the game’s side. It WILL happen. Ignoring it now will just make things worse later. It starts affecting mostly the PQs, but later will even affect Scenarios. It’s a game-breaking problem.

There’s only one effective solution, and I’ll point where I discussed it.

Scenarios
I believe that the Scenarios should be reworked even in level design, but I won’t go in the details. For sure they need to add lightmaps and avoid fights in the dark. Not fun, especially when it’s so easy to get stuck everywhere. For this kind of gameplay the zone design shouldn’t get in the way, it should ease the fight. Less stupid obstacles and more visibility, thanks.

Secondly, all the Scenarios in a tier need to be equally rewarding. Make an average of time each required, then compensate the differences through bigger or smaller rewards for completing one.

Open RvR
To begin with: travel sucks. Travel time-sinks have to go completely. Every hub, big or small, should have all the necessary NPCs. Then I’d add at least two flight masters for each zone, one closer to a PvE hub, the other to the RvR Lake warcamp.

Once travel between PvE and RvR Lakes is simpler, I’d go with the following plan:

– Players take a Battlefield Objective (or keep) and cap it (worth nothing for now). Guilds can put a banner on the BO and stack benefits.
– For the time the BO is being actively defended (meaning there are real players in its proximity) it “blinks” on the map for all the players in the zone, for both factions. So that all players know that there’s activity there.
– All the kills (both defenders and attackers) that happen within a decently wide radius from the BO starts to be worth more points (XP, renown). A bonus that should be slightly higher for defenders, to encourage defense.
– For all the kills that defenders manage, some points go into a “bounty pool” in the BO. The more kills, the more this pool increases. I’d also make the BO generate some of these points even if no one is around, so that if left untouched for a lot of hours it actually start to be worth something anyway.
– This means that the longer it takes to conquer the BO, the biggest is going to be the reward, as it increases with the time and makes the prize progressively juicier.
– In order to “collect” these points the attackers need to conquer the objective themselves and “cash” the reward.

This has mainly three effects:
1- The BO works like a magnet, like a natural convergence since the direct kills are worth a lot more when they are closer to the objective. This makes the players know where to go and the action is focused on a smaller area (those who played Planetside know what I mean). This reduces the problem of RvR lakes being too dispersive.
2- The bounty points increase over time, so growing to a level that will likely motivate the other faction to take action. It will also move the “hot” RvR area around instead of repeating what happened with “Emain” in DAoC. It puts variety in the system.
3- It avoids exploits and disruptive behaviors. Points in this system come from direct kills. Handing out a lot of points for just conquering a keep, instead, encourages the factions to just trade the objective instead of fighting for it. It teaches them to AVOID the fight to maximize the reward (we saw some of this in WoW). My system instead focuses on the fight itself. It motivates it and makes sure it is rewarding since it promotes and rewards the activity.

This is how I would fix Open RvR. Some of those mechanics existed in some form in DAoC, but were never implemented in a way they mattered.

Mark Jacobs says:

Look, it’s really very simple and I’ve said this more than once. This is not 2001 and we are not going to blithely make changes to our game just because some people think that we are wrong before they even get a chance to see the changes in action or worse, just because we are getting yelled at by a very vocal minority. We’ll gather the data, look at all the feedback and then make a decision. If we’re wrong, we’ll correct the decision but at least this time we have all the data we need to make the right call and we are not getting swayed either by just the loud voices or a few wrong-headed individuals. So, if you feel the need to talk about canceling in these threads, of course you have that right. Just don’t think that we are going to react to it the same way we might have at times back in 2001, we need to be smarter and react more carefully than that.

Mark Jacobs apparently believes that these complaints about Open RvR are due to “loud voices or a few wrong-headed individuals”.

To what did they overreact in 2001 that made them so scared today? Class issues, maybe. Doing nothing in regards to huge unbalances for a long time, keeping specs completely broken. And then suddenly turning things on their heads. This happened. Right now there are no signs of change. Class issues are still unaddressed and no one knows if when the changes will come they will be searing.

Class issues aside, what I remember from Mythic is not overreacting, but doing very little, too late and never at the root of the problem. How is this different today? As with ToA, they risk to fix things when it’s too late, or never in a radical way. Even at that time Mythic believed that the complaints against ToA came from a “vocal minority” and it take them a long time to acknowledge that this “vocal minority” spoke in regards of the majority. When they did, it was too late.

History repeats, no matter how hard they try to persuade players of the contrary. No matter how much I hope something really changed.

DAoC with the time became more and more a game just about specialized 8vs8 or arranged matches between guilds. The keep battles and sieges became a rarity. For a very long time I was part of the “vocal minority” who pleaded Mythic to bring the “real” RvR back to when the realm was fighting together and the battles pivoted around keeps instead of away from them to avoid interferences.

They did nothing for a long time and when they started adding some rewards to conquering a keep, these rewards were ridiculously low. Does it sound familiar? This is way too similar to what is happening now in regards to Scenarios and Open RvR.

The same happened again with the “Catacombs” expansion. They added private instances that were merely a corridor populated with a row of skeletons. It was STUPID. Ridiculously pointless and dull.

But everyone continued to do them and just them. Over and over and over. Why? Because they gave by far the most experience points.

Mythic had other instanced dungeons that provided a lot more variety and depth of gameplay, also more linked to the various zones. They were completely deserted. No players at all. Why? Because they couldn’t even compare to the fast rewards of the private instances. For a long time I tried to persuade Mythic to make these other dungeons comparably attractive. They never did.

History repeats.

I know I sound like the stereotypical soured player, but I’ve seen these things happening. Over and over. And now I don’t see any sign that they actually learned from mistakes. They say they did, but this isn’t reflected by their actions. I continue to see the same mistakes repeated. The exact same mistakes.

I remember reading an old post from Ubiq who described similar patterns:

In Star Wars Galaxies, I remember, the rewards for killing the flying bat things were better than for everything else (probably had something to do with me being a Master Armorsmith). So because I could choose my own randomly generated quests, I chose the flying bat thing quests every time. Man, I got so sick of killing those, but all of the other content may as well not have existed.

It bears pointing out that most MMOs, rather inadvertently, end up shrinking their own content down in some way. Players are incredibly efficient at finding the fastest way to advance, and designers sometimes accidentally make design and balance decisions that help this along.

What Ubiq describes here is what it happens with Warhammer today. Players do scenarios and just scenarios, everything else may as well not exist at all. They shrunk their game to just repetitive deathmatches. This is what originated the “grind” the players are feeling. The repetition. The dullness.

Bringing back the variety I talked at the beginning would already help to substantially reduce the “grind” even without touching the levelling curve. But Mythic is scared even to touch the smallest thing, because their “metrics” tell them how much fun players are having in Scenarios. The same metrics that told them how fun were the 8vs8 matches or those stupid task dungeons in DAoC.

Mark Jacobs continues to repeat that they’ll only listen their metrics and not those “loud voices and few wrong-headed individuals” I’m sure he would put me in.

The metrics on my account will tell Mythic that when I log in I sit in a warcamp and do exclusively Scenarios. But those metrics don’t know that I’m PISSED, DEAD BORED about them. Mythic instead will take those metrics and see the evidence of how much I obviously love Scenarios since all my play time goes there.

How much I love Mourkain Temple, especially, since I do mostly that one. But those metrics don’t know that I think that whoever designed the Scenario terrain should better move on another job. Plenty of time I get stuck somewhere while moving, the textures are so dark that I see jack shit, and there’s a total absence of lightmaps that makes all this even worse. It’s terrible, but I continue to do it because it’s the most rewarding.

Metrics are dumb. Their “evidence” is a lie.

So I really don’t know what message I should send Mythic instead. Because if I play Scenarios they’ll think I love Scenarios. If I do Open RvR they’ll think it’s ok that Open RvR yields no rewards. Next time they’ll write that they see some more activity in the RvR Lakes because some idiots are trying desperately even if the system is so punishing. Do I boycott them? Do I cancel my account? Canceling my account would tell them that I don’t believe in Mythic, the potential of the game, or that a PvP MMO could be successful. Whatever I do sends the wrong message.

Whatever I do sends the wrong message because on the other side there should be a game designer that UNDERSTANDS players. That is in touch with them. That plays the game himself and sees where the problems are. That plans and fix things for the long term, and not through band-aids. At the root of the problems, and not inadequately.

Instead we rely on “metrics” and whatever twisted, biased use is made of them. To prove “evidence” where there’s only wronged partiality.

I’m having serious doubts about Warhammer

This is not backpedaling, actually it’s realizing how significant are becoming the potential flaws I was pointing out.

I’ve been playing some more these days and experienced concretely those problems. And I think these problems are crippling. I said long term, now I think I was optimistic.

My “fun” has been spotty. The game has a HUGE potential, as the huge potential was always there if PvP was done right. In Warhammer it is done right, but only occasionally realized and well executed. Too many variables affecting the fun, and this means that it’s not consistent and most time the game isn’t fun at all.

1- The client doesn’t have a good performance. It has serious problems with memory management, and even more in video memory management and caching. On new systems these flaws are much less noticeable and the gameplay is smooth, but over a number of different configurations there are PLENTY of players who report a lot of problems. This doesn’t seem a priority issue, but it is. Mass market means that your game HAS to work flawlessly on a wide range of configurations. Conservative graphic doesn’t guarantee good performance. It helps, but the really high number of little and major problems in the game client risks to cripple the sales and subscriptions in a substantial way. Those who can’t play well rarely spend weeks hunting for “magic” trick on the forums or sending feedback, they go back to play WoW, where technical execution comes above everything else.

2- Terrible flow. This basically summarizes all kind of critical problems. The fact that the “fun” is spotty. The zones have too much wasted space. Too much traveling without shortcuts. The death penalty may be trivial but here there are HUGE downtimes due to traveling, waiting for scenarios to pop or running aimlessly for half an hour or more around huge open PvP areas without meeting a single other player. In the last days I’ve been having serious problems to find even ONE open party for Public Quests. Even during prime time. This also gives a very bad perception. I have no idea how successful is the game, but the world feels empty and lonely as if I joined two years after launch. Instead how long is it? Two weeks? It’s all wasted, all those open PvP areas with all sort of objectives. Carefully designed to hold zerg of players. And there’s NO ONE. If you are lucky you see a tumbleweed in the distance. Developer time completely WASTED. Money wasted. And fun crippled.

So what were Warhammer strengths? The variety of gameplay alternatives it offered: normal questing, PQs, Scenarios and open RvR.

Pragmatically, which one of these alternatives are really viable if I decide to log in now? Normal questing and Scenarios when they pop. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, a PQ party that holds for ten minutes only to be wiped at the third phase because it was badly designed and it’s not doable with a single group, escalating difficulty in the worst way possible (from trivial but slow -kill 120 level 10 zombies- to impossible -five linked level 12 heroes-).

I don’t like PvE questing much. So what? Just scenarios, and they grow old after a while, same as WoW.

So that’s the downward spiral. Some deathmatches for shit and giggles and some boring PvE to slog through. Not exactly a masterpiece of game. Not even the WAAAAGH they were claiming it was going to be. You read on the forum a lot of similar feedback, players that try to explain how great was the battle they had yesterday. Sure, it was, but it’s inconstant. You have fun once every few days, when all the celestial bodies align properly. And Mythic’s design doesn’t help it.

I’m back feeling like when I was playing DAoC. Feeling bad because the game is THIS close to *be* a masterpiece.

What if?

What if Mythic planned the server structure form the start not as this prehistoric shard/server division, but a dynamical system where characters are an autonomous entity and where a new zone instance is only spawned when the previous reaches the cap? Think if, no matter when you decide to log in, no matter the server you picked, the zones always had players running around, with lots of activity, where all the PQs have players, where instances pop frequently and where open RvR is active at all time, where faction and population balance are more even than how they are currently. Utopia? Not. It’s vision, careful observation and experience. It’s knowing the right thing to do. It’s about knowing what the game needs to work well and to plan ahead with that in mind. It was possible by just planning the server structure in the way I was suggesting.

What if they actually designed the zones so that the three campaigns had ONE open PvP area for each tier (excluding endgame), like a convergence, instead all that ridiculous wasted space?

What if there was a de-levelling system so that all those PvP spaces were more consistently alive, and more consistently counted in the overall campaign? While also allowing PvE junkies to hunt down their Tome of Knowledge tricks without the fear of outlevelling the zones.

Well, it’s useless to repeat it again, but I was pointing all this out years ago when Warhammer didn’t even exist as a project. Trying to be as loud as possible but obtaining once again no result beside the evidence I was right.

I don’t fucking care if I was right. If it does not make a difference, it’s of no use to be right.

So, since I’m powerless, someone out there PLEASE WAKE UP.

But instead I’m talking to a deaf wall. No matter if I’m loud or not, in the best case I’m seen just as an arrogant idiot, or a troll, or a fraud who is accused of re-dating and rewriting his posts to claim undeserved wit.

I repeat myself I can’t start another of those useless crusades, no matter how much I think I’m right. Maybe I’m not? They say I’m not. So I wait the probable: Mythic to repeat the same mistakes, announcing soon all kind of fancy bonuses to encourage players to reroll on specific servers, obtaining no tangible difference, and later an expansion with some new classes, races and brand new zones to dilute what is already too diluted and wasted.

‘No, it comes with living long enough to appreciate the value of the time you’ve got left. Long enough to recognize the fallacy of a crusade when you’re called to one. Hoiran’s teeth, Gil, you’re the last person I should need to be telling this to. Have you forgotten what they did with your victory?’

P.S.
I truly admire who did art direction for Warhammer. Stylistically I love it, more than WoW. But what the fuck was he thinking about all those white, textureless cloaks? Or the utter lack of variety in the graphic of items?

Of course with the time these issues will vanish, but probably only at the level cap as more shit is added. And this doesn’t make a good game at all. It just leaves a sour taste.

And it begins

And it begins.

Point 1 + 3 at the bottom of the post.

==
Part 2.

I play on a High/Full server and maybe I’m leveling too fast, but the PQs and RvR Lakes are usually empty.

With the quantity of PQs and the size of the later RvR Lakes, they’d have to have twice the server capicity to keep people doing them?

Prior to release, I was very excited about the prospect of levelling through RvR – The massive pvp that happened in closed beta was a good sign that my excitement was justified.

However, on Phoenix Throne, there is very little open world RvR, and I’m surprised. Loads of people PvE’ing, and lots of characters being created, but hardly any OPvP.

Now, Phoenix Throne is going to be cloned, and plenty will leave.

In my opinion, things are looking a lot more grim than I had anticipated. Either we have a lot of PvE players who don’t want to PvP, or the server population being “high” is not indicative of the amount of action happening on that server.

The nail in the head of Warhammer

Despite all the praises about the gameplay and design choices, there are still those glaring flaws that I and others pointed out… years ago.

In this case I quote someone else, as a good summary:

There are 7 public quests (that I know of) in the first Chaos zone alone. That means you’d need 42 to 70 people in that zone working on public quests to do them all at once. I even ran into one completely empty PQ over the weekend even though almost every Chaos player was in that zone.

Will there ever be that many people working on PQs in the same low level zone after the first week or two after launch? Probably not.

I suspected that they would dynamically scale public quests based on the number of players currently participating. When I found a PQ that nobody else was doing, I worked my butt off and completed the first stage alone. Then Champion mobs spawned in stage 2, and I was screwed. So, it looks like they aren’t doing any sort of scaling.

Unfortunately, even though public quests are extremely fun, I fear they won’t even be doable throughout the majority of the game for those of us who will get behind the curve. As soon as I fall behind the pack, which inevitably I will, I’ll be unable to do any PQs until the end game.

I was able to have a similar experience in the second chaos zone, even with 2500 players logged in. Not exactly during an off-peak. And not even weeks or months or years after a server launch.

There’s a way to sum it up in an even more significant way:
– Too many parts of Warhammer’s core design are strictly dependent on keeping a fine balance on the number of players participating, and so vulnerable. It’s not about PQs only. It’s about PQs, faction balance in open RvR, issues of overcrowding and depopulation in all the parts of the game. The *fun* strictly depends on that fine balance, to keep all the options viable at all times, and to keep the single option fun without suffering overcrowding or depopulation.

Right now Mythic does absolutely nothing to preserve that fine balance, and down the road I only expect XP, renown bonuses/disadvantages for a faction or the other that won’t really move anything in any significant way.

There are certain workarounds that may help, some of which I also suggested (de-levelling, multiple scenarios queues, adaptable objectives for PQs). But to me it’s very clear that this game required to be built different at its core.

– Dynamic server structure with a mix of persistence and instancing. Server(zone) created dynamically depending on the number of players. Something like a creative use of Guild Wars system.

Certain design schemes need their specific systems to work. Or they just remain pretty ideas that do not work in practice.

The scheme Mythic’s adopting here will have its flaws hidden or sweetened for a while, but it will hurt them hard in the long term.

Bloody Industry

It’s been described in a brutal way:

At approximately 4:30PM today, Sigil employees were told to meet outside. At which point they were terminated. On the spot.

Did they tell them to stand along the wall before they got executed?

Do we have the movie on YouTube?

Only official comment from Nino (FoH’s mascot), on the FoH’s boards:

I will make an announcement tomorrow regarding my status…

That isn’t a denial of the news.

My guess is that SOE cherry-picked some of them and fired the others. They’ll probably pretend Vanguard is going to be supported at least to milk it as much as possible before its demise. After all SOE still has Matrix Online active.

In other news SWG team is made by 20 devs.

(a)Vanguard

Four months later and Vanguard is now perfect.

…What? Isn’t what everyone used to say a few months back? That the game just needed a few more months of development to be ready?

shiznitz: Latest hubbub: Sigil UI dev quit a few weeks ago and the UI mod community is annoyed that no one is helping them any more. While reading the rants, I discovered my issue with having to click on spell icons twice to actually fire the spell was not my issue but a long known bug. Wonderful.

Devs, your UI is the first and last thing your customers see when they log in and log out. It should work and not suck. Looking like WoW’s isn’t enough.

Also, Nino seems to have left Sigil.

Kageru: Meanwhile I have no idea what happened with the game coding. The code seems to already have reached an unmaintainable state where bugs just can’t be fixed. I can’t imagine how else the act of forming a group, or not falling through the world, can still be so flawed. Meanwhile the rate of introduction for new bugs is scarily high.

I honestly can’t see the game holding enough subscriptions to fund the development it needs to be decent.

Rumors. My opinion is still the same, the game was broken this January, as it will be broken next January (if it survives till then).

And not much because of Brad’s hardcore game design, but more because of execution was poor (and planning, which is Brad’s fault in this case).

One player also noticed that quests don’t work in multiplayer, which would be interesting to discuss.

EDIT: New rumor. I doubt it’s true. And even if it’s true SOE will never admit the game isn’t doing well and will probably dress the press release so it sounds positive.

The LotR Online short-living bubble

I’m biased against Turbine, so read keep that in mind.

Months ago I was guessing possible subscribers numbers for the next Turbine’s game based on the Middle Earth and I said that I was expecting around 200k. More recently I noticed that the interest in the community was rising, in particular not in a specific niche, but in a more transversal way, so I thought that they could be more successful than I expected. 300-400k maybe.

I posted a quote from EQ2’s Scott Hartsman that is interesting to see in the context of this upcoming game. He says that the constant rise in subscriptions is a privilege of “the king of the hill”, while all other “players” live with the same rules upside-down: retention demands revolution, while for the king of the hill growth demands stability. This is not only true, but also particular enlightening, even if apparently so simple, because it explains so much.

I was finding something in common between these two points above. I said that I’m noticing an unexpected enthusiasm toward LotRO, but the real point is that when you dig in the enthusiasm you find out that is not just unexpected, but also unexcused. The enthusiasm isn’t backed up by actual solid points that justify the interest. You can call it classic beta hype.

WoW created expectations in the market, in the last few years since its release the market wasn’t really providing interesting alternatives, so the demand for “new” grew. People like to anticipate stuff and a big mammoth like WoW, while still top-quality, failed to renew that part of interest that is only awaken when you offer new perspectives. The Burning Crusade expansion is overall very well executed, but it delivers more in a kind of horizontal growth. Surely it doesn’t go to explore new frontiers, the game is enclosed in its boundaries and rules. It’s still an excellent experience, but you know what to expect.

LotRO falls in this particular “momentum” and it becomes a double-edged blade. From a side the game is “familiar”, and this is positive. People appreciate familiarity. I remember a post from Vanguard’s UI designer ,who joined late in development, who justified WoW’s UI ripoff because she said it is important that you carry over and respect some expectations, some standards. When the mass market is reached (through WoW) it’s convenient that you don’t impose a whole new language but instead integrate it. Instead of re-training players, you continue on the same path. You try to deliver on the specific genre, following its rules. Players come with expectations, directly compare features between games even when the comparison makes little sense, they impose their own needs and habits. If you want to be considered by an already formed audience you need to talk them in their language.

From the other side that approach becomes negative: the “sameness”. The feeling of “already seen”. This isn’t a problem of the first approach, I wrote not long ago how the first ten minutes are the very best experience in every game. During those ten minutes everything is a discovery, the brand new look. Even if it’s a familiar game it still appears very shiny. Things change with the time. The “familiar but shiny” loses its glint, the drug tends to fade and you look at things more consciously, you ask yourself what is deserving your attention and dedication.

I said that the enthusiasm I’m noticing about this game is both unexpected and unexcused. Unexcused because when you scratch below the surface you don’t find worthwhile concrete points. The most interesting feature I’ve read about is the “title-driven carrot”, depending on some actions and triggers you may unblock special titles, and there are a whole lot of them. Well, it’s nice, but this is what I call a “gimmick”. It’s not really part of the game fabric, it doesn’t affect the game rules and the final point is that, while nice, you surely won’t decide to play this game because “it has titles”. It is actually the perfect example of feature that gets your interest right away, part of the exploration and first impact. But three/six months into the game, do you think you’ll still be excited about these titles? It’s all presentation. Good presentation puts you in a good mood and it is very important, but you won’t stay because of it.

Is that where all the enthusiasm is coming from? There’s the “same girlfriend with a new dress” that I explained, and then there’s Tolkien. From what I’m reading Tolkien is really the whole point, what gives that particular flavor that people are liking. So it doesn’t matter if the actual art direction is just “passable”, it’s still Tolkien and (it seems) feels enough like Tolkien to trigger that special flavor.

And we arrive at the last point. For perspective I remind that Codemaster (euro publisher) is expecting 1M subs JUST for the european market. Then read again the quote from Scott Hartsman, is LotRO going to be enough King of the Hill to see a progressive growth in subscribers along the months? Let’s say it will be successful, do you think that WoW is going to lose from 500 to 1M subs because of LotRO (beacause for sure it won’t tap a new market with just a license)? My idea is that there’s a period when players keep their former account and also go try another game. LotRO may pulg there. I expect a good numbers of WoW players to try this new game and even like it. Either they are bored of WoW and so canceled their accounts, or they are still subscribed. In the first case I seriously doubt that LotRO will be interesting for them in the longer-term. In the second case I expect players to keep accounts active on both games and this usually lasts for a while but sooner or later they’ll decide one or the other.

I expect LotRO to be a short-lived bubble even on the forums. I don’t see the game having some serious draw that is not that special glint derived from the “newness” and “being Tolkien”. MEO will draw a lot of attention, it could initiate an interesting process of “mass-market”, but I also believe that it will be a comet. Big burst and then very quick fade.

My prediction is that the game, while starting quite well, will enter “subscription retention mode” very soon. Like two months after release.

It’s known that gamers have ADD. Especially those who go after the “shiny”.

SOE Station All-Access pass, thirty bucks

What I told you about SOE’s business practices and trends?

I saw this looking at other blogs feeds (Cuppycake and Krones). I guess Brad McQuaid pretended the price to raise in order to keep Vanguard vaguely profitable.

The price is now thirty bucks (in Europe add another $5 of taxes) and they even rebill you automatically with the higher fee (effective April 2, 2007).

Firstly they publicize Vanguard and the All-access pass as both part of a very convenient deal, then, I guess, they are successful but so successful to the point that they cannot keep all games and live teams alive with one reasonable monthly fee that has to be split thin.

So it’s now thirty bucks. Still cheap? Well, it’s almost what you would pay for a FULL brand new game with years of development behind it. And you pay that MONTHLY.

Prediction: this will break either EQ2 or Vanguard, as they are now forcing players to pick one side. As I anticipated, only one will survive.

Next step is obviously rising the single monthly fee. But they just cannot do that before the competition moves the first step ;p

They also gave NCSoft the perfect occasion for a winning stab. Release Dungeon Runners, Exteel and Tabula Rasa and launch their own version of an all-access pass with an accessible monthly fee. If they are going to miss this opportunity then they are just crazy. A victory handed on a silver plate. With their accessible games and variety of styles it even makes sense to play more than one mmorpg.

P.S.
Planetside monthly fee is also going up: $13 -> $15

The player-reported news on VE3D is worth a quote:

After more 3 years of continually dwindling subscriber numbers, corporate mismanagement, a botched expansion, the addition of in-game advertisements, and numerous unpopular gameplay changes, SOE in all their wisdom has decided to increase the subscription rate from $13 to $15, citing investments to improve the game’s support and infrastructure. Any long-time player knows the only support they have given is life-support. Barely keeping the game running is their idea of investing in it.

EDIT-
And another quote from Amber:

The short-sightedness of this approach is staggering. In a marketplace that Sony hasn’t come close to dominating for well over 5 years, they’re behaving like a monopoly with a captive player base.