Tobold's Blog
Thursday, August 06, 2009
Currently playing and not playing

I'm interupting the "Why do we play?" series with a short personal round-up of the games that I am currently playing, stopped playing, or will play soon:

World of Warcraft: Not currently subscribed. Patch 3.2 came out this week. A reader informed me that you can now ALT-TAB out of WoW even during the loading screen, which is nice, and there are a couple of other nice changes making life easier for alts. But the patch doesn't really change all that much, and it is hard to see why if I was bored with WoW before, I would suddenly be highly interested again due to yet another patch.

Warhammer Online: Not playing. Brighthub has a post about What went wrong with Warhammer Online, and I read various comments complaining that Land of the Dead is making WAR worse, just like Trials of Atlantis did to DAoC. But then there is some truth in the comment of Tycho from Penny Arcade, who said "I really want to catch up with Paul Barnett this year if I can, if he’s got the time. I want to know what it’s like to design a game that makes millions of dollars a month, millions, and is still considered a failure.". Of course "making millions of dollars a month" is not a good criteria, unless you know additional data like return on investment. And the list of reasons why WAR is considered a failure is long, from the percentage of players who quit after the first month, to the self-proclaimed failure criteria of "less than 500k subscribers, and closing servers". But in the end it is more a case of too much hype, and then not meeting the expectations that spiralled out of control through the hype. WAR isn't actually a bad game, but this shows that a game doesn't need to be bad to be considered a failure. There is a distinctive possibility that the "overhyped and not meeting expectations" is something that will happen to other games in the future, for example SWTOR.

Luminary: Stopped playing. During my holiday absence the Luminary item mall finally opened. I had originally planned to try that one out and write a review how good or bad the microtransactions are in that game. But it turns out that microtransaction items in Luminary are relatively expensive, because most of it isn't permanent. I did a quick calculation of what the convenience stuff I would be interested in (mount, added inventory space, teleport ticket) would cost, and ended up with over $40 per month. When Common Sense Gamer Darren complained about the permanent mount in Runes of Magic costing $10, I remarked that $1 is not worth the same thing to every person. I can see myself buying a convenience item in a microtransaction game for $10 if it is permanent. But if everything just lasts for a month, you basically recreate a monthly subscription fee, and there aren't many games I'd be willing to pay $40 a month for.

Atlantica Online: Just started playing. Created a first character, had to choose a weapon (basically your character class) before knowing anything about the game, made a bad choice, and deleted the character after going through the tutorial. Made a second character and played him up to level 15. I'd test the microtransaction system in that game, but curiously you need to be level 20 to be even allowed to buy stuff there. But as Korean developer NDoors created both Luminary and Atlantica Online, it looks as if the microtransaction system is similar, and equally expensive as in Luminary. I'll probably try it out anyway, but as I said, I don't see me paying three times the monthly fee of WoW for a Free2Play game. I was a bit disappointed that the combat system is far less tactical than in Final Fantasy Tactics, and not really turn-based either, but I'm starting to have fun anyway. Definitively a huge advantage of the Free2Play concept that you can try before you buy.

Champions Online: Just got a key for the open beta, apparently starting mid-August, via Fileplanet. There is an offer up for a lifetime subscription for $199 or a 6-month subscription for $60, and many bloggers complained that this offer expires September 1st, before the game is released. I don't see myself buying that lifetime subscription, but if the open beta is fun, I might go for the "6 months for the price of 4". Especially since it includes a Star Trek Online beta key. Obviously paying for a lifetime subscription before having played the game is a bad idea. But as you get to check out the open beta before you buy, and lifetime subscription isn't the only option, I think the deal is not so bad.

Aion: I think I won't play that. The game simply doesn't excite me, after having tested it in the beta. I'm not saying Aion is a bad game, but I can't think of a reason why I would rather play Aion than resubscribe to World of Warcraft. Or Warhammer Online if I were interested in PvP. Also, having started Atlantica Online this week, and having watched a Youtube video of a new Korean Free2Play game called Karos Online somebody sent me a press release for, it struck me how similar all these Asian 3D games look. Of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but personally I prefer cell-shaded superheroes to effeminate males with oversized weapons and anime girls in improbably short skirts.

Besides that list, I might end up playing this or that beta, or try out some Free2Play games like Runes of Magic, or play some single-player games. I'm definitively in one of my drifting phases, where I can't seem to stick to the same game for long. There are many games that interest me, but nothing I'm holding my breath for.
My WoW sub has been cancelled but still has a couple of weeks to run. I may dip in to see the druid forms and see how badly they have messed up my Ret Paladin. Overall the patch has added some minimal content and made stuff easier.... seems par for the course with blizzard these days.

Glad to see you are in the Champions beta, some bloggers are already writing it off after experiencing beta but Ive been impressed so far. It will be good to see your views on it once NDA drops
It is indeed ironic that FREE TO PLAY games are often likely to cost even more than the usual subscription fee in the end.

@Aion - not WoW, but DAOC/WAR style.

WoW players will be in for a nasty surprise as there is much more open world pvp than on WoW PvP servers.

I prefer a classic high fantasy setting to Aion's still quite eastern anime/manga style, too. I think it is not good to compare it to WoW, as its main feature besides looks and "polish" is the mix of PvP and PvE. It can deliver what WAR wanted to deliver, so especially DAOC/WAR players should give it a look if they can get over the cheesy story and eastern style.
I agree to each and every single one of your comments on Champions Online and Aion.

Other than that, not much to add :)
I'm extremely excited about Champions Online, since they will release it for the Xbox 360. It might be the first decent MMO coming to the X360!
I can hardly find any news about the X360 version though.
Anyway, looking forward to read about your experience in the beta.
My understanding of the Free to Play business model is that they HAVE to cost serious players more than a subscription game. Someone has to pay the bill for all those who play for free. I have a vague recollection of seeing a figure of $50 per month as being the typical cost for a serious player of a free to play game.

In a free to play game the hard core subsidise the casual. In a subscription game the casual subsidise the hardcore. Perhaps the only model where everybody pays for exactly what they get is the pay by the hour model as used in WOW China. Anybody want to go back to that in USA / Europe?
The advantage of free-to-play games is that they can be played cheaply. Obviously there are going to be incentives to pay money. Do you really need $40/month worth of stuff to be happy in Luminary? You seemed happy enough when you weren't paying anything.

But, yeah, there are going to be people who will pour a lot of money into the game. Their payments let other people play for free.

...curiously you need to be level 20 to be even allowed to buy stuff there.

Not curious at all - it's a way to reduce fraud. If you have to invest some time into the game, you're less likely to abuse the payment system for dubious purposes. Plus, if they ban you for fraud, it's not super-easy to set up another account to do it again.

Atlantica Online did have some monthly "licenses" you could buy, but you could also buy permanent expansions, for more money. Although, you can abuse extra storage (at least for mercenaries) by not renewing a license; your stuff is still stored, but you can only remove things and not put new things back in that storage area.
Every time I read about someone being excited for Champions Online, I feel a little sad for them. Too bad the NDA is still up (for obvious reasons here), and that they are trying to lock people in to paying this early. Should at least be fun for the blog world once the NDA is down.

As for AO (and basically all other F2P asian games), once you play one, you have more or less played them all (far more than playing WoW and then playing a clone). I doubt Aion will suffer much from this effect, but it can't help.

Hopefully you stick with AO until 30+, it does have some interesting stuff that's worth seeing before the grind just crushes you (have you bet on the NPC arena yet? That's always fun)
Apologies if you've mentioned this already, but have you considered giving Lord of the Rings Online another try in the future? I'm curious as to what the state of the game is these days.
And the gap between Champions Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic could easily be two years. Nor do I see Star Trek Online going live until sometime in 2011, so we're looking at a 18-24 month dry spell, possibly longer. As for Blizzard's next MMO, probably not until SC2 and D3 have been released, so that pushes their new IP deep into the next decade.

= # # =
@ Syncaine 'Too bad the NDA is still up' well obviously because it is still being worked on as it is in closed beta.

Im hoping any blogger who 'reviews' it does so based on at least the open beta and not the closed as many changes are still being made (yes they are needed)
What do you mean "deep into the next decade"? If Blizz waits until 2012 or 2013 to release a new MMO they are going to lose their grip on the market.
Every time I read about someone being excited for Champions Online, I feel a little sad for them.

Strike out Champions Online, replace it by any other upcoming MMO, and you have my feelings exactly. If I look at people like Syp or Keen, who are always so terribly excited about some upcoming game they can't play yet, and then so terribly disappointed once they play it, I rather stick to posting opinions on games I've played.

Personally I'm not all that excited about Champions Online, but I do like the cell-shaded graphics and the superhero theme enough to be willing to try out the game for free in the open beta. Not pre-ordering, pre-subscribing, or praising on my blog anything before I've played it.

If Blizz waits until 2012 or 2013 to release a new MMO they are going to lose their grip on the market.

Starcraft 2 just got officially postponed into 2010. I think the assumption that Diablo 3 comes out in 2011, and the next Blizzard MMO in 2012 is quite reasonable. If there is one thing that Blizzard *isn't* famous for, then it is speed. A company that needs 2 years to program an expansion isn't going to announce the next big MMO this August and delivering it a year later.
I think that waiting until 2012 might be pretty dangerous for them. Any MMO they put out had better start out and stay really strong or it will be considered a failure. 2012 is a loooooong way away in video game time. That's more than long enough for everyone playing now to have completed their WoW career cycle. Most people playing WoW now will be gone by then.
@Pitrelli: If only the difference between closed and open beta was so great. This is not an alpha we are talking about though, as even a 'closed' beta is more or less a "come see our game" invite.
I'm surprised at the hate for the lifetime sub for champions, doesn't that add up to about 13 months of subscribing? There are plenty of games i played longer than that off and on, and payed more for. I'm pretty sure i'll do it if i have it to spare when it comes around, seeing as cryptic has made one of my favorites so far (City of Heroes) which i have easy payed more for. I also am one of those who doesn't get too carried away by hype and can just enjoy the game for what it is or isn't.
On a similar note, what i'm seeing from the Star Wars MMO reminds me a lot of Hellgate, where you will have a hub type area with other players, and then your "story areas" where only you and your party are. Granted, it's being made with Hero Engine, so it should be more stable (being as unstable as HG at launch is unlikely sadly), but looking at it i'm wondering why it's monthly (if that hasn't changed). Speaking of free to play, HG should have been, or with a cash shop, that might have saved it, it wasn't as bad as people make out.
Hey Welcome back Tobold, with a vengeance also I see.
I agree with you on almost all of your game choices and non-choices. And you really nailed my biggest problem with RMT through your explanation of "creating a monthly fee" by having to re-upping convenience items.

That was the biggest problem I had with Runes and when I tried to explain it, noone really got it. I guess it's all in delivery.

Also, I played Atlantica back in closed beta to release. It really is alot of fun, but then again you will run into storage issues and need to re-up monthly charges. I have always said that this is the game that FFXI should've been.

Anyway, welcome back and I'll be checking in regularly.
I'm in the very happy position that I avoided WoW for 5 years. Having finally succumbed to the Free Trial back in June I find I absolutely love it, so I am sorted for MMO action at least for this year and possibly longer.

Just as well, because the new MMOs on offer for 2009 look, frankly, dismal. I'm in the beta for one that looks ok, but I can't see anything upcoming that I'd pay for until DCUO or FFIV next year.
Great post Tobold. And thanks for linking to my Warhammer article.

F2Play Games - I am a huge fan of this business model, and my company uses it as well. With that said, I think a lot of the games trying it right now are showing their inexperience. If people enjoy your game, and if you have cool things for them to spend money on, they will spend it. You don't have to nickel and dime them constantly. The companies new to the business model will make a bad name for the model for a while, and then eventually people will learn and the model will really show its strength.

Blizzard: Video game years are very deceptive. Players think a year is a long time, but in the actual business it isn't. 2012 will be here a lot sooner than you think. It takes 4+ years to make a top quality AAA MMO these days. Rushing it gets you garbage.
@ Nate

I've just resubscribed to Lotro, and I'm up to lvl 30. Having great fun questing in small (3 people) groups, which seems to be the direction they are going with content at the moment. Also, crafting has been rejigged a bit, but i haven't played enough to notice any huge differences. The graphics are still amazing.
I'm not sure why, but I think your going to like Champions online. I'm not sure why. Just a hunch.
My summary.

WoW: I stopped playing due to lack of interest. I think I have learned everthing there is to see (apart from the odd tactical encounter). No more learning = not fun.

WHO: I stopped playing in Tier 3 due to lack of other players in zones (made RvR + PQs not possible). Tiers 1+2 were fun though.
Blizzard can take as long as they need to release their next MMO, because there's literally nothing out there to threaten them, and that's the disturbing part, because if Bioware's new MMO flops then I can safely say that Blizzard probably owns the entire genre for several more years, maybe even another decade.

And I wouldn't be surprised if Blizzard's next MMO doesn't go live until sometime in 2013, given the odds of both SC2 and D3 being delayed multiple times.

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Blizzard can take as long as they need to release their next MMO, because there's literally nothing out there to threaten them

Couldn't agree more. Don't forget that for all the dumbing down and lack of love QQ going on in WoW, with the lack of competition it will be quite some time till the cash cow depletes. And the second Bliz makes the announcment for their new MMO there will be mass hysteria.

About Aion I am not sure but as long as it is not another huge grindfest it may become a big player. I will play it because a) It's not WoW b) It's like WoW c) I enjoyed Lineage II till the grind killed my fun.
I sure hope they polished Champions Online up from the first beta. Hopefully, they did with the last pull back.
Very interesting observations about WAR. I'd agree. Had Mythic's targets been a little lower, the game would've been hailed a huge success and public view very different. Of course setting such high goals just means the fall back down is even greater.
I think a lot of people are drifting. I'm just about finishing up my drifting phase having been on a tour of quite a number of different MMOs and I've settled on Eve and SWG.

SWG, if you can separate yourself from the pain of the NGE with the distance of time is actually now quite a good game. The crafting is still fantastic and player houses shops and now ship interiors are fascinating exhibitions of creativity.

Regarding War I think Brighthub's summary was brilliant and shows really that the monthly sub wasn't ideal for that game. I think everyone here would play a few hours of War if they could just dip into it but committing to it as your main MMO doesn't work.
I understood patch 3.0 in the burning crusade. There was only few months before the expansion and Blizzard said "go gear up before wotlk hits". Right now we are in the middle of an expansion and epics are the easiest thing ever. You can get epics from running a regular 5 man. You can get decent epics from running heroic 5 man ToC. Badges now buy really freakin' good epics.

My guess is Blizzard is trying to gear everyone up so anyone who wants to down the lichking can. This is probably a great idea, but I'm sure baby bitch a lot raiders are going to complain.
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