Where Are All the Bodies?, pt 2

Almost exactly two years ago, I asked “Where are all the bodies?” in terms of a trend of flight from MMOs. Last week, Wilhelm presented the SuperData Research group’s June report. The two slides of note are below:

Hmm.

Hmm.

Research2

HMM.

As pointed out in the comments over on TAGN, the accuracy of numbers and legitimacy of the research company itself might be in question. For one thing, neither FFXI nor FFXIV are even on that list. The absence of Guild Wars 2 makes a little sense given the criteria for inclusion (subscription option), but the others? I dunno. Perhaps they are being implied in the missing 26% of market share. Which, incidentally, covers $756 million of the total revenue on the chart.

In an attempt to compare the subscription revenue graph to the last update from MMOData.net, I got the following result:

Extremely scientific, I assure you.

Extremely scientific, I assure you.

My methodology was to squish the one graph until the years lined up. Regardless, I have a hard time imagining the precipitous drop in subscription revenue on their chart is correlated in reality. There is a very real decline in overall MMO population – we have reached the same population levels from mid-2008 at this point – but revenue can’t be that bad. Can it?

What is sorta interesting though is in the small text below the graph, which states the data was pulled from “36.9 million digital gamers.” If you take that figure and multiply it by the market share, you get 13,284,000 as the WoW population. Of course, WoW did not have 13+ million subscribers in 2013. Discrepancy! Or is it? If you assume a 5% churn rate each month, at the end of the year you are left with 7,178,143. That is somewhat close to the estimated 7.6 million from this year. In other words, it’s entirely possible that 13+ million players played WoW at some point during the year and 6 million of them cycled out.

On the other hand, when you plug EVE into that same equation, you get 1,107,000 players throughout 2013. So… maybe it’s all bullshit.

Accuracy aside, I think the takeaway from all this is twofold. First, the MMO market has clearly peaked and we are transitioning into a much lower (presumed) equilibrium. Second, it’s still surprising how money there is in the genre. I mean, look at SWTOR there. $165 million in revenue last year? It actually took this Forbes article to kind of shock me into the realization (emphasis added):

And what may be a surprise to many is that Star Wars: The Old Republic is actually #4 on the list, bringing in $165M in revenue last year. While much of the game went free-to-play after a disappointing debut, there’s still a subscription model that has made the MMO profitable for EA. Often SWTOR is regarded as a cautionary tale in the industry in terms of bloated budgets, over-ambition and emulating competitors, but looking at the numbers, the game has evolved into a profitable enterprise for EA, and has made even its massive budget back at this point.

I don’t even know if that is true for sure, but remember, SWTOR budget was somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million. So… are we still allowed to call the game a “failure?” The criteria gets a little goofy when you are making ~44% more than the paragon of subscription growth¹, EVE. We can maybe say that it could/should have earned more, but (presumably) profitable businesses really speak for themselves.

As always, I believe key to success is keeping realistic expectations and budgeting around that. If you need 500,000 or 1 million subscriptions to stay afloat, maybe you should calm your shit, Icarus. The entire market is like 18 million subs, and more than a third of those are locked down in Blizzard HQ. If you can get by with 50k or 100k, you should have no problems capturing a least a portion of the 500k+ people that seem to appear on MMO release days and leave a month later. Now more than any other time, you need to start small and work your way up.

¹ Which is more historical fact than current event. As far as I’m aware, EVE has lost subs at this point like all mortal MMO endeavors.

Japan and Gen Con

So, have an uncharacteristic amount of shenanigans going on soon.

First, a week from now I will be in Japan for ~14 days. The last time I was over there was back in 2005 during a college exchange program, so this will be quite interesting going back. I would not expect a lot of updates for those two weeks, but you never know. Beyond the normal touristy schtick around Tokyo, I do plan on stopping by things like the Ghibli Museum. If you have recommendations of similar attractions that might be interesting given the scope of this site, feel free to let me know.

Second, and possibly more relevant to our mutual interests, I will be at Gen Con 2014 this August. I’ll actually be hanging with my ex-WoW crew the majority of the time, but if you are going and would like to share an awkward greeting IRL, I’m game. And speaking of games, I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to Gen Con; the event registration page is about the most unfriendly UI I have ever seen. So if you know of interesting panels or whatever that I should check out, let me know. Seriously, ain’t nobody got time to manually browse 1558 board game events.

Oh, and I guess Blizzard is releasing the Naxx expansion to Hearthstone two days before my flight. Fun times.

Restart

Ever come back from an extended videogame break – be it vacation, work project, family thing, etc – and just have no interest in anything whatsoever? Or perhaps more paradoxically, have so many conflicting interests that you end up spending your entire free time with procrastinating activities? I have just blown a solid three hours that could have been more productively used progressing through any number of games. Instead, I’m talking to you guys and playing Dungeon Keeper. You know, that almost universally reviled app from the studio that no longer exists?

I’m actually kinda a big deal in that game. The highest ELO bracket is 3200 and I’m 3500+. I don’t actually know where that puts me rank-wise, especially because the designers were dumb and allowed people to farm rank at super-low levels for several months, but at least I’m legit.

I don't know why either.

I don’t know why either.

In any case, this post was not an elaborate ploy to humble-brag about my Dungeon Keeper prowess. Rather, how do you guys bootstrap yourself out of a post-break gaming slump?

I logged into Planetside 2 for long enough to remember why I hate-love that game (fun gunplay followed by 10+ minutes of camping empty bases) and my Wildstar log-in didn’t last much longer because, hey, Medics still feel terrible. Do you pick a game at random and just plow forward? Do you have an old standby? Or do you just give in to the ennui and take a nap or whatever?

Micro-Reviews: Beyond the Boundary, One Week Friends, A Town Where You Live

Beyond the Boundary

Beyond-the-Boundary_02

Beyond the Boundary is a 12-episode supernatural anime surrounding the troubles of Kanbara, a high school student that is half-youmu (e.g. half-spirit creature) which makes him effectively immortal. One day he meets Kuriyama, a transferred “bespectacled beauty” who nevertheless repeatedly tries to kill him. Turns out she is part of a cursed Spirit Warrior clan that makes a living killing youmu and selling the “spirit crystals” that they drop. Problem is, Kuriyama can’t bring herself to actually kill any youmu aside from Kanbara, much to Kanbara’s immortal dismay.

The series develops a more serious side as time goes on, and there are some more intricate shenanigans going on behind the scenes. The jokes were amusing, the animation stellar, and the plot perfectly serviceable. If you are just looking for something to watch and kill time, Beyond the Boundary is not bad.

One Week Friends

One-Week-Friends

One Week Friends is a rather endearing 12-episode anime that explores the somewhat novel friendship of Yuki Hase and his classmate Kaori Fujimiya. After building up some considerable courage, Yuki finally tries to ask Kaori – whom never seems to talk to anyone – to be his friend. After a week passes, Yuki learns Kaori’s secret: she loses all memories about her friends every Monday. The rest of the series deals with Yuki’s efforts in trying to get Kaori to remember him, and how they handle their relationship starting over every seven days.

I considered this anime to be well worth the watch. The premise is pretty interesting and the burgeoning relationship between Yuki and Kaori satisfying in its development.

 

Kimi no Iru Machi | A Town Where You Live

Town

A Town Where You Live (hereafter Town) is a roughly ~260 chapter drama/real life/romance manga that I really enjoyed. It follows the early high school life of Haruto as he experiences perhaps the standard harem-esque tropes of this genre: panty jokes, comical misunderstandings, and every female of child-bearing age falling instantly in love with him. Except… not really. Whether it was intentional or not, Town seems to mature in tandem with the growing age of its protagonists. There are still jokes here and there, but the background subject matter becomes as serious as the relationships it contains.

As mentioned, I really enjoyed reading Town, especially given its character progression and closure. There is a little bit of fan service sprinkled in (especially for the chapter 200 “alternate-ending” celebration), but it is not especially obnoxious about it. If you can get past the main character being a real dumbass when it comes to unintentionally leading women on, I think you’ll find it difficult to put down.

I Come Bearing Time-Sensitive Gifts

First, the US Playstation Store is having a “flash” sale on PS1 classics. There are 28 total games going for $0.99, but here are the ones I picked up:

  • Legend of Dragoon
  • Harvest Moon: Back to Nature
  • Wild ARMS
  • Wild ARMS 2

Given my pirating travails, I decided on principal to put my dollar(s) where my mouth was and purchase the above legitimately. Plus, since those four activated on the PSP, I got to test out whether it was a memory card issue or what. Turns out it might have been a memory card issue because they became corrupt files too. However, the eBay’d PSP came with a 4gb card that successfully transferred my legally-acquired goods so… yeah.

As for the rest of the games not listed, you might find something worth something. I hope you do, actually, because apparently the Playstation Store has a $5 minimum buy-in, so you can’t just pay your dollar; the rest will sit around as store credit for the next sale. Which is kind of good to know that they are willing/capable of putting those older games on sale in the first place. Alternatively, Twisted Metal: Black is pretty good if you enjoy the series at all, but I already own the actual game.

Second, there is a Humble Bundle going on featuring 2K games. What’s amusing about it is that someone fucked up which games get hidden behind the beat-the-average and flat-amount paywalls. At least, that is what I imagine is going on. For example, they put XCOM and Bioshock Infinite behind a $20+ lock… despite the fact that XCOM was like $3 in May and Bioshock Infinite was about $7.50 in March. Meanwhile, a cool Washington (that’s $1 USD for you foreigners) gets you Bioshock, Darkness 2, and more importantly The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. The beat-the-average is filled with filler that has likely filled your Steam library from a dozen similar sales already.

Now, perhaps The Bureau is as bad as they say (66 on Metacritic), but seeing as how it’s the only item on that list that I haven’t seen already in a bundle, I would say that it is worth the risk. I’m not usually so cavalier with my dolla dolla bills y’all, but the first step is recognizing how utterly insane I come across most of the time, and thus take steps to remedy the affliction. Unless the affliction is in fact buying games I likely will never play, in which case fuck that.

Hearthstone Naxx Pricing

Can I make a post via bluetooth keyboard on the deck of a beach condo with my smartphone getting 2 bars of signal? Let’s find out!

Anyway, as you may or may not know by now, Blizzard released the official Naxx mini-expansion pricing scheme for Hearthstone. Needless to say, it’s a bit convoluted. As promised, the first wing is free to everyone… who logs in sometime during the first month. The other wings are 700g apiece, or $6.99 each. Unless of course you buy them at bundled prices, which knocks it down to roughly $5 per wing.

I honestly don’t know what to think about these prices. A daily quest will reward you with 50g on average (40g is the lowest + 3 wins is 10g) so it sorta makes sense to tie things to two weeks of dailies per wing. Since the wings are going to be gated to one per week already, this means you will have a slight pressure to either purchase the later wings or fall behind, but not by too much. And this sort of assumes there won’t be any gold rewards for actually beating any of the bosses (which could go either way).

But the thing I come back to is, of course, the opportunity cost. A booster pack is 100g. So, basically it costs 7 booster per wing to unlock, with the total being 28 boosters (2800g). The lowest RMT cost of packs is $2.99 for 2 boosters. The cost of unlocking all of Naxx assuming you log on post-patch is $19.99, which is the same price as 15 boosters.

So… yeah. Depending on whether or not you are morally opposed to spending any money on a F2P* title, it seems as though your choice is either spending $20 or grinding out the equivalent of $40 worth of boosters. I can’t check my Hearthstone account at the moment, but I have around 1400g saved up, I think. Even though I am halfway there, I am not entirely sure I want to commit to a month or more of dailies all to save money and end up getting $20 less boosters.

Perhaps this is  exactly why the pricing is so convoluted in the first place; Blizzard accountants working their dark magic to get people on the fence to pony up the cash. But Jesus Christ, man, remember those days when you didn’t have to do differential calculus to figure out if something was worth buying? I suppose the good part is that I’ll be able to see if the rest of Naxx is worth getting based on the free wing first.

Then again, anyone who doesn’t end up getting all 5 wings is just going to be hosed in Constructed Ranked play. Unless, of course, Blizzard has made the expansion cards perfectly balanced and optional and not power-creep-y at all.

Yeah, about that.

What PSX games would you actually play?

So my PSX problems from the other day were mostly solved by stumbling across an emulator website that specifically had a PSX-2-PSP section that already did the heavy lifting for you in terms of format conversion. From there, I simply had to choose any of their 1301 offerings on sale to download.

And therein lies the rub: what would I actually play?

This September, I will be 31-years old. Holy shit, right? I grew up on the crest of the videogame revolution and rode it rather thoroughly until the end of the PS2. I was there to play games like A Link to the Past and Chrono Trigger and FF6 and Super Metroid while they were current. I still remember, with perfect clarity, unwrapping the Playstation for Christmas and popping in FF7 for the first time. When Tifa and Barret appeared onscreen together in the 7th Heaven Bar, my father walked by and quipped “Wow, that’s pretty progressive of them to include interracial dating.” This was in 1997, mind you. After that, I made sure to never play RPGs when other people were around.

Point being, the original Playstation era was one of unparallelled nostalgia for me. These were prime gaming years in my prime (14-17 years old). I still remember the shivers I felt when watching the promo video for Xenogears that was included in the packaging for Parasite Eve. In fact, I just spent 30 minutes trying to find that video, and I felt those same shivers sixteen years later.

Nevertheless, I sat looking at the PSX game list for a good ten minutes without selecting anything. Believe me, I understand the intoxicating effects of nostalgia and the risk one takes in replaying old games generally; not only is the game unlikely to hold up, you risk souring your memories by subjecting yourself to downright primitive graphics and design. But all of that was not actually my concern. My concern was: I still remember all these games.

For example, I was looking pretty intensely at SaGa Frontier 2 for a bit, as I remember it being a fun game with a beautiful art direction. But… I still remember the strategies I used to defeat the game, the places where I got stuck, and the end result of the progression. I’m pretty sure I remember crafting a pistol that shot rockets in Parasite Eve – and that awful final boss encounter. I have talked about Novelty being the essence of fun before, and my particular problem is that the intervening decades have not diminished my memory of the experience of these games. “Something something riding bikes,” in other words.

There were some exceptions in the list. I let out an audible squeal when I saw Tactics Ogre. That and Final Fantasy Tactics seemed perfect for this little PSP experiment of mine, as they remain games I still somehow consider fun despite knowing everything about their systems. Maybe it is because a tactical game has many more possible permutations than your average RPG battle system?  I felt no hesitation with Xenogears either, nor Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, although I’m going to hold off on FF7 until I play it via Steam.

For the rest of the list, I think what I’ll end up doing is actually picking titles I haven’t played. Enough people have talked about Legend of Dragoon to overcome my memories of renting the game and setting it down 15 minutes later. Suikoden 2 has been hyped beyond all reason, so that’s another easy one to test. Beyond that though? I dunno. I would solicit answers from you, dear readers, but I fear it would just be a bunch of “already played that” replies.

So allow me to turn the tables a bit: what PSX games would you actually play? Is there a title you would like to play again, or perhaps one you’d like to check off your bucket list? Would you even play any at all?

[Fake Edit]: The PSX-2-PSP website didn’t actually solve anything; all the PSX come up as “corrupted files” even though they are fine on my computer. It’s almost enough to drive a man to legitimacy.

PSP PSX

Way back when, Gaben of Valve and Steam fame put forth an assertion that (game) piracy is an accessibility issue, not a monetary one. In other words, the primary driving force for piracy is because companies make it difficult to legitimately use/acquire their products, and not because people don’t want to pay for them. The economic argument can’t be dismissed, of course, but the accessibility one was particularly novel for its time. The meteoric rise of Steam as a PC game platform certainly has codified the argument as a truism.

I have a series of vacations coming up soon (in fact, I’m on one right now) that will see me far from my normal means of entertainment. Indeed, one such vacation will be 2 weeks in Japan, and the corresponding 13-hour one-way flight is particularly noteworthy. So, in order to assuage my upcoming gaming withdraw, I purchased a PSP from eBay for about $60. I was going to spring for the Vita instead, but the outrageous price of its memory sticks and lack of hackability dissuaded me from a purchase. How could it really compare to a cheaper PSP with nearly a hundred of the best NES/SNES/Genesis/GBA/PSX games on it?

Well, let me tell you how: by not being a giant pain in the ass.

This is truly a First World Pirate Problem, but setting up the PSP to play original PS1 games has consumed more time thus far than I would likely play any one of them. If I sat down and devoted an entire day to copyright infringement, no doubt I could get everything set up and likely streamline the process somehow. But every minute screwing around with POPS loaders and converting .ISO files to .eBoots and wading through sketchy websites for files is another minute I’m not using my leisure time for its titular purpose.

A friend of mine had gotten on the PSP pirate train early, so I hit him up for advice. “Get a Vita.” If the news passed you by, Sony has digitized a rather large selection of PS1 classics to be purchased and downloaded from the PSN service. Much like me with PC games, I’m relatively certain that my friend’s change of heart had more to do with ease of use than necessarily a moral epiphany. Nearly 5-10 hours into this process across as many days, I am certainly pondering how much I would be willing to spend to just have everything work.

Nostalgia is expensive.

Nostalgia is expensive.

$9.99 per 700MB game that came out in 1998 that I already legitimately paid for? Tactics Ogre at $19.99?! Ehhh… let me dick around with it a little bit longer.

And on the WoW Front

There were two rather important items I would absolutely have been talking about by now, if I was still playing WoW.

First, guild levels are being removed in Warlords.

Since the introduction of the guild system in Cataclysm, the nature of guild leveling and guild perks has shifted from being a reward for dedication and collective effort, to effectively being a penalty and barrier to entry for new guilds.

To be quite frank, there was never any shift; guild leveling has always been a penalty/barrier to new guild creation. You could trace the exact moment when my old guild (Invictus) was on its way out: the night when we no longer reached the daily Guild XP cap. Everyone knew people weren’t logging on as much anymore, but that shaded bar in its purple crassness had a way about it that pierced all illusions. Not only did we understood that the guild was dying, we became acutely aware that we were falling behind. And yet, in a cruel twist, you also didn’t want to leave either. Sure, you could join a more active, new guild… and lose all the bonus Honor/Justice Points/goodies in the meantime.

I am not entirely sure whether any particular MMO has gotten guilds “right.” By that I mean crafting a system that both encourages social activity and doesn’t encourage abuse of its own systems, e.g. in zerg guilds. The most we seem to be able to hope for is for guild systems to get out of the way. Anyone have examples of where guilds were done particularly well?

Second news items is the merging of Alliance/Horde AHs on each server.

This is certainly an interesting decision for Blizzard to make. Some of the detractors focus on their lost gold-making opportunities, while still others take offense on an almost RP angle. My own opinion on large AHs have shifted considerably over the years. While it is always fun to play the big fish in a small pond, small ponds tend to dry out and kill all the fish. There is perhaps nothing as discouraging as seeing a barren AH, as that wipes out entire swaths of gameplay: the AH baron, the farmer, the crafter, the guild selling BoE raid epics to fund guild repairs, and so on. In this sense, I believe it’s a good idea.

On the other hand, something I have found equally (if not moreso) discouraging is seeing the effect of a vendor+1c economy. Guild Wars 2 was my first experience with this phenomenon, but Wildstar has creeping elements of the same thing. The cause is rather simple: bot farmers dumping mats.¹ While even the tiny Auchindoun-US had its share of bots, it was clearly more profitable to peddle their vendor-for-a-profit wares on the bigger servers. In a centralized marketplace, all it takes is one bot to ruin everyone’s day.

In any case, what is somewhat amusing is remembering back to my WoW days and how I very nearly kept a second account running purely for the cross-faction arbitrage possibilities (even on Auchendoun-US!). I have to assume things like the faction-specific mounts will remain faction-specific, but I imagine those hedge market items like green-colored Winter Clothes and such will tank. Meanwhile, I wonder what they intend to do with the goblin AHs…

¹ In fairness, there are likely several other things going on simultaneously. For example, making mats too plentiful, not having enough sinks, having crafting systems that encourage the pumping out of hundreds of identical goods, and so on. Bots will still ruin your day though.

On the Blizzard Front

Remember when I talked about Blizzard news? Seems like just… today.

The big Hearthstone news is that the pricing information for the upcoming mini-expansion, Curse of Naxxramas, was revealed supposed to be revealed today. Normally, snarky posts like mine are kind of the reason Blizzard isn’t more forthcoming with information and release dates… but, you know, Naxx is still (?) going to be released this month. While I can understand how bugs and other issues can delay something’s release, the delay on pricing strikes me as odd. Like… is there still some debate? What variables could possibly be involved?

On average, someone can earn 420g per week by doing a daily quest, er, daily. There was “leak” a few days ago on some French website that suggests 600g per wing was the pricepoint. Going by the date stamps, the leak occurred after the announcement that July 1st wasn’t going to be the price reveal, although I’m not sure whether that strengthens or weakens the conspiracy theory that Blizzard is doing some roundabout market research. I suppose things might get awkward if Blizzard ultimately revealed that the actual price was 1000g or whatever, but again, I’m not sure what a few more days gets them. Other than people stockpiling gold for a few more days and possibly using real monies to purchase packs. /tinfoil

As a note of possible interest, I pretty much stopped logging on to Hearthstone more than a month ago. While I would like to say that it was because of the current absurdly non-interactive metagame (Miracle Rogues and Freeze Mages and Control Warriors, oh my!), the truth is a bit more mundane. Specifically, I was getting tired of getting creamed by netdecks. I don’t have anything against netdecking per se – it’s largely inevitable regardless – but it sort of necessitates a specific counter-strategy I don’t find particularly compelling anymore. “Warlock daily? I guess I’m playing Zoo or Handlock.” Sure, I could skip those quests or play my own goofy deck. And I did, for a while. But 420g doesn’t seem all that much when you go 3-8 every day. So I stopped. And like any MMO, the cessation of daily log-ins heralds the end.

I’ll be back for Naxxramas though, assuming the gold price isn’t absurd.