Author Archives: Azuriel

Subscriptions Are Dead; Long Live Subscriptions

Tobold has a post up talking about the fate of the subscription model. Namely, that while TESO and Wildstar devs are heroically trying to swim against the F2P current, the hard numbers and future MMO releases paint a different, more bleak picture. As somewhat hilariously pointed out by commenter Mike Andrade in that post, this sort of subscription analysis appears to be a Tobold yearly August tradition, but nevermind.

Both Gevlon in the comments and SynCaine in a post come out of the gate with a rather blistering one-two retort: 1) maybe recent sub games are floundering because the games themselves are bad, and 2) where are all the F2P successes then?

Granted, SynCaine moved the goal-posts a bit by specifying “day-1 F2P,” when the facts of the matter are (likely) that subscription games that have made the F2P transition are only still online because of said transition. In other words, SWTOR and LOTRO and Aion and DDO and STO and TSW (etc) are perfectly valid examples of F2P success stories by virtue of those games still being online and profitable. That all of them would prefer the giant piles of initial subscriber cash isn’t really saying anything about the long-term sustainability of the model itself. Why would any of them start off F2P if it’s possible to not leave that money on the table?

But if we’re looking ahead, I suppose ArchAge and SOE’s flagship EverQuest Next being F2P might be potential candidates day-1 F2P success (however that ends up being defined).

The subscription counter-example a lot of people have been using is FF14, which frankly shocked me in terms of subscriber numbers. Apparently there are 2 million of them? If legitimate, that would rocket it past all non-WoW MMOs to be one of the most successful subscription games of all time. Of course, it sells for $15 on Steam every three weeks, there’s a sizable console market for the game (something not many MMOs can achieve), and it technically got a do-over that allowed it to “launch” with years of content instead of the normal zero. But still! That’s impressive.

Okay, actually FF14 has two million “registered accounts,” which is sort of like subscribers in the same way F2P games are “free to play.” Still, subscriptions! 500,000 people log on at least once per day! For now, anyway.

Ultimately, I think a lot of the subscription game musing is sort of missing the point. While there are subtle pressures involved when you look at a subscription game – worrying about getting your money’s worth even if $15/month is pocket change normally – I agree with people like SynCaine that say if a game is worth it, you’ll pay the money… to a point. Because when you are talking about MMOs, the quality of the content itself is almost a tertiary concern to retention. Don’t believe me? Then tell me how a game like WoW can get away with having zero new content from September 2013 to today and “only” lose around ~10.5% of its population. It’s the people, stupid. Yeah, there’s an underlying game space that needs to be entertaining enough to collect everyone in one spot and having fun during downtime, but how long is anyone really subscribing to a single-player game? You can have the most entertaining base game in the world, but if nobody is making those sticky social connections – perhaps because they already have social networks elsewhere – then they are just going to leave in three months anyway.

Frankly, the biggest issue with subscriptions are companies whom vastly overestimate their own popularity, and otherwise set themselves up for failure. If you budget your MMO such that you need 500,000 people paying $15/month just to survive, you’re going to have a bad time. The lower that floor is, the more space you will have to grow the audience later. Or, hell, just maintain the people you have currently.

So while I do not believe the subscription model itself is going anywhere, I do think that it’s only going to be particularly sustainable to those games which have tightly-wounded social pockets. Creating said pockets out of thin air is incredibly tough, but that’s not going to stop games like TESO and Wildstar from at least capitalizing on 6-12 months of bonus revenue they would not have otherwise had if they went with B2P and/or F2P.

Blizzard News Recap

So, hey, how about that. Leave the country for just two weeks and look what happens.

Blizzard Q2 2014 Investor Call

The big news, of course, is the fact that WoW has dropped 800k subs and is down to 6.8 million from Q1. MMO-Champion has a rather interesting interactive graph on the linked page, but let’s go ahead and take a screenshot for posterity:

Presumably there will be a soft landing at some point.

Presumably there will be a soft landing at some point.

Honestly, it is hard to add anything to that; the graph really speaks for itself. I guess it is interesting to note that we are now well below the numbers of vanilla WoW at this point. It is also interesting to note that the number of subscribers WoW lost in the last few months is larger than the total reported subs for The Elder Scrolls Online. Or Wildstar + EVE. So anytime someone happens to discount WoW as a fluke and/or “not representative of the genre as a whole,” just remember that this is a fluke on scale with the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy.

There are bigger games, of course, like League of Legends. There still ain’t any bigger MMOs. And let’s face it: there isn’t likely to ever be any.

Back to that investor call, and the unintentionally hilarious corporate doublespeak:

Starting off with World of Warcraft. The franchise remains healthy with revenues up year-over-year. This is due in part to ongoing interest in Warlords of Draenor presales, which now exceed 1.5 million, and the character boost, which suggests strong support for the expansion by the community.

Yeah, sure, I can see it that way, Mike Morhaime. Someone who purchases a(n additional) character boost is likely a person preparing to use said boosted character in the next expansion. At the same time, is a boosted character not also a vote of no confidence of all the content that it was boosted past? Shit, the expansion is not out for another three months, and this is a report of player behavior from earlier in the year anyway. I’m not one of those guys who cry over planned obsolescence, but c’mon man, this is a sword with two edges. Be careful where you pick it up.

In looking over the rest of the call transcript, most of it had to do with Destiny and Call of Duty questions. Hearthstone was a surprise darling, but we sort of knew that already.

Warloads of Draenor

Release date of November 13th. And there’s a video!

I pretty much agree with the prevailing blogging opinion that the Warlords trailer is excellent on a technical level and somewhat of a horrible trainwreck on grokkable level. Are we supposed to know who these orcs are? It might be a little racist, but I can barely tell any of them apart. And then you get the confused sympathy going on, which results in you thinking the final boss of the expansion is actually a good guy. I mean, we just saw him kill a demon and everything! To the average person watching this thing, they aren’t going to know that the final scene is meant to imply the “good guys” will soon be invading an alternate timeline in which they don’t exist, only to be pushed back into their own world again and beaten silly by 10 or 25 kleptomaniacs in silly costumes.

And when I put it like that, I still almost feel bad for them.

Then I remember that alternate timelines and time travel in general is literally the worst narrative gimmick in literature (and all mediums, really), possibly tied with “it was all a dream.” It is always total bullshit because nobody ever treats it seriously, least of all the authors themselves. Bioshock Infinite, anyone? Warlords is all just another Metzen Horde masturbation fantasy that plumbs the shockingly shallow depths of the Warcraft RTS plot in search of remaining nuggets (or crumbs thereof) which can be squeezed and bled before the swan song of an Emerald Dream expansion.

In my attempt at researching the possibility that the Warlords narrative could be saved by Naaru somehow, I stumbled upon this blog post which does a good job at asserting the fact that we might be battling high lieutenants of the Burning Legion by the end. Up to and including Sargeras. I like the research supporting that position, but again, it all highlights for me the reason why time travel is stupid everywhere. Because now there is an infinite number Sargerases, and Titans, and McGuffins such that the likelihood of the “original” world existing at all is vanishingly small. Maybe the Bronze Dragonflight are supposed to keep all that shit on lockdown, but all it takes is a single “he/she went insane” and suddenly they are attacking every reality.

…which is sort of how the Burning Legion are described. Hmm.

Nah. The writers over there aren’t that clever.

Quote of the Time Interval

 People are here to play, and being playful is good. Your steampunk goggles and bronze rocket pack get admiring looks, not confused stares and laughs. The weirdos are the Colts fans who arrived in their thousands for the game last night; why wear a blue and white jersey when you could have a fez and/or chainmail?

-Zubon

GenCon: Day Three (final)

Last day of GenCon… and all I can really think is “thank god.”

RPG: Coldsteel Warriors

I basically signed up to play with a good friend from college who successfully Kickstarted his own pen & paper RPG system. Unfortunately, I was the only one of the five people who signed up to the event to show, so we shot the shit instead. He ended up giving me a copy of the game rules to take a look at, which I shall before plugging the game itself more than I am right now.

I guess I should mention that the setting is in the Iron Age of comics, so everything is basically Watchmen minus the actual Watchmen. And everything is d10s, so it sorta feels like Arkham Horror with the success dice mechanic.

Panel: Evening with RA Salvatore

To be completely honest, I really only know RA Salvatore via the Kingdoms of Amalur debacle. I mean, I’m aware of the fact that he wrote the Sephiroth of D&D (before there was a Sephiroth), but I have read a grand total of zero of those books. Maybe I should have before getting a ticket to his panel, but too late for that.

The panel itself was just pure Q&A with himself and about 30 of us. While he talked about a number of things – including some indulgent questions regarding some characters in his books – there were a few parts that stood out to me.

First, while he was making a love letter to the original EverQuest up on the stage, he sort of reiterated one of my prior points regarding long boat rides. Specifically: “we didn’t care about the waiting times because that time was our Facebook before Facebook.” He went on to acknowledge that people are less tolerant of those sort of waits because if they want to talk to people, they’ll just tab out to Facebook.

Contrary to my sage wisdom though, Salvatore lamented that “all the grief is gone” from MMOs. Back during the 38 Studios days, he was in the conference room every day fighting for EverQuest-style penalties and such. He personally attributes that thought process to devs who have a background in customer service (which is where most designers start out at), and them thusly being afraid of complaints on forums. “Corpse runs make for the best stories.” And so on.

After that gaming interlude, he launched on a deeply compeling rant on Unreliable Narrators. I’m not going to recreate the entire conversation, but the topic stemmed from an earlier point on how the rules of English 101 are not at all similar to what’s taught in English 1001. Specifically, how the readers of today parse information is much different from how the readers of 1970 parse, and the readers of 1930, 1830, and so on. The “rules” state that you should never have to write “‘Great job,’ Bob said sarcastically” because you as the author should have made Bob’s sarcasm obvious from his personality, the scene setup, etc. Hell, you shouldn’t even have to specify that Bob was even the one who said the line; it should be clear from the cadence of the dialog.

The trouble is, according to Salvatore, that people nowadays read things in terms of messages boards, e.g. all “dialog” is attributed by default. Plus, without the in-person element, we have a much harder time interpreting sarcasm in text. He stressed that he is not criticizing the generation, he’s just pointing out that if you want to write something that speaks to the audience of today, you have to speak in a way that they can understand.

The problem is that the present environment is pretty hostile to the Unreliable Narrator element. And after some thought, I agree. I don’t quite agree with Salvatore’s ultimate concern that the lack of Unreliable Narrators means that people are slowing becoming incapable of seeing/questioning the world from another person’s perspective, but yeah, the mechanic itself is pretty tough to pull off “correctly” these days. I think the problem is that it ends up feeling like a cheap trick most of the time, an easy way to introduce a twist without needing to foreshadow anything.

Anyway, that as that. 

GenCon: Day Two

The second day was considerably less busy than the first.

Panel: Freelancing for Fun and Profit

Hosted by the “teach truck-drivers the art of cussing like a sailor” John Adamus, and cohosted by Brianna Reid. It ended up being a 2-hour panel, which I was not expecting, but the general information was pretty good. Some standard stuff like “don’t do unpaid work, ever” but they did have some specific advice for people who had questions. For example, one guy asked what he should say to people when offering his services considering his talent set is rather diverse. Answer: context of the event matters… but go nuts on your business card.

Just as with the panels the previous day, some grimaces were had by the hosts when someone asked how applicable the advice is to videogames. The resounding answer seems to be that “there is no money in videogames” insofar as freelancers/writers are concerned. I mean, it’s pretty bad when someone who entirely makes a living as a freelancer tells you that the videogame industry is all unpredictable work.

Also: the general payment rule for writing is 1-2 cents/word, creating logos should be $300, and websites should be anywhere from $1000 to $15,000 depending on the scope. Don’t work for “exposure” and don’t work for points. If anyone gives you lip, just repeat “fuck you, pay me.” …and that was basically that entire panel.

Concert: the Doubleclicks

Not much to say here; you either like these girls or you don’t. Personally, I enjoyed the songs and I have to give mad props to the lead singer for her stage presence and audience interaction.

Terrible Idea: Friday Night Live

Holy fucking shit, you guys. This was literally the worst thing I have ever sat through. Bad on us for not really researching the thing ahead of time – we kinda thought it would be similar to Saturday Night Live – but we could not be more horribly wrong. It was basically medieval comedy songs by people with zero sense of humor and/or musical talent. We snuck out after about 45 minutes (of the 2 hour show).

Other

We ended up playing some card games at the end of the night, but I think I’m going to save my impressions of them for a separate post.

GenCon: Day One

As might be expected, the general con experience might almost be too much for me.

image

10am rush.

The cosplay runs the gamut between legitimately intriguing to hilariously bad, but I can’t bring myself to document much of any of it. Because first of all, I don’t think a normal picture would be all that interesting to look at. But, second, I’m not actually that bad mannered to surreptitiously take the infinitely more interesting photos.

Panel: Game Writing 101

So this panel was actually extremely interesting given the people on it: Thomas Reid (P&P games), Christine Thompson (writer and lore person for Star Trek Online), and Maxwell Drake (writer for EverQuest Next). [edit: Matt Forbeck was also there] There was no particular agenda for the panel; the people up there just took questions from the audience.

Highlight of the panel? Maxwell came out and said EQNext wouldn’t be done for another 2 years. Not sure if that is “official” or just his impression of things, but EQN having a 2016 release kinda pushes the entire thing out beyond even my limited Kickstarter time horizon. Maxwell also mentioned that SOE is pouring more money into EQN than they have for any other game (probably not news), but he also mentioned that the SOE marketing department really doesn’t respect writing in general. Apparently he releases a story a month on the EQN lore and it’s buried deep on the website without any fanfare.

So I suppose if you want to read some more about EQN, then check it out here.

Panel: Running a Successful Kickstarter

Once again, I probably should have been more excited about this panel than I actually was, given the people on it. I didn’t catch their names specifically, but one of the guys did Zombicide and Chaos Ball (edit: David Preti), one did Dwarven Forge (edit: Jeff Martin?), a third was maybe the CEO of Cheap-Ass Games (edit: James Ernest), and I didn’t catch what the fourth guy did.

The number one piece of advice was basically to do US-only shipping, if you have to do any shipping at all. The reason is that shipping costs can be variable, some European countries are taxed pretty heavily, and you might not even know how much you’re shipping if you run “exploding tiers” in your Kickstarter, e.g. the stretch goals that gives all backers above a certain level more goodies once a stretch goal is reached. Since the panel was mostly focused on board games, there would always be some level of shipping product, but you always have to be careful regardless.

There were some additional points, but that’s enough for now.

GenCon: Day Zero Point Five

“I’d love to go to Pax South, but Monster Jam is that same weekend.”

Met the ex-Invictus crew. It’s always kinda comical and cliche, but it’s also comforting when you see these people and they almost exactly look like their WoW characters. Or at least act like them. Which I suppose isn’t all that impressive in the abstract, but whatever.

I can already tell that Gen Con is going to be a little painful though. While I enjoy my anime/Manga seasoned with a healthy dose of drama, angst, and weirdness, the awkwardness I have experienced thus far just from standing in line picking up tickets is physically painful. Like, holy Jesus, it’s sometimes difficult to tell if someone is cosplaying or if they dress like that all the time. And the random snippets of conversations! “My genes allow me to pick out child molesters.” Yeah, okay, buddy.

While I was surprised at the people I have seen thus far – they skew to the upper ranges of age, BMI, and neck hair ranges – I suppose I shouldn’t be. Who else has the money to spend ~$80 for gaming convention tickets, and then turn around and drop +$600 on hotel and other accomodations? A bunch of twentysomethings? …okay, so about half of this ex-Invictus group is around 25, but the point still stands.

Welp, all that’s left is to get some sleep, keep the hand sanitizer handy, and plow through this thing.

GenCon: Day Zero

As mentioned in previous episodes, I shall be attending Gen Con in approximately… a few dozen hours. Indianapolis is only a few hours drive away, so it’s mainly a question of which city’s rush-hour traffic I want to be sitting in. The ideal would be none of them, but I also would prefer getting to the hotel sometime before 8pm.

Although it is much too late at this point, I kinda wish I printed off some In An Age business cards. Because networking. Or something.

I have eight events I’m scheduled to see, and roughly $20 in generic tickets to spend around the show. If you have been to a Gen Con before and have some recommendations, I am all ears. Otherwise you can fully expect a meandering and completely irreverent (daily?) report about board and card games I am unlikely to ever purchase.

Sometimes I Really Hate Bioware

So hey, there is another sale on Origin right now – pretty much the entire EA catalog (all six games) is reduced by 50% or more. Know what isn’t reduced in price though? Goddamn Mass Effect DLC:

For god's sake, Bioware, get your shit together.

For god’s sake, Bioware, get your shit together.

That’s right, you can buy the entire Mass Effect franchise for $15. If you want to get all the canon DLC though, that will be an additional $64. For a 2+ year old game. For DLC that has never been on sale.

At this point I can no longer tell if Bioware is just stupid, or evil, or what. Is the nefarious plan to rope in new players at the $15 price-point and then squeeze the $64 out of the few who become super-enamored with the game? Or is the marketing department asleep at the wheel (or fired) and they just never got around to running the numbers on having a Bioware point sale? Or, you know, migrating from the goddamn ridiculous point system like every other game company?

I suppose the good news is that Casey Hudson, project director for KOTOR and the entire Mass Effect series, left Bioware last week. While I still have some sour grapes (more like sour raisins at this point) over the ME3 ending debacle, the fleshed-out endings went a long way in regaining my trust. I do not idolize content creators as a rule – individual works are the only thing that deserves respect – but this move makes it more likely that Bioware will be left with games I won’t be compelled to play, thereby making it easier to both hate them and not give them money simultaneously.

But seriously, Bioware, put that goddamn Mass Effect DLC on sale and I will buy it.

Micro Review: Usagi Drop (manga)

Usagi Drop

Usagi_Drop1

Usagi Drop is a straight-forward, endearing, and deeply compelling slice-of-life manga. It follows the travails of a 30-year old man named Daikichi whom notices a 6-year old girl wandering around his grandfather’s funeral. After asking family members, it appears that the girl, Rin, is actually his grandfather’s illegitimate daughter by an unknown mother, whom has all but abandoned Rin. As the relatives discuss putting Rin in foster care, Daikichi decides (almost on a whim) to take care of Rin himself.

As I mentioned above, this manga is slice-of-life and mainly focuses on the sort everyday considerations a 30-year old bachelor has to make in the context of raising a child. However, the scenes and scenarios presented are not being done solely for comedic effect or to evoke sympathy for Daikichi’s lost carefree lifestyle. Rather they are all the sort of mundane miracles of parenthood and self-discovery. And for any person interested in Japanese culture, Usagi Drop becomes an exceedingly intimate glimpse into everyday life over there (or at least an example thereof).

Usagi_Drop2

It is actually difficult for me to express exactly how amazing I feel Usagi Drop is. Perhaps it is because I am also a 30-year old bachelor without children that I identify so well with the primary character. But I feel like there is an undercurrent of brilliance to this manga that simply needs to be experienced. There is an inherent progression to the relationships amongst the characters, and as they grow up, you feel yourself grow up with them. I really cannot describe it any better than that.

Simply put, if you ever find yourself in need of an example of a manga to prove to someone that these aren’t all simply childish (or perverted) comic books, Usagi Drop is one that you should immediately feel comfortable offering.