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Daybreak Outlook Dim

In the long-term, it’s possible the “restructuring” going on at SOE Daybreak could result in a better game company. In the short-term though? Jesus Christ:

Dave “Smokejumper” Georgeson (Director of Development for the EverQuest brand, @DaveGeorgeson)
Jeff Butler (Creative Director for the EverQuest brand, @JButlerDaybreak)
Linda “Brasse” Carlson (Community Manager, @Brasse)
Akil “Lyndro” Hooper (Everquest II developer, @akilh)
Aaron “Gnobrin” Bisnett (Weapon and Armor designer for 12 years, @Gnobrin)
Douglas “Endymion” VanDerveer (Everquest II game designer, @douglastweets)
Aimee “Ashlanne” Rekoske (Community Relations Project Manager, @Ashlanne)
Eric “Felgon” Smith (Associate Producer for EverQuest Next and Landmark, @F4Felgon)
Steve “Moorgard” Danuser (Lead Content Designer and Head of Story, @Moorgard)
Tiffany “Amnerys” Spence (Social Media, @JustTiffy)
Kyle “Hats” Manchester (Community Manager, @Hats)
Racheal “Afista” McKenny ( Everquest II community Manager, @Afista)
Noah Watkins (Graphic designer, @noahwatkins)
Kelduum Revaan (Programmer for H1Z1, @Kelduum)
Katharine Anderson (Build master for PlanetSide 2, @katharinelilly)
Xander Clauss (Base designer for PlanetSide 2, @XanderClauss)
Taylor Dowell (Systems designer for PlanetSide 2, @Tayradactyl)
David Carey (Systems designer for PlanetSide 2, @dcarey7761)
Aimee “Ashlanne” Rekoske (Community Relations Project Manager, @Ashlanne)
Michael “Xelgad” Ganz (Systems designer for EQII, @Xelgad)
Jeffrey Bard (Everquest II development)
Possibly all contracted employees – Not confirmed
(source1, source2, source3)

A more structured data post can be found here.

As you might imagine, morale in the /r/EQNext, /r/H1Z1, and /r/Planetside subreddits are at an all-time low. There is a thread up by David Carey (former PS2 dev) asking people to not hate on Columbus Nova, and the arguments presented make sense in a lot of ways. On the other hand, for PlanetSide 2 specifically, it’s not entirely clear that there is another “base designer” on staff to, you know, build more bases. So what we see currently might be all we ever get. Which is… not exactly encouraging. To say nothing about the future of H1Z1 or EQN especially, assurances be damned.

Daybreak at SOE

Talk about an unexpectedly busy couple of days in MMO news.

Multiple struggling age-old companies shedding otherwise profitable enterprises for… reasons. First you have AOL unceremoniously dumping Joystiq and every blog under that umbrella, including WoW Insider and Massively. And now you have Sony selling SOE to an investment firm in what sounds like a shady back-alley deal. I mean, you’d think if it were a positive, on-the-level thing, there would be talk leading up to the deal, you know? Not just coming to work and seeing this out front:

I expect to see those letters on eBay tomorrow.

I expect to see those letters on eBay tomorrow.

There has been a lot of schadenfreude in terms of SOE/Massively bashing, but I’m not entirely sure that is the actual lede here. Sony hemorrhaged $1.29 billion last year, while restructuring itself out of the PC and low-range TV markets. While most articles mention that SOE specifically lost ~$60 million, that seems to be largely based on shuttering Free Realms, Star Wars: Clone Adventures, Vanguard, and Wizardly Online, not necessarily the profitability (or lack thereof) of SOE’s other titles. The other thing to keep in mind is that SOE’s losses are less than 5% of Sony’s total losses. So this deal seems a lot less like Sony dropping an under-performing asset and more like Sony pawning its laptop to make the rent payment.

As far as AOL goes, their primary aim these days is to sell ads, apparently.

We can suggest that the sale of SOE indicates that SOE is in trouble, but thus far the (optimistic?) indications are that its business as usual. PlanetSide 2 just started becoming profitable. No studios are being shut down (yet?). H1Z1 is… selling betas? EverQuest Next is still in the pipeline. Is there actually a better time to sell SOE to investors than right now, at the bottom of a potential growth curve? It is still entirely possible that “SOE being SOE” will ruin everything, but my point is that the sale itself is not indicative of anything in particular. Sony is about a half hour away from turning tricks on the street corner; can’t really blame SOE for that.

Well, other than the four failed MMOs closed last year, but that could happen to anyone.

One final note on the SOE thing: one of the senior managers of the no-name investment firm that bought SOE is Jason Epstein, who personally brokered the deal to buy Harmonix (Rock Band, etc) back from Viacom. While rhythm games have gone out of vogue in the US, Harmonix was still releasing games in 2014. So at least one guy knows his way around videogames.

I’m sure the true fallout has yet to start raining down, but as someone not at all invested in the outcome, I suggest keeping the wailing/high-fives to a minimum just yet. This could in fact be good news for Bitcoin SOE.

H1Z1, HotS, TESO

There have been a number of gaming developments in the past week, but I find them difficult to write about. First, because I remain distracted with the whole television vs projector search. Indeed, I went from 98% gung-ho for a projector to finding out I could get a 40″ TV for ~$205. For such a value-crazed individual as I am, it’s tough to imagine a better deal. But, projector, man. I could be playing Shadow of the Colossus on my wall, instead of on a TV a mere CD-length wider.

Secondly, I just don’t know how to feel about some of these news items.

For example: H1Z1. Much has already been said about SOE reneging on their promise of no P2W shenanigans, which the airdrops certainly were. Originally. The airdrops have since been nerfed to basically have a 10% chance of containing a pistol or shotgun, so… now what? Do we pack up the pitchforks and go home? Or do we stick around and stab some things since we’re here?

One of the terms being thrown around regarding the airdrops is “Pay 4 Content,” in the sense that buying an airdrop means luring other players to come fight you and/or others for supplies. I find it difficult to argue with that bit of cash shop jujitsu. Similar games like Rust already have random airdrops, so is there much of a difference beyond one’s ability to “advance the timer” in H1Z1?

Framed like that, it almost sounds cool. “This is boring – let’s shake things up a little.” If airdrops were exclusively a crafted or rare lootable resource, I doubt anyone would drop them out of boredom; the eccentric players would get one or two at most, instead of the effectively infinite amount they have under this scheme.

Aside from airdrops, I have been following the other bits of news from the game and it reminds me of why F2P is bad: it engenders cynicism and paranoia. For example, the looting system was described this way:

The lot [sic] system is very intelligent. It keeps track of where all the items are in the server and balances loot spawning accordingly. If everybody is all looted up and hoarding loot, then it’s time to hunt some players or steal from their stashes.

When a player logs out, the server knows that there is now less potential loot on the server and will begin spawning more. When a player logs in and puts the server over it’s limit, the server will stop spawning loot (of the kind that the player has) and you’ll need to begin fighting for it.

The first thing I thought of was: of course your looting system would be like this in a F2P cash shop game. Self-sufficiency isn’t profitable. Smedly was more than forthright in explaining the PlanetSide 2 implant nerf was intentionally done to squeeze extra cash out of players “to keep the lights on.” How would you trust any design decision under such a rubric? Your options are to imagine that SOE wanted a gritty, The Road-esque survival game with few resources, or… they’re just another exploitative F2P developer out to make a quick buck. I sure as hell don’t believe that there is a legitimate game design reason why my Town Hall takes six real-world days to upgrade in Clash of Clans, for example. Nor do I believe that Candy Crush’s candy placement/generation is entirely random either.

In the meantime though, it appears looting is getting buffed along with a number of other action items. The game is Early Access, which makes it difficult to feel justified in one’s outrage. This sort of thing is what Early Access is for, right?

Speaking of Early Access, there seems to be some internet consternation in regards to Blizzard charging $40 to get into the Heroes of the Storm Beta. Apparently, if Blizzard copies what everyone else is already doing, then… uh… er, isn’t that the standard Blizzard MO? People also seemed to have forgotten that paying Blizzard for Beta access already happened: the Annual Pass that granted Mists of Pandaria Beta access. While the Annual Pass was also tied to a “free” copy of Diablo 3, I know more than a few WoW players who bought it specifically for the Beta access.

The chances of Blizzard charging for HotS beta access having an effect on any other developer’s decision to charge for beta access is less than zero. Between Kickstarter and Early Access, the days of a privileged beta have long-since died. And even before those programs, people were selling GMail invites on eBay for hundreds of dollars. Beta access has value whether you choose to believe it or not, and I don’t begrudge these game companies cutting out the middle-man. As long as, you know, they slide me a few extra keys.

Finally, The Elder Scrolls Online has dropped its subscription and went Buy-2-Play. While such a scheme is dubious ethically, this sort of payment model trajectory could be a way out of the otherwise unfortunate design trap of $60 million MMO budgets for ~150,000 player audiences. Obviously these companies would prefer a million-plus subscribers, but chances are they wouldn’t be able to get their investment back if they released with B2P, or developed the game under a lower budget at the start. It sucks for the early adopter, of course, but life has always sucked for them.

We’ll have to see how this move plays out for TESO. The game has never been on my radar and more or less remains that way currently, even though I very much want Skyrim 2. When I start seeing it on sale for $20, perhaps I will take a closer look.

H1Z1 Pre-Alpha Early Release

So after a rather extraordinarily long amount of time, it appears as though the F2P SOE PlanetZombieSide MMO might actually be released on 1/15/15. On Steam Early Access. For the low, low price of $20, or an indeterminate amount of money if you want to alpha-test the super-secret special modes.

I am poking fun at the EA payment model – ahem, Early Access – but honestly I am not nearly as miffed as Keen. I too remember the days when game companies would ration out alpha/beta access for free… and I remember that same access commanding tremendous cash values on eBay. $100+ beta Gmail invites, anyone? So it makes perfect sense to me that a game company would see that situation and decide to cut out the middleman. They get prepaid game development, and you get a Kickstarter you can actually sorta play.

What I am infinitely more concerned about is the state of H1Z1 generally. The topics have not really changed since the last time I talked about it (“4-6 weeks away” back in April 2014…), but these days I am almost cringing at the PlanetSide 2 engine usage. Don’t get me wrong, Ps2 can certainly look really awesome. It also ends up looking extremely angular with a poor sense of physicality, collision, and ephemeral bodies. All of that is perfectly acceptable in a sci-fi FPS (especially one with 100s of people in close-quarters), but have you seen these H1Z1 streams? The outdoors look okay with the trees and hills and such, but indoors? It’s… too modular.

Perhaps these are the sorts of things that get papered over with better textures in beta or whatever, but the Ps2 vibe is weirding me out. That and the fact that it’s difficult to go back to manikin-on-a-pole style character interaction after the more grab-y Dead Island/State of Decay/etc style. I suppose the current system is more conducive to MMO design, but it’s tough to go back.

H1Z1-fit

As you may or may not have heard, SOE is coming out with a zombie apocalypse MMO called DayZ Online H1Z1. This was, in fact, what Smedley was talking about vis-a-vis the MMO that SWG veterans “could come home to.” Because… crafting? Whatever.

By the way, I’m with Syp on pronouncing H1Z1 as “hizzy.” Because just with the Xbone before it, these companies need to take a little more thought with how they name their products.

The details of the game are sketchy. Not in the ambiguous sense, but rather in the “there’s no possible way that will work” sense. Right off the top, this is a F2P full-loot FFA PvP game. In fact, the Tweets (sigh) are suggesting that the current design is permadeath, but I have a hard time imagining rerolling an entirely new character each time. I mean, if your character’s facial features and other customizations are somehow saved, is that really permadeath? Another feature is player housing that exists in the world, and people can set it on fire, presumably even while you are offline. That sounds totally reasonable, amirite? There will also be “trading,” which I understand as a euphemism for looting things off the corpses of traders. There are also no levels, which combined with the F2P aspect, seems to indicate the potential for an infinite firebombing army to reduce all player-owned structures to cinder at 4am.

Now, conceivably, these are solvable problems. Smedley has mentioned the existence of different server types, some of which will likely be PvZ-only. Some might even offer player housing protection on by default ala Minecraft. I have little doubt that we’ll also see housing immunity (or at least insurance) for 2000 Station Cash. The question mark is whether they’ll sell items directly, which could become problematic with a full-loot PvP system. “Hah, I totally ganked that dude and stole his $10 golden revolver.” [Fake edit: you keep your customization]

As a PS2 player, I wouldn't put this past them.

As a PlanetSide 2 player, I wouldn’t put this past them.

Speaking of monetization, Smedley has a Reddit thread up right now asking for ideas. No, seriously, he does. Currently, he seems pretty adamant that A) they will not be selling weapons at all, and B) they have a “preference” to not selling anything that helps with survival. Everything else is conceivably on the table… other than just asking for a goddamn subscription or box purchase. Many of the ideas so far revolve around pets, animations, clothing, and in-game advertisements ala Battlefield 2142. To his credit, Smedley shot down that last one, although ironically that would be something that made complete sense in the context of the game.

As far as the map size goes, well, here is Smedley:

I’ve seen a bunch of people asking questions about the Map size. Forgelight is built to handle arbitrarily sized worlds. Our plan is simple – we’re building the core of “anywhere USA”. When we first open it up to users the map will be huge, but nowhere near as big as it’s going to be in short order. Our Map Editing system allows us to quickly add massive areas. We want to make sure we clearly understand how the players are playing the game before we do that. On Planetside 2 we made a mistake by making multiple continents before we had a strong enough idea of what worked and what didn’t. This game is different. We’re doing it smarter. […]

So not to worry. Zombie Apocalypse isn’t going to be any fun if it’s like Disneyland on Spring Break and super crowded. We want remote.. haunting… being scared when you see someone. Your first instinct needs to be to hide. If there are 20 players in your view it’s not a very convincing Apocalypse :)

Ah. So… an MMO where actively avoiding other people is the only sane way to play. Hey, at least I already have a lot of practice doing just that.

This is the part of the post where I balance the negativity of the preceding paragraphs with some halfhearted praise. So… uh… well. I liked State of Decay? Using the PlanetSide 2 engine means they will have a quick development cycle, although it also means there won’t be any actual physics. The “play as a zombie” mode sounds like it could be fun. And… yeah. I feel kinda bad for The Forest guys, although maybe I shouldn’t – at least The Forest doesn’t feature full-loot PvP.

H1Z1 will be up on Steam’s Early Release program in 4-6 weeks for $20. Why are we paying money for the privledge of alpha-testing free-to-play games? Because fuck you, that’s why.