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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.

Bend It like Bachmann

WoW:

Update!

  • Entry into the brawler’s guild is by invitation only. Invitations can be found on the black market auction house, by invitation from somebody within the guild, and occasionally as drops from certain Horde and Alliance NPCs.

GW2:

As we watch Guild Wars 2 mature in its Live environment, we have found that our most dedicated players were achieving their set of Exotic gear and hitting “the Legendary wall.” We designed the process of getting Legendary gear to be a long term goal, but players were ready to start on that path much sooner than we expected and were becoming frustrated with a lack of personal progression. Our desire is to create a game that is more inclusive for hardcore and casual players alike, but we don’t want to overlook the basic need for players to feel like they are progressing and growing even after hitting max level. Adding item progression is a delicate process normally undertaken in an expansion, but we feel it’s important to strive to satisfy the basic needs of our players sooner rather than later.

As the occasional¹ connoisseur of a nice bottle of Schadenfreude, I must admit: this week has been delicious.

While I kind of hoped that the Blizzard folks would have stuck to their guns with the Brawler’s Guild, the original plan always seemed more informed by the source material (“The first rule of Fight Club is…”) as opposed to good top-down game design. Creating “tight knit, underground” communities by throttling access makes the non-instanced, spectator-sport aspect feasible? Sounds like double-win efficient game design… on paper. But as we all know, things that feel good conceptually have a way of not working out in practice.

Speaking of that… whoo boy, ArenaNet.

I think my favorite part of this development is seeing all the mental gymnastics. This thread on Reddit, for example, tries to turn the question around and ask “what is a gear treadmill really?” Part of the OP’s reasoning is that the proposed new tier of gear will be easier to get than, say, in WoW, where you have to contend with random drops and competition between players over what gear does drop. So… if the treadmill is slow enough, it isn’t a treadmill at all!

Seriously, at one point the OP suggested:

O… k? All I see from that quote is that there will be more stuff later. That doesn’t make it a treadmill, just another flight of stairs, if you will.

Oh to be a psychic vampire capable of feeding off this boundless optimism/denial²; I would never go without.

To be honest, I think ArenaNet’s shift is both warranted and necessary. The cessation of reasonable progression is the natural Game Over screen for me, and you run off that cliff the moment you hit 80 and load up on inexpensive Exotics from the AH. This new tier of gear both reintroduces progression and gives players a reason to play the new content more than once.

Really, it is only bad news if you hold the ArenaNet devs up to some impossible standards like:

  • “We didn’t want the endgame to be something you could only experience after a hundred hours of gameplay or after you reached some arbitrary number.” (source)
  • “If you go into a dungeon in a traditional MMO and you, you hit a wall that you can’t pass and you need better gear, you have to go to a different dungeon and play and get that gear, whereas in Guild Wars if you encounter that, you could get better gear by going to World vs. World or expanding your crafting skills or several other ways,” said Millard. (source)
  • “We don’t need to make mandatory gear treadmills, we make all of it optional, so those who find it fun to chase this prestigious gear can do so, but those who don’t are just as powerful and get to have fun too.” (source)
  • “Because, like Guild Wars before it, GW2 doesn’t fall into the traps of traditional MMORPGs. It doesn’t suck your life away and force you onto a grinding treadmill; it doesn’t make you spend hours preparing to have fun rather than just having fun; […]. It all gets back to our basic design philosophy. Our games aren’t about preparing to have fun, or about grinding for a future fun reward.” (source)

So everyone just relax. You’re going need your strength for this extra flight of stairs anyway.

¹ Shut up.
² Shut up.