22 January 2012

It's all News to Me

Welcome to the second installment of my weekly news feature.  I hope you're finding this a useful way to catch up with some of the bigger stories from around the MMO industry.  For the time being I am going to stick with the "Top 3" format as that seems to work pretty well.  Obviously if a given week has more (or less) stories of significance, we can alter things accordingly.  But for now, three seems like a good baseline to start each article from.  And so without further ado, on with the news!

EA/Bioware Ride the SW:TOR Roller Coaster

Boy it has been a heck of a week for the embattled Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Their first major content patch gets delayed.  The "unsubscribe" option disappears from their website for some.  Major PvP exploits are exposed when the content patch finally does go live.  But the aspect of this story I really want to draw your attention to comes from the financial world.  This blurb from Marketwatch sums up exactly why the MMO industry has become so stagnant.  SW:TOR is a month old.  But it has already been declared a failure in some quarters, and that declaration is already having concrete economic impacts.  No longer to game developers or publishers have the "luxury" of improving their games.  No, now you must be perfect from Day 1 or you are "dead on arrival."

The implications of this really bother me.  I'm no "fanboi" for SW:TOR.  If you've been reading my commentary, you know I have serious concerns and dislikes with the game.  But at the same time, it deserves a fair shot.  It deserves time to improve, to address its weaknesses, to add features.  And it is far from a bad game.  It has significant strengths and advantages that, given time, could round out into a fantastic MMO.  But what stories like this tell me is that games will no longer be given that chance.  If EA/Bioware can't report millions of subscribers and millions more in box sales, the investors will "pull the plug" in a figurative sense.  Companies will take even fewer risks.  Innovation will continue to be stifled in favor of tried and true alternatives.  And as MMO players, we will be left with essentially nothing but "WoW clones" on the one hand, and "Pay-to-win cash shops" on the other.  Keep a close eye on this one.  The success or failure of SW:TOR could cause a "great disturbance in the Force."

(Incidentally, Marketwatch did post a follow up article in which other investors defend EA/Bioware and SW:TOR.  So thankfully not everybody is rushing to judgment so quickly on this one.)

Diablo 3 no Closer to Launch?

Things have been relatively quiet on the Blizzard front lately, but this story regarding Diablo 3 caught my attention this week.  Apparently Blizzard is still making large, sweeping changes to many of the D3 game mechanics.  Now I'm all for stat consolidation to a certain degree.  Having to balance a dozen different stats is a nightmare not only from the developers point of view, but for us the players as well.  I know there are some people who enjoy running spreadsheets to find out whether one more point of "stat Y" will improve their DPS, but I prefer playing the game than studying it.  And there will still be plenty of opportunities for stat-heads to theorycraft things to their heart's content.

That said though, what is interesting about this story is that it is awfully late in D3's development cycle to see these kinds of changes.  The game is in closed beta and, so far as I have heard, the beta has been received favorably by those playing in it and has been proceeding well.  So it seems strange that at this juncture Blizzard would choose to alter large aspects of the game's mechanics.  Perhaps it is a response to beta feedback.  Maybe the players there found all the stats too overwhelming and so Blizzard decided to cut some of them.  Regardless of the reasoning, it leads to the inevitable question about D3's release.  Blizzard is famous for the "when it's done" release date, but between this story and the news last week that South Korea forced the removal of the RMAH, it calls to question when this game will actually see the light of day.

Personally my bet is still for a spring time release.  I'm thinking somewhere in the neighborhood of April or so.  Which would kind of suck for me because I'm already planning on picking up The Secret World right around then.  D3 will just have to wait.

SOPA, PIPA, and You

This last story isn't MMO related specifically, but anyone who uses the Internet for any reason should be aware of this issue.  I am not going to spend time and space here addressing specifically what SOPA and PIPA are.  There are plenty of other resources that can do so far better than I can.  But what I want to draw your attention to here is this story regarding the "postponement" of the legislation in Congress.  I draw your attention to it for two reasons, one good the other not so good.  The good thing here is that "we the people" actually had an impact.  These bills were expected to pass easily.  Congress is typically very sympathetic to copyright issues and this was no exception.  But as people found out how poorly constructed these bills were (as is most legislation) and opposition began to organize, Congress began to realize that they simply couldn't pass the legislation in its current form.

Which brings me to the "bad side" of this story.  If you think this legislation is dead, think again.  It will be back, and it will be back sooner than you think.  They will change the name, alter a provision or two, smooth out the language to pacify people, but the bills themselves are not going away.  They are going to try this again and they are going to try it sooner than you think.  So if this issue is truly important to you, and since you are viewing this blog on the Internet it should be important to you, then my advice to you is to keep watching.  The politicians and the supporters of this legislation are counting on its opponents not staying engaged.  They are hoping that you will think you won and they can slide this by now that you are no longer watching.  Don't give them the chance.  Keep their feet to the fire.  And if they try to pass it again, do the same thing you did this time... be active, be engaged, be involved.

I am sympathetic to the issues of piracy and theft, but in no way would I support the heavy-handed response that SOPA and PIPA propose.

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