22 February 2012

This Just In: Midweek Edition

Normally Sunday is the day for the news roundup, but this has been a busy week already in terms of significant stories in the MMO world.  So instead of waiting until the weekend and having to potentially choose between stories to talk about, I'm going to do a "special" midweek edition of the news to bring you up to date with the stories that have already come out. 

Three Bioware Developers Leave to Form Independent Studio

The first major story of the week comes from a galaxy far, far away as three developers from Bioware are leaving the company to form a new independent studio and a new MMO project.  The three developers in question were all deeply involved in Star Wars: The Old Republic and have already announced details of their new project, called Banner Saga.  On the surface this seems to be a fairly innocuous story.  After spending five years on a project, I can imagine these folks wanting to do something new.  As is always the case with high level departures, there are always whispers and conspiracy theories, but I wouldn't give them much credence in this case. 

One legitimate question to be asked however would have to do with continued development of SW:TOR itself and what impact these departures might have on the game going forward.  On that score I would suggest that EA/Bioware has enough staff and budget that any effect on the game will be minimal.  I can't dig up the quote/link right offhand, but I recall higher ups at Bioware saying they had content and concepts in the pipe for SW:TOR to carry into 2013.  So put away the tinfoil hats, and we'll just see what comes out of this new indy studio in the future.

The Secret World Gets a Launch Date

This one was big for me personally because as I said a few days ago, The Secret World is one of my most anticipated games comes out this year.  Well this week Funcom announced the official launch date for the game.  Last year they had targeted April 2012 as their desired launch window, but this announcement pushes that back to June 19th of this year.  While this is somewhat disappointing on a personal level as I now will have to wait two more months to play the game, I have no issue at all with their decision to push the date back.  As we talked about before the SW:TOR launch, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and this is a lesson Funcom should know all too well by now.

Their previous two major MMO launches, Anarchy Online and Age of Conan are regarded as two of the WORST launches in MMO history.  The last thing Funcom can afford is to get "strike three" with TSW.  In reading some of the responses to the launch date announcement, this past history is not forgotten by gamers and many are still skeptical of Funcom's ability to actually launch a game successfully.  So I say good for you, Funcom.  Take your time and do everything in your power to get this one right.  Not only because you failed in the past, but because the bar has been raised.  RIFT and SW:TOR in particular have significantly raised expectations for how the launch of a major MMO should proceed.  The launch of TSW needs to be in that same "ballpark" if they have any hopes of this game reaching that "sleeper hit" status that Funcom seems to be aiming for.

Guild Wars 2 Announces "Overflow Servers"

This story struck me as big because I haven't seen an MMO approach the issue of server loads and queues in this fashion before.  This week ArenaNet dropped a little blurb about how "overflow servers" will work.  Essentially if your native server is full and a queue is in place, you will be asked if you would like to temporarily play on a different server.  If you agree you can resume play immediately on that different server.  You are still in the queue on your native server and when you reach the "front of the line," you will be prompted that your server is available and whisked back to your "home." 

I find this a potentially fascinating bit of technology.  I will admit I have absolutely no clue have MMO servers work.  I never understood why Blizzard charged people to move around.  I simply assumed there was something technical going on that justified the cost.  Then Trion started letting people move around for free in RIFT.  And now essentially ArenaNet is saying they can move you around at will on a temporary basis to maintain a consistent gaming experience.  Maybe this is something new in terms of server technology and capabilities, or maybe ArenaNet just found a way to make it feasible from a cost/resource perspective.  In either case, this could be setting a new precedent in terms of convenience for MMO gamers, and if so, then at least Guild Wars 2 will have lived up to a small bit of its hype to "save" MMO's as we know it.

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