15 March 2012

Random MMO Musings

Most of the time I strive to focus my posts on a single topic, game, or issue... well aside from the news posts obviously.  But today I just have a bunch of random thoughts on random games that I want to get off my chest.  So kind of like the title of the blog itself, you get a little bit of everything today.  Let's see... where to begin?

Star Wars: The Old Republic... Nope, don't Miss It

I have not logged into my SW:TOR account in over a week, despite the fact that my active game time does not expire until the end of the month.  I hesitate to keep "kicking" this game because I still do want it to do well, but it just really disappointed me.  And I know right now the fanbois are screaming, "But you never gave it a chance!" and The Informed are screaming, "You should have known better!"  Maybe so... on both counts.  But you know, I'm really tired of game developers and publishers pushing out half-finished games and then just expecting us to deal with it until they can patch them up later... or worse, even charging us for the "improvements" via DLC.  For all the delays and postponements, SW:TOR was still not "finished" at launch.  Many of the things we are getting now (such as the UI improvements) should have been in the initial package.  I am done encouraging laziness on the part of developers.  FINISH your damn games before you ship them. 

My other observation after a week out of the game... is that the whole "fourth pillar" attempt in terms of story emphasis ultimately failed for me.  As you know I've been playing RIFT this past week.  It's questing structure is very traditional in "themepark" MMO terms.  There is very little voice acting, no cutscenes, etc.  And I am finding I am totally ok with that.  I do not miss SW:TOR's narrative style.  In fact the more time I spend away from the game, I find myself viewing SW:TOR as insulting.  No matter how you "window dress" it with voice work, mini movies, and all the rest... in the end I am still "killing ten rats," or some variation thereof.  Now don't misunderstand my critique.  I have no problem with "kill ten rats."  But don't sugar coat it.  Just tell me to kill the damn rats.  Don't insult my intelligence with a sob story about the rats eating little orphan Skywalker's last loaf of bread and waste five minutes of my life making me listen to him tell me about it.  That's how SW:TOR made me feel.  It's a nice try.  But in the end it's all just fluff.

New Round of  The Secret World Impressions Due Tomorrow

Funcom showed off TSW again at the recent GDC gathering and tomorrow the press embargo on those demonstrations will drop.  I'm not sure what "new" aspects of the game they can show off at this point that we haven't already seen in one form or another but I suspect we'll see the last of the "starter" experiences.  The Templars and Illuminati already got highlighted, so perhaps the newbie Dragon experience will be shown.  And I'm sure they will probably have a different dungeon or quest zone to show.  None of this would be truly "new" though as we are already familiar with TSW's dungeon mechanics and questing for the most part.

Personally I am most intrigued by TSW's character creation system.  I am really hoping that it turns out to be a case of, "Simple to learn, difficult to master."  I want it to be simple enough in terms of the basics that pretty much any player can enjoy the game with their particular play style.  I don't want it to be so overly dense that you need to be conversant in Latin and comprehend particle physics just to kill mobs.  But at the same time... I want it to be deep enough to really reward players who want to dive into it and want to achieve more with their characters.  If people want to spend hours mixing, matching, and swapping skills, I want the system to reward them for that.  I'm not a "spreadsheet geek," but I do enjoy a more mild form of theorycrafting.  Playing with TSW's skill wheel could easily provide me with hours of entertainment all by itself... if they can hit that "sweet spot" of balancing simple base mechanics with deep and complex interactions.

What IS Going on at Blizzard? 

There have been a variety of stories related to Blizzard lately, from the Scroll of Resurrection changes, to Diablo 3 losing PvP, to them laying off hundreds of workers.  The question I'm left with at this point is, what in the world is actually going on here?  They have to still be making money by the truckload.  Yes World of Warcraft is losing subs, but it is still the biggest subscription MMO by far.  People will still be buying D3 in droves, with or without PvP.  And the Starcraft 2 expansion will similarly sell huge when it finally comes out.  So... what's the story?  Why are they giving away D3 (via Annual Pass) to keep people in WoW?  Why are they now giving away micro-transactions that they had stubbornly charged for for years (faction/server transfers) with the new Scroll?  And why are they laying off hundreds of employees?

I don't have an answer to this, but it is extremely puzzling to me.  Believe me, I understand the profit motive as well as the next person.  And even insofar as I feel sorry for anyone losing their job, I understand that these kind of things happen every day in every kind of business.  But when a business as successful as Blizzard (presumably) does it, it does raise eyebrows.  These actions are not typically the acts of a confident, successful business.  But all other indications are that is exactly what Blizzard is... confident and successful.  So where is the disconnect?  What is driving these decisions?  What are the factors that we, as the general public, cannot see?  Again, I don't know.  All I know is that I am left with a feeling that there is something going on here that we are not aware of.  And as big as Blizzard is in the MMO industry, where it goes, others follow.  So ultimately it will be important to all of us.



Well that should do it for now.  I am still working on putting a post together on TERA, but honestly I still have more "homework" to do on that one.  Every time I mean to sit down and dig through the available information, something else comes up.  And as it is a game that I am probably not going to play, it is easy to keep shifting that "homework" to the back burner.  But who knows, maybe when I finally get into it, I'll find out it is the game I've been waiting for all along.  Stranger things have happened.

3 comments:

  1. Why are they now giving away micro-transactions that they had stubbornly charged for for years (faction/server transfers) with the new Scroll?

    I don't know about the others, but think about the micro-transactions this way: Suppose the amount of money made on faction/server transfers is negligible compared to subscription money or the money made from cash store pets.

    If that's the case, why would Blizzard charge for those services? The answer is to put a "speed bump" in the way of the player base. To reduce the number of times people server transfer, to prevent casual server-hopping, but still offer that option for someone who really desires it.

    Under this way of thinking, giving out free transfers for a very specific purpose really does not have any effect on the money Blizzard makes.

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  2. The other thing is that the Scroll of Resurrection is targeted at a very specific audience; ex-wow players. It's not like Refer-a-Friend that has a potentially unlimited number of people who can take advantage of it. They probably have the exact number of people who are eligible for the Scroll, what percentage of them aren't upgraded to Cataclysm, etc. The server transfer/faction change perk is obviously a smart move since playing with friends is a huge factor in whether someone decides to continue playing or not. It's also restricted to the same faction/server the referrer is on, so I'm sure some percentage won't even be able to take advantage of that aspect (like if you recruit an old guildie on your server already.)

    As to the layoffs, Blizzard is still relatively new to this large-company thing. They've been around for over 20 years, but they haven't actually been a large company until WoW took off. WoW grew like crazy until 2010, so they must have been hiring like crazy for all those years. When WoW plateaued out in 2010, they probably continued hiring like they had been and have been overstaffing since then. The layoffs took them back down to where they would have been if they stopped hiring when WoW subs leveled out. WoW is still bringing in tons of money, but at this point it's the same (or less) than it was in 2010 at the peak.

    The "Free D3" thing was obviously just a way to try and reduce the number of subscription losses that had been going on the first three quarters of 2011 (which obviously worked well, since they only lost only 100k subs in Q4.

    On a non-WoW note, your blog has made me want to hop back into Rift and play around with my Cleric again. Apparently there's an issue with the Android authenticator where it won't load tokens if you've upgraded your phone OS and the only way to fix it is to call support and have then remove the authenticator from your account. Sadly that's too much work for someone as lazy as me, so I'm still playing around in SWTOR for now :).

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  3. @Kadaan:

    I'm actually glad you mentioned the mobile authenticator issue. Since I came back to RIFT I had been toying with the idea of putting an authenticator on that account since I had one for SW:TOR. Now I think I will skip it and take my chances. Sorry you ended up locked out. :(

    @Rohan:

    The "speed bump" concept is an interesting one, and it made me think of a somewhat unrelated example from RIFT. RIFT has free transfers and I know that the major AH "goblin" on my home server maintains characters on at least three other servers. He moves them back and forth buying and selling materials and "working" the AH. Now I doubt Blizzard (or Trion for that matter) care much about in-game economic issues, but it is interesting to consider what removing the "speed bump" could mean in those contexts.

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