04 March 2012

This Just In: Scraping the Barrel

Is it just me or was this a pretty slow week in terms of MMO news?  Perhaps it was just that the stories didn't apply to games or aspects of the industry that I watch more closely, but I felt like there really wasn't much out there.  So I had to scramble a bit to put together some links that I thought you guys would enjoy.  This week the theme might be more along the lines of "stories I found interesting" than BIG news.  Of course as always, if I overlooked something that was big to you, please let me know in the comments.  Away we go!

Blizzard Lays off 600 Staff

News hit this week that MMO stalwart Blizzard would be laying off 600 employees worldwide.  Company CEO Mike Morhaime quickly took to the intarwebs to try and placate fans that this would have no effect on World of Warcraft or on games in development such as Diablo 3 and the still mysterious Project Titan.  WoW Insider stated that 90% of the layoffs would come from non-developmental positions.  So I don't think there is going to be much consequence here in terms of impact on Blizzard's current or upcoming projects.  Although I suppose that could be a bad thing.  Considering all the hate directed at the WoW team lately, I'm not sure how many tears would be shed if Ghostcrawler or any of his minions were to get the axe.

That said, I think the telling part of this story is that no studio, no developer, no company is immune to cutbacks, layoffs, and downsizing in this cutthroat economic environment.  Here you have Blizzard, the unquestioned industry leader, the company with more paying subscribers in one game than pretty much all other subscription MMO's combined.  That's not even talking about the truckloads of cash from Starcraft and Diablo.  If a company this successful is laying people off, then no one is immune.  There are no "sacred cows."  Everyone is under pressure to do more with less.  Is this a "cultural consequence" of the merger with Activision and becoming a more corporate entity?  I don't know, but it sure makes you wonder what they do with all that income over there.

RIFT Turns the Big O-N-E

Perhaps the timing of my return to RIFT is more advantageous than simply giving me something to do for the next couple months.  Trion's MMO passed the one year mark this week and is celebrating through a massive in-game event called The Carnival of the Ascended.  If there is one thing Trion doesn't skimp on when it comes to this game, it is the world events.  Almost every major patch has been marked with an associated in-game event for players to participate in, and this is no different.  So alongside the new event and activities, there are content updates and gameplay tweaks galore as well.  And come on, who doesn't love the idea of bashing a huge dragon shaped pinata? 

The story here is just as much about Trion's attitude towards their game as it is the one year milestone.  For better or for worse, Trion is really pushing the envelope in terms of post-launch support and content addition.  Sometimes these additions are good (Ember Isle, 10-man raid slivers) and sometimes they are not so good (River of Souls world event, Chloromancer redesign) but regardless of the success of some individual changes, you have to admit that Trion makes no excuses and is continuing to add on to their game at a pace that makes most other MMO developers cringe.  People asked if they could keep it up.  Well, they have kept it up for a year now.  They seem to have the desire and the determination.  We'll see how long they can maintain it.

WildStar and the TweetQuest 

I haven't had much to say about WildStar lately, in part because I have been occupied by Star Wars: The Old Republic and in part because new information has been a bit scarce since the initial "bursts" this past summer.  Well lately the team at Carbine has gotten back into the habit of "WildStar Wednesday" community updates.  The last two have both had to do with their concept of quest creation.  I found these very interesting considering we just had a major MMO attempt to revolutionize the concept of MMO questing, albeit in a very different direction.  Here are the two articles:

TweetQuest #1
TweetQuest #2

In a sense, what you have here is the exact opposite approach from what SW:TOR attempted.  SW:TOR turned every quest giver into an actor.  It turned every "blob of text" into a cutscene.  It expanded the quest interaction experience into a fully acted out sequence between the player and the quest giver.  The idea being that in the end, the player would care more about what he or she is being asked to do.  WildStar seems to have the same sort of goal, but very different thinking.  Instead of "masking" the fact that they are being asked to do a task such as "kill ten yetis" with voice acting and dialogue choices, WildStar pares it all away.  It says, "Go kill ten yetis, here's where they are, and here's what you'll get for it," and it leaves the motivation essentially up to the player.  If you want a reason to kill those yetis, by all means come up with one.  Heck we'll even suggest a potential motivation.  But if you're just killing them for the XP/money/gear, no problem.  Fire at will, champ.

Frankly I think this is much closer to what the typical MMO player wants.  They don't want their time "wasted" with fluff.  Just point me to the yetis please.  And those players who want more, will always come up with more.  They'll dive deeper into the offered story, or they will come up with their own.  I appreciated the SW:TOR technique from a narrative perspective, but at the same time I felt almost as if I was being "insulted."  I'm still killing ten yetis, no matter how fancy you make it sound.  WildStar does away with that and I think I find it more honest.


Ok, well that covers the slow news week.  Come back tomorrow for my detailed impressions of The Secret World and why I think it will force us to again ask the question; is it possible to be a critical success and a commercial failure in the modern MMO world?

1 comment:

  1. It would be interesting to see how many employees Blizzard has/had compared to other game companies. 600 employees would be 75% of Bioware's 800 employees, but it may not even be 10% of Blizzard's total. Wikipedia lists Blizzard at 4,600 in 2009, and Morhaime's announcement made it sound like they had been hiring non-stop up until the layoffs this year.

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