Many of the stories that grabbed my attention this week were continuing developments of stories I talked about last week. But we do have one newcomer as nothing new is happening on The Secret World front this week. There was no "open" beta this weekend (which actually I found odd considering it was a U.S. holiday weekend. Good opportunity to snag bored gamers) so not much to report there. Instead I'll be talking a bit about the forthcoming Elder Scrolls Online. So without further ado, let's get to the rehashed stories of the week!
38 Studios Goes Six Feet Under
Last week news starting coming out about 38 Studios, the makers of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, being in significant financial trouble. Well this week it all came to a head as apparently the studio laid off its entire staff and is in the process of selling off its Big Huge Games subsidiary that was largely responsible for the development of KoA. This is particularly grim news for those of us who were excited at the prospect of seeing their MMO set in the Amalur universe, Project Copernicus. In fact over the course of the past week, several pieces of concept art and preview videos of the game starting making their way to the Internet, presumably in an attempt to reassure people that the game was still on the way as the studio was (is?) still seeking private funding to continue operations.
The gaming industry is certainly not for the timid. Everyone from the biggest players to the smallest is seemingly facing adversity these days. Whether it is Bioware laying off staff on Star Wars: The Old Republic or GamersFirst cutting Fallen Earth's dev team to the bone... no one seems to be safe. It almost makes you wonder who would be crazy enough to get into this business these days, which ironically is exactly what a lot of people said when a former baseball player in Curt Schilling went out to found his own gaming studio. I know some people will make this about politics, both the politics of governments funding businesses in the first place, and the politics of Mr. Schilling in particular, but I think as gamers we should all be somewhat sad that Copernicus will apparently never see the light of day.
Diablo 3 Sends Blizzard's Own Record Straight to Hell
On the other end of the financial spectrum, we have this news from industry stalwart Blizzard. Diablo 3 crushed Blizzard's own PC sales record to the tune of 3.5 million sales in the first twenty-four hours. Then tack on an additional million or so for people who got the game by purchasing a World of Warcraft year subscription. Of course the previous record holder was another Blizzard title, the Cataclysm expansion to WoW. So obviously gaming in general, and PC gaming specifically, is far from dead. There are definitely still success stories out there. Despite being criticized for only being playable online, and suffering through significant launch day difficulties, D3 still exceeded expectations.
Stories like this always bring out the console "trolls" who will bring up the sales numbers of the latest Call of Duty game and put down PC gaming, but it is an apples to oranges comparison. Buying a $300 PS3 or Xbox 360 is far different from dropping much more on a gaming level PC. And frankly gaming consoles are in danger of becoming an endangered species as cheaper and more efficient computers are able to handle gaming tasks, much how smartphones are absolutely killing portable gaming devices. But that is a whole different topic for another day. Suffice to say that Blizzard remains the closest thing to a "sure bet" in the gaming arena today.
The Elder Scrolls Online Details Emerge
I vividly recall after Skyrim came out how many people on various gaming review sites and blogs said, "Wow if only this game were an MMO!" Well recently we got news that in fact an MMO based in the Elder Scrolls universe was on the way and is due to launch sometime late next year. So far there have been a few specifics. The game will feature three factions, which will be a boon to PvP players I believe. And more recently we got news that the game's primary story will be 100% solo. This would seem to follow the recent trend of games emphasizing a personal story (Star Wars: The Old Republic and to a lesser degree The Secret World.) It leaves me wondering if Bethesda will learn any of the lessons that Bioware is painfully learning now. Namely that a story does not an MMO make.
Keen and Azuriel both engaged this topic during the past week with Keen arguing that MMO's should not be made into single-player games and Azuriel making the counterpoint that this is actually a positive development for the MMO genre. I will leave you to make your own judgements about who is more persuasive. For me, SW:TOR felt "soulless," but it wasn't because of the quality of the story. It was the lack of quality in the actual gameplay elements. If that story had a stronger game behind it, I would have enjoyed it much more. We will see next year whether The Elder Scrolls Online can combine a great game with a great story and make a great MMO.