17 June 2012

This Just In: The Sky is Falling Edition

So first off, a happy Father's Day to all the proud poppa's out there!  This week some pretty big stories involving some big games hit the MMO wire so let's get right down to business, shall we?

Big News from the Galaxy Far, Far Away

There were two big news items involving Star Wars: The Old Republic this week.  The first was the beginning of the promised free character transfers.  As I mentioned a few days ago, this is Bioware's solution to the many low population servers that have been plaguing the game since the launch fever died off.  Unfortunately for them, I believe some of their inexperience with MMO's is showing through here.  Their communication on their long term goals and the eventual disposition of servers has been murky at best and downright confusing at worst.  Of course this is all to avoid the outright use of the term "server merge/consolidation," which is the word of death for an MMO.

Many MMO bloggers including Green Armadillo over at PvD and Keen and Graev believe that the merges will be a good thing for the game in the long term, and I happen to agree.  Anything that allows more of your players to actually play together is a good thing, and if Bioware hadn't been so ignorant in the first place and assumed that more of the "tourists" would stay, they wouldn't be in this position now.  I don't know what a stable population estimate for SW:TOR will end up being, but it is painfully obvious that the hundred some North American servers are far too many for the population that they do have.

The other bit of news from SW:TOR was a bit shocking.  Two interviews appeared where high level Bioware or EA officials commented on the game eventually adopting some form of a "free-to-play" model.  The first interview was pulled from the web shortly after appearing, but another one managed to stick around.  The more I think about it though, the less it shocks me.  Bioware and EA have a lot of experience with the microtransaction format through DLC focused games like the Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and Battlefield franchises.  So I suppose it isn't that much of a stretch that they would switch SW:TOR from a straight subscription to a "freemium" format where content updates are made available through DLC packages or free to subscribers. Heck if I could only buy the content I knew I would use and not pay per month, I might get back into the game on an interim basis.  Its story focused format actually lends itself well to such a pricing structure.  Guess we'll see where this goes.

Thanksgiving in Tyria?

The Guild Wars 2 hype train continues down the tracks unabated.  The game just had another beta weekend on the week before last, and its rabid devotees continue to drool all over the 'Net in anticipation of its release.  Well fear not fanbois, relief may finally be in sight.  Gamebreaker is reporting based on NCSoft market forecasts in Korea that a Q3 release for the game is likely, with the Thanksgiving holiday being the latest that they would anticipate the game being released.  Of course these are still just estimates, but NCSoft is a publicly held company in Korea and so they are obligated to report certain data to investors, and investment banks and stock holders make estimates based on that data.

ArenaNet is maintaining a Blizzard-esque "when it's done" stance towards the official release date of the game, refusing to commit to any specific date aside from "2012."  The "AAA" launch calendar is pretty empty for the remainder of 2012 after The Secret World hits at the beginning of July, so I can't imagine that ANet is worried about jockeying for position.  But just like SW:TOR the hype and anticipation for this game is reaching absurd levels.  And just like Bioware, ANet is partly to blame for this with their very ambitious statements about changing MMO's as we know them.  I've said it before and I'll say it again.  I'm sure it will be a good game, but I highly doubt it will be the "game changer" that people think it will be. 

Habbo Hubba Hubba? 

I wouldn't typically run a story like this, because "games" like this do not interest me at all, but the way the law interacts with online entertainment and video games does interest me, so I wanted to talk about it a little.  So there's this social "game" called Habbo Hotel.  It's kinda like... I don't know, Second Life I guess?  Like I said, I don't care about these type of things so I'm not even entirely sure how to describe them.  I suppose the best way to think about it is just a chat box with a fancy graphical interface.  Regardless, a reporter from a British television station went "undercover" into the game posing as a teenager to see what this virtual teenager hangout was like.  Well needless to say she was not impressed with what she found, describing it as "very sexual, perverse, violent and pornographic."

Her report led to several investors withdrawing their support from the game and stores to stop carrying the "game cards" that gave players points to spend in the game.  In response, the company maintaining the game and website has "muted" all chat on the site, essentially shutting the game down entirely.  The long term disposition of the game is unknown at this point.  Now I'm not going to lament the shutdown of an online porno hub, nor am I going to scorn the reporters for exposing it.  And while I am not an advocate for censorship on the web, I am an advocate of common sense.  Parents need to be aware of what their children are doing on the web, and the purveyors of web content need to be honest about what they are offering.  If a service like Habbo is going to make no effort to police its community and allow it to become highly sexualized, then they need to be honest with their users about that, whatever the consequences may be.

Tune in tomorrow for my "after action" report on my weekend in The Secret World's open beta!

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