MMOS Worth Playing: Lord of the Rings Online

The Underdogs

mmosworthplayingThis is the third week of my MMOs Worth Playing series, and at some point I am probably going to stop doing this introduction.  My focus on the games I pick is to try and choose some of the awesome titles out there that may or may not be getting as much love as I think they deserve.  No one needs to do a post on the reasons why you should be playing World of Warcraft, because there are tons of sites currently covering WoW.  However there are a bunch of games that slip under the radar for one reason or another, and my goal is to pick some of those and talk about the things that interest me about the game.  So far I have covered The Secret World and Rift, and this week I am digging up a title that I have not spent nearly as much time as I would have liked playing.  I feel like I missed the boat with this title, and at this point there is just too much content for me to ever hope to catch up.  I am talking about Lord of the Rings Online, which honestly is a quiet juggernaut of available content and things to do.

The Hook

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Shortly after posting my last write-up, someone asked me what the hook for Lord of the Rings Online was…  and honestly if that title does not inspire magical tingly feelings down your spine then more than likely this is not a game for you.  The hook of this game is and will always be that you get to wander around in the Middle Earth Setting from the Tolkien novels.  That is perhaps the first distinction I should make.  While this game draws some on the visual styling of the movies… it is very much a product of the literary source.  As a result you are going to see more of the world than you ever saw in the movies.  For example the movies cut out the entire Tom Bombadil/Barrow Downs section of the books…  and here you get to experience them in all their glory.  The Barrow Downs area was seriously one of my favorite parts of the early game, and exploring the tombs felt just like reading about the Barrow Wights for the first time.  Rolling up on Weather Top, or Rivendell is just amazing… because here is this thing that you already know so much about… that you are seeing fleshed out and made far more real.

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The biggest take away from the setting that I can give you is that it is huge, and feels more like a real world than most MMOs do.  There are all sorts of little things that draw you into the world.  When you ride past this or that stand of trees… it might scare a flock of birds to take to the air..  making it feel like this living breathing world that you get to explore.  Travel is one of the frustrations most people have with this game, in that the it requires you to memorize a series of routes that remind me quite a bit of the way travel in Dark Age of Camelot felt.  That said this also makes the world feel like something that actual people are living in… because people are messy and chaotic and pretty much buck order.  Think of your own surroundings… is it actually laid out in a manner that is consistent from town to town?  The amount of distance that you have to cross ends up slowing your gameplay down, and putting you in a mode where you are really enjoying the setting as much as you are the game.  There are so many little nuggets of detail scattered through the land that you can only see if you are not passing over them at irrational speeds.

Completionists Dream

LOTROdeedsIn many ways this game was doomed at launch by being thrown in a bucket of “WoW Clones” because honestly… the interface does feel extremely similar to the World of Warcraft standard.  However the game has always felt like a bit of a throwback to an earlier time, and a much less arcade gameplay experience.  The game has one of the more intricate and rewarding crafting systems, and I found wandering the countryside looking for nodes to harvest a pretty enjoyable use of an afternoon.  Where the game gets really intricate however is the “Deed” system, which I realize is a proper use of the word…  but for some reason I always think of housing.  Essentially every action that you can take in the game more than likely has some sort of a deed associated with it.  These deeds however are largely invisible to the user until they go to a specific area or do a specific thing.  From there it starts a completion bar explaining what you need to do to complete the deed which then appears in your log.

What makes this system interesting is that they are for all sorts of tasks.  They might involve you exploring an area and finding specific landmarks on the map and clicking on each of them, or they might involve you doing specific combat attacks a number of times.  Some of them involve you taking down a fixed number of mobs of a specific type.  Equally varied are the rewards.  This game is huge on handing out titles for damned near everything, which makes it really interesting as you roam the country side.  There are far fewer “Hand of Adal” type titles, and more intimate and custom ones.  I for example tend to rock the “Enemy of the Dead” title gained from slaying members of “The Dead” type… namely undead, wights and the sort which are one of the ancestral enemies of “man”.  The important bit from deeds is the ones that unlock your Class Traits.

This game is full of systems within systems, and the Traits are a talent point type system that falls into three categories:  Class, Racial and Virtues.  Class traits tend to increase the effectiveness of your class abilities.  Virtues are pure stat increases, and the type of stats increased vary based on the virtue you are choosing.  Finally the Racial traits are this odd mix of abilities and stat boosts that are designed to take the place of “racial bonuses” in most other games.  The end result makes them feel far more fleshed out, and gives every race in the game a specific flavor other than their visual characteristics.  The gotcha here is that in order to progress you really need to be paying attention to your deeds, because these traits end up giving you a huge boost to your effectiveness.  In theory you could probably level through the game without doing any… but it would be highly unlikely that you could actually complete any of the end game or likely even dungeon content without some focusing through these abilities.

 The Pricing Model

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Turbine with Lord of the Rings was one of the very first successful and even viable free to play pricing models.  It is a mixture of stick and carrot that no other game seems to have completely replicated.  Completely free to play characters are extremely limited in what they can do.  They are limited in their chat functionality, and the amount of money they can earn… and most importantly for me the number of bag slots they have access to.  All of the rich systems in the game are essentially on an adhoc basis forcing you to purchase wardrobe access, auction slots, and individual trait slots.  One of the interesting things about this system is that you transition from free to play status to “premium” the moment you purchase anything from the turbine store.  This unlocks a bunch of things including increasing your bag slots to five, and this essentially stays unlocked for the life of your account.  This means that once you have actually bought any of the unlocks it greatly upgrades your account making it pretty damned playable.  Granted when I have played this game actively I usually subscribe, but over the last few weeks I have been poking my head in to take screenshots and found the game play pretty viable in freemium mode.

The downside however is that I consider the Turbine store to be one of the more expensive to actually purchase anything on.  Horses are essentially $20 regardless of how you chop it by the time you factor in the mount and the actual riding skill.  Compare this to Rift where you can pick up a basic mount for only a few dollars worth of in store currency.  This was one of the first, but unfortunately it has not really taken into account the fact that other models are out there and are more equitable to the player.  They do however run a lot of store sales, and unlike most games you can actually earn turbine points by completing content in game.  Granted you are awarded them five to ten at a time.. and you need 2000 or so to unlock most of the things people would be interested in like new classes.  It does however give players the option to grind out content to earn cash shop currency to purchase things like trait unlocks and extra inventory and vault storage.  I file this system in the realm of not optimal but not nearly as “anti player” as the SWTOR free to play model.

The Community

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The game is extremely rich and interesting… but in truth you are not going to be playing Lord of the Rings Online for the game itself.  You are going to be playing this game for the amazing story that allows you to play a character in the background of this world as you mirror the events of the Fellowship.  It is like playing Star Wars but playing Wedge Antilles instead of Luke Skywalker.  You are doing super important things, but you aren’t ever going to get the kind of broad credit and fame that the stars of the show are getting.  This ends up making the quests feel all the more rich because you know a bit of back story already, and they are filling in details of the setting and giving you insider information on the world.  Even more importantly than this however… is that you will be playing Lord of the Rings online for the community.  Now I am a huge fan of communities that are active and vibrant and I tend to be drawn towards role-playing environments… even though I am not myself much of a role-player.  I currently play on the Landroval server and I have to say it is pretty amazing.

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This game has spent so much time on providing settings for the players to interact and mingle, and has quite possibly one of the coolest sub systems I have seen in any system.  There are instruments in game that can actually be played by the characters, or you can read in midi sequences from text files that then get interpreted with the in game instruments.  This allows the players to do really interesting things… like hold concerts and places like the Prancing Pony Inn in Bree are a hotbed of folks showing off.  I rolled in last night and saw the band from the first image above performing in a corner of the Inn.  Outside there is a full concert stage, and normally there is another group set up there playing songs for the passers by.  There is never a moment in any of the hubs where there is not some role-playing going on, and people have always been super open to answering questions from new comers.  In terms of friendliness I would put Landroval up there with Antonia Bayle in EQ2 and Entity in Wildstar, and that is saying a lot.  I have also heard that the Windfola server was pretty amazing… but unfortunately I believe it was a casualty of the server merges.  It seems like about half of the people I knew from Windfola are now on Landroval… and another batch ended up moving to Arkenstone.  I have a feeling that honestly whatever server you end up on, is going to be a great place to land.  The game is well worth a download and giving it some time to explore.  The biggest word of advice I will give you however is to take it slow.  This game is a much more gradual game than players are used to these days, and if given the proper amount of time to allow yourself to wander and inhabit the world… I have a feeling you will greatly enjoy your experience.

 

Developer Appreciation Week 2015 – Part 1

A few days ago my good friend Rowanblaze tagged me in his post about Developer Appreciation Week 2015.  To the best of my knowledge this event was actually started by Scarybooster, but I cannot for the life of me remember if I actually got a post in while it was going on.  If not then this is something I absolutely need to remedy.  This morning as a result my post is going to be a little contorted but I really enjoyed the format from Ravanel of Ravalation… so I am rolling with that.  Thus begins my super contorted and rambling Developer Appreciation Week post.

Funcom Games – The Secret World Team

TheSecretWorld 2013-06-04 06-15-22-12 This game is absolutely phenomenal.  I was lucky enough to get on board early and do one of the lifetime subscriptions and I have to say I have never once questioned that investment.  Knowing that it is always waiting there for me to return to the world of the Templars and the Illuminati…  makes me happy inside.  While there are a lot of interesting things about the game, the part that always floors me is just how well written the quests are in this game, and how well the whole cinematic feel of them works.  I greatly prefer silent protagonist games, because they allow me to substitute my own inner dialog into the scenes.  What is awesome about TSW is they manage to do this is a way so that the silence feels like an answer.  I desperately need to poke my head back in and try out the new combat changes, because the nightmare level content was ultimately what crushed the hopes of my group.  From what I hear a lot of these rough spots have been ironed out.

Square Enix – Final Fantasy XIV Team

ffxiv 2015-03-28 20-48-43-91 I am constantly amazed at just how damned good this game really is.  Every detail of the game has a loving care applied to it.  Once again it is the storyline that first sold me on the game.  It gave me a series of characters that felt like my party in a traditional Final Fantasy game… and then made me care about each and every one of them..  yes even Thancred.  What has kept me coming back however is just how good their content is, and how frequent their updates are.  I’ve heard that the team is only around fifteen people…  and that they are doing both the live patches and expansion development at the same time.  I am floored that they can manage to crank out a new patch every month, and major patch every few months…  all the while working on a brand new expansion?  The way they manage to make content remain relevant to the players is pure magic, because I really enjoy running low level content with friends… and making it feel like it matters again.  Last night they patched in the 2.55 content… and I am completely amped to log in and play it.

Turbine – Lord of the Rings Online Team

ScreenShot00004 If there was a list of games that I wish I played more of, Lord of the Rings Online would be near the top.  There is so much for me to enjoy in the game, even not factoring in the fact that I love the franchise behind it.  The gameplay is a bit of a throwback to an earlier era, and more than anything it has always reminded me a bit of a modern updated Dark Age of Camelot.  That said the part that has always stood out for me is just how well they have managed to create the world of Middle Earth…  everything is how I had imagined it while reading the novels.  There are so many moments like the above picture where I reach some fabled destination and I have to just stop and sit in awe that I am in this or that place.  Another strange thing that I love about this game are the horses.  They have the absolute best horse movement of any game.  As you are moving around the horse feels right, which adds so much to the feeling that you are in a living breathing world… and not just a themepark.

Trion Worlds – Rift Team

rift 2013-06-24 21-10-59-03 This was the game that finally came along and successfully dislodged me after playing seven years of World of Warcraft, and that in itself is no small feat.  What makes me love the game however is its class system.  I love being able to mix and match bits and pieces of class trees to make something unique that does exactly what I want it to do.  Especially from a tanking front, this game will always hold a special place in my heart because it was the first game to give me both charge and deathgrip in the same build.  The raid content was absolutely insane, and I greatly enjoyed the times I was able to experience it.  This is one of those games that I boot up every few weeks to poke my head in, especially now that it is free to play.  I’ve spent a lot of its four year history with an active subscription, and there is just something about the world that keeps me coming back.  With the impending release of the new Wardrobe system I am looking forward to popping back in and playing some more.  Trion was the first team to make me believe that a company could keep a monthly content release schedule, and through it all they have created some very impressive work.

SOE/Daybreak – Everquest II Team

EQ2_000009 Everquest II for me is a tale of the path not taken.  With EQ2 and WoW releasing at the same time, some of my friends went to EQ2, and I and the majority of my friends went to WoW.  That said this has been one of those games that I keep coming back to so that I can re-experience this ball of nostalgia that is Norrath.  This game has hands down the best world building of any game on the market.  I love the world of Norrath 2.0 with all its detail and quirkyness.  Sure it is not exactly how I remember it from the original Everquest, but that is part of the charm for me.  Every now and then you will be knee deep in a dungeon, and you will see some little call back that makes you realize “oh my god this is that place” that you recall from your memory, changed over time and presented in so much higher fidelity.  While I have issues with the combat system and likely always will… this is a game that I cannot seem to keep myself away from for long.  Even today EQ2 is a sort of comfort food for me… where I will hang out inside and vege out on the couch dusting off my Shadow Knight and exploring Norrath with new eyes.

To Be Continued…

I feel like I have so many developers that I want to show my appreciation for…  that I had to break these up into multiple posts.  Tune in tomorrow as I talk about several more developers.  Hopefully this will cause your own upwelling of nostalgia and end up with you posting your own thoughts in blog form.  If you don’t have a blog, feel free to use my comment space for that same mission.  There is so much negativity out there, that I believe completely in this notion of the Developer Appreciation Week.  Reach out and show your appreciation to those games you love.

Games I Want to Revisit

Tomorrow morning is going to be what seems like a frosty one.  So I am once again cheating and writing a blog post the night before I intend on posting it.  I assume in the morning I will need to spend all of my available time scraping windows and warming cars to make sure we can get in safely.  Lately I have been poking my head around Guild Wars 2, a game that I had until Pax South completely written off as “not for me”.  Since then I have reached a point of peace with the game, and actually found that I am enjoying it quite a bit.  So this morning my post will be a revisiting of games that I would like to give a second or third chance.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

swtor 2014-05-05 21-28-00-26 Star Wars: The Old Republic has the dubious honor of being quite possibly the worst possible free to play conversion I have ever experienced.  If I did not know any better, it might be absolutely functional for a new player.  That said having played the game in release and realizing just how gimped the game is without spending a lot of money, infuriates me.  Essentially I cannot bring myself to play this game without actually paying for a subscription.  I have attempted to play this game a few times since release, but never for terribly long.  My last voyage into the game was to try and play a Sith Juggernaut, since I had not really experienced much of the dark side content.  When our guild was actually playing regularly I managed to level a Jedi Guardian, Jedi Shadow, and a Trooper Vanguard…  so yes all three available tanks.  When I finally left the game I was slowly working on leveling my Chiss Smuggler.

Since then they have released several expansions each with their own story extensions.  I feel like maybe I am missing something having not seen any of this content.  That was the one thing above all else that really excelled with The Old Republic, was that the traditional Bioware story was excellent.  This weekend on the podcast we talked a bit about Kodra’s experiences with the smuggler storyline, and I have to say I got those pangs of remorse in my stomach for never having experienced it.  On top of this, there is still so much content Sith side that I have never actually seen.  The problem that I ran into the last time I played was that the questing just felt so repetitive.  These quests are very much World of Warcraft Wrath of the Lich King era in the way they are constructed.  While the storyline itself is excellent, it just felt tiring to keep trying to push through the planets.  Still all of this said… I feel like I should give it another shot.

Lord of the Rings Online

lotro Lord of the Rings Online and I have a strange relationship.  I never actually played this at launch, but during one of my many breaks with World of Warcraft I joined some friends playing it.  There are things I love about this game, and then there are things that frustrate me.  I love the community of this game, almost more than I like the game itself.  Landroval is an amazing place, and there are so many times I find myself wandering around Bree listening to player created concerts rather than actually completing content.  I’ve never been successful at trying to play this game for free, so ultimately I end up subscribing to remove the roadblocks.  There is just so much content that I have yet to experience.  Last time I played I had just made it to the Trollshaws, which I think is in my late 30s.  I greatly enjoy the Champion as far as a class goes, and found it really enjoyable to solo.  Which was super important because I have never really found a stable group playing this game.

I follow so many blog of players devoted to LoTRO and I have to say I feel like somewhat of a failure that I have never had a max level character there.  As such it sits in a unique place as far as regrets go for me.  I am sure I will end up reinstalling this game at some point, and poking my head back there to give it another go.  It has been I think two years since I last tried to play, and since then I am sure quite a bit more content has been released.  The game is full of so many special moments of nostalgia for followers of the book series.  The above picture is from Weathertop, one of these early “oh my god I am actually standing here” moments in these games.  I just wish I could clone myself and play all the games I want to play at the same time.

Neverwinter Online

GameClient 2013-05-07 06-52-12-08 When this game was released I played off and on during the first week… and then never set foot in it again.  The biggest problem I had was that while the game was a good action rpg…  Elder Scrolls Online was simply a better one.  In the weeks since joining open beta for Neverwinter and the ultimate release…  I was let into the double super secret alpha testing program for ESO.  So all of the time and devotion I would have spent playing Neverwinter, I instead poured into the alpha testing program for ESO.  As such I feel like I never really actually gave this game a chance.  I enjoyed the Guardian Fighter quite a bit, and it was an excellent mix of tank and brawler giving me the ability to do damage with my favored sword and shield.  Again the biggest problem is that I was trying to compare it to the Dragonknight Sword and Shield that I was playing in Elder Scrolls Online and Neverwinter just coming up short.

What interests me about potentially going back is the fact that not only is there official content waiting on me, there is an absolutely insane amount of player created content.  My friend Tipa from West Karana blog, has seemingly done an amazing job of recreating some of the nostalgic content from the original Everquest with the Neverwinter foundry toolset.  At some point I really want to go in and experience this first hand.  The biggest thing holding me back is the fact that firstly, I am not really sure if I can remember my account information.  Secondly Perfect World has never given me the warmest of fuzzies, and I’ve always found some of their practices to be a week bit sketchy.  Even taking these into consideration I am sure at some point I will reinstall this game and give it another go.  There is just too much left there to experience that I have not seen at all.

Defense of Subscriptions

So it is neither morning nor Saturday when I sit down to write this.  I am about to cheat massively at my one post per day thing… primarily because tomorrow is going to be pure hell.  I have to get up and around early because I have a wedding to photograph for a friend.  I am completely terrified at this prospect but I figure I will make it through one way or another.  However with all the mess going on tomorrow I simply will not have time to do my leisurely two hour jaunt through blog post land that I normally do.  As a result I am writing up my post on Friday… and since I am impatient I am going ahead and publishing it today as well.

Defense of Subscriptions

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Over the last few days since the joint announcements that Wildstar and Elder Scrolls Online will be subscription based, I have seen a lot of negativity floating around the blogosphere.  You have one camp claiming this is the revival of subscriptions, and a diametrically opposed camp claiming this is a fluke and long live the free to play revolution.  Personally I can see a place for both in the game industry and I feel like we will see lots of both in the future.  Subscriptions are not going anywhere… because quite simply put high quality games have high dollar amounts associated with them.

Most of the games we now think of today as heralds of the free to play “revolutions” started their lifespan as a full functioning subscription based game with a $60 box cost and a $15 a month subscription fee.  This is the case for the Turbine games (Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online), the Cryptic games (Star Trek Online, Champions Online), the Sony Online Entertainment games (Everquest, Everquest 2, Vanguard, etc) and the new darling of the free to play market… Rift.  Each and every one of them experienced a decently long period of selling boxes and racking up monthly service fees before ultimately converting over to some sort of a freemium model.

Purely Free to Play

I was brainstorming with my friends, and quite honestly we had a hard time listing off significant MMOs that have launched as free to play.  There is a whole string of poor quality Asian market games that are too long to ever mention.  The only game I can really think of that does not have a subscription fee or box cost associated with it is Neverwinter.  Dragon’s Prophet to some extent is in the same boat, but it is still technically in open beta… and was also an Asian market transplant with a good deal of the costs simply being regionalization.  Neverwinter is most definitely a sub par gaming experience, with a good deal of incident costs hidden into the system and at least for me… overall forgettable gameplay.

As far as buy the box we have Defiance and Guild Wars 2… both of which appear to either be struggling or at least having a good deal of growing pains.  Trion has recently set about a massive restructuring of the company that involved dissolving the offices that supported Defiance and pulling that staff into the main offices in Redwood.  Guild Wars 2 has also going through a series of changes trying to deliver content at a more frenetic pace to try and keep paying customers glued to the screens.  Additionally with each update comes a slew of items that can only be acquired by unlocking the in game loot boxes.

My main issue to date with the Defiance and GW2 experiences is that while they are rolling out regular episodic updates… they are essentially throw away experiences and are only available for a limited time.  Defiance is really too young to fully judge, but they are about to release their first real DLC pack.  It will be interesting to see just how much content that adds to the game.  Guild Wars 2 on the other hand, seems completely tied to the concept of an expiring series of “living story” events.  In neither case are they really expanding the game on a regular and permanent basis to add value to that initial box purchase.

Paying Initial Cost

Rich game worlds with hundreds of hours of content cost an extremely large amount of money to develop, produce, market and ultimately distribute.  While I was disappointed when Wildstar announced its model, because ultimately it meant the cost of entry was just too high for someone like me… that only casually had interest in the game in the first place… I fully understood the decision to have a subscription.  Box costs and subscription costs help pay off the excessive costs of game development.  It has been said multiple times that the average blockbuster game costs far more than the average blockbuster movie.  Additionally the development of the game is a much longer drawn out process that someone has to bankroll until it finally sees a profit.

Lets take Elder Scrolls Online for example and try and work through some hard numbers.  Please understand that I am creating a pure guesstimate based on what I was able to pull together from Google.  Zenimax Online studios is in the Baltimore Maryland area, so there are certain broad assumptions we can make based on average costs in that region.  According to Wikipedia they moved into their current offices in 2008, and based on the E3 PS4 presentation, Elder Scrolls Online is slotted for a first quarter of 2014 launch.  That means that Elder Scrolls Online will have in essence been in development for roughly six years at the time of launch.  Please understand I am trying to just pull together some rough figures, it might have entered development before that and potentially after that.

The Hard Costs

Over the course of those six years, if you figure an average of 100 employees made an average of $45,000 a year… you get $27,000,000 in salaries alone.  Some employees will make more, likely some employees will make less.. and over the course of those six years you would have had significantly fewer than 100 and likely now in pre-launch mode significantly more.  From google we can see that the average price of office space in the Baltimore Maryland area is around $17 a sqft.  For sake of coming up with a figure we are going to say their offices are likely around 30,000 sqft, so taking that over the course of the six years you have $3,060,000 in rent.  Factor in a leased digital internet line ($300/mo), water ($400/mo), electric ($1000/mo), and gas ($400/mo) you have a vague guesstimate of $151,200 in utilities over those six years.  Finally if you figure roughly $3000 in computer equipment for each employee, you are at roughly $300,000 not factoring in ANY servers at all.

So far in things I can quantify you are talking about a guesstimate of over 30 million dollars on only a very few factors.  There are so many factors that we just cannot come up with a number for.  For example it was said that Star Wars the Old Republic took roughly 200 million dollars to develop… and that a majority of that was voice acting time.  This is something I simply cannot come up with anything sort of an estimate on.  All the voice acting rates I found online were so widely varied that they were meaningless especially when you consider the names that folks are getting are the Steve Blum’s of the world that are sought after for damned near every gaming project on the planet.  I don’t really know how detailed the voice acting is for ESO, but every demo I have seen to date gives me the impression that the game is fully voiced… which would lead me to guess bare minimum 100 million on the hundreds of hours of voice talent.

I’ve heard before that it costs roughly 1/3 of the total cost to develop a game… the rest of the costs go into marketing and distribution.  So at this point we are already sitting at around 130 million not factoring any tool licensing costs, or server infrastructure and network costs.  If that represents only a third of the total costs of the project… no wonder games NEED to sell boxes and charge a subscription to break even… let along fund future development efforts.  Essentially a AAA game experience is really damned expensive.  If you figure a company receives at most half of the $60 box cost… it would take selling over 3.5 million boxes just to make up for 100 million of the cost.  The reason why that $15 a month is so important is they are getting the entire portion of it.

Someone Has to Pay

Ultimately if we want nice games… someone has to pay for it.  Either these huge gambles can be paid off in box costs and monthly subscriptions… or they can be financed on the backs of a handful of “whale” players.  But ultimately there is no such thing as a free ride.  Game development and game infrastructure have large fixed costs that simply cannot be justified away by a players desire to not spend a dime.  We have nice free to play experiences in essence because players that came before you… paid for the cost of going there first.  They helped to pay off the loans that these companies I am sure have to take out to bankroll this kind of protracted effort.

AAA game studios simply cannot afford to build games out of the goodness of their hearts.  They have to pay ultimately hundreds of people just like you and me to build and support the games.  These are not nameless faceless corporations… they are businesses just like the one you likely work for… with a human resources department, and social security tax deductions and payrolls to make.  This is a real job for someone, and we can’t expect them to get some beer and pizza and knock out a game in their free time.  Overall the game industry pays some pretty shitty wages as compared to the IT industry as a whole.  I know for a fact that I make well more than any of my friends that currently work in the industry… and have pretty much since my first job out of college.

It is almost expected that part of the benefits package for these folks is the fact that they “get” to make games for a living.  Thing is though… they had to gain their skills the same way all of us did, with lots of hard work and sweat equity and now they work in an industry with next to no job security… because it all hinges upon the whims of whether or not gamers like us ultimately purchase their product.  So ultimately… all of these things factored in… I have ZERO problem with the concept of buying a box and paying a monthly fee when it is something I am committed to.  My friends in the industry need to eat, and pay rent, and survive on a day to day basis just like I do.

Free to Play

The free to play model seems to work extremely well at financing the daily upkeep and expansion of an existing game.  I think it has been the savior of a lot of games that have filtered their way out of the popular consciousness and were no longer drawing in active subscribers.  It is awesome being able to fire up an account you haven’t played in years, and revisit old characters.  While you are there more than likely you will spend at least a little money on the game.  Essentially it is the model of “some money is better than no money”.  The thing is, like I said above each and every one of these games that we vaunt so highly as free to play successes all had their time of box sales, expansion sales, and monthly subscription fees to pay back the excessively expensive development costs.

Do I get frustrated when a game that I have purchased the box for… and paid multiple months worth of subscription fees goes to free to play?  Hell no… because while I might bitch and moan on a regular basis about various aspects of gaming… I LOVE the games I play.  Whatever helps a game I have cared about succeed is ultimately going to be good for me personally in the long run.  The games that reward me in some way for being there in the early days and helping pay off the huge debt a company brings with them after a game release…  I love those even more.  But I go into their free to play conversion knowing that ultimately they will be better off in the long run with incremental sales.

Additionally players who start at the beginning of an MMO will always have a tangible lead on players that start later, especially if the game converts to free to play.  You have a head start in the economy before it stratifies, likewise you understand the lay of the land and where to acquire the best stuff.  When Rift went free to play my account had so much stuff unlocked thanks to longevity of play that a starting player would not have had.  For the explorers you get the feeling of actually discovering things before they are common place and on every website.  So while you might have had to pay for the box and subscriptions, you are getting something for your trouble that no one will be able to take away from you.

The games that did not have a box fee and a subscription however have to claw their money out of you somehow.  So while I get annoyed at loot boxes and item purchases and artificial gates to my gameplay… they are just trying to survive however they can, because ultimately at launch they were millions and millions of dollars in the hole at day one.  I feel like launching as free to play is going to forever doom a game to jumping through coin slotted hoops as you play the game.  Rift right now is the best player experience but I feel like it is only that way because they had two years and an expansion of relative success to pay off and fund a fully functional staff during all that time.

Wrapping Up

So if in a few years time… The Elder Scrolls online… that I have used as an example all the way through this post… decides it is beneficial to it to go free to play.  I will greet the change with open arms, knowing that ultimately this is going to be the thing that keeps a game I hopefully will love healthy and open to the public.  Going to go ahead and wrap this up, and likely get it posted.  I hope you guys have a great weekend and that I can survive tomorrow.  Sorry for breaking my own rules and cheating a bit by double posting on a Friday… but expect that I will have a normal post on Sunday.

Wildstar Woes

Good morning you happy people in digital land.  I am trying to muster the “oomph” to do another days post.  For whatever reason since the “flood” happened, I have not been sleeping well at all.  I assume it is all the noise from the air mover fan we have had pointed at our carpet to try and dry everything out.  Luckily at this point… I think the carpet is completely dry so here is hoping that turning it off tonight will render a full nights sleep.

Wildstar Woes

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With all the recent strife caused by our washing machine and the subsequent damage… my morning posts have pretty much been dominated by that.  However in the gaming world there was quite a little shake up… at least as far as the twitter-sphere is concerned.  Monday Carbine announced the business model for Wildstar… and it was shockingly subscription based.  I think most of us in the blogging circles had been expecting Wildstar to launch as a free to play or some sort of hybrid model.  Instead we are getting a full subscription game with an implementation of the PLEX system from Eve.

Essentially all players will have to do one of two things to continue playing.  Either they will pay a monthly subscription fee, or they will purchase and consume a C.R.E.D.D. on the open market that another player has purchased speculating that they can sell it for enough in game currency to make it worth their while.  EQ2 also has a very similar system to this with the Krono, and it seems to work well enough at removing large sums of in game currency from the market.  The big negative however is that mere mortals are unlikely to ever possess enough currency to buy one of these subscription tokens.

In the games I have played that have them they usually start off reasonable enough shortly after the program launches… but over time it continues to trend upwards gaining in game currency value.  For example when I bought my first Krono in EQ2, they were selling for 500-600 platinum.  However the last time I sold one, I was able to get almost 1000 platinum for them in a few months time.  Additionally the REX token in Rift launched at around 600 platinum and now fetches roughly 1500 platinum depending on the server.  Essentially it is constantly pushed out of the reach of anyone that is not an auction house baron or a habitual gold farmer.

Killing Casual Interest

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Essentially in my experience there is really no way that anyone casually interested in a game like this can afford to buy the subscription tokens from the market.  They are stuck with subscribing to keep their access turned on.  For me my interest in Wildstar has gone from passing to pretty much dead zero.  All thanks to the announcement that there will be a subscription attached to the game.  Don’t get me wrong… I love subscriptions in games that I am really interested in.  I will happily pay a monthly fee to support the game and gain buffet style access to all its features.  But I am simply not “really” interested in Wildstar.

The problem is… in my large circle of gaming friends it seems very few players actually are.  There are a bunch of us, that likely would have picked the game up were it a “buy the box” or free to play model.  We would have given it a shot, seen what it was like in close up and maybe for some of us… it would have clicked.  But the fact that I know there is both a box cost and a reoccurring subscription fee really makes the game something I don’t want to take a chance on.   In a world where most of the games I have been playing… are free to play… that subscription fee seems like an awfully binding commitment.

Ultimately I will be sitting in the wings, waiting for the eventual switch over to free to play.  That seems to be the thing to do these days… and what started off as a way to bail out a sinking game seems more and more like an actual business model.  It feels as though there is the initial 6 month money grab of subscriptions… then a planned deployment of free to play to catch the players like me who were only casually interested in their net.  If this is really in fact a business model, it seems like a very disingenuous one.

There are players who are supremely devoted to the subscription business model.  One of my good friends Liore, has gone through a whole arc as a game she deeply cared about… namely Rift went free to play.  While she has softened to the idea of the Rift free to play implementation… since arguably it is likely the most player friendly one on the market..  she still is not a huge fan of the “death of the subscription”.  When a game company sets out to do a 6 month money grab then convert to free to play… they risk alienating all the players that are extremely pro-subscription.

Of Subscriptions

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I guess at the end of the day… my problem is not that Wildstar has gone subscription at all.  It is that Wildstar is not interesting enough to me to make me WANT to pay a subscription for it.  Granted I have yet to play it at all… so maybe the proof is in the play style… but right now having only received the publically available information I am just not interested enough to commit to it.  Additionally I seem to have a love/hate relationship with Science Fiction MMOs.  I enjoy the hell out of them for a short period of time… but the scifi genre in general seems to lack the hooks to keep me there for long.  Granted that would probably all change if a Mass Effect or Fallout MMO were ever to release.  However I highly doubt either of those would happen, and quite frankly after SWTOR Bioware should farm out the “MMO” portion to someone more experienced.

Getting back on track… I don’t see anything fundamentally flawed with the subscription model.  I pay a subscription to Rift, even though it is the best free to play model out there.  I do it because they reward me in so many ways for doing so.  Similarly I used to pay a subscription to EQ2, Lotro, DDO, etc… all of which are free to play games… because the subscription gave me something more than I could get otherwise.  Ultimately this comes down to a case of me just not being that interested in Wildstar.  The main issue with the subscription model is it turns off the revenue stream from players like me that might have bought the box if there were no strings attached.

Ultimately right now there are entirely too many good options for a player to play for no money outlay at all.  It used to be that all you could play for free were a handful of subpar eastern games.  Now you have games like The Secret World and Rift at your disposal… both of which are games I would happily pay a subscription fee for… but don’t have to.  Essentially Carbine is asking players to take a gamble on their game… by buying the box and paying a monthly subscription and I feel as though a lot of players just are not willing to do that any longer.  This is simply my point of view based on the “temperature” from both social media and blogs in response to the rather “shocking” announcement of Wildstar’s payment model.

Grain of Salt

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Essentially you can take everything I just said today with a grain of salt.  Just because I was shocked that Wildstar did not go free to play… does not necessarily mean I am opposed to the subscription model entirely.  For example… if Elder Scrolls Online were to come out tomorrow and announce that they were going to be subscription only, it would be equally shocking.  However I would care far less, because ESO is a game I am already 110% committed to playing at launch.  From the moment it was announced I have been figuratively been like Fry begging them to “Take My Money!”.  The difference is.. ESO is a title I deeply care about and have been wanting to play literally since the first time I played Morrowind.

I had played Daggerfall before, but with Morrowind I was already used to the MMO construct thanks to lots and lots of Everquest 1.  All the while I was playing the game I kept thinking… man this setting would be so much more enjoyable if I could play it co-op.  So I have been 100% sold on the concept of an online Elder Scrolls game since that moment.  Each additional TES game.. has made me want the ability to play it with my friends even more.  When I heard that Zenimax was working on an MMO, I hoped beyond all hope that it was the Elder Scrolls setting.  At this point they could charge a $200 box fee, and $20 a month subscription… and I would likely still figure out some way to play it. 

I feel however that this level of buy in from an MMO player is extremely rare right now.  We are literally deluged with really good options that cost us next to nothing to play.  The MMO climate is nothing like when WoW launched or even when Warhammer Online launched.  Players are not looking to ditch their current game for something new… they want to dip their toes in the water first to make sure they like it better.  Having both a box fee and a subscription fee sufficiently raises that barrier just high enough that a good number of players, myself included will not commit to the game unless we are completely sold on it.  For an unproven brand, from a publisher that is notorious for selling their games short (NCSoft)… it just seems like a massive hurdle to cross.

Wrapping Up

Well I need to wrap this up and get on the road.  We are taking delivery of the new washing machine today… so I am only working a half day.  Essentially I need to get to work and do a full days work in 4 hours.  I hope you all have a great day and I hope everything goes smoothly with the delivery and install of the new washer.  Last night was a bit of a mad dash around the house to try and clear room for the folks to move it into place. I think I am as ready as I will ever be.

Five Favorite MMOs

Tomorrow is going to end up being a super busy day for me, as I need to run a few errands for work… so I am doing this post a little differently.  I don’t feel like I will have enough time tomorrow to bang out a post like normal, so  I am working on this topic tonight.  I thought it would be interesting to do a post about my top five favorite games and why I like them so much.  I figured i would do this in count down style with fifth leading down to number one…  of course you can just cut ahead but lets pretend it is a surprise!

#5- World of Warcraft

2006-04-20_182329_Resized_pic I went back and forth several times on what should be my 5th spot, but as I thought about it… for sheer longevity of me playing the game, I had to give a nod to World of Warcraft.  I have essentially outgrown the game, but it does a lot of things well.  I feel like WoW is the junkfood of MMOs…  so long as you do not think about what you are doing… it is extremely enjoyable.  I played WoW as my primary game for roughly 8 years, and during most of that was the leader of a large social guild.  I have so many amazing memories and have met so many life long friends out of the game.  All of these reasons are why it at least had to make my list.

Best Features

  • People – WoW is still the game that most of the people you know are playing.
  • Colorful and friendly graphics and a world that matches them.
  • Lots of systems that allow solo players to engage in group content.
  • Game overall is extremely polished, they provide a consistent experience.
  • Roughly a decade of content and a wide variety of activities to do.

#4 – Lord of the Rings Online

ScreenShot00013 Lord of the Rings Online is one of those games that I really enjoy every time I get the bug to play it.  It is extremely immersive and brings the player into the setting surrounding the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I love the way that you are set up in the game as characters that just happen to be in the background of the activities of the fellowship.  Each step of the way you are doing events that are helping out the world, but also keeping tabs on the activity as the fellowship moves through the novels.  They do an amazing job of bringing the world to life and filling it with copious amounts of LOTR lore.

Best Features

  • One of the best communities – Landroval is amazing
  • Music system… you can play instruments in game, and players give performances regularly
  • Simple instanced neighborhood housing system
  • Hands down the best horses in any MMO… they move right
  • Breathtaking landscapes straight out of the novels
  • Intricate system within system… I admit it… I love deeds
  • Subscribing for one month permanently unlocks most features

#3 – The Secret World

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-07-07 21-28-33-32 The Secret World is such a unique experience that I feel like everyone needs to play it at least once.  Not only it is a unique system, but it also has extremely different game play mechanics.  I have always been a fan of the whole occult and Cthulhu mythos, and this entire game is essentially a love song to H.P. Lovecraft.  It also has some of the best writing and storytelling, and additionally some of the most imaginative quests.  The only negative to me, is that it lends itself to very periodic and episodic gameplay.  Each time new content is released, I run in like a locust and gobble it up.  I believe enough in this game however that before its release I became a lifetime subscriber.

Best Features

  • Unique setting and amazing storytelling
  • Unique classless game play
  • All players can learn all abilities in the game
  • Nightmare modes are some of the most challenging content I have experienced in an MMO
  • Does not hold your hand… almost to a cruel end.  Very difficult quests.
  • No Subscription Fee – buy the box play forever
  • Single Server Infrastructure – play with anyone on any dimension freely

#2 – Rift

rift 2013-06-19 20-07-48-28 Rift is likely going to be one of those games I always cycle back to playing.  Essentially it is WoW, but improved in every conceivable way.  That is probably a massive disservice to the game to say that… but unfortunately that is usually what I think of in my mind.  Since the release on a monthly basis they have improved the gameplay so that it includes some extremely innovative features.  It has really engaging content that varies from epic quests to quick fast food push a button and get into the action features.  Additionally it just went free to play, and it feels like one of the better implementations.  The cash shop has a truly staggering number of things to purchase, but all of it is completely optional.  You can pretty much experience every bit of the content apart from the Storm Legion expansion… completely free.

Best Features

  • Most customizable out of the box UI that I have seen
  • Awesome non-intrusive add-on support
  • Awesome passive grouping content like Rifts and Instant Adventures
  • Most detailed housing system – you can literally build anything
  • Extremely flexible class system with ability to have more than 6 different specs
  • Great Wardrobe system allowing for tons of custom outfits
  • Extremely interesting and challenging raid encounters
  • Really fun holidays and in game events

#1 – Everquest II

EQ2_000020 The world I will always be the most nostalgic about is Norrath.  Everquest was my first real MMO experience, and it bit me hard with a vengeance.  The big negative however is it was very unfriendly to players, and caused a massive commitment of time to get anywhere.  However with the release of Everquest II, it took the world I loved and brought it into a much more player friendly frame of mind.  This is one of those games that I have played off and on since release.. and no matter where I am mentally… this is the one game I can always play even when I don’t really feel like playing anything.  I feel like EQ2 is the most underappreciated game on the market and has so much to offer players.  It just doesn’t look as shiny as other games, and the engine definitely feels dated at times.  The game takes of commitment to understand its systems, but you will not find a more intricate and rewarding game on the market (except maybe Wurm Online).

Best Features

  • 25 unique classes
  • 20 unique races
  • Massive scale zones, dungeons, and raids
  • More content than I have seen in any other game period
  • Massive epic quest lines…  one I worked on off and on for 6 months
  • Extremely detailed housing system with the ability to have 10 per player
  • Extremely unique crafting system
  • Guild housing that actually supports guild activities
  • Antonia Bayle is one of the best RP communities – Tons of Live Events

The Runners Up

There were several games that almost made the list.  I contemplated Star Wars: The Old Republic… because quite honestly it had some really engaging content.  It however has probably the most egregious free to play conversion I have seen, so its exploitive nature knocked it off the list.  I thought about Guild Wars 2, because there is something undeniably enjoying about the game.  However there are an equal number of issues I just cannot get past to really find it something I want to play on a regular basis.  Dragon’s Prophet is a game I am really enjoying these days, but I don’t feel like I have played it long enough to really give it a spot on the top five list.  Additionally Vanguard is a pretty amazing game, but I just have not played it enough to really know its ins and outs.

Essentially I picked the five games that have shaped me the most as a player.  I hope you enjoyed my little rundown and even more so I hope it inspires someone to give one of them a shot.  Of my list only World of Warcraft lacks a free to play option.  So I guess this is really telling about where we are currently in what is a viable payment model.  I find myself cycling between the two four on a regular basis.  Right now I am mostly in a Rift mode… but I am sure I will cycle back to the others before too much longer.

I hope you have a great day, and I hope you don’t mind the change in format.  I wanted to create this post, and I knew I would not have enough time tomorrow morning to complete it all.  Additionally I am busy tonight downloading things to load up my new laptop full of games.  So essentially I had time to kill and devote to this.  I hope I get all my errands in the morning done, and get to work on time.