The Grouchy Gamer

Yeah, I'm cranky. That's kinda the point...

Tag: Business

I’m an Idiot

I may have used that title before, because let’s face it.. In my case it’s pretty recyclable.

I’ve ranted here before about microtransactions, and the negative effects of RMT on today’s games.  I’m not a big fan.  But what I don’t like is the type of MT that gates or changes game play.  So when Blizzard announced this week that they were adding the Pet Store to their Blizzard store for use in WoW, you might expect that I would have a problem with that as well.

PandarenInstead, as you can see here, I now own one.  It’s actually fun, as people can come up and bow to him, and he will bow back.  He’ll also do some animations that are kinda fun.

I’m still not a fan of changing game play with MT.  Even the moves that SOE made this week rubbed me the wrong way, converting Free Realms from a Free To Play to a Fee to Pay.  But to me, cosmetic things like this are harmless.  If you think they are stupid, you don’t have to buy one to remain competitive or able to play.  So you are free to take a pass.  To those who say that they are too much money, I say the same thing.  If it’s too much money, don’t buy it.  You don’t need it to raid/crawl/craft or whatever you like most in the game.  It’s really something you can ignore if you think it’s overpriced.

Me, I’ve already got my $10 worth out of the little guy.  Had some fun parading him around Dalaran tonight and watching others interact or try to interact with him.

I’m interested to see what else may come along for this kind of thing.  Armor dyes, color swatches to match up all your armor, other pets?  All of this kind of thing are the least objectionable form of MT to me.  The first time they ask me for cash for a key to a dungeon or the like I’m gone though.  How about you guys?

SOE Management – Why So Clueless?

So it’s baseball playoff time, and I’m enjoying a game on TV when I get an email.  It’s from SOE.  They want to make sure that I know they are closing about half of their SWG servers.  Yeah, OK, I know that.  And they want me to know a couple other things.  To quote;

In accordance with the server closure date, the Free Character Transfer service has been extended through October 15. 2009. Between September 15, 2009 and October 15, 2009 at 4:59 PM PT all characters on the affected servers are eligible for a one way, one time Free Character Transfer* to any of the remaining thirteen (13) Star Wars Galaxies servers.

Cool!  Free character transfers!  That’s always good, especially when the server you are on may be one of the soon-to-be-obsolete variety.  Duh.  But there is more;

After October 15, 2009 at 5:00 PM PT, any characters and their associated items and structures remaining on the identified servers being closed will no longer be accessible on your Star Wars Galaxies or Station Access account.

Ouch.  OK, no longer accessible? You mean deleted, right?

But wait!  There’s more!  And this is the really good part!

To access the Free Character Transfer Service, you must login to Star Wars Galaxies with the character you would like to transfer. You will be notified that your character qualifies for the free character transfer service opportunity when you login. Eligible characters may also enter “/freects” to begin the transfer process. Only one character may be transferred at a time. Please read and respond carefully to each question and answer entry you type. All Character Transfers are considered final and cannot be reversed.

This means that there is no way to transfer your characters if you are currently unsubscribed.  I say currently because the nature of MMO subscriptions is that people come and go, then come back again.  Tarkheena and I have resubbed to SWG three separate times.

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Cryptic Studios Aptly Named on Pre-Launch Event

Champions Online

Like anyone who is interested in the MMO space, I tend to want to at least try every game that comes along.  I was a little resistant to mess with Champions Online just because from the brief time I spent with it in beta, it felt like CoX 2.0.  This isn’t a ringing endorsement.

Like a lot of people, Tarkheena and I were fascinated by the character creation though.  Add to that a lot of friends that are playing and we decided to give it a run.  I headed over to the Champions Online website to find out what the deal is with pre-order, head-start and the like.  I also wanted to find out when the game was going live.  According to what I saw there, I’m evidently just supposed to know this by osmosis or something.  There isn’t a single banner, news post, or link that would tell me when the damn thing is going to happen.

Being the stubborn sort, I refused to look elsewhere to find this news because if you are trying to sell me a product, I feel like you should effing tell me when it’s going to be available before I have to google (or Bing) it.

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Where WILL all the Money Come From?

Curt Schilling, 38 Studios

Curt Schilling, 38 Studios

Recently, Werit wondered if the MMO thing isn’t getting out of hand and whether a lot of the new MMO’s on the horizon are destined to fail because there isn’t market share for all of them.  You have to wonder if it’s not only the bloggers of the world that are wondering this.

In the Boston Globe recently, there was an article that mentioned that Curt Schilling was out pounding the pavement in search of venture capital.  Some people may be surprised to learn that 38 Studios isn’t funded by Curt with his own funds.  His family would have the right to have his head examined if he did.  Why?  Someone once gave me a really good definition of the difference between rich and wealthy.  He told me that Kobe Bryant is rich.  He said the person that signs his checks is wealthy.  Curt is very well to do, but I wouldn’t call him wealthy (unless you compare him to me, but that is another story.)

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What Constitutes an MMO Success or Failure?

FAILAs discussion on some of the blogs in the MMO blogosphere seem to be discussing the slowdown of activity in some of the WAR-dedicated blogs recently it occurs to me that there are all kinds of different definitions of what makes an MMO commercially “successful.”  While some companies look at anything less than Blizzard-Level numbers as too small, many companies are looking at smaller niches or alternate styles and saying “yes” to new game development.

So what DOES make an MMO a success in your eyes?  I think that is a complex question.  There are certainly different levels of success.  There are definitely different levels of failure.  When you see a game like Tabula Rasa close down so soon after launch, you have to probably agree that it’s a business and critical failure.  Same for games like Auto Assault.  But what of those games in between?  Certainly I’ve written enough about how big a DISAPPOINTMENT Vanguard turned out to be, but with a dedicated team still working on it and a small but loyal customer base you may be able to successfully argue that it’s not a total failure.  Certainly the economy of scale that SOE has working allows for some marginal games by today’s standards to stay open and running.  Whether the publisher thinks a game is successful or not is certainly dependent on the investment they have in it and how profitable it remains.

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What is going to be The Next Big Thing in MMO’s?

NEW!After watching the road littered with the bodies of the would-be kings of the MMO world over the last few years, and seeing the size of the PC Game section at the local Fry’s and Best Buy shrink and get less interesting, I have come to wonder what Will Be Next.  While Tarkheena and I continue to play World of Warcraft, and enjoy it, I long for something new and exciting like most of you probably do.  Run-on sentences aside, the outlook for the Next Big Thing is bleak.

We’ve seen Vanguard (for well-documented resons), AoC, and WAR fail (Yes, I know it’s still got a following, but I don’t think it’s what they expected, or even close) over the last 2 years.  Even the “success” of games like EQ2 and EVE are niche and not mainstream.  So who are the contenders for the throne?  Let’s have a quick look at who I’m going to be keeping my eye on over the next couple of years.

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Don’t Discount the Voice of the Gamer re: DRM

SPOREBack in July, I wrote about the plans EA had to include the SecuROM “Digital Rights Management” rootkit with Spore when it shipped.  I was not the only one who wrote about this to be sure, but the voices of the masses got EA to back down.  A little bit.  In the end, they went ahead and limited you to 3 installs of the game and included SecuROM.

Well the gaming community has spoken with one voice on how it feels about EA and SecurROM.  In spite of Spore being, by all accounts, a wonderful product it now has a user rating of 1 out of 5 stars on  Looking at the Spore review page, it appears that over 1000 people have rated the game with 1 star due to the included DRM. A cursory view of some of the reviews found them to be thoughtful and well-reasoned.  Some examples;

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Forget Bartle, How About Garriott, McQuaid and Koster?

The last generation of game designers are irrelevant.

There. I said it.

As I drove past the Austin offices of NCSoft today, as I do every day on my way to work, I started thinking about Richard Garriott.  That brought my thoughts to Brad McQuaid, then to Raph Koster.  These were the last generation of online gaming’s luminaries.

One thing occurred to me as I thought about these “giants” of the MMO industry. Here’s a list of their successful games this year.

No, that isn’t really fair.  This millennium;

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Free to Play Forever? Fury Closing

Free Forever?Over at Nerfbat, Ryan links to the Fury forums with an announcement that Fury is closing in 48 hours.  I feel bad for people that worked on the game as well as the people who enjoyed playing it.  I agree with Ryan that there is always sadness when a game completely goes away.

I’m seeing a TON of these free to download, free to play games lately though.  Unless I’m missing something there is a kind of a repeat of the dot com boom and bust cycle repeating itself in the gaming industry now.  There seem to be a lot of game companies whose business plan is “we’ll figure out how to monetize it later.”  To me, if they aren’t asking for payment for a box (or digital download,) a subscription, ad revenue support, or an obvious microtransaction model then I am just not going to put any emotional capital into it.  I can’t believe that investors are putting real capital into these companies, but the development resources are obviously coming from somewhere.

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Vanguard Launch Disaster a Fluke, Shouldn’t Hamper Newer MMO’s

I was reading a blog post by Tipa over at West Karana tonight and it got me to thinking about what it was that made Vanguard thud so thunderously and why that shouldn’t affect competent publishers that are going to publish a new MMO. I really respect Tipa’s opinions on MMOs although I don’t always agree with her prognoses. I’ve known Tipa forever, as we were guilded together in EQ and remember even then her zest for the game and that is evident in her blog. But I digress…

So why shouldn’t we be concerned that Vanguard pissed in the MMO bathwater? Because it was an anomaly. Now I can’t speak to the other MMOs that have failed to launch or stick over the last couple of years, but I can speak to Vanguard. The problem with Vanguard and Sigil wan’t a lack of ideas or a viable idea or design. It wasn’t a poor implementation of the art department’s vision. It wasn’t that Brad’s Vision <TM> was flawed or that Jeff Butler didn’t have great ideas. I spent 45 minutes at the last real E3 just talking with Jeff about what he wanted to see in the game. Not only was the stuff cool, but you could see that even at that late date, he had a real passion for the game and what he wanted to make it be. Did they bite off more than they could chew, design-wise? Probably. They could have let the cool stuff out in dribbles, giving us updates and awesome new stuff in expansions. Were they overly ambitious? Probably. Were they in over their heads? Definitely.

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Sony, what’s that flushing sound?

Sony is sick, and the heads aren’t done rolling over at SOE. Maybe Sony should change the name of the company to Woe. It seems it would be more in keeping with the way things are going for the Japanese electronics giant. This week, a source with connections deep within SOE told me that preparations are being made for the departure of John Smedley. I know that is breaking a lot of you up. Choke back the tears for a second. Smed has been at SOE for a long time. And you can’t say he hasn’t accomplished something. Clearly we can’t lay all of Sony’s woes at Smed’s feet, but let’s do a little inventory of how things have been going for Sony.

It’s the early 90’s and Sony is all but ubiquitous. They are a market leader in stereo components, VCR, video cameras, and several other consumer electronic devices. Sony’s Walkman and Discman portable tape and CD players are dominant in the market they created. They probably made a bunch of cool shit I can’t even remember.

Late 90’s, and the PlayStation is HOT. It’s the must-have console for the home gamer. Sony owns the licensing for the games, and so has a continuous revenue stream for it’s intellectual properties. Discman is now IT for portable music players. Sony’s Vega televisions are the top rated sets on the mass market. Sony is beginning to have a real presence in media, with motion picture, gaming, and record label properties. Verant Interactive finds a golden vein in continuing subscription revenue with Everquest.

From the very beginning of this decade, the Sony façade starts to crumble. Competing products are challenging Sony’s dominance in almost every one of their traditional markets. Some highlights;

Apple computer not only takes Sony’s lunch money by taking their leadership in a market Sony made, portable media, but stomps a big-ass mud hole in them.

SOE starts to bleed customers from EQ for, of all things, DAoC. This might be the first indication that their subscribers are sick and tired, and they aren’t going to take it any more. Sony seems to believe that the MMO market is a niche that has capped out at around 250-400 k subscribers. OK, then. By the end of 2006, world-wide subscriptions for MMO will probably be at around 10 million. This is including the Chinese subscriptions, which are done on a day-to-day basis, and are much easier to cancel. By my reckoning (as we say in Texas,) Sony has a whopping 4% share of that. That’s down from their 50-plus share they held at one time. Hell, Blizzard has 10x the base that Sony ever had in a game.

SOE so royally screws up Star Wars: Galaxies that the ungodly loyal user base there that has stuck with them through think and thin for a couple of years finally tells them where that Wookie can shove that light saber.

Sony publishes CD’s with a root kit on them, and forgets to tell us how to remove them. Because you can’t. And they hope you didn’t need that CD drive for anything else now, did you?

Sony announces that they have delayed their new console until after the first of they year on 2007. Xbox is kicking Sony’s arse. I’m willing to bet that within a couple months after launch, Microsoft will announce that they now have more people subscribed to Xbox live than Sony has sold PS-3’s.

Sony announces that Blu-Ray isn’t quite ready juuuust yet.

Sony stops making the PS-1.

And today, it was announced that the movie industry is going to discontinue publishing movies on the UMD format, which is the only thing that ever sold any PSP’s. That one had to be hard to screw up that bad.

What happened to Sony? It’s my opinion that they just got too damn big, and started to think that they were somebody. They should have remembered that people came to love them for being innovative, smart, and fast to market. That was the old Sony. Today’s Sony is big, fat, and stupid. Except for the stupid part, is just like me. And I won’t be dominating the world any time soon.

Bye Sony, we hardly knew ye.

The Defacation is Impacting the Thermantidote at Sony

Well the rumors continue to fly about what is going on over at SOE. Only one thing is for sure, and that is that Raph Koster is out over there. Other rumors regarding the company include that Raph’s heir apparent, Cindy Armstrong, is also off to greener pastures. Also, word on the street has Lucas Arts wanting to revoke SOE’s SWG license. This seems unlikely, since there aren’t a lot of people out there that can really handle a property that large and unwieldy. Reading the media on the subject it appears that those last two are still very much in the rumor stage.

Whatever turns out to be true something is hitting the fan over there at SOE. Raph IS gone. Armstrong may or may not follow. And keep the license or lose it, it’s doubtful that SWG is a winning proposition for Sony at this point.

Overall, it hasn’t been a good week or two for Sony. The PS3 is still vaporware, BluRay is too, and now this. And that is just March. The odd thing is that the bleeding seems to have stopped over at EQ, and EQ2 is even in a sort of a comeback stage. They are making some good decisions for the health of EQ2, almost as good as the SWG decisions are bad.

If I had Sony in my portfolio, I’d be selling. It’s difficult to comprehend how far this once-proud brand has fallen.

Stay tuned.

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