ncsoft

You Go WildStar

It’s videos like this that make me want to play WildStar again.

And then it’s announcements like this that remind me that this game should have changed it’s business model about a year ago. Which is prior to launch. Everybody knew there was no more room for a sub based game into today’s climate.

It doesn’t help that WildStar‘s numbers continue to fall, dropping 50% to a bit over $2 million in sales. This continues the downward trend established with the last financial report from the publisher.

I’ll go back and play it when they get to fixing the payment model, which feels like soon. However, there is a concerning thing here – the last numbers I could find on COH had it under 3M a quarter before it was shuttered.  Could WildStar face that fate instead?

I have written quite a bit about WildStar. I was one of those with high hopes for it. It came really close but fell short for me as a Dominion player who couldn’t find a guild or people to play with.

The only other thing stopping me from paying a subscription to WildStar (yes, I said the *S* word) is that I am now firmly in the camp of one character, many roles. (FF / TSW / GW2 / Etc.) Even watching that video I was thinking I would go back and play my Stalker! No, my Engineer! No, my Medic! No my.. dammit.. I didn’t settle in on one character class. I ended up playing the beginning planets 6 times looking to find my groove. I think that style of character progression now works best for me as I can play one character and get enjoyment of the full game, instead of running alts. I don’t have time for alts.

aint nobody got time for that animated GIF

So there it is. I hope to be back on Nexus someday.

alderaan animated GIF

Unless it ends up getting the CoH treatment from NCSoft. I just don’t believe they have recouped their investment yet, but I can’t see how 2M a quarter even covers salary for a game with major updates being released.

Sorry for the GIFS. I wrote this end of day for me and my mind was feeling mushy.

 

WildStar is Sinking

With NCSoft quarterly and full year earnings reports out the news is really, really glum for fans of WildStar.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I posted a lot about WildStar. It has decent chops. There just isn’t value in it for me as a subscription platform (or many, so it seems).

More charts in the link above!

What shows on that chart is a not-so-bad take of 45M USD (roughly adjusted) for the year. What it doesn’t show (but does in the link) is that it did 25M the first Quarter it launched, dropped to 14M the second quarter, and 5M in the last quarter. That is a huge decline. The truth is that the only thing that pretty much gets me back there is B2P – which is problematic for them because letting me back in doesn’t drive revenue. The only way a cash shop works in that game would be for cosmetics (and they have AMAZING housing – so that could fit. They also could have good outfits there). I would also consider going back for a $5 a month sub fee, or something that gives me value for the time I could put in. Again, this is personal to me. I want to see the game, I want to enjoy the solo levelling MMO experience on Nexus, I just need value from it. You just can’t have a sub fee only in a sub free world, unless you are established and are either WoW, EVE, or FF.

Other note of interest is how well Aion does, all things considered. Also, the decline of GW2, which makes sense with the expansion announcement.

Could anything make you go back?

7 is (Not) Enough

Warlords of Draenor launching is having a bigger than I expected effect on WoW subs – although as TAGN points out, things aren’t really clear where those subs are coming from. Besides, WoW subscriber numbers are like the old McDonald’s signs from back in the day that used to list how many millions were served. Eventually they switched it to “Billions and Billions” before dropping it all together. Seinfeld said it best – we get it, you have sold a lot of burgers. You kill a lot of cows. In Blizzard’s case, Orcs.

Still, 10 Million is that nice big round number we are all used to hearing from Blizzard before their decline from biggest subscription game in the world to less big but still bigger than anyone can imagine big. Even blognation who are often quick to pounce on Blizzard’s “decline” are checking out what our old friend has in store with this expansion. I wonder if there is a MMO subscription-based equivalent to Stockholm Syndrome. After all, what else is there?

Well, there is WildStar for one. And with millions flocking back to Warlords of Draenor, paying the $60 box price and resubscribing, how do we fight the exodus of the player base back to Blizzard? With a newsletter and 7 days free time! Of course no one is fooled on the timing and really it feels like putting a bandaid on a punctured jugular but truth be told we have no clue what impact this is having on WildStar (if at all). My more cynical side said long ago that the business model would have to change if they wanted to increase the regular playerbase and some of us suspected that it would be before Draenor dropped – but W* is doing the right thing – wait to see the impact 1/3/6 months and then decide how hard you hit your business model. For all we know with the layoffs and team exits they may be running profitable with the playerbase they have, and they may be satisfied with that.

Back to the 7 day trial – I had a couple of free trial posts back in 2009 and I still believe that it isn’t enough time or enough incentive to buy or resub to a game. This player says it best as well on the WildStar forum this morning.

 

To the average player coming back they won’t see the fixes and under the hood stuff – it won’t be that obvious because most have been away from the game. What will be obvious is server population and activity (which should be fixed by the mega servers, no?) even still, to give 7 days during the time where every WoW player is playing WoW (some of which may or may not be W* players) is a weak knee-jerk reaction. 7 days in a MMO is nothing, so expect that kind of result by offering it.

I do want WildStar to succeed and I will give them money (again) soon as they build a business model that I can support – whether that is B2P or F2P or a heavily reduced sub fee (I’d pay and get $5 a month value from the game. If I am paying $15 I’m back in WoW). Still, none of this discussion is anything new to WildStar fans or developers. They have a solid base of a game that needs bug fixes, and they need to decide what kind of game they want to be. The WildStar devs “are listening” to feedback about 40 man raids (hint: everyone but the 2000 people doing them hate them) but everyone who raided 40 mans before knew this would happen.

So my personal suggestion to WildStar is this: figure out who you want to be, and then figure out which business model supports that. While that sounds simple to do it really isn’t and design decisions need to be made with a goal or focus in mind that can’t just be “get more players”. Players are an outcome from the design decisions, not a design decision in itself. This 7 day free trial decision was poor timing, a poor offer, and not really well thought out.

Fly on the WildStar Wall

I finally got through the 2 hour and 15 minute marathon of the final WildStar Nation podcast. They add an extra special guest, Mattekay, who spent years working at WildStar. The podcast is a good listen, albeit a lot of profanity (more than normal) and they are having a few drinks along the way. It was a pretty funny sendoff.

Fly on the Wall

Credit: The Lovening (click to visit the direct site)

The fun is the insider information Mattekay has on it from his perspective and experiences working on and in WildStar.  As an ex-employee (who quit and wasn’t let go) I tend to go soft on the facts in case it is a bitter-ex syndrome – but Mattekay ‘s commentary seems pretty fair and balanced. He calls out a few things that (in his opinion) weren’t done well but it isn’t a scathing or dramatic “tell all” that we have heard in the past with different companies. It’s worth a listen (and there are laughs too!) especially if you are/were interested in WIldStar. A couple things that stood out to me:

  • Wildstar was never intended to be an action mmo – originally it was tab-targetting. I don’t mind action MMOs but they are more hectic and less relaxing to play, and I think there is room for both (although most lately seem to be moving towards the action elements). So they had to switch the entire design scope midstream and try to fit existing systems into a hugely different gameplay. I miss tab targetting. I really wonder how the game would have been with it.
  • Some big changes to the game team members learned of through hearing the leaders in interviews. That is funny to think, but not uncommon in the real world either. Communication in companies can be bad sometimes.
  • The typical tale of 80-100 hour work weeks that is unsustainable and leads to poor products. I have never agreed with that mentality and while not WildStar specific, I think its a problem that needs to get fixed in the industry.
  • One of the podcast hosts (Dopamean, I think, as Terry Bearstack. Long story if you don’t know.) brought up because everything is AOE technically, that you don’t get the feel of a big hit. There is no connection to the damage. You are just damaging air and hoping enemies are in that cone/telegraph. I agree heavily with this as I thought more on it.

There are a lot of stories and other anecdotal information, but it’s a great listen (and ESRB would be M for Mature). They also cover WildStar’s decline and some options to fix it – most of which has been discussed before but relevant and accurate.

I love the “behind the scenes” kind of stories and it would be fascinating to be a fly on the wall in a lot of devs corporate offices to hear the arguments and decision making behind major decisions – especially ones that have major impact (40 man raids in 2014? With Telegraphs?) and the nuances of the company culture behind a lot of our beloved games.

WildStar’s Fast and Dramatic Decline

I am getting the feeling my other report (Wildstar’s Slow and Undramatic Decline) was a bit too optimistic. Perhaps the sky is falling after all (at least on Nexus).

Be prepared for some hard hitting journalism today on the final day of Blaugust.

Exhibit A

First – the President of Carbine, Jeremy Gaffney, announced this week he is no longer the President. He announced this on Reddit and the official forums. The official title talked about how he is “taking on a new role” and if you read between the lines he doesn’t really share whether or not he was asked to move on or personally decided to. A snippet (and the link)

I have a personal “no bullshit” policy (which I think I’ve infused Carbine with as well), so let me give some context here without getti

“Focusing on family” is most often, in my opinion, a horseshit excuse you hear from executive types (usually departing with a forcible shove). 

He then goes on to share that he is  going to focus on family – he is a cancer survivor and I love his candor and openness. Having been through that it is really hard. His moving over letter is the type of thing WildStar fans have come to know and love about him. Gaffer was the man behind the vision, preserver of the style of MMO they wanted to build – a grindy, 1% focused, hard game a la World of Warcraft 2004. Him moving on is also the sign that that seemingly failed vision is now looking at a more causal focused game.

Exhibit B

One of WildStar’s best (and most popular) fansites – WildStarFans.net had it’s creator stop posting and updating. Players became used to visiting here for the latest and up to date news. Originally he left things pretty open and  said he was reprioritizing and focusing family (sound familiar? Isn’t that the hotshot excuse you hear from executive types when making up an excuse that the Gaffer talked about?) and was non-committal on whether he was still playing the game or not.

He did edit his farewell post and post that he was still playing – but he didn’t share any specifics if he was enjoying the game or if that had any part to do with it. Regardless – fansites and podcasts are the pulse of the community of the game, and bring the community together. When the most popular ones start going the way of the Rowsdower (equivalent to a Nexus dodo bird) then you know things are bad.

Exhibit C

I was listening to the WildStar Nation podcast this week (again) and the 4 hosts announced that their next podcast, #50 (they have been podcasting WildStar for a year) will be their last. This podcast was getting 30,000 downloads a month (which is 10% or 30% of the WildStar subscriber base depending on what numbers you like – WildStar isn’t sharing) and was usually the #1 downloaded WildStar podcast (stats were shared by them on various podcasts). It was a pretty somber mood from the guys (Haystack, Militus, Dopamine and Bear) and they were just honest that one of them had already quit and the other’s were having a hard time logging on.

They are funny guys and one of those tongue in cheek remarks was along the lines of “WildStar was able to kill a guild of 500 people in 6 weeks”. They had a guild and that is what happened. 500 gone / disbanded in 6 weeks. Craziness. I have enjoyed the WildStar Nation podcast more than I actually got to enjoy the game so sad to see them go. The truth is, again, the pulse of the community here. If the biggest fans of the game aren’t sticking around then who is?

Why Again?

While that question may sound like it is referring to us looking at why the game didn’t grab and keep the attention of the fans of the game and general MMO population it is actually also the answer.

Why again, would we build in barriers (40 mans, attunements) into a sub fee MMO while the entire genre is moving to easier and more accessible? Just to be different? Who said that is what players actually want?

That fun answer is that some players did want it – and some are now fighting WildStar for now switching to easier (making some attunements steps more reasonable, etc.) 5 mans are supposed to be fun and fast now, easily completable by 5 random strangers (not so in WildStar). Raids are supposed to have varying levels of difficulty so everyone can have the experience. Why are we designing games the same way we were playing them 8 years ago – when the games from 8 years ago that are still going strong have so drastically changed themselves to fit what gamers want?

Gamers don’t have the time to slog through “that” MMO – there have been reports that people need to grind for 3+ hours a raid night to just get enough cash to buy consumables and pay for repairs for that 6 hour learning raid. That prep is unacceptable these days – and it is really no surprise. Gamers pay billions of dollars annually to speed things up – look at Clash of Clans, for example. The whole business model is speeding things up. People do not want to go slower. Especially in a sub fee environment where the gating feels like it is just to stretch out your sub.

Add to that, they built in a cash shop where you could buy CREDD with real money to skip some of those grinds. And we all know that the only game that can get away with having both a subscription fee and a cash shop is World of Warcraft.

Suddenly my November F2P conversion  prediction is looking really solid. And that’s not to be a jerk – I’ll actually go play when that happens. There is a lot of Nexus I want to explore.

All of this also makes me think of ESO – a game I have never played. How is it faring? Did it find it’s niche? I wonder this because is there really any room for a newly launched MMO to have a subscription fee anymore? The falling (wild) star would indicate to me that there isn’t.

 

 

Rally Caps

Murf and I chatted about baseball not too  long ago, and I was recently treated to a 19 inning, walk off win marathon from my home team Toronto Blue Jays, against our dreaded rivals, the Detroit Tigers. It had a lot. A lot of intentional walks (the Jays lineup is down 3 starters so once you get past Cabrera and Bautista your pitcher is generally safe.) a  lot of bases loaded let downs (Jays had them loaded 3 times (often thanks to the walks – intentional or not)) and still couldn’t win until the 19th frame. Spectacular defensive saves (looking at you, Rasmus in centre field. you and your .219 average!) and all in all, a great way to spend 6 and a half hours.

Yup, you heard me. 6 glorious hours of baseball. And 37 minutes. Glorious. or something. On Baseball Canada Day.

That’s long.

After 17 innings the Tigers were out of pitchers and had to put in their starter for the NEXT day. How did the game end? What lead to the victory? Was it a clutch hit, or defensive error – what was it?

Rally Caps.

Embedded image permalink

Don’t mess with the Rally Cap!

The game was dragging, and then the camera pans and we see journeyman and underground fan favourite Steve Tolleson walking around the dugout physically turning around everyone’s caps. He’s doing it all by himself. That is the stuff of legends! He walks around, spinning caps, a tried and true baseball tradition. The Rally Cap. Not asking, not suggesting, just doing. The straight-back rally cap – a veteran move, compared to the less fashionable inside out rally cap.

And then they win.

Sometimes superstition works.

I know players put on their rally caps (save Vanguard petition) often when games are going to be shuttered and while and I pulled my pitcher (metaphorically) with my yesterday cancel of WildStar sub – I do wish it well, and hope to enjoy it again someday. I think it will be just fine with the subs they do keep and hopefully that is enough for NCSOFT to keep the F2P calls at bay.

Guaging Success – WildStar Launch

WildStar head start drops tonight at 3am EST. Best of luck to their team and the players partaking in it. This will be interesting and fun to watch – there are a lot of eyes on WildStar.

This is also the first MMO launch I have been a part of since Warhammer Online (and we all know how that turned out!) I have pretty much played them all but typically wait 60 days – I enjoyed the WS beta that much and see the value in starting from launch day. I am looking to exploring Nexus and the secrets and treasures it has (code words for Kill Ten Rats and FedEx quests..) They have a lot of lore to chew on and I am excited to be a part of the story as it unfolds in all the theme park glory.

I won’t be up at 3am to wait in queue but I’ll see how it held up bright and early in the morning. For those who haven’t seen it, this is a nice feature set video that showcases WS.

At bare minimum, extra writing material for me as I play!  I have relaxed expectations and refuse to hop on the hype train. WildStar wild have no long term measurable impact on World of Warcraft – and that is ok. Back on Warhammer’s release I made a really silly prediction they would get 1,000,000 subs in year one (based off of the beta experience – which wasn’t replicated once live) and sitting here today I am realizing the expectations should be more fair (not just for WildStar, for all MMO launches.)

Some ideas if we can agree:

  • A base population that is sustainable and profitable.
  • Population growth. (see: EVE Online). It doesn’t matter if there are 100,000 users or 1,000,000 users – its a healthy sign if that increases over time. The pace of growth isn’t that critical either. Doubling overnight doesn’t matter if you are churning.
  • No major change in payment types (F2P conversions, cash shops, etc.)
  • An official forums that is raging with every Nerf left right and centre. A caring population is good, right? =)

The adventure begins! If you are playing, let me know what server. I still haven’t decided that yet. A final side note:  I have been listening to the guys at WildStar Nation and they do a great job capturing WildStar with a pretty objective and levelheaded approach. It’s a good source of material if you are looking to learn more about the game.

See you on Nexus!

 

Wild On WildStar

Another beta weekend gone by with WildStar and some significant time was spent within the game. The extended weekend was helpful as I had both Friday and Monday off of work *and* my wife was out of town so it was a perfect storm of gaming.

The Medic

I got to beta-max level (20) on my Exile Medic  and level 10 on all other classes. This has created a small conundrum for me – I *love* the medic and levelling the class, but as I got higher I noticed a few issues that many are going to find at launch (without major tweaking – it *is* still beta after all).

Healing is a two way street. I hit heal but the tank/dps has to actually stay in the telegraph to receive it – very few are instant. So, running more challenging content I’d get off a clutch heal only to have the tank/dps rotate out of it. DPS and tanks are only used to moving out of the bad, not as well trained for moving into the good – years of training. This is going to be an issue with the Medic moreso than the other classes. They can hit from far way while medics are a melee healer. Also – everyone is jumping around like they are on crack  or Ritalin. (do crackheads jump around?). Wildstar is like GW2 and others that have active dodging – most players are taking this as the opportunity to circle strafe even when it isn’t necessary or important and is making healing harder. This is of course a PUG perspective. I am sure organized groups don’t face this as much.

DPS on the Medic is much more rewarding and smooth. Still learning and sorting out optimal rotations but it is a very simple system.  Some abilities are tied to actuators (points) and you build them (up to 4) and use them (1 or 2 at a time). Other abilities are off the actuators and purely cooldown based. Same premise for the healing. Hence the conundrum – none of the other classes spoke to me in the short time I played  but I am interested in sorting out a tanking class. The engineer felt clunky and I just didn’t get the feel of the stalker or the warrior. Tanking is going to be so much more important than healing in this game as you can negate most of the big damage if you are paying attention. That is the way the first 20 levels felt. I have to give them more than the 10 levels of test time obviously. Still – interesting take on how to find your class in an MMO world of all sorts of class options. That is for another post.

I mentioned in my first WildStar post that I felt 5 classes were too few – and it is feeling that way as I struggle to find my way with it.

The Levelling Experience

The Levelling experience was great and I really enjoyed it. Since I am leaning towards Dominion (I always play the pansy alliance side types) I figured I would only play Exile side quests to preserve the levelling experience when the game goes live. The questing is slick and the story is full of potential. A huge, mysterious planet once inhabited by an ancient race that has long left the galaxy. There are datacubes and lore points all around. While the writing is not supposed to win an Oscar it still adds some nice flavor and color. Check this gem out.

MY LEGS!

—————————————–
[The final dictated diary entry of an unfortunate explorer has a singular focus and is burned onto the broken, blood-encrusted screen.]

MY LEGS! Oh gods it hurts it hurts it HUUURTS why did I ever try that jump? Why did I think it was a good idea to – oh gods is that bone poking through the skin? And is that my – sitting on top of my – oh gods, it is. GYAAARGH! The pain the pain the PAIN why the stars did I come to this gods-forsaken planet in the first place?

Okay just – just calm down. Medishot… numbing pain enough… to talk. Legs… shattered. My attempt to reach the heart of the Sanctuary… doomed to fail. If you are reading this, turn back. TURN BACK before you take one lousy STINKING MISSTEP and plummet to the floor of this hellscape of a – oh stars the pain’s coming back. Too much to concentrate. Must reach… medishots. Belt. Where’s my belt. Oh, it’s on my – with the – oh no. Hey! Get away from that! I need it! Well… I will need it. If I can – why are you looking at me like that? Oh gods. Your eyes. Why are they like that? Please, I need help. Don’t – please, no – not my legs. Not my legs! What are you – don’t eat that! Gods – nerves must be – totally severed – or pain would be oh NO GODS NO THOSE ONES AREN’T SEVERED gyagharghGODS ALMIGHTY the chewing the chewing oh gods OH GODS HELP ME the horrible chewing and crunching and GYAAAAAAAAGHHHH –

[The remainder of the screen is filled with the autorecord AI’s valiant attempts to write out the sounds of violent predation.]

Picture a Morgan Freeman narration on that scene. All sadistic kidding aside, a lot of quests have tidbits like that – people getting lost (and dead) exploring the planet trying to find fame, riches, and/or sanctuary. It’s a nifty backdrop.

The Gear Mistake

I know WS has been in development for a long time and it is too late to make the move now but I believe  the way gear works will be frustrating for players – especially with WoW moving to a one gear system. In WildStar you have PVE-DPS gear, which is different from your PVE-SUPPORT (tank/heal) gear, which is different from your PVP-DPS gear, which is different from your PVP-SUPPORT (tank/heal) gear. In Warlords of Draenor gear is getting smart and changing to your spec. This makes sense instead of complicated storage and gear swapping issues when you can change specs on the fly.

I said this was a good idea in 2008 for Blizzard and am glad to see they are finally getting around to my old blog posts. Hopefully WS does too!

While levelling I did PVP, PVE and healed and dps’d throughout both. The experience would have been far better for myself (AND the people I was grouping with) if my gear fit the role I was playing. This is even more important in lowbie levelling where you are upgrading gear at a rapid pace. Doesn’t make sense to carry around four sets (and you won’t have the room anyway). Calling it now – once WoW WoD comes out Carbine will have to backtrack on this decision and make it work the smart way.

The Convenience Factor

Similar to the above – WS is awesome in that they give you action sets where you can literally change your specs in between pulls.  You have room for up to 8 standard abilities and you can choose how you fill your action bar. The problem here is that you can’t save a second set until you hit level 15. I don’t know when you get a third set. The workaround is that you take the time and click the button 20x to swap it out – but why provide a convenient option if you won’t let us save multiples?  I believe this will be a cash shop item when the cash shop is finally released. Sure, you can live without it, but why would you want to?

The Challenge

Levelling is slow in WildStar. It takes effort, but thankfully, there is tons to do.

The level 20 dungeon Exile will be retuned (very difficult to PUG) and money is sparse and repairs are painfully expensive.  The rewards are currently slim for the effort required which will make them avoided by the optimizer. The encounters I did (got through two bosses in a PUG, took us an hour to get those sorted) were fun but nothing you haven’t seen before in other 5 mans. Still, worth playing out. 5 mans are one of my favorite parts of MMOs.

At level 15 you can do your first adventure which is a choose your own adventure style dungeon. The Exile one is really fun. Basically 5 go in to an over-arching story line and group members vote what things to do – so you could have the choice to rescue the farmer’s daughter, kill a certain spy, or disable supplies. Each leg of the adventure has those choices – and in the Exile one there were 3 choice sets. Each played out in the same backdrop which gives custom options and running through the same instance isn’t so boring because of it.

Shiphand missions take you offworld but are scalable mini dungeons for 1-5 players. The first I encountered was an infestation of a moon station and it was really fun – but also hard to complete solo. Took me a few deaths to sort out what I was doing wrong. The story was fun, and it was a neat way to solo it out. Would have been more fun with a couple friends, but c’est la vie.

I also did a few PVP runs which was fun and fast while being familiar.

Housing

It is amazing, fun, easy, and very, very personalized. I loved finding things I could put in my house and on my plot of land through quests, adventures, and dungeons. Its an awesome feature full of personalization and creativity (there are a ton of manipulation of objects capability built in). There are going to be some awesome homes in WS and hopefully they keep cranking out the props to support it. There are functional things as well – I did a relic garden, which is a planet-harvestable resource. Sure it is limited to once per day (in game day) but every time I ported back to my house I could farm some. It was handy. I also did a garden, and planted some seeds I found in the wild. (I didn’t take farming, so I couldn’t harvest them). Finally I did a moonshine unit in my backyard and had to make a batch in challenge mode – and I won a giant neon BEER sign for doing so. Which I then hung on my Moonshine still. The possibilities are endless. You can have one home that all Alts can edit I am told so that is a big bonus.

The Pre Order

I pre-ordered.  This game is WoW-polished and on rails, with a heavy dose of phasing. It will be great for solo questers with a lot of areas to explore and the grouping options are plentiful and interesting. There is nothing here that screams innovation in the sense of world building or MMO gaming but sometimes its okay to just have a great game that caters to the masses. If you are comfortable in WoW, but want a different backdrop, this game will work for you. I am still not excited for the sub fee (and believe it will be gone at some point) but with the discount I got on the game I basically get two months free. If I eke out 30 hours of gameplay in those two months I get my money’s worth based on today’s single player campaign hours.

Besides, I can always cancel the sub fee and wait for the value to catch up or the time to play.

Ying to the Yang (Yo)

I have been playing EQ a lot. It’s a fun comparative after just playing WildStar for the weekend. I have recently spent time being nostalgic about starter zones in EQ, and decided it would be neat to try out EQ from a new player’s perspective. And that means starting off in Gloomingdeep Mines.

I rolled an Enchanter (one of my favorites) and was ready to experience the ‘new’ EQ.  Some of this is going to be WildStar comparative. EQ arguably does a better hand holding job through the early levels, with a methodical explanation of the systems available from hotbars to questing. Wildstar threw you in with a “oh, you know MMOs” mentality – whereas EQ treats you like you aren’t that smart. As they should! (no offence). I also found EQ is less chaotic, more focused. Do one thing at a time. As mentioned in my WildStar impressions – you need Ritalin. Too much going on too fast. EQ starting zone is much better paced. Challenge! What? I actually died a couple times pre level 5. You have to be careful. Even with a Merc. No such worry in WildStar, where you can play eating a sandwich while watching Doctor Who episodes and still move the levels along. One thing that gets harder to overlook is the graphics are so ugly in EQ. We all know this, but after driving around in the graphics equivalent of being in a Pixar movie, it’s hard to go to Hercules.

Think

Versus

And that might even be too kind. More like c64 era graphics. Anyway. Ugly. All that being said, I can’t recommend EQ to a new person entering the MMO genre, and I LOVE how slick WildStar weekend was.

I  hope some of the old vets still check EQ out. There are always people on (and I am really curious what kind of income it still generates).  The biggest takeaway I have from playing EQ again? EQ has more “flavor”. As a level 3 enchanter I can illusion into all sorts of things, from rocks, to other races.. there are a LOT of spells that are mostly useless you would think – but that adds so much flavor and immersion. I bolded that section because I read a great write up over at Murf’s (who also links to the original thought starter) about WoW class homogenization – and that is what WildStar, among a lot of other games, is missing.

Fluff.

Bear with me on that thought. I have read some tales that Elder Scrolls Online rewards people for going off of the beaten path, and those are the types of things that can make an average MMO great. Are the 14 spells my level 4 enchanter can memorize all used for “optimal” rotations? No. Do they provide opportunities for fun, engagement, roleplaying and gameplay? Yes. From my experience, those are the things missing out in today’s MMO offerings – they are so optimized there isn’t discovery or room for adventure. It’s kind of like taking art class out of elementary school curriculums because it doesn’t pay off in the end. But what is the world really like without art? What is any world without it?

While that is a very broad and sweeping generalization (admittedly!) I am disappointed in Blizzard’s decision to take innervate away from druids. Nerf it to hell if you like, but that has been one of the class defining abilities since launch in WoW (and I know, because I had a raid spot waiting for me because I was one of those rare druids in vanilla wow). Hunter’s mark? Oh, that hunter ability that also is part and parcel with what hunters are. Let’s get rid of that too.  There is nothing wrong with a little bloat – those things don’t have to be on hotbars, but leave them in the spell books – that way players can still play with them when (and if) they want to. Are they getting rid of that Eye of Kilrogg from Warlocks too? I am not trying to live in the past – I don’t even remember the last time I hit innervate when I played WoW. I just dislike the thought that anything unique (see: Shaman Totems in WoW, buffs, etc.) gets homogenized out.

Hell, what if McDonald’s got rid of the Big Mac?

Innovate like crazy. Move ahead. Just don’t forget the things that got you here (there) in the first place.

Here is a good example of how to do it right. Announced, and in testing, is moving Rogue and Feral Druid combo points to the player (instead of the target). This might address why rogues are the least played class in WoW these days (beating a dead horse – but they were once kings of single target DPS, homogenized out of it..) This is a good example of keeping the class core with combo points and fixing around it. It would probably just be a lot easier to drop combo points and give them mana, or rage, or focus – things they have already built systems around. But that would suck, right? Bland and blah is not the answer.

I *Have* Been Living Under a Rock [Wildstar]

If you look at my “About ME” section you will see I have spent a lot of time in a lot of games testing prior to release – from genre changers (EQ) to huge flops (Earth and Beyond, Horizons) and so on. A couple of years ago I stopped focusing on trying to get in on the ‘next best thing’ when my experience with ‘the next best thing’ was pretty generalized uninspired more of the same below average(ness) thing. Yes I just wrote that sentence in all of its run-on glory.

This has been good for my metered expectations – I try not to get up or excited about a game and it’s development because really, why? Pretty much it is a recipe for disappointment. And I’m not trying to be cynical about that, it is just kind of the truth. Marketing and Producers layer impossible expectations of what their game will include solidly bullet-listed but never realized in the way gamers envision them. This is ok and part of the sales/purchase cycle. How many people were let down with City of Steam, for example?

The wait and see approach works well. Let a game launch, with all the headaches, let the MMO tourists come and go, read some reviews from trusted blogging sources and fully and truly understand the value proposition – what the game does and doesn’t offer – and if I am looking to experience what it does have to offer – I am in. If not, I don’t play. I am not even being negative here – it’s just matter of fact stuff (that is actually partially funny).

I don’t know a lot about Elder Scrolls Online, except Syncaine (Hardcore Casual in the blog links) is actually positive about a theme-parky MMO and it is supposedly not all that Skyrim-y after all (which will disappoint some fans). I know there is a lot of mixed reviews on Wildstar being cartoony and WoW 2.0 which is either the best thing ever, or the sign of the apocalypse – depending on your WoW view.

In the interest of research and good “journalism”, I went and did some research and watch some Wildstar marketing videos.  OK – loving two classes in Wildstar. Not nearly excited enough to pre-order or anything, but definitely paying attention now. The Esper- (EQ Enchanter + GW2 Mesmer?) looks like fun, but really, the Medic looks the most interesting to me. I cut my teeth on being a healer, and the giant paddle-thingamajiggers looks like a blast to play. The targeting style seems unique and while the rest is WoW-Cowboys-In-Space (to take the easiest, most boring common conception of the game) is more of the same. It looks slick, polished, and positively familiar. That is also OK – we aren’t going for a revolution here (clearly).

As I researched I really started thinking that it didn’t feel like a traditional MMORPG. Since there is no targeting the old-fashioned way the gameplay looked more like an over the shoulder shooter with RPG elements. Twitchy is the name of the game here which could be fun like it is fun to jump into CoD. Just doesn’t feel strategic or RP friendly. The other shocker for me was the monthly subscription. My published position on subscriptions is that they make absolutely no sense – not that I don’t mind paying for an all you can eat style of experience, but $15 a month isn’t rooted in any sensibility. Why not $5? Why not $30? Because server space is so scalable (and cheap) there is no pricing model that a subscription has X input cost, so we charge Y to cover our expenses and profit. After a certain point, it’s all profit. Which is fine for those who game a lot, it’s a bargain. Everyone else subsidizes.

Anyway, predicting here of a swift move to F2P about as fast as SWTOR. There are too many options out there and I think the market is going to tire quickly at the thought of two subs (if they are still WoW players, the obvious target for this game) or people who left the sub model in the first place (ex WoW players, the other obvious target for this game). This isn’t disastrous and I am guessing that they already have a cash shop ready to go. They have a strange CREDD system (not unlike PLEX from EVE online)

But we’ll see. Perhaps for once NOT being on the cutting edge of what is new and coming can provide a winner for me. I don’t mind a quest-story based game with some levels attached as long as the characters are interesting, and Wildstar looks chock full of interesting.