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Prognosticamation 2011

Every year I make crazy predictions that fail miserably.  A little less then a year after that I review them so you can see my humility as someone who can’t predict industry trends at all.

Here’s how I did last year.

[The Old Republic] will ship in 2011. It has to.

I was right! Barrrrrrreeeeeellllly.

The biggest event, and the one that will shape 2011 in terms of MMO development, will be, of course, the Old Republic.

I was wrong, unless you think 2011’s MMO development experience is shaped in its final week. 2012 is the year of the Old Republic (and for what it’s worth, from everything I hear it’s going to be a pretty monster hit barring last minute infrastructure/bug stupidity), not 2011.

 

By the way, this made pretty much my entire slate of predictions inoperative, since they (correctly, I think) noted that the MMO industry is basically waiting on the Old Republic to ship and, well, it hasn’t yet.

2011 is the year of WoW: Not WoW.

Pretty much. WoW did take a back seat, and shed a million customers – that in any other company would have been cause for bodies falling out of high windows, and for Blizzard is still essentially a bookkeeping error. Blizzard did announce a new expansion, and as expected it will be released in 2012, not 2011. But mostly it was time for a lot of other games to ship. How did they do?

 

DC ONLINE: went free to play in short order RIFT: the most successful new release of 2011, and the most WoW Not WoW WORLD OF TANKS: started free to play, made tons of money PLANETSIDE NEXT: not yet released TERA: not yet released GUILD WARS 2: not yet released NEVERWINTER: not yet released, being restructured FAXION: released, then cancelled shortly thereafter JUMPGATE EVOLUTION: most likely did not survive the collapse of NetDevil THE AGENCY: cancelled THE SECRET WORLD: not yet released GODS AND HEROES: yes, it released, no, you probably didn’t notice

Unless you’re Scott Hartsman or some crazy Belarusian guy, that’s a whole lotta ouch. But how did other subscription MMOs do?

EVERQUEST 2: went free to play CITY OF HEROES: went free to play LINEAGE 2: went free to play AGE OF CONAN: went free to play STAR TREK ONLINE: went free to play FINAL FANTASY 14: still involuntarily free to play EVE: attempted suicide by CEO, layoffs, trying to come back STAR WARS GALAXIES: cancelled LEGO ONLINE: cancelled WARHAMMER ONLINE: still exists, releasing a free-to-play arena MOBA version AION: still here, kinda! FINAL FANTASY 11: Quick! Look over there! EVERQUEST: *whistling* ULTIMA ONLINE: yep! don’t mind us! DARK AGE OF CAMELOT: feelin’ spry! don’t look this direction plz

So, if your MMO of choice was a subscription game, it was either: (a) World of Warcraft, (b) Rift, (c) free-to-play, (d) cancelled, (e) assaulted by crazy lutefisk-wielding Icelandic people, or (f) so old no one remembered the server was on.

I’d say I get a bye on all predictions, because the market kinda went bloop. Yes, bloop. That’s the technical term.

  • UnknownSubject

    Don’t worry! Everything will be fixed when SWOR, GW2 and are released in 2012!

  • Xant

    would be The Secret World by Funco…oh… – *runsoffwithmaniaclaughter*

  • Vetarnias

    Hmm, I thought lutefisk was Norwegian.  The “how can they eat this?” for Iceland is hákarl.  As for MMO’s, that is quite depressing.

  • hollowsquare

    2011 was the year of “The Before and After Xpac” for WoW.  Every MMO has one and it marks the change between The Before – games in their stride that are still in touch with the original vision, still hungry enough for the developers and designers to work hard and make the game better; and The After – games that are confused and in decline, out of touch with what made them great, staffed with developers & designers that are lazy and complacent and introduce radical changes to make their jobs easier.  It’s all downhill from there.

  • vinull

    You left off Asheron’s Call – they still charge $13/mo and just had a pumpkin carving contest!

    •  *Bravely holds up a lone lighter against the encroaching darkness.*

  • dsj

    You have to imagine that a worldwide recession/depression was going to be the back story of all of 2011 and probably 2012 as well unfortunately.

  • Mandella

    Also, World War II Online. Still subscription, and I hear the American Army just got added in.

  • Ashendarei

    With the trends here of all non-WOW MMOs going free-to-play, I wonder how long it’ll take for the WoW Behemoth to take notice and go FTP …  My money’s on it coinciding with their next MMO title release (which WON’T be FTP).

    • Sinij

      “Free” to Play is a trend for failed mmorpgs. Old model was to stop all development and run it on fumes for a year or so before dying off. New model is to patch in cash shop and run on fumes for a couple years before dying off. Idea behind cash shop is that it is more efficient mode of extracting most money out of the dying game. 

  • Xaldin

    Bloop eh?  You been reading erfworld?

    • A Man In Black

      Yeah, because some webcomic invented “bloop” and it totally didn’t exist before that webcomic used it, nope.

  • Yep, I am on World of tanks, I just love world war II tanks.

  • Michael G Mclarty

    Taxi to victory?

  • dartwick

    Im playing World of Tanks every day(and buying stuff from them.)

    I still have an active EVE account but I stopped paying them money(thank you Russians for paying my subscription.)

    Im waiting for Guild wars too – its going to be huge.

  • Larry Rosenthal

    so basically the same as happened around mmos in 2003…..

  • VPellen

    Personally I’m keeping a loose eye on the indie scene and quietly hoping TOR will crash and burn horribly. Does that make me a bad person?

    • JuJutsu

      Nah, I’ll play TOR enough for both of us.

  • Guest

    lotro is still free to play, and seems to be surviving.  I wouldn’t really say thriving, but who knows…

    I find the decline of wow hilarious.  After years of the community yammering that stuff is too easy (despite a tiny minority completing yogg0 / h-anub / h lk when it’s current)  when they get the hard stuff, they quit.  el oh el.

  • Sinij

    Market went “bloop” because WoW expansion managed to under-clone DIKU. No idea how GC managed to hold on to his job after such spectacular failure.

  • wufiavelli

    You forgot about darkfall 2010………. i mean arena………ummm yeh

  • What Larry said.

    There’s only so many players of MMOGs, and so many hours in the day. Most MMOs will fail, because the majority of video games don’t become blockbusters. Why should we expect a higher % of MMOGs succeed where single-player or console-multiplayer games do not? There are thousands of game releases a year, and maybe a couple dozen become blockbusters. Duh. Citing low success rate of MMOs as evidence that “All MMOs need to go free-to-play” is simply ignoring obvious facts.

    WoW “taking a back seat” is ludicrously spun. Let’s look at it from another perspective: Blizzard is earning 10 million paying subscriptions of about $15 each+ every month on a nearly-decade-old game.

    What do we know about the game industry? After about 2 years, even the biggest AAA titles wind up on the discount rack. How are MMOGs any different? The fact that there are still people playing MMOGs over 2 years old is evidence that the industry is thriving.

    You’re completely wrong on this.

  • Vetarnias

    Since yesterday, I’ve been thinking about the direction I was hoping MMOs would be taking.  Subscription means nothing if it’s just a base layer for more cash grabs once you pay the basic fee, so you might as well be putting this particular beast out of its misery.  Which leaves us with free to play, and I can’t say I’m more pleased with it.

    I was a relative latecomer to MMOs, after years of playing single-player games, but reading this blog has allowed me to get a sense of what I had been missing since the golden age of the genre.  It may well be that the nostalgia is unwarranted, and that I just bought into Lum’s nerdish longings for pixels past.  But I would have liked to have been around to watch UO or Dark Age of Camelot built from the ground up, instead of trying to grab the tail of a dying comet.  Yes, that’s how I feel about it now.

    I hope The Old Republic fails, and brings down with it the entire grotesque edifice that is called the AAA MMO project, and with it all those forever dissatisfied gamerz who do nothing but perpetuate the hype-and-whine cycle. They must not escape; they always escape — they read The Escapist, after all.  I want them gone, but to put an end to them, we need nothing that can restart the cycle. We need a cliff, a precipice so deep and treacherous that only the foolish would trudge ahead, looking for the next vapid pleasure amidst the bleakest desolation.  They, and The Old Republic, represent everything I hate about the so-called AAA MMOs: the mainstream, bloated, self-satisfied, parasitic (it killed off Galaxies — which, for the record, I never played — so it could live, did it not?), hopelessly safe, with a give-the-people-what-they-want showmanship that might have been more appropriate to P.T. Barnum — yes, he of the sucker born every minute.  I’m almost sorry they threw Bioware into this mess, but Bioware, what does it know about MMOs? Besides, it’s just a subsidiary of EA now. They sold out; they’re dead to me.

    If The Old Republic fails, what is there after it? The Great Casuals? I want them to collapse, too, they and their empty pleasures and their challenge-less excuses for mining data and their hollow friendships and their like buttons and their gutting-out what remains of human decency and interaction amid an incessant din of clicks, they and their legions of grandmothers who have suddenly embraced the messiah of gaming, the opium of the cybermasses, as the world is collapsing around them.  They and their Facebooks, will they ever learn?

    There’s nothing surer: the rich get rich and the poor roll ret pallys. In the meantime, in between time, ain’t we got fun?

    • JuJutsu

      Thanks for sharing.

    • hollowsquare

      TL;DR version: single-player games sound pretty good.

      • TS;DNB (Too Short, Did Not Bother – because if that’s all you have to say, seriously, why should I bother caring that you didn’t read?)

  • Vetarnias:
    Galaxies Sucked. It was dead long, long before Old Republic came along. Have you ever played the Knights of the Old Republic single player games? Anyone who’s played them that I know has said, “Why didn’t Lucas just let Bioware make the Star Wars MMO instead of the tragically bad Sony Online Entertainment?”

    “give-the-people-what-they-want showmanship” – your critique is not limited to video games, but all media. The bottom line is – if you don’t like mainstream art and media, there’s TONS of indie games out there, and many fantastic, experimental, artistic, and dirt cheap because they’re not mainstream successful. Considering you label people who play AAA MMOGs as whiners, I’d say that’s pot calling the kettle black.

    “but Bioware, what does it know about MMOs?”

    As much as Blizzard knew when it started working on WoW. Seriously, the whole industry of MMOGs is still brand new. Heck, the video game industry is still an infant when it comes to artistic media. Bioware has proven, though, time and time again, it can release products that have compelling storytelling, beautiful scenery, and fun game mechanics.

    “opium of the cybermasses,” etc –

    Jeez. If you don’t like mainstream stuff, shut up and stop sounding like some obnoxious whiner hipster who isn’t into a band anymore because they “sold out going mainstream”.

    • Vetarnias

      On Galaxies: I notoriously don’t like science fiction.  As for your question about Lucas, the answer is quite simple: he never cared about quality, only about the money.  Spielberg pretty much spilled the beans that it was Lucas who screwed up the last Indiana Jones film with his science fiction crap.  And Episodes I to III, well, we all know how they went.

      On pot calling kettle black: What you need to know about me is quite simple.  I’m a terminal cynic.  I’m also weak, but I don’t want your pity. I’m not the “reformed sinner” type; rather, I’m the unreformed sinner type; I know I’m sinning, and I can’t stop.  It’s the guy smoking four packs a day telling you to keep off cigarettes. It’s not a question of hypocrisy; I’m not trying to hide or pretend that I don’t do it.  I play video games, I want to keep on playing video games, but I know they don’t bode well for society in general.

      On the nascent industry that is the MMO: One of my subjects of interest is virtual reality. It used to be omnipresent twenty years ago, with guys like Timothy Leary plugging it, then it died — or rather, instead of being a revolutionary force in man-machine interaction at all levels, it just retreated into hi-tech industries (defense, automotive, engineering, NASA) or university labs. VR was meant to open up a number of artistic possibilities — Char Davies’ Osmose or Nicole Stenger’s works, to name a few — but now it’s only good to train astronauts or fighter pilots and test car ergonomics.  One of its pioneers was Jaron Lanier; look what
      he’s saying now. As far as one technology selling out, there you have it.  It’s still there, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a spent force as an influential medium; now it’s an expensive toy for the uber-rich doing serious, very serious things with it. It’s no longer the object of fascination that it was at the time —
      just see films like The Lawnmower Man, Disclosure, or Johnny Mnemonic as
      evidence — and any (expensive) attempt to bring it back into the
      mainstream has usually been met with the same “cool, but useless”
      reaction, when it wasn’t a travesty of what virtual reality was meant to
      be in the first place.   Oh, there still are some democratic forays, but whatever trickles into the mass market is low-quality, meaningless and usually superfluous — home 3D, for example, when its survival in cinemas is not even assured.  It’s a technology that has become polarized.  On one end, expensive high-end systems for industrial applications; on the other, cheapo hardware for the masses.  Hell, even Sony is testing these waters again with a new head-mounted display, the HMZ-T1. Ten to one that it fails.

      Like VR, I get the impression that the early game designers really thought they had this pioneering aspect to them. Richard Garriott comes to mind; Koster even.  What are they doing now? Gaming has followed the same trajectory as film, but at a much faster pace; so what is a pioneer to do? Take a paycheque and shut up, or try to do like Koster did at first with Metaplace and fail?  I’m not a hipster, far from it, and video gaming will never be divided the way indie films and the mainstream are divided. One guy could still produce a video game, and could sell it somehow without necessarily needing a distributor, and word of mouth could work easily. But when a guy sells out, I don’t like it. Look at Minecraft. This is exactly what happened. Notch as a one-man production team was good.  Then he started a business. Minecraft was pre-sold to most people who wanted it. What’s the incentive to push for a good, accomplished design if you’ve already made your money? So it was released in a state that I would call unfinished, with much being the work of modders.  I turned against Minecraft not because it became popular, but because commercial considerations got the upper hand.  For that matter, I particularly despise the elitism surrounding Dwarf Fortress, even though it is a good game.

      Bioware: “Compelling storytelling”. That’s the problem. Story-driven MMOs have rarely been successful. Or deep.

      • “I’m a terminal cynic.”

        Okay, then all of my points earlier about “if you don’t enjoy something mainstream / a genre, you have plenty of alternatives” stands.

        ” but I know they don’t bode well for society in general.”

        You know, interesting you mention that. I think that way about free-to-play (I like to call them Free To Pay) games are what’s bad. At least going into a subscription MMO you know the cost you’re getting into. Being nickel and dimed after the fact during a game, just to be on par with other players – I find that repulsive and playing to peoples’ addictions.

        ” virtual reality. It used to be omnipresent twenty years ago”

        Yeah, notice my earliest post dittos what Larry Rosenthal said. He’s one of those 20-year-VR-to-VW vets that carries the knowledge of what went on in the 90s and sees the same trends happening over and over. That kind of knowledge helps ride the waves and predict when to change tactics when things are going to falter.

        “One of its pioneers was Jaron Lanier; look what he’s saying now”

        This is a good point. I agree. And I agree with a lot of Lanier’s current ideas. To make a dumb, pop-culture reference, the Tron 2 movie, while it had a sluggish plot, had a really intriguing underlying storyline with Jeff Bridge’s character, indicating that a lot of the tech pioneers of the 80s and early 90s have done major philosophical 180s. Like, even look at Bill Gates – went from the pimp-daddy of Windows to global altruist. Lanier’s no exception. The longer you’re in the tech industry, the more one gets frustrated and disillusioned about it – about how people go for the lowest common denominator often, about how technologies that *should* change the world don’t. But fortunately not everyone is fully discouraged, they can turn their questioning about technology into productive innovation for the next generation. For example, the ideas behind OpenGov and using social media as democratic tools, rising out of the blah that was the mid 00s decade of social media merely about sharing pictures of cats and talking about what you had for lunch. Anyway, Lanier’s very much a voice of “Seriously, what is the technology doing for us? How can we make it work for us rather than vice versa?” (Themes of The Matrix sequels – again, more movies that were inadequate as pieces of art, but interesting philosophical undertones.)

        ” now it’s an expensive toy for the uber-rich doing serious, very serious
        things with it. It’s no longer the object of fascination that it was
        at the time —
        just see films like The Lawnmower Man, Disclosure, or Johnny Mnemonic as
        evidence — and any (expensive) attempt to bring it back into the
        mainstream has usually been met with the same “cool, but useless”
        reaction, when it wasn’t a travesty of what virtual reality was meant to
        be in the first place.”

        Okay, agree with your final sentiment. However, Look at what your examples are – those movies show VERY expensive technology being used – those WERE the “uber-rich” being able to do things with VR. Instead, Virtual Worlds are the natural progression of VW, where one can now run a full OpenSim simulation on a cheap, second-hand PC, and creation tools for 3-D and 2-D are well within reach of the common person. Heck, there are freeware tools to get started. So yes, as the proliferation of this tech goes to the masses, most people will come up with crappy, useless things to do with it. Remember how crappy MySpace pages looked? Or Homepages in the 90s? Yes, same thing, 99% is crap. But one doesn’t judge tech by the failures, but by the successes. I see plenty of universities and businesses using VWs for their work, for simulations and meetings, online events, etc.

        And there’s also a blurring. MMOs are really a combination of social media and gaming. They’re essentially very similar to non-game virtual worlds. You spend any time in any MMO, and you find that a lot of what goes on is off-topic chatter, guild politics, and trading, not necessarily grinding mobs, as the kids say. 😉

        “whatever trickles into the mass market is low-quality, meaningless and usually superfluous ”

        Again, as I said in my last post… so what? That’s *any* media. Movies, music, etc. And sometimes some of that is still really fun. I still will go and see a blockbuster action movie even though it’s formulaic, and there’s some pop music I still really enjoy. So what?

        “Richard Garriott comes to mind; Koster even.  What are they doing now?”

        Garriott graduated to real space stuff. Koster went social media gaming – also, while Metaplace itself failed, he indicated that selling it was his first real decent cash-out, so it wasn’t a failure, per se, but a business venture that changed shape. But then again, many many businesses find success doing something other than what they originally started off doing – IBM is a prime example. And you strike an interesting point I’d like to expand on: People leaving these technologies take their passion and expertise elsewhere. As a consequence, tertiary industries reap the benefits of the waning of others. And so we see a lot of bleedover and gray areas between industries – again, MMOs and VWs, social media, etc. Lessons learned in one may apply to others, etc.

        “Story-driven MMOs have rarely been successful. Or deep. ”

        This is a philosophical question. I think the notion of storytelling is too tied to linearity. There is a beautiful storytelling in the Elder Scrolls games, which are vastly open to exploration. Players trade stories about their experiences, and there’s definitely structure to the game and each of the mini-adventures, but everyone has their own experiences — especially when you can accomplish goals in multiple ways (melee, magic, stealth, diplomacy, etc). I think interactive storytelling, as such, is still a very new art form, and its rules are not yet written in books.

        So I offer a simple amendment to your statement: “LINEAR story-driven MMOs…. etc”

        One final thing, to consider with open-ended, interactive storytelling. Read about this: http://www.sleepnomorenyc.com

        • Vetarnias

          “At least going into a subscription MMO you know the cost you’re getting into.” Entirely agreed. Already I see mentions of how “TOR will likely be the last subscription-based MMO”.  Some smaller titles might scrape by, and some might offer a dual model like Puzzle Pirates does/did.  But the major releases, not a chance.

          “Like, even look at Bill Gates – went from the pimp-daddy of Windows to global altruist.” In his case, I’m thinking, “well, it worked for Andrew Carnegie, didn’t it?” Did I mention I was a cynic?

          “those movies show VERY expensive technology being used”. For the most part, yes, but there was a B-film called “Arcade” that included a home version of a VR system.  I think the real unifying point — and far more significant — is that the technology was portrayed in those films as something quite evil or threatening, something having to do with total immersion and captivity to this technology. I think that the main reason why mainstream VR failed was because most of it was badly conceived or executed (Nintendo’s Virtual Boy; who wants to play games in black and red with goggles on a tripod?), but that even at its peak, the collective imagination fastened on the negative side of its visionary promise. Leary’s endorsement probably didn’t help.

          “You spend any time in any MMO, and you find that a lot of what goes on
          is off-topic chatter, guild politics, and trading, not necessarily
          grinding mobs, as the kids say.” Yeah, and to be honest, I don’t think much of Role-Playing servers. I’m glad they exist, but they’re too stiff. And sometimes it’s just over-the-top bad, wouldst thou believe it.

          “I think the notion of storytelling is too tied to linearity. There is a
          beautiful storytelling in the Elder Scrolls games, which are vastly
          open to exploration.” That might be true. I still remember Ebert’s argument that games can’t be art because they’re not linear. (My own approach is that games need not be art, and are probably better off that way.) But the Elder Scrolls games point to the major difference between an immersive single-player game and a virtual-world MMO: MMOs should be player-driven. Unfortunately, the best way in which storytelling is implemented in an MMO is through instanced quests.  DDO was fine for small groups, but it never had that MMO feel (which probably explains why it failed as a subscription game). WoW does the theme-park thing well, but when I think of what an MMO should be, I think more along the lines of a “sandbox”. There is indeed a story — history, rather — but it is the players who write it; it is not written beforehand. Background is fine, but I’m wary of a story-driven MMO. Guess we’ll have to wait and see how TOR goes.

          • “TOR will likely be the last subscription-based MMO.  Some smaller
            titles might scrape by, and some might offer a dual model like Puzzle
            Pirates does/did.  But the major releases, not a chance.”

            I’m unconvinced. I’d grant that there will be a thinning of the market, but still. Again, look at investment / return rates across the whole gaming industry. There’s a lot of flops, there’s a lot of mediocre sellers, but they keep coming out by the hundreds.

            Subscription model is preferred – people prefer it in many cases – Netflix over renting videos, paying higher monthly fees for mobile phones rather than paying for the hardware upfront, etc. Maybe a more hybrid approach will happen – more of “play for free til level 20″ games, which is, essentially, a rehash of the very successful shareware model of the early 1990s. Or perhaps there will be Customizable stuff – surely Steam’s proven over and over with non-combat items in Team Fortress 2 and Portal 2 that people will spend money to bling out their characters.

            ” is that the technology was portrayed in those films as something quite
            evil or threatening, something having to do with total immersion and
            captivity to this technology.”

            True. That’s a whole nother debate about why that happened. But ultimately, early VR were these 20 – 50k$ machines that were in expensive arcades and theme parks and charge $5 to play for 3 minutes. Agreed how awfully conceived virtual boy was.

            “the collective imagination fastened on the negative side of its visionary promise.”

            Well, where movies were fear-driven, TV took an ardent step in the opposite direction with the success of Star Trek: TNG and onward – the holodeck was usually shown in a positive context, and the problems with it were always with outside hacking / etc. The Matrix was a turning point film in that it conceived a VR world that hid the truth, but ultimately people should be able to choose whether they want to enjoy the VR. But by this time, VR movies of the late 90s were much less interested in “zomg scary technology” and were targeting GenX, then going through their identity crisis phase of life, and so the movies are all about questioning reality and identity – which makes for much more compelling cinema, IMHO.

            “I don’t think much of Role-Playing servers.”

            Yeah, I think role-playing needs to somehow be hard-coded into the game for it to really be successful. Besides, I played WoW only because I had friends in a guild, and so it was fun because we were doing what people would do in person – hanging out and playing a game together.

            ” I still remember Ebert’s argument that games can’t be art because they’re not linear.”

            Yeah, I remember that, disagreeing with him, and lots of people writing to him. It got his attention, and got him to examine a bunch of indie games. In the end, I believe – correct me if I remember incorrectly – that he conceded they *could* be art, but at a very infant stage?

            “(My own approach is that games need not be art, and are probably better off that way.)”

            Need being the operative word – I’d agree to that. Some days I want to log onto a AAA and be told a story and blow things up. (Though shooters without puzzle elements bore me.) Other days I’ll play something like The Path or Flotilla or Amnesia. I love Steam because they support a ton of indie, artsy games.

            “when I think of what an MMO should be, I think more along the lines of a
            “sandbox”. There is indeed a story — history, rather — but it is the
            players who write it; it is not written beforehand.”

            It’s so difficult, isn’t it? And, I think your vision is great – but it’s SUCH a new artform, that,  it’s going to take years and years for it to mature to that point. I think we need to look at the path between what we have today and how to get there, and steer the ship that way. Bottom line, play balance between classes, monsters, and PvP makes crafting a world a *very* delicate job. Add to that the standards of good level design for levels to be navigable and look awesome.

            Another way to think of it is that ultimately, this level of player creation is impossible on the individual level. There’s a hierarchy of participation with any online group. Some people are observers. Some chat. Some are active. Some are leaders. Some contribute code. In the same sense, if we assumed a MMO world was player-controlled, 95% of players – really, just want to play and customize stuff, because it’s an escape. But, for that 5% – how could we craft tools to help the world, without severely upsetting the balance? At a very high level, simply player feedback guides future expansions by developers, but this is a slow process. There could be designed PvP zones and scenarios that permanently alter things, but what happens if one side keeps losing – then it snowballs… so many challenges. Maybe the first step is this:

            Let players create their own homes in safe-area cities in MMOs. Let them live in the environment, in instanced homes. Let it be vast, let it be organized by guilds and interests. At least then it’s *an extension* of the game.

            Maybe there can be some sort of rating system for people to vote up and down quests based on what stories they like, and unpopular ones get replaced by writers during patches?

            I dunno… I’m trying to think simple.

            How do you know about old school VR, by the way?

          • Vetarnias

            “How do you know about old school VR, by the way?”  By reading about it, more or less.  The only place I ever tried it was at one of those $5-for-3-minutes arcades you mention. I think the game was Dactyl Nightmare, but I can’t really remember. Needless to say, the place didn’t stay in business for long, and is now completely forgotten.

            Amazingly, I’ve never seen any of the Matrix films. I probably figured that one bad VR film with Keanu Reeves was enough.

            “In the end, I believe – correct me if I remember incorrectly – that he conceded they *could* be art, but at a very infant stage?” I think they convinced him to try out a few games, which I think he did just to be magnanimous, but he fell back on “as long as there is one film left unseen, one book left unread…”, so it’s still not his cup of tea.  I also don’t buy the notion — if Ebert said it — that video games are “at a very infant stage”; film was already being called art when sound and color were not invented or at a primitive stage, already worked on but not developed, so I don’t see what would be Ebert’s definition of an “adult stage” for video games that wouldn’t be a corruption of what games were meant to be. Furthermore, chess has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years, and nobody has ever called it art to justify its significance: there’s no need to, and that’s my position in this debate.  What I sense behind the games-as-art movement is, quite simply, gamer self-validation: we are not wasting our time, we are *appreciating art*.

            “Another way to think of it is that ultimately, this level of player creation is impossible on the individual level.” It’s not just that there is a hierarchy of participation; it’s that the rotten apples really spoil the whole barrel. And some groups — Goons, for instance — get their fun from doing it. The problem with sandboxes is usually that: there is no rule of law, and it turns everything into a mess. And that the power structure has become predictable: branch-plant guilds competing against other branch-plant guilds they didn’t like from three games ago.

            At least it’s true for the FFA PvP type of sandbox. But even without PvP that can apply. Ever tried Wurm Online?  Most servers are non-PvP, so it’s basically a giant village/homestead-building type of game.  And there you can behold the tragedy of the commons in all its glory.  Small groups (or individuals) caring only about what they build, never bothering to maintain a larger cohesiveness in the game world, and being selfish about it. Here’s what I wrote about it at the time: http://wurmonline.com/forum/index.php?topic=33371  . Some inexplicable design decisions didn’t help. Many of the replies went along the lines of “well, this is the free server, what did you expect? Pay for a subscription and get to a real server.” Since that time, they got rid of this free server, and now both free and subscription players play on the same non-PvP servers (with free players having their skills capped), so I wonder who got the last laugh.  I returned briefly last month (my computer disagreed, though), and a server barely two months old was a mess already.

            So that explains why I’m inclined to think that the problem with multiplayer games is other players.

          • Oh, Dactyl Nightmare. *grin*

            The first Matrix movie was very good. The latter two … perhaps imbibe in one or two of your favorite alcoholic drinks beforehand and watch it just for the philosophy. And fast forward past the 45 minutes in Matrix 3 where none of the main characters are actually on the screen. Don’t hate on Keanu too much – he plays a confused youth really well, and it’s meant to be something that the mass of movie-goers can relate to. And they do. 🙂

            “film was already being called art when sound and color were not invented or at a primitive stage”

            Yes, but having dated a film and photography major, even today they are not considered the “fine arts” that painting and dancing and sculpting and such enjoy.

            “I don’t see what would be Ebert’s definition of an “adult stage” for
            video games that wouldn’t be a corruption of what games were meant to
            be.”

            That’s an interesting topic to debate. Why not? I think the problem is that most people automatically assume “Video game = for kids”. That would also explain why parents let 5 year olds play Modern Warfare and GTA.

            “What I sense behind the games-as-art movement is, quite simply, gamer
            self-validation: we are not wasting our time, we are *appreciating art*.”

            I don’t get that impression at ALL from gamers. Maybe from game developers, but considering the amazing amounts of writing, sketching, 3-D modeling, and choreography involved with a modern video game, well, even AAA games-for-the-masses require tremendous amounts of art.

            ” the rotten apples really spoil the whole barrel. And some groups —
            Goons, for instance — get their fun from doing it. The problem with
            sandboxes is usually that: there is no rule of law, and it turns
            everything into a mess. And that the power structure has become
            predictable: branch-plant guilds competing against other branch-plant
            guilds they didn’t like from three games ago.”

            Amen. I think some of this can be hard-coded out, and some, honestly, successful MMOGs are rolling in money, they can afford to hire a few snoops on each server that find out what’s really going on, first-hand, and take actions. Or – going back to a previous topic – perhaps role-playing can be better hard-coded into the system, and goon behavior earn negative reputation points? I mean, I never understood at all why Blizzard didn’t implement simple PvP fixes, like, removing honor points when you attack someone say, 15 or 20 levels below you. Even on a PvP server, this is just plain jerk behavior. But then you look at people like the guys who run Eve Online – they thought the whole goonswarm was amusing, and they walk this fine line between “Oh, the economy’s so real! Come play our game with REAL economics!” and “Oh, it’s still a game. We’re not liable for the fact that people repeatedly exploited the idea that you can die and resurrect and suicide crash cheap ships with absolutely no negative penalty.” (Heck, a simple 10 minute cooldown period where you can’t enter combat with another player could have sufficed.) This sort of ambivalence or even love for goon stuff in the developers themselves, ultimately, I think is the problem. And that can be solved.

            Of all the things I’m curious about TOR coming out in December, I’m really anxious to see how they will deal with griefing issues. I mean, it’s very clearly Sith vs. Jedi – even World of Warcraft made it so that there was an uneasy peace between the Horde and Alliance. But, at the same time, Bioware could take some small steps to protect the experience of a player as they are leveling.

          • Vetarnias

            “perhaps imbibe in one or two of your favorite alcoholic drinks beforehand”  I’m afraid Grand Marnier is getting a little bit too expensive for that.

            “But then you look at people like the guys who run Eve Online”  I don’t know if you read Cracked.com — yes, it’s quite annoying since they’re always writing about what “mind-blowing” things “assholes” with “balls of steel” (and Teddy Roosevelt) have done — but they recently ran an article on “the 7 most elaborate dick moves in online gaming history”, and #2 was that incident where $1,100 worth of PLEX cards were destroyed.  Bad enough that PLEX can be used as currency (rather than bind-to-account), but worse that it can be destroyed. What could that lead to if EVE were in the hands of an unethical game company?

          • Hiro goes on dates? *blinks*. AND he’s advocating secret police spies to be put in games to spy on players. I’m sure the anti-JLU crowd will make much of that! Of course, goon behaviour on the whole is just far too attractive, even to people like Lum

          • “Hiro goes on dates?”

            Prok, and you claim to never do personal insults. You’re such a liar and a hypocrite. And it’s transparent to anyone who reads your comments that when you insult people like this, you lose lots of credibility.

            Pro sports has referees. And random drug tests. And, if you catch a teammate doing drugs, you’re obligated to squeal on them. I see nothing essentially different from Pro Sports preventing cheating in that manner – which can be clandestine – and *the company running an MMO* having people observe PUBLIC actions of people to see if they’re cheating.

            “Spying” means looking at things that are hidden. In MMOGs, all areas are PUBLIC. I’m not advocating searching through private whisper text between players – that I would definitely consider crossing the line. However, having staff go around and check out how other players behave, maybe group with them to see how they behave more closely – there’s nothing wrong with that.

            The JLU are fundamentally different because they are not sponsored by the people who run the environment they are in. Throwing them into your argument is a straw man, comparing apples to oranges.

            “Of course, goon behaviour on the whole is just far too attractive, even to people like Lum”

            Now, this I think is highly likely.

  • Akjosch

    Technically, Lineage II only went F2P in the (near-dead, but recovering now it seems) US and EU regions. Korean, Japanese and other regions are still subscription-based.

  • World of Warcraft has changed everything in the industry.   Everything.  I don’t really have the time to explain myself, please, consider how minor the loss of a million customers was to WoW and how majorly the rest of the sector suffered.   

    Now consider that EverQuest still has customers.  It’s been 12 years since it launched.  Twelve years and the MMORPG still has more than 50k customers.  We’ve seen the world change.  WoW based on the Eq model might very well be profitable twenty years from date of launch.  Imagine that.  Pretty awesome.  

  • pussycatcatnap

    My prediction for the year 2032:

    Guild Wars 2: Not yet released.

  • Sinij

    >>>”TOR will likely be the last subscription-based MMO”

    Consumer choice still matters, and gamers, unlike “social media” consumers are generally not stupid and will vote with their feet. TOR won’t be the last subscription-based MMO, but it will likely be the only subscription DIKU until the next mega-budget title dethrones it.

    Subscription design ideology is to keep most players entertained for longest possible time before they quit in boredom by designing captivating experience
    and through it encouraging feeling of investment/achievement. If
    players poorly tolerate some aspect of your design, you are expected to
    reduce to tolerable level or remove it.

    F2P MT design ideology is to keep most players annoyed for longest possible time before they quit in frustration by designing barely-tolerable experience
    to encourage MT use to get around cock blocks . Initial “honeymoon”
    stage of the game to get player invested is similar to subscription
    design ideology. If players poorly tolerate some aspect of your design
    you are expected to make it completely unavoidable and put workaround
    into cash-shop as on-going expense.

    • Vetarnias

      Well, that quote comes from there: “http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/113189-The-Old-Republic-Will-Be-the-Last-Subscription-MMO

      Except it was Smedley saying that, with The Escapist concurring.

      I would add that subscription MMOs shot themselves in the foot when they started requiring payment information before you could even benefit from your free month that came with the game. Forcing people to buy the software probably didn’t help matters — I pretty much bought Warhammer Online to discover I crashed all the time with borderline acceptable hardware.  Then they firmly lodged the barrel in their mouth by finding new ways to make people pay on top of the subscription, a tale of horsies and monocles.  Nobody trusts the model anymore; any wonder why?

    • I think most of your analysis is right-on.

      One addendum, though:

      “TOR won’t be the last subscription-based MMO, but it will likely be the
      only subscription DIKU until the next mega-budget title dethrones it.”

      I think genre matters. I believe there’s a sci-fi crowd, and a fantasy crowd. Yes, they definitely overlap, but they aren’t the same. Some people just aren’t interested in Star Wars as a brand, but like knights and fighting dragons, and vice versa. Star Wars is a POWERFUL brand, so if the game experience is good, the only thing I could see dethroning it would be, say, Blizzard releasing Starcraft: The MMOG.

  • solkan

    When I was reading the list of MMO’s that had gone free to play, the name Anarchy Online popped into my head, and, yeah, they’ve gone Free to Play, too.  Of course, they probably went FtP last year and I didn’t notice.

    But, hey, they’re still around, so that’s something.

  • Wait. The CEO of Eve attempted suicide? Really? In real life? Or are you making a figure of speech regarding some game change decision? Because I don’t see any news articles about this. Was this the same guy who said at the State of Play conference in 2004 that “larceny was fun” with a twinkle in his eye? Didn’t he have a Better Idea with players’ councils  and evils like cheating and back-stabbing built right into the gameplay as legitimate and not an aberration? So what made him want to commit suicide — i.e. was the game going broke?

    Also, I’m wondering what the business model is for all these free to play games. Um, you buy mods? Thingies to level up? Swords of doom? How do they make money?
     
    Future historians will regard MMORPGs as an early Internet mass cult. I guess they’re dying. Plus, they hurt your brain

    http://www.latimes.com/health/boostershots/la-heb-violent-videogame-brain-20111130,0,6877853.story

  • Brask

    What I learned from Dactyl Nightmare was that 60hz wasn’t fast enough for VR.

    VRs failure is both because the problem is hard and the solution not appetizing.

    People *did* try mass marketing.  The Nintendo Virtual Boy, for example?

    Or more recently Kate Compton’s Foresight?

    • Vetarnias

      What I really remember from it was the weight of the headset. The technology was too young for mass-commercialization.  It might be better now, but nobody really tried and/or succeeded at it.

      If you want a classic example of VR gone bad, starting with the announcement of a technology that had gaming sites drooling and purring as per their usual state, look up a little thing called the Trimersion headset.  That one concluded in 2009 when people in charge pled guilty in Florida to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud because they told investors that well-known people and companies (like Apple or Michael Eisner) were interested in their venture. By which time the gaming press, instead of looking back at its own excesses, was already drooling over something else. Fascinating story, and one I promise myself to use when I write my exposé of gamer enthusiasm: http://www.justice.gov/usao/fls/PressReleases/091208-01.html

      Virtual Boy and such makes me wonder exactly what they had in mind.  They wanted the pizzazz of VR but without any of the legal obligations that might arise from it (related to, say, motion sickness and such).  In the case of the Virtual Boy, I think the Angry Video Game Nerd pretty much summarized the god-awfulness of its design when he duct-taped it to his head.

      Still, the bad design continues. Sony’s HMZ-T1, which I mentioned earlier, was reviewed here: http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2011/11/sony-hmz-t1-3dtv-headset-review-an-amazing-toy/  Just the name of the thread: “amazing toy”.  Grabbing a few paragraphs from that review:

      “Should I Buy This

      “Yes, as long as you have another TV. This is a toy. A $US700 toy. I
      think very few people would be happy with it as their primary
      television. It’s too closed-off from the outside world, and tethered to
      the video source by a cable. You have to be so connected to it.
      And if you do pull an all-day TV sesh, you unrepentant couch potato, it
      will be a literal pain in the neck. Perhaps forehead too.

      “But it’s one hell of a toy. The sound is good, the video is great and
      the 3D is far better than what you’re used to at the theatre, and even
      the best 3DTVs. It’s passably comfortable, and you are going to love
      playing games on it (even if the 3D on the game is weak, or
      non-existent.) It’s fun, and interesting, and I dug it.”

      All of this is telling me exactly the opposite: *Don’t* buy this.  And one picture reveals a large red blotch right where the headset was resting against his forehead (and another one, less visible, on the nose), telling me it’s badly designed. There is a strap on top of the head and one going to the back, but none from the top to the front, explaining why that forehead support is the only thing keeping the headset firmly in place.

      Not to mention: it makes you look like a tool. Yeah, probably nobody else will ever get to see you with it on your face, but look at this: http://smr.newswire.ca/media/articles/1515/cache/600_x_300_hmd-ct03-l-1200.jpg . Worse, this is an official promotional photo; doesn’t the guy on it look like an idiot with that pseudo-futuristic band over his eyes?

  • Sandra ‘srand’ Powers

    “So, if your MMO of choice was a subscription game, it was either: (a) World of Warcraft, (b) Rift, (c) free-to-play, (d) cancelled, (e) assaulted by crazy lutefisk-wielding Icelandic people, or (f) so old no one remembered the server was on.”
    Mine is so old you forgot to add it to the list of extant subscription MMOs! That’s a … mark of … distinction … right?

    *sigh* Poor AC1. But hey, at least I still have a rare sword named after me. (And a rare creature in WoW, too, but the sword is cooler.)

  • I wonder whether the new MoP WoW expansion will help Blizzard re-capture some of the lost 1M or whether it’ll cause even more to turn away – long-term the next expansion could be the path the growth or the beginning of a slide.

    Steve

  • WUA

    The people going “So what if WoW lost 2 million customers in one year? They still have 10 other millions left!” don’t seem to realize what a big deal it is to shit away 15% of your customers in 12 months.