All sorts of happenings at the end of 2011

Posted by grieger on December 14, 2011

Would you look at that? NC Soft is dipping a toe into the free to play (F2P) pool by converting Aion in Europe ONLY to F2P come February 2012. As we all know (you do, know, right?), F2P conversion is usually the sign of enough of a decrease in subscriptions that the publisher/developer has taken note. There’s nothing technically wrong with the model, of course, though it does tend to put the game’s cost on the backs of those dedicated fans that are willing to shell out, on average, MORE than the typical monthly fee for the game. Plus, if you ask the various pubs that tried it like Turbine, they seem ecstatic. Paying the bills and then some. And the only limitation–if you choose the F2P path–is you might not have as many character slots (big deal) or can’t access certain parts of the game that are more end game or peripheral stuff than any of the core pieces.

I know this well since I’ve played APB Reloaded for a while. And, yes, I’ve spent more on average than the $10-15/mo I would’ve spent if I just subscribed. I’m sure GamersFirst is very happy with me since I’ve also dropped out of the game (other games to play!!). All my non-perm weapons have expired and it’s sort of ridiculous now when I go in and have $50k and one golden gun…on my ONE character (sigh). Even so, from a pub’s standpoint, they’re paying salaries and keeping servers live.

Meanwhile, today is that faithful last day (or so) of Star Wars Galaxies’ existence. Fittingly, Star Wars: The Old Republic (or Rep for those that can’t stand MMO names longer than 3 characters) started Early Access yesterday. The Early Access client you were able to install and pre-load the game with last week has a message saying you aren’t in until you get an e-mail but I checked my own account and I was able to login just fine (no e-mail received).

I cruised around my SWG server (Sunrunner) and it was a bit sad. I saw all the places I’d hung out or worked (I was primarily a trader/architect). They looked the same with that outdated engine but that wasn’t the point, was it? To me, it was as Raph Koster pointed out, a virtual world where you had options. If you wanted to spend your time online gathering resources and manufacturing houses or plants or starships, you could. If you wanted to be that bounty hunter jetting from planet to planet, you could. You were willing to ignore the blocky (in places) models and the low LOD threshold but in exchange you got John Williams’ soundtrack randomly playing as a shuttle flew over head and the sun rose over those mountains you could actually climb.

Meanwhile, SWTOR–sorry, Rep–has that BioWare DNA which is great if you want to play the star in a feature SW film (who doesn’t?). After a while, though, as I noticed in beta, I found myself just hitting escape and bypassing all that voice dialog and those conversation trees so I could get to the point and get the 10 batha livers and kill the one baddie that’s just sitting there waiting for me (after he’d recovered/respawned from the last player that knocked him down). I know, I know. I’m just scratching the surface and really need to head for the end game or at least get to the advanced classes and work that PVP mill for the good stuff.

We’ll see how long it is before SWTOR decides to go F2P. Honestly, I have a feeling that it won’t be as long as people think. I think a lot of people think, rightly so, that with the popularity of SW (for now) and the general popularity with the game pre-launch (especially in Australia of all places), it’ll be a long time before BioWare needs to worry about subscriber numbers. I think you’ll be surprised. I’m not saying they’re going to tank or anything but while I figure they’ll do better than a game like Aion, they won’t do any better than WoW. The trick is going to be how the end game, PVP and guild support is in the end. The KOTOR universe COULD be a great virtual world, but in the end, it’s more of a virtual storybook. It’s got the potential (especially with the ridiculously well-known Republic vs Empire sort of dichotomy going for it) to keep things going with PvP. But, remember, BioWare and EA are not exactly the kings of MMOs.

EA likes to leverage brands but it’s rarely done a great job with MMOs (anyone remember Earth and Beyond?). BioWare’s a noob when it comes to MMOs but they’re great storytellers. Thing is. You’re playing an MMO which by definition isn’t about story telling. It’s about creating a breathing world–wait, scratch that. It’s about mass loot, leveling and getting frustrated with your healers who aren’t keeping up as you take down the raid boss for the 50th time to get that one piece of armor you wanted.

In the end, it’s what the players make of it. While I suspect there are a lot of players who want the virtual world to play in, everyone’s so ingrained with the typical MMO grind, they’ll just keep looking for the level mill and a how to get from level 1 to level cap with their fifth alt so they can play with their guildies. The modern tavern.

g

Topics: BioWare, Free to play, Star Wars Galaxies, Star Wars: The Old Republic | No Comments »

Champions Online is now F2P

Posted by grieger on January 25, 2011

So, it seems they’ve finally transitioned and in doing so the game’s now owned by Atari (you have to actually switch over to an Atari account from your Cryptic one). They’ve also implemented a Silver/Gold member system where Silver = F2P and Gold = subscriber.

I guess there’s a lot to read into this. First off, it’s a fast transition. Champions has only been around for a little over a year now. It wasn’t a terrible game but the UI was terrible. You could hardly read the quest descriptions (and, no, I’ve read plenty of comic books…the font size they were using was ridiculous). Plus, you’d get all this crap in your inventory and there was no easy way to just glance and know if you had shit worth using or destined for the junk vendor.

Now, it’s Free to Play and you get access to all the basic content. Check out the feature matrix they put together (which is good since a lot of times you can’t find something this detailed). The interesting thing is Silver (F2P) members don’t get to create custom heroes, which is one of the main draws to the game. There are some other interesting limitations like customer support, resource limits and even chat!

Obviously some of this is driven by the fact that as a F2P game, you’ll get gold farmers scripting the hell out of free characters to sell their crap.

Still, while I expect they’ll see a bump in revenue like most F2P games (remember also that some things like Premium content is still not available to Gold members either unless they buy it), taking a game that wasn’t F2P into that arena cheapens the experience. I’ve only played a few F2P offerings and got bored of them quick.

My friends tend to look at F2P as a way to demo the game without any commitment. Is that a bad thing? For a gamer, not at all. Of course, it’s like those 10-day trials you see all the time in paid-sub MMOs. You can taste it all for free anyway…the difference is, the F2P game is open to everyone who isn’t paying.

That could be good because you’d get a lot of players who normally wouldn’t play because they’re maintaining a WoW or other MMO account. The flipside of course is you get ample gold farmers and people who just want to screw around but then ditch in no time. The whole point of an MMO experience is to have a lot of people there but it’s not necessarily like your experience going to somewhere like a mall.

Sure if all you care about is tagging people in PvP or crafting and selling your rat-pelt +2 vest to the masses, it doesn’t matter at all. But if you’re trying to maintain a group of people you’re leveling up with or managing a guild, it means a lot of temps float in and pop off in a matter of days.

Again, your mileage will vary. LOTRO and DDO are still around and by all appearances seem to be doing fine. My problem is I think F2P makes bad or dying games live longer than they should. Sure, there’s a lot of churn as people get bored with a game and move on but then again a lot of people are bored with WoW and still play it.

In the end, you’ll find the place you want to “live” and stick with it. Or you might realize that Champions Online is going to die a slow death because DC Universe Online is more interesting since it actually lets you play Batman or Superman and relies on combo-skills rather than cool-off timer management. Time will tell…

g afk

Topics: Champions Online, DC Universe Online | No Comments »

APB Zombified?

Posted by grieger on November 22, 2010

Look what’s coming back from the dead (maybe). It’s APB! That’s right, the great idea for a crime MMO but without the “realistic” feel of GTA is back…or rather, it MAY be back.

It seems GamersFirst–a company that is driven to  “follow what gamers do and give them that”–has developed several MMOs, most all of the microtransaction-based and most of them seem to be non-US based games (i.e. they were NOT built with the US market in mind initially).

Is that a big deal? Probably not. Especially given where they’re going with APB. Looks like yet another “free” to play microtransaction model. Like someone posted somewhere (sometime), they really shouldn’t use the term “free to play”. It’s rarely true. Why? Because the minute one of your opponents buys that “rental” weapon and kicks your ass with it for a week, you’re behind the curve. It’s sort of like the whole Baseball + Steroids argument. You know the one. “If Barry Bonds is driving home runs with steroids, I’ve gotta use that shit or I’ll never be MVP.”

I don’t know. I guess I’m jaded. Maybe it’s just because I want to play a game to have fun, not spending more than I did with a monthly subscription to fuel an arms war with other players.

One of my friends who was addicted to APB is happy as a clam now. He can’t wait and is even happier it’s “free” to play. It’s not that he’s cheap or anything…he just hates paying $15/mo for a game he can’t play hours and hours daily (he’s got a job like most of us).

Honestly, I think it’s good for them assuming they hire some of the original developers and/or add a few jobs for game devs. It’s a tough time right now for devs if only because publishers are expecting even more out of them with lagging sales in a tapped out economy.

My only real concern is, all they’ll do is bring the same game back and not fix the various issues that drove people like me away like the craptastic driving model…in a game where driving vehicles is an integral part of the game. They seem committed to updating the game to suit player needs/wants. We’ll see.

In the meantime, and in other news, look for the Rift closed beta. Starts Friday, December 3rd.

afk

Topics: APB | No Comments »

The Aion Experience: The Conclusion

Posted by grieger on November 4, 2010

(This is the third and final part to a series of posts. Check out part 1 and part 2.)

So, my griping (on Twitter) managed to get me in touch with someone higher up on the totem pole in NCSoft’s support team for Aion. After a bit of back and forth, I got a better sense for what was going on. It still doesn’t explain how my account got hacked exactly but there’s a possibility it’s tied to an older security breach Aion had nearer to launch day.

Suffice it to say, while I understand their point of view when it comes to things like notifying me (the account owner) of the banning when it actually happened, I still think everything’s still centered around protecting themselves over taking care of the customer paying the bill in the end.

Whatever. For now, I’m back online though, with games like Rift and Tera coming, there’s a decent chance I’ll be taking my money somewhere else.

g afk

Topics: Aion, NC Soft | No Comments »

The Aion Experience, Part 2

Posted by grieger on October 29, 2010

(This is part 2 to this initial post about my account getting auto-banned by NCSoft for no apparent reason.)

It took three or four days but the whole banning thing was resolved (made harder by the fact that somehow I had gotten my Collector’s Edition key added by NC Soft automatically but it was different from the key in the physical box!). But the show’s not over.

First, the resolution involved them reseting my Aion account and master account passwords (which I doubt anyone got but okay) and then confirming that I had valid product keys as touched upon above.

According to NCSoft my account was flagged by their automated processes–which I’m assuming have some sort of human supervision/review at some point but then again given the potential volume I doubt it’s anything more than cursory–for RTM (??) advertising in-game. So, I guess it was being used to advertise gold sales/farming or something.

The fuckers at NCSoft support sent me a little canned response related to security as part of that interaction:

1. Never give your passwords to anyone, including family, friends, or members of your Legion.
2. Do not re-use the same username and password on other accounts.
3. Do not install third-party software (i.e. software not created by NCsoft).
4. Please review our Security FAQ at the following URL, which includes additional information for keeping your Aion account secure:

Let’s see…uh, check, check, check and…(wait for it)…check. I run AV software and scans on a regular basis, I’ve never shared my account information for any MMO ever. And, unless they mean ANY third-party software (like Microsoft Word, etc.) I don’t use any mods. The FAQ just goes into detail about new and exciting things like hacking, viruses, trojans and being an idiot and giving your information away to some joker (or your brother) that you barely know.

The more I deal with this crap the more I think THEY’VE got an issue with people hacking THEIR servers. Either that or the peeps behind this crap have figured out how to circumvent their little system (surprise surprise). After seeing the shit that arose post beta (when the masses flooded the servers), with the game being completely vulnerable to mass chat spamming and no way to block it out properly (we had to manually add each account to the ignore list which was limited to 100 people and with names like “xl3lskdlels”).

Besides…if I was hacked, how come they didn’t fuck around with my WoW account? Or my Station Account with it’s access to several MMOs? It just seems a bit suspicious. I’ve been running the game for over a year now and this happens within a month of my installing the Assault on Balaurea expansion which I WAS HANDED BY NCSOFT EMPLOYEES! I got it at PAX after attending an NCSoft panel on Aion of all things. WTF?

Now here’s the final nail in the coffin. I got a notice a few days ago about my subscription expiring. WTF? I’ve been set up on the 3-month sub plan for ages now. It was also sent to the address I’d used to contact NCSoft support…which is NOT the address my account is registered under. So, naturally, I replied with a WTF? (actually it was a WTH). That was on 10/24. The ticket still has no reply as of today (10/29), which is the day my sub expired (got the notice this morning).

Thank you NCSoft for making my decision to support you for me. I guess you must have a shit ton of subscribers so you really don’t need one (or likely more who’ve got to deal with the same shit I do).

Fucking ingrates. Don’t worry, though. There are several new MMOs coming within the next year. I’m sure they’d be happy to see my money.

g afk

Topics: Aion, Bad Customer Service, NC Soft | No Comments »

Wow! No, wait, Aion!…here’s an experience!

Posted by grieger on October 19, 2010

So, I see the Tweets about Aion’s new iPhone app called Aion Exchange. It sounds cool. You can use it to check out your character stats, check your items on the auction and–the cool part–the ability to search for items and check prices.

Sounds great right? Well, it helps if your account didn’t get banned for some unknown reason without warning. I tried logging in using the app and it gives me this unfinished bullshit:

<p>session_error_illegal_account</p>

QA department miss that? Fun.

So, the “illegal” part caught my eye. I launch Aion (which I don’t play a lot lately for various reasons) to check it. It says my account was banned. What the fuck? I just played it about a month ago after coming back from PAX and wanting to try it post-Assault on Balurea. It was fine then.

To be clear, I never share my account info with anyone, I have virus/malware protection and keep it up to date, and I’m careful about what I download from the web (and where I travel on said web).

I’ve got a support ticket open to find out but I’m expecting something really stupid. After all, why ban the account of someone who’s barely active, who doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary (I don’t even have a mule character). I just play these fucking games to have fun.

My guess is they’ve got some automated script they run with an overly simple algorithm. Either that or their systems were hacked and instead of sending me a simple e-mail letting me know there was a problem, they’re pulling a Blizzard and just mass banning people for whatever reason.

My problem? I’ve never been banned from a game. Why the fuck are these douchebags doing it now? I’ve been a member (in good standing) since it launched (I participated in the beta). The funny thing? I don’t see them not charging my credit card or refunding me the difference. They’d probably happily continue to charge me with my banned account…unable to use the game I’m actually paying for. I wonder if this is some sort of racket. Maybe Blizzard’s 11-12 million subscribers are partially banned accounts their pulling money down from despite them not being able to use the account.

I actually had a friend whose account was banned on the WoW side with no warning or reason…at least until he called in (and waiting on hold for a while). They told him his account was hacked. So the solution, of course, was to ban it. Huh? Oh, sorry, it was locked out. You say potato…

I dunno. I sort of expect it from Blizzard. They’ve become a bunch of assholes given their position in the market. Mass bans rather than being sure. At the very least, for hacked accounts, when you KNOW it was hacked (why else would you log in one day and transfer all of your items or sell them and transfer all the gold?), lock the account but send the account owner an e-mail giving them instructions for setting a new password. Rollback the transactions. Red flag the destination accounts for the gold. It’s called Customer Service.

Instead, they’d rather just follow the “Kill them all and let God sort them out” or “Ban them all and let the legit ones go through customer service and waste their time to show their dedication to us as their God”. It’s one of those things that–as much as have a fondness for the game–really makes me sit back and watch with anticipation…waiting for the downfall of the game. I almost can’t wait for the post-mortem at GDC where producers and execs will sit on a panel and tell the crowd where the bastion of profitability in the MMO world went wrong in the end. Lessons learned.

Stay tuned for the results from support. Let’s hope NC Soft is better at customer service than Blizzard.

Topics: Aion, Customer Service, NC Soft, World of Warcraft | No Comments »

Hi-Rez Smells an Opportunity

Posted by grieger on September 18, 2010

Gotta say, even though you can argue both sides, I like the fact that Hi-Rez is doing it’s best to think fast and turn on a dime.

With the rather sudden shutdown of APB (well, we knew it was teetering but still), Hi-Rez has swooped in to claim some new peeps while effectively supporting the non-tab-locked MMO subgenre.

They’re offering a discount to people (technically, the code is open for anyone to use since I don’t see any sort of disclaimer saying otherwise) when they buy the game via their store. Just use the code LongLiveShooterMMOs when buying Global Agenda and you get 30% off.

Of course, the business side of me sees the opportunity they’re taking advantage of. I understand it. Some might liken it to ambulance chasers but I don’t agree. The MMO market is competitive. WoW acts like this gravity well amongst the majority of MMO players who will bounce between new MMOs and WoW in conjunction with new launches and subsequent boredom. Still, it’s true. With APB crashing and burning, there are few MMOs out there that don’t rely on tab-locks (i.e. hit tab to target lock).

Then again, there’s at least one upcoming MMO that looks to try to buck the trend while still sticking with elves and fantastic creatures: Tera. Mind you it’s more about Action RPG combat than it is about shooter action. But, it’s still a nice departure from your standard tab-1-2-3-4-repeat attack run.

Anyhow, if you’re one of the fallen who played APB and you don’t mind trading in your tats and street cred for lasers and jump packs, you should definitely check out Global Agenda. While I don’t actively play it (I’ve only got so much time now, c’mon), it’s got some legs especially if you’re a shooter fan. They’ve got a solid, dedicated crew and they’re being very active about keeping the game up to date and enhancing it to suit players needs. Plus, you can play it largely for free. What’s stopping you?

g afk

Topics: APB, Global Agenda, Hi-Rez Studios, Realtime Worlds | No Comments »

APB Bites it

Posted by grieger on September 16, 2010

If you’ve been following APB, I suppose it isn’t as much of a shock to find out that APB is shutting down as of tomorrow (9/17)! That was quick.

It took five years to create and less than a year to die out. Obviously, it wasn’t solely because of the game itself. The company, Real Time Worlds, went bankrupt. While one or two of their other games seem to have survived, no one wanted APB so they have to shut it down.

It’s sort of sad to see it go in a way but honestly, after trying the beta, I knew it had no legs. It had potential but when you see something that is so integral to gameplay (driving) operate like something out of a bargain bin bus simulation, you’ve got to ask yourself if it’s really going anyway.

I mean, I have friends who were (as of this week even) playing it religiously. Then again, I also had friends who were interested in it who ditched as quick as I did.

The writing was on the wall though. I mean, who orders up a revamp barely months after launch? It seemed to go downhill pretty fast after that.

It’s tough to see devs lose their jobs and I always hate it when game companies fall apart. However, I also really hate it when game companies continue to fail at making good games. It’s not like this industry is new any more. Sure, the consumer is fickle and interest fades but there are plenty of games that have outlived the companies that made them and some that are going strong despite everyone saying it’s done/boring (I’m looking at you WoW).

It just seems to me some people are trying to apply formulas for games that don’t apply in today’s game market. The guy that founded the company, Dave Jones, worked on the original GTA. So, you sort of expected the whole GTA formula was present (well, at least the cops and robbers with cars thrown in formula). But shake and bake does not a game make.

Let’s hope someone learns from this and ends up creating the next big MMO coming out in 2012 or beyond. I’m hoping there will be an extensive Post Mortem in Game Developer Magazine sometime soon.

For those of you who really want to still pretend to be gangsters, there’s always Crime Craft. But, I’d take it with a grain of salt…not anywhere near what you were doing in APB. If you don’t care about multiplayer (though that doesn’t make sense), there’s always Mafia II.

And if you did want another MMO that also involves vehicles but not in the same way, check out Fallen Earth. I’m going to take her for a spin but I’m not expecting much. Post apocalyptic worlds took a hit with Fallout’s recent game. Harder to make a game in that genre unless you build on what Fallout’s already done (and no, I’m not that excited about the Fallout MMO…not yet at least…the developer has more to do with how that game’s going to turn out than a name and a license).

g afk

Topics: APB, Realtime Worlds, Shutting Down | No Comments »

PAX Here I Come!

Posted by grieger on August 30, 2010

Well, it wasn’t easy and I’ll likely go bankrupt in the process but I’m heading to PAX next week.

Outside of maybe Guild Wars 2 and maybe the Torchlight MMO, I’m not expecting much news related to MMOs (though maybe some Dragon Age2) unless Funcom’s running out of money and decides to toss Secret World out of its hamper early. We’ll have to see.

I guess the real question will be if we’re going to see anything we haven’t heard of yet (and that isn’t an expansion for some sort of well-known MMO by some company named after a weather pattern). I know Aion’s reps will be there and I’m guessing Cryptic will send some people over to push Star Trek Online and Champions a bit. I figured Mythic will be there (isn’t WAR due for an expansion?!).

Of course, once I get my hands on anything, I’ll get word out here and you know it’ll include the usual “hard-hitting” analysis we usually dole out (i.e. skip the bullshit and give me the real verdict).

Stay tuned.

g afk

Topics: PAX, PAX 2010 | No Comments »

Realtime Worlds on the Brink…

Posted by grieger on August 17, 2010

Too bad they aren’t the developers of Brink…it’d be ironic.

It seems Realtime Worlds, the company that brought you Crackdown (the first one) and APB (the one you likely aren’t playing) isn’t looking too good financially.

I can’t say it’s a surprise. They did lay off some people recently but characterized it as a shift related to the now-released APB. Sounded like bullshit then and seems to be bullshit now.

I think the problem is the usual problem you see with MMOs. They’d done Crackdown and the founder was one of the people who made GTA. You’d think they could pull something like this off…except the online beast is a very different one from a nice sequestered single player environment.

I tooled around in the beta for APB and I can tell you it really helped me decide from the get-go that I would NOT be playing that game. It had loads of potential…I saw it at PAX last year and wanted more because CrimeCraft was looking like it wouldn’t really give me the whole GTA–but Online–experience.  Then the beta came around and all that anticipation was dashed on the rocky shores of disappointment. It wasn’t the standard mannequin mission ATMs or the graphics…I mean, the former is standard and the latter could be tossed into the “it’s a beta” pile.

No, it was the vehicle physics. Little Honda-like cars driving like aircraft carriers through molasses? C’mon…don’t tell me this is some sort of skill thing that I had to level up or chalk it up to lag. It wasn’t that. It was how they made it work…why? I don’t know…maybe they just didn’t understand vehicle physics? (I doubt it…c’mon…Crackdown was fine…hell you could drive up a building if you wanted to!

It seems more like either the vehicle physics didn’t translate to the lag-infested online world. Then again, Need For Speed World played a lot better, even with lag.

I don’t know what it is. People are still playing it and friends of mine are playing it without complaint. Maybe they don’t care or maybe they just figured out how, as with many MMO players, to just deal with the system they’ve been given, however crappy. Whatever the reason, it’s not good enough for me.

There are things to do that don’t involve vehicles but a bit part of their marketing campaign included you sitting side-saddle out your car’s window capping other players. What they didn’t tell you was it took five minutes just to line your car up right to get that started and that you’d end up crashing more often than not…and not because you were a bad driver.

In the end, though, the game has some aspects worth playing, if you’re into it, but just doesn’t have enough compelling gameplay to warrant it a spot in a regular MMO player’s portfolio longer than a month.

I suppose it’s like Call of Duty for some. You don’t play it because it’s the best game out there…it’s got its flaws. You play it because you want the action and you’ve got some people you know there. It becomes like that bar you see a bunch of regulars showing up at every day. It may not be the prettiest place but you like the company.

My problem was…I didn’t want to pay another dollar for that crappy place. I can always play something else with them if I really wanted to.

g

Topics: APB, Realtime Worlds | No Comments »

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