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Allods Online: Going… Subscription!

Allods Online Gibberlings

My Gibberling from Allods Online Closed Beta.

So, apparently Allods Online is releasing a Russian subscription only server.  No cash shop, no pay to win, no ridiculous design choices to force you into paying inordinate amounts of money for basic features — just the game and a nice subscription.

You may remember that Allods was a game I spoke quite highly about for several months back in 2010.  I really fell in love with the Astral Ships, the Gibberlings, and honestly enjoyed the PvP and the world.  It was a quaint little themepark with some neat features.  I was all set to play until gPotato dropped their ridiculous cash shop on us without warning, and proceeded to flip the bird at their supporting community.  I’m still bitter.

Anyway, quite an odd turn of events that a notorious F2P game has decided to go 100% in the opposite direction (even if only on one server), emphasizing that players are all on equal footing.  I won’t hold my breath for this to be the start of any trend.  A server in Russia for a game not well-received in the West isn’t going to make waves, but I sure hope it does well.

I really do think we will see more games revert in the near future with a subscription offering. What do they have to lose that they already haven’t lost going free to play?  The end of the F2P era is coming.  Mark my words that it won’t last as long as the subscription reign.  Competing on price works for some industries, but not for MMOs.

Trailers: Do they cause more harm than good?

Trailers in the gaming industry are the first step in building hype for a game.  Often the trailer will come out as a teaser years ahead of the actual game.  Nearly every trailer features zero actual gameplay and the vast majority are done in CGI with scenes having little or nothing to do with what playing the game will actually be like.  When I watch a trailer the first thing that I do is try and identify what they’re wanting to accomplish.  Are they showing me what the game will be like, setting up a story, introducing characters, or simply giving me some really flashy scene to watch and drool over?

Here’s where I ask myself whether or not trailers cause more harm than good.  Let’s quickly evaluate a few trailers.  Some of these are going to be from past releases and some will be for future releases.  We’ll be able to compare in hindsight as well as identify similar qualities in trailers for the unreleased games.

Warhammer Online Cinematic Trailer – It’s a beautiful trailer.  But it’s epic for the sake of being epic.  There’s nothing in here that matches what the actual game was like. Characters are behaving in ways unlike they did in-game.  You don’t have Shadow warriors running on rooftops or squig herders hopping inside their squig (this was even billed a feature for a while). This trailer got people excited.  It caused more harm than good.

Allods Online Trailer – Rendered with some CGI and some in-game engine.  Here’s a trailer that clearly defines what will be going on in-game.  You have two sides that will be battling on air ships in the astral.  While the game itself may have floundered this trailer certainly did not do it any injustice.  I played the game to the max level and even went into an airship.   The game was like the trailer.  This trailer did well by the game.

Aion “Vision” Trailer – This one starts of so well by giving players a look at how the game will ‘actually’ change.  However, it then quickly degrades into showing a bunch of stuff that looks nothing and plays nothing like Aion ever played.  There’s not even room for believability here.  It gives people this false sense of excitement for something that will never be like what’s shown.  More harm than good for sure.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Teaser Trailer – I wrote about this trailer yesterday.  Here we have a story being set up in the beginning with absolutely no expectations being put onto the gameplay.  When the character in plate armor begins fighting skeletons, there’s a believability to the combat.  I’ve seen combat look like this in Batman Arkham Asylum and God of War.  It’s CGI but I’m betting not too far off the mark from what the game will look like.  They’ve left me interested in the story, knowing there’s combat, but not set up to be disappointed.

StarCraft 2 Ghosts of the Past Trailer – Not once in the entire trailer was there ANYTHING close to gameplay.  SC is a RTS game!  However, the entire trailer is about the story.  If you played the original StarCraft and have any memory of what happened in the game then you’re already connected to the trailer because you’re connected to the story.  Blizzard has a magical ability to enchant the sense with their cinematic trailers that make the movie industry look like preschool.  They’re usually always about giving you a glimpse at the story to set up how you should be feeling as you go in to play.  If you’ve never played SC though and you go into the game thinking you’re playing something like this trailer… I really do feel bad for you.

SWTOR “Hope” Cinematic Trailer – Bioware’s trailers for Star Wars are starting to give Blizzard some real competition.  They’re absolutely gorgeous.  There’s some story being told here.  I’m familiar with a lot of the history and story being told about the wars between the Sith and the Republic.  At the same time, this starts to fall into the same problems that Warhammer’s trailer did and a little of SC2.  The SWTOR trailers are a little too epic for the sake of being epic and if you have no prior knowledge of how SWTOR plays then you’re probably in for a disappointment.  We’ll see.

I could go on for hours writing here with the number of trailers out there.   Trailers are supposed to get people excited but there’s definitely a line.  There’s a line for the people making them where they have to consider who is watching and what they’ll be expecting after.  There’s also a line for those watching to know that what you’re seeing is most likely not representative of the real thing.

Choosing whether or not trailers cause more harm than good, I would definitely conclude that they do indeed cause much more harm.  Regardless of how much responsibility is on the viewer not to get excited, it happens and it happens to me all the time.  I know it happens to you too because I’m not the only one buying the games that turn out nothing like the trailers.

Trailers are only a single ingredient in this enormous hype recipe, but they’re usually the first and they’re always one that appeals to the senses most.   I want to see more trailers that do a better job at either telling a story or providing us with more realistic expectations.

Stability is the cornerstone missing in recent MMO’s

Whenever I go without a  MMO for long periods of time the first thing that always comes to mind is how I need a game that I can invest myself into.  That’s what sets MMO’s apart from other games for me.  A MMO character is something that the players should feel committed to in a good way.  It’s a time, emotional, and monetary investment.  I see building up a character and spending the time playing him as a positive form of investment that brings with it a certain level of fulfillment.  That feeling is one of the main things that keeps me playing a MMO.

What happens when that feeling is not present?  It can be missing in various ways from the start of a game.  It can also be present but then be removed or destroyed.  In the case of Allods, the feeling that I was committed to my character was definitely there until the rollercoaster of bad news/good news began.  The most recent bad news has been that, while perfume costs are down, the mechanic has been changed so that you must consume many of them at once.  Without burdening you with too many unnecessary details, it has effectively made me no longer think about the future — I’ve stopped caring.

I heard the following analogy that fits:  It’s like knowing the train you’re on is going to crash later — you’re going to get off before it does.  There are several things to note about this.

The game is not even broken -yet- but people will stop playing because it’s going to be.  Those that do keep playing will be depressed (unless clueless to the whole situation) and will likely not play the same way.  No matter what, the community shrinks and begins to plummet.   At this point, even if the future problem is averted, people have already detached themselves from their character and the game to the point that returning is easily overlooked.

It’s probably the absolute worst position that a game can be in because no matter what happens you’re screwed.  The only way to avoid it is to not let it happen.

Perhaps one of the most sorely lacking qualities in today’s MMO’s is stability.  I haven’t felt stability in any launch for many years.  Is the game going to suck?  Will X ruin the game down the road?  Will the company survive or go bankrupt?  Bottom line: Is this game here to stay?  There is a definite loss of faith in the companies and/or games being released that is squashing our ability to commit to these games.   Not even studios that have released gems in the past are able to replicate their success.  What a horrible state the industry has sunk into.  In many ways this is exactly why World of Warcraft remains the #1 game of choice for most people.  Regardless of their meta-game end-game, they’re stable and you know what to expect and that they’re going to be around.  This stability will transfer over to their next title.

We continue to place our trust in new developers and old developers nonetheless.  Unless we stop getting burned, and feel like we can trust the developers again to deliver that stability, companies like Blizzard will remain as the providers of a dominant gameplay style.  The resulting “clone” effect is then expectable and the cascade effect of that puts us into a vicious cycle.

The cycle can be broken.  No, the answer isn’t to stop playing new games or to stop playing WoW  as many will quickly jump in and proclaim.  This whole “the players are in control” stuff is nonsense.  One way, perhaps THE way, that the cycle can be broken is if someone will develop a polished MMO that provides a feeling of stability — a feeling that is a direct result of quality and common sense from those who have a clue.

Allods Cash Shop Prices Come Down

Some big changes have just hit the cash shop in Allods Online.  Prices have dropped significantly yet still remain slightly higher than the Russians pay.  The expected result that players would welcome any cash shop change was immediately apparent within the first minute of the change.  People are shouting their excitement and are now expressing renewed interest in continuing to play.  I too am very happy that right now I can at least afford to continue playing where before I would have had to quit the game altogether.

Some analysis of the cash shop:

Vial of Perfume reduced from 75gP to 25gP
Large Perfume Kit reduced from 1350gP to 300gP
60% Savings by purchasing in bulk, yet still 3x the prices paid in Russia. Let’s put this into a workable number.  Let’s say you want to play for 1.5 hours per night and do a dungeon or PvP or whatever and always be under to effects of perfume.  1.5 h/day, 7 days a week,  4 weeks a month = $12.60 / month.  That’s affordable.  Up that to 2 hours a night and you’re paying $16.80 / month.  That’s a big jump but still affordable.

A level 10 rune costs $1,998.78 now which is incredibly cheaper than it was…. but still, who is going to buy one?  Interesting enough the Russians have patched their runes to now be more powerful than they were which may offer further incentive to buy runes.  Perhaps there is an affordable rank of runes that players will find as a sort of ‘sweet spot’ for cost vs. effectiveness.

The respecs and bigger bags, along with many other wanted items, are still not in the cash shop.  This has some players still bothered but overall the consensus is that people are willing to spend money and now they can.   Lots of people from our guild had put the game down until good news came to pull them back.  Perhaps this will be that good news.

This announcement was going to be my Stay or Go point.  Right now this has me staying and willing to continue investing time and effort.

Allods Adventure Log: Level 24 and my thoughts on the PvP flagging

Despite my lack of blog posts about Allods lately, and the extreme amount of negativity and cynicism surrounding the game from just about everyone under the sun, I’m still playing.  In fact, I’m playing the game a lot.  I’m now over halfway through level 24 and working through the first few waves of quests in Asee-Teph.  For those who do not know, Asee-Teph is the first PvP zone in the game.  For a few days before I arrived in the zone I was hearing a lot of grumbling about how uneven the sides were and how badly we were getting stomped.   Not quite the same experience I’m having.

The first night in Asee-Teph our guild formed a group and began questing together.  We encountered a significant amount of PvP and quickly started to grow our group into two groups (still of all guild members) and rolled across a great deal of the zone.  We ended up completing only a handful of quests but annihilated dozens of Empire.  Quite the opposite experience of that being experienced just a few days prior.  Perhaps most of the higher levels moved on?

This morning and afternoon was spent running dozens of quests all over the zone yet still only scratching the tip of the enormous iceberg that is Asee-Teph.  Again, lots of PvP and fun.  We formed a small 3-man group and moved around the zone with little trouble.  Occasionally we formed into a bigger group to tackle larger Empire gatherings and had higher levels show up to annihilate us (like a level 32 Summoner plaguing the entire raid) but it was all fun.

How does the flagging system play into the enjoyment of PvP?

Let’s just say that 8/10 people I come across are flagged and 1 of them will usually flag to attack while the other runs away thinking they’re vulnerable.  In Asee-teph it’s rather difficult to not flag yourself when simply questing.  Many of the mobs will flag you because they’re empire mobs.  Later on the factions you attack will not necessarily flag you though, so if people want to run around unflagged then they’ll probably be safe from PvP.   Asee-Teph is still quite a PvP hotspot and a lot of fun though.

We’ve still heard nothing from gPotato.  The lack of communication has the townsfolk grabbing their torches.  The locals are getting restless and that’s never a good thing.