Age of Hybrids

Age of Conan flat out bombed with the majority of the MMO community when it launched a few years ago.  Since then Funcom has maintained development on the game and is finally turning it into a “hybrid” model.  I say finally because I am surprised it took them this long.  You all know my stance on games becoming hybrids: It’s like moving to Florida to retire and stay warm until you die or people forget about you.  Duh, games that offer free versions see a spike in players.  It also gives the developers a way to generate more money again.  Bottom line, quality suffers under the heavy hand of business.

Craig Morrison said this in an interview:

“Then you have the fact that the industry is changing, and a model like this really is the best way to drive more traffic to the game. We have gotten very positive feedback on all the improvements made to the game by our loyal players, so this is the opportunity to take the game and re-present it to MMO gamers who may have tried it years ago and wouldn’t otherwise give it a second chance… and that is good for everyone involved!”

The industry is not changing.  A few feeding at the bottom have developed a way to milk more cash out of an otherwise dead cow. The key here is that players did try it years ago and absolutely would not give it a second chance.  If it wasn’t worth playing when it cost money then it’s certainly not worth playing when it’s free; that’s my slogan and one I find holds true.  You may try a game again but you rarely see players get back in and really play unless the game changes drastically (DDO is an example of a game that flat out failed and came back F2P to do well).  Games going free/hybrid do so for a reason.  There is absolute zero goodwill involved here folks.  They’re not thinking to themselves how wonderful this will be to give people a free option.  It’s to make money.  Motivation is key here because motivation influences the path of development.

Subscription MMO’s that are good games and remain good games even when they are old do perfectly fine.  Going hybrid is a method for dealing with failure before or after the fact.  This is why we never see AAA quality MMO’s launching hybrid or F2P.  The subscription model isn’t going anywhere since it still works for the good, quality games.

So for Age of Conan, I’ll pass.  It’s still Age of Conan when it’s free.

The games of 2008

Happy New Year everyone!  Another year of gaming has come and gone and I want to take the opportunity to reflect upon the past year.  Unlike some years, 2008 was actually full of gaming for me and with that gaming came the usual fun but it also tought me many lessons.  What I’m going to do now is go through each of the gaming genres and possibly platforms to give you guys a quick rundown of what I enjoyed most, hated most, never got to see,  and learned while playing games in 2008.

Overall, I was pretty disappointed with what we saw from this pocket of gaming.  The only game really worth mentioning is Sins of a Solar Empire.  SoaSE received a lot of praise for being so different from most games and doing so without the backing of a huge publisher.  I just couldn’t get into it and sadly this meant that the only other RTS games in 2008 worth checking out were… well, Red Alert 3, and that didn’t pan out at all like I was hoping.  I expected RA3 to be huge for me but it ended up slipping away into the shadows after I wasn’t impressed by the demo.  Overall, the genre hid itself in 2008 but from the looks of it we may see it resurface as king in 2009 with the release of StarCraft 2.

FPS / other Shooters
The FPS/shooter genre was about to take the same dive as the RTS games on the PC before November when Left 4 Dead released.  Until this point we had no shooters on the PC release that were even worth except for Call of Duty World at War, but the jury is still out on CoD5 for me on whether or not it’ll be considered a personal hit.  L4D introduced an entirely new style of play for FPS games with multiplayer storytelling and cooperative play rising to new levels.  But again, until November all we had to go on were the amazing releases of 2007 (CoD4 and TF2) which are still trumping the success of 2008’s releases.  2009 may bring with it a few interesting announcement and possibly a release, but I don’t expect much given the direction that some of these publishers are taking their titles.  I’m holding out hope that Battlefield 3 revives it for me.

Err… what RPG’s?  For me, this genre tanked worse than RTS games.  This is, of course, my personal opinion [Duh, my blog] so I’ll probably receive some nasty emails or flames but… what do we have to work with here?  Fallout 3, Fable 2, a couple ports to PC from consoles, and a few “enhanced editions” of games that didn’t do so well?  I don’t find Fallout 3 very interesting at all from a RPG perspective and Fable 2 was once again not what I expected from the Fable series.  I’ll go ahead and brush the rest away for being 2007 or failed titles and conclude that this genre needs some serious help on PC and higher standards for consoles.  I want to see the true RPG style return to PC in the coming years with 2009 – hopefully – bringing an announcement.

Since there are only a couple games in this genre for 2008, I’ll go down the list of the ones I played – the ones worth mentioning –  (just so happens I played them all) and give you my quick thoughts.

Pirates of the Burning Sea – Over instancing your world is bad folks.  This little engine that almost could really had my hopes high.  I was ready for a Pirate mmo; especially one that allowed me to command my own ship on the seas.  At heart, it tried.  It had a lot of neat ideas and the world was its oyster.   In the end, the direction that FLS went was the wrong one but I hope it opened the doors for future Pirate’ish MMORPGs to release and learn from the unfortunate mistakes made here.  I’m still adamant that when a Pirate MMO releases which allows players to command a ship together and truly sail a real virtual world while offering the plethora of possibilities of Nation combat and other PvP/PvE will be a success.

Age of Conan – Everyone learned a lesson here: graphics do not make the game.  Releasing a game without the content to support a poorly designed game on top of having some of the worst performance ever seen in the genre is the recipe for disaster.  I also learned that I do not want developers being innovative for the sake of being innovative.  Hungry Hungry Hippos [Google it] combat is no substitution for what works.  I walked away burned by AoC but I learned a lot about trusting my gut instinct.   I also learned that more people read my blog that I thought.  The emails, comments, in-game /tells in various games, and other communicae telling me how people wish they listened to me about AoC reinforce that I really need to listen to my gut when it comes to games and especially when writing about them.

Warhammer Online – It’s been a rollercoaster, that’s for sure.  The game had a pretty rocky launch because it was released a couple months before it should have been.  What Mythic needed to do was release the game in the state it’s in with 1.1 and not what it was at launch.  The result has been losing a pretty good chunk of players in the first few months.  However, the game is in an amazing place right now.  Aside from a few bugs and design issues that need to be ironed out, this is by far the best MMORPG for the player who enjoys large-scale team based PvP (RvR).  It lacks the PvE polish and it has a few issues with incentives and player-driven content but it’s getting there and when it does finally get there it will blow people away.   For the past month I took a small break from the game and only played it on and off while I tried out other games.  My reason for doing so was “I don’t think I’ll miss the game if I stop playing”.  Turns out, when I stopped playing for a while all I could do was think about how “I really want to play WAR”.  That’s a really good sign.

World of Warcraft – Ohhh boy.  Yep, I resubbed to WoW a couple weeks after WotLK launched.  I wanted to see what had changed because I was being told by so many friends that the game had changed significantly.  True, it had changed a lot.  The game is no longer about 40-man raids and only a battleground rank grind.    Instead, it’s about 10-man and 25-man raids where the 25-man raids will always have a significant advantage over the 10-man.  Instead of just a battleground rank grind it’s about a point grind for arenas and battlegrounds.  It’s all about getting to that quota each week instead of enjoying what you’re actually doing.  The treadmill is moving faster than ever in World of Warcraft and although the game’s polish is truly second to none, it fails to be about the fun.  The “game” ends at the max level abruptly.  The leveling process deserves so much praise but that’s the end of the game.  At 80 the meta game begins where points take over for fun.  11.5 million people are not playing a “game”.  So no, it has not changed at heart – it’s just added a new layer of blinding polish.  I have not canceled yet but I’m moving in that direction.  [More on this later this week.]

Consoles ‘n stuff
These games belong in some of the other categories, but I’ve decided to make mention of them here in a console section.  I’m not a huge console fan but I do occasionally pick up a game and find it enjoyable.

Xbox 360 – Saints Row 2, Gears of War 2, Lego Batman and Indiana Jones, Star Wars Force Unleashed, and probably more deserve mention.  I’ve enjoyed all of these games and for this reason feel that Xbox 360 had the best year for me.

Playstation 3 – A couple good games were released here but I can honestly say I have not played many of them yet.  I’m currently enjoying Little Big Planet and plan to put Resistance 2 in later this week to being playing what I hope will be a fantastic game.

Wii – Heh, I continue to wonder about this little console.  I like Nintendo’s titles but it feels like an eternity between releases of quality games.  I like(d) Super Smash Bros and Mario Kart but I want more!  I’m tired of the “party games” and the “mini-games” and the other shovel/crapware.  Let’s get some more Zeldas and Marios!

Alright!  I’m sure I missed some stuff but that’s what I get for writing this straight through on memory.  Looking back at all these games that I’ve enjoyed enough to mention here, I can honestly say that 2008 was a pretty good year.  It had its ups and downs, especially during that summer slump, and it had its flops, let-downs, and nasty surprises but the good overcame the bad by a slim margin.

I hope that 2009 brings with it a few announcements to really shake things up.  I want to see the MMORPG titles in development and slated for release truly surprise (yes, I’m looking at you Darkfall).  I want to see more quality PC games like StarCraft 2 make their 2009 release dates and really revive some of these othe genres that have been stagnant for far too long.  I really hope that in 2009 developers will see the path that gaming is going and not try to take shortcuts that will lead to better profits but worse games.

Keen and Graev’s Gaming Blog will celebrate 2 years of writing early this year and I hope that you will all join us for yet another fantastic year of gaming and community.  Remember, the only thing that matters is that you are having fun.

E3: We chat with Eidos/Funcom about Age of Conan

As I mentioned yesterday we had the opportunity to talk with Funcom here at E3 in the Eidos room.  Erling Ellingson sat down for a chat and answered all of our questions which can be read about in an article I’ve written for the vault.

“Age of Conan’s launch was technically fantastic and server uptime was perfect”, said Erling Ellingson as we sat down to have a chat at E3 about how the game is coming along nearly two months after release. He seemed truly sincere in his claims stating again that he feels Age of Conan’s launch was one of the most successful launches ever for a mmorpg save for a few customer services issues that have since been remedied.

When asked what the development team has been focusing on lately Erling said that Funcom is hard at work in the fixing stage for Age of Conan and beginning work on the game’s first expansion – which he was extremely tight lipped about. Attention is focused on resolving the problems that have appeared since launch. Efforts to that end include improvements to City Sieges, which are showing a performance increase of over 300%, resolving other bugs, and continuing to develop the game’s features. [Read the rest of the article including an exclusive announcement at the IGN Vault Network.]

First I want to say that the interview with Erling was a pleasure.  He is a really nice guy and someone that cares about the game.  It’s an awkward feeling interviewing someone for a game that I really do not like, yet at the same time I can respect the developers who put in the time and dedication to make their game how they want it done.

You’ll read this in the writeup but I want to mention that I’m pleased to see Funcom working toward fixing many of the issues with the game.  I asked Erling about the lack of content and itemization issues specifically because they were two of the biggest reasons I stopped playing Age of Conan.  When asked the questions, Erling had the look of complete agreement and acceptance on his face that these ARE issues but ones they’re planning on fixing.  He told us about content they’re adding and their plans to rework the stats system.  Lots of changes are coming to Conan and it’s truly unfortunate that it has taken 2 months after release to begin addressing these issues.  If not for future games snagging my interest Age of Conan might have been a game that lures me back for a resubscription.  (It still might in the future)

I’ve got to get ready to go this morning so I’ll leave it at that.   I’ll be posting about other games tonight.


E3 Day 1: Nintendo, Funcom, SoE

Wow!  The first day of E3 is over.  This was a huge day for us that started out at 6am.  We knew that Nintendo would be sending shuttles to the various hotels but we had no idea when they would be coming.  We decided to go down to the lobby just to check and see if the shuttless were there and perhaps grab a bite to eat.  Turns out that when we got down to the lobby that the final shuttles leaving for the event were almost full and ready to pull out.  Missing breakfast sucked but we were able to get our spiffy paper Nintendo wristbands and make it to the Kodak Theater. 

When we got to the Kodak we entered the lobby area where Nintendo has graciously provided sodas, water, and all the hot coffee people could drink… well not really.  The coffee was gone in three minutes and they kept rushing to refill the dispensers.  See?  That’s what you get for having conferences this early on the morning. 😛

The conference overall left us with some mixed feelings.   Several games were announced like Animal Crossing City Folk, a new Pokemon game, GTA Chinta Town (DS), Wii Music, Wii Sports Resort, and more Guitar Hero games than I care to count.  We’re going to record a podcast tonight with our detailed thoughts so look for that if you’re interested.

After the Nintendo event we shuttled back to the conference center and had an interview with Funcom.   Yes, you read that right.  Funcom.  I’m not a fan of Age of Conan but meeting the Eidos/Funcom guys was extremely interesting and truly an enjoyable experience.  I’ll be writing a piece for the Vault that should be released very soon.  If you’re an Age of Conan fan you’ll like it.  They offered us free food and free drinks so I can’t really say much bad about them. 😉

After the Funcom interview we had lunch compliments of the nice folks at E3.  Pretty darn good selection of food but the drink selection was lacking with only Lemonade and Iced Tea.  After lunch we went down to the expo showcase pavillion thingy and looked at all the games being promoted.  It was actually rather lackluster.  The room was tiny and the selection of games was definitely far from complete.   Warhammer Online was not being showcased at all yet SOE had Star Wars Galaxies up…. wtf?  (SOE had their games out in force).

The work day ended with a jaunt over to the SOE room where we had guided demonstrations of The Agency and Free Realms.  They had DC Universe on display but Gamespot was hogging the room with their TV cameras.  All they had to show was the trailers that were available online anyway.  SoE was also showing SWG, EQ2(new expansion, blah blah), and their Legends of Norrath Card Game.  Oh, and interestingly we saw John Smedley chillin in the room wearing full business attire.  He stood out like a sore thumb but definitely brought a pressence of power.  Watching the SoE employees squirm while their boss watched them demo the games was entertaining. 😉 

Alright, that’s our first day at E3.  We’ll be giving you guys lots of details on the games either tonight or tomorrow here on our blog and in our pieces for the Vault.  

Yes, MMORPGs should be “done” at release!

I keep hearing people say things like, “It’s okay that X isn’t in the game yet because this is a MMORPG!” or “It’s a MMORPG, of course it’s not finished”.  WRONG!

MMORPGs should be done at release.  I simply do not understand where people picked up the notion that simply because MMORPGs are ever evolving and changing worlds that they can be underdeveloped and unfinished.   Who here remembers Lord of the Rings Online?  I do not know if they have changed the game any, but in the first 6-8 months once a character reached level 35 it was obvious that the game seriously lacked substance.   There are plenty of examples but I’ll move along to the most recent: Age of Conan.  I remember looking at the long list of features and systems that Funcom advertised would be in the game which included a PvP system with ranks and exp.   It’s been a month and a half since the game released and the game still lacks said pvp system and more.  [/insert tongue in cheek here] But that’s okay, because this is a MMORPG – they’re never finished at release. 

I don’t care what game it is nor for what reason.  No game should be released before it is capable of providing a  polished and complete (read: living up to full potential) experience.  IE: If a game is being advertised to the prospective players as a 1-50 leveling experience with dungeons, pvp, and end-game raids then the game should be shipped as such.  I get such a laugh when I see developers releasing a game before the “end-game” (I hate that phrase) is in.  Do they think there is time to add it before the players reach the level cap?  We all know there isn’t.

Players, stop promoting the acceptance of unfinished games (namely MMORPGs) simply because something can be “patched in” later.