Is BioWare trying to repair its brand?

Quick little thought for today’s (tonight’s?) blog post.  Greg Zeschuck shifted/moved/transitioned/whatever away from BioWare Austin.  Now it’s probably going to be called EA Austin.  We’re wondering if this is an attempt to help fix BioWare’s name, restrengthening its brand, by distancing BioWare proper from these (mostly) EA dealings.  BioWare has been attached to a lot of  games that aren’t necessarily ‘BioWare’ games, like assuming control of Mythic and becoming … BioWare Mythic?

SWTOR was a  hit to the studio’s reputation.  Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age 2 aren’t shining stars on their record either.  A lot of stuff is being branded under BioWare’s flag — a lot of stuff  that doesn’t belong there — and EA’s infamous taint is starting to show as the BioWare name becomes a name to slap on a box; Command and Conquer Generals 2 being an example.  You can’t discredit what BioWare made in the past, but the direction one of our most beloved companies has gone these past years is disappointing.

Hopefully this might be some signal that the powers in charge of BioWare are trying to plot a much needed course correction.

Recent Events May Result in a Better MMO Future

The past month has been full of terrible things for the MMO industry: Pitch Black Games closed down and cancelled Dominus, EA laid off 40 percent of the SWTOR team, and 38 Studios closed down with what some are predicting as an industry damaging event.  Michael Pachter, an analyst who I actually enjoy watching, says that it may take years for MMO investors to come around again.  Scott Jennings surfaced to share his thoughts and said that these events are “killing the very concept of massively multiplayer gaming.”  I have been saying the very same thing for years.  Allow me to quote myself:

I’m still 100% predicting a MMO crash where all hope is lost until we look to the east on the fifth day and see Gandalf some developer bringing the industry back to its roots.

I stand by what I have said over the years.  I do believe that the industry will struggle.  I always thought it would be the players driven to their breaking point, but the McMMO publisher/investor woes and a highly publicized financial disaster definitely expedite things.

This is where I strongly believe, and predict based on what I know about these games and their development, that something good can come from these disasters.   When I stand on my soapbox and shout to anyone who will listen about MMO’s returning to the gameplay, returning to what worked, and MMO’s being about the core fundamentals that saw games lasting years instead of 3 months,  I am usually met with comments that resemble something like this: “Investors don’t want to put money into games like that.”    Well, it looks to me like investors may not want to put money into anything right now, and what better time to see the MMO fundamentals return than when smaller studios will have to focus on the niche gameplay mechanics instead of satisfying the masses to repay investors.

Older games were made on small budgets.  UO, EQ, DAOC, SWG, and many other older MMO’s from before this generation were created on smaller budgets, with smaller teams, yet lasted for years at a time and introduced what it meant to be a massively multiplayer game to the world.  I don’t subscribe to the doom and gloom that wants people to believe MMO’s are forever ruined due to these recent events.  I know there is always a strong foundation for developers to fall back on — and they will fall back on it well before they throw in the towel.  For length’s sake I won’t quote myself again, but I’ve written something on the subject of building upon what worked that is very relevant today.

Whether or not this actually happens, the MMO industry can’t keep going in this direction.  I choose a positive outlook because I believe it means we’ll see better games in the future; Games that focus on creating gameplay that actually resembles a massively multiplayer online role-playing game.

Reckoning Demo Impressions

Reckoning PC vs. Console Image

Keen's Xbox360 (left) and PC (right) Reckoning setup.

The Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning demo released today for all platforms!  In a surprise twist, it’s even available for STEAM.  This is an exciting moment for us.  Reckoning is on my personal list of most anticipated games releasing this year and I’m stoked to see the 38 Studios’ first product.

Is Reckoning as good as expected?  What platform should I get it on?  What are some important details worth knowing?  We hope to answer those questions for you by comparing the Xbox 360 and PC versions of the demo.

Before we get into too much detail, let me just say that both of us enjoyed the demo enough to pre-order.  The world really captured our imaginations and the experience as a whole, all things considered, was positive.  It’s nice playing a western RPG with some color!

Read on for our look at the console and PC versions. [Read more…]

SWTOR Pre-ordered but now I have two Origin accounts

Update: Stephen Reid (Sr. CM for SWTOR) confirmed you won’t need the Origin client.  That means you’re free to buy a physical of digital copy of SWTOR without the worries of the Origin predicament I thought I would be in.  I’m still stuck with two Origin accounts, though.

This entry needs one of those “Epic Fail” labels.

I finally pre-ordered SWTOR the other day and in the process made quite an annoying mistake.  I’ve had the same EA account since EA accounts were first instituted.  This is the same EA account I use for all my Battlefield, Dragon Age, and, well, all games from EA.  Back then, and I’m talking a decade here at least, I had a different email address.  I actually have four emails, but don’t we all?  Well, that’s the reason I’m in this predicament.

Using my normal EA account, which is now an Origin account, I pre-ordered the Digital Standard Edition of SWTOR.  I sat there for 20 minutes waiting for the game to appear in the “My Games” section, but the game never appeared.  I checked my email and found instructions to enter a code on the official SWTOR site to credit my SWTOR account with the Pre-order status for early access and all that crap.

It didn’t even cross my mind to think about what email I associated with my SWTOR account on the website.  Turns out, the two are completely different.  Why wouldn’t they be? I compartmentalize my crap these days.  I have my gaming emails, my blog email, my professional email, and my old/spam email.  Turns out… somehow… my SWTOR website account was also used to register an EA account.

The result of activating my pre-order key on the SWTOR website to an account with a different email was the association of my purchase to an entirely different Origin account!  The fact that I bought SWTOR with what I thought was my only Origin account is a moot point.  I now have a separate Origin account with only SWTOR on it.

I’m really hoping that SWTOR won’t require Origin to launch.  I don’t want to have two origin accounts.  I’m debating if it’s worth fighting EA’s customer service.  If it wasn’t tied to a stupid website account, I doubt it would be an issue.  They could just move the game from one Origin account I own to the other.  But this link to a website creates all kinds of problems since I assume standard EA customer service won’t be able help.

Lesson learned.  Before you pre-order SWTOR and enter the key into your SWTOR website account, verify the emails match!  If not, and you’re like me with multiple EA accounts over the years, you’re going to be in for a nasty surprise.

P.S. If you were able to follow along and not be completely confused by my explanation of the mishap, you’re probably smart enough to avoid making this mistake.

SWTOR Loot Containers: No more loot frustration

[UPDATE: This system, unbeknownst to the vast majority of people, did not make it into launch.  View our current thread dissecting how the loot system currently works.]

Some fantastic information has come out of the SWTOR forums.  It has to do with raid loot and how players will be rewarded for completing Operations(raids)  (and Flashpoints?).  Ever go on a raid with 10-40 people and walk away with absolutely nothing?  I have.  Ever go on a month of raids and get nothing but a headache?  I have.  Well, no more.  In a move that I 100% endorse, Bioware is trying to eliminate loot frustration.

“Loot containers’ (name is still a work in progress!) do indeed exist and are designed to alleviate the frustration some feel around high-level loot drops.

As it’s currently implemented, at the end of a key encounter within an Operation, upon looting a high-level opponent, everyone in the Operations group will get an individual container which has a chance to give you a random piece of loot that’s specific to your class. It could be part of an armor set, a weapon, and so on. If you don’t get loot, you’ll get commendations which can be used to purchase gear.

Please note, this feature is currently in Game Testing and may well be modified before launch.

  • The items that do not drop for you (or do not appear in your loot bag) from boss kills can all be bought from the commendation vendor.
  • To access new flashpoints you have to clear beginner ones.
  • There will be no pre-raid armor grind. You will enter low-level raids in the armor you finished your story in.
  • Loot bags can contain upgrades for weapons and armor.”  [Official Source]

Yes, yes, yes!  This makes me so happy.  If there are going to be raids, why not make them something everyone can jump right into?  Why not make them something everyone gets rewarded for completing?  We all put in the same time and hopefully the same effort, so why do only a few get rewarded?  Additionally, I think it’s awesome that there is no pre-raid armor grind.  This, hopefully, means that raids and dungeons are less about gear and more about team work or simply something to jump in and enjoy. I am just praying they carry this design choice throughout the life of SWTOR.

My themepark-MMO philosophy is simple: If you’re going to have a themepark, you better let everyone on the rides.  This is a very big step in the right direction for this particular type of MMO.  Before I get flamed by my fellow sandbox or “harder” MMO compatriots, I’m not saying “omg this is how all MMO’s should do their loot!”  I’m saying this is a great way for themepark-MMO’s to handle loot and especially how I want a Bioware RPG with Multiplayer/MMO elements to handle it.

(Thanks go out to those who gave us a heads up on this one! I had not seen this information before.)