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H1Z1 … hmm

h1z1-teaser

SOE just officially revealed (sort of) H1Z1, the game John Smedley hinted at 2 months ago when he said:

 “SWG PLAYERS – OUR NEXT GAME (not announced yet) IS DEDICATED TO YOU. Once we launch it… you can come home now.”

As a former / current SWG super-fan, I think I’m qualified to address how I feel after learning a bit about the game, as well as some of my initial thoughts and ramblings on why SOE is making H1Z1.

H1Z1 & SWG

I don’t get it.  I see DayZ meets Rust in a massively multiplayer persistent world.  Don’t get me wrong… that’s sounds like it can be a fantastic game, but that’s not SWG.  SWG was about building a community and living your life in a galaxy far, far away. H1Z1 is about surviving, hiding in the shadows, and being afraid.  I think, perhaps, the only trait the two will share is a sandbox nature and an involved crafting system.

Why a zombie survival game?

Simple. SOE is targeingt a completely different market.  They were live streaming about Landmark at the exact same time they did this first-look at H1Z1 on someone’s live stream show.  This isn’t for the fans who are hyped up about Landmark, EQ Next, or heck even Planetside.  This isn’t for the people who go to fanfare (SOE Live) or post on message boards.  H1Z1 from the moment they came out of the gate has been aimed directly that that L337 crowd of DayZ gamers – the “bros” of gaming.

I get why they are trying new things.  SOE went for the kiddie market for a while, the F2P Eastern model for a bit, the shooter market, then heavily back to the Fantasy RPG crowd (their roots), and now they want a taste of the growing zombie survival scene.

There’s no accounting for taste

Personally, I’m not a big fan of post-apocalyptic settings.  I’m also not big on zombies.  I prefer elves, magic, swords, etc. I’m not interested in games where the aforementioned ‘bros’ run around circle strafing and looting your backpack.  I’m not a big fan of FFA PvP, so I would probably play on a PvE server or a ruleset where I have to opt-in when I’m ready.  I’m not big of dark and scary, and I really hate how most post-apoc games are all brown and gross terrain.

H1Z1 may not be the game for me, but I am intrigued by the scope of a game where Smedley claims people can build anything, burn anything, and drive or fly vehicles all over the place.  Put that on a console (like they plan) and maybe this will be a great ‘sit back on the couch for a few hours’ kind of game.

I like the New SOE

Sony Online Entertainment deserves enormous praise for what they’ve done recently.  I’m not even talking about any of their games.  Let’s set the games themselves aside completely and just talk about the way in which I feel like they are taking the MMORPG (and gaming) industry to an entirely new level of communication, customer service, marketing, and just… this crazy sense of being real people working on games they love.

Every single day I can go on Twitter and see a dozen or more SOE staff tweeting about everything from what they are working on to being candid about problems they’ve encountered with a patch during downtime.  When you tweet them, chances are they tweet you back.  Even John Smedley, President of SOE, is on there actively engaging with the players, answering questions, and being helpful.  Their forums are full of staff assisting players and communicating the processes they are going through.  Seriously, Dave Georgeson tweeted at 2am that the devs finally left the building.

SOE is being really transparent.  They bring down servers for an update and if something goes wrong they don’t just give the “sorry we’re working on it.” They say, “Turns out we screwed up something in the database that handles X and Y because of Z.”  Heck, they recently decided to make a bold move and state EQN and EQN Landmark will be 64 bit only, and PS2 will be making the transition.  Alpha testing Landmark has been one of the best real game testing experiences I’ve ever had.

They are doing outside of their games, in the real world, what I love doing IN their games: creating a community.  They put on big events like the Year of EverQuest to create a bond between players and these properties.  Yes, that’s marketing, but that’s okay.  That’s the type of marketing I want.  I want a company focused on delighting fans and creating memorable experiences they can share over a company trying to figure out how they can make a game look good in a CGI trailer.

SOE, thank you for reminding why I’ve been a loyal SOE customer since 1997, why I chose to be a founder for Landmark, and why I will be first in line to buy just about any product you announce in the future.  You are setting the bar high, even for yourselves, but that’s what it takes to be great.  I like the new SOE.  Keep it up!

One Subscription. All Games.

SoE (or I guess Smed) took to Reddit and Twitter yesterday to test the waters with a new idea they are kicking around for the Station Pass.  Basically, you pay $14.99 and become a “subscriber” to all of SoE’s games.  The Station Pass has existed for like a decade — it’s nothing new.  The lower price, however, is nice.  The idea of feeling like I subscribe to lots of SoE titles is also something that will inevitable persuade me to more freely play other SoE games.

Despite the argument that “subscribing” to F2P games is a little goofy, there’s another more pressing issue.  Originally, the new offering included the ability to buy any one item each month up to 2000 station cash (their F2P currency) but removed the 500 sc monthly stipend.   On one hand this was awesome — I could choose any one item up to a $20 value and buy what would normally take me 4 months to save for — AND I could do that in EVERY SoE game each month!  There were some restrictions like no bundles or something but it was an AWESOME value for everyone but that Planetside 2 players who raised a hellstorm on Reddit.

The absolute tantrum thrown by the Planetside 2 community caused Smed to remove the 2000 sc item offer and put back the 500 sc monthly stipend.  Congrats.  You get a $5 discount.

Some people were throwing around statements like the 2000 sc offer reduced buying power to which I counter by saying they could have spent $5 on the store, brought their price back up to $20/m for the sub, and had a 2k free item every month in every game netting a minimum $15 virtual gain.

I’d be tempted to vote with my wallet and not buy a subscription, just play EQN, and never spend more than $10/m in the cash shop if I thought it would do anything.   Alas, the SoE community at large loses because the PS2 community wants to buy pistol ammo on sale.  C’est la vie.

Thanks Planetside 2 players — all 200 of you.  Here’s hoping Smed and his team won’t use your vocal minority for all their decisions in the future.

(Despite the poor handling of the SC stuff I do like the $14.99 all games offer.  Thanks for that.)

EQ Next Landmark Founder’s Pack

EQN-Landmark-Founders-PackI was genuinely shocked yesterday when I came home to a bunch of people shouting “DID YOU GO TRAILBLAZER?!”  I had absolutely no idea that SOE was planning a Founder’s Pack program.  I shouldn’t have been surprised at all, though, because this form of  early cash generation has become almost a norm in the digital video game industry.

Usually this type of program is done by smaller studios kickstarting or looking to help fund their project.  Since SOE is neither, I can’t help but salute the marketing genius of it all.  They’re making a MMORPG set to launch god knows how many years from now.  Somewhere along the way they decided to launch a dev tool turned “game” (Landmark) that they are using as (1) a source of revenue, (2) a hype machine, and (3) a way for players to actually help build the game.

Of course Landmark will be monetized naturally from a F2P model, which would bring in additional revenue, but why stop there?  Sell access to the Alpha and Beta versions of the game!  I just wish I came up with the idea myself.  It’s like quadruple dipping the revenue stream.

EQN-Landmark-Founders-Pack-Items

Knowing exactly what they’re doing didn’t stop me.  I bought the Trailblazer pack with little thought.  I get to play on or before February 28th, get a ton of stuff it would take weeks to earn, get some neat exclusives, and somehow feel like I’m apart of an imaginary elite club.  Again, I wish I came up with the idea. I really don’t even feel bad at all about buying my way into alpha.  Maybe I should?

Maybe I should feel ashamed that as a professional marketer I’m susceptible to such tactics, but it all boils down to value.  I find value in the Trailblazer pack, and apparently so do a lot of other people.  According to a tweet from Smed, Trailblazer pack is outselling the others 10-1.

I’ll be there day one with bells on ready to strike out once again in Norrath — this time to claim part of the world as my own.  Which pack did you buy?

EverQuest 3 (Next): A Beacon of Capitalism

EverQuest Online Adventures MapSOE takes a lot of crap from the MMO community.  They’ve made some huge, epic, mistakes in the past.  I’m not entirely convinced their emphasis on “F2P” is altogether sane, and I’m already fearing for EverQuest 3 / EverQuest Next.  More on that in a second, though.  That said, they’ve done a ton of great things for us as well.

John Smedley has been shouting to just about anyone who will listen how SOE helped create this rut when they introduced EQ.  Although he sounds a bit odd doing it, he’s totally right.  SOE did change things forever with the original EverQuest and the state of games today has been largely influenced by them.

I’ve been brainstorming with my friends to find a game we can all play together.  We want something that isn’t a themepark, something older with a lot of content, and perhaps something that won’t cost us a lot of money.   Interestingly enough, 4/6 games we identified were SOE games.  Chances are, we’ll be playing one.

I’m worried about Smedley’s ideas that F2P games are the end-all be-all.

“Free-to-play is just too good of an idea,” [...] “The idea is just so simple. It democratizes and capitalizes, makes true capitalism out of the MMO gaming space.” -Smedley

I’m just not seeing your vision, John.  That sounds like the type of business talk that’s killing MMORPG’s.  I’m worried that EQ3 will have a ridiculous cash shop and be some F2P model.  Actually, I -know- that EverQuest 3 will be F2P.  I’m praying that SOE can pull through for me and once again innovate or revolutionize the MMO space.  They did it once, they still have many properties actively engaging players like myself, and all I can do is pray for the future to be worth the wait.  I can’t fall into a negative tailspin and think how there hasn’t been a single quality-driven F2P game.  They all compete on price, and once they all hit zero there’s no where else to go.