The year 2011 has ended and we have started with 2012. The past year has been interesting in a few ways for me, but perhaps more in areas outside of MMO gaming. While I have been writing a couple of blog posts the past year (123 according to WordPress) I must say that I have felt less inspired when writing posts for large chunks of time.
I used to hop around quite a bit in different MMOs, but this year it has settled down a bit – the past few months I have been pretty much exclusively playing City of Heroes. The year started out with a few other titles though:
This game in theory had a lot of promise, or at least there was a picture painted that this could be an interesting and fun sandbox-style SciFi MMO. Closer to launch it showed many signs that this was a potential train wreck to be launched. I bought the game knowing that very well though, mainly because I wanted to support a non-mainstream developer, in case they had some good ideas.
The launch was indeed a train wreck and I was a bit disappointed looking more into detail of some actual gameplay elements – not as inspired as I had hoped it would be, not in areas I liked anyway. Even if the performance and bugs were sorted out I do not think I would have enjoyed the game anyway, so that was it for me.
The current state of the game seems to be that the game still has some quality issues and that they have started a transition to a “free-to-play” model – no new accounts can be created from December 1st and this will be in effect until the “F2P” revamp is completed some time in 2012.
Played this in the early parts of 2011. The open sandbox world was quite fascinating, but also consumed a lot of time. In the end I decided I did not have the desire to invest enough time in this game/world for it to feel worthwhile. Not sure if I will fo back to this particular game, but would definitely want to try something in the same sandbox spirit as Wurm.
Not a big fan of the Star Trek Universe, but I did enjoy creating my own races to play and making up some background and story for my characters. I played STO primarily a bit in the first couple of months of the year and also ended up playing on the Klingon side mainly – very much enjoyed playing my Klingon-sided engineer type (but my own race). I was very enthusiastic about creating missions with the Foundry also initially, but ended up now being anything completed. My inspiration for creating soemthign for the Star Trek universe ended up a bit lacking, although I did look into Klingon material (including the language) a bit as part of the research.
I will probably revisit the game when it changes its payment model.
Visited the geme a couple of times, mainly playing one character. I am a life-time subscriber, so the cryptic points keep piling up in the game. It has been ok to visit a few times, but for my spandex fix City of Heroes works so much better. At some point I should try out the content I have not treied out yet, but I have had difficulty building up enthusiasm to do so. Which is a shame perhaps.
A very hyped game in the early part of the year, which also is a well executed and polished game. I did avoid reading about the game consciously precisely because of all the hype and in late April/early May jumped in and tried the game. I liked many things with it, although I found the combat a bit annoying with the global cooldown timer and the skill trees which quickly cluttered up multiple hotbars. The soul system was nice, but I would have liked a different skill progression model within these souls.
Unfortunately for me, I signed up with a 6 month subscription. In June, after around 1 1/2 month of playing the game I quite quickly lost all interest in logging in and playing the game anymore. I had a brief attempt later in July to get back into the game, but could not muster up enough interest to keep playing. This was very similar to my play experience with LOTRO, which played out quite similar – although in that case I had pre-ordered and played in beta also. Lesson learned – do not sign up for a long payment period initially with a subscription-based fantasy game.
My only major visit into mobile MMO gaming and this on my Eee Pad – the screen is too small for my taste on a phone for these games. Was very fun to play for short periods of time, but after a while I lost interest. Still have the game installed, but rarely visit it any longer.
Bought this game for PS3 shortly after launch, primarily to see if there could finally be something MMOish to play on the household PS3 – which primarily is used to watch blu-ray movies. Dropped it quite quickly – not a DC fan and it felt like you had to be that to appreciate the content. The controls were really awkward to use also.
Reinstalled the game again on the PS3 after the “F2P” revamp and I thought the game was better now from a UI/control perspective – but could not find that much enthusiasm for the DC content. Maybe I will play it more – maybe.
My very first MMO. I jumped back into the game just prior to its 10th anniversary and I have had a pretty good time in the game, with some nice people. Still, the combat mechanics are quite different from what I appreciate nowadays, being too much auto-attack dependent. Funcom does not seem to spend much resources on the game currently, but have indicated that when the conversion to new engine for the game (same one that Age of Conan and The Secret World uses) is done _and_ they have done a profession revamp, they will do a relaunch effort for the game.
The graphics engine revamp is what mainly has been talked about, but I think the profession/combat revamp is just as important for the game, if they get it right. A new graphics engine can get people to come back or to try the game, but it is a profession gameplay revamp that may potentially keep them in the game. I have not played AO since I decided to focus on City of Heroes, but I hope to get back into the game at some point – hopefully Funcom gets to the point where the new engine and the revamp will be done during 2012.
A quite polished fantasy/steampunk title from big Chinese MMO maker Perfect World. Same as Rift, this game is very well executed – just not something I could muster up continued interest for.
A SciFi space shooter kind of MMO. The initial PvE storyline part of the game had me hooked and the space combat is very well executed and fun. But the story part ended abruptly and then it was mission grinding and/or PvP. While some mission were quite enjoyable it became a bit too repetitive for my taste, so lost some interest here. Should get back into the game again at some point – if they have more of the story-oriented content that the game started with I would love to play that.
Signed up for SWG again when I heard the announcement that they were going to shut down the game. Manged to play a bit in the game, primarily with some new characters I created. Really loved some parts which I remembered from the old days when i played the game, but also remembered why I ended up playing my particular combination of professions originally (ranger/creature handler) – that was one combination that did not feel grindy to me and which also supported scratching my exploration itch back then. It was not quite now.
I would have played the game longer, but a credit card related issue stopped my access to the game prematurely. I do not like the way SOE handled the shut down of my access; but at least my memory of the game is less coloured by what its current state was.
Bought this when it was on sale from Steam, after a brief visit in beta. Looking at what Heatwave had eleased before Gods & Heroes I am not quite sure why they decided to with a traditional MMO route, perhaps someone thought they might be able to make some easy money on a game that was in beta when the original game company went belly-up. This was another of those game where I really could not muster up enough interest to keep playing (and paying).
This is my main game and in the past few months my only game, pretty much. This part will be very brief here; most posts end up being about this game anyway. For good and bad, City of Heroes has evolved quite a bit over the years and at the same time been the same as well. The community aspect is important here, it is a game that feels like “home” to me more than any other MMO. It is the one game that I can be fairly sure to get a happy greeting from someone else when I log in and where most people I end up interacting with (friends or strangers) are for the most part friendly and nice to each other.
Other stuff, not gaming
A lot of other things has happened in this year, but not related to MMOs. In August I changed employer, after working for more than 12 years for an American software company. I really liked my actual job there and the collegues I worked with, but it was also a position that required a lot of travelling to other parts of Europe, and a few times to Middle East. During very long periods I only saw my home area/town/country on weekends and impacted how I my non-work life was handled.
With my new employer I can do a similar job to what did before and enjoyed, but also pretty much work so I can get home every day, instead of staying in a hotel room. It is a great company and a great group of new collegues.
My general fitness have had its ups and downs in recent years, but not stayed at a good level. In the past 11 months I have done a better job though with continued improvement and am in better shape now than a year ago, and also lost perhaps 17-18 kg. Still more to be done, but feels quite good.
This is mainly a couple of screenshots from the new Qo’noS area in Star Trek Online. It is divided into two parts, the First City itself on the planet and the Shipyard, which is a space station.
In the First City one will find all the different key NPCs and facilities to talk to, except obviously those that has to do with your ships and ship equipment. I quite like new design, more open space, feels a bit more lively and easier to figure out where to go IMHO if you are not completely familiar with where things are, in particular since there are signs leading you to the right spots (really neat design on those signs). Some places you can also visually guess what they may be about.
Good work, Cryptic!
More pictures after the break.
Recently my KDF captain picked a set of missions about fighting the threat of the Fek’Ihri towards the Klingon empire. This was among the best missions I have played in the game so far! These missions are part of the Klingon side PvE content which becomes available when one reaches Captain rank it seems.
The Fek’Ihri is an ancient enemy of the Klingons, which Kahless fought 1500 years ago. Now they are back, in a way. The Fek’Ihri themselves are a real creepy faction, very well made – very much something that you could expect to come from someones nightmares, or noit quite of this world – which is true in a sense.
There is a nice flow through the missions and they do provide a bit of Klingon lore and history. The story buolds up well and the final mission does really top it off well with a pretty epic last part. Very good work, Crypic!
It is interesting to observe while there is not that many missions in the Klingon side PvE content in the game, the missions that are there have generally been very good. Federation side has much more mission content, but of varying quality. The Klingon side certainly has a content gap if you do not want to repeat missions, but the missions so far plus the featured episodes they have been running are content that I do not mind repeating. To a certain extent at least, I would not want to run though the same things week after week after…
I think Star Trek Online has found a nice niche with its rather story-oriented focus, but that does not mesh so well with the traditional MMO view. I see Star Trek Online as kind of a TV/video MMO – you sit down to experience a new episode in a defined setting, with some familiar characters. But while it is more interactive than just watching a movie or TV episode, it is not really a virtual world where you spend time just doing stuff. You turn it on, have a bit of entertainment and then turn it off.
Since I pretty much play the game 1-2 sessions per week the progression is somewhat slow, but every session typically feels quite good. I have had a lot of fun with my Klingon side character and her crew, so I may end up focusing just on this character – she is pretty much at the same level as my Federation character now.
I also wonder if they will change the payment model for the game. I would certainly not mind paying explicitly for access to episodes when I want to play them rather than the subscription fee that is used now. I am quite happy with playing once per week roughly, but get into thinking whether I should stop the subscription and only subscribe when there are new episodes/content available. Paying explicitly for new content instead of the subscription fee would be nicer I think – I don’t care much for the rest of the sometimes grindy stuff in the game.
In the end I think the MMOs which may work out with subscriptions are the ones which you may feel there is a virtual world with stuff to do in it. You rent a place in this worls so you can spend time there. For other types of MMOs that provides various forms of entertainment, then it may be nicer to pay an entrance fee and for the rides.
So yesterday came the news that Perfect World acquires Cryptic Studios. That is a quite interesting move I think and kind of makes sense; a big Asian MMO developer looking to expand into potentially lucrative Western market. They already have their own subsidiaries in US and Europe (and Japan), but that seems mainly so far being about bringing the Asian-developed games to both sides of the Atlantic.
Perfect World itself is a quite large company in this area; over 4000 employees. It is also a public company and registered on NASDAQ, so financial results and information is available. From their recent report on Q1 2011 results, it seems their revenue for that quarter was around 110 million USD and with a profit of 43.8 million USD. That is a huge amount of profit in relation to the revenue – they are doing quite well. The cost of buying Cryptic is just a bit more than the profit for one quarter.
About 10% of their revenue comes from outside their home market in China. This is a bit smaller proportions than NCSoft, but both of them have in common that a huge majority of their income is from the Asian market. Just as NCSoft seem to let ArenaNet and Paragon Studios do their own thing I do not think there is much fear for Perfect World to make Champions into Jade Dynasty-with-spandex or Star Trek Online to Forsaken World-with-pew-pew.
If anything I think we may see more art assets (customes, ship interiors & exteriors etc) since there is likely a lot of staff available for this. As far as I know it has already been common practice in Western companies to outsource some of that kind of work to low cost countries anyway.
And we may need to switch virtual currency from Atari tokens to Zens. To me it seems that Perfect World has the potential to be a better place for Cryptic than Atari, but cultural differences can be a challenge.
If this works out well I wonder if we will see more Asian online game companies buying into Western ones who has their own tech/assets?
So the news is now out that Atari intends to dump Cryptic as part of their long term plan to have fewer titles and focus more on the social/facebook/causal game space. There is a post at Massively about it, which refers to a Gamasutra post, which in turn likely have looked at the latest financial report from Atari.
Reading a bit beyond the full year numbers one can see that Cryptic for the whole fiscal 2010/2011 had a net loss of 5.3 million Euro, of which 3.3 million Euro was from the first half of the year. So the second half was doing better.
Looking at the revenue they got 7.2 million Euro for fist half and 15.9 million for the whole year, i.e. 8.7 million Euro for the second half. So people paid them 1.5 million Euro more during the second half. Their profit improvement, although still a net loss, was about 2 million Euro in the 2nd half compared to the first. An improvement of 1.3 million when you get 1.5 million more from customers does not sound bad. How much did the Champions F2P conversion contribute to that?
And it does sound like the company is going in the right direction and they have been hiring more people who will start soon. So financially I think they probably already have something sorted out; either some other company buying them or some investors liking the direction the numbers are going and who may be more interested in the traditional MMO market than Atari.
Somehow I tend to end up on the underdog side in a way, if there is an MMO with multiple factions. It is not a deliberate choice, but perhaps subconsiously I go with what not everyone else picks, or it fits better with my character backgrounds – at least my favourite characters are often with that type of faction.
So in recent weeks I have played my Klingon Defense Force character (not Klingon, she is an alien who joined their ranks) a lot more than anything else. Despite the fact that there is a limited amount of PvE content for KDF characters I must say that I have still enjoyed it quite a lot.
Klingon side is warming up to me, sort of – as much as you can feel warm and fuzzy about a harsh warrior race.
There was a double reward weekend now for Star Trek Online (STO), so I decided this might be a good time to move up my KDF character a bit in the ranks.
Klingon side in STO suffers a bit from lack of content/missions – and “a bit” is probably an understatement. For a game that is so geared towards pre-made consumable content (not exactly a world to just wander and explore), the distinct lack of interesting content is significant.
In my opinion, the argument that Klingon side is PvP-focused does not quite cut it – for PvP to be viable and fun there should be two sides. I am not a PvPer, but that seems like common sense. Rather there should be an even mix of PvP and PvE for both sides.