Monday, 25 April 2016

Link Love? : GW2

Last Friday, while we were fast asleep in bed, ANet reset the underlying scoring mechanism for WvW and linked the bottom twelve servers with the dozen above them. The intent and effect is laid out clearly in this forum post:

We will be resetting glicko volatility and deviation for all worlds to the same value, but leaving their rating unchanged. What this means is:

  • The first matchup will use current placements (T1 worlds vs T1 worlds, T2 worlds vs T2 worlds, etc.)
  • The reset volatility and deviation values will come into effect at the end of that match.
  • Worlds that win, especially by a large margin, will have their rating increased by a larger amount than normal.
  • Likewise, worlds that lose, especially by a large margin, will have their rating decreased by a larger amount than normal.
  • The result is that when a world no longer is meant to be in a specific tier, they’ll move out of it more quickly.

As a direct result, Mrs Bhagpuss and I spent most of this weekend in The Mists, joining in a largely futile attempt to hold the line against the resurgent Blackgate hordes. As I write, around fifty hours into the match, Yak's Bend is in second place, 4k ahead of Jade Quarry and just short of 50,000 points behind BG.

Yak's Bend's has never been at its best either at reset or across the weekend. We often start the working week a little behind and have to go hard to pull out a lead during the week. That trend goes back almost as long as I've been on the server, which is always.

Usually, though, the deficit is a few thousand points at most. Last weekend, with the changes imminent, we came out of Sunday chasing a 38k lead. This Monday it's 48k.

Like the enormous queues that caused a flurry of angry forum threads on Friday night and left a lot of people disgruntled all through the weekend, the large influx of people logging in to play WvW isn't entirely down to the linking of servers. In Tier One the addition of low population worlds like Anvil Rock and Eredon's Terrace to the mix probably has less impact than the transfer of one or two large guilds from one T1 server to another.
We lost nearly 2k just in the time it took me to write this piece...

Indeed, as could readily be seen the weekend before the patch, most of the effect was caused by dormant accounts waking up as lapsed players (or, at least, lapsed WvW players) logged back in to see what all the fuss was about. Blackgate, with a long history at the top, has a lot of dormant WvW accounts.

The primary, immediate result of the change has been a tidal wave of action. All four maps were in highly active play all weekend, with multiple zergs and blobs from all three servers circling the borderlands. In the larger battles, when two fifty-strong squads clashed over possession of a keep or struggled to take or break a choke point, my aging PC almost gave up altogether.

Playing a berserker staff elementalist, the classic glass cannon, going into slide show mode and losing any control over placement, movement or reaction should make the game unplayable. My character ought to be dead before I can see an attack coming. That she managed to survive any number of battles without being picked off and eliminated while helpless suggests that there are plenty of other players struggling to cope with the conditions.

This, of course, is how WvW used to be, years ago. This is why, back then, we rarely went to the most popular and populated map, Eternal Battlegrounds. Fighting in Stonemist Castle, the centerpiece of that map, often contested by all three zergs at once, used to crash the game for me with tedious reliability.

Visual metaphor

As GW2 in general and WvW in particular has bled out we have all come to accept and expect things to be quieter, more sedate. As Yak's Bend first ascended and then was shoved further up the ladder we heard a lot about Tier 1 and its high population. I expected major problems with my old hardware when we finally got to the top but our rise to glory coincided exactly with the arrival of Heart of Thorns, whereupon WvW numbers fell off a cliff. And as we all know there's no gliding in WvW.

Consequently these gigantic battles come as a bit of a shock. They are also by no means universally welcomed even by those who don't have technical issues. Gameplay in WvW has long been diverse. Although it's a game mode seen from the outside as a primitive clash of zergs, the format hosts a wide range of playstyles.

There are roamers who travel alone, hoping for single combat opportunities. There are havoc groups of two, three or half a dozen, hopping maps and hitting hard behind enemy lines. There are scouts sitting in towers and keeps, tagging siege and reporting on enemy movements. And, of course, there are the merry PPT crews, battling doors and walls and NPCs for the good of the team and their own karma.

As of now, most of those activities are on hold. Structures are barely defensible when fortified. Below that you can forget it. Even a well-drilled response team can't handle multiple roaming 30+ zergs on both sides of two or three maps at once. On Saturday havoc teams had to run twenty deep to have much hope of taking even a couple of camps. As for solo fights it is to laugh!

If all this comes as something of a shock to the system for players used to life in the top tiers, imagine the trauma for the conscripts from T8. Impressively, the Anvil Rock players we've picked up seem to have taken it in very good part.
If I'd known then what I know now...

A good few have outed themselves in map or team chat and I'm happy to say that the response from Yak's Bend has been exemplary.  We may be vilified for our gameplay but we have always had a well-deserved reputation as an open and welcoming server with little time for drama. I ran for a while on Saturday with a very nice guild from AR who seemed to be enjoying themselves a lot and there have been several AR commanders tagged up, which is great to see.

Over on Blackgate the story hasn't been such a happy one, at least according to the forums. There are some eloquent and impassioned posts from distressed Eradon Terrace exiles that explain very clearly why world-linking, good though it may be for the health of WvW in general, could be catastrophic for established server communities.

There do seem to be some major flaws in the plan. Freezing the glicko score of the junior partners, removing all visual signs of their previous identity, the knowledge that any pairing may be changed, perhaps as often as four times a year, all add up to a class system for WvW. A lot of players are going to feel like refugees, conscripts or second-class citizens.  Even at best they are going to feel like guests or junior partners.

First impressions
For players who transferred to lower tier servers specifically to escape the overcrowded upper levels or in search of specific types of gameplay, mainly roaming and small group fights, that were better supported by a low population, this must be particularly galling. Especially given that money changed hands to facilitate the move.

This, though, is the risk you take by choosing a low population environment in a commercial MMORPG. In my experience, low population servers often have tighter communities, better atmospheres and offer gameplay options that are hard to find on busier worlds. I always prefer to play on a low population server if I can find one.

The trade-off for a better quality of life is insecurity. Low pop servers get merged. If you're lucky, when that happens, you might get a choice about where you go but sometimes you just have to go where you're put.

I feel for the displaced of Eredon Terrace. My third account is on Ehmry Bay. EBay is now twinned with Henge of Denravi, a server I would never in a million years have chosen to support. Every time I log in to do my dailies I have to think twice to remember which is supposed to be my "home" borderland.

We are lucky on Yak's Bend. We kept our name. We welcome Anvil Rock - we even joke about changing the server's name to Yak's Rock but only because, well, we all believe that Yaks do rock. And, obviously, anvils don't bend...
I will not miss Fire Keep.

If I'd woken up on Saturday morning and found that I had to log into another server to play, though, I am certain it would have diminished my enthusiasm. I might have decided to go play Black Desert instead.

As some of us have been saying this weekend, trying to raise the spirits of certain disheartened players who are already finding the blobbing and the queuing and the lag to be more than they bargained for, it is only a beta. Over the next few weeks things will settle. The novelty will wear off. The dormant accounts will go back to sleep. The scores will adjust, worlds will find their level, things will go back to normal, albeit a new normal.

Then the Alpine Borderlands will come back and the whole frenzied cycle will begin over again. Interesting times. Fun to look back on; not so much to live through.

If there's one thing I've learned, though, it's that I really need a new computer.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The Great Spring Update or Here, Let Me Show You How To Do It!: GW2

GW2's Spring Update dropped on Tuesday and so far the reaction seems mostly positive, which might be a first. As expected, there was little in the way of new content, with the meat of the patch being system revamps and revisions.

The parts of the game under focus were World vs World and the Heart of Thorns maps, all of which received substantial makeovers or, in the case of HoT, nerfs. Seldom can such extreme pruning and cutting have been greeted with such enthusiasm.

The ever-unpopular Desert Borderlands had their barricades torn down, their bridges widened and their annoying House of Fun mechanics toned down or switched off altogether. Where once awkward jump pads or dangerous scrambles provided the fastest routes now hastily bodged-in ramps make access to key areas faster and less fatal.

That all went down well with everyone other than the awkward cusses who professed to have liked the DBLs all along, although I can sense a certain nervousness around the impending return of the Alpine Borderlands among those who can now see the potential in the new maps that was previously hidden behind the Extreme Sports aesthetic.

Almost universally welcomed was the addition of sPvP style "Reward Tracks" to WvW. I've long been of the belief that adding extrinsic rewards to game modes in order to encourage more people to try them is counter-productive. There's some real-world evidence for this.

Given that "lack of rewards" has been one of the top three complaints about WvW since launch, though, rather than fight the concept I can only comment on the execution, which is not at all bad. It's a cut-and-paste from SpVP, for sure, with just one new track specific to WvW added, but it adds some flavor and more stuff is more stuff, however you cut it.

One very clever move was giving Commanders the option to allocate a portion of the reward credit accrued by a squad to specific squaddies, who might be away from the main action on guard or scout duty, tagging siege or walking the commander's basenji.

The main problem with that is that it feeds off a new "Participation" mechanic, whereby players' activity is tallied over the fifteen minute intervals between "ticks", finalizing and handing out permanent reward credit only at the "tick", when the War Score is incremented. That just happens to be the exact same mechanic that this patch removed from the PvE Heart of Maguuma maps (the new, official, name for what has sometimes been referred to as Magus Falls). A little consistency would be nice.

Last night the second shoe dropped for WvW as server merges world linking redued the number of competitors in the North American league from twenty-four to a round dozen. Yak's Bend linked with Anvil Rock, which made about as much difference as an eye-dropper does to an ocean. My third-account server, Ehmry Bay, linked with Henge of Denravi, which might be a tad more noticeable. Gone are the days of wandering around doing dailies and taking camps without seeing a red name, I fear.

It hasn't been half a day yet so how all this will pan out is anyone's guess but by far the strongest reaction on the forums was outrage at the huge queues, hundreds strong and hours long, that most servers had at reset. I suspect that will be seen as a big win at Anet Towers. If nothing else the changes will have at least attracted the interest of a lot of dormant players who are now piling back in to see if the game they didn't like enough to keep playing has anything left to offer.

That, in a nutshell, is the overriding theme of the Spring Update: do whatever it takes to get people back through the doors. The suspicion is that Heart of Thorns under-performed at launch and then proceeded to tank hard, dragging the rest of the game down with it. Colin Johansen fell (or was pushed) onto his sword, leaving Mike "Two Hats" O'Brien to awaken from his slumber, remount his shining charger and ride in to Save The Game.

And on this evidence he just might. The WvW changes, while not by any means perfect or complete, have been better received than anything done for or to the game mode since launch. The threads on the Forum are positively glimmering with faint praise. As for the downgrades to difficulty and upgrades to rewards for PvE in Heart of Thorns, if map chat is anything to go by people there are even happier.

No longer do you need to commit a minimum of an hour, maybe as long as two, just to be sure of getting the loot you came for. Participation has been replaced by straightforward as-it-happens, by the event rewards. You can drop in, do two or three events and leave or you can stay all day; it's up to you. Either way you get something worth having.

And what you get has improved. A lot. The reward tables have been fleshed out and plumped up. The various chests have more in them and better. The event rewards have a chance for desirable drops including Ascended items. The rate at which the various map currencies accrue is many times faster.

There's a permanent 50% increase in xp for killing mobs, the hated "diminishing returns" debuff that discouraged farming and grinding is gone, there's increased frequency of access and reduced difficulty for Adventures.  Many existing events have been restructured and many new events added to facilitate solo and small group play.

I soloed one Veteran mob last night that was flagged as an event. It took about twenty seconds (berserker staff ele - ymmv) and I got better rewards than I would have expected from fifteen or twenty minutes of Old HoT.

Oh, and you now get a free upgrade to level 80 with every purchase of Heart of Thorns, complete with all the gear you need and all the waypoints opened so you can jump straight into the expansion content without any of that tedious leveling nonsense. If you already have HoT and all your character slots are filled with 80s, don't worry - you get a big pack of goodies including dyes and some gold.

ANet are on a major love offensive with this update, that's obvious. The "new" regime is clearly prepared to break with any and all of the precepts of the team that got us to where we were until last Tuesday. The new mantra is "give the punters what they want". We even got autoloot in WvW and our old fireball graphics back. It's almost as though someone was actually listening to feedback!

Take dungeons: I don't do them myself so I have no anecdotal evidence to offer but it looks as though there has been a complete climb down on the aggressive decision taken months ago to all but kill that game mode off. Now the talk is all about how that was "unnecessary" and there are new rewards and plenty of encouragement to get back underground.

There's more - a lot more. It's all in the mother of all patch notes if anyone wants the full details.  The key takeaway, though, is that this seems to be about the best-received update I can remember for the game and that's almost entirely down to a complete 180 degree change of direction.

This update acknowledges what the majority of players and commentators have been saying for half a year or more: Heart of Thorns was misconceived, aimed at the wrong demographic (and missed it, too) and was bad for the future of the game. I actually liked HoT a lot more than I expected but I'm certain I'd have liked it a lot more, even than that, had it launched in this latest version.

The "Buy Heart of Thorns" pop up is back in the corner of the screen for my non-HoT accounts. Having done the unpleasant and humiliating work to make the expansion more palatable to those players who voted without their wallets, ANet naturally want to reap the reward of more sales.

I would already have recommended HoT because, as I said, I've enjoyed it and I feel I got my money's worth long ago. This re-envisioning is even easier to recommend. It's slicker, more polished, better-targeted and more accessible. Whereas I previously had no plans to add HoT to my second or third accounts, not because of the value but because I wouldn't have wanted to repeat the required grind, now it's quite likely that one or both will receive the upgrade at some point.

GW2's Spring Update isn't a second coming on the scale of FFXIV:A Realm Reborn but it's a major change of direction that bodes very favorably indeed for the second expansion. If they really have learned their lesson, as, on this evidence, it appears they may have, then the next expansion could be a real cracker!

Legends Of Norrath Now Requires A Standalone Client : EQ, EQ2

The Patch Notes for EQ2's upcoming Scourged Wastes update are available right now for the Test server, although the patch itself hasn't yet arrived. I learned this as always from the invaluable EQ2Wire. It's Update 100, which might explain why it's such a major content release, although if so Marketing has been surprisingly shy about making a big deal out of that triple-digit landmark.

As I was waking up and drinking my morning tea (black, no sugar, thanks) I was jolted awake by this line in the patch notes:

Removed the embedded Legends of Norrath (LoN) client from the EverQuest II client. If you wish to continue playing LoN, please download and use the standalone client available at

Feldon doesn't comment but it strikes me that this is quite significant. Or could be.

Ever since LoN went live back in 2007 its main function has been to provide in-game loot for EverQuest and EQ2 players. Oh, there was a time when significant numbers of people played Legends of Norrath as a game in its own right and for all I know they may still, although I'd want to see some convincing evidence before I'd believe it.

As far as I can recall it has always been playable outside of the game from a standalone client although I have never until today even visited the web page, much less thought of installing it.

When LoN first appeared in game I played through the tutorial, which I remember finding very confusing. I never progressed as far as a match against another player. After a couple of desultory games with the AI I gave up on LoN as a game-within-a-game and thereafter never gave it much thought other than as a source of free stuff via the occasional Loot Card.

There was a period when LoN provided actual dropped loot in game, too. Back in 2007, which seems insanely longer ago than nine years as I recover these memories, I must still have been playing EverQuest as my primary MMORPG, because I clearly recall Booster Packs for LoN dropping as loot from mobs while I was hunting in the Crypt of Nadox and other Legacy of Ykesha zones.

Those packs were tradeable and they sold for big money on the broker back then. Not, I think, because anyone wanted to expand their deck to play LoN. No, the premium price was for the chance of getting something like the Bot Made Ice Cream Cart , still one of the coolest items ever added to the game and one of the very, very few I have always coveted.

At some point, either at the beginning or very early on (I can't recall which and the brief wiki entry doesn't mention it) a stipend of five LoN cards per month was included with the All Access sub. Ever since then opening and hoping has been a monthly ritual of my EQ and/or EQ2 gameplay.

Over the years I've had a few nice "drops" including mounts and houses although never the elusive ice-cream cart. A while back the rules were changed so that you had to log in each month and claim the free cards (also your 500 Station Daybreak Cash) because the entitlement no longer rolled over and since then I don't think I've missed a month.

The terse patch note doesn't mention anything about the stipend but I have to wonder: if the games have been de-coupled, what is the future for the free packs? I'd like to know.

I did try logging in to test it for myself but although the patch notes may be up the patch itself is not. The process for logging in to Test is unbelievably easier and smoother than it used to be back when I played, though, so I'll try again later.

In the meantime I've downloaded and installed the standalone client and tried it out. It seems identical to the in-game version except that it's slower and very laggy. You'd think that would be the other way around.

I opened packs until I got a Loot Card. It took me seven tries, which is about average in my experience. The loot is now in my account Claim list so I guess that, for now at least, the only substantive change is the access method required.

I'm off to post about it on the forum. It seems like something that should have been handled a little more sensitively than with just a line in the Test server patch notes but that's SOE/DBG all over.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Keep Taking The Tablets

The list of MMOs that I like to imagine I'm still playing that was included in Saturday's post, stopped at a nice, round dozen. The thirteenth seat at the table could have been taken by a number of other titles but the front runners might easily have been Allods or Villagers and Heroes.

Allods is a game I have never given as much time as I would have liked. Mrs Bhagpuss and I played it in beta and enjoyed it a great deal. For a while it was effectively the main MMO we were playing. We each had several characters and we leveled into the mid-thirties, far enough to see some dungeons and take part in the mid-game's open world, non-consensual PvP.

Those characters, of course, were all wiped when the beta ended. We re-rolled for launch but second time around we didn't last long. As I remember, it wasn't the infamous cash-shop shenanigans that put us off, just the usual "I just did all this last month" beta-tester's ennui.

That was Mrs Bhagpuss's last run at Allods but I've been back twice more. The first time was to take a look at the soviet-inspired Empire side of the fence, having always played League before. The second was both to try the new race and its starter area and to test out the viability of playing a full scale MMO on my new 10" Windows tablet.

The concept of playing MMOs on mobile devices has fascinated me for a long time. I first blogged about it back in 2012, when I was playing Pocket Legends and Elemental Knights on my iPod Touch. I'm still using that iPod to listen to music and podcasts and I even occasionally watch YouTube but I stopped gaming on it not long after I wrote that post.

At the time I thought it was the combination of small screen size and not particularly interesting games that made playing an MMO a less-than attractive option for lunch-times and commutes. That explanation didn't hold up very well when I got a tablet capable of playing full-scale MMORPGs like Allods and even WoW.

Of course, MMOs made for the PC aren't generally optimized for touch-screen gaming. WoW plays smoothly on my tablet, which is easily powerful enough to run it, but to play normally I need to attach a mouse and keyboard, by which point I am effectively playing on a netbook.

There are apps that you can install to emulate mobile controls for PC games and I have tried a couple but although they work to a degree the whole process feels awkward. Allods turned out to be the most enjoyable of the MMOs I tried on the tablet because all the innate PC controls that allow for click-to-move or click-to-use seem to respond perfectly as touch-to-move or touch-to-use.

So, I could play Allods comfortably on my tablet, it looked great and I like the game. And yet I only played it a couple of times then forgot all about it. It seems that I don't really want to play MMOS, or any other games, during those short periods of free time I have during the working day, after all. Turns out I'd rather read a book or web-browse.

I only thought about gaming on the go again this weekend for two reasons: the first was when MassivelyOP reported that another MMO I like and wish I'd found time to play more of, Villagers and Heroes, is getting a full port to the Android platform. The other was I dropped my tablet and broke it.

The damage isn't as bad as when I was vigorously cleaning the screen of my first ever tablet and snapped the glass in two. This time it's only the digitizer that's busted. That can be replaced although I probably won't bother. The tablet still has a useful life ahead of it if I simply attach it to a monitor with an HDMI cable. I might set it up like that in the kitchen. There are certainly enough spare monitors lying around this house...

 Following the life/lemons/lemonade principle I used the accident as an opportunity to upgrade. I found something with a much better display, a more powerful cpu and graphics and more memory for almost exactly what the tablet I dropped cost a year ago. That's technology for you.

Best of all, the replacement comes with a dual-boot option, Android and Windows, already installed. That should give me the fullest access to whatever the next couple of years holds for mobile gaming, short of anything that releases as an iPad exclusive.

It will be interesting to see what the new tablet can cope with. Black Desert, for example, could be an ideal mobile MMO with its extensive range of automated options and afk processes. Then there's GW2, which has a highly paternalistic patcher that refuses to run if it finds your system doesn't meet its exacting standards. The old tablet couldn't pass the examination but if the new one can it would be handy to be able to log in at work if just to be able to chat in guild.

Having both Android and Windows on the same tablet gives me carte blanche to play just about anything. Several titles I've looked at over the last year, but which were only available for Android and iOS, might come into play. I'll definitely install V&H when the mobile version becomes available and if Nexon ever release the FFXI mobile port they are supposedly working on for Square, I'll definitely be trying that. (All the cool kids are into FFXI right now, didn't you know?)

In the end, though, I suspect that, no matter how good the choice of MMOs becomes, how powerful and affordable the hardware gets, however smoothly and efficiently everything runs, I'll always end up choosing to use my tablet for something other than gaming. It is possible to have too much of a good thing.

On the other hand, it's also nice to have a choice. It seems like, after a number of false starts and failed promises, the age of the Mobile MMO might be here at last. I'd rather be able to play MMOs on my tablet and not want to than want to and not be able.

Conspicuous non-consumption! it's the post-capitalist way!

Monday, 18 April 2016

The Great Vanilla Shortage or What WoW Could Learn From RuneScape

It's been hard to avoid the the whole Nostalrius saga these past couple of weeks. The story made it out of the blogs onto the regular gaming news sites and even as far as the fringes of the mainstream media.

Like the ongoing war in New Eden, where thousands of ships and tens of thousands of players battle over virtual assets measured in trillions, much of the widening interest comes from the numbers. No-one much notices when something happens in a game played by a few thousand people but when the tally runs into six or seven figures we all feel a disturbance in the force.

There were, reportedly, a hundred and fifty thousand active players on the illegal Nostalrius server. They came from an even larger pool of people, eight hundred thousand in all, who were sufficiently enamored with the idea of stepping back in time to the halcyon days of Vanilla WoW to take the trouble to register their interest with the organizers.

Blizzard's much-discussed decision to train their legal artillery on the perpetrators of this incursion into their proprietorial territory most likely relates as much to the sheer size, success and concomitant media profile of Nostalrius as it does to any ethical or aesthetic objection to the misuse of intellectual property. To have so many people prefer a copy of your product, and a copy of your old product at that, to your current commercial offering has to be a difficult pill for prideful producers to swallow.

Fortunately for players of MMOs not curated by Blizzard, other developers are less sensitive and show more foresight. Daybreak Games (née SOE) have made a business model out of giving customers what they used to want. That seems to have worked well for them and there have been plenty of press releases and interviews where the commercial success of the various progression and TLE servers has been confirmed and puffed.

Always, though, without hard numbers, which is why the revelation that a single, illegal vanilla WoW server was able to hold a population that would by no means disgrace a middle-ranking MMO has aroused so much interest. How much more significant, then, should we see the astonishingly open and revealing account from Jagex concerning the retro Runescape server they opened three years ago?

It's one of the most intriguing and thought-provoking documents I've read on the subject of MMORPGs for a very long time, not least for the hard numbers it reveals:

  • 500,000 positive responses to an in-game poll on whether to undertake the project
  • 7,000,000 log-ins to the old-school servers over a three-year period
  • 2,500,000 of those log-ins converted to subscription-paying customers

I've posted before about how, with our relatively narrow focus as on a sliver of the MMO market and with companies so obsessively secretive about population figures, this quadrant of the blogosphere may not have any real idea of which are the real successes in the genre. RuneScape is and always has been a big player in the Western MMO market but you'd never know that from my Feedly or blog roll.

Even so, these are bigger numbers than I would have guessed. If Jagex have two and a half million subscribers just for their old-school offer, how many do they have for their main game? And they are different numbers. The suspicion has long been that retro-servers merely split a game's existing customer base but, for RuneScape at least, this is apparently not so.

After about six months we started to see player numbers settle and we could see that very few players migrated between Old School RuneScape and RuneScape. What we were not seeing was one game cannibalising the other

Another argument often produced against the idea of retro-servers is the cost of creating and maintaining them. It's a lot of work and that effort could better be directed at current content, or so the line goes.

When Azuriel was considering why Blizzard would be foolish to enter the WoW nostalgia market with an offer of their own he suggested a ball-park figure of forty-four developers to set up and maintain the project. I thought that sounded a tad high and queried it in the comments and Azuriel confirmed it was a figure he'd pulled out of his hat.

Even though I thought that was more than any company, even Blizzard, would need for the job it would never have occurred to me for a moment that the actual number of developers required to get such a project up and running could be counted on the fingers of Mickey Mouse's gloved hand.

a small team of three people was put together to manage the servers and community until the initial interest had died down

Three people. A team that was later expanded to five times that when the success, and more importantly the longevity of the success, became evident. So, that's fifteen people to cater for an extension to the business that has attracted new customers numbering in millions.

With these new data points it's easier to calibrate the size of the pile of money Blizzard must be leaving on the table by not moving into the nostalgia market on their own account. That has to be one big pile.

It's not just the initial windfall as a potentially immense flock of curiosity-seekers and nostalgists from WoW's vast hinterland of ex-millions sub up out of curiosity and sentiment, although that's a potential one-off profit of a lifetime all by itself. Going on Jagex's experience, the spike in revenue has great potential to be ongoing and sustainable.

Although the initial impact of legacy servers on RuneScape was expected to be short and sweet, it has grown into a major part of Jagex’s business...This made it very easy to position Old School RuneScape as complementarily to RuneScape

So, with some actual facts at our fingertips, it seems we can say that nostalgia servers for MMORPGs can, when well-handled, be both profitable for the producers and popular with the players. Moreover, having an old-school offer complements rather than competes with the existing Live offer and creates synergies that push the entire business forward.

So why wouldn't you? Don't you like money?

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Too Much To Dream

April's proving to be a very busy month indeed, at least for the sadly-diminished number of MMOs I seem to be playing these days. How it's happened that my gaming diet has been pared down to just two regular titles I'm not entirely sure but I am sure that I don't like it and didn't intend for it to happen.

Whether I have the power to change it is another matter. It's a truism that you can only play one or two MMOs "seriously" for two, simple reasons: firstly, the genre is based primarily on extremely time-consuming activities and secondly, those activities never end.

A single-player RPG offering 60+ hours of gameplay would generally be considered good value. It might well be the only game a player booted up for a whole month of multi-hour sessions. After a while, though, people are done with single-player rpgs. They're finished. They move on. Where are all the posts in my Feedly now about Fallout 4? Gone to the same place all the posts about Skyrim, I imagine.

With MMOs the same process takes months or years, not weeks. Even in these days of game-hopping, when few new MMOs even scrape the three-month attention barrier, there seems to be some trauma involved in stopping playing any given MMO. When they decide to move from one game to another, people feel they have to make excuses, come up with a reason, explain themselves,

That tends not to happen when a player reaches the end of a single-player game. When you're done there, you're done and anyway it's no-one's business but your own. You either had fun or you didn't. It was money well spent or it was a poor purchasing decision but either way it's over. Off you go to the next one.
I admit it. I do sometimes log into TSW just to take screenshots of my character posing.

For the longest time I've been trying to hold the line on playing a lot of MMOs at the same time. I have around a couple of dozen installed on my various hard drives right now and a good few more on my notional radar. Here's a list I've come up with off the top of my head, without checking what I actually have on the desktop, of the MMOs I like to imagine I'm still playing in 2016:

Guild Wars 2
Black Desert
EverQuest 2
Blade and Soul
The Secret World
Warhammer Emu
Vanguard Emu
Project Gorgon
Dragon Nest: Oracle

Ok, Ninelives isn't actually an MMO. Indeed, it's so much not an MMO that the SmokymonkeyS team feel compelled to state "It will never be a MMO" at the end of their bullet point on the planned Multiplayer features. It might as well be an MMO, though.

That's a nice, round dozen, of which, quite clearly, I'm really only playing the first two and mostly only the first one. I would dearly love to be able to say I was actively and meaningfully playing a dozen MMORPGs. I've been trying to do that for years. I've been telling myself I was doing it and I very nearly made myself believe it, too, but let's face facts here.

At best I'm logging in to a dozen MMOs. Of the list above I think, again without checking, that I've fired up the client and taken a character into the world in nine of the above twelve games this calendar year.

Shamefully, I don't think I've logged into EQ since around November 2015. Changing my All Access account from the one with my highest level EQ character to the one with my highest level EQ2 character pretty much did for my active participation in the original game. That has to be, and will be, rectified. Not sure how...or when...
Remind me who Argenta is again?

The Secret World and Dragon Nest :Oracle are the other two I haven't touched at all in 2016. I love TSW in theory but I hit the wall of my ability to progress there a long time ago and since I'm not going to get any better it's a dead end. It's not a gear issue - my character is overgeared already for the content I can't beat. I just can't play the game well enough to get past certain fights in the storyline and since all new content is now, quite rationally, directed at the existing, skilled and highly-progressed community, its unlikely I'll ever return to do more than  potter around the places I've already seen.

Which is fine. I do that in a lot of MMOs. It's tourism and I am one hundred percent down with being a tourist in both real and virtual life. I can hardly claim it's the same as "actively playing" an MMO, though, can I?

Of the remainder of that list I did play Blade and Soul "properly" for several weeks. I would almost certainly be playing it now if Black Desert hadn't risen from the MMO ocean like a great leviathan and stolen every single minute of free time GW2 wasn't already using.

I will return to Blade and Soul. I was enjoying it, I can play it, I wanted to hit max level just to say I'd done it. Not right now, though. Similarly I will play Project Gorgon, just probably not until it settles down to some kind of quasi-released status and I will play Vanguard (again), when most of the gameplay is recovered from the void. And Dragon Nest; I will also get back to that one at some point, I'm sure.

But when? When is any of this going to happen? There's already a line forming for the games I am playing.
A leap into the content abyss.

On Tuesday the April Update for GW2 lands. What's in it? Your guess is as good as anyone's. ANet, now under Mike "Two Hats" O'Brien's complete control, has opted for a bizarre combination of openness and secrecy, in which Mo (as he confusingly styles himself these days) announces he is going to communicate more while simultaneously shelving some of the established communication channels we've all come to rely on.

Consequently we have no clear idea what's going to be in the update, other than whatever you can read from the runes of this terrible promo video. The worst promo video I have seen for... well, possibly ever. Whatever the update brings, I imagine it will manage to occupy my attention at least until April 28, when the mother of all free updates drops in EQ2.

Contrary to ANet's approach, DBG have been pulling out all the stops to provide full disclosure on what to expect and, on paper at least, it looks awesome. Seriously, this deserves hyperbole. They could be selling this as an expansion and I doubt they'd be getting much more in the way of complaints than they always get.

Feldon has been covering the DBG infodump, which is far too extensive to detail here. The highlights for me are the new open-world zone, the Experience Vial system (which I expect to use heavily if it turns out to be as great an idea in play as it reads on the screen) and the Collects they revealed today. There's a lot more to the update than that, though. If this is what they're giving out for free (well, to Subscribers as part of their Subscription, to be strictly accurate) then I really want to know what they have planned for this year's actual expansion.
If they make that fox race playable then all bets are off.

And finally, just focusing on the triumvirate of MMOs I can get away with saying I am "actively playing", while keeping a straight face, there's Black Desert. Apparently throwing in an entire "expansion" unannounced earlier in the month wasn't enough for Daum. They're sweetening the pot further on April 20th with two new classes, the controversially-named Musa and Maehwa (better than "Plum" and "Blader" as the translated versions had it, that's for sure).

I rolled my third BDO character, a Witch, the other night. I already had a Berserker, who I don't get on with, and my Tamer, who is great. I like the Witch a lot so far. I haven't even had a chance to consider the two new ones although I still have one character slot free and anyway that Berserker is hanging on by his fingernails - he could fall onto the Delete button any time.

He's probably safe for now, though, because the thing is this: there just isn't time to be starting new characters. I need to buckle down and get on with the things I have in hand already.

The dream of really "playing" many MMOs at once is just that: a dream. It's a good dream though and I'm going to keep on dreaming. Who want to wake up to reality anyway?

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Up Above The Roofs And Houses : GW2

I was on Reddit last night reading the leaked/faked (delete as applicable) upcoming patch notes that supposedly reveal details of ANet's plans for server merges and other "fixes" for World vs World's many problems, when quite by chance I came across a thread entitled "Thank you ANet, for polishing Black Citadel. It's beautiful."

Putting aside my mental image of a team of ANet developers in community service fatigues hanging from the girders of The black Citadel on bucket-chairs wielding mops and dusters, I read on to learn that, as a direct result of the addition of gliding to Core Tyria, someone had taken the time and trouble to "polish up, rework the newly accessible areas a bit" and sort out "invisible walls, low res props without collision, etc that needed fixing".

The Black Citadel has always been my favorite Tyrian city. I've sung its praises before, more than once. Over the years I've poked my whiskers into its many back alleys and wild places. But I've never seen it from the air.

This evening I spent an hour exploring the old place. Honestly, I couldn't with any certainty say what parts were or weren't newly accessible. The place always was a maze. For example, I'd have said the whole perimeter of the Great Imperial Smelter would have been unreachable without a glider but as I made my way back on foot from the far side I found myself next to a vendor and next to him was a ramp going up, so maybe you always could take that tour.

It's also not impossible that you might have been able to jump down onto the jury-rigged, flat, riveted rooftop of the Gladium Canton, although I rather doubt it. In places the collision is still touch and go - I fell through what looked like a sheet of solid boiler plate steel while I was gawping at the sunset.

I purely love rooftops. There's a famous romance to the world above the houses that's been celebrated in many a book and film from Mary Poppins to Rooftoppers. As a teenager I used to take every chance I could get to climb out of a window or up a wall and sit on a roof ridge or a parapet.

I'm getting a tad past that now but my characters aren't. The roof over Gladium is a joy, although it's also an architectural disaster. I really hope no Asura "geniuses" ever happen to see it, but for atmospherics and mood it can't be beat.

There were two places I managed to reach that I'm certain weren't on the tourist trail before gliding came to Tyria. To the South of the Gladium Canton there's a sector from which the map's fog never clears because no-one was ever meant to go there.

It was scenery. Now it's a picnic spot. There's not much there except trees and grass but it makes a great staging post to swoop down on that tricky vista.

Most satisfying of all, though, was the flight I took from the ledge of the Asura Gate to Lion's Arch all the way across to the ruins of the Great Northern Wall. Those fragments of archway have taunted me for years, granite ghosts of a past that won't fade. Landing on their ledges and sitting in their shade made an old Charr feel the war was finally over.

So, yes, thank you Justin of ANet, for going above and beyond the call of duty and adding yet another paragraph to the palimpsest of The Black Citadel, the greatest city in Tyria. May her steel always shine and her roadways never rust.

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