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Editor's Note

Jon Wood, the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, gives his opinions on news, games, and all things MMORPG.

Author: Stradden

The Age of Conan Beta Debate: Now With One More Theory

Posted by Stradden Wednesday April 30 2008 at 9:05AM
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When I wrote yesterday’s article, “Product Director Speaks on Fileplanet Open Beta”, I had no idea that it would prove to be so volatile, prompting 120 replies overnight. I, being the madman that I am, have waded through the entirety of it and I have found that people are still proposing alternate theories on why exactly Funcom chose to go with a  Fileplanet download.

I’m not one of those people. I may be in the minority, but I just wasn’t surprised by the initial decision from the company to go through Fileplanet for a beta.  It’s not the first time a company has chosen this route for open beta distribution. Heck, I remember back when I was working on Wish, we distributed our client through good ‘ol FP and that was back in 2005. I remember someone telling me back then that this would become the standard for MMO beta distribution and I still can‘t disagree.

I know that people are running up one side of Jorgen’s answers (from the article) and down the other, but I think that there are some people who are misinterpreting  some of what has been said, and I wanted to offer my two cents. I should premise this by saying that while I will admit that Age of Conan is one of the games that I am looking forward to, I’m not personally invested enough to make up stories on their behalf (as I will inevitably be accused of doing).

Issue

The first thing that I have noticed is that near the end of the 120 replies (and throughout), people are still talking about Funcom making a profit from the beta. People feel that it was a decision made in ordre to “grab a quick buck” before launch.

Jon’s theory:


Ok, here’s my theory on this… I don’t think that Funcom is getting any money from the FP beta. The cost involved is Fileplanet’s subscription fee. I’m pretty sure that Fileplanet is keeping that money themselves as it’s their business model. Sure, the AoC beta was a nice get for them, it will probably bring in some new blood and it gets their name out there, but I don’t think that the people at FP are saying, ‘ok, let’s give the money in secret back to Funcom. Shhhh”. It just doesn’t make any business sense on their end.

In the end, Fileplanet is a for-profit website that is meant to make IGN money. I’m not knocking that. Most high end video game websites are for-profit. I’m just saying that we don’t usually give companies their money back.

Also, what would Funcom really have to gain by doing this? Let’s say for a moment that there is some kind of kick back. Let’s assume that, for the sake of argument, that it’s half of the subscription cost. There are 50,000 keys. Let’s say again for the sake of argument that the Age of Conan beta draws in twice that number of new subscribers to FP (I suspect that number is inflated). That’s 100,000 sign-ups. If Funcom were getting $2.50 for each one, that’s $250,000. While that sounds like a lot of money to someone like me, it really isn’t much in the scope of a multi-million dollar game. Take into account that the average game developer is (according to a recent survey) paid $73,316. That works out to about 3.4 employees worth on money. Not insignificant, but certainly not worth destroying Funcom customer relations over. Remember, Funcom is a business and AoC, while it holds a lot of weight, isn’t the be all and end all of the company.

Now, I know that this is very basic math, but to me, it just makes sense.

Do I think that Funcom isn’t getting anything out of the deal? Of course not. Fileplanet is a high-profile site. The Funcom beta being there brings attention to the game. Drumming up interest and raising the profile of your game right before launch is a valuable thing. It just isn’t monetary kickback.

Issue

People are still seeing a conspiracy (or at least rip-off) over the level 13 cap on the Fileplanet beta.

Jon’s Theory


While I totally agree with people who say that the level 13 cap should probably have been mentioned somewhere in the promotions for the beta, I think that Jorgen’s answer about the choice makes sense. In the end, their game is story-driven. They want to save the discovery of the story until the game has launched.

The thing is that there were a couple of lingual missteps here. While Jorgen addressed one of them, in saying that they probably should have called it the Fileplanet beta rather than an open beta, I would go one step further and say that it probably should have been called the “Fileplanet beta preview”. In the end, that’s what it is. It’s a preview. The AoC General Beta is still alive and kicking and is separate from the FP “Open Beta”. I honestly think that Funcom heard their audience calling for some kind of an open beta preview (when people complain that there won’t be an OB, I would suggest that it’s because they want to test the game before buying). And rather than not providing players any chance to try the game pre-launch, I think that the AoC folks probably set up this deal with Fileplanet in an attempt to give players a bit of a preview.

If indeed this was intended as a preview rather than a beta, then the lvl 13 cap makes sense. Think of it like a pre-release demo. Those are always very limited in terms of how much of the game you can experience.

Issue
It would have been easy to just distribute a torrent.

Jon’s Theory


I want to preface this bit by saying that I’m not a network expert, and I don’t really know a whole lot about Torrents and how they work. I’ve used them before, but don’t know a lot beyond that. I’m just going to say a few things that seem like common sense to me.

First, wouldn’t releasing through a torrent still require a massive amount of organization on Funcom’s part? I don’t know about the technical stuff, but even the distribution of keys seems like it would be a chore that it might be best to farm out.

Second, wouldn’t distributing via torrent be less secure? I don’t know for sure, but it seems like it would be.

Third, wouldn’t distributing via torrent be less professional? I can’t remember the last time that a professional company asked me to download a torrent. Also, to lay people like me, the word torrent pushes the brain to thoughts of illegal downloading. I’m not saying that’s all they’re used for. It’s not, but there is a very powerful perception in the realm of people who don’t really use torrents (there are more out there than you may think).

I honestly don’t know about this one, but I suspect that even if it could have been done, it just wasn’t worth the headache.

Ok, this is getting long in the tooth for a blog entry, so I am going to cut it short.

My intention here is not to try to convince people to play Age of Conan. In the end, everyone’s MMO tastes are a little bit different. I suspect that AoC will make some people very happy, while for others, it won’t be their cup of tea. The reason I wrote this blog entry is to try to just propose some non-conspiratorial answers to the legitimate questions that have been raised about these issues. Do I claim to be right? No, I don’t. I do not know with 100% certainty that anything I said above is the case. But I wonder if these explanations are any less plausible than a lot of what I read in response to yesterday’s article.

Betas, Dev vs. Dev and More!

Posted by Stradden Friday April 25 2008 at 10:12AM
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Well, I'm finally back from Comic Con. Actually, I've been back since Monday, but things have been busy around the office since we got back and I haven't had a chance to really sit down to put my thoughts down on paper.

New York Comic Con


All week, you've (hopefully) been reading our coverage in terms of articles coming out of our exclusive interviews. We were really thrilled to talk to so many MMO people about their games and I would like to thank everyone for taking the time to talk to us.

It wasn't just interviews though. There were also panels (that you will be hearing about from us next week). Now, I know we often cover panels from shows here at MMORPG.com, but these panels may have been the best that I have ever attended. The reasons are many and varied, but I think it breaks down to the fact that a) it was a fan con and the panels were attended by fans of the games and b) all of the panelists seemed more relaxed than at your standard GDC panel. Whatever the reasons, it boiled down to some really great talks.

DvD = Dev vs. Dev


So often, I hear people talking about how the Ae of Conan Devs must be happy whenever things go bad for the Warhammer guys, or that one development studio is sabotaging another in some way.

As fans, in our minds, I think that we have built up this fantastic rivalry between all of the top MMO development studios. Certainly the fans of the games (particularly Warhammer and Age of Conan) are pretty constantly at each others' throats. Why shouldn't the devs be the same way?

Well, I hate to be burster of bubbles, but as much as I might like to see it, it just doesn't seem to be there. Don't get me wrong, everyone thinks their game is the best game. It's the nature of the beast, but in the end, everyone's rooting for everyone else (except Blizzard).

I thought about this as I was watching a panel that had Jason Stone (Funcom) sitting next to Jeff Hickman (Ea Mythic), next to Craig Alexander (Turbine), next to Scott Cuthbertson (38 Studios) next to Matthew Woodward (CCP). Those are some pretty hefty names (the WAR dev sitting next tot he Conan dev was great).

During that talk, they appeared more like comrades in arms than anything else. One fan actually even asked the question and they were quite candid in their answers. I'm sure the official article will spell it out better, but in the end, they said that everyone is rooting for everyone else. They're at the point where the genre is still growing and they're not fighting for every last person. When things tighten up though, then you might see more heated rivalries.

So, again, sorry to burst bubbles, but as the hordes of attacking fans crash against the walls of their opposing games, it isn't the devs leading the charge.

Beta Beta Beta


I know for fact that I've talked about this subject before. I know that it comes up every single time that a game gets closer to launch. This time, it comes witha shiny new Age of Conan wrapper.

Ok, first, I want to take a second to remind people what a beta actually is: A beta is a test of a game. Generally speaking, open betas (which is more the subject of this rant) are stress-tests of the game so that developers can make sure that larger groups of players won't explode the game. Betas are a chance for the players and the developers to work together to make sure that the final, launched product runs as smoothly as possible.

What a beta is not, is a chance to try the game for free. So often in the last few days, I've seen threads on this site and others made by people who are complaining because they don't like how the beta is being run, or they say they won't play the game if they don't get in... You know the kinds of posts I'm talking about. I have a news flash folks. That's not the purpose of beta and if you are one of those people who look at betas as nothing but a chance to try a game for free, you lose the right to compain when and if the game is buggy at launch.

I know that people are going to argue that betas just aren't what they once were. Well, that's true. People will also argue that betas, especially open betas, have been used in recent years in the same way; as marketing tools. Again I say, you're right. Over the last few years, the meaning of open beta has changed and some companies have used it as as free trial. To them I say, shame on you.

It is becuase open betas have been treated this way by a few in the past that companies today can't hold a proper beta without being subjected to people who feel entitled to a free look at the game. This is counter productive for everyone. The game company doesn't get the feedback they wanted, and the player doesn't get the play experience that he / she was looking for.

Would it be like to me whine like this if I didn't have a solution? Well, yes, but this time I do:

There is no doubt in my mind as a player that offering players a free trial upon or just before launch is a good idea. If you've made a good game, it will be a great boost (if you made a bad game, I can't help you). Players want to know that they will have a good experience before investing even in the price of the box. If your game offers that, which it should, don't be afraid to show people outside of your testing process.

I guess I'm essentially trying to say that both players and developers are responsbile for the misconceptions about betas, and I think that changing a few words would do wonders for clearing up this fiasco.

First, devs, add a "free trial" phase. Treat it just like a promotional open beta, but just own up to what it is. If you want to use a portion of pre-launch to promote the game via free gameplay, just be hoenst about it and call it what it is.

Second, players, if what you're looking for is a free trial of the game, stop whining about beta. Instead, you should be using your voice to pressure companies to hold actual free trials. That's what you're really looking for, isn't it?
Oh yeah, while I'm on the subject... If you've only ever played the beta for a game (or worse yet, the alpha), you don't have the experience necessary to make that judgement. Games change, sometimes quite significantly between beta and launch. Don't get me wrong, the game may still suck after it's launched, but if you haven't played the launch client, you don't know if the game sucks. You can say the beta sucked. You can't say the game sucked. You haven't played the game.

NY Comic Con - Day One

Posted by Stradden Saturday April 19 2008 at 7:41AM
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Ya know, it's nice to have a job that you enjoy and where you can have fun. I'm one of those lucky people who actually has that and this weekend is one of the times where I just can't forget it. For those of you who don't know (or didn't read the title before clicking in here), the MMORPG.com team is in New York City for Comic Con.

This was my first, so I wasn`t sure what to expect. After experiencing my first day at one and getting a good night`s sleep, I have to say that I`m impressed. I think it`s the carnival-like atmosphere that impresses me. I`m not knocking industry conventions like GDC, but any time you throw fans into the mix, be they comic fans, MMO fans, or overall ``nerds``, you`re going to have a good time.

In the interest of time, I`m going to give a little rundown of some of the more interesting parts of yesterday so as not to bore you with my few total geek-outs. I`m also going to throw a few pictures up here (more to come when I get back to the office).

Costumes!


Man, when people head to Comic Con, some of them go all out. I saw: A Witch Hunter, Jesus, Jedi, numerous Starfleet goons, Princess Leia, SG team members, a surprising number of really cool Storm Trooper costumes, Superman, Spiderman, Princess Leia, Commandos, Hazmat workers, Princess Leia, Imperia Soldiers, Princess Leia...

Ok, if you noticed that I said Princess Leia a bunch of times, please don`t email me or comment to point it out. I know, and it was intentional. There were lots and lots of Princess Leias. I`m not complaining mind you, I`m just saying...

It wasn`t the variety  of costumes that amused me so much as the pairings. I have a couple of really great pictures of Superman posing with one of the Princess Leias (there are many copies and they have a plan), an SG member posing with a Jedi a hasmat person using a metal detector on Bobba Fett... To me, this is hilarious.

CCP - Mwhahaha

EVE Online has a booth over on the show floor. While our interview wasn`t today, we did end up poking around the booth a little bit. While we were there, we got a demo of one of CCP North America`s board games called Mwhahahaha. Yup. That`s really the name of the game. In it, you play an amusingly named super-villain who is trying to take over the world at the same time as four other super-villains with amusing names are trying to take over the world. This game is hilarious. I have never laughed so hard while playing a board game. If you ever have the chance to pick up a copy, please do so.

I`m one of those people who genuinely thinks that board games are underrated. I loved them as a kid and as a ``grown up``, I think I enjoy them even more. They`re a lost art that people are abandoning in favor of games of the video variety. It`s a shamer really.  

X-Files - I Want To Believe

Chris Carter, the creator of X-Files, and Frank Spotnitz held a trailer screening for the upcoming film. I`d like to tell you that they answered a lot of questions about the movie but really what I saw was two men artfully dodging questions for half an hour. Now, I`m not criticizing that. They really were hilarious and they were very up front about the fact that a) they were there promoting the movie and b) they were going to be keeping everything about the movie to themselves lest one of us blog-type people run home and blow the mystery of the movie. Still though, some people insist on either going up to the question area and saying either, ``I don`t have a question, but I really liked the show`` or they would ask specific questions about the movie after they were told that they wouldn`t be answered. In the case of the fawning fan, I can`t stand when people do that. It embarasses us all. Nobody cares that you liked the show. We all liked the show. That`s why we`re there. In the case of the second question, seriously, if they say they can`t talk about it, they can`t talk about it. It`s not like they`re going to say, ``Well, there`s a carefully planned marketing campaign that hinges on people being surprised at the movie, but since someone I don`t know asked me at Comic Con, I`ll just blow the whole thing.``

I`d love to chat more, but day two is starting.
   

Thoughts on Spellborn and LotRO Dwarves

Posted by Stradden Friday April 11 2008 at 10:42AM
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It’s been a while since I updated my blog. It’s not for any nefarious reason, just that I’ve been pretty busy with work and haven’t had time to write. I know that sounds silly given that this is my job, but we’ll not get into too much detail.

I decided to write this week, because I saw some issues in the news that I thought might be fun to address. I’ll start with a publisher announcement.

The Chronicles of Spellborn


Yesterday, Spellborn International, the company behind (guess what?) The Chronicles of Spellborn, announced that they had signed a letter of intent with a US-based publisher.

Why is this important? Well, for the longest time, we kept hearing that while they were ok for a European publisher (and areas beyond that), Spellborn just hadn’t found a publisher for the US market. This caused a number of people to begin to ask a lot of questions about the game. The number one thing that I heard was “The game must be in trouble if they can’t find a US publisher”.

Honestly, I’m not sure that one is an indication of the other. One thing for us North Americans to remember is that not all of the upcoming MMOs that we’re looking forward to are actually being made here in North America. In fact, if you look at it, just off the top of my head you’ve got EVE Online, which was and is developed in Iceland. Age of Conan is being made in Norway. Earthrise, another highly anticipated game, is being made in Bulgaria. The Chronicles of Spellborn calls The Netherlands its home.

Of all of these games, I would say that Spellborn probably has the most intentionally European feel to it (just check out the art style), departing a great deal from what we think of as “American-Style” MMOs like EverQuest and World of Warcraft both in terms of cosmetic look and even functional design.

My personal feeling is that the head honchos over at Spellborn wanted a US publisher, but probably not bad enough to a) give up control over certain aspects of the game or b) settle for something less than they are looking for.

Ok, I’m pretty much done waxing poetic about Spellborn. I will say this though: It’s an interesting and innovative game being made by an indie company that takes MMO conventions and turns them on their ears. If you’re one of the people who has been complaining about “WoW clones”, there is no reason you shouldn’t at least try this game when it launches in the Fall. I’m not necessarily saying you’re going to like it, everyone has different tastes, but I am saying that if you don’t at least take a look, you lose your right to complain about WoW clones.

Lord of the Rings


LotRO has been my MMO of choice lately (although I pledge my undying video game fealty to Battlefield 2142). I had played a while back with an elf character. I moved on after I reached about level 17. Not because I wasn’t enjoying the game, but because work meant that I had to go on and play something else for a while. When the time came to jump into the game again, I decided against playing my elf character. One of the things that I had really been enjoying about LotRO was the sense of story that I got. I stand by the fact that LotRO has some of the best written quests and story arcs in MMOs today (I’m not saying they’re all to my taste, but for the most part, they get a thumbs up). Unfortuantely, I had forgotten what my elf was up to in my time away (memory like a goldfish, I swear) and decided, along with my News Manager, to roll up a new Dwarf. Well, let me say congrats to whichever Turbine employees are responsible for the Dwarves and their early quests. I’ve been having a blast with Abrawlin (get it… a’brawlin… it’s hilarious to me).

I know I’m not your average MMO player. I know that most people don’t really pay a lot of attention to the quests and the quality of writing and dialogue, but for me, it’s a make or break. If a game doesn’t have these things, I can still look at it objectively and talk about its features, but it’s not going to be a personal favorite. When I first heard that Turbine was developing LotRO, I assumed that there was no way they would be able to both capture the feeling of Middle Earth and write engaging storylines and dialogue, but in the end they surprised me and I just wanted to take a minute to say that. Well done Turbine story team!

Ok, that’s enough of my babble for today, but I’m hoping to get this going weekly again so I can offer commentary on and maybe even the occasional insight about the week’s news.

 

-Jon

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