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Terra Bytes

My own personal musings, random ideas and insights at the MMO industry of yesteryear, today and the future.

Author: Sirocc0

Microsoft's Millions

Posted by Sirocc0 Saturday January 2 2010 at 12:40PM
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Microsoft must look in awe and wonder at the success other MMO developers and publishers have. They have tried numerous times to get a piece of the MMO pie, but each time something goes wrong.

 

 

Microsoft first decided to venture into the MMO world back in 2002 when they announced Mythica, a game based on Norse mythology in which you would play a demi-god and developed by first party developer Microsoft Games Studio . However MMO scene veterans Mythic Entertainment didn't like their choice of name for Mythica, believing that gamers would confuse the two and filed a law suit. Fast forward to May 25th 2004 and Microsoft announced it's cancellation citing a competitive MMO environment. Rumours circulated it was the lawsuit that finished it off.

 

They also had a second project which started development around the same time as Mythica, but was to be made by third party Sigil Games. The Godfather of MMOs was in charge at Sigil, Mr Brad McQuaid and he meant to make the real sequel to EverQuest. The project was only to be funded by Microsoft , not developed, and some speculate to the amount of $30 Million. From interviews with ex employees it seems Microsoft became disgruntled with what exactly Sigil had done with their investment, and in May 2006 Microsoft sold the rights to the game to Sigil, who went on to secure publishing with SOE. Shortly after the launch of the game, which has been covered many times by other articles, Sigil sold the game to SOE but the game failed to recover from what seems like abysmal management decision throughout the games development.

 

When the Xbox was first released, Microsoft saw another prime opportunity to enter the MMO world and announced the development of True Fantasy Live Online in 2002. Developed by Level 5 (unknown in MMO territory but we love them now as developers of the Professor Layton series for the Nintendo DS) it was to be exclusively for the Xbox. Microsoft needed voice chat to be present, but Level 5 were inexperienced with massive VoIP networking and so Microsoft pulled the plug in 2004, despite the game being 90% complete. Level 5 blamed the cancellation on poor relations.

 

In 2005 after a lawsuit between Marvel and Cryptic Studios an announcement was made that Marvel Universe Online was to be made. Funded by Microsoft, licensed by Marvel and developed by Cryptic (who were already kings of Superhero MMOs) it was a dream combination - yet again it was another Microsoft backed MMO that never saw the light of day. It was cancelled by Microsoft who, yet again, cited a competitive MMO environment as their reasoning. Cryptic went on to use much of their work in their latest MMO offering: Champions Online.

 

On that note I'd like to mention that Microsoft seem to also have problems with MMOs on the Xbox 360. Champions Online should be on the 360 but Jack Emmert of Cryptic states Microsoft's Xbox Live Service has "various issues" which means we won't be seeing it anytime soon. That may also explain why Age of Conan has still not arrived for the 360 despite Funcom maintaining it would be all the way through development. Somehow I'm doubtful that it ever will now.

 

Microsoft does have 2 MMOs that run on the 360: Final Fantasy XI and Phantasy Star Universe. Yet Microsoft has nothing to do with either of the games, they merely operate on it's console in the same way that PC MMOs operate on it's operating system, and neither generate much extra revenue as Xbox Live Gold Membership is not required. So unfortunately they do nothing to dispel the myth that Microsoft has a cursed touch when it comes to MMOs.

 

What does the future hold for them? Well it looks bleak compared to their main competitor console wise at Sony. Sony's MMO branch at SOE are working away at two MMOs for both PC and PS3: The Agency and DC Universe Online. Another blow to Microsoft is that the sequel to Final Fantasy XI, Final Fantasy XIV is going to be for the PC and PS3 as well initially, though they haven't ruled out a port for the 360 in the future. I must also mention that Huxley has been touted for the 360 as well, but in my opinion I'll be surprised if that even surfaces for the PC at this rate of delayed development.

 

I'll close with one final thought: What did Brad McQuaid do with Microsoft's Millions?

Honeymooning

Posted by Sirocc0 Tuesday December 15 2009 at 6:18PM
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You purchase the game, install it and load up the patcher, you wait with baited breath until you get to character select from which you carve your very own avatar and enter the world.

 

You have now entered The Honeymoon Zone.

 

What am I talking about? Let me explain.

 

From my own personal experiences, I have found myself enraptured by new MMOs when I have first played them. Everything is new and different, there's excitement in the air, and the hype is steam rolling. Suddenly the game is not only good, it's the best thing since sliced bread and you can't wait to tell everyone and pass on this joy. Those people then enter the world and we continue the cycle. But then something happens, the beautiful bride you were ready to commit your gaming life to suddenly starts showing a few characteristics that we aren't too pleased with. Maybe the game is a grind fest, maybe there is little content in the later levels, maybe that odd crash you were experiencing now happens more frequently. Suddenly you aren't so positive on your opinion of the game, and dark doubts flash across your mind as you begin to wonder, is this game really going to feed my MMO hunger?

 

I used to be like that, and still am to some extent - but nowadays I withhold recomending a game until I have subscribed past the initial free 30 days of game time. When we are first starting out on our journey in an MMO we want to love it, and we want it to be a grand experience. I don't believe anybody truly enters an MMO trying to not have fun - even the most pessimistic of people will usually find some feature they like. But time and time again, as a gaming community we hype up the next big MMO, we label it "the WoW Killer" and when it doesn't live up to the developers promise and unfairly in some cases to the community's exaggerated ideas - we ditch it and start the whole process again with another game.

 

I'm going to briefly explore a few recent MMO launches over the past couple of years that suffered the Honeymoon Effect, and why it all went wrong.

 

Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

 

The Hype

 

  1. Developed by Brad McQuaid - the most prominent designer of EverQuest.
  2. The game would become the true EverQuest 2.
  3. It would harken back to the glory days of EverQuest, and quench the thirst of the old school crowd.

 

The Reality

 

  1. Brad McQuaid sold the game to SOE very shortly after release, and had no more to do with development.
  2. The game was fraught with bugs, and was very system intensive, so much so a lot of gamers couldn't play.
  3. It was launched far too prematurely. A common problem in a lot of MMOs, but none have suffered quite as badly as Vanguard.

 

Warhammer Online: The Age of Reckoning

 

The Hype

 

  1. WoW Killer - This game was going to be WoW but better, and everyone wanted to be in from the ground up.
  2. Mythic were developing and they were the kings of PvP - set to become the best PvP game on the market.
  3. Solid IP that was a PR dream for marketing - "the King of Hype" Paul Barnett enraptured the fans.

 

The Reality

 

  1. Whilst the game sold well originally, the game was laden with many issues including the unbalanced classes and it inevitably haemorrhaged subscribers.
  2. Mythic whilst performing a class A job on the PvP of Dark Ages of Camelot, failed to replicate the same in Warhammer.
  3. Too many servers too fast meant a lot of servers were unpopulated, leaving people to feel the game was empty, and if an MMO gamer feels the game is floundering, they will jump ship quick.

 

Aion

 

The Hype

 

  1. The next Wow Killer, this was another game marketed as PvP heavy. Oh and you can fly too.
  2. Developed by NCSoft who have a good track record of designing quality MMO titles.
  3. Highly polished and well designed world.

 

The Reality

 

  1. This was really the same we had already seen, except we could fly.
  2. Bots and Gold Spammers were flooding the servers.
  3. The game was seen by many as too much of a grind.

 

Now the above games are not failures by any means - they are all successful MMOs on their own merit. I am not stating they are poor games either, as having played all three they all have some very strong points, I am merely highlighting that before release everything looks dreamy under the spell of the hype, but in reality things aren't quite so rosy.

 

It's easy to look back in hindsight and say they should have done a, b or c - but the fact remains that we as a community focus too much on hyping these games up so that they are never going to live upto our expectations, merely because no game ever could. What will be interesting to see is if Blizzard falls prey to this system with their next MMO, the unknown project will undoubtedly be hyped beyond belief, more than we have ever seen before because, hey, it's Blizzard - and whilst Blizzard have always delivered good games in the past, will they be victims of their own success, will people expect too much from them?

 

MMOs are works in progress, and are never truly finished but we need to give them ample time before we give an opinion - either positive or negative. I'm not suggesting people subscribe to a game they aren't enjoying merely because it might get better, but those initial free 30 days are crucial and developers know that. Some developers have been accused of fluffing the lower levels with just enough polish and content so you subscribe past the initial 30 days, only to be left with sour grapes when you cross the threshold into "No Content Land".

 

I've heard a lot of gamers talking of the sixth month period, meaning they won't buy a game during it's first 6 months of release because they have been burnt too many times, and feel they are paying beta testers most of the time. But should games really need 6 months of breathing room before we purchase them? Others say they will wait till the free trial is released, but in most cases that is nearly a year down the line from release, after initial box sales are no longer the main concern but retention rate. Should we have to wait for a trial? The final solution I have heard is using beta as a way to test the waters as to whether you like the game - but this method is flawed beyond belief and will be covered in my next topic as a whole new issue.

 

As I have mentioned before, I plan on playing Star Trek Online as my next major MMO and I am looking forward to it. But I am entering with a very sceptical eye, for no longer will I be fooled into buying into a product, only to find it half finished.

 

 

Reminiscing

Posted by Sirocc0 Tuesday December 15 2009 at 1:54PM
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Let's start with my real life background: I'm 26 years old, born and raised in the United Kingdom and have been an avid gamer since I owned my first Sega Master System and later my first PC running on Windows 3.1 (Does anybody else miss typing Win to load from DOS to Windows? Me neither.) I played very few games on my initial PC mainly just text based adventure games but it enveloped me in a thirst for PC gaming which was stronger than that for my console gaming. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed and still do enjoy console gaming (currently playing a lot of Modern Warfare 2 on my Xbox 360), but something about the PC made me cherish the gaming experiences more. I have been playing MMOs since the beginning of the genre but seemed to sidestep the top titles of the particular time, notably Ultima Online and EverQuest.

 

My first experience was with a MUD (Multi User Dungeon) using Telnet as a client. I can't remember the first one I played, but a couple stick out to me, one being Discworld based on Terry Pratchett's novels and the other was a less well known title: Sin Dome. As technology evolved so did my interest and the very first MMO  I played was a lesser known counterpart to Ultima Online called The 4th Coming.

 

 

The 4th Coming (1999) had some of the features that I still want to see in modern MMO, for example there were no classes - maybe it's due to the fact that since this was my first MMO I enjoy these mechanics more, but a classless levelling system adds a level of realism to a game for me. Sure we have professions in the real world, but nothing stops me from picking up a greataxe and attempting to swing it around, sure I wouldn't be very good but I could equip it - and that's how a game should operate in my opinion. Granted T4C did have limited content, and the developers implemented a system which enabled us to perpertually improve our characters through rebirth - becoming a Seraph (it gave you cool wings though!).

After my 2nd rebirth I remember tiring of the game, and began to look at what might be out there as an alternative and something caught my eye.

 

 

A company in Norway were attempting a Sci-Fi 3D World. Yes, Funcom were about to launch Anarchy Online (2001), and I was on board. To those that were part of it, and to those that weren't but remember, the launch of Anarchy Online is classed by some as one of the worst for an MMO. Billing issues were aplenty, some people blue screened when they ran the game, some couldn't get anywhere near installed - it was a PR nightmare. Personally, I like to give them a break. Funcom were pioneers of the industry, as much as Verant and Mythic were in my opinion. AO gave us some of the features we have in most modern MMO today, for example item linking in chat. They were also the first MMO to have digital downloads and free trials.

I got my first taste of support classes here , which is still ingrained in my pschye even today. I played a (Bureau)Crat for the evil mega corporation Omni-Tek - which meant I was always needed in groups as much as a healer, and we were rarer than healers in fact. As a Crat, I buffed, reduced XP debt and mezzed as the main provider of crowd control. I really do have such fond memories of this game, one in particular sticks out which was either questing for or making a Coffee Machine which would give buffs out, sounds weird and wonderful doesn't it? It was. And that's why I loved it.

 

After a long stay in AO, after countless hours grinding SK (Shadow Knowledge) my guild mates and I, were looking around for a new experience. And whilst they would soon set sail for the port of Azeroth, my love of Sci-Fi sent me to another world. I hadn't followed the development, I didn't even realise the game was in production but I was soon swallowing a red pill and jacking into The Matrix Online (2005).

 

 

The Megacity was a world I was very eager to be a part of. The original Matrix film was one of my all time favourites, and whilst the two sequels that had followed were not to the same standard, it hadn't dampened my want to be part of such a fascinating world. My love of the underdogs led me to not take up a fight for the followers of Zion, but neither did I fight for the Machines - no I followed the ambigious Merovingian and his beautiful lover Persephone. This game had classes, but trying to stay true to the lore of the world, meant people could swap classes as and when they needed. A poor mechanic for those that like to feel valued, and one that cheapened the experience for me. The community of this game was one of the best I have encountered, and whilst they were the reason I logged in longer than I would have imagined, when numbers started to dwindle I was soon to follow.  Before long I was making my voyage to the world everyone was talking about - Azeroth and the World of Warcraft (2004).

 

 

I don't think there are many MMO fans out there, who haven't tried this behemoth from Blizzard. Some will not, and that's their prerogative, but I am willing to give most games a shot, and I was already familiar with some of the canon and lore through the original Warcraft games.

 

What took me most by surprise upon creating my Undead Priest (Of course I'd roll Horde!) was the polish this game had right from the beginning. Blizzard as a developer take their time, and make sure they are 100% ready before they release a game, and many gamers would that other developers followed a similar business model. But real world finances mean that many developers don't get the chance, and publishers are eager to see returns on their investments. The game introduced many facets of gaming I don't quite agree with, but still didn't stop me from enjoying the world at large. I have a dislike for auto-attack, a dislike for quest indicators and the more I think of it a big dislike to the Holy Trinity of MMOs (Tank, Healer and DPS). Yet the world enveloped me and I fell big time for the beauty it held. I spent the largest amount of time in this MMO to date, than any other and there has to be a reason for that, especially considering it didn't deliver everything I wanted from an MMO, it was just the best of the bunch for me. I took a hiatus from WoW for Dungeons & Dragons Online (2006) - and it was there I made some friends for life, and again the community kept me in that game longer than I thought I would stay. When they made the jump to Vanguard (2007) I followed, but I returned to WoW shortly after. I remember when I first loaded WoW, a guy that had played since launch told me this game was like crack, and he was right. It felt so wrong, but yet was so addictive, so very moreish.

 

I skimmed over my time in Vanguard, and there is a reason for that. I had never played a game by Brad McQuaid, having missed EverQuest at it's height, but my guild mates had experienced his vision and they were hungry for more. They promised me Vanguard would be different, that it would be the real EverQuest 2 and that I would know the joy they once held, when they played EverQuest. I signed up to the hype and I was sold - this was going to be the game that enraptured me for years. I left before I had to pay my first month's subscription. I don't want to dwell on what happened, as it's still quite raw but Brad McQuaid took my friends for a ride, and he made sure he looked after himself. Vanguard I'm pleased to hear is going strong still, and I hear opinions from lots of fellow gamers that it is 'the' PvE experience now. But it does still have some issues, born from it's premature release and will no doubt carry some to it's death.

 

I eventually kicked the habit of WoW in 2009 after the launch of Wrath of the Lich KIng the previous year. I think the staleness finally hit me, and the rush for the next tier of gear through raids and heroics was all to much to bare again, and so I cancelled my account which has so many gaming hours tucked away in it - for the last time? I doubt it. I shall no doubt return at a later date when Cataclysm has launched, unless a very special game is keeping my interest at that time.

 

 

 

So here I am at the end of 2009, having been around in this genre for ten years now, not subscribing to any game - a lot older and I'd hope wiser to my requirements from games heading into 2010. 2009 was full of so many promises, as was 2008 before that, having played Warhammer, and in 2009 Darkfall, Aion and Fallen Earth. If I had to pick a favourite I would say Fallen Earth would be the one out of the last 2 years I have enjoyed the most, yet still didn't manage to get me to subscribe past my free 30 days. I do however salute Indie developers such as Icarus, and am very glad I supported them and their efforts for taking the path of most resistance. In 2010 I will be kicking the year off with Star Trek Online - I have played Cryptic games in the past such as City of Heroes/Villains and more recently I was lucky to beta test for Champions Online despite never being a huge fan of their work. Some things they do extremely well, such as character customization and others they perform poorly at. I also have my eye fixed firmly on Mortal Online, which I have pre-ordered already as well in support of Star Vault; Final Fantasy XIV and most definitely Star Wars: The Old Republic. I just hope one of these games lives upto it's promises and delivers a truly exceptional gaming experience that I can once again be happy with for years to come.

 

I have seen countless server merges, shutdowns and restarts; innumerous patches and expansions and I look forward to seeing many more in the years to come. The genre isn't dying, it's only just found it's foothold on a long ladder, the best I believe is yet to come, so please stay with me as I delve deep into issues surrounding MMOs and offer solutions where possible.