Since this is the last column I'll write in 2009, I'd like to take the opportunity to express my hope that all of you are having the kind of holiday season you deserve, and to wish 2010 will bring more of the same. As for what has caught my attention and been on my mind recently, I invite you to take a break from your festive feasting and to share some pot luck.
100K simultaneous users on a single server
This summer, I wrote a column discussing a couple of ways in which online poker might be seen as overlapping with MMOGs. To be clear, it would take quite a liberal interpretation of the category's boundaries to include poker. However, some interesting bases for comparison do exist. Another came up yesterday. The leading site, Poker Stars, attempted to break its own record for most players in a single buyin (pay to enter) tournament, which was set last year when 65,000 took part in a similar event.
This target was surpassed very easily; the final count was a little over 149,000. I couldn't help but relate this figure to the concurrent user totals we sometimes see for MMOGs. The top ones are higher by an order of magnitude; at least two or three Chinese titles have topped the million mark. Since they run on dozens of servers while Poker Stars had everyone competing on just one, all on instanced tables holding 10 players apiece, any comparisons of these numbers wouldn't be apples to apples. Nonetheless, the tournament did reinforce in my mind that online poker is definitely "massively multiplayer" in terms of how many people play it.
A wish for 2010 - better writing
I wish it weren't so, but in my opinion, the overall standard of the writing in MMOGs has never been what I'd like it to be. It's not all bad by any means, but neither are there many examples of true excellence that we can hold up beside the finest work done for other media. When "good writing for a game" is the best we can find, that's akin to damning with faint praise. And it's not good enough. Not by a long shot, especially considering budgets have soared into the same range as movies.
Yes, I'm well aware that Star Wars: The Old Republic is coming, and I truly hope it will raise the bar for the entire category. Significantly. But this wouldn't be possible if the current standard were already high. So here's hoping next year will bring a leap forward - and pretty much across the board, from more compelling story lines to more memorable characters, quest text we don't want to skip, lore we want to read, etc., etc.
Seen any memorable holiday events this year?
This is the time when I usually to check out various in-game seasonal events that publishers and teams come up with and run for us to participate in and enjoy. Due to the sheer number of releases, it became impossible a few years ago to do more than sample a cross-section. So that's what I try to do, with my eyes especially open to what's new, different, creative, unusually fun or otherwise distinctive.
This year, circumstances have made it difficult for me to do this nearly as much as usual, but since I'm still interested in this topic area, I hope you'll take a few moments to comment on the holiday events you've taken part in. It doesn't particularly matter whether they were in subscription or free to play games. What I'd like to know - and I suspect many developers and publishers would too - is what stands out in your mind, either positively or negatively, and why. I look forward to some insightful comments, as usual.
RIP my long-time gaming companion
On a personal note, the past few days have been tinged with sadness due to the loss last Tuesday of my most frequent gaming companion over the almost decade and a half that I've been covering the industry. My cat, Punkin, was as sweet and gentle as any animal I've ever known. I had her for 20 years, since she was a tiny kitten only a few weeks old. Her two favorite spots were on my desk beside my PC and in my lap, so she was almost always with me while I played - far more than any of my in-game friends. It certainly doesn't feel the same without her right here. I even miss her pressing on the wrong keys, which she must have done to me hundreds of times, at least.