Stropp's World

Games And Gamery

Titan: Vaporware Forever

Posted by Stropp on May 29, 2013

I’m back!

I finished my holiday road trip last Friday with 6750km and four major Aussie cities covered over 21 day period. The last couple days were fairly long, Friday was 10.5 hours on the road. So I need a vacation to recover! I haven’t really looked at the game news much over that time, and over the last few days either.

But todays news, that Blizzard is retooling their unannounced mystery MMO codenamed Titan; moving 70 of the 100 developers off the project and into other projects while the core team rethink the whole thing really got my attention.

How long has Titan been under development now? I’m not really sure, and can’t be bothered at the moment to look it up, but it must be somewhere in the vicinity of 5 years.

My first thought was to wonder if Blizzard was trying to break the vaporware record set by 3DRealms ill-fated Duke Nukem Forever. Not only did DNF change direction several times, it failed to take into account changing attitudes towards women in games, as well as the way that FPS games have changed over the years.

At this stage Blizzard’s Titan can quite clearly be called vaporware.

After five years of development we haven’t seen one screenshot, one hint about the genre, or anything else substantive about the game. Even by this stage Duke Nukem Forever had teased us with screenshots, art, and a basic idea of what the game was about.

Now with Titan making a big ol’ U-turn it may be another few years before we get any information. There’s no way we’ll see anything at the next Blizzcon, and probably the Blizzcon after that.

Those who are worried that Titan will be a WoW-Killer needn’t be concerned. The WoW servers will be long shut down before this game sees the light of day.

If It Smells Like Spin

Posted by Stropp on March 29, 2013

An interesting post by Green Armadillo over at PvD about player motivations. Mysterious player motivations actually. In it GA references two games and recent comments made by those responsible for them.

I don’t want to get into debates about the merits of these games or systems in this post, but I do want to talk about why these comments don’t ring true to me.

First of all these comments are coming from two veterans of the computer game industry, and not just that these are guys that have been in the front lines of game development for many years. We should also consider that they have worked on some of the biggest and most anticipated games to date; they’re not lightweights. They’ve been around the block a few times. They are the cream of the crop.

Game developers, and particularly MMORPG developers, have known since the first MMOs, that players have a tendency to rush to the level cap. MMO players consume content like a zombie consumes brains. How many games release one day, then two or three days later have players announcing they’ve capped.

How many articles and blog posts have we read about players complaining that a game has no high end content because they’ve rushed and run out of content well in advance of what the developers planned for?

And look at auction houses with the millions of words written about them. How we see players aggressively pursuing the market, and engaging in trading practices that would make the NYSE blush or proud depending on who was running it at the time.

Right from the start of MMO gaming, players have looked for ways to make their characters as effective as they possibly can be. Asheron’s Call players may be familiar with such things as 10/100/10/100/100 (I think I got the attributes for a mage correct there.) Players will min/max to make the right character, even if more distributed settings will create a more well rounded but weaker character.

So to hear a pair of veteran game developers, in 2013, say they underestimated what players would do with the long standing and well understood systems they were putting in their games…

Really?

No Titan Announcement From Blizzcon 2011

Posted by Stropp on September 29, 2011

Not surprising that. Blizzard have a tendancy to play their cards close to their collective chest, and they don’t make game announcements until the last possible minute.

I expect that there won’t be any real details on Titan at Blizzcon 2012 either. At best it is more likely to be some form of comment made in an interview at the event rather than a presentation.

So when will Titan be announced?

Considering the late 2014 timeline we currently have, we should expect details no earlier than mid 2013. And that’s only if the game is on schedule at the time.

 

Blizzileaks – A Disturbing Lack Of Detail

Posted by Stropp on December 2, 2010

First there was Wikileaks, now Blizzileaks.

A couple of days ago a document turned up on the web purporting to be a leaked schedule from Blizzard for its upcoming games.

Despite the current trend of releasing sensitive information on the internet, I very much doubt this is one of those cases.

First of all, Blizzard is actually pretty good at keeping itself from leaking. I don’t actually recall any cases where there has been a leak as serious as this from a company who’s mantra is, “When it’s done.”

But let’s ignore that for a minute. This is not a team oriented document. The WoW team doesn’t need to know when Diablo 3 will be released, and the Starcraft 2 guys wouldn’t be told about this mysterious Titan project. (The first rule of containing information, and we’ve established Blizzard is good at that, is to let as few people as possible know about the details.) This document would be a top level document designated for senior execs, possibly at CEO and departmental head level.

The other thing to note is that there is a distinct lack of detail with the document. There are no planning line items, just release quarters, and these kinda contradict what we know of Blizzards history in releasing games. I don’t really expect Blizz to release Diablo 3 at the same time as the SC2 first expansion pack.

It’s telling that these are referred to as expansions. The Starcraft2  marketing has been quite explicit in saying they were three separate games, with each containing a full games worth of content. If this were the case would Blizzard be referring to them internally as expansions?

Now I admit that I haven’tbeen following some of the game news recently, so I haven’t heard about Starcraft 2 Phoenix. Is this a special project, or a part of the main SC2 development? Regardless, the release quarter here seems suspicous too.

Note too, that the line item for the first Starcraft 2 expansion is spelled wrong, Starcarft2X1… Spelling mistakes happen, at all levels sometimes, but really… this wasn’t caught? If this is an official document, it wasn’t a released document. More than likely, it’s a draft.

So my take on this. Not really Wikileaks material I’m afraid, not enough detail. More likely this is a fake document designed to appeal to the gaming communitys emotional desire for the games it is looking forward too.

It’s very easy to fake out gamers.

Power To The People

Posted by Stropp on July 10, 2010

Power To The Players

There were a few people who didn’t think that Blizzard would back down over requiring their forum posters to use real names through Real ID, but it appears that they, in fact, did. Mike ‘Nethaera’ Morhaime posted on the Blizzard forums saying that, at least for now, real names would not be required.

It does appear that the response from the World of Warcraft player base gave the folks at Blizzard quite a surprise. Up until this post the very few blue responses, from WoW Europe, were along the lines of, “Hey we hear you, but this Real ID thing is set in stone. Tuff cookies…”

I suspect that for once the number of players saying that they had cancelled their subscriptions over Real ID did actually match up with reality, or came close to it. My guess is that someone took a look at the account cancellation graph after three days and saw a spike far above norm. I’d love to know actually how many did decide to leave the game.

It just goes to show that the only real way that a consumer can effect change in a company policy is by voting with the wallet.

Now the big question for Blizzard is if they can regain the trust of these players enough to win them back.

Real ID Is A Golden Opportunity

Posted by Stropp on July 8, 2010

Blizzard’s completely insane move towards destroying their customers privacy might actually be a golden opportunity for other MMORPG publishers.

All they have to do is get all loud and vocal about how they’ll never violate your privacy and how they respect your right to be anonymous. Add a few humorous adverts poking fun at Blizzard, and I’m sure they’ll capture more than a few of the players quitting World of Warcraft over this issue.

Mr Developer, this is called a Unique Selling Proposition, something I’ve been learning while doing my business planning. It means that in order to do well in a market, you have to offer something that the other guy doesn’t. In this case, a respect for privacy and anonimity is something you can show that you do better than Blizzard.

Now You Have To Use Real ID If You Want To Post

Posted by Stropp on July 7, 2010

Wow! Just wow… and no that’s not a pun.

I get up this morning and check my feeds before heading out and what do I see?

Blizzard has decided to force users of the official forums to use Real ID. That’s right, if you want to post or reply to a post on a Blizzard forum (World of Warcraft, Starcraft 2, Battlenet) then your real life details will be available for the world to see. Unsurprising, the thread linked to above is huge, and the other on the WoW forums is the longest ever.

That’s a game changer to me. In a previous post I stated the reasons why I will not use Real ID when playing WoW, so there is no reason to go into them again now. But suffice it to say, this is making me think twice about resubscribing to WoW for Cataclysm, and even about buying Starcraft 2 in the first place. At the very least I won’t be posting to the official forums again.

There’s always a silver lining though. The owners of unofficial WoW and SC2 forums will probably find that membership on their sites improves as people who don’t want their personal details posted online migrate over. If you own such a forum, now might be the time to put a bit of polish and shine on it.

Hopefully the amount of people on the forums against this will bring Blizzard to their senses.

2010 Prognostications

Posted by Stropp on December 25, 2009

225px-Nostradamus_by_CesarIt’s kind of an expected activity for bloggers these days. At the end of each year, we make a bunch of predictions for the coming year and review the ones we made last year. But since I didn’t actually make any predictions last year, there’s only one thing to do.

Make some predictions for the coming year, 2010.

I did consider writing my predictions in some form of abstract poetry like our friend Nostradamus (pictured right.) After all, anything written in an abstract and obtuse manner can be interpreted as 100 percent correct after the fact. But really, where’s the fun in that? And writing poetry isn’t really my forte — There once was a man called Enis…

So time to put on my silly hat and on to the prophetically predicted prognostications.

Prediction 1: The release date for Star Trek Online will be pushed back from the initial February date at least once, possibly twice.

Reason(s):  Not many modern MMORPGs or their expansions actually make the first release date. There’s always more to do, and beta testing often reveals serious problem that need to be corrected.

Probability: 90%

Prediction 2: Blizzard will release Cataclysm late in the year around November, or early 2011 in February.

Reason(s): Based on past experience, these are the dates that Blizzard releases their expansions.

Probability: 80%

Prediction 3: The Star Wars: The Old Republic release date (the rumoured October 2010 date) will be massaged in a similar fashion as the date for STO, but I expect that EA-Bioware will announce and push for a November 2010 release.

Reason(s): EA are going to want a successful MMORPG on the streets sooner, rather than later. Since the rumours (apparently coming from EA) so far indicate a late 2010 release for SWTOR, I’m expecting an announcement sometime around June. The rumoured October date may be announced, but I expect that will be pushed back to late November in time for Christmas stockings.

Probability: 50%

Prediction 4: Corollary to Predictions 2 and 3: Blizzard will wait until EA-Bioware announce the release date for SWTOR and then announce the Cataclysm release date to be around the same time.

Reason(s): This appears to be a standard policy at Blizzard. For the last few years, when a threat to World of Warcraft’s dominance appears, real or perceived, Blizzard times their expansions or major announcements in an attempt to steal their competitors thunder. Some of this might just be unfortunate timing, but it’s happened a number of times. SWTOR is a very high profile game with a good chance to become at least number two in the MMORPG space and give Blizzard a run for their money. I’d be very surprised if Blizzard doesn’t try and slow them down, and releasing Cataclysm (which is effectively a reboot of WoW) will throw a huge monkey in Bioware’s wrench.

However, if Bioware don’t release late 2010 or early 2011, Blizzard will be forced to release Cataclysm well before SWTOR and that won’t have as much of a negative effect.

Probability: Very High if Bioware intend to release SWTOR in 2010.

Prediction 5: The micro-transaction model will be applied to more existing games.

Reason(s): A bit of a no-brainer this one. In some ways 2009 was the year of micro-transactions for Western MMORPGs with Dungeons and Dragons Online proving that the model not only works, but can re-invigorate a game that was previously struggling on the subscription model. I expect that we’ll see the DDO model adopted more and more for other games that haven’t been as successful as the developers have hoped and there will be some MMORPGs announced in development by Western developers intended to be micro-transaction based.

Probability: 100%

Prediction 6: In 2010 the MMORPG communities will be rocked by IP type lawsuits with far reaching implications.

Reason(s): I pretty much hate making this prediction, but based on the increasing number of patent troll lawsuits in other technological arenas, there’s a good chance that there will be one or more lawsuits in the coming year that will be won by the trolls, and may result in either the termination of a game or the radical modification of game play to comply with the IP requirements. In fact there is already a case going on initiated by a company called Worlds.com that has serious implications for MMORPG companies.

As an aside to this, it’s also possible that there will be at least one lawsuit between two MMORPG companies. This could be between two of the big players (which is less likely) or between one of the big boys, possibly EA or Blizzard, and one of the smaller players in the market.

Probability: 70%

Now for some long-shot predictions.

Prediction 7: Turbine will announce that they are going to move Asheron’s Call to a free to play, micro-transaction model. This will cause fuss in the AC community, but Turbine will sweeten the pot by creating a new client for the game.

Reason(s): AC is still being supported by Turbine with new content each month, so they haven’t consigned it to a maintenance status. Coupled with the increased interest on the tenth anniversary, Turbine will see an opportunity to reinvigorate the AC franchise.

On the other hand they may just announce Asheron’s Call 3.

Probability: 10%

Prediction 8: Blizzard will announce the name and details of their new MMORPG.

Reason(s): It’s entirely possible that Blizzard will announce the details of the new game sometime in 2010 simply because there’s a lot of interest. I’m giving it a lower chance of happening because the game isn’t expected until 2014ish and Blizzard don’t tend to make early announcements. It may happen in the coming year or two, but there’s a better chance of an announcement in 2012.

Probability: 10%

Prediction 9: SOE will announce Everquest 3.

Reason(s): There was some buzz a while back about SOE working on Everquest 3. It was apparently mentioned in the last chapter of a book on MMORPGs by someone at SOE. Personally, I’m skeptical. I’m not sure SOE will want to risk damaging the EQ2 population and diminishing that game.

That said however, there would definitely be a contingent at SOE pushing for a new EQ, and there’s a possibility that SOE will act (or has acted) on that push. EQ2 is now five years old, and it would take three or four years to develop EQ3. If SOE have been working on EQ3 for more than a year, there’s a good chance it will be announced this year for release sometime in 2013.

Probability: 20%

Prediction 10: EA will announce the next Ultima Online MMORPG.

Reason(s): This is a real long shot mind you, but there have been a few attempts at getting a sequel to Ultima Online. Ironically, the original sequel UO2 was canned because someone thought it would negatively impact on UO. Now, after 12 years of UO, a sequel won’t be nearly so bad for the game. You can be guaranteed someone at EA has thought about it.

However, given EA’s recent sackings, and their consolidation of their interests, it’s highly unlikely that such an announcement will be made this year. But I did want to make one really really way out prediction.

Probability: 1%

So there you have it. My Christmas-time predictions for the next 12 months. Fortunately I’m not taking or placing bets on these ham and turkey induced prophecies as things rarely turn out the way anyone expects. About the only thing I can guarantee will happen is that the MMORPG industry will continue to change and mature. But whatever happens, it should be interesting to watch.

Blizzards New MMORPG – Will It Be Hardcore?

Posted by Stropp on March 5, 2009

The term hardcore has been bandied around a lot recently, due in no small part to the release of Darkfall, and the very determined community that has grown around it over the long years of it’s development. One of the catch-cries of this group, aside from the high-level use of the F-Word in telling other players what they think, is to tell anyone who criticises Darkfall to go back to WoW, usually with some combination of carebear and the F-Word included.

[adsense_id="1"]So it got me wondering. It seems clear that there is a percentage of the World of Warcraft community who would enjoy playing in a more hardcore MMORPG than is currently offered in WoW, but aren’t ready for the extremes that existing hardcore games employ.

The movement of Jeff “Tigole” Kaplan to Blizzard’s new MMORPG team could be a sign that a somewhat more hardcore game is in the works. Kaplan is an old-school Everquest raider, and was responsible for implementing much of the raid content in the “Old” World of Warcraft — much of what has been casualified in recent times. Could the new team be looking for hardcore content?

I’m a believer in the principle that you don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot when it comes to releasing a new MMORPG, especially a sequel. SOE made that mistake to some extent when they released Everquest 2. They hurt the player base of both games by splitting the existing players. I think that Blizzard would be keenly aware of this, and will be trying to avoid it as much as possible.

And that’s why I think that Blizzard’s new MMORPG will be a new IP. But I also think that they will be trying for a different segment of the market, and the most underserved segment at the moment is the set of hardcore players. And despite the success, or lack thereof, of Darkfall, that situation isn’t likely to change unless a developer comes into the picture with a polished feature-complete game that suits a wide range of hardcore players. 

Is it possible that Blizzard is looking to be that developer?

Blizzard’s New MMORPG – More Of The Same, Or New And Improved?

Posted by Stropp on February 16, 2009

Warcraft Formula GuideThe big Blizzard news of the last week was the transfer of Jeff Kaplan (Tigole) from the World of Warcraft team as lead designer to a lead role on the team developing Blizzard’s new MMO, World of Unnamedcraft.

Kaplan, as Tobold suggests, is the reason that World of Warcraft is such a raid centric game. He was a hardcore raider in Everquest and the inference is that Kaplan bought that influence into WoW. It leads into one of the rumors that Kaplan is moving on because Blizzard have recently softened WoW raiding, making it more casual.

Maybe. But the truth is that any raiding in the original Everquest required a hardcore, achievement focused mindset. Tigole wouldn’t have been alone in the WoW dev team. Blizzard would have sourced quite a few developers from the ranks of the veteran (pre-2002/03) massive gamer ranks.

Anyway the conclusion is that this will lead to many of the same design principles being incorporated into Blizzard’s new MMORPG, whatever it is going to be.

Well, that’s all great as a rumor, but it doesn’t necessarily follow. There are a few factors that will determine if hardcore raiding will be a part of the game or not.

  1. Blizzard’s new MMORPG might not be a hardcore game at all. It’s entirely possible that Blizzard will aim for the other end of the casual market. There are more than a few Asian MMORPG’s that are doing extremely well indeed. One or two of them have more subscribers that World of Warcraft. Could Blizzard be aiming at that market?
  2. Blizzard’s next MMORPG might be a hardcore game after all, but it might not be PvE focused. A solid PvP or RvR experience, perhaps like Warhammer Online, would not really need hardcore raiding.
  3. Raiding might not be appropriate to the setting. Blizzard might attempt to try something really different in their next MMO. It’s been suggested they might attempt an Eve/Elite style game. Would that sort of game be suitable for Hardcore raiding.

I’m thinking that Blizzard will try to move away from the way that they’ve designed World of Warcraft. The prime reason for this is simple. Competition. They are not going to want to compete with themselves.

Blizzard’s goal will be to draw in players who have never played a MMORPG before, and the players who have stopped playing World of Warcraft (and MMORPG’s in general) who would number in the millions. They won’t want to draw people out of WoW.

So my bet is that Blizzard’s new MMORPG will be very different from World of Warcraft, and possibly most of the other MMORPG’s on the market. Jeff Kaplan is probably enjoying himself with work that is very different than what he is used to doing.

Of course, anything is possible.

Warcraft Formula Guide

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