Stropp's World

Games And Gamery

Getting My Templar On

Posted by Stropp on March 11, 2011

In response to the latest Funcom announcements for The Secret World, I headed over to the official site to see if I could register for the beta. (Okay. I know. I’m late to the party. What’s new over this last year?) Once there, I did the test which registers an account and puts me in line for a beta key.

I just hope I don’t get it before Ysharros, otherwise she’ll hunt me down, I’m sure.

Anyway, TSW is looking pretty darn good. I just hope Funcom have learned the lessons of the Anarchy Online, and Age of Conan launches.

  1. Don’t screw up the launch. Anarchy Online had the worst launch in MMO history, until Vanguard.
  2. Don’t stop the quality content after the newby area. Tortage was wonderful. After Tortage? Meh.
  3. A cororally to 2. Your players aren’t stupid. Don’t try and fool them. You might get great reviews in the first day, but after that you will be roasted.

Anarchy Online and Age of Conan both improved dramatically in the months after launch. AO still has a loyal playerbase, and Age of Conans middle levels are now pretty good. But despite how good both AO and AoC became, the dropping of the ball at launch impacted how well both games did later. TSW is gathering steam, it’s being eclipsed by SWTOR publicity, but there’s a lot of anticipation building. If they pull of a perfect launch, it will be hard to stop this one being one of the big games of the next few years, and not the flop AoC is regarded as.

There’s another thing that Funcom needs to consider. Rift. There’s a lot of talk about Rift having the best launch ever. I’m not sure what happens at the end-game yet, but it’s pretty clear that Rift has raised the bar for MMORPG launches. Funcom should be keeping an eye on this.

So when does the beta start?

Beware Of The Leopard

Posted by Stropp on August 8, 2010

Ysharros over at Stylish Corpse, in her monthly wrapup, has just posted about her less than satisfactory experience with Funcom.

It turns out that the geniuses (geniii?) in the Funcom Sales and Marketing Department now require a new digital subscriber of Age of Conan to provide a mobile phone number in order to receive a SMS with an activation code. There’s some sort of drivel, err excuse about security and offering a better game experience. (Why an eMail wouldn’t suffice is beyond me.) Bad luck if you are not the proud owner of this type of communication technology I guess. Ysh, rightly feels put out in having to do this, and I don’t blame her.

As you know, this year I’ve entered the wonderful (-ly stressful and time consuming) world of business ownership. In the process I’ve learned a bunch of stuff about business. Possibly the  number one rule of business is this…

Are you ready?

MAKE IT AS EASY AS POSSIBLE FOR YOUR CUSTOMERS TO GET YOUR PRODUCT OR SERVICE!

Doesn’t that sound like commonsense? I mean really, how many brick and mortar stores do you see requiring customers to run an obstacle course just to get to the front door? Well, surviving brick and mortar stores anyway.

Putting barriers in the way stops people from buying your stuff. Even having a storefront in a shopping mall obscured can lower revenue by as much as 40%.

And from what I understand, the online world is even tougher. At least the customer arriving at a store is physically present and may make the extra effort if it’s hard to get to. The online customer is a click away from leaving your site, perhaps forever, and going to a competitor. There’s a huge phenomenom called shopping cart abandonment where someone has gone to all the effort of finding and selecting products and just abandons it all at the final step just because of some simple impediment. How often do you see that at your local supermarket?

Even the recent deletion of lower level Age of Conan characters from unsubscribed accounts is frankly astounding. I know the reason was to force players to resubscribe. But really, didn’t anyone think that after the purge there may be thousands of former players now with ABSOLUTELY NO REASON to resubscribe to Age of Conan. It seems unprecedented to me. I haven’t heard of any other MMO dev doing this. Have you?

So yeah. Funcom seem to have really dropped the ball with all this lately.

Oh, and I almost forgot, here is a transcript from an actual customer service call that I managed to wangle from a Funcom whistleblower before he put it up on Wikileaks. It’s rather revealing…

Funcom: “But Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months.”

Customer: “Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn’t exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them, had you? I mean, like actually telling anybody or anything.”

Funcom: “But the plans were on display …”

Customer: “On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”

Funcom: “That’s the display department.”

Customer:“With a flashlight.”

Funcom: “Ah, well the lights had probably gone.”

Customer: “So had the stairs.”

Funcom: “But look, you found the notice didn’t you?”

Customer: “Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’.”

Hmmm…

With thanks to Douglas Adams.

Tiger Tiger Burning Bright

Posted by Stropp on December 22, 2009

I recently tried out the two week free return visit of Age of Conan and decided against resubscribing despite a renewed sense of fun playing the Barbarian class and a huge improvement in the game that has occurred since release. That decision hasn’t changed, but dang! The new mounts that are to be released with the Rise of the Godslayer expansion are something to behold!

aocexpansion-tiger

Age of Conan always has been one of the more graphically gorgeous games around, and Funcom keep upping the ante with content like this. Giving players a tiger to ride around on is awesome (and fairly tempting I might add) and a great concept to get players back into the game.

With their recent trials and promotions, it looks like Funcom are finally turning things around. They might not win back all the lost subscribers from the release, but it’s looking like Age of Conan will be around for the long haul.

Trying Conan

Posted by Stropp on November 27, 2009

So here I am at the end of the two week reactivation trial from Funcom for Age of Conan.

For the first couple of days I replayed old characters, primarily Stropp the Aquilonian Dark Templar, and to be honest with you I didn’t find that character very engaging. I didn’t feel invested in the quests, and perhaps it was the area, those quests seemed to be a little disjointed and a bit boring.

So I decided to create a new character. Bargarse the Barbarian, a Cimmerian.

The Barbarian class in Age of Conan is effectively a rogue archetype. He’s able to stealth and do most everything a rogue does. At first blush this seemed a bit of a stretch for me, I’d never have pegged Arnie’s portrayal of Conan as anything but a warrior. But, I’ve never read any of the Conan books so I don’t know how Howard portrayed him. And at least for part of the film he’s involved in somewhat roguish behavior.

Anyway, I took Bargarse through all the Tortage quests, getting him up to level 20 over three nights, before heading out to Conarch Village and Conal Valley over Saturday and Sunday. With the help of an experience potion claimable throughout November, I took my Barbarian through most of the quests and nearly to level 27. I figure there may be enough quests left to get to level 30.

Some things I noticed:

  • Tortage works like a charm now. It seems the bugs introduced throughout the release period have been fixed. Not that I expected they wouldn’t be.
  • There is still an occasional crash to desktop. I had it happen once.
  • There appears to still be a memory leak, but it’s nowhere near as bad as when I first played. Some of the map textures disappeared from time to time as before, but only happened once. I don’t know if it’s related, but every time I exited the game, a dialog popped up asking me to report a bug (and then the Microsoft one immediately after.)
  • Funcom has some of the post-Tortage quest givers talking now. At release that was one of the big complaints. Tortage set everything up beautifully with fully voiced quest givers, and as soon as I left Tortage, no-one spoke anymore. Now, not every quest giver does, but there are some.
  • There are still huge gaps in the destiny quests. I met up with the destiny guy in Conarch Village and he said, “Hi! Come back at 30.” Funcom needs to fill out these quests with at least a quest chain every 5 levels. Otherwise the destiny quests are nothing but an interruption.
  • The combo’s are useful now. At release, it really didn’t matter if I used a combo or not. Just swinging my weapon did as much damage. Now, swinging wildly doesn’t do much damage at all. But using the combos correctly can really knock a mob down.

The biggest difference though was that I began to enjoy the game. I reckon it was the Barbarian class coupled with the usefulness of combos. The rogue aspects added to the gameplay since I could sneak up behind a mob and sneak attack which was kinda fun, especially when using one handers.

Perhaps the quests in Cimmeria were more fun too. It seemed to be a fairly logical chain of quests that were presented, and even though they ended up being kill x bad guys for the most part, they made sense. And there was the whole bloodlust thing too. Grrr.

Having said all that, I have unsubscribed before the trial period was up and my credit card charged.

I did seriously consider keeping the subscription going. but there were a couple of reasons for cancelling.

First, I’ve got too many games on the go now and, while a 2 week trial doesn’t hurt too much, I really don’t have time for AoC. The other is that I am now officially out of work (finished my contract at 5pm this afternoon.) That means some belt-tightening is required, and I don’t need the cost of another subscription.

But for you my friends, I think that if you played Age of Conan at release but left out of frustration at the time, then you might find the game has improved sufficiently to warrant resubscribing. That’s especially the case if you wanted to like the game and found it hard to leave.

If you want to do the trial, you had better be quick since it expires on the 27th, today.

What Conan Wants, Conan Gets

Posted by Stropp on November 15, 2009

If Conan wanted me back in the game, he has his wish, to a certain extent anyway.

I decided on Saturday afternoon to accede to the wishes of the muscle-bound warrior king and took Funcom up on their offer of two free weeks. After all, I didn’t really want 6’6″ of angry muscle smashing down my door and screaming, “Get to da CHOPPA! Da CHOPPAAA!” (Sorry wrong movie.) Doors aren’t cheap to fix you know, let alone the hassle of getting a locksmith on the weekend.

I did however decide against actually subscribing for any of the payment plans. I’m currently more interested in seeing how Age of Conan has improved since I last played. That was nearly 2 years ago. If I recall correctly, I quit after the first or second month because of the following reasons.

  • The game was woefully incomplete. There was a considerable lack of content in the middle levels. While I hadn’t got that far, level 21 was my highest level, even post-Tortage felt lacking.
  • Funcom was breaking more that it was fixing. At release Tortage was polished and smooth (for me.) Less than a month later, I was falling through geometry and not having a smooth and polished experience.
  • I was experiencing a crash to desktop regularly. Some form of memory leak I think was responsible.
  • Gear and equipment were not properly itemized. At that point it made no difference wearing or upgrading armor, or even fighting naked. Item stats didn’t seem to do anything.

So after clicking on the trial button and refreshing my details, it didn’t ask for my credit card details by the way, I started the patching process.

And boy, was there a lot of patching to be done. A bit over 3GB of patching to be exact. Here’s what I learned. Three gig of patching takes a lot of time. I started just after 3pm and it finished close to 10pm. The patcher also crashed halfway through, but recovered the process when I restarted (otherwise I might not be writing this post.)

The problems that encouraged me to previously cancel my account were the things that I wanted to have a really good look at in this trial period. Here’s what I’ve found so far.

  1. Most importantly, the memory leak issues and bugs appear to have been fixed. Not unexpected, I would have been profoundly disappointed if after this amount of time Funcom had failed to have fixed these problems. No CTD is a good start as far as I’m concerned. All the geometry issues I found previously in Tortage seem to have been resolved.
  2. Gear and equipment look like they are working as in any other MMORPG now. Items have stats, and from what I could tell, better equipment made a difference. It’s all good, except I have no reason to flash my hairy chest in public anymore, even on my male characters.

I wasn’t able to see if the lack of content had been addressed since all of my characters are still too low level. I played Stropp my Dark Templar for a while today and dinged up to 22.

To be honest, I’m not sure I’ll have enough time in the next two weeks to get any character to the levels that were reported as being inadequate. I figure there will be other bloggers with higher level characters taking advantage of Funcoms trial offer. It might pay to seek them out for that info.

There are still a few bad points though.

  • I think there are still a few bugs. One quest target was marked on the map, but I was unable to complete the quest because she did not appear to be at the specified location.
  • None of the servers were registering more than medium load, and still showed green, but there were moments of lag. Actually, there were some very long moments where I thought I was going to be disconnected, mostly in the middle of fights. On the plus side, the system seemed to handle them and I didn’t come out of the lag dead, only where I left off.
  • Unfortunately the UI is somewhat confusing. That hasn’t changed, but I didn’t really like it back then; it’s still a poor UI now.
  • Global chat appears to be channeling World of Warcraft’s Barrens chat, except without the restraint.
  • Someone ninja invited me to a guild, while I was in night time mode in Tortage. Must have just done a who all and invited folks not in a guild. Not even a hello, hows it going…

So where does this leave me?

Primarily with a much better impression of Age of Conan before I left. The shame of the matter is that a game has to work much harder to regain a players trust if it loses it, than if it gets it right in the first place. My view of AoC is probably a little tainted by those poor first impressions. If I were playing for the first time ever, today, I might feel a lot different about Age of Conan.

It is a graphically gorgeous game, with a lot of imagination behind it, and a lot of potential too.

However, at this stage, I’ll continue my re-visitation of Age of Conan for the remainder of the two week trial, but at logout today there was nothing there to make me want to pay any money to resubscribe.

That might change if I find some compelling content before the trial ends, or if the game succeeds at recapturing my imagination, but like I said in my last post about this offer by Funcom, there are too many games around at the moment that I want to play. There’s so much going on any game, not just AoC, is going to have to stand out in a big way.

Now a Barbarian breaking down my door might catch my eye, but if Conan sent that assassin my way. That, might get my attention.

Conan Wants Me Back

Posted by Stropp on November 12, 2009

Like a few other bloggers today, this morning I received an email from Funcom offering a bunch of benefits to encourage me to resubscribe to Age of Conan.

These range from some free time to give the game another go, to a beta spot in The Secret World in exchange for a three month subscription. For longer subscriptions there are also additional benefits.

Quite honestly, I find myself a little tempted by this offer. Even the concept of paying for a guaranteed place in the TSW beta doesn’t bother me all that much, after all if it helps what is looking like a very interesting game make it out the door, then what’s wrong with a little creative fund raising. And if I choose not to resub for three months, then I still have a chance to get in to the beta free of charge.

Where the temptation gets a bit more help is that I have always intended to return to Age of Conan at some point. I was planning on giving Funcom a chance to get their game systems working properly, add some more content, and apply some polish. From all accounts this has happened, but I also understand that there are still problems. Still, it’s been on my mind recently.

The big drawback to resubbing to Age of Conan, for me at least, is that there is so much gaming going on for me at the moment. There’s Dragon Age, Torchlight, Everquest 2 (having some problems there though), Fallen Earth, and a dabbling of DDO. Adding another game to the mix is problematic, especially considering I’ll be looking at getting my freelancing business going again from December.  I may need to pull back from some gaming at that time anyway.

Personally, I think Funcom has jumped the gun with this offer a little bit.

They’ve picked a time when gamers have so much to choose from, and with more releases coming for the Christmas season, they’ve got a lot of competition to draw people back who weren’t all that happy with it in the first place.

It may have been better for Funcom to make this offer sometime in the new year when gaming is a bit quieter.

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