Picture of the Day (plus a small rant)

Star Trek Online is now graciously offering the in-no-way-suggestive Seven of Nine outfit in the Cryptic Store.  We here at Bio Break Industries suggest that any company who promotes such an outfit must first wear it for a week, just to make sure that it’s both practical and fashionable.

I mean, hey — it’s high heels, a corset and a wedgie, all rolled into a glittery fanservice uniform.  I’ve never quite understood Star Trek’s sexuality, to be honest.  Once you hit the TNG era, it’s like everyone became eunuchs but had to dress in spandex to suggest that they were still romantic go-getters.

Aside from that, I’d really love to see STO — and the rest of the Star Trek franchise — get over this Borg obsession that’s been going on a decade too long.  They’re overexposed, not that scary or intimidating, yet it’s as if they’re the last “cool” thing the show ever did and everyone refuses to give that up.

Eight Characters Enter The Ring, But Only One Will Subscribe

“Cool guys don’t look at explosions.” ~ Cassusbounty

I haven’t turned my attention to The Old Republic for a little while now, mostly due to being in a patient waiting mode that isn’t really engaging with the frothing crowds out there.  If you believe everything you read, the game’s already been a huge success and a huge failure, completely revolutionary and utterly derivative.  Also, due to an oversight on BioWare’s part, hobbits have become a playable race.

Anyway, one of the pleasures and few viable activities that waiting fans can enjoy is to figure out guilds, factions and — most importantly — character classes.  Some folks have it all figured out long before launch, and some just wait until they can get their hands on each of the classes to make a final decision.  Then there are players who figure they’re going to do all of the classes anyway, so why fret about it?

Because I have no idea what guild I’ll be with or what side they’re going to be on, my plan is to pick one character class on each side and let the chips fall as they may.  For my first character, I’m ruling out a Force user — the game’s going to be swamped with them, and Jedi just aren’t the huge thrill to me as they are to others.  So that leaves Troopers and Smugglers on the Republic side, and Bounty Hunters and Imperial Agents on the Empire side.  All four are attractive in their own way, and I’m really torn between the Smuggler and Trooper (especially after having played a Trooper at PAX).

However, if I do land on the Sith side, I’m probably going with an Imperial Agent over the Bounty Hunter.  I just need a bit of distance from the fanboy gushing over Boba Fett, and the Agent — out of all of the classes in the game — seems the most enigmatic and unique.  BioWare had to stretch a bit to make a case for the Agent as an iconic role, but after seeing yesterday’s preview of the class, I think they’re onto something here.  People like spies, stealth and sniper rifles, and here’s a class that has all of them (plus orbital lasers, but that didn’t start with “S”).  I’m not typically the stealth-and-snipe kind of player, but I think it’d be interesting to get out of my comfort zone and engage in that.

Still, there’s a lot of time between now and then (fingers crossed for April 2010!), and I still could change my mind.  So what are you going to play?

Quote of the Day

“In playing I’ve found there’s not a lot of subtlety to the game. Holding back is not in the design motto. One could say that given an Ostentatiousness Scale that ran from one to twenty, one being Mother Teresa’s funeral garb, ten being shooting a hooker clown zombie in the face with a shotgun and twenty being this sentence; Forsaken World’s character design choices would consistently fall on the scale at places greater than 10.”

~ Reverse Ding on Forsaken World

Quote of the Day

“Ultimately we have to ask ourselves the question: what is fair to us as consumers, and as gamers? Is the subscription option really the fairest solution? For everybody? Or most players? If your answer to that doesn’t contain a great deal of room for gray areas, positive and negative examples, and different folks’ varying playstyles, then you are viewing the issue in a stark and superficial light. The idea that Cover Charge + subscription = good and NCC + microtransactions = bad grossly oversimplifies the issue and ignores almost all of the many variables involved. It is ideology rather than opinion, and as such it’s not susceptible to the vicissitudes of reason or reality. It is, to put it bluntly, moronic.”

~ Ardwulf

One Million Awesome Readers!

We pause our lives for a brief announcement:

While I don’t typically obsess over stats and hits on the blog — I can’t remember the last time I even checked the daily count — I think this is a pretty cool milestone.   Over one million readers have stopped on by this blog over the past two years, and that is a number that’s personally staggering.

I just want to thank you all for being so supportive of Bio Break.  I always love to see comments and discussions from posts, and I appreciate you giving me an audience for my random MMO rambles.  My main two rules for this blog are to entertain myself and entertain you, and I hope I’ve accomplished those both.

Now if you’ll excuse me, we have a two million mark to hit.  Go grab a friend!

LOTRO: On Low Simmer

I haven’t talked much about LOTRO lately, and that’s mostly because I haven’t been playing it much.  Sometimes you have to put a game on the back-burner and let it just simmer for a little bit when you’re feeling overexposed to it, and I think that playing it more or less nonstop since this past spring would constitute a heaping of exposure.

Plus, there are other factors contributing to this simmer:

  • I have my four characters parked at the Haunted Burrow with 95% of LOTRO’s population, logging in once a day for a chance at that stupid horse (and no, I haven’t gotten it yet)
  • I’ve been getting into Guild Wars big-time, and just riding that wave for the time being
  • I really want to finish the epic quest in Moria before moving on with my Captain, and I haven’t been able to find a group for that for a couple weeks now
  • Knowing that there are a ton of exciting Lore-master changes in the works makes playing him now kind of tough

I’m by no means burning out on the game, and I anticipate I’ll be back, full-fledge, within a couple weeks.  I’m just running with my gut here, and my gut is saying “take a bit of a break, dude.”

2010: The Year of Free-To-Play, Yo

It’s safe to say that 2010 has lacked a breakout MMO hit — although, to be fair, very little was on the table to begin with.  The industry and waiting fans were already looking to 2011 and beyond by the time April rolled around, and whatever did manage to launch this year felt a bit lackluster.

Star Trek Online?  Decent, but thin in content and still struggling to beef up.  Allods Online?  Highly anticipated, then shot itself in the foot with insane item store prices and bad PR.  Global Agenda?  Hard to justify paying this over, say, Team Fortress 2 and the like.  APB?  Canceled about ten seconds after it launched.  Final Fantasy XIV?  Decided to go the “obtuse difficulty” route and netted less-than-kind reviews because of it.  LEGO Universe has a good shot at taking home some dough, but even that’s been somewhat overshadowed by the inexplicable rise of Minecraft.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the MMO genre is dead — there’s a metric ton of games prepping for launch, and many of them look highly promising.  In fact, one of the reasons we haven’t seen as many big-name MMOs launch this year is because the companies are holding off on releasing them in order to make them as good as they can be.

So oddly enough, 2010’s becoming known for something entirely different, if not unexpected: the rise of free-to-play MMO conversions.  Last year, DDO showed that it could not only be done, but be highly popular and open an MMO up to an even greater audience.  People like “free”, even if it’s not truly free.  People also like options, which is what many of these F2P plans offer.

When you think about it, it was inevitable that sooner or later, the industry would start doing some serious experimentation with pricing structures.  The standard $15/month sub is growing long in the tooth, partially due to inflation, partially due to players becoming more MMO polygamists than monogamists, and partially due to comparisons with other subs of the same price.  Subs are great for certain types of gamers — namely, ones that pour a lot of time into a single game — but kind of work against folks who want to sample different titles and perhaps only play a night or two a week.

And throughout all of 2010, “free-to-play” has become the key buzzword.  More MMOs are launching with F2P and freemium (take your pick of lingo) than ever before, and many big-name games started the process of adopting a F2P option with their title.  LOTRO, Pirates of the Burning Sea, EverQuest 2, and now Champions Online.  It’s gotten to the point where you can see devs of subscription-based MMOs wince at the deluge of “So are you guys going to offer F2P?” queries that abound.

This type of F2P is really the new trial, or if you want to get really old-school, the new shareware version of the game.  Do you remember shareware?  In an attempt to hook players on a game, companies would release part of it (perhaps the first X levels or first episode) for free and encourage people to copy the disks and share it around.  Players could sample it as long as they’d like, and if they were really smitten, would pony up for the rest of it.  These F2P MMOs remind me a lot of that — they want the barrier of entry to be minimal and attractive, and by removing the time limit, there’s no pressure to buy at the end of a two-week period.  It’s more of a delicate seduction instead of a high-pressure sales pitch.

Looking at Champions Online, I don’t think a lot of us are surprised at this move.  I think it’s not the best way they could have done it — limiting free players to “archtypes” removes one of the best reasons to play this game, which is custom character building — but it’s hard to complain when a huge chunk of the game is going to be handed out for zero dollars.

Cryptic really backed itself into a corner by focusing so much on pumping out quick MMOs that they failed to realize that they simply could not charge big-budget MMO subscription fees at the same rate.  They really should’ve been looking at alternative pricing plans from day one instead of year two, and history could’ve perhaps been different if they had.

In any case, I’m sure it’s going to help CO out, and from what I’ve read in reviews about Neverwinter Nights, I think Cryptic’s getting leery of subscription models as it is.  The first reaction that I and many others had at the news of Champions’ F2P is wondering if STO is soon to follow.  Personally, I’d love it.  I do like that game, but I can’t justify a subscription when I would play it only once every week or two.  A F2P model, if well-planned, would draw me back in, and I think Cryptic’s certainly built a microtransaction store to handle this model.

Although STO may not be in as dire straits as CO at this point — it’s newer, it carries with it a much stronger IP, and it’s not really competing with any other similar MMOs the way CO is with City of Heroes (and, eventually, DCUO and SHSO).  If they’re making good money off it, STO could remain sub for some time to come.

So what about other games going F2P?  I don’t see this as a magic button that can instantly cure a MMO’s blues, and I think companies should really take time to consider and examine if this model even works for them.  Turbine felt like they were being patient and thoughtful as they planned out LOTRO’s conversion, whereas SOE seemed like they rushed EQ2X to press without considering a lot of the ramifications.  Both titles are still working hard to find a balance that pleases both types of customers.

I could see Warhammer as F2P, although Mythic’s stated publicly that it won’t happen and would be really hard to do.  Some of the older MMOs out there could get a boost from F2P (in much the same way that Anarchy Online has) — UO, EQ, DAoC, AC, Planetside, even SWG.  In fact, a freemium SWG could be a shrewd move on SOE’s part to counter the pull of players to TOR.

2010 is almost away from us, and I’m really buzzed about the future.  And while not everyone is crazy about F2P, it gives me more options to play, and I love that.