Battle Bards Episode 33: Allods Online

As we’ve proven before on Battle Bards, free-to-play and foreign doesn’t mean that the soundtrack is going to be lame.  On the contrary, scores like Allods Online is what gets us out of bed in the morning, pumped for another day of listening to excellent MMO music!  We’ve got several great tracks from Allods today, so put on your listening ears and uncover your tapping toes.

Episode 33 show notes

  • Intro (featuring “Main Menu” and “Hadagan”)
  • “Main Theme II: Game of Gods”
  • “Gibberlings”
  • “Lords of Destiny – Instruments – Kania”
  • “Astral Prelude”
  • “Jungle 1”
  • “Goblinoball”
  • “Lords of Destiny – AC9 Main NM”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Mail from Kevin
  • Mail from Shay
  • Outro (“Disband Deed” from Wurm Online)

Listen to episode 33 now!

2010 Flushies: Best Trailer, Dud of the Year, Customer Service Fail, Best Beta

Winner: Guild Wars 2 “Manifesto”

Bold.  Audacious.  Inspiring.  These were just a few of the words that popped into mind when ArenaNet began its Guild Wars 2 marketing blitz with a powerful “Manifesto” trailer that came out swinging.  After a series of strong statements — “Cause and effect, a single decision made by a player cascades out in a chain of events” — the devs shut up and let the game’s visuals and concept art speak for itself.  It’s one of those videos that made our little neck hairs stand up and an involuntary “heck yesss!” escape our lips.

Runners-up:

  • Global Agenda: Tired of Elves
  • Rift: Beta trailer
  • Star Wars The Old Republic: Hope

Winner: Final Fantasy XIV

Gah!  I feel so torn on this — partially because APB deserves it just as much, and because piling more onto FF14 feels like you’re picking on the weakest kid in the class.  But that’s how the cookie crumbles — no other MMO this year was as highly anticipated and failed as horribly as Final Fantasy XIV.  From out-of-touch developers refusing to listen to testers to a cryptically bizarre subscription model to terrible reviews to the sacking of a good chunk of the dev team, watching the launch of this title became sheer rubbernecking after a while.  I know that some folks love this game and appreciate it for what it is — and good for them — but it’s not a good sign when the company is still not charging a monthly subscription for a AAA title out of fear of the playerbase fleeing entirely.

Runners-Up:

  • APB: Winner of the shortest-lived MMO award.  By all reports, it wasn’t that great of a game, although it had a good character builder and some folks loved the concept of it.  But Realtime Worlds quickly went under and dragged APB with it, so it doesn’t really matter how good the game was or wasn’t.  The only positive news is that GamersFirst rescued it and will revive APB as a F2P title next year.
  • Allods Online: Unlike the other two games, Allods is pretty solid and polished — it’s just that it had a lot of promise and excitement surrounding the launch, and then the company shot it in the foot with a horrid cash shop prices that seriously crippled players unwilling to pay.  As a result, Allods went from golden boy to black sheep within a month.

Winner: Cryptic Studios

I’m not quite sure what went on in Cryptic’s Monday morning meetings, but it must’ve been massive bewilderment for the sheer vitriol that players kept throwing their way.  It was as if Cryptic didn’t quite understand just how much it was constantly putting its foot in its mouth with terrible customer service decisions, such as trying to charge players for additional content that should’ve been in their games in the first place, electing a small group of players to sit on a council and receive special attention over everyone else, or any one of the other 50 gaffes the studio made this year.

Runner-up:

  • Dungeons and Dragons Online: Turbine wasn’t exempt from a few wince-inducing decisions this year, from DDO’s ill-conceived offer wall to a glitch in a festival that caused the company to ban many players for “exploits” (and then tried to hush it up instead of dealing with it straight-on).

Winner: Rift

To be honest, I wasn’t in a lot of betas this year, but of those I checked out, Rift’s came across heads and shoulders more polished, more playable and more fun than any of the others.  So much so that I don’t want to play it too much more and spoil the launch.

Real Names, Real ID, Real Lessons

Now that I’m back and speed-reading through over 2500 blog posts in one evening, I know I’ve missed out on a lot of this Real ID/Blizzard forums discussion.  And that’s okay, as a lot of people have said what I would’ve anyway.  However, I do have a few parting thoughts as to what we might take away from all this:

1. The community has the power to change MMO companies’ minds

We’ve actually seen this a few times this year already — with Turbine’s awful Offer Wall for DDO and with Allods’ wonky cash shop prices.  While segments of the community always complain about everything, when the rest join in (in addition to voices outside of that game’s community) to voice opposition to something, it really and truly has the ability to stop a dev team from pushing forward with a bad decision.  I’m not saying that we should be rallying against every little thing that upsets us, but complacency helps no one when it comes to the important issues.  It’s better for both the game company and the community if these things are nipped in the bud.

On the flip side, MMO companies are actually listening.  I would’ve bet real money that Blizzard wouldn’t have backed down on this, because they historically never back down on controversial decisions, and they’ve developed a well-known attitude of “Well, we run the most successful MMO on the planet, so we don’t have to listen to the likes of you.”  But — and here’s a slightly awe-inspiring thing — they did.  Sure, they’re not scraping their heads against the ground in apology or anything, and their statement still has an arrogant streak to it, but something got through to them that this wasn’t just a normal pushback for a decision, it was a tsunami of opposition, and that it was better to save face now than deal with the troubles later.

2. Name-calling isn’t just for elementary school kids

While a lot of the discussion and debate around the Real ID fiasco was pretty intelligent and civil, I found myself grimacing quite often at people who would stoop to childish insults and name-calling at anyone on the other side.  It’s always a low-brow tactic when people do this, because it’s as if they know their ideas or perspective can’t stand on its own, so they need to fling out a few choice labels to shore up their cause.  I’m not a “fear mongerer” if I have a legitimate concern (to cite one often-used example), and if you have a problem with what I think, then address the thought instead of the person.  I gotta say, I became disappointed with quite a few people on Twitter this past week.

3. It’s made a lot of people reconsider their approach to privacy online

A lot of the pro-Real ID crowd (and Blizzard as well) used Facebook as an example of how cavalier we tend to be with our online information and identity, and while it was not the same thing as what Blizzard was proposing, there’s a good point to be had there.  We are often careless with what we post, not realizing just how much everyone can learn about us.

So two really great things have come out of this: (1) I’ve seen a lot of folks re-examine their privacy elsewhere online and take steps to protect it more, and (2) we see that online privacy does indeed matter to a lot of people.  Sure, maybe the same people are careless with their info, but when these issues are brought into the spotlight, people show they do care about what’s being shared and spread around.

Oh, and to those who brought out that hoary chestnut of “If you don’t want to use your real name, then you must be trying to hide something!” flawed logic, you need to realize just how often that line is used to support any loss of liberties.  Nobody needs an excuse to have privacy or to choose to not reveal something, and we don’t have to rationalize it.

4. Few if anyone is debating that Blizzard needs to clean up their forums — just how they should do it

Hey, I’m all for Blizzard taking steps to clean up their forums, even radical steps.  It’s just that this particular idea was a terrifically bad one, and should’ve been thrown out a long time before it was presented to the public.  WoW’s forums have rightfully earned its place as the dregs of gaming humanity where thoughtful discussion, real help and civil chat is buried under mountains of manure.  Blizzard’s needed to clean that up for years, and it’s good they’ve made it a priority — they just can’t become so focused on that goal that they use it to justify whatever it takes to get there.

Allods Downgraded From Robber Baron To Robin Hood

Allods Online just posted a number of updated prices for their item shop following the huge controversy surrounding it these past weeks:

List of changes in the item shop:
Vial of Perfume reduced from 75gP to 25gP
Large Perfume Kit reduced from 1350gP to 300gP
Holy Rune reduced from 1500gP to 1000gP
Rough Dragon Hide Backpack reduced from 2000gP to 600gP
Small Deposit Box reduced from 1500gP to 1000gP
Small Bag of Crystal Chips reduced from 250gP to 100gP
Medium Bag of Crystal Chips reduced from 1200gP to 350gP
Potions reduced from 250gP to 200gP

A “gP” is a gPotato, the equivalent of US $0.01, so you can figure out the conversion rather easily.  The perfume is now just a quarter, the ballyhooed backpack down from $20 to $6 ($1 per extra slot), and so on.

The question is, is this enough?  Will players be satisfied by the action taken here, will the prices be seen as more reasonable, or do they need to go further?

As for me, I’m a bit restless this afternoon, so I might give Allods a spin — something I haven’t done since beta.  But I’m a cheap, cheap guy sometimes, so I don’t think they’re going to be seeing a single cent from me, Fear of Death debuff or no.

Allods: A Question

When your forum is home to a 1,266-post topic discussing all the ways your players are upset with the implementation of your cash shop, should you:

  1. Use that thread and other created threads to generate enough of a picture of what went wrong and how you need to fix things, or
  2. Start a completely new “official” thread that you’re planning to leave up there for weeks to gather information that’s somehow lacking at this point?

I mean, yeah, I don’t know how to run a MMO and I’ll grant that it’s a pretty complicated and tricky process, but how hard is it to hear thousands of voices screaming “YOUR PRICES ARE TOO HIGH!” and tweak them back down, perhaps to an equal level of what you’re charging people in your own country for the same services?  You just make a big number into a smaller number.

Allods is reaping some of the absolute worst PR I’ve seen thrown at a company at launch, and they cannot afford to just sit on their hands gathering more intel before doing something at this point.

Dungeons & Microtransactions

Seriously, I think about half of the blog posts I caught up on over the weekend had to do about this insane and almost comical Allods cash shop fiasco.  I’ve never seen a game go from beloved to gutter trash so quickly, but that right there is the power of horrible decisions.  They had a great game, a huge buzz, massive amounts of players trying to cram in the front door — and all it took was for them to mark up items 1000% to turn glory into ash.  Whodathunkit?

If the Allods folks are smart, they’ll backpedal on this, and right quickly.  It doesn’t seem as though they are, as their official statement on the matter basically says “We understand that the pricing isn’t popular, but… yeah.”  I really don’t understand what’s gotten into these MMO studios lately.  It’s as if they realize that the doors have been thrown wide open for microtransactions, and so they lose all sense of restraint and common sense.  I mean, when players are seriously rankled over Cryptic’s somewhat underhanded addition of two beta-played races to the paid store on launch, how much more will they revolt when you’re charging obscene amounts of money for practically everything?

Spinks did have some food for thought that I appreciated:

I’m in two minds about this. On one hand, it sounds like a lot to pay for a few bag slots. On the other hand, if Blizzard sold a larger backpack for $20, players would be queuing up to pay for it. And people on Second Life regularly spend more than that on items which have far less utility. And it’s going to be very tedious if these debates break out every time some cash shop decides to charge for anything.

But I don’t really want to talk about Allods today, not any longer, at least.  Instead, this whole Chicken Little riot has made me realize just how awesome Turbine was in handling the DDO’s transition from pure subscription to microtransaction/free-to-play.  What did they do right that other companies now seem to be doing oh so very wrong?  A number of explanations pop into my head:

  1. The pricing is reasonable.  It really is.  As you’re paying to expand the core free game in DDO, content chunks can be added from around $3-$10, as well as classes, races and other little cool things.  But at no point were you asked to whip out your wallet to spend $20 on a tiny increase in bag space, or for a mount.
  2. They offer a lot of discounts.  DDO continues to keep their item shop in the players’ attention by frequently offering discounts on purchasing points, as well as certain items and content.  A smart, patient player can save quite a bit and make their money last longer.
  3. They were really transparent about the whole deal all the way through DDO:EU’s beta.  You knew what was coming, how much everything cost, and they got the pricing to a level that was pleasing to parties all around.  No big last-minute additions or changes to be had.
  4. They bent over backwards to both make the shop attractive while emphasizing that it wasn’t necessary to purchase anything to enjoy your game.  Turbine even went one step further to give players an opportunity to earn points in game for doing nothing more than just playing.  Sure, it wasn’t a lot of points, but still — it was free.
  5. They didn’t penalize your gameplay for not having purchased something.  In a recent patch, DDO’s given free players adventures that will enable them to level to the cap without spending a dime, as well as eliminating “leveling sigils” which were barriers to progressing (unless you either purchased an item or found it in a dungeon).  You don’t have as wide of an experience as a subscriber or purchaser when you’re a free player, but they don’t “punish” you for not buying stuff.

And it’s not like DDO was the vanguard here — plenty of other games have pioneer successful and popular microtransaction models that don’t involve looting, pillaging barbarians plowing into your house and making off with the contents of your wallet and your firstborn.

Blog Rage vs. The Army of Allods

Welcome back, me!  It’s always lovely to return from a weekend away from internets and twitters and bloggies to find 555 posts waiting to be read and a whole firestorm of controversy that popped up most likely because I wasn’t there to settle everyone down and read them a bed time story.  People!  Just because you don’t get your milk and cookies and Amelia Bedilia doesn’t mean you can riot!

Without further ado, BLOG RAGE!

RAGE ON!

Keen! Petter! MMO Misanthrope! Mind Bending Puzzle! Tipa! Kaozz! Zubon!

Anyway, it’s just weird to see Allods suddenly on the receiving end of a hailstorm of unhappiness.  The game’s had a LOT going for it, a tremendous buzz, a few bloggers that made the game their Valentine’s Day date, etc.  And now, its “soft launch” seems to be covered in poo.

In regards to their bizarre (and what I’d like to think of an accounting error) RMT prices, I’d just like to say this:

Dear Developers,

RMT and microtransactions may be here to stay, but that doesn’t mean you get to act like off-the-wall robber barons and gouge us with obscenely ridiculous prices.  Players won’t stand for it, and they will turn on you if you’ve taken your cues for pricing from airport food vendors.  Keep the costs low, friendly and competitive, and we’ll be loyal customers.  Gouge us, and you’re going to wonder why we’ve all fled to other games.

Sincerely,

Syp

A Thousand Points of Discussion

It feels like it’s been a huge week, MMO news-wise, and I’ve been sitting on the bleachers for the most of it.  In my defense, I’m going through a crunch week at work, and so the awesome news that Richard Garriott is bringing his unique flavor of failure talent to — of all things — Facebook hasn’t been high up on my list of things to talk about.

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least wing a few casual comments at:

Over $2.2 million worth of Panderan pets sold in WoW – Oh, sure, you can look at the angle of Blizzard donating half that — the sales of November-December 2009 — to charity, but e-GADS, people, over two million dollars worth of virtual pets sold in two months?  I don’t know anyone personally who’s bought one of these things, but at that rate, I should be seeing them on every street corner in the game.  Make no mistake: we’re on the Blizzard microtransaction train now, and there’s no slowing it down.

GameSpot pulls a Eurogamer with Global Agenda – The hilarious thing here is that astute players called them out on it, and now GameSpot has a lot of egg on their face for a review where the author put in a piddling amount of time into the game before levying a less-than-satisfactory rating.  I think this past year will serve as a clear warning sign to reviewers who try to shortcut their way to a MMO review writeup.

Allods launches (sort of) and EQ2 gets an expansion – February is generally a depressing time of winter, so I’m all for game companies stocking this month full of new gaming love.  I still don’t feel a pressing need to log into Allods any time soon, but who knows for the future?  As for EQ2 lovers, I’m glad they have a new feast for their passion.

Cryptic’s up and downs – Their “up” is that they’ve publicly stated that they want more ship interior action going on with STO, which has been in huge player demand since before launch (and really, should have been there for launch).  Their “down” is that it looks like they’ll be slipping in a death penalty after launching without one — whether this is a good or bad addition to the game, it’s not like players are going to be thrilled at its inclusion.

Six Great Non-Traditional MMO Player Races

Dwarves.  Elves.  Humans.  Halflings.  Er… Dark Elves.  Light Elves.  High Elves.  Low Elves.  Space Elves (aka “Vulcans”).  Elvish Impersonators.

If it’s a fantasy MMO — heck, even if it’s not — chances are you’ll be hit with racial choices that include one or many more of the above.  It’s as if creative thought in regards to fantasy races died a brutal early death with J.R.R. Tolkein, and we haven’t been able to move on since.

So I thought I’d dedicate a list to six great non-traditional MMO races that represent ingenuity and imagination on behalf of the developers or the IP (yeah, LOTRO isn’t going to be on this list, FYI):

1. Forsaken (World of Warcraft)

Undead Tim Burton-ish zombies with an attitude?  Check!  With WoW’s release in 2004, no race captured the immediate mind’s eye of players quite like the Forsaken, intelligent undead creatures who escaped from slavery to rebel against, well, pretty much everyone.  They’re dark, they’re edgy, and they do air guitar solos.

The Forsaken sport interesting visuals to underline the decaying nature of their people: brains held in by leather straps, mouths ripped off, spines and joint bones exposed.  But don’t tell that to China, which had a problem with the spooky ooky nature of the race and demanded that they get an art overhaul before the game went live.

2. Gibberlings (Allods Online)

Looking something like smaller versions of Snarf from Thundercats, or perhaps the hallucinations following a hard round of paint huffing, Gibberlings not only corner the “cute” market in Allods, but offer players a very unique race to test out.  Specifically the fact that Gibberlings come in packs of three, and the player controls all three at once as a single entity made of three little furballs.

3. Warforged (Dungeons & Dragons Online)

DDO is stocked with many of the same racial staples that D&D and Tolkein held dear, with one notable exception: the Warforged, a race of intelligent mechanical golems that were bred for war and then freed for… more war, I guess.  It’s just a shame that DDO didn’t utilize the Eberron setting more, as it has even more bizarre races like the Changlings.

4. Ratonga (EverQuest 2)

On paper, EverQuest 2’s races seem to be a concerted effort to drive one Syp as far up the wall as possible.  They have no less than four (4!) elf races, as well as the full assortment of furry magnets: tiger-people, lizard-people and frog-people.  But there’s something undeniably awesome about the Ratonga, the little rat people who remind me of Reepicheep from Prince Caspian.  So I’ll let this game continue operating… for now.

5. Goblins (Warhammer Online)

In a game full of strong personalities and wicked takes on fantasy tropes, WAR’s goblins (or “gobbos”) rose to be the quirky standout face of the game.  Like their bigger orc brethren, the goblins come from mushrooms (and hence, have no distinguishable gender to speak of), but the goblins lack the orcs’ height and sheer power.  Their answer?  Being a crafty little bugger, that’s how.  I love their armor designs (throwing pieces of everything together all willy-nilly) and their personality is first-rate (“Not in the face!  Not in the face!”)

6. Mon Calamari (Star Wars Galaxies)

Honestly, SWG alone could comprise most of this list, considering that every race outside of the humans are bizarre aliens from George Lucas’ playground.  But how could you resist being some bulging-eyed fish-thing that should, in all right, terrify you, but instead makes you smile everytime someone says the phrase “it’s a trap!”?