“A lot of us remember, though, Robin’s original purpose — to be kidnapped more than Princess Peach and have to be rescued, time and again, by Batman.
Harlequin’s confusion when she kidnapped Robin and got Team Spode instead made for an awkward moment all around. She wanted Batman. ROBIN wanted Batman. We all kinda wondered what was keeping the big guy.”
Superhero MMOs have had it easy so far, competition-wise. Really, when compared to the clown car-packed field of fantasy, the fewer-than-all-the-fingers-on-one-hand club of superhero MMOs doesn’t really elicit a lot of sympathy for their chances. City of Heroes — king of the hill, has been for some time, doing just fine with a recent expansion. Champions Online — struggling upstart, didn’t really put a dent in CoH the way some folk thought it would, is just trying to stay in the public consciousness. Superhero Squad Online — not out yet, aimed at the kiddy demographic, could be a sleeper hit.
Then we have DC Universe Online which, as you may have heard, launched yesterday to a muted fanfare of excitement. I guess people were happy? Again, I’m not really in the personal know, but from what I’ve seen come across my blog feed in the past 24 hours, DCUO didn’t really cause a stampede to the launch button. Like most everything else it’s been handling this past year, SOE could’ve done better by DCUO here. Pushing back the launch date from last fall was bad enough, but the past few months have been lukewarm at best for this title — and the company’s marketing team seems like it’s going through the motions but there’s no spirit there.
I’m not saying DCUO is a bad game; on the contrary, from what I’ve seen it is a decent actioner with an RPG-lite overlay, and the PS3 tie-in is really going to help it more than any marketing push. In fact, I think a lot of the MMO industry is watching this launch closely to see just how much DCUO benefits from the console market. We’re really in mostly unexplored territory here, FFXI and EQOA notwithstanding.
What’s interested me personally is that the superhero MMO subgenre now has a three-way clash (and players have more than one or two options) for supremacy. It appears that Cryptic and Paragon Studios have realized this as well, since – and I’m sure the timing of this was no coincidence whatsoever — Cryptic just so happened to announce Champions’ F2P launch yesterday while Paragon Studios posted a producer’s letter on Monday that culminated in a plea for players to stay: “We love you, man!”
Anyway, I’m not that invested in any of these games, nor am I rooting for one to triumph and one to fall, or whatever. I just think it’s about time that these games get shaken from complacency and forced to actually compete, which will benefit the consumer in the end.
I really do wish that Cryptic was handling Champions’ F2P version better, however. I know — how much can you complain about something free, after all? But when “free” means that you end up playing a version of the game that doesn’t include one of the game’s biggest selling points (the ability to choose your character’s powers), then it ends up being all kinds of sad.
If I was handed the reins to Champions and told to come up with a F2P edition, I’d certainly go another way. Perhaps putting a level cap (say 20?) but leaving the game open otherwise. Maybe I’d allow players to pay to unlock powersets permanently, a la carte-like. Really, anything but the archetype templates they’re going with here.
So what do you think about all of this superhero news? Are you rooting for one game over the other?
As much as I love retrospective posts and Top X Lists of the Year, I suppose it’s almost time to tuck those away for another 364 days. January 1st always hits me like a wall of normalcy after the hectic month that was December. Once tomorrow rolls in, it’s back to normal schedules and normal objectives and no awesome holidays until President’s Day (party central!).
So instead of getting bummed about the 1st, I wanted to take a couple minutes to look back at 2010. While it may have not been much for MMOs, I thought it was a pretty exciting year — announcements, betas, getting back into old games, and so on. I actually played a lot of MMOs this year, including:
- World of Warcraft: I wrapped up my interest in this game early on in the year, and was finally able to say goodbye.
- Lord of the Rings Online: I got back into LOTRO in February and have had an utter blast getting a character up in high levels, being part of a terrific kinship, and participating in many non-combat events.
- Global Agenda: Played it for about a week, it’s decent for what it is, but it’s not for me.
- Star Trek Online: Despite numerous hiccups on Cryptic’s part, I’ve enjoyed STO off and on during the year, and have spent about 100 hours in-game so far.
- Ultima Online: Finally got a taste of this classic MMO for a few days — nothing compelling, but cool to be able to say I was there.
- Anarchy Online: Spent a few weeks revisiting this title and my memories from back in the day.
- Allods Online: I liked the beta, but the launch cash shop ruckus turned me off of it.
- Age of Conan: Yeah, spent a couple days going through the newbie zone. Decent game, but I didn’t feel like sticking it out.
- DCUO: Played a very little bit of the beta, thought it looked really nice but I wasn’t too thrilled about the consoleish feel.
- City of Heroes: Returned for a couple weeks with the intention of seeing the Going Rogue launch, but a once-familiar staple of my gaming life felt really drab and meandering, so I quit.
- DDO: Enjoyed it off and on, but ultimately it lost its grip on me and I let it go with a teary farewell.
- EverQuest II Extended: Went through the intro zone and generally liked it, but was turned off by the graphics and the bizarre pricing plan.
- Guild Wars: Been playing through the campaigns for the Hall of Monuments calculator, and although I haven’t been in-game for a month or so, I have plans to return.
- Rift: Got into the beta, and have been slowly won over by this gorgeous and pretty dang fun title.
- Star Wars Galaxies: Played it for a couple weeks for a column, liked it so-so but it just got me itching for The Old Republic after a while. Cool space combat, tho.
- Vindictus: Tried the opening level, it felt way too much like a mindless click-fest and quit.
Whew, in retrospect, that’s a LOT! And I’m not including all of my off-line gaming, including Mass Effect 2 (awesome), Back to the Future: The Game, Borderlands, Secret of Monkey Island, Dragon Age Origins, Torchlight and Batman: Arkham Asylum.
On the homefront, it’s been pretty crazy too: classes, work, family life. Back in April my daughter was born, a daughter who’s now standing up and holding her own in play sessions with her one-year-old brother. Being a dad is better than any game out there, which is why MMOs don’t stand a chance if they’re awake.
In February, I was hired by Massively to be a columnist and contributing editor, and in a way, it was a perfect fit. I’ve always wanted to be a part of the games industry in some way, and writing about it comes naturally. The folks over there are just terrific, and we’ve had a great year of covering the news and talking about the games we love. I don’t know how you feel about the site, but I can testify to the real passion that everyone there has for MMOs. It’s not a job, it’s being paid for what we were going to talk about anyway. Well, okay, on days I don’t want to write, it’s certainly more job-like than others, but all in all I consider myself a very fortunate guy who has two jobs he really likes to do.
2010 wasn’t perfect — I didn’t lose all the weight I wanted to (although I made a small dent), I let a few projects slip that I wish I would’ve been better about, and I know that dividing my writing interests have hurt Bio Break in some ways. But you have to take the bad with the good, and I’m pretty darn satisfied with how it ended up.
I happened to get into DCUO’s beta the day the NDA was lifted, so might as well share a couple really, really brief impressions from the character creation and tutorial.
- The setup is different than CoH and Champions, for good and bad
- I liked having an “inspirational” iconic villain/hero that you’re modeled after, although the choices I was given were a paltry three or four
- I’ll give this much to DCUO: It’s the first major superhero MMO that’s going to launch with both villain and hero factions
- I made a crazy paramilitary clown girl who specialized in gadgets and idolized the Joker
- There aren’t as many options for looks or powersets as CoH/Champions, at least not from the outset
- I really didn’t like the character creator’s UI — it was unnecessarily split up and I had difficulty making my character look the way I wanted
- This is definitely more of an action-MMO than Champions or CoH. Everything moves a lot faster, which has its good points and bad. Combat is fast and furious and flows smoothly, but it really does just feel like button mashing. The screen would get really cluttered visually, and quite often I’d lose orientation and track of my character in relation to my enemies.
- I chose acrobatic (I think?) traveling powers, and it was probably the most fun aspect of the character. I ran in fast, loping steps, I could climb walls and cling to ceilings, and I had a double-jump.
- Visually, everything looks top-notch except for character faces.
- I got a power early on (sticky bomb) and it was pretty fun — and easy — to use.
- Did not really like double pistols — after a while I’d just close range and lay a beatdown with punches.
- Combat involves combos and whatnot (think Batman: Arkham Asylum)
- Decent voice-overs
- There’s a nice cinematic feeling to the start, including the cutscenes
- Nice touch: One button to loot any goodies in the vicinity (sucks them right into you)
- Just by doing the tutorial, I came away slightly impressed. It felt more polished than I’d anticipated, and visually it was a treat.
- While movement was fun, it didn’t always function great in combat, and I often wanted to strafe faster or turn more quickly than I could. I’ve heard it’s better to control with a gamepad, but hell will freeze over before I start using one of those on a computer.
- Despite what a couple readers may think, I’m not against action MMOs — I just think that they aren’t the next big thing. They’re a subgenre of MMOs, and that’s fine. DCUO is a console MMO at heart, and despite my initial misgivings, I think it warrants further investigation. SOE could be on to something.
I always feel like I need to put a clarification with any SOE posts that go along the lines of “I don’t personally dislike this company, although I don’t play any of their games and have never really been attracted to the attitude and products that this company puts out.” You know, a really wishy-washy stance. Backhanded compliments mixed with forehanded insults. That sort of thing.
I guess I’m just puzzled when I glance over at SOE, because I really don’t “get” them. I’ve tried quite a few of their games, and they’ve rolled off me like oil on a duck. Maybe that’s water (scientists out there: conduct some experiments now!). I am personally put off by the visuals in EQ2 and SWG and Vanguard, and think that they’ve gone a little too over the line with the money-grubbing that goes with their shameless Station store. But that’s just me and my perspective, and I certainly wouldn’t foist that on you.
But what I think us as a community needs to be doing is to ask SOE what the heck they’re doing as of late. It’s just been a weird year for them all around. LOTRO announces that they’re implementing a F2P mode, and before you know it, EQ2 shows up to the same party, puffing a bit as if it was out of breath running to catch up — nevermind a couple months earlier, when they quickly jumped on the super-expensive microtransaction mount bandwagon that Blizzard started. They fling out a third iteration of EverQuest — EverQuest “Next” — with such vagueness that every fanboy and fangirl has been transplanting their personal hopes and dreams onto it.
The company is all about showing off The Agency at E3, and then completely sweeps it under the rug to the point where it’s anyone’s guess if this title is barely on life support or already vaporware (it’s not a good sign when CMs haven’t even talked on the forums for two months). SOE completely skips PAX, and now — a mere month before its launch date — delays DC Universe Online until early next year. In a weird coincidence, yesterday morning I was just asking some people in chat and on Twitter what was going on with DCUO, seeing as how the marketing team has been low key to the point of being comatose, which isn’t something you normally see for a major title this close to launch.
Even if you take all of this separate incidences that aren’t connected, these still paint a picture of a company that isn’t really offering its players a sense of security so much as an octopus flailing wildly because it’s found dry land and is attempting to figure out what to do next. Change is part of the MMO field, sure, but every time I hear something from SOE lately, it doesn’t seem the good kind of change.
Other than observing all this and my gut telling me that something is awry, it’s all speculation past this. Is SOE in trouble, somehow? They’ve been reeling from a lot of layoffs, of course, but it’s not all bad news from the company, after all — Pirates of the Burning Sea released an expansion, EQ2X seems like it’s doing decently, and Clone Adventures is ripping up the charts.
I do feel bad for those who were really excited about DCUO — this announcement couldn’t be timed worse, especially with Blizzard-the-MMO-turtle finally committing to a Cataclysm release date. I might’ve tried DCUO in 2010, but in 2011? Man, there’s going to be so much to play next year that I may have to actually clone myself.
Compared to PC gaming, console titles have outsold their more literate counterpart in almost every area but one: MMORPGs. As consoles basically are specialized gaming computers at this point, with fast broadband access (except for the pokey Wii), the question keeps coming up again and again. When will we start seeing more MMOs on consoles?
This question is fueled by promises and reports from various MMO developers that say out right, hey, we’re going to put our MMOs on consoles as well. Without any real proof that they’re doing so, gamers take their word at face value and believe what they want to believe. And yet we’re in the futuristic year of 2010, well over a decade since the 3D MMO revolution, and thus far we’ve seen (to my knowledge) a paltry three titles released for consoles: EverQuest Online Adventures, Final Fantasy XI and Phantasy Star Online/Universe.
So what gives? With new MMOs going online just about every day in the PC world, why aren’t we seeing a stampede toward the seemingly more lucrative console market? Is console MMO gaming just a myth at this point, supported by the hopes and dreams of players, yet dashed on the cruel rocks of reality?
It’s reasonable for gamers to become more than a little cynical when we hear promises of console MMOs — after all, they’ve been trying to sell us on this idea for years, with few tangible results. I’m going to highlight three examples, ranging from the recent to a few years back:
- True Fantasy Live Online – Remember this one? It was going to be the great MMO hope for Xbox players, a title that was in development for over two years. The developer turned out to be inadequately suited for the task, Microsoft got annoyed, the game got canned in 2004. At least we got a Penny Arcade comic out of it.
- Age of Conan – It’s been over two years of hearing how Conan was going to grace the Xbox, and two years of absolutely no visible movement on that happening, to the point where (at least in my opinion) it probably never will.
- Champions Online – One of Cryptic’s big marketing lines for Champions was that it would be releasing on the Xbox as well, a move that made sense considering how action-based the title is (and very compatible with gaming controllers). But we’re still waiting, and Cryptic’s being a little mum about why. It’s possible that, as they said last year, the port is ready but Microsoft is dragging out the process, but who knows?
The Difficulties of Console MMOs (specialized and ports)
Blizzard’s Rob Pardo opened up on the problems and obstacles involved with bringing MMOs to consoles in an interview with Industry Gamers:
“I’d say challenge #1 is the input device. So if you’re going to port a game like WoW how does that work? Do you ship a keyboard and a mouse? Do you try to make a game that [adapts] to all the different controls and buttons? That’s a porting issue. The bigger issue would be things like hard drives… Another big issue is how to actually do patches because the certification process is pretty arduous to do that… Then, the other big issue is the business model. Right now, Microsoft and Sony charge platform fees for retail, but if you do an MMO there and it’s subscription-based, they’re going to want a cut of the subscription revenue too, and so that becomes a hurdle. So there’s definitely a lot of hurdles right now for doing MMOs on a console, but it all can be overcome and I think in the next generation of consoles it’ll be much easier.”
Programmer Joe has a similar list, although with a few additional problems, such as console makers wanting a cut of the profits/subscriptions, a smaller installed base (there are way more game-capable PCs out there than consoles) and duo play.
That seems like a good basic list of issues: input devices, hard drive space, certification, smaller base and the business model. I know there have been awkward keyboard/controller hybrids created for games like FFXI, but they really never took off. Some even think that console MMO developers will have to “dumb down” the game to make it playable with the controls they have. As for the other issues, they seem difficult but surmountable, right?
John Smedley seems to think that free-to-play might be the biggest business model in the console market:
“Getting a console player to pay for a subscription, I think that’s an interesting question. I think it’s about making a great game, but we also believe that there’s a chance, maybe [the games] won’t be subscription-based.”
A much bigger issue is that ports of current MMOs are incredibly difficult to pull off in a timely manner, and made-from-scratch console MMOs demand many years of development, which could work against the game if the console maker goes on to the next generation of hardware (which could also hurt the long-term subscriber base). From Eurogamer:
“[Turbine] also revealed some of the philosophy behind its new forthcoming console game, suggesting that PC ports to console don’t work, and need to built from the ground up for the platform. This in itself presents a number of challenges. First of all, the tech behind the game requires a 10-year lifespan – it needs to be ultra-scalable to accommodate the creation of additional content. Alexander put a $20 million price-tag on the development of the core tech, before even a penny has been spent on the actual game itself.”
The Advantages of Console MMOs
The biggest advantage is a clear one: a huge, nearly untapped market that represents millions of potential customers for the lucky — and talented — MMO developer who can pull off this hat trick successfully. From Eurogamer:
“Lord of the Rings Online maker Turbine has revealed the thinking behind its forthcoming console MMO, saying that PS3 and Xbox 360 offer a ‘superior MMO platform’ with an untapped market worth an estimated $2.3 billion.”
Consoles might help to lower the barrier to entry for MMOs, which some players find complex and unintuitive when they try one — yet these same people have no problem grabbing a control pad or remote and getting to work slashing through orcs and ninja robot zombies.
In a way, Xbox Live has set the foundation for console MMOs through their persistent achievement system and their buddy system — two features that are quite common to MMOs these days. Players want their victories to persist and they certainly take a shine to titles like Team Fortress 2, which incorporates many MMO elements, such as buddy lists, loot and customizable avatars.
Console MMOs Supposedly On Deck
With all that said, myth though current console MMOs may be, it definitely looks as if developers are pushing hard to expand into this market soon. It even looks a bit like a race to be the first “big” MMO hit with this current generation of consoles. So what are we looking at?
- Turbine’s upcoming console MMO, which they’re “very committed” to bringing to the PS3 and perhaps the Xbox. How committed? Try $20 million worth. We might be seeing this in 2011.
- SOE is eager to jump into the console MMO bandwagon, promising to bring two of its upcoming titles to both PC and consoles on the same day: The Agency and DC Universe Online. Free Realms is also scheduled for a console launch.
- Depending on who you listen to, Blizzard’s next MMO might be released for consoles. Or not. They’re cagey that way.
- Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV is both eagerly anticipated by fans and scheduled to be a PS3 exclusive for consoles (it’ll come out on PC as well) — but word is that Microsoft is still hacking out the details with them about how it might work on Live.
- Former ArenaNet developer Jeff Strain is working on a zombie MMO with his company, Undead Labs.
- Last year, CCP announced that their MMOFPS title Dust 514 would be console-bound as well.
Ironically, it could be a fairly non-traditional MMO — depending on how you define the term — to take the next step out into the cosole arena. MAG for the PS3 is scheduled for launch in a couple weeks, a massive FPS setup that incorporates skill trees, loot and other MMO elements.
It’s fair to say that I have a pretty narrow focus when it comes to MMOs that I’m ever interested in at a certain point in time. Two to three seems to be my natural limit — these are the ones I devote my main attention concerning news and development and even play (right now it’s DDO, Champions and TOR). Then there’s an outer ring of my attention span that briefly touches on other MMOs that I keep tabs on from time to time (currently WoW, WAR, LOTRO and Star Trek Online). Finally, there is the void, the abyss, the dark nothing in which many, many upcoming MMOs float, unable to gain a purchase on my mind.
The problem with talking on most of these “other” MMOs is that I’m fairly ignorant, uninformed and neutral of them as a whole. In over a decade of writing movie reviews, I’ve long since learned that the best reviews are ones of movies you feel strongly about in some way, whether it be love, hate, interest or whatnot. But when it’s a film that’s so middle-of-the-road bland to be neither good nor bad, and definitely not noteworthy, reviews and discussion of such are like pulling teeth to conjure. I don’t really want to start flinging opinions around of these other MMOs from this standpoint, because I’m tabula rasa in regards to them, and that’s not fair to people who actually care about these titles and feel offended when they’re mishandled by folks who don’t know any better.
Yet since folks ask me about some of those latter titles, I thought it’d be interesting to briefly call them in from the void, do a bit of research on them, and see what there is to see… and if I should bother in the future.
On paper, Fallen Earth seems right up my alley — post-apocalyptic RPG, a la Wasteland/Fallout. Yes. That’s awesome. And what’s more is that it is rocketing toward launch in about a month, which is a good sign that this indie developer is confident that it can take on the triple-A threats of Champions and Aion, and hold its own.
However — the reason I say “on paper” Fallen Earth looks great is that it’s one of those titles that doesn’t seem like it has enough going for it to really make it, and I don’t want to get any hopes up at all. Not withstanding the competition (and far less press coverage it will receive), FE doesn’t give off that high-polish smell. Screenshots are somewhat crude, especially in light of what MMOs have been releasing over the past few years. It’s also a pseudo-FPS game, which as you’ll find out from this article, is almost always a mark against it in my book. And finally, FE is selling for $50 for the game and $15/month — meaning that it’s priced at the same competitive level of the Big Boys, but will almost certainly offer less than them in terms of content, quality and polish. The best I can see happening for this title is what I say about almost all indie MMO games — that it releases without falling over its own feet, builds up a small but solid core into a game deserving of its own merits instead of its non-existent advertising budget.
Okay, Global Agenda does get points for its snarky “No Elves” video, although the elf got capped by what looks like a typical 1337 sniper, which puts me in the position of wishing them both dead. Other than that, I knew nothing about the game, so I perused their website and a few related articles. Turns out that GA is a FPS/RPG — sort of a blended child of Anarchy Online, Planetside, Tribes and Team Fortress. Although the scifi setting and smooth look of it all is appealing, the “FPS” part is a right turn-off. Companies are experimenting with new ways to take MMORPGs, and that’s all well and good, but I’ve played FPS’s, and I’m pretty much done with them. If it’s a game that pits me against other players who can headshot me across the field while I’m frantically spamming my “1” button… nah, I’m good, thanks. It also doesn’t seem like it has the kind of buzz that would make me take a second look at this point.
So what could win me over to GA? Frankly, it’s got to release and have incredible word of mouth — the kind that’s “You HAVE to try this NOW!” — from sources I trust. I’m not saying that it’s going to be crap otherwise, just probably not for me.
DC Universe Online
Hm. I’ll be up front about this — I’m biased against DCUO for two reasons. One, I’m a Marvel man, and apart from Batman, I’ve never really cared about any of the franchises in DC. And two, I’m pulling for Champions and like the ideas that they’re doing more than DCUO. Whether the gameplay will BE better, or whether those ideas will solidify into a compelling MMO remains to be seen.
DCUO’s main selling point that everyone includes to give it an edge over Champions is the inclusion of villain classes. Okay, I’ll admit, that’s great. Personally, I don’t really want to play a villain in a superhero MMO, so it’s irrelevant for me, but I’m not blind that it’s an important factor for many others. It’s also a SOE product, and I’ve always been a bit leery of Sony, especially since they’ve never sold me on any of their other products to this point.
So I guess my distaste for DCUO is both irrational and premature, but I’m here to be honest about it.
All I previously knew about Jumpgate Evolution (JE) is that it was the sequel/remake to a fairly small 2001 MMO, that it had been delayed a bit, and that it was set in space with you in the role of a ship’s captain. The open beta is apparently going gangbusters right now, good for it.
Although I think there’s a real void — and potential opportunity — for scifi space-bound combat for people not into the spreadsheet experience that is EVE Online, the fact that it’s being promoted as a “twitch based shooter” is not a big selling point with me. As internet speeds increase, twitch-based MMO gaming might well be on the rise, but I wince at thinking of how little strategy twitch takes in comparison to the more traditional MMO setup. Still, I’d love to see a lot more focus on spaceship MMOs, because I’d rather play a good one of those than a fantasy title any day of the week. Where’s our Tie Fighter vs. X-Wing MMO (and don’t give me that Star Wars Galaxy crap)?
Yet another RPG/FPS title — sensing a trend in these developing MMOs yet? It’s a spy-themed shooter, which is fairly unique for the MMO genre, and will probably have great appeal to those who idolize James Bond/Jason Bourne/Alias/Splinter Cell and the like. It’ll probably do very well for itself, too. Well, as long as their staff stops fleeing the ship (including the studio head!).
But they’re not putting out anything that appeals to my taste in games, no “ooh that’s cool!” hooks that grab my interest. The only thing that I want to know is how it might work on the PS3 as well as Windows — one of many proposed, but not realised, multi-platform MMORPGs (AoC, Champions, etc.).
APB’s hook is basically, “If you like Grand Theft Auto, you’ll like APB!” Do I like GTA? Revoke my gamer card, but nope. So this game of cops ‘n robbers will have to go on without me. Probably for the best, since a lot of the articles I’ve read about it have developers gushing about how awesome the characters’ tattoo options will be versus any actual gameplay. Coming out in spring 2010.
Guild Wars 2
This interests me, mostly in an academic, detached way, because I found a lot to admire about the original Guild Wars and want to see it where they take it next. The concept of “collecting” skills and forming limited builds with them encourages player creativity and experimentation, and the genre sorely needs that.
Unfortunately, new info on the game has been scarce to none, making me fear this might end up as vaporware someday.