Pretty much every time a new subscription-based MMO is released or is about to be released there is a lot of comments about “game is released too soon”, “it would need another X months”, “it is missing vital features”. These comments have been for many years – if the answers were that easy, one would think that would have picked up on that, right?
The issue here is of course that there are no easy answers like that – repeating comments like that hardly brings any new insight and may very well be wrong anyway.
Today NCSoft announced that they will close down Tabula Rasa at the end of Februari 2009. It does not come as a big surprise, early this year NCSoft did say thet they would give the game about a year and that it would have to make about 8 million USD for that year, which was their break-even point for operating the game.
Tabula Rasa has not quite made those numbers. I’m sorry to see the game go away; I played it in beta for a while and about 7-8 months from release and to large extent I did enjoy the game. But there were some annoying issues which never got fixed and pretty much everyone else I played with disappeared after a while. But given the less than stellar inital results I do not think they had that much resources to work with in the first place in the past year and they did some quite nice things in some updates.
WIth NCSoft operations focusing more to the region near ArenaNet in the US I guess the people that have worked on Tabula Rasa may be at risk of losing their job or relocate, I guess. Not a nice situation to be in, so I hope that works out.
For those that want to try the game a bit before the end NCSOfts says that the game will be free to play from January 10th 2009 until the end.
NCSoft seems to be in the position of merging their operations, creating an NC West with headquarters in Seattle. ArenaNet is located in the neighbourhood there, so I guess that shows how well the performance of the former US HQ in Austin has been received by the main HQ in South Korea.
ArenaNet’s Guild Wars have certainly been the most successful Western title for NCSoft, followed by City of Heroes/Villains. The Lineage titles have not been doing so well and the more recent titles of Dungeon Runners and Tabula Rasa also have their share of problems.
The development efforts on some future game in Austin was cancelled, and now NCSoft is also reducing staff in their UK office. This seems to include cancelling development of new titles that they had ramped up before – much in line with what NCSoft seems to have been doing in the US.
Since NCSoft has both cancelled some titles under development and also cancelled publication of titles developed outside NCSoft (e.g. Blackstar), they seem very much to put more focus on fewer titles.
I can understand why they are doing this from a business perspective, it does makes sense. It is a bit too bad that their various efforts did not turn out well since they have at least had an innovative ambition here, trying new business models, new/different genres while most of the other major Western MMO companies mainly has been stuck in the fantasy-game-with-subscription-fee-model type of games.
I do hope that this also means that the separation of servers for US and EU sides in City of Heroes/Villains will be gone soon. NCSoft has removed the previous arguments for keeping them separate. At least one shared pool of servers would be an improvement from now, even if they do not go all the way to a serverless set-up a la Guild Wars. But at least Cryptic contemplated that before.
So I think this also means that the major titles we are going to see next from NCSoft will be Aion and Guild Wars 2 and that is about it for a foreseeable future. City of Heroes/Villains will get some more love. If Tabula Rasa manages to get some more subscribers they might still be around also, but they are not in a particularly good position now.
The name Garriott was also completely absent from the press releases surrounding this re-organisation. Interpret that as you want.
A few days ago my regular computer broke down completely. There had been some warning signs; DVD drive had stopped working, only some USB ports were working, sometimes it reported fan speed as too low (although another restart “fixed” that).
Since it is starting to get a bit old anyway I have ordered a new one, but it takes a bit of time to get the pieces I want, so I am playing on my Vaio laptop instead when I play.
While I have generally not had any problems playing most games on high graphics settings, the laptop experience has been been significantly different.The laptop has an GeForce 8400M GT graphics processor, not really aimed for gaming, but reasonably modern I guess.
Guild Wars: Plays nicely on high settings
City of Heroes/Villains: Looks good, but not particularly smooth on high settings – at least on villain side.
Tabula Rasa: Autoconfig settings sets graphics quality to low and uses the wrong resolution, looks like crap. Changing to the proper resolution improves things a bit, but I cannot change settings above low. Looks quite ugly, but plays smooth.
From a play experience perspective it is obvious which game will be mainly played while I use the laptop – Guild Wars.
NCSoft Europe has released podcast #3 in which community manager Avatea interviews Starr Long, Tom Potter and Victor Meinert from Destination Games/NCsoft Austin.
Not that much new if you have been following Tabula Rasa news, although some nice bits and pieces mentioned. The podcast starts with an introduction of the participants and introduction of what kind of game Tabula Rasa is. They continue with talking about the feedback process and some of the new things coming soon in Tabula Rasa, with focus on Clan Owned Control Points.
The podcast is about 40 minutes long.
For those who subscribe to RSS news feeds from NCSoft, note that NCSoft Europe and US NCSoft has different feeds, so you won’t see the podcast news unless you subscribe to the NCSoft Europe feed.
A bit over a week ago NCSoft released their earnings report for the first quarter of 2008.
This time I was curious as to how well Tabula Rasa had done after their first report, where numbers for the game was less than stellar.
There has been many updates and improvements to the game, so it was interesting to see how well it has been doing and if this was reflected in sales anything.
In previous earnings reports most of the MMOGs are reported separately, while the other games (casual games, Dungeon Runners etc) get lumped into the category “others”.
Fortunately in this case, Tabula Rasa had it separate entry for the sales of the game. Unfortunately, the numbers were not particularly good, roughly 1.8 million USD for the quarter, a whopping 2% of the total sales for the quarter.
When I looked at the “operating metrics” section, Tabula Rasa was not included at all. This section includes the other larger MMOG titles (Lineage, Lineage II, Guild Wards, City of Heroes/Villains), but no mention of Tabula Rasa. Other online games such as Exteel or Dungeon Runners are not mentioned here either. So neither of those are probably considered worth mentioning for investors.
In the part that talks about future development and sales during this quarter, Tabula Rasa is not mentioned at all, but all of the titles in the operating metrics section are mentioned.
So there are probably no new and big investments in the game in order to boost the game, more likely that the dev team got some resources to keep it running and do some updates and see if they can improve numbers, but not anything significant.
1.8 million USD is still a fair amount of money though, but they are hardly going to get the invested money back anytime soon with those amounts though.
So how many subscribers may the game have now? Looking at the sales numbers for Q1 2008, the Tabula Rasa numbers are about 1/3 of the City of Heroes/Villains sales numbers. In the opering metrics section for City of Heroes/Villains, they report close to 135000 in “monthly access”. That could translate into the same amount of subscribers, although some are probably trial accounts.
Using that as a base for calculations and assuming subscription fee, retail price and split between US and Europe is roughly the same that would mean Tabula Rasa subscribers/monthly access would be around 1/3, i.e. around 45000.
As I mentioned in my entry from the previous earnings report, NCSoft had forecasted around 15 million USD for 2008 for the game. 1.8 million is less than half of what would be needed for that forecast, if the earnings would be divided evenly throughout the year.
I feel sorry for the development team here, because I think the game deserves to have a larger player base. But the staying power is not good enough to keep a lot of people for a long time and likely not enough new blood coming in. If they would extend the trial to be a bit longer than the few days the current one has, they might get more people wanting to play if for a few months at least.
After being on vacation for about a week not looking at anything game-like and barely touching any computer, I found a couple of new things waiting to be explored:
- Age of Conan was released (for pre-order at least)
- Issue 12 for City of Heroes/Villains was released
- Deployment 8.x for Tabula Rasa was released
Age of Conan was expected of course, but the other 2 I had not expected to happen already. Of these 3 the Tabula Rasa update is probably the least exciting of them. Not that is is a bad one, but in comparision to a whole new game or new epic archetypes, powersets, new and revamped zones and slots galore it cannot quite compete.
I did start to play a bit in Age of Conan, created two characters and played a little bit in Tortage here. Performance-wise the game has worked quite well, but I’ve seen a few graphic glitches and I have had two crashes of the game so far – once while zoning and the other when exiting the game. Apart form that I think the game has worked well though and its been fun. Most of what I have done so far is familar from when I played in the open beta though, so not really at anything that is completely new yet.
Most of the time though has been spent in City of Villains. One epic archetype character (Widow) has been created, which I been playing a fair amount now and I enjoy it very much.
I also created another dominator, so that I again have dominators for all powersets available. The dominator has not received as much play time yet, but the earth control/electricity manipulation combination seems quite nice after the first few levels. There are many small details and improvements in the interfaces and in the game mechanics which makes the gameplay even nicer than before. Good work NCSoft!
Have not had any time yet to explore the new and revamped zones, so there is lots more to try out also.
All in all, plenty of new things to play around with for a while.
In the past 9 months there has been two MMOGs I have been playing regularly – City of Heroes/Villains and Tabula Rasa. The points I wanted to bring up here are applicable for other games also, but I have taken the two games I played much recently as the examples.
The short summary is that teaming in City of Heroes/Villains (CoH/CoV) makes a good job of avoiding obstacles to set up a team and have a bit of fun. Tabula Rasa (TR) has still some way to go here.
1. Team-oriented content:
In CoH/CoV everything and nothing is teamoriented. Almost all content can be played solo, but the same content is scaled up depending on team size and difficulty setting for the mission owner. More enemies and more difficult enemies is the result for larger teams. This is for instances only, but since almost all content is instance-based that could be said to be the general state.
In TR a lot of the content is on outdoor area, with some instances accesible through each outdoor area basically. The instances are designed for small teams primarily, but have some ability to scale, although this is more subtle than CoH/CoV. Also the control points in the outdoor areas are also places that benefits from having teams. Although it is stirctly not necessary to form teams, it generally requires multiple players – unless the player level is (sometimes substantially) higher than the enemies. If you get into the higher levels, the requirement to team even in the outdoor areas also becomes a bit more common.
Both have lots of content for teams, although CoH/CoV has the edge here with allowing everything to be team-oriented, while TR is almost forcing teams for some content.
2. Team requirements:
Both games are quite good in that they do generally not require a certain team set-up, e.g. “the holy trinity”. This makes it easier to find characters/players that fit and they are both better than many other MMOGs in that area.
Still, CoH/COV has the edge with the sidekick/exemplar functionality. While the actual level span that works for a team is quite small in the game the sidekick/exemplar functionality more than makes up for that limitation. This makes it possible to transform another players effective level to be quite close (same or 1 level below) to a player character they pair up with in the team.
Which means that almost anyone can be invited to a team. There is a split where heroes and villains cannot team together in most places of the game though.
In TR the usable level range is quite forgiving for team compared to some other games, so everyone does not have to be very close in level. However, without any sidekick/exemplar-like functionality there is still a shorter level span in practice for teaming.
3. Team content experience:
In CoH/CoV most instanced areas are built with with a few common building blocks and players become all too familiar with those. Some of the story content is quite good, but requires reading a number of text “clues”, which may be received at times when there is not much opportunity to read them.
In TR the instanced areas are much more varied and the environment itself a quite enjoyable experience and quite good-looking in comparision. The story is also more accessible and visible in TR. There are also text here to enhance the story experience, but this is generally associated with the missions taken.
Both games can take advantage of some scripted encounters and added allies in the missions.
In this are TR is the overall winner.
4. Mission re-play and co-play:
So bundling up a number of people to take on some team content missions, how does that work with what everyone in the team has done before or not?
In CoH/CoV everyone can participate in the mission content, regardless of whether they actually have the mission or not, or whether they have done it before or not. It is automatically shared with all in the team, including progess, objectives and rewards. Which means in practice that whether people have the same missions or are at the same step in a series of missions does not matter so much.
In TR, missions are more traditional. Most missions can only be played through once. If you join to play in an instance where you have already been, you do not get to participate in the story progress other than what you may see as an outside observer. This dimishes the experience unless you are all at the same page. Missions can be shared, but only if those mission could have been picked up directly anyway from the mission giver.
And what maybe is worse, many instances seem to get into “bug infestation mode” if your team has members that have partially completed the missions available while some others haven’t. The game logic seems to have trouble handling that, often resulting in some frustraing experiences trying to work around the limitations in some way.
Also, if people get disconnected from the game and have to log back in, the state if the instance and the mission may not be synchronized and they only way to be able to complete it is to reset the instance and start over again.
It requires everyone to be on the same page mission wise and also to potentially have some spare time and good relations between people if disconnects starts to happen. These are the most frustrating aspects of TR teaming in my opinion.
5. Looking for teams:
CoH/CoV has a pretty good search tool to find team members, which makes it easy to look for potential members and to “announce” if you are interested in teaming.
TR has an LFG chat channel, by default in a separat chat tab. There is a new LFG tool on its way in a future release, but right now CoH/CoV is simply much better in this area.
This past week has been a double XP week for teaming in Tabula Rasa – you get twice the normal XP in teams, which was already better than solo. Obviously this is to encourage people to team up more. Personally I do not care much for the exact amount of XP,but rather the other points mentioned here. Less obstacles and inconveniences will make for better and more enjoyable teaming, not more XP.
Polish. Innovation. Two quite overused words when it comes to MMORPG discussions and which seem to become some general blunt weaponry to smack around with either to defend or attack some game in the genre.
Polish entered the stage with World of Warcraft and while at that point seemed to describe games whose properties were few annoying bugs and a number of game mechanics which did not completely suck and worked fairly well together. Which was a bit rare at that point, at least at the release of an MMORPG.
Now it seems to generally be used for the initial use, but with some added mesarement on how good the user of the word thinks a game is. E.g. World of Warcraft is more polished than insert-any-game-here.
How do you measure polish? What are the units? Is this polish measurement all that matters? If game a has 10 polish and game B has 12 polish, will players pick game B then? How much more polish matters?
If the game from a technical perspective works generally well and game mechanics are mostly positive experiences, then the game is “polished” enough to me. There is no “more polished” and even if there were, it does not really matter. Lack of “polish” can get int he way of the fun of the game, but more “polish” does not make the game more fun or better.
And innovation – people must have listened too much to Bill Gates and his crew who used the innovate word for way too many things in my opinion. And it is used as it is the only way to salvation for the MMORPG games. And when people are talking about innovation they are asking for things they think is more fun than what they are currently used to, once they see it and like it. Which is a quite different thing.
It seems every time a new game is released in the past few years a discussion with “Innovation” (or lack thereof), “clone” and similar words pop up. Age of Conan gets a bit of that now, Tabula Rasa and Pirates of the Burning Sea had that a few months ago and Warhammer Online and Chronicles of Spellborn will surely have that as well.
People are talking about “WoW clones” or “WoW killers”, perhaps saying that it is too much of the first and too little of the latter. Which is a bit #2 from the cow’s husband. What some people here, in particular many WoW players, are looking for is a “better WoW than WoW” referring to them as “WoW killers”, projecting some lack of complete satifaction with their game of choice, but without wanting to give up that unless it feels meaningful to do so. And it becomes meaningful if “everyone else” would jump on this killer game and it it would feel like a better WoW than WoW.
This is not just for WoW of course, but due to its market size there are more people in that situation and it may also accentuate the feeling of playing the “winner”, which also makes it more meaningful than other games for some.
While I think these are quite understandable and human reactions I think it may hurt the game market – they do not only have to be fun and functionally working properly (for the most part), but also have to fight a legacy with gaming hours spent in a meaningful way.