I have seen a few posts from various bloggers about how bad 2009 was for MMOs. Personally I do not quite agree. For me personally there were more interesting new titles released in 2009 than in 2008. But also considerations for a good/bad year should include existing games as well – new expansions and changes, different price and payment models etc.
Thoughout 2009 I have played/tried a few different MMO or MMO-type games:
City of Heroes/Villains, Guild Wars, Lord of the Rings Online, Chronicles of Spellborn, Runes of Magic, Jade Dynasty, Project of Planets, Zero Online, Vendetta Online, Pirate Galaxy, Champions Online, Saga of Ryzom, Dungeons & Dragons Online, Fallen Earth, World of Kung Fu, Twelve Sky 2, Age of Conan, EVE Online, Shin Megami Tensei, FusionFall Online, GhostX – perhaps a few others also that I have forgotten about. Some of these would be an emphasis on tried rather than played though – for various reasons I barely completed the tutorial on some.
While otherwise limited in content updates, I loved when NCSoft/Paragon Studios released Mission Architect for City of Heroes/Villains. A really great feature! It was however plagued with being exploited by some and also in a sense too successful – too many story arcs and less than adequate search tools initially caused some trouble. While it is used by players today, it has perhaps not created the subscriber success that some may have hoped for. Still, it is an important step in making an innovative approach to MMO content a reality. I think that was one of the major milestones of 2009.
With the exception of Guild Wars, most of the fantasy titles I only played for short periods of time. Sometimes a bit grindy and with no special love for the fantasy genre, I gre tired of most of them quickly. Guild Wars has been lots of fun though – partially because it is a good game, but also very much due to the people of Tuesday Noob Club. Not played much lately though and the combination of real life schedule and lack of excitement for fantasy titles has contributed to that.
Just as I managed to totally avoid Warhammer Online last year I also totally avoided Aion this year, and World of Warcraft as usual. There simply has not been any compelling eason to consider playing either of the games.
Champions Online has received the bulk of my play time lately and for good reason – it is an excellent and fun game if you just want to mess around a bit, blow off some steam and get your mind of real life issues, just for a short bit. It is a good complement to other games or other activities.
I think most of the games I have played or tried I have not written much about – which is not to say that there are bad games. Sometimes it has just been bad timing, or some technical issue. I am glad that I have at least tried a fair number of games and see more of what is out there, rather than just focus on a few new Western subscription-based titles and live on the hope that the next big title with be it.
I think it was either The Chronicles of Spellborn or Saga of Ryzom that were among the first of the subscription-based MMOs to offer free trials which were not limited in time, but rather how far you can get into the game. This approach has then been picked up by Warhammer Online, Age of Conan and Champions Online.
One thing that these games all have in common is that they are not really fighting in the absolute top with regard to subscriber-numbers, so understandably they have to do more to entice people to play. But some of them are still not going the path of “free-to-play” model and some of them keep the same subscription fees. Is an unlimited free trial enough?
In Ryzom you are restricted to the tutorial area, which you can spend a few hours. Age of Conan is limited to the Tortage area, which is also a number of hours, although a bit different game from what is outside Tortage. Champions Online is restricted to the Millenium City crisis zone (the tutorial zone), where someone typically would spend their first 5-6 levels, but in theory possible here to stay until 15. I do not know what the restrictions are for Warhammer Online, have not tried that game.
I guess it is a sign of the times that it becomes more difficult to compete in the MMO space – go back a couple of years and many MMOs were probably doing ok financially even if there were not big blockbuster successes. In the last 2-3 years it has been more of a mixed bag, at least that is how it appears.
I would not be surprised if we relatively soon will see that almost all games will have their first part “free” in some way and unlimited in time, to get people to try it.
Recently The Chronicles of Spellborn had a new update of the game released. One of the major changes in the game was a new tutorial. The feedback the developers had received was that the old one was perhaps leaving a few things to be desired.
I would have to agree with that. The old tutorial made too many assumptions about players figuring out or knowing how to play already.
Does the new tutorial do a better job? I would say that it is a definite improvment in a number of ways.
It seems that it is finally time for the next update of The Chronicles of Spellborn to go live. Threre seem to be a lot of fixes according to the patch notes.
I did see that the quests that have been bugged for me have been fixed, which is nice to see. Also there are more menaces added to the world, which means that Tiny Tyke will have some more fellow player harassers spread out in the world
(Menaces are pretty much tough and hostile named mobs, wandering around in various areas).
There is also an entirely new tutorial, which I think is great. The previous tutorial was a bit weak, especially if people were unfamiliar with game specifics of TCOS, but also with MMOs in general. I will certainly create a new character to try it out – maybe I will learn something more
I did not see any explicit comment about spawn rates for some mobs (which has been perhaps a bit too high in some places) – this will be an important factor for player enjoyment, I think.
With this release done I hope there will be some more progress on the release of the game for the rest of Europe and North America. I also hope that they will actually get rid of the ridiculous IP-blocking scheme – at a minimum I hope at least each continent can play together, but preferably there would not be any restrictions where you could play.
Setting and accomplishing goals, even if no-one else knows about them, is an important part of the gaming experience I think. My current playlist consists of four different MMOs and the goals for each tend to vary a bit:
City of Heroes/Villains: My longest running game so far, 31 months and counting. While I have not experienced everything on the villain side, I have played through a large part of it and many times also. There is not really anything that keeps me playing for too long on that side, except to have some fun with friends who want to play on villain side. There is also a bit of a meta-goal: to get all my dominators to max level. A long time ago I set up a goal to get all the dominator pets and consequently I also created dominators covering all powerset options available. That goal was reached long ago. Dominators are still my favourite archetype and as long as there were other interesting content and goals to be set, I usually played it with a dominator.
Today I have 4 dominators at max level and 2 more around 40 (39 + 43). But without any other plausible goals on villain side may possibly not get the dominators to max level – I will certainly not grind my way there just to get some level.
On hero side it is easier, since I have not played that much and there are still zones and areas I have barely touched yet. However, with a controller at 41 this part may fade a bit. If I can jump into the game and team up with some friends I absolutely jump in and play, because that is an area CoX excels in. But there is little else currently driving my play.
Guild Wars: This game I think it absolutely brilliant in its design. Not only does it have excellent story content and very little grind type content. It also provides all sorts of added challenges and pieces to help set goals both for PvE and PvP. The story-driven content is very much in what is called cooperative missions, with some quests sprinkled in between them (and not grindy “kill X boars”). Each of the cooperative missions have a base requirement for completion, but also a master/bonus requirement, which typically is a bit harder to reach. There are also other types of missions which provides high score type gaming, PvP etc. Combine all that with the excellent skill system which provides a lot of freedom to mix and combine skills to fit the current challenge – there is no one size fits all. And if the story lines are completed that unlocks hard mode, which could be compared to heroic/elite mode of content in some other games – and that is all mission content and all zones.
Add to this a number of titles that can be strived for that actually have some meaning or a sense of accomplishment; e.g. survivor titles that is earned if the character does not die at all, protector titles for completing master levels of all cooperative missions, explorere titles for actually visiting and seeing a large part of the zones and the different areas in those zones. The game makes it very easy to set various goals and I always tend to have at least a few different ongoing goals. Finding motivation to play has not really been an issue – everything from experiencing the story arcs, exploring the beautiful world, trying out new some new skill combos or play styles, working towards some title etc.
The Chronicles of Spellborn: Two pieces are driving here – the neat combat system and the interesting setting and environment. The combat system is quite different from other MMOs – not the regular button-mashing type, but which requires a bit more presence and thought sometimes. In a way it pushes similar buttons (pardon the pun) that Guild Wars’ skill system does – provide room for improvement and encouraging some experiementation on that path.
The setting and the lore of the Spellborn world is another driving factor. Exploring and learning more about the world is absolutely a significant set of goals here. While the quest system does not have a huge amount of quests and some of them are of the “kill X boars” type, it also provides number of quests with enjoyable stories – perhaps exposng and learning more of the lore of the workd, or perhaps some comical twist. Perhaps because there are not so many quests those that are good and is worth remembering stand out easier. While I might rank Guild Wars higher in terms of quest quality I still think Spellborn does a farily good job. Even with some kill and fedex quests I still am interested in doing more, since the already completed quests have been good enough overall for me to want to go for more.
However, the whole split of the European market and some current bugs and misfeatures does dampen the will to play a bit right now. So I am waiting a bit to see what happens. I will still be paying for the game even if I not play; it has enough potential that I do not want this one to vanish due to lack of paying customers.
Lord of the Rings Online: This is my black sheep. The game is easily the prettiest MMO that I have seen and the epic story line seems nice and interesting enough. While there are a lot of different ways to advance your character in the game, too much of it feels like it is some kind of grind to get to the goals and getting there may not be that interesting. I certainly do not feel any sense of accomplishment for being awarded just having used a certain skill 500 times, or killed X number of some certain type of enemy, which I might almost do blind-folded as long as I remember which buttons to press.
I do want to like the game and and find things to drive my play time in there. But I struggle with this to find enough that do not feel grindy and feel worthwhile.
There is some more details on the upcoming Spellborn update as well as some of the plans they have for the game, both in the EU forums and on the TCOS web site. This is mainly an update from a content perspective, so it does not address the publisher and IP block issues, spawn rates etc that are not strictly content related.
Good to see a bit on the plans for the future, although I hope they will provide some updates soon in publisher and access areas.
There seems to be a content+bugfix update scheduled for the end of this month for Spellborn, according to community manager Banshee:
A content patch is planned for end of January, containing, again, truckloads of bugfixes, some new content and game improvements. More info and news about it will be released in the coming weeks.
No details yet, but I am eager to see what game improvements and bug fixes that are included. More content is also fine and I think some people who have gained fairly high levels may be looking for more content.
Lately I have been playing four different games: Chronicles of Spellborn, Lord of the Rings Online, City of Heroes and Guild Wars. Alternating between the games have worked out rather well so far and some direct comparisions are inevitable.
In Chronicles of Spellborn I currently play Wolf, a trickster (level 15) which is a rogue type class. Tricksters speciality is to use gadgets to trigger certain effects, e.g. cause enemies to loose concentration, additional damage etc. There are a number of different skills to distract enemies, become more evasive and also get increased damage if the enemy is backstabbed. One skill to aid there also is a teleport spell, which instantly transports you behind the currently faced enemy. It is a bit tricky to get right to get the full effect of a follow-up backstab. But all in all there is a number of neat skills to play around with.
Spellborn is played in a post-apocalypic world where the remains of civilisation lives on/in big chunks of rock with its own atmosphere, called shards. The shards float around in the Deadspell Storm. Starting characters start on the Parliament shard and from there continue to other shards, as well as travel back. Each shard has a number of zones. It is a fantastic setting and there is a lot of lore and learning about the world as one progresses with different quests.
The game itself is a bit different than many current MMOs; in particular the combat system takes a quite different approach. I think it is brilliant; it is fairly easy to understand, but will require practice to become good with it. While I thimk I probably suck a bit here in combat I find it fun to use and get quite happy the times when it actually flows quite well in combat.
While there is a number of traditional type of “kill X boars” and delivery type quests, some quest chains actually have some neat story elements in them and a mix of activities in them which are not always obvious. I have found these quite enjoyable and a number of them also tells a bit more about the world of Spellborn and its inhabitants. In the beginning quests do not give that much fame (experience points in Spellborn), but increases significantly after the first 8-9 levels.
Equipment itself does not really matter for you characters, it is mainly for looks. Some equipment have slots for sigils (similar to enhancements in City of Heroes) which effectively act as permanent boosters similar to what is added to equipment in other MMOs. The added boosts are not that big though as far as I have seen so far, so it will not make a big impact – at least not in the lower levels. Sigils are of two types – item sigils and skill sigils. The latter can be added to specific skills to boost just that skill, while item sigils will boost everything that is related to that boost.
There is a somewhat simplistic crafting system in place – if you loot a broken item you can visit a forge and ask for a recipe to repair the item. You will then get a list of necessary resources to collect/obtain to repair it. If you have all resources you can get the item repaired at the forge for a fee.
The game is a bit old school:ish and does lack some features that other recent games has, but in a way they also restore a bit of that you actually has to but a bit of effort in what you do and makes the game more involved and engaging than other click-push-button-kill-next-quest type MMOs. There is a fine line here between more involved/engaging and perhaps frustrating game play though.
The game currently has some shortcomings in its feature and there are some bugs in the quests and other places that causes some trouble. While most of the quests do not indicate that teams are needed, not everything is easily soloable. But much of the content that is challenging for a solo player is doable for a duo and likely easy for 3 persons. The max team size of 4 is only required for very few quests – at least as far as I have seen so far. This is pretty much only quests where one has to make an assult on a big camp of enemies and/or take out a boss in a camp or something similar.
There is also not so many people around in the game; or at least not noticeable. I do think though that it has increased somewhat lately.
Despite any shortcomings it is a game I want to log back in to and play; at least when I can set aside at least 1 1/2 – 2 hours for it.
..is for a game company that runs “free-to-play” games.
If the company runs “free-to-play” games then it is likely that the majority of the players will not pay anything or very little and thus only cost the company money. The likely minority of players that pay more will more than make up for that though.
But given that players will be either profitable or non-profitable, more players may not necessarily be good for business. Only profitable players are good for business. Which probably means that certain countries and audiences are more interesting than others, depending on their likeliness to pay.
Proximity of servers may be a factor here also, if the service works better for players they might be more willing to pay for stuff.
Maybe the cost to process payments from different countries is also a factor (assuming that there may be differerences here).
Depending on the business model set up with the developers of a game (if the company is only a publisher), there may also be legal restrictions here since the developers want to sell the game to many different publishers for more profit.
Either way, running a “free-to-play” service will likely cause the companies to be selective about who will play the game, still with appearing to be free and open.
The issues with IP blocking for Chronicles of Spellborn has been my 2nd subscription-based game with such issues. The first one was Horizons back in 2003, which blocked me from playing with some game friends in the US.
I have also experienced this with some of the “free-to-play” games, locking me out even if there is no European version.
Given the background and the current games the publishers for Chronicles of Spellborn are operating (Frogster and Acclaim), it probably makes sense for them to do the same thing they might be doing with other games – they are not used to operate subscription-based games where all players are profitable.
I do not think the Spellborn IP block will go away anytime soon. Unless All publishers and Spellborn N.V. all agree on lifting the block (and likely changing the business agreements) nothing will happen in this area. And they will not do anything unless they all see some bad sales numbers and they come to the conclusion that lifting this would help.
Is this an issue we will be plagued with for all smaller games and games with separate developers and publishers which go the “free-to-play” route? What about companies like NCSoft, Blizzard, SOE, Turbine or EA? Will they put in more measures to try to maximize the ratio of profitable players if they publish “free-to-play” games and what measures would that be?
In Chronicles of Spellborn my trickster has died in combat once. Most of the deaths has been through other means, including game crash, AFK and exploration.
Before the 1.0.1 update I had a crash while running down a street which resulted in both my death and double loss of PEP (from 2 to 0). After the update though I did have another crash in the middle of a combat. I pretty much expected to log back in to a report that I had died and lost some PEP, but it turned out that neither were I dead nor any PEP had been lost! Apparently there has been some improvement that did detect the crash properly and aborted the combat in time. Good work Spellborn!
In my visit to Quarterstone I received a quest to travel to The Athenaeum if I wanted to learn more about the past. This was a bit intriguing so since I were on the Parliament shard I headed towards the Hawksmouth docks to jump on a shard ship. Some domestic issues needed a couple of minutes attention though, so I decided to park my trickster near a guard tower and go AFK, hoping that the guards would provide some protection for the wildlife.
Returning back a couple of minutes later I was greeted with a “You have died” screen… Looking at the combat logs it seemed that something with fangs had taken a couple of bites, enough to provide a terminal condition. Apparently the guards were not much help or did not care. This certainly brought back memories from some older games, were going AFK seldom were safwe anywere except perhaps in cities,e ven in PvE games. This seems to be the case here also. Lesson learned the –PEP way!