The Rise of “Guilds,” and the Fall of “Heroes”

As one MMO flies to incredible new heights, another that once promised players that very feature is coming to an end.

Recently the MMO world was hit with two big bits of news as “Guild Wars 2” developer ArenaNet posted on their Facebook page, that all first party digital downloads of the new mega hit MMO are suspended temporarily in order to insure server stability. While the game is still available through third party sites and retail stores, the developers themselves feel they have a responsibility to everyone in the game to hold off on new sales directly from them, so that play isn’t interrupted. Currently new methods to expand digital services are being looked at.

Hot off the heels of that announcement comes another from the publisher of “Guild Wars 2,” NCsoft, that they will be folding Paragon Studios, and therefore effectively bringing an end to that developer’s MMO title “City of Heroes” by the end of the year.

The reasons for these individual stories of success and untimely demise are both simple and complex, but ultimately revolve around each other.

First, in case you didn’t follow the insane pre-release hype, or immediately snatch up the product that finally launched, “Guild Wars 2″ is slowly taking the online world by storm in a way that no other MMO has done since “World of Warcraft” itself. It’s doing this through an incredible art style with a scope and integrity never before seen in a game like this, a PvP system that’s so brilliant and well executed it looks to make all other competitive systems irrelevant by the time it kicks into gear, and maybe best of all, a level of difficulty that rewards players for putting more time into it by actually making the game better as you go along, instead of creating more incentive for new players, and providing cold shoulders for veterans. Tying it all together, unlike “WoW,” “Guild Wars 2” is free to play, continuing one of the more welcome video game trends in some time.

I’ve had the privilege of playing the game recently, and I don’t think I could give you an honest critical review of it. That’s because despite some of its flaws, I have such a deep and abiding respect for the game that questions of review scores and likes or hates are irrelevant. It’s one of those stand up and take notice games that only come along once in a while, even if all of the specifics aren’t perfect.

Oddly though, it seems to achieve such lofts, a sacrifice of sorts had to be made. That seems to be the largest reason behind the cancellation of service for “City of Heroes,” as reports still have the game boasting a sizable player base, and even reporting some respectable sales figures as recently as last year for such an aging title.  However, earlier this year NCsoft reported its first companywide loss in a while, and at the time “City of Heroes” was at the bottom of the sales list. With other ongoing projects to support, and bigger titles on the horizon, it would seem “City of Heroes” fell to the archvillian known as fiscal reports, and nothing more.

Unfortunately it’s not easy to look at this as a case of one door closing and another opening. As good as “Guild Wars 2” is, and as great as it promises to be, “City of Heroes” long stood as the somewhat appropriate icon of hope in the MMO world. It wasn’t a fantasy or sci-fi game, yet it produced a well built and, initially, successful MMO. Now that it has fallen to a, admittedly well worthy, challenger to the “WoW” crown of fantasy MMO dominance, I worry that the message will become more and more clear in developer’s minds that new entrants in the genre are unwelcome, especially if they are trying something different.

In a year’s time I feel that the MMO market will be hotly divided by “Guild Wars 2” players, and by “WoW” addicts, and with good reason. At that time, the mention of a title like “City of Heroes” won’t lead to tears, but rather fond memories. Still, I wish that it were possible for the game to continue in some capacity for as long as it can. Because while the game’s sales figures may have been mild mannered like reporter Clark Kent, beneath the corporate visage of numbers lied an idea of originality, individuality, and innovation in the American way.

Underneath it, lied a true MMO hero.

WoW PvP: crowd control gone wild

WoW Arena.

I’ve been spending a good bit of my game time playing World of Warcraft and I’ve been enjoying the expansion so far. Yes, it is more of the same, but my favorite class (hunter) has been reworked and feels like he did in early BC when I learned to love him. It’s been good to see Blizzard speed up some of the more tedious aspects of the game, and it’s nice having populated worlds again.

My main focus in the game now is PvP. I did the raiding thing for a while, but I just don’t have those big chunks of time to put toward a single dungeon any more. I want to jump in some BGs, go work on my Archaeology, go bleed some gold from the auction house, and work on my professions in a play session. PvP is a lot more conducive to that. PvP in WoW has always disappointed me a bit. There are just too many different skills to worry about from the different classes, and without thorough study, it can be tough to know what happened to you in a fight. I often find myself looking at the combat log (a feature League of Legends desperately needs) and then googling the various effects to see what the hell they are.

The biggest problem, though, is CC. Crowd Control in WoW is one of the worst active game systems on the market today. It is entirely plausible that you will be unable to control your character for stretches as long as 30 seconds, during which you will most definitely die. Blizzard woefully tries to address this with diminishing returns, but those returns are player specific, so you can get chain-disabled by a group of 2-3 players without them incurring much penalty.

There are a lot of good ideas out there for fixing this, but I thought I’d share my own variation, from a post on the Battleground forums:

The CC in WoW always brings me back to a simple game design principle: is the anti-fun generated by the mechanic greater than the fun generated by the mechanic. The answer is overwhelmingly yes.

Someone in the thread mentioned that the goal of WoW PvP is to deny your opponent the ability to fight instead of outfighting them. It’s unfortunately true, and again, really not fun for either side. Do I get a sense of accomplishment when I kill a target that doesn’t move and I just shred away for 15 seconds? No. And the guy getting killed is obviously having very little fun. Loss of character control will always be a crap mechanic for the receiving player. The fact that it can last as long as 20-30 seconds (with disables from a couple toons) is just absurd.

To all the people saying the equivalent to “get cleansed bro,” players don’t always have a cleanse nearby, and suggesting they should get one doesn’t at all address the problem. Nerf the CCs, and nerf cleanse with them so it doesn’t get to the point that you can’t lock that warrior down.

A [global diminishing returns system] would be awesome, but I’d also love to see some system where CC breaks when you take some percentage of your health in damage – let’s say 10 percent for the sake of argument. You get stunned, as soon as your health is reduced by 10 percent of it’s max, the CC breaks and you become immune for X amount of time. I say reduced because heals could prolong it – this would hopefully remind people to kill the damn healer. Fights would have so much more back and forth and be infinitely more interesting. It would also rightly encourage people to use CCs against their off-target for spell interrupts. Put that kind of system with a GDR and PvP is instantly more interesting. You’d probably have to move the damage/healing slider a bit, but any change would require some across the board tweaking.

Even though WoW is the rampaging juggernaut of the video game world, it could learn a lot from burgeoning fields, like the MOBA world. I’ll let you know how it feels when I have a couple hundred games under my belt, but for now I feel like I’m either getting disabled to death or doing the disabling. It’s not very often that I’m hitting someone who’s hitting me back.

Cataclysm CE features announced, I sigh

Cataclysm Collector's Edition

I’ve never understood the collector’s editions for World of Warcraft. I really enjoy the game, but there are so many easily attainable pets (which is the only thing that really entices me out of the feature list) that I can’t really understand dropping the extra cash on it. People spend money on weirder stuff, and I guess there’s enough involved to keep the crazy lore freaks happy.

Here’s what you get:

CATACLYSM EXCLUSIVE BEHIND-THE-SCENES DVD:
• Over an hour of developer interviews and commentaries, discussing the game’s development from early design through finished gameplay.
• The Cataclysm intro cinematic and major content patch trailers complete with Director’s Commentary.
• A special Warcraft retrospective examining the rich gaming history of the Warcraft universe.

COLLECTOR’S EDITION SOUNDTRACK:
• Seventeen epic tracks from Cataclysm.

THE ART OF CATACLYSM:
• 176 pages of art, featuring never-before-seen images from the archives of the Blizzard Film Department and the World of Warcraft development team.
• Progressive visuals from every stage of development – from early concepts through to finished, detailed art.

WORLD OF WARCRAFT®: CATACLYSM™ PC/MAC GAME:
• The full World of Warcraft expansion set on CD-ROM and DVD-ROM.

WORLD OF WARCRAFT TRADING CARD GAME STARTER PACKS AND EXCLUSIVE CARDS:
• One 60-card deck from the new Wrathgate series featuring two extended art cards and visuals from several of fantasy’s top creators.
• Two exclusive hero cards, marking the first appearance of goblin and worgen heroes in the WOW:TCG.
• One full-sized rule book to teach you how to play.

EXCLUSIVE IN-GAME PET:
• He may not be a breaker of worlds… at least not yet… but Lil’ Deathwing will still aid you in your titanic struggle to save Azeroth from his much, much larger counterpart.

CATACLYSM MOUSEPAD:
• A special-edition mouse pad depicting Deathwing menacing the ravaged continents of Azeroth.

See, there’s some good stuff in there. Gamestop lists the box set at $79.99.

All Roads Return to WoW: The people are still the important part

Keep your people close.

I know a lot of you don’t enjoy WoW, or at the very least you’ve burnt out, but I’m still having a lot of fun playing, and I can only see that going up. The main reason: people.

I got back into WoW basically because I knew that a buddy who plays League of Legends was around. I didn’t think – not in a million years – that I would be back with my old raiding guild just a month after I started playing again. It’s actually pretty exciting and has turned out to be the thing I missed most from the game experience on the whole. It’s really nice to have a group of people consistently around for a game. I have that to a smaller extent currently in LoL, but I spent hours with these guys (and gals – hi Ishi!), for good or ill, and it’s been fun to reconnect.

If you find yourself bored or disinterested in any game, I’d recommend one of two things – get to know some people in game, or get to know some people in real life. Either way, you win and win big.

All Roads Return to WoW: The decision

WotLK loading screen.

As you all know, I play a ton of League of Legends. The game has a lot of what I’m looking for in my ideal gaming experience – complexity, challenge, variety, frequent updates, and on and on. I still find myself craving something different from time to time, though, and most recently I’ve been wanting to play an MMO.

The obvious solution was to resub to WoW – I had played Warcraft at the same immersion level as I played LoL between my 600th and 900th win, which is to say every day, a couple hours a day. But I left WoW for a reason, a lot of them actually, so I did a bit of research and decided to give a couple other games a chance.

A friend from LoL recommended I try Global Agenda, a futuristic dystopian MMO. It’s had some decent reviews and I liked the idea behind a couple of the classes. Unfortunately, the magic wasn’t there. For me to put in the time it takes to learn all the new mechanics and intricacies an MMO brings (I can’t do it casually – moderation just isn’t my strong suit) I need to be hooked and hooked early. Global Agenda couldn’t do that. The first five levels are a scripted intro in which you don’t see any other players. You get dumped into a small city at the end, from which you can queue for battleground-style missions with other players. That’s pretty much it. I know there are a few more options as you level up, but for the most part you end up standing around a city, staring at other characters who, for the most part, look exactly alike. Not worth my $50.

There wasn’t much else out there. I had tried Dungeons and Dragons Online some time back and never really gotten into it. I picked up Age of Conan and Warhammer back when I was falling out of love with WoW and they both just made me go back to Warcraft. Reading over their current news, patches, and forums, I realized they were probably the same drab graphical and mechanical experiences that turned me away in the first place (seriously, can anyone actually tell what is happening in your typical Warhammer fight? Fix your spell animations, Mythic).

There was really only one option left, and it was the first one I had thought up. Go back to WoW. Oh, those dreaded words. It felt almost immediately like I was giving in to a habit I had managed to kick. I felt beaten, my resolve trumped by Blizzard’s finely-tuned skinner box. In truth, though, I had a lot of fun with WoW, and I still have faith that WoW can be an enjoyable game for casuals and hardcore players alike.

With that in mind, I’ll be mixing this column in with the usual League of Legends posts, covering my impressions on a return to WoW after more than a year away from the game (even a year ago I only played for a couple months, returning from a short hiatus). So far it’s been a lot of fun. Stick around to see if that can continue.

First round of WoW class changes are up

Level 80 Shaman.Yesterday we got news that Blizzard would start to preview the class changes coming with WoW: Cataclysm. Good to its word, the changes are up on the official forums. So far it’s just Shamans and Warlocks, but it’s something, right?

The changes seem…good? I don’t know. Honestly, it’s been so long since I’ve played either class that it’s tough to say whether the changes are actually decent or if they’re just changes that will be unqualified until they’ve actually been tested. My guess is the latter. This kind of thing usually takes a while to properly iron out, and even then there are periods of underwhelming results for a lot of classes. Remember the sad state of the elemental shaman?How bout the retadin?

Today also brings word that press-only beta opt-in invites are going out. That points to a very close beta date, but the fact that it’s press only means it’s probably a hype ploy. Why give it only to the press if you want real testing? Because they’ll leak things, that’s why. I’m sure Blizzard is well aware of the fact that people have been losing interest and with Bob Kotick at the helm, you can bet everyone at Activision is anxious to keep profits high.

You want WoW news, you got it

WoW Cataclysm wallpaper.It figures just one day after I write a post wondering what happened to everyone’s favorite MMO, Blizzard decides to unveil some of the major changes coming to each of the game’s ten classes. Oh, except Paladins, but really, who likes Paladins anyway?

Technically, we don’t have the changes just yet. There was a post on the official forums, though, that said we’d get a preview of the new spells, skill changes, talent trees, and other class modifications to be found in Cataclysm within 24 hours. As to the Paladin thing, here’s what Blizzard had to say:

The paladin is still deep in development. Instead of giving a preview that would be potentially less comprehensive than the other classes we made the decision to post it when it’s ready, in order to properly honor the paladin class and those that play them. The wait isn’t too long however as we’re expecting to be able to post it on April 16.

I would never have guessed that “deep in development” meant one week from public consumption, but I’m not a developer now, am I.

This is a big day for the crackheads. It’s the first real news about specific changes in Cataclysm since the expansion was announced.

Source: WoW Forums

What happened to WoW?

WoW April wallpaper.The last I heard of World of Warcraft was that it’s losing steam. Blizzard’s juggernaut finally stopped growing and has actually been on the decline. The Cataclysm announcement seemed to spark interest for some a while back but without a hard release date, it’s tough to keep ex-WoW players’ interest.

I was thinking today about my former days as a WoW player and I realized I haven’t heard a single thing about the actual game in at least a year. I fired up Chrome and made my way to the official site to see what I had been missing. As it turns out, not much.

The first two news stories are about new fan art and a couple new wallpapers. Further down the list you’ve got some news about the CCG and an announcement for a shamelessly branded wireless headset. The only game content story is about new Random Battlegrounds, which from what I can gather is just a way to queue for all the battlegrounds at once for some extra bonuses. It sounds like something that could have been implemented years ago.

It’s pretty tough to revisit WoW without thinking about the game’s eventual demise. At this point Cataclysm seems like a stopgap – just another way to buy time until the next great MMO. The revised leveling system and zones sound cool, but I’m willing to bet people will still burn out when they get to Outland/Northrend. Can you imagine leveling to 80 again? I know I can’t.

Activision gets almost 70% of its revenue from three franchises

Tauren dance, baby.Activision’s fiscal report for 2009 contained some seriously juicy news. First, there’s the scandal at Infinity Ward. Second, there’s this. The report included statistics regarding the company’s revenue sources, revealing that a large majority, like 68%, come from just three franchises: World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, and Guitar Hero. The report also noted that WoW accounts for a whopping 98% of Blizzard’s revenue.

The obvious concern is for one of those franchises to flop. One bad Call of Duty and suddenly Activision doesn’t look so stable. As the company puts things, “Due to this dependence on a limited number of franchises, the failure to achieve anticipated results by one or more products based on these franchises may significantly harm our business and financial results.” I would say so, fellas.

We already know that rhythm games are on the decline and WoW hasn’t grown in more than a year. No wonder Blizzard’s trying to push Starcraft 2 out the door by mid-year.

Source: Kotaku

WoW hasn’t grown since 2008

The Lich King.The latest word from Blizzard is that World of Warcraft remains stable. So stable that it actually hasn’t grown in more than a year. Subscription numbers for the game are right where they were back in 2008.

In case you aren’t paying attention or find yourself too tired to bother with the math, that’s prior to the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. You know, that huge release that introduced a new class and a whole new starting zone for those players. The expansion that should have given WoW the same kind of revival and explosive growth we saw from Burning Crusade. Chances are there was a pretty big spike, but those numbers have leveled off.

The only shaky part of this numbers game is that the totals include China, where WoW is currently experiencing some serious turmoil. That situation could easily account for lackluster numbers if enough players have decided to back off until the mess is sorted out.

Source: Kotaku

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