Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Could May 2008 turn into MMOpalooza?

Recent rumor had the release date for Warhammer being pushed back again after an article confused the difference between fiscal year and calendar year. A spokesman was quick to step up and clarify that Warhammer was still looking at a 2008 Q2 release date which would put it out between April and June. Age of Conan also looks to be on track and sticking with their end of May release date which will put the two game's release dates very close together. I wonder if people from Funcom and EA Mythic were giving each other the evil eye at the recent Game Developer's Conference?

Of course the big mystery is when the hell is Blizzard releasing its next expansion? They haven't even announced an estimated date yet! Recent forum mutterings have drawn parallels between the class changes in the recent 2.4 patch and the famous Before the Storm patch that prepared for the Burning Crusade. In general Blizzard likes to work in 3 month cycles and has said that the Sunwell will most likely be the last major patch before the expansion. If the 2.4 patch goes live early March this would give credence to an early summer release. Just one point to mention is that Jeff Kaplan has been reported as saying they do have more patch content in case Wrath of the Lich King needed more time. I'm thinking most likely the level 80 revamp of Naxx is already done and it could be tuned down to 70 in case of an emergency.

Still it looks like there is a distinct possibility we could see three new games all released within a month of one another. This would be an event unheralded in the history of MMO games though there have been several side by side releases. Such contests have almost always resulted in one obvious winner and one loser since gamers can't really afford or concentrate on two new MMOs at the same time. Also provoking the issue is the summer timeframe for all three games. The summer is often a rough patch for guilds in MMOs with vacations often causing key members to be take breaks or even quit. However, with summer vacations also comes lots of free time which needs to be filled with entertainment. This is why the movie industry targets the summer so heavily. New MMOs could see this time period as the perfect opportunity to break players away from their established favorites.

Funcom is probably the least worried about competing since they see their market as different from Warhammer and Wrath of the Lich King. This is probably why they were the only ones to give a firm release date. However, I'm sure both Blizzard and EA Mythic are worried about the effect of a mature rated MMO. Could it establish a dominant bond with male players by its use of gore and boobies? Over the last few years designers have stressed political correctness in an attempt to appeal to a wider market, the reason a lot of the troll /silly jokes were removed. It’s almost refreshing to see someone ignore this and design specifically for a niche. Most people predict Age of Conan won’t surpass 200,000 but no one really knows the market for a mature MMO aimed at guys.

What should really be a two game competition between Warhammer and Wrath of the Lick King might be started off early by Age of Conan. As Hillary found out this primary season you can never guess how an unknown variable will affect a popularity contest. OMG, did I just draw a parallel between the presidential race and MMOs? All attempts at humor aside one has to wonder if this is a plus or negative for the players. Most MMOs because of their progressively increasing items and levels eventually become hard for new players to pick up. By the time a year has pass they’re riddle with inflation and a lack of low level players to group with. I would rather have my new MMOs spread out over the course of the year instead of all jam packed together. Then again I admit a burning curiosity to see who would win in a three way death match.


Rohan said...

I would be very surprised if Naxx is the stop-gap instance. Remember that only the cutting edge will really see the last instance, and that would mean Naxx fills that spot twice in a row.

Second, Naxx is meant to be the entry level instance in WotLK, so that everyone gets a chance to see it, and moving it to 2.5 would mean that all the content above Naxx 2.0 would need to be retuned.

Personally, I think the most likely filler content would be a new Caverns of Time instance. Easy to drop in, and also easy to retune for later use, perhaps in the expansion after WotLK.

Relmstein said...

Well I know for sure the Burning of Stratholm is being added to the Caverns of Time instance. But I think its a 5-man instance and I'm not sure it would be enough to fill up an entire patch. There could also be another 25 man raid for it but I think they would want to save that for the actual box sales.

Here's hoping Wrath of the Lich King is coming out soon though honestly between the three games I have no idea which one will be the best.

Tobold said...

To believe in a May 2008 release of WotLK and WAR you need to believe that both Blizzard and EA Mythic for some strange strategical reason managed to hide large parts of their development and will pull them out of their hats like a rabbit in May. Nothing in the published announcements of features, leaked reports of beta players, or official websites or forums suggests that either game is just 3 months from release.

If there is a simultaneous release of WAR and WotLK, it is more likely to happen in Q4 2008, a replay of the Q4 2004 simultaneous release of EQ2 and WoW. Even the famous "when it's ready" philosophy can go a bit soft when the christmas shopping season arrives.

Cow Nose the 50 Pound Cat said...

As my 2 cents I have heard that game developers just pretend to hate each other but really behind the scenes where the public can't see them they are taking shots together.

Relmstein said...

Alcohol and small glasses with funny logos make us all friends in the end.

I think Warhammer will deffinitely come to the party during the summer. Quite frankly everyone assumed Age of Conan was going to suck and its looking more and more like that is not the case. Warhammer has the most to lose from allowing Age of Conan to recuit people from World of Warcraft unfettered. I think right now there's a large amount of people who are just looking for new content and don't care what new MMO they find it in.

alcaras said...

Wrath isn't coming out until Christmas 08, at the _earliest_.

Trebormojo said...

I agree that WoTLK won't be out until Christmas time. I think Conan will be first and WAR will come out before WoTLK.

I think WAR will take alot of WoW's players but they'll come back for the expansion if WAR is too buggy.

Kaziel said...

Tobold pretty much hit the nail on the head. WAR, based on every screen shot I've seen from Beta is no where even close to being release ready.

As for WotLK, unless they've been amazingly effective at keeping things under wraps, I've heard nor seen anything concerning a Closed Beta period for the expansion. Considering how absolutely vital and time-consuming the testing in Beta was for tBC, the concept of them not doing it for WotLK or being able to complete it in 3 months is unlikely at best.

And while I won't deny the possibility of them somehow managing to keep the WotLK beta completely unannounced (possible since they did it with Starcraft II), but a proper beta would consist of thousands of players, and the idea of them keeping them all quiet is highly improbable.

Generally speaking I'm expecting WotLK to be Q4 at the earliest and WAR to be Q3 for it's actual release date.

alcaras said...

Kaziel, SC2 isn't in Beta yet nor has it been.

Relmstein, Naxx will be the entry level 25 man in Wrath.

Relmstein said...

At the moment Naxx is the announced entry level raid for Wrath of the Lich King. However, I believe in an emergency to buy more time they might retune it for those just finishing off Sunwell. I'm basing this on Jeff Kaplan's remark that they do have emergency patch content to buy more time for development.

Also I find a Q4 release date for Wrath a little hard to believe since its been stated several times that the Sunwell was supposed to be the last major patch before the expansion. We'll most likely see 2.4 in the beginning of March and then at May/June the expansion or another content patch.

Kaziel said...

Alcaras: When I mentioned SC2 I meant that somehow they managed to keep the existence of it completely quiet for around four years. SC2 began being developed (under the codename Medusa) shortly after WC3:TFT was released in mid 2003. Of course people speculated about SC2 being in development, there was (to my knowledge) no leaks on it for four years. That's what I meant.

Captain Angry said...

Speculation, hearsay, speculation, hearsay. Lets just let the games come out already!

Its just a matter of which way the WoW zombie horde is gonna shamble. AoC and warhammer SHOULD be racing to come out. Either title is going to take a lot of people away from WoW. Namely PVP nuts and people just sick of warcraft.

But if they both come out simultaneously, they might just punch eachother out and everybody will go back to warcraft.

I think the key is the earlier launch, get people ensconced and invested. The other newcomer will fizzle. Then batten down the hatches for lich king.

Stop said...


Blizzard announcement stating there will be a hands-on version for both SC2 and WotLK at a tournament in end up June. I can't remember how long BC came out after all the stuff at Blizzcon, but I would guess the same time frame after this event for WotLK.