Monday, February 23, 2009

Which MMOs could be shut down in the near Future?

SOE recently announced that the last full developer for the Matrix Online was leaving the company this month. The sci-fi MMO had been picked up from Warner Brothers after a disappointing launch in 2005 and been on life support since then. Luckily, the all-access pass has generated enough interest in the game that SOE felt justified keeping a small development team on the project. By all accounts this small dev team has mostly consisted of just Ben "Rarebit" Chamberlain over the last few months. The quality and amount of updates are expected to go down as a result.

The news about the Matrix Online got me thinking about some of the 2009 predictions I made. One of which was that SOE would have to take a couple of MMOs off their all-access pass to make room for new games. While it probably costs very little to keep an already established MMO running there are other reasons why companies shut them down. Some publishers like NCSoft simply see under performing MMOs as an embarrassment which negatively effects their brand name. Still others like SOE have been keeping several games running which barely break even on subscription fees and take resources away from more populated virtual worlds.

In particular, SOE has two games on their all-access pass which are barely played by subscribers. If my understanding of the pass is correct then each game receives a percentage of the subscription revenue based on how popular they are. Planetside and the Matrix Online both have niche fan bases and I wonder if they can continue to support themselves. The recent announcement by SOE makes me suspect that future development for the Matrix Online will be sparse and that it could be shut down in the near future.

NCSoft is the other company that will be probably be shutting down more then one game in the near future. Tabula Rasa is scheduled to go offline at the end of this month even though subscription numbers were projected to be good enough to keep the game's servers running. Still as I said before NCSoft isn't interested in maintaining hobby sized MMO worlds that barely turn a profit. This policy is what has me worried about City of Heroes. Champions Online will launch this year and DC Universe won't be far behind it. While City of Heroes/Villains is currently staying above the 100k subscription mark I wonder if it can maintain those numbers in the face of so much competition.

Funcom is almost not worth mentioning since all of their games seem to be on shaky ground at the moment. Both Anarchy Online and Age of Conan were released with horrendous bugs and needed further development time. I get the feeling that Funcom is incapable of moving into the post-WoW era of MMO development and might not be around for much longer. If their next game, The Secret World, isn't a decent hit then I suspect the company might be sold off. At least Age of Conan is a good enough game that I could see another publisher keeping it running.

Turbine is probably the only development studio I'm not worried about. Even though the original Asheron's Call can't have more then 50k subscribers, I think it's enough to keep the game afloat. After all Dungeons and Dragons is only projected at having around 70k subscribers and Turbine is still producing updates at a decent rate. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if Turbine eventually started their own all-access pass since they are gathering a sizable library of quality MMOs. Of course they would probably need to announced their next project to get a lot of interest in their all-access pass. Here's hoping that the rumors of Turbine acquiring the Harry Potter license has some truth to it.

Keep in mind this is just based on my opinion, but I suspect the following games of being shut down within the next year or two for a variety of reasons.

Guaranteed Closing in 2009
Tabula Rasa

Suspected Closing in 2009
Matrix Online (Crowded All-Access Pass)
Planetside (Replaced by newer FPS MMO The Agency)

Suspected Closing in 2010
City of Heroes/Villains (Competition from CO and DCU)
Anarchy Online (If Funcom bankrupts)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Jeff Kaplan officially moves on to the new Blizzard MMO

Everyone has their own two cents on what Jeff Kaplan leaving World of Warcraft means for the game. Most agree that the decision to move onto Blizzard's new MMO is related to the raid changes that Wrath of the Lich King brought to the game. One theory is that upper management demanded a reduction in raid difficulty and that caused a irrevocable difference of opinion with the lead developer. It's not a far fetched theory since Tigole has been know for being outspoken in his design ideas and achiever like mentality. After all as the developer who coined the phrase "welfare epics" he's sort of become a symbolic representation of everything casual gamers hate about raiding. Still if I remember correctly, during last year's Blizzcon he was already saying that a majority of his time was devoted to the new MMO.

This probably means that he's been working on the project for quite some time and hasn't been that involved with Wrath of the Lich King from the start. That not only explains why the raid content in the new expansion is easier, but also why there is so little of it. It must have somewhat slowed the development team down to lose their expert raid designer. While I'm not a fan of Jeff' Kaplan's high level design ideas, I'll admit that he does quality work. Under his lead the raiding in World of Warcraft had excellent art direction and some very interesting boss encounters. Of course most of us never got to see this content so I'm not that sad to see him moving on. In fact, one of the first posts on this site was about his focus on raid content and the problems it was causing. I only hope that Blizzard's new MMO benefits from his expertise without running into the same problems.

I also have to say I'm very interested to see what Blizzard's new MMO is all about. I've been holding out for one set in the Starcraft universe, but I just don't see that fitting in with Jeff's design style. In fact I'm starting to think more and more that Blizzard is working on a new fantasy IP for their next game. Jeff seems like a fantasy guy and I just don't seem him designing raid encounters for spaceships and marine squads. Then again I could be wrong, maybe after six and half years he's tired of elves and orcs.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Visiting the Old School

Just a few days ago I actually ran through all of Blackwing Lair for the first time ever. It was a big moment for me since my original raiding guild had just started doing that instance before we took a break from raiding. Before that we had ignored a lot of the higher end raids and primarily focused on Molten Core, Onxyia, and Zul'Gurub. It was slow going to get loot from old world instances especially for a casual guild that only raided three nights a week. I remember sometimes going three weeks without any upgrades and I know some people who played more popular classes having even worse dry spells. That's probably why my guild sort of went on hiatus when the new honor system came out. All of sudden it became possible to see your progression towards earning a upgrade and everyone sort of forgot about seeing BWL, AQ, or Naxx.

Wrath of the Lich King changed all of that of course. It wasn't just that Blizzard reused Naxxramas for raid content either. The achievement system revitalized the idea of going back and playing tourist in old raid zones. Not only could players get a chance to see content they missed, but they could make some money at the same time. Daily quests may be a faster way to make money, but they get boring real quick. Also I don't know about you, but the old world armor sets seem to have more pizazz then what we have now in Wrath of the Lich King. Tier 7 makes me want to gouge my eyes out, especially when compared to the glorious Tier 2 from Blackwing Lair. I'm convinced half the interest in old world raid zones come from people who regret deleting their earlier armor sets. I'll have to admit I'm one of them.

It's funny that while I'm having a lot of fun in Naxxramas, I'm equally enjoying the other old raid zones that didn't get upgraded loot tables. It's all new content to me and I guess part of it is the challenge of figuring out how to do old raid content with a single group. None of us know these fights from previous experience so we are learning by trial and error. We could easily look it up on wowhead, but that would defeat the purpose. Encounters like Chromaggus and Ebonroc have tricks to them and it's actually fun to figure them out yourselves when a single misstep doesn't kill everyone. I think that's the idea that Blizzard is chasing with the move to more casual raiding. They may have started out by making the raids in Wrath of the Lich King a little too easy, but they are on to something. Now if they could just get the artists back from their other projects so we could get decent looking gear again.