Monday, June 29, 2009

Battlefield Heroes Commentary Part II

In Part I, I outlined how Battlefield Heroes is a bit different from the classic Battlefield series.
I'll start by saying its not my fathers Battlefield.
At a casual pace, the game is great. There are experience levels, customizable characters, and achievements (known as missions). They all provide great incentive for casual players to get the most out of a short play session.

The game is free to play, but supported by micro-transactions. It costs "battle funds", which are purchased with real money, to customize a Hero. There is everything from hats to shoulder monkeys to momentary game bonuses. Different versions, at different costs, last anywhere from a week to permanently. This allows a player to choose a crazy outfit for a week, at a cheaper cost, without the long term commitment attached.

On top of "battle funds", there is dual-currency in the form of Victory Points. Victory Points are earned via in-game mission completion and winning matches (don't worry, losers get a small amount as well). Victory Points are used to purchase weapons and extra goodies for use in game. However, these weapons/upgrades are no permanent and in order to maintain them, the player needs to continually earn Victory Points to afford the weapons they like.

This is a very smart currency system in my book. It allows for the game to be supported by the fans, without destroying outsiders ability to come in and enjoy the game. Raw, real money spent does not buy any immediate advantage for a player.

Plus, there is no need to ever pay real money for anything if a player decides they don't want to. There is no negative to this play style and only means a slight loss of uniqueness, but when bodies are dropping a dime a dozen, that monkey on that Gunner's shoulder isn't doing much anyways.

Stay tuned for Part III: The Conclusion!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Battlefield Heroes Open Beta, NDA Lifted, Commentary Abounds

Battlefield Heroes, free-to-play shooter extraordinaire, is now in open beta.
As of today, EA Digital Illusions CE has opened their newest game, Battlefield Heroes, for public play according to CinemaBlend Games. Users confirmed this morning on the Battlefield Heroes forums that a beta key is no longer needed to enter the free-to-play cartoon shooter.
Secondly, the NDA has been lifted, so I can finally talk about the game I've been playing casually for the last few months.

I'll start by saying its not my fathers Battlefield. For starters, its quasi web-based. Hit up their web page and hit the big old Play Now button. A browser plug-in download and installation later, the game downloads and from that point forward only the web page is of concern.

Heroes has its own unique style. The graphics are definitely cartoon inspired, but without this style, the game would be one giant "WTF dude"! Personally, I enjoy the cartoonist approach as I did with Team Fortress 2.

I also say "WTF dude!" because the game contains, as defaults, some of the craziest things Battlefield players have ever come up with. For example, wing riding on airplanes is automatic with no effort needed from the player. Character abilities include punching tanks and sending them flying through the sky and the showering of half a dozen grenades with the single stroke of a hot key.

There are three Hero classes at the core of the game:

Soldier
- Classic Brett Favre. Never misses a game, is a son of a bitch to take down, and throws as many OH MY GOD touchdowns as interceptions.

Commando - Classic rogue from any game ever created. Knives, sniper rifle, and stealth. Do the math.

Gunner - Classic Arnold Schwarzenegger from the Predator days. Hold that trigger down until it goes click, click, click, and nothing exists within a hundred paces.

I have love for this game, but under that love is a little bit of hate. However, that will have to wait until my next post.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Tale of Two Marks

Well, yesterday was a pretty crappy day to be a Mark in the news.

Mark Jacobs was pretty much fired as head honcho of Mythic. Not for Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning's dismal subscription numbers, but for telling the truth about MMORPGs and how they generally can be considered failures when they merge servers.
As Electronic Arts gathers both its Mythic and BioWare studios into a single group, Mythic GM and co-founder Mark Jacobs is leaving the company.
Mark Sanford, should probably be fired as Governor of South Carolina. Not for having an affair, but for skipping town to hide it and lieing about it along the way.
COLUMBIA, South Carolina -- The governor of South Carolina, a rumored 2012 presidential contender, tearfully confessed to having an affair with a woman in Argentina, dealing the latest blow to a struggling Republican Party.
So one Mark getting canned for being right and being unable to do anything about it. Another Mark that should be canned for the opposite. Strange world we live in.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Sky IS Falling: Mythic and Bioware Merged By EA

Big news today, Mark Jacobs is leaving Mythic as EA merges Mythic with Bioware.
Today we have important news to share with the community. EA is restructuring its RPG and MMO games development into a new group that includes both Mythic and BioWare. This newly formed team will be led by Ray Muzyka, co-founder and General Manager of BioWare. With this change, Ray becomes Group General Manager of the new RPG/MMO studio group. BioWare’s other co-founder, Greg Zeschuk will become Group Creative Officer for the new RPG/MMO studio group. Rob Denton will step up as General Manager of Mythic and report to Ray. BioWare’s studios remain unchanged and continue to report to Ray.

Mark Jacobs, current General Manager of Mythic will leave EA on June 23, 2009. We thank Mark for his contributions at Mythic and wish him the very best going forward. Mark played a major part in the success of Mythic with his contribution as General Manager and Lead Designer of WAR.

Mythic retains a strong team led by Rob who co-founded Mythic in 1995. Rob played a critical role in the development of Dark Age of Camelot. In his previous role as COO, he was responsible for all day-to-day management of the studio including all development, operations and support.

Please join us in celebrating the union of these two award-winning studios.
By the way, don't say I didn't say so. From my Predictions for 2009 post.
5. WAR will still be around by the end of 2009, but who remains around to develop it may be drastically different.
This should serve as further historical proof that EA is poison for any company or development studio that it consumes. Give Bioware a couple years to ferment and we'll be right back here.

May Star Wars: The Old Republic rest in pieces, broken and abused.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Aion Launch Set 4 September

Aion is set to launch:
Your adventures in Aion begin this September! NCsoft is proud to announce that Aion launches in North America on September 22, 2009 and makes its official debut in Europe starting September 25, 2009.

Not only can you find the game at your favorite retail store, Aion will also be available as a digital download at NCsoft.com, Direct2Drive, and also through Steam this September.

Don’t forget to take advantage of the special preorder promotion at participating retailers now to receive access to the Closed Beta events as well as a head start to your journeys in Atreia.

Take to the skies and become a part of a stunning world brimming with otherworldly inhabitants, mysterious enemies and ancient secrets. There is no reason hesitate - Become a part of Aion this fall!
Did I make it clear enough that the game will be available, at launch, via Steam? Woo woo!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My First Micro-Transaction

I've gone and done it. I've completed my first micro-transaction.

The game? Domain of Heroes.
The item? Starter pack, which gives increased inventory, an increased logout timer, a mule, guild-worthiness, chat message size increase, and extra wishes (wishes being the dual currency of DoH).
Price? $9.99

Anyone that has played or seen Domain of Heroes may be shocked that I spent money on it, but I had the $10 sitting to the side from a work-related bonus, so I wanted to treat myself.

Also, I felt comfortable supporting the development of DoH. The game is still rough around the edges, but looks to be maturing into an awesome casual web game. The developers/support folks are nice and can often be found online actually playing their own game and interacting with the playerbase. The community is also top notch.

Having played DoH for a couple weeks now, I've started to realize how narrow minded my game mechanic thought process has been during my years playing of AAA MMOGs. While DoH doesn't go too far off the beaten path, there are tons of small changes, along with the "set it and forget it" playstyle that make it refreshing to play.

All of this combined to increase my willingness to complete a micro-transaction.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Warhammer Top 5

Jeff Hickman recently outlined Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning's top five issues in his recent Executive Producer's Letter.
Based heavily on that feedback, our current “Top 5” areas that we are giving significant attention to are:

1. Addressing concerns related to Crowd Control and Area of Effect abilities.
2. Continuing to improve client and server stability and performance.
3. Strengthening and improving the Tier 4 experience.
4. Improving server population distribution – both in terms of overall population and realm balance.
5. Improving itemization and the overall distribution of “carrots” (rewards) throughout the game.
My comments:

1. It's sad that Mythic didn't learn anything from Dark Ages of Camelot, which had the same exact problems. Repeating mistakes is bad.

2. Performance was great in beta, but took a nosedive after launch. During my playtime, Mythic never recovered. This was probably the number one reason casual players left the game.

3. Tier 4 sucks. Horrible game design. Laughable at best.

4. Everyone knew it was going to be an issue at launch, so not sure why they are thinking they can address it now. The basic game design makes balance impossible. Without fundamental game changes, this is a lost cause.

5. I thought the rewards were pretty well distributed until players hit the roadblock that was level 40. At 40, rewards are sparse unless players grind and even then its fairly minor in terms of upgrades. Most of the low end 40 gear should have been made accessible in the mid 30s.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Domain of Heroes: Caught Between Progress Quest and a MUD

Domain of Heroes, a free web-browser MMOG, has caught my attention as of late. Part text-based MUD, part graphical adventure game, DoH is:
Unlike any other browser RPG

Other games feel like...well...like using a website. Not us. Domain of Heroes uses the most modern technology - you never leave the game page!

Play anywhere, anytime, for FREE.

Domain of Heroes is a FREE browser-based massively-multiplayer web RPG/PBBG. What a mouthful!

You can play at home, at school, at work (yes, we condone it), or at the coffee shop — as long as you've got a browser and an internet connection, you are ready to be a Hero!

You can play on PC or Mac, PS3, Wii, even iPod Touch!
Unlike Free Realms or Quake Live, Domain of Heroes is operating system agnostic and requires nothing outside of what a normal web browser provides. This makes it a TRUE web-browser based game in my book.

The true beauty of the game is that it almost plays itself ala Progress Quest. Players simply "set it and forget it". Journey to a location, search for monsters, and a player's character will do all of the work as battles cycle infinitely until the character dies or the player leaves the area. This makes it great for the casual gamers out there or the "no worries boss, I am really working, not playing web games" gamers.

With that said, combat can be involved as well. Characters have multiple skills and options during combat. In the early levels these are not needed as much, but the higher up a player levels (max being 75), the more involved in the combat a player will want to be.

Outside of combat, the game offers a surprising level of depth. There is a PvP conquest system where warring factions can take over areas of the game world. There is an open trade channel and a market to play for items. Guilds and guild tools are offered as well.

Lastly, there is an amazing amount of possible class and race combos. To exemplify this, I am playing as Heartless the Squirrel Illusionist! Yes, I am playing as a small, furry rodent most often found in one's backyard.

Friday, June 12, 2009

MMOs On Steam 20% - 75% Off, WAR Not Included

Steam is hosting a sale on MMOGs.
Most of Steam's Massively Multiplayer games are on sale through the 19th, starting today.
Curiously enough Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, one MMOG that could use a little boost in sales before its next big patch, isn't included in the list. Between this and Mark Jacobs semi-absence as of late, it has to make WAR fans wonder what is up in Mythic-town.

However, SOE isn't missing the boat, with almost all of their MMO games on Steam for sale. From Everquest II to Pirates of the Burning Seas, they've got it covered.

I would be very interested to see how this sale helps out each of these games. Unreal Tournament III saw a fairly healthy revival when its price tag was slashed on Steam:
According to Valve, that strong spike was a 2,000% increase in simultaneous players in the game (UT3). Additionally, the game held the top spot on Steam's bestseller list.
Of course, UT3 didn't carry the baggage of a monthly subscription, so it may be a little apples to oranges, but it does show that older games can have new life breathed into them via the greatest PC gaming platform on earth.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Free-To-Make-Money

Gamasutra is running a great article on Free-To-Play, but not really because there are micro-transactions, and the revenue they generate.
Yes, good money can actually be made in the rapidly-growing world of free-to-play massive multiplayer online games (MMOs), but just how much can micro-transactions actually generate? Unfortunately, average revenue per user information is often concealed behind the fog of competition by privately held game makers reluctant to report either very high or very low results.
The article contains some great quotes from Daniel James, CEO of San Francisco-based Three Rings Design.
"There seems to be a perception," he explains, "that there is a business advantage to not being transparent. But I disagree."

As James blogged recently: "People often ask me, with a wary look such as you'd give a lunatic, 'Why do you dish out your numbers like this?' It's a good question. There are possible downsides, but they are limited; if a competitor looks at my numbers and then goes on to execute better than us, I don't think that has much to do with our numbers. They executed better, that's the hard bit. Well done to them.

"The upside," he continued, "is that the more information that circulates the startup and games community, the more people will share their data. This rising tide will raise all boats. If I can shame my fellows into parting with their data, we'll all benefit."

Indeed, James reveals that Three Rings' MMO Puzzle Pirates takes in approximately $50 each month from each paying user (ARPPU) for a total of $230,000 a month, all resulting from microtransactions.
I've often railed against the micro-transaction model as inferior to the traditional subscription model in regards to revenue. However, after reading this article, I'm a bit surprised how well some Free-To-Play games fair.

Also, I want to share my desire for companies to be more transparent with their data, as I strongly believe it leads to negative stereotyping of the business model. Before this article, and seeing Puzzle Pirates and Domain of Heroes (in the comments) revenue numbers, I just assumed that the average revenue for a paying player was well below the standard $15 of a subscription-based player.
I'll break the figures down into Lifetime (8 months) and 7 day (last week). Daniel didn't mention this, but I would add that the numbers seem to get better each month as long-time players continue to make purchases and new features are added that retain/convert newer players.

Lifetime:
ARPU: $2.03
ARPPU: $59.27

7-Day:
ARPU: $3.51
ARPPU: $46.66
If the numbers hold true in the article, it is far greater! In some cases, close to $50. The benefits of which Raph Koster, of Metaplace, sums up nicely:
The biggest reason to go with a micro-transaction model, says Koster in a recent blog post, is because "it opens up both ends of the curve. People who would not be willing to pony up the full $15 a month [subscription fee] are enticed to pay at least something, thereby hugely broadening your market."
So, color me conflicted on micro-transaction business models. I still don't believe it beats a subscription model, but no longer is it the EVIL that I thought it was.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Aion: The ! of Diku?

Tipa, of West Karana, has a great non-NDA breaking post regarding Aion's NA beta:
But there’s no NDA that tells me I can’t talk about the players.

Take one step into the world of Aion, and from that moment on, you’re an expert player. All your years playing MMOs has prepared you for this moment, and nothing you encounter will give you a moment’s hesitation. By the end of the preview Sunday, many characters were fairly high level, guilds had been set up and there was a rough hierarchy of achiever guilds vs casual, friend-based guilds.
Tipa is addressing the general crowd that reads West Karana, which is probably the same sort of crowd that shows up around here. Mostly, veteran MMO players that have played everything from Ultima Online to World of Warcraft. More importantly, we all understand the Diku-inspired MMO structure. We have long been experts. We grind levels and loot bosses in our mother-f'n sleep.

While the Aion beta is still under NDA, there's tons of freely available information from other countries that have the Live version of the game already. A quick search for Aion on YouTube or Bing, brings up all manner of info for the game.

The general consensus is that Aion is pretty good, but derivative of all games that have come before it. Aion delivers on the basics and adds a little flair (like flying, the Abyss PvP, etc.). It's all wrapped up in a great looking package and delivered by a company with a somewhat reliable track record. Everything for Aion is in place for it to be a serious contender in the MMO space.

Where World of Warcraft was the definition of Diku-based MMOGs, it appears Aion will be the exclamation point.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Path Demo, Not As It Appears

Tale of Tales has released a demo for their game The Path, which actually turns out to be a prequel, making it well worth the download for those of us who were thoroughly enthralled by the full blown game.
Instead of making a trial version that allows you to play part of the game, we created a new chapter that takes place in the same forest but with a few things different. So even if you have played The Path, you might like to have a look at this.

The primary purpose of The Path - Prologue is of course to give people an opportunity to get a taste of the atmosphere of the full game and test our technology on their computer. Hopefully many like what they see and buy the full version.
Brilliant move for a brilliant game.

Download link.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Won't Anyone Think About the Zombies!

Some people seem to be angry about the announcement that Left 4 Dead 2, a full blown sequel to L4D, will be released later this year.
"People are pissed," I told him.

"Well, some are," he responded.

That's something of an understatement. I've been getting e-mails, texts, phone calls, and tweets from readers and friends enraged over Valve releasing a sequel to Left 4 Dead so quickly. This is a company that has reinvented Team Fortress 2 since its release, and every update was free. Left 4 Dead received the Survival Pack, and now there is a sequel coming to the PC and 360 this year.
Personally, I like L4D, but don't nearly play it enough to care about a second one coming out this fall. My biggest disappointment with the game was the limited number of campaigns and character types. Unfortunately, in a very unlike Valve way, it appears this will be remedied in an expansion.

Valve should really start thinking about the Zombies. Chainsaws? A bit harsh, even for the living dead, in my honest opinion. A bit cliche as well.

Update: 25 Oct, 2009 - I take back everything I've said in this post.
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