December 2009

My Punditry Brings All The Boys To The Yard

It’s that time of year. Last post I linked you to my MMORPG.column where I described a little of how the year that was was. But one of my more masochistic habits, before making predictions, is to call myself on my own windbaggery. So let’s see how I did last year in the predictivating!


The video game industry is not going to be immune from the Great Recession. The MMO industry is especially not going to be immune, as the only proven path to success for MMOs is in huge budget gambles that have missed more often than not. There will be a couple of high profile announcements next year, but they are all games that managed to secure funding before the global economy fell over in a drunken stupor. There will be major, major consolidations between companies (“EA buys Ubisoft! No, wait, Ubisoft buys EA!”) which will result in consequent massive layoffs – layoffs which have dwarfed any to date. A not insignificant number of people, burned by the consequently flooded job market, will leave the game industry entirely for safer climes, and the usual incestuous job hopping will come to a screeching halt as everyone lucky enough to have a paying gig holds on tight to ride out the storm. Austin, Vancouver, and Boston will depopulate (not entirely – but significantly, as has already happened in Austin) as game development hubs as consolidation moves everyone towards California. The impact of this hammer blow will be felt over the next 3-4 years as new development slows to a crawl and the large publishers focus their efforts on safe, secure investments. Hope you like fantasy RPGs and Madden games.




Oh God, if I say I got it wrong, will it go away?


Those unemployed game developers have to do something – expect something of a boom in iPhone and web titles, both platforms friendly to small teams (in the iPhone’s case, sometimes talented one-man teams). Some really surprising and technologically sophisticated titles will be released there, and that will be where all the technical and design innovation is centered around. There’s movement by hobbyist/unemployed developers in semi-open platforms such as SL’s Opengrid and Metaplace as well.


There have been a lot of iPhone, web, and especially Facebook titles released last year. Innovative? Um, not so much. In fact, most of them have been fairly crappy. And, uh, Metaplace just shut down.


We’ll call it 50/50.


World of Warcraft will not deliver an expansion next year, focusing on live patching (effectively, the raid-level instances left out of WotLK’s release) as the company focuses on delivering its first Starcraft title and moving Diablo 3 into beta. Blizzcon will see an announcement of a new MMO that isn’t World of Starcraft, World of Diablo or World of World of Warcraft and everyone will glom to it as The Savior Of The PC Gaming Industry (which by this time will be pretty painfully obviously in desperate need of saving). Wrath of the Lich King will still be in the top 10 PC titles at the end of the year.


You can rarely go wrong by asserting that Blizzard won’t release something. Although Blizzard did announce Cataclysm, it’s still not even in beta, much less close to release. The much-rumored “Project X” MMO Blizzard hasn’t been announced, aside from a few tantalizing hints here and there that “it’s really different!”. Starcraft II hasn’t come out yet. And according to the September NPD retail PC sales charts (the most recent I could find), Wrath of the Lich King is comfortably ensconced at number 4, almost a year after its release.


Pretty much! (Although you still can’t see a bare-bones website teasing you about a new MMO.)


Aion will do well in Korea. It won’t do well enough (like Tabula Rasa, Aion has been a high-profile and high-budget project in development for far too long). NCsoft will undergo serious retrenchment (related to the general global downturn) in Korea, although not in the West, because, well, they kind of already did that and there’s not much left to cut (though currently unannounced projects may disappear from lack of funding). Given the cutbacks from Webzen and Nexon earlier this year, this will mark the high water market of Korea’s investment in the US market, to be replaced as 2010 begins with Chinese investment, as the Chinese MMO market will continue to boom, unlike the West or Korea.


Oh, hi. I work at NCsoft now, again. On Aion support.


I’m fairly glad I got this basically wrong for obvious reasons. Aion hasn’t been a million-selling success but it is successful and NCsoft, at least from this worker bee’s perspective, appears to be in it for the long haul.


I think Battlestar Galactica’s final episodes will be pretty cool!




The soundtrack was pretty good.

So tomorrow, I’ll post some predictions for next year. Given how totally awesome I did last year, maybe I can predict global nuclear apocalypse or something.

Metaplace Unfortunately A Bit More Meta

Raph Koster’s virtual world startup announces its closure on 1/1.

This is a bittersweet moment for us. Metaplace Inc the company will be continuing on – in fact, we have big plans – but what you the users have known as Metaplace will be going away. We are also losing some friends and colleagues here as part of this strategic shift.

Raph has a few more thoughts on his blog.

The reason? Well, it just hasn’t gotten traction. I have many thoughts on why, but I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t go into all of them right now. It is a sad day for us here, and I know many users are going to be very disappointed by this turn of events.

Really a shame. Metaplace had a unique niche and was aggressive about pushing open standards for virtual worlds. Hopefully whatever they have in the pipe is as promising (and can keep everyone there afloat).

A Note To The Aion Botting Community (And The Aion Community In General)

Recently I’ve seen notes in a few places that referenced this post where I noted that I had been hired by NCsoft on a short-term contract to work with their Game Surveillance Unit, which has been doing a number on botters and RMTers and the like.

GSU is not on a “three month timer”. Even were I to leave GSU tomorrow, the team obviously is far more than I (and contrary to other postings, I’m not in charge of it – I program tools for them) and it is a longterm enterprise for NCsoft.

So, if you’re waiting to bot in Aion for three months until GSU goes away – um, you may have a longer wait. Sorry.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me A Patch

World of Warcraft continues to show everyone why they have eighty six million subscriptions and you don’t – by patching in one of the most hated features from Modern Warfare 2.

Want to go kill things in a dungeon? Sure you do. Just click the button.


BAM.  Go. Kill. Get loot. Get bonus loot. Get a DOG.


Come on. Look at that dog. Just LOOK AT IT. You just can’t let that dog down, can you? BAM! GO! KILL! LOOT! DOG!

See, most hardcore forum posters are going to be complaining about Icecrown lockouts and how out of whack itemization is and how arena teams are completely broken now and what the hell, I have to wait a month to 5-man Arthas, come on WTF GG BLIZZ.

Meanwhile, the great majority of players, who are at raiding level but not in a hardcore guild?


What really makes this feature special isn’t that it’s new – it’s not, particularly. Among other implementations, Final Fantasy XI has had random pickup groups since the game launched, and even World of Warcraft’s first iteration of meeting stones tried to do the pile-everyone-in-a-group thing. No – what makes this version of the matchmaker work is that World of Warcraft has such a critical mass of players that at any time, at almost every level (a level 65-ish alt I was levelling up got groups quickly for instances I had never seen the first time around), you can push a button and get instant – well, if not gratification, progress. Sure, pick-up groups can often be mindbogglingy hellishly wrong, because people are involved, and sometimes you get the people who just haven’t really figured out the whole process of hitting-buttons-making-things-fall-over ‘skill’ in this sort of game. But most of the time? It’s perfectly tuned to – dare I say it? The casual player. The guy who gets home from work and just wants to kill things in a dungeon. BAM! LOOT! BADGES! REP! STUFF! It’s a feedback cycle that is so quick and painless, it’s easily one of the best ways to get more people into the core gameplay of dungeon raiding.

(Also, the dog.)

And, the best part? Blizzard already had the code sitting there from Warcraft 3.

Updates You Pray I Never, Ever Post: #58 In A Series

Adrianne Curry, America’s Next Top Model winner: I’m going to spend my day ‘raiding commando’. Or, as she put it more eloquently, “playing World of Warcraft butt naked & stoned“.   No, really!

Welcome to the mainstream.

Welcome to the mainstream.

Edit: Adrianne is shocked and appalled that you are shocked and appalled (and surprised that a reality TV star does things for publicity).

I have done playboy twice.I have done terribly naughty bad things,but people made a big deal about my PG rated nekkid WoW pic? huh.