Jason Winter

Jason Winter has held several positions in the tabletop and video-gaming industry since 1996, including writer, editor, marketing coordinator, and game designer. He's the former editor of Beckett Massive Online Gamer and almost considers himself competent in PvP. In addition to his work with Gamebreaker.tv, he also blogs about video games at http://jasonwinter.wordpress.com.

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Blizzard’s Hearthstone blends traditional CCG mechanics with the world’s most popular MMO

You have to give Blizzard credit.

For all the talk and rumors and speculation about what the company would reveal at PAX East, I don’t think anyone guessed “online collectible card game based on World of Warcraft.” Hey, at least it wasn’t Diablo III for PlayStation 4, right?

It’s always dangerous to venture into comments sections, but I’ve done that on a handful of gaming sites, including this one, and the reaction to Hearthstone seems to be generally positive. There are a few “WTF Blizzard???”s, but there are a larger number of “This sounds cool”s, at least from my viewpoint.

At the very least, very few people are screaming about what an awful idea it is, which has to come as something of a relief, considering how recent gaming news has been and the often vitriolic reactions gamers have to anything that even remotely offends their sensibilities.

I’ve played upwards of 120 collectible card games, with around 25 or so of them in something I would consider a serious manner, and I used to be the associate editor of Scrye, the leading CCG magazine in the industry.

I’ve also worked for two CCG companies – well, one CCG company and one sports card company that decided to dabble in CCGs – including being the co-lead designer on two games. (Disclaimer: Everything you didn’t like about those games was done by the other guys.)

So I like to think I kinda-sorta know my way around this field, far more than my dubious expertise in MMORPGs would suggest. I’ve seen CCGs come and go, seen hugely hyped games fail and seen tiny ones succeed. And my overall opinion of Hearthstone, based on what we’ve seen so far?


More of the same… but that’s OK

I’m not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that every CCG to come out over the last 10 years or so has touted itself as “easy to learn, but with enough strategy to please advanced players” or the equivalent thereof. It’s the classic “trying to appeal to everyone” line that we’ve seen, in various forms, in the descriptions of MMORPGs, and it was part of Hearthstone‘s exposé, as well.

It certainly is simple, at its core. The basic structure of the game is similar to a streamlined Magic: The Gathering, with simplified mana resources, a common trait in modern CCGs. Even MTG creator Richard Garfield has gone on record as saying that if he had the game to do over again, he would do away with land cards.

Hearthstone‘s general similarity to industry leader Magic is the exact same sort of thing MMO gamers lament when the latest “WoW clone” hits, but this doesn’t typically arouse the same ire among CCG fans.

The reason? In a physical CCG, you have to compute everything manually, so having familiar mechanics makes the basics of the game easily recognizable and allows you to quickly move on to more advanced styles of play.

In an MMO, most of the computations are done for you by computers, so the basic mechanics of the game require little thought. As a result, players look for more beyond those basics and when they don’t find them, they tend to rightly get upset at an experience that’s essentially no different from the one they’ve already been playing for years.

In other words, Hearthstone is a “Magic clone” as much as Rift or SWTOR are “WoW clones.” It’s not exactly the same, but it’s similar enough at its core that players of one can easily adapt to the other – and that’s the idea. In fact, it’s a strength, and very few non-Magic-style CCGs have survived, much less thrived, especially over the last decade.


Beyond the basics

Once you get past the relative simplicity of the mechanics, what else does Hearthstone offer? Is it really complex enough or offer enough strategy to please hardcore gamers?

We’ve only seen a limited subset of cards so far, but there seems to be a fair amount of variety. I imagine that high-level strategy will include intricate combos and devious tactics, similar to any CCG, that give highly intelligent players much-deserved advantages.

Most of these tactics will likely involve concepts such as resource management, direct damage, control, creature zergs, etc. It won’t be particularly special or unique, as compared to other CCGs, but it should nicely satisfy that strategic itch.

(Before StarCraft introduced the race, we used to call a certain type of zerg deck in Magic “white weenie,” and no, that wasn’t a sexual joke.)

What Hearthstone can do differently from its cardstock competitors is include elements that are difficult – or even impossible – for a physical CCG to replicate.

Take the simple card Sense Demons, which puts two random demons into a player’s hand from his deck. You wouldn’t see these kinds of cards in a non-offline CCG, because the means of selecting random cards would have been clunky at best.

Keeping track of minion health is another item that you don’t see in most CCGs, because it either requires some kind of tokens or memory. In fact, CCG designers often look to minimize or eliminate so-called “memory issues,” so as to prevent mistakes or arguments. (“Your creature only has one hit point left!” “No, it has two!”)

But that’s the exact sort of thing that a computer is perfectly suited for. Probably the best-known MMO-CCG crossover, SOE’s Legends of Norrath, didn’t often utilize these kinds of mechanics because – at least early on – there were aspirations of porting the game over to a physical format.

A lot has also been made of the special effects, like voice acting, animation, and so on, which are also nice window dressing for an electronic game. But it’s the “can’t be done anywhere else” powers that I think will set Hearthstone apart and open up new strategies that are truly unlike any that have ever been seen before in CCGs.


Does compute

But does Hearthstone even need to innovate on the strategy front? As previously mentioned, many Magic clones do just fine, and a Magic clone paired with World of Warcraft seems like a license to print money.

There’s talk of integrating Hearthstone with WoW in multiple ways, the most obvious of which would seem to be “loot cards.” Present in Cryptozoic’s World of Warcraft TCG, these were rare cards with a code that could be entered into your WoW account to provide a unique piece of loot for your character. The most impressive were the mounts, some of which sold on eBay for triple-digit sums.

Then there’s the payment method, which sounds to me like the best deal of all, and something that definitely couldn’t be replicated by a physical game.

It sounds like you’ll get a basic starter deck for free and then can earn extra packs either by paying $1 for five cards (not confirmed, but expected) or by earning points in game that will allow you to buy packs.

This sounds not unlike the method we’ve seen in other “friendly” F2P games like League of Legends and PlanetSide 2. No content is gated, and it would be possible – though slow – to play Hearthstone and become an expert player with a vast collection without spending a single dime. And all of that doesn’t take the awesome-looking crafting system into account.

I think Hearthstone will do just fine, with strong potential to be another great success for Blizzard. Creativity will be found less in the game mechanics themselves and more in how it’s presented and how Blizzard leverages its status as a computer game first and a collectible card game second to drive innovation.

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Divided We Fall

MMORPG Servers And Factions Do More Harm Than Good

To whom do you owe your MMORPG allegiance to? Your server? Your faction? Nobody?

Perhaps the better question to ask would be, with whom do you want to play?

Gary, Quintlyn, and I had a rather heated exchange in voice chat the other day, when talking about faction restrictions in The Secret World. That game is far friendlier than many others when it comes to defining who you can and can’t play with. Servers are only loosely defined, and you can group up in PvE with members of any of the three factions (Dragon, Illuminati, or Templars).

The sticking point came when we were talking about guilds. You can’t form a multi-faction guild, so that means that Q and I (Dragons) can’t be in a guild with Gary (Templar). Ostensibly, this is because we’re all technically on different sides and shouldn’t be communicating all our secret agendas to each other.

Q and Gary think that’s awesome. I think it’s a bunch of crap that hurts the game far more than it helps it.



Maybe it’s because I didn’t “grow up” playing World of Warcraft, or any other strictly faction-split game, but I think that, as much as people naturally lean toward solo content in MMOs, a developer should do the absolute minimum possible to prevent players from wanting to actually, you know, play together.

Splitting your player base can come in many forms. As mentioned, The Secret World isn’t too bad about this, and clever players have found ways around the no-mixed-factions guild issue by forming private chat channels, but many other MMOs either strictly split up their players via servers or factions, limiting the number of people you have available to play with at any given time, usually just to satisfy a storyline framework.

Some MMO devs have even begun to realize that levels are another divisive factor. Games like City of Heroes sought to minimize this via sidekicking, and Guild Wars 2 also levels characters up or down – going as far as to use the superhero-y term “sidekick” – for certain content.

Why did you leave your last MMO? For many people, the answer is, “Because there wasn’t anyone to play with.” So why should games put in barriers that prevent people from playing together? It’s like they intentionally want their player base to dwindle.

Don’t get me wrong, I like story in my MMOs. I want them to be more than just places where I kill stuff to gain loot. I want there to be a reason for my guys to fight their guys.

But it’s not that hard to tweak story to allow characters of diametrically opposed factions to work together. Anyone who’s read or watched A Game of Thrones sees how quickly alliances form and dissolve, and how characters who were friends, or at least cordial, one minute are trying to kill each other the next, or vice versa.

Server splits are usually a little more technology-based, and if a dev can’t figure out how to make one-server technology work for their game, I give a little bit of a pass. But if they can do it, they should.


United we stand…

Some people, like my aforementioned colleagues, like the idea of strictly defined factions or even server-based communities. I can see the reasoning behind that. You want to play or win for your server, or for your faction. You feel like you represent that segment of the population, like you’re a part of something larger than you, your party, or your guild.

And sometimes it’s a good idea. Pretty much any game with open-world PvP, like Guild Wars 2 or PlanetSide 2, or various PvP servers in other two-faction games like Rift or World of Warcraft, requires those kind of splits.

But games without those features, or which marginalize them, like the way Guild Wars 2 segregates its World vs. World, don’t need such divisive policies. That’s my opinion, at least. I feel that having a robust and healthy player base matters more than “server pride.”

(Along those same lines, I think the way Elder Scrolls Online is doing things – only letting your experience your faction’s area and story until you reach max level – is a very bad idea that will divide its player base in not two, but three ways.)

Here’s the thing about gamers, or really any kind of obsessive fan base: They want to keep it small and personal. I’ve seen this in groups of gamers in all sorts of genres: MMOs, trading-card games, role-playing games, etc. They’re not openly hostile to new people (usually), but they’re comfortable with their small and familiar group dynamic and want to keep it that way.

The problem is, that’s antithetical to keeping a group actually going. If you only have 20 people in your clique, and two leave, you’ve lost 10% of your numbers. Two more leave and that’s another 10%. If you don’t boost your numbers somehow, soon you’ll only be down to a few diehards, or you won’t have anyone at all left.

MMO companies – the smart ones, at least – realize this. It’s a common business maxim that states, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” Stagnation is death. If you’re a new player who wants to find people to play with on your new server, it would be better to be able to choose from all the players in the game, not X guilds or players divided by the number of servers or factions in the game. If you don’t find those people, you’re less likely to stick with the game, and that’s no good for anyone, players or developers.

In short, a gaming group’s desire to keep its community small and personal – and divided – is at direct odds with the business desires of an MMO developer, which should, realistically, also be the goal of the player: to keep the game healthy, well-populated – and ultimately, functioning.


The more the merrier

I like to think of the big picture. More players are better for the game as a whole. And players will be more likely to play if they can play with who they want, when they want. I think that, like many MMO conventions, we’ve grown to assume that servers and factions are required components of any MMO experience. They’re not. They’re just what we’ve had for so long, many of us have trouble imagining anything else.

There still is room in a server-less and mostly faction-less MMO for group pride. PvP is one way. Quintlyn and I will always go on about how the Dragons are the best faction in The Secret World, and I hear plenty of mock racism in Guild Wars 2 chat. “Asura are the best.” “My charr eats asura for breakfast.” “What about sylvari?” “No thanks, charr only eat meat.”

I’m not saying games shouldn’t have factions, or even separate servers. And it might not work for every game. It’s hard to imagine the Jedi and Sith working together in Star Wars: The Old Republic, for example.

But MMO developers should seek to minimize, or even eliminate these splits whenever possible. They should serve as a framework to enhance the story, not an artificial barrier to limit who you can play with.

Put it this way: How many MMOs have you quit because you couldn’t find anyone to play with? I bet it’s more than the number you’ve quit because you didn’t like its faction dynamics or how much you could brag about “server firsts.”

TESO Hands On

By now, you’ve probably checked out the Elder Scrolls Online coverage at various places around the Internet. While the coverage has answered some questions, it’s raised several more, and we’d like you to chime in with your thoughts on the following topics:

Are divided factions a good idea?

In his article, Richie Procopio comes at the ZeniMax Online Studios dev team, Paul Sage in particular, with a very pointed query about factions. The response wasn’t exactly what he was hoping for.

[quote]I wonder, however, whether it’s necessary to segregate the population at all provided folks are in the non-PvP areas. I understand ZeniMax’s desire for players to feel attached to their chosen alliance, but it seems clunky to allow people to cooperate only after they’ve reached max level. [/quote]

It’s a valid concern (and one that I’m prepping an entirely different article for). Is it worth dividing your player base for the sake of story and lore?

Do you think you’ll find it hard to keep your friends together if you can’t play together until you reach max level? Or are you OK with ZeniMax “forcing” you to make characters of the same faction in order to play together throughout your leveling experience?


Do you like the idea of no cooldowns?

As Scott Hawkes reported,

[quote]There are no cooldowns for abilities; combat in ESO is a resource based management system. Those tanks going too far in focusing on increasing their Health stat will find themselves short on Stamina to unleash damage and maintain threat due to being starved of the necessary resource. [/quote]

Use of the stamina meter makes ESO sound rather like playing a rogue in World of Warcraft or a thief in Guild Wars 2. Your cooldown is limited (or nonexistent) but you have a pool that you can draw from to power your effects. When it runs out… well…

It does keep in line with abilities Elder Scrolls games, which have no cooldowns and are instead limited by mana or stamina pools, but as any veteran of the series can tell you, that just opens up potion spam to keep you in fighting shape.

Theoretically, in the MMO, there will be some kind of cooldown on potions to keep you from chugging them one after the other, but does that itself deviate from the Elder Scrolls establishment?


Do you really care about first-person view?

Now that first-person view – with hands, even! – is confirmed, the question is: So what? How much time have you spent using first-person view in an MMO? Except for taking screenshots, I’d guess the answer is “virtually none.”

Truth is, if this wasn’t an Elder Scrolls MMO, people wouldn’t ask for – if not outright demand – it here, either. People still want to play Skyrim Online, even though each passing day and reveal proves that that’s not what we’re getting.

First-person view works well enough in single-player games, where you don’t have to worry quite as much about your environment and what might be hitting you from the sides or behind. And it’s quite natural for games that require precise aim, like shooters.

I imagine that I’ll use first-person view in Elder Scrolls Online as an occasional novelty, but not during any real, dangerous fight. What about you?

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There’s one more Neverwinter beta, starting this Friday, March 22 at noon PDT, and it’s going to be a doozy.

The big addition to this event is the inclusion of PvP, with players getting their first chance to bash each other’s skulls in — and you should take advantage of the gore-splattered action while you can. It’s been previously announced that PvP would be added to the game after launch, but maybe, if we all wish upon a broken, blood-soaked star, the testing will go well enough that Perfect World decides to include it at launch.

In addition to PvP, players will get their first taste of the Great Weapon Fighter, who’s sure to cut a swath of two-handed mayhem through his enemies. An increased level cap of 50 and two new zones — Pirates’ Skyhold and Icespire Peak Adventure Zones — round out the weekend’s agenda.

[quote]”The response from the Neverwinter community and members of the press who participated in our previous Beta Weekends has been amazing so far,” said Lead Producer Andy Velasquez. “On behalf of the entire development team at Cryptic Studios, I’d like to thank all Beta Weekend players for their feedback and support in making Neverwinter the best free MMORPG around!”[/quote]

Though Neverwinter will be free-to-play, there’s still time to get in on the various Founder’s Packs available for the game that offer a variety of perks and bonuses, as well as guaranteed access to all betas. Otherwise, you can sign up for the beta on the Neverwinter site and hope to get selected.

So what are you looking forward to the most in this beta? PvP or the Great Weapon Fighter? Or maybe both, at the same time? Or are you still exploring the rest of the game, the city of Neverwinter itself, or trying your hand at content creation via the Foundry?

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    Saints Row IV Coming in August

    Deep Silver today announced the impending release of the newest entry in its pimp-slappin’ series, Saints Row IV, coming to consoles and PC in North America on Aug. 20, and in all other territories on Aug. 23.

    The subhead on the press release? “Saints Row IV Announced, Bitchez.” Classy, no?

    In this installment, the leader of the Saints has been elected President of the United States, which sounds like an arguably better version of reality than what we’ve had for the past decade or so. There’s an alien invasion to deal with, sci-fi weaponry to exploit, superpowers to be abused, and probably plenty of bitches and hos to slap around — and we’re not just talking about Congress.

    [quote]In the next open-world installment of Saints Row, Volition continues the story of the Third Street Saints by elevating their status to the highest level – the leaders of the free world. In Saints Row IV, the head honcho of the Saints has been elected to the Presidency of the United States. But the Saints are just getting started. Now the larger-than-life insanity of the Saints series gets a new twist with a catastrophic alien invasion, and the aliens have transported the Saints to a bizarro-Steelport simulation. Wield gargantuan superpowers and fight to free humanity from alien granddaddy Zinyak’s mental grasp. Escape the simulation that’s trapped the Saints crew, or die trying.

    Saints Row IV lets players delve into an arsenal of alien weaponry and technology that will turn each Saint into an ultimate entity of destruction. Utilize out-of-this-world superpowers to fight all the way to the top. With intensified action and enhanced customization, players can use their newfound superpowers and leap over buildings, outrun the fastest sports cars, or send enemies flying with telekinesis in the greatest, most insane installment of Saints Row yet.[/quote]

    For ‘MERICA!

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    Is the Guild Wars 2 culling problem in World vs. World about to be solved?

    That’s the claim made by ArenaNet developer Habib Loew in the most recent GW2 blog post, fittingly titled “The End of Culling.” Loew reminds everyone that culling — meaning the client not reporting nearby characters — will be removed in the March patch.

    But the reason culling existed in the first place was to reduce bandwidth and help the game run more smoothly. So if all those characters are now going to be reported to the client, how will ArenaNet prevent the game from running like molasses?

    Players will have the option of three settings for determining whether characters render in large fights. They are, as Loew describes:

    • High resolution models - These are the high-res character models that you’re all already familiar with.
    • Lower resolution fallback models - These are the models that we’ve been using as placeholders in WvW while the hi-res models load. They differ depending on race and armor class, though human, sylvari, and norn share the same model.
    • Nameplates only - We don’t render the model at all and instead only show the nameplate for that character.

    Players can set how many nearby characters render with a model and how many with a nameplate and the quality of those models.

    TL;DR: You likely won’t see every character in a big fight, rendered in stunningly beautiful graphic detail, but you’ll at least have some indicator — even if it’s just a nameplate — that they’re there, so you can select them to attack… or just run away, if you’re a coward.

    On the one hand, this implementation seems to fix the issue, at least in terms of functionality. But it’s also a little sad that the dev team has to sacrifice some of the beauty and grace of their artistic design to make it work.

    What do you think? Does this solution for culling satisfy you?

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    PlanetSide 2 Patch Adds VR Training and More

    A new PlanetSide 2 patch hit this morning, adding a ton of features to SOE‘s three-faction shooter.

    The biggest new addition to the game is a VR training center, where new and experienced soldiers can find their footing before being thrust into the thick of battle. All weapons and vehicles are unlocked, with indoor and outdoor shooting ranges for players to test their skills.

    While in the VR training area, players can’t harm each other or become weapons-locked, but, obviously, no experience or stats are accumulated.

    Other major changes include:

    • Most explosives now do greater damage near their source but the damage tapers off more quickly. No more “I’m sure I was outside that grenade’s blast radius…”
    • Similarly, most vehicle weapons with explosive rounds have had their blast radii reduced.
    • Total ammo capacity has been increased for nearly all weapons. The only listed exception is the Terran Republic T32 Bull, which had its ammo capacity decreased to 240.
    • All vehicles had their torque increased, which should result in higher top speeds when driving up inclines.
    • “Removed a non-functional capture point from the Esamir Biolabs.” “Guys, we’ve been standing here for 10 minutes, why isn’t this damn thing flipping?”
    • The minimap can now be zoomed manually, by use of the ] and [ keys.
    • A Flash can now carry a passenger, who can use his personal weapons.
    • The respawn screen has been reworked, merging with the map screen’s capabilities and listing respawn locations on the left.
    • “Vehicle horns should now be able to be heard from significantly greater distances.” BEEP BEEP!

    A VR training center has been one of the most-requested features for PlanetSide 2 since its launch, and has always been described as a top priority for the dev team. Does its addition make you more likely to check the game out, or to get back into it if you played before?

    You can read the full patch notes here.

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      GameStop VP Prison

      GameStop embezzlement case reaches verdict

      Screwing over your corporation in a game like EVE Online? Really cool and a sign of ruthless cleverness and ambition.

      Doing the same thing to your real-life corporation? Still clever and ambitious, but somewhat less cool.

      Former GameStop Texas executive Frank Christopher Olivera was sentenced last week to 51 months of prison time for embezzling $1.7 million from GameStop to the fictitious Cloud Communications LLC. According to a statement from the US Attorney’s Office:

      [quote]Olivera directed GameStop to send the payments from GameStop’s offices in Grapevine to Cloud Communications LLC in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, Nevada and in Canada. In addition to creating a fictitious company, Olivera also created a fictitious person, “Jennifer Miller,” to serve as the point of contact at Cloud Communications. Upon receipt of payments from GameStop, Olivera would deposit the checks into a bank account held by Cloud Communications and then would transfer the fraudulently obtained funds into his personal bank account.[/quote]

      As previously reported, Olivera was let go from GameStop in April 2011 and could have faced up to 20 years of prison time.

      Maybe after he’s released he can trade in his worn-out prison oranges for some new duds?

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        SimCity disaster launch unlikely to affect long-term strategy

        It’s been an unbearable six whole days since SimCity launched – or at least, tried to launch – sending shockwaves of righteous rage through the gaming community. The way I hear it, EA will never sell a game again, not after a disaster worse than the Titanic, the Hindenburg, and the Star Wars Holiday Special combined.

        Bull, I say.

        If you’re one of the people who bought SimCity on launch day and are currently among its most vitriolic detractors, I put forth that the reason you feel that way is because you love SimCity that much more than the average fan.

        What will that mean when SimCity 6 comes out? You’ll ignore it because “FU, EA”?

        Don’t get me wrong, I know there are plenty of folks out there who are angry enough take that approach, ones who aren’t so completely devoted to the franchise or who are sturdy enough to stick to their guns.

        And a lot of people simply don’t care for the “forced multiplayer” aspect of the game and would have rejected it out of hand, even if the servers worked just fine.

        But I think enough people will have put this incident far enough behind them or will adapt to – and even possibly begin to like – the online gameplay elements that the current game’s troubles will make only the smallest of dents in the next’s overall sales numbers.

        Don’t think so? It’s already happened. With a Maxis/EA game, no less.


        Virulent Spore

        Spore launched in 2008 with DRM tool SecuROM and faced similar vilification from gamers. Barely a week after its launch, 2,016 of its 2,216 ratings on Amazon were of the one-star variety, mimicking the online blasting that SimCity has received.

        This article, which quotes a former Maxis employee on the SecuROM/Spore fiasco seems like it could have just as easily been printed last week:

        [quote]Also, they have thrown away a lot of the goodwill that gamers have towards Will Wright. I understand why they think the DRM is a good idea, but they haven’t even tried to make it ‘good’ DRM, by defending their position, making it clear when and if the DRM will be removed, or abandoning it the day it got pirated.

        From a PR point of view, this is a disaster, as they have come across like they have their fingers in their ears and aren’t listening. Ultimately I think it’s sad, because this was a very original, high budget PC game release that could have been a great shot in the arm for PC gaming. Everyone loses as a result of this, EA, Maxis, and PC gamers. the only people celebrating this are the people who make a dishonest living from selling advertising impressions on pirate websites. It’s a totally avoidable disaster.[/quote]

        Clearly, that “goodwill that gamers have towards Will Wright” wasn’t diminished much, if initial impressions of SimCity‘s sales are to be believed.

        Going away from EA/Maxis, we have Ubisoft, long the primary villain in the DRM world. So much was the company and its DRM loathed that Assassin’s Creed II sold nine million copies. Oh, the horror. People hated Ubisoft so much that (DRM-free) Assassin’s Creed III notched seven million sales by the end of 2012. Short memories or a response to DRM removal? Or just a lot of rage about nothing?

        And then there’s Diablo III. Error 37s and all, it sold 3.5 million copies in its first week and 12 million in all of 2012. That means that, even after its problems were well known in its first seven days, it still sold 8.5 million copies. If Diablo IV sells fewer than 10 million copies, I’ll eat my hat.


        Fail Wail

        It’s true that SimCity‘s defenders point out that the online-only mode is a required game function and a part of the design – not an oppressive DRM scheme. It’s possible that the developers envisioned it that way, dubious a design decision as it might have been.

        But in the lightning-fast – or is that cheetah-fast? – world of the Internet, perception becomes reality. To the majority of dissatisfied players, the always-online requirement is DRM, meant to treat paying customers like criminals, and that’s the end of the story. EA/Maxis can’t spin this in a positive direction, no matter how hard they try or even what facts they offer forth.

        The phrase “vote with your wallets” gets bandied around a lot right now, but the fact of it is that the number of people who are pissed off enough about the SimCity debacle to not purchase the next version – or even this one, once things are straightened out a little more – is probably very miniscule.

        And it’s not like bad sales of the game – if they are realized – will “kill” EA, which has plenty of other cash cows, like Madden and FIFA to weather the storm of any one bad release. You not buying the next EA game will kill EA like you quitting World of Warcraft “killed” that game.

        There’s not likely a whole lot you can do about this. By virtue of reading this, you’re in the minority of gamers who have the patience to get to the end of a 1,000-word article, which makes you very much unlike the types with the short memories and attention span of a gnat who will flock to retail outlets, physical or online, to pick up the next installment of a series that they loathed with such venom just a few years back.

        In other words, that same fervor with which gamers demand their product right freaking now is used against them by companies that know that there will be an overwhelming number of zero-hour purchases that instantly swell their coffers, even if a relatively small number of people exhibit instant buyer’s remorse.


        Money talks… quietly

        If I had any advice to give, it would be to not put yourself through the same wringer next time. Because there will be a next time, whether it’s the next SimCity, Diablo, or even your favorite MMO that has its usual slate of issues at launch and beyond. If you’ve waited years for a game, waiting a couple more weeks won’t hurt you, and, if a game like SimCity‘s connectivity issues are any indication, you might not be missing anything by delaying your purchase anyway.

        And if you really want to “vote with your wallet” without completely cutting yourself off, don’t buy direct. If it’s EA you want to spite, don’t buy from Origin. Buy from a third-party retail outlet, like Amazon or Best Buy, who takes a cut from every sale.

        Don’t let your fanaticism work against you. Yes, a company that takes your money should give you a fully functioning product in return. But if you keep making the same mistakes in your purchasing habits, you’re just setting yourself up for inevitable frustration and are learning as much from your errors in judgment as EA and Maxis are from theirs.

        TESO Full Voice Acting

        Full voice acting confirmed for The Elder Scrolls Online

        Previous “Ask Us Anything” sessions for The Elder Scrolls Online have been, in this writer’s opinion at least, rather lackluster, especially in terms of gameplay details.

        This week’s installment makes up for that in a big way, as the team at ZeniMax Online Studios reveals several juicy details about the game and its presentation.

        Full voice acting. As if people weren’t drawing enough comparisons between TESO and Star Wars: The Old Republic, now there’s this. BTW, TESO‘s still not using the HERO Engine.

        Automatically sorted inventory, similar to what’s seen in Skyrim and Oblivion. Hallelujah. Why more MMOs don’t take this tack, I’ll never know. In addition to sorting based on type, like armor or weapon, more options will be available, such as sorting by value or when acquired.

        Light-armor tanks. While ZeniMax says you’d rather use heavy armor in close-quarters fighting, the option is apparently there “to increase your health to the max and carefully choose your abilities” and create “a light armor character that would last a good, long time on the front lines.”

        Narrowly specialized characters. While the skill system would seem to reward hybridization, there should be plenty of options for people wanting to specialize along a single track, such as exclusively being a healer.

        Equipping weapons. The Q&A confirms that a system will be in place similar to Skyrim‘s, where you can equip weapons, spells, and shields on a per-hand basis, and you’ll also be able to easily switch between builds — something the single-player games have generally lacked.

        Moral choices. While not as black-and-white as, say, choosing to represent the Light or Dark Side in SWTOR, there will be some “tough choices” your character will have to address which might range from having a minor effect on the story to having “lasting consequences.”

        So which of these features sound the most appealing to you? And what else would you like to see in the game?

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        Nine Teso Races

        Elder Scrolls Online lore is a vast and voluminous thing, encompassing hundreds of in-game books and hours upon hours of spoken words from the previous games in the series. Each race has its own unique history – some of it bloody, some of it humorous, and some of it just plain weird.

        We’ve dug up some interesting tidbits for each of the nine playable races in The Elder Scrolls Online. Maybe you’ll find a bit of information that makes you want to play a particular race or explore its homeland – or to steer clear.

        Warning: Potential spoilers for those who haven’t played the previous Elder Scrolls games ahead.

        Elder Scrolls Online Daggerfall Covenant


        All Redguards are natural warriors, but the best of the best are the sword-singers. The best of those were the Ansei, or “Saints of the Sword,” who “wandered the country side engaging in battle, writing wrongs, and seeking to end the strife.”

        In addition to being masters of the blade, the greatest of the Ansei could form a sword from the essence of their own spirit: the Shehai, or “spirit-sword.”

        If that doesn’t sound like a special racial ability, I don’t know what does!


        Throughout much of its history, including TESO‘s Second Era, the Breton home province of High Rock isn’t a unified kingdom. Rather, it’s home to several smaller domains and city-states, as exemplified by the autobiography of King Emeric.

        High Rock is home to the Adamantine Tower, the oldest known structure in all of Tamriel, supposedly created by the godlike aedra to discuss small matters like how to make the world.

        For my money, “Ancient Tower of the Gods” sounds like a fantastic setting for a dungeon.


        Technically, Orcs are elves. Crazy, huh?

        The proper name of the Orcish race is “Orsimer.” “Mer” is the suffix for elvish races – or maybe just races with pointy ears – like the Dunmer (Dark Elves), Altmer (High Elves), and Bosmer (Wood Elves).

        Then there are the Dwemer, who were the Dwarves, but they’re not around any more. Well, one of them is. Well, half of one of them is…

        In any case, if you like playing elves but are tired of the traditional beautiful wizard/archer stereotype, try an Orc. Just don’t call one “Legolas.”

        Elder Scrolls Online Aldmeri Dominion

        High Elves

        If you don’t hate these guys enough for being asshats in Skyrim, one account from a diplomat in the First Era contains this delightful tidbit:

        [quote]“High Elves consider themselves to be the only perfect race. Over hundreds of generations they have bred themselves into a racially pure line, and are now almost identical to one another in appearance.

        The theory that the High Elves do not reproduce as quickly or as often as humans is false. Rather, and to my horror, they kill nine out of ten babies born to them in their obsession for purity.”[/quote]

        Great guys, those High Elves…

        Wood Elves

        The weirdest thing about Wood Elves? They practice cannibalism. The weirdest thing about where they live? Their capital city walks around.

        Described as the “walking city of trees,” Falinesti had, at the end of the Third Era “rooted itself for the first time in recorded history.” So, in theory, it should still be mobile in the time of The Elder Scrolls Online.

        Whether and how ZeniMax will attempt to implement it remains to be seen. It would sure beat having to run back to a city to sell vendor trash or turn in quests… “In Soviet Valenwood, city runs to you.”


        Just as there are dozens of breeds of cats in our world, there are 17 breeds of Khajiit, determined by the phases of Tamriel’s two moons when they are born. 16 of them are fairly common, though we’ve only seen a few breeds represented in Elder Scrolls games so far.

        The 17th, the Mane, comes about only when both moons are in alignment with each other and, supposedly, a third moon appears.

        Not surprisingly, the Khajiit revere the moons, and the potent drug moon sugar – and its refined form, skooma – is like catnip on steroids, driving Khajiit wild with ecstasy. It’s also good in coffee.

        Elder Scrolls Online Ebonheart Pact


        The Nords’ distrust of elves – which can be seen in the open racism in Windhelm – dates all the way back to the First Era, when the Nordic city of Sarthaal was the victim of a surprise attack by the elven peoples who had predated the Nords’ arrival.

        These events are detailed in the Mages’ Guild quest line in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but the repercussions should be very evident in TESO, where the Dark Elves and Nords are united under the Ebonheart Pact.

        In other words, the Ebonheart Pact should be the most fractious of factions – and it’s not like the Nords have any love for the Argonians, either.

        Dark Elf

        Slavery is a hot-button topic in America, so will we see it in the Dark Elves’ home province of Morrowind?

        Slaves were a frequent sight in TES III, though the practice was apparently abolished shortly after the events of that game. The Dark Elves saw slavery as their right, and it was guaranteed by the Armistice with Tiber Septim in 2E 896 – which means it should be in full bloom during the events of TESO, three hundred years earlier.

        At most, I think slavery will be relegated to the background of the game, and that we won’t be likely to see the slave pens or hear of the uncommon brutality that was evident in Morrowind. But if they’re going to remain true to the game’s history, ZeniMax can’t eliminate it entirely.


        As if being an inhospitable swampland isn’t enough of a deterrent to visiting the Black Marsh, the homeland of the Argonians, there’s also a virulent plague running through it.

        One of the very few sets of firm dates we have for the time of The Elder Scrolls Online involves the Knahaten Flu, which is said to have run its course from the years 560 to 603 of the Second Era. TESO starts in the year 582.

        The disease killed nearly all non-Argonian peoples in the Black Marsh, and one wonders if this will have an effect on characters traveling to the region. It’s even reported to have spread past Black Marsh, into other regions of Tamriel, so it could be a major storyline for all factions in the game.

        If you’re a fan of all the history books you can find in a typical Elder Scrolls game, you’re in luck. ZeniMax Online Studios has made available on its website a fragmented autobiography of the Breton High King Emeric, leader of the Daggerfall Covenant, one of the three player factions in The Elder Scrolls Online.

        The story follows Emeric from his days as a heavy dragoon and through two sieges of the capital city of Daggerfall itself, one of which was precipitated by his spurning of a rival king’s daughter to take her place as his queen.

        The book closes on a note that sets the scene for the political climate of the MMORPG, commenting on the chaos in the Imperial province of Cyrodiil and sounding off about what needs to be done to set things right. Hint: It doesn’t involve harshly-worded letters:

        [quote]These are terrible times, but our destiny lies before us as straight and true as the Reman roads: we must march on Cyrodiil, overthrow the false empress and all her brood, and restore the Empire of Tamriel. Then once more peace and justice will rule the provinces, rather than blood and fire.[/quote]

        The story finishes out the trilogy of background materials for the leaders of the game’s three alliances, complementing works about the leader of the Aldmeri Dominion, Queen Ayrenn, and the Ebonheart Pact’s Jorunn the Skald-King.

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        Spawn creator touts Project Copernicus as 90% finished

        Stop us if you’ve heard this before — one of the big names behind 38 Studios’ doomed Project Copernicus says that the game was amazing and virtually finished and someone would be crazy not to pick it up.

        In an interview on Kotaku from Toy Fair, Spawn creator — and Copernicus Art Director — Todd McFarlane says that Curt Schilling “got it 90 yards” and it was only “10 yards away from the goal line.” Never mind that Schilling played baseball and not football.

        [quote]That was the one that, to me, was going to raise the bar. And I’m hoping that, once all the dust settles, maybe somebody would be smart enough to come in there and pick up the pieces and just take it to the finish line.[/quote]

        If I could pontificate for a moment… putting aside the question of quality, which is subjective, there seems to be no objective way to state that Copernicus was 90% complete, as McFarlane seems to claim. As one commenter on the Kotaku article states, having a working beta is about 50% of the job. It may seem like there’s not much left after that point, but as any experienced MMOer — much less MMO developer — knows that’s only the beginning.

        And, as someone who’s done some programming himself, I can testify getting your code to compile correctly and run without errors is great — then you’re just down to making it run correctly, which is another chore in and of itself. And for games, there’s the added duty of making it be entertaining, which is another, more nebulous, milestone.

        The notion that an art director with virtually no background in software development could label an MMORPG — which are among the most complex systems in all of gaming — as practically done seems more than a little dubious, even if it does come from someone as successful as McFarlane.

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        Video Game Board Games

        Last week at New York International Toy Fair, USAopoly announced several upcoming board games based on video game properties, such as Trivial Pursuit: World of Warcraft and RISK: Mass Effect Galaxy at War Edition.

        We thought this was only the tip of the iceberg and began to wonder what other video game properties – especially MMORPGs – would work well as board games. Here are some of the best video board game ideas we could come up with:

        SWTOR Operation

        Instead of extracting body parts, the object of the game is to extract money from your players in the most creative ways possible. Free game, but comes with half a tweezer; the other half must be purchased separately.

        PlanetSide 2 Connect 4

        Like regular Connect 4, but instead of an 8×8 matrix, it’s 800×800 and is for three players. Players must drop their tokens into the matrix from orbit.

        Firefall: The Board Game

        We’re not sure how it plays, but it still says “In Development” on the finished box product.

        World of Warcraft Chutes & Ladders

        Land on one space and subscribers go up by 700,000. Land on another, and they go down by 400,000. Only one move may be made every three months.

        The Secret World Scrabble

        All the tiles are written in ancient Sanskrit. Put them together in the right order to summon an ancient horror. Or maybe just bees.

        Magic Realm: EVE Online Edition

        If you’d ever played Magic Realm, you’d get the comparison. EVE looks about as complex as Candy Land by comparison.

        Trivial Pursuit: Elder Scrolls Online Edition

        Answer such exciting questions as “In what year in the Third Era did Emperor Uriel Septim II assume the throne?” and “What mine in Morrowind has the most ebony?” (Due out later this year, but we’re not going to show you practically anything about it.)

        Guild Wars 2 RISK

        The classic war game re-invented for Tyria! Before invading a neighboring territory, however, you must spend at least 10 minutes banging down the gate to that region.

        TERA: The Board Game

        Gorgeous components, and seems to require a good deal of skill, but it takes at least 20 hours to get to anything resembling fun.

        Rift Chess

        Plays like the normal game, with white and black pieces, except that every few minutes, pieces of a different color enter the board and mess everything up.

        (Answers to the TP:TESO questions: 64 and Mausur Caverns)

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        There’s a new Guild Wars 2 PvP map in the works that looks to borrow PvP elements from other MMORPGs and add it to GW2’s established control-point style of gameplay.

        Spirit Watch was unveiled today in a blog post on the official site, and like all PvP maps in the game, players will battle for control of three points across multiple vertical levels.

        In the center of the map is the Orb of Ascension — hey, we wondered what happened to the orbs they took out of WvW! — which a player can claim and then run to one of the three capture points, each of which represents one of the norn spirits of the wild: Wolf, Raven, or Bear. The Orb carrier suffers a 40% speed penalty and is unable to gain swiftness or stealth are disabled for the Orb-carrier. Teleporting or being downed makes you drop the Orb.

        Taking the Orb to a point your team controls nets your team 30 points, while taking it to an opponent-held point gives you 15 and immediately neutralizes the point. The Orb then resets 10 seconds later.

        The Orb of Ascension adds something of a capture-the-flag element to the game, but the option to carry it to opponent-held territory might also remind some players of Huttball from Star Wars: The Old Republic. Now if ArenaNet could just find a way to work in the match commentary: “Score one for the Rotnorns!”

        Spirit Watch will be part of the patch coming on Feb. 26, the second part of the Flame & Frost living story content, titled The Gathering Storm. In addition to continuing the story, the update will also add guild missions, two-team rated PvP, and the ability to pick and choose one’s daily achievements.

        What do you think of the map and the new secondary mechanic? Leave a comment below and let us know!

        Skyrim Food

        Elder Scrolls Online Food Truck Hits 11 Locations This Summer

        Someone stole your sweet roll? Don’t worry, ZeniMax Online Studios has got you covered!

        The Elder Scrolls Online developer announced today that it would be sending a food truck to five major conventions and six college campuses throughout the United States from March through October. A schedule for European sites is said to be in the works.

        You can catch the TESO food truck at the following venues:

        • SXSW 2013 – Austin, Texas (March 10)
        • PAX East – Boston, Massachusetts (March 22)
        • University of Massachusetts Amherst – Amherst, Massachusetts (March 29)
        • Michigan State University – East Lansing, Michigan (April 12)
        • University of Colorado – Boulder, Colorado (April 26)
        • University of Arizona – Tucson, Arizona (May 3)
        • E3 2013 – Los Angeles, California (June 12)
        • Comic-Con International – San Diego, California (July 18)
        • PAX Prime – Seattle, Washington (August 31)
        • University of California, Los Angeles – Los Angeles, California (September 20)
        • University of California, Berkeley – Berkeley, California (October 4)

        The SXSW stop in Austin will also feature the musical stylings of singer/composer Malukah, whose haunting covers of the Skyrim soundtrack are all over YouTube. Give her a listen, will you?

        If we want to really speculate, could the fact that the tours wrap up in early October point to a possible launch of the game after that date? Or maybe that’s just when they figure they’ll run out of food? Hey, these are gamers and college students we’re talking about, so let’s hope they bring about double what they expect they’ll need.

        The larger question might be: Is the way to geeks’ hearts through their stomachs? Maybe. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an Elder Scrolls food truck. I’m sure that the nords in their mead-halls used napkins, especially ones with “Skyrim” printed on them. And as the blogger writes, the promotion was effective:

        [quote]I, personally, have never played any games from The Elder Scrolls series, but the food truck got me looking into the game and talking to my friends about it.[/quote]

        OK, so maybe that’s not the perfect comparison. Just as long as they don’t serve authentic Bosmer cuisine.

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        It’s the weekend, and you know what that means!

        Well, OK, maybe you don’t. So let’s just look at funny YouTube commercials, shall we?

        In the spirit of that commercial show that aired last Sunday — and the football game that went with it, I guess — I’ve found some of the most… uh, “interesting”… commercials for MMO games out there, with topics running the gamut from basketball to stalkers to beautiful Chinese swordsmiths.

        Yeah, that’s right. So let’s take a look, shall we?

        Crafting or bust(s)

        Here’s an ad for a Chinese MMORPG, which apparently boasts of a crafting system where failure is always an option. But so long as your sister — we’ll go with that, OK? — pulls you back from oblivion and sends you a note… and the sword you were trying to craft… and, uh…

        Well, it had me in tears. The good kind.

        Gotta be the shoes

        Though the title claims that this is a Nike commercial, there’s a URL to an actual game site that appears operational. It’s all a little surreal, though — or is that actual gameplay? The cel-shaded graphics aren’t terrible, per se, but —

        — wait, what is that at 0:46? Seriously, WTF is going on there? I’m out.

        Extreme stewardesses

        There might be a game associated with this commercial, but let’s be frank — you’re not paying attention after the first minute, are you? The first listed comment pretty well sums it up:

        [quote]Didn’t understand a single word but.. LOVED THE VID! xDD[/quote]

        Sexism online

        Here’s a clip that features a game you might have heard of — Ragnarok Online — as well as being in English. That just makes it easier to understand its sad and pitiful commentary on gamers.

        “I can’t chase you — but I can fight for you!” Because girls are bad at MMORPGs, yo, and need a man to tank for them. If I were her, I’d get a restraining order filed, stat.

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        Guild Wars 2 Expansion

        Time for your monthly update on all things NCSoft from our good friends at Korean investment firm, KDB Daewoo Securities — and they’ve got a doozy of a proclamation this time.

        Last month’s report hinted at a Q3/Q4 2013 surge in profits, which we speculated as being related to a Guild Wars 2 expansion in the latter half of the year, an impression KDB representatives may have received after visiting NCSoft’s Korean offices. This month’s report is somewhat less vague:

        [quote]We anticipate NCsoft will also launch a mobile version of Blade & Soul in 1H through one of Japan’s leading mobile-gaming platform operators, DeNA. NCsoft plans to roll out its new title WildStar (currently being developed by US-based Carbine Studios) in 2H using CD packages in the US and Europe. It also intends to launch Guild Wars 2 in China, Taiwan, and Japan. An expansion pack for Guild Wars 2 is slated for a 2H release in the US and Europe.[/quote]

        Well, then.

        While that’s not quite as set-in-stone as hearing it straight from the horse’s (i.e., NCSoft’s or ArenaNet‘s) mouth, KDB obviously has a direct pipeline to NCSoft bigwigs, as evidenced by their recent office visit, and as we learned during the 38 Studios fiasco, folks who aren’t in the gaming industry and who don’t understand the importance of leaking release dates… well, tend to do so.

        As for other NCSoft-related properties — hey, there’s a second half of 2013 launch predicted for WildStar! The report alsocites Blade & Soul‘s launch as “underwhelming” and singles out Aion as a game that exhibits “a decline in the number of players.” The report also praises GW2 and Lineage as primary reasons for the company’s 654.4% (!) increase in year-to-year operating profit.

        So what do you think? Does this pretty much solidify for you the notion that we’ll see a Guild Wars 2 expansion before the end of the year?

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        Neverwinter Dungeon Preview

        First Impressions Of The Neverwinter Beta

        Neverwinter was the one game that eluded me at PAX Prime, so it wasn’t until this Wednesday that I got my grubby little gauntlets on the game for the first time. The tl;dr of my first impressions? It’s solid and does most things well, with most other issues being the usual quirks that can be chalked up to beta.


        Cloak and daggers

        I was summoned to a level 16 dungeon, the Cloak Tower, to accompany three other press-types and Neverwinter Lead Systems Designer Chris Metz. I was playing a guardian fighter, one of the three classes available for the event. There were three of us in the party, along with a trickster rogue and a devoted cleric. As a dwarf, I was, of course, the handsomest of the bunch.

        In about the three minutes that Chris briefed us on how to equip things, choose our powers, and so on, I was able to become completely familiar with my character’s skill set. I had two basic melee attacks, one each on the left and mouse buttons, and four “button” moves, tied to the Tab, Q, R, and T keys. There was also an “ultimate” ability that I built up the power for over time, and when I unleashed it, it knocked back all the mobs around me. (I choose to believe it was a “sweat meter,” and when I got worked up enough, everyone wanted to get away from the stinky dwarf.)

        Neverwinter uses a non-targeted, action-combat system, not unlike TERA, and it takes a little getting used to for someone who’s accustomed to tabbing to targets. You do have a reticle, and when it lights up over an enemy – or an ally for heals – you can activate the power.

        NeverwinterThis can be a little tricky at range, such as when I was using my charge attack (which I often accompanied with a call of “LEEROY!”) and thought I had the shot lined up only to press my key and have nothing happen. The group’s healer also commented that it was often difficult to single out friendly targets, and I imagine the same would apply to long-range bow- or spell-using characters.

        What makes the combat unlike TERA, or even Guild Wars 2, is that you can’t activate such powers – or at least the ones on my guardian fighter – without a suitable target. So I would never go charging off into oblivion, missing my target by three feet and slamming into a wall. The “pure” action-combat fans might be put off by this, but I think it’s a good compromise between action combat and a targeting system.

        In melee, where I spent most of my time, it was pretty much button-mashing my two attacks – one of which provided me with a small heal – and my three non-charge powers: two tank-like taunting powers and a stun. Several of the tougher enemies telegraphed their attacks by lighting up the floors with their areas of effect (a la WildStar), but I was usually tough enough to take it – or, if I wasn’t, I had a healer and lots of potions.

        Our trickster rogue, on the other hand, was often losing health at an alarming rate, which I’d attribute to his not paying as much attention to the enemies’ attacks and positioning himself appropriately. For us burly, heavily armored fighters, it wasn’t too much challenge to suck up what the bosses did to us, but I can see how squishier classes would need to pay better attention.


        Ad-Vansi-ed tactics

        The challenge level ramped up significantly, though, when we faced the final boss, a beastly she-orc named Vansi Bloodscar. We were doing our usual rofl-stomp on her king-sized health bar when she summoned adds. Lots of adds. Oh, and then she did a move where she knocked us all back, right into the waiting arms of said adds.

        NeverwinterDid I mention you can revive other party members in combat with the F key? If we didn’t learn that before, we did during the Vansi fight. While I did a spectacular job of tanking Vansi and her minions – which included plenty of running for my little dwarf life with about 10 orcs hot on my heels – the other party members pitched in to get us all up in fighting shape. Eventually, we wore the mean old lady down and then there was loot to be had. Ah, loot. You’re why we do this in the first place.

        My overall take on combat? It merges elements of the games I’ve already mentioned above, and I see nothing wrong with copying parts of what works in other games and finding the proper way to implement it in your own. With all the obvious “tells” for enemy attacks, I was rather lamenting the absence of any sort of “dodge” mechanic, but maybe that’s just reserved for rogues and other mobile classes – or at least classes more mobile than my stumpy little dwarf fighter.

        [Edit: I later learned that my guardian fighter couldn’t dodge, as some other classes can, but I can hold down the Shift key to raise my shield in advance of those particularly nasty attacks.]

        I tend to think that the boss fights – Vansi Bloodscar excepted – were made fairly easy by the presence of a dev and possibly overpowered armor. Though we were all noobs, the fact that you only have a limited number of powers to choose from makes it quick to pick up on, which may have helped us to look like old pros. Difficulty level is something that can be easily tweaked as beta progresses, and if I have to earn that gear instead of just having it handed to me, it’ll probably make the fights more challenging.


        A ‘shroom with a view

        Graphically, the game looks great. I was honestly impressed with the character models, textures, and environments, which are on par with the best the MMORPG genre has to offer. The Cloak Tower environs flowed seamlessly from wizards’ keep to subterranean, crystal-lined lair to cave structure with giant mushrooms, because you can’t make an RPG these days without including a cave with giant mushrooms. It’s the law.

        Sound is one area that still needs improvement. While there was plenty of hacking and slashing, it just seemed a little empty, audio-wise, and there was as yet, no voice acting. I’m sure that’s just something that will be remedied as the beta process continues; it’s typically one of the last things that gets finalized.

        NeverwinterAs we cleared the dungeon, there were various objects we could interact with, such as books and orbs, if we had the proper non-combat skills. Having blitzed through character creation, I couldn’t tell you at what point those skills are chosen, but there were quite a few options in the process, such as background and choice of god, so even with a fairly limited set of classes, you’ll have ways to stand out and customize your character to be useful to a party, even if there is some class overlap.

        Speaking of class customization, I only had the briefest of moments to look at all the talent trees and other build options – which were probably abbreviated for the beta anyway – but there seem to be plenty of ways to spec out your character, as one would expect.

        First impressions of an MMO are often where people form their everlasting judgments, for good or for bad. My first thoughts on Neverwinter is that it’s a worthy addition to the Dungeons & Dragons legacy. It’s difficult to explain, but it just feels like D&D, at least the dungeon-crawl aspect of it that I experienced. And there’s still a lot more to be added to the game.

        There are obviously some kinks yet be worked out in beta, polish to be applied, and bugs to be squashed, but the content I experienced seemed well-designed and just about ready for prime time. I, for one, can’t wait to see the finished product.

        For Troy Blackburn’s impressions of the recent Neverwinter beta, click here.

        Elder Scrolls Online wants to make players stand out

        Penny Arcade’s Sophie Prell recently got the chance to talk turkey with The Elder Scrolls Online Game Director Matt Firor about individuality in the MMO and how it’ll allow players — who are used to being solitary heroes — stand out among a cast of thousands.

        According to Firor, NPCs will recognize players for their heroic deeds with responses that only that player can see. So if you’ve saved the village, NPCs might thank you but they won’t say the same to your non-heroic friend.

        Then there’s the possibility of becoming emperor by excelling in the PvP aspects of the game, which will be determined by an as-yet-unfinished formula. Whether any actual power will be attached to that title remains to be seen.

        Then there’s the question of guilds. In Elder Scrolls games, guilds are basically quest hubs, not the player-run organizations of MMORPGs. Both will be present in TESO, and as your reputation with an NPC guild increases, you’ll receive further options to customize your character’s appearance.

        Overall, it sounds like ZeniMax Online Studios is doing everything it can to make sure TESO players still feel, to some extent, like they’re playing a single-player game. There’s a clear focus on trying to make players feel like they’re not just another anonymous face in the crowd.

        But is that something an MMORPG can even do? Even with all the little touches Firor talks about, will you still know, deep down in your heart, that you’re not the only “hero of Kvatch”? Or that you’re not the only person that an NPC entrusts with his or her super-important mission?

        The bigger question is maybe, should you even care? Should you approach an MMO with the notion that you’re going to be an individual hero or should you save those expectations for single-player games? Should MMO devs even waste the energy on trying to “fool” you into thinking you’re the hero?

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        Taking Aim At ESports

        I think we were all a little surprised by the recent news that Sony Online Entertainment would partner with Major League Gaming to bring PlanetSide 2 to the MLG competitive circuit. While we’re all still wondering at the “why”s and “how”s of the deal, maybe the question we ought to be asking is: “Should?”

        It seems like we’ve just recently come to an era where most MMORPG developers realize that they’re not going to match World of Warcraft‘s numbers. There are occasional boastful rumblings, but for the most part, the days of anticipating the “WoW killer” are gone.

        But what would the Captain Ahabs of the gaming industry do without a whale to hunt? Nowadays, the focus on “beating the best” seems to have shifted from people in the game to people watching the game, and nearly every new entry in the MMO industry seems to be taking a stab at e-sports.

        Is this a valid goal? Can or should MMOs be developed with e-sports in mind? Or are developers just setting themselves up to fall short of expectations – again?

        League of Legends

        Million airs

        It’s easy to see why companies would take this approach. The undisputed king of e-sports, Riot GamesLeague of Legends, drew over eight million viewers to its World Championships in October, and you better believe that brings in some serious coin in advertising revenue – not to mention simply exposing the game to a bunch of potential new players who can directly line Riot’s coffers.

        To put those 8.3 million viewers into perspective, the #25 broadcast program from that week scored 9.4 million viewers, meaning League of Legends likely would have rated in the top 30 or 40 among all television programs in the United States.

        (Yes, I know that many of the LoL viewers weren’t American, but it’s still a fascinating stat.)

        So it’s only natural that companies like SOE, ArenaNet (Guild Wars 2), Red 5 Studios (Firefall), Hi-Rez Studios (SMITE), and probably countless others are exploring the possibility of adapting their games for an e-sports audience. But should they?

        In many ways, League of Legends is like World of Warcraft: It came along at the exact right time and did for MMORPGs what LoL did for e-sports. It introduced tons of new players to a developing genre and made a new style of gaming relatively mainstream.

        Can that success be duplicated? That’s what SOE and others are banking on, though they probably don’t quite expect numbers on par with what LoL pulls, whether it’s 8+ million viewers for a World Championship or League‘s overall numbers of 70 million accounts and 32 million active monthly players.

        Guild Wars 2


        Or do they? Executives – in any company – are a “numbers first” bunch, who don’t necessarily understand the disconnect between data and reality. While I’m sure someone like John Smedley “gets it,” what about his boss? Or his boss’s boss? What did Smed need to promise to get the go-ahead to sign the deal with MLG and the requisite cash that will be required to execute the plan? If LoL gets 8.3 million viewers for its World Championships, what percentage of that does PS2 need to make its big event worth the investment? 10%? 25%? 50%?

        (From my personal experience… when developing a new trading-card game, a co-worker and I made the semi-error of remarking in front of an executive that it “wouldn’t be the next Pokémon,” which the executive responded to by saying, “Why not?” Our response: “Because it just won’t be.” That didn’t satisfy him.)

        Even if a CEO doesn’t have a suit to satisfy, his own ego can be his downfall. Enough games have tried – and failed – to match WoW‘s numbers without any external pressure that it’s not hard to see the same thing happening even for fully independent studios like Red 5 or semi-independent ones like ArenaNet.

        This isn’t to say that Mark Kern or Mike O’Brien – or Smedley, for that matter – are overreaching when it comes to their goals of developing their games for e-sports. But just as with the first few years of WoW‘s existence, where everyone looked at WoW‘s numbers and thought “Why not us?” nobody really knows what the ceiling for e-sports is. The first few MMOs released in the wake of WoW probably thought that five to 10 million players was a totally reachable goal; after years of often-painful experience, we now know that to be a nigh-impossibility.


        A sporting chance

        All this isn’t to say that MMO devs shouldn’t try to take a bite out of e-sports. The money’s definitely there, and the concept is new enough that there’s probably still room to make a big splash, if done right.

        But, as we’ve learned with people trying to “chase” World of Warcraft, it shouldn’t come at the expense of the rest of your game. Some games are well-suited for e-sports, and some aren’t, just as some games are suitable for a mass-market audience like WoW‘s and some aren’t. The key is knowing what you have and being realistic about what you’re trying to do.

        League of Legends, with its focus on small, competitive matches and skill-based gameplay, make it a perfect game for medium. Other MMORPGs, which dedicate much of their resources to mechanics that aren’t meant for the e-sports crowd — such as crafting, exploration, most PvE, and some types of PvP — might see e-sports as a “Hey, let’s try to do this, too, in addition to everything else we’re doing.”

        E-sport talk is just “tacked on” to the package as a whole, making it more of a feature than a core part of the game, hurting its chances to really establish itself with the e-sports crowd, which — like MMO players who like one of the above types of gameplay — expects the entire game to cater to what they want to see.

        Maybe SOE will prove us all wrong with PlanetSide 2 and innovate a new era in e-sports that goes beyond the “small-team” games like League of Legends. Instead of two-side, five-on-five matches, maybe they’ll figure out an effective way to manage and broadcast three-way battles involving hundreds of players. If they can pull it off, it should be entertaining as hell to watch.

        But if their effort comes up short, will it discourage other companies from trying? As long as League of Legends continues to pull in millions of viewers – just as World of Warcraft pulls in millions of players – someone will always try to duplicate that success, no matter how many other games fall by the roadside.

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        MMOFPS launches globally on April 2

        We already know that the SyFy network will air the first episode of Defiance on April 15. Today, we got news from Trion Worlds about the accompanying MMOFPS’s launch date as well: April 2.

        In a press release issued today, Trion announced the Defiance launch date for PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360, stressing again the unique link between the video game and the TV program, calling it “a one-of-a-kind transmedia experience.”

        [quote]”In terms of ambition and scope, Defiance’s transmedia features make it unlike any other entertainment experience,” said Nathan Richardsson, Trion’s VP of Development and Defiance Executive Producer. “After five years of development, it brings great pride to the Trion and Syfy teams seeing Defiance come to fruition.”[/quote]

        The news is accompanied by a new live-action trailer, titled “Join the Fight!”, which is a little bit Star Wars cantina scene, a little bit Mad Max, and a little bit Starship Troopers.

        If you haven’t already tried out Defiance for yourself, you can sign up for the beta on the game’s site. Advanced Mission Beta 2 is scheduled for Feb. 8-10 — and if that name alone isn’t enough to get you to sign up, we’re not sure what else will do it.

        Oh yeah, maybe the released pricing details announced earlier this week. So get out there and kill some bugs, recruit!

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        In case you missed it — and we’re not sure how — the January Guild Wars 2 update went live yesterday, bringing us both the Flame & Frost prelude and a whole slew of other changes to the game.

        The patch notes are extensive, but we’ve highlighted our favorites — outside of the ones covered on the prelude page — below:

        • Daily achievements have been revised, having just one tier and rotating on a daily basis.
        • In addition to modifications to level scaling, which scaling down making characters generally weaker and scaling up making them generally stronger, “It is now possible to receive your own level of loot from any level of enemy.”
        • Fractal changes: You can now enter a Fractals of the Mist party of any level, and your level will increase if you’re in a party lower than your fractal level or receive bonus karma if your level is higher. Also, disconnected players can reconnect and you can bring in new players in the middle of a run.
        • Orr: The density of creatures has been reduced (my personal favorite) and chest rewards have been upgraded.
        • Orr: Uncontested waypoints have been added and visual cues on the maps have been added to alert players of active statues and their effects.
        • Orr: Every temple chain has had its difficulty tweaked.
        • Dungeons: Players can no longer retreat to a waypoint while their parties are in combat.
        • The rich orichalcum node in Southsun Cove is now a normal ore node.
        • “Weapons now continue to grant bonus stats while bundles are equipped” and “Bundles from player skills (engineer kits, elementalist conjured weapons, warrior banners) now have base damage that is consistent with the highest rarity weapons available at the level of the player.”
        • “Fixed Zojja and other NPCs having invisible headgear in cinematics.” No more bald Zojja!

        And don’t miss the three dev posts that accompanied yesterday’s update:

        Whew! It’s a lot to absorb. So what’s your favorite (or least favorite) part of the update?

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        Trion Worlds To Publish XLGames’ ArcheAge In Western Markets

        As if Trion Worlds didn’t have enough on its plate, with Rift chugging along, the impending launch of Defiance, and End of Nations and Warface waiting in the wings — now the publisher has added another highly anticipated title to its library, snagging the rights to publish XLGames’ ArcheAge sandbox MMORPG in North America and Europe.

        In an exclusive interview with VentureBeat, Trion CEO Lars Buttler calls ArcheAge‘s creator Jake Song “a perfectionist in every way.” Song was the man behind Lineage and has had ArcheAge in development for six years and beta for two. He said about the deal:

        [quote]”We’re thrilled to be working with Trion Worlds, a company who is setting a new standard for gaming by embracing original, high-quality [games] on a dynamic connected platform. We are impressed with Trion’s track record as they have consistently delivered against an unwavering vision; we are confident partnering with Trion will help bring ArcheAge the success it deserves.”[/quote]

        Character creation in ArcheAge is designed to be open-ended, with players choosing three of 10 talents to specialize in, allowing for over 100 different possibilities. The game also includes naval combat, robust trade, flight, housing, epic siege battles, and a legal system. It even has two continents with two different art styles: one for Western gamers and one for Asian players.

        The game will be available via Trion’s Red Door publishing platform, which is described in the VB article as “a development platform aimed at speeding up publication and a server architecture designed for dynamic events, where changes happen to the game world on the fly.”

        But we have to wonder a little bit at one of Buttler’s statements, the kind that makes gamers cringe when they hear it:

        [quote]”It’s all you expect from a triple-A game. In this category, you have to see World of Warcraft as competition.”[/quote]

        Let the “WoW killer” talk officially begin!

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        TESO Trailer

        Does the Elder Scrolls Online beta trailer foreshadow gameplay?

        You watch the Elder Scrolls Online beta trailer and just see a bunch of dudes fighting.

        I watch it and see a good deal more — or at least the potential for more.

        We know that these kind of trailers rarely are perfectly accurate representations of what we’ll be seeing in the games themselves. Typically, characters and situations are similar to what we’ll see in the final product, but specific gameplay actions are usually exaggerated for the sake of making a cool video.

        There’s a lot going on in the Elder Scrolls Online beta trailer, but how much of it will carry over into the game? Or can we just “ooh” and “aah” over the glitzy presentation?

        The trailer has three separate and distinct parts, each highlighting the three factions in the game: the Daggerfall Covenant, the Aldmeri Dominion, and the Ebonheart Pact.

        The Elder Scrolls Online

        Ebonheart Pact: With Fire & Sword

        We start with a party of four — by the looks of it, a Nord warrior, two Dark Elves, and an Argonian. The Dark Elf mage points his staff down the hallway and lets loose with an illuminating fireball.

        I’ve always thought staves a bit strange in TES games. The kind of character you most associate with them — mages — tend to need them the least, as they typically have bountiful mana pools and don’t need implements like this to achieve their ends.

        But in TESO, weapons will determine what skills you can use, to some extent. So I’d fully expect that a character — any character, mind you — who wants to shoot a fireball will need to equip a staff to do so. A mage-type character might be better at it — more damage, quicker cooldown, whatever — but even that nord warrior could at least serve the role of “party flashlight.”

        In what looks like a typical dungeon crawl, the group takes on a pack of what appears to be werewolves. As we know, players won’t be able to become werewolves, so they’ll likely serve simply as antagonists. I don’t think we can take anything in particular away from the combat, which is a typical blend of spell and weapon effects. But hey, they look pretty.

        That covers the most obvious PvE portion of the video. Which brings us to…

        The Elder Scrolls Online

        Aldmeri Dominion: Scaling the Walls

        Now this is a fortress siege I could get into! Climbing up rappel lines, dodging fiery explosions, arrows, boulders… all right!

        Now raise your hand if you think we’ll actually see any of this. Yeah, didn’t think so.

        Hey, it’s a cinematic trailer, I wouldn’t expect we’ll see things that are exact analogs of what we’ll experience in game. But I’d like to think there’s a chance we’ll get a little more from our three-faction PvP than just the same “bash down the gates for 10 minutes” action we’re currently getting from games like Guild Wars 2.

        If you’ve played as many Total War games as I have, you know that sieges can be intense and the action can be directed across multiple fronts. Some troops are bashing in a gate here, some are scaling the walls there, and others are even undermining the walls or tunneling in from below. Why can’t that be the case in an MMO?

        Dark Age of Camelot brought realm-vs.-realm fighting to the forefront in MMORPGs, and with Matt Firor in charge of things, could we see further innovation? I hope so.

        The Elder Scrolls Online

        Daggerfall Covenant: A Bridge Too Far

        Speaking of crazy siege mechanics, the Daggerfall Covenant portion of our video seems to have it in spades. The “ballista bridges” would fit my earlier request of different access points to a T, especially if they could be — as seen in the video — destroyed by the defenders, sending the assaulting forces to plummet to their doom.

        But I really can’t believe you’ll be able to “zipline” down to the tower like our intrepid Breton ninja.

        After he takes down multiple opponents at once with an array of butt-kicking moves — because he’s a ninja — we cut back to the High Elf woman, who mixes swordplay with magic, again emphasizing the freedom in character design that looks to be a hallmark of the game, before concluding with the epic three-way standoff between representatives of the three factions.

        Who will win? My septims on the Nord. He’s probably a mage in disguise.

        Other tidbits:

        Those guys in the tower? Clearly Imperials in the three-faction PvP province of Cyrodiil. You can see the White-Gold Tower clearly in the distance at 2:26.

        Check out the Aldmeri lady’s backup. Three characters with human-ish faces in tribal-looking armor are probably Wood Elves. But at 5:00, you get a very blurry look at the third, whose face appears to be that of a Khajiit.

        Does the Nord coming out of his dungeon encounter with the werewolf signify that there will be PvE dungeons in close proximity to the PvP area, as we’ve seen in other games? Or is it just dramatic license?

        For even more information on The Elder Scrolls Online check out Richie’s roundup of the state of the game information.

        TESO Beta

        ZeniMax Begins Elder Scrolls Online Beta Signups

        It’s (almost) time for you to get your hands on The Elder Scrolls Online.

        ZeniMax Online Studios today started taking signups for The Elder Scrolls Online beta, opening up the floodgates for thousands of gamers to experience, first-hand, an MMORPG set in the popular Elder Scrolls universe.

        [quote]You can now officially sign up for The Elder Scrolls Online beta program starting today. If selected, you will be one of the first people to embark upon the newest Elder Scrolls adventure, and help us beta test The Elder Scrolls Online. Please be aware that this is just beta sign-ups. Once our first beta test begins, we’ll make sure everyone knows—watch our official website, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter for an announcement about the first round of invites.

        Thank you all for your enthusiastic support. We’re thrilled to share this very important day with you.[/quote]

        But let’s be honest — MMO betas are only a little bit about actually testing the game, for most people. Chances are, you’ll be checking the game out to — well, check the game out. Do you think you’ll get much “testing” done, or will you just be in the game to try it out and see if you’ll want to spend money on it later?

        In any case, you can expect that the GameBreaker crew will be in the beta and that we’ll talk about — well, whatever we can talk about. Which, being a closed beta, probably won’t be much at this point. Remember the first rule of TESO beta…

        The Elder Scrolls Online was originally announced last May 3 and has been met by gamers with both eager anticipation and wary trepidation. ZeniMax insists the game will be ready by the end of the year, and it won the GameBreaker Award for most anticipated MMO of 2013.

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        ZeniMax Online Studios has issued another video talking about The Elder Scrolls Online lore, this time featuring head loremaster Lawrence Schick discussing the roles of the game’s three alliances and their designs on the Imperial province of Cyrodiil.

        To summarize, the ruling Tharn family in Tamriel has ties to the daedra prince Molag Bal and is calling upon him to revitalize their failing empire. The three factions — the Aldmeri Dominion, the Daggerfall Covenant, and the Ebonheart Pact — don’t much care for this idea and, with their own leaders taking the forefront, plan to kick the Tharns out of power and take over for themselves.

        In game terms, this sets up both a major PvE aspect of the game — how players will fight the influence of Molag Bal and his daedric anchors, which will crop up all over the land — and the three-way PvP action that takes place in the central province of Cyrodiil.

        So which alliance will you pledge yourself to?

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          Dragon Age Lead Writer David Gaider took to his blog over the weekend to discuss the issue of romance in games, and in BioWare games in particular. And if your question is “I can haz moar sex in mah vidya games?” his answer is pretty straightforward:

          “If we had more resources, I suppose I wouldn’t mind allowing the player to try romancing every follower, but to allow them to successfully do so? No, I can’t say that appeals to me very much.”

          His primary two reasons are that romances, particularly BioWare romances, which are generally done with some modicum of taste, are supposed to be side options, and not a major part of the game, and that oversexualizing characters tends to objectify them, as if they’re nothing more than inventory items for a libidinous player to collect – especially since these kind of options are typically meant to appeal to males.

          If the option existed, Gaider would like to see different outcomes – including the possibility of failure – and different character types to romance: some shy, some aggressive, some tragic possibilities, and even some who cheat on your character.

          All of which makes good storytelling, but does it distract from the main reason for buying the game – i.e., to play it? To save the kingdom/galaxy/princess/etc.? And would an overabundance of romantic options reduce a game to something of a laughingstock? “Sure, I saved the world, but I spent more time getting horizontal with all of my party members.”

          What do you think? Do you want to see more or less romance in your RPGs? Or do the current titles get the mix just about right?

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          In the beginning…

          While everyone’s ogling the new and shiny Guild Wars 2 developer video, this one from Colin Johanson, I’d like to go back to an earlier one – the early one, in fact.

          Back when the earth was new and none of us had ever heard the phrases “fiscal cliff” or “Gangnam style,” there was the Guild Wars 2 Manifesto. While you could argue as to whether ArenaNet fulfilled all its lofty promises, there’s only one I’d like to address today: grind.

          Here’s what Colin Johanson had to say in the Manifesto video:

          In most games, you go out and you have really fun tasks occasionally that you get to do, and the rest of the game is this boring grind to get to the fun stuff. “I swung a sword, I swung a sword again… hey, I swung it again! That’s great!” We just don’t want players to grind in Guild Wars 2. No one enjoys that, no one finds it fun. We want to change the way people view combat.

          Colin seems to be taking a smaller approach to grind than what most people – or maybe just I – think. He’s referring to “grind” as boring combat, whereas I think “grind” to most MMORPG players means “endgame grind,” namely having to repeat the same content over and over to get the best stuff in the game.

          The blog post attached to the Manifesto video seems to echo my sentiments, saying:

          It [Guild Wars 2] doesn’t suck your life away and force you onto a grinding treadmill

          Our games aren’t about preparing to have fun, or about grinding for a future fun reward.

          So, that comes to the big question: Is there a Guild Wars 2 grind? Has this part of the Manifesto, at least, been validated? For the most part, I’d say “yes.”


          No grind allowed

          To get you an idea of where I’m at: I’ve got two level 80 characters and three alts. I’ve run about 10 to 15 each fractal sets and explorable mode dungeons. I’ve got one crafting profession at 400 and two more in the 300s. I’ve fought the Claw of Jormag twice, never seen Tequatl or the Shatterer. I’ve done all the Orr temple events once except Grenth and two times on Melandru. I’ve done some sPvP and WvW, but usually don’t dip into either more than a couple times a week.

          Based on that resumé, I don’t think you’d say I’ve “grinded” anything. I’ve sampled a little bit of everything and there’s still a fair amount left to do, including several dungeons and one whole zone (Blazeridge Steppes) I’ve only spent about five minutes in.

          And I have the best gear, stat-wise, in the game. Well, sort of.

          You see, I could have the best gear on one of my 80s, and probably on the other. Between my crafting, gold – about 35 across all my characters, which isn’t much to hear some of the people in my guild talk, though I could get more by clearing out my bank – and karma, I could easily have a full set of exotic armor, exotic weapons, and superior runes and sigils that fit my build and playstyle.

          So why don’t I? Because I’m saving up for that damned legendary weapon.

          “Aha! There’s the grind!” you say. Yes, without a doubt, getting a legendary weapon is a grind on a massive scale. I crunched the numbers the other day and found that, if I bought everything I needed for my legendary – not counting what I already have or account-bound items – it would run me about 1,170 gold, including 500 for my precursor weapon alone.

          But legendary weapons are nothing more than extremely fancy cosmetic upgrades. They’re the ultimate in bragging rights and uber-cool, but, stat-wise, they’re the same as an exotic I could get for a few gold on the trading post, from a few more dungeon runs, from crafting, from the Mystic Forge, etc.

          So my decision to (mostly) hoard my gold, my globs of ectoplasm, my T6 crafting mats, and so on is slightly hampering my overall ability at the moment – though rares aren’t too far a step down from exotics in most cases – but it’s something I could remedy almost instantly if I chose to give up my legendary chase.

          And I think having a full set of all the best gear in the game, without needing to repeat specific content or do certain things over and over and over more than satisfies the promise of there being no gear grind in Guild Wars 2


          Grinds my gears

          …except for ascended gear. Yeah, that still sticks in my craw at the moment, but I’m kinda-sorta OK with it because the stat differences are very minor and it’s currently limited to just one slot. And ArenaNet clearly saw the response to their introduction and will be extremely careful in expanding ascended gear in the future.

          In truth, I like my legendary “grind,” at least for the moment. (Ask me again in six months.) If not for that, I would have all the best stuff and might be wondering a little bit about where to go next.

          But because I have the long-term goal of a legendary to strive for, I feel like there’s still something for me to accomplish, something beyond just having the best stat gear in the game.

          Others might disagree with ArenaNet’s implementation, insisting that the best stat gear should be something that should at least require some kind of very difficult, semi-unique task, such as defeating a raid boss in a large group. In other words, it should require great skill, not just the accumulation of resources – in GW2‘s case, gold, karma, crafting mats, or even tokens from relatively easy dungeons or fractals.

          I can see where that side comes from, but that isn’t ArenaNet’s style. If you did require “the big raid” or whatever to get the best gear, would it make sense to only have to do it once? Of course not. You’d have to do it again and again to get a full set of armor, weapons, accessories, etc. – and that would be grind.

          No matter how grandiose your expectations, every MMO has to include some kind of reason to “grind” – or, by definition, a reason to make you come back to it beyond just, “Well, it’s fun.” I like fun in my games, too, but even I would rather do something that’s fun and gets me something I can use in the game than just doing something for kicks. And I think I’m on the low end of the “Best Gear or Nothing” side of the player base.

          Ascended gear notwithstanding, I like that Guild Wars 2 limits its grind to a cosmetic. Looking up at what still lays before me, I feel it could maybe be a touch easier to acquire, but maybe it’s better this way. It means that people who are just interested in stats can get a full set of “stat gear” with relatively little effort but that there’s something else super-fancy to strive for.

          That part of the Manifesto, at least in my mind, has been true to ArenaNet’s vision and promises.

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          The Secret World

          Funcom Layoffs Confirmed in Statement

          Funcom has confirmed a round of layoffs at its Montreal studio, according to an investor notice posted today. The studio will not be entirely shut down, but will “continue to exist although in a different form than today,” a company spokesman said via gamesindustry.biz.

          The move comes as part of Funcom’s wider focus on streamlining its product offerings “to realize the strategy of building smaller high quality MMO games such as the upcoming ‘LEGO Minifigures’ game which is currently in development by the highly experienced team at the Company’s Oslo studio.”

          Existing MMO games, such as The Secret World, Age of Conan, and Anarchy Online will not be affected by this move. In fact, the investor notice states that The Secret World has sold over 70,000 new units since going to a buy-to-play model four weeks ago.

          The message also ominously states that more moves could be on the way:

          The restructuring of the Company will involve cost reductions through the closure and the consolidation of offices with the goal of creating a stronger unified organization that can take full advantage of the exciting opportunities that face the games industry as it steps into 2013 and beyond.

          What does this mean for MMO fans? If TSW is doing as well as is claimed, it doesn’t seem likely that Funcom would trash its staff to save a few bucks at this point. This is one case where I think it really is just a restructuring and general cost-cutting measure that will have little to no effect on the company’s existing games, at least in the short term.

          That said, if the company’s focus truly is shifting to smaller games, and more “restructuring” is on the way, could an older, not-quite-as-profitable game get the ax in 2013? I wouldn’t completely bet against it.

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          Are MMO's Overhyped?

          Do MMOs Get Too Much Hype, Too Soon?

          Suppose you’re launching a new brand of, let’s say, soda. Your fantastic new elixir, Jason-Cola – love the name, BTW – is a refreshing alternative to those big-brand colas on the market.

          You launch an extensive marketing campaign, hire a celebrity spokesman, get placement in all the grocery stores, and then, on the first day your product is available – the public hates it.

          Not everyone, mind you… you’ve still got some fans, who like it just because it isn’t Coke or Pepsi. But it’s clear your soda has flaws. Maybe it’s not fizzy enough, maybe it’s too acidic – maybe it just doesn’t taste right.

          The problem is, though, that thousands, or maybe millions, of people have tried your soda and it’s left, quite literally, a bad taste in their mouths. Good luck getting those people back; in fact, good luck launching anything ever again. Your brand, along with hundreds of cases of subpar soda, is very likely in the toilet.

          By this point, you’ve probably seen through my clever analogy: Jason-Cola is an MMORPG. More specifically, it’s a modern, AAA MMO, which inundates prospective players with marketing hype for months – if not years – leading up to a game’s launch, sees a lot of opening action, and then shrinks rapidly, weighed down by a flood of negativity from jilted players who didn’t get exactly what they wanted and are going back to their own standbys, cursing your name and vowing never again to fall for your tricks.

          MMO Hype

          Bad Timing

          Is this the fault of overaggressive and poorly timed marketing? Consider this: An MMO is at its worst – its absolute worst – when it launches. Technical issues, overcrowded servers, queues, bugs, poorly implemented gameplay… these are all things that haunt every new game, but can generally be overcome with a little time.

          The problem is, this is the exact point when there will be the most people in a game. So what an MMO maker is doing is, in effect, exposing the most possible people to the worst possible version of his product. It seems like a bad idea, and it probably is.

          We know why it’s done, of course. MMOs cost millions – in some cases, tens or hundreds of millions – to make, and investors want to see a return on that investment now.

          I think there’s also some lingering mindset of the promotion of single-player games. When one of those launches, you want to draw as many people to it as soon as you can, because in two or three months, everyone will have moved on to the next game.

          That’s not the case with MMOs. If you’re only thinking about the number of players you’ll have after three months, you’re doing it wrong. If all you’re concerned about is first-day, first-week, or first-month box sales, then you’re probably just setting yourself up for failure.

          It makes for a great press release, though, doesn’t it? “Over one million players have tried our game!” That’s great, but how many are sticking around through the post-launch period? What would be better? One million players in your first month – many of whom will leave shortly thereafter – or steady grown leading to one million regular players after six months?

          Sadly, most companies – and especially most executives – would take the first option, because they believe that having a million players in one month means they’ll have two million in three months, three million in six months, and so on. By and large, it doesn’t work that way – not with single-player video games and certainly not with MMOs.

          This isn’t to say there shouldn’t be MMO hype or marketing. Just maybe… I don’t know… spread it out a little bit? Don’t blow your entire wad at launch, save a good chunk of it for down the line, so you can keep those servers packed long after your opening weekend, when you can show them a better, more refined and bug-free version of your game.

          But does some of the blame lie with players, as well? Do we expect too much – or do we expect just the right amount?

          MMO Hype

          Old vs. New

          Going back to Jason-Cola, suppose you don’t like it, but a friend of yours does. Would he say, “Sure, it’s not as good as Coke, but Coke’s been around for a hundred years! They’ve had lots of time to perfect their formula, just give these new guys a chance!”

          You don’t care. All you care is that you paid $1.29 for your bottle of J-C, and you can get a bottle of Coke or Pepsi for roughly the same amount, and it’s better. Free market principles would say that the better product will get more sales, and it doesn’t matter how long one of them’s been around. If you can’t make something that competes with today’s offerings, then don’t make it.

          So should we hold up a new MMO to the standards of an old one, usually World of Warcraft? If the new game doesn’t (yet) have a group finder, tons of endgame content, robust PvP, or whatever, should we be patient and wait for it to come along?

          Or do we just go back to our old, comfortable MMO, which has everything we want, even if it is a bit stale? A lot of people do, by the looks of it.

          But do we owe it to the “new guy” – whether it’s an MMO or a soda – to give it time to grow, to work out its kinks, and to “catch up” to the bigger, more established brands? No new MMO could ever match the feature set or raw amount of content of one that’s been out for eight years. It simply isn’t possible for a new MMO to be as refined, as polished, or to have as many features as World of Warcraft. It will never happen, and we need to stop expecting it.

          If you’re patient, you might counsel the devs to take longer to put the game out, but there has to be a limit to that – not only because of the aforementioned investors, but because if you try to put everything into an MMO, it’ll be in development forever. There’s always more you can add before launch, but there’s a question as to whether you should.

          And if we don’t like it initially, will we ever consider giving it a try later?

          MMO Hype

          Second Impressions

          After Star Trek Online went free-to-play, Executive Producer Dan Stahl said that he hoped players would come back and see all the improvements that had been made. I was one of those players, and I had to agree that the game was much improved over the version that had launched two years earlier.

          STO was the classic example of a game that was heavily hyped and then, for many people, failed to live up to immediate expectations. For some, Star Wars: The Old Republic fits that bill now. Or TERA. Or The Secret World. Or Guild Wars 2.

          Maybe it’s fair that these games are judged right out of the box, and maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s the developers’ fault, maybe it’s the unrealistic expectations of the consumers.

          I’m just going to think about it for a spell, while enjoying the cool, clear taste of a sparkling Jason-Cola. In stores now!

          6 MMO Questions

          A new year brings with it new hopes and new possibilities – not to mention, a bunch of new games to play!

          There’s a lot to wonder about in 2013 for MMO players, from how new games will fare to how the older ones will keep up. Here are our top six questions for the new year. What are your answers? And do you have some of your own to add?

          What will we learn about Titan?

          The 2013 rumor mill for Titan has already gotten underway and likely won’t stop until we get something firm from Blizzard. Smart money’s on that being somewhere around BlizzCon, but things have a way of becoming known that isn’t through entirely official channels.

          Remember when Blizzard trademarked “Mists of Pandaria,” several months before the expansion’s official announcement at BlizzCon 2011? We’re betting something similar will find its way into gamers’ hands before this year’s BlizzCon – assuming there will be one, of course.

          Which game will fold?

          The last couple years have seen a number of venerable, high-profile games bite the dust. City of Heroes was the best-known casualty of 2012, with Star Wars: Galaxies expiring just before the end of 2011.

          In truth, many MMOs close up shop every year; 2012 also saw the last days of Glitch, Black Prophecy, and Earthrise (which is scheduled to return), among others. But it’s those long-standing, “thought they’d be around forever” games that seem to get the most publicity.

          I’d rather not speculate on who’s going to take the arrow to the knee this year, but I’d think it would be an older game – at least five years old or so – with a still-significant fan base that’s seeing more infrequent updates than before, an increasingly disgruntled player base, and less media coverage. If that’s your game, watch out.


          How will Guild Wars 2 do?

          ArenaNet’s premier title came out of the gates strong in 2012, but there’s some question as to whether it can keep that momentum going in 2013. The game’s monthly updates have been generally well-received, but can the company keep up that pace, especially if an expansion is looming?

          Despite being a generally solid game, GW2 still has its issues, from world vs. world balance to camera issues to the ubiquitous bugs that plague every new game. Then there are quality-of-life improvements like PvP spectator modes, group finders, and guesting… it would be enough of a list to keep a dev team busy even if there was no new content planned.

          Every MMO experiences some drop-off after launch, and Guild Wars 2 likely is no exception. Given the game’s high profile and lofty promises, players might even be more miffed than usual when the game doesn’t match up to their perfect expectations. Can ArenaNet fulfill those players’ needs and also expand their player base in 2013?

          Now that the initial hype train has been exhausted, I think GW2 will hold pretty much steady in 2013, and new players will replace those who leave at a fairly equal clip. I know it doesn’t make for compelling copy, but that’s what the vast majority of MMOs do every year, and it sure beats the hyperbolic “GW2 FAIL!!” and “OMG BEST GAME EVAR!!!” comments that are more commonly found on the Internet.

          Who will go F2P?

          There aren’t many options left for this question. Only a few high-profile MMOs with a monthly fee are left, and I don’t think World of Warcraft or EVE Online will bite the bullet this year.

          That leaves Rift and TERA as the best options. Both are new-ish games, both of which have had their shares of ups and downs and neither of which seem likely to release an expansion this year, so they’ll need to do something to shake things up a bit and generate interest.


          Can Final Fantasy XIV make a comeback?

          What Square Enix is doing is unprecedented. The company launched an MMO, admitted it was a failure, kept it going as a free title for a while, re-instituted a sub fee, then took it completely offline. Oh, and it’s preparing to re-launch it this year. Got all that?

          A Realm Reborn will release approximately three years after the game’s first launch, and while it should fix many of the issues players initially had with the game and win back a solid portion of its fans, it seems unlikely to garner much support from new players, i.e., ones who didn’t try FFXIV in its first go-around.

          Final Fantasy XI is the most profitable FF game ever, though it never reached the lofty heights most would associate with a “big” MMO these days. For all the investment Square Enix has put into FFXIV, and all the losses it has absorbed, will modest success be enough?

          What about The Elder Scrolls Online?

          Finally, we come to the 800-pound gorilla in the room. The Elder Scrolls Online is probably the only AAA MMO scheduled to come out in 2013, and it’s going to be huge – but whether that’s a huge success or a huge flop is still anyone’s guess.

          We’ve only gotten very small, tantalizing sneak peeks at the game, and virtually nobody, apart from a few press folks, has any hands-on with the game. Once The Elder Scrolls Online beta starts, we’ll have a better view, but that’s probably months away. Wise and patient players will reserve judgment – whether for good or for ill – until at least that long.

          Now maybe the real question should be, “Will we see any wise and patient MMO players in 2013?

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          2012 Gamebreaker Video Game Awards

          The votes are in, and you, the fans have spoken!

          See who came away with top honors in the 2012 GameBreaker Awards gala celebration, hosted by Gary Gannon and his (generally well-dressed) minions, Scott Hawkes, Jason Winter, and Josh Allen. It’s a nearly clean sweep for one game, but there are plenty of other categories up for grabs!

          It should also be noted that there were some pretty amazing games nominated for these awards, and we would be remiss not to at least list the top three choices for each category.  We would like to congratulate the winners and runners up.  These are truly great games.



          Gamebreaker Awards Best Graphics

          First Place: Guild Wars 2

          Second Place: PlanetSide 2

          Third Place: TERA






          Best Soundtrack

          First Place: Guild Wars 2

          Second Place: World of Warcraft

          Third Place: Star Wars: The Old Republic





          BEST NEW MMO

          Best New MMO

          First Place: Guild Wars 2

          Second Place: PlanetSide 2

          Third Place: Star Wars: The Old Republic





          BEST NEW F2P GAME

          Best New F2P

          First Place: PlanetSide 2

          Second Place: Star Wars: The Old Republic

          Third Place: Aion





          BEST MOBA

          Best MOBA LoL


          First Place: League of Legends

          Second Place: DOTA 2

          Third Place: Heroes of Newerth




          Most Anticipated MMO

          First Place: The Elder Scrolls Online

          Second Place: Neverwinter

          Third Place: WildStar





          BEST MMO

          Best MMO


          First Place: Guild Wars 2

          Second Place: World of Warcraft

          Third Place: EVE Online




          Once again, congratulations to all the winners.  And, thanks everyone for your votes, and we’ll see you next year!

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          Guild Wars 2 Expansion Incoming

          Is there a Guild Wars 2 expansion in the works? Probably.

          When will it be out, though? That’s anyone’s guess — though some guesses have a bit more to go on than others.

          The latest report from Korean securities firm KDB Daewoo has mostly good things to say about NCSoft, particularly regarding the launch of Guild Wars 2 and its first few months of operation. Specifically, Q4 2012 is cited as setting a record in operating profit for the company, with GW2 leading the way to the tune of 118 billion Korean won ($110 million USD). Combined with a 3Q OP of W46 billion ($43 million), that makes for a grand total of over $150 million.

          Lineage II also gets some of the credit for NCSoft’s strong fourth quarter, with Blade & Soul and Aion expected to “remain flat.”

          As for the future, the report considers the overseas — i.e., North America and Europe — market to be the most lucrative in 2013, including this exciting tidbit:

          In China, the company is planning to launch Blade & Soul (via a publishing agreement with Tencent) in 3Q13 and Guild Wars 2 in 4Q13 (via a publishing agreement with Kong Zhong). Furthermore, we expect NCsoft to release an expansion pack for Guild Wars 2 in Europe and the US in 2H13.

          OK, but we all figure a GW2 expansion is planned at some point in the next year or so. So what gives this estimate any credence? For that answer, look back at the first few words of the report:

          We recently visited NCsoft

          Now, we don’t think they walked in the doors of the NCSoft office and some executive said, “Hey, we’re doing a Guild Wars 2 expansion in the second half of 2013.” But they probably saw some projections and were able to piece together what they did see to come up with a reasonable explanation for whatever spike(s) they may have seen. And this is about as close to the source as you can get without visiting ArenaNet‘s offices.

          KDB Daewoo also predicted that a Guild Wars 2 launch date announcement was “imminent” about three weeks before the actual announcement was made, so they’ve got something of a track record.

          Then again, they also predicted Guild Wars 2 would launch before Thanksgiving. Technically correct, but about three months off. Close enough? We’ll have to wait and see.

          TWIMMO - This Week In MMO

          The TWIMMO crew breaks down the last year in gaming, while looking forward to the next. Join Gary Gannon, Mike B, Hilary Nicole, and Jason Winter as they prognosticate and pontificate — and maybe hallucinate.

          What do they think of the slate of games scheduled for next year? When do they think we’ll see The Elder Scrolls Online, Neverwinter, EverQuest Next, WildStar, and other hotly anticipated titles? Will some other game steal the spotlight?

          And will this be the year we finally get solid details on Blizzard’s Titan? Or will we see the announcement of a new big game — maybe one that harkens back to the roots of MMO gaming and brings back a more “hardcore” style?

          Catch you next year!

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          Top 6 Most Anticpated

          The question of what exactly is an “MMO” is still a little dicey. Since this is my article, I prefer to define them as requiring something more than lobbies or servers with very limited (and generally known) caps.

          Still, we think the following games appeal to MMO players, and we’ve covered all of them at various times on TWIMMO, so join in with us in celebrating the best games of the coming year – and beyond!

          (And check out our top “pure” upcoming MMOs article here.)


          1. DayZ

          The DayZ phenomenon is in full swing, and the standalone game – originally announced as being available by the end of 2012 – should be coming along nicely for a 2013 release. With many players willing to try out a buggy alpha build that required another game to play, the standalone should generate even more attention.

          How much attention? As of this writing, the Day Z site boasts of 1,450,673 players. Some probably owned ARMA II beforehand, but I’d wager that the majority bought that game just to play DayZ. A million-plus sales out of the gate is hardly unrealistic, and much more could follow.

          2. MechWarrior Online

          Who doesn’t love giant bipedal fighting robots? MWO brings ’80s nostalgia to life, offering players the chance to climb into their own ‘mechs and customize their specs for whatever role they choose, whether it be hard-pounding, front-line fighting with a 100-ton behemoth or long-range sniping with lighter, more agile death machines.

          World of Warplanes

          3. World of Warplanes

          Wargaming.net looks to do with planes what it did with tanks, and there’s no reason to think it won’t be a success. With 30 million-plus players to draw from, WoWP should have no trouble generating instant interest among both history and video-gaming buffs.

          4. Hawken

          Hawken is an underrated title that, in some circles, is more hotly anticipated than its ‘mech-battling cousin, MechWarrior Online. It lacks the name recognition, but Hawken has everything in place to be one of the sleeper hits of 2013.

          5. World of Warships

          Wargaming.net’s got a different style of “holy trinity” in mind, and it involves tanks, planes, and ships. While WoWS probably won’t be ready in 2013, it’s likely to build on WG’s other titles and make a big splash.

          End of Nations

          6. End of Nations

          Trion’s MMORTS has been in development for some time, and it’s hit more than a few bumps in the road along the way. It’s an interesting enough mishmash of genres that we hope it will make it out in 2013.

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          Video Game Awards

          Hey, everyone! Make sure to catch our live stream of the GameBreaker Awards this Friday at 8pm PST! You voted on the best the MMO world has to offer, and we’ve tallied the results, so all you have to do is tune in to see who won! We’ll also be selecting the winners of the Astro A40 Gaming Headsets, so you might be a winner, too!

          Gary Gannon, Jason Winter, Scott Hawkes, and Josh Allen will be on hand to MC the festivities, which will feature drinks, crazy animal tricks, and live dancers — all of which will be off camera, but we’ll enjoy them, at least.

          And remember, if you don’t agree with the results — it’s your fault!

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          With a new year about to dawn, it’s time to look ahead to the MMORPG offerings of tomorrow. 2012 saw many high-profile launches, and next year – while a little light on huge, earth-shattering titles – still has a bevy of great games to offer, some of which gamers have been looking forward to for years.

          TopGamesOur “13 for 2013″ list combines 2013 readiness, overall hype for a game, and our belief in its earning potential to provide a comprehensive ranking from one to 13. To qualify, a game has to be promised for a North American release. Also, we’re only covering true open-world MMOs here – we’ll cover the semi-MMO-type, lobby-based games, like Hawken and World of Warplanes later.

          So what are you looking forward to the most in 2013 and beyond?

          Elder Scrolls Online

          1. The Elder Scrolls Online

          Love the concept or hate it, there’s no doubt that TESO is the most hotly anticipated upcoming MMO release. ZeniMax Online still holds to a 2013 release, but, as little as we’ve learned about the game at this juncture, we’d put odds of that at about 50/50.

          Whenever it launches, it will have legions of fans interested in its premise. The question is, how many of those fans of the single-player RPG will be converted into MMO players? Even at its height, Star Wars: The Old Republic only boasted about two million active players. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim sold upwards of 10 million copies.

          To its credit, ZeniMax doesn’t seem to be taking quite the same cookie-cutter MMO approach as BioWare did with its big title. Class flexibility, dynamic events, and three-faction PvP all sound like good ideas, but will they be enough to overcome lofty expectations? Hell hath no fury like a genre gamer scorned.

          2. Firefall

          Technically still in beta, we’ll go out on a limb and assume Firefall will “launch” in 2013. It’s already garnering quite a bit of acclaim from both the competitive e-sports and the PvE crowd for its innovative mechanics wrapped up in an FPS shell.

          3. Marvel Heroes

          Gazillion’s superhero smashup is garnering more attention than you’d think. With its focus on established Marvel characters, as opposed to the ability to create your own, as in previous superhero MMOs, it will probably appeal more to the mass-market crowd than to hardcore gamers, but there’s no denying the (cosmic) power of the Marvel license.


          4. Neverwinter

          Going back to the granddaddy of all RPGs, Neverwinter updates the Dungeons & Dragons experience for MMO players and offers all the tools that fans of Perfect World’s games have come to expect. We’re especially looking forward to the dungeon creator, which by itself should keep players coming back for years.

          5. EverQuest Next

          SOE President John Smedley has made some bold claims regarding this title, promising sandbox-style gameplay with the sheen of a AAA MMO. It probably won’t be out until 2014 at the earliest – it might be #1 or #2 on our list otherwise – but it deserves a high spot on any “most-anticipated” list. We can’t wait to see what’s in store.

          6. Defiance

          Trion’s MMOFPS based on the SyFy series is an ambitious mesh of TV and gaming that pushes the envelope and blurs the line between the two media. Known for its frequent updates to Rift, Trion should be able to update the game to account for changes in the show, but it’ll be a challenge unlike any that has ever faced a game developer.

          7. DUST 514

          CCP’s ground-combat complement to EVE Online isn’t just following in PlanetSide 2‘s shadow. Being a free-to-play title on PlayStation 3 is bold enough, but getting the two games to interact, across platforms, will be a monumental achievement – if they can pull it off.

          7.5 Blade & Soul

          Little embarrassing here… we missed this one on our first go-around, forgetting that it had been announced for a North American release at an unspecified date. The NCSoft offering has done well in its native Korea so far, with its high-flying martial arts action, but will it fare better than Aion on these shores?

          Phantasy Star Online 2

          8. Phantasy Star Online 2

          The sequel to the venerable title will make its way to North American shores in early 2013 and seems to be a bit of a throwback to a bygone era of MMOs. It looks phenomenal, and will surely inspire nostalgia in long-time MMOers, but can it compete with modern offerings?

          9. Transformers Universe

          With a big IP behind it, Transformers Universe certainly carries the weight of expectation and pushes the boundaries of what you can do with a browser-based MMO. We’ve yet to see actual, you know, transforming, in any of the videos, but we’re sure Jagex is just holding off on that to make a big impression… right?

          10. WildStar

          WildStar continues to intrigue us with its charming art style and unusual approach to progression, development, and exploration. The team promises a “metric boatload” of new stuff to announce in the new year, and we’ll keep a close eye on it.


          11. ArcheAge

          ArcheAge just slips into our list, having recently been guaranteed a North American release. The sandbox MMO features loads of character customization, beautiful design, and even naval combat. But can it break through the stigma of other Korean games that foundered on American shores?

          12. A Game of Thrones: Seven Kingdoms

          We haven’t heard much recently about Bigpoint’s MMO set in George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy world, but the few visuals we’ve been lucky enough to preview look good enough to make us want to jump in and start treacherously backstabbing people right now.

          13. Salem

          Paradox Interactive’s crafting-permadeath-colonial America MMO – yes, that’s what it is – continues to intrigue us. It likely won’t be a huge hit, but it scratches a perfectly unique itch that’s sure to excite a very passionate type of gamer.