Great Expectations: 2008

2007 opened with me splitting my time between EQ1 and EQ2. Through brief flings with LotRO, Dungeon Runners and Mythos, and even briefer flings with a half dozen more I played just once, I ended the year in pretty much the same place — playing EQ2 exclusively.

There’s these incredibly massive hype/PR machines and all they want to do is build up expectations for their ground-breaking, world-shaking title, or book, or movie, and then when it finally arrives, you go “meh” and wait for the next big thing. And the hype machine worked overtime this year. Burning Crusade, Vanguard, Warhammer, Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Hellgate: London, Tabula Rasa; all have (or had) the hype machine promissing so much that almost anything that came (or will come) can only disappoint.

Not to say there aren’t some excellent games in the past year and coming soon. I just hope they can survive their hype machines. If you promise a carnival and bring only a pony ride, well, people are going to be disappointed, even if it’s a really good pony ride. Promise a walk in the park and it’s “Hey! They have a PONY RIDE!” Underpromise, overdeliver.

2008 will be a year of great expectations and diminished realities.

Personally, I expect to have EQ2 as my main game through the entire year. Because everyone needs a steady game to call home. You may wander, but you always come home. For a lot of people, this is WoW. For me, it’s EQ2.

It’s going to be hard for EQ2 to raise expectations, though. Out of all the games I’ll mention, it has the toughest road. The last couple of expansions have ridden on EQ1’s coattails, but I don’t know if they’ve noticed, but EQ1 no longer has such long coattails. Drawing from a subscriber base that has fond memories of EQ1 but doesn’t play that game, but want something both new and familiar to them… well, that doesn’t bring many new players in. EQ2 gets most of its new players from WoW, who appreciate EQ2 for its technical innovations but have nothing invested in EQ1 nostalgia.

Prediction #1: EQ2 will reinvent itself by the end of the year, either through some innovative new setting or a game mechanic that lets players have an impact on the world. I’m fairly confident about this one, because otherwise, the hits it will take when WoW’s next expansion and Warhammer come out will probably kill it. It has to respond strongly, and “Velious, EQ2’s Fourth Expansion!” or whatever won’t bring anyone new into the fold. Chasing EQ1 is a stupid strategy.

Prediction #2: Pirates of the Burning Sea will launch strongly, and settle into a role of being about massive clan-based fleet vs fleet battles. I don’t think people will do much solo PvPing, and the economic game will be used to fund the massive fleet battles. Ladder rankings will be an obsession with the players. I’ll try PotBS. I’m not that excited about it, but I think massive fleet battles will be the killer app for PotBS, and it seems from all signs that Flying Labs is positioning it precisely for that. Soloers and non-combatant types interested in the trading game, I think, will not be its final audience.

Prediction #3: Age of Conan will launch and sink without a trace. Come on. PvP with sex and boobies and lots of blood in an election year? The first politician who sees this game will tear it to shreds. ‘Sinking without a trace’ would be the best outcome. ‘Being used as a reason to crack down on MMOs’ would be the worst. Luckily, the teenage boys who make up its natural audience will balk at the subscription fees. Plus, who the heck even knows who Conan is? If the average player even remembers the old Schwarzenegger flick, that’d be amazing — the people who would want to play this game weren’t even born then.

Prediction #4: Warhammer: Age of Reckoning will sell two million boxes and take its place as the #2 MMO in North America. I think this is a slam dunk, being basically World of Warcraft with even more arena games. Those people who love the battlegrounds and arena battles in WoW will flock to the new shiny. This will be a relief to Blizzard, who can cede the battlegrounds market to EA-Mythic and focus more on their excellent PvE and raid experience.

Prediction #5: If WoW’s second expansion, Wrath of the Liche King. comes out this year, it will be disappointing. Given the presence of two and probably soon to be more WoW-alikes in 2008 (LotRO and WAR), almost anything Blizzard can come up with can only be thought of as ‘more of the same’.

Prediction #6: NCSoft will announce a Station Pass-like “pay one price, play all our games” payment plan. Because it’s about time they do that.

okay, those were the safe predictions. Now to get a little ‘out there’.

SOE: SOE will be bought out by a well-known games company, who will announce the development of a virtual world where players can take their characters from all SOE games and live and adventure together in a world they create. This brings hundreds of thousands of players back to SOE games as they take their Jedis and Code Jockeys and Rangers and Blood Mages out of cold storage and into an entirely new world that they create — sort of like Second Life for MMOs. This will be heralded as the birth of a new sort of MMO gaming, where your characters adventure in one world, but play in another.

Star Trek Online: After the new Star Trek movie loudly tanks, all development stops on the Star Trek Online license. EA then picks up Perpetual Entertainment (or what’s left of it) as a wholly owned division focusing on MMO middleware, its first internal customer being Bioware. Bioware in 2007 announced they were using PE’s middleware for their game, so this isn’t really all that out there. There’s a chance EA-Mythic may pick up the STO license along with the company.

MMOs and movies: At least one movie will launch day-and-date with a matching MMO. MMOs will be increasingly seen as commodities and part of the exploitation of a movie license. Tie-in figurines, pop-up picture books, props, Halloween costumes, video games… add an MMO to the list as something necessary to the launch of any new genre movie.

Guitar Hero: A MMO based on Kim Stanley Robinson’s “The Memory of Whiteness” that lets musicians and musician wannabes play virtual instruments in player-created bands, quartets, symphonies — what have you — will be announced. Unlike Guitar Hero, players will be able to play both tunes available in the game, and tunes of their own composition. The MMO will usher in a revolution of musical creativity. Well, this is something I *want* to happen. And given the popularity of Rock Band and Guitar Hero, why not? I just threw in KSR because, you know, people should read his books.

Roleplaying & Machinima: An MMO that takes fan fiction and makes movies from it will be announced. Write a story and watch it acted out, or advance the plot in real time with friends. This will do for the craft of writing what the Guitar Hero MMO will do for the craft of composing: bring art to the masses at the cost of authenticity.

I want MMOs that make people SMARTER and INVITE CREATIVITY. And so I dream of a future where MMOs will open doors in your mind instead of seal them shut.

MMOs are still a young industry and there is still time to reinvent itself out of the circling spiral drain of cheap entertainment. Ten years on and they are still writing the same game. 2008 will be the year someone dares to show something truly new.

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17 thoughts on “Great Expectations: 2008”

  1. SOE – Have to go on record against any sale of SOE. Because they do games for Playstation (because they have to), Sony corporate views them as “strategic.” (Plus Vivendi has a game company, so Sony feels they have to have one too.) We all know that big, conservative corps will put up with a lot to maintain a “strategic” asset, and Sony is bigger and more conservative than most. So, while it was an “out there” prediction, it is a little to much so for me.

  2. I think most of what you say in that first bunch is fairly likely, with the exception of what TAGN says. I also don’t think that WAR is much like WOW at all, with the exception of the art direction, which really was a signature style of Warhammer table games for years before there was a WOW.

    It will be interesting to see how it develops, but I do believe that it has the potential to take a chunk out of WOW. I’m not sure 2 M worth, but a good chunk nonetheless.

  3. Sony made Playstation games before there was a SOE, and still does. The Playstation was was part of Sony’s consumer electronics division and they developed the games. They also got free Playstations, while those of us under the Sony Music Entertainment umbrella got nada. Well, except ten free CDs a month. Note: SOE didn’t exist when I worked for Sony. I can’t see what possible strategic benefit Sony derives from EQ, Vanguard, Matrix Online, etc. None of those games sell Playstations, or even run on them (with the exception of EQ Original Adventures). The whole Station thing was originally a way to get online Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune to the yearning masses.

    Sony is not doing well these days, and I think divesting themselves of some less profitable divisions or products for some quick cash is very likely. But we’ll see what happens.

    Most of the people I know who have been playing WoW for any amount of time, play it for the battlegrounds and arenas. It used to be nearly impossible to convince people to spec out of their PvP build in order to raid; and lots just decided that given a choice between PvP and raiding, they’d PvP. And this is with the old pre-revamp honor ladders. I believe WAR is VERY well positioned and aimed RIGHT at this market.

    The gameplay videos I have seen of WAR remind me heavily of WoW, but since I have never actually played WAR, I know it’s likely way different in ways I can’t imagine.

  4. I agree with your EQ2 predictions and made similar ones myself. I am really excited about what could happen with the next EQ2 expansion. Hopefully they are willing to go out on a limb and shake things up. I had heard that they have been experimenting with player made content in SWG.

    I have heard a lot of talk about the possibility of SOE being sold recently. Are they really that much of a drag financially? Do they have published financial reports anywhere? Just curious.

  5. At Fan Faire they where mentioning that they are integrating some sort of console component to the SoE MMOs. One of the groups in SoE is called the Platform group. There seems to be some relation between this group and the PS3. If they are planning to make future SoE games available both on the PC and PS3 then selling off SoE seems like a less viable proposition.

  6. @Tipa:

    Excellent reply! I love it when we bloggers actually disagree on something… makes the discussion so much more entertaining. Looking forward to your post.

  7. All the SOE MMOs I know of are *now* being developed for the PS3 and possibly the PC. The Agency and DC Universe Online are both for the PC and PS3; I’m less sure of Free Realms. All the actual kid players (my three nieces) I know get their MMO fixes through web browser games. Wherever they are, they surf to their game and start playing. Unless Free Realms is also web based, I can’t see the appeal to kids. They hate to be locked to a single computer. They also have zero loyalty to any particular game — they play what their friends play, and when that changes, they leave without a thought.

    The next generation of MMO players is going to look a lot different than us first and second wave-ers.

    Games like we play are dinosaurs, too cumbersome to survive in the gaming world to come. If I were Sony, I’d be dropping these old PC-only games as fast as I could. Tying future releases to the PS3 makes sense for them. Non-PS3 games like EQ, I believe, will be sold off. It could be that SOE will remain in some form with Sony, but I do believe they will sell off a good portion of it, if not all.

  8. Oh! And sorry for the 2x Post, but I also responded to your response if you’re interested. It’s turned into a slow day from a busy one at work so… yeah. I’m bored.

  9. Here’s another prediction, or really question about 2008. What game is NCsoft readying for the PS3? Is it possible that Auto Assault’s engine and code will see a rebirth as Twisted Metal Online? Any guesses?

  10. If I were a game developer with a PC property I wanted to put on a console, I’d put it on the Xbox 360, since it is basically a Windows machine sans keyboard. Second choice would be to replace the mechanics with some stupid weird Wiimote movements and release it for that console (“I know! We can put the Wiimote into a plastic STEERING WHEEL! GENIUS! And the users can make little vroom vroom and firetruck noises!”). I (as a probably eventual PS3 owner since I don’t have the testosterone for the Xbox) would rather people wrote for the PS3, did it ‘right’ there, and then ported it to Windows/Xbox, but given the relative popularity of the consoles, I can’t see that happening.

    Oh, I misread your comment. NCSoft is developing a game for the PS3? Auto Assault? I don’t think so. I would guess City of Heroes/Villains. Release it before DC Universe Online and cut the legs from it ahead of time. That’s what I would do, and it is a very natural fit for a console. So was AA probably, but if there’s one thing consoles have gluts of, it’s those damned racing games. I fear for the future of any console MMO that requires a monthly fee, anyway. We already pay for Xbox Live.

  11. AA coming back to life is merely wishful thinking on my part. I’m actually betting it will be something entirely new, or more likely some casual pseudo MMO. Not that Exteel or Dungeon Runners are doing fabulously, but something tells me NCsoft will want to test the console waters with something very cheap and console friendly without the need of a keyboard and mouse. I expect it’ll be something silly and cute. Maybe along the lines of KartRider?

  12. > I want MMOs that make people SMARTER and INVITE CREATIVITY. And so I dream of a future where MMOs will open doors in your mind instead of seal them shut.

    I completely agree. Its an interesting thought that we would be able to interact with the world in EQ2 that leaves a lasting footprint, I believe it is highly likely. In a way that idea is similar to EQ1 where you were able to kill the gods and seal the fate of Norrath for EQ2 when the gods left us.

  13. Well, the Plane of Time didn’t really change the world. The only world changing event in EQ1 that I can remember was waking the Sleeper, and even that changed the world in a scripted way. I don’t think the current round of games really invites creativity, but it’s something I truly believe will come out fairly soon. Now, should EQ2 come out with something that changes the way we think of the game, well, I would be overjoyed. I want to play a game whose devs are unafraid to take chances. The EQ1 devs took chance after chance, and sometimes they fell on their faces, but other times they soared. Let’s see more of that.

  14. Velious will return to EQ2!

    If you watch the eliptical of the shaterd moon, it now forms a solid state just before dawn.

    Hint at that which is to come?

  15. Well, the shattered moon is Luclin (the unshattered one is Drinal). So if you’re talkikng about the moon, well, we’re talking about the same thing.

    Velious is another continent, like Kunark. If that were sudden;y “rediscovered”, I believe it would doom EQ2 to be nothing more than a replay of EQ1. It should be a different game. In EQ2, Luclin is way different than it was in EQ1, it is something the devs could make absolutely from scratch.

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