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Betawatch: Fortnite rolls out a free-for-all mode that’s free for all (September 22, 2017)

Remember when Fortnite’s whole thing was that it was going to be about co-op survival gameplay without any PvP aspects? That clearly didn’t last, as it turns out the game’s new Battle Royale mode is going to be free-to-play and seems to be getting an unexpected share of the game’s development. Oh, and the game accidentally turned on cross-platform play before turning it right back off, so that was great too.

In unrelated news, we bid farewell to Guardians of Ember as it has actually, like, launched now. It’s not in early access any more! It’s just access. Guild Wars 2 has also dropped its second expansion, and The Elder Scrolls Online has its latest DLC up on the test server.

More beta news? Yes indeed! Including titles you might not have seen this week otherwise.

  • All right, Pantropy, do you really think that the only thing you need to seduce someone into survival sandbox games is to include a bunch of stompy mechs? Because you are very possibly right.
  • The stress testing for MU Legend is running on September 23rd, which is the server equivalent of packing tons of college freshmen into a phone booth and daring them to fall out. Taking part will earn you 500 Bound Redzen for use in the future, so if the simple joy of stress testing isn’t enough, do it for the bribery.
  • You’ve missed the first alpha testing weekend for Closers, but there are several more weekends coming up, such as this weekend. Would you like a whole schedule for the next few weeks? You’ve got one.
  • The closed alpha weekends for Survived By are starting very soon, with several closed alpha weekends planned over the next several weeks. Exact dates aren’t given, unfortunately, but considering that there are only so many people being invited, that seems at least moderately sensible.
  • Around 350 players took place in the second OrbusVR closed beta, and you can catch up on the notes from that second beta right now. It’s a good chance to keep an eye on the game when you’re not keeping both eyes in the headset.

And as we always do, there’s a list of titles in testing and early access just below, because that’s how we operate. Did something hop to another phase of testing without letting us know? Fix that oversight in the comments. You can also use the comments for other comments, of course.

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World of Warcraft Senior Producer Stephan Frost leaves Blizzard

One of the MMORPG industry’s more prominent designers is leaving one of the MMORPG industry’s more prominent games. On Friday, World of Warcraft Senior Design Producer Stephan Frost announced that he is departing from the title and the studio for an unnamed opportunity.

“Bittersweet day ahead of me today, it’s my last day at Blizzard,” Frost tweeted. “There’s a big opportunity I felt I had to take, but I’ll miss the people.”

Frost worked his way up to prominence at Carbine Studios, where he eventually became WildStar’s game design producer. He left in 2014, spent less than a year at Amazon Game Studios, and then joined up with Blizzard in 2015 where he became a senior producer on World of Warcraft.

In addition to game design, Frost is a voice actor (he did the WildStar “dev speak” videos) and the creator of a comic book called Mortifera.

Source: Twitter

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Amazon continues to flesh out its Lumberyard engine

As it will be powering MMOs like New World and Star Citizen, Amazon’s Lumberyard game engine deserves attention as it continues to be built and improved. Amazon released a development update to shed light on just how far Lumberyard has come and what is being worked on for the future.

“Simply put, our focus for the next few releases is to make Lumberyard easier, more powerful, and more modular,” the company said. “A lot has changed since we first launched the beta: We’ve replaced over 60% of the original codebase, switching out older, redundant systems (e.g. CryEntity) for more modern, performant ones (e.g. Component entity systems).”

Improvements on the way for Lumberyard include a new visual scripting language, a revised animation system, more integration with Amazon’s other tech (like Lex and Polly), the ability to store games in any location, better optimization, a new shader system, and Mac support.

Source: AWS

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Massively Overthinking: How will Star Citizen make money after launch?

During this week’s Massively OP Podcast, Justin and I attempted to tackle a question sent in by commenter and listener Sally Bowls – specifically, she wanted us to speculate on what a post-launch monetization plan for Star Citizen might look like.

“Assuming they have a lot of overhead and expense, are they going to fire most of their employees at launch? Keep them and support them with subscriptions? DLC? Cosmetics? A stream of new ships would be my first guess – but new ships good enough that people spend $50M-$100M per year withouth causing old customers to think the new shiny invalidates their previous purchase? That seems to me a non-trivial tightrope to walk.”

Put away your instinct to joke that it won’t matter because Star Citizen is never coming out. Let’s just reasonably assume that it does eventually launch into something the studio will call more or less ready. How do you think Star Citizen will make money after launch? That’s the question I’ve posed the Massively OP team for this round of Massively Overthinking.

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PUBG ‘contemplates further action’ against Epic’s Fortnite battle royal mode

Remember that whole ordeal earlier this week when Epic announced that next week’s Fortnite patch will be a free-to-play PvP-centric battle royal mode? PvE players were understandably miffed, given it’s an about-face on Epic’s original plan to focus on PvE instead of PvP, but they’re not the only folks mad: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds developer Bluehole has all but accused Epic of ripping off the mode, which Epic has previously said was inspired by PUBG as well as H1Z1.

In a press release this morning, Bluehole vice president Chang Han Kim says the company is “concerned that Fortnite may be replicating the experience for which PUBG is known,” down to parts of the UI.

“We have also noticed that Epic Games references PUBG in the promotion of Fortnite to their community and in communications with the press. This was never discussed with us and we don’t feel that it’s right.”

He concludes by suggesting he’ll be “[contemplating] further action.” That’ll be an interesting day. Wonder what they’ll do with all the other games with such a mode? Anybody got a popcorn gif?

Source: Press release via VG247

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The Daily Grind: Which MMORPGs will make to to 20 years?

Unless it mysteriously shutters between now and Monday, Ultima Online is turning 20 next week. Our Game Archaeologist will surely object to an assertion that UO is the first MMORPG to turn 20, but even if you do count pre-MMORPG titles as MMOs or include non-continuous or non-graphical games, UO is still among the very few MMOs to get there alive.

I’ve started thinking about numbers like that in light of Black Desert studio Pearl Abyss’ assertion a few weeks back that online PC games and MMOs have “an extremely long life cycle” on average between 10 and 11 years, implying that PA intends to support its games with those lifespans in mind.

There are a few MMOs coming up on 20 years now other than UO, including classic EverQuest. Alas, others, like Asheron’s Call, were sunsetted before they got close. Consider the MMOs you’re playing now: Which of those MMORPGs have a hope of making it to 20 years?

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EverQuesting: Is EverQuest II in a downward spiral?

Are we witnessing the death throes of EverQuest II? Of the whole EverQuest franchise? These questions have been at the forefront of my mind lately. Today’s EverQuesting started as a guide to EQII’s expansion prelude event, but I kept coming back to these questions. (The guide will come next week!)

Yes, I know that there are folks who have cried that EQ and EQII have been dying or all-but dead for years — and Next and Online Adventures are already deceased and buried. Yet during those years we’ve still seen some life in the first two games. They have persevered!

But now, I feel like I am witnessing the franchise’s final breaths. Me, the eternal optimist; me, who subsists on hope. And I started losing that hope because Daybreak’s actions lately appear to indicate that there’s no love left for one of my all-time favorite games, EQII. Between less dev interaction, less content, less communication, and just less enthusiasm for these two titles — yet a preponderance of attention on others — it’s hard to hold onto hope. At no other time has it felt as if Daybreak was turning its back on and all but abandoning the IP that gave it life more than it does right now. The IP that still has many fervent fans. My final two straws? The lack of any exposure at PAX West and the lack of enthusiasm for this year’s expansions.

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Identity hires more devs, says it’s ‘full steam ahead’ for this life simulator

Two years after its successful Kickstarter campaign, the contemporary MMORPG Identity still has yet to produce any actual gameplay for its backers and fans. The talked-up Town Hall module has been greatly delayed, and tempers are wearing thin on the game’s Reddit.

But there might be some hope for this life simulator. The team has produced a slow but steady stream of videos showing how the different elements of the game are coming together, such as clothing, concepts, and textures. This week, in fact, the devs livestreamed a show about the creation of props that will litter the game world.

On August 27th, the team announced that it was hiring additional developers and had moved into a new studio. “It pains us that Identity has seen delays,” the studio posted. “We truly want the game in your hands as soon as possible. With our modest team it’s been a difficult road but, with the great help of yourself and other backers, it’s full steam ahead.”

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Overwatch League adds Philly and Texas teams, will play at new Blizzard Arena

Blizzard continues raking in the big bucks for its grand vision of Overwatch League, adding three new teams to its roster this week: one from Philly and two from Texas. They’ll bring the final total to 12, where it will stay for its “inaugural season.” The new teams are:

Comcast Spectacor (Philadelphia), leader in sports and entertainment and owner of the Philadelphia Flyers
Team Envy (Dallas), veteran esports organization with experience across multiple genres
OpTic Gaming (Houston), established esports organization known for its passionate global fan base

They’ll join venture capitalists from all over the world, including reps and owners of Cloud9, the LA RamsNew England Patriots, New York Mets, Immortals, Misfits Gaming, NRG Esports, Netease, and Kabam, which superficially secures the League’s future on three continents.

Blizzard has further announced that the season is “just a few short months away” — in fact, preseason play will begin on December 6th, with the season beginning January 10th and concluding with playoffs in July of 2018. This year, at least, all pre- and regular-season games will be held at Blizzard’s shiny new e-sports arena in LA.

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PvE-centric Fortnite’s new battle royal PvP mode will be free-to-play

Epic Games announced this morning that Fortnite’s upcoming PvP mode will essentially be free-to-play.

The game was originally touted by Epic as a PvE survival title without direct PvP and has taken heavy criticism over its punishing business model and progression system. Nevertheless, Epic announced earlier this month that its next patch will introduce PvP in the form of a battle royal-style mode, rather upsetting its early buyers. That update is due out on September 26th, and today, the studio’s issued an addendum: While the original “Save the World” PvE part of the game will remain in “paid early access,” the PvP-oriented, 100-man “Fortnite Battle Royale” map will instead be “free for everyone on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Mac.”

PvE players on Reddit, who bought the game in early access when it launched just a few months ago based on its PvE-centricity, are not pleased at all, arguing that it will split the playerbase as well as distract from the original PvE goals of the game. “It’s now a free PvP game with a $40 PvE mode,” one noted. “I continue to be concerned for the state of PvE in this game.” (They may not even be wrong. Just ask H1Z1: Just Survive players how this story goes.)

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RuneScape players accuse new lockbox promo of promoting gambling to children

RuneScape announced yesterday a new promo that works in conjunction with its existing Treasure Hunter system. It’s a bit of a lockbox system, with the caveat that you can claim one to two keys to open said lockboxes for free every day just for logging in, depending on your sub status in the hybrid MMO. If you want more, then you have to buy them with cash.

The promotion, however, changes things up. “With every Key you use, you have a chance to earn a bonus prize on the Prize Pool interface at the top of the screen,” says Jagex. “Claim that extra prize immediately, or use more Keys to get a chance at more, rarer, prizes. Every Key you use will apply one of two actions: add an extra prize to your pool, or remove all prizes gathered so far from it. The longer you hold out without claiming, the more extra prizes you can claim and the rarer your prize pool collection will get. But be careful – you could lose it all!”

That’s prompted players who normally don’t find the treasure hunter lockboxes particularly problematic to flock to Reddit with a multitude of complaints ranging from accusations that the promo is rigged to concerns that the game is shamelessly promoting gambling to a game chiefly aimed at kids.

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Final Fantasy XIV makes both Sleipnir and financial earnings fly

Players have long awaited the chance to make Sleipnir, the mount of the Dark Divinity Odin, soar through the skies in Final Fantasy XIV. Sure, the horse in question is just a regular horse, but he also happens to be a horse for a primal. So it’s good news for owners of the mount that he will take to the skies with the release of patch 4.1, while the Witch’s Broom will once again be able to cast spells on the ground as it could during its first holiday appearance. Who doesn’t like more ways to play with mounts?

But FFXIV isn’t just making horses fly; it’s also making numbers fly. The latest Square-Enix financial report notes that sales of Stormblood have massively increased income and profits, with the game reaching an all-time subscriber high following release (exact numbers are not disclosed). So everything gets to fly on upward, and you can rest assured that big expansion releases do, in fact, result in more sales.

Source: Official site, investor report; thanks to Sally for the tip!

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Steam changes review scores to histograms in an effort to fight review bombing

If you’ve never heard of “review bombing” on Steam, we envy you. The process goes something like this: Something causes a certain group of users to get very angry about something related to game, which could be the actual content of the game, the content that’s not in the game, or something entirely outside of the game like takedown orders being filed against a streamer who won’t stop spewing racist hate speech. The users then flood the game’s Steam reviews with negative feedback, downvote all positive reviews, and upvote all negative reviews in an effort to reduce the game’s overall positive rating.

This is, needless to say, a bad thing. A new post from Valve explains the tools the team used to look at this trend and how to possibly solve the issues.

In short, Valve doesn’t necessarily want to lock people out from reviewing for a period of time, especially since there’s no hard-and-fast rule to follow and pretty much any review-bombed game reverts back to its original rating over time. However, the developers do want to make it clear when this is happening, and thus they’re changing how reviews are shown into a histogram displaying the trend over time. So if a game is receiving a usual stream of positive reviews and then a sudden negative spike, you can hopefully tell what’s going on, at least.

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