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Jagex leaks ‘Next-Gen’ project slide; is it for RuneScape?

During a weekend stream of RuneScape, Jagex Community Manager Shaun “Shauny” Akerman appears to have let slip a logo for an unannounced Jagex project called “Next-Gen.” The community is more or less united behind Shauny, who expresses concern on the video that he may be fired. He won’t be, by the by; another mod posted,

“Don’t worry, Shauny! Honest mistake, we all make them. This was a slide from an internal company livestream, so there must have been something leftover from that. God bless you Shauny – we just have to teach you to cut feed when a stream is over!”

Other folks on Reddit are a bit more cynical, suggesting that the whole thing was an intentional leak by the studio in the service of starting up the rumormill on whatever Jagex is working on next.

So what the heck is it? It could be RuneScape Remastered, which Jagex confirmed last year. It could be the VR tech for RuneScape the company hinted at earlier this spring. It could be just a throwback to RuneScape 3’s internal name. Or it could be a new property altogether, though it hasn’t had the best track record there (RIP, Stellar Dawn and Transformers Universe).

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The next era of Kickstarter may be starting

Is Kickstarter dead? With Ashes of Creation’s incredible success this spring and several other MMO projects still attempting at drawing in that sweet crowdfunding money, it’s hard to say “yes” to that question. Perhaps the better question is whether Kickstarter is entering in a new phase after seeing a large boom and contraction over the past few years.

Eurogamer has an interesting think piece about the use of Kickstarter in an age when some people have become disillusioned with the platform (and early access in general) and others have turned to actual investment platforms like Fig instead. While there were 456 fully funded Kickstarter video game campaigns in 2016, the collective total of $17.7M was less than half of that from the year prior.

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Survival sandbox Steam Hammer has already seen a major world balancing pass

We’d never heard of Big Way Games’ Steam Hammer before last week’s debut on Steam’s early access platform: It’s a multiplayer sandbox survival game (64 players to a shard) built around making steampunks fight dieselpunks. Reviewers thus far have likened it to Wurm Online and Life is Feudal, and several have complained about the lack of female characters, but surely that’s just a matter of time and patches. The most recent patches, in fact, have made some big balance and QOL changes already, including doubling gathering speed and increasing both spawns and gathering materials.

The game raised over $50,000 from crowdfunders last year, though it was in development a year or two before that. Possibly the most shocking thing about it is that it’s actually delivering on schedule — its Kickstarter promised a May 2017 alpha, and here we are.

The game is not to be confused with SteamHammerVR, a virtual reality game also in access on Steam. The full launch is expected at the end of 2017; early access will set you back $26.99 as of press time. Want to see it in action? We got an early look over the weekend!

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Make My MMO: Wild West Online debuts, Ashes of Creation nears $2M (May 13, 2017)

This week in MMO crowdfunding, 612 Games announced Wild West Online, a US western-themed game that the devs are definitely calling an MMO, though it looks decidedly hardcore and may not have as much PvE as we’re all used to. It will indeed be coming to Kickstarter eventually, so watch this space!

Ashes of Creation’s Kickstarter rolled along this week as well, nearing $2M as I write this. On Friday, we even sat down with the devs for a livestreamed interview.

Meanwhile, Shroud of the Avatar kicked off its free trial for the rest of May, Dual Universe’s Kickstarter update discussed its new digs, OrbusVR recapped its latest alpha and previewed the Musketeer class, ROKH prepared for this week’s early access launch, and Crowfall spent the whole week teasing… something! We still don’t officially know what it is!

Read on for more on what’s up with MMO crowdfunding over the last week and the regular roundup of all the crowdfunded MMOs we’ve got our eye on.

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NetEase has a smashing good first quarter 2017 thanks to mobile sales and Hearthstone

Chinese operator, developer, and publisher NetEase posted its Q1 2017 financial report this week, and the news is quite good for the company. NetEase made $2 billion in revenue during the quarter, out of which $1.6 billion can be attributed to game sales. This marks an astonishing 78% increase from Q1 2016 and sent U.S. stocks of the company up 3.6% this past Wednesday.

The end result? NetEase is enjoying nearly $570 million in profit thanks to its performance.

NetEase operates many of Blizzard’s games in China and has its own line of mobile and PC games. It attributed its Q1 success to the launch and huge popularity of Onmyoji in Japan, the release of several new mobile titles, and the juggernaut that is Hearthstone. The report singled out the latter for praise: “Achieved record number of quarterly active users for Blizzard Entertainment’s Hearthstone.”

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Netmarble’s trading debut in Korea was freakin’ huge

Back in April, Tencent subsidiary Netmarble raised $2.3 billion in shares sold to investors during the first phase of its IPO, helping it reach a total company value of $11.8 billion and marking it as the second-largest initial public offering in the country’s history. Today, however, the company went fully public as it made its trading debut on the Korea Exchange, and the public… well, they like it. They really, really like it.

“Shares in the mobile game developer and publisher ended 3.2 percent higher at 162,000 won in Seoul, after rising as high as 9.2 percent above the initial public offering price,” Bloomberg reports. “The company now has a market value of about 13.7 trillion won ($12.2 billion), surpassing LG Electronics Inc.”

Yes, the company that makes mobile MMO Lineage II: Revolution is now worth more than the company that makes the phones you probably play it on.

Source: Bloomberg. Thanks, BrotherMaynard!

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Overwatch League allegedly has a $20 million price tag to enter

Remember how Blizzard started to focus MLG in on Overwatch as an e-sports venue at the same time well-known teams started fleeing the scene? What was all that about? It seems it might be as simple as money; according to teams looking to take part in Blizzard’s heavily hyped Overwatch League, teams need to buy in to the tune of $20 million. That’s without any promises of profit sharing until 2021 and with no real certainty about the long-term. In other words, it’s just not a good investment for the teams.

Blizzard’s official response is that certain parties may be spreading misinformation about the fees and contract terms to aid in negotiatons, and the studio remains committed to supporting the game as an e-sports platform. Of course, it’s going to prove rather impossible to make any headway in that field if no one actually wants to get in on the competitive scene in the first place, so we’ll see if those professional teams were a blip on the radar or bespoke a larger trend.

Source: ESPN, Kotaku

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Virtual world creator Improbable receives $502M investment from SoftBank

Here’s another reminder that we really shouldn’t take our eyes off of Improbable Worlds, even for a second. The five-year-old software company, which is specializing in creating massive virtual worlds for simulations and games, just received over a half-billion dollar investment from a Japanese telecommunications corporation.

SoftBank injected $502 million into Improbable this week in one of the largest U.K. venture capital deals of all time. This investment puts one of SoftBank’s members on Improbable’s boards and sees SoftBank create a non-controlling stake in the company.

To make a good week even better for Improbable, venture firms Andreessen Horowitz and Horizon Ventures also committed additional funds to the tech startup and its SpatialOS software. “Having backed Improbable from the start, we continue to see huge potential in the application of its technology, both for solving real-world problems and in changing the future of the games industry,” said Horizons Ventures founder Solina Chau.

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RIFT’s Starfall Prophecy name change was provoked by a trademark lawsuit

If you were a little bit puzzled by Trion’s announcement this week that it was changing the name of RIFT’s latest expansion from Starfall Prophecy to Prophecy of Ahnket because it had “recently become acquainted” with a children’s charity called Starfall, welp, get in line behind us. It turns out that there’s more to the story.

Massively OP tipster Clowd dug up a lawsuit that sheds light on what happened behind the scenes. A trademark lawsuit – Starfall Education Foundation v. Trion Worlds, Inc. (CN 1:2017cv00650) – was filed in a Colorado district court back in March but was apparently settled out of court at the tail end of April. Connecting the dots, one might assume Trion had been sued over the name and decided to change it as part of the settlement agreement, in a decision that wasn’t quite as amicable as the producer’s letter implied.

We reached out to Trion’s PR yesterday to ask whether it wished to amend its statement about the motivation behind the decision; in particular, we asked whether the trademark was checked prior to Starfall Prophecy’s launch, whether Trion believed it might have prevailed had it not settled, whether the free giveaway of the expansion was part of the settlement or merely a marketing move, and why, if Trion was prepared to change the name, an agreement wasn’t reached prior to the filing of a lawsuit.

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The Daily Grind: What’s the most painful bug you’ve ever encountered in an MMORPG?

I’ve been playing a bit of Ultima Online lately, and the other night as I was working on my skills, I remembered a horrible bug that afflicted the entire game for weeks way back in the very beginning. UO back then had an interesting system whereby you could actually learn skills by watching other people doing them — if somebody swung a sword or strummed a lute or cast a spell within a certain distance from you, there was a small chance you’d get a skill-up yourself, assuming you had room left in your template, which was capped at the time at 700 skill points. It was neat!

The problem came about when a bug allowed skilling-by-watching to actively subtract points from skills you didn’t want to drop. That, combined with the fact that low-level skills raised very quickly, meant that griefers could run around banks spamming skills people were unlikely to have or want, thereby causing everybody to lose skills they’d spent months working up to the cap. My best friend and I lost dozens of points in our favorite skills before realizing what was going on and logging out for our own safety, and nope, EA didn’t restore anyone affected. How we ever kept playing after that, I’ll never understand. If something like that happened to me in an MMO today and the studio did nothing, I’d probably walk away.

What’s the most painful bug you’ve ever encountered in an MMORPG?
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Square-Enix financials show steady incoming but slow sales on online gaming

If you’re worried about the overall health of Square-Enix, a glance at the company’s most recent financials should assuage any concerns, since the past financial year was quite good for the company. That’s with an extraordinary loss in the company’s yearly evaluation, even. But if you’re worried about the company’s health when it comes just to online games, that’s… also just fine, according to the same report. It’s not as good as it could be, but it’s fine.

The report states that ongoing revenue from the company’s online titles (Final Fantasy XI, Final Fantasy XIV, and Dragon Quest X in Japan) was steady and reliable, although actual sales and operating income were lower due to the lack of an expansion disk during the year. Considering that the point of comparison was the previous financial year and the release of Heavensward, this would fall under the “unsurprising” header. With Stormblood on the way later this year, it’s good for fans to see that the company continues to post solid results for its various online offerings.

Source: PR Newswire

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NCsoft’s Q1 2017 financials: Tumbles for Lineage, Guild Wars 2, plus new leadership for Lineage Eternal

NCsoft’s first quarter financials for 2017 have released, and… well, let’s get the bad news out of the way. While sales dropped only slightly since the preceding quarter and in line with last year, the company’s operating profits and incomes fell sharply, in the -60 to -77% range both quarter over quarter and year over year. The company says that’s “due to incentives paid on the back of record-high earnings last year.” In particular, Lineage 1’s sales were down significantly on the quarter and the year (“due to the early sales recognition in 4Q and weaker traffic from anticipated Lineage M demand”). Aion’s and Lineage II’s sales dropped ever so slightly, as did Guild Wars 2’s, which has fallen by more than half following the late 2015 launch of Heart of Thorns.

The good news? Blade and Soul saw a small boost.

During the conference call, NCsoft announced that it has overturned the development leadership working on Lineage Eternal, suggesting that the closed beta failed to “reflect NCsoft’s characteristics” and promising a retooled dev schedule in the months ahead.

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Elder Scrolls Online offers two-week early access head start for Morrowind

ZeniMax has just announced that PC and Mac Elder Scrolls Online players who pick up the digital upgrade version of Morrowind will start in the province as early as May 22nd with an early access head start period. Basically, you get to play two weeks early.

“Separate from the Public Test Server beta, Early Access players will receive the full game, play on live servers, and will retain all progression when the game officially launches on June 6. Early Access is available for players who purchase the Digital Upgrade or Digital Collector’s Edition Upgrade versions of ESO: Morrowind for PC/Mac at any time prior to launch, as well as those who purchased the PC/Mac Physical Collector’s Edition.”

And if you do grab the physical box CE, you’ll have to get in touch with customer support to get your head start activated. This sounds like a hassle, so maybe stick to digital.

Everybody else? You’ll be starting on June 6th with the console players. Womp womp.

Source: Press release

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