One of the most pleasant surprises I experienced in a while came a week or so ago when Standing Stone Games announced that it had just posted the entire 28-track score
for Lord of the Rings Online’s
Update 22 on its YouTube page. It was surprising because the studio isn’t in a habit of doing this, but more so because this ended up being one of the best soundtrack additions to the game in a long time.
I’m not the only one to notice this, by the way; several of my friends who play LOTRO have commented on how beautiful and engaging the Northern Mirkwood soundtrack is. Composer Bill Champagne doesn’t take us back to the old sound of classic LOTRO, but I think he does crack into the spirit of wide-open worlds full of mystery and wonders. He gives Dale its own personality, and I loved every minute of listening through it.
Today I’ve chosen six of my favorite tracks from this update to feature here, and I truly hope that SSG (and other studios, hint hint) will continue to post update soundtracks as they are released.
Less than a year ago, I faced a crisis as a fan and player of The Secret World
. Funcom abruptly announced that it would be throwing the current game — the one I had spent about five years of my time playing and leveling — into maintenance mode and then rebooting the title as a free-to-play quasi-MMO called Secret World Legends
It was an obnoxious, brute-force decision that greatly alienated many TSW players, and in my opinion, did not pay off as well as Funcom had hoped. Without allowing us to port over our characters or perhaps figure out a way to transform the old MMO into a free-to-play model (like so, so many other MMORPGs had), the studio forced us into a Sophie’s Choice. Did we say goodbye to the game we knew and loved (or worse, remain in a stagnant game forever), or did we start over and put up with the changes?
Grudgingly and not gladly, I started over. I spent a half-year leveling up a brand-new character just to get to the same place that I was before all of this started. And now that we are on the verge of the start of season two, I have time to reflect on why, exactly, I put up with the reboot and didn’t bid this game universe farewell. Here are my reasons.
GDC isn’t E3. It isn’t PAX. It’s not even what I think stereotypical gamers can appreciate. But I think the Massively OP crowd is a different sort, and because of that, we can give you some content the other guys might not be talking to you about. Like data collection and monetization. They’re necessary evils, in that we armchair devs can generally see past mistakes rolled out again, but know those choices are being made in the pursuit of money.
So how do you make better games and money? Maybe try hiring some data scientists, not just to help with product testing and surveys, but with some awesome, AI-driven, deep learning tools. Like from Yokozuna Data, whose platform predicts individual player behavior. I was lucky enough to sit down with not only Design and Communication Lead Vitor Santos but Chief Data Scientist África Periáñez, whose research on churn prediction inspired me to contact the company about our interview in the first place!
Plenty of panels at GDC are recorded and uploaded to the internet weeks after the event, including this one. It’s not quite the same as being there, as you miss a few things. For example, this year’s Ultima Online Post-Mortem panel was packed. It was international. It was fun, gross, nostalgiac, and sometimes groan-inducing.
And I’d hate to just summarize the talk, especially since some of you vets have heard these stories before, but since ya’ll couldn’t make it, I’ll do it. For you. But for this particular panel, not only will I try to summarize what was said before the panel will be viewable online in a few weeks, but I’ll dish out on the after-panel chat with Richard Garriott, Starr Long, Raph Koster, and Rich Vogel, including comments from the team on bad bans, kingslaying, VR, and the state of the MMORPG.
Earlier this week, we covered the emerging Game Workers Unite organization, something many folks in the games industry considered tantamount to unionization, which multiple activists and journalists have been calling for openly in recent years to combat industry abuses.
“Organizations like the ESA and the IGDA are not inherently bad, but they’re paltry concessions in an industry that needs more than fear of censorship,” Paste’s Dante Douglas argued this week. “The lack of worker support and labor organizations in the games development world, AAA and indie, points to a much deeper cultural problem, and one that needs more than AAA mouthpiece organizations and community networking hubs.”
The fact that IGDA in particular isn’t going to be much help here – in spite of an IGDA rep moderating the GWA panel at GDC – became abundantly clear in yesterday’s Kotaku interview, when the IGDA rep compared the inevitability of Christmas mail crunch to video game crunch and downplayed the need for unionization, suggesting that “access to capital” would allow indie devs to escape the AAA cycle.
This week’s Massively Overthinking topic comes to us from Steve, and it’s a frustration for our team as well, I promise.
“If the following statistics industry execs and analysts put out are true – that online multiplayer games are most profitable, that the average age of gamers is 35, that over 40% of gamers are female, and that ‘women’ and ‘over 35’ are two of the fastest growing demographic segments – why are virtually all major online multiplayer games designed primarily (in fact, almost exclusively) for males aged 15 to 35? I can’t speak for women, because as a straight, white male, I am aware 97% of the world exists to obey my whims and desires. However, as someone in my 40s, I notice that video games increasingly tend to be the exception, and it’s pissing me off more daily. So I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for women (40% of gamers, but just one Overwatch pro, for example, has to be infuriating). For an industry that wants every cent it can get its hands on, ignoring these groups (particularly the affluent 35+ age group) seems like a massive oversight.”
Yep! Let’s dig in.
What’s coming in EVE Online’s
February 13th patch? The game’s latest development preview explains that Upwell structures
will finally be getting the promised revamp, which makes abandoned structures easier to blow up and active ones more defensible as well as seeks to find balance between attackers and defenders in structure combat (namely, by nerfing said defenses).
Meanwhile, PC Gamer has a fresh piece out on the same ol’ botting problem that we covered a few weeks back; the publication builds out the argument that botters are seriously disrupting the EVE Online economy, not to mention upsetting the playerbase’s faith in CCP Games, which is already low thanks to the dissolution of the community team following financial hardships at the studio late last year.
The Star Citizen crew is back to work on Squadron 42 in 2018, as chronicled in the latest episode of Around the Verse. The Frankfurt studio, now up to 79 people, says it’s hard at work on fog and lighting, AI, graphics, weapons, engine performance, and ambient occlusion. The feature bit is all about the cinematics whipped up for the big stream reveal just before Christmas – you’ll recall it as the scene where Mark Hamill is kind of a jerk to your noob self.
Meanwhile, CIG has also just released its monthly studio report. And as teased earlier this week, the Star Citizen 3.0.1 alpha has landed on the PTU for testing, although you’ll note that now you’ll need a subscription to guarantee your earliest access to it, else you’ll wait for your invite. Bonus, now the game has monocles.
The very definition of a game in stealth mode, Kings and Heroes is a title that traveled from early access to launch in 2017 without drawing much attention to itself at all. The buy-to-play MMOARPG released in November of last year with seven fantasy races and five classes.
Since then, Kings and Heroes’ first major post-launch update was published last month right before Christmas. Performance issues were tackled, difficulty restrictions on certain dungeons were lifted, werewolves showed up in the world, and NPC pathing in dungeons were removed.
Should you give it a try? PCGamesN wrote a piece that argued for a very fresh and inventive in its dungeon crawls despite a lackluster opening experience: “Its boon is that it actually uses procedural generation very well. Instead of repeating the same handful of dungeons over and over again, repeat visits to the same one retain some of the surprise and tension of your first. Using tilesets of different designs, each visit feels familiar but different enough to keep your wanderlust topped up.”
By coincidence, two articles in my feeds this past week both centered on video game hoarding – not hoarding the actual games but hoarding stuff inside of them. Blizzard Watch posted a piece on what makes people stop hoarding things like currency in Blizzard’s games, while Gamasutra published an article about how game designers can stop turning us into hoarders in the first place.
For this week’s Overthinking, I thought it would be constructive for the staff and readers to reflect on hoarding in MMOs specifically. Do you hoard, and if so, is it primarily consumables? Currencies? Event items? Something else? Do you think it’s a problem, or only when it’s encouraged as part of a microtransaction loop that ends with your buying more storage?
Earlier this week, we got a tip claiming that the Albion Online team had been severely cut back before Christmas, perhaps as much as 50%, owing to poor performance. Turns out there were some layoffs, but not quite so many, and in fact the studio says it had ramped up studio numbers ahead of launch and is now downsizing to a live team. Moreover, the studio says its playerbase has “stabilized” and is still growing.
Here’s the full statement Sandbox Interactive issued to Massively OP this afternoon:
“Albion Online saw a successful release in July 2017. To get ready for release, during beta testing, our team size almost doubled to more than 50 people. Now that release is behind us, we are reducing the team size to levels similar to those at the start of pre-release beta testing. 31 people in total, supported by talented freelancers, will constantly improve and expand the game. This goes hand in hand with our strategy to fully focus on the game’s original core vision: with the release of our Kay update in December, player numbers have stabilized at a high level and continue to grow. Our next update, Lancelot, will continue on this path and is set to release in March, with further updates to come according to our road map.”
Our sympathies go out to those affected.
We’re guessing there are lots of new Elite Dangerous players roaming around now, what with the game having been just 7 bucks on Steam over Christmas, but that just means a bigger playerbase to cheer today’s news. Early this morning, Frontier announced that the game’s third season of content is on the way, beginning with Elite Dangerous: Beyond – Chapter One (they have never been good at names, let’s be honest) coming in “Q1 2018.” The beta itself for the new content will be free for all players and begin on January 25.
“Launching Q1 2018, Elite Dangerous: Beyond – Chapter One is the first update of Elite Dangerous’ third season, following the Thargoids devastating assault on humanity’s starports. Beyond advances the ongoing player-driven narrative and introduces a variety of gameplay enhancements, upgrading the gameplay experience whether players prefer to trade, fight or explore in Elite Dangerous’ massively multiplayer galaxy.”
The Funcom team is back in business after the winter holiday, and that means a fresh Conan Exiles newsletter for the community. What’s on the horizon? Combat, combat, combat – the “feature complete version of the new combat system” is coming to the test servers in February.
“The Berserkers are putting the finishing touches on the new combat system,” Funcom writes. “They’ve added the ability for players to dodge out of hit stuns, sacrificing stamina to escape chained attacks, and different blocking and stagger animations based on which weapon the blocker is being attacked with. We are planning two internal tests over the next weeks to test the new combat system in PvE and PvP scenarios. The first test is with the devteam and the second test includes devs from other teams. The third test will be in the middle of February (as mentioned above) when we invite you guys to check out and give feedback on the new combat system on our Testlive servers.”
The newsletter touches on the most recent build (with tweaks for the lootbag freeze bug, the temperature system, and fall damage), the volcano and jungle biome, the walking-through-walls bug, the state of console, the decay system, avatars on console, desync, art polishing, new emotes and idles, and the “content rebalance project.”