the soapbox

The Soapbox is home to our staff’s wild opinions on MMORPG topics near and dear to us. [Follow this column’s RSS feed]

The Soapbox: The sorry state of ARK Survival Evolved

When ARK: Survival Evolved came on the scene in June 2015, it was met with enthusiasm (dinosaurs!) as well as some skepticism (Early Access). But Studio WildCard quickly won over many fans with the game's delivery, which included frequent updates (and dinos of course). And we do mean frequent! The studio was cranking out meaty content and bug fixes at a rate never seen before in any other EA title --  sometimes updates were multiple times a day! Stuff came so quickly it was hard for server admins to keep up with at times. Many of us started holding ARK up as an example of early access done right. Why couldn't other studios do early access more like WildCard?

But over time, that sentiment changed. A year and a half later, folks who have championed long for ARK -- including me -- have taken a few steps back. Enjoyment is giving way to frustration. Fans are giving up and leaving. Why is that? Bugs? Devs? Shifted priorities from finishing to milking money? Different eyes might see different causes, but the one thing stands out: The development process has changed. What was once so great is now not so great. And you have to wonder if this spells trouble for the studio.

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The Soapbox: Asheron's Call is dead, and Turbine killed it

You'd think recent news about Asheron's Call 1 and AC2 would be easy to swallow. After all, we'd already been warned that Turbine was becoming a mobile company. We lived through the end of AC1 updates and a desire to give players the chance to host their own servers. Heck, AC2 had died and resurrected. We've been living on borrowed time, but anything seemed possible. Despite the fact that Turbine's games were squeaking by (when not getting cancelled), I thought that fan power would lead the company to see what it'd done right (innovating MMOs) and where it had failed (straying from monthly updates and GM lead content).

Clearly I was wrong.

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The Soapbox: Calling an MMO launch a launch

It's launch.

Can we collectively accept that? Marketing, developers, and players alike? Launch is launch. When your game launches, it has launched. If I can reach another decade on this planet without ever hearing the term "soft launch" again except as a historical footnote, I will be... well, I don't know that I'll be happy, but I'll certainly be happy with that particular development.

Unfortunately, I appear to be on the wrong side of this. Early access and points related have disrupted the very concept of a launch state, and developers have been working hard to redefine "launch" as an arbitrary goal line rather than a term referring to the point when a game is bought and paid for. But I think more so than the ambiguity of testing terms, the way we've diluted the idea of launch has really had an impact on our perceptions of products and the state of a game.

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The Soapbox: Sharing MMORPGs with my kids

"Dad, can I pilot your ship tonight?"

I turn around to see my seven-year-old son giving me Bambi eyes with his hands clasped because, somewhere along the line, he realized that being ultra-cute got him what he wanted about 70% of the time. Plus, he only has a short while before that wears off and he becomes a belching, sweaty teen.

He was talking about Star Trek Online, although my kids never call games by their proper names. STO is "that space pilot game" and World of Warcraft is "the kill bad guys game," both of which are far superior titles than the originals, I think you'd agree. I had let him fly my starship once and it got him hooked, mostly because it wasn't super-fast and twitchy but forgiving and simple to maneuver. Now I get pestered at odd hours to help him further his Starfleet career, even though he has yet to see a single episode of the show.

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How Star Wars: The Old Republic won me over with its endgame

I walked away from last week's Star Wars: The Old Republic livestream pretty happy. Considering that I repeatedly say how much I absolutely loathe information presented as a video rather than just a nice solid block of text, that says something.

When I returned to SWTOR, it was after a two-year break from the game that followed reasonably close on the heels of Rise of the Hutt Cartel. I enjoyed that expansion, but what kind of dragged me to a halt with the game was my general disinterest about Star Wars combined with the fact that the endgame was the same unpleasant mire that wasn't doing World of Warcraft any favors then or now. It's important to note that when I left, the game had been my main go-to game for quite some time.

Now, of course, The Force Awakens managed to kindle a heretofore unprecedented affection for the franchise in me (a discussion of that would be outside of this particular article's wheelhouse) and my wife and I couldn't help but go back. And that brings me around to now, in the wake of a livestream where the prospect of new operations is basically met with a shrug and a guess. That earned some points.

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The Soapbox: Advertising, blacklisting, and critique - The broken incentives of gaming media

This guest Soapbox was commissioned through Massively Overpowered's Kickstarter campaign and is authored by D. Emery Bunn. The opinions here represent the views of our guest author and not necessarily Massively OP itself. Enjoy!

Gaming media is broken. "Honest reviews" can come off like a sarcastic jab, especially with massive site-spanning advertisements mere pixels from the reviews themselves. Add in the lure of exclusives, and "fair and unbiased" sounds like a joke to many.

But gaming media and the industry it covers aren't broken from some form of malevolent hatred and a greedy desire to part gamers from their money. Regrettably, three things combine to create an environment where criticism can destroy a media outlet entirely, even when criticism is a vital part of journalism itself.

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The Soapbox: MMOs and the power of habit

I've been reading this book by Charles Duhigg called The Power of Habit. Actually, the full title is The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and in Business, but that was a mouthful for an opening sentence. It's a book that draws heavily on academia as well as interviews with private sector executives to identify something called the habit loop, which is the author's way of quantifying how the human brain sorts habits from conscious choices.

"At one point, we all consciously decided how much to eat and what to focus on when we got to the office," Duhigg writes. "Then we stopped making a choice, and the behavior became automatic." What does that have to do with video games or MMORPGs? Let's find out.

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The Soapbox: The fun and frustration of SWTOR's housing system

When I was a kid, I had far too many Star Wars action figures, vehicles, and playsets. And when I say kid, I actually mean 25-year old man. Then I discovered girls and the merits of a clean and clutter-free house. I also discovered MMOs, which are basically virtual playsets with digital action figures tailor-made for scratching sci-fi collectible itches in a socially acceptable fashion.

So, instead of stalking eBay or the aisles of my local toy store, I spent 20 hours decorating my Nar Shaddaa sky palace in Star Wars: The Old Republic this week. That's right, 20 hours without a single blaster shot. And 20 hours sans the telltale snap-hiss of my lightsaber(s).

It's been both fun and frustrating, which is basically SWTOR in a nutshell.

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The Soapbox: These three MMOs deserve a do-over

Wouldn't it be cool if every MMORPG that failed to reach its potential were granted some sort of do-over? We've seen it happen once, with 2013's hugely successful A Realm Reborn reboot rising from the ashes of 2010's Final Fantasy XIV farce.

That's most definitely an isolated incident that owes a lot to Square's deep pockets, though, and there are plenty of additional MMORPGs that started off as great ideas and ended up in desperate need of a retool.

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The Soapbox: Why I'm hopeful for the future of MMOs

Earlier this week, Justin asked what gives you hope for the future of the MMOs. As you might expect, the responses were many and varied, with some people naming a far off game or two while a few said that current titles are all they need from MMOs. Still others said -- and I quote -- abandon hope all ye who enter here because the genre has strayed so far from its original identity that it now serves an entirely different playerbase.

If you'd asked me this question a year or so ago, I'd have fallen firmly into that last camp. The genre has inarguably changed, and arguably for the worse, especially if you are a fan of sandboxes, grouping, virtual world gameplay in general and non-combat gameplay in particular. But as I said in my own comment, better days are ahead, thanks in my opinion to a handful of independent MMOs.

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The Soapbox: An ode to MMO positivity

I had a strange thought the other day, at least as regards the MMO genre. I'm kinda having fun here. I know, it surprised me too because it's been an eternity since I found MMOs fun. Don't get me wrong because free-to-play still sucks, people still love lockboxes, and you can't click on a news article these days without reading about monetization or raving lunatics.

But funk all that! I'm in a good MMO mood. Join me past the cut and I'll show you the games responsible.

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The Soapbox: Star Citizen is still worth the wait

Wow, it's Star Citizen and Derek Smart in the same post! OK, now that I've stopped laughing (again), you can call me crazy because I remain optimistic about Cloud Imperium's space sim opus. Yes, I'm still optimistic despite the verbal stylings of Battlecruiser's creative lead and the dozens of MOP commenters who agreed with him about Star Citizen's supposed fast-track to failure.

And frankly, optimism isn't usually my thing. Why the happy face, then? I'm so glad you asked!

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The Soapbox: The fallacy of 'F2P insight' in the MMO market

I read with disgust a recent GI.biz piece about free-to-play and its supposed coming of age. The business model has of course run amok through the western MMO industry since Turbine's Dungeons & Dragons Online started the dominoes rolling in 2010, and it has been the weapon of choice for separating browser/mobile game players from their money since browser/mobile games became a thing.

Whether or not free-to-play is actually good for the long-term health of the game industry is up for debate. But you wouldn't know that if you inhale the PR smoke commonly blown by development firms that owe their existence to the business model's built-in saturation potential rather than their ability to make quality products that consumers value.
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