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Overwatch League gets ESPN and Disney XD television contract

Count this as a huge victory for Blizzard’s attempt to legitimize and popularize its fledgling Overwatch League.

The studio announced this week that it has signed a deal with both ESPN and Disney XD to exclusively televise Overwatch League games for the next two years. The coverage began yesterday with the League’s first season playoffs and will continue through the grand finals later this month. In fact, Blizzard is touting the fact that Overwatch will be the first e-sports championship broadcast ever on ABC.

“We are pleased to partner with Activision Blizzard to bring Overwatch e-sports to our audience,” said Disney XD Senior Vice President Marc Buhaj. “The Blizzard team has created a genre-leading esport and a premium professional franchise system in the Overwatch League. We are kicking off the agreement by showcasing the inaugural season playoffs and Grand Finals live across our linear footprint. Together with our telecast partners at ESPN, we look forward to growing a legion of new Overwatch fans across the next two years.”

Source: Press release

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Ashes of Creation claims it’s ‘now among the largest MMOs in production’

Ashes of Creation claims it’s “now among the largest MMOs in production” thanks to the addition of a large crew of new hires and more on the way. Intrepid Studios posted today that it’s picked up a number of new senior hires – artists, engineers, designers, and so forth – with pedigrees from Disney, Daybreak, SOE, Sigil, EA, and Travian.

“In the coming weeks, a new hiring round for the San Diego studio will begin with 21 new positions as the MMO continues to speed along in production,” writes the studio. “In addition, developers have been spun up in France and Malaysia to bring the total size of the Ashes team to now over 100 of the most talented people in games.”

The studio also noted today that July is the last month players can buy into the alpha 1 package. The first phase of alpha 1 (as opposed to alpha zero, which began at the end of last year) is expected by the end of 2018. Over 8000 gamers have reportedly purchased alpha access so far; Intrepid says it “wants to keep that number below 10,000 for testing purposes in the Alpha 1 stage.”

Source: Press release

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Trion just bought up Gazillion’s assets to beef up its MMO publishing arm

Did you see this one coming? VentureBeat has a piece out this morning interviewing Trion Worlds CEO Scott Hartsman, who’s apparently just revealed that Trion’s bought up all of Gazillion Entertainment, or what’s left of its assets, anyway.

Gazillion, of course, infamously shuttered along with its core MMORPG, Marvel Heroes, last autumn following weeks of missed content, an apparent failed contract renogotiation, a sexual harassment scandal, and ultimately Disney’s rescinding of the Marvel license, driving the studio into bankruptcy. At the time, we called it the worst-managed MMORPG sunset of all time.

It looks like the goal for Trion here isn’t necessarily to save or remake Marvel Heroes (although that would be fun, and VB notes Trion has picked up an isometric game engine as part of the package) but to bolster its publishing for MMOs specifically, something MMO players will recall Trion’s been working on for the last few years with Glyph, where Trion’s existing games – including RIFT, Trove, ArcheAge, and Defiance – currently dwell.

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One Shots: Rave on Risa

I love how in the Star Trek universe, the universal consensus on what makes for an ideal vacation spot is a planet that looks a lot like Miami Beach. I mean, there’s a whole galaxy out there, people! Is it possible that there are any slightly more exciting, exotic, and thrilling vacation destinations than Jimmy Buffet’s island paradise?

Junior Ensign JonBuck doesn’t think so: “In Star Trek Online, there’s only one good place for vacations: Risa!”

Yes, I want to go to the place where humanoid cats are getting jiggy with it while wearing a two-piece. Wait, I thought cats don’t like water?

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Solo has a couple blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references to Star Wars Galaxies

One of the best aspects of all of the new Disney Star Wars films is their references to places, events, and characters outside of the film canon and in the extended or “legends” universe. And now, with the release of Solo in movie theaters, Star Wars Galaxies has joined that list of shout-outs for all time.

One of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references is to an AV-21, a two-seater Corellian speeder that debuted in the late, great MMORPG. In the film, young Han Solo said that he spent part of his childhood boosting these vehicles. Another is a mention of a valahorn, a musical instrument that was created for the game.

In any case, the references were not lost on some fans of Star Wars Galaxies, including creator Raph Koster, who seemed pleased as punch at the nods.

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Toontown Rewritten sponsors convention for emulator fans

Perhaps one of the most amazing MMORPG emulator projects is one that has flown under the radar of the larger community. Following the shutdown of Disney’s Toontown Online in 2013, the community relaunched the game as Toontown Rewritten. Instead of wallowing in obscurity, the emulator has flourished with a vibrant community and regular updates.

It’s been so successful, in fact, that the dev team has held player conventions for years now. The next ToonFest is coming up at July’s ReplayFX Arcade and Gaming Festival in Pittsburgh, PA. It’s here that fans will gather together to meet with the developers, hear update announcements, and attend panels with the team.

“I still believe that one way or another, Toontown’s going to hang in there and have that long, long life,” said Schell Games CEO Jesse Schell.

Curious about Toontown Online and why it’s inspired such devotion? Read up on this title in our Game Archaeologist column!

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Another writer allegedly leaves BioWare – what on earth is going on with Anthem?

Surfacing at the tail end of last week was the news that multiple former BioWare devs who’d all contributed heavily to Star Wars The Old Republic at one point or another in their careers were moving on to a new studio called FogBank to work on unnamed narrative-centric games. The Fogbank roster includes Daniel Erickson and Alexander Freed, both of whom left BioWare and SWTOR years ago. But it also includes renowned storyteller Drew Karpyshyn, who’d returned to BioWare specifically to work on Anthem, which certainly cast some doubt on the state of that game, which has been delayed at least once (though EA denies it).

On Saturday, Anthem studio boss Casey Hudson address growing player concern on Twitter, suggesting rather ambiguously that Karpyshyn had simply finished his work on the game and was moving on as part of the natural course of development. “Story will always be an important part of every BioWare game,” he wrote. “Drew has wrapped up his work on the project, but Anthem’s Lead Writers and their teams continue to do amazing work developing the world, story, and characters.”

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Former SWTOR creative director and key writers form up under new studio FogBank

We don’t know exactly what titles they’re working on, but three former Star Wars: The Old Republic veterans have joined forces under a studio now called FogBank, working on an “episodic narrative” game developed in conjunction with an “interactive storytelling platform.” As GIbiz reports, FogBank isn’t entirely new; it’s a a spinoff of Kabam that was picked up by FoxNext as Aftershock, then renamed.

The studio is led by studio director Daniel Erickson, the former creative director of Star Wars: The Old Republic; he moved around in the last few years after departing BioWare and SWTOR, most recently doing a stint for Kabam, where he was the director on mobile titles Spirit Lords and Star Wars: Uprising.

VentureBeat notes that Alexander Freed, the beloved SWTOR senior writer credited with the popular Agent storyline, will oversee narrative development for the new company. He left BioWare in 2012 too.

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The ESA is fighting proposed DMCA exemptions that would preserve sunsetted MMORPGs because of course it is

Over the last couple of years, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has been petitioning for changes to the DMCA to help preserve old video games – to eliminate server-based DRM and legalize emulators for games that had been abandoned. As of 2015, the Library of Congress granted the request, but the exemption very specifically didn’t cover closed-down MMORPGs.

Then, in October of 2017, the US Copyright Office effectively renewed the exception and reopened the argument, in part because of a Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (MADE) proposal to consider even massively-multiplayer games on the table for archival purposes. Even if you have no interest in playing on an emulator for an ancient MMORPG, surely you can see the value in allowing future historians the opportunity to see these worlds first-hand instead of through blurry YouTube videos. The code still exists, after all; outdated laws simply keep them closed to all of us.

Not so fast, says the good ol’ Entertainment Software Association.

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Whatever happened to Pirates of the Burning Sea, Pirates of the Caribbean Online, and Puzzle Pirates?

Ever pause during your day and find yourself wondering, “Whatever happened to that game?” With hundreds upon hundreds of online titles these days, it’s surprisingly easy for MMOs to fall through the cracks and become buried as more aggressive or active games take the spotlight.

Well, every so often we here at Massively Overpowered find ourselves curious what has transpired with certain MMOs that we haven’t heard from in quite a while. Have we missed the action and notices? Has the game gone into stealth maintenance mode? What’s the deal? What has it been up to lately? That’s when we put on our detective hats and go sleuthing!

In this special pirate edition of the column, we’ll be visiting the fates ‘n’ fortunes of Pirates of the Burning Sea, Pirates of the Caribbean Online, and Puzzle Pirates. Yo ho!

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Rumor: Disney eyes Ubisoft and Activision to take over Star Wars video game IP

Raise your hand if you’re a little tired of Electronic Arts’ handling of the Star Wars video game franchise since its acquisition in 2013. One… two… yeah, a few of you.

Well, there might be A New Hope in the future for a new handler. Rumors are emerging that Disney is eyeing two different publishers to take the reins of the Star Wars IP in the video game market, especially in light with the Star Wars Battlefront II fiasco last year.

Cinelinx has the possible scoop: “From what I’ve heard Lucasfilm is upset as well and looking for other options. I’ve had a couple sources reach out to me about the current state of Star Wars gaming. According to them, Disney/LFL higher ups pulled EA to the ‘principal’s office’ to talk about what’s going wrong (which is what others have reported as well). Moreso, they’ve apparently reached out to both Ubisoft and Activision about developing Star Wars games.”

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MMO devs discuss the painful process of shutting down online games

Have you ever thought about what it is like for developers and community managers who handle online games that are being shut down? It’s certain just as painful (if not more) for them as it is for us, and it is not as easy as turning off a switch and walking away.

PC Gamer has a fascinating piece on the process of sunsetting titles from a studio’s standpoint, including looks at games such as Club Penguin and PlanetSide 1.

Former Club Penguin CM Bobbi Rieger shared the overload of details that the team had to sort out when the news broke: “My immediate reaction was, ‘Oh crap.’ Of course my thoughts went to the community and how we could make this as positive as possible. At the end of the day, it’s going to be hard. It’s gonna suck. I was just like, ‘OK, what’s the action plan?'”

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Video game preservationists attempt to raise $450K to rez Marvel Heroes [Updated]

(We’ve updated below with MMOBomb’s detailed investigation into this Indiegogo – short story, don’t go handing over your dough.)

With Marvel Heroes dead and gone, most fans have moved on to other gaming pastures. After all, it would take a miracle to bring it back, right? Turns out that miracles are pretty expensive in this modern age, but there are always those who will take a shot at the near-impossible.

Enter Paragon Institute, a new non-profit that says it wants to purchase Marvel Heroes for $450,000 (or more) and form an indie studio to operate it. Even more interesting, this group says it wants to use Marvel Heroes and other titles as “learning labs” to train developers and preserve abandoned video games.

“Our goal is to establish ElderMage Studios as a learning lab to partner experienced professionals with aspiring game developers to help them gain the skills and hands-on experience necessary to work in the field,” the group posted on IndieGoGo. “This may include time spent supporting or enhancing existing titles to create entirely new ones. A secondary mission is to preserve games that are no longer supported so that those who have licensed them may continue using them and so others may learn from them.”

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