Shroud of the Avatar has long been an odd bird in the MMORPG crowdfunding space. Driven by the eccentric Richard Garriott, it raised large sums of money and managed to be one of the first nostalgia-driven MMOs to make it from Kickstarter to launch – several times, we’ll note. And yet today, Eurogamer went so far as to call the game an apparent flop, citing its low Steam numbers and the layoffs we covered a few weeks ago.
Garriott has rejected the idea that the game is “on the ropes.” To Eurogamer, he reiterated Portalarium’s party line that the majority of players play off Steam and that the playerbase is “in the many thousands but not in the many tens of thousands of monthly active users at the moment.” He also rebuts the claim that half the team was let go, stating that the company went from more than 20 to a “little under” that now, not counting contractors.
So what the heck is going on over there? Garriott says Portalarium has struggled with marketing, spending on publicity that didn’t materialize; the company is “trialing new marketing internally” to try to tap into the “millions” of Ultima fans who still don’t know his new game exists.
Portalarium is shaking off its layoffs and plunging onward with the release of Shroud of the Avatar’s 55th update. Release 55 should be live just as this post goes out, and it’s set to include an elaborate brewing system, the UI overhaul, new minizones, and new enemies. But the best news of the update is the fact that SOTA now has a reasonable in-game way for every single player to pick up a starter house.
“All Avatars who complete the entire story will receive a Player-Owned Town Row Lot Deed (Taxed) from the Oracle! This means completing the Paths of Truth, Love, Courage, and the Path of the Oracle. This will be retroactive, so anyone who has already completed the story will merely need to revisit the Oracle to receive their lot deed.”
This is a huge deal given that one of the biggest pre-launch complaints about the game revolved around the difficulty and grind associated with house ownership. The studio says it’s being implemented “at the suggestion of the community.” Do note that it’s not a tradeable deed; it’s “meant to celebrate a significant achievement, and as such is a retroactive reward, given to all players who have successfully completed the three Avatar paths.”
It appears as if Portalarium is suffering some layoffs and downsizing in the wake of the launch of Shroud of the Avatar: The studio’s Starr Long admits to “adjusting [the] team size” in a forum post written yesterday.
“Now that we are almost complete fulfilling our Kickstarter promises (brewing coming online in R55, physical rewards shipping very soon, progress being made on castle defense, etc.), we are adjusting our team size to better match our current monthly revenue. This will give us the balance we need to begin work on Episode 2 while ensuring we can support the online service. To do that means having, at least for now, a smaller team. Right now we will shift our focus from creating new content to polishing our existing systems. This means making a stronger new user experience, fixing bugs, reworking the quest system, performance improvements, user interface polish, and more. At the same time we will continue the Tier adjustments in progress which will rework our existing scenes to more appropriate difficulty levels based on our current player population.”
It’s been a long time coming, but H1Z1 finally hit open beta on the PlayStation 4 last night. If you forgot the game was coming to PS4, you’d be forgiven; the announcement was overshadowed last month by an apparent legal mess and major layoffs at Daybreak that reportedly hit H1Z1 hard.
Worth noting is that this version of H1Z1 has been tailored for console, with some basic mechanics, like the crafting system and inventory management, removed entirely.
“H1Z1 has been redesigned specifically for PlayStation 4 players, with a larger weapon arsenal – six new weapons – and fully reworked UI among the new features. Matches are fast and frantic. The encroaching ring of toxic gas moves quickly while the new weapon progression system keeps players engaged with frequent, increasingly lucrative airdrops. H1Z1’s control system has been overhauled for maximum speed and mayhem on PS4. With a familiar radial weapon menu, players can quickly switch between their two weapons of choice: guns and grenades. The grab-and-go equipment system also makes it easier for players to collect loot on the run.”
When Daybreak’s Columbus Nova fiasco and layoffs were hitting last month, most of the company’s MMORPGs resurfaced without missing a beat, reassuring their playerbases that the patches would continue and the titles would see ongoing support. That wasn’t the case for the survival half of the original H1Z1 known as Just Survive. The lack of communication and information had prompted many players to assume the game would be “Landmarked” – that is, finally released from early access/beta to earn a little launch money and then quietly sunsetted.
But late last night, Daybreak finally tossed its fans on Reddit a bone. Technical Director Mitch Evans apologized for the silence, saying that he still has a “small yet passionate team” working on the game.
“Right now, we are focused on making sure you continue to enjoy the game, so the majority of our resources are spent mostly on maintaining game stability, fixing game-breaking bugs, and improving anti-cheat methods,” he writes.
If it seems as if we’ve been covering Albion Online for a long time, that’s because it’s true. In fact, the game officially launched almost a year ago – you’ll recall it as the PvP sandbox that survived exortiony DDOS attacks, slammed servers, and a round of layoffs. One thing it didn’t do? Port to Steam. But we can’t say that anymore, as the title has officially landed on Steam as of today, complete with achievements and a big fame boost for the next week.
Do note that this is a buy-to-play title, though its $30 basegame pricetag has been cut down to under $20 as part of the launch festivities. Naturally, there are bigger bundles for fatter wallets too as well as a sale of all the game’s packs and upgrades. Referring a buddy? The new season of rewards for that has also just kicked off.
Internal crisis or no, Daybreak is moving forward with plans to bring H1Z1 to the PlayStation 4. When it arrives, however, this version will be noticeably different than the PC edition in one significant area: There will be no inventory management to handle.
“[With] inventory management we were just like, it just doesn’t feel good to muck your way through this on a controller [where] you’re clicking 100 times to do something,” said Lead Systems and Combat Designer Tony Morton to US Gamer. “So it was like, how do we do the most we can with the least amount of clicks. There were some things like inventory and crafting and salvaging where we just needed to pull it, because it’s not adding anything to the game in terms of how it feels to go through all those steps on a controller.”
MMOs and politics once again collide this week as last night CNN broke the news that Robert Mueller’s FBI team has zeroed in on Russian oligarch and Renova Group chairman Viktor Vekselberg as part of the Special Counsel investigation into Russian election interference, questioning Vekselberg about money Renova’s US “affiliate” transferred to US President Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen. (Tangentially, those allegations were brought to light by Stormy Daniels attorney Michael Avenatti.)
And the name of that US affiliate under investigation? Yeah, it’s Columbus Nova, the firm that claimed it acquired MMORPG studio Daybreak back in 2015. Here we go again.
“FBI agents asked Vekselberg about payments his company’s American affiliate, Columbus Nova, made to Cohen, according to one source,” CNN reports. “The Russian was questioned as well about $300,000 in political donations by Andrew Intrater, Vekselberg’s American cousin who is the head of Columbus Nova, sources said.” Columbus Nova claimed to CNN that it is “owned and controlled by Americans”; it further denies any use of “Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments” to Cohen.
While Daybreak producers are spelling out their games’ future, a now-deleted post over at Reddit by an alleged former employee of Daybreak Games purports to spill the beans on a lot of the behind-the-scenes developments, projects, and decisions at the troubled studio.
This rumor is interesting and largely lines up to what we have heard and discovered over the past week, which could mean it’s true or could just mean someone’s making guesses to perpetrate a hoax on the community or force Daybreak’s hand. The bad news is that the unnamed ex-employee claims that Just Survive “is on its last legs” and likely to sunset, while the two current EverQuest titles are due for their last expansions this year. The first EverQuest may be creating “nostalgic raids” for the 20th anniversary.
On the upside, two interesting projects are alleged to be in development, both of which align with past rumors and hiring notices. The post claims that PlanetSide 3 is in its early stages as a team-based battle royale-style game while EverQuest 3 has been in development for a year as it was “being rebuilt from the ground up” to also focus on battle royale-style PvP.
Not counting Standing Stone’s titles, Daybreak currently develops and publishes six of its once massive stable of MMOs: Both EverQuests, DC Universe Online, PlanetSide 2, H1Z1, and Just Survive. As last week’s bizarre corporate shenanigans and mass-layoffs unfolded, some of the reps for these games addressed their playerbases (with more than a rote denial that anything was wrong).
DC Universe Online’s Executive Producer Katnikov says that “nothing has changed in DCUO’s development schedule” and “these events have not limited [the team’s] plans for the game and future development” as the Deluge update overperformed and there are two episodes and more style unlocks in development. A huge three-parter Superman birthday tie-in apparently begins on May 16th.
PlanetSide 2 Producer Nick Silva reiterates the statement made earlier on Reddit that nobody from his team had been laid off. “PlanetSide 2 has not been negatively impacted by any of the recent reorganization at the company,” he writes. “Our plans for the rest of this year have not changed and we are excited to continue to bring amazing new systems, features, and content to the game we all love. In the coming month we will be celebrating the 15th anniversary of PlanetSide as a franchise. There will be new content, some promotional events, and a new alert type added to the game. We’ll also continue to put out game updates at a regular cadence, as we have been previously.”
Daybreak has now confirmed the layoffs, and we’ve got lots more information from our own sources – see below for updates and context.
Multiple game industry veterans are discussing layoffs at Daybreak today. H1Z1 UI Software Engineer Grat Crabtree says he was among those let go.
It’s safe to say that it’s been a rough year for CCP Games, with the company pulling out of VR game development and laying off around 100 staff worldwide. The entire EVE Online
community team was reported to have been slashed down to just two employees, and many of the studio’s most experienced PR staff were let go when the Atlanta office was shuttered. EVE
players (including me
) came down hard on CCP and on CEO Hilmar Veigar Petursson in particular, and some inside the company were notably shaken.
EVE Online Community Manager Paul “CCP Falcon” Elsy was one of the few members of the community team left after the layoffs, suddenly finding himself organising the 15th anniversary Fanfest without a team. It’s now been almost five months since the layoffs, so I caught up with Paul at EVE Fanfest 2018 recently to find out how the company has coped with the loss of so many skilled community staff. He also clarified CCP’s role in tackling harassment outside the game client in the wake of a recent virtual scuffle on the Open Comms show, and gave a fascinating account of how Hilmar himself dealt with the recent layoffs and how he’s been getting more involved with EVE lately.
Read on for our massive in-depth interview with EVE‘s Community Manager Paul “CCP Falcon” Elsy.
SuperData continues to express confidence in the future of virtual reality – however you want to label it. Last week, the analytics firm updated its paid paper on its expectations for the industry, saying it has “nowhere to go but up.”
“Driven by augmented reality and mixed reality and successful titles, the XR market will reach a combined $7.6B in 2018 across hardware and software,” the firm argues. Revenue from VR software in 2017 was just over half a billion dollars – 55% of which was from games, with Bethesda’s Fallout and Elder Scrolls franchisea earning the most. And that other 45%? “Developers are focusing most on fields like design, retail, and manufacturing despite an overwhelming demand for education and healthcare solutions,” says the firm, pointing out that the big VR money isn’t in making people smarter or healthier.
Readers will recall that SuperData called VR the “biggest loser” of the holiday gaming sales at the end of 2016; that was followed by a NYT piece calling for “a reality check for virtual reality” just a year ago. Nevertheless, as of April 2017, SuperData was predicting a “steep rise” in VR adoption and $40B in revenue by 2020. The current report, however, suggests a combined consumer revenue for virtual, augmented, and mixed reality of just under $40B by 2021.