Friday, June 03, 2011

WoW's magic winding down

An article from The Motley Fool wonders why Activision/Blizzard stocks are remaining flat, and the author points out that "it's the games." Activision/Blizzard games tend to be concept games, which is hard to sell to a public that likes character games, like Mario Brothers, Tomb Raider, Witcher, Dragon Age and so on.

The best-selling Activision game Call of Duty: Black Ops is the sixth in a series of concept games that is wearing thin.

World of Warcraft is slipping after losing 600,000 subscribers between 2010 and 2011, according to The Motley Fool. That loss shows the latest expansion, Cataclysm, was not well received by subscribers. It also shows the number of subscribers has peaked and will never grow beyond what it is. The number of hours needed to play the game is a deterrent to casual play. A player should be able to pick a game up and just play for an hour or two, then go back to it on a casual basis. World of Warcraft is much more demanding than that, requiring hour after hour of character development, crafting and raiding. Blizzard then makes huge changes in how characters are played for every expansion, leaving players to wonder how to play characters they have been developing since game launch. Blizzard seems to want to encourage new players, rather than keep old players.

The way Blizzard develops a game is also illustrated by how Diablo has changed drastically every time it is upgraded. Diablo I was launched with three character types: Rogue, Warrior and Mage. The non-Blizzard expansion added a couple of characters. Diablo II was launched with five entirely different characters: Amazon, Paladin, Barbarian, Sorceress and Necromancer. The Lord of Destruction expansion added two characters: Assassin and Druid. Diablo III is taking an entirely different direction with characters, except for one: Barbarian, Witch Doctor, Wizard, Demon Hunter and Monk. It is hard to guess what an expansion will have for characters, and Blizzard likes it that way. The concept again encourages new players, rather than keeping old players.

Blizzard is working on a new concept for an MMO, and it must make that game a reality soon or risk losing audience as its current lineup grows old.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Back to the free games

I am going back to the free games, ones without a monthly fee. I have always felt that the monthly fee is something that gets in the way of playing. If I pay a monthly fee, somehow I feel obligated to play that game, so I can get as many hours as I can on that game. I certainly can't see playing more than one game with a monthly fee, like many of the bloggers I read. Monthly fees are time-based. If you are paying a fee for two games, while you play one game, you are paying for the one you are not playing. It is a little like cable TV, where you pay for hundreds of stations while you can only watch one at a time.

I was reading in one blog a debate about two audiences in WoW: the questers and the raiders. The questers tend to play alone, enjoying the leveling experience by doing quests and crafting. The raiders like to play in groups by leveling in instances, then going on to the end-game raids, using crafting, I suppose, only for boosting the character's raiding ability.

I am more of a quester, because I have been disappointed so often by the instances and raiding. The unevenness of pugs is one thing I dislike. So many times members of pugs are not only rude and unmannerly but they tend to push their own priorities on others, rather than be understanding of the needs of others. Members of pugs can be either all braves and no chief or all chiefs and no braves. I have had members of pugs leave because the group was not fast enough, or members constantly say, "hurry up," like they don't have time for an instance unless it goes fast. As a tank, I bailed from one group that was particularly pushy and caused me to make a fatal mistake that caused a wipe. I am too sensitive to what others are typing in the chat box, but if I ignore it that causes more problems.

Ideally, members of a guild should quest together, but that doesn't always happen because of raid schedules or instance runs. Not all agree that questing is fun, and I have to admit that quests get boring after the third or fourth time, and not many agree that instances get boring after the same number of times.

Raiding is terribly boring to me, like banging my head against a wall night after night. I can never figure out what exactly is needed to complete some raids, although I have tried over and over to do what I am supposed to. I have completed some complicated instances with my guild, but some have taken months to figure out, so I fail to see where the fun is.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Troubles at Square Enix over Final Fantasy XIV

The recent restructuring at Square Enix is interesting enough for Final Fantasy XIV fans, but the company also apologized "that the game has yet to achieve the level of enjoyability that FINAL FANTASY fans have come to expect from the franchise." I have not tried the game, nor have I played much of the FF series, but that apology does not make me want to try the game until the company works out the problems. The departing producer Hiromichi Tanaka offered his own apology and revealed some of the specific problems the game is experiencing: "A number of concerns that have been voiced by users, such as the design of the user interface, availability of tutorials and game content, and battle system functionality, represent key issues that must be addressed." Those problems, although described generally, are pretty major. Hiromichi indicated that he did not respond enough to player feedback about the issues, resulting in the substandard product. That should be a lesson to all producers of games.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Taking a break

I canceled my pre-order for Cataclysm and froze my account for World of Warcraft. Part of the reason was that I wanted to play Entropia for now. Entropia turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. Most people play because it is fun to sink money into a game anyway. I found that the developers started selling synthetic mind essence, seriously depressing the market for mind essence, which is the only known product that can be made from vibrant sweat. Combining the sweat with force nexis produces mind essence. Vibrant sweat is the only way that a beginning player can earn money without depositing money into an account. But selling synthetic mind essence has seriously depressed the market for not only mind essence but vibrant sweat. It all comes down to a trick to get players to deposit money, a method the developers devised to turn around their losses. I also read that Entropia will get a new island by Dec. 13, and land will be offered for sale on the island. The prices probably will be unreasonably high, because I read in the offering that deposits greater than $50,000 will be rewarded with no transaction fee. Sorry, Entropia, I don't have that much cash to invest, and I won't invest in virtual land that may never realize some kind of profit. As far as I can tell, players who own land don't necessarily realize much return for their investment. Many of the land areas were empty when I visited them. A secret may be to hold events on the land to draw players to the land, but promoting events may not draw enough profit. One of the land areas that must realize some kind of profit is Nea's Place, where players are sweating. But the depressed vibrant sweat market probably affected the owner a great deal. If I have any suggestion for the developers of Entropia, it is that it should be easier to get some kind of return for any investment, whether it is time or money. I saw many players getting sucked into the game, but many are disappointed when they learn that it is now next to impossible to play the game without depositing money. I am not sure how the company can make money from players who do not deposit, because it is a closed economy that can only increase if players deposit more, but the company does realize some profit if it charges for things that non-depositors buy.

The other part of the reason why I am getting away from games is that I realize that I am getting increasingly bored with all games. I also feel a need to deal with some real-life concerns, and games are starting to get in the way, so I may not return to gaming, unless it is for brief sorties.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cash added to Entropia

I decided to take the leap and add $10 to my account at Entropia. I am hoping that I can get some kind of return for this investment, but we will have to see. I noticed that MindArk does take a small fee, plus there is an exchange rate, so that means the $10 translates to about 96.50 PED, not exactly 100 PED.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Crafters shine in Entropia

Entropia is a crafter's paradise. The possibilities for making things seem endless in this virtual environment, but they are limited to the imaginations of the developers, because all items require blueprints, and I think most players cannot make blueprints.

A similarity exists in armor, for example, except in textures and colors. There are so many types of weapons, devices and vehicles, it is hard to list them all. The weapons include pistols, rifles, fist weapons, daggers, swords and more. Vehicles include land rovers, cars, boats, airborne vehicles and more. Most players specialize in making one type of item because their avatars must learn and level up crafting skills before they become proficient. By making items and selling them, players can get a return on whatever they put into the game, although profits are not guaranteed.

My understanding is that it is faster to get to crafting if you put some money into the game, but you must subtract the investment from your revenue to get a true profit. In other words, Neverdie invested $100,000 to buy the club mentioned in the last post, but how much did he put into the game after the initial investment? No one is saying, so the actual profit is unknown. Some writers are presuming to say he made a $535,000 profit from the club, but I doubt that is his actual profit because he must have put more money into his game account. Another person is claiming to have earned his college education from the game, but it is possible it is more like a savings account than actual profit, if he put a lot of money into the game.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Entropia gives incentives for grinding

The news was inviting: An entrepreneur sold a piece of virtual property in the online game Entropia for $635,000, setting a new price record for such real estate. The property was Club Neverdie, which John "Neverdie" Jacobs bought in 2005 for $100,000, then built into a playing environment. Jacobs sold the majority interest ($335,000) in the property to John Foma Kalun, and the rest ($300,000) to 12 other buyers. The property is divided into domes, or separate playing environments. Kalun owns 8 domes and naming rights to Club Neverdie, while the other buyers own one dome each.

After hearing the news, I decided it was time to try Entropia. I found out I was not alone. Many other players are giving the game a try after seeing that some people can make money by playing the game. We all found out that it is not easy money by any means. Earning money of any kind means grinding some of the most insipid gaming ever invented. But don't let that stop you.

Entropia is very similar to Second Life, so if you have tried that game, you will know what to expect. Both games are supposed to encourage socializing and cooperative gaming. Entropia is set in a futuristic environment, while Second Life is current times. Entropia has a currency that is set to convert to the US dollar: 10 PED equals $1, so 1 PED equals 10 cents. Second Life currency has no set conversion rate, and players have to rely on the market value at the time, so there is more risk involved. Entropia says that a minimum of 1,000 PED can be drawn out at a time. According to its annual report, MindArk AB, developer of Entropia, reports a negative cash flow of $2.4 million, so the company has not found a way of making a profit yet. I wonder how long it can last.

Without adding money to their accounts, players are offered only a few activities. By gathering sweat from monsters, players can make a few PED, but it is extremely time-consuming. Players are issued a device on arrival at Planet Calypso and given a mission to gather sweat. Once the player finishes the opening missions, he or she is sent on a mission to go to the Sweat Camp. Gathering sweat is very difficult because the monsters either walk away or start attacking players and the gathering device only works occasionally until you build up your skill level. I have found the best response to an attacking monster is to stand my ground so I can gain skill in sweating as well as defensive combat skills. It is definitely easier to sweat with a group, but often players have differences of opinion on how to do the job. Players are not particularly welcoming to newbies, but some do help new players. I spent most of my time just sweating, not chatting, as usual. When you consider that 1,000 vibrant sweat sells to players for 2 to 4 PED and it takes more than 6 hours of grinding to get that much sweat, you are not going to get rich quick by any means. The same amount of sweat sells for .01 PED (known as 1 PEC) at the Trade Terminal, so it is worth the effort of selling to players.