Alts For Freemium and the Demise of Randolph

I made another handful of characters in Vanguard, in preparation for the transition to freemium. The consensus as to how things will shake out is that SOE will grandfather in existing character races, classes and character slots, much as they did for EQ2 (after considerable and justified bitching.) So the strategy is to make those characters now, so when f2p goes up you’ll be able to play them without necessarily having to pay out of pocket for whatever it is you’d ordinarily have to unlock. There is, of course, no guarantee things will work this way, and the grandfather date could be set to or before March 21, when the announcement was made. But this will irk some people, including myself.

Despite this variable I would not be terribly surprised if SOE’s implementation of the freemium model in Vanguard ends up being a bit more liberal than it is in EQ2. I don’t expect any radical departures, mind you, but it seems to me a great shame to lock such a variety of races and classes behind a transaction. Vanguard’s class design is unique, and I think it’d be wise not to lock those great designs behind a paywall. I won’t say that the Warrior, Rogue, Cleric and Sorcerer are entirely uninteresting, but all of the game’s great classes — the Bard, Blood Mage, Disciple and Necromancer, and all those that are almost as neat, like the Psionicist, Ranger, Dread Knight, Shaman and Monk — would be unavailable to free players if the EQ2 model is ported over verbatim. But SOE has a lot less to lose now, and Vanguard has more to gain. It would be very good strategy, in my judgement, to limit the game as little as possible while still building the infrastructure needed for robust microtransaction sales.

With this in mind, though, one of the reasons I resubscribed almost immediately after the announcement was to get character made with an eye to them being grandfathered in if possible. Since I had lost a lot of characters to the server merge purge (all under adventuring level 10, and a bunch under 5,) and only had four characters on my account, three of which I created when I came back last year, I set about figuring out everything that I would realistically want to play and filed all twelve existing character slots. I’ll be happy to buy unlocks should the need come up, but there’s no sense spending more money than I have to — the SOE f2p model is not alt-friendly, and I am. Particularly in a game with as much variety in races and classes as Vanguard.

One buried but big change with this week’s update (updates which are coming noticable more rapidly now,) is that Randolph the Reindeer, the flying holiday mount that was given out several Christmases ago and subsequently made a year-round flying mount, was stripped of his flying ability. Some people are upset about this, and Randolph was incredibly handy, but more people are relieved to finally see the change made. I, personally, am in the latter camp.

The problem is that Randolph, in addition to being kind of silly, broke the game in some minor but non-trivial ways. You could use him to fly in and out of outdoor dungeons, for example, despite the fact that these tend to nominally be no-fly zones. Granted that this points to a problem with the underlying no-fly mechanic rather than being an issue specific to Randolph himself, but still. As an odd goodie during the holiday event I don’t mind it, but year-round flying was a bit too much, and additionally eroded the value of Vanguard’s other flying mounts, which take rather a lot of effort to get.

Now, the thing is, flying is one of the great beauties of Vanguard. Anything you can see, you can get to if you can fly. I am all for a flying mount at some accessible level and with a reasonable effort that doesn’t break the lore. Word is that there’s a level 20 questline in the works that will grant one, and I’m fine with that. I’m also fine with (as I expect) flying mounts bought through the store, as long as the best ones (currently the Griffin, the most spectacular mount in all MMOs as far as I’m concerned) remain things that you have to get through play.

Advertisements

Crafting, Diplomacy and the Hazards of Overpolish

Sometimes, starting fresh makes a big difference. Mnembao, my new Psionicist, is now level 10 in Adventuring, level 11 in crafting (Tailor) and level 4 in Diplomacy. At 17 hours in I still have not left the Khal chunk nor visited the third Adventuring quest hub. I had seen the Cliffs of Ghelgad (starter area for the Qaliathari and Mordebi humans) more than once, but despite having done some crafting down in Khal, I’ve never gotten much past it.

I’m working on that now; Ksaravi Hollow is a dungeon in the chunk intended for levels 7-11. Like all Vanguard dungeons it is open to the world and a large piece of it is pretty soloable if you’re careful, even with a brittle Psionicist. But I did get in my first corpse run, which was unexpected — the death penalty doesn’t take effect until level 11, but level 11 in any of the spheres will do, and I had already hit that as a crafter. Thankfully, all was well once I made it back down there and the XP hit really is pretty modest unless you manage a streak of deaths. And yes, I have seen a couple of other players down there, but have not (thus far) felt the need to group.

I’ve also taken up Diplomacy again, something I’d let slip by the last couple of times I’ve been playing Vanguard. It’s hard to keep track of stuff after leaving it alone for a long time, but starting from scratch there’s a lot to do. Level 4 gets you a bigger strategy hand, which helps a great deal. There is one quest in the early Khal diplomacy chain that’s hard to follow: you’re told to talk to some guards until the nearby guard sergeant has finished up whatever it is he’s doing, but you’re not told explicitly what will trigger the quest’s completion. It turns out that this is hitting level 4, which, if you haven’t done all of the lower-level diplomacy quests (I hadn’t) can take a fairly large number (like twenty) parleys to reach. I almost stomped off without completing it before I figured it out. I’m glad I didn’t, because if I had, it probably would have been another character I’d abandoned Diplomacy on.

Coming off of my experiences with SWTOR and Rift last year (both of which I decided not to buy based on their “strengths” in beta,) ancient, teetering old Vanguard seems like a breath of fresh air. Those games, like WoW, are highly polished — and like WoW today all of the fun seems to have been polished off of them. What was once an unquestioned virtue has now become, to my mind, a liability, with openness, dynamism, atmosphere and interactivity sacrificed at the altars of balance, ease and accessibility.

Whatever deficiencies it might have, there is meat on the bones of Vanguard. It’s a bizarre twist when the great strength of WoW becomes a weakness, and the great flaw of Vanguard becomes an asset. I have a funny hunch that Vanguard’s dilute “old school” pedigree, never satisfying to EQ veterans who wanted something similar to the old hardcore grind, is something that fans of vanilla WoW who have grown to dislike Azeroth as it’s evolved might find appealing. It’s still a themepark game, and it gives you some guidance and direction, but you also have the ability to run off the rails and do what you want to a much greater degree than in those other titles.

Whether that potential audience will actually try Vanguard when it moves to freemium is another story. Deciding to launch EQ2 Extended instead of making Vanguard free to play in a market that wasn’t yet dominated by games with no cover charge represents a huge missed opportunity on SOE’s part. It would have been a gamble, but, y’know, sometimes you should gamble. What I hope for now is a nice boost to the population, which should help the game a great deal.

SOE Live Oct. 18 – 21- 2012

News dropped yesterday that SOE’s annual Convention has opened up for registrations. Once again it will be held in Las Vegas at the Bally Casino. To better reflect ALL of SOE’s titles the con has changed names from Fan Faire to SOE Live …… hmm, yeah I know gives you the shrug and scratch your head whatever feeling doesn’t it.

I am all for them giving more attention to all of their games at Fan … erm Live, but I think they could have kept the old name as it is quite Iconic and adequtely describes the focus; a place for the Fans to gather and socialize with others who enjoy the same games. I just hope that this time around Vanguard gets more than a lack-luster attempt at recognition. With SWG gone perhaps this will be the case. Considering Vanguards move to Free 2 Play somewhere around that time period, that in itself should warrent some time in the spotlight.

Reading the forums associated with the announcement, it seems that you may want to wait a day or so before rushing to get your hotel booked (but I wouldn’t wait too long) as some who have already flooded the links have stated the hotels reservations for the days of the con seem to be absent from the availability list. I am sure it is just the Hotel not having the special code for the con setup yet for I can not see that many people having already swarmed in and booked up the whole cons slots.

I had planned to attend PAX East this year, but some issues have come up that might make that impossible even though I am holding my passes in my hand. Sniffles…. If that trip does fall through, then I have a nice head start already on savings for a road trip to Vegas. Lets face it, the opportunity to meet the team on Vanguard, party, and get material for some possible VF Podcasts, oh and did I mention Party? If I do get to attend Fan …. uhm, SOE Live I hope Ardwulf gets to come as well.

It would be great to hang out, hmm perhaps even some live recordings for VF Podcasts? Live Interviews? For sure we will have to get Brasse to pose for some pics with us, preferably of her beating us over the head with her Ale Stein.

How many of you are old Fan Faire Vets, or newbies like me looking to attend for the first time? Post below your comments and stories of past events. Dont worry, like Vegas – What happens on Vanguard Forever, stays on Vanguard Forever ….. really …. you can trust me!

Check out all the news and discussions HERE.

Vanguard Reborn

Well, it has been a while since we have shown any signs of life here at Vanguard Forever but this weeks news has given Ardwulf and I the proverbial “Pimp Slap”; waking us from our mundane lives and refocused our attention on our beloved land of Telon.

As Ardwulf has posted, Vanguard got the shocking news a few days ago that it will be going Free To Play by this summer. Though very few details have been released, we have been told that SOE is very likely to hold to the F2P Model used in their other games they have switched from subscriptions. A new Producers Letter was posted on the VGPlayers website and it detailed a couple of the new Developers the Vanguard Community were told about a few weeks ago. At least one should be a familiar red name to long-standing players: Salim “Silius” Grant has returned to the team under the title of Creative Director. Our new Community Rep on the forums, Zatozia has informed us that there are more than the three names listed in the P. L. and in the coming weeks they will be releasing some spotlight articles on the forums / site to introduce each of the members of the team, telling us their backgrounds and responsibilities working on Vanguard.

Silius has wasted little time making his presence known on the forums, which I think is a good thing as long as he and the rest of the team can keep from answering in one word or one liner replies. Such things in the past, even though they might have been meant as witty or humorous usually ended up sounding condescending and ended up angering the community instead of uplifting it.

That is not to say that Silius’ comments have been totally positive so far. He outlined that no new content will be released to the live servers till the move to Free To Play has been completed, rescinding the previous promises we were given on two major content updates before the end of the Fiscal Year. Though I am sure most at this point did not fully believe we would see both updates, but it was expected that at least the City of Brass dungeon would be released to hold the players over while we wait. Another troubling comment to me was Silius’s apparent confusion over one posters comment about the difficulties with Vanguards “Spaghetti Code” in relation to switching to Free To Play without breaking anything already in the game. Mr. Grant should well know how they have failed yet to patch or add anything to the game that did not break at least two or three other things, sometimes drastically. The term has long been used to describe how terrible the original coders left the game engine after trying to warp the Unreal Engine into something suitable for an MMO.

Another good thread on the forums asks “How would You implement Free To Play?” Most seem to want / expect something similar to the way SOE has done their other games and I am sure that is what is going to happen. The main points of speculation are exactly what limitations we will see for the free players, or Bronze if you go by their other F2P games.

I myself am kinda meh on race class restrictions and such. I have all my toon slots filled already and I would love a chance to buy more slots so I can finish off the few classes I do not already have, so that would be the only way I would be concerned over not having access to a certain Race/Class. As long as I can purchase what I do not have though, and the price is reasonable (I still have some left over Station Cash from the SOE Hacks) I do not mind paying for it. I do not fear not being able to play the toons I already have, after testing out EQ2 and finding that my old toons from before the F2P move were still there and playable, even the ones with Race/Class restrictions for free players. Some other MMO’s that have made the switch for F2P have not done that, rendering me unable to play my old toons and as such I have not returned to their games since even though I enjoyed them and still would like to play.

I would say that one thing I do not hope to see restricted that people have mentioned was done in other SOE games is the chat channels. Vanguard more than most other games is dependent upon groups to run the majority of the content, especially for some of the classes. Limiting access to chat could fatally hamper new players ability to find the groups they need and that will just make all the work going F2P a waste of time.

Lastly I would like to comment on Ardwulf’s remarks on removing Randolph the eyesore of a flying mount. Just about all of the community can agree that he does not fit in with the game and should be removed, and Giddoo remarked on the deer’s fate I believe when he discussed a new low-level quest line to be added to the game giving the players a flying mount close to the level range of level 20. I am fuzzy of the exact details, feel free to correct me on the specifics but I want to say it was to be some type of dragon as well or that could just be my wishful thinking. Anyway, I agree it should be removed but not before the new mount is made available to the player base. A low-level flying mount brings more to the game I think than it breaks and if fears of players exploiting certain content the dev’s can easily enough add in some detractors like some flying mobs that attacks you or ground based mob with a ranged attack to knock you out of the safety of the air and keep you from sneaking past content meant to be a fun challenge.

I mainly do not want to see a repeat of the fiasco that was the “Bringing the Sexy back” change to facial customization a few years ago where we were left with some pretty horrendous looking toons for around four months while the dev team worked to get a way to bring visible helms to the game. I do not remember if we had a test server back then or not, but that is where such things should have been worked on, leaving the players with their characters intact and customized how they had come to love them until the change was fully worked out and ready to be pushed to live.

This has grown long in the tooth, so I will end it here and save thoughts and discussions on possible directions Vanguard could take if/when Free To Play is finished and a booming success. Who knows, that might even be good material for a new Podcast episode or two ….

Take care and see you on the Seas and Planes of Telon.

Analysis of the Vanguard F2P News

The news (mentioned earlier) that Vanguard will at long last be moving to a f2p model could not have been bigger, as far as I’m concerned. Lots of people won’t care, of course, but it matters to me that a game with the virtues of Vanguard survive, and I think going f2p stands the best chance of making that happen.

Of course, as when SOE makes any decision, the cries of “cash grab” began to go out immediately from the standard roster of SOE haters. The idea that somehow a “cash grab” is even possible with a game with numbers as low as Vanguard’s is really pretty freaking stupid on the face of it. Let’s not kid ourselves — Vanguard isn’t going to jump into the top tier of MMOs, or even the middle tier, with this move. I think it does have a shot at developing into a string niche title, which is reasonably the best that SOE can hope. But even so, if you look at what might happen as a percentage increase over the current number of players Vanguard or amount of revenue that the game is generating, this move has the potential to break records. The number of active players could easily increase by ten or twenty times. Granted, this is an anomaly caused by how low the numbers currently are, but still.

I’m not going to rehash Vanguard’s terrible launch on the assumption that everyone reading will already know the story; if you don’t, just accept that it was legendarily bad, perhaps the worst MMO launch ever. Despite its shaky history, it’s a game that’s improved immeasurably since it launched over five years ago. I do not think that every change had been an improvement, but overall the net effect has been way, way into the positive. And I think it’s a game that has a lot of strengths that are rare in the MMO field these days. If SOE’s newly-recreated development team can focus on those strengths instead of simply trying to make it more friendly to the mass market, I think that players looking for that big open world might flock to it in modest numbers. I don’t think it has anything to do with “hardcore” versus “casual” people, either — plenty of casual people would enjoy a slower progression and time to explore the world of Telon at their leisure, and I think that can be done without watering the game down.

The biggest thing that Vanguard needs is simply a bigger population. It’s a game that would thrive on that; imagine Trengal Keep or any of its glorious open-world dungeons when there are three or four different parties down there at any given time. Even if the change isn’t as pronounced as I think there is reason to expect, this will be a big, big help with that. Plus, the move itself shows that SOE are serious about keeping Vanguard afloat — this kind of thing does cost money after all, and if they were content to let it simply continue its slide into oblivion, we wouldn’t be seeing it.

That aside, I think another motivation is for SOE to transition entirely away from the subscription-only model. With EverQuest Online Adventures sunsetting at the end of this month, and Vanguard going f2p in the summer, the only sub game SOE will have left is Planetside (as Wilhelm points out,) so don’t be shocked to hear an announcement of note there as well. We already know (as in, it’s been announced,) that Planetside 2 will be f2p, and I for one would be stunned if EverQuest Next wasn’t as well. Speaking of which, Vanguard could potentially serve as a testbed for new technological or microtransaction ideas that SOE might have in relation to EQ’s eventual successor. Because the bar for Vanguard is so low, SOE might feel it has more room to experiment than it did with its current flagship title, EQ2, which it pushed very tentatively into the f2p market.

Beyond that, I wouldn’t necessarily expect any hugely new ground to be broken in the f2p realm when details finally start to come out. But SOE did shake things up a little bit with the way they handled DC Universe Online, and that appears to be turning out rather well for them — it went from a game with a middling launch and a fast fade to PC Gamer’s MMO of the Year thanks to the move.

Bearing in mind that we have just about no details right now, if I were in charge of the project, and in the context of how SOE has handled their other f2p packages, here’s what I’d do to set things up. You can take these more as predictions than as “how Ardwulf would prefer to do things.”

  • My priorities for fixes would be the broken leveling rate (it needs to be slowed down to match the quest progression again) and itemization.
  • Primary world fixes would be addressing any remaining broken quests and polishing up the older starting areas, which in my opinion give players a much better feel for the game than the Isle of Dawn does. I wouldn’t redo them completely, but I’d tweak quests and quest rewards and maybe add a few quests where gaps exist, particularly for Diplomacy and Crafting.
  • There would be no restrictions regarding content for free players. Restricting access to chat channels would be hugely problematic in a game as group-centered as Vanguard, so you’d need some way around that, either with some kind of Silver upgrade that drops those restrictions or by just not having them in the first place.
  • The priority for substantial new content would be at the high end, where it’s needed insanely badly.
  • The Cleric, Fighter, Sorcerer and Rogue would be the free classes.
  • I’d make two or three races from each continent free. This probably means the Thestran, Kojani, Qaliathari and Mordebi humans, and probably the Half Elf (from Kojan) and Dwarf, High Elf or Halfling from Thestra.
  • Free players limited to two bag slots. Later SOE additions to the game junked up inventory substantially, but I don’t consider SOE’s bag slot purchases to be terribly onerous.
  • One or two character slots for free players. If there’s a Silver option, add two more and probably an extra bag slot.
  • Get rid of Randolph, or at least take away his flight ability. Its presence is an artifact from an earlier era, breaks the game in some important ways, and it at odds with the atmosphere of Telon. If he cold only fly during the holiday event, I’d be okay with that.

Vanguard Going Free to Play

The news that some of us have long waited for has arrived. This summer, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes is going free to play. Story at Massively, FAQ at the Vanguard forums.

The last firm thing we’d heard about this was that f2p was apparently off the table for Vanguard; it was such a tiny game that the required investment was seen as not worth the trouble. Now SOE, with big successes in converting DC Universe Online and EverQuest II (and recently EverQuest,) have changed their tune. Most likely, this is the end of the line for SOE games on the old subscription-only model.

Details are thin on the ground at this time, but what we know so far is that there will be a larger development team, more frequent updates. I would expect we’ll see something not dissimilar to SOE’s other f2p models, although they do have more room to experiment in this case; it’s not as though they can drive the player numbers down.

For me, and I realize I’m stating a minority interest here, this is the biggest possible news to hit in months, amid all the press for high-profile games like SWTOR and GW2. It is, for me, the final death knell for subscriptions.