Landmark Founder Pack Discounts: Right or Wrong?

Sony Online Entertainment launched a 48-hour Steam sale on their Landmark Founder's Packs yesterday. According to the official forums (as well as reddit and Twitter), this sale left a bitter taste in some people's mouths.

When it comes to controversial topics such as this (especially as an active member in SOE's gaming community), I try to be fair and see it from both sides of the coin. Sometimes we need to take a deep breath and put down the pitchfork for a moment, while other times we are completely justified in feeling wronged and slighted. Unfortunately, this sale seems to fall in a grey area no matter how I look at it.

Your Next: Looking for Guilds

Another week groans by, dragging behind it those of us hoping for a chance at a glimpse of what we're waiting for. How dramatic a pose we strike; after all, it would be ludicrous to feel like this over something that wasn't that important.

So, here it is, the calm before the storm and the insufferable wait. I imagine we've all been here before, at different times and in different parts of the world, refreshing home pages and bouncing around subreddits.

I'm glad that, as an adult, I've found something akin to the magic of waiting for Santa, but I don't think my inner child sees it that way.

I wonder sometimes, in passing fits of maturity, how it must feel on the other side. The weight of expectation, the doubts, that feeling of having a secret you just have to pass on before it bursts.

The feeling of excitement coming from those with new toys to share at SOE Live is palpable; they're proud, they're confident, and they can't wait to let us see what they have.

Why The International Matters

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The world’s largest eSports tournament ever, The International, just concluded on July 21st. It was a spectacle on many levels; whether it be a sold out arena, the massive prize pool, or the level of competition, the tournament was truly massive and an achievement in many different ways. With the dust finally settled a single question has arisen: why does this tournament matter? The unpacking of this question is simple, but it also speaks volumes about the gaming community as a whole.

The Crew: A Closed Beta Hands-On Story

This week, The Crew went into a short 5-day Closed Beta: started Monday, ending Friday. We've had a chance to run through The Crew coast-to-coast, and want to give you an idea what to expect with the full game on November 11th.

Your Next: Where's the Game?

In my part of the world, we don't do summer very well. The buildings are made to keep the heat in and the rain off, and my people turn a frightening shade of pink in the sun. But I cannot complain, because when I feel the sun on my face or shift uncomfortably on my leather desk chair, I think of the Mojave Desert.

In less than a month, the lucky and privileged among us will be in the costume-jewel of the desert, the shrine to the arrogance and hubris of humankind they call Las Vegas. We are called to hear the word and spread it throughout the unholy land.

The word, of course, of EverQuest Next.

It's been almost a year since the big reveal, and despite the world of EverQuest Next being built before our eyes, with weekly updates and above-and-beyond levels of community interaction from the developers, we still don't know much more about how the game will play.

What will a day in the life of the EQN player be like? We have a good idea of what it will look like, we have a pretty solid grasp of how our characters move and react to our instruction, but what about the game?

So far in Landmark, we can build, we can play, and we can absolutely have a lot of fun – but in my opinion it's still not really a game. Let it be known I am not using the word 'play' in a derogatory way, I'm not saying playing a game is somehow 'better' than just playing.

In my own personal universe, playing a game is about accepting challenges and working to overcome them. It's the challenges and the specific goal that transform the activity from play to playing a game. Inventing and playing games comes as naturally to humans as telling jokes or adultery, so how could we not wonder when the 'game' would begin?

We've talked so much for so long, it's tough for those of us without experience in making games to put into perspective how much progress has been made, how close the rock is to the top of the hill; when are we going to tip over the edge and feel the exhilaration of the downhill stretch?

What do you want to see in Vegas? What are your hopes for the EverQuest Next keynote? Dave Georgeson on the iWalk will be a sight (get well soon!), but what of reveals, announcements and surprises?

Your Next: Story Time

Another week in the development of EverQuest Next and Landmark goes by. Some nice new additions to Landmark keep the slavering horde at bay until SOE Live, the culmination of the Dark Elf Workshop and the Kerran winning the vote – leaving the Dwarves sidelined once again. Progress is being made, even in this lull before the information overload we can expect from SOE Live.

Just when you thought it was safe to coast along with the weekly updates, a partner of SOE has been making waves elsewhere.

Warlords of Draenor: Letters From the Beta

Three weeks ago I shared with you my impressions of the Warlords of Draenor alpha for World of Warcraft's upcoming expansion - focusing on the only new zone available at that time: Frostfire Ridge. Since then the game has moved into beta and Shadowmoon Valley has opened up, and so it is that I write to you now of this amazing location on Draenor.

Your Next: What About EQNext?

As someone who closely follows the news and updates around EverQuest Next and Landmark, it can seem a little odd that there is still a group of people out there who are simultaneously interested and unsure of the differences between the two games.

I'm still working on my shorthand answer; it seems difficult to do justice to the innovation and originality of thought behind these new titles in a concise manner. We don't have the vocabulary yet, and describing them in the context of games that have come before can lead to an existential crises.

In Landmark, you are playing an MMO in which you can gather, craft and build in order to create various types of content to be played within not only Landmark, but also potentially in EQNext. The toolset for Landmark is intended to be the toolset used to build EQNext, and SOE wants us to be able to make what they can make.

In EverQuest Next, you are playing an MMORPG in which, through various new technologies, you can interact with the world in unprecedented ways against a constantly and permanently shifting backdrop.

That's what I have so far; they just seem to leave so much unsaid. The first description usually leads to a response of 'so, like Minecraft?' and the second will be met with a healthily skeptical 'we've been sold that line before'.

As regular readers will know, I have a lot of love for Minecraft and I will always encourage skepticism when confronted with the hype train, but I wish it was easier to convey what these games have the potential to be. I'd settle for conveying even what they are intended to be.

I'm sure many of us have encountered this, and it was while pondering this unprecedented obstacle that I started to realize we have the opposite issue as well.

The 'I'm not interested in Landmark, give me EverQuest Next!' crowd.

A strange breed, and one that I'm sure is a smaller group than the amount of cage-rattling they generate would suggest.

Sometimes, a brave soul will approach with the intention of helping them understand the significance of Landmark. We all know how this interaction will end, but hope springs eternal (even online).

So how does one explain? We can point to the development of oceans in the game, explain how eventually liquid physics will mean flowing water. That means we might be changing the course of rivers in EQN, or flooding underground caverns, with lava. Isn't this the kind of information that should amaze and delight players? Imagine the repercussions of this ability—even as a technological feat, it's impressive enough to be noteworthy.

Speaking of underground caverns, how about those caves? We know there will be caves under Norrath as well, and now we can start see what they'll look like. Just imagine, procedural content in an MMO! Worthwhile exploration, moving through an unknown and hostile environment in search of treasure instead of farming the same scripted instance over and over. With the slightest effort of extrapolation we can see the planned purpose of these systems.

Soon we'll see AI systems, some combat and movement abilities, mounts, guilds, VoIP, SOEmote. All of these developments have a direct impact on EQNext, and I'm sure there will be more that we'll be hearing about soon (39 days, not that I'm counting...).

That's not to mention the workshop, where we can learn about the planned aesthetic for different races in Norrath (and not just the visual).

Your Next: Going Home to Norrath

Week after week, I continue to be impressed by the way SOE is continuing to give players the opportunity to contribute to the development of EverQuest Next. Through the roundtable discussions, constant twitter interaction and especially the workshop, the players are being given an unprecedented ability to influence the design of a game that has the potential to change the way we think about MMORPGs. What an incredible privilege, and we're just getting started.

With all the talk of new mechanics and new technology in EQN, it's easy to miss one of the key factors that will define this game and set it apart from the competition. While other games have to sell us on the promise of compelling story or an engaging and lasting endgame experience, Landmark allows SOE to sell us on the entire game world.

As time goes on, and particularly after SOE Live, more and more of us will buy in to EverQuest Next through Landmark. As we continue to move forward, designing and iterating  on all kinds of user-generated content, we'll develop an intimate understanding of the way the world is put together.

For those of us that play Landmark and engage with the workshop and with the community, by the time EverQuest Next opens its doors it will already feel like home.

Imagine setting foot in Norrath for the first time, already knowing the names of every tree, being able to recognize the building styles of different races, and just generally knowing how the world works in a way we wouldn't have dared to dream about a year ago. The stage will be set for the new history of Norrath in a way that we have never experienced.

It's the nature of the beast that MMOs are so bound by their retention strategies, often leading to developers implementing unpopular systems to keep people playing and paying. What if a game could create a retention strategy that made the game more popular? What if the reason we continued to log in was because we were invested in the world, and are proud to be a part of it? I'd take that over being drip-fed on a gear treadmill any day.

The question had to be addressed sooner or later, as in these times of so many quality free-to-play titles, the old strategies just won't fly. We've all played that game, we've had a lot of fun playing that game, but players are smart and we need to be fooled.

Your Next: Post Structuralist

We had a lovely chat last week about the way persistent online games are evolving—in particular, how innovation is becoming more possible. As the industry moves on to the fresh scavenging grounds of the MOBA genre and MMO players are becoming savvier and discerning about the type of content they want, the way we think about MMOs is changing.

Inertia, nostalgia and confirmation bias all still play their part, of course. It's not difficult to find examples of all of these in large scale discussions of any game, but it seems there is a growing sense that things don't have to be done the way they've always been done. An argument from tradition is, after all, no argument at all.

In the past a major barrier to innovation has been the massive investment and risk involved in releasing an MMO, and once it was loose, keeping the beast fed with a stream of content and features to maintain a healthy playerbase seemed like an impossible task.

Last week I mentioned No Man's Sky as a specific example of how the industry is changing, as it seems to encapsulate many of the current trends while still managing to be fresh and exciting in a way that the stagnant behemoths around it at E3 couldn't compete with. It was made by just a few people who wanted to make something really special, in a time where that has become more possible than ever before.

With no points, levels or specific goals, emphasis on exploration and emergent gameplay, being voxel based with gathering and crafting being core mechanics, No Man's Sky could be considered a Minecraft clone. I do not mean that in a derogatory way at all, I use the term only to make a point. Are you ready for the point? Here is the point.

As we of a certain age are aware, there was a time when every first-person shooter was called a Doom clone, it was fertile new ground for the industry to explore and it took a while for the genre to mature to the point that games could be considered on their own merits. Once we stopped thinking of these games as clones we could start seeing what possibilities existed.

There have been a fair few games labelled Minecraft clones, including Landmark, which is why it's important that No Man's Sky has largely avoided the tag – not because the comparison is offensive, but because it means the game is being considered on its own merit. We look at the game and marvel at what it is and what it could be without resorting to shorthand.

We made it! I got around to talking about Landmark, finally.