Onwards to 2011

“Vacation” is now over, though this year’s holiday break didn’t look much like those previous; working for a university means I get the week between Christmas and New Year’s off, but with two young kids at home it was more of a “working” vacation and didn’t provide much time for gaming. It was still highly enjoyable, however, as spending a week with the kids is a rare thing; between chipping away at some massive LEGO sets and TRON: Legacy with my older son and naps and “stair ball” (in which I throw a ball with blinking LED lights down our stairs hundreds of times to immense hilarity) with my younger son, we had a great time.

2010 was a tough year for our family; my wife and I were discussing this over New Year’s Eve dinner at our favorite restaurant and both agreed that we were definitely ready for the new year. We should have seen it coming when we started with a horrendous stomach bug that hit everyone in the house – it was going to be a difficult year, including, but not limited to, work trouble for both of us, major car troubles, and several large and unforeseen expenses. Some good parts as well, to be sure, but overall a year we’re glad to put behind us. Life goes on, both Real and Pixeled.

I’ve never been much for looking back, and if you had asked me at the start of last year about developments in the MMO industry during 2010, I would have been dead wrong on many counts. So instead of making general predictions for MMOs in 2011, I’m going to keep it personal and mention the games about which I’m most excited; I’m only predicting what I will end up playing or doing this year. Besides, if you want predictions for the coming year, there are some very good ones on Bio Break, Keen and Graev, and Kill Ten Rats (most of which I agree). And anyway, any predictions, be they about personal choices or industry developments, are going to be reflections on the genre as a whole.

2011 looks to be a banner year for our genre, so there’s a lot to discuss. Here goes.

RIFT: Planes of Telara: A lot of positive buzz is coming out of the recent RIFT betas, and though I haven’t done a ton of reading up on it, I’m definitely interested. Interested enough to pre-order. From what I have seen, the game is absolutely gorgeous, and polishes the genre staples to a high gloss. The lack of new or “revolutionary” features doesn’t bother me; like Gordon over at We Fly Spitfires, I’ve realized that I like themepark games and I don’t need revolutionary mechanics or gameplay as long as I’m having fun. I’m a tourist in MMOs – not in the sense that I jump from title to title without commitment, but that I play them mostly for the sights and the stories.

RIFT looks like the perfect game for a tourist such as myself. I’ll play it on and off for long enough to see the sights, then retire the account.

Guild Wars 2: If this game even launches in 2011, I have a feeling that my relationship with Guild Wars 2 is going to be much like my relationship to its older sibling – I’ll want to love it and play through its content, but something about it just won’t click. Everything I’m seeing and hearing about the game has me excited, and the visuals are stunning (as always), but the current incarnation can only seem to hold my attention for a week or so at a time, and I have a suspicion that GW2 will be the same.

However, if ArenaNet can cut back on the heavy instancing and really do the dynamic content the way I’m hoping, this could surprise me and take up a good chunk of my time. No matter what, this is near the top of my “Must Buy” list and I have no doubt that I’ll be there on launch day.

The Old Republic: As a serious fan of the franchise (more BioWare’s Old Republic, less so Star Wars these days) this is The Big One on my list for 2011. I stopped reading almost everything about the game several months ago, as I was tired of the hype cycle and the inevitable noise, from both the über-fans and the hardcore skeptics, that accompanies every announcement. Not that my excitement or anticipation is any less, but more that I want to go into the game as fresh as possible.

TOR is Number One on my list of new games for 2011 (as I’m sure it is for many), and I already know it will be a serious contender for my attention. Based on their past performance I have faith that BioWare will create a fun experience, and their supposed focus on story definitely sits well with me. It almost doesn’t matter what they charge – the Collector’s Edition shall be mine!

Lord of the Rings Online: As weird as it seems, this one is the hardest for me to predict for 2011. Despite recent evidence to the contrary in my many “opinionated” (negative) comments, I’ve been having a lot of fun in LotRO recently. The lore and my kin keep things interesting as always, I’m still enjoying the Yule Festival, and I’ve yet to seriously look into Enedwaith, so there’s no lack of content for me. Moreso, the announcement of Isengard has me excited and hopeful for the future of LotRO; if Turbine can do this expansion “right” and give us something new, it would go a long way to keeping us engaged.

But, if I had to make a prediction for 2011, I’d have to say that I’m going to stop playing LotRO. I absolutely love my Burglar, and I love the game, but it seems like the things I love about LotRO are things I loved about the game that have since changed, been lost over the past year, or have been crowded out by the “business side” of Turbine running their MMO.

I hate to think about leaving, but between a series of small but bad decisions regarding the Store and the looming threat of newer MMOs, I think it will become harder and harder for me to log in. I’ve been with LotRO since the beginning, which is three times longer than any other MMO I’ve played, and I have some great friends there, but Turbine’s treatment of its players and the incessant, unmitigated “upsell” of the Cash Shop is becoming a tougher and tougher pill to swallow.

I get the distinct feeling that Turbine cares only for converting Free Players into Paying Players and how many nickels and dimes they can wring out of every customer; either they no longer regard their long-term customers and fans as viable income (perhaps we spend less in the Store per person?) or it’s simply not an option to try to keep us happy. Either way, its looking like its only about Money now, not Fun or Enjoyment or creating an Experience, and that hurts. Hell, I imagine the only reason they haven’t pushed harder against Tolkien’s canon is because of contractual obligation, not a desire to stay true to the material or please Tolkien fans.

Of all my predictions, this is the one about which I hope I’m the most wrong. I hope that next year I’m still hopping around Middle Earth, fighting alongside Dunedain, Hobbits, and Ents(!) and standing toe-to-toe against Orcs, Trolls, and Nazgûl. Isengard could be a killer expansion that keeps me coming back for more and more. I hope.

MMO “X”: I don’t yet know what this game will be (hence the “X”), but I’m convinced that this year I will start to play more games with my older son (5 years old). He’s shown an increasing interest in playing something that goes beyond simple Flash games and I see no reason not to have him join me in a hobby I love (if I can just convince his mother!). Maybe it will be LEGO Universe, maybe Wizard 101, or maybe something else. Whatever it ends up being, 2011 will likely see my son’s first steps into a virtual world.

It makes a father so proud!

Earthrise: I’ve been following this game on and off since it was first announced, and I will likely give it a try. I’ve been looking for both a good sandbox-style game and a good Sci Fi MMO, and Earthrise looks like it could be both! I have a few reservations and concerns, but I think I will enjoy this one. It launches early this year so there’s not much competition in terms of time.

I don’t think Earthrise will gather a huge following, but I think it will do well enough and, given time, grow into a strong community.

“Free-To-Play”/“Free-To-Try” Gaming: Two types of predictions for this category. One, which games will make the switch to the Free To Try/F2P Hybrid that grew in popularity throughout 2010 and, two, some thoughts on upcoming F2P titles I’ll likely jump into and play.

First, if I had to guess, I’d say that Star Trek Online, Warhammer Online, and Age of Conan will all move to the Cash Shop/Hybrid model this year. Others will as well, but as this is a list of personal predictions, I’m only going to comment on these three because, if they do, I will likely play them. Age of Conan more than the other two, but all three are games in which I’m interested and would love to explore, but don’t feel they are worth the price of admission.

On the side of new games launching in 2011, I can safely say that I will try Black Prophesy and Jumpgate: Evolution. Both remind me of what is probably one of my top three games of all time – Tie Fighter. I’ve been dying for a good space combat flight-sim that makes me break out my joystick again, and both could fit that bill. I think both will launch in 2011.

Also launching this year, and which I will at least check out, are APB: Reloaded and The Agency. I will likely drop DDO and Vindictus from my regular cycle of games, but because the barrier to entry and exit is so low, I will check in from time to time.

So that’s it. My thoughts on the coming year.  As I said, 2011 doesn’t hold much of interest for me in the single-player games, but looks to be a hallmark year for MMOs. And, yes, some of the above is undoubtedly self-fulfilling, but there’s always a chance for a surprise hit (or bomb) and, as always, a chance that any of these games could be pushed back to 2012.

Finally, no discussion of the new year would be complete without a resolution or two. Mine is simple: more attention to writing. I haven’t been able to write here as often as I’d like, and I’m going to make a concerted effort to post regularly. I also have an MMO-related project or two in mind that I’d like to move forward.

It’s going be a busy year, but undoubtedly fun!

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