Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Why no MMO feels right for you anymore

The Distance

We've all been around for a while, I'm willing to bet.

Maybe you started playing in a multi-user dungeon; somewhere you could congregate and RP with similarly likeminded pioneers of online gaming. Back when playing an incredibly technical genre of game required a technical mind to access. Requiring imagination and reading ability to process the shape of the world around you, how your character looked, how other characters looked, even.

But I'm willing to bet most of you didn't. Like me, you probably started at the dawning of pop-internet, a couple of years either side of the turn of the Millennium and the years that followed. The time where internet was infiltrating households with ringing dial-up tones and kids/teens were flocking online after 6pm, with explicit guidance not to tell anyone your real name lest you be kidnapped through your beige CRT monitor.

There, we found worlds online filled with people like us. Fledgeling MMOs like Rift, Ultima Online, Aion, Phantasy Star Online, Star Wars: The old Republic, Knight Online, World of Warcraft, FFXI, Neverwinter Nights, Ragnarok Online and City of Heroes. Just to name a few of the big titles.

At the time, much of the appeal to these games was in the enormity of the worlds as well as the ability to play with complete strangers with whom you would quickly form relationships with. It was new, it was exciting, it was vast, it was engaging, and to be honest, it was a little daunting. The huge scale of the worlds combined with the active trade chats and bustling cities and the prospect of growing stronger beside the friends you made along the way.

You didn't really have many responsibilities IRL and every day at school you were excited to get home and log on. Perhaps you even got some of your RL friends to join you if you were lucky.

I guarantee you feel nostalgia for this time. You miss being able to experience those first experiences again, of finding your way around and trying tons of different MMOs to see what you liked and the worlds that they brought.

The Near

You might call it a kind of golden age, somewhere in the years starting 2005/2006 onwards. I think the end of this golden age depends on the person, but it starts around here. Games like Guild Wars, WoW TBC & WotLK, LotRO, Runescape (still), Aion, Maplestory, Flyff, Trickster Online, Wurm Online even.

MMOs are booming - undoubtedly at their most popular and for good reason. You're probably in your teens or twenties, it's easy to make friends because the servers are packed full of people enjoying themselves, plus you've still got no real commitments but have greater autonomy on your bedtime and weekends or whatever.

Your technical ability has improved. Concepts like health, mana, strength, dex, int, spirit/wisdom, damage, mobs, bosses, dungeons, all come as easily as breathing. You perhaps try and be more competitive and clear dungeons and raids with your friends, join a guild, really immerse yourself in your game of choice. Set yourself goals like getting a piece of equipment or a rare mount and really invest the time and energy into achieving these goals.

You miss the sense of companionship, taking on challenges and trials to test and improve your ability, and the vibrancy of the servers throughout with similar voices of your own.

The Turn

When did you first notice you weren't... reaaaally ... having as much fun anymore? There can't be a set date here as we no doubt felt it at different times. But at what point did you log-on, wander your character round a town for a bit, before getting off? Spin your ship in-station (as they say in EVE) and log-off?

You've felt it before no doubt, when a game has stopped being fun - so it didn't feel particularly abnormal at first. You write off a game as "done" or "done for now" and uninstall it. Go to look for a new MMO. Maybe download one or two, feel ehh, a slight lack of interest in investing time towards it. Maybe it's the combat system or the storyline or the class design that doesn't feel quite as fun as you're used to. You give something new a try like Black Desert Online, Guild Wars 2, or FFXIV, enjoy it for a bit but something just feels kind of. Different.

You retry games you played countless, countless hours before - the latest WoW expansion for a given year or the new Runescape (or the old Runescape) and it kind of tickles that urge for a bit from the nostalgia and getting to replay your characters again and conquer new content with your proficiency of the game mechanics. But then your goals like getting to the new end level or completing all the quests are done, and the game drifts from your heart again.

In the industry, MMOs have fallen out of favor and the old audience is looking to new horizons - MOBAs or FPS are what you find your friends playing and you join them and genuinely have fun. But it still doesn't quite scratch that itch you have of wanting to find yourself in a deeply entrenched story - your story - with the sense of adventure in your heart.

You miss the optimism of new MMO prospects, the enjoyment of revisiting old shores, and doing it all with the longstanding friendships you have cultivated.

The Current

You're sure of it now - something's changed. What happened to being able to pull all nighters and set goals for your own enjoyment or explore the world genuinely? Or getting a rare drop, making a new friend, completing a hard quest - where's it all gone and why do I feel like this can't happen anymore? I have a job and/or a family suddenly? I left college how long ago? Wow.

You decide to research titles before committing to the time investment and read up on Steam reviews and check the N4G and the community forums - and are met with negativity. Imbalances in game mechanics, P2W, spyware masked as anti-cheat systems, deaf community teams, toxic communities themselves, or even lack of community entirely.

You give a few new titles a shot anyway but it doesn't work out. You're a seasoned MMO player and you know how minmax your stats and push the most DPS or keep your tank(s) alive. You can very efficiently level and have wikis to look up any quests which don't already hold your hand and make every quest object glow - once your quest helper has pointed you in the right direction.

It's begun to feel like a chore to log-on. You realize you're applying a significant amount of your effort, previously spent exploring and learning in naive wonder, into theorycrafting and maximising the return on your effort. You set goals to get a piece of gear but either your own ability or the game's tuning to a more casual crowd has made obtaining the goal trivial, and you're quickly at a loss on what to do next. Each game you play has some kind of logon reward or timegating to help you continue logging in but after that it's... No longer fun.

You don't think about the current game you're playing all the time at work, like you used to back in school, as you have other responsibilities to worry about. Your coworkers, unlike schoolfriends, don't really understand what you do in your free time and every Monday you admit you didn't really do anything on the weekend because explaining that you sat in Lion's Arch hopping on different fences whilst watching Netflix can't even be made to sound like fun.

Desiring community, you might revisit old titles, for the 7th time, see an old guildie online and decide to shoot them a message but they don't even reply. You know you don't really have the time for them either after that initial connection; you just miss the feeling of sharing such a connection in the virtual world you used to enjoy. You're forced instead to accept that you're passing ships in the night to a sea of responsibilities and adulthood.


Changes in IRL circumstances, the need to minmax and prioritize efficiency over fun/community, reduction in players (including your friends) in favor of other genres leading to subsequent changes in game design to focus on player retention/generation, and the communities are jaded & critical towards developers, are the reason no MMO feels right for you anymore. Probably in that order.

End note: I truly hope you are all still having fun and I hope we met at some point in-game!
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Monday, March 4, 2019

MMOs adding new expansions that raise the level caps is a double-edged sword

All my point here is more of a talking point to emphasize some discussion. I've been thinking about it more and more lately that levelling feels... Pointless. It feels like either 1. a slog to reach max to experience end-game content which ends up just being a journey to the highest gear level (or whatever system the game uses) to just wait to pay for another slog into the same situation (expansions, higher level content), or 2. so easy that it may as well not exist and should instead be a different system of earning talents and specializations to play end-game content straight away.

I can't be the only other person who feels this way and I feel that the reason this relates back to level caps is because old incarnations of MMOs started with a higher challenge and forced players into cooperative play which was incredibly enjoyable (if a bit unbalanced at times) and levelling was an enjoyable experience which wasn't about hitting end-game, and once you did hit end-game felt more like owning a complete toolkit (rather than having finished a boring journey dotted with pointless dungeons you could skip). After this MMOs needed to push more content to contend with other MMOs so they do this and raise the level cap so people can level longer, cool, sounds good to me but the problem begins when you realise that the levels are getting a little TOO high and now instead it takes too long to level, and to counter-act this what do you do as a company? Make it easier to reach max level.

This requires you to skip even more content (dungeons become less important, you can skip entire zones and because it's easier now, your class can solo more, meaning you don't need cooperative play as much anymore). This causes a second problem among a lot of others (including losing original players after the game has dumbed-down); the end-game is reached faster and so requires either more challenge or it requires more content. If you can't add more content fast enough you end up making what are essentially upgraded versions of the dungeons where enemies have more health and more damage (,and if the company isn't too lazy, more/different mechanics). Other ways to remedy this is to add content that is completely new (cough, battle pets) that further alienate older fans. This presents other problems such as old zones being all but skipped and forgotten about, losing lore of those areas in the mean time, as well as the flaw that rushing so much content can mean that fans hate new lore decisions, or changes in characters that don't quite max sense and end up being hogged down to rushing out story that nobody really catches now that they're leveling too fast.

Among new mechanics (again, battle pets) they can end up arbritary in the new expansions, if we look at WoW again, garrisons became useless (not that anybody liked them...) and that can be ugly for people trying to enjoy the game, if you join the game or find yourself in a fantastic place with good combinations of complexities and silky-smoothness in your class, next expansion you may find yourself missing old raid gear or old mechanics that are held back by your gear level.

Now, this problem essentially just becomes a feedback loop, soon you get really high level caps that would take too much of a commitment, so they become soulless (but faster) and your questing experience is a easy "grind" (mindless speed leveling) and so the game continuously just adds more expansions that eventually just become new zones that, while are pretty, end up being uninteresting after a month or two, and are essentially just annoying areas requiring you to complete pointless achievements in them. These new zones are homes to raids that are at the whim of an old engine that ends up reskinning and adding semi-new ideas to raids but ultimately get uninteresting after 10-15 runs and because of the lack of randomness to each raid, they just feel predictable once you learn mechanics. (I never feel like I'm going to get randomly boomer'd on, yes a Left 4 Dead reference, who knew that'd be here.)

Realistically, I think that the fact that games can raise level caps BUT they have to handle it better than a lot of games have in the past.

That's a SUPER brief and ramble-y version of my points, give me your thoughts on this and some things you feel are wrong with how MMOs have handled keeping their game alive.

Of course, a lot of what I'm saying is in support of my points, there are other reactions and forks in thinking that you can go down, I'm naturally playing the devils advocate and solely agreeing with my own points mainly to try display this one view of the situation, otherwise this post would be 10x as long... And that's just boring.

TL;DR Games rely on simplifying their mechanics so that reaching max levels in character, crafting , etc. is easier so we can hit end-game but the end-game is uninspiring in a lot of modern mmo's and rely on reaching other level caps (gear caps) to playing what are essentially just higher number'd versions of everything with different skins. Instead games could not even raise level caps and attempt to introduce different ways to challenge players.
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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Funcom Announces Development of Open-World MMO set in the Dune Universe

Today, Funcom announced that it has entered into an exclusive partnership with Legendary Studios to develop games based on the works of Frank Herbert’s DUNE Universe.

This is a six year partnership to release at least three titles on the PC/Console platforms, with one of the games planned to be in the “Open World Multiplayer” genre that will enter into pre-production in Funcom’s Oslo studio during 2019.

Funcom, as you may know, owns and operates the MMORPGs Secret World, Age of Conan, Anarchy Online and the multiplayer survival game Conan Exiles. 

While I hope this is new game being developed is more along the lines of Secret World there is also the possibility it is a game in the same vein as Conan Exiles.
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Monday, February 11, 2019

Anarchy Online Still Alive!

Just wanted to share some screenshots from walking around today. There are plenty of people playing AO, and if you're wondering if you should come back, you should!

Yesterday, I teamed up with 3-4 people to do Ado brain quest, and there were two other teams running through to kill last boss, that we actually had to wait in line for respawn.

Arete is full of new characters all the time (I always see 3-5 new toons at spawning platform), and some of them are actually new players asking questions in OOC.

Last night, Battlestations were lit up (probably for ICC dailies) and queue was pretty instant... did 3x matches in a row without waiting. (and they weren't a bunch of multiboxers either)

I took the following screenshots after helping someone from another org make an implant, and assisted with some Mantis dailies


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Sunday, January 13, 2019

How I started playing Lineage 2 Classic

This winter I found myself alone at the party: two of my best friends got children in 2017 and were busy with their families, whereas my romantic partnership wasn’t promising at all, as my fiance left for Bolonge for studies. So I decided that nothing can cheer me up better than long winter evenings spent in a fantasy world, and that is why I started looking for an MMORPG to play. I was nostalgic for the old Lineage 2, like C4 Interlude Chronicles. So I browsed through the options.

There are freeshards, but the servers don’t live long, they open and close quickly. I didn’t want to lose my game values or donate much, so I began to look at the official publishers. It turned out that Korean developers have released Lineage 2 Classic. They call it ‘a relaunch of the legendary MMORPG with old school mechanics and modern interface’. I decided to give it a try.

There are NA and EU servers. After doing a research about NA servers, I dropped them. People say that you can’t achieve much with the free version, but the in-game store is a pure pay-to-win. So I decided that I would play on the EU server Skelth by paid subscription system. The class of summoners is famous for its self-sufficiency, so I chose it. I created a beautiful blonde female elf :3

I received a Newbie gift at start. This is a special set that helps new players to evolve their characters with lvl ups. I got a temporary C grade equipment and a special item to wear it without penalty.

The grind was easy enough and I fully enjoyed the beauty of the starting locations. It was exciting to come back here after so many years. You may notice that the graphics of the game has been improved.

Just watching the world is very nice. The eye truly rejoices around. Lore is far from the main point of Lineage 2, but exploring the world is very interesting. Perhaps, I will find some time and make a post about the world of this game.

I raised level 20 pretty quickly and made a quest for the first profession transfer. This was the first significant step towards this large open world grind and PvP content. Now I was a real elf magician! In a heavy armor ha-ha ​​(I just ran out of mana).

I thought that in C grade equip I could farm Cruma Tower (location 40+), but the monsters quickly explained me where my place was :D. Kind Seytoon set me on the right way to destroy gnolls. Thanks, dude!

Here I quickly got into my first group! We destroyed the gnolls all night long. To be honest, I even feel sorry for them, someday anybody should have to stand up for their rights …

Lineage 2 wouldn’t be Lineage without PvP. Other players wanted to take away our delicious spot. I found myself a skilled magician: you know, when you’ve learned to PvP 8 years ago, you’ll never lose that skill :D.

The character receives different items that simplify the gameplay upon reaching lvls. It is really nice that I don’t need to be low lvl guy for too long. The game doesn’t bother.

There are beautiful transforms with buffs among these items.

Various events cheer up in Lineage 2. In my case, it was Christmas mood. Daily 3 hours buff raised character stats and exp gaining. So sweeet gift animation ^_^

Some time after, I joined a small clan with new players like me. We were group farming Crume tower and just yabber in chat in the evenings. Like in the good old days :)

When clan members are offline, I can almost always find a group. But you can also solo exp or farm party trains. I rotate one with another.

The main interest of any Lineage 2 server are sieges and the presence of strong enemy clans. The dream of each player is to capture Aden castle by his/her clan. So I immediately went to see how things are going there.

There are two big sides that hold several clans in each: Hydra & Legacy. From a conversation with a high-level player, I learned that Legacy usually wins most of the global battles.

However, I saw how Hydra captured the main castle - Aden during the last sieges. It follows that the forces on the server may well compete. I can’t wait to raise my level and take part personally in these epic battles!

Thank you for reading. I hope that this post may help some of you choose the MMO you like, and maybe I’ll even find party mates  lol. I’ll be happy if you share your impressions in the comments!
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Sunday, January 6, 2019

Albion Online: Double Gathering Yield Bonus!

Currently you can get double gathering yield using different tier gathering sets.

  1. Equip full T8 gathering
  2. Let gathering yield build up to 10
  3. Equip T7 gathering guild
  4. Watch as second set of gathering bonuses build up to 10
  5. Gather away and enjoy double yield bonus!

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Death of a Game: Rift

I had no idea trion was so poorly managed. I knew their forum mods were militant, but not the company as a whole. I thought this was a pretty good objective video.

The video seemed like a reasonable run down to me (watched the whole thing this morning Oz time). Interesting to see the three players mentioned, all of whom I am familiar with from Youtube, forums or in game. Munch still peeks in now and again.

The criticisms were valid ... Rift was going well, but the money was stripped away to other titles which largely failed and Rift was left to whither towards the end as Trion tried different cash grabs with increasingly desperate measures. The most blatant was the promised polished, paid for, SFP (Supreme Fishing Patch, as I call it) expansion.

I only played in alpha (got bored ... game was a WoW clone in too many ways at that time) and rejoined at the start of F2P because I was between MMOs. I have played since, and am a serial MMO monogamist. So I have been here for the last 5 years or so, and itching to get to somthing new. Patron expired a couple weeks ago and I have no intention of renewing barring an absolute miracle.

Personally the main detractions for me were the obviously slowing roll out of (raid) content, the increasingly obvious cash grabs and Brasse's absolute toxicity towards anyone who vaguely criticised Trion's approach to Rift. From all accounts Elrar was a great CSM, and I am sorry I missed his tenure (I wasn't active on the forums when I started playing live), but Brasse... GL with her Pantheon.
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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

*If* ESO had good combat, it would unquestionably be the best themepark MMO

I keep thinking this every time I come back to the game. World design, freedom to explore, writing (which is way better than the single player Elder Scrolls games), encouraging doing delves and public dungeons for shards, all are real steps forward from both the traditional questing model and the awful, lore-free, story-free public events model where you never feel like you’re actually on an adventure.

The skill system is magnificent and a giant step forward for the genre - huge build diversity if you’re not obsessed with veteran trials or theorycrafting, the ability to level by doing almost any activity in the game, actual skill points out in the world to discover, and relatively little class restriction with 90% of the game’s skill trees and all three trinity roles mostly viable for all classes. The world is rich and immersive, things like stealth being ‘actual stealth’ instead of just going invisible for a few seconds, great guild questlines and fantastic expansion content only improve the proposition. Instanced PvP is ok and very much a love it or hate it thing, but that’s true for every themepark except the ones that really suck (like GW2’s ranked PvP).

800+ levels of alternate advancement provide ample progression at endgame without feeling like a huge grind (in that you can start raiding and doing veteran dungeons very early on in the champion point progression rat race), and expansions don’t invalidate previous gear progression so there’s a sense of long term ownership that doesn’t exist in some other games. Tying skill lines for thievery, assassination, the mages and fighters guilds, the psijic order, vampirism and lycanthropy to questlines and player decisions is a revelation - ESO feels more like a real RPG than any non-old-school MMO I’ve played.

Content release cadence with one large expansion-zone, one smaller zone, one raid and four dungeons per year is also pretty good.

And then there’s the combat. The fact that ESO’s combat even made it into a complete game, and that Zenimax has never even attempted to fix it, is actually a disgrace. ESO’s combat system is perhaps the most boring to ever grace the genre, the worst hybrid of hotbar and ‘action’, with lackluster animations, awful enemy AI, a first-person mode that is unusable in any kind of endgame or challenging content and an even more extreme version of GW2’s “yo-yo” health bars that are constantly shooting up and down as you struggle to figure out which aoes you’re exposed to.

The twin pillars of ESO’s combat are “sustain” and animation cancelling. The former involves constantly re-upping six-second DOTs, HOTs, buffs, and debuffs. Combat is now pure timer management - and it’s obvious that the only reason these aren’t toggles or longer buffs like in other MMOs is to disguise the innate emptiness of the combat by forcing you to press three buttons ten times a minute for the length of an encounter. Animation cancelling works in Street Fighter (or so I’m told) when the devs design and animate for it - so there are custom transition animations for cancelled abilities - but not in Elder Scrolls Online, where it just feels like a bad bug left in the game to placate the meta obsessed theorycrafters and artificially inflate the game’s ‘skill ceiling’. You too, can look like a schizophrenic, constantly interrupting every ability animation, weapon switch and block to spam the light attack button - and the damage increase here is so high that it’s basically mandatory if you want to perform remotely well at endgame. It looks and feels terrible.

But other than that, ESO’s a great game!
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Friday, October 12, 2018

Sandbox-MMORPG Ember Sword announced

Press release:

So Couch Studios announces Ember Sword - the Next Genre-Defining Fantasy Cross-Platform MMORPG
By eliminating the need for black markets and removing the traditional premium cash shop to ensure a non-pay-to-win environment, Ember Sword hopes to re-define the MMORPG genre.

Copenhagen, Denmark - 11. October 2018 - So Couch Studios today revealed their upcoming free to play cross-platform sandbox Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG), Ember Sword. Promising to re-define the MMORPG genres negative pay-to-win reputation by removing the traditional cash shop, Ember Sword let’s players own, control, and evolve the fantasy universe as landowners and acquire scarce cosmetics through PVP and PVE activities as opposed to through lootboxes.

View the Ember Sword Announcement Teaser Trailer here:

“As avid MMORPG players, we grew tired of static “theme-park” universes where we can engage with everything in the world, but never truly change or evolve it, much less own it and the items we’ve gathered within it.”, So Couch Studios founder Mark Phillipe Laursen says, explaining why his team is developing Ember Sword, before he continues:

“Most free-to-play MMORPGs monetize through pay-to-win mechanics and non-transferable cosmetics in an attempt to increase revenue by locking down the cash shop economy. With Ember Sword, we’re putting players in charge of evolving the world and its economy instead, because to us, creating an engaging and fair universe is much more important than heavily monetizing players - opting instead for an optional monthly subscription and marketplace fees”.

Drawing inspiration from classics like Ultima Online and Runescape, Ember Sword’s classless combat system, open-world PVP, and player-driven economy, promises an engaging and persistent universe where the idea of a player-controlled world is taken one step by letting players own an actual parcel of land in-game, much like Second Life.

“That’s part of what excites us the most; to see what the players will do with the world, how they will play, what sort of groups or factions will evolve, which areas will become popular, and how people will build them and evolve them. It’s fascinating to think about.”, So Couch Studios CMO Sune Blindkilde Thorsen said.

Ember Sword Key Features:

Cross-Platform: Accessible in a browser or through a desktop client at release, a mobile version is planned for later release.

Artist Workshop: Release your creativity by designing models, skins, and emotes, the best of which will appear in-game.

True Ownership and Control: With players evolving the world every day and truly owning their own cosmetic items, Ember Sword is run by the players.

Whether you're a peaceful forager of goods and rares making a name for yourself or a fierce warrior of no alignment, there is a place for you in Ember Sword - a place where peace and war is chosen by the players themselves. A place built by you!
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Thursday, September 13, 2018

A Few Reasons Why The MMO Genre Has Been Struggling

If you were to hop into a time machine and zoom back in time to the gaming scene in 2004, things would be radically different. It was the same year that Blizzard’s World of Warcraft first hit the MMORPG genre, and there are few other trends that had quite the same impact. Although WoW wasn’t an immediate success, it wouldn’t be long before it clocked the record of 12 million active subscribers – something that no other game has been able to boast.

But that was 14 years ago, and we’re now living in a world where MMOs come and go like the weather. With constant controversies, countless untrustworthy developers, and a genre that seems to be taking endless amounts of flak, it’s hard to believe that MMOs have any sort of real future. Change is inevitable, but the recent changes in the industry have been hard to swallow, and sometimes it makes sense why people turn to other hobbies like online pokies.

Let’s look at why the MMO has been suffering so much in the last few years.

1. No AAA Titles
When once an AAA title was the next blockbuster that had any gamer buzzing with excitement, it’s now become a soured topic that has split the gaming world down the middle. The last true AAA MMORPG that made headlines was Wildstar, a game that was met with both negative reviews and minimal commercial success. There’s a void in the gaming world for a new, gaming-changing MMO title.

2. Mobile Gaming
This is a big one, and the MMO genre isn’t the only that’s suffering. With smartphones and tablets more prolific than ever, more and more gamers are turning to their mobile platforms for their gaming needs. While it’s more than possible to have a good MMO on a smartphone, the payment models for these types of games have all but destroyed any real chances.

3. The Lack of Innovation
When the first MMOs hit the scene, they quickly created the Holy Trinity of classes, and it’s been like that for a long time, even with the newer titles that claim they are different. What we’re left with then is a huge range of very samey fantasy-based MMOs that have tried their very best to emulate WoW’s success, often with no luck. The genre, in other words, has become boring.

4. The Lifespans of Studios
This is something that can be directly connected to EA, the studio-devouring entity that has been systematically closing down each one of its well-known studios. But that behaviour hasn’t stopped with EA, and can be felt in just about every facet of the industry. More and more studios have been closed, more and more projects shut down forever or stuck in limbo. It’s a sad scene, and it’s left us without many MMOs that had such potential, such as World of Darkness or Everquest Next.
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