November 30, 2008

Vote for Age of Conan as best RPG of the year

Voodoo Extreme @ IGN is holding a "RPG of the Year" poll. Interestingly, Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures is among the nominees. Head there if you want to place a vote:

Click here for the Role-Playing Game of the Year poll.

Okay, let's face it - the poll does not make much sense. Single-player RPGs, such as Fallout 3, Mass Effect, or The Witcher are lumped together with MMORPGs like WoW: WotLK, Warhammer Online and AoC. I think everyone will agree that MMORPGs are very different from single-player roleplaying games and deserve their own category. If anything, I would group them with other MMO games instead of single player RPG ones. Then of course there are those annoying full screen ads before you even reach the poll (blast you, IGN!). Still, those things aside, if you enjoy AoC - why not show your support to the game? Even Funcom wants you to do it.

Personally, it wasn't a tough choice at all. Of the games listed, I've only played Mass Effect (which I quite liked) and Warhammer Online (which I still enjoy, fast paced PvP and earning titles is very fun) - and, of course, AoC which provided the best entertainment value for me so far (even though I'd argue whether it's any good roleplaying-wise). I admit I haven't ever played any Fallout game at all, so the craze of FO3 fans is kind of lost on me. As for my personal opinion, I think Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir was the best RPG of the year!

November 22, 2008

Funcom lays off 70% of their US staff

Rumour has it that Funcom fired a large number of people (TenTonHammer says 70%) from their Customer Service and Quality Assurance departments in the US. It doesn't come as such a big surprise, since with the upcoming server merges, less people playing, and especially less new players joining the workload and amount of petitions must have decreased dramatically. As you can guess, I don't see how this is any reason to panic about AoC closing down or anything of the sorts. I mean, Funcom have plans to expand into Russia, Poland and Korea, and release an expansion in 2009 for Pete's sake. Although I feel for the poor GMs, getting fired just before Christmas is probably not fun.

At any rate, according to the Q3 2008 report Funcom had 318 people working for them as of September 30 this year, and that's excluding the customer service personnel. With reduced revenue from AoC subscriptions and the expenses of running several half-empty servers, it's only natural that they have to cut costs somehow, and I hope they will be back on track after server merges and, quite possibly, even more layoffs.

November 15, 2008

Funcom's Q3 2008 Financial Report

Funcom's financial report for the third quarter of 2008 has been released, and it contains a lot of interesting information about company's financial situation, their plans for Age of Conan (such as introduction to Russian, Polish and Korean markets), and the status of the upcoming MMORPG title, The Secret World. I'll just outline a few things I found interesting.

First of all, Funcom reported an $18 million revenue this quarter. Their EBIT (Earnings Before Interest & Tax) and EAT (Earnings After Tax) were positive ($5.3 and $2.7 million respectively), as opposed to the Q2 2008 figures. Now, I'm no financial expert - it would be fair to say that I'm pretty much clueless - but I as far as I understand, if Funcom made millions of dollars in net earnings during past 3 months things must be going decently for them despite all the doomsayers on the forums. Too bad they didn't reveal Age of Conan's subscriber count this time, and I can't really guess it from the figures given, since box sales and income from Anarchy Online are also counted into that $18 million revenue. They do say that "Increase in Funcom revenues is mainly due to subscription revenues from the Age of Conan game", however.

But let's return to Age of Conan now. Here's a very cool picture of the status of AoC; apparently the game is only one checkmark away from having all MMO success criteria achieved! :) The only thing that separates AoC from global MMORPG market domination is "An RPG rule set that keeps the majority of players engaged for hundreds of hours"; of course that simply means that Age of Conan doesn't keep the players interested for as long as Funcom would like it to.

And here we have the focus areas for the game and the Age of Conan roadmap all the way up to the expansion coming out in Q4 2009. In another page, they promise the loyalty rewards system in Q1 2009; basically the same thing as Powerpoints, only they aren't called powerpoints anymore.

Finally, just before the dry financial figures start, we have this status report and a piece of concept art from company's upcoming MMO game, The Secret World. They have 70 people working on it apparently, and they will start hyping it up in early 2009. TSW will still use DreamWorld, the same graphics engine that AoC and Anarchy Online runs on. I have mixed feelings about this fact, and I hope they can polish the technical side enough since it's no secret that both games had a lot of performance problems.

I must say I'm particularly interested in what they mean by the "MMO gaming combined with Alternate Reality Gaming and social networking" statement. At any rate, TSW seems like it's going to be an original and unique MMORPG, although I'm going to be very careful about any "amazing" features that Funcom promises.

You can download the full report in .pdf format here.

November 11, 2008

Results of AoC Community Survey #4

If you read Age of Conan forums frequently, you might know about the Community Survey that a member named Wexx posts from time to time. If you don't, I'll let you know that it's an unofficial survey about the most important issues with the game, as well as some general statistics.

You might recall that I tried posting polls here on AoCBlog, but they didn't get enough votes to be accurate enough. Going to the forums and asking the players directly seems to be the best way. Wexx's survey gets a lot of attention, so perhaps even Funcom developers read it and make conclusions - it does get some replies from the mods at least.

Here are some of the more interesting statistics:

  • 91.32% of the players are male and only 8.68% are female - so be careful who you cyber with.
  • Interestingly enough, 30-34, 35-39 and 40+ age groups are dominating the PvE/RPvE servers, while 20-24 and 25-29 are the largest on PvP/RPvP ones, somewhat proving the notion that older (and more mature?) players prefer the PvE ruleset. Personally, I find it too limiting on a game like AoC.
  • Over 84% of survey takers are part of a guild, which is a good number IMHO and shows that guilds are a important part of the game (allowing Funcom to attract players with new guild features).
  • 46.83% of the players have already finished their Tier 3 Keep, but the majority (59.06%) still feels that the amount of materials required to complete a T3 village is too high. I agree with this, since the resource grind is pretty terrible - on the other hand, I think T3 shouldn't be an easy goal to achieve.
  • Most of the players found the crafting skills to be either "Not Enjoyable" (Alchemy, Armorsmithing, Gemcutting and Weaponsmithing) or "Very Unenjoyable" (Architecture). Ouch. I agree with one thing here, crafting is boring.
  • Majority of the survey takers (46.66%) believe that after appointing Craig Morrison as the Game Director, there have been "Signs of Improvements".
See the full survey hosted on Google Docs here, or read the forum thread: US / EU.

November 7, 2008

Conflagration Demonologist: finally stronger in 1 vs 1 PvP

As you probably recall, the October 29th patch had a huge amount of notes. Many things were added, including the PvP notoriety system, and many were modified, such as the combo system, but this time I'd like to talk specifically about the impact the patch had on the Demonologist class, it being my main character and all. I'm still trying to figure some stuff out, so I'll just post my impressions so far.

First, let's start with the improvements. Interestingly, it's the Conflagration tree that got most - if not all - of these. (And about time, too!).

  • Planar Shift is now instant-cast when fully feated. If only it had a bit longer duration.
  • Flame Body is now instant-cast when fully feated. I always thought this spell could use either a longer duration or a shorter casting time. I'd have preferred the duration, but I suppose instant-cast works too :)
  • Set's Chosen now reduces the damage caused by Archfiend's Pact buff. Finally, our ultimate lvl80 skill actually becomes useful! In addition, all Pacts now deal percentage-based damage to the caster instead of flat amount. The end result is that Pacts deal less damage than before, especially to Conflagration Demonologists.
  • Some minor stuff like Shrink and Forced Summoning being permanent (unless you choose to cancel them). Interestingly, Shrink also affects your Chaos Imps.
Okay, here's where it gets really hot (pun not intended):
  • Incinerate can now be applied by Greater Flames (2x effect!), Inferno of Amher if feated with Black Ashes, and Let them Burn (1x for every tick). Improved Waves of Flame too, but does anyone actually take that feat? Blazing Fire also gives a 33/66/100% chance for Hellfire Stream to cause an Incinerate effect, but that's a minor improvement and I've always found the feat to be useless. Now, the damage caused by Incinerate is as lousy as always (even with fully feated Lingering Flames), but now you can put Incinerate on groups of people with your AoE spells, and...
  • There's a new feat called Scorch in the Conflagration tree that causes every Incinerate effect to also induce a Blistering Wounds debuff. Not only it reduces healing that the target can receive by 5% and all natural regens (health, mana and stamina) by 20, it also stacks up to five times - just like Incinerate does. In the end you can have -20% healing and -100 regen debuff running on your victim. Definitely the best part of this Demonologist patch! It kind of reminds me of Playing with Fire ability that Bright Wizards in Warhammer Online have, only it's way less useful and not overpowered at all :)
  • Detonation is now instant-cast, and although it had its damage reduced accordingly, it now causes a knockback if you learn the new Backdraft feat (33/66/100% chance to cause a knockback). Take that, Havoc users! Now we Conflag demonologists have a knockback CC spell, too :) There's even a 3 meter splash area (!), and the power of the knockback depends on the amount of Incinerate debuffs you have running on the target. Admittedly, even with fully feated Backdraft it doesn't always work on players. It seems you need to stack as much Incinerate as possible to improve your chances.
  • Storm Chains is now instant-cast, and applies a 30% AoE snare if you take the according Havoc feats. Hands of Underworld is also instant-cast (although the root part never worked for me, the increased running speed is nice), and the casting time of Gates of Hell has been reduced from 2.5 to 1.5 seconds. Now, the changes might seem good, but with the root nerf that I'll write about in the next paragraph, they don't mean all that much.
Now a short summary of changes that I have mixed feelings about:
  • Casting Concentration now works. This is a good change I suppose, as long as it doesn't impact your spellcasting too much. I haven't had much trouble, but I have Casting Concentration maxed and a nice amount of points added from my gear, too.
  • All Crowd Control effects break after target's health is reduced by a certain percentage. I think it's about 20% for our roots. At any rate, in PvE the Gate of Hell breaks from it's own damage on normal mobs after ~5 seconds. GoH was never too useful in PvP to begin with, except when fighting a Soldier (since they don't have root-breaking abilities); well, now it's borderline useless. Similar rules apply to our stun (Fiery Torment), but its duration was short in the first place, and mainly used to interrupt enemy's ability or give you a chance to charge up your Greater Flames.
  • Let them Burn damage was reduced by ~50%, and although it ticks faster (every 2 seconds instead of 3), the damage being cut in half does not really make up for it. It is easier to "catch" more targets in LtB area for several ticks when PvPing though.
  • Greater Flames now give +150% damage to your Fires of Gehenna instead of +200%, although it gets a bigger bonus from +magic damage gear and buffs now. I'm not sure yet but it seems that with decent gear and our damage buffs GF FoG will hit for at least similar amount of damage as before.
Wow, this post turned out longer than I really planned. Of course, I probably left out some minor changes, and you can always read the whole patch notes on the official forum.

At any rate, with these changes I'll naturally have to respec, possibly several times till I find the perfect build for myself. You might recall my old post about my Demonologist build; I decided to drop Tome of Elrik for now, and invest the 8 points freed from the general Mage tree (I still need Purge from it!) into Conflagration. This was a pretty hard desicion since it reduced my dps, but the new feats are too appealing to miss. At the moment I'm using this build, but I'm seriously considering dropping Impish Horde - as much as I like the little buggers - leave only 1 point in Gates of Hell, and put the spare into Agonizing Fiery Torrent, or perhaps Blazing Fire for instant Hellfire Stream + Detonation combo. (Speaking of builds, that's a new feat calculator from that I'm linking to. They seem to be the first people to adapt to the feat changes in the 3.0 patch).

To sum up, I'd say this patch brought the class back to life for me. We're definitely stronger in 1 vs 1 PvP now (I know that's not the most important part of the game, but it's no fun being a free frag). However, there's little improvement in group or mass PvP, besides that nice Blistering Wounds debuff.

I'm having a blast with the new Detonation, but instead of more CC, I'd like to see more damage. All Demonologist skills and even the class description give you the impression that they're a damage-dealing class, but Funcom do not always seem to think that way.