Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Battle.net authenticator, noobery narrowly averted

My World of Warcraft account has been inactive since April this year, when I ran out of things I wanted to do in-game. But a month or two back, a post by The Ancient Gaming Noob about yet another inactive account getting hacked brought it to my attention that (a) what I’d always thought of as a WoW account authenticator is actually a Battle.net account authenticator, and (b) you can attach one to your account, no problems, regardless of whether or not you have an active WoW subscription.

I’d always shrugged off these authenticators in the past, since while they’re cheap ($US6.50!), the postage and handling to ship one to Australia is blisteringly expensive – $US20.68 last time I looked, bringing the price of an authenticator close to that of two months worth of subscription. Ouch!

But, by fortunate coincidence, shortly before I read this story, the company I work for assigned me an iPhone for testing purposes – and the mobile authenticator iPhone app (there are versions for Androids and other phones, too) is free! So, a few minutes later..


Easy as that! Visit the Battle.net account management. Select the menu option to add a mobile authenticator. It sends an email to your registered email address with a link to add the authenticator. Download the app onto your phone. Run it. It gives you a unique serial number for the install. Go to the link you were emailed, enter that serial number, enter the current code from the authenticator app, and bam! You’re done. Didn’t take even 5 minutes.

But of course, as Stan Lee taught us, with great power comes great responsibility. And once you’ve attached an authenticator to your account, you’re in trouble if you lose it, or break it.. or forget to deactivate it before your work gives you a new iPhone 4 and takes the old phone back.

As if anyone would do something as silly as giving their phone back to their boss without deactivating the authenticator, though! Ho ho ho! What a noob they would have to be!

It’s easy to avoid: log into Battle.net account management – you’ll need your authenticator to do this, of course. Click on the [Remove] link shown in that picture above. It will prompt you enter the next two codes from the authenticator – clever, even if someone has intercepted a code in transit, they won’t be able to use that one code to unprotect your account. And you’re done!

Then follow the same original process to hook up the new authenticator app on your new phone, and you’re sorted!

Friday, September 17, 2010

No Vindictus? Denied!

Nexon’s new free-to-play blood & guts fest Vindictus has just started an early access beta, and every MMO site under the sun is handing out beta keys like candy.

What would have been a good idea, however, would be to prefix the announcements and giveaways with a giant message saying “USA AND CANADA ONLY!”

The giveaway I snagged a key from didn’t mention any territory restrictions.

The page where you enter your key didn’t mention any territory restrictions.

The Nexon passport signup page clearly says “To register for a Nexon Passport, you must live in the United States, Canada, and Oceania. Access to Nexon America games is not supported outside these regions.” I’ll confess I didn’t read that fine print, but since I live in Oceania, even if I had, I would have obviously felt that I was still on the right track.

It’s only once you have created an account, entered your beta key, downloaded the client, installed, waited until September 15th, tried to run it, gotten an unhelpful error, and gone to the Vindictus forums that you’ll find the storm of nerdrage about the territory restrictions and the sticky post with the innocuous title “Vindictus Service Region” which reads:

Greetings players,

Please be aware that Vindictus is currently available in US and Canada ONLY. We have no information regarding expansion plans into other territories such as Oceania at this time. However, if we do have additional information, we will be sure to provide it here.



Look, I’m not angry that Oceanic players like myself don’t have access to the beta. That’s the sort of thing which always happens when you’re dealing with foreign games being run under license. But come on, did it really not occur to anyone that it would be a good idea to put a big bold warning everywhere so there could be no confusion about who had access?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Switch to free-to-play makes a mess of LOTRO community, film at eleven

Many were the dire predictions that the LOTRO community would take a nosedive in quality once Turbine launched the new free-to-play business model. And they were right – sort of. This last week, reading the LOTRO forums has made me want to bash my head against a wall due to the stupidity and selfishness of a large slice of the community.

Needless to say, I’m not talking about the influx of new players since the game went free-to-play. I’m talking about a large slice of the old-timers.

Here’s a quick summary of what Turbine have done with LOTRO. Last week, you could:

  • Pay $15/month and play the game, or;
  • Pay nothing and not play the game

This week, you can:

  • Pay $15/month and play the game, or;
  • Pay nothing and play the first few zones, with some restrictions on bag space, etc., or;
  • Pay one-off fees to unlock zones worth of quests, as well as other traditional cash shop perks such as mounts, storage space, etc.

You may notice that this week, you have exactly the same subscription option you had last week, plus the option to pay as you go, plus the option to at least log in and do some stuff for free. So, naturally, a large slice of the player base chucked a colossal tantrum and started carrying on like spoiled two-year-olds because Turbine didn’t give them everything in the game for free.

The core of the tantrum being people who felt that having purchased the base game box (Shadows of Angmar, aka SoA) at some point in the last few years should entitle them to unlock all the quests in all the zones in the base game. This is nine zones, which would cost a little over $50.00 to unlock one by one, and would, effectively, give anyone who ever had an account during the pre-free-to-play era a lifetime subscription. The majority of them could quite comfortably cancel their subscription, never spend another cent, and enjoy the game in a manner scarcely distinguishable from how it was previously when they were subscribed (since most character restrictions, like bag space, riding skill, trait slots and gold cap, are waived for characters created or played while a subscription was in effect).

Such a scheme would, as far as I can tell, basically destroy Turbine’s revenue stream, and kill the game. But regardless, it all boils down to one simple thing: these whining ungrateful little shits have just been given a bunch of stuff for free, not had anything taken away from them, and they’re screeching and crying as if Turbine just stole their teddy bear at gunpoint.

It makes me sick. Fortunately, I can mostly avoid it by staying away from the forums, and in-game, with the relatively inoffensive new players and their stupid names, “your gay lol” idiocy, and inane chatter about how WoW sucks balls and is the worst game ever made / WoW rulez and is a million times better than LOTRO. I’ll take a week of that over an hour of whining brats trumpeting their sense of entitlement.

In other news, I was quite proud when I got the ”Undying” title on my Warden. I’ve done it again:


And I’m even more proud to have achieved it with a completely untwinked Burglar on a new server – and a new server suffering from some heavy load and lagspikes - than I was with my Warden kitted out with the best weapons and jewellery that my other characters could craft.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

One must queue to simply walk into Mordor

Something I have never seen before in LOTRO:


This was on the new server Crickhollow I chose – there was also queues on a number of other servers. Looks like I’m not the only one enjoying the free-to-play relaunch!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

LOTRO Free Middle Earth arrives

So, Turbine’s new “Free Middle Earth” free-to-play version of Lord of the Rings Online has landed, hot on the heels of EverQuest II Extended. I jumped on briefly last night, creating a new character on one of the four new servers, to see what was happening.

First of all, the game is buzzing just as crazily as EQ2X. The server was packed with players, and from the conversations in chat, quite a lot of them are entirely new to the game. I think there is definitely potential for this to replicate the success Turbine had with D&D Online when they relaunched that as free-to-play.

Secondly, LOTRO was always an attractive game, but since I last played, I’ve replaced my PC with a new rig. The patch that accompanied the free launch added DirectX 11 support, and by happy coincidence, my new machine has a Radeon 5770. So I enabled the new DirectX 11 stuff, cranked all the settings up to high and turned on anti-aliasing, and now we are talking a seriously attractive game.

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LOTRO00006 LOTRO00007

Those looks, running at a rock solid 60 fps, definitely put a smile on my face. It’s hard to believe that this game is well over three years old and has had its graphics kept up-to-date like this.

I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about LOTRO’s free-to-play / subscription hybrid model yet, but I have to say, I expect it to be much better suited to my playstyle than EQ2X’s “subscribe or bust” approach.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

EverQuest II Extended – does it hit the mark?

So, it’s of course old news by now that Sony are launching a free-to-play version of EverQuest II, known as EverQuest II Extended. It is technically still in beta, but there will be no character wipe between now and “launch”, so effectively, it is launched.

I played EQ2 a while ago. Can’t remember exactly when, probably mid-2008 when the pre-Lich King ennui made me suspend my WoW account. There was a lot to like about it, but ultimately, I didn’t feel it distinguished itself enough to keep my interest, as well as suffering from a few key issues like boring combat and a low server population.

But certainly my memories aren’t entirely negative, so I decided to check out the new F2P incarnation of the game. I’ve played a few sessions this week, getting my Barbarian Inquisitor to level 16, and have some opinions about the hybrid F2P/subscription model that Sony have come up with.

The hybrid model

We saw this idea when D&D Online went free-to-play – there is still the option of a traditional $15/month subscription, but it is supplemented by a greatly restricted free option, with microtransactions to unlock various restrictions. Turbine have also announced a similar model for the upcoming free-to-play change to Lord of the Rings Online.

EQ2X is similar – you can play for free (“bronze” membership), you can make a one-time $10.00 purchase to remove some of the restrictions (“silver” membership), or you can pay a monthly or yearly subscription (“gold” and “platinum” membership). And I get a strong feeling that Sony’s goal is to push people, not towards casual play and microtransaction purchases, but towards the subscription plans.

What do you only get with a subscription? There is a membership plan matrix here, but some highlights include:

  • Access to all classes - only 8 are available without subscription. You can’t even buy them individually, although I believe Sony have said that are planning to add that to the shop.
  • Access to the highest levels of ability upgrades.
  • Access to the highest grades of equipment, Legendary and Fabled.
  • Access to the broker system – although, again, this is to be added to the non-subscription accounts in the form of tokens on the cash shop, i.e. a cash fee for every item you wish to buy or sell on auction.

To me, that is starting to feel more like the bronze and silver memberships are an extremely generous free trial, rather than a genuine free game.

What I don’t think will work well

Class and race restrictions. The free game only allows access to 8 out of 24 classes, and 4 out of 19 races. On the face of it, selling access to classes and races might seem a good model, but the problem is: you need to get F2P players hooked in order to get them to spend money. And once they’re hooked, do they want to buy access to a new class and race, and then ditch their existing character to reroll from level one? I wouldn’t be terribly inclined to do so.

Chat restrictions. Bronze members cannot use “broadcast” channels, such as /auction, /level, /shout, or any other chat option that broadcasts to a large amount of other players. Many people feel that this both makes the game feel rather empty, compared to the buzzing chat channels people are used to; and also that it makes it rather hard for new players who are still getting the hang of the game to actually ask questions or seek help! This feels more like a restriction you’d put on a free trial account to discourage spammers than something you would inflict on people who you see as genuine customers.

The broker restrictions. I love to see a vibrant economy in a game. I’ll reserve judgement on this one until I’ve properly checked it out for myself, but I’m worried that banning non-subscription players from buying and selling at auction will seriously hurt the economy – and that this will hurt the subscription players as well as the free players.

Legendary and Fabled item restrictions. I’m not enough of an EQ2 vet to know how restrictive this is, but I’ve already read of the disappointment of finishing an epic quest chain and receiving a reward that you’re not even allowed to use! It has also been suggested that this renders group dungeon runs pretty pointless for free players since the loot will be unusable. But this is also an opportunity for Sony: why not sell consumable “legendary and fabled attunement” tokens in the cash shop, so each such item you get your hands on requires a nominal real-money spend to use?

But we’ll see

Look, certainly the game is drawing a crowd. Certainly, comparing the starter zone I’ve been playing in this week to my experiences of two years ago, it’s chalk and cheese. There are a lot of players running around. And this is playing in Australian evening time, not prime time. I’m having some fun, and I’ll certainly carry on giving EQ2X a chance to see how it goes this time around for me.