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Frontier lays off 15 employees

Sci-Fi, MMO Industry, News Items, Sandbox, Elite: Dangerous, Buy-to-Play

Keep flying on anyway.
Frontier Developments has axed 15 positions from its Halifax studio somewhat unexpectedly, leaving this branch of the overall studio with a somewhat hazy future. According to investor reports, the move is the result of a refocusing of the company's business plan around its two major games, and with all of the expertise on Elite: Dangerous and the upcoming Coaster Park Tycoon concentrated in Cambridge, it simply made more sense to reduce staff in the satellite studio.

No word on what this means for the long-term health of the Halifax location, which may very well be facing the axe as well. Our deep consolation goes to all employees affected by the layoffs.

MMO Burnout: Engineers in spaaace

Sci-Fi, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, PvP, PvE, Opinion, Sandbox

I missed the whole Minecraft craze. I was stupidly grinding my virtual life away in various MMORPGs, plus I couldn't get past Minecraft's so-fugly-it's-hip aesthetic. No matter, though, because Space Engineers takes Minecraft's core concepts and dolls them up with pleasing visuals, a nifty near future sci-fi setting, and addictive gameplay that's much more than the sum of its parts.

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Norrathian Notebook: Five reasons to support EQ Next and Landmark

Betas, Fantasy, Opinion, Free-to-Play, EverQuest Next, Sandbox, Norrathian Notebook, Landmark

I like Landmark and am looking forward to EverQuest Next. There, I said it. It should be no surprise. And as such, I certainly have a vested interest in how these games fare throughout their development and launch. I want to see them succeed. But the thing is, so should you -- whether or not you actually want to play them.

Unfortunately, it seems all too fashionable lately for folks to tear something down instead of build it up. So often when I'm following the discussions about EQ Next and Landmark, I hear plenty of reasons why folks don't like the games, and the reasons frequently have nothing to do with the games themselves. Detractors are going on about longstanding gripes and grudges instead of judging the games on their own merits (a practice that the whole world could certainly do without). Amid all the scathing comments I've heard directed at SOE for slights real and imagined, one recently gave me pause and made me reflect on the reasons that supporting these two MMO endeavors is worthwhile.

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PAX South 2015: The Untitled Game is whatever you want it to be

Fantasy, Events (Real-World), Game Mechanics, Interviews, PvE, Hands-On, Events (Massively's Coverage), Sandbox, Crafting, Crowdfunding, Player-Generated Content, MMORPG

The Untitled Game, better known as TUG, is one of the many recent titles that have earned a small crowdfunding fortune by shouting the word "sandbox" as loud as the internet will allow. The game's initial Kickstarter campaign raised $293,000; launching on Steam's Early Access marketplace helped Nerd Kingdom rake in an unspecified amount of additional dollars. The studio had a bold plan for an open-world, innovative crafting MMORPG, and it appeared as though players were ready to pay for it.

Things haven't gone so swimmingly since then. Funding issues in late 2014 forced the studio to lay off around half of its staff. Many MMO industry followers have been wondering whether the project will ever be released or it's just another crowdfunded pipe dream.

I took a look at TUG on the show floor at PAX South 2015 and talked to COO Brennan Priest about crowdfunding, layoffs, and killing things with axes. The one thing I can say for sure is that there is definitely a game here, and it seems as if it could be a good one.

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PAX South 2015: Notes from a Star Citizen town hall

Sci-Fi, Culture, Events (Real-World), Events (Massively's Coverage), Sandbox, Crowdfunding, Star Citizen, MMORPG, Buy-to-Play

Star Citizen
Star Citizen is such a big fancy deal that instead of having a panel or booth at PAX South 2015, Cloud Imperium booked a theater down the street and hosted 10 straight hours of forums and chit-chats with backers. That's right: There wasn't enough room in the PAX convention hall to accommodate all the Star Citizening Star Citizens needed to Star Citizen, so they had their own one-day mini-convention dedicated just to their game of choice.

One has to respect a development team willing to spend the entire day with its community (for a nominal fee, of course). I'm sure Star Citizens were absolutely amped to pay the same amount of money as a PAX day pass to hang out with CI all day. Unfortunately, I attended only the evening town hall with Chris Roberts, which I would describe as impenetrable to anyone without a license to pilot one of Star Citizen's $350 ships.

I did take some notes. I will try to parse them here.

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PAX South 2015: Garriott and Long talk Shroud of the Avatar

Fantasy, Events (Real-World), Interviews, MMO Industry, PvE, Hands-On, Roleplaying, Events (Massively's Coverage), Sandbox, Crafting, Crowdfunding, Player-Generated Content, Shroud of the Avatar, MMORPG

SOTA
In 2013, Ultima Online creator Richard Garriott took to Kickstarter in the hopes of funding an old-school, sandbox-y MMO. Titled Shroud of the Avatar, the new project would be built in Unity and aimed squarely at those MMO fans who longed for the days of player-driven economies, crafting as a focus instead of a side activity, and the ability to impact the game world in a real way.

The plan worked. Shroud of the Avatar pulled $1.9 million on Kickstarter alone, almost doubling its $1 million funding goal. Since then, the team has been hard at work bringing Garriott's vision to life (and keeping backers happy).

I spoke with Garriott on the PAX South 2015 show floor about crowdfunding, loot, and the mistakes of the modern RPG. I also got to play a bit of SOTA with the help of executive producer Starr Long, who kindly did not make fun of me when I was killed by the second mob in the demo.

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PAX South 2015: Hangin' with Frontier, playin' Elite on the Oculus Rift

Sci-Fi, Events (Real-World), Interviews, PvE, Hands-On, Events (Massively's Coverage), Sandbox, Crowdfunding, Elite: Dangerous, Buy-to-Play

Elite: Dangerous
Readers of the Choose My Adventure column may remember that I spent the month of September smuggling beer, shooting NPCs, and dodging space rocks in Frontier Developments' Elite: Dangerous. Though the game was in early beta, I found lots to do and lots to love about the space simulator that isn't that other space simulator. Realistic physics, challenging flight controls, and beautiful design work made the game stand out to me as unique and promising (other Massively staffers seem to agree), and I've revisited it since and enjoyed it every time.

Thus, I jumped at the chance to check Elite out again at PAX South 2015, this time with the experience enhanced by a rad HOTAS setup and the ever-so-popular Oculus Rift. Guided by producer Eddie Symons, I bluffed my way through a combat demo and discovered that when it comes to shooting things in space, being able to look and fly separately is a great thing indeed.

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DayZ has sold over 3 million early access copies

Betas, Horror, MMO Industry, PvP, News Items, Sandbox

DayZ has been on Steam early access for over a year now, and what does the post-apocalyptic zombie sandbox have to show for it? Well, over 3 million customers, for starters.

A new Bohemia Interactive press release touts the 24 updates the game has seen since its "launch," and it also mentions ongoing improvements including a core engine rewrite begun in 2014. The new engine is called Enfusion, and it includes renderer upgrades and corresponding performance upticks as well as "vastly improved" particle effect aesthetics.

Bohemia also notes that the DayZ dev team now boasts over 80 people.

[Source: Bohemia Interactive press release]

TUG's multiplayer goes live

Betas, Fantasy, Events (Real-World), Patches, Sandbox

tug
Yesterday, the first stage of TUG's multiplayer went online with its 0.8.1 alpha patch. Players can now bump into each other in both survival and creative modes. But wait -- there's more! The patch also sports a brand-new terrain engine, a new UI, better mod capabilities, additional AI characters, and a handy return stone.

The TUG team will be at booth #1483 at PAX South this weekend and will be selling access to the game at a discount for the duration of the convention. Massively will be reporting on TUG from the show floor, so stay tuned!

RuneScape's sub fee hike goes into effect March 1st

Fantasy, Video, Business Models, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, Patches, News Items, RuneScape, Free-to-Play, Browser, Sandbox

RuneScape
Jagex announced a sub rate hike for long-running sandbox RuneScape back in November, and this week, the studio has declared that the new fees will go into effect beginning March 1st. While the game is still free-to-play, the optional sub will increase from $8 US to $9.49 US; the official site includes a conversion chart for the international community and multi-month subbers. For existing Premier Club customers, Jagex posted a reminder about grandfathering in the old rates as long as the sub is maintained:
Don't forget - as long as you're a member and don't lapse out for more than 14 days, you're eligible to keep your current rate of membership. Subscribe now to secure access to all of RuneScape's members' content at current prices.
The studio is also talking up its inbound ports expansion; there's a fresh trailer on the mechanic after the cut.

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The Daily Grind: What's the most exciting bit of MMO news you've heard lately?

Sci-Fi, MMO Industry, Opinion, The Daily Grind, Sandbox, Star Citizen

Wednesday's blurb about Star Citizen's release schedule caught me a bit off guard. I guess I lost track of time because the thought of getting to see the game's persistent universe this year took me aback. It makes sense, though, since Star Citizen boasts a big dev team and an even bigger developmental warchest, and they've been going at it in some form or fashion since 2012!

So that's a bit of exciting and unexpected MMO news for 2015, at least in my book. What about you, Massively readers? What MMO news has tickled your fancy of late?

Every morning, the Massively bloggers probe the minds of their readers with deep, thought-provoking questions about that most serious of topics: massively online gaming. We crave your opinions, so grab your caffeinated beverage of choice and chime in on today's Daily Grind!

Pathfinder details corpse looting and more

Fantasy, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, New Titles, PvP, News Items, Sandbox, Pathfinder Online

GoblinWorks CEO Ryan Dancey has published a new blog post touching on today's Pathfinder early enrollment release.

Version two of the fantasy sandbox adds player husks, which is another way of saying lootable corpses. "The extent of your losses will be related to how quickly you are able to return to the site of your husk and if you are able to recover the inventory that remains on the husk before others are able to take all of its contents or its timer expires," Dancey writes.

There's a bit more to the update, but you'll need to click through to the GoblinWorks website to read it!

RuneScape opens RuneLabs for player suggestions

Fantasy, Video, Culture, RuneScape, Free-to-Play, Sandbox

runescape
If you have a terrific idea that you'd like to get implemented into an MMO, then RuneScape's your best bet these days. The ever-creative MMO recently launched RuneLabs as a formal structured suggestion process that will take the best player ideas and make them an in-game feature.

RuneLabs works like this: Players will make a pitch to that month's studio-assigned criteria. If it gets enough community support, it will be reviewed by Jagex and (barring a studio veto) voted on by fellow players. The winner of the poll will go from concept to reality.

You can watch an amusing video explaining RuneLabs after the break!

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The Stream Team: Peeking into H1Z1's PvE server

Betas, Video, New Titles, Free-to-Play, Post-Apocalyptic, Livestream, Sandbox, The Stream Team, H1Z1

When the servers were finally sorted last weekend, Massively's MJ was able to bring you a first look at H1Z1's early access on one of the many PvP servers. But folks have been asking to see the world on the PvE server, so she's diving back into the sandbox and facing death at the hands of zombies, bears, wolves, and any really peeved deer. Oh, and let's not forget starvation! Will MJ find friends as she did in the first part of her PvP journey, or will folks be more like those near the end? Join us live at 1:00 p.m. to see.

Game: H1Z1
Host: MJ Guthrie
Date: Thursday, January 22nd, 2015
Time: 1:00 p.m. EST

Enjoy our Stream Team video below.

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Raph Koster is collaborating on Crowfall [Updated with video]

Economy, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, PvP, News Items, Miscellaneous, Sandbox, Crowfall

Does it have your attention NOW
So here's a funny story: Yesterday, the Massively writers were shooting the breeze in team chat when the subject of sandbox devs who were not also closet-gankers came up. "When do you think Raph Koster will finally make a new sandbox?" I asked, half kidding and half wistful. "Never," Jef answered. Then we commiserated for a bit.

It turns out we were remarkably prescient because that day is... today. ArtCraft, the studio working on the nebulous PvP MMO Crowfall, announced today that Koster, the backbone of sandbox legends Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, has been collaborating with the Crowfall team on the game's design for a year already as a "formal advisor and design consultant."

"Raph and I have been working together for about a year on the design architecture for Crowfall," ArtCraft's J. Todd Coleman wrote. "At the heart of this game, we have two core systems: dynamic territorial conquest and a player-driven economy. Marrying these two concepts is the holy grail of MMO development, and Raph is arguably the best person in the world to help us solve this puzzle."

Koster gets a blurb of his own in the PR: "There isn't anything on the market like Crowfall, and it has been a long time since some of these design ideas were explored. There's a very specific audience out there waiting for a game like this -- the conflict, the real economy -- that has been looking for new steps beyond the games of ten years ago."

Your move, MMO genre.

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