I recently read this article about F2P Asian MMO ZT Online. ZT Online is heavily focused on getting players to spend real money on in-game stuff, to the point where it is virtually unplayable without paying. The original article was written in Chinese, and has been taken down from its original posting and many other websites, due to pressure from the operators of ZT Online.

It’s a rather long read, but it provides some great insight into a direction that Western MMOs could possibly take, seeing as the whole “microtransaction” thing is starting to really take root here. If microtransactions as used in ZT Online are the future of MMOs, then count me out.

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Aspyr announced some layoffs today, which makes it the next in a line of many game developers who just aren’t able to make ends meet anymore. Aspyr wasn’t really a fully fledged development studio, though, they were more known for doing PC to Mac ports. More recently, Aspyr has been doing console to PC ports.

Aspyr is one of those companies that people just seem to like. Most Mac enthusiasts have a great deal of respect for Aspyr, because for years they were the only people porting good games to Mac. Now that the market is changing, Aspyr seems to have run out of luck. Everything is easier to make cross-platform now. Most games are made with the intention of being cross-platform at release, much unlike Aspyr’s method of porting already successful games.

With the amount of talent in the company, and amount of respect people have for Aspyr, I would hate to see them go under. Porting games is a losing business, now, though, and I really don’t know how viable Aspyr would be as a company. Fortunately, there have been reports of Aspyr planning to start making some original games, which would allow them to pursue the more traditional developer path. With any luck, Aspyr may turn this loss of employees into an entirely new business model.

The Future of Midway Games

November 23, 2008

Midway Games is currently in jeopardy of losing their listing on the NYSE. Midway hasn’t been doing too hot for a while now, and usually, as in the case of Interplay, when a company gets delisted, they go under soon after. I actually live within walking distance of the Midway Games HQ in Chicago, so this news hits somewhat close to home(sweet pun, yeah).

Sadly, Midway’s biggest problem is usually itself. They are seeing some good returns on smaller scale, more casual, games, but still spending huge amounts of money on titles like Stranglehold, which was decent, but nothing special. At best, Midway has been providing mediocre games. The most recent Mortal Kombat games were very entertaining, and very replayable, but at the same time, they were nothing revolutionary. Midway is pouring money into average quality games like Area 51 and Hour of Victory when they should be taking this opportunity to innovate.

Midway is a small publisher when compared to giants like Activision Blizzard, or the internal publishing of Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo. They are not even in the same league as EA, who has cut off any competition in the sports game markets. The closest competition Midway really has is THQ, and they are having financial troubles of their own. Midway cannot afford to compete within the AAA scene, and needs to invest its money elsewhere.

There has been mention of Midway attempting to start up a casual games portal, but there are already established players in that market. If Midway wants to viable, they need to do what they have been doing for years, make console games…except, now they are going to have to make them well.

Midway Games can be successful if it stays in the console market and produces GOOD games. If they put half the money into game design and gameplay that they do into graphics and advertising, Midway will stay in the game. Take the katamari series, for instance. It was a relatively low budget game that definitely came out past the PS2’s peak. However, it was incredibly fun, and proved that a game could be successful even when the next generation loomed.

I know Midway can make great games. They have pretty much proven themselves to be pretty solid over the years. My advice to Midway is to quit trying to keep up with the other publishers and just make something that people want to play. Midway Games is responsible for so many games which have been influential in the industry, and I am one person that would like to see them stick around.

Have you ever wanted to play an old PC game only to find that you had lost/scratched your disk copy?  Or perhaps you never owned it and want to buy a copy, but the shelves at Wal-Mart are stuffed with Sims expansions. Good Old Games is here to fix that problem.

I kinda like the idea of GOG. They take a bunch of (mostly) critically acclaimed PC games from the 90s and sell them at pretty reasonable prices…usually $5.99. There are some real gems in the catalog, including, both Fallouts, both Freespaces, and Sacrifice. For every good game though, it seems to be balanced out by a lame one, like Redneck Rampage.

All games from GOG are DRM-Free, which is a big plus for me. With the amount of DRM issues alot of AAA games are experiencing these days, I’m glad to see someone do away with it. So, we have cheap, decent, DRM-Free games from GOG…everything is great, right?

My one issue with GOG lies in the whole piracy aspect of things. Yes, I have pirated games. yes, I probably will again in the future. Would I be willing to spend $6 on an old game that I could easily pirate if I knew that the developers were getting a cut of the money? Of course! the thing with GOG, though, is that they make deals with publishers to distribute old games. The Black Isle team who worked hard making Fallout the best game ever (don’t argue, just go with it) will not see any of the money from GOG.

Instead, Mr. Herve Caen, the CEO of Interplay that pretty much ran it into the ground, and killed the company, along with any hope of a decent Fallout 3, will receive that money. The GOG business model looks great at first glance, but once it’s discovered where the money is really going, it doesn’t seem quite as attractive. I do not want CEOs and publishers getting money for nothing. Developers put hard work into these games, and are not seeing a penny from them now.

Do the industry a favor and skip this one.