Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Seriously, Who Moves House In January?

When I logged into Steam last night, hoping to get back to my saved game of Secret Files: Tunguska, something I'd abandoned back in September because I had other things to do - better things - not at all because I'd gotten completely stuck and given up, it turned out I'd made a mistake.

Not in choosing to try and finish the story, even if I did have to lean pretty heavily on a walkthrough for some of the less than intuitive final puzzles. No, that all went fine. Eventually.

The problem was, like every adventure gamer, I started out looking in the wrong place. It turns out I don't own that particular series on Steam after all. It's one of the many point and click adventures I got free with Amazon Prime last year, a deluge that eventually included all the Secret Files games and no fewer than six Tales of Monkey Island.

I've never seen the appeal of the Monkey Island games. I have a boxed copy of one somewhere. I must have bought it back in the '90s. I have only the vaguest recollection of playing it. I know I didn't get far. My main impressions of the series are that the humor is puerile and irritating and the gameplay tedious. Makes me wonder why I bothered to grab the rest of them even for free.

A lot of catching up to do.

While I was hunting through my Steam library, looking for a game that wasn't there, I noticed a couple of new notifications for one that was, namely Bless Unleashed.

Ah, Bless! I was happily playing and posting about Bless Unleashed from the day it launched until New World appeared, at which point I dropped it like a radioactive potato. Even so, I always intended to get back to it at some point. I liked my character, I liked the world, the story was borderline interesting and the gameplay was passable.

Given all of that, I was a little disconcerted to find that Bless Unleashed was about to find itself under new management. One of the two very recent news flashes on the game's Steam page was an almost grovellingly apologetic announcement that as of January 26th next year, "game services" for BU would be moving from developers NeoWiz to Valofe

The article describes Valofe as "a global game company that handles development, publishing and operation". I remember them as the bunch that botched the transfer of Riders of Icarus, interrupted my flow there, left me unable to access my account for several months and effectively ended my engagement with that game.

Needless to say, I wasn't best pleased with the news. Reading through the details was a little more reassuring. It seems that, unlike the England cricket team, Valofe have proved capable of learning from their mistakes. I remember there being a whole lot of re-registration nonsense with RoI even for those who played the game through Steam but this time around Steam users should be unaffected by the handover of power:

"As the game data and account/payment information related to the game are based in the Steam platform, a transfer of them will not be performed...The current character data will remain the same and players can still continue playing the game even after the service transfer."

Apparently all we'll have to do is accept a new EULA on first login after the twenty-sixth and everything should carry on as if nothing had happened. I guess we'll see.

As to why the game needs to change hands in the first place, Neowiz don't care to say but it's probably fair to assume a 90% loss of players in six months has something to do with it. Back when the game launched it was averaging around 40k concurrency on Steam. Now it's bumping along nearer 4k.

And that's not really all that bad. If anything, it seems to be par for the course for new mmorpgs that
launched on Steam in 2021. Phantasy Star Online 2, which launched around the same time, has fallen from an average concurrency around 16k to 3k. Swords of Legends Online went from 7.5k to around 800. 

The biggest of them all, New World, which broke records as it peaked around 900k in October, is now down to 90k. It does look as though a drop-off of nearly everyone who joined at launch within just a few months is par for the course. 

It makes you wonder whether some of these companies really expect to develop and grow the games over years or if the whole point is to rake in the cash from the excitable hordes in the first few weeks before either selling the whole thing on to an aggregator like Valofe or Gamigo or just shunting it into maintenance for a while before shutting it down for good.

Clearly, Amazon want to make a long-term go of New World and with a property that's still in Steam's top ten (Just about.) even after losing nine-tenths of its players they undoubtedly have a viable product. With figures like SOLO's, though, you'd have to hope the game has other sources of revenue than just what we're seeing on Steam.

Valofe don't appear to have a very good name in the genre but then, realistically, who does? The list of developers and publishers that don't raise a cynical eyebrow or an angry fist these days is vanishingly small. It's unlikely Bless Unleashed will prosper under its new owners but at least it's still there. Maintenance mode is better than closedown.

They're all mine! You can't have any!

As for new content, I wouldn't hold out any great hopes. Once mmorpgs go down this route the best we can often expect is refreshed holiday events and some new, promotional "Seasons". 

At least Bless Unleashed leaves Neowiz with a twinkle. The other announcement was news of the Feywinter Festival, a refreshingly well-named seasonal celebration that kicked off on December 22nd and continues until January 12th.

It's the usual collection of free gifts, monster-bashing and a new holiday currency to spend at special holiday vendors. If I was going to be cynical I'd say it looks like a cut and past of BU's halloween event but the rewards do look good so I'm not complaining.

The festival is based out of a square in the Noble District in the city of Sperios. I took the trouble to log in after an 18GB update (!) and port down there to see it. It looks very pretty. I would have thought the devs could have cloned it and popped copies down in the other main cities for our convenience but I guess it would have looked out of place just about everywhere other than where it is.

Oh, alright. You can have that little green one.
No! Not the one with the bow! The little one!

I grabbed a free present but I doubt I'll be logging in to do much more of the event. As I'm discovering as I try to juggle Frostfell, Wintersday and Winter Convergence, it's not really practical to pursue more than a couple of these major festivals at once. 

Other than the stated intent of giving everyone a fun time over the holidays, all of these festivals, by design, involve a goodly amount of grind. They exist as much as anything to keep people logging in at a time when players have a lot of free time on their hands and developers are taking a well-earned break.

It's a shame, in a way. The midwinter events often offer some of the most attractive rewards. The iconography of the season, with its color palette of blues and blue-whites and plethora of snowy imagery, appeals to me a lot more than Halloween's garish black and orange and clownish costume antics. Plus, I'm always in the market for a reindeer mount.

At least I didn't have to go to any websites and fill in any forms. For that alone I'm willing to look favorably on this unexpected move. Now it's all down to waiting on the new landlord to see how they perform.

Mark your calendar for Jan. 26th and we'll see how it goes.

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