Winner: The shutdown of Tabula Rasa (writeup by Shawn Schuster)
This year's Biggest Surprise goes to the news that Tabula Rasa is closing for good in February of 2009. Some might think this was no surprise at all, considering the exodus of players over the past year, and the recent news of Richard Garriott leaving NCsoft to pursue other interests. We chose it because of the vivid community still surrounding it, with the actual finality of a closure a surprise to us all.
What makes this an even larger surprise is the fact that the September closure rumors were quickly denied by NCsoft themselves. Recent reports of several new and exciting game features, plus the announcement that players would have a chance to return to Earth in the game made us firmly believe that TR was making a strong comeback. In game, we started to see more players running around in the world, more players in chat and full groups again. The PlanetTR weekly events were filling up like they did in the old days, and we were optimistic.
For whatever reason it was too little, too late for NCsoft. The publisher is not in the market of losing money, and we understand that. Yet if we see another closure of an NCsoft title any time soon, it certainly won't be on our Biggest Surprise list. Runner-up: Star Wars: The Old Republic to be microtransactional (writeup by Michael Zenke)
The announcement of Star Wars: The Old Republic as a going concern for BioWare wouldn't have made anyone's 'biggest surprise' list. Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few years, the rumors of an MMO based in the setting of Knights of the Old Republic had to have reached your ears. The game's final announcement was more of a surrender than a marketing push.
What was unexpected, what none of the Massively writers were prepared for, was the accidental slip by EA head John Riccitello about the game's anticipated business model. Instead of a subscription fee, it sounds as though EA and BioWare will be collaborating to support the game with microtransactions. Whether they'll be charging a fee for a box and then only charging for additional content, or whether the game will be free to play is currently up in the air. The whole concept could be up in the air, of course, with EA fervently trying to retract the executive's statement after the fact.
Still, we can't really see wiggle room in the originally quoted text. We think EA's plans are probably leaning towards microtransactions, and we think The Old Republic is going to do extremely well for them.
What put this notice into the running is really the larger context. Microtransactional and RMT games have been gaining significantly in popularity over the last few years. "Smaller" games based on these business models have in some cases outstripped the player bases of more traditional AAA games. Announcements like this, the World of Warcraft re-customization service, and SOE's Station Cash program highlight the changing face of the MMO industry.
The connection between one of the biggest MMOs on the horizon and these very small chunks of change make it easily one of the biggest surprises of 2008.