Saying that 2011 was a big year for Age of Conan probably qualifies as severe understatement rather than simply understatement. The big news, of course, was the Unchained free-to-play conversion, but that was really just the tip of the gigantic Hyborian iceberg. Join me after the break for my top seven Anvil of Crom issues from the past year.
last year, I've no earthly idea. Truth be told, if I were to try and recap everything that happened to AoC in 2011, I'd still be writing the article in 2013. Enough stalling, though. Behold, the list.
7. I was (finally) right!
Rightly or wrongly, I've got something of a reputation as Massively's anti-F2P guy. This isn't an entirely accurate perception, particularly since I called on Funcom to convert AoC's business model a number of times. In fact, I kicked off 2011 with one such plea, and though it took six months, the devs finally heeded my advice! OK, maybe they were thinking about it already, but the point remains. Wait, what was my point?
Anyway, yeah, more on Unchained in a minute.
6. Raving fans
February brought about one of my favorite columns, and frankly, one of my favorite things to write about (that being the tumultuous relationship between MMO devs and players). In a nutshell, I argued that MMOs in general, and Age of Conan in particular, do a poor job of reacting to their customers' desires in favor of sticking to a developer vision.
This is an interesting debate because MMOs are generally thought of as services by their creators but then ultimately treated as products when it comes to making customers happy (this is our game, and if you don't like it, don't buy it). Convincing cases can be made for both sides of this conundrum, though, and that's just what happened in the comments section as readers -- and Funcom game director Craig Morrison -- weighed in with various opinions.
5. The Refuge of the Apostate
Funcom's tidal wave of new content started in the spring, and as I looked back over a year's worth of AoC coverage in preparing this column, I realized that my favorite bit of new stuff happened pretty early on. The Refuge of the Apostate is one of AoC's terrific solo dungeons, and it was also the maiden voyage for Funcom's new developer hires and its new Dreamworld content-creation tools.
The resulting instance is one of the best subterranean crawls that I've experienced in an MMO, and I spent a couple of perfectly beautiful April days happily squinting at my monitor and relearning to play my Demonologist as I worked my way through the new dungeon. Oh, and I also wrote a guide. It's reasonably helpful.
4. Morrison on Unchained
AoC's free-to-play conversion came upon us like a thief in the night (literally, since I got word of it around 2:00 a.m.). I scrambled around preparing some questions for Silirrion, and the resulting interview was one of the year's highlights in terms of developer candor. Morrison spoke frankly on perceptions of pay-to-win, cash shops, and how free is free, and he also reminded everyone that any discussion of Western AAA free-to-play pioneers starts with Funcom and Anarchy Online (sorry Turbine).
Later on in the summer, I spoke with the big boss again, and he had even more interesting things to say about the free-to-play movement and its effects on the MMO industry.
3. But, but... it's not free enough!
Free-to-play fans were somewhat annoyed that Funcom had the nerve to continue to try to make money off of AoC after it joined the freemium ranks. The outcry over the company's new business model was long and loud, and much of it lambasted the devs for extremely expensive cash shop items (a charge that I agreed with, for what it's worth) as well as the fact that some of AoC's most desirable content was behind the paywall (well duh).
This particular column, and some of the resulting comments, were a little bit incendiary, as apparently it's not OK to use the word entitlement even when it's justified. In the end, it seemed like people were just pissed that Funcom didn't copy Lord of the Rings Online's business model to the letter, and the entire Unchained experiment is a reminder of how the freemium business model can be just as exclusionary (and hard on the wallet) as its subscription-based predecessor.
2. Touring the Savage Coast
As if a business model conversion wasn't a big enough piece of news, Funcom also decided to release its first AoC adventure pack during the summer of 2011. The Savage Coast of Turan was too big to be a one-off patch and too small to be an expansion, but it nonetheless added a good amount of mid- and high-level content to the game.
It also added an entirely new portion of Hyboria to the explorable gameworld, and the Persian-influenced coast of Turan quickly became one of my favorite in-game destinations.
I'm probably in the minority on this one, but the most exciting piece of AoC news in all of 2011 was the development update that unveiled the upcoming crafting revamp. I'm one of those crazy MMO old-schoolers who thinks that this genre should actually feature player-driven economies and things to do aside from combat, and Silirrion's treatise on AoC's extreme tradeskill makeover put a smile on my face that lasted for weeks.
And that's a wrap for 2011 in Hyboria. The past year has been a lot of fun, and the above list is a pretty small slice of what happened to the game over the past 12 months. Aside from all the exclusives, interviews, guides, and previews that I couldn't touch on today, 2011 really served to rekindle my interest in AoC after a grind-heavy finish to 2010 (on account of the Rise of the Godslayer content). Here's to hoping that 2012 is just as good, and I'll see you on the other side.
Jef Reahard is an Age of Conan beta and launch day veteran as well as the creator of Massively's weekly Anvil of Crom. Feel free to suggest a column topic, propose a guide, or perform a verbal fatality via firstname.lastname@example.org.