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Square Enix confirms layoff rumors, denies any impact on MMO operation

It’s an unfortunate reality that layoffs are somewhat common in the gaming industry, and more often than not that means that games get cancelled or shut down. This weekend, Massively has been inundated with rumors that Square Enix has become the latest studio to suffer that reality. Tipsters suggested the company had laid off several people from its office in LA, people whose termination might impact the game’s online offerings such as Wakfu and the upcoming relaunch of Final Fantasy XIV.

Only part of these rumors appears to be true. Senior Director of Public Relations Riley Brennan has told Massively that the layoffs did occur for restructuring purposes but that the workforce reduction will have no impact on the company’s online titles, though we don’t still don’t know which titles or departments wereaffected.

 In order to ensure it is operating effectively, the Square Enix Los Angeles office has reduced its workforce. This was a difficult decision and we wish the best for those affected by these changes. The decision will not have any impact on the operations of MMO titles. Customers can expect those services to continue, including the upcoming launch of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.

While we’re certainly happy to hear that our games will continue to operate without incident, our best wishes go out to those affected by this round of layoffs.

Star Wars: The Old Republic transmits free-to-play video

The race toward free-to-play is gaining momentum for Star Wars: The Old Republic. BioWare’s been talking the transition up quite a bit lately, and has just released a new video giving players an overview of the differences once the change is made.

While most of it is old news to those following the game, there are a few new tidbits worth noting here. One of these is clarification on character creation restrictions; BioWare revealed that the three free-to-play races are Human, Cyborg, and Zabrak.

Previous subscribers are targeted for hugs and love with the F2P transition, as BioWare is not only granting them instant preferred status but also handing them currency to spend in the Cartel Market. Speaking of which, the market is briefly shown in the video with the following categories: featured, newly added, packs, cosmetic, unlocks, equipment, and consumables.

Wakfu rolls out the Foggernaut

We can always count on Wakfu to come up with classes that are far beyond the tired norm of Warrior, Mage, Rogue, and Priest. Case in point, Square-Enix has just revealed the game’s 14th playable class, the Foggernaut.

The Foggernaut is a mechanical man who can unleash a number of gadgets and gizmos to save the day. It specializes in fire, earth, and statsis attacks, and can fight from both short- and long-range.

 

GDC Online 2012: SWTOR, Diablo III, Koster honored in GDC Online awards

Wednesday night saw the Game Developers Choice Online awards being handed out to MMO, social, mobile, and free-to-play games. Star Wars: The Old Republic came away with the awards for best online game design, best online visual arts, best online technology, and best new online game. Riot Games won for best live game, the audience award, and best community relations for League of Legends.

Raph Koster was officially recognized with an online game legend award, and World of Warcraft received a hall of fame award. Blizzard also scored with Diablo III, receiving an award for having the best audio for an online game. The award for best social network game went to Draw Something, and thatgamecompanywon an online innovation award for Journey.

Source: GDC Online Awards

BioWare founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk announce retirement

The doctors… are out. BioWare announced that Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk, co-founders of the studio, are retiring from the gaming biz. The two have been instrumental in the creation of many hit RPGs, from Baldur’s Gate to Mass Effect. For us MMO fans, they’re best-known for helming the ship that brought us Star Wars: The Old Republic.

The two are taking a break, perhaps indefinitely, from game creation and management. Muzyka is looking to engage in charities and social work, while Zeschuk is going to dive into projects involving craft beer.

“This has been an incredibly difficult decision to make; after thinking about it for many months, I made the decision to retire from videogames back in early April 2012 — at that time I provided six months’ notice toEA, to help enable a solid transition for my teams at BioWare,” Muzyka wrote in his farewell letter.

“This decision isn’t without significant pain and regret, but it’s also something I know I need to do, for myself and my family. I’ve reached an unexpected point in my life where I no longer have the passion that I once did for the company, for the games, and for the challenge of creation,” Zeschuk said in his.

The two maintain that BioWare is in good hands and will continue to excel going forward.

Star Wars: The Old Republic previews Terror From Beyond

If you can’t wait for the next tier of Operations in Star Wars: The Old Republic, you’ll be happy to know that the newest tier is being added in update 1.4. You may be slightly less happy to know that the new operation, Terror From Beyond, is not meant to be a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination. A new developer diary explains the lore behind the operation and some of the threats that players will be facing on the swamp planet of Asation.

Colonized and largely abandoned by the Gree, Asation is a swamp planet that houses a massive hyperspace gate. The Dread Masters, a group of Sith not known for sunny dispositions, have opened the gate and started filling the planet with all manner of horrible creatures. The operation promises to offer new encounters and mechanics beyond what’s been seen in previous raids, something for dedicated endgame players to look forward to in the next major content update.

SWTOR demoing Ancient Hypergates warzone at Gamescom

If you happen to be heading to Cologne for Gamescom this month and are a fan of Star Wars PvP, you might want to swing by ol’ booth B-082 to get your mitts on the Ancient Hypergates warzone. BioWarestated that this upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic warzone will be playable at the convention.

The studio said that attendees will be able to experience the warzone with either their actual character or a new one rolled on the spot. There’s even the possibility that a developer might step in to duke it out alongside players as well.

EA BioWare will be announcing additional details about SWTOR’s future at the convention and has announced both prizes and a meet-and-greet for its fans.

Gamescom takes place from August 16th through 19th.

Star Wars: The Old Republic goes Free to Play amid slumping subscriber figures.

EA may well be trembling in their sports based boots just about now. Despite securing one of the biggest licenses in history – the Star Wars Saga – and creating a high profile launch for their IP, ‘The Old Republic’, it appears the struggling MMO may well be in trouble amid reports of less than stellar subscriber figures. Less than a year old (Eight months since its release in late 2011) and with over two and a half million sales to date, the game still only managed to maintain 1.5 million subscribers. However with numbers dropping off, EA is determined to start damage limitation to stop the game from crashing early into its life.

 

To this end, EA has recently announced that ‘The Old Republic’ will be becoming a free to play title, with only certain extras being kept for the paid subscribers. Paid subscribers are now known as ‘premium players’ and now receive bonus Cartel Coins (the in-game currency) to use throughout the game world. Players can now level up their characters to level 50 in story mode without having to play the traditional $15 per month fee. However, most other features such as Warzones, Flashpoints and Space Missions are limited for free users, with Operations only being accessible to those who opt in for the paid subscription. The free to play option will be introduced this fall, and if you want more details on the differences between the two options, visit http://www.swtor.com/free/features .

 

In an transcript published by Seeking Alpha (which can be read here at http://seekingalpha.com/article/767281-electronic-arts-management-discusses-q1-2013-results-earnings-call-transcript?page=4 ), EA Labels President Frank Gibeau was to the point about the lowering subscriber numbers, while also stating that as long as the game managed to maintain half a million players, The Old Republic will ultimately break even financially. He also explained the motive behind turning the Star Wars MMO into a free to play title rather than continue compulsory charging of consumers.

 

“Although it launched well, subscriptions have been on the declining trajectory and have now slipped below 1 million. Last year, we announced that the breakeven point was roughly 500,000 subscribers. And while we are well above that today, that is not good enough. The message from players exiting the game is clear, 40% say they were turned off by the monthly subscription and many indicate they would come back if we offered a free-to-play model.”

 

Gibeau also added that a price drop would be placed in effect in only a couple of days, saying: “Beginning August 6, Star Wars: The Old Republic will retail for $14.99, essentially offering the first month for free.” The EA Labels President also added that the sales figures for The Old Republic were not worrying to the firm due to the overwhelming response to Battlefield 3, which has shifted over 15 million units worldwide to date. Gibeau said he “couldn’t be more pleased” at how the company divisions allowed for the losses from ‘The Old Republic’ to be counteracted by the popular shooter series.

Even with the lower than expected figures, ‘The Old Republic’ being part of such a big series as Star Wars will no doubt pick up players in the near future. By becoming free to play, EA hopes it will attract new players who may have opted out of the galaxy sized MMO the first time round.

 

-Kyle McColl

Star Wars: The Old Republic teases the upcoming HK-51

Observation: If you are playing Star Wars: The Old Republic, you have likely accumulated a variety of enemies within the game. Query: Perhaps you would enjoy having some assistance in removing those enemies in a more permanent capacity? Entreaty: Consider employing the coveted HK-51 assassin droid, a mobile platform capable of dispatching even the most stalwart foes when given the proper direction by a master. Aside: Even if said master is a sniveling meatbag.
Anecdote: BioWare first showed off the trailer for the upcoming HK-51 companion during the recently concluded San Diego Comic-Con. Observation: The trailer can now be viewed by players who missed the convention, allowing everyone to see a first glimpse of this special companion. Caveat: It has not yet been revealed how players can acquire their own assassin droids, although hints have been dropped that the process will require a great deal of questing, possibly on both factions. Encouragement: If you aren’t daunted at the prospect, by all means, take a look at the trailer and start clearing space on your ship for a new droid.

SWTOR locks servers in preparation for merges

If step one was giving some players the opportunity to transfer servers for free and step two was incentivizing those moves, then step three in BioWare’s plan to consolidate the community is closing the door on the source servers in preparation for an inevitable merge.

The studio announced that as of today, several of Star Wars: The Old Republic servers have been locked. Locked servers are still playable, and inhabitants can create new toons; however, no new players can roll a character there. These source servers will eventually be merged with destination servers this summer.

BioWare’s move to merge SWTOR’s numerous servers follows a post-launch drop in subscriber numbers. Players on source servers are encouraged to manually transfer to destination servers before the game does it for them.