[Links] Death of an MMO, Obsidian Kickstarter, Backlash for GW2

We are just coming up on one of the traditionally busy times of the year for the gaming industry, and this year is busier than most for MMOs with a slew of big new releases, new expansions and media blitz. You might almost think that the traditional (whatever that means) MMO is not in fact dead.

Unless, like City of Heroes, it is dead in the water. One of the reasons the news about CoH inspires such emotion around many of the blogs I read is that it is an older MMO, from an era where social networking was not as widespread as it is now. Back then, if you played an MMO, it may well have represented a much more important part of your online social life and online support network, at a time when these things didn’t greatly exist anywhere else.

Welshtroll notes some memories about the UK CoH community. Bree thinks about how this will affect how she plays MMOs  in the future, and how she feels about GW2 now. Strawfellow writes about what CoH meant to him and why the news that it is closing has hit him so hard.

What I am left with is a profound sense that no part of my life is sacred from the feeling of loss. Online games used to be my refuge, and now I am acutely aware that this ground is not safe either. It is difficult for me to trust to begin with, and investing myself in a new game will be significantly harder. You never do trust as easily as you do the first time.

Peter @ Markovia also reflects on what it means when a virtual world shuts down that had been active for so long (relatively).

… I’ve heard from people who have grown up there, who have proposed to wives and husbands in-game, or who have introduced their children to it as they become old enough. These people face losing their old haunts, places they often regard as an extension of their hometown. The community faces being torn apart.

<…> this isn’t a game anymore; the ‘game’ aspect of it is, at this point, something of a vestigial organ connected to the body of something much larger.

Unsubject analyses the state of NCSoft to think about why they made this decision.

NCsoft wants big successes, not titles that have limited future potential for growth. If the money might be better off going to ArenaNet (you bet NCsoft wants Guild Wars 2 to an incredible success) or Carbine Studios (Wildstar is on its way) than staying with Paragon Studios, then it makes sense to divert the cash.

Another game that has had a rough ride recently is The Secret World. Funcom announced that the game failed to meet their (crazily high) expectations, and that they have laid off some staff, and the promised monthly update is also running late.

A former Funcom CEO is also under investigation for insider trading.  Tobold suggests that figuring out that the game would not meet Funcom’s expectations and that this would affect share price, and therefore selling ones shares before launch may not indicate insider trading so much as common sense.

But I am sympathetic to all the players who really love the game and hoped for it to have a long and prosperous future. It’s far too early to announce doom and gloom, but clearly things aren’t going to well at the moment, and they’ll have to make do with the players they have.

lonomonkey argues that players who want MMOs to go places other than fantasy need to back new ideas with their money by supporting games like TSW when they are released. I would rather give the industry the message that if they make fun games, I will buy them.

A word from our developers

Alexander Brazie (who is a WoW designer) has a great blog on game design, and his post this week touched a nerve with me.

If you consider the pacing the macro level of a game, dungeon or encounter, you don’t want players to be going balls-to-the-wall nonstop for the entire experience. To cater to their human nature, you want luls, breaks and breathing periods between moments of intensity. Players, however will continue to naturally seek higher and higher levels of intensity until they breakdown from exhaustion.

You need to give them a hint that pushing forward harder is wrong.

Although I think I’m fairly good at knowing when to stop, I’ve definitely played games that felt like the gaming equivalent of a sugar rush. It was exciting, there was so much to do, and I played to where I was (mentally, if not physically) exhausted. So I appreciate efforts by designers to design in this type of lull as a pacing mechanism.

Because sometimes you want chilled out fun and not balls to the wall fun.

Whatever you think of GW2, the trading post/ auction house/ economy is shaping up to be one of the most exciting parts of the game (in my opinion). John Smith, the house economist, writes a great blog on the state of the economy that I hope is going to become a regular update. And incidentally, why don’t other MMOs other than EVE have their own economists?

We’ve noticed several markets that are clearly out of sync in terms of supply and demand. It isn’t interesting or fun to have a market flooded with items that contain very little value, so we’re making adjustments to the game every day. Players can expect to see these markets even out over time.

While adjusting the supply and demand will bring markets closer to non-vendor based equilibrium, there is still the matter of massive surplus of some items. To address the surplus, we’ve created some new, limited-time Mystic Forge recipes that use these items. These recipes create boxes that give chances for gold and some cool items.

It’s the fact that they are making constant adjustments in a way that players can respond immediately (via trading, naturally) that makes this so interesting. The day after he posted this, the ‘massively surplus items’ shown in the screenshot on the blog saw a huge increase in value, presumably because some players decided to stock up so that they could gamble on the new limited-time Mystic Forge recipes.

I realise this won’t be new to anyone who plays EVE, but it is entirely possible that Anet will do a better job of ‘balancing’ the economy than CCP. They also have an easier task because GW2 isn’t a completely sandbox game so they can tweak elements like the Mystic Forge and what is sold by NPCs in a way that CCP can’t. I think it will be interesting to watch, and interesting to play if you are economy-minded. I’m already loving the buy orders.

Smith also discusses economic issues around gold making ‘exploits’ in MMOs, and the karma vendor exploit in GW2.

The game has gotten to a point in size where there is no such thing as a single player discovering an exploit. Exploits come in waves of mass participation and in the end, if they aren’t dealt with, the economy becomes hyper-inflated. After mass exploitation, your wealth is only relative to how good you were at exploiting, rather than your success in the game. This damages the integrity of the game and makes it unfriendly to new and honest players. There have been cases where exploits have severely damaged and arguably killed a game.

Exploits are mostly generated by a mistake on our end and are really hard on players. When an exploit is discovered, players are tempted to participate by the draw of becoming wealthy and out of fear of being left behind the massively wealthy players who do participate. We take a harsh stance on exploiters because this decision should be easy: find an exploit, report the exploit and move on. It isn’t worth the risk to the player or the game.

Let me give you all my money

If you are one of the 36k players who have already thrown some money into the Kickstarter hat for Obsidian Entertainment, you probably know all about Project Eternity.

If you are like me, you got as far as the first paragraph of blurb ….

Obsidian Entertainment and our legendary game designers Chris Avellone, Tim Cain, and Josh Sawyer are excited to bring you a new role-playing game for the PC. Project Eternity (working title) pays homage to the great Infinity Engine games of years past: Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment.

… and then gave them some money immediately, before finding out what this game is actually intended to be about or when it might be released (2014 is the current estimate.) I do not pretend that this is either sensible or smart, but what is life without a little risk? I hope it’s more like Planescape than Baldur’s Gate but I won’t quibble either way.

The Kickstarter still has 29 days to go and, amazingly, made it’s $1.1m goal in about the first day. What makes me excited as a player (and pundit) is that with the success of games like Skyrim, GW2, and this kickstarter, I hope the industry is getting a strong message that there is a really solid audience for open world fantasy games and that we would like more of them.

Guild Wars 2 – backlash edition

So the game has now been out for a few weeks, plenty of  time for bloggers to get stuck in and come out with a stronger idea of what they do and don’t like about it.

Syncaine describes the game as ‘enjoyably meh’ and feels that it lacks meaningful decisions. Or at least the sort of decisions and challenges that would feel meaningful to him. It feels as though he can’t quite summon the energy for a full blown rant, but knows that something isn’t right.

Keen explains that he really enjoyed the levelling experience, and talks about what he and his guild are doing at level 80, with suggestions for other players. (Mull around, get bored and/or burned out, write an insightful post about flaws in the game and hop on the next hype train?)

Verene at Under the Pale Tree gives her two week summary and  touches on something Arb brought up while we were playing. The game is like crack for people with short attention spans.

Nearly every time I set out to do something, I spot another thing going on, and then another, and so on and so forth. Suddenly it’s three hours later, I’ve leveled up several times, and I realize I never got to what I was going to do in the first place!

Ravious is looking forwards to giving Arenanet more of his money in return for fun toys, like a pirate outfit that comes with its own emotes (we thought that looked quite fun when we saw it in the store too.) He also writes about his attempts to slow down and smell the roses in game – this is related to what Brazie wrote (see link above) about the natural lulls.

One of the cool things about being British, apart from the Olympics/Paralympics and having a weather system that isn’t trying to kill us, is that “afk 5 mins to get tea” is one of the great universal codes among British MMO players for “need a lull/ slow the pace.”

smakendahead also touches on the pacing of the game.

Dusty writes about roles in GW2 and discusses dungeon tactics. Since my main takeaway from the one dungeon we did run was “That wasn’t really very fun compared to roaming in PvE/WvW,” I’m trying to be open to the possibility that I was just doing it wrong. However, he does conclude that it would be useful to have a plate wearer around to take damage, which doesn’t quite gell with the whole ‘no trinity’ vibe.

Jeromai describes why he loves the underwater environments so much in GW2. I think I’d love them more if they were less full of barracudas.

Doone summarises some of the rest of the feedback from bloggers.

It’s interesting that I don’t have a lot of bloggers on my reader discussing WvW or sPvP in GW2. Feel free to recommend any blogs that cover those in more detail (or if you have written about them, feel free to add links in the comments, I’ll post them up here.)

On another note

Lord British (Richard Garriot) is getting Zynga to publish his new Ultimate Collector game. Don’t hate me but it sounds kind of fun and I think both of them are going to have a big success on their hands. You heard it here first.

Although I will probably be too busy playing on the GW2 auction house.

18 thoughts on “[Links] Death of an MMO, Obsidian Kickstarter, Backlash for GW2

  1. With buy orders in GW2 still learning to go cheaper and order stuff much earlier than I need them. Can make some profit on crafted runes that way, enough to make less profitable crafting hurt the wallet less.

    There does seem to be a big opportunity to speculate now on what will be highly desirable cosmetic-wise before a preview function goes in, some players are using a workaround. One weapon I’m keeping an eye on is Al’ir’aska, it’s a replica of hugely popular skin from GW1, as a test for how appearance will effect price. It mightn’t have as much of an effect as I’m expecting, but the droprate seems to result in a scant 2 or 3 on the TP at a time. In that one respect wish I was higher level and had more gold to speculate on it.

    Have no problem finding places to chill out in GW2, liking the cities and other outposts in the world, and even taking some time out of WvW to grab some vista, or just hang out at the trebuchets because you never know when the enemies will run up below the walls to destroy them. Glad to keep behind the mad rush, because by all accounts Orr is a mad scum of activity. Can’t understand why players would choose to rush to the end and all pile into the one zone and expect Arenanet to do something about it. Can they really have done anything to slow the pace and maintain their initial design for a flat levelling curve instead of just leaving it to each individuals discretion.

  2. It’s interesting that the complexity lacking in the GW2 combat system is present in the market system. It’s still a demand economy gated by vendor prices and manipulations generated by ArenaNet but maybe it can light some fire that is lacking in the rest of world PvE. Other than exploration, the world is gorgeous, but exploration has a termination date.

  3. Just a correction: I wasn’t asking what to do at 80 or wondering what to do. I was addressing others — mainly my friends — who are 80 and wondering what to do because GW2 offers nothing “end-game” but instead has players doing the same activities from 1-80.

    I even give suggestions to them for how they can combat the feeling of having nothing to do.

    Thanks!

  4. Admittedly, I’m loving GW2, but I’m also extremely tired of WoW-I told my guild I’d come back for MoP, but I’ll be trying it. If I don’t like it-I’ll be leaving in peace with no hard feelings, and we’ll keep in touch on TS/Skype/in other games. (If I played a ‘traditional’ MMO, I think it would be Rift, to be honest.)

    For me, GW2 gives me almost everything I want. A character that comes to one of my favorites of all time(giant prettyboy beefcake? Hell yes), a very smooth combat system, and always something to do-losing the trinity, losing the gear treadmill, and it’s so open that I can just log on and do this, that, or the other. I don’t feel *tied down* or required to do anything.

    I’m working on my own writeup for it(long overdue), but adjusting to a new glasses prescription is keeping me away from typing as much as I’d want. All of my praise, I don’t feel the game is 100% perfect, but I tend to have my sorta slightly green tinted glasses opinion of ‘there is no perfect game, there’s just the game that has less flaws in one’s opinion than the others.” ;)

    I admit, I personally think that there is a sort of ‘conditioning’ that a lot of us have gone through that is making it difficult to get into an MMO like GW2 right away. I’m not saying this to say ”ANYONE WHO COMPLAINS IS WRONG” at all-I’m saying this because it sometimes hits me, even though I love the game. I catch myself saying ”hmm, now what?’ now and then. I do think there are lot of bloggers with legitimate complaints-I don’t agree with all of them but I think they’re legitimate, just like some of my complaints may not be seen as issues by some of the same bloggers.

    I also admit that sometimes I feel that people are *trying* to scrutinize this game a bit harder than they did with say…Rift, when it came out(though I did notice a similar level of scrutiny to SWTOR. I’m not sure what SWTOR and GW2 ‘did’ to get the level of scrutiny than Rift didn’t…unless it’s hype, which isn’t the games’ fault.) I’ve no problems with scrutiny of a game and for even liking or disliking a game, but I do get the impression at times some games get shoved a little harder under the nitpick-microscope.

    • Rift was a know quantity at release. It was a WoW clone with better graphics, a far better class system, and pseudo-dynamic zone events. Level grind? Check. PvE, PvP, and RP servers? Check. End game gear grind? Check. The list goes on. SW:ToR and GW2, partially through corporate action and partially through rabid fanboys, set the expectation that they were the new, edgy games that were going to dethrone the king and revolutionize the MMO scene. Didn’t happen in either case and there is nothing so sharp as a disappointed journalist (even if they are bloggers) or would-be devoted fan.

      • I can see that PoV. SWTOR was fairly WoW like as well(okay, extremely so), but it brought in the Bioware-cutscenes into that MMO mix, and thinking back some more, I think it’s apparently ginormous budget may have played into that(I still don’t know it’s exact numbers, but something around 200k-300k I heard the most.)

        As for ‘revolutionizing the scene’, I think this could perhaps take a little bit. The current MMO ship is VERY VERY big, and it takes a long time to turn a big ship, so to speak. (For the record, I don’t think GW2 is going to revolutionize the scene, but I do think it’s going to be successful enough-hell, it already IS very successful-to at least make other potential developers perhaps not as afraid to try something new.)

        While I do have a lists of the ”highs and lows” of GW2, I suppose I managed to ride under the hype train a bit. Back in the dark ages of 1996, I had gotten very very hyped about a game called Final Fantasy 7-mostly because I loved the series since the first one(I had played the real part 3 on an emulator even already.) Well, it came out, and to this day I feel the game is simply ‘okay.’ Not the disease-curing savior, not the bane of RPG existence-simply okay. But, having been SO hyped up when I was 18…I learned a lesson about hype. Ever since then, I always make sure to keep my excitement measured…which is why, I suppose, I escape the more scathing let-downs.

    • I think the main thing GW2 and SWTOR did to get more scrutiny was massive hype cycles and just having more players. Although there is also the Bioware factor for SWTOR, I’m quailing at the thought of the flamewars over DA3 already.

      • It was definitely the hype cycle that caused the scrutiny/backlash. Both SWTOR and GW2 promised to bring a paradigm shift with their “fourth pillar” and “MMO manifesto”. That’s bound to raise expectations, not all of them realistic.
        Rift never really promised to be anything more than a very well polished example of the current state of the art, and actually delivered on the promise.

  5. On the backlash, I would say it’s surprisingly muted, which blows one of my predictions for 2012 out of the water. Syncaine not being able to summon a full-on rant actually counts as high praise from him for anything that isn’t EVE or Darkfall.

    I’ve been meaning to write something on WvW from the viewpoint of an old DAoC player now that I’ve had a chance to get out there and participate a few times. It might go up tonight, or if not then later this week – I’ll be back with a link when it does. I’ve deliberately not touched sPvP because I’ve had my fill of battleground style PvP in WoW, WAR, Rift and SWTOR and I hunger for old-style RvR or the nearest equivalent. However, I do seem to have earned a few points towards PvP rank from playing a couple of matches of Keg Brawl :)

  6. “I realise this won’t be new to anyone who plays EVE, but it is entirely possible that Anet will do a better job of ‘balancing’ the economy than CCP.”

    Off to a good start :)

    “games like Skyrim, GW2, and this kickstarter, I hope the industry is getting a strong message that there is a really solid audience for open world fantasy games”

    Did you just put Skyrim and GW2 in the same sentence about open worlds? Come on now. Skyrim has dungeons bigger than some GW2 zones.

    “Syncaine not being able to summon a full-on rant actually counts as high praise from him”

    That’s a great line, and not just because it’s about me (but mostly because it’s about me). It’s true though, GW2 is not completely rant worthy, but it is frustratingly mediocre and massively flawed while still being ‘neat’ enough to not make you outright hate it. I wonder how people would feel if it was a sub-based MMO?

    • It’s pretty open world compared to a lot of MMOs/ RPGs.

      I commented on In an Age that “But the more I play, the more GW2 feels to me like playing in a casino. I feel that I’m playing against the ‘house’ as much as the other players.” — and the anti-immersive elements are starting to nag at me (just stuff like — why can I mine iron with an iron pick in one zone but I need a darksteel pick in another zone, it’s the same ore? The answer is ‘because Anet want this to be a money sink, they know bag space is limited, and they know most people won’t walk past a node without mining it so you’ll tend to equip the most expensive gathering tools for the zones of your level, all the time’). Because they’re in the game of selling gold, the game has to be balanced to suck lots out of the economy — so all the travel costs, repair costs (enjoy those graveyard zergs in those dodgily balanced end game instances), are all part of a system designed to keep the money supply tight for players.

      I don’t care about the economy being tight (if it is too hard to get gold then Anet risk players being discouraged but that’s their problem really), and all MMOs require an effort of will to be immersive, but this particular type of design kind of bugs me. I also find I’m getting some conflicting messages from the game – in particular about difficulty and how people are intended to play. Will probably write more about that sometime. So we don’t always agree about MMOs but I can see where you are coming from with this.

      The game is fun though, there is fun to be had. So I don’t hate it, I just don’t love it either.

      • I’ve noticed the higher I got (80 now), the smaller the world felt because of the constant use of instant travel, especially across zones for the personal story. Lot of loading screens then, and even on my machine the loading times are not exactly brisk.

  7. Pingback: Thoughts on GW2′s World vs World « Tremayne's Law

  8. Pingback: Hypercriticism – Obsidian strikes back: Project Eternity

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