Have your views changed on F2P games?

With yesterday’s announcement that Rift is offering a F2P option from June 12th, it seems like a good time to reappraise the various F2P MMO models.

(Incidentally, the Trion dev team did an AMA on reddit this week about their plans for Rift.)

Lee Perry posts a considered defence of F2P games on Gamasutra, focussing on things that F2P games seem to do better than P2P. For example, for all the emphasis on metrics, they really do have a good idea of what their players enjoy doing. They do have to offer new content regularly to keep people interested. Compare this with the WoW “lets try something completely different next expansion” and “lets do patches at a glacial pace” approach. (I know they’re doing better in MoP, I know.)

As long as your goal is still to make a great game, and not to simply apply these techniques to shovel-ware garbage in the hopes of winning the mobile gaming lottery, I encourage developers to look at these concepts and pick at least a couple to embrace.  Get out there and use these forces for good.

But can these forces ever really be used for good?

World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy 11 (is 14 even live yet?) and Everquest are now (I think?) the only major AAA MMOs which still only offer subscription accounts. There are also probably lots of niche MMOs (such as Tale in the Desert, Darkfall and Wurm Online) which use this model, as well as P2P MUDs. Feel free to post about any of them in comments that I haven’t mentioned.

Guild Wars 2 has a B2P model where you buy the basic game and then there is no subscription, but they have a cash shop. EVE has a kind of hybrid subscription system where it is strictly speaking a subscription game but you can potentially pay for your sub using in game credits if you have them.

The majority of MMOs are now F2P where you can download the game for free and start playing without needing to subscribe. They make their money using a  mixture of cash shop items, paid DLC/ expansions, subscription options and selling in game gold for cash.

And then some games are totally free, such as traditional MUDs which are coded and run by volunteers. They welcome donations towards the costs of the server but there’s no reason to pay other than altruism.

One of the features of games that have transitioned from subsciption to F2P is that the player base tends to increase significantly in the short term (not surprising really) and also the number of subscribers increases in the short term. We’ve seen this most recently in SWTOR, which posted just under 500k subscriptions in the last EA earnings call. (They evidently have an effective “we will annoy you until you subscribe” F2P model going on.)

Green Armadillo compares a few different F2P models, dividing them into “Pay to Win” and “Pay for Others.” There are other ways to compare the different models, usually based on what perks/ virtual goods are being sold and how the game encourages people to become paying customers.

It isn’t even clear whether F2P does favour the casual player over the hardcore, as that also can depend on the business model. PvP games might lure in free players to act as cannon fodder for those who pay (World of Tanks), whereas other games make bank from selling cosmetic gear or lockboxes to casuals. It’s true though that if you do play casually, you can access a large number of MMOs without having to pay for any of them these days.

Liore describes the frustration that subscription players feel when a game goes F2P, the sense that the tight knit fabric of the game and certainties of the regular payments are being blown open, possibly to be replaced by an influx of rude casuals and a selection of annoying lockboxes (both of which have happened at pretty much every game which has transitioned). Without going that far, there is the potential for F2P to really divide up the player base and make existing players think hard about exactly how casual/ hardcore they want to be.

So – it’s a fast changing environment but the direction of the journey is very clear. Have your views changed at all on F2P games over the last months/ years?

Catching up: Neverwinter, WoW Raiding, Diablo

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“I got eaten by a gelatinous cube!!!” she said, “This is the best day of my life!”

I feel late to the party so going to link to a few other people’s experiences with the Neverwinter open beta. I haven’t really seen any bad reviews, it’s a solid game and if you like that sort of thing, it’s F2P so you can go try it. For me I get strong vibes of a mixture of Diablo and standard hotbar MMO play, and it mostly works. Also my character has a really cool devil tail that waves around.

  • Dusty Monk – “… when you first log on, you’ll be presented with a Home Page of the various kinds of content available and how to get to them.   And for most of that content, a robust LFG queuing tool is available, and works really well.  So whether for skirmishes, dungeons, or PvP matches, you can queue up, and typically within less than 20 minutes or so, be whisked away to the instance of your choice.”
  • Tipa at West Karana – “I play the game, I like the game, but I don’t know why. Game just _confuses_ me.”
  • The Jester, a blogger at wizards.com (blogging for a pen and paper audience) – “The static world reflects a style of MMO design on the way out. It’s very much a third-generation MMO despite every MMO in the last three or four years trying to become an early fourth-generation MMO. There’s not a whole lot of innovation. Excluding the Foundry, it’s an unremarkable game I would have not looked twice at had it not been using the D&D licence (and even then, only because it’s free). There’s also only enough official content for a single playthrough.”

Like many of the other bloggers I follow, I’m finding a lot more fun in the game than I had expected. It is, as The Jester says, a very static world design but I don’t entirely agree with him about the third-generation MMO. Cryptic have been looking at more recent developments in other games, so Neverwinter features companion NPCs and crafting based on facebook style games/ SWTOR, LFG queues for all the group content in the game, a web interface where you can check your crafting/ auctions/ etc., and a more active combat style than typical MMOs. I find the dodging works better here than in GW2, for example. The game does default to mouse look, and binds your two main attacks to the mouse buttons for that classic Diablo feel. This didn’t annoy me as much as I was expecting although it feels awkward when you want to drop out of mouse look mode so that  you can click on some other part of your screen. All in all, it feels like a modern take on an oldschool genre, which is pretty appropriate for a game based on Dungeons and Dragons.

And Arb and I do get a kick from the oldschool D&D references that are studded through the game, especially when we remember the monsters showing up in tabletop games that we ran as teenagers.  The gelatinous cube shown above was an old GMing favourite, as were the illusory walls that have featured in other dungeons in the game. Fortunately this particular cube was not immune to cold and lightning damage, given that my wizard has a lot of ice spells. And that shows up one of the downsides of Neverwinter – it’s not actually as tactically interesting as a D&D game probably should be. Monsters are supposed to have strengths and vulnerabilities, but that doesn’t really work with this type of MMO where players don’t want to be told “You should really bring someone with fire spells if you are going to fight gelatinous cubes.”

It’s a dilemma. In any case, we’re having fun with the game at the moment. I don’t know if it really has long lasting stickability but Cryptic have played to their strengths by including The Foundry for player generated scenarios and that is something I am curious to try out.

Raiding in the Throne of Thunder

Kadomi has written a much more colourful description of our raiding progress over at her blog (I love being in a guild with other bloggers, I can just link to what they wrote and say “just read this.”)

Short form: We got council down last week in normal mode for the first time. So we’re making slow but steady progress through the raid. I have had more fun raiding in MoP than in any aspect of WoW since Wrath, although the encounters are sometimes overtuned in normal, they’re pretty well designed. I don’t know what other people consider good encounter design but for me, I don’t mind a complex boss fight that takes us a long time to learn as long as we can feel we are learning on every pull.

Encounters like Elegon and Council have been incredibly rewarding fights for our guild to master, I think. So I don’t much care that we’re not on heroic modes, the raids we are doing are at a really good difficulty for us I think. But I’m pretty tolerant of slow progression if the company is good and fun is being had.

At the same time, LFR being available helps a lot with keeping the general good mood in a casual raid guild. I think back to Burning Crusade and just how darned important it felt to be in progression raids because it was the only way you could be in with a shot at the gear you’d need to be included in the next progression raid. Now you can keep up reasonably well with gear levels by running LFR and collecting rep gear so it’s not the end of the world if you miss a week or two. Plus if we don’t have enough people on a raid night, we can take a guild group to LFR and still have the opportunity to hang out together.

As anyone who has been reading gaming news recently will know, WoW posted a drop in accounts over the last quarter. This can’t be surprising given general trends in the genre and doesn’t really reflect on MoP – anyone who quit because there were too many dailies probably wasn’t going to be in it for the long run anyway.

Diablo III

Since the new patch, I have been tentatively trying out my old Barbarian in Inferno level and … this is probably not surprising but now that several nerfs have been applied to the mobs and buffs to the characters, I am quite enjoying it. The original difficulty just wasn’t fun for me, this is.

I have enjoyed all the Diablo-esque games that I have played recently, Torchlight 2 is a lot of fun also, but Diablo 3 does have some very moreish design factors to it. I love silly things like the increasingly outlandish types of arms and armour you pick up (what is a Schynbald? Heck if I know!), which brings me back to original Dungeons and Dragons with it’s lovingly illustrated pages of exotic polearms.

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The great Diablo 3 economy meltdown

Funnily enough, I’d been getting back into Diablo 3 recently so I was aware of the new patch that hit this week. One of the new features was that Blizzard raised the limit for maximum gold sold on the auction house from 1m to 10m gold.

And then … some players discovered a buffer overflow due to these changes that led to some easily replicated gold dupe mechanics. Very soon after this, some accounts amassed ridiculously huge amounts of gold, even by D3 standards. Blizzard disabled the US AH last night and deployed a hotfix earlier today.

But they’re reluctant to roll back the servers. Presumably lots of players returned to try out the new patch and Blizzard are aware of the effect of taking away any cool RNG drops that they picked up while playing on player morale. Instead they’re trying to identify offending accounts and doing selective bans.

It’s probably too late though, once that amount of gold flooded into the AH economy, legitimate players started selling drops/ gems for hugely inflated prices so the money has been distributed.

Here’s the lowdown from reddit, and the Blizzard official response.

It’s at times like these that it pays to be on EU servers that update after the US ones, our patch had the hotfix included.

Emotional Labour in MMOs: things you can’t get players to do

“when people say games need objectives in order to be ‘games’, i wonder why ‘better understanding another human’ isn’t a valid ‘objective’”

Leigh Alexander (who is a really good gaming writer, if you haven’t heard of her), twitter

Given that being massively multiplayer is one of the unique selling points of the genre, it’s always impressed me how far players will sometimes go in order to avoid having to interact with others.  (This isn’t an argument about forced grouping by the way, don’t worry.) I do this myself too sometimes – there are times when I just can’t be asked to interact. Maybe I’m not in the mood to teach a group a new encounter, or maybe I’m  in “the zone” and happily solo grinding/ levelling away and don’t feel like going all social with a group, even if it would be more efficient.

But players and designers have been wondering since the birth of the genre about how to encourage players to be more social, whether it be via forced grouping or rewards that require social organisation to solve, giving groups extra tools and props (like guild housing), providing social spaces and encouragement to socialise during downtime, better chat and communication tools (yeah, still a fair way to go on this one), and so forth. Some have worked better than others. We know that social ties are important to players and can help make an MMO more compelling as a long term proposition.

So it’s not unnatural to wonder if there are better ways to encourage players to interact. I’ve wondered the same thing that Leigh wonders in the quote above –  could you make it as fun/ rewarding to empathise, communicate, and be kind to other players as it is to defeat and grief them? Could that be the basis of some game mechanic?

Raph Koster takes the same tweet and runs with it, arguing basically that it isn’t a valid objective because it isn’t really the role of a game to guide how players feel. He notes that this is more of a non interactive narrative and, interestingly, that he thinks players feel controlled if they are told that they have to stop speaking and listen to someone else.

His argument is comprehensible only in a context of single player games – and certainly don’t apply to roleplaying (I wonder if he thinks RPGs count as games). In my tabletop games, I absolutely did expect players to be polite, considerate of each other and to listen when someone else was speaking. That’s a core multiplayer group based dynamic. We can call it “playing nicely with others.”

Oh noes, player A thinks the man is trying to control them if they are told to play nice with others! Whatever will we do?! etcetera.

But the question remains, could games teach these kinds of skills? Could they teach people to think about how the other person might feel before they let loose with some racist, sexist, homophobic smack talking rant? And if any games could, surely multiplayer games would be the right genre to try.

There’s work and then there’s WORK

Let’s get one thing straight. MMO players adore working on their characters. Not everyone has the bloodymindedness and tenacity to grind out every last faction and endgame upgrade but this is a genre built on the expectation of 10s and 100s of hours of play. Spending a long gaming session levelling, crafting, PvPing, instancing, or raiding for some minor upgrade is absolutely par for the course. It’s not as fun to feel forced to do something you don’t enjoy but the actual concept of work in these games isn’t a dirty word.

Listening to other people and empathising with them is work, it’s called emotional labour and lots of people have to do it as part of their jobs. And even these people like to switch off at the end of the day (because it’s actually quite demanding work, emotionally). This is one of the reasons why it does often feel like more work to interact with strangers than to grind away slowly on your own, because it is. And it’s not even all that fun unless they are listening and helping you too. Can we admit that socialising often isn’t fun? I think we can.

By the same token, splurging incontinent emotional backlash all over the game/ internet may not be fun per se, but is cathartic and relaxing(?) for people. Or maybe some people find it fun.

So when we are talking about wanting a game to encourage people to do the former and not the latter, we are looking for a mechanic that can reward people for doing  emotional labour, and discourage them from something that they find liberating. No wonder it is a tough sell.

Although anyone who likes the Bioware romances or Japanese dating sim types of games will at least be open to the idea that it might be fun to get to know someone, figure out what they like/ dislike, and be rewarded with some kind of relationship. So  maybe in order for empathy to be fun and not to be a pointless grind, there must be the possibility of a meaningful relationship (not necessarily romantic) at the end. Players have to believe that they too will be valued and accepted by a peer or a peer group on their own terms.

Why social pressure can’t solve this one

For all of that, there is a real issue that players feel controlled by in game communities. Some in game communities can be very controlling. One of the great appeals of soloing is not having to be beholden to the minor dramas and power players of a guild, not being told when to play or who to play with, how to use chat or which bboard to hang out on, and so forth. This is one of those cases where art mirrors life; RL communities are controlling too (you may not notice this if you fit in Smile ). In return for some conformity, you can then get support, security and friendships – things that are really key to making life worthwhile.

Which means, in games as in RL, if you want to feel less controlled you have two options: go lone wolf, or find a group of people where you fit in and are comfortable with the rules. MMOs are typically really bad at helping players find compatible guilds, it’s a flaw that no one ever has properly addressed.

Guilds have a much easier time than game mechanics in encouraging players to play nicely with others. The threat of being thrown out of the group is a very powerful one to our social monkey brains. The more pressing issue is that antisocial players tend to form up with other antisocial players, in groups that accept that behaviour.

This is fine in a group based game. If your Diablo group wants to swear at each other, no one else needs to care. But in a massively multiplayer game, groups will interact with each other.

That is what an MMO mechanic to encourage empathy would have to fight. Not the soloers (who are probably mostly happy to be left alone and will return politeness with politeness if they really do have to talk to anyone), nor the more fluffy or mature guilds who do encourage good behaviour, but the howling packs of invective laden muppets who are having plenty of fun doing what they are doing.

I think the best answer is better moderation, and better tools to let players ignore the people who are annoying them. Some things you can teach, other people need a slap round the chops (technically we call this “appropriate use of authority”). So what if they don’t like the feel of being controlled? That doesn’t mean everyone else has to pander to it, especially if it means designed won’t even try to make more emotionally nuanced games. Some of us enjoy controls, constraints, boundaries or railroads in games – it’s wrong thinking to dismiss them all as “that isn’t a game mechanic.”

It would be possible to go further, to look at how the justice system tries to get offenders to empathise with their victims. But so difficult in an online setting to actually isolate someone from their terrible peer support group.

Or else we could just design games like Journey where it is only possible to help other players, and never to grief them or interact in a negative way.

[Kickstarter] Camelot, t’is a silly place

With only 10 days left to go until the end of the kickstarter, Camelot Unchained (Mark Jacob’s proposed new niche PvP MMO)  is looking on shaky ground. All the updates, stretch goals, interaction on reddit and other forums, press interviews and media rounds cannot hide the fact that the kickstarter still needs to make over 700k to become funded (and that of course will not include any stretch goals such as the fancy updated version of Darkness Falls).

The kicktraq chart shows them being on track to hit $1.9m – a huge amount, but still  short of the $2m goal. MJ et al have responded by adding more high end kickstarter tiers, a reasonable response given that CUs higher tiers have sold out rapidly to keen fans.  It’s not all over until the fat lady sings and there’s still time for more pledges to come in, but I want to talk today about the problems I see with the project and with the kickstarter.

Maybe niche projects should have niche targets

The main problem CU has is that there simply aren’t enough backers. Compare their current 8350 backers to the numbers who backed other recent successful big gaming kickstarters like  Torment or Project Eternity  (around 73k-74k people each), or Shroud of the Avatar (22k people, more modest goal than CU). As you might expect from this type of project, individual backers have been prepared to spend big on their fantasy heartbreaker (an old tabletop term for people who design their PERFECT game but the games are never quite different enough to grab an audience). But CSE set a high, ambitious goal – they may be asking just too much of their niche. It does speak well for the project speaking to a moneyed fanbase that it is getting as close to the goal as it currently is.

The high tiers have been selling like hotcakes, it’s quite astounding how many people are willing to throw $5k or so at a niche product that won’t be out for a couple of years at best. If nothing else, CSE have shown that the niche exists and it has cash to spend. At the same time, unlike other gaming kickstarters, this one is for a subscription game. This is one reason why the lower tiers don’t look as enticing to people with a mild interest  – even getting a good discount on the base game, there will be more to pay.

And while kickstarters often see a rush at the end, I think it’s just as likely for a project like this that some backers will have been overcome by the excitement and pledged more than they can afford in the hope of making the project attractive to others. Expect to see them cancelling or reducing pledges if the thing looks as though it might actually fund (and they might have to pay), or even trying to issue a chargeback.

This is not unknown on kickstarter either – there is at least one case where Paypal froze a project account from a kickstarter because some donors had been threatening chargebacks.

Incidentally, I remember commenting on Syncaine’s blog when I first heard about the project that I predicted they would set their goal too high and not make it. I still think that.

What do players actually want out of a pure PvP MMO?

For me, I felt MJ had dropped the ball when I listened to the description of the stretch goal (he also didn’t actually mention what the stretch goal is to unlock the new dungeon, but they’re not going to make it anyway so it may be irrelevant). He has often historically been very focussed on what players want from this type of game but I felt something was off in the description.

He had a very strong focus on how fun it will be to make your enemy suffer, watch your enemy suffer, lay traps and inhabit monsters to inflict misery on your opponent. ie. Have fun griefing the dungeon!

Now while there are plenty of players who will enjoy that, it is a sideshow. The main appeal for players in a permaworld with PvP is the opportunity to BUILD, not just to destroy. People want to know they can hold territory with their guild, stamp their authority on the landscape of the game, invest time and effort to be a part of the story of that gameworld that will go down in gamer history.

EVE gets this right. CU does not. Sure, “haha, that dude fell in the lava trap!” is good for a laugh in a Dungeon Keeper kind of way, but it isn’t the draw that being able to stake out your claim to a part of the world and defend it will be. CU certainly offers possibilities for the latter type of play too, but that wasn’t what MJ was hyping. I think he’s losing touch with his niche. Presenting high end tiers which involve custom build bases for guilds also impinges on the model – they will be cool for people, but they mean the design has to allow for bases to be in safe areas. That means guilds will be limited in how far they can take over each other’s bases or territory.

There is no reason this won’t be fun, and it does mean the higher tier purchases don’t have an undue advantage, but it will not be the no holds barred PvP-a-thon of EVE or even Darkfall. So you don’t get all-in PvP, but there are also no plans for a PvE game. People are excited about the project now, but I wonder if that is really what this niche want.

So what needs to happen for CU to fund?

One of two things needs to happen: either existing funders (plus anyone who was hanging in there until the very end to pitch in) need to all stick more money into the fund, or else a bunch of new funders show up.

CSE is betting on the former, with the introduction of new high end tiers for anyone who … just feels like throwing in an extra $10k or so.

Even if Camelot Unchained fails to fund, I wouldn’t call it a failure. They’ve raised a lot of pledges from a small player base so far. I just don’t think they’ll make their goal.

[Random] Introducing the Random tag—buy toothpaste, get SimCity DLC

And in a new blog feature, I am going to highlight acts of randomness in gaming PR where I read the story and think “OK, that was random.” Feel free to submit odd gaming related PR stunts that you find.

EA’s Random Sim City Promotion

If you buy a specially marked tube of toothpaste, you can get a DLC for Sim City that includes such noteworthy city attractions as “a giant garden gnome”  and “the world’s largest ball of twine.”

Man, what?

The burning question in my mind is that if you get an in game giant ball of twine when you buy toothpaste, what do you get if you buy a ball of twine?

Sang-Froid–Tales of Werewolves

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Sang-Froid is a game I picked up from Steam this week, on the recommendation of a friend. It may be the most Canadian game ever written (sorry Bioware), and tells the story folktale-style of  two brothers who have to save their sick sister from a variety of baddies including wolves, werewolves, demons and The Devil.

But that’s not why I have been glued to it for the last couple of days. The game itself is a riff on Tower Defence, but after setting up your various traps around the brothers’ cabin in the woods, the game switches to third person as you head out into the werewolf-ridden night with your trusty axe and rifle to bag yourself a few baddies. And of course, you get to interact with the traps you so carefully laid earlier, luring wolves under the hang trap or into the wolf traps, lighting your bonfires and hoping to grab the odd headshot with your (very slow and awkward to load) rifle.

I feel as though I have barely touched the tip of the iceberg. There are items you can find to help, and abilities you can learn as you level as well as new traps.

So if this sounds like your kind of thing, I recommend taking a look.

sangfroid

EA: Probably the worst company in the USA?

Fellow gamers, we are living in interesting times. Despite sales of games heading up year on year, the traditional AAA/ publisher-developer model is looking increasingly creaky. Making a AAA game is an expensive, risky process and the feedback I’m seeing from the industry is that they’re often not getting the (vast) sales they need to justify the risk. So we end up with games that seem successful to consumers being judged unsuccessful by the publisher because 1m/ 2m/ 3m/ etc. sales just isn’t enough.

This all has very little to do with Electronic Arts being voted worst company in the USA for the second year running on a consumerist.com poll. The likelihood of them actually being the worst company in the USA is pretty low, but it’s clearly something people feel strongly about. Also there’s a sense in which a lot of people have made up their minds to hate EA and will just assign any bad decision made by any developer under the publisher’s umbrella to feed their hatred. For example, it’s really unlikely that EA had much say in the ME3 ending (that was a purely Bioware decision), but it’s all grist to the mill.

I have no interest in defending EA, no doubt they deserve a lot of the flak. Plus you have to assume that gamers will a) be online a lot and thus able to vote in online polls and b) interested in gaming any voting system.

But as a non-US person, the surprising thing to me is that US consumers don’t hate the same sorts of companies that I think would win the poll here: energy companies, banks, railways/ airlines, tax evaders, any other annoying company that is generally a hassle to deal with or sets unduly high prices. The businessinsider post I linked above notes the same thing:

Usually, utilities, cable companies, and airlines come at the bottom of customer satisfaction ratings because the interactions people remember are paying bills, delayed flights, or dealing with outages.

EA’s a company that is supposed to entertain people. The fact that it’s won this poll twice in a row shows how much it needs to alter its priorities.

I just don’t think UK consumers would vote a gaming company top of the hate list. Then again, looking at the reactions to Mrs Thatcher’s death, maybe some organisations or iconic figures have just become acceptable figures of hate. (NB. without getting into the politics of it, I think people who disliked Mrs Thatcher have more grounds than the EA haters.)

Peter Moore (EA COO) touches on this in his statement, and tries to address some of the criticisms, pointing out that for many of them there are many more players who are happy with the state of things than are complaining. (Although I think he should have left SimCity off the list: too soon, Peter, too soon.) This definitely won’t do anything to satisfy the people who hate his company, a bit more humbleness might have gone further. But I’m not sure anything would stop people from hating on EA except being given a different hate target.

Maybe next year.

[WoW] Thoughts on 5.2 – Everybody walk the dinosaur

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Sadly, dinosaur jousting is not (yet) in the game

Somewhere along the line, it stopped being acceptable for patches to be referred to just by their numbers (probably because it’s obscure, hard to remember, and vaguely techy), so patch 5.2 should more properly be known as The Thunder King. (Amusing comparison: in Jewish custom, books of the bible are traditionally known by the name of the first word in  that book. This has the advantage of not being stuck with names like “Deuteronomy.”  In WoW, we know our patches by the name of the last endboss.)

This is the big content patch of the expansion, involving a couple of new zones, a big new raid, bunch of progressive daily quests (ie. they are in phases) with associated scenarios as the phase advances, more crafting recipes, open world raid bosses, new pets and mounts, and new reputations. In particular, there are a lot of dinosaurs because REASONS.

I’m having fun hanging out with my guild, getting on with the daily quests, running some raids in normal mode with guildies and LFR, and unlocking the next phase of the Isle of Thunder, of which we are about to unlock the last part. I am starting to feel worn down by it though and I want to talk a little about why that is, and other impressions of the patch.

We got dailies in your dailies

I think the daily quest part of the patch has been really well done. I like the mechanic of having some randomly selected dailies every day, and of unlocking the next phase of the zone after enough have been (collectively) done. It’s pretty cool. This isn’t an “I’m burning out on dailies!” complaint, I quite enjoy them. But the effect of all these extra tiers of dailies on top of the daily heavy MoP endgame and the daily heavy last patch is a ponderous feel of “same old, same old.”

For all that, once you have all the rep and loot you want from the local rep vendors, it does at least give plenty of choice in how you’d like to earn your weekly valor points. I don’t see that as a bad thing at all.

The loot problem with large raids

When I say large raids, I mean raids with lots of bosses. In Throne of Thunder, there are 12 bosses. Not all wings are open yet for LFR so Blizzard have staggered the release of the raid in a similar way to what happened with Icecrown.

The loot problem is that if each boss can drop several items that might be relevant for your class/ spec, that is going to add up to a lot of duplication. I counted about seven different robes that my shadow priest could potentially get from ToT LFR, all of the same item level. (Which happens to be 2 iLevels lower than the robe I had upgraded from the last patch.) Getting loot is great! It’s always nice when the game gives you something. But it’s going to be very hard for me to be even mildly excited about any of those drops.

I know, transmogrification and cosmetic clothing. I should get excited because they all have different looks. But it’s still just a robe and my goblin is a shadow priest (ie. spends most of the time in shadow form where you can’t really make out the gear) so the lure of loot isn’t really pulling at me yet. And this is even before the last wing has unlocked in LFR. I shouldn’t be this blase about drops already.

So imagine most pieces of armour will be present in multiple varieties also. I wonder if it might have been better to be a bit stingier with the drops.

In any case, clearly it’s in normal/heroic mode and rep gear from the raid rep vendor that the more useful upgrades for me will come. This isn’t doing a great deal to motivate me into LFR unless my friends are around, and as soon as I have the few LFR upgrades that I want, I may get my valor points via the easier raids and heroics instead.

Difficulty and LFR

The conversation about difficulty is focussed at the moment on Durumu, the beholder boss. LFR groups fall like flies to this guy, three full wipes is the fewest I’ve ever had before we got him down. This is way out of line with how bosses usually fall to LFR groups.

And the reason is not because the mechanics are especially hard, it’s because there are some very key elements which are just hard to see. If you set up a purple foggy maze on a dark background where the safe area moves around and kill off anyone who accidentally strays into the (hard to see) maze for too long, it’s not a recipe for an easy boss kill. This type of difficulty is a mixture between punishing (if you don’t get it right, you will probably die and no one in the raid can save you), and needlessly visually obscured. It is the second part that is the problem.

On the bright side, having to figure out how to get past an annoyingly hard boss can sometimes bring out the best in LFR groups. After a couple of wipes, people tend to focus more on getting organised, marking the person/people who claim to be good at seeing the maze and getting everyone else to stack on them. And after managing the boss, the raid has tended to feel  more cohesive for the rest of the run – there is a sense of achievement. I think it’s interesting to observe. Even annoying difficulty isn’t always bad.

But Blizzard do still need to fix it because it’s annoying to die to stuff you can barely even see.

Getting the community to interact

In this patch, Blizzard have put a few new elements in to try to encourage more interaction. The Isle of Thunder has some rare elite mobs which drop desirable items (including a key to the new solo loot-grab scenario), and which need a few people to kill. You also don’t need to be in a group or raid to get loot if you have helped with the kill  I find that general chat on the isle is often used to report when one of these mobs is up, as a general invitation to people to come and pile in. So it seems to be working as a way to get players to communicate and invite random others to help. What they don’t tend to do is tell you where the rare mob is, so you’ll have to learn those locations on your own (or with the help of a handy website).

There are also a couple of new world bosses which need huge numbers of players (ie. more than one full raid) to kill. These also have been pretty successful in encouraging interaction. Word tends to get round when one of them is up via guild chat, trade chat, general chat in cities and everyone is welcome to come and pile in. Because you need that many warm bodies.

So do I like to see this kind of thing in the game. I think it’s worthwhile to have bosses with fairly simple mechanics but that require large numbers of players to kill, alongside content that is more difficult, more solo friendly, or favours elite groups. How busy/ popular those mobs will be when people no longer need the loot is hard to say. I see far fewer Sha of Anger (world boss from the start of MoP) groups being formed now than I used to, for example.

Do we expect every patch to be a mini expansion now?

There are some real bonuses to having patches that involve self contained zones and reputations and  easy stepping on points for players who had taken a break. Mostly because you can draw players back in who had previously gotten bored with the expansion  to see and play the new content.

The downside is that more of the things you had done previously in the expansion will feel deprecated. The rep and loot from the last patch will soon be replaced by the rep and loot from the current one. Keen had a good point I think where he argues that he wants time spend in MMOs to feel like an investment.

I see Blizzard trying to find a balance in which your achievements from the beginning of the expansion still feel valid and useful later on. For example, time spent maxing out the farm is still useful – you can still grow useful stuff on it. Mounts and pets are still useful and valid if you want to use them. Knowing the heroic instances and earlier LFR raids is still useful, they are good sources of valor points and knowing the fights will make it easier for you to shine/ your raid to kill them.

This balance between valid current content and deprecated old content has always been a point of contention in themepark style MMOs. In some ways, the games always feel purer a few months  after release — after the worst of the release bugs have been fixed but before the first expansion is released, because it simply isn’t a concern and all the content is current.

I wonder whether other MMOs find a better balance than WoW does.  I know in LOTRO I always used to feel that the older content felt more valid than old WoW raids, for example. I’m not sure if that is still the case.

Catching up: Kickstarters

I don’t know about any of you but I’m getting to a place with gaming kickstarters which is much closer to how I buy regular published games. I read the kickstarter, think “Sounds cool” and then “I’ll wait till it’s released and then pick up a copy if it’s any good.”

To get me to contribute these days, I’d need more emotional attachment to the project than just “Oh neat.” It would either have to sound like something I really want to play, involve a creator of whom I am a fan, or support a cause I care about. Maybe the sheen has just gone. Creators are finding new ways to use kickstarters – sometimes to raise awareness or for publicity more than for the kickstarter cash itself. This wasn’t really the original idea, but that doesn’t mean it’s terrible.

It’s just that in the grim dark future, instead of applying for a beta or preordering (or prepaying) to get your beta spot, it’ll only be open to people who paid more than $X in the kickstarter.  But the equating of “how much cash are you willing to put up” as a measure of your dedication as a fan is a trend that is only going to increase. It is also inherent in the F2P mindset. That’s more of a topic for a future post. For now, lets just say that fan enthusiasm is a commodity to be monetised. Fun times.

Anyhow, there have been a few large gaming kickstarters in the mix lately. Terra Silverspar sees this as a sign that kickstarter is going to be a bad thing for gaming in the longterm.

Many of big name developers using Kickstarter are furthest from strapped for cash to be able to produce the titles they are looking to produce, but they threw out these rather large figures at what they feel would need to be to create these games, some of them with not even a demo or name of the product to be seen, and even threw out shameless incentives to get people to pay more.

((…))

All they have to say is remember my one good game and they know their fans will jump on it, especially if said big name makes large promises that claim their in development product you’ve never seen will be like one of their famous games of the past.

This isn’t fundamentally different from the way hype works anyway. “New game X will be like old game Y that you really liked” is a fairly basic argument, especially if it’s backed up by having some of the same team involved. You pays your money and takes your chances.

However, phrases like “harkening back to his innovative early work,” “the team will revisit X’s design roots”, “this game is counter-revolutionary” et al lean towards a current view of kickstarter where it is getting used to support revolutionary (or not)  little indie games and old school (ie. not revolutionary) larger games. Except that the indie games struggle more with publicity than a big name celeb game designer.

Anyhow, I’m going to scan over some of the projects that I have either backed or been following.

Shroud of the Avatar (Lord British)

I know Arb is fond of this one, for sentimental reasons. This successful kickstarter has been controversial because Lord British (yeah I know, his real name is Richard Garriot) is wealthy enough in his own right that punters wonder why he can’t pitch a game to publishers without needing $1m of funding from the public first. Also controversial as the man is a dab hand at giving controversial interviews. Or in other words, he gives good media.

On the other hand, he is proposing making an open world RPG of the type he became famous for with the Ultima series. Shroud of the Avatar is a direct callback to Ultima, as your character was called “the avatar” in many of those games, although for legal reasons it won’t be using any of the Ultima IP (last seen being cast onto iOS via Ultima Forever). It is going to be a PC game. He is calling it a multiplayer game rather than an MMO so there is going to be some overlap with solo play and group play.

So if you liked that sort of game – which Arb and I did very much – it will be one to keep an eye on. I like open world RPGs, and that is what I expect this to be. The kickstarter almost doubled its $1m goal, so let’s see how it goes.

Jane Jensen (Moebius)

This is one of the first kickstarters that I backed, and I liked it because I admire Jane very much as a game writer and have fond memories of the Gabriel Knight games. Her studio has already put out an extra mini graphic adventure aimed at 5-9 year olds – which wasn’t anything I was interested in, but free perks are always nice and if I knew anyone with a kid and an iPad I’d happily give it to them. But the main attraction is Moebius, an adventure game which does not stray far from its Gabriel Knight roots.

RPG didn’t think much of the trailer but as a backer I’m happy, it looks pretty much to be what I would have expected. I look forwards to playing it on release and am happy I was able to support it.

Also she’s been great about monthly updates, free wallpapers, and generally being in touch and available.

Camelot Unchained

As a fan of DaoC (and Warhammer Online) I am always interested to see any project that Mark Jacobs is behind. He spent a few months building up publicity for this kickstarter before it launched, and is currently almost halfway to his $2m goal. It is a large goal, especially for a fairly niche type of game, so this will be an interesting one to watch.

Mark is doing a lot of publicity for this at the moment via interviews. He also has been quite active in the reddit, and I recall he always seemed to quite enjoy interacting on forums et al during DaoC also.

Although I really liked DaoC I am not backing this one, because all PvP all of the time isn’t for me. I do think it was a good idea to limit the scope of the game – PvE content in MMOs is expensive and there is definitely an audience for a smaller PvP focussed game. If it is your thing, feel free to go pledge them some cash as this kickstarter has just under a month to go.

A friend of mine commented that he thought this kickstarter was very jargon heavy and would be hard to follow for anyone who wasn’t into MMOs. I don’t think they are trying to get new players into the genre, the people who want to back this game will know what the jargon means.  I do wonder a bit about how developing their own game engine is going to impact on things. It isn’t that it is a terrible idea, just that having the core of your game as a new untried and untested piece of code adds some risk to the endeavour.

Double Fine

This is the kickstarter which really kicked off the phenomenon for gaming, raising $3m on an initial goal of $400k. The game now has a name (Broken Age), a website, a trailer, and you can preorder. They have also been releasing regular video updates for backers giving some insight into the development process.

I am looking forwards to seeing the game, and I like the concept a lot. The videos have been fun and it feels like a fun, different way to support a game genre that I like and get a cool game at the end.

Torment (Numenera)

This is the Planescape Torment sequel that isn’t set in Planescape. The concept of that confused me enough that I decided not to back it – I did however back Monte Cook’s Numenera pen and paper game so at least I’ll be able to decide if I like the setting before putting any money down for a computer game. (Oh and also I can wait for the game to be released to see if I want to play it.)

Fortunately, Torment isn’t dependent on my backing as the kickstarter raised a whopping $4m off an original goal of $900k. Planescape really was that popular. They’ve recruited Chris Avellone (original Planescape: Torment designer) onto the design team, among other experienced designers, and have already turned out some cool looking screenshots.

I’ll look forwards to seeing what they can do with the money. But I’m perfectly happy to wait until release before deciding if I want it.

Here’s an interview with Brian Fargo where he talks about his experiences with successfully running kickstarters for Torment and Wasteland.

Project Eternity

Another RPG (I have straightforwards tastes in gaming), this time to be developed by Obsidium Entertainment with the help of just under $4m raised via kickstarter off an initial goal of £1.1m. Chris Avellone is going to be busy with both this and Torment, and they’re likely to be quite similar games.

This one I did support, I liked the idea of knowing a bit about the team going into the project at the start. And I want to see what Obsidian can come up with. They have been sending out regular updates, and we’ll just have to see how it goes.

I also like that although they’ve been clear about their influences and what type of game it’s going to be, it doesn’t feel like so much of a namecheck as the Torment game. I will of course play both if they’re any good.