What does good gaming journalism look like?

Given the focus at the moment on gaming journalism and what it shouldn’t be doing, I thought it might be fun to look for some great examples of what good gaming journalism can be.

I’m kicking off with a couple of articles that told me a lot about the games they cover and also were (I thought) wildly entertaining reads.

OK, over to you all. Any recommendations for articles that really stayed with you as good examples of what you like to read in gaming journalism?

Sang-Froid–Tales of Werewolves

sangfroid_title

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

Different types of fun, and is SC2 really doomed?

Melf_Himself quotes from an entertaining rant by reddit user Neodestiny on the subject of Starcraft 2. More specifically, why he thinks the game is doomed (bold font added by me).

“((Blizzard)) are continually proving themselves utterly incompetent when it comes to managing a game as a competitive sport backed by a casual community.

People, ESPECIALLY people in this community seem to fail to realize that a game’s competitive success lives or dies by its casual accessibility. Yeah, in a dream world we all want this ULTRA CUT-THROAT COMPETITIVE FUCK YOUR FACE game where OH MY FUCKING GOD SKILL CEILING SO HIGH NO MULTIPLE BILDING SIELECT FUK AUTO-MICRO OH MY GOD SO COMPETITIVEEE!1111…But in the real world, no one wants to play that game except competitive people.

Competitive games are not fun.

It’s not fun to play ranked matches that affect a ladder ranking. Why on earth would you play a game that gives you ladder anxiety? Why would you play a game where 11/11 or 6 pools or 4gates can kill you in under 4 minutes? Why would you play a game that punishes mistakes so cruelly?

The average, casual player wouldn’t.”

There are a lot of players for whom competitive games are very fun. So his statement that they aren’t seems a bit obscure. Yet, at the same time, anyone who has played a competitive game against people who take it very seriously, where a loss will seriously affect your ranking,  will probably find themselves nodding along. It might be fun, but it’s not Fun. Right?

It doesn’t take much thought to start wondering whether there are just lots of different types of fun. The fun of being in a new relationship is different from the fun of writing a story or playing music, or the fun of playing a particularly tough game of Scrabble. And there has been a fair amount of research into theories of fun. I thought it might be interesting to explore a few ideas and see how they might apply to MMOs and their players.

Nicole Lazzaro writes about 4 keys to fun:

  • Hard Fun (involves challenge and adversity)
  • Easy Fun
  • Serious Fun (meaningful accomplishments, real objectives)
  • People Fun (socialising)

These aren’t exclusive, she explains that people often shift between them in a single play session.  She also posits that the most successful, best selling games offer at least three of these ‘keys’ to players. This matches Bartle’s argument that virtual worlds need a mixture of different types of player (although his player types don’t tend to switch types several times in a play session.)

I like this model because of the Serious Fun category. The most compelling MMOs can feel meaningful in play, maybe because of the persistent elements. But meaningful play isn’t always fun because it can feel like work, it can feel like having to grind out something you don’t really want to do in order to get to the thing you do, it can feel like having to be on your best form always so as not to slip down the PvP ladder. It may be though that the sense of having to work is one of the things that helps make a game feel meaningful.

And very few players want to play a game that is purely Serious Fun, we have real life for that. Sometimes you want to let off steam, either by zoning out with some easy fun or chatting with guildies for some social fun. The other smart thing is that she’s separated Serious Fun from Hard Fun. So for example, in EVE you might have longterm goals which mean you need to mine. Making those plans and executing them might be part of your Serious Fun, but that doesn’t mean mining is Hard in the sense of top LoL matches.

So for your favourite game, do you think it engages at least three of these keys? I would argue that WoW offers all four keys, although  the Serious Fun aspect of the game felt stronger back in TBC, and you have to look for the Hard Fun via Challenge Modes, Arenas, and hard mode raids, or making up your own difficult achievements. EVE, in my brief explorations, lacks easy fun, so maybe one of the ways CCP could make the game more appealing is to make the basics of flying around and mining more fun to do. And it’s interesting to ponder whether even a single player game can offer social fun if you talk to your friends/community about your experiences and strategies for playing afterwards.

Marc LeBlanc describes 8 types of fun:

  • Sensation
  • Fantasy (RP, immersion, escapism, make-believe)
  • Narrative (story)
  • Challenge
  • Fellowship (social)
  • Discovery (exploring)
  • Expression
  • Submission (he describes this as ‘a mindless pastime’)

I’m not sure these work as well as Lazzaro’s categories for MMOs, but he does bring in the idea of stories being fun for some players and the escapism of being in a fantasy world as another source of fun. Sensation might also include games with great visuals, or the feel of flying or swimming in a virtual environment.

As for Starcraft 2, I couldn’t really say how it is doing, although the momentum of eSports is clearly with League of Legends now, a game I’ve never tried because I don’t much fancy the hard, challenging, social fun of being abused by the playerbase while trying to learn it. And that matters too, because it plays into Neodestiny’s argument that competitive games aren’t fun for average, casual players. I would say they could be fun for those players, but they might need to learn some skills first. If the process of learning those skills isn’t fun, then your average player never becomes one of your core competitive gamers and I suspect that this may be where SC2 misses the mark.

[Links] Gaming ethics, Trolling trolls troll each other, and flimsy excuses to post a cute red panda picture

redpanda

via ogwen@Flickr

It seems that Mists of Pandaria is off to a generally well received start, aside from people who are finding the reputations/dailies heavy going when they just want to get into the raids, and apparently the review scores on Metacritic. My hope for the next expansion is that it features another race/zone/mechanic which gives all the gaming blogs excuses to post cute animal pictures. Blizzard, if you’re listening, how about sentient sea otters?

It is becoming clearer that Blizzard have taken the whole concept of ‘story’ on board and are planning to railroad everyone through the MoP storyline, whether they like it or not. Initial patch notes for 5.1 (on the test realm) include insights into the progression of the faction war, and Wrathion’s legendary questline. (Surely nothing can go wrong with us PCs following the instructions of a black dragon.) I’m not sure if this is more linear than SWTOR’s take on story but since it updates the entire continent on every patch, it might be. I think it sounds kind of cool because it is so different, but I’m also glad to be playing other more classic MMOs like GW2 (I know, sounds odd to call it more classic, but there you go) for my ‘wander around under your own steam’ fix.

I went to the Eurogamer Expo at the end of September, an event which seems to get larger and better organised every year. Although first impressions were that every new game coming out was a shooter, I think this was biased by the fact they just seem louder and to take up more floorspace and screens than the other genres. In fact, this year is shaping up to be a gaming classic, with new games coming out in just about every genre … except MMOs. At first glance, Assassin’s Creed 3 particularly caught my eye, because it’s gorgeous. I was reminded of Uncharted 2. I’ve also heard good things about Borderlands 2 (which has made very strong sales) and XCOM, and FIFA 13 (a genre which regularly sells strongly over here) sold millions in it’s first week. The UK figures show it selling a million copies here in the first week, a feat which only FPS games have previously done (MW2, MW3, CODBLOPS).

Why does that matter? It shows the industry (and the audience) is opening up a bit from the FPS domination of the last few years, IMO.

The game which most caught my eye as being different was The Unfinished Swan where you are exploring a blank white area with only a paint gun to help you discover the world. The graphics are stunning, check out the video. And it’s going to be launched in Europe on 24th Oct this year.

In other news, more senior staff have left Bioware, Black Prophecy closes down, Pirates 101 enters Head Start, and Zynga shares continue to plummet.

LOTRO ‘s next expansion “Riders of Rohan” is due to release next week (15th Oct), and the next upcoming SWTOR patch is going to give players the ability to acquire an HK-51 assassination droid of their own.

Gaming Ethics

At the GDC (Games Developers Conference) there seems to have been more interest in ethics in gaming.  Gamasutra cover the panel on ethics in game design via some choice quotes, which is perhaps not the best way to accurately sum up a panel. Nik Davidson (Amazon) in particular makes some strong points, though.

We’re saying our market is suckers — we’re going to cast a net that catches as many mentally ill people as we can!”

It might be cynical to wonder if Zynga’s public failures have now meant it’s OK to discuss the ethics of F2P, whereas before it was more likely to be seen as the saviour of the industry and any criticism from industry insiders meant that they wanted to see fellow devs lose their jobs (or something). But players and gaming bloggers have been wondering about the ethics of F2P for some time, so none of this will come as a surprise.

That isn’t to say it cannot ever be ethical (or at least as ethical as any other way to sell a game, particularly an ongoing persistent world type game), it’s just increasingly difficult for anyone to think of successful examples of F2P games (either ethical or not) that have stood the test of time.

Another Gamasutra post has a video of a talk from the EU GDC touches on the monetisation of Chinese F2P MMOs. Tami Baribeau sums it up neatly in a blog post. If this is the future, then it doesn’t sound very pleasant. But the basics are LOTS of leaderboards, huge launches, lots of game launches, masses of events, embracing “pay to win”, and poor retention.

Psigoda mentions that what the Chinese browser game designers get excited about is creating epic “monetization pits” where players can spend thousands of dollars without finishing the game or reaching max level.  We simply don’t think that way here in the U.S., and I honestly don’t think our gamer market is ready for games with that design.  ((…)) We still tend to feel that we need to have a compelling and fun game design that supports  great monetization rather than the opposite.

Imagine.

Trolls and Anonymity

One of the ‘big’ stories on the internet this week is about the ‘outing’ (or doxxing) of a sleazy reddit superuser by a reporter from Gawker. This has opened up a whole slew of discussions about anonymity and freedom of speech. I maintain that the only smart forums to hang out on are moderated ones and that if your argument for free speech means you regularly end up defending people who post pictures of underage girls that were taken without their consent then maybe you need to revise your argument because these people are utter creeps and have abused their anonymity for too long already. Perhaps the answer is to let the trolls out each other, but that kind of mob rule isn’t really any better.

Meanwhile, it has made me think hard about why we just accept that some parts of the internet (including gaming parts, that relate to my hobby!) are misogynistic cesspits and that ‘freedom of speech’ means we should just live with the net being so unfriendly to women. I don’t buy it. What I think is that it’s not an accident that many of the early power users were dodgy porn mongers (remember ‘the internet is for porn’?), and they deliberately used their status in online communities to shape what was seen as normal and accepted in those communities, AND to shape the online debate about freedom of speech and anonymity. And yes, they did tend to hate and objectify women. (This is not a screed against porn, but there is a certain type of user.)

Reddit is such a mixed bag, including some of the dodgiest cesspits on the internet as well as some of the best examples of online collaboration. But if they cannot delete their own trolls (and in fact let some of them become admins) then they’re not ready for a wider audience. It’s interesting also to note that Reddit founders originally welcomed the trolls and their sleazy porno subreddits because they helped build the site up. It reminds me strongly of Zynga’s reputation for doing all manner of dodgy ethical deals when they were building up their business.

Clearly profit trumps business ethics and any manager worth his salt will happily toss the privacy of a few underage girls under the bus if it brings them a few power users and their hordes of sleazy hangers on. If the net communities cannot manage their own trash then don’t be surprised if the much vaunted freedoms of speech do eventually come under threat. Ultimately, it’s down to all of us who use these communities to speak up against the trolls, even when it involves pissing off power users and their fans.

More links: GW2 and more

As people get to max level in GW2, I am reading more complaints about the max level content. It isn’t really correct to refer to this as endgame, because you can do what you like in GW2. But there is a theme to these comments.

Zubon discusses the Ruined City of Arah.

It is probably the worst instance I have ever run, second only to the collective, multi-hour pain of the City of Heroes Shadow Shard task forces that spanned entire zones.

Entombed writes at Divinity’s Reach about annoyances and other bothers with GW2. This is an exploration of the various ‘endgame’ options at the moment, and discussion of why none of them really works.

And the personal story.  Oh the personal story.  Something that was ultimately just empty promises.  Will NPC’s actually care about you now if you re-enter your personal instance?  We were promised this repeatedly leading up to launch.  I can walk into my instance and see nothing of value and certainly no NPCs that I remember or that remember me.  Will my choices matter?  No.

Dusty Monk discusses some of the strong and weak parts of GW2, a game he still loves playing. And he also takes issue with the personal story.

I’m at level 72 or so in my personal story, and am quite honestly completely uninterested in finishing it.

Azuriel also finds his enthusiasm ebbing, although disagrees with Zubon about the worst dungeon.

… dungeons were the one bright spot when it came to enjoying playing my character, even if the specific dungeons I have played thus far have been fairly bad; Caudecus’s Manor in particular is the worst designed dungeon in any MMO I have ever played.

Since my Mesmer just hit 65 with lots of pauses to go play Pandaria, I haven’t touched on many of these issues myself. Although the one instance we did wasn’t really all that fun. However, maybe that turns out for the best, because Arenanet has lots of new content planned and a Halloween event, so not being burned out on the ‘endgame’ might be a good thing. It may be that GW2 simply isn’t a game that suits the grind-100-hrs-for-a-1%-bonus hardcore as well as it suits the more relaxed player, but that doesn’t really excuse Arenanet for messing up the last story boss in the game or making the dungeons an exercise in tedium.

But I enjoy my time in the game a lot, even more so with friends around.

In other news:

Shintar finds that hunting datacrons in SWTOR can be really fun with friends.

I’ve experienced strangers being willing to jump through various hoops purely to show someone a datacron as well. There is clearly a certain appeal to the feeling that you’re sharing “secret” knowledge with someone, even if you’ve got nothing tangible to gain from the experience yourself. Being on the receiving end of this kind of sharing isn’t half bad either, as it makes you perceive other players as helpful and promotes community.

Beruthiel ponders what makes healing fun in MMOs.

Tipa posts about her experiences with Pirates 101, a game I’m looking forwards to trying when it’s out of head start.

There has been some discussion on blogs about the notion of a ‘three month MMO’ and whether the phenomenon of a rush of players to new games and then numbers dropping massively after 1-3 months is down to the game design or changes in player expectations. Liore is squarely in the latter camp, and argues that it’s all down to the player.

The dream of Elite Online is not dead, Chris Roberts (designer of Wing Commander) is crowd funding a new space combat MMO called Star Citizen.

Redbeard ponders how playing a rogue in WoW makes him act like all the rogues he used to hate.

I can’t count the number of times I’d been ganked by a Rogue while in that BG, swearing that if I ever decided to start a Rogue I’d never do any of this stuff.  And yet there I was, roaming around in the rez zone, waiting for toons to respawn so I could gank them before they could buff themselves.

Oestrus writes about her decision to stop playing as a hardcore raider in WoW.

Chris at Game by Night is surprised at how outraged PvE players get if they feel they have to do PvP to get gear for raids.

Is it so terrible that there could be more raiders and more PvPers to fill out your teams? Give me one good reason why. And please make sure it’s not related to your ego. Thanks.

Grumpy Elf explains why he thinks the best time to raid in random LFR raid groups in WoW is on the first few days that they are released. He clearly didn’t experience my group (but somehow we did make it through, an indication of the lack of difficulty I think Smile ).

[Diablo 3, GW2] Does Diablo 3 need an endgame?

Bashiok (one of the Blizzard community managers) has been quoted a lot this week for his comments on Diablo 3:

We recognize that the item hunt is just not enough for a long-term sustainable end-game. There are still tons of people playing every day and week, and playing a lot, but eventually they’re going to run out of stuff to do (if they haven’t already). Killing enemies and finding items is a lot of fun, and we think we have a lot of the systems surrounding that right, or at least on the right path with a few corrections and tweaks. <…> There needs to be something else that keeps people engaged, and we know it’s not there right now.

That’s a lot of endgame talk about what is basically a single player game with co op functionality.

I think this is a great quote because it goes a long way to explaining what devs think of as ‘end game’: gameplay/ content that keeps players engaged. Possibly indefinitely. To everyone else, endgame is “what you do in the game after you have finished the game” which is a bizarre statement if you take it as read. Logically, after you have finished a game you put it away and play something else. It’s certainly how I play the majority of single player games, not to mention other media like books and films. Except for the games where you keep coming back.

There are a few main reasons people will keep coming back to a much loved game:

  • There’s some randomisation involved so the game never really ends or is never the same twice. Especially if there is a rising difficulty curve associated with the randomisation so the game stays challenging. (eg. roguelikes, puzzle games like tetris).
  • Moreish gameplay. Could involve PvP.
  • Extra ‘stretch’ goals or achievements. Final Fantasy always excelled at offering ultra hard extra bosses that were clearly only for people who wanted to spend much longer with their game than was needed just to finish it. Some of these might be long term goals which would need weeks or months to complete.
  • Lots to explore. Try a new spec or play style. New Game Plus can fit this mould, where you get new stuff to do if you replay the game after finishing it once or twice.
  • Your friends are playing it. Come back for the social aspect.
  • New content. Maybe a new patch just dropped or a mod maker released a really cool new mod for a game.
  • Sandbox game. (Not sure how well this really applies to single player games but there are some open world games where you had a pretty free rein of what to do after finishing the main storyline.)

It’s funny to think that before subscription MMOs and  F2P, there was never any great cash motivation for single player games to  be endlessly replayable. Square Enix didn’t get extra money because Final Fantasy had secret uber bosses in it to encourage you to keep playing; at least, it’s unlikely that this was a major purchase factor for players. Rogue and its ilk are free, there’s no incentive for the game to be endless other than it happened to be designed that way. If a game turns out to be evergreen then it will last longer in retail (the long tail), and there are probably loads of opportunities for creators to make more money by ‘exploiting the brand’. Arcade games obviously make more money the more people come back to them also. But it was always one indication of a good game. That people would keep playing, and playing, and playing.

Some of the old classic endgame design won’t fly in today’s world. Secret uber bosses won’t be secret for very long in the internet age, and no matter how complex it is to find them, you can assume someone will do it and publicise it widely.

Diablo and endgame

The endgame in Diablo 2 involved playing the game through again on harder modes, trying different specs or classes, and gathering loot. There was also the possibility for PvP, and Blizzard organised levelling ladders  on the battle.net servers for players who enjoyed doing competitive speed runs. Unfortunately, with Diablo 3, they’ve made some of that endgame redundant. There’s no need to play through the game with a different spec when you can switch spec on the fly. There’s little motivation to gather specific gear sets when you can almost certainly buy better stuff from the auction house than anything that will drop for you.

Instead, there is an end game around farming and selling drops on the item house.

I don’t personally feel slighted that I played through Diablo 3 a few times and then decided I’d had enough. I never did get to Inferno level and I’m cool with that, I think I got as much fun out of the game as I wanted. I’m sure lots of other players are equally placid about Diablo 3. It was good enough, there was enough fun. The story (for all its flaws) was told engagingly and there were enough pieces of story detail that you could discover a few new things on each subsequent play through. The achievements were nicely thought out on the whole. I could imagine playing it through again in a few months time, just for fun.

But clearly, many players wanted an endless endgame, and Blizzard wanted to design a game that had one. Preferably without the hassle of having to actually add extra content. I say this because they could totally add extra secret bosses, secret levels, secret events, secret companions, secret crafting recipes and so on; they wouldn’t stay secret for long but it would get people back into the game to see the new stuff.

But what would a long term sustainable end game look like for Diablo 3? There is the upcoming possibility of PvP for people who like that. It would be gear dependent so frequent trips the auction house would likely be necessary if you want to be competitive. Other than that, how could Blizzard ever expect players to play through the same content indefinitely? They’ve already included variable difficulties with better drops at higher difficulty ratings. They have deliberately limited the randomness in D3 because of the increased story emphasis so it will never be one of those randomly generated dungeon endgames.

That leaves extra incentives for groups of friends to play together regularly, tying it in with other popular games (ie. WoW), or running some of those ladder type events. Diablo gameplay just isn’t deep enough on its own to keep people coming back.

MMO Endgames

We are in a new era of MMO endgames too at the moment. Subscription games have always encouraged devs to find ways to keep people playing the same game. They have encouraged inventiveness around what gives games longlastability.

OK, I kid.

But you’d have thought competition between sub games would have encouraged this type of experimentation. Instead what has mostly happened is that devs are more interested in the churn – in finding new players and getting them to stay for a couple of months – than in what gets players to stay for a year rather than 6 months. F2P games take this a step further in that devs are now looking for the ‘whales’ who view the normal way to play games as being to spend loads of money in cash shops when they are having fun. Some of those people will be long term players. I imagine the hope is that if a game can attract enough whales, spending loads of money in cash shops will seem more normalised of an activity for the playerbase.

Players also get frustrated more quickly. Long term goals in a game is one of the factors that makes players stay for longer, but also one of the things that makes impatient players say immediately “That’s too hard, I can never do that, why is it in the game?” One example of this is the Legacy purchases in SWTOR. It costs 5 million credits to buy an auction house terminal for your characters’ ships. To me that says a month or two of trading/ dailies. As you can imagine, the bboard has plenty of complaints that it is too much, it’s impossible, it’s unfair, etc. A long(ish) term goal based on gathering in game gold is the opposite of unfair actually, since it’s the one thing everyone can do.

The only types of long term goal players seem to accept passively in themeparks are ones that is explicitly based on subscription length, or collecting stuff. For example, EVE training schedules that take months (I know, not a themepark but this type of mechanism could be in one), rewards in CoH based on subscription length, WoW Firelands rewards based on how many dailies have been completed. Pet, mount, and gear collecting is another type of longterm goal which has been popular with players.Other feasible and challenging longer term goals often get dismissed as ‘unfair’ or inaccessible by the player base.

And with that, lets’ talk about raids. Raiding has been a core piece of MMO endgame for many years now, since EQ. The raiding ‘lifestyle’ includes membership of a raid guild, some commitment to regular multiplayer  raids, and a set of raid content of increasing difficulty that is projected to need many weeks of raiding to complete. Players have been increasingly dissatisfied with the raid endgame. It requires too great a commitment, guilds act as gatekeepers for content, raids are inaccessible to people who can’t meet a guild’s raiding schedule and so on. Random raid finders or dynamic events (as per Rift) have been one answer to this, making raids far more accessible to players than they were back in the day.

But the main thing about raids is that they did offer longterm progression goals to players. Not to mention a social network. That was one of the reasons they so successfully defined endgame for a generation of MMO players. So if raids are becoming more accessible, more immediate, or less appealing, what is going to replace them? Will it have longevity?

I have already seen people wondering what sort of an endgame GW2 will have. There aren’t any PvE raids. There is extensive open world PvP. There are lots of dynamic events. There may not be strong incentives to be part of a guild. Will that be enough to keep players engaged for months or years? And does it matter?

The next WoW expansion is also branching out with endgame, including speed runs for 5 man instances (challenge modes), a farmville knockoff, pet collecting/ battles, scenarios (smaller instances which won’t need tanks or healers) as well as the usual raids. Will these new mechanics keep people playing for longer without needing a constant feed of new content? I remain to be convinced about the challenge modes, I’m not sure how exciting it really is to be constantly doing speed runs of the same content. But maybe some players will love it. At least enough to try one once a day with their guild.

Towards a fluffier endgame?

One of the posters on mmorpg.com argues that fluff rewards are better in endgame than constant gear progression. (You can tell this is written by someone who likes PvP and hates raiding.) ‘Fluff’ is usually defined as something that doesn’t affect progression or stats. It’s fun or pretty, and that is its only purpose. In game festivals or special events are pretty much the epitome of fluff – they’re temporary, fun (we hope) and offer good fluff rewards. Players like them and a player who has drifted might easily be tempted back into a MMO to check out the event.

Mini-games can be part of a fluff endgame, they’re just extra things for players to spend time doing in the game. This is clearly the road WoW is wandering along, adding more single player/ small group compatible content, which means that MoP is going to have a wider variety of endgame content than Cataclysm did. LOTRO has always excelled at adding fluff, from supporting RP, to musical instruments in the game, monster play, chicken play, and skirmishes (probably the inspiration for WoW scenarios). Space missions in SWTOR are an example of a really well executed minigame, if you like that sort of thing. Bioware could do with adding more; games to play in cantinas would be a good start for example.

Player housing can be part of a fluff endgame.

Collecting pets, mounts, pretty things can be part of a fluff endgame.

But will that be enough to replace a progression based endgame?

Bits and pieces; and thoughts from 3 years ago about the future of MMOs

Happy Sunday (and Happy Jubilee if you are the queen – seems a bit harsh of people to make two octo/nonogenarians stand around for hours on a cold and windy river, but what do I know?) This isn’t really a links post so much as a quick news roundup, some whining about Diablo, and a moment of insight where I realise that some of the stuff I used to post was pretty smart.

New games to get excited about, current games to get excited about

CD Projekt, best known for their work on The Witcher CRPGs, have announced that their next game will feature a Cyberpunk setting. In fact, it’s THE Cyberpunk setting for RPG players because they’ll be using the setting from R S Talsorian’s Cyberpunk RPG. So all you glitterboys, slicers, and fixers get your netrunning shoes on. I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it that this is super-exciting for any fans of the genre, and Cyberpunk should be a great match for the dark noirish stories that CD Projekt have shown they enjoy tackling in previous outings. It’d be nice if they would also let us play female characters this time around, but let’s not run before we can walk.

Rift announced its first expansion: Storm Legion. It will feature tons of new stuff including huge new continent, 10 more levels, new souls, a woman on the front of their expansion website who isn’t wearing much — yup, it’s all there. New expansions are generally a good sign for MMOs and the Rift devs have been earning their reputation for ploughing plenty of new content into the game all year, so things are looking good for Rifties. They do have a free trial up to level 20 if you want to try the game out.

An excellent new Humble Indie Bundle has gone on sale, featuring Amnesia: the Dark Descent, Psychonauts, LIMBO, and Superbrothers: Swords and Sworcery , with Bastion thrown in as a bonus if you pay more than the current average (standing at $7.84 at the moment). It’s a feature of the indie bundles that you decide what you want to pay so if you’re feeling cheap, you could get the four main games for almost no money at all. They are all indie games that have garnered good reviews, especially Psychonauts if you are a fan of platform/adventure games.

In their ongoing crusade to make the always-online experience of Diablo 3 best in breed, Blizzard have now introduced autojoining the General Chat Channel when you log in. This has not been met with universal acclaim. While I find it annoyingly spammy and prone to gold seller chat, occasionally General Chat surprises you. I’ve sometimes heard people offer to help anyone out with hard bosses, which either is quite decent of them or else is a new cunning way to steal accounts – you pay your money and take your choice.

Personally my barbarian has reached an impasse with Izual in Hell Mode. Getting him down would require a serious amount of kiting given my current DPS and … I just don’t enjoy kiting on a melee class that much. So I shall be tooling around on alts instead, no point playing past the point of unfun. One thing Blizzard did get right though is the secret level (don’t click this link unless you want spoilers), which requires a special blacksmithing recipe and ingredients, all of which are rare drops in specific locations and may be farmed. Farming for this stuff with Arb has actually been pretty fun, for Diablo variants of fun. This is exactly what I was talking about when I was wondering why Blizzard hadn’t developed the farming side of the game.

So how DID soloing affect MMOs?

Milady reflects about MMOs evolving into an ‘always alone together’ singleplayer theme park  type of experience, and is nostalgic for a time when singleplayer and multiplayer experiences seemed to sit more comfortably side by side in MMOs. She wonders where players who enjoyed the multiplayer side of things will go if new MMOs tilt so far towards soloers.

The problem is that, although I can think as alone-together MMOs as a valid choice, especially for that demographic that can’t participate in the social part of them, there is no such choice when all are designed this way.

This reminded me of some thoughts I posted a few years ago about what might happen to MMOs if the proportion of soloers continued to increase. It was contentious at the time and attracted more comments than anything I’d ever written. Now I look back and – it seems prescient.

What happens if MMOs develop along lines such that most people are soloing most of the time? There’s no downtime built in where you might have to talk to people you didn’t know? There may not be enough of the more hardcore to form all the guilds those people might want to join? The people who would have been running those guilds are all going casual/ solo/ in small groups of RL friends instead?

Would a game like that really have much of a community at all? Is there any support network left for anyone at all?

Dragon Age: Facebook

It was only a matter of time. In the run up to Dragon Age II, a new themed Facebook game called Dragon Age: Legends is being launched by Bioware. And you can sign up to the beta today. It’s going to introduce us to the region of the Free Marches, the primary setting for Dragon Age II. In the same vein as the web-based game that was released in the run up to Dragon Age: Origins, playing the game will give some unlocks for the main game when launched.

Dragon Age: Legends is only due to release one month before Dragon Age II, sometime in February 2011.

Screenshots, forums and a blog are linked to from the Dragon Age: Legends site, which is a little sparse so far, but one to watch.

[Funnily enough, Spinks and I were chatting about Dragon Age II the other day while both placing our pre-orders, and at the time we expressed how much we'd liked the web-based game (Dragon Age: Journeys I think was the name) and how we hoped they'd be another. Good timing, Bioware.]