Mark Jacobs to kickstart Camelot Unchained

HolyGrail034

Well, that’s a turnup for the books. Read the press release here. I’m sure there will be a press blitz shortly.

The core concept for the new MMORPG focuses tightly on three key elements, RvR, housing and a true player-owned economy.

“We believe there’s a small yet viable audience of fans who are very keen to play this type of MMORPG,” stated Mark Jacobs. “However, tightly focused niche games don’t necessarily hold great appeal for traditional publishers who are looking toward the mass market. We see Kickstarter as the best way to reach out directly to the people who will actually play our game for help in funding its creation.”

Also, no one is counting but that means at least one of my annual predictions for 2013 is actually going to be true! Win.

[Links] Gaming news: Sony due to reveal next gen playstation in Feb, Hartsman leaves Trion, gPotato gets sold to company with less daft name

My aim with the links posts this year is to separate out gaming news (which I’ll post about once a month) from links to other gaming blogs or links that caught my eye. So this is a news focussed post, with some blog posts to illustrate how bloggers have reacted to some of the games/news! Feel free to send or tweet me links to interesting gaming related news for inclusion in future posts.

playstation

seanmasn @ flickr

The biggest gaming news of January is that Sony are implying that they are going to reveal the next Playstation on February 20th. This is big for obvious reasons, we’re at the end of a console cycle and games companies turning in poor figures have been blaming them on the console cycle for most of last year. There have also been rumours that Microsoft also plan to announce their next generation console  this year, so expect to see a lot of gaming press on the issue.

Sony posted a trailer on their blog which ended with the date: February 20th, 2013. The Wall Street Journal discusses the new console in context of the ailing video game market (I hesitate to say ailing, maybe changing would be closer to the truth.)

Gala Net (aka gPotato portals), publishers of Allods amongst other F2P titles, has been bought by Webzen, another F2P publisher. Take this as another date point on the “maybe F2P isn’t the answer for MMOs” graph. It seems from the financials that Gala Net had been well into the red for all of last year.

Wizardry Online, a new F2P MMO noted largely for a hardcore death penalty, released this month. When you are marketing your game as “the most hardcore fantasy MMO ever created”, it is a fair bet that you are aiming at a fairly specific audience. Still, Dark Souls sold well on a “this game is really hard and unforgiving” tagline so  the players are out there. Stropp gives his first impressions of the game:

The game promises a hardcore level of difficulty, and yep it is hard. Nearly every modern MMORPG tries to insulate its new and low level players from death. You’d have to be playing pretty badly to die to a mob under level 20 in WoW, even a mob 2 levels above player level. In WO, I died a few times early on.

Brian Reynolds resigned from Zynga, where he held the post of Chief Game Designer. It’s another very high profile flight from Zynga, which has been bleeding senior executives over the last few months. He wrote a blog post for GamesBeat talking about the decision to leave and what he plans to do next. And it sounds as though what he plans to do next involves starting a new game studio, this could be very good news indeed for strategy fans (as long as they don’t hold shares in Zynga).

I want to experiment more than might be appropriate for a publicly traded company, and I might want to do something that would be “off strategy” for Zynga or otherwise too risky. ((…))  I suspect that “starting a little studio with a few wingmen” — for the fourth time in my career — is likely to be on the menu.

CCP is working hard on getting Dust 514 ready for release. The game, which will be F2P for PS3 only,  is in beta at the moment. MMO Melting Pot sums up some bloggers’ thoughts on the beta and none of the people they quote actually like the game or seemed inclined to want to play it on release. That could be really bad news for CCP, these are people who were already invested in the genre and probably also play EVE and have Playstations: ie. their target audience. Stabs has some nicer things to say about the game. I predict that we’ll get to know how Dust is faring in the market by how keen CCP is to add more cash spending ‘opportunities’ to their cashcow, EVE later in the year.

Scott Hartsman announced that he is leaving Trion Worlds, where he has been the executive producer on Rift. I think this came as a surprise to observers and players, especially as the influence he has had on Rift has been so widely praised. Two questions left to answer are “How will this affect Rift?” and “What is Hartsman planning to do next?” Rift bloggers ponder whether his departure clears the way for a transition to F2P for the game, although the devs haven’t made any formal announcements to that end. I also wonder quite how financially successful Rift has actually been with its current model, a lot of bloggers have been keen to give it as an example that subscriptions can still work in the current market. But what if the financials aren’t actually in that great a shape?

Trion also have their hands full with releasing ArcheAge (F2P fantasy MMO) later this year, and Warface (a F2P MMOish shooter) as well. Not to mention Defiance (multi platform shooter MMO, that will tie in with a Syfy TV series).

Jay Wilson (Diablo 3 lead designer) has moved on to another role within Blizzard. Posters on the official forum have been so arsey about the poor guy that Rob Pardo commented on the thread, defending him. I quite enjoyed Diablo 3 and have no regrets about buying and playing, it’s not going to be my go-to game for the next three years (in fact I dunno if it will be my go-to game ever) but I’m interested enough to pick up the inevitable expansion at some point. Wilson is very low down on the list of game designers I’d like to have a quiet word with. Tipa has had at least 230 hours of entertainment from the game and it sounds as though she isn’t done yet.

Even though we played this game for half a year, it didn’t overstay its welcome. It’s time to move on while we’re still having fun with the game. I don’t think it will be leaving any of our hard drives any time soon.

Gas Powered games set off a new kickstarter for Wildman, an action RPG and then announced a few days later that they were sacking most of their development team in a round of layoffs, leaving people to wonder exactly who was going to make this new game if it did get funded. Unsubject, as usual, does a great evidence based takedown of Gas Powered, and notes that the state of the company’s financies is the sort of risk that investors should have been told about in advance. I doubt the game is going to reach its target, but it’s worth noting as an example to kickstarter funders of caveat emptor.

Leigh Alexander writes about the kickstarter fad for gaming, and wonders whether letting your fans be your publisher is a good idea. She has a point, we know how ‘reasonable’ fans can be when a game doesn’t meet their expectations.

Curt Schilling is selling one of his socks to raise funds to pay debts owing due to the failure of Amalur. Apparently it’s expected to fetch at least $100k. Who knows what he might have earned if he’d sold the other one too.

Bioware announced that planet Makeb, star of the next paid DLC for SWTOR  (I hesitate to say expansion) will feature same sex relationships. Naturally the non-gaming media siezed on this to report on the gay planet. Whilst it would be way preferable to adjust all the existing in game content to include same sex relationships, it’s easy enough to see that this is a) a cheaper way and b) probably technically easier than altering all the existing romances to include same sex options. I understand the criticisms but if it’s this or nothing, surely this is better.

Anna Anthropy also released an adventure called Hunt for the Gay Planet as a commentary. It’s probably NSFW.

Tera, a MMO known mainly for the decent combat and lasciviously clad characters, has gone F2P – it’s nine months after launch, if anyone is counting. j3w3l argues the case for why you should give it a go. Keen has some issues with the spin on their announcement (but really, can you imagine a dev ever saying “we’re going F2P because we suck”?)

Obviously they have to somehow make the best out of a situation where they change or die.  Just don’t believe for a second that they’re changing because things are going really well for them.

zomboobies

Racing ahead of the pack for “most tasteless special edition of the year” are Deep Silver for the bloodied female torso (with perky boobs) model they are giving away with preorders for Dead Island Riptide.  Conveniently Placed Exhaust Port is not impressed (nor is anyone else, to be honest, even people who like schlock horror.) I’m not even going to start on the sexism angle.

What Deep Silver has done here goes far beyond just creating something horrible. Lots of people have done that (there’s a sequel to The Human Centipede.) I’m sure somewhere out there is an entire line of photo-realistic busts of bloody nude torsos that enthusiasts of such things can fawn over. No, what Deep Silver has done is so much worse. It made such a thing and then, with a wink and a nudge, said “Dude, you’d love this.”

Games, Guns, Politics and EA Earnings Call

“… there has been an  enormous amount of research done in the entertainment field about looking for linkages between entertainment content and actual violence, and they haven’t found any.  And I could give you long stories about how people in Denmark or the UK or Ireland or Canada consume as much or more violent games and violent media as they do  in the United States, and yet they have an infinitely smaller incidence of gun violence.”

- John Riccitello, EA Earnings Call, 31st Jan 2013

Like many non-Americans, I watch the current round of discussion in the aftermath of the (latest) tragic school shootings with mild bemusement. To me it reads as though the NRA blames computer games and basically anything and everything else they can think of except guns. And whilst the various industries and groups picked out rebutt the claims, they don’t seem able to respond in kind. Like:  It’s not the games, it’s the everything else including the guns. (I know how playground arguments go, that’s what you do.)

The part where the government then runs around consulting everyone and tries to think of some kind of quick fix doesn’t induce mild bemusement, that’s business as usual – except that the US government is more competent than our homegrown omnishambles.

Riccitello isn’t politically able to take a poke at the NRA  (too many US gamers and investors don’t want to hear that argument), but it is his job to defend his corner of the gaming industry, which is an uphill struggle when you can’t use one of your best arguments. As soon as he starts citing countries like Canada, the UK, Denmark, and Ireland (as per the above quote), it’s kind of implicit that:

  • Gamers are gamers. People are people.  So you can compare like with like in different countries.
  • One of the big differences between all of those places and the US is that they all have strict gun control, which may be relevant if we’re talking about gun crime.

In any case, EA are shuttering the Medal of Honor series for awhile, because the last game was a critical disaster that vastly underperformed in sales.   This is a purely business decision and nothing at all to do with the political climate. They’re enthusiastic about other shooters like Battlefield and again, they’re too reliant on selling shooters to criticise them or stop making them anyway.

So again, a bit of dancing on eggshells to put this across while backing the government’s call for research into video game violence and also asserting that there’s no connection between gaming and RL violence.

Gaming <—> Violence? Who knows?

We take tremendous joy in virtual violence. We squeal with glee when life-giving liquid squirts out of men’s necks. Does that cause violence? Probably not. I don’t have any concrete reason to believe so, anyway. But it gives violence an active, constant role in our day-to-day lives. We can’t just ignore that. We shouldn’t ignore that. It’d be outright irresponsible to do so.

– Nathan Grayson, Rock Paper Shotgun

Personally, I’m all for more research being done on links between gaming and violence. I doubt that gaming has much to do with violence, it’s as likely to be a substitute (i.e. people who might otherwise have gone out and got into fights may play games instead) as a normaliser. But I could be wrong, and it would be good to know more if we can.

And if it becomes less politically fashionable for devs to make ultra-realistic ultra-violent shmups then I won’t be complaining, since it increases the chance that more games will be made that I personally like. John Walker (also in RPS) argues that EA should not have canned Medal of Honor but instead use it to springboard a series of FPS games that challenges the players preconceptions and portrays the experience of soldiers with more choice (and therefore taking responsibility for the consequences of those choices) and less railroaded “kill X enemies” scenarios.

And I think “yes, that sounds interesting”, I’m playing through The Walking Dead at the moment and loving how it carefully explores its genre. I could imagine a war game that took a similar approach. But I don’t like FPS games, and that’s the problem in a nutshell. Your average FPS player may not be your average story-loving RPG fan. EA probably did the right thing to shoot MoH in the head.

Solving the content problem: where have all the MMO players gone (longterm passing?)

“Mom, did Grandpa serve in the war?” ” No honey, he played World of Warcraft for 10 years.”

– UrbanGimli, “it’ll never be the same thread” on reddit

I’ve seen a lot of talk over the past few months about the content problem in MMOs, and how current devs hope to solve it.

This is going to be one of a series of posts looking at the issue and at some proposed solutions (which will include sandboxes, adding subgames for different playstyles,  blending mobile and fixed gaming, livening up the grind, events, giving players a stake in the world, harnessing player creativity, RP MMOs, and the game as a social network.)

What it is not is about how WoW is declining, because I’m not honestly sure that it is.

What is “the content problem” in MMOs?

  • It is when players work through content faster than developers can keep up with them.
  • It is when a game can’t seem to entice new players to stick around and form a longterm community, instead of moving on en masse when they’re done with the content.
  • It is when the sandbox content that exists seems to drive away more people than it attracts, due to griefing. And player generated content gets optimised quickly for maximal xp/exploiting/ dick pictures.
  • It is when all the methods that seem to have worked in the past to attract players to a game and make it sticky for them don’t seem to work any more.

So there’s an underlying assumption that MMOs, being permanent virtual worlds, should be attracting players who want a permanent presence. An onine ‘home’ if you like. They should be fundamentally different from single player games which you play through and then set aside.  Or play through, set aside, and come back when the next DLC is released.

There is also an implication that a successful MMO should have an in game (and out of game) community associated with it. These might be formal organisations like guilds or raid groups, or loosely associated groups who PvP with each other, keep the in game economy rolling, and create content for each other. Also bloggers and addon writers,  forum communities on fansites, groups on Facebook, and whatever other social media is hot at the moment. All of these player associations are assumed to be fairly stable for the longterm; a guild which breaks up after a month isn’t really a functional guild for example. A blogger who writes a couple of posts and then goes dark isn’t really helping the in game community establish itself either.

Or to put this another way, many commenters and longterm players feel that an MMO should be greater than its content. There is a virtual world and community involved, after all. This is important because if there’s a bad patch, then players will keep playing until the next one (at least) if the game is greater than its content.

As with all things gamery, people tend to assume that the standard ways of playing 2-3 years ago are some kind of writ-in-stone baseline to which all future gamers should adhere. But maybe, just maybe, the reason early MMO players liked to treat the games as their virtual home and build strong communities was just a part of the era. We know the internet has been great at bringing together communities of interest who might not otherwise meet. MMOs were how a lot of RPG computer gamers first met other hobbyists. Also, gamers at the time were early(ish) internet adopters and tended to come from similar geeky backgrounds, and be of similar ages. Maybe they just tended to have more in common.

What if today’s players aren’t interested in making that sort of commitment?

So how do people play MMOs now?

  • World of Warcraft – No one plays anymore
  • SWotOR – They only played for about a month
  • (insert countless other online games here)
  • Minecraft – Everyone built their cool house and left

The only things that most social groups I find want to play anymore are the simple, repetitive, FPS games like Team Fortress or other games like League of Legends.

thadrine, rpg.net

So what’s a typical gaming evening? Maybe it involves hanging out on voice chat with some other gamers who  met (and got on with) via different games, blogs, RL, mutual friends and social media. There will be smutty jokes, chat about people’s work and families, and at some point a bit of negotiation about what games people feel like playing tonight. Torchlight 2? Don’t mind if I do.

The space in which a lot of my gaming friends move is that of a loose cloud of people who play a portfolio of current and old games. There may be some regular ‘game nights’ or they might decide jointly what to play based on who is around, or people might just talk on voice chat while playing various different (including single player) games and not be playing together in-game at all. The community isn’t tied to a game, although people will tend to enjoy trying betas and new games out together and forming an in game guild to do so. They probably aren’t motivated to recruit in game, although might do if they run into someone who might fit in well. There may be some light raiding, although by the time you get that far, other players in the group will be itching to move to a different game.

I’m also in a couple of more established guilds, like my WoW guild which we started on Day 1 (the day the EU servers first went live). Over time, we’ve settled into something more than just a guild, but that is very clearly based around a specific game. Sometimes groups of people do play other games but they never have seemed to really ‘take’ longterm.

So I’m going to extrapolate wildly from my own experience and say there are two main forms of player community going on at the moment. The oldschool guild/community which does emphasise commitment to a game, and the newer social group which assumes that most players will not settle in a game for more than  few months at most.

I suspect that the newer group is growing more quickly. Why? Well, have you tried recently to find a good oldschool guild in your game of choice? If you have done so successfully then well done. It was never easy at the best of times, and I suspect it’s even harder now unless you network really hard. It’s tough because ideally you want a match for your playing style, timezone, gaming interests, social culture, and one that has room for your class/spec of choice. Plus they have to be longterm gamers. And once you have found them, they will expect a regular commitment. After all, that’s what you joined for.

It’s likely easier to find a solid guild in a game that is over six months old – that’s long enough for the more transient guilds to have broken up or stopped recruiting. Which is another way of saying that if you (as a player) have a longterm mindset, then the longer you play your game of choice, the more likely you are to find other players/ guilds with that mindset.

The newer type of more transient community is more like an extended friends network, and they are much less demanding in some ways. It’s unlikely that there will be an onerous application process. But also no guarantee that anyone in the group will want to play the game and/or content you’re currently jonesing for either. Although they’re probably open to persuasion.  You might also find group members are part of longterm guilds in at least one of the games they play, which will help you find a guild like that if you end up really enamoured of that game and wanting to commit to it.

The notion that we are growing communities of ‘play the content, then move on’ gamers has got to be worrying for MMO designers. It used to be the case that enticing existing guilds to your beta was a really good way to jumpstart an in-game community. These days, if you attract a transient guild, it will be great for your initial numbers but when they’re bored (in a month or two), they will probably all move on together. It’s harsh being a member of a group like this when the rest of the group wants to move on before you do, or if something comes up iRL so you fall behind the rest in levels in whatever game they’re into at the moment  – but you can always find another in game guild, right? If there is one.

Only 24 hours in a day

In WoW, I remember making friends with strangers. I easily met a lot of people in vanilla going through lowbie instances while levelling, 40man raids, then doing tons of Heroic runs in BC and Kara raids. Those were really good times coz you could just sit around Orgrimmar/Shattrath City and chat with your guildies/friends. I don’t know the state of WoW nowadays, but in newer MMOs, I just can’t seem to be able to do this anymore.

Klat93, reddit

Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and obviously this is a rose tinted memory, but there are a lot more MMOs out there now to compete for players’ time than there used to be. There are also a lot more multiplayer games which you can play while chatting to your existing friends, rather than always having to go in blind and make new ones.

I think that for a lot of more experienced players, however much they might have enjoyed the social side of MMOs, they didn’t want to keep repeating the newbie social experience over and over again. It’s hard work, making friends with strangers. Plus they now had already met other gamers who they wanted to play with in newer games as well as the old one. And once you have a taste for achievement, it’s hard to go back and be an ignorant newbie. Also, hanging out and meeting people is very time consuming, and there are only 24 hours in a day.

As it happens ‘time consuming activities’ are one of the solutions to the content problem. An MMO that could encourage players to relive the whole ‘hanging out in Orgrimmar and chatting with guildies’ or ‘making friends with strangers’ behaviour would probably be great at retaining players. It just isn’t great gameplay – in fact, if you are able to hang out and chat with your guildies while playing a game, there probably isn’t much else going on at the time. (I’ll come back to the great gameplay concept later, because just as a good MMO is greater than its content, it may also be greater than its gameplay.)

But the baseline is that communities of players who drift together from game to game are very well suited to a lot of players. You get most of the social upsides of multiplayer/MMO gaming with less of the boring grind/endgame. But when the more vocal members get bored and move on, the rest probably follow.

  • So maybe if new games want to build their own longterm core player base, the best place to start is NOT with existing guilds.
  • And many players simply aren’t interested in committing longterm to a single game. In the past they didn’t have as many choices as they do now.
  • And the million dollar question: how do new players who might want to play a game longterm link in with the in game community?

Gaming Ethics: Can it ever be fun to do things that aren’t fun?

Towards the end of last year, I read several carefully argued (or passionately argued) blog posts about the ethics of daily quests.  In particular:

Doone had concerns about ethics of game design. He starts by discussing dailies but he has wider concerns.

We’ve got a lot of unethical game design going on. It’s bad. It’s contributing to bad ideas and promoting unhealthy communities of gamers. It’s making otherwise immoral acts normative and therefore acceptable to gamers.

If a game is based on Skinner techniques in it’s core design, it’s not a game. It’s a software device developers have created to keep you playing, often because the model is profitable. It’s like tricking the rat in the box into thinking they are winning a game. In fact, they are being controlled in an environment they’re barely aware of.

Saxsy has a strong rebuttal to this, and particularly the idea that ‘psychological manipulation’ is always unethical. (I think she’s wrong btw to keep accusing Doone of White Knight Syndrome, that actually wasn’t something I read in his argument.)

I seriously doubt Blizzard is putting non-fun things in the game for the purpose of getting people to continue to play the game. ((…)) Having people do not fun things make them less likely to continue giving Blizzard their money. It isn’t evil. It’s just stupid.

So, I have a few points to make here. This post isn’t really an essay with an argument and conclusions, more some thoughts on the topic.

I don’t think it has to be unethical per se to create fun games that people like to play and will want to pay for, or to recognise that some people enjoy having organised habits. Or even that many MMO players enjoy the process of grinding towards progress or an achievement.  I also think Blizzard cops a lot of bad press in the blogosphere for this, where actually they seem (via designer blogposts) aware of players’ wellbeing and try to design away from things that would harm it.

I also think that the best defence against accusations of unethical design are to be really up front with how this behavioural stuff works, and empower players to make informed decisions about how often they want to play and to set their own boundaries. This is social worker-y language, but you get the jist.  Have fun, but it’s down to you to take care of yourself. Don’t say ‘I was forced to play,’ because no one stopped you logging off when you’d had enough and it makes you sound a) whiny and b) unable to manage your own time.

But some people are genuinely vulnerable – in the same way that some people are vulnerable to online gambling (which is also a form of gaming that makes heavy use of behavioural mechanisms to keep people playing and coming back.) It likely is unethical to encourage them to play MMOs, but it’s not really clear what devs can do about that, or is it? Maybe mechanisms that do encourage players to take regular breaks are more ethical, it’s food for thought at any rate.

Ethics and Behavioural Psychology

I’m not saying behaviouralism is ethically dubious, but every famous psychology experiment I can think of in that field has been criticised for being unethical. At the same time, it spawned a raft of techniques that have given real help and real hope to many people with depression, helped people to make positive changes in their lives, and in other ways helped to make people happier and healthier. It is a powerful tool, and one which has been widely co opted.

Fact is, there are lots of organisations in this world that use behavioural psychology to try to influence people’s behaviour and opinions. Pretty much all marketing and advertising, for example. Psychological torture. Also many activist campaigns, and lots of educational initiatives. There is a big overlap between gaming and learning, which Raph Koster theorises about in A Theory of Fun (his idea is that games are fun because learning things is fun, basically.)

I think that the ethical side arises from questions this raises about free will. Is it possible to make someone do something that isn’t in their best interests without holding a gun to their head? Do we assume people aren’t able to decide what their best interests are if they’re subject to psychological manipulation? Can building these types of habits into games make them more fun for players? These are big questions. But the cat is out of the bag now.

We do know that traditional MMOs use a lot of operant conditioning. It’s all about the tasks and the rewards. And what players actually do in these games has been very dependent on this balance. Or in other words, when you log into your MMO of choice, how do you decide what you are going to do that session? A lot of the time, it will be based on some goal or reward.

Goals are used in other games too, it’s just that the relationship between grind and reward is very up front in MMOs. I also note that players will also often learn things that the designers never intended – such as being wildly elitist in PUGs. There’s no option for players not to learn something from their games and online communities, as a human being this is how your brain works … always learning. It’s just a question of how much of that learning should be designed, and whether its ok for there to be commercial elements present.

Some history of daily quests

Any old dinos who remember when daily quests were first introduced to WoW may also remembered that the player base welcomed them fervently. This was during TBC, with the Isle of Quel’Danas. They were welcomed, in part, because they were felt to be more ethical and less demanding than previous rep grinds.

It used to be the case that rep grinds were based on killing mobs and repeatable quests. So if you were hardcore, you went off and camped in the appropriate place for ages and kept at it until you were done. The daily quests offered a natural break; once you had done your dailies, that was it for the day.

Now later on, the whole idea of daily tasks was completely co-opted by social/ facebook games as a way to encourage players to keep coming back. I’m sure that was part of the idea behind daily quests too, but mostly it was to find a way to give players longer term goals which they didn’t immediately burn out on. And lets also remember that this was a time when players liked to feel attached to their MMO of choice, so having reasons to keep coming back could have made the game more fun. Many players still do. And also, the sense of working at the game to earn an achievement or reward may be behaviouralism in action, but it can also be fun. Players were doing this anyway before daily quests.

Ted A gives an example:

Between the lore, and the gear rewards, these dailies have not felt like a grind. I’ve wanted to do them and as a bonus I’ve kept playing my main and thoroughly enjoying the class.

 

Being open about the design

I find that the more unethical side to this type of design is where it’s not clear what the player is being manipulated to do, or where it’s made deliberately difficult for players to set upper bounds on either their play time or spending. F2P games with complex payment models can edge close to this.

The other questionable thing to me is about design by metric, especially where game designers assume that if a lot of players do something, that means they liked that content. I understand why you’d assume that — after all, why would so many people do it if they didn’t like it. But then I remember spending a weekend in PvP during TBC to get decent weapons for my Fury Warrior and I did not like it AT ALL. I did it. For the rewards. But I had a big grudge on Blizzard for years afterwards.

So my view: it’s all good, as long as it’s clear up front what you need to do to get your reward so you can make an informed choice. I also like games that offer clear breaks to players; dailies actually do this. I really get tired of people complaining that they were forced to do XYZ in a game when they clearly weren’t – if you do feel forced, it’s a wake up call to step back and look at the psychological manipulation.

[Links] Links for the new year

Let it be time for checking out all the links I didn’t find time to write up by the end of last year! If this looks like a random jumble of links, it’s because it is a random jumble of links. But they are all great!

Chris at Game by Night writes a thoughtful roundup of his experiences with Guild Wars 2. He wonders about how well the whole horizontal progression thing is working out.

I would, any day, rather return to Queensdale in GW2 than Silverwood in RIFT or the Barrens in WoW. No question about it, Guild Wars 2 holds up better. But going back to a zone whose main purpose was leveling when you’re all leveled up really begs the question of what’s the point.

Zubon ponders designs that you may hate but that other people love.

People seem more in favor of difficulty that they do not find difficult. Games should demand above average skills where you have above average skills but not let people get advantages for having above average skills where you do not.

Matthew Rossi at WoW Insider has been writing up a storm in the past month or so. Always one of my favourite columnists on the site, I feel as though every time I read him lately, I think “That’s so true!” Here’s  a couple I particularly liked:

  • Are rogues a dying class in WoW? Looking at the class statistics in WoW at the moment. I think that people who want to play melee have so many good options in WoW (and all of the others are hybrids who have access to more than one role) that you’d have to really love your rogue to stick with it these days. Stealth is still cool, no doubt, but you can’t use stealth in group PvE.
  • Hellscream is my Warchief – discussing how the race you choose in WoW affects your view of the lore. I find that this really rings true for me. And in this post, Matthew talks about how playing an Orc Warrior changed his view of the Horde.

In many ways, I see the Horde through new eyes. While Matthew Rossi, the human being writing this article likes them even less now in a lot of ways — seeing the Horde constantly taking aggressive action then complain and whine when they get hit back always annoys me, for instance — I’m enjoying playing Horde a lot more now, because I can finally understand how someone could follow Hellscream willingly. If anything, Garrosh Hellscream isn’t perverting the Horde or the orcish character at all. He’s the ultimate fulfillment of it.

Ben at Scribblings on the Asylum Wall had a similar experience when comparing playing through Pandaria as a  paladin to his new alt, a forsaken hunter.

Stubborn wonders, along similar (ish) lines about how the roles players choose affect how they see their favourite games. Is it inevitable that playing a healer will make people burn out faster?

Another hit (for me) from WoW Insider is the Drama Mammas list of “20 signs its time to leave your guild.” We’ve all been there, although to be honest it’s been years since I’ve been unhappy in a guild. I think I just get better at knowing what I like. Or at knowing a few people before I go into a new MMO.

bigbearbutt wonders how people manage players in their guild/raid who just don’t seem to get it. He comes from a position where sometimes he thinks he is That Player, and other times he’s trying to explain things to That Player. I suspect that answering this question goes a long way to determine how casual and/ or progression focussed a guild really is. Where most people try to find a happy medium, and the people who find that it really bugs them end up in more progression focussed guilds.

Siha writes about cross realm zones in WoW and about the issue of low population servers. WoW does have about a zillion servers (109 EU servers alone, if I count correctly), something that I only ever realise when I look at the full server selection screen (rare) or the server forums on the official bboard (even rarer). So it wouldn’t be surprising at all if some of them have very low server pops.

Server closures and server merges are the number one sign, in most peoples’ minds, that a game is struggling, and Blizzard can’t afford to be seen as struggling, given its position at the top of the pile. Most games are forced into server closures and merges anyway, by the necessity of providing a playable environment for their customers, but Blizzard have had the resources to develop technologies that prop up ailing servers without merging them.

Terra Silverspar talks about payment models in MMOs and makes a good case for the (current) TSW payment model, pondering DLC in particular and how games have to find a balance between making the DLC appealing to buy, and not alienating current players who don’t buy it.

I feel that I personally have lost any solid perspective on which payment models work best, since finding out how many people seem happy to throw money at devs for random gift boxes in cash shops that may or may not contain desirable tchotchkes. WHY DO PEOPLE DO THIS? My mind, it boggles.

Unsubject doesn’t think that B2P will be the answer for The Secret World.

Ian at Visiting the Village argues that games should not be designed around a payment model, and he’s particularly eyeing up F2P games.

… at every point in an f2p game you’d like to say to the player: you are having some fun now.  If you pay us some money, you can have more fun.  How is that a good thing to design around?  When I’m designing my old-fashioned pay-once game, I’m saying: I’d like you to have the most fun, all of the time.

Greg Richardson writes at Venturebeat about how treating your free players well is the key to running a successful F2P game. This is contrary to the prevailing ‘it’s all about the whales’ strategy where you court the big spenders.

Your game’s free players are actually more valuable than its biggest spenders. It is free players who hold the key to creating sticky communities, driving virality through word of mouth, and maximizing the opportunity for long-term engagement and monetization of your game service. If you want to avoid the headwinds that companies such as Zynga have run into in recent months and instead ride the tail winds that are driving Riot Games into a multi-billion dollar enterprise, you must learn to love your free players.

Green Armadillo writes a couple of thoughtful posts about payment models from the player point of view.

  • Should you want to pay? What sort of messages does F2P send to players? That they should be trying to spend as little as possible? And what does it mean if you want to support the game and would theoretically be happy to pay more, but you don’t want to buy overpriced tat from a cash shop?
  • 2012 MMO expenditures. This is where he checks in on what he actually spent on MMOs this year. It’s the subscription games which got the lion’s share of the cash.

Psychochild writes a really good piece on designing in-game economies. He also has some analysis and ideas on how to fix the GW2 economy, particularly focussed on whether it would be better to separate server economies than have a single trading post for the whole game.

So, what should be our design goals? Some people might be tempted to say that the goal of the economic design should be to simulate the real-world economy. This is the wrong goal. The goal of a game economy is to be fun.

If you have been following the gaming news, you will know that SWTOR announced a new expansion to be released next year, which is based around one new planet’s worth of PvE and a 5 level cap increase. It will cost $19.99 to F2P players and $9.99 to subscribers.

lonomonkey has a rant about subscribers being charged for new content.

While it’s called a “Digital Expansion” to try to bring it in line with the expansions of other games let’s not be dumb here. It’s one planet, one raid, one pvp zone and probably some space stuff. Unless Makeb turns out to be a gigantic multizone place, it shouldn’t be considered an expansion. It’s a DLC addon, simple as that.

Shintar discusses the quest to acquire HK-51 as a companion. To be more specific, the first part of the questline, which sounds pretty fun.

Gordon at We Fly Spitfires wonders what’s so bad about MMO combat anyway.

Rohan wonders why there are so few Indian developers (or characters, or settings) in gaming, given that there are often lots of students from the subcontinent in computer science/IT courses. (Obv this does not apply to games designed in India.) Mythical/Fantasy India would be a  phenomenal setting, I’ll play it when someone gets round to designing it. (Preferably without the rapes – yes, I went there.)

Bree writes a loving eulogy to Glitch, the browser based MMO which closed in December, and discusses why it was special to her.

…for a few weeks last spring, I became infatuated with snapping screenshots of ruined buildings in the game. Why were there ruined buildings in a video game? I have no idea. Because the art designer said so. The pure uselessness of these pieces of hidden art just spoke to me. Someone paid someone to draw a secret, lost world inside a Flash-based video game and code it for me to walk past and ponder.

Spurious Gaming Predictions for 2013

My predictions for last year missed the boat on some of the big news stories, although some of the other general comments aren’t too far off and I think I did get that both Diablo 3 and MoP would sell hugely. (Actually even then I was noting that my previous predictions were bad, so there’s a pattern forming here.)

I wondered if the sheen would have rubbed off F2P. I’m sure plenty of F2P games are still doing fine, but Zynga’s plunging share price, and Turbine’s layoffs are making it pretty clear that it’s not the be all and end all of gaming monetisation. With a solid game and pricing model behind them, Riot’s LoL and wargaming.net’s World of Tanks still look to be doing very well. But the sense of ‘Switch every game to F2P!’ that was pervasive at the start of last year isn’t quite how things look now.

I thought SWTOR would be really successful. We know how that worked out. It wasn’t due to being a bad game per se, many people really enjoyed what Bioware brought to the table. But when your definition of successful involves millions of people taking out longterm subscriptions (and when you’ve spent so much money on development that you NEED those millions of long term subs), then you’re largely doomed regardless of how good the game is or isn’t. Yes, the endgame was deeply lacking, which is why they couldn’t sustain the 500k they claimed that they needed. But what they had was fun (in PvE at least). I’m glad the game was made and that I got to play it.

I’m not trying to rescue my rubbish SWTOR prediction but I did say:

Better legs in this case may mean stays strong for 6 months rather than 3, it’ll be down to Bioware in the end to persuade people to stick with it.

I thought TSW would get mixed reviews and a small but dedicated hardcore following. Which is true, and again they weren’t able to sustain the sub numbers that they needed, hence the switch to B2P. It doesn’t mean the game is a failure in terms of gameplay, but something went wrong in the planning/ budgeting/ prediction department.

I thought CCP might see falling numbers. Actually the numbers they have released show that the opposite has happened. The dev team clearly managed to pull some patches out of the bag which pleased the core player base and improved the confidence players have in the game. I’m not sure why they might have attracted new players though, so it may be that this sub increase is due to expanding into new regions or core players buying more accounts.

What’s in Store for 2013

Mobile was a huge story last year and with the increasing numbers of tablets being sold, that can only increase. I personally find tablets a much better platform for games than mobile phones, mostly because I like to save my phone battery for making calls. Also better screen size. Some of the better mobile games I’ve seen with MMOish features are based around collectible cards (like Rage of Bahamut and Shadow Era) – I think we’ll see more of those. They are currently aggressively monetised and that trend can only continue, at least until players desert in large numbers. Hopefully someone will develop a good card based game with a F2P model that isn’t actively painful, until then there is always Duel of the Planeswalkers.

With respect to the games industry, EA  in particular have had a rocky year. Whether they can sustain another without some major changes I’m not sure. There will be more shakeups, and probably more big name failures and layoffs, sadly.

The ongoing competition between Android and iOS continues. Android devices will continue to outsell Apple. The reason that so many devs still develop for Apple first is because metrics show that Apple owners spend more on apps. This is probably a self fulfulling prophecy and we should see more apps jumping to Android next year. (Obviously cross platform games would be better for consumers but you can assume there isn’t much drive for that.)

The ongoing evolution of F2P monetisation continues. This year the trend has been towards convergence of MMOs/Persistent online games and other types of multi player games. For example, with CODBLOPS2 you buy the game and get access to the multiplayer, and can then buy DLC over the year. Similar with ME3 (where I’m told the multiplayer is great). You can compare this with GW2 or the updated TSW where you buy the boxed game, can play the MMO/multiplayer for free, and have a cash shop/ DLC which you can also buy. This convergence trend will continue and there will also be more games that are based on converging multi player with persistence.

Crowdfunding continues to draw attention, but it will become clearer that the games with smaller and more developed scopes are better bets for your kickstarter money. This will not stop people from throwing money at crowdpleasing favourites, but it’s only a matter of time before some big crowdfunded game fails to implement the wildly optimistic initial plans and disappoints hugely.

Rift will continue to lose players slowly as it settles on a core playerbase who prefer it to other offerings enough to pay a subscription. I don’t expect them to move to F2P but there may be more enticing offers for returning players.

I do predict that far from seeing the death of subscription games, we’ll see more games try a subscription model. But they will be small niche games focussed on a core player group, with long betas and careful market testing. The day of the new large AAA MMO sub game is likely over, unless anyone wants to try it with cheap subs.

More and different genres will join the fray. This year Dust and Planetside 2 have led the charge on FPS MMOish games. We’ll see more sports games and RTS MMOs this year. I’m dubious about whether Dust will fulfill CCPs hopes, given how much it must have cost to develop. If they can’t attract the player base they need, we’ll see them lose staff and that may affect EVE.

Although fantasy MMOs feel tired at the moment, the interest in multiplayer persistent gaming is still huge.

The ethics of different types of monetisation/ design will continue to be widely debated, while devs try to find a way to make profits and keep the players entertained without actually killing any staff or players in the process. Mobile will continue to have the most aggressive monetisation strategies, partly because it’s a young person’s platform (yeah I know there are oldies too) and they’re just more susceptible. Plus more disposable income, if we weren’t in the middle of a triple dip recession.

Emphasis on storytelling has been another theme this year, and we’ve seen both the upsides and downsides of this. Players do like good storytelling and will buy games on that basis. They also get invested and very very angry if they’re not happy with how the stories are going (see: ME3 ending). And storytelling is expensive in terms of MMO content. The Walking Dead’s episodic content is however bang on trend with current monetisation trends so hopefully more games will follow that pattern.

SWTOR’s ‘expansion’ will be successful if they can keep the quality up, despite not including class storylines. (There won’t BE any more class storylines.) There are plenty of players who liked the game and want more story who will come try the F2P offering and pay to try the new content.

Blizzard will announce something about Titan this year, even if it is just that it is either delayed or has been abandoned (I don’t think they’ll be able to abandon it, since they do need to be working on something new, but I’m not really sure what they might come up with.) They will also announce an expansion for Diablo 3. And while their current content release schedule for MoP is really solid, it’ll run out of steam by the end of the year.

Wildstar will be terrible. I predict this because it has Bunnygirls, so you know what their target audience is. And also because they want to completely separate playstyles like building and PvP. This means they either have to have separate deep compelling games in multiple genres or a fully functional sandbox. Since I haven’t heard anything that makes me think they’re going to do either of these, I don’t expect much from this game apart from pretty and flashy graphics.

The Elder Scrolls Online may surprise MMO players as a solid entry in the field IF the devs can keep the costs down and their expectations reasonable. I don’t know how possible it will be to keep costs down and produce the kind of fully realised virtual world that Skyrim fans will expect, so I am dubious about this one but willing to be convinced.

We will no doubt hear more about sandbox games, as EQNext and Pathfinder are both aiming to dip into the fantasy sandbox arena. I think this will get players excited by hype, but ultimately sandbox games are for the hardcore unless devs find a way to provide a social sandbox function and I don’t think either of these devs are tending that way. (ie. so many excited players will be disappointed by the realities of the sandbox if they launch.)

Every year I predict DaoC2. Maybe this will be that year.