Kickstarter, older games, and the packaging up of gaming nostalgia

kotor2

KOTOR2 featured in the Steam Autumn Sale this week for the grand sum of £1.74. And you know what? I realise I never stopped loving this style of RPG.

Let it be widely known that the long-awaited Kickstarter gaming backlash has officially kicked off!

Oh, there had been stirrings in the blogosphere previously. People wondering if punters really thought about projects before they hit ‘donate’, projects that collected money for ‘tech demos’  or ‘demo videos’ on the backs of a zealous fanbase, projects that raised their funding but failed, projects that simply failed to raise the funding required (maybe the fanbase just wasn’t zealous enough.)

None of that indicates a broken system. When you throw money at a kickstarter you are taking a risk. And it is the nature of crowdfunding to favour creators with an established fanbase.

But the more recent trend is for old designers to come out of the woodwork with a shiny new kickstarter to produce some updated version of a nostalgic fan favourite. It worked when Double Fine reminded people that actually they did like point and click adventure games, or Jane Jensen reminded them that she was still writing and still liking these games too. Chris Roberts’ Star Citizen, aside from showing convincing video, reminded people that they liked open world space sims.

I’m an old enough gamer to have loved all those genres too the first time around, and to miss the lack of those genres in the current scene, so I wish the devs and backers all the best of luck.

But then we move to the pitches that just failed to convince. Brenda Romero and Tom Halls ‘Old School RPG’ kickstarter seemed to just remind people of all the things they didn’t like about old school RPGs. For once, even having big name designers didn’t stop punters from murmuring (check the comments on this thread) that it looked like a half thought out cash grab, not a fully realised project. David Braben’s Elite Kickstarter (currently just under halfway to its $1.25m goal)  made people wonder why someone with a successful studio behind them couldn’t get some funding together without going to the fans – or maybe Star Citizen just got to those fans first. And now Peter Molyneux is proposing a God Game kickstarter (aka Populous remake).

I liked all of these games back in the day – apart possibly from the old school RPGs which could get pretty tedious. There are genres that could use a remake with a modern sensibility for gamers who never played the classics of yore. Particularly because some of these games, being designed for old slow hardware, don’t require heavy twitch skills. And they date from before the era of everyone-has-internet, compulsory multiplayer features. (Obviously both of these features will probably get designed out to match more current trends.)

But I am down with letting the teams actually build and release the games before I buy them now. Some of these projects are way too ambitious in scope for my taste. By all means be ambitious, but when Tim Schafer says he’s going to build a single player adventure game in the style of the old adventure games he became known for, I believe him.  When Chris Roberts says he’s going to build a new Wing Commander with a huge sandbox online component as well as a single player game, I think “Good luck, I’ll believe it when I see it. And I’ll happily buy in once its done.”

Also the amounts being asked for don’t bear much resemblance to costs so much as a ‘how much can we get?’ approach. Kickstarters were once seen as a way for indies with good ideas to get some backing from people who liked those ideas too, and now we’re looking at some kind of nostalgia cash grab. Not only that, but as backers get bored of the endless stream of ‘hey pay us money to remake XYZ, we have a sketchy outline and we’re working on a demo’, other creators are going to find themselves on the downturn of a trend that once offered them an airing and a genuinely innovative way to do business.

Jeff Minter  (icon of my gaming childhhod!) commented on twitter that he’d love money to do a T2K remake but that people who are already rich have taken the wind out of the kickstarter sails.

Matt Barton has a particularly good analysis of kickstarter and gaming. I’m just not sure whether I agree with his conclusion that everyone who cares about games should be supporting kickstarters. I’m through that phase now, and would rather wait for a demo.

As an alternative, how about playing the actual older games?

As you can see from the screenie at the top, I’ve been playing KOTOR2 this week ( I’m using the restored content mod,  if anyone is interested). It cost a pittance, and I’m really enjoying it. I like story heavy RPGs, especially if they have combat that lets you pause. And while the graphics are dated, it makes surprisingly little difference to the basic fun of the game. Having good voiceover work and/or music is particularly effective at making an older game feel more convincing. That game is 7 years old, which makes it a spring chicken compared to Elite or even Day of the Tentacle, but the core gameplay is fine. It isn’t fine due to nostalgia or my memories of an earlier era, it’s fine because I was playing it this morning and thinking ‘this feels a bit old school but still pretty fun.’ (Although wtf with having  my character run around in her undies for the first hour or so, Obsidian?)

Older games have never been more accessible to gamers, via Steam Sales, GoG,et al. Even my local library has a load of PS2 games amongst its collection to be borrowed. Some of the older games date horribly. I picked up Ultima: Martian Dreams when it was a free download from GOG earlier this year. I know it’s a really cool game, I loved the steampunk setting back in the day. I couldn’t play it for more than 5 minutes before sadly laying that piece of nostalgia to rest. I’m pretty sure I would do the same with Elite.

An alternative – maybe even a happy medium — is the Balders Gate approach, where an enhanced version is offered. Not a complete overhaul and upgrade, but some new characters, a graphics update, and tweaks.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go sort my characters out for raiding in another game I’m still playing and enjoying that is 8 years old.

[Links] Pandarian musings, Brawlers Guild, cash shops, SWTOR F2P

Welcome to another links post!

Before I kick off some links to posts about Pandaria and how players are settling into the new WoW expansion (or not), here are some words of wisdom from Alexander Brazie, one of the designers. In this blog post, he discusses how and why players get bored, “Ennui is inevitable. It can only be slowed, never stopped.” And what tools game designers have available to work with this.

    • The first tool is to increase the stimulation provided to the players. You can see this in the increased quality of art, boss fights, questing and game systems.  By increasing the quality of the game, the novelty and learning reactivates the brain and helps keep the player engaged.
    • The next tool is to have a nigh-unreachable ceiling on the game, coupled with a steady sense of personal growth and progress. This sense of growth and mastery helps reinforce the player’s investment in the game world.
    • Finally, you can accept that players need a break and build systems that allow players to leave for a while and come back unpenalized.

I think Pandaria does very much reflect the use of these tools, and having now playing it for a couple of months, I also agree that that game itself is probably stronger than ever. Which doesn’t mean that it’s right for everyone who ever loved it in the past. Just that there’s some solid game and game thinking under the covers, a good balance of fun and that particular grind which is characteristic of good MMOs. Also the raids are good fun and they’ve got the balance between ranged and melee dps much better this time around.

Sheep the Diamond talks about the REAL barrier to raiding, which is finding a compatible guild. Truth is, playing an online game in a good guild (defined according to personal tastes) is a very very different experience to playing solo and it’s always been a puzzle to me why devs don’t put more time into good guild finding tools. The current trend as per GW2 et al is for more raid/sociable experiences that don’t require the player to sign up for a guild, which is a viable and different direction. But it still doesn’t give the same sense of being part of a community that a good guild would.

Kadomi also shares her feelings about looking for a guild in WoW, and why the official ‘looking for guild’ forum isn’t really helping.

One of the latest conversation starters in WoW is the new Brawlers Guild feature that is coming with the next patch.

Blizzard are playing contrarians with this one – it is content that can only be completed by one player at a time, although others can watch; access is limited and gated by buying tickets for gold on the in game black market. And you know what? I LOVE it. I love that they’re experimenting and trying out new ways to push interesting server content out into the community. Maybe the whole thing will go tits up and explore in a storm of ragequit, but you know what? It’ll be interesting to find out, both as a player and as a blogger. I’ll be curious to see who the best brawlers are on my server too.

Rohan shares his thoughts on the brawlers guild invitations (and concludes, like me, that it hasn’t been done before and is a low key way to experiment.)

BBB suggests another way that Blizzard could have distributed tickets for the brawler’s guild.

The Grumpy Elf also shares his thoughts on the brawlers guild, and agrees with problems that other bloggers have raised.

I suspect that the people who feel strongest on this issue play classes that are stronger in 1v1 PvE content. That’s my personal main issue with the brawler’s guild idea, it’s not really fair to expect a warrior to be able to perform as well as a hunter or death knight in that kind of scenario so my personal interest is pretty much tanked from the get go. I suspect they may end up having class based leader boards though, at least that is what I would do.

The Godmother writes a thoughtful post about alts in MoP, and particularly about how shared achievements and the rep grinds affect how much time people are prepared to spend on their alts this expansion. She also shares a considered, reflective view on crafting (the bolding is mine).

The main killer for me is the professions ‘gating': if I want that Royal Satchel recipe for my Tailor I have absolutely no choice but to level my Tailor to 90, get the Golden Lotus and Shado Pan dailies to a certain level and then spend however long it is on the Augusts. How on Earth am I supposed to do that when at this stage I’m probably a month away from being rep maxxed on the person I want to raid with? ((…))  I am still sticking by my assertion that this is by far the best way to prevent server economies collapsing, and to preserve the sanctity of professions saleability. Our #1 Tailor is now capable of making those bags, and it will be Quite Some Time (TM) before I see people flooding the market with them. That is the way it should be. I’ll just have to accept the fact that having a family that I can rely on for self-sufficiency takes more time this time around.

Kurn has written a lengthy series of posts behind his decision to retire from WoW. I’ve linked to the first post here but go to his blog and read the rest if you find this one interesting.

Anyhow, I’m not out to convince anyone to quit or that the game sucks or anything of the sort. Play or don’t play, that’s your choice and your choice alone. ((…)) I’ve become more interested in the decision to game/raid/etc than the actual content of the game and so exploring my own reasons seems like a good place to start.

Tobold discusses his decision to cancel his WoW subscription. As usual he generalises too widely from his own experience.

Klepsacovic takes a farewell from WoW blogging. I will miss his posts, but I agree that it is a struggle blog about a game that you’re not enjoying. (You can do it, but it will tend to be a chronicle of burnout.)

You may be thinking, gentle reader, that all these links are about people burning out on WoW or deciding its no longer for them so that must indicate something larger. I can’t answer that question (the sub numbers will do that) but I personally am enjoying the game more than ever at the moment so expect more upbeat posts on WoW in the future.

Liore has a rather different angle on things.

So here’s my hypothesis: for various reasons WoW got extremely popular and suddenly lots of people were playing MMOs. But that was just a fluke of the times as much as anything. The fact is that MMOs are a niche genre that appeals to a smaller group of players, and the genre is now sloughing off those people who were just kind of along for the WoW ride.

Make a commitment to a social group or an activity or a hard challenge or whatever, or go find another genre.

Time for the 2 minute hate on cash shops

ausj3w3l shares his feelings on buying gold from the cash shop in GW2, and using cash shops in general.

I think the reason I feel so dirty and why the experience irritates me so much is that in a way I am now essentially paying more than a sub for basic quality of life things. I go to TSW and I have repertoire that is more than suitable to the game and never once made me feel like I was being purposefully limited so as to nudge my wallet further to the store.

I also don’t understand why upgrading an account to be more useable costs more than purchasing an entire new one ((…))

NB. It’s only more than a sub if you do this every month. But the sense of feeling purposefully limited to encourage use of the cash shop is endemic in F2P games. On the other hand, the sense of feeling purposefully limited to encourage grinding is pretty much a part of old school MMOs too.

This dynamic is driving a lot of the reactions to SWTOR F2P scheme as well, I think. People who might have been fine with grinding for some of the extras are not fine with being directed to the cash shop. (It also obscures the amount you might need/want to pay for your game.) But also, some of their restrictions are not equivalent to ones that have been placed on non-F2P games. I don’t recall any game that ever asked you to grind for extra skill bars or for the ability to turn off your hat graphic or raise the amount of cash you can hold in your wallet. Grinding for extra bag space isn’t the sticking point here.

Green Armadillo muses about currency caps and cash shops.

Rock Paper Shotgun discuss microtransactions in Assassin’s Creed 3.

All things Star Wars!

I’d have to give in my geek credentials if I didn’t include a link on the news that Disney has recently bought Lucasfilm and announced that they intend to produce and release new Star Wars films. I’m down with them making more big budget epic space fantasy, especially if they throw out the expanded universe stuff that tends to revolve around original film characters being raised to godlike status.

Shintar answers the question, “Should I play SWTOR?” with her review after 10 months in the game. I would say yes if you like Bioware games and WoW type games. It is pretty much what you might expect from a marriage of the two genres and I had a lot of fun in my 7 months or so in the game.

Syp shares his thoughts on the recent State of the Game blogpost.

Targeter takes a look at the new cash shop and finds something he hadn’t expected, that some of the items look quite fun.

And the best of the rest

Every games blogger should read this post by Tadhg Kelly.

It’s a rite-of-passage thing. Also an age thing. You’re probably around 25, have jumped, slaughtered and strategised your way through at least 1000 games, and found them amazing and entertaining. Then something happens.

You start to get bothered by the sameness. You start to notice that games recycle the same ideas on a generational timeline, that every 5-7 years or so game developers repackage the same concepts for new platforms. And also keep making the same mistakes.

Over time, you start to think that games need to be saved.

Rampant Coyote predicts that the AAA Games Industry is Screwed.

Unsubject writes a typically thoughtful, analytical post about gaming projects on Kickstarter. He is analysing how many gaming projects have actually delivered so far.

ausj3w3l writes about the culture of gaming journalism, looking at a specific article that kicked off a whole furore about the ethics (or not) of the whole arena.

Doone has a very powerful post on one particular Kickstarter game, iBeg, which is about being homeless (sort of).  He shares his own experiences of being street homeless, and this is another post that everyone should read – particularly if you are a developer who is thinking of using the experiences of vulnerable people as the basis for a game.

It’s very difficult to write this article without being at least a little upset about how this iBeg project is being sold. All I keep seeing in my mind is the words on Kickstarter saying all the money is going into the making of the game. Nothing is mentioned of contributing to homeless people or shelters (unless you buy in-game items, only *some* of which will go to help the homeless). You might be asking: why should they? To that I say, they proclaimed concern for the homeless and they claim to want to do something about it. No, it’s not ok to profit from the stories of the deprived.

Garrosh writes the best article I’ve seen on the US elections from the perspective of Garrosh who is still playing Earth Online.

Anyway, as much as it was annoying having to hear about this world event, like, CONSTANTLY, it actually WAS kind of fun to see it play out.  The event had a lot of parts to it, going on for months, but it all capped with the big Election Day world event earlier this week …

Jacob at tl-dr is trying to make a list of non-violent video games, feel free to add suggestions. I’m wondering whether Fruit Ninja would count or not, it’s quite violent when Arb and I play it (to be fair, so is Monopoly). I’m also not convinced by Skyrim being on that list – sure you could play it without fighting but that’s not really what it is about.

Another post from Jacob is on Riot Games and how their methods to clean up the LOL in game community have been bearing fruit.

Good on ya Riot, you’re implementing systems to get rid of trolling, griefing, harassment, racism, and many other bad things in your game. Keep it up.

It has also been the week/s of quarterly reporting, which is how we know that WoW now has over 10 million players again (and Diablo 3 sold over 10 million copies!), and Arenanet has a guarded success on its hands with GW2. Syncaine comments that he is surprised GW2 didn’t perform better given the amount of hype, and like him I’m curious about the drop off from here on in.

Werit notes that the company formerly known as Bioware Mythic is now just Mythic again, just a name change.

Azuriel describes the recent GW2 Halloween event from the perspective of someone who just jumped straight in.

Talk to a Pumpkin-Carving NPC that says I need to carve an unspecified number of pumpkins before I can get a title or join his order, or possibly both. On my way to the Commander icon I see a toilet paper roll go flying through the air. After clicking on a table, it looks like a Candy Corn monster appears, but I keep walking.

Jeromai discusses WvW in GW2, and particularly why some of the big guilds on his server have just server swapped elsewhere. What does this say about  the future of WvW?

Bernard wonders whether one time events are a good investment of time/effort for developers, considering GW2 in particular.

… my main interest is whether one-time events offer a good return on investment for developers.

If this is not the case, Arenanet is burning money and will have to stop at some point, removing any good will generated by failing to meet the expectations they have created in the player base.

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.

EQ Next to be “the largest sandbox MMO ever designed”

In 2010, SOE announced that they were working on a follow up to EQ2, code-named EQ Next. There was some muted excitement from Everquest fans, but after that we didn’t hear much about the project. Yesterday, John Smedley announced at SOE Live that they’d trashed their original design and now plan to bring EQ Next to market as a sandbox style MMO game.

I had been wondering whether Blizzard would end up taking this route with Titan (or going for a FPS MMO), as the trends simply aren’t towards large subscription MMOs and ‘more of the same’ isn’t going to cut it.

As it happens, with Planetside 2, SOE along with CCP’s Dust are both shaping up as good options for FPS MMO fans. And with this EQ Next announcement, suddenly a lot of old school MMO players will again be very very focused on what SOE is doing. I think this was a momentous announcement for them, it’s the day they became relevant again. And now Blizzard is on the back foot. Check out the link, there were quite a lot of announcements and statements about how they see the industry.

[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 ).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A word from our developers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me give you all my money

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

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

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

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

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

Guild Wars 2 – backlash edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

smakendahead also touches on the pacing of the game.

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

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

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

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

On another note

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

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

Does hearing about overachievers demotivate players?

I feel I’m getting way behind all the posts I intended to write this week, time mostly lost between RL and playing GW2 and WoW. As a gaming blogger, it’s not a bad idea per se to spend time in games but I think you’re supposed to pause occasionally (outside meals, work, sleep) to write things up.

I have also been following a course on Coursera on Gamification.  If you are interested in the subject I recommend checking it out, it’s all free. Gamification seems to be a mixture between game design, game criticism, marketing, psychology et al and the syllabus also looks as though it’s going to cover criticisms of gamification and uses for social good.

Anyhow, one of the comments made in a lecture was that players are only really motivated once they get 90% of the way to a goal.

This I suspect is true of a lot of games; it may not hold for a goal you really want  for personal reasons, or if you are just good at motivating yourself. But the idea is that people need to see their goal, see that it is achievable, see what they will need to do to get there, and feel as though they are almost there already. If those things are all in place, chances are you will play ‘just a bit more’. Both WoW and GW2 do a great job with this type of motivation, using stepped achievements and the game environment itself. GW2 is great at tempting the player to explore the expansive game world with the dynamic events, view points, resource nodes and travel points scattered across the landscape.

However, one thing you can guarantee in a new game or new expansion is that  you will quickly hear about players who have reached the level cap, geared themselves up, beaten any raids, and generally zipped through the content while you are still noodling around in the newbie area wondering how to get to that potato patch or access your bank. I wonder if has a demotivating effect by reminding new players that despite the game’s attempts to lead you through in terms of small steps and reachable goals, there are people who are quantum leaps ahead.

I don’t personally find it demotivating when random people I don’t know inform that they are already max level, maxed crafts,  fully kitted out in exotic gear and just working on their legendaries.  Or that they’ve made tons of gold already and exchanged a load for gems while I am still figuring out how to achieve that first gold piece. I made my peace long ago with the fact that I’m not hardcore, not much of an achiever in games, and probably not that good at them either**. But it doesn’t make me engage more with the game either. As well as highlighting all the goals that are far away, it’s tempting to compare yourself with other players in a way that isn’t encouraging.

This may be connected to the 90%, above,  because hearing about overachievers can make a goal feel less attainable rather than more, or the player feel “I am a bad player compared to X, Y and Z, maybe I shouldn’t bother with this game.” This is all in the mind. In the long run everyone who keeps playing will be max level and will probably have as much gold as they can be bothered to grind out. But emotions are powerful, and the feeling of disengaging from a game is powerful too.

Do you enjoy hearing about people who have zipped through a game, or only if they give some useful hints and tips for how you can do the same thing? What about guildies exercising bragging rights? Or have you ever been turned off a game because someone else made you feel that you were falling behind and would never reach your goals?

 

** I know there will be people who I make feel like that too ;/ These things are all relative.