[Bloggy Xmas] [Gaming Communities] But above all, be kind!

bloggyxmas

Thanks to Syl at MMOGypsy for organising a BloggyChristmas Advent calendar and sequence of blogs.

So we’re all going to be talking about community! Like a lot of other people (10 million to be precise) I’ve been hip deep in the new WoW expansion for the last month or so.

What about them Fury changes, eh? Smile OK, on to community … one thing I have noticed is that the start of a  new expansion is a very exciting time for the community. There’s a ton of new content, probably classes and specs have been tweaked and need to be relearning, old friends may have returned and players often use it as an opportunity to switch guilds also.

So there’s a lot of change and a lot of fun …  and a lot of anxiety too, mostly to do with the rest of the community. “Will I be good enough to make my raid team?” “Will people kick me out of instances because I can’t learn the fights fast enough?” “Will I be able to beat the proving grounds so I can do heroics?” “Oh noes, is my spec awful this expansion?? Which alt should I quickly level?”

Yeah? Any of that sound familiar. We’ve all been there. We’re all learning and that can be stressful.

What’s more, right at the beginning of the expansion is where it’s very easy to shake people’s confidence, especially when the community is hostile to people learning the encounters and gearing up. One bad instance run and it’s easy to think ‘maybe this is too hard for me’. Struggle with solo quests and it’s easy to think ‘they’re trying to tell me I’m not good enough’. Right now is when we need to help each other the most, so that we have other people to play with.

Kindness Helps

So this morning I wanted to give a few examples of where I have seen players helping each other out, and helping each other learn the new expansion together.

 

PUG 1: So we were in Everbloom Normal with a bunch of undergeared noobs, including me obviously. We somehow got to the last boss and wiped. We stopped to read up the fight, shared what we had read, and wiped again. The tank said cheerfully ‘That was better than the last time’ (which was true). We came back in and wiped again. After the fourth wipe, we got him. Every try was better than the last, everyone was trying to figure out what they had to do, no one rage quit.

That’s how you learn instances together.

 

Helping with quests: I have seen this mostly in guild but I’m assuming there will be some kind sorts in just about every guild doing this. As part of the legendary ring quest you have to run some named instances, including heroics. Some of our guys have struggled with Proving Grounds (I’ll write about that on another day, but it isn’t well balanced, so we absolutely have guildies who can rock heroics but not queue for PUGs in them) so need guild groups for those heroics. We have a regular stream of volunteers to help with this – it is in the best interests of the raid team anyway to have people geared but also I think there’s some sympathy for the stress and anxiety of having to ask for help.

 

PUG 2: I was in a heroic instance where one of the dps was putting out fairly poor damage, but doing all the execution stuff for the boss fights correctly. We got to the last boss and one person in the group was suggesting kicking him/her for the damage. The rest of the group pointed out that we hadn’t wiped and were doing just fine and that s/he was still gearing up and we were happy with it. The person who suggested the kick said “Ok then” and we finished the instance. (The kindness btw is the other people in the group sticking up for the guy.)

 

They are small things, but they make the game a better, friendlier place. And right now, with all the stresses in the world and all the stresses in the game, it matters.

Feel free to share any examples of kindnesses you have seen shown to others (or yourself) or have shown yourself! It can’t all be about whining that other people in a PUG aren’t yet raid geared and know the tactics perfectly, after all.

[Bits and Pieces] Dragon Age Choose-Your-Path Text Game, Gamergate circles the drain, Blizzard take on TF2 with terrible cockney accent

Happy Sunday!

I was pretty excited when I found out that Bioware had partnered with Failbetter Games (producers of Fallen London, a browser game that anyone who likes gothic storytelling should check out) to produce a text based choose your own path type game for Dragon Age, as part of the run up to Inquisition.

The game, which is called The Last Court, is out now on the Dragon Age Keep! You play the ruler of a small and somewhat isolated region in Orlais and you have to try to steer it through a potentially turbulent time in its history.

Accessing the Last Court

You can access the game via the left hand menu on the Keep website.  Click on the icon just to the left of the word Tapestry to bring the menu up. 

last court - access icon

When you do that, it looks like this (below). Click on ‘The Last Court’ to bring up the game.

last court - access

You get to pick a name for your ruler and choose from two different personalities/ rulership styles and then you are off!

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Personally I think my great grandfather sounds more like an inspiration than a shame!

And if you have played any of the Failbetter games, you won’t be surprised that there are parts where you draw virtual cards. And if you have played any browser game you won’t be surprised that after you have played for awhile, you will have to wait for your resources to restore.

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Gamergate even gets called out by Blizzard, that’s how toast they are

Apologies to anyone who feels aggrieved by some of the same things as the Gamergate numpties but “the movement” really is beyond parody now. Zen of Design has a roundup so that you don’t have to read their shit.

The one that made me laugh was that one of their number made up a comically implausible Facebook post purporting to be from the owner of Gawker and some of them bought it. (The italics are from the Zen of Design blog linked above.)

“At the beginning of the week, screenshots were being circulated that purported to show a conspiracy of remarkable breath – if true.  They purported to be Nick Denton, the owner of Gawker, giving his secret facebook group a big ‘thank you’ for stirring up shit to make #GamerGate’s life miserable.  Later, another screenshot came op of a secret facebook followup, where Denton claimed to be very cross with whoever leaked the first.  Seriously, read these and, while you do, keep in mind that people fell for this.”

But really, who would fall for something that obviously daft?

“However, this turned out not to be the case – but the truth is even more hilarious.  Hot Wheels (the founder of 8chan) wrote this spectacular exposeSeriously, read this.”

And in other news, Mike Morhaime denounced GamerGate in his opening speech at Blizzcon; he didn’t specifically name GamerGate but in the interview afterwards, the interviewer did and he didn’t disagree.

New Blizzard IP/ TF2 type game

I cannot be the only person who watched the intro trailer for Overwatch and hoped that maybe they were going for a superhero MMO to fill the CoH sized gap in the market. Alas no, it’s going to be a TF2 style team PvP shooter.

Probably a wise move to stick to the contained PvP style of gameplay that Blizzard does execute so well, and the whole game looks bright, fun and interesting if you like that sort of thing. In another mikedrop to the Gamergaters, Blizzard specifically aimed for a bit more diversity in the lineup and I’m not seeing any obvious sign that this did anything rather than make the game look cooler.

But urgh, did we really have to sit through the worst cockney accent since Dick Van Dyke? This may be one to play with the volume off.

New expansions, MMOs as life simulations, and why only idiots whine about “welfare epics”

Aladdin

A whole new world …

So a new WoW expansion is now just around the corner which means that players are getting ready to take their characters into what is effectively a new game world. People are returning to the game, deciding which alts to play first, and (if they are keen) thinking hard about what preparation they could do now to give themselves and their characters a bit of an edge.

And of course, mentally preparing to replace hard won epics from the current expansion with blue and green quest gear. This is a time for getting some closure from current content and preparing to move on. Bloggers will be writing about their favourite zones and stories from the current expansion, people will be chasing those last few achievements while they are still just about current, doing the farewell tours, getting ready to leave. This time next month, no one will care about your Pandarian epics (tbh they probably already stopped caring).  Expansions are (gaming) life’s way of telling you not to take things too seriously.

I’ll probably put up a few posts remembering some of my favourite parts of Pandaria also before WoD is released.

MMOs as a simulation of life

OnlyAModel

MMOs are a simplistic simulation of life. Your character enters the world as a callow untried youth with nothing to them except their name and the clothes on their back. As you play the game you collect gear, gold, levels, pets and mounts (I guess these are the in game equivalent of family Smile ), friends/ contacts, maybe a guild and a social circle, reputation, achievements, knowledge, whatever passes for in-game wisdom – you become wealthy and save the world (possibly multiple times) and NPCs know your name. And it doesn’t really end other than when you get bored and leave, but if it did there would probably be some kind of state funeral and loving heirs waiting to take over your mantle and light a candle in your name every year.

Like I say, very basic simulation of a certain type of life narrative. Rags to Riches. The immigrant story.

I think people can get fooled by this into some odd political ideas if they are silly enough to try to apply MMO rules to actual life, where it isn’t quite that easy to start from nothing and end up as the coolest, richest character on the planet. But it’s nice to be able to forget all the horrible disparities of RL and just play in a world where everyone pretty much starts from a clean slate.

Anyhow, this leads to two ways of looking at a new expansion:

  1. Asylum model. You have to leave your home and go to a new place. It’s a new beginning with new opportunities. But ultimately you had no choice about whether to go. And you have to start from nothing.
  2. Emigration model. For whatever reason, your character looks to new horizons and going into a new expansion is like emigrating to a new country. You can’t take a lot of your existing knowledge and gear with you but you can plan to transfer whatever you are able.

A new player would pretty much have to start from option 1, unless they have friends in the game who are going to help them out. Existing players have a choice, and the way they make that choice will be largely about their own priorities and how they prefer to play.

I quite enjoy the sense of starting from scratch. You feel that you are making a lot of progress quite fast. It is exciting. It focuses you on making the most you can of the new experience. Others prefer to put a lot of work into achieving as many advantages as they can. Some would even argue that if it is possible to minmax some advantages, that is clearly the optimal way to play.

But what IS clear is that the vast majority of the effort keen players have poured into playing the current expansion will not affect their experience in the next one. It won’t matter how many times you wiped to **evil boss of choice – Elegon in our case I think** because all you will be able to take with you are the memories of the good times and the friends you shared them with. Players will simply have to live with that. It isn’t the traditional/ original MMO way (which would have been just adding more content all round but letting the players’ game history continue to have more impact), but HAS become the MMO way since level-advancing expansions were first invented.

This is because it allows new players to catch up a bit, and also offers a good entry point for returning players. They do expansions like this because it works and is profitable.

Lets talk about the ‘welfare epic’ whiners

If  you have every complained about ‘welfare epics’ in WoW you are an idiot. And you have been duped into equating poor people with gamers whose playing style you don’t like, and with dev companies whose strategies to make the game fun for different parts of the playerbase you don’t like either. Right wing political slogans simply have no place in describing MMO setups and I suspect the people who fall into those linguistic traps have no idea what they are talking about; it’s a trap laid by the MMOs being an incredibly simplistic life simulation, as I said above.

The original phrase was coined by a Blizzard Dev (who should have been disciplined for insulting large numbers of the player base, incidentally) and was about the way points were given out in PvP battlegrounds which meant you could get points by basically doing nothing. This was fairly dumb but had nothing to do with welfare – anyone who thinks that you get handed nice stuff via actual welfare for doing nothing simply does not know what they are talking about. (You get shit stuff and it comes with massive stress and being forced to let the system know far too much about your personal life. I’ve lived on benefits when I was a kid and I’m grateful that the govt paid for us to have a roof over my head and clothes on my back, but not needing benefits is better.) The people who deliberately exploited this were both stupid and lazy, but mostly they were exploiters and Blizzard  has to take the blame for leaving that loophole open. It is always surprising, in both RL and in game, how much more effort people will put into trying to exploit the system than just playing it regularly when the rewards are not that dissimilar either way.

(I always thought the welfare metaphor was an odd one incidentally — it would have been just as easy to refer to ‘spoiled children loot’ or ‘trust fund baby loot’ for a metaphor for people getting stuff they don’t deserve. But no, right wingers are obsessed to a bonkers level with whether ‘welfare recipients’ are deserving or not.)

It also should be obvious to everyone by this point that the way Blizzard run the game is via a succession of major and minor expansions. The minor expansion we tend to call major patches and there will be 3-4 of them within every major expansion. With every minor expansion, the game needs to make it possible for new or lagging players to catch up to the new content, hence the iLvL of drops/ quests from the new content will be edging higher.

  • So if you think the optimal way to play the game is to get the maximum loot for the minimum effort, the most sensible thing to do is collect your gear when it’s easiest (ie. slightly out of date but still useful), and play through the raids once or twice on LFG just so you can see them.
  • If you think the optimal way to play the game is to get every advantage available and see all the content while it is cutting edge, then be prepared to put a lot more work in AND to see your advantage become eroded with every expansion (both major and minor); it’s a never ending treadmill but “Fame costs and here’s where you start paying”.

(NB. If you don’t really care about the optimal way of playing the game then you will probably never feel stressed about any of this. Go and have fun Smile )

The aggro I think comes from the latter group who have a nagging worry that maybe, just maybe, all that work they are putting into the game has become somewhat devalued. WELCOME TO THE NEW REALITY GUYS! The only reason to put that much effort in is because you enjoy and prefer that style of gameplay. It is cool being part of a cutting edge guild, feeling that you have completely mastered your game of choice. Own your choice and enjoy it.

But don’t fucking complain about welfare epics, you idiots. It just shows that you don’t know anything about either welfare or epics.If it’s that important to you that your hard work feels rewarded, then you would be happier with a different game. Or in other words, in real life one’s hard work is not usually rewarded or even recognised, maybe this just means the life simulation is simply getting more realistic.

[Dragon Age] Getting ready for DAI: Dragon Age Keep

DAK2

*sniff* Alas poor dwarf commoner heroine, I may have temporarily forgotten you but it all comes back to me now!

Any Dragon Age fans out there? Course there are! Dragon Age Inquisition is going to be taking up a lot of my time come this November –  like many others I will find my gaming time massively torn between DAI and the warcraft expansion. Bioware have thoughtfully released little cameos of the new companions so like any right minded person I have already been thinking which of them I plan to romance. #ridetheironbull But that’s for another blog post.  Suffice it to say I can’t really imagine even having this discussion about another game line or developer. Also if the ‘pinkification’ of games means more cool romances I’m all for it.

Dragon Age: The story so far

Dragon Age Keep is now in open beta. This is an official website where players can look through the stories of the last two Dragon Age games (Origins, and Dragon Age 2) and either upload records of the choices that they made in their own favourite game or tweak the main choices to get the background that they want for DAI. I can only assume this means that many of these choices will impact on conversations or interactions in the new game.

One of the things they have done that I really love is that after uploading the options taken in your game/s, which it does fairly smoothly, the Keep gives a brief animated run through of the story so far. There is a narration. You are also offered  the ability to change some of the key choices as they come up. I’ve shown this in the image at the top of the post. It’s really rather great.

Later on, you get the chance to edit the whole ‘tapestry’ by being able to dip into specific parts of the game and editing what you would like to have happened. Hey, it beats having to run through the Deep Roads again.

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DAK3

Alas poor Anders. Gone but not forgotten. No wait, apparently I didn’t actually kill him! I may be the only one Winking smileDoes that mean he might make a cameo? Will Ser Pounce-a-Lot be with him? Roll on the 18th.

What does good gaming journalism look like?

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

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

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

[MMOs] Your learning needs are not my problem

Stubborn has a great post up on the Epic Slant blog where he applies some of his teaching theories about collaboration to game design. You should read it, but I’m just riffing off the basic idea. He talks about how you design a collaborative task to give everyone in the group opportunities to learn.

I was intrigued because I feel increasingly that random group content in MMOs is an anti-learning environment. If people zone in with someone who is learning the fight, they’re likely to be disappointed because it will take longer. They don’t want to take ‘the hit’ of being part of someone else’s learning experience. It’s not surprising, if group content is designed to encourage group learning (I don’t actually think MMO devs have educators on board, sadly, because that would be awesome but let’s pretend) then the whole point is that the group learns together.

Even a lot of learning players would rather be boosted and not have to bother learning the fight than be thrown in with a group of similarly experienced players and all learn it together. That isn’t a function of noobiness, a lot of experienced players would do the same thing – just they’d probably actually bother to learn the fight at some point. Although possibly not to the same holistic level – if you learn a fight in a group where everyone else already performs their role well then you will only really learn your own role. You won’t learn how the fight fully works.

People are lazy. Only raid leaders are really motivated to fully understand fights. A lot of players are happy to just be told what to do. None of this is surprising. I also think it is most fun to learn a fight in a group of similarly skilled players who are also friends who are learning together; it’s harder than ever to get this type of group together except at the beginning of new content. Because people will head into LFR to learn what they can.

Your learning will slow us down

The other week we raided again with an old guildie who has just rejoined after spending the expansion in more hardcore raids. He’s a great guy, good player, geared to the gills, knows the fights backwards, and it was lovely having him back in raid chat. We got to one of the boss fights (Blackfuse) where some of the DPS have a slightly different role – he said he was happy to try it but it would be his first time as his old raid hadn’t let him do it before so he wasn’t really sure how it worked.

This gives an indication of how specialised and risk averse some raid groups can be. If you didn’t happen to be That Guy who took on that role when the raid first learned a fight, they will be reluctant to give you a chance to learn unless they have no choice because learning takes time and that would set them back. So do you make the whole raid wipe a couple of times while new guy learns the positioning or tell him to go practice in LFR/ go back to his usual role so you can make more progress?

Has learning got more scary in MMOs?

So what I am wondering is whether it has gotten scarier to learn new roles or fights. PUGs don’t care if it was the first time you saw the raid, they’ll have to judge you on what they see. Progression raids worship progression and will be frustrated if you take too long to learn.

I guess with a new WoW expansion coming up, we can say it’s easier to get into learning mode at the beginning of a new content patch when everyone (briefly) is learning together. And the goal isn’t just to learn, it’s to learn as quickly as you can do you don’t get booted from your raid later. That adds a certain extra stress that I suspect good educators would have tried to avoid. I wouldn’t be surprised if more and more people just avoid group content – it only takes one really stressful experience to kill someone’s confidence.

And I wonder if the genre (such as it is) would be more long lived if more design effort was put into making the learning experience less stressy.

[MMOs] Farewell Titan: Beginning of the end, or end of the beginning?

Blizzard broke the news this week that they have cancelled development on the MMO they had in development for the past few years, codenamed Titan.

This news does not come as a surprise. For two reasons.

1.  When a project has been kicking around this long, has been through complete redesigns, and the ‘buzz’ we’re hearing about it still doesn’t sound particularly interesting, the chances of it becoming a massive hit are fairly minimal. It would have been an albatross, not the “omg successor to WoW’ that some people were touting.

2. I’m not saying MMOs are finished, but clearly producing huge expensive MMOs  is not the way to bet. There are successful games which involve massive numbers of players, which may have a lot in common with MMOs, but they aren’t based on the classic Diku model, or even the less common EVE model. If there is a true successor to WoW, in terms of being a breakout viral hit that involves millions of people then it is Minecraft, not the large WoW-alikes.

So what changed? The games have become more refined, gameplay has improved, graphics have improved (hugely), lots of new ideas have been tried. The players changed. The internet and social media became more mainstream. People learned that there are large downsides to interacting with massive numbers of people. There are also many many more games on the market where you can interact with massive numbers of players competitively, with carefully designed gameplay, in more controlled ways than just throwing everyone into a virtual world together.

This is a post I wrote on rpg.net about why MMOs are not the in-thing any more:

The genre feels increasingly stale. There are plenty of players with enthusiasm to try new games, but they tend to demand very similar features. They also tend not to want to stick with a new game for more than a few months, which isn’t a problem per se, but means it’s harder to form new communities. They also tend to be much less patient than players were in the past when we were all a bit new to the whole idea.

One reason is that people are increasingly likely to see being around massive numbers of people as a downside, not an upside. You need massive numbers for some mechanics: to simulate an economy and support a quick LFG queue and good PvP ladders. But other than that, actually being in a gameworld with that many people can be frustrating. And ultimately the elitist, more abusive elements have tended to have a big influence on the culture (I know not every elitist player is abusive, some of them are lovely) — it’s increasingly challenging to learn a new game when you have a high chance of meeting hostile oldbies in your groups.

Another is that so much of the discovery about MMOs is probably on neat little websites before the game even launches. And due to competitiveness in the player base there is an increasing pressure for players to have read it. That means the content barely lasts any time at all before it is beaten unless there is an unholy grind involved. Not a problem, but the discovery process was a big part of the appeal of the MMO back in the day.

It’s also about the tendency of open world games with PvP and a full economy (like EVE) to become really cut-throat. It’s great for the players who love it, but there’s a limit to how many of that type of game can fruitfully exist. And they tend to drive out anyone else from their games.

I think there’s a huge future in open world games — but they’ll be partitioned neatly between single player elements, co-op elements (like raiding), PvP elements, massive elements (like the economy), large group elements, and maybe even open world server shards with contained numbers. Something like Diablo3 (with better designed economy) is going to be a better picture;  you can play solo or with friends, or in LFG, or with the economy, and chat on your friends list and share pictures of your armour — and each of those parts of the game is neatly designed for that kind of group of people.

I think there is still a possibility for a more social open world type of game to become a breakout hit at some point, but it will do so by reaching out to people who are not currently core gamers (like Minecraft did). I think there are definitely still possibilities for huge procedural simulationist/ survival type open world games to become breakout hits. But for the rest of the MMO-type genre I think success will be much smaller scale – the pattern of the big influx of players and then drop off after a month or so is too frequently seen to blame on individual games and the days of the huge investment AAA MMO as we know it are done. There will still be successes and opportunities, but devs will have to design around the steady state numbers.

And maybe, sometime in the future, the MU* model of player run shards – which has been so successful in Minecraft – will re-enter the MMO-type area and the cycle will begin again.

Still, we’ll always have Warcraft.

Here’s a couple more blog posts from other people on similar themes, go read them they are good! (Will add more tonight, feel free to suggest links in the comments).