And suddenly … combat!

I have noticed in MMOs these days, it is quite common in cut scenes or instances for devs to think it would be cool to have the character/s ambushed, or have an NPC you are talking to suddenly attack. For sure, it is cool and dramatic to be attacked out of nowhere, but depending on class you can be at a disadvantage if you can’t use your opening move. I noticed this a lot in SWTOR, for example.

In other words, there are two types of MMO character classes.

  1. Those who prefer to set up their combat in advance.
  2. Those who can just whale in.

For example, any class that relies on stealth or crowd control (where the stealth or crowd control has to be applied before you get into combat), or has a move like charge (nb. you can now charge in combat, they changed it because it was annoying) where you get some extra damage and resources if you use it to enter combat would be type 1. Any class who starts on full resources (like a full mana bar), can use CC in combat/or and doesn’t have a special move with which to enter combat would be type 2.

Open world solo PvE is typically much friendlier to type 1 classes, where you are  in control of when the combat begins so you can take your time to set things up.  (SWTOR does this a lot too, so I can’t really fault Bioware for not being even handed.) For sure, people complain about lack of immersion when mobs are standing around in small groups waiting to be pulled and killed, but it’s great if you are trying to sneak up on them and CC one before backstabbing one of the others.

I also remember liking the old solo crafting instances in LOTRO (they are in Moria) with my burglar because I had all the time in the world to sneak through, pay attention to patrols, and carefully set up every fight. It was fun and quite engaging, given that the instances themselves weren’t too exciting. You see this playing style also when people are soloing high level instances in WoW, where you need to plan out every pull.

Truth is, I kind of like the excitement of having mobs jump out at me. Even if I’m on a class that would prefer to control the start of the fight, it’s a fun challenge to figure things out on the fly and see how good your survival instincts really are. (Obv if I was a PvP player this would be more de rigeur).

What I don’t like so much are mobs like the challengers at the temple of the red crane (WoW) where you first talk to them, then there is a 5s wait, and then they suddenly enter combat and attack you. I wish they either went red instantly or else allowed enough time for you to back off and get out of range before they go aggro, so that you can then use your combat setups.

[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.

[WoW] Smart storytelling in Patch 5.1 (minor spoilers)

WoW_DominanceCast

The Horde army in 5.1 is known as the Dominance Offensive. But looking at these NPCs (dominance medic???) you have to wonder what else these blood elves are up to after dark…

Patch 5.1 hit WoW recently and with it some new Scenarios (3 man instances) and Dailies (which are rapidly becoming the theme of this expansion). But that isn’t the only thing that landed with the new content.

As you work through the dailies and build up reputation with your factions invasion army, every few days you will also unlock a new questline which tells part of an ongoing story. Last week I wrote about one off events, dividing them into event driven and time driven, depending on whether it was a player’s action that kicked off the event or if it had its own schedule.

These new ongoing questlines look to be a bit of both. They seem to depend on your faction reputation (which you can improve by doing quests), but the reputation is gated by dailies (so there is a time-based limit on how quickly you can faction up.)

wow_dominanceplot

There is an achievement for finishing this storyline, which also gives us an idea of how much is left to run. Each mini storyline corresponds to one line in this box.I do worry about there being one called ‘rise of the blood elves’, although purging Dalaran sounds like fun.

The interesting thing about the storyline so far is that all the new mini story questlines are … actually telling a pretty cool story. I am now really looking forwards to each next update. And I feel really engaged and keen to do these dailies now to unlock more story, even when they are in that freaking mine place.

You can also tell with clockwork precision when guildies have done various parts of the quest due to people making comments on guild chat such as “Oh shit, Garrosh is here!” (said in the same way you might say ‘Oh shit, the boss is back’ at work, if your boss was a raging psycho.)

Intriguingly, this has also sparked me into working out more backstory and personality quirks for my characters. Mrs Spinks I already knew quite well, she’s a chirpy cockney with no sense of fear and no moral compass beyond looking after ‘her boys.’ Think undead Mrs Kray with a big axe. Mrs Spinks has no issues with working for a raging psycho like Garrosh, and would normally be pretty sanguine about a warmongering warchief – if nothing else, it means good employment prospects for warriors. But since Garrosh managed to royally piss off the entire Undercity, no Forsaken is going to cry if he meets with an unfortunate farming accident.

Scutter (the goblin priest) simply lives on another planet, and is happily trying to preach the prosperity gospel to the Klaxxi in between raids, it’s hopeless and pointless but she doesn’t see it. She’s loyal in the ‘oo shiny!’ sense and completely fails to see the big picture. If she says or does anything smart and/or useful, it’s a coincidence. She likes kittens, explosions, and making inappropriate new friends.

So where is the plot going?

Yeah, this is the spoilery bit.

There is one section of the Horde plot where you get to go meet Thrall (you just knew he was going to be involved) and free a troll village from the Kork’ron elite guard who are oppressing it. If you pay attention, you will notice that some of these orcs are using warlock-like abilities. Mrs Spinks may not be the smartest warrior on the block but even she can recognise a Shadow Bolt to the face.

Orcs using warlock spells has always been associated with demonic corruption in the past.

So my prediction is that Garrosh’s new advisor, Malkorok, is going to turn out to be Mal’Ganis. Who will throw Garrosh to the wolves (and/or Sha) and somehow escape at the end of this expansion to be one of the main bosses in the next, which is already suspected to have a Burning Legion theme. Mal’Ganis is also probably one of the better villains in WoW who is still standing, so I’d be rather happy to see him again. We do have unfinished business, after all.

I’m quite curious as to the Alliance storyline also, now. Anyone want to share?

One off events in MMOs, and the players who love them

banner-november-2012-2

Ideally this picture should show a screenshot from the recent weekend-long one shot event in GW2. It should but it doesn’t, because I wasn’t there. And the world event went on without me. A one off event, by the way, is any event that happens in a game world on one occasion only, like opening the gates of Ahn-Quiraj in WoW.

My traumatic experiences with one off events in RP MUDs

You’d think that players in virtual worlds would love it when exciting world events kick off! We know these persistent game worlds can get a bit boring, a bit stuck in their rut. What could be more popular than a big event to give everyone something new to do or talk about? You’d think, right?

Back when I was staffing a MUSH, we used to run staff-driven plots alongside player-run plots (which mostly, if I’m honest, revolved around romantic subplots.) And occasionally, one of the staff would have a great idea for a world event. We had plague, earthquakes, a tyrannical ruler demanding a census of all the NPCs and player characters, psychic vampires appearing in people’s dreams, and in one particularly adept piece of foreshadowing – a financial disaster and run on the banks.

From running these events I have learned one thing. Do not assume that players will find your event more exciting than their daily cybering. Do not assume they will be invigorated by the opportunity to interact with the new event or the NPCs involved.

And the other thing I learned is that players like to have the opportunity to opt in. When we posted up messages asking for volunteers to be involved in a plot, telling them only that it would involve dreams and nothing permanently bad would happen to their characters without their permission, we got a good number of volunteers for the psychic vampire plot.

The traumatic event of the title, by the way, is that when I introduced the royal census plot (not an opt in plot) one of the players contacted me and said their character would rather commit suicide than submit to the census. I was all about suggesting ways they might be able to make some cool plot out of dodging the census (and there were viable ways to do it) but the player was adamant. It was a DID NOT WANT moment. Since I wasn’t able (or willing, really) to stop a perfectly viable in game event just because one person didn’t like it, things continued on. It got a bit feisty IC – the upset player acted it out by disclosing her character’s feelings to a PC she knew to be a powerful loyalist. That player was upset OOC because she didn’t want to kill another player or force them to submit to the census, but it was the only avenue she felt open to her. And so on. It would have been easier all round if the upset player had just accepted that shit happens and laid low ICly for a week or so, hanging out with other disaffected characters.

And the lesson from this is that some players feel a strong sense of ownership of the setting or the NPCs. They don’t like it when things happen that they didn’t want to happen, and they don’t really like having so little control over the setting. Saying “just roll with it” to them is like lighting the blue touchpaper.

But in an MMO, or any game where you can’t just discuss things with the GM, sometimes you have to just roll with it. You are one character in a big world. Things happen that are not all about you.

My theories about events and control

I have a theory that there are two types of players who play virtual world MMO games. Neither are really thrilled with virtual worlds, but for different reasons.

  • Type 1 players prefer the game world to be mostly static, as a backdrop for them to drive their own goals and events. Maybe that will be through doing quests and raids at their own pace in a theme park game, or player driven events in a sandbox. They like plans, and knowing what they will do when they log into the game and events being explicable (e.g. if the price of ghost iron ore goes up, the Type 1 economy focussed player will know why or be able to find out.)
  • Type 2 players prefer the game world to be more dynamic, up to a point. They like unexpected, memorable things to happen, and get bored of the static world and static scheduling. They don’t mind being killed horribly by some random spawn epic monster while questing if it meant they got to see a cool epic monster, and then maybe stick around to get a raid together to kill it. They don’t mind being caught up in a huge in-game plague of zombies, or an exciting weekend event. They enjoy these things … up to a point.

Type 1 players don’t really like too much randomness in their gaming, unless directly caused by other players. They have things they want to accomplish in their gaming time and will be disrupted if they aren’t able to do those things. They will tend to be annoyed if the devs throw random events at them unless they have time to organise their schedule around them, in which case they might like the events quite a lot. As long as they don’t go on too long. They like being rewarded for making smart choices in their gameplay.

Type 2 players are up for anything that seems interesting, particularly if it breaks up their regular routine. They won’t fret overly if they miss out on one event or reward as long as there are other interesting things for them to do. They don’t like being punished for making gameplay choices based on what looks interesting.

There are also two types of dynamic event.

  • Event driven. An event that is triggered by something the players do. You see this a lot in single player RPGs.
  • Time based. The event will happen when it happens,  independent of the players (at least until it starts – once it is running, how it ends might be dependent on player activity.)

So my theory is that Type 1 players (who are the majority of core MMO gamers) prefer the control and predictability of event driven dynamic events. One off events are fine as long as they have advance warning of exactly when, where and how long the event will be. Or if they run in such a  way as to not disrupt anyone’s existing plans.

Type 2 players like either type of event, but they especially love being part of the big memorable one offs. Anything where they can be justified in laying their regular routine aside to do the new stuff instead.

Suppose you gave a party and nobody came?

What if an event ran and players just don’t turn up it? Player run RP events often run into this barrier. It isn’t even because people aren’t interested (surely on a RP realm, you could find a handful of interested players for just about any RP). It’s a combination of poor word of mouth, players not knowing/trusting the organiser, or players having something better to do. How you decide that you have something better to do is a combination of what goals you were working towards anyway, what your friends/guild are doing, what rewards are on offer, and whether the event sounds interesting.

So it isn’t enough to just allow players to opt in, offer the chance to take part in something cool happening to the game world, and give plenty of advance warning. Players need rewards too. Plus if you want numbers, they need the chance to get the word out while the event is still on.

I do personally have a soft spot for unannounced surprise events though.

The best one off event I have seen in an MMO was the Rakghoul Plague in SWTOR. That is partly because it came with no warning. Absolutely none at all. I was on the fleet, chatting to my guild. Then there was an announcement on the local channel, news holos appeared on the fleet with announcements of an accident … and we were off to the races. EVERYONE was excited. Everyone was talking about it. Everyone was racing off to Tatooine to investigate. And there were parts of the events that were accessible to lowbies as well as high levels.

It also lasted a week or two, which was plenty of time for word of mouth to kick in.

The second best one off event I have seen was a poetry contest in DaoC, which was run by one of the GMs but with lots of input from players. We knew in advance that this was scheduled, which gave people time to prepare and set aside time to attend. It was fun because there was a lot of player involvement.

I’ve seen plenty of other one offs, and the ones which were generally more memorable to me were the player driven events. Although they don’t always do so well at allowing everyone to actually take part. ie. you can go to a huge fancy ball and enjoy the atmosphere, but chances are you will be standing at the back watching events unfold. Similarly with large PvP raids, although you can usually at least hit something or play with the siege equipment.

Some have been more interesting mechanically with new minigames or requirements for the realm to work together to unlock an event. Others had more human input, or involved much larger numbers.

All of these can be cool, all of these can be fun, all of these can enhance the MMO experience.

Is it really all about control and rewards, in the end?

Maybe it is all just about control and rewards.

The players who hate one off events dislike having their previous plans interrupted (especially if the interruption lasts for a few days.) They don’t want to ‘just go with it’ or ‘enjoy the experience’ or ‘just not log in or go to that location while the event is on.’ They want their controlled, predictable environment back. They prefer to be in control of their own events and not have world events dropped on their heads.

Another category of players will be frustrated if a one off event gives really good rewards or some kind of achievement and they aren’t able to attend (maybe like in the recent GW2 event, it just doesn’t last long enough). They don’t want to ‘just go with it’ or ‘not worry because there will be something else next month and they can go to that’, they just don’t like missing out on content.

Devs need to try to keep these two groups happy, particularly the first set as they are quite a large grouping.

But also there are players who ADORE world events, love seeing the game world disrupted, like being part of something memorable, enjoy running around with a bunch of other people who all want to go check out the new event, and really love being surprised by the game world and other players. For everyone else: one offs are for these guys.

You’ll get yours. Meanwhile, try to just roll with it Winking smile

Are Bungie working on a new MMO?

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Actual concept art, from the horse’s mouth

Big gaming news this week was that IGN got access to leaked materials about story details and concept art from Bungie, who confirmed that this document was an outside look at Destiny, which is their follow up to the Halo games.  It sounds to be a full on Space Opera Star Wars-esque science/fantasy futuristic setting and the take out quote about the gameplay is that it is to be “social at its core.”

Bungie had a particularly classy response to the leak, releasing the concept art shown above and saying:

Go ahead. Take a peek. It’s alright. We weren’t quite ready, but we will be soon, and we can’t wait to finally show you what we’ve really been up to.

We do actually know a bit more about Destiny than the above links would imply.  Polygon read through Bungie’s contract with Activision that was unsealed as part of the Activision/Infinity Ward lawsuit earlier this year. They described Destiny as a “sci-fantasy, action shooter” and list out a schedule for future releases and expansion packs.

The contract describes the Destiny franchise as a “massively-multiplayer-style,” detailing the genre as “client based mission structures with persistent elements.” The franchise plans to go beyond four games and four add-ons, comprising “a blend of retail packaged goods sales, subscriptions, downloadable content, value-added services and micro-transactions.”

While the latter sentence is a bit off putting, I doubt any game would sound attractive if you described it purely from a monetisation point of view. But  they do include subscriptions as a planned payment option, and “massively-multiplayer-style” with “client based mission structures” sounds more CoD than full-on virtual world.

So how about it, Halo fans? Does a space-fantasy mission based massively multiplayer shmup appeal? Because Bungie might well be going there. Is Space Opera going to be the new hotness, now that Disney is making more Star Wars films?

It does also make me wonder how Blizzard will plan to position Titan, given that best conjectures I’ve seen on that have been based on some kind of science-fantasy MMO shooter.

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.

[GW2]What do you give the gamer who has everything? More progression!

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Someone is a bit enthusiastic about serving the Mad King

The Guild Wars 2 team have been wasting no time with pushing new content into the game. We have already seen a Halloween Event which included new quests, jumping puzzle, mini instance, mini PvP zones, and lots of cosmetic rewards. This weekend sees a slew of one off events and the introduction of a new zone (and free trials for the first time) and there is a new PvP map for sPvP also. Then there are the inevitable Winter/Christmas events which are doubtless in the pipeline.

But the latest announcement about this month’s new iteration of dungeons has been greeted with a 126-page threadosaur of outrage on the official forums. Why is that? Item progression. Entombed explains in more detail what the players are angry about. Some of his points look more valid to me than others – sure, a portion of the player base will care deeply about which site breaks the news but probably most don’t.

Truth is, in a game that was going to break open the MMOsphere by ditching all the conventions, this new content and gear looks very much like a traditional endgame gear progression. A new tier of gear is being introduced that sits between exotics and legendaries in terms of stats, and includes sockets for players to add a stat that will allow them to go further into future dungeons. Syp comments on the similarity with the unpopular LOTRO radiance mechanic.

And like the LOTRO radiance mechanic, none of this will impact on players who play the game more casually because they probably never had much intention of grinding cutting edge ‘endgame’ anyway. If I lack zeal for attacking Arenanet on this, it’s because I think their logic with the new content is sound. It’s just unfortunate that it goes against the entire spirit in which the game was sold.

To be clearer: The current dungeons are flawed, inconsistent, and not particularly fun. Let’s call it ‘inconsistently fun’; there are some cool encounters. There is also way too large a gap between exotic gear and legendaries, in terms of the amount of effort players need to put in. Legendaries stand at the end of an excessively long grind. Enough so that a player looking at the legendary requirements is likely to get sticker shock and end up playing the game LESS because they decide it’s not worth investing the time.

So a slew of new mini dungeons and introducing a tier of gear between exotic and legendary are both pretty good ideas. Introducing a classic MMO progression endgame grind into GW2? Nope, was never going to be popular. Particularly when the only way to get the gear is via dungeon runs. Particularly when players had become used to multiple pathways to gear so that dungeoneers, crafters, PvPers and dynamic event fans could all collect similar gear.

The outrage will get worse before (if) it gets better.  Yet still, Arenanet are putting a lot of effort into supporting their game with new content.

The problem with cosmetic progression

There is one huge sucking problem with the concept of cosmetic progression, i.e. letting players grind for gear that looks different/interesting/better rather than gear that has better stats. It is, “What if you don’t like the look of the grindy cosmetic gear?” Taste is subjective in a way that stat improvements are not.

And whilst you can transmute gear in GW2, who wants to grind dungeons so that they can buy some exotic gear with a new skin that they then transmute to looking like the old gear?

[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.