[General Gaming Links] Events, ‘I quit’ posts, TESO, Wildstar, and more

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harlequeen @ flickr (Brought to you by otters)

So this is the second links post of the year so far, and unlike the gaming news links of last week, what I’m aiming to do with the regular general links posts is simply to highlight blog posts and articles that have grabbed me. Because I’m aiming to save up a month’s worth of tagged content, some of these blog posts won’t be ultra recent but I like to think the better ones improve with time.  Let’s see how we go!

Omali at MMO Fallout talks about Random Events in Runescape and how he thinks Jagex have evolved them over the years.

Overly Positive is a community mod blog, and in this post Frank discusses how mods deal with “I quit!” posts. Anyone ever written an “I quit” post on a public forum? I know I never have. I generally just quit without a fuss.

Community people are always interested in why people decide to leave a game they represent, which is why all the people who inevitably respond to “I quit” posts with the notion that they should somehow shut up, go away, go back to WoW or whatever else, doesn’t really help us.

Terra Silverspar is cautious about The Elder Scrolls Online, and explains what Zenimax would have to do to change this to optimism.

The Pensive Harpy begs for an end of cinematic  CGI trailers for MMOs.

Sure, they look really cool, and can thrill the imagination. But they have ZERO bearing on the actual game, and they show nothing of significance about the gameplay (you know, the bit that actually matters?). The more slick and impressive one is the more I think "How much money was wasted on making this rather than being invested in something useful for the game?"

Green Armadillo has been playing SWTOR and TSW recently, among other games, and weighs in on how he thinks the monetisation schemes are working out. I personally do struggle to write about monetisation at the moment, and it is partly because I know that SWTOR and GW2 are making a lot of money from selling random lootboxes, but I cannot understand the motivation of players to spend upwards of $100 per month on random loot boxes! I just don’t get it. How is that fun? But there are a large number of players who do this, enough to keep games viable.

I have new theories about both games… neither of which would be good news for me as a customer of both products.  I get the impression that SWTOR is heavily dependent on its cosmetic item gambling packs and that TSW appears to be running a fire sale to keep the lights on for a few more months before going under.

He has had a blistering good blogging month, and another blog I want to pick out is his takedown of Marvel Heroes and the decision not to pre purchase.

smakendahed is struggling with GW2, he plays characters up to the mid 20s-30s but can’t seem to stick at it any longer than that. Here is his discussion of his experiences and  a plea for others to explain what motivates them in the game. (For me, it was the people I was playing with.)

I have no motivation to advance to the cap or continue playing once I’ve gotten far enough to see how a class plays and gain most of the abilities that interest me.

j3w3l is also musing on the state of GW2.

For a game claiming to be the evolution of the genre I’m not actual very sure as to the way it did. They abandoned ideals that were working well, and created solutions to problems no one was having.

Psychochild writes about the grind in MMOs, and particularly with reference to GW2. He ponders how things can turn from new/fun into dull grind from a player perspective and thinks about what Arenanet could to do perk things up.

I keep wanting to write about The Walking Dead, and keep telling myself I should wait until I’ve finished the game first. (Short version: it’s amazing.)  Currently I am about to start Chapter 3, and I find I need a break between chapters as it’s quite traumatic. Syp describes his experiences with the game and in particular how the choices  made in game have affected him.

Nick Dinicola explains why he thinks driving games and open worlds shouldn’t mix, in the process discussing what he thinks the core themes of an open world game really are.

A good open world will get you to stop at least once to admire the environment. There’s always one spot from which we can see the whole world, and it is in this moment that it hits us that this is all open to us, that we can go anywhere. An open world should give us a sense of majesty and wonder while providing lots of gameplay options.

Vixsin is impressed by how many goals she still has in MoP after reaching the end of Tier 14 progression. (She wrote this last month so may have run out of goals since then Winking smile ). She’s not completely uncritical, but pretty positive about the experience so far.

Stormy at Scribblings on the Asylum Wall is angry at feeling pressured by Blizzard into doing PvP. There are two battlegrounds that you need to win as part of the legendary questline, plus various encouragements to PvP as part of the Domination Point questlines. I can sympathise with this, I don’t hate PvP as much as s/he does but that’s purely because I could get my battleground wins and then never go back again.

The Godmother ponders how people are going to gear new characters and alts in the next WoW patch.

Once LFR as it currently stands is relegated to ‘old content’ I’d expect no-one with a desire to competitively gear to want to set foot in one again, especially if you’ll need rep from the new instance to keep up with the Joneses. This means MSV, ToES and HoF will become ‘The Alt 25 Mans’, full of people wanting to gear their secondary characters: I’d suspect an increase in wipes and a decrease in decent group quality as a result.

Ted A. suggests a few possible improvements to LFR loot mechanics in WoW.

Keen argues that PvP isn’t necessary in MMOs. Which is interesting as it still seems fairly core on the feature list of most upcoming games.

I think a game designed solely around capturing people in the moment by creating a really rich PvE world is a something I can really enjoy.  What does that mean?  I guess I envision myself packing a bag full of resources, and setting off in a direction with friends to see what we can find.  I like the idea of not knowing what’s out there, or not knowing when I’ll be back to town because the game — the world — is letting me go off and truly make the “player vs. environment” a reality. ((…)) Maybe that’s why I wish PvP was seen as less of a requirement.  PvE has the ability to create a much better experience for me, and I wish those types of experiences would be developed further even with the risk.

Pete at Dragonchasers, a self described ‘casual shooter fan,’ finds that F2P games can keep him happily amused. But he wonders what kind of an impact they will have in the long term, and how devs will lure casual players to pay for what they can currently get for free.

I wonder if there are enough serious shooter fans to support many big budget $60 games. It is my understanding (and I may be wrong) that game publishers need casual gamers to purchase their titles in order to thrive.

So in the future, how will these publishers lure in casuals like me? What are they going to offer me that I can’t get for free?

Jester is a really good EVE blogger, and to my mind he is at his strongest when writing about the big picture (and not so much about minor political disagreements between various EVE personas). This is a really good post where he ponders the three main goals for CCP this year. These are for Dust to launch successfully, attract new players to EVE, and keep the old EVE players happy. (A cynical reader might assume that the last two would be running goals anyway). Obviously CCP could have timed Dust better since it looks as though the PS4 is about to be announced …

The Angry Dwarf wonders what would be so awful if every game had a super easy mode.

Syncaine looks back on WAR (Warhammer Online) and remembers the good things about the game. I was and still am fond of the game, although I haven’t played it for ages. Plenty of commenters also chime in.

…if you look at what WAR brought to the genre, and compare it to SW:TOR or the ‘genre fixing’ GW2, WAR win’s in a landslide in terms of contribution. Public quests, evolving cities, how they did instanced PvP, the Tome of Knowledge, map functionality, etc. Yes, at the end of the day the game did not work enough to succeed, but many of its parts were brilliant and the blueprint going forward.

Syp lists 40 things he is looking forwards to with Wildstar. The astonishing thing to me is how negative most of the comments are. I get not agreeing with blog posts, but wow that’s some anti hype right there. Maybe it’s just the list posts people don’t like.

Critical Mass for an MMO and Cross Server PUGs

How many people do you need to have online at the same time in a MMO? Up until now, this has been determined mostly through technical requirements (how many people can one server support?). But depending on design, some MMOs need more people online at the same time than others otherwise they just don’t work.

If you look at WoW with it’s plethora of solo content, popular 5 man instances, and battlegrounds that you can jump into without being in a pre-made group, it’s very clear that server population can get quite low and people will still be able to play. So although your chances of being able to run a 5 man instance of your choice in the middle of the night are lower than at primetime, you still only need 4 other people to do it. The only big sticking point is raiding, and battlegrounds themselves – and just as cross-server battlegrounds eased the need for one server alone to provide all participants, it will probably ease the need for single server raid PUGs too.

Warhammer, by comparison, seemed from the outset to be a game that was designed for a truly massive population. Open world PvP split across lots of different zones and different level bands needed quite a lot of players on the same server to all be interested at the same time if fights were to be consistently available (in practice, there were so many different zones that player warbands could comfortably avoid combat while taking forts). Public quests, while fun, needed to have enough people in the same zone interested in the same quest to get the group together. It was never the case (except maybe in the very early days) that you could just wander around and happen on a group in the public quest you wanted to do.

So I always wondered if at any point the devs had sat down and tried to figure out their critical mass. ie. how many players do we need per server for there to be a reasonable chance that a player can find a public quest/ scenario/ open world pvp/ instance to do at prime time/ off peak daytime/ night? I’m sure they didn’t.

Note: In game economies are a different issue. They do require a certain number of active players, but those players don’t all need to be online at the same time.

Raising the Critical Mass

So there are some design decisions that will raise the critical mass of a game and spread the existing player base:

  1. Non scaling content that needs large numbers of people (ie. raids of fixed size, battlegrounds of fixed size)
  2. Larger group size.
  3. Lots of group content spread all across the level range
  4. Lots of levels, and lots of content that is level specific (ie. difficult to group with people outside your current level range)
  5. Wide choice of group content (eg. lots and lots of public quests)
  6. Very large world with long travel times (ie. once you have found people, how difficult is it to get the group together)
  7. Highly tuned content. (ie. people reluctant to run it with people they don’t know or in PUGs.)

So in general, the more choices people have about what group content to do, the more people you need to have online to raise the chances that other people will also want to do it.

Lowering the Critical Mass

Likewise, other design decisions will lower the critical mass of a game, and funnel existing players together:

  1. Have people from all timezones on the same servers (means people who play offpeak from one timezone are more likely to find other players)
  2. Good LFG channel and functionality
  3. Robust PUG scene. (ie. an atmosphere where people feel encouraged to join random groups)
  4. Announcements when public quests become active (ie. to funnel people towards them)
  5. Reward systems that funnel people towards specific group content (ie. daily dungeon rewards)
  6. Lots of solo or small group content
  7. Scaled encounters. Lots to do for different group sizes.

Is cross-server PUGs the answer?

Just from looking at those lists it’s easy to see that WoW is specifically designed to work fine with a lower player population. This seems ironic given how much more popular it is than other MMOs, but I do think it is one reason for the game’s massive success. It really is much easier to log in and just play.

On the other hand, the high critical mass design statements lead to a wider, deeper, larger game. I would rather PLAY that game, but … as soon as the critical mass dips too far down, you lose many of the advantages. More and more I believe that just as Wolfshead suggested, better scaling is the answer.

Is it possible to have the best of both worlds? It might be that in WoW, the cross-server PvE PUGs that are coming next patch will be more game changing than anyone yet guesses. Surely it will be easier to find groups for those lower level instances when you have several servers contributing to the player pool. And if PUGs for raids are implemented across server also, who knows where it could end?

Not only that, but the game retains the current server size so people who like their current server communities won’t feel swamped as they move around the game world. They’ll just have access to a much larger group of players to instance with.

Saturday Links: Interesting Reading

  1. There’s no drama like RP drama. So when players decided to select one Aion server as their unofficial RP home it was guaranteed to become a dramafest, right? Of course right. Aionic Thoughts is at ground zero to report.
  2. Dickie@Rainbow MMO wonders if the lifetime subscription scheme is viable in the long run. Is it possible that LOTRO just has too many lifetime subs, meaning they’re going to have to find more ways to add extra charges?
  3. Is Champions Online actually a step backwards from City of Heroes? Trembling Hand thinks so, at least when it comes to teaming up.
  4. Hawley (yay, he’s back!) writes about his experience with leaving his raid community and joining another one. But the invite came before the quit, and suddenly his ‘casual’ raid group were acting as though he was “ worse than Hitler” for abandoning ship.
  5. wow.com is one of many sites that reports on a study showing that playing in a guild actually lowers your stress. I’d rephrase that as ‘playing with friends’ lowers your stress, or ‘interacting with a friendly  and supportive community’ which might rule some guilds out from the start.
  6. Green Armadillo notices how little shelf space in games shops is given over to PC games these days (I’ve noticed that here also), and asks if this is the end of retail PC gaming and what that might mean.
  7. Tamarind tells a heartwarming story of a guy in a sissy robe and the little pet that found its way home. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. Even I was in tears by the end.
  8. Brian Crecente at Kotaku writes a thoughtful piece using Beatles Rock Band as a starting point to wonder about the use of reality in games, and whether designers have a responsibility to represent reality wisely.
  9. Klepsacovic wonders how you can reward exploration in games without punishing non exploration. He also reminisces about some of WoW’s less obviously located quests. (For me, that water elemental guy who gave the MC quests just took the biscuit.)
  10. Oakstout was chatting in CO about his favourite abilities and found himself inundated with theorycraft and advice about what he should take instead. Does theorycrafting make us happier? Can we have too much information?

A Warhammer Special

Warhammer Online reached its first anniversary this week.

Jeff Hickman spoke at GDC about what he thought were Warhammer’s three biggest mistakes. He puts a lot of it down to PvE being too easy, which wouldn’t even have made my top ten, to be honest. But I do think it shows that without any ‘community’ specialists on the team, they really don’t know why their community didn’t gel. I guess blaming PvE is as good a way to go as any.

Syncaine notes pithily that you can’t blame PvE for the failure of a game that was all about RvR.

Syp chimes in with his comments and suggestions for three major mistakes, which seems nearer the mark to me. He also lists his 10 great successes for Warhammer. Dude, by the time you include “Um, Snafzg is playing it”, you are really reaching :) Also, he missed out the red blobs of awesome, the friendly/unfriendly targets that were beloved of all healers, being able to pour boiling oil onto people’s heads, and scenarios. Apart from that, it’s a good read!

In any case, it’s a game with which I had a lot of fun and my personal view is that their biggest mistake was not trying to go for a single virtual server (a la champions online). I don’t think they realised how many players they’d need active to keep all their PvP zones, PQs, and PvE instances busy.

I was going to use the title “Happy Birthday (WAR is over)” which tied in neatly with both Warhammer and The Beatles, but truth is, I hope very much that WAR is not over. I had a lot of fun with it and I hope that Mythic are plotting even now about how to lure people back from Aion (or grab the Aion tourists in a month or two when they’re disillusioned with it.)

Also, Shana Tovah, mateys.

Another WoW-Tourist takes a look at Warhammer Online

Mengtzu, a self-acknowedged WoW-Tourist, reviews his experiences in Warhammer Online in a thread on rpg.net. He’s not just a fly by night tourist either, his Disciple of Khaine reached maximum level in the game. He also spots a downside to the living guilds mechanic by which guilds can level up and gain access for members to special teleports, guild auctions, and the like.

It is awkward for members of a small guild that cannot level quickly; your social choice has cut you off not only from the endgame elite, but basic conveniences that any character can access in other games.

There are a lot of screenshots in the thread, and although he likes a lot of things about the game, he ends by concluding that while WAR beats the 5-year old WoW content handily, it still isn’t a match for Blizzard’s more recent innovations or expansion zones. For example, back in the day it would not have been unusual for NPCs to narrate something that happened in the player’s absence. Now with phasing, WoW players expect to be there and to watch events unfold before them.

Read it and see what you think. In some ways it makes gloomy reading, he’s very objective about explaining why he liked or disliked different things, but you can see why it’s so hard for new games to play WoW at its strengths unless Blizzard really screws the pooch sometime in future.

On WAR

My history with Warhammer Online goes back about a year. That was when Arbitrary and I first started blogging about the game, several months before it launched. This was our first post, dated 14th May 2008.

I don’t regret any of it. We had a brilliant time writing about WAR, engaging with the hype, seeing how it evolved through beta, learning about the lore, chatting to other bloggers and readers, tussling with GOA, going to Games Day UK, and watching the community ebb and flow.

So I can’t help feeling a pang when my sub runs out today, and Arb wound up the Book of Grudges for much the same reason. Not only that, but this is the week that our server is also closed down and everyone offered free transfers to more populated ones.

That’s good in the sense that the game NEEDS to be played on well populated servers. But it still leaves me with a sense of closure – I’m gone, the guild is (long) gone, the blog is gone, the server is gone.

I really did enjoy playing Warhammer Online. I would and I do recommend anyone to try the free trial if you’re bored and looking for a new game. The starting levels (tier 1) are some of the best fun you can have in MMOs.

Best things about the game:

  • Red questy map blobs. When you got a quest, a red blob appeared on the map showing you roughly where you had to go. It very neatly gave a little direction while still leaving some room to explore. I miss it in every other game I play.
  • Scenarios. A little 15 min slice of PvP action that you can queue up for from anywhere else in the game. I loved how all the scenarios had different layouts and a variety of win conditions and winning tactics.
  • Holiday events. They weren’t all hits but Mythic did an awesome job of providing a stream of new temporary content in a way that put WoW to shame. Not only did we get holiday quests and events, we got temporary scenarios to play. Can you imagine WoW making temporary battlegrounds available?
  • Two targets. You could have two targets selected at any time, one offensive target (ie. all your attacks directed at them) and one defensive target (ie. all your heals/buffs directed at them). This was absolutely awesome for healers.
  • Public Quests. The quests themselves were hit and miss but the idea was great. You could roll into an area, help a load of other people with the quest, and be in line for reputation and rewards. And you didn’t have to even talk to them if you didn’t want.
  • Open groups. This one is a winner too. If a group or warband (ie. raid) was set up to be open, then anyone in the area could locate it and invite themselves to join. It sounds scary to a WoW crowd but a lot of the WAR content (such as open PvP) was of the type where more warm bodies were always welcome.
  • Open RvR. Some of the most fun I had in game was running Tier 2 or Tier 3 keep take evenings with the guild. And if we didn’t have enough people, I just set the warband as open and announced on the /order channel where we were going. The group filled up pretty fast.

I’m not going through the bad points, it’s been done enough. Endgame is lacking, the requirements for picking up ward gear were intimidating to people who didn’t want to run the instances, etc. These issues are being addressed!

As to why I left:

  • Guild leaders left after about a month in game. Yes, it affects morale.
  • Demoralised by the ward PvE gear requirements.
  • Wanted to spend more time in WoW — I didn’t switch immediately to Wrath, I spent some time playing both. But it was getting clear where I wanted to spend more time.
  • Bored of Tier 4 and not really enjoying the PvE instances I was able to run. I really do like the Tier 4 zones a lot, they’re gorgeous (apart from the Dwarf one). But do I really want to run around in warbands doing hit and runs on keeps every night?

Having said all that, the land of the dead (due out in June) sounds awesome and depending on how my gaming time goes I’ll be tempted to resub. Even just writing about the game makes me want to play it again, maybe as Destruction this time.

What Mythic should have done

In my mind, the game they should have made was DaoC II. This isn’t just because I find mythology more appealing than Warhammer, it’s because three realms works better than two, it’s because they threw away the concept of huge frontier zones in favour of PvP pools, it’s because we loved the seamless virtual world feel of the game. It’s because they had one of the best implementations of housing I have ever seen.

And it’s also because a feudal setup has huge possibilities for endgame that are there to be explored. In a feudal society, the king parcels out lands and titles to knights who distinguish themselves in battle. That’s a whole potential housing-centred minigame in itself.

Pub Update

It was great meeting other bloggers and Warhammer Online players last Saturday. Hi Stabs! Hi Skar!

(Check out their blogs, I can now verify that the writers are cool!)

Thanks all for coming, we know it takes a leap of faith to actually go meet people you don’t really know well and have never met before.

It’s a shame more people couldn’t make it but as we agreed, it does say something about the state of WAR (I know Arbitrary announced the pubmeet  all over various forums) and in any case, the people who did come had a good time.

It’s always a good sign when you’re so deep in conversation that you blink and suddenly it’s past 8pm.

Also, Monty Python Fluxx is a very fun little cardgame.

A look at the new Warhammer guild search

Thanks to Jennifer@Girl IRL for spotting the new guild search interface amongst all the other patch 1.2.1 changes that went live this week in WAR. (It is patch season in MMOland, yes.)

I’ve felt for ages that  in game tools to help players search for guilds that match their interests and vice versa are horribly lacking. Given how central to a  social player’s game experience it is to find a well fitting guild, that’s pretty much an unpardonable omission.

So I’m going to talk about how to use the guild search (on an unguilded character) and give some examples of what you can find out from it. Jennifer (in the link at the top) posted a screenshot of the interface guild leaders use to set up their information when looking for new members.

Using the Warhammer Online Guild Search

Step 1. You access the guild search tool through the guild interface, by clicking the green shield icon at the top of your screen.

Step 2. A window comes up which describes how to form a guild. (I didn’t take a screenie of this because it’s a bit dull, unless of course you want to go make a guild.) At the bottom of this window are two tabs. Click on the one marked search.

OK, so the game has spotted that I’m not in a guild and is going to let me see if I can find some hapless group of players that might suit.

They’ve given a decent selection of attributes to search with. I was looking at the pictured dropdown box with mild confusion (what exactly is the difference between a chatty and a family guild anyway?) As it happens, when you search you will find that guilds can tag themselves with more than one of these labels.

So you can search for guilds that are PvE focussed, PvP focussed, casual etc. You can search based on guild rank (which can matter in Warhammer), you can search based on number of members, and whether or not they’re looking for your class. And so on.

Step 3. Select the attributes you want to search for and then hit the search button.

(Free advert for We Are Legion of Karak Azgal (EU), since they were first in the list)

I was searching for guilds with over 100 members, and it’s not all that unusual for Warhammer guilds to be that large. I was also searching for guilds of rank 20 or above because I am vain and at rank 20 you get to wear the guild emblem on your cloak. So I was searching for large, well established guilds, who had been active enough to get to rank 20.

So this is the format you get for the search results.  The guilds are listed to the left and the x/yyy number shows number of members logged in right now vs number of total members. I logged on early in the morning to get these screenshots so it’s not surprising that no one is around.

You can see whether the guild is in an alliance and who the recruiters are if you want to get in touch, as well as information about guild size, rank, and other interests. And there’s a small blurb written by the guild leader too.

I’m well impressed. It’s not a great leap forwards in game design but it fills a useful and important role, and it isn’t overly complex. Thumbs up to the Warhammer devs.

ObPlug: Warhammer Online is running 10 day free trials at the moment (US version here, EU version here). Tier 1 (levels 1-11) are terrifically fun, and if you do like it and decide to stay, you now have a better way to find a guild.