2 games that could be WoW-beaters

It’s  fashionable to say that Warcraft has grown so large now that there will never be any single WoW beater. It’s less of a game and more of a force of nature, a historical blip which will go down in records as a milestone in humanity’s takeup of the internet, social networking, and online virtual worlds.

If you play World of Warcraft, you are part of a historical phenomenon. You’ll be able to look back and tell your grandchildren (or you could just twitter them now if you have any), “Yes, I played that game. We all did.”

Anyone who thinks it’s just another game isn’t paying attention. As to why it got so large — a perfect storm of quality game, smart marketing, lack of competition (at the time it launched), opening the market to more casual players, and a crazy social networking effect. It’s anyone’s guess. Probably a lot of these factors.

Then again, a few years ago who would have guessed that Facebook would so totally overwhelm MySpace, or that twitter would become such a big thing? That’s a rhetorical question, and the answer is … anyone who tried the new formats would realise almost immediately. I don’t know about you but as soon as I saw Facebook I knew it was a better social platform than MySpace. Scrabble sealed the deal. (Admittedly I haven’t logged into Facebook for months, I got bored of being invited into stupid groups by people who weren’t my friends.)

Similarly, ten years ago it didn’t take very long to realise how quickly mobile phones would take off as soon as the prices came down — you only had to try one for a day to see the difference it made. Going further back, how quickly do you think Sony Walkman‘s took off? Very fast. You only had to use it for an hour or two to see how cool it was to be able to take your music around with you.

If a virtual world comes along that suits a lot of people better than WoW, they will switch. This will happen faster if the barrier to switching is low. It will happen faster if it targets a large section of the WoW audience that isn’t currently 100% happy with the game they have. In order for it to become a WoW-beater, it will need to not only steal Warcraft players but also open whole new markets. And one thing is for sure, it won’t be a game that is ‘mostly like Warcraft but with a few tweaks’ or ‘like WoW but with superheroes/ spaceships/ vampires instead of fantasy.’

It may not even be a game at all.

Free Realms

I’m not in the beta test of FR, although I’ve mentioned it previously. The reason I think Free Realms will challenge WoW is because a lot of WoW players aren’t that interested in the ‘gamier’ side of it as an MMO. They love the shiny production values and attractive stylised graphics, but the endgame world of people calling you a moron  if you don’t put out enough dps in some instance, or smack talk in battleground chat don’t appeal to them (tbh they don’t appeal to a lot of people).

Maybe what they really want is a friendly virtual world where they can dress up their characters, collect minipets, play minigames with their friends, and chat.  Where no one will whine at them about their specs, or expect them to dedicate 2+ nights per week to raiding if they’re ever going to see the cool storylines or get the best loot.

FR looks to have great production values, be very accessible, be focus grouped to death about what casual MMO players want, be a friendly environment where people can easily play with their families/ less hardcore players. And of course, it’s free — or at least you can do most of the stuff you’d want for free, with options to pay for extras.

You just have to look at the comments to this Massively post which asked what people were looking forwards to about Free Realms to see how many gamers would like a relaxing environment to play with less game-crazed family members.

There’s an opening there for a lot of players to move to a game they’d find suited their preferences more than WoW.  I might wish that more virtual worlds might be generated that were a bit less childish, because cartoon animals and generic cuteness don’t do much for me (and I’m really not that desperate to socialise with 12 year olds unless they are actually family), but to a lot of people and a lot of kids, that has a high appeal.  I’ll certainly be trying it out, if only to hang out with friends who aren’t hardcore MMO players but might be tempted into this one.

Sony’s main competition with FR is probably more the social worlds aimed at kids than it is WoW but that just means that there’s a huge market out there for them to tap into. Can they attract players from Habbo Hotel to their new offering?  They’ll certainly try.

I know I’m looking forwards to playing (and writing about) it when it does go live.

Diablo III

D3 could appeal to a different segment of current WoW players. It will almost certainly have a grimmer, gritter, more gothic atmosphere than Warcraft (admittedly not difficult). It has a vast built-in fanbase, based on players who loved the previous game. It’s made by Blizzard so will be prominently advertised all over the official sites.

And it will take the core group gameplay of WoW and distill it into its purest essence. A lot of WoW players aren’t really interested in socialising, or trying to earn gold, or immersing themselves into a virtual world.

All Blizzard have to do is let the online version of D3 have access to some kind of auction house, a way to mail gear to your alts, and more fully featured chat than Diablo II and that alone will fulful a lot of the player interaction options that many current WoW players want.

They want to group up easily and find some action when they feel like it. They want to be able to buy and sell on an auction house. And they may want some light chat inbetween. But a lot of people don’t care about exploring, don’t want the hassle of being tied to a guild, and don’t want deep interactions. It will be like all the fun casual gaming parts of WoW without any of the hassle. And if they are more in a mood to play solo, then it has a cracking solo mode too. Of course you can play the whole game solo, that’s what it is.

It may even be that the downloadable content model will let Blizzard offer the equivalent of raid content for Diablo III.

(Note: this assumes that it’s a good game, of course.)

Why D3 and not any of the other current games with online multiplayer options? Because it’s not a shooter. Because it has that massive built in fanbase. Because the concept of talent trees came from Diablo in the first place. Because of the loot. Because it’s dark fantasy.

And I would love to be a fly on the wall in Blizzard HQ as they try to figure out whether or not to give D3 the things it needs to succeed (ie. auction house, mail, etc) or whether doing so might threaten their cashcow.

Both Free Realms and Diablo III offer a (potentially) better version of some aspect of a virtual world or game where WoW falls down. That has to appeal to people. Heck, it appeals to me, and I love the whole idea of virtual worlds. I think they both stand to challenge WoW to decide exactly what it does have to offer to casual players.

I was thinking myself that it would be a bad thing if Ulduar turned out to be too hard. Because if you’re bored with Naxx and slamming your head against a wall in Ulduar, what else is there to do in endgame? It’s a consequence of pushing more of the population into raiding instead of providing more casual endgame activities that Blizzard itself is now in a Raid-or-Die loop with Warcraft. If players can’t raid, perhaps the game itself will die … slowly …

But there will never be a WoW-beater. And the reason is that many WoW players dont’ see themselves as gamers and certainly not MMO gamers. They are WoW players. It has become a hobby in itself. When they get bored, they won’t necessarily switch to another computer game at all.

What do you think? If you had the chance to switch to a game that just offered the core parts of WoW that you loved and none of the bits you dislike, would you go?

Tokens! And why Ulduar-10 is a problem

Tokens have been fantastically popular in recent MMOs. The wonder of tokens is that they perfectly map onto grindy play.

Why we love tokens:

  1. They’re less random. You know exactly how many times you need to kill a mob in order to have access to the gear you want. But you will not have to sit there and watch the retribution paladin ninja the drop … again.
  2. They’re less class specific. No more gloomily disposing of drops which are for classes that aren’t even in your group.
  3. You get to choose how you spend them. If the vendor sells a ring, some boots, and a cool new mount, you can decide your own priorities for which order you want to buy. No more pretending to be happy because some gloves dropped again when you already have 3 spare pairs.
  4. More choices on how to get gear. If tokens can be transferred to other players, then you can grind cash in other ways and buy the tokens that you need. Or pick and choose between token gear and stuff that you get via other means.

Why we hate tokens:

  1. They’re boring. It isn’t as exciting to kill a boss, grab your tokens and move on as it is to get excited over that rare drop that might just be there.
  2. They take up bag space. Some games do solve this by providing special token bags. But WoW, as an example, still has plenty of tokens that sit smugly in your bags.
  3. They force grinding. Somehow the grind seems longer when you know that you need to kill a mob 200 times than it does when your item of desire has a small chance to drop on any of those kills. Even though the random mechanic could mean that you have to kill a lot more in the end. It’s intimidating to say ‘OK, I only need to clear this raid instance 10 more times’ … because that sounds like a lot.
  4. It’s confusing to newbies to have to deal with lots of tokens, many of which are totally devalued. Congratulations, you just picked up a heroic token! You only need 199 more and you can buy a totally awesome item which will be of no use after you have levelled to 80. The grind only makes sense if you’re there at the bleeding edge when it is introduced. Otherwise, it’s encouraging players to put in way too much time for the rewards.

So tokens are convenient, and give guaranteed rewards. But the grinds which they reward can become quickly outdated and there’s no indication in game as to which tokens you should just ignore.

This is a general problem with content becoming outdated in MMOs but not being either removed or explained. So what should devs do about old tokens? They become a foreign currency, useful only if you are travelling in the old content ‘world’.

Usually with foreign currency, you just convert it to the currency you want to use. The agent takes a cut and you get some cash you can use in local shops. But this is a problem for MMOs, because they don’t want you to get cash for local shops by converting old currency. They want you to get it from doing the newest latest grind.

The problem with 10 man Ulduar

OK, so the problem with Ulduar tokens is this:

Currently there are two types of raid token in Wrath.

  • Heroic and 10 man tokens, which share the same vendor.
  • 25 man tokens which use a different, higher level vendor.

In the next patch, with the next raid (ie. Ulduar) there will be 10 man tokens, which will use the old 25 man token vendor. And there will be new 25 man tokens which will use a different, higher level vendor.

Now the current 25 man token vendor sells nice stuff, to be sure. He sells 2 pieces of the tier 7 set, which is a great way to fill out the set if you have been unlucky with drops. He sells bracers and rings and cloaks. All nice raid gear. But not quite as nice as the regular drops from Ulduar 10 man. And of course, he won’t sell any pieces of tier 8. You want that from 10 man runs, you’ll have to get lucky.

The new 25 man vendor, on the other hand, represents nice upgrades. He will sell two pieces of tier 8, and also other items with better stats.

The problem is not that 25 man raiding provides for better tokens, gear, and upgrades. That’s fine. The problem is that 10 man tokens are practically worthless before the raid has even gone live. Lots of people currently run both 10 man and 25 man content, I’m one of them. I already have all the 25 man badge gear that I want for Spinks.

I’ll say it again, 10 man Ulduar badges are practically worthless as things currently stand. Blizzard can’t and won’t add better gear to the badge vendor because they don’t want people to log into the new patch and be able to immediately go clean him out because they had lots of Naxx-25 badges saved. They won’t add in a conversion from 10 man to 25 man badges in Ulduar for the same reason.

I think it will be more difficult now to entice people to run the 10 mans. The gear isn’t bad (hard mode 10 man gear is very good) and it’s still a great way to learn the encounters and have a fun, sociable, raiding experience. But everyone likes to achieve a variety of different rewards for doing the same content — tokens, chance at a good drop, cash, reputation. And cutting down the number of rewards from one type of raid while increasing it in another (with the addition of the legendary weapon) could well tip the balance.

Blizzard Owns the April Fools Gags

All been keeping an eye out for cool April Fools gags on annual “Don’t Believe What You Read On The Internet Day”?

Blizzard, as usual, have put a lot of work into entertaining the masses (aka us) with their April Fools. I think they have a nice balance here of fun ideas that aren’t SO good that everyone would be pining for the rest of the year.

Blizzard EU: P1mp My Mount – Yeah I want a shoulder mounted sub machine gun for my nether ray too!

Blizzard US: Check out the new Dance Battle System. And check out the ads on that page also (I don’t blame them, it’s gonna get a zillion hits).

And thanks to The Ancient Gaming Noob for the heads up on the Starcraft II and Diablo III April Fools.

Diablo III: Archivist Class. It has an ability called Shush! There’s even an animation showing it in action … *pines for D3 some more*

Starcraft II: I can’t get through to this one but you’re welcome to try here.

And as if that wasn’t enough, they’ve run the US WoW forums through a roleplaying parser. Which they really should keep since it makes everything way more amusing. Here’s a random example (of someone asking about Malygos phase 1):

Tell Blizzard all about your character

In case anyone missed it, Blizzard are running a writing competition which is actually open to entrants outside the US (as well as inside it). What you have to do is write 3k-10k words and the story should be set in the world of Warcraft, Starcraft or Diablo.

Official entry page is here.

And just in case anyone was thinking of submitting their favourite slash pairing, the smallprint on the rules does state:

Any entries or submissions which depict or glorify overly graphic, lewd, obscene, vulgar or profane behavior, or which utilize lewd, obscene vulgar or profane language, either as part of the submission or as the name of the submission, will be disqualified at the sole discretion of Sponsor.

The prize is a trip to Blizzard HQ (in southern california) to ‘meet and eat’ with the Blizzard writers and pick up a copy of Frostmourne. I think there’s room for a joke here about the pen being mightier than the sword, but it’s too early in the morning for me to think of it.

Personally, if I’m writing publishable quality short stories (which is what the winner will be) I want a writing contract, not a  fake sword. Just sayin’. But I guess that’s the main point of getting some quality face time with the actual writers. That and the free lunch.

It’s not impossible that they are lining up potential writers for future writing gigs though. Again from the smallprint:

The Entry Materials include a survey that requires you to enter your name, e-mail address, and state of residence. By entering the Contest, you consent to Sponsor’s use of this information to inform you of open positions with Blizzard, and to associate your name with your submission in promotional materials for the Contest in the event that you are chosen to be a winner.

Also if I’m going all the way  to California I want to see cool stuff, not Blizzard HQ. I think I fail on the fannishness on some basic level ;) And joking aside, they only give 2 nights lodging which is a bit tight on the jet lag if you have to fly 11+ hours each way.

However, if you are a keen writer and want some free publicity and an ‘in’ on possible future writing work with Blizzard, it’s got to be worth a shot.

Amusingly, in Kotaku’s writeup of this story, they say about the winner:

He or she (but, since this is fan fiction, I mean, yeah, probably a he) will get a Frostmourne sword.

Wait. Someone  actually thinks more men than women write fanfic? Inconcievable!