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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A word from our developers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me give you all my money

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

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

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

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

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

Guild Wars 2 – backlash edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

smakendahead also touches on the pacing of the game.

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

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

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

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

On another note

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

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

Guild Wars 2 breaks the shackles of life, death, and the holy trinity

I feel increasingly that big upcoming MMOs are now marketing to the post-WoW player base. Instead of “If you like WoW, try this too; it’s like WoW with new content/ free,” we’re getting more targeted messages which can be interpreted as, “If you liked WoW but are tired of it, try this; it’s like WoW with a new twist.”

So we have Final Fantasy 14 with the ability to switch classes any time you like. We have SWTOR with the long class specific storylines and smart companions. And then there is Guild Wars 2.

Of all the new AAA MMO devs, Arenanet seem most inclined to pry apart and rebuild their MMO from the ground up. Maybe once we all get to play it, the reaction will be, “Huh, it really is just like WoW with a couple of minor twists. Psych!”  Or maybe they’ll be forced to make the game more WoW-like after taking player feedback.

But the current dev blog slips some intriguing details about their plans.

Always look on the bright side of death

In GW2, there will be a two stage death process. After your character has lost all their health, they are downed. They will still have some special last ditch abilities that can be used in a downed state, so they can still contribute to the fight while hoping someone else will come heal them. If you actually manage to kill an enemy when you are downed, then you recover!

Then if a downed player is attacked some more, they can be defeated – which sounds more like a classic MMO death. You can either be ressed by another player or return via a waypoint/ graveyard (and they will let you pick any waypoint which you have already discovered on the world map which opens up some possibly unintentional opportunities for death travel.)

This has similarities with the current D&D rules, in which a player isn’t actually dead until they are on –10 health. At 0 health, you’re down and bleeding but not yet out.

I find this concept very appealing. I like the idea of having a last ditch chance to throw a rock at an enemy, get in a lucky shot from prone position, or something similar. I do think it will make near death experiences a lot more exciting in the game.

Also, does any warrior not wish they had this ability (given as an example of how some character abilities will interact with the fallen/ defeated state). Res/ rally someone by killing a monster nearby? Yes please!

… when a warrior uses “I Will Avenge You,” and then kills an enemy nearby his fallen allies, his allies will rally.

It’s always people who hate healing who want to destroy the tank/heal/dps trinity

Every time I’ve read an article by a player or developer who wanted to destroy the holy gaming role trinity, it’s always been someone who hated healing. Is it really only healers and support classes who benefit from the trinity setup? I always rather liked having such different roles available.

Anyhow, the GW2 devs want to go a different route.

We keep hearing other MMO developers espousing the “holy trinity” of DPS/ heal/tank with such reverence, as if this is the most entertaining combat they have ever played. Frankly, we don’t like sitting around spamming “looking for healer” to global chat.

It might be truer to say that they aim to redefine the trinity and share the responsibility across all classes. So instead of dps/heal/tank, they discuss dps/support/control. I think it’s a great idea to identify tanking with control and share the responsibility around the group.

But their definition of support is focussed on short term buffs and situational abilities rather than healing. I think it sounds fun and fast paced, but not entirely sure how much dedicated support players are going to like it.

Healing is for when you are already losing. In Guild Wars 2 we prefer that you support your allies before they take a beating. Sure, there are some healing spells in Guild Wars 2, but they make up a small portion of the support lines that are spread throughout the professions.

Having said that, the idea of someone at the back of the group casting heal spells while you take damage has never been particularly immersive.

Maybe it’s because I could use a break from the WoW-type formula that I’m intrigued to try this myself. I wonder though whether this new scheme will tend to encourage an ‘each for himself’ mentality in groups as opposed to deep roles for players to learn. It will be interesting to find out.

Does the notion of a more PvP style of PvE appeal to you?

(Hm, I wonder if it’s really a good idea to tag this post with ‘holy trinity’ …)

Just like Han Solo

Do you think it’s possible that there are any smugglers in the Star Wars universe who are *gasp* not either Han Solo, or exactly like him?

Me neither. And if you had any doubts, check out Hal Hood’s developer post about smugglers. As a thought experiment, try two different readings:

  1. Add ‘just like Han Solo’ to the end of every sentence. Read in awe as it continues to make perfect sense.
  2. Add ‘just like Han Solo, but without your pants!’ to the end of every sentence.

OK, so we get it. If you want to play a character like Han Solo, play a smuggler in SW:TOR. And .. well bad luck if you didn’t, I guess. They do sound fun though, and now I’m wondering if Jedi really will be the most popular class in the game after all.

Jedi may see things before they happen, but Smugglers always shoot first.

And after all, who doesn’t like Han Solo?