[Diablo] Seasons greetings, and the demotivating effect of world achievements

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wn.com review of GoT episode

So, a new patch dropped recently in Diablo 3 and with it new loot and the new concept of game seasons. A season is like a ladder event from Diablo 2 but with fewer scoreboards and more season-specific loot and rewards. If you create a seasonal character, it will be wiped at the end of the season but other than that, you will have an entirely new game to play with other season specific character. Tragically, there aren’t any seasonal graphics changes – I thought maybe some season-themed foliage or NPC garb might have been cool but clearly Sanctuary is clearly Not That Kind of world.

Ladders have an evil Pavlovian effect. You think ‘Oh, I could start a new character!’, and then the first levels go so quickly and you find yourself levelling up the Blacksmith again and before you know it, Diablo has neatly inserted itself (again) as your go-to game for those moments when you want to kill demons in an explody way by clicking on them, without needing too much thinking. I think the seasons will be massively successful for Blizzard. The other bonus is that a new season/ ladder is the perfect time to lure your bestie/ partner/ sister into playing the game with you again. A new start with everyone back on a level playing field is appealing for drawing back old players who drifted, and it is the same reason MMO expansions tend to clear the decks swiftly of any game changing advantages for people who played the last expansion to death.

Not only is new game plus (which this isn’t strictly, I know) a time honored way to encourage players to keep playing a game they already finished, but levelling ladders were a mechanic that was closely associated with Diablo 2 also. Thematically, it fits. Genius really.

It’s all great until you and your levelling buddy have knocked off the Skeleton King and reached the heady heights of level 25 and …. you see a world broadcast informing you that legolasxx has just gotten the world first paragon 50 seasonal character. But this season only started this morning, you protest, how is that even possible?

Same old, same old. Anyone else lured back by the new season? I think D3 is playing very well these days.

Catching up: Neverwinter, WoW Raiding, Diablo

ooze

“I got eaten by a gelatinous cube!!!” she said, “This is the best day of my life!”

I feel late to the party so going to link to a few other people’s experiences with the Neverwinter open beta. I haven’t really seen any bad reviews, it’s a solid game and if you like that sort of thing, it’s F2P so you can go try it. For me I get strong vibes of a mixture of Diablo and standard hotbar MMO play, and it mostly works. Also my character has a really cool devil tail that waves around.

  • Dusty Monk – “… when you first log on, you’ll be presented with a Home Page of the various kinds of content available and how to get to them.   And for most of that content, a robust LFG queuing tool is available, and works really well.  So whether for skirmishes, dungeons, or PvP matches, you can queue up, and typically within less than 20 minutes or so, be whisked away to the instance of your choice.”
  • Tipa at West Karana – “I play the game, I like the game, but I don’t know why. Game just _confuses_ me.”
  • The Jester, a blogger at wizards.com (blogging for a pen and paper audience) – “The static world reflects a style of MMO design on the way out. It’s very much a third-generation MMO despite every MMO in the last three or four years trying to become an early fourth-generation MMO. There’s not a whole lot of innovation. Excluding the Foundry, it’s an unremarkable game I would have not looked twice at had it not been using the D&D licence (and even then, only because it’s free). There’s also only enough official content for a single playthrough.”

Like many of the other bloggers I follow, I’m finding a lot more fun in the game than I had expected. It is, as The Jester says, a very static world design but I don’t entirely agree with him about the third-generation MMO. Cryptic have been looking at more recent developments in other games, so Neverwinter features companion NPCs and crafting based on facebook style games/ SWTOR, LFG queues for all the group content in the game, a web interface where you can check your crafting/ auctions/ etc., and a more active combat style than typical MMOs. I find the dodging works better here than in GW2, for example. The game does default to mouse look, and binds your two main attacks to the mouse buttons for that classic Diablo feel. This didn’t annoy me as much as I was expecting although it feels awkward when you want to drop out of mouse look mode so that  you can click on some other part of your screen. All in all, it feels like a modern take on an oldschool genre, which is pretty appropriate for a game based on Dungeons and Dragons.

And Arb and I do get a kick from the oldschool D&D references that are studded through the game, especially when we remember the monsters showing up in tabletop games that we ran as teenagers.  The gelatinous cube shown above was an old GMing favourite, as were the illusory walls that have featured in other dungeons in the game. Fortunately this particular cube was not immune to cold and lightning damage, given that my wizard has a lot of ice spells. And that shows up one of the downsides of Neverwinter – it’s not actually as tactically interesting as a D&D game probably should be. Monsters are supposed to have strengths and vulnerabilities, but that doesn’t really work with this type of MMO where players don’t want to be told “You should really bring someone with fire spells if you are going to fight gelatinous cubes.”

It’s a dilemma. In any case, we’re having fun with the game at the moment. I don’t know if it really has long lasting stickability but Cryptic have played to their strengths by including The Foundry for player generated scenarios and that is something I am curious to try out.

Raiding in the Throne of Thunder

Kadomi has written a much more colourful description of our raiding progress over at her blog (I love being in a guild with other bloggers, I can just link to what they wrote and say “just read this.”)

Short form: We got council down last week in normal mode for the first time. So we’re making slow but steady progress through the raid. I have had more fun raiding in MoP than in any aspect of WoW since Wrath, although the encounters are sometimes overtuned in normal, they’re pretty well designed. I don’t know what other people consider good encounter design but for me, I don’t mind a complex boss fight that takes us a long time to learn as long as we can feel we are learning on every pull.

Encounters like Elegon and Council have been incredibly rewarding fights for our guild to master, I think. So I don’t much care that we’re not on heroic modes, the raids we are doing are at a really good difficulty for us I think. But I’m pretty tolerant of slow progression if the company is good and fun is being had.

At the same time, LFR being available helps a lot with keeping the general good mood in a casual raid guild. I think back to Burning Crusade and just how darned important it felt to be in progression raids because it was the only way you could be in with a shot at the gear you’d need to be included in the next progression raid. Now you can keep up reasonably well with gear levels by running LFR and collecting rep gear so it’s not the end of the world if you miss a week or two. Plus if we don’t have enough people on a raid night, we can take a guild group to LFR and still have the opportunity to hang out together.

As anyone who has been reading gaming news recently will know, WoW posted a drop in accounts over the last quarter. This can’t be surprising given general trends in the genre and doesn’t really reflect on MoP – anyone who quit because there were too many dailies probably wasn’t going to be in it for the long run anyway.

Diablo III

Since the new patch, I have been tentatively trying out my old Barbarian in Inferno level and … this is probably not surprising but now that several nerfs have been applied to the mobs and buffs to the characters, I am quite enjoying it. The original difficulty just wasn’t fun for me, this is.

I have enjoyed all the Diablo-esque games that I have played recently, Torchlight 2 is a lot of fun also, but Diablo 3 does have some very moreish design factors to it. I love silly things like the increasingly outlandish types of arms and armour you pick up (what is a Schynbald? Heck if I know!), which brings me back to original Dungeons and Dragons with it’s lovingly illustrated pages of exotic polearms.

DNDWeapons3rdEd1-1024x736

The great Diablo 3 economy meltdown

Funnily enough, I’d been getting back into Diablo 3 recently so I was aware of the new patch that hit this week. One of the new features was that Blizzard raised the limit for maximum gold sold on the auction house from 1m to 10m gold.

And then … some players discovered a buffer overflow due to these changes that led to some easily replicated gold dupe mechanics. Very soon after this, some accounts amassed ridiculously huge amounts of gold, even by D3 standards. Blizzard disabled the US AH last night and deployed a hotfix earlier today.

But they’re reluctant to roll back the servers. Presumably lots of players returned to try out the new patch and Blizzard are aware of the effect of taking away any cool RNG drops that they picked up while playing on player morale. Instead they’re trying to identify offending accounts and doing selective bans.

It’s probably too late though, once that amount of gold flooded into the AH economy, legitimate players started selling drops/ gems for hugely inflated prices so the money has been distributed.

Here’s the lowdown from reddit, and the Blizzard official response.

It’s at times like these that it pays to be on EU servers that update after the US ones, our patch had the hotfix included.

[Diablo 3, GW2] Does Diablo 3 need an endgame?

Bashiok (one of the Blizzard community managers) has been quoted a lot this week for his comments on Diablo 3:

We recognize that the item hunt is just not enough for a long-term sustainable end-game. There are still tons of people playing every day and week, and playing a lot, but eventually they’re going to run out of stuff to do (if they haven’t already). Killing enemies and finding items is a lot of fun, and we think we have a lot of the systems surrounding that right, or at least on the right path with a few corrections and tweaks. <…> There needs to be something else that keeps people engaged, and we know it’s not there right now.

That’s a lot of endgame talk about what is basically a single player game with co op functionality.

I think this is a great quote because it goes a long way to explaining what devs think of as ‘end game’: gameplay/ content that keeps players engaged. Possibly indefinitely. To everyone else, endgame is “what you do in the game after you have finished the game” which is a bizarre statement if you take it as read. Logically, after you have finished a game you put it away and play something else. It’s certainly how I play the majority of single player games, not to mention other media like books and films. Except for the games where you keep coming back.

There are a few main reasons people will keep coming back to a much loved game:

  • There’s some randomisation involved so the game never really ends or is never the same twice. Especially if there is a rising difficulty curve associated with the randomisation so the game stays challenging. (eg. roguelikes, puzzle games like tetris).
  • Moreish gameplay. Could involve PvP.
  • Extra ‘stretch’ goals or achievements. Final Fantasy always excelled at offering ultra hard extra bosses that were clearly only for people who wanted to spend much longer with their game than was needed just to finish it. Some of these might be long term goals which would need weeks or months to complete.
  • Lots to explore. Try a new spec or play style. New Game Plus can fit this mould, where you get new stuff to do if you replay the game after finishing it once or twice.
  • Your friends are playing it. Come back for the social aspect.
  • New content. Maybe a new patch just dropped or a mod maker released a really cool new mod for a game.
  • Sandbox game. (Not sure how well this really applies to single player games but there are some open world games where you had a pretty free rein of what to do after finishing the main storyline.)

It’s funny to think that before subscription MMOs and  F2P, there was never any great cash motivation for single player games to  be endlessly replayable. Square Enix didn’t get extra money because Final Fantasy had secret uber bosses in it to encourage you to keep playing; at least, it’s unlikely that this was a major purchase factor for players. Rogue and its ilk are free, there’s no incentive for the game to be endless other than it happened to be designed that way. If a game turns out to be evergreen then it will last longer in retail (the long tail), and there are probably loads of opportunities for creators to make more money by ‘exploiting the brand’. Arcade games obviously make more money the more people come back to them also. But it was always one indication of a good game. That people would keep playing, and playing, and playing.

Some of the old classic endgame design won’t fly in today’s world. Secret uber bosses won’t be secret for very long in the internet age, and no matter how complex it is to find them, you can assume someone will do it and publicise it widely.

Diablo and endgame

The endgame in Diablo 2 involved playing the game through again on harder modes, trying different specs or classes, and gathering loot. There was also the possibility for PvP, and Blizzard organised levelling ladders  on the battle.net servers for players who enjoyed doing competitive speed runs. Unfortunately, with Diablo 3, they’ve made some of that endgame redundant. There’s no need to play through the game with a different spec when you can switch spec on the fly. There’s little motivation to gather specific gear sets when you can almost certainly buy better stuff from the auction house than anything that will drop for you.

Instead, there is an end game around farming and selling drops on the item house.

I don’t personally feel slighted that I played through Diablo 3 a few times and then decided I’d had enough. I never did get to Inferno level and I’m cool with that, I think I got as much fun out of the game as I wanted. I’m sure lots of other players are equally placid about Diablo 3. It was good enough, there was enough fun. The story (for all its flaws) was told engagingly and there were enough pieces of story detail that you could discover a few new things on each subsequent play through. The achievements were nicely thought out on the whole. I could imagine playing it through again in a few months time, just for fun.

But clearly, many players wanted an endless endgame, and Blizzard wanted to design a game that had one. Preferably without the hassle of having to actually add extra content. I say this because they could totally add extra secret bosses, secret levels, secret events, secret companions, secret crafting recipes and so on; they wouldn’t stay secret for long but it would get people back into the game to see the new stuff.

But what would a long term sustainable end game look like for Diablo 3? There is the upcoming possibility of PvP for people who like that. It would be gear dependent so frequent trips the auction house would likely be necessary if you want to be competitive. Other than that, how could Blizzard ever expect players to play through the same content indefinitely? They’ve already included variable difficulties with better drops at higher difficulty ratings. They have deliberately limited the randomness in D3 because of the increased story emphasis so it will never be one of those randomly generated dungeon endgames.

That leaves extra incentives for groups of friends to play together regularly, tying it in with other popular games (ie. WoW), or running some of those ladder type events. Diablo gameplay just isn’t deep enough on its own to keep people coming back.

MMO Endgames

We are in a new era of MMO endgames too at the moment. Subscription games have always encouraged devs to find ways to keep people playing the same game. They have encouraged inventiveness around what gives games longlastability.

OK, I kid.

But you’d have thought competition between sub games would have encouraged this type of experimentation. Instead what has mostly happened is that devs are more interested in the churn – in finding new players and getting them to stay for a couple of months – than in what gets players to stay for a year rather than 6 months. F2P games take this a step further in that devs are now looking for the ‘whales’ who view the normal way to play games as being to spend loads of money in cash shops when they are having fun. Some of those people will be long term players. I imagine the hope is that if a game can attract enough whales, spending loads of money in cash shops will seem more normalised of an activity for the playerbase.

Players also get frustrated more quickly. Long term goals in a game is one of the factors that makes players stay for longer, but also one of the things that makes impatient players say immediately “That’s too hard, I can never do that, why is it in the game?” One example of this is the Legacy purchases in SWTOR. It costs 5 million credits to buy an auction house terminal for your characters’ ships. To me that says a month or two of trading/ dailies. As you can imagine, the bboard has plenty of complaints that it is too much, it’s impossible, it’s unfair, etc. A long(ish) term goal based on gathering in game gold is the opposite of unfair actually, since it’s the one thing everyone can do.

The only types of long term goal players seem to accept passively in themeparks are ones that is explicitly based on subscription length, or collecting stuff. For example, EVE training schedules that take months (I know, not a themepark but this type of mechanism could be in one), rewards in CoH based on subscription length, WoW Firelands rewards based on how many dailies have been completed. Pet, mount, and gear collecting is another type of longterm goal which has been popular with players.Other feasible and challenging longer term goals often get dismissed as ‘unfair’ or inaccessible by the player base.

And with that, lets’ talk about raids. Raiding has been a core piece of MMO endgame for many years now, since EQ. The raiding ‘lifestyle’ includes membership of a raid guild, some commitment to regular multiplayer  raids, and a set of raid content of increasing difficulty that is projected to need many weeks of raiding to complete. Players have been increasingly dissatisfied with the raid endgame. It requires too great a commitment, guilds act as gatekeepers for content, raids are inaccessible to people who can’t meet a guild’s raiding schedule and so on. Random raid finders or dynamic events (as per Rift) have been one answer to this, making raids far more accessible to players than they were back in the day.

But the main thing about raids is that they did offer longterm progression goals to players. Not to mention a social network. That was one of the reasons they so successfully defined endgame for a generation of MMO players. So if raids are becoming more accessible, more immediate, or less appealing, what is going to replace them? Will it have longevity?

I have already seen people wondering what sort of an endgame GW2 will have. There aren’t any PvE raids. There is extensive open world PvP. There are lots of dynamic events. There may not be strong incentives to be part of a guild. Will that be enough to keep players engaged for months or years? And does it matter?

The next WoW expansion is also branching out with endgame, including speed runs for 5 man instances (challenge modes), a farmville knockoff, pet collecting/ battles, scenarios (smaller instances which won’t need tanks or healers) as well as the usual raids. Will these new mechanics keep people playing for longer without needing a constant feed of new content? I remain to be convinced about the challenge modes, I’m not sure how exciting it really is to be constantly doing speed runs of the same content. But maybe some players will love it. At least enough to try one once a day with their guild.

Towards a fluffier endgame?

One of the posters on mmorpg.com argues that fluff rewards are better in endgame than constant gear progression. (You can tell this is written by someone who likes PvP and hates raiding.) ‘Fluff’ is usually defined as something that doesn’t affect progression or stats. It’s fun or pretty, and that is its only purpose. In game festivals or special events are pretty much the epitome of fluff – they’re temporary, fun (we hope) and offer good fluff rewards. Players like them and a player who has drifted might easily be tempted back into a MMO to check out the event.

Mini-games can be part of a fluff endgame, they’re just extra things for players to spend time doing in the game. This is clearly the road WoW is wandering along, adding more single player/ small group compatible content, which means that MoP is going to have a wider variety of endgame content than Cataclysm did. LOTRO has always excelled at adding fluff, from supporting RP, to musical instruments in the game, monster play, chicken play, and skirmishes (probably the inspiration for WoW scenarios). Space missions in SWTOR are an example of a really well executed minigame, if you like that sort of thing. Bioware could do with adding more; games to play in cantinas would be a good start for example.

Player housing can be part of a fluff endgame.

Collecting pets, mounts, pretty things can be part of a fluff endgame.

But will that be enough to replace a progression based endgame?

Bits and pieces; and thoughts from 3 years ago about the future of MMOs

Happy Sunday (and Happy Jubilee if you are the queen – seems a bit harsh of people to make two octo/nonogenarians stand around for hours on a cold and windy river, but what do I know?) This isn’t really a links post so much as a quick news roundup, some whining about Diablo, and a moment of insight where I realise that some of the stuff I used to post was pretty smart.

New games to get excited about, current games to get excited about

CD Projekt, best known for their work on The Witcher CRPGs, have announced that their next game will feature a Cyberpunk setting. In fact, it’s THE Cyberpunk setting for RPG players because they’ll be using the setting from R S Talsorian’s Cyberpunk RPG. So all you glitterboys, slicers, and fixers get your netrunning shoes on. I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it that this is super-exciting for any fans of the genre, and Cyberpunk should be a great match for the dark noirish stories that CD Projekt have shown they enjoy tackling in previous outings. It’d be nice if they would also let us play female characters this time around, but let’s not run before we can walk.

Rift announced its first expansion: Storm Legion. It will feature tons of new stuff including huge new continent, 10 more levels, new souls, a woman on the front of their expansion website who isn’t wearing much — yup, it’s all there. New expansions are generally a good sign for MMOs and the Rift devs have been earning their reputation for ploughing plenty of new content into the game all year, so things are looking good for Rifties. They do have a free trial up to level 20 if you want to try the game out.

An excellent new Humble Indie Bundle has gone on sale, featuring Amnesia: the Dark Descent, Psychonauts, LIMBO, and Superbrothers: Swords and Sworcery , with Bastion thrown in as a bonus if you pay more than the current average (standing at $7.84 at the moment). It’s a feature of the indie bundles that you decide what you want to pay so if you’re feeling cheap, you could get the four main games for almost no money at all. They are all indie games that have garnered good reviews, especially Psychonauts if you are a fan of platform/adventure games.

In their ongoing crusade to make the always-online experience of Diablo 3 best in breed, Blizzard have now introduced autojoining the General Chat Channel when you log in. This has not been met with universal acclaim. While I find it annoyingly spammy and prone to gold seller chat, occasionally General Chat surprises you. I’ve sometimes heard people offer to help anyone out with hard bosses, which either is quite decent of them or else is a new cunning way to steal accounts – you pay your money and take your choice.

Personally my barbarian has reached an impasse with Izual in Hell Mode. Getting him down would require a serious amount of kiting given my current DPS and … I just don’t enjoy kiting on a melee class that much. So I shall be tooling around on alts instead, no point playing past the point of unfun. One thing Blizzard did get right though is the secret level (don’t click this link unless you want spoilers), which requires a special blacksmithing recipe and ingredients, all of which are rare drops in specific locations and may be farmed. Farming for this stuff with Arb has actually been pretty fun, for Diablo variants of fun. This is exactly what I was talking about when I was wondering why Blizzard hadn’t developed the farming side of the game.

So how DID soloing affect MMOs?

Milady reflects about MMOs evolving into an ‘always alone together’ singleplayer theme park  type of experience, and is nostalgic for a time when singleplayer and multiplayer experiences seemed to sit more comfortably side by side in MMOs. She wonders where players who enjoyed the multiplayer side of things will go if new MMOs tilt so far towards soloers.

The problem is that, although I can think as alone-together MMOs as a valid choice, especially for that demographic that can’t participate in the social part of them, there is no such choice when all are designed this way.

This reminded me of some thoughts I posted a few years ago about what might happen to MMOs if the proportion of soloers continued to increase. It was contentious at the time and attracted more comments than anything I’d ever written. Now I look back and – it seems prescient.

What happens if MMOs develop along lines such that most people are soloing most of the time? There’s no downtime built in where you might have to talk to people you didn’t know? There may not be enough of the more hardcore to form all the guilds those people might want to join? The people who would have been running those guilds are all going casual/ solo/ in small groups of RL friends instead?

Would a game like that really have much of a community at all? Is there any support network left for anyone at all?

[Diablo 3] In which I avoid all difficulty and reach max level

d3barbaxe

This is a barbarian warrior with her natural weaponry, a massive 2 handed flaming axe.  (If you are already bored of the D3 posts fear not, this is likely to be the last for awhile.)

What I love about this screenshot is that even after being zoomed in a few times, you can see the attention to detail in the graphics. Her fingers even close around the axe haft as if she’s taking the weight and stands ready to swing it at something (probably a demon), and when you think how small the character models are in D3, that is a lot of attention to detail. It’s also far better graphically than WoW, where I’m sure my warrior’s skeletal fingers did not always close around the weapon she was wielding.

So – level 60

I’m currently on Act 3 of Hell and my barbarian reached level 60 recently. The way difficulty works in D3 is that your character has two main attributes: damage and survivability. Your goal is to have enough survivability to stand toe to toe with monsters long enough to either kill them or land a few hits and then run off again. So I found I tended to swing between high survivability builds and high damage ones, depending on what type of gear I had available and whether I’d just switched up an Act. In a new Act (or difficulty) typically you have to raise your survivability as a priority before you can start focussing on bringing the damage up to match, otherwise you just die all the time. This is also a bit dull because chipping away at mobs slowly is not as exciting as big numbers and fast kills.

High enough damage will pretty much negate any combination of elite mob suffixes by the simple mechanic of CLICKCLICKDEAD.  Even those charming molten/vortex/firechains combos.

Hence my current 2 hander. Level 60- weapons with high damage are EXPENSIVE, going way beyond any interest I have in farming cash. Blue weapons, and particularly 2 handers, are far more affordable. With this setup I am barging my way nicely through Act 3 of Hell level and suspect I’ll be fine through Act 4 as well. The weapon made a big difference as I was getting bored of poking mobs politely with the equivalent of a knitting needle, at least they die fast now. I may not bother with Inferno.

The end game, such as it is, involves farming for gear or for gold to spend on gear in the auction house. If this is not of great interest to you, then really you might as well roll some alts, focus on achievements, or play with friends. (Or play something else.). There’s no special point having great gear unless you want to a) finish Inferno mode and/or b) farm more gear. I imagine the RMAH will see lots of use from people who do want to buy stacks of millions of gold so that they can buy high end weapons off the gold AH (expect galloping inflation at the top end once that comes online) but I’m honestly not sure I see the point. It’s not going to unlock new and brilliant gameplay or content. Meanwhile my blue 960dps 2 hander is perfectly good for Hell Level – better than good really – and cost me about 25k.

The other mechanic that helps you farm gear at level 60 is a buff called nephalem valour which only level 60 characters get. You get a stack of NV every time you kill a pack of elite mobs, it can stack up to 5 times, lasts 30 mins, and increases the chance that mobs will drop magic items. What was far more surprising to me is that NV doesn’t drop off when you die. I feel this goes against the whole ethos of roguelikes, but what do I know?

Ways in which I personally have made the game easier for myself so far:

  • Using the auction house
  • Grinding a couple of levels in a lower Act when I was having difficulty with one Act.
  • Hopping into a public group to get my kill of Belial in Hell mode. The group was actually really friendly, everyone was helping and ressing each other, and everyone  thanked the group afterwards. But if I hadn’t gotten frustrated after wiping to Belial ONCE in solo mode, I might not have done it. I do not think this is a testament to my patience.
  • Changing my abilities in combat. I didn’t realise you could do this until I tried it. Apparently you can change your gear in combat too (ie. haul on some +magic find gear just before a boss is about to die.)
  • Changing the batteries on my mouse when it started to get sluggish.

The auction house is the greatest of all these difficulty changers, because of the effect higher dps and resilience has on the gameplay. The AH also makes it easier to try out offbeat builds – I had one going for a while where I took abilities that increased the chance of mobs dropping health globes and wore a lot of gear which gave extra health on using health globes. It actually worked quite well.

It’s hard for me to gauge the longevity of the game. It is fun. It is fun when playing with friends or random groups. It does not require much thought. So even if you don’t have the stomach for farming Inferno Level (which I don’t) it may continue to be a cheerful device for chatting to friends over a few dead demons.

Farmville

The big issue with ‘endgame’ for D3 is that endgame for D2 was, frankly, tedious as all hell. It involved endless boss runs for loot. And they’ve sort of copied it but not exactly and with an auction house tacked on. The auction house effectively means that farming areas you are able to easily farm for magic items will never feel worthwhile (unless you are able to farm Act 3/4 Inferno). This was clearly not the intent, and players were probably intended to farm the areas they could manage until they got the occasional lucky gear up that would eventually let them progress. So I assume there are small chances of higher end loot dropping an Act before you’d actually need it.

But who is going to farm an area endlessly waiting for lucky drops if they can cash in and just buy something better instead? Someone with more willpower than me, for sure.

Instead, people will farm for gold, which is a lot easier and less random. But because it’s less random, it lacks the spikes of excitement that good loot drops provide. I think Blizzard could at least have tried to innovate an interesting item farming model. Let players unlock different areas in which to farm different items. Let them have more crafting drops to transmute existing items or rearrange their stats. Let them learn by trial and error which areas or mobs in the world are more likely to drop which types of items.

What patches will come?

Blizzard have a dev blog post up discussing Diablo 3. Interesting snippets are that 54% of hardcore players picked a female character (they don’t say what percentage of those are female demon hunters), and they’ve listed the most common runes used by level 60 characters, which include some head scratchers but what do I know?

They discuss their criteria for making tweaks and changes, including some of the nerfs that already came down the line.

Regarding the changes to Lingering Fog, Boon of Protection, and Force Armor: we determined these skills were simply more powerful than they should be, and we felt their impact on class balance and how each class was perceived warranted hotfixes as soon as we were able. However, we don’t want you to be worried that a hotfix nerf is lurking around the corner every day. If a skill is strong, but isn’t really breaking the game, we want you to have your fun. Part of the enjoyment of Diablo is finding those super-strong builds, and we want players to be excited to use something they discovered that feels overpowered

There is also some discussion around the difficulty of Inferno level and whether Legendary items are good enough or not. Of interest to anyone considering levelling up their blacksmith is also:

we’re looking to adjust the Blacksmith costs for training (gold and pages) and crafting from levels 1-59, and reduce the cost of combining gems so that it only requires two gems instead of three (up to Flawless Square). Both of these changes are scheduled for patch 1.0.3.

I think the main issue with Inferno (not having run it myself) is that the difficulty is similar to the difficulty in other tiers when you’re a bit undergeared. I remember thinking I was dying too quickly in Nightmare mode too until I hied me to the auction house. Just it’s much harder to overgear it at level 60. So really the problem with Inferno is not that it’s radically harder compared to the rest of the game, it’s that the difficulty is posed in exactly the same way as the rest of the game when endgame players might have preferred a more skill based challenge.

Farming Locations

A few thoughts on where is easy to farm for cash/items/xp in the game.

The Frugal Gamer has some ideas for places to farm in Act I.

In Act 2, I farmed xp in the Black Soulstone quest (lots of pacey dungeons).

In Act 3, I like the Rakkis Crossing area just before Siegebreaker (Siegebreaker Quest) as you get Tyrael along with you.

Finally some words from our sponsor

I have far too much fun reading the companion chat, even if it’s not especially stunning in itself.

scoundrelchatact3

[Links] Day of Reckoning for 38 Studios, soloing in MMOs, Diablo 3, Sony won the console wars?

Scott Jennings writes eloquently about the week when 40% of the SWTOR team was laid off, and 38 Studios (makers of Kingdoms of Amalur, and with an MMO in the works) imploded very publically.

I think the direction that our industry is going – the incredible amount of money wasted by EA on what was essentially a roll of the dice that came up 2 and 3, and the even more incredible display of massive hubris and utter incompetence on the part of Schilling and his management team, is killing the very concept of massively multiplayer gaming.

Everything I have read about 38 Studios going tits up makes me think that the management were a bucket of tits. (Yes that is the technical term.) Implausible business plan, lack of auditing on cashflow, taking on way more staff than they needed or could support, dicking around with staff. Unsubject writes in more detail on the financials. The only surprising thing to me is that so many MMO bloggers have sympathy for them – MMOs get cancelled in pre-production all the time, we should be used to it by now. I don’t care if it was run by a rich sportsman with a dream or a lameass banker, they screwed up.

Or in the words of Kevin Dent at  Kotaku:

I have a theory that Harvard Business School basically set this entire thing up so as to demonstrate how many ways someone can screw up running a business. If this is the case, heartfelt congrats to the Crimson Halls, you owned it.

I literally could not invent more ways to screw up than Curt Schilling has with 38.

I can’t entirely agree with Scott about the effect on MMOs though, because big budget AAA MMOs were already pretty much on the outs. You can tell this because Michael Pachter recently said so, and he only ever makes predictions after the event.

One of the interesting things about this story though is that both Bioware Austin and 38 Studios put out pretty decent games that got some critical acclaim. Neither Amalur nor SWTOR are bad games, and both were reasonably successful in the market. Just their funding model needed more than ‘reasonably successful’ – in 38 Studio’s case it is because their management can’t handle simple maths and in Bioware’s case it’s because for some reason EA felt that ploughing unfeasibly massive amounts into the game was going to pay off. (Nice bonus for players I guess, because it does feel lush.)

SWTOR will be profitable, incidentally.  It will just take a few months longer than EA predictions and that’s why it is being seen as a failure. Whereas in fact it sold more boxes more quickly than any other western MMO in the market and has fairly decent retention figures for an MMO, even allowing for number massaging. In any case, they’ve just announced that patch 1.3 (which will include a random dungeon finder) is going onto the test server imminently and that they have plans to consolidate servers into super-servers, which are both needed updates.

Shintar shares some hopes and fears that she has for the new patch.

Anyhow, it’s sad for the staff, obviously. But we’re in a recession and MMOs are risky business at the best of times, and these things happen (especially when your management are a bucket of tits, which isn’t really the case for Bioware). Hopefully they’ll find something else swiftly. I’ll miss Stephen Reid/Rockjaw, he was a great CSM.

Soloing in MMOs

Keen also found time to muse this week about why people solo in MMOs (remember in my last incredibly wise words of wisdom to new bloggers I noted that soloing vs grouping was one of THOSE topics?), claiming that MMOs aren’t single player games. So why do devs want to try to mimic single player gameplay?

I am referring to the open and deliberate act of making a very core part of a MMO into a single-player experience as if the players were offline.

Bernardparsnip at Diminishing Returns reflects on players who might want some of the advantages of mas…sive games without the disadvantages.

I recognize that there is a demographic of players that want the benefits of an MMO – a persistent world, frequent content updates, a player-driven economy, opportunities for PvP and cooperative play, without the disadvantages inherent with playing with others.

Azuriel takes a different tack and wonders whether MMOs really do suck as single player games.

…in a very real sense I consider the average MMORPG these days as a much better single-player game than the average RPG.

My view is that we’re seeing traditional boundaries between single player and multiplayer games come crashing down around us, and players may not yet be sure exactly what they do want. This sense of wanting all the benefits of massive multiplayer games (like a vibrant player based economy and instant groups whenever you want them) without the negatives (like having to actually talk to anyone or rely on other players in any way) is very strong in the current crop of games.

I think Journey laid this out most neatly with having other players viewed as friendly but nameless entities, and Dee wonders if maybe the public quests in GW2 will have the same effect. But it won’t ever be the same as the sort of communities that more forced socialising will bring together, we could end up with people playing side by side but always on their own.

Ultimately I’d like to see more gating in future games, allowing players to build up communities of interest in games of their choice. What if I want to play EVE but without having to play with the more sexist, racist, homophobic players who seem to populate it (going by forum posts at least)? This is going to become more and more of an issue for anyone running online games in future, I suspect, as players lose their tolerance for playing with random dickweeds. (This will come to be seen as one of the negatives of MMOs that people would like to avoid.)

Zubon has a really smart post about how different games attract a different type of player and suggests people flock to games which seem to be populated with players like themselves.

But there is a flaw in his argument, which is how exactly are you going to find this out? If I search round EVE blogs and forums, I’ll find a lot of very aggressive posturing and the aforementioned sexist, racist, etc. language. But I do happen to know people who play EVE who aren’t like that, so it isn’t universal.

Similarly, WoW is so large that it probably contains communities of just about every MMO player type under the sun if you can find them. So characterising it as the McDonalds of MMOs isn’t quite true in terms of the playerbase. It’s more of a mosaic than a least common denominator known for poor but consistent quality.

While LOTRO is justly known for its attention to the setting, I’d also say it was a haven for more mature gamers and for RPers. But that was before it went F2P and it may have changed since then. So how would a new player know?

So while I think Zubon makes a good argument, it just places more emphasis on how /the community/ constructs explanations of what type of player different games attract and then communicates it. And bloggers bear a lot of the responsibility for this. When I write that my guild in SWTOR are laid back, friendly, casual players and raiders, people will assume this is normal for the game. It probably is! But you’re just getting one player’s view.

Redbeard tackles a similar topic from the point of view of new players in WoW at the moment.

If Blizz is serious about bringing in and keeping new blood, then they have to address the social issues in WoW.  This isn’t Pollyanna country, and it ain’t EVE, either.  People like to be welcomed and respected and tolerated.  If they feel the environment is toxic, they’ll move on.  You can’t expect a new player to blindly stumble through all of the social pitfalls and land in a good guild without guidance, and likewise you can’t expect someone to blithely ignore all of the social issues that some players bring to WoW.

Diablo 3

Clearly we haven’t had enough posting about D3 yet. I’m still having fun with the game but slowing down now that I’m in Hell level on my barbarian. I don’t know that I can honestly see this as an evergreen game I’d be playing months from now (especially if Torchlight 2 and GW2 and updates to SWTOR are coming out). The Auction House is definitely impacting on the game’s lifespan in my view, and they haven’t launched the real money AH yet.

Hugh at the MMO Melting Pot (who you should follow for excellent daily aggregations of MMO blogging) collects some more views on the auction house.

The Ancient Gaming Noob has played both Diablo 3 and the Torchlight 2 beta and gives a thorough comparison between what he has seen of the games.

Milady explains why she thinks Diablo 3 is a wellmade mistake.

They had many years to consider how to best mine money from their users, and Diablo III in its entirety is what they came up with. From Blizzard’s perspective, the gear barrier is there so you are forced to buy to continue; the barrier to grouping in Inferno is built so you cannot be too effective at higher levels, and are forced to grind on your own and buy loot; the enforced multiplayer exists solely to apply peer-pressure to your gearing up, so you need to resort to the AH to play with them.

Rohan argues that Elective Mode in D3 is a mistake.

Green Armadillo lists a lot of things that D3 is not and wonders if Blizzard were right to keep the name.

And Gevlon explains why he thinks D3 just doesn’t work as a competitive game.

Straw Fellow defends Blizzard’s decision to require D3 players to be always online.

Microsoft and the Console Wars

Microsoft may face a ban on imports of the XBox 360 into the US and Germany because of patent infringement. I assume they’ll settle with Motorola out of court, but it would be an amusing way to lose the console wars.

It would be nice to think that the patent rats nest might get sorted out sometime soon, but since there is no real sign of that happening, better hope your favourite manufacturer knows how to play the game.

And finally …

Berath ponders why there are so few gaming blogs focussed on shooters, given how many people play them.

Xintia explains why Bioware are great at telling stories but bad at designing games.

And Melmoth waxes lyrical about the general chat channel in TERA.

What was fascinating about the channel was that it had become a microcosm of the blogosphere: nearly every general topic that I’ve seen repeatedly touched upon over the past five or so years of blogging was mentioned in this one place, all in the fast forward nature of a back-and-forth conversation between people whose attention was invariably elsewhere. I quickly found myself privately playing Cassandra to any topic raised, knowing full well the future of each discussion, where the disagreements would come from, and the conclusions which would be drawn.