[News and Links] September in the Rain

This is great, I found a website which lists lots of songs with months in the title and *looks outside* this one seemed appropriate. September marks the end of the convention season, more or less, and the start of the run up to the big winter release schedules. So if Summer is when the hype gets rolling, Autumn is the season for the heavy hitting spin and pre-release information.

The big story this year is going to be Battlefield 3 vs Modern Warfare 3. Sure, there are other big releases coming up such as Diablo 3 and SWTOR but the big console men-with-guns shooters are simply on a different scale. For example, analysts predict 11 million sales for BF3 vs 3 million for SWTOR.

Activision this week released the pricing for their MW Elite subscription, which will be $50 per year on top of the box price to receive the various map packs and extra features. It sounds like a hefty surcharge until you compare with either some of the high priced collectors editions we’ve seen lately ($150 for a plastic statue, a book, and a ‘making of’ DVD) or a subscription MMO like WoW.

Now I don’t have a sales prediction for MW3, but Activision claimed in a recent earnings call that Modern Warfare 2 sold over 23 million units and 18 million map packs in the first nine months. I bolded that just in case the numbers didn’t pop out enough on their own. 23 million copies. Now if you assume that the elite subscription is looking like a reasonable deal for fans of the series … oh yeah, the money will be rolling in.

It’s been an interesting trend this year that more MMOs are moving to the F2P model, while traditional console/ single player games are starting to experiment with subs or more regular DLC. Fallen Earth and City of Heroes are due to be the next up, with FE going F2P on October 12th and CoH has not yet announced a date but likely to be very soon.

Links and Things

I wrote this week about roleplaying in MMOs. This is an interesting article by a tabletop RPG designer talking about where that industry is going and what happens when you have to ditch the old fans to bring the new ones in (I’m sure WoW players in particular will be familiar with this mindset.)

Ratshag answers Ghostcrawler’s recent WoW blogs on the future of tanking. He wonders if the devs really understand what makes tanking fun, or whether they’re blinkered by mostly being involved in hardcore raid guilds themselves.

I see more and more posts on WoW at the moment from long time players trying to describe why they’re throwing in the towel. Klepsacovic notes simply that he doesn’t feel like the target audience any more, Borsk describes his raid groups’ last raid and why they made the decision to stop, The Grumpy Elf hopes he can hang on for the next swathe of content since troll instance are driving him nuts. Oestrus stops to think about how painful it can be to make the decision to quit.

Big Bear Butt Blogger is annoyed at the posters who are writing about why they’re not enjoying WoW any more. He says he’s having more fun than ever. I’m intrigued at his reaction actually, but it does fit into my model of consumer power (he’s in the loyal camp, who would rather people just left quietly).

Gazimoff has an awesome post about what components go into making a truly great MMO. I thought this was fascinating.

Jester’s Trek describes what life is like in a ‘fairly typical sov-holding null-sec alliance’ in EVE Online. If you thought your WoW raid was hardcore, go read this. I can see the excitement of being part of something as well drilled as this, but …

Werit compares League of Legends with World of Tanks. Wasdstomp has been to PAX and compares SWTOR PvP with GW2 PvP.

Insult Swordfighting asks whether game reviewers are bad at games. Ideally, I’d like the majority of game reviewers to be slightly better at games than I am (which is still bad, btw) because I want to know if /I/ will find the gameplay fun, not if an ultra hardcore gamer will. But actually, it’s quite possible that even a good gamer can gauge how a game will play for newbies. So it may be that one of the marks of an outstanding reviewer is that they can extrapolate this sort of information.

And as Rift holds its six month half-birthday, Tobold asks readers how they are enjoying it (and whether they are still playing it).

Links and News: SWTOR beta, guilds in GW2, and more

This was always promising to be a strong news week, with several devs holding out news releases until last week’s PAX. I think it is tempting if you went to a gaming convention this year to wonder whether the one you were at got better freebies, better announcements, etc. Fortunately I am here to tell you that it’s actually impossible to beat Comic Con, whatever freebies or announcements are available, because it’s just like nothing on earth. Not that this is a competition or anything. Plus it isn’t run by the dickwolf guys.

MMO stories of interest:

Bioware announced that the SWTOR beta testing weekends will commence next weekend, 2nd September. You don’t need a preorder to have a chance at the beta, just sign up on their website. And be lucky.

Arenanet are allowing players to be members of more than one guild in GW2. This is a feature that I know I’ve mentioned before and other commenters have also expressed interest in. I think it’s going to be very interesting indeed and I look forwards to hearing more about it.

The Secret World’s long awaited beta signup had to be delayed this week due to network issues. This shows one of the tricky sides of running a game around complex ARG/ group puzzle solving concepts because many people on boards or social networks immediately assumed that this delay was part of a larger set of new clues. This tends to turn players towards even more conspiracy theories than they would already. Sometimes a technical delay is just a technical delay. TSW is still slipping clues out about something and there’s some thought that this indicates a fourth (probably non-player) faction.

More Links

Gazimoff writes about a story that came up about the Warcraft Magazine, who were apparently told not to give a byline to some of their writers and not others. The editor tells his side of the story in a blogpost. Print media is dead man, print media is dead.

OutDPS wonders about class identity and class balance – in particular when devs notice a potential balance issue but decide to leave it because it’s part of the class identity. eg. hunters in WoW should use traps. There is more to be said on class identities, because ‘class with the overpowered AE’ is not really a good identity. Neither is ‘class which gets its core mechanics overhauled every expansion.’ Also, ‘class that whines a lot about not wanting traps even when they’re regularly coming top of the damage meters’ is not a desirable identity.

Stabs speaks up on behalf of minmaxers and theorycrafters everywhere, and explains why he loves statistical modelling. He argues though that minmaxers ruin the game for others. Or at least pressure everyone else to play by their rules and goals.

Kill Ten Rats checks out Age of Empires Online and doesn’t like their implementation of the F2P model.

Tom Auxier responds to claims that the turn based strategy game is dead with an ode to turn based strategy games and where they are at the moment. That genre isn’t dead, it’s just pining for the fjords. I quibble with his claim that the Civilisation board game was based on the computer game, because the board game was published first. But on checking I find there was a later version that was branded as Sid Meier’s Civilisation Board game.  Sid incidentally always claimed that he’d never played the board game of Civilisation before designing the computer game.

Ferrel at Epic Slant argues that two faction MMOs are outdated these days.

Tadhg at Simple Lifeforms writes a thoughtful post about how Blizzard has been dealing with Diablo 3 fans, and discusses the difference between companies which got their start from selling boxes in retailers and companies who have always been online.

Gevlon has an example of where cliquey players are less efficient in raids. He puts this down to use of voice chat by small groups of players in a larger guild. I suspect that if you want to run a very egalitarian social group, it may be a good idea to discourage any small group from becoming cliquey and spending too much time together (because there is a risk that they’ll start seeing themselves as superior). Just I don’t see how it’s really possible to do this.

Tobold and Syncaine are friendly for a bit this week. But it doesn’t last long. Incidentally the main appeal of themepark games to both players and developers is that you can/ offer get a guaranteed level of game experience out of the game. It’s reliable. But I think Tobold is right in that highly competitive sandbox isn’t fun for a lot of players. Ultimately, if you aren’t logging into a game because you want to win but because you want to socialise or have some co-operative play, the only games that can satisfy you will be ones designed by devs who understand what that means. This could be sandbox but it won’t be the sort of sandbox that current games offer.

The Grumpy Elf ponders how to make raids PUGgable, in anticipation of Blizzard adding a cross-realm random raid finder.

Links for the weekend

 

  • Systemic Babble discusses the recently announced 3DS price drop, and the prices of games on mobile systems. What exactly happens to the industry if a new generation of gamers expects a good mobile game to cost approx $1?
  • How does it feel to be sidelined from a raid because (your raid feels that) your class just isn’t optimal for the encounter? Vixsin, who raids with a hardcore group, discusses her feelings about it. For many players, this comes close to experiencing discrimination in game. After enough other players think your class is more or less good, it gets treated that way regardless of the player. And on another note, Sacred Duty explains that protection paladins are overpowered in WoW at the moment. Again.
  • Another sale, another astounding humble indie bundle. These deals operate on a ‘pay what you think it’s worth’ basis, so it’s interesting on that link to see roughly how much people pay. Linux users on average pay a lot more than players on other o/s, intriguingly. Maybe they’re more generous souls.
  • How can devs turn a good character into an evil one or vice versa in game? John Wick discusses the heel turn with examples from professional wrestling.
  • I mentioned the crazy Street Fighter x Tekken SDCC panel this week. Here’s a more thoughtful look at another fighting game from a fan – Scott Juster writes about Mortal Kombat and why it was so special for him earlier in his life.
  • Serrain writes a wrapup for the Planes of Madness event at Rift, over at Rift Junkies. He asks whether it dragged on too long.
  • Stabs takes an educated guess at how the RMT Diablo 3 Auction House will play out. And Gus Matrapa in Pretension +1 offers some advice to D3 fans on how to freak out about a video game.
  • Werit discusses the revamp of fortresses in WAR. They will now “house artifacts/relics which can be seized by the opposing realm.”  That’s a direct import from DaoC. Is WAR slowly morphing into DaoC2?
  • Jeff Vogel asks when players should have to make decisions about progressing their character from a designer’s point of view. He suggests devs shouldn’t ask players to make choices until they have enough information on which to base a decision. I’ve never liked having to make irrevocable decisions involving gameplay (such as class, etc) before I really know how the game plays or what I’ll want to do later on.
  • MMO Melting Pot continues to curate (it’s my new word this week)  great articles around the gaming blogosphere and post links along with analysis. Here’s one highlighting a post on Level Capped about whether the majority of gamers really are foul mouthed teenagers.
  • John Walker at RPS writes an intelligent, impassioned rant against all those mainstream media outlets who rushed to assign some blame to computer games like CoD for the shootings in Norway.
  • Anyone missed Larissa’s regular posts? Course you have. The writer is now running a new blog about film called The Velvet Cafe. This is one of her posts about what the audience can add to a movie. I’ve been thinking about this, because going to see Captain America on opening night in San Diego during Comic Con was absolutely awesome, and not just because the film was good and they gave us free swag (OK, the free swag helped.)

Links and mini-posts for the weekend

I thought since I was away and these links will be at least a week out of date, I’d go back through my old bookmarks and see if I could find a few slightly older posts to mix in with ones that caught my eye recently.

RIFT’s Summer Update makes every other game’s producer letter seem slight and mean minded. They are going to do EVERYTHING. There is information about quality of life improvements, zone events, and how they try to balance putting effort into raids with other upcoming endgame activities. The guy knows his MMOs and knows his players, I defy anyone to read that post and not have even a minor yay moment.

I wrote about raid rifts in RIFT a couple of weeks ago, and apparently I’m not the only person who enjoys them.

The challenge there was to create an incentive for an activity that wasn’t burdened by lockouts, such that more people could help out more than once a day if they choose. Those have worked out amazingly well for pickup raids of 10 to 20. Just about all of the servers have multiple pickup raids engaging more people in the shared world than we had ever hoped, every single day.

There are issues that haven’t been explicitly addressed though. For example, PvP rifts sound fun, but what about issues around PvP gearing and how implacable it can be for newbies.

Having said that, their ideas about where to go with endgame and what sorts of activities different players might want to do are amongst the most interesting and exciting in the industry. I’m dipping into WoW at the moment again, but not likely to let my Rift sub drop any time soon. (Sorry to my guildies for not being around much.)

More links

  • I haven’t written much about Blizzard’s new game (codenamed Titan) because we don’t know much about it. But ‘back’ in June analysts were claiming that it was going to be a casual MMO. RPS reckon that means probably a FPS of some sort. Is MMOFPS the future of MMOs? If Blizzard does it, what does that mean for WoW? (and the many WoW players who may have been hoping for WoW #2.)
  • If you are good at a game and good at playing your class/ role, do you feel any responsibility to pass tips on to newer players? Nope? Only if they’re in your guild/ raid? Arthemystia argues here that experienced hunters in WoW should help newbie hunters. (Presumably they aren’t interested in helping non-hunters.)
  • I will miss Blacksen and I’ve enjoyed his blog a great deal, especially as it comes from a very different (and very hardcore) mindset. His goodbye post is well worth reading for anyone who wants to understand the inner workings of raid guilds. His comments on why the raiders names always rotate and how difficult it is to maintain a stable roster even as a competitive progression guild, ring very true. Anyhow, I wish him luck with the rest of his life :)
  • The SWTOR developer blog post last week was about crafting the opening videos for each class. You may think “yeah, yeah, introductory video – will take about 5 mins out of a game I may play for hundreds of hours,” but I defy anyone not to feel something when the screen goes dark, the star wars music starts to play, and text starts to scroll slowly up the screen a la A New Hope and it is about your character.
  • There was a press release that hit the games press last week discussing whether female gamers liked games better than sex. This is the only post I’ve found discussing that survey which makes the obvious point that maybe this is because quite a lot of women actually don’t enjoy sex all that much. They compare with a larger survey on US sexual activity in which 30% of female respondents said that their last experience of sex had been painful. Yup, Farmville is looking quite appealing in comparison to actual PAIN.
  • And lastly, one from my social work blog list, in which Social Jerk discusses how she’d sort out Hogwarts. (Yes, of course I went to see the Harry Potter film and it was great. I am however gutted that we got shown the trailer for Twilight and not The Dark Knight Rises.)

Links for the weekend (E3 prospects, and the state of raiding)

  • E3 is next week, and is the first of the big summer gaming conventions. Destructoid summarises the publishers and games expected to be there, so there will be plenty of news/ press releases about those. I don’t feel massive excitement about any of these, although “El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron” is a good title.
  • There are also expected to be some hardware announcements: Nintendo has a successor to the Wii to announce and no one will be surprised if Sony and Microsoft also come up with something. Venturebeat run down some of the more stable rumours about next week’s announcements. Allegedly Bioware are already working on Dragon Age 3 so that might also get an announcement.
  • Yngwe writes a guest post for Kiss my Alas, pondering the ways in which real life has made him a better raider. (But leaves the question open as to whether raiding has helped him iRL.)
  • Staying with the raiding theme, Wugan writes a thoughtful post on Flow asking whether it’s too easy for individual players to act as free agents, shifting guilds as soon as they get frustrated with progression. I always think that a raid leaders’ ideas on what is wrong with raiding can seem so different from a raider/ non leader’s ideas that you sometimes wonder if they are playing the same game.
  • Stabs describes issues that he’s had with filling raids in Rift and explains it using psychology. I felt bad reading this because I’d be one of those people who thinks “I’ve done proper raiding before, I know how much time and commitment it takes, so better that I sit out in this new game than risk being all those horrible things people call you if you get one enchant slightly wrong in WoW.” Not that my Rift character is level 50 yet, but soon.
  • Rhii asks how people feel when someone they are raiding with keeps talking about their other guild/s and other raid/s. In WoW, it’s not uncommon for people to have different alts in different guilds/ raids – I suspect this is more common now due to the way the lockouts work.
  • Scott Andrews, in his excellent WoW Insider column, predicts that Firelands will not save your (raid) guild. Is he right?
  • Psychochild lists 10 games that he thinks designers should play and asks for your suggestions for what games or types of games you think designers should experience.
  • Syncaine eases my troubled mind by explaining why gaming bloggers are not leechers. What he’s actually getting at is that if you are really into a game or hobby, you probably prefer to play with other people who are similarly engaged. And this actually applies just as much to casual roleplayers as it does to hardcore raiders (he doesn’t make that connection, but it’s true.)
  • Danc writes a fairly controversial post in which he critiques game criticism and particularly that written by gamers. In my opinion this is pretty much a straw man because what a reader can get from a well written and well presented experiential blog post is simply a different style of game writing than a critic would be expected to produce. And I’d argue we should value the players who are able to do this well without lumping them in with the critics. I think this is particularly true in MMOs or any game with a virtual community because we don’t really have the theories yet to fully explain how players interact with each other online – it’s a new field. And as in any new field, the observations have to come before the theories and analysis. Be scientific, game devs! Pay attention to the (good) observations.
  • The Last Psychiatrist ponders Second Life and real life, and points out that in some ways they are not so very different. Is getting your hair done to look like a celebrity iRL so different from sculpting your avatar to look like them online?
  • scrusi wonders if exploration and story are mutually exclusive.
  • Tipa notes that the Rift devs have been borrowing a lot of ideas from WoW and wonders if they could take a few pointers from EQ as well.

Links, and the last word on tank numbers in WoW

First off, good luck to Kadomi (of Tank like a Girl renown) with her new blog, Live like a Nerd which is going to have a broader base than the WoW-centred blog. I’m a big fan, and welcome to life after WoW!

Pete at Dragonchasers ponders how he feels about challenge in games. I’m firmly in this camp where feeling overly threatened by a game just makes me turn it off. When I see a hard mode, I automatically think, “Oh it’ll be too hard for me,” and switch it to normal (or easier)  even though I’m a fairly experienced gamer. For people like me they should label the modes, “Beginner”, “Don’t worry, it’s a bit harder but you can do it,” and “Think before you rush in.” In any case, it’s perfectly legitimate to want your challenge doled out in a careful curve so as not to frighten the less macho amongst us.

Moon Over Endor posts about his experience with the extended SWTOR demo that was held recently in London. SWTOR announced on Friday that they’ve retooled class roles somewhat so that now Smuggler/ Agent is the only class that cannot tank, dps, or heal (they can’t tank!) — all the others can. (edited to add: Nope, my bad. What changed is that trooper/ bounty hunter and inquisitor/ consular both get the option of all three roles — smuggler/ agent can’t tank and jedi knight/ sith warrior can’t heal. Thanks expostninja for the correction.) I am amused at the notion of a trooper as a ranged healer, I hope they get a healing gun :)

Nick Dinicola at PopMatters explains why the whole point of Dragon Age 2 is that your character is limited in their ability to change things. He also puts his finger on one of the things I like about the setup which is that I’m a bit tired of the hero’s journey and like the idea of playing a character who is a bit less special.

Eurogamer reports that EA is planning its own version of realID (or at least a persistent identity across all EA games).

And finally, Bashiok (a Blizzard community manager) posts about making WoW easier:

Overcoming all of the obstacles (I CHOOSE NOT TO SHOOT HER WITH THE SILVER ARROW… NOOOOO) was a big part of what gaming (I HAVE 1 LIFE!?), and especially PC gaming (HOW DO I LOAD MOUSE DRIVERS?), <used to be> about. But, I feel we’re lucky to now be in an age where those ideals (intended or not) are giving way to actual fun, actual challenge, and not fabricating it through high-reach requirements

Clearly he hasn’t tried to play Mass Effect 2 on a PC recently, if the amount of hassle I have had in trying to persuade it to locate its own saved games are any indication.

And on that note, Bioware are giving a free copy of ME2 on PC to anyone who buys DA2 before 30th April (including people who already own it). Astoundingly, some people are complaining about this. When I started it up, I commented on twitter that I wondered if the Illusive Man was a love interest and got this:

Cdr_Shepard Commander J. Shepard

@copperbird What the hell… ?
Got to love twitter.

LFD and tank/ healer numbers

I wonder if the LFD tool itself has contributed to having fewer tanks and healers in the queues.

Why? Well, when forming groups was difficult, players who really wanted to socialise in games tended to roll tanks or (more commonly) healers. It was well known that doing this would automatically make you popular without all the hassle of actually having to make friends with people. (Note: this is not to say that no tanks/ healers have social skills since most of them do, it’s just that it was a shortcut to being quite popular in groups in game when you were new and didn’t know anyone.) For example, I always felt well loved in vanilla when I played a holy priest.

But now, with LFD, groups are more accessible to everyone. Playing a tank/ healer just offers shorter queues. So people who mostly wanted to tank/ heal to get groups now have a choice — wait longer or take the grouping roles. And if the instances or the random groups are sufficiently annoying when tanking/ healing then they may well be deciding to just suck up the longer queues as dps.

[WoW] Interrupts, Ghostcrawler admits melee is borked, and some cool links

Yesterday, Ghostcrawler wrote another intriguing blog post about game balance, interrupts, PvP issues and how designers can get into the trap of power creep.

The basic line of thought is that interrupts are too good in PvP (too accessible, too short a cooldown), so casters had to be given better instant spells/ kiting ability. And then *handwave* for some reason Blizzard had to give out more interrupts —

– no wait, this was “bring the player, not the character” and the homogenisation of classes in Cataclysm, and they did it deliberately and now they’re finding that they’re in a power race and it hasn’t worked out so brilliantly well.

Anyway, I think there’s an interesting discussion to be had as to whether casters were intended to have lower mobility as the price for having range (and crowd control). Ghostcrawler implies this is the case:

One of the advantages melee used to have in PvE was on movement fights. If the boss has to be kited or stays in motion, the rogues and warriors can follow along and still deal damage. <…>In today’s PvE environment, that role has almost flipped. Many casters can shoot on the run and take only a very minimal DPS hit to do so.

This is interesting since it’s the first time I’ve seen that Blizzard have admitted that melee have issues in the current tier of raiding. This was obvious to most players from pretty early on in the expansion (I recall having written about it.)

And it’s due to their design changes with Cataclysm, and they don’t seem to have any plans to either change it or improve things. There are more issues than being out-dpsed by casters, because staying in melee with bosses has gotten more difficult – again this is by design which he doesn’t mention here.

And his solution — nerf interrupts – wouldn’t really make that much difference to the PvE side of things on its own. Having said that, they’ve been quite keen on having players interrupt bosses on this tier. I figure that once they decided to give interrupts to all comers, they decided that people might as well use them. Since I like interrupting bosses I’m down with that, but it gets old …

This argument is particularly wearing for rogues and warriors who had interrupts right from the start and weren’t told that they were overpowered until now (at least not because of that.)

Some more WoW links

A few links from bloggers that I have read recently on WoW.

Matticus asks if 25 man raids are slowly dwindling. This was a prediction many people made pre-Cataclysm – is it coming true?

Borsked argues eloquently that raiding is back where it was meant to be in the game, only for the dedicated. And that the WoW player base is balancing itself to having fewer raid guilds.

Boathammer explains why WoW is boring to him as a non-raider