Thought of the Day: Getting rid of the dps role

People do commonly say that the main issue with the ‘holy trinity’ is the tank role. It’s unintuitive, unwieldy, and greedily snags a lot of the actual gameplay from PvE (ie. setting up pulls, et al).

But what my tank would really like for Xmas is a pet dps. I’m happy to run with player-healers, they’re usually pretty cool. But my game would be so much more fun if I could have NPC dps instead of players. Imagine not having to fight with your group all the time. Or people yelling at you to gogogo. Or people jumping straight into fights before you have threat because that 0.5s at the beginning is oh-so-important for dps.

Plus since your base character is a tank, it’d be tough enough to solo comfortably anyway. (And same applies to healers since they can self heal.) So really, if you have to remove one role from the trinity, it’s the dps that should go.

Smartphone Usage and MMO Mobile Apps

Mashable had an interesting post a couple of months back about smartphone usage. It is titled, “Why smartphone adoption might not be as big as you think.”

They show that smartphone adoption in the US is currently running at about 17%. (In Italy it is 28%, something that will not surprise anyone who has been there – it’s the only place I’ve seen shops selling fake smartphones so that you can pretend to have one even if you don’t.) Smartphone users are also predominantly male and predominantly earn more than $100k per year.

So why is it that MMO developers are so keen to roll out more and more smartphone apps? Does this user base have a huge overlap with MMO players? Or is it just that this user base has a huge overlap with MMO devs …?

Is it not enough to ask that people have a decent PC (more so for recent games), internet connection, and the ability to play for hours at a time?  Since everyone who plays a PC game has access a PC (by definition), logic would say that there’s a wider reach to be had from rolling out mobile applications as web apps that could also run on mobiles rather than iPhone/ Android specific programs.

Unless you can also charge extra for the iPhone/ Android/ etc special purpose programs. And that’s the only reason to do it that makes sense. Otherwise, all you are doing is giving away an in-game advantage to the smartphone owning demographic.

I know that if I don’t own a compatible smartphone, the fact that an MMO offers mobile apps to others is a negative factor for me. If I’m paying a subscription, I want to see a level playing field.

When a man is tired of raiding, he’s tired of … MMOs?

I don’t know about any of you but I’m just not as into raiding these days as I used to be. I still enjoy the social side because I like the people in my regular raids a lot, but I know that I used to … care more.

When I first started raiding properly in WoW I’d happily plonk my character outside BWL for hours at a time, just in case my raid needed a substitute. Sure, I was reading or browsing the web while I waited but I was still excited just to be there and to be part of a big 40 man raid guild. I look back now as if it was a different person – how mad do you have to be to log into a game with all your raid preparables, and just wait for 4 hours??

Is it pre-Wrath burnout? Could be. I’d like a break but I don’t want to let my raid group down, especially as at least one of the other tanks can’t be there right now. And since it only takes one night a week it seems churlish to make an issue of it, I still enjoy our raids.

Is it because ICC has been so dull for tanks? I’m sure this is part of it, ICC doesn’t have many cool tanking fights. This in turn doesn’t make me enthused to tank any future raids, unless I see Blizzard acknowledge it and say that they want to do better. If I sign up to tank in Cataclysm, will I hate it? Is this the shape of things to come?

Is it to do with the way 10 mans worked out this expansion? This is probably part of it. I don’t have a regular 10 man raid, and many others in my 25 man raid group do. Coupled with the fact I can’t make one of our regular two raid nights, I feel increasingly pressured when learning new fights because half our raid already has practised them several times and is bored when I’m still trying to figure out what’s going on.

Or is it just that raiding in MMOs has run its course for me? It’s been loads of fun and I have brilliant memories but … do I want to keep doing this?

All I know is that I am increasingly wondering how much I’ll want to raid in Cataclysm. More people in Wrath have gotten to raid than ever before in WoW, many of them in PUGs but plenty of regular organised raids have also found traction that couldn’t before. And I wonder how many of them now think ‘yup, that was fun, but I don’t want to do it again.’

Maybe it’s just that the structural side of progression raiding doesn’t suit my temperament or circumstance any more. Raid groups require you to sign up with one class/ spec and stick with it for the whole expansion (or until you swap guilds), and commit to a raid schedule for a similar amount of time. It’s a big commitment, even for one night a week. And if you are the sort of person who loves their alts or tends to get bored of a spec after you’ve played it for over a year, it will start to drag.

As MMOs become more accessible, perhaps fewer and fewer people will want to make that sort of regular commitment. Or in other words, maybe it isn’t (just) me. Perhaps Gevlon has the right of it, and it’s his style of PUG guild which is the best model for the future.

And I also know that part of the excitement for me in Wrath was being able to raid tank for the first time. There was a lot to learn, and  I am the poster child for Raph Koster’s theory of fun – I enjoy games the most when I’m learning new things and trying to master them. Next time, it won’t be so much of a thrill.

Ultimately I’m considering organising some casual 10 man raids for the guild in Cataclysm. If all works out, they’ll be more flexible in terms of who has to be there and what class/ role people play. I think that might suit me better.

Is anyone else wondering whether they want to keep raiding in Cataclysm?

CCP announces Vampire MMO! And it’s based on Masquerade.

bradstreetvamp Tim Bradstreet is one of the quintessential V:tM artists

Dear Mina,

Finally, the wait is over.

V.

There will be a White Wolf/ CCP Vampire MMO, and it is due out in 2012 (at the earliest). The announcement was made at White Wolf’s Grand Masquerade event, as predicted, and is all over twitter on #grandmasquerade. There is not as yet a formal announcement on CCP or White Wolf’s website, but that surely to follow next week.

The big surprise for Vampire fans is that the game and lore will be based on White Wolf’s old Vampire: The Masquerade game, rather than the current reimagining which is called Requiem. This is great news for those who fondly remember the older game, who possibly outnumber current players. The setting will also be familiar to anyone who has played Bloodlines.

ventrue

Another quote relayed from a convention goer reads:

WoDO going to focus on mystery, power, romance, danger. Three types of play: sandbox, theme park, coffee shop.

V:tM features a noirish, modern day setting in which vampires and their clans play a byzantine political game of cat and mouse for power and prestige, whilst at the same time battling to keep their own humanity alive. (In other words, this isn’t Twilight.) WW coined the word ‘gothicpunk’ to describe the genre and peppered the first edition with quotes from ‘edgy’ indie bands.

If you are curious to read more about the setting itself, White Wolf did produce a free introduction. If you’re not interested in the roleplaying rules just skip to the parts about the setting, the clans, and the story ideas and sample adventure.

Apparently the old V:tM books will also be back in print and available from White Wolf on a print on demand (PoD) basis.

Arb and I will be aiming to write up some more information about Vampire, and if you’d like to share your experiences with the game, or your favourite character or clan as a guest post, get in touch! The more the merrier!

So, is CCP set to announce a Vampire MMO next week?

It must be at least a year since I last guesstimated that CCP/ White Wolf were about to loose the blinds from their long awaited Word of Darkness MMO. And I was wrong last time.

But maybe this year will be different. White Wolf are holding a Grand Masquerade WoD Convention next week and the rumours are already flying about a big announcement that is on the cards.

In particular, one of the panels on the schedule for Saturday 25th Sept is on “Tell the World of Darkness Development team what you want to see in the MMO.” A sign of things to come, or just a tease from a gaming company who know that their fans have an interest in the genre?

It does now have me thinking about what I personally would want to see in a WoD MMO.

  • Vampire-centric. The WoD gets muddled as you add more supernaturals and there are balance issues, those work better as mysterious NPCs.
  • Big emphasis on politics, alliances, turf wars, and gathering influence and information.
  • Real world setting. A big city to explore.
  • PvP as economic and influence struggle as well as face to face combat.
  • Be able to make a vampire that perches on rooftops, as per Underworld or Christopher Walken in Prophecy.
  • Lots of blood. And dressing up.

In any case, a company that is asking fans about what they want to see doesn’t sound like one that is ready to release a game any time soon. I’d say 2012 at the earliest for this one. And it will be nice for fans of modern urban fantasy to have a few options on the table, between WoD and The Secret World.

Are you looking forwards to the World of Darkness MMO, and what would you want to see in it?

MMOs, and the thrill of live entertainment

It's hard to share the experience of a rock concert via blurry photo ...

Theatre trips or music gigs for me are like busses. You wait for months without going to any at all, and then suddenly three come along at once.

In the last week, I’ve been to a huge stadium gig at Wembley Arena, a small intimate gig at a cool little music venue above a bar in Kilburn, and a Shakespeare play at The Globe in London. Now the point of this is not to say, “Oo, I’m so cultured, me!” It’s just that they all were brilliant, and it made me think about the special thrill of watching live entertainment with a crowd of other people. And how this is also one of the things I really enjoy about playing MMOs.

Being on stage vs being in the audience

Playing a RPG is like being on stage. Admittedly it’s like being on stage in an improvisational experimental drama with heavy side servings of slapstick, out of genre observations, pop culture, and pulp fiction. But in a pen and paper role-playing game, the player is the performer. They are also the audience.

Going to a play (or gig, or comedy show, et al) is more about being part of the audience. And the magic of theatre is that this is a much more exciting and involving experience than it sounds. Even just sitting quietly as one of the 50k crowd in a filled stadium is more exciting than listening to a band on the radio. It’s an event. There’s an energy about being with other people who share your enthusiasm and are there to share the same experience. Actors and musicians will often talk about the energy that they get from a live audience. Live bands often sound quite different from their album tracks.

Playing a single player game is more like watching TV or reading a book. You can interact with the game, but not with the performers or any of the rest of the audience. At least, not unless you reach out to them in some other way. For example, Dragon Age is a single player game, but I’ve had plenty of discussions about that with other players either on blogs, bboards, twitter, or in real life since I have friends who play it. It’s not the same as actually being all there at the same time, but it’s still a deeper way to enjoy a hobby and share it with others.

Other people and the MMO experience

MMOs offer a mixture of these types of experiences.

A raid or instance where you actually play alongside other people, cooperatively is much closer to the role-playing experience than the single player one. You’re still playing against the fixed backdrop of the coded game, but the other players provide much of the entertainment.

A pure PvP game or battleground would be even closer to being on stage. You’re actively providing the gameplay for other people, as well as reacting to anything that they do.

Even soloing isn’t the same as playing a single player game, because you always know that other people are around. You hear them on chat channels. You may see them in the game world. So this is probably closer to theatre than reading a book. Still more fun in many ways than watching the play on TV at home, but you don’t interact hugely with the rest of the audience.

Very large scale events in game can be similar. Everyone turns up (and brings their lag with them) and it’s mostly to see and experience the in game event together rather than to interact. Even just being in the audience can be exciting and life-affirming, like at the theatre.

I’m not sure entirely where I am going with this, except to say that social media can increasingly turn a solo game or event into a shared experience. And shared experiences in games can be far more exciting than playing offline and alone, even when you aren’t actively interacting with other people.

I suspect that for me, this is why offline games have limited appeal these days. Except on portable consoles, which puts them in a similar position to music for me. I think Syp was also thinking along the same lines when he discussed why MMOs had turned him off single player games.

Do you get the audience effect from MMOs? Or from sharing  your gaming experiences via the internet?

Why realism in games matters

Writers have spent many many column inches discussing immersion in games. That is, if people can agree on what it actually means.

Immersion is some kind of quality that a game can have which makes it easy to lose yourself while playing it. Some people call it flow. Others call it a compelling narrative, or even just a cool IP that players want to be a part of. There’s probably more than one type of immersion – being immersed in game mechanics isn’t quite the same as being immersed in your in-game life/ story.

Compared to that, realism in games gets short shrift. Of course people can’t really cast fireballs, dragons don’t exist and couldn’t fly even if they did, space lasers don’t go pewpew in the blackness of the vacuum of space , and so on.

That’s a misleading definition, though. Realism in games is about being true to a genre, about NPCs acting and developing consistently, and about players being able to work out some values of cause and effect within the game world. Or in other words, a game world can build its own realism and then be consistent within that. And if a game has that sense of realism then the player can use RL logic to figure things out.

Here’s an example. In Dragon Quest 9, I picked up a quest from a cat. It said, “Meow meow meoooooooww!!!” and a quest went into my quest log (much like a real cat actually, although in that case it would have got bored and gone to sleep long before you figured out what it wanted).

So the logic of both the game play (you wouldn’t get a quest that was impossible to figure out) and the fantasy game world (magic exists, why not talk to animals?) says that at some point I’ll be able to learn how to speak to animals and can then come back and talk to the cat again. And now, although there is no quest in my log to say ‘learn how to talk to animals’ I will be looking out for opportunities to do that. In fact, my character just learned how to train as a ranger, and was told that it would help me communicate with monsters. Is a cat a monster? I don’t know if the game thinks so, but clearly I need to try this out.

So the more consistency, genre coherence, and realistic world building in the game, the less a player needs immersion breaking tutorials and quest pointers to figure out how to get to their goals. It’s the realism which gives players a chance to figure out anything on their own, other than by random trial and error. Can you make an educated guess at how to help that NPC, or do you need quest text that says ‘kill ten rats’?

This doesn’t need to be subtle. If I see a wagon at the side of the road and the owner says, “Oh no, my horse has cast a shoe,” then I don’t really need a quest to go and find a blacksmith … do I? I just need a motivation (maybe I need that wagon) – and it doesn’t necessarily have to be an immersion-breaking quest reward (why exactly does that wagon driver want to give me a halberd and what was it doing in there anyway?)

I’m not sure though if this type of realism lies in the past or future of MMORPGs. Older games were more likely to try to do this, to create worlds which were more self consistent (even if they failed). Modern ones prefer to make their gameplay very separate, to have long quest lists with explicit goals and rewards. But even so, realism is that quality that makes a world believable. Without it, there might as well be no world at all.

How much hype does it take?

I was thinking again about the wave of hype from various games that washed over us last week.

As a gamer and a general fan, it doesn’t take all that much to persuade me to buy/ try a new game. An interesting IP, a game studio who have produced work I’ve liked in the past, a friend who played the game and liked it, an interesting mechanic/ twist that catches my attention – any of those would be enough.

It sounds so simple. I knew that I’d play SWTOR and try GW2 when they were announced, for example. And yet there are countless games in the genre that I’ve never tried. Maybe they just didn’t have enough hype.

So in comparison to the bright and shiny trailers, look at Tobold’s posts this week about his experiences in A Tale in the Desert. I subbed for a month, because he reminded me of the things I had liked about the game when I last played it (I played for a few months during telling 3).

Zubon commented this week that he enjoyed reading blogs about games he hadn’t played much himself. I’d agree with that, and say also that sometimes it is the word of mouth that is the most compelling hype of all.

Deja Vue. Haven’t I seen this content somewhere before?

There is nothing  that will make you feel like an old MMO grouch more than hearing people get excited about the prospect of reusing content you saw enough of the first time around.

Naxxramas! Onyxia! Heroic Deadmines and Shadowfang! All the monster models that get recoloured, renamed, and reused! Scaling instances in LOTRO!

I don’t hate any of these things. There is a balance between nostalgia (Hey! I remember back in the day when we had to walk uphill backwards to get the key to blahblahblah) and burnout (if I ever have to see that fight again I’m going to rip someone’s arms out). But modern MMOs can’t afford to leave too much old content hanging around unused – it just isn’t cost effective.

Also, the new players hear the older ones talking wistfully about how the game was back in the day. They don’t see the annoying parts that get skipped in reminiscences, they just feel that they missed out and are being left out of the conversation.

I wrote once that after about 3-4 years, an online game would have to change or else it would die as the first wave of players moved on and the newer ones could never catch up. I now think that after 3-4 years, older players will be nudged to move on because smart devs have realised this fact and will then start to direct most of the content to the newer players.

So if your favourite game starts to make you feel old, grouchy, out of touch, and as if any new elements are no longer aimed at you … maybe you’re right and it’s time to move on.

The problem of stealth in MMOs

Melmoth writes about his fabulous Warden in LOTRO – it’s a very powerful and capable class, and great for both solo and group work. It can tank a bit, has some self heals, ranged as well as melee attacks, gets some AE capability, and can even teleport around the map (very useful in LOTRO, which has a large world map).

Whereas my burglar …. has stealth. Which doesn’t work all that well in groups, in raids, or against tentacles (this is a real tentacle by the way, not a tame pond one in the garden).

watcher_dangling

Stealth classes are usually popular in games. Being able to pick your fights is a huge advantage in PvP – the classic stealther attack of leaping out of hiding and backstabbing an opponent is fun to play (and a nightmare to balance).

Stealth has advantages in PvE also. In particular if you are an explorer.

  • Ever wished your game had a pause button? If you are a stealther, then it does. Any time you need to get the phone or grab a drink, just hit the stealth button. Your character will (probably) be safely there when you get back.
  • Ever needed to get to a quest mob that is behind a bunch of trash and wanted to do it quickly? Stealthers can usually avoid a fight whenever they want to. It’s great for exploring dangerous terrain also.
  • Or even if you’ve ever just wanted to check quickly if a quest mob is present, stealth saves the bother of having to clear an area unnecessarily.

But stealth simply isn’t that great an advantage compared to just being generally badass. You won’t notice this so much in WoW because the classes are all generally very powerful. But if a champion can mow through mobs almost as quickly as a burglar can stealth, then stealth isn’t really much of an advantage. Avoiding combat is never as rewarding as killing mobs in most MMOs.

Most players like to mow through mobs. A rogue-type class that dances around with crowd control, debuffs, and juggling survivability cooldowns is never going to kill a bunch of mobs as fast as the plate wearer with the devastating AE attacks. In WoW they just gave rogues better AE, and watered down the roguelike feel of the class.

In games like WoW that have become so focussed on the group content, and where the main object in instances is to clear then as fast as possible, rogues and their stealth playstyle has no purpose. The tank pulls, the healer heals, and everyone else AEs. No one wants stealth or the more strategic sneak-and-dodge pace of pulls which goes with it.

LOTRO isn’t quite the same style of game. They do provide many more quests which ask characters to scout out an area – something which stealthers can do quickly and neatly. There are entire zones (ie. most of Moria) where simply exploring and finding your way around is a big challenge, and stealth can be really useful. There are solo dungeons where a stealther can explore and set up ambushes without worrying about a group zooming ahead of them and just nuking everything anyway.

It may be that the different pace of a soloing stealther is one that can never really fit into a group based MMO. Not unless the whole game was about thieves (which would be pretty cool, actually). Maybe stealth belongs back in the era where games were more about exploring and less about quick badges and achievements.