[Pirates] The lure of a real world setting

potbs_navycoat

As you can see, my Naval Officer character in Pirates of the Burning Sea is going up in the world. This was taken approximately two coats ago – I’m measuring my levels in coats because every so often you get a career quest which is rewarded with a new title and piece of cosmetic clothing. PotBS also allows you to change how your character looks or dresses whenever you like without penalty. And of course you can pick all the colours from a palette. I just like ‘blood and custard’ as a colour scheme.

As a naval officer your cosmetic rewards are miilitary style coats. This is one of the first rewards and I think it looks hot.

It is also a tribute to the game and players that I was wondering aloud on one of the global channels whether the navy really had a uniform in this era … and at least two other players knew the answer. (Which was no :) ).

What’s so special about the real world?

For me, a setting which is based on a true story or real historical places and events has a special resonance that I don’t get with pure fantasy or scifi.

This weekend, I saw The King’s Speech (awesome film, btw). I had a shiver up my spine when he gives his big speech in the climactic scene, not just because the acting was superb, but because I knew that all of my grandparents would very probably have been hanging on every word at the time. For a moment, it wasn’t just a story on the screen. It got personal.

Real life is personal in a way that game worlds can rarely be. Real places and people have a significance that Orgrimmar or Bree never can … as long as the developers and writers get them right.

The level of detail and research in Pirates for its real world historical setting is one of the reasons I’m so enthralled with the game at the moment. And the prospect of a well implemented real world setting is one of the reasons I’m looking forwards to hearing more about The Secret World and World of Darkness (still no announcement on CCP’s site) games.

And in which I back off from complicated things

I was feeling sufficiently guilty about enjoying PotBS for free and gratis that I subbed up for a month. It was that or a pet chicken!

The way the accounts work is similar to LOTRO, except that you can do a lot more on a F2P account here, with full access to all the content except for one high level epic questline. Once you are subscribed you get more character slots, dockyard slots, and economy slots on your account, and those extra slots stay with you even after you unsubscribe. You also get 10% bonuses for experience, faction rep, and chances to get loot while subscribed.

So subbing for a month and then returning to F2P is a totally valid choice which lets me support a game I really like, adds some useful but non-vital account enhancements that will help when exploring the economy in more depth, and get an xp boost for the duration as well.

I had been wondering how well the very generous F2P setup had been working for the development team here. But given that a large part of the endgame is down to player generated PvP, I can see that a constant boost of players to PvP will do a lot to keep existing subscribers in the game. Just by being there and playing, the F2P people are contributing in a fairly major way.

I have only barely scratched the surface of how PvP and the economy works in this game. Planning to investigate those both in more detail, but since I’m nowhere near level 50 yet, there’s plenty of time. What I do know is that the global channels have been very active with encouraging people to help take ports or get involved during prime time, so it feels as though there is plenty going on.

Where does the virtual world end and the real world begin?

boundarypinkthinkgirl@flickr

Massively posted an interesting story last week about people in EVE Online’s volunteer program misusing privileged information. In this case it was connected with getting information (such as IP addresses) about the other volunteers, but it does point to one of the big issues with any kind of volunteer service in MMOs.

Games have often used volunteers as extra unpaid GMs, or to help coordinate other players, to mentor newbies or write newbie guides, or help support the community in other ways. These volunteers are drawn from the player base. So in a game like EVE, what’s to stop a player from using their volunteer powers to help their own character or faction in game?

In some ways it’s smart metagaming to grab as much power and knowledge as possible for yourself in any way possible, including by schmoozing people via out of game channels, buying gold, volunteering to GM for personal in game gains, etc. If volunteers were elected, you could imagine a player organising a huge election campaign with the hidden intent of supporting their own faction after the election. Just like real life, really. And just like in real life, unchecked metagaming leads to corruption in the game world.

But metagaming also leads to a huge increase in immersion. It may not be a good influence on either the game or the player base but it really does benefit players who get into their characters, even outside the game. EVE flaunts the fact that players have the freedom to join enemy corps with the intent to betray them. Is that metagaming? Well, if you lie to your corps mates on a regular basis then you’re probably playing a different game than they are. A con game, in fact. (From watching Hustle, I now know that this is known as playing the inside man in a long con – who said TV never teaches you anything useful? ). Is EVE supposed to be a game about con artists? Well, it is now.

Allowing, or even encouraging, some metagaming is a dangerous road to walk. Some people will always take it too far. If the worst that happens is one player stealing another guild’s bank or getting a list of volunteer IPs, then you have dodged the bullet. Wait till people start committing RL crimes due to unrestrained metagaming, or harrassment, or being driven to distress or even suicide. We’re at the thin end of the wedge, and I am concerned about how having increased social networking and increased continuous access to MMOs is going to affect metagaming in future.

We need solid anti-corruption rules, proper complaint channels, and watchdogs both in game and out to keep players in line. For their own sakes.

The Problem with Volunteers

It is always tempting to volunteers to use their additional powers to help themselves, even if they do it unintentionally. I remember back in DaoC, there was a volunteer network who assisted GMs. If you just happened to have one of those volunteers in your guild, you never had to wait long for a GM to come assist when you hit a raid bug. The volunteers (and we all knew their characters even though it was supposed to be secret) had the equivalent to a GM hotline.

When I was running a MUSH, all the staff were volunteers and many were drawn from the player base. One of their roles was to arbitrate disputes between players – it was hard for some people to be fair when their friends were involved, or even their own characters. We needed to think up rules to stop that and allow other players to ask for a different judge, without compromising the in game identity of our judges because they wanted to play also.

We took the blunt instrument approach. Initially, no players were also allowed to be judges, we had to recruit our staff from other MUSHes. It actually worked well, but if you don’t let staff play at all then they lose a lot of insight into what’s actually going on in game. Instead they just hear it from the whiniest players. So we relented and let them have player characters, but limited their power. So the most powerful and influential characters never would be staff alts. It helped and people were mostly happy.

You can still never entirely prevent people from wanting to help their friends or other people from abusing their knowledge of who the staff alts are in game. And that was more of an issue in a MUSH because the player base wasn’t that huge. In an MMO, you could just restrict a GM from dealing with anything coming from the server on which they played instead.

I’m not entirely sure what sort of policies current MMOs have about how their staff deal with in game issues. I assume they encourage their staff to play for the same reason that we eventually relented on that issue – it’s the best possible way to understand what’s going on in game, plus encourages staff to make the stuff they want to play themselves. But woe betide the game such as EVE that thrives on metagaming when one of the staff wants to play that game also; they have to consciously restrict themselves from doing what a regular player could do or else be open to (totally justified) claims of corruption from the player base.

The sad thing is that volunteers can add so much to a game. They’re already fans. And there is a section of the player base that genuinely enjoys entertaining other players. They’re the people who would be GMs in tabletop games; not quite designers but not quite players either. In MMOs they probably now take the roles of guild leaders or raid leaders, and in that capacity are doing a thankless task without which the games would be far far less fun for everyone else.

And many of those volunteers would be utterly selfless in using extra volunteer powers for good. It’s just safer for everyone if they don’t get the chance.