Being rewarded for what you were going to do anyway (Rested xp in FF14, guild achievements in WoW).

Final Fantasy 14 is shaping up to be more innovative in many ways than many commenters were expecting.

The creators have said explicitly that their main audience is not current MMO hardcore players. Instead they’re aiming at players who like the Final Fantasy games and maybe haven’t gotten into MMOs before. So given that accessibility and similarity to previous single player games are at the top of the agenda, what have they come up with:

In the lastest FF installment, you can switch your character between any class between battles. The MMO will also feature this facility. Your main can level in any class available in the game (which includes some crafting classes as well as adventurers) and switch between them at any time.

Levelling becomes a weekly quest. Each week, you will be able to earn up to a certain amount of xp in each class and then the xp earned will tail down to zero.

Squenix attempt to explain this here:

Firstly, the concept for FINAL FANTASY XIV was to design a system of character progression that offers meaningful advancement for those with limited time to dedicate to playing. We did not want to create a game that forced people to play for hours on end to see their efforts rewarded.

Here is my simplified version:

Each week you can earn up to a threshold value of xp in each class. After this, the xp earned will tail to 0. However, the xp curve will slowly reset whenever you aren’t doing anything that would earn skill or experience points.

So you can max out your warrior xp, then do something non-xp related (not really sure what though – maybe exploring or RP) and your xp threshold will slowly reset.

As per the quote above, their goal with this system is to not force people to get all hardcore if they want to stay competitive. A nice side effect is that it tends to reward people who like to do lots of different things with their character anyway. So if you naturally would want to fight a bit, then craft a bit, then try healing for a bit, or go exploring for a bit – you will come out ahead here. You’ll be rewarded (or at least not penalised) for doing what you would have done anyway.

Compare this to current MMOs where if you want to keep up with your mates, you need to play at least as much as they do. Just think forwards to the release of Cataclysm – how many people will feel pressured to get to the level cap as fast as possible, taking as little time as they can to craft or explore or even read quest text on the way?

To me, this game just continues to sound better and better. I’m not going to cry for people whose ideal play style is to play non stop until they hit the level cap and are now complaining that the game is designed to stop that. This game is not for you. Some games are, this one is not.

So I think the general idea is good – although I’d wish that xp from one class only counted towards the threshold in that class. The devil is ivery much n the details here. Much depends on where they decide to set their thresholds and what sorts of activities are in game that don’t affect xp or skills. The other big issue here is how xp in groups and guildleves will work. If the game awards groups with more xp, then players will wear through their xp thresholds more quickly. If xp was turned off in instances, they would suddenly become useless for levelling.

In any case, the game is still in beta so they are liable to be tweaking many of these numbers.

The threshold values are being re-examined, and we plan to further adjust the different rates of earnable points based on feedback from our testers. <…> We also plan to improve experience point reduction rates, even more so than for skill points, considering the threshold is unaffected when changing class.

The main thing to take away is that if you were going to play in a way that never would have hit the thresholds anyway, you will only benefit from this mechanic. It’s an incentive to adopt that playstyle.

Grandfathering in Old Achievements in WoW

Blizzard this week did an about turn on previous thoughts about all guild achievements needing to be started from scratch in Cataclysm.

Apparently if you are in a raid guild which has acquired legendary items now, those will count towards an achievement in Cataclysm that is rewarded with a swanky guild mount.

I was noting in comments on Larisa’s blog that I find this devastatingly unfair. I speak as someone who worked on legendaries with a guild in Vanilla and is currently working on legendaries in a raid alliance right now. Neither of those previous efforts will count with anyone for anything because I am not in ‘the right sort of guild.’ The old 40 man guild split up (obviously) and the current raid set up won’t qualify for guild achievements.

I think it’s fine to record previous feats of strength if it is possible to do so. Meaningless achievements work fine for this. But those past achievements have already been rewarded in meaningful ways – otherwise we wouldn’t have done them at the time. It’s unnecessary to give some people an extra perk for doing what they would have done anyway, and unfair to only give it to people who happen to be in the right type of guild.

Maybe this is a deliberate tactic to encourage existing 25 man guilds to stay together and to use up the dog days of the expansion in scheduling endless runs to get old legendary items. And it is totally understandable that anyone who finds themselves in this situation would be pleased. But fair is one thing that it is not.

10 cool posts to read over the weekend

I haven’t done a good links post for awhile. But not for the lack of material!

  1. Flaim at The Cognisance Council has some thoughts for tanks, from someone who doesn’t tank. Big Bear Butt Blogger has some more thoughts about the tank’s role in a group, from someone who does.
  2. I’ve often seen bloggers wish that MMOs were based more on skill than on grind. But here’s the other side of the picture, MMO Designer discusses why it may be better to reward players for time spent, rather than for challenge.
  3. Dwism writes a timely post on some of the easter eggs in WoW. The little details that bring the world to life (a bit) which people might miss if they just dash through following questhelper like dogs on leashes.
  4. Leigh Alexander discusses an indie game that lets you take your virtual revenge on guys who make catcalls in the street. (Warning: if it bothers you that some women may not like being accosted in the street, don’t read this.)
  5. A couple of great posts from The Psychology of Games. One on how people pick their guildies, and how players pick their guilds. And another on whether people behave better online if they pick an avatar that looks more like themselves.
  6. Back in March, Keen swore that he’d never touch another F2P game. It’s something that he still feels very strongly about, and he describes why he thinks F2P is going to ruin LOTRO.
  7. Jeff Vogel at The Bottom Feeder discusses anti piracy solutions. And explains why he thinks the options that players hate might be the ones which work best.
  8. Back in February, Larisa was already asking how WoW players were going to keep their enthusiasm going until November. We still don’t really know the answer to that.
  9. Kava is a Wow player and musician who writes a druid blog at Evil Tree. She’s recently been sharing her passion for gaming music, comparing classical music and opera with the Warcraft soundtrack.
  10. Syncaine talks about the lure of grindy gameplay in MMOs. Why do we enjoy spending hours killing mobs or doing dailies to chase that extra 0.1% damage?

Perks for the Old Timers

Star Trek Online recently announced a slew of perks for lifetime subscribers.  Cryptic liked the idea so much that they offered similar perks to Champions Online players as well.

Customers who are dedicated to being with either of these games for the long run get a special chat channel, VIP lounge in game, title, costume piece, and the ability to skip to the front of the queue any time the game has login queues.

I’m not a lifetime sub holder for either of those games, but I think it’s a great idea. After all, the lifetime players are potentially the core of the player base. They are the people who liked the game so much that they put up a lifetime sub up front, which is a kind of pledge to say that they are interested in seeing how it develops and will be inclined to keep dropping in. If you are a committed player, one of your big issues up front is knowing that so many of the people you meet when the game is new will not still be there in a month or two’s time.

It’s very easy to put a lot of energy into forming guilds, making friends, laying down foundations for long term game relationships and then find … that your guild and group of friends has vaporised. So having a chat channel and meeting room for other players who are in for the long term can at least offer the option to hang out with other people who are less likely to just vanish.

City of Heroes took another approach. They offered  account rewards to players who had subscribed for different amounts of time. On your characters three-month/six-month/etc birthday, the new item would appear, as if it was a kind of gift. Here’s the list of CoH veteran rewards – they include titles, pets, costume pieces, wings… and towards the longer end of the spectrum, extra abilities and perks are also included.

I’ve always been dubious of this scheme because I see how keen my husband is to keep his sub active even when he isn’t really playing much CoH, and it’s because he’s keen not to lose any possible future veteran rewards. But it doubtless works well for NCSoft.

(Note: I have nothing against gambling. I just don’t see the point in paying a sub for a game you don’t play. If these perks could be bought from the cash shop, I’d think nothing of it.)

EVE Online is notorious for its real time training system, which means that a new player will never have as many abilities as an older one. They cannot catch up. A new player can still be effective, they just won’t have the wide range of skills to choose from. So in a sense, flexibility is the EVE veteran reward. And after a point, either CCP start to put in new abilities (where everyone starts to train at the same time) or else diminishing returns means that the effect isn’t very marked in most situations.

Old vs New, Lifetime vs Sub

As I play LOTRO, I wonder if the player community is fragmented between lifetime subscribers and regular subscribers. The lifetime group know that they all will probably keep coming back, although they may also take long breaks, whereas regular subs might get bored and decide to quit at any time.

Lifetimers, because they’re more committed, are also more likely to pursue some of the grindier endgame options. They’re more likely to have maxed out crafting, more likely to have several alts, more likely to be raiding. I know that if I need crafting done, it’s likely to be one of the lifetime players who I will ask, because they have the maxed out skills.

Of course, there will also be lifetime players who later went off the game. Maybe they felt they got their moneys worth and lost interest, or maybe they just took a long break, forgot to come back, and then felt it wasn’t worth the effort. But you won’t generally meet them in game (because they aren’t there!)

I’m not entirely sure what they think of transient me. Even my recent three month stint is probably a drop in the ocean to lifetime players, who think more in terms of years than of months. (It’s kind of like being a hobbit in amongst the elves!) This is not to say that they aren’t all very nice, they are. But I like the sense that the community has different depths, and that there’s a place for different levels of commitment to the game.

What is a good veteran reward?

It is generally assumed in MMOs that the more time you put in, the more your character will progress. So there’s always been a vague notion that people who have played longer and put in more hours deserve to have better characters.

Unfortunately, if this was actually true, it would be difficult to attract new players. It’s not impossible; a design like EVEs which rewards old timers with more flexibility still leaves room for a newbie to play alongside the rest of the playerbase.

So the best of the veteran rewards compensate the vets for the fact that they are not actually immortal demigods compared to newer players, and for the fact that endgame is often reset with each expansion.

Probably the best ever veteran rewards came with MUDs, which allowed longterm players to become imps (implementors) and help create new areas and quests in the game. Others included new veteran classes, that could only be started if you had one character at max level (Death Knights in WoW are a similar type of reward).

But it is an interesting and ongoing issue. MMO Devs would like to reward longterm players, if only because it encourages people to keep playing. (This is irrespective of whether the game is paid by subs or a cash shop.) But they have to find a way to do it that won’t put off the new blood which they also so desperately need.

In that context, I think Cryptic has done a good job with their lifetime rewards. Time will tell.

The meta-game of MMOs

Given how much extra work and hassle it can be, why DO people bother leading raids or leading guilds in MMOs?

I have been thinking recently about why I’m so drawn to raid leading in games, and in particular to leading casual raids rather than PUGs (although I have done that also).

Being a successful raid or guild leader definitely feels like a much more satisfying achievement to me than being random dps #12 in even the most hardcore guild. Not only that, but raiding itself becomes a more satisfying and immersive experience when you’re the one who is setting the goals for the raids, making the calls about what went wrong, and deciding what strategy to try next.

I also think of building a successful guild or raid as a meta-game that exists inside the MMO framework.  As a challenge, it’s definitely up there with anything the devs are capable of throwing at us, and maybe that’s part of the appeal.

If you can do it, the rewards are great. As well as more control over your gaming (for example, you can make sure raids always happen on days/times that are convenient for you), it’s a relatively high prestige position to hold in game.

If such things matter to you, people do also respect successful guild or raid leaders. It’s for the same reason that my cat loves and respects me – I am the provider of food (epics), entertainment, and cuddles (ie. positive feedback when appropriate).

But those I think are side-lines to the actual appeal. And if prestige is the only reason you take on a leadership role, you’ll likely be miserable and frustrated.

Build it, and they will come

OK, so leading is a role with higher challenge and potentially higher rewards than following. However, it’s also a lot more work and commitment.

But the reason I describe it as a meta-game is that it doesn’t end with raids. If you plan to run regular events, then your goal is to build up a core of players who:

  1. will keep coming to the event
  2. will get on with each other
  3. will provide a good enough mix of character classes/ roles to allow the event to work
  4. are skilled enough to run the event

So your game revolves at least as much around other players as it does around the game. And your challenge? To build a lasting, stable social construct within which happy players will run regular raids.

Because of people being people, this goal has the capacity to be endlessly entertaining and endlessly frustrating.

All over the web, you can read about excrutiating guild dramas, ninja looters, fascist raid leaders, and all the various amusing ways in which it can all go so badly wrong. Guild leaders write sad messages to each other on how to avoid troublemakers, what to do when people just stop signing up for raids, how to deal with burnout among core members, and so on.

But if you have never had to worry about avoiding troublemakers, struggling to get enough signups and dealing with other people’s burnout then you’re missing some of the big challenges of the meta-game.

It’s not that fretting over recruitment is fun in itself. But beating the challenge of getting a guild or raid together and helping to forge them into a working team is a fantastic feeling of achievement.

My point is not that everyone should go lead stuff. That’s silly and it isn’t fun for a lot of people (including many who do it). But it does add an exciting layer of challenge to an increasingly moribund genre. PvE may not be able to surprise you, players definitely will.

Feeling more involved in the strategies

Think you know the raids and instances well? Try it when you’re keeping an eye on what everyone else is doing, to help pinpoint where things are going well or badly. Try it when you’re figuring out the healing meters despite not playing a healer. Try it when it’s your call on what strategy seems to work best for your group.

I’m not advocating that one sole person does all of these things. In my 10 mans, everyone chips in with ideas. But I love that I feel more involved in the encounters when I’m leading. I can’t just ignore anything the bosses do that doesn’t directly affect me. For example, as a tank, I wouldn’t normally care if the boss was throwing curses around because it’s never my job to decurse. As a raid leader, I better know which bosses do it so that I can make sure there’s a decurser handy and remind them about it beforehand.

In the same way that going through progression wipes on a boss will teach any player more about the encounter than just coming in when it’s on farm and looks easy, leading through raids just gives you a deeper understanding of what’s going on.

I find that tanking is more involving than dps for the same reasons, and because tanks usually control the mobs in a raid fight. You need to really understand the positioning as a tank, especially if the boss needs to be faced a certain way, picked up at a specific time, or kited in a special pattern.

Feeling more involved is the way in which I have more fun.

It’s like those RPGs where you get to build up your own team, level them up, gear them up, and work out their strategies. But with real people who will bitch at you on TS if they don’t think they’re getting enough raid time.

Why w0uld that not be fun?