[Links] Pandarian musings, Brawlers Guild, cash shops, SWTOR F2P

Welcome to another links post!

Before I kick off some links to posts about Pandaria and how players are settling into the new WoW expansion (or not), here are some words of wisdom from Alexander Brazie, one of the designers. In this blog post, he discusses how and why players get bored, “Ennui is inevitable. It can only be slowed, never stopped.” And what tools game designers have available to work with this.

    • The first tool is to increase the stimulation provided to the players. You can see this in the increased quality of art, boss fights, questing and game systems.  By increasing the quality of the game, the novelty and learning reactivates the brain and helps keep the player engaged.
    • The next tool is to have a nigh-unreachable ceiling on the game, coupled with a steady sense of personal growth and progress. This sense of growth and mastery helps reinforce the player’s investment in the game world.
    • Finally, you can accept that players need a break and build systems that allow players to leave for a while and come back unpenalized.

I think Pandaria does very much reflect the use of these tools, and having now playing it for a couple of months, I also agree that that game itself is probably stronger than ever. Which doesn’t mean that it’s right for everyone who ever loved it in the past. Just that there’s some solid game and game thinking under the covers, a good balance of fun and that particular grind which is characteristic of good MMOs. Also the raids are good fun and they’ve got the balance between ranged and melee dps much better this time around.

Sheep the Diamond talks about the REAL barrier to raiding, which is finding a compatible guild. Truth is, playing an online game in a good guild (defined according to personal tastes) is a very very different experience to playing solo and it’s always been a puzzle to me why devs don’t put more time into good guild finding tools. The current trend as per GW2 et al is for more raid/sociable experiences that don’t require the player to sign up for a guild, which is a viable and different direction. But it still doesn’t give the same sense of being part of a community that a good guild would.

Kadomi also shares her feelings about looking for a guild in WoW, and why the official ‘looking for guild’ forum isn’t really helping.

One of the latest conversation starters in WoW is the new Brawlers Guild feature that is coming with the next patch.

Blizzard are playing contrarians with this one – it is content that can only be completed by one player at a time, although others can watch; access is limited and gated by buying tickets for gold on the in game black market. And you know what? I LOVE it. I love that they’re experimenting and trying out new ways to push interesting server content out into the community. Maybe the whole thing will go tits up and explore in a storm of ragequit, but you know what? It’ll be interesting to find out, both as a player and as a blogger. I’ll be curious to see who the best brawlers are on my server too.

Rohan shares his thoughts on the brawlers guild invitations (and concludes, like me, that it hasn’t been done before and is a low key way to experiment.)

BBB suggests another way that Blizzard could have distributed tickets for the brawler’s guild.

The Grumpy Elf also shares his thoughts on the brawlers guild, and agrees with problems that other bloggers have raised.

I suspect that the people who feel strongest on this issue play classes that are stronger in 1v1 PvE content. That’s my personal main issue with the brawler’s guild idea, it’s not really fair to expect a warrior to be able to perform as well as a hunter or death knight in that kind of scenario so my personal interest is pretty much tanked from the get go. I suspect they may end up having class based leader boards though, at least that is what I would do.

The Godmother writes a thoughtful post about alts in MoP, and particularly about how shared achievements and the rep grinds affect how much time people are prepared to spend on their alts this expansion. She also shares a considered, reflective view on crafting (the bolding is mine).

The main killer for me is the professions ‘gating': if I want that Royal Satchel recipe for my Tailor I have absolutely no choice but to level my Tailor to 90, get the Golden Lotus and Shado Pan dailies to a certain level and then spend however long it is on the Augusts. How on Earth am I supposed to do that when at this stage I’m probably a month away from being rep maxxed on the person I want to raid with? ((…))  I am still sticking by my assertion that this is by far the best way to prevent server economies collapsing, and to preserve the sanctity of professions saleability. Our #1 Tailor is now capable of making those bags, and it will be Quite Some Time (TM) before I see people flooding the market with them. That is the way it should be. I’ll just have to accept the fact that having a family that I can rely on for self-sufficiency takes more time this time around.

Kurn has written a lengthy series of posts behind his decision to retire from WoW. I’ve linked to the first post here but go to his blog and read the rest if you find this one interesting.

Anyhow, I’m not out to convince anyone to quit or that the game sucks or anything of the sort. Play or don’t play, that’s your choice and your choice alone. ((…)) I’ve become more interested in the decision to game/raid/etc than the actual content of the game and so exploring my own reasons seems like a good place to start.

Tobold discusses his decision to cancel his WoW subscription. As usual he generalises too widely from his own experience.

Klepsacovic takes a farewell from WoW blogging. I will miss his posts, but I agree that it is a struggle blog about a game that you’re not enjoying. (You can do it, but it will tend to be a chronicle of burnout.)

You may be thinking, gentle reader, that all these links are about people burning out on WoW or deciding its no longer for them so that must indicate something larger. I can’t answer that question (the sub numbers will do that) but I personally am enjoying the game more than ever at the moment so expect more upbeat posts on WoW in the future.

Liore has a rather different angle on things.

So here’s my hypothesis: for various reasons WoW got extremely popular and suddenly lots of people were playing MMOs. But that was just a fluke of the times as much as anything. The fact is that MMOs are a niche genre that appeals to a smaller group of players, and the genre is now sloughing off those people who were just kind of along for the WoW ride.

Make a commitment to a social group or an activity or a hard challenge or whatever, or go find another genre.

Time for the 2 minute hate on cash shops

ausj3w3l shares his feelings on buying gold from the cash shop in GW2, and using cash shops in general.

I think the reason I feel so dirty and why the experience irritates me so much is that in a way I am now essentially paying more than a sub for basic quality of life things. I go to TSW and I have repertoire that is more than suitable to the game and never once made me feel like I was being purposefully limited so as to nudge my wallet further to the store.

I also don’t understand why upgrading an account to be more useable costs more than purchasing an entire new one ((…))

NB. It’s only more than a sub if you do this every month. But the sense of feeling purposefully limited to encourage use of the cash shop is endemic in F2P games. On the other hand, the sense of feeling purposefully limited to encourage grinding is pretty much a part of old school MMOs too.

This dynamic is driving a lot of the reactions to SWTOR F2P scheme as well, I think. People who might have been fine with grinding for some of the extras are not fine with being directed to the cash shop. (It also obscures the amount you might need/want to pay for your game.) But also, some of their restrictions are not equivalent to ones that have been placed on non-F2P games. I don’t recall any game that ever asked you to grind for extra skill bars or for the ability to turn off your hat graphic or raise the amount of cash you can hold in your wallet. Grinding for extra bag space isn’t the sticking point here.

Green Armadillo muses about currency caps and cash shops.

Rock Paper Shotgun discuss microtransactions in Assassin’s Creed 3.

All things Star Wars!

I’d have to give in my geek credentials if I didn’t include a link on the news that Disney has recently bought Lucasfilm and announced that they intend to produce and release new Star Wars films. I’m down with them making more big budget epic space fantasy, especially if they throw out the expanded universe stuff that tends to revolve around original film characters being raised to godlike status.

Shintar answers the question, “Should I play SWTOR?” with her review after 10 months in the game. I would say yes if you like Bioware games and WoW type games. It is pretty much what you might expect from a marriage of the two genres and I had a lot of fun in my 7 months or so in the game.

Syp shares his thoughts on the recent State of the Game blogpost.

Targeter takes a look at the new cash shop and finds something he hadn’t expected, that some of the items look quite fun.

And the best of the rest

Every games blogger should read this post by Tadhg Kelly.

It’s a rite-of-passage thing. Also an age thing. You’re probably around 25, have jumped, slaughtered and strategised your way through at least 1000 games, and found them amazing and entertaining. Then something happens.

You start to get bothered by the sameness. You start to notice that games recycle the same ideas on a generational timeline, that every 5-7 years or so game developers repackage the same concepts for new platforms. And also keep making the same mistakes.

Over time, you start to think that games need to be saved.

Rampant Coyote predicts that the AAA Games Industry is Screwed.

Unsubject writes a typically thoughtful, analytical post about gaming projects on Kickstarter. He is analysing how many gaming projects have actually delivered so far.

ausj3w3l writes about the culture of gaming journalism, looking at a specific article that kicked off a whole furore about the ethics (or not) of the whole arena.

Doone has a very powerful post on one particular Kickstarter game, iBeg, which is about being homeless (sort of).  He shares his own experiences of being street homeless, and this is another post that everyone should read – particularly if you are a developer who is thinking of using the experiences of vulnerable people as the basis for a game.

It’s very difficult to write this article without being at least a little upset about how this iBeg project is being sold. All I keep seeing in my mind is the words on Kickstarter saying all the money is going into the making of the game. Nothing is mentioned of contributing to homeless people or shelters (unless you buy in-game items, only *some* of which will go to help the homeless). You might be asking: why should they? To that I say, they proclaimed concern for the homeless and they claim to want to do something about it. No, it’s not ok to profit from the stories of the deprived.

Garrosh writes the best article I’ve seen on the US elections from the perspective of Garrosh who is still playing Earth Online.

Anyway, as much as it was annoying having to hear about this world event, like, CONSTANTLY, it actually WAS kind of fun to see it play out.  The event had a lot of parts to it, going on for months, but it all capped with the big Election Day world event earlier this week …

Jacob at tl-dr is trying to make a list of non-violent video games, feel free to add suggestions. I’m wondering whether Fruit Ninja would count or not, it’s quite violent when Arb and I play it (to be fair, so is Monopoly). I’m also not convinced by Skyrim being on that list – sure you could play it without fighting but that’s not really what it is about.

Another post from Jacob is on Riot Games and how their methods to clean up the LOL in game community have been bearing fruit.

Good on ya Riot, you’re implementing systems to get rid of trolling, griefing, harassment, racism, and many other bad things in your game. Keep it up.

It has also been the week/s of quarterly reporting, which is how we know that WoW now has over 10 million players again (and Diablo 3 sold over 10 million copies!), and Arenanet has a guarded success on its hands with GW2. Syncaine comments that he is surprised GW2 didn’t perform better given the amount of hype, and like him I’m curious about the drop off from here on in.

Werit notes that the company formerly known as Bioware Mythic is now just Mythic again, just a name change.

Azuriel describes the recent GW2 Halloween event from the perspective of someone who just jumped straight in.

Talk to a Pumpkin-Carving NPC that says I need to carve an unspecified number of pumpkins before I can get a title or join his order, or possibly both. On my way to the Commander icon I see a toilet paper roll go flying through the air. After clicking on a table, it looks like a Candy Corn monster appears, but I keep walking.

Jeromai discusses WvW in GW2, and particularly why some of the big guilds on his server have just server swapped elsewhere. What does this say about  the future of WvW?

Bernard wonders whether one time events are a good investment of time/effort for developers, considering GW2 in particular.

… my main interest is whether one-time events offer a good return on investment for developers.

If this is not the case, Arenanet is burning money and will have to stop at some point, removing any good will generated by failing to meet the expectations they have created in the player base.

Random musings: SWTOR event, MoP trailer, and GW2 fanboism

I was hoping very much that Bioware would be able to use the SWTOR world event (that had been hinted at by dataminers after the last patch) to regain  the community’s confidence. Demonstrating the ability to keep putting out good quality updates  would do a lot to win people over to the future of the game in the upcoming F2P environment.

Things began with the news bots on the fleet, directing players to Nar Shaddaa to pick up the first part of the quest. The second part followed via in game mail, which led to another questline that runs in parallel. Basically the A questline involves characters trying to find various items in a scavenger hunt. The B questline involves trying to figure out whether the scavenger hunt has a nefarious underlying purpose.

Some of the scavenger item quests are supported by actual quests telling you where to go and (vaguely) what to do. Others are hinted at via in game conversations. I’m not entirely sure what the clues are since I didn’t personally see any, I may not have been hanging out in the right area, or not for long enough. I imagine a lot of people are using websites to find their items. Dulfy, as usual, has a great summary for anyone who is interested in running through the event.

Rewards are mostly cosmetic, with a couple of weapons included with purple mods that only cover a couple of classes.  If you finish the grand acquisition quest there are some titles and light side/ dark side points up for grabs also. We have also been informed that the event will last only for one week.

Rohan wonders if the event was designed to allow hardcore players to run through it quickly with slower paths for more casual players. This would have been cool if true, it was a good idea on his part; but it turns out one of the ways for players to complete things fast was a bug and the quests don’t actually expand slowly to include all the items eventually.

I was hoping for something more similar to the rakghoul world event, which included dailies, explorations, collections, and so on. This is an event with a smaller scope. I would personally give it a resounding ‘meh’ so far and have not really heard much in guild chat about the acquisitions after the first day or so, so I don’t think they are very excited by it either. The event has also been plagued by bugs, particularly one early on which rewarded players with ALL the items if they did a particular space mission.

I can’t feel this bodes well for the future. I’ve nothing against small scale events, but it would be nice if they were … a bit more fun? Anyone else tried to solve any of the item locations themselves?

And then the over powered new race/new class beat everyone else up!

moptrailer

So as is becoming the norm, Blizzard released a short trailer for the upcoming expansion. Apple Cider Mage does a shot by shot feminist analysis :

…the fact of the matter is that this trailer is literally and utterly masculine. It features male power fantasies and counterpoints them with a more wise, agile man. It’s all men! All men, all the time. Just the way we like it, eh?

She’s not wrong.

However I quite liked the trailer and here is why. From the very earliest days of Warcraft as a RTS game, the theme and in fact the subtitle was Orcs vs Humans. I feel that what Blizzard have done with this trailer is present a very classic Warcraft scenario (ie. an orc vs a human) and then thrown a panda into the mix to show how it changes everything. That’s it. That’s the actual story of the expansion. Portrayed in one short, and very pretty, cinematic. The butch male orc and butch human in the new trailer do look reminiscent of the box art from the old Warcraft games.

warcraftboxart

So I think the trailer does a good job of setting the scene, with callbacks to the very core of the WoW lore and backstory, and then showing what’s new in this expansion. I would have personally preferred to have also seen some fly bys of the new zones, dungeons, bosses, creatures, and so on. I want to see how pretty it is.  I preferred the Cataclysm cinematics from that point of view.

The GW2 backlash to the backlash starts on time

It is an incredibly normal part of the MMO cycle for a new MMO to be hyped to the stars and back during beta, for the backlash of criticism to begin shortly before launch, and for die-hard fans to decide that arguing with critics IS the hill they want to die on … still before launch.

It is also true that criticising a game that everyone else loves, or waxing lyrical about a game that the majority seem to hate will tend to get a lot of page views. It’s called being contrary; but that doesnt mean that people raising contrary points are wrong, per se.

Azuriel has drawn the wrath of the GW2 fanbois by listing some features of the game that he thinks are merely OK. He also comments that he has pre-purchased his copy and has every intention of playing it. But that won’t stop the tide of haters once the fans decide to strike.

It will be interesting to see how views pan out on this game on release. I expect to be playing next week, assuming the servers hold up, and I agree with Azuriel that dynamic events are not the be all and end all of PvE. I think I did like the WvW much more than he did, but he has also played the beta for longer than me. Time will tell. Hopefully the fans will stop piling on any views of the game that are not 100% enthusiastic once they are actually busy playing the thing.

[TSW, SWTOR, WoW, CK2] Well, it’s certainly been a week.

I thought today I might sum up some experiences I’ve had in games recently. This is mostly a quick fly though, just to demonstrate how incredibly /different/ some games which are nominally similar can be.

The Secret World

tsw

The Secret World had a free weekend, and sadly I didn’t have as much time in game as I had hoped. Partly due to watching the Olympics (on TV) and spending a day out in London (not to go to the Olympics because I didn’t have tickets), and also partly due to getting roped into some raids in SWTOR. So these really will be first impressions.

I like the game a lot, and as other people have said, the setting and storytelling is very engaging. For me there was a disconnect between “secret masters of the world. conspiracy theories.” and “welcome to Kingsmouth, here’s your shotgun. Go kill some zombies.” There is even more of a disconnect between the clever and immersive world building and a public channel full of “LF2M tank and healer”.  I’m also not sure whether I find that the combat fits neatly to the storytelling parts of the game – it’s common for RPGs to have this disconnect but the stylistic difference seems stronger in TSW. It just is a very disconnected game. All the individual bits seem good in themselves, but I liked the RPG/investigative parts so much more than the combat. Partly for that reason, this is absolutely a game that sings “single player or small group only” to me. Even more so than SWTOR.

But for all that, it IS immersive and engaging and I enjoyed how Funcom use the environment to drop clues to the player, as well as the usual “quest person marker” details.  I also always wanted to be an Illuminati, so there is that too. I also get a kick out of ‘take a shortcut through Agartha” and similar funky occult daftness; I love urban fantasy which this game does in spades. I didn’t have much of a chance to really check out any of the riddle quests so I’m still unsure whether I have the patience for that type of play or would get frustrated too quickly.

The screenshot above shows two of the other things I did really enjoy with the game.

  1. Blue hair. Apparently this is more of A Thing than I realised, since a lot of my twitter crowd mentioned that their characters also had blue hair. I do think it’s cool though. I also like how my character is holding the shotgun in the shot, her hands/fingers are actually closed around the weapon. Also was amused at being told I had good aim when I shot something. I am not a firearms person (to say the least) but I feel that using a shotgun at point blank range may not be a big aiming challenge.
  2. This shows a tutorial for the talent system. It’s a voiced video that steps you through how things work. Please could more games do this, it’s great.

Whilst I did get a good first impression from the weekend and would definitely like to spend more time with TSW, I can’t justify a sub at the moment. I just don’t have the time free in my gaming schedule. Maybe in a few months time. But I do want to go back.

SWTOR: All my raiding comes at once!

I think there’s a hidden switch in the communal mind of a new raidgroup that suddenly decides you are good enough (or needed badly enough) to be included in the main team. So I’m guessing all my practice with the Consular and generally being around and genial in guild chat has made a mark; this week I was invited to join the guild for runs in two Operations that I haven’t seen before: Explosive Conflict (Denova) and Karagga’s Palace. The raid leader was also really nice about explaining the fights, and the raids were friendly and patient. And we did clear them both. It was just a great gaming experience.

denova

These screenshots are from Denova, which is a very solid raid in my opinion. The encounters are interesting and well designed, there’s a nice mix of content, and they’re challenging without feeling that you are hitting your head against a wall. Bioware have done a good job with the raid content. Karagga is by far my least favourite of the Operations. The first and last boss are both thoroughly annoying (last boss might have been more fun if I had been on dps rather than healing).

My feelings about SWTOR seem conflicted at the moment. I do genuinely enjoy the game, but I’m not sure about its future. Whatever happens, I’m thrilled to have gotten the chance to play it, and to have met such nice players on both the guilds I’ve been in. This may affect how I view the SWTOR community in general, but even my PUG runs have generally been cordial and friendly. Dropping WoW last December to play SWTOR instead has been a really good decision for me.

In any case, this means that I have now seen all of the PvE content in the game, although there are harder modes for the Ops which we haven’t done yet. I’m not really sure what my next goals are, I enjoy raiding with the guys so will plan to keep doing that though.

Warcraft: Back for more abuse

I picked up a Scroll of Resurrection this week, and thought it would be a good opportunity to drop back into WoW and see whether absence makes the heart grow fonder. (The answer is: no, but it does give a different perspective.) My first impression on logging into Orgrimmar was of overwhelming chaos, noise, people all over the place, randomness on general chat. There’s so much going on and where is everything and heck, there’s so much of it. Like I say: overwhelming.

From what I can gather, the only new content since I last played (in December) is that the Darkmoon Faire has its own zone now. It looks cool and a bit foreboding and the music is good. The new Faire is (as with the rest of WoW), busy, noisy, overwhelming. There are quests which grant tradeskill improvements as well as rewards, and some minigames. None of the minigames looked especially interesting at first glance. There’s only so much designers can do with ‘whack a mole’ or ‘steer the vehicle into the other vehicle.’ This is a shame, because I would have thought a fairground would be ripe for actual vehicle minigames.

It was of course great to chat to my guildies again in game. They are a really good bunch, and have been the one thing I really did miss from not being in game. I did think it was a bad idea to agree when someone suggested queueing for one of the most recent heroic instances. This proved to be the case, and the complaints about poor dps started very soon into the instance. I do think there’s an issue with the game where everyone is studying your dps the whole time in groups using real time damage meter addons, even when they don’t need to. Anyhow, I didn’t stay long, I suspect my dps would have been OK but that’s not an atmosphere you want to learn new fights in.

This, incidentally is where WoW is utterly failing at the moment. If a reasonable, average player cannot learn a new fight in LFG and guild groups are unlikely to form (due to people either preferring the convenience of LFG or being tired of the group content) then your group game is basically dead. I’ve heard arguments that this will be better at the start of a new expansion when the content is new to everyone. I don’t entirely buy it; this may be true … for a week or two.  If Blizzard want to break this chain then they need to a) make the LFG instances easier, no complex boss fights that require a page of tutorial to explain the tactics or tightly tuned dps races and b) give players a chance to practice the fights on their own first. (I’m not arguing against hard instances, but I don’t think they are good LFG content.)

Before being put off grouping altogether, I then thought I’d queue for one of the original Cataclysm heroics. These are instances I’ve run several times in my character’s current gear before taking a break. There were no dps issues, but after one wipe the tank aggroed a pack of mobs while everyone else was running back (which led to another wipe). Here is a snapshot of the conversation that followed:

Me: Could you wait for everyone to get back before starting the next fight?

Him/ Her: No.

Me: Why not?

Him/Her: *pause* Because I like doing things wrong.

Me: OK, have fun then. *leaves group*

Maybe it’s because I’ve just spent time in SWTOR where I haven’t had a single bad group, but two poor PUGs in a row isn’t cool and shouldn’t be the norm. Anyhow, I will be hanging out in WoW for the next month or so. Partly because I feel I’d like the guy who sent me the SoR to get his (ugly) mount, and also because it’s good blogging fodder to come back with fresh eyes and gauge how WoW might feel to other returning players. Right now, I feel that I could happily never run another PUG in WoW ever again.

One thing to note for returners: Your spare justice or valor tokens are still useful, Blizzard regularly upgrade the gear you can trade them in for.

I feel I haven’t said much about good first impressions yet. WoW has an INCREDIBLE sense of being an actual world.  It’s buzzing, chaotic, there’s a lot going on and huge zones to explore.  So I went back to a quieter zone to do some daily quests that everyone else is probably bored with (or even forgot by now) to chill out and chat.

wowreturn

Crusader Kings 2

This is such a big bonkers game, but it’s the best gaming crack since the original Civilisation. How can I be so drawn to a game which I am so bad at playing? My latest ruler did actually manage to win some wars, but I think I could happily watch the game play itself out without me really doing much. Still, I continue to read up about it and try different things in new games. I wanted to mention CK2 in passing as I’m still only scratching the surface but it takes a special sort of game to engender this kind of love from poor players.

[SWTOR] 4 things you need to know about F2P SWTOR

“.. in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes AND F2P MMO conversions.”

So, the big MMO news today is that Bioware announced that SWTOR will transition to a full free to play game before the end of 2012. It doesn’t come as a great surprise following a couple of rounds of layoffs in response to falling subscriptions, and departures of senior developers. Clearly EA were looking for some quick fixes for the expensive MMO which is starting to look like an albatross around their necks.

I thought I’d distill the answers to the four main questions I had.

1. When is the game switching to F2P.

November 2012.

2. How much can you get without subscribing?

Quite a lot. Many players (including me) would say that the real jewel in the crown of this game is the levelling content, and that’s largely what you’ll get for free. The game will be F2P to level 50, with restricted access to flashpoints and warzones (ie. a restricted number per week) among other things such as number of auctions. You will have to subscribe to gain access to raids/Operations and there are some other restrictions which are lifted for subscribers.

The current plan is that you’ll still have to buy the core game, but the price is being reduced (a lot) to $14.99 in August and who knows what will happen by November.

If you like the idea of this style of Bioware/classic MMO gameplay, then I’d say it’s a pretty darn good deal. EA never expected to have to give this away and spent way more than they would have done otherwise so you’re getting a very polished Old Republic RPG with some MMO elements attached. It’s also one of the best games I’ve ever played for duoing.

3. I’m a subscriber now. Should I drop my sub and go F2P in November?

Well, if your main interest is levelling alts, you don’t care about Ops, and you aren’t too bothered about grinding flashpoints or warzones, it looks at the moment as though F2P would be the way to go. This is the problem with introducing a F2P mechanism that offers only free or subscription options. Suddenly the subscription option becomes a worse proposition because you pay the same sub as today, but get relatively less for it.

But who knows what they’ll plan to do with this in the future. Ideally they’d look at letting people buy things piecemeal.

3a. I’m not a subscriber now. Should I play this game when it goes F2P in November?

That rather depends on why you’re not playing at the moment.

If you liked the idea of the game but were put off by the cost, then come play and enjoy it. I do rate it highly, it’s a good quality game of its type. I think the levelling game is way better than WoW, for comparison. If you played SWTOR for awhile and then left because you were bored, you might want to check out changes such as LFG, or reconnect with other friends who are playing, it’ll be much easier to set up the occasional flashpoint/PvP night when people don’t have to all subscribe.

If you hated the idea of the game and are burned out on this type of MMO anyway, then it’s not going to change your mind when it is free.

If you are a current or ex-subscriber, you’ll be given an allotment of ‘cartel coins’ (ie. cash shop tokens) when the conversion happens, although the only things we currently know to be on sale are a pet, a cosmetic hat, and a chair (I’m not sure where the chair goes, would be cool if it was on your ship though.)

4. So what new content is planned for this year, seriously?

Currently the stated plans involve a new Op, new warzone, new companion (HK-51) and new space combat missions. What they notably don’t involve is new story content, which is unfortunate since that’s the main draw (fourth pillar et al) of this game.

A new planet had been mentioned previously but isn’t listed on the new content page for this year.

Various commentary stuff

SWTOR subscriptions were noted  as being below a million during yesterday’s EA earnings call (link is to the pdf of the transcription):

Although it launched well, subscriptions have been on a declining trajectory and have now slipped below one million. Last year we announced that the breakeven point was roughly 500,000 subscribers. And while we are well above that today, that’s not good enough.

- (Frank Gibeau)

So the question is whether they can get enough players in for F2P to work its magic, compared to the number of paying subscribers they have today. And how many of those new players (assuming they come, which I hope they do since it’s basically a good game) will want to take out subs or buy items from the cash shop. On the fleet last night, reactions ranged from looking forwards to a new influx of players, people wondering whether they will drop their sub and just play F2P, the usual concerns about the unwashed masses who might pick up a F2P game, and more specific concerns about the future of the game – will they ever make enough money to plan future story chapters?

This looks to me like a swiftly implemented F2P conversion. I have no idea how long Bioware had been considering it as an idea (my guess is from fairly soon after launch) but this isn’t a carefully thought out plan so much as a “give lots of free stuff away to get players in and … err… then charge a subscription for hardcore endgame type players.”

Scott Jennings at Broken Toys is, like me, a fan of the game. He notes that subscriptions for MMOs are looking more and more like an initial markup, which devolves quickly to F2P. That implies that a F2P conversion is in TSW’s future also, and that anyone who said ‘I’ll wait until it goes F2P’ about a new subscription game is likely going to be right in their assumptions. (Note: WoW currently is obviously an outlier to this model, although I suppose who knows what the future holds?)

Green Armadillo has a typically thoughtful analysis, noting that:

While I personally will most likely pay less for SWTOR under the new model, I’m not celebrating.  SWTOR is a quality product, albeit one that may have been especially ill-suited for the subscription model.  The quality and direction of the game’s future development, with the reduced staff and revised business model, are likely to suffer.

[Links] So are we finally at the end of the (MMO) era?

In a week where I’m still struggling to move my armies around in Crusader Kings 2*, I’m sensing a sort of existential gloom around the MMO blogosphere. Not quite what you’d expect when WoW have just announced a release date for their next expansion, perhaps.

* I know, total fail. But the bizarro thing with CK2 is that you can play it like a sort of medieval soap opera even if you suck totally at the military side.

But let’s start with some upbeat links.

Huw at the MMO Melting Pot does a great job at curating MMO blog posts into a small daily digest. If you are interested in reading good writing from actual players (as opposed to  paid journalists or for-profit sites) about their experiences, thoughts and feelings with MMOs, put the Pot on your regular feed. I feel that we as a community (ie. gamers) don’t appreciate enough the value of our own gaming expertise. But I’m darned sure I would prefer to read views from a wide range of players, covering the full range of casual-hardcore, PvE-PvP, and other ways of playing I’d never even have considered, than a small selection of gaming journos.

Arb writes a paean to the Ultima games, and explains why she’s so excited about Ultima Forever. (It took a fair while, btw, for her to say anything nice about my boyfriend/husband – but we’ve been married 11 years now, so perhaps he’s been accepted by my family. A bit :-) ).

Any Rift fans in the house? Scott Hartmann (Exec Producer at Trion)  has hosted an extensive Q&A thread on reddit. This was part of an answer to a hardcore raider complaining that it wasn’t fair that some guilds had better access to beta tests than others:

If people require more fairness than “a guy is working a 16 hour day just so my guild can test,” to be happy in an MMO, I guarantee the MMO they are looking for simply does not exist.

Also, anyone catch the Olympic Opening Ceremony? Everyone British I know really loved it; I think it captured a certain irreverent spirit at the same time as touching on some national traits/people/ culture that we’re actually very proud about. I especially loved the bit where Tim Berners-Lee tweeted live from the stadium “This is for everyone” and it literally showed up as a RT on my twitter stream about a second later (obviously I had twitter up while watching the opening ceremony, doesn’t everyone?) This is the best review I’ve seen (comparing it to the Chinese one), and the whole thing is available on the BBC iPlayer to anyone who can access that.

Maybe F2P isn’t the answer to life, the universe and everything

This week, Zynga stock prices are falling through the floor. I don’t think this will surprise many gamers, as their model of F2P, fast turnabout on new games, and heavy reliance on Facebook was never really convincingly long term. Especially since so much of their initial growth relied on cross-fertilisation between games using features that FB has since heavily restricted (due to them being massively annoying), and various other underhanded semi-exploits such as deliberately working with scam advertisers and “… did every horrible thing in the book just to get revenues right away”.

However, now that they are a public company, this type of stock performance triggers analyses in fairly mainstream publications as well as gaming sites.

Mashable suggests Zynga try making better games rather than aiming for more gambling applications (note: they will do the gambling thing though.)

Forbes asks why Zynga is bleeding users.

The best analysis I have seen is on gamesindustry.biz (you’ll need to create a login to read the whole thing), which notes that although they’re still gaining players overall, fewer of those players are paying. This is not the trend that F2P believers want to see.

Free-to-play mechanics mean that you expect the vast majority of users to play for free, effectively acting as cost-effective marketing to entice the small minority of players who’ll pay money and make the service profitable overall. However, in Zynga’s case, the trend is all wrong. Back in Q2 2011, 1.5% of Zynga’s players were paying money for things. A year later, the figure is 1.3%. That 0.2% figure may not seem like a lot, but it’s a trend moving in the wrong direction – and it actually translates to about half a million players who ought to be paying, if Zynga could maintain its ratios, but aren’t. Moreover, that isn’t being compensated for by “whales” dragging the average expenditure of the paying players upwards – in fact, the company’s average income per DAU (Daily Average User) dropped by 10% year on year. In short – costs are up, and revenues aren’t rising to match them.

So does this mean that F2P is perhaps not the answer to life, the universe, and everything, or just that Zynga is ‘doing it wrong’? Probably a bit from column A and a bit from column B. Cash rich Zynga could have put more of that cash and effort into developing better, more engaging games, but they haven’t done so, nor have they really ported their success to non-Facebook or mobile platforms. Pincus is almost certainly more comfortable running traditional casino games, so it’s not surprising he wants to take the company that way.

But the general trend of players drifting from one F2P game to the next, tending to spend less as they go, is one to take on board. You are NEVER as invested in any MMO as you are in the first one you play. It’s entirely possible that this is as true for F2P social games as for AAA MMOs.

Since we don’t really get meaningful numbers from most F2P MMOs (eg. LOTRO, STO, etc) it’s hard to know if this signals a general trend. Maybe companies do have to work harder to get F2P customers, even the fabled whales, to keep spending enough to make their games truly sustainable once the flood of new players has dried up. We know that regular paid expansions is one way to keep the money flowing in (you could think of this as similar to the subscription model, if you only had to pay once every year or so), but if a F2P game cannot sustain a fairly massive base, can the model still work?

Whither SWTOR, and can any new MMO have a longterm future?

EA have an earnings call this week, and it’s likely that SWTOR subscriptions are significantly down from the last time they were announced. They will drop further in August when the six-monthly subs from people who took those out at launch run out. Even as someone who still enjoys the game, it’s hard to feel positive about SWTOR’s future. Bioware have let a lot of SWTOR staff go, and leavers include some of the more influential senior designers. That’s never a good sign in a new MMO, because their vision is the thing which made the game appealing to the players who actually like it.

There have been comments about new content such as a new companion and new planet before the end of the year, but if EA want to retain players, they need to give out some actual timescales. If you bought the game and enjoyed the content and were hoping for a long lifecycle of regular content updates, it isn’t really clear whether that is still the plan at all.

As a fan who has been subscribing, if they kept a reasonable pace, I would retain a subscription. Possibly even for years. That offer (from me as a player) was on the table when I bought into the game.  If they can’t and the community crumbles and my guild/s wander off … then I won’t keep paying them. I’ll follow the players. I wish them luck with a F2P conversion if they decide to go that way and I hope a lot of new players get the chance to try SWTOR, enjoy it, and realise that it’s actually a pretty darn good game if you can enjoy it for what it is, and not whine about what it isn’t. But if they renege on what I expected at launch, I will leave them to it, albeit with fond memories.

UnSubject has been writing a super set of posts at Vicarious Existence about recent MMO failures. And he tops it by looking at factors that contributed to these failures, and predicting the end of AAA MMOs (it’s been said before, but this is a good analysis.)

I’m having difficulty thinking of a Western AAA MMO that has launched since 2006 that’s managed to grow its player base post-launch (well, without switching to free-to-play (F2P) anyway).

And with all that choice, the MMO player base is more fragmented than ever. It’s hard to get enough of them engaged for long enough to earn your development budget back (well, without switching to F2P anyway).

One of the interesting things about his analysis is that this doesn’t depend on how ‘different’ the new MMOs are from existing ones. Unless they are genuinely different enough to appeal to a different market, in which case existing MMO players may well not like them. motstandet writes a reply to my post about not minding MMO clones, describing how he looks for games with depth that he can play for years. (Clearly this also requires other players to play with/against if they aren’t single player games.)

From Zynga’s example (see above), it’s not clear whether F2P is a good long term solution either. So maybe the destiny of these games is never to be longterm again in the way they have in the past. Old dino players will look back to the days in which a core player would subscribe to a game for YEARS as if it were truly prehistory. And that will affect in-game communities also, because people engage differently with a game that they genuinely expect to be spending significant amounts of their free time around than a game which they expect to be done with in a month or two.

EVE is often cited as an outlier, with a steadily growing subscriber base. I’m always unclear how to analyse this, since so many of the core players seem to pay for their gametime and multiple accounts using in game credits/ PLEX. Gevlon has been theorising this week about which segment of the EVE player base actually pay for time – I have no idea if he is right. Theoretically, every PLEX that is bought in game had to be paid for at some point with real money, so it shouldn’t matter to CCPs bottom line how people finance their gaming (ie. if a player buys PLEX for in game cash, that PLEX still got bought by someone else before they sold it in game  so CCP still got the money for it).

But I’m not sure. I’m not sure if a model where the more hardcore players get to play for free is really a solid one, especially since the playerbase will tend to become more hardcore over time. If it’s really that easy to make money in game (which seems to be implied in comments to just about every EVE blog I’ve ever read), then are there enough players who like the game but can’t be arsed to make money in it to pay the subs for everyone else (and their alts)? I do take their subscriber base with a pinch of salt, given the preponderance of multiple alts though. That game is not as big as people think, and if Dust fails, we’ll see CCP feel the pinch.

People seem more dubious about MoP already

Let me be clear on one thing: I would never bet against Blizzard. They consistently make games that players enjoy, and even games that have garnered plenty of criticism such as Diablo 3 have broken sales records and generally pleased the majority of their players. I will not be surprised if Mists of Pandaria breaks sales records, even if they have to invent a record for it to break.

But I look on my guild boards and for the first time before an expansion, I see people wondering how long other players will find MoP engaging. I see one of the hardcore raid guilds on my server (which is the most populated RP server in the EU) take their entire guild to another server for the expansion. I think MoP will please many many players, and I like the new emphasis on a wider endgame. But for how long?

Anne at Wow Insider riled up readers by talking about how players got bored with Cataclysm and comparing it to the smart kids at school who are bored with lessons aimed at those who are merely average. The reason this annoyed people is because of the implication (which I don’t think was her intention) that if they’re not bored, then they were not ‘the smart kid at school.’  Redbeard has some good comments on her post here also.

I’m going to use a different analogy. When I was a kid, we moved around the country a lot, so I went to lots of different schools. And they taught the syllabus in different orders. I remember sitting in a beginner’s French class and being bored rigid because I’d already studied French for 2-3 years in previous schools. This is a type of boredom that comes of experience, rather than just being ‘the smart kid’. Experienced players in a game/genre will always get bored more quickly than new ones, because they don’t face the same learning curve. Wrath kept the experienced players interested for longer than Cataclysm because it came with a much larger set of zones and storylines than Cataclysm (10 new levels rather than 5, plus a new class, plus hard mode instances, plus longer raids such as Ulduar and even Naxx). Also for many casual raid guilds, Wrath represented the pinnacle of their raiding existences, where some of the barriers that had kept them stuck in TBC were removed.

Pandaria on paper offers more new content than Cataclysm for max level characters. The new continent seems larger and more connected (as opposed to the bittiness of Cataclysm). Cataclysm’s focus on remaking the old world didn’t sustain either old or new players. There will be a wider variety of endgame experiences. But now maybe the rot has set in, and players will be more willing to unsub once they are bored rather than hanging in there. Perhaps Blizzard will have to work that bit harder to keep them – after all, these last months represent the longest WoW has ever gone without a solid content patch.  Yet at the same time, more players than ever have tried the MoP beta. Does that mean they’ll get bored more quickly when the expansion goes live? Soon enough, we’ll find out.

Question of the Day: What are your favourite instances/ flashpoints of all time?

I have been running a fair number of flashpoints recently in SWTOR, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Kaon Under Siege might be my favourite instance/flashpoint in any MMO ever. What really makes this instance stand out for me is the incredible atmosphere, great instance-based storytelling, a few challenging trash mob pulls, and interesting enough bosses (OK, the bosses are not really the highlight of this flashpoint, but I feel they have enough strategy to keep them both interesting and in genre with the rest of the instance).

kaon1

What I mean by atmosphere is that this is a zombie survival type of setting. Parts of the instance are eerily dark, with players using torches that hover around their heads. Parts involve zombies/rakghouls jumping out at you, in packs. Even if you know the instance reasonably well, the atmosphere is solid. Part of this is down to good pacing; sometimes you can see the rakghouls wandering around so you have time to plan the pulls carefully and other times you’re walking down a dark and quiet corridor and they leap out. It leads to an instance that doesn’t feel as though it’s just a static bunch of mobs standing around in corridors.

By storytelling, I mean that you pick up an entire storyline as you are travelling from boss to boss. There are some conversations (that people tend to skip through if they’re in a hurrt) but also you get some of the information as you are moving/ fighting. On arrival, you know that the planet is quarantined, then you learn via radio that some nobles are trying to break the quarantine so you try to stop them, then you see their hijacked ship crash, talk to the surviving pilot and see him succumb to the disease, and finally have to pick your way through infested and dangerous areas to get to a place where you can find where the infestation began and get a pickup for your team. It’s very smoothly put together. There’s plenty of show to go along with the tell.

The bosses have some interesting features. One boss fight features waves of rakghouls where one character gets to sit in the weapon turret and everyone else helps mop up and take out the rakghouls that are more dangerous. Another boss has to be kited towards explosives when it goes into frenzy (although tbh people seem more likely these days to tough it out). Another set of three have different abilities depending on the kill order. So again, it doesn’t feel like a set of bosses standing in a room waiting for you.

Some of the packs of trash mobs have interesting abilities also. There are rakghouls which have crowd control, others which explode when they die, and others which will throw players around (probably into any other packs of mobs in the area). So as players learn the instance, they can learn the routes which avoid pulling two packs at once, and learn which mobs should be taken out first.

kaon2

I feel it’s an instance which shows off the very best of SWTOR design, with an attention to the detail, storytelling, that extends into boss mechanics in a way that I haven’t really found in WoW recently. (My favourite WoW instances were Stratholme and BRD, vanilla versions.)

So for any fellow instance runners: Which are your favourites, and why?

[Links] “I wasted time and now doth time waste me”

Summer is the usual season for exciting gaming announcements about upcoming release schedules, usually made at one of the big gaming conventions such as E3 or Gamescom. It is less usual for large MMO releases to take place over the summer, which is traditionally the low season (due to players being outside or on holiday). 2012 breaks with that schedule smartly, with The Secret World (TSW) in headstart for a release this week, and Arenanet announcing an end of August release for Guild Wars 2.

Bloggers have been very positive about TSW, finding it substantially different in pace, setting, and playing style to more DIKU based MMOs (yeah one day I’ll write something about MUD codebases and why DIKU tends to spawn different types of games than Godwars or Circle).

Windsoar writes about how a game’s setting affects the way he plays. He gives a good example of LOTRO as a slower paced game than WoW, where he is more inclined to run around the map than to mount up and use a horse. LOTRO is a slower paced game in many ways, and I personally always finds it takes a session or two to get myself back into that headset which doesn’t automatically get frustrated if a quest takes more than 10 mins from start to completion. Windsoar also ponders how his playing style in LOTRO might change if he decided that it was his main game and not just a casual ‘stepchild.’

“LoTRO is a stepchild in my gaming time. I pick it up and drop it off, much more like a console game than my main MMO. I’m not max level,  I have yet to see all the content, and who knows if I’ll even be max level when the next expansion rolls around. I’m in a guild. They didn’t even kick me during my extended hiatus. I think they have some guild stuff they do when they feel like it, but that’s not my role. I show up, I hang out, and I grats people when they announce they leveled up their 3rd bard.”

I compare this with how people are playing TSW because I’m picking up a sense that it also is slower paced than other more familiar MMOs.

Xintia helps people to figure out, “Is The Secret World for you?”

Stabs finds it a fun game to dive into and just learn to play by playing. Which is an interesting perspective from someone who is usually way more hardcore a player than I am.

“… not having much idea about anything it’s quite soothing to be eased into a slower pace more exploratory frame of mind.”

Syp comments that he has a good feeling about the game, and lists out some of his favourite and least favourite features.

“I’ve spent maybe five hours in the game so far, and have come away charmed by a very different type of MMO experience.  I think “different” is good in TSW’s case, because even if it relegates to a permanent niche status, at least it’s hard to label as a copycat of anything else.  It’s just kind of its own beast, and it takes a large mental shift to get into the game’s desired groove.”

Pete at Dragonchasers has been enjoying the ambiance in TSW also.

What I’ve been reading

Entombed writes at Divinity’s Reach about whether you need to be in a guild to play GW2 and concludes that you probably don’t, at least not for any of the mechanical reasons players usually join guilds for. That has some implications for in game communities, and this could turn out to be one of the least sociable MMOs ever created if that is the case. For some players, that could be a big selling point.

I’ll reiterate the question, are guilds needed in Guild Wars 2? If you are in the majority of players that cares about seeing all of the content, having fun, but not necessarily being the best in the world. Then my answer is no, but they can help you create and form groups for specific content.

MMO Gamer Chick writes about how her MMO playing pattern has shifted from sticking to one game for a long run to “MMO hopping.”

I think while the MMO playerbase has grown, it has not grown anywhere near fast enough to keep up with the rate the new games are being pumped into the market. Obviously, we can’t play all these games at the same time. The result is a chunk of the population that goes from game to game, leaving a game once the new car smell has worn off to check out the next big thing.

Do games get hyped more these days? Tobold feels that blogging against the hype cycle attracts a lot of angry comments, even though people (or at least regular MMO blog readers) must know the cycle by now: There is an extremely predictable news cycle for every new MMORPG, with early hype always being followed by disappointment, and then the game not being mentioned at all any more.

Liore discusses the hype cycle too and why she’s trying to opt out of it by sticking to one game for a year.

… the hype cycle we have now.. despite my happily participating in it on many occasions, I’m not sure it’s healthy for the playerbase. It creates this culture of animosity, and always jumping around trying to find the greenest virtual grass.

Bree blogs about Hi-Rez Studios insistence (to the point of rudeness) of keeping Hindu deities in their mythological themed MOBA. Apparently including Jesus was considered too risque though. She wonders why Jesus or Moses couldn’t make it into the game. I’d have thought throwing in a few archangels and demons from Judeo/Christian mythology, rather than prophets, would fit quite well into a game called SMITE myself. Ultimately, mythological characters are generally out of copyright, and some genres like JRPGs tend to use world mythology as a grab bag (remember Shiva in Final Fantasy) without attracting much comment. It’s the rudeness of the response that is the more newsworthy item here.

Melmoth presents the 16 rules of altitis in MMOs.

Shintar, having expressed her concerns about SWTOR server transfer, made the leap and describes her first night on the new server.

Targeter discusses patch 1.3 in SWTOR with the new group finder, noting that this is a systems patch and doesn’t contain any new content. I’ll add some of my experiences later this week.

The Grumpy Elf presents a series of 5 posts discussing problems facing a new player in WoW. He sounds quite pessimistic, and I don’t think these experiences will be universal. But none of them will be surprising to a more experienced player. They are all things that COULD happen.

First time in a battleground, unless they pick up really fast it is going to take a new player some time to understand the concept of how the battle is done.  If they do anything wrong, someone in this wonderful community will be so kind as to point out that they are a noob, a retard, a moron, and the worst player they have ever seen.

M at Killing ‘em Slowly discusses social games and how they seem to have a constant stream of new content.

I’m sure this is a completely unfair comparison. Apples to Snapples, if you will. Still, it was a thought I had as I was looking at my CastleVille quest log. I’ll exhaust the novelty of the gameplay long before I run out of quests. When was the last time that happened to me in an MMO? Ever? I can’t say that I rightly know.

Belghast explains why he’s back in WoW after a long break.

Syl links to many posts written by bloggers responding to her invitation to explain “How has WoW changed you?”

Boatorious explains why he’s done with Diablo 3.

Ryan Shwayder discusses Sandbox PvP MMOs and why there aren’t many around other than EVE.

To see why they haven’t generally worked out, let’s briefly examine what makes them so fun: Dominating other players, doing almost anything you want to do, exploiting, holding territory, griefing, taking things from other players… in short, the Wild West. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Well, it is fun as long as you’re one of the people doing those things to other people instead of having them done to you.