And suddenly … combat!

I have noticed in MMOs these days, it is quite common in cut scenes or instances for devs to think it would be cool to have the character/s ambushed, or have an NPC you are talking to suddenly attack. For sure, it is cool and dramatic to be attacked out of nowhere, but depending on class you can be at a disadvantage if you can’t use your opening move. I noticed this a lot in SWTOR, for example.

In other words, there are two types of MMO character classes.

  1. Those who prefer to set up their combat in advance.
  2. Those who can just whale in.

For example, any class that relies on stealth or crowd control (where the stealth or crowd control has to be applied before you get into combat), or has a move like charge (nb. you can now charge in combat, they changed it because it was annoying) where you get some extra damage and resources if you use it to enter combat would be type 1. Any class who starts on full resources (like a full mana bar), can use CC in combat/or and doesn’t have a special move with which to enter combat would be type 2.

Open world solo PvE is typically much friendlier to type 1 classes, where you are  in control of when the combat begins so you can take your time to set things up.  (SWTOR does this a lot too, so I can’t really fault Bioware for not being even handed.) For sure, people complain about lack of immersion when mobs are standing around in small groups waiting to be pulled and killed, but it’s great if you are trying to sneak up on them and CC one before backstabbing one of the others.

I also remember liking the old solo crafting instances in LOTRO (they are in Moria) with my burglar because I had all the time in the world to sneak through, pay attention to patrols, and carefully set up every fight. It was fun and quite engaging, given that the instances themselves weren’t too exciting. You see this playing style also when people are soloing high level instances in WoW, where you need to plan out every pull.

Truth is, I kind of like the excitement of having mobs jump out at me. Even if I’m on a class that would prefer to control the start of the fight, it’s a fun challenge to figure things out on the fly and see how good your survival instincts really are. (Obv if I was a PvP player this would be more de rigeur).

What I don’t like so much are mobs like the challengers at the temple of the red crane (WoW) where you first talk to them, then there is a 5s wait, and then they suddenly enter combat and attack you. I wish they either went red instantly or else allowed enough time for you to back off and get out of range before they go aggro, so that you can then use your combat setups.

Does easier content make for friendlier MMO communities?

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A pretty WoW screenshot, being able to fly does give you a good choice for perspectives

It has become a truism in MMOs that behaviour in random pick up groups can be really atrocious. There will be elitist jerks urging everyone to gogogo, pulling extra packs of trash mobs themselves if they think the group isn’t moving fast enough, there will be people acting like idiots purely to annoy the rest of the group, there will be insults, aggression, rage quits,  intolerance towards newbies. It’s like a war out there, put on your kneepads and body armour before venturing into LFG!

It’s also widely held that smaller, more coherent communities tend to be nicer to each other. I’m not so sure this is always true, but guild groups certainly tend to be nicer and more successful because of being willing to work together.

And yet, while I’ve been running at least one heroic a day in WoW, and LFR raids every week too, I just haven’t seen much of the horrible behaviour that gives PUGs such a bad name. The worst I’ve really seen is people leaving the group mid-instance, possibly even mid-pull (which is bad behaviour, yes), and a bit of frustration on raid/party chat which is as often countered by people telling the speaker to chill. It isn’t just that I’m on a more chilled out RP server because LFG/LFR is cross server. Although the world boss groups (Sha of Anger et al) on my server have tended to be particularly chilled out and willing to welcome any warm body who is able to help, even when people are annoyed at being beaten to the pull by Alliance – which happens reasonably often because they outnumber us on the server.

So while it’s not possible to change human nature, I think PUGs have become nicer in MoP than they were in Cataclysm. While this isn’t great for having funny ‘it came from the PUG’ stories to relate in blog posts, it probably does mean that the player base in general is having more fun (where being in aggressive LFGs counts as less fun). The only factors I can put this down to are:

  • People who left because they didn’t like pandas were some of the really annoying folks so the game is nicer without them (I don’t really see why this would be the case but you never know)
  • The instances and LFR are generally easier in MoP and less dependent on every individual performing well. Easier content means that there’s less stress on a group. If people just settle down, chances are they’ll get through it in reasonable time.
  • Less odd trash pulls which need specific tactics (Shado-Pan excepted). If you are looking up instance tactics, they tend to focus on boss fights so making these the main content in instances means there is less for new players to learn.
  • The more hardcore players are still motivated to do regular LFG/ LFR for the tokens, but less gated by inexperienced/ bad players. ie. If you are a decent dps player, chances are you can pull a group through a heroic even if the other two dps get themselves locked out of fights, die in the fires, etc.

I also think Blizzard has done a good job of making the boss fights generally fun, even though the group difficulty is a bit lower. There’s lots of movement, add switching, things to dodge, and all the other stuff that generally switches games up from pure tank and spank fights.

But really, random groups need easier content to make up for the fact that they won’t have as much experience at working together, are less likely to communicate, and are likely to contain players of widely differing skill and experience levels. We’ve seen this in the GW2 dynamic events also – they’re easy, and there’s no group size limits, so any warm body is welcome. I am glad Blizzard have twigged this, because their group content is one of the strong points of WoW and making PUGs more fun for everyone (newbies and hardcore alike) is a huge win for the game.

Bashiok actually says as much on the official forums:

While you may go in with a ((random)) group and all learn something, that a specific mob needs to be CC’d, or a certain boss behavior to avoid a wipe, those lessons are more than likely out the window with the next group you’re matched with ((…)) and most people don’t want to spend every run waiting for everyone else to learn all those same lessons. That can just be a frustrating experience. So instead of trying to force a group of strangers to be so heavily coordinated (maybe even having to jump into voice chat) just to complete the first steps of progression, we reduce the complexity to a point where the random groups that are being put together can most of the time be successful without needing to be hyper-organized or educated on each pull. Instead, that organization is far more important for the organized content where random people aren’t matched together: normal and Heroic raids.

Do you think the WoW community has become more pleasant in PUGs in this expansion?

[Links] Gaming ethics, Trolling trolls troll each other, and flimsy excuses to post a cute red panda picture

redpanda

via ogwen@Flickr

It seems that Mists of Pandaria is off to a generally well received start, aside from people who are finding the reputations/dailies heavy going when they just want to get into the raids, and apparently the review scores on Metacritic. My hope for the next expansion is that it features another race/zone/mechanic which gives all the gaming blogs excuses to post cute animal pictures. Blizzard, if you’re listening, how about sentient sea otters?

It is becoming clearer that Blizzard have taken the whole concept of ‘story’ on board and are planning to railroad everyone through the MoP storyline, whether they like it or not. Initial patch notes for 5.1 (on the test realm) include insights into the progression of the faction war, and Wrathion’s legendary questline. (Surely nothing can go wrong with us PCs following the instructions of a black dragon.) I’m not sure if this is more linear than SWTOR’s take on story but since it updates the entire continent on every patch, it might be. I think it sounds kind of cool because it is so different, but I’m also glad to be playing other more classic MMOs like GW2 (I know, sounds odd to call it more classic, but there you go) for my ‘wander around under your own steam’ fix.

I went to the Eurogamer Expo at the end of September, an event which seems to get larger and better organised every year. Although first impressions were that every new game coming out was a shooter, I think this was biased by the fact they just seem louder and to take up more floorspace and screens than the other genres. In fact, this year is shaping up to be a gaming classic, with new games coming out in just about every genre … except MMOs. At first glance, Assassin’s Creed 3 particularly caught my eye, because it’s gorgeous. I was reminded of Uncharted 2. I’ve also heard good things about Borderlands 2 (which has made very strong sales) and XCOM, and FIFA 13 (a genre which regularly sells strongly over here) sold millions in it’s first week. The UK figures show it selling a million copies here in the first week, a feat which only FPS games have previously done (MW2, MW3, CODBLOPS).

Why does that matter? It shows the industry (and the audience) is opening up a bit from the FPS domination of the last few years, IMO.

The game which most caught my eye as being different was The Unfinished Swan where you are exploring a blank white area with only a paint gun to help you discover the world. The graphics are stunning, check out the video. And it’s going to be launched in Europe on 24th Oct this year.

In other news, more senior staff have left Bioware, Black Prophecy closes down, Pirates 101 enters Head Start, and Zynga shares continue to plummet.

LOTRO ‘s next expansion “Riders of Rohan” is due to release next week (15th Oct), and the next upcoming SWTOR patch is going to give players the ability to acquire an HK-51 assassination droid of their own.

Gaming Ethics

At the GDC (Games Developers Conference) there seems to have been more interest in ethics in gaming.  Gamasutra cover the panel on ethics in game design via some choice quotes, which is perhaps not the best way to accurately sum up a panel. Nik Davidson (Amazon) in particular makes some strong points, though.

We’re saying our market is suckers — we’re going to cast a net that catches as many mentally ill people as we can!”

It might be cynical to wonder if Zynga’s public failures have now meant it’s OK to discuss the ethics of F2P, whereas before it was more likely to be seen as the saviour of the industry and any criticism from industry insiders meant that they wanted to see fellow devs lose their jobs (or something). But players and gaming bloggers have been wondering about the ethics of F2P for some time, so none of this will come as a surprise.

That isn’t to say it cannot ever be ethical (or at least as ethical as any other way to sell a game, particularly an ongoing persistent world type game), it’s just increasingly difficult for anyone to think of successful examples of F2P games (either ethical or not) that have stood the test of time.

Another Gamasutra post has a video of a talk from the EU GDC touches on the monetisation of Chinese F2P MMOs. Tami Baribeau sums it up neatly in a blog post. If this is the future, then it doesn’t sound very pleasant. But the basics are LOTS of leaderboards, huge launches, lots of game launches, masses of events, embracing “pay to win”, and poor retention.

Psigoda mentions that what the Chinese browser game designers get excited about is creating epic “monetization pits” where players can spend thousands of dollars without finishing the game or reaching max level.  We simply don’t think that way here in the U.S., and I honestly don’t think our gamer market is ready for games with that design.  ((…)) We still tend to feel that we need to have a compelling and fun game design that supports  great monetization rather than the opposite.

Imagine.

Trolls and Anonymity

One of the ‘big’ stories on the internet this week is about the ‘outing’ (or doxxing) of a sleazy reddit superuser by a reporter from Gawker. This has opened up a whole slew of discussions about anonymity and freedom of speech. I maintain that the only smart forums to hang out on are moderated ones and that if your argument for free speech means you regularly end up defending people who post pictures of underage girls that were taken without their consent then maybe you need to revise your argument because these people are utter creeps and have abused their anonymity for too long already. Perhaps the answer is to let the trolls out each other, but that kind of mob rule isn’t really any better.

Meanwhile, it has made me think hard about why we just accept that some parts of the internet (including gaming parts, that relate to my hobby!) are misogynistic cesspits and that ‘freedom of speech’ means we should just live with the net being so unfriendly to women. I don’t buy it. What I think is that it’s not an accident that many of the early power users were dodgy porn mongers (remember ‘the internet is for porn’?), and they deliberately used their status in online communities to shape what was seen as normal and accepted in those communities, AND to shape the online debate about freedom of speech and anonymity. And yes, they did tend to hate and objectify women. (This is not a screed against porn, but there is a certain type of user.)

Reddit is such a mixed bag, including some of the dodgiest cesspits on the internet as well as some of the best examples of online collaboration. But if they cannot delete their own trolls (and in fact let some of them become admins) then they’re not ready for a wider audience. It’s interesting also to note that Reddit founders originally welcomed the trolls and their sleazy porno subreddits because they helped build the site up. It reminds me strongly of Zynga’s reputation for doing all manner of dodgy ethical deals when they were building up their business.

Clearly profit trumps business ethics and any manager worth his salt will happily toss the privacy of a few underage girls under the bus if it brings them a few power users and their hordes of sleazy hangers on. If the net communities cannot manage their own trash then don’t be surprised if the much vaunted freedoms of speech do eventually come under threat. Ultimately, it’s down to all of us who use these communities to speak up against the trolls, even when it involves pissing off power users and their fans.

More links: GW2 and more

As people get to max level in GW2, I am reading more complaints about the max level content. It isn’t really correct to refer to this as endgame, because you can do what you like in GW2. But there is a theme to these comments.

Zubon discusses the Ruined City of Arah.

It is probably the worst instance I have ever run, second only to the collective, multi-hour pain of the City of Heroes Shadow Shard task forces that spanned entire zones.

Entombed writes at Divinity’s Reach about annoyances and other bothers with GW2. This is an exploration of the various ‘endgame’ options at the moment, and discussion of why none of them really works.

And the personal story.  Oh the personal story.  Something that was ultimately just empty promises.  Will NPC’s actually care about you now if you re-enter your personal instance?  We were promised this repeatedly leading up to launch.  I can walk into my instance and see nothing of value and certainly no NPCs that I remember or that remember me.  Will my choices matter?  No.

Dusty Monk discusses some of the strong and weak parts of GW2, a game he still loves playing. And he also takes issue with the personal story.

I’m at level 72 or so in my personal story, and am quite honestly completely uninterested in finishing it.

Azuriel also finds his enthusiasm ebbing, although disagrees with Zubon about the worst dungeon.

… dungeons were the one bright spot when it came to enjoying playing my character, even if the specific dungeons I have played thus far have been fairly bad; Caudecus’s Manor in particular is the worst designed dungeon in any MMO I have ever played.

Since my Mesmer just hit 65 with lots of pauses to go play Pandaria, I haven’t touched on many of these issues myself. Although the one instance we did wasn’t really all that fun. However, maybe that turns out for the best, because Arenanet has lots of new content planned and a Halloween event, so not being burned out on the ‘endgame’ might be a good thing. It may be that GW2 simply isn’t a game that suits the grind-100-hrs-for-a-1%-bonus hardcore as well as it suits the more relaxed player, but that doesn’t really excuse Arenanet for messing up the last story boss in the game or making the dungeons an exercise in tedium.

But I enjoy my time in the game a lot, even more so with friends around.

In other news:

Shintar finds that hunting datacrons in SWTOR can be really fun with friends.

I’ve experienced strangers being willing to jump through various hoops purely to show someone a datacron as well. There is clearly a certain appeal to the feeling that you’re sharing “secret” knowledge with someone, even if you’ve got nothing tangible to gain from the experience yourself. Being on the receiving end of this kind of sharing isn’t half bad either, as it makes you perceive other players as helpful and promotes community.

Beruthiel ponders what makes healing fun in MMOs.

Tipa posts about her experiences with Pirates 101, a game I’m looking forwards to trying when it’s out of head start.

There has been some discussion on blogs about the notion of a ‘three month MMO’ and whether the phenomenon of a rush of players to new games and then numbers dropping massively after 1-3 months is down to the game design or changes in player expectations. Liore is squarely in the latter camp, and argues that it’s all down to the player.

The dream of Elite Online is not dead, Chris Roberts (designer of Wing Commander) is crowd funding a new space combat MMO called Star Citizen.

Redbeard ponders how playing a rogue in WoW makes him act like all the rogues he used to hate.

I can’t count the number of times I’d been ganked by a Rogue while in that BG, swearing that if I ever decided to start a Rogue I’d never do any of this stuff.  And yet there I was, roaming around in the rez zone, waiting for toons to respawn so I could gank them before they could buff themselves.

Oestrus writes about her decision to stop playing as a hardcore raider in WoW.

Chris at Game by Night is surprised at how outraged PvE players get if they feel they have to do PvP to get gear for raids.

Is it so terrible that there could be more raiders and more PvPers to fill out your teams? Give me one good reason why. And please make sure it’s not related to your ego. Thanks.

Grumpy Elf explains why he thinks the best time to raid in random LFR raid groups in WoW is on the first few days that they are released. He clearly didn’t experience my group (but somehow we did make it through, an indication of the lack of difficulty I think Smile ).

[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.

[Thought of the Day] On attunements and queues in group finders

Just in case anyone doesn’t know the term, an attunement is an archaic MMO term associated with a (possibly complex) quest that a player had to complete in order to be able to enter a specific raid or instance. ie. as well as finding a raid to take them. In these days of accessibility and raid finders, they’re largely obsolete.

Attunements have also been A TOPIC in the blogosphere lately.

There are three things that made MMO attunements so incredibly frustrating in the past:

  1. Lack of LFG. (Part of the hassle of getting attunements like Onyxia and BT done in WoW was down to getting instance groups.)
  2. Pointlessly random elements. (Remember the UBRS key in vanilla WoW? Based on rare random drops.)
  3. Confusion as to whether it was the players’ responsibility or the guild’s responsibility to get people attuned.

I  think if vanilla/ TBC WoW had a group finder, people would have been way less stressed about the group stages of attunements.

The reason attunements will not return is that the random group finder demands to be fed a constant stream of willing players, as many as possible. That means you never want to restrict the number of people queueing unless you absolutely have no choice. WoW doesn’t even want to make people locate the dungeon instance before they are able to queue for it because some players found that sufficient of a barrier to harm the queueing times. So remember this when you hear anyone suggest tweaks to the group finder that would result in fewer people queueing (like more stringent gear/ spec checks, or attunement checks); they won’t happen.

This is one of the ways in which group finders have changed the game. I would say for the worse because the experience of completing an attunement and gaining access to cool new content was quite an interesting and MMO specific playstyle.

[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.

The evolution of LFG groups

Today SWTOR is updating with patch 1.3, which will include a LFG (looking for group)  functionality. That means if you want to find a group for a flashpoint/instance, you will be able to bring up the LFG tool and select your chosen destination and the roles you are willing to fill in a group (ie. tank, healer, dps) and the request will enter a queue. When the group is ready, you’ll be notified and will be able to jump into your new shiny pick-up group to complete the instance. (You can still also use the old fashioned method of putting the group together yourself via friends list/ guild/ general chat.)

A lot of MMO players feel that this type of group-creator tool is now mandatory in any game which contains group content. That is an indication of how popular these tools have been in WoW and other games which offer the facility. It could also be argued that battlegrounds also have this functionality, where you queue separately and are placed in a random group when the instance comes up. So it seems like a good time to evaluate how random groups are doing in WoW, partly because I’ve seen a couple of posts come up on my reader over the last week that suggest that people are having issues.

First thing to note is this– The general idea with the random group finder is:

  • It should be quicker to find a group this way than by other methods, and also less hassle. This assumes a lot of people are queueing and with a decent mix of class roles, so that the maximum time you have to wait for your instance is reasonable. Also some people have an aversion to talking to anyone else in game so this way they can group without ever having to do so.
  • Playing with a random selection of people means you’ll end up with a mix of player skill/knowledge in the group but should hopefully be good enough for everyone to complete the instance. That is to say: you can’t be too fussy if you voluntarily sign up for a random group, but the mix should be manageable.
Since WoW introduced LFG (in Wrath) the way people use the tool has changed, depending on the position in the patch cycle and difficulty of the instances. I remember when it first came in I had a new level 80 Deathknight and threw myself into LFG to gear her up, and it was amazing. The groups just zipped up, most of the players were decent (or at least the instances were easy which made everyone look decent) and the gear and tokens flew like water. People were generally happy as long as you seemed to be actively helping the group and it was viewed as a great success.
Later Blizzard added extra inducements to players to queue, in the form of a group buff and extra rewards for whichever role was the most in demand in the queue at the time — usually tanks but occasionally healers. My experiences with using LFG were occasionally amusingly bad, but generally worked out well. Some groups were a bit rubbish but the vast majority were fine. Players in general started to feel more stressed in LFG groups as some of the hardcore players weren’t tolerant of people who didn’t play at their level, wanted speed runs, and criticised other people’s performance even when it was perfectly adequate for the instance. (ie. somehow they forgot that random means random.) So on the whole things were working out well, even though tanks and healers in particular were feeling the strain of expectations, and dps were beginning to be quite judged on their dps.
Getting that mix of experienced and inexperienced players into the queueing system means that both sets of players need to have an incentive to grind instances. Typically this has been extra tokens and the lure of a short queue and fast run. At the beginning of an expansion or after a new patch, everyone is after tokens so the queue is populated and there are plenty of good players to pad out the mix. (This is both good and bad, because some of them are elitists who ruin other people’s experience with their unreasonable expectations.) But right now, at the tail end of a WoW expansion, experienced endgame players are not very incentivised.
WoW did also convert the daily LFG bonuses into weekly bonuses, where instead of getting a bonus for the first LFG you run per day, there are seven bonus LFG runs per week so if you want to log in on Wednesday night and do seven runs, you can get your weekly bonus in a lump. This may well have incentivised hardcore players to do this very thing rather than spreading their LFG queuing more evenly across the week. So it could be that if you are unlucky enough to be queueing at the end of the week, you are more likely to end up with a bunch of worse players. I don’t know if that’s the case, I’m not in WoW at the moment so can’t test it. But it is possible, and would mean that Blizzard had sabotaged their own LFG system and forgotten that the primary need is to keep a variety of players in the queue at all times.

The Grumpy Elf and Stubborn both report recent experiences with very poorly performing PUGs in WoW. If random players are queueing evenly, this probably shouldn’t happen because you should generally get a mix of good and poor players.

My usual reaction would be “You chose to queue for a random group, don’t complain if the random players you got were rubbish,” but if this is more than a few isolated experiences and has become a trend, it may speak to something more systematic in the player base. As well as hardcore players having no incentive to queue, what would make other players actively not care about trying to play well. Or just adequately. For example, my experiences in PUGs in SWTOR where none of us really knew what we were doing were still positive, the groups worked together to try to figure things out. There were enough MMO dinos to explain concepts around tanking and healing to people and the instances were mostly tuned so that we could manage them.

So what would make players actively ignore this in favour of just running off and hitting random stuff? Could be that they’re kids. (This may be a bit unfair to kids but we don’t really expect them to know how to play nice with others if they haven’t been shown — or in other words “blame the parents.”) Could be that they’ve learned from interaction with LFG that they can do what they want. Could be they just don’t give a shit (this quite likely happens in low level or easy instances). Or is this a natural evolution of LFG functionality, that the more hardcore players will hit the queues hard at the start of a patch/ expansion but will exit the system in large numbers as soon as they have got all the goodies they need, leaving it to less experienced players? And even then, why would less experienced players be so bad? Or does that truly represent that average player who queues for LFG?

Have you experienced player quality in LFG dropping recently if you play WoW? I’m quite looking forwards to trying the new tool out in SWTOR when I get home next week, I have a fairly new level 50 Bounty Hunter healer to play around with.