Long dark winter of the MMO

It isn’t inevitable that MMO blogging dries up if a new AAA MMO hasn’t been released in the last 6 months; people will happily find things to say about their current game of choice as long as they are playing it, having fun, invested, and finding new angles. Also there is no shortage of F2P MMOs out there for people to try, as well as offshoots from the genre like Glitch and some of the Facebook games. But it is true that new players or new games give a shot in the arm to the whole debate — and when the whole debate starts to look tired and moribund, that would be a nice thing to have.

One of the RPGs I used to play was called Ars Magica (AM), and it’s a cult classic of the tabletop world. A game all about playing mages and their sidekicks in a ‘realistic’ fantasy version of medieval europe. One of the cool ideas that AM brought to the table was that for any covenant of magi (it’s their word for a group, including the building they live in and surrounding area) there is a cycle over the lifespan, which they base on seasons.

  • Spring: everything is new, the covenant is likely to be weak, it has few resources but lots of potential
  • Summer: covenant comes to its full strength, everything is going well, the future looks rosy
  • Autumn: covenant may be even stronger than in summer, but there are signs of stagnation, some of the people are getting older (maybe also a bit nuttier and more set in their ways), less open to new ideas and some of the younger magi will go their own way
  • Winter: the glory days are in the past. the covenant is slowly dying. the group has to try to store as much of the old knowledge as they can, in the hope that one day spring will come and it will be useful again

I always found this a very powerful metaphor (our group was a Spring covenant and although we were kind of useless, we were endlessly optimistic and up for challenging our elders – with predictable results, but it was what people expected from a spring covenant, so often got away with it.)

And as Winter is coming in real life (in the UK at any rate), it feels as though MMOs are drawing into a long Winter too. SWTOR and GW2 may be the last ever AAA MMOs as we would know them, and now more than ever it seems to me that we could be remembering lessons from the past.

Gevlon has been wondering a lot recently about raiding, today pondering why it was ever popular. He immediately discounts social explanations, but I have a longer memory than WoW and I do think the social aspect was important to a lot of people at the beginning. There were other aspects too, and there were also always hardcore groups who valued the idea of the group/ social challenge. I think that as the emphasis moves more to the individual challenge than the group challenges, it’s inevitable that hardcore raiding becomes a very minority pursuit — this also means that they really can’t assume an endless pit of new recruits to replace anyone burned out (I don’t think this was ever true except for some of the top guilds but lots of people bought into the conceit).

So actually the social challenge of top end raiding becomes greater, because keeping the raid together and avoiding burnout is absolutely key to a raid’s longevity if it can’t recruit easily to fill gaps. It will be interesting to see how raid leaders try to manage this, or whether people give up trying and shift to a more single player type of MMO.

I also think that while players do enjoy being able to do stuff without having to depend on others, it’s ultimately a fools’ game to pretend that a game based on soloing is going to be much of a virtual world simulation. iRL, we have to accept that everyone needs to both give and receive support at some point in their life and that even goblins need to realise that there are some things people will do for love or loyalty that they will not do just for money.

Do you feel that we’re entering the winter season for MMOs? Will there be a spring?

In which players start realising that making gold on the WoW AH is ultimately pointless

This is an eloquent goodbye post from Caffeine, Smokes and Auction House Fees. He writes about his journey as a player from getting interested in making gold in game to maxing out his gold reserves, and the anticlimax of realising he has nothing to spend all that gold on.

Summary for those who don’t want to read spammy Meat Loaf lyrics (look, I like Bat out of Hell as much as the next person but that doesn’t mean I want to read entire songs in blog posts.) He’s finished all his goals in WoW, which included maxing out his gold via auction house antics, and is quitting blogging about gold.

I don’t know how long a million gold will last me, but I don’t see myself being a pauper in the near future and until then I will be living off my stockpiles of mats and when that fails my gold. I hope that eventually I learn to be frivolous.

I’ll answer that question. A million gold will last all of your alts for longer than your entire future interest in the game. Well done, you’ve made more WoW gold than you could feasibly ever spend. But did you make any friends along the way, or only auction house rivals?

From comments on the post from players who have similarly made lots of gold and then gotten bored, you can see though where all the interest in gold DKP runs (where you bid for raid drops with gold) comes from. Players who have convinced themselves that the reason they make gold in game is because they’re just that much smarter than everyone else can’t bear to think that it’s a pointless endeavour. So they start inventing schemes that reward gold-makers, rather than player skill at combat. (GDKP starts to fail when the boosters don’t feel that they need the gold enough to put up with the paying newbies/ alts, incidentally.)

This is not to disrespect making gold as an in game activity. In many ways it is very egalitarian – there are many many different ways to make gold in MMOs and surely some will suit every playing style.

However this does underline a comment I made in a previous post which was that I didn’t understand why more AH junkies in WoW didn’t want to try EVE.  EVE Online is a far better and deeper economic simulation, and devs also reward those who do well at the economic game by allowing players to swap in game cash for subscription fees. So if you’re good at the markets, you can play for free.

And yet people prefer to stay with the game where they have market expertise and know exactly what sells and who buys, even when they have no need for the gold at all. But what if Blizzard decided that economic play was something they wanted to encourage, and that there should be cool but extremely expensive stuff for them to buy – for example, what if you could buy a guild house for 1 million gold?

Should WoW offer better rewards for gold makers?

The problem with offering better rewards for in game currency without requiring players to complete content is that it lures in gold farmers and gold sellers. And when I say gold farmers, I also mean account stealers.

There isn’t a good way around this other than policing gold sellers/ buyers carefully or limiting gold supplies in some way which would require even the gold farmers to play in a productive way. And the horse has bolted on the latter because even moderately casual players likely now have large gold reserves in WoW.

But aside from that, assume that there is a hypothetical way to confirm that a player got their gold legitimately by playing/ trading in game.  What if there was a whole subset of endgame which cost large amounts of gold to enter? The housing example I gave earlier might be a good one — a guild could pool together to buy a house, or a rich individual could have one of their own.

Whatever it was would need to have lots of fancy stuff to show off. We assume people with gold want people to know about it, and that means showy luxury items and ‘exciting’ shopping experiences. And yet not everyone with the drive to make gold has a similar drive to spend it. Perhaps instead what they’d want is better market-related tools — banks of NPC crafters maybe, or sell orders, or the ability to set up their own shops in capital cities and design their own goods.  But that just unbalances the market even further in their favour without really setting up a proper gold sink.

Or maybe something really offbeat like being able to pay WoW gold for improved access to developers.

You sometimes have to wonder, is this where capitalism ends too? Once people in the ultra rich class simply run out of things to buy and just keep going out of habit?

I still think there’s a lot to be said for my suggestion of resetting the gold supply after every expansion. Think of it as an inheritance tax ;)

I was right, incidentally

I don’t mean to rag on Breevok, who sounds as though he’s been through an emotional time.

But actually gold in WoW ceased to have much meaning awhile ago. I have about 40k on Spinks and I’m not even sure how – yes I occasionally sell things on the auction house but not in an organised way. I don’t even know if I can be bothered to make some of the new 365 weapons and sell those, even though she’s a blacksmith and has the recipes. I don’t need the gold. And the gold I have isn’t going to go anywhere. Why not? Well, it’s basically because I have friends and a nice social guild and there aren’t many goldsinks in WoW, and even the ones there are will ease off over time. I didn’t have to actually pay much gold for my 365 two-handed sword, I’m not the person in the market for the finished article although I did buy some of the mats.

Anyhow, I called this one back in January and suggested that if gold was reset with every expansion, it might keep economic players more interested.

Gathering gold is the only thing you can do in WoW which – so far – has been guaranteed to carry over into the next expansion. <…> Since tradeskills aren’t balanced for cash making, all this means is that anyone who leaped on a gold making scheme in one expansion may never have to worry about gold again.

Nice for them, maybe. But is it good for the game?

Which is why it’s so funny that all these so-called goblins are so quick to label more chilled out players as morons and slackers and idiots and stupid people.

Happy New Year Goblin Money Making Tip

I laughed when Arbitrary told me how she’d been making money on her goblin, and suggested this post for Markco’s gold blogging carnival just to share it. Goblins have a racial bonus that lets them get large discounts from NPC vendors …

Arb says:

“Goblin racial discount ROCKS. I offered to buy expensive components for guildmates for a percentage (I’m on a RP server, goblin greed has gone to my head, I would NEVER charge anyone for buying something from an NPC, but they played along!)”

She’s been getting a cut for helping one of our alchemists by buying expensive components for vials of the sands. He has even started advertising that he’ll arrange for a goblin to buy the components as part of the whole service ;)

[Guest Post] Adventures of Mizzi, the EXTRA SPECIAL goblin warlock

(Mizzi is a casual player, she has never raided in Wow and is exactly the sort of person Blizzard are hoping to attract with the new expansion. And she’s kindly agreed to write up some of her experiences with the Cataclysm beta.)

Entering the Beta

I was surprised to get an invite. I’m the opposite of hardcore, spent a good deal of time with a lapsed subscription, and don’t have any level 80 characters – but I am a fan of levelling so was pleasantly surprised to see the email from Blizzard inviting me to the Cataclysm beta.

Thinking twice about clicking on any emailed links, I went to the Battle.net account page and there it was – the beta had been added to my account.
It took about 40 mins to download all in all  (morning UK time) – time I spent reading through a few of the forums to think about what I would do.
I decided to start with the goblins. I am fairly sure that when Cataclysm goes live, I’ll be opting for a worgen and don’t want to ‘burn out’ on content. And so it was Mizzi the Goblin Warlock was born.

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I hadn’t read through many of the beta spoilers. I was curious but not curious enough to seek out information. I’m not going to go into many of the storyline spoilers or details of individual parts of the story but more give a general impression of a very casual player.

A good atmosphere was built from the start and to be honest, I was confused. I thought I was going to be starting shipwrecked on an island – something like the Draenai – but you actually start pre-ship wreck.
Kezan is a beautifully atmospheric town. It feels goblin. It feels industrial.

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At some points though, I felt that parts of the starting area were made for people who had played through Wrath, rather than brand new players to the game and to be honest, that may well be the point. There is a lot of the vehicle control mechanic and I am possibly the only person confused by this still.

The storyline though is easy to follow, even if you aren’t a great ‘reader of quests’. There are a lot of visuals to back things up.

There are some beautiful little details to lots of aspects of the quest-line and they manage to capture that aspect that was present in the death knight starting area that YOUR character is different from the others. You aren’t just another newly created warlock, you are Mizzi, the EXTRA SPECIAL goblin who is better and more heroic than all the rest.

You arrive in Azeroth and the story of how the goblins ally with the Horde is told with you playing a crucial (and in fact the main) role in the story. It is easy to get caught up in the feeling and there is, of course, time for a lot of the more comical quest-lines. There are chicken-related quests!

The difficulty level is pitched fairly well. Some are very straightforward – travel from one place to other types and others are needing some thought (and reading). There was one ‘find x’ quest that had me running around quite a while and actually, as I thought while I was doing the said running around, it’s quite nice not to know exactly where to go for something or have somewhere to look it up!

I hadn’t read about the changes in the talents. I was created with an imp and I think I logged about 4 or 5 bug reports about not being able to  put my demon to attack or make it defensive  – not realising this wasn’t an ability I gained until level 10. Felt a little bit stupid at that point but I’m sure (I hope!) I’m not the only one!

The way the talents work, as I’m sure most readers  here will realise (because they read more than I do!) is that you have to choose your ‘main tree’ and then won’t be able to shift into another one until 31 points have been spent. I ended up with Affliction but as I’m still only level 13, I can’t really give a good assessment of how it is.

When you choose a branch, you get a specific ‘bonus’ and for warlocks going Demonology, they get a Felguard. Sooo.. lots of Felguards running around at level 10 is all I’ll say!

The questline is very linear because it is telling a story. You can’t skip some quests you are having difficulty with if they are a part of the storyline. It reminded me in some ways of the Death knight starting area, unsurprisingly, but the phasing seems a bit slicker.

There is a definite emphasis on the character of the goblins. You are certainly  led to believe that explosions are necessary even when they are not necessary!

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There are some pleasant little touches, like the mage and warlock trainers squabbling between themselves while the rogue trainer is stealthing around which seem to be funny . The characters that you meet on Kezan turn up again throughout the introduction quests as well and they know and recognise you.

I noticed that with the Blood Elves and Draenai there was a definite and obvious upgrade in quest rewards from the other starting areas. That isn’t the case in the Cataclysm starting areas – not that I’ve found so far anyway.
There is definitely an ‘epic’ type storyline though that we are being driven along and a seeming lack of the basic kill quests.

As for now, Mizzi is exploring Azshara.  Azshara.. it isn’t quite like it used to be…

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Urban Regeneration, Goblin Style

I’m absolutely fascinated by Gevlon’s most recent project – he’s starting a new Alliance guild on one of the most faction-imbalanced PvP servers in EU WoW. There’s almost no alliance infrastructure there at all right now; dead auction house, virtually no raiding, no chance to hold Wintergrasp.

But he’s thinking on a grander scale than just building a guild in a wasteland, he wants to try to single-handedly change the faction balance to something more equitable. That’s going to involve getting more alliance players in, getting horde players to switch or move out, revitalising the local economy, sorting out some kind of realm pride and cooperation …. it may even be one of the biggest challenges possible in a server-based MMO.

Now admittedly, using twixt as your inspiration may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he’s taking a no holds barred approach to the situation.

He will be facing many of the same problems that people/ government genuinely do face in urban regeneration (albeit without the misery caused by grinding poverty when jobs dry up). It makes me wonder what virtual communities might have to teach people in the real world. For example, in a post today he comments that there will be no guild bank and he discourages people from trading items in guild chat, because by forcing them to use the auction house it helps the economy more (i.e. better to give your cash to a local business than just swap goods, even if it might be a little more expensive  for you personally.)

How would you go about trying to regenerate a ‘dead’ faction or a dying server? Would you try to get some ‘celebrity’ guilds to get in on the action and transfer over/ make an alt guild? More publicity on bigger blogs or official sites? Forcing the other faction out by creative griefing?

And if you’re interested in taking part, he’s taking all classes and specs. All you need is … I dunno really .. a commitment to annoying the horde and rebuilding a dead server, or a love of a challenge, or being with a bunch of people who want to revitalise world PvP at really poor odds.