[Links] Diablo III without PvP, ME3 Morality, Journey, LOTRO

Blizzard announced (if announced is the right word) last week that D3 will be shipping without PvP. While waiting till just before release to announce that ‘major’ game features are being dropped does smack of panic (better planning/ management would have involved making that announcement sooner), I don’t remotely see this as a bad thing.

Surely no one was planning on playing Diablo 3 because of the PvP. Were they? The whole point of that game genre is solo and group PvE. Yes, there were facilities in Diablo/ Diablo 2 to have a random punchfest but if you wanted a better PvP experience that involves loot gathering then just about any MMO would offer it. (Yes, that is a reflection on how poor Diablo PvP has been.)

So now Blizzard can get the game released sooner rather than later in a state which the VAST majority of players would have wanted, and then fix up PvP arenas later on. The great bonus though is that PvP does seem to attract the most colossal tossers (nothing personal to PvP fans, just the communities get toxic) so if any of those give D3 a pass then that’s hardly a bad thing either.

It probably will affect the auction house, though. PvP players wanting better gear for PvP without having to grind PvE for it would have been a significant market. Stabs analyses this briefly in his new D3 blog and concludes it’s not a big deal. And meanwhile, Blizzard are making the best of a non-ideal situation by being able to talk up how great the PvP will be when it does come in a later patch – arenas, achievements, matchmaking.

Meanwhile, Blizzard have a new offer for returning players to WoW which involves a free level 80 character, and also a server/ faction transfer thrown in. I have seen this touted as being a great deal, but that really depends on whether you wanted another level 80 and if you have characters scattered over servers and factions that you’d want reunited. Having said that, the Cataclysm levelling zones were quite fun if you haven’t seen them.

I think I am surprised at how popular this Scroll of Resurrection has been. Were there really that many people who hadn’t seen Cataclysm yet and really wanted to? Evidently so, or else people are using the scroll for their alt accounts (why you would need an alt account for WoW is beyond me, but whatever.)

Although let me be the first to say that the new mount that existing players who refer an old one using the SoR get looks extremely dumb when it is being ridden. Ghost fliers sound great until you realise your character will be flying around legs akimbo looking like a tit. Flaming hippogryph forever!

More links

Boatorious has issues with the ME3 morality meter. Should a hardened soldier still feel bad when s/he kills people? I would say yes, it’s basic humanity to feel bad about killing, but then I’m not Commander Shepard. Bioware’s morality choices do tend to highlight when the writer’s values conflict with the players’.

Syl blogs about Journey, the upcoming (as in ‘this week’) PS3 release from thatgamecompany. I have been jonesing to play this game since I saw it last year at conventions, so will hopefully be talking about that later this week. It was a ravishingly peaceful and beautiful demo, what can I say?

Milady watched the recent Big Bang Theory episode that features SWTOR and wants to know why female gamers are portrayed as spoiling the experience for the guys.

Turbine does seem to be dancing with the boundaries of acceptable F2P content at the moment. Player vs Developer looks at a recent feature which fixes an existing design issue … for those who are willing to pay.

If you haven’t read this yet, Apple Cider Mage posts a brave account of her experiences of being harassed in and out of WoW, and also a guide on how to deal with internet harassment.

Gevlon has unleashed himself on EVE and is posting his thoughts and tips as he learns the game. Comments on those posts by EVE vets are incredibly harsh given that he’s a new player and is picking things up quickly. (Maybe it’s his manner, but they come across as utterly despising of newbies.)

Speaking of EVE, this is a piece that The Mittani wrote comparing communities that form in game with communities that form out of game. I think I will follow this up in a later post, but it’s very much a feature of new MMOs these days that many players will be members of existing communities that met outside the game and then formed guilds to play with. It does affect the play experience, since those players have no need to form social links in game. But to more social players, forming links in game and making new friends is part of the fun of playing MMOs…

[Links] May the links be with you

Oo, it’s been ages since I wrote a links post. Let’s see what’s in the can.

For the record, I’m still enjoying SWTOR and will write a post about my experiences in the endgame sometime next week. While both Stabs and Richard Bartle comment on how unusual it feels in an MMO for the levelling part to actually feature an ending, they come to different conclusions on whether or not this works.

I’ll note only that I think the original endgame-ish model borrowed a lot from original D&D in which it was assumed the game would turn into more of a simulation/ sandbox/ war game after your character reached the dizzying heights of level 10 or so and there were originally rules for what types of settlements/ strongholds each class would build and what types of followers might be attracted to them. Bear this in mind: the MMO model was based on a game where levelling was an RPG and endgame was sandbox. This accounts for a lot of the confusion for both players and designers I think.

For what it’s worth, I subbed for 6 months. I am in fact in the habit of always taking out a 6 month sub for a new MMO that I really liked in beta/ opening month. It’s one of the ways I try to support my hobby, plus I get to explore the game without feeling rushed. Will I be in for the full 6 months? That gentle readers is a future we’ll explore together ;P

I don’t really have a good list of SWTOR blogs; if you know any good ones or want to advertise your own, feel free to mention them in comments. One SWTOR post that did catch my eye was Calli’s post on Dude, Where’s My Bantha about some patterns and issues she’s (edited: HE I mean. Sorry Calli!) noticed with the republic-side romances. Food for thought!

It’s almost as if Bioware think that everyone playing The Old Republic fantasises about being the kind of tough, strong and ruggedly handsome man that damsels in distress everywhere need to shelter them from all the ugly in the world.

I recommend Imperial Agent, a good dose of Kaliyo will clear away any of those sorts of thoughts.

What’s buzzing round the blogosphere?

Kingdoms of Amalur is released next week, and here are Tipa’s thoughts on the demo. I did briefly try the demo on the PS3 and my thoughts mostly can be summed up as “combat looks as though it’s going to be fun and engaging, the world and story didn’t really grab me.” So if you want an open world fantasy type game with engaging combat, roll a coin. If it’s heads get Amalur, tails get Final Fantasy 13-2. (I’m still looking forwards to Dragon’s Dogma, though.)

Zubon doesn’t like games that have achievements that can only be completed at certain points in the game, so if you miss the right time, you can’t go back later and do it. Good discussion in comments here between people like me who think achievements are just a bit of fluff and fun and not to be taken too seriously, and more achiever/ completionist players.

Keen talks about sandbox games, and particularly some of the design notes that Goblinworks have been putting out about their upcoming (although probably not any time soon) Pathfinder fantasy sandbox game. They’ve been discussing links between PvP, trading/ economy, and resources/ building in a sandbox world. There is more to sandboxes than just giant economic-war simulations though, and it would be nice to see sandbox games experiment more with the sorts of social challenges that featured in Tale in the Desert. Or anything that would encourage players to build working in game communities rather than always be focussed on in-game profit and achievements.

Brian at wasdstomp gaming wonders why in F2P games, he always buys a bundle of points just before he gets bored of the game, so ends up not spending them.

F2P games have been in the news again, with Star Trek Online and SOE announcing that Everquest will be taking the plunge in March. Aion is due to go F2P soonish (in the EU at least), and Rift now offers the first 20 levels free. Anyone planning on taking up any of those? Everquest F2P hold any interest for anyone who didn’t fancy it before?

Scott Andrews at WoW Insider discusses the current (dying) state of 25 man raid guilds in WoW. Syl at Raging Monkeys has a thoughtful look at social control in MMOs and how WoW players have been getting streamlined over the years into small groups of similar ability.

I don’t wish to be in a guild where every person is exactly like me <…> Nor do I mind slower learners or players who simply fail at the odd mechanic <…>  – as long as you can compensate for them somehow during specific encounters.

Zynga has been in the news recently following accusations that they cloned/ copied another game (Tiny Tower). This wouldn’t be the first time for Zynga, whose big hit Farmville was also ‘strongly inspired’ by another similar game. Brian Reynolds (Zynga’s head of design) discusses copycats and cloning on Gamasutra, but only if they don’t ask about Tiny Tower :) Tadhg at What Games Are shares his thoughts on how you can tell if a game is a clone, and what to do about it (if you are the designer of the cloned game.)

Sente reflects on how difficult it can be to remember how to play a game if you return after a few months, and wonders what MMO devs in particular could do to help.

[Gaming Links] What everyone says about everything!

Back in the day we used to walk uphill both ways to raids in the snow AND we enjoyed it!

Syncaine claims that his guild wiped over 400 times in AQ40 in Vanilla WoW, and he enjoyed every minute of it, dammit!

I’m in the happy situation (for the purposes of being able to make a point ;) ) of having also raided AQ40 and Naxx in a 40 man raid guild in vanilla and there were many many things I enjoyed about that style of gaming. But I don’t think we wiped that many times, and certainly not on any single boss, and here is the reason. We couldn’t extend the raid locks back then. Every raid reset every week. So there was an actual limit of how much time you could spend wiping on a single boss. And in AQ40 in particular, it took ages to run back after a wipe. Oh and trash respawned after a couple of hours (I think that was the respawn time).

Anyhow I don’t want to get hung up on number of wipes. One of the differences between Olde Worlde raiding and new fangled raiding was that we did expect to spend a few weeks on each new boss, that was our normal situation. And that would involve a lot of wipes and learning. It’s just that because of the raid locks, you would also be interspersing this with farm raids. So the time you spent in your raids was a mixture of hard, frustrating wipes, and chilling out on older content, plus taking longer to get back after a wipe was also time to chat.

I don’t think even the hardest core raider is going to enjoy 400 wipes BACK TO BACK, especially when each wipe comes from a single mistake or unlucky random event after 10 minutes of demanding fighting.  That’s maybe the key to endgame content.

Just one more quote from Syncaine:

And yes, at one point, between managing the guild, running raids, carrying ‘bads’, and main-tanking, it got a little much. But in all honesty, that was my fault.

If he were the only person who burned out for that reason then maybe it’s purely his fault. But a lot of people came out of vanilla WoW raiding and decided that it had been too much. I felt the same. Some of that comes down to the game.

Perhaps part of the definition of a newly hardcore hobbyist of any stripe is that they struggle to set boundaries on how much of their life they want to give over to the hobby. Maybe the experience of being a bit too hardcore for your own comfort is an important one for learning to set your own boundaries, I know it was for me.

(It’s the same reason as to why sometimes new graduates work crazy long hours and put up with awful conditions at work and then burn out where an older worker would not.)

That’s a good question!

Ratshag wonders why Blizzard always create the male models for new races first. What would be so bad about starting with the female model next time and using that as the baseline?

Azuriel opines that if MMOs are intended to be social games, it should be easier to find like minded players. Truth is, a lot of us fell into our current guilds or in-game social networks via a set of happy accidents. There might be a better way … why aren’t devs trying to find it instead of just going the solo route?

Oestrus asks why anyone thinks it’s a problem that WoW players could sell lion cub pets for in game gold? Who exactly is hurt by this?

Fulguralis asks whether readers are planning on taking Blizzard up on their annual pass.

Let me know what you think… not about why they’re doing this, but rather, if taken on face value, who this is for.  Who will it sway?  Who will it remain unmoved?

Food for thought

Wasdstomp is having a great time with Dragon Nest and wonders if other game companies are taking notes. Anyone else playing that?

Cassandri of HoTs and DoTs reflects on her experience of running instances in normal and heroic mode as a new 85.

I’m tired of feeling like I’m not good enough, or somehow am the weakest part of the team, somehow dragging down the run into something slow or hopeless or pathetic. I hate feeling as though I need to be carried. Feeling as though I am being carried.

OK, so the press embargo on SWTOR beta testers is now gone. Ask a Jedi has a great set of links from around the net with some feedback. But why exactly does the press embargo have to drop before the player embargo? I’m tired of hearing that players won’t be neutral – that’s why I want to read their accounts!

Dusty Monk writes a comprehensive review of the F2P version of City of Heroes, particularly aimed at people who played in the past and are considering coming back. (I think given that it’s free, you might as well give it a shot and decide for yourself). Silverspar has been playing City of Heroes, and isn’t happy with the amount of content offered to the hero faction as opposed to the villain one.

Alas writes offers some feedback on what she(?) feels is missing in Blizzard’s current approach to raids, based on what went well in the past. As a commenter notes, this could be an example of how it’s just not possible to please all of the people all of the time. But the example of Karazhan is still a compelling one, and Alas isn’t the only person who would offer that as an example of raiding done right.

Dungeon Crawl recently removed mountain dwarves from their list of playable species. Naturally, this sparked a long and controversial comment thread.

Ask a Jedi (and yes, they get two links this time around!) wonders if being part of a guild in a MMO can teach players something useful about getting involved with their communities and local politics in real life.

[Links] Facebook games, immersion in films, other links from this week

tinker-tailor-soldier-spy-poster-gary-oldman

Happy Sunday. This is where I make a spurious link between something I have done this week and computer games, before linking to some better pieces of writing from other people.

The new film version of Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy (TTSS) was released this week in the UK. And since it’s been getting rave reviews, we went to see it. This was always going to be a tricky film to make because everyone compares it to the iconic 1970s TV series. If you read any reviews, there’s a 95% chance someone compares Gary Oldman’s performance to Alec Guiness. But truth is, there only a certain number of ways to play George Smiley and everyone thinks Guiness absolutely nailed it.

You can compare this to the challenge of making a sequel to a much loved game, or an expansion to an MMO. People want to see all the things they loved about the original, but they want them to be new and fresh too. They want the NPCs to hit all the beats they remember, but still to have a continuing storyline. TTSS performs the miracle of translating a book that had enough content to fuel a whole TV series into a single film without feeling that any key information to the plot was missing. To do this, actors, writers, cinematography and director use a phenomenal amount of economy with their acting, shots, scenes, and writing. Smiley is a hard character to pin because he’s written as someone quiet, introvert and understated, but who also feels things very strongly. If you go see the film, just watch how Gary Oldman portrays that with each single pose or shrug of his shoulders. You don’t hear the internal monologue but you know it’s there. So when he does raise his voice – for one sentence, in one scene – it’s arresting.

The other game related thought about the film is how incredibly immersive it is. For the whole duration, you are there in their world of browns, greys, beiges, cigarette smoke, and half full whisky bottles. Every detail is perfect. And none of it is thrown in your face.

I  think that as gamers, we do appreciate how important details are in making our game worlds sublime, immersive experiences. I’ve seen so many joyful blogs written about small details in game worlds that implied untold stories or thrilled the blogger. In fact, this probably plays a larger part than pure gameplay mechanics in ‘immersiveness’. But will a dev that counts only metrics of how many times each player completed each achievement ever really see the contribution that immersiveness makes to how long players WANT to spend in their game worlds? It’s not clear, but it all goes towards those nebulous notions of quality and gameworld realism which can make these games so special.

So how are Facebook Games doing these days?

An interesting milestone in facebook gaming was passed recently. Sims Social passed Farmville in numbers of daily players, which is probably good for making EA shareholders feel like buying social gaming companies was a good investment.

Of course, Zynga has moved on since Farmville and released at least two more hit games (I lose track of them all). Tobold has some praise for Adventure World, which is one of them, but notes that you will need a lot of friends or a lot of money to advance.

I’ve been trying out the open beta for Heroes of Neverwinter, which looks very promising so far and less demanding of large numbers of friends. It’s based around gathering a group of adventurers together and heading off to clear out little dungeons. Combat is turn based and grid based, reminiscent of the original Dragon Age Journeys flash game before they moved it to Facebook.

I think Neverwinter in particular shows how some Facebook games are evolving these days. It’s fun, and definitely less annoying than the typical Zynga spam-a-friend-fest. But it would be more fun for me if it wasn’t a facebook game – still, this probably means that I’m not the target audience. My style of gaming is ‘play games when you have at least 30 mins free’ and not ‘I’m on facebook anyway, might as well take a couple of mins every so often to amuse my friends with virtual game items.’

Muckbeast has a heartfelt rant about Facebook games, that I think most gamers will find sympathetic.

In the social gaming space, the industry average is that only 2% of users ever pay a single penny. When only 2% of your customers think your product is worth anything, that’s not a good sign.

If you wanted to improve your monetization rate, what would you do? Some possibilities:

  • Make the game more fun.
  • Give players more value for their money.
  • Create engaging content people are excited to pay for.

All good ideas, right? So those are the kinds of things Zynga, EA, etc. probably do to increase monetization, right?

Wrong.

Instead, they come up with incredibly annoying gimmicks like “energy systems” that interrupt your gameplay every few MINUTES and nag you to buy more energy to keep playing. We have literally looped back to pumping quarters in a machine every few minutes to play a game, folks. Ridiculous.

Thing is, most of the several squillion people who actually play these games regularly probably aren’t gamers and don’t care so much about these things. For them, sharing virtual game tat with their friends is all in a day’s social networking.

So while I like Neverwinter more about about 90% of the other Facebook games I have played, the chance of me spending money on it is zero. Therefore, I’m very much not the target audience, and who knows whether they’ll be interested in D&D style adventuring when they could be playing Sims Social instead.

Strangely enough, I did spend some money based on a social networking game this week. The game was Night Circus, written and coded by the same team who run Echo Bazaar, and I bought a copy of the book which the game was designed to advertise. (I do find some of the game text/ concepts a bit precious but I figured I was intrigued enough to pay a few pounds for a book at least.) The book is actually better than I was expecting, so recommended if you like magical romances and magic realism and stories about magicians holding mysterious duels.  The characters feel oddly stylized though, more like silhouettes than real people, but I was entertained. So that at least was a perfectly targeted piece of gamified advertising – I’m all for it ;)

More Links

Blimey, CCP actually releases some information about World of Darkness.

Mana Obscura has held a ‘smile week’ this week and has been writing about things he loves about MMOs. Here he discusses how amazing it is that they work at all, and how largescale the systems are behind them. I have always had a sense of awe about computer networks myself too, ever since a technician told me at Uni that the ethernet stayed up ‘by the grace of God.’ The more I know about ethernet, the more I suspect he had a point.

The Official WoW Magazine is dead in the water after five issues. The Ancient Gaming Noob has a copy of the email they sent to subscribers with info. Who’d have thought that computer gamers might not be all that interested in print magazines, huh?

The Rampant Coyote asks what single player RPGs can do better than MMOs. Given that we’re in the middle of some sort of conflux, I think this (and the opposite question of what MMOs do better than single player) has never been more timely.

Bronte discusses WoW raiding and problems with overtuning content, and some of the assumptions behind it. The basic idea that each tier of raiding should be more difficult/ complex than the last is fine if you started on day 1 as a Molten Core nooblet and worked your way up – less fine if you were new to Cataclysm and had to try to learn everything at once, with a bunch of players who are bored before they start and lost their patience with newbies two expansions ago.

OutDPS has some issues with the storytelling in Cataclysm (he notes that the lower level zones are often great but that the high level story is … not compelling.)

And on one last Blizzard related note, COO Thomas Tipl has stated that Blizzard are planning to release six ‘proven’ properties over the next three years. Gossip Gamers guesses that these will be 2 WoW expansions, 2 SC2 expansions, Diablo 3 … and maybe a D3 expansion. Don’t expect any more Wrath-style large WoW expansions is what I’m saying.

Rohan posts an interesting analysis of MMO players, comparing people who like fixed schedule events (like regular raid nights) to ‘transient’ players. I think there is a lot of truth in this, and the way I play is very different when I’m in a group that has fixed nights to when I just log in when I feel like it. PvD  also mulls this over and wonders if that’s the problem that the new LFR (looking for raid) PUG raid finder with its special low difficulty mode is intended to address.

[News and Links] September in the Rain

This is great, I found a website which lists lots of songs with months in the title and *looks outside* this one seemed appropriate. September marks the end of the convention season, more or less, and the start of the run up to the big winter release schedules. So if Summer is when the hype gets rolling, Autumn is the season for the heavy hitting spin and pre-release information.

The big story this year is going to be Battlefield 3 vs Modern Warfare 3. Sure, there are other big releases coming up such as Diablo 3 and SWTOR but the big console men-with-guns shooters are simply on a different scale. For example, analysts predict 11 million sales for BF3 vs 3 million for SWTOR.

Activision this week released the pricing for their MW Elite subscription, which will be $50 per year on top of the box price to receive the various map packs and extra features. It sounds like a hefty surcharge until you compare with either some of the high priced collectors editions we’ve seen lately ($150 for a plastic statue, a book, and a ‘making of’ DVD) or a subscription MMO like WoW.

Now I don’t have a sales prediction for MW3, but Activision claimed in a recent earnings call that Modern Warfare 2 sold over 23 million units and 18 million map packs in the first nine months. I bolded that just in case the numbers didn’t pop out enough on their own. 23 million copies. Now if you assume that the elite subscription is looking like a reasonable deal for fans of the series … oh yeah, the money will be rolling in.

It’s been an interesting trend this year that more MMOs are moving to the F2P model, while traditional console/ single player games are starting to experiment with subs or more regular DLC. Fallen Earth and City of Heroes are due to be the next up, with FE going F2P on October 12th and CoH has not yet announced a date but likely to be very soon.

Links and Things

I wrote this week about roleplaying in MMOs. This is an interesting article by a tabletop RPG designer talking about where that industry is going and what happens when you have to ditch the old fans to bring the new ones in (I’m sure WoW players in particular will be familiar with this mindset.)

Ratshag answers Ghostcrawler’s recent WoW blogs on the future of tanking. He wonders if the devs really understand what makes tanking fun, or whether they’re blinkered by mostly being involved in hardcore raid guilds themselves.

I see more and more posts on WoW at the moment from long time players trying to describe why they’re throwing in the towel. Klepsacovic notes simply that he doesn’t feel like the target audience any more, Borsk describes his raid groups’ last raid and why they made the decision to stop, The Grumpy Elf hopes he can hang on for the next swathe of content since troll instance are driving him nuts. Oestrus stops to think about how painful it can be to make the decision to quit.

Big Bear Butt Blogger is annoyed at the posters who are writing about why they’re not enjoying WoW any more. He says he’s having more fun than ever. I’m intrigued at his reaction actually, but it does fit into my model of consumer power (he’s in the loyal camp, who would rather people just left quietly).

Gazimoff has an awesome post about what components go into making a truly great MMO. I thought this was fascinating.

Jester’s Trek describes what life is like in a ‘fairly typical sov-holding null-sec alliance’ in EVE Online. If you thought your WoW raid was hardcore, go read this. I can see the excitement of being part of something as well drilled as this, but …

Werit compares League of Legends with World of Tanks. Wasdstomp has been to PAX and compares SWTOR PvP with GW2 PvP.

Insult Swordfighting asks whether game reviewers are bad at games. Ideally, I’d like the majority of game reviewers to be slightly better at games than I am (which is still bad, btw) because I want to know if /I/ will find the gameplay fun, not if an ultra hardcore gamer will. But actually, it’s quite possible that even a good gamer can gauge how a game will play for newbies. So it may be that one of the marks of an outstanding reviewer is that they can extrapolate this sort of information.

And as Rift holds its six month half-birthday, Tobold asks readers how they are enjoying it (and whether they are still playing it).

Links and News: SWTOR beta, guilds in GW2, and more

This was always promising to be a strong news week, with several devs holding out news releases until last week’s PAX. I think it is tempting if you went to a gaming convention this year to wonder whether the one you were at got better freebies, better announcements, etc. Fortunately I am here to tell you that it’s actually impossible to beat Comic Con, whatever freebies or announcements are available, because it’s just like nothing on earth. Not that this is a competition or anything. Plus it isn’t run by the dickwolf guys.

MMO stories of interest:

Bioware announced that the SWTOR beta testing weekends will commence next weekend, 2nd September. You don’t need a preorder to have a chance at the beta, just sign up on their website. And be lucky.

Arenanet are allowing players to be members of more than one guild in GW2. This is a feature that I know I’ve mentioned before and other commenters have also expressed interest in. I think it’s going to be very interesting indeed and I look forwards to hearing more about it.

The Secret World’s long awaited beta signup had to be delayed this week due to network issues. This shows one of the tricky sides of running a game around complex ARG/ group puzzle solving concepts because many people on boards or social networks immediately assumed that this delay was part of a larger set of new clues. This tends to turn players towards even more conspiracy theories than they would already. Sometimes a technical delay is just a technical delay. TSW is still slipping clues out about something and there’s some thought that this indicates a fourth (probably non-player) faction.

More Links

Gazimoff writes about a story that came up about the Warcraft Magazine, who were apparently told not to give a byline to some of their writers and not others. The editor tells his side of the story in a blogpost. Print media is dead man, print media is dead.

OutDPS wonders about class identity and class balance – in particular when devs notice a potential balance issue but decide to leave it because it’s part of the class identity. eg. hunters in WoW should use traps. There is more to be said on class identities, because ‘class with the overpowered AE’ is not really a good identity. Neither is ‘class which gets its core mechanics overhauled every expansion.’ Also, ‘class that whines a lot about not wanting traps even when they’re regularly coming top of the damage meters’ is not a desirable identity.

Stabs speaks up on behalf of minmaxers and theorycrafters everywhere, and explains why he loves statistical modelling. He argues though that minmaxers ruin the game for others. Or at least pressure everyone else to play by their rules and goals.

Kill Ten Rats checks out Age of Empires Online and doesn’t like their implementation of the F2P model.

Tom Auxier responds to claims that the turn based strategy game is dead with an ode to turn based strategy games and where they are at the moment. That genre isn’t dead, it’s just pining for the fjords. I quibble with his claim that the Civilisation board game was based on the computer game, because the board game was published first. But on checking I find there was a later version that was branded as Sid Meier’s Civilisation Board game.  Sid incidentally always claimed that he’d never played the board game of Civilisation before designing the computer game.

Ferrel at Epic Slant argues that two faction MMOs are outdated these days.

Tadhg at Simple Lifeforms writes a thoughtful post about how Blizzard has been dealing with Diablo 3 fans, and discusses the difference between companies which got their start from selling boxes in retailers and companies who have always been online.

Gevlon has an example of where cliquey players are less efficient in raids. He puts this down to use of voice chat by small groups of players in a larger guild. I suspect that if you want to run a very egalitarian social group, it may be a good idea to discourage any small group from becoming cliquey and spending too much time together (because there is a risk that they’ll start seeing themselves as superior). Just I don’t see how it’s really possible to do this.

Tobold and Syncaine are friendly for a bit this week. But it doesn’t last long. Incidentally the main appeal of themepark games to both players and developers is that you can/ offer get a guaranteed level of game experience out of the game. It’s reliable. But I think Tobold is right in that highly competitive sandbox isn’t fun for a lot of players. Ultimately, if you aren’t logging into a game because you want to win but because you want to socialise or have some co-operative play, the only games that can satisfy you will be ones designed by devs who understand what that means. This could be sandbox but it won’t be the sort of sandbox that current games offer.

The Grumpy Elf ponders how to make raids PUGgable, in anticipation of Blizzard adding a cross-realm random raid finder.

Links for the weekend

 

  • Systemic Babble discusses the recently announced 3DS price drop, and the prices of games on mobile systems. What exactly happens to the industry if a new generation of gamers expects a good mobile game to cost approx $1?
  • How does it feel to be sidelined from a raid because (your raid feels that) your class just isn’t optimal for the encounter? Vixsin, who raids with a hardcore group, discusses her feelings about it. For many players, this comes close to experiencing discrimination in game. After enough other players think your class is more or less good, it gets treated that way regardless of the player. And on another note, Sacred Duty explains that protection paladins are overpowered in WoW at the moment. Again.
  • Another sale, another astounding humble indie bundle. These deals operate on a ‘pay what you think it’s worth’ basis, so it’s interesting on that link to see roughly how much people pay. Linux users on average pay a lot more than players on other o/s, intriguingly. Maybe they’re more generous souls.
  • How can devs turn a good character into an evil one or vice versa in game? John Wick discusses the heel turn with examples from professional wrestling.
  • I mentioned the crazy Street Fighter x Tekken SDCC panel this week. Here’s a more thoughtful look at another fighting game from a fan – Scott Juster writes about Mortal Kombat and why it was so special for him earlier in his life.
  • Serrain writes a wrapup for the Planes of Madness event at Rift, over at Rift Junkies. He asks whether it dragged on too long.
  • Stabs takes an educated guess at how the RMT Diablo 3 Auction House will play out. And Gus Matrapa in Pretension +1 offers some advice to D3 fans on how to freak out about a video game.
  • Werit discusses the revamp of fortresses in WAR. They will now “house artifacts/relics which can be seized by the opposing realm.”  That’s a direct import from DaoC. Is WAR slowly morphing into DaoC2?
  • Jeff Vogel asks when players should have to make decisions about progressing their character from a designer’s point of view. He suggests devs shouldn’t ask players to make choices until they have enough information on which to base a decision. I’ve never liked having to make irrevocable decisions involving gameplay (such as class, etc) before I really know how the game plays or what I’ll want to do later on.
  • MMO Melting Pot continues to curate (it’s my new word this week)  great articles around the gaming blogosphere and post links along with analysis. Here’s one highlighting a post on Level Capped about whether the majority of gamers really are foul mouthed teenagers.
  • John Walker at RPS writes an intelligent, impassioned rant against all those mainstream media outlets who rushed to assign some blame to computer games like CoD for the shootings in Norway.
  • Anyone missed Larissa’s regular posts? Course you have. The writer is now running a new blog about film called The Velvet Cafe. This is one of her posts about what the audience can add to a movie. I’ve been thinking about this, because going to see Captain America on opening night in San Diego during Comic Con was absolutely awesome, and not just because the film was good and they gave us free swag (OK, the free swag helped.)

Links and mini-posts for the weekend

I thought since I was away and these links will be at least a week out of date, I’d go back through my old bookmarks and see if I could find a few slightly older posts to mix in with ones that caught my eye recently.

RIFT’s Summer Update makes every other game’s producer letter seem slight and mean minded. They are going to do EVERYTHING. There is information about quality of life improvements, zone events, and how they try to balance putting effort into raids with other upcoming endgame activities. The guy knows his MMOs and knows his players, I defy anyone to read that post and not have even a minor yay moment.

I wrote about raid rifts in RIFT a couple of weeks ago, and apparently I’m not the only person who enjoys them.

The challenge there was to create an incentive for an activity that wasn’t burdened by lockouts, such that more people could help out more than once a day if they choose. Those have worked out amazingly well for pickup raids of 10 to 20. Just about all of the servers have multiple pickup raids engaging more people in the shared world than we had ever hoped, every single day.

There are issues that haven’t been explicitly addressed though. For example, PvP rifts sound fun, but what about issues around PvP gearing and how implacable it can be for newbies.

Having said that, their ideas about where to go with endgame and what sorts of activities different players might want to do are amongst the most interesting and exciting in the industry. I’m dipping into WoW at the moment again, but not likely to let my Rift sub drop any time soon. (Sorry to my guildies for not being around much.)

More links

  • I haven’t written much about Blizzard’s new game (codenamed Titan) because we don’t know much about it. But ‘back’ in June analysts were claiming that it was going to be a casual MMO. RPS reckon that means probably a FPS of some sort. Is MMOFPS the future of MMOs? If Blizzard does it, what does that mean for WoW? (and the many WoW players who may have been hoping for WoW #2.)
  • If you are good at a game and good at playing your class/ role, do you feel any responsibility to pass tips on to newer players? Nope? Only if they’re in your guild/ raid? Arthemystia argues here that experienced hunters in WoW should help newbie hunters. (Presumably they aren’t interested in helping non-hunters.)
  • I will miss Blacksen and I’ve enjoyed his blog a great deal, especially as it comes from a very different (and very hardcore) mindset. His goodbye post is well worth reading for anyone who wants to understand the inner workings of raid guilds. His comments on why the raiders names always rotate and how difficult it is to maintain a stable roster even as a competitive progression guild, ring very true. Anyhow, I wish him luck with the rest of his life :)
  • The SWTOR developer blog post last week was about crafting the opening videos for each class. You may think “yeah, yeah, introductory video – will take about 5 mins out of a game I may play for hundreds of hours,” but I defy anyone not to feel something when the screen goes dark, the star wars music starts to play, and text starts to scroll slowly up the screen a la A New Hope and it is about your character.
  • There was a press release that hit the games press last week discussing whether female gamers liked games better than sex. This is the only post I’ve found discussing that survey which makes the obvious point that maybe this is because quite a lot of women actually don’t enjoy sex all that much. They compare with a larger survey on US sexual activity in which 30% of female respondents said that their last experience of sex had been painful. Yup, Farmville is looking quite appealing in comparison to actual PAIN.
  • And lastly, one from my social work blog list, in which Social Jerk discusses how she’d sort out Hogwarts. (Yes, of course I went to see the Harry Potter film and it was great. I am however gutted that we got shown the trailer for Twilight and not The Dark Knight Rises.)

Links for the weekend (E3 prospects, and the state of raiding)

  • E3 is next week, and is the first of the big summer gaming conventions. Destructoid summarises the publishers and games expected to be there, so there will be plenty of news/ press releases about those. I don’t feel massive excitement about any of these, although “El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron” is a good title.
  • There are also expected to be some hardware announcements: Nintendo has a successor to the Wii to announce and no one will be surprised if Sony and Microsoft also come up with something. Venturebeat run down some of the more stable rumours about next week’s announcements. Allegedly Bioware are already working on Dragon Age 3 so that might also get an announcement.
  • Yngwe writes a guest post for Kiss my Alas, pondering the ways in which real life has made him a better raider. (But leaves the question open as to whether raiding has helped him iRL.)
  • Staying with the raiding theme, Wugan writes a thoughtful post on Flow asking whether it’s too easy for individual players to act as free agents, shifting guilds as soon as they get frustrated with progression. I always think that a raid leaders’ ideas on what is wrong with raiding can seem so different from a raider/ non leader’s ideas that you sometimes wonder if they are playing the same game.
  • Stabs describes issues that he’s had with filling raids in Rift and explains it using psychology. I felt bad reading this because I’d be one of those people who thinks “I’ve done proper raiding before, I know how much time and commitment it takes, so better that I sit out in this new game than risk being all those horrible things people call you if you get one enchant slightly wrong in WoW.” Not that my Rift character is level 50 yet, but soon.
  • Rhii asks how people feel when someone they are raiding with keeps talking about their other guild/s and other raid/s. In WoW, it’s not uncommon for people to have different alts in different guilds/ raids – I suspect this is more common now due to the way the lockouts work.
  • Scott Andrews, in his excellent WoW Insider column, predicts that Firelands will not save your (raid) guild. Is he right?
  • Psychochild lists 10 games that he thinks designers should play and asks for your suggestions for what games or types of games you think designers should experience.
  • Syncaine eases my troubled mind by explaining why gaming bloggers are not leechers. What he’s actually getting at is that if you are really into a game or hobby, you probably prefer to play with other people who are similarly engaged. And this actually applies just as much to casual roleplayers as it does to hardcore raiders (he doesn’t make that connection, but it’s true.)
  • Danc writes a fairly controversial post in which he critiques game criticism and particularly that written by gamers. In my opinion this is pretty much a straw man because what a reader can get from a well written and well presented experiential blog post is simply a different style of game writing than a critic would be expected to produce. And I’d argue we should value the players who are able to do this well without lumping them in with the critics. I think this is particularly true in MMOs or any game with a virtual community because we don’t really have the theories yet to fully explain how players interact with each other online – it’s a new field. And as in any new field, the observations have to come before the theories and analysis. Be scientific, game devs! Pay attention to the (good) observations.
  • The Last Psychiatrist ponders Second Life and real life, and points out that in some ways they are not so very different. Is getting your hair done to look like a celebrity iRL so different from sculpting your avatar to look like them online?
  • scrusi wonders if exploration and story are mutually exclusive.
  • Tipa notes that the Rift devs have been borrowing a lot of ideas from WoW and wonders if they could take a few pointers from EQ as well.

Links, and the last word on tank numbers in WoW

First off, good luck to Kadomi (of Tank like a Girl renown) with her new blog, Live like a Nerd which is going to have a broader base than the WoW-centred blog. I’m a big fan, and welcome to life after WoW!

Pete at Dragonchasers ponders how he feels about challenge in games. I’m firmly in this camp where feeling overly threatened by a game just makes me turn it off. When I see a hard mode, I automatically think, “Oh it’ll be too hard for me,” and switch it to normal (or easier)  even though I’m a fairly experienced gamer. For people like me they should label the modes, “Beginner”, “Don’t worry, it’s a bit harder but you can do it,” and “Think before you rush in.” In any case, it’s perfectly legitimate to want your challenge doled out in a careful curve so as not to frighten the less macho amongst us.

Moon Over Endor posts about his experience with the extended SWTOR demo that was held recently in London. SWTOR announced on Friday that they’ve retooled class roles somewhat so that now Smuggler/ Agent is the only class that cannot tank, dps, or heal (they can’t tank!) — all the others can. (edited to add: Nope, my bad. What changed is that trooper/ bounty hunter and inquisitor/ consular both get the option of all three roles — smuggler/ agent can’t tank and jedi knight/ sith warrior can’t heal. Thanks expostninja for the correction.) I am amused at the notion of a trooper as a ranged healer, I hope they get a healing gun :)

Nick Dinicola at PopMatters explains why the whole point of Dragon Age 2 is that your character is limited in their ability to change things. He also puts his finger on one of the things I like about the setup which is that I’m a bit tired of the hero’s journey and like the idea of playing a character who is a bit less special.

Eurogamer reports that EA is planning its own version of realID (or at least a persistent identity across all EA games).

And finally, Bashiok (a Blizzard community manager) posts about making WoW easier:

Overcoming all of the obstacles (I CHOOSE NOT TO SHOOT HER WITH THE SILVER ARROW… NOOOOO) was a big part of what gaming (I HAVE 1 LIFE!?), and especially PC gaming (HOW DO I LOAD MOUSE DRIVERS?), <used to be> about. But, I feel we’re lucky to now be in an age where those ideals (intended or not) are giving way to actual fun, actual challenge, and not fabricating it through high-reach requirements

Clearly he hasn’t tried to play Mass Effect 2 on a PC recently, if the amount of hassle I have had in trying to persuade it to locate its own saved games are any indication.

And on that note, Bioware are giving a free copy of ME2 on PC to anyone who buys DA2 before 30th April (including people who already own it). Astoundingly, some people are complaining about this. When I started it up, I commented on twitter that I wondered if the Illusive Man was a love interest and got this:

Cdr_Shepard Commander J. Shepard

@copperbird What the hell… ?
Got to love twitter.

LFD and tank/ healer numbers

I wonder if the LFD tool itself has contributed to having fewer tanks and healers in the queues.

Why? Well, when forming groups was difficult, players who really wanted to socialise in games tended to roll tanks or (more commonly) healers. It was well known that doing this would automatically make you popular without all the hassle of actually having to make friends with people. (Note: this is not to say that no tanks/ healers have social skills since most of them do, it’s just that it was a shortcut to being quite popular in groups in game when you were new and didn’t know anyone.) For example, I always felt well loved in vanilla when I played a holy priest.

But now, with LFD, groups are more accessible to everyone. Playing a tank/ healer just offers shorter queues. So people who mostly wanted to tank/ heal to get groups now have a choice — wait longer or take the grouping roles. And if the instances or the random groups are sufficiently annoying when tanking/ healing then they may well be deciding to just suck up the longer queues as dps.