Maybe being hardcore is a particularly human talent

I am sure there are people out there who have never been hardcore fans for anything in their lives. They’ve never geeked out about which is the best Pink Floyd album cover, their favourite pylon on the London-North East railway, the optimal way to survive a naked run in Diablo 2, or the best raid composition for the Black Temple (at level, of course).

(Yeah I have known people in my life who were Pink Floyd album cover geeks, and electricity pylon geeks. Envy me!)

But still, it’s these little things which give our lives meaning, and knowing that they’re little things is part of the fun. Will the world end if I don’t get my favourite seat on the 7:24 train from Spinksville Station? Of course not, but it’s still my favourite seat and if you wanted to listen for 5 minutes I could explain precisely why.

I was mulling this over after reading Gevlon’s comments on social gaming. His insight is that casual players usually play casually, won’t get too attached to a social type of game, and will drift off after a short amount of time to something else. This is exactly how I interact with social games, if the short amount of time is less than 10 minutes total. But there are undoubtedly people who, given the chance, will get all hardcore about a game like Farmville.

I don’t understand why. I don’t understand why anyone would pay any money to play that game at all. Why would anyone care about being hardcore on a game that is so obviously casual? And yet, enough people clearly do to bolster some very large companies.

Maybe we just have to put it down to an odd quirk of the human spirit. Maybe it’s that ability to get all hardcore about minor things which made mankind come down from the trees, develop tools, and take over the planet. That strange hardcore geek who had a thing for playing that odd little game with sticks and stones …

Dragon Age: Facebook

It was only a matter of time. In the run up to Dragon Age II, a new themed Facebook game called Dragon Age: Legends is being launched by Bioware. And you can sign up to the beta today. It’s going to introduce us to the region of the Free Marches, the primary setting for Dragon Age II. In the same vein as the web-based game that was released in the run up to Dragon Age: Origins, playing the game will give some unlocks for the main game when launched.

Dragon Age: Legends is only due to release one month before Dragon Age II, sometime in February 2011.

Screenshots, forums and a blog are linked to from the Dragon Age: Legends site, which is a little sparse so far, but one to watch.

[Funnily enough, Spinks and I were chatting about Dragon Age II the other day while both placing our pre-orders, and at the time we expressed how much we'd liked the web-based game (Dragon Age: Journeys I think was the name) and how we hoped they'd be another. Good timing, Bioware.]

In links we trust

  1. Can Gaming make a better world? Rick at /random writes about Jane McGonigals well reported speech at TED on this subject. But heck, we know how hard gamers work on problems like organising raids and killing raid bosses – which are social as well as mechanical puzzles. Would they be as interested in complex real world problems too? And here a local government blogger, inspired by the same TED talk, ponders World of Govcraft. Could people get more involved in local government and solving local issues if they pretended it was a virtual world?
  2. Scott Jennings writes at mmorpg.com about the hard numbers behind SW:TOR. How much money does this game need to make? How much has been poured into it so far? Is this model sustainable?
  3. Dusty shares some insights into social games. And particularly the mechanics that allow a player to progress by either inviting more people OR spending money. Paying to avoid socialising?
  4. Oh yeah, apparently some little Finnish guild killed the Lich King on hard mode. Awesome work, Paragon! Even now people are inspecting their lineup and preparing the inevitable whine posts if their favourite class/spec didn’t make the cut.
  5. Ravious finds that the way he sees his online community has changed. He feels more connected to other gamers (ie. bloggers, twitter community etc) than just to his guild in his game of choice.  And I’m going to twin this with a column in The Guardian where a journalist writes about the value of virtual communities – she’s comparing her son’s community in WoW with her favourite political bboard and concludes … that much of the experience is the same.
  6. Gevlon analyses why his undergeared project is floundering. His conclusions are on the button and won’t surprise any experienced guild or raid leader. People are shallow, fickle, and selfish. But that doesn’t mean it was wrong to try.
  7. Melmoth runs into some mobstacles in Moria. This is one of the big reasons why I was so delighted to escape to Lothlorien (it does get a lot better). Player vs Developer also describes why he thinks the LOTRO economy just isn’t working and the problem with emblems and multiple ‘currencies’.
  8. Fulugaris on Killing Em Slowly asks whether Burst DPS is More Fun?
  9. Brigwyn at The Hunter’s Lodge is calling time. It’s an awesome blog and he’ll be dearly missed, but as he says himself, “I’ve done pretty much everything in the game at least once.” Dwism also picked up on Whiny Post Day with a post about when you run out of fun (note: the tone of these whiny posts is of course whiny and does not reflect what the blogger is usually like ;) ).
  10. And the Big Bear Butt blogger gives some good and heartfelt advice to new bloggers. I don’t entirely agree that spelling and grammar aren’t important (some of your readers may not speak English as a first language and good spelling/grammar will help them) but it’s not something to fret about in your first draft.
  11. Finally, the press embargo on The Secret World was dropped this week. Ysharros is here with links to all the reports around the web from journalists who tried it at GDC.

Could games do more to help us make friends?

One of my great disappointments with MMOs is that devs don’t do enough to recognise that they are social games with social elements.

But through the long history of gaming, games have primarily had a social function. Often gambling was involved, but equally the game was something that a family could play together. Games were used to teach kids about counting, games were used to break the ice at parties, games were used as hobbies and social intercourse. From the old roman games of chance, through to elaborate board games and today’s multi-player computer games, they have been tools to bring people together.

So why is it that in MMOs, it’s so easy to feel lonely even in a group?

In fact, there are a whole class of mini-games that exist to help people make friends. We call them ice breakers. And I’ve used them myself at parties or in training sessions. Their goal? To get people talking, or laughing, to help people work out their common interests, and to break down the social barriers that keep people in their shells. And they work.

Game devs even know that social bonds and social networking is one of the strongest reasons for people to keep playing MMOs, even after the novelty is gone. So why don’t we have more ice breakers in our games? Why don’t they put in extra content whose purpose is simply to get people talking, bring people of similar interests together, and maybe encourage them to continue hanging out or even to form guilds or alliances?

There was a time when a low level instance acted as those ice breakers. They weren’t designed that way, but players are (mostly) social people who will at least say hello to their group and maybe exchange a few words. Quests that required more than one person to complete acted as ice breakers, again they weren’t really designed that way but they did get people to talk to each other.

But as the player base levels up, newbies are less likely to meet other newbies in those starter instances and quests.

So what if we actually had some content that was designed deliberately as an ice breaker. Why not have ‘social party raids’ where you can guess which NPC the other players are pretending to be, or play some kind of silly IC drinking game that gets people talking and encourages them to tell jokes? I don’t mean we should force every player to be social, but for those who are interested, could this type of feature make our games more fun, more compelling, and more accessible for new playe?

Looking for good browser / facebook/ twitter games

I’d like to write some more about good social type web based games. But I have a problem. Well, the first problem is that I am distracted by the delightfully gothic Echo Bazaar at the moment, but I mean the second problem. There are zillions of games out there which fall into this category and I’ve only had a chance to try very few of them myself.

So feel free to either email me, or reply in the comments here with links to any games of this type that you particularly like, with a few words about why that game appeals. I’ll gather all the comments and links together, with attributions, and combine them into a post sometime next week.

So cheer for your favourite game here! Do you like sports sims like hattrick? Stock market simulations? Farming games? What is it that you would like to recommend?