[Links] Day of Reckoning for 38 Studios, soloing in MMOs, Diablo 3, Sony won the console wars?

Scott Jennings writes eloquently about the week when 40% of the SWTOR team was laid off, and 38 Studios (makers of Kingdoms of Amalur, and with an MMO in the works) imploded very publically.

I think the direction that our industry is going – the incredible amount of money wasted by EA on what was essentially a roll of the dice that came up 2 and 3, and the even more incredible display of massive hubris and utter incompetence on the part of Schilling and his management team, is killing the very concept of massively multiplayer gaming.

Everything I have read about 38 Studios going tits up makes me think that the management were a bucket of tits. (Yes that is the technical term.) Implausible business plan, lack of auditing on cashflow, taking on way more staff than they needed or could support, dicking around with staff. Unsubject writes in more detail on the financials. The only surprising thing to me is that so many MMO bloggers have sympathy for them – MMOs get cancelled in pre-production all the time, we should be used to it by now. I don’t care if it was run by a rich sportsman with a dream or a lameass banker, they screwed up.

Or in the words of Kevin Dent at  Kotaku:

I have a theory that Harvard Business School basically set this entire thing up so as to demonstrate how many ways someone can screw up running a business. If this is the case, heartfelt congrats to the Crimson Halls, you owned it.

I literally could not invent more ways to screw up than Curt Schilling has with 38.

I can’t entirely agree with Scott about the effect on MMOs though, because big budget AAA MMOs were already pretty much on the outs. You can tell this because Michael Pachter recently said so, and he only ever makes predictions after the event.

One of the interesting things about this story though is that both Bioware Austin and 38 Studios put out pretty decent games that got some critical acclaim. Neither Amalur nor SWTOR are bad games, and both were reasonably successful in the market. Just their funding model needed more than ‘reasonably successful’ – in 38 Studio’s case it is because their management can’t handle simple maths and in Bioware’s case it’s because for some reason EA felt that ploughing unfeasibly massive amounts into the game was going to pay off. (Nice bonus for players I guess, because it does feel lush.)

SWTOR will be profitable, incidentally.  It will just take a few months longer than EA predictions and that’s why it is being seen as a failure. Whereas in fact it sold more boxes more quickly than any other western MMO in the market and has fairly decent retention figures for an MMO, even allowing for number massaging. In any case, they’ve just announced that patch 1.3 (which will include a random dungeon finder) is going onto the test server imminently and that they have plans to consolidate servers into super-servers, which are both needed updates.

Shintar shares some hopes and fears that she has for the new patch.

Anyhow, it’s sad for the staff, obviously. But we’re in a recession and MMOs are risky business at the best of times, and these things happen (especially when your management are a bucket of tits, which isn’t really the case for Bioware). Hopefully they’ll find something else swiftly. I’ll miss Stephen Reid/Rockjaw, he was a great CSM.

Soloing in MMOs

Keen also found time to muse this week about why people solo in MMOs (remember in my last incredibly wise words of wisdom to new bloggers I noted that soloing vs grouping was one of THOSE topics?), claiming that MMOs aren’t single player games. So why do devs want to try to mimic single player gameplay?

I am referring to the open and deliberate act of making a very core part of a MMO into a single-player experience as if the players were offline.

Bernardparsnip at Diminishing Returns reflects on players who might want some of the advantages of mas…sive games without the disadvantages.

I recognize that there is a demographic of players that want the benefits of an MMO – a persistent world, frequent content updates, a player-driven economy, opportunities for PvP and cooperative play, without the disadvantages inherent with playing with others.

Azuriel takes a different tack and wonders whether MMOs really do suck as single player games.

…in a very real sense I consider the average MMORPG these days as a much better single-player game than the average RPG.

My view is that we’re seeing traditional boundaries between single player and multiplayer games come crashing down around us, and players may not yet be sure exactly what they do want. This sense of wanting all the benefits of massive multiplayer games (like a vibrant player based economy and instant groups whenever you want them) without the negatives (like having to actually talk to anyone or rely on other players in any way) is very strong in the current crop of games.

I think Journey laid this out most neatly with having other players viewed as friendly but nameless entities, and Dee wonders if maybe the public quests in GW2 will have the same effect. But it won’t ever be the same as the sort of communities that more forced socialising will bring together, we could end up with people playing side by side but always on their own.

Ultimately I’d like to see more gating in future games, allowing players to build up communities of interest in games of their choice. What if I want to play EVE but without having to play with the more sexist, racist, homophobic players who seem to populate it (going by forum posts at least)? This is going to become more and more of an issue for anyone running online games in future, I suspect, as players lose their tolerance for playing with random dickweeds. (This will come to be seen as one of the negatives of MMOs that people would like to avoid.)

Zubon has a really smart post about how different games attract a different type of player and suggests people flock to games which seem to be populated with players like themselves.

But there is a flaw in his argument, which is how exactly are you going to find this out? If I search round EVE blogs and forums, I’ll find a lot of very aggressive posturing and the aforementioned sexist, racist, etc. language. But I do happen to know people who play EVE who aren’t like that, so it isn’t universal.

Similarly, WoW is so large that it probably contains communities of just about every MMO player type under the sun if you can find them. So characterising it as the McDonalds of MMOs isn’t quite true in terms of the playerbase. It’s more of a mosaic than a least common denominator known for poor but consistent quality.

While LOTRO is justly known for its attention to the setting, I’d also say it was a haven for more mature gamers and for RPers. But that was before it went F2P and it may have changed since then. So how would a new player know?

So while I think Zubon makes a good argument, it just places more emphasis on how /the community/ constructs explanations of what type of player different games attract and then communicates it. And bloggers bear a lot of the responsibility for this. When I write that my guild in SWTOR are laid back, friendly, casual players and raiders, people will assume this is normal for the game. It probably is! But you’re just getting one player’s view.

Redbeard tackles a similar topic from the point of view of new players in WoW at the moment.

If Blizz is serious about bringing in and keeping new blood, then they have to address the social issues in WoW.  This isn’t Pollyanna country, and it ain’t EVE, either.  People like to be welcomed and respected and tolerated.  If they feel the environment is toxic, they’ll move on.  You can’t expect a new player to blindly stumble through all of the social pitfalls and land in a good guild without guidance, and likewise you can’t expect someone to blithely ignore all of the social issues that some players bring to WoW.

Diablo 3

Clearly we haven’t had enough posting about D3 yet. I’m still having fun with the game but slowing down now that I’m in Hell level on my barbarian. I don’t know that I can honestly see this as an evergreen game I’d be playing months from now (especially if Torchlight 2 and GW2 and updates to SWTOR are coming out). The Auction House is definitely impacting on the game’s lifespan in my view, and they haven’t launched the real money AH yet.

Hugh at the MMO Melting Pot (who you should follow for excellent daily aggregations of MMO blogging) collects some more views on the auction house.

The Ancient Gaming Noob has played both Diablo 3 and the Torchlight 2 beta and gives a thorough comparison between what he has seen of the games.

Milady explains why she thinks Diablo 3 is a wellmade mistake.

They had many years to consider how to best mine money from their users, and Diablo III in its entirety is what they came up with. From Blizzard’s perspective, the gear barrier is there so you are forced to buy to continue; the barrier to grouping in Inferno is built so you cannot be too effective at higher levels, and are forced to grind on your own and buy loot; the enforced multiplayer exists solely to apply peer-pressure to your gearing up, so you need to resort to the AH to play with them.

Rohan argues that Elective Mode in D3 is a mistake.

Green Armadillo lists a lot of things that D3 is not and wonders if Blizzard were right to keep the name.

And Gevlon explains why he thinks D3 just doesn’t work as a competitive game.

Straw Fellow defends Blizzard’s decision to require D3 players to be always online.

Microsoft and the Console Wars

Microsoft may face a ban on imports of the XBox 360 into the US and Germany because of patent infringement. I assume they’ll settle with Motorola out of court, but it would be an amusing way to lose the console wars.

It would be nice to think that the patent rats nest might get sorted out sometime soon, but since there is no real sign of that happening, better hope your favourite manufacturer knows how to play the game.

And finally …

Berath ponders why there are so few gaming blogs focussed on shooters, given how many people play them.

Xintia explains why Bioware are great at telling stories but bad at designing games.

And Melmoth waxes lyrical about the general chat channel in TERA.

What was fascinating about the channel was that it had become a microcosm of the blogosphere: nearly every general topic that I’ve seen repeatedly touched upon over the past five or so years of blogging was mentioned in this one place, all in the fast forward nature of a back-and-forth conversation between people whose attention was invariably elsewhere. I quickly found myself privately playing Cassandra to any topic raised, knowing full well the future of each discussion, where the disagreements would come from, and the conclusions which would be drawn.

[SWTOR] A live event! Starring rakghouls, pets, and blowing people up

(If you are reading this post because you are hoping to find a detailed walkthrough of the Rakghoul Plague event and associated quests and rewards, you can find that here at mmo-mechanics. I want to talk more about the storytelling and how we experienced it).

Yesterday, Bioware surprised the player base by launching an unexpected and unheralded live event, which looks as though it will last for at least a week. It starts on the fleet/s, or if you are like me starts with your partner yelling across the room “Log in, we’re going to Tatooine….”

This is because the first indication players had that something was going on was via announcements over the fleet about a dangerous contamination on Tatooine of the rakghoul virus from Taris. News terminals also appeared on the fleet, which played a cut scene of news announcers talking about the dangers and the imperial edicts that rakghouls should be destroyed.

rakghoul1

(the announcement said that people should on no account go to Tatooine, so clearly all player characters took this as a sign to head out there immediately!)

I’m a bit unclear on the actual process by which players found the event quests and location, since by the time I got there, my guild were sorting themselves out and there was a lot of voice chat around getting everyone to the right spot. Or in other words, I found out via other players rather than through Bioware’s carefully crafted cut scenes and NPC announcements in local chat. However, more patient players or people who like exploring will find all the information they need in the town by the Tatooine spaceport – wandering around and clicking on anything that glows is a good way to start.

There’s plenty of colour text and background to the situation as well, from the TV screens on Tatooine offering a news report where a reporter explains that all rakghouls or suspected rakghouls are to be terminated with extreme prejudice, while a guy transforms into a rakghoul in the background behind her and is shot by imperial soldiers, to regular NPC announcements from an imperial official on general chat.

None of this, incidentally, is delivered via quest text from an NPC with a quest symbol above its head.

When you get out into the wilds of Tatooine to chase down the crashed spaceship that released the virus and help to contain things by murdering infected sandpeople, the daily quest shows up as soon as you get into the right area. I am assured that the quest scales with level (so as long as you can navigate Tatooine safely, you can take part), and the mobs that spawn for you to kill are related to your own level.

NPC chat in local channel near the outbreak is more about people trying to persuade imperial soldiers that they aren’t infected, no really guv.

rakghoul2

This leads to the typical daily quest setup where you have to kill some mobs, locate some items, kill some more mobs, collect items, then head off to another quest area and do it again, leading to a final encounter with a slightly tougher mob, a cut scene with LS/DS choice, and a final followup. Your quest rewards can be turned in at a special vendor for a number of items including weapon crystals and a pet pale rakling, once you have collected enough of them.

But there is more, including a couple of ‘secret’ quests. The walkthrough linked above discusses those in detail, but one of them involves becoming infected yourself. There are two ways in which you can become infected. Either you pick up the virus from being in the area (on one occasion I got it after just walking into the quest area) or fighting infected mobs, or you can catch the virus if another victim expires near you.

For ease of identification, one of my guildies here models the effects of the rakghoul virus.

krellinfect

It starts with a green aura, then progresses into glowing purple, and finally ends with you as a greenish smear on the ground after having exploded messily. This can all take a varying amount of time.

If you contract the virus you have two options. Take an antidote (which are now sold by stim vendors all over the game world, and also turn up as daily quest rewards) which cures it, or let it run its course and see how many other players you can infect. There is a quest associated with infecting other players that you’ll find out about once you have expired of the plague at least once. Clearly because this is an MMO there are already forum threads by people complaining of being infected against their wishes (although you could just move away from the infected person.)

As part of the daily quests and associated event secret quests, you will also be able to unlock lore about the rakghoul plague outbreak and how the sandpeople have been trying to find a cure.

rakghoullore

As you can see here, these end up in your codex under a new heading of “Events.” And if you get bored of dailies or blowing people up and want to try a different way to get event tokens, you can take out two new world bosses that have been drafted in just for the occasion. (As earlier, check out the walkthrough link at the top of the post for more detailed information.)

We had a lot of fun with this event yesterday and I’m hoping to find more time for pursuing secret quests and blowing people up over the next week or so. Bioware have done a super job with this event, and despite including a lot of standard daily-type quests, it doesn’t feel formulaic or forced. The cut scenes and voice overs from imperial news are excellent. I love how you can find information about what is going on by just going there and getting involved, there’s no questgiver on fleet who pops something up in your quest log but all the information you need is in front of you.

I also love how adding world bosses on Tatooine encourages players to PUG, since they’re going to be there anyway and presumably all want tokens.

It’s really very nicely done indeed. And here finally are some action shots of us fighting more rakghouls in the dunes …

rakghoulfight

Thanks to Arb for some of the screenshots!

[SWTOR] It’s a new day, it’s a new patch

My experience of playing SWTOR has been solidly positive, but it took a great turn for the better recently. Suddenly my frame rate improved massively, loading screens and conversations start seamlessly, and even hopping in and out of orbital stations is more of an interesting change of scenery than a painful speed bump. Amazing how much difference a new computer can make Smile (The old one was about 6 years old and has now been retired to less onerous duties.)

Oh, yes, there’s a new patch 1.2 also, featuring new high level content, Legacies as a way to earn perks for your alts, huge UI improvements, and the usual round of “PvP is now broken” feedback. (Although some people do also like it.)

What do you need to know about the new stuff?

Here’s a few useful links for SWTOR players:

mmo-mechanics has a guide for Empire players to the new Corellia dailies (I assume Republic players get their breadcrumb quest from the fleet too)

UI Cantina is a repository for UIs, which you can now download and use. Their ‘tips and tricks’ tab also explains where the .xml files (used to store UI information) will be stored, so to use a new one just save it in that directory. It is actually a hidden directory on Windows 7 so you’ll have to set your file explorer to show hidden files/ directories to check it. Look on this as a learning opportunity if you don’t know how to do that yet.

mmo-mechanics also have some UIs which you can download. I am thinking there will soon be plenty of UI related sites, if you know any good ones feel free to suggest them in comments.

legacy

This is a screenshot of the Legacy window. You will have to log in each of your characters to have them show up, and can then move them into the middle of the screen to define some relationships. You do this by holding the picture of one character over the picture of another who you already set up on the screen, and as you can see here some options for relationships appear. When you pick one, the new character will appear in the ‘family tree’. (Same sex marriages are allowed, incidentally.)

Since my agent (shown) is a sleazy horndog, he’s probably slept with all the others so I’m mostly defining him as ally or enemy depending on what happened after that. I’m not sure yet why he earned the enmity of my Sith Warrior but let’s be honest, it wouldn’t take much to set her off. Let’s hope he has some good friends, as opposed to the bunch of weirdos he usually hangs out with.

The Legacy screen also shows you what abilities/  races/ special stuff you have unlocked or have yet to unlock. I think I’m now saving up a million credits so that my ship (and all my alts ships on this server too) can have a repair bot, which is nice in the sense of adding some long term goals. Long term goals are essential for player retention, so Bioware will now be hoping that plenty of other players are also now thinking “Cool, I’ll save up for XYZ,” or “Oo, I could make a True Sith Consular!” Anyhow, it works for me. I like that my alts can benefit from my main, and vice versa. Shame they all have to be on the same server but you can’t have everything.

One of the fancier bonuses is that if you have completed chapter 2 on any character, your other alts on that server will automatically get that character’s buff alongside their own when they cast it. So for example, all my alts now cast the Sith Warrior buff as well as their own automatically. This is actually a pretty nice perk for alts.

There are also perk abilities you can get if you have a character who is LS5 or DS5.

To make your armour match, open up the character window. You will notice a small tab around halfway down on the right hand side – click that for the armour matching option. You can then unclick the icons by individual armour pieces if you want a few non-matching bits too.

Anexxia has also posted a FAQ for patch 1.2 so if you have any other questions such as “Where’s the guild bank” or “where are the legacy vendors” check out her post.

Also, some random rewards from Bioware

Bioware is also giving out goodies to existing and former players. There are free pets for active players, free time for lapsed players and a free MONTH for anyone with a level 50 who has ever subscribed. That’s rather generous – Bioware are now becoming synonymous for me with being wildly generous, I remember they threw out free copies of ME2 with DA2 last year also and even then I thought, “That’s nice, if a bit unexpected.”

Tobold takes the logical assumption that this is all intended to encourage player retention. Comments in that thread compare this to recent WoW offers and to the sorts of offers that subscription magazines offer and don’t find it particularly out of place.

Naturally because this is Bioware, people are also complaining about the free stuff. Personally, free is a nice counterpoint to the money grabbing scams I’m more used to so I’m happy. But then I was planning to renew my 6 month sub when it’s up anyway, because I genuinely am still having a lot of fun with the game,  so possibly making me happy is not a huge win for Bioware.

My feeling is that in the same way that Blizzard have been free to experiment with doing all sorts of weird stuff to WoW, Bioware are being encouraged to try out just about any marketing trick that they can think of to see what works. And since there really aren’t that many successful subscription games, there is still a lot we don’t know about what really does attract players to themepark games that aren’t WoW.  I’d say good luck to them, if offering people 7 months for the price of 6 (which is basically how I’m interpreting this for me) works for them, then go for it.

And while I am not sure that I am the core target for this offer, I am still a keen player with a level 50 who is in a casual guild which regularly does the endgame instances and raids. And as anyone who has ever tried to run a casual endgame guild knows, ANYTHING which encourages max level players to keep playing is a boon for everyone in the guild who wants to run group content. So this might actually be a very savvy move from the perspective of social players. I’m curious to see how it plays out.

New Content

I haven’t run the new dailies yet but we had a crack at normal mode Lost Island, the new flashpoint, last night. We worked out strategies as we went along, people were still adjusting to various class changes, and I was tanking without any tanking gear so this was not perhaps an optimal setup. Still, it was good fun, the scenery is gorgeous (I will take a screenshot of the volcano next time), and we enjoyed learning the bosses as we went along.

It felt quite tightly tuned for a normal mode instance to me, but maybe that is just because we didn’t really know the fights. Highlight was the group’s reaction on spotting a platform in the middle of a lava flow with a boss in the middle, “Oh, knockbacks into lava” – and Bioware did not disappoint.

Have you tried the new patch? What did you think?

[SWTOR] Some of the upcoming changes announced at this week’s summit

So yesterday Bioware held a SWTOR guild summit, with panels, news about upcoming patches, livestreams, etc. swtor-life has a good summary of bulletpointed news items.

I’m just going to pick a few.

Story Mode for Ops

Taking a tip from WoW’s raid finder, or possibly from the ME3 story mode, the plan is to rename normal Ops modes to ‘story mode’ with the explicit aim of letting casual players experience the galactic storylines (presumably making them easy enough to favour PUG raids.) I think they are making a distinction between galactic storylines and class/personal storylines, so you won’t miss any of your class story if you don’t raid.

Legacy System

If you want to set up an actual family tree between your characters, you will be able to do so. I assume this will include some non-blood relations such as ‘mother in law’ or ‘slave of’ so that your Chiss Bounty Hunter can have some sort of connection with your Pureblood Sith Inquisitor without implying that they sleep together. (Actually, given the companion romances, I’m not sure if they’ll let you specify romantic relationships between your alts anyway. What would Quinn say?)

Some of the stuff you’ll be able to unlock for your alts sounds fairly fun though:

  • Reach level 50 with a species in order to unlock it with all other characters.
  • Can Unlock Heroic Ability (i.e. Force Choke) among all other characters one you finish your story. (I could have a Jedi with force choke???)
  • Repair droid on you ship, can repair gear, but old items, sell items to improve crafting abilities on ship droids. Mailboxes on the ship
  • GTN terminals available on ships, very high up on the legacy system
  • Can trade items between anyone in your legacy, including those in the opposite faction
  • Multi-Spec system will be tied to Legacy system, not coming at beginning of 1.2 but it is on the way.
  • Will be able to place vocal restraining bolt on your droid.

Poor droid, I think a LOT of people will use that :) One thing this will mean is that people will be strongly motivated not to create alts on lots of different servers as the legacy bonuses will only apply to alts on the same server.

  • Most rewards can be purchased as opposed to unlocked via normal means. Some things will not be able to be purchased when 1.2 first releases, but will be able to purchase down the road.

Aaaaand heads up for what sounds like an upcoming cash shop.

Some Crafting and Economy Stuff

  • Most popular Crafting skill is Artifice, followed by BioChem

Biochem I can understand, it’s rather useful having endless potions/ stims, but Artificing? It’s not bad per se, but the only reason I can think why it would be the most popular is that lots of people are playing force users and find it cool to be able to craft their own crystals/ lightsabers.

  • 57% Empire vs 43% Republic across all servers, PvP servers much more Empire heavy
  • Sith Inquisitor is the most popular class, Smuggler is the least popular
  • Reusable BioChem items will be phased out in the future

Noooo. not my reusable Biochem stuffs! ;/ Wish they could just make them less powerful than the non-reusable ones. Oh well, I suppose prices on the stims that doesn’t disappear when you die will go through the roof.

  • Reverse engineering rate for better items has been improved in 1.2
  • Tooltip will let you know if you can learn a new schematic from reverse engineered items, chances of receiving the same recipe twice will be reduced

Those are both good changes

Random Stuff

Why does random stuff always get labelled as ‘roleplay’ I wonder

  • Male slave outfits incoming. (Well, that’s it for Quinn then.)
  • Animal mounts on the list for things to be added (Tauntauns, obviously.)
  • Will be able to add comments to friends in 1.2, hopefully will be able to write up a character bio for all your toons (OK, this legitimately is a RP improvement.)

Guild Stuff

  • In game guild calender coming, able to set events and show them to non guild members
  • Guild banks 100% confirmed to be in 1.2
  • Guild progression in the works, large project with no details released yet
  • Tax system is also on the way

I’m not so hot on the taxes, personally. What is it a guild is going to buy exactly that individual players can’t?

More Random Stuff (but apparently this isn’t RP)

  • Dual/Multi spec coming in two parts/ Part one will let you switch through skill trees, part two will let you completely switch gear as well.
  • More story coming this year (this YEAR … that could be December, just saying.) Same Gender Romance options coming with Story updates
  • Cross server/ cross faction communication possible down the line, no real details released yet (will be good because the Legacy system is encouraging players to play both factions.)
  • Cooler outfits coming for Republic faction, particularly at endgame
  • Quests for epic weapons, armor, and other items coming. May even require having characters on both factions to unlock

As far as patch 1.2 goes, there’s a longer article about it on ign.com which includes some (ominous?) rumblings about class balance:

Class changes in 1.2 include new abilities for the Warrior and the Knight, a nerf for the Bounty Hunter, and more. Every class will receive changes, and all skill tree points refunded so you can look over the trees again before deciding how to rebuild your class.

Any of the new stuff particularly grab any of you?

[SWTOR] In which we raid, and in which factional timelines confuse me

evault1

It must be telling that although we spent a few hours in the Eternity Vault over the weekend in an 8 man group, all my screenshots show Spinks sitting on a speeder.

This is because Bioware have introduced the most amazing raid functionality known to man (or to lazy raiders, alternatively) – a speeder where you zone in which will neatly zoom you through the instance and drop you off somewhere near the last group wipe. This pretty much blew my mind. I don’t know if it’s because I’m profoundly lazy, or because I’ve spent too much of my life running through half cleared raid instances after a wipe. You will see from the screenshots that the Eternity Vault encompasses a bizarrely wide range of environments (snowy mountains, lava pit, jungle, and ancient mechanical vault.)

The speeder did once dump us (amusingly) in the middle of a spawn of mobs (manka cats) but otherwise was very well behaved.

Anyway, back to the raid. We now have about enough level 50s to be considering an 8-man group so decided to go take a poke at the Eternity Vault. In the event, we were one person short so we PUGged a healer (by dint of asking in general chat on the fleet).

And great fun was had by all. We didn’t quite get the last boss, as people were getting tired, but had several tries and I’m pretty sure we’ll get him next time now that everyone understands the fight. I’m going to bullet point some thoughts:

  • Nice range of encounters.
  • Lots of interaction with the environment during boss fights (which I like) such as hiding behind things, moving across lava stepping stones, splitting into smaller groups, big set piece in the last fight with platforms disappearing a la Lich King.
  • There is one fight where every raider has to kill a mob solo. This type of fight is always frustrating for healers, however fun it sounds on paper to designers.
  • Raid was well tuned for our lot, who are mostly recent 50s and not all well geared. We had a couple of close calls on the kills, which is a sign of good tuning on a first raid kill.
  • Loot was nicely distributed, everyone got something. The set pieces are pre-allocated when they drop (ie. when you loot the mob, some pieces will already be marked with the name of the raider they are destined for.) This means you won’t be picking up stuff for your companions, but does make things fairly chilled out.
  • Our PUG healer friend turned out to be a chilled out hardmode raider who was very patient about helping to explain fights to us, and said afterwards that he’d had fun. It’s easy to forget that a lot of hardcore players are nice when you only ever see them bitching at you in random groups.

Final verdict: that was fun! Raiding in a chilled out group with friends is a particular type of MMO fun that’s hard to get in any other way. I remember now why I play these games.

And that’s the difference between well tuned encounters where even if you fail, you feel that you could do it next time, and some of the hard mode flashpoints where difficulty can be a bit all over the place and it’s never clear if it’s down to execution, nonoptimal group composition, lack of gear, or not understanding the fight.

Confusing Republic and Empire Timelines

Although SWTOR gives the impression of being an open world type of themepark MMO, that isn’t entirely true. Or rather, there are some planets which are mostly open world and you could run into the other faction (if you went looking for them), and others which are not.

This is because the Republic timeline doesn’t quite match up to the Empire timeline. Or rather, the two factions quest through some planets during slightly different eras. For example, Empire on Balmorra help to put down the resistance and install Darth Lachris as planetary governer. Republic get to Balmorra later in the timeline, and they help the resistance to overthrow the Empire and get to kill Darth Lachris (at least, I did on my consular).

The odd thing is that as Empire, you never hear about any of this. As far as my empire characters know, Lachris is still in charge and if I go back to Balmorra, I could go and visit her.

Similarly, Republic retake Corellia /after/ Empire have taken the planet in their storyline. And as Empire, you will never hear about this (presumably it hasn’t happened yet?)

This means that from a RP point of view, it’s very difficult to figure out what the actual state of play is politically at endgame. I think the Republic view is the more current one and that they’re actually making good headway by the game’s (current) end. But playing as Empire, you would actually think the opposite. In a true open world game, needless to say, you could go back to those Republic held planets and actually try to re-install the Empire if you wanted to do so.

But in this type of game, you have to wait for someone to write a storyline about it. Just an interesting genre effect to think about.

Tank vs dps, round 5

Lono commented yesterday that he feels the hard mode flashpoints in SWTOR are overtuned, with the ‘hard’ part relying mostly on boss enrage timers. What this means in practice is that that the group needs to provide more dps, which means that it’s the dps who get the extra difficulty. He proved this by healing a hard mode successfully in his offspec and with dps gear (ie. the requirements on healers were very low).

I’d concur with this. We’ve run Black Talon in hardmode successfully, but in Boarding Party we couldn’t get past the first boss (it’s the group with multiple elites). So two issues:

  1. a tuning issue, some of those hard modes are either overtuned or are tuned with the expectation of specific types of dps and
  2. the difficulty isn’t spread across the roles evenly

My perspective is based on playing a dps juggernaut, and I’ve had some experience at playing melee dps in WoW so I don’t believe  lack of dps is down to my incompetence. It could be that the instances favour ranged dps over melee, or that juggernaut dps isn’t up to scratch, or that I’m not in full PvP or raid gear, or that my guild mates are rubbish (which they aren’t). However, groups in SWTOR only have 4 players so if an encounter IS favouring one type of dps over another AND is tightly tuned then they need to fix it, because otherwise it’s making things too hard if even one of your dps is ‘the wrong type.’ And personally, I’m not going to sit around whining about being forced to PvP to get gear upgrades to run instances in, I’ll just quit or play an alt once I feel I’ve given it my best shot and it wasn’t good enough.

It’s also confusing to the player base when the gear requirements for raids are lower than for flashpoints, and if that was intended then it’s something that needs to be made clearer. I have strong feelings about this from TBC when tanking heroics (if you weren’t playing a druid so had access to good crafted tanking gear) was absolutely horrible until you had Kara gear.

Tobold has taken this opportunity to throw some hate at dps players and snarking about lack of responsibility. This is just bizarre to me. So much hate. I have no issues with tanking, and spent a lot of time doing it in WoW. I’d probably be tanking in SWTOR except that we have a fair few tanks already and dps  are needed, and I know fine well what my responsibility is as a dps player. Do so many tanks and healers really hate the dps players that much? I don’t recall that I ever did – well maybe the really rude guys in random PUGs but that’s because they were really rude.

Maybe I was jealous that I had to endure gearing up from raiding to tank heroics where they could just hop in as soon as they hit level 70 (this is TBC, remember). That was in fact still a tuning issue, and it wasn’t right then, and it isn’t right now even if this time it’s the tanks/ healers getting the easier ride.

But on another level, he’s not seen how the emphasis has been shifting to dps in WoW over the last couple of expansions. More enrage timers, more need for top dps just to be able to clear normal mode raids, more raids failing because they have good tank and healer players but can’t get the dps … it’s been a trend. (Not a good one, I hasten to add. I think with X good players of any role you should be able to clear a raid/ instance where X can be less than the total if it’s not absolute cutting edge end game.)

[SWTOR] My experience of endgame

Here’s a couple of screenshots from Kaon under Siege, the most recent flashpoint. It has many zombies, of which the top picture shows us disposing of one (yes, this one’s a screamer). Also there are some cool darker areas where you get to grab little floaty torches, as shown below. Arb and I were a bit girly about our torches and shrieked when the torches went out, and looked frantically for the next box of torches. The guys in the group were much more stoic.

It was a good, fun instance though. Looking forwards to the next one.

kaon

So, SWTOR endgame. I don’t really have a thoughtful summary for this yet, so this is in bullet point form. My experience is based on being in a friendly casual guild where we don’t yet have enough 50s to consider ops (raids) but when there are at least 4 players on of appropriate level range and role who have time available, there will often be an instance or hard mode run.

  • Dailies: I have been sticking with the Belsavis level 50 dailies, since they’re quicker and easier than the Ilum ones. I am not doing them religiously every day, or cleaning them all out when I do spend time there. Slacker? Sure. But I’ve made enough tokens to upgrade all the armor/ hilt in my gear, and it’s possible to solo one of the [Heroic 4] Belsavis dailies by judicious death runs so my companions all now have orange weapons with blue level 50 mods (because that’s one of the quest rewards as well as the daily tokens).
  • PvP: I may have run the occasional warfront but that’s about all, I’m not gung ho for PvP.
  • Instances: Have now completed all the normal ones and one hard mode. (I’m not big on PUGs, I suppose I could but the demand for melee dps isn’t high and gearing for tanking is a work in progress.)
  • Datacrons: Gathering Datacrons (one-time permanent buffs) is a much more engaging game than I had expected. Some need pinpoint (and frustrating) jumping skills, others include odd forms of transport or exploring detailed areas of the grid you hadn’t noticed before. It’s all quite intriguing. Teppo has the patience of a saint and organised a guild run to pick some up from Balmorra and Nar Shadaa. This was enlivened by me *accidentally* attacking a PvP flagged Jedi Knight we ran into who promptly returned with a raid group. So we had a lot of running battles on Nar Shadaa in between Holocron gathering. This reminded me a lot of DaoC, where it was standard tactic to annoy a high level enemy character in the hope they’d bring their friends out to play.
  • Matrix Shards: These are a special type of Holocron. I decided to collect the three shards I was going to need for my dps warrior matrix cube relic. This probably needs to be the subject of another post because it turned out to be quite involved but I’m dead proud that I did it! Gamewise, it made for an interesting and quite engrossing solo sort-of quest.
  • Space Game: I am getting more into this. Currently stuck on Polith Minefield (I can do all of it except getting all the turrets on the minelayer right at the end – feel free to offer any suggestions! :) ).
  • Crafting: I haven’t really been bothered to do much of this except for guildies. I seem to make enough credits from dailies that it isn’t necessary.

So it probably sounds as though I don’t do much in endgame, and that would be correct. On the other hand, I’m also busy with work and often don’t have much time to log on and I am finding enough to do when I do want to be online. I need an endgame like this where most of it is purely optional because I don’t have the time or energy to grind. On the other hand, my gear is fine for hard modes at the moment, and probably decent for ops as well (the rough rule of thumb I’ve heard is 1200 in main stat), when we get round to them.

The main lure away from endgame is playing alts. I do find it awkward that the legacy system encourages players to play alts of the opposite faction but there’s no guild system that can support having characters from opposite factions. So if you do this, you lose access to guild chat and being invited to guild runs etc unless your guild uses something external like voice chat.

The other thing with alts is that if you enjoy playing in duos (which I really do in this game), the alts are off the table unless the other person is on and wants to play the appropriate alt. I may need another solo alt I think…

The big surprise for me from endgame is that I’m enjoying the Datacrons much more than I had expected, even though the really jumpy ones are immensely frustrating. SWTOR Spy have a good guide on how to find them all.

[Question of the Day] What would you like to see in MMO endgames?

Last week, I wrote a post that touched briefly on the SWTOR endgame and it generated some great discussion in comments about what sort of things players liked to do at endgame anyway.

The SW:TOR endgame is hideously lacking if you’re not interested in conventional PvE/PvP. You might ask what else a player might like to be doing, but that’s the crux of the issue – there’s nothing.

“What I really hoped to see was for my ship to be more customizable on the inside, a form of player housing that could be developed far more than just “being there”.  “

– Zellriven

Question is – what do you think there SHOULD be to do at level cap that isn’t there? Maybe I’m a bit jaded by seeing the same debates over every game, but the nothing to do at level cap argument always takes on shades of Monty Python – “yes, but apart from all THAT what have the Romans done for us?”

-Tremayne

What I would have like to see was after you finished your class story they allowed free travel space flight. <…> I would have loved too if they somehow added Pod Racing as an endgame activity also. <…> I’d also have like to play solo challenging instances based off of using your crew as a team instead of just one at a time.

–Kelindia

In practice what you are probably doing is tooling around, hanging out with your guild, and marking time until the next story update.

–Me

So the way I see it, there are three main ways to look at endgame in MMOs.

  1. Endgame is the real game. Be it sandbox, ranked PvP, progression raiding or all three, the levelling stage of an MMO (if there is one) is really just an introduction to the game. Endgame needs to be enjoyable ad infinitum as a game in itself. But over time it will tend to mostly appeal to the more hardcore.
  2. Endgame should consist of a wide variety of opportunities for character progression to encompass all play styles, so that as many people as possible can find something they like. This progression can involve purely cosmetic upgrades. It may consist of identifiable minigames. There could be dailies.
  3. ‘Endgame’ is just a plateau between content patches, its main purpose is to keep people logging in and building social ties with their guild/ friends before the next patch. And each new patch should not be gear gated based on endgame phases. (ie. you should be able to jump into new content without having spent X days doing endgame activities first.)

These are not mutually exclusive, although type 1 games and gamers probably won’t be ‘wasting’ time on type 2 endgame because the rewards are less meaningful to them. If your type 1 endgame is based on guilds holding and defending areas of space, then anyone who spends time doing dailies to earn a minipet is probably not actively helping. (But you never know, I guess it could feed into the in-game economy in some way.).

But it is type 3 endgame that I want to focus on, because this has come to represent themepark MMOs. In SWTOR for example, there’s new single player content due for March. It is possible that Bioware will put a high gear requirement on this content, but since it’s aimed at soloers rather than raiders or high end PvPers, it would be counterproductive. Better that they don’t gate the solo content. Will it provide better gear in quest rewards than what is currently available from endgame instances and hard modes? Again, we don’t know, but it’s likely because they’d like to encourage people to play through it.

So themepark endgame tends to be forced into busywork plateaux before an effective gear reset with the next set of content. At that point it’s a question of what pattern of play do you prefer in endgame and what would you like to be able to do in that time? Or would you be happier to just unsub/ stop playing until the next content patch?

The time requirements of endgame

The other way to look at MMO endgame is to think about how people’s playing patterns change at that point in the game. Do you want the structure of organised raiding? Do you want to be part of a team in endgame? Do you like the pattern of logging on to do dailies and chat? Do you prefer to ease off and chill out in the game?

My feel is that people do like the idea of character progression, of getting something for the time spent in the game, and are less thrilled by the idea of gear resets for that reason. It’s also good to have a choice of activities, as long as no one feels forced to do the ones they don’t like.

But I also think that endgame serves a key role in cementing in game social networks. This is time when people aren’t driven by their own need to level so maybe have more time to hang out, do social activities, or just chat. It can potentially be a kind of downtime which serves a strong pacing role.

I’m still not sure what my ideal endgame would be. The games where I have most enjoyed being max level have always been those where I had the stronger social networks and where we had good options of things to do together (even organising them on the night) as well as things to do if you were feeling less social. I do know that while I have no objections to raiding (I do have a soft spot for raids, too many good memories), I don’t really want to be organising my weeks around it for months on end any more.

What would you like to see from MMO endgames that you don’t see at the moment? More solo content? More sandbox? More crafting?

 

[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.

[SWTOR] The ‘oops we just broke high level world PvP’ patch

So, first content patch of the game has brought new flashpoint, operation (raid) stuff, class tweaks, and PvP tweaks and boy has the latter turned out to be a doozy.

There were tweaks made to the open world high level PvP zone on Ilum to encourage players to earn valor via killing other characters rather than just capturing objectives. However, the faction bases had not been given sufficient safe zones, add to that a population imbalance and what you end up with is one faction farming the other at the respawn point for eternity. And the respawning guys couldn’t get to their taxi/ escape point. MMOCrunch describes in more detail what’s been going down.

Bioware have apologised and are planning to patch it urgently. So basically PvP was messed up on Ilum for an evening, and there will be fixes. They also commented about noticing individuals who took ‘extreme advantage’ of the situation, but we’ve no idea what’s happening with that.

I find it hard to be up in arms about this since I’ve never even been to Ilum and although the game contains PvP, I don’t really consider SWTOR to be a PvP game. If they’d broken PvE I’d be mildly irritated though. However, PvP tweaks in a game really do need to be more carefully tested that this. It leaves the feeling that Ilum had been a problem when players were deliberately zone flipping so they put in a quick patch which has led to worse problems. I suspect they will eventually iterate on a fun/ workable solution, because open PvP zones can be fun and aren’t a bad idea.

As for players leaving en masse, it comes down to how much patience you want to have with a new MMO and team. I think the general lack of patience in the player base has been the doom of MMOs in general, but at the same time, a dev team needs to build the level of trust that means players will roll with a bad patch in the knowledge that it gets fixed. Bioware have not got off to the best of starts.

The important thing for me is a) how quickly they hotfix the problem and b) whether they can learn from the experience and avoid doing it again. The faction imbalance, however, is a whole other issue …