[Diablo 3, LOTRO] What were they thinking?

Two examples this week of devs making some unexpected decisions.

Diablo 3

Now there’s no launch date yet for D3 but we’re assuming that it will be ‘soon’ since it’s only taken Blizzard about 12 years to get this one going. And yet, even as recently as this week they are announcing that they’re still making major changes.

It’s good to see a company respond to feedback received during beta testing, but when you get to “we’re going to be iterating on designs we’ve had in place for a long time, making changes to systems you’ve spent a lot of time theorycrafting, and removing features you may have come to associate with the core of the experience” then it all starts to sound a bit major. That’s not an issue, if they’ve got ideas for making things better then it’s a good idea to implement them. Just the new builds will also need a good soak of playtesting to make sure that they haven’t introduced more problems than they’ve solved. Especially when you are reitemising everything.

I think the comment about ‘systems you’ve spent a long time theorycrafting’ is quite telling. That’s what some beta testers do these days, and whether it’s for fun, or for profit (ie. prepping some future game guide), there’s a strong commercial element for players who are up with the newest game information and wish to package and sell it. Tobold commented on this with reference to D3 also.

I don’t think D3 will be especially commercialised just because of the real money AH (although it’s bound to attract the “Make Money Now” sites/ ebooks), I think any large and popular game released now would do the same thing.

The other raised brow from D3 this week is around bannings from the beta. Now I’m not uptight about devs banning players (actually I laughed like crazy when I heard that Bioware banned someone for using a stupid meme about ‘I am 12’ on the bboard, because the boards are restricted to 13+ – that was actually and genuinely hilarious), but the only reasons I’ve known people to be banned from betas previously have been around harassment or breaking NDA.

So when Stabs commented on Markco’s banning which was around gold making in the beta, I was surprised, since D3 doesn’t have an NDA on the beta and I very much doubt he’s been harassing anyone. I don’t know the details, but I do wonder how ready they are for the prime time.

LOTRO – the money pit

It’s clear that Turbine have been thinking about how they can get some more cash out of LOTRO players. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if it means selling items/ content that people will want to buy.

It’s behind the recent announcement of the next expansion, Riders of Rohan, which is said to be huge. And also that they plan frequent content updates afterwards. If paying for content is your preferred form of F2P, this is good news, assuming the content is fun and all. I’ve always enjoyed LOTRO questing, especially the epic books, so I don’t see much of a downside here. They’ve found that the player base is more willing to throw money at them for expansions than for fripperies. Is this a move away from the ‘whale model’ of F2P payers, I wonder?

And then there is adding gear with stats to the item store. This is lower level gear, and the notion is that lower level players were having trouble gearing … or something.

“Lower level players are telling us that they are having difficulty obtaining good gear. This is us coming up with solutions to problems players are reporting to us. We’re trying to create solutions for players”

Fine, but there is a solution for players. It’s called crafting and the auction house, it’s called skirmish gear, it’s called doing quests. It’s called playing the game. So why is that not working? This is one of the issues with F2P, the devs have very little motivation to figure out what’s not working and tweak it, if players will just pay for a band-aid instead. Or maybe they have thought about what’s not working and decided it’s a structural issue with the way the entire game is made. Maybe it’s inevitable that the lower level game gets left to its own devices, that crafters can’t be bothered to keep crafting for alts, that gold gets less important so no one cares about that in-game market.

The other LOTRO innovation that I thought was quite smart was selling class-specific mounts on the item shop. I think there’s a lot of mileage in cosmetic class-specific items. They’re fun. They’re thematic. Sadly not as fun as having an actual class-based quest in game associated with them, but there’s also the notion that players might buy a different mount for each of their favourite alts. It’s all quite smart.

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An Ulduar boss of our own to test!

Blizzard have released the PR hounds with some Ulduar information over the last few days. I mentioned the website, but we’ve also had some information about plans for testing the patch/raid on the public test realms.

This hasn’t been so widely geeked over but it’s actually very exciting.

Ulduar marks a departure from the standard test methodology, which was to dump the raid on the test servers (possibly with some bosses disabled) and let people have at it. This time, Blizzard are planning to test in a much more focussed manner. Testing Ulduar will be organised at pre-arranged prime time sessions, and a schedule for specific boss testing will be posted up in advance.

I say it’s exciting, but this is really very similar to the way I remember EQ2 doing its beta testing. Leaving the test servers running all the time, but have focussed sessions for instance testing with devs on hand to take feedback and reset things.

And we finally have an answer as to why companies bother with an EU test realm (other than to test networking issues and for PR), there will be different schedules and different bosses tested in the EU than the US. A smart company might also try to get some competition going between the two zones, because you can be sure we’ll be blaming each other and not the developers if the respective bosses go live with bugs.

What it does mean is that the PTR is going to offer quite an interesting gaming experience. The test schedule means that it may be much easier than usual to sort out raid groups, just be online at the right time.

My guild is starting to talk about testing on the PTR, which they never normally do. So the buzz is definitely working. The testing phase is now intriguing to people. Part of this may be boredom with current content, but I think the appeal of scheduled raid times and ‘a boss of our own’ to test is already luring people in who would not usually be interested.