Consolidation of the big fansites

Today brought the news that Curse Inc has added mmo-champion to their portfolio of popular gaming sites.

Curse, if anyone recalls, started off as an addon repository produced by a top WoW guild which then went commercial and has been picking up popular fansites and forums for a variety of games. For example, they own Warhammer Alliance and Aion Source. Now that LOTRO has announced that they will allow LUA scripting, we will probably see Curse expanding into LOTRO addons as well in the near future.

I have no issues with Curse, they provide a good gamer-centric service to players and to addon writers. I hope they turn a decent profit.

The other big player in the fansite-conglomeration world is ZAM (previously Allakhazam if you were around in those days). ZAM owns wowhead, wowinterface and tankspot as well as EQ2 Interface and mmoui, and they have a big Free Realms site. Their site also indicates interest in Final Fantasy Xi and XIV.

ZAM had a spotty reputation due to its association with IGE, known mostly for goldselling and buying thottbot (ZAM and IGE were both owned by the same asset holding company). That’s all in the past now and has been for several years, but gamers have long memories.

From the lists of sites, it’s clear that both ZAM and Curse are looking at similar markets. They’re looking to the addons, to the user communities, and to the popular databases. I assume that advertisers provide a lot of the funding – a site like mmo-champion or wowhead gets thousands of hits per day.

Amateur -> Professional

I always feel a sense of loss when an amateur run fansite sells up and goes pro. Sure, it’s great for the people who put all the work into it, and it’s probably even better for users if the new owners help create a better service.

It’s even a half decent business plan to start a site from the very beginning with the aim to monetize, look around for buyers, and grow a business. There’s nothing wrong with that. It also happens in every single hobby based endeavour – providing communities and services to fans is already big business.

And yet, something changes as the commercialisation takes hold. It isn’t necessarily bad, but it is different. It’s great to have access to software like the Curse client which takes so much of the work out of updating addons, and knowing that some of the money goes toward paying the addon authors. It’s great to have access to sites like wowhead.

But it’s also great to have the huge range of amateur writers and sites as well. I don’t hate that my hobby gets more and more commercialised, but I do value even more the people who hold out and speak with different, non-commercialised voices.

Long live our corporate masters! And vive la difference!

Are MMOs getting easier or players getting lazier?

via Bio Break, I was reading a column in GameSpy about the lack of challenge in WoW. Don’t get me wrong, now that I’ve seen most of the raid content for myself, I can understand where that’s coming from (and it’s a subject for another day!)

But. It isn’t the raid content that he’s talking about. It isn’t endgame at all, in fact. He’s talking about the levelling curve and how Blizzard have mostly trivialised it. And if you want to go even faster, you can grab bind on account items that adjust themselves to match the level of your alts. And because they are BoA, once you have finished you can send them on to another alt. Although by definition, heirloom items are only available to players with max level characters, to help speed up the levelling of their alts.

Not only that but people also have easy access to websites like wowhead and addons like questhelper which neatly remove any residual quest related frustrations anyone may have had with not finding things or puzzle solving.

All of these things conspire to make questing and levelling a trivial (but still time consuming) part of the game. Aside from the fact that no one forces you to go look things up every single time you get stumped for more than half a millisecond, what we are seeing is a fundamentally different way in how players respond to in game quests.

They are no longer viewed as fun puzzles. Instead, they’ve become sleepers (or even speedbumps) on the railway of levelling, and the objective of most passengers is to get past them as quickly as possible on their way to their final destination. Levelling quest rewards are largely ignorable. Even if they are useful upgrades, you’ll grow out of them soon enough. Some questlines will have particularly engaging storylines or fun tweaks. Those are the equivalent of the Settle-Carlisle scenic route*. Pretty, a fun day out, and good for photo/screenshot opportunities. But you’d skip them if you were in a hurry.

This is not a WoW-specific paradigm shift.

Looking at newer games, they’ve all been tweaking to make the questing process more streamlined and single player friendly. WAR has its red blobs (which actually fulfil much the same function as questhelper, but more nicely implemented and integrated) which I think have been roundly welcomed. Anyone want to complain that levelling in WAR is too easy? They’ve eased their levelling curve too. You don’t even have to worry about accidentally pulling groups because most mobs can be solo pulled.

I don’t think people complain, because they’re not unhappy with it. And WAR in particular does offer other ways to level, the solo questing isn’t supposed to be challenging so much as to just give you something to do inbetween scenarios.

Why does the levelling curve need to ease off?

This one is obvious. In any level based game with multiple expansions, if you want to make your game appealing to new players, they need to be able to catch up to the pack. Is there any way to do this other than to speed up the low level game?

  • Spread out the pack, either by being very very alt friendly or by spreading the appealing content through all levels and letting players stop at a place they like.
  • Let new players start at higher levels. Still would need some kind of tutorial.
  • mentoring schemes (sidekicking, or letting you help a friend to level faster)
  • Nuke the old content at the start of every expansion. Let everyone start from level 1 again together.
  • Nuke the whole server regularly.
  • DITCH LEVELS! (wait, am I shouting? :) )

I think we’re seeing a paradigm shift on quests and level based games. WoW is, for logical reasons, trivialising its levelling game. This will be less fun for people who enjoyed the challenge (I’d direct them to LOTRO where the quests are much more old-school style), but it’s a strange reason for not trying WoW because the high level quests in TBC and Wrath are brilliant.

The level-by-quest design served MMOs, and WoW in particular well but we’re seeing how it fails in a mature game now. Once you have seen the stories once, you don’t need to see them again. New players need to be able to catch up.

We need a new scheme for levelling. WAR with its multiple options, multiple zones, and public quests is surely on to something. So why is the prospect of levelling an alt in WAR so unappealing?

* You have to love that the Settle-Carlisle railway doesn’t have any pictures of scenery on the front page, although the scenery is the main reason that it’s famous. There is a picture of a station cat on the station page though.