The Game of Thrones, MMO style.

September 28, 2007

Tobold today made a post about the possible successor to WoW, listing some upcoming MMOs and commenting on their chance for success. As always, it’s a good read, but I think he ignores one aspect of the MMO market; games already released.

The standard trend for an MMO game is that it builds up a player base in its first few months, and then that base declines until it hits its ‘sweet spot’ and maintains for a given period of time. This happened with UO, EQ, DAoC, AC, etc. If the game was a success, it would stay active and live off the player base and expansions, secure in its spot.

Recently however we have seen a different trend, one that clearly reflects the fact that players have a lot more choice now. Now if a game launches and is not ready to go out of the gate its numbers instantly see a decline after the first month. Rumors had it that Vanguard sold around 150,000 copies, but only 35,000 accounts remained open after the first month. EQ2 also had a rough launch, and its player base greatly declined shortly after launch. This of course is partly due to WoW being as polished as it was at launch, but even WoW had its share of troubles in the first few months. Blizzard was smart enough to give generous amounts of extra play time to players whenever the servers would be down, which no doubt went a long way to keep people playing. Remember WoW did not launch with 9 million subscribers, it faced similar struggles when it released, especially with EQ2 being called the MMO juggernaut back then.

However, recent history has shown that even after a rough launch, with enough resources and dedication a MMO can fix its issues and make a comeback. EVE Online continues to grow, despite a rough release in 2003, and as your player base grows, positive word of mouth grows as well. That’s the snowball effect WoW used to gain its amazing numbers. It seemed everyone was playing it, so in turn anyone who had not was more likely to give it a shot, after hearing from all his guilt mates or friends how great it was. While the numbers have not been released, I believe a similar thing is happening with EQ2. Many of the issues that game had have been fixed, and a game engine that was out of reach for most is now playable on more computers. I’m not saying EVE or EQ2 will ‘de-throne’ WoW alone, but if enough games rise up and maintain a dedicated player base, it will pick away at WoW at a slow rate. This is already happening to an extent, as many players tire of WoW and give EQ2 another shot, or wait for a Vanguard trial.

I believe WoW will maintain high numbers for a long time to come, but not anywhere near 9 million. It might remain top dog in terms of numbers, but the gap between it and the #2 MMO might be a million or so accounts, not the 7-8 million it is now. Gone will be the throne that an 800 pound gorilla sits on (WoW), to be replaced with a ‘game of thrones’ of the MMO world, with games that are highly successful competing with each other to hold their spot near the top. This high level of competition will push developers harder, forcing them to give their players the very best each month, or risk losing them to one of a number of other, highly successful competitors.


A look ahead, and why can’t I have the Sword of Leetness+5?

September 27, 2007

Playing EVE Online, EQ2, and Sword of the New World all at the same time gives you a very interesting view of where MMOs are today. Two of the games (EVE, EQ2) were released a few years back, but both had rough starts and are now finally hitting their stride, in very different ways. The third, SotNW, is a new game from Korea that is having its launch issues now, mainly translation and formatting issues. The three could not be any more different, with EVE having its massive scope, EQ2 having its deep and refined game systems, and SotNW being an ‘instant gratification’ type of game with plenty of flash.

If I was to make a prediction now, I would have to say I’ll be done with SotNW within a month, EQ2 within a year, and I’ll still be logging into EVE, although how often and for how long I can’t say. This all depends on the games coming out soon, particularly Warhammer. If Warhammer delivers on even half its hype, especially the PvP hype, I could easily see myself devoting a large amount of my gaming time to that. However, if it falls flat, or indeed proves to be WoW+1, then that free time will easily go towards EVE in large amounts.

The reason I can’t see myself playing EQ2 for a great amount of time is partly to blame on WoW. Having played that game to death, and with EQ2 being similar enough in many ways to it, it just feels like I’m going down a familiar path with EQ2 that I was on when I played WoW. Granted, EQ2 does enough things different to keep it interesting for now, and I could easily see it continue to do this as I continue to level, perhaps enough so to make it a great fallback game should WAR not work out, but that’s a big ‘if’.

Finally, I just don’t see SotNW holding my attention for very long. While it does a lot of things well, or at least different enough to be interesting, it’s overall gameplay feels dated. MMO’s have evolved from the ‘grind grind grind’ gameplay, where it is no longer entertaining to repeatedly kill mobs from level 1 to 100 with no purpose other than leveling itself. Even the multi-character system and the fast pace of combat can’t hold off the boredom of the grind for too long. The flash and style are great at first, but those only go so far as to make a good first impression, which SotNW certainly does. If it was a single player game, with an estimated time of say, 20 hours of gameplay, it would be a great game to pick up and play for a month or so, but as an MMO that hopes to keep players for months on end, I just don’t see how it’s going to succeed. It’s very shallow now, and I don’t think it has the underpinnings to expand the basic gameplay. Still curious to see how PvP works, but I’m guessing it comes down to who out grinds who for gear rather than any real PvP skills, but I could be way off base on that one.

I will say this, the enhancing system, putting a +1 on an item for a certain cost, and once you hit +4 anything beyond that has a chance to blow the item up, is brilliant. I know Lineage had this system, so SotNW is not breaking new ground, but props for having the system in the game. It’s a great money sink, as well as giving players the chance to create something of real value if they take a risk. Say you have a rare weapon that you intend to sell, but first you gamble and enhance it to +6. If you blow it up, you take a huge hit by losing a rare weapon along with any money you put in to getting it to +6. However, if the risk pays off, and you get it to +6, it could be worth a fortune on the auction house. This also makes money always relevant in the game, as at no point will you reach the ‘I have nothing to buy’ status you do in many other MMOs. It also makes getting the same drop not as useless as it is in other games. Let’s take WoW as an example, anyone who has done any raiding has killed Onyxia, and very likely you have killed her more than once. Onyxia has a fairly limited loot table, dropping all tier 2 helms along with a few rare weapons. Once you have your tier 2 helm, that drop is no longer interesting to you in WoW. Imagine if WoW had the enhancing system, and you could gamble with your tier 2 helm, pushing it to +5 or +6. If it blows up, it makes going after Onyxia the next week a little more interesting. If you succed in enhancing it, you gain a small advantage over other players wearing the same item with only +4 on it. Why more games don’t feature a system similar to this I don’t understand. Am I missing something here, am I not seeing some major downfall to the system?


Training delay, SOE down, SotNW grinding.

September 26, 2007

Bit of EVE stupidity on my part a few days ago. I bought a +4 implant from the Ministry of War Loyalty Point store, having finally saved enough LP to get one. I proceed to unplug my +1 implant and go to plug in the +4. EVE informs me that I need cybernetics level 4. Ah crap. I should have checked to make sure I could use the new implant with my current skills, but sadly did not. So now my main pilot is sitting in a station waiting for his cybernetics skill to catch up, which delays all his gunnery and engineering training. The goal was to train those up a bit and give level 3 missions another shot in my Ferox, but now this has been delayed for two more days while cybernetics finishes. Overall delay of 5 days, but I guess I would have had to train cybernetics up eventually, and the +4 implant will speed up training after that. Still, I’m eager to get back to running level three missions, as I’ve been doing level 2′s for a long time now.

EQ2 was down all day yesterday, so no update in that.

In SotNW my team is still happily grinding away. One nice thing about SotNW is that each zone in the world map has a level range under its name, letting you easily see which areas you should head for next. Nothing earth shattering, but you wonder why other games don’t do this.


AFK leveling.

September 25, 2007

Just a quick post today, but Sword of the New World is very… well different. You can AFK level yourself to basically 100, and the game does nothing to really stop you. It’s just one of the many differences between SotNW and ‘traditional’ MMO games. Still trying to wrap my head around it all. Short term, its been an enjoyable enough game so far. Long term I’m not sure its going to have enough to really keep me, but we will see.


Sword of the New World I love you. No wait I hate you. No just kidding I love you.

September 24, 2007

Thanks to a PCGamer demo DVD, I installed Sword of the New World over the weekend to give it a go. Seeing as how the game is Free2Play (stupid marketing trend word) and got a 90% review in the same issue, I figured it was at least worth a shot. Amazingly when the install completed and I logged in, the patching took less than 30 minutes (compared to EQ2s 5 hour marathon) before I was ready to play.

I’ll be honest, the first impression SotNW gives is great. The graphics are fantastic without being a system hog, the music gets you into the theme instantly, and the character models look great in terms of detail and style, with good animations. Character creation is as simple as choosing one of five classes, picking male or female, entering a name, and picking how your character looks out of 10 or so outfits. That’s it, a few easy clicks and you are in the game, on a ship starting the tutorial.

So for the first 15 minutes or so I loved SotNW, which is a major plus for any game in today’s market. I hated the next two hours. And now, perhaps four or five hours in, I’m back to loving it. If you look at a site like gamerankings.com, you will see SotNW has gotten a varied mix of reviews, from 40% to 90%. Both low and high scores have come from fairly reputable sources, and in a way both are correct. Let me explain.

As I mentioned above, the graphics are great. The view is Diablo-like, but with a good range of zoom and tilt features. The camera is also easy to manipulate and never gets in the way. The style of the graphics is where the game will either gain or lose points with people. Personally I like them, if nothing more than a change of pace from the usual dwarf/elf stuff I’ve been looking at in WoW/EQ. The style is a mix of anime and renaissance. Yes, it’s an odd mix, but it works for me. The characters are highly details, if a bit on the pimp/hooker style, with the males sporting some fur lines jackets and the females wearing gravity defying dresses. Again your taste might vary, but at least it gets away from the ‘level one potato sack armor’ you usually find yourself in from level one to ten in most games.

Up next is the sound, and mainly the music. The music separates itself from most MMOs (other than EVE perhaps) in that it gets in your face and makes itself a very noticeable addition. It’s a crazy mix of techo/classical/opera/other, sometimes all mixed together into one track. As the game is separated into large zones, each time you enter a new one another track plays, and the variety so far seems to be great. It also sets the pace of the game, as the music is quick and upbeat, as is the gameplay, but more on that later. Again you can either rate the game very high in music if you like it, or it will be a huge pain if you don’t, since it’s so loud and in-your-face. Personally I like it, and again it separates SotNW from the ‘traditional’ MMO.

Finally we have gameplay, which I guess is a big deal. In short, SotNW is Diablo on crack. Actually it’s more like cocaine, very pure cocaine. SotNW is VERY confident in itself; it aims to be a certain type of game, and does not cut any corners to achieve that, good or bad. In a world of ‘mass market’ and ‘broad appeal’, it’s nice to play a game that up front says ‘this is how I play, hope you like it’. Another huge plus of course is that the game is free, so if the games very distinct style is not for you, you don’t end up feeling cheated by having to drop $30-$50 on a box. The major feature the game boasts about is its Multi-character control (MCC) system. Instead of just one character, you control three at all times, very similar to a single player RPG like Neverwinter Nights or Final Fantasy. It’s nothing major for an RPG, but in an MMO, it’s something new. Finally you can have a tank, a healer, and dps all in one, without it being some bastardized hybrid class that we all know is going to get nerfed and buffed weekly from release to the day they shut the servers down. With a three member team, and five classes, a good bit of variety exists in terms of how you want to field your team. I’ve so far seen everything from what I will assume is a basic team of a fighter (tank) scout (healer) and one of the three dps classes, either a wizard, musketeer or elementalist. I’ve also seen some oddball combos, like three wizards, or a scout and two musketeers. The nice part is that many of them ‘work’, and making changes is easy enough, as you can create new characters and switch up as you go.

Now, here is why I hated the game in before I hit a certain point. Due to the games fast pace, normal mobs go down in 1-3 hits, and a well placed AoE can often kill 10+ mobs. In a normal MMO, that would mean you clear an area and wait for respawns, in SotNW the respawns are already on you, the rate is that fast. Many reviews have stated that you could park your team in a room, go afk for the night, and come back to find yourself up a few levels still happily killing away. This is true, you could do that, as the game will indeed play itself if you so choose, and fighting mobs your level or slightly below is almost never a contest. Mobs die so fast in fact that it almost makes it impossible to use any character skills; before you can target something its dead. In the very early game, you get the sense that you do nothing more than move from one zone to the other, collecting item x and going back, with whatever might be in your path being an afterthought. It looks good, sounds good, but it’s very shallow and unrewarding. If you don’t push on and continue, you can easily get the impression that SotNW is a mindless grind fest.

Fast forward to level 15, and my opinion changes. I was mowing my way through another dungeon still thinking nothing can stop me and whatever I do really does not matter. You wade into a room with 30+ mobs, grab agro, hit an AoE, repeat in the next room. Then I died. To be honest I don’t even know what happened, but somehow my scout got killed, and shortly after my fighter and elementalist go down as well. I figured something oddball must have happened, and quickly went back into the same dungeon and again started the mass slaughter on my way to the final room. I guess I’m a bit slow here, because once again in one of the rooms my party goes down. This time I was paying more attention, and I noticed that my scout had agro on him, stopping his healing, and enough mobs were attacking everyone to interrupt my AoE. I figured it was just a case of pulling one too many mobs, so the 3rd time I came back I made sure to pull only 20 or so, and things went better, I made it to the final room with the boss mob. I got destroyed. Horribly. Here was this ‘easy’ game kicking my ass left and right, making me look like a noob. It should be noted that the boss was level 13, my team was level 15, so it’s not like I was going after something out of my level just to raise the challenge, if anything I was a bit ahead on levels for the area. I had to go back to the final room and you know, actually use some strategy to come out on top. Using all three characters individually, and using all their skills, I was able to clear out enough space to get the boss into a manageable situation, where my tank could hold his attention long enough for the elementalist to take him down. And when he did go down, it actually felt very rewarding, my characters striking very silly ‘we win’ posses before being warped out, Final Fantasy style.

I guess if I had to sum it all up, it would be something like this. SotNW is NOT a traditional MMO. It does a LOT of things very different, and you will either love it or hate it. Looking around the net, it seems very few reviews are middle of the road as well. It does contain a level of strategy and skill, but that depth is hidden behind a very thick curtain of mindless killing with flashy effects going off left and right. It does bring a lot of new features to the table, many of which I have not touched on today (I think this post is long enough as it is), and like I said above, it’s very confident in itself, not cutting corners to appeal to more people. I’m looking forward to putting in more time with SotNW to see if it indeed does get deeper and more complex. It has crafting, enchanting, and PvP, features I have yet to even touch.

In other ‘games I play’ news, no EQ2 this weekend and EVE is moving along nicely, saving up ISK to get a battleship. I’ll give level 3 missions another shot shortly in my Ferox, as my skills are finally catching up with the ship and it seems to be putting out the dps it SHOULD have when I bought it.


Friday randomness.

September 21, 2007

Bit absent minded today, I blame it on today being Friday. EQ2 is going well, level 13 now. Heroic Opportunities still confuse me, I mean I get that you use the skill that is blinking to get a greater effect, but the NPC who tried to explain it referred to some kind of chaining effect. Perhaps with more time, I’ll figure it out.

As for EVE, still running missions and doing some occasional mining. I finally have enough LP to buy a +4 attribute implant, now I just need a little more cash, as it also costs 12 million ISK to purchase. I’m leaning towards Perception, but might go Intelligence. Currently my pilot sits at 22 Perception and 16 Intelligence, and that’s with all +1 implants. Considering he is going to focus almost exclusively on combat skills, Perception seems like the safe bet.

I’ve sadly had to go back to level 2 missions for now, as even in a Ferox I was having too much trouble with level 3s. The ship itself is fine, but I simply don’t have the skills to support it correctly. Soon enough however I should have enough of the combat related skills to level 3 to give it another go. I think I also drew some bad luck in getting “Massive Attack” as one of my first level 3 missions, as that mission can be a monster. “The Blockade” did not really help either. Good thing both times a Corp member with a BS was around to give me a hand and help me finish each mission, so thanks to Tao and Mord for that!


Lifestyles of the rich and MMO famous.

September 20, 2007

Quick question about EQ2 that hopefully someone can comment on and answer. Are most quests voiced, or only some/few? I noticed the first two camps all the quests had voice actors reading the quest, but the last camp that we reached last night did not. The NPC would say a simple “hello” and the quest was all text. What percentage of quests are voiced?

Moving on, a (hopefully) interesting thought crept into my mind as I was listening to the latest Virgin Worlds podcast. The topic of designing more content for casuals came up, and how WoW did a good job of this, and that perhaps future games should push this even further. That the ‘hardcore’ players will plow through whatever amount of content you give them quickly, and then complain for more. So if you ignore that small population, and design for the casual player who goes at a much slower pace, you will appeal to a much larger base, leading to greater sales.

Seems simple enough, right? While the base of the idea is decent enough, I think it ignores one important aspect of human behavior, the pursuit of greatness. Given the choice, most people would want to be the best at something, or at least great at it. Be it sports, acting, math, etc, we try to be the best at something. Problem is reality usually sets in and most of us realize we will never be the MVP of a sports league, star in a major movie, or publish a top selling book. What we do instead is follow the lives of those that do; we feast upon celebrity news, and get all excited when we meet one of them in person. If we can’t have it ourselves, we at least want to see what its like through the eyes of someone else.

MMOs mimic society in a lot of ways, and I believe the above also applies. I believe most players would love to be in a top tier raiding guild taking down world firsts if they could. Reality again sets in for most and we realize we don’t have that kind of skill/time to commit to a game, and instead play at our own pace, whatever that may be. Yet we still inspect that decked out raiding when we see them in town, we read about a guilds journey to defeat the final boss of some instance, and we sometimes go to a database website and search out the best gear for our class, just to see how it looks or its stats.

While many of us will never raid, it is still something that we MIGHT attempt at some point. Just like you are not likely to star in a movie, you might be an extra in the background, and we all know you will point that out to all your family and friends when it comes out. It’s just something we do, and that’s ok.

MMOs need that type of endgame, in some quantity, to provide that ‘dream of what could be’ quality. It should not dominate the developer’s time, and it should not force the majority down that path, but non-the-less it should be in the game. Just like in real life, a MMOs world needs its superstars.

Note: I’m not saying raider or hardcore players are ‘better’ than the casual player when I say superstar. Just like I would not consider some Hollywood stars better than the common man (looking at you Paris, Lohan, Britney, etc).


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