Interesting read about F2P gaming.

March 31, 2008

I’ll post my thought on this article tomorrow, no time today other than to say that if you are aiming for Nexon-like profits, go F2P. If you want to make serious money, the sub model in NA continues to dominate.

Motivation for beta leaks.

March 31, 2008

The topic of beta leaks and people who break the NDA always comes up around the time a new MMO is set for release, and given the growth of the MMO genre, the scale and depth of these leaks has only increased.

While reading the leaks can at times be informative, and is almost always entertaining, the information presented is often from a jaded source, generally towards the negative. The first thing you have to consider is why the person would break NDA in the first place. Assuming we are talking about a legitimate closed beta with a limited number of people let in, getting in is often difficult, random, and much sought after. We have all seen the eBay listings of someone selling a beta account for ridiculous amounts, and those listings would not exist if there was no market for them. So if we assume an early beta account is indeed something of value, why would someone risk losing their account just to vent on a forum or website about something they themselves have nothing invested in?

One reason, and in my opinion the most common one, is the NDA breaker has already been banned from the beta, and hence has nothing to lose. This also leaves them with a bad taste in their mouth, to get kicked out, and so whatever faults the beta had (and it will, otherwise it would not be beta) will be blown up by the ex tester. The major advantage the ex tester has over those not in the beta is they can say practically anything, and it will be difficult for common fans to dispute what is said, having not played the game themselves. Other beta testers won’t risk breaking NDA to cast doubt on the information. If a developer makes a statement, and they rarely do, fans often see this as ‘the man’ covering up the truth, regardless of what is said.

Does that mean everything in a beta leak should be tossed out? No, as often even the most hate-filled rants are grounded in some bit of truth, however far stretched. But anything said should also be taken in context; in this case a beta. Casual fans would be surprised what gets added in the final months or weeks of beta, or how rough beta software can be in the early stages. Even knowing you are in a beta test, we are still game fans, and when something goes wrong, we react. Even if you are told a sword swing animation is not functioning properly, every time your character swings his sword you are going to notice that broken animation. Notice enough broken things, and it’s only natural that an overall broken impression begins to set in, even though you have been told to ignore those things for now.

In this regard I don’t envy developers. They need beta testers to ensure a higher quality product, yet at the same time they risk unjust negative press due to the leaks. Very rarely will someone post a beta leak and have it be a glowing review. If the beta is as good as a glowing review would make it out to be, odds are those beta testers are too busy playing and protecting their account to make a beta leak post/thread. If we look at the whole situation in that light, perhaps a lack of leaks can be taken as the best possible review.

Top 30 silly names, maybe.

March 28, 2008

Crave has a nice (if incomplete) list of funny videogame names found here. I’ve played a few of those, and I must say the names always confused me. Worth looking over IMO.

I did enjoy the fact that of the 22 comments up when I read it, most were corrections about names or people defending a game. Got to love the videogame community.

Unite casuals with the hardcore, don’t separate them.

March 28, 2008

Listening to the latest Drone Bay podcast, a thought came to me while listening to the ‘mail time’ section. A new player basically asked what he can do about older players having tons of money, and an inflated economy making it difficult to purchase better gear at reasonable prices. The response, which I agree with, was that in EVE inflation is not really an issue for most items, especially the early game stuff like frigates and cruisers. They also mentioned that EVE has multiple money sinks keeping the economy in check, chief among these being that ships blow up and are destroyed permanently, which happens very frequently in PvP.

This led me to thinking that generally PvP pilots tend to be the most hardcore overall players, the ‘raiding elite’ of most other MMOs. As EVE statistics have shown, the majority of players stay in Empire space and tend to do the PvE elements of the game, mission running or high-sec mining. The key to EVE’s amazing balance is that those Empire players (lets call them casuals) are not hurt by the ‘raiding elite’ PvP players, but in fact benefit from them. Ships and fittings need to be replaced; creating a demand for the goods casuals can produce either from mining or mission running. The PvP players benefit from the lower prices caused by constant supply from Empire players. A slowdown in either section would actually hurt the other, which is somewhat unique in the MMO space.

The almost direct opposite is the current balance in WoW, especially as that game attempts to shift towards PvP. The hardcore raiders are upset whenever Blizzard drops the difficulty to raid, or whenever new welfare items are introduced (like the new 70 blue set). The casuals are constantly upset that the game is tuned to the hardcore raiders, asking for easier access to raiding instances and complaining that PvP is unfair when they have to face characters in full high level epic gear. Whenever Blizzard helps one side, be it the hardcore or the casual, they seemingly hurt the other. Add a casual 5 man instance, the raiders will call it useless content. Add another raiding instance, the casuals demand content. More powerful PvP gear is introduced, the raiders get pissed. Useful PvP items found in PvE, PvP players get pissed. In some respects, no matter what Blizzard does, a large portion of their player base is going to feel slighted, more so than in most MMOs.

It’s a good lesson in MMO design however, that in order to really please both sides (casual and hardcore), its not about giving both sides equal development time, but rather making both side benefit whenever one gets a boost. Somehow a new top end raiding instance needs to benefit the casual crowd, and somehow new casual content needs to impact the hardcore crowd in a positive way as well. A game that provides such a base, like EVE, is going to have far less issue with its hardcore/casual divide.

Daily quests, daily grind.

March 27, 2008

Now that 2.4 is out, many bloggers are posting their initial reactions to the patch, with most being overall positive. It seems the new area is a hit, and the players are enjoying the new daily quests that contribute to the big server event of opening up the island. All this talk of dailies got me thinking, why do so many people consider them such a great idea?

A daily quest, when you really break it down, is just like any other quest in the game, with the major difference that you can repeat it over and over for xp/gold/rep. Break it down a bit more, and most daily quests are little more than grinding out ‘collect x’ or ‘kill x’ tasks. So why when given the title of ‘daily’ do players so readily accept these tasks and congratulate Blizzard on a brilliant idea?

Is it really something as simple as the fact that dailies are easy, safe, 100% guaranteed rewards that are clearly presented to you? When you do a quest for the first time, you might not know exactly where to go or what to collect, but a daily solves this. A normal quest might also be too tough for you, but again a daily solves this. And some quests you don’t know what the reward will be until you complete it, but not so with a daily quest.

This leads me to believe that most MMO players are somewhat short sighted, or simply tricked into a new form of the same old grind. An xp bar tells me I need 1000xp to level, but it does not tell me how to go and get that xp. I know killing rats gives xp, but again I’m not told that’s the best way. A daily says “it’s a new day, repeat me”. And you accept, get a new ‘quest’ in your log, get a nice counter of how many rats you need to kill, and once you kill the set number of rats, you get a set reward. If you go out and just kill the rats on your own, you have no guidance on how many to kill, for how long, or exactly where to go to kill them. The daily removes all that for you. Plus tomorrow you get to safely repeat the process all over again.

To me dailies represent the exact opposite of what most MMO players generally request from content. We ask that it be new, different, exciting, challenging. We complain when we are given more ‘kill x’ ‘collect y’ quests, yet we cheer new dailies? And we cheer that Blizzard has given us the ‘opportunity’ to now repeat the same exact tasks 25 times a day, rather than just ‘limiting’ us to 10?

Delays, windows, hype, and cake.

March 26, 2008

Warhammer Online has been delayed, again. Not a huge shock really, especially considering the whole ‘we are not making DAoC 2… ok fine we are’ design change, something I fully support. Hopefully at some point ‘soon’ anyone who buys a pre-order will get access to beta; that would be a nice summer diversion.

I was going to say this opens a nice window to return to LoTRO, but their expansion is also set to release in the fall. Depending on how long WoW remains entertaining, perhaps that LoTRO window will happen anyway. And of course there is that return to EVE that will inevitable happen (and the pull grows stronger daily).

And oddly enough, my remote interest in Age of Conan is rising. Hopefully they have an open beta soon, so I can go in and see what it’s all about. Somehow all the hype and pre-release info about that game has done nothing to spark my interest, and I’m not sure if that means I really don’t care or I’m just too focused on WAR and whatever game I’m currently playing.

Oh and that whole ‘cake is a lie’ thing is still out there…

Offspring or Evolution?

March 25, 2008

Cuppy recently talked about what she is looking for in an MMO, in particular referencing the upcoming FreeRealms (of which I will admit I know basically nothing about). It struck me that based on her list we have an almost exact opposite request list for future games.

Here is her list.

Cute? Check.

Minigames? Check.

Faeries? Check.

Small download? Check.

Web integration? Check.

Casual? Check.

Cute? WoW is about as cute as I can stand, and even that pushes it at times.

Minigames? Nope, I have the Wii for that. I want a game, not a mini-game.

Faeries? The Fey in EQ2 bugged me, but this is somewhat minor I guess.

Small download? I’ll buy it, put the DVD in my drive, and never again care what the size of the game is. The fact that high quality graphics/sound take up more space, I’m not willing to sacrifice polygons for a few minutes off a one time download or install.

Web integration? Until an A-class game comes out with any worthwhile web integration, this is a non-factor. Stuff like the WoW Armory is nice, but if it went poof, I would hardly notice. And nothing too web-based is going to take advantage of that 8800 GT sitting in my system, which goes back to the space issue above.

Casual? This one is a toss up. Anything casual can be made non-casual and vice versa, it all depends on how you play. Some people treat WoW like a job, and some argue WoW is the king of casual. People also played UO casually, and most would agree that was a rather hardcore game. But just like forcing people to play hardcore (EQ), I’ll pass on any game that enforced casual play, however that might be done.

Now I realize I’m taking her list a bit out of context to make my point, but I think the overall point is still valid. We are both MMO gamers, yet we are looking for two completely different games. What interests her drives me away, and very likely the opposite applies (but maybe not?) My question now is, does one game type override the other, or can both exist with a health market share? With the likes of Metaplace and FreeRealms, are we seeing an offspring of the general MMO space, or are MMOs simply evolving, with Myspace-like games replacing the big world big graphics style games of today?

BFG 9600 GT OC = Upgrade. Virus = Downgrade.

March 25, 2008

My ABS computer, the one replaced by my newer Alienware and now being used by the girlfriend to play WoW, got a video card upgrade recently, going from a faulty 7900 GTX to a new BFG 9600 GT OC. While not entirely a huge performance upgrade, the 7900 GTX was bugging out, creating random screen flickers and other graphic abnormalities. Over less than two years, that’s two 7900 GTX cards that basically burned themselves out, very disappointing. The new 9600 looks impressive though. It’s a sleek, thin card, with a very decent looking heat/fan setup. Not surprisingly, it keeps WoW locked at 60 FPS regardless of what’s on screen at 1440×900, but then most calculators can do that as well. Hopefully for the next year or more I won’t have to think about anything hardware related between the new Alienware and the upgrade to the ABS. Something tells me that won’t actually happen, but one can hope…

In celebration of the new card, that same ABS got a VERY, VERY nasty virus on or around the same day. While the actual name escapes me, the virus changed admin rights, making ctrl+alt+delete impossible. It also changed the desktop to a phony image of some anti-virus software, and constantly had IE start up and show a similar page with the anti-virus software. Even McAfee was no help, since whenever it would try to delete or quarantine the virus the admin rights being changed prevented it. So after an hour or so of trying to figure the damn thing out, I figured what the hell, time to put in the restore DVD provided by ABS and go for a clean install. The computer was long overdue for a wipe anyway, and I guess a crippling virus is as good a motivational tool as you are going to get. I still have no clue how I actually got the virus, but would love to know. The install went well enough thanks to the DVD installing most of the needed drivers for me, and a quick search on the net got me the rest. Amazingly re-installing WoW went faster than I thought it would, as the big 700meg patch downloaded in less than 20 minutes using Blizzards downloader. Overall just to get the system back up and able to play WoW (because really, that’s what counts, right?) took maybe 4-5 hours; the majority of that time was XP doing its thing off the DVD. As with the hardware, hopefully I won’t be doing the whole wipe/install thing anytime soon going forward.

On rails pacing in WoW, a solution or a problem?

March 24, 2008

Over the long weekend I had my first chance to see the Cavern of Time area, and also run Durnholde Keep, the first of three instances available. Overall the Cavern of Time area is a nice, albeit strange change of pace from the usual WoW scenery. The little tour quest that explains what the Bronze Dragonflight is doing in the area was nice, and after sends you into Durnholde Keep to save Thrall.

The instance itself I really enjoyed, as it’s very different for a variety of reasons. First off is the fact that it’s not only an outdoor instance, it goes so far as to simulate an old Azeroth zone, Old Hillsbrad Foothills. This makes the instance seem more like a well scripted group quest than the traditional ‘in a cave to kill named mobs’ instance run. Nothing wrong with killing boss mobs in a cave now, but the change of pace was refreshing. Along with this are the actual events that happen in the instance, which again are different than the tradition instance stuff we have seen 1-70. The overall activity is an escort ‘quest’ involving protecting Thrall through a series of fights. The combination of the setting, the scripting, and being in an instance makes this particular escort sequence very unique and exciting, even looking beyond the fact that you are interacting with one of the most important characters in Warcraft lore.

It left me wondering why Blizzard has not implemented more instances in this very strict ‘on rails’ theme, with some central event determining the pace. Most instances are a point to point experience anyway, the only major difference being the fact that you don’t have to chase after a character, but are able to progress forward at your leisure. The advantage Durnholde Keep has is due to it’s very scripted nature, Blizzard knows exactly how long a successful instance run will take. This is huge in terms of player satisfaction, as the balance between too short and too long is very fine, yet total length is tough to predict due to the random nature of group makeup, gear, levels, etc. Having a scripted event determine the pace of the instance solves all this.

I’m curious to see how my opinion might change with the 2nd or 3rd run through the instance. Will the ‘newness’ of the event wear off and become annoying, or will the fact that the pacing is dead on continue to be a high point?

The future of blogging?

March 20, 2008

I found this article very interesting as a blogger myself.

Clearly the type of blog the article talks about is way beyond anything most of us in the MMO blog world deal with in terms of traffic or money, but the underlying principle is still interesting, and the final point about blog authors getting together to form a ‘super blog’ of sorts has perhaps already happened in MMO land with Massively.


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