Breaking down MMO burnout, and ways to avoid it.

June 26, 2008

Rick over at /random expressed concern that his longtime guild may not be as hyped for WAR as he is, and that their time together in the game may be rather limited due to general MMO veteran burnout, a legitimate concern for anyone hoping to find the next ‘it’ game to play with friends.

As someone with a great deal of MMO experience, having played Ultima Online heavily at release and MMO gaming ever since, Rick’s post got me thinking about the general idea of MMO burnout. On a somewhat recent podcast, Michael Zenke expressed his jealousy for anyone able to enjoy one MMO for great lengths of time, as he himself was unable to focus on any one game for long. This brings up the question, does the appeal of MMO gaming have a limited shelf life? Do we all reach a point where we are no longer entertained by ‘kill x’ quests, grinding another level, or killing a mob in the hopes it drops the item we desire? How many times can you hit max level in an MMO before all you see is the same formula with a few twists, instead of the rush to explore a new world and see what is around the next corner ?

I think part of what contributes to the burnout is that initially, an MMO is a very different beast than all other games, especially during the initial ‘big three’ era, before Xbox live and all computer games having an online component made multiplayer fairly common. Just the fact that you logged into a world populated by thousands of other real players was new and exciting. Seeing another real player, and not an NPC, run by you for the first time was special, as was the first time you got together with other players to tackle some common task. The very basics of MMO gaming are what hook us initially, but those same hooks exist in all MMOs, and are nothing new the 3rd or 4th time around. Your first group experience in MMO 4 is much different than it was in MMO 1. In MMO 4, you know what to expect, you know exactly why you are in the group, and worst still, you know that joining a PUG could result in disaster; disaster you no longer have patience for. What you and everyone else could once laugh about now generally results in people leaving the group at best and a massive flame fest at worst.

UO was able to get away with a LOT of issue in part because for 99% of the players, just being online was a source of newness and entertainment. When Warhammer Online goes live, what percentage of the players will view just connecting to a server and being in a virtual world as entertainment? It certainly won’t be 99%, or 50%, but will it even be 10%? Regardless of the actual number, it won’t be many, and as a result, WAR and all other future MMOs need to deliver compelling gameplay right out of the gate to satisfy the needs of a far more demanding MMO crowd. In addition, not only does that content need to be compelling day one, it also has to continue at a much more furious pace than in days past. We all want new surprises around every corner, and those corners better come at a far more rapid pace than before. MMO gamers today won’t be logging on to hit a practice dummy for hours in order to work up their sword skill high enough to kill field rats. They want awesome day one, day two, and expect that awesome to continue to deliver for months on end. In many ways, it’s an almost impossible task for today’s developers to satisfy the needs of veteran MMO gamers.

With all that said, is there any hope for all the old whiny bastards like Rick and I? Can any MMO today or in the future rekindle those types of feelings we had for our first MMO? Glass half full guy says yes, glass half empty guy is not so sure. On the one hand, playing with a great group of people in a solid environment will always be entertaining. Playing on a beer league softball team is just as fun today as playing baseball was in high school, even though the feeling of hitting your first homerun will never be eclipsed by another homerun in the future. The actual activity, while still fun, is greatly supplemented by the people you play with. In that regard, any solid MMO with good gameplay should be able to entertain us, as we hope WAR will. It won’t, however, bring the same rush you had during your first relic raid in DAoC, or the first time you tried to run away from a PK in UO. And perhaps our tolerance for the general MMO grind, something all MMO games feature in varying degrees, is a bit lower. To me, that just places an even greater importance on playing with quality people early and often, as without them, that burnout sets in hard and fast regardless of what MMO you are playing.

One year of blogging done, and what a year it has been!

June 25, 2008

It’s been a year already?

I initially started blogging for what I believe is the most common reason: to have a place to keep all my thoughts and ideas about gaming in one place. What originally started as just ‘something to do’ has slowly grown into a very enjoyable hobby and craft. Over the course of the last year, I’ve been rather heavily involved in the MMO blogosphere, be it commenting, linking, or podcasting. Through it all, I’ve had a great time and gained a huge amount of insight into not only MMO games, but my own approach to them as well. Not to mention all the great bloggers and podcasters I’ve gone back and forth with, something that would likely not have happened without the blog.

I figured the best (easiest?) way to break down my first year as a blogger was just to go over the great statistics that WordPress provides, and comment on anything I found interesting or surprising.

First up, the very top-level stuff.

Blog Stats

Total views: 104,123

Busiest day: 11,852 – Thursday, September 6, 2007

Posts: 253

Comments: 1,658

As I recently posted here, the blog hit 100k views not too long ago, a nice round number. I never gave traffic much thought when I started, but I must say I’m very happy hitting 100k in my first year.

The busiest day, way back in September, is the result of getting linked by the BBC tech page, a quote from a somewhat random post I made about WoW and the future expansion. That was an exciting day, especially since it came so early in this blog’s life. Sadly the retention rate from all that traffic was rather low, although it certainly helped. As the stats below will show, no other day/post has really come close to that huge, single hit boost from the BBC, although if the current traffic trend continues, it will happen eventually.

The total posts number, 253, is overall rather decent considering I generally don’t post on Saturday or Sunday. If my math is correct (odds are low), that means out of the remaining 261 days, I posted on average almost every single day. Clearly days with multiple posts help offset days I posted nothing, but even so, a near post-a-day average not counting the weekend is fine by me. Now to keep it up in year two!

The 1658 comments stat is what I think I’m most proud of, as to me it means people actually cared enough about what was posted here to say something about it. Comments are what really drive a blogger to continue and to stay active, and they are a great source of motivation, so thank you to everyone who has taken the time to write something. (yes, even you random troll)

Top Posts for all days ending 2008-06-25

The love and hate game, WoW style. – 16,875

Screen shot comparison. – 2,636

Looking in the mirror; the sickness that was WoW raiding – 1,918

EQ2, trial of the never-ending download. – 1,632

Throwing down the gauntlet, the great MMO challenge – 1,414

Ebolt anyone? – 1,230

Funcom to AoC players, GTFO! – 1,176

Can my toaster run AoC? – Concerned Walmart Shopper -1,143

Stuck in easy mode. – 1,059

Ghost town, population you. – 704

As mentioned above, the first post is the one linked by the BBC, and as you can see, it’s far and away the top post. The next post is somewhat interesting, in that the concept was rather simple, and it was also one of the few posts with pictures. Also of interest is that the post was about EQ2, a game that I overall spent a limited amount of time with. This trend continues in a few more examples, showing that the EQ2 community is very active, and that EQ2 itself drives a lot of MMO traffic. Top post three is one of my favorites, as it was a very personal retrospective look of my time in WoW, and in particular the endgame raiding grind. In addition to the post itself, a lot of really great comments have been left by others sharing their own experiences and methods of escaping that trap. I won’t go into detail about the rest, other than to say a few more recent posts have snuck into the top ten, and that my original post, ‘Ebolt anyone?’, is holding on strong despite originally getting very little traffic due to the blog being new. UO reminiscing still gets peoples attention, a clear sign that you never really forget your first MMO, as UO was for so many.

Referrers for all days ending 2008-06-25 – 11,015 – 3,159 – 2,922 – 1,831 – 1,288 – 1,055 – 838 – 650 – 499 – 398

Again the BBC dominates the top spot, and even spot number two, despite that link being on the back page. WoWInsider, being the huge a site that it is, is not a very surprising number three, followed by the ever awesome VirginWorlds news feed. Tobold, the blog overlord himself, is not surprisingly the first blog on the list, along with Keen and Graev, KTR and the link-happy man himself, Crazy Kinux. Thank you to everyone who has linked me, it drives traffic, which leads to comments, which leads to happy blogging!

Search Terms for all days ending 2008-06-25

Syncaine – 334

vanguard trial – 312

hardcore casual – 267

eq2 – 259

wow progress – 219

hardcore – 195

warhammer podcast – 132

eq2 trial – 119

sotnw – 92

switch mmo – 77

shadowbane reset – 70

This list is a little surprising. Spots one and three are all about me, and you know, I’m kind of a big deal on Google (clearly kidding). The big surprise is spot number two, people looking for a Vanguard trial. How does that game NOT have a trial? Seriously, I’ve been looking to try Vanguard for a long time now, if just to see what all the fuss is about, and yet without a trial it’s never going to happen. It’s silly that SOE has not gotten around to this yet. Another random surprise is the amount of searches that lead people here about Sword of the New World (sotnw). I only briefly posted about the game, and generally concluded that while pretty, the game was an afk-grind with little point. Maybe that’s what people are looking for though, who knows…

Finally here are two charts (remember, people like pictures) showing overall traffic flow. On the monthly chart, you can clearly see the spike from the BBC link, followed by a return to the more normal, steady growth. Hopefully the trend continues, and one day that BBC spike won’t look quite as dominant.

The weekly chart shows that while monthly traffic might be fairly steady, week to week traffic is very sporadic. This is due no doubt to a combination of who linked me, what exactly I posted that week, and how active I was commenting on other blogs and generating hits from that. The one thing I have learned after a year of blogging is you can never really predict what will drive traffic. A well-crafted post (imo of course) may get little attention, while a quick post about something random will start a firestorm. The important thing to remember is to post about what YOU want to talk about, and not worry about posting the next ‘major hit’ blog post. If you write honestly and with passion, people will pick up on it and drop by.

To sum it all up, it’s been a crazy first year for me in regards to this blog. It’s been a huge learning experience, and hopefully I continue to improve and provide interesting reading for everyone. I’m very much looking forward to year two, especially since the ‘next big think’ in Warhammer will hit, and no doubt spur some good debate in our corner of the Internet. I can’t wait!

Thanks again to all the reader!

MMO history, that Bartle guy, and why WoW2 won’t blow your mind.

June 23, 2008

It seems we had a busy weekend in the MMO blog world, fueled by an interview with Richard Bartle done by Michael Zenke over at Massively. As with anything remotely interesting posted on the internet these days, the responses to the interview, and the multitude of blog posts related to it, range from the ‘you’re an idiot stfu’ to ‘exactly what I was thinking’.

The real headline grabbing line of the interview is the comment “I’ve already played Warhammer. It was called World of Warcraft“, which when taken out of context or misinterpreted is all the internet needs to jump on the nerd rage bandwagon. When clarified (Bartle was talking about the setting itself), he is actually only 50% correct. Originally WoW was indeed the Warhammer setting without the official license (they lost that at some point in development), but only until Blizzard started putting their unique spin on the world. The Warhammer IP is lacking such gems as pretty evil elves, noble aliens that are descendents of the super evil alien guys, and a world where everyone (aside from said super evil aliens) is a good guy, just misunderstood. Even the undead are good guy freedom fighters, yay! It might be a world, but outside of a magic arena, there is very little war being crafted.

Bastardized lore bitching aside, Bartle does bring up an interesting point to someone who has been in the MMO scene since Neverwinter Nights; MMOs really are fairly similar now. Think about it, when Ultima Online came out, it was totally new. So new that the term MMO was a few years off, and everyone was a damn noob just logging on and wandering around (and getting PK’ed). Then came EverQuest, and how many people looked at EQ and said ‘eh, it’s UO with elves, who cares’? Right, no one. What you did hear was ‘EQ is carebear land, gtfo newbie’. Which was accurate, EQ was carebear land compared to UO, but more importantly, EQ was radically different than UO in almost every single way. While UO catered to the explorer and the killer, EQ was designed for the achiever and socializer. The final piece of the original ‘big three’ was Asheron’s Call. When AC came out, was it considered ‘EQ in a random setting’? Again, no. And AC had its own charm and gameplay that was again different than UO or EQ. The original ‘big three’ where all successful in their own way, and offered gamers at the time three unique choices in setting, gameplay, and overall game design philosophy.

Fast forward to 2004 and World of Warcraft, and you start hearing talk of ‘a more polished EQ’. Sure the setting was different, WoW brought a huge host of design changes that later became MMO standards, and above all it was a damn fun game, but it was not the radical change that UO/EQ/AC were when compared to each other. WoW followed the EQ formula, gave it a bigger budget, and polished it until it was done.

Finally, we have Age of Conan and soon Warhammer Online, two major games that from day one were being billed as ‘WoW but with feature x’. Which is not exactly a bad thing in terms of good MMO gaming from a pure fan perspective (readers know I’m dying to play WAR), but it does say something about the current trend in MMO gaming, and what the future might hold. With budgets as big as they are today, and with so much at stake financially, perhaps the days of great innovation are gone, and the best we can hope for in a triple A title going forward is the EQ formula + twist x. Look at any major trend that blew up, be it shooter games (Doom), sports games (Madden), or racing games (Need for Speed, Grand Turismo), and what do we see? Madden (insert current year), the same game as last year but with one new gimmick. Is it really that shocking that MMO gaming, which officially became ‘kind of a big deal’, has followed the same pattern of success?

Innovation is still alive and well, but you won’t find it in games with millions of subscribers. You will find it in games like EVE, A Tale in the Desert, Shadowbane, and countless other ‘niche’ games. And has history has shown us time and time again, the niche will be culled; the best features harvested out, and ‘polished’ for the release of WoW2. And like you, I’ll be there day one, like a good little fanboi, dying to get into beta.

AoC bashing, LoTRO update, ISK talk.

June 20, 2008

Ah Friday sweetness.

Heartless and Rick over at /random both commented on a Massively report about AoC and it’s troubles with its much-hyped endgame PvP. It would seem that massive amounts of high details characters letting off fancy spell effects all in one place cause lag. Odd right? And the solution? Turn off the fancy stuff, reduce the visibility of said masses, and /pray. Oh, and point out that while it’s a known issue, it really only effects those fools who, god forbid, played the game too much and leveled too fast. Everyone who goes at the desired pace Funcom set ‘should’ be fine. Looks like Funcom has some PR positions open, someone should apply, soon.

In functional game news, Aria and I are just about finished with the Lone Lands in LoTRO. I know some people hate the zone, but I personally really enjoyed it. The theme, a barren landscape with old ruins (ok, so every zone in LoTRO has old ruins, but whatever they look sweet) and a long road running down the middle just works for me, plus Weathertop looks fantastic. We are on the final part of Book 2, and really looking forward to getting a group and finishing it up. After that, it’s back to the North Downs and maybe some early Evendim action.

In EVE-land (space?), I’m building up my bank account running missions with my combat pilot. The long time off really increased his power due to all the skill gain, and I’m having a much easier time with all the missions. Once that bank account is good and healthy, it’s going to be PvP time. Really, really looking forward to that.

Have a good weekend everyone!

Focused crafting, not just a bullet point on a box!

June 19, 2008

Psychochild breaks down the general ideas behind crafting in his recent post, a topic that was addressed here on this blog not too long ago.

While I don’t want to rehash the great discussion we had from my previous post, I do want to touch on a point that I might have missed, and that Psychochild mentions; who are we designing crafting for?

He points out that many socializers enjoy crafting, as it allows them to chat and be social while still getting something done. While you create 100 bronze daggers, you might as well chat it up with your guild mates, right? In this case, the actual crafting is just a side event to being social, and since it’s a side event, how engaging or useful the actual crafting is might not be that important. More important is that the crafting does not interfere with chatting, so active input systems like EQ2 tend to be less favorable to something like LoTRO, where you can queue up those 100 daggers, click a button, and chat until all 100 are finished. Sure you are just going to vendor all 100 daggers, but again, that’s not really the point, the point is that crafting is an excuse to stand around and just chat without feeling like you are doing nothing. No matter the play style preference, we all like to feel like we are advancing our characters, be it levels or crafting skill.

So at least for socializers (incoming generalization, relax), crafting being actually useful is great, but not make-or-break important. Systems where 99% of all crafted items are worthless vendor trash are not seen as broken, but rather as ‘just the way it is’. If you are aiming crafting at socializers, you focus more on creating a simple, unobtrusive system rather than something that will significantly impact gameplay or power balance. This might explain most crafting systems in MMOs. If you are not primarily a socializer, you might miss the point of crafting.

But what if we wanted to target crafting at other play styles like achiever, explorer, or killer? Would there even be an interest in such a system? EVE, for instance, has a vastly different crafting system, one that appeals more to the min/max crowd than to the typical socializer. If dumping data into excel and analyzing it is your idea of fun, you will love the crafting/market game in EVE. And lots of people do love it, to the point that that is all they do in EVE. Whole Corporations (guilds) exist to focus on mining/production/selling. And that aspect of EVE has a profound impact on all other aspects of the game. Regardless of what you do, the crafting system in EVE has impacted your game. In contrast, you could go from 1-70 and see almost all the content in WoW without ever coming into direct contact with crafting. You can ignore the nodes, ignore the crafting section of the AH, and never need to use a single crafted item.

At some point during this rambling I got a bit off track, sorry… My point is that it’s important to identify who you are targeting with your crafting system, and design reasonable expectations around it. If we are targeting the socializer, what the system does not do, impede chatting, is more important than what it does do, create useful items. On the other hand, if we are aiming at the min/maxer, you better make sure your system is not only useful, but centrally important to everything else, and deep enough to appeal to the number crunchers without excluding everyone else. Above all, what should be avoided is a crafting system simply thrown into an MMO for the sake of a bullet point on the back of the box, or because someone in design just assumes all MMO’s need a crafting system, regardless of how it actually fits into your game.

Maybe if crafting was targeted more to a specific audience it would receive less hate for being worthless or misguided. Just like raiding or PvP targets an audience, why can’t crafting?

Google the crime dog.

June 18, 2008

Overall a sad story, but this has to be mentioned for stupid move of the year. How do you even defend that in court? ‘Oh I was just Googling it for fun…’ .

Not to give crime advice, but if you are going to do it, try not to Google how to do it first…

Warhammer Online and the queue issue, RELAX!

June 18, 2008

I really should not be getting this worked up about a pre-release MMO topic, but this just hit a nerve for some reason. Keen, and today Tobold, made posts about Mythic’s plans for realm balance, and that ONE tool they will use to achieve that balance is realm queues for logging in.

Well for some reason (nerd rage) some people are getting all doom and gloom with the possibility that they might face a queue when logging into an MMO. Dear god people, queues are nothing new. Remember WoW at launch, the two hour queues only to enter a server that lagged so badly it was unplayable? What about the everyday queue for Arena/BGs? Ever log out in Jita and try to log back on during prime time in EVE? Good luck with that. Queues exist all over the place, as does server downtime and massive patching. Welcome to MMO land, enjoy your stay.

Aside from queues being as common as gaining levels in MMOs, let’s really think hard on this particular issue. First of all, we don’t even know WHICH side is going to have the population issue. Sure fansite polls point to Destruction, but guess who follows an MMO pre-release? The hardcore. Is it really that surprising that the majority of the hardcore would gravitate towards the bad guys, the side with the cool lore and interesting mechanics? The ‘we are sick of cutesy elves’ crowd? Has WoW not shown us that the majority of casuals love to play elves and humans, and be the good guy, just for the sake of playing a role they naturally assume is what they ‘should’ do? Are we forgetting that unless something disastrous happens, WAR will be a huge MMO with millions of subs?

When we talk millions, we are talking large quantities of the ultra casual, the guy who never looks at a message board, never reads a blog, and just logs in for a few hours a week. He does not min/max, raid, or get super involved in guild drama. He just likes to enjoy himself in an online world during a limited amount of downtime in his life. Is that guy really going to bend over backwards to play on a certain server, or is he more concerned about getting in and playing asap? Picking a low pop server, or having to transfer over won’t matter much to that guy, as long as he can avoid a queue that could eat up a good chunk of his game time. My dad is that guy, and trust me, he would switch servers in a heartbeat to avoid a queue. He did it repeatedly in WoW, even midway into leveling a character. While the hardcore players get attached to what we play and with who, the casuals live a different MMO life, one that can be a bit difficult to understand from the outside.

People also seem to be ignoring the fact that while not announced, what’s to stop Mythic from offering free transfers from high pop servers to low pop ones almost immediately? Just because Blizzard waited months/years to do it, does that mean everyone is going to follow? In WoW population imbalance was a minor annoyance, while in WAR it could be game-breaking. Why would Mythic not react quickly to solve a game-breaking issue, one that can easily be remedied by something as simple as a character/guild transfer?

So while silly to state, everyone needs to relax a bit here. This is not Mythic’s first time dealing with the issue of realm balance, and they are planning pre-release on ways to deal with it. It will be addressed day one, and while I’m sure it will still be an issue, I highly doubt it will be a two hour queue issue like it was in WoW, or a constant 45 minute queue like we had in BGs. To not learn anything from those clear examples would be selling Mythic short, a foolish mistake.


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