Subscription vs RMT: Who will save the poor noobs with no time to play?

June 10, 2009

It seems it’s been too long since everyone’s second favorite topic (hardcore vs casual being #1), RMT, has been discussed. Tobold has two posts about it and recently DDO went F2P.

As readers here know, I’m not a huge fan of RMT games, and it’s certainly not because I could not afford to keep up with the Joneses. I have more than enough disposable income that I could devote to an RMT shop and become a top player in a game like Atlantica Online (just for kicks I did the calculation back when I played, and it was more than affordable for me), but I don’t game to see how much money I can convert into fun. I game because, and this might sound crazy, I actually enjoy playing the games I play. (Except for DarkFall, I play that to further my crusade of the miserable)

I waned off from Atlantica Online because the further I got, the more obvious it became that spending money, rather than playing, was the way to go if you wanted to stay competitive. Being overly-competitive by nature, that was a deal breaker for me. Had AO been a sub game, I would have stuck with it far longer, and actually gotten into its end-game of politics and guild warfare. But I went into it knowing it’s a F2P game, and so was not all that surprised when my time with it ended before I had exhausted the actual content.

In a similar vain, I know DarkFall won’t be determined ultimately by who buys more boxes of random uber gear. I fully understand that those on top will likely be those who spent more time (with some degree of player skill influencing this as well, and more so in DF than other games, which is a major draw), but since spending time = fun for me, that’s a good exchange. If I’m only half-interested in a game (like WAR currently), I accept that I won’t be near the top, and I know I can’t legally spend X amount of dollars to make up for that fact. If you as a player simply don’t have the available gaming time to stay near the top in a sub game, for whatever reason, and you are someone who needs to be at that level, RMT games are a possible solution. (Assuming of course you have the cash, if you are someone without time AND money, well then you are F’ed)

Complaining that it’s unfair that people with more time are ahead in a sub game is about as valid as complaining that those with more money are ahead in a F2P game. Right from the start, you know exactly what determines ultimately who ‘wins’ (and all this assumes you care about that) in each model; sign up for the one you prefer more, as luckily now the market is diverse enough to support almost any style of game under both payment methods, in much the same way the market now supports many styles of MMO gaming. (hardcore PvP, carebear PvP, hardcore PvE, carebear PvE, etc)

When UO was the only game in town, raiders had a valid reason to ask for more hardcore PvE content, just like pre-RMT those with money but not time had a valid reason to complain that raiding was only for those with more time. Now that options covering everyone exist, move on from the games that don’t fit your particular style or time/money situation, or just stop bitching about it and accept you play in an environment that is ‘unfair’ to your particular situation.

As for illegal RMT, the problem is not the demand but the methods to stop it. In RL the demand for people to be rich is rather high, yet crime is controlled because the enforcement around robbing a bank works more often than not. That certain subscription games are more susceptible to RMT influence is both a design issue and a reflection of how well the methods to stop it are working. If Blizzard banned gold farmers fast enough to make it unprofitable to sell gold, or banned players buying gold with a high enough frequency to discourage future buyers, the problem would be solved. Illegal RMT would still exist of course, just like banks still get robbed, but it’s the frequency that is the issue, and currently in many MMOs the banks get robbed before they even open for business.

And unless the industry as a whole decides the winners in an MMO are those willing and able to spent more money than time, or that one method is always the optimal way to turn a profit, both the subscription model and RMT will continue to cater to their audience, each having its share of success stories and failures.

(RMT also has to get out from under it’s stigma as a ‘cheaper’ product than a sub game in the west, but that’s another topic entirely)

The lost DarkFall EuroGamer review is found!

June 9, 2009

Beau from Spouse Agro found the missing 8.5 hours of the EuroGamer review, and for great justice has posted it. For anyone looking for a good breakdown of what DarkFall is all about, especially from the perspective of someone who is not a basement-dwelling mouthbreather (that would be everyone else playing DF, in case you don’t know), check it out.

Reading his post, and also anticipating rerolling for the North American server, reminds me just how much info players DON’T know when they first enter Agon, in part because DarkFall is so different from the usual EQ clones, and also because it rough around the edges and does not always explain everything up front, kinda like EVE.

Usually not understanding something can lead to frustration (like if you did not know that at launch daggers were terrible, focusing on daggers and gimping your character would be frustrating), but that unknown is also a huge part of playing an MMO. Discovering things on your own, figuring out YOUR way of doing something, learning from mistakes; that can all be great fun if you have the right attitude. If you just have to be l33t from day one, and any minor setback sends you packing, obviously this won’t be a selling point. People get pulled into always referring to Thottbot (or whatever the WoW scum use these days) before they do anything, making sure that the shiny at the end is ‘worth the effort’. We all know the only ones discovering a raid boss are the world first players; everyone after is just following the youtube guide, which completely removes the entire ‘discovery’ aspect.

Beau also states “ironic that in a “hardcore” game, death means nothing”, which is funny because death in DF is why so many avoid it in the first place. The whole “ooh nooz, my pixels” fear. The natural reaction is “Dude, death IS hardcore, you loss all your gear!”, but that only has meaning if you care about the gear in the first place (most of us do, but clearly not all). I’m sure the concept of e-rep for not dying, or the kill/death ratio also don’t factor into Beau’s opinion of death, but for some it does. Even so, I think even Beau would agree death has more meaning than in WoW or WAR, where you simply respawn and run back into the meatgrinder. And certainly a player’s death has a bigger impact on a siege or PvP fight than in those games as well, which is after all half the point.

And while DarkFall is first and foremost a PvP MMO based around city control and guild warfare, let’s not forget that it’s not JUST that. It’s a sandbox after all, and allows you (to some degree obviously) to make of it what you will. Merchants, crafters, role-players, and PvE’ers all exist and play their part.

DarkFall update, in which PvP happens.

June 8, 2009

The last patch for DarkFall fixed my memory crash and resolved the sound = lag issue, the two things really putting a damper on my enjoyment of the game from the tech side. This, combined with the “We are moving, lets just PvP for the F of it” attitude thanks to NA-1 coming soon has lead to some really fun times recently.

For the majority of my in-game time, I’m out with one or two guildmates PvP’ing, more to work on our player skills than for the loot. The loot is still nice of course, but we go out in decent gear and don’t mind losing it, and this in turn gets us into fights we might otherwise have avoided, like initiating a 2v4. Perhaps its just random luck, but it seems we are running into similar-minded players, and instead of long mounted chases with little action, the last few days have featured some incredible fights to the finish. The Tribelands area in particular has been a lot of fun, and we have been getting some good action from the current residence of our old hamlet (The Fringe) and the NPC town Moonclaw. It seems they are always up for a fight, and don’t always just naked zerg. (Everyone does this at times, so you can’t really fault them when it does happen)

One particular string of encounters stands out as a good example. Riding between our old hamlet and Moonclaw, a guildie and myself spot two mounted players, and ride towards them to engage. They see us and ride in our direction, and soon we clash in a 2v2. It seemed both character and player skill was about even, and after some very close calls we eventually killed both of them. (I forget the names now, but credit goes to the second fighter, who instead of running when things went south went down fighting, and almost killed one of us in the process) A few minutes later, near the same area, we again see two mounted riders, and sure enough, it’s the same two guys, re-geared and looking for another fight. We engage again, and this time they get the upper hand quickly as my guildmate got sandwiched and lost his mount quickly. We managed to down one of their mounts, but at this point my mount was near death, and my stamina/health was at about 50%. They focused my guildmate who was on the ground with a bow, and managed to kill him after some good coordination between the rider and the guy on foot. I knew my only chance was to finish the guy on foot, and hopefully get into a 1v1 with the mounted guy in decent shape, but just after the killing blow on the ground player, the mounted guy struck me from behind and insta-killed me off my mount. After the red swirl and shock wore off, I checked my combat log and sure enough, a hit for 50ish damage did me in. (I was getting hit for 15-20 normally) Had that hit not been delivered, I could have stalled the fight a bit and recovered, and who knows how the 1v1 would have gone. Both fights took about 10-15 minutes to resolve, and the entire time it was great ‘edge of your seat’ fighting rather than hit and run stuff.

This type of scenario is just an example, and becoming the norm rather than the exception for PvP recently, making DarkFall really enjoyable and allowing me to refine my PvP skills quickly. Just from the last week, I’m much more comfortable going into a small scale situation and knowing my role in it, and feeling like I have a good chance to come out on top. This all makes the wait for NA-1 that much harder, as many of the early issues with the game are now resolved, yet the effects linger on EU-1. The only major addition still missing is the hard cap for the skill system, and I’ll be shocked if that’s not patched in before NA-1 goes live.

Sims 3 Review (EG style)

June 5, 2009

The Sims 3: Fun game. 9/10.

WAR: The casual PvP MMO

June 4, 2009

Playing WAR again after having played DarkFall is changing my mind about what WAR might be all about. Pre-release, WAR was being positioned as a great RvR game with a lot of great ideas. (ToK, PQs, Scenarios) While I think WAR is a very good game, it failed rather hard in the ‘impact PvP’ area, because individual battles don’t matter, and even the eventual winner of the campaign wins some gear and a server reset. Even DAoC had more ‘impact’, since at least relics were not reset and one side could continue to dominate the others with good numbers/strategy.

Now it’s no secret the masses don’t like impact PvP, as most can’t handle losing and would much rather quit than fight back, hence that style of MMO is a niche. The previous problem with that niche was it had a good start (UO), a nice follow up (AC-DT), and then a string of disappointments, most notably Shadowbane. DarkFall fixed that problem, and for me, removed the need for WAR to fill that void, a void it never set to fill anyway. (impact PvP fans just hoped it would) I have my impact PvP option, and now WAR sits nicely as a casual PvP option.

And I’m not saying casual PvP as an insult, but rather just a comment on the overall time/effort needed to get enjoyment out of it. You can’t log in for 30 minutes and have a complete PvP experience in DarkFall (usually), while you can log into WAR and jump into a warband or scenario and get your PvP fix. At the same time, I don’t get that ‘continual build’ feeling from WAR that I do in DarkFall, and I’m far more attached to what happens overall in DarkFall than I am in the current status of WAR’s RvR campaign.

At rank 40, you can only improve on your gear (and even that is rather easy to get now) and your renown rank (which has a rather limited impact the higher you go), and so the majority of the progression stops. With the progression aspect minimized, the actual gameplay is left, and in this I think WAR is a success. It’s genuinely fun to queue for a scenario with some friend, or jump into a guild/alliance warband and push/defend the RvR campaign a bit. The rank 40 dungeons make for a nice PvE diversion, and Land of the Dead will only further increase all of the options available to players. In this regard, I think WAR stacks up well as the PvP version of WoW, where the barrier of entry is minimized and what remains is just the actual gameplay.

As always, it’s nice to have options, and in the last few years the MMO genre has expanded well in that regard, giving the masses their titles, and also filling in the gaps those games fail to address. We don’t need a WoW killer, we need more WoW filler. (+1 corny rhyme for me)

Another amazing FreeRealms record!

June 3, 2009

“First” concert record for Free Realms. The string of amazing press releases continues, which is at least a good source of entertainment thanks to Free Realms. And just like DarkFall is the place for all those basement-dwelling sociopaths, at least now all the pedophiles have a home in Free Realms, and it’s FREE!

In other news, I downloaded The Sims 3 last night. Initial impression: Would it not be awesome if someone made a DarkFall mod using the Sims 3 engine? (The RMT shop is painful, but after 2 hours the actual game is as expected, quality Sims ‘action’)

Phasing out ‘multiplayer’ in MMOs

June 3, 2009

Tobold has a post up today talking about direct and indirect social interactions in MMO games. It’s a good read with interesting points, but is a somewhat odd topic to be discussing in a genre with Massive and Multiplayer in its name. Or at least, one would think it would be.

Simple test: How much of your current MMO would still be possible if you were the only player on the server? What would remain unchanged, what would be different, and what would be impossible?

Now, create a list of your personal top 5 MMO moments.

For me at least, my top 5 are impossible without other players, and actually have little to do with game mechanics and far more with who was there. In addition to that, what I look for in an MMO is directly related to other players (PvP, working economy/crafting, group PvE, player-driven stories), and while I still partake and enjoy the more solo aspects (solo PvE, harvesting or other character development activities), I only enjoy them in the context of the virtual world and the competition/environment it brings. My time in DarkFall is reduced currently not because the game itself changed, but because soon we will be moving to a new server and what happens between now and then ‘does not matter’. It mattered when I knew my actions today would influence future events both for myself and others. It’s just pixels, but when those pixels ‘count’, it’s a lot more motivating and fun to continue, which for me is the huge separation between the MMO genre and non-persistent games.

To get back on point, it’s both disappointing and understandable that the mass market section of the MMO genre is moving towards the ‘single player online game’, where logging in is just a formality (and excuse to charge $15 a month or open an RMT shop), and the majority of a players actions are done within his/her own little bubble.

It’s disappointing because the ‘it’ moments in an MMO are not based around cleverly scripted instances or great quest content, but rather in sharing whatever accomplishment you and others have worked for and finally reaching that goal together. Traditionally the ‘game’ part of an MMO has been mediocre at best (hence the term ‘grind’ and not ‘gameplay’), with the obvious selling point being that this mediocrity is performed in a living breathing world, and in that setting it goes from mediocre to (if you are a fan of MMOs) as good a gaming experience as you will find. Remove the world aspect, and is it any wonder that the mediocrity begins to show? And while not always the case, why is it that the more time spent trying to improve the ‘game’ aspect of an MMO, the more the ‘world’ aspect is pushed aside or minimized? Is it as simple as saying they are mutually exclusive?

The ‘understandable’ comes in when you look at the mass market and what is required to appeal to it. It has to be ‘accessible’, which means catering to as many people as possible. Or in other words, no focusing on one particular group at the expense of others, and simply trying to gravitate as close as possible to the happy middle. Raiding in WoW was not ‘accessible’ because only those with time to understand and work towards a higher level in the game could experience the content. Of course, in order to make raiding ‘accessible’, Blizzard had to lower the bar, and in turn remove the aspect that the previous group actually enjoyed, the challenge. As other games chase the mass market, one area identified as being a potential ‘problem’ was the reliance on others in a virtual world. As a dev you can’t control other players, and make everyone play nice to get the most out of that dungeon you designed or to player that battleground how you had hoped it would be played. Working with others is a challenge (hence it’s value in the work force), and it’s a challenge ‘the masses’ would rather see removed. In order for the MMO genre to cater to ‘the masses’, MMO devs must deal with the challenge of other players; the current solution seems to be to remove them.

At what point does it become impossible to identify a casual MMO and a single player game with an RMT shop attached to it?


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