Your family vacation, McDonalds, and the MMO genre

September 4, 2009

Keen has a well written post about his return to WoW and what the game is all about now. Read it made me realize the difference between some people in the real world, one that also seems to apply to the MMO genre, and one which is somewhat related to my post below.

Playing WoW is like taking your family vacation to Disney World every year, or going to Paris and eating at McDonalds. For most people change is something to fear rather than embrace, and for those people WoW caters to them perfectly. The safety of a daily quest is the same safety McDonalds in Paris provides. You can ignore the unknown French food and feel safe knowing that your Big Mac in Paris is going to be just like your Big Mac in the USA. Going to Disney World every year (often at the same time every year) is a far more guaranteed experience than going to a new country and seeing something different. You know Space Mountain is going to be the same ride every year, while you might not like everything about some new country you are visiting.

Now I’d rather be punched in the face than visit Disney World every year, and I’d much rather try something new and local than visit a McDonalds in a foreign country (even if it’s only to discover that I hate French food), but  I accept that I’m in the minority here. Disney World is packed every year, McDonalds is global, and WoW has X million players. The good news is that just like the real world has vacation spots with small local restaurants available around the globe, the MMO genre now has successful niche titles surviving (and in some cases thriving) as well.

The fear of impact in the MMO genre.

September 4, 2009

The MMO genre is a funny place. On the one hand, it promises to let you play with thousands of other players and share adventures together, while on the other it sets you up to be a hero doing some rather amazing things. The original idea was to take a single player RPG (where you almost always play the hero saving the world), allow thousands of people to run around in that same world, and see what happens.

The very obvious problem is that you are not all that special if what you just did has been done by thousands of others. Slaying a god is not an impressive feat if that god is being farmed daily. Instancing, phasing, and NPCs making long speeches are all just shallow tools used to try and mask the fact that you are no more special than the thousands who have come before you, or the thousands that will come after.

The truly funny part comes when any MMO does allow its players to really be special, to have an actual impact on the game, as most players get all up in arms and rage. “I missed the event, not fair!”, “I’ll never see that content, not fair!”, “What if I join late, not fair!”, “My dog died, I can’t be online, not fair!”, etc. Most MMO players have an odd sense of entitlement, that just because you pay your $15 a month, you are entitled to ALL the content, regardless of how that might cripple anyone else. If a village is going to permanently be burned, by god if YOU can’t be there to see it it’s time to hit the forums and rage.

For all our requests to live in a massive virtual world, we cry foul as soon as anything happens when we are not around, yet at the same time some of the most memorable moments in MMO history are just that, moments. They don’t repeat when the instance resets, they don’t allow you to experience them again thanks to phasing, and you can’t roll on a fresh server and see it for yourself. Rainz only killed Lord British once; if you were there you saw something rather amazing, if you missed it, you missed it. Yet life in UO went on whether you saw it or not, just like life in EVE goes on after any of the more memorable (and not repeatable) events happen. In DarkFall the fall of Hyperion was special, and only happened once, yet you can still roll a character and enjoy the game today.

Impact events, especially player-controlled impact event, scare a lot of MMO players. Everyone wants to be the big hero, yet in a world that actually allows a character to rise to such status, they do so because they are greater compared to everyone else. The leader of BoB is a ‘hero’ in EVE because he controls a powerful alliance, an alliance with thousands of ‘grunts’ that follow his orders. A rich merchant in EVE is a ‘hero’ because he can control and manipulate the market, and he can do so because there are thousands of ‘grunts’ with far less cash and market skill than he has. The best PvP’ers in UO, EVE, DarkFall are ‘heroes’ because their player skills are above most others, and in a world where such skills can have world-impacting results, that matters. Being the top arena team in WoW means you have a high number next to your name, but you don’t have any more impact on anyone else than the top-ranked Counter Strike team has on the average CS server. Ensidia might be a top-tiered raiding guild followed by thousands on a forum, yet they don’t impact your raiding guild in any way save for a youtube video, a video that would still be there if Ensidia was not, as the “Simon Says” pattern for any raid boss is set by Blizzard and not the players.

And while the big impact events get all the coverage, impact in games like EVE or DF is not limited to just the major players. If a small-time merchant sets up shop in his corner of the world and out-smarts the other sellers in that region, he has an impact on them, one that could start a domino effect. Another merchant might move out due to the competition, he might ask his Corp if they can switch spots and head to 0.0 space, and that move might spark a Corp or Alliance war, all because some small-time merchant with some player skill moved to a new region. You changing your auction house price in WoW just mean the auctioneer mod is going to adjust, and ultimately a skilled merchant in WoW can at most buy his way to ‘epic’ gear or new mount colors. The richest person in Azeroth can’t buy out access to a raiding instance for the whole server, like a merchant could buy out control of a mining region in EVE. You buying your epics mean nothing to everyone else on the server, which shows just how ‘epic’ that gear truly is. A Titan ship in EVE changing hands means a lot more to the world, and it earns its epic status even without being colored purple.

And ultimately that’s where the fear comes from, the fact that like in real life, there will be people out there that do things better. In WoW an NPC will tell you that you are a great hero for defeating some mob, but in EVE no one is going to call you a great hero until you’ve actually done something, and that something pits you against other players and not some mob designed to die. The less impact that’s allowed, the easier it is for the world to maintain it’s illusion that you are special. As soon as the game allows for some player-driven distinction, the illusion breaks and most players will fall into ‘grunt’ status while only a few will rise to be ‘heroes’. For many, the illusion of being a hero is better than the reality of being a grunt, even if following that illusion means you will never get a chance to become a real hero. In a genre that allows anyone, regardless of physical ability/appearance, social status, race/color/gender, or any other real-world limiting factor to be special, its telling/sad that so many would rather live under the illusion of being someone than for the chance to actually be it.

Idea for binding another game to an MMO

September 2, 2009

With CCP announcing Dusk 514, a shooter-based MMO that will interact with EVE Online, Tobold ask’s what other MMOs would work well with a secondary product attached to them. My initial thought was to have player-controlled mobs facing off against players, but with the mobs controlled in the Majesty style rather than the LotRO monster play way.

For anyone who has not played Majesty (which has a sequel coming out soon it seems), the basic idea is that instead of having direct control of your units, they have their own AI that you can influence by placing rewards on different units/buildings/locations, plus they naturally hang around their building, so placement of that is very important. Each unit type has its own behavior, so rogues are quick to chase gold, while paladins require a far higher offer to draw their attention. Berserker units seek to fight other units over buildings, while mages will happily wander around and fireball whatever crosses their path. The beauty of it was that while you had SOME control, it was not absolute, and so tactical thinking was superior to twitch micromanaging. Plus since luck factored into it a bit (if your highest level paladin just happened to wander into your enemy’s town and got himself killed, it was an unavoidable setback), games always felt fresh and on-edge, rather than the more step-by-step stuff that happens in a traditional RTS.

So back to MMOs, what this system would basically be is a Dungeon Master style system, where a player could elect to grab control of an instance, and change it up in some ways. Not a total remake, but imagine someone in control of the Deadmines, mixing up what units control the boat at the end, what units VC uses for his bodyguards, or what abilities a certain boss has access to. Everything would be based on a (hopefully) balanced point system, so you could not flood the ship with all of the bosses, or stack two bosses on top of each other to create an impossible encounter. Other modifications could be different bounties set on party members. So you could select the priest and set a bounty on him, making mob agro more likely to target him (although rules of agro would still work, just that the priest would start with a higher threat level or gain threat faster). To mix it up, a DM could instead bounty a mage to confuse the party who expect the priest to be picked. The higher the bounty, the fewer points the DM has to spend on other areas, so while mobs would be more driven towards the squishy, there would be less of them, or they would be weaker.

A character-based reward system could be given to the DM system. This could reward a DM who designed an interesting instance, as voted on by the players in it. Rewards would likely need to remain fluff-based to avoid abuse (and even then you know some people will just to collect all the shinies), and a ranking system could be added to further reward top-notch DMs. A party could then put in a request for a DM to control their instance, and e-fame could be gained by those who do a good job.

The system would only really work in an instance-heavy game like DDO or WoW, as the population of adventurers would need to be 5x the number of potential DMs, and of course if a party enters an instance without a DM available, the encounter would play out as normal. But just like in Majesty, I believe a large part of the entertainment would be just watching your mobs interact with the heroes, and in this case the heroes are also live players.

Silly small indie dev and your tiny patch changes!

September 2, 2009

As was the case with ‘State of the Game’ posts a few days ago, it also seems not all patch notes are created equally.

Keep in mind this is a pre-patch, setting the table for Aventurine’s next BIG patch for DarkFall. Note that the pre-patch has more changes/fixes/content than some MMOs see in 6 months. From a team that was on vacation for a while. From a team which no doubt numbers the size of some games marketing/hype division.

What’s your MMO done for you lately?

DarkFall: Battle Report

September 1, 2009

Yesterday I talked about a successful one on one PvP encounter in DarkFall, and sure enough today I have a story about a not-so-successful small group encounter. Following this pattern I fully expect Hammerdale will be sieged tonight and the whole server will show up.

One of our clan members spotted a (reported at the time) group of three or four enemy players 4-5 minutes north of our city, and so four of us quickly grabbed our ready bags (full bags of gear/regs/pots on the front page of your bank you quickly grab and ride out, equipping gear and getting ready as you go) and set out to engage. While on our way up north two other members of Apollo joined our group and we figured a six vs four fight would be a quick victory in our favor.

As our group got closer, our scout reported more than four enemies, four more to be exact, and instead of being on foot they were riding directly towards us on mounts, including a few Battlehorns (better mounts with 500 hitpoints rather than the usual 300). Without much pre-planning the fight started, everyone riding around trying to hit the enemy and bring their mount down. I was following one particular enemy on a drake mount, and managed to pin him between my mount and some trees/rocks. With the help of another guild mate, we both mount-kicked the guy’s mount down, but not before he was able to kill my mount as well (I had taken some shots earlier). As everyone else around us continued to circle and tried to take shots at each other, the two of us started a ground battle. He pulled out his bow, I had my greatsword out, and I reached him just as his first arrow hit my chest. Sword swing to the face, he quickly turned to run, taking a few more shots to his side/back before I pulled my bow out and started shooting arrows as he ran.

As the chaos of the fight raged around us, an enemy swung at me from his mount, knocking me off course and away from my target, who at this point was below 50% and had switched to his staff to try and heal. This break, along with the fact that mounted hits hurt, forced me to break off the chase and focus on healing myself up and regaining some stamina. Some food and a stamina pot later, I picked a spot near a tree and started shooting arrows at enemy mounts, hoping to bring a few more players down and give our guys the advantage.

While I was sniping away, I believe one enemy got separated from the main battle, and two of our guys followed him too far out to chase. This turned out to be a tactical mistake, as while they chased, the rest of us were slowly overwhelmed at the original battle site. All mounts but the two battlehorns were dead a this point, and everyone was fighting on the ground, trying to focus fire when possible and doing their best to avoid getting too low on hit points or stamina. We took one of their members down and ganked him, but as we did this one of our own went down as well, and another was in trouble. As he was being chased by one of the battlehorns, I sprinted behind shooting arrows as fast as I could. Had the mount not been a battlehorn, it would have been down even with my below average archery skill, but instead the rider was able to continue his pursuit and eventually he was out of my line of sight.

The call was given to retreat, and out of our six only two of us made it out alive. I was able to survive because chasing that battlehorn around put me on the edge of the field, and I was able to get away without a mounted pursuer seeing me. My guess is they did not search and chase us down because they must have been low on stamina or hit points, as it was certainly a close fight from the opponents I saw. More than once I would engage with someone on the ground only to have us both break off due to some interruption, neither person able to really push the other too far. Even though we lost the fight, it was not only a good time but a great learning experience for us going forward. We also sadly did not have our top PvP guys involved in the fight, or things might have gone differently.

And luckily for me, the skill increase patch is set to drop tomorrow, meaning my neglected archery skill is going to finally see some love. Hopefully the next time around I’ll bring that battlehorn down rather then coming up short, and those who expose their back while running will pay a higher price.


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