Tell me if you have heard this one before

February 26, 2010

Another day, another F2P MMO talking about how many free accounts people have signed up for, with today being DDOs day in the sun. What separates DDO from the average F2P game however is that it’s not terrible, and that the entire game is not designed around forcing you into the cash shop by placing silly barriers you can pay to get around.

I’m not sure how their poor-mans version of the DarkFall combat engine is the ‘worlds best’, but they do deserve credit for upgrading their graphics, sticking to their core formula of instanced encounters, and supporting a struggling game for years when other studios would have pulled the plug. DDO is one of the more unique MMOs out, and while it’s not my cup of tea, I can understand the appeal.

Plus Turbine at least knows their place as a F2P game:

…and a rich set of features that until now could only be found in premium subscription-based MMOs

DDO, so good, it’s almost a subscription based MMO.

Interview with NEW leadership and DF Trial tips.

February 25, 2010

Over at his blog, Paragus Rants has put together a nice interview with clan NEW leadership about their general goals, and how best to take advantage of the new trial being offered in DarkFall. A good read for anyone still unsure about DarkFall, or for anyone interested in learning more about NEW and how they operate.

(DarkFall-related post disclaimer/reminder. If you click the image link near the top-right of this page and buy a DarkFall account, I get paid 20% of the client cost. If you believe this taints my views and reporting on DarkFall, your opinion is wrong.)

DarkFall Trial: The day after.

February 25, 2010

So, who died to a goblin last night?

From my somewhat brief trip around human lands and starter cities last night, I saw a good number of new (halo’ed) players, and the more global chat channels were a bit busier with both new player questions and others trying to show off their impressive four-letter vocabulary. Looks like some of the trial players have brought a bit of barrens chat with them. I also fully expect tonight to be far busier as more people complete the download and get in-game.

The most interesting part so far has been the ‘controversy’ of charging one dollar/euro for the trial, and the tinfoil hat army is out in full force warning all good citizens of the impending doom. Not really surprising I guess, this being the internet, but some of the stuff people are saying brings me back to the good ol’ days of DF launch and the random misguided hate some have for the game.

Stuff like “DF is dying, so AV is trying to squeeze out the last few $ before the server shuts down” is priceless, given that the game still costs $50 a full year later, and has a planned retail release for EU later on this year (it’s already had a retail release in Greece, home of Aventurine), with plans for NA to follow after that. Plus I doubt a studio with just one game would move into a bigger office to fit all the new hires if things were not going well, but hey, the tinfoil hat blocks logic as well as the alien control signal.

Also laughable is the whole “I don’t just give my credit card out at random” argument. One must wonder how those making that argument would have continued to play DarkFall after a free trial, or how everyone currently playing has yet to notice Aventurine selling our CC info to China. Now that they mention it, I should probably block Aventurine from my PayPal account. Sure it might stop them from depositing money into it each Community Publisher cycle, but that’s a small price to pay to protect my identity from such an evil company!

And finally, my current favorite: “They want me to pay to see if I want to pay them to play a game!?” First, it’s a dollar; if you can’t spend that to try a game out, one must wonder just how interested you are to begin with. Secondly, I’ll gladly take the loss of such a sure-fire potential customer over the countless issues that come with a truly free trial, especially in a game like DarkFall that actually puts the trial players into the full world with very minimal (if any, not 100% sure on this) restrictions. I can’t even remember the last time I saw any kind of gold seller advertising in-game, while trial account characters literally rain down from the sky in cute patterns in other games. Plus how much of DarkFall would you be showing off if you put all trial players on a trial island secluded from the rest of the world? That works just fine in a zone-based themepark, but not in a living virtual world like Agon.

My real concern with the trial is not the petty $1 cost, but just how much of DarkFall will a trial player really see in seven days? I mean technically they can see all of it; they can ride anywhere, fight anything, equip any item, join a siege, live out of a player city, go PvP’ing, all of that, but what will the ‘average’ player coming in see? As I’ve said many times, DarkFall plays very differently from most MMOs, even down to its basics. Simple things like being able to rotate or zoom in/out with the camera are not possible in DarkFall, not because the UI is broken, but for gameplay reasons. Yet it’s those kinds of things that someone playing for the very first time will notice immediately, and it’s understandable that without more knowledge, you can look at something like not being able to zoom out and call it either a bug or bad design. Same for the whole looting/sheathing thing. Most people call that bad design in their first week/month of playing, and then after a few PvP battles realize just how important that mechanic really is.

My concern with the trial is that in 7 days, without some serious time invested (or a friends help), most players won’t get beyond that initial “this must be broken” phase. I fully expect many to come away from the trial with an Ed Zitron-like reaction based on their limited time with the game. Just as you stop fighting with the UI and get comfortable and really into the game, the trial ends.

On the other hand a lot of other things, like how unique (to MMOs) the combat is, how the graphics look/perform, how the mob AI works, the basics of gathering/crafting/economy, and the overall ‘feel’ of DarkFall should be apparent in those seven days, and hopefully for some that will be enough to convince them to jump in and make a full purchase. As Aventurine themselves stated long ago, DarkFall is not for everyone, but I think a few people might be surprised that it work for them.

(DarkFall-related post disclaimer/reminder. If you click the image link near the top-right of this page and buy a DarkFall account, I get paid 20% of the client cost. If you believe this taints my views and reporting on DarkFall, your opinion is wrong.)

DarkFall Trial, for real.

February 24, 2010

Aventurine has announced that DarkFall now has a trial account option. It’s not a totally free account, as you will have to pay $1 (or euro) for 7 days of access, but that is a good step taken to prevent potential free trial abuse. Be nice and click my Community Publisher link in the top left, as I will get credit for any trial that converts to a full purchase.

If you have ever wanted to give DarkFall a shot, here is your chance. Get off the fence and get into Agon. Just don’t come crying here when the first goblin kills you, you have been warned. My in-game name is Syncaine Godhand, feel free to send a tell.

DarkFall: The voice of the vets and the sign of the noobs

February 23, 2010

It’s time to cover a few recent developments in DarkFall. The first is a rather excellent bit of work done by the community that can be found here. The website is a collection of ideas and changes the veterans of DarkFall compiled to help improve the game. While I don’t fully agree with everything suggested (that might be a future post), the amount of thoughts and effort that went into this should be commended. I can’t recall another community that has gone to such great length to try and improve a game, so hats off to Keno Lair and everyone else who contributed.

Speaking of improvements, the latest patch added the new player protection system to DarkFall, which includes a visual indicator above a new players head in-game. I’ve talked before why such a system is a great addition, but I just recently (thanks to questing again in human lands) came across such a new player for the first time last night as I was crossing a starting area. I saw said player fighting goblins in some starter quest gear, but he was still swinging the bound newbie sword that you can’t skill up with. Thanks to the new player indicator, I knew the guy must be new, so I stopped for a moment to ask if he had another sword to use. After a brief pause (new player fiddling with the UI) he replied back that he did not, and so I told him to open trade with me (more UI fiddling delay) and gave him a spare 2h sword I just happened to have on me (forgot to bank it) that should make killing goblins a little easier for him.

On the forums other players have reported hanging out in the starter towns with ‘new player kits’ to hand out, and this is all made possible thanks to the new indicator. Before, you never knew who exactly was new, as the starter towns are also places to conduct trades or of course PvP. Now that it’s much easier to identify a truly new player, it makes helping them out that much easier. Nice little bonus for new players, and something that should make the transition into DarkFall a little smoother for many.

On the topic of new players, there seem to be a lot of them coming into DarkFall. Riding through human lands I noticed that not only are the starter and ‘secondary’ NPC towns populated, but I spotted a good number of obviously newish players farming local mobs. And as always, the city of Hammerdale owned by clan NEW is full of players, as is that surrounding area. This obvious inflow of new players is somewhat contradictory to some of the forumfall grumbling about low clan/alliance activity among the elite. My only reasoning for this is that many of the elite have reach a level of character progression that is more or less ‘capped’, and those that played so hard so early are now going through a bit of burnout. Add to that a few new MMO releases of late (especially the FPS-based Global Agenda), and some of the existing issues with sieging and general ‘end-game’ PvP, and the reasons why those at the top are less active becomes clear.

From my own personal experience and that of Inquisition, we are all very active and busy trying to balance character progression and PvP activity. While my character is above average, he still has a long way to go before I feel he is ‘capped out’, and given that progress slows the higher your skills get, I’m not too worried about reaching that point anytime soon.

(DarkFall-related post disclaimer/reminder. If you click the image link near the top-right of this page and buy a DarkFall account, I get paid 20% of the client cost. If you believe this taints my views and reporting on DarkFall, your opinion is wrong.)

The concept of ‘easy’ in MMO land

February 22, 2010

A while back GameMonkey made this post, basically stating that “easy is fun”, and that easy is one of the keys to reaching the mass market. He later goes on to state in the comments that the easy version of any game will outsell the harder version, I point I counter with Madden vs Blitz.

But as someone who really enjoys a challenge, I’d love to disagree with the basic premise of the piece, but taking one look around the MMO genre and it’s very clear that, today, easy does indeed equal mass market. But like I noted above, that same rule does not apply across the board to all of gaming. Madden is a VERY complex/hard game to get into, and yet each year it sells millions of copies despite the fact that EA does so little to update it. The new Super Mario game is anything but easy, as are Street Fighter 4, Tekken 6, or even Dragon Age, and yet each title sells millions. So why then is EVE the only mass-market MMO (if I define that as games with 300k+ subs in the US/EU) out that most would consider ‘hard’?

To start I think it’s important to understand just what ‘hard’ really means. When we are talking about MMOs, a lot of the ‘hard’ factor comes from the arcane MMO-only rules that many games follow. Understanding stuff like stats, BoE, rare spawns, agro, etc all present a frustrating challenge to a new player, and none of those things has much to do with the actual difficulty of an encounter. Mario is hard because the damn platform you have to jump on is tiny, moving, and covered in spikes, but everyone understands HOW jump works within the first minute. A lot of ‘hardcore’ raiders still don’t understand how agro works, or why they are using a certain skill rotation they saw on a forum (likely wrong because they don’t have the right gear to make that rotation work, but yea…)

Something similar happens today when players go from a traditional MMO to DarkFall. They find the first few days hard because of how different the basics are, even though the actual difficulty in the tasks is still rather low. Killing your first goblin in DF is tough by MMO standards, but only because the first goblin in most MMOs has zero chance to kill you and is all too happy to stand still directly in front of you while you bash him over the head with a rusty dagger. The simple fact that a goblin in DF has the audacity to move away or around you once you agro him gets a lot of players killed, but the actual combat is not much harder than the average jump in Mario, and certainly can’t hold a candle to scoring a TD in Madden.

I think the major reason easy=fun for the average gamer in today’s MMOs is because compared to the average game, even an ‘easy’ MMO like WoW is tough to get into and fully understand. By making it so you don’t have to actually understand it, the average player can still progress and collect his ‘epics’ in WoW today, while back in 2004-05 anything at-level required some basic understanding of stats/mechanics, and raiding required an Elitist Jerks degree in theorycraft. Yet while the challenge was higher based on game knowledge, the actual gameplay was still relatively easy. You still had to decurse, step out of the fire, and not unload until the tank had agro. The margin of error was much lower, but the actual player skillset required was still low, certainly much lower than what it takes to play Madden or to beat a Mario level.

If MMO games really want to break out into the mainstream and join WoW (the one break-out fluke), the frontloading of arcane mechanics and trivial details needs to be replaced with better core gameplay. Mobs standing in front of you waiting to die so you can move on and kill 14 more to finish a ‘quest’ is not good gameplay, no matter how ‘epic’ the reward at the end is or how well you write the quest text (that 90% skip anyway). Or if that is the height of MMO gameplay, at least make it easier for the average player to understand why that ‘epic’ he just got for killing those 15 bears is great, without having to understand 10 different stats and 20 different modifiers to stuff-like-stats-but-not-exactly-stats. That works in Diablo because that’s ALL THERE IS to Diablo, and at least you get to click a whole bunch while playing and the mobs die by the hundreds.

In other words, easy=fun in MMO land only because at their base, MMOs are NOT easy to understand. Make the basics (jumping/fighting) Mario easy, and you can make the actual gameplay (levels/encounters) Mario hard. Until then, “don’t stand in the fire” is about as complex as you are going to find the average encounter in any MMO looking to hit 300k+, and you might have to play *shudder* a niche MMO to find something a little less sleep-inducing.

F2P model in the US: Putting nails in its own coffin

February 21, 2010

Back in the early days of the “F2P revolution”, the biggest challenge for the average MMO gamer was trying so sift through the hundreds of terribad titles to find the one or two semi-decent (for a ‘free’ game) titles to kill a few hours with.  As this mighty revolution continued, we started to see failed subscription games reborn as F2P titles, hoping to cash in on the few people who actually cared about them while letting everyone else see (for free) just why those games failed in the big leagues. And finally, in its third and hopefully final act, the minor leagues of the MMO space has pulled out its final trick: ship a more-than-decent (for a ‘free’ game) title to attract a big crowd, and then quickly turn around and screw each and every one of them by showing not only your ridiculous item shop, but also changing the game to force your players to pay far beyond $15 a month or play while walking uphill, both ways, without legs while the game devs laugh and throw stones at you.

Brilliant really. What better way to turn so many people off from the whole F2P concept then to gather as large a crowd as possible, and leave the absolute worst impression on all of them. Make that impression so bad, and so memorable, that many will never touch another ‘free’ MMO again. Them and their whole guild in fact!

But who could have possibly predicted that a business model designed around forcing people to pay for ‘convenience’ items could ever effect how a game is designed? Quests that fill up your limited bag space (buy more bags!), travel that takes forever for no reason (buy a TP scroll!), content gated by certain items (on sale now at the shop!), character choices that cripple you before you know it (undo the damage at the cash shop!), XP grinds of silly proportion (buy an XP potion!), money sinks of incredible depth (in-game currency is this weeks special buy!), and my personal favorite, new content additions that makes all your previous purchases obsolete (bet you can’t wait for the next patch!); with player-friendly design choices like that, its a miracle the subscription model is still around today. Viva the revolution!

May your death be quick yet painful F2P devs, and hopefully the hundreds of terrible titles won’t clog the sewer system as they circle the drain. You will always (until that fad dies anyway) have Facebook.


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