They get what so many others do not

This clip from a recent interview over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun is why I love Darkfall and Aventurine (emphasis is mine).

Tasos: We don’t really have an ideal player, but the players who would get the most out of Darkfall are intelligent players that enjoy freedom, action, more options, more challenges, don’t need or want constant hand-holding, don’t need constant direction by the game, and can look past the first few hours of trying to learn the ropes.

Here is why I love the part I bolded; I’ve seen countless MMOs give up core benefits, redirect focus, and sacrifice long-term attraction at the expense of making things ‘accessible’ in the first five minutes. I think someone seeing what your MMO is all about in the first five minutes is bullshit. Bullshit either on the player’s part by jumping to conclusions, or bullshit on the games part for being a shallow piece of ADD crap rather than a complex virtual world with inter-dependent layers. That’s not what the MMORPG genre is about. (And before you comment, sure in an ideal perfect world you could do both, but that’s not reality. Either you re-polish the same game and tack on a ‘look at me’ feature, or you try to do something actually different and react to what happens, sacrificing polish time to get it done.)

If you are signing up for an MMO, at the minimum I expect you to stick with it for a few hours before making ANY kind of judgment. Seriously, any. You can’t bitch about the UI in the first hour, you can’t bitch about the graphics, and you can’t bitch about the progression or the content. You can be confused, you can wonder how to do things, you can struggle and get lost, and you can ask noob questions or seek external help, but you should not understand the game in the first 5 minutes, the first five hours, or even the first five days. You can’t call anything ‘broken’, ‘bad’, or ‘pointless’ during this time. Again, you don’t understand the game, you don’t understand why things are the way they are, and you don’t understand why it’s important that things are the way they are.

If that’s asking too much, find a different genre to spend your gaming time in. Or pay for the next rehash while you post about being exciting for the next big thing because it will be “so different” and you can’t wait to give it a try because you are SO sick of WoW (until you return in 2-3 months to buy a pony).

Chuck-o-the-day: Chuck Norris was named after himself.

(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.)

37 Responses to They get what so many others do not

  1. This was a very strong rant of sorts. I do agree with you on what you said, though now I guess I feel bad for leaving Darkfall without exploring more of the world.

    Still, the game makes me a little too tense, and I prefer my games to have a more laid-back atmosphere, I suppose.

    Cheers. :)

  2. Bhagpuss says:

    While I tend to agree with your thesis as a player, I don’t think I’d be so sanguine if I was an investor looking down into the multi-million dollar money-pit I’d just helped to dig. Trusting in the patience of your extreme-niche market is a design philosophy I’d endorse for start-ups and co-ops, but I just can’t see it ever paying off for big company projects that cost upwards of $40m to bring to market.

    In truth, I don’t even see the WoWs, GW2s, Aions, FFXIVs and TORs of this world as being in the same business as the Darkfalls, Fallen Earths, Mortal Onlines or Dawntides. It’s like comparing The Rolling Stones with Peggy Sue (a band I like that you never heard of and will probably never hear.

    Still and all, there’s an awful lot to be said for overestimating the intelligence of your audience.

  3. pkudude99 says:

    I agree with you in principle, but when I’ve got a “full time life” and am trying to juggle 3 MMO’s already, well. . . .

    Here’s what happened in practice.

    As I said in the link, I didn’t see anything wrong with the game, I’ve just got too much other stuff going on right now to want to devote enough time to Darkfall to make it a great/fun experience for myself.

    • Blud says:

      I’d be interested to know what are the other games you are playing, just to better understand where you are coming from with your point of view.

      I really don’t know why you even posted that blurb on your “experience” with DF. I also think everyone has a “full-time life,” so that’s not really tell readers much.

      People prioritize how they spend their free time. Obviously, it’s fine that not everyone will make time for DF because they’d rather do something else. What is that something else your playing?

      • pkudude99 says:

        EQ2, DDO, and EVE are my “main 3.” Which of the 3 is “main” depends on my mood that month.

  4. sid67 says:

    I wish more PvP games used some form of player tiering. For example, if a high-level character walks into an area designated as a low-level zone, he gets downranked.

    No upranking for low level characters into high level areas. Just downranking if a high level character chooses to visit an area that is not intended for them.

    The key point here is that it’s an area NOT intended for them. Low level mobs they want to safely grind on? No. Sorry. Not intended for you.

    Newbie players trying to figure out how to PvP? Sorry. Not going to be an easy gank because while your more knowledgeable, your not more powerful.

    Everyone is welcome to travel anywhere they want, but if you choose to visit places that aren’t for you than there are consequences.

    A low level character going into a high level area risking getting one-shotted. A high level character going to a low level area risks having to actually fight a new player on more equal footing.

    Oh. And, sorry. No power leveling your buddy because you aren’t much more of a bad ass.

    Now you obviously put all the best and most worthwhile stuff in non-protected areas. If the interesting stuff is not in these areas, then people will be motivated to move out of them quickly.

    The real benefit of all this is that new people of similar power levels get to bang heads against each other instead of getting ripped up by the veterans.

    • Baredil says:

      Or just get rid of levels altogether? Hmm, wasn’t there a game that did that recently….

    • Blud says:

      If AV fixes the alignment system (which I think they will) in the upcoming DF 2010 expansion, I think the concerns raised here will be addressed to a certain extent (greater or lesser depending on how they “fix” it).

  5. sid67 says:

    Levels, skills, awesome gear.. it’s all the same thing. The point is that you downrank a veteran player’s relative power when he goes into a zone not intended for players with that power level.

    As long as it’s a known quantity — the veteran knows he is going to get downranked — then it works. The other major point is that this is only done in areas where the veteran isn’t intended to go.

    • SynCaine says:

      Why?

      It’s an MMO, which means part of the equations is character strength. A good PvP MMO will allow those with better player skill to beat better characters in certain situations, while also allowing those with built-up characters to leverage that strength to help make up for a lack of skill. Add in full loot, and now you up-ed the risk/reward ratio of bringing out better gear then the next guy.

      You don’t sign up for an MMO hoping to get CS-like balance when you PvP. You hope for good MMO PvP balance, which includes getting ‘zerged’, getting beat by a ‘vet’, and all the other things people bitch about when it happens to them, but enjoy when they are on the other side.

      • sid67 says:

        OK. So here’s the deal. PvP hasn’t really worked “mainstream” in an MMO yet. Why?

        Because the fundamental mechanics of how character progression in an MMO works is at odds with the “fairness” and “equality” that players demand in any popular “mass market” PvP game. CS/Halo/WC3/Starcraft all being great examples.

        The conclusion that everyone draws from that is that PvP is either niche and/or it’s unwanted.

        My take is that it’s NOT niche. The mass market DOES want PvP. It’s not niche. They just want fair and balanced PvP.

        Fairness which is broken by the fundamental character progression mechanics.

        My suggestion of downranking addresses this problem directly. I’m not advocating that it’s for every game or every situation (after all, not everyone WANTS fair PvP).

        But I think if you want to make a PvP game successful to more than just a niche market, you need to have a solution to the “fairness” issue. To date, no game has done this well.

        • SynCaine says:

          I’d argue we don’t have a mainstream PvP MMO because MMOs as most of us around here think of them are not mainstream products to begin with, and the core values they hold are in direct contention with what usually passes for a mass market game. That some games today are basically MMO-lite products trying to appeal to Wii/Xbox players is fine, but they are not what I would consider MMORPGs, and might as well be a different genre altogether.

          I think those who are attracted to the core values of an MMO don’t expect 1v1 fairness, be it PvE or PvP. So long as you stay away from i-win buttons or too many ‘must have’ options, the good players adjust, the rest follow after them.

        • sid67 says:

          Oh for crying out loud, by your definition games like Half-Life and Starcraft are not mass market. That’s ludicrous.

          Also, I know you want to redefine what is and isn’t an MMO into games that only include your core beliefs but I tend to take a broader look.

          Because ultimately what matters is whether or not the game is fun. That’s pretty much the only worthwhile criteria.

          What I find ironic is that people seem to want to define these games into little boxes.

          And then they scream for innovation.

          But god forbid if the “innovation” doesn’t fit in the little narrow box.

          Screw the box. Make fun games.

        • SynCaine says:

          I defined the MMO genre though, which neither Halo nor Starcraft are part of, so I don’t get the connection.

          And not only is my game plenty of fun (hence playing it since launch, longer than most other MMOs I’ve played), fun is very subjective, and a game taken in the wrong direction can quickly stop being fun.

          The point of the post is that clearly AV understands this, and by both their words and actions they don’t intend to cut those currently having fun to chase those who ‘might’ have fun. I applaud that stance, not only because it favors me currently, but because most would take the gamble and screw over those who made them originally.

        • sid67 says:

          You said MMOs are not mainstream. Which is a ludicrous statement because obviously at least one title is mainstream (even if it’s not one you like).

          In any event, I kinda sorta agree with your main point. I don’t think you go changing your game for who MIGHT want to play.

          However, I do think you have to have a nice presentation for onboarding players if you want people to stay.

          This means introducing them to the game early and in such a way that it’s not horribly painful.

          It also means providing a way of them “catching up” rapidly if your game has been out for a long time.

          Can you imagine a new player trying to get to level 80 if Blizzard had never reduced the leveling time from 1-70 to about half of what it was?

        • SynCaine says:

          I mean the MMORPG genre that more or less started with UO was never intended for the mass market. I mean what mass market game requires what an MMO requires in terms of input? That WoW exploded (and no other game has even come close) is more a sign that Blizz got lucky than that MMOs are as accepted as Mario or Halo.

          And having SOME onboarding process is key indeed, which is why AV has done the work they have, and why CCP continues to work on theirs. But that and changing your game based on initial feedback are two very different things, and the part I bolded from Tasos is talking exactly about that.

  6. Defconquell says:

    sid67, sounds like Warhammer Online, which was pretty fun for the first 3 tiers. It’s only when you got to tier 4 endgame that the design flaws really became unbearable. And of course no flying mounts or sparkle ponies. =P

  7. mbp says:

    But … but … but ….

    Isn’t Rock Paper Shotgun affiliated to Eurogamer? And didn’t you personally finger the interviewer Kieron Gillen as a co-conspirator in the great Darkfall trashing conspiracy of 2009 and write him off as a worhtless journalist?

    What gives Syncaine? How come you are linking to this? In fact how come you are even reading it in the first place? Have you developed a sudden outbreak of reasonableness in your old age?

    Whatever can we expect next? Guest blog posts by Ed Zitron perhaps.

    • SynCaine says:

      Ed guest blogs here all the time, did you not enjoy his recent AoC/W101 reviews?

      As for Kieron, I said his re-review was good enough, other than his claim that he never read about the original Zitron piece, which I found laughable.

  8. n0th says:

    Seems to me that a lot of MMO-players just want FPS-style PvP in a persistent world.

    Can anyone come up with a reason why no shooter/FPS game did that to date? Thats not too much work i would imagine.
    Do a giant map, implement some kind of territorial conflict mechanic, (cause thats the “endgame” in PvP MMOs, see Darkfall or EVE) charge 15$/month… right?

    • SynCaine says:

      Planetside? Global Agenda?

    • Mala says:

      World War 2 Online did this as well, though to be fair that has lots of sim elements that are not particularly intuitive if you are just used to action oriented shooter mechanics.

      Planetside is probably the best example.

    • Kilratha says:

      Don’t use Global Agenda and Planetside in the same sentence. Sacrilege. :-) The fact that they “say” it is a MMO does not make it so. That is like calling a golf cart a car, yeah they both have an engine and 4 wheels and a roof but that still does not make a golf cart a car.

      Planetside and WWIIOnline are the only two games legitimately in this genre. (that are still active)

  9. Reaper says:

    After you’re done with your rant, you should head down to the unemployment office to talk to all the software designers who thought they could tell their users what they could or couldn’t do…

    • SynCaine says:

      Maybe AV could do a seminar for those guys on how to not make a sellout product and still profit. I’ll try to set that up, and invite Wolfpack studios as a special guest. They can talk about what happens when you fail and have to bend over (hint: W101).

  10. DrPest says:

    For a short moment i thought about copy-pasting this post to my blog just changing DF to EvE and AV to CCP. It just fits so good for both games.

  11. Sean says:

    Why are confusing, unintuitive UIs acceptable? Why is a poor new player experience par for the course, a grin-and-bear it period till you get to the “good stuff”?

    If the types of MMOs you enjoy have any hope of sustainability, they will have to provide better player experiences. That doesn’t mean “handholding” or whatever other pejorative you have in mind for appealing to the mainstream market. It does mean that moment to moment the game feels right, that actions and abilities have satisfying feedback, that the UI, and the game more generally, is “readable”. WoW’s owes as much of its success to Blizzard’s endless iteration of these core elements as it does its more mainstream outward face.

    Players can expect more from MMO developers and they should. Telling them to look past basic problems with the user experience not only relegates these games to a small and dwindling, mildly masochistic group of gamers, but also encourages these niche developers to focus on abstract ideas and concepts at the expense of the player experience.

    I want games that are layers of playtesting and iterating on the fun borne out of that, and not the design doc of a thousand truths that is great in concept but poor in implementation. Great ideas a dime a dozen in the games industry; it takes a Valve, a DICE, a Naughty Dog, a Nintendo, or an indie like 2D Boy, to turn those great ideas into great player experiences. EVE and Darkfall are good games but they’ve succeeded in spite of themselves. They can do better and we should expect them to.

    • SynCaine says:

      Some examples:

      WoW would have ‘fixed’ the slow, manual looting in DF by now.
      WoW would have ‘fixed’ the ‘stuck’ camera DF has by now.
      WoW would have ‘fixed’ the ‘zerging’ problem DF has.
      WoW would have ‘fixed’ the slow equip/unequip DF has.
      WoW would have ‘fixed’ the slow travel DF has.
      WoW would have ‘fixed’ the open, non-directed zones full of ‘empty’ space DF has.

      I could go on, or replace WoW with EQ2, WAR, UO, or others.

      My point is, just because some trial account player finds the forum and makes a bunch of complaints about things, does not mean they actually need fixing. AV understands that, countless other dev studios did/do not.

      • Sean says:

        We aren’t talking about the same things here and given the way you replied, I think you know that. I am talking about the moment to moment player experience. I am talking mostly about ineffable things like “feel” or how “transparent” the game is. These are oftentimes discounted as little things but they are executed on in the best games and often cited as lacking in poorer ones.

        WoW wouldn’t “do” anything and Blizzard isn’t making/maintaining a sandbox, PvP centric MMO. What you cited are for the most part deliberate decisions on the part of Aveturine that effect the PvP dynamics or the combat system. None of these are problems in the abstract but, again, great ideas are easy; the implementation is the hard part.

        To give a higher level example of the sort you cited, and one I have experience with: EVE. The game turns on a player economy driven by resources that for the most part can only be manually mined in a procedure that can scarcely be called gameplay. It’s a boring, repetitive player procedure that might be acceptable if it wasn’t so central to the functioning of the game as a whole. Right along with hours long gate camps in low-sec or 0.0, the level of engagement is rather thin, punctuated all too seldom by moments of excitement.

        The player should not always be titillated but what the player is doing need not be so unengaging even if it be in the service of some greater goal or purpose they have. Mining could be better implemented. PvP dynamics could be improved to make the experience more dynamic for all involved. Or maybe they can’t in which case I fear that the whole design is a pyramid built on a faulty base. I’m with Chris Hecker (http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/27646/GDC_Heckers_Nightmare_Scenario__A_Future_Of_Rewarding_Players_For_Dull_Tasks.php) in thinking that we shouldn’t design games that work only because they are behaviorally addictive but otherwise completely unsatisfying for most of the time, and for most of those who play. Pyramids are an apt comparison – these are illegal pyramid schemes in the real world and pernicious, in my mind unethical, ones in the virtual world.

        • SynCaine says:

          Sure we are, you just don’t want to see it that way. Remember how Blizz ‘fixed’ Alterac Valley (the first time)? Yes, thank you for removing the one battleground that required anything beyond 1+1 tactics because oh no, the idiot ‘casuals’ could not put one foot in front of the other and the end result was a complete standstill.

          Remember how Blizz ‘fixed’ city raiding, an activity that in late 2004, early 2005 was thriving on PvP servers? Thank you for making it impossible to do this because solo-hero Billy could not turn in his PvE quest in peace on a PvP server.

          Welfare epics, 25/10 man raiding, tokens for everything, removing elite quests from Azeroth, on and on we go.

        • Sean says:

          My original comments were directed more at low level things like the feel of Mario’s jump or the feedback of Diablo II’s combat.

          And, no, I don’t remember those events in detail because I only read about WoW at that point as a spectator and not a participant.

          However, if memory serves, original AV is a good example of the sort of content that I highlighted as problematic in EVE. Nor was its “fix” much better. A proper fix to the stalemate that was original AV would be level design that funneled players into flash points of conflict, reinforcing mechanics that would guarantee one side would eventually win, and mechanics to facilitate organization/communication between the opposing teams.

          It would seem that Blizzard took an easy way out with AV and essentially turned it into dueling 40 man zergs, better only in the sense that what was once sometimes days of on and off tedium had been compressed into minutes or hours. In the upcoming expansion, Blizzard promises to address some of the structural issues with organized PvP.

          The sense I get from you and some other apologists for “hardcore” PvP MMOs is that you want the experience to be painful at times; not just metaphorically, but emotionally and psychologically trying. The experience these people seem to seek is not titillation over and above day-to-day lives, but punctuated moments of relief from what are otherwise menial/boring/unpleasant tasks. Little Billy should grin and bear it, be punished over and over for the mistake of rolling on a PvP server so that others can derive a modicum of pleasure over his death and real frustration. Great. Wonderful. That’s the game that so many want to play, that a long line of companies oriented to cater to this audience have been successful at producing.

          That AV can keep the lights on with their 20k active subscribers is laudable but it isn’t indicative in of itself of a good game design. Perhaps they really can lead the way and become the first sustainable PvP MMO of that vein. You know what though? Basic UI conceits could be better telegraphed to the player. Animations could have been less janky at release. The protections they’ve implemented for new players should have been on a whiteboard five years ago. You can’t slap the player in the face with your awkward game interface and expect them to stick around anymore. Unless, of course, you’re into that sort of thing. I’m fast beginning to suspect that true “fans of the genre” are. I’m not.

      • Gooney says:

        Syncaine,

        Its not that AV understands something that other dev studios do not, AV simply has decided to go a different way.

        The “other” studios decided that they want to make gobs and gobs of money. To accomplish that goal they decided that they would try to homogenize their product as much as possible so that it would provide a maximum amount of joy for a minimum amount of anti-joy. They reasoned that their players are after all paying for, well, you know…entertainment.

        AV decided that joy could be derived by their players by maximizing the amount of anti-joy they experience. AV minimizes the amount of joy to the point that any fleeting triumph is psychologically inflated for their players, giving them the false belief that they “worked” for their joy.

        This AV business model causes the tiny group of players who actually play DF to consider themselves to be superior to non-DF players who simply receive gratification for the money they give their MMO provider. Whereas the “hardcore” DF player suffers greatly for the pittance of joy derived for their monthly fee.

        -Gooney

        • SynCaine says:

          True, catering to the majority rather than sticking to what worked did wonders for Mythic and SOE. Damn if only AV was as smart as those guys and went after those gobs and gobs of money rather than the petty amounts made by both DAoC and EQ1. Silly AV.

        • Gooney says:

          I’m not saying the gobs and gobs of money approach actually worked out for everyone, I’m just saying that thats what has motivated most studios.

          MMOs are after all, businesses. Like it or not, they’re sole purpose for existing is to generate revenue for their owners / investors.

          This is something I think AV is starting to really come to grips with. Remember AV is based in Greece, a country currently wracked by financial crisis and ill thought out austerity measures.

          I don’t think you can really say much about SOE, they did manage to put out about 8 MMOs at various levels of success. Not to mention they are probably the 2nd most powerful MMO publisher in Europe and the Americas.

          Mythic was a hot enough property to be acquired by EA and given the WarHammer IP to work with.

          I’m not so sure that it was the homogenization of WarHammer that was its downfall, I would say that it was a combination of a weak IP and game that was viewed by many Mythic fans as being inferior in game-play experience to its predecessor.

          -Gooney

        • Baredil says:

          Why must you force the emotions experienced into only joy and ‘anti-joy’. There’s an almost infinite range of emotions that can be experienced in true MMORPGs, and many of us are seeking more than just constant IWIN buttons.

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