I need something explained to me

July 27, 2011

Why do you put out a PR release that anyone who has every played anything remotely resembling an MMO can immediately spot the major issue with?

Discover new stuff to craft by experimenting? Hi in beta someone is going to create a crafting wiki with ALL the stuff to craft, until you release a patch, and then 10sec later the site is going to get updated with the new stuff you just added.

Look, I’m semi-excited for Prime, but putting out rookie stuff like this is not a good sign. Either you are foolish enough to believe any kind of discovery is possible, which means you are new to MMO games, or you have come up with a cool system to stop this (AC1, sorta kinda but not really) and failed to say so, suggesting your PR sucks. I’ll take the latter over the former, but we all know which one it most likely is.

Is it just me, or is this kind of stuff not rocket science…?

Getting RPG players to act like MMO players

July 26, 2011

On vacation right now, so blogging activity might take a little dip for the next week or so. I’ve got a laptop so I should be able to post a bit, but we’ll see.

Azuriel over at Player Vs Auction House makes a very interesting point: even if someone loves sRPGs, but plays anywhere close to the amount MMO players play, they very quickly “run out of content” even if they pick up all the sRPG offering for a given year. Many of them then turn to MMOs.

IMO devs should not be trying to recreate the single player experience with stuff like solo instances and phasing, but instead trying to ease RPG fans into what really makes an MMO great, the massive multiplayer aspect. Soloing should be an option, because even die-hard MMO players sometimes want to just do something quick, but the really good stuff should be multiplayer, be it group content or just a random gathering of players doing something.  I have some thoughts on all that, but figured I’d throw the idea out here first with a quick post.

Is EA too cocky with SW?

July 22, 2011

It’s not secret EA is basically banking the company on SW:sRPG, and from the outside looking in it SEEMS the game should be a hot ticket in its first month, but is EA a little TOO cocky here?

First they announced that the game will only be available online through their EA-only Steam-clone called Origin. Now perhaps not a huge deal, but plenty of gamers prefer Steam, and some are borderline exclusive to it (it’s the only site I check now for games). Alone this would not be THAT big a deal, but IMO it is a factor.

Next we have the recent $150 CE move. Not only is the price silly, but there are some real key details missing. That in-game vendor for instance, what does he sell? A single fluff hat, an entire ‘best looking’ outfit, or a one-shot death beam of insta-win? What if he is the only source for a non-combat Yoda pet (I know SW nerds, wrong timeframe blablabla) or some other ‘must have’ for SW fans and you miss out on the CE because it’s ‘sold out’? It does not take much to enrage MMO fans, and SW fans are also a pretty emo bunch. Just a few loudmouths missing out on something could cause a lot of negative feedback, and such things tend to spiral out of control (EVE Monocle anyone?).

Other information, such as, you know, a release date, are also missing. What if the upcoming beta is not as clean as EA expects and SW gets pushed back 6 months? Dropping $150 that early is not going to make people very happy. What if beta shows what many already expect, that SW will be a fun one-month romp. Is that $150 you dropped still worth it? Can you cancel at that point?

Do we even know the pricing model yet? Is this a sub-only MMO? Is it sub + frequent paid expansions?  Is it sub + ‘micro’ transaction? And if so, what exactly can you pay extra for? Pure fluff, or the final chapter of your character’s story? Or will EA be selling side stuff like guilds, full AH access, and other ‘non-critical’ (but critical) functionality? Asking someone to drop $150 on a CE before it ‘sells out’ without the customer knowing the above is pretty ballsy at best, and pretty exploitative at worst.

Hype alone at this point will make SW a big seller early, but remember that EA is calling this an MMO, and an MMO lives and dies by how well it retains players. Will this early shady treatment of the game’s most loyal supporters (people who don’t think twice about dropping $150) come back to bite EA? Or are SW fans so fervent that even if EA asked them to walk through fire for a glowstick, they would pay extra for the chance to go first?

Time, Money, and Glowsticks

July 21, 2011

Between my post about new MMO pricing ‘methods’ and EA bending SW fans over with their $150 (more in EU)  CE, money has been the topic of late.

My plan for SW:sRPG is to pick it up for $5 on a Steam sale a few months after release. At that point I’m sure most will have moved on and I can enjoy the game in peace, without the hassle of others to ruin my immersion*.

I mentioned in my previous post that Gods and Heroes was crazy to expect most to pay $15 a month for what they have. I mean, unless having a few minions with you is just your absolute MMO dream, the ‘must have’ appeal here is pretty damn low. But that got me thinking: how low exactly is it? After all, the game was in open beta not long ago, and I could not even be bothered to spend the time to download it. If the sub price drops from $15 to $5 a month, how many people are going to see that and jump in?

For me, and I suspect many others, time is a much bigger factor than money. My bank account won’t noticed the difference between $15 and $5 a month at the end of the year, but with my limited gaming time (granted, it’s not THAT limited, but certainly more limited than my money when we are talking MMOs), I don’t really care to try out every MMO that comes along, lower price or not.

This begs the question: is there really a niche for something like Gods and Heroes or games like it? From the outside looking in, it sure sounds like yet-another-fantasy-themepark + minions. I’d really love to hear from a current G&H player and find out why they would rather spend their time with that game and not themepark X. I’m just not seeing it, and I’m also just not seeing how the people behind that game imagined things working out. During the early stages, what exactly was the “sales pitch” here?

*It’s a multi-layered joke. One: Immersion is a long-running inside joke. Two: While I jokingly say that I’m looking forward to playing an MMO solo, the sad truth is many today hope for just that in their Massively Multiplayer games, and SW will make Cata look like a sandbox. Three: Barrens chat will look tame compared to SW general chat in the first month or two. Not only are SW nerds the worst nerds of all, but you just know every Huntard is going to take their unique brand of ‘gaming’ to SW and making the most (worst) of it.

Speaking of innovation…

July 19, 2011

The (not really all that) new MMO business model: Is your MMO ‘good’?

If you lied and said “Yes”, go to A.

If you ran out of money, need to ship the alpha, and said “No”, go to B.

A: Hold a closed beta open to everyone, drum up launch hype, pack a Collectors edition with a ton of junk, sell for full price or more. Promise the world a week or so after launch, while also talking about how you never expected such a strong response and that you are now playing catch-up. Patch some of the stuff you cut in beta into the game, showing how ‘agile’ your development is compared to everyone else.

Hype wears off, you actually launched another WoW-clone. Merge servers at some point, the longer you wait the worse things get. Make sure to release a paid expansion with all the other stuff you cut from release at full price. Expansion hype wears off even sooner. Go F2P shortly after. If your MMO is based on an IP, shut down. If not, get an intern to keep the lights on.

B: Hype launch, lie/cheat/murder to sound special, sell the box at full price. Wait for your game to die. The rate of death is directly tied to how bad your game is.

If death is measurable in weeks, announce a return to beta, ‘re-launch’ with a nice buzzword attached to the title, sell the game at a ‘discount’, then go F2P a month later. Shut down shortly after.

If death is measured in months, announce a “brand new, exciting” direction, go F2P. Plan B: Announce that subscriptions are a relic (despite you charging full price for a box just a few months ago) and that F2P is the new ‘it’ thing, and that you are simply doing what everyone else is doing (despite the good MMOs all being sub-based, still). Shut down months later when no one is looking.

Note: This post would be a lot funnier if any of the above was exaggerated or sarcasm. Recent MMOs off the top of my head that inspired this post: Alganon, APB, Gods and Heroes, Global Agenda, Champions Online, DCUO, PotBS. I’m sure I’m missing a bunch.

The point: If an upcoming MMO looks ‘interesting’, wait a month and play the F2P version, saving yourself $50. If an MMO looks like a ‘sure thing’, wait a month and pay $5 on Steam. If an MMO has ‘neat ideas’, play on day one because day three they are shutting down. Make sure to take day two off from work to really make that $50 count!

Innovation = Lowered Expectations

July 18, 2011

This article is making the blog rounds today. It’s interesting enough, and also a little comical (count how many people complain about innovation, and then count how many of them are “Currently know for” a sequel).

While mostly console-focused, the main theme is that innovation is lacking and that costs are too high to attempt a AAA product that’s not a “sure thing”. This is nothing new to the industry of course (and one could argue, especially on the PC, that things are better today than they were five years ago thanks to digital distribution), but nothing new has never stopped bloggers before, and it won’t stop me today.

IMO the innovation issue is pretty simple: if you want to try something new but not bank your entire company on it, don’t spend $100m on the gamble, spend $5m. Yes, a $5m title won’t have cutting-edge GCI, Hollywood voice acting, or an art team the size of a small country, but when have any of those ever REALLY factored into a game being great? (Hi SW:TOR). Gameplay is king, it always has been. Flashy games that have trash gameplay are still bad games (that unfortunately sometimes still sell because too many gamers are lemmings, but that’s another issue that, as things like Steam friends and blogs get more common, will decrease).

Look at the iPhone market: how many top gamers continue to sell because a big-name publisher continues to hype them, and how many are there because of superior gameplay? Angry Birds is raking it in because of its fundamental design, as did Field Runners, Pocket God, and the rest (slightly outdate list mind you, but still). (side note: Tap Tap is basically a Guitar Hero clone, but the gameplay does translate well to the iPhone)

Now gaming fans have to be honest with themselves here as well. If someone is going to take a risk, you can’t go into it expecting that not only is the gameplay truly something new, but it’s also polished like WoW after years of patching AND has the production value of a CoD rehash. A lot of gamers do, which is a problem, but the sooner people stop and just appreciate what the games are, the sooner we will see more of them.

A somewhat recent example is the first Witcher title. The devs went for something different in the PC RPG genre (a genre that is itself not exactly a breeding ground for mega-hit sales), brought a lot of good innovation, and were rewarded with success. Yet we still saw people complaining about reused NPC models, bugs (the 1.0 version had some serious issues), and how the voice acting was not perfect in spots. EA just recently released Dragon Age 2, how’s that working out for us?

In the MMO genre we see this all the time, and we might have the best example of all. If you were totally clueless about the whole genre, and just based your knowledge off reading random forums, you would come away thinking the absolute worst idea would be to release anything resembling WoW. Every single post claims to want innovation, for devs to try something new, and for ‘not another WoW-clone’. Now look at the sales charts, or what games remain popular. Look at the player expectations for small studios and their niche games. It’s crazy.

It’s even worse in the MMO genre because it’s so difficult to predict how anything new will actually work. Players do some very, very strange things, and the best system on paper might be a total disaster thanks to ‘creative gameplay’ by the players. And even when a title does release with some new ideas, what’s the reaction? Why is this not polished like WoW. Or even worse, why is the UI not exactly like WoW. Again, crazy.

But like I said earlier, I feel that today’s market is better than it has been before. Steam allows older titles to still be sold (encouraging devs to patch up mistakes), it does not have ‘shelf space’ issues like brick-and-mortar stores (letting the little guy be seen/sold), and it connects gamers to sites like meta-critic to at least help separate bad games (though in no way is meta-critic perfect).

As gamers get more educated about their hobby, and as everyone ‘matures’ as a gamer, I’d like to think the whole “buy Madden early” thing will stop.

Although I’ve been thinking that for years now…

Heroes of Might and Magic 6 beta update

July 18, 2011

Over the weekend I was able to play some Heroes of Might and Magic 6 (beta) hotseat multiplayer, and overall came away impressed. I’ve also now played enough of the single-player to get a solid feel for that as well. For a beta Heroes 6 is in good shape, but there are certainly some issues that really need to be fixed up before the game goes live.

Let’s get the negative out of the way first: the game has some display bugs for skills and spells. For instance, when viewing a monster in the town view, their skill description usually does not fill in the monsters name, and the % values are usually off. So a goblins trap skill will read: “The (blank) lays a trap, dealing 0% damage and slowing the enemy for 0 turns”. Not very helpful. The skill description works during combat, but still. A similar bug happens when viewing some hero skills and spells, and I’ve noticed some spell descriptions are simply untrue. Regenerate, for instance, says it will last 17 turns, but in combat it fades after just three.

I’ve also noticed that certain skills either don’t function correctly, or are damn near impossible to use. One unit I was playing with had a charge ability, yet no matter how close or how far he was from the enemy, the skill could not be activated.

I had the game crash once during the hotseat game, but with auto-saving not much progress was lost. Finally, the AI (on normal) was not very smart, as it would often leave towns undefended and would only build and upgrade the first tier of units. It was able to clear its section of the map, and occasionally would attack, but watching it for a good number of turns, it was clear the AI did not have a solid plan or any long-term goals. It looked like it was just happy to continue amassing units and wandering around the map.

Now the good: All five factions have very interesting units, and each faction really feels unique. The basic combat strategy for the undead is very different than that of the Haven troops, and learning how to maximize what your faction does well is key. With a ton of unique abilities across all units, there are a lot of little strategies to learn, and some pretty cool stuff can be accomplished with a little planning. The one big blowout fight I had with my friend lasted many turns, and even though we were both new to the game, we still pulled off some nice moves and really did some creative stuff. This to me shows just how deep Heroes 6 combat will be in multiplayer, which for me is the most important factor.

The different abilities a hero can learn while leveling up also feel very solid, and there is a lot of room for customization here. Magic items are also very powerful, and many not only give stat bonuses, but have abilities of their own. This again adds good depth and randomness (items are placed semi-randomly every time you start the map), giving even just the one multiplayer map in the beta some good replay value.

Instant auto-combat also seemed pretty accurate, in that if you used a superior force against a random enemy, more often than not you would come away without a single loss, which is what would happen if you actually played it out. This was not 100%, but enough to speed up the game significantly. Considering how long Heroes multiplayer games can get, this is another very important feature.

The single-player map that I finished, along with the second that I started, were both enjoyable with a good mix of cutscenes to keep the story going. I did not see enough to really ‘get’ much of the story, but what was there was good enough, and I think when the full game is released will be worth playing through.

I’m a bit surprised that the beta has not received a single update, but perhaps that’s just the MMO player in me talking. With still over a month to go until release, there is certainly enough time to clean Heroes up a bit and get rid of the last few bugs/errors. Considering the shape Heroes 5 went live in, Heroes 6 is already a much more polished game, yet I would not consider it ‘done’ just yet.

At the end of the day however, Heroes 6 feels like a Heroes game, which might be the most important factor of all.


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