Breaking news: Games pitched as MMOs are not actually MMOs!

August 31, 2011

Borderlands is more of an MMO than Global Agenda. It has a bigger “open world”, a longer character progression path, more itemization, more quests, more lore, etc. Both games are limited in how many people can be in one area, both are heavily instanced, and neither game plays anything like Ultima Online or even WoW.

Borderlands never claimed to be an MMO, nor was it ever marketed as one. Global Agenda was (is?), including an attempt to charge a monthly fee at the beginning. Now both games have content you can buy. In GA it’s mostly boosts and fluff, in Borderlands its more quests/areas/stuff.

Had Borderlands been marketed as an MMO, my guess is most would have focused on the justification for the cost/title rather than the actual product. That, IMO, is the biggest issue for GA. It’s simply not an MMO, but when it claims to be, you go into it with certain expectations. And those expectations can easily overshadow the simple fact that hey, what you are playing is actually fun, even if it’s nothing like playing an MMO.

Why a game like GA would call itself an MMO can be attributed to WoW. When some suit sees 12m subs, they go to throw money towards “stuff like that”, and devs looking for cash pitch games like GA as an MMO to get that suits attention and tap into an existing playerbase looking to try anything new called an MMO, real or not. We are going to see similar behavior over the next few years with MOBA titles. Games that play NOTHING like a ‘real’ MOBA game are going to be called MOBA titles simply to catch some of the buzz, and players are going to judge said titles on how close to LoL that game is rather than how much fun they are having.

The one bright spot is that at least LoL is using the ‘right’ version of F2P, and if me-too games copy that part of the business, they won’t have to deal with justifying a $15 a month fee.

And on the MMO front, one can only hope that those titles who continue to charge a monthly fee do so because they CAN justify the cost. While my feelings about Rift’s design direction are well known, I will give Trion a lot of credit for actually supporting the game like an MMO should be supported; with frequent updates and a plan that goes deeper than some minor tweaks or a breadcrumb of content every few months.

Play to (profitably) crush: Round 2?

August 30, 2011

 Massively has a nice two-part interview (linking not working atm…) with two original Shadowbane, and now Wizard101, devs that is well worth reading.

The story behind Shadowbane is a familiar one. New devs biting off more than they can chew, having more ideas than time to code them, and ultimately a lack of funds forcing a release and dooming the product. The final bit, about announcing the game too soon and getting people hyped too early (while also possibly allowing the game to get funding), is very interesting and really highlights how screwed up funding can be.

I played Shadowbane briefly during beta and at release, but it was basically unplayable on my machine at the time (5-10 FPS), and by the time my hardware was upgraded and the game was fixed up, I had moved on. But I played the game enough to see the good parts (city building, sieging), and it is telling that no major release since SB has attempted some of the things they had going.

It would also be fairly humorous if these guys took the money they made with Wizard101, a F2P kids game, and created Shadowbane 2. This time armed with all the lessons learned and a proper budget. One can wish.

Options of terror

August 29, 2011

Regardless of the game, if I don’t have a sense of where I should go next, I get anxious. I need to think about why this is. It’s not that I don’t enjoy an open world or freedom. I think I’m just scared of getting stuck. I get the same anxiety in dungeons. I don’t want to get lost.

Comment by Daniel Silva over at Tobold’s blog about Sandbox MMOs and their lack of direction (as compared to a themepark).

What’s somewhat ironic about this statement, and I believe the above could be echoed by thousands if not millions of MMO players, is the above is exactly what a good sandbox is all about; options. And not just options on how to ultimately reach ‘the end-game’, but options in terms of how you spend your time in-game on that particular day. Whether you decide to work on your skills, go out to gather wealth, explore to learn a new area, or just tag along and help out a guildmate, the decision is based on what you want to do, rather than on a “path to success” that has been documented somewhere online.

One example that comes to mind is new Darkfall players asking what they should do. Too often you will see a ‘vet’ list a bunch of skills and tell the player to grind until X so they can compete. The problem here is that unless the new player is only concerned with reaching ‘viable’ as soon as possible, just listing skills and telling someone to grind is the best way to get them burned out before they even start. Sure, character stats and skills are important, and eventually you will want a powerful character to fully contribute to PvP encounters, but between that point and a new character is a huge range of options, and rushing through them is, for most, not the correct approach.

Games like WoW however do a great job of conditioning players that the “path to success” is the ONLY path, and if you are not on it you are doing it wrong. Hell, most of the time WoW puts bumper rails to keep you on that path, and it takes a massive effort to jump off and play differently. This is where the ‘easy’ part of the design discussion comes in. If Blizzard knows what 99% of their players are doing between levels 1 and 85, then they can easily focus content and balance around that one path. In a linear sRPG, you don’t have to take into consideration what might happen if a new player stumbles into the final dungeon, right?

In a sandbox, stumbling into the final dungeon as a new player, or even better, accompanying your guild, could be an enjoyable experience. It should, at the very least, be an option, even if the end result is you going splat as soon as you enter. Going splat is ok though. The only way you can ‘fail’ is when you stop playing. Even in Darkfall, losing all your gear is a setback, but also motivation to get it back. So long as you log in and keep playing, you keep advancing, and the pace of advancement is only as important as you make it.

The more sandbox titles you play, the easier it becomes to adjust and not always focus on “the path”. It’s tough at first, and as seen above, sometimes even scary, but learning to accept the journey rather than just focusing on the end goal is how you ultimately get the most out of a sandbox title. And as someone with a wealth of experience in both styles, I can very safely say that the highs from a sandbox goal are far more rewarding than those from a themepark. You just have to learn to get there first.

(Business note: Most players refuse or are unable to learn not to focus on the shiny at the end. If you are aiming for the mass-market, themepark is the way to go. That said, if you plan your finances around 100k players, and end up with 200k, that’s pretty damn successful too, and a lot less risky than hoping for 1m plus and ending up with WAR)

Darkfall: The only option

August 26, 2011

To continue the blog merger, I’ll pick up where I left off on the reset topic and how it applies to Darkfall.

It’s true that a character reset would cut millions of players from WoW, or thousands off games like LotRO or Rift. In solo-hero themeparks your character is the only ‘impact’ you make, and if that gets reset all you have ever done does indeed go *poof*.

Darkfall is different in a number of ways however. First you have the world itself, where player cities can change hands and village housing plays a part. Additionally you don’t ‘progress’ through the world like you would in a themepark. Players living on Yssam are not there because they happen to be level 40, and once they hit 50 it’s on to Cairn. If you reset, Yssam players can start in Cairn and get a different experience, while WoW players are forced to go from zone X to Y to Z all over again. Rinse repeat for ‘end-game’ content.

Another factor is player skill; in WoW a great player might level to the cap a bit faster, or take down an instance without as many wipes, but realistically the in-game character is far more important in terms of power than the player. In Darkfall player-skill matters, and once you ‘get good’, you remain better than others whether you have a fresh character or one who is maxed out. Additionally, reputations matter. Power players and clans are known by name, and those names will still mean something after a reset.

Another very important factor with Darkfall is that it’s pretty unique in the MMO space, especially when comparing games like WoW to Rift. Sure, differences exist (for now anyway), but at the end of the day one experience is very similar to the other. What game plays similar to Darkfall? Mortal Online might be the closest game, and that thing is an absolute mess. In other words, whether a wipe is something you support or don’t want, short of not playing a FFA PvP MMO anymore, you are still going to be playing Darkfall. Hell, every week is “the straw the broke the camel’s back” according to the forums, yet at the same time it’s business as usual on the clan forum and with in-game activity.

I’ve covered my I believe Darkfall needs a wipe come DF2.0, and today’s crafting update just reinforces that. You can’t rebalance the economy and how materials work when various players, through various means, have stockpiles of resources and gained skills outside of the (pretty much) completely new skill-up system. And while I do think the wipe will be interesting to watch (and more importantly, experience first-hand), it’s almost a guarantee that at the end of the day, Darkfall will be a better game for it, both in terms of population and player experience.

Now if we could only get an ETA on when it’s going to happen, and have that ETA actually stick.

Global Agenda: Looking ahead to the next update

August 25, 2011

While I have not been posting much about Global Agenda, I and a few others have been playing it somewhat frequently of late, and having a good time (InqClan if you want to join us).

GA is one of those “fun in doses” games, which makes it perfect for the F2P model. I’m pretty sure it also sells power (not at the cap yet, so I’ve not seen end-game stuff or how cash effects it), but given that the game falls under the “I don’t care that much” category, I’m not bothered. I’m consistent like that…

One should not confuse “don’t care that much” with GA not being a good game. I think it is. It has a nice combat system, good graphics, makes some nice design decisions, etc. I’d say currently its biggest shortfall is that its PvE goes into total grind-mode after level 18.

“But SynCaine, I thought GA was a PvP game?”

It is. But it’s not Halo or CounterStrike. It’s an MMO (in the new, more general sense of the term), and even a PvP MMO needs good PvE to provide a PvP break. And GA has some pretty decent PvE pre-18. The open-zone desert stuff is fun. It’s not gods-gift to MMO PvE content, but given how combat works and all that, it’s not bad. There’s something oddly enjoyable about just zipping around with a jetpack blasting random trash in a desert.

So I’m happy to see that the next update is mostly PvE focused, and looks to add more of the open zone stuff. As I mentioned, the PvP they currently have is good, and while more maps and such are nice, you don’t really need to shake that part up. Rather, you need to give people something to do to take a break, because currently that break is to log off. The more stuff you can do while waiting for others to log on, the higher the odds of actually getting a group together become.

League of Legends lets you see how much cash you have spent

August 25, 2011

The latest League of Legends update lets you see your purchase history, both real cash and IP spending. From a quick survey on the Inquisition forum, it’s pretty clear Riot going F2P has earned them a whole hell of a lot more money than if they had sold LoL for $50 a box. I’ll have to check my personal total when I get home, but I’m pretty sure I’m sitting at $150+, and Aria has bought RP as well.

Now if LoL had a box price of $150, I would call that crazy. Which is funny, because if LoL was boxed for $150, I would expect it to come with all of the content, yet my $150 has not even gotten me close to owning all of the skins or champs out.

Nor do I feel that $150 was poorly spent. If anything, that $150 is a bargain considering how long and how often I’ve played LoL. Even by MMO sub terms (already a steal in terms of spending/entertainment), this works out to just over $10 a month for me, and I’ve spent sub money on games far, far below LoL.

I’d like to hope that LoL shows you don’t need to sell power to make it in the F2P market. Something tells me though that the item shop/gold ammo stuff will continue.


Lore and Gameplay

August 24, 2011

Lore should justify gameplay, rather than gameplay justifying lore.

In other words, if my MMO setting does not use magic, but a level designer creates something pretty awesome that requires a hint of magic (floating platforms), you don’t scrap the level because the lore says no magic. You add lore explaining why the new place is special and has floating platforms.

At the same time, consistent lore can help you keep things in check and continue with a good thing. WoW started off as high fantasy, but the definition of high fantasy is seriously stretched when you include space goats and Paris Hilton. Which is not to say such things are outright bad (ok Paris Hilton has pretty much zero redeeming qualities), but we have seen plenty of people annoyed with the direction WoW lore has taken. I get that the Alliance needed an ‘ugly’ race, but there are plenty of high fantasy choices that would have fit better than space goats.

Another good example is the Prophecy of Pendor mod I’m (always) playing. The setting in Mount and Blade is great because it does not use magic, giving combat a very real feel. With that said, PoP adds demonic legions and other fantasy-ish characters. Still no magic in combat, but not just a pure medieval setting. You still use a sword to hack down the bad guy, but in PoP the bad guy might have an unrealistic amount of hit points, along with looking a little inhuman.

It’s a fine line, and every game needs to find it and learn to balance on it rather than falling over, yet when push comes to shove, gameplay should always win, even if it is immersion-breaking.


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