Mists of Pandaria is a great name

October 24, 2011

On Friday I mentioned that it will be interesting to see how Blizzard and CCP differ in the next year when it comes to their flagship titles, but over the weekend, playing some EVE while thinking about Blizzard (I did some mining, so lots of thinking time), I’ve come to some conclusions already. I also want to talk a bit about that comment Tobold made.

When I first read about Mists of Pandaria it sure sounded like Blizzard saying “sorry” for WotLK and Cata. No flying until the cap, refocusing on the open-world, world bosses, harder instanced content, etc. It’s 2004 all over again! Of course Blizzard has promised those things before, and well, we know how that turned out. (Still love this line: “Over time, we’d like the focus of PvP to shift back to being more BG-centric and more focused on Horde versus Alliance — the core of our game.” I was also reminded of the technical impossibly that is Wintergrasp as I crossed areas with 500+ people in local.)

But when you look at the major features, it’s very clear what Blizzard is doing. More of the same. Not in a ‘give them more of the same content’, but rather more of the same approach; slowly evolve WoW from what it was to what Blizzard hopes it will be – an alternative to Saturday morning cartoons.

Trammel and the NGE are significant because in one day, they radically changed their MMOs and gave current players the boot in favor of people NOT playing the game at the time. Grass is greener and all that. Really worked out well for SWG, and nothing says Britannia like elves and ninjas!

WoW has never had such an event, yet every expansion has slowly been pushing people out. Whether you dropped out because raiding went from 40 to 25 in BC, the game went drool-cup in WotLK, or sRPG in Cata, at different times different crowds have been Trammel’ed/NGE’ed out of WoW, and each time the hope was that newer, younger (real or mental age) players with lower expectations would come in. MoP is a fitting acronym here, as Blizzard is cleaning out the old and looking to bring in a totally new crowd.

It’s also fitting that Blizzard is giving away Diablo 3 to millions of people, in the hope that when they MoP up WoW, the dirt transitions to D3 and continues to pay via Auction House taxes. (Side note: Raise your hand if you got a free copy of SC2 because you subbed to WoW for a year? Anyone? No? Wonder what’s different this time…)

As to WoW having always been a non-serious game; either you are delusion or a total Blizzard apologist. Possibly both.

Somehow I don’t think pre-teens were running around knocking out elite mobs in the open-world, organizing town raids, playing the first version of the PvP system, min/maxing the second system, or sitting around with 39 of their closest pre-teen friends to knock out Rag after a five hour raid. And to suggest that this was just a ‘very minor’ part of the game, well, guess Blizzard disagreed when they expanded that ‘very minor’ part for well over a year straight, while at the same time picking up millions of new subs. Naw, total coincidence. Just like WotLK stagnating growth and bring drool-cup easy, or Cata sinking WoW and being a sRPG are total coincidences. It’s just burnout finally setting in after 2-4-6 years, yo.

What is surprising about all of this is that, in effect, Blizzard is throwing in the towel with WoW being a real MMO. Yes the signs have been there before, but MoP sure looks like a total admission here. When your trailer looks like an intern put together a demo to bringing Kung Fu Panda to Saturday mornings, are you saying anything else? And is TAGN going to start double-posting real Pokemon and WoWmon updates? Will we be able to tell the difference?

It’s all a pretty stark contrast to what CCP is doing with EVE, which is to refocus and continue building on to the core game that started 7+ years ago. (Side note: how is it that EVE is a year older with a much smaller player base, yet today looks like a 2011 game while WoW continues to look like a 2002 game?)

From a business standpoint I’m sure MoP will indeed bring in a bunch of new pre-teens to mess around with the game for however long their attention spans last, but from a players perspective WoW has ‘lost’ in terms of supporting those who have supported it before. For many it took a while, but slowly people are being shown the door. Kinda sad that an entire sub-group of MMO players will see this as the norm, and not know or understand that not only is it possible, but it should be expected that instead of turnover and change, an MMO is about growth and addition.

Final side note: SW:TOR has to be pretty happy about this right? They will be the only major online sRPG in town now. Double-defeat admission from Blizzard?

Just saving this for later

October 23, 2011

It is only by ignoring the looks of WoW and concentrating on a very minor part of the game that people can keep up the illusion that World of Warcraft ever was meant to be a “serious” game. – Tobold

EVE: The panda made me do it

October 22, 2011

Back online.

Anyone in a solid Corp (PvP/PvE mix) with a spot for one more?

Pilot name: SynCaine

It’s a race to the bottom!

October 21, 2011

Oh Blizzard.

Free D3 to save WoW?(read: inflate sub numbers temporarily)

Pandas? Pet fighting? A new race + new class + cap increase all in one expansion? It’s like WoW is in panic mode or something…

On a slightly more serious note, going forward it will be interesting to see the differences between CCP trying to ‘save’ EVE and Blizzard trying to save WoW. We know the CCP A-team is back on EVE. Looking at that jaw-dropping (sarcasm) Panda video, I’m guessing Titan is coming along nicely. Between waiting for CCP to shut down (sarcasm) and waiting for WoW to finishing burning (serious), 2012 is looking great already.

Side-note: Did anyone else get an April 1st vibe from that Blizzard DoTA video? That’s not really a product is it?

My genre can beat up your genre

October 21, 2011

I’m melting!!!

Wait no, that’s a pretty level graph isn’t it? So if the sky is falling, and I’m stable, does that mean I’m crushing it as hard as you suspected? I guess it does right?

Epeen measuring aside (did I mention I’m one win away from 1600+ ELO in LoL? No? Well I’m one win away from 1600+ ELO. Guess that makes me the 1% of Occupy Blogstreet or something), let’s talk about the death of MMOs as we know it.

MMOs are dying. SW:TOR is the last gasp of a soon-deceased genre, and I personally hope that rather than going meekly into the grave, it dies in a horrifyingly entertaining train wreck of epic proportions.

By the time I finish writing this post, WoW will have lost another million subs (real subs, not China ‘subs’), Rift might announce it’s going F2P, and LoTRO will be selling you a “One Ring + Frodo mini-pet” combo pack in the item shop.

The MMORPG genre is doing just fine. Aventurine, despite their best efforts for well over a year now, can’t kill Darkfall. Dawntide, which I’m pretty sure is a social experiment in pain tolerance, actually has a following and just got more money to continue. Wyrm Online launched a new server. ATiTD is around and kicking. Etc, etc.

Oh and EVE is still the second biggest sub MMO out, the longest growing MMO out, and CCP actual plans to update it after taking a “hey lets go over here and tinker with WoD” break. Not bad when you consider that the game is Excel with a worse UI, it “welcomes sociopaths with open arms”, sells $8,000,000 vanity items, and has the leader of the Goons as its player representative.

Not that any of this should be a real surprise if you think about it. If it costs $300m to make a themepark that will entertain you for a month or two, or $10 to make Darkfall and keep people sieging and resieging for close to three years, which one would you pick? Or if you are a talented team with limited funds, do you have a choice? I’m a VC with some cash to throw at something risky, do I feel better about throwing $300m or $10?

The worst part of it all is that even if you DO get that $300m (good luck after SW) needed to make a themepark, its dead money. You will need another $300m to keep pumping out the type of content themepark players want fast enough to retain them, and unless you retain 100m of them, the math isn’t going to work out. The biggest red herring of all time is WoW, because DESPITE being somewhat of a themepark at launch, it retained people well-enough initially to make Blizzard rich, and it was only when Blizzard started making WoW more and more of a themepark did the castle start to crumble (and when you factor in the social aspect of having such a huge playerbase, it just amplifies how un-sustainable a themepark really is).

The reason you are seeing people like Tobold panic is that he, and most current-day ‘MMO’ players, don’t like MMORPGs. Games like UO/AC-DT/EVE/DF are scary places where feelings get hurt, and if you don’t have a thick skin, you can’t play. Which is why they like single player online games over staying offline all together. And why not? Who would turn down Bioware spending triple the money making Baldur’s Gate? Who wouldn’t want the sRPG genre going from niche, low budget games to the cream of the gaming crop, even if you have to pay the paltry sum of $15 a month? You know why people are really excited for SW:TOR? Because it’s KOTOR with a massive budget. From a fans perspective with nothing invested in the company, hell yea I want way too much cash spent on my game.

Unfortunately throwing money down the drain is coming to an end, and the reality of WoW being an exception rather than the rule is setting in. You can’t replicate WoW because WoW was a once-in-a-lifetime, perfect storm title (not going to debate that here, feel free to search this blog for those posts). It was also NOTHING like the game it is today, which is why we are seeing trainwreck after trainwreck when other games try to emulate it. You are copying the flawed version of something that once worked. Oh and your version has even more flaws because you’re not Blizzard’s A-team.

Lost in all this is the fact that 100k, or even 20k MMOs are perfectly viable, and have been for years (decades now I guess). If you plan correctly, 20k people paying you $15 a month is a pretty health income. Now you are more limited in what you can develop, which is why you need to provide tools rather than one-and-done content, but well, that’s kinda what MMORPGs are, aren’t they? But those tools enable ‘scary’ stuff like player interaction, and that often results in even ‘scarier’ player conflict. And such concepts, along with the time required to actually get into such games, are simply unacceptable to the thin-skinned octo-mom casuals.

But look on the bright side.

You will always* have Facebook MMOs!

*Always being the next 20 minutes, when that fad also dies. Hurry!

I want sand in every genre

October 20, 2011

I prefer a TBS game (Final Fantasy Tactics-like games) that lets me build my party from scratch over one that gives me pre-made party members. This post is not about any one specific game, just some random thoughts.

Creating the entire party yourself has a lot of benefits. You don’t have to follow the ‘holy trinity’ model, and instead can come up with whatever crazy combination of classes that will work. Or not work, which can be half the fun to try and get a really sub-optimal group to succeed.

I can see how giving the players pre-made characters is the ‘safe’ design choice, as you eliminate the chance that the player will do something that does not work and get stuck. Safe limits the options in this case though.

The ‘nameless’ party members also don’t have pre-defined personalities. This means that if you want your knight to be good or evil, he can be. A pre-defined character is hard-locked into one or the other. This is especially true if the game lets you select which character performs certain actions. For example, you have to select who executes a prisoner, and whoever you select, they start down the ‘evil’ killer path. The guy who you selected to save the orphan is heading down the ‘good’ path. If the party members are pre-made, usually you don’t have a choice when it comes to who kills and who saves.

This concept can be pushed further, and based on party choice and composition, the general story can branch as well. Too many ‘evil’ guys, and you go down path A. Too many ‘good’ guys, down path B you go. Or Path A vs Path B is determined by the magic-to-melee ratio of your party, or the number of females vs males. Maybe the difference is simply how one particular battle plays out, or in what order, or just who shows up to face you in said battle. Point being, the more open-ended you leave things, the more control you can offer to the player in determining how things go.

From a story perspective, you can have a pretty basic “save the world” theme, and instead of sneaky pre-made plot twists, what keeps things interesting is the fact that the game reacts to your character/party choices. When YOU are the reason something happens, rather than something happening because you reach that specific point in the storyline, you tend to feel more connected.

Basically, I want a more sandbox-ish TBS game than the hard on-rails experience most TBS games turn out to be.

Dungeon Defenders: Flawed fun

October 20, 2011

I played Dungeon Defenders last night, having purchased it as a 4-pack with my regular gaming buddies, for about five hours (casually, yo). I think the fact that we played it for five hours straight says a lot right there, but this being a blog and all let me write a bit more about it. Also see Zubon over at KTR for some more impressions.

For a $10 game, graphically it looks surprisingly good, and the sound is also enjoyable. Controls in-game are mostly solid, although the occasional wonky collision detection is noticeable. The UI on the other hand is clearly console-inspired, and makes simple stuff like inventory management unnecessarily sloppy. As Zubon mentioned, this is very clearly a console-first title.

All of my impressions are based on playing the game with three friends on vent, which is basically the ideal scenario for the game. Even after just five hours, I can’t imagine the game being nearly as fun playing with PUGs (though keep in mind my general tolerance for PUGs is somewhere between zero and none).

I say this because there are some serious game-design issues. The most glaring being that XP gain is based on who kills a mob, which naturally means support classes/tower, while very helpful in winning, don’t earn you the same amount of XP as killing stuff. This encourage bad-tactics stuff like people putting attack towers in front of defense towers to try to get more XP, or people charging into mobs to score more kills. If I saw it playing with three friends, I can’t imagine how this is going to play out in PUG-land. This also naturally makes offensive classes like the Squire ‘better’ than a support class like the Monk in terms of leveling/score. The whole mess could very easily be fixed by making XP gain global.

One concern I had with DD is how it would balance tower defense with the Diablo-monster-bash aspect. On the surface it seems like the Diablo part is dominant, and sometimes it is, but on tougher maps proper use of towers is the key to victory. We lost twice last night, and both times correcting how we place our towers resulted in victory. This was very satisfying, and I think there is a decent amount of strategic depth in terms of tower combos and placement.

While certain areas of DD are rough, I think overall the game does a nice job of mixing genres. Collecting items is fun, and the itemization is on-par with Diablo in terms of random stats and such. Going up levels is also fun, and there seems to be decent depth to the character customization (and no doubt there will soon be ‘best spec’ builds). The tower placement/upgrading part is flexible and interesting, and the monster-bashing is what it is, simple yet enjoyable.


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