What the CCP layoffs and refocus tell us

October 19, 2011

Is it just me, or is this good news if you are an EVE player? Yes, it sucks for whoever got laid off, and it sucks for WoD fans, but aren’t all the recent issues around EVE due to the fact that CCP lost its focus?

This also puts things somewhat into perspective; if 120 people make up around 20% of your company, that means EVE has been so successful since 2003 that it built a company of around1000 people. The game, in short, is a gold mine, and unlike another, much larger gold mine, it’s still growing year to year.

You would be insane to screw with that, and CCP, for a while, was just that. It sounds like they have taken their meds and returned to sanity. Now let’s see the results in action when the winter expansion is released.

On a higher level, I’m glad at least CCP has realized that if you get an MMO right, and I mean really right, you don’t have to abandon it after a few days/months/years. That if you play things right, you can keep updating and adding on to what you have, and players will reward you with the kind of loyalty EVE has enjoyed.

Today far too many devs AND players approach MMOs like you would a flash game; something to entertain you for 5 minutes before you twit to the next one. That’s not what real MMOs are about, and I’m glad at least one company gets it and is rewarded for that approach.

GW2: The pond with the fountain in the middle

October 18, 2011

Good post from Ravious over at KTR about zone/world events in GW2, and what some of the possible scenarios might be. He in particular talks about failure scenarios; what might really happen should the players not be successful during a phase or battle. I would questions things a bit further, and ask how much impact success or failure really has on the world, versus how much it matters on an individual basis.

Consider the impact of an ‘event’ like a siege in Darkfall, which itself is a fairly common and repeatable event. If the defenders are successful, they retain their player city for days/weeks/months/years (depending on when they finally lose it), and that impact is felt by every member of that guild, along with anyone who visits the city, be it for a raid or for trading.

Furthermore, if you siege and kick out an active PvE guild from a city with great fire elemental farming nearby, the effect could be felt server-wide as the price of fire elemental drops increases, while the price of whatever that PvE guild farms next drops.

In short, one event can trigger world-wide ripples, big and small, to not only players directly involved with the event, but also to those who were not. The total number of players affected is a very important factor when considering the impact of an event.

On an individual level, losing or winning said sieged is important, but it’s not as personally game-changing as, say, getting the best-in-slot weapon from an event. Once you have that BiS, you not only stop chasing other weapons, but that event itself is now ‘done’ from your perspective. You have also gained a significant amount of permanent (until the next gear reset) power, which you can leverage to progress through tougher content or dominate others in PvP. If that item/ability/whatever is ‘required’ to progress, said event must also be available to everyone; otherwise you create a massive content bottleneck.

There is no doubt that the events in GW2 won’t have the permanence of something like a city siege. If an NPC dragon was satisfied once it successfully beat the first group of players to fight it, everyone else would feel cheated from missing that content, and from a content delivery perspective, that would be a huge waste. So the dragon has to come back, and the players can repeat the battle over and over. At some point, the zone/world is going to be in exactly the same state as it was before. If that loop is hours long, the impact of the event is pretty minimal, and the buy-in to fight back would be low. This is exactly the effect Rift events had; they at most impacted the zone for an hour or so, and whether the mobs were defeated or ignored, the zone returned to normal.

This also makes any kind of ‘failure state’ not matter nearly as much. If the impact is Rift-level, where failure leads to a quest NPC not being available for a few minutes, no one is really going to go out of their way to fight back if they don’t need that NPC or any of the rewards associated with pushing the event back. MMO players don’t care about the feelings of NPCs, and so we won’t go on a heroic quest to save a village just to give those NPC farmers a safe home (while we would if said farmers were players farming stuff that we actually need – see EVE conflicts over high-value mining areas). We do it because said NPC farmers give us epics, and once we have those epics, we let them burn. And by design, those farmers NEED to burn so that the next solo-hero can come along and ‘save’ them to collect his epics. Actually making saving a village have impact would create more problems than benefits in a traditional PvE MMO.

While I believe the events in GW2 will be longer and more complex than what Rift offers, I don’t see a scenario where they matter more. GW2 has levels, so when you out-level content, you automatically stop caring. GW2 also has permanent items, so when you out-gear content, you stop caring. GW2 has ‘zones’, once you are done with an area, you are done. It does not matter how many branches defending a village has, or how long that chain might last; if the highest mob/reward is level 20 for that branch, someone at level 25 or with better gear than the best reward is not going to care if centaurs overrun a village or not; it simply has no impact on them.

Now it’s entirely possible that GW2 players are not looking for real impact. If the expectation is simply to go on a themepark ride with the option to make the rail go left rather than right around a pond, GW2 might very well deliver exactly that. It might even have a fountain in the middle of the pond to make you go ‘ooh, pretty’. For me that falls far short of the kind of impact I’m looking for from an event, but I believe the left/right choice is all the ‘impact’ the average MMO player today expects or wants.

The ‘real’ solution is to make the world an actual world rather than a collection of zones, but that gets you down the path to a virtual world and niche-MMO territory, and that’s not something AAA studios or the average player are signing up for these days.

Might and Magic Heroes 6 review

October 17, 2011

Might and Magic Heroes 6 (since when is this series not called Heroes of Might and Magic?) was released last Thursday, and over the weekend I spent a good deal of time with it, including a multi-player game along with a bunch of campaign maps. I’ve written about the beta before, but I want to put together a more complete piece now, especially given the changes between the full release and the beta.

Heroes 6 is, by far, the most polished game at release the series has ever seen. To say that everything (so far) works might not sound like a huge compliment, but if you have ever played a Heroes game before, you know what I’m talking about. The decision to push the release back, along with holding an extensive beta, worked out great. It runs without a hitch at the highest settings, so far I’ve not heard anything weird or off with the sound or voice work, and multiplayer connected and was smooth from start to finish. Hell the game even reloads quickly.

The graphics and sound are AAA caliber. The game maps look amazing, the units have great animations, and even the voice work is above average overall. There are also nice options to speed things up, such as fast battle animations, no zoom-in camera, or just letting the game auto-battle combat for you, with the option to replay the battle if you don’t like the results.

The game also has a lot of other ‘stuff’ going on outside of any one map/game. First you have your dynasty rank, which is an account-level… account that has its own XP bar. As you go up in ranks, you open up more stuff at the in-game store. In this store you can buy fluff stuff like titles, character portraits, and dynasty traits. You get store points by completing achievements, which for the most part is the usual “kill 1000 monsters”, “finish combat in one round” stuff. It’s cute, and just more things to unlock as you play. If you are someone who loves the gotta-catch-em-all aspect, Heroes does a nice job here.

Similar to your dynasty rank, but with more in-game impact, are the new dynasty weapons. These are artifacts that can also level up (think LotRO), and with each level more stats/abilities become available. The weapons are tied to your account, so you can give them to any hero (there are some requirements for using them) in any game. You can disable dynasty weapons in multiplayer. They are found while you play the campaign, which is pretty interesting. Also during the campaign, your main hero keeps artifacts that are part of a set from one map to the other, giving the campaign a little more ‘carry-over’ and gives you incentive to fully explore each map.  IMO these are all nice additions to the Heroes formula. They don’t dominate the game, or completely change the feel, but rather bring the series into 2011. Best of all they don’t feel out of place or forced, nor do they imbalance the game.

Gameplay is both classic Heroes while also feeling fresh thanks to some of the changes. While not all of the units are totally new, they all play a little differently and have their own unique aspects. For instance, all factions have a low-tier archer unit that you have to protect and that does decent damage at range. But the Orc faction’s unit, the goblin, has a trap ability that can be placed and stops movement if it’s crossed, while the Undead skeleton has an AoE slow. Add in the racial ability of the undead (raise units back up), or the Orc’s (hit harder/move faster), and the two units, while similar, do indeed play differently. Multiply this by the total number of units, the different hero abilities/items/spells, and the strategy aspect of Heroes 6 is pretty deep. There is also plenty of room for expansion in terms of new factions, which I’m sure Ubisoft and the devs will take advantage of in the future.

The campaign, from what I’ve seen so far, is solid. The two intro missions set the stage for each factions 4-mission/map story, and there is a final (locked) campaign that I’m guessing concludes the whole thing. I’ve beaten three of the four undead maps so far, and each one has been entertaining and progressed the story nicely. The pacing is very noticeable, with a good blend of “just playing Heroes” and story/movie breaks at key moments. There are also interesting ‘one off’ battles, which can feature special conditions or units, and require you to change up your strategy.

As has always been the case, Heroes is certainly not a casual game in many ways. The campaign maps take hours to complete (you can of course save along the way), as do multiplayer games. The one multiplayer map I’ve played so far, a three-way game with a buddy and comp AI, took us about 4 hours start-to-finish, and that’s with most battles being resolved with the auto-calc feature. We had a great time, but this is not a pickup-and-play type of game.

If you have played and enjoyed pervious Heroes games, I can’t imagine you will be disappointed with Heroes 6. I’d also recommend the game to anyone looking for a strategy fix that has some time/patience. While the game has 2011-era features, at its core it’s an old-school game. It’s deep, it takes time, and (for me) its ultimately very rewarding.

These are not the customers you are looking for

October 14, 2011

You know, if I knew absolutely nothing about SW:TOR, and I read/heard this presentation, I’d be absolutely pumped for whatever MMO Damion Schubert is talking about. Converting casuals into hardcore players, retaining those hardcore players, understanding the importance of such players to an MMO. Man is talking my language.

This is why hardcores are great for MMOs, since they’ll settle down and be loyal longer. Hardcore players not only help subsidize the game but do a wonderful job evangelizing it as well.

Guy really gets it. Sign me up!

Problem is I do know something about SW:TOR. I’m well aware of its 4th pillar. We all know it’s going to (try to) be WoW with lightsabers and voice acting minus that silly massive multiplayer stuff.

So wtf is Damion talking about here? Does Bioware have some unannounced MMO project? Is Damion already working on it? Has he already ‘burned out’ on SW:TOR?

I’m trying to finish a product, Star Wars: The Old Republic, which I am not going to talk about today. This is more of a weary man, sort of stream-of-consciousness design theory talk.

Man sure sounds burned out, right?

As a developer who’s trying to urge players down the path toward a hardcore lifestyle in his game

What mystery game is he talking about!?

Paying full price

October 12, 2011

As we picked up the 4-pack for Dungeon Defenders last night, our Steam group talked about paying for games, and why anyone would pay full price for a game in the age of $5 Steam sales, Game+DLC bundles, and Sub-to-F2P tactics. Interestingly enough, the best reasons all touched on this week’s general topic; playing with others vs going solo.

The best reason to buy on day one, and pay full price, is because you want to play with your guild/friends, who are going to be playing right at the beginning. If you opt to join late, they will either already be ahead or have moved on from the game. Obviously, if you don’t play with a steady group, and just join groups from game to game, this is not a huge factor. If the game in question is a single-player game (either because it is in fact a single player game, or because it’s something like SW:TOR), that’s one less reason to shell out $50-$60.

The next reason, and this is somewhat related to the first point, is in a game where the first month plays differently than the next. An real MMO generally changes as time goes on, players do things month one that they don’t month two, and in a social environment being part of the buzz/wave is fun. The more single-player focused the title, the less this is a factor. Battlefield 3 is a title I’m not picking up day-one, and while the matches will mostly be the same in six months, the fact that players will be higher ranked with different guns is something to consider. For me it’s not enough to pay $60 for the title, but it was a consideration.

Finally, and this is certainly the weakest reason, is to show support for a title or genre. I pre-ordered Heroes of Might and Magic 6 not just because I want to play it day one (I honestly could wait), but because I want more TBS titles made, and I want HoMM6 to do well and get future support. Going back to Battlefield, I honestly could care less about EA, or to support ‘yet another shooter’. It’s also why I still have an active Darkfall account, despite the fact that I only play it sparingly (once a week for an hour or so). In the grand scheme of things, gaming is a fairly cheap hobby for me, but I fully understand for others money might be tight and you simply can’t spend as much as you’d like, so how often you can afford to ‘vote’ like this is going to vary.

I’m not sure we are really seeing the effects of this yet. Modern Warfare 3 sold like crazy in the first week, but consoles are somewhat different, and game prices rarely drop to PC/Steam levels. Duke Nukem Forever is on sale right now for $10. If you paid $50 for it at release (which was like a week ago, right?), how’s that working out for ya? Again I’m not putting money down that the average gamer is going to start shopping smart tomorrow and only paying full price when they strongly support a developer/genre, but I’d like to think at some point it’s going to matter, and if so, that’s good news for those of us who enjoy games with strong social (real social, not Sims Social) mechanics and true community-first design.

Forbes hates accessibility

October 11, 2011

Not that this Forbes article is saying anything we don’t already know, but I find it somewhat funny to read about anti-accessibility from such a source. It’s also amusing how close the issues in FPS-land mirror those of the MMO genre. A game is better when it’s based on working with others for bigger goals, yet what sells is solo-hero, simple, short-term objectives that appeal to Xbox kids.

Now one might ask “what happens when the Xbox kids grow up?”

I don’t think they will. I think a lot of those ‘kids’ are middle-aged right now. They just prefer games at a mental level somewhere around grade school. Maybe it’s because they are just that casual. Maybe gaming is ‘brain off’ time for them. Or maybe the difference between ‘brain off’ and ‘brain on’ is negligible. Whatever the reason, I don’t see the average gamer ‘growing up’ and flooding smarter, more niche titles, be they FPS’ers or MMOs.

In other ‘brain off’ news, you know Blizzard has stopped monitoring the interns running WoW when they can’t even copy/paste PLEX correctly into their game. I get that most of the stuff CCP is doing is “impossible” for Blizzard, but PLEX? One would think allowing one group of players to fund the subs of another group would be of interest to a game bleeding so rapidly.

LoL Dominion follow-up, and Bioshock

October 10, 2011

League of Legend’s Dominion has been out for a bit now, and I’m still somewhat unsure about it. On the one hand, it’s a lot of fun and lets you play a bunch of different champions. On the other, I still don’t get that MOBA (read: DoTA) feel from it, and playing ranked Summoner’s Rift is still the ‘real’ game in my mind. With that said my day-to-day LoL time is one ranked game, and then a few Dominion games (replacing Normal SR games).

Dominion’s faster pace is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because in almost all games you will get enough gold to complete a core build, and the 10-20 minute timeframe means you can play far more games (and try far more things) than you could playing SR. It’s a curse because there are only a few ‘interesting choices’ to be made during a match. If you capture the top point, you hold it. If you don’t, you attack it. Rinse/repeat until the game ends. There is no counter-jungling, no lane ganking, no laning-to-teamfight-phase transitions, no ward/counter-ward gameplay, no adjusting of item builds based on how the game is going. It really is a simplified version of the game, and I question how successful this will be long-term. Dominion is entertaining now, but I could see it getting “more of the same” very quickly, something SR (because it’s DoTA) has avoided for years (long before LoL came out).

Balance continues to be somewhat of an issue as well. Champs like Ramus, Jax, and Akali are always banned, and for good reason, while champs like Vlad and Nasus are unplayable. This is not a huge issue right now, but when ranked play is available for Dominion, I’m expecting to see some silly, OP combinations played.

In totally unrelated news, I finished Bioshock 1. Great game, great story, got a little long towards the end IMO. The final 30 minutes or so were solid, but the two hours or so before that had a huge “here just to drag the game out” feel IMO. Playing Bioshock 2 now, and so far so good on that front. Considering I picked both games up for $5 on Steam, it’s hard to complain about the value here.


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