Genre Splitting

October 30, 2012

I want to combine some topics and thoughts into what will hopefully be a larger point; it’s crazy that today, games like GW2 and EVE are considered part of the same genre. Allow me to explain.

Shiolle asked the following:

“How much time (in terms of hours/week) would you consider a mandatory investment to properly play EVE or Darkfall (the way you play them)?”

To which I responded:

“20hrs+, with solid 2-3+ regular hour blocks and being able to play during the prime nights (Tues, Thurs, Sunday), while also being able to schedule to play 3-4+ hours for something major like a siege?

Some of it will depend on the player though. If you are self-motivated, you can get away with fewer hours or more random times. If you can’t in a sandbox, you will need to be online when the majority of the clan is, and for INQ that’s EST 8pm-1am.”

With that in mind, consider this post from Syp, where he talks about going back to SW:TOR, but in his considerations never once mentions the multiplayer aspect of the game, or anything outside his own time and planning. I’m not saying he is wrong here, as SW:TOR is an sRPG in all of its key aspects, but just consider that these games are, technically, in the same genre, supposedly drawing from the same pool of players (I don’t buy the whole pool thing, but many do, so let’s pretend for the sake of this post).

Now what if Syp was talking about Darkfall instead of SW:TOR, but had the same approach? First, he would ‘fail’ in terms of getting anything out of DF, as it’s really not a fun game to solo around in casually. But beyond that, imagine if Syp was a guild member, and you were the leader or officer trying to coordinate things. Members like Syp are a nightmare.

They don’t show up enough to be reliable for in-game planning. They aren’t active enough to generally follow the flow and social structure of a guild. And at the same time, they will show up sometimes and can’t be completely written off when considering numbers (less a factor in DF since there are no caps, but even here it matters for PR reasons), but often can’t stick around to fully see something through like a siege. Manning the wall for an hour and then logging during a 3 hour siege is not much help to anyone, player or clan. Plus when they move on after a month, whatever training or setup you have done with them goes poof as well.

And yet, currently, MMO gaming (supposedly) caters to both players; Those with enough time to play MMOs as virtual worlds to be lived in, and those with enough time to just experience a bite of content before logging off. It’s no surprise that games who try to attract both have spectacularly failed overall, while games who aim more towards one or the other can do well. EVE makes no illusion to offering bite sized 30min chunks of content as the main course, while GW2 (post-release) has been clearly designed just for that, with little to no consideration for pre-formed groups or long-term retention.

I think what confuses things further, beyond how companies sometimes attempt to market to everyone, is that many (most?) players also don’t fully consider this divide. We are, quite simply, looking for two completely different experiences, and in order to have those, we require two very different design approaches with very different time requirements, both for that day (30min vs 3hrs) and long term (1 month and done vs 1yr+ stays). As has often been stated, perhaps it’s time for a whole new set of terms when talking about the giant mess that we consider the MMO genre.

Xcom: No looking back

October 29, 2012

I finished my Classic/Ironman game of Xcom over the weekend, with the final turn of the final battle coming down to making a 90% shot or losing everything. Luckily the 10% did not kick in and I saw the ending, otherwise much rage would have followed.

As I’ve stated before, Xcom is pretty fantastic, especially when “played right” in Classic/Ironman. Just the right mix of difficulty, luck, and rewarding gameplay. Officially it was my 23rd attempt, but many of those were cancelled after the initial battle, due to how important the early days/months are compared to later ones. During my game I actually had a full squad wipe, losing 6 Col, but was able to recover as at that point I had access to SHIVs (which are amazingly strong) and was able to train up a replacement crew in time for the finale.

As for playing on Impossible, I think I’m going to hold off until some DLC is released. I have no doubt that Xcom will see a good bit of DLC, and I’m actually looking forward to it. Already the first announced pack will add more Council missions (an area that could use some variety), and I’m sure more DLC will expand the game further. I’m also hoping the mod scene picks up and some interesting things come from that as well.

I plan to try out multiplayer, which seems to be fairly active. Beyond that, Darkfall should be out in about 20 days, so just need a little more gaming filler until then.

Fantastic Xcom review

October 25, 2012

In case anyone here has not picked this title up, I’d highly recommend reading this review from Gamespy. I think its very fair and hits all the right points.

For me Classic Ironman mode really has lead to some highs and lows of almost-MMO proportions. Just great great stuff.

Save the F2P children

October 25, 2012

I think I’m slowly transitioning from hating F2P players to feeling sorry for them, somewhat similar to my changing views of WoW and its players. When WoW really mattered and every dev team was trying to clone it, I felt a serious distaste for WoW post-WotLK and the players supporting it. As WoW has faded not only in success but influence, things like MoP earn more of a sad headshake than any real scorn. F2P is rapidly approaching panda-time for me.

There are of course the clueless ramblings of former MMO bloggers, still worrying about bandwidth costs like its 1999, trying to convince anyone who will listen about the evils of players who actually enjoy playing MMOs for more than a few minutes a week (those same evil players who drive most of the player content in games, like your guild leader, mod maker, video people, etc, but yea, evil), and trying to justify their outdated and dying existence in a genre that either offers them farms or famine (rimshot). That group has, for some time now, been in the MoP-like sentiment category. It’s like visiting your aging grandma and just going along with how wonderful basic cable TV is in variety; knowing that explaining Netflix would only confuse her.

Others, however, I still feel for. Here we have an entire post devoted not to the quality of content, or upcoming additions, or anything even remotely player-driven, but worrying about the nickel-and-dime rate of an ‘update’ to F2P. Trying to justify how selling HOTBARS is maybe OK because… um… you can also buy a cute dress or pet? Or wondering if they play a game with feature X and Y blocked will still be OK enough to bother logging in. You can’t help but feel bad. These are not the things you should be thinking about.

Compare Rift-related posts of late to SW:TOR posts of late and the picture should become crystal clear.

The worst part of it all is the actual cost we are talking about here. People really are considering the value of having additional hotbars for a few bucks over paying the cost of going to lunch once a month. Playing an inferior version of something for 20, 30, 40 hours A MONTH to save $15 bucks is beyond insane. And god help you if you actually really like the game, because now for a lesser product you will be paying MORE than $15 a month to get access to everything. The true ‘sweet spot’ is liking something enough to bother loading it up, but not liking it enough to really care more than that. F2P MMOs are like justifying gaming purgatory, and it’s amazing and yet sad to watch people continue to try.

Aim a little higher people, find a game you actually like, so you can justify that mountain of $15 a month. Or yea, try to convince yourself that a limited inventory or just two hotbars is ‘good enough’.

Xcom Ironman is like playing Darkfall, minus the NPC aliens

October 22, 2012

I’m a little late in jumping on the Xcom bandwagon, but its every bit as good as you likely have heard.

I went straight into Classic/Ironman, and I’m glad I did. So far (game 11), I’ve not survived longer than June (maybe July…), but the fun comes in losing and rethinking not only on-map strategies, but long term stuff like research focus and base layout.

I think I’d find the game far less entertaining if I first played it on a lower difficulty, and especially without Ironman forcing restarts rather than reloads. So far in every game, while bad luck certainly contributes, ultimately the ‘bad luck’ could have been avoided with better planning or execution. With reloads, it would have accelerated the learning process and hence shortened the enjoyment of the game. I have no doubt that at some point, I’ll have figured Xcom out and then it will just come down to execution and luck, which while still fun, is not as great as having to figure it all out as you go step by step.

Also Xcom Classic/Ironman is a fantastic primer for Darkfall. Losing your best squad member to an unlucky alien crit is similar to putting on your Sunday best gear bag and getting ganked before you even get to swing once. It sucks, but usually it’s a pretty memorable suck that just motives you to get better rather than ragequit.

It’s a lot like this latest DF video really. On the plus side, the new UI looks good, the video is solid quality overall, and um, ‘gameplay’ vid. On the other, why are there no mobs around, and why is a stomp ability involve swinging your arms? Plus the game is a month from release and you show off 2 of 5 skills from one class in a video? Oh AV.

Edit: Quick note about Inq; we have a very solid crew of returning and new players, and everyone is very excited. So if you are still looking for a clan (and if you don’t have one for DF, you should), we are still open and looking for players that will fit in.

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before

October 22, 2012

A year and a half ago SOE scrapped EQNext and totally revamped the game to be the “largest sandbox style MMO ever designed”, yo. John Smedley promises, and puts the fine and well-respected SOE name behind that promise!

Of course, something else was released about a year and a half ago, but I’m sure that’s a total coincidence. It’s not like Smedley is talking about mob AI and world impact or anything.

I wonder if EQNext royalties will match up to all the money Aventurine paid me to hype Darkfall…

Rift: Storm Legion – Who put this sand in here?

October 22, 2012

James, a community manager from Trion recently reached out to me and asked if I’d be interesting in taking Rift’s upcoming expansion Storm Legion for a guided tour. While I’m not currently playing Rift, and my reasons why are well documented here, I still have a lot of respect for Trion as a company and Rift as a themepark, so I took James up on his offer and last Friday he joined Inq’s vent and set me up with a beta account and character.

I went into this with two goals; the first was to see if anything in Storm Legion was more than just “more themepark”, and the second was to ask some general MMO questions and see what info I could get out of James. I’d say I was successful in both.

As for Storm Legion itself, the feature that stood out to me most was the housing system, because just from the glimpse I saw, I can safely say this is how themepark housing should be done. The design issue with instanced housing has always been the ‘why’. Why would you want/need to zone into your own area? Many themeparks give small incentives like crafting bonuses, or rely purely on Barbie dress up to sell the feature, turning what should be a core feature for everyone into a niche space for fantasy fashion designers and interior decorators.

Rift lets you do that as well, but also allows you to set your space to public, so that anyone can zone into it. On top of this, they also have a simple +1 rating system, and you can sort public housing zones by rating. In the beta, the house with the highest rating was from a player who clearly put in a lot of time with the new system, and had created something pretty unique (he took the base house and added a second level through creative use of stone and wooden planks, among other creative uses of basic materials). As I was being shown this area, he was actually in-game and designing a lawn statue, which was actually a pretty cool moment.

And if that was all that housing offered, it would be a nice step forward. But in a rare turn down sandbox lane, Trion lets you basically place items anywhere you want, up to the skycap. So our next stop on the tour was a ‘housing’ area that some player had converted into a giant jumping puzzle ala GW2. As James was explaining this, I watched dozens of players attempt this guy’s puzzle, which again was a pretty cool moment in “hey, people are actually going to use this feature”. I can only imagine as players have more time, they will create better and more creative stuff here, far beyond just fantasy houses you visit once. (The feature needs some additions, like the ability to create a loot chest, or to display armor, but James noted that what they have here now is just the first step, and expanding the feature will be an ongoing focus)

Housing aside, the other ‘feature’ that stood out to me was the overall size of the new zones; they are huge and more Rift-like than many of the games original zones. Also good to see is that the expansion is aligning to have the death rifts fighting the air rifts, a point of focus I thought the original game greatly lacked after rifts were overall nerfed at the end of beta. I’m not sure if this expansion is going to push the zones into complete three-way battles (death vs air vs players), but it should at least be closer to that.

I also saw the new raid that will be ready at release, as well as the first raid to be added post-release. They both looked interesting visually, and certainly captured that epic feeling in terms of mob and room size. Getting one-shot by different bosses and then having James one-shot them with GM powers was also pretty cool.

Since this was beta, we did run into a few issues, mostly around bosses showing up. But considering we were teleporting around so often and using GM powers to kill stuff, I’m not too worried. Even at its original release, Rift was a polished product, and Trion has always been quick with the fixes and updates. That there is no NDA around anything I saw or talked about with James, including the raid that is very clearly still in development should tell you a lot about how confident Trion is in their ability to deliver a solid product.

Moving away from the expansion itself and to more general topics about Trion and the MMO genre itself, I talked with James about Rift staying a subscription MMO when so many others are forced into F2P. He noted that Rift has always been profitable for Trion, and that they have a good balance between players who subscribe long-term and those who come back for a month or so to see an update. As the updates are frequent and substantial, it’s no surprise that the flow of returning players is as well.

Another major competitive advantage Trion has with Rift is that everything around the game was built to allow for rapid content development, something that is pretty obvious when you look at all the updates Trion has released since day one. The size and depth of Storm Legion also drives this home.

It sounds like a pretty obvious thing (being able to provide update to a game who’s business model is based around updates), but take a quick look around the themepark space and compare Trion’s release pace with its main competitors. The biggest design flaw around the themepark space vs sandbox titles has always been content creation being slower than consumption, and Trion has set themselves up well to minimize, if not outright counter this.

If themeparks are your thing, I’d say the way Trion handles Rift is how you’d want your themepark handled, and I’m actually curious to see just what players eventually do with the housing system. I think Rift players and general themepark fans will be very happy with Storm Legion, and the general direction Rift is moving in.


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