DF:UW – Take care of the sheep to keep the wolves

November 27, 2013

The biggest challenge for any PvP sandbox developer is figuring out how to keep the sheep around. The easiest challenge is figuring out how to keep the wolves. If you look at the history of this MMO sub-genre, it’s not difficult to notice a pattern of developers focusing on the wolves, losing the sheep, and then seeing the wolves lose interest as well, despite making so many of the changes they asked for.

Darkfall 1 can be added to the list above. DF:UW may or may not qualify just yet.

So let’s talk about those sheep, because I think they might be the most misunderstood group around. If you have already taken the first step, and have bought a game like DF or EVE, you are already in a different class of player than the ‘normal’ PvE themepark player (I’d write that makes you better, but then someone would point out I’m an egotistical asshole and my feelings would get all hurt :tear: ).

That said, simply because you have taken the first step does not mean you instantly fall into the wolf category. Far from it actually. What the vast majority of these players are looking for is actually a very PvE-focused, social (no not that kind of ‘social) experience, just with the flavoring of an open world and PvP. They don’t play in spite of the PvP, but they also don’t only play for it. The “PvP Only” crowd, while very vocal, is always a tiny minority. For every Hydra Reloaded, you have dozens of EVE Uni pilots. For every Zealot, you have dozens of Empire players.

The game in question needs to cater to the sheep in order to survive. It must allow them to grow despite the efforts of the wolves, and it must be a better, more interested PvE experience than what they could get in ‘safer’ MMOs. Certainly leveraging the open world PvP aspect here is key, as you can’t compete straight-up on PvE, but there is a fine line between leveraging and simply allowing PvP to be ‘the point’.

As is always the case, EVE gets this right. Ganking in Empire space is still possible and can be very profitable, but it’s also very easy to avoid and really only effects the sheep who more or less should be ready for it (rich players). Null, while being the PvP-focused portion of the game, is also setup in such a way that the average cog player is not some PvP expert, but rather just another player in a giant Corporation/Alliance. The core PvPers are your FCs, CEOs, or the small-scale, elite Corps.

That said, the incentives are also there to get those Empire players out into more dangers space. Wormholes offer far more profitable PvE than known space, and both null and low-sec also hold advantages outside of simply allowing PvP. The balance however lies in the fact that in Empire, most of the game is still possible, if perhaps not optimal.

DF1 failed here because the influence of the core PvPers was far too great, both on the small and large scale. In small scale, a single great player could easily beat multiple weaker players, quickly recover, and continue on. On a larger scale, the smaller elite clans were often the deciding factor in a siege, and under the ‘merc’ tag, basically strangled the game’s political aspect.

DF:UW is better on the small scale, where it’s more difficult for one player to go superman-mode in a fight. Player skill still creates a large gap, but not SO large as to be a major, insurmountable problem. This then translated into large scale combat as well, making ‘zerging’ more effective and giving large, casual clans better odds.

DF:UW current problem however is not PvP-based, its everything else. For the sheep, reach the state of being ‘done’ is fairly quick, and for them PvP’ing for the sake of PvP is not a major draw. There are no long-term goals to shoot for like in EVE, nor is the simple allure of more wealth there. In EVE sitting in a fully-fitted Titan (if we pretend that’s an end-game goal) is very difficult. In DF, reach the equivalent is trivial.

As for those wolves, they will remain so long as the sheep do. Oh, they will cry you rivers of tears when you make things more difficult for them and threaten to leave countless times, but don’t worry, they aren’t going anywhere. In part because their options are limited, but also because deep down, that play style naturally enjoys the challenge. Goons didn’t burn Jita because it was profitable, or because it was easy; they did it because CCP put up road blocks to try and dissuade them.


SOE Kickstarting EQNL

November 21, 2013

Let’s circle back to that EQNext:Landmark thing, shall we, because I think there is some interesting stuff going on between SOE and the way they have approach this.

The $100 “get in beta, possibly get ‘power’ if location is a thing that matters in EQNL” sale. Initially my reaction was similar to most of these offers; if a company can get people drop pay $100 for beta or even the game more power to them.

This to me is a little different however, for a few reasons. When companies do this stuff with Kickstarter, it’s usually done by a new developer that doesn’t have much/any value in its name, so if the end-product is a dud and everyone who bought it rages (and we all know people will rage), the PR hit to the company is a non-factor.

SOE is not such a company. While I gleefully bash them constantly, the SOE name is still worth something, and if EQNL doesn’t end up being ‘worth’ that $100 price, the rage will actually impact SOE beyond just this one failed product. If nothing else, SOE asking for that much cash this early is an interesting gamble worth watching.

(Side note: I wonder if 38 Studios could have saved itself with this strategy. I can easily see plenty of people dropping $100+ for early access to that game, and while all of the aftermath suggests the game was meh at best, maybe it could have actually launched and Shill could have kept his robe? (If you get that joke we are officially friends.))

As for EQNL itself, I’m still not seeing this as anything more than an EQ skin for Minecraft, and while Minecraft was brilliantly new when it came out, for most it wasn’t something you played with long-term. After you have built a castle or ten, there really wasn’t much ‘game’ to it. For Minecraft that was perfectly fine, but if SOE intends this to be MMO-ish? I’m not convinced.

At the same time, and perhaps somewhat contradictory (a first for this blog), would it surprise anyone if EQNL was a bigger hit than EQN? Sure, some of that is based on what we have seen of EQN (zzzz), but it also feels that SOE has spent a lot more energy and attention around Landmark since the two products were announced.

If nothing else, hats off to SOE for bringing something worth talking about to the table, and I’m genuinely curious to see it all plays out. Also congrats on the art; after the utter monstrosity that is EQ2, and the utter meh that is PS2, I fully expected EQN to also look terrible, and it doesn’t. Guessing copying Blizzard is the right move after all.


Fact not Opinion

November 20, 2013

Forumfall:

Your blog post makes you sound like an egotistical asshole and takes a “my way is the only way” approach.

I mean, if the shoe fits and all that.

 


XCOM: Enemy Within is good, but perhaps not $30 good

November 20, 2013

Having finished XCOM: Enemy Within, I’m a bit torn on exactly what I think of it.

On the one hand, the additions do spice up the standard campaign, making what was already a solid game all around better.

On the other, it’s still 85% the same campaign, especially towards the end, and at a price of around $30, shouldn’t we be getting something a bit more meaty?

Some other nitpicks:

The biggest issue I had with the original, the satellite system, remains unchanged here, so you are still left with two options; either you play smart and rush satellites, skipping a lot of early-game options and making things difficult short-term for long-term gain, or you ‘play for fun’, mix other upgrades with satellites, and long-term end up with a few countries leaving the project and having a weaker ‘end-game’. I’d much rather just get evaluated on actual mission performance, and have that be the basis for funding/bonuses.

In terms of overall difficulty, Enemy Within is overall easier than the original. You have more options and upgrades which increase your power, while only one serious new enemy is added (the alien mec), and even they aren’t all that difficult once you hit plasma. Exalt missions are fun, but overall a cakewalk once you get some basic upgrades.

Speaking of Exalt, I wish this expansion did more with them. Their base is extremely cool, but you fight in it once. Same with fighting in your base; one-off event. How cool would it have been to play as Exalt, trying to thwart XCOM while also dealing with the aliens? That would have easily justified $30.

So yea, if you loved XCOM and your gaming budged isn’t too thin, you could do a lot worse with $30. If you are pressed for cash, or aren’t dying to play XCOM again, wait for a sale.

 


DF:UW – Economy, MVPs, and Forumfall noise

November 17, 2013

Warning, the following is a long post centered around Darkfall, but in many ways applies to MMOs in general, and skims many concepts in order to prevent this from being an even longer novel. Apologies if I lose you along the way, feel free to ask in the comments section for clarification on anything.

One of the core aspects of an MMO all players go through while playing is progression. It’s the thing many of us love most about these games, whether we outright know it or know it by association (the leveling part, finishing gear sets, getting into bigger or more specialized ships, having enough wealth to control sections of an economy, becoming a go-to crafter, etc). The genre has a long and very clear history to support this; games with quick progression curves struggle with prolonged retention, or at the very least become a ‘jump in, spend a day, leave’ option now that we have F2P. Some games make that style work, other games are more about a consistent world than each player’s individual adventure.

The original Darkfall had a very long character progression path, one that was flawed by the need and acceptance of macroing (much like the early days of UO), but even still that long progression was there. It also featured a lengthy gear grind, one that was extended multiple times by the developers (AV) boosting stats on gear, but leaving all of the old gear unchanged and therefor inferior.

Despite DF1’s many core flaws, its unsustainable economy of uncontrolled faucets and weak sinks was hidden or marginalized by AV resets and the long character grind. In particular, gold was needed for a long time due to the fact that in order to skill up magic (something anyone who wanted to be PvP-viable had to do), you had to spent a ton of it on regents to macro. That massive sink, while unsustainable long-term, was sufficient for long enough. DF1 wasn’t abandoned in favor of Darkfall: Unholy Wars because of its unchecked economy, but that’s only because that timebomb never had a chance to explode.

Fast forward to DF:UW today. AV reduced the character grind, eliminated the need to macro, but kept the basic sinks and faucets of the game from DF1 (and if anything, increased said faucets even further, in part because the community continues to call for ‘worthwhile’ rewards). The result is that today, almost a year since release, anyone who has bothered has a ‘full bank’ of gear, to the point where getting more ‘stuff’ is no longer a driver. Watch any recent DF:UW PvP video and you will see this flaw in action; everyone is in top-end gear, even for the most casual of PvP encounters. To put this another way, if EVE had the DF:UW economy, everyone today (if we assume EVE had been released in 2012) would have multiple all-officer-fit Titans, and everything below that would be considered a ‘junk fleet’.

It’s no real secret to anyone paying attention that the population in DF:UW has not-that-slowly dropped, likely now below acceptable levels. It’s recent and seemingly successful launch in Asia might be what’s keeping the lights on right now, but unless Asians expect something radically different from DF:UW than what the US/EU expects (and they might, Asian’s can be pretty odd about their MMO flavors), it won’t take long for DF Asia to get in the same spot DF EU/NA is today.

That spot, just to summarize it briefly, is that since most everyone has enough stuff, going out and doing things (farming mobs, dungeons, capping villages, fighting over sea towers for the rewards, sieging cities so that a clan has better local farming) for the sake of getting stuff is no longer a motivator. With that motivator gone, DF:UW falls apart completely. You stop logging in to do activities that could result in PvP finding you, you are not online when clan-mates need help, and rather than the game being a day-to-day item, it drifts into becoming a “special occasions only” type of deal. To make this worse, unless you simply enjoy PvP for the sake of PvP, you have little to no reason to continue playing. A newly added dungeon is only entertaining once, as once you’ve seen it, you don’t need to return to farm it. Same goes for any new content really; you see it once and that’s it. All of the existing content? Unused. AV being as small as they are, they simply have zero chance producing content at a rate needed to sustain that broken model, even if they accepted the hyper-inflation rate and just ran with it.

So DF:UW is broken, and the core issue is its economy; simple too many faucets without enough sinks, resulting in players reach an ‘end’ in terms of progression. Important to note: character progression via prowess is also fairly short, at least in terms of getting one class to be fully PvP viable. In a vacuum this was an excellent change by AV; in the current state it has the unintended effect of highlighting the core flaw sooner.

Recognizing that their game was flawed, AV created an invite-only MVP sub-forum to get the players to help. The idea behind the forum was to reduce the amount of noise that generally happens on forums (and especially Forumfall, but more on that later) by selecting people who they identified as helpful and knowledgeable. In some ways this was an attempt at something like EVE’s CSM, which has been hugely successful. AV’s selection process unfortunately was… let’s just say not perfect, and while they did identify many of the good apples, a few rotten ones also snuck in. That said, outside of a couple examples, the sub-forum was at least successful in driving productive conversations about the game’s issues and what could be done to solve them.

The core issue, the economy, came up shortly and was discussed. I stated much of the above to the forum, and proposed EVE’s greatest sink (item destruction upon death) be added to DF:UW in order to help balance things and get the game into a healthier state. The simple fact was that the economy was so broken, so out of balance, that little tweaks or adjustments would not accomplish what was truly needed. Internally, I believe many understood the concepts and were on board with some form of solution, including AV themselves.

In a foreshadowing of future events, the most rotten of the apples went full retard on this topic, making one nonsensical statement after another (more on this soon). After a few attempts, I simply gave up trying to educate him. The situation was more of one child raising a temper tantrum over something they didn’t understand but perceived as ‘bad’, and as an adult, sometimes all you can do is pat the child on the head, tell them what they want to hear so they quiet down, and continue the conversation with the rest of the adults.

The first MVP forum update was a combined effort with AV, where the past weeks discussions were detailed, including the economy balancing proposal. Not surprisingly, Forumfall had (and is still having) an epic hissy fit. A relentless avalanche of idiocy commenced, with things being type that, had someone told me about them rather than seeing them myself, I’d have called you a liar. I don’t even know where to start on this so I’ll just throw out a few of the real gems (paraphrasing a bit here):

“We don’t need the economy balanced, AV needs to instead make PvE objectives worthwhile”

“Removing items off a grave would stop DF:UW from being a full-loot MMO and turn it into WoW”

“Rather than remove gear, AV should add more tiers of gear so people have a reason to fight over resources” (this, literally, was stated right after the above. So in summary: Item destruction = WoW, adding gear tiers = hardcore MMO. Forumfall everyone!)

“A better sink would be to have gear decay in your bank over time”

“Rather than destroying items at random, all items should take a durability hit, with low-dura items being destroyed” (If you don’t see the issue here, understand that many PvP bags are all low-dura items)

“Destroying items is carebear, AV should instead add a barrel where we can drop gear in to get point, and then we can spend those points on fluff items like different colored mounts or sex changes” (No joke, one of the more ‘hardcore’ players suggested this, in more or less exactly that way. He then suggested a magic unicorn that dropped a unique crafting pattern be added, so the sheep crafters would seek it out and the wolves could set a trap for them. I can’t make this stuff up)

And the most common and perhaps most idiotic: “Removing items from a grave would reduce the incentive to PvP”

On top of the above, plenty of suggestions were throw out that could be best summarized as “I want AV to add stuff that would take years to create, but I want it added tomorrow so the game is fixed”. A core focus in the MVP forum was to consider the amount of effort required for a suggestion, and if that effort level was high, that might not be possible. It’s not all that surprising so many on the general forum fell right into this mistake.

And on and on the idiocy cascaded. Now to be clear, I’m not at all surprised. Forums are what they are, and for every sane suggestion you should expect ten bits of nonsense or… well the equivalent of a fart noise in text.

My primary concern is that AV will cave in to the noise. They have a somewhat unhealthy track record of doing that. On top of this, it’s important to understand that the DF community is the immature little brother of something like the EVE community. When EVE players riot, odds are decent it’s for a good cause. The best and brightest of EVE are some of the smartest people in the genre, period. When the DF children get upset, it’s likely because you didn’t get them yet another candy bar at the checkout isle. If you cave in every time, you end up with a spoiled little fatty.

So we’ll see what happens going forward. It would be a shame if, once again, Darkfall’s great potential to be a solid niche MMO is wasted due to equal parts developer mistakes and misguided community noise. Right now most that are still interested are on the sidelines waiting to see what AV has planned. I can’t say I’m overly optimistic, but I haven’t fully given up just yet.


P2W changes coming to GW2

November 15, 2013

Simply because I like nothing more than tooting my own horn, we have this steller NCSoft earnings report.

Shocking that the 3 week wonder that was manifested to change the face of the MMO genre is not the home run that was promised. Who could have seen that one coming. It’s as if having a cash shop based on simply fluff isn’t sustainable in an MMO that is entirely forgettable. Someone should post something about that…

Anyway, just bookmark this so when the inevitable F2P-driven trash changes hit GW2 like they hit LotRO/DDO, you can come back here and admit defeat. It’s the right thing to do.


More Massively EVE commenting entertainment

November 15, 2013

I’ve posted this stuff before, but so long as the idiot train is running full steam in the Massively comments section, I’ll keep linking to it.

My favorite out of this batch:

It’s not just the gameplay though it’s the people, you can’t play EVE without joining a corp and being on TS or Vent, it just doesn’t work, and the problem is that usually these people are so SO far ahead in whatever they’re doing or they’re already balls deep in some espionage thing you can’t make heads nor tails of that after a couple of weeks it just fades into irritating background noise, then I mute them, then I just don’t log in any more.

Totally agree with this guy. The problem with EVE is the people.

People that mute their Corporation and then find they have little reason to login once they are done ship spinning or derping around in high-sec.

Edit: Bonus quote:

and that is the sort of attitude that could ultimately spell Eve’s downfall.

Wrong for ten years. Odds of this guy being wrong another ten? I’d say high, very high.


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