A fresh start, or a kick out the door?

May 29, 2014

When do you wipe an MMO?

That question has been floating around Darkfall for a few days now, sparked by the massive dupe-fest that required a 5 day rollback, but grounded in the fact that the game has had major systematic changes over the last few months, and will continue to dramatically change with the upcoming removal of skill groups/limits.

Rather than focus on Darkfall for this post, I’d rather talk more generally on the pros and cons of wiping, along with some history and different ways to reach a similar conclusion.

Pros:

A fresh start is a notable PR event that gets picked up by gaming news sites and generates buzz for your product. The degree can vary, but news about your game, especially news that is new-player friendly, is always good.

You wipe away past mistakes such as duped items, exploited characters, and whatever other side effects bugs produced while your game matured. You also allow your game economy to work as planned NOW without past imbalances impacting it, and if your previous economy was poor, this can be very significant.

A fresh start is new-player friendly. Those on the outside looking to jump in have the perfect reason to do so, en-masse, on the day of a fresh server. This kind of event is important because those new players jump right into a world that is highly active, with everyone else doing similar activities. This helps get them into the flow of the game and stick with it, compared to starting on a random day on a server that is well-established and mature.

Cons:

Some portion of your current playerbase is going to be upset. This will range from mildly annoyed to frothing ragequits. If you lose more players than you gain, taking long-term into consideration, that’s obviously a major problem.

Player trust is tarnished. I’m not big on this one, but some feel that if a dev team is willing to wipe once, what’s to stop them from wiping again? Why work on and build towards something in an MMO if tomorrow it might be wiped?

The gains might be minimal. The power gamers who got ahead the first time are still going to power-game and get ahead again, so a ‘level playing field’ is only true for the first minute or so of the server being live. A similar statement can be made about economic problems; if you haven’t fixed the root issues, your economy will return to a broken state in short order. Also no MMO is bug-free, and every update brings the possibility of new exploits. Wiping after every bug or exploit is exposed isn’t feasible.

In summary, when or even if you should wipe is a tough decision that requires the consideration of many, many factors, some which can’t be measured.

How you execute a wipe is also another discussion. The obvious option is to take your current server, delete everything, and put it back up, but that’s not your ONLY option. You can put up a new server while keeping the old one(s) up. Those that want to stay can do so, those looking for a fresh start can also do that. If the old server(s) end up mostly empty, closing them down is a much easier, less impactful decision. If the new server has population problems, you made a major miscalculation in terms of needing a wipe/restart.

Partial wipes (just items, just gold, just holding, etc) are also options, though I think they get very messy very quickly. The one exception I would make is character names; I think there is a lot of value in allowing current players first dibs on their current character names.

Certainly an interesting topic IMO, and one that I think will see more traction as MMOs continue to age, change, and figure out ways to keep current players happy while gaining new ones.


Dupes and dupes?

May 27, 2014

Finally back from work travel and a short vacation; has the genre fixed itself yet? It hasn’t, has it?

Darkfall just had a fun bought with a massive dupe bug, one that apparently was very easy to reproduce so lots of people took advantage. AV did a three day item rollback (which missed some of the impact of the dupe), disabled the source of the dupe (markets), and has started banning some accounts.

I’m now just of the opinion that the game needs a full and complete wipe once the class removal update is put in. So many economic factors have been changed, this isn’t the first dupe bug to be abused, and with the upcoming updating has already had a prowess respect announced. Bite the bullet and full reset AV, there isn’t a whole lot to lose at this point.

Moving on, Jester did his outgoing post about ESO, stating what a lot of us have stated; ESO is an online sRPG. Certainly around blog circles that’s not what most of us are looking for, but I do wonder if that opinion is somewhat limited to ‘hardcore’ MMO players. Would I be shocked it ESO sub numbers are tanking right now? No. But would I be surprised if they aren’t as bad as the blog circle suggests, because there are a lot of casual players who enjoy an online sRPG of ESO quality (again, it’s a good game, just not a good MMO)? Not that surprised, no.

I find myself wishing some of the kickstarter MMOs would hurry up already, which is depressing on so many levels. For now it’s down to skill training my main pilot, stomping zombie skulls in Dead Island, and playing my daily LoL rank game. Save me Steam summer sale, save me!

#DFUW #ESO


EVE Empires reminder, blog update

May 22, 2014

Quick reminder that the Kickstarter for the EVE Empires  book is winding down, and if you want to jump in and own something that is likely to be very awesome, do so now.

Blog has been slow this week as I’ve been traveling for work. Back to normal next week!


ESO: If you have played one zone, you have played them all

May 14, 2014

If you have played one ESO zone, you have played them all.

I think the above is the best way to sum up my feelings as of right now for ESO. It’s so simple, and yet I’m having trouble fully understanding why. Is it ESO specific, is it my continually growing distaste for themeparks, or a combination of both?

ESO gets a lot of major stuff right. The graphics are good, the sound is good, performance is great, and it had a solid launch from a technical perspective. I like the character progression system in terms of modifying skills and selecting 6 to fit into your hotbar, as well as being able to mix armor. At least, I like those on paper. Actually, I think one of the major issues is I like a lot of ESO on paper, and then in-game I’m either indifferent or annoyed.

Quick example; recently my character dug up a treasure chest that contained two blue weapons that were exactly at my level. They replaced two green weapons that were a level or two below at the time. This should have been a large, noticeable boost in power. Maybe statistically it was, but man it didn’t feel like it when I went into combat the next time. I felt just as powerful after equipping those weapons as I did before, and that’s just terribly lame.

Another example; exploring in ESO is better than in most themeparks. There are lots of chests, nodes, and skyshards to be found off the beaten quest path. In the first zone this truly felt like exploring, and it felt rewarding. By just the second zone, this all felt like going through items on a checklist, and while the rewards were the same, they didn’t get me excited or had a noticeable impact on my experience. Again, terribly lame.

Third example; The huge PvP zone is a giant improvement over GW2’s WvW. Bigger map, better siege equipment, better combat system, better performance; just all around superior. Yet I’m as excited to spent time there as I was in GW2; not much. Other than PvP for the sake of PvP, what am I doing there? I really don’t feel connected or care about the outcome, large or small. Dying is an annoyance in terms of respawning, and losing an objective just means a change in spawn points. There are rewards, but they don’t really mean much to me.

Combine all of the above with the general flaws of a themepark (levels, zones, level-based crafting, etc), and ESO flamed out fast for me. What’s different about ESO compared to say Rift for me is that ESO isn’t bad, it’s just not good-enough for me to spent time with. Trion ruined Rift for me with 1.2. That was clear separation. With ESO, it’s just a slow drift away.


EVE: History, now in hardcover

May 14, 2014

EVE’s history book now has a hardcover option on Kickstarter! Easy +1 from me on that, especially since the hardcover will feature additional stories and art compared to the softcover. This will, in addition to being a great read, make an excellent addition to the Command Center.


DF:UW – Sacrificing the game at the altar of false choice

May 13, 2014

I’ve hinted at this before, but now AV has made their plans for revamping the ‘class’ system in DF:UW public, and rather than post this to the limited audience of Forumfall, I’d rather it get more exposure here on this blog.

The change is a classic example of sacrificing some real choice to create more false choice due to the illusion of freedom. If you have played a few MMOs, I’m guessing you know where this is going.

It’s important to understand what is first being sacrificed by this change. Currently all four roles (Warrior, Skirmisher, Primalist, Elementalist) are seen in-game. Additional, almost all schools (sub-roles) and all abilities are used. There are a few exceptions, but easily 90% of all roles/schools/skills are used and are viable. No system is perfect in terms of balance, but based purely on variety and usage, what DF:UW currently has is very solid.

I’ll use one of the roles (Skirm Deadeye main) I currently play as an example. To farm certain monsters that are best killed at range, this role works very well. I also use that identical setup for PvP. The range allows me to stay alive longer than a Warrior, and the ult (Salvo) is a very useful AoE ability for large-scale combat.

After this update goes live, this will no longer be the case. For PvE I’ll be wearing light armor (+dmg) because for PvE where the failure state is simply a time delay, time-to-kill is king, and +dmg is what best increases that (even if the attack speed bonus is better, durability loss per attack would still make this choice inferior). I’ll also replace more PvP-oriented skills with skills that either make PvE easier directly (self-heal, stat regen, etc), or increase my chances of escaping PvP (movement abilities, more on those specifically later).

For PvP, I’ll have yet another build, replacing abilities that work best in PvE with PvP-based ones (most likely AoEs for damage, and filling the rest with escape/utility).

If you believe the system increased choice, you are missing the boat. Sticking with the above example, I still have one choice for PvP, and one choice for PvE, but post-patch those are two different things, and in a world PvP MMO like DF:UW, that’s not a plus.

When everyone is out in the world farming with PvE-specific builds, attacking people at a mob spawn isn’t going to be much fun. Either you smash them due to running a PvP build against someone with a PvE build, or they escape because their PvE build includes enough of those abilities to make it possible. For a clear preview, see EVE PvP when you jump a mission runner in low-sec. At least today in DF:UW when a fight breaks out, just based on builds the field is more level, not a fight decided by the fact that one guy has a warp scram and the other is only cap-stable vs NPCs.

Moving to a higher level, there is basically zero chance that post-patch 90% of all abilities are viable. That means more skills go unused, which wastes their art, their animation, and the diversity they bring to the battlefield. So while technically the game will have more possible skill combinations on paper, in-game you won’t see nearly as many skills used, and most likely, you also won’t see as many viable skill combinations used. Would I be shocked if there is basically one flavor-of-the-month build for PvP? Hell no. And that build won’t be some fun ‘Paladin’ build or whatever. It’s going to be a tank-mage that chucks AoEs, heals, and exploits movement abilities. If you love playing an AoE-chucking tankmage ala most of DF1’s prime, congrats, DF:UW is going back to that. If you enjoy the current real options and diversity seen in-game? You’re outta luck. Viable options have been replaced with false choice, sorry.

Some other points.

PvE is going to be trivialized with this change even more, as player power is going up while mob difficulty will remaining the same. Worse-case, there is one FOTM PvE build that is broken-level powerful. As with the PvP aspect, hope you enjoy that playstyle, because if not welcome to gimp-ville.

Movement abilities are either going to be grossly nerfed across the board, or make unwanted PvP impossible. To go back to EVE, imagine roaming around looking for PvP if every ship was immune to warp scram and that’s going to be post-patch DF:UW with movement abilities. Going out to dig up some treasure chests? Your ‘class’ is now one where you stack movement and escape skills to reduce the risk of map running to zero. Scouts? Same thing, zero risk build ahoy. Worst case, post-patch the game becomes an arms race of who stacks more movement abilities or exploits them best. That would actually make me miss the bunnyhopping idiocy of DF1.

This change will have massive economic impacts. Some people are going to be royally screwed and will be very upset about it. I don’t want to fully dive into this now, but again if you have played an MMO or two I’m sure you know where this is going.

This change also dramatically increases how much prowess (XP) you must earn before you become PvP viable, which hurts new players most. Currently that point is around 40-60k, but post-patch it will be much higher. Having 100 in all four stats will be far more important, as will having access to all boosters. You will also need to max more skills, especially if the expected PvE and PvP builds vary so much.

Additionally to a longer grind to viable, the system as described is also more complex and arcane. How intuitive is assigning your Wisdom stat to a Greatsword to get access to better Greatswords? Oh and then assign your strength stat to cloth armor so your swing with the greatsword hit for more damage. What sense, even in a world where people throw fireballs, is there in leather armor allowing you to cast spells faster than other armors, including the wizard-looking cloth armor?

So yea, I’m not really looking forward to this. In fact, it’s basically taken most of my motivation to play away. It’s just hard to keep building in something that you know is going to fall off a cliff, and off a cliff is exactly what this update is. Sad really, especially given the big steps forward AV took with DF:UW from DF1, and even with more recent patches.


EVE: Player control vs game restrictions

May 12, 2014

Quick follow up to yesterday’s post.

First, getting over the social hurdle in EVE (getting into a Corp) is not harder than in other MMOs. A new character won’t get into a top-tier raiding guild, just like a new pilot won’t get into a top-tier EVE Corp. There are mass-recruit guilds in other MMOs, and there is EVE Uni, RvB, and Brave Newbies in EVE. And I’d argue the EVE Corp’s are far better than your average mass-recruit guild in other MMOs in terms of helping players and teaching the basics.

Do Corp’s do spy checks? Absolutely, just like games with clan banks don’t give everyone instant and full access. The degree and style is deeper/different in EVE because EVE is simply deeper and different than your average MMO. You don’t have an API in your average MMO like you do in EVE. You don’t generally have guilds with hundreds of thousands of man-hours of effort built up that can be ruined by a spy. Hell, in most MMOs you don’t even have guilds that have been around to build up hundreds of thousands of hours of effort to be ruined, even if it was possible.

Second, getting yourself into a Corp that makes the game better isn’t luck. If you just drift around running missions till you get bored, waiting for a great Corp to find you, you are doing it wrong. Like in basically any social situation in an MMO, the more you put in the more you will get out. If you do some legwork to find a quality Corp, and then put in the effort to impress and get in, you will be accepted 99% of the time, and will get 99% more out of EVE for doing so.

The critical difference between the EVE hurdle of being social and the average MMO hurdle of 100s of hours of gameplay/grind before you see ‘end-game’ is that in EVE, you are in control of how long this takes. If you want to drift around in high-sec, or join whatever random Corp and derp around, that’s on you. If you really do want to jump into the deep-end, and are prepared to put the effort in, EVE gameplay mechanics allow it. In contrast, no matter how motivated I am in the first 10 hours of WoW, I can’t get into the latest tier of raiding.

EVE puts the control in your hands, most other MMOs keep you in a pre-defined path until the game says you are ready.


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