30 minutes to cap

September 23, 2011

Tobold’s post today does a nice job of summarizing what’s gone wrong with MMOs in the last few years in terms of design. The best example is this part:

If you consider a theoretical MMORPG with an infinite number of levels and free-for-all PvP, it is pretty obvious that the players spending the most time in the game would crush those spending the least amount of time.

The above is true, and it’s also terrible design. It’s why UO/AC worked as PvP games and had/have runs longer than almost any themepark. It’s why EVE continues to work, and it’s why Darkfall has its 3rd anniversary coming up. Those games combine the hook of character progression with the balance of player skill, and mix in a whole lot of social interaction to keep it all in check. The best PvPer might be a force 1v1, but they become a non-factor on the ‘grand scale’ of GvG warfare (unless, of course, they are in one of those guild, at which point they become a very powerful ‘boss’ figure).

The real evolution of MMO design is to not just balance between the octo-mom players and the hardcore, but to enable the two groups to complement each other. EVE gets this right in many ways, with the hardcore playing in 0.0 space, and the casuals benefiting from those actions in Empire (econ ramifications, being in the same world those major events happen, being able to jump into 0.0 when time permits, etc). In turn, 0.0 players benefit from all those miners and mission runners doing the ‘boring’ stuff in Empire that eventually makes its way out (and gets blown up, keeping the cycle going).

Poor design, such as creating raids that are initially too hard for most, and then nerfing them until they are faceroll easy, not only misses the entire point, but creates easy “us vs them” divides. This also leads to short-term content, rather than long-term solutions/hooks, and in a genre designed to be played for months (if not years), short-term content itself adds nothing in the long run. All of the end-game content from vanilla, TBC, and WotLK is now worthless in WoW, while (most) of the features added in each EVE expansion still matter today. The options in EVE expand, while those in games like WoW simply change (and if they change to something you don’t like, your only option is to leave, as I did pre-WotLK, and now even Tobold has done thanks to Cata). It’s not hard to understand why EVE retains its players for so long, while WoW is a revolving door.

And of course, if your game is designed around a revolving door, rather than retention, you have no motivation to create deeper gameplay. You have no reason to go as deep as EVE does with some of its mechanics, or to design combat systems that can’t be learned on youtube or reduced to a few scripts; your players leave long before they ever get to the mastery phase. And really, it’s not even their fault; it’s how so many of the post-WoW games are designed, and the results of such design decisions are on display for the world to see.

2000 hours with EQ, 5 minutes with the kids.

September 22, 2011

2000 hours to hit the original level cap in EQ1 is not the reason EQ1 was ‘hard’ (not a great way to really look at this, but more on that later). A harsh death penalty wasn’t it either. Nor was camping a mob for 16 hours, or the forced grouping, or red-con zone runs. It was all of that and more, all mixed together.

Another analogy (it’s analogy week here): is your best friend the person you hang out with regularly, or that random guy you occasionally talk to for five minutes? Better yet, can you spend 5 minutes with your kids and still be a great parent? No? So being a parent/friend is really just ‘a grind’, where time = result, right? No? But you just argued exactly that for an MMO. That it’s not about the amount of time you put in, but the level of effort. Why is it that you believe you can get ‘meaningful’ MMO content in 30 minutes, but you don’t believe you can be a great parent/friend in just 30?

Spending “quality time” has time in it for a reason. While time is not the ONLY factor, it still counts.

The MMO genre was built around living in a virtual world. It’s not a ‘casual’ genre by design, because by design the parts that really make a game an MMO require time to be put in. You don’t get great communities, solid guilds, or heated rivalries when you jump in for 30 minutes and log out, no matter how ‘quality’ those 30 were. A well designed game like EVE will allow those 30 minute players to co-exist with those who drive the content, but while the game would continue to function without the 30 minute players, it would not without those who push things forward.

As the genre has expanded (or fractured, really), solid options for the 30 minute player exist. A game like Global Agenda is a pretty horrible MMO in the traditional sense, but it provides great content in small, random, pick-up-and-move-on bites. It works despite failing horrible in areas like server community, but then again it’s also F2P and won’t scratch that traditional MMO itch. For the 5 minute player we have Facebook, etc.

History has very clearly shown that when games get traditional MMO design right, they profit. UO/EQ/AC/DAoC/EVE/WoW (pre-Cata) and others have all made boatloads of money for their designers, specifically because they keep you entertained for months on end. It’s also no surprise that more ‘casual’ WoW clones, ones that minimize the core MMO basics in the name of ‘accessibility’, burn out so fast. Not only do these games fail to capture the core MMO audience, but the more casual players they intended to attract move on quickly because, well, that’s what casuals do. By definition they don’t get super-invested, and so when the next shiny comes along, they chase it. That’s fine if you are selling a one-and-done $50 box, but it’s not going to work out when you hope to collect $15 a month, or even when you try to sell ponies or potions in your item shop.

Back to EQ1 being ‘hard’: getting to the level cap was not a true test of twitch skills or some massive mental hurdle. There was no ‘hard stop’ like in, say, a fighting game, where if you can’t beat the guy you are fighting, you simply can’t progress. The really nice thing about an MMO is that if your personal skill level is lower, you can still progress by putting in more time. What made UO/EQ/AC and such ‘work’ was that ‘putting in more time’ did not just mean grinding more mobs, and certainly not spending more cash in the item shop; it meant reaching out to other players for help, or finding a solid guild. It meant working with others, which in turn creates those solid player communities that keep you logging in day after day.

Mechanics such as a harsh death penalty or a long XP curve encourage (or in EQ1 and grouping, force) playing with others. The better the design, the more natural this encouragement feels, and the more time you spend with those people, the close the bond, and the deeper the ‘MMO hooks’ become.

This is exactly why being able, or in the case of something like WoW-Cata, being encouraged to level solo is so anti-MMO. It’s why solo-instances are a sad, short-sighted design joke. It’s why random, cross-server PUG groups erode communities. The mechanics now work AGAINST what it means to be a true MMO, and by doing so reduce the very thing that made the whole model originally work.

The point is not to exclude 30 minute players. It’s actually a solid design challenge to allow them to co-exist in the same world (it’s no surprise that it works in EVE, when you consider EVE has just one server), but if the goal is to design a ‘real’ MMO, it must be designed to natural encourage the things that make an MMO what it is. Because when you get that design right, and everything comes together, you get a level of gaming that is above anything else, and anyone who has experienced it knows it.

Turning RPG players into MMO players: Solutions

August 8, 2011

As first mentioned here, there seem to be a high number of RPG fans who turn to MMOs to get their gaming fix, yet most MMOs do a rather poor job of getting those solo-minded players into what really makes MMOs great: massive AND multiplayer content.

The major flaw in games like WoW and its ilk is well known: for the entire leveling process, going solo is OPTIMAL, grouping hurts you most of the time, and then everything gets flipped on its head when you hit the cap and raid or die. In more sandbox titles, the entire game seems so arcane to RPG fans that they have a tough time just getting over the initial hurdle. EVE is famous for this, but games like Darkfall are also daunting mountains to climb.

For too long the solution to getting RPG fans to stick around was to try and mimic their games of choice by letting them be the solo hero and letting them be the focus of the entire world with stuff like phasing or instances. After all, in how many RPGs does the big bad get killed while you are not playing, or off finishing a side quest? In first-gen MMOs like UO/AC/EQ1, it happened all the time. Long-time MMO fans will know this is somewhat of a non-issue, as a good MMO will have lots (or in AC1’s case, monthly) epic events, so missing one is not the end of the world. Players unfamiliar with the genre will see this as lost content or being forced to play at certain times however. At the end of the day, this is more a PR issue than an actual in-game issue. Once fans see that being part of something special, while very cool, is not a one time or “must attend” event, they relax and participate in what they can, when they can (forums aside: on the forums you will ALWAYS have crybabies crying about missing an event, but forum opinions don’t count anyway).

The bigger issue however is creating content that naturally transitions someone use to playing solo into an MMO player. As already mentioned, stuff like phasing and solo instances do the exact opposite, but what content do you actually need to accomplish this?

For starters, solo content IS important. If you log in and no one is around, not having SOMETHING to do is not good. It won’t take long for most players to get bored staring at their character’s butt while they hope someone else logs on, and unless you are in a very active guild (the ultimate goal, but not something that newer fans all have), odds are decent that’s going to happen. If someone logs in for 5 minutes, has nothing to do, and logs off, guess how hard it gets to actually get anything done in a semi-active guild? It’s a really, really bad domino effect.

With that said, solo content should be the last resort. It should only be an attractive option when no one else is around, or for those times when you have only 30 minutes or so (note that if you only ever have 30 minute chunks, MMOs are not the genre for you). In all other situations, grouping with even just one other person should always be optimal, even if it’s just to continue working on something that could otherwise be done solo. Themeparks traditionally fail here for a few reasons. First, solo quest content is already silly-easy, so grouping up makes this even worse. Second, many quest goals are optimal when no one else is around (collecting for instance), so bringing more people actually hurts progress. It amazes me that such basic design flaws continue to get reproduced game after game, but that’s another rant.

Instead, farming should become easier and more enjoyable with others. Mobs should be tough but doable solo, but with a buddy they should go down fast enough to increase profits, while still having them respawn fast enough to not force downtime. Apply this to quests, actual gold farming, or collection materials for crafting. Whatever the objective, the system should be designed in such a way as to encourage bringing friends. First-gen MMOs got this (mostly) right, and it’s crazy that current-gen games get it so wrong.

Another key factor is establishing systems to encourage community and player interaction. Queue hubs and instances destroy server communities because they don’t allow for ‘random’ interaction. This is why heavily instances games (GW1 being a great example) are often called non-MMO titles, because they lack that very basic ‘run into someone random’ possibility and what it brings. Darkfall pre-alignment revamp is another good example of mistakes made. By actually encouraging everyone to attack everyone, randomly grouping for PvE never happened (or only happened when a vet was scamming a noob), which is terrible. Since the re-vamp, blue (good) players can be trusted, and you see more natural grouping as a result. This of course leads to guild recruitment, which fosters communities, and up and up we go.

Finally, and at the highest level, goals have to be group/community based rather than the traditional RPG goal of personal character growth. Current-day themepark raiding, while technically a group activity, is mostly about gearing up your own character rather than succeeding as a group. The side-effects of guild-hopping, selecting participation, personally being ‘done’, etc.  are well documented.  Larger, group-centric goals not only tend to motivate more people, but also keep everyone ‘busy’ until the goal is done, which alleviates some of the “you play more than me” issue, and then allows the entire group to transition together to the next goal. This keeps people together, and spreads the sense of accomplishment around, strengthening bonds and communities. Goals can be group-sized, for guilds, or even server-wide. Generally, the bigger the better.

The overall point is that MMOs have tried to become more ‘accessible’ by becoming more like solo RPGs, but in doing so have lost the key quality that makes an MMO work, and more importantly, makes that $15 a month seem worthwhile. It’s no surprise that we see so many ‘MMOs’ today start as sub games and quickly switch to F2P, jump-in jump-out titles. Simply put, they’re not really MMOs.

Celebrating 12 years of themepark hate

May 12, 2011

My enjoyment of virtual worlds goes back to Ultima Online, in large part because I loved the sRPG Ultima games, growing up on Ultima V and always being jealous of a friend who had a PC and had Ultima VI on it. The very basic idea of having an RPG like Ultima, but having it never end, plus getting to play it with others, was a dream scenario for me. And the hype was real, UO was exactly what I imagined it to be, and all was good.

Then came EverQuest, and the birth of my themepark hatred (I’m oldschool like that). Imagining what the MMO space would look like today had EQ1 never been released is, frankly, depressing.

UO was changed drastically with Trammel. I was not happy about that change, and around that time moved on to Asheron’s Call – Darktide. AC-DT was pretty damn great, if less worldly/sandbox than UO (not to mention it did not use the Ultima IP, which again, I loved). After AC-DT came Dark Age of Camelot, another stand-out PvP MMO that, much like AC, was more themepark than UO but still not on the EQ1 level.

2004 comes and, being a fan of Warcraft as an RTS, I jump in on WoW. I was the officer of a very established, successful raiding guild. We have a great time, make some very solid friendships with people that I still talk to today, and enjoy ourselves. Then WoW (slowly at first) began to change, and our guild broke and we all move on.

For a while there I was mad at WoW itself for changing. I liked the original version, I had fun with it. I was not done having fun with it when Blizzard canceled the party, much like I was not done with UO when Trammel arrived, or with DAoC when ToA arrived.

But today I don’t care what happens to WoW itself. I’ve long since come to terms with the fact that WoW is what it is, and no amount of changes short of a total 180 are going to return the game to the state I enjoyed. Again, I’m good with that. Power to the sparkle pony crowd, knock yourselves out.

Today my dislike for WoW is much like my original dislike for EQ1; the influence those games had/have on other titles. Much like I doubt Trammel would have happened had EQ1 never been released, I have my doubts whether something like WAR would have been as flawed had WoW never existed. Would Rift be as generic, and with 1.2, as dumbed down had WoW not set the standard and precedence? My guess is no.

Add in the all-but-scientifically-confirmed WoW tourist phenomenon, Blizzard’s RMT approach, their “innovate by copy/paste” design practice, Bobby being a gamer-hating clueless user car salesmen, etc, and there really is plenty to dislike about WoW beyond whether current heroics are super hard or that the leveling game may or may not be faceroll easy.

Oh, and that whole “expand the audience” angle is BS if you ask me. When a small studio can make EVE/DF, and a big one can make WAR/AoC, I’m not all that sold on this “big money = big win” theory. Toss in that the bigger an MMO gets, the seemingly worse its community gets, and yea, I’m cool with JUST playing along with 100k others. I also don’t see WoW/Farmville outpacing the world in terms of quality, content delivery, or player benefits thanks to those 11.4/100m players.

What I find comical however is those who rage against WoW, or LotRO, or any other established title, and keep crying for those 180 changes like they might actually happen. Or, for that matter, like they would even make those titles better games today. Worldly housing is not going to make WoW a better game, its flaws are much deeper than that, and honestly, the 11.4m playing today don’t even want that. They want more sparkle ponies, and they will get more sparkle ponies. Or whatever is even more ‘accessible’ than $25 ponies to further “broaden the audience”.

I’d love to throw out a counter-example of a game focusing harder on it’s core rather than trying to expand, but I can’t name even one. (EVE is close, but EVE has just been doing what it does since day one, so that’s more a case of business as usual rather than an anti-Trammel/ToA)

On somewhat of a similar note, I’m always amused at people hating on something like DarkFall, with all its 5-50k subs (depending on which fan/hater you ask). DarkFall, short of getting 100x more subs, is never going to influence your themepark. WoW will never get reverse-Trammel’ed because DarkFall exists. Full loot FFA PvP is not coming to Azeroth, don’t worry. The next ten AAA MMO titles won’t be DarkFall clones with “insert not that important change here”.

At least, not for another 7 years, when WoW dies and EVE hits 10m subs. Then you can rant about how it sucks that your carebear title was just made inaccessible because the last safe PvE zone was made FFA PvP with perma-death, and your only themepark MMO option left is some 2D flash title made by a guy in his basement.

I’ll shed a tear for you then, but I’m not holding my breath on it happening.

Rift: 1.2 Update and World Events

April 26, 2011

The upcoming 1.2 update to Rift is pretty substantial, and considering what 1.1 brought just a month ago, Trion is keeping to a brisk pace for updates. Part of me wants to cheer, the other part sits here, nods, and wonders what 1.3 will bring next month. I want to say such expectations are unfair (especially when I make the totally unfair comparison to Darkfall update pacing, or the even slower rehashing of WoW), but then, this is a themepark, and well, it’s the pace you must sustain to keep people happy. Asherons Call did it back in 2000, and EQ1 released weekly expansions. About time we return to those days.

I will say this though, if Trion DOES continue to release updates of 1.2 size monthly, I don’t see how people can realistically be upset (forum warriors aside, as those ‘people’ are professional crybabies, minus the whole “getting paid, self respect, contributing member of society” thing). So long as the monthly updates don’t replace content like expansions do, Rift will be a game bursting with (even more) options in a few short months, along with being an incredibly feature-rich game. And again, given what the baseline is (2004 WoW), that’s almost expected. If the pace drops to one big update every three months, I think it will be ok to call that disappointing.

Along with the update itself, I want to talk about the world events. Initially I understood the first world event as something the players would influence and shape the outcome of. Obviously that was not the case. Phase 2 and 3 were going to happen regardless, and the result of phase 3 was set in stone before even the first player action was taken. The sandbox player in me is disappointed. The themepark carebear wonders why.

Now I’m not sure if the devs ever called these things dynamic events, but if they did, it’s a lie. There is nothing dynamic about them (or at least with the first one, and I’d be pretty shocked if future events were). But that aside, the event overall was fun for what it was. The carebear in me is a fan. Yay collecting stuff for shinies, yay seeing RP events, yay cheap motivators to get randoms together. Grade A themepark entertainment (for real, no sarcasm).

And since these events are not dynamic, since the actions of the players DON’T matter, the whole ‘unique event’ aspect goes out the window as well. Replay the RP event every night. Have the big bad respawn and attack again next weekend. Cycle the whole thing twice if you want. Whatever. My immersion aside, who cares. Dynamic world + player actions != themepark. The only upsetting thing is that I’m just now coming to that conclusion. Pretty embarrassing actually. AQ40 was a lie, that gate was going to open, racing to do so was only important to the world-first e-peen clubs. Nothing has changed, and that’s ok.

But like the update pacing, these events need to be pretty consistent. Maybe not one every month, but every other? Like one month an event is going, the next all is quiet, then another starts up for a month? I’d be cool with that. And while players won’t impact the result after said month, can we maybe have a daily impact? Can an invasion actually take over a quest hub, or, gosh, a zone? And if the players don’t care, the mobs don’t leave?

Is there any chance a town gets wiped off the face of Telara AC1 style one month? Or we find a new mini-zone thanks to some cave that opens up? Asking too much here? Aiming too high?

Aiming too low?

Patching like its 1999

April 1, 2011

I appreciate the rapid pace of patching. It’s impressive, even by “first month of a new MMO” standards. And as we saw with 1.1, the updates are not all just bug fixes but actual content additions. Major bonus points for keeping downtimes very short, and actually bringing the servers back up in 30 minutes when you say 30 minutes. The service standards might be pretty low in MMO land, but even still it’s nice that someone is raising the bar. One month in, zero complaints.

But it not only should continue, it more or less has to if Trion really is going to accomplish what many AAA titles before it failed to do (retain more than 1m subs past 6 months).

It has to because while Rift does what it does at a best-in-class level, it’s still doing stuff similar (but not the same) to other big-name games, and the current crop of ADD gamers not only needs new shinies, they need them delivered at a furious pace. Or, at something called furious when your current expectations are a rehash every 6 months plus a cash shop not-so-micro my-little-pony update.

If Rift is at version 1.5 after six months, and we have events similar to what 1.1 introduced each month, is anyone going to be talking about Rift being just another clone? And while on the surface that might seem like an impossible task, I don’t believe it really is. Asheron’s Call had monthly updates that actually altered the game world in permanent ways, and CCP puts out two free expansions a year for EVE. EQ1 had an expansion released weekly (more or less). This “it takes two years to update a few zones” stuff is pathetic, and MMO fans tolerating it for so long is even worse.

Trion has shown that they know exactly how a themepark works, and I doubt that understanding only went up to launching flawlessly. Players consume themepark content fast, and most will no longer entertain themselves by bashing their head into a wall for a few months (Rag 1.0-style raiding). Some emjoy that, and it should be provided, but it’s not the be-all-end-all of providing content. Trion has already hinted (and shown with 1.1?) that the tools they have created for Rift allow for easier content additions, and that the type of content produced is more than just adding another Kill X daily.

Seven years later we look back at WoW and credit Blizzard with bringing polish to the AAA MMO space. In another seven, hopefully we will look back at Rift and credit Trion with bringing (back) a high rate of content delivery.

For now, we can track progress on a monthly basis. One down, 83 to go.

Not all themeparks are created equally

February 24, 2011

Going to comment on something Tobold wrote today, related to Rift launching and how themeparks are similar. Here is the piece I want to focus on:

But I do know that Rift is not completely unlike World of Warcraft. It has the same basic “theme park” guidance by quests structure, it has classes, levels, talents, spells, and a combat that works very similar, and even the user interface is somewhat similar to that of World of Warcraft. I also know that Star Wars: The Old Republic will also fall into the same basic scheme.

Of course Tobold is right that the very basics are similar. The Rift interface is similar enough to the one fans created for WoW that you know how most of it works before you even load up. It does have levels, souls/classes/talents, its high fantasy, etc. But a UI does not define a game, and just one difference can completely separate one game from another.

Imagine, for instance, if someone released a game that was 99% just like Darkfall (we will call it Lightfall), but turned off the FFA PvP. Same UI, same combat, same world, same crafting, all of that, just instead of being able to bash whoever whenever, you could only fight other players in designated areas. Would anyone playing Darkfall view Lightfall as another MMO option? Of course not.

Or if you want an example from the past, how did Darktide play compared to every other Asheron’s Call server? Same game exact game, just one little rules tweak, yet the end result was black/white in terms of in-game activity and overall flow.

I’m signed up for Rift, but I don’t view WoW as another MMO option, newly rehashed instance coming ‘soon’ or not. When I recently watched my father play his 121k hp Pali, solo’ing a pull in a lvl 83 instance before heading to the portal area of Stormwind to show me some of the ‘changes’, I was not looking at something that was kinda like Rift. When he jumped on an alt and ran Mara with four of the absolute worst players I’ve ever seen, most under-leveled for the instance, and no one even came close to dying despite stuff like running repeatedly into the Princess’ poison, I was not looking at something kinda like Rift. And like he himself said, WoW is a great solo RPG now, and that’s cool, but I’m looking for an MMO to play.

It does raise an interesting question though; what will those that ARE looking for more WoW do? Will they tourist back to Azeroth after a month, or stick around once they see what an MMO actually plays like? My guess is that many jumped on the WoW bandwagon after the removal of the MMO parts, so perhaps for millions, they have never seen what a virtual world actually looks like, even one as relatively ‘tame’ as Rift.

Considering the MMO genre is a niche market (hi Mark), I expect a lot of bags to be packed 30-60 days from now.

MMOs being niche, the non-issue?

November 12, 2010

What hasn’t been conquered, still, is making alternate worlds accessible enough to broad audiences.

Raph Koster over at his blog.

I’d ask if this is really a problem that needs solving. I think this is one of the unfortunate side effects of WoW having 12m or whatever subs and MMOs being a ‘hot item’ (though this has cooled down recently, and will likely be completely over a few months after SW:TOR is released); where future MMOs look to hit the ‘mass market’, yet still deliver something resembling an actual MMO, or more precisely, a virtual world. As I see it, the very core ideas behind a virtual world only appeal to a relatively small niche due to all the factors that go into playing in one (time commitment being the biggest issue), and the only real way to broaden that appeal is to reduce those core values, which, at some point, we are no longer talking about an MMO.

Now behind every game is a company and that company needs to make money, which it will only do if it gets enough customers. We all get that. But it’s really only because of WoW that the expectation for many is millions rather than low 100s of thousands, and more than a few examples exist of 100k sub games raking in the dough, whether Take Two knows it or not. Sure, it would be great to be WoW, just like it would be great to be Google, but does every startup set out with “Google or bust” as their opening statement? Because post-WoW, that’s EXACTLY what has been going on in the MMO genre, and, well, the results are not pretty.

Let’s go back to the beginning, where the only major MMOs out were Ultima Online, EverQuest 1, and Asheron’s Call. Was anyone at Turbine losing sleep because AC1 only had 200k (or so) subs compared to EQ1s 500k (or so)? I’m betting not. Actually, I’m betting everyone over at Turbine was thrilled just to have as big a hit as AC1 was. Now, EQ1 was the ‘winner’ of that time, and made SOE boatloads of cash, but even if EQ1 had ONLY hit 200k subs, guess what? SOE would STILL have made money, and the game would have gone on in much the same way as it did. The added success was nice, no doubt, but I’d be willing to bet no one over at Verant (EQ1s devs at the time) set out to hit 500k or they’d fail, much less 1m+.

I’m all for games trying to be MMO-like, much like different games today are RPG-like with stats or character levels. No one is going to confuse Call of Duty with an RPG because it has stats, yet we continue to see games that don’t really deliver a virtual world lumped into the MMO genre, or try to incorporate too many MMO features just to qualify. WAR for example is a very poor virtual world, but cut a bit of the MMO out, and WAR could be a really good deathmatch-ish product (assuming some serious changes, but hopefully you get the point). A good example of success here is Guild Wars, which ArenaNet originally stated was not an MMO, and in many crucial ways is not a virtual world. GW is a success because it embraces what it is, rather than trying to fit itself into the MMO genre.

Point being, I don’t believe it’s possible to tweak something like Ultima Online, EVE, Darkfall, or whatever ‘true’ virtual world we are talking about, and turn it into something that millions find appealing. And, assuming from day one you as a company accepts that, it should not be a ‘problem’ that needs solving. Yes, you always want to improve and attract more players, but the last 13 years or so have shown that the closer you remain to the core values of the genre, the more the core, niche audience will respond.

Deliver a product worthy of that group, with an appropriate budget, and everything else is gravy. Chase the millions WoW attracted, and you will soon join a long list of high profile failures. That or you won’t be much of an MMO, which is perfectly ok.

The more things change…

August 13, 2010

Which list is longer: The differences between LotRO, WAR, and Aion, or the similarities between UO, EQ1, and AC1?

It’s a rhetorical question of course, but highlights a point I was getting at yesterday, and relates to a post over at Don’t Fear the Mutant that I commented on. How is it that the first ‘real’ MMOs were all so distinct, so varied, and still ‘worked’, while the last wave of ‘big’ MMOs are so similar you can easy highlight their ‘unique’ points with a short list that is likely to be more marketing hype than actual substance?

WoW is of course the root of this evil, yet ultimately it comes down to the current player base and how they voice what they want. For every player done with the solo-quest faceroll shiny chase, there are ten others happily handing over $45 to get more of the same, or waiting in line to spend $25 to re-skin their in-game pony. Not that this is anything new to gaming mind you; EA has been happily collecting $50-$60 from millions of people each year to update NFL rosters, while Capcom will give you a sweet deal on four more characters for a re-release of Street Fighter, but it disappointing that it’s now happening to the MMO genre.

Somehow I don’t remember many people thinking these games were going to be copies of each other back in the late 90s / early 2000, with Madden-like ‘selling points’ attached to this years version of WoW.

Chuck-o-the-day: Every night before going to sleep, the Boogey Man checks under his bed for Chuck Norris.

Why all but 330k people should hate EVE

May 14, 2010

I’m starting to really hate EVE Online.

I’m starting to hate it because it makes all other MMOs look like crude kids toys, like silly side activities you dabble in before getting back to the ‘real’ game. It makes events that happen in other MMOs look like droplets in the ocean that is EVE’s history. And it does all this before you even start to really compare designs, before you start to realize how well so many things in EVE work despite the fact that it’s been out almost seven years now. Think about that; seven years and pilots are still advancing in basically the same skill system, still living and thriving in basically the same set of ‘zones’, and even after seven years the economy, by far the deepest in any MMO, is as strong as ever. There have been no ‘Cataclysms” to shake things up, there have been no total revamps to systems to make them work, no “re-roll an alt and play it all again” pitches. Just the constant, inevitable progression of both the pilots and New Eden itself.

All MMOs have a set timeframe that they are expected to thrive in, to either be replaced by something else or put into maintenance mode, a relic for new players to explore. There are no major changes coming to UO or EQ1 or AC1. If you never played them, go check them out. If you have, you know what to expect, and if you’ve ‘finished’ them, you move on. All MMOs but EVE. A pilot with close to 7 years of experience is not about to ‘finish’ the games content, he is not about to ‘max out’ or finally acquire the ‘best in slot’ in everything. He is not waiting for the next content patch to have something to do. He is not taking a break until more ‘stuff’ is added. He is, in the purest sense, going about his business in EVE, with more options available to him today than he likely had the year before. Dwell on that long enough and it really is amazing, and yet seemingly so simple. It’s a virtual world after all, of course you continue living in it until you, not the content, decide to move on. Yet it’s the only game in the genre that can legitimately make that claim, and it has the growing sub numbers to back that up.

And I hate EVE because as much as I love DarkFall, and as much as I agree with what Aventurine is going for and what they have delivered, placing DF next to EVE is just sad. I mean sure, the actual combat in DF is tops in the genre, and while very different, the graphics in both games do some amazing things. But the economy, the territory conquest, the political game, and the size and impact of certain events? Or the balance issues, the long-term prospects of character development, the size of the world, the technology to handle epic battles? Not even close is an understatement, and DF is better in many of those areas than most MMOs. How well does your MMO handle 200 players all fighting each other? How often does that happen? Does the outcome affect 300k others? How much real character progression can you make after playing consistently for over a year? How solid, viable, and balanced is your crafting after three years? Are items that were useful five years ago still useful and in-demand today? Hell, will ANYTHING you are doing today matter in five years in the MMO you are playing?

All of this comes about because I was recently asked to contribute to EON magazine; they had some space for a WoW-bashing article about how anyone playing that game is a racist bully, and who understands those MMO parasites better than I do, right? (That’s not the actual topic, sadly, it’s about PLEX and RMT). During my previous times in EVE, I had never seen a copy of EON, and so when I got my copy just a few days ago, I was literally floored, and it took reading the first ten pages to get me to re-subscribe. I’m not joking about that either, literally after reading ten pages I put the magazine down, went to the computer, and re-subscribed. One can only ignore the call of something so great for so long, and with EON’s passion as evidence in front of me, it was not a hard choice.

I have an overall goal for my return, along with several smaller ones, but that’s a post for next week. For now, I’m going to finish reading EON, get the rust off from being away from EVE for so long, and attempt to figure out a way to split my time between DarkFall (not giving that game up by any means), EVE, and Guild Wars (with Aria).

And I owe it all to the magic of the sparkle pony, as without your overpriced, less-than-pointless, zerg-inducing addition, the original blog post here that started all of this would have never been written. So thanks Blizzard, I owe ya one.


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