CU: Finally something of note

July 17, 2014

CSE, makers of Camelot Unchained, have been releasing a lot of info of late about the game and the ideas behind it. So far nothing has jumped out at me as terrible ala “The 4th pillar”, but at the same time nothing has really grabbed my attention as a major “we are moving the genre forward” piece of news. Until today anyway.

The entire slide deck is about character progression, but this specific slide is the one I want to talk about today. What I like about this is that rather than seeing how fast you are progressing by swinging your sword, you instead get a large, end-of-day summery of everything you did. This alone should lead to players more comfortable just ‘playing to have fun’, but still making progress.

It somewhat relates to what Zubon wrote over at KTR, in that HOW you present information to a player is often as important as what is actually happening.

Two points of caution.

If the numbers are too easy to game, the illusion won’t work. If during beta someone puts a “how to progress” guide that tells you exactly what to do to gain access to sword X or armor Y, CSE has failed here. They say this will help them monitor and stop/prevent ‘keep trading’, but I wonder how far that will go exactly. If I spend the entire day swinging swords at anything I can find to ‘power level’ swords or strength, is that actually going to be viable and work, or get flagged or be ineffective?

On the other hand, if the system is too arcane, and ‘just playing the game’ isn’t effective enough to not gimp yourself versus those who powergame the system (and people will), CSE has failed because they will have effectively forced people to adapt or fall too far behind in a PvP MMO, which is a non-starter.

Those two major points of caution aside, I’m looking forward to CU more today than I was prior to all of this news, so at least on that front mission accomplished.

The cure for F2P disease is quality

August 22, 2013

In the comments section from yesterday’s post, Rohirrim raised the issue that with so many failed MMOs being demoted to the F2P minor leagues, gamers today might be weary of jumping on a new game that is sub-based for fear of the F2P switch. I think the issue has two parts, one being overall recent market conditioning (which includes things like Steam sales rewarding waiting rather than buying on day one), and the other being the somewhat recent sub-to-F2P trend.

Both problems are solved by having a quality game, but making a good game is hard.

When a new game is released on Steam, I only pay full price if I want the game right away, and the only games I want right away are the best ones (for me, of course) or if my friends are playing it and I want to join in. Civ V and its expansions were full-price purchases, and I consider those money well spent. Same for XCOM and Skyrim. How many people paid $30+ for ARMA II because their friends were playing Day Z and they just had to jump in? But that is a high bar to reach, and again, most devs can’t reach it.

The same goes for MMOs; if you have a good MMO with good retention, you stay with the subscription model. If you launch an MMO that can be ‘finished’ in 3 weeks/months, or one that doesn’t have the social hooks to keep guilds going, you switch to F2P and milk suckers with the F2P math tax for as long as you can get away with it.

Will WildStar or TESO be good-enough to stay as subscription games? We’ll find out ‘soon’. At the very least, they are not throwing in the F2P towel on day one, so they have that going for them.

But let’s not kid ourselves, no successful MMO has ever switched to F2P, because if you have a successful title, the subscription model is where the money is in NA/EU (Asia is completely different for countless reasons). You don’t go F2P because you will make MORE money with a successful title, you go to F2P because you are failing and a cash shop might hook enough suckers to keep you afloat, especially early on as you have not yet destroyed your overall game with the kind of additions you will eventually add to the shop (gear, lockboxes, etc).

And the F2P “sell the future for the present” design destruction will only accelerate as the dummies catch on. You (usually) can only fool someone a few times before they realize buying lockbox keys is stupid, or that they are paying way more than $15 just to come close to getting what they had before with a subscription. Zynga made a lot of money when it beat everyone else to those tricks, but it caught up to them (as did the laws) and the company is worth a fraction of what it once was (that they are still in business is a miracle actually).

By the time EQN is finally released, how many uneducated F2P dummies will be left? By that time, how many actual MMO gamers will be fed up with the cash shop trash and looking for a straight-up deal? Even at a site like Massively we are already starting to see such comments, and if there was ever a bastion for F2P dummies, its Massively.

Side-note; I think the next evolution of the sub model will be to increase the monthly cost. The sub ‘barrier’ of $15 is nothing to something who actually wants to play an MMO, and the only people you are going to lose are the people who were already flaky. If you have a solid title, I don’t think increasing the cost to $20 or even $30 a month is going to matter to fans (again, people paid $30 for ARMA, an older title, just to play a mod), while it would allow a developer to continue operating at a certain level with a smaller total population.

Even at $30 a month, an MMO you play as your primary source of gaming would still be ridiculously cheap entertainment compared to anything else, but it would more than double the income a studio would get per player, lowering the ‘make or break’ threshold and allowing for more target-focused titles, rather than the ‘try to cater to everyone, deliver to no one’ junk we have been seeing over the last few years.


The blogs reflect the genre

July 10, 2013

This post about blogging over at TAGN, along with the comments, is worth reading, even if you are only vaguely interested in the topic of MMO blogs. As the posts-per-day rate here has slowed over the last two months, it’s a topic I’ve thought about as well. This blog is almost 6 years old now (yikes), and I still don’t feel like I’m ‘done’ talking about the MMO genre. At the same time, something has happened to slow the content rate here, and not all of that can be pinned to changes in my RL (though that is a major factor). So what exactly is going on?

First, I don’t think the fad that is blogging is passing, if only because it never was a fad to begin with. Sure, blogging might have had its ‘time in the sun’ around the time the Warhammer hype machine was at its peak, but it was around before that and is still around after. So long as MMOs still somewhat resemble virtual worlds, they will be worth writing about.

What is happening is that the genre itself is changing, and right now the change is just not really giving us much to talk about. A little history lesson first.

When I was writing about WoW sucking before writing about WoW sucking was cool, a major reason for that was because Blizzard was shaping the genre, and the direction they were going in was not one I liked (or that works). I don’t really care about Blizzard/WoW now because they are non-factors. No one is building the next ‘WoW-killer/clone’. No one is taking a great IP (Warhammer) and driving it into the dirt thanks to the WoW taint.

Right now, everyone is basically in two camps. You are either in the EAWare camp, where you just believe MMOs don’t work, or you are in the indy camp, where you understand that MMOs work when they are virtual worlds rather than sRPGs with a login server, and that the market for THAT is not millions. There is no “let’s make a bigger/better WoW” camp, and so I no longer need to keep educating people about it. You’re welcome. When WoW goes F2P in 2015, it won’t be a surprise but rather confirmation of about a hundred posts I made in 2007/8. Feel free to look back and just leave a “damn, Syn right again” comment on each one. It’s the least you can do.

Where MMOs are going is both obvious and as uncertain as ever. It’s obvious because EVE is still crushing it and for good reason; it’s the definition of MMO design done right. If only someone had pointed that out in 2007… What’s really scary is that CCP might be doing its best work with the game right now, ten years in, so rather than decline like “all MMOs do”, EVE is still very much on the way up, with the only real question being just how high up it will go. I know I said the market is not millions, but CCP might prove me wrong in a few years.

The uncertain part is, spaceships aside, where does everyone else go? I think Darkfall: Unholy Wars is a much improved version of DF, and the patches Aventurine has been doing are hitting all the right areas, but the game and the company behind it have a long, long way to go before they reach anything close to current EVE/CCP status. The foundation is there, certainly, but the goal is so far away its borderline impossible to even think about right now. And much like EVE itself, DF doesn’t NEED 1m subs to be what it needs to be. The current population in the game is just right; fights can be found, but the world is not overcrowded to the point of game-breaking (as can happen).

GW2 continues to do what it’s doing, but nothing since the 3rd week has struck me as a reason to return. It’s just there, which since day one has pretty much been the issue with the game. Again, there is a reason Anet isn’t asking for a monthly fee, and it’s not because they are just that nice. Similar statements can be made about most other MMOs; it’s amazing SW:TOR has not been shut down, Secret World is what it is, and a few other titles are chugging along or milking the last bits for whatever is left (LotRO).

The genre is evolving and devolving at the same time. It’s evolving in terms of how games are made; Kickstarter being the biggest factor, but even having games on Steam vs requiring a box in a store is a big change for gaming, and MMOs in particular. A niche game for 50k gets made today if that 50k votes with their wallet strongly enough, while just a few years back this wasn’t the case.

It’s devolving in that we are returning to games based off what Ultima Online was trying to do (virtual world) vs what WoW became (sRPG). Designing your game for a target audience vs ‘for everyone’ is once again happening. Games with scale and longevity are being pitched. Catering to the lowest common denominator is once again seen as a negative.

The great unknown right now is whether the above will deliver or not. Will an MMO off Kickstarter release and be what it promised? Are all of the devs that today talk about “not being WoW” follow through, or are we just in another Warhammer cycle where people in white shades talk about bears but really just deliver a crappy knockoff?

And because all of this is unknown right now, we can’t really blog about it at length. The genre, and as a result, blogs covering the genre, are in a bit of wait-and-see mode.

Backed Camelot Unchained

May 1, 2013

Just a quick note for today, but I’ve backed Camelot Unchained, and it looks like MJ and CSE are going to hit the $2m mark.

I’m not 100% convinced CU is going to be great based on what has been presented, but I’d rather see CSE try and perhaps fail then do nothing and read about yet another themepark get delivered and consumed in a month. The themeparks I know will fail. CU at least has a chance. Eventually.

Camelot Unchained: Concerns based on MJ’s history

April 9, 2013

As previously mentioned, the Camelot Unchained kickstarter is up and running, but as of now I’ve not contributed due to a few concerns that I want to cover today.

First and foremost, the total removal of PvE raises some doubts. I get that City State wants to focus on PvP, and with a limited budget cutting PvE saves a lot of time/effort, but in all my MMO experience, some of (if not all) of the best PvP has been PvE-driven.

Evicting someone from a wormhole in EVE is in part PvE-driven (better sleeper farming).

A holding’s worth in Darkfall is in part based on the local mobs to farm, and the heaviest fighting is often over the most valuable properties.

In UO, PvP often happened in PvE locations (dungeons or good world spawns), and housing location was decided either by economic factors (player vendor traffic) or PvE factors (close to a good dungeon).

Hell, even in DAoC, how much RvR conflict was driven by access to Darkness Falls, a PvE dungeon? Some of the best PvP was clearing DF itself, and that happened because of PvE (safer farming).

What will be the conflict drivers in CU? Will they get people out and into situations on a daily basis? Will they matter long-term?

A related concern; do I want to play an MMO that is 100% PvP? Even though I prefer my MMO with a healthy dose of PvP, I still PvE heavily in them. PvE makes for nice ‘downtime’, and allows for me to still login and play without always putting myself into high-risk situations. It’s also content you can rely on, unlike PvP where sometimes the end-result of PvP is no fights happening.

Finally, I don’t know how much I trust Mark Jacob to deliver a solid MMO. Yes, he was responsible for DAoC, but he was also responsible for the ToA expansion to DAoC (an expansion that killed the game for me, and many others), along with WAR. And while MJ has tried to distance himself from WAR and its design decisions, it would be crazy to assume he holds zero responsibility.

ToA was just bad. It added a must-do forced-group PvE raiding grind to a well-established PvP game. I say must-do because the abilities and items you got from ToA were silly powerful, and made you near god-like in PvP if you fought others without ToA powers. How much of that basic concept (adding raiding to DAoC) was MJ? Was it his idea? If not, did he step in and realize it was a bad idea? If he did, was this another example of MJ being overruled, or just putting his trust in the wrong place?

We know a lot of the history behind WAR, but again how much did MJ influence the design here? The lack of a 3rd faction is obvious, but what about the decision to group the races to begin with? Why was WAR not a six-way fight? The lore/IP easily supports it, the PvE structure could have remained the same, and end-game population balance issues would have been very different.

Did MJ really think low and mid-tier RvR zones would hold up long-term? Sure, they sorta-worked while the initial population wave progressed through the game, but as soon as that was over, all of those areas below the cap became ghost towns and wasted effort.

A major issue in DAoC was rampant crowd-control. A major issue in WAR? Rampant CC. Other than blind faith, what’s to suggest that CU won’t have CC problems?

Remember the original structure for the end-game RvR? Funneling everyone into a single city siege? How much of that was MJ? How strongly did MJ believe in that design? And if he did see the design issues early on, why again did a product with his name on it ship designed like that? When such a moment happens with CU, and it will, what will MJ do?

CU is on my radar. In many ways it’s a game I want to get behind and support. It’s trying something different in some of the directions I want the genre to go in. And overall I like MJ from what I’ve heard/read about him. I do believe he got screwed by EA with WAR (because, let’s face it, everyone gets screwed by EA, be they devs or players). At the same time, the above are all concerns I have.


Going small

April 2, 2013

Edit: Camelot Unchained kickstarter is live today, which is relevant to today’s topic. I’ve not donated yet, but more on that in a different post.

After the WAR bubble burst, one of the many complaints was a lack of population in the RvR areas and PQs. Many attributed this to the general decline in the number of players playing overall. Pushing that line of thinking further, many believe you need hundreds of thousands of players AT LEAST to make a game feel populated and ‘alive’.

That’s horribly wrong.

For WAR, the game’s poor design lead to the feeling of under population. Unless you were part of the initial population surge through the leveling game, most areas felt empty, and RvR battles were non-existent. This would have been the case had WAR retained 1m subs, 500k, or 100k.

On top of those poor design decisions, WAR’s population was always spread across multiple servers. Some retained population well, while others were ghost towns from basically day one. If you happened to pick such a server, you got screwed. And as the population overall started to decline, more and more servers dropped below ‘critical mass’.

How many players do you need on a server for things to feel alive? In Ultime Online: Forever, the concurrent population often hovered around 300 (I believe), and yet the game felt lively. Some of this is due to UO’s design, which on most fronts is simply superior to themeparks, WAR included. But design aside, you really don’t need that many people to give the world a lively feel.

The reason we had not seen MMOs with only one ‘normal’ server (EVE is different, as always) in the past was due to cost. The theory was that MMOs had to be very expensive to produce, and so you needed to attract a lot of people to make any money. As many games have shown recently, and will in the coming years, that theory was about as accurate as the 4th pillar being a core value in an MMO.

This is a huge win for MMO fans for a number of reasons. We get away from the cookie-cutter “MMO for everyone” WoW-clone design. We get MMOs that are more targeted, be they PvP-focused or otherwise. We also get MMOs that (hopefully) won’ succumb to chasing the ‘everyone’ crowd later on and watering down things for the core that is actually playing.

At least, that’s hopefully the trend something like Kickstarter can help start. We’ll see if devs and players alike actually see it through.

Graphics creating gameplay

March 20, 2013

I find this post from City State (Camelot Unchained) mostly on point. It’s a good read, and I want to focus on one line in particular: “There’s not a tradeoff between graphics and gameplay when the graphics are the gameplay.”

Graphics are gameplay if done right. For example, shadows in Darkfall do more than look pretty. With floating nametags removed and no tab-targeting, you actually have to see your enemy much like you would in real life, and hiding in the shadows in not just a fancy name for some hotbar ability. Siege strategy has often relied on hiding a force in the shadows, in trees, or just over a mountain top.

A similar thing happens when you see the armor someone is wearing; because deciding what to use is a real choice (rather than just always wearing your best all the time), seeing an opponent in top-end gear is important and different than seeing them in something weaker. The visual impacts the gameplay (fight or flee).

One of the more memorable moments for me in DF1 was seeing an enemy guild leader decked out in the most expensive gear during a siege. As the info came across on vent, many people focused on bringing him down in the hopes of scoring some great loot. The guild leader knew this would be the reaction and planned ahead; he had an ‘e-squire’ who’s only purpose was to follow him around and provide healing or to cover his retreat using knockbacks or AoE blinds. It was brilliant strategy, very memorable, and worked because the graphics allowed him to be identified in the first place.

So while it is important to make sure your graphics don’t impact your gameplay (SW:TOR engine choking with more than 5 players on-screen), it’s also important to consider how your graphics can CREATE gameplay.

Also, cool copy/paste from my blog a few years back Andrew.

“We know that we’re building a world for characters to live in, not a theme park for tourists to visit.

We may not get as many tourists on opening day if we’re not the shiniest park around. The trouble with tourists, though, is that when they’re done with their tour they go home — or on to the next shiny thing. We want to create something here that lasts, and that means we’re catering to the kind of players who’ll stick around.”

You’re welcome.



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