The more things change…

December 1, 2011

Timing is everything.

Today Raph has a post showing a 3-part “History of MMOs” video. (well worth watching btw, especially for those who started playing post-2004)

Also today Tobold has a post about how bots could easily play certain MMOs better than players.

In the video, the narrator credits WoW being more linear and accessible as a major source of its success.

The more linear/accessible your game, the easier it is to create a better-than-the-player bot for it.

The… oh, mild connection between ‘dumb as bots’ gameplay and ‘mass market’ is hopefully not lost here.

This of course is not entirely negative. WoW is/was, after all, a great ‘intro to MMOs’ game for many. Whether that same crowd takes the next step into ‘real’ MMOs is up for debate. Certainly a title like SW:TOR is not helping people take that next step, but on the other hand SW tanking BECAUSE it’s an entry-level title in a market of vets (I use that term very loosely) will do some good. If we take one step further, buy into the hype, and assuming GW2 is indeed an MMO that fixes all previous MMO woes while not being a ‘dumb as bots’ title, and it’s successful, then we (MMO players) all win going forward.

Or you continue to laugh/cry at the genre while FiS.

Hopefully both.


Gamer evolution, 30 minutes a day

November 4, 2011

Time requirements and complexity in gaming are clearly not the same thing, but they are linked. The more complex your game, the more time required to learn it. But a game can be both ‘simple’ and incredibly hard (Meatboy), or incredibly simple yet require a lot of time (WoW). There are games that are both complex and require a lot of time (EVE), and games that are simple and quick (Farmville).

And all four games can, to some extent, be played both casually and hardcore.

But the number of people casually playing Meatboy is probably pretty low, while the number of people who are hardcore Farmville players is likely not all that high. Within the game itself, EVE has its share of hardcore (0.0) players, while also containing a large number of ‘casuals’ (Empire). The same can be said for WoW.

Game updates can, and often do, alter this formula. 40-man raiding in WoW was superstar driven, while today its weakest-link based. When you change the formula, it’s only natural that the identity of your playerbase changes as well.

If we look at a best-seller like CoD:MW, we can see that while the game does tack on a single-player mode, the game’s and the player’s primary focus is clearly the multiplayer PvP. When CoD competes with Battlefield, they do so in the multiplayer realm, and the differences are pretty hardcore details from a non-FPS players perspective. In short, the blockbuster FPS crowd ‘gets it’ when it comes to the details, and catering to the hardcore is how you win marketshare.

In sharp contrast, the different versions of Farmville compete on little more than appearance/theme. The Barbie Farmville appeals to more people than the robot Farmville, just like the Mafia version has more players than the cowboys version. The quality of the product, the details, the game balance, these things are mostly non-factors.

As I wrote yesterday, the ‘intro’ games are just that, a temporary bridge bringing the minority that has not caught on to gaming yet into the fold. Once they get comfortable, their demands will mimic those of the FPS crowd more so than the Farmville crowd; where details matter, rather than making decisions based only on superficial aspects like theme.

And whether they have 30 minutes or 30 hours, they will be educated enough to identify ‘good’ games, rather than catchy themes, and those are the titles that will continue to rise to the top. For gamers, it’s a very encouraging sign that cash-in movie tie-in games are no longer the go-to for sales, and well-designed titles like LoL, CoD, Minecraft, and SC2 are popular. The more educated the gaming public gets, the more they will demand, and only those who meet those demands will profit.


Casual players are a dying breed

November 3, 2011

Whenever the topic of casual games comes up, I always question who exactly these ‘casual gamers’ are, and I think the term itself is a little misleading. I think ‘casual player’ is more accurate. Gamer to me, be they casual or not, indicates someone who is interesting in gaming itself, rather than someone who just plays something like Angry Birds because they heard about it like they would have heard about a new TV show or movie.

A gamer (casually) plays games, while a player will occasionally (casually) play a game. (I believe a subset exists that will play one game very hardcore (the super cow clickers), much like someone can be casual about movies but know every last details about the SW films, or not really love music but be crazy about one artist)

I would consider my father a casual gamer. He has been playing games for as long as I have (we played Shining in the Darkness together, drawing dungeon maps on graph paper, good times), yet does not have the time/interest to jump into something like EVE (though you should dad). He has played WoW longer than most of you reading this though, and he would never consider anything from Zynga worthwhile. I have no doubt that there are a LOT of gamers just like him out there (more on that in a bit).

A game like Angry Birds, and to a lesser extend Zynga games, are not aimed at gamers, but gamers will play them under the right circumstance (on the move, little time, etc). Angry Birds is popular not just because it allows casual players to pick it up, but also because the design is solid-enough to get positive word-of-mouth from gamers. Zynga games, on the other hand, are popular because they do a good job of spamming (and previously, scamming) casual players, much like certain TV shows do a solid job of ‘spamming’ you with advertising. Gamers know that Zynga games are garbage, but the casual players that the games are aimed at don’t hear that negative word-of-mouth buzz (think movie tie-in games selling despite being awful 99% of the time), nor do they ‘get’ gaming enough to quickly identify the shallow and horrid ‘gameplay’, and fall for the marketing ‘hooks’ that really drive the games.

What often gets lost in all of this is how the overall population breaks down, and just how many gamers are out there, their resources, and what exactly they are looking for. The whole “casual = more” thing might not be as true as so many just seem to accept, at least not to the level of ‘casual’ that is suggested.

Back in the late 80s, early 90s, kids played consoles, most people did not own a computer, the Internet was not up, and gaming was far more niche than TV/movies/music.  If you played games back then, you were most definitely a hardcore gamer, and the games reflected this. Mario, the  ‘for everyone’ game was incredibly hardcore by today’s standards, and most games were much harder than Mario.

But gaming has exploded in popularity, in large part thanks to Sony and the PS1, and has continued to gain market share in the entertainment world. At some point, gaming became as accepted as going to the movies or watching TV (would you rather admit you play games, or watch Jersey Shore/Kardashians to your co-workers?).

And not only is gaming extremely popular now, it’s not just popular with kids. The ESA tells us the average age of a gamer is 37 (and age 41 for people buying games), and that the average gamer has been playing for 12 years. 12 years ago was 1999, where Silent Hill, Soul Calibur, Quake 3 Arena, FF VIII, EQ1, Counterstrike, and Unreal Tournament dominated. Raise your hand if you transitioned from Soul Calibur to Farmville? And how many of those EQ1 players do you think consider WoW too hardcore?

‘Hardcore’ games like Halo and CoD:MW dwarf Zynga games (and everyone else) in profit. Far more people are online with an Xbox playing ‘hardcore’ games than people who are logging in to click a cow. Is anyone really surprised that the most popular game on Xfire is a ‘hardcore’ PvP game (League of Legends)? And short of a zombie apocalypse, people are not going to regress and go back to playing simple games in the future.

Point is, gamers today ‘get’ gaming and demand more from their gaming than the bare minimum. This is only going to increase as time goes on. More and more people are going to grow up with gaming being as much (if not more) a part of their lives as TV or movies. The kids growing up on Club Penguin today are not going to transition from that game to Farmville. As they grow up, they are not only going to seek more mature titles in terms of theme, but also in terms of gameplay.

Once the millions of “MMO noobs” learned WoW, they no longer found the basics of an MMO “too complex”. To capture that crowd going forward is not going to take a more casual WoW, but rather a better WoW, one that builds on the core that worked and expands it. WoW’s worst enemy is WoW, because as it gets dumber, its playerbase gets smarter, and the pool of ‘dumb’ gamers to replace those moving on is shrinking.

To me the whole ‘social gaming’ fad is the minority of the population who are NOT gamers catching up. Facebook games are just a very thin primer for those who were not gaming in 1999, and as the trending is showing, as soon as that crowd takes just a few steps forward, they are going to be looking for something with a little more gameplay than a cow clicker. Most will not continue the journey all the way to something like EVE, but they will certainly be closer to it then what we call casual games today.


Repair-bot, ready for duty!

November 2, 2011

Last night I opted to pick up parts for my Drake in EVE (hey it only took about two hours…) rather than join my buddies for some Dungeon Defenders, which I think says more about Dungeon Defenders than EVE. Actually I know it does. Zubon over at KTR talks about the recent ‘balance’ changes to DD, and to reiterate my comment from over there, the notes just highlight how utterly broken DD is.

What DD should be is a four-player co-op tower defense game where proper usage of all four classes and solid strategy wins.

What DD really plays like: squire sets up towers, everyone else repairs them for 90 minutes.

It’s a really fun game…

Honestly the only difference between the Insane (fitting huh)Halloween map in DD and flying to a dozen stations in EVE is that after I play EVE, I don’t have a kaleidoscope-driven headache. Oh and that once the task is complete, I have something fun to look forward to rather than MORE kaleidoscope-driven headaches.

I only mention this because DD should be a fun game. It’s not hard to see how either. Maybe make all the classes useful? Maybe share XP for monster kills? Maybe make more than one strategy viable? No 90 minute+ maps? Maps that require more thinking than running/repairing?

I don’t know, I’m just a blogger with yet another goal in EVE (epic story arc, hence the Drake for lvl 3 missions to build up rep with the Corp that gives it).


Dungeon Defenders: Flawed fun

October 20, 2011

I played Dungeon Defenders last night, having purchased it as a 4-pack with my regular gaming buddies, for about five hours (casually, yo). I think the fact that we played it for five hours straight says a lot right there, but this being a blog and all let me write a bit more about it. Also see Zubon over at KTR for some more impressions.

For a $10 game, graphically it looks surprisingly good, and the sound is also enjoyable. Controls in-game are mostly solid, although the occasional wonky collision detection is noticeable. The UI on the other hand is clearly console-inspired, and makes simple stuff like inventory management unnecessarily sloppy. As Zubon mentioned, this is very clearly a console-first title.

All of my impressions are based on playing the game with three friends on vent, which is basically the ideal scenario for the game. Even after just five hours, I can’t imagine the game being nearly as fun playing with PUGs (though keep in mind my general tolerance for PUGs is somewhere between zero and none).

I say this because there are some serious game-design issues. The most glaring being that XP gain is based on who kills a mob, which naturally means support classes/tower, while very helpful in winning, don’t earn you the same amount of XP as killing stuff. This encourage bad-tactics stuff like people putting attack towers in front of defense towers to try to get more XP, or people charging into mobs to score more kills. If I saw it playing with three friends, I can’t imagine how this is going to play out in PUG-land. This also naturally makes offensive classes like the Squire ‘better’ than a support class like the Monk in terms of leveling/score. The whole mess could very easily be fixed by making XP gain global.

One concern I had with DD is how it would balance tower defense with the Diablo-monster-bash aspect. On the surface it seems like the Diablo part is dominant, and sometimes it is, but on tougher maps proper use of towers is the key to victory. We lost twice last night, and both times correcting how we place our towers resulted in victory. This was very satisfying, and I think there is a decent amount of strategic depth in terms of tower combos and placement.

While certain areas of DD are rough, I think overall the game does a nice job of mixing genres. Collecting items is fun, and the itemization is on-par with Diablo in terms of random stats and such. Going up levels is also fun, and there seems to be decent depth to the character customization (and no doubt there will soon be ‘best spec’ builds). The tower placement/upgrading part is flexible and interesting, and the monster-bashing is what it is, simple yet enjoyable.


Paying full price

October 12, 2011

As we picked up the 4-pack for Dungeon Defenders last night, our Steam group talked about paying for games, and why anyone would pay full price for a game in the age of $5 Steam sales, Game+DLC bundles, and Sub-to-F2P tactics. Interestingly enough, the best reasons all touched on this week’s general topic; playing with others vs going solo.

The best reason to buy on day one, and pay full price, is because you want to play with your guild/friends, who are going to be playing right at the beginning. If you opt to join late, they will either already be ahead or have moved on from the game. Obviously, if you don’t play with a steady group, and just join groups from game to game, this is not a huge factor. If the game in question is a single-player game (either because it is in fact a single player game, or because it’s something like SW:TOR), that’s one less reason to shell out $50-$60.

The next reason, and this is somewhat related to the first point, is in a game where the first month plays differently than the next. An real MMO generally changes as time goes on, players do things month one that they don’t month two, and in a social environment being part of the buzz/wave is fun. The more single-player focused the title, the less this is a factor. Battlefield 3 is a title I’m not picking up day-one, and while the matches will mostly be the same in six months, the fact that players will be higher ranked with different guns is something to consider. For me it’s not enough to pay $60 for the title, but it was a consideration.

Finally, and this is certainly the weakest reason, is to show support for a title or genre. I pre-ordered Heroes of Might and Magic 6 not just because I want to play it day one (I honestly could wait), but because I want more TBS titles made, and I want HoMM6 to do well and get future support. Going back to Battlefield, I honestly could care less about EA, or to support ‘yet another shooter’. It’s also why I still have an active Darkfall account, despite the fact that I only play it sparingly (once a week for an hour or so). In the grand scheme of things, gaming is a fairly cheap hobby for me, but I fully understand for others money might be tight and you simply can’t spend as much as you’d like, so how often you can afford to ‘vote’ like this is going to vary.

I’m not sure we are really seeing the effects of this yet. Modern Warfare 3 sold like crazy in the first week, but consoles are somewhat different, and game prices rarely drop to PC/Steam levels. Duke Nukem Forever is on sale right now for $10. If you paid $50 for it at release (which was like a week ago, right?), how’s that working out for ya? Again I’m not putting money down that the average gamer is going to start shopping smart tomorrow and only paying full price when they strongly support a developer/genre, but I’d like to think at some point it’s going to matter, and if so, that’s good news for those of us who enjoy games with strong social (real social, not Sims Social) mechanics and true community-first design.


Forbes hates accessibility

October 11, 2011

Not that this Forbes article is saying anything we don’t already know, but I find it somewhat funny to read about anti-accessibility from such a source. It’s also amusing how close the issues in FPS-land mirror those of the MMO genre. A game is better when it’s based on working with others for bigger goals, yet what sells is solo-hero, simple, short-term objectives that appeal to Xbox kids.

Now one might ask “what happens when the Xbox kids grow up?”

I don’t think they will. I think a lot of those ‘kids’ are middle-aged right now. They just prefer games at a mental level somewhere around grade school. Maybe it’s because they are just that casual. Maybe gaming is ‘brain off’ time for them. Or maybe the difference between ‘brain off’ and ‘brain on’ is negligible. Whatever the reason, I don’t see the average gamer ‘growing up’ and flooding smarter, more niche titles, be they FPS’ers or MMOs.

In other ‘brain off’ news, you know Blizzard has stopped monitoring the interns running WoW when they can’t even copy/paste PLEX correctly into their game. I get that most of the stuff CCP is doing is “impossible” for Blizzard, but PLEX? One would think allowing one group of players to fund the subs of another group would be of interest to a game bleeding so rapidly.


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