DF:UW – Fresh ideas!

October 9, 2014

Watching Darkfall from afar has been entertaining, if tragically so.

First the game just finished it’s first elections for a player council, and it went about as well as you would expect from that fine collection of humanity. Among the highlight from all 390 votes casts: One player had votes removed after he was caught blatantly cheating the vote (this player was previously added to the MVP forums by AV, shortly after that sub-forum become completely useless. AV still can’t add 1+1, but more on that later).

Everyone’s favorite ragemonkey got elected, paving the way for crafting unicorn hunts and fluff-barrel suggestions (oh and he is, yet again, currently banned on the forums; see ragemonkey part), as did the main voice behind the population-crushing ‘jesus patch’ of removing classes, who is now a champion of the economy (guy is really on the cutting edge, but more on THAT shortly).

I legit feel bad for Kasmos, who will have to deal with it all as chairman. If he survives the upcoming three months without putting a bullet in his head, I’d consider that a major success.

AV has also posted an update on things they say they will do (but 90% odds say they won’t fully follow through with). The focus? Why the economy of course. This is my favorite line from the update:

For us, as well as the community from what we see, a functional economy is the stepping stone for a proper sandbox, so our attention is focused on it from the beginning of October and for the next development cycles.

99% sure that bolded part was copy/pasted from my first post in the MVP forum about a year ago (if not longer). Imagine if that had been their focus back then? People might still be playing the damn game! Sadly the entire focus post misses the one critical aspect of an economy actually working (sustainability), and instead has AV wasting yet more development resources on band-aids by just throwing in more new materials and raising the iLvl of gear. One might ask when will they learn, but the safe bet here is on ‘never’. The response to this announced future waste of time? Full community support, of course, because clearly the WoW method of econ balance is a better path to take than, oh I don’t know, following the example of an MMO that actually has a working economy.

The sub-genre of fantasy sandbox titles really is a crazy place. You have Trion doing its best to screw up AA, you have AV sitting on a potential golden goose and just time after time ‘listening to the community’ and burying the game, and you have kickstarter after kickstarter showing everyone that there is demand for someone, ANYONE, to get it right and profit, but nope, no one seems to want money so they all just screw one thing up after another. When freaking Mortal Online is one of the better options out right now, you know we have a serious problem.


Subtraction by addition

September 3, 2014

One of the lazier strawmen in MMO blogging land is to dismiss the success of an older MMO by stating that fewer people play it today. I’m sure you have read some version of “If UO did so many things right, why aren’t more people playing it today?” on one blog or another. The overall ‘why’ is a pretty complex topic that I won’t fully get into today, but what I do want to talk about is the fact that MMOs can get worse.

Time is one factor. As the months and years go by, a game ages. Visuals that at release looked great might not be so hot anymore. A feature that was special at release might be common in most games a few years later. You don’t have the newest, hottest feature. Etc, etc.

All of the above however doesn’t have to happen in an MMO. You can upgrade your visuals. You can patch in new features. You can introduce whatever the newest technology trend is (super servers for example). Just because WoW today looks like a game from 2005, or EQ2 looks like something from 1999, doesn’t mean that’s just how things go. EVE today looks like a game released in 2014, and its technical backend is still miles ahead of everyone else. UO did an engine update. So did DDO. Plenty of other examples exist. That’s a major selling point of the genre after all; you aren’t just buying a game as-is today, you are buying into a service that will evolve and improve as time goes on.

Yet while the intent of every update is to make an MMO better, not all do so. Of course famous examples like UO’s Trammel, SWG’s NGE, or DoAC’s ToA are well known and deservedly hated, but all MMOs have had some update that has driven someone away. Now most updates are positive, but even if a change brings or retains more people than it drives away, someone somewhere is going to hate that you did X instead of Y.

And sometimes an MMO does just get worse due to updates. How many half-decent MMOs have become complete dreck because of a F2P switch? Remember when LotRO was all about staying true to the lore, or when loading screens weren’t an opportunity to spam with you a cash-shop ad? When EVE forced you into the captains quarters? Etc, etc.

So yes, even if I did love what UO was in 97, that doesn’t mean that the 2014 version with elves, ninjas, and god knows what else is a game I want to play. Due to updates, the passing of time, and a multitude of other factors, in 2014 I’m not playing UO. That doesn’t change the fact that 1997 UO did a lot of things better than MMOs today, including 2014 UO, and that today’s devs could still learn a lot from it, or other once-successful MMOs.

And hopefully, they learn the right lessons, and make the right update, to actually make there MMO better with each update. Seems to be a rare thing these days.


DF:UW – Being right isn’t always fun

August 28, 2014

One of the better inside jokes around here is the concept of a ‘Jesus patch’, because all too often the fools tossing that term around are talking about an MMO that has either shut down or is a shell of itself. One of the best/worst example of this is/was Darkfall 1. To this day you will find forumfallers who will tell you patch X was a ‘jesus patch’ for that game and caused a ‘surge’ in population. It’s comical, and also a bit sad.

So how is DF:UW doing post ‘jesus patch’ (released 6/10/14)? Woops. I believe the term ‘off a cliff’ would be accurate?

And to make things about a million times worst, that pre-patch population spike was due to the stacking of a Steam sale, the introduction of a buddy key system, a ‘welcome back’ weekend, a PLEX-like system addition, and a bit later multiple “breaking the economy long-term for short-term gain” massive loot buff weekends, plus AV was on its best behavior in terms of communication (overrated) and patching speed (pretty important).

In other words, AV basically fired every bullet in the gun all at once, got a good number of people into the game for the first time in a long time, that crowd saw what the ‘jesus patch’ was really about, and basically everyone and then some left. Even Forumfall moves along at a crawl now, to the point that keeping up with it can be done in 30 minutes or less per week.

To save the game (if that’s even possible at this point), AV needs to pull what CCP did with Incarna, basically roll back the giant mistake that was the removal of classes, forget that ever happened, and return to what, despite being implemented half-assed, was giving them a slowly growing population; getting the economy under control and focusing on producing sustainable content that fit the theme of the virtual world they originally set out to create. They won’t do it unfortunately. At this point they are too far down the rabbit hole that is the current, oversized arena PvP-for-the-sake-of-PvP disaster that the game has become.

Again, its sad, even from the outside glancing back in.


Sandbox end-game: Why keep playing long-term?

July 21, 2014

Let’s talk PvP sandbox MMO end-game today.

One of my outstanding questions from the whole Warhammer Online saga is in a perfect world, what was the end-game for that MMO? I mean we know it was to raid the other faction’s capital city and sack it, but was that it? If it was, in that perfect world, how many times could the players repeat that activity before getting bored? And if there was something greater, did Mark Jacobs or anyone from Mythic ever talk about it?

Darkfall has a similar problem, where the end-game is territory control, but due to a broken economy and the overall trivial nature of acquiring gear, no one really needs or desperately wants holdings, and the fights that result over them are thinly disguised “fights for the sake of fighting”. The criticism that the game is an awkward oversized arena stems from this general lack of greater purpose.

Finally EVE, as usual, is the best example in the genre in terms of end-game, as null-sec has value and giant organizations via to control it. The current ‘crisis’ is that 2-3 groups control it too well, and the barrier of entry for anyone outside of those 2-3 groups is practically impossible to overcome (short of those established groups imploding and creating a vacuum of power). EVE also benefits here because it has other end-games, though most revolve around the acquisition and use of money.

End-game is one of the issues I thought about when writing up my PvE Sandbox posts, and my solution is rather than relying on the players to create ‘content’ by fighting each other, the game world itself would drive players into action by having mobs attacking their holdings, and for the world overall to be in flux based on player actions and success. This would be further sustainable with AI tweaks or mob changes; whenever the players would get too comfortable with the challenges facing them, whenever they got too good at fighting back the mobs, the devs could step in and alter things to keep it interesting.

Looking forward to some future MMOs like Camelot Unchained and Pathfinder, what are the true end-games for those titles? Both have territory control mechanics, but will they have the depth and detail of EVE to avoid the problems currently facing Darkfall’s end-game? Will either bring something new, interesting, and sustainable to the table to keep players happily playing/paying?


Re-confirmed: I’m kind of a big deal

July 9, 2014

Knowing how many ‘real people’ readers a blog has, much less how much influence a writer has on his readers, is almost impossible to tell. WordPress provides view/visitor statistics of course, but based on personal experience those numbers aren’t 100% accurate (or even close, really). Not only that, but at this point I’m not even sure if they are inaccurately inflated or under-reported for this blog, as a few recent events have hinted at.

Let’s take a step back; as anyone who reads this blog has noticed, post volume is down, mostly because the MMO genre is in the toilet right now and this being an MMO blog, that has an impact. And it goes deeper than just the current crop of MMOs being meh-to-terrible; they also bring nothing new to the table, which further makes it difficult to break things down and write a blog post. For all its failings, at least Warhammer Online brought new ideas, and had a dev team behind it giving us plenty of fodder. It ultimately didn’t work out for Mythic, but it was blogging gold.

In addition to needing a good MMO to play, I’d also like another WAR in terms of blog fodder please.

From a pure “looking at my numbers” perspective, the shutting down of Google reader was noticeable, and my WordPress stats page reflects this. To a lesser extent, VirginWorlds no longer picking up my blog (along with no longer really working overall) hurt. Jester not blogging has an impact as well. But again, while the raw numbers are down, how many ‘real people’ readers have stopped coming here is tough to tell. I’d like to think that if you are a real person, and you enjoy reading this blog, the shutting down of a reader, or another blog no longer updating, isn’t going to instantly stop you from figuring out how to keep reading this blog, right?

Number of comments is another indicator, but again it gets tricky. I mean, I’m pretty sure I could write a comment-bait post tomorrow (spoiler-alert) and get north of 30 comments. If the comment-bait is really good, and gets picked up by some larger sites, 50+ comments would happen. Get a good comment-section flame-war going, and 100+ is ‘achieved’. But what does 30, 50, or even 100 comments mean, especially when they were somewhat baited or 80% of them are off-topic flames? Does a post getting one person to comment mean that post sucked and this blog is dead/dying, or did thousands of people read it, enjoy it, and just have nothing to add so they didn’t comment? These are the kinds of questions that keep me up at night (not really).

Let’s return to those recent events I mentioned in the first paragraph. The first is my Clash of Clans… clan. Those posts didn’t get a lot of comments, and traffic was normal, so it would be easy to assume not many found them all that interesting or were ‘influenced’ by them. Yet today, I think I’ve had 10+ people join the clan (“Supreme Cream!”, still time to join and we are building something pretty solid), many of them new players to the game who picked it up due to this blog. How many others at least tried the game due to those posts and just didn’t enjoy it? How many are playing, just slowly, so they haven’t joined the clan yet (or joined someone else because they are jerks like that)?

The second example is Risen, another post with very few comments, and Steam. On Steam my friends list has grown tremendously due to mentioning my screen name (Syncaine) on this blog and asking people for Steam cards (feel free to send some), which has resulted in getting a better feel for what “the people” are doing on Steam thanks to the “Activity” section.

As mentioned Risen was on sale recently due to the pre-order coming up for Risen 3, and thanks to the “Activity” tab I noticed a bunch of people picked the Risen 1+2 bundle up. Now I don’t know how many of those buys are due to this blog and how many of them would have happened anyway, but I’d bet at least SOME are blog-based, which is pretty cool and says something about influence.

Lastly, and the example with by far the most data, was my time blogging about Darkfall 1 and including the Community Publishing Program link/mention in every post. The CPP was basically a referral system that paid me 20% (I think?) of the initial purchase made using my link, so when AV was running a promo for the game+6months for $100, I got $20 per person who bought that bundle. I wish I had gotten 20% of all future sub fees, if only to track how long people stuck with the game, but sadly it didn’t work that way.

Through the CPP I got credited with hundreds of purchases (and I know for a fact I didn’t get credit with all purchases made due to technical issues sometimes), and AV would later confirm that I was by far the most successful CPP user. This blog, literally, made AV thousands (if not tens of thousands) of dollars, and unlike Clash of Clans that rakes in millions daily, for AV my contribution was actually very noticeable to the company overall. More importantly to me however was seeing confirmation that this blog was influencing people to the point of spending real money on something they would have otherwise passed on.

Examples like the above making writing the blog easier, because it confirms ‘real people’ are reading and not every view is some spam-bot finding its way here thanks to Google. This blog’s main purpose is to entertain #1 (me), but that can’t happen without all of the little people (you) showing up, so thank you dear reader, and keep dancing on those strings (and sending Steam cards).


Spoiler Alert

June 24, 2014

Since I’ve gotten a bunch of emails about the previous post, might as well let everyone else in on our little game.

Yes, the exact wording of the title was intentional.

Yes, I am aware of the page rank and how that post comes up on Google.

Yes, the content was structured that way intentionally between the first two paragraphs.

Did I expect the first few comments to go the way they did? To some extent, yes, but not nearly as well as they ended up. Guess I shouldn’t really underestimate the predictability of Forumfall.

NBI tip: Casual readers who google for info about a topic or game will read the first paragraph or two of a post, then skip down to read the first few comments.

This blog giveth, and it taketh away. But at the end of the day I always win, because I’m always entertained. Dance monkeys, dance.

#DF:UW


Darkfall: Unholy Wars going F2P and other problems sink it

June 20, 2014

Darkfall and I have had an interesting history (the fact that I heard about the first game from Tobold entertains me to this day), and unfortunately I think this post marks the final chapter. The game is going in multiple directions that don’t appeal to me, the community has lost those who make the game worth playing overall, and comical developer incompetence and corruption was the final little push I needed to finally move on.

Let’s start with the game itself. Recently a cash shop was added, which sets the stage for the game’s F2P conversion coming ‘soon’ (it’s already F2P in Asia). I was asked here a while back if I would continue to support DF even if it went F2P, and at the time I said I would not. This is made all the easier since buying more than just fluff is already in the shop. You can pay AV $5 for a prowess (XP) reset, which is pretty ‘convenient’ when you have a game in constant flux due to a massive combat overhaul and general developer indecision about balance and the direction of the game. How many times will someone accept their current build being nerfed into the ground and told they can fix it for just $5 before they get fed up?

Plus how many times have MMO players heard the song and dance from developers about not selling power when F2P is announced, and a few months later the cash shop is offering you the One Ring? When things get dire, devs get desperate, and DF:UW’s core issues persist to this day.

And what are those core issues? The main one is the game is still an oversized arena PvP game, rather than an MMO. There is no reason to PvP other than for the sake of PvP, and this is reflected in the quality of the playerbase. Where games like EVE have people like The Mittani creating content for tens of thousands of players, those key people have long since left Darkfall, and in their place stand directionless ‘leaders’ providing little if any content. Even DF1 was able to initially attract some of these valuable players (Manus, Glut, Osium, etc), which is what kept that game’s meta interesting for the first two years or so. But as they saw the state of DF:UW’s beta, and the general design flaws of the game, they never even bothered showing up on day one. Inq to this day mocks me about trying to get them to give the game another shot.

The above is also why DF:UW gets laughable indifference from so many EVE players. My alliance would always wonder what I see in a game with no long-term plan, goal, or point, and admittedly I look a bit foolish now with my “they are working on that guys!” enthusiasm, because nope, they really aren’t. So why grind up to play in an arena when you can play a better version of exactly that in games like Chivalry or even your MOBA of choice. At least those games understand what they are, rather than awkwardly pretending to be something they clearly are not capable of delivering.

A more recent core problem has been the combat overhaul. To say it’s a surprising disaster would be unfair, because if you didn’t see it being a disaster pre-release you must be painfully blind. Imagine if CCP, in the name of ‘player freedom’, allowed any ship to fit a doomsday on it, and the balance explanation provided was that since everyone can use it, it’s balanced. That’s what AV did with DF:UW recently. I wish I was joking, but I’m not. They took armor, weapons, and skills all previously designed and balanced around fitting into classes, and just removed the concept of classes without the overhaul to everything needed to make it work. At least in DF1, which had the same ‘everyone can be everything’ system, balance was attempted with that in mind since day one. It was bad, but not “lulz doomsday spam” bad.

The result is not just the expected FOTM lameness that happens in every MMO with such a system that has poor checks and balances, but that combat overall is a cheesefest of who can come up with the cheapest AoE/CC combo to drop people with because nothing was designed with this system in mind. Imagine DAoC roaming 8s cheese but turned up to 11, and that’s DF:UW. The only reason the abuse isn’t nearly as bad as you might expect right now is because of the above point; the playerbase doesn’t have the top-tier talent to create the best builds quickly, but those who remain will eventually get there.

The above are further hurt by the still woefully pointless economy, made more comical by F2P-forbearing gimmicks such as double loot weekends. Having a ‘full bank’ in DF:UW is trivial, and once that happens, it’s just another brick stacked on top of the directionless mess that the game is overall. Again, imagine playing EVE with limitless ISK and you get a good idea of what DF:UW offers once you grind it out for a month or so.

The final and minor side note is how AV handles their community. The most toxic members are left unchecked, especially in-game, where global chat will drive away anyone who has evolved beyond 8th grade gym humor and the lowest of internet meme trash. On the forums the moderation team is all over the place, at times deleting an entire and often valuable thread due to one post, while at other times leaving a cesspool up no matter how low it gets.

When members of the community would try to work with moderators in a productive manner, the end-result was as likely a temp-ban for the one making the effort as it might be for those destroying it, depending on which moderator you happen to get. Double-speak excuses were put forth when confronted about this regardless of how far someone escalated things, which ultimately resulted in many once-helpful people leaving the game in disgust.

To list just one sad example, the head community manager specifically stated that since they somehow can’t verify the content of personal messages on their own forums (yup…), they won’t take any action for that content. If you ever want a place to throw out death threats without consequence, Darkfall is your place. Hell, it already has an Erotica1 clone running rampant, without that pesky CCP getting in the way of those community-building torture sessions.

Even the once-productive MVP forum has so many like-minded people included now that it really serves no purpose, especially since AV has stopped sharing key details and instead are now just throwing out pie-in-the-sky ideas (alignment system, one-off quests, etc) without following up. Even small, silly things like there recent survey, with all its mistakes, could have easily been improved with some feedback, but they don’t use the resources available to them for whatever reason.

Much like Shadowbane and other PvP focused MMOs that have come before it, I think future developers can learn a thing or two from this experiment, and hopefully MMOs like Pathfinder take some of these lessons to heart to become successful titles. This was a good run, with at least as many highs as lows, but with F2P lurking and things overall not improving (the number of bugs and exploits in the game right now is almost back-to-beta bad), it’s time to put DF:UW down.

#DF:UW #F2P


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