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.


SOE: All of the great MMOs are F2P, like…?

April 3, 2014

Dave “Doctor Creepy” Georgeson, fresh of his “MMOs should live on forever, so we are shutting down four SOE MMOs!” declaration, is back trying to cram more foot into his mouth, this time trying to defend the minor league MMO model; F2P. It goes about as well has FreeRealms went.

“I think that free-to-play is the way that gamers should want their MMOs to be, and the reason I think that is that if we don’t do a really good job and we don’t entertain the player, we don’t make a dime.

If the above was actually true, it would be a good point. Unfortunately, like anyone who has ever played a F2P MMO knows, that model isn’t about entertaining you; it’s about reminding you to visit the cash shop, over, and over, and over again. It’s about putting up a “Go Gold!” message during combat ala EQ2. Because when I think of ‘make the game better’, the first thing I jump to is more ad spam during my MMO combat.

“We’re effectively street performers: we go out there and sing and dance and if we do a good job, people throw coins into the hat. And I think that’s the way games should be, because paying $60 up front to take a gamble on whether the game is good or not? You don’t get that money back.”

Says the man peddling $100 alpha tickets to a minecraft clone. Can’t wait for the ‘deal’ SOE gives everyone for EQN. Something tells me ‘free’ isn’t going to be the ‘best’ option.

“So if you buy a turkey, you’ve just wasted your money. With free-to-play you get to go in, take a look at it and find out. It’s entirely our responsibility to make sure you’re entertained. That’s the way things should be in my opinion with free-to-play.”

I like the suggestion here that for F2P to work, it’s about making the best possible game and not about making the best possible cash shop delivery vehicle. Like yea Dave, just make an amazing MMO (a first for SOE), make it free, and then put your hat out and see if you catch a few coins. That is not only completely viable, but also totally what you and SOE have been doing over the years. 100%.

This is yet again a great example of what F2P really is; a con. Dave here has to lie and twist to sell the model, because the model ISN’T about making the best possible game and believing that people will see value in it. If SOE had that type of product, they would use the model successful MMOs stick with, and MMOs that thought they would be successful launch with, the sub model.

But much like FreeRealms and the rest of the closed or fledging offerings the one-hit-wonder SOE has, they are all sub-par imitations or ‘me too’ titles, and for that quality level F2P is the model you go with, because under that model you still can dupe a few people out of a few coins while they aren’t looking, and hopefully get a few whale-sized suckers to make giant mistakes.

SOE – Makng bad games, but provide A+ blog fodder.

#SOE #F2P


SOE being SOE, take 9431

January 7, 2014

Jenks at TAGN about SOE’s latest bout with logic:

Wait.

They are going to give you the 500 spacebucks, but only if you log in…
So we can we reasonably conclude that there are people who forgot to cancel their SOE subs, who are paying $20/15 a month and not playing anything, who are in return getting 500 spacebucks, and SOE needs to fix that situation? Are they fucking kidding? That’s the problem they need to fix? People accidentally paying them $15 a month and using zero of their resources, are going to decide to play EQ2 and be able to buy some stupid tiger mount and an xp boost and pink hair? They’ll be deprived of all that revenue, ignoring the $15/mo they’ve been basically stealing from people no longer using their service?

Am I missing something here? That’s seriously the problem?

100% agree, and this is all so SOE it hurts.


MMO Future: Understanding old memories

October 31, 2013

Almost all of the original MMOs worked. UO, EQ1, AC1, DAoC; all of those games had solid populations and growth in their prime. In contrast, most of the recent MMOs (AoC, WAR, LotR, SW:TOR, Aion, Rift, etc) have not. Either they are getting shut down, closing servers, or in the F2P minor leagues. Based on this, it’s easy to see why many players are interesting in returning to ‘the good old days’, while others are dismissing those feelings as a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience that can’t be reproduced and only happened because of the time, not so much the games themselves.

As with most topics the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but I do want to address why those older games worked as MMOs, and dispel a few misconceptions about ‘the good old days’.

First and foremost, all four of the games listed above worked because they had content for months if not years, rather than weeks. You can say it was a long character grind, or punishing mechanics, or archaic systems, but at the end of the day the fact remains that to ‘max out’ in those games it simply took far longer than in a game like SW:TOR or WAR, and when your business model is based on keeping people subscribed and playing, that’s pretty damn important.

Another factor to consider here is that we are not talking a few months or even the first year when talking about the original four peaking; they all did it later (And of course, we are still seeing EVE ‘peak’ yearly). This is important because it dispels a myth that leads to the often-repeated mistake of cutting your current game short to allow everyone to catch up and ‘get to the good stuff’, which is usually the latest expansion or added end-game content. Today we are so worried about a new player getting stuck in the old stuff, that we completely forget the fact that if the content is good, having more of it is a bonus, not a penalty.

WoW today has a stupidly-fast leveling curve, so fast in fact that you simply can’t complete all of a zone before out-leveling it. Is that really a strength of the game; zipping you to the end-game? Or would WoW today fare better with a much longer/slower leveling curve, one that allowed players to finish a zone without have to trick the XP system? Was WoW ‘broken’ in 2004 with its slower pace? Was everyone dying to get to the ‘good stuff’ of raiding Molten Core? The numbers most certainly don’t support that theory.

Player burnout is happening faster today than before. Is it because many of us are MMO vets now and are just not entertained as long by the same stuff, or is it also a factor that many of the games we play force burnout by zipping us along at a breakneck pace? It’s hard to state “man, I wish I was gaining XP slower!”, but at the same time, are you really dying to get passed the leveling and progression aspects of early life in an MMO? To put it another way, when you recall the more fun moments of a typical MMO (especially a themepark), are those memories all at the end-game, or did you enjoy the ride as much if not more than the destination (spoiler: in most MMOs the destination sucks, which is why you quit).

A related item I want to address is the memories older MMO players have of the early days, such as camping a spawn for hours or running the same content an insane amount of time for a single item. It’s common to see someone state they would never do that again, and hence the older approach to making an MMO simply wouldn’t work today.

First, when players talk about those times, it’s important to understand that such extremes are memorable because they were and are extremes; the average day for an EQ1 players was NOT spent sitting at one spawn waiting for a specific iem, just like the average day for a DAoC player was not a 5 hour relic raid. A UO player’s average day was not breaking into a house, or getting ganked with half your items at the Brit bank. Today massive battles in EVE are news-worth because they don’t happen daily, record breaking thefts make the front pages because, well, they just broke a record in a game with 10+ years of history.

That said, let’s make no mistakes about it, the above are very important to those games; many are the catalysts that inspire others to start playing or to play more/differently. When they go well, they are the highs that make the day-to-day stuff worthwhile, and even when they go wrong, they leave an impression. Keeping everything vanilla is safe, but safe doesn’t inspire year after year of loyalty and excitement; it gets you a 3 week run that is entirely forgettable.

That’s not to suggest you can simply copy/paste 1997 UO, release it with updated graphics, and profit. Changes to the formula are needed, but outright abandoning the core is clearly not working. So when MMO fans talk about bringing back the ‘good old days’, it’s not because they want everyone to sit around a mob spawn for 12 hours daily, or because they would love to play a game where they lose everything at the bank all the time. In addition to a lot of basic concepts I’ll cover in a future post, they want the possibility of something memorable happening, because without those standout moments, your MMO is just another game to check out for a brief period of time, and that is NOT what an MMO is all about.


Rift closing in China, Death accountability.

September 18, 2013

Things are not looking so hot over in Rift-land, including the upcoming closing of Rift China. The mighty MMO 3.0 seems to be falling, and falling fast. I can’t do a real comprehensive “why” analysis because I’ve not played the game since the 1.2 (‘accessibility’) patch, but even from an outside perspective it’s an interesting story. Is Rift a bad themepark? Is it mismanaged? Or is it a reflection of the changing genre?

I have a hard time believing Rift is bad, even today. The game was solid in beta, got a bit worse for release, and 1.2 happened, but even after that there was a lot of room between Rift and ‘bad’. TAGN has had a few posts about it and from those it sounds like the game is still basically the same, just with more stuff now, so I’m going to assume ‘bad’ is not the reason.

Is it mismanaged? Maybe, and I only say that because lots of other blah MMOs are still up and running, so why can’t Rift seem to keep it together? In a world where EQ2 and LotRO are still alive, let alone the countless nameless straight-to-F2P trash heaps, Rift should be able to keep the servers up.

A reflection of the changing genre? Man I hope so.

The genre’s roots are in part based on taking a single-player game experience (Ultima) and removing the single-player limiters and just letting players live in that world (Ultima Online). EQ1 started the ‘shared single player experience’, but it was so rough and extended that it worked (and compared to themeparks today, it was a ‘sandbox’, as ridiculous as that actually is). WoW cleaned things up a bit, but still had enough ‘world’ to keep going for a few years. At some point the interns at Blizzard took over and we got WotLK, phasing, and the full-forced introduction of the sRPG on a server.

As game development operates under a delay, even after WoW started to falter we still say WoW-clone after WoW-clone, with many cloning the now failing version. WoW made this harder to see for some due to its monstrous size and pop-culture snowball effect. For a bit, even as the churn was extreme, the number of players coming in was able to keep up with the flood of players going out. It was a uniquely WoW situation, like many are/were.

Rift, especially post-release and with 1.2, was cloning the failed version of WoW. More focus on the sRPG aspects, and a heavy limiting of ‘world’ aspects. Again, I don’t think it’s purely a ‘bad game’ issue, but it’s not doing itself any favors either. What I think is a bigger factor is players, even themepark fans, are growing tired of the online sRPG.

Let me clarify that actually; I think the average MMO fan is finally, FINALLY figuring the themepark formula out, and while they still enjoy the quick burst of Online sRPG content, they are not sticking around for long after the best parts are consumed. At the same time, those best parts (heavy story-based solo content) are non-repeatable and too time-consuming for devs to produce more of at a reasonable pace.

The end result; a lot of dev time/money spent to produce something expected to last, and all of it consumed in a month or three, with the devs left holding a rather large bill and no further revenue coming in. The death march is sometimes delayed by F2P-switch trickery, but as we are seeing, that fad is nothing more than a simple delay of the inevitable, and much like the Online sRPG itself, its being figured out faster and faster with each title.

There are a few important things to understand here. One is that the MMO market is indeed a niche, and not only that, but each title should be a niche within that niche. There are groups of players looking for certain games, and they will play them for long-enough to justify a reasonable investment. Just don’t expect WoW, or even EQ1 numbers, and you will be fine so long as you deliver what the niche is looking for.

Along with that, if your model relies on keeping people around for months and months, your content, and far more importantly, your content delivery plan should reflect that. Unless you have a magic voice-over production factory that costs you nothing, it’s not too smart to base your game around that extremely costly gimmick, now is it?

So while the news is bad for Rift, I think the underlying story is positive for the genre.

In totally unrelated news (ha), I’ve joined up with Sinister in Darkfall after the post-Proxy plan did not really work out. Our alliance (Death), has recently won a war against NOX, and an excellent video recap of the war can be found here. Worth watching IMO.


Shocking news; F2P is dead

August 21, 2013

Well that didn’t last long, huh? Wish someone had called F2P a fad, that would have been pretty insightful of them.

Am I happy that the F2P plague is dying? Of course.

Will F2P still exist in some capacity? Yes. Games like LoL that do F2P right will continue being successful, and lesser MMOs that have no choice like SW:TOR will continue to sell you hotbars until shutdown, but finally the genre is returning to the model that makes sense for players AND dev of good MMOs.

Now does this make WildStar, FF 14, or TESO good MMOs automatically? Of course not, but it helps in that at least the devs don’t have to carry the design burden of F2P.

And let’s not kid ourselves; F2P is indeed a dev burden. Do you think the devs behind SW:TOR think their game is better thanks to hotbar limits, or XP gain rates that have been drastically reduced? Is LotRO a better game now that it spams you to buy something every 5 seconds? Is there ‘design brilliance’ for creating yet another gaudy set of wings in EQ2? Of course not; but the F2P model drives what you create, and in order to sell crap in the store, the game has to ‘nudge’ you towards it. Great content without a hook into the cash shop is a ‘wasted opportunity’.

F2P fans have commented that a sub-model has built-in grind to keep you subbed. No shit. Oh the horror, a game I enjoy is designed to keep me playing. Because what happens when ‘the grind’ is no longer fun? You quit, and the sub model doesn’t work if you quit, so simply going SW:TOR on your MMO and gimping everyone’s XP gains is not a successful way to run your sub-based MMO.

The only semi-legit knock on the sub model is that it doesn’t allow you to play a dozen MMOs at the same time, and I’m 100% fine with all of those people not playing my MMO. There is nothing worse than a once-a-week playing in your guild, and your game doesn’t develop the kind of community that makes an MMO special with those people.

If that means you ‘only’ have 500k subscribers, so be it. It’s not like anyone has reach WoW peak numbers with F2P or the sub model, so one is not more ‘mainstream’ or successful than the other. A million free accounts are worth less than one paying account, as I’m sure some devs are learning the hard way.

Who knows, maybe in a year or two some devs will start talking about the importance of retention again, or how they have a plan longer than three months for players. The more things change…


EQN: The next big AAA disaster

August 5, 2013

In case you don’t want to sit through the EQNext showing, here are the cliff notes:

“If someone should do it, it should be EverQuest. Again” (UO…)

Lighting

Lighting

Lighting

Lighting

Adventure

Lighting

Lighting

How do you like it? :mild applause:

Lighting

Hyper linear paths with specific animation events, insert buzzword: “ parkour ”

:Summing up the GW2 character system as something new. Classes with weapons = abilities, zzz:

Destroying pre-set levels in pre-set scenarios

Grail 3: the UO living ecosystem (maybe this one will make it out of beta?) “You will be making change!” read: players will butcher everything until it all stops spawning and the system is removed.

Grail 4: Public quests, now stretched out for 2-3 months. (side-note: guy almost slips up and says your alt could repeat the content if you make the same choices. Sorta goes on to correct himself)

Jazzed.

Talks about Everquest Next Minecraft – a world of penises (at least until devs start deleting them)

More talk about having the players create content for the devs

(Final note: Do SOE fans just not know when to clap, or was the presentation just not all that… jazzy? Awkward silence city.)

One has to wonder what SOE scraped prior to going with what they showed. Game must have been nightmare fuel. Terror wondering aside, what they showed was… something. I almost typed ‘meh’ but that best describes the latest Elder Scrolls Online gameplay video (Short summary: watered down ES gameplay + some MMO aspects = generic game with ES skin on top). What SOE showed was really more classic SOE; delusion and a misguided sense of greatness from the studio that is still living off its one hit title (EQ1).

First, EQN looks EXACTLY like Kingdoms of Amalur / Copernicus graphically, which is nice; at least all that work found a home. It still looks like a knockoff Disney movie, but I’m sure the kids will find that appealing. Plus anything is an upgrade over EQ2, by far the ugliest MMO ever.

As the cliff notes above point out, a lot of what was presented has already been done/tried. We know what happens when you allow players to full shape the world; the goons create a rain of penises (Second Life). We know what happens when mobs move around based on player actions; everything is farmed to extinction (UO beta). We know what happens when you sell the concept of a dynamic changing world without it actually changing long-term (GW2).

Now, can SOE take all of the above and make it work? Sure. Will they? Of course not, otherwise they would not be SOE. I mean, we are talking about the same people who included the ultra-lame “Do not stand in the red box” boss crap in their “we are awesome and totally new” trailer.

EQN will go in one of two directions IMO; it will either be somewhat close to DDO in terms of very linear ‘levels’, which will allow for solo or small groups to fully see the destruction, changes, and make it easier to hard-code all of the parkour bits. I think honestly that’s best-case for EQN; it won’t be the big bad sandbox SOE is trying to hype, but it could be a game that ‘works’ well enough for those looking for something like that.

The other direction is a fully open world that changes like GW2 changes; short-term and on a very noticeable and gameable loop, plus dev-driven updates that herd players from one content ‘hotspot’ to the next every few weeks/months.

This is the far more ambitious direction, and the one that will lead SOE to far more issues and broken gameplay than anything else. The presentation and ideas live in an ideal state; the reality of an MMO is you must always assume the players operate under a worst-case scenario. The dream is players will build great-looking castles that add to the landscape; the reality is players will blow the entire world up because they can and rebuild it as a giant penis. The presentation was very much a dream. If the game is also built around these dream-state expectations, hilarious disaster will follow.

Beyond that, nothing shown moves the genre in a good direction. Even if the parkour is amazing and works exactly like the dream-state sells, was anyone asking for that? Will it add anything to the genre besides a few new animations? Was the class/weapons/skills bit anything new, or even a side-step above the norm? The system is pretty meh in GW2, and THAT was a step back from GW1, so what exactly is SOE selling here? I’ve covered the destructible terrain already; that’s lose/lose for SOE. Give players true freedom, and they will bury you. Restrict it enough to keep the bad stuff out, and you likely restrict it to the point of non-factor.

The hardest part of making a sandbox is balancing the freedom you give to the players with creating an environment that is still enjoyable on a large-scale. Nothing that SOE showed suggests they get it, or have a good answer to any of the issues that come with such a design direction.


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