EVE: Day one lessons not learned for 11 years

May 9, 2014

There are easily dozens of “How to make an MMO” design lessons in this combat report from TAGN, but clearly the biggest one is that in EVE, a new player is able to not only see advanced content, but meaningfully contribute to it. It has been stated many times, but if you actually break it down, it’s rather remarkable how unique that is to EVE, and what a black mark it is on other MMOs that something similar can’t happen.

Let’s start with some basic stuff. The biggest hurdle the new player got over prior to this was the social one; he was already in a major group that not only accepted him, but also is smart enough to understand that new players are very important and showing them what the game is all about is critical for the Corp’s (and by extension, the game’s) growth. The mechanics of the game make it easier for the Corp to have such a program, and to allow newer players to jump in, but without that initial social connection the new player won’t be about to jump in and see such content so quickly.

EVE does a good job here because the mechanics don’t punish the new player OR the group he joins when they bring him along. In fact, ‘bring him along’ is actually understating the situation, because he isn’t just allowed to come along and view what is happening, he is able to meaningfully contribute. That isn’t the case if the group was raiding, doing set-number PvP, or any content that scales for the number of players. Think about your current MMO; how many of the above pitfalls does it feature?

The true beauty of EVE is that while it allows that new player to jump right in, it ALSO highly motivates him to also keep ‘growing’. He is in a tackle ship on day one, but he saw battleships that are still months away in terms of training and needing the ISK to buy one. Even further out, he saw a Titan, which realistically he is likely YEARS away from flying. The real key however is that while he sees the carrot, and the carrot in some cases is VERY far away, the game doesn’t make him feel useless or a burden until he has progressed. Again, look at the MMO you are playing today, and consider how many barriers the game has placed in front of a new player prior to them reaching any kind of ‘end-game’ content. How much of its other content is FORCED onto a player before giving them access to something else.

What continues to blow my mind about the MMO genre, in a very depressing way, is that the blueprint that is EVE has been around now for 11 successful years. It might be rocket science (see what I did there?), but CCP has done the heavy lifting for the industry. Is everyone else so truly inept that not only can they not figure out what CCP has figured out, but they can’t even copy/paste it well-enough to produce something remotely close to EVE?

#EVE #MMOdesign


EVE: I’m going to put this next to my “History of WoW Empires” book

April 25, 2014

Via TAGN, Kickstater (already funded) for a history of EVE Empires book. Easiest $25 I’ve spent in a while.

 

#EVE


EVE: Space Famous

April 21, 2014

The latest EVE Blog Banter topic is about “space famous” individuals and everyone’s thoughts about them. Jester has his entry here.

The topic reminded me that I had previously talked about the importance of such players, here in more general terms and this post about my personal experience. I still agree with my 2012 self on the topic; the more “MMOish” your game is, the more important and beneficial the ‘space famous’ players are, at least the ones ‘space famous’ because they impact a lot of people, either directly or indirectly.

Side note but not really: It was kind of depressing skimming blog entries from 2012, in that they just had a lot more passion and drive behind them. Sure, more than a few were ‘off the handle’ rants or seemed to focus on laughing at Massively and the comments section, but overall more was happening on the blog itself and clearly in my gaming at that time.

I’ll of course lay some of the blame on the MMO genre. I mean, I’m currently playing one game I fully expect to kill itself with its next major update (DF:UW), and the other is a really fun solo experience with bits of multiplayer that, while entertaining, don’t really ‘fit’ into the game for me just yet (ESO).

On the horizon the only title I’m legitimately excited for is Pathfinder, but having seen so many similar titles not even come close to delivering, I’m not going to be a fool again and jump in head-first here. It would also help if more of the Inquisition core group was looking forward to it, but I don’t believe they are (or it’s not on their radar just yet). Blah…

#EVE #DF:UW #ESO


DF:UW – Ushering in the play to crush era

April 3, 2014

“Play to Crush” was the marketing pitch for Shadowbane (SB), a somewhat short-lived MMO that was based around PvP conquest. The core reason SB died? The players crushed it. Server by server, one alliance would rise to dominance, and that dominance lead to all enemy opposition being crushed either off the server or out of the game. The ‘why’ includes a laundry list of design mistakes and technical issues, but at the heart of it all was the general idea of playing to crush, and the players did just that; they crushed SB until it was gone.

An even larger theme than “Play to Crush” is that the players always seek to ‘win’ a game, even if the road to that victory means removing the fun out of the game itself. More than providing victory conditions, a good designer will seek to ensure that the path to winning is not only fun, but in the case of an MMO, sustainable. Basically, NOT allowing “Play to Crush” to happen.

EVE does a good job of this, at least if you consider the rest of the genre anyway. Some EVE players will tell you CCP sucks in this regard and lets the Goons win because the Goons run CCP, but yea, if you look around the genre EVE has balanced motivating winning without crushing well for the past 10+ years.

AV today publicly posted a preview of the next big patch for the game, which will include the territory system. They unfortunately went with player-based buffs over the suggested area-based system, which IMO leaves many of the real benefits of the system on the table and introduces a potential major “Play to Crush” aspect.

To quickly sum it up, the new system will provide a clan-member (and at a reduced rate, alliance member) a buff to PvE (gold, item, and prowess gain) if they are within the area of a holding they own. The more holdings that they own that are connected, the larger this buff becomes. The main sources of this buff will be cities and hamlets, but villages and the two sea fortresses can also contribute if they are captured and connect to your territory. There is currently no cap on the number of holdings that can factor in and stack here.

If you are the most powerful clan/alliance on the server, you will shortly have no negatives to capture as many connected holdings as possible, while each additional connected holding further widens the gap between your wealth generation efficiency and everyone else’s. On paper, its pure snowball “Play to Crush”.

The one saving grace, ironically thanks to the fact that the DF economy is still poor (everyone is still PvPing in top-end gear, because the added sink from PvP was far too small and AV hasn’t increased it), is that wealth generation isn’t a huge factor in DF:UW. You can’t win a war through economics, because basically everyone has access to everything and nothing is all that costly or difficult to replace.

This of course also reduces the impact of the new territory and buff system, but we all know MMO players don’t need major motivation to go out and crush in the name of winning. Hell, epeen alone is often enough, as made crystal clear by the power of meaningless leaderboards that people love and chase spots on.

Like so many times in its history, AV was on the brink of taking a significant step forward, and instead trips over its own feet. Or in this case, got a significant nudge off the cliff thanks to a subset of the community that supported this flawed version of the system.


DF:UW – This is how you should play in the sandbox

March 27, 2014

The shitstorm that is the Bonus Room controversy continues to rage, and as of now CCP hasn’t made a move. How all of that plays out will be very interesting to watch, but I want to put that aside for right now and talk about a different post from Jester.

The main thing I want to focus is the second-to-last quote, where Destiny talks about the sandbox and the players insisting that everyone play a certain way. Jester and Destiny are talking about EVE here, but I want to apply that to Darkfall.

My likely very biased opinion is that Darkfall is in a make-or-break period right now. AV has made a few solid changes (dura loss from PvP being the main one so far), and their plans for improving the conquest and territory control aspect of the game, if executed correctly, I believe will turn the game around, going from a “PvP for the sake of PvP” oversized arena to, you know, more of a sandbox with sustainable content and reasons for players to do things.

At the same time, there is a minority subset of current, but mostly former players that want AV to focus mostly on changing the combat back towards DF1; allowing for hyper-carries and for the elite to better handle larger groups of lesser players. They are convinced that the total appeal of DF is limited to what it is now, and that rather than attempting to expand that appeal, AV should instead just work on getting the ‘core’ base that loved DF1 back. They seem to ignore that said core wasn’t large enough for AV to keep DF1 going, and instead replaced it with DF:UW, but yea.

My overall take on this has been pretty simple; the only thing the elite actually need in a game like Darkfall is a population (targets), and one of the main things that drove people away from DF1 was said elites going superman on a group of casuals, over and over. League of Legends wouldn’t have the millions of players it has if Riot allowed the top 1% to regularity play ranked games against those far below them. There is a reason LoL exploded while DoTA itself never did; Riot fixed a lot of the core flaws of the game, chief among them the very idea of a hyper-carry (one player deciding the fate of 9 others in a game).

Most gamers are ok losing sometimes, but most won’t put up with getting smashed over and over. LoL controls the smashing, DF1 didn’t. DF:UW does to about the extent it really can. Numbers can help overcome skill, but at the same time an elite group can still run into double their numbers (or more) and win. That balance is in a good spot IMO, but AV has a bad tendency to listen to the Forumfall minority and shoot themselves in the foot.

As I said earlier, I think the game is coming up to a critical turning point moment, but I also have this fear (based on history) that AV will take one major step forward, and a giant leap back.


Too much tolerance

March 25, 2014

Jester has two great posts up today, although about two very different subjects.

The first, and the one I’ll be brief about, is about an example of someone scamming a player in EVE. Typical EVE stuff right? Not exactly, due to the extent of the scam and the intention behind it (extreme grief rather than gain). Now I’ve said here before I don’t feel a lot of pity for such victims. Anyone who hands over all of their stuff for the promise of having it double is looking for a shortcut and hasn’t learned the ‘no free lunch’ lesson in life.

But victim aside, I also don’t understand why companies don’t instantly ban any player in their game who cons people to such lengths. The average market scam? All fine and good; you are separating a fool from his money in a game. But this wasn’t about that, and such players add nothing to your game. EVE isn’t a democracy; CCP can (and should) play god and act. As Jester points out, there is a difference from positive exposure from something like the Guiding Hand Social Club scam, and the negative exposure from something like this. From a business perspective, such a player is costing you more than he is worth, make the correct business decision and remove them.

Moving beyond just this example, it’s never made sense to me why companies are often so reluctant to ban a player. Again, MMOs aren’t a democracy or a court of law, where someone must be proven guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. Ban first, answer questions later. Anyone caught incorrectly can always be credited for the mistake, but unless you have terrible tools to look into such things, most of the time you should be banning someone who did something ban-worthy. Again, the devs are gods in these worlds; they should have access and records of everything and come to the correct conclusion.

A single bad apple costs you countless accounts, and it’s nonsense that companies spend so much time and effort trying to bring in new players, and seemingly so little in removing those who drive those hard-fought accounts away.


My 15

March 24, 2014

Via TAGN, my top 15 influential games.

1: Ultima Online

This is an MMO blog, and UO was the first major MMO as we know them today. It’s also had the Ultima IP, which was huge for me. And as time goes on, and the genre tries to figure itself out, we realize (or are proven ‘right’, depending on your starting point) UO got a lot of things correct compared to future titles. It wasn’t just the first MMO, it was a very well-designed sandbox MMO that had a brilliant virtual world. We need more UOs, but making them has proven to be very difficult.

2: Ultima V

Way back when I played games on a Commodore 64, and Ultima V was my favorite game by a mile. MMOs are a big deal to me today because prior to 1997 and UO, I was (and still am) huge into RPGs, and for me Ultima V remains not only the first, but one of the best games in that genre. Non-linear, party based, great lore, great stories, epic scope, ;living world’, difficult; Ultima V got a lot right IMO.

3: Myth 1 and Myth 2

Cheating a bit going with both of these, but allow me to explain. Myth 1 was an RTS game far ahead of its time (something Bungie has a habit of doing), and I played it relentlessly. Sadly at the time the computer I had couldn’t really run it, so at a certain point online I couldn’t win games playing at 5-10 FPS (no joke). Myth 2 improved most aspects from the first game, and I had a better machine when it came out. I ended up holding the world #1 spot in the game until the first rank reset, which totally should be on my resume if gaming was as cool as sports. Either way being able to say you were the undisputed best at something out of 50k+ people is fun. Me > you.

4: EVE

UO was the first and laid the groundwork, but EVE is that groundwork perfected, and is the shining example that an MMO doesn’t die ‘eventually’ if it’s built correctly. The list of things EVE does better than anyone else in the genre is almost endless, but for me personally it drove home the fact that if you set a goal and execute, EVE is your oyster. I wanted to start a corp, I wanted it to grow into something, and I wanted to take us out of high-sec and do ‘something’. All accomplished, and it was a very rewarding experience.

5: Shining in the Darkness

I got this game along with my Sega Genesis, and it was my first introduction to console gaming and that style of RPG games. I still have a notebook of the maps my father and I drew as we played it, and whenever I watch a Youtube video of the game the music takes me back. The game being the first entry in the pretty great Shining series is significant IMO, even if the games don’t share a central story or world.

6: Final Fantasy 7

I loved FF7, racking up a saved game of over 100hrs (this was back when 100hrs with a title was something. Now we call that a 3-monther MMO). The graphics were amazing, the story was solid, the videos looked straight out of the future; the game itself is a masterpiece. It holds a special place for me because this title alone is responsible for turning the RPG genre from a niche to a mainstream thing. Suddenly we had tons of options rather than a handful of titles per year, all thanks to FF7.

7: Final Fantasy Tactic

When it comes to turn-based strategy titles, FFT is still my top-rated title. It’s not without flaws, but the strength of this title so far outweigh the flaws that it’s silly. Incredible depth, a serious challenge, a twisting storyline even despite the hit/miss translation, FFT had it all. It’s re-release on the iPhone recently reconfirmed for me how great it is, it’s held up wonderfully.

8: Heroes of Might and Magic 3

Considered the best entry in the series, HoMM3 is a title my friend and I pour a silly amount of time into. A solid single-player experience with amazing multiplayer depth, whether it was co-op vs the AI or going 1v1, featuring great balance amongst the factions and maps. The series has been trying to recreate the HoMM3 experience since, and while HoMM6 was solid, it still wasn’t it.

9: Civilization V

I’ve played every entry in the Civ series since the first, but it wasn’t until Civ V that I become obsessed with mastering the game. A great combination of deep turn based gameplay, historical accuracy, and refined game systems place Civ V high on my list.

10: Streets of Rage

The beat-em-up genre is mostly (completely?) dead now, but back in the day it was huge, and Streets of Rage was my jam. A really fun game whether you played solo or with a buddy, and one of the first games I played to master every boss encounter long past the time when I had initially beat it. The birth of my min-maxing, you might say.

11: World of Warcraft

After UO and EVE, WoW is the most significant MMO for me personally. A lot of this has to do with making friendships with people I still talk to today, raiding buddies who I spent hundreds if not thousands of hours with, carrying god knows how many derps through MC, BWL, AQ40, and beyond. Outside of raiding WoW in the early days had a lot going for it, whether it was leading the masses to victory in AV or raiding alliance towns with the guild and others.

12: Marathon

Another example of a Bungie title being way ahead of its time. As a FPS Marathon was excellent, and many of its mechanics went on to become genre standards. If the title wasn’t Mac-only, I wonder if it would have given Doom a run for its money. IMO it was the better game.

13: League of Legends

I played a lot of DoTA for Warcraft 3, so went into LoL knowing what to expect. But seeing how Riot handled the game, especially in the early years, and reading their forum posts about design hammered home that LoL is DoTA without all its flaws. Furthermore, a lot of the basic concept they explained still apply today, and not just to LoL but to gaming overall. I’m still actively playing the game after all these years, my wife is still addicted to it as well, and it’s the biggest game in the world overall. On top of all that, LoL is the best example of how well the F2P model can work outside of the MMO genre.

14: Syndicate

I played this game only when I was over a friend’s house, but we both loved it. Great atmosphere, great sandboxish design, solid graphics for the time, and the first game I played where you could do interesting stuff like convert a dozen civilians to become a small army, get them into cars, and have them run over other people by accident all until the cars exploded. The AI was good for the time, but because it gave you options, it created a lot of “oh wow that was cool” unscripted moment.

15: Skyrim

I played Morrowind a bit, played a lot of Oblivion, but it wasn’t until Skyrim that I was really looking forward to an ES game, and Skyrim delivered on all fronts. This is the model I want followed when it comes to future single-player sandbox RPGs. I’ve played almost all of its content now, and just the depth and consistence of it all is amazing.


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