Why we all need AA to be successful

September 24, 2014

I should have a “specific to me” post about my ArcheAge experience when I’m around level 30 (currently 23), but today I want to talk more ‘big picture’ about the game and the genre, because I think a lot of interesting things are happening.

Trion hinted that they have well over 2 million active players right now, which is double the number they had signed up for beta. As both beta and release are ‘free’, that’s pretty interesting. What caused a million+ people to get into AA now rather than show interest when it was in beta? Positive word-of-mouth, just general release hype, or something else?

The 2 million number is also interesting, as that’s also the number of subscribed accounts FFXIV has last we heard. With WoW down to 5 million or so and dropping, are we really that far away from the day WoW is no longer the biggest MMO out in the West (I think MMOs in the East have already surpassed it, but the East isn’t a place I keep an eye on for such things.)? One can only hope, as it will mean the genre is out of the shadow of that once-great, now-bleh title.

Another funny bit about AA and FFXIV; they both beat WoW, but in different ways. FFXIV is vanilla WoW done right for 2014; its focused, and what it focuses on it does very, very well. AA is a 2014 version of what WoW could/should be; it has a bit of EVERYTHING, but that everything fits together to form a virtual world rather than a collection of lobby activities, all without insulting the ability of the player.

Moving to AA specifically, what does this mean for the genre if the game is able to retain players like FFXIV has? What if AA has 2 million+ subs after 6 months? For one I think it would drive home the fact that launching the game as F2P was a mistake by Trion, especially because of how poorly the F2P crap has been layered over the otherwise solid foundation of the game (remember AA was developed and launched as a sub MMO initially). That said, if AA is successful, might it become the first MMO to move OUT of the F2P minor leagues? One can hope.

And if AA is successful, along with some of the other upcoming virtual world titles, does this mean the genre has finally turned the corner and will return to what it should be? That part still seems a little too good to be true, but at least there is some hope, unlike what we had in prior years. Cautious optimism everyone!


Spam, freebies, rewards

September 9, 2014

Slow days in blogging land of late, unless you are really into ‘debating’ definitions or pounding away at the corpse of a long-dead horse, so just a quick couple of notes for today.

First, if you own a blog that I occasionally comment on, check your spam filter. Seems I pop into spam filters now. Not entirely sure that’s in error…

Second, I’ve noticed that if a company outright sends me a copy/code for a game, I’m far more likely to at least give it a shot than if someone sends me one of those “would you be interested in…” emails. Just something about getting right to it and not pre-filtering it with a wink wink nudge about a positive review works for me. Still doesn’t guarantee you anything, but if you have a solid product, it removes one barrier I have to giving you a shot.

Finally, I like how Final Fantasy XIV handles subscription longevity rewards, in that you can see what you will get the longer you stay subscribed, and (I think) all of the rewards fall into the fluff category. It’s not THE reason to stay subscribed, but at the same time it is a nice bonus and does its part to justify the monthly cost. FFXIV maybe not have the one killer feature to make it amazing, but so far it seems that everything it does, it at least does well, and the sum of all those solid parts makes for a great MMO.


FFXIV: Removing the alt hurdle

August 19, 2014

One thing that annoys me about a lot of MMOs is “add it for the bullet” features. Basically stuff like crafting, PvP, ‘exploration’, etc tacked on when they don’t fit just so the back of the box (or in modern terms, the Steam page) can include that aspect of the game in a bullet list.

Most of the time the addition is little more than a distraction and a waste of dev time, but occasionally it ends up crippling the main point of your MMO (PvP gear being better for raiding, throwaway PvE deciding PvP balance, etc). I always point out that EVE is the best-designed MMO out, and it’s primarily for this reason; everything is important, and everything works together. That’s very difficult to do, but is critically important if you are actually attempting to achieve a virtual world (most modern-day MMOs don’t aim for that of course).

FFXIV is by no means a virtual world. It’s as themepark as MMOs come, but it also features a crafting/gathering game that is, well, an actual game rather than a throwaway feature. I can’t talk yet about how it integrates with everything at the level cap, but even halfway in there is a lot to like about it.

The main thing I like is that FFXIV lets you play one character you identify with, but due to how job switching works, you don’t constantly progress in power in everything and have to ‘downlevel’ should you go back to something. This means that when I switch from my main class down to something new, I feel like I’m playing at level 1 rather than being a max-level character with reduced stats simulating level 1 (usually poorly). This also means my main level job stays put, so playing side stuff doesn’t put me ahead, which pretty key for enjoying the game as a duo. It’s not a totally new concept in the genre, but it’s by far the cleanest implementation I’ve seen in an MMO.

Crafting and gathering greatly benefit here because each profession is its own job rather than skill, meaning you actually level up your miner or blacksmith job, so a level 1-10 zone that you finished as your primary class becomes relevant and challenging again when you enter it as your level 4 miner, and again it’s not ‘fake’ challenge with the game down-leveling you (FFXIV also does that should you enter an area above level, and it feels as wonky as in other MMOs).

The same applies for different combat classes. I finished the 1-20 quests in one area for my main job, but rather than down-level to experience the other two starting area questing zones, if I switch to a new combat job everything feels appropriate, while I still retain the name and look of my character. It sounds like a minor thing, but feels very smooth and makes enjoying all aspects of the game much easier without the ‘roll an alt’ hurdle.

I’ve got more but RL just happened and it’s off to the hospital right now (blogger dedication!), clan is expanding.


Candyman, candyman, candyman

August 18, 2014

Trollbold is back it seems, and in classic style.

Let me just cut that post down completely with one question before moving into the details: What day-one F2P MMO has been more successful than recently launched sub MMOs?

Because if the sub model is dead, surely some new F2P mega-hit must have replaced it, right? That’s what everyone must be playing now? The new F2P hotness called… what was its name again? You know, that F2P from day one MMO that is doing so well. Never can remember its name, or all those other really successful F2P MMOs before it…

I do find it hilarious that Tobold is linking to Superdata as well. Just trolls linking trolls and dancing around in a fantasyland circle together.

But let’s put aside fairyland numbers and look at something solid shall we? That recent NCSoft financial report for instance, that showed WildStar bringing in more money than GW2. Now GW2 isn’t F2P, but it’s also not good enough to be a sub MMO either, and NCSoft’s numbers back that up. An MMO made for the “1%” pulled in more than the MMO who’s manifesto told us was changing everything for everyone; funny how that works. And yes, WildStar will drop because its box sales drive the numbers up, but isn’t it cute that the “1%” consists of about 450k people initially? One would think you could sustain an MMO off such a population if you did it right, huh?

Of course the most glaring omission from the two troll sources is FFXIV, but it’s hard to call something dead when a 2m+ account behemoth is standing right in front of you, more than a year after launch. And while you’re at it, you should probably also ignore its previous iteration, FFXI, because that also isn’t helping your case.

The problem here is the same one we have had since day one; in order to remain a subscription-based game, an MMO has to be good-enough for its core audience to keep them. There are some MMOs at that level, and then there is a near-endless landfill of F2P titles below them trying to sell you a hotbar or the One Ring, because if you aren’t a quality game, you might as well try to dupe suckers out of a few bucks before they catch on. But just like with FFXIV, whenever someone has something they know is better than average, they go with the business model that best supports good games, and unless the genre just up and decides to stop making worthwhile games, the sub model will remain.


Final Fantasy XIV: Initial impressions

August 6, 2014

My wife and I recently started playing Final Fantasy XIV, in part because it’s been a long while since we played an MMO together, and also because her chain-playing LoL ranked games isn’t healthy for anyone. Currently we are level 13, and the game overall has been enjoyable.

In terms of graphics the game is pretty fantastic IMO, even better than ESO. FF avoids a lot of the uncanny-valley problems ESO ran into with character models, and in terms of landscape I’d say they are about even. Effects and such seem more impressive or appropriate in FF, and I think it blows ESO out of the water in terms of animations, story presentation, and just the overall impact the graphics have on the enjoyment of the game.

We both play at 1900×1200, and on my current machine (i7 Sandbridge overclocked to 4ghz, ) I can easily run the game fully maxed out at a stable 60fps, while the now 6 year old Alienware runs the game near the default “standard desktop” settings well-enough. The only notable issue is that sometimes, quest NPCs don’t instantly load on the older PC, which is a bit annoying as my wife sometimes has to wait a few seconds for them to appear. After some settings tweaks this happens less often however (maybe once or twice per hour).

Sound isn’t always a huge factor in MMOs, but in FF it most certainly is. From the awesome nostalgia of the classic FF theme used on the home page, to mixing in the battle theme after a fight, FF14 is an MMO that uses its rich and storied IP and puts it to good use, rather than feeling weighed down by it ala ESO.

On the gameplay front so far everything feels solid. It’s most certainly a themepark MMO, but rather than trying to mix in a thousand things to try to be something else, FF14 embraces that model and refines it down to the best parts.

It has a central storyline quest chain, but unlike in say GW2, here you actually are the central hero actually doing stuff, rather than a silent and nameless sidekick. At the same time, it’s presented in better fashion than the “you are a god slayer on day one” that was the ESO main chain. It’s also build into the zones, so you aren’t returning to the ‘main chain’ instanced hole in the ground. It’s a bit early to definitively say if the story and progression fully pay off, but so far it’s interesting and something we look forward to rather than just being in item on a checklist.

Speaking of checklist items, I do like the fact that FF14 doesn’t flood you with 10 quests the moment you step into a quest hub, but rather seems to always have 2-4 quests at a time, with more opening up as you finish the first batch, often with logical references or reasons as to why someone now wants you to do something. It might seem like a small thing, but IMO it really does help you focus on each item rather than just looking on the map and seeing where the concentration of ‘stuff to do’ is highest. To me this is a perfect example of refining the themepark model to make it better. Sure ultimately most of these quests are pretty standard “kill 5 of this”, “collect 3 of that”, “go talk to that guy” tasks, but how they are presented and their pacing goes a long away.

This ‘less is more’ design also extends to items. Rather than being flooded with random junk or ‘white’ items, so far it seems like questing is the main source of upgrades (haven’t gotten into crafting), and they are paced well. The game auto-loots mobs for you, but since most times you just get a bit of money, you aren’t really focused on killing something for what it drops, but rather because it’s a quest objective. I very much appreciate not having to play the “dump 90% of your inventory at a vendor” game after every questing session. The lack of gear flooding also means it’s easier to focus on questing and actually playing rather than on constantly fiddling to gain +1 to whatever stat.

Finally but perhaps most importantly, I’m really enjoying the combat. This is again another example of refining themepark combat rather than trying to do too much. FF14 is pretty standard tab-target combat, but I think it’s slower than games like GW2 or ESO in terms of global cooldowns and how often you mash skills, which IMO is a plus (I can actually watch the animations rather than focusing on a hotbar!). If I want FPS-like combat, I can play Darkfall or, you know, a FPS. I don’t really need or want my MMO with target locking to half-ass ‘action’ combat just to say it has ‘action’ combat. You don’t; you just have more annoying/spammy tab-target combat.

Currently the only stuff we haven’t been thrilled with have been the public quests, called Fates in FF14. So far almost all have been ‘kill a bunch of stuff until the bar fills’, and then they just end. I think what really made WAR’s PQs great is they had stages, and each PQ felt like it escalated during those stages. Stage one was normal mobs, stage two was tougher mobs or larger waves, and stage three you got a boss. That felt like an event; and at the end you left feeling you actually accomplished something. With Fates you just feel like you killed a few mobs for a bit of XP. I think the lack of a more meaningful reward, combined with the lack of a visual leaderboard and ‘end of PQ summery’ screen, also diminish the experience. WAR’s PQs felt like they belonged to the zone they were in, Fates feel like someone put a spawn circle at random spots in the zone and called it a day.

The nice thing about playing the game at a casual pace is that we now just skip over Fates and continue on with the stuff we enjoy, and the game doesn’t punish us for it. If anything, it seems we are a bit ahead of the XP curve just from questing.

Couple of quick questions for FF14 vets:

I think the group size is 4, is that correct? And I’ve heard that if you duo, you can fill the other two spots with combat pets? Details here would be cool. I’m playing a tank and Aria is playing a dps mage, can we get/hire a healer and another dps NPC? So far we haven’t come across any such option.

When does dungeon content start, and how does that work? Group finder?

I’m pretty sure at end-game you have raiding, but is there anything else? Something that would work well for our duo? How is the raiding overall, if we decide to go down that path?


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 172 other followers