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.


The three flavors of F2P

March 5, 2014

Another post about the F2P business model, yay! (I blame TAGN for this one)

One development that has happened somewhat recently is the split definitions of what ‘F2P’ really is. It’s a different take on the “what is an MMO” question, only I don’t think the lines are as blurred here. Below is an attempt to identify the different models, and pass some thoughts on each.

The most basic IMO is the demo model. The MMO in question is free until a certain point, and in order to pass that point (be it a level cap, content cap, or power cap) you have to pay. If paying means buying a box or subbing and getting basically everything, the demo aspect is even more clear. If paying means getting pushed into a cash shop, that’s a bit murky and likely falls into the third model described below.

The next category is one that so far has only workout OUTSIDE of the MMO genre, and I think is the best F2P model; the fluff and extra convenience model. The base game is free, and spending money gets you fluff like champion skins or extra convenience like character slots. The base game, that is free, isn’t affected negatively by the shop, nor are game systems designed around reminding you of the shop or pointing out what you don’t have access to because you haven’t bought it yet.

The third is the ‘classic’ F2P model, where the free part is basically an infomercial to get you into the shop, and only through spending money in the shop do you get the ‘real’ game, be that full access to content or the removal of barriers put up by the devs.

The first model I don’t have issue with if the after-demo part is a box or a sub. In those cases using the term “F2P” is more about using the current buzz word (instead of saying demo) for PR than really using that model.

The second model is the hardest to pull off, because you’re game has to be so good that people WANT to give you money for it. Riot is able to do this with LoL because the base, free game is amazing, so spending money on skins, which are also usually of amazing quality, feels more like supporting something you like rather than being pushed to hand out some cash. Path of Exile also uses this model successfully, again because PoE the base game is pretty great at what it is (a better version of Diablo than current Diablo), and the stuff in the shop is fun/cute for the price.

WoW also somewhat falls into this category because of stuff like the sparkle pony, though of course the sub fee muddles the waters. I do think WoW would still be profitable if it was fully free and Blizzard emulated LoL and sold lots of different skins for mounts, weapons, armor, etc, but I suspect they make more money double-dipping, at least for now.

The third, ‘classic’ F2P model has been discussed to death. It’s the minor leagues, the math-tax scam show from developers who can’t make a good-enough product to stand on its own merits. As I’ve said many times before, this is the model that is the ticking time bomb, and eventually (already?) most people will smarten up and the money will stop trickling in.


The Day LoL Died

January 14, 2014

Whelp, it’s been fun.

The picture of him is perfect too. That “would you like more welfare epics?” smile, those eyes that reassure you death is impossible, that hair that represents all his good ideas. Bastard.

(This is the welfare epics guy right? Wanted to get this rant out before getting the facts, even if said facts ruin said rant. That’s how you blog kids!)

PS: My bet is he is working on the next Riot title, not LoL. But again, rant>facts.


e-Sports growing pains

December 10, 2013

Quick non-MMO note for today. Recently Riot wanted to ban their professional players from showing/playing competing games on their streams. After some uproar, they have backed away from this somewhat.

e-Sports are still in their infancy right now, but I believe they have a solid future. The last LoL championship was not only highly viewed, but also well produced and overall interesting to watch. As the sport matures, issues like the one above will come up.

And let’s make no mistake about it; what Riot initially proposed is pretty standard stuff in sports. When you sign a contract, that contract often limits you in many ways. Most professional sports players for instance can’t engage in ‘high risk’ activities like skydiving, or other professional sports (unless the contract is specifically modified, which has been the case in the past).

Professional sports are, first and foremost, a business, and in business you protect your assets and the business itself. Riot isn’t in the business of giving other games/companies free advertising off the players they pay to play their game. I would not be surprised if down the road, this issue is revisited and ultimately the ban comes back.


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…


League of Legends is officially a sport now

July 31, 2013

The world, it’s changing!

Pretty cool all around, and further proof that LoL is kind of a big deal.


Victory conditions and personal goals

June 27, 2013

This Tobold post contains a lot of straw, and while I don’t think he believes some of the things he wrote, I do wonder if others might look at things in such a way. Before I get to that however, let’s cover some basics.

There is a huge difference between victory conditions and personal goals. For something to be a victory condition, it must be acknowledged by those who participate in the competition; be it game-wide or a sub-culture. A personal goal is just that; something that you aim to accomplish that has little to no impact on anyone else.

For a simple example, let’s look at any team sporting event; everyone involved understands that whoever has the most points at the end of the game wins. You didn’t ‘win’ because you created the personal goal of never touching the ball and stood in the corner all game.

World firsts in raiding are a victory condition, because amongst top-tier raiding guilds it’s accepted that being ‘first’ is the goal. This victory condition is not diminished because there are also some casual raiding guilds that don’t aim for world firsts; the world-first crowd is a subset, but everyone in that subset knows the rules to the game.

In that subset, things like gearing up matter, so when a game sells raid-quality gear in its cash shop, for that subset the game is now P2W. That a different subset exists only to collect raid dresses to look pretty doesn’t matter to top guilds or how they view a game.

Tobold brings up LoL and buying champs/XP as a form of P2W, but there is no victory condition in LoL for reaching lvl 30 (end of tutorial) or collecting all the champs. Those can be personal goals, but winning games is the accepted victory condition (with an accompanying Victory/Defeat announcement at the end of the game). If Riot started selling ‘gold ammo’, or anything else that increased your chance to win a ranked game, LoL would be P2W. But Riot is smart, and knows very well that to the millions and millions playing, the game NOT being P2W is a massive draw.

When Wargaming.net announced WoT was no longer P2W, they did so because the accepted victory condition in that game was winning matches, and the cash-only gold ammo helped you win matches. Declaring that your personal goal is to just drive around in a tank looking at trees does not change WoT from a former P2W game; it just means you set a personal goal (that is likely to get you banned for not playing as intended and ruining the game for others) that was not effected by gold ammo. Neat, but irrelevant.

As to why Wargaming would make such an announcement? Look above; WoT is doing well, but it’s not at the level of LoL. Wargaming is also smart (and likely has plenty of data to back it up), and sees that being a P2W game hurts the bottom line more than it helps, hence the change and announcement.

There are plenty of games out that are blatant P2W (Atlantica Online is one example, along with dozens of iPhone games). One glance at what money gets you vs what the victory conditions are makes that clear. And for some, that is exactly what they are looking for. P2W is not a problem to be fixed; it’s just a different approach to gaming. For whatever reasons, some people enjoy competing in an environment where your wallet is a factor (note that even in something like AO, your wallet is not the ONLY factor, and player skill/decisions still matter).

Non-P2W subscription games in some ways are the opposite; here the factors are the amount of time you can play and your skill level. If you are something who is heavily time restricted but still wants to ‘win’, you will be annoyed by this model and find it ‘unfair’, much like someone who has time but isn’t willing or able to spend money in a P2W game will find that model ‘unfair’. And for some, playing in an unfair environment is an added challenge/bonus rather than a flaw; there are plenty of players who seek to make the most of their limited time in a sub-based game, or those who will push a P2W game as far as they can without spending a dime.

In summary, P2W exists and is just as valid a game/business model as non-P2W games. Much of the rage around the topic comes when a former non-P2W game changes its model, which IMO is very understandable, especially if you have invested a lot of time/effort into something. I do however find it silly that people will complain about P2W in a title that started out like that; you should have known what you were signing up for. The Oakland Athletics might bitch about the New York Yankees payroll, but at the end of the day the MLB rules are what they are, and both teams/owners know it. Don’t like it? Buy an NFL team and play in a league with a hard salary cap (subscription).


Gaming moving in the right direction (mine)

June 4, 2013

Remember when certain people would argue that World of Tanks is not pay-to-win? That gold ammo can’t aim for you and gold tanks aren’t even that great and blablabla? They look a bit silly now that the company behind the game just admitted they had a P2W game. Woops.

Being right aside, I’m happy about this. Not because I care about WoT itself, but because I’d much rather see the Riot/LoL model of selling quality fluff win over selling power. LoL doing it and being the most popular game out right now was big for that, and now Wargaming saying they are following suit further drives the point home.

Not that this will help so many of the fledgling F2P MMOs, because the key to selling fluff and making money off it is it has to be quality. If most of the LoL skins looked like the typical garbage you see in F2P MMO shops, Riot would be doing as well as Turbine or EAWare, rather than dominating the industry.


What 2012 was, and what 2013 will be

December 26, 2012

The good for me in 2012 was more of the same (EVE, LoL), while the bad was highlighted by disappointment (GW2) and delay (DF:UW). The MMO genre as a whole continued to struggle with its identity, from massive failures like SW:TOR to mis-marketed ones like The Secret World. WoW’s bleeding continued, although with fuzzy math thanks to Diablo 3, and MoP has fully transitioned the game from vanilla to… whatever it is now. F2P continued its comedy laugh track, be it from the reigning champ, wings factory SOE, to uppity newcomers such as Hotbar EAWare and pony-fun-time Turbine. So what will 2013 bring?

Well, more wings from SOE of course, thought how that will work in Planetside I’m curious to see.

Snark temporarily aside, I do believe 2013 will be the year the MMO genre figures itself out, and a clear distinction is made between games that are ‘real’ MMOs, and titles with MMO-lite qualities that we consume.

It’s funny that in 1997, when UO was releases, it was understood that this was a title you experienced, and the locations and creatures were tools to further whatever you happen to be doing. The ‘end’ was what you made it, and the only sure sign of a ‘game over’ screen was when you moved on. Then came EQ1 and AC1, and while both titles had a beginning and end, the content was such that few if any ever reached it, and again the ‘game over’ screen only came when you decided it was time.

In 2004, WoW was a refined EQ1, and while the path to the ‘end’ was shorter and yes, more accessible, it was still long enough that most did not see it, and the formula still worked. You certainly could see the ‘end’, but it was always just beyond your reach, and the journey was of such quality that even at a very slow pace, you were happy to keep playing/paying.

Fast forward to more recent times and titles like SW:TOR, where not only do you know the ‘end’ from day one, the game is designed such that you see it shortly. Distractions may exists after you consume the main course, but they have little if anything to do with the reason you showed up in the first place, and those distractions are poor-at-best in quality. SW:TOR biggest crime was not its massive budget blown on voice dialog, or its second-rate engine, or even the fact that it’s from EA; it was the expectation that millions would still be around and paying for months AFTER having completed the game.

At least Anet realized this with GW2, and planned around selling just the box to most, and some gems to the diehards. The game still falls into the “play and finish” trap of too many recent so-called MMOs, but at least the here the problem is mainly in how the PR department marketed the game rather than what the devs and bean-counters expected.

Which brings me back to the main topic. I believe in 2013 we will see MMOs that succeed because they are MMOs, and they do contain the months and years of content that an MMO needs. These titles will be ‘niche’ when compared to WoW, but such a distinction is already outdated as everyone finally comes to grips with the fact that WoW has always been an outlier, rather than the standard. With proper expectations and execution, these titles should prosper, especially as general MMO tastes swing back towards something more meaty rather than flashy.

At the same time, along with ‘real’ MMOs, we will see more games with MMO-lite features like GW2, and hopefully like GW2, they will ship with payment models that fit that style of game. These play-to-consume titles will refine their own space, and will provide nice breaks when needed for both MMO players and gamers in general. Their success will be measured not in retention, but in reacquisition; did they leave a positive-enough taste in your mouth to come back when more consumable content is out for sale?

More direct predictions:

EVE will reach and retain 500k subs in 2013.

SW:TOR will shut down or go skeleton crew by 2014.

LotRO will directly sell you The One Ring and a chance to play Sauron.

DF:UW will actually release and exceed the first year of DF1.

GW2 will have 9 tiers of gear by the end of 2013.

A bunch of MMOs will have kickstarter campaigns. Few will actually make it, almost all will be meh.

 


LoL: Nitpicking Riot

December 20, 2012

I like Riot a lot. I think they are basically the only show in town that does F2P right, and LoL has been the best game out for the last few years. I’ve spent more money on LoL in the last two years than any other game (by a solid margin), and I consider every single dollar spent well worth it.

So with that said, I’m a bit disappointed by this post. I get the need to increase the IP cost for a new champ. No big deal. Reducing the price on older champs is a nice change too. I even understand the need to slow the release rate for new champs, and agree that spending more time on them is ultimately the right decision.

Here is the offensive part:

as well as increasing the time you have to earn IP between champion releases.

Don’t treat your players like children (even if many of them are or act like it). The reason you won’t be releasing new champs as quickly has nothing to do with being nice and giving your players more time to earn IP, so why frame it that way?

You have a solid product, a fair business model, and exemplary communication, so with the bar that high, these (notably minor and infrequent) instances stick out and tarnish that stellar reputation.


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