Modern MMO design creates new barriers for grouping

December 16, 2014

Keen is talking about why people choose to solo instead of group, and all of his points are spot-on. Some are design mistakes (solo being more efficient/rewarding than grouping), others are social (people are mean), and for some the time needed for group content just doesn’t fit into their gaming time often enough to bother. I think all of this is true, and an area where MMO design has to evolve, but not devolve into sRPG games with global chat.

One thing an MMO needs to do is encourage grouping naturally. If I’m out in the world killing stuff, another player coming along should always be a bonus. This not only means that you form groups with random players and potentially make new friends, but it also means that when a guild mate logs on and joins you, that’s always a good thing.

Far too many MMOs today fail with the above. Back in the day quests were simple, one-off “kill a bunch of X” tasks. This simplicity meant that “I’m questing” didn’t instantly result in “I’m playing solo, you aren’t on that chain”. So yes, we got fancier, more involved sRPG-style questing with phasing and whatnot, but we lost the social aspects that got us interested in an MMO in the first place.

A lot of times you don’t even need official questing IMO; just give me a natural reason to kill a bunch of mobs (wealth progression), make killing them better/faster with more people, and allow me to determine how many people I want to bring and how long we want to keep killing. Again modern MMOs over-focus on holding your hand and always making sure you have a directed list of tasks, and all of that creates major barriers to playing with others, which is insane to think about in the MMO genre.

That said, it’s also important to acknowledge that times HAVE changed. People have more choices now, and not only that, but it feels like most people play more games at the same time than in days past. If we want to go way back, I remember having to play every Sega Genesis game to death because I only got one every few months, where now I can pay a few bucks and get half a dozen in a Humble Bundle. Factor in F2P titles, Steam sales, mobile gaming, and everything else, and suddenly expecting the average player to sit down and hammer away at your MMO for 3-5 hour blocks 3-5 times per week is simply asking too much. Even those of us who have that much gaming time aren’t likely to dedicate it to just one game for long periods of time.

Just because someone only has an hour to play, shouldn’t mean they can’t spend that hour in a group doing something fun in an MMO. Developers need to look at all of the barrier they have created of late and ask if it’s all worthwhile. Is everyone playing an sRPG really better for your game, or would enabling players to form social hooks in your title keep people playing/paying longer/more?


Burnout is a myth

November 25, 2014

When WoW was declining due to one crappy expansion after another featuring accessibility-inspired dumbing down, some people tried to write this off as not being about the content, but just due to ‘burnout’. They would have you believe that after 1, 2, or 4 years, people were just getting burned out on WoW and that’s why sub numbers were declining. The counter point the entire time was EVE, but now you can toss WoW itself into the mix.

Related is this recent info about Payday 2. The highest activity in the game, which is now more than a year old, just occurred this October. Perhaps FPS gamers are just immune to burnout? Or maybe its because the content that is constantly added to Payday 2 is fantastic. Deathwish difficulty raised the bar and gave even the most experienced players a real challenge (or for most people, an unreachable/impossible tier, which sounds vaguely familiar to something else…), the mix of paid DLC and free updates have been solid and steady, and the game today doesn’t just have more ‘stuff’, but it has more stuff that fits and actually expanded all of the original content, rather than replace it (now where have I heard about that approach working long-term…).

LoL (4 years+, peak numbers), CoC (2 years+, top grossing app today (oddly Hearthstone didn’t show up in the top 150 for either downloads or revenue, wonder why)), DoTA2 (crazy growth this year), etc etc etc. I think you get the point.

If a game is great and keeping being great, while giving you more of that greatness, you don’t get burned out. If a game stagnates, or especially if it gets worse (hi Trion), people leave because of that, not burnout.


I’ve officially quit WoW again

November 12, 2014

Title of the post is just to continue things for folks who apparently only read titles and go directly to comment.

There was a lot of nostalgia when my old raiding character, an orc warrior in full T2 wielding the original Quel-Serrar, first loaded in near the bank in Ogrimmar. That nostalgia was pushed further when, about 5 minutes in, I had a few people whisper me about my gear. Some things never change.

Looking over his bank content was like viewing a trophy room of past accomplishments. Items from MC, BWL, AQ40, Nax40, PvP tiers, and others. In his bags I still had the server-first Spinal Reaper that I crafted, though sadly it no longer has the text of who crafted it (thanks Blizzard). I got a chuckle out of all the flasks in his inventory, and the two full bank bags of gems and other crafting materials. Even little Diablo, the original collector box pet, came out to say hello.

Nostalgia aside however, WoW does nothing for me at this point. The game looks beyond dated now, with the graphics long since having move from ‘stylized’ to just plain ugly. In 2014 EVE looks like a 2014 game. In 2014 WoW looks like a 2004 game. Then there was everyone else around me; the dozen or so ridiculous mounts that would make the most asian of MMOs blush, the drab yet at the same time silly looking gear, the stupid-even-by-WoW-standards pets. While even in vanilla WoW had some ‘immersion breaking’ stuff, today it’s just full-on clowncar nonsense.

The UI is also something that looks like it has a few (dozen) too many mods going for it. Just stuff all over the place, which I’m sure once you get use to makes sense, but is EVE-level of shocking when first glanced at. I’m almost tempted to get my wife to give returning a shot, only to see how she would react to the UI, especially as we are playing FFXIV (which, now more so than ever, I fully believe is just a better version of what made WoW great in 2004, brought up to 2014 standards)

And so SynCaine the orc warrior went back into retirement in the same spot he did so many years ago. The world around him has changed, but he won’t be tarnished by it.


AA: Good design can’t overcome a bad business model and stupidity

October 27, 2014

Whelp, things went downhill fast huh?

To some extent this should have been obvious, given that ArcheAge is a F2P MMO, the very clear minor-leagues of the genre. Maybe I was trying to convince myself otherwise, or maybe a particularly bleak dry-spell was to blame, or I was just coming off the terribad roller-coaster ride that was DF:UW. Either way, I currently have zero motivation to log into AA, and my sub has been canceled.

What’s interesting about AA is that from a design perspective it gets so much right, both big and little. I’ve covered a lot of them here, and hopefully future MMOs take a note or two on the better aspects of AA. If this is but one of the general directions the genre is going in, I’m ok with that. But ultimately the game was doomed by two major factors, one predictable (F2P), the other somewhat a surprise (Trion).

The F2P aspect is obvious. The Pay4Power aspect is brutal, as is the cheese factor of the cash shop. The taint of F2P is felt in almost all aspects, and the fact that being a subscriber only takes you out of ‘worthless to anyone but bots’ free territory and into ‘you are paying but not enough, give us more!’ land doesn’t make you feel good. The daily loyalty points you get, which only allow you to buy a few things in the shop, are more of a slap to the face than anything else.

But again that part was somewhat predictable, and I’ve played such MMOs before and not minded it that much (Atlantica Online is by far the best example of this IMO).

The F2P factor becomes a bigger issue than normal when mixed with disaster number two; Trion.

I’ve joked and not joked about Trion before, but I say this now being 100% serious; I’ve never experience a bigger disaster than what Trion has done with AA. It’s borderline criminal to be this incompetent on so many levels, and to be so dishonest about all of it.

Very recent and easy example; remember how for the first month, whenever anything was going wrong with AA, Trion would answer everything with basically “we’ll pass a note to XLGames, as we are just the publisher and can’t do anything”? Funny how for some reason (accounts unsubbing) suddenly a month later Trion is having GMs spam chat with how often they catch a hacker, and it seems not a day goes by that Trion is releasing a statement about what they are doing about the rampant cheating in the game. They have even gone so far as following up on specific Reddit threads, supposedly having someone go into the database and confirm that so-and-so was legit and didn’t hack.

You know what might have helped Trion? You not waiting until people slapped you with the wallet-vote before you did something. Maybe instead of waiting until everyone has chat turned off due to spam, you could have launched the game with chat restrictions? It’s a joke, especially because the ‘crackdown’ on hacking is not only too late, it also only catches the idiots stupid enough to run a well-known and easily available hack kit on patch day. Everyone else is still sitting pretty, and Trion knows it but won’t do a thing about it.

The real shame here is that in a genre with so few decent options, one was taking away not because of its core design, but because of its business model and the incompetent fools tasked with simply porting the game over and doing some basic maintenance.

Even when we get something nice, it’s tainted to such a degree that you are forced out. Real shame.


AA: View from level 50

October 21, 2014

I recently hit the current level cap of 50 in ArcheAge, so now is a good time to talk about that experience, what changes, and plans going forward.

First thing however is how effortless getting to 50 was. Not only is the leveling experience fairly short by MMO standards, but almost everything you do in the game gives XP. Spend some timing mining? You got a ton of XP. Did some work around the farm? XP. Trade run? Bit of XP. I’d say easily 40% of my XP was gained from non-quest activities, and that number could have been a lot higher had I wanted it to be (I actually enjoyed blitzing the quests and just whacking mobs).

In AA however, more than in any themepark I’ve played so far, getting to the cap isn’t a game-shifting event. There really is no “game starts at cap” for AA, for a number of reasons.

One is that you still care about getting more XP. Because of how the skill trees work, and the large number of them, you will likely want to level more than your original three up (assuming you didn’t switch midway to 50, in which case you haven’t hit 50 in all 3 of your current trees anyway). Additionally things like your combat pet or mount also need to hit 50, so you care about XP there. Keeping XP relevant even though your character level is at the cap is pretty brilliant, because you avoid the motivational and design issue of only some players benefitting from an activity that factors XP into its reward. Blizzard had this problem in WoW (TBC days anyway), and tried to solve the problem by having quests convert their XP reward into giving out more gold, but the way AA does it is not only cleaner, but feels more natural as well.

Beyond the issue of XP, what you actually do at 50 is what you were doing at 49. You still do your farming, you still work on your crafting skills, you still chase after better gear, and you still jump into stuff like rifts, zone battles, trade routes, the arena, etc. And because all of those things still give XP, you are also progressing on that front should you decide to as well. The whole thing just feels very ‘sandbox’, while still using more themeparky elements like XP and quests.

Going forward I have plenty of personal goals to chase after, in addition to working on larger, guild-wide goals (dungeon runs, zone bosses, arena team, getting more land and a bigger house, pirate adventures, etc). And assuming Trion doesn’t Trion things (ha), the next continent is opening soon with additional content options as well.


Some people play MMOs, some play EVE

October 20, 2014

To say that EVE is a different kind of MMO is perhaps the biggest understatement in gaming. Year after year events happen in EVE that no other game will likely ever come close to replicating, and the game’s depth, complexity, and sheer scale draw and hold some of the best and brightest players. There is perhaps no finer example of this then the most recent Rooks and Kings’ masterpiece, Clarion Call 4. It’s over an hour long, and my only criticisms is that it isn’t two.

There is just so much to love here. There is of course the utter brilliance of the tactics used, and the razor sharp execution of those tactics. But almost as amazing is the begrudging respect you hear from the victims. The name “Rooks and Kings” means something (usual quick death) to tens of thousands, despite the group being very small by EVE Corp or Alliance standards.

That kind of earned respect, over many years of excellence, just doesn’t happen in other MMOs. In WoW the ‘top’ raiding guild and roster changes yearly, if not monthly, and the excitement or respect generated by being a world first is both short lived and quickly forgotten. In LoL, which just had it’s amazing world championship (more on that in another post), who is king also changes year to year, and while the names and teams impress, they also quickly burn out of view. Who won season 1, and who was on those teams? Would even 1% of all LoL players know? Because certainly far more than 1% of all EVE players know R&K, and have known about them since before the first game of LoL was ever played.

That R&K have been around in EVE for so long isn’t an accident, just like the CFC being so large and dominant is no accident. It’s a reflect of what CCP has created, and a reminder that no one else is even close, and haven’t been for more than ten years now.

Edit: H/T to TAGN for reminding me to blog about this video.


PvE-only servers don’t actually work

October 17, 2014

Would CCP be better off if they created a PvE-only server for EVE? Some carebears would argue yes, because since EVE only has a PvP server, they don’t play. On the surface that makes sense; PvP-only games are indeed locking anyone who sees PvP and runs in the opposite direction out. But lets play this out a little further shall we?

On that PvE-only EVE server, the economy would be a total joke. Ships would rarely be lost, everyone could fly around perfectly safe in all-officer fit ships, the most lucrative PvE (null, WH) could be farmed without risk, mining afk would never end negatively, and all those multi-billion-ISK-in-a-transport traders would never be ganked. So unless you also expect CCP to basically completely change the game on almost all levels, the economy part of EVE wouldn’t work on a PvE server.

Furthermore, the PvE challenge on such a server would also be a joke. Remember, everyone is flying around in all-officer fits, which makes them far more powerful than the standard PvE ship found in the game today. Beyond just that, outside of high-sec you can now use a Titan to farm all day without a single fear of a hot drop. Are the carebears expecting CCP to fix this as well? How, tune PvE to officer-fit Titans in terms of difficulty? Just accept that all PvE would quickly become faceroll in difficulty (more so than it already is in EVE)?

And now the biggest question, why the hell are you going to play EVE for years here? You are sitting in an officer-fit Titan, with a wallet full of ISK, a hanger with every ship and fitting you ever wanted, and having safely explored everything there is to see, with all content being trivial and with nothing else to do. What’s your motivation to keep playing/paying?

There is a reason EVE is the only MMO out to grow and maintain sub numbers for more than ten years, and that reason is directly tied to PvP. So while yes, certain carebears stay away, the game has proven that other carebears stay, year after (10) year, because of what PvP brings to the game (among other things, a sink that keeps the economy and basically the whole game going).

A lot of those currently playing WOULD switch to the PvE server, because most people are child-like and would eat candy until they died if you let them. They WOULD get bored and walk away from the game. That is why you don’t open a PvE-only server; because it would allow MMO children to spoil themselves into quitting, and in the long run that’s bad for business.

So help save the kids, and your MMO; don’t go PvE-only and kill yourself and everyone playing!

PS: The same applies to AA. Think about how many of that game’s core mechanics rely on PvP to balance or keep them interesting. How many seemingly PvE-only activities would lose long-term value or purpose in a completely safe world?


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 183 other followers