What happened to all those WoW-babies?

August 4, 2014

TAGN, in a post about the closing of Vanguard, brings back a theory that was pretty popular around the 2006(ish) timeframe; mainly that those who played WoW would ‘grow up’ to eventually play a ‘real MMO’. Let’s revisit that theory today.

As I mentioned in the comments section over there, I think a good number of WoW players did ‘grow up’ and went looking for something better/deeper. How many is the impossible question, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that if WoW never happened, the MMO genre wouldn’t be the size it is today, supporting all of the different MMOs we have out. To that extend, WoW did bring in a lot of new players, and those players did ‘grow up’ to look for something else.

The problem today is ‘something else’ is either EVE, meh at best, or minor-league garbage. Now let’s be very clear here; no MMO was ever or will ever be a ‘WoW-killer’, but that is mostly due to the fact that WoW was a pop-culture phenomenon. Yes, prior to WotLK it was also a very good MMO, but it wasn’t 12m+ players good.

The same can be said today about League of Legends, the ‘real’ WoW killer; it’s a very good game, yes, but it’s not 40-60m or however many active accounts Riot has. LoL right now is benefitting from similar pop-culture status that WoW did, though arguable to a lesser extent because ‘vidyagames’ are more common and accepted today than even in 2006, so playing something popular isn’t front-page news-worthy.

I think a similar story can be written about the current massive success of Clash of Clans (the #1 grossing app still). Farmville laid the groundwork, and without doubt some of those players ‘graduated’ to a ‘real game’ in CoC. Because much like WoW and LoL, CoC is a great game, but is its design really “highest-grossing app out for over a year” great? Or did the pop-culture snowball effect kick in at some point and millions upon millions of people started playing because everyone else was, or because TV told them to?

Let’s get back to MMOs, or more accurately, the lack of either a great one or few with proper aspirations. I think the market size for a great MMO ala EVE is around the 500k-2m range. EVE is the king for virtual world design, but even by its own admission is somewhat niche. It might be the perfect version of Excel in Space, but at the end of the day it’s still Excel in Space. But I think a more mass-market, well-done MMO can get and retain around 2m players. Problem is every title that has tried has been horribly flawed and failed. LotRO, WAR, Rift, SW:TOR, ESO (I miss anyone?); all aimed at millions and fell well short, as each just isn’t great (or even good).

Then we had the problem of niche titles not defining their niche correctly. I think (hope) we are somewhat past this as indicated by titles like Pathfinder Online, Shroud of the Avatar, and Camelot Unchained. None of those titles have promised to be a WoW killer, or to be the next big thing. All, from what I have seen, are embracing their niche, and I hope that embracing extends to the business plan and surviving on 50k players or so. The only big whale I see crashing is Star Citizen, and even that has already kinda made its money (which is insane, but a totally different topic).

So yes, the WoW babies grew up. Not all 12m however, which confused not just readers but also the industry as a whole for a number of years. Seems like people are finally figuring it out, and now we just have to wait for the results when the next wave is released.


Sandbox end-game: Why keep playing long-term?

July 21, 2014

Let’s talk PvP sandbox MMO end-game today.

One of my outstanding questions from the whole Warhammer Online saga is in a perfect world, what was the end-game for that MMO? I mean we know it was to raid the other faction’s capital city and sack it, but was that it? If it was, in that perfect world, how many times could the players repeat that activity before getting bored? And if there was something greater, did Mark Jacobs or anyone from Mythic ever talk about it?

Darkfall has a similar problem, where the end-game is territory control, but due to a broken economy and the overall trivial nature of acquiring gear, no one really needs or desperately wants holdings, and the fights that result over them are thinly disguised “fights for the sake of fighting”. The criticism that the game is an awkward oversized arena stems from this general lack of greater purpose.

Finally EVE, as usual, is the best example in the genre in terms of end-game, as null-sec has value and giant organizations via to control it. The current ‘crisis’ is that 2-3 groups control it too well, and the barrier of entry for anyone outside of those 2-3 groups is practically impossible to overcome (short of those established groups imploding and creating a vacuum of power). EVE also benefits here because it has other end-games, though most revolve around the acquisition and use of money.

End-game is one of the issues I thought about when writing up my PvE Sandbox posts, and my solution is rather than relying on the players to create ‘content’ by fighting each other, the game world itself would drive players into action by having mobs attacking their holdings, and for the world overall to be in flux based on player actions and success. This would be further sustainable with AI tweaks or mob changes; whenever the players would get too comfortable with the challenges facing them, whenever they got too good at fighting back the mobs, the devs could step in and alter things to keep it interesting.

Looking forward to some future MMOs like Camelot Unchained and Pathfinder, what are the true end-games for those titles? Both have territory control mechanics, but will they have the depth and detail of EVE to avoid the problems currently facing Darkfall’s end-game? Will either bring something new, interesting, and sustainable to the table to keep players happily playing/paying?


CU: Finally something of note

July 17, 2014

CSE, makers of Camelot Unchained, have been releasing a lot of info of late about the game and the ideas behind it. So far nothing has jumped out at me as terrible ala “The 4th pillar”, but at the same time nothing has really grabbed my attention as a major “we are moving the genre forward” piece of news. Until today anyway.

The entire slide deck is about character progression, but this specific slide is the one I want to talk about today. What I like about this is that rather than seeing how fast you are progressing by swinging your sword, you instead get a large, end-of-day summery of everything you did. This alone should lead to players more comfortable just ‘playing to have fun’, but still making progress.

It somewhat relates to what Zubon wrote over at KTR, in that HOW you present information to a player is often as important as what is actually happening.

Two points of caution.

If the numbers are too easy to game, the illusion won’t work. If during beta someone puts a “how to progress” guide that tells you exactly what to do to gain access to sword X or armor Y, CSE has failed here. They say this will help them monitor and stop/prevent ‘keep trading’, but I wonder how far that will go exactly. If I spend the entire day swinging swords at anything I can find to ‘power level’ swords or strength, is that actually going to be viable and work, or get flagged or be ineffective?

On the other hand, if the system is too arcane, and ‘just playing the game’ isn’t effective enough to not gimp yourself versus those who powergame the system (and people will), CSE has failed because they will have effectively forced people to adapt or fall too far behind in a PvP MMO, which is a non-starter.

Those two major points of caution aside, I’m looking forward to CU more today than I was prior to all of this news, so at least on that front mission accomplished.


Pathfinder Online: Everything but the game is looking awesome!

July 16, 2014

I was recently talking to a friend about Pathfinder Online, with the gist of the conversation being that I love everything about the game on paper, from the design docs to what the devs have said, but actually seeing it in video is a complete no-go for me, and what that ultimately means.

On the one hand, ‘gameplay’ is a rather important aspect of any game, if not the most important. If what you are doing in the game isn’t actually fun most of the time, what kind of crazy person must you be to keep playing?

As crazy as most EVE players?

I mean, how much fun gameplay is there in many of EVE’s activities? Is mining ‘fun’? Are missions great gameplay? Even the high-point events like massive battles; for the average F1 pilot, is the gameplay really that great? I think most of the above can be answered with a “no, but…”. And that ‘but’ is huge (rimshot), because while mining is either boring or relaxing depending on perspective, it feeding into the best economy in the genre is a large part of what makes it such a popular activity in the game.

If Pathfinder gets the economy right, if it has interesting/worthwhile crafting, etc, would the fact that it has rather poor mining ‘gameplay’ matter? Because at this point I’d rather take poor gameplay but solid, sustainable systems over the opposite. If I just want great but shallow gameplay, I’ll play something other than an MMO.

Of course some of the gameplay has to be good/great. In EVE PvP can be thrilling, and at the highest levels (Alliance Tourney) it’s as deep and skillful as anything else. Pathfinder is in alpha still, so maybe the combat/gameplay will improve significantly, but even if it doesn’t, I can’t fully rule it out, even in the shape it’s in today.

(That said, please for the love of god improve the gameplay Goblin Works!)

 


Please exit to your left, the ride has now ended

July 10, 2014

So this post happened, along with 40+ comments. Give it all a read.

Easy multiple choice question time: When you run out of ‘stuff to do’ in a game, what do you normally do?

A: Keep playing/paying for the lulz

B: Stop playing/paying

The correct and only answer is B.

Now sometimes you quit even when you still have ‘stuff to do’, but that’s better than the game basically ending for you due to the content running out, right?

Raids you might never see, for most players, count as ‘stuff to do’ in MMOs where raiding is ‘the point’. WoW in its prime was very much a ‘raiding is the point’ game. Yes, it had a nice leveling curve and a pretty decent PvP game (especially in retrospect and seeing what we have now in themeparks), but let’s not kid ourselves, raiding was ‘the point’ in WoW vanilla/TBC (you know, those years when the game was still growing).

Now whether it was realistic for the average player to get deep into raiding or not (it was because in a 40 man raid, 10-15 people carried the rest), that content was still stuff to do, with unique bosses, unique loot, and unique locations they had not seen that were ‘important’ to see. That keeps people playing/paying. It’s also far less effective to expect the average player to grind away in a brutal ‘hard mode’ to see the same boss again just with a gimmicky twist. Challenging content is PART of raiding, yes, but it’s not THE only reason, and when that’s all there really is to your true ‘end game’, you are going to lose people (like, you know, the millions WoW has lost since the TBC days).

What’s funny about today’s themepark MMOs is that they took all of the established lessons from earlier games, forgot them, and are doing everything they possibly can to lose people after 1-3 months. As I said in the comments over at TAGN, unless you are in the charity MMO business, giving people a reason to keep playing/paying is a pretty solid strategy IMO.

I also think this topic confuses people a bit with some of its history. For instance, Nax40 in WoW was indeed poorly used content. It was AWESOME content, but it came out way too close to TBC ‘resetting’ the game, so outside of world/server first guilds, it wasn’t viable content for most people. Had it been released 6 months earlier, or TBC was delayed for 6 months, those Nax40 usage numbers would have greatly increased, and it would have accomplished what AQ40 and BWL did before it; kept people playing/paying.

To bring this topic into 2014, myself and 99.99% of all League of Legend players will never see/experience Challenger-level ‘content’ like tournaments, streams, and the balance/meta game that exists at that level. And it’s a level that Riot spends a serious amount of time, effort, and money on. So while it’s not exactly apples to apples, just like the pro level of LoL helps bring in new players and keep existing players interested/involved, those 5-10% raids do something similar for your MMO, especially now with Twitch being so popular. People can watch those at a higher level, and because they are watching a video game vs something like professional basketball (where no matter how hard you try, you just won’t grow tall enough to dunk the ball), they actually CAN work to get better and get closer to that level.

And closer, rather than actually reaching it, is really the key here. So long as you can improve, and so long as you still have a reason (content) to keep improving, you will keep playing/paying. That is the model right? At least at the major league level of the MMO genre?

(And just to clarify, the ‘more content’ doesn’t 100% have to be raiding. Raiding works however because the dev-time to player-consumption ratio is reasonably sustainable, unlike questing or new zones. Now maybe when someone finally figures it out and makes a PvE sandbox MMO :cough: we’ll have a different example of sustainable, worthwhile PvE content, but until that day raiding is it.)

#WoW #MMODesign #LoL


Darkfall: Unholy Wars going F2P and other problems sink it

June 20, 2014

Darkfall and I have had an interesting history (the fact that I heard about the first game from Tobold entertains me to this day), and unfortunately I think this post marks the final chapter. The game is going in multiple directions that don’t appeal to me, the community has lost those who make the game worth playing overall, and comical developer incompetence and corruption was the final little push I needed to finally move on.

Let’s start with the game itself. Recently a cash shop was added, which sets the stage for the game’s F2P conversion coming ‘soon’ (it’s already F2P in Asia). I was asked here a while back if I would continue to support DF even if it went F2P, and at the time I said I would not. This is made all the easier since buying more than just fluff is already in the shop. You can pay AV $5 for a prowess (XP) reset, which is pretty ‘convenient’ when you have a game in constant flux due to a massive combat overhaul and general developer indecision about balance and the direction of the game. How many times will someone accept their current build being nerfed into the ground and told they can fix it for just $5 before they get fed up?

Plus how many times have MMO players heard the song and dance from developers about not selling power when F2P is announced, and a few months later the cash shop is offering you the One Ring? When things get dire, devs get desperate, and DF:UW’s core issues persist to this day.

And what are those core issues? The main one is the game is still an oversized arena PvP game, rather than an MMO. There is no reason to PvP other than for the sake of PvP, and this is reflected in the quality of the playerbase. Where games like EVE have people like The Mittani creating content for tens of thousands of players, those key people have long since left Darkfall, and in their place stand directionless ‘leaders’ providing little if any content. Even DF1 was able to initially attract some of these valuable players (Manus, Glut, Osium, etc), which is what kept that game’s meta interesting for the first two years or so. But as they saw the state of DF:UW’s beta, and the general design flaws of the game, they never even bothered showing up on day one. Inq to this day mocks me about trying to get them to give the game another shot.

The above is also why DF:UW gets laughable indifference from so many EVE players. My alliance would always wonder what I see in a game with no long-term plan, goal, or point, and admittedly I look a bit foolish now with my “they are working on that guys!” enthusiasm, because nope, they really aren’t. So why grind up to play in an arena when you can play a better version of exactly that in games like Chivalry or even your MOBA of choice. At least those games understand what they are, rather than awkwardly pretending to be something they clearly are not capable of delivering.

A more recent core problem has been the combat overhaul. To say it’s a surprising disaster would be unfair, because if you didn’t see it being a disaster pre-release you must be painfully blind. Imagine if CCP, in the name of ‘player freedom’, allowed any ship to fit a doomsday on it, and the balance explanation provided was that since everyone can use it, it’s balanced. That’s what AV did with DF:UW recently. I wish I was joking, but I’m not. They took armor, weapons, and skills all previously designed and balanced around fitting into classes, and just removed the concept of classes without the overhaul to everything needed to make it work. At least in DF1, which had the same ‘everyone can be everything’ system, balance was attempted with that in mind since day one. It was bad, but not “lulz doomsday spam” bad.

The result is not just the expected FOTM lameness that happens in every MMO with such a system that has poor checks and balances, but that combat overall is a cheesefest of who can come up with the cheapest AoE/CC combo to drop people with because nothing was designed with this system in mind. Imagine DAoC roaming 8s cheese but turned up to 11, and that’s DF:UW. The only reason the abuse isn’t nearly as bad as you might expect right now is because of the above point; the playerbase doesn’t have the top-tier talent to create the best builds quickly, but those who remain will eventually get there.

The above are further hurt by the still woefully pointless economy, made more comical by F2P-forbearing gimmicks such as double loot weekends. Having a ‘full bank’ in DF:UW is trivial, and once that happens, it’s just another brick stacked on top of the directionless mess that the game is overall. Again, imagine playing EVE with limitless ISK and you get a good idea of what DF:UW offers once you grind it out for a month or so.

The final and minor side note is how AV handles their community. The most toxic members are left unchecked, especially in-game, where global chat will drive away anyone who has evolved beyond 8th grade gym humor and the lowest of internet meme trash. On the forums the moderation team is all over the place, at times deleting an entire and often valuable thread due to one post, while at other times leaving a cesspool up no matter how low it gets.

When members of the community would try to work with moderators in a productive manner, the end-result was as likely a temp-ban for the one making the effort as it might be for those destroying it, depending on which moderator you happen to get. Double-speak excuses were put forth when confronted about this regardless of how far someone escalated things, which ultimately resulted in many once-helpful people leaving the game in disgust.

To list just one sad example, the head community manager specifically stated that since they somehow can’t verify the content of personal messages on their own forums (yup…), they won’t take any action for that content. If you ever want a place to throw out death threats without consequence, Darkfall is your place. Hell, it already has an Erotica1 clone running rampant, without that pesky CCP getting in the way of those community-building torture sessions.

Even the once-productive MVP forum has so many like-minded people included now that it really serves no purpose, especially since AV has stopped sharing key details and instead are now just throwing out pie-in-the-sky ideas (alignment system, one-off quests, etc) without following up. Even small, silly things like there recent survey, with all its mistakes, could have easily been improved with some feedback, but they don’t use the resources available to them for whatever reason.

Much like Shadowbane and other PvP focused MMOs that have come before it, I think future developers can learn a thing or two from this experiment, and hopefully MMOs like Pathfinder take some of these lessons to heart to become successful titles. This was a good run, with at least as many highs as lows, but with F2P lurking and things overall not improving (the number of bugs and exploits in the game right now is almost back-to-beta bad), it’s time to put DF:UW down.

#DF:UW #F2P


Big boy toys

June 12, 2014

It wasn’t THAT long ago when video games were considered a kid’s toy. Now when someone asks me when I’m going to stop playing ‘games’, I tell them hopefully the afterlife has solid broadband.

Given the above, it makes sense that along with gaming content (‘mature’ themes) changing, pricing models and levels have also been changing. A kid’s toy maxing out at $50 makes sense. Little Billy isn’t the one holding the wallet, which makes picking up a $200 in-game shiny difficult if not impossible for him. Someone a little older and successful can decide between going out to dinner for $200 or buying said shiny, and a serious argument can be made in what has more real ‘value’.

TAGN has a post up about Shroud of the Avatar selling in-game towns for real money, and these are not micro transactions. The smallest option comes in at $750, while the largest is $4000. Those prices are beyond just a decent dinner out, but if you are in a long-standing guild with successful people, splitting even $4000 between 20 or so players starts to sound a whole lot more manageable.

Star Citizen, also mentioned by TAGN, is another example of this growing trend, and just like SotA, if you have the means knock yourself out.

I’m perfectly fine with games like this so long as you know up-front what is going on. While I personally haven’t enjoy my wallet winning for me since giving up Magic The Gathering, if that does it for others more power to them. If a game I’m currently playing switches over to wallet-warrioring, I have a problem, but here both games have been upfront since day one. No one can say they didn’t know what they were signing up for here.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 174 other followers