Return to sanity

February 11, 2013

So this happened over the weekend. Head on over and enjoy, especially the comments section. If you skim, don’t worry, I’ve got a lot of the choice quotes here.

On the surface this just sounds like a bitter ex-MMO blogger venting because others are talking about a PvP MMO, and to them those types of games are scary monsters to be shunned. More of the same, right?

Except it’s not just that, especially if you go into the comments section. There, it’s an interesting look into the MMO genre and how it’s currently in a state of correction.

To put it bluntly, SW:TOR was the last of a dying breed. We will never see another mega-expensive themepark focused on refining what made WoW work, primarily because it’s now been confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the model does not work; not in WoW now, not in titles trying to be it.

In part, it’s because this is who you are targeting:

MMOs are DESIGNED to be a quick and replaceable pastime, they are easy to pick up and require minimal investment (like all games compared to any real-life activity). Nobody ever designed them to be the Mozart-equivalent of anything. Just because you’re not able to retain perspective, and treat them as the *games* they are, does not turn them into anything different.

You expect the player above to play/pay for months and months in order to make your money back. As EA themselves stated so well: “if SW:TOR can’t do it, no one can”. Oh how right they were.

I find all of this comical in a way. These are the players always telling us that in PvP games, the wolves eat the sheep, and then the sheep leave, and the wolves are left with nothing; yet here we have the sheep leaving their pastures after a month or so, dooming one title after another. Not that I blame them of course; when you are only given a month-worth of content, why stay indeed.

What really seems silly here is the perception of expectations. Let’s start with this:

If today a game released and got 250,000 players, it would be considered a failure

That’s a funny metric isn’t it? Because by that standard, only a few MMOs qualify as a success, and only two of them can be solidly confirmed (WoW and EVE). Everything else? Either hovering near that, or they are far below.

(WoW) remains the yard stick with which other games have to be measured:

If this was 2007, then the above statement would only appear foolish to a few :cough: But its 2013. It’s been almost 9 years since WoW has been released, and in those 9 years, how many titles and how much money has been spent without a single title even coming close to retaining a tenth of what WoW peaked at? No, today no one is using WoW as a yard stick, just like no new music record is using Thriller as the make-or-break point.

But the angst is understandable, because the slow confirmation is sinking in; those who enjoyed what WoW offered will be left out in the cold soon. That ‘mass market’ is, shockingly, just not profitable. The content is too expensive to produce, the players don’t stick around long enough, and even when you seem to get most things right, you still fall about ten million subs short of expectations. Again, in 2007 maybe this was a debate, in 2013, it’s not.

In the whole subset of humanity, people who like MMOs are a small subset, and guys who will always like MMOs are a tiny subset in that subset. Basically not worth even considering when talking about MMO gamers as a whole.

Ah yes, our little niche. The problem with the above is rather simple. If you aim to retain 500k subs, and only get 250k, you have failed. And if all you can plan for is that 500k, the MMO genre seems like a really difficult place to do business. And for years now, all most have heard about is the go-big-or-go-home mantra of WoW-cloning. Why aim at 50k when you can target that juicy 12m?

Because the 12m is a lie, isn’t it? For a multitude of factors already well-covered, the 12m that played WoW back in vanilla/TBC just don’t have a real interest in MMOs as a whole. They never did, and while they were briefly attracted to a bright light every now and again, the tourists always came back, or just left and went home altogether (though ‘9m’ still remain, right?). Yet for years studio after studio tried to chase them, dressing their offering up as a robot, or a superhero, or countless variations of Gandalf. And all failed. All of them.

What has always worked in this genre is accurate targeting and delivery. To most Darkfall 1 was not a success, because it never got above 100k subs and Aventurine’s track record was and is, well, let’s call it special. And yet DF1 was a sub-based MMO for three years, had three expansions and launched a second server six months after release, and now has a sequel of impeccable quality (snicker) in beta. From a players perspective, it’s exactly what you could hope for. More importantly, for those at AV, from the original crew to the new hires, they get to continue doing what they love and getting paid for it. And DF is just one example among many, with by far the most prominent being EVE; a title still growing after ten years that is more true to its vision than just about anything else. A title that started in a niche of niches and carved itself into the second-biggest MMO out. Not bad for Excel Online.

More importantly, Camelot Unchained and others show that the future of the genre is, finally, not in chasing the mythical WoW unicorn, but in reproducing what actually worked; delivering a measured product aimed at the crowd that actually wants it. And if that crowd is only 30k strong, as Mark Jacob’s estimates will be the case for CU, so be it. 30k people paying you each month is more than doable from a business standpoint; you just can’t spend 300m to get there.

And that’s where the fear comes in from the WoW-clone crowd. Titles like CU offer nothing for them. Nothing. They are too focused, too targeted, and demand too much from them. Worst of all, these titles don’t NEED the WoW-cloners, and that scares them to death. After all these years of being catered to, of having one massively over-produced monthly snack after another, the next wave will ignore them and move right past them.

It’s what niche products do. And MMOs are most certainly niche, one unique and unreproducible outlier aside.


Genre Splitting

October 30, 2012

I want to combine some topics and thoughts into what will hopefully be a larger point; it’s crazy that today, games like GW2 and EVE are considered part of the same genre. Allow me to explain.

Shiolle asked the following:

“How much time (in terms of hours/week) would you consider a mandatory investment to properly play EVE or Darkfall (the way you play them)?”

To which I responded:

“20hrs+, with solid 2-3+ regular hour blocks and being able to play during the prime nights (Tues, Thurs, Sunday), while also being able to schedule to play 3-4+ hours for something major like a siege?

Some of it will depend on the player though. If you are self-motivated, you can get away with fewer hours or more random times. If you can’t in a sandbox, you will need to be online when the majority of the clan is, and for INQ that’s EST 8pm-1am.”

With that in mind, consider this post from Syp, where he talks about going back to SW:TOR, but in his considerations never once mentions the multiplayer aspect of the game, or anything outside his own time and planning. I’m not saying he is wrong here, as SW:TOR is an sRPG in all of its key aspects, but just consider that these games are, technically, in the same genre, supposedly drawing from the same pool of players (I don’t buy the whole pool thing, but many do, so let’s pretend for the sake of this post).

Now what if Syp was talking about Darkfall instead of SW:TOR, but had the same approach? First, he would ‘fail’ in terms of getting anything out of DF, as it’s really not a fun game to solo around in casually. But beyond that, imagine if Syp was a guild member, and you were the leader or officer trying to coordinate things. Members like Syp are a nightmare.

They don’t show up enough to be reliable for in-game planning. They aren’t active enough to generally follow the flow and social structure of a guild. And at the same time, they will show up sometimes and can’t be completely written off when considering numbers (less a factor in DF since there are no caps, but even here it matters for PR reasons), but often can’t stick around to fully see something through like a siege. Manning the wall for an hour and then logging during a 3 hour siege is not much help to anyone, player or clan. Plus when they move on after a month, whatever training or setup you have done with them goes poof as well.

And yet, currently, MMO gaming (supposedly) caters to both players; Those with enough time to play MMOs as virtual worlds to be lived in, and those with enough time to just experience a bite of content before logging off. It’s no surprise that games who try to attract both have spectacularly failed overall, while games who aim more towards one or the other can do well. EVE makes no illusion to offering bite sized 30min chunks of content as the main course, while GW2 (post-release) has been clearly designed just for that, with little to no consideration for pre-formed groups or long-term retention.

I think what confuses things further, beyond how companies sometimes attempt to market to everyone, is that many (most?) players also don’t fully consider this divide. We are, quite simply, looking for two completely different experiences, and in order to have those, we require two very different design approaches with very different time requirements, both for that day (30min vs 3hrs) and long term (1 month and done vs 1yr+ stays). As has often been stated, perhaps it’s time for a whole new set of terms when talking about the giant mess that we consider the MMO genre.


Yes yes, but its FREE garbage!

August 9, 2012

Catching up on blogs, and I just came across this line from Lum:

Everything is free to play, because the financial barrier entry for MMOs is fiercely competitive and in the end it’s very difficult to compete with zero.

I think we have all seen similar thoughts from lots of different places, and it seems pretty obvious right? It would be hard to argue that FEWER people will be willing to try SW:TOR for free than to pay $60 to try it. 0>anything here, duh.

On the other hand, if GW2 had a $70 box cost instead of $60, how many people who pre-ordered would cancel? Some, sure. But many?

EAWare could offer to pay me $15 a month and I’d still not bother downloading SW:TOR, and CCP could start charging $30 a month for EVE and I’d still pay/PLEX for 3 accounts.

~$15 a month is not the great wall of China in terms of a ‘barrier of entry’. Your game being good/garbage is. Or in other words, SW:TOR is a failure not because it costs $15 a month, it’s a failure because the game sucks as an MMO. Focusing on the business model behind the pile of fail is missing the point. Remember all those amazing numbers Turbine brought up the first week of DDO/LoTRO going F2P? Why is it we only hear from them once? Oh right, because F2P or sub, DDO/LotRO are still DDO/LotRO (mostly, but that’s a different topic).

Dropping down to F2P will get you some freeloaders, those who that $15 a month or so really is an issue, and they might even toss you a buck or two occasionally, but F2P is not a magic cure that turns a bad game into a good one. It might help people justify spending time on something average-at-best, but the better ‘business model’ is to make a game good enough that people actually, you know, want to play/pay for. That has been in very short supply the last few years.


EVE: My first kill is a good one

January 4, 2012

The good news? This.

The bad news? Two jumps later my Caracal got popped at another gate camp.

Good times.


Time to be a coward

October 27, 2011

What happens when you trip over yourself one too many times? Get the ban stick out!

It’s funny that Tobold denies deleting my comment in that thread, yet despite seeing the follow-up comment I made here (not deleted yet), he stayed quiet. Strange huh? Not like this is the same guy who disabled comments because of his thin skin in the past, or has gone on crazy censorship sprees when the mood strikes. Nope, totally different guy.

Good times. Off to pick up that 8,000,000 vanity item for my spreadsheet sim.


Play to (profitably) crush: Round 2?

August 30, 2011

 Massively has a nice two-part interview (linking not working atm…) with two original Shadowbane, and now Wizard101, devs that is well worth reading.

The story behind Shadowbane is a familiar one. New devs biting off more than they can chew, having more ideas than time to code them, and ultimately a lack of funds forcing a release and dooming the product. The final bit, about announcing the game too soon and getting people hyped too early (while also possibly allowing the game to get funding), is very interesting and really highlights how screwed up funding can be.

I played Shadowbane briefly during beta and at release, but it was basically unplayable on my machine at the time (5-10 FPS), and by the time my hardware was upgraded and the game was fixed up, I had moved on. But I played the game enough to see the good parts (city building, sieging), and it is telling that no major release since SB has attempted some of the things they had going.

It would also be fairly humorous if these guys took the money they made with Wizard101, a F2P kids game, and created Shadowbane 2. This time armed with all the lessons learned and a proper budget. One can wish.


Fantasy Football: Need a few players

August 18, 2011

We currently have 6 teams signed up for our 12 team league. Some quick math tells me I need 6 more people. Comment here (with a valid email) or shoot me an email if you are interested.


Recruit-a-Random

May 10, 2011

The Rift recruit-a-random program tops out at 3 sales.

If Aventurine had limited their plan to that, I’d have to give up not just the mansion, but also three of my four cars. It would have saved me from 2+ years of fabricating just how awesome DarkFall is, and preserved my blogger e-rep. Yo.

Another day, another sandbox > themepark example.

Use my link please, I really need the spark…err, flaming pony. To better instantly teleport me into a dungeon, of course. Plus if you use my link, every 30 minutes you can teleport to me in-game and gaze upon my awesomeness. That’s a pretty serious bargain IMO.


It’s 3v1, we got this!

June 3, 2010

Getting better at PvP in Darkfall is usually a rather costly process, but its one everyone who really wants to improve goes through. It’s easy to go out with a veteran group to PvP and get good results (you kill people), but most of the time you won’t really be learning what it takes to get better in small scale situations, as you are more or less being carried by those around you, or you’re group gets defeated and it might be difficult to identify what you specifically did wrong. The best, but most painful way to get better at PvP in Darkfall is to go out there and fight people, and while you won’t see much success initially, you will rapidly improve.

The learning process was in full effect last night for myself and my two buddies. We were coming back to a few mob camps that we had just been farming successfully for a couple hours when I heard another player moving about. As I rode closer I heard a mount spawn, indicating the player was most likely not a friendly target. Coming over a hill I spotted the player and he was indeed an enemy, so a quick decision was made to give chase. Even though this was a 3v1 situation, all three of us were in PvE gear sets that were very suboptimal for PvP, so perhaps the decision to chase was not a good one, but you play Darkfall to PvP after all, so ultimately why not? You can always replace gear, but you can’t replace a learning experience.

The terrain was such that the enemy had no straight escape path, and so despite his head start, we eventually were able to close the distance and engage. As I was the one closest to the enemy, my basic plan was to slow him down and stall him long enough for the others to catch up, but he was game and would not engage in a mounted fight for long. As he rode ahead of me I jumped off my mount and put enough arrows into his mount to get it very close to death (if I did not suck at archery it would have gone down), and due to his attempts to dodge my arrows another group member was now close enough to engage as well. He unfortunately made the mistake of getting off his horse too close to the enemy, and the guy was smart enough to quickly jump off his wounded mount and grab my ally’s full health one.  The delay however was long enough to allow my friend to fully bow down the fresh mount (unlike me he has good aim), and once on the ground we were able to catch up and fight it out.

The mount was downed near the top of a sand dune, and right behind the enemy a very powerful mob was prowling. As the enemy buffed up I arrived and started shooting some magic. Unfortunately I was using a slower-casting PvE staff, so my DPS was limited compared to my enemies, and as luck would have it the mob started casting at me rather than the enemy who was much closer. As the two focus fired me, my health dropped quickly and in a last ditch effort I spawned my mount, used the Rage ability, and tried to avoid death long enough for my friends to bring him down.

Along with the problem of my staff, our more magic-focused ally was in heavy armor for PvE, and so his best weapon was unavailable to him, and his back-up, archery, was also significantly impacted. This meant that the enemy was able to focus me without much worry for the others, and despite using Rage and dodging on a mount, he was able to not only bring me down, but then pull off a smart confusion/gank combo. He was low health now, but due to the lack of AoE magic or the ability to put heavy pressure on him, he was able to recover before engaging the others, and ultimately killing them as well long before I had time to ride back to the fight.

While on the surface it’s a bit embarrassing to lose a 3v1, it was certainly a great learning experience and brings us one step closer to really feeling comfortable in small-scale PvP situations. I’m still adjusting to my now more magic-focused character, while the others are still fairly new to many aspects of PvP such as mounted combat, keeping pressure on an opponent, and how to juggle being aggressive while keeping your own vitals high. It’s that meta-complexity however that really makes Darkfall PvP so enjoyable and such a huge rush. It would have felt great to bring down a veteran PvPer, even 3v1, and the defeat is just more motivation to improve our play.

Edit: Ugh first day fail, sorry!

When Chuck Norris gets pulled over, he lets the cop off with a warning.

(DarkFall-related post disclaimer/reminder. If you click the image link near the top-right of this page and buy a DarkFall account, I get paid 20% of the client cost. If you believe this taints my views and reporting on DarkFall, your opinion is wrong.)


Guild Wars: Some plus and minus observations

May 28, 2010

As Aria and I have been slowly (level 7 atm) making our way through Guild Wars NightFall, a few things jump out as talking point. I’m still having a good time overall with the game, Aria is 50/50 with it mostly due to the amount of travel vs combat/content, but I know until we hit level 20 we are not really seeing the ‘real’ GW.

One thing that currently does strike me as a little odd is the pacing of the outdoor areas. We have yet to really hit our stride and battle in an area that feels right. Either we are fighting mobs that we plow right over, or we are fighting things 3-4 levels above us and dying more often than not. The oddest part of it all is I don’t believe we are skipping ahead or going out of order, but rather that the jump in levels is a bit drastic between one side of a quest hub and the other. Again, my guess is once you hit level 20 this becomes a non-issue, but right now it’s noticeable. A level indicator on quests would be rather helpful in this regard IMO. Am I missing an option for this?

I can’t talk about how Aria’s Elementalist plays, but my Dervish is again both interesting and also at times annoying. I have a good selection of self-buffs to cast, which give both a benefit while they are running and then a secondary benefit when they end. This combo of benefits is interesting. It’s also annoying because the buffs only last 20-30 seconds, which means you end up recasting them before every single fight. With 3-4 buffs being used, that’s a good amount of click-and-wait time before you clear yet another group of mobs.

The interesting thing is that many of my special attacks also remove a self-buff when executed, meaning that not only do I deal the special attacks damage, but I also get the ending benefit of whatever self-buff is removed. The annoying thing is that you then re-cast buffs if what you are fighting is still alive after one round of ‘attack and remove buffs’. Overall I think I like the system, and certainly in tougher fights it’s nice to plan ahead and pull off combos as you need them, but it does make the Dervish a bit micro-heavy for common mobs.

Finally, while overall I like the hero system GW has going for it, it also feels a little lacking. I like it because it in essence gives you another character to level, assign skills, and equip gear with. As those are core values of any RPG, and I enjoy RPGs, I like heroes for those aspects. It’s always nice to have a sword drop, and despite the fact that my Dervish uses scythes, I still benefit from the sword because I can have my hero Koss the warrior use it. Plus without having to roll an alt I can get an idea for how a warrior plays and the type of abilities they get. As we pick up more heroes, this will only increase.

Another huge bonus is that Aria and I can field a full party of four just by bringing out our heroes. While this does remove a major aspect of an MMO, grouping with others, for us it works well because of how quickly we jump in and out of the game. I would not want this kind of option in my main MMO, but in a side game it’s great, and I believe GWs makes for an excellent side game (no monthly sub being a key factor). Being able to mix and match heroes based on your class and what you need/want is another nice perk.

The major downside with heroes in GW however is that they are too automated. Once you assign their skills and gear them up, they basically play themselves. This is great for run-of-the-mill mobs, but it either trivializes or leaves you feeling a little helpless against tougher mobs. If the heroes do too good a job, you end up feeling like the game is playing itself. If they don’t do enough, you end up wishing you had more control. Given how heavily instanced GW is, I’d think an interesting option would be to allow a party leader to slow down time, and in this slo-mo mode you can assign specific actions to a hero in an almost RTS/TBS control style. That could never work in a virtual world setting, but in a 1-4 man instance, why not?

Like I said initially though, I’m still very much into exploring more of GW and its different functions and systems, plus it’s saying something that the graphics still look great given the games age. I can see why it’s not really an MMO, but then I can see why it’s not really an MMO for a lot of good reasons. More to come as we get further in.


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