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!

Can we close the book on ‘accessibility’ now?

September 18, 2014

File this as example 164,239 of “difficulty is good for everyone, faceroll is bad”: EVE Burner missions killing people make them enjoyable. This is pretty good timing too, given that Blizzard just confirmed example 164,238 (WotLK, the ‘accessible’ age, was when WoW started declining), and Tobold is here to provide example 164,240, where he had to stop face-rolling in Destiny (a ‘casual AAA game’ everyone) due to running into something with a challenge, and actually had to think up a way to get around it. Oh the horror.

Not that this is news to most. The most popular game out overall is based on scaling PvP difficulty (LoL), the most popular and profitable mobile game is based on scaling PvP difficulty (CoC), and the most popular gaming franchise (CoD) is based primarily around PvP of scaling difficulty (server selection). It’s almost like people are trying to tell devs something, and they are saying it with what counts (money rather than words).

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.

CoC: Growing our social mix

July 29, 2014

Growing up I always hated movie tie-in videogames. I think part of the hatred was fueled by what magazines like EGM were writing at the time, because the guys working had to actually play those games to review them, and you could easily tell they hated it. But it also came from the fact that poorly made yet ‘popular’ titles were taking attention and sales from stuff I liked (namely RPG games prior to FF7 making RPGs cool).

Fast forward to today and this here MMO blog, and things haven’t changed all that much now have they? Back when liking WoW was cool, I was here railing against it because that game was drawing away attention from stuff I liked. Of course history shows I was right, and mimicking post-TBC WoW set the genre back a decade, but that annoyance of the crappy-but-popular thing still remains.

Only today instead of movie-based games, we have “popular because popular” based games like the Kim K iPhone game which is making truckloads of money. Who could have guessed that someone with a giant following of idiots could make a product designed around parting idiots with there money (F2P trash titles) and turn that into a cash cow. :shakes fist:

Not all is sad and lost however. A surprising number of readers here have followed my wise advice and gotten into Clash of Clans, and I think so far everyone has been pleasantly surprised by the quality and depth of the game. And as more people join up (clan is at 27 members now), the social/team aspect increases as well, which as we all know is the secret sauce to turn a good game into something really great.

The game, from a social aspect, also has a bit of old-school 40 man raid culture, in that a few more dedicated players can assist or ‘carry’ those who are more casual, and the group as a whole can still progress and succeed. It’s almost impossible IMO to find a large group of very dedicated players who also like each other. Usually either you are hardcore and tolerate each other based mostly on skill rather than personality, everyone is casual and derpy, or you have a mix. But the mix only works if the game supports it, and thankfully CoC does.

Joining note: Clan name is “Supreme Cream!”, in your message just mention the blog or I’ll think you are some random. Only ‘requirements’ are that you are active during clan wars (use your two attacks), and that you aren’t a complete puddle when it comes to improving your layout/strategy.




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

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.


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