ARK – A micro-MMO

August 26, 2015

My obsession with ARK continues, and it has now bled into the MMO-thinking part of my brain. To be very clear, ARK isn’t an MMO, but in a lot of ways it certainly plays like one.

The big thing is progression; you certainly have it in ARK, between your own character’s level, the base you build, the dinos you tame, the blueprints you collect, and the ever-expanding scope of stuff you can do as you progress and get more powerful. What’s funny is in an MMO like WoW, you can go from fresh character to the level cap in less time than it would take in ARK, and then both games have a lot of different stuff to do once you are at the cap, with a key difference being that levels help in ARK, while levels are required for ‘end-game’ content in WoW.

The main reason ARK isn’t an MMO is scale. Servers currently max out at 70 players, while an MMO server can hold thousands (or tens of thousands if we are talking EVE). ARK also has trouble handling more than ten or so characters on one screen, while again in an MMO that is common and expected. But the question in my mind is how often, when playing an MMO, does that matter? When you run a dungeon, it’s just you and the 3-5 others with you, and literally nothing else matters. Raids are bigger, but basically the same thing. An auction house is something thousands of players interact with, but unless you are deep into playing the auction house, do you actually care that the goods are listed and bought by others, or would your experience be mostly the same if bots did it?

In fact, one could argue player interaction in ARK is more important than it is in a typical MMO. The obvious example is PvP; raiding someone’s base has a huge impact, larger than killing someone in WoW or even blowing up a ship in EVE. A lot of things are easy to replace in ARK, but there are also a lot of things (high lvl dinos, rare items or blueprints) that aren’t, and losing those hurts. Plus base raiding has various degrees; someone blowing up one wall and looting one room stings, but a rival tribe leveling your base is a rage-quit level event.

PvP aside, even living near someone else has a large impact in ARK, while your garrison in WoW has nearly zero impact on anyone but you. In ARK resources don’t respawn near a base, so having 2-3 bases in close proximity not only means a large void of respawns, but also increased competition for the remaining resources. It’s comparable to mining in EVE, where you show up and the belt has already been stripped, only in ARK resource availability plays a more major role, and it’s not as easy as simply flying to the next belt.

ARK makes me wonder if a lot of the design problems of an MMO can be solved by going micro-MMO, especially if going smaller results in MORE player interaction.

It’s in the books, FFXIV is the largest sub MMO out today

August 21, 2015

The troll job from SquareEnix using ‘registered accounts’ for subs continues, this time to announce that the game has crossed the 5m sub mark. As WoW has likely continued to bleed subs since the 5.4m announcement, I think its rather safe to say FFXIV is now the larger MMO in terms of paying players.

So, who had August 2015 as the date WoW was dethroned?

I will admit this is a bit anti-climactic, mostly because Blizzard dug their own grave rather than being beaten while they were still putting up a fight. Sure, FFXIV is a great MMO, and the fact that it’s basically a modern-day vanilla WoW is especially fantastic, but if Old Blizzard was still running WoW this doesn’t happen.

Trion being Trion: Trove edition

August 20, 2015

Trion’s statement: One million monthly users.

Scott’s clarification: It’s anyone who has ever created a free account since launch.

Trion launched July 9th.

So Trion it hurts.

ARK: Base building trial and error, and the patching frenzy

August 19, 2015

Still playing a lot of ARK, and still really enjoying it. My latest ‘main focus’ is on building a base, which is great fun but also a source of some frustration as things don’t always work out as I had planned in my mind before placing pieces. There is a lot of trial and error, but because you only get 50% of the resources back when you removed a placed piece, too much error leads to a lot of additional resource harvesting.

The cause of most issues is the fact that the base is built on a slope, near an abandoned base, along a river. The abandoned base is problematic because it blocks me from placing pieces at certain points if they get too close to it, and while we have plans to eventually remove that base, we aren’t at that point just yet. The river is vital as we need the water for crops, but it also causes some issues with placement and with dino pathing. Since dinos can drown, I can’t build in such a way that could potentially lead to one of our tamed dinos getting stuck underwater.

However the biggest problem is the slope of the land. The placement of the base’s initial foundations, while not ‘bad’, aren’t ideal, nor are the structures going further down the slope towards the river. If it was possible to pick everything up and redo the base, I would in a heartbeat, but again that 50% cost is a killer. The actual buildings aren’t too bad, as they are functional and provide enough space. The dino pen however is currently an issue, specifically building a roof for it to keep our tamed dinos safe from aerial dinos and players jumping in.

Roof tiles can’t be attached to walls built using a fence base, only walls placed on a foundation. But as foundation placement is far more limited than fence, fence basing was used for the majority of the pen walls. That worked great for the walls, but now pillars are required to build the roof. Pillars however are limited in their height; you can’t fully control how high they go with each placement, which leads to gaps. A small gap is fine, but if the gap gets big enough, a player could squeeze through, defeating the purpose of the ceiling.

The pen requires multiple pillars for the roof, but again thanks to the slope, each pillar is slightly different in eventual height, leading to a roof that is a mishmash of heights, along with walls that either leave a small (hopefully inaccessible) gap, or that go a bit above the ceiling. While ultimately functional, it’s not as clean looking as I’d like, and that bothers me. Not enough to fix it all to perfection at that 50% cost, but enough to think about the next base and how to improve the design.

A large part of the learning process here is seeing how the world interacts with each of the building pieces, what you are allowed to place where, and some tricky/strange stuff like removing a wall blocking a ceiling, placing said ceiling, and then being allowed to rebuild the wall in its original spot, slightly clipping through the ceiling tile. Again, trial and error is part of the fun, even if it’s a costly part.

It also doesn’t help that ARK is updated at a mind-blowing pace. Almost every day a patch is released, and often the patch brings some major stuff like a new dino, new tools, new weapons, or tweaks/balance changes. Plus bug fixes and performance improvements. It really is amazing, and ARK is perhaps the first game were I truly feel Early Access is very appropriate not because the game is in rough shape (it’s not, at all), but because of how fast it changes and evolves. Playing the game itself feels like a wild ride, and being part of the game’s development is also an experience.

The server we are on is Official 30, feel free to ping me on Steam if you are interested in jumping in.

CoC: Time for a little clan tune-up!

August 17, 2015

(Text by Delpez, and I agree with all thoughts/suggestions other than to attack down 1-2, I think if we generally improve we should still be able to hit our matching number, plus it causes less confusion overall)

As you guys have probably noticed, our war performance have declined over the last three or four weeks. In the past we used to smash rushed clans (we still do), beat clans of equal strength (it’s becoming 50/50) and put up a decent fight if the matchmaker screws us over (not the case anymore). I have some comments and suggestions on this, and would appreciate the clan’s views on the issue.

In my mind the problem is one of activity, both in wars and in general. Our war activity has been poor lately – in the last five wars we’ve missed 15% of our attacks. If I only count players who has opted in, that number is still very high at 10%. This means we are missing 10% of attacks by players who have actually opted into a war! I’m convinced that we’ll go a long way towards improving our war performance if we just sort out this activity, as there is no way we can compete against strong clans while missing 15% attacks.

I also see people waiting longer and longer to execute their attacks – sometimes with less than four hours to go we still haven’t executed half our attacks. A lot of players then squeeze both attacks into a small period of time. Although technically those attacks were made, they are often rushed and not planned out carefully. It becomes a bigger issue if you are a TH8, because as the war winds down there are less viable bases to attack, so you are forced to attack up. That won’t happen if you’ve used the twelve hour window to attack a base that is of similar strength. It also becomes really hard for TH9’s to plan a second attack if TH8 activity was low. TH9’s are supposed to clean up TH8 bases, but it’s difficult to decide which base to attack if a lot of TH8’s still have to attack (because you don’t want to waste an attack on an easy base). I know that sometimes you don’t have a choice – you might feel that your opposite base is too strong, or your heroes might be on upgrade, or sometimes real life happens. However, making your first attack within the first twelve hours should be the norm, rather than the exception.

As I’ve said, improving our war activity (overall and during the first twelve hours) will go a long way towards improving our war performance. There is also a second type of activity that is hurting us, and that’s general raiding activity. More and more players are not raiding anymore – doing only war attacks. There is nothing wrong with that, just understand that it will affect our war performance. I can see this in my own war attacks. When I just reached TH9 I was very active, and my 3-star percentage in wars was over 60%. Nowadays I raid a lot less, and that percentage has dropped to below 30%! I’ve not really moved up the war ladder – I’m still sitting around #10, and the bases I hit do not appear to be any stronger than before. It’s telling that my 3-star percentage started dropping when I began playing FFXIV – so blame Syncaine!

War attacks are hard; this is true at all levels but especially at TH9 and TH10. Not only do you have to execute a lot of actions very accurately in a short period of time, you also have to make decisions on the fly when the unexpected happens. Most of these skills are honed by raiding, so if you only execute four war attacks a week your skills will suffer. I can see three solutions to this problem. The first is to force people to raid – this can be measured in their experience level. I’m not a fan of this, mostly because I myself are not raiding much these days, but also because that would push us firmly into the territory of a hardcore clan. Just understand that as general activity decreases, we will basically become a social clan that will struggle in any tough war. Secondly, we can execute easier attacks first up. At TH9 GoWiPe and GoWiWi attacks are easier to execute than LaLoon or Hogs, but the 3-star percentages are also lower. However, from where we are now I will take solid 2-stars all day over the failed attacks with an occasional 3-star we are getting with Hogs and LaLoon. Finally we can attack down. The decision to attack our opposite number was made at a time when most players were active and we were all improving. If we settle for a more social setup it might make sense to start attacking down.

To summarize, I believe we can do the following to improve our war performance (I have included some points that was not discussed in detail, but are also quite important):

Get your first attack in as early as possible, and if you don’t plan to attack early state so in clan chat so someone else can take your base.

All TH8’s should try to complete both attacks two hours before the war ends. I know this is not always possible, but it would assist TH9’s a great deal when deciding which bases to clean up.

At TH8, get access to GoWiPe, Dragons and Hogs. The days are long gone where dragons were enough to be effective in a war. These days we struggle against any clan which prepares for dragons, and to a lesser extent GoWiPe. That’s why you need all three attacking options, as it’s very difficult for a TH8 to build a base that defends against all three.

Know how to execute your attacks! There is no point in having access to Hogs but not knowing how to execute a Hog attack. There are exceptions to every rule, but most LaLoon and Hog attacks should follow a similar pattern. You’ve GOT to deal with the CC and Queen before you release your Hogs or LaLoons. Nine times out of ten the CC and especially the Queen will ruin those attacks, so your first order of business is to take them out. Most players try to deal with the CC, but not everybody realizes how key the enemy Queen is for Hog and LaLoon attacks. So bring a golem or two, some wizards and both your heroes to take out the Queen and CC BEFORE the main attack starts. Btw, this step is not as critical with GoWiPe(Wi), which is part of the reason why those attacks are easier.

If you are struggling with LaLoon and Hogs (or are facing a tough base) don’t be ashamed to Town Hall dive you opposite for a 2-star. GoWiPe(Wi) is preferable to dragons, because it’s more powerful and reveals more traps.

Maybe we should attack one or two down first up? That would mean sacrificing some stars at the top, but those bases are usually very hard in any case. Also, our last couple of players would have to wait for others to attack before they can join in.

And finally, the only hard rule I would have. If you opt into a war you must use both attacks. As before, life happens and sometimes you miss an attack due to unforeseen circumstances. However, this should not become a trend. There’s nothing more demoralizing than being invested in a war, following the attacks and donating a ton of troops, only to lose because our activity was poor.

Any idea, thoughts, suggestions?

Hitting rocks to build success

August 13, 2015

For me the simplest measure of how much you liked a game is how long you played it. I think there is certainly value in a great 10 hour experience, but IMO no matter how great that 10 hours was, a game you spend 100+ hours with is the better game. Even if you disagree on that, I think we can all agree that if you’re a dev for an MMO, you certainly want your players playing for 100+ hours instead of 10.

Right now in the group I’m playing ARK with, there are people who have 2000+ hours spent with the game, which besides being INSANE on a personal playtime level, is an amazing compliment to the longevity of the game and its ability to entertain someone long-term. ARK isn’t an MMO, but if it was, I think it would be a fairly successful one just based on how well it retains people and the amount of time you can spend with its content.

And ARK, besides being RUST+Dinos, is basically a crafting/gathering simulator. Sure, there are other things you do like PvE (kill dinos), PvP (kill players), and PvB (bashing bases), but those activities occupy a minority of your time compared to hitting rocks/trees/bushes, and making stuff from the gains of said rocks/trees/bushes. You build a base to protect your stuff and craft more stuff, and dinos enhance your gathering or ability to protect your stuff from others. In short, given the popularity of not just ARK but games like it, a TON of people love gathering/crafting, and love it enough to do it for a LONG time.

Now the critical part is the motivation behind those basic activities. Much like few if any find mining in EVE thrilling, so many do it because the ‘why’ is worthwhile, not the ‘how’. The same is true for ARK; hitting a rock isn’t thrilling, but what you can eventually make from hitting that rock is very worthwhile, so you hit that rock, and the rock next to it, and the next thousand rocks after that. It also helps that gathering in ARK can both be relaxing in its simplicity (running a low risk, familiar gathering cycle), and occasionally more of an adventure if you go far out into hostile territory with a valuable dino along with you.

What I find absolutely insane about the MMO genre is that, despite these obvious examples of player wants, few if any MMOs cater to this crowd well. Sure, EVE has its mining, and FFXIV might be the best example with its gathering/crafting roles and all of the additional gameplay options related to them, but what about everyone else? Why is gathering/crafting such a footnote and total mess in games like WoW? Why hasn’t someone made ARK, The MMO already? ARK itself is close, but clearly the design intent is to sell the product and allow players to play on various servers, which is a slight but very important difference from playing/paying for an MMO service.

The market is there, by the millions who are willing to play for a long time, and it’s crazy that not only do we not have a full-on crafting/gathering focused MMO (ATitD is the closest, but in all honesty is a pretty poor product overall when compared to the gameplay and features of RUST/ARK), but that so many current MMOs minimize this aspect of the game or outright neglect it. We keep talking about MMOs today lacking longevity, perhaps if we looked at what players DO spend a lot of time doing in other genres, we might be able to return to a time when MMOs lasted longer than a month or so of content consumption.

ARK – Dino fun that is well worth the time investment required

August 12, 2015

I wrote before that ARK is RUST with dinosaurs, and that general opinion hasn’t changed. However, I think that statement is somewhat like saying “DayZ is a shooter with zombies”. It’s a true statement, but doesn’t really explain why DayZ is what it is compared to a lot of other shooters with or without zombies, and why DayZ is a mega-hit and some of those other games aren’t.

And much like zombies make a game cool (or did before every game had zombies), there is something interesting and relatable to dinosaurs compared to more generic creatures or monsters. It’s easier to understand the fear behind a T-Rex chasing you or smashing your base compared to the same happening from a pure-fantasy monster, at least for me. In fact, the whole “survival in a harsh world” theme works better when said harsh world is one that is somewhat like the one we know existed on Earth long ago, with all the dinos walking around and whatnot.

Another major aspect that ARK gets right is the amount of time you invest in things. Taming dinos is a major undertaking. For many of the best ones, you have to commit multiple hours straight just to complete the initial tame, and success not only depends on bringing the right materials to get the job done, but also on external factors like a big aggressive dino not coming by and eating your unconscious dino, or you. In addition to that investment of time/effort, there is also however long it takes you to prep the items you will use, and then your dino storage solution (usually a larger containment area in your base). Having a tamed dino is awesome, as they are very functional for both gathering and/or combat, so when you lose one, it really strings.

Building up a larger base is an even more serious commitment, so you really care about its location, setup, and functionality. A lot of planning goes into one, and seeing it take shape and working out the kinks that come up is a great deal of fun and challenge. Similarly, raiding a solid base isn’t a trivial matter, but the rewards can be huge. Such an action can however start a war, and you might quickly find yourself on the receiving end of a raid. Because of the amount of effort involved, raids and wars aren’t done on a whim, and carry a good deal of weight behind them.

Other examples exist, but my larger point is that ARK does a great job in getting you invested in what you are doing, and caring a great deal about all of it. You want to log in the next day to keep progressing forward, because you know forward also means unlocking new systems and items to play with, and to also get further and further invested in what you are doing. It’s a very similar feeling to playing a great MMO, but more on that in another post.

In summary, even though ARK is very similar to other games of its type, so far it has gotten a great deal of the details correct, and because of that the game is a ton of fun even in its early access state (though this is one of those ‘early access’ games that could be released tomorrow and no one would notice its missing anything major). Highly recommended, even if you have recently played something similar.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 228 other followers