MMO

How to Lose a MMO Gamer in 10 Ways

In the romantic comedy “How to lose a guy in 10 days” A reporter is writing an article with that name – and wants to prove she can lose a guy in 10 days. On the other side, the guy, a big advertising exec takes a bet that he can make a woman fall in love with him in 10 days. The result is genuinely cute (but mediocre) – no matter what she does that would make most guys afraid he sticks it out. Both are trying to win a bet. It’s not high on my recommended list, but a funny thought. If there are two people with exact opposite intentions, how to they get along? Is that the same opposite forces working between MMO developers who are trying to get as much money as possible for their product, and consumers who want as much bang for their buck?

MMO developer and MMO players look great together!

The truth is in real life that doesn’t work that much. Quick on the heels of WildStar’s decline and some other big launches over the years, lets have a look at 10 ways to ensure you can push those gamers and consumers away from your product.

#10  A flawed vision

I don’t disagree with having a vision – that is critical! What surprised me with WildStar was that I don’t know who created the vision or why. Did they consult with players? Did NCsoft buy into it? I ask these things because I get it – I understand if McDonald’s offers the Super Grease and Cardiac Bacon Burger because they are speaking to their customer base. So Gaffney and targetting the 1% vision was the outcome, but who approved and funded that vision? Why would he no longer be running the company when he achieved what he set out to do? With brands I always believe to be who you are. KFC will never attract a healthy eating segment. Be who you are, and be proud of it. In gaming that means design your game for the audience you want – niche or not. I think you see this improving with recent Kickstarter projects – we’ll see if and when they deliver on those.

#9 : Have key people leave the company near/after launch 

There are a few WildStar examples of this, but also some bigger ones in the past. I get churn, but nothing signals failure more than people leaving/fired who built it or spent years building the community – no matter what reasons are shared.

#8 Gate content in silly ways

Content needs to be gated, we get it. Do it in a way that isn’t insulting to the intelligence of the player base. I would be playing (and paying for) SWTOR if they didn’t make certain quest rewards contingent on subscriber status. I would be more fond of LOTRO if they didn’t make character classes gated by an expansion that isn’t required for them to play in the first place. This goes beyond cash shops though – if you have a subscription, don’t add a cash shop that gates content. If you aren’t a F2P or B2P title, don’t gate content with needless and obvious grinds. I would have played Mists of Pandaria a LOT longer if progression wasn’t gated behind daily quests.

#7 : Lose your most supportive community members

Games like WoW and EQ lived on as much in the fansites as the games themselves. I still read WoWinsider and I haven’t played the game in a year! Allakhazams was pure gold back in the day, and look at sites like MMO-Champion. You need a community to support and hype your game. WildStar lost it’s busiest podcast (among others) and some community news sites. Companies need to celebrate, support, and nurture those sites. When you lose those who are most enthusiastic about your game it sends a bad signal to the community.

#6 Do not reward loyalty to long time customers 

The industry has to mature sooner or later and start treating customers like every other industry – rewarding loyalty, and customers, with things not just to do with who spent the most money the earliest (paid beta, collector editions, etc.) That guy that has paid a subscription to you for 5 years? Give him a title, or perk, or hell – a free month. Do something to recognize the growth that individual has provided you. I know some do this well with early beta access to future titles (etc.) but I strongly believe this is an area developers and publishers can greatly improve on.

#5 Be non-supportive of diversity in gaming

There is a lot of heat on both sides of this argument – I won’t link to the gamer definition discussions, or the Blizzard developer quotes – but it is out there – and companies that aren’t aware, or mindful, of how they represent different views of the gaming community in their games will have a much harder go of it going forward.

#4 : Over market, over hype, under deliver

Warhammer online comes to mind here the most. “We have PVP! PVE! PQs! We have EVERYTHING!” – and they did. Everything except an immersive, reliable, consistent and balanced gaming experience. Too much hype. Less sizzle, more steak. With marketing budgets making up more and more of development costs these days, I am one who firmly believes that money is better spent on development. People will market your game for you if it is actually good.

#3 : Charge a subscription

I know some people like subs. I know some people prefer them and won’t play games without them. The truth is that a large portion won’t even touch a subscription. This is all fine and good (again) if the company doesn’t mind having less users paying more. I believe hybrid solutions are the way to go and that will retain the maximum amount of players. The all or nothing approach of a subscription doesn’t work as well anymore. There need to be stages and varying access levels for it to be accepted by the majority. Yes, it works for EVE and WoW and the jury is still out on ESO – but WildStar will almost be certainly going to F2P – as have everyone else. There is a reason for this.

#2 : Have a bad cash shop

Not ironic behind the previous point and cash shops aren’t inherently bad on their own. #2 and #3 are interchangeable in order. However,  a bad cash shop is as much the kiss of death as a bad subscription. Cash shops should be always available, never annoying. Let players know there is a cash shop, let them know the sales, then leave them alone and let them play. Constant reminders and popups are a great way to lose the community by sheer annoyance. I did spend a LOT of money in League of Legends, who never did anything silly with their cash shop. In hindsight, I spend more money per month in LoL than I did with a subscription in WoW – but didn’t regret it once. I had the choice of when and how much to spend.

#1 : Lack of immersion.

This is the number one problem for me personally, so I listed it as #1 although I am sure other people will have other thoughts on that. While reflecting on WildStar the truth is that while I loved the setting, the style, the characters and so many things they did right – the worst thing they did was constantly drag me OUT of the immersion. They had an announcer for so many things – challenges, dings, etc. It took the world away and constantly reminded me that I was playing a game. Sure, the point may be to play a game, but I play these kinds of games to feel like it is more than just a game. I want to get into it and feel like my character is helping solve the poisoned river that is destroying the town. I don’t need the 4th wall to be broken with an announcer voice telling me “f&*cking awesome job, cupcake” when I do get it done. EQ immersed me by the third person view alone that was standard back then. The game was through my eyes. DAOC through my realm’s reliance on my actions. WoW has it’s easter eggs but it really dug down in the lore overall. You felt like you were in Azeroth. Let’s get back to to immersion.

Do you agree? I admit these are very personal to me but I also feel they have merit to what is going on in the marketplace as well. Some are more obvious than others and the rankings could wildly change depending on who is reading them. Overall I think it is a good barometer of some huge issues in our hobby and I’d love to play a game that avoided these 10.

My Influential 15

One of my favorite blogs to visit is The Ancient Gaming Noob (TAGN) and he recently posted an Influential 15  list – started by another blogger and other sites are also playing along. The parts I read indicated not too many rules, but just do not overthink it – only take 15 minutes, and list them out.

This sounds like fun. I am going in chronological order!

Mario Bros (arcade) (1985)

I spent most of my allowance money playing this game with two of my best friends at the local bowling alley. It was close enough to our school that we could run there at lunch breaks, and always went right after school as well – but just for 20 minutes before racing home. This introduced me to the side scrolling platform [honorable mentions: Ghost and Goblins, Castlevania, Bionic Commando]

Hardball (c64) (1987)

Two teams – the red, power hitting team and the blue, speedy team. That was it in this baseball game. My brother and I played for hours at home – nice to not have to be at the arcade. (I always got stuck with the blue team). [Honorable mention: Madden (I still buy it every few years]

Police Quest (PC) (1987)

My first foray into the Sierra games series (King’s quest, Space Quest, etc.) and it was always a weekend event at one of my friend’s houses who had it. I think it took us 6 months to complete, since we only had limited weekend time (we mostly played outside – kids those days!)[honorable mention – Maniac Mansion]

Street Fighter (Arcade, SNES) (1987)

Another arcade favorite the one on one bragging rights was a blast. Learning the combos, fighting friends (and arcade enemies) for the right to stay on the machine for the next challenger… flipping a coin for the left or right hand side. All sorts of home field advantages. [Honorable mention: Mortal Combat]

Star control 2 (PC) (1992)

Exploration, adventure, discovery. Space. Has anyone come close since? I am avoiding throwing my money at Star Citizen yet watching it closely. That is a completely separate blog post. [Honorable Mention: Wing Commander. If only for the space.]

Doom (PC) (1993)

We had huge contests at university with Doom – inter dorm rivalries. My philosophy class suffered fiercely. I made a philosophical argument about augmented reality to the prof and he BFG’d me. University was so cool. [Honorable mention: Half Life]

NHL 94 (SEGA) (1993)

Oh Sega hockey, with the one move that would score 100% of the time.. that was up to you do defend properly. Both ends of the rink, there was that ONE move. Yet it was still awesome. Plus bleeding heads.

X com (PC) (1994)

Turn based mastery. This is on many ‘best of ever” lists, so not going to explain its full awesome-ness. Many have explained it better than I ever could. Xcom is the perfect example of a game you loved but refuse to play it again. I have it through steam. It sucked to relive it – but awesome the first time around. We are not conditioned to accept failing the first X missions before we have a chance. (see what I did there?) [Honorable mention – Civ 1 – bit of a stretch, but very turn based]

Baldur’s Gate (PC) (1998)

I had played a lot of Pen and Paper games and this one reminded me the most of them. I hadn’t played a lot of D&D at the time  and this was my first real foray and experience into that. I don’t even remember if I won or what happened in the game – I just remember the hours spent hunched in the darkness… in amazement. Just one more encounter. One more.

Rainbow Six (PC) (1998)

The AI could be buggy as hell when you were planning your rescues, but this was an AMAZING shooter – one shot and you are dead, get caught/spotted and the hostages are dead. Great premise and superbly executed at the time. You could do many missions in many different ways and had the choice of your own path. The planning and thinking part was as exciting for me as the executions. And oh yes, permadeath! [Honorable mention: Counter Strike]

Everquest (PC) (1999)

The MMO game changer that has spawned 100 clones, for better or for worse (often better, jaded vets may argue worse. It doesn’t even matter anymore. It was awesome and really kickstarted the genre.) It has ruined MMOs for me since, but that is also because of the testserver play environment (hint: community). The rose colored glasses often adorned!

Sims (PC) (2000)

Sims the original was the first game that I could get my girlfriends to play. And my non-gaming roommates. It was the first time I realized games could be for everyone. Then I invented the Wii. (or should have, at least). All that being said, I am pretty sure the things my girlfriend at the time did to the Sims (or tried to do) made me realize that maybe she wasn’t the one. Sicko. May have saved my life.

Dark Age of Camelot (PC) (2001)

My second MMO I played the heck out of and my first real PVP experience was also amazing. I also played on the testserver (Pendragon) and the strength of the community there really improved the overall experience. Sadly, game developers have learned that test servers make bad for the quick hitting types of testing they want with enough sample size, and they don’t really exist anymore. The lesson they should have learned is that smaller, more dedicated communities make for stronger ties. Another post. DAOC taught me to embrace PVP and how humans always beat AI on experience – always.

World of Warcraft (PC) (2004)

What to say? The most successful MMO ever made took an inaccessible genre and made it easy for everyone to participate. While I have spent my fair share of time arguing WoW has hurt the MMO space in many ways, you cannot argue against its influence. I still go back every expansion, do the theme park rides, /hug and /hi to my friends still playing, and then out again.  I think the next MMO Blizzard makes is going to say a lot about what they have learned from WoW. I’m intrigued.

Battlefield 2142 (PC) (2006)

The multiplayer FPS I judge all other FPSs against. It was great. It was better than great – it was awesome. The kits, the vehicles, everything. COD always felt too twitchy and gamey in comparison (even the DICE successors did) and I started playing more strategic, slower paced shooters afterwards. BF2142 was just the perfect balance for *me*. [Honorable Mention: Project Reality]

That’s It!

There is my list! Crazy, and a *bit* sad that the most recent game launch on my list is 8 years old already, but influence is influence. As I re-read this there were a few I wanted to add (RTS such as Warcraft -or- Command & Conquer) but I decided to keep it pure – the ones that spoke to me first. I’m sure as I read through other’s lists I’ll have many an “aha!” moment. I hope mine brought along some positive smiles and memories!

5 Mans

First, an aside.

When reading Rivs blog on my blogroll this comment stuck out to me:

it’s nice seeing people reading what you write. It was easier to comment on blogs, nowadays it seems you have to jump through hoops of fire to comment on a blog.

Which I find is true for a lot of blogs – they want a link to my Facebook, or google plus. There is typically a WordPress option and while my blog is WordPress based I own the URL so I can’t use “open ID”. So often I want to participate on a blog, only to find out I can’t without using either something that identifies me personally in real life, or sign up for something new. When I comment on blogs I want to use my blogging name! Thankfully, most blogs do have ways (name/url) and use programs like Askimet to filter out the spam, and/or have a separate approval process.

I was reminded of this when I read a post here at The Sith Paladin while hunting for new blogs to read and saw he was calling for more 5 mans – and I agree! Unfortunately I couldn’t quite post that there so I am here, and linking it instead.

I tend to try not to link other blogs in my posts unless I am giving them cred for inspiring a post, or reposting a good find (flash games, etc.) because I prefer to be active on other people’s blogs where the thoughts originated. So, with that being said, where I CANT do that, I’ll just post here and link. Best of both worlds (for me)

End aside.

So, to the 5 mans – I have ALWAYS loved 5 mans. It is time well spent in a small group, doing something other than grinding or dailies.  I once posted:

Instances: WoW has ~80 pre-cap instances, (when you count instance wings and heroic modes) and only 22 targeted for max level. Isn’t that split in reverse? Shouldn’t there be 20 instances before the cap, and have 80 instances when you hit the cap – wouldn’t that make it harder for players to “run out of content” fast when the game truly begins?

and still believe it is a good design decision. Simply put, old hardcore players (and raiders) such as myself, we are growing in number. We have often started single (lots of gaming time), got a job (less gaming time) got married (even less gaming time) had kids (super less gaming time) and are settling into a place where we can’t enjoy the games we love in the same way. Sure, I can raid LFR now in WoW, but I can’t be part of a full blown 3x a week raid team – it just doesn’t work for me.

Jumping into a 30 minute 5 man would though. In fact, that would be enough to resubscribe me to WoW. Even when WoW had godawful faction grinds, the fact that I could do them in 5 mans made it manageable for me (and conversely, when they moved to a Daily Quest only format it pushed me away from Mists). In Warlords of Draenor, they have an opportunity to get me back.

Or any MMO for that matter. It could be a good strategy to get a certain type of gamer in a certain point of their life where they want the experience, but can’t make the same commitment they once could. 5 mans could be an avenue to do that.

 

Insanity: Doing the Same Thing…

Oh look, Brad McQuaid is back and people are picking on him (pretty accurate?) and/or taking a “hey something to talk about!” (also accurate) approach.

I made my feelings known about Mr. McQuaid back in the day when we couldn’t tell if he was hoaxing or not when coming up for air – and Jim Collin’s “Good to Great” research was pretty clear research that ‘rockstar’ CEOs tend to fail more often than not (its a great read) especially compared to the down at home, technocratic types.

Is it ANY surprise that “our” generation’s ‘rockstar’ CEOs – Lord British, Arundane, and Marc Jacobs (does he even have a cool rockstar-CEO pseudonym?) haven’t done any gaming good since their “one and done” hits that many would chalk up more to timing than to vision.

I tend to agree, after all, if it was vision, follow up games would have been better (because they have the budgets to support their visions!) Yet WAR failed miserably, Tabula Rasa as well, and Vanguard…. ok, they all may have contributed to gaming and gave some people some good times – but on the backs of the “superstars” these three games were supposed to revolutionize the MMO spaces – because look at who they were made by!

So each are now 1/1 in shipping a successful title and I am surprised that anyone is giving them even a fighting chance – all made some pretty good excuses for failing the second time around (issues with big labels, etc.) but the true failing was their leadership – and the employees paid the ultimate price.

They will all get their chances thanks to fandom and Kickstarter and I honestly hope they make something worth playing. I am not holding my breath though. I’d rather support people that make great companies and have a history of success that’s not tied to one win 15 years ago…

A Way to Innovate Combat in MMO’s

We are talking next gen amazingness.

One of my favourite posts is “Greatest Fantasy Movie Ever“. In it I describe how a typical boss fight in any MMO would translate into a big budget movie and how ridiculous the whole event is. Sure, arguments of tech limitations and what not on why that is but really – that isn’t an excuse anymore.

Check out Batman: Arkham Asylum. Yes it is an old game (thank you humble bundle) and how action sequences play out there is much more enjoyable and sensible. Sure, you would need to slow down the combat just a bit but just watch:

Notice something? Batman doesn’t get hit. There are 20+ bad guys around him and he dodges, blocks, and counterattacks his way through the group. When he DOES get hit, you really tell. The screen changes color and there is impact. I got hit with a lead bar once and the screen showed me an interpretation of concussion like symptoms. Even more so, the fighting is really smooth, makes sense, and is somewhat believable.

The result is a ton of industry awards and 2 sequels. This was released in 2009. Don’t tell me we don’t have the technology.

Now compare to every MMO where bad guys arms and legs would be going through Batman’s torso and little -10’s would float up from the damage, blocks would show the letters “BLOCK!”, and so on.

It’s a natural progression. We went from standing in place with 4 buttons, to standing in place with 3 hotbars of buttons, to active dodging/attacking – all while not having the graphic interactions between combatants accurately reflected.

It would be an amazing innovation, and well overdue.

MMO Bucket List

One raid boss that Ascension always had issues with was Al’ar. Not sure why, but he was particularly nasty. So much so, that while we got everything down around him, we never killed him in particular. I hated Al’ar.

I remember one night, when I was on healing duties on the add pickup (good old GreenTeaBag, Druid), everyone had died except GTB and Al’ar was under 1% and he was last druid standing. he ended up dying, and that was the closest we ever got. It’s historical in our little group of friends and raiders because that was the night he threw his mouse against the wall in frustration. Oh, Al’ar, how I hate thee.

Today, I logged into my 90 Prot Pally and killed him in minutes. Not nearly as satisfying as it would have been in the old days, or in our 25 man raid group that bonded and was a great team – not even close to that. It never can be.

Still, I can cross it off my MMO bucket list, at least.

Do you have anything on your MMO bucket list?

I Am Alone In My MMO

Amazing things have happened in MMO advancement. Graphics, systems, play styles, game modes, etc. etc. etc. We have come a long, long way from multiple week grinds to get a level and losing all of your items (and even levels) upon death. Most of us, while we may look fondly back on the memories of those times, never, ever ever want to go back there again.

It was good when it was good. It was all we knew.

It forced us to need each other.

Not just EQ, with it’s punishing death penalties and XP bars that wouldn’t move for days.

I’m talking DAOC as well. In that game if you didn’t have players you didn’t really do anything. And when you were doing anything you had to always be on your toes in case there were other players.

Both had their own special magic because of the other player component. Both of those games made ties that have lasted the test of time, wow clones, and free-to-play bonanzas. Is anyone making them now?

GW2 – beautiful game. I leveled to 40 on it without being in a group, and barely working alongside other players. Granted, I went into that game solo, but wow – trying to talk to people in that game left blank stares and worse. After 40 levels of solo content, I just stopped logging in.

Even WoW – in a guild there, but WoW is so antisocial now. Log in, solo dailies, do a 5-man heroic, logout – all without typing a word. There are people there, but they might as well be NPC’s. It’s like I’m dancing with myse-elf. And sadly, I’m in a guild. What happened to epic guild chat? Green /gu flying up and down the screen? Too many buttons, and no downtime happened.

The only conversation I have had with anyone is my foray back into Blood Bowl. Matchmaker online puts you 1v1 and there are 2:00 min turns – turn based. So you have 2 minutes to chat to your opponent while he is making his moves, and he chats back while you are making your moves.

Downtime = Chat. Chat = connecting. Connecting = sense of belonging/camaraderie. Which all equals paying the monthly fee, continuing to play, contributing to the community, etc.

Maybe I am doing it wrong, but what I wouldn’t give for some downtime.

I Hate Mila!

Mild mannered bloggers over at Are We New At This? and High Latency Life are tackling an important issue in blognation. Why all the hate on WoW? I mean, it has eleventy (.2) billion subscribers! Something must be going right over at ActiBlizzEnron. It is a curious (and good) question in many ways. Chris Cavelle tries to calm the masses and instead suggests we all enjoy some Mila instead.

Thing is, I hate Mila.

I mean, she was talented in that 70’s show, but her newer work in film has just been so much shallower.

I always have preferred red-heds to brunettes

I think she is losing weight, and I prefer curves to stick-women

The kids these days may like her, but I prefer a classier ladies – like Kate Beckinsale

Too much photo-shop

(See what I did there?)

All joking aside (and I really don’t dis-like Mila) and light-fun-poking at the topic – personal tastes leads to criticism – constructive or not. While I prefer to read opinions that are constructive, people are going to write what they feel like. WoW is held as the ‘standard’ in MMO’ing, love it or hate it. Their design decisions, as proven by the whole failed-wow-clone design cycle syndrome, has impacted the direction of the genre for many years. Current and Ex-players like to wax  their opinions on that impact, and the secret desire for every gamer to have every game “made just for me” ™.

Just like everyone critiques every speech, decision, and outfit worn by the POTUS due to the perceived impact it has on people’s lives, they do the same with things that impact their hobbies. Perhaps that isn’t an entirely relevant analogy, but you wouldn’t be able to guess the difference in importance reading some of those constructive criticisms (including some of my own.)

I played WoW for many years through the ups and downs, and had my fun with it. I’ll no doubt pop back in next expansion to see if it’s improved (for my tastes – important qualifier – I know many like it just as it is, even if sub numbers are shrinking). I think personally, I “hate” on WoW because the experience doesn’t work for me like it used to. And because I still secretly want to play it, I complain about it. So I can still be involved in the discussion somehow.

Of course, if you wade through the mass of WoW ‘bashing’, you’ll find some great gems in there that would indeed improve the game – and not just for whomever the author may be. You can see Blizz pushing for some (perhaps) real big changes (dissolving the holy trinity?) and adding features they swore up and down they never would do. Who knows, maybe Blizzard will Transmogrify their development. Will be fun to see. And bitch about. 🙂

Never fear my friends, I predict WoW complaining will drop to an all time low on December 20th.

 

Tell Me What You Want (What You Really, Really, Want)

I think MMO nostalgia makes us funny people. Just yesterday I was thinking about EQ and the amazing times had there with people I still consider ‘amazing’. Hell, I even went to my first ever guild message boards (circa 1999) after a 3 year hiatus to go say “hi” and see who was still kicking around and posting (long after the guild being retired). Funny enough there were people still poking their heads around there from time to time.

Of course, that led to a EQ1 trial download, and boy, is that game ever ugly. After dying to starter mobs a couple of times (yes, that’s right, starter mobs can kill you!) and running out of mana halfway through my second fight, I had to laugh at myself. This was the world that made me fall in love with MMO’s and the concept that gaming can reach a far greater audience than a saved game file on my hard drive. It had slightly less graphical appeal than minecraft. I lasted all of fifteen minutes before logging off, promising myself to actually give it a fair shot when I had more time, and left to go read some blogs.

My first MMO was EQ, then DAOC, then WoW. I played pretty much every MMO in between in either beta tests, short stints, or trials, but those three are the only three that captured my playtime for any significant period. All three are very different, of course, and are as reflective of a time period than anything to do with MMO.

What do we want from a MMO? Hard to figure that part out when I’m not even sure I know what *I* want. My off the cuff response to ‘what does Isey want from a MMO’ is pretty quick and easy to answer:

“A non-instanced, strategically paced, skill based, single world, sandbox style, relationship conducive, emotional driven fantasy world that I can enjoy in chunks of one hour (or less) two to three times a week (or when family/work time allows).”

Long answer, I love the thoughts behind this guy, and this guy, although it’s hard to envision how the three would combine into an actual playable game (and I could easily link another half dozen bloggers who write about games I would play).

Ok! Easy enough. Let’s get to work on that.. wait a minute.. does that really sound so good?

A lot of the systems and styles us fogeys keep discussing and clamoring for are things that have been already been dismissed in current and future game design as ‘quality of life’ improvements. As much as I say (and think), I want that 30 minute boat ride to Freeport, or having to speak in different languages to a complete stranger on that boat to improve my Erudite (15) language skill, it’s easy to remember fondly but harder to actually play that way again. That 30 minutes would be half (or all) of a current play session for me.

And, while I can sit here and write about the systems, styles, and innovations I want (or think I want) from a MMO, the systems themselves do not really matter. I want a MMO that can illicit the emotion of the games I used to love. And  I’m not sure that is entirely possible, but still remain hopeful.

What I do know is that in 10 years from now I probably won’t be searching down my old WoW guilds to see if anyone is still kicking around.

Feast or Famine

Going to a new blogging style. The exciting ‘when I can/feel like it’. When I blogged regularly I blogged pretty hard, 3+ posts a week, keeping on top of current events and all the “excitement”. I took an extended break once, and in the same breadth kept lurking and reading my favorites without posting. I haven’t posted since December and plan on making it more regular (without any firm commitments!)

Now I’ll just have the odd meal, enjoy the writing part, and keep blogging for no ulterior purpose but to enjoy myself on much needed breaks.

So, what have I been up to gaming wise?

a) I broke my EA holdout 10 months after it started while in a gaming funk, and bought Dragons Age 2 on sale. As reviewed by others I was a bit dissappointed when compared to the first.

b) Long after Cataclysm was released, I did my WoW dance once again, enjoyed it for what it is, then left when all I could do was done. Un-subbed prior to 4.1 with little interest returning. Maybe next expansion for a 3 month ride to remind myself why I unsubbed in the first place =)

c) Played more of Minecraft – although given up on creating something completely awesome, I am strip mining to hollow out under the world but making all resources renewable – anything I take from the ground I have to reuse above ground. Will someday end up with a rediculous cavern underground and floating islands in the sky. It’s definitely Zen grinding down blocks then finding uses for them elsewhere

d) Played Rift until level 15, quit, much for the same uninspiring reasons the current-gen MMO mechanics I often lament

e) Trialed AION for the free 20 levels, enjoyed myself a bit, not buying.

f) Less excited than ever about SWTOR and their marketing giganticnous of the title, and looking forward to not buying it on release while waiting for the reviews to pour in from trusted like minded bloggers. I still expect to play it someday as I am a fan of the DA/ME conversation wheel choices, but everything I have read about it from the CE backward has me in pure holdout mode.

Work wise we are expanding into Asian and South American countries, so that has been interesting and exciting. My family and I (odd to make the distinction, heh) are moving this week to a new home 7 hours away for work.

How have you been? =)

Deferred Success

This title stems from educators wanting to remove kids from an ‘F’, or ‘Failing’ grade. No more failing – just deferred success! Clearly the change in terminology will make kids all become hugely successful.

This Epic Defer is part of a longer list of deferrments by public offcials who manage powerful unionized employees (the same unions that say it’s unfair to periodically test teachers to ensure they are, you know, smart enough to teach kids). So in essence the teacher’s union has accepted their own deferred success and want to pass that onto the kids. That part makes complete sense.

Sorry for the mini rant, its funny stuff.  The gaming slant comes next.

Gauging success in all forms of gaming has me in a proverbial pickle. Is wiping on a boss mechanic, only to come back and conquer it, any more or less satisfying than restoring from a save game point in a single player game? Single player games do have ‘difficulty’ levels, while MMO’s have been adopting that same sort of mechanic with Hard Modes. Developers have to take into account all sorts of play styles and ability levels to range the expected outcomes of success. Players want to win, developers want players to win too – for the satisfaction of the purchase. So in a sense, developers are just setting their own levels of deferred success for their player bases.

Make it too hard – players revolt. Make it too easy – players don’t feel challenged and have a superficial experience. Where, and how, is that line drawn?

This thought process has lead me to a pillar that should be of more importance – the story. Regardless of difficulty level story is a trump card. If the story is amazing, I’m more likely to bang my head against that wall in a tough level to learn what happens next. I’m also left with a feeling of satisfaction after completing an easy level as my waltz through it is still rewarded with a narrative. Call of Duty, Black Ops did this particularly well in their interactive movie experience single player campaign.

World of Warcraft, and most of the other MMO’s I’ve payed have not done the story aspect  particularly well.

Then we have the outliers, the games that don’t present directed experiences as the challenge but where the players create the stories. Minecraft is a good example of this. Sports games where players play against other humans also has a much stronger skill aspect.

All games are created for you to have success in them – they are just designed in a length of time format that players expect a return on based on the monetization scheme.

I don’t have a conclusion here and just throwing this up for discussion. It just all feels very shallow to me right now -the deferred success in our games – like the Wizard of Oz is just some dude behind a curtain was just revealed to me.

Conventions

Sorry - not that kind of convention!

One of the best blog articles I have read recently was at Elder Gamer regarding genre conventions in our beloved MMO’s. It hits on a lot of interesting and valid points, and is a great read. I find it interesting that a lot of the ‘outside of the box’ MMO design discussions (from the armchair folk) tend to look for solutions to twist those around, and try new things. It’s true that we are trained as gamers to expect certain things, and when they deliver on those expectations the moans from the crowd are ‘oh, just like that game’. But we play on. When we throw out interesting and possible ideas that go against those expectations – but make sense to us – it’s likely a non-fundable industry idea. We went from WoW, to games that want to be like WoW (but different!), to games that want to be like games that aren’t quite as successful as WoW because copying WoW has failed. In most industries change is enacted by a need in the market. You get the outliers who work to make that change on their own to position their product or service in a better market position, but those are few and far between. If oil prices and the education about the environment weren’t so front and center in our everyday lives, then we would all still be driving gas guzzling cars – and why not? If it’s the most inexpensive way to create the product, and socially acceptable, that is what we are going to get. Now car companies are struggling to catch up on making fuel efficiency and alternate fueling methods the forefront of their companies – because people actually want them now (and governments are forcing them to). It’s all demand – on different fronts.

The fun part with Elder Gamer’s example, that in AC2 they didn’t want an ammo slot for arrows and how it didn’t work for them then – is that WoW is moving that way now. Goes to show how long, and what it actually takes to, make such a seemingly minor design decision. Imagine the timeline on the bigger ideas.

Where am I going with this? Cutting my lawn! (after the break)

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GAMMOP – Thou Shall Not Covet Thy Mobs Gear

MMO’s have generally accepted principles much like accounting. Rules and systems that have been adopted over the years. I recently signed up to try the Age of Conan Trial (haven’t played it since I dismissed the game as ‘not for me’ in beta). I’ll most likely discuss how things have changed there in another piece, but playing through the first 3 levels reminded me how loot systems in our MMO’s really kill immersion.

In AOC I awake on a beach wearing only a loincloth and slave tattoos. A broken oar is my only weapon. My character, a Stygian Ranger, must find Tortage. I look around the beach and see a slaver of particular interest – full leather armor, a bow by his side and a quiver full of arrows on his back. Wielding my broken oar with the fury of a thousand raining arrows I down the slaver, and begin to rummage through his gear.

Now, being a ranger myself, you would think that I would be overjoyed at the opportunity to pick up my weapon and ammo of choice to make my way to Tortage. No, though. The golden tooth of the slaver is the only thing I find of value. Perhaps I neglected my own dental hygiene and am obsessed with teeth – either way, I discard the weapons, armor, and arrows, rummuge through the guy’s mouth and remove 1 gold tooth and tuck it somewhere in my loincloth. (I won’t tell you where  – use your imagination.)

MMO’s have come a long way with loot, and some try to make that experience even better. Building my private set of dentures in AoC just left me with one thought – ‘why didn’t they even try something here?’ As a ranged class, providing loot that fits my class, from an NPC that obviously also slings arrows is a missed opportunity. In fact, I didn’t even find a bow or arrows until level 3.

Why didn’t they even try?

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time = money / money = pizza [therefore] time = pizza

Callan hits an interesting point in the comment section over at Tesh’s musings about the value of his time.

I am in Tesh’s camp here, where my discretionary budget is at an all time high, and my time budget is at an all time low. Gamers often judge the value of a game based on how many hours it gives you, and that argument often supports ‘the reason why a subscription model works for me’. Take WoW, and remove the part of the game that annoys you the most that feels or is necessary (grinding for cash? getting locked out of an instance for a week? farming for mats? runnin the daily heroic for frosties?) figure out how much time you spend doing doing that activity every week you dislike, and realize what your sub fee is buying you.

It happens in all games. I just finished Mass Effect 2. I had great fun. I didn’t think it was too short, but there was a nagging part of it that drove me nuts. Go crazy with me after the break.

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Star Wars The Old Republic : Hopes and Dreams

I have writers block. I have 7 drafts written on various topics but am having a hard time piecing them together. Some of them are related, and I think, can I combine them? Do they make sense? I have lost my groove, and working to find it.

My time off blogging was spent playing 3 games. WoW, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect. Having just finished Mass Effect 2 this week it gives me cautious optimism for Bioware’s SWTOR, even though I made fun of them on at least one occasion. In typical naive internet fashion, I am basing my personal hopes and dreams not from the devs, or things I have read about the upcoming title, but because of the type of game I want (dammit!).

Review of what lead me to my hopes and dreams, and how I would like to see SWTOR end up, after the break.

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Here’s Your Answer, Tesh!

I suppose the Global Agenda ‘strike while the iron is hot’ promo is, uh, striking while the iron is hot.

Last chance for APB refugees and other Shooter/MMO fans to receive discount

Dear Shooter/MMO Fans:Image

Recently, I wrote an open letter to APB Refugees and other fans of the Shooter/MMO genre. In that letter, we offered players 30% Off Global Agenda when purchasing from our webstore using the promotion code “LongLiveShooterMMOs” (that’s $20.99, £13.12 and €15.75).

Since that letter, we’ve had thousands of new players join the game! With each additional Shooter/MMO fan the Global Agenda community grows stronger and the online multiplayer competition becomes more intense.

Based on this, we’ve extended the promotion through Monday, October 4.

So if you are interested in Global Agenda’s high-flying shooter combat inside a futuristic game world, there’s no better time to strap on that jetpack! And, remember, the game has no monthly fees.

Still unsure? You can try before you buy by playing the free trial, available here.

We welcome all the new players that have recently joined us, and hope to see the rest of you in game soon!

Todd Harris
Executive Producer, Global Agenda

Hi-Rez Studios

________________________________________________________

My own emphasis on the ‘thousands of new players’.

The Body is Still Warm…

Received this in my inbox today.

An Open Letter to Shooter/MMO Fans from Hi-Rez Studios
Dear Shooter/MMO Fans:

The last few years have been rough for many fans of the Shooter/MMO genre.

Several innovative game titles with great communities have folded as they sought to bring together those of us who enjoy the fast-action, intense pace of a shooter, but also the character progression and persistence offered by MMOs.

Today, we mourn our latest fallen colleague, APB. In making APB, Realtime Worlds had a bold vision to make an MMO devoid of traditional tab-targeting, cast bars, and die-roll combat. We honor their effort and innovation, and greatly mourn the game’s closing.

Sadly, the APB server shutdown leaves their entire community with nothing to shoot or blow up tonight!

So between today and Friday, September 24, 2010, we are offering refugees from APB and other Shooter/MMOs an opportunity to join Global Agenda’s growing community more easily and affordably than ever.

We figure you deserve it. And you’ll fit right in since you already know how to aim.

All players that purchase Global Agenda on the game’s official webstore prior to September 24, 2010, using the promotion code “LongLiveShooterMMOs” will receive a 30% discount off the game. That’s $20.99, £13.12 and €15.75!

This one-time purchase gives you full access to the game’s content, with no monthly fees.

And, remember, you can try the game before you buy by playing the free trial, available here..

We at Hi-Rez Studios believe strongly in the Shooter/MMO genre. We celebrate and thank all developers advancing innovative Shooter/MMO concepts, as well as the fans that dedicate their time to playing and supporting these games.

Todd Harris
Executive Producer, Global Agenda

So.. too soon?

Maybe Worth The Price of Admission

Unconfirmed rumours from a reputable source about Blizzards Cataclysm expansion.

I would probably buy it and try it. I have complained about not using the world of Azeroth before – 80 levels shuttled into a handful of instances for the end game.

Those rumours, if true, are a brilliant move by Blizzard. That is what I would call an expansion.

Of course, bonus points if they let me into their content.

Beta Fatigue

I am a very busy guy lately. Work is rediculously busy, family is busy trying to enjoy the summer, and a lot of games are getting closer to release. Since when was summer beta season? I am in 5 right now.

With little time to play any.

I manage to do a little in each each week but nothing I could dedicate in the past. This problem stems from two separate issues, real life being one and beta fatigue the other.

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Forswearing Greed – Developers take Notice

This post is inspired by the article of the same title in the June 6th to 12th edition of the Economist.

A group of Harvard Business MBA students have made attempts to turn management into a formal profession. Doctors have their oath, so do Lawyers. CEO’s have always had one too – except it isn’t nearly as flashy or encompassing as the other formal professions. “The only responsibility of business is to maximize profits” is hardly a mission statement to live by.

“..the students promised they would, among other things, ‘serve the greater good’, ‘act with the utmost integrity’, and guard against ‘decisions and behavior that advance my own narrow ambitions, but harm the enterprise and the societies it serves.”

About half the class took the pledge. The purpose, of course, is most likely to distance themselves from the  current gen of MBA CEO’s who have lived off the backs of consumers and are the root of the problem of the current economic crisis. Of course, detractors from the oath indicate there is no “bite” to it, but it is definitely a step in the right direction.

“Defenders of the oath reply that the goal of maximising shareholder value has become a justification for short-termism and, in particular, rapid personal enrichment. They are concerend about managers doing things that drive up the share price quickly at the expense of a firm’s lasting health. Management gurus such as Jim ‘Good to Great’ Collins argue that shareholders are likely to earn better returns in the long run if firms are led by managers with integity and a desire to play a constructive role in society”

Loved that line in the read – because of it’s obvious truth. Jim Collins not only ‘argued’ the point above, but was able to demonstrate it over a long period of time through some great research that followed the top public companies that went “Good to Great” in comparison to those that did not. Of course, applying this to real life is still a ways away. I used to be heavily involved in Politics when I was younger – I dreamt of all the changes to yet another failed, redundant and inefficient system (goverment/party politics system) and worked my way into the Federal party and found out there were a lot of people like me. What becomes apparent though – quickly I might add – that in order to get into that position of “power” that would enable you to make those important changes you have to sell yourself off along the way. Once you get that power, you quickly learn that if you don’t listen to lobbyists and the guys funding the whole thing you will be out before you have the chance to make the change. What that boils down to is this – by the time you get into “power” to make positive change you are often a shadow of your former self. You will never be in a position of power for long enough to enact the changes that are needed – no matter how strong your vision is.

My point with that, while the MBA student’s pledge is definitely a step in the right direction, let’s see what happens when they have to go out, get a job, and have to make tough choices of doing the right thing for the company, or doing the right thing for their career. Will be a tough pickle.

So, all that being said – anyone care to draft up a MMO Developer’s Pledge Forswearing Greed?

It’s All Just TOO Difficult!

Pope here. Today Blizzard announced major changes to the mount structure. Most notable amongst the changes is that flying mounts will now be accessed at level 60. Normal flying will be 150% speed instead of 60% like it has been since flying mounts were launched. Wow.

What’s more: Blizzard is now including a portal from SW and Orgrimmar to the Stair of Destiny (aka the Dark Portal). As the folks over at wow.com point out, it will certainly reduce “downtime” for traveling back to the major cities to train after leveling.

Yes, that’s right. Downtime. Because it just took far too long to get to Shat, take your preferred portal to the city of your choice, then activate your hearthstone to get back to Outland. Of course, if you’re a Death Knight, you don’t even have to go to Shat, you can simply conjure your Death Gate and you’re back in the loving arms of Mograine and the rest of Death Knightdom.

What really makes me chuckle about this though is that they feel the need to speed up leveling through the use of flying mounts. Back in the winter, I leveled my Death Knight up to 65 before setting WoW down to focus on school. Last Thursday I picked him back up and started leveling again. I was out of Outland on Saturday night. I dinged 70 on Monday evening. I didn’t play all day each day or anything like that. I simply did the chains of quests that I received, skipping any instance quests and things that would take me horribly off course. All of that without a flying mount. In about three days.

Oh but really, that was too slow. We need to speed things up! Let’s give players flying mounts at 60, and up the speed on them. Forget all the work that Blizzard put into the zones, the detail that they added to it. Let’s let them navigate above the fray, pop down on the one mob they need to kill, then take back to the skies. Maybe Blizzard is more embarrassed about the Burning Crusade content than I thought.

On the other hand, at least players will be able to fly around before hitting level 78. It’s too bad my Death Knight missed out on that.

Repetitive Monetization Theoretics

Newsflash: MMO’s make you grind.

(That new, informative and ground breaking statement should win me a blog-pulitzer, or blog-nobel, I am certain of it.)

Follow Up: People tend to not like grind.

MMOment of Truth: Grind equals profits for companies (both in the form of longer sub fee collection, and minimizing development costs)

Sad Truth: Inclusive of the above statements, MMO companies don’t treat their customers very well. [insert any analogy here that shows the longer a company forces a customer to wait for something, or to receive their item, or charges more to one customer for the same item than another customer, etc etc – the poorer the customer feels]

Solution 1: Develop a fun game that doesn’t have grind as it’s core, “innovating” feature (not going to happen anytime soon)

Solution 2: Enhance the experience with Real Money Transactions (community has a hard time accepting the current iterations of the model)

Solution 3: After the break! (oh, how I love cliffhangers)

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What is Hurting WoW’s Polish?

Warning – Fanboi’s may attack!

WoW has changed. Change is sometimes a good thing, and I’m not going to belabor the obvious changes (less challenge) or industry misconceptions (subs are needed to cover ongoing costs) instead, I am going to look at two things I have noticed the most since my foray back into WoW.

First, to stave of the flames – WoW is still a fun game. It presents well, plays well, and yes, we all know how many subs they have. They are obviously growing still, but there are two nagging things that jump out at me that aren’t typical Blizzard “style”, every time I log in and (try) to play. Confusing conundrums, after the cut.

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