Tag Archive: MMO

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.

Can We Teach A New Dog Old Tricks?

Blizzard seems intent on taking a new direction in Cataclysm – making the game more challenging. I’m very curious if the follow through, and if they do – even more curious if they stick with it.

The basis of the change, without going into too much detail, is making CC required in instances again as well as making healing more challenging. What is surprising to me is that WoW today has been built on accessibility and easing the game every step of the way. I wrote recently how my Shaman had managed to beat pretty much the most challenging of bosses in PUG’s. The game has hit its high subscriber base from designing every class to be competitive in any role it can assume.

I’ll give a brief history of my experiences in WoW and how I have seen things change, and then chat about whether this move is possible, advisable, and/or sustainable. After the break.

My first raider in WoW was a druid, back in Vanilla. Back then druids were few and far between (no Tree or Boomkin form) and I secured my spot on a raid team for one button, and one button only – Innervate.  Back then raiding was such a challenge, mana was at a premium, and my main job was to replenish the mana of the core healers – usually a priest. My Vanilla experience was a full time mana battery with healing capabilities. Most characters had one clearly defined role and spec, and if you wanted to raid as that class, you stuck by it.

TBC fleshed out the characters a bit more, but dungeon runs were still a challenge. Going in without your guild (because you knew the strengths and weaknesses of the players) rarely happened. Heroic Shattered Halls was a complete cluster f*ck if you didn’t have the right CC, and the right players responsible for that CC. While characters became much more well rounded, content access was still at a premium. Our casual guild (who raided hard) was ranked as a top 10 guild on the server at one point, and we hadn’t even killed all of the bosses.

Wrath finalized the current path. Nearly every spec of every class was end game playable, and the content was the most accessible it has ever been. Still a shortage of tanks and healers, but enough people could fill those roles well enough that a 20 minute wait was pretty much the longest wait for a DPS only class to get into some content. The dungeon finder is out, and in full swing, and a group of 5 random strangers across multiple servers can easily dominate the hardest of 5 man heroic dungeons. PUG groups form day and night for 10/25 man ICC (the end game of Wrath), many with heroic mode toggles. More people experience the most content available in WoW to date.

While that history is a severe simplification, all roads travelled by Blizzard have led to an easy to play, moderate to master experience. I am curious why they want to make the game more challenging since their success seems to have hinged on that mantra. Regardless, this is the vision they are working towards for Cataclysm. Spending 5 years training a playerbase to play a certain way towards the easy path, and then changing to make them have to relearn their expectations is, by all accounts, a very interesting goal.

Now, perhaps I only found Wrath to be extremely easy because ‘I learned the hard way’. Players who entered the game end of TBC, or WRATH, only know the ‘new’ way. Through hundreds of dungeons and raids, I have literally seen CC used a handful of times. It’s just not necessary. I have met rogues that don’t even know what Sap is. Mages don’t Poly (even in an emergency – it’s not a natural reaction to immobolize the mob anymore to try and recover). It has been completely removed from the game, and by recent accounts, is something people are going to have to pick up real quick on launch day. Will it succeed?

I applaud Blizzard for trying something new and attempting to inject a bit of challenge into their playable game. I just don’t understand the motivation. By keeping the absolute end game (Lich King) still very difficult to kill they have seemed to keep the hardcore raiders pleased. By allowing the rest of the player base to defeat most of the other bosses, the more casual component seems to be pleased. So, at this stage in the game, why alienate your core subscriber base? You tought these players to play one way and made it easy for them. Now you are going to make them struggle through a 5 man dungeon. Is this good design?

I’m looking forward to watching how it all plays out.

Online Reputation

A little bit of frustration is settling in with Blood Bowl my past handful of matches. No, not the gameplay (which can be punishing) No, not the randomness (which I love) – but Yes, the weak network programming.

BB keeps a “reliability rating” with your account. Basically it is a percentage based score of matches played vs matches completed. My first 17 games I had a rating of 100% and proud of it. Players who challenged me knew I would stick through to the end no matter how poorly, or how brutal, the game was going.

It is now down below 80% – none of which I have control over. Since the last patch I have been getting funky network sync errors and random disconnects. Strange, and very frustrating.

Final frustrations after the jump…

(more…)

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?

Happy Birthday, EQ

EQ was my first MMO girlfriend. She was a bit cranky, and demanding on my time, but looking back I wouldn’t change a thing (looking forward is another matter). Those sweet, sweet evenings spent together shaped my gaming expectations and experiences. It is true that you never forget your first.

EQ Nostalgia after the break.

I beta tested EQ, and it set me off on a flurry of beta tests since, nearing the 20 mark. Inspired by Oz’s memory post at KTR I thought I’d share a bunch of stuff from that wonderful long forgotten world. A world where I experienced my first online friendships, guild drama, out of game connected to in game drama, sense of gaming accomplishment, responsibility, and of course, bittersweet dissapointment at the end of it all.

EQ had a lot of leeway when it launched. They were doing something completely different, a 3D “mainstream” Fantasy MMO. The challenges in the game were tough – the rewards few and far between. Levelling for hours could result in a 2% XP increase – or worse, a 5% decrease, depending on how you fared. I, like Oz, played on the test server. I started with a troll shaman named Zraka, and got to 30ish before moving to a troll warrior, Braack. It was with Braack where I experienced most of my trials and tribulations. I still remember how I met my first guild.

I stumbled upon a small group of adventurers pulling alligators in Sol Ro (I believe that was the name of the zone). The name that stands out to me the most is Engrid – a dark elf. They were looking for a tank. We started as a few, and turned into a full blown group in no time. Somehow my tanking wasn’t important – I had SoW on and was responsible for pulling. I would run out, grab a bunch of crocs (or alligators, seriously, they all look the same), and bring the bunch back to the group. After we started getting them down I would run back out, and grab a bunch more. We chain pulled them for hours, and we got into a great flow where I would bring back a whole mess of bad guys just as they were finishing up the first pull. It ended up getting a bit silly, we killed multiple hundreds and hundreds of the beasts with swift and reckless enthusiasm. The xp flowed like cheap wine at Olive Garden. Everyone commented how it was one of the best times they had had in EQ up to that point. Engrid, an “alt” of Velm, esteemed Cleric of “The Grove” guild, noticed I was untagged and suggested I go to their message boards and introduce myself. I did. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Grove wasn’t what I expected. All adults, playing a kids game and having a great time. I honestly didn’t know what to expect from a Guild in a game such as EQ, but quickly I found I was at home. Oz from KTR was also in that guild. I believe he was an officer or other important type person. In the Grove I finally had a plan – I could log in and do events, or at bare minimum have people to spend time with – which made the game that much more incredible. I was starting to understand this whole MMO thing and how great it was – and could be.

To keep things shorter and sweeter, from there we levelled, grew, did some raids (on the testserver it was always a multi-guild events), experienced Guild drama in a few forms – from bringing in the “wrong” people into the Guild (quotation marks – wrong isn’t quite the right word, just people who were different in temperment and attitude than the core crew – some of which I recommended to join with us), Loot drama in a Giants raid (stemmed from me as well – I asked a question about loot to a raidmaster who was running a raid – a faux pas for sure, but new territory for me that I didn’t understand. Quick and important lesson learned!) to Guild fracturing – some old time members who were at the top of the level and loot chart started realizing they wouldn’t “advance” anymore under current circumstances, so ended up leaving to a bigger and more hardcore guild (believe it was Primal Brood at the time – again, been a long time!). None of this “drama” will be new to any of you folks – it still happens on much grander scales in current MMO’s. It was still many of my MMO-life lessons though, and something I learned from way back then, and have tried to avoid/improve upon in current times.

While enjoying life as a guildmate in an incredible group of people, I also became part of EQ’s Volunteer Guide program as Stalbik, on the Rathe server. It was interesting and fun – the GM hall and equipment available was sweet, as were the commands and capabilities. After a year in the guide program I was promoted to the Lieutenant Guide in charge of Training and Testing – mostly other, new guides. We had tests and scenarios that had to be passed and a whole program that had to be navigated to be successful.  Those Guides you dealt with that you hated because they wouldn’t help you, or couldn’t give you a clear answer? I probably trained them. Don’t throw tomatoes, our scope and mandate was so limited there really wasn’t much we could do. This was a great learning experience as well, dealing with developers and Sr. GM’s as we navigated issues from small (stuck, lost items) to big (harassment, racism) all under such strict and unworkable parameters. I will admit that personally I was able to help about 70% of the people who petitioned, and usually received hearty thank you’s and cheers. That other 30% was impossible to deal with – many with legitimate complaints or issues that just didn’t fall under our scope of responsibility. I dealt with the major jackass to the most polite and kind people. Around this time we were trying out live events – and while limited in scope and size it was a fun twist to bring to the world. The program was volunteer but still took up about 20 hours a week for me, and eventually I had the choice to either enjoy the game as a player, or as a Guide – there wasn’t room for both. Having as much fun as I did I chose being a player and just ensured that I was super polite and understanding when I had to petition myself.

There were not gigantic guides on the internet for EQ – at least, none that I could find or use. You would literally have to explore and find things on your own. Of course, all that has changed, but I fondly remember things such as the Tower of Frozen Shadow (which I talk about here a bit at the end). We were levelling and came accross the structure. There were no instances in EQ, so you could guage the size of an area or building by just looking at it. We entered and spent hours exploring, killing, and dying, and finally getting enough of a hold of the place to go get reinforcements to come back and clear the place. That sense of exploration was wonderful in EQ, you could literally stumble accross things you had no clue about, and because there was no Quest-only structure to level (it was all mob grinding) you would explore to see if you found a sweet spot. Many days and nights were showing friends great little tucked away areas we had discovered and spending the night levelling, waiting for that one piece of elusive loot that had a .5% drop rate of some rare, named mob.

I don’t remember exactly when, or exactly why, I ended up leaving. I do remember a lot of the people who brought me into the Guild, such as Velm, moving on to other guilds, and other people not being able to maintain the time commitment in EQ to enjoy playing. The levelling curve was devastating. As people left, and my own work commitments became busier, and searching for a change, with the release of DAOC and many of things keeping me in EQ moving on or changing, I left the wonderful world of EQ. If EQ would launch today it would no doubt be an utter failure – but I will not and am not interested in talking about what that game did wrong – the past is the past, after all. I will simply remember the first night we held hands, and later kissed – all the while living in an imperfect world avoiding what the future would no doubt bring. Your first will always bring up an emotional side, and many of us spend the rest of our lives trying to recapture the moments of our childhood – the real childhood, or the MMO version.

 

Introduce a New Phase in the Development Cycle

Zubon over at Kill Ten Rats made a generic post that is an ultimate truth with MMOs. We all accept and are resigned to the fact that when an MMO launches it will be incomplete and buggy, and we will have to fight through the launch of a game with Rose Coloured Glasses until such time those things can be fixed. As evident in the responses to his article we as gamers just know it to be the case. While I agree with Zubon completely what way can we get around it besides outright denying it or plain accepting it? Developers already know their product won’t be up to snuff and often use questionable PR and Marketing techniques to avoid calling a spade a spade. Let’s start calling that spade the “Commercial Beta”.

Many MMO’ers plan on waiting for 6 months after a launch to start playing a game. That is the generic benchmark of how much time it will take a game to plow through launch issues, fix major bugs established at launch, and get a few good patches in to make a game. As gamers we are paying for the final beta stage. Developers should acknowledge that, embrace it, give it a title to meter expectations, and reward players who stick through it. The Commercial Beta phase should incentify early adopters to a game with a lower box cost, and lower monthly subscription fee until such time the game is more complete that it warrants full payment.

This could be a big win/win. Developers win because they can acknowledge their product is still in beta phase (albeit Commercial Beta) and it will give a little more lax room for player expectations as it is properly termed. They also will start getting a revenue stream to continue making changes. Players win because they receive a fairer value for their dollar for buying an incomplete product and pay less while changes are done, and also give a hand in shaping a game (that they obviously like, paying to beta and all) to be better positioned in the market to attract and retain a good player base after official launch. It also benefits the players because developers will have to make noteworthy changes and fixes to keep the player base after they go to “Official Launch”.

Once the game “Officially” Launches, box price goes to normal and so do sub fees. Commercial beta players get the benefit of the cheaper initial box, and in a nice world would keep the lower sub fee as well. People who stuck with it get rewarded, and people who want to try something new will finally know when the product is ready.

Of course we do this already, without the price breaks. Using some fun terminology and stretching out the development cycle with player incentives just seems like a smarter way to do it.

Ebert @ the MMO

I finished Fallout 3 – very quickly. I probably spent 10 hours on side quests, and 5 on the main quest line – and it was over. I finished at level 12 (I hear there are 20 levels, but I didn’t figure that out). The end was a bit of a dissappointment, but at least I have replay value. Going through it again, but this time I am going to be a goody two shoes. I didn’t get a friend in that game, and the dog stuck around with me for a bit before he hit a chain of landmines. Instead of burying him a la “I am Legend”, I scavenged the dog meat and moved on. I was thinking about how good of an experience that game is and immediately started thinking on the ways I would have liked it to be different.

Why?

I caught myself and asked that question. I don’t go to the movies and want to change the movie. The movie is either good, or bad, or somewhere in between. I don’t come to my blog after watching 007 and say “boy, that James Bond movie was SWEET! Too bad the Aston Martin didn’t have a built in grappling hook. Or that part, where he shoots the guy in the foot and does a round house kick? That would have been SOOO much better if only he shot him in the face and then kicked him in the nads. And the camera angle when he was hanging off the bottom of the chopper should have been from the left, not right. And if only they changed his spy name to 009 – haha, then it would have been a GREAT movie!!”

We don’t think that way. I suppose it is because movies (and television) are passive entertainment. You pay, you eat popcorn, you watch, you enjoy. Maybe you don’t enjoy, but you observe. At the end, you are $25 bucks lighter and had an experience, good or bad. Games are move active entertainment. You control the hero/bad guy, and you go out and shoot your own movie. Movies are also “one offs”, you know you can settle in for 90 minutes and it’s done, where in gaming it is a much larger time commitment (for the most part) and you have to invest that time, and money, to advance your entertainment. My final point is that I prefer gaming as entertainment to the traditional passives, and I want to see better choices made.

Why do we do it? Did I miss anything important?

Scroll of Blasphemous Conundrum

Damn you, YOU, who sent me the Blizzard scroll of Resurrection. Did you do it because you missed me? Did you do it to get phat xp rewards? (they still giving those out?) because I am a cynical blogger now, surely, it must be to taunt me. Taunt me after reading my last near brush with WoW death (erm.. life?) and sure enough in my inbox, sitting right now, is 10 free days waiting for me. No Paypal fiasco, no hobo-sleep-interrupting wallet retrieval, just 10, free, painful/glorious days of WoW return. When I first  received it in my inbox I smiled, then groaned, then smirked, then hrmpf? followwed by a mmmhmmmmm. I wish I had the video of it to share with you. I haven’t cashed in that chip yet but it did remind me of the other few times I tried to “go home again”. I wouldn’t classify them as successful.

When free trials pop up (as they often do) with the promise of all the new and shiny fixes to various titles I had left for various reasons, no matter how skeptical, I typically do them. Ah, to put on my troll costume and roam the EQ lands as Braack Baacarat. To enter my stealthly Emain Macha gate camping with Bleyzn Saddle. The joys. The memories! The dissapointment? Around this time last year (or the year before, it is all a blur in MMO land) I got one for EQ. Password retrieval was simple, and I downloaded the new shiny EQ skins (yes, it has been that long. I loved being a big boxy troll. The new graphics? notsomuch.) I had apparently logged out in the Great Divide Zone. I was still guilded!

[/gu] Erm.. anybody home?

..crickets..

Good thing there are zone channels.

[/1] Hey! Uh, I used to play on this server a couple years ago and just checking to see if anyone I know is still around

Small pause, then a chorus of replies. “HEY BRAACK!”, “Braack! YOU LOSER!”, “Hey B! come find us, we are grinding Giants!”

It was fun for the reception, albeit midly surprising that so many people were still here – this was a couple years after I had left.

So, I met up, and they were grinding giants. To work on something called “AA”. (Wow! they have expanded the game! Aircraft now? and you can grind skills to counteract that? SWEET!). We ground (grinded?) Giants for 4 hours. Yep, the same old EQ. The conversations I had during downtimes were fun, and it was a beautiful night overall. I had one other place to go – the dreaded Tower of Frozen Shadow. I ran my (now) little troll butt to the tower, sat, and just thought about things as the day/night cycle went through a couple times. The TOFS was a pinncle of memory for me. No, it wasn’t that great, but I still to this day remember how I stumbled upon it with my pocket Cleric (Candarie Stryper) and Druid pal (Deidre Whereami) when the expansion first came out. No walkthroughs, no maps. We tackled that place, the three of us, lost a quarter level of XP and had some of the most fun ever in gaming. The unknown is powerful. We ended up going back at a later date with a full group and beat the thing. That tower, for me represented everything good about gaming online at the time – still does to a degree. It is a beacon a hope – an old relic of a place, poorly designed, yet magical nonetheless. I look back at that as the “past” of MMO gaming, and how far we have come, and dare to dream that future iterations of the MMO scape can recapture that magic. I logged out that night from EQ for my last time. Didn’t have the heart to kill ol’ Braack off, but at least I know that if I ever get a free trial to that place again I will have a beautiful sight to behold when I log in. Even if just metaphorically.

So, 10 days, huh? I probably will take it and mess around with specs, and of course, check in on my motley crew of characters lying around do see if any harm/good has come of them. As of right now I have no plans to buy WOTLK, but hey, who knows – maybe 2 years from now when everyone in WoW is running around at level 110 I can login and learn that Shattrath is my new Tower of Frozen Shadow.

This Just In! (actually already old news)

Yay?

Something else to get overly excited about and (hopefully) not dissappointed in the end. Can’t wait to see what they do with it. I was a bit skeptical with Bioware at first, as a first time MMO developer, until I read the below in their FAQ

“Another member of the Community is harassing me on the website, what can I do?”
Simply contact the Community Team and give us specific details on what’s going on. A member of the Community Team will contact you as soon as possible.

Seems they totally understand the MMO community already, so I feel much better about it all.

The 6 Wheeled Car

There is a six wheeled car – it is a sedan, four door. What if I told you it gets better gas mileage, is much safer to drive,  hell, it’s even cheaper than a boring old regular 4 wheeled car. Would you buy it? Probably not. Nobody wants to be the first, and 4 wheels have done just fine for the past 100 years. We are comfortable with our 4 wheels, it is socially acceptable to drive a ‘regular’ car, and everybody else makes their cars that way. Okay, you got me, there isn’t really a 6 wheel mass produced car on the market but I used the example to illustrate part of what sucks with MMO’s. MMO’s design what is comfortable – what we are used to – when a few simple changes could improve the whole process. The $14.99 subscription fee? It has nothing to do with recovering expenses, it is just what people are used to paying, so that is what they charge. The leveling curve standard – lots of little levels fast, some mid levels medium-slow, end levels stupidly slow – there is not really a good reason for it except that is what players are accustomed to.

I touched upon my dream leveling curve here and wanted to expand how using a flat hours per level system could innovate a part of the market. I use the term ‘innovate’ loosely – perhaps a better word is make your entire MMO world useful. Let me explain. Again, I will use WAR as my backdrop because it has the potential to take advantage of this type of system pretty much as is.

The power of a character is indicative of levels. For illustration purposes we are going to assume that ‘x’ level is representative of the power level of a character to one another – being a level 40 is 40x more powerful than a level 1 character. (In reality it is probably more, but let’s assume that 40 level 1’s could kill 1 level 40, 2 level 20’s can kill one level 40, etc. Again, that is a bit skewed towards the lower levels but that is the power curve I am looking for. Players want to level to become more powerful, it is the proverbial cheese to our little rat race, and that aspect is important to keep pure in any MMO. Although I complained about how the leveling curve escalates to rediculous levels in WAR I don’t care so much about the total time – just the time it takes between levels. If you want me to play 8 days to get to max level, fine, just give me the content and regular pieces of cheese along the way to keep me trucking.

As a PVP game that encourages varying levels to compete/participate with one another the ‘power’ of levels is a big difference maker. It is somewhat balanced with the bolster mechanic but this still doesn’t solve another beef of mine with MMO’s – wasted content. I have been working on my dwarf alt a lot lately and by god, the RVR lakes area in T1 of DvG are absolutely beautiful. Incredible design and I can imagine the fun and engaging battles that could happen on the mountainsides with great cover and backdrop for the perfect bloody battle – problem is, no one does it. Throughout beta, and now leveling a third character through, no one open RVR’s in this pairing. No clue why. Such a waste of a beautiful arena for gaming, and no doubt a lot of time and development costs as well. All MMO’s do this to some degree – they make their own content a big waste of time and money – something that is exasberated even more when expansions come out. The by-product of this is that they actually shorten the life of their games by extending the top power levels as it creates an extra layer of inaccessibility for the new player. Yes, it does make the long term player stick around a bit longer, but the new player finds himself either alone, or hopelessly outpowered, and in the end there is a low retention rate for new subs once a game has expanded it’s power content. (Go join EQ now, and see how much fun you have!)

I know I am dancing around a slew of different angles right now, but it all leads me to the same conclusion: The relative power curve between players needs to change. Make that adjustment, along with a flat leveling system, and all of a sudden the entire game world is a playground for EVERY player. Instead of having a level 40 40x more powerful than a level 1 character, change it to the power of 10 – meaning a level 40 character is only 4x more powerful than a level 1. If my level 40 Ironbreaker decides to go back into the T1 lakes, a good group of 4-5 destruction players can take you down. Want to try old quests you never got to finish? Sure, it is worth 1/4 of the XP, but there is still value. When the MMO decides to up the max level, the disparity is minor at best and new players coming into the game can still enjoy every aspect of it from day one, instead of day 124. Please note I am not saying take away the 40 levels – still have them, and the ability/gear curve to go along with it. Each player will still get their 40 ‘dings’.

Now we have adjusted to a flat leveling system, and a player-relative power curve, a few minor adjustments and the entire game world is now the playground for every player. No longer are you limited to a certain section for a limited amount of time. Scenarios – Open up all to everyone, but instead of player bodies as the per side cap, use levels. For example, have 280 levels per side. Your side might only have 10 players against 20 enemies – but the relative power is equal meaning it can still be a good fight. World objectives – Have them all, starting from T1, have more meaning. The bigger rewards and xp/renown gains are still in the upper tiers (relative to player level) but put an absolute importance on those T1 objectives – so lower level players are really contributing to the effort. One side may send a higher level strike team down to make sure they are captured, but a lower level rally can still, with numbers and skill, have a chance (instead of getting one shotted).

While this may seem like a major change I think it would be well accepted by the majority of the playerbase. There is nothing wrong with maximizing the enjoyment of a game from the outset of the game instead of worrying about how much time you need to spend to be “effective” in that game. This solves the outdated content issue all MMO’s face, maximizes development dollars, and if you do an expansion in lower level tiers everyone can enjoy it, regardless of what level you are. Of course, WAR will never go this way and I only used it as my backdrop (because of how it is designed) to illustrate how a flat leveling curve, and relative power adjustment, could make that next 6 wheeled car the thing of the future.

I was going to rehash these comments on Syncaine’s blog here, and Melf’s blog here, and Openedge’s blog here – the portion about relative power curves but keeping lots of levels – but instead took the lazy (er) route of just adding  pingback (s).

Perception

With the Warhammer:Age of Reckoning Open Beta underway I am curious what the initial impression is from the typical (ie: people without a preconceived fanboy or doomsday view) gamer. As mentioned before, I am looking forward to it’s release. I also have to come clean and share that my perception perhaps isn’t a very fair one. I have been exposed to the game since sometime in Beta 2 (servers currently running 4.1) and as such my perception of the game isn’t from a fresh clean slate – it is from a much different viewpoint.

When you are invited into a beta you expect there to be problems – that is why you are there. Since it is just a beta you tend to roll with the problems and issues and playtest the game realizing that it is going to change an awful lot before it is released. Beta testers are also exposed to the improvement process. From my first beta build to the current point the game has improved immensely and since I experienced that change first hand it gives an optimism of what else is to come (something a new player just hopping into the game for the first time hasn’t experienced). Beta testers also have an in depth knowledge of gameplay mechanics, general knowledge of different class strengths and weaknesses, and a true feel for the game – all things a fresh new player hopping into the experience for the first time doesn’t have. Because of this your typical beta player already has an opinion on the game both in it’s present and future state.

New players have only been exposed to the opinions of those who have beta tested and may have already formed their opinions based on NDA lifted information. So, what I am most curious about today, if you just booted WAR for the first time and have kept an open mind before doing so, what is your perception on the game? More importantly, what did you honestly expect?

With each new MMO released we old crotchety gamers always face disappointment. Yet another Fantasy MMO. Just the same as [insert existing MMO here] with a few extra fluff items, the same old release bugs, yadda yadda yadda. Being critical of the design and release process is important as it should garner improvement with each new release. By now, surely we should be wearing virtual reality goggles and LARP’ing are way (alone in our rooms, of course) through the MMO grind. Every single game genre has improved this way. First Person Shooters have evolved tremendously. RTS games have a completely different mechanic and gameplay than in the old days. No, I am not oozing sarcasm here, honestly. Our forms of entertainment in their most base form, from movies, to music, to gaming genres really haven’t changed one bit – yet we expect some sort of miracle innovation with each new release. Crysis is not really different from the original Doom. Sins of a Solar Empire is not really all that different from Command and Conquer. World of Warcraft is not all that different from Everquest. Of course you can point to graphical improvements and other things that are different but at the core of it all we are playing the exact same games today as we did 10 years ago with a few extra mouse buttons to click and prettier scenery to watch while doing so. Welcome to the entertainment business.

Movies haven’t evolved at their core. At this stage in our entertainment evolution surely the audience should be immersed in a virtual reality setting as part of the movie, not just zombies staring at the screen. The entertainment industry finds what works and rides it as long as they can. Guess what – MMO’s are core entertainment now, not an underground economy of geeks and visionaries and new titles are going to cater to the core audience. Regular folk who have a comfort level with how these games present themselves, how the UI works, what a quest is – these mechanics won’t change unless the core audience changes. Unfortunately that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. We spent so many years hoping to be mainstream so better games would be produced that we could enjoy. Look at where that has taken us.

I think I have lost my bite with new releases now since I pretty much know what to expect and have lowered my expectations of gaming in general – so much so, that as long as the game is fun I may play it. I don’t let myself get disappointed expecting true innovation. On the micro level, I still want to know your thoughts on Warhammer. On the macro level I would love to know your perception of the MMO and entertainment industries as a whole and what you really expect.

Get Down with RMT (yeah you know me!)

Obscure musical reference. Probably sad that I think that is obscure. Free comment post to whoever figures that one out first.

Real Money Transfers. The Yankees, Bill Gates, and Jack Thompson loathe of most MMO gamers. You will probably add my name to the loathing list when I tell you that with a few changes, the underground RMT model would actually be good for gaming. Whoa! was that a tomato you just threw at me? That’s okay, I’ll make a RMT sandwich with that, a slice of bacon, and two pieces of whole wheat bread.

With all the hubbub with the underground RMT world the sad truth is it is a market easily crushed – and while doing so, properly, could be a celebrated event for gamers. MMO’s are one colossal universal competition. My MMO is better than your MMO. My Guild is better than your guild. My toon is better than your toon. My Sword of Ultimate Truth is better than your Hammer of Justice. And so on. The problem with MMO’s is that to be the best (or simply just enjoy yourself) it isn’t solely about skill – it is about time. I guarantee you, if I could play 40-50 hours a week compared to your 10-15 hours a week I will be “better” at it than you. (Divorced, probably overweight, and dealing with a bout of carpal tunnel to boot – but still, “better”). Couple the time issue with those same competition obsessed players willing to spend money on in game things to get even further ahead and the disparity widens. Enter RMT to save the day.

I bought gold in WoW once. Probably from a company that hijacked you and your guild-mate’s account to provide me with that gold. I apologize for that. Honestly, I didn’t think I was hurting anyone and was actually supplying 10 year old kids with a much needed 30 cent an hour job to care for their 8 brothers and sisters. I felt dirty, like sneakily downloading porn while my wife knitted a sweater for her ailing grandmother but I did it, and it felt good.

To be fair, I did it before I really knew the ramifications, or even that it was “illegal”. I was falling behind in my gaming time, and instead of spending hours a week farming junk to make gold by making and selling different junk, I really just wanted to enjoy the game by actually playing the game, not doing my second job in it. Back then, it was dirt cheap. $99.00 for 3000 gold. Considering what I typically charge my clients per hour, I was actually making money by spending that little amount for something that would take me 30 hours in game – and spending those 30 hours making real money. It went to good use, and many a guild/server mate enjoyed the benefit of my newfound cash flow. The 3 months I was able to stretch out that purchase was the best three months I spent in game, because I could do things I actually wanted to do, instead of being forced to to do menial tasks. By the time it was gone I started looking at making another purchase – that is when I did a lot of soul and google searching and realized what exactly I was buying. Hacked accounts were increasing, and I realized it was teh bad. I  took my little skeleton, put it deep in the closet, and never spoke of it again. Until now.

Since “time” is the ultimate qualifier for both your ability to enjoy, and in some parts excel, in any given MMO the playing field needs to be levelled. The best way to do that, while crushing the whole account hack/sweat shop issue, is for MMO companies to sell their own gold. To set the price simply scour the internet for what illegal companies are selling it for (it’s not like they are hiding) and cut that price in half. If they drop, so do you. Make it so it is entirely impossible for them to profit from it. Why would anyone buy gold from an “illegal” source and not be guaranteed of it’s delivery when they can get it from a reputable dealer? It would destroy the gold selling aspect of the underground RMT economy, and make your average gamer quite happy. If I was an MMO company I would do just that – however, I would balance it off with a lower monthly subscription fee. $10 a month (plus my set aside $5 a month for my gold) and hey, I am way ahead of where I am now.

On this argument some take the high road, saying they wouldn’t purchase or play a game that does this.  I find it ironic that people would rather pretend the “company” is doing “everything they can” to stop the real issue and turn a blind eye to the problem citing moral reasons instead of fighting this head on in the only true easy and simple mechasim to finally put it to rest. You are still playing that game, right now, knowing this junk is going on behind the scenes – let’s bring it out into the open.

The other way to fix this problem is to remove the parts of MMO’s that aren’t fun (such as grinding for gold) so you don’t have to worry about the gold in the first place. Somehow I don’t think that would fly with the MMO’er, as I think we all secretly hate ourselves. MMO’s have become more life like indeed – in real life, we work our 50 hours a week to be able to have fun. In MMO’s, we actually have to work in game before we can have fun in that game. Our fantasy worlds have less rewarding work than our real ones!

I’m off to self-loathe about that one for a bit. Anyone care to join me?