Tag Archive for MMOs

The story of my gloves…

One of the things I’ve come to loathe in modern MMOs is the item grind and the lack of attachment that comes with it.  In World of Warcraft, I don’t care at all about my items because the chances are pretty high that I’m going to replace them soon.  It might be a couple of days, or a few hours, or more often than I would like just a matter of minutes.  I recall one day in particular where I upgraded my character’s pants seven times in just two hours of play.  I probably could have kept any one of those since each upgrade was just a couple of points, from 120 armor to 122 or 8 strength to 9 or adding a stat bonus the previous pants didn’t have, but I felt no attachment to any of those pants.  They’d been so easy to obtain that the stats were all that mattered.

And the appearance, but when the game practically forces you to look like a rodeo clown trying to maintain a cohesive and good look is practically futile.

In my perfect MMO, character stats would be on a smaller scale.  No more crazy strength of 874.  There would be a cap, 100 is a nice number, but then I’ve always had a soft spot for the old table top D&D standard of 25.  With a smaller scale, a single point increase from a magic item would have noticeable impact.  Magic items would then be more rare.  In fact, I’d probably place true magic items only at the end of long quests, coming from incredibly hard boss mobs (assuming the game even had them) or through the arduous labors of master craftsmen.  The obtaining of a magic item would be a story you could tell.  Rather than “Yeah, I got these gloves from delivering pies from Joe to Stewart.” your story would be more along the lines of “Well, about three weeks ago, I undertook a small task for the local sheriff…” and spiral off into a series of deeds and fights or harrowing escapes.  More importantly, those magic gloves would take a long time to replace, if ever.

Over the long haul, your character would become a graphic representation of the stories you could tell, instead of a collection of the best gear you’ve obtained lately.

I think this desire, this design, springs from the years I played EverQuest as a monk.  In the early days, a monk could barely wear any gear, and he was 70% effective even naked since his gear was so weak and he fought without weapons.  Thus, every item that I wore was something I obtained through playing the game.  Some of it from long quest chains, some of it, later, from slaying dragons and other rare and dangerous beasts, from invading the planar homes of the gods, crafted by dear friends using rare materials obtained through adventure.  Even as the game changed and the design encouraged monks to wear more gear, and more monk wearable gear became available, I’d been playing one way so long that I continued.  Every item I carried was a story.  The Treant Fists were a tale of a lost weekend in the Gorge of King Xorbb, the headband of the Ashen Order and the sash of the Silent Fist that eventually lead to the Robe of the Whistling Fists and the Celestial Fists, the Iksar shackles, the Shiverback Hide armor, and so much more.

I’d love to see a game, or perhaps I’ll have to make one, where I actually care about my gear beyond the numbers it increases.

Stop with the grouping already!

In MMOs, I am a strong advocate of grouping.  However, even though I often think that people who want to play a game with thousands, or millions, of other people and NOT play with them is a bit silly, I’ve never faulted a game for allowing that style of play (though I will fault them for making solo play the “best” way to play in every aspect – I’m looking at you, World of Warcraft, you and your game from level 1 to 85).  I am, at the core, all about options.

Facebook Grouping

Forced Grouping?

That would be why this makes me so mad.  Plenty of people out there use multiple social networks, and to make things easier they try to link them together so they can make one update and have it show up everywhere.  Facebook has decided that they would like to marginalize certain types of this synchronizing.  If I click that link that says “See 19 more posts from Twitter” it will expand and show me around 2 days worth of Twitter updates, completely out of their proper order in my feed.

Now, I understand, on some level, what Facebook is trying to achieve.  People who play games are often inundated with “spam” from those games and so Facebook decided it would try to clean things up by grouping updates from Applications.  Twitter is an Application.

The fault here is that there is no option to not group updates from Applications.  This is what I get, forced grouping.

There are solutions.  I can use an application like TweetDeck, which posts the same update to multiple sources directly.  But then I need to install TweetDeck everywhere, including my phone, in order to get the same functionality.  But that only solves it for my updates.  The dozens of other people I know who use the Twitter Application will continue to be grouped.  It would be better if Facebook game me the option to choose if Applications were grouped.  Better still, let me choose per Application if I want their updates grouped.

Hopefully, Facebook will get their heads out of their asses at some point and fix this.  If they don’t, it’ll just be one more reason I find myself drifting away from Facebook…

The Great Divide III

More than levels and more than lore, you know what divides players from other players most?  The players.  And nothing divides players faster than giving them exactly what they want.

People look back at EverQuest and they make fun of the difficulty of the game.  In fact, they often laugh it off as not being difficult at all but instead as being imposing or broken or wasteful.  They look back and remember (or just hear stories about if they never actually played in that era of MMOs themselves) dying to a rat and they belittle the experience.  Killed by a rat?  And why is my hero killing rats anyway?  But you know what?  They weren’t rats.  They were large rats.  They were giant rats.  They were diseased rats.  Even if the name of the monster was just “a rat” the thing was the size of a large dog.  And those weren’t beetles you were killing, they were fire beetles.  But people complained.  It was too hard.  Leveling was too slow.  There weren’t enough quests.  The spawn times were too long.  The loot didn’t drop fast enough.  Raids were too big and required too many people.

So, later generations of games have given players everything they asked for.  Easier fights (I’ve actually played WoW characters up to level 30 without ever dying), faster levels (I have a level 39 character that was level 33 three days ago, and that was in just 3 or 4 hours of playtime, maybe 5) and quests… good gods are there quests.  Dozens of them.  You can’t swing a dead rat without hitting a score of floating exclamation points.  I haven’t run into a spawn time greater than a couple of minutes, even for elites and bosses (raid instance locking doesn’t count).  My bags are so full of good loot from mobs and quests that my only choice is to vendor most of it because it’s too common to be worth selling to other players.  And I don’t need 65 or 100 people to kill a god anymore, I just need 9 people to go with me, maybe 19 or 24.

The one thing players don’t need so much anymore?  Other players.

I’ve mentioned before that I recently returned to WoW to try to play with some friends.  Haven’t actually played with them much, in part because of level disparities, but also because our schedules don’t seem to line up very often.  Doesn’t matter though.  I don’t actually need them to play.  In fact, playing without them is faster.  No problems of people being in different phases or on different sections of quest chains, no issues of level problems, and I can get fast and easy exp, gaining a couple of levels a night, fighting monsters that in no way actually have a chance in hell of beating me as long as I keep mashing my attack keys.  Hell, I have a druid who’s gear is so out of whack (and this is all found and quested stuff, I haven’t bought anything from the auction house) that I play with no fear of ever running out of mana.  Most of the time I play in cat or bear form, and between fights I pop out to normal and heal myself, then back to melee.  The wife’s hunter is even more insane.  The speed at which she kills means she rarely ever needs healing at all.  When we play together, I don’t even bother staying in normal form.

I’ve tried to play with other people, but it’s actually hard.  Grinding exp from monsters isn’t worth it, and finding people on the same quests is a losing battle.  I could queue up for dungeon runs, but that’ll just put me in a random group with random people who I will likely never see again.  Back before I quit the last time, I was in a guild, and we had guild chat and a vent server and it was very social… except for the fact that none of us were actually playing together.  On the same server, sure.  Sometimes even in the same zone, but grouping up always slowed somebody down.

At least in EQ, the only people slowed down by grouping were the quad kiting druids and wizards, fear kiting necros, and the occasional AE or charm kiting bard.  Even that isn’t true anymore as I actually saw with my own eyes a cleric soloing even con mobs the last time I returned to game, and not kiting either, he was standing toe to toe.

Now, don’t take this as railing against solo players.  While I personally don’t enjoy doing it, I do realize that it is what other people want.  I mean, WoW has 12 million players not because that many people suddenly realized they wanted to play MMOs.  It’s because that many more people were able to play the game because they didn’t need to actually have other people to play with.  And there is nothing wrong with that… except that many of these people refuse to acknowledge the impact that their style of play has on people who do want to group and play with others.  The impact is in server resources and population make up.  In older games where the majority of people were wanting/needing to group up, finding groups was easy.  These days, with the majority of people not wanting to be reliant on other players, finding groups is hard.  So much so that Blizzard actually had to make cross server instances possible and a group finding tool just to alleviate the pressure.  The issue now is that for many of the people who want from grouping what used to be an integral part of grouping (the social interaction and bonding), the LFG tool is an empty gesture.  It solves the symptom of not being able to find a group while completely destroying the ability to bond with those players.

But how do you solve that?  Again and again on this blog you’ll see me advocate the single server design for games because I whole-heartedly believe that the best way to solve player problems is to allow the players to solve their own problems.  If finding better groups is as easy as travelling to another part of the game world that is a much better solution that trying to get different game worlds to be able to share a player pool for certain kinds of grouping.  However, given that at this point Blizzard, and most game companies, can’t redesign their entire server structure to be a single server design, what then?  Free server moves?  That seems like the best possibility, and perhaps put a lockout so that a player only gets one free move every 90 days or something, and if they want additional moves they can pay for them.  If I meet cool people in the dungeon finder, I might move to their server if it were periodically free, but I can’t see myself ever paying $25 to move a character based on the interaction of an hour or two.  Nor would I pay $25 to blindly move to a random server in the hopes of finding more people to group with.

Once again, though, looking forward at new games, I’m less enthused about wanting to play them because of the divisions between players.  Even in the Rift betas that I’ve been playing in, I’ve got friends playing on 5 or 6 different servers playing with subsets of their own friends, and none of us are playing with all our friends, or even have the capability of playing with all our friends without creating characters on a bunch of servers, on both factions, and maintaining characters at several different level tiers.

Anticipation 2011

So far, I’m looking forward to only one game this year.  And it isn’t Star Wars: The Old Republic (which, personally, I think is going to “fail” insomuch as MMOs fail by not beating WoW and allowing the company to pass out money hats).  Last year, despite owning many games, all of which I really wanted to play, I only played one game a lot (not alot), and that was Red Dead Redemption.  Even though I’ve never been a big fan of the Grand Theft Auto series, something about RDR just clicked, and it was probably the setting and tone of the tale.  I played it all the way through, I played the multi-player for many hours, and I bought all the DLC for it.  It was the best game of the year.  Well, maybe a tie between it and Minecraft.

I’m going to call it already, and say that the best game of 2011 is going to be L.A. Noire.  I mean, just look at this…

I don’t often get super excited about games.  I try to keep my expectations low or at least reasonable.  But it just isn’t possible here.

What about you?  What game are you eagerly awaiting?

Reforming Cable TV

In the wake of many subscription MMOs going to a Free to Play model, it got me to thinking.  Why can’t Cable TV do the same thing?

Instead of charging me $150 a month for 300 channels, most of which I’ll never watch, how about letting me have “free” cable, where I can watch PBS and other local stations in real time with commercials, and have everything, and I mean everything, available on demand as a pay per episode/pay per season service?  The infrastructure is there.  They already do sell programs on demand, they even ofter free on demand for many network and cable shows.  They already provide Internet service and have the bandwidth.  Just expand it.  Sure, some people might just watch the free stuff, just like some gamers only play the free parts of free to play games, but the people who pay and buy the extras will far outweigh them in the long run.

As an added bonus to this sort of design, TV execs can stop trying to guesstimate viewers and DVR watchers and whatnot and actually get hard purchaser numbers.  Even better, shows can stop competing against each other.  Many shows have tried to go up against juggernauts like American Idol or Dancing with the Stars or even some scripted shows, and even if they get a few million viewers, it isn’t enough to keep the show on the air.  Even when there are lower rated shows on the network, because sometimes it isn’t how good your show is but only how well it did versus someone else’s show.  What if, instead of seeing your show get a paltry 2 million viewers while 28 million tune in to some other network, you could see that within a two week period 18 million people watched your show, 16 million of whom, if forced, would choose another show but when given the freedom to watch whenever they want without being forced to choose will happily watch and enjoy your program?  Wouldn’t that be better?

And really, they don’t even need to go so far… I’d gladly watch the commercials during programs or special “sponsored by” spots before an episode if I could just watch all the shows I want when I want to watch them.  I’d settle for having everything, with commercials, available on demand, and having the cable company charge me for the channels I want to select from a la carte.  Rather than $150 a month for 300 channels, 282 of which I will never ever watch, ever; charge me $20 bucks a month and let me pick 20 or so channels I want to have.  Make it a dollar a channel, with discounts the more I select.

Anyway… those of the rambling thoughts that are rumbling around in my brain today.

Free to be Super

Champions Online goes Free to PlayAnother game switching to the Free to Play model isn’t really surprising.  I’m pretty sure that most companies are realizing what most players figured out a long time ago: players aren’t going to subscribe to a bunch of different MMOs.  At best, subscription games get tourists, people who love one game but are burned out so go looking for something new to reignite them… and then they go back to the one game they love.  The elephant in the room is that World of Warcraft is that one game for millions of people.  Free to Play lowers the barrier for the tourists down to its minimum (at worst, a big download and install; at best, a tiny download and install followed by streaming out content to you while you create your character and play around in the introduction areas), and then pelts you with bonuses you can buy for tiny amounts.  And earning a few dollars from hundreds of thousands of tourists is better than earning a box sale from a small percentage of that number.  You also avoid people being able to say “the game just isn’t worth the monthly fee” because there isn’t one.  Now you just have to avoid them saying “the game just isn’t worth playing, even for free”.

I’ve always wanted to try Champions Online, but the cost kept me out.  I played City of Heroes for three years, and if that was free to play I’d be there in a heartbeat, but it isn’t.  At least not yet.  Looking over the Champions F2P Features list, it looks like they’ve put a good foot forward and the free parts will be worth playing.  Since Champions doesn’t have separate servers, they immediately avoid the pitfall of EQ2 in separating their F2P players from the rest.  Sure, EQ2 is reporting growth, but I hated that as a F2P player I couldn’t play my old characters from when I was a subscriber and I couldn’t play with my old friends.

Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, this is nothing but good news.  I’ll be looking forward to donning in game spandex next year when they convert.

Another Case for Class

It is amazing how much time I spend thinking about designing classes in MMOs when I really don’t care for them.  Or maybe I do.  Coming from a table top gaming background, many of those games had classes.  Sure, there were dalliances with systems like GURPS, but we always came back to D&D or some variant thereof.  Reading Tesh’s Quest for Glory post this morning (read it, it’s worth it – I’ll wait), I made the following comment:

I loved the Quest for Glory games, and I want that kind of differentiation between classes… however, every time I spend any serious effort thinking up a design for it, it always fails in an MMO sense. Yes, I want the rogue to advance by sneaking around and stealing things, planning jail breaks, cheating at games of chance, etc… but how do I fit those skills into a group dynamic?

Ultimately, I always end up at the idea of every character having two lives. The first if your traditional MMO style play, and the second is solo or specific group tailored quests that can cater to the class of the individual or the class set of a group (a rogue goes to the quest giver and is told “this is a two man job. you’ll need someone tough and good with a blade to pull this off.” meaning you need to duo the quest with a warrior, each of you having parts of the event tailored to your class’s strengths.

In the past, I’ve always tried to avoid this because it leads to heavy instancing… but I’ve gotten to the point where I think a better game design is giant city hubs of social activity with the majority of all adventures/quests in instances.

And it got me to thinking.  And while I worked the ideas rolled around in my head until I realized something… That second paragraph where I mention characters having two lives, that is exactly how the best table top games played out.

Four or five or six of us would gather and one of us would be the Dungeon Master.  We’d roll up our characters and play.  Our play would consist of two parts.  In the Adventure play, the group would head out on a quest, part of the major arc of the world we were in, and we’d investigate and fight, and mostly we’d play as a group, taking on roles in that group, occasionally a player would do something that only their class could do, but mostly this part of the game was rolling dice and reducing enemy hit points to zero.  Sound familiar?  The other half would be Development play.  Invariably, after an Adventure, we’d have learned some information that would point us into several possible directions.  The group would split up and handle tracking down leads.  The reality for this was because the full group could get together less often than subsets of our group could.  The result was that the rogue would head off to see if he could gather some more info from a bar down by the docks, the priest and paladin would head to the church library to do some research, and the mage would head to dinner with the town elders.  Each sub group would then have the DM play out for them a tailored mission in which they’d use their specific skills.  The rogue would use a disguise and then get in on a back room card game, manipulating the game and getting the other players drunk while easing information out of them.  The paladin and priest would discover a dark presence corrupting the church librarian and have to perform an exorcism.  The mage would use his knowledge of politics to get a better picture of who might be behind the dark days that are coming.  If the paladin had gone to the docks, the mage and rogue to the library, and the priest to the elders, each part would have played out completely differently, but possibly yielded the same results of finding the things the group as a whole needed to continue.

MMOs need this.  MMOs need two games.  One that encompasses the whole world and all the players with big dungeons and raids and guilds and… well, what we have now.   And they need to intersperse it with a class specific solo or small group game that caters to the class, the way single player RPGs can.  Many times in MMOs, I’m left feeling like a cog in a wheel, a box to be checked off on someone else’s spreadsheet.  Holy Spec Priest, check!  What it is missing are the elements that make me feel “Priest” or “Druid” instead of “Healing of an adequate level”, “Rogue” or “Hunter” instead of “DPS machine”.

The Single Shard

One of the people from over at CCP, the people who brought us EVE Online, has written up An Argument for Single-Sharded Architecture in MMOs.  I fully support this idea.

The main reason I like it is the one thing that irritates me most of most MMOs is when I meet a new person in real life, realize we both play the same game and then realize that we can’t play together unless we a) start over/start new characters or b) one of us pays to move servers and leaves all our other friends behind.  Even the people with whom I played EQ with for many years can’t seem to get themselves on the same server when a new game starts, mostly because thanks to other games they have a couple of different circles of friends, and they want to play with all of them, but when twenty of their friends from WoW want to play on LotRO server X, and twenty of their EQ friends want to play on LotRO server Y, they have to choose.  And that sucks.

On the other hand, in a game like EVE, it is impossible for me to run into another EVE player that I technologically cannot play with (unless they play only on the test server).  All I need to do is warp to them and we play.  Even in Wizard 101 and Free Realms, which technically have multiple play shards, you can switch shards whenever you want and play with anyone you want.

Another reason for my like of a single shard comes to light every time I talk about EQ for very long to other people.  During my time in EQ I played on 4 servers.  My main server was E’Ci and I spent the bulk of my time there.  But I also piddled around on one of the PvP servers (one of the team ones, not the free for all) and one of the RP servers (were I spent most of my time in the bars of Neriak spinning tales for those who would listen – which surprisingly was more than I expected going into it, but unsurprisingly didn’t last long as power gamers flooded the RP server since RPers are much easier to push around and less likely to race to max level thus leaving high end content more available).  I also did time as a guide.  Each server had a distinct personality.  As a guide I was called in to deal with situations that didn’t happen on my main server, E’Ci.  E’Ci had a strong public grouping/raiding system, where other servers were entirely guild controlled.  E’Ci had, at the upper levels, guilds that, for the most part, maintained relations and raid schedules to give everyone a shot rather than fight, where other servers had guilds training each other and swiping raid mobs from each other and camping entire zones for days/weeks on end to monopolize spawns.  When I talk about the game of EverQuest, I’ve come to realize that not everyone played the same game that I did.  But a game like EVE or Wizard 101 or Free Realms or any other unified player base game, my stories are their stories.  If I talk about getting ganked in some system in EVE, I can bet another EVE player will know what I mean.  But when I talk about hanging out in the East Commons tunnel looking for deals back in the day, some people will say, “Don’t you mean Greater Faydark?” or “You mean the North Freeport bank, right?” or “North Karana was better.” because not every server evolved exactly the same locations for community gatherings.  But in EVE, the best place for you to go to buy stuff is the best place that everyone goes to buy stuff.

I hope more games take the single-shard design route.  Multiple servers were fine back in the EQ days when there wasn’t really much competition, but these days, even if I went back to EQ I’d have to choose which friends to play with since I’ve got friends on two or three different servers.  When I look at new games, my friends and I usually try to get on the same server, but eventually some of them vanish to other servers to play with other groups.  For me, this usually ends up with me losing interest in the game and quitting because I can’t play with all of my friends.

Netbooking It

A while back I got a netbook.  An ASUS 1005HA.  Sure, it’s not the graphical monster that the Dell/Alienware MX11 or whatever it’s called is, but it suits my needs just fine.  Those needs?  Browsing the net, email, writing, and the occasional game.  Oh, and it is awesome for traveling.  Much better than lugging around a full laptop with a 15″ or 17″ screen.

Obviously, such a machine is limited in it’s gaming capabilities.  Though, mainly the issue is resolution.  It has a 1024 x 600 desktop.  I can run it at 1024 x 768, but that squishes everything.  The 600 height is native.  Puzzle Pirates runs great on it.  So does Wizard 101.  Free Realms absolutely fails.  Most flash games run, though some websites hosting them expect a larger than 600 height so their ads and layout can make playing an issue.

As you can tell by my list, I’m looking for MMOs that will run on it.  I’ve heard that World of Warcraft will run, though not optimally, plus I’m not playing that game anymore anyway.  But what other MMOs are out there that will run in a 1024 x 600 resolution and run well without needing a super graphics card?  What’s a good MMO On The Go?

They Never Learn

From CVG:

“They’ve got 14 million players! Gimme a million and I’m good! We’re real good at a million, right?” He added: “We don’t need everybody to migrate. We just need some of them – and I’m full confident we’re going to get them.”

So, if you were to, I don’t know, pay attention, how many subscription MMOs have a million players?  Four.  How many of those have a million after you exclude Asia (because, honestly, those numbers are not the same since they don’t all pay the same or even similar monthly fees)?  One?  And the numbers for the sub one million mark don’t look much better, with most of them being at or under 500k.

Do you really want to come out and say you want and are going to get a million subscribers?

I wish them the best.  Really, I do.  And I hope the intonation I’m reading into that quote means that for a business plan they have a much more realistic number in mind for success.  But I’m also fully prepared to mock them when they face-plant.