The Grouchy Gamer

Yeah, I'm cranky. That's kinda the point...

Tag: MMO

MMO Elitism and You!

ElitistLast week, Wolfshead’s thoughtfully written and nicely crafted article about Why the MMO Industry Needs a Real Cataclysm set me to thinking.  First of all, I don’t have nearly the industry pedigree that he has.  Second of all, he took an idea from mid air and fleshed it out with cogent arguments.  Third, it was thoughtful and passionate.  Good on him.  Let me tell you why he’s wrong.

He’s not wrong for the same reason Tobold says he is in his rebuttal Blizzard and McDonalds.  Tobold’s rebuttal is also well written and uses an analogy that is very apt to rebut the ideas that Wolfshead presented.  Don’t misunderstand, Tobold is right on, but his analysis is different from mine and is largely from the company’s point of view.

I wanted to address this even before Tobold did, but his article got me wanting to post.

Let’s look at this from a player’s point of view first.  Then I’d like to address the evident contempt that is out there for Blizzard from others in the development community.

First Wolfshead starts out with a section called The Farmville Curse.  I couldn’t agree with him more on that point.  Those aren’t “MMOs” and I think I would say that Facebook games in general are pushing the definition of “game” to it’s limits.  I have no argument with him there.

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Darren is going to Blow A Gasket

Forgive me Father, it’s been almost 90 days since my last post.

A while ago, you might remember Darren over at The Common Sense Gamer losing his mind a little when one of the publishers had the audacity to ask for $10 for an in-game horse.  Well Darren is going to absolutely flip over this then.

Blizzard is selling a mount on the Blizzard Pet Store.  You can get your Celestial Steed now on the Blizzard Store for only $25 US.  What a deal, right?  I know Tarkheena is looking for her credit card right now.  I think they are going to sell a TON of these.  What do you guys think though?  How much is too much?

I still think that any of this stuff that is not germane to game play is fair game.  I don’t need it to craft, or to store items, or to access content.  It’s purely cosmetic.  As a matter of fact, reports are that the mount will scale to the speed of your fastest mount.  So it’s almost literally just a skin on whatever you already possess.  I’ll probably end up with one.  They are pretty cool looking.

There is some understandable Nerd Rage about this, but I go back to the fact that it’s an in-game collectible, and nothing more.  If Blizzard starts asking for money for unlocks, or crafting goods, or bag space, then you will hear more from me.  Until then I think I’m going to enjoy seeing what they come up with next to separate us from our money.

Where WILL all the Money Come From?

Curt Schilling, 38 Studios

Curt Schilling, 38 Studios

Recently, Werit wondered if the MMO thing isn’t getting out of hand and whether a lot of the new MMO’s on the horizon are destined to fail because there isn’t market share for all of them.  You have to wonder if it’s not only the bloggers of the world that are wondering this.

In the Boston Globe recently, there was an article that mentioned that Curt Schilling was out pounding the pavement in search of venture capital.  Some people may be surprised to learn that 38 Studios isn’t funded by Curt with his own funds.  His family would have the right to have his head examined if he did.  Why?  Someone once gave me a really good definition of the difference between rich and wealthy.  He told me that Kobe Bryant is rich.  He said the person that signs his checks is wealthy.  Curt is very well to do, but I wouldn’t call him wealthy (unless you compare him to me, but that is another story.)

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PVP From One Player’s Perspective

This is a subject that has been hashed and rehashed in the MMO blog world and on game message boards everywhere. I started thinking about this again recently when Scott over at Broken Toys has restarted the conversation with his “PVP Done Right” post recently. In this post, he lined out some of the outlines of what he think are the design imperatives that make PVP work.

I wanted to address this too, but from the point of view of one gamer. For background, I come from a total PVE playstyle. My first MMO was Everquest, and I never played on a PVP server there. So I’m not a PVP-first kind of guy. I am playing EVE now, but I’ve been able to mostly avoid conflict while I’m trying to build a bankroll. I’m also beta testing WAR. So as you can see, I’m definitely not PVP-averse.

Here is what I’d like to see from a user’s perspective (as opposed to a designer’s perspective) in my PVP;

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Is Game Economy the Most Enduring Part of MMO’s?

I’m finding that for me, it is.

When I was winding down my Everquest career, I turned to a new server (Stromm) and was the 2nd person on the server to master jewelcrafting. In order to do so, I had to spend a lot of time in the bazaar, and I had to be successful at it. If you have ever played EQ and tradeskilled there you know that JC was (is) expensive. There is no way to get to the top of the food chain without money. On old servers, that meant twinking. On a new server like Stromm was, that meant speculating and leading the market. I only got that character to the low 30’s. I even had to farm out a lot of the enchanting that I needed to higher level players so I could raise my skills. The point here is that after being in a raiding guild, killing all kinds of mobs and bosses, I found myself sitting most of the time making jewelry and money as a result of that. Those elements extended my playtime in the game by about a year.

Fast forward to WoW. Again, I’ve been in a raiding guild and leveled a few characters. When the expansion came out, our guild blew up. That happened to a lot of raiding guilds, and is the subject for another day. I still play WoW very casually, but I still log in every day and speculate on the Auction House and sell some of the wonderful high-margin items in the game for cash. I may some day play like I did before, but for now the player economy has once again prolonged my stay with a game.

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Vanguard Launch Disaster a Fluke, Shouldn’t Hamper Newer MMO’s

I was reading a blog post by Tipa over at West Karana tonight and it got me to thinking about what it was that made Vanguard thud so thunderously and why that shouldn’t affect competent publishers that are going to publish a new MMO. I really respect Tipa’s opinions on MMOs although I don’t always agree with her prognoses. I’ve known Tipa forever, as we were guilded together in EQ and remember even then her zest for the game and that is evident in her blog. But I digress…

So why shouldn’t we be concerned that Vanguard pissed in the MMO bathwater? Because it was an anomaly. Now I can’t speak to the other MMOs that have failed to launch or stick over the last couple of years, but I can speak to Vanguard. The problem with Vanguard and Sigil wan’t a lack of ideas or a viable idea or design. It wasn’t a poor implementation of the art department’s vision. It wasn’t that Brad’s Vision <TM> was flawed or that Jeff Butler didn’t have great ideas. I spent 45 minutes at the last real E3 just talking with Jeff about what he wanted to see in the game. Not only was the stuff cool, but you could see that even at that late date, he had a real passion for the game and what he wanted to make it be. Did they bite off more than they could chew, design-wise? Probably. They could have let the cool stuff out in dribbles, giving us updates and awesome new stuff in expansions. Were they overly ambitious? Probably. Were they in over their heads? Definitely.

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EA to “Align Costs With Revenue”, Heads Sure to Roll

In an article today on the Destructoid Blog, it was reported that EA has asked all business units, specifically including EA Mythic and their Redwood Shores Studio to “Align costs with revenue”. It’s been reported that some of the remaining UO staffers have already been let go, effective Thursday. More cuts are expected through attrition, “performance management,” and layoffs according to the article.

This is a major problem when a big company like EA purchases smaller studios which then become business units. If the whole of the business is suffering, then the smaller business units have to bear some of the pain, whether the shortfalls are theirs or not. Ironic that this comes on the heels of the suspension of the Warhammer beta until December and the announcement from the head of Mythic that (paraphrased) “EA has been a great partner, and hasn’t meddled in our business.” Hope you got the new memo, man. The rules have changed. Again.

This is becoming more and more of a pattern, as major publishing houses get their camel’s noses under the tent, and before you know it, the whole damn camel is inside there with you. I’m predicting that the “publishing” relationship that SOE has for the upcoming Pirates MMO is a precursor to SOE eventually owning the IP. You read it here first. Well maybe not first, but most recently.

Is there any chance that a major MMO can come to market any more without the involvement of SOE (customer? fuck you.), MS (It’s over budget, cancel it), NCSoft (Auto Assault and Tabula Rasa; are you fucking kidding me?), Blizzard (Sorry, we’re too busy printing money to make any more MMO at the moment. Maybe after Starcraft II is entrenched we can think about it), or EA (Hmm, can we make John Madden into an MMO?)? There have to be more ways than these to get a salable product to market.

I sure as hell hope so. And to those displaced by this most recent display of poor business acumen in the MMO business, my heart goes out to you. You guys are some of the best people I have ever met and you deserve better. Maybe some day you will get treated correctly and have the stability and creative influence you deserve.

Best to all of you.

WoW is Still THE Fun MMO Out There

I blogged a few weeks ago about how I was trying some new things and some old things in the MMO world. After trying out a lot of different games, I’ve come to the conclusion that for replayability, content, gameplay, and plain old FUN, World Of Warcraft continues to be the best option out there.

I resubbed to WoW a month or so ago, and I’ve been leveling a Warlock. The lock himself isn’t as nuanced or complex as say, an EQ Necromancer, but he’s still got that same vibe to him and he’s a ton of fun to play. I haven’t really played him in PVP yet, but I’m looking forward to that. I think that’s based on the frustration that Locks created for me when I was playing my Shaman a lot. The cool thing is that when I go back to instances now, I have had to learn and adapt to a completely different playstyle then I had been used to before. For reference, most of my playtime is spent in a Duo with my wife and her Fire Mage. The two make a surprisingly effective duo. We don’t have much healing (health stones) but we can burn stuff down, my VW can tank, and we have CC in a couple of different forms.

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MMO Development Reaches it’s Stale Phase

One month.

That’s how long it’s been (to the day) since I felt moved to write here. That’s a long time. Now, I have been busy with work, so that means travel. Travel takes it out of you once you have done it for a while, but I digress.

The reason that I haven’t been writing is that I haven’t found much to be writing about. Sure I could do all kinds of theoretical babbling about games and what people want in game design. I’m probably not qualified to do that and so I’ll leave that to the Ryan Schwaders (it’s not babbling when he does it) of the world (Nerfbat.) I can speak with authority from the user’s viewpoint. That is where the wicket gets sticky.

Here is where I am right now, and I have to believe that some of you are here with me. I currently have 4 MMO’s installed on my gaming rig. Five if you include a particular beta which I can’t talk about so for the sake of this discussion doesn’t exist. The other 4 are EQ (yeah, yeah, I know,) WoW, LOTRO, and Vanguard. I have let my EQ2 sub lapse, but it’s still installed.

Branyanu has been missing EQ so we reinstalled it and started playing it again. We quit not too long after the level cap was raised above 60, so I had a barely 61 Druid (Genda) and she has her 58 ‘chanter. After an evening wrestling with the damn game to get it to run without CTD on her system, we sat down to play. Our 2 hours resulted in a level change. Genda is now 60. It was also a stark reminder for me that you can’t go home again. As much as we loved EQ at the time, everywhere we could hunt at that level was a ghost town, and there isn’t much going on that we could see.

I’d probably enjoy getting going with WoW again. Once again, we had quit soon after the level cap was raised, so my 60 Orc Resto Shaman (Akhan) and her 60 Troll Hunter (Tarkheena) are behind the times. She’s had enough of WoW, and I’ve learned not to press my duo partner too hard, lest I not have one. It’s still just another fantasy MMO, although I do appreciate the “amusement park” style of design.

Vanguard. It’s problems are well-documented. Programming-wise, it’s still a mess. Maybe the server merges (from 13 servers down to 4) will help spur the community there and make it easier to find a group.

LOTRO. See WoW.

I’ve seen a little on the upcoming games in the pipeline, and there isn’t anything revolutionary out there. Tabula Rasa looks like Guild Wars or DDO. AOC looks like a refined version of Lineage ][. WAR is like a cross between WoW (questing) and DAOC RvR.)

I am starting to think that the genre is at a standstill, and really has been since WoW. As a matter of fact, I am starting to believe that WoW killed PC gaming. Just go have a look at the PC games out there on the shelves, and tell me 10 good titles that have shipped since WoW that aren’t ports to or from consoles. I rest my case.

I’m hoping that we see some new developments soon, although with what it costs to fund and develop one of these monsters, the irony may be that no one is willing to take a risk that big. And by not taking a risk, we aren’t getting the benefit as gamers.

Hmm, I hear that UO just got a graphical face lift.

Naaaaa.

Is Character Customization Worth the Overhead?

I’m noticing more and more that people have different words for things in MMO’s. For example, people call client side low frame rates “lag,” even thought that is not what it is. Lag does occur in MMO, and if you played WoW during the first months that is was out, you know very well what that is. Another thing that I hear a lot of people talking about is character customization.

Now, before I go into a Genda-tangent, let me give you a little background. When I was playing EQ, Genda’s nickname was “GQ,” because he always had to look cool in his gear. If I got a piece of gear that wasn’t as good but looked great I would definitely wear it. I killed to get my epic so I wouldn’t have to carry around a blunt weapon any more. If you knew me in real life you would know that I’m anything but GQ. Picture a 6’7” offensive tackle from a football team, but without the difficult-to-obtain body and muscle tone. I used to care a lot about how I dressed, but I’ve developed what I like to call a casual style. At work, I don’t have to wear a coat or tie, so I’m usually in loafers, khakis, and a white company oxford. Classic, if not fashion-conscious. When I’m not working you can usually find me in a t-shirt or polo and jeans or shorts. Basic.

I’ve thought about what made me so particular about the character’s appearance in MMO. What I’ve come to realize is that there is nothing that drives me more toward accomplishment in a game than how cool my character will look once I get there. I’ve rarely played pure casters in the games, and I think I have just realized why. I don’t like how casters look in robes. They just aren’t as cool as armor.

OK, back on track. One thing that I’ve noticed is that once you have started playing a game for a while, you don’t notice the finer differences in a character’s appearance. In SWG, you would notice if someone was a blue Twi’lek or a red one. You would notice the fur pattern or color on a Wookie, but you don’t notice if their nose is narrower or wider. All of those little details are taking proc cycles, though.

One of the more visually stunning games I’ve seen to date is Lineage ][. All the characters look pretty much the same. Depending on your aesthetic, you could argue that all of them are beautiful. You cold tell people apart by their armor and weapons. And it ran a lot better than most of the current MMO at the time. Getting back to the SWG example, that game STILL doesn’t run well on my system. I’ve got a system that is way beyond what was available at the time that the game shipped. If I turn on most of the options, it’s an effing slide show. Wow didn’t allow major customizations and it runs like a champ.

What I’m getting at is this. Where is the line for trade-off worth it? At what point is that extra detail on your character’s face worth 4-5 FPS (Frames Per Second?) I’m getting to the point where I say that you should make your models look as good as they can, make them scalable for size, and let the character get his “GQ” from how he is dressed. I LOVE how smooth WoW scrolls on my box, even with all the options on.

I’ll take that.

Are you discouraged?

I’m discouraged.

Well, that isn’t that unusual by and of itself. I’ve vacillated between discouraged and disappointed most of my life. I’ve been disappointed in myself, my ex wife, the other people around me, and many, many other things. Oh, and I forgot disillusioned. Yeah, I’ve been disillusioned too. Quite often disillusioned. Pretty sure I’m a disappointment to the family too.

What’s different this time is that I’m discouraged by what I see coming down the pike from many game developers. Seems like the marketing department has taken over at a few places, and the purse strings seem to be managing the creative process at others. You all know that I’m pretty excited about Vanguard. I also recently got the opportunity to beta a different “MMO” that just had it’s NDA lifted (you can figure it out.) I couldn’t get myself interested in it, in spite of numerous attempts.

When it comes to single-player games, I’m pretty much a lamer. I don’t have a problem with that, as long as I can enjoy the game, I don’t care if I’m exhilarated or if I’m just entertained. I’ve tried some single player games in my travels, and when even I can finish them in a day, that pretty much tells you that they don’t have a lot of meat to them.

Branyanu and I have also tried myriad MMO’s looking for something entertaining. Over the last couple of years, we’ve burned through SWG (had potential, but was and continues to be bungled badly,) L2 (would have been good, had they gotten the farming under control early on. It’s beautiful to look at and challenging. Was fun, but discouraging,) City of Heroes (Fun for a little bit but lacks depth. Lacks breadth too, now that I think of it,) City of Villains (CoH with different costumes,) and we even dabbled in the EQ2 beta (coma-inducing) and tried our hand with a couple lesser-known titles. We have actually been playing WoW again lately.

Here’s where I don’t quite feel right. None of those quite feel right. What did feel like a great game? You guessed it, Everquest. Still, we haven’t played EQ in over 2 years. We tried to go back a while ago and the noob experience is a little, well, diluted. The next closest thing is WoW, which while lacking depth, has wonderful breadth and an unbelievable sense of humor. We are pretty much all-horde and play on a PVE server, one of the more popular and populated. While the community there is non-existent, and the occasional jackass does pop up to just grief or spam the channels, overall it doesn’t deserve the reputation it has as a home for nothing but b-net kiddies. That element is there, certainly, but as the higher level dungeons devolve into farms, the tactics of the groups and guilds there are finally becoming highly developed, much like they were in EQ. It’s not a 5-year MMO, unless they get the depth issues worked out, but the content is handcrafted in a lot of cases, there are plenty of dungeons with different tactics, and the characters are interesting and fun to play.

So what’s next? Other than Vanguard, which there is a dearth of information on currently because of beta and NDA’s and a news blackout, What ARE the exciting prospects coming up? Certainly none that I can imagine. There are some promising single and multiplayer games on the horizon, but nothing that will hold my interest for long, and I’m guessing that if you are reading this you will feel the same.

So I’m back to being disillusioned, disappointed, and discouraged. I guess that is my own version of 3D. Maybe one of these titles will snap me out of my funk, but unless Vanguard is all it can be, I guess I’ll be a WoW player for a while. Heck, I almost have my shaman to max level (finally,) and he’s mastering his crafting and cooking skills, and with some luck and skill in the AH, he’s managed to put away a few gold, and fund the family’s needs. Too many more Horizons or L2’s showing up on the gaming landscape and I’ll be thinking more and more about console gaming, and that can’t be a good thing.

Ouch! My Community Hurts

I’ll start with a disclaimer. The author of this article is not young. As a matter of fact, I’m old. I’m one of the 5 or 6 oldest gamers I’ve met. If you have ever been in the gaming store, and there is a soccer mom there with her little rugrat buying a game, and she asks you; “You getting these for your kids?” Then you feel me. No, I’m getting these for me. Thanks for playing, now move along. Sorry it’s been since childhood that YOU have done anything fun or intellectually stimulating. Now, don’t you have some oranges to cut into little slices?

That aside…

I’m noticing that more and more of the posts one community boards are just garbage. No one is talking about what game is great or how to get to this encounter. No one seems to care which guild is full of assholes or where the best place to get more information.

Instead, here are some of the subjects that have been broached; Bush is an idiot (Bush went to an Ivy League School. He may not be inspired or a great communicator but he’s no idiot.), homosexuality, drugs, hate for the middle class, hate for the upper class, hate for the lower class, suicide, race, and a few others I’d rather not revisit. These aren’t high-level intellectual discussions, but flame-fests and baiting of people with sensibilities.

It’s one thing when it happens on the forums. Everyone who has been around the internet any period of time understands that a certain portion of the of the population exists only to make themselves feel superior by “cleverly” berating or cutting down everything that they can’t understand or that they irrationally hate. This element has always existed on the FPS boards, and trolling the MMO boards on the fringes. With the second generation of MMOs started to ship, some of this element started to migrate to them.

Jump forward, and it’s 2003. Sigil is announcing their new MMO. Hundreds of eager fans are waiting for what’s next from the old EQ creative team. The Official Vanguard Forums (OVF) are filled with people discussing what they like and didn’t like about different games, playing “wouldn’t it be cool if…”, and suggesting features or ideas for the upcoming MMO. It seemed so far off, and yet so tangible. The creative team regularly engages the public. This went on for quite a while. Like anything else, over time the forums have changed. Talk to most of the fansite operators or long-time posters and they will tell you that they don’t spend much time on the OVF any more.

I guess what I’m asking is why does it have to be this way? Why do the boards start off with the fans and end up with the bans? Why do they start off constructive or excited, and end up like the SWG forums did after launch or the World of Warcraft forums? Why does a community seem to degenerate the larger it gets? Why is it that any person who represents the company eventually gets crucified as a schill for the company (they were doing their job) or lionized as a champion of the people (they weren’t.)

As a developer, I’d stop chasing the community about 6 months before launch. When I say chasing, I don’t mean trying to attract, but trying to satisfy and answer every question. Just from a cost standpoint, it’s ridiculous to put an ever-increasing number of moderators after the task of keeping the noise down so you can recognize the needles in the haystacks.

One of the things that I have noticed is that a lot of the people are there just for the sport of it. I won’t name names, because I won’t give them that one thing they seem to crave; recognition. Some are malcontents who can’t be satisfied. More and more of them are people who come to the boards with a sense of entitlement. They deserve to be catered to because they spent X dollars a month, dammit, and they are gonna bitch and bellyache and wail until they get it.

But I miss the old community. I miss the fun, constructive, interesting conversations with the whole community involved. Sure, I still get that on vanguardcrafters.com, but that is a much smaller group. It’s obviously by design that Sigil has decided to basically shut down the OVF for comments after the launch of the game. They don’t want to have to deal with the nonsense, and the diminishing returns for trying to filter the good from the noise.

I’m thankful for the time we had as a new community. I’m hopeful for the community of Vanguard post-launch. For now, I’m disappointed that there can’t be a decent level of discourse overall.

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