Yearly Contemplations and Prognostications

2012 was a good gaming year for me. There were some nice surprises. I am looking forward to what 2013 has to bring. Here’s what I thunk and think as we cross the yearly threshold.

Play to Finish MMO Paradigm

With all credit to this term going to SynCaine, this simple concept has been in my rock tumbler since it opened my eyes. It is also very pertinent because arguably my favorite MMO relies on the concept. A “play-to-finish” MMO is one where players get to some end of their choosing, such as a storyline, max level, or something clearly designed as an end point. Then the bulk of the experience has been played. Players that do stick around do so in a fashion similar to single-player gamers doing game achievement unlocks. This is an oversimplification, but this is where I want most MMOs to head.

Subscription MMOs like EVE Online are good because no game mechanic is created to keep people subscribing. People subscribe to play the whole game. If the MMO revolves around developer-created content, then it makes sense to have a reasonable finish for most of the players. Artificially extending the themepark to justify subscriptions is becoming tiresome. Kickstarting future content updates by sustaining a subscription doesn’t feel any better.

I want to see more MMOs treated as “play-to-finish”. Then I want episodic content, much like Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World’s monthly updates to sustain that MMO. I’d rather have a reason to keep coming back rather than continually sticking around. I am hoping that the ‘sphere discusses the implications of “play-to-finish” MMOs this year. I will likely be pushing some discussions your way.

Games of 2013

The only MMO I am looking forward to is Carbine Studios’ WildStar. I like the sci-fi wild-west mashup, and I really like how they are designing the MMO around the classes. A Settler will have content geared towards building while a Solider will have content geared towards killing. I also like how they are designing the areas to layer the content to an extreme.

My one hangup is that Carbine is refusing to discuss the business model. This likely means that it is going to be subscription because they are trying to get people excited about the game before people get turned off by “subscription” and all of its implications. The whole “we haven’t decided yet” feels like a lie when they should be designing their MMO based on the business model first. It feels that from the media I’ve seen that WildStar is a really good “play-to-finish” MMO focusing on fun throughout the journey to the end. Given the financial success of Guild Wars 2 with their buy-the-box business mode, I am hoping their sister studio will follow suit.

For other games, I am actually only watching one: State of Decay. It seems like my kind of game. It has resource progression (gather and build), missions, and plenty of combat. I also really like that I will take control of multiple survivors. I am the community, not just a single car thief. When my favorite Joe Bob, the country samurai, dies, he’s dead. Welcome to the roguelike zombie apocalypse. Then I might become Maggie, the tech expert or Phil, the gardener. I might need Ol’ Gramma Nance to keep all the other beer-drinkin’ country samurai in place at home.

Godlike games (Populous et al.) where it feels like I am progressing something larger than a single character are one of my favorite video game genres. State of Decay is a game of community progression and survival from a less heavenly point of view. I feel that for the games I like to play, State of Decay is going to hit on all eight. This is going to be a must buy for me, and as an added bonus, after they get “Class 3” worked out, “Class 4” is going to be an MMO version.

Guild Wars 2 and Lord of the Rings Online

Guild Wars 2 won so many awards, I just nod every time I see a new one. The only other games worth the amount of time/money per metric-unit of fun have been Guild Wars 1, Team Fortress 2, and Minecraft. I have gotten to some “ends”, but I still have a few to go. Many of you would probably be surprised to learn I haven’t killed Zhaitan yet. There’s just been so much I’ve wanted to do otherwise. I’ve also been incredibly waylaid by the holiday content, but I feel I have been pretty much done with Wintersday.

ArenaNet had an amazing run of content post launch, but much of it was the temporary holiday content. The only thing of notable permanence that has been added is the Fractals dungeon, which is now the focal point for group content. Southsun Cove, the open world PvE addition, had a huge and controversial start, but it is now largely ignored except for that one rich orichalcum node guarded by a very confused champion karka. ArenaNet has played their opening moves, but I feel their updates for January and February are going to be the most telling for the long game.

I come and go to Lord of the Rings Online. It is a “play to finish” MMO for me, but I really enjoy the differing pace from Guild Wars 2. It would be more of a go to but for my load time issues. Yet, I am worried about Turbine. They just had layoffs which seemed a direct result of the Riders of Rohan expansion sales, and they’ve bittersweetly decided to reload Asheron’s Call 2. I know plenty of people were excited about a dead MMO returning to life, but this was Turbine’s move following layoffs? I am nervous that this is all that has come out of their skunkworks since 2007. Didn’t they have the Harry Potter IP to play with too?

Elsewhere

With the fabled Steam Sale, I’ve picked up quite a few non-MMO games. Don’t Starve (beta) is a nice survival-esque, resource-gathering, structure-building game with interesting multiple progression tracks. I feel for launch they need some clearer goals to “win” or at least find. The Walking Dead is so good that I can’t play it because it keeps me up at night. I guess it doesn’t help that the first episode deals with helping a young girl about my daughter’s age. I might have to ditch playing through it all early and head to The Secret World.

My gaming group is also slowly switching away from multiplayer Magic (we loved Kingdom Magic) and going back to our roots. I just GM’d a Godlike one-shot because we are on the fence between a gritty, clunky system (ORE) and a more narrative one (FATE). A Spirit of the Century one-shot is next followed by way-too-involved, non-nerd-paralyzing discussions on the detriments and benefits to both systems for our gaming group.

It’s been a good gaming year, and I think 2013 is going to follow quite nicely.

–Ravious

9 thoughts on “Yearly Contemplations and Prognostications

  1. spinks

    I predict that Wildstar will be dreadful based on the fact it has bunnygirls, which tells you everything you need to know about the target audience ;)

    1. Curuniel

      To be fair, the poster girl is a fairly restrained depiction of a bunny girl, not a sex icon. I’m female and usually get annoyed at that stuff, but I’m also an anime fan and I’m hoping it will be sufficiently tongue-in-cheek to be amusing and not offensive. Then again, I played TERA for months (for reasons other than loving the game) so maybe my threshold for pandering character design has just been flung unreasonably high.

  2. Green Armadillo

    Turbine does have a third project of some sort – DDO’s Fernando Paiz mentioned that the next major revision of the studio’s in-house MMO engine (4.0?) was being developed for the new project, while DDO and LOTRO expansion upgrades are incremental (3.X?) revisions. My guess is that it is almost certainly not Harry Potter, as the time to strike while that iron was hot would have been several years ago now. The Asheron’s Call 2 revival raises the possibility that the secret project is a third game in that franchise. This would make some sense for the studio, as their two current-gen titles are both licensed IP’s, and we know the LOTRO deal moves into “option years” starting sometime in 2014.

    You raise an interesting point RE: Wildstar’s business model. Given how the last few years have treated major new subscription releases, you would think that subscription would not even be on the table anymore. Perhaps they’re keeping a lid on their plans for fear of being painted as “pay to win”?

  3. bhagpuss

    World vs World has made GW2 very much more than a “Play To Finish” MMO for me, as has the excellent quality of the leveling game. I find myself far more embedded than I expected to be, something that’s causing me to re-assess what it is that I actually want from MMOs and conclude that I might actually prefer it if they set the hook more lightly.

    For next year the three I’m most looking forward to are WildStar, Neverwinter and City of Steam. Fact is, I can’t give anything remotely approaching the time I’d like to the MMOs I already could be playing, so it would suit me just as well if NO new MMOs appeared in 2013 – or possibly in 2014 either.

    In fact the more I think about it, the more hollowly ironic the phrase “Play to Finish” becomes. If only… I’m literally nowhere near finished yet with MMOs I started playing a decade ago, let alone this year!

  4. Curuniel

    My observation has been that people play most new subscription games in much the ‘play to finish’ way, except that there’s no satisfying finish point. Level, reach max, hang around…get bored, switch games when a new one comes out. Rinse, repeat. Thing is, if levelling is boring because the game’s endgame-focused, but the endgame isn’t interesting enough to stick around for, what’s the fun part?

    I do like the GW2/Secret World episodic updates, actually, because I like the way they make the world feel alive and in motion. Whenever I expect to start playing a little less GW2, something new makes me want to focus on that and I end up playing more. I think periodically returning to a game when a neat addition is made should be a perfectly valid way to play. Now the companies just have to secure a good way to make money off it.

    1. spinks

      I think perhaps the majority always did play new sub games like this.

      I’m sure I remember reading a few years ago that the average subscription length for WoW (I’m guessing tis was for people who bought a sub at all after buying the box) was about 6 months. And that was when it took longer to level and there wasn’t LFG to make finding groups easier.

      1. SynCaine

        I’d say a 6 month average is way beyond what GW2 offered to many, as entire guilds moved on after weeks, not months, and the path to 80 was indeed something you could easily get to in under a single month. A 6 month -average- is actually rather long if you think about it.

        Overall however, I’m curious to see if the GW2 model is in fact a success financially. GW2 sold a lot of boxes, sure, but so did SW:TOR. And while GW2 is not as heavily sunk as SW, it was not cheap either. If the massive initial surge was enough for NCSoft to justify GW2, than the answer is yes. If the game is still in the red and needs ongoing money to reach its goal, I’m having a tough time imagining the slower-than-subs trickle of gem sales getting them there, if they indeed keep a full staff working on the game.

        Something to watch for in 2013.

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