[LotRO] Fellowship Maneuvers

More games need to steal adapt fellowship maneuvers from The Lord of the Rings Online. It is a great mechanic that raises the skill ceiling and rewards group play without punishing soloers.

For those who have never played LotRO, a “conjunction” or “fellowship maneuver” is a group bonus opportunity. They randomly trigger occasionally in groups, and some classes have the ability to trigger them (notably Burglars). When they happen, the target is stunned for a few seconds, and everyone in the group can pick a color. The combination of colors creates an effect, with bonuses for coordinated maneuvers (mostly poker hands, order matters). A green-blue full house gives your group a big heal and mana refill, while a long straight can wipe trash mobs, put a big DoT on the boss, give you that heal and mana refill, and/or summon NPC allies.

This is a great way to support group play. It takes nothing away from solo players, but it provides a bonus to being in a group, and the bonus scales up with the group size. Playing with a couple of friends, you can occasionally get a nice little bonus. Playing with a full, organized group, you hit big bonuses all the time and steamroll.

Consistently hitting big fellowship maneuvers is the difference between a good group and a great group in LotRO. FMs encourage exactly the right sort of great group: clear communication, identifying roles, coordinating effort, and providing flexible support when circumstances knock someone out of a planned role. Groups that make good use of the system would be great groups anyway. This rewards them for doing things right and encourages players to group more and to group well. If you don’t talk to your group, you probably cannot hit those FMs. If you find a group you like playing with consistently, you will probably be in better practice at hitting FMs.

The mechanical particulars may not lend themselves to every game, but the fundamental idea and in-game execution are excellent. Full kudos to whoever designed and implemented that system.

: Zubon

Summarizing F2P

“There might be a first rush, and then the contributions wind down.”

Starting monetization schemes has been exceedingly profitable, such as the money that flooded into Team Fortress 2 when its item shop opened, LotRO’s huge surge when it went F2P (even subscriptions went up),or many sites, games, and causes that make an initial appeal for money. If this is your first time being given the opportunity to pay for something you like and support, many people will. If it is no longer an “opportunity” but an attempt to build on ongoing revenue stream, that pent up demand reaches a much lower level quickly.

: Zubon

Hubs, Hearts, Story

Guild Wars 2 has some improvements on standard MMO mechanics that are so obviously better that I have found it unpalatable to go back to older MMOs or to play new games that clone them. One of these is the use of hearts and events to level, rather than quest hubs. For the kind of content quest hubs most often deliver (kill things, click things, collect things), hearts just seem obviously better than clicking an NPC; hearing a story about too many wolves, needing wolf pelts, or wanting you to click on six specific wolf den rocks to investigate; kill/click/collect, then going back to click on the NPC. The flow of play is better, and if you don’t feel like collecting things, you can just kill and/or click. Using events to make impromptu groups and to replace “take this message to Bob in the next town” quests is just better.

Also, in GW2, you can almost always rez the NPC in an escort quest. See Rurik or Sara Oakheart.

GW2 also demonstrated that hearts and events are horrible ways of telling stories, so bad that they spent part of the first year trying to retrofit a classic quest system into mail system or the personal story model. They seem to have settled on the personal story model, an interesting choice given how few players would cite the personal story as one of the better parts of the game.

: Zubon

Everyone Wins?

Asynchronous PvP creates the unusual possibility of having something called “PvP” that never brings you into direct conflict with another player, where everyone playing wins, and the computer takes the losses on behalf of the players. Reward-seeking players will often create nigh-asynchronous PvP situations.

Given the chance to pick the fight, most people pick fights they know they will win. Given three potential targets to attack, with equal rewards for each, most players will pick the weakest target. Or the weakest (for them) — if you play Scissors, you will choose to attack Paper while you are online, then your offline team will be attacked by Rock.

It can be frustrating to have offline losses you cannot do anything about, particularly if those are scored for competitive rewards, but if PvP must come out to 50% wins on average, everyone seems happier when the computer takes almost all of the 50% losses.

Most of my links there cite examples from Marvel Puzzle Quest, where indeed you almost always win any fight you choose to participate in and lose most of the offline fights. Reference also Guild Wars 2, where karma trains are 90+% PvE content under the name WvW, where everyone gets more reward from trading captures on undefended towers. Look back to the less extreme case of early LotRO PvMP, where most people won most of the time because each team flocked to the battlefield where it was winning.

I can’t say it is much/any worse than the regular PvE grind, apart from the design time half-wasted on PvP content that will not be used for PvP. Maybe I should be pleased for the species that self-interest makes cooperation a favored path even with an explicitly defined competitor. But it seems hollow.

: Zubon

Brain Dump – GW2, LOTRO, CU et al.

I hate being sick. It’s one of the worst times to be a gamer aware of “meta” because when I’m feverish my mind start throwing massive design problems at me. The unsolvable things become nightmarish in my attempt to cool down, hydrate, and overcome the disease. Instead I lie there coming up with ways that ArenaNet could create zerg breakers. I’m now on all sorts of medications so I feel up to sharing! I’ll go in order of sadness.

Mordor or Bust

Seems Turbine is shedding more employees in a layoff round. I’ve only been picking at Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) in the past few months, and I’m still on Riders of Rohan. One of my good friends still seems to obligingly log in once a week or so. I asked him about the state of the game a couple weeks ago. Continue reading Brain Dump – GW2, LOTRO, CU et al.

Games Under November Rain

Been a busy October, and Zubon’s been keeping the fort down well enough. I am grateful that he has such insight on WvW in Guild Wars 2 because I just can’t get in to it. I’ve still been playing a lot of Guild Wars 2 and other games. Carry on, wayward sons and daughters.

Time to Kill

While I am not as tapas-oriented as Syp in my gaming, I do enjoy having small, different bites. I’ve found the number one, absolute top dog reason I won’t bite a game I enjoy is the time to load coupled with time to play.

Looking at my yearly main course, Guild Wars 2 loads up very quickly (except in Lion’s Arch), and I can jump to just about anywhere I want to play in seconds. The only place this doesn’t occur is WvW, which I don’t play. If I want to WvW, I want to WvW. I don’t want to pass the time when it’s the BBQ of enemies I want in that crazy format. Hopefully early next year it will be much different with the WvW overflow map.

The only other MMO I jump in to right now is The Secret World, which has a fairly quick time to load and play. It’s been a lot faster since I found the death express waypoint system XXX LINK. The MMO I want to play is Lord of the Rings Online, but it feels like it takes so long to load. I’ve heard that it might be fixed… something to do with skirmish caching? I don’t know. I know I wouldn’t mind logging in for a few KTR quests and Middle Earth narrative. Continue reading Games Under November Rain

What Are You Going to Do With It?

Your game has various sources of gear or whatever your unit of character advancement is (usually gear). You might get it from quests, crafting, events, PvP, single group dungeons, or raids. Of course, whatever sort of gameplay you favor is the one that should produce the best rewards or at least have a chance of eventually earning something comparable to the best. In games with raids, especially progressive raiding, raids usually produce the strongest gear. And I have always been pretty much okay with this, despite never being all that interested in online synchronized dance recitals.

Because what are you going to do with the best weapon in the game as a solo player? None of the solo content assumes that you are going to have an extra thousand DPS, so you will just blow through it even quicker. Of course, by the time you get the best weapon in the game (TV Tropes warning, happy Monday), you don’t need it, so it is even more of a cosmetic reward. You will probably enjoy solo content less if you have raid gear that trivializes it. You do not need raid gear unless you are raiding.

But I know we have some readers who do things with MMO content other than enjoy it, so perhaps you have your reasons.

: Zubon

The F2P In-Game Economy

If you are spending $0 on a game, and the economy is working great for the company and the players who are paying money, but your favored currency is not retaining value well, that means the economy is working. “Working” applies both in the sense of in-game supply and demand (there is WAY more supply of the free currency than of the paid currency, and people with low time value are more prevalent than people with low money value) and the game’s business model. A business model that rewards “not paying” as much as or more than “paying” will not be a business model for long.

Just because you do not like something does not mean it is not working.

: Zubon

Quantum Leap

I am still playing Dawn of the Dragons, despite the standard social media game mechanics. Something about the energy bars and the false sense of achievement is compelling.

Mission zone 10 is an expansion pack gear reset sort of experience. Players quickly acquire zone 9 gear due to the multiplayer mechanics, and then better from leveling up while wearing it. Along the way, nothing except zone 9 raids do much damage to you. Bosses deal trivial damage, and random encounters deal exactly 1 per attack. And then you hit zone 10. Continue reading Quantum Leap

Pareto Superior Testing

Our testers can veto releases at work, but we have an allied tradition that half a loaf is better than none. We may not get everything we want from an update, but if it makes some things better and no things worse, we go live. We can add the rest in a future update.

A gaming example comes from GW2 crafting. At launch, crafting could use items only from your character’s inventory. Soon after, you could craft from the vault but discovery was still inventory only. Now both check character inventory and the entire vault.

This is easier in my work than in gaming because our users are not competing with each other. If we can implement new functionality for one interface but need another month to accommodate the rest of our users, bonus for the users with the easy update. If your FPS added rocket launchers for PC players but needed another month to add it to the Mac client, forums would explode, especially if PC and Mac players were on the same servers. You can see this in games that are gradually rebalancing one class at a time rather than all at once. The relative values of classes are having large swings each month. LotRO had “the month of the [class],” TF2 had class-specific updates, and other games have similarly revamped single classes. See also City of Heroes gradually adding heroes’ passive archetype abilities over time, so there were months in which only half the classes had them.

Sometimes half a loaf is worse than none. Beyond the cases where it distorts your competitive balance, a function that only half-works can make some things worse and no things better. Adding something that only works for a known half of the users is inconsistent but reliable, which can be okay; adding something that works for everyone a seemingly random half of the time is inconsistent and unreliable, which is bad. The new functionality must work as expected, even if only under additional assumptions, and those assumptions must not cause other problems. Half a loaf is better than a whole loaf with gravel scattered through it.

: Zubon