[GW,SW:ToR] Inversion

Many of the design oddities I am citing in Guild Wars arise from its development path. It was not built as an MMO, but it has accumulated MMO elements over time, grafted interestingly but sometimes awkwardly onto its frame.

Everything I read about The Old Republic suggests that oddities arise from its developers. Without having played, my sense of the internet consensus is that this is a wonderful, brilliant, elegantly crafted single player game with excellent polish, story, and voice work. And that it completely lacks anything that attracts and retains MMO players except for having WoW-like gameplay.

Personally, I am quite happy with the notion of a game that has an intended finish rather than an eternal grind, but that has gotten about as far as possible from the old notion of an MMO as a virtual world, and it does not mesh well with a subscription model. But what do I know? I am not the target audience for “WoW with lightsabers,” and those are not my hundreds of millions of dollars invested.

: Zubon

Comment Spotlight: Fun Economic Activity

sid67 comments at Hardcore Casual:

My criticism here is that [developers] usually don’t try to make the getting or the making [of items] itself very fun. For example, EVE has a great economy but the *doing* of it is about as fun as pissing on a flat rock.

This is the other reason I do not play EVE. I could have a merry time being a middleman and playing the spreadsheet. You see a 20% price differential between stations five jumps away, and you can capitalize on that. The actual gameplay involved in that is filling a cargo hold, waiting for a half-dozen jumps, and emptying a cargo hold. I decided not to pay to pretend to be an intergalactic trucker (in an environment where pirate attacks on your truck are surprisingly common).

Before that, I was drawn to the notion of mining. It sounded like a rarefied version of the MMO crafting I often enjoy, being the backbone of the economy, and potentially going from the very rocks to final production. The actual gameplay involved in that is activating a mining laser and waiting for the hold to fill. I decided not to pay to be mostly AFK (in an environment where pirates make a hobby of harassing miners).

And I have paid to pretend to make charcoal, flax, and linen in A Tale in the Desert. The actual gameplay of Facebook games often rivals the crafting in most MMOs.

: Zubon

More Guild Projects

Ravious (and the Fifth Telling) have me missing our camp from way back in the original A Tale in the Desert. It’s funny that guilds felt so much more meaningful in the game where you could have more than one, although maybe raiders appreciate their guild ties more.

An essential difference, as Ravious says, is collective rather than individual advancement. If I get a piece of armor, my character has a piece of armor, but if I make a charcoal furnace, everyone in the guild can use it. If we felt like it, we could set it up so that any passing visitor could use it; some guilds built public camps so that new players would have access without starting from zero. I made something and everyone benefited, even after I logged off.

Continue reading More Guild Projects

Early, Middle, Late

For a game that depends on a stream of income from subscribers or RMT shoppers, the first hour of play must be the top development priority. This is where you hook players. After that, the endgame is important because that is where your players will be spending time indefinitely and where your game’s chatter will come from in the long run. Next is the early game, when you build momentum. The mid-game has already fallen this far down the list, as you have certainly seen in a lot of MMOs, and frankly few care much how good the late-game is because they are already fully committed and racing for the end-game.

I stand by my repeated claim that optimizing the new player experience is of paramount importance. You must grab my attention within five minutes, and you must deliver a satisfying hour or two for my first play session. Without that, any free trial is worthless, and you may even lose some people who have thrown down $50 for a box. This is the part of the game that every single player will see on every single character, and if you cannot do a good job here, I have no hope for the rest of the game. Yes, it is hard to make things interesting while giving the player only a few buttons to play with. Suck it up, we all have hard parts in our jobs. That’s why they pay us. Continue reading Early, Middle, Late

A Letter from Pharaoh

Citizens of Egypt,

Just a short newsletter about a new “social experiment” that we’re about to try. But first, I need to talk to you about “Dunbar’s Number.”
Anthropologist Robin Dunbar hypothesized that there are certain stable sizes that groups of humans tend to naturally form. Depending on the type of group (extended families, cultural lineage groups, tribes), the numbers cluster around 50, 150, and 2500 (upper limit.)
We’re toward the end of our fourth Tale in the Desert (preparations are underway for ATITD V!), but I’ve noticed a pattern in each Tale: Our peak subscriber count has ranged from 1750 to 2500, always about 30 days in, and regardless of the peak, we settle down to a population of around 1100 subscribers (slightly lower this Tale, slightly higher in Tale 2) where we remain for most of the Tale.
Could there be a “Dunbar’s Number” for A Tale in the Desert? If there is – if the game design itself leads to a population of around 1100 subscribers, then growing “the” ATITD community may be the wrong approach – we should try to create a second ATITD community! And if this experiment succeeds, a third and more.
So to test that theory, we’re going to start a second ATITD IV shard, beginning on February 20. I’ll have more details about “Shard Bastet” next week, but if you’ve always wanted to get in on the beginning of a Tale, this is a great opportunity to do just that.
I’d be most interested to hear thoughts on this from those that have been away from ATITD for a while.

On the Nile,

The Persistence of Reputation

Online communities often times face the compounded problems of prejudice, anonymity, audience, and perceived slight.  I like to think that our haven of MMO communities is a protective sea fortress in the sea of pejorative online calamity.  We are anonymous to a degree.  I might be a quasi-intelligent lesser primate for all you know.  I drop hints, here and there, about my life, but as far as you know I am building an artificial persona to lead you astray, dear reader.  Still, my posts and name have persistence.  You know me.

The same is true in our gaming genre built on communal interaction.  We might be “IRL” anonymous, but we really aren’t in an MMO.  We are just known by different names. Continue reading The Persistence of Reputation


Continuing through classic WoW, the zones have great diversity between them but little within. You notice that each zone has its own palette, although it may take some reflection to notice how thoroughly and well that is done. I will get back to within-zone sameness another day, but let’s discuss for a moment how you execute the palette swap.

The problem is non-trivial. The seasons change as you cross onto a new map, but few comment on the walk from the perpetual winter of Dun Morogh to the perpetual spring of Loch Modan. You must have noticed at some point, but did you notice when the transition happened?

Some of this is gamer suspension of disbelief: we are used to having everything change when we get to a new level of the game, and moving to a new zone is the MMO equivalent. The game environment also facilitates this the same way it keeps you on the theme park quest path: channelization. How many zones have wide-open borders that you can traverse, rather than walls of impassable mountains with narrow openings?

Those openings can become rather like tunnels for about a draw distance, so that you see big rocks covering the transition point. The transitions to and from Loch Modan really are tunnels, enclosing you so that you cannot see the set being swapped, like taking an elevator in Portal. In other zones, see bridges and rivers serving a similar purpose. You may note this as a problem at the border of Westfall: river and bridges, yes, but it is brief enough for you to see the transition. On the way in, there are quest-givers to distract you, but Duskwood makes it look like the world ends across the river.

Touring through some other games of my acquaintance: City of Heroes does the same thing, complete with loading screens. Asheron’s Call never does, since you can run everywhere from anywhere, and there are large areas over which you can watch the land change. The Lord of the Rings Online™ Volume One: Shadows of Angmar™ is mostly open, with channelization into the lategame zones and the ones added post-release. The Lord of the Rings Online™ Volume Two: Mines of Moria™ channels everything, but it is set in caverns anyway. Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates has separate islands, with boats as loading screens (WoW does the same at points). A Tale in the Desert takes the same approach as Asheron’s Call, with some really impressive geography reflecting years of effort from volunteer world-builders.

: Zubon

Impassable hills are also good for hiding the Potemkin village nature of most of the landmass. Cataclysm needs to re-do the whole landmass anyway so flying mounts cannot show that there is nothing behind the backdrops.

Dreams Undreamt

A Casualties member mentioned Crimecraft last night. Ah, a gang-based online thing. “I’ve never dreamed of being in a gang, so not really interested.” Then I thought back through some previous games. I never dreamed of being a dwarf that set people on fire by writing on a rock, of making charcoal and growing flax, of summoning headless ice monsters that rained frosty death upon my foes, of being a buffing psychic cyborg, of…

: Zubon

Guild Polyamory

A quarter of your guild leaves the game because of a patch/new game/mass banning/whatever. Now you do not have enough people for the top raids, so another quarter of your guild leaves to join other guilds. Now there are half as many people in your guild, so it does not seem worth logging on as much, which starts the downward spiral until there is maybe one other person on. Players: how many times have you quit because of a shrinking number of guildmates/friends?

Developers: why do you not have multiple guilds? This is not even innovation; A Tale in the Desert launched in 2003, and most of that game was two coders. Doing so could have solved the guild problems that Burning Crusade created through something like this, which is how all major projects are done in A Tale in the Desert.

One guild might leave all at once for a new game. If you are in seven guilds, and at least four are staying, you have far more reasons to stick around.

: Zubon