Time Investment

Phillip II: I can’t lose, Henry — I have time. Just look at you — great, heavy arms, but every year they get a little heavier. The sand goes pit-pat in the glass. I’m in no hurry, Henry. I’ve got time.
Henry II: Suppose I hurry things along. Suppose I say that England is at war with France.
Philip II: Then France surrenders. I don’t have to fight to win. Take all you want — this county, that one — you won’t keep it long.
The Lion in Winter

How do we feel about games whose competitive balance privilege the investment of time?

I do not mean games where you become better with experience. “Easy to learn, hard to master” is a classic design goal, and games without that learning curve often become dull quickly. Instead, I mean games where players can spend different amounts of time on the field, with points accruing to players/teams that invest more time. This includes bringing more players, playing for more time, or often both.

In contrast, think of a round of an RTS, FPS, MOBA, board game, or sporting event. The temporal bounds of the game are fixed, and the rounds are generally distinct. I can play as many games of StarCraft as I like, but I start each game fresh. If the other players are not there, I cannot keep rolling the dice in Monopoly to keep going around the board, nor can my football team show up at midnight to score unopposed while the other team is asleep.

Many computer-mediated games allow and even encourage this sort of play, especially where territorial control is involved, and the economics of the game may create this on a smaller basis if you can farm during off-hours to create an advantageous starting position. For example, your server’s score in GW2 WvW is largely driven by how many players you field over how much time, whereas GW2 sPvP at least tries to have equal players for equal time. EVE Online, Darkfall, Shadowbane, and Ingress are other games where bringing more players or continuing to play before/after the other team does allows you to win through superior time investment. You may be really good at the game, but you only have two hours per day to play, while the opposing guild might be college students who just finished finals (although you dominated during finals week).

On the one hand, it seems like something is wrong with such a game if superior time investment does not yield results. If you are trying to simulate a war, great ways to win a war include bringing more allies, bringing more economic resources, and sacking your enemies’ cities while their troops are elsewhere. On the other hand, now that I am long past the age where I have time to kill, why would I want to engage in competition where my competitors can score while I am not even playing?

: Zubon

To say nothing of the general MMO incentive to keep grinding.

The Lessons of History

I often cite smaller games because people are unaware of them or vastly underinformed. So if you like Darkfall’s prowess system, you can go play that right now in Asheron’s Call 1. Seriously, that system existed in 1999, although games did not have achievements at the time. You could even be playing the PvP version on Darktide!

To explain from the comments on that post, AC1 never had level adjustments. Levels are (were) estimates of relative power, not like in most MMOs where you must fight within the range of a few levels or there will be massive penalties that mean instant death. Level 30 archers can (could) hunt level 100+ monsters just fine with the right preparation. Levels give you more skill options, but the rest of the xp/skill system work(ed) exactly as described: doing things gets you a pool of xp that you can spend on whichever skills and attributes you like.

AC1 did mix in a bit of use-based skills by giving extra “practice point” xp for skill use. This involved an interesting formula that rewarded you for doing increasingly difficult things (rather than repetition), but it may not even still be in the game, so I am not going to spout algebra just now.

: Zubon

2012 Predictions

I will now get the highest score of any MMO pundit making predictions. Ready? “It will not go live in 2012.” Whatever we’re talking about, I’m predicting that it will slip into 2013, or later, or just never ship. The game, the expansion, whatever: not in 2012. I’m going to lose a few points, since something will ship in 2012, but I don’t see how anyone can beat my accuracy rate here.

: Zubon

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

Meaningful PvP

On one hand, this is a really great post about PvP from the perspective of someone with that K orientation who wants a PvP-based game. Syncaine makes all the points you would want about why someone wants PvP with consequences and who the niche is, with the awareness that it is a much smaller market than the PvE theme park I am currently trying. Even if you consider PvPers and Killers some foreign species, the post retains great anthropological value. It does not need my help to recommend it.

On the other hand, a lot of it comes down to “the niche is even smaller than previously realized.”

On the gripping hand, it is potentially the No True Scotsman fallacy in motion. The PvP game must be “well-executed” (grant the potentially tendentious claim that Darkfall is), which is the most common excuse for why the last five PvP-centric games failed. Players who quit did not really want meaningful PvP, because they cannot take losing to people who are better than them. And hey, both may be completely true in this case, but that becomes an increasingly narrow edge on which to balance as “the niche” gets defined down to an increasingly small population. Many players on that edge will bleed into the Fundamental Attribution Error: if I did not like the game, it was poorly executed; if you did not like that game, it’s because you are a whining loser noskillz carebear. I imagine someone on the Darkfall forums has made a hobby of tracking players’ moving from the second claim to the first as they ragequit.

: Zubon

Darkfall Team ignores conventional wisdom

Lets be honest, Aventurine have not been ones to heed conventional wisdom when it comes to Darkfall.  Lets look at how they differ.

1.  If a bad review comes out, don’t post about it on your forums.  The added attention will just get people who are already on your forums to read a review that says your game sucks.  The more responses from the developers, the longer the controversy is dragged out.

Aventurine started 3 threads in 3 days in their “news” forum.

2. Make your forum big and flashy and often updated.  It’s the first thing potential new players see.

Aventurine’s web site is lack-luster and rarely updated.  Looking at darkfallonline.com, a user can’t immediately tell if the game has been released or if the game is in beta.

3. Let people buy your game.  If you need more servers, quickly put more up within the first couple days.

If you can find the link to the store, you’ll find it’s offline approximately 23 hours of the day.

4. Don’t create a system where people can lose all their stuff.  It’ll just cause them to quit when they can’t get their corpse or lose something special to them.

Aventurine’s design philosophy is designed around the exact opposite.

One solution to the fiasco

(or at least, one of many)

A long time ago and in a galaxy far, far away, I was a reviewer. People agreed or disagreed with my opinions, but far and by large everybody thought my reviews were fair and hitting the points that needed to be hit. I liked that, because that’s how I set out to do the reviews – as fair opinion that hits the highs and the lows equally. I did that gig for a little shy of two years, and got to review a few titles, so I’m sure I wasn’t catastrophic at it.

So if Adventurine (or whoever) is looking for a fair review, send me Darkfall. I have no intention of “playing” the game, so you can set me up with a timed account that expires whenever it reaches the number of hours you think it’s appropriate for a fair appreciation of the game. I might form my opinion earlier, or maybe the time expires and I have to make do with what I have (which I doubt). Also, since I have no veiled interest in this game one way or another, that’s probably the best place to be to approach a review. If it’s good, it’s good and if it’s bad it’s bad and no skin off my back in either case. Not planning on “playing it” regardless, since I’m about to start dealing with a house move soon.

All I offer is fair; if I think it’s good, good for you. If you think it’s bad, then eat it, basically. Drop me a line if interested. If not, best of lucks.

Darkfall Strikes Back!

For Darkfall fans, I’m probably not their favorite blogger.  Twice I’ve titled articles with the word “DarkFail” in it.  But grumblings about me are nothing compared to the whirlwind the Eurogamer review has created.  In the Darkfall general discussion forum today, 13 of the top 20 threads are about the Eurogamer review.  Creatively, players in the game created a block of spam-text all stating “so and so has declared WAR on Eurogamer.net”

Darkfall players Protest Eurogamer
Darkfall players Protest Eurogamer

Such passion for an MMO is uncommon.  Sure, people will insist the game they play is the best and call anyone who is biased towards a different game a “fanboy”, but for Darkfall fans it seems to go deeper.  An assault on Darkfall is an assault on the playerbase itself.
Maybe it’s because Darkfall is so unique?  No other MMO allows full player-killing and looting of their corpse anymore.  For fans of that kind of gameplay, Darkfall is their last hope.