Blast from the Past: Tome of Knowledge and Sets

I am still waiting for games to pick up this idea from 2009. Achievement systems have proliferated, tracking all kinds of things, but most games want to give you cosmetic items instead of unlocks. One specific item in that last post has been addressed by many games: a mount tab instead of making you carry mounts around. City of Heroes has always rewarded players by unlocking costume pieces, and Borderlands 2 lets you find/win/buy customization options.

With the upswing in F2P, however, life moves in the opposite direction. Storage space and cosmetic customization are ways they make money, so of course they charge you per item per change in appearance.

: Zubon

Work in Progress

More than other games, MMO experiences have a time stamp because the game itself changes and our experiences with the “same” piece of content might be radically different.

This is especially true in the early days. Yesterday’s dungeon discussion had some sharply divided experiences, and those could be caused by class, gear, strategy, or the dungeon’s having been updated a half-dozen times in a month. I finally tried WoW so I could see how the zones looked before the Cataclysm revamp only to find that the veterans’ experiences were radically different due to other changes that had accumulated over the years. My trip through Guild Wars: Prophecies included heroes, lots of elite skills, and PvE skills, which changed everything even if none of the Prophecies content had changed.

As a LotRO player, I recall approaches to Moria boss fights that went from “standard practice” to “exploits we patched away.” Sometimes you need the good bugs to get past the bad bugs. Some grognards talk about how hard X was during their day, and some of them did Y while it was easier, broken, bugged, etc.

The population shift is also a big change over time. The original wave of Warhammer Online players experienced public events 1.0 as intended, but as early as a month later many zones were ghost towns and you never saw the last event phases. In September 2012, players bemoaned that the Guild Wars 2 economy was broken because scraps of jute were very expensive. Come September 2014, players may bemoan that the Guild Wars 2 economy is broken because craps of jute were almost worthless. It seems to be a rare event for a game to maintain a steady population spread rather than having huge clumps at the top and bottom levels.

“Trammel” and “NGE” are extreme cases you need not mention. Everyone knows to distinguish between before and after those chasms.

: Zubon

NDA Drop

Hey, Ravious! Scrolling through the archives, I noticed this gem from 2009. Since the link in there died, let me quote Mark Jacobs:

As to NDAs, the rule I’ve always gone by is my “time before release rule” in order to judge the confidence the publishers have in their new game (doesn’t apply to ports or games that are already out in other places). I add a +1 for every week prior to release that the game’s NDA has been lifted and come up with a score. If <4, there’s a lack of confidence in the product, if you are >8, they really believe in the game. WoW had a great score (the highest I believe) and some of the MMOs that failed, had, as expected, low scores. A score of 4 is just about the minimum you should expect from a MMO publisher.

So where does that put GW2?

: Zubon

Hearts and Bears

For those of you who missed those heady days, the launch of Warhammer Online was one of the best times in MMO blogging. Props to whoever at Mythic’s community team pushed it, the blogger community came together and decided we were all going to try this game as a group. This became the prototype NBI, and several of those bloggers are still around. And then the game launched, we all got to experience it, and we turned on it like an angry creature that turns on things.

One item I used for years as an example of failed developer promises what Paul Barnett’s “bears bears bears” video. For those of you who can’t click on videos right now, the idea was to never again have a “kill ten rats” quest pop up after you had just slaughtered dozens of rats, because the dude should notice the rat corpses. Warhammer Online then launched with a severely limited implementation of this, along with all the usual quest stupidity of being sent to kill someone you just killed on the previous quest stage. As I phrased it, “developers explicitly identif[ied] a problem, identif[ied] a solution, [and] then implement[ed] the problem exactly as described.” Oh, how I carried that grudge.

Four years later, Guild Wars 2 is moving towards launch. And what has it quietly implemented? The answer to “bears bears bears”! Through hearts, when you slaughter a path to what would normally be a quest-giver, s/he recognizes and appreciates the things you did along the way. Granted, sometimes it is silly that you know what fills the heart before you meet the heart-person (“I’ll just check this shrubbery for stray moas, in case anyone nearby lost one…”), but if the dude hates bears, and you just killed a bunch of bears, he recognizes that you killed a bunch of bears.

After four years, the circle is complete. Everyone who wanted WAR to be DAoC2 can now look forward to three-sided RvR with territorial control and a development team that has implemented the design described under “bears bears bears.”

: 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

F2P Quote of the Day

There is one school of thought that thinks F2P means “if you spend enough time, you can experience the whole game for free – paying is just a shortcut”. There is another school of thought that says “you will never see the whole game, unless you pay astronomical amounts of money, and maybe not even then”. There’s a real conceptual rift between the two camps, and some games are finding themselves caught in the middle, or transitioning between the two.
Brise Bonbons

I’d argue “astronomical,” although that depends on the model, and it’s really the models I want to discuss here.

We’re all familiar with pure subscription models, as well as subscription plus a small premium shop (WoW sparklepony, CoX booster packs). WoW, Warhammer, and others now have unlimited free trials along with their subscriptions. Most Western players have limited familiarity with the item shop model in its pure, evil form, although Allods players got a taste. I think it’s clear under these models that you will be ponying up some funds or you will not be getting much beyond the most basic experience; item shop gamers may have been fooled at the onset, but it should become quickly apparent once they’re into it.

The murkier middle comes from hybrid models and games that let you unlock content (“no cover charge”). Wizard101 has a very clear unlock model, in which you just do not get most zones unless you pay for them. League of Legends gives you access to everything, eventually, a little at a time, with some free permanent unlocks and why don’t you just give them $20 to get the handful of champions you really want? Turbine is the headliner for the hybrid subscription/pay to unlock model, with Dungeons and Dragons Online and The Lord of the Rings Online. You could theoretically unlock absolutely everything in LotRO without paying, although you would be creating and deleting characters to grind deeds until your very fingertips wore away.

And there really is tension between people who want to play for free, absolutely free, and those who are willing to pay and/or recognize that someone needs to fund these companies if you want servers to stay up. When I am getting a lot of value from a game, I don’t mind giving an extra $20 to Valve or Riot or whatnot. I look at my Settlers of Catan box and wonder if I should mail Klaus Teuber a check or something, based on the play value received. But I remember having no money, and I can see a bit of that perspective.

And then there are games that are just annoyingly in your face with their pleas for money. See, for example, the LotRO UI re-design that makes the shop the most visible UI item (poor design decision: the shop links are annoyingly present even if you cannot use them to spend more money, such as subscribers/lifetimers at the stables).

: Zubon

Engi Census

Playing the Steam free game of the weekend, I have come to wonder: how many games have an Engineer that builds a turret; how many games have an Engineer that does not build a turret; and how many games have a non-Engineer that builds a turret. (I think I will avoid counting Warhammer Online’s Magus and units/classes that “summon” rather than “build.” I’m unclear whether the Raven builds, summons, or do we count “deploy”?) Was there some first game that set the standard that Engineer = build a sentry gun? It feels like engineers and self-directed turrets have become a standard game item, but perhaps exploring some examples will reverse this. I keep finding near-hits, where perhaps they consciously avoided calling the turret-builder an Engineer in recent games. I wonder if non-builder Engineers are also intentional aversions? Inventory below the break, please contribute in the comments.

Edit: let’s see what happens if we add in enemies that do the same, some of which may mirror heroes. Continue reading Engi Census

Bears, Bears, Bears

Tobold mentions the “bears, bears, bears” video promoting WAR: “Now that was a great video, and one could say that the enthusiastic hyping of a feature which then ultimately didn’t make it in that form into the game neatly summarizes people’s disappointment with WAR.” Yes! Exactly! I’ve never even watched the video (and why bother to go back and do so at this point?), but if anyone asks about WAR, I summarize it with three (one?) words. It is not so much the enthusiastic hyping as identifying the problem, summarizing it neatly, identifying a solution, and then willfully failing to implement it. Bitter, bitter venom every time I was sent back to kill a named enemy I just killed, and it spills over to other games that make me do the same thing.

: Zubon

The Essential Scatter

As fun as I had last time around in my guild’s massive Gloamwood event, I noticed a flaw. Or rather, I saw the flaw in another form. It’s a unique flaw that has been appearing more in the age of public grouping. Let us call it “the zerg.” The zerg is a group of overwhelming force of otherwise unimpressive individuals, and a zerg in an event usually emits a strong gravitational pull entrapping other players. It’s not a unique thing, as its been for as long as there has been open world PvP (if not longer). Yet, it comes across as something different, possibly fouler, when the zerg’s opponent is the system.

Near the end of the Gloamwood crusade, I was starting to get bored. I was thoroughly enjoying all the camaraderie, but the game was being distilled down to merely following the herd and firing off as many spam skills as I could before whatever was targeted inevitably popped. The system was stretching to the outer limits of its “balancing.” Yet, there were far too many players for it to respond in a useful way. This is when the system needs for players to scatter.

Continue reading The Essential Scatter