Monday, May 31, 2010

Getting Screwed!

I don’t write much about my professional life because I try to keep this blog topical to MMOs. This post is going to feel like it’s not MMO or gaming related but hang with me for a bit and my point will come full circle back to MMOs. I promise.

Marketing was, and always will be, my professional passion. But... I like money and so I spent the first four years after college in a technical sales role that I felt would provide me with equivalent sales experience that I could (and did) transition into marketing.

It was a crazy job. We were a technical services firm focused on large accounts with UNIX datacenters. As an account manager, I handled virtually everything related to the client except deployment and billing. Now the real crazy part is that while we were a technical services firm, we didn’t actually provide any of these product or services ourselves.

I can’t express how much more difficult building out a quote is in this scenario over a traditional sales role. We didn’t have fixed costs. Instead, we negotiated our costs AFTER we had won the business. This means quoting to the client with just a rough approximation of what things are likely going to cost you.

I was responsible for not only negotiating the prices with our clients but also negotiating and managing our costs for any subcontractors we used. Oh – and my commission was based entirely on profit (not revenue) so negotiating lower costs would directly impact my sales performance.

All this taught me A LOT about leaving money on the table.

Trust, Money and False Expectations
If I can provide you a life lesson it’s that when money is involved, trust leads to false expectations.

For example, let’s say that you have a friend that sells furniture. You need a new couch, so you call your friend. Your expectation is that your friend is going to give you a great deal on a couch. However, from his point of view, you are just buying the couch from him because you would rather give a friend your money.

You trust him to give you a great deal, perhaps even at or below cost. He feels an obligation to treat you fairly, but not bend over backwards to get you that great deal.

I’m not telling you to NOT go to your friends for furniture. But what I am stressing is that it is a bad idea to delude yourself into having a false expectation that a person trying to make money to support themselves is going to do anything more than treat you fairly.

And that’s when the person is a friend.

For the stranger, trust becomes a tool. It’s important for them to engender a certain amount of trust in order for you to be willing to spend money with them. You need to believe that goods will be delivered. You need to believe the price you pay is fair. You need to believe that the quality and promises will be kept.

Misplaced trust is dangerous.

This is part of what I think is interesting about the whole Allods debacle. When the prices changed in the Cash Shop, it was perceived as a violation of trust. Pretty much by definition, the Microtransaction model requires a lot of trust from the players. It requires that they trust the developer to treat them fairly and not create artificial incentives to promote the Cash Shop.

However, the unfortunate reality is that none of these developers want to leave money on the table.

Money on the table
Tobold wrote a piece on Monday about a new Microtransaction style Facebook game he had spent an undisclosed amount of money on. I was a bit disappointed with him about it.

Not an entirely rational thing. It’s his money after all. Who am I to tell him how to spend it?

But here’s the thing – paying money for crap games, particularly in these Microtransaction models, teaches the developers something.

It tells them that some people are willing to spend this way. Paying incrementally more in small chunks for content that requires far less time to develop.

As I wrote in the comments of his blog, lets compare the value you receive from one of these games to the value you receive from an MMO like World of Warcraft.  Let’s imagine that Tobold spent a modest $5 on this Facebook game. A month of WoW is three times that cost – $15.

Did he receive 1/3 the relative value for his $5? No.

When I pointed this out to Tobold in the comments, he responded with the following:
Did I mention I spent 10 years of my life an about $10,000 on Magic the Gathering? If you don't count the PC and internet connection, 10 years of WoW only cost about $2,000.

But I don't see what is wrong with that. Why shouldn't somebody with more money be able to spend more on games? Do you think it is unfair that some people drive bigger cars too?
Tobold’s take is not that $2,000 is a better value than the $10,000 he spent on Magic cards. Instead, his take is that he would have been willing to pay $10,000 if Blizzard had allowed him.

In effect, he (and others like him) are telling Blizzard that they are leaving $8,000 on the table.

If WoW costs us 5x the price, would we receive 5x the value?
This is where I fundamentally diverge from the mindset that supports Microtransactions. The justification that you have the money to freely spend on these transactions is not the point. I have the money to spend too.

I’m just not willing to pay more for the same thing I was already getting.

My point being that Tobold and his $5 is getting incrementally less for his money supporting these types of games. His willingness to spend 5x the amount on these games won’t buy him 5x the value. Quite the opposite.

His willingness to spend so much more is just telling Blizzard and the other gaming companies that there is a willing market of people who are willing to overpay relative to the services and products they have been receiving.

Negotiating the Price
I don’t begrudge Tobold’s right to outspend me. I DO begrudge him for teaching developers that it’s OK to provide less for more.

Right now, game developers are realizing that players are willing to spend more on games. I think of these Microtransaction models as a negotiation of sorts. Developers are testing this new market trying to find the line that makes them the most profitable.

Sadly for me, Blizzard and other are learning that YOU are willing to spend much more for little content. The Sparkle Pony is not dangerous because it offers some unfair advantage but because it teaches these developers something about a market willing to spend money on almost nothing.

At the end of the day, the trend is that collectively we are going to spend more for games.  I can't change that, nor do I really want to change it.

I would just like to see us negotiate a much better deal.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

SW: TOR - How I would approach it if I were Bioware

There has been some talk on different blogs about the upcoming Star Wars MMO.  The overall concern is that Bioware has been on record as describing the upcoming game as a "storyline" RPG similar to what they have done in the single-player versions.

The thought here is that a "story" is only temporary and doesn't work well in an MMO.  After all, what does a player do when the story ends?

Valid concern.

As I wrote on Syncaine's blog today, I think if I were Bioware, my focus as a developer would be on setting up some methodology that would allow me to quickly and easily build out lots of content.

Specifically, some sort of story "toolkit" that content managers could use to create new content.  Notice that I didn't say content developers but content managers.

In my mind, that's the key.  This "toolkit" needs to be easy to use and not require a lot of hardcoding development on the part of the content manager.  They simply write the questlines, provide the NPC interaction dialog, work with voice actors, and then choose the locations, monsters, items and such that the player will deal with in their "adventure".

In a way, this isn't any different than the "Map Editor" toolkit we saw for Warcraft 3 or other similar types of things.  Heck, I even recall a Dungeon Contstuction Kit on my old Apple II (or maybe it was on the Commodore 64?).

The point being is that the only way that I see "story" driven content working in an MMO is if there are LOTS and LOTS of stories.

And the only way to do that is to make it easy to CREATE the stories themselves.  And that means giving the people who will be creating this content simple, easy-to-use tools in order to create it.

Now, this might make for some "cookie-cutter" adventures and might not be the MMO that I want to play, but I think there is a market for it.  As I wrote on Syncaine's blog, just think of all the people that mindlessly complete the same Daily Quests day-after-day.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Warcraft: A retrospective look back

I’m not playing World of Warcraft at the moment. Nor do I have much interest at this point in playing the Cataclysm expansion.

There is no irrational hate here, just a lack of interest. To the contrary, I have very fond memories about WoW. And while I’m one of the first to point out all of Warcraft’s shortcomings, I think (as a whole) that Blizzard has done more things right over the years than wrong.

Millions of other people also support this idea as well. Say what you will about the game, but if they actually were screwing up the game at every turn, no one would be playing the game. The simple reality is that people do enjoy playing it and if they didn’t, then millions of them wouldn’t continue playing it.

Burning Crusade – The Design
In retrospect, I realize now that Burning Crusade was a lousy expansion. Oh, I suppose the leveling and questing experience was fine. Not as good as Wrath, but it was definitely an overall improvement to Vanilla WoW. I think if I am being critical here, it’s that there was only one entrance into Outland and it resulted in some crazy crowds at release.

There were some other improvements as well, like Flying Mounts, Heroic Dungeons, Badges of Justice, and Armor Tokens for Tier Pieces. But outside of those things, the expansion mostly sucked at end-game.

The biggest problem is that the transition path from a fresh 70 to an entry-level raiding 70 was idiotic. The entry-level raid dungeon, Karazhan, was very well done – but getting to that content was a serious pain in the ass.

You’ll recall that you needed to get “keyed” in order to get inside of Karazhan (which involved a lengthy quest chain). Now, the quest-chain for a key was not a new idea. This was pretty common in Vanilla WoW.

But at least here, there were more things to do and you hadn’t already been raiding at a level 50 only to hit this “key” wall at 60. Which meant that you didn’t have the expectation of raiding at level cap until well after you had done many of the level 60 dungeons.

Also, in Vanilla WoW, it was only important for one person to have been keyed in some of the starter dungeons. And for the others, it was a relatively easy dungeon crawl to get “attuned” to things like Molten Core.

To make matters worse, the next raid dungeon in Burning Crusade also required a separate “key” that could only be completed after an even longer quest chain involving the raid bosses in Kara. Even worse, this next dungeon wasn’t 10-man, but 25-man.

Now I’m no math wizard, but even I can tell that you can’t divide 25 by 10 evenly. In order to get even the minimum of 25, you needed at least three groups of 10.

Even worse, a 10-man group was typically made up of 2 Tanks, 2 Healers and 6 DPS.  If you multiply that by three, you end up with 6 Tanks, 6 Healers and 18 DPS.  25-man Raid composition needs 3 Tanks, 8 Healers, 14 DPS.  So too many Tanks and DPS, but not enough Healers.

The end result is that several progression walls were created. And even overcoming one wall (beating 10-man Kara) was then faced by the next wall (getting 15 more to do the next raid dungeon).

Frustrated players would hit a progression wall and might never get past it. I’ll always remember BBB (Big Bear Butt blogger) writing about how he effectively couldn’t get past Karazhan not for lack of gear or skill, but because he couldn’t overcome the social engineering challenge of getting other people to stay in his guild long enough to get everyone keyed for SSC.

On a personal note, I actually quit most of that whole raid progression game and focused on PvP for the last year of that expansion out of frustration.

Burning Crusade – Guild Drama
Design issues aside, much of my problem with Burning Crusade related to guild issues. I switched from a Horde to an Alliance server a bit after the expansion released with some real life friends. In doing so, we left our old Horde guild (we were part of the core group, but our Guild Leader had been absent for several weeks).

After a few months at 70 on the Alliance server, all but two of my real life friends had slowly stopped playing. The three of us then decided to go back to our old Horde server. We also wanted to play different classes (in my case, the same class I played on Alliance), so despite returning to the same server – it was a fresh reroll.

Surprisingly, our old guild didn’t die after we left. Our absent Guild Leader had returned and managed to reform a new core group of players. Like the prodigal sons returning, we joyously rejoined him.

This was a pretty big mistake.

It turned out that our Guild Leader was mostly the leader in name alone. He had a great aptitude for attracting and keeping players together, but pretty much assigned out the business of running raids to his raid leaders.

A big believer in more is better, he recruited a lot of people and the result was an elite group of maybe 20 people, followed by another 20 fighting for the 5 remaining raid spots.

Elite is likely the wrong word choice to describe that core group of players. In truth, this was just the best geared group – not necessarily the most skilled.

I think what was most frustrating to those players just outside of that group is that castoffs kicked out of other guilds were often given a raid spot based on gear quality and not their ability to actually perform. Needless to say, this group wiped a lot and stalled on a lot of content that similar guilds easily beat.

From my perspective, I never raided anything beyond a few Kara runs with this group. The issue for me was Raid time. Back when I left the server, the Raid time was a very convenient 8:00pm PST. I, and my other real life friends, live on the West Coast, so this worked out really well for us.

However, after we left, the group that filled our void was largely East Coast and preferred a 5pm raid time (forming at 4:30). I couldn’t even physically get home from work until 6:00 and wasn’t available to raid until 7:00pm.

I think I stayed in that guild far longer than I should have out of friendship with my old acquaintances. I never even got as far from a PvE progression standpoint as I had with my old Alliance guild. I eventually left for a PvP-focused guild (since that’s all I was doing).

Ironically, I ended up doing much more raiding with this PvP guild than I ever did with my former guild since we often paired up with another group once or twice a week to raid for gear. Go figure.

Wrath of the Lich King – No Guild Drama
It’s my sincere belief that most MMO players struggle with the types of Guild Drama issues that I described above. I think finding a “good guild” is more the exception than the rule and is likely why the solo-viability of a game like WoW makes it immensely popular.

I think this bears repeating because I think some other bloggers have always been fortunate enough to have a good guild or group to play with and in many ways, I think this twists their expectations.  The simple fact is that far more people are in bad guilds than good ones.  Good people, but not enough of them to DO much of anything. Or conversely, large groups, but run by people you don't like or connect with at a personal level.

That's a very important consideration for a developer because as I learned in Wrath, having a good quality group to play with dramatically increases the “fun factor” in these games.

In any event, shortly after returning back to WoW, I was recruited into a great guild that I can't say enough good things about.  It was by far the best group I’ve ever played with and I think that it contributed greatly to a much better experience than the one I had during Burning Crusade.

One of the reasons this guild worked so well for me is that I had a great relationship with the other Rogue.  If I'm being blunt, most Rogues are scrubs and/or greedy bastards.  However, the two of us were both great players and pretty unselfish.  It really made for a solid friendship and I was closer to him than any other member of the guild.

Wrath of the Lich King - Design
Wrath is not without it's issues. Leveling and questing was a far more improved experience.  If I'm being critical here, I would have liked to have seen more "phasing" and a smarter implementation of it in certain places.  It's a great mechanic to evolve a story.

I didn't PvP much in Wrath because honestly, the far superior PvP in Warhammer had by this point pretty much turned me off from WoW's sub-par PvP.  Wintergrasp was unspectacular and the new Battleground boring compared to the pure action to a scenario like Tor Anroc.

The real improvement for me was the Raiding.  Much more accessible and the 10-man versions made the possibility of PuGGing content your Guild wasn't doing that week (or you would miss) a realistic option.

I know people have been critical that Raiding was made "easy" in Wrath but I think that's not exactly true.  I think what made things easier (and better) is that you had twice the opportunity to do each Raid.  You could run it in 25-man AND in 10-man.

Even players who never did the 25-man content could master the 10-man content and then PuG a 25 and have roughly a good idea of what they needed to do.  10-mans are a training ground of sorts and THAT'S what made the content overall easier.

The net is that the end-game was simply just more enjoyable than in Burning Crusade.

Monday, May 24, 2010

What makes a good IP for an MMO?

Over the weekend, I finished up Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy. If you weren’t aware, Brandon is the author who got the nod to complete the late Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. 

I’m a big Sci-Fi/Fantasy reader and after hearing that Brandon was the planned author for the WoT finale, I read his first novel Elantris to get a taste of how talented he was as a writer.

I liked his stand-alone book but was still pretty skeptical about him finishing arguably the best and most storied fantasy series of all time. Unfounded fears as it turned out his Wheel of Time novel was one of the best in the series.

All this got me to thinking that as bloggers, we sometimes talk or rate the IP of our MMOs. In this context, we aren't talking so much about the engine or game itself but the actual "Lore" that makes up the virtual world we inhabit as players. This Lore is important because it tells us the story of the world and our part within it.

From one perspective, it would seem like Books and Movies would be an excellent source for Lore in an MMO. After all, here is a story and world that is already developed.

They also have an existing fan base that makes for a great core audience. This approach has proven very profitable in the Movie industry. Comics like Spiderman, Batman, Superman, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Hulk and even Garfield (and soon Marmaduke) are all existing stories with existing fans whose license translates great into Movies. Heck, we are even seeing Video Games like Resident Evil and Prince of Persia turned into Movies.

But there is a problem when applying this approach to MMOs. Balance.

Different – But Equal
The issue as I see it when applying the Lore of a given game to an MMO is that you inevitable need to break or deviate from the Lore in order to make it “work” in the MMO. A game like Warcraft, whose Lore didn’t exist outside of a game, doesn’t have this same problem of breaking Lore cannon in order to make a game more fun or balanced.

The best example of this in action is Star Wars. Following the Lore, the most powerful unit in any Star Wars MMO would need to be the Jedi. Han Solo, super-stud Bounty Hunter that he is, could never kick Luke Skywalker’s ass. Only other characters who also possess Jedi powers are able to face and defeat each other.

In a book, movie or solo video-game – that’s not a problem.

In an MMO, where people may want to choose a class other than a Jedi, it’s a problem.

That’s because it’s inherent to the story that these groups are more powerful than everyone else. Which really doesn’t fit with an MMO where the goal is to provide players options that are different but still equal.

This isn’t true with all the cannon Lore in all books, of course. But it is a common issue. In many ways, it’s far easier to just borrow the parts you like and create your own Lore.

Certainly Lore built for game systems is just going to be naturally much better designed and easier to implement. Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms and Warhammer are all just going to be more inherently aligned with the RPG model. No need to fit a square peg into a circular hole.

The OP is OP (translation: The One Power is Overpowered)
My biggest concerns regarding the upcoming Wheel of Time MMO is that by necessity of game design, it’s going to have to break the cannon of WoT Lore.

In WOT, being able to wield the One Power (Aes Sedai, Ashaman, etc) is a trump card that beats anyone who has a sword. There are very few ways for someone without the OP to defeat them.

A sword wielder just gets wrapped up in Air weaves. Arrows? Air weave again.

I think of myself as a fairly creative guy and I can’t think of a single way to balance the One Power against non-wielders without seriously breaking or deviating from the cannon.

In fact, there are very few non-wielders who have could confront and win against an OP user. And those that exist are rare because they are central unique individuals to the storyline.

I guess everyone could be someone who wields the OP but that seems a little restrictive for a classic fantasy MMO (and a bit Darkfall-esque where everyone is the same).

Bigger than Life characters
One thing I really appreciate about Blizzard’s Lore in Warcraft is that they have some “bigger than life” NPC characters. Say what you will about everyone being a Hero in WoW, but the real Heroes from a Lore perspective aren’t player based at all. Thrall, Arthas, Illidan, Gul’Dan, Medivh, Jaina, Grom Hellscream.

Important People.

That’s one thing I will say in favor of the Wheel of Time Lore. There certainly would be no shortage of high profile NPCs on which to base events, raids, quests and so forth. There are lots and lots of very prominent and interesting characters that would be very useful as NPC bosses and heads of state.

Mistborn Trilogy
Ironically, despite my earlier observation that Books can make for lousy IP in an MMO, I do think that the Mistborn series has some potential.

I don’t want to provide any spoilers, but one of the things that makes Mistborn interesting is that there are lots of different types of talents that have a lot of power in their specific areas.

They also come along with slang names which would work great as Classes. For example, a “Thug” is someone who can burn a metal that makes them physically powerful. A “Coinshot” is someone who can propel metal away from their body. A “Lurcher” is someone who can attract metal towards them.

Done right, you could easily have eight distinct classes with various abilities. And at least one ( a “Hazekiller”) which has no abilities.

Abilities also improve with usage and have a “resource” that fuels/limits the user.

I don’t know if I would go so far as to allow player controlled Mistborn. But that’s a possibility – particularly at end-game.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Darkfall: Long overdue follow-up to reactions

No breaks, working lunches, and a working weekend have all conspired to sideline me from the blog for the last couple of weeks. It’s been like this since April but really built up steam in May. The frustrating thing for me is that I just haven’t had an opportunity to respond to reactions to my Darkfall: Last Impressions post.

Reaction of Darkfall Players
Stabs made an incredibly astute observation. The actual reaction from the players who should be most offended, those still playing Darkfall, were for the most part very sympathetic.

RyanT, who didn’t even agree, even went so far as to repost my entry on the Darkfall forums. The post wasn’t met with scorn and more than half of the follow-up commenters agreed with me.

And that was on ForumFall. A place not exactly well known for its welcoming and endearing nature towards QQ posts.

That’s because at some level they all understood one basic truth: That even many of the current DF players, if forced to start over, wouldn’t spend 4-6 months of intense effort developing a character that didn’t get four-shotted. I think what non-DF players missed is the scale of effort required.

I also wasn’t criticizing the fact that imbalance existed. At one level, I’m OK with the imbalance because I view myself as the type of player that will just “work” past the imbalance. However, ultimately what got to me was the realization that the sheer amount of “work” required is unfathomable.

Again – scale.

This isn’t WoW. If I had spent the amount of effort I had spent in Darkfall on a Level 1 WoW character – I would not only be level 80, but I would have 4 or 5 BIS items (Best In Slot). Heck, I more or less did that same exact thing a year ago January/February with my Mage alt.

Darkfall is a game where everything you do contributes to a skill and stat. The more you play doing ANYTHING, the more your stats increase. Character development never really stops.

Thus, it would be monumentally unfair to the “other guy” if I was allowed to easily catch up. How would you feel if you spent 6 months developing a character only to have me “catch-up” in six weeks and then pass you?

Tobold’s “Serial Ganker quits Darkfall
I found it a bit entertaining that I never wrote the word “quit” anywhere in my original post and it was used in Tobold’s title. True enough, I suppose. But perhaps a good example of my overall issue with how Tobold characterized my post.

I felt the selective quoting had a much more negative overtone about Darkfall than my original post. Again, I wasn’t misquoted or even quoted out-of-context, but certainly anything positive that I had to say about Darkfall was conveniently left out.

Tobold goes on to say these thoughts of mine echo his own thoughts about EVE. The principal problem of PvP in an MMO is character advancement and such advancement puts new players at odds with veteran players. I’ve raised that question myself on occasion. Certainly it’s an issue.

However, it’s not a unique issue.

It exists in Darkfall, it exists in EVE, it exists in WoW, it exists in WAR. It exists in all MMOs. It even exists in MMOs that don’t allow you to attack other players. Tobold would have you believe that this issue doesn’t exist in PvE. But it does. Because we don’t play MMOs in a vacuum. We play with other people.

When you RAID in game like WoW, you compete for your RAID spot. You are one of 10 or 25 people. If there are 11 or 26 people who want to RAID – let the competition begin. Who’s got the best gear? Who does the most DPS? The more veteran or “advanced” player has an advantage.

Even mundane tasks like harvesting, trading, or mining are all competitive activities in which veteran players have an advantage.

Mining Copper on foot? You’ll lose to the guy on the mount.

Mining Fel Ore on a mount? You’ll lose to the guy on the Flying Mount.

Competing on the Auction House? You’ll lose to the guy with more gold who understands the market, has established trading contacts and can afford to weather out a bad market.

Veteran players will always have an advantage. This isn’t new. In fact, the only way to take away that advantage is to either force everyone to be equal or take the “group” out of the equation.

That’s why I can’t really be critical of Darkfall or EVE on this score. It’s indicative of a bigger problem with all MMOs.

How do you on-board NEW players while at the same time not invalidating the work of your more veteran players?

Blizzard takes the approach that with every expansion, you effectively get a gear reset. They also don’t have any qualms about lowering the effort required to get gear or increase your relative power. It takes a third of the time to level 1-60 that it once did. Gear that was BIS when I quit WoW a year ago is trivial now. In short, they actively undermine the efforts of their most dedicated players in order to create this balance.

If there is something different about Darkfall and EVE it’s that neither game takes this approach of invalidating the effort of their most dedicated players. I’m sure some would argue that they should. I don’t know. As a new player to Darkfall, such a thing would have greatly increased my experience. But at what cost to the veteran players?

Even in Blizzard’s case though, the solution isn’t exactly ideal (as evidenced by Tobold’s recent complaint about the grind in Outland). You still have 70 levels to slug through of content 4-6 years old before you can get to the most active group content as a new player. Most of which you will do as a “solo” player.

The “Hero” Reaction
I think what irritated me most about Tobold’s post is the direction it took in his comments and Gevlon’s separate follow-up post on his blog. Over the years, Tobold has been pretty outspoken about EVE in that “there are more of the downtrodden masses than there are emperors.” A criticism that I don’t share. He wrote:
I get extremely suspicious nowadays whenever I hear of a game which allows you to achieve great things, lead an empire, and rule over the masses. [..] If I want to lead empires, I play single-player games.
In fairness, I don’t think Tobold was aiming that comment at me. However, it quickly became obvious in the comments that at least some of his readers were attributing the idea that *I* wanted to lead empires and that’s why I quit Darkfall. Gevlon took it one step further and said that I quit because I didn’t want to be a cog and that I wasn’t a team player.

The common theme is this silly idea about people wanting to be a “Hero”. I’ve never really liked that argument not because it’s untrue but because no one likes feeling unimportant.

You are the center of your Universe. You will always care most about what happens to YOU and what YOU do. Even if you are part of a team, YOUR role and YOUR actions as they contribute to the team are the most important part in YOUR little universe.

I played team sports in High School, so I understand perfectly well what it means to be on a team. Individual success is meaningless if the team doesn’t win.

But if the team DOES win, does that make individual success still meaningless? No.

Your individual performance still matters to YOU. If you know that YOU are not contributing to help the team win, you don’t feel as if YOU earned it – even if the team does win.

So it should never come as any surprise to anyone that the most important part of any MMO is YOU.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Pure Win!

Obviously, I don't agree with Tobold's opinions on PvP, but this paragraph is awesome:
Because, see, all of the "advice" the EVE fans gave me also applies to this situation: If you feel that my blog having a lot of readers gives me an unfair advantage in a battle of opinions, all you have to do is to open your own blog, work hard on it for 6 months, and you can have thousands of readers too. This blog is my territory, my nulsec, in which I staked out certain positions, which includes a strong anti-PvP bias. I will do everything to defend my position, I have all the weapons I need for that, and if that makes you feel unfairly ganked, well, life is harsh as you repeatedly told me. Maybe you shouldn't enter unfriendly nulsec in the first place, if the result is that you complain afterwards about unfairness! There certainly were enough warning signs posted at the gates.
I think the reason I like this quote so much is because he's fighting back. I far prefer these kinds of posts as responses to the disparaging remarks he receives over the 'why is everyone picking on me?' type he usually writes when attacked.

And he does get attacked. A lot. But that also comes with the territory when you have such a prominent blog...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Darkfall: Last Impressions

I've been playing Darkfall for almost two months now and I think I'm done. In many ways, I think Darkfall is a great game. The combat is much more innovative, interactive and enjoyable than what you see in other MMOs.

I also enjoy the on-use skillups despite all it's obvious flaws. There is something uniquely rewarding about focusing on a style of play and watching that level up.

I also found that I didn't lack for direction despite the horizontal nature of the game.  I always had something to do and made a couple of friends while I was at it.

It wasn't even the grind.  I mean, harvesting isn't exactly exciting, but the full loot nature of the PvP adds a bit of excitement to the mundane.  Which is certainly something you would never experience while running around mining or herbing in Warcraft.

No.. It's because I'm a pussy.

Oh, I don't mean unskilled. I suppose that could be it, but I wouldn't even know because every time I get into a fight I'm killed pretty damn quick.

How many hours should you have to log in order to be competitive?
Now I don't mind "working" to make my character more developed. I also understand that people who have put more "work" into their character deserve to have an advantage. For better or worse, that's the nature of PvP in MMOs.

But what started to bother me a few weeks ago, really bothers me today as I'm fully realizing that in order to "catch up" to a point where I am even remotely competitive is going to take not just an incredible amount of time, but an unfathomable amount of time.

I know this because I've played A LOT over the last few weeks. And despite how much time I've put into it, my character has barely broken into the tier just above the 'newbie' stage.

To put this in perspective, I leveled my Mage alt in WoW last year from level 1 to 80 in maybe 3-4 weeks. By the fifth week, I had 4 out of 5 of the Tier pieces and decent pieces in my other slots. All of this was in addition to the raiding I was doing on my main.

The point here is not that WoW is easy to level. Obviously, it is easier than Darkfall.

No, my point here is that I have been known to log some long hours. I talked about life-balance the other day and the part I tend to sacrifice is sleep. I KNOW I play a lot. As evidenced by my being able to level a Raiding alt in five weeks without the benefit of refer-a-friend.

And at that rate of play, I also believe that in Darkfall, it would take me a minimum of another 4 months to build up a character that would begin to put me at a point where I wouldn't constantly get my ass kicked.

Which just makes me wonder, is it even worth it?

Biggest Lie: New players can contribute in PvP
This is perhaps the biggest lie that gets told to new players as they start in Darkfall. The idea is that because new players can deal maybe 30% of the damage that an established player can deal, that they can contribute immediately in PvP.

The problem here is that they can only take 30% of the effective damage that an established player can as well. If they are attacked at all, they are dead.

Now, on the surface, I don't have much of an issue with this whole dynamic. New players need to be more sneaky and try to stay in groups where they don't get focused. OK. All that is fine.

My problem is that after many many many hours, I still couldn't take any damage and live for very long. It's like PvP in WoW without resilience gear. You might be able to DO damage, but that means nothing when you are dead within mere moments.

And again, I have no real issue with that concept, my issue here is HOW LONG you remain that weak little thing who needs to sneak, escape and kow-tow to the much more powerful players.

I'm very competitive in these games. I don't want to be a cog in the machine. I want to contribute. I want to win. That's what drives me and motivates me.  I'm just realizing now that I can't keep up that motivation when it's going to take a minimum of four more months to get competitive.

New Player Perspective
I think I would have an entirely different perspective if I had played Darkfall from launch. For one thing, I have no doubt that with the hours I put in that I would have a very developed character.

Also, my "competition" would have always been at or below my relative skill level. At the very least, those far more advanced would be fewer and farther between. My skills might have been low, but so would the skills of everyone else.

The overall experience would just be more enjoyable because I wouldn't feel that I'm losing solely based on longevity.

As a new player, I have a different perspective. I'm at the bottom and I'll be at the bottom until a point where all my more advanced stats and skills begin to cap out.

I have to say that the prospect of playing a game intensely for 6 months as a whipping boy is not an entirely enjoyable thought.

This is a perspective that I just don't think a long-time Darkfall player would understand. I mean, from their point of view, they 'worked' to get where they are at and reducing the amount of work for me is a slap in the face.

But the problem is that it's relative. As I said above, when you are at the leading edge, there is never a point at which you need to 'catch up'. You are always already caught up by virtue of longevity.

But as new players start playing your game, they are behind from the start. Having the same leveling curve for those players is NOT a consistent experience. Those that came first actually have it easier because the competition wasn't as well developed.

I don't know how you fix that in an on-use skill game and keep your veteran players happy about it. All I know is that I've grown tired of it and have lost patience with the game.