April 21, 2015

The Truth about Subscription Models

Well here’s a shocker, I haven’t posted anything for over a month. Anyways, in a random turn around I might actually have a couple of blogs up in short order here. The first is, of course, this one and discussing some of the major gaff’s concerning the now painfully outdated subscription models are for MMOs or as sometimes referred to as pay to play or P2P in shorthand. So, instead of wasting time, let’s look at just a few of the gems I often see from completely clueless people trying to defend the outdated and outmoded subscription model system.

Subscriptions offer solid income for the game
This is a half and half. In other words, it’s partly true but only true if the game is supporting a magic number of subscriptions. Just because a few people are paying the subscription fee doesn't mean the game is getting a solid enough income. If there are very few (relative to the actual number they need to sustain and create meaningful content), there is no solid income.

Subscriptions guarantee new content
This one is absolutely false. A subscription does not guarantee new content. See the first gaff. If there is not enough subscriptions, then there won’t be new content. Too many people see WoW and assume that’s how it always is, and once again fail to recognize these games need money to continue.

Subscriptions make sure the undesirable types can’t play
100% wrong again. Most of the time when someone means undesirable, they mean gold spammers and sellers. As TESO and WildStar proved at their launch, gold sellers find a way.

So what does a subscription actually guarantee? The answer is; nothing. That’s right, putting money into a subscription doesn't actually guarantee you anything. It’s an oft misguided notion, in fact, that people believe that a subscription means guaranteed content, the game servers will always be on, and that it’s a wall to keep out the bad schlock. But, that isn't the case. A subscription only keeps the people you want from playing the game, as the model is very outdated, and most people are not willing to put that kind of investment into something that can disappear. Several companies have even told us the magic number that was needed to be maintained to keep meaningful updates, but of course, players don’t listen to that. Instead, the vote with your wallet mantra is always uttered in a misunderstood sea of they don’t listen falsities in some vane belief that they only listen to the money.

Here's the problem with that above thinking. Voting with one's wallet is all fine and dandy with products like cereal or some such, as big corporations like that will listen to the dollars, but MMOs actually do listen to their player base. However, they have many things to consider first, because believe it or not, you are only one voice in a sea of many with all differing angles and goals to what they believe should be done. Even if two people like the same thing, both of them will, more than likely, have radically different ideas on how that should be approached. All voting with your wallet does for your hopeful MMO is guarantee that it's going to lose the ability to generate meaningful content, listen to you, and in many cases now as this happens more and more, close its doors down.

The reason new MMOs never get a chance is that very reason. People believe they are owed new content, and not understanding how economics work. Hell, throw a rock and I am sure that you will hit someone that thinks that just because they pay $15 a month they have more than paid the salary of several developers.  And this kind of thinking also goes hand in hand with people who think content can magically be whisked into existence to. But that’s another story all together.

So what's the take away from this? Subscriptions don't guarantee jack. Each MMO has a magic number of subscriptions they have to hit and maintain just to not only produce meaningful content, but have a steady development cycle. Examples; 2009 we were told that Champions Online needed 100,000 subscribers to be considered successful. Star Wars The Old Republic was stated it needed to maintain over 500,000 subscribers to continue to be considered a success.

As you can see where this is going, it takes a lot more than a few people paying $15 a month before you will see that new, meaningful content. And if you want an MMO to succeed, you can't always just hope it can weather a storm, sometimes you have to put your money where your mouth is or watch it fade into obscurity. While there are some obviously bad games that you should not put money towards, and in no way am I saying put money down towards a game you do not like any way you stick it but for a game that you are hopeful for and you see potential, using the tired mantra "Vote with Your Wallet" is not going to make developers instantly turn around and fix what you consider to be the problem. They will instead downsize their development team, or consolidate servers, and at the end of it all as this mantra keeps going because they can't produce content from lack of resources, eventually close their doors. That is the take away in the end.

February 25, 2015

So what causes best in slot mentality?

One thing I've taken note of lately, since I've been expanding my outlook of games more, though I still tend to stick to the super hero genre (I rather enjoy the setting) there is one thing that does crop up. It even cropped up in City of Heroes, much to the disbelief of its player base. What is this thing I am talking about? It’s a rather old belief but it falls under a new term called Best in Slot or BiS.

Of course, this idea has existed for a while, even in the pen and paper days munchkins use to toil over what gear or item would be the best suited for their munchkin build and what stats would give them the most optimal set up. It’s nothing new really, but the question that has to be asked, is those said items really best in slot?

Here’s the basic problem with BiS mentality; they only usually aim at pushing a few stats on a character, and it pushes so hard on those stats that, in most modern games and MMOs in particular, you are sinking heavily into diminishing returns. Furthermore, the BiS mentality is only given that regard because it might have a few points over similar items that offer similar stat choices. So is an item that only gives you less than even half a percent of an actual increase really doing you any favors? Short answer is no, and long answer is, you could have probably found something as good or even superior to this BiS pick due to the fact that BiS picks tend to be narrow viewed and not really offer the best for the character as a whole.

So why is this mentality so prevalent now in the gaming space that all the other items developers toil to create end up being looked down upon? Well it’s a fairly simple factor that gamers are sheep, as much as they like to believe they are leaders. Gamers will ride on the opinion of others until mathematical or video evidence proves to them otherwise that something else is better. And they don’t care about how minute the difference is. If random chance that one time proves that you can kill a boss 2 seconds faster even though that 2 seconds faster happened 1 out of 5 tests, and the 2 were equal and the other 2 were slower.

So why is this phenomenon so common place in gamers? Because gamers look to be the best and look for short cuts to get there no matter the cost, and no matter how fake pretend humble they are. No gamer, none anywhere that claims themselves a gamer, actually practices what they preach of them just only being there to just enjoy the game. They want to be there to dominate the game and to be equal if not superior than others. Many will try to deny this facet, but it is true. So when it comes to being the best, BiS, no matter how hard it pushes against diminishing returns, sounds awesome to have.

It’s one of those issues of gamer mindset that won’t be going away soon, and with collective sheep mentality, it only takes a handful of people proclaiming how awesome an item is before the blinders go on and no one points out how hard a build with gear X is pushing against that diminishing returns wall and actually costing more effectiveness than helping it. It is amusing to watch these events though when people do believe in it, and the reason for that is because you get the people doing their damndest to try and prove that the 1% increase (if that) is far more helpful than the several percent you might lose somewhere else, of course.

February 17, 2015

If I Could Fix Champions...

I know it's been over a year since I've lasted posted here. Believe me, trying to get my head on straight in the light of other issues causes one to stop thinking much about anything. Needless to say, I hope I am back, and boy I am back with a vengeance as I post up this little rant, but without further ado, here we go.

Ah, Champions Online; a continued shit stain on the existence of Cryptic’s record where they continue to pretend they still care about the game, meanwhile wishing they could bury it and forget it existed. A game that is a remarkable failure, sabotaged both by the development team and its player base. A game that continues to exist despite obvious facts that nothing is really being done outside of token updates that might add a new string of easily completed missions in a year’s worth of time, while the sister games continue to pump out much larger content. And a game that, despite the obvious signs on what it really needs to intrigue outside players, the imbecilic player base continues to keep denying as if Champions is some special niche game, and not just another unpolished turd like its predecessor, City of Heroes. And event though someone will be hurt by that remark I liked CoH to, it still was highly unpolished and it showed, heavily.

I could harp on this subject all day, but facts are facts. Champions Online is going nowhere in its current state, and the remaining player base, over at the forums, are oblivious to that fact. They keep demanding $100,000 dollar updates when it’s obvious, if not confirmed, that the game has a budget of $100 bucks at most. Many of them are so damned deluded they think the fact they buy something from the store that all the sudden the game has an influx of money and there for the developers now have the resources to make whatever they want. Never mind that Champions store the items made are made with the intent that they sell enough just to cover making said items, and never mind the fact that many of them obviously failed economics; the same people that kept claiming City of Heroes was healthy, yet anyone who actually looked at the books would have seen the real story without so much as batting an eye.

So, what is the point of me writing this blog update? None really, I just feel like I should finally put out what I would have actually done differently than what cryptic did to Champions Online to better monetize the game and continue inspiring people to further play, as well as get new content updates in. The current game is not even worthy of being called a shadow of the Champions PnP game, and I think that’s actually pretty sad. It’s sadder to me it takes Cryptic North a full year to make five new missions, and one event for the game, and yet nothing else is really done.

I fully understand that what I am writing is too little too late, but this I think should be a cautionary tale for the future for other developers who are looking at ways to avoid similar fates.

Free to Play was an Absolute Mistake
Let’s ignore for a minute that the majority of vocal people on the Champions forums are greedy, selfish and pretty much view anything that has a price tag on it as a slap in the face and too expensive. Let’s pretend that costume prices in the cash shop Cryptic are not making at a net loss either, as was stated some time ago. Instead, let’s look at what the real core of the problem actually was; The Free to Play model. Cryptic made the worst mistake in history by making a lot of their in game stuff unlock for an entire account, at too cheap a price. I know that will ruffle some feathers but just stop trying to pretend, these games need money to survive.

First and foremost they tried to remove freeform builds and make them some mediocre archetype system. That was a mistake. What Cryptic should have done is picked one power set from each of the individual trees, then locked the rest behind pay walls. From there players could unlock the powers sets individually per character, or for a larger sum of money, unlock a power set for their entire account. Lifers would have still received their free cash shop coins, and players could pick and choose their power sets with freeform. Some would have bitched, but it’s high time people grew up.

The same could have been done with costumes, buy for individual characters, or a much large fee to unlock a costume set for the entire account. They could have even gone the individual route. Not only would Cryptic be making more money for champions, but the economy would actually be thriving in game as well as items would not be unlocked for entire accounts making them completely worthless in a couple of months.

Secondly, I would have made Champions buy to play, and kept the refer a friend program. A small wall, but one that still earns the game money for the game, and anyone who is smart should know money is what keeps MMOs going. Free to play is a devastating practice both financially and on your player base. So many draconian rules have to be made to account for the bad practices out their such as god sellers and spam bots that it ends up hurting new players more than anything.

Third, I would completely change and revalue the Questionite system as a whole. I would lock it per account, and the quests would be on a per account basis, no more of the players over inflating the economy and ruining the trade and thus ruining how much money you take in. The way questionite has been handled has pretty much been bad. I would have also completely changed the lockbox system, reducing the chance of the boxes dropping at for those players that have subscriptions, maybe given them a number of free keys on top of their monthly bonus, to opening them. And stop making the loot of lockboxes so pivotal.

Finally, and this one actually matters more, offering up special packages that offer up power sets and costume sets together for discounted prices on steam or the in game store, or hell, better yet, your own web site. They could have bundled the rock costume pieces with the earth set, or the wind powers with the Arabian Nights set, as an example, or things like VIPER costume pieces with the Serpents Lantern AP, and so on and so forth. So many missed opportunities because of basic mistakes like these.

Reboot the Game Completely
Another fantastic blunder is just the simple fact that despite they've not only launched two other titles, but one of them they resurrected from the depths of oblivion, and have turned it around, and the other it’s obvious they at least paid respect to the source material. They made a big hullabaloo about revamping Champions Stat system but all they really did was make it worse. They could have, instead, gone to the source material and basically fixed it from the ground up. I know that would have cost money but investing in Champions would have shown something not only to the current player base, but to those people outside of the game to, and might have sparked interest.

This is where the armchair developers come in and demand that I qualify that statement, or tell me how much time it takes to do development, etc, etc, etc. Yes, I know, I am well aware of how long development takes and such. But this does not excuse the fact that what should have been done when they had the chance and what was delivered was two different things. Hell, as much as the whiny, pissy player base might have complained, I don’t think many of them would have bitched as much if the entire system was gutted, redone and built better taking everything they learned from their other games to make a better experience in Champions.

First problem up; the game’s engine. Champions Online’s engine is now seven years old, at the youngest potentially. It’s actually quite a bit older if you consider the engine was originally designed for Marvel Online (ironic bit of history there). The problem of character data, etc, would have cropped up in a nano second thanks to this but honestly, one of Champions worst problems and a problem to this day is the engine needs to be upgraded badly. Transferring all that data to a new engine structure would have been time consuming but it would have shown faith from Cryptic if they did so. That means they could have updated all the architecture, added in new effects and abilities and given new properties to the engine as a whole.

Second problem; the stat system is a complete shambles. In Champions Online, you have eight main stats and a bunch of sub stats. Yet in the PnP, you have 6 main stats and of course a bunch of sub stats. For whatever reason, Cryptic decided to take and make two of the sub stats main stats (endurance and recovery) when they should have stuck with the core 6. Furthermore, they gave the core stats unlimited ranges instead of just capping them off at 100. Endurance is what the Energy bar should have been (maybe Cryptic didn't want to deal with NCSoft trying to bullshit their way into a lawsuit because the stat name would have been the same as CoH or something I don’t know) and Recovery should have been a stat you gained to increase your endurance recovery and recovery time on powers, IE what is described on the tin.

As far as the stats themselves, they tried to come up with some convoluted system where everyone gets a fair amount of damage to particular types of abilities from their super stats. Problem with this is that it just isn't working right and it shows as you got super smart characters doing similar damage punching things with their fists instead of using psi blasts or something else. So, instead I would have had each stat boost the damage based on type. For instance Strength would have boosted physical damage, while Dexterity would have boosted finesse type damage. Presence would be summon damage, Ego would have boosted mental, and Intelligence would have boosted energy damage. Constitution would have continued to give more health and also given some defense on top of it as well, but I would have made stat points finite, of course, and players assign them as they see fit as they level. Thus building the character they want and opening up hybrid options much better. Further bonuses would also be opened up as each role would grant special bonuses from their respective trees.

The sub stats I would have worked out to be much closer than what was given, and I certainly would have done something about the dodge thing, instead changing that to deflect a chance to reduce incoming damage. And instead I would have implemented the ability for players to choose to block or avoid damage with dodge mechanics similar to Neverwinter. Thus players could build tankier characters and so forth.

And speaking of roles, yea, that dreaded roles that every idiot afraid of responsibility will claim is the worst thing for MMOs, yet it seems the successful ones actually have them, but I digress, I would have made the roles stronger thus the players could build with a purpose. The hybrid role would have been nixed, there wouldn't be two damage roles and there would also be the controller role to help out controllers. All these stupid toggles for damage would be removed and instead either temp or permanent buffs that actually go for the entire team, not just the one player.

Of course you can’t change most of the above without changing the gearing. Unlike the old system, gear in this new Champions would be focused on secondary stats. Things like Offense (physical, mental, energy), critical hit chance, Defense (physical, mental, energy), Deflection, Recovery, so much could be done with this it isn't funny. Where the stats on a character represents the things the player sees, the secondary stats would fill in the rest to augment the abilities that the players want, and thus power sets could be more universal, while separate.

This gear revamp of course would add more than the standard 6 slots. Maybe a relic slot or something legendary things of that nature and artifacts. And the crafting system could be revamped to make crafting more important, but not necessarily choose the stats you want except maybe through special mod slots.

And of course this would mean better mobs, bosses and retooled everything. Maybe even streamlined zones making Millennium City more of a city with more area to explore and making other zones more of adventure zones, separating them instead of trying to mash them together. After all, Snake Gulch should not be mixed in with the Atomic Wasteland or Stronghold prison. This also means the dungeons could get revamped, redesigned from the ground up, and stop catering to solo players and instead start catering towards groups. While the forums will make believe it’s not true, group content is a necessity for the health of a theme park MMO.

Change the Power System Completely
You keep making the mistake and trying to homogenize powers and forgetting a ton of others. The one thing people play super hero games for you haven’t bothered to actually make anything in the system other than small additions to existing power sets. I know there are more power sets out there, because I’ve physically seen the design notes for them. Hell, you got a goddamn book from Champions that lists hundreds of power sets for you, and you own that IP.

The first mistake you made with the power sets was allowing people near unlimited freedom in picking and choosing powers from every power set. This should have been limited with limited choice outside of their core power sets. I don’t care what someone says, most heroes are not made up of fire, ice, air, gadgets and so forth. They are usually confined to a core set of powers, and Champions fails to deliver that. They don’t feel like super heroes anymore. Restrict the power choices then flesh out the power sets more giving them the core things they need such as defensives, offensives, controls and healing abilities that allows players to fulfill roles they want to. Give them some ability to choose outside of their core power set, but maybe only into tier 1, 2 at the max, of another power set.

For instance with healing I would not have made targetted healing, instead make healing a bonus effect from offensively or defensively playing. While some players don't mind watching healthbars, many players hate that facet and prefer to actually heal as they play. Again this is something you've learned in Neverwinter and have yet to apply to Champions for some odd reason. The same could be done for tanking and such as well. Let the passives and role choice determine if the player is a healer, DPS controller, or so on.

Change the point buy system for powers completely as well. Currently you have dozens of these power points that people use to increase powers. Instead, players should have to make the choice to buy a new power or buff a current power. Look at your Neverwinter system for examples as this could have been used greatly in Champions to amazing effect. Passive effects could have also been peppered throughout the trees to help so that the players could build their trays as they like.

And let’s not forget the talent system in Champions was a complete disaster. It just added more power and freeforms just picked what they liked the most. Instead should have done this; Instead of the talent point system, the talents players pick in game, could have given the player a choice to pick talents say one every five levels and these talents give a small bonus to certain aspects. For instance, if a player wants to build a tanky character they pick things that help their defense and deflection while making their threat better.

Finally, cut the number of slottable powers at a time down significantly. The Batman arguments and such can go away, as the build slots could be put to great use this way. Characters could set up their tank, damage, healing or control builds and swap to them as needed. This every power is usable at once was one of the worst decisions forced into during beta of Champions and it saddens me that Cryptic caved to that demand.

Some method of taunting and removing threat also needs to be introduced as well. Finally, travel powers are getting bloated from just the skins of skins. Players should get the TP at level 1, and be able to re-skin it with the alternate skins, as long as they bought the skin.

So much could have been done and yea, people will say hindsight is 20/20, but we are talking about something that should have been done in a reboot of the system from the get go. Champions needs a huge reinvestment now, and cryptic needs to show that they actually care about the franchise.

In closing this is the short and sweet of it;

  • Properly monetize the store

The game store is a disaster. Items that should have been on a per character basis are account wide. It’s obvious this store costs Cryptic more money than it makes even to a casual observer. I know most people would be against this because they think things are either too expensive already, or whatever excuse but then again most people think MMOs are charities and don't need money to survive. Takes money to make money, as the saying goes, and Champions made the mistake catering to the self-entitled crowd.

  • Reboot the game

The game needs a complete reboot, revamping systems and items as well as entire maps and reformatting them to make logical sense. Attempting to remove the silliness wouldn't be a bad idea either. Follow more closely to the source material.

  • Change the Powers System

The powers system in Champions is a travesty. It’s not a freedom of choice system as it doesn't even present the ability to make a super hero. Instead you have to follow exact powers and there is little reason to experiment. The fact new power sets have not been introduced in a very long time is also a travesty as well.

Now, the only problem, of course, is it’s very much too little too late. But, these are things I would have done ages ago. It’s just a shame that Cryptic doesn't want to invest and try to get champions to go somewhere, instead of letting it dwindle away and die. At the very least they could just reboot the franchise and start over from scratch, but I think they are gun shy about that and all things considered, what the player base is like from Champs and their former franchise, with the plethora of misinformation, I am not completely shocked it won’t happen. I just wish it would.

December 1, 2013

Two things that have been lost to MMOs in the past few years

It’s been a while since I posted anything here. There isn’t much I can say other than I have just been trying to keep my mind busy with all that has been happening lately, kind of a roller coaster ride I guess, but suffice it to say I guess I need to just get out there and talk a bit. Anyways, onto the point of this blog; one of the things that just came to mind recently was that the concept of my mind of the MMO identity. Now, this is not some singular thing but an encompassing idea that I personally feel has been slowly getting lost in the MMO.

Now it’s no secret that even to the casual observer that MMOs have been getting easier and less involved with the social aspect of the game in place of just focusing more on the singular experience. A noble goal, in its own right, but one that has blinded what the entire genre was about. Instead of creating worlds that are interesting to be in, a singular experience of objectives have been created that instead focus too much on a singular story that ultimate makes the player feel more like a bit piece in the end than someone that could potentially forge their own destiny. I’ve covered that before but there are other, smaller things I’ve been taking stock of that I feel has actually been hurting the whole experience.

So, what follows after this point is not an end all be all, but I feel that these two items demonstrate things that actually have removed the feeling of an immersive world in favor of just simplifying things and kind of excusing the need to put effort towards other objectives for this.

The Flow of Time
The flow of time is one of those things that I’ve been noticing has been getting sacrificed on the edifice of telling a story (not necessarily a good story, but a story). Some of the most recent MMOs released and those currently under development have even taken this one step further by completely removing any day and night sequencing in the game. The time is always locked to one particular time of day and it’s something that players won’t notice at first, but as they continue to play, they begin to notice that the sun never sets, or it is always dusk, or even just night time.

The whole goal of this, from a developer and storyteller’s perspective, is to create atmosphere, but in doing this it does something very jarring that is subtle but your brain notices immediately; there is no sense of scope or passage of time. Now while this effect can be done beautifully without ever removing the whole concept of day and night from the game, it irrevocably demonstrates that the flow of time is being lost, and any concept of the story “advancing” seems lost when you do quests in their game that are basically from 3+ years ago next to events that are supposedly be happening as part of a future.

This creates what I generally call a world frozen in time effect. The absence of any true time progression is sacrificed in favor of allowing newcomers to partake in these quests and thus either new “future” quests are placed beside older quests, creating some very jarring time experiences, or new areas have to be introduced that are far out of time compared to the old areas, thus creating yet another dichotomy as one passes from the old into the new it almost feels like stepping through a bubble as one area is locked in a perpetual state and the new area is suppose to be three years ahead of that last event.

It just fascinates me that this basic concept of a world that actually advances in real time has been lost so readily to the whims of the story, and the attempt to appease people that weren’t there, that they try so hard to appease everyone, but the end result is just mediocre at best.

I never understood why players and even developers are afraid to let the time line advance anymore, and to remove old quests from the game to represent this passage of time. It’s not like anything from those old areas would even quantify as needful things, as the items themselves have lost any meaning or value when the game reaches that point in theme park games. But then again that is the problem in itself, the desire to make a theme park instead of an actual, interesting world that players want to keep coming back to instead of just a bunch of strung along stories that may or may not be good.

Part of the reason MMOs don’t have much staying power anymore these days is because of that lack of desire to create a living world and make the story apart of that world instead of just trying to create set pieces around a story. A story has to progress to be good, and always having the old set piece sin place can be more problematic than helpful in the long run.

Player Tools are often Missing
Outside of the misanthropes who think socializing is something that they never need, MMOs are very much social experiences. Personally I think if you hate playing with others then complaining about being required to team in an MMO is not exactly the fault of the game, but with yourself. But, the squeaky wheel always gets the grease and more and more the entire concept of the social tools for players have been getting removed slowly. Just areas to idle and converse or areas to do things that would evoke a sense of belonging to the world, these things that some of the oldest MMOs had are not even given though to anymore these days for the modern MMO genre.

Doors are closed to houses, never to be opened, while things like auction houses and smithy’s are becoming less and less social outlets and more and more private ones away from the contact of fellow players. Hell, some games have even given tools to remove other players completely from ones screen, thus removing any sense of the whole multi-player aspect of the game.

Then there is perhaps the biggest victim of all; the crafter. Crafters were one of the biggest outlets for social experiences in an MMO. Long ago, a crafter never had to be someone that focused on being an adventurer; in fact a crafter never had to pick up a sword once. But, as games have gone, the idea of the crafter became something of a taboo as companies kept thinking up ways to get players to play in their carefully constructed dungeons. The result, what crafters made was less important than what a player found in the heart of a dungeon.

Adding insult to injury, going out and trying to gather up resource nodes became a level locked past time, instead of allowing for the idea that players actually enjoyed just doing that. Resource nodes were considerably shrunk down in number, and their placement often dictating that the player had to join his fellow adventurers and level and gear up through the dungeons. Indeed, the crafter found that to create gear of equal level to what they needed, they often had to be much higher level to create the gear, thus destroying the whole concept in one fell swoop. Thus, the life of a crafter ended. This signaled the beginning of the end for the social experience of MMOs, as gearing and dungeon runs became more important and socializing and getting to know your fellow players became less important.

In today’s MMO, the idea that socializing past a weekly event is considered taboo. Many players are still trying to rally against even those as the requirements for these runs continue to decline. The number of participants for raids has drastically been declining. And big encounters are no longer events that one might see, but now turn style encounters that you do every week or few days now. The removal of such social aspects has created what amounts to drones doing what they are programmed to do in the end, and while some find those activities fun, it is no longer an MMO experience, and more or less a multiplayer game experience session.

This of course just creates what is laughingly known as mega servers (something Zenimax is trying to claim they are pioneering, but many MMOs have been using for 8+ years now). It’s an interesting quandary, the whole aspect lately has been to remove as much social interaction for MMOs, then why are developers going out of their way to force as many players together then? The short answer is, they want to get players to socialize, but of course they don’t understand how they can do that in the current dynamic of the MMO world they’ve created. They are afraid to give players the tools and a sandbox, as it might go against their ideals, so they put the cages and leashes on, but tell us to enjoy.

The thing is it can’t really be enjoyed when you know what you are doing has no potential outcome to affect anything. Personalizing a story in a world where thousands of players are playing in the same space at the same time just doesn’t have an impact. The whole idea of trying to recreate a single player experience in an MMO just doesn’t work like developers like to believe. There is a reason that MMOs have never reproduced the success that WoW has, and even WoW is showing signs of losing steam.

WoW started making a lot of design choices specific for their own game, and as a result it worked for them. But they’ve continually been amputating all the bits and pieces that MMOs use to have that players enjoyed that has resulted in a loss of self in the long run. MMOs blur together now, because playing one is like playing the others. Differences might range in UI and names, and maybe some control schemes, but fundamentally they are the same games now with a different coat of paint. You spend all your time, rarely even paying attention to whatever story might be there, just to get the objectives and move on. Some devs are trying to get clever and lengthen the quests with micro objectives in their objectives but it still the same deal.

In the most basic sense, MMOs should be massive sandbox worlds that players have the tools to create their own adventures. It’s sad to me that players need intentional guidance and handholding to be inspired to go explore that cave, or check out what might be at the top of the mountain. If the game play was there from the beginning, a part of the world as a whole; players wouldn’t need to see NPC # 374 to be told to kill those wolves, the player would do it themselves as they would want to get the skins for their leatherworking to create armor for themselves or their friends.

You wouldn’t need quests every step of the way to make a player feel like they are progressing and you wouldn’t need the game. To tell a story you would just have events happen that players can be a part of, they get to see them unfold and participate with quests specific for them, but not something the player has to work up to through some misguided notion that the player might be lost of what’s going on because they didn’t do the zone beforehand. It’s honestly time to get back to making the MMO what it used to be about and not try to just take single player games and slap MMO on them, because in the end, developers can’t create content fast enough to keep the player interest that long.

July 16, 2013

Confusing Gear to Play as Learn to Play

One thing you will often hear in the world of MMOs in general and gaming at large is the term, learn to play. Now this can often be abbreviated many ways and many of you have probably seen the various ways it can be spelled, abbreviated and other ways such as L2P, lrn2ply, learn2play and quite possibly many more out there that I don’t know or have tuned out not to even bother remembering them. In a previous blog, I stated in the context of the phrase, learn to play, it is generally used as an insult by some people to denote how much better they are than some people. But in the reality that the actual phrase falls in, learning to play like those players denote, generally doesn’t mean what they think that phrase means.

Let me clarify a bit; in past games, your actual skill and ability determined a lot of your playing power in various games long ago. However, in this day and age your skills and abilities have relatively been replaced by automated systems, assistance programs or even the lowest of the low, what is known as pay2win type deals that actually give a significant boost to your character’s actual growth or abilities. In these type of systems there is really no learning curve so the term Learn to Play doesn’t even remotely apply. This is what is not as well-known as a term called Gear to Play.

Now gearing to play takes many forms in games these days, the most common of which is obviously in the title of the description; getting gear for your character to increase their relative power or give them more damage in their attacks or more useful abilities. This is an obvious point of that statement but there is an additional layer to this, one that is becoming more prevalent in games in general but has been a staple of MMOs for a long time, which is the leveling up system which provides increases to the characters relative power in itself, but when these two types of systems are combined the general concept of learning to play as many would present it is completely thrown out the window.

Now in gear based progression systems, gear is very powerful. In many cases they make up a huge chunk of the character development. The level based progression generally uses levels as a sort of small benchmark for this, with increasing power on a relative curve system, with the curve generally spiking higher the higher level a character goes. But even in games where levels just only unlock things like new combos or new guns, levels are still important because access to those new types of gear are important to the overall growth of the character, and in many cases some of the powers, combinations or gear items are so powerful that progression through the game otherwise would be monumentally difficult at best, to near impossible at worst.

While “learning to play” does have a small part in these types of systems, over all in the longevity of the game, they play a very small part and at the end of the day what determines your overall ability will be your level and your gear/abilities you are given to that character. This presents the issue that skill is less important to the overall play experience and more emphasis on your time investment to find items.

Now is this solely the fault of developers with these types of systems in play? Not really, again this stems back to the whiney, self-entitled lot that we gamers actually are. Gamers are highly competitive, no matter what they claim, and many out there can’t handle the fact that someone could actually be better than they are by default, so they’ve demanded that developers put in overt handicaps into the system at large to give a leg up for players that either refuse to or just can’t improve themselves to get better. Is it a bad system? No, not in the least, but sometimes things just go too far.

Now, of course, when you take a step back and look at everything as a whole, you realize the entire system blew up in the faces of the whining mass of gamers, because instead of it being a learning system where you utilize placement, timing and such to their fullest, now it’s a time based system of investment and those that have more time will be ahead of those that don’t. The end result, the playing field is now even wider a part as the skilled players now has the handicaps on top of their own skills to give them an even greater boost. The result, gamers inadvertently, through our own petulant demands (and we were rude about it on many occasions, which makes me wonder how devs could stand it) have created the gaming world at large where it isn’t a matter of just learning the system anymore it’s also a matter of putting in the time to get the gear to play.

In short, gamers and developers need to take a large step back. Learning curves have been replaced by easy hand outs and gearing systems that try to replace the need of skill with either easy lock on targeting, insane power boosting systems, or just giving out insane weapons that completely replace any need for relative skill anymore. In short, learn to play practically doesn’t even exist anymore especially in most MMOs. It’s gear to play or go home. Skill hasn’t really been a part of such systems for a long time as gear progression systems continuously replace the need of learning skills and abilities to actually improve yourself.