Archive for the ‘MMO’s’ Category

Thoughts on Grouping

Syncaine just wrote a post regarding his hope that WAR, through it’s open group and public quest system, will make grouping a more viable and enjoyable form of leveling. He states that WoW has created a mentality within players that has made us jaded when it comes to PuGs, and I certainly believe this to be true. There is simply too much that can go wrong when it comes to PuGs that make players extremely weary to try. I’m going to focus on two inter-connected problems with PuGs that I believe make up their biggest flaws.

Risk vs. Reward

I’m using the term risk here very loosely. The risk I’m speaking of is mostly referring to the potential for wasted time. Say you find three other people looking to run Slave Pens. All you need is a healer, so you tell them you’ll wait until they find a healer and then head to Coilfang Reservoir. “Sweet, we just found a healer!” they tell you. You make your way over there from killing eels for a quest. Just as you resurface inside, you ask the question you hope the leader has already asked, yet secretly know they haven’t. “(insert name here), you can heal for us, right?” Several seconds pass before he says, “I’m prot specced, but I’ll be able to heal fine.” Now is where it gets interesting, because there are so many potential options and outcomes. I won’t bore you with all of them because I’m sure you’ve been down this road like I have dozens of times. The point is, almost without exception, you will end up wasting an unnecessary amount of time and likely get nothing to show for it, or you’ll cut your losses and head back to the eels. With so much potential for failure and the possibility that you won’t get any gear and only a fraction of the xp for soloing, is it really worth taking the chance?

Rewards of soloing vs. grouping

Whether it’s in an instance or just working on a quest, many games today offer no xp boost for grouping. In Asheron’s Call, eight players in a group could earn 33% of the total xp which created a huge incentive to group. While leveling was a bit stale in AC and xp wouldn’t need to be that high in games today (due to their quest-based nature,) there still should be some increase when grouping is involved. It’s almost as if developers see grouping for additional xp as an exploit. While I can understand the prevention of power-leveling by reducing the xp earned by much lower level character, why should even-level players be penalized for playing together? This just doesn’t seem right to me. When I’m grouping I don’t want to have to think about whether they are a burden or not. I’d much rather focus on enjoying my time with them and playing the game. With that said, If I can solo a quest with ease, why should I cut out some of my xp by bringing another player along? I truly wish this was not the case, though.

In games that are built around social interaction, why would developers make it more lucrative to play by yourself than with other people? I think it’s a case of players wanting more solo content because grouping was too forced before, but now developers have gone so far to the other end of the spectrum that they’ve actually taken nearly all of the incentive out of grouping, even penalizing it. If you want to group anyway, you just have to understand that you are going to be penalized for it a good deal of the time because developers are afraid you will level too fast with extra xp from grouping. Yes, instances require that you have other players to help you, but when the chance is so great (I’d go so far as to say that 30-50% of all PuGs are failures in some form or another) that you won’t get the gear (which I addressed here) you want and you won’t get hardly any xp (when compared to soloing,) why not simply put grouping off until it is absolutely necessary? I know I do, and I think it sucks.

While I certainly hope that WAR will help to change this mentality, I think it will be hard to unlearn everything that WoW and other MMOs have taught us about grouping. If the rewards don’t balance with the potential for wasted or unpleasant time spent with others, then nothing will have changed. Since player skill level and maturity are things that can be as different as night and day, it’s tough to always know whether a raid/mission/quest/instance are going to be successful before it starts, so players are naturally going to be skeptical. Only time will tell whether grouping, and more specifically pugging, will once again be revitalized as the chosen method of leveling as opposed to that dreaded thing we all must face at one point or another.

~Kanthalos

P.S. WAR open beta in just over a week, I can’t wait!!

Can We Get It Back?

If you read this blog, it’s pretty safe to assume that you have played an MMO before, and if you have, chances are you have very fond memories of your first. It will always hold a special place in your gaming heart, and you will never truly forget the places and the people you encountered in your time there. For me, this is Asheron’s Call, though for many others it’s EQ, Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, WoW, AC2, or pretty much any MMO to date. For me, I’ve always been looking for something to replace the euphoria and obsessive behavior that accompanied my time spent running around Dereth, but I’ve never quite gotten there. I’ve played over a dozen MMO’s since Asheron’s Call, but nothing has really drawn me in the way it did. I suppose this is to be expected as the first time is usually the most memorable with many things, MMO’s included. That said, is it fair to say that we shouldn’t or couldn’t try to get as close to that feeling again as possible? I don’t think so. If this were the case, we should have stopped playing MMO’s after we tired of the first one we played. We don’t, however, because we understand that improvements are being made every day to MMO’s currently out and those being developed for the future.

So why is it that our positive experiences don’t really seem to carry from our first MMO experience to all the others we’ve played since? The obvious response is that no two games are the same and expectations change as these games evolve. The reasons we loved our first might have been an afterthought or purposely minimized or not included at all in another game. No one with any common sense would ever implement Asheron’s Call melee combat system into a game now, and this is true for many of the systems that these games used. The problem is that by the time you change all of these systems to modernize them, the game that you loved so much is nothing more than a shadow. This is typically why sequels struggle so much. Just look at AC2 for evidence. Not only was it plagued by bugs on all levels, but they altered the game so drastically from the first that most of the AC1 players hated it. It’s reasonable to speculate that if the bugs hadn’t been there it would have had a much different result, but I think regardless, they would have been shooting for different market because the game was so incredibly different. The combat system was changed, the skill tree was added to replace the skill system that was used in AC1 (one that I truly miss and would love to see again in the future.) These two changes alone were enough to make it feel as though this wasn’t a sequel at all, so it made it very difficult for AC1 players to jump straight over, and instead many went on to other games completely.

Not only do we have to consider the game itself, but the way our lives have changed since then. Back in 1999, I was just entering high school with far less responsibilities than I have now. Granted, I am currently unemployed, but between looking for a job and taking care of other things, the time I have to play is much more limited than it was back then. I would literally spend 3-5 hours every night after school playing, and this is simply not feasible, or really desired, now. So since I have less time to play and less desire to spend that much time playing, does this mean that I can’t get as invested in a game, and therefore, won’t get as much out of it? I don’t think so. At least, I don’t think that should be the case. If I’m forced to spend 30-40 hours a week playing an MMO to fully enjoy it, then it’s not something that I’m going to be willing to do. If I WANT to play that much, it’s a completely different story (not that I actually would play that much) and I think it’s serving it’s purpose.

Taking into account that these games are constantly being upgraded and changed, can we really get back that experience that we long for? I really don’t think so personally, but I do think that when we find the game that suits us best that is a really good product, we will create a new set of memories and consider them to be equally valuable. Whether that means a fantasy-based game or not, I don’t know, but I do know that as long as I enjoy MMO’s, I will be looking for this type of experience again.

~Kanthalos

Third-Party Websites: Do Developers Like Them or Not?

This is a question that I really started pondering while writing the last piece, as guidance and third-party website are basically synonymous. If the MMO you are currently playing doesn’t make a solution to your problem (whether it be a quest, a location, an NPC) readily apparent, where is the first place you are going to turn? Well, occasionally the answer to this will be other players. There are many occasions where looking it up on a website is going to be much more expedient and accurate than asking a friend, though. I can usually figure out anything that I need to know within 30-45 seconds of alt-tabbing out of the game I’m playing to find the solution to whatever’s troubling me, so why would I sit around and bug other players until I come up with an answer that may or may not even be right?

Knowing full-well how valuable these tools are, I wonder whether developers feel a certain dependency on these websites or whether they feel that they are making things too easy. To help keep things organized, I’ll break it up into four sections:

Pro’s for developers:

  • It allows them to keep some of the excess information out of the game that might bog it down unnecessarily.
  • It allows for mistakes or poor directions. If they screw something up, the players will find it and post it on these sites, which means other players will be able to easily avoid these problems and make their gameplay smoother.

Con’s for developers:

  • It prevents the use of a lot of quest and gaming functions in general. Things like scavenger hunt quests are completely worthless because the coordinates will be posted in minutes and many players will simply look up exactly where they need to go.
  • Not everything players look up on these sites is due to the fault of the developers. In many cases it’s due to the fact that players are lazy and they want the fastest way to the best reward possible. It can make things too easy for players, which could mean that a great deal of time and hard work was for nothing because players skip around certain content to save time and effort.

Pro’s for players:

  • They can always find information that they need, whether they should be looking it up or not. As stated earlier, it means that they don’t have to suffer quite so much for errors that the developers make because other players can explain what they need to do.
  • They can find all sorts of guides/hints/tips that the developers don’t have the time and/or resources to provide. Knowing what skills to choose or which class would fit you best can be wonderful things, and they don’t really hurt the way you the game should be played, they just help players make better decisions that will only increase the enjoyment they get.

Con’s for players:

  • While it’s completely subjective, having all of this extra information at your fingertips can make many aspects of the game far easier than they should be, and quite possibly less rewarding in the process. Finding the coordinates to the hidden cave means you are running around aimlessly looking for it, however, you likely won’t get the satisfaction you would stumbling across it after an hour-long search.

Though these don’t necessarily cover every point around this issue, it does provide a strong foundation for determining whether or not these sites are a bane or a boon to developers. I believe that without them, many aspects of these games would be unbelievably irritating and far too time-consuming, but I also think that they make things too easy and take some of the fun out of the game. They aren’t going to go away because the demand for them is so great, so what needs to change? Does anything need to change in the first place? Are developers thankful for these sites, or do they feel that they damage the game in some way? I have to lean towards thankful. There is only so much information and guidance that developers can build into their games, so if other players are going to pick up the slack and make things more manageable, I can’t imagine that they would shun that. Granted, there are some limitations placed on design because secrets won’t remain secrets very long, and players can skip through content that they perhaps shouldn’t, but I think the pro’s on both sides are strong enough that developers are willing to deal the the downsides in order to make their game better with the use of third-party websites.

~Kanthalos

Hand-Holding in MMO’s: Do We Want It?

After not having internet access for the past three days because our provider has some serious issues, it’s finally back up and running (for now.)  Having said that, I didn’t get the chance to write up a post that I had been brewing over for a couple days; In fact, I’d left a draft open with the title to this post so that I wouldn’t forget about it.  After doing some surfing around the blogosphere to catch up on a weekend’s worth of posts, I saw that Tobold had already touched on the topic briefly.  Now that he’s gotten the ball rolling, I’ll delve a little deeper.

We all have different needs, and MMO’s are no different.  Some of us prefer lots of guidance with someone or something constantly leading the way, providing clues and answers to all of our questions.  Others prefer to have a general path to follow before being sent on their way to discover things for themselves.  Still others would rather be dropped in the middle of nowhere with absolutely no sense of direction to go where they please and do what they please.  These are all valid points of view, and all provide different levels of satisfaction and comfort.  Knowing this means understanding that it can pose a difficult problem to solve for MMO developers, though.  Players from all sorts of backgrounds with all sorts of preferences and expectations are bound to try certain games, and the developers want to keep all of them happy and entertained, but how can they cater to such a wide assortment of potential customers, and yet keep them all satisfied… or can they? This is a question that has never been more prevalent than now, with an ever-increasing number of MMO’s headed our way.  I’ll take a look at three games that help show the two extremes as well as the mid-point.

EvE Online:
On one end of the spectrum there is EvE Online, which is known well for its “throw you to the dogs” approach.  They have made changes recently to try to break or at least shift this stereotype to help bring in more casual players, but it’s still by far the toughest MMO to break into.  Some people thrive in these situations, and they wouldn’t want it any other way.  Others simply can’t do it.  They get too overwhelmed and confused, and quit.  To be perfectly honest, this is the way I felt when I tried EvE about a year ago. I understand that this is the way many players prefer for things to work, and greatly enjoy it, however that’s not the way I prefer things to be, so I didn’t pursue this game.  Can a game with this style work?  Of course, or EvE wouldn’t be the success that it is.  Does that mean that it would hurt to make their game a bit more casual-friendly?  I’ll get to this later.

EverQuest2:
This is a good middle-of-the-road MMO in terms of guidance from the game itself.  You are provided with a somewhat brief tutorial for many aspects of the game, but the average gamer (or non-gamer) whose first MMO is EverQuest 2 is likely going to struggle quite a bit trying to learn everything as they go. Even MMO veterans have had problems understanding everything within this game as they get started with it.  SOE has made progress in leaps and bounds towards improving this, but has it been enough?  Without the assistance of other players or websites to help guide the way, players can easily be turned off before they have even had the chance to truly judge the game.  With that in mind, there are players who get much more satisfaction out of figuring out the nuances of the game on their own than if they had been provided everything they needed.  There are a great deal of these people, and they deserve to have a playstyle that fits them, but can you make a game successfully that caters solely to this audience?  Well, yes, but it’s not going to be as successful as if you catered to others as well.

World of Warcraft:
World of Warcraft is known for being the most casual-friendly MMO around (which seems evident based on its subscription numbers alone.)  it does an excellent job of leading players along while not making them feel dumb in the process.  They let players know what they are supposed to do without suffocating them or making them feel like a puppet.   If you’re on your third or fourth character and don’t care to read all the tips they provide or complete the starter areas, you can skip ahead if you like and jump into the heart of the game right way.  Even yet, there are still plenty of times when, as Tobold pointed out, players will find themselves using third-party resources to determine what to do or where to go next.  Does Blizzard provide players with enough information to get along, or do they need to include more at the risk of bombarding players with a great deal of unnecessary information?  It’s definitely a tough balance to find.

WoW certainly appears to be the game that got the most things right.  They provide the players with enough guidance (leading you around with quests, providing information through NPC’s, etc.) that players generally understand what they should be doing, but it doesn’t seem to be forced.  The guidance is there for the taking, but no one is making you use it.

No game has found the perfect solution, which is of course to cater equally to all sets of players.  Can this really be done, though?  Can you really make a game that provides for the most hard-core players who’ve spent ten years playing MMO’s who just want to dive right in, yet also provides everything necessary for an MMO virgin?  More importantly, can it be done without sacrificing the integrity and the vision of the game?  With an MMO like EvE, if the player base feels like they’ve been betrayed and their game has gone to the casual carebears, then they could lose a good chunk of their valued customers in the process. If they can maintain the feel it currently posesses while providing more casual players with a way in, however, they could dramatically increase their subscriptions.  It’s all a matter of what the players want and what the developers are trying to (and are able to) deliver.

I suppose a big portion of this question falls to the use of third party websites.  Pretty much anything can be found out on these sites, and can make gaming a great deal easier.  Does this mean that developers have the right to depend on these sites for players to find all of their information they need, or is it their responsibility to put this information into the game to reduce the number of times players need to use them?  How do you know what the right amount of information is enough and how much is too much?  I think it depends on the game that’s being built and what the players expect along with that.  It’s certainly not a “one size fits all” situation, which means that finding the right balance is always going to be difficult.

So where do you fit?  How much guidance do you prefer to have along with your MMO’s?  Are you an explorer who wants to run around freely and still progress, or do you prefer a very linear path that gets you  (literally or figuratively) from point a to point b?  Do you prefer to get all answers on “thottbot,” or would you like to have them right in the game?  Let me know 🙂

~Kanthalos

How to Get More People to Buy Your MMO

After reading this brief article over at Massively, it got me thinking about whether players just have to bite the bullet and buy an MMO to determine whether they were going to like it or not. I think this is completely ridiculous to be perfectly honest. Why should we be forced to pay for a game that we know very little about? Most MMO’s do offer trials of either one or two weeks to give the player a brief glimpse into their game to decide whether they want to keep playing or not, however they are usually for brief periods of time, rather than ongoing. I think one or two weeks (if you find the trial while it’s available) is simply not enough time to determine whether they like the game or not. For the majority of players using these trials, they already have an MMO that they are playing and just want to try a new one on the side, which means that the developers should be doing everything they can to try to take the customer away. A couple weeks might only mean 8-10 hours of time that they spend with your game. How can anyone say that you get a fair assessment of an MMO, a game that can potentially be played for months (in-game,) after only 8-10 hours of play? One month is a much better time-frame. Everyone gets busy from time-to-time, some moreso than others. Several times I have signed up for a week-long trial and only ended up getting to sit down and play for one or two of those nights due to unforseen circumstances, and of course didn’t purchase the game. If I had been able to play for an entire month, my chances of finding something worthwhile in the game would have been much higher, and even if I didn’t, it wouldn’t have mattered anyways since I didn’t purchase the game to begin with.

All the developers risk losing by offering a month is two weeks of play, but they have so much to gain. Here are three very likely scenarios that could occur:

Scenario 1. The player decides that they don’t enjoy the game enough to purchase it. In this case, you’ve only allowed them to play an extra two weeks, but effectively works the same as a one or two week trial.

Scenario 2. The player decides that they enjoy the game enough to purchase it. After their free month of play, they lost their desire to play and cancelled. In this case, you’ve got the purchase price of the game out of them, and they can resubscribe whenever they feel like it now.

Scenario 3. The player decides they absolutely love the game, purchase it, and play it for the next 2-3 years.

Obviously, these situations can still occur with shorter trials, but the chances of success are greater with a longer trial, while costing the company almost nothing extra to let them try it for longer. Once you give the trial a go, you have to wait six months to try it again. This gives the game enough time to make some improvements and add content, but it’s spread out enough for the player that they can’t just keep getting a free month of play whenever they want. It just doesn’t make sense that MMO’s wouldn’t have a longer trial (that is always available) when the content is typically 5-10x greater than a typical video game with profits potentially at 200-300%.

~Kanthalos

An Unsung Moneymaker in MMO’s

Everyone is always talking about how much money MMO’s make through subscriptions. This is certainly where the vast majority of earnings come from for these games, but what about character transfers, as well as the recent paid name change?

This seems like an immense source of revenue for these games. Let’s just look at my past history of character transfers on the two accounts I’m associated with. When my wife decided she wanted her own account to play her mage on a while ago, we did that, so that cost $25. Next, I transferred my druid off of a server that I wasn’t playing on anymore. Another $25. Now recently, as stated in the last post, four of our characters got transferred to our new server which was another $100. I also disliked the name I picked upon transferring, which I spent $10 to change. That’s $160 total.

One of our friends who transferred to the new server is bringing six characters! $150

Another friend has brought two characters — $50

Another friend is bringing three — $75

Another friend has brought two — $50

Another friend has brought two — $50

This means that we have spent a total of $475 just to transfer these character from the original server to this server, not to mention the additional $60 I spent on the other transfers, the name change, or any other transfers my friends have made. That’s $535 ON TOP OF the subscriptions we are paying for the game. Character transfers are constantly happening, and I can see situations like ours being somewhat commonplace. With all that said, I would love to know exactly how much World of Warcraft and EverQuest 2 are making on these transfers in addition to their subscription revenue.

~Kanthalos

A Modern MMO without “Thottbot”?

Even back in 1999 when I first started playing Asheron’s Call ( several months after release) there was a website around that was there to post all of the monthly patch info with all the quest walkthroughs and other new additions to the game. It was a life-saver, it really was. Without that website, it was nearly impossible to find consistent, helpful information in a timely manner when trying to do the quests. It could be done, but it was simply a question of conveniece. You and your guildmates could take several hours trying to do it yourselves, or you could have the whole thing completed in a half an hour with the reward in your pack. Though I never played EQ, it sounds like Allakhazam was the same way (which has expanded since then.) Today we still have Allakhazam, Thottbot, WowHead, etc. that answer virtually every question we have, whether it’s from the actual information they give or the comments posted by players. With this in mind, I guess the question that I’m asking is two-fold:

Are there any players who choose not to use any of this information, and does this add to the immersion and role-playing aspects of the game at all?

I think for me its a question of whether it’s there or not. I love the idea of asking players for help on how to complete a quest, but this also means that a player has to be willing to help me out with an answer. Also, I don’t want to feel like an annoyance or a burden to my friends or guildmates if I need information they have (and likewise, I could see myself being annoyed after answering too many questions.) That said, if I can pop out to a website and get the information in 30 seconds, then I’m going to do that.

Is there a way to actually create a game that would require the aid of other players in gaining information that couldn’t simply be put on a website for all to see? Continuing this line of though, would players be willing to play with a system like this or would they get too frustrated that they couldn’t always find a walkthrough or coordinates or the name of the vendor they need instantly?

Like the last question, it’s something that’s difficult to answer if you aren’t presented with both options. There are times when I can’t find the answer I need and I become frustrated, yet there are times when this lack of a direct answer seems like a nice challenge. This largely depends on my mood, as well as how long it takes me to find the solution.

What do you think? Would you be willing to play a game where answers were more secretive, held closely to the chest? Is this ever going to be possible again?

~Kanthalos

Why Penalize Players For Grouping?

Asheron’s Call (I’m assuming like EQ from what I’ve heard) was filled with grinding. LOTS of grinding. Back then, we didn’t care so much. We didn’t know any better and we grew to accept it. You went from one tusker dungeon to the next killing a black tusker instead of a red and black tusker (for those of you who don’t know, they are basically gorillas with big, well… tusks.) You got to know the people as you spent more and more time in the same dungeons with them. You’d join a fellowship with them (a group basically, with up to (nine?) people) and chat away with them as you mindlessly hacked away at whatever you were grinding on. If a fellowship was full when you got there, you waited in line for someone to leave and take their place.

In most games today, grouping up while grinding is pretty much unheard of. Why? Because if you are a proficient “grinder” (mmm, tasty) and you group with someone who isn’t as skilled as your or their class isn’t well suited for it, you will get less xp than by yourself because most games have you split xp evenly. Asheron’s Call was different, though. If you were grouped with one other person, you each got 75% of the total xp, and with each additional person in the group, this dropped a little bit, so with a full fellowship (either eight or nine) every person got 33% of the xp. Think about that for a second… nine people each getting a third of the xp. I think more games could use a system like this. It encourages people to play together, and for those people who enjoy a good grind from time to time (myself included) this would be a great way to do that without feeling like you are actually earning less xp than questing. Obviously, the situation in AC was different. Questing was the exception, rather than grinding, so increasing xp in groups was a must, no doubt about it. Why, though, does this mean that games that have a quest-centric system don’t have to give bonus xp to groups? It doesn’t. It’s like the developers say “well, they are getting extra xp for doing the quest, so why give them even more xp for doing it with another person?” This just seems flawed in my opinion. An MMO’s greatest attribute is the fact that you are playing WITH OTHER PEOPLE. I know that sometimes you want to have some time to yourself, but if you do want to do a spend some time with a friend without a real goal in mind (or just for questing) you shouldn’t be penalized for it.

~Kanthalos

Alternatives to XP-Based Leveling

Damianov saw a concept for leveling that involved ranking quests by difficulty and then advancing based on completing so many quests of a certain rank. He admits that there are some flaws with the system. There is definitely some great potential as well, though. I’ll look at both.

The main flaw with a system like this is that everything in the game would have to be quest based. Even if everything wasn’t stuck in a city, I think this would give the game a very strong “DDO” feel. No one is going to want to fight their way through a bunch of mobs that give no reward in order to get to the content that they can progress with, so it would be all of these encounters spread out across the land. I guess one solution to this would be to have random mobs strewn about that provide gear or other materials, while the quests are how you advance, but again, I don’t think people would want to spend half their time advancing their character and half their time finding gear, with no common ground.

Another problem with this system is the conflict of instancing vs. camping. If everything was instanced, this would obviously prevent camping but instances are horrible immersion-breakers. There’s nothing like climbing up to a “griffon’s nest” (example used by Damianov) when a load screen pops up and everyone else disappears. I just don’t think I could do this personally. That said, I also don’t enjoy the thought of a riotous mob of players waiting 45 minutes for their shot to steal the egg when it respawns.

So what is a possible solution to this? Have enough quests that they can simply do another one. This means an enormous number of quests, and by quests, I don’t me “kill 10 rats” or “deliver this to Bob, standing six feet away from me.” I mean true, meaningful quests. The whole idea behind this system is that you feel like your quests matter, otherwise why would they be your only source of advancement? This is good and bad. This means that quest designers actually have to put their thinking caps on and create some intriguing quests that really challenge and entertain the players. This also means though, that they have to come up with an incredible amount of these.

For example: Assume you have to complete 15 of these at each level, and there are 25 levels, that’s 375 quests, and you are probably going to want at the very least twice that many to leave some options including a mix of solo and group quests and long and short, that’s 750 quests. Furthermore, once you get the higher levels, like almost all games, quests are going to become much more intricate, difficult, and time-consuming. It’s going to to difficult to make quests that seem important that don’t take more than 20-30 minutes. If all your quests take an hour, that’s going to make questing very difficult for a lot of players, especially if you have to find a group to do them before you go. This balance can surely be found, but it will take a lot more planning and writing to find it.

This is highly ambitious, and would take a lot of work. If you don’t have enough content to keep the players interested long enough due to a lack of quests and/or make the leveling curve too easy, players are going to reach max level far too soon and be left with nothing to do and leave. There are other elements to keep them there, such as crafting or PvP, but that’s a different topic.

The last real problem I have with this is that even if quests are more fulfilling, I couldn’t help but feel like I was being lead around being told what to do. I think there needs to be some balance between player freedom and being sent from one spot to the next. I think this would also force developers to feel like they had to fill every inch of their world with quests since there would be nothing between them (mobs) and then it would feel more like an amusement park than an MMO.

I’m all for getting more interactive, challenging, and all around fun quests in MMO’s, but if they aren’t implemented well in this system, it will absolutely kill the game as it’s how you level. To date, I haven’t found a game that has quests that are more than tasks. Warhammer looks like its going to start to break this trend, but until we see more of it, I think this goal is too ambitious to build an entire game around. I’m barely scratching the surface of this concept (in a somewhat incoherent fashion,) but those are my initial thoughts, I’d love to know your opinions on it.

~Kanthalos

Stop Stereotyping MMO Communities

Perhaps I’m preaching to the choir here, but I am getting absolutely sick and tired of going to forums and reading about how this or that MMO’s community sucks and they ruined my gaming experience. Just stop. Please. We’re sick of hearing it and frankly you don’t know what you are talking about. For one thing, there is no possible way that you know that an entire community “sucks.” You are only playing on one or three of a multitude of servers, in WoW’s case, over 200. There is no possible way that you could make such a sweeping assumption about such a wide range of players that has any validity at all to it. If you are such a mature, helpful person, surely with as many other subscribers, there are bound to be some players at least who are worthy of your intelligence, skill, and generosity. Some of the best people I’ve met in MMO’s have been in my guilds in WoW, I was simply willing to wade through some of the muck to find them. There will always be ninjas, griefers, spammers, and whatever else plagues these online spaces, but you need to get over it. No community is perfect, this comes with the territory though. You open yourself up to this possibility when you start playing a game with thousands upon thousands of players. You don’t like everyone or get treated well by everyone you meet in the real world, so why do you expect to in a game? Asheron’s Call was by far the best overall community I’ve been a part of (at least on my server) but I’ll be the first to admit that there were a lot of people who I wish hadn’t been there. If you like the game that you play, you should be willing to ignore a few jerks who get in your way to find a group of friends who you enjoy being with. If not, then there is no point in whining about how terrible a games community is.

WoW gets the brunt of the community slamming, but other games get it to. People complain about EQ2 a lot, and I have to disagree as within an hour of searching for a guild, I was able to join one who showered me with gifts and advice and immediately helped with with quests even though they were all well above my level. If it took that little time to find a group this friendly, it’s hard to believe that it was dumb luck and I found the only decent guild on the server (this was about a year ago, I’m looking for a new guild if anyone has a home for me 🙂 ) There are decent people out there, trust me. Depending on the game and the server you choose, it might take more or less time than normal to find them, but again, if you like the game, you should be willing to put in the time to find them. If you took time to find them instead of telling everyone how aweful they are, I’m sure you would be successful. Good Luck.

~Kanthalos

Make Quests More Fun!

This is sort of in response to both Tipa and Darren which I’m going to sort of combine. Tipa wants a game thats more difficult, intuitive, and puts more faith in the players. Darren quoted someone from WAR describing a quest which was actually rather amusing. I’m going to sort of combine them and discuss realistic expectations for what we should expect from quests in MMO’s coming out soon or enhancements to current games. While we can say that we want town-building, better AI on mobs, player created content and a whole slew of other things, there is one thing that can be improved which is far easier to implement and isn’t too much to ask for. Better quest writing. Quests should be interesting enough to the players that they should WANT to read them. No more of this crap on your screen that says “Commander Keen (hehe) wants six wolf hides: 4/6” Quests should interest enough that they can’t be summarized into one sentence at the bottom of the quest with a number on your screen telling you how many more you need.

For instance, you find a dilapidated tower in the middle of the woods has been taken over by some goblins. Occasionally a patrol walks around the tower but eventually go back inside. If the patrol spots you, they would shout to the others and they would all charge you, forcing you to flee or fight. If things go well though, this won’t happen. A pile of hefty stones is laying at the back of the tower, which you can pick up and place in front of the door once the patrol walks back inside. You could then toss an explosive to the top of the tower, burning the goblins alive. If you don’t secure the door well enough they could burst through enraged and attack you dealing twice as much damage with only half health, but if you secure it tightly you watch them jump from the top of the burning tower falling to their death. Once the tower burns down, you enter to find a lockbox containing a jewel that could be returned for a reward, or simply sold. You could gain faction for killing the goblins, a reward (monetary or item) for the jewel, and you’d get to watch a tower burn to the ground! This shouldn’t even be that difficult to code either. LotRO has the ability to pick up, carry, and drop things as does Guild Wars so it’s already in games. Then you would just have to determine whether the stone adequately secured the door or not then they would break out or jump out accordingly. If you had more than one person, you could put multiple stones at the door to secure it better.

This is much more thrilling than “Armorsmith Stonehand needs lumber for a shield, you should be able to find some in the outlying forest.” I mean come on, a nine year old could come up with that. So there you have it. Quests simply need to be written better and with more originality. All it takes is a little imagination. That took me five minutes to come up with, and while there might be some flaws to work out, it has a lot of potential, and it’s pretty interesting (or so I think.)

~Kanthalos

Ode to the Underloved Hardcore Player

This is coming from a post I found on MMORPG.com — I found it rather amusing, so check it out. I’d love to know what you all think.

Hardcore Servers, every MMORPG should have them.

Why doesn’t world of warcraft or star wars galaxies or lord of the rings online have a hardcore server? A server for intelligent players who want a world of free will. Kill any player anytime and take all loot. Basically a world that is chaotic in which the players must bring order. What is so wrong with this? Why do us skilled players have to be discriminated against just because we choose to “Think” when we play mmorpgs. Most carebears turn their brain completely off and if that is how you want to play your game so be it. But why do we the hardcore players have to suffer? I’m not talking about grinding 32454 hours a day to make a character. I’m talking about a world where there is a constant tension, where you are always watching your back, worried that some player is going to jack you. Or that an enemy guild is waiting to ambush you.

What is so wrong with the element of surprise? World of “WAR”craft is not war when you can’t even ambush enemy players with that big red name tag over their head.

I want to think when I play games and risk losing something in order to gain something more. Why can’t you people handle that? What is wrong with you. I guess not everyone can handle a little competition right? Because you have to compete in real life right? I”m just curious that is all. I compete in real life too but that is the nature of things. I got bored of world of warcraft after 3 months. But I played ultima online for 4 years because every time I logged on something spontaneous and new would happen that was DYNAMIC to the players. 4 years I played that game and there wasn’t a single stupid quest that forced me to collect 10 feathers for 500 experience.

Why do you people enjoy collecting 10 feathers for 500 experience? WTF is wrong with you lol. I prefer hunting down an enemy player that slaughtered my guildmates. I prefer killing a known villain who has a bunch of gold and loot on him, and then when I kill him I take all his loot. I prefer storming an enemy guildhouse, breaking in through their front line defense and if I kill them all I can loot their entire guild house of all their riches. That is fun. You new generation of mmorpg’ers have never experienced a REAL mmorpg. That is the problem.

PVPKing

Apparently all of us PVEers out there had it wrong this whole time, and Blizzard’s eight million players are also still in the dark. I realize now that I constantly want to be in fear of losing all of my gear at any time, and that anyone who enjoys questing or even raiding is a mindless drone following the evil plan that game companies have laid out for them. Thank you for this revelation PVPKing, my life is so much more fulfilling now. We just need to convince them to create these hardcore servers… Your wishes do seem to be coming true with the vaporware that is Darkfall, so you still won’t be in luck, I’m sorry.

~Kanthalos

Player Based Quests

I’ve been thinking about questing lately and what’s wrong with it. Well, I’m not going to take on the whole issue right now, but here is a little something I’ve come up with.

I think one of the main problems with quests is that you don’t feel like you have any reason to do them, other than for the reward. Even though I realize that this is a good chunk of the problem, I think part of the solution can be found in changing the reward, and the way to do this is to have rewards from other players (in a sense.) From what I’ve heard and read, EVE Online has a contract system in which players contract other players to find or do certain things for them. A similar system could be used when players require something in other games that they need. Say they need a crafted sword or they need materials gathered. They could post on a task board that they will pay for them very similar to an auction, but they will also recieve a visible trinket (which is unique to every player, or at least one of a thousand patterns) could be given to the player as well in order to show that they’ve helped another player. Maybe when the player receives so many of them they could turn them in to an NPC and receive a commendation award or some kind or equip them or use as a decoration for housing. While this isn’t very different from doing a normal quest it does two things. It allows the potential to develop relationships and find players who can help you with certain things in which loyalty can be formed. It also gives players reason to help real people as opposed to an NPC, show off a little bit, and if you choose, to receive a reward once you’ve helped lots of other players. Hopefully they could create a system that allowed for more interesting tasks that players needed assistance with, but this would still be an interesting possibility. They would of course have to make the rewards not so powerful as to exploit the system, but good enough to make it beneficial to do it, possibly consumables or just a novelty item as well that looks cooler. I’ll focus on other aspects of quests later, but there’s a little bit to think about.

~Kanthalos

Uncanny Valley and MMO’s — Part 1 of 2

A few months ago I came upon the hypothesis of Uncanny Valley (in relation to MMO’s). In a basic summary, it means that as robotics become more realistic, humans will begin to think of them more in terms of a human than a machine and will develop sy(e)mpathy for them. I’m looking at this in relation to MOGers and their avatars. I suppose the title of this post is a bit misleading, because I’m twisting it (or perhaps pushing it further.) While I can see players thinking their characters are realistic, and seeing them as more of a real entity, will the average player (barring psychological issues) ever relate to their avatar enough that they feel a part of their character? MMO’s can be incredibly enjoyable and you can have a lot of fun with your characters, but rarely (at least for me) do I ever feel as though I have just experienced it rather than my character. I’m going to break this up into two elements which are technical and emotional. I’m going to focus on some of the technical aspects here that I can currently think of, focusing on how realistic your character looks and their movements and such. The emotional will focus on character freedom and social interaction and such which I’ll look at in another post.

There are definitely several elements to this, but I think currently the main element has to be graphics. As of now, there aren’t really any games out there that are realistic enough to be considered lifelike to sympathize with your character or actually feel connected to them. While Vanguard and Lord of the Rings Online have upped the bar on graphical expectations of MMO’s, they are still not realistic enough to feel as though you are looking at a living, breathing being. Perhaps with the wave of MMO’s hitting the shelves in Q4 2007 through Q2 of 2008 this distinction will become less noticeable, but it isn’t likely to see extremely lifelike characters until probably 2012 or later. Is that enough, though?

As an extension of the graphics issue, character creation is not nearly customizable enough to make a character that really looks like you currently. Also, there are a lot of people that won’t want to make a character that looks exactly like them anyway. Most people want to make characters that are aesthetically pleasing, regardless of the fact that it won’t look anything like them. This isn’t that unusual as it is a game hence it’s a break from reality, so making a character unlike yourself isn’t strange whether we could do it or not. So if we choose to make characters that don’t look like ourselves, does this break the possibility of truly relating to our character? This is also taking into account only human characters, not elves, dwarves, gnomes, ogres, etc. To me this doesn’t seem possible to truly relate to your character as a different race, but maybe that’s just me putting a limit on my imagination.

Another element that I think breaks the illusion in MMO’s (and many other games) is the third person view. This is sort of bordering on emotional, but it is also technical in the way you actually see your character. While you can use a first-person view in most MMO’s to do so would greatly reduce your field of vision and hamper your game play, so it’s not really feasible to do this. That said, if you are looking for more a role-playing version of the game, then you can do this, but you would always be facing the fact that you are limiting yourself, so could you do this?

The last aspect that I want to focus on right now is actually controlling the way your character moves. While this might not be possible with the current mouse-and-keyboard setup, this will be a very big barrier in terms of believing in our characters and believing they are an extension of ourselves that needs to be solved for this possibility.

I guess the bigger question that needs to be answered is whether we even desire to relate more to our characters or not. I’m sure there are a lot of elements that I haven’t covered, but I’m in a slight hurry right now but I really wanted to get this out, so let me know what you think and I’ll be back later with the second part of this topic.

-Kanthalos

Asheron’s Call — Not What I Hoped For

Well after play for about a month now between the beta and a paid month, I must say that I’m not as pleased as I was hoping to be. I think the main problem with this was the mentality that I went into the game with, or rather, how my mentality changed after I resubscribed. Since I was unable to regain my old account, I started from scratch and my original intention was to simply run around to all of my old stomping grounds for nostalic purposes. This meant getting to about level 60, so that I could at least survive while running through the nasty stuff. This changed a lot when I decided to resubscribe. While I did go out to some of the old places that I wanted to see like Aerlinthe, the Direlands, and just general exploring, I haven’t spent nearly any time at all on that stuff because I wanted to get leveled quick so that I could experience new content instead. While you can level extremely quickly in AC in comparison to how it used to be (my first level 66 character took 2 months in-game, as compared to being level 70 in two days in game…yeah) it still feels like a drag sitting in the same dungeon while you watch your xp bar go up in a fellowship. I chose a UA character and have my UA skill way up, but I’ve been trying to get my magic schools up to the point that I can cast level 7 spells for myself instead of relying on buffbots, but in that process, I have gotten rather burnt out quickly. My old friends have taken me through a few new quests that are fun, but I find that I’m having to force myself to get on to play, which flies in the face of everything an MMO is supposed to be. For this reason, I won’t be renewing my payment next month. I’m considering hitting up LotRO, so we’ll see how that goes.

-Kanthalos