Social Itch

Playing a lot of EVE when I get MMO time in. DoTA2 when I only have an hour and nothing is going on in the wormhole. I’m feeling a themepark itch, and it’s coming at me in a weird way. My eyes keep falling on Rift, which is a game I always enjoyed, but I just never got into. I think that was for a number of different reasons. If I recall, I was busy in a bunch of different games at the time, and it fell in when I was still happily engrossed in WAR. The biggest remembrance I have of the game, is that it was like my on-again, off-again, nostalgic affair with EQ2. A lot of the things I like there, I like in Rift (thanks Hartsman!). This gaming version of a casual glance I gave it wasn’t enough to cause me to set down roots and grow any social connection.

The social connection is really what keeps me in games long term. I’ve been playing EVE for longer than I ever have in the past, primarily because I’m in an alliance of people I really enjoying hanging out with. So, beyond just the fun pew-pew I get when we jihad enemy holes, or the carebear riches (that are a bit less rich of late) from phat sleeper loots, I just enjoy the people, and I’ve made connections that keep me coming back. So, a dalliance with Rift is tempting to me right now, but also worrisome.

I don’t want to jump into Rift, with expectations of fun and enjoyment, then find my ideas squandered on the solo-wonder of playing by myself. Conversely, I don’t want to start playing it and have it pull away from my EVE time. Basically, I want it all, and I want it now. I may have to accept that my reality does not allow for the gaming that I want when it comes to MMOs. Life is telling me to suck it up, jump into Dust514, and enjoy mowing down people and LAVs with my heavy machine gun.

Humorously enough, I said this about the game when I tried it over a year ago:

What they seek in their MMO is maybe some social interaction, and mindless gameplay. Chugging through rifts and quests with little planning or forethought in it. Quickly jumping into the game and just doing.

So maybe that’s what I’m looking for now. Or maybe I’m just wanting a change of scenery and I don’t really know what I want. Or maybe I just want to PLAY MORE VIDEO GAMES. NO REALLY, ANY VIDEO GAME WILL DO!

Anyway, any Corps forming up in Dust514 want a 30 year old, poor reflexes man to join them. I have a headset and mic!

Matching the payment model to the product

I briefly touched on this topic when writing up my post yesterday, and it was one of those mental moments of clarity. The time where a thousand light bulbs go off in your head to shine a line on a topic and idea, that seems so foolishly obvious that everyone should have realized it. I wouldn’t use the word epiphany, because moments after the realization, the full vision of all that the idea encompasses starts to fade, akin to a dream upon waking. In a desperate attempt to retain the idea, I’m typing this out on the same day as writing my last post – highly uncharacteristic of me.

The idea essentially goes like this: theme parks in real life charge you a ticket to get in. You then run around and go on all the rides and entertainment that you want. When I go to Islands of Adventure, I can spend all day riding on the Hulk, or I can hit the Doctor Doom after, and continue forth to the Jurrassic Park amusement. It won’t cost me any more as the day precedes. However, if I didn’t smuggle in food/drink, or buy a revolving day pass, I may be stuck spending money inside on other things: food, drink, trinkets, memorabilia. Some theme parks even let you purchase a “jump to the start of the line” that you can use a limited number of times.

You should see where I’m going here. If not, here’s an interesting glimpse at a full post about the topic of themepark revenue. The image of the annual pass at the bottom should look familiar to any MMO’er who’s glimpsed at a F2P tiered structure.

Theme parks, of both the real world variety and the gaming kind seem to follow a great pattern on the price point, and is why you see so many theme park MMOs of late moving into the F2P market. You bought the box, and now you can go on all the rides you want, but the cotton candy is extra, and that $7 burger is going to be $15 if you buy it at the park. These conveniently located extras, time-saving tools, and impulse buys are where a good chunk of the revenue comes for these parks. So, why have companies been trying to bill you for entrance, and then ding you again at intervals just for playing in the park you bought a ticket for? The traditional myth was operating costs and expansions (oh wait, I bought that separately…).

When I talked yesterday about GW2 being able to charge a monthly, and no one would be surprised, I meant it. We’ve all been conditioned to accept it in our traditional theme park MMO. But the more I think about it, the more it feels like the traditional square peg/round hole scenario. It feels like a carnival instead of a theme park, and no one walks away from a carnival thinking, “Yeah, that was money well spent.”.

Now, I need to think on how my outlook on sandboxes fit into this. Should they follow the same price point methodology and sell convenience items? In an (ideally) infinitely, horizontally expanded sandbox, what does convenience really mean in the long run? Are sandboxes, by nature, more likely to output more systems and less content. I argue that systems are more challenging to design, develop, and implement than content. It’s the difference between taking your kid to the gym for a game of H-O-R-S-E, and being the first person to invent the game, then build and install a basketball hoop in your driveway to play it. So, I’m not sure how I sit on that still. It’s something I still need to work through and think on.

An economic MMO bubble

I started to respond to a reader along this line yesterday, but as I started to churn the idea over and reign in my response to be comment-appropriate, it made me realize there was probably something more significant in the topic I was just barely touching upon in my reply. In my reply itself I alluded to the fact that the industry seems to think there are millions of potential players of MMOs out there, just waiting to be seized up by an appropriately suitable title. That these players do indeed want to be a part of the MMO gaming genre. I’ve mentioned it in the past that I don’t think this is reality, and people seem to be coming around to the idea that WoW really is an aberration and not the standard.

Reality is simple: there are not 5+ million MMO players out there. What we have is a bubble of perceived worth of games in the genre.

The sooner that EVERYONE can wrap their heads around that concept, the better off the industry as a whole will be. I do mean everyone: investors, licensor, licensees, publishers, developers, and fans. We all hold equal a share of the blame in this situation. Investors see the initial cost, and don’t want to take the chance unless really huge and fast returns can be made, with the potential for astronomical returns in the long run. Licensor and -ees want to get the investor money, because these things are big, and having an entrenched IP can help shore up weak points in a product. Publishers are basically in the same boat as investors. Developers want to make games, and many find the logistical nightmare of funding and distribution impossible without the experience and backing of the others – thus they remain beholden to their monetary support. Fans geek out, expect everything, and remain violently enamored of their first experience.

We’ve been seeing an escalation in the production costs of games. Age of Conan. Warhammer Online. SW:TOR. Each game’s release potentially more expensive than the previous, and that’s just in recent history. None of these games have been the wild success hoped for at their inception, and yet, the perception of the MMO pot of gold hasn’t wavered even a little bit. The price of components surrounding the genre is going up. The believed barrier of entry is seen to be getting higher, based on the actions of the players at the perceived top.

They have forced a bubble, and eventually it will pop.

Conversely, we have those who keep their heads “low”. CCP is the Alpha of the “little dogs”, and doing fabulously well on their “meager” 300k subscribers. How many other companies hold a yearly giant party? Last I heard, Darkfall is still chugging along at a good pace, and is working at their expected snail-speed on development of DarkFall 2.0. Wurm? Xyson? These are all games that are unquestionably sandbox, and have been around for a fair bit of time.

Bubbles are always results of perceptions. The pop will occur when outsiders who think that 300k is a back-alley niche of unprofitable business have a light-switch thrown. When recognition of reality sets in; these games are meant to run for years or decades, not for a three month peek followed by a slow 5 year degradation into oblivion and neglect. Play to the strengths of the genre, and rewards will follow.

Or just keep chasing that dragon, but try not to drag the rest of us down with you.

“It’s easier” is NOT an excuse

It just means your lazy.

I got to that article, from the article that linked it, which I got to from Syncaine’s post today. This guy in the video is hitting the high-points of what turns me off from modern MMOs, and all in a handy 5-minute clip.

“Story driven”

“Character based”

“Easier to balance”

“Solo”

“Your story”

“You’re the hero.”

I loved Skyrim. I’ve gone back and started to replay it with an archer character the last week or so when I’m not sucked into EVE or DoTA2. The industry really needs to realize that the drivers in a single-player heroic story don’t port over to the MMO genre. Period. The qualifiers for what defines the MMO genre is counter to the heroic journey in a single player experience.

What would make Elder Scrolls Online awesome:

  1. Take Skyrim, and cull a chunk of the NPCs.
  2. Allow players to build their own and destroy other player’s structures.
  3. Iterate this concept across a land-mass about 8-16 times larger than Skyrim for the entire world.
  4. Create limited resource “choke-points” required for player creation across the entire world.
  5. Throw in some territory control systems.
  6. Expand a bit on the skill system.
    1. More skill types
    2. More specialization
    3. Points expenditure would need to be re-examined.

Other than that, you’re basically in the clear. You wouldn’t need to add a lot of extra quests, or developer directed content. If you made that above, you would probably see a good surge of player initially, and if you did what you’re supposed to with my $15/month, you’d keep developing and adding new SYSTEMS to the game world. Not just new quests and skins.

After 6 months or so, you could start releasing ways to better harvest/refine resources. An eventual expansion could be sea-faring adventures (player created ships of course). Expanded territory control requiring actual scouts with stealth-like capabilities to keep an eye on roads into-and-out of your hamlet/region to prevent intruders from getting a foot-hold. Maybe even an NPC worker population that can be attracted to your land because you have better pay and living conditions than your neighbors.

Players in this game could decide if they wanted to be craftsman, and make the best goods possible. Perhaps setting up shop somewhere and making enough money from their trade to eventually build a seat of power for themselves. Or adventurous types could seek out deep dungeons filled with increasingly nasty enemies the deeper they get (typical dungeon crawl). Control of territory would mean regular access to these dungeons and the rewards therein. Tie in precious metals and goods deep inside as well, so that the creators of the world would share a dependency with the destroyers in the world.

Obviously PvP and item degradation would be an absolute must. In my vision, your gear would be lootable by others AND would break down to the point where it’s unusable eventually, and probably a chance for outright destruction. That spear the troll hurled at you hard enough to skewer your ticker behind your breastplate means that hole is probably never going to be patched properly.

Anyway, enough rambling. That video was bullshit and indicative of everything wrong in the industry. “It’s too hard an it’s been done, so why bother to change?”

Well, at least I didn’t waste my time

Want to know where I stopped reading this interview?

RPS: You dedicated a lot of the presentation to discussing how solo quests can affect the world – for instance, by putting a horde of restless ghost baddies to rest. Is the goal of Elder Scrolls Online to more or less make the player feel like the hero of a single-player RPG?

Paul Sage: Absolutely.

Right there. The end. Crossed off my list of even-giving-a-thought. It is amazing how a single player game that does SO many things right, can fail on such a big level in the transition. This shit ain’t easy, not going to say it is. But its not that difficult to see the giant flashing light bulbs that are warning of a fail-cascade up ahead either.

Competition breads excellence

Pre-order Torchlight 2 via Steam.

I love when I see lots of options in one genre pop up around the same time. It means that all the competitors have to step up to really grab an audience, and consquently, it’s market share. It’s why I’m thrilled that the MOBA genre is finding new players, and returning old ones, all the time. The communal bar keeps getting raised with each release, and unique ideas or takes on any design is seen and implemented (not always for the better). Refinement and perfection as the grinding stones of competition make each game better.

Torchlight 2 looks very similar to the first one in terms of visual style, and I’m hoping not much has changed in terms of gameplay. There appears to be a bonus of multiplayer options, as well as a development kit, and some customization. Good steps for the game to make as long as it retains it’s level of execution.

Worlds Colide

I have a lot of hobbies. Gaming is just one of the many endeavors I enjoy pursuing, and easily in the top five of all my favorite activities. Also high up on the list of things I am interested in, is politics. So, it may not surprise you that I’ve been keeping an ear out about this whole SOPA (official) /PIPA (official) thing. As much as my two hobbies may thrill me on their own (I’ve listened to every GOP debate, half streaming while I killed dragons in Skyrim), I had an amazing laugh at the awesome combination of the two today.

Apparently, one of our U.S. congressmen (by the name of Jared Polis) plays League of Legends, and after seeing the “Help us Stop SOPA” thread on the forums, he decided to respond. Beyond it being a great moment of helpful reinforcements from those behind the lines, he agreed to continue checking in on the thread. Which then lead to this AMAZING troll FROM the representative TO a player.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bieberfever123 View Post
WHY DOES HE GET AN AVATAR AND l DONT???

u would just use Justin Beiber as your avatar anyway

I almost laughed my balls off. If the nerds of Colorado don’t get together to reelect this man, they are doing themselves a disservice.

As a last message, go here, to help stop these bills from passing.

 

Passing thoughts

Gamescon is over, and I missed a lot of it. My interest in the new and upcoming stuff is waning, or at the very least, not pushing against that wall of excitement the industry attempts to construct from hype and mystery to ensure a continued revenue stream (except for Battlefield 3 – that shit looks crazy yo). Sure, a few things were bound to catch my ear, only by sheer volume of the social circles I run around the perimeter of. Wrath of Heroes and Wildstar seeming to be the two that with the biggest foundation in place amongst my cliques, and I’ll admit – the giant robot that was fought in the raid of SW:TOR perked up my ears. I wouldn’t say that I have ennui towards the institutions or developments, more of a contented disinterest, as nothing really (again, except Battlefield 3) grabbed me by the genitals and dragged me down to the floor with it for a romp in the hay. I am at peace with my current gaming distribution, and calmly waiting for the few objects I see in the hazy distance. I understand now why a placated population is so much in demand by some, and can be so dreadfully dangers to others – then content make no demands, and demands drive innovation.

There’s the portion of my brain, nagging me to research and delve, and find out what all went on. The portion that craves knowledge and information to analyze and decide. To call judgment and declare that THIS is the side of the line that my opinion falls upon. Immediately afterward, the portion that controls the actual doing then points out InFamous, Wipeout, BioShock, and a stack of other games that I still have yet to play through and suggests to me that perhaps the new and exciting can wait, and that an opinion doesn’t always need to be formed early on, as if some type of posterity is at stake.

So, anything you think I should take a look at? What piqued your interest? What do you think I should keep my eyes on?

Oh, and seriously, go watch the Battlefield 3 trailer.

Directing Frustration

For whatever reason, for the last few months, I’ve had this concept bouncing around in my skull, and I’ve started to put it up here a couple of times, but have yet to follow through until now. As a person matures with any endeavor they tend to think about things beyond their immediate perceptions and understanding. A long-term view starts to be adapted as the fullness of involvement starts to be realized. For myself, part of that is acknowledging personal past behavior, comparing it to others, and analyzing those actions. Part of advancement in anything is reflection and analysis, and opinions should be shining examples of this. I say this because, like I said, I’ve had a thought/nagging/what-have-you bouncing around in my skull for a while, and it just won’t go away. That thought is simple:

Do we, as players, mis-direct our frustrations towards people who are undeserving of it?

I think the simple answer to the question is “yes” (the converse question of directing our praise to those deserving is a valuable question as well, though, of probable less importance given the disparity between the projected emotional spectrums). Any romp through most MMO forum’s will see a majority of people expressing frustration. Those people more deeply embedded in the social structure of the community will probably have a greater insight to the workings of their game of choice. In-as-much as they will likely know the names of some of the designers or the forum handles of the “devs” that interact with them on the message board. That “insight” isn’t as great as some of us would like to believe (I believe). This perceived greater insight lends itself to a higher sense of involvement, and emotional attachment to a product, which can be a very nasty two-edged sword.

 

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Guess who’s back?

From outerspace (okay, Wisconsin – semantics!).

The vacation was good. There was much drinking of beer, much eating of brats, and the lighting of fireworks, with the occasional dabble of family visitation, and a picture of my 93-year-old grandmother surrounded by her 9 great-grandkids. And the whole thing got capstoned by some terrible mucous plague that infected me about 5 minutes before the plan left the tarmac – a nice parting gift from the lovely midwest. While I was away, I stayed mostly out of the loop of the goings-on of the digital and gaming world, but I still tried to check my twitter feed once a day to see if anything amazing, fun, and cool happened.

There were a few things, but nothing monumental. The same-old drama of the interwebz.

Drama and Resolution.

Someone’s new job got me a Tee-shirt (in return for a Haiku)!

EA keeps gobbling up different territories of gaming.

Warhammer had another round of Blogger-invasion (not enough words for links!).

SoE’s FanFaire landed with some insight at upcoming games (finally), and a new graphics engine called Forge Light.

Relatedly: Planetside 2 looks pretty darn spiffy.

I’m sure there was tons more than that I missed in my drunken revelry, but that should be enough to keep any sane person busy for at least 15 minutes, more if you link-dive like I do.

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