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Tag Archives: World of Warcraft

Electoral Nostalgia Redux

Put all beverages down and move them away from your monitor.

Enjoy (in its entirety, or most relevantly, from 6:20 onward for the setup, or jump to the money shot at 7:22).

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2012 in World of Warcraft

 

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Time is Money

Tobold asks the question when will WoW go free to play and how that might be implemented. Blizzard has certainly learned the lesson all good gym owners know– the neglected subscription is the ticket to success. Who among us hasn’t joined a gym or health club with a monthly fee and ahem how shall we say… neglected to make full use of it?

I have no idea what the average is, but it must be a significant percentage of members continue to pay but, even with the best of intentions, stop going to the gym regularly or at all. Call it guilt, call it taking a wee break, call it preserving your access should you want to play, it’s still recurring income.

Blizz may get there, but I don’t think they’ve lost enough people to justify going F2P yet.

For other games that, in Tobold’s words, don’t justify a subscription when compared to many players’ level of interest or commitment, F2P is just the ticket. DDO, LotRO and now STO are three that have come back on my radar specifically because they went free to play. Being able to match my spend with my level of enthusiasm and or time commitment is a boon to me.

Even with a traditional sub though, in theory I could maximize my return on the sub by consuming as much content as my time budget would permit. If I were only interested in the leveling game in SWTOR, and played obsessively since launch, I might have consumed all the storylines for all the classes/factions by now. I could see SWTOR going free to play at some point following the path others have taken– pay for fluff, utility items, progress enhances and or access to content areas/modules for progression.

Eve however remains the anomaly. One can legally buy characters, and effectively in game currency as well, but one cannot buy progression. Eve progression is skill based and skill training is time based. The only way to continue to progress is to continue to subscribe.

So why doesn’t Eve just sell time?

If I really want to spend the next year working through a skill training plan (not an unheard of amount of time) why not let me buy the time now, apply it to those skills I want to train and be done with it? If I’m going to spend $180 to learn to fly a Titan, why spend it over twelve months?

One of Eve’s major barriers for new comers is never being able to catch up skillpoint wise to friends who have played much longer. Granted that progression can go in any number of directions, but to switch from a hardcore miner industrialist to a 0.0 capital ship pilot would take a very long time.

Seems like a natural progression for Eve. Eliminate subscriptions, sell a time equivalent for skill training, or just skill points out right to be applied to skills of a players choice, make that freely tradeable like PLEX and you would have the most flexible model in the universe. Players could truly exchange time for money in whatever proportion they wish.

Earn isk by playing, purchase training and it’s truly free to play. Buy isk or training and your time budget is preserved. Of course the one element that likely prevents this from upsetting the games balance is that to survive in Eve, you still need to learn how to be a good pilot. Something that you just can’t buy.

 

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Size Matters

With the NDA coming down on the hotly anticipated Star Wars: The Old Republic, those of us who have been as yet snubbed by EA/Bioware and not allowed into the beta are starting to get a better view into the game.

By all accounts that I’ve read so far, I think the expectation is evolution not revolution and that’s not terribly surprising considering the amount Bioware has invested in the game.  They simply can’t afford the game to be niche, so don’t expect radically new mechanics or game play.

True to form, Bioware appears to have thoughtfully injected story-driven instanced group content– Flashpoints– throughout player progression.  From my point of view, that is a good thing assuming Bioware has lived up to its reputation of providing compelling storylines that lead into and out of the instanced content.

IMHO, the tight integration of open world content and instanced dungeons makes for an entirely satisfying experience.  The poster child for this effort was vanilla WoW’s human starter experience in Elwynn Forest and Westfall that inevitably leads you to Edwin Van Cleef and the Deadmines, and ultimately beyond.

Of course, the DF wounded and then Cataclysm finally killed all this, though open world content became increasingly trivial solo content and thus the progressive story line experience was diluted to the point of nuisance.  Bioware hopes to have recaptured some of this magic, but we’ll see.

Part of what made these earlier experiences wildly fun of course was that we experienced them as a fixed group of five friends commited to staying together and progressing together.
So ideally, SWTOR would be ideally suited from a design perspective for our little group.  Except of course that SWTOR group size is four.

Ouch.

Group size has been a bit of a moving target over the years in MMOs and of course the degree to which group size matters is a fundamental design decision.  In the open world of Everquest, group size didn’t really matter than much depending on the challenge level of the content.

Wilhelm and I seemed to be able to find loads of challenging content as a dual-boxed foursome on Fippy Darkpaw and still had the flexibility to invite others as well when camped in a good area.  Group size seemed “suggested” rather than required.  In effect, you could scale your desired challenge level based on location and group size/composition and vice versa.

As instanced group content became the norm, group size started to matter quite a bit more.  Instanced content in most games tended to be tuned for an optimized group.  WoW chose five, Rift five, LotRO six, Guildwars six, DDO six, City of Heroes/Villains max of eight and now SWTOR with four.

Instanced content like WoW’s and LotRO’s (and I presume Rift though I’m not quite there yet) requires an optimal number and class composition.  EQ, EQ2, GW, DDO and CoX, not so much because of actual or effective scaling mechanisms.

So the question for us is how the heck do we experience SWTOR as our little group of five in a world that seems meant for four?

I’ve read that Companions work like henchmen in other games and can occupy group slots, so that conceivably would permit a group of five live players to occupy up to 10 total slots which would be two full “normal” groups, e.g., one group of three members and 1 companion and the other of two people and two companions.

I’m not sure I like the sound of that and as far as I know, SWTOR’s “Operations” or raid content isn’t available at lower levels.  Does anyone know whether “Flashpoint” instanced content can be experienced as a “raid” or 8 person group like the vanilla WoW end-game instances could (e.g., Scholo, Strat, etc.)?

It really bugs me that after so many years, MMO devs are still coming up with new (or continuing to use old) mechanics that manage to prevent people from playing together and/or experiencing all the wonderful content they’ve built into their game.

I’m not convinced that scalable content=meh if done in a thoughtful way.  I think instancing solves more problems than it creates, but instancing’s bastard child “phasing”– which is just hyperprogressive questing on acid– increasingly puts players in isolated boxes.

So how are others planning on experiencing SWTOR?  Solo and the LFD or random guildies?

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2011 in Star Wars: The Old Republic

 

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Bridging the gap

This started as a comment to Wilhelm’s post but the tale grew in the telling…

Regarding SoE’s discussion point about selling max level characters…

As someone who doesn’t raid, I suppose I don’t really care.  In my mind, its a bit like hiring someone to carry you to the top of Mt. Everest so you can take a snapshot and put it on your wall.

But still, SoE’s proposed solution raises a more interesting question which many folks have been discussing of late– how do you reconcile vertical progression with a raiding end game and permit a game to grow and thrive?  How do you bridge the gaps for new and old players and between new and old content?  Or between current content and the “end game”?

What experience seems to show is that shoehorning both games into one does a disservice to both.

An ideal solution in my mind would be something along the following lines:

  • Raiding is a separate game along the Guildwars PvP model with limited world interaction
  • Leveling unlocks the ability to roll a new character at any level up to the highest level attained
  • With the purchase of each expansion, players may roll a character at the base level of that expansion
  • Experience curves wouldn’t be compressed, previous content remains intact

Raiders would get what they want and avoid the exercise of leveling through trivial content unrelated to raiding skills.

Levelers new and old could come into a game at any point in the game they desired and be with the pack but still have the opportunity to play previous content as it was intended.

Levelers could choose to level 1 to cap or leapfrog along experiencing a new chapter of content as they saw fit much like choosing which film or book of a series to read.

Completionists can play cover to cover and replayability is preserved.

Whether “expansion” characters would be permitted to visit the old world is something I haven’t fully considered.  Locking them out of the old world isn’t very immersive, but probably strengthens the lowbie economy.  Forced down-mentoring maybe to avoid the usual problems?

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2011 in Everquest 2, World of Warcraft

 

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The Gathering Gloom

Running around EQ2X this weekend and enjoying working on some tradeskills.  Crafting in EQ2 is one of the things EQ2 does a bit better (note I said a bit better because its far from ideal) than many MMOs.  There is a bit if a minigame to it, so perfect success is not guaranteed though there is little chance of real failure, the products are genuinely useful, there is quite a diversity of recipes across a broad range of professions, it doesn’t require the generation of many many useless/valueless items to make progress and its an entirely separate progression mechanism from the rest of the game.

Of course, all crafting requires inputs.  That means gathering.  Ugh.

No MMO seems to have done this part well.  So what has the last decade brought us on the gathering front?

Consider the Miner.

Random spawning, mailbox-sized chunks of “ore” that are curiously unevenly distributed in zones the difficulty of which correlates to their relative value.  How immersive.

I just looked over, and there it was...

How do we find this resource?  Mining radar of course.  Sort of Yukon Cornelius meets Aquaman.  And how is this oh so valuable ore actually gathered?  Take out your trusty pocket pick, give the ore pinata a few whacks and voila.  Paydirt.

Not exactly the picture of mining that I had in mind.  Why did they bother with Moria or Thorin’s Halls when the dwarves could have just skipped through the fields tapping rocks as they went?

Sure some games try to jazz up the immersion by actually having the nodes spawn in or near hills.  Others just don’t bother.  How the farmers in Kingsfell manage to plow their fields with all that rich iron popping up in their fields is beyond me.

I guess the Kings fell because they tripped over giant mining nodes...

Eve got it partially right.  Mining in Eve is a full-blown progression game in its own right and encourages group play.  Yes, its a bit boring with the waiting factor, but to me that is a question of how much, not whether it takes time.

Mining in Eve requires the development of various skills that increase proficiency (speed, mining yield, refining efficiency, etc.) as well as collaborative supporting activities (hauling, group management, even defense).

So why hasn’t any fantasy MMO bothered with truly fleshing out the gathering professions properly?  I for one would love to have to go prospecting for ore deposits and constructing a mining operation out in the wilds, alone or with others.  Then figure out how to haul it all back to town all the while defending your operation from marauding mobs.

A noob miner would have little but his pick, pan, a trusty pack mule and a bit of luck.  A journeyman could construct a proper mine that would yield more, a guild could construct and man a large mine, etc.  Like scouting asteroid belts in Eve, prospecting for a good site with lots of the desired ore (to justify construction of a mine, etc.) would be half the battle.  Imagine if prospecting was a bit like WoW’s archaeology?

Of course, one aspect that is key to the viability of Eve’s mining progression is the economy.  Even the lowliest of the low minerals (Tritanium) which comes from the most abundant asteroid in the game (Veldspar) is used in nearly everything constructed in the game.

Copper doesn’t cease being useful just because I can wear or wield iron or steel or mithril items.

The same paradigm can be applied to any of the other gathering professions as well:  hunting/trapping for hides and leather; farming for food and fiber (thank you LotRO, sort of); lumber mills (with depleting forests) for wood.

Did no one at Blizzard remember the resource gathering part of Warcraft when they designed WoW?

Was an entire civilization built solely on the basis of logs of weathered driftwood that washed up on a beach or random yew branches that the wind knocked down?  Did no one think to swing one of those enormous battle axes at an actual tree from time to time?

Even fishing never progresses beyond a string on a stick… No fish traps? No one invented the throw net let alone a fishing boat?

A beautiful thing, yes. But how about a net?

Of course, a key component to making a system like this work is dangerous transport.  Without some risk, there would be little excitement to the process and less value in the product.  Lets add some transportation for the poor gatherers.  Start with a big backpack, claw your way up to a donkey, add a cart, maybe an ox team and wagon…

And of course, a nice big slow transport full of valuable goods invites bandits…

Seriously, I’d do this all day.

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2011 in Eve Online, Everquest 2, LotRO, World of Warcraft

 

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The Fun Quotient

Tobold’s post quite nicely explained why our little group is looking outside of WoW for group fun.  Frankly, there is nothing in the world that is particularly fun for a group to do.  Even if the mobs weren’t trivial, XP is diluted in a group (versus bolstered in other games) and if you want to enjoy the actual quest content, you can’t increase your level of challenge by playing in red zones since you can’t get the quests!

Several of the commenters somewhat snarkily chided that somehow that viewpoint is tainted if one of your reasons for saying WoW no longer lets people play together is “lower efficiency.”  What is lost in the discussion is what efficiency really means.

On its face, most people assume that “efficiency” means simply the shortest path (time-wise) to the level cap.  Personally, I think that’s too narrow.  In my mind, that’s only looking at one narrow aspect of the entire picture.

A better measure is the amount of reward you receive from participating in group activity– whether that is gold, xp, loot or unquantifiable fun– in a given play session.  The unstated denominator in all of these things is time.  The fun quotient.

When you add time or proportionately reduce your numerator, the fun quotient decreases and the overall entertainment experience is diminished.  Its in that sense that it becomes “inefficient.”  Its suboptimal entertainment measured against the potential you know is there.  Its worse in a game where alt-itis is rampant since its likely that you may have experienced the content more than one time on different characters.

Its gets more complicated when you start adding in the impact of “group generated” rewards– the fun stuff that people bring to the mix extrinsic to the game itself– conversation, jokes, humorous mistakes and yes, the sense of a shared experience that is unique to that group. Even if its a well known encounter or challenge, your group attempt(s), successful or otherwise, are still unique.  These group benefits (and detriments) can add to and substract from the numerator in the fun quotient.

How we perceive the value of rewards is measured against what we had to invest to get them– time, mostly.  Even the other things we “invest” in them are still just proxies for time (even consumable items from a cash shop, the cash is still a proxy for RL time).  In our MMOs the progression element (whether level, gear or otherwise) is almost universally the main reason we play.

We ding therefore we are.  Anything that slows down the ding (in the broadest sense) without adding something else to the mix (recognizing that is entirely subjective) frankly makes the process less fun than it could be alone and hence less efficient from a “fun” perspective.  A lower fun quotient than soloing.

WoW grouping for open world content suffers from all of these ills.  XP is diluted, so time to ding is extended.  The challenge of fights is completely trivialized since there really is no open world group content.  Collection quests in a group multiply the time it takes to complete them.  Finally, mobs may be killed so quickly that a group experiences increased downtime waiting for them to respawn and all of these aspects feedback on themselves as well further exacerbating the problem.

At some point, the additional time to gain meaningful progression or the diminution of the challenge in gameplay simply becomes much less fun per session in a group.  Lower efficiency in the broadest sense, means less fun.  Azeroth in a group just isn’t that much any more.

At this point in WoW’s evolution, I often wonder why it isn’t a local client or individually instanced world with a global chat server and matchmaking lobby much more like Guildwars or DDO.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2011 in World of Warcraft

 

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Around the virtual world, again

Haven’t had much to say of late, because, well, I haven’t had much to say.  Seems most of the sentient universe is spending some time in Rift.  As I noted before, I’ve decided to pass on Rift for now, though I’m not getting into the Rift/Not-Rift flame wars.

I beta-ed Rift and like it quite a bit.  But for some reason, it just didn’t quite grab me though I have nothing but good things to say about its production quality.  Given what we’ve seen in recent years, it restores my hope that the industry can actually produce a game that is worth buying on day one.  Unfortunately, that is saying a lot.

Likewise, after an initial bout of new MMO expansion enthusiasm, the obvious flaws of Cataclysm have left me little enthusiasm to spend much time there.  I got my non-instance group “solo” character to the cap in the middle of Twilight Highlands and stalled.  The linearity and the excessive phasing sucked out any enthusiasm I had for feeding my alt-itis.

I like to explore.  I like to explore the game world, I like to explore what other classes play like and I like to explore how virtual economies work, etc., etc.  Gating off parts of the world behind quest phase walls is the antithesis of a virtual world to me.  If there is a far off, dangerous and exotic place to visit, I want to be able to make my adventure getting there whether I’m a level one noob, level capped or anywhere in between.  Playing with friends or guildies, even in the same zone, is nearly impossible.

Returning to EQ on the time locked Fippy Darkpaw progression server has been a breath of 12 year old fresh air.  Experiment has turned into a bit of an obsession as Wilhelm and I have re-immersed ourselves into the EQ of old.  As a concession to our play budgets and the game mechanics, we are both dual boxing the game which adds its own new experiences.

Its a worldly world.  It takes time to progress.  Combat is slow enough and unpredictable enough to require you to make interesting choices.  Including the choice to run like hell to the zone line.  Death hurts and fear is a powerful motivator.  While on Fippy Darkpaw the death penalty is not the 1999 naked corpse run version, loss of XP and respawning at your bind point makes you more thoughtful.

There are dozens of places I can go to explore and go hunting.  The general freedom from quest driven content has actually been liberating.  Its been a while, but I’m finally beginning to understand what folks like Saylah and Tipa and others have been talking about for the past few years.  Group experiences are still fun, tactics matter and you get to see and experience the world as a living place– with your friends.

A number of explorer types are reporting good experiences with Rift, especially at the higher levels, but I’m still curious whether that will hold up longer than the three-month windows folks have been discussing in the blogosphere.

I hope so, because at this point, there is very little in the MMO space that looks like it can offer the kind of experience I’ve been craving.   I’ve got high hopes for Guildwars 2 and am cautiously pessimistic about SW:TOR since it will likely be fourth-pilloried on its story heavy construction.  But for now, I feel like I’ve been all the way around the MMO-sphere and ended up right where I started 12 years ago.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2011 in Everquest, Rift, World of Warcraft

 

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