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.

The Rift Conundrum

…wherein I ramble on for a good bit and then sort of run out of steam but talk about tanks and surfing.

Wilhelm’s most recent post on Rift hit a note with me.  What got me was:

…, Rift doesn’t do anything about the things I don’t like about MMOs.

Servers for example.

Or shards, which is the term Trion Worlds has chosen.  But servers, shards, realms, or whatever, here is something that only EverQuest II Extended seems to have come close to solving.

There it was, open beta, and Trion already had a long list of shards, all of which were full, something which seems to indicate that the “I want to play with my friends, but they are on a different shard” issue is going to replay the way it always does.

And, of course, there is the whole level thing, the other great separator that keeps people from playing with their friends.


This is not unique to Rift but perhaps its more acute because, frankly, Rift appears to be such an uncharacteristically strong offering in the genre.

It’s polished.  It’s evolutionary. It’s accretive. And, it appears to do nothing to solve the fundamental conflict that has plagued the entire genre of “persistant progression” games– I’m not even calling them MMORPGs.  If there’s a persistancy element to it, and a progression element to it, playing with your friends may be an issue.

Sure, many games have bolted on mechanisms to attempt to deal with this problem– mentoring, sidekicking, server transfers, etc..  A few have attempted to deal with it at the design level.  Eve is one of the few that come to mind where design consideration given to attempt to bridge that, but even with its skill based progression, which is in actuality time-based, it is difficult to mitigate the gap in progression that will inevitably creep in and impact collaborative efforts.  Guildwars certainly also attempted to do this by altering the progression mechanic with a low level cap.

This, my friends, is a tough nut to crack.

Think about all the ways that games prevent us from playing together.  Levels. Gear progression.  Content unlocks.  Separate Servers.

You’d think that a progression-based game was utterly irreconcilable with with idea that I should be able to play with my friends, regardless of disparities in progression, and still have a meaningful game experience.  Not in a charitable-I’m-helping-pimp-a-guildie sort of “meaningful” but a goddamn-we-all-had-a-great-and-rewarding-time-playing-together sort of way.

Eve seems to allow some of this with its purely skill-based approach, though time-based discrepancies inevitably creep in.  A noob tackler or miner may be able to make a meaningful contribution to fleet ops, but eventually the gap becomes unbridgeable.

Consider a very different game for a moment which I’ve been playing obsessively of late.  World of Tanks.  The matchmaking algorithm does a pretty decent job of creating a balanced match of tanks of different tiers on each team.

A brief example.  I had been progressing up the Soviet tree with aT-26 self propelled gun and pursuing the alternate path toward the fabled T-34 medium tank.  For fun, I decided to start working up the German and US trees as well.  Even though I may be reasonably advanced in the Soviet tree, switching to the US tree meant “starting over” in the lowly T-1 Cunningham.  But the matchmaking algorithm (and the game design) end up creating matches which pit a mix of higher and lower powered tanks against each other.

The “noob” or modestly progressed light tanks are lighter, faster and more maneuverable than the big guns.  Artillery is quite powerful, but slow, immobile and quite vulnerable to enemy fire.  The heavy tanks are slow, powerful and hard to kill.  So as a lowbie, I’m quite capable of applying my scissors to the paper of artillery or by spotting the enemy permitting the paper of artillery to cover the rock of the big tanks.  The result?  “weaker” units are in fact actually niche units in the game design and have a consistent and valuable role to play.

Granted, this is PvP and a “battleground” scenario.  Creating the same opportunity for collaborative play seem to particularly difficult to design.  Frankly its easy to call a match and see who shows up then simply divide the teams evenly based on perceived “progression”, “power” or “ability”.

Its much more difficult to do the same for PvE content.  How DOES one design content for the PvE player that is a challenge for both advanced and more novice players that provide the ever so elusive right amount of challenge to both without being susceptible to the problem of being utterly trivial to a group of highly progressed players or impossible to a group of lowbies?  By comparison, letting everyone play on the same server is trivial.

A while back, there was a discussion going on in the blogosphere about the “challenge” level of encounters and the skill of the player base.  What I came away from that discussion with was the idea that challenge was relative and that creating that challenge in a progression based game (whether that progression was fairly linear or wildly exponential is irrelevant) became increasingly difficult.

Once upon a time, I used to body surf and boogie board with a friend of mine in a spot near Half Moon Bay, California.  Nearby is a place a few people may have heard of:  “Mavericks“.  By all accounts, when the conditions are right, Mavericks is probably one of the toughest spots on the planet to surf.  People die there.  You have to be max level to attempt it and even then there is a gearcheck– you have to be towed into the wave by waverunner.

Raid Content

Mavericks is epic, raid quality, heroic level content.  The folks that surfed there were looking for the same thing I was looking for a few miles up the road on my wee 3 foot near beach break waves.  Give me something that is about X% just beyond my ability where I have a decent chance of success and a greater than zero chance of failure and I’ll run that all day long.  I don’t care if I wipe as long as I have a decent chance of success.

Being able to just catch that wave and then just be able to handle it, and occasionally hot dog it, was the essence of the PvE experience.  Progression just means the wave needs to get bigger and the mountain taller.

Facsimile woosin waves I used to "surf" (I have more hair btw)

But challenge is affirmed only in mastery, and after mastery, additional challenge requires progression and there in lies the rub.  How is the master challenged by the same content as the student?

I don’t have an answer, but the older I get, and the more demands I and my friends have on their time, means that gulf is exceedingly hard to bridge.  Still I refuse to believe that the only choices are to play only with people who have the same skill and/or time budget as you do or to “lower yourself” to playing only games that your time-constrained friends can meaningfully participate in.

As the first gamer generation ages– those that grew up both the PC and PC games– I’m hoping that the grey hairs among us come up with something to solve this fundamental problem.

Claiming your STO Pre-Order Rewards

Mrs. P and I ordered the Collector’s Edition of Star Trek Online.  The only CE I’ve ever ordered before was the WoW Wrath of the Lich King CE for Mrs.  (primarily because of the Frosty Pet).  She likes the pets, what can I say.  For those of you who don’t have the great good fortune of having a gaming wife, I pity you.  For those of you that do, I’m sure you’ll understand.

Now its obvious that the coolest STO item is the Kirk-era Constellation class starship Enterprise.  That of course was on offer from Gamestop.  Best Buy, however, offerred the tribble pet… You see where this is going.

As a result, our household ordered two STO CE’s.  One from Gamestop and one from Best Buy.  My schedule being what it is of late, I opted for delivery rather than pickup.  I had my doubts about Best Buy…

Gamestop dutifully shipped my CE over the weekend and it arrived today (launch day) as planned.  Best Buy, however, was only able to report that it had in fact just shipped the other CE today.  Fail.  No Tribbles for launch day.

Regarding the live launch– I got home late, fired up STO, patched a small patch and found myself in game.  No queues, no lag, utterly uneventful.  Apparently one of the 3 or so patches Cryptic pushed out between Sunday and tonight was a miracle patch.  In the two hours or so I was able to spend online (admittedly between 9-11pm Pacific time, later than peak), I had absolutely no problem.  Good job Cryptic.

Mrs. P, being somewhat shanked, decided to sit out launch day and got sucked into Frontline:  Digital Nation – Life on the Virtual Frontier.  Eff that.  Its launch day baby and I’m takin the Constellation Class ship out and kick some Gorn/Klingon/Whoever comes along Butt.

If you want to know what comes in the CE box, go here.  Yes, I got the communicator badge.  I’ll save it for jury duty.

Ok, time to enter my key and claim my rewards.  How hard can it be? (pssst, their name is “Cryptic” tee hee).  So I go to the STO website and log in, then go to my account page.  Hrm.  Other than a download link, nothing obvious like an “enter my key” link or anything like that.  Flipping to the back of the lovely full color hard cover art book that came with the CE and which houses the CD for the game I see the game key and instructions directing me to http://www.startrekonline/activate.  A little obtuse, but well, ok, maybe there is some rational reason (like security) to obscure the key entering part of the web site.

Key entered, a few hitches with the subscription part of the deal (yes, you are required to subscribe even though you get a free month… get over it) and then I’m in game.

Inventory check.  No stuff.  Run around Earth Spacedock to the mailbox, no stuff.  Go to the Shipyard and try to select ship, no stuff.  Type /claim, no stuff.  Ugh.  Cryptiiiiiiiiiiiic!

Reluctantly I went to my global chat tab.  Someone says to go to the C-Store, Cryptic’s version of the microtransaction store (Down arrow by the minimap or type /cstore).

Thar she blows.  My beloved Constellation class ship (oh, and that crap red matter thingy too, whatever).  Double clicking or “claim”ing these items puts them into your inventory.  Once in your inventory double clicking again makes them available to you.  In my case, the Constellation class ship was unlocked and all I had to do was go to the “Shipyard” section of the Earth Spacedock  and talk to Ensign Obin to select your ship and make the new ship active.  Don’t forget to transfer any cool components from your old ship to your new ship.  Note the Conny has TWO engineering stations.  Gonna have to get me a second engineering BO…

Then it was just a matter of selecting my new ship.  It was originally called the USS Alexandra (blech) but I customized it and changed it to the USS Penbryn with a quick visit to Dirz Raxx nearby.

Constellation in hand, what about the Uniform options?  Subspace communications indicated that uniform and appearance changes were available through the tailor, or rather Ghemik “The Cardassian” Telur, located about 8 o’clock in the Requisitions Sector of the Earth Spacedock.

Once there, I could choose between the TNG Series or Film Uniforms or the DS 9 versions.  Uniform and appearance changes are NOT free which is kind of a screw job, but they were cheap enough that I got over it quickly.  I went with a DS 9 variant.

So after futzing around for a bit, I had to take the Conny out for a shakedown.  I headed out to Delta Volanis and set a course for the nearest anomaly.

Unfortunately, the first mission I drew was an exploration mission on the Ice World Hoth Planet Gamma Orionis something something.

The mission involved scanning a number of alien devices and generally kicking booty in a fairly complicated fashion, though I was hoping for a more space based mission for the Enterprise Penbryn.

So aside from the amateur night regarding the actual subscribing and claiming rewards, performance was entirely stable and for the brief time I was in game, fun was had.  Good job (at least from my perspective) Cryptic!

E-Z Credit

Still two days until live release and only six gold energy credit spam emails in my Star Trek Online mailbox…

No credit? Bad credit? Come on down!

Hell, I only found my mailbox today after closed beta and open beta… Considering the downtime during headstart weekend, how could anyone even GET 100k energy credits to sell?

I guess the credit crunch is over…

(Note the new standard feature “Report Spam” for all new MMOs).


Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa A Complete Failure

NC Soft announced that it will shutter the game at the end of February.

Ok, that’s a bit harsh.  But what’s really worse?  This headline or the hubris that it takes to include your name in the game’s title? Or that fact that all that money basically went for nought?

Quite frankly, the entire notion of the RG-centricity of the marketing put me off the game almost from the date it was announced.  Seriously, why didn’t they just call it “RICHARD GARRIOTT’S ENORMOUS E-PEEN (now with free MMO)(TM)”.

I’m sorry, but I just can’t stand arrogant, self aggrandizing assholes.  And the only thing worse than arrogant self aggrandizing assholes are arrogant self aggrandizing assholes that don’t deliver the goods.

I mean seriously.  The only guy who might be able to get away with that shit is Sid Meier and that’s still debatable.  Every designer is going to deliver a turd at some point.  Why risk devaluing your own brand?

“Joel and Ethan Coen’s Hudsucker Proxy”

“Bill Gates’ Windows Me Vista”

“Richard Fuld’s Lehman Brothers”

“Steve Jobs’ Merlin”

“Field Marshall Tito’s Yugo”


Payback, as they say, is a bitch.  We can only hope that in the annals of MMO-failure, this game will always be referred to the future the way its been marketed– “NC Soft’s failed MMO, Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa” or “the spectacular failure that was Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa”, etc.

I have no particular axe grind.  I beta’d the game.  There just wasn’t that much there for me.  It wasn’t ground breaking.  It wasn’t that fun.

Frankly it was hard to see where all the money went.  Until I remember who went to space versus who’s now out of work.  At least now, in addition to his ego having its own zip code, so does his failure.