BRB: Summer Update

I have been shamefully neglectful of this blog and am afraid to say, this trend is likely to continue for a while longer! To make up for this, here’s a picture of the Oreo cheesecake I made yesterday:

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It was delicious and worth all ten thousand calories. I used this recipe.

I hope you are all well, that is the assumed ‘you’ – everyone out there and still around in some shape or form, blogging or not but frequenting this little place from time to time. Judging from other blogs I’ve visited of late, summer break has generally slowed things down, that is if you’re not among those desperately awaiting Legion.

What I’ve been up to

I have no immediate plans for a new MMO this year. I’m currently going through a bit of a FFXIV blues which led me to cancel my subscription temporarily, until a time when I feel like grinding a hundred dungeons for gear tokens again. I still log into BDO now and again, mostly to explore new content and hang in my house which is both fabulous and entirely without purpose. I had a stab at Stardew Valley and Recettear during the Steam summer sale, neither of which stuck because I really detest the control schemes (and I have no wish to mess around with a controller).

Black Desert Online aside, this year’s best plays so far have been Portal Knights and Overwatch for me and am awaiting new patches eagerly for both. I also really want to get back into The Witcher 3, once time allows or rather my general mood. Oh and before I forget: I’ve had some sexy time with the HTC Vive which is wonderful and amazing and so much better than I ever thought it would be! I am getting myself a Vive as soon as possible (preferably when there’s a lighter 2.0 version).

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Summer isn’t for sitting in front of the desk. I’ve spent a lot of time this year re-building both physical and mental fitness and I feel better than I have in a very long time. I’ve taken up a new work position three weeks ago which so far, has proven to be the perfect mix of professional progress and life balance I’ve been looking for. I’ve learned a lot about mindfulness and self-compassion in the past few months, which is an ongoing process, so above all my current goal is to remain in harmony with myself. That sounds horribly hipster and carrot juice but it’s all about not losing yourself out there in this stressy and messy world and remembering priorities. That includes remembering yourself and I’m glad I took some time off to do that.

Having said this, I’m off to Italy next week to enjoy the Italian sun, cuisine and Mediterranean sea for a while. I’ve packed Neil Gaiman’s “Trigger Warnings” as well as Kingdom Hearts Unchained and Seabeard on tablet, in case that media withdrawal strikes. There’s not going to be a new episode of Battle Bards next week but on the 19th, in case you’ll be looking for it. We did a really cool show on adventure tunes end of June.

Business shall resume on this blog when it shall. I’ve done this many times before, so worry not – meanwhile I will be lurking in the usual corners and twitter. Hugs to my blogging buddies and friends keeping their pens sharp and minds sharper! You know who you are.

Happy summer break everybody!

Favorite Overwatch Heroes!

I’m playing too much Overwatch which is a bit like eating too much Mexican food, delicious but occasionally frustrating. 38 levels later, my personal hero statistics currently look like this:

Favorite Overwatch Heroes

I love Pharah, she is my desert goddess of the skies. I love Symmetra and Lucio too, both of which are insanely fun to play and have had me roar with laughter and glee so many times. Just how much better can it get?? What Overwatch has done lately is remind me of my PvP soul – it’s always been there and strong, if we care to believe gamer profiling tests anyway, but I feel it’s been slumbering for a time while I was busy exploring MMORPGs with Bilbo’s walking stick.

Overwatch has unleashed the beast. I take more joy from my enemy’s pitiful cries than is probably healthy. Oh well!

The different heroes are really where all of Blizzard’s creative genius has gone into; there’s not a single one that feels generic or sameish and doesn’t come with fun little tricks, voice lines and special interactions. For all its straightforward and simple gameplay, Overwatch piles on the charisma (you can just feel there is so much backstory material) and the seemingly endless combinations (there are in fact 230’230) you can play, counter and adapt to. The quick and brutal matches are some of the most carefree mayhem I’ve enjoyed in a long time but they have the potential of being jarring too, depending on how your team is playing. Still, a close match is a good match and it’s refreshing to play a game again that teaches you how to lose.

My personal Overwatch Hero Roster

So heroes! I’ve started expanding my active heroes in Overwatch to be able to switch according to team setup and map progress. I feel it’s important to know at least one hero per role really well but I’d like to play most of them eventually. Every time I start a new class, it gets really fun after a while, I suspect they all are. For the time being, I’d rank all 21 characters accordingly:

A) Heroes I feel confident playing

1. Lucio
2. Pharah
3. Symmetra
4. Mercy
5. Torbjörn

B) Heroes I’d like to get better at

6. Reinhardt
7. Mei
8. Zenyatta
9. Genji
10. Junkrat
11. Widowmaker

C) Heroes that feel awkward

12. Roadhog
13. Bastion
14. Tracer

D) Heroes I haven’t touched (incl. beta)

15. Reaper
16. Soldier 76
17. Zarya
18. McCree
19. Hanzo
20. Winston
21. D.VA

I doubt that I will ever be a good Reaper, McCree or Tracer. I don’t really seem to enjoy more traditional, up close gun classes much. It’s safe to say I’ll never become much of a sniper either; it feels like they’re missing all the action, loitering in the back all by themselves. I play for the chaos and shared laughs but am sure a great sniper has her moments! The tanks also don’t come naturally to me but I’ve enjoyed Reinhardt so far – Roadhog was just weird and not very pleasant a character. I hate getting hooked by this guy when I’m fighting against one, so I wonder if that’s behind my antagonism. Well, that and he sounds like a pig.

It will be interesting to revisit this post a few months down the line! If you’re on the fence of whether Overwatch is a game for you or not, I’ve shared some pointers over here!

The Free and Easy Forever Status Report for Your Blog (and other Media)!

I think it was Billy Connolly who once joked in an interview that the only weather forecast you’ll ever need was this: “It will rain and after the rain, there will be sunshine until it rains again”. I have to paraphrase a bit because the clip is gone from youtube but anyway, it made me laugh as his dry sense of stating the obvious always has done.

A friend of mine who shall not be named is currently contemplating to shut down his blog; as you might have guessed, I am decidedly against it. I’ve witnessed the rare occasion over the years, and it’s been six years of MMO blogging for me now, that a fellow blogger actually quit his or her blog for good (I miss you – Tam, Chas and Larisa!) and am still grumpy they deleted it. More often than not however, blogging and/or gaming malady is a temporary thing, fickle and multi-causal. More importantly, there is simply no rational reason for chucking your blog, podcast or whatever just because you’re feeling out of steam for a while, heck even a long while. Blogging is not a pact with the almighty that terminates the contract as soon as you’re not a good girl. Even better, your blog is just a bit of code on the internet (ya rly), it takes no space in the apartment and you won’t have to dust it off! So what is this obsession with constant status reports? This is LIFE, yo!

On quitting blogs

Okay, I get it – sometimes we just need an excuse to talk about ourselves and what’s going on in our lives. That’s cool. As far as audiences go however imagined or otherwise (I imagine mine is fairly well-dressed, wearing top hats and monocles), you don’t owe anyone regular or final-ish status updates and there is certainly no requirement for grand quitting gestures. In fact, most people don’t really care much if you take three weeks off or three months and whether you’re on time every Monday morning or not. That said, it’s completely nice to announce a longer AFK but do yourself a favor and stop the quitting business! It will save you from “oh guess what, am back…again!”-followups and potential content losses (because you didn’t backup, did ya?) when that writing, ranting and rambling mood strikes again. And for most writers and oversharers on the internet, it always does!

Don’t do it, okay? I hate broken links to deleted articles!

….

Since it’s Friday and I’m in a good mood, I’ve decided to provide my neurotic friend with a “forever status report” for his blog. I don’t know if he’ll actually use it but it’s a pretty great substitute for whatever he was coming up with instead:

“Dear readers, blogging friends and commenters,
I will be blogging a little less, until I blog more again! This is going to happen forever.
Thanks for taking note, you’re all great and should totally like me on twitter! XOXO”

THE END. You’re welcome, “Bob”! Happy Friday quitters and welcome back forever!

Overwatch Blogosphere Impressions

Now that the Overwatch open beta has ended, more of the blogosphere’s fine folks have chimed in to give their personal impressions. Having written a fairly positive review myself, it’s always interesting to see where others fall on the approval spectrum, so here’s an overview of the articles I’ve read so far:

While mileage varies here and there, I think there’s a consensus at the moment where Overwatch’s depth is concerned; it is a fun game to get into and for now, matches are very quick. This is something I like about it and I’d say team FPS generally aren’t the deepest genre to begin with but still, the question of longevity is a fair one. This being a Blizzard title however, I don’t see Overwatch remain in it’s current state for long. I expect more game modes to be added very soon (like the mandatory capture-the-flag), maybe with larger maps for one thing. Blizzard aren’t known to launch games and then treat them with negligence – we can expect more to come and I do look forward to Overwatch becoming “meatier”.

Overwatch Blogosphere Impressions

This is why I don’t pug a lot.

Pricing is another popular topic and I do agree that 40$ are fairly steep for what Overwatch currently has to offer. Naturally, there is a very long reddit discussion on this topic which only comes to show once more how differently different players regard their gaming investments. I think 40$ would’ve been more widely accepted if the game launched with more than just three modes and no intention to charge extra for special skins. At this point, Blizzard still haven’t finalized whether the ingame currency you gain from achievements will also be available for RMT. If so, it’s not gonna go down well considering Overwatch is b2p but likewise, the current random lootbox system isn’t very motivating to the average player. Am really interested to see how they address this particular issue for launch. And please, nerf that Genji Dragon!

Fun and Whimsy in Portal Knights

Besides sinking some considerable time into Overwatch last week, I have found myself enjoying Portal Knights, an already very polished title currently on early access and available on Steam. I almost missed Portal Knights thinking it was another Minecraft/Trove/craft-something voxel game but the graphics looked cute and bright and I kept reading role-playing game in various descriptions. It was coop mode which finally got me to try it with my best mate however and 15 hours later, we were still going!

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Portal Knights is a breath of fresh air in the sandbox voxel world because it’s very much still a “game” and not another open world life sim. Now, I do love me some open world games as y’all know, but I’ve written before about my trouble with building fatigue in games that make it their primary purpose. I can go nuts for 3-4 weeks building my fantasy castle and then feel very burned out, wondering what’s the point.

This question never arises in Portal Knights. Instead, you unlock mini-worlds via portals that follow a very linear, level-based progression. As you journey from one map to the next, you gather better materials, beat harder dungeons and bosses to level up and become ever more powerful. Never knowing what will lie behind the next door, you want to return to your home base ever so often to craft better gear and potions or do some optional gardening and decorating if you like. This makes Portal Knights very much an adventure game on single-player or coop that features some crafting and free building on top. Scratching several itches at once is what this title does really well; I look forward to see what else the developer will come up with in terms of game modes (survival?).

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For a more detailed overview, check out my full Portal Knights early access preview over at MMOGames! This is very much also a game to enjoy with family, in case you’re looking to play something together with your kids that allows for shorter session gameplay while still being a longer project you can work on together.

Overwatch Early Access Impressions

Having jumped into Overwatch early access last Tuesday night, I’ve got myself up to level 14 since, trying out different heroes and learning the basics of the game. As Blizzard explained on their forums, all early access and open beta progress (including skin unlocks etc.) will be wiped before May 24th, and I shall try not question the logic behind an early access starting before open beta weekends.

Overwatch Early Access Impressions

On the Fly Overwatch Impressions

First things first: Overwatch looks gorgeous and you know it! Blizzard never cease to amaze in the polish department and absolutely everything from the clean interface and level design to actual gameplay and animations look and behave smoothly as a baby seal. In true Blizzard fashion, players also get the guided newcomer experience with tutorials, practice ranges and optional games vs. AI included (on easy, medium and hard mode). So, even if you’re new to team FPS and slightly weary to jump in, these features will ease you in perfectly.

Having tried most of the characters now, each of them plays very differently with obvious strengths and weaknesses which is a lot of fun to explore and come to grips with. Controls are simple enough, with familiar FPS key mapping and usually up to three special abilities keyed to Lshift/E/Q.  Once I changed some of the keybinds to fit my mouse better, things started rolling and I got deeper into the nitty-gritty with Mei (must kill all the Tracers!), Farah, Bastion and Mercy which I prefer so far. Overwatch encourages playing different roles and characters which can mean the difference between victory and defeat, depending on the map you’re playing and whether your team is attacking or defending.

Overwatch Early Access Impressions

There are currently only three game modes in Overwatch (capture, attack/defend and escort), although more are to come. Blizzard recently announced the removal of competitive (ranked) play mode for this open beta because there’s more to figure out and balance after receiving player feedback. General balancing is going to be an issue for a while to come yet, as is to be expected from a title like this; besides some heroes currently possessing clear advantages and some ultimate abilities feeling ten times stronger than others (hello Genji and Reaper), there are still matchmaking and team composition issues to address.

What should be good news to FPS players out there, is that Blizzard are running with dedicated servers for Overwatch’s matchmaking, rather than player-hosted lobbies. This means (mostly) stable servers and reliable ping for random matches as well as playing custom games with your friends.

Why I like it

I had loads of fun in Overwatch with my partner so far and would recommend it to anyone who’s just a wee bit interested in team-based PvP and FPS which offer more variety than traditional offensive/defensive roles. If you dig disrupting or healing only for example, there’s still a place for you in this game. Matchmaking queues have generally been short for me (1-2mins max), so you don’t need to commit to long gameplay sessions to get some Overwatch under your belt.

Overwatch makes it easy to get into (mastery is a different story) and if you’re willing to take the time and try different heroes, you’re guaranteed to find at least one or two who will fit your playstyle. Once you got the basics down, the game opens up to all the tactical group play, making use of team synergies and environmental factors – all of which should keep players busy for a while to come.

Overwatch Early Access Impressions

I got some healing practice on Mercy…she’s Swiss!

Naturally, Overwatch is also packed with shinies and no matter how great your FPS skills, there’s motivating progress and random unlocks for skins, tag lines and so forth. Blizzard have also taken care of honoring and rewarding “best plays” of every match, letting great players shine without naming and shaming anyone on the bottom (for non-ranked play anyway).

So much for my quick Overwatch Early Access impressions! If you’re at all curious, don’t miss the ongoing open beta until May 9th! The cheapest pre-order for the game is 39.99 Euros currently; Blizzard’s pre-order page lands you on the medium package by default, so make sure to switch if you’re looking for best bang for the buck. Have fun – and kill more Tracers!

The Long Shadow of World of Warcraft: Titan and the Legacy Server Question

In the wake of the much discussed Nostalrius server closure, Gamespot published an interview with Blizzard’s Overwatch team about the great failure that was Titan, as part of a history feature for Overwatch. Titan having been this great hush-hush project for so long, with only a single Kotaku article shedding some light on its demise at the time, I found both the timing and takeaway of this new interview quite fascinating. It is rare for a developer of Blizzard’s caliber to come out and talk about screwing up projects of such magnitude in candid fashion, with notable commentary by Jeff Kaplan and Chris Metzen. Yet if youtube comments are anything to go by, it was another smart move on their end in terms of marketing Overwatch and generating some more trust and curiosity within the player base.

The Long Shadow of World of Warcraft: Titan and Legacy Servers

What the Titan interview is too, is a rather ironical look at the long-lasting after-effects of the monster that was created in 2004 – World of Warcraft, proclaimed hero and villain of mainstream MMORPGdom depending on whom you ask. Over the years many a case has been made against WoW for hijacking the creative diversity of the genre, causing a plethora of unfortunate clones or ill-budgeted AAA-titles crashing in one treacherous MMO bubble. What isn’t discussed nearly as often however are the negative side-effects of WoW from within, for a company and creative enterprise. WoW may be the best thing that ever happened to Chris Metzen and Co. but it “happened” to them in the same bewildering, unforeseen and uncontrollable way it happened to the entire market; a child of chance and momentum as much as creative genius and industry know-how. An alchemy that defies simple re-creation.

That fortuitous chain of events led the team at Blizzard through the same process it would lead anyone that could not be prepared, from a time of unstoppable force and hubris to a place of shattered dreams and identity crisis when it came to Titan, crushed under the real MMO giant that remains World of Warcraft. The irony is strong in this one. WoW casts its long shadow to this day and left the staff soul-searching and scavenging Titan’s remains to come up with Overwatch, a completely different, much smaller game to complement their genre palette. Thus a team used to the dizzying successes of the past stood humbled, as Chris Metzen points out in the Gamespot feature.

The Long Shadow of World of Warcraft: Titan and Legacy Servers

Among MMO bloggers there goes the saying that “there is no WoW killer other than WoW” and indeed, nothing can seem to affect this title’s weight, not even the next Blizzard MMORPG. This must create a challenging emotional ambivalence even among those closest to WoW and most blessed by its many rewards. And I can’t help but think it also plays a role in Blizzard’s unaltered disregard for WoW legacy servers; something that surely makes sense business-wise and in terms of fan service. But if we then consider a crew of people who are simply tired of old WoW and eager to create new experiences, experiences not continuously outclassed by a 12 year-old zombie that just won’t stop rearing its insistent head, well then we can empathize more with that decision.

You run legacy servers when you’re actually happy to keep the past alive. At this point, I don’t get the feeling Blizzard are content to be defined by the successes of WoW’s heyday and this weighs heavier on their mind than a couple more subscriptions.

Black Desert Online Status Report: My Top 10 Gripes

Black Desert Online has been out for over a month and I’ve had an absolute blast so far. I am nowhere near max level yet, nor do I wish to be as I continue this fantastic journey through vast and beautiful lands. These past weeks I have explored, crafted, traded, decorated, fished and killed a few things. Mostly, I have taken screenshots and sighed in awe at the scenery. All that said, there are also quite a few things getting on my nerves by now, so following in Bhag’s footsteps – let’s talk about that!

Black Desert Online Top 10 Gripes

Naturally, there will never be agreement over the things we as players regard as priority issues in MMOs. One month in, my list of pet peeves has grown but my top concerns need not be the next person’s; it all depends on play-style and focus. What everyone can probably agree on is that Black Desert’s UI is clunky and the game could do with more polish in many areas of micromanagement and basic functionality. Given the title’s been out in Korea for two years however, I have serious doubts we’ll see much change anytime soon. So for what its worth, these are my Black Desert Online top 10 gripes as of now, in no particular order:

1. Marketplace Functionality

Let’s face it, the marketplace in Black Desert Online is the worst. The search function lacks basic criteria, many items are assigned to the wrong category (wool is now a plant!) and the fixed pricing system really doesn’t work so well. Also, don’t get me started on the onerous process of listing your own items, I have stopped counting how many clicks are necessary until my stuff is finally up – halp!

2. Inventory Management

While I am okay with the general bag and storage space in the game, inventory management itself is quite the nightmare. The list goes from not being able to re-arrange your items as you see fit or split stacks, to missing vendor options such as “sell all trash”. Even with plenty of bagspace, you feel like you’re constantly overloaded on trash items as well as the many byproducts from crafting with no way to separate these from gear and more important items. Eugh.

3. Double and Triple Confirmations

Do I want to sell? Do I really really? And how many?….It is beyond me why I am pressing so many buttons in Black Desert Online when trying to sell or purchase items or put them up on the marketplace. Given there is a buy-back window at every vendor, I do not understand why the game needs to babysit me for every choice I make. And can we please just right-click sell and buy, pretty please? What’s with all the different buttons?

4. Always-Online Mode

There are quite a few ways in which Black Desert Online encourages players to go AFK or keep the game running in the background. Energy replenishes faster while lying in your bed, crops don’t grow while you are offline and workers won’t perform their assigned gathering tasks, although for whatever reason crafting in workshops seems to be the exception. While I understand motivations behind some of these design choices, I simply don’t believe it makes that much of a difference; players will let their PCs run if must be but same as for Eri, it’s neither an ecological nor agreeable choice for me personally.

5. Gear and Costume Choices

The game needs more of everything, okay? Also a better cosmetics tab, please!

Black Desert Online Top 10 Gripes

6. Housing Ratings

The rating system for houses is completely broken. This is grating on me personally because I put a lot of effort into interior design and making my home look unique and shiny – yet I don’t even make it into the listed top 20 because dumping several furniture sets from the store will give you the highest rating possible. Cash shop bias, much? I’ve visited listed houses plenty of times now and nine times out of ten, you’ll find store furniture dumped in a corner or alternatively, 100 flower vases and turban shells stacked on top of one another. This is why only players should be rating houses in MMOs and not some highly flawed decor bonus system!

7. Friendlist Management

Have you ever noticed your friends logging on into Black Desert Online? – Well, me neither! The friend list is a horrible mess, there are no sound notifications that I could remember and no prompts for received tells either. I hate how complicated and difficult it is to add and contact people when it really shouldn’t be in a massively multiplayer game?!

8. No Floating Combat Text

Far be it from me to require DPS meters in MMOs but the fact that I haven’t got a clue what damage I am doing (or not doing) to mobs while grinding and questing is highly irritating. I just upgraded my gear to Grunil and I really would’ve liked running some comparisons but somehow, you’re not supposed to know exactly what difference all this upgrading, enhancing and gem socketing makes. There are basic character stats of course (some of which are bugged too) but hitting things in the dark without any type of combat log is not my cup of coffee. It seems an incredibly weird design decision that I don’t recall encountering anywhere else.

9. Dyes Suck

Black Desert Online really wants you to suffer when it comes to dyeing armor which is sadly the only way to make your character look a bit more unique. The terrible dye window deserves its own rant section but what really gets to me is that dyes aren’t only cash shop-only in this game, they are also random (within a greater color range) and one-time use! This makes it a ridiculous system that deserves being boycotted….I’ll be stuck with the few dyes I receive from loyalty rewards every now and then.

10. Playing Alone Together

Black Desert Online punishes player interaction in various ways. Looking back on four weeks of playing, the great majority of my time was spent alone. Joining a friendly guild has slightly improved this situation as far as chatting and guild missions go but it’s still far from a social gameplay experience for the most part. Considering that Pearl Abyss seem to have lost the war on gold sellers, it feels like the community is paying far too high a price in all of this. I’d like to see cooperation and interaction penalties removed from the game and also features such as shared housing and guild banks become a thing.

Black Desert Online Top 10 Gripes

And there I already ran out of 10 points to list when I could have gone on. For the sake of completion, I’ll mention that auto-pathing in Black Desert Online is pretty bad, to the point where weird detours and bumping into everyone and everything makes me grind my teeth at times. Other than that, there’s plenty of small things that could use more polish but aren’t exactly frontrunners; it’s amazing how we adapt to a lot of things in MMOs after playing for extended periods of time. The UI didn’t make the list for this reason, despite frustrating me to no end during the first few days of playing in the beta. Guess am over it.

What urgent issues would you like to see addressed in Black Desert Online as soon as possible?

Dual Wielding LFG Edition: Social Engineering and the Freedom of Choice

About two weeks ago I got into a lengthy twitter conversation with fellow bloggers Mersault and Ironweakness about good and bad ways of forcing or facilitating group play in MMOs. I believe Black Desert Online might have steered us there, being this very playing alone together experience so far. As more voices joined the conversation, we decided to re-visit this difficult topic on our blogs individually as part of an ongoing inter-blog tradition between Mersault and Ironweakness, which they call “dual wielding” on their respective blogs. I am actually quite fond of this idea and so I was happy to chime in for this one.
Social Engineering and the Freedom of Choice

Forced Cooperation versus Fostering Community in MMOs

I usually feel trapped in a dilemma when talking about group content in MMORPGs: on one hand I am a big fan of the cooperative aspect of the genre and would call it one of its most defining factors – on the other hand, I value the freedom of playing when and where I want to without games forcing party and setup restrictions down my throat all the time. There’s a time for all things I suppose, today I am fed up with appointment gaming. And I’ve never actually believed that some of the restrictions/requirements forced upon raiders in early WoW, for example, made for particularly good as in genuine and lasting cooperation. Raidguilds were based around common goals for sure, yet as soon as those goals were removed or someone left the community, people and relationships faded away. Game mechanics do not actually hold the power of connecting people; only people can connect to people. What games can do better or worse is set the stage for interaction.

And interaction may or may not occur more depending on whether an MMO “requires” coop. BDO is an interesting example in so far as actual game mechanics discourage many forms of social interaction (partying penalties, trade and chat restrictions) and yet, despite all of this has created a playerbase in desperate need of their fellow comrades’ knowledge. That’s what hardship can do, bring people together to share information and cooperate. The beauty is that it can happen in completely unforeseen, possibly slightly unflattering ways for developers. This could be an opportunity to talk about how MMOs can be too polished or too convenient, but I’ll leave that for another time.

Social Engineering and the Freedom of Choice

So how do you get players to play together in MMOs, assuming that’s what you want, and what’s the preferable way of doing so? My personal answer is less clever than I would wish; naturally you do it by creating content and challenges that are balanced around group numbers, be it dynamic FFA grouping or traditional partying. That doesn’t necessarily mean dungeons and raids either, it includes questing, shared crafting, trade, building effort and guild progression. The all important distinguishing factor to me across all these activities is access and this is where MMOs vary greatly in execution.

Bad examples of facilitated group play come down to a majority of linear, gated content that’s enforcing group play in a certain inflexible way – or else face the consequence of all progress coming to a halt. I would call out all of WoW’s early endgame here; it was difficult to find and set up groups outside your guild and even running successfully with guildmates required considerable logistic effort. Yet run you must, attunements needed to be followed and exact numbers met. This worked for about 2% of the playerbase back then, so not that great. Everyone else was leveling alts and complaining on forums.

What WoW did was exact punishment in form of restricted access unless all criteria were met. The rigid regimen didn’t just cause discontent outside the few hardcore but caused considerable amounts of pressure for guild recruitment too as well as downtimes from hell when trying to set up balanced raid groups. I would therefore call this a malus-system for group play. It did very much kill communities as much as the other way around, so hardly a winner in fostering community, either. The great hardcore vs. casual divide was born in vanilla Warcraft and our spoils and victories were all satisfaction, rarely fun. Not a brilliant way of handling group content and cooperation.

Social Engineering and the Freedom of Choice

What I generally like to see instead of mechanics that punish players who won’t meet grouping requirements, is systems that will reward them for doing so, as in bonus-systems. Whenever you are awarded more loot, experience or reputation for grouping up with others in an MMO, that is one example of a bonus-system at work. Players should feel motivated to cooperate not because they fear failure otherwise, but because it makes for the better, more rewarding overall gameplay experience. This may be a small difference to some, yet it matters greatly to everyone flying solo and to bigger, more diverse communities that operate on the premise of individual freedom and respecting real life. And no one likes to pay for a game that’s denying them access to either content or one another as soon as they can’t party up or meet exact requirements.

Thinking of FFXIV’s story dungeons here, I believe we’re in somewhat of a grey area in that particular MMO. While the game clearly dictates everyone run a dungeon at least once with others, it also makes the whole process easily accessible. The 4man dungeons generally aren’t very hard, queuing is simple and the great majority of PuGs in the game are surprisingly friendly (my experience anyway). This seems like a compromise to me, in a game that already features a lot of social engineering done right via bonus systems (newcomer bonuses in parties, wide range dungeon roulettes etc.). If players are presented with feasible tools and solutions, I can get behind an enforced dungeon run every now and then.

The Real Thing is still on us

As for actually fostering community and people hooking up in MMOs, I’m afraid to say I don’t believe any game can achieve this for you. The best and worst games have brought people together and probably produced MMO babies somewhere around the world. Social games may set an accessible stage for meeting others but the magic spark, the moment when we cooperate for no reason at all other than enjoying someone else’s company, that’s not something we can expect to be “facilitated”. Nor do we need to – being social is a free choice that’s up to the individual and fortunately it is one we can always revisit. Cooperation opportunities in MMOs should therefore be an invitation – a door that is always open, either just for a run or whatever else we want it to be.

Off the Chest: MMOs are too cheap, Battle Bards Anniversary and my Black Desert Crib!

off the chest

There are too many small updates today, which is a perfect excuse for a quick multi-topic post!

After much consideration and more payment model debates over the past few weeks, I decided I really haven’t had enough of this yet – which led to this post on Camelot Unchained and Subscriptions (and MMO pricing) over at MMOGames. The recent MassivelyOP interview with Mark Jacobs tied in perfectly and from there, it was impossible not to take another look at MMO-specific free-to-play models. I don’t know how many more times this topic is going to occupy my mind, I suspect it will in 6-12 months time like all the other MMO evergreens, but am definitely holding on to this one: MMOs are too cheap and payment model shenanigans are here to stay as long as that’s the case. Solutions are easier said than done, but I would rather see higher pricing for buy-to-play / lifetime sub MMOs than what we’re currently seeing in terms of payment model hybrids.

The Battle Bards Podcast is turning 3!

After 72 episodes and many an MMO music argument, the podcast by Syp, Steff and myself is turning three years old, hooray! This is pretty wild and an occasion to celebrate because we never really expected to last this long, without an end in sight. We’re also getting back to some listeners requests on this special anniversary episode which was a very fun event to return to.

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Casa de Syl in Black Desert Online

As Bhagpuss pointed out in his post of today, BDO is seeing content and seasonal events added at lightning speed ever since launch and with that have come additional housing items to decorate our cribs for more shiny! I’m starting to feel pretty happy with my home in Velia 2.3 which is why I decided to take a brief fraps the other night and take a tour. The basement isn’t nearly where I want it to be….but hey, I’m not in a rush, right!

I really look forward to what else will get added over time, as the furniture options in the game have started to feel fairly limited. The recent Mediah patch introduced a new, fairly ugly set of furniture in the cash shop and looking at the market place, there’s not much else to get right now. I should probably start crafting some of those curtains and pillows for myself and find out where to get that blasted owl cage from!