Off the Chest – Landmark Edition: Shelving Landmark, Wanna-be Devs and my Trouble with Votes

mychestHaving enjoyed Landmark’s closed beta for several weeks now, I am putting the game on hold for the time being. I am in fact not even sure I’ll bother with claim upkeep until launch. This by no means comes as a shock: I’ve predicted and talked about building fatigue in sandbox games in the past and I’ve been through the same stages of declining enthusiasm with Minecraft. Landmark has some powerful building tools and beats Mojang’s giant in every cosmetic respect, which is great, but for now the game isn’t offering any content besides building or the more recent tool grind introduced in last week’s patch. Since I see no reason whatsoever to painstakingly upgrade tools or crafting stations for no better reason than because I can, nor wish to build anything else for now, that’s it for me and Landmark until SOE implement social features.

newforge
The new, ugly tech forge.

The game isn’t very enjoyable right now when it comes to social interaction; I’m not sure what the alpha players were gushing about because ingame community to me is not people posting fancy pictures on forums or re-tweeting them on twitter (which I do too). Don’t get me wrong, player organized swap meets and building contests are nice and so are SOE’s regular dev streams where they interact with fans – it just doesn’t make the actual game any more social than it is and it doesn’t make your neighborhood any less dead. The majority of any MMO’s playerbase are not on message boards or twitch and the server landscape ain’t lying: no matter what island you jump on, the place feels pretty empty and themes are all over the place. (Yeah, I know they said theme servers are coming.)

Landmark needs a purpose for all the housing, needs trade, quests, guilds and cooperative content if it’s meant to last down the road. Unlike Minecraft it won’t have the myriads of differently themed, self-hosted server modes nor the leagues of addons that have given that game such longevity. Landmark is a restricted sandbox and while most of the social features I mentioned are announced in the blueprint, I am not convinced it’s ever going to be more than “building with your guild (maybe) and a few quests and achievements”. From that point of view, I worry about its self-proclaimed endgame-free future the way anyone should who has watched GW2’s identity crisis. But hey, Landmark really is beautiful and atmospheric and if EQN becomes all the better for it, you’ll hear no complaints from me. More power to die-hard builders, may you stick with the game for years!

On wanna-be devs and rabid fanbases

After some brief brushes with Landmark’s official forums, it strikes me how rabid a yes-(wo)men community the game has inspired, as far as vocal minorities go anyway. Every half-reasonable topic on game design or even innocent list of personal preferences / wishes for the future, is getting derailed by righteous defenders of the blueprint. Clearly labeled player <suggestions> are often shot down because someone has learned each and every single line by heart ever uttered by Dave Georgeson (clearly not his fault, he’s awesome). I have already experienced some of that defensiveness myself on twitter and as a design-oriented, critical blogger, it’s not something I am used to. This is not my type of community and frankly, if you’re already in aggro-mode during alphas and betas, maybe you shouldn’t be a play-tester. MMOs change all the time.

I’ve wondered a little about this particular hype for peaceful building-MMO Landmark and have come up with a few possible explanations:
a) The Landmark community consists of a very broad demographic with very different interests (builders only, PVErs, PVPers) many of which may not be overly familiar with level-headed design debates. Richt now, everyone thinks the game is just for them.
b) Publishing blueprints way in advance and telling your playerbase that they’re your co-developers isn’t good for people’s egos and for keeping an open mind towards deviant player suggestions.
c) Games with a strong focus on individual “claims” make everyone more entitled and aggressive than usual.
d) I clearly need to stop bothering with anything public forum.
e) Also: EQ/SOE-evangelism.

If you have any other theories to add, I’d love to hear them!

The trouble with voting systems

My Inn of the Last Home has received a bit of love since the global voting system was introduced last week, via the ingame gallery feature. For those unfamiliar with this recent addition: players can now showcase and tag their claim with one screenshot in a global database that others can view and instantly up-vote (without having to visit). The new tool is wonderful insofar as it easily allows you to discover other claims and themes on any island and seek them out because coordinates. Yet, the voting system in particular has left me unfulfilled just the way it always does on webpages, blogs and elsewhere.

What is a vote on content? It doesn’t tell you whether the content was examined/read fully, why it was voted on or by whom. It’s impersonal numbers with no way to interpret or to create social interaction. Give me one personal blog comment I can reply to over 100 up-votes any day of the week.

lmvoters
Thanks (but I really wish I knew who you were!)

For social games, the feature strikes me as even less suitable. Sure, I absolutely get the wish to highlight great claims and make them more accessible for everybody. At the same time, it makes being discovered for newcomers a lot harder once you have 50 or more “top claims” that everyone will seek out before bothering with the lower ladders. And claims receive votes for all kinds of reasons: wonderful castles of 100 hours of work will be awarded the same or less votes than chaotic swap meets somebody put up for the community to contribute to. That’s a problem, as well as going by a single screenshot for multi-claims is. Votes don’t differentiate.

For me personally, it simply takes the fun away not knowing who visited the Inn or if they even did. So really – here’s my suggestion on what to implement instead, SOE: a guestbook. Give visitors / voters of claims the option to fill in a guestbook on site where they can leave a notice and name, so creators actually feel like there’s real people out there enjoying their work. That would be quite awesome (just a suggestion, don’t shoot!).

8 comments

  1. Wilhelm Arcturus

    I love that McDonald’s building. It just demonstrates that if you give players free reign to make things, you had best expect a wide variety of conflicting things. Even the idea of theme servers is going to problematic. Who is going to arbitrate as to what is medieval high fantasy or science fiction and what is not? There will always be some sort of line drawn and a certain sub-set of the population will seek to get as close to it without going over as possible.

    Now, maybe with more actual “game” in the game, there will be practical reasons to only build in a certain fashion without leading to some other sort of tyranny. I am interested to see what they come up with. My own 7 day pass into Landmark impressed me, but also left me thinking that there was little point jumping in until at least open beta.

    • Syl

      Personally I am particularly fascinated about the amount of McDs you will actually find in Landmark. Randomly wandering around, I found at least half a dozen….that is pretty nuts and tells you how much this franchise has impacted on culture worldwide.

      Moderating theme servers will defiitely be tricky. I assume SOE will have a fairly general definition and if they want to make things easier for themselves, they’ll add a ‘report’ function to that new gallery feature soon, so players are acting as their agents. It sounds fussy though and that’s the whole problem with not having private servers imo.

  2. Kadomi

    That’s my trouble with sandboxes. I don’t enjoy not having a purpose. What good is all that freedom if it leaves me feeling empty after a while? I wish there was a solid middle between sandbox and themepark. From reports, ArcheAge sounds like it might come closest.

    • Syl

      This exactly. I already made a mental note about following up on “purpose” in a next post and you just summed it up again for me! :)

  3. bhagpuss

    Nice overview of where we are now. Landmark is very clearly not a “game” yet and certainly not an MMO. Whether it will ever be either I have my doubts but I very definitely wasn’t expecting progress towards that end to be so grindingly slow.

    When I saw the “alpha” I thought it was not much more than a tech demo. Now, here we are in “closed beta” and we seem to be somewhere around what I would have called early-to-mid alpha. Before alpha I was expecting to see it go into Open Beta by the end of June. Now I would be surprised if it hits OB before the autumn.

    As for the community, I don’t think it’s bad but it is very particular. I can’t remember if you played EQ2 but the Landmark community is extremely similar to two overlapping EQ2 sub-communities – the Test Server Channel (almost no-one in this actually plays on Test regularly) and the Decorators. I was more or less closely involved with both of those for many years so it all feels very familiar to me. In Landmark it’s even more extreme because so much of what’s under discussion doesn’t actually exist so people can make any claims they like without fear of being refuted. I’ve found the forums fairly pleasant, as a whole, though.

    As for the voting system, again, this is *extremely* familiar from EQ2. Decorators in the older game, by a very clear majority of those willing to express an opinion, didn’t want a voting system for housing at all. They wanted a social system that facilitated what they already did, namely going around to each others houses, oohing and aahing, telling each other how wonderful they were and having tea parties.

    This behavior is incomprehensible to male game developers, or so it would appear. Instead, they seem to believe that all decorators (and now builders) need to make their gaming lives perfect is an equivalent to competitive raiding and PvP and these voting systems are just one of the ways they hope to make that happen.

    Despite a long and ardent campaign on and off the EQ2 forums against the voting system, however, SOE imposed it and largely declined even to amend it to remove the most egregious faults when those became impossible to ignore. Consequently many serious decorators boycotted it from the start and many more gave it up as a bad job after a couple of months. For as long as I can remember the top-ranked “house” on my server, Freeport, has been an empty room with a Guild Door in it. There’s a thread about this on the forum that I’ve contributed to.

    I’ve stopped doing much in Landmark. I pay my rent and occasionally I fiddle around on my claim for an hour or two. Mrs Bhagpuss is building something seriously but she has other issues with the very nature of a voxel-based building system (she hates right-angles, which is kind of a big issue with this engine). I’ll be paying more attention if and when combat arrives but at the moment I have to say I do not expect that Landmark will form a significant part of my MMO diet either before or after launch.

    • Syl

      Heh…you know, every time you share your EQ/EQ2 insights I feel worse about the upcoming games! :D the fact that Sony has a history with the whole silly votes doesn’t fill me with confidence. ‘Particular’ is a nice word to describe the community, by the way. ;)

      Am actually with you that Landmark isn’t going to fill my hours after launch but then I never expected it to. I do have hopes for EQN and there’s so much else to play this year (Archage, Black Desert, Wildstar).

  4. Jeromai

    Any other theories? Post-purchase rationalization. If you’ve bought a $100 Founder Pack, SOE cannot do any wrong, right?

    Lost my claim a while back. Apparently I misjudged how long it had been or something. As mentioned, it becomes tedious to consider building elsewhere if you’ve already molded a claim to fit its surroundings, so decided not to even begin again.

    Landmark has potential, but we’ll have to wait to see what is done with it. Perhaps when water and caves and combat appear, I’ll check it out again.

    • Syl

      Post-purchase rationalization is actually a good one! I didn’t consider how much some of the alpha testers paid, lol.

      I had the same issue setting the Inn up on a new claim so I just went for a very flat area. I misjudged the claim height required though (I hate that you also have to position vertically), so now I amm slightly off ground which looks a tad silly. ;) Ah well.

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