Having 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.
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.
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!).