Category Archives: Rants

Starbound and the Hopeless Quest for Space

So I recently started playing Starbound and it is worlds and galaxies better than expected. I made some bad beginner experiences with Terraria in the past which almost cured me off 2D ant farm builders for good. I’m glad, I gave Starbound another shot though – it’s quite the wonderful space odyssey with vast and very satisfying exploration! The graphics are much cuter than Terraria’s too and there’s the whole Firefly space hub theme which is obviously awesome. Oh and you can play instruments in a band and collect pets and fossils, so what’s not to love?

Naturally, Starbound also comes with complex crafting and progression as well as free creative building, with a million fun deco items to collect. Instantly, the building and decorating fever caught me the way it has done before in Minecraft, Landmark or Portal Knights. And in very much the same way did I find myself in desperate need for more and more SPACE before long!

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Playing the guitar in my own spaceship is pretty stellar!

It makes me laugh how all these building sandboxes follow the exact same script from initial delight to panicky overwhelmification, or at least that’s how it always goes for me. Every single time, I find myself in the same psychological spiral plummeting towards deep frustration with my very imperfect build. The same old inner monologue ensues –

“Oh wow this world is awesome, I need to create my hub asap and collect all the things!”

/builds small hut with door, roof, windows.

“OMG there are so many different blocks and plants and crafting items – I NEED MORE SPACE!”

/expands house with second level and basement.

“I carry too many items!!! I need more chests to organize all these materials that I need to keep forever!”

/creates 20 chests for different mats. Also expands basement.

“Where did I put the wool?? I can’t find ANYTHING in this mess! Need better organization!”

/expands all rooms, builds different storage with labels.

“I found this lovely new wallpaper and ornate wood blocks! These will look so much nicer!”

/starts redoing entire house structure, swap materials, add little details.

“My house looks so cool now but I still have so much more furniture to place and all these ugly storage chests everywhere! I really need MORE SPACE but there’s this horrible mountain to my left now and I already hit the vast body of water to my right. This is hopeless, I can’t work like that – I NEED TO START OVER ENTIRELY, ARGH!”

/frustrated noises.

….

You might argue I know better by now; that I don’t need to create a definite hub right away, or hang on to every and all materials – or alternatively, I could just build with a lot more foresight and planning.

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So…much….vexing….chaos.

Well, I don’t! I do try but I am always overwhelmed by micro-management halfway through and my inner perfectionist hates how shabby things start looking further down the line, once you discovered the fancier building blocks and items. Starbound has some fine tools to help with re-decoration and item management too (the pixel printer gotta be the greatest idea in the world of builders ever, but I don’t have it yet!) but it’s not gonna save me from the hopeless mix and match or storage hell I’ve already gotten myself into.

So, I guess I’ll start looking for an entirely new location to build from scratch again soon and transfer all my preciousss belongings…it’s a daunting prospect already but of course I’ll do it anyway, because I’m crazy like that! Prepare for that interstellar burnout!

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Tomorrow is a new dawn with so much to organize!

The 11 Commandments of Great MMO Player Housing

Briefly, for a split second last week, I was considering re-subscribing to LOTRO for the upcoming winter season of Q4. I have loved the world of LOTRO ever since joining late in 2013 despite its many flaws and these days, I like to call it my favorite MMO that I’m not playing. There’s always that pull, the call of Middle-Earth to return to its glamorous wide vistas, its merry horse rides and romantic visits to the Prancing Pony. How I miss playing my lute, sitting on a lonely rock under a tree.

The 11 Commandments of Great MMO Player Housing

But I know myself too well and the fickle beast that is MMO nostalgia. Jumping back into LOTRO would mean jumping back to the Gates of Moria grind of the mid-40ies, dealing with an overwhelming number of features and systems that are poorly introduced to newbies and the same old static MMO combat. It would also mean dealing with the loss of my housing plot which was lackluster to begin with, yet I gave it my all to make the little hut by the waterfall somewhat comfy and welcoming. For years, I’ve hoped Turbine would up their housing game as so many have – it’s one feature that would get me to re-sub in a heartbeat, if only it were properly revamped and made accessible.

Yet once again, it’s not to be; watching the upcoming LOTRO patch features has left me forever disillusioned with this developer’s idea of a good housing system. LOTRO’s premium housing is as expensive and inaccessible as ever, not that I had my hopes up for “premium” housing in the first place. Still, it’s grinding my gears! Player housing should be an integral part of MMOs these days and yet over and over, players are being let down in this department. When will this long-awaited “future of better player housing” finally arrive?

I guess it’s fair to mention Wildstar and Black Desert Online in this context, two titles which both made laudable attempts at accessible and fun player housing in more recent years. I loved my sky plot in Wildstar, the crazy customization and design options, yet Wildstar housing is so disconnected from the rest of the world that it never quite felt like a home but rather, that side-game you go play at when you need a break from being social. That’s the issue with instanced player housing which is both a blessing and a curse in so many ways. Pearl Abyss tried to solve this very issue most expertly in BDO – yet all seamless phasing and great housing options aside, the fundamental questions of “what to do with all this stuff now?” and “what is it good for?” remain mostly unanswered.

The 11 Commandments of Great MMO Player Housing

The 11 Commandments of Great MMO Player Housing

Musing on all my gripes with player housing old and new has inspired me to come up with a definite list of commandments or guidelines to ensure housing features are a fun addition to games rather than frustration. Your mileage may vary but here go my personal commandments for great MMO housing design –

  1. Thou shalt not make your MMO housing an exclusive or expensive feature.
  2. Thou shalt not create a limited number of housing options that are up for FCFS land grabs.
  3. Thou shalt not exact weekly or monthly housing tolls / upkeep costs.
  4. Thou shalt not pre-define indoor/outdoor decoration options and location of hooks/plugs.
  5. Thou shalt not unreasonably restrict the total item number of decor items.
  6. Thou shalt allow for social sharing of housing rights and visitation.
  7. Thou shalt not disconnect housing from the rest of the outdoors / world.
  8. Thou shalt offer great variety of cosmetic customization for housing, such as layouts, colors, styles, materials and music.
  9. Thou shalt give housing a meaning beyond cosmetics, such as storage, crafting, stabling, shops and neighborhoods.
  10. Thou shalt offer housing items from various sources, such as questing, raiding, crafting and trade.
  11. Thou shalt enable players to expand their housing space over time.

And yes, this is all easier said than done. I realize, I don’t know of any MMO that meets all commandments although Ultima Online came reasonably close and I also keep hearing the praises of EQ2. Then again, I’m not looking to play 2D top-down and generally much older MMORPGs these days, sooooo……I guess I want too many things! It’s a nice thought, though.

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?

Black Desert Online: Cash Shop Equanimity

Black Desert Online’s cash shop is rather pricey which is the one complaint I personally have with it. The 3$ reduction between CBT2 and launch doesn’t deserve a weak smile, 29$ for a cosmetic costume in a game that offers very little variety in armor styles is tough. I don’t quite understand it either: assuming I am not the average MMO customer, Daum could make a lot more money by lowering prices by 50% and have more than double the people grab one or two costumes instead. But that’s a question for the economists and all those who have real insight into spending behavior in Korea versus Europe or North America.

Other than that, BDO’s cash shop served for many an outcry selling a ghillie suit and lucky underpants which are supposedly very pay-to-win in an endgame that never comes (no level cap?). Sorry, doesn’t interest me in the slightest. And Eri is very angry at herself for buying pets and inventory space because that made a company that’s delivered a beautiful and huge game a couple of extra bucks after “only being buy-to-play”. If it’s any consolation, I too have bought a few things in the cash shop when I really didn’t have to. I’m not sorry, I am enjoying my time with them. Why is spending a few bucks in a game you enjoy a question of moral guilt? Hellou.

The whole thing is starting to wear me down too because basically, not even f2p or b2p MMOs are supposed to have cash shops anymore nowadays. Screw the effort, size and maintenance of a game that’s run 24/7 across four continents. Fallout 4 can costs 70$ but god forbid an MMO that costs half that box price has a cash shop with few useful items! Where are we getting this notion from that MMOs must be financially self-sufficient for years without any subscription or shop? Where did PA or Daum make a statement that the game isn’t gonna make another dime after you bought the box? If there’s any false advertisement going on, I am not aware of it.

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What do you mean I shouldn’t have bought this armor?

They can’t even sell cosmetics in shops anymore. Cosmetics are after all content to somebody (I love outfits okay)! So are pets and other conveniences, no matter if they could be acquired by other means if people did the research or had a bit of patience towards their “sandbox progression”. Okay, pets are off-limits in BDO the way most other things aren’t. Inventory space can be expanded another 30 slots just by playing the game and then there’s a whole list of things you can do via storage expansion and alts once you actually figure out how it all works. It’s fiddly yes but it also serves the underlying “realism” of the game that dictates towns should have individual storage or that characters can’t binge-craft for hours for example.

Only, we don’t want to figure out how it all works. We’re used to WoW convenience levels and always getting the best of everything and every MMO that comes out must start there. No thanks! I don’t want another themepark epic-lol-wins MMO like WoW. I don’t need the best pet, I don’t need to purple everything. Yeah, the weight limit annoys the shit out of me – I’ll see about that. Maybe I should just get a cart, you can actually do that. Almost every problem has a solution further down the road in Black Desert. And the exceptions aren’t real problems for me, either.

What are they gonna sell if they can’t sell cosmetics or dyes, can’t sell inventory or weight limit increases, can’t sell extra character slots (because they actually too matter in the game)? They can’t very well sell uber-potions and they can’t sell anything that’s already easily available ingame. And to their credit: there are no lottery-box-for-epics shenanigans going on in BDO’s cash shop, whereby someone could potentially burn endless cash on an illusion of greatness. I would rather it stayed that way.

And don’t get me started on subscription MMOs now because WoW and FFXIV too sell “content” by above definition in their cash shops on top of charging monthly.

……

Okay, that was a bit more than equanimity maybe! I keep finding myself in the same position for years when it comes to MMO payment models but truly, Black Desert offends me not. At the end of the day I decide what I consider good bang for the buck in a game and in the business of fun, no one’s defining any price tags but yourself.

Black Desert Character Creator: Difficult Business!

It may come as surprise to no one that I am/was among the players most interested in BDO’s character creation process ever since Pearl Abyss released previews. At a first and second glance, the customization options seem wild: change the size and color of your iris, reshape hair – that kind of stuff. Halfway through the developer probably realized that creating long-lasting characters would prove such an immense undertaking for many players at launch, that they decided to make BDO’s character creation tool available as standalone (get it here now). That in itself deserves some kudos and so do FFA online competitions and template sharing hubs made possible thanks to the devs taking MMO character creation seriously.

Unfortunately that’s where my enthusiasm ends because two hours in, I am not feeling the customization tool for Black Desert. The problems are manyfold: for some trivial things the options are endless while not for others (about 20 ways to customize every part of the eyes, only so many hair dues and colors), face editor controls are dodgy and frustrating to handle and the sub-menus are bewildering. Despite so many sliders, it is in fact quite hard and very time intensive to alter default looks: they are very defined, there’s no randomization option to start off from and yes, gender-locks. I could live with the latter myself but I am disappointed where faces and hair are concerned: the choices you are given for every class are very sameish, there are not that many choices and you can’t greatly alter hair either unless you like to do weird things with your bangs (also clipping errors) –

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It took me an hour to alter the sorceress face from left to right. Pic 4 shows weird hair controls.

You can easily create ludicrously looking and ugly characters for that online event linked above, with crazy hair, ghastly smiles and star-shaped pupils. If we are talking serious choices and variety though, players will have to spend hours to make their characters look more unique because it’s all tedious manual labor. And don’t let those articles about famous lookalikes fool you – there are one or two ‘famous people’ already worked into the templates’ designs. It’s very easy to make Gandalf or Khaleesi but creating yourself or a significantly different character will take lots of time and understanding the different tools.

In some ways I think the creator is aiming too high; or rather, let’s say I would appreciate more variety in standard templates from the get-go with some extra options of alteration after that – not the other way around. Dragon’s Dogma has achieved this quite greatly for a non-MMO, so I hope BDO will add a bit more practicality to the whole process before launch. There’s a lot of potential to it if they make it a bit more user-friendly and effective.

Okay, I will stop the high-level whining now.

(Dragon’s Dogma is really cool though and finally out for PC, you should check it out!)

Off-Topic: I hate Platitudes

The other day I was witness to an all too familiar situation at work: a co-worker of mine just went through a personal loss that came with some added complications, the kind of crap that’s hard to listen to and therefore harder to experience. Sometimes life makes no sense. Quite often in fact, things are just one major parade of suck and as a bystander, all you can or should do is be there and lend and ear.

Of course that never stops someone piping up with old age wisdom; “it happens for a reason”, “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”, “time heals all wounds” and any misbegotten, infuriating variations thereof. There’s a word in my native German tongue for these kinds of worn-out platitudes: “worthülsen”, literally “word husks”. Empty shells of words that touch nothing.

Platitude

It’s not just that phrases like these are often ill-timed but they’re trivializing in a way that may deeply offend the person affected. They’re lies too: it’s evidently untrue that all psychological (or physical) wounds heal or that every experience ends up making you “stronger”. As for someone in the process of mourning, dealing with trauma or some other life-altering struggle, usually the last thing they need to hear is that shitty things make them stronger or have a reason – which suggests, intentionally or not, that this is somehow an experience worth having or being thankful for.

No, it fucking ain’t! If someone lost a limb in an accident or watched a loved one fade away slowly under excruciating pain, there’s is no deep meaning in that experience. “Oh I survived this shit, yay?” – Come on. There may be more indirect, less horrible side-effects way, way further down the road but that is a different matter entirely. People suffering are not “chosen” by anyone, there’s no benevolent masterplan – certainly none I would willingly subscribe to. Tangentially, I have no problem with belief in a higher power but spare me rationalizing other people’s tragedies because god’s will. Spare me also all these religiously motivated platitudes that even the most secular society can’t seem to shake completely in everyday language:

  • ora et labora (work ethics…work work peon)
  • turn the other cheek
  • be good in this life…erm

/side-rant: Only the most evil of masterminds could come up with this stuff in order to maintain power over the gullible. Work and pray all day – so there is no time or energy left to form independent thought or organize gatherings (beware idleness, sloth etc.). Turn the other cheek – don’t retaliate against anyone, including those who would fool, exploit and harm you and yours (don’t lie to them either…you’re not supposed to lie to anyone, no idea why not). Wait for no rewards in this life. Seriously? Tyrant for dummies 101. /close side-rant

The thing is – I get the rationalizing part, I do! I actually believe it’s one of our greater cognitive abilities as human beings, that we can look for a positive in anything, in retrospective. If you can get to that point for yourself after a long journey, more power to you! That doesn’t mean you couldn’t have done without that horrible event in the first place.

I suspect that as a society, we’re so fearful of the darker sides of life, there’s almost an unconscious reflex to turn the light on. Yet pain, sadness and anger have their time and place and can’t be rushed. In fact, it would make so many things easier if we learned to share painful moments more naturally, in an environment that feels no need to rush difficult emotions or put a label on them.

If you’re looking to help someone, the first step is to respect pain. Respect it as part of everyone’s life and someone’s personal journey. Don’t feel awkward or embarrassed in the face of pain, don’t feel the urge to gloss it over with platitudes. Don’t think all pain needs to be cheered up (by you). Resist your inner fairy godmother.

Instead, just be there. May be the other person will find closure further down the line. May be that they don’t. Whatever happens, they are entitled to feel whatever it is they’re feeling, no matter how hopeless it may seem to you or how glum. Sometimes just being there and letting someone feel they are not alone in this world, is the greatest kindness you can do for them. And listening takes very few words at all.

The Rocket Science that is Cosmetic Features in MMOs

One of the most baffling things to me personally about cosmetic features in MMOs has always been their often mind-bogglingly lacklustre, inconvenient implementation by developers over a longer period of time. You’d think a customization mechanic as most-wanted as this one, deserved full attention from the get-go. But in the case of most popular mainstream MMOs that I have played over the years, it always took ages to get there – as in get it half-way right! When I returned to Draenor long after transmogrification was a thing in WoW, Blizzard had still managed to make the whole process unbelievably complicated and fussy. Void space huh? And don’t get me started on cosmetics 1.0 in Wildstar or GW2! Not even looking at FFXIV for this one.

Sort this out, pretty please?

Sort this out, pretty please?

It seems that whenever players are super anxious to get their hands on cosmetic features, the whole process ends up being highly anti-climatic:

Dev: “Guess what, we are finally introducing a cosmetic feature for your gear next patch!”
Player: OMG YAY I LOVE UUU!!!
Dev: “There is only a few restrictions…”
Player: “Huh??”
Dev: “Oh and also, the following items you really can’t use-“
Player: “But but…”
Dev: “And you can only get more slots via the ingame store.”
Player: *erm*
Dev: “Did we mention the special cooldown?”
Player: /quit

Seriously, can we just get a second, overriding gear tab to equip whatever items/looks we collected already, without consumables or service NPC mumbo jumbo? And maybe without paying extra every time we change something or just to get a decent amount of set options? Why is that so hard? This whole affair is like the coitus interruptus for the fashion-conscious player! RIFT anyone?

Happy weekend everybody! Dress sensibly!

Straight Talk: It’s not the Games, it’s You. Welcome to the Club!

You know how MMO players, veterans mostly, have this discussion of how everything was better in the olden days, how newer MMORPGs are sucking with their silly free-to-play models and self-sufficient playstyles and so forth? For a precursory read, I’ve recently critically addressed the whole social aspect of that debate. Today however, I’m going slightly further and just say it: if you’re not enjoying newer MMOs anymore, if you can’t get invested or find the right crowd to play with, the problem is most likely just you. Today’s array of available games is not worse than it used to be, it’s better already on account of sheer variety, polish and accessibility. There’s more of everything, good and bad.

This is something I have known for a while in my own case but it just got driven home once more, listening to two newer podcast episodes by fellow TGENerates Braxwolf and Liore. On Beyond Bossfights, Brax and Roger recently had an in-depth discussion of how getting older has affected their ability to be involved in games, as they are struggling to juggle increasing real life demands with gaming quality time. Bottom line: with changed priorities, games and online communities are just not that important anymore. Also: they have been there, done that. All the while in Cat Context episode 84, Elli and Liore admit that they’ve “already met all the people they wanna know in MMOs”. This is a very interesting way of phrasing it. Their strong WoW bonds persist and they’ll readily give up new acquaintances in new games if it means getting comfortable with old buddies they share a history with. They kinda wanna play with people but not necessarily put up with the whole effort of meeting strangers.

This is all completely fine, in fact it’s how I feel myself. A while back I made this point in regards to Wildstar, where I have had the pleasure of being part of a friendly and engaged guild full of younger players fired up about Wildstar and raiding and the whole shenanigans. They are having the same fun I used to 12 years ago and the same drama-lama, for a fact. I just can’t chase that stage of early MMO enthusiasm myself because I have already been there. Also, I really don’t want to – it’s exhausting!

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MMOs are not the problem and online communities aren’t either. There have always been trolls in WoW and elsewhere, always been horrible global chats, broken mechanics and bad parties. And there have always been many great new people to hook up with for those who are looking to spend the time (and nerves), to socialize and share moments of epic win. If it somehow doesn’t work out for you anymore after so many years of doing the same thing, then that’s simply put the natural order of things progressing. And how could it be any different?

We’re in this together

Maybe there’s a degree of wistfulness in the admission, but dwindling MMO investment is just another area where life is telling you that you’re getting older and more experienced at things, without literally handing you a pair of reading glasses and a walking cane. One way or another, it happens to all of us. That doesn’t mean we have to stop playing them, in fact it’s an opportunity to explore different ways of doing so without judgement. Thanks to a variety of titles offering playstyle diversity, you don’t have to call it quits on a genre you’ve come to love; no dramatic gestures or vows of abstinence are required.

I used to be a competitive raider, a guild leader, a PvPer. I have always been an explorer, home decorator, riddle solver, gear collector and professional screenshot taker. Who knows what else I will be in the future?

Straight Talk: Tired of Social Rants

Important notice: This is a rant about rants, wooo! Also: I have adjusted some of my opinions on this blog over time, as some of the links provided illustrate. That’s because I am old and fickle!

One of the great MMO blogger evergreens is the (anti-)social debate; with the genre becoming ever more accessible and mainstream since its earliest beginnings, players new and old keep musing on the pros and cons of MMO gaming allowing for increased flexibility and playstyle variety. Stuff like removing role restrictions or shared loot, are dividing topics. Depending on where you stand, your “more social” is someone else’s “anti-social” and it’s very difficult to reach any kind of consensus. I hold with what I’ve said in the past, that the two approaches to MMOs can’t reasonably co-exist. A lot of this stuff is mutually exclusive and even when it isn’t, solutions are usually too complex for practical application. LFG tools in many MMOs are ‘optional’ but we all know what happens once they are introduced: they impinge on everybody.

Roger recently deliberated whether he has become a more anti-social gamer over the years. This struck a chord with me because I find myself in the company of many 35-45ish players who have at some point gone through that stage of self-evaluation. As commented in Roger’s thread, I personally do not believe he’s become more anti-social; what I believe is that MMOs have stopped enforcing planned cooperation via game design. I have made this case before at length and I still don’t buy into the whole altruism spiel, nor will I ever. Being “social” is absolutely an intrinsic quality – you either are or aren’t social. The rest is facilitated gameplay.
Then today, Eri followed up with a similar post, professing her disdain for shared loot in GW2 and the “entire shift” to self-centric gameplay in MMOs. I’m rather sure that even in my most hardcore raidleading days, I was pretty darn self-centric in pursuing my dreams of raiding and loot and whatnot. I faintly remember removing players who weren’t up to the task. But anyway, these posts made me realize something: I am so done with the (anti-)social rants. It’s like we’re stuck and never get beyond them.

darklegacy01

Year 4 in “A Decade of Love and Hate” – the natural progression of the MMO player.

I carry as much MMO nostalgia with me as the next veteran player, heck sometimes I miss the good old, bad days. They were bad a lot more than good but I am not always rational. In truth, I understand why things are different today and like so many older gamers, I need them to be different. My investment choices like anyone’s, shape what MMOs may or may not become. Inevitable fact: MMOs that are trying to survive, have to be financially viable. MMOs that introduce gatekeepers, forced grouping, fixed setups and any variation of limiting factors, are very likely not going to make as much profit on today’s saturated market. And no, don’t look at WoW – look at Wildstar or ESO instead. I am sure all of us would prefer having both: the freedom/flexibility and the social bonding experiences but it doesn’t work that way. Not in the traditional sense we are so used to anyway, where game design pushed us into talking to strangers, grouping up with strangers, cooperating with strangers longterm until they were strange no longer. Maybe in this new era we need to explore different ways, make more conscious efforts?

There’s a significant percentage of 30+ players populating MMOs today, players with bigger pockets, and they need gaming to fit around their lives, not vice versa. That’s okay! I’m not saying I like quiet party chat or mass-zerging so much either but any solution to these issues will have to either address that reality or remain fictional. If you’re against the social shift in MMOs, great! The solution however, will need to be more original than returning to what we already had. Today is not going away.

P.S. Don’t miss the full strip on “A Decade of Love and Hate” over at Dark Legacy Comics!

OTC: Wildstar Relaunch, Star Citizen Kerfuffle and Steam Pricing

otc

OTC is a multi-topic category on mmogypsy.com

October is a wild month for gamers and not just thanks to so many great new releases in the coming days and weeks. On September 30th Wildstar finally relaunched, now fully free-to-play after its introduction of the CREDD meta-currency earlier in 2015. Even with relaunches like this one, it was apparently difficult for the developers to prepare a successful launch week and anticipate (mega)server load. Since last Tuesday I have logged into the game on several different days, after being greeted by a queue of ~2500 each time. Once I got in and wasn’t kicked by the loading screen, the experience went something like this:

  • Get spammed by 10826452628 achievements
  • Try to move character and write in guildchat
  • Retrieve 50 loyalty rewards from account inventory
  • Character starts moving…and keeps moving
  • There is now one new item appearing in my bag; I try activate it
  • My text appears in guildchat
  • The activated item is gone for good /sadface
  • My character is suddenly bald

Okay I made that last one up, although twitter was full of hilarious character bug screenshots by Wildstar players. Unfortunately the game has been really unplayable for me up to Sunday night, which was the last time I tried doing more than loitering in Illium. I am still subscribed too, so that’s a little meh – even if I totally agree with Anook that launch hiccups are part of MMO launches. But then, so are players whining about launch hiccups, so HANDLE IT!

All that aside, I profess a certain indifference to the whole thing; at the end of the day it’s still the Wildstar I left a few months ago, with bigger plots, more currencies and easier dungeons. Since the latter were not a primary concern for me anyway, it’s not like I am now getting the shot I never got before; I already raided in Wildstar and I have no interest in going back to raids. That’s not to say that I won’t binge-decorate the Manor de Syl sometime in the future but yeah, the novelty is limited in this case.

The Escapist versus Cloud Imperium Games

Space travel geeks and readers of dramatic mainstream gaming websites have been very agitated these last few days, as the whole kerfuffle between The Escapist and Star Citizen developer Cloud Imperium Games (CIG) has moved to second base. In case you’ve no idea what I am talking about, The Escapist has said some pretty accusatory and partly not-so-well-researched things (this is a good summary) about the hiring practises over at CIG and the overall status quo of the now $90 million-project that Star Citizen has become since the initial kickstarter for 500’000 bucks. I understand things have been significantly delayed from the original timeframe but hey, a backing surplus of umm 18’000% (correct me if I’m wrong, am bad at maths) is potentially overwhelming to anyone passionate to deliver the best possible product to their long standing fan base. Just sayin’ – two years are not a long time in AAA terms! I know what I’d be doing with some of that extra cash –

One year-long international backers orgy, for realz!

One year-long international backers orgy, for realz!

I  keep my fingers crossed that all the SC backers out there will still get to see their dream of space travel come alive, whenever that will be. As for The Escapist, the last time I intentionally visited that webpage they were interviewing “game developers” versus “female game developers”, while not exactly vetting some of their interview guests either. Ethics in game journalism (lol) is apparently not The Escapist’s forte, huh.

Understanding Steam Pricing

Last night I posed the below question to my twitter-wiki because I was puzzled over some of the not-conversion-rate-related price differences between certain games on Steam vs. Amazon vs. retail (nothing new, I know). I don’t buy any non-digital games anymore but as several people have pointed out to me in the discussion that ensued, regional VAT regulations play a part and whether we are talking digital-only releases or games that still go over the counter. Another reason as pointed out by Armadillo may lie in physical presence of services or infrastructure.

But these are just some of the reasons, the most obvious one being that you set a prize that people will pay of course. Arguing different markets is the same thing: it’s not a social system whereby I somehow fund gaming for players in low-income countries. I am the first person to sign up for collective insurance models but asking relative prices for digital games is about profit margins.

So looking at some of the bigger differences for Steam games and the absence thereof in certain cases, I guess I can’t realistically comprehend the whole thing as a wanna-be-informed consumer with a limited attention span. It’s all very complicated which is also business code for “because we can” – only sometimes it’s not but then, how would I know? To clarify, I have no issue with some price differences on games and I certainly am not looking to get everything as cheap as possible; games cost money to make. Like most players however, I would prefer to fund the people doing the actual work and not scores of (unnecessary) middle men. That’s why digital distribution is potentially great and it feels wrong when there are price differences of 25% or more.

I realize this is not exactly a new topic, certainly not for gamers living in Australia, but I should probably look into buying from alternative sources like Greenman Gaming more often and consider gifting opportunities via my Steam friendlist, as most guides looking to thwart the Valve overlord suggest. Who wants to be my Steam gift-pal? Considering where I live, I can’t guarantee you get much out of it though!

Optional reading: The weird economics behind Steam prices around the world