Category Archives: Rants

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

In which I respect the Holy Trinity and solve the DPS issue!

Welcome ladies and gentlemen to yet another post on the holy trinity on MMO Gypsy! It never gets old!

For some reason a recent tweet of mine on sitting in boring DPS queues in FFXIV ended in a 100+ tweets-or-so conversation with all kinds of folk about why dungeon queues are broken in MMOs and how to fix them. Of course it didn’t take long for someone to suggest that DPS suck, or then healers suck, or something, and from there it was a lot of mix’n match between the “significance” of the three roles vs. their relative playstyle difficulty vs. responsibility and punishment. All rather interesting topics in their own way, also vastly different from one another. Alas, twitter is great to spark discussions but not so much for finishing anything.

The debates around DPS queues inspired Murf to go on a rant on his own blog and profess profound hatred for everything DPS in MMOs. He plays a healer of course (correction: he also plays everything else, including self-loathing DPS!). As a longtime ex-healer myself, I find this both entertaining and missing the mark although in the end when tempers have cooled, we probably agree that there’s a problem with how DPS work and get to coast in many MMOs. Or rather how I would put it, there’s a problem with the way many encounters are designed to put more pressure on tanks and healers, with less unforgivable mechanics for DPS. It is by design that tanks and healers are made to care because immediate and fatal repercussions (this is also how players get weeded out early on). By the same virtue these two roles get a lot of praise, sometimes far more than they deserve because everyone needs to thank them for still being alive. Nevermind that bosses don’t get killed by either of the two in any half-respectable showdown. DPS whether good or bad, can’t ever do enough in MMOs and they’re the ones that get haunted by meters in WoW and other games because of it.

But this discussion is far more interesting even: at its core it raises the question of how much holy trinity we truly want and can tolerate in MMOs (“we” as in the general “we” – I have not been a fan of the trinity in a looong time). Nevermind the great ideas of giving DPS “more responsibility” as in crowd control (tanks ARE crowd control), buffs/debuffs or ressing mechanics. While these assumed fixes sound fine in theory, they’re at best cosmetic – in reality it’s the trinity itself that needs fixing. I’ll get to that in a moment.

Taking the Trinity Seriously

If we actually believe in the holy trinity, we must accept that at a most basic and philosophical level even, the three roles are all equally important and co-dependent; they are three parts of a whole. I have written before about how each of them takes a specific role in regards to time/life in MMO combat. Assuming balanced encounters, all three of them are necessary (yes, I can come up with lots of fights where either DPS or healers or tanks are allowed to die, ignore that). Tanks and DPS are more enemy-centric, healers are ally-centric. Tanks and healers are directly supportive, DPS more in-directly which makes them no less part of a cooperative trio.

Now Murf came up with the following analogy in his post to illustrate the status quo of the three roles in MMOs:

“Imagine a family vacation. The two parents are your Healer and your Tank. The three kids in the backseat of the car are your DPS. Whether those kids behave and make it an easier ride to their destination or not, it is still entirely up to the two parents to get everyone there.”

This is sadly very often the case, although both FFXIV and Wildstar are good examples for sometimes more complex DPS encounters (endgame). The correct analogy if the trinity wasn’t in fact broken, should be this:

Dad drives, mom makes sure everyone’s good on food and the kids are the ones that run the engine. The car does not move without the three kids – it shouldn’t.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: there is no combat in any game ever without damage dealing. I realize that the obvious frustration with DPS is based on how the roles have played out in daily MMO reality, nonetheless it’s encounters that are the problem. Stripped down, every game that includes combat *is* a DPS game. Even MMO combat can do without tanks and healers but not damage dealers. The first role that gets cut from farm raids are healers (tanks are next).

Tanks and healers are an artificial institution; they are created by taking away means of self-sustenance and control from a more well-rounded or self-sufficient damage dealer. You only introduce them once games decide to slow down combat and/or make it more tactical or cooperative, the way it happens in traditional or round-based (J)RPGs that generally have specialist/trinity roles too or unit-centred games (RTS) or MMOs. Take away Link’s shield and a good portion of his HP, his buffs and potions on the other hand and transfer each to separate characters: you create a holy trinity Zelda! Now, which role is the central one? Which came first? Is any of them negligible?

Solving the DPS issue

Encounter design is one issue but hybrid skills are an even greater problem. The answer cannot be to increase hybrid abilities across the board – unless you would like to go down the GW2 path. GW2 came out making every class equally feasible and self-sustained with “tankier” and “healier” bits and pieces. Combat was criticized as zergy and lo and behold, few years in there are suddenly raids and traditional roles because players presumably want a role focus and more co-dependence to warrant cooperative play. Okay.

Likewise, Wildstar came out with an incredibly high bar set for everybody but especially its DPS. I have written about how this MMO in particular has pushed healers on the backseat and given DPS real responsibilities. How many have reached WS endgame and passed the nauseating attunement though? How many have said the dungeons were too hard and too unforgiving until stuff got nerfed and the game almost burned? Okay.

There is a common thread here: some players like specialized roles but still want “some” self-sufficiency. They want cooperative play but not the kind that makes you “carry” anybody. Different roles yes but god forbid they are not exactly the same in terms of difficulty or punishment. Oh man, tough times developers!

I want everything in MMOs!

I want everything in MMOs! (click to expand)

There’s hyperbole in all caricature and also a grain of truth. The above strip is my friendly (limited-skill) attempt at demonstrating this issue. Which is not to say that it is entirely unsolvable: I do in fact want better holy trinity encounters myself (either go big or go home). The radical solution?

  • Remove all damage dealing skills from healers and tanks
  • Remove all half-assed healing skills and crowd control functions from DPS

That’s right! You want a holy trinity, then get it for reals! Cooperation, shared responsibility, shared pressure, equal stakes, equal punishment – you have it! Never again finishing encounters without everyone alive and well. Also, no more hybrid solo time where everyone can quest on their own or level up, heck scratch leveling entirely (I concur with this post)! Proper cooperative MMOs are about grouping and it creates all kinds of balancing issues when they need to simultaneously serve as solo adventure parks and multi-player venues (and PvP arenas).

This is the only consequent move towards a holy trinity that respects its three roles equally. Do I want to play this game? Probably not for long. But I sure as hell would enjoy egomaniac tanks and healers shutting up about not requiring DPS when their own existence is based on intentionally crippling a more well-rounded character.

P.S. Once upon a time. Happy weekend everybody!

We Are Explorers, Part 2: And also very annoying! [#Blaugust 21]

Last night I discovered that Tevis Thompson recently published another one of his rockstar insightful wall-of-text essays on the shattered soul of videogaming and I don’t even know where to start – I need to write about this but I also need more time! I find myself overwhelmed by resonance every time I read his analyzis and ye gods, there’s so much to address…so for now, I’d rather just leave you with this link over the weekend. Really, just read it – do it now! (maybe come back here after.)

For this fine blaugust 21st, I do hereby declare that of the four essential MMO playstyles, explorers are by far the hardest to satisfy and therefore a real headache for developers. We’re really quite an annoying bunch that way and since I self-identify as explorer (and all the incomplete gamer surveys I’ve ever taken would agree there), I shall explain why I think so. In a way, am letting developers off with this but not really. Also for the record, I do not actually believe any player to be defined by merely one interest or playstyle – I find Bartle and other gamer categorizations as insufficient as the next person. For the sake of simplicity and my fun with this argument however, let’s roll with clear-cut, straightforward gamer attitudes. Okay? Good!

bartlechart

Already part of Bartle’s character theory chart

It’s always struck me how both socializers and killers/pvpers have the strong social component in common. They come across as very opposed preferences but both playstyles are fundamentally driven and enabled by other people, as in PCs rather than NPCs. If we were gonna oversimply definitions to the point of being a little insulting (I’m doing it!), you could say that what socializers really require in MMOs is a colorful, interactive stage they can hang out on with other equally chatty people. As for killers, they require prey – they need a platform that allows them the freedom to organize themselves in groups and then go after everyone that’s worse than they are, challenging each others various skills. Again, these are gross oversimplifications but the takeaway is that the entire MMO world and setting is secondary to the primary, social experience (which is not to say that these playstyles know zero single-player appeal, they do – and there’s other genres than MMOs that may appeal to them).

Then there’s achievers and well, they’ve already won as far as MMOs are concerned, haven’t they? The great majority of MMORPGs since WoW which have followed the linear themepark approach, have been created with achieverdom in mind, stuff packaged into small itsy bits with clearly cut out paths and little popups of “hooray” and content patches and expansions of blarrggghhh…..(oh sorry, I got lost there for a minute). Anyway, achievers may thrive through experiences with or without other people – what I do understand about their basic mindset is that they enjoy work that’s been cut out for them, checking goals off a list, feeling gratified by achieving predetermined wins, a sense of tangible progression and completion. Therefore, achievers require steady content from the developer monster and that’s basically the world we all live in today – THANKS A LOT YO!

angryc…….

Okay okay, explorers! I started off by saying we’re the annoying bunch (*cough*) and we are, in the sense that our itch is very hard to scratch intentionally. Explorers need space and the freedom to roam, interesting things and randomness and umm…..intrinsic drive created through game design that must not be noticed. Simple, right? We want to be wowed at the exact moment of our choosing or well, at least never of the game’s choosing, and without any notion of the invisible puppetmaster present. The game world just needs to “be”, needs to simulate something real and after that we’re mostly interested in ambling off the beaten path and potentially finding stuff nobody else would nor intended for us to find. NEGATIVE SPACES, come on MMOs!

Freedom in games is a finely crafted illusion. Infinite depth and space can only be achieved by carefully orchestrated mystery. And randomness is mostly unthinkable.

And this is why having explorers for an audience is sort of a nightmare for any slightly ambitious world designer. Really, I feel for you – so much love and respect for those who get it right in MMOs, even just for a little while! I guess that’s also why randomly or procedurally generated maps were all the rage for some time, only the problem with that is….it’s not quite that simple. A haphazardly generated world feels redundant fast and oddly meaningless. There’s only so many times you like to take a trip into the blue in Minecraft until everything starts blending and feels the same. So yes, random but not totally random…..what can I say, we’re complicated!

P.S. Happy Friday everybody – explorerdom foreva!

Today in Rants: FFXIV and the Endgame Gear Grind [#Blaugust 10]

For those of you not familiar with FFXIV’s endgame, it consists largely of this:

  • Hit max level
  • Do all the dungeons and trials to unlock roulette LFG and hardmodes
  • Farm roulettes for marks to raise item lvl
  • Farm more roulettes for higher item lvl
  • Farm raids for even higher item lvl
  • Do story quests and trials after content patches

If you’re a WoW player then this sounds very familiar, only in FFXIV the grind for marks is even more straightforward in my opinion. There’s all this gear available at the endgame hub from the getgo and from there it’s basically chain-queuing LFGs for this week and that week, racing through different gear sets. You can solo your way through, as in no guild required, and it’s rather fast. That’s why SE limit the amount of marks/week for the higher tier gear and also the weekly drops from the new raid instance. When I re-joined for ARR this February, none of these restrictions were in place anymore for the old content, which made chasing up that gear ladder even more bewildering. I guess that’s what happens when you insist on item-lvl restrictions for content.

ffxiv_09082015_201250

Oh hai, we’re here for that gear!

I must say, am a little peeved at the whole thing. I can’t bash WoW for its linear, uninspired endgame grind and turn a blind eye to FFXIV at the same time. Eorzea certainly has more to offer besides just dungeons to explorers, there’s some side/holiday-activities and the regular content patches with updates to the storyline (although that usually sends you into dungeons) – nonetheless, I would have expected Heavensward’s endgame to take a different, more refreshing approach to group content and raids. Idyllshire, which replaces Mor Dhona as the highlevel hub, is conceived in the exact same way and centered around the vendors that trade marks for gear and upgrades. Everyone’s favorite lootz NPC Rowena even moved over from Mor Dhona because this is “where all the business is”.

Now to clarify, it’s nice that there’s all this gear and cosmetic choice in FFXIV and I dig running different dungeons. It really wouldn’t hurt making the acquisition of high-level gear a bit more varied though and the gear itself more “meaningful” – I don’t have a better word for it. At least the dungeon sets you can collect while levelling up need to y’know, drop from different dungeons. I am crushed that even my unique BLM class set is part of the same mundane marks grind in Heavensward! Already the first time around, we got our sets completed when dinging level 50 in ARR and from there I probably wore my Wizard’s attire for about 2.5 seconds before it got replaced by the first tier of marks gear. One more for the cosmetics tab which never happened – it’s too much hassle glamouring gear all the time and it’s not exactly free either.

Guess that’s where SE did change things up a tiny bit in Heavensward, since the new class sets can only be bought for second tier marks (currently). That is still one tragic case of missing a great opportunity because unique questlines and challenges in MMOs rock! Heck, I would’ve been happier with a set of individual achievements (*gasp*) and dungeon runs for my set over this exercise in boredom.

And yes I know, I obviously don’t have to do all of this; I can just wait until it becomes even easier to get all the gear and speed through all dungeon content, with overgeared groups, just so I can follow the storyline. What a great prospect.

/rant out

Today in P2W: Gamers are getting older and that’s okay!

Today I came across this passionately one-sided opinion piece over at Massively OP which makes a somewhat poor case against the ever-rising pay-to-win model for videogames (yeah, am still reading about MMOs and stuff!). I admit it was a disagreement between Isarii and Scree on twitter that made me aware of its existence, so like every curious MMO blogger I was drawn to the drama – and there is always drama when players discuss pay to win.

Now before I address the Massively article, I’ll say this: I am personally not a fan of P2W games. I don’t play any and they tend not to interest me in the slightest. I gave Candy Crush 15 minutes of my life once, out of obscene curiosity and recoiled in disgust after the first of many enforced time locks popped up. That being said, I am not afraid of P2W games either; while their market share may be growing, I don’t believe them to be an imminent threat to more traditional games or gamers since they do not cater to that target audience. We all know that gaming as a whole is getting bigger and the really significant growth of the last few years belongs to social or “casual” as well as mobile gaming. – Geeky and niche MMO gaming? Not so much. Still, we have little to complain about compared to our humble beginnings. So I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t fear P2W games any more than I fear that WoW has destroyed the MMO genre when really, WoW created its own market and if anything, helped other MMOs along (midterm copycat fails or not).

Of course one can take a moral approach and try analyze how (un-)ethical P2W models are. There may be merit in that discussion, although personally I am not prepared to have it (and my liberal stance on f2p is hardly news). Too often does it come down to players defending what they know versus what is new and still unfamiliar ground. Or worse, everyone starts sounding like a wanna-be psychologist and umm gaming addiction and save the children. There are some shades of grey, may-be, but essentially all videogame ventures and business models are looking to make the most money in the most effective way possible, triggers included. There have always been players at the shorter end of the stick of whatever business model. How exactly is this such a great “truth” we never heard of (in reference to the Massively article)? So while I understand some critics’ concerns and where they come from, I tend to agree with Scree on this one. The times they are a’changing and maybe we need to keep an open mind and try sound less like our at least proverbial grandparents.

olddaysbla

We’re getting older, oh noes!

My immediate reaction to the Massively piece was, passionate rant or not, that it’s incredibly condescending towards anyone within that “older gamer group with disposable income” who dares to play games differently and enjoy them differently. Jef Reheard even goes as far as saying that P2W players don’t actually play the games – no, they “pay their way through instead of playing it through”. This is also clearly not fun! That makes you wonder why the heck all these weirdos keep paying money for something that surely is objectively horrible but wait, there’s the answer to that as well: they are lab rats that act out of compulsion rather than umm, the righteous and sound enjoyment of the non-P2W advocate. Yep…that really is the gist of the article, I’m afraid. You got some jolly “no real gamersss”-disdain, mixed with the old “not fun”-trap and some pseudo-psychology spice to top it off and make this one unsavory cocktail to drink.

It’s no longer about the fun or the escapism of gaming; it’s about capturing a bite-sized piece of those bygone days when they had time to play, and of course it’s also about satisfying those psychological skinner box urges[…]

I snorted. And then I self-cringed too because I’ve had my share of “why achievements and instant gratification are destroying my MMO”-rants and malcontent on this here blog. I still hold to the journey is the reward (for_me). However in hindsight, and also really whilst writing, it’s apparent that dramatic rants were dramatic. I think us MMO explorer types can live alongside the achievers or killers just fine for the most part, heck some of us even like one another despite our different playstyles (<3)! And none of us have gone out of business.

But back to P2W: as a general rule, all panicky reasoning is bad reasoning. And sure, you might find P2W cheap or cheaty and that’s alright, but obviously there are many ways to find pleasure in games. I’ve played MMOs in the past just to dress up my characters and yes, buy exclusive clothes from an ingame store. Likewise, P2W-players do very much also play the games they invest in, duh – it’s not like they’re just paying money and then never spend any time on actual game play. They just play differently. Maybe they want to skip stuff they don’t consider fun (like grinding!), maybe their sessions are shorter. Either way, it seems reasonable there should be a market for such a customer. It also seems contradictory (and patronizing but let’s forget that) to say the model is dangerous for the weak of mind and spirit and then make a point out of how it’s a more mature and financially stable target audience that sinks money into P2W games like World of Tanks and ArchAge?

And gamers are OK with P2W in large part because they’re getting older and they’ve outgrown gaming. They have mortgages, multiple jobs, kids, and a dozen other excuses for circumventing game mechanics with real money.

Ah pardon moi! I did not realize gamers needed “legit excuses” for the way they play games at all. As far as I am concerned, an aging player base with more disposable incomes and diverse tastes in gaming is brilliant news for the videogame industry. We are entering uncharted waters still with the first generations of videogamers advancing through their middle age; this process is far from over. Games, genres, markets, business models: they are far from being fully explored or formed or finished. I’m not sorry for growing older or changing my spending ways – what a silly argument to even have.

myworldischanging

Many changes, handle it!

I’ll make it a simple summary: whatever rants declare (good old) gaming is dying or getting worse or going under for reason “XY” are wrought with fallacies. Cathartic at times maybe or endearing in their zeal, still wrong. Don’t trust them, don’t worry about it. The only truth is change. Games change. Audiences change. It all changes constantly. Sometimes you’ll like it better, sometimes you’ll like it worse. Most likely, it just means we’re getting more games and different games and more diverse, specialized markets and business models. We’ll see things come and go, over and over because such is the paradox of time (green is the new green!). And some games you really should avoid, ideally without preaching to others (too much).

Yesterday a still studying co-worker of mine showed me an interview he did with a 60-year old pharmacist who happens to train apprentices. The topic was “today’s youth” and communication, or something. It was basically an old fart talking about how young people cannot concentrate anymore, constantly use their mobile phones for wasteful activities and other weird things the old man (old because of his ways) clearly did not come close to grasp. He had zero understanding of this new generation he was supposed to teach, in fact he had no interest to learn about their world at all. It was a most tedious read for me, also because I have worked with young people and count myself among the digital age children. I fucking love the internet and over-sharing on twitter.

That’s why I am somewhat radically over the ever-fearful, judgmental whinging of fading generations, in all walks of life. I hope one day I’ll be a better old person (with a cool hat). There is a new world born every day and I am ready for the next adventure.

(…and I’ll still tag this post under ‘rants’ because :IRONY:)

Payment Models in MMOs: Yeah, Still Don’t Care

It’s the never-ending topic whenever games have a bad launch, a mid-term low, a one-year crisis: it’s the payment model’s fault. Tobold goes as far as saying it’s the players’ fault when investment companies with chilling grey websites acquire a videogame developer like Sony Online Entertainment. If players aren’t willing to pay for games, well that’s what happens.

When it comes to this particular topic, I am out of fucks to give. Either I am not a very representative MMO player or an awful lot of people have it wrong when it comes to the effect of payment models and the viability of MMOs. The very first podcast discussion I joined was Liores’ Cat Context episode 28, and to this day my opinion is largely the same:

I want to play good games. I am more than happy to pay for good games. I’ve paid subs in WoW, LOTRO, Rift, Wildstar and Final Fantasy, to name a few. I’ve bought into buy-to-play and free-to-play games; free-to-play is just another word for “I’ll buy dresses and mounts instead” and I am vastly disappointed when developers present me with a lackluster shop I can’t spend any money on. That is on them (and happens all the time).

As for pay-to-win, hardly an MMO exists that truly deserves that label. What pay-to-win definitely is not is paying for airdrops in H1Z1 that fall visibly and audibly from the sky, for everyone on the server to see and retrieve, with a minuscule chance for upgrades. H1Z1 airdrops are paid chaos – there is more P2W in buying a silly hat in GW2 that distracts the enemy in WvW.

It cannot be up to players to know which payment model is the right one for a given game and it cannot be up to players to finance MMOs of a particular payment model just to “make a statement”. Heck, players don’t know what they want or what’s needed half of the time. Don’t put that type of impossible responsibility on their shoulders. Want me to pay for your sub? – Make a great game! Want me to pay your box? – Make a great game! Want me to invest in your f2p? –

Make a great game!

Make a game I actually want to play and that doesn’t crash and burn within three months because you’ve epically miscalculated your budget. Thanks!

i-did-the-math-lolcat

lolcat knows her numbers!

Crowfall: False Modesty is for Nubs

Today, after an update by the ever-timely folks over at massively, I was made aware of a title I had never heard of: Crowfall. A new MMO with very little to herald its coming, potentially exciting given the genre’s current outlook. Of course that warranted further research and so I ended up on their fledgling webpage, eagerly looking for a vision or mission statement which turns out, is impossible to miss –

WELCOME TO CROWFALL.

If you’re here, it’s because you’re looking for something.

Something deeper than a virtual amusement park. More impactful than a virtual sandbox. More immersive. More real. A game where decisions matter.

We are, too. We’ve been looking for years, and we still haven’t found it…. because it doesn’t exist. Yet. [source]

…Now, not so eager anymore. BARF? Quite a mouth full for something that hasn’t even begun to earn some street cred. And look I get it, creators need to market their games with big words that inspire even the most disenchanted and cynical audience to new hope, but promising weathered MMO players a game that is deeper than any themepark, more impactful than any sandbox and erm, more immersive, real and meaningful than anything that was before (because of course no one has really tried hard enough yet!), that’s not just an amazing summary and quasi denial of almost every persistent MMO conundrum ever – it’s setting yourself up for failure in the most comical ways. This introduction speech just made me feel ancient.

Virtually the only proof this is even a game.

Virtually the only proof this is even a game.

Of course there’s nothing to back up the astronomical claims as the front page goes on to explain how Crowfall is “not THE game; the name of THIS game is “rampant speculation” – I don’t even know what that means. Is THE real game called Rampant Speculation….? AND WHAT’S WITH THE CAPSLOCK? But fret not, if there’s any reason to doubt the developers sanity at this point, there’s a few heavyweight industry names at the forefront which is all you early adopters require to know, anyway.

If such a thing is possible, I am now even less interested in Crowfall than I was before I heard of it. Maybe I am just having a very grumpy day – or maybe going bigger isn’t always better.

[WoW] Where Meters Reign Way Past Their Glory Days

In her latest blogpost “Living by Numbers”, the ever-enthusiastic Mistress of Faff deplores the meters game and status quo of hunter DPS in Warlords of Draenor. This struck a particular cord with me because ever since returning to WoW, I perceive this dissonance more strongly than ever – a dissonance between what is essentially a very casual-friendly game and a rabid, vocal group full of stat zealots. Naturally, the latter is hardly new: WoW has been heavily modded and then datamined, optimized and cookie-cut from the get-go. Yet, having been away for three years and finding things unchanged in that last department strikes me as more incongruous than ever.

I’ve been playing my shadowpriest since the expansion, mostly because I am over healing in WoW and so far it’s been very enjoyable. I run no mods whatsoever and until yesterday, I had not looked into shadowpriest state of play or rotations for Draenor. What I have noticed however is that my DPS seems lower than some people’s I met during quests and dungeons, that it’s hard work for me to get all my DoTs running before everyone else has already killed half of our enemies and that getting silver in Proving Grounds at ilvl 600 wasn’t exactly a walk in the park for my untrained DPS muscles (I did it on third try but without much time left).

meandrag

Me, looking damn sexy in shadow. Anything else I should know?

And that’s okay. Or should be, but it didn’t stop an overeager ingame buddy of mine, coincidentally a MM hunter, to comment on my damage during an Auchindon heroic run, where my DPS was apparently around 10k when his was at 22k. This was a contrast to all the PuGs I have run since returning to WoW and that have been shockingly friendly, successful (not a single disband) and meters-free, to a point where I am tempted to declare the state of PuGs today a 180°-turnaround since I shared my passionate “no-pug policy” on World of Matticus in 2011. The continuous changes that have made this a way more flexible and accessible game over the years have clearly helped turn things around in LFG, color me impressed.

Yet, meter culture persists in some corners of the player base. WoW oldtimers especially and grumpy veterans who have never left the game or never smelled the meter-free roses in other MMOs like GW2 sometime, are clinging to an era where WoW endgame was firmly ruled by numbers and raidguilds. I hate to break it to all the elitist jerks and e-peeners out there but: meters are over. For anything outside minuscule, competetive top-tier raid content, optimizing specs and rotations are not a requirement in order to beat anything in WoW. Players can play whatever spec they enjoy. They can run whatever rotation feels most natural. They don’t require epics with enchants and gems (thankfully both abolished) in every slot of gear. Welcome to World of Wacraft, 2014 edition! Maybe it was time Blizzard did away with these mods altogether? What purpose do they serve exactly?

On the bright side, my brief brush with the meters-nostalgia in WoW has benefited me in two ways: I went to check out current shadowpriest guides and realized that there’s nothing I am “doing wrong”, not even according to those that spend copious amounts of time on numbers. Draenor or not, priests remain late bloomers early into an expansion (as it ever was), struggling with ramp-up time in fast 5mans and versus single-target and multi-phase encounters. I simply don’t compare unless I unleash risky AoE on every single occasion. On the bright side, I never die and make the healer’s job a lot easier.
The even more important realization for me was that I really don’t give a toss. This is a trap that I am simply over. Thanks to so many experiences with other games and communities, I am a better and smarter player today than I ever was and most certainly a happier one. I am playing this for myself and that’s what an increasing number of players in WoW, be they in PuGs or elsewhere, have come to realize as well (shocking truth that it is).

It’s okay WoW players, you can have fun already! Maybe it’s time we re-defined our idea of success.

Weekend Wildstar Wrap-up: It’s all Blizzard’s Fault

If there is just one observation or rule that, after almost four years of meta blogging, I may declare applies without fail when there are two sides to a passionate debate, it’s the following:

Both sides of the argument want exactly the same. That’s been the case each and every time I’ve experienced engaged and complex discussions on this here blog or elsewhere; two or more people arguing for the same thing but believing in opposite ways of achieving it. Your prime example for this is the ‘grouping and facilitation’ debate where some will argue pro enforced grouping for more community while others believe grouping, in order to be the real thing, needs to happen naturally and dynamically. It’s important to understand that on the most basic level, these players all want the same thing.

Quite an entertaining phenomenon in retrospective, it usually takes a moment to sink in. Once you’ve distanced yourself from a topic, you’ll detect such patterns a lot more clearly even if that won’t bring you any closer to a satisfying solution.

In which Blizzard gets all the blame

In what has proven to be a universally divisive topic for Wildstar this week and probably for a while to come, I argued that the 12step attunement needs toning down in order to accommodate a wider variety of both casual and hardcore players. While my argument in favor of inclusion wasn’t my only point, it’s as important to me as it is obviously to others. Liore followed-up disagreeing with pretty much most of my logic, explaining why to her the attunement chain adds direction, content and more playstyle variety. Bottom line: we both argued in favor of diversity/freedom, albeit for different target audiences that are sadly all too often mutually exclusive in MMOs.

That brings me to a second, more vexing matter: World of Warcraft’s continued influence on our perception of design dynamics and as a consequence, its impact on our not-so carefree experiences of new games such as Wildstar. Liore makes an explicit WoW reference in her article, in which she equates not having hard attunements with “being just… like… WoW” because well, like me she’s played and seen a lot of WoW. Just like that, I referred to WoW attunements in my own post and ended up responding (guilty..):

Funny enough unlike for you, to me this [read: the current status of the attunement] is all exactly like WoW and not unlike WoW. I raided in vanilla and it was considered hardcore, the way WS raiding seems right now.

And today, in an interesting update over at Tobold’s, the comment section is full of arguments, speculations and assumptions inspired by past experiences in – you guessed it – WoW. All the while, somewhere else an anti-Wildstar brigade is forming within WoW’s disgruntled and bored community as we speak, because apparently Wildstar is appealing to many of that same demography. Shocker.

wowglass

Our WoW glasses need to be smashed.

….It’s all WoW. WoW, wow, wow. Whether we’re for something or against it, whether it’s totally cool because different from WoW or dangerously close to being like WoW, WoW is the all-encompassing factor and ultimate perspective. Apparently we cannot free ourselves from the mind print that this MMO has left in our collective memory. If something happened in WoW, well it’s probably gonna happen in Wildstar, right? Wrong!

To close a week of intense feels: it’s clearly all Blizzard’s fault. Happy weekend everybody – to the Nexus as well as Azeroth! Stay classy!

What the players want – who can say?

In a recent comment over here, blogosphere buddy Bhagpuss made an unsuspecting remark which at its core is a most familiar sentiment to all longterm MMO players, I’m sure:

[…]But that’s just what GW2 has become and, as people are prone to say, it is what it is. It could have grown into something very much more but apparently that’s not what the majority of players wanted so there you go.

I am going to blatantly take this quote out of its specific context and write a longer, more generalized post about it (sorry Bhag!).

What’s what the players want?

“What the players wanted” and any variation thereof is a commonly used phrase and reaction to MMO design, more often MMO design changes, that vexes me on a personal level. And oh, I have done it myself: how many times did I not do the “now reap what you sowed! (and I hope you suffocate on it)” fist-shake in gloomy retrospective whenever WoW changed for the worse over the years since 2004, in my very personal opinion? In a less considerate moment I’d love to blame all of you out there who are still playing for the state of the game. You ruined WoW for me or something.

But let’s get back to more rational debate. Every time MMOs change/evolve design direction the way so many have, the way GW2 has done from a non-commital “grind-and endgame-free” vision to what it is today, are we really in the position to say that it’s what the players wanted? If so, how do we know? More importantly, where would developers get such corroborated information?

(*)Not once in my 12 years-and-ongoing MMO career did I ever receive a developer letter asking me what I wanted. Not once did I receive a legit, official request or poll along the lines of “Dear Syl, please vote now if you would like to see achievements introduced to our game” or “…please let us know if you’re happy about another +5 level-cap increase with more gear grind at its end”. That would be spelling it out of course (and not a bad thing either).

Not once did anything remotely similar happen to me. And unless there is a secret society of select MMO players out there that receive these kind of emails when I’m not, other players don’t either. So, where and how exactly does the playerbase actively get to decide over an existing game’s direction? Surely not on chaotic message boards that no CM can effectively interpret and where it’s only ever the loudest voices that get noticed. Everyone should have figured that out by now.

DustSpeck

So maybe it’s the silent majority? Only, how does one speak on behalf of a silent group of people? Are they just “everyone else that is not on forums and twitter” that you therefore get to refer to easily for any given purpose since hey, it’s not like they’re saying anything to oppose you? Are we a homogenous mass of people just because we don’t scream and shout?

For me, it doesn’t work that way. It won’t do to retrospectively declare that things are the way they are because they went along with it. There’s a big difference here for me to actively shaping a process. To clarify: I’m not saying that developers should be telepathic and my main point is not to blame any particular group in the gaming industry for this situation (although clearly someone is to blame) – but you don’t get to tell me it’s what I wanted when it clearly wasn’t what I wanted and I never told you that it was.

Voting with your wallet blah

Here’s another catch-phrase I’ve come to dislike over the last few years: just vote with your wallet. The reason for my dislike is the simple truth of it and yet, it falls so horribly short in taking reality into account. I’m a part of a collective whose power is only as big or small as that same collective. I am also an enthusiast in a changing industry and on a wider scope, a human being in a constantly changing world. I’m not generally opposed to change; I’m constantly trying to evaluate which changes to embrace and which not to. Do I pay for an alpha? A beta? A collector’s edition? Do I pre-order? Kickstart? My head hurts.

I did vote with my wallet and unsubscribed from WoW at the end of WotLK, after a 6 years run of raiding madness. It has clearly made no impact whatsoever. If anything, Blizzard has become even less of a company I like to endorse than I did back then. But hey, I have the grim satisfaction of voting with my wallet, right? At least I don’t appear to be agreeing with this product anymore.

Whatever the silent player is supposed to do, I can’t seem to win. That’s why I object so strongly to the sentiment of absolute player/customer responsibility. As far as game design and development goes, the powers at work are way more complex and obscure than what any of us could influence. As much as players love to think they’re shaping games and as much as we love to blame others for when things turn badly, the much more likely scenario is that somewhere in an office, someone in a fancy suit with too many spreadsheets has figured out exactly which design directions to push in order to maximize monetization or subs or co-dependence. Sure, every once in a while a developer will ask us directly what we’d like on some social media platform, usually years or at least months before launch because that’s a good time to crowd-source and get cosy with fans. But videogame design is not a democracy, first and foremost it’s business and sneaky psychology.

wallet

BLAH

And players tend to go along with stuff. There may be some fluctuation but overall we are a flexible bunch when it comes to franchises we’ve come to love or where we’ve simply invested so much time already that it’s hard to leave behind the trophies and fancy dresses. Design directions don’t change over night either; they trickle down ever so slowly until we’ve all but forgotten where we came from and one small change at a time seems as harmless as the last one. That’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s a way of doing business and shaping your audience to fit your product.

In summary to this conundrum I will say this: I never wanted achievements in WoW, the cross-sever dungeons or flying mounts. And I certainly never ever asked for an achievement tab greeting me at the login screen of GW2 – game of too many back items and weapon skins. I didn’t ask for that, more importantly didn’t vote on that. Maybe others did consciously and some unconsciously and I could blame that second group’s lack of action but it tires me to do so. As long as nobody is sending each and every one of their paying customers an official, transparent and individual request to vote on a game’s direction, I am sure as hell not going to take responsibility (or credit) for the way that MMOs are changing and neither should anyone else. Sorry developers but that one’s still on you!

(*) Clarification: I’m not saying I want these kinds of democratic player votes on game design; I don’t for various reasons. What I’m saying is since I am clearly not in a democracy here, you don’t get to share responsibility or retrospective blame with me democratically, either (let alone putting it all on players).