I’ve been in an interesting conversation on Twitter over the last day about Hearthstone’s place in the pantheon of online collectible card games. It seems, perhaps not surprisingly, that some serious CCG players are not impressed by Hearthstone’s fairly simple gameplay and casual rules.
Take, for example, this tweet by blogger Scree:
— Craig 'Scree' Schupp (@TheScree) November 15, 2013
I kind of disagree with Scree here — I suspect Hearthstone’s gameplay is not as shallow as presumed — but more importantly his response reminded me a lot of… me, like 4 years ago.
Blizzard is dumbing down MMOs for a mass audience! They’re making raiding for the lowest common denominator! Ugh, why are you making WoW for tiny casual babbies ugh I hate it whyyyyy.
And now, years later, I still believe those things and I think I was right, just like I’m sure Scree and others are right about Hearthstone being a simplification of online CCGs. However, what I have come to realize over the last few years is that not everyone wants the same thing from their games and a diverse marketplace makes for happy players. The casual-ification of WoW is only a tragedy if WoW and WoW clones are the only MMOs available.
For example, my sense from blogs and podcasts is that Hearthstone’s playerbase is different from, say, the player pool for Hex or Sol Forge. Hearthstone seems to be drawing from past and present players of WoW, past and present players of Starcraft, and previous players of the paper WoW:TGC. In short, it’s a Blizzard property and has drawn in a ton of Blizzard players.
I could be wrong, but I feel as though most of these people are not leaving one CCG to play another. In fact, in the alternate continuity where Hearthstone does not exist and Garrosh runs free in Draenor (*cough*), many of these same people would not be playing a CCG at all. I know I would not!
(I also think that WoW’s audience has a lot of women in it, arguably moreso than the traditional CCG audience, and some may feel more welcome to dip their toes in the card genre now strictly because Hearthstone has a simplified ruleset and is set in the Warcraft universe.)
I have sympathy with the view of Scree and others, I really do. I can totally understand how Hearthstone seems like a step in the wrong direction for a genre that they like, and it’s disappointing to see a game you think is bad do well while games that you love languish with a fraction of the media coverage and players. But complaining about people flocking to a simplified card game is pretty much the same as complaining about casual scrubs who wants to raid.
For Scree, Hearthstone is “simplified garbage” while for me it’s the game that kept me up until 3am on Wednesday night. (Can’t sleep, winning arena…) That’s marketplace diversity in action! As long as companies are producing games for both of us, I am all for a range of both the complex and the simple. And yes, that goes for MMOs too, Liore-of-the-past.
The most excellent Syl wrote a great post today about why she thinks achievements are one of the worst things to happen to MMOs. And with the standard caveat of “there’s no wrong way to play games and it’s good there is a wide marketplace so everyone can find a game that suits them”, I feel I have to stick up for achievements.
Warning: this post will probably totally out me as a Neanderthal who does not appreciate art and beauty
Achievements absolutely break a game’s immersion.
I think immersion in games is wonderful.. in the right game. If you’re playing The Stanley Parable, immersion seems almost critical to the experience. (No, I won’t say why. Go play it!) I loved slapping on my headphones and getting lost in the world of Mass Effect, wandering my ship wondering if Garrus was finished with his calibrations.
In general, though, the MMO genre doesn’t seem well suited to being an immersive experience. First, and most obviously, however lovely the fantasy world is it’s also filled with other people, many of whom are doing things like shouting “lol butts” and dancing on tree stumps in their underwear.
And although MMOs have done quite a bit of innovating in the last couple of years, they still haven’t really solved the problem where you kill a terrible monster to save a village and it respawns a little while later. (Perhaps EQ Next? We’ll see.) Plus most MMOs seem stuck on the idea of having in-game events that mimic real life, something that absolutely pulls the player out of a fantasy environment.
In general the MMO genre by its very nature seems like a poor place to look for a truly immersive game experience.
Getting Some Satisfaction
People play games for all kinds of reasons, but one popular reason I think — or at least it is for me — is that real life is hard, you guys. It’s hard for different people in different ways, but for me finding “satisfaction within” is not always an easy task (particularly as someone with depression and anxiety issues), and it takes effort and practice.
For example, I will spend roughly four months of my life doing housework. I will never finish tidying my house, but instead will do it on a regular basis for the rest of my life because it needs doing. We do these things often with no real reward or acknowledgement. I do not get an achievement for getting to work on time all week, or for remembering to get cat litter on the way home, nor should I expect one.
In a game with achievements, after I catch 50 fish I get a happy noise and some digital confetti. You did it, player! Check that off your list, you accomplished a thing! Obviously not all achievements are the same (catch 50 fish vs What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been) but frankly I enjoy a little validation in my life, even if I know it’s virtual and very silly.
I find sandbox MMOs (and sandbox games in general) just mimic some of the very things I am playing games to forget. I don’t want to be lost in a strange and unfamiliar world! As I said in my post on Skyrim a long time ago, my idea of escapist fantasy is not being a helpless half-elf with no shoes and no direction in life, hiding in a cave. My escape is being validated in silly game ways for developing my character.
Casual Bartle Achiever
There are a number of valid holes in the Barle Test character theory, but I still find myself drawn to the basic definition of the achiever: “[Achievers] will go to great lengths to achieve rewards that confer them little or no gameplay benefit simply for the prestige of having it.”
I like to Get Things Done. I like checklists and forms. (Yes, I am that person who will do my family’s taxes because I find it kind of fun.) I add my own “twist” by trying to do these things as optimally as possible, which often requires a little research and planning ahead. Achievements provide a framework for these things.
Additionally, as someone who no longer raids, achievements are great for limited playtime. I can log on and spend 20 minutes working towards an actual tracked goal.
I find total sandbox games to be overwhelming. It feels like graduating high school — you can do anything you want, so what do you want to make of yourself, huh? Huh? Oh no, you said you wanted to be a bow and arrow rogue but that isn’t optimal and now you’re an unemployed middle aged elf who still lives with their parents.
While I respect that people are Explorer-types, I don’t get it myself. What happens when you make it to the top of that hill and see… the next hill? At what point do you get a sense of satisfaction? Serious question.
Syl said in her post that “The journey is the reward” in games, or at least should be that way, but for me that’s opposite from the truth. Life, real life, is all about the journey. I do that every day. It’s quite rewarding, but also often boring, scary, and difficult in equal measures.
I like games in large part because they are not my real life, and mostly “the journey” is just a period of time when my character is not as powerful and awesome as she could be. I realize this makes me something of a philistine who eschews art and mystery in favor of research, goal-setting, and sweet, sweet victory hats, but hey, whatever makes us happy.
Syl wrote earlier this week about the perils of armchair game designing and I think she’s on the money with her post. We should stop expecting Game A to change to be more like Game B or some totally other game or whatever.
However, I’m going to ignore that clever advice and write about some things I’d like to see changed in or added to Hearthstone. The game is still in beta, and it is great fun even if none of these ideas are ever implemented…. but it would be better if they were.
1. Arena / draft matches between friends
Right now you can challenge a friend to a battle with constructed decks, or card decks that have been prearranged ahead of time by the player, which is fun. You can also try your hand at Arena mode with strangers with a deck that you put together right before the fights from a random selection of cards. I’d love to have a third mode that is a combination of the two: spontaneous draft decks battles between friends. (Bonus points for 2v2 co-op battles involving friends.)
Hearthstone will be free to play, and I would love to organize newbie friendly guild or reader tournaments which means not allowing that amazing deck that you spent $50 to make.
2. Better deck management
When you view a deck that you previously constructed, it looks like this obtuse mess to the right. While technically I can right-click on each card to be reminded of its stats and any special functions, that takes a fair bit of time and still isn’t as good as being able to look at the details of all the cards in my deck at once.
Ideally I’d love to be able to sort my deck into groups like “Taunts” or “Charges”, although that might be getting a little fancy. Anything that lets me get a good overview of my deck at a glance would be appreciated — anything that doesn’t rely on me memorizing every attribute of every card by its name, that is — but barring that just putting every card on the screen and letting me scroll through it would be fine.
3. Story mode
This might be a bit of a stretch but it would be cool if there was a little story mode that involved playing against the NPCs, similar to how Starcraft operates. I know the old paper WoW TCG had a mode for two players to join forces against an NPC “boss”, and it would be neat to have co-op options.
4. Loot cards
One day I will own you, Spectral Tiger.
5. Decent lady armor
Okay look, this is obviously not a gameplay consideration but the armor for Valeera Sanguinar and Jaina Proudmoore is super boobtacular and it bugs me. Look at Valeera there and try to imagine the lines of her neck behind that dagger hilt. Where is her right shoulder located, huh? She’s totally warped in the name of a ridiculous hip flick to show off the.. battle leotard.
When I see a game between a mage deck and a rogue deck I feel like I should be ordering wings from one of them. It’s a card game, you guys. Let at least one lady wear a top.
Over the weekend someone left a comment on a post about free-to-play RIFT that disagreed with my anti-cash shop attitude. Among other things they said, “It’s not pay-to-win. [...] so you have to pay for some cosmetic stuff, big deal. You’re able to earn everything you NEED.”
It made me stop and consider how one “wins” in an MMO. Obviously it’s easy to assign a winner and a loser in matters of PvP. Serious raid guilds are quite competitive with each other, and arguably being one of the best in the world or in the country can be considered winning. Those may be the popular ways of winning an an MMO (particularly in WoW), but they are hardly the only ones.
The very last day of Wrath of the Lich King a guildie noticed that he had the most achievement points of anyone else on our server, and declared (justifiably so in my opinion) that he had “won” the expansion. My friend Arolaide seems to be on a mission to collect and level up every dragonkin pet in WoW. I have spent my gaming time over weeks doing things in RIFT to score the perfect hat for my outfit. Another friend is trying to grind up gold to eventually own every Dimension in the game.
The point is that win conditions for MMO players can encompass much more than just PvP or raiding.
Ever since the F2P model started gaining some traction with MMO publishers, the rallying cry has been that there won’t be “pay-to-win”. It’s okay, everyone! You can’t buy top end raid gear or PvP consumables that will give you an advantage on the battlefield, so things are fair. The cash shop will just have cosmetic items. And I admit that in the past I’ve found that a reasonable if not desirable approach, but as time goes on I feel more and more like the player base may have screwed ourselves with the ready acceptance of cosmetic items as not “pay-to-win” and totally acceptable for sales.
I loved dressing up my character in RIFT, with its incredibly flexible costume system. Once most of the new cosmetic items were store-only, the game lost much of its appeal for me. I could no longer “win” the “most awesome costume” competition of my own mind. Want to collect all the mounts or pets in an MMO? Hope you have your wallet handy. New titles? Wallet. Barber shop? Additional trade skills? In many games, these are cash shop features.
I think it’s unfortunate that we were so happy to not have publishers push through traditional “pay-to-win” measures that we’ve just accepted that any activity that deviates from PvP or raiding is not something we NEED and therefore fair game for the cash shop. I’m a casual player now, and maybe I need that hat, you know? It’s frustrating that almost every F2P game is also now pay-for-hat.
So many MMOs have moved towards a non-raid end game while at the same time building up cash shops that are a necessary part of non-raid goals. Is this really what we wanted when we, as a collective of players, declared that it’s always okay to have “just cosmetics” in the store? I understand that companies need to make money and so *something* has to go for cash, but I find that more and more I am bumping my head against the constant limitation of mounts, pets, and costumes as cash-only and I think it sucks.
I started making Hearthstone videos this weekend! Here’s one of my early matches, an unranked shaman vs. priest game:
I’m giving away a copy of Assassin’s Creed III for Steam to the next person who donates at least $20 to my Extra Life Marathon fund!
This topic is part of the Newbie Blogger Initiative Talk Back Challenge Event. Today myself and newbie blogger LyleDark are being Armchair Game Designers. Go read his post!
I usually try to stay away from armchair MMO designing, as much as I like to complain about the genre. I’m not a designer — I’m a player with opinions — and I have little idea how one actually designs and develops a game. That being said I do have an awful lot of opinions, so let’s talk about how I would create a great MMO economy.
An MMO economy is a combination of creating goods (gatherers, crafters) and distributing them, usually through an auction house. There are a few key points to creating value in these materials or goods, and they’re usually the things that players say they don’t enjoy: scarcity of materials, rare crafting recipes, limited market listings, remote auction houses.
1) Location, location, location (EvE Online)
EvE’s economy hits just about every single one of those ways of adding value, but the one I want to cherry-pick is the idea that different locations have different auction houses. If I put some goods up for sale at Jita, they’re located there and players in the Dodixie region across the universe generally can’t see them.
Right now most games have an auction house in every major city that are interlinked. I say split those suckers up! Throw some more in! Players will naturally gravitate to having one central “trading hub” (you could interlink all the, say, Orgrimmar AH across servers for greater inventory and volatility), creating possible value for traders who want to make the effort to travel.
2) Keep resources limited (just about every game except Guild Wars 2)
Shared credit for mob tapping is all the rage now, which I personally enjoy. What I can’t agree with is universally available resource nodes, like in Guild Wars 2. When everyone gets all nodes, it floods the markets with raw materials and drives down the prices of finished products.
3) Create rare recipes (old school WoW)
Back in the early days of WoW, special high end recipes would drop off of raid bosses. The items they made would be relatively rare on a server, and fetch a pretty high price on the AH. This distribution method fell out of favor during the great Elitist Purge of the WotLK era, with most games now very much supporting an “all recipes for all crafters” vision.
To this I say: bah! The distribution method doesn’t have to be raiding — remember people farming for days for the Crusader enchant recipe? — but having rare recipes that very few players will ever own is the spice of a great crafting system.
All three of these things add time-consuming factors to player economies that in many cases have fallen out of fashion, but that is how an economy works! You make money because you hauled that item across the world, or you spent days looking for the recipe, or you farmed up 18 gabillion flowers.
As the goblins say, time is money friend. If I designed a player economy, I’d build in these features.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to get my hands on The Elder Scrolls Online. On the downside, I only had about five minutes to play. On the upside, there was no NDA for those five minutes!
My sense is that the answer to almost any question about TESO is “Skyrim”. What is the character creator like? Skyrim. How does the UI work? Like Skyrim. How does the game look and feel? Tooootally Skyrim. You even have that little compass at the top of your screen that tells you which direction to go for quests.
TESO handles class specs slightly differently, and there is no giant skill wheel in the sky like Skyrim. Players still gain skill points through action, like earning Light Armor by being hit, but they can also purchase specific skills at certain levels. This is where you can start to steer your character towards magic or physical damage. The skills you buy are placed on your hotbar, and otherwise you have two attacks bound to each mouse button.
So what of the multiplayer part of this MMO? First, the other players are displayed in a way that blends into the environment well and doesn’t mess with immersion. (In fact, I spent a good half of my battle time fruitlessly hitting my fellow players, thinking they were enemies.) That was all well and good when you had another one or two people running around, but once you had a lot of players on your screen it genuinely started to feel a bit silly.
Although I personally never really enjoyed Skyrim, my understanding from others is that a large part of its appeal was the immersion. It was having random encounters happen, it was getting lost in the giant world, it was overhearing bits of gossip as you walked by someone in town. (There’s a reason first person view is so popular with players!)
Having played TESO I feel like ZeniMax Online got the mechanics of that same Skyrim immersion correct, but it quickly becomes trampled by the old MMO structure. It’s just hard to feel like a part of a virtual world when PlayerX zips in front of you and steals your quest mob, or when there are 15 people all running around the same area trying to find the same plant.
I admit that from the outset I knew that TESO was not a title that interested me, but I left their booth feeling that while the game played well and had that old Skyrim spirit the title would still have been much better served as a game you play with a couple of friends and not the whole world.