In what was probably a mistake, earlier today the live WoW servers briefly displayed a price for automatically levelling a character to 90, and that price was $60. While $60 seems too steep to me, everything is still up in the air and it doesn’t seem worth the effort to get too upset (or too happy) about that number right now.
What did stand out to me was a number of tweets with variations of the argument that $60 is a high enough price point to discourage players from using it “too much”. To be fair I get a little shirty around any authority (you can’t tell me what to do!!), but I kind of bridle at the idea that Blizzard is pricing this service to help save us from ourselves.
First, I don’t think it’s true. Blizzard knows they have a game full of people willing to spend $25 on a horse or a costume hat, and pricing something high to limit sales is pretty counter-intuitive in today’s markets. It seems far more likely that they would price it as high as people will still pay.
But aside from that, I guess I just don’t understand why some feel we need to artificially discourage people from insta-levelling.
A game like WoW has the vast majority of its content for level-capped players. Between heirlooms and the Cataclysm world changes, not to mention the monk XP buff, it’s faster than ever to level a character, to the point where a particularly determined person could probably do it in a long weekend. I appreciate arguments that levelling is an important part of MMOs or RPGs, but it’s hard to argue in the specific that levelling is important in WoW.
And even with paid level 90s, all the levelling content will still be there. If you like to level your characters, that’s cool. And other MMOs still have an emphasis on levelling. Diversity in products is a positive thing for us all!
The argument in favor of curtailing insta-levelling strikes me as another verse of that old favorite tune “You have to play MMOs the way I want to you play them”. And look, I get it, it’s a song I’ve sung myself on more than one occasion. But it’s not a good one.
While WildStar has generally received praise from press and good hype from players, not everything is happy times in space. Probably the most divisive issue is the female character models and the lack of character customization in general, but close after that is the game’s plan to have 40 person raids.
(Don’t read the comments on that female character model link, by the way. Seriously. It is full of hyper-defensive dudes accusing the author of just trying to suck up to women and the usual “it’s not sexism, it’s marketing” argument and ahhhhh why did I read those comments why?!)
For good or for ill, 40 person raids make people think of Vanilla World of Warcraft, and apparently some people really did not enjoy those days. And that’s fine — my guild was pretty awesome and friendly and laid-back when we were raiding 40s bosses so I had an awesome time, but I realize not everyone had such a great experience and would prefer to not go through those times again.
I think, though, that it’s putting the cart before the horse to assume that WildStar’s big raids will be exactly like WoW’s classic big raids. I mean, they could be! But personally I think it’s unlikely, and we don’t really know how that content will play.
For example, after Molten Core a lot of the big raid content in classic WoW required quite a bit of gear and concentration to complete. Naxx #1 and Ahn’Qiraj in particular were extremely difficult when they launched, and had crazy requirements like weird nature resist sets and having 8 well-geared tanks available. I’m just guessing, but I would be very surprised if the bulk of WildStar’s big raid content was that punishing.
MMOs have also vastly improved their group management tools since Vanilla WoW. There are automated group finders, cross-server teams, lockout extensions, and WildStar’s relatively new idea of friend “circles”. Outside of the game, players use social media much more frequently now to coordinate activites, and things like oQueue and Open Raid make it easier than ever to find a spot in a big group on a flexible schedule.
Imagine that WildStar’s initial tier of 40 person raid content, for example, had an automated grouping feature along with it. Or, what if it was tuned to accommodate a more casual zerg style of play? Or some flexibility in difficulty, through group size or triggers like Ulduar?
I honestly don’t know exactly how their big raids will work. Maybe they will be serious-business-hardcore-only right out of the gate! But I think making the assumption that the content will be terrible (or amazing, really) simply based on the maximum group size is a mistake. One of the great things about the post-WoW MMO landscape is its diversity, and I’ll be interested to see how WildStar is planning on updating the now disused 40 person raid concept for a modern audience.
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: