The Newbie Blogger Initiative may be over, but the newbies are still out there! I wanted to link to The Mighty Viking Hamster as a notable new MMO blog. The author just started playing RIFT again, and writes about MMOs and RPGs in general. Check it out!
In response to My SWTOR Post-Mortem from a few weeks ago, commenter Draebek cleverly summed up her reasons for quitting: “What it seemed to boil down to is that it was a pain in the ass to play the game; it was inconvenient to get places, and not easy to team up for group content.” My very first reaction to reading this was a rush of recognition. Holy cow yes, SWTOR in it’s launch form was amazingly inconvenient! Then I recalled Blessing of King’s great classic post about the importance of inconvenience and the fact that I love EQ2 because it’s a huge pain in the ass to play.
So what’s the deal, my brain? Why does SWTOR instantly register as too inconvenient whereas the old school ways of EQ2 are just quirky fun?
To my mind, “inconvenient” is the best word to use when thinking of my problems with SWTOR at launch. You had to reform your group after every Warzone. Getting from your ship to a planet could be a 10+ minute trek with multiple loading screens and ambles through space ports. You couldn’t just search for things on the Global Trade Network. Trying to do space combat quests always resulted in me toggling between the space navigator (a slow load) and my quest journal as I tried to remember which ones I had quests for and where they were.
One of the major ways Everquest 2 is inconvenient is travel. Hopping around the world is actually not that challenging, but individual zones are quite large and at least in early levels there is a LOT of running. The map isn’t very helpful for a lot of quests, and directions can be really vague. Depending on how much of your XP you allot to Alternative Advancement points you can easily run out of quests and have to find other starting areas around the world to get more. It can take several minutes to actually gather from a resource node if you’re not the right gathering level. The auction house is more like.. an eternal storage space. I spent 3 hours killing a patch of treants for a single treant root for a quest.
The big difference, of course, is that I am having scads of fun in the latter while I’ve already given up on the former. I think for whatever reason the inconvenience in SWTOR felt like bugs or mistakes. Did Bioware mean for it to take 15 minutes of travel time if I wanted to leave my planet and help a friend on another planet? My instinct is to say no, whereas I think Sony Online Entertainment absolutely intended for players to have to spend 15 minutes locating a quest NPC.
I also think the two games are slightly different in their design, although both are technically “themepark” MMOs. EQ2 is ever so slightly more sandboxy, as in you have more room to be self-directed and run around making your own fun. While I enjoyed the SWTOR levelling game quite a bit it certainly felt more structured. Inconvenience is better suited to sandboxes. After all, if you’re questing on rails it seems a little disingenuous for the designers to make those rails more tedious as you have no other alternative.
(I love how — from what I’ve seen — quests that would be “daily” in other MMOs are provided endlessly in EQ2. You wanna spend an entire day gathering 25 herbs for X rep? Whatever. EQ2 cares not for your puny self control.)
In the past I’ve declared that “inconvenience is fun (for me) in MMOs”, but after pondering the SWTOR experiences of myself and others I think I have to amend that. Planned inconvenience in a virtual world is fun. Anything that feels like unplanned inconvenience in the mechanics of the game itself is the opposite of fun. I find EQ2 “difficult” because it does very little hand holding, preferring to let users bumble around and find things for themselves. It’s a subtle but very important difference.
It’s E3 week, but as someone who doesn’t play console games or (most) first person shooters I wasn’t expecting a whole lot in the way of exciting announcements. As it turns out there was a gameplay trailer for next year’s Sim City, but aside from that generally nothing so far has really caught my eye. However, yesterday Bioware/EA gave their conference presentation and included details about upcoming SWTOR patches, and while I’m not personally interested in returning to the game I do find their plans thought-provoking.
There are the expected additions of a new planet, new operations, and new warzones, the slightly unexpected addition of new companions and a new playable race, and the totally bizarre bit: new levels. Now keep in mind that I do not have the longest or widest MMO history, but introducing a level cap increase inbetween expansions seems like a totally new and possibly crazy concept. After some reflection I think it could be really neat, but I’m not sure SWTOR is the game to make this idea happen successfully.
What are the downsides to a level cap increase? The most obvious one is that it can invalidate hours of content. Level 50 flashpoints and operations are at best a lot easier and at worst rendered pointless when you’re 5 or 10 levels above the bosses. It can also invalidate gear and collections — suddenly the PvP gear that you’ve been grinding for months to obtain is less potent than a minor quest drop. On a personal note, as someone who traditionally prefers the end-game to the levelling game level cap increases just seem like an irritant between me and what I want to do.
Of course most MMO players face these issues with every expansion, and my attitude is usually “that’s the way expansions go, so suck it up and get levelling!”. (See the RIFT official forum right now for examples of complaining about this in action.) Between expansions though? That’s a new one.
So why is Bioware taking this rather extraordinary measure? They seem like smart dudes, and I suspect they have a good reason. Based on my totally anecdotal survey, the folks who really enjoy SWTOR are folks who put more emphasis on levelling, alts, and story. If, in theory, SWTOR were to change their focus slightly away from entrenched level cap activites and more to story and levels … it bucks the current MMO design theory, but I think it would be a hit with their core playerbase. And why not! The idea of an MMO where the levelling journey only takes brief breaks is an intriguing one and seems sufficiently different from other AAA offerings.
Unfortunately I don’t think SWTOR has the right infrastructure to make this properly happen. If nothing else the voice acting, while one of the game’s strongest selling points, makes churning out regular leveling content expensive and difficult. I wish Bioware/EA had thought about this more ahead of time and really focused on continuing that casual, story-driven, alt-based gameplay that I think they did so well instead of bolting on a buggy version of WoW’s end game and telling us early adopters to have fun.
I’m not sure I’d personally play a game that was focused on providing a regular storyline and level increase, but it’s a unique idea in big money MMOs. Bioware is going to have to be very careful about how they implement this patch-based level cap so as to not alienate the established 50s, and I’m not sure they have the right setup to make this happen properly, but I can kind of see what they’re thinking (I think) and I’d be interested to see where a different company could take this idea in the future.
It’s a Diablo 3 mega-episode on this week’s Cat Context! We talk about our likes, dislikes, and whether Diablo 3 can match the longevity of D2. Other topics include the Team Fortress 2 hat market, the superstar Humble Bundle V, and a slight argument over whether RIFT’s first expansion will be any fun.
Cat Context is the podcast by Liore and members of the Machiavellis Cat Gaming Community. We skipped last podcast for a guild meet in Las Vegas, but usually we sit down every two weeks for 30 minutes to talk about what’s new in MMOs and RPGs, what we’ve been playing lately, and what embarrassing stories we can share.
We had two return cohosts this week: Vajra and Corranhorn. Corr was hung over, and Vajra calls you all “dicks”. Twice. Sorry.
Some links you might be interested in after listening:
* Diablo 3 Grouping System: lesson for MMOs? (my article on D3 grouping)
* The main TF2 hat price spreadsheet
* The official Humble Bundle website
* My favorite compliation of Amnesia reactions (note: game spoilers)
* Free Music Archive page for our theme, in THE crowd by The Years
The Cat Context Podcast #3 is on track for a Monday release! Topics include Diablo 3 (natch), tips on mastering the hat market in Team Fortress 2, and Liore will tell the sad story of how she lost a weekend to Tropico 4.
Late last year I wrote a post titled “Why aren’t you playing RIFT?” in which I wondered why, despite all the things I ostensibly love about RIFT and Trion, the game just didn’t hold my interest beyond a couple of months. The comments were filled with folks who felt the same: the game was well-made and well-run but not different enough from WoW to keep the burnouts (myself included) entertained. And that was that. Until yesterday.
Yesterday Trion officially announced their first expanion for RIFT, Storm Legion, and in the space of a press release I went from not having anything to look forward to on the MMO horizon to demanding a release date and planning my alts. Trion has been infamous for turning out out well made patch-based content at a rapid pace since RIFT launched and admittedly much of my anticipation for this expansion is based on the good will their development team has built up, but get a look at some of these advertised features:
- A new soul (aka a new role/spec) for each calling (rogue, mage, warrior, cleric)
- New continents that will triple the size of the current world, including a new cross-faction capital city
- 7 dungeons, 3 raids, and a new Chronicle (solo instance)
- “New rift gameplay” — a little vague, but okay
- Capes! (This seemed like an odd selling point but the official forums are full of people thrilled about capes so good on them.)
- “Customizable spaces allow players and guilds to own a sliver of Telara”
Wait, what? Let’s look at that last one again:
- “Customizable spaces allow players and guilds to own a sliver of Telara”
Oh, be still my heart. Is this.. player housing? Can I decorate it? The internet is, unsurprisingly, low on details about this development but it sounds like players/guilds will be able to create their own home instance. Found a good location at a city inn? Create a copy of it in your own Dimension and “customize” it. I am going to be keeping a very close eye on this feature, but it sounds very promising. (Bookshelves, Trion. Give me bookshelves. Oh, and a giant fur “Rob Stark”-style cloak, while you’re at it.)
Also, the concept art is weird and awesome. Also also, three faction open world PvP just hit the Player Test Servers! Trion has proven themselves to be awesome at liberating all the best features of other MMOs for their own game.
So why am I not playing RIFT? I’m … not sure anymore. I’ll probably wait until a little closer to the expansion’s Fall release date to resubscribe and finish levelling up my cleric, but the initial details about Storm Legion has definitely earned the game a top spot on my anticipated games list.
Dang you guys! I go away for a week and apparently the MMO genre dies, or is in the process of dying. Maybe I’m just overly relaxed from my vacation but I’m sensing a lot of strum und drang going on out there right now and I feel like I’ve missed something. While I realize that part of the nature of being an industry blogger is worrying about stuff possibly more than the average enthusiast, it seems to me that the community as a whole could use a gentle reminder to stop and smell the flowers.
1. Bad business practices fail.
I don’t know the details of what went on at 38 Studios, Curt Schilling’s now defunct MMO dream factory, but what little facts I have come across indicate that it probably had poor financial management. Does it suck that we’ll probably never see what Schilling had under his cap for Project Copernicus? Of course it does. But inefficient business practices frequently drive a company under. Fear not, Chicken Little — this isn’t a case of a lack of interest in MMOs or anything else. It’s bad business management, and it happens in every industry at any time. Even rich and famous gaming enthusiasts can underestimate the process of creating an MMO.
2. You don’t need a trillion players to be a good game.
Even I would have a tough time arguing that SWTOR has lived up to all of Bioware’s expectations, but I am yet again put off by the crowing from certain quarters of the internet this week in response to the Bioware team layoffs. Yes, yes, a game you don’t like still exists! How terrible it must be to not have everything cater to your whims. The fact is that SWTOR is still one of the top 3 Western MMOs, with about a million subscribers. Before the game launched EA said they needed 500,000 subscribers to cover expenses, and they certain seem to cover that! No, I don’t enjoy it personally, but that is in fact not the final metric of a game’s success.
We, the playerbase, need to settle down a bit before calling a game a failure. Part of the charm of the current MMO marketplace is the diversity in titles, but that will get squashed if we start scoffing at anything with less than five million players. Hell, not every game even WANTS or SHOULD HAVE that many players! Not everything has to hit WoW-like numbers to be a commercial or artistic success. If a game is covering its costs and giving players a good time, it’s not a failure.
3. Forget about what’s coming out around the corner and enjoy what you’re playing now.
For the first time in years there is no future MMO that I’m anticipating, and I’ve found it to be kind of a relief. I don’t worry about something better around the corner, or whether my current game will be (gasp) behind the times. (This is fortunate, seeing as I’m still playing EQII. :P ) I don’t care what everyone else is playing! Are you having fun? Then.. success!
Like I said, I realize that gaming enthusiasts naturally tend to overthink issues and worry about the future but at a certain point I think it behooves us all to take a little time to sit back, relax, and have fun playing a game. Don’t worry if something better is around the corner or what it means for the industry as a whole or if you’re missing the MMO zeitgeist. Go ahead.. have some mindless fun. I won’t tell anyone.