Yves Guillemot, the head of Ubisoft, recently said that the rise of the free-to-play model is a result of rampant game piracy. In response Liore, author of Herding Cats, said, “Thhhhhhhhbbbbbbbbbpt!”.
The first thing that struck me was that Mr. Guillemot was referring to F2P as a punitive measure, which is an attitude I haven’t seen before in an official capacity. Generally the industry party line is that F2P represents better games, better innovation, and overall happier players. Describing F2P as a response to piracy, although it may well indeed be, gives the impression that we players have been very naughty so now we have to go straight to bed without any subscription options.
Although I don’t think it was intended, this article also cast some serious doubts on the current popular anti-piracy methods. Digital Rights Management systems were introduced to combat piracy (with some notoriously disasterous results in Ubisoft’s case). Day 1 DLCs? You got it, these were also instituted primarily to combat piracy. In the article Mr. Guillemot claims somewhat spuriously that Ubisoft games have a 95% piracy rate. If that’s the case, clearly DRM isn’t helping any and we can get rid of it, right? Right?? Hello?
Hey, I am all about discouraging people from pirating games. I haven’t done it myself in almost 20 years, since I was young and foolish. But to be fair, many of the reasons I used to pirate games — a lack of access to new titles in a small town, no deep discounts on anything ever — don’t exist anymore, meaning that I am less discouraged from pirating and more encouraged to purchase. Punishing the people who DO buy games is going to become more ineffective the more punitive measures you introduce.
Collectivism is the hot topic in blog circles this week and while I’m sure the term has some official philosophical meaning that is very deep and stuff, I don’t care about that and instead focused on a post at Raging Monkeys that used collectivism as a springboard for talking about groups in Guild Wars 2. In the post Syl wrote that GW2 is the “next evolutionary step” because people aren’t forced into groups to see the content, and in fact the old MMOs are “primal and primative”.
While to be clear I like Syl quite a bit, I find this post to be complete balderdash and just another torrent in the current deluge of fantaticism about a game that no one has played for any length of time.
Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander.
Syl argues that “[f]irst and foremost grouping up [in old games] is a self-serving, necessary act.” I disagree with that premise — there have been plenty of times where I grouped to help someone with a task that I had no interest in myself — but more importantly I don’t see why this doesn’t also apply to GW2. When one participates in an Event, it is generally to obtain the rewards for your character and the experience of doing the Event yourself. Other people may also be around you doing the same Event, but that’s really inconsequential. You’re not there for them, you’re there for your own experience.
How is this not also a “glorified common venture, serving the mutual and temporary purpose of individuals”? How are the motivations to work as part of a group to complete an Event or quest ANY different from working as part of a group to complete a dungeon or quest in a different game? I don’t understand why, apparently, working with others to complete a 5-man dungeon is hopelessly passe, while working with others to complete an Event is people being spontaneously awesome. Both are self-serving acts. (And I don’t mean that perjoratively. That’s gaming for ya.)
As for grouping being a content requirement in previous MMOs but not GW2… well, I look forward to hearing what one lone person can do in World vs. World or a dungeon by themselves without any grouping. (Hint: Not a whole lot.)
Automation is not Intention
Guild Wars 2 in fact has automated many of the options to cooperate that exist(ed) in previous games. If two people are heading to the same mob, there is no longer the option to step aside and let the other person get it. When multiple people are doing an Event, there is no option to group up with people because your contribution is automatically tallied in the total. There is no need to coordinate for who is playing the healer, because there are no healers.
I’m not saying that this automation is bad per se (although it’s not something I personally like), but that the fact that there are fewer ways for people to intentionally cooperate does not mean that there is MORE cooperation. Syl argues against overly “engineered cooperation” and says that it’s something that is lessened in Guild Wars 2, but in fact automation is the height of engineering! Yes, no one can steal a mob before I get to it, but equally no one can yield a mob to me. There is no intention, no choice… it’s not cooperation, it’s game mechanics.
Obligations are the Root of Community
What is community in relation to games? I would argue that they are groups that form due to similar interests or goals. Perhaps your goal is to kill Hard Mode Deathwing, or perhaps it’s to hang out and chat while picking virtual flowers. It doesn’t matter. The point is that community is created by and thrives on shared activities.
In her conclusion, Syl writes that she is happy that in Guild Wars 2 she can “play without the tiring bonds of obligation”. Ah yes, obligation, that old fiend of casual gamers! But are the “bonds of obligation” not also the bonds of socialization in a community? Can you have a shared goal, even if that goal is just to hang out and chat, without any sense of obligation? I feel obligated to log on to RIFT every couple of days at least, because I know my friends there will miss me otherwise. I feel obligated to help them out with quests and dungeons, again because they’re my friends.
Obligation is a fundamental part of community and forming social bonds. Without it, we are all strangers who don’t have to give a fuck about each other.
The overall point of my post is not to pick on the mechanics of Guild Wars 2 — it suits some people, and doesn’t suit others, and that’s just fine. But I object to the Orwellian-language-like notion I see often now that removing the option to cooperate is infact cooperation. I disagree that banishing one’s obligations to fellow players will create some kind of magical utopia where people help each other just because they’re so gosh darn nice. Instead what will happen, in my opinion, is that people won’t bother rezzing to be nice (but they’ll do it out of self interest). They won’t talk to each other because they don’t have to.
Look at real life and the slow death of face-to-face communities and neighbourhoods over the last 20 years. Do you know your neighbours? Do you talk to them on a regular basis? Do you know the people in your Guild Wars 2 Event and talk to them? Perhaps the world, and your game, might be a more pleasant place if players actually felt obligated to be social and work together and not automate away our choice to interact in both positive and negative ways.
Now that I’m finally getting a handle on how to cleric and which healing specs I enjoy the most (senticars represent!) I can start fussing with the minutia of slightly-less-casual MMO gaming. On the list for this weekend is cleaning out my bank and bags and auctioning anything that I no longer want, but more immediately I indulged in that most ultimate of gamer navel-gazing and customized my UI. RIFT patched in add-ons at the end of 2011 and also added a number of native layout tools, so it was high time for me to sit and ponder what configuation of hotbars really best represented my unique specialness.
It was only after I finished my reorganization that I realized my UI was laid out almost exactly the same now as it was for years in World of Warcraft. I bridled against that at first — stop trying to make everything serious business, Liore! — but after a little pondering I decided that the reason I was attached to this layout was because it was the most comfortable and functional for my playstyle. So dang it, I’m sticking with it.
One of the challenges of being a healer is that our UIs can never be as minimalist as our DPS counterparts. I love minimalism in most everything but when the success of your team weighs heavily on your ability to monitor 5-20 little green boxes, utility trumps it most of the time. There are two UI guidelines that I find quite helpful in games:
1) Is information duplicated anywhere on the screen? There have been plenty of times in WoW when I took a step back and realized that, say, my available bag slots was listed in three different spots in my UI. Are two of your mods showing the same information at the same time? Then, objectively, you’ve probably got them set up wrong or are using the wrong mods for your needs. (The big exception to this that I find is having my player unit frame AND my character’s raid frame up at the same time, although really I should just ditch the former while in raids.)
2) At the most challenging moments of a fight, where are your eyes? Are they where they should be? For example, originally my (default) raid panels in RIFT were off on the left side of the screen. As a result I often found myself trying to navigate tricky movement phases with my eyes glued to off to the left. If the cardinal rule of raiding is indeed “don’t stand in stuff”, then it makes sense to put my critical UI elements somewhere convenient for that goal. For that reason I traditionally put my raid frames right below where my character’s feet usually are. My unit frame and that of my target also gets pulled down from the corner and closer to that critical eye level. Talents that are infrequent but usually cast in combat (a stun, for example) get the top hotbar, while things that aren’t mission critical or already keybound can get stuck at a lower, smaller level (if at all).
Okay, let’s get specific to RIFT here.
The first and best option for customizing your UI in RIFT is simply the built in “Layout” feature, available from the main menu (Esc). With this you can easily move every element on the screen, resize it, and activate/deactivate the panels themselves. In many cases this feature along with RIFT’s extensive Interface Settings will suit most folks, but you can go even further with third party add-ons. There isn’t anywhere near the selection that WoW players might expect, but both Curse and RiftUI have the popular options.
After quite a bit of trial and error, I’m using:
Imhotar’s Bags – Display all bags in one window, sorted by item type. Imhotar’s Bags is stable, feature-rich, and incredibly useful. However the RIFT API does not allow bag add-ons to completely replace the in-game bags, and the result is that this add-on (and all bag add-ons) are slightly unwieldy to use. Worth it though, in my opinion.
Click-Box Healer – If you’re familiar with WoW add-ons, this is RIFT’s version of Grid. I loved Grid. Loved, loved, loved, and while this is still slightly short of Grid’s flexibility (again I suspect due to the limited API) it fills a deep UI need in my heart. Create raid frames and customize a ton of features like colors, frame size, and line of site guide. Add indicators for a selection of buffs and debuffs, and if you like set up your click macros for healing.
BanaAH – Give your auction house a souped up interface, and track auctions on all characters. The AH interface in RIFT is honestly kind of funny lookin’ and awkward, so this is essential if you play the markets much.
RiftCount Meter – The prettiest DPS/Healing meter available. (Please remember that friends don’t let friends be jerkwaffles about meters!)
King Boss Mods – Boss timers and alerts for raids and dungeons. I installed this, feeling like a dutiful raider, but shortly thereafter I took it off again despite it working perfectly and having great reviews. We’re not racing for a progression goal, or competing for a ranking. We’re just a buncha goobers who kill raid bosses once a week, so I think for now I’ll pass and just enjoy winging it.
Below is my current UI. It’s still a little wonky, but I think with some practice and tweaking it’ll be more comfortable for me and will squeeze out a little better performance.
The cinematic for Mists of Pandaria was released last week and it inspired us to talk all about Blizzard and the World of Warcraft. Is the cinematic any good? Was the 5.0.3 release date a shot at Arenanet? What’s the lore behind the new main boss? (We spoil the new big bad if you don’t already know!) Also, we ask a fortune cookie about the game’s future, and discuss whether Pandaria can return WoW to previous heights. As well this week: SWTOR’s switch to free-to-play, Liore gibbers happily about RIFT’s housing system, and we discuss the new Mann vs. Server Machine mode in Team Fortress 2.
Due to scheduling issues this week’s cohosts found out that they were going on the show about 10 minutes before we started recording. Surprise! With me are frequent guest and professional loudmouth Vajra, and first time guest Kinch who is infamous in the Cats for coining the raid mark “squareangle”.
Some links you might be interested in after listening:
* The Mists of Pandaria cinematic trailer
* Azuriel at In An Age on the Pandaria cinematic
* The RIFT Dimensions demonstration video from Gamescom
* Our Twitch.TV channel
* Free Music Archive page for our theme, in THE crowd by The Years
(Don’t forget to leave 5 stars!)
I know I just wrote my weekly love letter to RIFT yesterday, but I woke up this morning to video from the Gamescom conference that gives us our first look at Storm Legion’s brand new player and guild housing systems. I’ve already established myself as a fan of housing in MMOs, and I am delighted by what I see in this video.
This covers most of my wishlist for player housing:
- Free form furniture and decor placement.
- Furniture obtained from achievements, quests, crafting, events, and other activities.
- Obtain display trophies from bosses and high level activities.
- Build freeform items from planks and so on, apparently (ie. a treehouse in the video).
- Killed a new boss? Now you and your friends can take over his lair and redecorate it!
- Functional additions, like a bartender you can buy drinks from.
Trion already took my money, and I am pretty happy about that. (It’s me, I am the RIFT fanatic. :) ) Behold the video of the presentation!