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 finally got to try Hearthstone for myself last night thanks to an extra invite from Newbie Blogger The Jazz Panda. I say “finally” because although the game is still in closed beta from what I can tell literally every other person in the world got an invite before I did*. It’s an interesting phenomenon to feel behind in a game before it’s even out of closed beta.
Anyway, I’ve heard great things about Hearthstone and I was eager to play it, but I had some reservations because despite my best efforts “Collectible Card Games” just haven’t stuck with me. I made a pretty solid effort to get into Magic: The Gathering a few years ago, and while friends helped me put together a couple of decks I found the number of options and my complete newbie status to be overwhelming. I didn’t even know what was in the realm of possibility much less what had synergy.
The sheer amount of information I’d need to play at a reasonable level stressed me out to the point where I decided to not bother at all. (This is also the way I feel about League of Legends and to a lesser extent DOTA 2, with their walls of champions and items.)
To be fair, my brief foray into the world of Magic definitely helped me understand the basic principles of Hearthstone. There’s a resource that renews with each turn, there are creatures with a damage number and a health number, and cards can work together to do funky things. But the real reason I feel comfortable taking on Hearthstone is because through WoW I already natively understand many of the mechanics.
For example, last night I was playing against Thrall, the shaman NPC, for the first time. He dropped a windfury totem and my first reaction was, “Oh crap, I bet something is gonna hit me twice now,” which is indeed exactly what happened. I already know that the Frost Nova card is going to freeze everything in place. I can guess without looking that Innervate is going to give back some mana crystals. The Priest deck is going to have a lot of healing, the Warrior deck is probably going to have a lot of charging.
Coming into the game already having a basic understanding of card mechanics has made a huge difference in how much I enjoy deck building. In the current digital trading card game boom, having this additional accessability I think will be a huge marketplace advantage for Hearthstone.
A lot of people have suggested that Hearthstone was a pretty sneaky way to get people back into WoW, but I think that works both ways. One of the neat things about WoW is that it historically brought people into MMOs who didn’t play before, like women and older grown-up folks. This audience is also traditionally not into the CCG scene, but by using WoW language in Hearthstone I think Blizzard has quite cleverly made the genre more welcoming to a larger crowd than ever before.
* This may in fact not be literal.
This week Liore and Elly got together with Vajra to talk about two new games: Beyond: Two Souls and The Wolf Among Us. Generally both games got positive reviews from us, but they also inspired Elly to ask the ultimate question: but what is a game, anyway? Turns out we don’t really have an answer, but for most of us it would include interactive fiction. Also Elly and Vajra argue about whether quick time events are indeed the worst thing ever invented in games.
We wrapped up this week’s discussion with a look at one of the Talk Back topics from the Newbie Blogger Initiative: Guilds! Huh, good god y’all, what are they good for? Absolutely nothing? (Sorry.) We wonder if guilds still have a place in MMOs in the world of social media and forums, and turn out to have almost completely opposite opinions on what a guild can bring to the table. Then Liore shouts for a bit about why both guild leaders and guild seekers should do some research.
Also, WoW Auction House shenanigans! Elly kicks virtual balls in FIFA! Liore hates pumpkin spice!
Like to watch? This podcast was also a Hangout on Air:
It would be downright awesome if you gave us a vote on iTunes. :)
* Free Music Archive page for our theme, in THE crowd by The Years
* The Newbie Blogger Initiative
* Our new YouTube channel
* Forbes on how Beyond: Two Souls reviews are mixed
* Extra-Life donation page for Elly and Liore
Hey gang, I have moved to a new YouTube channel! If you like the video podcast or LPs or guides or other things, I recommend you check it out and maybe subscribe.
I wrote a while back about WoW mods and how they haven’t changed a whole lot in the last two years. It turns out I was slightly wrong in my conclusion because man, Auction House mods seem light years ahead of where they were back in my day.
Right now if you want to do any kind of bulk buying and selling the mod of choice seems to be TradeSkillMaster. TSM was just starting to catch on a couple of years ago, and since then it has gone through a complete operational overhaul. While it’s incredibly powerful and flexible, it is also almost totally inscrutable at first.
Also, since I last seriously played WoW it seems that AH data feeds, both official and otherwise, have vastly improved. In the old days to update my price data I would have to log on, hit the “Full Scan” button, and then go get a cup of tea or something for the next 10 minutes.
Nowadays there’s a TSM desktop app that just sits in your system tray and downloads Blizzard data and Wowuction regional data every 30 minutes or something, so every time you log in you know your price histories are up to date. Snazzy!
Anyway, all this is just a really long intro to saying that I spent literally several hours this past weekend trying to get TSM set up for crafting and flipping. (I love flipping. Bottom-feeders of the WoW economy, unite!) I figured I would help other people save time, so I made a video guide on getting TSM set up for basic flipping in under 5 minutes:
It’s a lot easier to explain in video format, but here’s a brief overview:
- After installing TSM, log on to every character who has tradeskills and open the skill windows.
- Open TSM and look at the Operations tab. Click on “Auctioning”. Here you can set your auction settings, in particular the price. TSM has some pretty serious price calculations. Type “/tsm sources” in chat to see some of your options.
- Click on the “Shopping” label in the Operations tab. Use the same kind of price calculations to set requirements for auctions you’d like to buy.
- Click on the “Groups” tab. In the menu on the left, set the “Auction” and “Shopping” operations to the ones you just created. Close TSM.
- Open the Auction House. Use the “Shopping” and “Auctions” tab to do a Post Scan (posting your stuff) or a Buy Scan (um, buying your stuff).
- Rejoice that it did not take you 3 hours to figure that out.
It is a mere 13 days until the Extra Life gaming marathon for Children’s Miracle Network. I’m 30% of the way to my goal — can you help? Even $5 will make a difference for critically ill children and their families. I’m posting my donation video again here in case you haven’t seen it yet, or just head on over to the donation page.
The Newbie Blogger Initiative continues apace, and mad props must be dispensed to both Doone of T.R. Red Skies and Roger of Contains Moderate Peril for doing a great job of managing this whole month-long event.
Of course the NBI is all about the newbies, so here are a few of my own favorites of the bunch so far:
- JVT Workshop: you might recognize author Joseph Skyrim from his entirely sensible comments here and on other blogs over the last little while, and now he has joined in the fray!
- Megadirge: For the most part Seth at Megadirge plays games that I do not (TSW and FF14), which I actually quite like in a blog, and his enthusiasm for the games comes through in every post.
- Cogitationes Astalnaris: Astalnar plays a bunch of different games, MMOs and otherwise, and walks that fine balance between really smart commentary and an inviting tone.
There has been some discussion in the NBI forum about “what is a good blog post in your opinion”, and you might see a theme with my selections: not terribly long, conversational style, a variety of topics, and enthusiasm for the genre. Check these newbies out!
There are two single-player games that just came out that I feel compelled to strongly, strongly recommend.
First is The Wolf Among Us by Telltale Games. It helps that I already like point-and-click titles, but the real winner here is the damn zippy writing. The world of TWAU is cribbed from the Fable series, but the murder mystery story is totally original and the characters are given fresh sparkle by the game format.
The main character, Bigby, makes a great noir-style detective and my dialogue choices are acted out in a very stylish and often endearing way. The story itself is a little cliche so far, but it’s made up in the delivery.
Depending on how the other 4 chapters go, TWAU is almost instantly a serious contender for my Game of the Year. (I’m doing a pretty terrible Let’s Play of this on YouTube if you want to watch it. I’m practising spontaneous speaking, don’t judge!)
Also amazing and also a title that is more driven by story than gameplay is The Stanley Parable. I knew I needed to try this game after watching one of the early trailers:
There is a free demo of TSP on Steam that lasts about 20 minutes. I hesitate to say anything at all about the experience because you are definitely better off not knowing what to expect but I suppose suffice to say that it incorporates game mechanics into storytelling in ways that I’m not sure I’ve seen before. If you like games that are not particularly game-y but push the boundaries of interactive fiction, do not walk but run to your computer and try the demo.