Messages, Competition, and Cross-Realm Zones

And we close out today, once again, with discussion of various MMOs – WoW, for once, relegated to a minor role in today’s posts. How will things change with Mists of Pandaria, I wonder?

  • Lono asks us to consider what kind of message we send if we call for MMORPG innovation, but don’t support innovative MMOs like The Secret World“We’re saying: Guys! Don’t bother innovating too much or giving us anything other than swords, elves and dragons. Don’t change too much the formula either. We want our ability bars, our kill ten rats quests and our raids. “
  • The Grumpy Elf goes a fair way past grumpy and into steamingly furious about the effect Cross-Realm Zones are having on his gameplay“Don’t give up on blizzard. We pay for the right to play. Do not let them force cross realm zones on us. Keep putting in tickets so we can get back on to our nice stable servers.”
  • And Clockwork discusses competition in various games’ crafting markets, and the question of whether competition is really fun“When a gaming market has competition it involves a great deal of undercutting, taunting, buyouts-and-repostings…all to push the item towards its actual value as opposed to an artificial value mainly created by a lack of firms/actors participating in that market.”

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Work, Difficulty, and The First Rule

Lots of interesting thought-starters of posts today, from ideas on how your non-standard Guild Wars 2 character came to be to the Golden Rule of crafting in MMOs as a whole. So, let’s get going!

  • Rakuno writes a great post looking at the ways in which your Guild Wars 2 character could have broken the standard mould of their race“While in the asura everyone is pretty much an engineer from birth, not everyone can simply live off inventing new things all day. Some of them needs to hold what little laws they have or fend off threats to the asura. Those would be the Peacemakers, the guards of asura society.”
  • Stubborn looks at the common arguments for why The Secret World has done so badly, from bad marketing to too much thought“As has been largely cited, the beta tests were wildly successful (so to speak), bringing in more than 1 million players, only 20% of which eventually purchased the game. Since you could have played several days before the game ever came out for free, it may be that you thought you’d had your fill. “
  • Klepsacovic has a bloody good point with his post today looking at what seems to be the golden rule of MMO crafting“You start off making copper gizmos which are used to make copper widgets. Both are guaranteed to give a skill boost. So you do the sensible thing and make a few gizmos and turn them into widgets because widgets are pretty handy to have.”

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WoW Exploits, Butchery and Firefly

Anyone remember that old MMO we all used to play? War something?

The MMO buzz is all about Guild Wars at the moment, but if that’s not your cup of tea, here are some fun posts from the last day on other MMOs – including, yes, WoW…

  • Klepsacovic argues that Blizzard might be great at “new”, but they’re pretty bad at “improved”
  • Scott Andrews at WoW Insider presents the second part of a fascinating look through the history of WoW raiding exploits“Without exception so far in WoW’s history, top guilds in each era have been tainted with accusations of exploits. In most cases, those accusations turned out to be true.”
  • Apple Cider writes a particularly in-depth look at Patch 5.04 of WoW so far“Stuff like cross-realm zones brings the idea of a server community outwards a bit (there’s already been “Hello to/from Cenarion Circle!” threads popping up) but it also does tend to increase the amount of people you will bump into. “
  • And Rowan Blaze responds to Tobold’s claim that The Secret World got exactly the success it deserved, quoting much-loved, cancelled TV show Firefly as one similar example“Tobold’s unwavering faith in Homo economicus is sadly misplaced, I fear. As much as I love Economics, not every model in the Dismal Science is equally valid.”

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WoW in Iran, TSW Marketing, Namechecked in WoW and more

Yep, just because a massive MMO launches, doesn’t mean the rest of the MMO world stops in its tracks!

So here’s a roundup of some really interesting posts that didn’t focus on either Guild Wars or WoW 5.04 over the last few days!

  • Ren Reynolds at Terra Nova asks why Blizzard won’t refund Iranian players who are no longer able to play“One thing I don’t get is how “prohibit Blizzard from doing business with residents of certain nations, including Iran” and “this also prevents us from providing any refunds” work together. “
  • Tobold takes issue with the idea that The Secret World deserved more success than it got“I do not think that The Secret World “deserves” a larger following. It isn’t as if by some error of marketing the potential customers failed to notice the game.”
  • The Straw Fellow would like to see more honesty about the MMORPG lifecycle“I titled this post “Turning Lies into Marketing” because I felt that companies always lie about going F2P, due to the stigma it attaches to their game.”
  • Perculia discovered that she now has an in-game item named after her, and blogs about having this suddenly-permanent memorial to her in-game“The thought must pass through everyone’s mind how cool it would be to have a tangible reminder of their time spent in Azeroth, a place where so many things are transient yet wrapped up in memories. And well, that happened.”
  • And Eric Dekker issues a call for gold bloggers to get out of their niche and become more involved in the wider WoW blogging community“Something about gold blogging seems to have an effect of keeping our interactions within the gold making community while most of the other WoW Bloggers out there enjoy the the benefits of cross pollination”

So, who’s been playing an MMO other than Guild Wars or WoW lately, then? Still enjoying it?

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Helping indie games avoid the cliches, and helping your guildies through the school of hard knocks

Professor Hugh is still on a break, so Johnnie the substitute teacher is taking the class. Please don’t throw things from the back row.

After yesterday’s discussions of great indie games taking on the big hitters, Rampant Coyote sounds a note of warning today, bemoaning games that rely too heavily on old non-innovative gameplay ideas.

“Guys & gals… indies… I love ya. I am thrilled to see new life injected into an old genre. But I want to see “new life” there, not just a budget “best of” rehash. As a guy who has played a lot of the games that you have drawn inspiration from – and a retro-gamer who still plays some of these games, often for the first time in all their retro glory: as far as I am concerned, you are absolutely competing against the past.”

Screaming Monkey praises the alt-game darling, The Secret World:

“… despite loving puzzles and giving them a lot of thought, I have cheated on at least one step of each investigation mission I have done save one. … But yesterday, I finally managed to complete an entire investigation quest from start to finish without looking at any guide or cheating in any way and it felt incredible. I really need to do this more often because it was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in an MMO, on par with server first kills and the like”

Finally, two posts which I felt complemented each other very well. First of all, Vidyala at Manalicious provides a very thoughtful post (itself a reaction to a WoW Insider article) wondering whether it’s right to use PUGs as a ‘baptism of fire’ training ground for new raiders.

“The comments on that article are interesting because some of them say, “We tell our new healers to go practice in pugs.” Other people reply, “How can you DO THAT to your friends? I would hate to be in your guild,” etc. I’m actually 100% behind the first guy. You all know I’m not a stranger to pugging. Pugging is one of the best environments to learn to heal. You have an element of chaos and unpredictability that you’ll seldom find in a “safe” guild or friend run. Yes, it can be taxing and frustrating. Yes, you may leave some groups. But you will leave those groups a better healer than you went in”

This is a nice read alongside Apple Cider‘s contribution to Sheep The Diamond‘s Collectivism Project. Apple gives a very throughful and detailed discussion of to what extent the game motivates us to help our fellow players, and to what extent that motivation comes through friendship and community. It’s a long post, and well worth a read.

” A lot of player achievement can be attained through personal goals and thinking of oneself only; the bastion of group resources has been and will always be a guild. Ever since Blizzard introduced guild perks and rep, this has become much, much more apparent as well. Many of the structures that the game has introduced to make guilds important emphasizes collective thought. However, much like my feelings on hate language and respectful guild culture, I believe that collectivising your guild (and my guild) takes some work.”

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Outfits and Pyramid Schemes

Pandas! Guilds and the Warring Therof! But wait – there’s more!

Yes, from a WoW fashion spread to the question of whether PvP – yes, all PvP – is a pyramid scheme, here we go…

  • The WoW Debutante shares a lovely almost Vogue-style fashion spread of Mage transmogrification outfits from her guildmate Epijunkie. Love this format.
  • Bernard Parsnip argues that DUST 514 won’t falter because of its gruelling, newbie-unfriendly PvP – he says it’s just another facet of the great PvP pyramid scheme“everyone knows that one day you will have invested enough time to go on to destroy newbies – either by your superior knowledge of level design, your improved hand/eye coordination in dodging rockets, your time spent with the best players enabling you to emulate their strategies or just from having sufficient honor points farmed to buy new gear and move up a level in the pyramid.”
  • And Tobold looks at the recent discussion around The Secret World’s subscriber numbers, and asks what it means for innovative MMOs in future“The sad thing is that modern MMORPGs are so bloody expensive to make that making an innovative niche game isn’t really an option. “

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Controversy Watch: TSW Sales, The Mittani, Dust 514, + more

Wow, it’s a busy week! From the first news of EVE Online’s FPS brother DUST 514, to the GW2 / WoW battle heating up, to news of The Secret World’s sales figures – it’s all go out there.

Here’s your latest update from the front lines of the MMORPG wars!

  • Rohan comments on The Secret World, both Azuriel’s excellent investigative journalism on its sales figures, and on a bizarre change of the guard in its preferred factions (http://blessingofkings.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/sales-and-faction-choice-in-secret-world.html) – “I think the real problem with TSW is that their target niche turned out to be too small. Like other game companies before them, Funcom made the mistake of listening to the MMO pundits and blogosphere. Thus they made a game which the literati love, but no one else bought.”
  • Stabs has been beta-testing DUST, and writes a fascinating piece about its unforseen “virtuoso problem”“I haven’t spent 10 000 hours playing first person shooters. Or console games. So in making a game that’s playable by a generation of gaming virtuosos, CCP seem to have made a game that’s beyond me.”
  • And Tobold looks at the same problem, and wonders if CCP are setting themselves up for a really epic fail” I don’t think the fragile egos of the kind of people who enjoy EVE because it allows them to gank other players will be able to handle being permanently on the receiving end of the ganks in Dust 514.”
  • Entombed studies the way that both WoW and Guild Wars 2 are squaring up against each other, and asks if this will be the first fair – but bloody – fight in MMORPG history“I’m not just talking about two games here. I’m talking about ideologies, that threaten to change the MMO landscape for decades. “
  • And Seismic Stan looks over the news that EVE’s infamous Mittani is starting his own news service“Indeed, despite the effective use of gaming media to underline player concern during his tenure as CSM6 chairman, he learned that when he is the news, the rules change. So it makes absolute sense that he launch a media empire over which he has direct control.”

Interesting times.

What’s your take on the news of the day?

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Dear Developers: WATCH OUT!

WARNING! WARNING! Yes, today we’ve got a number of warnings – for game developers, of potentially disastrous potholes in their roadmaps.

I don’t know if game developers read MMO blogs. From a market research point of view, the big devs would be mad not to. But I certainly hope some of them are reading today, as a number of insightful bloggers appear to have gotten together to highlight just some of the things that could go very, very wrong in their plans.

From the eternal spectre of unfair F2P, to “emergent mechanics” that break your game, to accidentally supporting and encouraging prejudice and discrimination – it’s a pretty scary list:

  • Pewter writes a really interesting article looking at the unspoken assumptions often built into character and game mechanic designs, and how they can end up supporting unsavory points of view“Obviously, sometimes NPCs are there to be emotional stimuli, or to impart information to a player; but recognising the way in which taught design principles can systemize the presentation of gender, race, disability, religion and sexuality in game is a first, and positive step.”
  • Jester tells the story of how some emergent behaviour in EVE let one player “break the game”, and why he believes CCP are still fixing the symptom, not the cause“It’s a glorious demonstration of EVE emergent game play, and yet another example of the lengths that EVE players will go to to avoid EVE’s sub-par PvE. “
  • The Ancient Gaming Noob sounds a general alarm bell about the shifting future of Free To Play – an alarm bell for MMO players and developers alike, IMO“The simple days of the implied social contract that came with the subscription model appear to be fading as companies look for further ways to monetize their games.”
  • Stubborn points out one way that The Secret World has utterly trumped WoW for him, despite WoW’s budget – by giving him actually relatable NPCs“Other than humor, and the very occasional moment of sadness, WoW did little with literally thousands of questgivers, and TSW has already hooked me with the 30 or 40 I’ve met.”
  • And Syp rounds off with a look at one area I’d agree many MMO developers are failing in – body language for their characters – the comments are very worth reading, too – “Whether players realize it or not, one of the reasons we have difficulty connecting and empathizing with the NPCs and events is how limited and stilted the body language is that we witness.”

I’d really not want to be an MMO developer. Film is a horrendous medium to work in because of the sheer number of things that can go wrong – but it’s nothing compared to the landscape of FAIL that can await an MMO.

What pitfalls do you see in MMO gaming’s future?

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How many subscribers does The Secret World really have?

Subscriber numbers in an MMO can be a closely guarded secret, particularly when that MMO’s not doing very well. So will we ever know how many subscriptions The Secret World currently has?

Well, it looks like the answer is “yes”. We don’t often see proper investigative reporting in the blogosphere – but today Azuriel’s done as well or better than any financial reporter I’m aware of, as he pieces together clues from official statements, stockholder presentations and more, to find out just how many subscribers The Secret World probably has

“Companies are always pretty eager to belt off “250k/500k/1 million subs!” press releases, and as of the time of writing, Funcom has… well, not said much of anything. The launch day press release awkwardly mentions:

“[…] as of now several of the game’s dimensions – which can hold tens of thousands of gamers playing at the same time – have started filling up due to the ever-increasing number of players coming into the game.”

I cannot help but note that “several tens of thousands” is not, say, 100,000. I am not even sure if I can fault Funcom for their hesitant confusion here, as it mentions that over 1.5 million people signed up for the TSW beta. I am no MMO economist, but I imagine a less-than 7% sale rate from people willing to sign up for a beta for your game is a mite unusual.

Then again, isn’t that near the approximate rate of people who buy stuff in F2P games?

But let us dig deeper. According to VGChartz.com, TSW has sold… 0.05m copies. Um, wow. I only recently started using VGChartz though, so maybe they are not all that reliable. How often is it actually updated, anyway?”

I won’t spoil the thrilling conclusion, but suffice it to say that Azuriel has unearthed a figure that looks pretty damn accurate, correlated from several – obscure – sources.

This is very cool, interesting stuff – albeit worrying for anyone who’s enjoying The Secret World. But nonetheless, if you’re interested in peaking inside a game studio’s secrets – or are just a fan of two-fisted reporting – this post is worth a read.

Someone get that man some multicoloured sunglasses and a Filthy Assistant, stat!

Do you think Azuriel’s right?

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Bloggers On The State Of WoW, TSW, and SWTOR

We’re in the middle of a changing of the guard in MMORPGs – one of the busiest periods in years. And in a time like that, it’s good to stop and take stock of where we are.

This weekend, several bloggers have been doing just that – stopping and looking at the progress of their favourite games, new and old. Will The Secret World weather the storm? What will WoW Cataclysm’s legacy be? And how will SWTOR’s new direction fare?

  • Cynwise looks at the Gnomebliteration quest in Cataclysm, and finds that it seems to represent the failings of the expansion as a whole“Opportunities to create more fun weren’t capitalized upon. Instead of Gnomebliteration as a daily, we got Tol Barad and the Molten Front. There were a lot of almost-rights, of things which were just a bit off, of things which didn’t quite flow enough to be fun.”
  • Morynne takes a look over the strengths and weaknesses of Cataclsym, from levelling content to raids” Doing the same quest lines the same way for any more than 2 characters became cumbersome, and really pushed a lot of people away from working toward leveling alts.”
  • Unsubject considers what happened to put The Secret World apparently in danger of a rapid transition to Free – *”Then there’s the issue that TSW may have been too different. Players say that they want innovation, want new things, but the titles that sell the most often end up being iterations on the familiar. “
  • And Kadomi wonders just what EA are thinking with SWTOR’s Free To Play model that doesn’t charge for the most acclaimed parts of the game” I am sorry, but the disconnect between actual players and publisher seems vast. Can they even see the other side? I have not once heard that SWTOR operations are what keeps people subscribed to the game.”

What do you think of the state of play in MMOs right now?

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