Can You Estimate Difficulty? Is “MMO” one genre? And more MMO Thought

It’s been a bumper week or so for Deep Thinking about MMORPGs as a whole and as a genre. So, join me for a look at the latest in heavy-duty consideration of the genre we love – if indeed it is one genre after all…

  • There’s something of a zeitgeist around the idea that MMORPGs aren’t really a single genre any more, and Syncaine runs with that ball in a discussion of whether “virtual life” games like EVE are in any way similar to “short-play” games like Guild Wars 2“And yet, currently, MMO gaming (supposedly) caters to both players; Those with enough time to play MMOs as virtual worlds to be lived in, and those with enough time to just experience a bite of content before logging off. It’s no surprise that games who try to attract both have spectacularly failed overall, while games who aim more towards one or the other can do well.”
  • Zubon writes a really excellent post about all the times that developers have failed to accurately estimate difficulty, and what that means for discussion of MMORPG design“Guild Wars 2 has a pop-up warning when you start the cooking crafting skill, telling you that it is more expensive in terms of time, silver, and karma than the other trade skills. Cooking is the fastest, cheapest, easiest craft to take to 400 skill, notably having the last points available for a few hundred karma worth of peaches where other skills require dozens of drops or even globs of ectoplasm.”
  • And Clockwork looks at the various approaches to economies in MMORPGs, calling for more MMOs that lean toward “realistic” and even primitive economic systems“Perhaps making me a bit of an island in the MMO market, I’d like to see an MMO that eschews the auction house model. I would like to see a market that is a little more towards the “realistic” side in a game. I’d like to see a fantasy MMO where the crafting/economy are connected.”

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Weekend Roundup: GW2 and General MMO Interest

Guild Wars 2 seems to be leading the pack still in the non-WoW world – but there’s also been a bunch of interesting general articles on MMORPGs this weekend. So, enjoy:

  • Azuriel writes a typically cynical post about Guild Wars 2, but makes some interesting comments about the way the endgame is balanced” There’s also an option to go part of the other way (in-game gold > gems), but that doesn’t make Arenanet money. So they have a major financial incentive to keep the value of gold high, the availability of gold for players low, and a myriad of constant small gold-sinks in place (think death penalties, waypoint costs, repairs, trait books, etc.).”
  • Zeli writes a great post about why she will happily help defeat Skill Challenges in GW2 again and again and again“I do this because others have done it for me. I do this because it’s the right thing to do. I do this because it benefits and strengthens our server to have our community members skilled up. I do this because it’s what we do in GW2.”
  • Jeromai writes an inflamatory but very interesting post explaining why he thinks that most “game guides” are simply cheating“This is a rant against those who don’t want to think for themselves, who eschew discovery and learning, slavishly following other people’s instructions on how to do something.”
  • Want to know what happened last week whilst I was off? Then I’d recommend checking out Spinks’ excellent weekly(ish) links post for the week that was“At the GDC (Games Developers Conference) there seems to have been more interest in ethics in gaming. Gamasutra cover the panel on ethics in game design via some choice quotes…”
  • And Clockwork looks at the problem of RPing with people who insist on altering the game’s lore“Like with everything, there are degrees of offense. In a way, simply creating a character is revising the world in some way. The issue is more about how big of a “ripple” the revision makes in the fabric of the story.”

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Weekend Roundup: Guild Wars 2

This weekend’s been quieter than some on the MMORPG front, but the bulk of writing, discussion and debate reveals one thing: an awful lot of bloggers are still playing Guild Wars 2.

From NPC personalities to Arena.net’s sales tactics, it’s all here:

  • Dusty Monk writes a fascinating piece examining the new roles that replace the Holy Trinity in Guild Wars 2 dungeons“When ArenaNet said there was no trinity, what they meant is that the traditional trinity didn’t exist. Because there is still a trinity of roles, and there it is: Damage, Control, and Support. “
  • Klepsacovic writes explaining why he feels the Hearts system is far superior to conventional MMO quests” Furthermore, having many people helps average things out, so I can imagine that despite my obsession with shooting wasps, someone did eventually get around to fixing the pipes. Quests can use the trick of stacking, having a few quests that relate to the same area, but this doesn’t give the flexibility of wasp-killing vs. pipe-patching.”
  • Green Armadillo looks at a question that has a few people concerned – given that we don’t pay a subscription, how accountable will Arena.net and similar publishers be for what they do to or with player accounts?“We don’t have the data to tell whether bannings in Guild Wars 2 is actually more prevalent in other games since none of the studios routinely publicize such numbers, but one can certainly imagine that removing the subscription fee removes a financial incentive NOT to ban a customer. “
  • Azuriel still isn’t convinced by the Guild Wars 2 economy, and makes some good points in an admittedly somewhat pessimistic article on the subject“I do believe Guild Wars 2 brings some extremely nice innovations to the MMO formula. However, I am getting the distinct impression that other MMOs do not have these features precisely because of all the unintended consequences they bring down the line.”
  • Stubborn has a bit of a problem with the Sylvari and Human NPCs he’s met so far – they all appear to be bad guys (warning, spoilers)” It seems like all the NPCs I work with or against are bad. I won’t go so far as to say they’re evil, as some of their actions, like murdering a murder, are morally neutral, but they’re certainly not good.”
  • Syl applauds Arena.net’s reverse-psychology attitude to persuading players to buy items on the in-game shop“Of course they don’t just give away stuff for free. Well, they do – but not in the way one might think. They’re way more devious than that.”
  • Keen explains the feel of GW2 dungeons in a nutshell – which might have been intended to put us off, but had the opposite effect on me. The comments are fascinating too“I finally figured out how to explain dungeons in Guild Wars 2. Previously the best explanation I had was simple chaos and dodging. My guildmate has a better explanation: It’s like a WoW dungeon when the tank dies. “
  • And Tesh indulges in a great bit of creativity, coming up with Twitter-length backstories for every possible race/class combination“Norn Necromancer – Preparing heroic spot in afterlife for friends… by any means necessary.”

I’m fascinated to see how the Arena.net “exceed expectations of free stuff” strategy works out. I know some people in the Internet Marketing space have used the same technique to make really large amounts of money, so it’s not without precedent…

What do you think? Are dungeons chaos? Is the economy fine?

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Weekend Roundup: Of Interest To All MMO Players

Next up, the interesting posts of the weekend that don’t apply to any MMO in particular. Mostly looking at how MMORPGs work, there’s some really interesting stuff in here:

  • Shintar looks at the Problem of Spoilers when discussing MMOs, asking what constitutes a spoiler for a game story?“I remember when the game had just come out, some people considered even things like revealing the name of your first companion a spoiler. “
  • Eric at Elder Game writes a particularly fascinating piece exploring the idea that Auction Houses may actually harm some MMORPGs“If players have to go window-shopping among various player-run stores (like they did in SWG), players have a hard time telling what the absolute best price is. Therefore prices don’t rapidly dwindle to nothing, which means crafters get to have fun pretending to be craftsmen. “
  • Spinks wonders whether the reporting on overachieving players – whether PvPers, levellers or AH players – demotivates everyone else” I made my peace long ago with the fact that I’m not hardcore, not much of an achiever in games, and probably not that good at them either. But it doesn’t make me engage more with the game either. “
  • And Alexander Brazie looks at the role of positive reinforcement in games as well as in dating“In fact, much of gaming is actually a rewiring of the explore, experiment, reward/punishment cycle that helps humans learn and grow. Put this cycle to good use and players will find your game more satisfying. “

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Weekend Roundup: Guild Wars 2

It’s been a very busy weekend in the MMOsphere, and so today we’re rounding up the must-read posts by category rather than anything fancier – there’s a lot of really good stuff to read this weekend!

First up, Guild Wars 2, where it would appear much of the discussion has centered around the game’s economy, which may be Less Broken Than It Previously Appeared… But there’s more, too:

  • MMO Gamer Chick has entered Guild Wars 2’s first dungeon, and writes an extensive and very interesting look at the gameplay and the different mindset of a GW2 instance run” I thought I was going to hate this aspect of GW2′s dungeon fights, but in the end I found myself strangely fine with it. As one of my guildies said, “EMBRACE THE ZERG!” That became my mantra.”
  • Syl looks at the gold-gems exchange rate, and finds its economic premise unconvincing and potentially flawed“What will keep the balance from shifting further in favor of gold farmers or “gem hoarders/speculators” (buying cheaper gems now, waiting for demand to raise)? “
  • Tobold has been experimenting with the GW2 Auction House, and appears to be finding little niches of profit, even within the massive global Auction House“With everybody on the same auction house, there aren’t many opportunities for quick money without much effort or thinking. But with a careful study there is money to be made, even in the deflationary market of Guild Wars 2.”
  • Stubborn applauds GW2’s approach to levelling and non-linearity, calling it the first non-linear leveling experience for some time“This hearkens back to old school WoW, where even though you needed an exhausting amount of experience, you didn’t have to do every zone. “
  • And Ravious looks at GW2’s economy as a whole, from gold sinks to gem sales, and is ever-more impressed with its design“So far I am very impressed with the economy in Guild Wars 2. It is clear that time has been taken to interweave a lot of big moving parts in something on the order of the Eternal Alchemy.”

How’s your GW2 experience so far? Are you managing to make gold? Are you enjoying it?

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Controversy Watch – CoH, GW2 bans and GW2 Economy

Will City of Heroes survive? Is Guild Wars 2’s economy screwed?

It’s a busy time in the MMO world at the moment, and it’s not about to get quieter any time soon. So, here’s our roundup of the current Hot Topics in the land of MMOs…

The Battle For City of Heroes

The closure of City of Heroes provoked an unprecedented level of protest – but what will happen next?

  • Chris at Game By Night wonders what the next step will be if players actually manage to save the game“The fact is it is a lot easier to type your name or check a box than spend real money; there is no commitment beyond that “name” box. And when you’re trying to save a business, commitment and follow-through are the only things that matter.”
  • And Jeromai looks at the controversy from the point of view of someone who loved CoH, but is willing to see it go“If there is one MMO community that might fight closure successfully, it is definitely the CoH one. And it is extremely disrespectful of their efforts to tell them all-knowingly that it doesn’t matter. Because to them, it does. It doesn’t matter to you. That’s fine. Say that.”

Is The Guild Wars Economy Fried?

Several bloggers have been suggesting that there might be problems with Guild Wars 2’s economy – and one of them is presenting more evidence today:

  • Azuriel looks at the incentives for low-level crafting in Guild Wars 2, and concludes that they may present a systemic problem for the game“I have every incentive to start all eight crafting professions on all five of my character slots, and so does everyone else. Doing exactly that will continue to put huge Demand pressure on low-level mats, even if gold inflation raises prices across the board. “

Guild Wars 2 bans: Good Or Bad?

And Guild Wars 2 has also seen unprecedented – and much-applauded – use of the banhammer on rude or exploiting players.

  • Gary at Funsponge overviews what’s happened so far in Arenanet’s unusual and effective policies“There is also the argument this is what the profanity filter is for, but it’s important to distinguish between profanity and offensive language. You can easily offend someone without language that would cause a parent to cover a child’s ears. “

What do you think of this lot?

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Should you avoid crafting in Guild Wars 2?

Guild Wars 2’s crafting system is fun, reasonably innovative, and helps you level – but does it also make you poor?

That’s the claim that Tobold’s making today, as he claims that given GW2’s crafting setup and particularly its global auction house, it’s almost impossible not to make a huge loss whilst crafting

“I think Guild Wars 2 is extremely bad for making money from crafting, because the auction house spans all servers. There is no opportunity for arbitrage in such a large economy. And every player “produces” more items in the form of loot drops, or because he has to craft hundreds of them for crafting skill points, than he “consumes”. Thus the economy is in permanent oversupply, and the prices of everything are close to the floor, which is the vendor price.”

And he’s not the only one. Azuriel writes a very interesting guide to making gold in Guild Wars 2 today – worth reading if you’re a GW2 player – but in it, he too calls out crafting as essentially pointless

“A globalized Trading Post means the margins for any crafted good are always going to be razor-thin; it is not about competing with 1-2 Auction Barons, but all Auction Barons everywhere, including the ones willing to work for pennies a day. Supply for most goods is effectively unlimited, so there is no “cornering the market” without cornering ALL the markets. A few niche markets may develop along rare recipe drops (assuming they exist) or legendary materials, but again, they are “niche” across all servers… so not very niche at all.

Think about it for a second. Every weapon or piece of armor you could possibly craft can and will be crafted by somebody else. They will craft said piece multiple times because that is what they need to do to level up their skill, and they will need to sell that piece to pay for all the money they are sinking into the crafting system. Just like 200,000 other people.”

I’ve got to admit, my own inner AH baron has been agreeing with Tobold and Azuriel for a couple of days now. From the economy’s point of view, copper ore has actual “stored XP” in it, whilst the ensuing dagger is simply the biproduct of the XP-creation process. Whilst crafting has always been something of a gold sink in other games like WoW, the global AH and actual XP gain from crafting imply that it’ll be an EVE-level job to make gold from crafting in Guild Wars 2 – unless there’s some perk that none of us are aware of yet.

I’ll be very interested to hear the discussion on this one!

Will you be giving up crafting in GW2?

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Diablo 3 Controversy Roundup: Freefall Auctions and Straightjacket Socialising

Diablo 3 is continuing to attract controversy, as discussion rages about its arm-twisting socialisation aspects, and the innovative worldwide auction house continues to develop.

Today we’re rounding up the latest commentary on the most controversial features of this semi-MMO:

Economy

  • Jim at Power Word Gold covers economy concerns he doesn’t share (RMT trading companies taking over) and concerns that he does – massive, rampant deflation“With no reason for “good” items to ever leave the game it would seem that as the supply increases the prices for both the Gold and Real-Money Auction Houses will only drop.”
  • Diminishing Returns also covers the apparent-inevitable downward spiral on the AH, as well as some of the ramifications of that spiral“It is now far cheaper to buy an item rather than craft it through the random blacksmithing process and it makes better financial sense to vendor magic items rather than salvage them for crafting materials.”
  • Is the AH cheating? Today Rohan is looking at the way that the deflated, over-supplied AH seems to trivialise game content“Outfitting your character through the Auction House really changes the game, at least in the beginning. The difficulty becomes much lower. I’m just rampaging through stuff with my Barbarian, and am really not playing it as if it is hardcore. “

Social Elements

  • Covering both socialisation and AH elements, Stubborn at Sheep the Diamond is concerned by AH trivialisation, but wonders if we’re just being too damn polite social-wise“I don’t have compunctions about telling my friends – and they are friends, people I’ve known in the real world for years – this, because I know they’ll respect my decision, regardless of whether they understand it. That’s what real friends do, and why they’d help move the bodies.”
  • Meanwhile, Glow at Glow’s Branches is amazed at the fact that Diablo enforces socialisation, but doesn’t offer good tools to do it with“Sure, as a group we all swapped BattleTAGs on our WoW guild forums, and looked forward to playing together in D3. But now that we’re in D3, there is absolutely no way to chat together as a ‘guild’. “

What do you think? Are the AH or the social aspects of Diablo fine?

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The Reality of the Diablo 3 Auction House

We know that the D3 Auction House will be revolutionary, mixing real-world money into a virtual economy. Some people have even suggested it could lead to murder. But as we approach its launch date, what’s the reality looking like?

Today we’ve got a supremely interesting article from Brunpal at Jaded Alt, examining how the Diablo III AH has eventually shaped up, and what you can expect from it in future

“The Diablo 3 AH interface is TERRIBLE. It’s hard to make something worse than the default WoW AH but Blizzard managed it. There’s plenty of interface ideas they could have used from WoW addons but instead they made it worse. Blizzard is taking a cut of everything which stunned me. The AH also has a limit of 10 simultaneous listings with no ability to cancel a listing. It appears to have been purposely designed to be awful. It fails in every conceivable way.

Given all the problems with the AH it will encourage people quickly to find other ways to trade. Since you can trade gold/items directly to other characters (exactly like in WoW) that “other way” is instantly obvious. Enter the grey market.

I expect that a website will pop up to facilitate trades between individuals. Even a simple forum of WTS/WTB listings would be enough. It won’t take long for something more complex to pop up even if it’s just a Craig’s List clone… (Only if there is real money to be made.) Blizzard has no way to stop that short of banning trades all together which obviously will piss off a lot of people so Blizzard won’t do that. My personal guess is that all the discussion around the $AH and how it affects the industry will be moot.”

OK, I will admit I’m an economy junkie. But this is really fascinating stuff – both the raw information, and Brunpal’s analysis. Much of it is waaaaaaay away from what we expected, and it’s all really interesting. Brunpal’s done a great job here.

It may be worth noting that it’s also looking like D3’s economy will be extremely interesting in much the same way as a major motorway pile-up. The combination of virtual hyperinflation, the already-existing D3 gold guide market, the heinous fees, Brunpal’s prediction of a rapidly-emergent grey market, and all the rest means that whilst it’ll be fascinating to watch, I wouldn’t want to be involved in the economy directly in anything but the most casual way. (If you are likely to get involved, Brunpal also gives some tips for avoiding the most heinous of the fees!).

I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more about Diablo III’s economy in the coming weeks – but for now, if you’re interested at all, this is the best analysis I’ve seen of what’s likely to shake out.

What do you think will happen with Diablo 3’s economy?

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WoW Should Adopt Elements From EVE’s Economy

Naithin over at Fun In Games has a really well structured and engaging post on major changes he’d like to see in WoW. He’s not talking about dance studios or player housing being added to WoW – nope, he wants the auctioneering system to be given a makeover. And he’s had some detailed ideas on how to shuffle things around – by comparing WoW’s economy with the huge, sprawling economy-driven mass that is EVE Online.

EVE Online’s internal market is an integral part of the game so to understand his post, Naithin gives you a crash course on how EVE’s economy works. He takes you through the central principles behind how the economy’s driven by players and a constant demand for materials as everything is consumable, and all of the factors that impact an item being manufactured.

All the while Naithin draws comparisons to WoW to help ground you. Which is kinda handy given that he turns the tables to then look at WoW’s economy and what it might learn from how EVE’s economy operates. He goes through various ideas that EVE already incorporates and whether WoW would benefit from them. All the while he bears in mind that they’re two very different games and talks about just how much change to WoW’s economy-driven side would work without making the rest of the game keel over.

Would an EVE to WoW Market Transplant Work?

A wholesale, one to one transplant? No, I think not. There are just too many differences in the surrounding games. Can you imagine the result it would have on the WoW community if they were informed that all or nearly all their gear would be destroyed upon a death? Even if everything was then balanced around the manufactured gear being more than sufficient, it’s just such a huge psychological change to introduce at this point…

What do you think – should WoW be incorporating elements from EVE (or elsewhere?) to improve its economy minigame, or should we leave it as is?

_Quote taken directly from Naithin’s post_

_You can find Fun In Games’ homepage here_

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