Back To The Noob State

We finish off the week with a short, fun, interesting piece from Bravetank, as she delves once again into the cold, unforgiving space of EVE Online.

Ever wondered what might possess someone to jump into something that’s famously one of the least friendly and least forgiving game environments available? Well, Bravetank’s not only done it once – she did it once, and now she’s gotten the craving to do it again…

“So I picked up a Level 1 Distribution mission from a Duvolle Lab agent. It all looked straight forward, but the mission details did say I would be passing through a low sec area if I used the automatic route. Ok I thought, never seen that before, but surely they wouldn’t really put me in danger for a Level 1 mission, would they? Surely it’s just an overly dramatic piece of text to give the mission some edge. Of course. That’s what it is.

So I accepted the mission, set destination, undocked & went on Automatic pilot, and picked up my book to read while I traveled through LOW SEC space.

Yes there are names for people like me. Don’t put them in the comments. You’ll hurt my feelings.”

Read the rest of EVE And The Pre-Noob State

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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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Fourth! Of Sheep, Wolves, Motivation, and the uniqueness of Wurm

We never do four posts a day on the Melting Pot – not since I nearly killed myself trying to do an impression of BoingBoing a while ago.

But this weekend – this weekend had too much good stuff. And so, I present a historic fourth-post-day, with awesome stuff from Tobold, Big Bear Butt, and The Wild Boar Inn:

  • Wurm Online is impressing me more and more – unlike EVE, its brutal landscape seems to pull people together. When have you ever heard of an MMO where people got together to reforest the land ? Or one where the legendary monsters can only ever die once ? (both from Wild Boar Inn)
  • Big Bear Butt has been thinking about how to get other people off their own variously-sized buttocks, with a discussion of LFR and motivation“Instead of casting Ice Tomb, why not have her summon a pair of Spirit Wolves, which she then sics on whichever player queued as DPS actually has the lowest DPS?”
  • And Tobold has a really interesting piece talking about people who love ruthlessness, people who love cooperation, and the fact that they don’t necessarily play games as such“But do we really want games that work like real life? You don’t have to be a sheep to think that it would be nicer if people wouldn’t constantly try to hurt each other. In fact the very concept of civilization is based on the premise that we get further if we cooperate instead of bashing each other’s head in with a stone club.”
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How EVE Online could conquer the world – with some help from Skyrim and Traveller

EVE Online, amongst many other titles (“Game most likely to involve you in a Ponzi scheme”, “Game most likely to train you for real-world counterintelligence work”) is now well-known as most successful pure sandbox MMO out there. Where WoW, SWTOR and RIFT have all either started out with heavy theme-park elements (highly directed play and limited freedom), EVE’s incredibly open world is the only real corollary to Skyrim in the MMOsphere – a truly free, open world where you set your goals.

But is it as good as it could be? Ardwulf has been thinking about it, and also about Skyrim and the age-old pen-and-paper RPG Traveller, and believes EVE’s apparent sandboxyness is limited – and with some creative design and help from a 35-year-old RPG, it could be so much more

“This is ironic because EVE is one of the few games not defined by its adherence to the D&D paradigm that conventional MMOs almost invariably follow fairly closely through a long lineage of adaptations onto silicon. EVE descends from Elite and thence from Traveller, a game designed by people who didn’t know all that much about D&D but were well-schooled in the possibilities of science fiction, and who had been blown away by Star Wars a year earlier.

The irony cuts deep because Traveller is very much a sandbox game from thirty years before that term was ever applied to video games. Instead of D&D’s structured, linear adventures and campaigns you had tools to develop a universe and set the characters loose in it. You could run a sandbox using D&D, but that was never the expectation. In Traveller, even the adventures forced you into a sandbox.

EVE – Traveller‘s descendant in the modern realm of online virtual worlds – got a good chunk about what Traveller was all bout right, but it left out two-thirds of the possibilities. The Traveller party would never spend all their time in their ship; it was a home base and a huge asset but also a source of tribulations and difficulties. It’s hard to imagine how an EVE where you might lose a ship and be stranded doing odd jobs on some backwater planet and have to work your way back up to one might even work – in Traveller it was a common adventure hook, and getting a ship and the freedom to roam the stars – or plunder them – that came with it was a major goal.”

This is a pretty complex and interesting analysis piece, and for me it certainly revealed commonalities and ideas I’d never thought about in the context of EVE before. For virtually every successful spaceship-based story, the ship itself is one of the major plot developers and antagonists – from the Millennium Falcon and its hyperdrive, to the Enterprise’s dylithium crystals and their ability or inability to take it, to Firefly, where half the plots are based on the premise that the ship’s expensive to run and breaks a lot.

As a longtime PC gamer, I can relate.

Could EVE adapt enough to become the universe Ardwulf imagines? I’m not sure. But I’ll tell you this – if someone does come up with a game like that – Skyrim in Space – I’m damn well playing it.

Do you think it’s practical to give EVE more depth?

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General MMO Roundup – Epic EVE battles, Indie Developer Marketing woes, and more

There have been some great non-WoW or SWTOR posts in the last week, too, although you might have missed them in the Jedi onslaught. We’ve got two game design-focussed pieces, one interesting rant on the difficulty of getting the word out about indie MMOs and games, and something truly epic from EVE Online:

  • Leading on from TAGN’s issues with blasters in SWTOR, Tobold thinks about the wierdness of MMO combat systems“Most other sword-fighting games also use combat based on several hits to achieve a kill, although I’m pretty certain that in real life you wouldn’t survive being hit once with a sword or an axe. “
  • In An Age asks whether developers have a responsibility to avoid players breaking their games“It is the responsibility of the designers to ensure that incredibly obvious things (at least in retrospect) like “-25% mana usage” does not stack with itself, that temporary decreases in HP scale the same as damage abilities when their effects are indistinguishable, and so on, are balanced. “
  • Muckbeast struggles with the question of how indie game developers spread the word of their work“I have tried mailing blog authors and asking them to write about one of our games, and in a number of cases some awesome bloggers have done this. But these blog posts seem to get mostly ignored by the readers. I think blog readers are generally looking for commentary, analysis, or controversy. So when they see an article that is a nice, calm “hey check this cool thing out”, I think blog readers tune it out or say “oh yeah I will check that out later” but never get around to it.”
  • And Rooks and Kings have created a spectacular, complete record of a massive PvP event in EVE Online – this is, seriously, unique and fascinating stuff , although it’s a bit slow in places and you may need an EVE glossary to get through it!

Any ideas for indie developers? Thoughts on headshots? And do you feel “Rooks and Kings” have captured the fascination of EVE?

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EVE’s going carebear?

Between WoW’s “no, really, the patch is coming NOW!” announcement, Everquest 2 going F2P and the post I’m about to feature, this week’s been a doozy for out-of-left-field MMO news. And this one’s particularly surprising – is it really the case that EVE Online, hardest of the hardcore, is feeling the pressure of the recession enough that it’s … going soft?

Jester’s Trek has been putting two and two – or, since it’s EVE, 200,000,000 and 200,000,000 – together, and he thinks he sees the carebear-shaped writing on the wall

“The thing is, though… this year, a course change is becoming quite discernable in CCP’s handling of this kind of thing. High-sec war-dec shields and other means of avoiding war-decs are now accepted practice. A couple of months ago, a GM scolded a player for killing a newbie in low-sec. Hilmar and CCP Zulu talk in public about nerfing suicide-ganking a bit, and another new feature in the winter expansion is that suicide ganks will no longer receive insurance pay-outs.(2) The official EVE Online recruitment channel features an official notice saying that scamming in that channel is not permitted. And just today, in the client patch you’ll be downloading while you read this, is hidden this little gem:

To benefit the EVE community at large, a small change has been made to game mechanics in regarding criminal flags and how they are inherited in high security space. If a pilot is remote repairing, or otherwise assisting, another pilot who commits a criminal act then the repair module will now disengage. In order to continue repairs the module will need to be restarted and a message will appear warning of the criminal flag and possible consequences.

It’s “to benefit the EVE community at large,” natch. Slowly, in baby-steps, EVE Online’s new players are being coddled.

I’m really impressed with this post, which is some pretty good investigative journalism – following a bunch of semi-hidden and apparently unrelated facts, and putting them together to form an extremely compelling thesis. The thesis that CCP, facing hard times ahead and with a much-slimmed development budget, might be seeing its steely “we love the chaos!” facade starting to crack.

Really, it’s surprising that it has taken this long. They’ve remained the sole successful hardcore-focussed game (excepting much smaller games like Darkfall and, from a certain perspective, A Tale In The Desert) for so long, and there must have been pressure to make the game more “accessible”.

It is a pity, though, if they’re trying to make the game less harsh before they make it more playable. As Jester notes, there are other, major steps that EVE could take toward making its gameplay more accessible – better training, better user interface, and so on. (Although I do note on Massively today that they’re discussing making their infamously unreadable UI scaleable, at last). The question is – why aren’t they trying that before they try to tame the wilds of EVEspace?

What do you think? Could EVE really be going soft?

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Roundup: New Beginnings

Well, the MMOsphere seems to be well out of sync with the actual weather right at the moment. You see, whilst in the real world we’re heading into what promises to be a pretty grim winter, in the land of MMOs, it’s starting to feel like spring is breaking out.

We’ve got a few great posts about new beginnings today, from Syp’s argument that the long winter of the MMO may be nearly over, to Syncaine being unexpectedly inspirational talking about EVE:

  • Cynwise is still pondering his restart with his main, and in doing so, he’s considering the origins of the name of the Warlock class“Warlock comes from the Old English wærloga, or oath-breaker, deciever, liar. Witch comes from wicca and wicce, and used to apply to both men and women. At some point the word shifted over to refer to primarily women, so another word had to be brought in for “male witch.”“
  • Syp has been reading all this talk of an MMO winter, and feels that we’re actually at the start of a huge MMO Spring“We first have the launch of one of the most anticipated MMOs of all time, Star Wars: The Old Republic, on December 20th, which really makes this a 2012 title for all intents and purposes. On top of that, there’s the April launches of TERA and The Secret World, Guild Wars’ beta and (hopefully) launch, WoW’s next expansion, and so on.”
  • And Syncaine’s returned to EVE, and is highlighting one truly unique element of the game – the way that older content doesn’t get left behind “Last night I was able to jump into my Rohk battleship, the same one I used in 2008, and run some level four missions with some DiS pilots out of Taru. Name an MMO where you can return after almost four years and not only pick right back up, but still have that very same content ‘viable’ in terms of rewards and player interest?”

Do you think we’re on the verge of Spring? Feel more MMOs should keep older content current? And would you prefer playing a witch to a warlock?

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EVE’s at it again as the Goons (claim to) have taken over

Ah, EVE Online. The game I have no intention of actually playing again, but that I love to read about.

Today, it’s all about the democracy in the Icelandic HQ of the Elite-on-steroids space trading game, as the Goonswarm, one of the biggest Corporations (read guilds) in the game, and also scions of the infamous website Something Awful, claim to have infiltrated and controlled the game’s developers. Stabbed Up reports :

CCP has a policy to recruit from its player base where possible. There’s a lot of sense to this as it assures a supply of knowledgeable committed staff. Notably they recently recruited former Goon CEO Darius Johnson to be in charge of their security.

…So there are senior Goons in very powerful positions inside CCP. The Goons have adopted the same policy of infiltration and subversion towards the actual real world games company and the player council as they famously adopted in-game towards their play opponents.”

Stabs’ piece is a really interesting overview of the situation. Apparently the Goons are treating the metagame of EVE as just an extension of the actual game – they’re infiltrating, subverting and dominating in just the same way that they do in-game, with the intention of dominating and – so they say – destroying the game.

It’s all very interesting stuff. For starters, is what The Mittani (the Goonswarm’s representative) saying actually true? They’re engaged in a complex and very real-world equivalent game of disinformation and spying – it’s entirely likely that the reason they’re saying these things is not simply to gloat.

Is it perhaps an attempt to punish a Goon within the structure who hasn’t done as he was supposed to? Now that The Mittani’s outed the ex-Goon CCP employees, it’s hard to see how CCP won’t have to act against them in some way.

Is it an attempt to make the playerbase, or some subset of it, think that the Goons have more control than they do?

Is it a double-bluff?

One thing’s certain, though – antics like this are going to make other companies a lot less likely to invite players to directly influence their games. Tobold writes that it’s the failure of MMO democracy :

“Any other company thinking about player representatives will see this, and decide that the effort isn’t worth the bother. Anybody elected will only ever represent the most powerful alliance of players, never the silent majority. And if anything, companies have learned by now that they need to listen less to their most hardcore players, not more, to be successful and drive revenue.”

What do you think? Any ideas what’s going on?

All quotes taken directly from the relevant articles.

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EVE Ponzi Scheme reactions

Whilst it may be very unfair, I’ve heard a couple of people refer to the collective EVE Online player base as a “wunch of bankers”. And EVE’s news certainly looks more and more like the bad bits of the Financial Times at the moment – only a couple of years after the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme rocked Wall Street, EVE’s had its own attack of Ponzi, with a couple of con artists making off with somewhere between $20,000 and $60,000 worth of EVE credits.

Needless to say, the blogosphere’s had some interesting thoughts and responses to the event:

  • Gordon at We Fly Spitfires suggests that EVE players aren’t nearly as dumb as they look“I think the investors, the people who lost their money, did so willing and knowingly, fully aware of the risks right from the beginning, even counting on it in fact. Because, at the end of the day, having your money ’stolen’ is a lot more fun that just having it sit in your own virtual wallet gathering dust.”
  • Spinks of Spinksville thinks that the players are too powerless to act in these situations: “Maybe some players would be interested in forming the equivalent of an in game fraud squad with powers to trace dodgy trades and shut these operations down. I’d be curious to know whether many players would take on this role in the interests of cleaning up the game, given that it likely pays a lot less than being a successful con artist or trader.”
  • Tobold wonders how long it will be until real-world law kicks in on an EVE or other RMT con: “A previous case of fraud in EVE was reported as somebody stealing ISK, who exchanged it for real money, and “used the cash to put down a deposit on a house and to pay medical bills”. If you can pay your real world bills with it, it isn’t play money any more. “

Any thoughts on the EVE ponzi scam? Is this still fun, or is it starting to get a bit too real?

All quotes taken directly from the relevant article.

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Breaking Now: The Day That EVE Online Died

The guys at Massively do have a bit of a genius for attention-grabbing headlines! But in this case, it’s almost justified, as the EVE Online community and CCP, the EVE online developers, seem to be set on a high-speed collision course:

At around $40 for a basic shirt, $25 for boots, and $70 or more for the fabled monocle, items in the Noble Exchange were priced higher than their-real life counterparts. As players made some noise about the ridiculous prices, an internal CCP newsletter all about the company’s microtransaction plans was purportedly leaked. In it, plans to sell ships, ammo, and faction standings for cash were revealed, plans that strictly contradict previous promises on gameplay-affecting microtransactions. Shortly afterward, all hell broke loose as a private internal memo from CCP CEO Hilmar was leaked to the press.

In the past few days, I’ve been contacted by dozens (if not hundreds) of concerned EVE players who are afraid that the game they love is coming to an end. I’ve even been in contact with an insider who is scared of the risks CCP is taking with the jobs of over 600 employees in four countries, scared enough to leak internal documents and emails.

This is serious corporate-strategy-meets-community stuff, with leaks, internal memos, corporate communications, boycotts, organised unsubscribing movements, the lot. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen anything quite like this in the MMOsphere, certainly not since the NGE days of Star Wars Galaxies. And it’s directly related to the current bete noir of the gaming world, microtransactions, with CCP being the first company to really see a microtransaction plan backfire.

They should have sold a shiny pony, obviously.

We’ll be watching this story as it develops – keep an eye out. In the meantime, what do you think? Is this the end of EVE, or a storm in a teacup? And will CCP really go through with the potentially game-breaking plans they have?

_Quote taken directly from Massively’s piece.

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