Do MMOs make you feel old?

When I started playing World Of Warcraft, I was in my twenties. These days, I’m… older than that.

And the MMO genre has been around for longer than WoW. There are people out there who have been playing MMOs for 15 years or more – some of whom are probably reading this right now. So, the question becomes – at what point does the genre start to make you feel old?

That’s the question that Gordon at We Fly Spitfires covered this weekend, in a very interesting editorial:

“I realised the other day when talking to my new guild in World of Warcraft (I finally found one that’s comprised of people who actually like to chat) that most of them had no clue to the prior existence of any other MMORPG. A discussion about how it would be nice if WoW encouraged more grouping almost got me on my high horse about how lucky we actually are now that it’s not a mandatory component of progression à la the original Everquest. As nostalgic as I sometimes get, I’m delighted that in most MMOs today a play session doesn’t require four hours out of your life and a bucket under your desk to pee into (AFK biobreaks are for whimps). It dawned on then that I’ve been enjoying this genre since 1999, a staggering 14 years. A lifetime for some of my fellow gamers.”

Read The Rest Here…

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A Tale Of An Eldest Daughter And A Griefer

One topic that I’ve seen come up in the MMOSphere again and again is that of parenting and MMOs. When do you let your children play MMOs? How do you guide them, and how do you avoid problems?

Today Redbeard’s got a great post on that topic, telling the story of the time his eldest daughter was first griefed in Lord of the Rings Online:

“She was moving her Elven Hunter all over a clearing, following some near max-level toon around. “I was killing this dude for a quest, and this IDIOT came and took the treasure out of the chest I was supposed to open!”

“Ah.” I sat down and looked over her shoulder.

“I want to attack him so bad…. But I CAN’T!!”

“Well, you could challenge him to a duel –at least I think you can in LOTRO– but you’re L32 and he’s L73. It wouldn’t be a contest.”

“But I am just so mad right now! I have to wait and do the whole thing again!!!”

I sighed. “Yeah, I know. You just met the ninja looter. They’re one of the asshats you’ll meet in MMOs.””

Read the rest: Attack of the Ninja Looters

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The MMOs of 2013

It’s the dawn of a bright new year – and whilst it’s not going to be the juggernaut that 2012 was MMO-wise, there are a fair number of games on the horizon.

A number of bloggers have been looking at the likely offerings – here are two posts I spotted.

  • Syl picks her top three from the likely MMOs of the year“I feel a little tired with the speed of MMO releases every year; I’d like to play less games but play them longer. And from that point of view I place my trust in Middle-Earth and Tyria, while a return to Telara is certainly not unthinkable.”
  • And Anjin offers short, cynical, but very complete opinions on literally everything that’s in the MMO pipeline right now“Age Of Wulin/Wushu – A Chinese MMO coming to the west. I can’t see how that could ever go wrong. (Um, can someone remind me the correct HTML code to sarcasm tag something?)”
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Smart Kids and MMO Graveyards

And finally, some great posts unconnected to the big controversies of the day…

  • JD Kenada at Amateur Azerothian is getting into the Olympic spirit by organising… the Transmogolympics!
  • Anne Stickney at WoW Insider argues that Cataclysm failed because it bored the smart kids“Quests like Welcome to the Machine and The Day Deathwing Came were instantly loved because they presented something so completely different than anything we’d seen before that they were immediately far more interesting than any other quest presented in the expansion.”
  • Ocho at Casual Aggro is now 100% convinced – Diablo 3 is an MMO. And he’s got some very interesting arguments“Cheating in single player games allows players to explore the game on multiple levels and fairness never even comes up in the equation. However, you cheat in Diablo 3, which does not claim to be an MMO and what happens? You get BANNED. “
  • And finally, Melmoth at Killed In A Smiling Accident writes a lovely piece on his equivalent of the Elephant’s Graveyard – the Disk of Abandoned MMORPGs“Rarely do I attempt to resurrect a game from its magnetised mausoleum, but often I wish myself a Frankenstein of files, able to take a perfect piece from this crypt, some small segment from this other, and thence hammer and hew, stretch sinew and stitch, until my meisterwerk takes form. Would it be a monster? Would it be misunderstood?”

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GW2 uniqueness, Playing TERA Despite Everything, and more

Three really interesting links round off the day today – from Azuriel looking at just how different Guild Wars 2 actually is, to Bronte wrestling with the question of what an MMO is these days, here we go…

  • Chris at Level Capped is surprised to find that even given all the arguments against it, he’s willing to suspend his criticism to enjoy TERA“But I guess I’m tried of spending energy fighting – even passively – opportunities for enjoyment. I’ve decided that it’s not worth the cost to complain about lore, or about scantily dressed avatars, or animations, or systems, and to use those as excuses for why I’m going to pass on an opportunity that might be fun overall. “
  • Azuriel is fascinated by how Guild Wars 2 jumps in right on the controversial side of many old MMO arguments“I suppose it will come down to how important WvW ends up being to you – I don’t think it’s quite the killer app, as others might – but otherwise there is no other reason for you to “stay” on any particular server.”
  • And Bronte at Are We New At This is debating just what the label “MMO” means in this post-WoW era“Is it that you get to play with more than 30 people? Is it that there is a deeper sense of community through guilds/corporations/forces? Is it the ability to meet random people from around the globe with similar interests in gaming? Or is it something deeper?”

Don’t miss the latest hot debate – get the Melting Pot’s new MMO Melting Pot Weekly Digest

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Would you pay $100 to see your name in a Pandaren Brewery?

This week’s topic, it would seem, is commerce. And Pre-orders, and Kickstarter, and how the world of gaming business is changing. Yesterday we saw several prominent bloggers weighing in on the dangers of pre-orders and today, Azuriel of In An Age writes a fascinating post looking at the business and economic side of preorder/Kickstarter models.

He’s talking about price discrimination – the extent to which merchants have the ability to charge each customer exactly as much as they would be willing to pay for a good or service. Traditionally, the games industry hasn’t been able to price segment much if at all. Pre-orders and collector’s editions offer some ability to charge more to those who want to pay. But with Kickstarter, and its tiered “reward” systems for investors, Azuriel wonders if we haven’t entered an entirely new age of games pricing

“The interesting thing to me about Kickstarter in a cash shop world are the implications. In effect, it proves that there are people out there just looking for the opportunity to give their money away. If I was fanatically in love with Bioware and Mass Effect 3, how could I show my appreciation for what they do? Buy the Collector’s Edition? Buy the novels? In each case, what is taking place is a sale, a transaction, a transfer of goods for compensation. My “contribution” is not distinguishable as an act of charity or praise; Bioware simply gets the feedback that I deemed the product a good value for the money.

Kickstarter is different. Sure, a lot of people treat it as a extra-early preorder. But you can also contribute anonymously. If I sent Bioware a check for $1000 in a the mail, would they cash it? I have no idea. What Kickstarter has done is package up charity and enthusiasm into a “product” that can be sold.

Rationally, it is no different than sending a check in the mail, but it feels different. There is a meter that fills up, there are (limited!) time-sensitive bonuses, there is the satisfaction of needs going on (the game wouldn’t exist without this funding), there is a sensation of fellowship with other Kickstarters. In short, it is brilliant marketing. Utterly and completely brilliant.

As a skeptical consumer, however, I worry. The gamification of charity aside, I am concerned about how the industry marketeers must already be foaming at the mouth. How long is it until it is not just Day 1 DLC we see, but “Pay $100 for your name in graffiti on Station Omega?” It already appears as though pre-order “bonuses” (if you pay for it, it is not a bonus) in the form of DLC is here to stay. When is Kickstarter’s methodology entirely co-opted, and eventually devalued?”

I’m a serial entrepreneur, and the implications of what Azuriel is talking about absolutely fascinate me. We’re leaving a “one-size-fits-all” price model, and entering something much more flexible – which has all sorts of implications, both good and bad. On the good side, we’ll get more Cool Stuff, and increased price flexibility means that more people can get their hands on great games. On the bad side, more pricing options will make MMO pricing even more opaque, and introduce even more Clever Marketing Tricks to separate us from our cash.

Azuriel does a great job of explaining some fairly abstruse economic concepts and making them an interesting read, and I think he’s hit a particuarly important nail on the head by tying pre-order bonuses and Kickstarter customisation together. Read this one now, because I think we’ll be referring to it a lot in future.

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Why better NPC AI could kill your MMO stone-dead

Ah, World of Warcraft Patch 4.3. How we love you, and your massive reintroduction of escort quests and slow-walking NPCs. And SWTOR, how we adore your companions who stand in the fire whenever possible.

Wouldn’t it be great if our NPC companions were smarter?

Well, that’s the question that the Green Armadillo has been asking over at Player vs Developer – and the surprising answer is not at all necessarily

“As someone who likes to do the occasional group content, I would love to be able to use an NPC to fill a tough-to-fill group slot. The problem is that so many of these “move out of the fire or die” mechanics are so demanding that there is no middle ground – either the NPC never dies in the fire and therefore is a more attractive group-mate than a human (who might screw up), or the NPC is useless because they always die in the fire. EQ2’s always entertaining executive producer David Georgeson spins this as a feature – he claims that NPC’s are intentionally designed to be less skillful than humans to preserve a role for other players – but the resulting NPC’s will likely be worthless for the purpose that players have the most need for as a result. “

He goes on to raise some interesting possibilities – particularly the idea of filling roles players don’t want to fill, like tank, with super-competent NPCs. It’s an interesting thought – but the problem is that the lack of desire isn’t binary. Maybe 90% of the player base doesn’t want to tank, but what do you do with the 10% you just made redundant? (GA comments on this himself from the perspective of a healer.)

Meanwhile, Tobold picked up on this point, and concluded that super-competent AI companions might, in fact, single-handedly kill any MMO that introduced them

“Even without “cheating” (like being invulnerable to AoE), a healer companion could be programmed to not stand in the fire, and heal the group, and do this better than a real player. Now some people would much prefer to play with their real friends than with an AI companion. But 7 years of WoW guilds and raiding are proof that players are often willing to rather take the best performing character with them on a raid than the most likable. Thus if companions played better than players, many guilds would automatically staff half of their raids with companions. Thus the artificial stupidity of your companion actually is a feature, and not due to laziness or technical constraints from the developers.”

I’m not entirely sure. Some roles could certainly be played by computer – but a lot of the top end of raiding demands deep and cooperative thinking, something that a ‘bot would be hard-pressed to do. Or am I just trying not to envision us all becoming MMO-extinct?

What do you think? Would better AI Skynet our MMOs into oblivion?

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Should Skyrim be an MMO?

Since Skyrim landed a bit over a week ago, it has devestated all before it in the gaming world. Reddit’s Gaming section became Reddit’s Skyrim section. MMO bloggers vanished from sight because they were spending 24 hours a day with their eyes glued to the Nordic sky for dragons. Even WoW Insider seemed to be featuring more pictures of Skyrim than of WoW at one point. And everywhere there seem to be people saying “This. This is what we’re missing from MMOs”.

So, should Elder Scrolls take the next step? Should the next Elder Scroll be a massively multiplayer game, and would it sweep everything else aside?

Chris at Level Capped has been considering the question, and he’s come down very firmly on one side – no, it shouldn’t

“There are other roadblocks to making an Elder Scrolls MMO. Part of what makes Skyrim kick so much ass is that you can intend to make a bee-line from point A to point B, only to wake up three hours later after having stumbled up seven mountain paths, clearing two forts, a dwemer mine, and served as an errand boy or girl for a few daedric princes, just because you were curious. If this were an MMO, there would be 200 online guides which play connect-the-dots, telling players where everything is, what you get from it, and which order to tackle them in order to maximize your stats, and other players would be on your ass if you didn’t use those guides. Basically, it would totally ruin the point of a sandbox game, which is that “Ooh! I wonder what’s on the other side of this mountain!” sense of exploration and reward that anyone who’s played Skyrim is probably familiar with. “

Chris hits the nail on the head here – a 4,000 player Skyrim just wouldn’t work. But I do wonder – is that because the fundemental concept of an MMO is wierd and somewhat unnatural? One of the reasons that Skyrim feels so great is that you’re a hero – and the definition of a hero is someone who is rare. In World of Warcraft, the population of “heroes” is almost larger than the population of, you know, anyone else.

I wonder about a Skyrim-like game where there were perhaps 20 – 40 players per server – rare enough that they could indeed kill dragons and loot barrels without tripping over each others’ feet, and where they were outnumbered enough by the normal NPCs that they felt special. Meeting another player would be a fairly memorable event. Teaming up – perhaps to kill a dragon together – would be truly epic.

Additionally, other bloggers have been considering that even if we can’t turn Skyrim into an MMO wholesale, that doesn’t mean that the feeling of “Oh, THIS is what MMOs are missing” is entirely wrong. Ardwulf has an interesting speculation piece up on these lines, considering what MMOs could learn from Skyrim even if we accept that their central premises are different –

“I’m tired of small games, and the most hard-beaten path of MMO development is leading to smaller and smaller.

Skyrim is a big game, and I’m not talking about the size of the landmass, which is incidental. Weather has a real effect on gameplay (without doing damage, normally,) and there are even abilities that let you control it. I can sit in the chairs and pick up the items on the table. Every single person in the game can be talked to or stolen from, most can be killed and they have actual behavior. When I showed up at the Jarl’s hall in Whiterun early one morning, the Jarl and all of his coterie were sitting around the table eating breakfast. I know these procedural behaviors break down from time to time and cause things that may be amusing or frustrating in equal measure, but they also grant the game a depth that is simply not present in any MMO I’m aware of.”

What do you think? Could Skyrim work as an MMO? Should MMO developers be learning from its massive success?

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Should your Legendary Staff get Epic Woodworm?

Realism. It’s a thorny issue in games these days. From motion-based interfaces that feel like they’re killing you to uber-realistic shooters where you might as well set up a sleeping bag behind your cover de jour, to MMOs running all the way from WoW to A Tale In The Desert, how real is fun, and how fun is real?

Today Eric at Elder Game is writing about one such issue – decay. Stuff breaking, wearing out, falling apart. It sucks when your iPod mysteriously refuses to work – should that happen to your [Epic Sword of Epeen] too?

Well, yes, no and maybe. It turns out that item decay is a really complex issue:

I don’t know about you, but when I get a “Potion of Being Amazing For 3 Minutes”, I hoard that sucker forever. In most games, I won’t even use it to save myself from dying, because the death penalty is less painful than losing the item! … But this isn’t a big deal — who cares if people hoard their one-use quest rewards? I don’t. It gets to be a bigger deal when all items in your game can decay. Suddenly you never want to use any high-quality item ever!

It’s a rare opportunity to read something like Eric’s musings on Gorgon, his new MMO – a real insight into the complex decisions developers make. (It also helps that I love the sound of Gorgon so far – something a bit more grounded, a bit more simulationist, than WoW, but still fun). And like all his posts, this one’s detailed, lengthy, and easy for even non-developers to understand.

Do you WANT the realism of having to maintain and replace items? Or do you want your Legendary Sword to last forever?

_Quote taken directly from Eric’s post.

Find Elder Game’s homepage at

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How Are MMOs Doing These Days?

Amidst lots of bloggers cheerily wishing the world-and-his-gaming-wife a happy New Year, some folks are pausing to reflect on the MMOsphere post 2010. Let’s start as we mean to go on with a heartfelt cry of Happy New Year and a quiet, considered look (in case the hangovers and fresh work days catch up with us) at the state of our beloved niche – with Psychochild as our guide.

His post is the one that grabbed me the most. It’s a great retrospective with lots of links to give it substance. Psychochild starts out by looking back at how other genres grew and waned over the past couple of decades and compares MMOs to them.  He acknowledges how and why MMOs work – and how that differs from genres that have been popular (adventure games and older RPGs anyone?) – and crucially, what MMOs could be learning from the older genres before it’s too late.

But, what about MMOs? I fear they’re doing the opposite of adventure games and trying too hard to appeal to the newcomers while ignoring the increasingly disenchanted hardcore. The old hands who want something a bit more deep to meet their more sophisticated tastes aren’t finding it. This is partially because the expectations for an MMO are so high that it’s hard to do anything even remotely risky, therefore most stick to the DIKU-defined path. The further problem is that social games are stymieing MMOs by taking the “real” newbies who might otherwise be interested in MMOs. We’re not seeing an influx of new people because they’re getting their “grind something somewhat rewarding” fix by playing Farmville for free, not wandering around Azeroth or some other WoW wannabe game.

Psychochild goes on to talk about the games MMO companies play with our wallets in a section on business. It’s clear and generalised enough that anyone can get to grips with it and brings up some lesser-talked of topics like how investors feel about MMOs. He rounds up with a look at the future and where MMOs and certain individual games could or should go from here, both in terms of content, platforms and how much they’ll dare to flog the cash cow.

I’m wondering if Psychochilds missed anything – what do you think about MMOs, past present or future, as we head into 2011? Oh yes, and Happy New Year guys – I hope it’s a great one for you and yours, and for those who’s had a bad start – hoping it gets better for you.

_Quote taken directly from Psychochild’s post

You can find Psychochild’s blog here_

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