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By on Jul 28, 2014 at 9:15 am, in Editorial, MMORPG, WildStar  |  Comments: No comments yet

We’re past the dawn of the MMORPG clones. After World of Warcraft‘s continued success many a moon ago, we saw years of MMORPGs with the same exact UI setup, the same quest setup, the same question marks above NPC heads, the same endgame setup, the same silly currencies to grind for, the same cute fluffy pets, and well– you get the idea. The same everything practically, but with a new graphical skin and sometimes– just sometimes– a different story.

Heck, we still see games mimic WoW almost entirely. The trend isn’t completely dead. Well, when game developers aren’t creating the latest and greatest MOBA that hopes to replicate the success of League of Legends, anyways. The current dawn is pretty MOBA-flavored.

But back to MMORPGs. The problem, you see, is that both gamers and developers are starting to wise up to the tactic of “copy all the things but with shiny colors!” Gamers are starting to specifically look for games in development that aren’t like other games they’ve played. Developers are starting to– slowly but surely– create games that take small, creative risks that set them apart from what’s been made before.

By on Dec 31, 2013 at 11:46 am, in Article, RIFT  |  Comments: 2 comments

fae yule 2013 review header

Ah, Fae Yule. It’s always been one of my favorite RIFT holidays. Ever since last year’s addition of the little sledding mini-game and the IAs, it’s always struck me as one Trion’s better world events. There are plenty of things to do, there are plenty of holiday goodies to stumble across in Telara, and there are adorable boglings in Santa hats running around and plenty of things to get drunk on. What’s not to love?

I also have to admit upfront that I’ve been a little harsh lately regarding Trion’s recent cash shop incentive additions to the game. Mech Week and the like were poorly handled in my opinion, as was Autumn Harvest to some degree. Luckily, Trion seems to have taken our feedback to heart and has given us something much better balanced this time around. ‘Tis the season for Fae Yule and for improved holiday events.

By on Dec 23, 2013 at 9:21 am, in MMORPG, TESO, WildStar  |  Comments: 1 comment

Hype can be a dangerous thing, especially when it comes to MMORPGs. Most of us have found ourselves completely caught up in a hype whirlwind a time or two during these last couple years of newly-released MMORPGs only to find ourselves disgruntled, disappointed, and looking elsewhere for our gaming adventures. Star Wars: The Old Republic, anyone? Guild Wars 2? Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn? Defiance? Ragnarok Online 2? Neverwinter? That’s not to say any of these games are horrid, mind you, but let’s face the facts– a lot of folks were disappointment whether it was ten days after launch or six months. Games don’t always stack up to their hype.

It’s enough to turn once-avid MMORPG fans into explorers of different genres. I have a number of friends I used to play World of Warcraft and SWTOR with who’ve left the MMORPG genre for single player games, MOBAs, or stopped gaming altogether. Burnout happens, hype for new games happens, disappointment happens, and the combination of the three? We’re talking hurricane-strength winds.

By on Dec 19, 2013 at 10:52 am, in MMORPG  |  Comments: 14 comments

Housing in MMORPGs is starting to become less “the next best thing” and more “what we’ve come to expect”. With RIFT‘s successful dimension system, WildStar‘s housing buzz, FFXIV‘s recent launch of FC housing, the explosion of voxel games, and World of Warcraft‘s news regarding garrisons in the next expansion, custom houses, building blocks, and cute shrubbery seem to be trending. Let’s face it– character customization is important, but being able to customize a cool-looking home away from home in a game world that you can kinda call your own? That’s why we all play MMORPGs, after all, to escape the mundane. Being able to take the non-mundane and build a bright magenta house surrounded in blue picket fences and skull-covered windows is pretty cool. Well, okay. It’s creative at least.

When it comes down to it, MMORPGs have two types of content essentially– content that’s available to everyone at all level ranges, skill levels, playtime levels, and in-game cash levels, and content that’s gated in some way. Endgame raiding, of course, is generally gated to some degree at least. Often with multiple gates and difficulties.

This makes sense given the teamwork requirement (okay, except when it comes to LFR raiding in WoW) as well as the playtime requirement, level requirement, and gear requirement. That’s why games with raiding endgames have hit caps, item level systems, lengthy entrance quests, and gear tiers. All that streamlines players toward surmounting the raiding gates. Most games also have some sort of gated “fluffier” content such as hard-to-obtain achievements and ridiculously rare and/or expensive mounts in order to keep all types of players busy and happy.

rift housing

On the other hand we have content like small group dungeons, group instanced PvP, collectible items such as pets and mounts, world/holiday events, achievements, wardrobe systems, solo/group quests, and the multitude of other nifty features games are coming out with that aren’t considered gated. You gain 10 levels, run a few quests, grab some new abilities, and bam– you’re generally good to hop in a dungeon. A player of any level or gear level can enjoy features like achievements, pet collecting, world events, and a wardrobe system. This type of content is designed for everyone to enjoy even if they can only pop on once a month. This type of content, interestingly enough, is also the content that tends to generate the most money in F2P MMORPGs. We all love fluff, it turns out.

So, back to those picket fences. Where’s housing fit in? Is it a gated feature or one that’s naturally available to everyone as long as they gain a few levels and maybe do some quests and hand over 100 coins? Most games with housing tend to go the fluffy route. RIFT‘s probably one of the best examples, as you can pick up a dimension in RIFT the moment you enter the main town and pick up a quest. You even get your first tiny dimension for free. Some RIFT players avoid the dimension system like the plague, but others play just for dimensions. It’s kind of an odd phenomenon. Add an extremely customizable housing system to a seemingly normal MMORPG and suddenly there’s a whole new stock of RIFT players these days– the ultra-creative dimensioneers.

It also helps that RIFT‘s housing system has a ton of freedom and creative possibilities. Folks can create whatever they can dream up, basically. Take a look at this Star Wars dimension, for example. Pretty cool, right? This is the same reason creative builders tend to flock towards Minecraft and the like. Housing is best when it encourages socialization, but also creativity. That’s part of the reason it works so well in MMORPGs.

wildstar housing

WildStar is following in RIFT‘s footsteps here and allowing players to build their own house almost right away in the leveling process. Again, it makes sense. Not everyone’s going to enjoy housing, so it’s best to let players try it out early on and see what they think. They can approach it later on in the game, but for those wishing to purely test out the waters, they can do so without being stuck behind a looming gate that generally consists of in-game cash. For players who love and adore housing in WildStar, they can spend all kinds of money on it, and that’s perfectly cool. A housing system is what you make of it, after all.

Housing also works well as a method in which to bump up the level of a game’s immersion factor. In a game like WildStar, your housing plot not only serves as your home away from home, but also a place to store all the goofy-looking goodies you’ve collected on your adventures. A place to brag to your buddies and hang out when it’s late at night and there’s not much going on. For roleplayers, housing is the perfect location for a great deal of activities.

Part of the reason World of Warcraft is handling housing right, in my opinion, is because garrisons are going to be much more than a simple house. WoW players have been playing for years upon years, and it’s only natural that immersion-wise they’ve become popular enough to populate an entire instanced map with buildings, personal blacksmiths, etc., and amassed a following of NPCs that will eagerly run off and kill that old raid boss who will refuse to drop its mount yet again. Garrisons simply make sense in the game world.

While we don’t know how exactly Blizzard will handle the costs and restrictions of garrisons in Warlords of Draenor, it’s probably safe to say that they will work similar to the current farm feature in Mists of Pandaria. Players are able to grab a farm while leveling from 85-90 by doing simple quests. By working on the farm, raising reputation with the various Panda people, and by reaching level 90 in order to unlock dailies, players can quickly gain full access to all of the features of the farm. It’s not gated by anything more than quests and a few levels. This made perfect sense for a brand new feature Blizzard was testing out, and I would expect that garrisons will be handled in a similar manner.

wow to the farm

New features shouldn’t be too gated. All that does is discourage the playerbase from taking part. New features need to be thoroughly tested and thoroughly tried in order for developers to really figure out if that feature was worth the time of the development team. When new features have wide access, this also allows the development team to figure out what next to do with that feature. New features all boil down to metrics. When World of Warcraft launched Pandaria with ten thousand daily quests, the steep decline of players taking part in said dailies told them enough information they needed– they’d taken things one step too far.

Now, in order to get that data and information, developers need to make new features accessible. In some cases, this means lowering the gating on new features and allowing new, low-level players to take part in order to really get a good sense of the big picture. This is partially why housing tends to be made available to players of all level ranges and in-game cash totals. The other reason, as mentioned, boils down to player choice. Not everyone enjoys housing, but for those that do, it tends to be a very social activity– one that needn’t revolve around endgame gating, cash gating, or any other type of gating.

There’s one more game to talk about, and that’s Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. I’ve been a pretty harsh judge about the game to be fair, but with the game’s recent release of 2.1 and the highly anticipated Free Company housing feature, there are a lot of dissatisfied players in the game currently. Scroll down the huge list of patch notes and take a look at the pricing for housing. The prices vary based on the overall population of your realm, but most prices start at anywhere from 4 million gil to over 40 million– and that’s for a small plot. A large plot on the more populated Legacy servers can cost more than 500 million gil. That’s a lot of gil for a new feature to be gated behind.

ffxiv housing

The reasoning behind these prices boils down to the fact that SE felt there was a surplus of gil on many servers and that players would be able to come up with that much money if they so chose. Essentially, Square Enix decided to gate FC housing. Now, given that this is guild housing and not personal housing, it’s expected that it be gated slightly due to the fact that guilds/FCs naturally have more players to help contribute, but personally, I feel this is too large of a gate for casual FCs to surmount– at least at this point and time in the game’s livelihood. Honestly, it would have been better for SE to release personal housing before FC housing in order to get a solid amount of feedback and metrics on costs, interest, and economical impact.

Housing was one of those features FFXIV players were looking forward to most, which makes sense given the large amount of immersion in the game, but gating it heavily right as it came out of the arena wasn’t the best of moves. Money isn’t extremely difficult to come by in the game, but unless a Free Company is fairly large and has the majority of its players at endgame and doing a large amount of dungeons/raids and/or crafting endgame items and selling them on the market board, most casual FCs simply don’t have that cash. It’s kind of a shame, really, especially considering housing is largely a social feature that casual players often are drawn to most.

Square Enix went in the opposite direction of RIFT here. Instead of encouraging players of all levels to poke around with housing and see what they enjoy, they’ve gated it. It’s completely possible that FFXIV‘s personal housing will be much more accessible, and I truly hope that’s the case, but for now there are some important lessons to be found here: There’s a time and place for gated features, but housing shouldn’t be one of them. Housing should focus on figuring out what players enjoy. Optional houses/furnishings that cost a lot more are perfectly fine, but the basic feature of housing should be enjoyable by anyone who wishes to take part– for both the game and its players.

By on Nov 18, 2013 at 9:00 am, in MMORPG  |  Comments: 3 comments

Every other day there seems to be a new MMO coming out that promises something “innovative” and “exciting” yet when the covers come completely off, the game looks and feels exactly like that other game. You know the one. The popular one that makes all kinds of money. The UI on the new game will often mirror the older game exactly, and even the controls, item systems, combat systems, and story may mimic the other game almost entirely– except for a few tweaks here and there, of course. It’s almost like game developers scramble to find the most popular games and do a bunch of copying and pasting. It’s never that simple, but you know what they say– if it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, and gets water all over the place– it’s probably a duc– er, MMO clone.

Now, don’t get me wrong. MMO “clones” aren’t inherently awful. There’s a reason why that popular game rakes in all that cash, after all. Why break what isn’t broken, right? Sometimes we really do like the systems and features of a game and just want something, well, a little different. A new start. A new setting. That’s completely understandable.

But then there are those other times. The times when we actually really want something different. Those are the times when we walk away from a new game frustrated. Not every game is going to please every person, but it’s a little disconcerting when the number of obvious MMO clones outweigh the number of truly innovative MMOs. I suppose it’s part of the reason why so many PC gamers are turning to indie/Kickstarter projects. Sometimes indie developers pull off innovation wonderfully, and that effort needs to be applauded.

What it boils down to at the end of the day is the fact that MMO gaming is increasing in popularity so quickly that developers are finding that it’s beneficial to spread seeds in as many crop circles as possible. “If folks are tired of fantasy, let’s give them ninjas!” “Everyone likes robots. And boobs. Let’s give them both!” I may be eluding to a couple awful F2P MMOs. You know the ones– their ads are hard to miss. With the booming current population of MMO gamers, it’s only natural that we’re given more and more options every day and that a large percentage of them kind of suck. It’s one of the side effects of having a larger gamer population to pull from. Along with anal jokes in every single game’s global chat system and some interesting issues we’re seeing with socialization.

waging a war against the mmo clones rift

Developers spreading seeds in multiple settings/styles/genres isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. Some developers pull it off pretty nicely. Look at Trion Worlds, for example. Yes, you could say that RIFT is a pretty close copy-and-paste of World of Warcraft. Most of us knew that when we started playing, especially given Trion’s advertising campaign. We started with the obvious quests, the obvious raids, the obvious Expert dungeons, and the obvious pets, achievements, dwarves, elf people, turtle mounts, and “let’s save the world!” storylines. It was all extremely standard. Still, the game is still around. RIFT is arguably getting pretty niche in some regards, but its development is still going strong and so is its community.

There’s also the fact that Trion added content to RIFT that took the game a step above World of Warcraft in some ways. The development team took a copy-and-paste basis and added in dynamic content, then later on added in additional features that livened up the game quite a bit such as instant adventure, cross-server travel, chronicles, and player housing (also known as dimensions). Let’s not forget Trion’s quick pace with content updates. Now look at what WoW players are getting in Warlords of Draenor. Yep– player housing and dynamic content. And quicker expansions.

The big shot developers aren’t immune to this copy-and-paste MMO clone effect. Ideas spread like wildfire within the industry, and as long as developers out there are willing to take a chance on innovation, all of our games can turn out better in the long run. Just because a game starts off as being rather unoriginal doesn’t mean it will always stay that way. Innovation doesn’t happen overnight, and that’s okay. MMOs are all about worlds that change, after all.

waging a war against the mmo clones trove

Trion’s recently-announced Trove is also a good example of this. At its core, Trove is a copy-and-paste of Minecraft and Cube World with some extra goodies tossed it. We all know that. Still, let’s take a look at the big picture. There’s a whole lot of possibility in an adventure MMO that’s easily modifiable and offers plenty of ways for players to also manipulate and modify that world. With how quickly gamers are running through content these days, there’s definitely room for content that can be designed by the players and can be rapidly changed without developers needing to spend months hiring art departments and staring at whiteboards. Why not let players help create content? Why not cycle the worlds and dungeons in order to give players something new?

The whole cube-based style may turn a lot of gamers off regarding Trove– and that’s completely understandable– but the premise and goals of the design team are commendable if you ask me. I support Trion’s “let’s experiment and ask questions later” approach to developing games because it’s a little risky. It’s also innovative under the right circumstances. Trion makes a lot of mistakes– just ask anyone who played Defiance at launch– but by the end of their next staff meeting, the team strives to better their games and listen to their playerbase.

Innovation doesn’t always come down to rewriting everything from the ground up. Innovation can happen in baby steps. This is where most of the fly-by-night, boob-and-robot F2P games go wrong. A game needs some innovation. It also needs to move us forward both in the matter of content and concepts– never backwards. There’s a good reason why Blizzard never agreed to the whole “Vanilla WoW server” idea players kept pleading for back in Cataclysm. Game development should always look to the future and to what’s next around that pixel-covered horizon.

Path of Exile is another great example of innovation in small amounts. Yes, it’s an obvious clone of Diablo II. So much so, in fact, that everything from the UI and those nifty health/mana globes to the enemy system, item stat system, difficulty system, shrine system, graphical style, loot system, static gender class system, and even the barter-based trade system is pretty much a copy and paste of Diablo II with a few adjustments.

waging a war against the mmo clones path of exile

Here’s the thing, though. The game works extremely well for what it is. It’s kind of like going back in time to the Diablo II era with a shiny new toy. The extremely huge and open-ended passive skill tree? Golden. The skill gem system that’s completely customizable? Awesome. Even the flask system is better than anything Blizzard did with consumables in Diablo III.

Sure, Path of Exile isn’t perfect. It gets a little boring after a while, especially after the “ZOMG huge skill tree” novelty wears off. For being a somewhat indie project, however, the game is pretty dang impressive, especially given all the copying and pasting. Innovation doesn’t have to happen in gigantic amounts. As long it happens, it can help create a better game. Blizzard is making a ton of improvements to Diablo III in its first expansion from the sounds of it, and that is most likely at least partially due to the response that Path of Exile received while it was in beta. Developers learn from the experiences of other developers, and that’s often the most we can hope for.

It’s impractical to expect developers to stop creating MMO clones entirely. Copying and pasting of features and systems will always happen to some degree as long as MMOs remain popular and within the mainstream entertainment eye. When you take this fact into consideration, it begins to matter less and less who copied who and why. What matters more is that developers are being innovative, looking toward the future, and designing content, features, and systems that not only inspire other developers to better their own games, but to make all of our games better for years to come. Innovation is key. Not all games come out of the gate as the most awesome and 100% innovative games ever, but the fact that there is innovation will set the bar higher for the future.

By on Nov 11, 2013 at 11:28 am, in MMORPG  |  Comments: 8 comments

As more and more gamers are trying out the MMORPG genre and our number of possible games continues to expand day by day, most of us are dawning upon a strange realization– MMORPGs are becoming less social, overall. It’s an odd realization to come to, especially in games that revolve around instanced group content such as World of Warcraft, RIFT, Final Fantasy XIV, and other similar games. Sure, if you’re in an awesome guild/FC and come into a game knowing a whole lot of people, you’re essentially set as far as socialization is concerned, but what if you’re not? What if you’re stuck trying to make new friends and stuck using LFR/LFD/Duty Finder?

The automated grouping experience is, well, hit or miss. You’ll sometimes find yourself in a good group of friendly folk, but more times than not, you’re forced to contend with people who may not speak at all, don’t follow instructions, and who may even be pretty hostile. If you’re lucky, the run will complete without a hitch, no one will be put on ignore, and everyone can go about their separate ways merrily. But here’s the kicker– was that smooth, quiet dungeon run social at all if no one utters a word?

Years ago, back when MMORPG gamers were busy camping spawns in EverQuest, spending hours getting lost in Blackrock Depths in World of Warcraft (okay, maybe that was just me getting lost), or readying their allies for the next WoE fight in Ragnarok Online, the games we enjoyed seemed… more social somehow. We laughed and joked during dungeon runs and while waiting for mobs to respawn. We chatted while our healer regained mana or while that dangerous patrol waddled past.

If we wanted a solid chance of succeeding during a dungeon run, we’d need to call on guildies. If we wanted the best changes of scoring the rare kill or that MVP kill, we’d have to wait for some friends to pop online. And if we didn’t have those friends to call on, well, let’s just say that it was time to do a little talkin’ and get to know a friendly face. Friends helped friends succeed in early MMORPGs.

Now? Not so much. Success is more of a personal journey in MMORPGs these days, it seems. Yes, friends can be extremely helpful and socialization is usually required at the top end of raiding in order to collect best-in-slot shinies, but during the leveling/gearing process, socializing seems optional. It’s almost entirely similar to the scope of large cities around the world and the people who live among the thrum of city life. When we walk down a busy street, we won’t stop and chat to random strangers like our ancestors did many moons ago. We’re polite when we absolutely need to be, but for the most part, most of us don’t talk to random people while waiting in line at the grocery store or at the bank. We’re there for what we came there for, and that’s really about it.

Are MMORPGs shifting into a supermarket line? Is it the games themselves that are generating players toward this somewhat anti-social behavior, or is it a natural shift that’s happening simply because we’re evolving as gamers and have less time on our hands than we used to? These are excellent questions with difficult-to-obtain answers, but let’s take a crack at seeing if we can unravel any.

 

The WoW Problem = The World Problem

are mmorpgs becoming more massively and less multiplayer wow2

A large portion of the MMORPG community likes to point fingers at World of Warcraft when it comes to finding a cause for the fact that our favorite games are becoming less social overall. Blizzard added the LFG tool, and we all know what happened then. Every other game had to follow suit. Dungeon runs eventually became easier and quicker as Blizzard realized that placing people together randomly can often result in not-quite-optimal group and skill level makeups. Players had different ideas of how much time should be spent in a dungeon. Runs became even quicker as shortcuts were introduced. Tanking became ridiculously easy, and healers never, ever ran out of mana with a decent group.

Dungeon runs became even quicker, and soon, folks even stopped talking due to the need to finish ASAP and not cause any unneeded drama. We’re to the point where it’s often advised to disable chat if one wishes to avoid drama in LFR. That’s turning a once-social experience into something non-social completely.

Was all of that Blizzard’s fault though, really? The term “Mcdungeon” is often tossed around due to the quick and simple nature of dungeon/Heroic runs in WoW currently. Is there anything wrong with wanting something quick, cheap, and still filling as opposed to wanting something that takes more time to grab yet might be a little more satisfying and inherently more social? Not at all. There’s a time and place for quick and cheap, especially in today’s world where everything moves so quickly. We simply don’t always have the time to sit down for long dinners, conversations, or 3-hour dungeon runs.

Had a long day at work? Pop on and kill shit in a 30-minute dungeon. It can be extremely relaxing to blow through a dungeon without the stress of needing to worry about ideal group makeups, gear levels, explaining fights over and over again, or who has to go AFK and when. We live in a stressful world. Part of the reason folks don’t socialize as much as they used to in MMOs is simply due to the fact that we don’t have as much time as all did when we were younger. We’re also better gamers now.

Times change. As does the world we live in. My father used to talk about the good ol’ days when he was a kid every chance he got. It’s not quite unlike those of us who are older gamers and remember the good ol’ days of socializing in MMORPGs while climbing uphill in the snow and waiting for mobs to respawn.

 

A Brave New World Should Offer Options

are mmorpgs becoming more massively and less multiplayer guild wars 2

Because MMOs have become inherently more accessible and offer ways for gamers with varying expectations to dive in and feel accomplished, the number of online gamers has risen exponentially. More players equals more developers who are willing to make new games– which is awesome– but on the flip side, more players means even more varying expectations, which means developers have to appease to a larger audience. It’s much like the large city analogy. The larger the city, the more restaurants that city needs to have. As the city grows, the type of restaurants available and the prices at each will begin to broaden considerably. Look down any busy street and there will be 17 fast food joints. On the street two blocks over, there’s a row of pricey restaurants and bars. Choice in a bustling city is vital.

And that’s where the analogy starts to weaken. The problem seems to be when game developers– and gamers– think quick and cheap is all there is to an MMORPG. It all comes down to balance. We can eat fast food day in and day out, but most of us won’t be very satisfied (or healthy). We need options. We sometimes need that noisy bar or restaurant where we can chat with our friends for hours. When MMORPGs go the route of quick, efficient, and automated, sure, we get things done quick, but we don’t always feel satisfied. We need more than that. It all comes down to options.

In an ideal MMORPG, the game world would be large enough to offer plenty of exploration and solo activities, plenty of social tools, plenty of instanced and non-instanced group combat, and plenty of options for how to level, how to proceed in endgame progression, and how to group with others. Automated LFG tools are a must, but so are tools players can utilize to dial back the social settings a bit and change everything up. This setup could include multiple reward paths and progression paths, kind of similar to WoW‘s attempt with challenge modes, but with unique content, rewards that are worth pursuing, and rules that don’t hinge on timers.

It’d be ideal to offer players quick and simple instanced content, but also offer content that’s challenging, encourages communication, and has extremely random components that shy away from the words “on farm status” completely. Optional paths, twisting tunnels, dangerous patrols, and long dungeons– maybe a level scaling system that takes the edge off gear requirements. This is where developers could take some real risks. Sure, not all players will be able to take part successfully, but if they want to, the option’s there. That’s what choice is all about.

 

Daring to Offer Choices Yet Also Specialize

are mmorpgs becoming more massively and less multiplayer wildstar

With this increased amount of choices and content, game developers will need to make some careful choices of their own. The latest trend in MMORPG development seems to be “develop all the things!” in order to grab the attention of as many players as possible, but there’s a simple fact that comes with the ever-expanding MMO population– a new game doesn’t have to grab the attention of everyone in order to succeed. Games don’t have to aim to be the next World of Warcraft to earn a profit. There’s nothing wrong in creating a game that’s aimed specifically toward a certain group of players and is 100% focused on producing quality content for that group of players. There’s a large portion of gamers who are hungry for quality MMORPGs and dive into new games only to leave empty-handed.

As an example, if a developer dared to create an MMORPG that avoided standard leveling and questing altogether and instead focused on group-based dungeons, solo “practice” combat, multiple means of gear progression, and a wide variety of dungeons that covers all the points mentioned above and gave players options for difficulty and the ability to join groups, that game might be a pretty big hit. Sure, solo levelers and quest junkies might look elsewhere, but choosing to focus on one particular element of a game (dungeons in this case), enables developers to create a better quality game with more options that encourages players to seek out a more social experience.

We’re at the point and time in gaming where we need more specialization and less Walmart-type gaming experiences. We need games that offer more ways for us to socialize if we so choose, and to do that, the game first needs to be deep enough in order to for us to want to broaden our socialization skills. WildStar is trying to go a more specialized route with raiding, which is one reason why a lot of raiders are paying very close to its development. The MOBA genre is another perfect example of a niche type of game that’s drawing a huge crowd. Niche isn’t necessarily bad. Niche yet awesome is a fantastic mix that’s often overlooked.

It’s a simple fact– if players really love what they’re playing, they’ll want to socialize. If they see a goal as somewhat challenging yet obtainable and also fun, they’ll go the extra mile to join a guild, make new friends, and communicate during a dungeon. The lack of socialization really boils down to four elements– a simple increase of players as well as overall player skill, a lack of innovation, and a lack of quality options for players to become engaged in. If game developers really want to take a serious look at solving the socialization issue, the last two elements are completely within their power.

By on Oct 21, 2013 at 10:31 am, in MMORPG  |  Comments: 19 comments

As the scope of MMORPGs available to us continues to broaden as new games are constantly released, so do our expectations. We expect new games to have as many cool features as older games, and this is only natural given the fact that developers have better tools to work with now as well as a whole bunch of history to learn from. One feature that often understandably gets overlooked during a young game’s first couple of years is the addition of holiday events. Sure, you could say FFXIV: ARR has a Halloween event going on currently, but after running through the half-hour it takes to complete the one quest chain, it’s pretty safe to ask yourself, “Wait, that was an event?”

Still, I have to admit something. There’s a part of me that thoroughly felt immersed while running around Limsa Lominsa as a goofy-looking ghost. It was the decorations, I think. Despite the fact that All Saints’ Wake was ridiculously small and only centered in the three main cities, those three cities really felt like a holiday was in town. The quest line presented a brief yet satisfactory story of sorts, the NPCs were charming, and the costume rewards were easily obtainable and fun to run around in. The Magic Pot was also an awesome touch for Final Fantasy fans.

holiday events editorial ffxiv halloween

Should Square Enix do better with the event next year? Yes, yes, and please– yes. But given the fact that the game is still crawling around in its infancy stage, I’ll give this event a pass and hope for better when December rolls around. For now, though? The pirate pumpkins put a smile on my face. Call me crazy, but I am content with that.

I’m also pretty content with the October/Halloween events in most MMORPGs that have been around for a year or more (full disclosure: Halloween’s my favorite holiday). The various developers have had time to iron out the “first year” kinks and have started to figure out what their player base wants as far as holiday events go. Guild Wars had some of the best Halloween fun around, and Guild Wars 2 has followed in its footsteps quite nicely. There’s plenty of immersion, fun items, and special baddies to kill in Guild Wars 2‘s Blood and Madness event.

The Secret World puts on a good show for Halloween, and I’ve heard EverQuest did as well. World of Warcraft, naturally, is the game where many other MMORPGs became inspired to fill up cities full of elves and pumpkins and snowy trees and bunny hats in the first place– so we’ve gotta at least give Blizzard a nod. The latest WoW holiday event cycle can be narrowed down to “kill X instance boss and complete some achievements”, sure, but immersion is apparent everywhere. So much immersion, in fact, that WoW players commonly get sick of blinky lights and gnomes in Santa hats before December 20th even rolls around.

Immersion is important in a holiday event. It encourages us to feel like an actual “event” is going on. That things are different. That we can take a bit of a break and have fun. That we can earn some cool rewards and enjoy the day with friends in a way that’s slightly different from the norm. It’s important to change up the beat. That’s partially why we enjoy MMORPGs, after all. We enjoy being part of a game world that isn’t static.

That’s why it’s pretty disappointing when an MMORPG adds holiday events that do little to make things not-so-static. I’m not talking about games that don’t make events revolve around real-world calender events, either. Developers can choose to go down that path if they prefer. But if an MMORPG has an October-themed holiday event, I want to see that October-themed event. I want the immersion. I want the cool decorations. I want to feel like things are really different, and that players have a reason to celebrate. I want more than, well, what RIFT gave us this year.

Now, don’t get me wrong. If there’s anything my readers know about me and my work on RIFT Junkies, it’s the fact that I love RIFT and have a great deal of respect for Trion for listening as they have to the game’s community. The developers take a very “think-on-your-feet-and-let’s-try-stuff-out” approach to adding new features and content to the game, and I’m admittedly a fan of that somewhat risky approach. It sometimes pays off remarkably well. Other times, it doesn’t. It’s times like this when I tend to be a little more critical.

holiday events editorial rift autumn harvest

The first year of Autumn Harvest excited me. It was a satisfactory autumn-flavored event for RIFT‘s first stab at it, and I loved that the team used one of my favorite instances– Realm of the Fae– as a backdrop for a special little hideaway where you could go crazy and load up on artifacts. It was different. It was also a little, well, un-immersive. There wasn’t much fall decor in Sanctum and Meridian. Besides the random fungi to be found on trees and the mushroom circle portals, there really wasn’t much fall flavor to be had around Mathosia. The mounts were unfortunately also a recoloring of other mount models. It felt very rushed, overall, but after seeing how Trion spruced up Carnival of the Ascended and Summerfest this year, I was anxious to see what they would do with this year’s Autumn Harvest.

We got some new things, sure. We got a lot of new things, actually. But they’re all located on RIFT‘s in-game cash shop, also known as the RIFT Store. Cash shop items for holiday events can be great, especially for a game’s revenue. I understand that. But I really expected to see equal growth to the event’s immersion factor as well as growth to the amount of goodies that are obtainable.

The event changed so little, in fact, that I didn’t find it necessary to write up a new guide to the event this year. It’s exactly the same except for the new dimension, a couple new rifts, updated artifacts, and a boatload of new items that are purchasable via event currency and Credits. The few new achievements are, of course, directly related to obtaining said boatload. And while it’s possible to earn enough in-game event currency to purchase all of the items needed for the achievements doing the event dailies on multiple alts or spending in-game coin at the Auction House, I can’t help but feel that all of that takes away from the immersion factor of the event even further. A solid portion of the new costumes and fun items aren’t even purchasable except with Credits.

I want to port into Tempest Bay and see that Autumn Harvest has landed. I want to see players running around in cool costumes that dropped off that nearby rift. I want Meridian and Sanctum to be full of the same awesome-looking pumpkins that are purchasable for player dimensions. I want to see NPCs running around with the same awesome masks that Trion’s art team really did do an excellent job with. The new items themselves are fantastic. The fact that that’s all we got this year, however, isn’t.

holiday events editorial reaper bundle

To make matters worse, the coolest of the new masks, pets, and one of the two new mounts are only obtainable with random grab bag/lockbox items purchasable off the RIFT Store with either Credits or in-game event currency. The pets and masks that make up the bulk of the new achievements are only obtainable through these grab bags. They’re BoE, which helps, but again– how immersive is it really to stand in front of the AH NPC and search for the lowest prices? How is that celebrating the autumn season and harvest at all? How is that a break from the norm?

I appreciate the idea of event goodies being extremely random, but I don’t appreciate the fact that there’s no other way to get said grab bags except by using the store interface (or by purchasing items separately off the AH, etc.). Why aren’t the grab bags also rare drops from the new rifts? Why can’t they very rarely be obtained from completing dailies? Heck, why can’t they be hidden among the artifacts in Realm of the Autumn Harvest, but seen very rarely?

Some other very rare way of obtaining these items would add to the immersion of the event by a ton. As it is, the new goodies are separated entirely from the actual event. That isn’t good. That makes it completely obvious to the players that Trion simply copied and pasted the event from last year and concentrated fully on cash shop items.

One of the mounts can also only be obtained through a very random, new lockbox that’s only purchasable with Credits. Random lockboxes in a cash shop are fine, but as Trion adds more and more lockboxes to the store without giving players any alternative means of obtaining said items that are locked within, I can’t help but get a very Star Wars: The Old Republic-y vibe.

SWTOR‘s cash shop isn’t well-balanced. The immersion factor seemed to disappear entirely from the game when the cash shop was added. Instead of cool items being obtainable from doing a lengthy quest line, navigating a hidden temple, or beating a tough enemy a bunch of times while praying for something nifty, the coolest items are now a simple click away on a UI frame that’s covered in sale prices and lots of PR talk.

A free-to-play MMORPG’s development team needs to make money somehow, yes, but new items, gear, and content (even event fluff!) have to be available through both the game world and the cash shop. The content and items can differ between the two, of course, but attention needs to be given to both areas. There has to be a balance when it comes to what players have access to and how they access it. Otherwise, what are we playing here? A massively multiplayer online roleplaying game, or a 3D shopping app?

holiday events editorial gw2 cauldron

Guild Wars 2 does a pretty good job at illustrating a decent balance when it comes to this. Each new world event and twice-monthly update adds new content to the game and new items to the Black Lion Trading Company. Event goodies are obtainable through normal vendors (currency farming), the cash shop, quest rewards, and from random drops off event mobs. There’s a decent variety of goodies and accompanying sources in almost every event. Sure, sometimes the cash shop has the coolest items, but never all the cool items. And there’s always that chance of randomly getting something very awesome just by killing event monsters.

And that’s exactly what RIFT is missing out on for Autumn Harvest. That chance of obtaining something super awesome simply by taking part in the event and getting caught up in the moment. Getting caught up in the moment– that’s what MMORPG events are supposed to be all about. The fun factor. That “what if?” factor. The immersion factor. That moment where we get to take a break from the raids and the UI frames and just kind of relax and see what’s in store for us. When all that’s in store for us is to be found in the cash shop or in an AH window– I’m sorry, Trion, but something’s amiss. Let’s hope you do better for Fae Yule.

By on Oct 15, 2013 at 9:30 am, in Article, News, RIFT  |  Comments: 16 comments

unification plans header

For a while now, Trion’s been working on a plan that will allow us to play with as many other players as possible within the same shards and clusters. This grand plan will eventually allow players from different parts of the world to play RIFT together while each playing the game in their own language thanks to some behind-the-scenes tech magic. While this technology isn’t quite ready for its debut yet, Trion will be moving toward that plan next week when the team condenses our shards and forces players to transfer to specific shards where this “unification” process will begin.

These transfers will happen automatically next week during the normal downtime period: Wednesday, October 23rd for NA shards and Thursday, October 24th for EU shards. All guilds and friend lists will remain intact when the transfers occur, and players will need to do nothing beforehand unless they wish to reserve a name or two ahead of time. Players will have to rename any characters (for free) if their names are taken on the new shard. Here is the list of shards being affected by the merges:

North America

Necropolis users will be migrated to Seastone.
Shatterbone users will be migrated to Wolfsbane.
Threesprings users will be migrated to Deepwood.

Europe

Volan users will be migrated to Bloodiron.
Blightweald users will be migrated to Gelidra.
Argent users will be migrated to Zaviel.
Nomi users will be migrated to Brisesol.

By on Oct 1, 2013 at 1:40 pm, in Article, FFXIV  |  Comments: 3 comments

fate ideas header

FFXIV’s FATE system is certainly a great way to level. Who can argue with being able to get from 35-45 in just over 4 hours, simply from riding around on your mount, waiting for an event to pop, and rushing to get a few hits on mobs? Especially when dungeons and quests give so little experience in comparison.

While plenty of people tolerate the FATE system due to the experience FATEs give on completion, an equal amount of players seem to have their own complaints. Many suggest that FATEs are creating the problem of people not knowing how to play their class. After all, where’s the skill in spamming abilities to get a hit on every mob within range? Even more suggest that rewards from these need to be reduced to push players towards dungeons and other methods of leveling. But what do the devs have to say about all of this?

By on Sep 19, 2013 at 10:30 am, in Console  |  Comments: 16 comments

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or raiding nonstop for the last five days, you’ll know that Grand Theft Auto V was released two days ago, appeasing GTA fanboys across the country. If you’ve been reading reviews as well, you’ll know that the game has been extremely well-received, garnering high scores from game outlets everywhere.

You may also have heard about the furor around the Gamespot review written by Carolyn Petit. In her review, she expresses her concerns about a few aspects: 1) the game sometimes attempts satire that doesn’t quite pay off, 2) the game treats its women and minority characters poorly, 3) the behavior of the characters can be inconsistent. For Petit, these qualities took her out of the game and diminished its success, in her eyes. She cites these issues to inform her readers, as these shortcomings could also affect the way they receive the game. The responses to this review were infuriated. How dare a reviewer—to some commenters, a woman who shouldn’t have even played Grand Theft Auto –criticize what has to be the game of the century because of these inconsequential problems? Gamers were so upset that they created a petition on Change.org to have Carolyn Petit fired for her “scathing” review (the petition has since been taken down).

How much does Petit think these problems diminish the game? Enough that it scores a 9/10. Which, if you’re familiar with numbers, is pretty darn high.

Basically, some gamers are enraged because Petit has the gall to say that GTA V is not perfect. She spends a paragraph and a half pointing out these shortcomings after two pages of a review that described the game as “innovative”, “outstanding, multilayered”, “unforgettable” and gorgeous. Petit enjoyed the game and appreciated the world—there were just a couple issues that kept it from getting a perfect 10. These are issues that many gamers may also find problematic—even if you don’t care about misogyny or ineffective satire, characterization inconsistency can certainly affect your gaming experience. Petit gave an honest review, pointing out problems that are brought up in other reviews, and gamers think that this something that she shouldn’t have done. This is something that should get her fired. A review that points out some problems in a highly anticipated game cannot be allowed. Such a review is a big enough crime to require ruining someone’s livelihood.

And this is not the only time a subset of gamers has reacted in this way. When Polygon gave Dragon’s Crown a review of 6.5, gamers raged. Many sites gave The Last of Us reviews that weren’t perfect. Gamers raged. Why has our reaction to any criticism turned to outrage? Did we not get enough hugs as children? Did we get too many hugs, and now can’t stomach disappointment?

The gaming world has debated whether we should abandon scores in game reviews for a while. Critics say that scores are the results of arbitrary scales, that they’re too subjective. I mostly with this—I especially agree with it when gamers are infuriated when their new favorite game (that they haven’t played yet) gets a 9 instead of a 10. While I enjoy the convenience of scored game reviews—it lets me know if it’s good to drop sixty bucks on a title—I’m beginning to think that they’re ultimately more trouble than they’re worth. And it’s not because of any objective problems with scores themselves. It’s because of problems with ourselves.

Gamers have seemingly forgotten the point of game reviews. Sure, they can tell us what’s a “good game” and what’s a “bad game”—but that’s not their main purpose. Game reviews exist to tell us the specifics of what is successful in a game, and what is not. They let us know areas where the game falls shorts, or doesn’t achieve what it could. This could be art direction, characterization, gameplay mechanics, or even social commentary. Game reviews serve to inform us, to let us know if a game has components we might find objectionable. If reviews tell me that a game’s controls are awkward, I will probably steer clear of it (since I can’t steer my character). If a review describes a dependence on escort missions, I know that game’s not for me. Reviews are meant to lay out the positive and negative aspects of the game so that the consumer can weigh them and decide if a title is, ultimately, worth his or her time and money.

Reviews are not fan service. And, unless you’re the publisher, negative reviews are nothing to get upset about. Reviews that don’t have perfect scores are certainly nothing to react to. You can love a title despite all its flaws (I’m looking at you, Resident Evil 6). You are perfectly entitled to think that these flaws do not deviate from the game, overall. You might not even think that these flaws are problems, or that they even exist. But you are one person. Reviews are meant to inform the population of the gamer world, and you are only a small part of that world. And I hate to have to point this out, but not everyone shares your exact opinions.

So, fellow gamer, next time you see that the game you’ve looked forward to for years has only received a 9.5, take a deep breath. Read through the review, and note the things the reviewer has to say about it. Look at what’s positive. Look at what’s negative. Decide for yourself if you think these are valid points. And then move on. Play the game, or not, and decide what you think for yourself. You see, gamers, we’re not entitled to receive perfect reviews for the games we love (or think we will love). But we are entitled to be adequately informed, and we shouldn’t let our nerd rage get in the way of our rights.

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