May 27, 2008
This is an analogy that I made a few weeks ago on Shut Up We’re Talking, but I wanted to expound on it a bit more, especially since the issue of “The Multiplayer” is sticking in my head. I see a lot of disgruntled bloggers out there that feel there’s something missing from current MMOGs, and are holding out hope that something on the horizon will be able to supply it. (waaagh!!?!)
It’s possible that what’s missing is the energy to invest, longterm, in a game, to dive into a guild, and commit to a longterm goal of progressing together. Brenda threw down the gauntlet not too long ago – subscribe to a game, and stick with it for one year (and write about it!). I think she’s on to something.
To those that invest themselves in guilds, MMOGs are a lot like sports. What drives those in guilds, especially high end guilds, is not the loot, it’s the drive for achievement. Often, people dismiss high end guilds, because they hit the ceiling so quickly. Scott from Pumping Irony commented on my last entry, saying, “it’s the journey, not the destination.” That statement comes up often when there is a discussion of raiders vs non raiders. Ironically, what drives the high end guilds is the journey. They want to see the hardest content, fight the toughest bosses, beat the hardest raid zones. The fast leveling and farming is part (PART) of a means to an end. What’s always overlooked is that the raider and the non-raider both feel the same way about the level treadmill, they just choose to handle it in different ways. The hardcore raider often puts his head down and plods through it as fast as he can, and the non-raider often just stops doing it, either by leaving the game entirely, pursuing a different path (tradeskilling, PvP, roleplaying, etc), or making an alt, to relive the fun of fast leveling.
What it takes to succeed in sports is the same as in an MMOG. You need a good leader, a cohesive team atmosphere, a core of people that are willing to work together and look out for each other. You need to practice, and yes, repetition is part of that. You need precision, execution, communication, and loyalty. You need to examine past attempts to correct mistakes (game tapes vs raid logs). Sports seasons are marked by expansions.
And when a team succeeds, the result is very similar in MMOGs. There is a sense of pride, whether it’s a team or a guild. The guild website is the MMO Clubhouse, and yes, there is even some locker room talk and towel snapping here and there. Post game wrap up is no different than guildies marveling at each other’s “heat of battle” performances. There is some chest thumping from guild rivalries during the race to be the first. Highlight reels in sports are a lot like the You Tube videos that guilds make to show their victory against a tough boss.
Those who play MMOGs in a guild setting have an entirely different gaming experience from someone who does not. I am not at all saying that one playstyle is right or wrong. But for those who feel that something is missing, maybe taking the plunge into a long term investment in a game is the scratch for the itch.
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May 27, 2008
Two topics this past week really caught my attention, and while they are totally different, they both tend to revert back to the same issue – the “Multiplayer” aspect of MMOs is neglected.
Above: Zyphwar, displaying his love of community.
The first one came from a discussion on the Vanguard forums, where an end game player was making an appeal to the developers for more content, because end game raiding guilds were at the point of leaving. Beau Turkey, from the Voyages of Vanguard podcast, replied the following:
It’s like a balanced diet: never increase the intake of something to that degree unless you want some complications like boredom, worrying about the next dungeon and obsessive loot hunting.
That’s not an insult, that’s the reality of the “end-game”. (I really don’t like that term, as though the game has an end.)
If your favorite past-time in game is “farming after items”, then go for it. I have nothing wrong with that. But there isn’t an unlimited number of items. Knowing that, maybe farming is not the best activity to pass the time.
I know he didn’t intend it, but he basically implied that A) their playstyle isn’t the “right” way and B) they deserve their frustration.
The conversation turned tense, as conversations like that usually do. But then something really cool happened. The original poster actually offered to have Beau attend one of their raids, so he could see exactly what it is that they do, and why they find it fun.
Hot damn – a raid guild offering to let Beau on their raids! My first thought was, how can I get in on this deal? Then I thought about the immense resentment from non-raiders towards raiders. Picture a person seeing a high level player, in raid gear, standing by the broker, and I bet that 99% of the time, that person’s reaction is going to be “Look at the epeen weenie, who has no life and lives in his mother’s basement.” This is really the only venue where those who succeed are overwhelmingly scorned by the general population.
Yes, raiding takes time. But to simply dismiss raiding as a bunch of people doing wads of ass time shows a complete lack of knowledge about what raiding really is. The amount of coordination, precision, communication, and above all, commitment that’s needed to competitively raid is incredible.
Funny thing is, you hear that line of thinking a lot, as if those who don’t raid are “above it” or somehow taking the more noble path. What even more interesting is how many times I’ve come across it from fellow bloggers and podcasters. What concerns me is that those who write about MMORPGS are neglecting to examine an essential facet of the game – the Multiplayer.
Above: Remember the multiplayer. (And multi-cockatrice, and multi-pumpkinhead, and multi-sokokar…)
That leads me to the next news item I came across – Keen and Graev deciding to cancel Age of Conan after only about a week.
Cancelling Age of Conan already? Keen and Graev have been gaming for years, and I’ve always enjoyed reading their blog because of their passion and enthusiasm for MMOs. But lately they have focused their blog on critical reviews of games. People look to them for information on whether to buy a game or not. How on earth can you write about a game, and have any real foundation, after a week’s worth of play? This surprised me, and yet, it didn’t. It’s dismaying how many articles and reviews are written by people who have played a game for only a few hours, or who aren’t actively playing, or just based their review off of a company sponsored preview.
Allow me to take it further – all too often, reviews are based purely on the game mechanics. How does it perform, how long does it take to level, what’s combat like (that’s the flavor of month these days!), etc. Lately, I hear a ton about how AoC’s combat system works, but zero on what combat is like in groups or raids. What are AoC’s combat dynamics in a multi player setting? How do classes compliment/conflict with one another? How does the combat affect class roles, player positioning, combat strategy? What are the nuances of AoC’s combat in a multiplayer environment, not merely a one-on-one situation? Once again, those who write about games are neglecting the multiplayer part of the MMO.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that there is a right or wrong way to play. I can’t do end game raiding. I can’t decorate my house like some of these talented people can. I can’t multi-box, tradeskill, readily quote game lore, play the broker game, or PvP. Heck, I can’t even do immersion or roleplaying well. But I have an appreciation for all of these game styles, and I’d love to see the blogging and game writing community do the same. Writing about the game from a community perspective is as important, if not moreso, than writing about pure game mechanics.
I understand that it’s a 6 of one, half dozen of the other scenario. It’s impossible to find the time to play several different games, write a good article, maintain your daily responsibilities, and maybe, just maybe, play an MMO for fun. (Ironically, Michael Zenke wrote a great entry about this as I was putting this together) In general, those who do it, do it well. But why not seek out the best resource that can provide insight into the “multiplayer” aspect of MMOs – guildleaders, specifically guildleaders of high end guilds – the people who log in day in, and day out, see the ebb and flow of community changes, and have their fingers on the pulse of all of the game content and mechanics. I’d love to sit down with guild leaders from all sorts of MMOs, and pick their brains.
That would make a great podcast. Now I just need to learn how to record and edit….
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May 23, 2008
Age of Conan has done great, and I’m really happy that they proved there is such a thing as a magic patch. Everyone seems to be wondering whether it will put a dent in WoW’s numbers or if this start is just a flash in the pan. Everyone also seems to be focused on the combat system of AoC, debating whether it really is “Next Generation,” or merely glorified button mashing. But the feature that will really help determine the success of AoC is their Apprentice System.
As I said on a recent Shut Up We’re Talking podcast, the game that will eventually beat WoW is the game that allows a friend to pick up the game, and from the very start, be able to do things with friends, no matter what level those friends are. I mentioned how EQ2 had a mentoring system, allowing high level players to mentor down to a friend, but that the system I liked even more was City of Heroes’ sidekick system, which allows lower level players to mentor up to within one level of their friend. Today, Tim from Van Hemlock wrote up a nice explanation of the sidekick system.
Apparently, Age of Conan has a similar feature. It’s called the Master/Apprentice system, and if I have this correct, it allows a higher level player (the master) to raise a lower level player’s level, stats, and abilities up to the level of the master. I did a quick search for details about this system, and found very little, which shocked me. Having a game feature that busts through the level barrier is so important, Age of Conan should stick it right up there on the top of the list of cool things they offer, right below decapitation and above nipples.
Right now, many MMOs offer “Buddy Keys,” or have some sort of “Referral Program.” Friends can give other friends a short taste of the game, with the hope that they’ll stick around. Great idea!
The only problem is, Buddy_01 can’t actually do anything with the friend that got him to try it in the first place. And even if Buddy_01 decides he likes the game, he won’t get to do anything with his friends for months and months. On the flip side, guilds who know Buddy_01, and know how good of a player he is, will have to wait months and months before he can raid with them, which makes roster management all the more irritating. The fast track isn’t necessarily any better, since powerleveling is frowned upon, and massive play sessions are, well, unhealthy.
I’d love to see a game take the idea of a mentoring/sidekick system and expand on it, so that a new player can temporarily be able to raid with their guild. New players still have to churn out the levels, but it’s no longer a front-end ordeal. There are tons of upsides to this, and I have yet to hear a downside. Since I went on and on about this on SUWT, I’ll skip it here.
Being able to instantly do things with your friends is crucial to the success of future MMOs that aspire to nibble on WoW’s population. Now, more than ever, gamers already have pre-established networks of friends, whether it’s a full fledged guild, or a small circle of friends. These communities will want to stick together in whatever game they move on to play, so forcing them to grind the level treadmill, or pace their leveling to stay close in levels is going to make it that much harder to entice them over to a new game. Having a fluid level system is just one way that games can recognize these pre-existing communities, but I’d say it’s probably the most important of all.
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