September 26, 2009
Just finished recording Shut Up We’re Talking, and had a great time chatting with Richard, Charlie, and of course, Darren. We talked about social play, and about the issue of fun vs addictive in MMOs. Darren made an interesting comment about AGC, saying that two major themes were about RMT subscription models, and solo/social gameplay. Then he went on to gush about Batman: Arkham Asylum so much that I, monogamous gamer that I am, might actually go out and purchase it. For my husband of course. Anyone that’s played with me knows how poorly I’d do in console games. (Ok, so I can’t get out of the pool in Chelsith, stop laughing!)
Above: The helmet, I can explain. The funky stance, I cannot.
In game, I’ve had fun with the latest EQ2 update. The Shard of Love is a nice low key zone, which is just what I’m looking for lately. The Achievements aren’t something I’ve ever been into, but it gives a little more incentive to go back and do older content. The automentoring is really nice though, because it allows us to revisit old zones without having to pluck out someone of the right level to mentor to. Now how about putting in a Buffbot to boost the level of new players, so they can jump right in and play with the general population?
I also am trying to get into this whole Twitter thing. If Kanye can do it, so can I, right? So if you have a Twitter account, and want to follow my insightful commentary, click over on the little link on the right. I got a new follower today, /wave SuccessWallpapers, so now I’m up to 24 I think. Keep em coming please!
Posted by jayernh under Uncategorized | Comments (3)
September 24, 2009
I’ve written before about how much I hate the system of leveling in MMOs. There are many barriers in these games that prevent people from getting together and having a meaningful, enjoyable gaming experience. Of them, the level ladder is probably the worst, because it requires many hours of lonely grinding. The older the game is, the longer you’ll have to play catch up, and the fewer people you will encounter along the way.
Leveling is tiring…
Any time someone new comes over to EQ2 and wants to join up with us in the guild, my first message is always something warm and welcoming. (No, really, it is!) But the second message is always a cautionary note letting them know that, while RnHrs love their twinklings, most of us are at the level cap, so the chances for grouping aren’t that great for a while. It was particularly awkward when I had to give that little speech to my friend Bearron, a 10 year MMO veteran, who played a terrific paladin in EQ, raided endgame, and is a true gamer. Actually, awkward wasn’t the right word – it was bizarre. I know he knows how to play an MMO, and I know he would need only about a day, maybe two, in order to understand the basics of his class and hold his own in a level-capped group or a guild raid. So why should he have to put in the grind time upfront, and largely alone, before being able to play with the rest of us? In the end, he left the game, and I know part of it was the frustration at having to climb hurdle after hurdle in order to catch up to us. I could rattle off at least a dozen others, all veteran gamers, all great people, who faded out because they had reached their limit with the level grind.
From a guild leader perspective, it’s frustrating. I want to fill out my roster, and I want to see members doing fun stuff together, and on any given night, there’s always a chunk of members who are left out. It’s like ground clutter on the radar – it bothers me to look at it, but there’s nothing I can do to remove it. To its credit, Everquest 2 actually does provide opportunities for high levels to group with lower levels through mentoring. But that still isn’t really enough, because the person mentoring isn’t getting a very meaningful experience, and the person being mentored ends up feeling like they’re being dragged around through the zone just like a mother pulling their kid through a crowded mall.
From a business perspective, the level grind makes no sense. Games lose subscriptions because the level system is so restricting. There are many who subscribe and leave in frustration. But how many more potential subscribers are there that end up avoiding a game completely because they don’t like playing catch up in empty zones?
And from a player perspective, it’s unfortunate to see communities become fractured because of level gaps. The best part of MMOs is the multiplayer experience, and it’s taken a back seat through the years. By next month, for example, Aion’s starter areas will be largely devoid of new players, and anyone starting off in the world will be faced with soloing in dead zones.
…and it leaves some funny after effects….
Bottom line, whether it’s leveling, skill ups, backflagging, or farming gear, it’s all based on time. If you start a game late, you better hope to have lots of it if you want to do things with your friends. Even if you all start the game at the same time, you better hope that you all have the same amount of time to play, or you’ll end up being spaced out like colors on a litmus strip. People actually are forced to not play the game so they don’t get too far ahead of their friends.
So, what if time became a tradeable commodity, or a banked commodity. What if players were able to choose whether they wanted to bank a level, or a skill up, or an AA, to be traded (or given) to someone later on? What if guilds could collectively bank them, so that a new member could jump into the fray and contribute without having to grind for months and play catch up? Maybe games that are long in the tooth, and have a steep level ladder, can offer levels/skills for a price, as an RMT? Some, like EQ2, already offer exp potions, so the idea isn’t that far fetched. Everquest 2 also has mentoring, which gives a little experience increase to the person being mentored, and originally took away from the experience of the person mentoring. Vanguard has a brotherhood system, that allows you to share experience with a network of friends, but that has to be set up in advance – you can’t retroactively pass along your experience to someone.
It’s a way to bring new players into the larger population sooner. It’s also another way for games to seize back some revenue from the 3rd party sites that offer the risky practice of powerleveling. It’s a shot in the arm to gaming economies, by opening up a completely new commodity for people to trade. And it’s a way of making games more inclusive as they age and as the level spread increases.
I know, I know. This is powerleveling! It’s taboo! Why should someone be able to skip over levels when the rest of us had to do it, uphill, backwards, in the snow.
But MMOs themselves already let newer players shortcut through chunks of experience, so it’s already in game, albeit in a more subtle form. It takes far less time to reach the level cap in, say WoW, than it did originally. Heck, if you really think about it, the main benefit of twinking low level players is to make the rat and snake slaughter go by much faster.
Furthermore, there already are in-game mechanics that allow one person to “share” their experience with someone else. Wow had it with the recruit a friend campaign. EQ2 has it with mentoring. Vanguard has the brotherhood. Giving players the power to bank, and trade, experience, really isn’t that much different. It’s like twinking, only with time instead of gear.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting this is an ideal game mechanic. But it’s a decent band-aid to fix a glaring problem with MMO gameplay right now. And it would save me the heartbreak of having to tell another new player that they’ll be too little to come play with us for quite some time.
Posted by jayernh under Uncategorized | Comments (7)
September 8, 2009
Apparently, the vast majority of gamers do!
I know what you’re thinking – guilds are made up of a cutthroat, boorish, selfish, insane group of diehards who only want to raid and can’t sleep till they get that laser awesome item.
10 years ago, that was a pretty fair assessment of guilds. Today, it’s completely different, yet it seems like games are still designing multiplayer (guild) content with that old label in mind. What’s surprising is how a decade of game evolution has failed to get up to speed with today’s breed of guild.
Over 80% of players are in guilds (or the equivalent term). I am one of them. But who are we?
We’re like jellyfish – little blobs of people floating around. We are a game’s best PR. Snag one of us, and it’s likely we’ll bring several more. We write, photograph, and even take video of our fun times. We stay with a game longer than a non-guilded player. We are not all about hardcore raiding and loot. And no, we’re not performing the prisoner’s dilemma each night we log in.
What’s especially important is that we transcend the games we play – more and more, guilds leave one game and move to another as a fairly intact unit. And it’s no coincidence that there are lots of pre-made, well-organized guilds ready to go even before an MMO even launches. We like the people we play with, and we want to do fun, cooperative, engaging activities with each other. On the flip side, when a guild dissolves, it often causes members to leave the game entirely.
In general, people in guilds are happy – but look at any given guild, at any given time, and what’s striking is that you always have a certain number of people online and on that roster who can’t do stuff with their guildmates. It’s like ground clutter on the radar. Why do we so easily accept that as the way it should be? People want to be in that guild, and do things with that guild, and can’t. Whether it’s a 24 man raid, or a 6 person group, the math will never work out.
Furthermore, in 10+ years of MMO game design, multi group content is basically raid, or PvP. The only major advancement in that time is PvP raiding, like seiges, battlegrounds, and keep warfare. And because of the level system in these games, multi-group content is always at the end of the grindy level ladder. If we’re a generally happy bunch of guildies, think of how happy we’d be to have more variety in what we can do together in game, and to be able to do it sooner.
Guilds just do not get appropriate treatment when a game is designed. It took months for Free Realms to put guild tags in game. Wizard 101 still doesn’t have it, which is absolutely shocking given how often you see packs of players hanging around town together. Age of Conan also had plenty of guild-related issues early on. That 20 minute walkthrough of Star Wars: The Old Republic looks super – but tell me what the gameplay is like for parties of 12, or 20, or more. I see the fun for the solo player, but what will the game be like for guilds?
For a while now, I’ve been making the assertion that the game to beat WoW will be one that markets to and attracts lumps of guilds, rather than individual players. And with WoW getting long in the tooth, that means they should look very carefully at how to keep their own community engaged and satisfied. It’s no coincidence that they are putting in a guild level system with the next expansion, similar to Everquest 2′s. That’s exactly the sort of gameplay that strengthens bonds and gets everyone feeling like part of the team.
Right now, I see MMOs doing a tremendous job with solo player content, and a decent job with group content. But multi-group content needs to be given more attention, because it’s the multiplayer aspect of MMOs that separate it from its console cousin. And there’s just no way that a PC based MMO can compete, head to head, with a console game.
So what would I like to see changed? Lots, and that’s what I’ll be blogging about going forward!
Posted by jayernh under Uncategorized | Comments (13)