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r1ft Gaming Blog

A mirror of my gaming blog at r1ft.com. The jaded game designer turned corporate lackey. Feedback is always welcome.

Author: Daedren

The Morality of MMO Development, Part 2

Posted by Daedren Wednesday April 30 2008 at 8:11AM
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The original post is here: http://www.mmorpg.com/blogs/Daedren/042008/1588_The-Morality-of-MMO-Development

 

I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank many of the readers here for their thoughtful opinions on this subject. The reason for making this second thread is to continue the discussion on the topic, one that I find very interesting and important in our world of MMO's.

Addressing a couple comments:

 

whistlelock- Mon Apr 28 2008 4:58PM Delete

Your question, distilled down, is it right to provide an addict with their addiction addresses the symptom and not the sickness.  People use the games as escapist material- but why?  Why do they need to escape from anything?  For me it's not a question of right or wrong about the mmo- but a question of why.

 

What do the players need to escape from?  Have their lives spun so far out of control they need to go somewhere that they can control?  Some spot in their lives where the rules are clearly laid out, as opposed to the "real" world that has unknown rules that are ambiguously laid out?

 

This is good question - one that I think about often - but I think that it's a whole other ballpark in subject material. You are correct about my question ultimately being "why"? - but I'm almost afraid to tackle the subject, lest I anger people. People get extremely defensive when you try to turn their hobby - gaming - into some sort of evil creature and classify it as a true addiction or sickness.

Does that make it any less bad? No, not at all. If anything, the general gaming populous' reluctance to address the issue says a lot about the problem at hand; that it may well be a problem, a true social sickness, that needs to be addressed. I'm no doctor, though, so my judgment comes only from a personal point of view that may or may not be skewed. I'm not even sure I agree with this prognosis yet.

The issue of control is the key factor I believe; an MMO, with it's complex rulesets and such, can be learned and adapted to with relative ease in comparison to other more complex issues like real life. I agree that it can be a sort of "safe haven" to people, a familiar place in a time of despair, which may or may not be the reason for a global escapism mentality that we're starting to see. Perhaps the question needs to be pointed back at society; should we be asking "why has society driven these people away into virtual worlds?" - is it society's fault? What's the reason behind it?

 

faren_rathe- Mon Apr 28 2008 5:22PM Delete

Anyway loved your dissertation! Morality itself has to be worked through and defined by the individual, with Good Morals being defined as those that benefit the whole of society. But ultimately we're not really talking about society, are we? We are asking if you love what you do, if you can live with knowledge that you could have benefited as many as you could possibly hurt, and lastly if you have achieved what you really wanted to achieve.

As the addict I say enjoy what you do, use it to provide for you family, and leave me with the choice, be it to be entertained, escaped, or addicted, which ever fits my needs and desires at the time.

 

 

JB47394- Mon Apr 28 2008 7:30PM Delete

The responsibility of game developers?  It's the same as anyone's; act for the best interests of the individuals in the society that you belong to.  For you and me, that means everyone on planet Earth.  Unfortunately, in a world dominated by the thinking of relative morality, nobody agrees on what 'best interests' are anymore.

 

I suppose this, in a nutshell, is what I was asking: is the world - is our society - a better place with another MMO? Most would agree that no, it's not really - but it's not much worse of a place either. Oh, and by the way, the game is going to be made with or without moral-policeman Daedren on the job. Could I help make the game a more positive and less unhealthy-addictive experience? No small task.

 

Azmaria- Mon Apr 28 2008 6:52PM Delete

Echoing what has been said before me, morals are up to the person considering them.  While I've always been a personal fan on Darwinism and letting people suffer (or prosper) for the choices they make, this doesn't sit well with a lot of people.  This is not to say, however, that I don't have empathy; I just think that people need to learn from mistakes or those mistakes will constantly be made again and again.

 

This is the outlook I've always had on life in regards to MMO playing. I figured that in some weird example of natural selection, the MMO addicts would be less social, resulting in less real sex or relationships, resulting in far fewer offspring. This means that those truly addicting to gaming won't, for the most part, will be washed out of the gene pool eventually.

However, if the problem doesn't lie on the genetic level (which I don't think it does) - and it's a social problem - the escapist mentality could actually spread. For example, if I have two children, and I am a MMO addict, it might be more likely my children end up being like me. This is a logical conclusion. After, their children will be like them. Eventually, though we'd have to take into account laws of averages and such, we're looking at exponential growth of this escapist society. People will just stay plugged in to their cybernetic uplink instead of dealing with the real world. Enter the Matrix, I suppose. ;)

 

Loke666- Mon Apr 28 2008 7:51PM Delete

Almost everything is addictive. It should be the users choice whatever or not to use an addictive product (Television is an addictive product for once, sugar another one).

Do you really thinks a guy that works at Guiness feel bad about people that get drunk? Not likely.

 

 

I'm not sure if I agree with this. What about the people that work in the Opiate fields? Or the people that cut the product or make Crystal meth? Surely they know what their product is being used for. Generally, these people are considered "bad people". Why? All they do is pick a plant, refine it, whatever, and sell it to people that have the free choice to by their product. How are they any different than someone who makes cigarettes or sugar? Or someone who makes an addictive game? No one is putting a gun to any of those buyers and saying: use my product or die.

 

JB47394- Tue Apr 29 2008 4:39PM Delete

Daedren: "I know quite a few people, mainly my MMO buddies - who don't feel right if they don't spend X amount of hours in front of the computer a day."

Psychological distress can certainly manifest itself in physical conditions.  Simple conditioning can lead to physical responses.  The classic example is Pavlov's dogs.

Daedren: "I can't truthfully tell myself that the world would be a better place with another MMO."

Certainly not another of the type we see today.  Consider that MMOs are vehicles that permit people to interact and it is those very people that are part of the community that we're interested in helping.  Will Wright is using games in an attempt to educate, as are other developers.  What if an MMO did something as simple as putting links into the game that permitted players to find out more about an object from the web?  What if games operated solely on voice, requiring people to get to know each other?

I understand that each of those examples is a drastic departure from the traditional escapist and self-indulgent environment fostered by MMOs.  We don't want reality to intrude.  But perhaps that's what a healthy MMO is - a game that lets real people interact using game pieces that they could never hope to interact with in the real world.

I think that the important thing to keep in mind is that you really are interested in doing good.  If you keep your eyes on that goal, then you won't end up working on Grand Theft Auto XI, and you might just figure out how to make a billion dollars by bringing MMOs into the mainstream of the world's entertainment - instead of being a tool for escapists.  You can pursue a lot of social agendas with a billion dollars.  Especially when it is earned from worthy efforts.

 

This is an excellent point that I think should be highlighted. An integrated "wiki" function in the game for real objects is a good idea; teaching things such a real survivalism and combat or military tactics might be another. It's given me something to think about in this regard.

In the end, though, as a developer - I often wonder if gaming and digital escapism is the answer at all. What sort of long term social problems are we looking at if it's ran by people that grew up inside a virtual world instead of the real one? Would a child that was introduced into these environments at an early age - say 6 or 8 - function at the same level, socially, as one of their peers who did not?

Anyway, I'd like to continue the discussion on the topic for those interested.

 

 

The Morality of MMO Development

Posted by Daedren Monday April 28 2008 at 8:08AM
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It's easy to get caught up in our passion for escapism and complex massive virtual worlds. Our denizens whisper things like "dynamic content" and "balanced combat systems" with fervor in an attempt to maximize our time spent immersed. Our passion for our genre is almost unmatched in the entertainment industry, as we delve ourself into the latest and greatest that our corporate overlords give us. To us a relaxing day is one spent unbothered and unhindered in our pursuit of losing ourselves in our online digital persona.

Now that I've crossed over from the "gamer" to "gamer who makes games" department - as in, I've been offered to actually work on the development team of an actual MMO - I've had what some might call an "epiphany" and what others might call "drunken stupor". This happens often once you've attained something you've worked hard at - whether it's career success or sleeping with the girl with the nice rack down the hall. This sense of accomplishment (among other things) can lead to a period of enlightenment or higher thinking due to the fact you're no longer worrying about getting there. I'm using my pillow-talk time to ask myself that, all other logistical concerns aside, if it's actually a good thing to be a MMO game developer.

Yes, I've questioned whether it's morally and ethically sound to make these sorts of games. To be clear, I'm not concerned about violence or sexual content or anything Jack Thompson-ish. My main concern here is the addiction and life-sucking factor that MMO's can have on people. And the better my game is, the more people we draw in, and the longer we can keep them hooked - the bigger "success" my game will be. It's this logic that I find myself questioning.

I think to really classify this problem, we have to ask ourselves some questions:

1. Are MMO's addicting on the same level as a drug or alcohol addiction?

I've found myself comparing the MMO genre and it's addictive qualities to any sort of addictive drug. We could use cigarettes, crack or heroin as an example here. Whatever the case, people use a substance, and their body becomes dependent on it. Should we classify MMO addiction into the same categories as drug and alcohol addiction? One could argue that MMO addiction can be just as destructive to a social or physical well-being of a person or family as any sort of drug addiction. While MMO addiction might not lead to the physical violence of say, alcoholism, it can lead to relationship problems, money problems and serious health problems.

This has varying levels, of course. As with life, anything in moderation can be healthy. It's the "in moderation" part that we run into a problem here. A moderate dose of cocaine isn't that bad for you. A moderate amount of marijuana usage is clearly ok. Social and moderate drinking isn't considered alcoholism. In this same logic, we have to conclude that moderate MMO gaming isn't bad either.

The question we have to ask is: are MMO's as addictive as these illegal substances? If they are - which some might agree that they are - what are the side-effects to such an addiction? It's there that we'd have to use logic and reason to determine if something should or should not be made, is it not? We'd have to take MMO addiction and treat it much like alcohol - neither are illegal, but both in extremes can be extremely dangerous for an individual and society.

2. Should game developers/producers encourage this sort of addiction?

Are developers responsible for this? You could argue that developers only make the game, and people make a choice to play them. Well, a guy that sells heroin does the same thing. People have the "choice" to buy or not buy heroin. It's the people that need it - heroin addicts - that aren't so much making a choice, but fulfilling their body's need for a substance. MMO addiction might not make your body crave a chemical or substance - but physiologically speaking it could be argued that it's doing something similar, which would be classified as a true addiction.

Would it be possible to make a successful MMO without inserting mechanics that obviously cater to an addiction-based crowd? Personally, I think it's less the game we're worried about and more about gaming habits. The problem with introducing a MMO that doesn't encourage a 60-hour play week is that people will need to find other things to do with their time - probably play another MMO that needs this sort of time commitment.

It leads to a depressing conclusion: to have a successful game, you have to try and make people spend as much time as possible in the gaming environment.

3. To what level should a game maker be held responsible for creating an addicting product?

The encouragement of this addiction is what makes MMO's so insanely popular these days. It's a marketer's wet dream and a casual player's worst nightmare: the more time you spend in a virtual world, the more successful you are. Combine this with a humans natural ability to want to succeed, and we get people competing in virtual worlds to be "the best". Well, a little friendly competition never hurt anyone - though the lengths that people will go to do be at the top is where the problem lies. MMO's that want long term customers then introduce artificial time-sinks into the game, such as reputation or money grinds, that works on a system of "put X number of hours into task Y" to get to status Z.

Developers have given people a choice to either not succeed in MMO's - that is, spend less time - or go "all out" and spend as much time as possible to be elite. The addiction part comes in where people naturally want to succeed - don't we all? - and do anything that is possible to do so. This can include alienation of friends, spouses, partners, kids - lack of interest in any other social activities - poor performance on the job, schoolwork, etc.

With that said, there would have to be some sort of legal implication of making an addicting product to really hold the developer accountable for what they create.

4. Lastly, should there be any sort of legal consequences for selling or encouraging an addictive product?

I think this is a really interesting question. At first glance, it screams "Freedom of Speech" violation over it. People don't want the government telling them what to do. However, people seem to be ok with letting the government say: "You can't smoke crack" or "You can't shoot heroin". This makes me wonder the legal process that was involved in making illegal drugs, well illegal. What sort of requirement does something have to have to make it illegal? Looking at the effects of illegal drugs, they have different degrees of severity. Nicotine is legal, yet it's highly addictive, and the health side effects are horrendous. Marijuana usage is illegal, yet studies show that it's less addictive than nicotine, though it's immediate effects (being high) are more dangerous. Alcohol can cause serious problems as well and ultimately lead to obesity or liver failure. Other drugs like cocaine and heroin are highly addictive and have more drastic effects on the body of the user. All of these things used in moderation might be ok, but habitual addictive use of any of them has been shown to be extremely dangerous to the social, mental and physical health of the user.

So where do MMO's come into all of this? Since we're talking in extremes here, someone that lives and breathes for MMO gaming (and there are quite a lot of these people) would exhibit many of the same side effects and symptoms of an "illicit drug user" from the list of illegal substances I listed above. We can assume that many of the side effects of alcohol are readily present: anti-socialism and failure to operate normally outside of the zone of intoxication. Some traits are also shared with actual substance abuse as a hardcore MMO player doesn't physically feel right if they're are not playing a MMO. What you won't find is the direct chemical need (unless we're talking about neurochemistry) for a substance.

Outside of extremes, I'll use myself as an example. Balancing what most consider to be a normal life - job, wife, children - I operate mainly on a 7 A.M. to 8 P.M. schedule of commitment to either my work or my family. Allocating 6-7 hours of sleep, that leaves me roughly 4 hours every night of the week (if I choose) to do whatever I want. If this time is allocated completely to MMO gaming, we're estimating an average play dedication of 28 hours, give or take. Allocation of all of this "free time" towards MMOing can, of course, cause serious problems. You've left no time for friends, time with your partner, housecleaning or other things that normally need to be done on a day to day basis. Just in this example, to play MMO's roughly 25 hours I week, I'd have to alienate all of my friends, never spend time with my wife, and not help around the house at all. Plus, as a business job isn't physically straining whatsoever, we're also looking at problems like poor cardio-vascular health along with obesity problems.

Other long term social side-effects need to be considered as well. Addiction to MMOing usually means limited social interaction outside of the MMO environment. How well rounded is an individual that spent the majority of their late teens in a social MMO environment as opposed to a real one? What sort of medical and sociological effects does long term MMO immersion have? These are questions the gaming industry should probably be asking themselves, lest they be held accountable. Though, looking at the track record of other "addicting habits" and their providers, I don't think that would be the case.

Other habits, like television, gambling and even sports can fit some of the criteria above. While I think you'll be hard-pressed to find a large group of people that watch T.V. 16+ hours a day, I'm sure there are at least a few. We also need to take into account that some couples / families play MMO's together - so some good family / spouse time is actually inside these virtual worlds. These are the minority of cases, however, and we're still presented with the other non-social aspects of the addiction. Should we treat family MMO time the same as we'd treat family crack-pipe time? Seems a bit extreme to me.

This leads into the topic of "How is an MMO addiction worse than another addiction?" Why not attack T.V. addicts and Playstation addictions and Halo addicts? I agree that they are very similar in the aspect we're talking about people spending an unhealthy amount of time engaged in digital entertainment. I might also argue that console games and T.V. don't specifically engineer their product for addiction, though I think I'd be wrong in assuming that. Perhaps it's just I'm more in touch with the MMO addiction as I'm a direct part of the problem as a paying customer and a possible developer of said addicting product.

What does personal accountability count for? The common argument against any of this is "People choose to do what they want." Fair enough - and for me, it's hard to imagine a country or world where mediums such as gaming and escapism were not readily available. Where do we draw the line though? Do we, as society, have to step in and say "enough is enough!"? How many people would have to be over the line for us to take action on this issue - or does action even need to be taken? Is it some sort of Darwinian survival of the fittest that's in place here? Do we side with empathy in helping our fellow humans or do we sacrifice empathy for the freedom of choice?

So there it is. I'm at a crossroad in my professional life: I stay where I am, or I throw myself into the realm that is MMO development.

I'd like to hear some thoughts on the subject. ;)

AoC: The Passion of the Beta Test

Posted by Daedren Friday April 25 2008 at 7:44AM
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It's no news - well, at least to the geek empire that is MMO gaming - that beta testing is now a big part of the marketing of online gaming. That's all good I suppose, as companies save production costs by having potential customers test their product before it's launch and help cut down on overall QA costs. They've even taken it to the next level by offering beta keys as "prizes" and letting the fortunate few get to see their astounding game of awesomeness before a few other people.

The most recent travesty in this ongoing string of events is our beloved Age of Conan, who has taken one step away from "Rough, gritty, mature MMO" into "Genuine Display of Asshattery" by CHARGING people for a CHANCE to enter their sacred "Open Beta Test".

I feel that I've failed in my part to try and right this horrible wrong. As a blogger, each article I write gets roughly 5,000 unique views through my partner sites Guildcafe.com and MMORPG.com - more for controversial articles (like this one) and less for huggy-feely stuff. Anyway, if I would have been "quick on the gun" and urged people not to throw their money at a bitch-ass company like Fileplanet, I might have saved a few of my readers some cash.

Anyway, you heard that right. Pay for a subscription at the worst site on the Internets - Fileplanet - and you have a CHANCE to test our product! Fuck yeah! Can I pay you guys to come mow your lawn also? Who the hell needs to pay to download shit anyway? Here's a tip: use Google. Nothing - and I mean nothing - is exclusively available on Fileplanet or any other site; except, that is, apparently paying to test someone's software for them.

Oh, and if you pay for a Fileplanet subscription, you probably pay for porn also. While I can appreciate a persons love for hard to find midget porn, under no circumstances should any rational person give money to Fileplanet to download stuff that you can download somewhere else. It's not like they magically coat their files with some sort of digital-crack that makes the files on their site somehow better. What, you give them money for speed? Look, if you have to drop 50$ a year so your COD4 demo downloads in 27 minutes instead of 40, perhaps you should re-evaluate your priorities.

(disclaimer: I know a lot of people, and my readers, pay Fileplanet for some strange reason. I don't know why, but you do. I'm sorry if I offended you, but I don't like Fileplanet. They are evil. This is an opinion of course, try not to get too upset.)

So, now that I've made plenty of enemies by mocking their payment to download stuffs on the intarwebs, I'll continue. Somewhere, sometime - something went wrong. Back in my days, while I was walking 10 feet uphill each day to play Ultima Online on a 56k modem - beta testing sucked. Not much has changed since then, actually - beta testing still sucks for the end user. Sure, the company thinks it's all great and stuff, but they want you to spend your time testing their product for you. So, what's the lure?

The lure has come to us thanks to the sociopath community that is online gaming. Apparently, a large group of people on the internets that take online gaming very seriously would like every advantage offered to them when presented a new Game and Company to give their hard earned US Pesos to. This means digging for information before the game is released - forming alliances and guilds beforehand sometimes - to ensure that their gaming experience is maximized once release time comes.

I'm surprised no MMO Company has taken this level of customer zealotry to the next level and have them make the game for them. Surely every serious gamer out there must have some usable trade that can assist Company X on making a better game or releasing it ahead of schedule. Maybe then we'd see some ads like:

AGE OF CONAN OPEN BETA - Are you rich? Can you code in C++? Can you do 3D Modeling? Level design? Give good head? Now YOU could win a chance to test our shit!

This begs the question: are our lives so empty that we'll do anything to try and get ahead in our worlds of digital escapism? At what point did we, as gamers, start prioritizing die-hard consumerism over rational thinking? For fuck's sake - we're paying for a chance to test a game for someone! Is your time and money *that* invaluable that you'll play the role of Hamster 1725 waiting at the feeder for any morsel that an MMO company will throw you?

Anyway, back on track. Yes, this is another one of my long-winded rants about some MMO. I know I'll be getting plenty of "Fuck you, punk!" replies and some of my "Preach on, brotha!" as usual. I accept that as a blogger who mainly bitches about stuff with a big vocab and throws in some witty inside humor every now and then. In my defense, though, I've tried to be very positive about Age of Conan up to this point.

Myself, like many people, want Age of Conan to succeed for two reasons: One, we don't have shit to play in a stagnant MMO market, and two: we hate World of Warcraft and want to see it fail because it's taken up too much of our time in the past. All we want is a good MMO with a real PVP system to play; pretty please with sugar on top. So, to make it clear, FunCom, we are, or were - on your side. We'll let slight little annoyances pass for the sake of giving you a fair shot.

I have to ask though: What about all of our beta applications? You realize over 200,000 people took time to go to your machine-freezing bloated site, upload our dxdiag and put our system specs in, and apply for your beta? And after the first round of testers, like myself, were chosen (I used my bot network of 15 email / machines to make sure I got an account) "stress-tested" your bloody client by downloading (via torrent) the client, installing it, trying to log in and make a character, and get to do absolutely nothing - you won't even throw these guys a bone? Thanks, go pay 15 bucks to a crappy site for a chance to do it again?

So, as I've been in discussion with Age of Conan developer Athelan in regards to this topic, I suggested the following alternatives to the Age of Conan "Open Beta". If I was in charge, here is what I would have done:

(start fictional scenario)

Hi, I'm Daedren, Lead Developer for Age of Conan. Today, I'm going to tell you about our Open Beta. Only 50,000 keys are available for this beta test due to our server limits. Thanks in advance for taking the time to be a part of this beta test! It's an important part of the creative process, and trust me when I say your feedback counts. On with the show!

  • The first batch of the 50,000 keys will be available to our prior beta testers. You'll have a couple day period where you can use your prior beta account to "upgrade" to the new Open Beta.
  • After this, we expect we'll have about 35,000 keys left. About 20,000 of these keys will be given out randomly to those that applied to the beta test on our website.
  • A remaining 10,000 keys will be chosen via specific requirements: system specs, gaming experience, location and affiliation with our website. 
  • The last 5,000 keys are a bit special! We'll be handing a good portion of these out to our forum users. 3,000 will go to the top 3,000 posters on the forum, as by post count. Keep in mind certain forums and forum "spamming" will not be counted here. Oh, and if you go and try to flood our forums when you read this, it's too late, we took the count last night. 
  • The remaining 2,000 keys will go to affiliate websites, fansites, blogs and other sites that we've determined to be in good standing with the Age of Conan community. Thanks for helping us in building a great Conan community!

Beta Client

The beta client will be distributed in the following ways:

  • Fansites and associated websites that have volunteered to help with the bandwidth
  • Via BitTorrent. We've asked for high bandwidth beta testers to help seed the client. We'll start with about 250 seeds. Within a day or two, we should be looking at 1500+ seeds, meaning download times will be less than 1-2 days.
  • Lastly, you can also download the client via some of our other partner sites like Fileplanet and TenTonHammer. Keep in mind you might have to pay for access to these files at these sites.

That's it folks! The beta test starts in a week, get to downloading! Thanks to all applied, and please enjoy your time in Hyboria.

(end fictional scenario)

Well, FunCom, I just bested everyone at your company who was part of this decision making process. I rewarded fans and former testers, provided a no-cost solution to hosting the beta, and most importantly, didn't make our company look like a bunch of ignorant douchebags.

In closing, I'm sorry for the hostility. Come on though, people. We're talking about a game that cost 50 Million USD - at least - to produce. That's no small beans. Why are you starting to piss people off and you're still in the beta? Nevermind the myriad of other problems you'll soon be facing like ginormous system requirements, class balancing and end-game content for the players. Now you've gone an alienated yourself from your loyal playerbase.

For damage control, I'd start by doing exactly what I outlined above. Get your people popping on this as FAST as possible, and up the beta key count to 100,000 or something. Then, you need to give money to all of these 50,000 beta testers that you currently have. Not real money, but game-time money. Considering most dropped 15$ USD for a beta account, that's at least a free month. So, beta testing + buying the game = two free months. That way you'll come out looking less like robber-barons and more like a sympathetic gaming company who listens to their customers.

Anyway, that's it. Let the madness begin. Oh, and let's hope Crom doesn't find out, lest ye devs yet smited with a lightning bolt.

A Letter to Curt Schilling and 38 Studios

Posted by Daedren Thursday April 24 2008 at 3:04AM
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38 Studios holds a special place in the hearts of many gamers, including myself, as being a faint ray of hope in an otherwise darkening genre of gaming that has slowly been taken over by idea-barren realm of the corporate machina. While we might not all have been Phillies fans, we can still appreciate someone with a real passion for gaming - enough to try their hand at making their own.

First, though, there is some explanation on why this article - normally filed safely into a sub-category to be shortly argued about and then disappear into the ether of our webserver - would be put as a featured article here at r1ft.com, a title only held by a subpar review of a PVP system and an article on inaptly named MMO's.

The reason is simple: the MMO market is becoming saturated and needs help.

We, as gaming consumers, need a collective breath of fresh air. We need an underdog to cheer for. We need someone to believe in; to provide us with a good medium where we can spend unhealthy amounts of time in. We'd like to give you, 38 Studios, our money. We're sick of unoriginality and corporate herd mindsets infecting our beloved genre. We enjoy our escapism, but we're often left with the choice of playing a sub-par product or nothing at all.

So please listen to this one little suggestion from us: Please do not make another Fantasy MMO.

A little background on this for those that haven't heard. Curt Schilling, of '93 World Series / Philly Pitcher fame, likes MMO's. He made a game studio a year or so ago, with the intent to make his own MMO after he retired. He's chosen the Fantasy genre to pour his talent and salary into. Reference article, courtesy of Tom's Games, can be found here.

38 Studios is sporting (pun intended) some serious talent with Todd McFarlane (aka Spawn) and R.A. Salvatore (aka Drizzt). While it may be perceived that they have these two creative geniuses caged in their basement, slowly drawing their awesomeness from them via an intricate series of tubes into their upcoming MMO - it's more likely that they're just wasting their creative abilities trying to compromise with a preconceived game idea of Fantasy Setting X. [digress]

Continuing...

38 Studios, I implore you to heed this advice. You cannot compete with World of Warcraft, Age of Conan *and* Warhammer Online (just to name a few). The thing is - you don't want to. This demographic is highly spoken for, and rest assured that every gamer with a penchant for Elves, Orcs and shiny metal armor has plenty of geek outlets to choose from already. Going this route is an upward battle that can't be won - at best you'll be able to stake out a small portion of real-estate in an inflated market while nearby land goes undeveloped.

This nearby undeveloped land I'm talking about has various flavors. The RTS (Real Time Strategy), Science Fiction and First Person Shooter markets are still ripe for MMO development. Vampires and Goth haven't been done much. The post-Apocalyptic genre is still fresh as well, with only small-time projects being released until my far-off Fallout MMO is made. As a game designer, working on this very same post-Apoc project, even I admit that the genre is still untapped, even if this means making a game that in direct competition with the Fallout IP.

We also have multiple smaller genres yet unexploited, like Steampunk and Cyberpunk. While I admit this is no small task in choosing a genre to develop a game in, from a marketing and common sense perspective, the Fantasy genre is not only a bad business decision - it shows a lack of creative ingenuity that the MMO industry truly lacks at the moment. Every kid and adult that wants to play around with swords and magic in an online, massive environment has many well established choices already. Meanwhile, those that enjoy a more modern landscape or science-fiction based story are left with very little in established games. The non-Fantasy MMO market is barren at the moment, with only a few small competitors in a virtually untapped market, with players yearning for some sort of epic world they can pour their lives into.

You might be saying "We can make a great game!". I don't doubt for a moment that you can. Even a mediocre title with the names of McFarlane and Salvatore on it will do at least mildly well in a content-starved market. You could also easily make a game that's better than anything on the market. Some people will play it, most people won't. You'll attract "New Game Hoppers" - and lose them when they next big game comes out - and be left with a small, loyal fanbase. The problem lies within what I call the "MMO First Love Syndrome". Nearly every MMOer has undying affection to their first MMO. People stay loyal to their first games. Unfortunately, for over 80% of the MMO Fantasy genre, their first game was World of Warcraft.

Warcraft: While it's true you'll find people that love and hate the game, the truth is that most people love the game - and you can't talk to them, because they are a bit too busy sitting in front of their computer in their pajamas to go out into the sunlight or even read a normal website. Warcraft will always have a loyal fanbase, for no other reason than the social relationships people have developed in the game. That, along with a crack-like addictive treadmill gear/leveling system, virtually guarantees the life expectancy of WoW to be healthy for a long, long time. People, for some reason, will be content with advancing to level 500 and happy with the same recycled loot with adjusted stats. They stay because it's familiar to them. Moving a whole guild or friend circle to another game is not an easy task.

Another reason not to cater to the Fantasy market is niching. Warhammer and Age of Conan saw a deficit in WoW, and marketed to it: Player versus Player combat. Age of Conan went a step further, catering to those that might enjoy a "Mature" MMO, complete with excessive violence and nudity. Lord of the Rings did the opposite, and catered to a PVE only crowd (mainly) using a very well established Intellectual Property, and has only had mild success. Staying within the Fantasy realm, we have no niches left, and you're left at just reusing the same ideas, over and over. One can only kill so many sewer rats or Orcs before they go mad.

Part of the reason of this criticism comes from a recent interview with Steve Danuser courtesy of Jon Wood and MMORPG.com. I quote:

Even Curt Schilling (better known for his fastball than his artistic abilities) provides a great amount of experience to the team. Schilling, according to Danuser, is used to accomplishing things that people think may be impossible. As a result, that attitude is passed onto the rest of the development team.
 

This is inspiring, but why does Curt need to try and achieve one unoriginal impossibility (creating yet another successful Fantasy MMO) and not go for one that kicks more ass, like creating a successful non-Fantasy MMO? You have the guy who created Spawn and the guy who wrote the Drizzt series of books - why not challenge them? Both would be just as comfortable in a non-Fantasy setting. Now, they're entering the MMO market with a challenge under the stigma of unoriginality.

In closing, 38 Studios, you have a company motto of: “How cool would it be if . . .”

How cool would it be if someone actually made a good non-Fantasy MMO?

I'll tell you: It would be cool of epic proportions. Dazzle us, 38 Studios. Your chosen genre is played out, past its time. Show us some of that ingenuity and creativity that we're so starved for. The hell with established business models and defacto consumer reports: If you want to win big, you have to put in all your chips.

Conan and Forceful PVE Content

Posted by Daedren Monday April 21 2008 at 10:51AM
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It's hard to get motivated to play yet another MMO sometimes. While some of the industry's most prolific  bloggers are comfortable playing the role of their life not being complete until they play upcoming MMO X, I like to take my usual approach of being skeptic and pessimistic.

One reason is that MMO's are a huge timesink when it comes to committing to a game. Like any business model, one most prevalent in the illicit drug business - MMO's want to hook you early and get you committed to their product. While morally and ethically this might raise a few eyebrows, most of us are too involved in spending the next 4 days of our lives in our underwear trying for a magic pair of gloves in a world that doesn't exist.

Anyway, on to Conan. I've been lucky enough not to give a flying fuck on getting into the beta-test to help QA their product, so I'm just going on what I've read from other bloggers and such, mainly from the recent "Open PVP Weekend" where the NDA was lifted. As stated, this was mainly PVP based, so we're pretty much in the dark about this right now.

What I'd like to put out to my readers is: In a PVP based game, for a PVP focused player, how much PVE content should you have to do to compete in the game?

My concern for AoC, and any game, is the associated timesink that usually goes along with the PVE aspect of the game. As players we usually expect the normal leveling treadmill to at least get to the "Max Level" to be able to enjoy PVP. This might seem like another low blow the age-old "Level System" (and it is) - but most players, even myself sometimes, can at least appreciate and accept playing through the game once to experience it's content.

So, what should we expect? Myself, I'd say the holy grail of PVP / PVE balance would be Dark Age of Camelot, pre-Trials of Atlantis. A PVP-focused player could spend most of his playing time roaming the Frontiers and engaging in PVP combat, and not fall behind too much without committing to the normal grind and treadmill of PVE content - raiding, reputation grinding, etc.

I know for myself and many players like me - the first sign of having to do all of this "work" to stay even on a PVP basis, and it's bye bye Age of Conan. As great as the game might be, many players just can't justify the enormous amount of time that's needed to compete in these games. Let's hope a good balance is found in keeping the true PVP players happy in not forcing them to boring-ol PVE content to keep up with everyone.

So, what's everyone elses thoughts on this? What's your perfect balance? How do you want AoC to be - and what would make you leave?  

This article orginally appeared at the r1ft Gaming Blog and is mirrored here with permission of the author(s).

My Kingdom for Different Archetypes

Posted by Daedren Thursday April 17 2008 at 9:39AM
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Archetypes. For gaming purposes, and we're mainly talking about Fantasy based games here, we've somehow been thrown into a specific template of unoriginality for the last 20 or 30 years.

Waxing intellectual on the subject, Archetypes are basically an example or stereotype of a certain type of person or personality. These have appeared throughout history in literary works; for example, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (Star-crossed lovers Archetype) or Falstaff (bawdy, comic knight Archetype).

Welcome to the 21st Century Gaming Industry, where we'll bastardize anything or just use "what works" because it earns money.

This has become more and more apparent in recent days, with two big upcoming MMOG releases in the next year in Age of Conan and Warhammer Online. It's bad luck that these are both Fantasy-based MMO's, that's for sure. Even just shy of 30, I've honestly seen enough Orcs and Elves to never want to see them again. Oh well, we march on as gaming consumers, our brains turned off to originality and creativity, as we migrate to the next unoriginal timesink of a game that helps us engage a primitive hunter-gatherer side of us that modern society mutes.

Anyway: here we have it. Age of Conan. We have 12 Classes here, with *shock* 4 Archetypes. These Archetypes, of course, are: Mage, Rogue, Warrior, Healer.

And over yonder on Mythic's doorstep, we have 24 Classes, 6 Races. Each race has 4 Classes. Archetypes? Check. Mage, Rogue, Warrior, Healer.

Did someone send out a Memo a few decades back that said: Hello, these are now the universal Fantasy Archetypes. There shalt be no other. ?

I can't be the only one that thinks this. I envision countless good game Devs around the world, who offer different solutions to this age-old Archetype system, only to be shot down by corporate assholes who think that gamers will be turned off creativity and originality. No, they say, as if we gamers aren't smart enough to get used to an idea of not seeing our friendly little WRHM (pronounced WRAM) Archetype group in a game. Surely we'd probably just curl into a ball and cry ourselves to sleep if we were presented a game that didn't have these familiar elements.

No criticism filled article would be complete without at least a feeble attempt at suggestions to change these Archetypes. Here are my suggestions:

  • The Hit Point system in general is not realistic. Though this is another topic, the "Hit Point" system in general is why games are tied to the WRHM Archetypes.
  • Eliminate Healers. Also unrealistic (I know we're in Fantasy here) - and implement more defensive based abilities that allow a character to effectively not die if they choose to.

We're now left with a system that is completely focused on offensive abilities. In turn, all "Archetypes" should have ways of defending themselves to a point where it's very hard to harm them further. For example, if a Knight in full armor and a huge shield decides he doesn't want to die, kneeling behind the shield (and bracing themselves) and only counter-attacking is a huge survivability bonus. True, they can't do much damage, but they are still alive.

This mentality can be taken to any Archetype in a Fantasy based setting. Take a Mage Archetype, for example. In all games, Mages are "squishy" but able to do large amounts of damage usually from range. What if we changed this to be like the Knight? The Mage *could* focus all his/her energy to rain Fire down on their enemies - leaving themselves exposed. What if a Mage focused all of this energy defensively? Say, to melt an enemies sword or blow incoming arrows away? In the end, a "Mage" should be able to "Tank" just as well as a Warrior, if not better, if given the choice. Keep in mind the Mage is completely defensive - just as the Knight was, in his corner with a shield.

I might have been a bit hypocritical for even using the Knight / Mage Archetypes as an example above. Unfortunately, you can't really have a Fantasy based game without being able to run around with Swords and Armor and some magic here and there. There are probably tons of ways to switch it up though - perhaps by modeling combat after modern warfare, where you rely more on direct assault and intelligence. It seems the conclusion that I've reached is that Fantasy based games rely too much on a Healer Archetype to change the way combat is.

So, as I've said before - here we are, the gaming industry - where is the creativity? Why have Fantasy games not evolved out of this simple Archetype?

This article orginally appeared at the r1ft Gaming Blog and is mirrored here with permission of the author(s).

Age of Conan: The Twelve Trails of Blood

Posted by Daedren Tuesday April 8 2008 at 4:21AM
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r1ft Gaming Blog: Age of Conan: The Twelve Trails of Blood

With the recent blessing of a Warhammer fall launch, we turn our short-term attention span on the Govenator's upcoming game Age of Conan.

Class choice is ultimately important in a class/level based game, especially one based on PVP. Proper research is important.

Massively did a great article on the twelve Classes in AoC - so, if you're like me, and don't know what the hell to play - take a look.

Here's the article, courtesy of Massively.com. (my uninspiring comments in italics)

Herald of Xolti

Archetype: Mage

aocherald.jpgNo doubt destined to be a popular class, the Heralds of Xolti evenly mix might and demonic magic to brutal ends. These men and women fervently worship the demon-god Xolti and in return are granted a shadow of his form and shreds of his magic -- small gifts that alone are reason enough for sane people to fear them in battle. Whether they're tearing through their enemies with two-handed swords or calling forth hellish fires to do their bidding, Heralds of Xolti are truly figures to be feared. Something to remember is that only Stygians can worship the demon-god Xolti for his powers.

A demon guys that swings a two-handed sword. The word in the beta is that these guys are extremely powerful. Like Warlock / WoW powerful. Is it some sort of dev fetish to make demonic classes the best in PVP or something?

Necromancer

Archetype: Mage

aoc_necromancer.jpgPungent death and icy winds are the calling cards of Necromancers. They are another minion class, although their minions are arguably more frightful; the undying legions. These masters of death will send down a legion of hauntingly powerful undead minions while bringing forth cold, deadly ice magic. Eventually, over time, a Necromancer may even achieve lichdom -- taking the form of a supremely powerful undead archmage. Cloth, silk and daggers are their equipment and Stygian are their only origin -- as one would expect.

Looks to be one of the two main "pet classes". I suspect this to be a very popular choice, mainly for the cool-factor and that Necromancer's are usually very popular (and powerful) in any game they are in.

Demonologist

Archetype: Mage

aoc_demonologist.jpgThe masters of demonic minions are the Demonologists -- those who crave power so much that they'll bargain with any dark force for it. The two primary focuses of this mage archetype are minions and fire/electric direct damage spells. This will most likely be an advanced class, as managing your minion plus your damage output can be a challenging task. Still, the rewards are great as there are many dark and beautiful creatures to do your bidding. Although be wary, as your only protection are cloth and silk armors. Daggers are the weapon of choice for this Stygian-only mage class.

For those demon loving, pet loving players, this poses a big problem in deciding what to play. Given the choice of playing something that can transform into a demon, one that can control undead pets, and one that can control Demons, I wouldn't be suprised if a few goth/emo/powergaming kids have their heads explode at the character creation screen.

Barbarian

Archetype: Rogue

aoc_barbarian.jpgHere is a class that is going to be fairly popular once Age of Conan launches in May -- simply because Conan himself was a Barbarian. Although that may be reason enough for some players to try this class out initially, there are some other pretty cool reasons to be interested in being a Barbarian. Playing as this class gets you either one giant deadly weapon or two of them -- either way you'll be doing lots of ambushing, followed up by lots of head-bashing. Surprisingly, Funcom considers these guys (and gals) to be a part of the Rogue archetype precisely because of a Barbarians' affinity for surprising enemies with ambushes. Expect to cause plenty of stun and knockback effects if you decided to play as a this class -- also expect to only wear light armors, as you'll need to be able to move around quickly. Only Cimmerians and Aquilonians can become Barbarians.

Finally someone who got a Barbarian type class kind of right. I don't normally go for melee characters, but I'll admit that the screenshot there is a bit inspiring. Likely to be a popular choice (as said above) because of the Conan/Barbarian thing, and because of the Rogue archetype (which is always popular).

Ranger

Archetype: Rogue

aoc_ranger.jpgThe only bow-specialists in Age of Conan, the Ranger is a class not to be trifled with -- as they wield several different bow attacks. At range they are a force to be reckoned with, but if you manage to close the gap on a Ranger they are defeatable. Rangers can wear medium armor and are capable of wielding either one or two weapons, but their melee ability is subpar in comparison to their ranged. They are considered a rogue archetype and therefor use stealth better than most, as it compliments their ranged preference. This is the only class that is available to all races -- Cimmerian, Stygian and Aquilonian -- so be ready to see plenty arrows whizzing through the air.

This class has over popularity just screaming all over it. Not only do we cater to those that love ranged attacks - but we have stealth to deal with as well. Given the track record in games like WoW / LOTRO / DAoC, it's safe to say that there will be roughly 2-3 times as many Rangers as any other class. I understand the draw; all things equal, I love playing an Archer type in any game. Perhaps if the class is horribly underpowered or difficult to play (and I hope it is), we'll see less of the crowd flocking to their haven of Legolas-ness.

Assassin

Archetype: Rogue

aoc_assassin.jpgThere are two specific things Assasins are good at: Stealth and high damage. Every class in Age of Conan can use stealth with varying degrees of success. It is the Assassin, however, that can use stealth the most effectively. Where one class may have to keep their back pressed against a wall and move slowly past enemies, the Assassin is moving speedily and worrying less about being noticed. Aside from stealth, you can also expect to be dual-wielding daggers for vicious melee attacks, using various poisons and shooting arrows from crossbows. It's also good to remember that only Aquilonians and Stygians can become this particular class.

Stealth classes are always popular in games - even more so in PVP environments. I'm sure we'll see tons of these guys running around as well. I'm slightly disappointed that AoC, priding itself on realism, kept with this "duel-wielding" nonsense for it's classes, but it's only a slight nitpick. Anyhow, it seems that all classes in AoC can stealth (to a point), so that's one other thing to consider in our search for the perfect class.

Conquerer

Archetype: Soldier

aoc_conquerer.jpgYet another name by which Conan has been called, but an entirely different beast from the Barbarian. The Conquerer is something of a support/combat class who fights alongside his allies while affecting both them and his enemies. A good example is to think of a Paladin but without the healing aspect and only defensive/offensive auras. Apart from their aura ability, Conquerers can use various battlecries to swing combat in their favor. This is another melee class that can use both two-handed weapons or dual-wield weapons. Being a soldier archetype, only Aquilonians and Cimmerians may become a Conquerer.

The melee support class. They can also duel-wield, which is odd. I just hope they can use a shield. Haven't seen a mention of many defensive abilities yet! Oh, and in case you can't see: yes, that head did get chopped off and is flying through the air.

Dark Templar

Archetype: Soldier

aoc_darktemplar2.jpgAnother class that can be loosely compared to a typical Paladin is the Dark Templar. The difference, of course, is that with this class you're dealing in dark and powerful arts to achieve victory in battle. Dark Templars can suck the life from enemies to heal themselves and their allies, but also reflect magic back onto their attackers. Hyboria is a land of moral grays, meaning that NPCs won't treat you any differently than anyone else as a Dark Templar -- or any of the more 'evil' classes. However, that won't change the fact that these dark warriors can be a terrifying sight to behold in battle. You would think that because of their focus on dark magic, Dark Templars would be playable by Stygians -- but you'd be wrong. Only Aquilonians and Cimmerians are able to play as this class.

Ahh, the evil Paladin type. It even has life drain abilties and stuff. This combo notoriously reigns supreme in PVP. That said, though, I think the Templar will be one of the lesser-played classes just because of the popularity of most of the other classes.

Guardian

Archetype: Soldier

aoc_guardian.jpgOut of all the classes in Age of Conan the Guardian happens to be the sturdiest of them all -- being the only class that can wear full plate, which is a step above even heavy armor. They wield sword or spear and carry a mighty shield -- did we mention they're ridiculously tough to kill? If you want to be a full-time-tank, then this is most likely the class you want to play. Aside from the insane HP and plate armor, Guardians allow for a lot of tactical flexibility. While they may not be able to employ magic, Guardians have abilities they can use on the fly in order to deal with different situations. An example would be that they can increase defense at the cost of DPS or instead lower HP to increase DPS. Only Aquilonians and Cimmerians are able to join the ranks of the Guardians.

Sounds like a pretty cool tank class. These are always popular, even in a PVP game, due to the fact that people either like playing a tank class or they just like to be tough to kill. The problem with tank classes in PVP, though, is that they are usually the last to be targeted. All your damage mitigation goes for waste if the enemies are attacking your soft targets and you can't do anything. Due to their superior survivability, they can't do as much damage as other classes, so unless the whole "defense / HP for damage" thing is done very well, Guardians will probably be a bad overall PVP class. Let's hope they aren't!

Priest of Mitra

Archetype: Healer

aoc_priestofmitra.jpgOut of all the healers in Age of Conan, the Priest of Mitra has the biggest focus on healing. If you want to play a more classic healer then this is where you want to be. Martial weapons and light armor are this classes' equipment of choice -- oh and shields as well. Even though their primary role tends to be healing and support, Priests of Mitra can also use their holy gifts to smite down foes. Any group of travelers would be wise to find a Priest of Mitra if at all possible, as they are masters of healing. Only the Aquilonians praise Mitra and thusly they are the only race capable of becoming a Priest of Mitra.

Great for those heal-bot lovers out there, though I'm a bit concerned on the effectiveness of other healers compared to this Priest of Mitra. If you can't do any PVE-content or survive in PVP without one, then I believe the AoC universe could be a bit too dependent on this one class.

Tempest of Set

Archetype: Healer

aoc_tempestofset.jpgSet is an old and extremely ancient god who grants those that worship him the most unbelievable powers. These powers focus primarily on storm, lightning and snaked-themed spells. Many of these spells are area of effect (AoE) spells that damage en-mass. As offensively-based as the Tempest of Set may be, it is still a healing archetype -- one that can heal more efficiently through damage. The Tempest of Set is able to cast a self-buff that will build up their next healing spell as they do more damage to their foes. For people who want to be a healer that can assist in group damage and support -- this is the class for them. This is also a Stygian only class that specializes in martial weapons, shields and light armor.

A hybrid damage/support healer type. Sounds almost a little too good to be true. I'd be curious to know how much damage these Healer archetypes are putting out compared to the Mage Archetypes. The Set sounds like a cool class, but I'm always wary of any Hybrid-class in MMO's these days.

Bear Shaman

Archetype: Healer

aoc_bearshaman2.jpgIf you want to be a healer but also be able to tear apart enemies in combat, than this is the class for you. Bear Shamans equip the heaviest armor (medium) out of all the priest classes and wield two-handed blunt objects -- although that isn't what makes them such a threat in battle. What does make them a threat is their ability to summon within them the spirit of the bear, which enhances the shaman and can heal or even revive their allies. Bear Shamans do not actually morph into a bear, but they certainly call upon the impressive power of them to great effect. Only Cimmerians can be Bear Shamans.

I played a Shaman in WoW - and I have to say that this class sounds cool as hell. Refreshing, also. That said, though, I'm still wary on Hybrid classes. I have a feeling the Bear Shaman will do the least amount of damage in comparison to the other Healer Archetypes. This could be wrong, of course, but I can't see a class that can tank well, damage well and also heal well. If they can - why play anything else? ;)

*** end of original article ***

In conclusion, I predict the following classes as the most popular in AoC, by Order, respectively:

  1. Ranger
  2. Assassin
  3. Conquerer
  4. Barbarian
  5. Guardian
  6. Priest of Mitra
  7. Necromancer
  8. Tempest of Set
  9. Demonologist
  10. Bear Shaman
  11. Herald of Xolti
  12. Dark Templar

Keep in mind those are only my personal predictions.

The biggest influence on Class choice will be player feedback. There will be "Flavor of the Month" (FOTM) Classes that are considered superior in every aspect (usually PVP). My first prediction is that Herald's of Xolti will become known as the "uber" PVP class and people will flock to them after release.

All in all, some pretty cool Class choices from the land of Hyboria. We'll see in a few weeks!

This article orginally appeared at the r1ft Gaming Blog and is mirrored here with permission of the author(s).

Let's Go, Maggots! A Look at LOTRO's PVP System

Posted by Daedren Thursday April 3 2008 at 5:45AM
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hobbit1.jpgIn the alternate Turbine universe of Middle Earth, a few things have changed. No longer does a simple Hobbit need to fear an orc - or anything, actually, given the right archetype choice. In this alternate universe, instead of growing crops and enjoying an ale at the Dragon, a Hobbit can stand in the middle of the fight even with a mighty Balrog as their Elf and Dwarf friends cower in fear. Though the land has changed and simple Hobbits have transformed into fearless juggernauts, there still might be a few Uruk's and company in the land of the Ettenmoor's to give the once-lowly Hobbits a run for their money.

If I could pick one game of all time that so blatantly "slapped on" Player vs Player combat in an MMO, LOTRO would be hands-down the winner. It needs to be said, though, that Turbine didn't beat around the bush at all when they introduced the "Monster Play" option in their game: announced at the last minute, they've stated PVP will never be the focus of the game. Keep that in mind as we look at PVP in the realm of Drodos, Fegolas' and Randalfs.

monsterplay.jpgPVP is a bit different in LOTRO - you can effectively play "the bad guys" - that is, a minion of Sauron. There's no grey area in who or what you are - you're born for destruction and serving the Dark Lord. Once you hit level 10 on your normal LOTRO character (called Freeps, short for Free Peoples) -- you can go make a Creep (Creep as in bad guy) - choices as of writing are an Orc Reaver, Spider Weaver, Uruk Blackarrow or Warleader, or a Warg - with a 6th choice coming soon in the Defiler (healer/support type Orcses - more on him later). You start at maximum level (50) and progress by ranking up your character via infamy, which you get from killing Freeps.

The PVP Frontier, the Ettenmoors, has 5 keeps that can be controlled and protected by inept NPC guards. Book 12 introduced a feature allowing the side that controls the most keeps to enter a PVE/PvMP Dungeon "The Delving of Fror" which is used to get an inferior Freep armor set and some skill upgrades for the friendly Uruks and Orcs of Middle Earth. This has received mainly negative reviews, as it introduced another PVE element into what should have been a PVP-heavy zone. Also, it being named "DF" makes you wonder if any developer at Turbine has ever played another game other than Dark Age of Camelot. If it was a homage, it was a poor one at that. (DF was "Darkness Falls" in DAoC - a huge underground zone controlled via PVP... coincidence - perhaps.)

spider_weaver.jpgThe Creep side has a definite different feel to it which I think Turbine has done pretty well. There's a lot of shouting, grunting and general nastiness that you'd expect to find while playing one of Sauron's minions. However, there is a serious lack of character customization on the Creep side. This can be slightly mitigated later with new appearances you can buy (at higher ranks) ; the fact remains is that two characters with the same appearance Trait will look exactly the same. This might have been ok in 1998 or so, but 10 years later and heading into "3rd Generation MMO's" - it's a bit disconcerting playing a character / faction that you can't even choose a different face or skin color.

Mordikay says: "There are various quests for creeps - boring but needed - for any serious PvP'r as they will allow you to gain "maps" to quickly teleport around to hotspots on the map. This is the "fast travel" system for Creeps, as they can't ride wargs or such as Freeps can ride ponies and horses. The more quests done per region the better maps, meaning a nearly endless amount of grinding is needed at a excruciating slow pace. The real fun, of course, is to kill the enemy and gain infamy/renown. This is used to rank up with in a simple progression system - the more you get the higher ranks. Ranking up is very important to Creeps - even though you start at lvl 50 you have virtually no stats or skills - and to survive and do well you'll need more ranks. This is the "grind" of playing a Creep.

uruk_black.jpgThere is a stark contrast between playing a Freep and a Creep. You can tell right away that the Creep side is much less "polished" than the Freep side. As a full-time Creep you'll only have, at most, 6-8 skills to use, where as running around on a Freep you'll be lucky if you use less than 20. The PVE aspect of the Creep side is pretty straightforward: capture this keep, kill these things, collect X number of body parts from whoever. Earning money on a Creep is pretty much a grind-fest, but it's very needed to have cash if you want to succeed as a Creep. Cash gets you potions that allow you to break out of crowd-control abilities (which will be covered later) and is also needed to slot all of the abilities you get when ranking up your Creep. Basically, earning cash is mind numbingly dull, especially if you're a support class. The best thing to do is find friends, join a Warband or find something sharp to gouge into your eye.

Mordikay says: Design: To put it very simple, PvMP was a last minute addition to LOTRO and in my eyes never really thought through. Maybe Turbine wanted another label tag to their game(PVP) for financial reasons. What I bet they didn't count on was the Ettenmoors (PVP) would be a success. By success I don't mean that in the sense that it was well made, balanced or original; just by pure interest and population of people going there and want to play that part of the game. This has complicated things now as they can no longer use simple logic like: We give Freeps the damage and Creeps the HP to take it. The scale of people now interested now have a large enough voice to not be ignored anymore. In short: this part of the game has a lot of work in store if it wants to be successful in the realm of true PVP.

orcfight-full.jpgOn to the good stuff. First impressions of PVP in this game as a Creep are clear: there is a horrible issue with PVP balancing in this game. Fret not; things do get better. A fresh Rank 0 Creep is not supposed to be able to go one-on-one with a Freep and win. You'll find yourself cannon-fodder most of the time. Your damage output, no matter what class you play, will be crap. The game really comes alive once you start gaining ranks and adding on some of your PVP traits. You live longer, do more damage, and have better utility. You'll go from a 4K Life Reaver that hits with a wet noodle to a 6500+ Life Reaver that hits with a bundle of at least semi-rough uncooked pasta. I said things got better: I didn't say things got completely balanced.

Mordikay: Balance: Turbine has also stated on several occasions that LOTRO is a PVE game. No Creep will stand a slim on taking on any Freep class 1vs1 before atleast rank 3 and most likely not until after rank 5 if the Freep player has decent gear. This makes you canon fodder until you have spend X amount of time ranking up. A few things you will quickly notice if you decide to roll up a Creep: Loremasters Blantant abuse of insane amount of Crowd controll abilities (talking multiple 30+ second roots and mezzes, long stuns, etc - even an 8 person aoe root!), Burglars being practically unkillable and focus fire from a Hunter that does insane damage and has the ability to instantly teleport to safety if things go bad.
So, in Turbine's take of Middle Earth - not only are Hobbits 3 feet of Doom to any Orc they come across - but the bad guys - Orcs, Uruks, and crew - hit like little bitches. Quite an odd interpretation in my opinion. I had the impression that Orcs and Uruks were huge, mean, crush-Hobbit-heads sort of things. Instead, they've been given less damage than their Freep counterparts but compensated by having more Hit Points. I guess they weren't inspired by the Movie Trilogy - by Return of the King, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas were pretty much "one-shotting" anything they even looked at.

Continuing down this trail of baffling logic, Turbine has announced they are including a Creep healer/support/debuffing class, the Defiler, in an upcoming update. The Creeps currently have one "Healer" type class in the Warleader - though, by Freep standards, is quite a poor healer, though can survive a good beating and has a few functional support abilities. The Warleader healer abilities are stuff like "On your feet!" and stuff that basically whips their comrades back into fighting. I think that's good, as it's somewhat realistic and you don't expect an Uruk to run around whistling dixie or studying the lost art of spiritual healing to help people out.

frog.jpgThe Defiler brings another support class to the table, which is good by traditional "even the playing field" standards but horrible when it comes to logic or lore in the game. Turbine has taken away the fun part of being the "bad guys" - that is, charging in and trying to slaughter stuff - and has implemented some weird sort of mechanic where they think that Orcs and Uruks and Spiders living longer and still doing piss-all for damage as yet another 3 foot tall cherub burglar-boy can survive for 60 seconds with 20 orcs hitting him and then just vanish into thin air - hit another button - and do it all again - is perfectly fine. (And if Frodo would have rolled a Turbine Burglar, he could have solo'd all the way to Mount Doom)

Turbine's take on PVP is pretty much this: all being equal, the good guys should win. Upper management clearly had a problem with the bad guys being able to win. This isn't as bad as it sounds. The harsh reality is that all things are usually not equal, and it's usually the person with the biggest zerg that wins. This can be offset, however, with superior fighting tactics on either side. Lucky for Creeps is that the tactical superiority usually lies on the Creep side. The debate is open on why exactly this is. It could be an effect of the Underdog Complex; or, maybe, most the people that enjoy and are good at PVP - or even the fact that only clueless idiots play Freeps in PVP. Most likely it's a combination of all three.

Originality: while at first glance, the PVP system seems a bit unique as you can hit level 10, click Monster Play and go play a bad guy that is maxed level. Other than that, we're looking at a PVP system that is basically a watered down version of DAoC's RVR Keep system in almost every way. At game launch, the PVP system was little-used as there were no 40+ Freeps running around. Little by little, though, Turbine is making at least a minimal effort to keep the loyal PVPers happy. The lead PVP developer (or Community Manager - not sure) named Orion has his work cut out from him as he seems to be the only person in Turbine with even a remote grasp of what PVP should be. His forum posts and ideas for PVP are often gone unheard or terribly misunderstood; for example, it took over a year to get infamy/renown split evenly across a raid; before, damage dealers were at a huge advantage and healer/support classes gained minimal amounts of each, a huge oversight that cost those that like support classes numerous hours of grinding and frustration trying to progress in PVP. The biggest problem with this new PVP content being added, though, is bugs.

Mordikay says: Turbine is doing an OK job at getting their bugs spotted - tetting them fixed is an entirely different story. It basically works like this: A new Book (content patch) comes out and bring 20+ bugs. They then spend three months up until the next Book is scheduled to come out and fix 15 of them. The new Book comes out and bring 20+ new bugs. Repeat. In the end, we're left with a buggy PVP system that is frustrating to play. These aren't small bugs, either: we're talking stuff like nerfing the only real instant attack for Wargs to take 2-3 seconds to "activate" - meaning hitting moving targets is virtually impossible. All in all, PVP is more of an afterthought from a support perspective from Turbine. What'd you expect? This is a PVE game.

troll.jpgTroll/Ranger play: You can spend Destiny Points (a kind of PVP currency) to enable a one-hour session playing a Troll (for the Creeps) or a Ranger (for the Freeps). I can honestly say that this is probably the only area in "PvMP" that actually favors the Creeps - that is, barring a couple Loremasters aren't around. While Rangers have a lot of hit points and the ability to basically kill someone in one shot every 5 minutes - Trolls have the ability to take a lot of damage, dish it out very well, and do some nice AOE stuff. They are invaluable for keep retaking as they can aggro 10 or so Guards and kill them or hold aggro on them very well. (Creeps have no effective taunt skill, yay). However, they are incredibly vulnerable to Freep Loremaster "Power Drain" ability. Clearly Gandalf should have used that ability against the Troll in Moria.

The PVP Ranking system offers a unique and new way to see who the biggest assholes on the server are. The "Star" system works by giving you points for killing an enemy and subtracting points when you die. You can have up to 5 stars - meaning you kill a lot, but rarely (or never) die. So, as you might have guessed by now, this means that if you won the PVP Archetype Lottery (aka rolled a Burglar or a Hunter) - Congratulations! You can now do whatever the hell you want and escape at will. Having Stars as a Freep is basically a rating system saying "How big of a coward am I?" - the more stars, the bigger the coward, usually. This, of course, has exceptions - if you see a Champion running around with 4+ Stars, you can safely assume either he had a bunch of his Freep friends let him kill them over an over (as Creeps), or he is really good at hit and run tactics. Generally, Creeps with Stars are rare (other than Wargs) and even max rank Creeps are lucky to have more than 1-2 Stars.

Motivation: the biggest asset that Creeps have, in general, is that Freep players don't really want to or need to PVP. The Freep PVP rewards are vastly inferior to level 50 dungeon / instance gear. This means that during off-peak hours, Keeps are usually held by the Creeps, as Creeps really have nothing else to do. When a Freep Raid or 3 comes in to play, they usually do a quick take of 3-5 Keeps and then head into the Delving Fror to do some more PVE content. As the Creeps take the Keeps back, this pisses the Freeps off, who then exit DF and zerg around the map capturing Keeps again. This is the only motivation to really capture Keeps - to enable PVE content. Inside the DF itself, where the two factions can fight - is usually horribly imbalanced in the Freeps favor as Creep players, outside of Warbands, usually don't spend too much time there.

So what does all of this mean? What's an average night of PVP like? Depending on the server, from a Creep perspective, it's pretty much group up or get ganked. "Grom's Camping" - that is, a good number of Freeps waiting just outside the safety of the Creep's homebase - is rampant on a lot of servers. This means take a few steps out the door and you're toast. If they have a Loremaster, which they usually do, you're looking at about 15-30 seconds of standing and doing nothing while Frododoc and his merry band of Burglars mince you to death with absolute impunity. If there are a good number of Creeps, you'll zerg around from keep to keep and take them back; that is, until a force of about half your raid decides to either defend or make your life miserable. Don't fret, though - with good leadership and some good, ranked Creeps, Creeps can hold their own. Unfortunately, with even numbers, superior tactics sometimes won't be enough to balance the fights that are obviously favored in the Freep direction.


swarm.jpg

Zerg tactics (that is - a mass swarm of people) are most effective, and if properly led, devastating. As in other MMO's, often he with the best (or biggest) zerg usually wins. With the inferiority scale tipped in the Creeps way, it's an Underdog lovers dream.

Mordikay says: I like to play underdog PVP in MMO's - and I can say that if you do play a Creep you will be outnumbered, outgunned and feel worthless for at least the first few days. However, you will be able to have fun and even be victorious. The team play and organization (and usually the maturity level) is higher on the Creep side, or least it seems so. The despair of battle against the Freeps creates a unique experience that can do well forging good social relationships.

In conclusion, while PVP in LOTRO can bring a good deal of fun and healthy distraction from a mainly PVE based game, it still lacks the sort of design and overall "Fun Factor" that many PVPers seek. The risk vs. reward is pretty much non-existent and any sort of end-game or long term goals as a Creep pretty much consist of zerging around a map capturing keeps. At the end of the day LOTRO is still primarily a PVE game and that must not be forgotten. Unless major changes are made, perhaps in the upcoming Moria expansion, Ettenmoors will become a barren, empty place as most PVP-lovers will have ventured off into Age of Conan or Warhammer Online. While this might not spell direct doom for LOTRO, it'll take a good chunk of the playerbase who has found a home in the land of the Ettenmoors.

Edit: Looks like Turbine has read my post! Take this survey to tell them what you think of the PvMP system in LOTRO.

This article originally appeared at the r1ft gaming blog (http://www.r1ft.com) and is mirrored here with the permission of the author(s).