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An Earthbound Perspective

Practical perspective on MMO play and practice.

Author: Dengar

The Life and Death of Star Wars Galaxies By a Post NGE Player

Posted by Dengar Saturday June 25 2011 at 1:55PM
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I'm going to admit it: I missed the "golden age" of Star Wars Galaxies. I had my reasons, and I stick by a few of them, but it does put me in an interesting position as one of the few people that gave the game a whirl without the pre-CU bias. It's been described as if it were the perfect MMO, and yet, it had 1 year over World of Warcraft and spent some time without the NGE as a competitor of Blizz's baby. When I beta'ed WoW, the other game I frequently saw compared to the baby behemoth was Everquest. Yes, I recall SWG coming up once or twice, but only that WoW was more polished in beta than SWG was in release. I should also mention that, at this point, I wasn't feeling WoW and had no intent of buying it. To this day, I only play WoW to spend time with people I know. If someone had said something awesome about SWG, I would have hopped over immediately.

With that in mind, know that when I finally hit SWG, I really wanted it to do well. After my initial impressions of the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic, I was... underwhelmed to say the least. Much like WoW, I'm mainly going to hit it to play with friends, though it sounds like a fun single player game as well (and that's how even friends are looking at it). I knew there was already a Star Wars MMO out, and it sounded vastly different from what was coming out. I did a little homework on it, and was very curious about it. Intricate crafting? Player housing and towns? Customizable space ships? Non-combat classes? This, I had to see!

I jumped in with 2 characters, a trader and a bounty hunter. Combat was pretty standard, and not really anything to write home about, except for when you reached space. No auto-targeting or dodging was great, and the customization options, while a bit daunting, were still enjoyable given that, much like with the rest of the crafting system, getting a "perfect" item was relative and, after a certain point, didn't make a huge difference, unlike many of today's crafting systems where you simply get the materials, click, and make the same item 100 times to skill up. 

Ah, the crafting! I'm still in love with it, and helped update one of the SWG crafting sites that helped players track resources. I'm an explorer at heart, and I've always loved resource gathering, so SWG's system suited me perfectly. No other game had resources quite as interesting as SWG's, and I doubt we'll see anything like it again.

The game reminded me of Horizons/Istaria on steroids. Character customization was far better, and I had felt that Horizon's body shaping options alone helped it more than other MMOs in which facial customization meant little to nothing when everyone ran around with a helmet. The housing structure wasn't as customizable, interior decorating and community placement were much freer. Dancing to give buffs and, *gasp* level up helped keep the "dying" cities alive. I could research resource locations, spawn density, and quality. I could tinker with crafting for quite awhile. Housing customization was fun, and it was cool to explore other towns and see what folks did: Museums, bars, malls, pet shops, research facilities. I could kill creatures for "collections" and get some fun or useful items. I could build fairly simple quests and try other people's (more on this later). OO, and I could get a bit of my trading card game fix from a game within the game that sometimes also gave items.

But I couldn't really run dungeons. The economy felt so out of my hands, and people tended to give me nub items because I honestly couldn't afford any "real" items and people weren't crafting the things I needed unless I could get the materials myself and find someone who was online to make them. The pvp wasn't very active and felt restrictive except for my bounty hunter, the only character who felt like he was sort of in the Star Wars Universe for combat.

The biggest problem for me was the community. Despite all the features and options the game had compared to... pretty much any other MMO I've played, the game wasn't attracting new players. I played for 4 months and only briefly met another player, and all they wanted to do was quests to get more powerful items, like oh so many theme park players. The players still in game were generally hoarding resources and money. They were "done" with the game and had little to no motivation to do old content with a new player. You'd think that pvp would be more active, but it seemed a lot like WoW's pvp, in that winning or losing seemed to mainly effect your ability to get items (also some transportation). Space combat could have been more interesting, like in Darkfall or what I understand of EVE, but because space items still seemed to have some sort of decay, players didn't want to risk their items... despite the fact that they seemed to have a huge abundance of supplies.

Still, the game had a lot of people who were friendly enough. Communities had lasted for ages, and I had talked to a few dancers who said they'd go, play other games, and come back to play with their friends, much as I tend to play World of Warcraft. They threw parties once in awhile, but you could feel the cliqu-ishness of things. The game was far from dead, just stagnated. I tried to convince some friends to come try it out, but the game's reputation (and graphics for some of my picky friends -_-) kept most away. Since the game needed active players trying to get items, resources, etc, the economy and events also stagnated. As much as it saddened me, I could see the game's potential was limited by its past. The crew left to keep the ship afloat tried their best to improve the game, and I liked a lot of the improvements they were making to the game, but without players, it couldn't do much more than keep people from jumping ship.

I left SWG after 4 months. It was a short and fairly fun run until the inevitable realization of the game's future hit me. When SOE was hit, I remembered how many "guilds" I looked at didn't have any sort of out of game communication. People depended on the game being up, thinking it'd just always be there. While there was still a lot of "gold sellers," I knew that, if something happened to SOE, SWG would probably be one of the first casualities. I'm not surprised about what happened, but greatly saddened that a game with so many features and long term players would be written off by many as a "failed model" of MMOs. As others have said, the angry SWG fans holding grudges for years may be the biggest enemy of modern sandbox games. Sony did make a gross error when they betrayed so many of their customers, but repeatedly bashing what was probably the most accessible sandbox game has not helped the genre. SWG's death, like the death of other sandbox MMOs, will only further solidify the idea among game makers that it is not a profitable game to create.

Sandboxes as an idea are starting to pop up more often now, but its the players that decide what will do well and what won't. I may not play any pay to play sandboxes atm, but I still refer players to them to help encourage people to try the genre, especially if the game's any good. Just because we're done with it or got burnt, doesn't mean others won't appreciate them. I think that, by sharing the positive aspects, sandboxers can get themeparkers into the genre and make them also look forward to games with more interesting gameplay than the standard hamster wheels that have taken control of most of the market. 

Instancing: Responsible Application?

Posted by Dengar Tuesday June 21 2011 at 5:05AM
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So, before I go into a lot of details, this may be more like semi-persistent worlds only accessible to those with the correct rights. It feels like instancing, in that it's inaccessible to most people and can be reset by the owner, but there may be a big enough difference that someone calls me on it. To those folks, I'm sorry if our definitions are too different to allow the use of the term, but try to consider the idea none the less!

Now, with that out of the way, some folks may have read between the lines that I'm not a fan of instancing. It doesn't seem conducive to a community environment since it allows griefers to go out and do whatever they want without giving players a way to police themselves... or does it?

While it's not actually an MMO, I've been playing Animal Crossing: City Folk a lot lately with the wifi on and my gates open, allowing anyone that I've registered (and that's registered me) into my town. Every player gets their own town to play in, build, and decorate (make orchids, breed flower hybrids, design clothes). Players can visit each other to fish, trade items, watch a traveling musician, help with redecorating...

... or ruin flowers, chop down trees, steal items left out, etc. For such a casual game, Animal Crossing's use of real world time for events (i.e. trees need 3 or 4 real days to grow, only so many flowers will reproduce per day, etc ) can make it so griefers can really cause some issues for players. While you can tamper with the game's time in order to skip around, the game has a few things in check to discourage this, making some features shut down if it detects "time travel."

What does this have to do with instancing?

All players essentially have their own instance to do whatever they want with. Other players can come over and also effect your town, for good or ill, but you have to let them in... kind of like with vampires, except that these folks can come out during the day. You're safe in your town until you interact with other players, and obviously if you want to have constant access to people and variety of destinations, you're going to have to meet new people.

I used a site called for this (ACC for short) . It's not perfect, but it attracts a good amount of players. Some folks are keepers, some aren't. I found a few dead beats who trashed my town, but the good ones were quick to help me repair things and even improve my town! When disaster strikes, you always learn who's got your back.

Mechanic wise, AC:CF has a few things most other instanced games don't have. First, its instancing limits player access to others by forcing parties to exchange information and specifically allow others into the instance. Unlike, say, World of Warcraft, the instance is specifically designed to create barriers so that people need to make connections outside of the game. You can't simply turn on the game and mess with others. 

And this is where community comes in. ACC uses forums, profiles, and a rating system, combined with a basic "hosting/LFGame" feature. Again, not perfect, but it's a lot better for tracking reputation than anything most heavily instanced MMOs can offer these days. People who ignore these tools and attempt to use it similar to WoW's "Dungeon Finder" system will quickly run across the griefers, while those who take some time to develop personal connections will be able to create a social network and support system, for when someone slips through the cracks.

To me, this sort of instancing in some ways really works. It makes it so that people need to try harder to be social in order to play with others. Those who mess up may quickly find themselves unable to play with others. A sort of "jail" that's essentially the default game. You may not get sweet vengeance like you can in a PvP game, but think of it like giving players the ability to perma-ban. If word spreads enough, that player simply cannot play with others, sort of like in old school MMOs or MMOs/servers with low population and tight-knit communities. Given the option, I think I like banning people and pointing out the lamers so others can "ban" them is a lot more awesome than simply killing them. Nothing makes people rage more than a blank wall (if not, try using your ignore features more often! You're bound to meet a few folks who quickly switch characters/accounts just to continue raging at you).

It also makes me wonder if, perhaps, this may be something the upcoming Prime World ( will be using, since it also seem based on friend lists and common territory. I'm still not totally won over by this system, but I personally find that forum users tend to be a higher class of player than people who "just play the game." They have a bit more invested and are seeking others for social contact, while people who use instances for instant gratification are only grouped up to "beat the game."

The Problem With Instancing: Community

Posted by Dengar Thursday June 16 2011 at 2:28PM
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It's come up a few times, but let's get down to the real issue: instancing does not help build gaming communities. I just had a bit of a run in with another player in Animal Crossing: City Folk. What's normally a relaxing game can get a bit depressing should a problematic player enter your town. Retribution? You kick them from your town and ban them. However, since AC:CF uses real world time, progress that may take a few days can be ruined in a matter of moments, similar to EVE. However, AC:CF is completely instanced. I cannot simply go to his town and return the favor, and it may take awhile to find someone who knows him well enough to do it for me. The best thing I can do is post his name on the forums I met him in and pray he doesn't have too many more contacts.

And then, it hit me: it's the same thing in WoW. A player comes in, ruins things for other people, and can simply walk away. Without a persistant environment, and one in which the game allows nearly anyone into your party, you run the risk of having to deal with the lamer again, or face timers in order to avoid him. In Darkfall, you do have the option of ganking someone to high-holy-hell, but because there's no instances to hide in, no alts to switch to (without having to buy another account), and a single game world, lame players' reputations spread pretty quick. While soloing is sort of viable, the main issue is that other players (in groups usually) hunt the best spots, especially for people not in groups. A pariah has to have a very high level of determination in order to survive in Darkfall, while in WoW, the game will continue to hold his hand and force him onto other players who may be completely unaware of his actions.

I question this motive. I understand that people want to play the game, but instant gratification doesn't seem worth it to me. I've made more contacts running world pvp events in WoW than I have in instances... even in Vanilla WoW. While I still keep in contact with some people from my raiding days, I don't play with any of them, sadly. I've never even gamed with them outside of WoW. My world pvp friends, on the other hand, are people I've jumped MMOs with, switched console info with, etc. While one may feel like raiding can build the "soldiers in the trenches" connection, the problem is what happens when, to use a cliche, "the war is over." When the instance ends, and you need to do something else, is that person still someone you do things with long term?

Easy Tips To Improving Your PvP Game

Posted by Dengar Monday June 13 2011 at 12:20AM
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I've kicked this idea around a few times. It's partiall inspired by one of the other bloggers (specifically Paragus1's, but while the other post mainly is aimed at world pvp (and does quite a good job at showing newbies how pvp works in an MMO), my aim is to give very broad, general tips that can be applied to MMOs of many genres, and maybe most gaming against another player. These aren't all nub tips, since we've all met the "Day 1" vet who your girlfriend/little sibling/nub guild mate can easily kill, simply because this person hasn't done some critical thinking.

1. Learn to play the game. 

Now, hold a minute, I don't mean "l2play" as trolls usually note it. I'm specifically referring to understanding the game in both theoretical terms and actual performance. Learning to play doesn't in and of itself make one a better player, but a wiser one. When people don't know what their enemy can do, what their own moves can do, what the developers want from players, the goals of an instanced PvP encounter, etc, critical errors generally arise.

Let's go with something concrete. If you play a class where a certain amount of moves only work on NPCs, and other classes do not have said restrictions on their moves, then you are playing a pve class. Complaining that you have trouble in pvp may be valid in some aspects, but the fact of the matter is that you have a decent warning that you are trying to put the round peg in the square hole. Learning how the game's aims and your play work (or don't) it critical in early skill development.

Look at the game's goals and ideals. See how people's play goes with or against those ideals. Look at what works and what doesn't. If you're always losing in battles, ask yourself what you did wrong. Pointing the finger is easy, but it's much harder to change other people than it is to change yourself. I constantly have people in theme-park MMOs complain about how bad our side does, and end up grouping with them. 9 times out of 10, the person complaining is also part of the problem, and on my own, I can make the game go much smoother (unless someone's watching a good movie nearby; then we're doomed). I don't say this to brag, but to mention how much of a difference a single player who knows what they're doing can make in a situation where many players simply don't understand how to play their characters, what moves the enemy has available to them, and how to achieve victory objectives (whether a player or a developer defines them). My general tip: if you constantly see an issue, ask what you can do to fix it. Not how you can explain it to others, but how you can get it done.

While one can often find interesting combos that allow, say, a healing class to 2 shot people, this sort of thing is usually something you should know will get nerfed. Game design philosophy and practice are supposed to line up, and more often than not, developers will do what they can to make sure this happens. You are free to play the way you want, and I personally encourage testing the game's limit (but don't break the system, just make sure you understand the boundaries so you know how it works). 

2. Show, don't tell!

Your writing teacher told you to do this all the time, and the same applies to gaming. This may sound like it'll conflict with #3, but let me put it to you this way: when people see you do something effective, ranging from getting an instanced pvp objective completed to locking down an enemy, it makes a huge impact. People may ask, on the spot, how you did it. I know that to me, personally, getting PMs or public statements that I did something amazing (or having the enemy shout out my name as a target to watch) is how I know if I'm a good player or not. Theory crafters are everywhere, but it's difficult to argue with results.

3. Communicate!

I know, it's sort of against #2, but here's the thing. Anyone can say whatever they want, IRL and in video games. Unless you can point to the smoking gun, talking may not do a lot. You can't always do this, but when possible, on the spot, as you do it (or as soon after), let your friends/team mates/guildies know exactly what you did to get your results... ok, maybe not saying something like "I hit 3, 4, tab targeted twice, hit shift 1..." but what decisions you made and why. I've gotten stuck with some bad players in the past, but explaining to them why you make certain decisions helps a lot in the long run. More often than not, you'll hear "I dunno," "I'll do it my way," "Leave me alone," etc, but when you see the results, and get that rare player that says "I tried it your way... and you were right," it helps make sure that there's 1 less nub playing your game (and hopefully willing to pvp with you in the future!). For every player you convert, there is potential that they too may convert others. Elitist guilds are nice in that you may not have to train anyone at the moment, but unless you run real tight, at one point or another (and with most elitists I've grouped with, fairly often) you'll end up having to play with random baddies. Do yourself a small favor and try to build up your gaming community so that the local baddies you play with are hopefully a bit better than your enemies'.

4. Learn to beat yourself.

This is similar to #1, but slightly different. With all the information at their finger tips, few people realize that at the end of the day, you need to see how it's going to be used against you. You're not the only one out there with most of this information, and modern day MMOs tend to have communities that share information at least throughout their guild. If you know what others perceive as your weaknesses, and know how they will attempt to counter it, all that's left is coming up with your personal counter.

Let's go with a real example from WoW's arenas. Most people look at a team that has 1 healer and 2 DPS and think "Ok, kill the healer first." Most teams will do that. However, another team with the same composition will probably also know this general strategy. Instead, what they'll try to do is kill off the DPS first and prevent the healer from doing their job, either by CCing the healer or by putting DPS in positions where they line of sight away from their healer. Without the DPSers around, most healers won't last too long (naturally, this is not always the case, but the counter is less known to players who don't consider their own team's weakness).

5. Look at risk vs. reward.

Most people talk about this in terms of general play mechanics: "why should I world pvp, where I can get camped, have to run to my body, and make little pvp currency, when I can solve all of those issues by running an instanced pvp mission." Yes, super, you're killing the game creativity (but that's a rant for another day ;P).

No, what I mean is, ask yourself what can go wrong and how bad it is. In Darkfall, death means losing everything on your body 9 times out of 10. Ask what victory means, and then decide what you're putting on the line for it. If, for example, you are going out fully geared to gank newbies, you have very little to gain and a whole lot to lose, so it's probably better to keep your best stuff at home.

On the other hand, if you're playing in World of Warcraft, death usually means nothing (outside of arenas, and only if you care about rank). The worst thing you can do is be afraid to die. No, constantly dying isn't usually a great strategy, but it's more useful than in Darkfall's world pvp. While death in DF can really set you back, death can be used in WoW to, for example, distract the enemy team into thinking they need to defend a node with multiple people, allowing your team to fight 1 less person in assaults on other nodes. Dying may suck, but your team is only losing 1 person while the other team loses every person waiting at that node who wants to kill you. No, it won't put you on top of the damage meters, but damage meters don't win games, strategies do.

5 Non-MMOs Series That MMO Devs Should Play (and Borrow From)

Posted by Dengar Wednesday June 8 2011 at 1:47AM
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In the spirit of E3, I thought I'd bring up a few games that MMO devs (and perhaps MMOers) should try in order to hopefully introduce new elements into the genre.

5. The Metal Gear series.

I don't think I really need to even link gameplay of this, and I can be pretty direct with why it should be played: non-combat gameplay. Aside from bosses, the player can skip fights, which is something developers are usually worried about. Sure, you can walk past low level mobs later on, but rarely do you have the choice (or skills) to simply sneak past guards except in pvp games that don't have players on the radar.

Even if you do get in a fight Metal Gear Solid, you don't have to use lethal force, but can simply knock them out and put them some where more convenient. While some games have CC that helps with this a bit in pvp, it's not quite the same. Darkfall, for example, generally makes you deliver the finishing blow to an enemy, but more often then not, you'll probably out right kill them. If not, by default a person "bleeds out" (meaning actually dies). Can't I just knock a guy out and drag him behind a tree till he gets a rez?

Also (and this will come up again later) environmental factors are taken into consideration in the MG series. Explosives nearby? Light'em up, watch the chaos it creates. Cold area? Use cigarette smoke to see laser traps. In WoW you sometimes have canons and stuff you can poke, but it's usually part of the encounter, not just an option. I remember a particular encounter in WoW where players had to dodge fires, so I thought "Hey, why not try to put the boss in the fire?" No good =/ Little things like that add a lot to a game.

4. Mario sports games and Smash Brothers.

Another series that I doubt needs an introduction, but perhaps an explanation. Mario games, from Mario Kart to Smash Bros, generally have a certain level of skill involved, and may even inspire competitive play. However, more often than not, the competitive play strips the game of its random elements, and this is something that I feel gives some of the Mario games their high replay value. Environmental hazards that randomly appear, power-ups that suddenly turn the tide of a battle, enemies unexpectedly turning up...

Chaos may not be appreciated in a Mario Kart tourney that people bet money on, but your average player loves it. It's why World of Warcraft has slowly turned the Ring of Fire into essentially a reskinned Nagrand arena map. Having little power ups and environmental hazards adds spice to encounters. Yeah, it sucks in raiding (generally semi-competative gameplay), but imagine if in game lighting could randomly strike you or your opponent (assuming this is a game with a low death penalty, which is pretty common these days). Imagine if during a world pvp encounter, you suddenly found a piece of fruit on the ground that would restore some of your health... or your enemies. If death is going to be meaningless in the modern MMOs, why not at least make the trip fun? I know I generally have to go out of my way to risk my life in a game these days (even on "pvp" servers).

3. The Sims/Spore Series(es)

I know, it's 2 series, but it's by the same creator with similar goals. The Sims is well known, but Spore may not be some folks:

Both games are essentially sandbox games. They have some objectives, but you can keep building and creating. Your imagination is the only limit to how long you can play these games (so uncreative people or those who need strict external goals usually won't last long). Yes, some user content is "bad" (either in taste or form), but usually this can be filtered, and unlike in some MMOs, there's no reward system for creating things, just social incentives, such as getting known for creating quality content or giving good feedback. Make a family, a city, a planet, a space ship, music, whatever. Share it with friends, play with something someone else made, try playing the game in a different way, etc. 

The general idea is this: players can create content. Theme-park MMOs need devs to constantly create new content for players, and people like, say, the WoW player base, will get done with most of the content within weeks, after it's taken months/years to develop. Will Wright (creator of both series) designs games in which players explore their world and are given many tools to invest in it. When given the power to create, some players flourish, and when they can share it, it gives content to other players. Spore had a creature creator launch before the actual game, in order to get about 1 million creations for the game's launch. They had (if memory serves me right) 1 month to get that... and players reached that in a few days. Sure, maybe 90% of it was crap, but players could easily ban crap from appearing in their game again. If players had real customization options, like giving their character tentacles, actually building a housing structure, customizing the full look of their armor, and yes, even creating quests, current MMOs might get some longer life spans. We know some of this has already happened, but few new MMOs are doing this, and it's a damn shame.

2. The Animal Crossing Series

Odd choice maybe, but hear me out for a moment. Animal Crossing is, for the most part, fluff. "Quests" tend to be deliveries, chat with X NPC, maybe write someone a letter or catch a fish, which earns you money or furniture. All you do is build your town, your house, decorate, trade items with friends, etc. You can compose some simple music, create simple art (well, I've seen some good stuff), create clothing, plant trees, etc, with few time restrictions/commitments (some may say none if you want to play with the game's clock a bit and time travel). I played Animal Crossing for months, maybe even a full year, largely on my own, and I've personally been fighting urges to get the Wii version for a few days now.

There's no combat, but think about end game in your favorite MMO. It's like a second job, isn't it? You gotta raid X days a week at a certain time or lose your raid spot, and for what? More killing power or to look cool. When you get bored, it's generally because you're unmasked the game's grind ( People who still play, say, Star Wars Galaxies, at the very least, still play because they have so much fluff to play with. A game doesn't have to be about just combat. If you add enough fluff, you can, at the very least, get the social casuals, who may help power your game's economy. At least, that's what I'm hoping ArcheAge's goal is, with what we've seen from it so far.

1. The Monster Hunter series.

Example gameplay: (from MH3 for *gasp* Wii!)

Monster Hunter's pretty damn popular in Japan, and generally sports pretty good portable titles for the PSP, and has gained some recognition in the States. In fact, Japan and I believe Korea both have access to the MMO, which says something about the playstyle.

To be blunt, the MH series is what raiding... no, pve should be. It's always skill based. Those who know about the upcoming TERA know about games that make players move to dodge most damage, as opposed to dice rolls to determine this. Aim is critical, as is watching out for your team mates. An incorrect dodge or a wide arcing slash may screw your party members. There's no tank/dps/heals, but different weapons that give different abilities. For example, lancers aren't the most mobile characters, but can block most damage, while a sword and shield user is highly mobile but can't block much. If you use a lance and decide, "Hey, I wanna use a sword and shield instead!" all you have to do is make even a basic weapon and you entirely change your playstyle. Each weapon has a different feel, different moves, and different combos, not to mention different reach (for example, lances can hit nearly any point on a monster, but are a bit slow, while sword+shiled hits very quickly but in a limited about of areas). Even then, fights can be won via items you build (such as shock traps and tranq bombs), smart dodging (mobs can damage each other, and at times will even attack other mobs!), and even environmental use (stand near a wall and a charging monster may get it's horn stuck in the wall, giving you te freedom to whack on it unmolested).

The game tends to cater to the hardcore because of this, but items for your raids (and even simple housing) can be gained offline, and parties are 4 players max. Even the most difficult encounters can be managed with some team work and communication. Your reward? Parts from the thing you slew, which can be turned into gear, furniture, and consumables. In addition, throughout the fight, you can break off parts of the monster, such as horns or tails. Personally, this never got boring to me, and not only does it increase your rewards (on the spot too, might I add), but it generally effects combat. After all, when the monster does a tail swing with 3/4s of their tail missing, it makes dodging a hell of a lot easier.

I'm not much of a raider, but I was hooked on MH3 for months due to it's challenge and varied encounters. Similar to raiding, there's still a bit of a "dance" to learn, but it's much more complex than your average raiding game. There's more random factors, which some folks may dislike, but for PvE, I think this should be welcomed in light of the general waltz other games essentially offer. My girlfriend is an avid raider but rarely picks up action titles. However, she never said "no" to MH sessions (though pleaded at times for us not to do some of the more intense encounters, such as fighting 2 dragons at once). She quickly learned when to dodge, when to attack, when she could do both, how to set up item combos, etc. If she can be won over by an action game's design, I'm sure any RPG fan can appreciate the MH approach to PvE.

Why ArcheAge May Disappoint the Sandbox Crowd

Posted by Dengar Friday June 3 2011 at 1:35PM
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Looking over some of the forums on two popular ArcheAge fansites ( and, you'll notice some concerns about the game's pvp penalties, goals, rewards, etc. A little extra digging and you'll notice that some long term guilds from sandbox games such as Ultima Online and Darkfall are keeping their eye on AA, but I've yet to hear of, say, World of Warcraft guilds really paying attention to it (with one obvious exception ;P ).

As a quick introduction, ArcheAge is a Korean developed game (made by one of the creators of Lineage) that is attempting to combine both sandbox and theme-park elements into the same game. For closed beta 3, testers were able to reach level 20+ in a matter of days (which the devs seem to like), build houses (both solo and with help), and build ships for naval combat. 

Most of the pvp concerns are based on this beta test. AA does not have a NDA, so testers can share everything and anything about the game, and have done so. CB3 focused on the early levels of the game, and primarily on the "WoW continents;" that is, the continents controlled by dev created factions, not the pvp continent for player factions.

The game's jail system (which allows victims of same-faction ganking in friendly territory to turn in blood off their own body as "evidence" to put said ganker in prison) is being seen as a problem. Again, note that this is for same faction slaying in essentially newbie territory on the continent that does not allow pvp sieges for assets. Most sandbox players probably recall Darkfall's racial alliances, and the fact that "going red/blue" was pretty exploitable and had little consequence, scaring away most of the non-hardcores and eventually leading to an overhaul of the system. If AA is supposed to be attracting theme-park players, I would think having little reward for this sort of action, combined with high risk of being sent to prison for 30 minutes in-game time, help deter same-side ganking so that new players who aren't used to hardcore play styles can be lured... er, tricked... no, um... eased into the free-for-all pvp experience. Those who are complaining about the jail system seem to have largely forgotten about the theme-parkers in this respect, but this shows up in other areas too.

"Item loss on death;" this phrase alone sends shivers down the spine of most theme-park MMOers. Back in Asheron's Call, this wasn't an issue at all, since we collected "death items" in order to help ensure that we didn't lose our best gear. Besides, the best stuff usually was random loot, not quest/"raid" loot, and the latter very rarely took weeks on end to earn. Looking at the WoW player base, who may raid for months to obtain an item, the idea of losing items on death is enough for them to avoid even free trials of a game (I know, since I tried seducing some WoWheads to the dark side, including some AC vets who didn't want to go back to this as a death penalty). Item loss on death is largely relegated to niche pvp games, which is where many of the current AA fanbase is coming from, but is not the sole target audience. AA's current death penalty seems fairly simple, in that you simply respawn at your chosen respawn point and have a short debuff placed on you. This is a pretty laughable penalty for most sandboxers, and maybe some theme-park players. But let's recall that AA is trying to get both parties to play the same game. If the pvp continent allows us to conquer player towns, rape farms, and tax people off their land, we're going to have to make something lenient to entice the theme-parkers into giving AA a chance. If the pvp continent also has the best resource and mob locations and long runs to said locations, death becomes meaningful again. As someone who had to repeat 20minute+ runs in Darkfall when I tried to run naked to my guild's new location, alone through enemy territory, I can tell you that time lost can be a fairly brutal experience. When you tell a WoWhead that you celebrated the end of a 2-hour journey, they freak out ;P

Finally, I find that analysis of low level pvp tends to mean little in the long run. The concerns about pvp prior to the level cap seem near meaningless, since games rarely tune their game for this until it becomes a huge problem. The jail system helps mitigate some problems, such as high level traitors faction-ganking their own side, and that's probably the limit of what should be dev controlled in order to satisfy theme-park players and sandboxers. Same side faction is still an option, but it leads to potentially joining the third faction (pirates, who can attack or be attacked by anyone). Theme-parkers get their safety net, sandboxers have their options, all in newbie land. Concerns about rewarding pvp with items, such as in WoW or Rift with pvp currencies, are too hard to judge without seeing end-game content. After all, the only current "battle ground" is essentially a recreation of the end-game siege system on a very small, instanced scale. The training aspect leads me to wonder if the rewards are, essentially, for training purposes as well, meaning that end-game may not have many rewards beyond what sandboxers are used to: the thrill of the kill, the removal of an enemy, and potentially the acquisition of new land or an other player's gold (via house taxation).

In all, AA seems to be going to great length to balance between sandboxers and theme-parkers, but because the sandbox crowd is usually relegated to niche games, they are forgetting the other half of AA's target audience. Theme-park players are notoriously thin-skinned and willing to drop games quickly, with many frequently seeing pvp at detrimental to their experience. The idea of limitless possibilities without directed content and dev policing is what keeps the masses from experiencing games like EVE and Darkfall. AA is essentially aiming at "sandbox-lite," and should be approached as such. Those expecting a new Ultima Online will be sorely disappointed. However, those of us with softcore friends may be rewarded with a game that will finally seduce our carebear counter-parts into trying a game with more player-created end game content, so that sandboxers can bring their friends to sieges and while still allowing them to hit the hamster wheel... er, raid content, all in the same game.

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