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An Earthbound Perspective

Practical perspective on MMO play and practice.

Author: Dengar

Re-Rifted and Loving It!

Posted by Dengar Saturday August 27 2011 at 10:40AM
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With Rift's 1/2 Birthday here, I decided to give Trion a gift rather than receive one: resubscribing to Rift and bringing a few friends, at least for a month.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that Rift isn't my ideal game. They've added in a few things that went counter to what I wanted from a living, breathing world: constant grind updates for PvE and PvP, cross realm instant transport to dungeons, and (sort of) free weekly transfers off of shards. Still, I've played World of Warcraft for far too long. At this point, even breaks don't help, since the grind is very apparent. Much like a single player game, I tend to do things once in WoW and I'm done- no need to do it again on an alt. Not only that, but Trion does things better than Blizz these days.

First, updates are much faster in Rift, and bring a good chunk of changes. They can't compare to Asheron's Call 1 or 2's monthly updates or GM events, but they're not too bad. You at least get some new dailies (usually simple tasks you can do around town), plus content updates, which reminds me of sandbox games. For example, Rift has released increased security for player accounts, appearance tabs, world pvp dailies, and alternative war front (think BG) objectives from time to time- in 6 months. In that time, WoW's added... guild quests, something Rift launched with. WoWheads may say, "Hey, Blizz is adding appearance tabs, allow you to change your weapon, and will probably do wpvp dailies too!" This may be true, however, unlike Blizz, Trion gives players more freedom, and faster too. The appearance tabs (yes, plural- players can make up to 4 outfits without it taking up extra bag space) aren't restricted with some arbitrary "no silliness" rule. I've seen people running around looking like Mickey Mouse. If someone wants to do that, more power to them!

World PvP dailies and rifts are a lot like the world PvP events I have to try to organize in WoW on a weekly basis, and sometimes better when it's a rough month. The game puts objectives and a reward that is on-par with instanced content (maybe even better, since players seem to do their best to make sure they get done despite high ranks, something that WoW's "pvp zones" lack very much). This brings players from both factions into the hotspot, turning zones into something like the "glory days of Hillsbrad" (which was essentially zerg vs counter-zerg). The system especially shines when you add in the PvP Rifts- think capture the flag with multiple neutral flags. Even if you get zerged, you can form up with a few folks and intercept stragglers with "flags." It's a simple objective that adds a lot to gameplay, and since players summon them, it gives us some freedom to coordinate things. The best part is that the game announces the rifts to both factions, so everyone knows where they can find some good world pvp.

The "alternative objectives" for war fronts (like WoW BGs) changes the regular rule set when it's in place. A simple capture the flag map (think Warsong Gulch) becomes much more complicated: flags become neutral. Capturing a flag only puts it in your base, and the enemy can steal it and take it to their base to score. Oh, and after the first flag is captured, the game spawns two neutral flags. You can go from a 2-0 advatnage to 2-3 loss in minutes. The game's pace becomes much faster and the strategies can get pretty wild. This vastly beats out Blizzard's different maps with largely the same gameplay (I loved the new maps in Cata, don't get me wrong, but the gameplay only changed a little- Trion's method is vastly more noticeable and enjoyable).

And this is just the pvp stuff. Despite Rift being a theme park game with a largely pve oriented crowd, the developers actually pay attention to their PvP crowd. The changes that took place while I was assisting my guild in WoW's 4.2 make me much happier with a game I already would have stuck with if not for social purposes. Blizzard is trying to play catch up at the moment, and I don't feel like it's quite as strong, and certainly not as swift. Rift is still a theme park game, but by adding more world events, the game world feels much more organic, and I'm seeing familiar faces after only a few days of transfering to a new shard. Some may be gone in a few weeks if a large guild comes over after "dominating" their old shard, but for now, world pvp is alive and well. Game mechanics enforce a reliance on other people, unlike WoW's new "pvp zone" that gives people more of a reason to avoid their enemy than engage them.

Grandpa WoW Gets a Cane: Updates Bringing WoW Up to Date

Posted by Dengar Sunday August 21 2011 at 9:39PM
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So WoW's getting some changes that Rift players already got to experience and then some:

Let's go over some of this slowly. 
First, the appearance tab is essentially the idea of making your character look like she's wearing different armor than she actually is. That is, it may look like a low level piece of gear, but it's actually the invincibility cloak of the ages. Why do this? Because in theme park MMOs characters start to all look the same. Character creation options are already fairly limited, and armor can't be dyed, so everyone, quite literally, ends up wearing the same thing once you're at the max level. It's great that there's an option, but Blizzard isn't allowing everything. After all, Blizzard has stated that they don't want WoW, a game known for it's heavy use pop-culture references (Harris Pilton? "Orc Smash"?) and inane lore (still no explanation on PC's inability to die? Space elves?), too allow players to look "too silly." I know, I was confused too. Pick up your jaw and lower your eye brows. Lord knows that Star Wars Galaxy's ability to create fat, ugly characters made it so that everyone made those sorts of characters and ruined the game. Sorry, what was that? Ugly characters were few and far between? A few people actually made slightly chubby characters for realism sake, but overall palyers decided they wanted to be flawless? How odd.
The short story on this is that Blizzard is afraid of their player base. I'm not too surprised given them many people I knew were originally going to dodge WoW based on the sort of person you tend to bump into when playing Star Craft. Still, if players want to dual wield fish, why not let them? After all, female warriors have already tanked in thongs and bikinis. I don't see how much sillier things can get when players are given some options. Besides, it's not like they're going to dye all their armor pink (since, unlike Rift, WoW still won't have dyes).
Next, we may have cross server raiding soon. The amount of instancing in WoW has already made any semblance of an online community rather hard to construct, and this will only further increase the situation. Rather than playing on the same server, people will be able to raid with a guild simply by using RealID it seems. Sure, some of us with friends on another server will be able to raid together, but only if we're of the same faction. It's a nice option, but WoW is feeling like less of a "persistent world" and more like a glorified lobby.
Last, but not least, changes to appearance means that WoW may finally be losing it's silhouetting mechanic. For those unfamiliar with the term, silhouetting is the ability to look at another player and immediately determine certain key features about that character: friend or foe, class type, and strength. This may be good for some games, but I've always hated this in MMO. Perhaps it's because I grew up in sandbox games where there was an element of danger in meeting new people, but the simple fact remains that quickly identifying these things about another player dumbs down the game. Unless you're completely brain dead, you should have some ideas of how the fight will go and what strategies you'll need to use. It's like playing poker with an open hand and yeah, I can see someone enjoying that. However, it takes away some of the thrill of the game, such as bluffing. I know people don't like "random factors" these days since people think e-sports should have regularized systems but we are playing video games, folks. Some people may think that looking a bit different won't change much, but your average player makes a lot of judgements based on appearances (I know, you can look at buffs, but in all honesty, most players aren't that smart still).
Why is this finally happening? Recent gaming trends are finally catching up with Blizzard. Character customization is a big area that WoW's always lagged behind, and with Rift and Bioware's upcoming TOR, Blizzard may be finally buckling down to appease social players. A game can actually service without power players, explorers, and pvpers (look at Horizons/Istaria), but think about what keeps you playing an MMO or going back to one. I think for many of us, it's social reasons. We have friends who, no matter how bad they are, we want to play with. They stick with the games they're attached to. WoW has age and toys on it's side, but it's graphics are dated, and that's something softcore gamers really tend to gravitate too. Better graphics may lure some of your buddies to new games, but... eh. Better mechanics work better, but your main tank's girlfriend doesn't want to give up all her mounts and pets, so he'll be back within a month. If you tell her, "Hey, this game lets you choose body type and you can make pretty outfits and change the color of your clothes," she'll be all over it, and your MT's still with you. 
This is what Blizzard's worrying about. It's why Cata starts hard and gets progressively easier each month. They're trying to please as many people as possible. TOR's bringing in easier mechanics, new pvp games (well, new to some folks), and more customization. GW2 promises cross server action and easy ways of changing servers. And Rift's just WoW 2-3 months in the future but with not quite as many raids/pets/mounts.... so far. So what is Blizzard doing? Making it easier to play with your friends, giving you some customization options, and making pvp just a wee-bit more interesting. I don't blame them. It's going to work on a good amount of people. But without a doubt, people need to see it for what it is: World of Warcraft is getting competition and Blizzard finally has to adapt to stay afloat. Thank god.

Guilds: Family, Business, or Militia? Part 4: The Militia Guild

Posted by Dengar Tuesday August 16 2011 at 12:43PM
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Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Here we are at our final discussion about guild types. We're talked about the idea that, no matter what a guild is doing, that action will eventually slow down, change, or even stop. Rather, we should look at structure and overall goals. An absence of explicit structure tends to be the family guilds. The guilds with some structure that blast through the game and move on or disband are business guilds. Today, we talk about militia guilds, and no guild best defines this as The Yew Militia. There may be some guilds better known, but Yew has more of the qualities we're going to discuss and have been around longer. World of Warcraft's Paragorn will be referenced a bit since they may be better known to those a bit newer to MMOs, but also to highlight one or two things Yew lacks.

Now, before we jump into things, remember that the militia guild is there for player protection. Something about a particular game made players band together, not just to achieve a goal, but to ensure player quality. Explicit rules are in place to ensure a certain amout of fairness to all who join. This sort of puts the militia between the family and business guilds, since they care about both relationships and an over-arching goal. 

The militia name was chosen because it's formed by average community members to form something that, in some ways, may even resemble a small government. It can be fairly intense. Look at Yew's Information side bar, and check out their rank system for Darkfall. Ranks are explicitly defined, and may take checking a few sections of the guild to fully understand. For some players, this may seem a bit extreme, but Yew (which started in Ultima Online) has it's reasons.

First, it's a roleplay guild. There's lots of different types of roleplay, so spelling out some basics helps make sure people RP on a similar level (i.e. if someone's back story is about how the guild is about protecting the innocent, and another's about conquering the world, you have a disconnect). This is further compounded by the fact that Yew Militia is a pvp guild. 

RP PvP guilds aren't super common. Some people may even view the two as being at war with each other, since RPers are usually viewed as weak targets and ragers. In order to pull this off, Yew ensures that it's members show that they are capable of functioning as a team on a pvp level. This is rather hard to accomplish in most games on its own, but combined with requiring that members RP means that Yew has a very specialized pool of players, so there is a very real need to ensure that members properly fit in and represent the guild. If a player is great at PvP but won't RP, the roleplayers will question the social situation of the guild. If the pvpers keep dealing with RPers who break down during pvp, they question the guild's ability to protect itself. 

Now, RP PVP guilds aren't the only ones who may need some sort of explicit structure. Corporate sponsored guilds like Paragorn are in a similar position. In order to keep a professional image, the guild needs to keep a high quality profile. You can't just walk away from a real business giving you money or gear, so business and family guilds aren't really well equipped to handle something like this. If anyone walks away in this sort of situation, it'll be the sponsor, not the guild members. A sponsor won't be happy with just seeing positive results; there'll be a contract. The guild leaders will be forced to make sure members are able to help keep the guild's side of the contract up, and as anyone who's worked a minimum job knows, your average, everyday Joe isn't always the most dependable co-worker or employee.

By now, it should be obvious that militias are not a common guild type and are not for your average gamer. The amount of work involved or the specialized purpose won't appeal to many people, but it's very much a breath of fresh air to those it aims to help. Because of this, miltia guilds also tend to be able to hop from game to game since they already have a basic structure in place that players agree to. 

In short, the militia guild tends to be rather hardcore in its structure. It's not for everyone, and tends to be rather specialized in its audience, but can give birth to some impressive guilds that are built to last. 

Guilds: Family, Business, or Militia? Part 3: The Business Guild

Posted by Dengar Thursday August 11 2011 at 4:08PM
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Part 1

Part 2


Here we are at part 3 of our little discussion on guild models to follow. For those who are too lazy to check the previous discussions, the idea is simple: guild goals and activities come and go, but the structure is very often hard to change. A family guild will rarely see any explicit structure but can be more than capable of high end raiding, while a business guild that focuses purely on raiding may turn into a "friend guild" after the current content has been completed.

Today we'll be talking about the business guilds. As much as it pains me to say it, we'll be looking at what, to me, defines the business guild: Something Awful's very own Goon Squad (for those who click the last link, know that it's a long standing joke). The Goons hit many games, though their amount of time there varies. I've dealt with them (IRL and in game) throughout the years, but today, I'll mainly be drawing examples from their time in Darkfall before the NA-1 server was released.

Goons are the very definition of a business guild. If you google "Darkfall goons" you'll see several dead websites appear. Why? Because as previously mentioned, business guilds establish rules to give themselves some legitimacy, but as soon as people are no longer getting "paid" (in epics, fame, "luls" or tears), the guild starts to die out. Goons are able to rally great numbers, conquer content, but tend to burn out. A common joke (even among some of the leaders) is something like this:

         Question: How do you stop a 300 goon zerg?

        Answer: Slowly back away and watch them kill each other.

This is quite literal. Goons will take just about anyone they can find a use for. They'll get a job done, but when left to their own devices, the members tend to turn on each other. In Darkfall, once the largest "zerg" on the server was dealt with, the Goon leaders turned on each other. Members began to act as spies for alliances who were starting to take down the Goon nation. Others began to kill their guild mates and loot their bodies. The Goons lost many of their members and holdings, and a decent amount of their influence on the server after that. There were attempts to resurrect the guild at later dates, but by this point, many Goons were feeling "done" with Darkfall, so it was off to the next game.

More so than any other guild that still lasts under the same name (and sometimes leadership), the Goons embody the spirit of the business guild. This is the guild you join to see the game, but you often end up hating your guildies and what you've done to achieve your goals. Goons are especially fond of extended jokes, breaking the game, and griefing. They're a necessary evil that's often underestimated, partially due to their hard stance on propaganda (never believe a goon if they say they're serious ;P ). They're not for the feint of heart, or the humorless.

On a general level, the business guilds don't tend to last long. Goons have the Something Awful site to bind them together, but most other guilds that fit this mold simply go after loot, then quit, either from the boredom of being the top dog or because they can't make it. They are probably less common than the family guild, since they're slighter harder to build and keep up, but they're still common never the less. The top guilds in WoW tend to be business guilds simply because they are only about raiding. Tangible rewards, such as epics in a theme park guild, are what drives the creation of these guilds. Activity's low during non-raiding periods, then drastically pick up before new content approaches. Members come and go in order to fill in raid slots and achieve server firsts. In fighting is not uncommon, and there's rarely anything to keep the guild together once goals have been achieved. 

Next time, we'll discuss the militia guilds: groups of people with similar goals but a structure to give them long term stability... if done correctly. 

Part 4

Guilds: Family, Business, or Militia? Part 2: The Family Guild

Posted by Dengar Saturday August 6 2011 at 6:19PM
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So last time we gave a quick overview of the different guilds we're going to talk about. This time, we're going to talk about the "family guild." While some people may be tempted to call them "friend guilds," there's some key differences. I'd normally link a guild site for this, but family guilds will rarely have a guild site. They tend to lack explicit written documents, but are probably the most commonly occurring guild. Some have been together for years, others will probably last as short as a week. More often than not, family guilds will be made up of the same people for multiple games or on multiple realms but always with different names. 

Basing a guild on it's actions is one way to classify guilds, but the thing is... that always changes. I've seen RP guild turn into hardcore pvp guilds, hardcore pvp guilds go PvE, and top end raiding guilds die almost as soon as they "beat the game" ;P. Structure, however, doesn't usually change much. If a guild starts without any structure, you probably will never see much. If it has a ton of rules, it's rare for it to remain the same guild and drop it's procedures. 

Keeping this in mind, family guilds are not "friend guilds" since most people use the term "friend guild" to talk about a guild that doesn't do progression in a common fashion. RP guilds, hardcore raid guilds between content, world pvp guilds, and others at some points would be considered friend guilds, so I don't feel as if this label is very meaningful. Some guilds call themselves "family" and I think this definition will help give people an idea of what this usually means.

Joining a "family guild" can be, in some ways, very easy. Simply put, the guild likes you and invites you, or may just want to get to know you and invites you. Joining's the easy part, but staying may not be, and not because they may be "casual." Family guilds can be raiding guilds, RP guilds, hardcore PvP guilds, but the general idea is that you're essentially with them or against them. The rules will come up only when they're broken. The leader and officers are most likely good friends/family (either IRL or in game).

I've spoken with "family guilds" as old as 10 years who never really had forums, a website, or anything else that'd give them an obvious structure. They simply play together, and if you aren't on the same page as them, you just aren't going to go far with them. Progress doesn't matter a ton, just playing together, though they often will allow puggers to come along. They can be very tempting, with their lax structure and seemingly easy going way of life, especially when the family is doing well.

Unfortunately, when things are not going well, you'll find out who's part of the family and who isn't. People who leave the family may be ignored if they were there just as a warm body, but if a leader tries to leave, it's personal. Like an Amish man that shaves his beard and starts wearing Hawaiian shirts, key members that leave the family guild will be shunned, disowned, on their own. This may seem like no big deal, but remember that the family guild is made of relationships, often long term ones. Leaving a business or military guild will probably only effect you in one game, if any. Leaving a family guild sometimes means real life arguments and sadly, in some cases, losing friends.

Next time we'll be talking about the business guilds, who are on a very polar opposite of the family: striving for goals, with little focus on relationships aside from using them as part of the means to and end.

Part 3

Part 4

Guilds: Family, Business, or Militia? Part 1

Posted by Dengar Wednesday August 3 2011 at 12:09AM
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Let's cut straight to the point: guilds serve as the glue of player communities in MMOs. You can pug all you want, even into end game. I've done it guildlessly before, but you never feel quite as attached to a game as when you're in a guild. There's a lot of ways guilds are described, but I've been thinking about it a bit lately, and I think there's 3 labels that might help describe them in a way to give us a better idea of what kind of social construct we're looking at. Granted, like anything we dumb down, things will be missing, there will be exceptions to the rule, mixtures of classifications, or people may want to do things a bit differently. That's all fine. I don't claim to be the sole source of knowledge in the universe, but I like to think of ways to highlight things in a slightly different way in order to maybe learn something new.

This is simply the introduction, and as such, we're going to get some working definitions before diving into specifics later on:

Family guild- This is a guild where the people who are in charge are in charge because of their relationship. This may be what some people call a "friend guild" but I think family highlights a strong trait in this guild, since friends come and go, but you're stuck with family forever, for good or bad. The idea of a relationship that can't simply be earned and just is is what separates family guilds from the other two categories we'll be using. Similarly, rules in this sort of guild probably revolve around the core of the guild's actions, not so much any specific documents. This may sound bad, but it varies from person to person; if you inherently believe that you need to be at an event 15 minutes before it start, fully prepared for the event or else get replace, and the guild leader does as well without explicitly spelling this out, you're going to love that guild. If, however, you're in that guild and think it's ok to come 2 minutes late without knowing the strategy, and then get yelled at by all the officers, that guild's going to be your personal hell. These appear in all types of games, and probably thrive the most in games where guilds are mainly there for chat purposes. 

Business guild- This guild's all about getting paid. This is the guild that's about progress. It's about getting the best items, most money, and probably a heavy amount of fame. The second any of these wavers, people will jump ship. There is probably some written rules to give the business guild some legitimacy, but only enough so that there's some peace between guildies. These guilds tend to house min-maxers looking to power through the game's content then take a break or move on, if they're built to last; otherwise, they simply cannabilize themselves, die off when there's no challenge, or disband when they can't progress. Theme park games house these guilds more than any other genre, and there's a good chance they're the driving force of the game's content.

Militia guild- This is the guild that's there for your protection. Something in or about your game required people to band up against other players, either to attack them or defend them. There's a reasonably accessible structure in place that you can view at any time, and you better start reading it, since much like traffic laws, ignorance of them is no excuse for breaking them. Players have a pretty clear idea of what's expected of them and how they can gain rank. Even if it's fairly similar to a family guild, the rules will be spelled out rather than assumed. While the business guild's looking to get the most out of the game's mechanics, the military guild's looking to get the most out of people, either by coherence, domination, or manipulation. Some militia guilds may lose members when they fail to protect them, but the guild's structure gives hope to its members, making them believe that there must be something they can do to fix it. Military guilds will be found most often in sandbox games with heavy pvp, but also RP servers where non-RPers make it necessary to form some kind of structure and meeting places away from prying eyes.

These are just the general idea of the classifications. Next time, I hope to flesh these out the familiy guilds a bit- how they aren't just "friend guilds" with a different name, some of the good, the bad, and heck, maybe even give some more solid examples of them ;)

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