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An Earthbound Perspective

Practical perspective on MMO play and practice.

Author: Dengar

Blizzard Shows Extreme Favoritism With New Legendary

Posted by Dengar Wednesday September 28 2011 at 3:58PM
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Not all classes are even (in most games). While the player base may feel that developers have favorites, the people behind the game often do enough to deny such claims.

However, Blizzard's latest revelations about the Rogue only legendary leaves little to the imagination. Previously, legendaries seemed aimed at certain classes more than others, but not to this extreme. Let's review the weapon legendaries to date:

The first legendary was, in all honesty, a bit bland, but nearly any class could use it since it was based on weapon skills, not classes. It was pretty good, but famous mostly for its looks. For this reason, warriors, shaman, paladins, and even druids wanted it (though guilds that gave it to a druid were usually mocked), and while warriors usually made the best use of it, guilds could reward this to a wide range of worthy people.

Next, the trade chat spammer came. Aside from becoming terribly over-linked over the years, Thunderfury was, again, useable by several classes, though due to the generated threat, often given to tanks. Still, I remember seeing rogues and even a hunter with this item. I'm sure there are shaman out there who have it as well. Simply put, it was still flexible in terms of who could make use of it, since the sword proved popular with pvpers.

Then came Atiesh. A rather flexible legendary, Atiesh was the first caster legendary, but far from the last. The nice thing about this legendary (other than being an ulta-status symbol since Naxxramas was not accessible to most of the player-base and because the quest-line was taken out of the game before the launch of the third expansion) was that it had several forms. Again, Blizzard gave it some wiggle room so that no one class could claim it as their own. This was also the first legendary with an on-use effect, summoning a portal to the first raid of the upcoming expanion at the time. 

After that came Burning Crusade's Warglaives. At the time, only 2 classes could use these- the first time a legendary had been given to such a small potential audience. However, it wasn't a huge issue, since 25 man raids were king, and I had personally never heard of a group not having any warriors or rogues. 

Following this came the rather restrictive Thori'dal bow. Without a doubt, this bow was made for hunters, since hunters were (and still are) the only physical ranged class in the game. It also replaced a nearly-required item used by many hunters (the ammo pouch, since back then, you did not have unlimited ammo unless you had this bow). Still, I saw a warrior and a few rogues with it as well, since there was no class restriction on the item and was still pretty good (even for rogues who made macros to switch to a thrown weapon for deadly-throw). The infinite ammo still helped warriors and rogue since it saved them some back space, so none of the mechanics only helped hunters.

Then we got the healer hammer. Yes, some casters also wanted it since it gave them some good dps, but only healers could get it to proc. Since there were 4 classes that could make use of this legendary, it wasn't much of an issue for the most part, returning us to the Vanilla WoW days of flexible legendaries (I think a rogue or warrior could even euqip it if they got enough help making one).

I don't think many people were too surprised by the final Lich King legendary besides the fact that it had class restrictions on it. Hunters, for example, can use 2 handed axes, but Blizzard decided to make this for melee DPS only. Still, 3 classes could use it, and none could really argue that they deserved it much more than another, unlike Thori'dal.

Cata's first legendary, Dragonwrath, lacks class restrictions, but it more suitable for caster dps. Like the healer hammer, it can potentially be used by those who wouldn't get the most out of it (like a holy priest), but it still gives the ability to a wide range of classes. which is good, because this is also the first legendary to grant a buff to the user (in this case, turning them into a mount).

Now, getting back to the rogue legendary, we run into a few issues. The biggest problem is that, unlike any legendary previously available, the daggers grant a class specific abilities. DPS or healing procs are one thing, since several classes can take advantage of them, but "finishers" are a mechanic unique to rogues. The quest line also sounds like it will involve rogue-only mechanics, hinted at by the use of "stealth." Legendaries often have quests associated with them, but Blizzard's wording makes it sound more like a class-specific quest. Finally, keep in mind that WoW's raids have shrunk tremendously, and with classes looking more similar, there are many 10-man raid groups who do not have an active rogue to give this to. 

Now, some careful readers may argue that finishers and stealth are skills held by druids as well, but they are unable to dual wield. If pick-pocketing or disabling traps are involved (I'd assume that little part about being "clever" is indicating these), the quest itself will prevent druids from benefitting from the daggers even if the main hand grants the abilities and scales for druids.

Some of this is speculative, but as things stand, it seems like Blizzard's showing an awful amount of favoritism towards rogues. It's very hard to argue the flexibility of an item that grants class specific mechanics and constantly uses the classes' name in describing said item. Previous items/quests from raids that favored a class were removed in Cata, so I'm confused as to how and why Blizzard is going down this path.

Do we still need to level?

Posted by Dengar Saturday September 10 2011 at 8:07PM
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Leveling is a core mechanic of most MMOs. Sometimes they're baked into "skills," arbitrary numbers that represent how good you do something, such as in Darkfall Online, but for the most part, it's the same thing. We've got mechanics to increase level speed, to increase a low level character's power, to decrease a high level player's power, to cap level, increase levels... but what if we just get rid of the levels?

Let's think about it for a moment. Levels define what you can and can't do for the most part. It separates us from our friends and dicatates where we can and can't go. If we level too fast, a game with story feels awkward (we'll be seeing how that effects you, Star Wars: The Old Republic). If we don't have a story, or don't care about it, it's simply a mechanic that makes veterans automatically better than new players before taking player skill into the equation (like Darkfall).

The current system puts us in a rather obvious grind. Yes, TOR's trying to mask it better with story. Let's say that, in a worst case scenario, TOR only has story- the raiding is lame, the pvp is dull, the economy sucks. It's just a game with story. My question is, why do you need levels for that? 

Let's jump forward a bit more. Why do you need levels for pvp? FPS games and RTS games traditionally have no artificial levels and they allow for some rather interesting gameplay. What about raiding? We've all played with max level people who didn't know their class. 

At best, leveling provides time for people to learn their character and moves, right? It's an understandable excuse if games are very different or you're new to the genre, but when every game is called a clone of another, do we really need a glorified tutorial that lasts us months before we get access to the real game?

At worse, leveling is exactly what people dislike about RPGs- a game who's difficulty is judged purely based on increasing stats rather than player skill. In an MMO, this takes a turn for the worst when you're judged by these numbers rather than your ability to play the game. While being able to press a button at the right time does take some skill, the leveling process very rarely works to train players to function correctly. Quite literally, anyone can level.

Removing levels and the, in all honesty, rather dull content associated with them, gives developers the opportunity the focus on what really matters: tutorials for increasing player skill, creation of fun content, and a focus on creating conent that furthers the social nature of MMOs.

WoW's Cataclysm is a perfect example of a wasted opportunity. A large amount of effort was put into the leveling experience, rather than new game mechanics and social interaction. The game's "story," told through mainly "kill 10 rats, gather 6 mushrooms" types of "quests," is a massive waste of resources. Several of my guildies went through the content and were satisfied, but the end result was the same as when you finish a single player game: "Boy that was fun! Let's try a new game!"

Those who didn't level a new character or several alts tried the new "content" and were done in a month or two. Those of us still around mainly make our own content or, in some cases, raid, which is less about levels and more about player skill, but the main part is that we're around for each other, not necessarily the game. In essence, the leveling path in and of itself, unless a terrible grind, is a bit of a dead end. The multi-player aspects are what keep people hooked and paying monthly fees, not the leveling grind.

While 1000 variations of "kill 10 rats, gather 6 mushrooms" are easier to create than real content, it's also easier for competitors too. What this also allows for is creating games with more social mechanics. I personally love it when a game requires aiming, but when players are more equal in power, you can also make social skills, like the creation of alliances, a larger part of gameplay. This helps to eliminate some of the power play seen in purely skill based games (like many FPS and RTS games) that make others avoid those genres, and makes it so that the skilled players can contribute in other ways.

What do we get in exchange from our levels? Is there a benefit we're still getting? Or are games like Firefall and The Secret World onto something?

5 Pre-launch Planning Tips

Posted by Dengar Thursday September 8 2011 at 1:53AM
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With pre-launch tools and hype for upcomming MMOs like The Old Republic and The Secret World, developers are trying to rope in players and give them the tools to solidify the new game as a guild's new home. However, there's a few things to keep in mind when preparing for a new game.Most of these are for guild leaders, but also things to consider if you're looking at a guild yourself!

1. Community projects don't usually pay off in terms of recruits.

I've seen this a few times. Someone thinks that making an interactive map, guild search tool, or constantly releasing articles will tranlate into recruitment advantages. Don't get me wrong, they're great, and very much appreciated, but it's a lot of work and usually thankless. I've been on both ends of this, and I can tell you that I've yet to meet anyone who joined a guild and became a long-term member because the guild did good things for the community. People just love to take advantage of free stuff.

How do you balance between the work and rewards? Take advantage of user submissions and upkeep. If you can allow users to make adjustments and simply act as an admin, you'll save yourself a lot of time while also creating a tool that your guild, at the very least, can be proud of. People will recognize your guild name and look at your other qualities a bit more than a random guild, so that even if you're not progress oriented, name familiarity may be enough to get someone to look at what you have to offer that others don't. If you place all the burden on yourself and drop the ball, the failure will stick to your guild more than the success would have added to your fame. 

 

2. Don't go in as a new guild.

New guilds rarely make it, and veteran players know it. Older guilds just have a lot of advantages for long term gamers that can't be grown at the drop of a hat, and with MMOs becoming more popular (and short term), stability means more to veteran MMOers.

The WoW crowd's still learning this though. You may be able to lure some skilled raiders in, but WoW has bred short attention spans and a sense of entitlement in some of the more casual raiders. 

TOR's pre-launch tool has been out since, mm, March 2010. About 5 months. In that amount of time you can build a guild in an existing guild with people looking at the new game and actually have some history before you try to recruit. Get pictures of events you host, note how you progress or rank, etc. A short history gives you a little something over the rest of the crowd though. People notice the difference between "we have" and "we will," and the past tense resonates a bit more.

 

3. Don't auto-recruit people interested in your guild when the game's first announced.

Sadly, some of the first people looking at the game will probably be some of the first who drop by the wayside. They're often too enthusiastic. They're looking for a grail of gaming, and any game that may be it will attract them until specifics come out. Fan boys are also part of it, and their judgement may be clouded. Finally, some folks are just going to forget about the game. Those who are interested, keep in contact with them. Try to play something else with'em. The ones that last at least till launch will do something for ya. The rest aren't great investments. They'll wanna join, they'll jump through hoops, but when push comes to shove, you'll find them missing come launch day.

 

4. Keep planning to a minimum until you've actually played the game.

Promising to allow members access to guild catapults only works if the game actually has catapults at launch. I've seen new guilds promise bounties to members but launch made it so that the leaders would have to pay this out of their own pockets, which they didn't want to do. Their members got pissed, thrashed the guild's name, and it died shortly after the game's launch. Don't be one of these guilds.

The other thing is that once the game launches, most people are going to be selfish. Even if you work together during the initial push to, say, buy a guild house, know that many newer members (and some veterans!) are going to do their own thing. How you handle that is up to you, but games are for fun, and people are going to put that ahead of the guild in any situation that they don't see themselves benefiting from.

5. Whatever you planned, stick to it as best as you can at launch.

Things are going to go wrong. People will join the wrong server, wrong faction, go to the wrong town, etc. However, if you do whatever you said you did (and have it in writing), you'll go much farther. Even better, the more people it effects, the more you should consider it. For example, if the plan is to go to the "Bloodmist" server on launch day as "Jimmy," but you find out that the name is taken on that server, don't go to a different server! Once people make their first character they won't want to restart most of the time. They'll keep as many materials as they can and power through the start of the game. That's a given. If you switch servers over a name, you're going to lose people, while if you stay on the server as "Jimmi," at least you can still eventually hunt down people who got the server correct! It may take some convincing that it's really you, but that's much easier than switching servers. 

 

I'm sure other folks have some tips, but after over a decade of dealing with this sort of thing, I find that these are some of the simpler things that people still forget during the planning phases. Those who keep these in mind will usually do better in the long run. Though there are exceptions, the vast majority of people who don't understand these tips will find that they don't last long once the gate's opened and the other, more solid gates come barreling in.

Rift: A Window Into the Future of MMOs

Posted by Dengar Friday September 2 2011 at 11:51AM
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Disclaimer: Rift is not the WoW Killer. Under no circumstances, no matter how many positive things I or anyone else may write, no one with an ounce of sanity claims that Rift will kill WoW. Put down the pitch forks and keep this statement in mind as you read.

Now that I've properly covered my ass from potential rabid WoWheads, let's jump into the real issue: Rift is catering to a very large audience. Larger than even WoW. I say this as a sandbox MMO vet who plays theme-parks these days due to social reasons. I want each and every theme-park MMO to fail and give rise to single server sandbox MMOs ala-EVE but not EVE (the name alone scares most MMO rookies who only hear about the constant griefing; I have a girlfriend I'm trying to slowly convert into a sandboxer, so I need to mask the potential for griefing). 

Despite my desire to return to using "raid" only in the context of a massive PvP war, and "quest" to mean a super special event that's for fun and not for grinding, I must admit that Rift's doing a lot to cater to me as a world pvp fan. Make no mistake, Rift is a theme park PvE game, but Trion does cater to other crowds: explorers via non-quest related puzzles, achievements for sight seeing, and collectable artifacts; raid casuals in the form of daily rift raids; and Asheron's Call fans who miss monthly updates (the game's six months old and we're about to have our fifth content patch, plus each patch has released a few new events/quests exclusive to that patch). At the moment, ladder match pvp fans are left out, and I'll tell you to suck a lemon and leave it in RTS and FPS games, but I know you'll come back later when Trion eventually adds arenas to Rift, just so you can squirt citric acid in my eye (that arena bit my guess, not anything I've read). Why do I say this? The next crowd Trion's aiming at is the casual, single player instance lovers.

Reread that for a moment. Massively Multiplayer game adding a single player element. Oh, hey Star Wars: The Old Republic. What's that? You have a single player Star Fox mini-game instead of massively multiplayer space combat? That's a damn shame! Still, at least it's there... for me. Just me. Not for my friends, which is the biggest reason I choose to play MMOs with $15 a month fees (keep those multi-month discounts to yourselves). I want to play with my friends in Colorado and Korea from the comfort of my California couch. However, it seems that the single player aspect is sneaking into our MMOs, and Trion's mini-dungeons will be arriving before TOR launches. That means we get a quick taste of what single player instanced content may do to the overall community. But that's not the only thing.

For those who haven't hit Rift or paid much attention to it, Rift offers weekly server transfers free of charge for both individual players and their guilds. Yes, it's great for finding an active server, but the end result is a "server of the month" habit. I recently made the jump to a new server when I came back to Rift. The sides were fairly balanced IMO. When I went for more world pvp dailies, I'd get stomped, so I'd call for back-up. Then they'd call for back up. Back and forth, kind of like the old days where a small squabble eventually exploded into an all out brawl across the zone. I'd win some, I'd lose some, but the thing is, I actually can't get that in most theme-park MMOs without setting it up. I literally have to play nice with my enemy and help recruit so I won't end up on a shitty server and choose between spending money switching sides/servers to find PvP or switching games (and I often choose the latter). However, not everyone's like me. Given the options, it seems the other faction on my server decided to go elsewhere so the fights would favor them much more. 

Oh, hey Guild Wars 2! What's that? You're also going to offer free transfers between worlds with little to no punishment? Lovely. We're getting a taste of it in Rift, and while the world pvp aspect has helped me find people within the server community worthy of my time (because lord knows most games these days have far too many trolls for my ignore list to contain), it also means that the community as a whole has people rotating out much more frequently than from game-jumpers alone. Granted, it does build the cross-server community, in that certain guild names have developed a reputation for cross-server recruiting and frequent jumping, which allows us to see what guilds are stable and which ones are not. It's not terrible, and it's fairly new, but I think most theme-park players still don't have a solid grasp on what it's like to look at a guild tag and have some actual meaning behind it (leaving out the top raiding guilds). There's a lot of shit guilds out there, and many rise and fall, but because of instancing, people rarely see or hear the actions of others. Transfering servers (along with name changes) has only exacerbated the issue.

Still, it's nice that Trion's trying. While Blizzard still struggles to appease world pvpers (TB is dead, and WoW players cry about pvp during their Molten Front dailies), Trion's actually attempted a compromise. They've put a reasonable amount of effort into making world events worth while for a range of player (both raids and pvp) , they also have the instances to compromise with those who just don't like having to actually form groups, work with others, be responsible for their actions... you know, community stuff.

Oh, hey TERA! What's that? You're linking instances with the ability to take over zones for guilds in an attempt to appeal to sandboxers and theme-park goers? Hey ArcheAge, I was just talking to TERA about.... What's that? You're also using instances among other things in an attempt to lure innocent theme-park MMOers into sandbox gameplay? How devious! Yes, I know. I've previously mentioned that instancing isn't all bad, such as in Animal Crossing to a certain extent. It can be a nice way to control things a bit, but it ultimately makes it very difficult to form a community. I hate saying it, but only after drama strikes do I feel I know who's really a winner and who's not worth my time. Much like real life, it can be hard to actually meet people in these heavily instanced MMOs where the game gives out loot based on dice rolls (or, as Rift and TOR are doing it, giving everyone their own share of the loot), people simply join and do rather than communicate, and at the end of a session, may disappear, never to be seen or heard from again). Instancing, like real world distances, seems to actually make it harder for you to meet new people and form a connection. You have, at best, a few hours with them, and only if someone's bad at playing the game, not because they're a bad person. It's like speed dating if part of the date involved getting a puzzle done in order to get the free food. It's not pretty.

I'm playing WoW and Rift at the same time lately, but I honestly feel that, at this point in time, Trion's offering me a much more current vision of a modern day MMO than Blizzard is, despite Blizz's much larger budget. I'm sick and tired of theme-park rides and eagerly wait the next batch of MMOs. However, until then, I feel like Rift's giving me a good way of preparing for the future so that, when the next MMOs hit, I'll already have some experience with the mechanics these games are betting on, allowing me to handle the community issues looming on the horizon.