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Epic Slant @ MMORPG

Articles from Epic Slant formatted for MMORPG.

Author: Ferrel_Thane

Encouraging Groups in MMOs

Posted by Ferrel_Thane Friday May 29 2009 at 7:50AM
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It is no secret that I am constantly advocating the need for grouping in MMOs. I’m always on some forum or blog pointing out that soloing should be an option but not the best option. There are numerous ways to encourage this sort of behavior but virtually all of them have been transparent to the user and that fact has me thinking about new approaches that might excite players. Would it make a player more likely to group if they saw something more tangible in their play experience when they do so?

The problem at hand is that developers aren’t really encouraging players to group. In fact, in many games, doing so actually slows your experience yield per hour. Grouping is something players do infrequently or at max level. That is completely opposite to what MMOs were initially designed to be! I do want to point out one note before continuing: I am not advocating the removal of soloing. I am merely pointing out that soloing isn’t the only way to play and was not the original intent of a “multiplayer” game. My plan will, in no way, inhibit a player’s ability to solo. That said, I have a few thoughts on the situation.

Historically speaking certain classes have been better at grouping than others. This ultimately lead to some players feeling left out due to being in an “undesirable” profession. Class roles and balance played heavy into this. Developers have to look at what a certain build could do in solo, group and raid play. Ultimately this lead to some classes being exceptional in one area and mediocre in the other two. It is this sort of system that could leave a player “stuck” in a certain style. I feel that should be avoided. How does all this tie into encouraging groups? It is simply a statement that players in non-group classes are unlikely to be invited to groups or want to start one. How could we encourage groups if such classes exist?

The obvious answer would be to ensure that every class is equally desirable in a group! Since we can all recognize that that is likely an impossibility we can shoot for a more attainable goal. Every class should bring something desirable and unique to a group. This is possible through many mechanics but there are two that I am partial to and have adapted for my purposes. The first of which is auras.

We all have expectations when we see the word aura. What I am proposing is not exactly new but it is very under utilized in the MMO world. To encourage grouping each class should have a unique aura that only activates when they’re grouped. In addition to this, for each additional person that joins the group, the aura should become more powerful. This will encourage players not to slip by with the minimum amount of characters but instead fill their groups. These auras should be automatic and free. So, as an example, lets look at a hypothetical cleric aura:

Aura of Protection: Cleric level 1, Base 2% bonus to group members mitigation and an addition .5% bonus for each additional member.

Developers could use this mechanic in many different ways. Perhaps as a character levels up the auras improve in percentages or have additional bonuses added on. As such, no matter what class a character is or how it is specialized, it will provide something to the group. Should you have two of the same class in your group the auras should still stack but with diminished returns. As long as developers made every aura interesting, unique, and worthwhile people will want different classes in their group. They will also be more inclined to group when they see a rather obvious improvement in their character.

Beyond auras the second concept I see that will encourage grouping is leadership. Leadership has been pioneered in EverQuest, Eve Online and a few other MMOs. In the former it was more of a raid device. In Eve, however, it is quite an impressive mechanic. A character that is trained in leadership simply improves the group members. That concept translates easy to the more traditional fantasy MMO. After all, most adventure parties do have a leader.

Leadership should be an optional progression path for any character. It should, in no way, count towards a max level or total skill points. This will encourage players to actually use the system and not worry about being “gimped.” Leadership experience should be earned slowly but naturally by any character that groups. Simply grouping will yield free experience. A player that wants to go above and beyond, however, should have the option to turn off normal experience and focus it into leadership directly.

The abilities that leadership provides should be both cosmetic and tangible. Every one, however, should focus on the main goal of encouraging groups and be disabled outside of them. Imagine, for instance, that a high tier ability would be similar to EQ1’s Call of the Hero or WoW’s Meeting Stone and usable once every two hours. This would save time if the group is waiting on that one straggler. Other abilities could improve the group’s auras or even grant new ones. There are a multitude of options possible. This would even help less group friendly classes since anyone can follow along the tree.

I personally love the idea of leadership since I tend to find myself in that role. When I saw the skill category in Eve Online I was quite pleased. It is just one more of those interesting tools that can be used to add depth and interest to a game. Neither of these suggestions will force people to group but they may make players think twice about soloing and I think that is a good thing. What do you think?

Originally posted to Epic Slant.

MMO Antiquities - Competition in PvE

Posted by Ferrel_Thane Monday May 25 2009 at 1:00PM
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Some of you may recall a time when instancing pretty much didn’t exist. If you wanted to go after a raid mob you had to compete in the cut throat world of high end gaming. Sometimes you’d have to wait for a new expansion to get the last expansion’s top loot. It was a frustrating situation to say the least. Despite that, however, I don’t think competition in PvE is a negative thing. In fact I think it should become a necessity in modern MMOs.

In EverQuest II, after a few content patches, you had a healthy mix of contested raid and non-contested instanced targets. The best rewards were usually found on the mobs you had to compete for. Instance raids, however, still offered a good degree of gear progression. As time went on, however, the focus shifted. Instances began to drop better items and competition declined.

Why is competition important? As a guild leader it forced my members to focus more and play better. It wasn’t really us against the mob. It was us against the world. Every failure on a target meant someone else could take a finite resource from us. That was not something we wanted. I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, the more instances that EQ2 got the rustier my raiders became. When there were only a few instances we were at our finest. I can also say that competition keeps members more active. Once we had totally defeated the competition on a raid and the new mob shine wore off interest began to wane.

Competition engages, energizes and focuses individuals. It changes the nature of the way we react and play. Not everyone responds to this but a large degree of human beings do. Take a mundane activity, make it a competition and see how much more people take notice. This is an aspect of psychology that MMO designers rarely leverage these days outside of PvP games.

Obviously there will be plenty of counter arguments that competition denies players content and loot. I’m not suggesting that it doesn’t. I’m also not suggesting that going back to an EQ1 style of game would be a good idea. I am, however, suggesting that competition has a place in PvE worlds.

I am now and have always been of the belief that PvE MMOs need instanced raids with varying degrees of difficulty. I prefer to see two, three and four group instances that all increase in required skill, tactics and gear along a parallel path. I also, believe, however that there should be a few contested targets. These should be challenging targets that offer the best rewards. That in itself is some competition. It wouldn’t be enough, however.

One of the most amazing things that EverQuest II does is that it tracks everything. For a small additional fee you can see who hit what level first. You get all your rankings. You know who got an item for the first time. I am still pleased that some of the most amazing items in that game I got first on my server and pretty early world wide. It kept me going and it let SOE make an additional buck or two a month off me. It just didn’t extend to guilds and I think that was a mistake.

Why don’t we have this sort of system? I would love to see modern MMOs track even more data. It would engage me a whole lot more than just guessing our position against other guilds and reading the arguments on the board that guild B is the best even though they’ve barely done anything of note. With the end of each major content patch and expansion a ranking would be compiled and stored forever. The debate will be over and a new “round” begins! Here are a few things I’d like to see tracked per server:

The first (and every) time a raid encounter is legitimately defeated. Anyone caught exploiting will have their achievement removed and everyone else is bumped up one.
The first ten times a superior quality item is received on a server.
The first time a substantial quest is completed.
The first five times an extremely difficult trade skill product is created.

With that data you could then do periodic checks. Imagine if once every three months the server itself would release the top ten guild rankings. Those categories would be:

The most server firsts in the period.
The most times a particular encounter was defeated in the period.
The most “first time superior quality item drops” received in the period.
The most first time trade skill productions in the period.

Of course you’d also have the final compilation of those different categories into who “won” the period of time. I honestly think that would excite a lot of players. You could even expand that into categories. This doesn’t have to be based on raiding. You could track anything and everything! From casual to hardcore your guild could be ranked in the category that you want to compete in (Sodality would compete in microcore).

The most important thing, however, is that this information should be very obvious. I envision that the guild would get a trophy, so to speak, that would never disappear as long as the guild existed (and even if it went away it should be archived in a hall of fame of some sort). It could be a simple note in the guild window that says: Number Two Overall Raid Guild, January – March 2009. I know that would keep me logging in. I’d always be trying to improve my guild’s rank. You could even expand further and have those categories let the guilds compete on a game wide level. The possibilities truly are endless and from a database perspective it isn’t that hard to implement.

Ultimately I think you could track all sorts of data and rank all different aspects without actually pitting players directly head to head. In this way no guild could deny another the game’s content unless the developers allowed it. Will we see this sort of thing? I’m not sure. EverQuest II started a system like this but nobody picked it up. 38 Studio’s does, however, have a lot of EQ2 talent. I am curious to know what everyone else thinks though. Would you like this sort of system? Would it keep you playing or bum you out? I look forward to finding out!

Originally posted on Epic Slant

More MMOs need APIs!

Posted by Ferrel_Thane Friday May 22 2009 at 7:40AM
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Anyone who has been reading Epic Slant lately is probably aware that I’ve dipped into Eve Online quite a bit. I continue to find really neat aspects of the game that just add value for me. One that I discovered last week just made me warm and fuzzy all over. Eve offers an API!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term “application programming interface (api)” it was summed up pretty well by David Orenstein. He stated …”a program’s API defines the proper way for a developer to request services from that program.” In the simplest of terms it means that a player or developer can use the information provided by an MMO’s API in their website, blog, forum signature or anything that can properly format it.

Eve Online allows you to pull great detail about your character from the game via its API. Many industrious developers have used this to create great addons that help you track and plan your character. One in particular, EVEMon, can even run as a program in windows to let you see up to date information. You know what skills you have, what you’re training and how much money you have. This helps you track your transactions and training. It really is very useful.

It has me curious though. Why don’t more games offer a similar thing? Why wouldn’t developers want what is essentially free advertisement for their project? My only guess is that they’re afraid the information would be abused. It very well could be but I think the benefits out weigh the risks. I would love to see even more features available via APIs for more modern games. In particular I hope 38 Studios includes something like this in Copernicus. Who doesn’t want to watch their character constantly via cell phone? I know I do!

We live in a world where a large amount of web apps let you grab information from afar and only request you say where you got it from. With that in mind, the next time you submit a feature request tell your developers that you want APIs! Tell them you want to pull character data into your own application! Proudly display your MMO character on Facebook, xfire, Myspace, Raptr or whatever you use. Even the super secret project I’m working on will have this functionality. More on that another time though!

Originally posted on Epic Slant.

Getting a feel for Eve Online

Posted by Ferrel_Thane Tuesday May 19 2009 at 6:49AM
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I’ve had the opportunity to play a lot more Eve Online since my last article and I have to be honest and say I’m really enjoying the game. So much so, in fact, that I wish I had found it sooner. It truly is a departure from most MMOs out there and it has that “hard” feel to it like EverQuest did. The running joke is that the learning curve in Eve is extremely steep and I agree. The truth is though, I love it!

The first thing that strikes me as interesting about the MMO is that it is almost entirely player driven. The economy is pushed by players, your ability to advance is dependent on other players and your ability to do the more interesting activities in the game is totally wrapped up in, you guessed it, other players. It isn’t a solo game. You will never achieve the top end objectives alone. I also like that the developers have a laissez-faire attitude. Players are in the driver seat and the developers are the guide rails on the side of the road. There is no set of blinders that keep you on a narrow path. You pretty much are given license to do whatever you like providing you’re willing to suffer the consequences.

Another aspect that I’m really enjoying and will write about later is the skill system. I am quite impressed with how the game handles advancement. You have a 24 hour queue to set skills into. They require real time to train. Whether you’re playing or not they will continue to progress. As long as you log in every day and set up the queue you’ll advance. The great part about this is that if you can’t play one day it doesn’t feel as devastating as it might in another game. After all, you are getting something done. More importantly, however, you can completely change what you want to be. If you don’t like the direction you’re going you can reverse gears and go another way. It will take time but it is possible.

I am equally amazed by the sheer size of the game. Obviously, since it has a single server, it has to be big but I have yet to feel crowded. It is also really awesome that everything happens on “my” server. I never have to hear about things happening on another place that I’ll never see. This helps to drive the economy and raise the awareness of how important reputation is. Eve isn’t a game where you just throw a toon away and start over.

The game is not without a few down sides though. As previously stated if you’re not used to MMOs and willing to really learn a game Eve has a huge barrier to entry. It is for the old school elite MMO crowd, not the new casual one. Another thing that can be as annoying as it is fun is the skill system. No matter what, other than training learning skills and raising my statistics some, I can never get ahead. If a skill takes 40 hours to train then it will take 40 hours to train. I am patient though but sometimes I just wish that bar would hurry along! Finally, the game has open PvP. There are a lot of areas that are pretty safe but there is always the threat that someone will destroy you. I love the fact that you can go to specific places to PvP but I do wish there were some areas where you were completely safe. That, however, isn’t the point of Eve.

Ultimately, if you’ve never played this game, I think it is worth the free trial or a buddy pass. I was stunned at how amazing and different it was from all the other MMOs I’ve played. I plan on being there for a while so perhaps I’ll see you there?

Originally posted on Epic Slant.

Character Advancement Part V - Heroic Levels

Posted by Ferrel_Thane Friday May 15 2009 at 7:51AM
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It is time once again for an article about character advancement. We’ve covered some of the normal ways to progress (levels, skills and traditional AAs) and even some crazy ideas like Endless Grind Points. Today I want to look at another alternative to traditional progression. This concept is another one of those on the “far left” when it comes to advancement.

In the simplest of terms Heroic Levels would be additional levels beyond or in parallel to the traditional leveling scope. They should be viewed as “non-traditional” progression and would clearly define the history of the character who possess that level of advancement. What does that mean exactly?

I imagine heroic levels to be achieved only through actions. I’m not talking about grinding mobs or doing quests either. These levels would indicate immediately where a character, and by association, a guild stands in the progression of the end game (just an example, it could be any criteria). To illustrate this lets say that to achieve HL 1 you need to defeat six two group raid mobs. When you do so you level up. To reach HL 2 you will then need to best three additional two group raids and a three group instance. This would progress until you defeat the final content for an expansion or time period.

The benefit to this is that the levels don’t have to be as powerful as traditional levels. They are heroic in deed, not in power. Of course they could be both. It would also help developers channel players through content as they intend. It would help reduce excessive content jumping if the power you got from a heroic level was of some benefit to defeat the next tier of encounters. I want to stress that the heroic level shouldn’t be a necessity though. Skill and tactics should always prevail.

Beyond keeping players on the straight and narrow the biggest benefit I see is that this is a true method by which “bind on pick up” can be eliminated. I’ve frequently heard developers say they do not want players to get raid rewards without raiding. I’ve suggested many things in the past as compromises on the issue (see bind on guild). Heroic levels fits this bill far better. Items can be level restricted by heroic levels and then made bind on equip. Sure, you could sell a top tier item to another player but unless they did the raid themselves they’ll never be able to use it.

This would also spur competition and reduce the amount of false claims that go along with it. After all, it would be hard to claim you defeated Tarinax if you didn’t have the associated heroic level. As an additional feature I think it would be great if the game tracked when a character achieved the heroic level (and for that matter any level) like EQ2 did. When it came to the power curve developers would know exactly where players stood at all times. Raid encounters can be designed with a certain heroic level in mind. Players would also know which content they were intended to do and recognize that to do other content it will require a lot more skill and ability. At least in that sense it is win/win.

The only word of caution I would say is that these levels should also make the character at least slightly more powerful. I say this because of the generally poor reception that was received by the ward system of Warhammer Online. Progression was literally delayed by making wards not a benefit but a necessity. No amount of skill could overcome the ward system and once you had five wards almost all the encounters were beyond trivial. Heroic levels are meant to be a reward for achieving content and not a barrier to it (other than the items that are generated).

It is just one more of those interesting (to me) ideas I’ve had. I’d love to hear some feedback about it as I did with EGPs. I just think there should always be some form of noticeable progression for characters. A little bar keeps me going. As soon as it stops my play time declines to just “when we’re raiding” or “when we’re doing an instance.” This wouldn’t quite help that but, like EGPs, it is another facet of engaging the player.

Original Copy from Epic Slant

The greatest commodity: Reputation

Posted by Ferrel_Thane Thursday May 14 2009 at 3:26PM
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I’ve been spending a lot of time lately checking out different MMOs and doing a lot of reading. In my “travels” the one thing that seems to astound me, however, is the general lack of care for one’s reputation. I understand that an entirely different generation of human beings are now playing MMOs but I do have to ask, “what happened to reputations?” Why don’t these players worry about their credibility and integrity?

To begin with I think a large part of it has to do with the community. When I was coming up in the MMO world there simply weren’t a lot of games and server transfers were difficult. If you were a ninja looter, a jerk or a liar we tended to know you. If you were on the high end circuit in EQ it was extremely easy to find out if someone was a dirty player even if they weren’t on your server. We, in essence, self policed. We avoided people with a bad reputation. In the modern world of cheap character transfers, tons of servers, and a multitude of games it is hard to make a name for yourself, good or bad!

It isn’t just the community though. A lot of players I have run across just don’t seem to care. They’re seemingly more concerned with “me” and what “they want” than its effect on those around them. It is just something I cannot understand. I’ve always been deeply concerned with my personal reputation and that of my guild. In EQ2 I, and other officers, invested a massive amount of time in turning over our image once we took the guild over. It was a rough task but we did it and I say it was worth it.

I use the same character name on every game I play with a matching forum handle for a reason: I’m not hiding. In fact I want people to possibly recognize the name because most that have played with me will go, “oh Ferrel, I know him.” With my name comes my credentials. I’m honest to a fault and I always speak my mind. You know, at all times, exactly where you stand with me. I’m loyal, driven, and eager to help anyone who wants it. I’ve carefully nurtured that reputation with my actions. Most of my guild mates have done the same and we’ve done our best to ensure Sodality has a positive image. Is this a fruitless pursuit?

Ultimately I say it is time well spent. There may be more players out there who don’t care about reputation than ones that do but I think it still matters. After all, the older players will recognize the efforts we take. Then again, I might just be grabbing at how things used to be. What do you think?

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