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An old guys Rambling, MMOS, Guild Mastering and MOBA gaming

I have decided to share some of my positive and negative thoughts regarding the online world and online gaming. This blog will hopefully spark at least a little debate.

Author: Kothoses

Promoting thought - Improving Games through the use of the Community

Posted by Kothoses Friday July 29 2011 at 4:48PM
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The community is one of the most powerful tools available to developers to be able to understand what their games strenghts and weaknesses are.

 

In this episode of Promoting Thought I talk about how you as a player and community member can help influence change and improvement in the games we all play.  I hope you find it interesting and relevant.

I really do believe that the voice of a community can is and should always be heard by developers and publishers and in this video I cover some basic tips for getting your point across and not only opening but maintaining dialogue with developers.

 

Feedback is always appreciated.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_Bd7Pq-8-I&feature=feedfbc

The Fifth Pillar Expanded -

Posted by Kothoses Wednesday July 27 2011 at 12:07PM
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Firstly let me start off by introducing my Video Blog, where I will expand on issues covered in my blog posts while playing a game in the background.  So gameplay footage and thought provoking discussion based on my blog entries here and elsewhere.

The following is a link to my first video blog effort, where I expand on my blog entry of the Fifth Pillar.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myBy_JLuReU&list=UUTZm1YLjvPdM

 

Original entry regarding The fifth Pillar http://www.mmorpg.com/blogs/Kothoses/072011/21887_The-fifth-pillar#comments

 

 

Now to Expand on the original topic.

 

Several people communicated to me that they believed the original issues I had discussed were highly relevant and that they felt that I should revist and expand on them.  So I decided to do so in the form of a video blog.  So here it is, have a watch and a listen and comment and hopefully it will spark a little more debate than the original blog entry.

My game is better than your game! An attitude that is detrimental to gamers.

Posted by Kothoses Tuesday July 26 2011 at 4:25AM
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I am playing X game so Y game sucks.

 

How often do we see these type of comments?  If you read forums anywhere in the MMOsphere you will see a lot of these posts, GW 2 vs SW:ToR vs WoW vs Rift vs Eve... the list goes on and on, and thats kind of the point people.  Hating one game just because you love another is a natural reaction of the human condition.  Way back in the dawn of time we as humans were nothing more than hunter gatherers, in the caveman days life was binary, either you did good and you ate, or you did bad and you did not. 

 

We had territory which we marked and guarded, what was ours was only ours providing we could keep other people and animals away from it, and keep it safe.

 

Now things are different, now the world has moved on but that genetic coding sits inside us all and manifests its self in other ways.  In this case it comes out in the territorial brand loyalty that you see in MMO forums. 

 

This kind of behaviour is also symptomatic of another of those most human of needs, validation as people we want to be respected, we want people to praise and we crave success often we crave it so much we will attach our self to a successful entity and proclaim our selves a "fan" as though that some how makes us part of that body.

 

It happens with sports teams, with drinks, food and now with MMOs, now I don't mind admitting, I have pre-ordered ToR I plan also to pre order GW 2 when it comes.  But I do so not out of being a blind fan, but out of liking what I have seen so far, and out of a hope that both of these games do very very well indeed for different reasons.

 

Now that leads me nicely onto the main point of what I want to talk about, and that is attitudes, you see while I hope those two games turn out to be good.  I also hope The Secret World is a raging hit and repairs Funcoms reputation after the botched Age of Conan launch.  I hope that World Of Darkness is a huge hit for CCP, I am crossing my fingers Arch Age finally delivers the sandbox fantasy fix many people here seem to want. 

 

No hate just because they are not "my games" and why would I hate on them, why would I try and sink them under a sea of invented critique and misrepresented comments?  Does that gain me anything?

 

What if instead of hating I take another view, I take the view that I really want all of these games to be amazing, I want to look at the list of MMOS and instead of thinking "Rubbish rubbish rubbish" I can think "whoa... what shall I play today?".  Do I gain anything by simply hating on a game or posting half baked comments about it all over the internet?  Or do I gain more by seeing choice for the consumer, multiple high quality service providers competing for our money.  Remember the heyday of the Nintendo vs Sega war, or the Sony vs Microsoft ones, the quality of game for both platforms went up because there was competition. 

 

And people, (I am looking at the Steam fans who slate Origin here too) competition is a good thing, it breeds quality it forces companies to try harder, charge less (Eventually) or deliver more.

 

For the sake of better games in the future, you should all be hoping that Tor, GW 2, Rift, TSW, Archage, Tera and all the other big MMOs of this year and next year end up as successes, because the more failures there are, the less people will want to work with the genre as a whole, and much like the Western Movie, MMOs could end up being something you only see at your grandparents house.

 

So instead of hating on that guy on the forum for not wanting to play "your game" why not wish him luck in his, keep an eye on it, talk about it openly and honestly and instead of just being a "hater" why not try and use the voice that the internet gives us to construct the kind of community that games companies will look to for suggestions over what works and what doesn't.  Give feedback that actually lets them improve, use words and logic to compose articulate and insightful commentaries on the gaming industry.  Hey, if I can stop being a troll long enough to post something sensible so can you.

 

Or is that all just a bit too human for you?

PR, Marketing and Hype, or Making people invest emotionally, so they invest with cash.

Posted by Kothoses Saturday July 23 2011 at 8:59PM
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Marketing, a word many of us gamers both hate and love.

 

We love marketing because as human beings we invest emotionally in things we like, it is human nature if we think something is good we want people whose opinion matters to us to think its good too.  For various reasons, Some people do this because it validates their choice, others for socialising and conversational reasons, there are dozens of other reasons too, but the fact is, we want people to like what we like. 

 

A quick look on any gaming forums will show there are people who buy into marketing and those who rail against it.  Star Wars the Old Republic is currently dividing opinion on many sites with some people (Like me) willing to invest emotionally in it.   Willing to take Bioware at their word due to a long history of very good games (I am aware of Dragon Age 2, but I am willing to look at that objectively now) and their history with the NWN community and say "You know what, yeah you guys have sold me, I will give you my money now".

 

Sadly however, I feel EA and Bioware have really messed up the Pre-order and releease schedule of ToR. 

 

Why? Multiple answers

 

1, They have release Pre-orders requiring a deposit, with no release date or even a window.  Vague talk of early access and September testing windows have done little to clear the muddy waters here.   The Old Republic has been beta testing for months, I have friends who are in it (lucky gits) yet they announce "Testing weekends" this confuses the less informed consumers who believe that their testing schedule is only just starting.

 

The lack of a release date also does not help, people are essentially being asked to buy a pig in a poke, "Targetting Holiday 2011" also does not help, because Holiday season in America is vastly different to holiday in the UK, Americas holiday season as I understand includes Haloween and Thanksgiving, where as in the UK, "Holiday 2011" means Late December.

 

2, This one is unforgiveable, and yet not really EA/Biowares fault.  The fact that their website states "We will charge you £5 now and the rest when the game is released" and yet when you order it, if you pay by CC some people are finding the full amount has been locked as a "pre-authorisation" charge, meaning the money remains in the users account but they can not use that money.  Essentially they have had the full amount removed.  This also works with some Debit cards too.  Its not EA /Biowares fault, but they should have and more importantly COULD HAVE warned the consumers.    I can not believe they have not dealt with CC companies before to know this happens.  Given that my support ticket requesting clarity over this was answered within 5 minutes I belive they are aware of this, but did not do enough to warn me.  

 

Now, this is my fault too, I should have know BUT good PR would have been to be upfront and inform the consumer.

 

3, The Collectors Edition Store. 

 

Now they have confirmed that there will be items "Comparable to easy to get drops" in the store but with a unique appearance.  Personally I am ok with this, I did not order the collectors edition but for those who did sure knock your self out,  Me I am going to use the extra money to buy Batman Arkham City and a copy of Space Marine, I think I got the better deal. 

 

However! people are sensitive about using real money to acquire ingame items in a subscription MMO, it sets a BAD vibe, people will extrapolate from this policy that you are ok with selling power.  If this connection is made, some will be put off.

 

4, The lack of Story on the pre-order page, Come on Bioware, I thought nothing happened with your game without there being story.

 

 

 

 

Now lets look at how PR can be used well. 

 

Guild Wars 2, the Original Guild Wars when it came out promised the earth and delivered on half of its promises, the new Guild Wars promises many things and yet glosses over a lot of the more pertinent questions.   Yet because Anet have been very careful to present them selves as "listening to their fans" citing examples of this and picking very carefully who they give exclusives to, no one has yet questioned them.   The buy to play model buys them a lot of good will and the fact that the original guild wars has been kept running for so long also encourages people.

 

Arena Net have focused on their strengths and what they intend to bring to the table, Dynmic events personalised stories and the works.  Its a massive feature set when they lay it out and yet in reality its simply an evolution on the public quest system, just with the possibility of multiple outcomes.  Guildwars had a fun plot not the most deep and engaging but fun and the lore is strong.  While I have no doubt they too will deliver a strong MMO, you can not deny they have used PR well, where as EA have really fluffed with theirs lately. 

 

Yet of the two I would rather have EA looking after ToR than NCSoft (Tabula Rasa fans will know what I am talking about)

 

 

Trion Worlds when they were hyping up Rift did a massive scale PR Campaign including the "We are not in Azeroth any more" tagline.  Personally I felt a sub-caption of "Its more like outlands" would have fit with this as the game its self felt very much like TBC but with better graphics.   Yet during the build up to their release and ever since they have engaged with thier players.  Given value added services away for free and generally celebrated their successes in a loud but humble way that endears them to me, despite the fact I did not enjoy Rift.  This is an example of PR Done right, even a product that did not engage me gets and keeps my interst due to the publicity it gets.

 

 

Sony Online Entertainment continue to thrive simply on the amount of Hype they can generate, I got burned badly with DC Universe but part of the reason I even considered it was just the sheer amount of hype they put out.  I wanted to love that game because you could tell the people working on it loved it, and USUALLY when you get people who invest emotionally in their own product, you will find that product to be a labour of love.   Sadly DC universe did not deliver in the long term and now I have a life time sub ticking away for a game that I probably wont go back to for more than an hour here and there. 

 

The point is PR and Marketing makes us as humans invest emotionally in a game, it makes us long to explore the world, sample the story, Delve into the lore and most of all give our money to other people. 

 

EA and Bioware constantly seem to be doing a desperate attempt to keep their heads above water with The Old Republic, I strongly believe this is because they intended to launch the game over a year ago already.  However they realised that in order to deliver the game that people would want to invest in, that people would stick around in they needed more time.  So an open ended developement cycle was basically brought in to replace the current one, and now, they are almost ready for launch.   I believe that the test weekends in September WILL determine when the game will actually ship.  I believe that EA and Bioware are ready infrastructure wise to ship in October but are happy to wait untill December(I had an email 2 months ago that they were starting to hire GMs in Ireland where ToRs EU support will be based). 

 

All of this is pretty much common knowledge on the internet and yet Bioware and EA are keeping quiet about the whole thing, they are simply allowing conspiracies and counter conspiracies to take hold.  The hype they are starting to generate now is mostly positive, but there is some negative in there, for that reason I believe they way they handled pre-orders was a mess.  Because quite frankly the scale of the product they are making is so huge that now they are near the end they are SCARED to commit because so much could happen in such a short space of time.  Their investment is so huge they cant take ANY chances with ToR.

 

That for me is why I have pre-ordered a Digitial Deluxe edition, but EA's marketing department nearly managed to put me off.

Free to play done right

Posted by Kothoses Tuesday July 19 2011 at 12:49AM
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Free to play done right

 

In this entry I want to look at the ever increasing popularity of the Free to play or Freemium models of gaming, and challenge a few perceptions, as well as share my opinion on how this type of payment method could be done in a way that would lead to a greater acceptance and greater gaming experience for us all.

 

Firstly lets define the difference between freemium and Free 2 play.  The former Freemium is a subscription model if we are honest that allows for what is essentially a massive but limited trial.  If you enjoy the product you can either purchase the bits you want or subscribe and get the lot, I know quite a lot of Lotro players and AoC players and it is pretty much agreed that if you want the full experience of the game, you subscribe.  The buffet method of content delivery is just not worth it in comparison.

 

Free 2 play on the other hand is where the entire game is free, however there is a cash shop attached, this is where it gets a bit murky.  The Cash shop could be a good one or it could be what many like to call a pay to win where the items within are of a higher power than what is obtainable in a game.  There are many examples of Free 2 play games, some of them have even made it on to steam Forsaken World, Spiral Knights and if you venture out into the newly growing Moba Genre League of Legends, all of them have a slightly different take on the monetization of their product.

 

In spiral Knights there are items that are locked on your character sheet, trinket, and jewellery slots you can unlock these slots for a fixed amount of time for cash, there is also a system called energy, each level of the giant dungeon you attempt costs you energy, you get 100 for free every day, you can buy more with ingame cash or from the cash shop.  To me this is an example of a cash shop that while good for the very casual player requires a lot of investment if you wish to be more hardcore.  The energy system ensures that without purchasing energy you can only do a limited amount of the dungeon, while it is feasible to purchase energy for ingame cash, the amount of items you need and other sundry costs not to mention the ingame currency required for crafting makes this an option only if you are prepared to spend days farming cash between attempting any of the harder levels.

 

Spiral Knights also has a respawn system that uses energy and believe me the boss encounters are designed to make you make use of this.  While the Cash shop does not fall under pay to win, this cash shop is classified by me as pay to be viable.  While not as bad as pay to win, it did enough to put me off the game.

 

Now lets look at Runes of Magic, this one is not on Steam, and the Cash shop quite clearly falls under the pay to win variety, not only are items bought and sold there but item improvements can also be bought and sold there, along with convenience items, the RoM cash shop is firmly into the pay for power variety, although its possible to be PvE viable to an extent, your power level will always be dramatically reduced from the person who is prepared to sink cash into the game.  As a note, the currency used in this cash shop "Rom Diamonds" used to be tradeable ingame between players, but this has been disabled for some time.

 

Now lets step away from the MMO genre and into the Moba, League of legends for me is an example of a cash shop done right.    League of Legends for those not familiar is a Player vs Player arena game, each team picks 3 or 5 champions depending on the game type selected and attempts to kill each other, there are monsters to kill for gold and items to buy for that gold.  At the start of each match each champion starts at level 1 and progresses to 18.  There are also two forms of player advancement, Summoner levels (with obligatory talent trees) and rune books.

 

The first thing to note is you can not buy ANYTHING for cash in league of legends that directly affects your ingame power.  You can buy convenience, and style but not power.  You can get an XP boost, an Influence point boost (the ingame currency used to buy champions and runes) champions (which are also available by influence points), skins (new looks for champions) but all of these with the exception of boosts and skins are also available simply by playing the game enough.  You earn influence points after each match based on performance.

 

So the cash shop allows me to obtain champions quicker, levels quicker points quicker but at no time does it allow me to obtain power which I can not get via any other means.  In fact the runes which you fill your rune page up (Each rune contains a small permanent stat boost) Are only available via the ingame earned points.

 

Indirectly I can increase my power faster via boosts but not directly, which brings me on to what I want to now suggest is the RIGHT model for a free to play MMO (Because the last thing I want to sound like is a LoL advert, believe me I have my issues with that game too but they are not relevant to this post).

 

The Right Model in my opinion is one that allows you to pay real cash for, Convenience, Style, optional content but never power.

 

Consider this for example, most of us have played wow, in Vanilla wow there was an armour set called Twill, it was a plain brown set of cloth armour.  Now in my ideal free to play game, the twill armour would come with stats, it would be dropped in game it would be functional, you could play the game and be viable wearing twill.

 

But pony up a few pounds/dollars/Yen and I will give you the ability to make that twill, and any other armour you get look stunning, like the best raid armour your class has seen, give me a few more dollars and I will let you add a nice visual effect like glowing eyes or wings or what ever is suitable to the game.

 

Now lets assume our game is a Themepark (Because in my opinion Sanboxes make for terrible cash shop games, just look at Eve's Plex and Aurum systems for a way this can cause issues).   So the leveling content in the open world is free, the instances as you level are free.  But hey i have this urge to max out my level faster.  No problem, pop open the cash shop and get an XP potion right?  This to me is a grey area, because what you essentially do is fast track people to end game, which as any guild leader knows leads to people being inexperienced at their class/role.  But from the perspective of a free to play discussion, I would say is acceptable.

 

Now lets say our game has mounts, lets use the wow mount system.  So for ingame currency I can get a plain horse nothing fancy just a nice chestnut mare or somesuch.  Slip me a bit of cash and I will let you turn that baby into a tiger, a bike what ever you like (This assumes of course that drop and achievement mounts are not in game).  I dont get any functionality I cant get elsewhere but I do get style.

 

Repair bots, these were useful little things to upgrade your gear after dieing, but again you could just travel 5 mins to the vendor.  So would having these be acceptable as a cash shop item, to me yes they would.

 

Finally lets look at "optional content" lets again look at wow, lets say every 6 months a new tier of endgame content (Instances and raids for this example) is released.   Do you think it would be acceptable to charge for this content while it is fresh, perhaps when a new tier comes out have the old one move down to the free to play price point? in my opinion no, because then indirectly you are making ingame power the proviso of the cash point customer, but what you could do is release two new raids every 6 months, one for the free to play player, make it a small one with a couple of bosses that have the loot table of nearly all the bosses in the second one.  The aforemention second raid would be for the first 6 months only available to people who paid a small amount of cash for it (note a small amount not a large one).  After 6 months when the new tier comes out this one is moved to the free to play area.

 

So we have alternate appearances for armour, mounts, items of convenience and some optional content, No restrictions on play, no two tier power level just an incentivised system of buying content that rewards people who wish to without alienating the rest of your audience. 

 

I am not a business major or a market analyst, so  I can not say for certain if it is financially viable.  But to me this is free to play done right.  They tell us Free 2 Play is the future so lets discuss how we want to see that future pan out, personally I quite like my vision but what do you think?

The fifth pillar

Posted by Kothoses Thursday July 14 2011 at 9:51AM
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[Edit as of the 27 of July 2011 this entry has been followed up and expanded on in my new Video and gamplay blog, "Promoting Thought"  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myBy_JLuReU&list=UUTZm1YLjvPdM   please watch and give some feedback and love]

 

 

The Fifth Pillar - Community

 

Hello and welcome to my first Entry, I wont bother doing any kind of self aggrandizing introduction at this stage, simply I will get right into it.

 

So the Fifth Pillar, we have all heard Developers like Bioware, Funcom and Arenanet talk recently about Story, the so called fourth Pillar of gaming, this goes nicely with the traditional three Combat, Progression and Exploration.  By now I am sure we are all giving just a little groan every time Mr D.E. of Bioware utters the word story. 

 

What I want to look at in this blog is what I think is the pillar the developers have the least control over and yet is the most important to their success, community.    By Community I mean the players who just play, the people who form guilds, the ones who post on forums, fan sites the works.  I want to look at the role of community in the growth of a game, it should not come as a suprise to anyone to know that the community as a whole is very valuable to game companies.  While individual people having a bit of a moan might not register on the radar, you can bet that mass complaints by the people who pay to play (be it subscription or cash shop payments) can and do register with every company.  

 

A vocal community can be the most powerful advertising tool a game needs, just look at the millions of Minecraft fans for an example of how word of mouth or "Going Viral" as its called these days can spread a product from being a cute niche to a mainstream hit.  League of Legends enjoyed a lot of similar early success, I was in the beta for that game and have played it on and off since and most of its players in the first few months got there through being told of the game by friends.  There was no big marketing, no mass advertisement just a solid game and a community that wanted to share it.

Communities can influence change, as seen with Blizzard, who often alter key features due to community feedback (The much maligned real ID forum issue was one such example), more recently we can see how community pressure forced CCP into something of a climbdown with Monoclegate.

Likewise though, a community can lead to a games failure or at the very least impede it to a level where it will struggle to do well.  Though due to the strange nature of brand loyalty in humans very few games have failed to this degree.  However look at the way Cryptic and even Funcom are often put on the defensive in interviews when their past failings are brought up.  This would not happen without the pressure of the community, they are challenged to alter the communities perceptions.  

 

However this has yet to address community WITHIN a game, which is the real meat and drink of what I wanted to talk about.  Lets look at an example of a game that got it wrong first, DC Universe.

 

When DC Universe first shipped 2 friends of mine recommended the game to me, after a couple of days of listening to them I bought a copy and I loved the game, the combat was fresh, the progression was fun the exploration elements and investigations were interesting.  After a week I bought a lifetime subscription (I had a bit of extra money and figured why not).  A third friend joined us and we had a 4 man group so we leveled up and did the hard mode instances together.

 

Great fun so far, more friends came through recommendations and soon we were 7 looking for an 8th person to make the raid group that would cement this as our MMO for the time being....  That ladies and gentlemen is where it all went wrong. 

 

The lack of social tools was so big of a gap it made the game a very unattractive prospect, it was difficult to talk to anyone (Literally you would have to spam the / or enter key before you were allowed to type).  inviting people was also difficult, the whole UI and game were built for a console, quick keys and pre-typed phrases like text messaging.  The ingame voice chat was hit and miss once it was activated (It was missing all together at launch).  This from a game that was delayed for "polishing" was frankly inexcusable and as quickly as they came, the community, shorn of any glue to keep it together left.

 

It will go down as the biggest missed opportunity in the history of MMOs,  in the first weeks they doubled the number of servers and were looking to open more.  Now they are merging them into "super servers" due to them being ghost towns.  There are many theories but the biggest and most compelling one is the lack of community tools, MMOs are still at heart a social venture, take that away and the building topples, and that is why community to me is the fifth pillar of MMO gaming.  One which companies should be looking to harness just as much as the other 3(4 if like me your a Bioware fan).

 

Give a community glue and it sticks together, it took the hacking and destruction of the old NWN forums to bring that community down over 10 years after the game launched, even after that it is still alive, homeless but alive.  Give people the tools to build communities and you ensure your games longevity.