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The Casual Life by Wintyre Fraust

An older, casual player's perspective on MMOG's in general and GW2 in particular.

Author: Meleagar

Why MMOG Community Fails

Posted by Meleagar Monday June 28 2010 at 11:12AM
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Are MMOG's unable to foster good, positive, enjoyable communities?

Well, the question becomes, "what kind of player does your game generally attract in the first place"?  It has been my experience that griefers and jerks gravitate to games and game situations where they can force themselves on others, and where others need them, and where their unsocial (at least, in real life) ability to obsessively avoid the outdoors and real relationships and keep their butt parked in chair in front of a computer for hours and days on end makes their character desirable, or even necessary, to accomplish necessary game content.  

Current MMOG game structure demands that end-content driven players get their sense of satisfaction, achievement and respect from the game, or else they would not be willing to dedicate themselves to achieving end-game content - they wouldn't be willing to invest the necessary marathon-like investments of time.

Are these people psychologically fit for any kind of community relationship, any kind of social dynamic other than one based on how much time you're willing to devote to the game, and how willing you are to conform to maximum in-game efficiency?  Don't you think there is a reason these players are substituting the MMOG for an offline social life, in many if not most cases?

The problem is that the very structure of current MMOGs are built to attract and singularly reward what cannot be viewed, overall, as a healthy, well-adjusted social psychology. This is why so many people here make the absurd claim that community=forced grouping; they can't conceive of people regularly and happily grouping up and doing things unless they are forced to.

This is why you see so many people here state that there is no reason to play an MMOG unless one is devoted to spending marathon amounts of time and effort to advance their character; they don't understand people that play for other reasons.  They simply don't understand why those people, who are not happy about being forced into groups with them,  don't just go play solo games; for the players current MMOGs are basiclaly built to attract, community=forced grouping built around single-minded devotion to advancing in the game.

Is it really any wonder that a genre built around these kind of people has failed so completely in generating good, solid, enjoyable communities?

Staring at Screens, Pounding on Keys

Posted by Meleagar Monday June 28 2010 at 6:10AM
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That's the MMOG we're all used to, regardless of which ones we've played. It is a game of : how long can you sit  at your computer, staring at the screen, pounding on the keys repetitively in the right order?  Ding! Here is your very small treat.

Yeah, that's the game many people are trying to defend here.  Might as well call it the Massively Multiplayer Typing Marathon. Who can type the phrase "Stand, attack, kill, gain .01% Exp, sit, wait, repeat" the most times at one sitting?  There's your truth in advertising marketing strategy, because that's what 99% of the MMOG you are playing is; that, supposedly, according to many people here, is the only reason to make or play an MMOG.

Because that is all there is on the market.  Group typing marathons.

To borrow a catchphrase from an NFL show: C'mon, man!! Is that really all you can do in a gaming genre that is not limited by anything other than your imagination?  A  massively multiplayer typing marathon?  A massively multiplayer computer camp-out obsessive staring at the screen and staying awake marathon?  That's all you've got?

That's how you appeal to a wide customer base in a society of attention-deficit, time starved people who often have to work two jobs and have kids to raise and social obligations?  You want to attract them to your "game" by telling them they have to play marathon rounds and abandon most of the more healthy activities in their life just to compete?  Really? That's your model for success?

C'mon man!!

I realize that is who basically invented the MMOG market, way back in the day: college students who lived for gaming binges, who were making the MMOG world their substitute for any kind of social interaction and where they could be respected and powerful regardless of their real-world  situation. They invented a world and a structure where their ability to do absolutely nothing else but focus on their computer for hours and hours on end could translate into some sensation of respect, power, privilege and advantage, and that is where the MMOG market has been stuck ever since.

Surely there is a developer out there somewhere who understands that this model is not only not the best possible MMOG model, but that it's probably a very bad model.  Bad not only in terms of attracting only a very narrow customer base, but bad in that it promotes an unhealthy lifestyle, both physically and psychologically.  It appeals the most to people with what can only be taken as unhealthy lifestyles and promotes those people to kings and princes of the realm.  It's about the same as giving people a ding! and a leet sword for being able to smoke the most cigarettes at a sitting.

C'mon, man!!

Why Play an MMOG?

Posted by Meleagar Sunday June 27 2010 at 10:18AM
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I get asked this often when I bring up the subject of a game where your characters have full advancement 24/7 whether one is online or off. It seems that these people think that beating on they keyboard as long and as often as possible is the only reason people play in MMOGs.

You might claim that's an unfair statement, that what people really enjoy is advancing their characters through some kind of effort, and that's the fundamental reason to play.  I contend that we're not talking about "effort" in any meaningful sense, we're just talking about time.  Your character only progresses in relationship to how much time you put into it.  The "effort" is really just in coming up with excuses to miss work, bail on school, and ignore relationships in order to keep your rear in the chair and in front of the screen.

Yet, many people who play MMOGs don't have much time, and they certainly don't have the kind of time necessary to significantly advance their characters.  There are a lot more people who don't play MMOGs at all because they don't have anywhere near enough time to even bother; they might have a 3-4 hours a week to devote to sitting in front of the computer and focusing on a game. Why should they play at all?  

Should the MMOG industry just ignore them, and continue focusing only on those who are willing and capable of devoting virtually all of the entertainment time to one medium, which demands their complete attention for very long spans of time if they are going to do anything at all?  Or should they create a game that offers a value that no other medium can provide: 24/7 participation regardless of how much time you can physically devote to sitting in front of your screen.

To me, this is one of the most baffling things about the industry; this is the perfect medium to offer these time-starved people an incredible entertainment value.  Full 24/7 participation in an online, persistent world regardless of how much time they can allot, in large single-sitting increments, to do nothing but stare at the screen and bang on the keyboard.  This is the only medium that I can think of that can offer hobbyist-quality participation and reward to those with little time (at a time) to invest. MMOGs have the capacity to offer the perfect, best entertainment value to time-starved, active people on the go, and people that love to multifunction and get bored easily.

Imagine firing up an account and creating a character. Immediately upon entry, your character is set at a default of training in overall physical/mental conditioning, which increases base stats.   You can then set a long term goal for advancement and log out.  You can do this for each of your stable of characters.  For now, you're done.  Then, while at work and goofing off some (but certainly not being able to actually "play" a traditional MMOG), you log in and check on your character stats and start investigating the skill/talent/profession/attribute trees.  Each skill,talent, profession and attribute is well-described both in what they add to your character by themselves, and in how they can affect other skills, talents, professions and attributes.

You decide that one character needs to be a leader so you can play more than one character at once when you log in.  So, you set a long term leadership path for your character. You're going to need game money, so you find professions to train in for a couple of other characters, professions that make sense to accomplish your overall goal for your "family" of characters. 

While you are riding a taxi home, eating lunch or waiting in an office, you log into your character management system via your Iphone or Ipad.  You investigate some more of the various skill, talent, profession and attribute trees and find out that a leader with cross-training down the profession tree in city-state service, can gain access for himself and anyone in his group to various government facilities - including the government forge, alchemy lab, etc. Or, if your leader has in his group someone trained in such service, they can do the same. Since you want access to the forge for your blacksmith in training (and don't want to have to build your own forge), you get set one of your characters to advance in city-state service.

So, after a few days of character management, you have a few hours to sit down and log in.  Note: your character cannot be "working" for game money at their profession when you log in, so your character advancement switches to whatever default line of advancement you have set (if your character was "working" before you logged in). You  find quests that have arrived in your mailbox that are specific to  each of your characters' specific areas of advancement.  These quests result in the achievement of various items corresponding to your areas of advancement, and which guide you into and through the aspects of the game in which your character is advancing.  You meet NPCs, find places, learn lore, develop a reputation in certain factions, make NPC friendships and establish relationships.

What is there to do in a game where character advancement doesn't have to be earned by sitting in front of your screen pounding on keys?  Why, anything you want, anything the developers can imagine, anything you can imagine, anything but doing the same things over and over and over just to move an experience bar or put gold in your bank account. And the part-time, time-starved player can manage and have fun with their online "family" of characters even if they can only do so in small increments and can't even log in to the game for long periods of time.

I can understand that to those who have the time and focused attention to invest, they want their playstyle rewarded. We already have many such games. But, how about those who just don't have the time and patience necessary to pound an experience bar upward, keystroke by keystroke?  This medium offers the perfect opportunity, through technology, to give those people a rewarding, fun, and addictive entertainment experience - if MMOG developers would just get unstuck from the idea that advancing and excelling in an MMOG must ... be ... work.

You Call That Treadmill a GAME??

Posted by Meleagar Friday June 25 2010 at 7:18AM
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Once again, people ask .. what is there to do in a game with full offline advancement, and the ability for your character to earn money even offline? Why bother logging in? Why not just give them an "I win" button and have done with it?

My response is: you call that treadmill you're on a game?

First, let's look at what this question reveals about those who ask it; the only reason they have to be "in the game" is advancing their character by gaining experience or farming gold. If that is basically the only reason they are in the game, then obviously their gameplay is characterized by efficiently obtaining experience, increasing character stats,  or gaining gold. They consider this activity the fundamental purpose of buying and paying for play in an MMOG.

For them, obviously, there's no RP in the MMO - - G; there is no reason to role-play. Or socialize. Or pay attention to story or lore any more than it serves to advance their experience and wealth. They don't really care about the graphics or the animations or even the gear in any sense other than how the stats on that gear increase their ability to gain character advancement and gold.  These things used to be called Role-Playing games for a reason; they were never called "massively multiplayer treadmill games" or "massively multiplayer raiding games" or massively multiplayer abandon your real life games".  Supposdly, the main aspect of such games was to Role Play - that's why they put Role Playing right in the title, see?

But these guys say the only reason to play such a game is to spend time online grinding on the treadmill to advance your character and gain gold.  If you are playing a character that happens to be the sort that only cares about getting that next ding, 10% more dex on your sword, or 20 more HP, then great, you're role playing! Yippee!

So, why not just give them a button to click and a graph with categories like "health" and "gold" and "leet gear rating", let them pay to log in and keep pounding keyboard buttons (but only in a certain sequence, because it should require skill, baby); the faster they can type those sequences and the longer they can stay online and pound buttons, the higher the bars on their character graph will go. That's all they need, really, because unless their game is measured by how long they can stay on pounding that keyboard and increasing the various stats and levels and wealth of their character, there is no reason to play the game.

For them, the game is just log in, bang on keyboard to raise stats and wealth, feel like you accomplished something, advanced something, gained something through "hard work" and "leet skill", then log out. That's it. That's what the MMORPG genre is all about, and there is no other reason to play.

For a lot of people, that is actually the worst part of the game - the annoying grind that keeps us from doing the things we'd rather be doing in a well-made game, like chatting with others with full sentences, role-playing, exploring, enjoying the game graphics, discovering deep story and lore through a questing system that isn't short-changed because they're only contrived devices for advancing one's character. We like to stand around and talk about in and out of game stuff, compare skills, talents, and attributes, talk about long-term game goals.

We enjoy testing out our PvP skills against each other in harmless arena fights; we enjoy banding together in fun to see if we can take on a certain creature. We enjoy flocking to events like giants or dragons invading towns and involving ourselves in recurring events. We enjoy helping others and answering questions about the game, fiddling with our character looks and gear, trying out new animations, getting in-game musical instruments together, playing, and dancing.  We enjoy making up little role-playing interactions where we can.

We enjoy investigating well-planned, deeply developed areas to see what we can find.  We enjoy fighting stuff not necessarily to advance our character, but to watch the combat (which is why a slow-motion mode would be so cool).  We enjoy finding out what our particular skill lines can do. We enjoy killing Mob X for fun, but not to grind out experience. We enjoy doing quests for fun, but not fundamentally the same quest over and over and over when it is only a contrived way to hide the fact  you're still just on the treadmill.

We don't play the game to get on a virtual treadmill and go down cookie-cutter paths we've all seen dozens of times before.  Making character advancement choices as our character advances can be fun, but having to bang on the keyboard for hours and hours to get to that point is not. Eventually, we have realized: that ding of fun is not worth the hours ... days ...  weeks ... of boring, tedious treadmill action necessary to get there.

You guys wonder why anyone would bother logging in to a 24/7 advancement game; I wonder how anyone can take those online treadmill games out there for more than a few minutes without putting a bullet through their monitor.

One of the great joys we have in-game is to make the decisions about how our character advances when we have the opportunity; doing the treadmill gig for hours and weeks to make one such choice is - for us - not fun.  The 24/7 advancement sytem I advocate here takes us off the mind-numbing treadmill and puts the fun of character advancement management and role-play at the forefront; you are always - always - making  character advancement choices, always managing the acquisition of unique and specific attributes, skills, profession and talents of your constantly advancing and evolving character.

The treadmill is not fun for me. I suspect that if a lot of people just admit it, it's not fun for them, either. And, if the game has to be about who spends the most online time banging keys in a certain sequence to obtain a necessarily difficult (in terms of time) "ding", then there is simply no avoiding that treadmill.

Fortunately, the game doesn't have to be about that treadmill; unfortunately, no developers realize this.

Play Multiple Characters At Once

Posted by Meleagar Tuesday June 22 2010 at 12:20PM
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While responding in the forums the thought occurred to me - not for the first time - that a really great solo-centric MMOG  with full offline advancement would be the perfect game to have a multi-character play option.

So, here's the low-down so far to catch everyone up on the concept here so far:  a 24/7 advancement solo-centric MMOG where you can have, say, a stable of 5 characters, with open advancment down any talent, skill, job or attribute tree you want; now you can not only manage the open-ended development of a single character; you can manage the open-ended development of an entire group of characters. Create and balance your own team from scratch.

However, you can only form a group if you have the sufficient leadership skills; level 1 leadershiip = one other character in your group with you as leader. Level 2 = some small group buff. Level 3 = another small group buff. Etc. Level 5 = up to 2 other characters in your group. Etc.

When you achieve the capacity to lead a group, you can invite others into your group, and they share in the group buff; however, it also means that you can log in a second character from your stable, and later a third, a fourth, etc.  In this way, the developers can still organize some content around the idea of a group taking it on, but the soloer can still tackle that content because he can develop his own "team" by advancing  down the appropriate leadership attribute tree and by coordinating the development of his other characters to form a cohesive set of complimentary abilities.

Now, this doesn't mean that a solo player can't eventually get powerful enough to tackle the same content, but this would add a whole new layer of attractiveness and options for the soloer and casual player. The soloer can also take on content as fast or as soon as those who group because he/she will have access to their own group any time they log on.

Perhaps those who have invested heavily in the leadership tree can, eventually, run even more of their characters in their stable at the same time, and focused leaders might even be able to open up more character slots.  Perhaps characters can learn group-specific talents and skills.

Imagine logging into the game and having your own well-oiled, carefully balanced team ready to go! No more 60 Ret Pally w/T4 LFG! Or, just taking out a single character for some solo time, or roleplaying a duo, or finding a friend or two and being able to fully flesh out your group from your own stables. Plus, it's a lot easier to fill up a social event and have fun RPing when there are always other characters around to RP to your heart's content - even if you have to do it all yourself!  You can put on a play or a show, or develop a comprehensive storyline and have your own characters to play it out through. A handful of players could produce a whole guild of participants.

The possibilities for fun gaming, socializing and RPing would be endless. Why limit the gameplay to just one character at a time?

How Elitism Is Stifling The MMOG Market

Posted by Meleagar Saturday June 19 2010 at 7:32AM
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When I post on gaming forums ideas about 24/7 advancement and solo-centric games, the haters come out in droves. If they had sound arguments against such a game, I would love hear them. However, most of the time they spew such unreasonable rhetoric that it becomes difficult to even have a reasonable conversation.  For example, one guy recently argued that the reason they don't make such a game is because of the name of the genre - massively multiplayer -  which in his mind necessarily meant "grouping" and "raiding". 

What is odd is that these people get angry and hateful just for my suggestion that some developer should make a game that is solo-centric and where characters progress 24/7. It's not like I'm advocating that all games adopt this model. Why the hate for a suggestion to expand the kinds of MMOGs available? Why the hating on players that don't have much time to stay online, but still want to adance their character? Why the hating on soloers just because they don't like to be forced to group up or raid to achieve top content?

Simply put, the standard MMOG model is built around fostering a sense of elitism for the powergaming/raiding playstyle, and those players - at some level - recognize that if the kind of game I advocate is ever actually made (and made well) and marketed to the public, the casuals, soloers, and time-starved players will abandon their game in droves for the chance to inhabit a game where they, and their playstyle, is king; where nobody can advance their in-game character faster just because they're jobless and live with their mother, and where one doesn't have to suffer the political machinations of little Mussolini's in their self-aggrandizing, corrupt mega-guilds just to experience top content in the game.

As it stands today, though, the entire MMOG market is built to foster the same kind of elitism for the same kind of players, and any game that breaks that mold - like the one I'm advocating - will rob them of the 2nd and 3rd class citizenry they need, in their game, to feel superior.

So, it's no wonder they hate the idea of a solo-centric, 24/7 advancement game.  Their game might quickly depopulate and lose their peasant class. How can elitism be served if there is no 2nd and 3rd class players around?

Title After Title of the Samo Samo

Posted by Meleagar Friday June 18 2010 at 3:00PM
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Sites like this one offer us, through reporting, or advertisements, or through reviews and blogs, looks at many old and new MMO games.  Star Wars, Aion, Tera, Fiesta, Perfect World, D&D Online, LOTRO, Star Trek, Champions, City of Heroes .... but how are any of them fundamentally different from each other?

You know what you are going to get: structured character capability organized to fit in with a grouping and end-game raiding mechanic and an advancement system rooted in how much time one has to spend in the game. The casual and solo player can expect the exact same thing in every game: being unable to participate in any top end, unique content, and in all likelihood bottlenecks to content that require group participation for significant aspects to character advancment. 

Also, if one is unable to spend more than a few hours a week in the game, they can pretty much forget about significant advancement or keeping up with their friends, much less the powergaming elite.

Ho hum. Nothing new to see here, casuals and soloers. just the samo samo. 

Marketing the Massively Solo-Friendly Role Playing Game

Posted by Meleagar Wednesday June 16 2010 at 9:54AM
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All the arguments about what the term "Massively Multiplayer" means when it comes to solo vs group play in regards to content should just be set aside. We can agree on one thing: there are a lot of people that love to be in a massive multiplayer world, but prefer to solo most of their career.  There is no need to psychoanalyze this any more than there is a reason for casinos in Las Vegas to psychoanalyze why some people prefer slot machines alone over playing Texas Hold 'Em with other players.

It's what some people prefer; they prefer to solo and would enjoy it if the slot machine they play is capable of a payout equal to what they can earn by playing a card game with other players. And, they want to play their slot machines in the lounge of a big casino with lots of players around.  There is a large market for a MSORPG.  So, why isn't there one? In a market flush with dozens of MMORPGs, not a single MSORPG (Massive Solo-friendly Online Role Playing Game).

Here's another question for you; in a market where perhaps 10-25% of the customer base will ever see the top-end content because of time limitations or the preference to solo, why is it that every single game is still fundamentally constructed for that same 10-25% of the customer base? It only stands to reason that if you develop a game dedicated to the other 90-75%, so that  they, with their time restriction and solo playstyle, could achieve the top content of the game, you could potentially take away  most of the customer base of most games currently active - including WoW.

How odd is it then that no game is trying this obvious model out?  Why is every single MMORPG that comes out still developed and marketed to that same 10-25% of the customer base? Why is there no MMOG whatseover that is aggressively making these marketing points:

OUR GAME IS DEVELOPED AROUND SOLO PLAY.

GROUPING CAN DO THINGS FASTER, BUT EVERYTHING CAN EVENTUALLY BE ACHIEVED BY THE SOLOER.

TIRED OF FALLING BEHIND EVERYONE ELSE BECAUSE YOU HAVE A LIFE? YOUR CHARACTER ADVANCES AS FAST AS EVERYONE ELSE'S.

YOU PAY FOR 24/7 PARTICIPATION, YOU GET 24/7 PARTICIPATION.

STOP SETTLING FOR BEING A 3RD CLASS CITIZEN IN A WORLD DOMINATED BY POWERGAMERS AND UBERGUILDS.

TIRED OF BEING FORCED TO PLAY LIKE THE GAME IS A 2ND JOB?

STOP HAVING TO CHOOSE BETWEEN SOCIALIZING, CRAFTING, OR ADVANCING YOUR CHARACTER. SPEND YOUR ONLINE TIME DOING WHAT YOU ENJOY, NOT WHAT  YOU HAVE TO DO TO ADVANCE.

ROLE PLAY TO YOUR HEART'S DESIRE - YOUR CHARACTER IS STILL ADVANCING!

You don't think a marketing strategy like that would generate a huge amount of interest?

How is it that such a game, and such a marketing strategy, hasn't already been done?

No More Dead Areas or Ghost Towns

Posted by Meleagar Monday June 14 2010 at 2:54PM
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Why are starting cities and low-level areas usually abandoned? Why is virtually everyone in the game in one area?  Why are they camping one boss or repeatedly trying to get into a very few areas? 

Some might point to bad or lazy game design; I disagree. I think that's the necessary result of the current mainstream MMOG design, which promotes min-max, efficient gameplay. People don't lounge around in town, hang out in Taverns, or wander around lower-end areas because it's a waste of precious online time.  The less time you can spend in the game, the less you are likely to spend it inefficiently when it comes to maximizing the potential of your character.

The game I advocate here, though, has no such problem, because players can do whatever suits their fancy during their online time because all characters advance 24/7 at the same general pace. You can get drunk and stumble around and go on naked gnome runs or attend all the social events you want without a single concern that you're wasting valuable advancement time or that you'll be falling behind your  friends or guildmates.

In fact, you never have to set a single foot outside of your city or area of birth. You don't have to engage in a single battle or fight. You can learn a craft or trade, work hard, save your money, buy a house and open up a shop without ever leaving town. 

Without the core design of the game driving players into more efficient areas of the game and out of non-experience giving areas, there is no longer any dynamic that so often turns what should be great social centers into ghost towns; nor does the code drive virtually everyone into competition for the same experience-efficient mobs or areas.

Ending The Powergamer Distortion

Posted by Meleagar Sunday June 13 2010 at 4:58AM
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Powergamers represent a highly vocal segment of the online gaming community.  They are usually very active in a game's forums and interaction with developers and community managers.  They usually comprise the bulk of the beta testers that can modify game structure before the game is even available to the general public, and after release can be found advocating for further changes  and additions on both company and third-party fan sites. This same group, by and large, burn through content much faster than casual players and then begin demanding more higher-end content.

This presents the game developer with a very skewed perception of what a typical consumer might want or expect from their game, and what is currently desired by the majority of the actual player-base.  But, what to do?  How can such games not be be skewed by those that developers have come to depend on for testing their product and providing feedback?

This "Powergamer Distortion" is yet another product of the current, standard MMOG design. In Beta, besides looking for bugs and stress-testing server populations, developers are looking for class and skill imbalances; the reporting/advocating by beta-testing powergamers can lead to many serious alterations to class abilites, level advances, skill trees, and advancement structures. Obviously, any design tweaks that occur at this stage are generated in response to those who might not actually represent the largest segment of future players.

In a game such as the one advocated in this blog - a 24/7 character advancment sandbox game designed around the casual and solo player - the game cannot be distorted by the powergamer perspective or playstyle.  First, players can only advance at a set amount, so how much time one has to spend at the keyboard doesn't skew any result or perspective.  Second, since one's character advances at a certain rate regardless of any other considerations, and can advance in any area one chooses, there really is no such thing as an "unbalanced" skill set or talent combination, because if one talent is particularly useful, anyone and everyone can gain that talent.  However, since advancment of one's character is not dependent upon such class skill or talent effectiveness in gaining experience, it would be hard to define how any particular talant would come to be considered as "imbalanced".

Another powergamer distortion is how quickly content is consumed; in a 24/7 character advancment game, content can only be consumed at a pace predetermined by the development team.  If the designers need 6 months to come up with higher skill advancments, they can set the parameters so that even a narrowly-focused advance down any particular skill tree cannot acquire the current top skill for 8 months.  In this manner, the development team is never "pressured" by any advancing segment of players who "burn through"  content much faster than everyone else and require additional high-end content; they cannot advance any faster than anyone else.

How content is designed in the first place; how it is modified (nerfed) during testing or just after release, and how future content is configured or paced would no longer be distorted around the playstyle of powergamers, because - quite simply - powergamers only exist in any game in relationship to how they can advance faster and min-max particular categories of character traits.  Since they cannot advance faster, and because no character trait can affect character advancement negatively or positively in terms of experience advancement, and since all character traits are open to all characters, how powergamers can influence and distort a game, either in favor of their playstlye or as a negative result of their playstyle, will be removed, because nobody can be a power-gamer in this game.

Why "Story" and "Lore" Fail in MMORPGs, and How They Can Succeed

Posted by Meleagar Friday June 11 2010 at 6:58AM
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The way current online games are set up, one has hard decisions to make about what they do with their online time. Most players only have a very limited amount of time to invest in any online game, and currently virtually all MMOGs are set up so that one must be online and hammering at the keyboard in order for their character to advance.  These games are also set up so that there is a natural, intrinsic, structured progress towards an end-game set of goals for all characters.  If one is not progressing towards that goal, they fall behind in all aspects of the game - even the social aspects; in such games, society is structured around the ability to efficiently advance one's character, or contribute to groups or guilds dedicated to such advancment.

This structure explicitly promotes a conformity-based playstyle dedicated to maximizing one's efficient advancement of one's character.  In such a scenario, lore, story, and role-playing are inefficient excursions from the directed structure of the game. In essence, they represent a "waste of time" because they do not advance one towards the explicit goal structure of the game.  Sure, one can argue that people don't have to play that way, but such playstyles are often unsatisfying due to lack of character progression and because such playstyles don't "fit in" with the explicit structure of the game.

Conversely, since quest, story and lore developers recognize this constraint, they are under pressure to organize the story aspects of the game in a way that is congruent with, and supportive of, the level-progression and class conformity nature of the game structure, as well as the time-constraints of most players.  They can't put in a requirement to read and understand too much lore and story because it frustrates players who only have a set amount of time to "level up" their character.

One of the best aspects of my proposed 24/7 character advancement system is that it completely changes the nature of the relationship of quest, lore and story to game mechanics and structure.  Players no longer have to make that "hard decision" between efficient progression of their character and doing anything else in the game, including immersing themselves in story, quest and lore systems, and even taking the time to role-play effectively. Without having to consider the ever-ticking online character-progression clock and worry about frustrating or delaying the player, the developers can generate as much lore and story they want, fully fleshing out interactive conversations with NPCs to promote immersion and characterization.

Quests based on choices the character makes can involve them in story and lore that has nothing whatsoever to do with level-based character advancement, even though certain benefits can certainly be awarded.  The player would be free to explore ongoing, specified stories of depth and diversity which simply cannot be attempted in current MMOGs because of the time-constraint and progression-structures imposed by the nature of current games. Developers would be free to be much more artistic, fleshing out their world to an as-yet unheard of degree, confident that players unshackled to the min-max treadmill of online character progression would be free, willing, and enthusiastic about investigating the stories they provide - of actually exploring, discovering, and investigating their world, instead of just trying to find the most efficient means to advance their character.

Solved: Gold Farming, Bot Leveling, Shared Accounts, Exploits

Posted by Meleagar Thursday June 10 2010 at 9:27AM
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The "efficient at-the-keyboard" leveling and "balanced participation towards end-game" model of current MMOGs imposes a severe structural and conceptual limitation on what an MMOG can be. That imposed structure, by its very nature, generates opportunities and reasons for abuse that would not exist otherwise.

For example, bot leveling and account sharing only exist as problems because players must be at their keyboard, under the current model, to advance their characters.  This means that people with very limited playtime can either (1) not play the game, or (2) find some means by which to advance their character even if they cannot themselves play very much. If a game offered 24/7 character advancement whether one was online or not,  then "botting" and "account sharing" become irrelevant.

An exploit, generally, is finding an easy way to level or gain in-game gold (or the equivalent); if any player can set their character to level or "work" for gold while they are offline, this greatly reduces the significance of most "exploits" that aren't just pieces of bad coding.  The same can be said of gold-farming; if the player can set their character to work for gold while they are offline, the value of farmed gold, which basically represents the time players don't wish to invest in accumulting gold, is diminished.  In essence, every player can have their own stable of gold-farmers if that is what they wish to do with their characters' time.

While gold farmers might still be able to make some money, the demand for gold as a correspondence to a lack of play-time to accrue gold goes way, way down. Gold would no longer correspond to a lack of time on the player's part to accrue gold, or an unwillingness to use one's valuable online time to farm for gold.

Many of the opportunites for abuse and exploitation only exists in games because of the structural inequalities that generate a market for "online time", either in gold or in character advancement.  Take away those structural inequalities, and the reasons and opportunities for much of that abuse disappears.

Also, if there is no set "end game" that is the funneled construct of at-the-keyboard leveling, unique distributor of best rewards, and organized around conformity-driven character skillsets, then the "goal" of most exploits and abuses is eliminated. The goal is simply to personally develop your character over time into that which you desire and interact with others in a setting that has many variant opportunities for interaction.

The Staleness of Current MMOG Releases Explained

Posted by Meleagar Wednesday June 9 2010 at 9:21AM
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Why are current MMOG releases so stale and unsatisfying? Simply put, in a very fundamental sense, once you've played one, you've played them all.  They are all basically the same game with a few minor tweaks and variances.  This leads to a deep sense in many players that the game they are playing is stale; once they get over the pretty new graphics, and once the player figures out what the character class/advancement structure is and  the correlation between the new terms and the old terms, they realize they're still just essentially playing Everquest or WoW.

That is because in every online game, the structure is contrived to be "balanced" according to the same general theme: that individual characters should be generally equal in their ability to contribute to a group or guild in the pursuit of experience, gear and levels, and or be generally equal in capacity to solo content in order to advance their character.

Whatever the terms one uses on classes or abilities, however they are visually generated on the screen, and whatever one calls the talent trees or skill sets; they're all ultimately the same things: set commodites deliberately manufactured, organized and constrained to guide every player towards relatively equitable usefulness and effectiveness (at least in theory) within the framework of a manufactured systems of group and solo goals.  Within this framework, efficient and min-max playstyle is always the dominant methdology of processing a character through this system of class and ability progression.

In other words, "winning" the game means progessing as quickly and efficiently as possible towards maximum usefulness in terms of a set of end-game goals. No matter which game you play, that is the structure. I don't know about anyone else, but I am finding that structure incredibly boring, regardless of if they call it "medic" or "cleric" or "priest", if it is a fantasy or superhero genre, or anime or western graphics. If you put wings on a pig, all you have a flying pig. Big deal.

So, what to do?

First, stop the "game" mentality, and think of it as a massively multiuser alternate experience. Throw out the idea of balance and end-game structure, which necessarily funnels the experience throughput through a narrow set of parameters.  Many players do not have the time nor the inclination to spend their lives beating down dogs and gathering firewood to advance their character; who really wants to spend as much time doing the same thing for a second or third character?  Killing a few giant worms is fun for the experience the first time; having to kill 1000 to level isn't fun at all - it's mind-bogglingly tedious and completely unnecessary.

Envision the characters in a player's stable as being actual entities that live in an alternate existence, and the player as their "god" that manages and organizes their experience, taking any one of them as an avatar through which to experience the fun and joys of the alternate world. Let the player set, EVE-style, the particular courses of advancement for all of their characters, which those characters pursue whether the player is online or not. 

The effect of this scenario is that nothing in this alternate experiential world  has to be organized or constructed to provide a continuous and "fair" system of advancment for any character, because that advancement is a set, continuous feature. Skills and abilities do not have to be organized and constrained in a manner that keeps the character "viable", because the character is always advancing at the same general rate as any other player regardless of their particular skill or talent set.

Thus, the efficient, min-max funnel system is abandoned; players are free to take their avatars for rides and do anything they wish, for as long as they wish, however they wish; they can accumulate from the entire breadth of skills, talents and abilities their world has to offer, because no set can "imbalance" their rate of advancement and progression relative to anyone else's.  What skills and talents one's character has becomes a matter of choice, not organized, constrained class or racial limitations necessary to make the game "fair" or "balanced".

The reason why current games are so boring and tedious is because they are essentially the same game with a different dress on and using a different language.  Only by fundamentally rethinking the genre, and moving away from the "game" mentality to the "alternate experience" mentality can something entirely new be created.

Otherwise, all we will every be playing is some iteration of Everquest, whether free to play or subscription, whether sci-fi theme or fantasy.

The Appeal and Promise of 24/7 Character Advancement

Posted by Meleagar Tuesday June 8 2010 at 1:43PM
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One of the most appealing aspects of 24/7 character advancement, whether one is online or off, is that the player not only feels that he/she is getting their money's worth regardless of how much physical time they have to devote to the game, but they never have to fell like a 2nd-class player, since their characer is advancing at the same rate as anyone else's.  This sense of value that continuous character advanceent provides allows the player, when they are actually live and in the game, to do whatever they wish, and do not feel compelled or pressured to "maximize" their online experience with "efficient" playing.

I think that one of the great problems of online gaming is that the mode of character advancement in current MMOGs is detrimental to to all but a very narrow spectrum of playstyles and potential gaming relationships. While those that enjoy and thrive on maximum efficiency effort can well enjoy current MMOG structure, the more casual player, the more social player, and the true role-players are faced with the problem of how to both advance their character efficiently and do other things in the virtual world they find as enjoyable, or even more enjoyable.

With 24/7 character advancement, players no longer have to choose between efficiently advancing their character and doing anything else they wish to do in the game world; they can do both. If they wish to organize or attend some social gathering, they can do so to their heart's content, secure in the knowledge that any such activities do not compromise the advancement of their character whatsoever. Players can explore the world, investigate lore, help other players out, role-play, or just sit in a local tavern and shoot the breeze with friends ... and still advance their character at the same rate as anyone else.

24/7 character advancement offers a radical reinvention of the genre. Seriously, how many people really have the time to devote to such a hobby, which requires huge numbers of hours to invest?  To break out into a larger market, the genre needs to reach out to those that have at most a handful of hours per week to invest, but still wish to enjoy the advancement and management of their character's progress in a persistent, online social world.