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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

Guild Membership & Offline Advancement

Posted by Meleagar Thursday December 31 2009 at 10:33AM
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In prior  posts I've outlined some of what a perfect 24/7 offline advancement sandbox MMORPG would contain. Two essential commodities were discussed; character and guild progression.  One of the interesting ramifications of having offline character and guild advancement is that "how much time a player can be online" becomes a very small consideration when it comes to looking for guild members, since guildies can advance whether the player is live or not, and thus their characters can develop in-game requirements ncessary for the guild to advance.

One can easily see that this changes the dynamic of how members are cultivated by guilds; the question no longer becomes how much time can the player spend in live guild activities (for most guilds) but rather how much of their 24/7 advancement time are they willing to commit towards guild goals?

This brings up a very pertinent issue: how many characters should the player be able to have advancing at the same time?  In Alganon, for example, you can only have one of  your characters advancing offline at a time. My question is: why?  If it is fun to have one character advancing offline, wouldn't it be even more fun to have two or three?

Of course, some limit needs to be set or a player could simply form their own super-mega guild just by inviting all of his or her own characters and setting their advancements in accordance with the goals of the guild. I suggest that a limit of three characters would be a good balance; it makes decisions about what to do with each character very meaningful, but still allows for some great diversification. When joining a guild, a player can bring all three of his characters to contribute, or just one or two, while perhaps joining another guild with his remaining characters. 

This makes every player, no matter how casually they play, a valuable member for any guild. This can give the player the satisfying sense that they are contributing not only to their personal character advancement, but also to the advancement of the guild they have become a part of, even when they are offline, resolving the conflict between having a full real life, but wanting to advance and contribute in the MMORPG world. One of the problems I faced as a casual gamer was that I didn't feel like a valuable member of any guild because I couldn't really contribute much in the way of gameplay; with offline advancement that is also tied to guild advancement, this problem is solved.

So, consider the fun and joy of being able to not only manage the 24/7 advancement of one character, but of three, and being able to meaningfully contribute to the advancment of any guild you become a member of. Or, even if being in  a guild isn't your thing, imagine the  potential strategy involved in coordinating the advancements of three characters towards your overall in-game goals.


How Powergamers Made, and then Broke, the MMOG Genre

Posted by Meleagar Wednesday December 30 2009 at 10:10AM
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There are two basic kinds of game players; those for whom the most important aspect of the game is winning, and those for whom the most important aspect of the game is playing. For the former, the end-game is **the** destination; for the latter, the journey and not some final goal is the most important.

One might also very loosely define the first category as hardcore players, and the latter as casuals.  For those whom winning is the most important thing, getting there first or among the first "means", to them, that they win. Burning through any new content first is, to them, the major goal of playing any MMORPG.  These hardcore players tend to be much more focused and involved in the game, and in talking about the game, and in populating forums about their game, than casuals. This focus on the game leads them to take positions in the industry; hardcore players tend to become the developers and the fan-site gatekeepers of the industry.  The hardcore treats gaming like a career; the casual treats the game like a hobby, and so the former tends to drive the functional path of the genre as it develops, because theyr'e the ones that end up in positions to make decisions about the structure of future games.

The hardcores brought an energy and enthusiasm into a genre that quickly exploded in popularity, but then hit what appeared to be customer base wall a couple of years after World of Warcraft was launched.  Although many  millions of people play games online, like hearts or poker at community sites, those people were not gravitating towards online MMORPGs. It quickly became apparent that online MMOGs were competing for the same base of players. After World of Warcraft, few new players were being lured into the western MMORPG market.

The reason for this is simple; virtually all MMORPGs are essentially the same game with various minor tweaks here and there, like better graphics, more character customization, wings, pets, real-money stores, pvp, etc.  Since the bulk of western developers were culled from the powergamer mold, they essentially all think alike, and basically perfected their powergamer-oriented game with World of Warcraft.

Now, some may argue that WoW is not a true powergamer game, but here's my perspective: the powergamer developers built and revised WoW over the years around a fairly simple maxim: alienate as few powergamers as possible while appealing to as many casuals as possible thereby maximizing profitability. Second to that is: throw in whatever other games offer that seem to appeal to significant players if possible so that WoW players don't have to leave WoW to get the "stufff" the other game offers.

 The reason new MMORPGs can't compete with WoW when it comes to size of player base is simple: all those other games are simply revised versions of WoW.  They offer no significant reason to start over or go to  a game that might fail and be a waste of money, when playing in Azeroth is money in the bank.

So, why do developers keep trying to sell us on WoW variations instead of trying something fundamentally different? Why do we literally have hundreds of MMORPGs out there and maybe one or two is functionally different from WoW? Is it because they wish to copy WoW's success?

No, the simple fact is that virtually all developers and idea men that gain entrance into the arena of game development must go through the same gatekeeping process, which means they have to be powergamers and have  a powergamer mentality, which in turn means that they can only imagine games that are WoW-like; roles that fulfill group functions, groups that have access to content that can't be accomplished solo; raids that can accomplish content that can't be achieved by groups; a linear path of progression towards a guild-raiding end-game comprised of exclusively superior rewards and content, all centered around career-level investments of online time.

To the powergamer, this is what an MMORPG "means", and playing the game any other way, or for any other reason, is so alien to their thought process they can only muster contempt and ridicule for anyone that talks about offline progression or equitable solo rewards.

The powergamers that brought the necessary energy and commitment to the MMORPG genre to get it started have become the entrenched system, guarding the gateways and pumping out one failed attempt to draw customers away from WoW after another, becoming so desperate that they even offer their games for free.  That has worked to some extent, but it is pushing the game industry into a certain business model that a lot of gamers abhor: the cash shop. It's hard to call a game with a cash shop a game, isn't it? It would be like Green Bay buying yards in the middle of a football game.

And so the MMORPG genre is stalled out, not because there is no more room for new, different, successful games, but because the powergamer oligarchy cannot imagine outside of their theme-park, linear progression, end-game, group-oriented,online- time-centric box. If they could, then we'd have true sandbox games, classless models, solo-oriented games, and offline progresion models ... but the fact is that we don't, and the reason we don't is simply because the developers as a whole can't fathom that people unlike them would play a game for reasons entirely foreign to their mentality.

Reimagining The MMO Guild: Part One

Posted by Meleagar Monday December 28 2009 at 11:24AM
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(Please note that all of the blog posts here are made under the premise of a MMOG built around a 24/7 advancement system that goes forward if the player is online or offline.)

I think it's time that we reimagine what a guild can be in a game, and provide guild leadership with real tools that allow for complete guild customization.

Formation of a guild: first, the capacity to register a guild will be part of the 24/7 character advancement system. An example would be: Tier 1: Leadership > Tier 2: Group Organization (modifiers to group performances) > Tier 3: Guild organization, where this advancement occurs relatively quickly to the point of T3, perhaps a few days. Upon reaching T3, the character can then organize an "open guild".

An "open guild", or a Tier 1 guild, can have 10 signatures of any 10 characters regardless of their skill specs. Open guilds can lead to things like renting local buildings to house the guild, common guild vaults, teleportation stones, discount prices on purchased goods, etc. The founder of the guild can set the guild political scheme to any of various mechanics that actually work in-game: dictatorial, representational, democratic. etc.

However, to advance to a Tier 2 guild, one must have a certain number of characters with certain skill qualifications. Let's say that the leader, representatives or a majority of the guild wants to become a Crafting & Mercantile guild; in order to qualify for such status, there must be at all times at least 5 characters in the guild with Tier 4 or Tier 5 crafting skills.

Becoming a Crafting & Mercantile guild opens up various capabilites and options. First, it greatly reduces prices of publically available crafting supplies and common materials. Second, it increases yield from active, online resource mining. Third, it generates guild revenue by serving the public. These are all subsidiary avenues of crafting guild offline advancement available to the discretionary management of guild leadership.

The Tier 3 Crafting & Mercantile Guild can be something like a Metalworks Guild, or an Alchemal Guild, or a Leatherworks Guild, which specializes in a particular area of crafting, but requires, again, a certain number of characters that specialize in the same area. Note that all of the Tier 2 bonuses to all crafting still apply, but upon embarking upon an area of guild specialization, new bonuses are awarded to any crafter engaged in any form of that craft specialization. In the "Metalworks" Guild example, the T3 bonuses would apply to those who crafted any metal product, from weapons to armor to building materials, to home decor or metal mechanisms.

Specializing is a lengthy process, but yes, the guild can "specialize" in any number of avenues it wishes, given they invest enough time. Specialization gives the guild access to bid on government contracts for products in their line of specialization. Also, if a guild specializes in metalworks and owns a building, they have the capacity to set up their own business instead of using the auction house system.

Now imagine avenues of guild advancement for: Exploration & Adventure - bonuses to running speed, jumping, swimming, climbing, larger "fog" reveals on the map as one moves through new territories, shared fog reveals for all players in the game; detailed map information that appears on mouse-overs, information about items in-game that is hidden from other players without such advancements (which players can gain on their own, but don't have to directly advance if they are a member of a guild that has done the advancing on a guild level), access to corresponding links; Diplomacy & Politics Guild, Mercenary & Protection Guild ... well, you get the idea.  These would be tier 2 guild advancement paths equal to the Crafting & Mercantile guild path.

The guild specializations would provide all members of the guild with a set of temporary advancement bonuses in effect only as long as they are actually in the guild, advancement bonuses they could train up themselves in solo 24/7 offline advancement management if they wanted to go that route. Being a member of a crafting guild that specializes in metal fabrication would give a player that has no training in that craft area whatsoever the ability to craft metal items up to a certain level.

Also, it should be noted that leadership can set membership fees in a global, automated system that sends out notes when membership fees are due and then the player can either pay the dues or elect to leave the guild. There would be a great benefit to any player that is a member of a guild, and a great benefit to the guild for having members, especially since member contribution to the status of the guild doesn't necessarily rely on how much time they can spend online.


Player-Crafted Buildings & Cities in the Sandbox

Posted by Meleagar Wednesday December 23 2009 at 11:07AM
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Here is a scenario for a player to construct a building, or even a city, in a 24/7 offline advancement sandbox system.

Tier 1: Local government faction (5 levels, including many quests for material rewards)

Tier 2:     > township management  (ditto)

Tier 3:          >  zoning, design & planning (ditto)

Getting to this point might require  a week of time or so if the player advances no other aspect of their character.  Higher tiers will include alternate path options; for instance, after completing Tier 1, alternate Tier 2 paths might include township protecion (local police), which might then lead to a career in the military, among other things.

Note that that all of the above offer a means for offline jobbing (earning money while offline).

Once one player  has achieved  the Tier 3 zoning, design & planning status, they are able to buy land lots or unused buildings and approve them for various purposes, such as construction of player housing, businesses, guild halls, etc. However, this requires money, so either the character must now earn money, or other guild members (or perhaps other charcters of his/her own) have specialzed in earning money.  Also necessary is a character with the necessary architectural/building skills; a source for materials and craftsmanship, either learned or purchased, etc.

For example, being able to quarry stones will lead to various stonemasonry skills necessary to provide materials for a building project.  Other materials/products will be necessary as per the plans/specifications provided in the building "recipe" the architect/builder character can purchase.  Wood, metal and glass products will be required; then there is the issue of furnishing and decorating the structure. Of course the first character with the city planning skills can obtain the licenses necessary to operate a business or guild, as long as appropriate taxes and licensing fees are kept up to date.

Now, building anything can be accomplished over time by any single player because they can eventually master all of the skills necessary; but it can be accomplished in far less time by a coordinated team of players.  Note how just advancing down a single path can provide any player with a character that has skills other players will eventually hire just so they don't have to spend their advancement time becoming a third-tier city planner or a third-tier city architect, or a  3rd-level stonemason or woodcrafter.

Now, imagine a 4th and 5th tier to such avenues that allow the construction of actual cities by advancing beyond local government and single-building architectural/building skills, and also requiring the advancing of a guild thorough various tiered requirements into a body capable of responsibly administrating the needs of a city.

Next: The 24/7 Guild Advancement System



Embracing The Chaos of The 24/7 Offline Progression Sandbox

Posted by Meleagar Tuesday December 22 2009 at 10:04AM
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Have you ever leveled your character too fast in an MMOG? I remember some game I played that allowed the player to turn off their experience gain if they wished. They did this because (1) some players fell behind their friends because they couldn't spend as much time online, and (2) because leveling too fast trivialized vast amounts of content for players that didn't want to invest time in multiple characters; they wanted to do every level 1 quest there was in the world without it being trivialized or unavailable to them because they had outleveled the content.

Isn't that a scream? Players complaining about leveling too fast and not being able to fully enjoy (in a meaningful way with their primary character) the full breadth and depth of what the developers had put in the entire game. Players that took their time and explored every nook and cranny of the game, the lore, the quests, etc. Yes, there are players like this; for instance,I found out in one game that I couldn't even max out all my weapons skills (raising my ranged, blunt, blade, unarmed, etc.) to max for a level without going up yet another level or two .. meaning, I had no means by which to simply raise one set of skills without raising my entire level and increasing the upper limit on all my skills. At the same time I was becoming too high a level for my current recipes; they were for level 6, but I was now level 8 ... just because I wanted to increase my unarmed combat to its max for my level.

And there, my friend, is the organizational nightmare that is the level-based system, and why it is so easy for current games to be broken, horribly unbalanced, and unplayable for many.

How do you fine-tune and balance such a chaotic system? You can't please almost anyone when it comes to how fast one finds themselves leveling when they are simply moving along the programmed developmental pathway for their "class" or "role". Also, you have to beware how many options you allow the player to have or else they'll get stuck and be largely unable to progress if they make lousy developmental choices along the way; best to confine their options to a very narrowly-defined and tested set so that, if they really work at mucking up their character, it will still be viable and they'll still be progressing down the level path (even if most players will avoid grouping with them). If you're not min-maxed, you're SOL. 

Of course this system makes for what most call a "dumbed down" game; you have to dumb a game down if you want to avoid structural problems with the advancement path. The fact is that in a level system all characters must be in roles, they must be on paths, they must play a class, or else the door is open to chaos and failure down the road, because challenges must be designed to fit certain stages of a character's development and how their role is defined and powered in relationship to those challenges. Only, the problem is that everyone plays differently and has different expectations and, even after the best testing, unforseen advantages and disadvantages will be found out.This is why a good section of every game population considers the game broken regardless of how it is balanced, nerfed, adjusted, or fine-tuned.

In other words, a level & class based game necessitates a very controlled and narrow development path for every player. End-Game scenarios require fine tuning of group potentials so that the end game content can be challenging to a certain number of players in a group or raid. The chaotic nature of the scope of even  these dumbed-down games ensures that everyone is going to consider some aspect of the game broken.

In a sandbox game, the "end content" is whatever the player wants it to be, and it provides a plethora of development avenues and options. If I wish to raise all my combat skills to say, level 3, then I can do so, and I'm just a player with all my base combat skills at level 3. That doesn't make me a level 3 character; it doesn't trivialize any other content. It might make me more diverse when it comes to combat, but it doesn't remove me from being able to get those magical knitted gloves offered by one of the first quest givers in the game. Can I get over-powered for certain content? You bet; that's the way it should be. There are occasions when I should be monstrously powerful, even compared to other players who have been in the game as long as me; just as they may be able to produce crafted items I have no means to create, and just as someone else is selling super-buffs in the marketplace or at the city gates, even if they have no combat or crafting skills.

Yes, that kind of game doesn't avoid chaos; it deliberately embraces it. The only way to offer players true character freedom and customization is to just let them develop their avatars in whatever direction they wish. If after a week they are incapable of defeating a foe others can with ease, well they can simply start studying or training skills that will allow them to win that battle. Nothing they will have done up until then will be wasted; they'll still have all those other skills they invested their progression time into.

You see, you can't break a game that doesn't try to generate control patterns enroute to specific end-game content. If it takes 10 players to beat X in one case, and only one to beat it in another case, so what? It all depends on how you, or you and your guild have organized the development of your characters. There is no "balance" whatsoever because there is no objective, linear goal to balance anything for.

You can't break a game like that. If, during PvP, you always end up dying just a whisper before your opponents, then it's time to train up some endurance or stamina and increase those hit points, or speed up  your attack, or make your attacks more potent, or get some healing skills - whatever fits the need of your character and suits the style of your play.

A game like that becomes all about the strategy in relationship to what you want to accomplish in the game and has nothing whatsoever to do with how much time you have to invest in sitting at your keyboard punching the same buttons over and over.

20 Offline Advancement Ideas For The 24/7 Sandbox.

Posted by Meleagar Monday December 21 2009 at 12:55PM
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1. Increase running speed.

2. Increase jumping and safe fall disance.

3. Increase swimming speed.

4. Increase the amount of time you can hold your breath under water.  There could be all kinds of underwater content this aids with.

5. Establish and develop an Out-Of-Body ability; the more trained you are, the longer you can stay out-of-body, scouting locations or just wandering around.

6. Raise base stats.

7. Learn new dances.

8. Learn how to play a musical instrument and then learn different tunes. If anyone ever played Asheron's Call 2, that game had the most advanced interactive musical instrument system I've ever seen in a game. Being able to develop musical skills would be great, especially if very advanced musicans could actually buff characters in a meaningful way or open the door to certain storylines/quests.

9. Gymnastics, opening the door to all kinds of cool animations and moves, even in battle.

10. Crafting, of course, which can be any number of paths in itself.

11. Weapon specializations that increase one's effectiveness with very specific weapons.

12. Swordplay - opens up new combat animations with various weapons which the player can substitue for standard animations.

13. Spellcraft - same as swordplay, only with magic-based animations.

14. Sneaking

15. Ability to use any specific armor, magic, or weapons.

16. Job - ability to apply various other skills and abilities towards a job or career that earns the player  money while offline. For example, if one develops their gymnast ability, they can become a certain level of a gymnast teacher through this offline progression avenue (but only to their corresponding level of gymnastics training).  They can then, instead of advancing in some skill while offline, set their character to be at their job and earn money while you're offline.

17. Bartering - buy items in shops for less, get more money for items you sell to NPCs.

18. Increasing various factions via oflline service to those groups.

19. Learning new emotes.

20. Cartography - grants detailed maps of various areas of the game (especially if the game has a "fog of exploration" style reveal.

Slow-Motion Part 2: Complex Battle Systems & Advancements

Posted by Meleagar Saturday December 19 2009 at 12:09PM
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Not only would  a slow-motion capability allow the player to set fights at speeds they can keep up with and enjoy, but it would also allow for complex battle-dynamics based on a deep progression system. Targetting specific areas of the body, assessing the makeup of your enemy's gear, weapons, skills, etc. would provide for an excellent interactive fight sequence.

In some games I've had skills like disarm, or spells like corrode armor, block, bash ... but hardly ever used them because it just took too much precision timing and dexterity to find the right buttons to push in the right order. Once again, I'm a casual-playing old man of 50; I don't want to read and memorize a textbook just to understand all my abilities in a fight and then still not be able to use them effectively because my twitch reflex is slow or my connect to the internet isn't at T1 level.

Now imagine a skill tree that  includes things like roundhouse, backside leg sweep,  kneedrop throat-crush, corrode metal weapon, ignite armor (because you realize they're wearing leather or cloth, duck and thrust, duck and punch, front flip, back flip, drop and roll, throw a weapon, throw or kick dust, diffuse electricity, quench fire, evaporate water .... counter-spells that one could actually counter because the fight is going in slow motion. 

Now, here's a further wrinkle: what if one of the areas of progression (lets remember that all progression in this game is 24/7, like EVE but more comprehensive) is reflexes, and training in reflexes allows you to alter an action in mid-execution, depending on other advancements in spellcasting, dexterity, agility, etc.  Also, advancing one's speed, over time, creates a differential in the slow-motion progress between you and your enemy, so you can actually increase your combat speed in relation to the enemy's speed.  The higher your training in these characteristics, the more sequences you can interrupt per battle, the slower the enemy moves in relationship to you, etc. 

Slow motion combat sequences allow for all sorts of spectacular and complex battle interaction, and lets the player enjoy all of it from a cinematic perspective. It also increases the depth of options available in the various lines of training and advancement.

Get Your Woo On: The Slow-Motion Option

Posted by Meleagar Thursday December 17 2009 at 10:07AM
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What does slow-motion have to do with casuals and soloers? Well, many casual are older customers that - you know - have lives they aren't willing to sacrifice for game time. This is generally accompanied by aged-neuron twitch and reaction skills and a rather fumbling keystroke method. While I came up with this idea for the benefit of reaction-challenged players, I realized that including John Woo directorial capabilities in an MMO would be a million dollar idea for any MMOG.

The simple way to install it is to just provide the player (or group) with the ability to "lock" an encounter, which removes the capacity for others to interact with their fight unless accepted into the group (which would immediately change the new member's video speed setting to whatever the leader has it set at). The player/leader has the option of setting the fight at one-quarter, half, three quarter or full speed. Any players outside of the fight would observe a slow-motion battle from the outside.

One of the things that I always disliked about any game was that I would be forced to put my attention on either watching the graphics on display and enjoying the cinematics, or I could concentrate on fumbling around on the keyboard and figuring out what to do before I got killed. I'm an old man; it's one or the other for me. Sadly, I can't really enjoy most of the cool battle graphics or mechanisms because I'm always too busy trying to figure out my next move or find it on the interface.

Now, if I could slow the battle down to quarter speed, then I have the ability to not only queue up my input (and change it if necessary), but I can also take the time to luxuriously operate my camera and swivel it around, zoom in and out, take screen shots, etc. I would have John Woo - like directorial control over my in-game experience. I can even zoom in on my character's expressions, for crying out loud. Also, any other players who were interested in hanging around and watching the battle would be treated to slow-motion visuals, allowing a much more theatrical experience.

The slow-motion option also fits in with the overall framework of the sandbox-style offline advancement character development game; combat becomes more about strategy than it is about twitch and reaction skills and how much you've memorized about what to do and when. Even if you're grouped up with others, you have the time to ask questions and the leader has the time to instruct others or command them. Talk about casual-friendly; I don't mind if someone knows more about a fight than me, but I'd appreciate having the time for them to tell me what the strategy is, and then being able to respond, with more than 1 second to accomplish it.

I Want Everything The Powergamers Get, Only I Don't Want To Work For It

Posted by Meleagar Wednesday December 16 2009 at 7:36AM
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I don't believe for one minute that it was only in the EVE developer's roundtable that anyone in the industry ever said:

"Hey, you know what, everyone pays for 24/7 game access; why not let them develop some aspects of their charcter or game offline so that everyone feels like they're getting their money's worth, even when they can't actually be online?"


"Look, guys, don't you think it's kind of unhealthy to set up our game so that only those with addiction-level playing styles can accomplish the best content?  Why not let them advance at a certain pace even offline and thus encourage everyone to have lives outside of the game?"


"Hey, instead of making potential new customers choose between WoW and our game, let's make it so they can play both by allowing offline progression in ours! That way they can at least fully test out our game and not have to give up their WoW addiction."

Okay, Alganon did think of that last one. But, really?  Nobody else thought of these things? Or, if they did, they were shot down?  A game that offers offline progression is a no-brainer for anyone that wants to appeal to casual players and part-timers and at least get those who are playing another game to try out your new game.  So why hasn't anyone outside of EVE and Alganon even tried it?

My theory on this is pretty simple; MMOGs are made by people that are dedicated to playing MMOGs or other video games.  Most of them got ongoing doses of enjoyable self-esteem (no knock intended)  and joy and love and community by spending 40+ hours a week in-game, being part of some big, organized guild and pwning the high-level content. 

They have absolutely no comprehension of why people unlike them play the game, because they are deep in a community of people that play these games as if these games are a drug or a job.  They try to imagine why people play WoW or EQ2 when they're only in the game maybe 5-10 hrs a week; and this inability to understand shows in how they throw "bones" to what may actually be their largest and most profitable player base.  They apparently believe we should be happy with the powergamer game scraps.  In their mind, we obviously aren't in the game to "achieve" or advance our character, because if we were we'd be playing like them, so we must be there for social reasons, or other non-developmental, non-advancement reasons.

In the words of one developer from long ago, the great unwashed and lame (we casuals) are needed only so that the powergamers will have the sense that they are better; they need a large context  of under-achievers so that their over-achieving playstyle provides a satisfactory sense of comparative superiority.

Well, listen up.  The only thing that separates you from the great masses of casual players is that playing the MMOG is not as important to them as it is to you.  They still want the same advancement, achievement, and character development as you, the same opportunity to grow and develop their character to pwnage power or visual equipment and abilities; they are just unwilling to reorganize their lives to invest the necessary at-the-keyboard time to accomplish this.

Oh, many of  them are willing to pay for it by purchasing ready-made characters sold at third-party sites, or buy from in-game shops, or even pay outside organizations to level and raid with their character to get the advancement goods. They're willing to risk being banished by running scripts so that they don't actually have to be at the keyboard to grind.

Yes, that's right: they want to be able to gain all the power and abilities and gear as those who actually work for them (and by "work" I mean be at the keyboard as if it is your career) without actually having to invest the online time to do so.  Most "hard-core" players sneer at this in most forums, throwing out insults dripping with dismissive condescension. I would imagine that most developers, even if they had the idea of offline progression, would quiver in fear of the wrath of the hardcore base if they installed true offline progression.  They would be known as the developer that put out a game for gimps and whimps that wanted all of their achievements handed to them on a silver platter without having to work for it.

Well, here's the thing, guys. I (and many, many others) have a full time career and a full time family and full time real-life activities; I am not about to invest the necessary hours in at-the-keyboard work (read: grind, raids, hours-long-group-intances) in order to achieve or develop my character with gear and abilities in your game, and since your game is built around at-the-keyboard time as a criteria for advancement, why should I play your game?

Answer: I don't.  I used to, because of many reasons - it was a cool experience in EQ, and WoW was a beautiful game, but in the end those things are ultimately unsatisfying because I had no chance whatsoever of going beyond a certain point with  my character because of the online time required. At some point the casual player or soloer understands this is true, and will be true, about any MMOG they play because they're all the same in that respect. For many of us we realize we're ultimately just playing a game that will frustrate us when we run into that first bottleneck.  We'll start losing interest and then just leave the game. Some of us will even get resentful as we realize that we are being farmed for subsidy money so that high-end content can be supplied to the least profitable members of the community (because of the bandwidth they consume).

At some point, however, some developer is going to actually ask a focus group of part-time casuals and soloers what they really want (not what they can reasonably expect) from an MMOG, and they're going to fearlessly tell the developers that what they really want is to be able to get everything that the powergamers get, only they don't want to have to sacrifice time from their offline lives to get it. Perhaps some smart developer will transcend the shock, horror and disgust of such a notion and realize that it's about the money, and develop a game to tap this market even if it means being ridiculed by all the power gamers in the world. You know, develop a game entirely around the casual and soloer market from the ground up.

And then we'll finally have a fearless, no-apology offline advancement system MMOG instead of one more power-gamer haven deceptively advertised as casual-player friendly by people who imagine that they understand what casual players really want. We want to be more than just that which power gamers compare themselves to in order to feel superior.



Forced Player Interdependence?

Posted by Meleagar Tuesday December 15 2009 at 4:03PM
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In most MMOGs these days you find several "forced interdependence" mechanisms.  Two I'd like to disassemble are grouping and crafting.

First, forced interdependence means that at some point in the game you can't do something you need to do without someone else's help.  Let's get something straight: if I want to play with someone else, I will, not because I have to, but because I want to.  Forcing me to interact with other players is not how you generate "community"; it's how you generate resentment and frustration and shocking news stories about crazed gamers.  I play games with people I like; I work at jobs with people that perhaps I do not.  My online time is supposed to be ... what? Entertainment, or a job?

Why game developers since the dawn of EQ have tried to force player interdependence through the class and crafting systems are beyond me; perhaps it was because the only way mommy could get anyone to play with those MMO pioneers when they were kids was to force them to, and that's how they figured all relationships were forged.  Look, I like to group up every now and then with people I've vetted one way or another as non-jerks; I don't want to have to pile into some off-the-rack group just because there's no way to get through the next hoop in my character's development unless I submit to some lame punk's annoying gooberage.  Stop trying to figure out how to force the community to group up and just let them do it if and when they feel like it.  I promise, it will all be just fine. The world won't come crashing down. 

Stop putting exclusive or necessary content behind doors that can only be accessed by groups, period.

Second, stop limiting my crafting options in your ham-fisted efforts to artificially force "community".  Nothing worse than getting a cool recipe only to find that it requires a commodity that only a miner can forge, and you've already filled up your two crafting professions. How about this: let me learn as many craft professions as exist in the game.  If I want to spend five times as much time as anyone else working on crafting skills just so I don't have to ask anyone else to sell me tarnished brass rings, what do you care? So what? Do you really think everyone in the game is going to take the time to learn all the crafting professions?

This is why we need a new, 24/7 advancment system game; if I'm working on my tailoring skills and get to the point that I can make some cool new robe but I need a reactive agent only herbalists can generate,  well then if I feel like trying to get it from other players I can, but if I'd rather invest the next 36 hours of my advancement time in getting my herbalism up to that point where I can make my own damn reactive agent, thankyaverramuch, so what?  That's just that much more time I've spent exploring the breadth of the game, and advancing laterally. 

Don't tell me I have to group up to get X, or that I have to go to other players to get Y; let it be my option whether or not to do it that way and get X or Y faster, or do it myself and it take longer. 

I'll play with others and work with them when I &%$#%$ feel like it, not because some programmer thought it'd be good for the community to force people into each other's lives.  

The EVE & Alaganon Systems: Game Money

Posted by Meleagar Tuesday December 15 2009 at 8:25AM
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The EVE and Alganon offline advancment systems are different from my original proposed system in many ways; instead of creating a bank of experience to spend, they offer sequential study avenues that one can queue up to learn.  Those are good systems - I'm currenly playing Alganon - but don't go far enough, because much of the game still revolves around how much time one can spend in the game when it comes to character development.

For instance, in both games how much money one has is determined by how much time they can spend in-game, even if gaining game money becomes faster and easier due to offline studies; however, I'm not sure how different it would be in EVE if leveling accompanied ISK (money) generation; in Alganon, the character levels up via in-game activity, but has offline progressing going on 24/7 in addition to that.

In my proposed game, one can set their player to "work" while they are offline, earning an amount of money per hour that is derived from whatever professional skills they have developed; however, they obviously cannot "work" while doing other things while actually in-game, so one of the benefits of actually playing live is being able to earn money in addition to whatever else one is advancing in the background by killing mobs or doing quests. 

There will always be some advantage to actually being in-game, but it will not be nearly as significant as most MMOGs today.

The Character Development Game: Crafting

Posted by Meleagar Wednesday December 9 2009 at 12:09PM
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In my last post I sketched out a crafting system that allowed players to purchase mods that correlated to learned skills where they could not only generate entirely new content for the game (such as, new weapons, armor, hairstyles, clothes, animations, etc), but then sell those creations to other players for in-game money or real-world money.

In this system, a player could become quite famous simply for their unique artistic and/or design skill, and actually make money for it.  This moves the game beyond simply a game, but also provides a means for someone to "set up shop" and market their particular creative skills in the game.

First, in EVE-like fashion, a player might set their character on a skill-learning path towards becoming a master blacksmith. After achieving master blacksmith level they can of course craft all the house-designed in-game appropriate weapons or armor suits, depending on their speciality. However, at the master level they also have the option of buying (with real cash or a huge sum of in-game money) a blacksmithing mod (represented in-game as a shop or kiosk interface) that allows the player to design and construct weapons or armor (or other items) using a deep customization interface.

One can, while offline, design a sword, specifiying materials (even magical or special materials that offer stat bonuses) and structure.  Such materials, size, weight, power, etc. will of course correspond to limitations on who can effectively use the sword. All of this would be made apparent in the design process.  All of the materials and parameters of the sword will form an identifying schematic that identifies that sword with those particular attributes.

At this point the craftsman can "formalize" their design, which checks to see if anyone has trademarked that particular sword formula, and has the opportunity to trademark their work, a system that checks to see if any other sword has been trademarked using that same formula; if not , then for a fee the sword can be trademarked. This sends a message to the crafting system that disallows the formalization of any sword formula that infringes on the trademarked model.  Note that only the original developer of any sword formula can trademark that formula, but he doesn't have to; if he doesn't trademark it, then the formula is "open", meaning that others can copy it (formalize the same design), but cannot trademark it.

In this same way all manner of unique, player generated game content will flourish that will add incredible lateral depth well beyond what any team of company developers could hope to deliver.


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