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Game by Night

Game by Night regularly provides entertaining and thought provoking content for members of the MMO community. Don't forget to visit the official site at gamebynight.com and subscribe to the feed!

Author: GameByNight

Community Spotlight #2: Tobold from Tobold's Gaming Blog

Posted by GameByNight Tuesday October 13 2009 at 12:44PM
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Welcome to the second edition of our Community Spotlight segment. This week is somewhat of a special treat for me and I hope for you too. Over this last week, I was able to pin down Tobold of Tobold's Gaming Blog to answer a few questions with me. If you have any doubts about who Tobold is, I'd have to assume that you're new to the blog scene. This kindly gentleman has been helped begin the MMO blogging trend and currently runs one of the most widely read MMO blogs on the internet. Though, if you were to ask him, he'd respond in his typically humble fashion.

We sit down and talk a little bit about WoW, MMO gaming, geese, and ice cream. Enjoy!

Chris: Hi Tobold and thanks for doing the interview. To begin, can you tell us a little bit about who you and what your blog is about?

Tobold: My blog is about MMORPGs from a player's perspective. I am specifically interested in questions of the consequences of game design on the behavior of players, how incentives modify what players in a virtual world do. The blog also contains some virtual world economic posts, and the occasional post about the real world. Finally I'm interested in the subject of blogging itself, so there are some introspective posts on the blog about the blog.

Chris: As a reader of the site, I know you're a big World of Warcraft. What's kept you playing through the years?

Tobold: I've been trying to answer that question for WoW and every other game for years, but there is no simple answer. I think it has a lot to do with a virtual "to do" list, logging on and having some goal in the game: Reaching the next level, getting a new piece of gear, beating some dungeon, mastering a new tradeskill. While all these goals are in a way trivial, games like World of Warcraft work by immediatedly rewarding you for achieving them. I think the sense of achievement and constant rewards is what keeps us playing for years, even if our intellect tells us that we are just collecting pixels.

Chris: How do you feel about the pace at which new content gets added to the game? Does it concern you that other development companies seeming to be setting a higher standard compared to Blizzard's current rate?

Tobold: I do think that Blizzard is slow, compared to the competition, in the pace at which they add new content. That leads to noticeable dips in player activity between expansions. On the other hand, the quality of the added content, especially in the case of expansions, is usually quite high. Blizzard earns $500 million per year as profit, but it is hard for me to say whether they do not reinvest more into the game because they really couldn't produce high quality content faster if they hired more people, or whether they deliberately choose to use World of Warcraft as a cash cow to finance development of other games.

Chris: There was a definitive shift in the focus from "hardcore" to "casual" with the transition from TBC to WotLK. How do you feel about...

 

Continue reading the interview here

 

 

Your ideal zone?

Posted by GameByNight Saturday October 10 2009 at 9:55AM
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As I was driving home yesterday, I started thinking about what creates that "drive" that keeps me wanting to log into a game. There's a lot of factors but I think one of the most important ones has to do with the zones I'm playing in.

Maybe I'm finicky but I've come to realize that I have a definite preference for what I do and do not like to play through and for how long. I don't like it when zones last too long. If I'm there for more than 3 levels, it's time for a change. This is especially true if the zone is dark and dank. I'm one of those people where the lack of sunlight in the winter bugs me, so maybe I'm disposed to be in and out of these zones. Still, the longer I'm forced to play a zone that's 100% gloomy, the better chance there is I'm going to start feeling strained to log in and, if a change doesn't happen soon, I'll probably stop all together.

Am I the only one who feels this way?

If you look back over the various screenshots I've posted in the last couple of weeks, you'll notice they all have something in common. No, not just that sexy, sexy, Syeric. Rather, that most of those pictures are blue, grey, and purple. I'll be honest, it's started to bug me a little bit. So, on that drive I mentioned before, I also got the urge to spend some time in LotRO (where the greens are browner but the sun always shines... mostly... some of the time).

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate themed zones as much as the next guy. Duskwood was one of my favorites in WoW. It's really all about balance. Players shouldn't be made to spend too long in any one place and they should always have options. When either one of those is out of whack, it's a problem and limitation of the game.

If I had to imagine my perfect zone, it would be out in the open, with grasslands and forest. The zone would start off out in the sunshine but give way to darkness and gloom the further you went into it, building tension. Mobs would start off normal but become progressively more twisted as you approached the apex of the zone, probably ending in a castle of dungeon.

How about you, what would your ideal zone be like; am I alone how sunlight in games affects me or is there something to it?

Thoughts for a Saturday morning...

 

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MMO Wanna-Be's

Posted by GameByNight Wednesday October 7 2009 at 1:25PM
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(The title may not be grammatically appropriate but darned if it didn't look wrong without that apostraphe!)

Lately, it seems like a new MMO is launching just about every month. Games are coming out of the woodwork and pushing the limits of what we expect to see in a new MMO. This is a great thing and an exciting time to be an MMO gamer. If you have the money to try them all, of course.

Which I don’t. I can only go by what I read and see on YouTube. But what I’ve noticed is that, even though more games are calling themselves “MMOs,” a lot of them just don’t seem to fit the bill. Part of it has to do with what we really consider to be an MMO and, as Massively has shown with their “Redefining MMOs” series, there’s a lot of gray area under the current definition. If you and I see this, you can be sure that publishing companies see it too.

The result is the term “MMO” being used for marketing when the game itself may not live up that expectation. Usually, the companies cover themselves by removing the “RPG” portion of the acronym but, frankly, I think they’re being intentionally deceptive. When you hear the term “MMO” you’re thinking World of Warcraft and not CrimeCraft. As players, I think a lot of us take the “RPG” in MMORPG for granted, so when companies change the last three letters to “PWN” or “FPS,” we still have the expectation of RPG somewhere. Maybe it’s a matter of semantics and probably not very appropriate of us but it doesn’t change the truth.

So, when games come out claiming to be an MMO that “pushes the boundaries” of what we’ve come to expect, I’m always a little bit skeptical. Is the game really an MMO or are they just trying to capitalize on the insta-sales and publicity using that term promises? There are two games that come to mind here: All Points Bulletin and Cities XL.

All Points Bulletin


The game looks fun, in a Grand Theft Auto kind of way. As a big GTA fan, I’m not complaining. But, based on everything I’ve read, seen, and heard, this game is not an MMO. It has more in common with an Xbox Live game than an MMO. They say the world is persistent, yet it is also very segmented. Players do their dirty work in “districts” (instanced cities) limited to 100 players. That’s a lot of people in a small area, sure, but it still breaks apart players so much that you could hardly consider it “massive.” You can get together with your friends in the “social” districts where you do your customization but it’s hardly a “whole world” experience like what most players in the genre would want. If we call APB an MMO, then we may as well call Battlefield an MMO too.

APB might be a fun game and worth the box price but it falls short on its promise. It’s actually far less of an MMO than even Guild Wars. APB is a game I’d expect to stack up against other online games on my console, not games like Fallen Earth and Aion.

Thus, I dub thee: MMO Wanna-Be

Next, we have…

Cities XL


Cities XL, again, is probably a fun game but it’s not an MMO. It’s SimCity 2009 without Will Wright’s support. As Gordon notes, you can choose to play the game all by yourself if you want to. In my mind, that makes this a single player game with a multiplayer option. This is the kind of thing you’d expect to see city builders evolve into, just like how the Sims went online, but it’s far from an advancement of the MMO genre.

Again, for all of the touting the title got as being an MMO, it falls short of its marketing.

Thus, number two, I call you: MMO Wanna-Be

At the end of the day, it all comes down to how we define an MMO. Yet, defining it really won’t amount to anything because the term “MMO” is married to “RPG.” Publishers can call a game an MMO all they like and defend it by taking the literal definition of the word but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s really just a money grab. Syncaine’s theory on WoW Tourists is more than that, it’s social trending, and the game’s industry is well aware of its truth. The minute you attach “MMO” to your game and start spreading the word, you guarantee immediate sales from the most devoted of genre fans. Fish, here’s your worm, ignore the hidden surprise it’s impaled upon.

It’s time for a new term to describe these games. The movement of games from solitary to social was a natural and expected part of the internet explosion, so why do we need to confine it to such a generic and misleading term? That’s a consumer thought when the answer is obvious: money. They want it, we have it, and we’re more likely to pay for something familiar than daring.

 

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Actually, story does matter.

Posted by GameByNight Monday October 5 2009 at 3:02PM
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Sometimes, trolls get the best of you. I mirrored yesterday’s post on WoWRiot and the very first commenter, Pink, threw this out at me:

“go rp nerd. no1 cares about what a quest involves, only what the reward is.”

The asshat couldn’t have even read the article because what I’m saying is that I stopped reading quest text but we’ll put that to the side for a minute.

I’m going to come out and say that, even if you’ve never RP’d or read a quest in your life, story matters. PvP fanbois such as Pink might not think so, but, whether they like it or not, it’s true.

(This is Pink. The Pink from WoWriot is a guy. Draw your own conclusions.)

Here’s why:

Without story, there is no context

If story was irrelevant, some of the best and most epic encounters in MMO history would never have been. Take WoW for example. If no one cared about story, Blizzard wouldn’t have bothered to design Onyxia, BRD, Blackwing Lair, or the upcoming Icecrown Citadel. It wouldn’t matter that those world dragons are corrupt or that somewhere there’s this thing called the Emerald Dream. Elwynn forest? Well, I guess that’s just a happy little fairy tale town that’s got no use for a history behind its name.

You could just as easily stick a boss in a big white room, I imagine him as a cube, and tell people to go to town. The why doesn’t matter. Just the reward.

Doesn’t that sound just a little empty to you?

Want a game where context doesn’t matter? Download Pong.

Without story, there’s only grind

You know, before MMOs came about you had MUDs and, sorry, most of them were entirely grindfests. Those that did have quests and story had little and it was usually held on a few web pages written up by the game’s maker. You know why that’s not the case anymore? People want a reason to do something, even if it’s shallow. Without that, why even have a quest giver? I bet it’s a lot easier to come up with a vending machine to hand out new objectives. When I played MUDs, the closest thing we had to a quest was Mob Mastery. You’d type ‘mobm’ and it’d hand you a mob to hunt down. Want to spend 80 levels doing that? Without story, what else is there?

And, apparently, Blizzard agrees. According to this article, people didn’t have as much fun without quests. Hence it now being the biggest quest driven in existence.

Without story, “RPG’s” become just “G’s”

That’s right homeboy. Isn’t the point of an RPG to deliver some kind of story? If you take context out of MMO gaming, you’re left with a shallow gaming experience that lacks purpose. In any other world, we’d call that a waste of time. MMOs aren’t here to provide challenge. They’re here to give us narrative social experiences that we can get devote a lot of time into. Compare the difficulty of WoW to any modern single player RPG and you’ll see what I mean.

Can you get lost in stats and killing blows? Yeah, probably. But that’s what Counterstrike is for.

I’m not going to ramble on and build up some huge case. The sheer ignorance of some people in our community is astounding to me and I had more to say that what could be held in a single comment.

If you don’t care about story, context, or world in your MMO, I’d just like to know why you even bother paying that subscription fee. You’re playing the wrong genre of game.

Call of Duty ----> is that way.

Update: I'll let Tom Chilton lay it out for you.

"What we found was that all the feedback that we got from our alpha testers was that once they ran out of quests, the game got boring. They were like, 'I don't know what to do any more, and I don't really feel like playing any more once I run out of quests'. We came to that realisation that, wow, this quest thing really works. We need to do this throughout the entire game!"

 

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Did NCSoft fire their writers?

Posted by GameByNight Sunday October 4 2009 at 3:46PM
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Just a brief quote that made me wonder. This is from Gamasutra’s interview with Brian Knox, lead from the Aion Online team:

“We had some really talented writers -- still do, actually.”

Okie. What I read from that is that some of the more remarkable writers got cut. His little correction (“— still do”) kind of makes it seem like the majority of the one’s remaining are run of the mill kill/collect fodder. Realistically, that’s probably about the truth of it. The more skilled writers would have had more experience and been receiving better compensation for it. If you’re short on money, who’re you going to cut, the big earner or the $9 and hour rent-a-pen?

Note to self: don’t write quest text for an MMO company.

Maybe that assessment of the remaining writers isn't fair. I'd be willing to bet they're stifled in what they're allowed to write. If the end objective of any one quest is the same, how creative can you really be. It's like trying to find new ways to say the same thing.

For all their talk about story, I’ve found that to be the single most lacking area of the game. I read quest text but quests in Aion, though well worded, amount to nothing for the first 20 levels of the game. When it all amounts to kill this, bring me that, I find it truly hard to care about the reason.

The main issue here is that there’s nothing truly unexpected. Tell me, NCSoft, when I know the end of the story (the objectives) why should I care about reading the plot? I’ve had more fun playing the game since I stopped trying to get something from the text that, to be quite honest, isn’t there. There is very little exciting and original in 99% of the story and that bugs me when they talk about how great and amazing it is.

It’s a cool setting. There’s a lot of atmosphere and, yeah, sometimes it’s good to read the text to get a feel for it all. But don’t expect anything that great. If you set your expectations accordingly, it makes the experience that much more enjoyable.

I guess that wasn’t that brief.
 

 

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