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Just One Moar (formerly: How To Lose Your Life To An MMORPG)

Part diary, part commentary, part news reviews and editorials covering the world of MMORPGs Among many MMORPG:I feature Runes of Magic and World of Warcraft

Author: giantsquid

Redefining Raiding

Posted by giantsquid Monday February 1 2010 at 10:13PM
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What we thought of as raids, now, may be undergoing some drastic changes in the very near future. Don't expect to be doing any WoW raiding in Blizzard's new IP.

From a predominantly non-raiding MMORPG player's point of view, I was interested in World of Warcraft's new raids. I was also a bit surprised I didn't see the news thrown in my face, as I thought such a change would surely create upheaval on that scale with the player base. Instead it looked like, more than anything, Blizzard was doing a lot toward helping facilitate players shifting their perspectives.

The way I'm looking at these new additions, in WoW's raids, are as "seamless mini-games". You go about your traditional raid gameplay except for part of it you actually jump in vehicles and have to drive around fighting or blowing something up, or jumping on the backs of drakes to drop bombs. It hearkens back to a kind of Bomberman type gameplay that's less dependent on your players role or characteristics, and more on player skill.

In light of the approaching Cataclysm, and the news that Blizzard is developing a new IP, I think we are being shown clearly that raids, among other types of gameplay, are evolving.

Blizzard didn't start this, but thanks to them it is more apparent to the masses. Long before the news of Cataclysm or Blizzard's new IP, Free-to-Play games have been experimenting with a multitude of new grouping systems. Fiesta, a cartoon-ish MMORPG, always had an easy raid-type grouping feature, that shares similarities with the purpose of WoW's new Dungeon Finder, called King's Quests. While the way it worked may have changed since I tried it, it was a system that ran special large group raids every hour for different level groups. If you were level 20, you were eligible to join in on that level ranges particular King's Quest. All you had to do was find one of the NPC's, sign up if there were empty slots open, and wait for it to start. No matter where in the world you were, you'd be teleported to the instance and a timed raid would start. While King's quests never delineate from how raids always operated, once you were in, they did add to what today is becoming a shift in player perspectives. That is what we are seeing Blizzard doing now, and then some. There's been many F2P MMORPGs on the market for years, each with their own unique systems and changes in gameplay. There's also other more recent changes in F2P and subscription based MMORPGs that add to this push in perspective.

LotRO's new skirmish system, while I know next to nothing about the details of it, offers a change up on group play, providing more options for people who want raid-like experiences. Runes of Magic offers min-games, some in the form of solo-instances where the enemies are scripted to match your characters level, and the new F2P Allods is offering high level players group fighting through a ship battle system. These are just a few examples of the way we are seeing a change in raids-even if traditional raids can still be found.

It all leads me to speculate that Blizzard's new IP is going to be very different. I highly suspect that we will not see any form of WoW raiding in it. My opinion is that it will be jammed with a variety of seamless mini-games that run the gamut of gameplay- including some evolution of raiding. Anyone can speculate and take current trends and look a step or two ahead, but the folks at Blizzard have proven that they are very smart. They have the brains, access to information, numbers, and the money to have a strong grasp on how many steps ahead in raid evolution they can go. I continue to only speculate, but I would say it's less looking a few steps ahead, and more akin to being a professional chess player and being able to see 20 or 30 moves ahead. That is where I think Blizzard is setting their sites on what raiding will be in their new IP. Well then, just what the heck would that be? Well, of course I don't know specifically, but I think it will offer two things in abundance: an unprecedented amount of choices, as this seems to be a good constant in many new MMORPG features, and Blizzards phasing technology.

By the time all this comes to pass, we will all be basking in the glow of a new definition of what "Raid" means, and I personally don't think it's too far down the road.

F2P MMORPG Nihilism

Posted by giantsquid Saturday January 30 2010 at 12:03AM
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This is where I scream to the heavens “KAAAAANNNNN….” until I’m blue in the face. You can join me if you like.

This soap box moment is brought to you by F2P MMORPGs everywhere, and the letter Aarrgh!

Don’t get me wrong, I love all that MMORPGs have to offer, including F2P. My favorite, for over a year now, has been Runes of Magic- a free micro transaction based MMORPG. They all have great systems, and fun play to provide in one form or another irregardless of overall quality.

What has me shaking my old man cane at the sky is also what has my purely pessimistic side trying to turn me into a “F2P MMORPG Nihilist”. I’m talking about what is appearing, more and more to me, as a sub-culture of MMORPG gamers that have little morals, one track minds, and seems to dominate F2P communities. The irrational itch I keep needing to scratch tells me there’s much more here than meets the eye, but I can’t help but to indulge the pessimism.

I started referring to this nameless majority as “F2P Min/Maxers”. A cesspool of players striking F2P game after F2P game with a tsunami of ego driven single mindedness that wanted nothing but to reach the games level cap at any means necessary. They race to level cap as soon as possible, utilizing any methods necessary without regard to morals or ethics. They’ve found easy back doors for their botting and hacking through F2P’s smaller companies and harder to police worlds to gain the highest level “anything” they can get in one of these games, and want very high rewards for what only they consider to be the penultimate endeavor- some vague sense of being better than all the other players. They think it makes them happy and feel good.

In all my travels through all the various F2P MMORPG forums and the virtual worlds within those games I’ve come across, they all want the same thing. They all want the best reward for every part the game has to offer. Mini-games, well the reward better be equivalent to an equally as hard instance, or it’s pointless. Crafting better be painstakingly worked out to account for every player type and every amount of time a player may or may not be online. All instances of the human condition must be accounted for, and the rewards made equal or it’s not worth playing….and then they will just hack and bot and exploit out the wazoo and brag about it ceaselessly in world chat and the forums so they can lord it over you by saying “Hey, everything in the game is equal so it must point to me just being better than you”, whether you asked or not.

The pessimist wants to continue by saying these are the overwhelming majority, to the point the games would not survive, having such a low initial population. It’s perhaps a condition of being a beta tester, but only the most loathsome of beta testers. This same group doesn’t play P2P games.

Isn’t it odd that this same group that seems to dominate F2P game populations, also just all happen to either dislike all P2P games or simply has never tried one? I think the cheating drives them more than anything. These people pay a lot more than the costs of a P2P MMORPG. They pay big bucks to goldsellers, and to the games Cash Shops. Any mix of legitimate gameplay and cheating to get to the top and as fast as possible, yet they don’t play P2P games? That just screams to me it is because they can’t get away with it in most P2P games. The larger business infrastructures the P2P MMORPGs enjoy are the driving force for not liking the game.

My only hope is that I am so wrong I may as well be trying to hit a pop can on earth by throwing a baseball from pluto or that the simultaneous emergence of great F2P business models like DDO, Runes of Magic, and possibly Allods, with the current generation of “F2P Min/Maxers” outgrowing and leaving for a new generation of players growing up in a much healthier and well built wave of F2P games, will change the course of this current epidemic.

Lore and Delivery

Posted by giantsquid Monday January 25 2010 at 10:59PM
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Lore and delivery are two different things that together may change your overall game experience, but does not effect the quality of each other…

When we think of MMORPG lore, or the lack of that lore within a game, it is sometimes too easy to let the poor execution speak for the quality of it. Delivery can influence the experience but a large amount of that is determined by the player as well. Usually in response to my queries, I get a movie as an example. Case in point, I think “A Boy and His Dog” was a poor movie but a great story that later heavily influenced the world of the Fallout games. The movie as a whole was poor, even if it was based on a good story. MMORPGs are interactive games where our enjoyment is contingent on our participation. The work we put in, so to speak, goes along way toward our overall experience. To me, the movie analogy is continuing to overgeneralize, mix up lore and delivery, and let delivery speak too much for the quality of the lore itself.

Information is not delivered to you, in a MMORPG, the way it is in a movie. Many people play differently, don’t read quests, or just sit around and fish all day. Players have to use their own resources, to different extents, to dig for the story. Delivery is an important tool because it can improve or lessen that experience. Whether the lore is there, and a good story or not is, well, a different story.

I posted a question looking for free-to-play MMORPG based fiction over on MMORPG.com and got a number of different responses. The majority of the responses pointed to the games either not having any lore to speak of, or it was all poor quality. I never did find out if there were any books based off those games, whether written in the developer’s native language or otherwise. There were quite a few amusing replies from players saying how, in general, translating a game to a book would be dumb because it wouldn’t be very exciting to read “I cast fireball and waited 3 seconds, mob X bit me and hurt 2% of my health…”. and other variations of that. Some didn’t even know that there were World of Warcraft, Warhammer, or EVE books floating around in bookstores.

When we argue that bad translation is the only thing an English speaking audience has to judge the lore on, then for all intent and purpose, we may say the lore is bad. I’d still argue from the standpoint of how much imagination or work you put into it. Yes, I’d agree to other fellow players in the know, that “Game ‘X’s’ lore is very poor”, but it helps to look at it from the angle of lore and delivery so we don’t start overgeneralizing in all games.

The quality of delivering the lore may be poor, but the lore may still be there, and it may be good. It may take you more time and work to dig for it, depending on the MMORPG you play, but it may also increase your enjoyment of the game or help you review the game to see if it's something you’d like, and you can always post suggestions in the forums for improving how it is delivered to players in-game.

And on another note: My new blog is at http://www.justonemoar.com

 

Too bold, too wild a statement? Don’t let the backlash hit you in the face from people saying it’s too outrageous of a statement for outrageousness’s sake. We always hear quite a number of daily statements like these that lead us to believe someone’s just “crying wolf”. “XXX is the new WoW Killer!”, “Best Game Ever!”, etc; All this wolf crying has made the MMORPG community jaded, but don’t forget that the possibility still exists.

Thus ends my preamble or disclaimer to try to artificially un-jade you to look at this article “objectively” and not as another boy who cried wolf. But if you’ve managed to hang on this far, I would like to tell you that I have some broad MMORPG models as well as several detailed explanations with examples to defend my titular claim.

Not only do I believe Runes of Magic is the next evolutionary jump since World of Warcraft hit the scene, I am confident that my facts and information will support this. So let’s get right to it shall we?

Broad Evolutionary Jumps

Runes of Magic(RoM) is the first MMORPG, since World of Warcraft(WoW), to do what it is doing. Namely they have created a great unique world with their own hands but developed around the best parts of some of the best games in the business. This is what WoW did. Runewaker(developers of RoM) has a good team that are MMORPG fans themselves, that saw the best parts of the best games like EQ2, LotRO, Warhammer, and WoW. They took all these great things that the current MMORPG community loves, and smooshed them together, made some tweaks, added their own great unique systems, and wrapped it all in their own world lore. They did this all to a degree very close to what Blizzard did when they created WoW.

* Runewaker also showed strength, bravery, and risk taking ala Blizzard(developers of WoW) in finally taking the best of what’s currently out there and expanding on or improving on it, then “selling” it as an RMT business model.

* Not only have they dared take hold of the reins in the same fashion as only Blizzard has done in all these years, but they are also proving their worth by not just being copy cats, but being vanguards. Runewaker is showing their tenacity and bravery in practically redefining how RMT can work well. No one has done this before them; creating an RMT MMORPG that is closer in scale and game mechanics to most larger subscriber based companies. RoM Both surpasses any size thresh holds and game play mechanics of any previous RMT based MMORPGs.

* Another huge evolutionary change is a more focused implementation of “horizontal game play”. Where the core of most MMORPGs is to direct you to leveling, RoM is going to great lengths to apply large content patches that any player will be able to access without being forced to level to experience all the game’s content without taking away current favorite systems such as raiding.

Most of these boil down into the basic category of “options”. Through Runewaker’s unique and ingenious design they have returned an immeasurable amount of options back to the players while retaining and improving on what has become favored MMORPG elements.

Thus RoM has shown evolutionary and revolutionary additions and changes to not only the RMT business model, but to well established subscriber business models as well. While many games are coming out almost daily with great systems and options, none of them have done it to the extent of RoM(since WoW came out).

The Proof is in the Pudding

At first look, RoM seems to simply take great ideas and copy them, which many would be fine with. There is actually much more than meets the eye though, and it’s these subtle small changes that make a huge difference that will have long lasting impacts on the future of MMORPGs and show Runewaker’s true genius.

RoM’s Item Mall (RMT done right)

RoM not only has one of the best Item Malls(filled with only items that will increase the rate of speed at which a player can acquire goals in-game, and nothing is sold that cannot be obtained in-game by purists), but they’ve plugged it directly into their game unlike any other RMT modeled MMORPG to date. They use a total of 4 different types of currency:

1. Diamonds
2. Rubies
3. Gold
4. Phirius Tokens

Through these various RMT and in-game currencies plus the powerful option of letting any player have the ability to earn these currencies in-game through a stable economy, RoM has transcended all previous RMT business models. Any non-paying purist can trade, buy, or sell through one-on-one player transactions, auction house transactions or solo play to get their hands on every currency type, without ever taking a credit card out of their wallet. One hundred percent of game content is delivered to every player regardless of how they choose to play, all without offering power overbalancing items. The economy fluctuates and wildly at times, but nothing is to such an extreme degree as to warrant legitimate claims the in-game price of items ever get truly out of a players reach, no matter what player type you are. For example, some of the top players in my server never spent a dime on the game.

Horizontal Game Play

Horizontal is just a fancy shmancy word to describe content that is delivered to players through a director free approach. The easiest way to describe this is through RoM’s professions. While holding their own level system, professions are independent of your characters level. You are free to raise alchemy, blacksmithing, or any other profession to max level whether your character is level 5 or 50. Other systems like player housing and mounts are provided with no “vertical” restrictions. You can get a house for free at level 5 and rent horses from level 1.

Runewaker has not only built in great ways to provide more game content to all players, they couldn’t have done it at a better time. Whether planned or not(I like to believe it’s the former), we’re at an evolutionary shift within the MMORPG world where games are teaching players how to have fun in new ways, and at the same time player perceptions are changing in how they derive fun from MMORPGs. No matter which came first – the chicken or the egg – RoM is providing old and new ways to have fun, surfing on this wave of change like a pro surf boarder in the lead.

Quests and World Lore

At first glance, RoM seems to have quests the same as games like WoW and Warhammer. You have world quests and daily quests. But there are subtle ways in which RoM implements them that creates more options and fun for players.

One difference in dailies is that you can collect the items needed without first having to accept the quest. This is a very big deal in the world of MMORPGs both RMT and subscriber models. It gives players freedom from constraints and provides many “kill two birds” options. For instance:

Warhammer’s dailies require that you go seek out the location to accept the quest then return to the location where you get the needed drops. This is fine, but RoM’s method puts power and options into the players hand. Now if you’d rather be doing world quests or grinding for different drops or are busy in any other endeavor and don’t want to feel forced, you can choose to keep these daily drops or discard them. Someone may be in a position where they plan on heading near a daily quest board as soon as they finish mining, grinding, or doing whatever else in their current area, so they figure they’ll kill two birds with one stone and collect them. When they go into town to attend to their main objective, they can quickly stop off and accept the quest, which will be immediately completed. You can see how this frees players up to attend to what they want, when they want, and still provide the options of taking or leaving daily quest drops.

An aspect of world(or general) quests, that may not be blindingly apparent at first look, is how well they deliver RoM’s world lore in a continuously driven and richly expanding way.

When I first looked into the world lore, I felt it was very lacking. It seemed to overgeneralize a semi-unique past along with some briefly but no less generic overviews of individual zones. After playing for months I realized how bloodthirsty I became in wanting to complete all quests; not for gold, or experience, but simply to keep reading.

A rich and detailed story started unfolding before me through all the world quests. It’s done in such a fun way as well. All 1,200+ of RoM’s current world quests are worth reading as they not only add details of the worlds history, but also details of its present and still yet giving hints as to where events are headed in the future. The story is delivered cleverly through miniature quest strings and individual quests both stand alone and tied to various dungeons and instances throughout the world. By using a little brain power you can easily piece together the ongoing story regardless of the order in which you accept the quests. There’s also “Epic Quests” that are like side stories, that still add to details to the world lore, with some nice rewards along the way. If you feel RoM has no real world lore to speak of, then you haven’t read the quests.

RoM’s quests are well planned, timed, and scripted to take into consideration players driving the timing, delivery, and being an “actor” in them. They aren’t simply a tool to drive forward leveling, but are all like acts, or chapters, of a well written play. The major downside is the enhanced importance in translation. RoM has to be translated into English which no doubt leaves things to be lost in turn overshadowing the importance they placed on quest design. As long as they can continue to place a high standard on translating, and keep mistakes to a minimum, I will always feel RoM’s quests are more meaningful than WoW’s or any of the other MMORPGs currently out.

Many players have no doubt become disheartened by quests and nowadays rarely read the text, but each and every world quest, in RoM, is a significant piece to the puzzle that is its unique and interesting world lore. Perhaps players could lament they don’t like to try and put the pieces together and would rather have the lore all written out on the website or some other more direct delivery method, but Runewaker has taken the limited options and picked the best of them. Even if players interested in world lore look down on this, the upside far outweighs the downside by breathing life into quests in desperate need of some form of resuscitation. Given available options, this is the best one that brings back strong meaning and importance to quests, and is a terrific new way to deliver world lore where the player is more immersed in the story.

Unparalleled Customization

On top of making great MMORPG features even better, RoM hasn’t skimped on unique content.

* User Interface

When you enter the world of Toborea for the first time, you are greeted with a fairly basic user interface. Many players aren’t used to being greeted with much hospitality in a game and therefore stop short at accepting this as being an almost archaic user interface devoid of any personality. Look a little closer. RoM offers unparalleled customization options in its user interface. It allows a very large number of hot keys to be organized horizontally, vertically, or a combination of both and placed anywhere on screen you wish. On top of that, you can customize every single part of your UI in a similar fashion.

* Add ons

Those familiar with WoW add ons, will recognize this term, and yes they are just that(only for RoM). Add ons are player made programs that can be used to change everything from colors, shapes, and sizes of your user interface, to adding tools such as built in calculators, auction house tools, and a slew of macros and scripts to enhance your playing experience.

* Macros and scripts

Whether a simple text macro(combining commands together to be executed in one button push) to shout “Hoozah!” as you cast fireball, or a much more complex set of macros and scripts, RoM lets you do it. Unlike any other subscriber based or RMT based MMORPG that only let you make very basic text or emoticon macros, change armor, or don’t offer macro creation at all, RoM lets you create macros from anything. Want to string a mixture of heals and spells together into a macro? Would you like to be able to make a macro to switch from a two handed sword to a one handed sword and shield so you can cast the shield required protection buff and then switch back to your 2 handed weapon, followed by a few attack spells all in the blink of an eye with the press of one macro? Go for it.

Whether through scripts, macros, add ons or the plethora of built-in tools, RoM gives players near unlimited options in customizing their gaming experience.

Bringing the Fear of Death Back

* Experience Debt

Rom has added a great system to provide a significant element of “fear” of dying without being overly annoying. Most RMT based MMORPGs will take away a percentage of earned experience when you are killed. While this adds to a desire not to die, it does little else and also comes with an equal or greater amount of annoyance which only takes away from a players perceived fun.

RoM has added “Experience Debt” where you accrue a percentage of debt based on your character’s level. Once in debt, you will still gain experience, but a percentage of gained experience first goes to paying off the debt.

* Meaningful PK(player killing)

There are both PvE(Player vs. Environment) and PvP(Player v. Player) servers to choose from when starting RoM. In a PvP server, PK has had its meaningfulness ramped up. There’s reputation points to be gained or lost which results in certain advantages or disadvantages and there is also the added “fear” of losing not only items that a player may be carrying in their bags, but also items could drop that are being worn at the time of the gank. Another feature is that there are no PvP related factions. Anyone can fight each other or get attacked at any moment. As a nice trade-off of “fear” and annoyance, you do not accrue experience debt in PK situations and other non-combat situations(such as falling to your death).

The importance or “fear” aspect of dying in MMORPGs has become a major concern in the industry as well as the game communities. RoM has found a way to bring it back with minimal annoyances attached to it.

Unique Features That All MMORPGs Could Learn From

* No More Clones

A problem for characters at any level in other MMORPGs is the very finite limit to how armor can be customized. This is also very visible at an MMORPGs level cap. In a game like WoW you’ll have massive amounts of players that worked hard reaching the highest level and getting the best armor and weapons, but there’s a lot of disappointment when you realize that anyone else who has the same race end up as clones of each other. A lot of importance is lost in having armor that looks like everyone else. Players lose all individuality and are simply small armies of stormtroopers with no way to tell them apart. Although you have plenty of armor to choose from, this problem can still occur at any level.

RoM has items known as “aggregators” that allow you to take the statistics of one item and transfer them to another. So if the ultimate in-game sword is still desired for its strength, but you like the less powerful and lower level sword because it’s a cool sparkly blue, you can have it.

The aggregators work for all visible armor pieces and weapons. This little addition opens up a whole world of potential. The options for new players generated bragging rights and achievements open up to players not only wanting to have the most powerful gear but the coolest looking too. This plays into horizontal game play as well. Hours, days, or much more could be joyfully spent hunting down favored armor regardless of level.

But wait there’s more…

RoM also has other character(and mount) customization features allowing you to color individual pieces of armor, and not just a simple basic color. You have a lot of control and a massive color palette to choose colors from for your character and even coloring your mounts. Your character can truly be unique with features that let you choose from millions of colors for skin, hair, visible armor, weapons, and mounts.

* Putting the “Runes” Into Runes of Magic

Runes play a part in the story lore as well as game mechanics. RoM uses runes in professions as well as enhancing armor and weapon attributes. There is a wide variety of runes already in the game and most can also be added together or mixed to form new more powerful runes.

The main tool for this is the “Arcane Transmuter”. The amount of runes in combination with other armor and weapon enhancements offered in RoM gives players a lot to do. The Arcane Transmuter can seem a bit overwhelming when first starting to use it, but with a little practice players will quickly be upgrading their items through, not only runes that can be created, but also through enhancement jewels and tiering.

* Fusion Stones

Just like many other subscriber based MMORPGs, weapons and armor can come in tiers. When found or dropped from mobs, tiers are based off the character level requirement. Through the use of fusion stones, you can raise an items tier, which in turn could allow it to accept more powerful runes and raises attributes.

* Enhancement Jewels

While fusion stones and runes take a little more understanding and time to figure out, there is another way to upgrade an item that is a bit easier to do. Enhancement Jewels can be purchased that you simply apply to an item to give it a + status. The jewels have a chance of success and failure which can downgrade any previous jewel enhancements or raise it still further.

* Disenchanting Items

Blank fusion stones can be used in a process where you wish to strip certain attributes off an item to later add to another item.

All these options for upgrading do tend to get boiled down into one “must-have” option for serious competitors but still leave plenty of different options based off amounts of time, work, and money required to upgrade regardless of whether your a hardcore endgamer, a very casual casual player, or anywhere in between.

No Ghost Towns

Many MMORPG landscapes are dotted with towns, villages, tents, and hubs of one kind or another. All too often though, you can find little plots of housing in zones very far from a main city that end up being ghost towns. Other than maybe wanting a specific quest or three, there’s no reason to make a long journey away from a main city to a ghost town where there’s nothing to do, and no one to talk to. Everyone ends up gathering in only one or two places within the games world while any other towns are basically left empty with no one milling about.

RoM has added, to one degree or another- based on the zone and encampment – player amenities in every hub adding to the social reason for players to congregate. This ensures meeting groups of players in every hub of the world. Many of these players will be the same level so you’re likely to meet up with people to run instances and complete quests much quicker. It’s yet another seemingly small thing that creates a huge difference and has a large impact on the overall MMORPG.

Regardless of when you started playing, or at what rate of speed you are leveling and/or questing, when you roll into any of the many towns in RoM you are greeted with a living breathing little community that does a lot to feed a players perceptions of how this really is a real, vibrant, living world.

* NPCs Among Us

The vast amount of NPCs, combined with people sounds(the sound of crowds milling about greet you in most towns) amplifies this sense of a world that feels much larger than it actually is. It all combines with the very integrated continuous story driven quests, crafting stations, and other player amenities.

Quests are also built out of these hubs. No taking a quest to go kill 10 boar out in the middle of nowhere that aren’t hurting anyone. Quests, as I mentioned are very story driven and this is also apparent in any sized hub anywhere in the game world. There’s large amounts of rationale, reason, and purpose for how the quests work and interact with the NPCs of any hub.

Making Standard MMORPG Tools More Player Friendly

When I started World of Warcraft, I loved it and was amazed by what it had to offer, but numerous tiny annoyances poked me multiple times every game session. It reached the point that my frustration levels were through the roof.

RoM uses similar windows, and in-game tools(as does many MMORPGs), but I noticed my frustration was significantly reduced because I felt RoM delivered the same tools to me in a much more player-friendly method that gave me options. Even if players are going to typically all choose the same methods to explore a virtual world, the perceptions that a MMORPG can feed a players mind plays a big part on whether they have fun or not.

Even though I chose to go after skills and spells, in WoW, that I could only get in one director driven way, I didn’t like the “feeling” of being forced to do this. What if at any moment I got bored and wanted to switch to joining friends in a party slaying mobs or go PK other players my level. I could do it, but I really couldn’t do it. For instance, my friends often told me you’re not strong enough because you haven’t gotten your class specific skills yet. They might as well have said “Go back and do the “required”(see: forced) quests in the only area they are available, in the only way to obtain them before returning to explore and level up with us throughout the rest of the world”.

I was frustrated with how difficult it was to do something as simple as gain my skills, find a specific NPC, keep track of quests, etc…. I quickly realized that while WoW is still an amazingly fun experience for me, it is very director driven. They do many step oriented requirements that require you to complete many tasks in a very specific manner outlined by the game, before being able to obtain items, honor, reputation, quests, etc…

There’s also minor annoyances when simply opening up a quest window to find it reset leaving me to re-scroll to find what I need, limited bag organizing options, and many other blood pressure raisers.

RoM has virtually done away with this directed and limited options feel. I can level my spells and skills from anywhere with the only requirement being that I gain points from killing…anything anywhere. Apart from a few quest requirements before entering certain instances, there’s no caps put on when I can obtain a mount, when I can go to certain zones, how far I can level professions, and much more.

RoM has a slick World Search interface that lets you adjust many settings to your preference. You can turn on auto-run, NPC locaters, Turn on or off a myriad of labels; player names, mob names, mob health bar, NPC names, tool tip pop ups, easier to use quest logs, and many more minor tweaks that have me playing RoM in the same manner I played WoW but without those annoyances. Sure, one could argue that it takes any challenge or skill out of the game to turn easy NPC locaters on or turn auto-run on. Well, if some players feel that way, they aren’t forced, they are given the option to turn those features off to enhance their particular play style.

Game Tie-Ins

What other RMT based MMORPG has a full range of merchandise tie-ins including posters, mugs, mouse pads, t-shirts, and more? Some other RMT companies have occasional “giveaways” to win these types of items on an exclusive basis, but it’s a fully implemented year round store for RoM. I think the fact Runewaker started all these merchandise tie-ins at such an early stage of RoM’s life adds a lot of potential to see many more tie-ins as the MMORPG ages.

It All Adds Up

I encourage anyone of any age or MMORPG background to try Runes of Magic. You will not be disappointed. Whether you’ve never played a Western subscriber based game, or never played an Asian RMT based game, you will find a lot of fun in RoM that improves upon both of these MMORPG business models, and play styles in many different ways.

These seemingly small changes are really not so small and show that the developers actually thought, and thought hard about the choices they made. RoM has many small changes, each that make a big difference, but also show skill and talent to be placed in the same game together providing the most enjoyable MMORPG experience since the early days of World of Warcraft. But I’m not solely comparing, because RoM has even transcended those times by pushing the envelope in offering an unprecedented amount of player options and large improvements over currently established game mechanics. Runewaker is exploring and braving vast unexplored terrain in a successful manner compared to Blizzard.

It is a lot of boasting to say all this, but looking closer at immense affects that even the seemingly smallest in game changes -like immediately being able to obtain a mount- have far reaching effects.

It’s enough to say that RoM has made a cornucopia of brilliantly fun changes and additions to the MMORPG genre, but each of those changes are like a pebble thrown into a lake creating a ripple affect that spreads out touching and playing off all the aspects of RoM.

I don’t think it’s a stretch in any form of the word to say that RoM has swooped in under the radar and fooled us all. That is perhaps the one major flaw in the design. RoM’s ingenious game design, implementation, and improvements aren’t as apparent as WoW’s were back in the day.

But It nonetheless is showing that good things don’t need an overabundance of buzz or advertising. The game is only a year old and has been opening up new servers at a break neck speed.

Will RoM be a WoW killer? probably not. I don’t think they’ll ever be as large of a company as Blizzard. Blizzard has been the massive exception to the rule, when it comes to the world of MMORPGs. There’s just too much history in Blizzard that concerns not only the quality of their games but how they have evolved over time as a company. However I think players and companies around the world are already perking up their ears and paying attention to what quite possibly could be known as the second greatest moment in MMORPG history.

In retrospect, RoM has not only done what WoW has done in building the next greatest MMORPG, but also in how the company runs. Runewaker has done what Blizzard has done by taking the best of pre-existing MMORPG features, combining them, and adding their own fun elements, but they are also braving new waters as a company. They have already outgrown any other RMT company in size of employees and plan to grow RoM much larger as time goes by. Runewaker isn’t afraid to be innovators, to tread new waters to improve MMORPGs in the future and to improve the business model the genre has been working with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Worst Thing About Free-To-Play MMORPGs Is That They Are Free-To-Play

Posted by giantsquid Sunday January 3 2010 at 12:02AM
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When F2P (Free-T0-Play) MMORPGs hit the scene, players were introduced to some really fun virtual worlds at no cost. What quickly developed though was a not so fun implosion of Pandora’s Box.

Besides all the benefits of micro-transactions within these MMORPGs, The box that these games were contained in were opened wide to let in a floodgate of negative socio-economic aspects. Now instead of excepting the nice hermetically sealed contents of the game, we have people from all walks of life and all walk of money able to alter their gaming experience in a similar way they can altar their lives. The real world has impacted F2P MMORPGs like nothing else before. If I want to speed up my progression, have an extra pet, or have a permanent mount, I can- if I have the money.

In a weird twist, if you take away the freedom that micro-transactions can provide, players will tend to be more accepting, because beyond what anyone can equally altar within the game, it’s the way the game is built. It doesn’t mean players won’t complain. Visit any game’s forum, especially World of Warcraft’s, and you’ll see plenty of people complaining about various ways the game operates. It is the same, and then some, with F2P MMORPGs. You’ll have all the regular criticisms and to exacerbate those, you have a whole new plane of complaints brought on about feelings over paying to get what you want.

Perhaps as an unfortunate downside to being free, these MMORPGs have to contend with players being able to bring their real life woes and negative feelings over money into the games. When players start to look at their gaming experience as it relates to their socio-economic status, well, a lot of negativity can ensue.

From this perspective, how do you try to handle game development? Or can you even affect it? Do you even try? Do any and all complaints that fall under Item Mall complaints get ignored outright? Because how can anyone expect an MMORPG development team to try and altar game play experiences based on the players socio-economic status? Some players work 40 hours a week to afford a minimum of in-game purshasable items, while others have near unlimited funds and free time. Should anyone expect an MMORPG too cater to these diverse situations? Most micro-transactions are already fairly small, per purchase. Many games let you spend as little as 5 dollars per purchase to obtain a majority of items in-game. Beyond that, what can a F2P MMORPG development team do?

I tend to be pretty strict with my opinions on some subjects, but I admit that my opinion(s) may not be the best. It appears to me, that a micro-transaction based F2P MMORPG affords some fun features, being free to play not the least of them. But they also shed a lot of responibility that is placed back into the hands of the players. That, to me, opens up a whole new can of worms that I’m not going to even try to get into with this post. But I felt it worth mentioning as food for thought.
 

P2P and F2P Communities

Posted by giantsquid Thursday December 10 2009 at 6:14PM
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Are they fundamentally different? or fundamentally the same?

I started playing MMORPGs over 2 years ago with F2P. My first impressions of MMORPGs in gerneral could only be based on the F2P variety. At their core F2P have not only been similar to each other, but identical. For the most part, it’s why they get the name “Asian Grinder”. They’ve primarily been much smaller MMORPGs imported from the Far East, using a micro-transaction business model, with killing mobs in a non-situational environment as the main mode for leveling.

Do players weened on F2P develop differently? Do they have a different mind set? and Is the core group of F2P players fundamentally different than subscription based MMORPG communities? We know that F2P MMORPGs tend to be smaller and thus have smaller communitites. We also know there will be overlap between many different types of players. To some extent or another, you’ll have ex-WoW’ers, crafters, raiders, sandboxers, casual, longterm, etc… touching on F2P. Lately I have been considering the idea that the majority core group of F2P communities are different. To be more specific, I think F2P games in the past, have lacked communities at all. I think once the game is turned off, no one cares. There seems to be a huge void that isn’t explained by the communities just being smaller. I believe we may find that the majority and core group of F2P players, that are also the majority bouncing from one new F2P to the next, are primarily tech savvy min/maxers with tendencies toward raiding.

In F2P games, mechanics-wise you have a system where there isn’t a whole lot in the way of options in-game. The light shines brighter on level cap because there is no crafting and in many cases no auction house, to name a couple reasons. So people are clicking away and upgrading gear using random tables and drops, plus EXP and other potions purchased with real money via micro-transaction. Sure you can chat and have other forms of fun. I played an older F2P for almost a year and had a great guild where we had loads of fun, but it was through us creating that fun. The game left us with just kill at our level, and chat. This limit of options leaves the focus on upgrading and becoming as strong as possible. I believe this either cultivates or attracts a significant number of min/maxers to F2P MMORPGs.

You also have a smaller game in general, that tends to have a quicker gameplay. It’s not an argument to say “But you have to grind forever, so it’s not quicker”, because they add the grind to try to slow down the experience. If all you did in WoW was quest and nothing else, you could reach level cap in probably a week or two(depending on your play time). But there is also so many more options, that just as many players(if not more) take much longer to reach level cap. In F2P games, you may have PvP, server war, or another similar option, but the only thing keeping you from it is level, so the majority of players spend all their game time doing that one thing-leveling. In response, F2P games have been “plugging” in systems that consist of smaller bite-sized chunks of fast game play elements.

Another significant filter, that I think determines the personality of the player, is actually how you access the game. Accessibility and approachability. Out of over 30 F2P MMORPGs I have had only one of them that had a perfectly smooth process. I was able to download, install, update, and register on the website without a hitch, but I’m guessing that wasn’t the case for everyone playing that game.

We end up with smaller core groups of players. Within those smaller groups, a higher percentage of min/maxers/raiders based on the core design of F2P MMORPGs. The games can cultivate the mentality that the most important thing that provides the most fun, is to reach level cap and that is only obtained by min/maxing and getting more drops quicker. In some respects when players move to a game that actually has more to do, they may simply ignore it, because they’ve never known anything else. On top of that, the games are a lot quicker. These players reach level cap and try all the content very fast and then want more, exacerbating the mentality that these games have an end, at which point the player needs to move on to another game. All of this usually happens in quicker bite-sized chunks which has players tending to get overly annoyed when moving to WoW, EQ2 or other MMORPGs where they need to devote more time in different in-game systems.

All of this translates to an out of game “community” that, to me, looks very similar to online forums where players discuss single-player console games. It’s primarily asking how to do something, where do I get more of X, and how can I get it faster, some guild recruitments, and the rest is how the game sucks because players didn’t have 100% success rate in one part of the game or another. The game is free, and quicker to jump in and out of in lieu of other new F2P MMORPGs.

Am I wrong? Do I see a skewed side of some imaginary numbers? I wonder?

As a side note: This conclusion I’ve come to will be interesting in light of two F2P games that break the F2P mold. Runes of Magic, and Allods are very western style games, that are breaking F2P molds. I already believe that this F2P core group have hit a brick wall that is confusing to them, when they delved into Runes of Magic. There has been a lot of complaining over the past year in the forums, followed by how the game is just another Asian Grinder. Which anyone would tell you anywhere online that it breaks that mold in different ways. Yet, I don’t think I’m only seeing a minority. I think I’m seeing a segment of this core group that has only known the F2P animal, and is trying to find how something new to them equates to what they know.
 

Is Inaccessibility Choking the MMO Market?

Posted by giantsquid Monday November 23 2009 at 3:26PM
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I recently downloaded the Allods beta. I still haven’t recieved an email with a beta key, but I wanted to get the game installed and patched so I’d be ready to jump in. I installed to get a corrupt file warning that fixing didn’t correct. I uninstalled and tried 2 more times before redownloading. The new download was the same. I checked the forums to find a large thread that had various techno-babble that “might” help solve this problem for some people. It is now the next day and I’m redownloading so I can attempt one of these manual fixes.

This is a typical scenario for many free to play MMORPGs.

For me and some of my past game jounalism acquaintances, we always loved to discuss the business side of the gaming industry as much as the games themselves. I came to a personal belief that one of World of Warcraft’s biggest claims to fame is its accessibility. The game is extremely approachable by many demographics.

I found that playing WoW was about as easy as playing a game on my Playstation 2. I just pop the disc in and I’m practically up and running. It had me thinking of all the people that aren’t playing other MMOs because they take more effort on the users part. Many people aren’t some determined MMO lot that is accustomed to this, or even understand how MMOs work at all. They just know that it’s a game that looks fun and would like to try it.

I consider myself to be averagely skilled with computers and am still reaching a frustration level cap with getting Allods to work.

Runes of Magic, my current favorite game, is not without this problem. We see new posts from new players daily on the official forums with errors and other problems just getting the game started.

Two good friends of mine, who aren’t really MMO players as much as they are video game players, loved WoW but they’ve told me they want stuff to work period. If they are buying a game, if it doesn’t work it’s total and utter useless junk to them. These are guys who’ve owned every gaming system imaginable and have played PC games for over 10 years.

I played the Vanguard trial over a year ago. I had extensive problems and confusion over Sony’s Station.com site with registration, getting ID codes, and the like. Personally I went through it and loved the game, and plan on playing in the future, but I’m one of those determined type that will go the extra mile and know how to.

MMOs in general are not always as easy to play as console games. Adding a flood of free to play MMOs with constant corrupted file problems can immediately make a persons decision of whether they will ever play that game or not.

Have you had mainly friendly experiences with MMOs? What games do you think do a great or poor job with handling accessibility?

Should companies start beefing up tech support and waiting longer to put out well tested downloads, and making user experience smoother and more easily understood. Or is this too fine a line where people have it too easy and just need to put the work in, if they want to play?
 

Alganon First Impressions: Human Soldier to level 8

Posted by giantsquid Thursday November 19 2009 at 3:09AM
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The Alganon beta is very laggy at times. This is no doubt exacerbated by my bad wireless connection. Even though I was getting booted, and had to slow down my progression due to lag, It was a good experience. After 8 levels, I was able to get many quests under my belt, study a few skills, if that’s what they are calling it because there are other skills that you get through leveling, and delved into crafting a bit all while seeing a good sized chunk of the extremely large starting zone.

My first 4 levels were filled with acquainting myself with the game and world. Creating a character seems average to any other MMORPG. Not super in-depth, but not shallow either. You can pick hair, face, all that jazz. Unique is the family names you choose from. Each race has 5 families to choose from. These are an attempt to help group players to other like-minded players. Each family is related largely to one field of combat or study. There’s an adventuring family, a crafting family, and so on.

I took a human soldier which starts me in Asheran Forest. It’s a gigantic zone, and has the most pleasantly diverse terrain I’ve ever seen. The layout for all the terrain seems natural, full, varied, and never gives a feeling of repetition(Hey I saw that exact shape and size boulder 2 kilometers back). There are some nice animations with swarms of bugs, tree tops gently swaying in the breeze, and other little incidental novelties that actually felt like it brought the world more to life. This zone is also immense. I could only hazard a guess that it may be like taking the zone Stormwind, from WoW, and quadrupling it in size. It’s a colorful world. It has a cartoon-ish look, but high texture and water details make it look sharper, more focused, and a bit less cartoon-y than WoW.

Quests are standard, nothing new here. fetch, kill, find are the norm. Tutorial based quests will get you accustomed to the controls, and your surroundings. There’s a built in quest tracker, to find where you need to go. Some may think this takes away immersion or is too easy. For a first time player I found it very helpful, as the zone is huge and easy to get lost in.

I clicked my study icon to get started with what I could. It’s a time based skills system that lets you select from about 3 studies after character creation, and as you study, more will open up. I found it fine. I started with bladesmanship, then went to crafting related studies. I was only level 5 when I did the novice craftsmen which completed within one play session. It opened up specific craft related studies such as natural oils, alloy, etc… I chose alloy, and suddenly it’s taking 24 hours to get that study. I felt that it was a huge jump from the first level of studies I took. I am not at all familiar with EVE and its time-based skills, so I will have to have some more…uh, time with this part of Alganon.

My first 5 levels kept me pretty close to the starting area, and then the quests lowly moved me further down a road to the town of Greenvale. At level 6 I found out I could have already been crafting at level 1. So I jumped in, asked developer chat a few questions and got started. There’s honestly not much I can say beyond “If you’ve played WoW, you know everything you need to know about Alganon crafting”. It doesn’t just look the same, you’ll feel like you’re playing WoW at times, if not for the graphical differences, with all the similar movements you’ll be going through.

Crafting is the same system used in WoW. It looks like they ripped it out of WoW, put it in Alganon, and just renamed items, recipes, and ingredients. That’s not saying it’s bad, I think it speaks more volume to say “It’s familiar” and I’ll get to that more in a bit. I found a blacksmith, purchased mining, and blacksmithing. I then went out mining which was a pleasurable experience. This is a one-click gathering system. You get a tracker. In my case I could locate ore, but there was a small extra perceived sense of hunting on my part. Even when you near a node, it can take some looking for. It may be behind a tree or rock, or just hiding down in a depression in the ground. It also could be nicely placed amongst some mobs requiring some skill to reach if you are equal or even above the mobs level. Some clicks landed me copper, limestone, and sometimes a jewel along with the others. The most I ever received from one node was 2 copper, 1 limestone, and 1 jewel.

There’s a vendor in town selling some reagents that you’ll need to go along with the ore when crafting. I also found, with the beginning recipes, you’ll quite often also need to refine the ore and get some drops from mobs to create the item(s).

From level 7-8 I went on more quests which sent me further along the zone. I was done crafting for the time being, after feeling used to it, and I wanted to see more of the great graphics in the zone. There are plenty of hubs with lots of NPC’s. Many of them just stand there, but they all have voiced greetings for you. The houses are nice. I always love many buildings you can go into. Just like the terrain, the buildings are varied in size and shape. Asheran Forest lends itself to log cabins and small wooden houses. There’s a few 2-story houses that I explored. This is where the camera flaws really showed up.

I found myself constantly zooming in and out, whether in the forest or in town. The trees are so lush with wide tops, and the camera doesn’t snap below them, so any trees in your way will have to be avoided by zooming in. Same goes for inside a building. There seems to be an attempt at camera snapping, as you enter a buildings doorway then turn right or left it snaps to the characters back just fine, and you can easily rotate around to get the interiors layout. But many times, especially in the multi-storied buildings you have to zoom in to avoid staring at the floor above you.

The most unique and exciting feature in the game, to me, is the Library. It’s simply defined as an in-game repository of information on everything in the game. It’s not simple though, as it has everything. If WoW had this, it would be like taking Thottbot, and WoW Armory, smashing them together, and then letting you access that info all without alt+tab’ing out. There’s also a slew of Alganon world lore to look up. It’s a very nice interface.

Apart from crafting being identical to WoW, the difference for Alganon is how they plan to get items into players hands. They’ve said that they plan on balancing the really good weapons and armor between crafting and drops. You’ll be able to get that Uber Green Glowing Demon Sword+1 from a series of challenging crafting tasks, or from a challenging raid. It sounds like they are trying to create a dichotomy of equality. That is to say, it seems they’re trying to create equal feelings of work and time invested for both the crafter and raider after the same item. I’m very curious to see how this plays out. Unfortunately no instances are available in the beta. Any real world testing will have to wait until after the game’s launch.

To sum up, I felt the game was very polished visually. The server snags and lags quite a bit right now, but that’s to be expected in beta this young. It plays very much like WoW in many respects. I felt torn whether I should dislike this or not. You could almost disassociate yourself from the graphics and you could simply believe you found some brand new zones in WoW. I never used the term WoW clone before so I do not use it lightly now. The interfaces from crafting looked ripped directly from WoW, as does a few other interfaces, and also the way you interact within those interfaces. Ultimately it doesn’t make me dislike the game in the least. It’s not a bad thing to be a clone. And it really has it’s own look graphically. At the end of reaching level 8, I find that apart from the knowledge base called the Library, there isn’t much in the way of innovation. I don’t need innovation when a game uses many approved standards of play that agree with me. I find myself wanting to play more to see how beautiful the rest of the world is, if nothing else, and to see how the crafting implementation will affect the player base and my enjoyment level of crafting.
 

Where should the best loot come from?

Posted by giantsquid Monday November 16 2009 at 12:37AM
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I don’t state this to try to add validity to an argument, just to let you know that I respect where the opinions are coming from. I’d very much like to hear what others have to say.

Some of my friends, I used to play WoW with, I’ve known for a long time and have come to really respect their opinions on all sorts of subjects. They are all very well educated, very well-rounded, and are intuitive as all get out. So when we discussed where the best loot should come from in a game, and they agreed with me, it not only fed my lovely ego(which I do love, no matter how small it is), but I really focused my thought on the subject for a long time.

I’m of the belief that the best armor and weapon loot should come solely from crafting. You can still have good crafting that people will partake in, as I would point to any existing crafting system as flawed yet obviously working. But to have anything less than the best armor or weapons come from anywhere else undermines crafting and takes a way the one purely viable reason to have crafting in the first place. Otherwise you don’t really have crafting, you just have the aucton house where people play online “economists”.

In the strictest sense, I would call all current crafting systems economy systems. They solely feed into the economy. That’s their highest and most valid priority. Sure you are crafting “stuff” but what is the number one reason you are crafting it? In WoW, you may find some alternative uses for crafting early on, but once you pass level thirty, the crafting system takes a nose dive off a thousand foot sheer cliff, and turns more into a money maker where most people stop after refining and don’t actually get to the crafting part. They refine material to sell in the auction house.

There’s a place for this, but there’s also no tangible use for the fully crafted goods. We call these crafting systems?

Are we undermining raids and battlegrounds, if we take away their gear drops? I don’t think so. It’s shifting responsiblities back into their proper places, and improving the game dramatically. Can’t there be other uber drops in raids and battlegrounds? I don’t see why not.

If players and/or developers feel that one area of the game ends up having to take priority over the other as far as where the best loot comes from, then I still see the logical conclusion that it should be crafting. I personally don’t see it undermining raids or “end-game” content because there is plenty to achieve in doing raids, and players will still have a source to obtain the best gear to run more raids and gear up for battlegrounds.

I’m still a bit skeptical about the inner working of Alganon, that is now in beta. But they mention this very aspect which made me smile knowing that others agreed with me. We all love that. But that’s not the only reason for me to push a subject like this. I think it stands on it’s own two feet when it comes to what role different parts of a MMORPG should play.
 

Will Next Runes of Magic Expansion See Large Spike in Popularity of MMORPG?

Posted by giantsquid Saturday November 14 2009 at 3:02PM
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I have a hunch, a theory.

RoM has so far been pretty good with it’s content updates, and the first big expansion. Up until now I think players are still skeptical and wait to see it to believe it, for the most part.

But if they make good on their next big expansion, said to be out in spring of 2010 in the recent developer chat, we may see an extra large jump in the games popularity.

Not only will we see the game world increase in size by a few more zones, and plenty of new content, with hopefully significantly more fixed bugs than new ones, but I think players minds will be much more at ease to let go of their skepticism.

The game is also starting to garner popularity among some big MMORPG journalist sites with some giving RoM its own dedicated section. A first for many of the sites to do that for a free game, where they previously only gave big triple A subscription based games their own homes.

It’s all contingent on whether Runewaker can successfully handle the business side of things and grow the company larger than an average F2P games company. They already boast being a larger company, but they have to be able to grow even more, and continue to make money at it.

If Runewaker can figure it all out and make it work, could we see the first of its kind in a F2P MMORPG company that gets close to being as large as a subscription based company? Do you think they could end up becoming pioneers in the same aspect that Blizzard did for subscription MMORPGs? or will they find themselves stuck as a smaller company not finding that golden apple to let themselves grow?

Time will tell.