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MMORPG.com Staff Blog

The staff of MMORPG.com gets together to bring you some behind the scenes insights on stories, the industry and the site itself.

Author: staffblog

Contributors: BillMurphy,MikeB,garrett,SBFord,Grakulen,

WoW Goes Free-to-Play! (Sort of...)

Posted by BillMurphy Wednesday June 29 2011 at 8:57PM
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Are we really supposed to be seeing this many big news stories in one week?  I mean, come on... didn't somebody tell the game companies that E3 was at the beginning of the month? 

That said, WoW.  I mean that both as an acronym and a word of exclamation in this case.  Blizzard has always talked about one day trying the F2P approach far down the line, and while their recent announcement of offering the first 20 levels of Azeroth for free to anyone as a trial isn't exactly a total conversion like LotRO's recent Freemium change it's still pretty remarkable.  World of Wacraft just got a whole lot easier to become addicted to.

Now, I'm not going to be that guy who will jump in and say, "ZOMG!  WoW's falling!  Everybody grab a stick and poke at its rotting corpse!"  If you ask me, this change means a few simple things.

  1. Blizzard has seen the success of Freemium models, and is toying with the idea.  If not for WoW specifically, most definitely for future projects.
  2. World of Wacraft has seen some decline in subscribers, as any game that's six years old is bound to, and this is a marketing strategy to hook returning folks and new folks (are there any left?) alike.
  3. Everyone knows WoW is addictive.  Offering a full 20 levels, and not just an arbitrary days long trial is simply a better move.  People who have less time to game will have longer to get hooked, even if it only takes a few hours to get to 20 these days.
In the end, I'd be very surprised if this was any sort of deathknell for Azeroth.  It's going to be a very long time until WoW turns into a game that few people talk about.  Despite its age, and the lukewarm reception to Cataclysm, they're still the biggest kid in the class.  Now there are some majorly hefty competitors in the wings, no doubt about that.  But then again, how many times have we said that so far?
 
If I was a betting man, I'd put all my money on the new unlimited trial as more of a marketing and revenue experiment than any sort of signal for doom and gloom.  But that's just me.

EVE's New Macro-Transactions

Posted by BillMurphy Monday June 27 2011 at 9:09PM
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Yes, I know CCP is calling them “Micro”-transactions, but I don’t think I’m being too callous in saying that there is nothing micro about them. The forums are in an uproar both here and across the internet. There’s talk of a mass exodus from one of the Industry’s longest successful and brightest stars. The player-run council for EVE Online is being flown out to Iceland for an emergency meeting with the development staff. In short, this is like the Cuban Missile Crisis for CCP. What I’m sure they thought was a simple addition to their game has amounted to a PR nightmare. But let’s take a step back and look at it from a non-player’s perspective.

I haven’t ever really gotten into EVE as a gamer. I’ve tried it often enough, only to be unable or unwilling to take the time necessary to really understand the intricacies of 0.0 space. Maybe for that reason alone, my temper over this whole thing is a bit more stable. The amount of money being bantered around for simply cosmetic items is ludicrous. I completely agree that $60+ for a monacle on your avatar is just about the silliest sort of cost I’ve ever heard associated with a cosmetic purchase in an MMORPG. But, and there’s always a “but,” shouldn’t we be at least a little bit relieved the item’s purely cosmetic for the game’s new Incarna expansion?

That said that’s what the shop entails “for now”. As far as I know, there hasn’t been official word from CCP regarding the possibility of ships and other gameplay changing items going up for sale, and that’s what’s really driving people to the edge right now. EVE is a very, very competitive game. And while there are some who would claim that you can essentially buy power already in the game, it’s a whole different story if CCP suddenly starts allowing it and taking advantage of this through their own cash-shop.

To add fuel to the fire, the “leaked” inter-office memo about the expensive prices being akin to designer clothing really puts CCP in a bad light. We know these guys and gals at MMORPG.com. They’re pretty much some of the nicest and most open MMO developers you’ll ever find. I suspect, though can’t confirm, that these comments were made as a way of justifying the expenses without realizing just how far out of touch the prices are with the rest of the virtual world micro-transactions. But they really should have taken a good hard look at what other companies charge for their cosmetic pieces. If they wanted to charge more, that’s fine and good… but that much more is just about enough to put the green color of greed on any company asking such prices.

All of that aside, the mass exodus or not, CCP is very obviously aware that it may have just made a huge mistake. An emergency meeting with their player-run council (Council of Interstellar Management) is being held this week in Iceland to figure out how to move forward. In this case I’m betting that the folks up there to the north have heard your complaints loud and clear. Now we just need to wait a bit to find out what they’re going to do about them.

Community Spotlight: Star Wars Galaxies to Shut Down

Posted by MikeB Friday June 24 2011 at 10:03PM
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This week's Community Spotlight is a bit different than our usual spotlights. Today, we're focusing on what the community is saying in the wake of this week's announcement that Star Wars Galaxies will be shutting down later this year. Star Wars Galaxies has had a long and tumultuous run as a game that was once heralded as the ultimate sandbox experience only to fall from grace with the launch of the New Game Experience or "NGE". The implementation of the NGE was divisve to say the least, sparking a mass exodus of players from the game, a downturn the game just never recovered from, despite SOE's ambitious and continuous updates to the service.

So what are MMORPG.com community members saying in reaction to the announcement? We'll be focusing on the responses in Aktalat's thread.

Zinzan doesn't feel many gamers will be bothered by the news:

This has always been a talking point, would they let two SW mmo's run at the same time or would TOR be the end of SWG. I guess now we know.

Doubt many will be bothered, SWG is the shining example of how to take a brilliant mmo, release it too early, break half the classes, reduce the game to profession grind and then piss off the entire community by completely changing the game into a watered-down version of itself at which time they reaped the biggest single exodus of gamers i think we'll ever see in an mmo.

Misles finds the announcement somewhat bittersweet:

This is one of those bittersweet moments.  A part of me is glad to see the abomination that is the NGE now crashing horribly to the ground.  And then again, the other part of me is sad to see the IP being shut down.  Has Sony Online Entertainment not learned from their mistakes?  Have they not learned that if it wasn't broke, they shouldn't have fixed it?  And I hope you get what I mean by that analogy.

All I have to say is god bless and god speed Star Wars Galaxies.  May you find eternal peace after such a long time enduring your pain.

"You where the Chosen One!  You were suppose to destroy the Sith, not join them!  You were suppose to bring balance to the Force!  Not leave it in darkness!" -Obi Wan Kenobi

Malickie has something to say to those who would say "good riddance":

I'd hardly say that, I've been playing again for a couple weeks, people still love this game and rightfully so. Compared to what's on the market today, there's still no replacement. For those who like a game with as many options as well as community focus, there will be nothing to turn to.

I doubt a lot of thsoe playing will have much interest in TOR, some sure, but the reason to play SWG is far different than the reason to play TOR. SWG still has an excellent community, and 3 nicely populated servers. AOC and funcom wish they could say that.

To be honest, my heart sort of sank a bit when I heard this news today, I'm one of those "SWG nerds" that many people like to poke fun at, but so what? I wear that with pride. Star Wars Galaxies was my first MMO and boy was it a hot mess at launch, but I loved it nonetheless. Some of the closest friends I keep in touch with and game with every day were met on Starsider back in the game's heyday, and while the game had its ups and downs from launch all the way through to the NGE I'm glad I got to take part in the experience.

By the time the NGE rolled around I was already pretty unhappy with the game, I hated the perversion of the continuity with all the prequel film tie ins (especially in space, prequel ships were the best, huh?!), and the community had never really recovered from the great Holocron Fiasco, but still, there wasn't another game on the scene like it and there certainly weren't any other Star Wars MMOs available.

The NGE still serves as one of the biggest if not the biggest mistakes in MMO history and one that likely every developer in the industry today is keenly aware not to repeat. However, if you can take a moment to breathe and really look back on the years since the NGE launched SOE has honestly done a great deal to update the game in ways that have made it better in many areas and I think they should still be commended for that. Star Wars Galaxies today is likely close to the vision they must have had for the NGE when it was released, but it would have perhaps been better as a separate game itself.

In any case, I'm sad to see the game go, but it's future beyond the launch of The Old Republic was likely to be grim anyways, despite being significantly different from a design perspective.

To all of you who are still on Starsider (and especially Starsider natives), best of luck in your MMO travels!

I'd like to leave you all with one question this weekend: do any of you plan on coming back to the game before it goes down? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Guild Wars 2: Reaction to Underwater Combat

Posted by BillMurphy Friday June 24 2011 at 2:05PM
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It's kind of funny how we are all sitting in front of our monitors today, drooling over the simple reveal that Guild Wars 2 is going to have combat underwater... Gasp! But really, so am I.

I just read Jonathan Sharp's blog on underwater combat and exploration in ArenaNet's next big game and I am as impressed as always with their ingenuity and foresight. At first when I read Carolyn's articles in the wee hours of the morning before passing them to Suzie for publishing at noon today, I don't think the premise really hit me. I figured, how many games have done that already? If an MMO doesn't allow water exploration, we tend to get the pitchforks out and begin our march. But then we began to hear more and more about the new feature as the day rolled on.

This isn't just killing some pirates off the coast of the Wetlands while floating in a 3-axis space. This is pulling on a breathing device ( which I hope has an animation). This is a whole new way to stave off dying, a whole new set of underwater-specific spells and skills. This is worlds and cultures to explore under the surface of that satin sheen. This is different sorts of weapons depending on your class and how you prefer to fight... I mean who doesn't want to use a harpoon gun and chase a white whale in Tyria? Heck, even the AOE spells now adhere to the total 3D nature of being under water.

I'm really finding it hard not to get more and more excited for this game. I'll try my best not to go all fanboy here as I know that's one of my weaknesses, but I never thought I'd look forward to fighting underwater in an MMO. I mean, I absolutely hated the underwater temple in Ocarina of Time. I hate all Mario levels involving octopi. I loathed Ecco the Dolphin. But this? This I want to immerse myself in. I want to go all Kevin Costner in GW2... but you won't catch me drinking my own pee anytime soon so leave that part of Waterworld out please.

PS. DUNGEONS? Click below then pinch me!

SQUEE!

Community Spotlight: Have You Experienced MMO Burnout?

Posted by MikeB Thursday June 16 2011 at 4:45PM
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This week's Community Spotlight focuses on the thread "Is there anyone on these forums who hasn't been burnt out by an MMO or by their hyped expectations?" by MMO.Maverick. The topic should be pretty obvious given the thread title, so let's jump right in starting with the OP himself:

I read a lot of bitterness on these forums: people feeling disappointed, disillusioned, betrayed, their hopes crushed, hurt to the point that they've lost trust in any promise or hype, you name it, the whole wide range of hurt emotions.

For a wide range of games too, people sometimes even walking around with a grudge or simmering hatred for years for what happened to them with an SWG NGE or AoC or WAR or any of the other MMO's where people were all hyped up only to be bitterly disappointed after a launch or with a change in the game they played: a bitterness, pain or disillusion that didn't just go away within a short period of time but that kept lingering, often to the point that it changed the way they look upon things from then on, with that 'never again' kind of mindset almost similar to bad breakups.

In fact, I see it so abundantly on these forums that I'm starting to wonder whether I'm the only one or of a very few that has undergone the past 10 years of MMO gaming relatively unscathed. I think there hasn't been an MMO all that time where there was such a huge gap between my expectations and how a game turned out for me to the point of disillusion, or where any disappointment lasted longer than a few weeks.

So that's why my question: has everyone here gained persistent scars in their years of MMO gaming, or are there others who walked past that all up till now relatively unscathed?

And if so, what did you think made the difference?

blezywum was burnt out the most by Warhammer Online:

Ever since WAR it's been hard for me to believe the hype.  My pessemism gets stronger with each new game I try.  I'm excited for GW2 at the moment, but I'm just going to wait and see.  Honestly, I hope a handful of these upcoming games are actually good and ready for the long haul.  I'm tired of getting games I don't want to play after 2-3 months.  I'm also tired of seeing people complain about the current crop of MMOs.  It would be nice if we were all (or most of us) happy for a change. It's been a while.

GreenHell isn't so attached to these experiences so as to allow himself to get burnt out:

At the end of the day these are just games. To stay pissed off and hold a grudge about something like the NGE is pointless. All you can do is make your voice heard by hitting the cancel button. Thats it.

If you have invested so much of yourself on an emotional level to a game that you feel betrayed when it changes that is really just on you. Games change and when they become not so fun I leave.

As far as launch hype goes I dont really listen to any of it. To me it is a waste of time to watch hours of videos and trailers. I'll just try it when it launches.

MumboJumbo starts to feel the burn once he's basically gone through the game once and acquired all the skills:

I get bored too quickly in an mmo after aquiring all the new skills that allow a new experience is finished ie the starting phase, so never get to the halfway stage of grind and where probably the burn-out process really cranks it out?! I think mmorpgs suffer a unique problem: They are designed to be truly large worlds except that players have to accept that the main interaction or the only interaction is being able to hop around on one foot all the time they are there, all over this shiny new world without being able to use their hands. So it does not matter how big those worlds are, if the interaction is as caricatured as above, then no wonder players "burn out" repeating the same modus operandi so exhaustively in the majority of these mmorps, with arms tied behind their backs observing these splendid lands... hopping forth!

I like what GW2 has done with the environmental weapons and picking objects up, transforming into something or swimming underwater and changing what skills you have to use... more of this please... a lot more could reduce burn-out syndrome? : )

I have a few stories to tell on this front, starting with the typical NGE burn-out story. SWG was my first MMO and it had problems from the get go, as enjoyable as it was, it was also a mess. I toughed it out for several years watching SOE break things that were working while not really addressing the real issues that needed to be fixed. This was pretty stressful as I would wait for every new major update hoping that this or that major issue would be addressed to no avail. Then came the Combat Update, the second Combat Update (I thought things were pretty good after the second Combat Update, actually!), and after the NGE like many of you I was just done. It was actually the fact that I felt things were on the right track with the second Combat Update that made the NGE all the more worse for me. I remember thinking to myself , "Finally, after all these years things are looking up!" and then the rug being pulled under me with the NGE just months later. Ouch!

Since then I've burnt out on quite a few MMOs, but mostly because I was really looking for that SWG experience again. It took a long time for me to make peace with the fact that just wasn't going to happen (but yes, I am over it).

As far as hype goes, Age of Conan was the biggest letdown for me. I passionately ran an Age of Conan fansite on the WarCry Network for a good while and was very much taken in by all the promises made only to find the game was a complete and utter mess outside of Tortage at launch. I wasn't really too cynical before this point, but I learned quickly why so many of my colleagues in the press often meet the lofty claims of a developer with a strong dose of caution. To be fair, I think developers learned from the WAR and Conan debacles of 2008 and have pared it back a bit since then. Many developers often opt to only talk about things they say are actually in the game at this point in order to avoid this sort of issue later, and I'm thankful for that. Still, I can't help being cautious these days. Being excited for a new game is fun, but keeping expectations realistic is important. Worst case scenario, the game surprises you and is better than you thought it would be. That's a lot better than the opposite feeling! ;)

To add to the discussion started by MMO.Maverick, I'd also like to know if any of you have noticed any telltale signs that you're becoming burnt out on a game. For me,  the first time I catch myself absentmindedly running around in circles I know it's the beginning of the end. Once I start doing that, I'm likely to be done with the game in a matter of weeks or months.

Community Spotlight: Is Dungeon Finder the Problem?

Posted by MikeB Thursday June 9 2011 at 5:49PM
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This week's Community Spotlight focuses on the thread "Is dungeon finder really the problem?" by Creslin321. In the thread, Creslin321 discusses the possibility that the introduction of dungeon fingers in MMOs are to blame for the destruction of MMO communities:

A lot of people believe that dungeon finder has been the death of community in a lot of MMORPGs.  They argue that dungeon finder has changed the dungeoning experience from being a social, tactical, and enjoyable experience to one that is just a speed-grinding treadmill where the only time anyone talks is to insult their group mates.  And I do not deny at all that this is the state of many MMORPGs that have dungeon finder (WoW).  I also agree that dungeon finder contributes to this issue by providing jerks anonymity.

But I ask this, is dungeon finder the problem, or is the problem that dungeons have become just too easy?  Currently, most dungeons can be easily rolled through if each player knows the basics of how to play their class.  Very little to no coordination is required, and this really gets rid of the need for players to talk at all.  As such, most players take the path of least resistence and just plough through dungeons like silent zombies.  I feel that this, not dungeon finder, is the main issue with dungeons and the deterioratin of the community.

In the old EQ days, running through a dungeon without communicating would have never worked.  The fights were just too difficult, each player not only had to perform their role, but they had to perform it in a way that benefited the team.  I think if they had dungeon finder in EQ, the community wouldn't be nearly as bad.  Even jerks will be nice when they need to do so in order to succeed.

Thoughts?

arieste makes a simple, but solid point:

Dungeon Finder is not the problem that kills communities.

Dungeon Finder is a solution implemented in games where communities are dead or don't exist, because if they did exist, dungeon finder wouldn't have been needed.

Palebane feels the death of MMO communities goes much further back than the introduction of the dungeon finder:

In my opinion, the communities of most online RPGs became stale and unresponsive long long before the streamlined LFG tool that is the Dungeon Finder. I'm not sure if the developers were just giving players what they asked for or if they were able to brainwash the players into the type of self-gratifying gameplay that is so prevalent today. Hopefully a game can come out and figure out a way to get players to give a shit about people other than themselves again.

Neverdyne pretty much takes the words right out of my mouth:

The biggest flaw of the dungeon finder is not that it kills community, but rather it makes the game diminish into a lobby in which you stand there doing nothing, chatting away the time,  while you wait for the queue to pop. The world outside the main city walls becomes an empty place reserved solely for those first few weeks when you're leveling up. Couple that with flying mounts, and the world outside city walls suddenly becomes a barren place. 

I think Neverdyne hits the nail on the head. I don't feel the dungeon finder alone is responsible for the death of MMO communities, but it certainly compounds the problem. Obviously the idea of a dungeon finder is great for convenience sake, but when I first heard of the feature as it was being introduced to World of Warcraft I started thinking of Warhammer Online's scenarios and their popularity. In WAR, Mythic championed RvR, but at one point made scenarios simply better in every way, and this resulted in a phenomenon where you pretty much never saw anyone in the game world (pre-mass exodus from the game itself) as they were all in scenarios or waiting to jump into scenarios.

Any time you let players whisk themselves away into instanced content from anywhere in the world and also make it incredibly rewarding you're obviously going to have tons of people participating in said feature. Add cross-server queuing into the mix and it's pretty hard to form the sorts of bonds you would running into players in the game world and it makes the idea of having a strong tight-knit server community much harder to achieve. 

I'm all for the dungeon finder as an included feature, but it's probably better to introduce it once server communities have been established for some time and/or if server populations are nosediving.

Community Spotlight: Is PvP Balance Really Needed?

Posted by MikeB Thursday June 2 2011 at 4:15PM
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This week's Community Spotlight focuses on the thread "Does PvP have to equal Everything can beat everything?" by Swollen_Beef. In the thread, Swollen_Beef observes that developers have trended towards allowing all classes to be on even footing with each other in the PvP found in today's MMOs and polls the MMORPG.com community on their thoughts on the matter:

Should a cloth wearing healing class be afforded the same chance to beat a chain wearing DPS class?

Or should a developer flat out refuse to allow the everyone can beat everyone mentality?

in EVE you wont see a logistics ship roll up on a HAC and stand toe to toe with one. 

But in WoW.....

Slapshot1188 is equally disturbed at the trend towards balanced PvP play:

The quest for PvP "balance" has ruined the vast majority of PvP games.  PvP has turned into an E-Sport.. with scoreboards and timers.  I don't want to play CTF or deathmatch or king of the hill.. if I did I'd do it in a FPS.   I just want any PvP to be a natural part of the world in which I am playing.  With real repercushions.

Balance between classes is not only something that I don't feel has to exist... but it shouldn't even be a development goal.  I don't care if Johnny Fireball can kick my ass one on one.  That just means I should bring a friend.  It adds variety to the game and an element of the unknown instead of everything being cookie-cutter.

Edit to add: If we want balance in a game we shuld just remove levels and skills.. and equipment.  Everyone is even...   doesn't sound like I game that I would personally want to play though.

Reizla feels quite strongly about the ability for support classes to play an offensive role in PvP:

Short answer: NO

Seen it happen in Aion too where a healer (me)  kicked a tank, only because of the healing... Lame IMO. healer = support and certainly no PvP class.

Look at Lineage II (odly enough same developer as Aion). I think there they've graped the concept of healers & buffers as they should be - 100% support class. No main PvP but keep the actual PvPers alive.

Cernan appears to be the lone voice of dissent in the discussion so far:

Short answer:  Yes.

As another poster said, the question isn't always that simple.  The cloth wearing healer shouldn't be able to beat the chain wearing melee in melee combat.  The healer should also be forced to heal more than damage making the combat long and drawn out.  The melee should ideally just give up because of the length of combat.  Oh how I miss thee DAoC.

To use DAoC references, I believe they did a lot of things right in this regard.

Wardens - awesome support class.  They could cast "bubbles" to negate one source of damage every few seconds.  They also had some minor healing.  However, their own damage was extremely weak.  You could literally fight a warden for 3 to 5 minutes.  Do they run out of mana or do you eventually die a slow death to them.  Solution - bring a second person.  The bubble only negates one damage source.  Bring two and the warden goes down.

Bolt casters - The longest range magic in the game.  Most bolt casters had 2 bolts on long recast timers with some weak DDs.  The bolts could be blocked by shield wearers.  They were extremely damaging.  Most classes would die if hit by both.  However, if you could block the bolts or get into melee range then the caster was dead.

I also miss how DAoC had crowd control classes.  Everyone didn't have stuns, silences, fears, or mezzes.  You had classes that specialized in crowd control.  They weren't much good at anything else, but they were great at controlling entire groups of other people.  Now you have games like in Rift were melee plate wearers have AE fear.  You also have plate wearers with leaps and rogues with teleports to close the distance to casters.  The point is supposed to be that the caster is strong from far away.  You shouldn't be able to instantly close the distance.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm not just blaming Rift.  I still play it.  Other games do this as well.

I'm definitely a bit more "progressive" on this front. I don't like the rigidity of class roles in PvP, I'm definitely a fan of the way the lines have been blurred over time. For example, I loved the Archmage revamp in Warhammer Online as it allowed me to drain heal, damaging enemy players while supporting my team with heals. I was still healing, but I was also contributing offensively. I'm not a fan of the idea that "healers" should just sit in the back and play whack-a-mole with healthbars and never get any action themselves. However, that doesn't mean I want to see developers strive to put everyone on equal footing without a conscious effort being made in a character's build and/or equipment and a resultant trade-off for doing so. My Archmage could heal well as a hybrid offensive/support spec, but probably not as well as an Archmage specialized purely for healing, and that trade-off was fine to me.