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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,

Halloween Costumes and Video Games

Posted by Dana Friday October 30 2009 at 2:45PM
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Carbine Studios, a California subsidiary of NCsoft at work on an unnanounced MMO, shared some of their best Halloween costumes with us. They've got everything from Dr. Phil to the Dancing Banana.

So, I got wondering, any particularly fun Halloween costumes in our community? At the local costume store, I noticed they're selling World of Warcraft branded elf ears.

Games provide some of the best costumes, but nerd culture in general has lots of things too as Carbine showed.

In the past, I've been The Burger King - it's creepy! - and this year I'm dialing it back to 2005 and being V from V For Vendetta (had to buy the Guy Fawkes mask!). Last year, my girlfriend and I were Ninja Turtles.

What is everyone else being?

We'd love to see some of the best costumes, maybe even some pictures. So let us know.

Even if you cannot get us a photo, just describe the insanity :)

Community Spotlight: The Holy Trinity

Posted by MikeB Thursday October 29 2009 at 3:02PM
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This week’s Community Spotlight focuses on a thread by forum user Ihmotepp called, “Do you enjoy the Holy Trinity game mechanic? If so, how much?” In the thread, Ihmotepp explains the holy trinity mechanic and quizzes the MMORPG.community on their preferences for or against the tried-and-true game design of the holy trinity of healer, nuker, and tank. The thread is complete with a poll whose results so far are pretty evenly split. Roughly the same ratio of people who have voted so far like, dislike, or have no preference either way. But what are the members of the community actually saying?
 

User Kyleran chimes in on the issue saying, “At one time I thought I didn't like the mechanic, but after all MMO's started to try and do away with it I think my iniital assessment was in error.
 

We use the trinity in EVE btw, in our wormhole gangs we have battleships that tank/heal each other, grouped with DPS and aggro control ships (which they also heal) and it makes for much better combat opportunities. (esp the PVE side)
 

Even in PVP, nothing can throw a fight to a gang more than an couple of logistics ships that are repping everyone's armor/shields.
 

So yes, I do enjoy the mechanic and feel it needs to be maintained to develop good group based combat mechanics.”
 

And I would have to agree, for the most part. I feel the design concept is sound at a basic level, but that doesn’t mean it is perfect, and it can be refined into being a bit more flexible. We have seen this in recent years with the advent of hybrid classes and such, and I feel that is probably going in the right direction. It’s no fun being a tankmage when everyone on your team is one as well. I came to this realization when playing Champions Online and wishing to be more useful to my group of friends. While the game provides some neat ways of handling roles, there really isn’t much reason to do so. Everyone can take care of themselves, and so it really tosses that whole aspect of support gameplay to the side.
 

The basic problem with the trinity ties into another recently highlighted topic in the Community Spotlight series: grouping vs. soloing. Early examples of the holy trinity fit well into group scenarios, but what are these pieces of the puzzle like on their own? The healer would have a hard time doing enough damage to play on their own, the nuker would be hard pressed to survive, and the tank could generally solo but at a slower rate.
 

LiquidWolf has a different take on the issue, stating that he feels the idea of the holy trinity is so ingrained into our minds that even when the developers lessen its impact, we still try to figure out ways to shoehorn it into our game of choice:
 

“Game devs are not the source of the holy trinity... the players are.
It doesn't matter what the game devs do, players always find a way to revert the layout back to: Tank - Healer - DPS.
 

Even if they had one class with no specializations... players would find out what gear is required to be placed in those three roles.
 

The "Holy Trinity" is a solution developed by players to tackle most problems inside a multi-player game... hell, even in single player games, you will see this approach used. The developers are gamers too, so their line of thinking falls along the same path as the players...
 

and it continues to work and make them money.
 

You could try to make every class capable of doing tanking, healing, and DPS... and if the company is somehow successful as making each class viable for any role... you'd still see players arguing who is the best at one of the three. If there is one patch that doesn't hit every class equally... you will bring the whole thing down and players will set the "Top Three".
 

Problems in MMOs will ALWAYS be boiled down into the "Holy Trinity"... there is no escaping the mentality of people who play multi-player games together.”
 

My above comments on Champions Online definitely support LiquidWolf’s claims, at least for myself. While everyone could essentially be a tankmage in Champs, I was still trying to figure out how to build a support toon so I could fill that role, however unnecessary it was. There is certainly some truth to these claims then, though I don’t feel the issue falls squarely on the players, of course, though the latter point that LiquidWolf makes about what are essentially hybrid classes, is definitely one area where I would agree players are either equally or more at fault than the developers.
 

Hybrid classes were introduced to alleviate some of the issues with the rigid holy trinity design, but it is quite true that most players will still try and figure out which of the classes available are the purest tank, healer, or DPS class, and those will be given preference in any sort of group activities. Age of Conan was a good example of this issue. The developers at Funcom sought to do things a bit differently and introduced many hybrid classes, and yet players still preferred the purest of any of the three archetypes for their group activities. Why choose a Dark Templar or Conqueror over a Guardian as the main tank? The latter two were certainly more versatile characters, but the Guardian could soak it up better than either, and so he was largely preferred for groups.
 

Whether developers should stop trying to deviate from the holy trinity design is probably a discussion for another day, but how do you feel about the design concept in general? Do you enjoy filling a specific role? Or do you prefer things to be a bit more flexible or free form? Let us know in the comments below.

Games Good For You? What About MMOs?

Posted by Dana Wednesday October 28 2009 at 1:14PM
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CNN has a little slide-show that shows a few ways video games have been proven to have positive health benefits for those using them.

It's a fascinating list. Obviously, the benefits of hand-eye coordination have always been something people pointed at, but actually using it to "warm up" surgeons who make less mistakes as a result is a wonderful fact to know. They also studied to show that video games can do more good for "lazy eye" than traditional medical treatments and can be used to treat Parkinson's.

The trick here is that most of these games are of a specific kind. It takes Wii-Fit to help Parkinson's, FPSs to help "lazy eye," etc.

So, today, I got to wondering what benefits there are to MMOs? They've become a kind of target for a lot of media outlets and obviously have their negative sides.

For me, MMOs have done a lot of great things. For one, they in part taught me how to write. Sometimes we forget that when we talk about "socialization" and the like, we're really talking about a very basic skill: typing.

Through MMOs, I learned that very basic skill. It taught me to type quickly, and properly. Later, it also inspired me to learn how to write and eventually led to a career writing about them. My parents might in some ways be secretly happy I ignored so many earnest pleas to go outside and stop playing on the Internet.

What other benefits do you think MMOs bring in general to people who play them? We spend so much time focused on the bad, it's easy to overlook the good.

MMO News for November

Posted by garrett Monday October 26 2009 at 6:35PM
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No real questions this week for reader mail. So I thought I'd talk a bit about whats coming up on the site for November.

MMO news this time of year can be bleak with simply holiday events to report. We are  hoping to have more for you on the news front.

Looks like we'll be sending someone out to Lucas Arts for a peek at Star Wars: The Old Republic in two weeks.

Curious what the team has to talk about with all the game play speculation lately.

I for one remain optimistic about TOR, enough so to buy the game and give it a chance. Time will tell if it is going to be the monster MMO everyone has been waiting for.

Still if you are a Bioware fan and trust in the games these guys make, then Dragon Age coming next week should fuel your fire in the RPG area.

If that is not enough we have Mass Effect 2 from Bioware in January.

Seems like this studio is cranking out games.

I for oone would like some news on the Guild Wars 2 front, a close look at Star Trek Online, and more info from Earthrise.

Since we are doing a Christmas list here by now...I'd like a Diablo 3 beta :) 

Hopefully November will offer some great news on the MMO front.. For now we'll just have to wait and see.

 

Send more questions for reader mail!

Community Spotlight: The Decline of the Death Penalty

Posted by MikeB Thursday October 22 2009 at 2:52PM
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This week’s Community Spotlight focuses on a thread started by user Yavln entitled “Death Penalty and its decline.” In the original post, Yavln dissects the effects of harsher MMOG death penalties on the gameplay experience, and examines why developers have chosen to back away from these harsher death penalties in games released in recent years.

Yavln begins by describing the death penalties found in the games of yore, “…back in the early days if you died you almost always lost something of value, exp, money in your pocket, items off your back, your mount or a combination of the above, the point was that death hurt, as a result any time anyone went into combat, they knew fine well what the cost was going to be if they lost, or won.”

Yavln also goes on to describe the emotional rollercoaster that the fear of such penalties would create in players as they played these games in pretty dramatic detail. I can’t say I’ve felt just those emotions, but I definitely feared for my life much more than I do in recent releases for sure! I recall all too well the 20 minute trek in my undies to retrieve my corpse early on in Star Wars Galaxies, and I can definitely say I was a lot more cautious about my life when death meant I could lose all my gear by being unable to retrieve my corpse. Now, compared to recent releases such as Champions Online, where death simply means a respawn and a minor bonus to experience and damage lost, there is no doubt in my mind I am way less cautious about dying. Heck, in beta, my friend and I zerged the Teleiois Tower instance, which is meant for a team of five, by ourselves. We just died, respawned, and tried again, over and over, until we finally succeeded. I recall commenting about how ridiculous it was then, and I still feel the same.

I know why the penalties have been lessened, and Yavln does as well, but he certainly doesn’t agree with the trend, explaining, “Bring the years forward to today, and the game scape has changed beyond all recognition, death penalty for most games is a think of the past, it's something developers have deemed as bad for business, but I think they have it all wrong, when they compare death to older games, and then hold up the player numbers with games like wow, what their failing to account for is the time period involved.

There are more people playing games today, than have ever played games in the past ten years combined, as a result of the massive influx of new gamers and new demographics developers are now scrambling to cut away things from games that they feel will deter all these new gamers.”

This is certainly true. The market has grown considerably and in order to make games more accessible death penalties as we’ve known them in years past, well, got the death penalty! MMOG’s have just become easier overall, and this is just part of a continuing trend for gaming in general. If you look on the consoles, there is quite a bit of hand holding going on. I cringed recently when watching a preview video of the new Super Mario Bros game for the Wii. The journalist explained that if a player dies enough times during a stage that the game will essentially play itself past the obstacle and the player can take over whenever he wishes. Why is this relevant to MMOGs? Well, there is bound to be some cross-over. The trends established in non-MMOG games shape the expectations for those potential new players that many developers are chasing to expand the genre.

Yavln also brings up EVE Online as an example of a contemporary MMOG that is still successful even while maintaining a pretty harsh death penalty, “EvE online is another amazing and mega sucessful game, with very heavy death penalty, or so it seems, anyone who has actually played the game for longer than 14 days will show you that not only do they still have sjips left but their making money, and at the same time not being shy with PvP, and it's a credit to CCP and their insurences and other systems that help reduce the blow of death.”

He then compares EVE to Jumpgate: Evolution, and speculates as to how the much diminished death penalty will affect gameplay, saying, “Now take games that or on the horizon, Jumpgate Evolution, can easily be looked at as a WoW version of EvE, but with its pruposed death penalty, and no cargo loss, haulers will be taking goods, or miners will be mining and then instead of fighting to protect their ore, thy will simply smile as an enemy comes into range and starts blasting them, what's a small repair bill when it saves you 5 minutes of flight time back to your station.”

Now if you’re one of those people reading this and shaking your head, saying, “To hell with death penalties! Corpse runs suck!” You’re going to love nate1980’s take on the issue, “I disagree about the whole death penalty thing. You're basically talking about death penalties from PvP, and things like that just encourage gank squads. I'd rather not be forced to group up with a bunch kids or jerks in a game. If you're going to claim losing gear is realistic or that it gives death a meaning, well then why don't you ask for death to be permanent. Now that's a death penalty I'd advocate for, because then people will start showing a little more respect and manners to people, and not hide behind anonymity so much. You see, full loot pvp doesn't phase those who've played a while, because they have reserves stored in their bank. It also doesn't phase those in a good guild, that can easily replace that gear.

If there isn't permanent death, then there might as well be no death penalty, because they just aren't fun any other way.”

You have to admit that nate1980 does make some good points. The harsher death penalties can be gotten around by resourceful players, heck even Yavln’s EVE example supports this point, and so it can be argued that the mechanic really only tends to penalize those who aren’t as resourceful. When you’re a developer chasing customers who have potentially never touched an MMOG before, that is indeed “bad for business” as Yavln put it.

What do you think of the death penalty issue? Let us know in the comments below!

Reader Mail - The Action Adventure MMO

Posted by garrett Monday October 19 2009 at 9:05PM
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Ok quick repsonse this week to the only question we got last week in Reader Mail. Which is...where are all the action adventure MMOs? 

I will list 3 games that I think will meet this concept in the near future.

1. Star Wars: The Old Republic.

From what I saw at E3, this game is pretty in depth and has major action adventure game play elements. Let's just hope they can make it work in an MMO.

 

2. DC Universe

This game is being designed for the PS3 as well. Therefore it must meet the requirements for a console game. The game play is fast paced and action adventure seem to be written all over it.

3. Age of Conan

Say what you like about this game, but I found the combos and combat mechanics fun. Even though it still mirrored the hot bar mentality, it had enough difference for me to enjoy the combat at least for a while.

I think MMOs suffer from their roots and the game play has not changed because people do not want to do something new. The hot bar design works and everyone has grown accustomed to it.

That being said, if there is new way....I'll be the first in line :)

Community Spotlight: Soloing

Posted by MikeB Thursday October 15 2009 at 10:01AM
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This weeks Community Spotlight highlights the oft controversial topic of solo vs. group content in MMOGs. The topic being discussed today is “I do not condone your efforts to promote soloing in MMORPG’s” by the user AstralMystic. AstralMystic quite dramatically contests that the promotion of solo game design by developers will be the death of the genre, saying, “This genre is like the seed of a great tree and the poison that does not allow It to grow is solo game design.

A gamer should be allowed to play the game and have experiences without grouping but the core component that is needed for this genre to grow is community and grouping.

Player interactivity, grouping and community is as important to keeping this genre alive as food is to our bodies.

Without It, It becomes a dead life form.”

As one would expect, the responses are all over the place, though user Axehilt makes an interesting point, “Tree analogy?

WOW's soloing was part of the many nutrients that caused it to grow into the biggest tree ever. Sure you don't need those nutrients for every tree, but they were damn successful in at least one -- and there are some very concrete game design reasons why.”

Axehilt’s point is pretty solid. WoW’s soloability is one of the major reasons the game was so accessible to people, and accessibility is really key these days. It’s no surprise that given the success of World of Warcraft many of the games that followed touted soloability as a key point. But have developers taken it too far?

I would argue no, probably not. I think their heart is in the right place, as many playstyles should be supported, but that is really the problem. Developers seem to be eschewing group content in favor of solo content, which is the real issue. Just as the game needs to be soloable, it also needs to offer significant incentives to group, as well as enough group content to go with it. Many recent MMOG releases fell way short in this regard, often releasing with enough soloable content to barely reach level cap, and in some cases, not enough for even that. And group content? Forget about it.

User Kaisen_Dexx claims it isn’t really possible to cater to both the solo player and the group player, saying, “I believe that trying to cater to both a Solo-Oriented population and a Group-Oriented population at the same time is not readily possible. People tend to follow the path of least resistance, and when it is easy to not have to rely on anyone else, almost no one will. I first noticed this when I tried to go back to EQ2 several years ago.

When EQ2 first started there were tons of people grouping, because the solo exp was quite pathetic. The populace kept asking for more solo content, and to make soloing easier. Then, over time, soloing reached the efficiency of grouping. And grouping pretty much died. I went back several months before the Kunark expansion and spent the whole month in LFG (I didn't just sit there, I solo'd but kept trying to put groups together). I got one group and it was for The Temple of Cazic Thule. I played a Bard.” 

To this, I would say the solution lies in making grouping less painful and again, adding more incentive to doing so. Warhammer Online was on the right track with open grouping and especially with the Public Quest design, but there were a number of issues with the implementation. For one, players in WAR did as Kaisen_Dexx says, they took the path of least resistance. This often meant that players were tucked away in instanced scenarios all day, as that was the best method of getting experience. Population was also an issue; Mythic opened way too many servers which resulted in a fragmented population, and coupled with the massive exodus of people from the game, Public Quests were just simply underused. The concept of public quests is quite sound though, and I would like to see them improved upon and implemented in more games. 

To close today’s spotlight, I’d like to leave you with a quote from user Ushibaru, someone who obviously likes to keep it simple, “MMORPg is not for group or soloish..

i agree that what it needed is to have a great number of both side.

Enjoy..^^”
 

Definition Insanity: What is an MMO?

Posted by Dana Wednesday October 14 2009 at 4:32PM
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Every time we post about Global Agenda, Guild Wars or CitiesXL, I can write the first, second and third forum response myself.

“This isn’t an MMO!”

“Yes it is, read the FAQ!”

“I disagree with what you said.”

We get it. They’re not exactly Ultima Online. Yes, Global Agenda has a lot of instancing, and yes CitiesXL is a city-building game.

The question our community asks is why we list and cover them, and there is a simple answer: We take a feed them to the sharks mentality.

So long as it’s within the realm of common sense, we let the game companies decide what to call their games. Now, of course we are not going to go list Monopoly here, but when a game provides shared common areas or a highly online, cooperative experience, and wants to call themselves an MMO… who are we to say no?

So why is this feeding them to the sharks? Well, the truth is, you guys are the best judges. When a game really shouldn’t be on the list, you hound them mercilessly until they go away. You vote with your clicks, or lack thereof, and sometimes listing a game here (and I tell companies this) can do more harm than good if they’re not really what they claim to be.

This is a double edged sword, though. With almost 400 games on our list, sometimes games sneak through that really shouldn’t be there. It happens, we admit it, and we try to remove them as we find them. Let’s be honest here: We cannot possibly properly play every game on the list, so when someone from Company X we’ve never heard of says they have an MMO, write MMO all over their website and provide us a fact sheet tailored to our basic FAQ requirements… we basically take them at their word.

Yet, while you weed out the pretenders, there also seems to be a certain MMO snobbery that has developed in this community and that worries me. I’ve begun to wonder if people are not so caught up in what an MMO is – or should be – that they sometimes forget that a fun video game is a fun video game.

I’m not advocating PacMan for the list here, but if a game calls itself an MMO and has core MMO elements (progression, persistence, and online common areas) why can’t people look at it for what it is, instead of what it isn’t?

Take Global Agenda. The core of that game is instanced FPS style PvP. Yes, that caps out at no larger than 24 in a single instance (12 vs. 12) right now. Does that matter? You could argue we could toss Battlefield in, sure, but that’s a non-starter for a few reasons: Battlefield may have some progression (weapon unlocks), but not the extent of character progression in GA; BF has absolutely no persistence to the encounters and what they mean for the larger world; and BF has no common areas for people to explore.

Hi-Rez, for good or bad, has chosen an MMO community as its target and feels their game fits that group. I’m not here to tell you its good or bad, but I don’t think the debate should be about the game’s category, but rather its quality. If in the end, the persistent elements they’re selling are not enough to justify the monthly fees. Then they made a mistake, but outright dismissing it based on an arbitrary set of rules is a bit extreme. Too often, we get lost in the details and forget to just ask the only question that matters: will I enjoy this game?

An even more extreme example this week came when one poster got riled up that we had Dragon Age advertisements on the page. Generally, we try to keep our ads limited to MMOs and MMO related things, so yes, a single-player RPG that no one argues is even close to an MMO is not the norm, but really? It’s an RPG, it’s made by people making an MMO, and it’s even in a fantasy setting many of our readers love. It’s not a stretch to think that a few MMOers might go buy the game, so what exactly is the harm of letting them advertise? It didn’t blink, it didn’t flash and it didn’t take over your computer. It just sits in the background for people to click or not as they choose.

The industry in changing. Each generation, the definition of what is an is not an MMO gets blurrier and blurrier. So, moving forward, what would you rather see? Would you rather us be more inclusive and – within reason – include games that make sense or would you rather us tighten up and only include games that can be called MMOs in the classical sense?

This Week's Reader Mail

Posted by garrett Monday October 12 2009 at 9:24PM
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OK, so last week we had two major questions come up in Reader Mail:

How do I get involved in the game industry, in any capacity?

Here is my best answer.

To succeed in any industry you need to build up contacts. You can be the best programmer in the world or have the best game design ever, if you don't start getting to know people in the business you won't get anywhere.

So, how do you start. The best beginning is to attend a convention. If you are in some area try to get to one: 

  • Northeast - PAX East, NY Comicon
  • Southeast - Dragon Con
  • Middle America - GenCon
  • Northwest- PAX
  • Mid West - DICE (Vegas), AGDC (Texas)
  • California (damn you) - GDC, E3, San Diego Comicon

Cons are expensive and not all are open to the public, but if there is a will, there is a way. You can get into anything if you try hard enough and come up with a good plan to go.

Making friends in the business goes a long way. The good thing about gaming is everyone is generally friendly. The more contacts you make the better off you'll be the next show you go to and say: Hey I remember you! Whats up!

It seems like now-a-days submitting a resume for a job is as successful as throwing a dart at a tick on a barn door from 50 yards away.It is all about who you know when getting jobs. My advice on breaking into this business is get to know people first. By email, phone, Facebook, or most of all go to a show and start saying Hi, I play your game, but I am also an amazing programmer! Dont ask for a job right away, make friends first. Then when the time is right and they need someone or they know someone who needs someone, your name might come up.

So my advice, make friends, be nice, and find a place you can apply your skills without begging for a job. Before you know it, they may be calling you.

For the second question I'll combine a few together with MMO Gold Farming Security (great question) and MMO Design as the main points. Here we go:

In regards to Gold Farming. I do agree a Pearl Script could be used to form a system that tracks and bans gold farmers....so why hasn't it been done?

Well, those Gold Farmers happen to be paying customers. PAYING CUSTOMERS. Which all MMOs need, especially now-a-days. It is my opinion...let me repeat OPINION, that companies take a half ass approach to gold farmers because they do pay their monthly fees. They also put in large amounts of game time.

Almost any business in the world has a secondary market, ebay has proven that. MMO companies are still collecting subscription fees from gold farming accounts. Regardless of what they are used for. So for now...they will ban a few folks here and there and make a big deal out of it. But overall if you are a paying customer...they want you sub.

Ok now in terms of game design. Well if you have had a chance to look around our lovely society lately you see the word Greed being thrown around a lot. Corporations in this country are ... greedy. They want to make money. Game companies are no different. Ever major Fantasy IP was snatched up out there in the last 5 years to try and build games to compete with WoW. Guess what....they all failed.

I think MMOs like anything else around our world right now are getting too big for their britches. They are trying to be too much to too many.

MMOs started out as a niche market. Games that catered to a hardcore audience. When the business side saw the profit potentials and the fact that gamers will keep paying month after month and they just went nuts.

The reason games like Ultima or EVE are not being made, is because no one is willing to take a risk anymore. Big companies want major IPs with marketing plans for the planet. Oh they also want a WoW-like game. If you dont have that...well...Big Business doesnt want your game.

I mentioned last week in my column that the new breed of independent MMOs coming will fill the void many of the BIG Business games have forgotten. The new smaller MMOs have taken game designs that the BIG companies missed out on because they are too busy trying to be WoW. If you look on this site, those games are being watched. Hopefully they will fill the void we feel from the big IP games.

Hope that answers this weeks questions.

SEND MORE!! We may have a guest star next week!

Does Slow and Steady Really Win the Race?

Posted by Stradden Friday October 9 2009 at 1:05PM
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I know there’s been a lot of talk about EVE Online over the last week or so, but after attending the company’s Fan Fest, I was left with a lot of thoughts in my head about not only that game, but the MMO scene in general.

This past week, I wrote an article that took at look at the Statistics of EVE. In it, the company reveals that its subscriber base has grown over the course of six years from 25,000 to over 300,000. That kind of growth is just, well, shocking when it comes to looking at MMOs. It’s very rare to see a game that doesn’t peak shortly after launch and then decline over time from there. That’s the pattern we’ve seen time and time again from just-launched MMOs and the slow decline is getting faster and faster with every new launch. Just look at Age of Conan and Warhammer Online as examples. Their falls from millions of copies sold to far less that that number in subscribers took almost no time at all.

Looking at this, I am forced to wonder if the problem isn’t that the modern MMO company has it backwards. In today’s competitive market, the rush seems to be to sell as many boxes as humanly possible straight out the door. This may recoup some development cost right out of the gate, which I realize is a top priority for AAA titles, but in the end, the appealing thing about an MMO from a business standpoint isn’t in box sales, it’s the continued revenue stream that a subscription fee can bring. Therefore, a growing player base is more desirable than a dwindling one.

What EVE Online did right was to manage expectations right out of the gate. The game was small, and independent. It launched with what is comparatively very little to do, but built up a very strong and loyal following. As time passed, and the developers were able to add more and more into the world, polishing the game as they went, they began to pull in more players. There was actually a visible correlation between the quality of the game and the number of subscribers that it carried.

With today’s bigger titles, the goal is often to hype the game up as much as possible pre-launch, convincing as many people as possible to get involved with as soon as it becomes commercially available. The problem is that the quality of the game on day one just isn’t going to be high enough to retain a large percentage of those initial players. It can’t be. I don’t care what others might say: an MMO can not be honestly considered to be a “complete” game until at minimum six months to a year into its life. That’s just the nature of the beast. The result of this is that many of a game’s initial players, feeling let down, simply quit and never look back.

The solution is fairly simple and it all lays in two things: management of player expectations and deferral of immediate gratification for financial stakeholders. If more companies would set out with the goal to appeal at first to a small number of hardcore supporters who will help to mould and shape the game as it progresses, I think that there would be two distinct results: First, they would see a gradual increase in sustained subscribers over time and second, they would develop a game that would evolve to appeal more specifically to their players.
Now here’s where my theory falls apart. I honestly don’t know if in today’s world of MMOs, such a thing is actually possible. I suspect that in the case of the large publishing and development studios that a lengthier time to wait for return on investment simply won’t fly. I also suspect that, because MMO player expectations have been so moulded into thinking that the next MMO is going to be the “greatest thing ever” right out of the box might be so ingrained that EVE’s odd kind of slow evolutionary success may simply be out of reach.
 

Community Spotlight: “Instanced” gameplay is really “offline” gameplay.

Posted by MikeB Thursday October 8 2009 at 1:10PM
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Forumgoer pencilrick has sparked an interesting discussion on our forums entitled “’Instanced’ gameplay is really ‘offline’ gameplay.” The subject of instancing is always sure to light a few fires under the most passionate members of our community. After all, many of us are pretty divided on the issue, and the thread reflects this. There is a good bit of angst and trolling, but also some level headed arguments on both sides of the issue. Pencilrick’s argument is that, “If your gameplay is "instanced" or separated from the community by "phasing", you might as well be playing offline. And if you are with a group, then okay, the group might as well be playing offline, maybe at a LAN party at someone's house.
 

MMO's are about many players sharing a world, and not meant to be about isolated segregated experiences. The player who brags about having spent 10,000 gold on his instanced housing makes no more sense than someone bragging that they have an offline castle. If you cannot see it, it does not exist (in the gameworld). The player who goes into and comes out from an instanced dungeon, might as well have been logged off the whole time, as far as the community knows or cares. The player who "phases" into some solo quest against an 80 Elite mob and uses some gimme item that is part of the quest chain and which zaps the creature into a non-elite mob that is easily defeated, has no more bragging rights than if he had been offline.”
 

Obviously, this is a pretty heavy argument being leveled here, but member Maligar isn’t quite as nostalgic as some, saying, “Yes, because we all know how realistic and cool it is it is to plow through a non-instanced dungeon for 2+ hours to finally reach the end boss, only to have some other party come in, kill you and you entire team, kill the boss, get the loot and then walk away laughing. Thus forcing you and your team to respawn, start the whole dungeon over again, just to have the same thing occur right at the end. Yes, this sounds like an AWESOME time. Not.” And yes, I realize that a lack of instancing doesn’t have much to do with PvP, but Maligar’s point about the other team getting the boss kill still stands.
 

Having had my start in Star Wars Galaxies, which despite all its issues was still a non-instanced sandbox game, I can definitely appreciate the potential for good times to be had in a mostly non-instanced world. I remember being a newbie in that game and tackling Ft. Tusken with a bunch of other newbies and having a blast. I recall many of us lying prone along a ridge overlooking the Fort and using rifles to shoot the Banthas and Raiders below as the lower group tanked or kited them around. A pretty simple experience, but as a new player to MMOGs I found it quite refreshing and fun. Out of the 20-40 people present, I only knew one person going in, but I made friends for the rest of my years playing that game by the time we were done there. Unfortunately, though, for all the good times that can be had, a non-instanced world is rife with potential for griefing as in the example Maligar provided earlier, and so your experience with a particular game can largely depend on the idiot ratio of your server.
 

I do think that many of us intentionally or unintentionally wear rose-tinted glasses and simply want to be able to at least have the potential for those good experiences we had in past MMOGs once again. I spent many years playing City of Heroes, which was a total 180 from Star Wars Galaxies, and I can definitely see some truth in the arguments of anti-instancing players. I think people are so passionately against instancing because while a non-instanced game has a potential for grief, it also has the potential for the many amazing social experiences and relationships people have forged playing games that thrived on their community.
 

A fully instanced game on the other hand is almost guaranteed to lack the potential for these experiences, and I think this is why heavy instancing is an instant deal breaker for a number of MMO fans. It doesn’t matter how exciting the other features of the game may be, they know that the heavily instanced game everyone is talking about doesn’t have the potential for the aforementioned experiences that the non-instanced games of yore provided, and that is at its core, what they want from their MMOG experience. I believe these players are as interested in all the cool advancements that have come with the evolution of MMOGs that many of these games promise, but they simply believe it is all for naught if the game doesn’t allow for what really differentiates it from a single player game, and that is the community experience.
 

Making MMOGs more like single player games is a futile endeavor, as they always have and always will be behind the curve due to all the limiting factors developing an MMOG entails. Instancing is often touted by developers as allowing for the kinds of directed, high production value experiences that single player games offer, but the real question is, at what cost?
 

I’ve spent significant amounts of time in games on opposite sides of the spectrum (CoH vs. SWG) and so having experienced the benefits of both, I think somewhere in the middle is probably where it needs to be. Even the original poster Pencilrick acknowledges the merits and the “necessary evil” of instancing later in the discussion, “What I have resolved in my own head about this is that "sometimes" you need "some" instancing. To prevent over-camping of boss mobs, for example.
Still, I see instancing as a necessary evil at best and not a desired feature to implement in the absence of a compelling reason. For example, you would not want to instance a zone only for the reason of separating players, without over-camping being a mitigating factor.”
 

The issue of instancing is also a bit overblown, as there are a number of other factors that have contributed to the trend of many later MMOGs lacking that community experience. As user decoy26517 says, “Instancing is only a mechanic which can be used for good or evil. Let's not blame the instance but rather the developers who USE the instances for ill purposes!” Of course, it’s not as villainous as the language would imply but there is some truth to this point. A combination of factors, namely the decoupling of interdependence amongst players along with the instancing are in part contributing to the perception many people have of instancing today.
 

Newer games are simply too easy and don’t require players to really rely on each other at all, and this issue I would argue has a lot more to do with the problem than instancing ever could. After all, Warhammer Online wasn’t incredibly instanced. Sure there were zone lines, but the world was largely open. Yet a strong community wasn’t forged there. Why? Because the game was too easy and lacked any incentive to really socialize, as Mythic’s Executive Producer so candidly admitted in a recent article over at Gamasutra.
 

In the end, I’m going to have to side with decoy26517 on this issue: instancing is a tool, and tools can be used for good, or can be abused intentionally or unintentionally to ill effect. The merit of the tool has been proven; I don’t think we should be arguing that. Instead, we should be discussing the best ways to use it, as whether we like it or not instancing isn’t going away. But we might have a say in how much it is being used and to what extent.
 

Editor's Note: This is an edition of a weekly column by Community Manager Michael Bitton. Each week, Bitton takes to our message boards and examines a specific topic raised by our community. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.

Icelandic Rapping? CCP's Permaband:

Posted by Dana Wednesday October 7 2009 at 11:37AM
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The team at CCP has always been a little different. Of course, you know them for EVE Online, but in somewhat of a paradox from their ultra-hardcore space MMO, these guys are truly one of a kind.

Icelanders know how to party. Each year, their FanFest is one of the most complete, over the top and fun fan gatherings any game puts on and CCP has developed a reputation for hosting the best video game conference parties each year.

What's best about them though is their completely fearless approach to the outside world. Most developers will never let the press talk to anyone save the most vetted, senior people. CCP lets people at their Fanfest talk to anyone. No other developer will actually tell you how many subscribers they have. CCP will give you that answer down to the last digit. 

So, oddly, it came as no surprise that during Fanfest the team released their own company rap video. Yes, Iceland isn't known for its thriving rap scene, and you can hear the accent through the chorus, but once again, despite having a very serious game, CCP has shown that they don't take themselves too seriously. It's refreshing.

The video is by their in-house band Permaband, which is actually the second CCP bred musical group. Previous Fanfests have been headlined by their rock band "RoXor," who continued the trend with a performance this year.

Before clicking the link, though, let me get the obligatory "NSFW" (Not Safe For Work!) warning out the way. This video contains some strong language. The name of the song is "HTFU" and if you're up on your internet acronyms, you can guess what the F stands for.

Enjoy the video!

Reader Mail! Our best shot at answering your questions.

Posted by garrett Monday October 5 2009 at 9:38AM
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Hi all,

With monday's staff blog our goal is to answer your questions. Anything you want to know about the MMO industry, games, the website, ideas you have,  and more, let us know. We will answer what we can and call in industry experts to answer what we cannot.

Ask it here and we will respond. We hope to continue this blog for a long time.

Please keep your questions legit.

 

Thanks,

Garrett Fuller
News Manager

Community Spotlight: Did MMORPG.com Ruin MMOGs for You?

Posted by MikeB Friday October 2 2009 at 10:45AM
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This week I’ve discovered an interesting topic currently being discussed on our General Discussion forums. The thread I’m thinking of is called “Did MMORPG.com ruin MMOs for you?” and was posted by the user Ozreth. In the original post, Ozreth discusses the difference in the way he views MMOGs and the genre now that he has been a longtime member on our site, and he wonders if all our in-depth coverage and the sometimes overwhelming amount of information on our forums has essentially ruined MMOGs for him. He says, “I sometimes feel like the discovery of this web site is what began my downward spiral of MMO gaming. Not only did it open my eyes up to so many new games that I tried them all and felt stale afterwards, but reading all of the stupid critiques about games makes me actually notice and be annoyed by the smallest things in game that I probably never would have noticed before.”

Oddly enough, I entirely understand Ozreth’s plight. I’ve been a gamer all my life, but I only got into MMOGs in my mid teens, starting out with the much maligned Star Wars Galaxies. I didn’t visit forums then, or really have many expectations for the game. I was just a huge Star Wars fan and finally the “right game” came along to get me to take the dive so to speak. When I first played Star Wars Galaxies, it was a total mess, but I really didn’t pay attention to it because I was still having so much fun, oblivious to the common issues the game exhibited, issues that seasoned MMOG veterans had  experienced in many games before it. Eventually, I did get onto the game’s forums and read about the overwhelming amount of issues the game had. Having read all these things, it became incredibly hard to not notice them now. Eventually, I sought them out, and fortunately for my job I have a good eye for them, but unfortunately I’ve also lost my “innocence” as Ozreth so aptly describes it.

Spending time on forums, especially forums like ours where we have such a passionate community can be both extremely informing and also incredibly deflating. So, I suppose the question I would ask Ozreth would be– is it worth it? I would say yes, and a simple reply by user windsoul44 illuminates why,” MMO sites have saved me countless amounts of $$$.” Also, an Nizur makes an interesting point, adding, “MMORPG.com has helped me more easily research and weed out some games. It's also introduced me to some games I had never heard of before. Forums always attract trolls, haters, fanboys and more, but the extra information available here outweighs the junk.”

Zaxxon 23 says, “most mmos today are mostly copies of each other with subtle differences.” And he would be right on the money. The fact of the matter is, the MMOG genre is high risk, and so the genre is saturated with a lot of derivative dreck that doesn’t really do much differently. The coverage here at MMORPG.com, and the passionate community that we try to cultivate here can really help inform fans of the genre in order to help separate the wheat from the chaff.

I know it might sound like were tooting our own horn here, and in some ways we are. But I genuinely believe that PC gaming, and more specifically MMOGs, are definitely a genre where being more informed can save you a lot of headaches. However, there is something to be said about that “innocence” that Ozreth describes, as being an informed consumer can be a double-edged sword. As qazyman says, “Ignorance is bliss aye.” Sometimes, I would have to agree.
 

Editor's Note: This is an edition of a weekly column by Community Manager Michael Bitton. Each week, Bitton takes to our message boards and examines a specific topic raised by our community. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.