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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,

News Class Ideas

Posted by garrett Monday November 30 2009 at 7:13PM
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As I am working away tonight at MMORPG.com, I started to think about class design in games and how we have stuck with the same format since pretty much First Edition D&D. Tank, Healer, DPS, Caster, Ranged, and maybe Hybrid can now directly describe almost every class in class based MMOs. I wanted to ask why this format has not changed in almost 30 years?

We have seen the basic class format remain in fantasy gaming for almost two generations now, with no real changes on the horizon. Will we be forced into this format for an eternity? 

I am not talking about games like Ultima, Fallen Earth, or Earthrise here. I am specifically talking about games that work on a class system. My question is, does a party have any other needs besides aggro management, damage, healing, or buffs?

I am not sure what the answer is here. I look back on Dark Age of Camelot and think about all the classes that game offered. Though each one fell into this archtype it was the way the classes were presented that made them cool. I had a Berserker, he had one major ability, to go Berserk...yet somehow the class was fun and kept me playing for a long time. Perhaps presenting players with a variety outside the box will get them interested in something else.

WoW is centered around the raid mentality which means everyone must fill one of the roles. Other MMOs both before and after have followed suit and now remain in the same format.

I would love to see an MMO adopt a system similar to AD&D 3.5. Where players can both multi-class and have some side classes that can take to make their character into exactly what they want. From what we saw at E3, Trion's Heroes of Tellara looks to follow a model like this one. It will be interesting to see how they can set things up.

AD&D got much more fun when they gave players alternatives to their core classes. Perhaps MMOs can take another note from the old school book and follow suit.

3 Faction Warfare

Posted by garrett Tuesday November 24 2009 at 4:08PM
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In looking at Star Wars: The Old Republic embargo break on the final two classes, it make me wonder about the finality of the announcements we have about the game.

As things stand now, it appears we have 2 factions to work with.

I never understood why an MMO did not make the leap to a 3 faction system after the success of Dark Age of Camelot's endgame? 

Now Star Wars has a very clear sense of good and evil. But how cool would it be to have a Hutt faction? A mercenary, gangster, take either side in the war faction. A faction that could go either way in a battle or simple fight for themselves. This idea is one of many.

For some reason after all these years, no one has gone back to that system of 3 factions fighting over objectives. Imagine if WoW took Cataclysm and had the Undead break from the Horde, and the Worgen join them, add another race and create a third faction for players to join. This would be a massive change to a game that already has a successful formula, but it would be epic if done well and players would talk about it for eternity.

Star Trek Online also has this option. To allow multiple factions and give players options on how they want to spend their end game. It seems like at this point the end game of MMOs is becoming more important than the actual leveling up process. This is where companies need to start loo for player retention. Multiple factions give players options at the end, something I think all of us would like to see more of.

In the end, it seems we won't see a game with a three faction system for some time. It is too bad, I think that giving players multiple faction choices in the end game is something that will keep players playing longer.

Something to think about for now :) 

Shiny New Non-MMOs, my L4D2 addiction and More.

Posted by Stradden Friday November 20 2009 at 10:28AM
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This has been an exciting month or so in the world of video games, with the launch of a number of a number of new and exciting titles that have had people buzzing with excitement and lining up out the doors of electronics stores at midnight.

Unfortunately, none of them are MMOs. It’s not as though it hasn’t been our genre in the spotlight before. Crowds reliably line up and forums at MMORPG.com and elsewhere light up for any expansion to Blizzard’s World of Warcraft and I expect they will again when Cataclysm has its day in the sun. Buzz for MMOs was also huge last summer with the launches of the two highly anticipated titles, Age of Conan and Warhammer Online.

These days though, it’s hard for upcoming MMOs like Jumpgate Evolution Star Trek Online or even Star Wars: The Old Republic, let alone popular and exciting pre-existing titles, to grab the spotlight the way that maybe they should be.

There are three companies I blame for this: Infinity Ward, Bioware and Valve have been hogging the spotlight these days. Damn them for crafting new and exciting gaming experiences outside of the MMO genre and damn them for making me choose where to spend what little money I’ve been able to set aside for video games this far before Christmas.

In the end, for anyone who might be sitting at home wondering which of the three mega-hit games I decided to pick up from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Dragon Age: Origins or Left 4 Dead 2, I went with the latter. I really had no choice; it’s like an addiction now.

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’ve had an undead monkey on my back ever since the first game in the series launched last year and I can even tell you why. It’s the co-operative nature of the game. Sure, I could sit here and talk about how Valve has managed to weave an interesting and immersive story into a game with no text boxes and very few cut scenes. I could also rave about how great the visuals are and how this second game has captured the gore of the genre in ways that the first never could, but I won’t talk about those things. Instead, it’s the co-op.

Honestly, I wish all online games were designed in such a way as to encourage co-operative play, even within random pickup groups, on such a level. Players are so dependent on one another for survival (and, of course ultimate victory), that while there is plenty of opportunity for players to stealth loot and look out for themselves first, it rarely, if ever happens outside of the very occasional griefer. Can you say that about your current MMO? Can you say it about your favourite shooter?

The overall, I suppose the word is friendliness, that comes along with this game is a) refreshing and b) ironic given the graphic and extreme violence that the gameplay implies.

I am also impressed with the fact that as far as sequels go, Valve got the formula right. When you play L4D2, they took all of the conventions and mechanics of the original game, improved a number of them, mixed in a few new elements and created a gameplay experience that was familiar enough to fan of the original game that it was easy to jump right into, but different enough that there’s a bit of a learning curve and you don’t feel like you’re playing something that should have been made available as DLC to the original game.

Still, while my attention may have been diverted briefly by the shiny new games from other genres, I’m just about ready to turn my attention back to waiting to see what the new batch of MMOs might hold.
 

Community Spotlight: Subscription Fees? Bah! Humbug!

Posted by MikeB Thursday November 19 2009 at 4:00PM
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This weeks Community Spotlight focuses on a thread started by user MMOnsterkill entitled, “FFS Stop Complaining About Subscription Fees”. In the original post, MMOnsterkill makes his case against the many people out there who scoff at the industry standard $15.00 monthly subscription fee attached to most AAA MMOG’s:
 

“$15.00
That is pretty much the industry standard monthly subscription fee to play an MMO nowadays. That being said, there are a lot of people that don't seem to understand why this fee is necessary -- and they swear on their lives that it's because the publishers / developers are trying to be greedy. Did you ever wonder who was working on all those lovely content updates that you bitch for? ACTUAL PEOPLE who have families, bills to pay, and taxes. Game developers don't make a whole lot of money, but it does take a bit to pay a team of 50 engineers, artists, and designers. Not to mention just running a company and an online service(s) has a lot of upkeep cost as well. “
 

While the original post is a little more abrasive than I’d normally choose to highlight, the discussion that follows, and the subject matter itself are considerably important.
 

User BlueSkunk used to be one of those very scoffers, but he has since seen the light, apparently:
 

“I used to not like paying subs, but then I realised that $15/month is extremely cheap.
 

Movie ticket with popcorn and drink $20+ for 1.5 to 3 hours entertainment.
 

A day at a theme park $50 - $100+ (extremely fun tho).
 

Ticket for a sporting event of your choice $10++.”
 

I have to agree, and I’ll be honest; this is one of my pet peeves. There are tons of people who won’t try a MMOG on the principle of having to pay monthly. I seriously doubt the $15.00 figure is the problem. It seems to be, at least for many, the principle of it more than anything. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard friends scoff at paying monthly for a game, or having watched trailers for upcoming MMOG’s for either work or pleasure and read users comments to the tune of: “Looks awesome! But if this is one of those games where you have to pay monthly, no deal!”
 

To use BlueSkunks example, I recently went out with my girlfriend and spent about $70 that night on dinner and a movie. Three to four hours of entertainment and I’m almost out $100! I immediately thought of all the people who scoff at MMOG subscription fees and shook my head.

If you find a game that is of sufficient quality and interesting enough to you, the $15 shouldn’t get in your way of playing it. There are many much more expensive hobbies out there. A friend of mine is a chef, and dabbles in all sorts of things, including photography. You want to talk expensive? That is an expensive hobby! $400 for a camera lens is the norm. He received a $1000 lighting set from his boss as an early xmas present recently, which prompted me to have this very discussion with him as well.
 

User Johnmatthais brings some interesting figures to the discussion, citing the original incarnation of Neverwinter Nights' subscription rates:
 

“My only input:
 

"The game originally cost standard AOL hourly rates to play. Depending on the user's rate plan, this could be USD$6.00 per hour for a flat rate plan, or $8.00 per hour during premium (daytime) hours or $4.00 during off hours."
 

"Near the end of its run in 1997 the game had 115,000 players and typically hosted 2,000 adventurers during prime evening hours, a 4000% increase over 1991."
 

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neverwinter_Nights_(AOL_game)
 

Seriously, Stop complaining. The game had a few thousand players when it started. Another source I cannot find at the moment stated that it was not uncommon for people to spend in the hundreds per month to play the game.
 

And you guys are complaining about $15/month? Tisk tisk.
 

NOTE: I purposely didn't include the part about it becoming a free part of an AOL subscription at the end of it's run. That's not what I was referencing.”
 

Boy, do I remember those days! Anyone out there ever play Gemstone? Gemstone is essentially a MUD with subscription fees, and still runs to this day! As several other posters have pointed out, fully text based games have demanded subscription fees in the past (Gemstone IV still does!) and yet many of us scoff at $15 for a high-production value AAA MMOG.  For the record, Gemstone IV will run you $25/month for Premium memberships, and $49/month for Platinum memberships. Ouch! Standard membership is $14.95 a month.
 

When I was younger, I had to play Gemstone on an older friends account because I could not make the case to my completely internet/computer illiterate mother that shelling out for that kind of dough every month was a good or even sane idea. Which brings me to another point that several other users have raised: Perhaps most of the people complaining are younger folks who must make the case to their parents? Of course, this is pure speculation, but it is certainly plausible.
 

Are you an adult with an income reading this, yet still vehemently opposed to subscription fees?
 

For those of you who are opposed to subscription fees, are you also opposed to the microtransaction supported model as an alternative?
 

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Community Spotlight: Do You Feel Sad When Returning to an MMOG?

Posted by MikeB Thursday November 12 2009 at 2:22PM
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This week’s Community Spotlight focuses on a discussion started by user Varny that poses the question: “Does it sadden any of you when you return to an old mmorpg?” Varny had this to say on the subject:
 

“I mean for me mmorpgs hold such special nostalgic memories of the past and how everything used to be better. Like returning to your home town when you were a child and how summers always seemed warmer and brighter when you were a kid. For me mmorpgs give me that same feeling from the ones I was fond of.

I play a SWG and at the time it launched I was 17 or 18 and going through that time in your life when you experience a lot of thing for the first time and have that first heart breaking G/F lol. So like a Song that you used to love and can't play anymore because of her, I also put games to parts of my life that were meaningful. When I try to go back to them, not only am I pissed off that the developer ruined them but I can never like them again due the nostalgia of my past making me wish I could go back”
 

I know how you feel! I recently returned to The Matrix Online to say my good-byes a few weeks before the game was set to close and all accounts were set as active. I zoned into the Mara hardline, which for the few of you out there who actually played MXO know as the central hub of the game, and seeing almost no one around. I recall kvetching about the fact we had a huge awesome Megacity to explore and yet half the server would all clog up Mara hardline and hang out there. Seeing no one around was a real shocker and definitely made me feel nostalgic, if not a bit sad, as well.
 

On the other hand, it can be heart-warming at times when you return to an old game. I suppose it all depends on the state the game is in. Varny mentions Star Wars Galaxies in his post, and like anyone’s first MMOG, Star Wars Galaxies has a special place in my heart. I left, like many after the NGE fiasco, but I have returned on multiple occasions to see how things were. Until recently most of those returns were quite depressing. I played on Starsider which was one of the three most active servers at launch, and I recall logging in and finding the place essentially a ghost town with my entire friends list empty with no one on. That didn’t evoke such a pleasant feeling.
 

Recently, however, I returned to Star Wars Galaxies this summer and for whatever reason over the past few years a large part of the remaining SWG community had all consolidated on my home server, Starsider, and the place was jumping like it was launch day all over again. I was actually happy that some of the things that previously annoyed me had returned, simply because they reminded me of better days in the game. Things like long sprawling lines for buffs being a good example, or the poplocking Wookiee in Mos Eisley starport hawking his wares, who I guarantee you is still there at this moment.
 

User Finbar offers his eloquent, if somewhat amusing, response on the subject:
 

“I would't say sad. Sad is a word I use for stronger more important emotions. However I know what you are talking about. There is a certain forlorn silence that is felt when you play an older game. The same feeling that you get when you entre an abandoned building, or when you finally finish a long series of books (eg: Song of Ice and Fire, or whatever). It's a muted sense of loss or a gentle haunting perse. For me this feeling is a classic trademark of a well realized story or environment. So no your not alone in this; you will find me and many others walking the lonely halls of the worlds of yesterday musing at things come to pass.”
 

User Balthor’s response echoes a number of others in the discussion who never really get the opportunity to feel sad, as they don’t return at all once they’re gone:
 

“I won't go back to a MMO that I have left. If I stoped playing and quit, it was for a good reason. It's like if I break up with an annoying GF, I'm not going to take her back ... she's still annoying.”
I guess I can see your point! Though some of us do reignite old flames!
 

So, do you too feel sad when you return to an old MMOG? Let us know in the comments!

Mythic's Tough Day.

Posted by garrett Monday November 9 2009 at 7:37PM
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I wanted to take the time to post in my blog about the tough day that Mythic had today.

As many of you saw, there were staff cuts there today and people had to go home without a job. Instead of pointing the blame at EA, Mythic, or Warhammer, I simply want to point out that this type of event never helps anyone. I listened to EA's earnings call today while they explained to analysts that the company is moving forward and the stock price is up. I heard no mention of the people who were out of work today because of bottom line decisions.

So I am posting today to those people who lost there jobs at Mythic. Many people dream about making games as an occupation and to me nothing worse can happen to you than losing your job, okay maybe a health or family problem is the only thing worse.

I had a lot of friends at Mythic, some who lost their jobs today. My heart and best wishes go out to them and their families and I hope they all find a bright future.

If this sounds sentimental, it is. There is nothing worse than seeing people out of work, struggling to make ends meet. Regardless if games are a success or failure, people now have to scramble to find a pay check and take care of themselves or the ones they love.

I wish we lived in a world where everyone could work, do a good job, and never fear losing their livelyhood.

Community Spotlight: How Many Classes Are Enough?

Posted by MikeB Friday November 6 2009 at 2:04PM
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This week’s Community Spotlight focuses on a topic started by user Eronakis which poses the question: how many classes are appropriate for an MMORPG? The thread is entitled “Acceptable amount of classes in an mmorpg” and features a poll with ranges from 9 or lower, to 20+ classes. The topic is fairly straightforward, but responses in the thread indicate that most users definitely do have some pretty specific preferences in this regard.

User Lansid offers his take on more is better:

“I'm in favor for as much as possble... then you won't have as many cookie cutter builds. I think Guild Wars in a way has done some nice things regarding class/skill use making many viable "builds"... and with all the constant nerfing of powers people are always coming up with the next Flavor of the Month build. The more I look at CO it looks like it has a bunch of potential regarding this subject, but I can't say because I have not played it yet.
 

I guess my main point is, the more variables you throw in, the more individuality you get. Uniqueness is good, imho, regarding MMO's. I don't wanna be the same Healer or DD toon, just with #2 hair, #6 face.”
 

On the other end of the spectrum we have the user Axehilt who makes a compelling argument against having many classes:
 

“I tend to like games with fewer classes. It gives the developer more time to ensure each of the classes is balanced and (more importantly) fun.
However I definitely prefer the advancement system to open up more opportunities for different playstyles (at this point WOW's 10 classes are worth 2-3 distinct classes each; but that's not really realistic for an on-release game.)
 

The playstyle count is more important than class count, and how many alts you need to roll to reach all of those playstyles. As much as I disliked FFXI's interface (so much that I only gave it 30 mins of play) I eventually realized that being able to access all your playstyles with a single character is a pretty cool approach to things (although I suppose you basically are still "rolling an alt" if you have to go back to fight newbie things to level the new job.)”
 

Overall, however, opinions are pretty mixed. I’m generally in agreement with Axehilt’s sentiment that less is more, but this is purely coming from someone who has spent a lot of time designing classes in MUD’s and realizes how hard it can be to juggle that balancing act while making the classes interesting at the same time, and I feel this translates for MMOGs, as well. Having 100 classes that are really only unique in name and frankly impossible to balance isn’t really good idea. Even if you take World of Warcraft as an example, which many in the thread cite as an MMOG featuring few classes, its been almost five years yet even still most would argue that the classes are unbalanced. It’s pretty much expected at this point that various classes go from underpowered to overpowered all the time. If it can’t be done by an A-list developer like Blizzard with only a handful of classes it seems pretty unlikely that a game with 100 classes would achieve both balance and variety.
 

And of course, we can’t have this kind of discussion without the mention of classless MMOGs as an option, as user Madeux chimes in to make a simple point:
“I'm gonna have to go with... 0
Zero is the only acceptable number of classes in an mmorpg.
Skills....”
 

As many of you may know by now from past spotlights, I got my feet wet in a classless game: Star Wars Galaxies. And these sorts of games aren’t without their issues either, as user heremypet (has since deleted their account) says, “…The complete opposite for classless games, where someone with melee and healing skills isn't really a paladin. And everyone gravitates towards tank-mage or the FOTM.”
 

Using Star Wars Galaxies as an example, different skill sets or specs became must have’s anyways and so you still saw many cookie cutter builds. At one point everyone was either x/Combat Medic or x/Master Doctor for example. Now, I don’t feel this necessarily means that the concept is invalid, but I don’t think it has been perfected quite yet. Funcom’s next MMOG, The Secret World, will be entirely level-less and class-less, so I suppose we should all keep on eye on that one and see how it pans out!
 

The jury is still out on the sweet spot, or whether to have classes at all in Eronakis’ thread. As of this writing the poll is at 26.9% for 9 or fewer classes on the lowest end and 26.9% for 20+ classes on the high end. Quite interesting results!
 

So what do you think? What is the sweet spot for the number of classes? Should we really focus on the number at all? Or do you not care for classes outright and prefer a skill-based system like Ultima Online? Let us know in the comments!
 

Also, congratulations are in order for user Eronakis, as he’s received the title “Spotlight Poster” for being featured in this week’s Community Spotlight!

V Debuts: Too Early To Make The MMO?

Posted by Dana Wednesday November 4 2009 at 9:15AM
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So, the TV remake of "V" debuted last night on ABC. For those who do not know, this is a remake of a cheesy sci-fi mini-series where the "V" (Visitors) arrive Independence Day style over every major city in the World. Instead of shooting, they turn their ships into giant jumbotrons, reportedly only moderately smaller than the one in the new Cowboys stadium, and deliver a message of peace from their leader Anna (the prostitute from Firefly).

Naturally, there's more to it than that, but I'll save the general plot points for your DVRs. Let's just say, they likely are not quite as nice as they appear.

So, at the risk of jumping the gun in a new an exciting way (and that's why this is in the blog), did anyone else watch this and get an itchy trigger finger to jump into this world? Could we have a more perfect contemporary setting for an MMO?

Of course, the show's ratings are not even in yet, so it has to be a huge success before anyone would consider it, but of all the TV shows out there I watch, this one seems the most natural to let people run around in it.

The game seems to have three well defined factions, enough science-fiction fun to expand into, as well as a good excuse to build some elements of the real world, but in a fantastic way.

So, here's to "V" becoming a big enough hit that someone goes and buys the rights!

Warning to comment readers: I tried not to deliver any major spoilers, but I make no promises for people in the comment thread.

Dragon Age!

Posted by garrett Monday November 2 2009 at 7:31PM
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Yep kids, it is Dragon Age time!

So with the latest RPG from Bioware finally launching what impact will it have on the MMO community?

I personally think it will have a huge impact. Games like Dragon Age, Torchlight, and the upcoming Diablo 3 all have an impact on MMOs.

1. They are fantasy games.

2. They are RPGs

3. They may contain game design elements that will be used in future MMOs.

These are just three of the reasons to watch Dragon Age.

I know Star Wars is being done in a separate Bioware Studio far to the south of Vancouver, but there might be some elements of Dragon Age that make it into SW:TOR. Just a guess, but TOR is already being heralded as an all talking MMO.

So I pose this question to the commumity, how many of you will buy and play Dragon Age? 

Will the game be permanently good enough to take you away from your MMO?

Not for me, but for now it will be a nice break until 3.3 comes out :)