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Better Uses of Gated Content

Posted by vajuras Saturday March 29 2008 at 1:28PM
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On one hand I adore "Gated" content or at least the idea of it. First let's cover what "Gated" content is. Quite simply friends its a 'flip switch". If you do not meet the prerequisites to enter the gate, you're locked out. Programmers we think of a gate as a Binary operator (0 or 1) which is the foundation of Computer Science.

In mmorpg space "gated content" appears in the form of Levels, Classes, keys needed to enter a Dungeon, Item restrictions tied to Levels and Classes, uber mobs that one shot lowbie players to keep them out of areas they dont belong, etc. The list is near infinite.

This brings me to the crux of this article, short though it may be. I dont think MMORPGs as a whole are really using the gates properly. Right now mainstream is really trying to simplify their games for their audiences. Thus, now a new buzz term is allowing a player to create a "blank slate". You get to sample powers a bit from each branch and then once you decide Developers flip the magic switch and you become a "Warrior", etc. Tabula Rasa players might recognize this as the branching specialization trees the game presented for instance. At each branch of development you made key choices which career path to follow and the game flipped the switches for you.

Take Guild Wars or Everquest 2. Ingame, NPC teachers teach ya about the different Classes and try to give you an idea of what choice would be best for you. GW went so far as to let you sample the Classes and then once you decided you become locked in to that choice or you could just choose to not pickup a Secondary altogether.

What I think would be optimal is not to force newbies to make any decisions at all. The gates can be opened naturally through gameplay. MMORPGs could try giving newbies a small set of powers from each discipline and then gradually observe the powers you enjoy using. As you progress through the game content, the game can slowly flip the gate switches.

If you got the concept you can stop reading right here. That's the concept. Havent seen it in either single player RPGs or MMORPG space full fledged. Everyone is so busy copying the shit out of each other original concepts usually just dont make it into mainstream products.


Okay the Breakdown:

Our hypothetical game has 5 Disciplines: Warrior, Fire, Water, Air, and Earth

At character creation you merely focus on designing your avatar and a Bio then bam you get dropped into the world with 2-3 powers from each discipline. The game observes how you use abilities and then slowly flips gate switches allowing you to dynamically build your own unique avatar. Perhaps a noob might become a combo of Warrior / Fire or a diverse mix of everything. The game could  silently adjust your avatar attributes to keep you naturally balanced mathematically (gamers can intervene of course and have a more direct hand in character development).

Anyway, since diminishing returns should of course be in play- you cant be uber in all disciplines. I'm not going to elaborate on diminishing retuns in this piece but to get an understanding of diminishing returns pull out your calculator and hit the Square Root button. The higher the number you put in, the less you get out. Diminishing returns.


Skill-Based mmorpgs --->

These titles are the closest to proper use of gated content however most still force newbies to make critical decisions at Character Creation. Crackdown xbox 360 was a great coop RPG that didnt force newbies to make critical decisions. I hope these devs bring this to All Points Bullentin as well (in which I think they confirmed they will) [download the free demo from Xbox Live] [Preview]

When Is the Grind Too Much?

Posted by vajuras Saturday March 29 2008 at 12:48PM
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MMORPG players I think is perhaps the only genre that complains about "Grinding" wholesale. I've been a bit bitchy too so not pointing fingers from a pedestal.

Let's be brief: When is Grinding Too Much? How can Game Developers tweak this mathematical property to be more enjoyable for us?

The responses will be different depending on the gamer's preference. PVPers enjoy quick ramp up in order to combat effectively on the battlefield.... PVE'ers feel the "grind" when the content gets too repetitive. Socalizers / role players seem too me to be happy as long as they have a good chat interface and friends to enjoy the game with (I'm raising my hand here I love being in a Guild I seek them out ASAP).

I think this problem is unique to mmorpg space because of the "global" ruleset. In a single player RPG, like Mass Effect, we usually don't feel any grind because we dont feel pressured to hit Max Level and there is a good storyline that keeps us going. In FPS, I dont feel pressured to hit Max Level because if I'm missing a few skills no big deal. In Guild Wars I've never felt pressured to hit max level post "Faction earning patch" because I could create an avatar at max level and unlock any skill from PVP.

There really is no magic button here. Without a bit of progression we might not feel like we're going through a "journey". Plus, progression can make effective use of "gating" slowly unlocking branches of development as you progress. That's a topic in itself that I'll cover later

Warhammer Online / Mythic anwser is to allow PVPers to pvp Day #1 and progress that way. That might work really well I think it might be fun for gamers that enjoy linear-type MMOs to really enjoy at launch. There might be a few risks here and there that is beyond the depth of this article but if they maintain a steady influx of new characters (whether rerolls or new blood coming in) I think they'll be okay. We will have to see though its not here yet....

I'm not too sure what to do about pure PVE'ers. I'm a mix myself. City of Heroes tried "Sidekicking" for PVE which works okay but because of the firm use of "Gated" content in CoX, sidekicks are still missing critical powers. So we never really brought nubs to high level content unless we were helping them level up (powerlevel to be frank).


No Progression MMORPG

Posted by vajuras Thursday March 27 2008 at 1:26AM
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Sorry for the spam these few days but Tatum inspired me to blog on this. I know I praise skill-based RPGs alot and might seem to condemn levels. But in reality, I'm more eager to see a "no" progression scheme.

In a "no" progression scheme you don't have to grind creatures for XP. You kill them for money perhaps or because they are in the way (like a critter).

I'm going to breakdown how I envision a "no" progression scheme MMO:

- Sandbox gameplay. This is the only model that can hope to support this. This means totally tossing away the model setup by WoW. Gasp yeah I said it there's nothing much we can take from it.

- Some linear gameplay. I hate quests the way they are now but I still feel they have immense, untapped potential. I'd have them however they will be much fewer in number but still contain an epic feel and nice aura of completion about them.

- Items are just "tools". Yeah I know this is a foreign concept for mainstream but not everyone lives and dies for virtual loot. All items should be viable here. Newbies can craft nice items.

- WYSIWYG Loot. What you see is what you get. You see an NPC guard wearing some fancy guns you'd like to have? Just kill him and take it. None of this BS where I cant loot what I see. Will take a lot of work to make this scheme work however. there can be a chance for random pieces too though like jewelry or slightly more durable armor (higher quality then normal)

- Classes. Screw Classes. Freeform, be anything you want but players will know what you can do perhaps visually. A really strong guy will be huge or want to wear really good protection. Mage types will have staffs. Classes is here in a way but way less restrictive.

- No raids. Well ever wondered why my blogs omit all mention of raiding? Cause I hate raiding. F--- dungeons. Yeah I said it, to hell with that. Instead, you work together with the community to build cities. PVE will all happen naturally and be fairly unique to the region you live in.

- Rich PVP everywhere. Yep, this is a niche MMO all the way. Focused entirely on PvEvP. dont want to get ganked? Better hire more guards to protect your lands. But I do adore you PVE types in EVE Online that loves to reduce your risks so I would toss you guys a few NPC run cities with guards. And you could enjoy great PVE there. But I might toss some carrots out there to lure you to player run city. But heck this a sandbox so you could just stay in 'governed' lands and hf.

- Faction vs Faction PVP + Friendly Fire. Successful FPS games like Call of Duty, Rainbow 6, Halo, etc all have friendly fire. It's also FFA all the way. You can make your own factions and go to war

- 100% Player created items but it will be done the old ways- like Classic UO pre-AoS. All items viable. Uber loot will be siege equipment

- Item decay, looting. Yep not up for debate (so please no whining about it). However, since I dont care for items too much anyway it might only be backpack looting because armor/weapons wont mean anything at all. Player skill ftw- not gear. The uber equipment is the siege equipment that takes an army to use.

- Positive and Negative Sum PVP. Players fight for land. Once land is owned cities can be built. Crafting will be handled totally different from this grind and grind to improve experience we have now. Boring things will be handled by NPC workers. You focus on the exciting parts. Even though looting is here it will also be possible to acquire all items via PVP within one fell swoop. PVP will be profitable. There will be objectives and riches you can earn via all PVP. PVP is my thing and thats all I'd focus on designing with sandbox PVE sprinkled in. I say let WoW be WoW. This would be different and nichey.

- Victory Conditions everywhere. No need for lame instancing we can have victory conditions all over the map. Entire NPC cities can change hands. Player run cities we can handle this many different ways and get a great player dependency relationship happening.

- Progression. Yeah screw that. You spawn with all skills you need based on a fully specced template. Want to be unique? Yeah then maybe there will a minor, fast ramp up to respec via a skill-based + XP system. Yep, I dont care if all you did was run errands and you respecced into a strong warrior. Not everyone wants to roleplay. But if you want to to roleplay, you can stick to 100% skill-based ftw. Freeform. Earn XP or quickly reskill via skill-based. Or hell, maybe I'd just say screw it let people respec at will. IT's a sandbox game after all, pure sandbox. Not a grinder....

Would you play this MMO? If you hate Sandbox games then I dont care anyway this game isn't for you but I'd be interested in sharing ideas with other sandbox gamers.....

Sandbox versus Linear Gameplay

Posted by vajuras Wednesday March 26 2008 at 11:54PM
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I'm going to write down some notes here from my observations from playing both gameplay styles fairly extensively in mmorpg space with friends.


Sandbox mmorpgs are so broad in their scope that self directed player activities flourish to new heights. If the game allows player invented professions and pure sandbox play- then we lose the "sports gaming" feel.

See, the advantages/disadvantages of World of Warcraft over Sandbox is very subtile. You might not notice unless you play both types of games with friends. In WoW, you are traveling through a narrow funnel. Your activites are focused towards earning XP first and foremost. But because your activities are sooo directed, you and your friends will do the same thing- grind Quests together, etc.

In a sandbox title, your activites might become a lot more broad. We lose the "sports gaming" funnel and become much more broad. Players tend to seek out their goals. The pure crafter types will simply craft, basically ignoring both PVE/PVP. The pvpers will leave the safe areas and venture out into risky terriority to make a name for themselves. The Achiever types are more likely to hit up PVE and perhaps also seek out PVP if thats where they perceive the greatest potential for wealth.

As you see, the main difference between the two styles of gameplay is that players are much more self directed. Give players the ability to become anything they want to really be then they will pursue their goals, perhaps only grouping with friends here and there for comaradie. In games like Everquest, we grouped with friends for survival and earning XP.


Patches / Expansions-

The patches we receive in EVE Online aren't content driven per se. Sure, they add some new Agent missions here and there, ships, and other elements but for the most part the patches add "toys". Also as we have noticed, they had time to pursue a graphical revision which most content driven MMOs dont have the man power to do (or perhaps it's just way too much content to revise in traditional mmorpgs).

Patches for Content Driven MMOs normally include new land masses, more gear (aka vertical progression), and just a plethora of content. The developers are sort of running up a mousewheel, no breaks. My artist friend that works at Blizzard was getting worked to the bone it seemed. Barely had time to hang out and kick it (and this was after TBC expansion).


Socialization -

Socializers thrive a bit better in sandbox games due to the loose barriers put inplace (lack of hard defined Levels). Grouping between veteran and newbie is actually possible in Sandbox games. I think sandbox games have the biggest potential to enrich social interaction bar none. Look at Second Life, its a role players / socializers dream.


Player Versus Player -

Sandbox games normally encourage freedom of choice and loosely defined boundaries. They also encourage living a virtual life. Since the restrictions and boundaries are loosely defined in sandbox titles, the pvp aspect emerges in almost every aspect of gameplay. As sandbox titles evolve, we see even more creative ways to remove hard defined boundaries and put in place more natural restrictions (like NPC guards that can be killed, etc).

Linear MMOs are moving in a different direction. They have discarded the virtual world feel and instead embrace Instancing, Arenas, Capture The Flag, etc. They are basically building rigid boundaries between PVE and PVP.


Player owned Lands and Housing -

Much more likely to emerge in a sandbox as we have already seen in the past. Sandbox games usually strive to allow players to impact the world around them versus Linear MMOs which sort of strive to provide the Illusion of Impact via Instances. Sandbox games usually avoid Instances and instead strive for fully populated worlds run by players.

EVE Online has went to the extent to provide only one server that all play on. Consequences can be dire and player Impact is common place.


Itemization -

Items have much more importance in Linear games. Your gear is a symbol of who you are, your player skill, and your accomplishments. In sandbox games, your items that you use are merely tools. In Classic Ultima Online, there wasnt a "number system" attached to items per se (pre-AoS). In EVE Online, your ship is merely a tool that any player can build for you. Most corps go so far as to provide Ship Replacement programs. In linear MMOs, you usually raid for the best gear. In Sandbox games, most items are player crafted

 Items are usally all somewhat viable in a sandbox rpg. Vets will still pilot a frigate (newbie ship) in EVE Online because its faster then a vet ship and cheaper. Thus, newbie crafters will find a market for their items because all items usually have some value

In a linear MMO, if all of our players are mid-high levels then obviously newbies usually find no market to sell their wares. Linear MMOs must cater to newbies to survive literally this way all levels will enjoy rich teaming and auctions.

 It's not hard to figure out we arrive at a self-balancing system in sandbox mmorpgs. Players will be loathe to wear their overpowered gear for every battle due to item decay / DP. In a linear MMO, I will always, always wear my best items. Since gear is another form of progression, my items in a linear MMO will give me X number of levels advantage making PVP a slaughter usually.


Economies -

Linear MMOs will pretty much always have poor economies that suffer Mudflation. Items are a symbol of who you are thus Developers are loathe to take that away. Items mean everything. Thus, linear MMOs are more subject to adding on more and more gear with each expansion. It's a never ending race for the best loot. World of Warcraft PVP is at Season 3 now. Each season adds new gear my friends tell me. For PVE, they are always adding new top end dungeons

Economy is a lot more important in a Sandbox mmorpg. EVE/CCP for instance has economists on staff. Player crafted goods is pretty much always a must for this system. Item decay also usually accompanies it. Players truly immersed in the universe realize that these items are merely just tools. However, players from Linear MMOs view items with much more importance and worship.

This is why Sandbox players and Linear players clash so much. The mindsets are totally different and we really dont have a whole lot of insight or information to share. Our gaming styles are completely different. What would work for a linear MMO would be a disaster in a sandbox usually. Vice versa.


Death Penalty -

Both types might include a death penalty to get a risk/reward system happening. In a sandbox MMORPG though, they are more likely to explain death and make it logical. In eve online, death is explained via clones. A harsh DP is more likely to emerge in a sandbox mmorpg in which is trying to pursue a more realistic economy. In a linear MMO- emphasis on economy is downplayed. The best gear is earned from dungeons and raids. Therefore, the need for a harsh DP is less sustained.


Player vs Environment -

This is much more emphasized in a linear MMO because this model strongly relies on the "carrot chase". Loot is just really another form of vertical progression. These types of games are also much more likely to pursue "Instant Gratification" and other material items.

PvE is much more emphasized here because Developers view "Levels" as somewhat counterproductive to PVP. The presence of Levels is what will cause the harsh division between PVE/PVP as well since newbie players are helpless

In a sandbox title, levels probably wont exist (Starport) or they pursue the motto "All items are created equal". So, a newbie in a sandbox game can partner up with other newbies and kill a vet like we see in EVE Online / Starport. In a linear MMO this just cant happen

There is no way for PVP to provide a rich experience in such a model without the heavy use of Instancing, Arenas, and other venues. PVP will more then likely be partitioned by Levels / Rank to keep the competition fair. Fairness, ironically, is what the goal is for linear MMOs.


Grouping -

Grouping can actually flourish much better in sandbox games. Due to the natural restrictions, there is not a hard rigid defined group limit. So the more the merrier. We have lost our "sports gaming" feel we have in Linear MMOs in which we can only bring a set number of players.

However, ironically, due to the heavy freeform nature grouping might actually take a hit. We lack the "funnel" traditional linear MMOs have. Activites are too broad. Crafters dont have to kill anything in a sandbox mmorpg. They can simply get a loan from a friend and start investing this capital into their venture. In a linear mmorpg, we are much more likely to see more grouping because the activites are so restricted and funneled.

This can be fixed for sandbox mmorpgs to an extent.


Paranoia -

Sandbox mmorpgs emulate virtual lives. Thus, the Rules of Engagement are in play. In EVE Online, I've never been on an op where they told us where we are going. You dont find out til you arrive at the destination.

In a linear mmorpg things are a lot less serious. Guilds are less suspicious of new players. They usually dont think the new player is a potential spy. In EVE Online, this is a constant worry making it tough for some players to find a home


Alternate Identities -

Sandbox games will normally not worry so much about giving players many slots to make an alt. Linear MMOs will always encourage the generation of "alts" (making multiple characters). This is their model. All levels must always have activity to present a healthy population. They can do fine if all pop is high level but rerolling would be lonely you see due to barriers between veteran and newbie

Thus, linear MMOs will always encourage alts. City of Heroes gave rewards once you reached highest level and allowed you an exclusive new race. World of Warcraft I hear will do the same shortly. This is their model....

Sandbox mmorpgs, due to barriers between vet and newbie being loosely defined, suffer much less from this problem. Thus, they normally dont worry so much about alts. EVE Online provides only 3 slots and most players only use 2 at best. City of Heroes has bout 9 slots and World of Warcraft offers a lot of slots as well.



Tactical Retreat

Posted by vajuras Wednesday March 26 2008 at 10:10AM
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I think finding the right balance between giving players the option to make contingency plans and the freedom for that to be taken away is a tough line. I think right now in MMORPG space most games are at the extreme (too easy to escape vs too hard to leave a battle).

I think the main thing we need is for the ability to survey the battlefield and compute our chances of success before engaging in a battle. If its a battle I cant hope to win- then yes I believe it might benefit the players to have an exit strategy. However, escape itself should be a fine art- not something so easily done. And escape should really only be an option *before* engagement has been initiated.

One thing I really thinks get in the way of making contingency plans is 'Stealth'. If players can outright hide in plain view, then this disables pvper's ability to properly analyze the battlefield and make tactical decisions. On the other hand, we also can really use some form of stealth to a degree. It opens up a lot of tactical options for players.

I'm still not sure how to classify EVE Online. Sometimes it appears its almost impossible to make a tactical assestment due to Stealth and Warp Scrambling. Once you get scrambled you're locked down and must fight it out. If you decide to make the call and instruct your gang to flee, then chances are some members will be lost. It's a fine line but I'm thinking EVE Online nailed this one better then most.

In World of Warcraft and it's ilk, Stealth is crazy overpowered. You can hit stealth in the middle of a fight and pretty much escape at will. Another problem stealth can present, if I cannot find the pirates that has just been killing my friends then I cannot enforce order. Stealth allows players to pick fights they can win utterly if not balanced quite right. But on the other hand there are games like City of Heroes where players can acquire loads of +perception thus making Stealth nearly useless in high level pvp.

In the end, I still think FPS games and other genres still have probably the best PVP because Stealth is based on "player skill". If I think a stealthed player is near me in Battlefield 2142 for instance, I can shoot them. They are merely hard to see and it works very nice I play a Recon in that title.

What's even more disturbing is games where its too easy to escape an unfavorable encounter. In City of Heroes, it almost felt like you were fighting cowards 95% of the time. I had to design my build intentionally so I could catch any player on foot to finish them off. People will take off as soon as their health starts to get pretty low. I think these are the situations we want to avoid. Make it unfavorable to escape from a fight you've engaged in. There might be a few different approaches that can be applied. In EVE Online, you'll be Warp scrambled at the begining of an encounter making escape impossible. That's effective but boy does it hurt being on the receiving end of that.

Off hand, I must say I drastically prefer EVE Online approach over most any other title. I'd rather die over and over when my "space" is being blockade by warp scrams rather then having to chase cowards around the map. This makes professions viable such as blockade breakers (yep theres ship designed for this), Recons, and suicide pilots.

It's really a fine line designing PVP titles. There is really so many little things to look out for.

Travel Times Part 2: Buy/Sell Orders

Posted by vajuras Tuesday March 18 2008 at 1:11AM
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I feel kind of bad, I have splintered my friends almost right down the middle. Before they were happy naive gamers, somewhat content with grinding out Levels and being pigeon holded into a personality the Developer told them to be. Slowly, I've been picking them off one-by-one, making them leave their friends behind to raid alone in their deep, dark dungeons to argue over who gets their next Epic item.

Sometimes I feel kind of bad, I recognize that new zeal in their eyes now. Yep, they're addicted to EVE Online and I'm amazed how fast they've gotten hooked with my firm guidance... I feel like a Dark Jedi master of a sort using the Force to mold them into productive Gallente (EVE Online race we all play).

Anyway, we have a hardcore raider (WoW). He's the only roleplayer/vet I've given up hope to seduce to EVE. One day he was complaining about how the Auction House doesn't allow World of Warcraft players to create Buy/Sell Orders. Darn, I think to myself I've taken that feature almost for granted in EVE Online. I just cant even imagine an MMO without this...

I say nothing though. I simply log into EVE Online, click on the Market tab, and he's simply speechless. Everything he was griping about was right there in EVE Online and flawlessly implemented complete with graphs, average market rates, and big huge letters "Buy/Sell Orders". He's stunned. And this guy can talk about WoW for many hours I lie to you not....

I then question him, "Why can't Blizzard do this?" No response for a few minutes. Then he finally replies, "I guess they are trying to keep the game simple for their players." He won't be playing EVE Online but I think he walked away with a huge amount of respect for the title and CCP.

Those that play EVE Online know what I'm talking bout. In EVE, players can create 'buy orders' in which indicate the pricepoint they wish to purchase an item. Many times, this is probably half the price of the average market price of the good in question. See, this is a metagame in itself- EVE's economy. If you know the market and understand the driving forces, then you realize how pure human nature comes into play. Due to the travel times in EVE Online, many players will pay more for an item if it saves them a trip. So I advised my Trader friend to create 'Sell Orders' at different regions with high prices for items.

At other regions, I told my friend to create 'buy orders' for items at a low, low pricepoint. PVE'ers, etc will sometimes sell items to you for a low discount rate because they need ISK right now.

"Why in the World would anyone sell it to me for Cheap and get screwed," he exclaims excited with that sharp business tycoon instinct already computing how much he's going to make and how to track the localized economies. 

I tell him CCP are experts at economy. Players that are not adept at Trading can only make a small number of Sell Orders. Before you begin to post blah blah that sucks I'd challenge you to try the game yourself. You probably wont even be inconvinced by the order limit. If you are and you are not wise, then you wont realize that this creates a marvelous opportunity to make ISK

This guy (newbie) has made a lot of ISK for himself within 1 week and hopefully will make a fortune soon.

"Vajuras Long Distance Travel sucks and its not fun!"

Meh, tell that to our wallets. When I travel to new sectors in EVE Online I wonder how can make ISK. PErhaps there is rare minerals around the corner. Perhaps there is a fortune in Hacking to be made. Perhaps there will be a huge war and plenty of ship wrecks with millions of ISK for the taking. Perhaps I'm traveling with my corp and we will come across a vast new terriority that will make a great place to setup a new operation. Perhaps we will find our enemies hideout and can plan an op to take them down.


Long Travel Times, Rez Spot PVP, and Victory Conditions

Posted by vajuras Sunday March 16 2008 at 3:10PM
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I think I'm going to try my hand at another thought provoking series. I noticed in my previous blog entry a lot of players complained about Long Travel Times in MMOs. I feel ya guys. It can be tedious I know going from Point A to Point B. It can be harder to put together groups (hence why City of Heroes had Teleport Friend and World of Warcrafts has many ways to instant teleport).

Yeah I know, you hate long travel times. But my aim here is to explain why certain games can benefit from them.

Point A: Long Travel Times is a A Great Death Penalty Even by Itself

Say in our hypothetical game players fight over rez spots. It's a Faction Based title. So, Nation A will by default own all the rez spots in their area. If their enemies (other Nations/Factions/Guilds) want to attack they can. But they must takeover the rez spots. If the bad guys want to invade our area they are perhaps free to march all the way to our capital but if they are slain, they will be bounced ALL THE WAY back to their Faction area where they own a rez spot. So then the goal is for the attackers to push their boundaries and takeover the rez spots as they march towards our capital. Now we have great PVP that even Casuals will adore because if they want great PVP, they can show up at the frontlines and defend it.

As you can see, such a server would have Natural Victory Conditions. When a griefer is slain, they get bounced back all the way to their faction area. Perhaps this can be a long 1-2 hour trip. Our lowbies and anti-PKs, if they are slain they can come right back as long as their 'faction' owns the local rez spot. The rez spots in such a title would be critical to both PVE/PVP ventures. Here we have good PVP with great Victory Conditions all over the World itself (rich Open FvF)

Now, if our defenders lose the local rez spot to the attackers, then upon death they will be bounced out to the nearest rez spot. Perhaps this other rez spot is about a 20 minute hike. So now our attackers can enjoy victory. King of the Hill.

There, this idea is soooooo simple and is just something off the top of my head that will give us a nice solid, Victory Condition.


Point B: Localized Economies

If fairly long range travel is in play then localized-region based economies will emerge. Goods will perhaps have more value at fringe areas. Please forgive me but I will use EVE Online as an example here. In EVE, a good like Warp Scrambler might only be worth $16k in Empire space. But in 0.0 (player owned space), you can sell this same good for $100k because the warriors on the frontlines are getting killed left & right. So they will need constant supplies to resupply their war effort. Imagine, even a title that lacks item decay / item looting can still arrive at good PVP. But perhaps this good might be a consumable more then likely like materials to build siege weapons (I think in Age of Conan siege weapons can be destroyed for example).

Real Life works this way as well. Certain goods, like GAS, might only be worth $3 in your region. But in other areas GAS is worth much more. 

Note, I think open skill-based titles might benefit from localized economies a bit more because they allow pure Trader professions. Mass Market titles are usually Class based and thus their aim is to funnel 'sports gaming' type of activities. So I'm not really thinking about sports games in this article here but rather, sandboxy type of titles that offer a huge variety of player invented professions.


Point C: Makes Worlds Feel Bigger

The developers of Elder Scrolls I think commented they wanted to remove horses from their virtual world for their expansion Shivering Isles (someone let me know if I'm wrong). They said they wanted the world to feel bigger by making travel a little slower. You will perhaps read posts by old EQ1 players that longer travel times gave more opportunites to players to make friends, etc. I remember reading Paragus1 blog on this subject which also elluded to the same.

Richard Bartle, the father of MUDs, wrote a great article here and he writes about Travel Times:(linky

He also explains why Long Travel Times has been optimized out of current MMOs of today. Apparently, he hints that Veterans will appreciate long travel times more then newbies. I'm not trying to call all you Casual players out there newbies but I am saying the average newbie will of course be pissed off by long travel times. In EVE Online, I've noticed my friends that are vets from Trade Wars, Pen and Paper, etc are fine with the travel times in EVE. But I have a friend that just plays console games (pure newbie) that of course finds EVE way too slow paced. Won't even make it through the tutorials.

Anyway, I think this a big difference between Veterans and Newbies. Vets from EQ1 days, etc appreciate Long travel Times. Newbies, they just wont see the benefit. I can understand both sides because I play games of both types concurrently. So I enjoy both to an extent. Anyway, hoped I explained why Long Travel Times alone can be good albeit my examples are short.

EVE Online: Preparing to Hijack....

Posted by vajuras Wednesday March 12 2008 at 1:21PM
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I've finally done it. I've managed to persuade several of my friends to leave their linear MMOs behind and join me in EVE Online. For each friend, they had pretty much different concerns and interests.

Friend A:

He's a huge graphics nut. He has to have great looking graphics. The new trinity patch in EVE Online was an easy sell. Also, he hates playing games by himself. He's huge into coop. I persuaded him to join me in EVE Online because I carefully described there is no huge discrepancy between veteran and newbie. Even though I am many months ahead of him, he can still join me in both PVP / PVE missions and make meaningful contributions. Because the barrier known as 'Levels' doesnt really rear its ugly head in EVE we can enjoy each other's company versus Level based games I was ahead way ahead of him because I played a bit more.

Friend B:

Long time roleplayer. Like friend A, he hated playing games like World of Warcraft because everyone else was way ahead of him. I convinced that in EVE Online he doesnt have to worry bout that nonsense. We got his back if he gets jumped because we will be right beside him. There is no levels to seperate us and force us into different areas.... No raiding, none of that nonsense.

Friend C:

Really into economy. This was an easy sell. EVE Online has real economists ON STAFF. I also explained to him even though in EVE Online there is uber equipment like Titans no one is gonna be stupid and lose it in any fight. Due to harsh death penalties pvp is somewhat self regulating. Sold. He's signed up and is now eagerly awaiting the Servers to come backup!

He also loves skill-based games. So I kept asking him how could he be happy with being to bound to one role that a developer created for him? In pen and paper that we play its usually always skill-based and they allow us to experiment with any role. And he never lasts long in linear based MMOs anyway. He keeps trying to go back to WoW but never makes it past level 40.


Friend D & E:

These two guys are hardcore into PVP. They're not interested in being a ship. Havent gotten him to breakdown yet but I will make one final push tonight to get him to convert. I suspect the allure of earning loot from PVP will push his buttons in the right way. He realizes he's on an endless treadmill in World of Warcraft for gear. Think he's on Season 3 arena gear.


I'm pretty happy I will have a nice small gang to venture into 0.4 with me to do my missions and gank. Once all of them get their first kill and see how pvp isnt pointless in EVE Online like all the other MMOs whereas the victim comes running right back they will be hooked I am sure. I just need to persuade my friends D & E to give it a try. I'll probably tell them about the upcoming avatar (ambulance patch) and maybe that'll help them adjust. They are used to having like 50 abilities on their screen though so it's going to be tough to get him adjust to the idea of being bound by a ship in EVE Online.

But at least I have 3 friends secured in the space of 2 days...

Why do MMORPG players love unbalanced Factions?

Posted by vajuras Monday March 10 2008 at 11:40PM
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I have read so many posts where people wish to see different Factions with totally different Classes for replayability and the lore. This must sound so romantic and great for roleplay to players.

And yet- it all falls down when it hits the players hands. Recall, Static Class based games suffer from huge envy problems. Trust that players will analyze the math in the background and compute the mathematical differences between Factions.

For most any mmorpg with unbalanced factions you'll hear how unbalanced the PVP is. I kid you not- this is the ONLY genre that has unbalanced factions. Blizzard best decision ever was to share the Classes for PVP. Of course the pvpers still whine about the maps being asymetrical... Funny how pvpers complain about every little imbalance?

Think about fighting games like Street Fighter. At anytime I can switch between Ken and Ryu. I am not stuck playing Ryu cause all my friends choose his faction. No, I can switch anytime and optimize. Sure, maybe all the fighters are viable in their own way but if its not then trust me I can choose the best 'Class' (aka Fighter)

Take RTS games like Starcraft, Warcraft 3, Supreme Commander- take your pick. If I suck with a Race I can SWITCH anytime.

Every other genre PVPers can optimize their team compositions by picking from the best. There will always be a superior build, a superior power, a Flavor of the Month, etc. I dont care there is always balance issues unless everything is exact same (symmetrical pvp). Only way to self-balance this is to allow pvpers to choose the most optimal builds.

This is why many of us love Free-For-All PVP or at least games where I can ally/unally with any faction I choose or what Blizzard has done- make all Factions pretty much equal. Any 3 works for me....

Anyway it always warms my belly to see so many mmorpg pvpers being hell bent on having totally different factions and how much choices they have. Then after they get into the MMO they want to scream how unbalanced the factions are.

On one hand asyemetry can be good. If I win a fight against all odds then that will give my avatar major bragging rights. But ultimately, these imbalances can kill PVP because the 'other' faction has the most viable choices for PVP. Eventually we might see what I want to forever term as the 'City of Heroes Syndrome' whereas most pvper rolls on the 'blue' side so that they can have the most viable avatar for PVP. Now the 'red' side is totally outnumbered in the PVP zones. Ouch!

How Can Open PVP fix Static Classes (PVP)?

Posted by vajuras Monday March 10 2008 at 11:11PM
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Earlier I covered Static Classes and there problems with PVP- which is a dynamic activity that Classes are somewhat ill-suited to handle. In real life, there is normally overlap. Engineers in the Aerospace Industry for example are taught over and over again to develop redundant systems and fail safes. That way if one system breaks one of our redundant systems can activate. Engineers are of course trying to anticipate every possible error that can occur and reduce their risks (managers at NASA for instance term this as a Risk Assestment).

In mmorpg space, Classes are somewhat inflexible. In most mmorpg, Warriors are pretty much screwed when confronted by a Mage. This isnt so bad because we're not balanced for 1 versus 1 fights anyway. But if a team of Mages were to fight a Team full of Warriors you see the problem

But there is a simple solution that most mmorpgs have had for many years. I was expecting someone to point this out in my previous entry. Open PVP.

When there is open pvp players can actually optimize their team configurations if they have an "alt" (Alternate Identity). The ability to log onto an alt will allow a team to be able to dynamically adjust to a losing situation.

I was unhappy with my Static Classes article because I failed to point that out. I was mainly focusing on the problems Static Class based games face when they present Battlegrounds content. I really wanted to point out Class based titles should really encourage alts. Dark Age of Camelot I have heard made it much easier to bring up an alt. In City of Heroes we received no such bonus however it was so easy to get an alt up to level 30 for Siren's Call it wasn't so bad. In EVE Online, our alts are our ships.

I think the solution is simple really. Make it easier for players to swap to an alternate role. You can still make them wait but instead of sending them back to the Main UI allow us simply to switch ingame if applicable. Maybe thats a crappy idea but hopefully you feel me.

But if the game is focusing on Battleground / Instances that make pvpers wait in a line to join the fight then you see the issue friends. If I want to get on my alt then I lose my spot in the Instance. Developers (at least Blizzard) should perhaps consider transporting the alt directly into Battlegrounds if logged unto. This way pvpers can optimize their team compositions on-the-fly

Repeat: PVE does not have this problem. Their content is static. All challenges is transparent and known after a few runs through (for the first few guilds before the strategies hit the web).

Now some of you might see why I seemed upset when I found out the Age of Conan developers were adding Capture the Flag. If its implemented with no thought to Team optimization then I forsee a slaughter 24/7 for pubbies when even the least of pvp guilds join (Assumption).

This reminds me- this is why I always have said (Guild Wars) knows their stuff! They dont allow Guilds to fight against PUBs. Even if you somehow cheat the system and create an uber team for the pubbie (public) arenas you'll get bounced out to Hall of Heroes. Brilliant. But of course they dont have different factions but its a good solution to for instanced content.

Why do MMORPG players love Pointless PVP?

Posted by vajuras Sunday March 2 2008 at 11:25PM
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Other day I tossed out an idea for Age of Conan FFA PVP Server. I was trying to point out that a server without death penalties kinda blow. But the way my story was phrased my point wasn't too clear

Anyway in this blog I want to briefly focus on why I think PVP servers without Death penalties kind of suck.

One player phrased this issue very well:

"Death penalty matters not. Its all about fun. If PvP is fun, people will play."

I would anwser this as a yes-no. In mmorpg space, people usually don't engage in PVP unless they get a reward. In City of Heroes, the PVP zones were always kind of deserted (no rewards). In World of Warcraft, PVP became a LOT more popular when Honor system was introduced. World PVP surged to new heights. All of a sudden, players came from everywhere. But then Battlegrounds came and then World PVP took a nose dive.......

See, a lot of people think PVP is pointless. Why? Well because they lack Victory Conditions. In FPS, table top, cards, chess, checkers, RTS, sports, or ANY other genre we have Victory Conditions. Wars end. In mmorpg space when there is no DP (death penalty), wars go on forever and ever. Players fight like immortal gods. There is no conclusion. No victory. World of Warcraft added Battlegrounds as the anwser which is a portal into an FPS of sorts. That works in a way but now World PVP is dead.....

But what about World PVP? Well there is a reason Blizzard is pulling players into Battlegrounds. It's much easier to enforce victory conditions there when you have NO DEATH PENALTY

In games with a Death penalty like eVE Online wars see a logical conclusion. When pirates assault our base and when we kill them they dont rez. They say, "gg bro". The reason why is because they are looking at up to an hour trip back to our terriority plus they have lost valuable resources. Victory Condition. The winners own the top of the hill and the losers are all dead.

Imagine a long conflict between two Guilds. One Guild keeps killing the other over and over and taking their resources. What do you think will happen? The losing Guild will be forced into surrending. Sometimes they will try to make peace, merge, or pay a tribute to YOUR guild. Victory Condition.

In Starport players earn XP for killing others, doing quests/missions, and a tiny bit for killing NPCs. But what nets you big XP is taking over enemy planets, stealing assets from other players, and of course scoring a big kill. Victory Condition. That is good PVP.  At the end of the era, the server even announces a WINNER. Needless to say Starport has a harsh DP on all the servers. Any player owned assets can be stolen or destroyed at anytime whether you'rte online or not. Makes no difference. Your ship can be destroyed at anytime / anywhere and all cargo is forfeit. Item decay is in play as well.

Anything else is -POINTLESS-. Player looting can get us there. Long travel times can get us there. Item decay alone can help get us there. Hell, exiling the freakin' victim from an area that is being sieged can get us there. Hell even in Guild Wars players cant be rezzed unless a player helps you. No self rezzing. I understand why mmorpgs cant do this but come on its not hard tossing out examples here

In every other genre we have Victory Conditions. For some reason MMORPG is the ONLY genre where players think its okay to fight all night long pointlessly. Screw that. I'm too old for that crap. I want to get my fight on, get my rewards, and go to bed.

Looking forward I am glad the Age of Conan developers agree with me. Border Kingdoms will feature Keep battles and fighting over player controlled terriority. So at least Border Kingdoms PVP looks promising on paper! Warhammer Online will have Victory Conditions all over the place for sieging captial cities and so forth. This too, looks like a good move on paper!

FFA PVP Without Consequences (Age of Conan mumblings)

Posted by vajuras Saturday March 1 2008 at 10:53AM
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There is one type of FFA PVP Server many pvpers don't want to play on and that's an FFA PVP server without consequences. In the absence of a death penalty its just plain senseless and rampant griefing.

When I wrote my earlier article on FFA PVP I was thinking about a server that has a Death penalty.

I was posting in Age of Conan forums here about why a harsh DP can be good. This is the illustation I gave:

Imagine an FFA server without consequences for griefing (killing helpless lowbies). There is a high level named Screw. Screw is bored so he goes to the lowbie leveling areas where there is plenty of activity. Screw begins to idly start killing the low level players to his heart content. No one can stop him because Levels are in play (he's Level 80 they are Level XXX). The anti-PKs finally arrive they easily dispatch Screw. After about 20 minutes they don't see Screw anymore so they leave. Screw was hiding all this time and now that the anti-PKs are gone he can renew his killing spree.

This is what happens when there is no death penalty. The bad guys can just keep killin' and killin'. This is BAD, our victims will surely outnumber the Killers. It only takes one Killer to make everyone's life hell


Now rewind that story and imagine what would happen if the game made griefers FULLY Lootable. Imagine a game somewhat like Lineage 2 but refined so that the victim cannot be looted. However, if you are the attacker, you turn red. You are freely lootable.

Imagine that above story now. Screw goes to lowbie areas and kills all the lowbies. The anti-PKs arrive (high level players) and easily dispatch Screw. Because Screw was a 'red' he can now be fully looted. Screw is now crushed and goes to the forums screaming about the injustice how the anti-PKs jumped him and looted him clean. Justice was served

Now there are some minor logistics. For this type of ruleset you should allow Guilds to declare war on other guilds. The idea is to protect the Casuals against harm. This is a ruleset nearly everyone can kind of enjoy. World of Warcraft has taught us "pvpers will follow the loot". This means they will swarm PVP that gives them rewards. Jumping a lowbie in this ruleset is not profitable. But if you declare war on other war-like guilds it is profitable

This is why people want consequences. This is a simple system that the Age of Conan developers should consider I think for their FFA PVP server. Age of Conan looks great graphically and many of their ideas are really solid. With some refinement on the FFA PVP server it could become truly legendary

I suppose there are many other punishments like loss of pvp experience and stuff like that. So that might work well too. I look forward to AoC

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