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Hardcore gamer, casual time.

I'm longtime MMORPG player and hardcore raider. But as the story goes, somewhere along the road real life kicks in and gaming hours start to dwindle fast. This blog are part of my search for a new home in the MMO landscape.

Author: Otrantor

How to create a casual MMO for hardcore gamers.

Posted by Otrantor Sunday February 28 2010 at 8:46AM
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I started this blog about two months ago with several intentions. I wanted to talk about what I'm missing in the current MMORPGs and what type of game I would like to see developed. I also wanted to engage in some discussion and bounce my ideas around.

The most important part of the whole discussion is that I'm not trying to change the classic MMORPG. As a former hard-core raider, I simply asked myself the question: What type of online game would I wanna play? And is it available on today's market? And the answer is no!

I think my main issue boils down to one particular dilemma I personally face with today's MMORPG: I'm a hardcore gamer with the playing time of a casual player, and somehow I find it hard to reconcile these two. I made some analysis of the classic MMORPG in the previous blogpost, but thanks to the comments and to the very interesting discussion we had on the MMORPG forums, I would like to tie up some loose ends, make some revisions and make a summary.

There are so many things I love in MMORPGs, so to me it seems obvious to use this genre as a baseline for the game I would like to play. I love reputation and diplomacy, I love tradeskilling and trading, I love interacting and helping out people. I love exploring and showing off new gear and titles. I love looking around AHs for new gear or going into small dungeons with a couple guildies or friends to kick ass. These are the things I really appreciate the game... and I'm by no means trying to take them out of the game.

I simply want to play a game where I know all content is realistically available to me as a player with short amounts of playing time. To achieve this I would make a couple key changes in the game dynamics of the classic MMORPG.

1. The entire removal of multi-party raiding (the final stage or current endgame of the classic MMORPG).

I'm still convinced that this change would force developers to rethink and redesign the endgame of a MMORPG. To me raiding and casual play are hard to reconcile. This is a whole discussion even of itself, but there are no MMORPGs that I know off where someone with a limited amount of playing time can successfully take part in a raid within the first month the content went live.

2. The endgame would revolve around both single player encounters and small group challenges.

This is another issue, I have with classic MMORPG. Solo endgame content is rarely available, while this is exactly an opportunity to let individual skill and commitment shine through. I would love to see a game where you can log on and engage in a tough solo instance that reaps nice rewards or rare tradeskill items. By no means should solo instancing diminish the interaction in a MMO. I think, if designed well, it can greatly contribute to the community.

Thanks to the insight of the board discussions, I can see how small group encounters can be introduced in an endgame designed for players with limited time. If the groups are kept small and managerial nuisances (finding group members, long travel time, long clearing times) can be eliminate, this would greatly appeal to me.

3. Individual achievement must rated and rewarded on par with group efforts.

It's a no brainer that both these elements of the endgame would be rated equally. Group efforts should in general not give better rewards than individual exploits.

4. All content (both items and exploration) must be available in short playing sessions.

Again this is key to the appeal of the game and ties in with the motives of the changes proposed above.

Clearly there are other things I would love to see developed more, but these are as valid to MMORPG as the game genre I'm discussing above. A tradeskilling system and economy that brings the community more together. A good diplomacy and reputation system reflecting your personal choices. More individualization in the sense of character prestige and wardrobe. etc.

I hope this post rounds up the discussion up until now, again all questions are welcome and feel free to react with comments or engage in the forum discussion.

The List: 5 MMORPG travel lessons

Posted by Otrantor Thursday February 4 2010 at 9:53PM
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On September 16th 2009, I embarked on a 10 month trip through Central and South America. I'd been looking forward to this day for over a year and gladly boarded the plane heading for Mexico City. I left many things behind, but gained far more instead. I've been on the road with my girlfriend for about 5 months now, and I'm still loving every minute of it.

Before I left I was quite an avid gamer, and I must admit that after going 100 days+ without playing an MMO... I kinda miss it. Nevertheless, in good MMORPG.com tradition I decided to put together a list together... 5 things a traveler can learn from a gamer (or vice versa).

1. Guard your possessions!

Being PK'ed or dying in just that one bad spot, can cost you dearly in an MMO. Everyone knows you leave big stacks of cash (preferable with some backup gear) where it belongs ... in the bank. In some more recent games... *cough* Darkfall *cough*... it turned venturing out naked might actually be the wiser thing to do. If only these Swedish girls in Nicaragua played Darkfall, they might just not have taken their camera, Ipod and passport to the beach. Needless they got PK'ed... lesson learned.

2. Diversify your activities.

After volcano nr. 6, Maya site nr 20 or Waterfall nr 101, it is rather refreshing to go rafting or heck even birding. You need to diversify things you do to keep your travels interesting and fun. Sometimes it's better to skip something and leave it for another place and time, you might just enjoy it more then. And in MMORPGs it's not very different. You see so many people just grinding and grinding those levels and rats, that you actually wonder if they are still enjoying the game. Nothing's more fun than to diversify. Mix up leveling with some crafting, questing, socializing, AH searching, You just might like grinding a bit after a while.

3. Capture the moment.

This one is actually kinda silly, but I think it has some merit. If there is one thing I do far too much while traveling and rarely do while gaming, it's taking pictures. Not only that but I blog pretty much weekly and inform my friends regularly of my whereabouts and adventures through twitter and facebook. Yet when I'm out there in MMO-land, I only take screenshots by accident and I'm quite shy to share my adventures with others. Maybe when I get back, I should make a habit of cataloguing my virtual achievements too. :)

4. Sometimes you need to solo/group.

This one can go both ways. Seeing as I travel with my girlfriend, I'm never really alone. I'm always in a group so to say. But sometimes you just need to get out there by yourself. Solo a bit and go out exploring alone. In MMORPGs I'd the opposite, I prefer playing solo and group whenever needed. I think both have their pro's and cons, but you need to do both cause ways of gaming/traveling provide a different view and experience.

5A. Traveling is part of the game, enjoy it.

Too often we meet people on the road that consider the journey from point A to point B as nothing more as inconvenience. They'll pay 50 dollars and take a Ticabus (long-ride luxury busses) anywhere. When there in the city, taxi's are the answer to everything and walking is something you only do in National Parks. Well sometimes it pays to take that local chicken bus or to go for that short walk searching for a good restaurant. Some story goes for MMORPGs. I've seen the evolution in games like Everquest where getting from Faydark to Freeport used to be a tedious boat ride before it got turned it a one click TP. I'm not saying this a bad evolution, but traveling the long way does add to the fun sometimes. You just might run into a new quest, a wandering bossmob or a 'friend you never met'. :)

5B. Traveling is part of the game, enjoy it.

Our end destination of our trip is five months away, when we hopefully arrive in Buenos Aires to hop on the plane back home. The joy of traveling isn't arriving there, it's in trying to get there. That final ding isn't something to celebrate, it is something you should dread to happen!

Any advise I missed on the list? Feel free to leave a comment, or hit bump if you enjoyed the read.

An opportunity for innovation: The Casual Endgame

Posted by Otrantor Friday January 22 2010 at 4:28PM
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Last time I took a look at how the start and middle game of a single player oriented MMO would look. This time I´ll cut to the very core why the creation of a MSORPG would counter some of the current weaknesses of the classic MMORPG.

  1. It is impossible to take a shot at ALL the content without an organized guild.
  2. It is very hard to start playing a game that has been released over 2 years ago. Especially if you want to accomplish number 1.
  3. The classic endgame is often simply boring for a player with irregular and shorter periods of time on his hands.

I want to clear up one important argument that could be used in favor of the classic MMORPG. Often people will claim that even in today´s MMORPG it possible for individuals to tackle high end content and in succeeding so gain a great sense of achievement and respect. I agree with this, but it´s quite clear that the content they manage to vanquish was never designed to be beaten by a single player. Often the content being solo'd has been surpassed by new expansions and can hardly be claimed to be the 'current' end game, or the player uses skills or faults in the game in clever or tricky way to gain an unforeseen advantage.

When I speak of Soloable endgame, I speak specifically about content designed for an individual player, independent of his class or skill set. In the current MMORPG landscape these types of encounters are far and in between and rarely provide rewards comparable to guild efforts.

Imagine a endgame where managing to overcome difficult and hard challenges on your own reap great rewards, titles and respect. They give you reputation benefits and access to unique items. Exchanging information about how to conquer encounters and trading items, found during your adventures, drives the interaction between different players. Guilds are formed based on personal merit and crafting communities buy and sell rare tradeskill items from individual adventurers. People can be loners or active members of guilds where you are judged on your personal skills and contributions. Now this is the type of game I would want to play, even if the game is a couple years old, because I know that if 'm playing alone during those opening stages of the game, I will catch up with the rest and join an active community of players. Nowadays if you start on an old server you are either alone or surrounded by twinks... neither of which appeal to me.

I took a look at the new batch of MMORPGs in store for 2010... as to gameplay and in particularly to the way the end game is handled, I'm not seeing to many innovations. And it is exactly in this stage where I think the key lies to retaining your player-and subscriptionbase.

What tweeks would you make to the current endgame scenario, being highly organized guilds tackling multigroup content, to make the game more attractive for the casual gamer?

The hidden strength of MMORPG: Solo play

Posted by Otrantor Thursday January 14 2010 at 6:31PM
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The aim of this blog is to explore the creation of a new type of online gaming experience based on the classic MMORPG but geared at the solo adventurer. In my last post I proposed three drastic changes to the classic MMORPG.

  • The entire removal of multi-party raiding (the final stage of the classic MMORPG).
  • All content (both items and exploration) must be available to a single character.
  • Individual achievement must rated and rewarded higher than group efforts.

Clearly these changes have a huge impact on a MMORPG, but they by no means remove some of the traditional features that made me love mmorpgs in the first place. I think there is still room for guilds, crafting, rankings, epic quests, factions, ... Some might actually become more interactive or give you a higher sense of proud and achievement in the game.

So how would your character progress through a MSORPG? How does gameplay look like as you are making you way through the starting and mid-level stages of the game?

For starters... not a whole lot different. As I outlined the different stages in both MMORPG and MSORPG you noticed in my previous post that stage 1 is pretty much unchanged. Personally, I like the first weeks of playing in newly released MMO. From the perspective of an independent gamer, they usually keep me entertained tremendously.

  • I truly enjoyed playing the first tiers in Warhammer Online, often finding myself going back to early tiers in other parts of the world. The cooperative quests in every region of the world were great to learn new people without having to go through the ordeal of making new groups. (Granted you couldn't finish all three stages solo)
  • I liked exploring SWG and setting up the various mining stations and working solo on my tradeskilling. Or becoming the top jeweler on my server in EverQuest and slowly gaining name recognition through tradeskilling.
  • LotR even kept me busy once I hit the upper 40 levels and gave me a great epic questline that rarely required me to find a group.

Classically, as you level up the number of group quests in your logbook gradually grows and downtime when soloing slowly starts to increase. It is at this stage that some tweeks could be made to make the game more attractive to the individual player. One change would be lowering the maximum number of people possible in a group to 3. This would make creating groups easier and make groupcontent accessible to more skilled and better equipped solo players. This move would have a fundamental impact on the way skills are distributed among the different classes. I'll go into this in a later post.

Another tweek would be the creation of individual challenges. The fairly recent addition of instances to MMORPG, while mostly catered to smaller groups, do offer solo players nowadays an occasional challenge. In LotR the solo instances for instances were often part of the epic questline and usually aimed at story telling and fairly easy, but I believe that this type of environments is the ultimately key to a successful MSORPG.

The main aim of this stage of the game is to give the player a chance to get himself buffed up enough to start trying the true endgame of the MSORPG. How this stage would look like I will discuss in my next post.

Revising the classic MMORPG

Posted by Otrantor Wednesday January 6 2010 at 1:09PM
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This is the second blog entry of a lonely, former hardcore gamer wandering aimlessly from game to game trying to find a new home. Click here to here to read the first post.

Classically MMORPGs tend to follow a similar pattern. They usually go through three different stages and as you gain skill or levels the focus gradually shifts to a different type of game play.

  1. Solo: You can pretty much play alone. You will miss out on some topnotch lower tier items and boss encounters. But you know those aren't vital to your progression within the game.
  2. Group: You are reaching the later stages of character development. Gaining experience starts to go much faster in a group and without a group you are missing out on very decent gear that significantly increases your strength.
  3. Guild: You hit the stage where you are max level and skill. You're only real progression now lies in joining a skillful guild to gain access to new items.

The problem isn't the fact that there is a change in game play or a shift in the way your skills/character are used. The problem is that each stage also requires a different investment from the player.

I can honestly say that in all my years of playing I have only reached the Guild stage successfully twice. Once in Everquest and more recently in LotR. Both times I was out there exploring new content with the 'top' guilds of the server. We weren't always first, let alone serverwide first, but we got are good share of trial and error before the next expansion came rolling in.

I was part of guilds and clans in other games as well of course, but they always were more of a social network to me. Great in providing a stable base of friends and a good place for advice and group building (stage 2), but highly inefficient at tackling high end content. There usually is a lack of organization, skill and will to go at it and if a try gets launched half the raiding party will leave after the first failed try.

What I enjoy most in games today are those first couple of weeks of game play: Exploring, leveling, questing myself through a new online world. By the time I reach max level my online time becomes less adventurous and many hours are wasted wandering around the world trying to figure out what to do, waiting around for group members, picking up some tradeskill and searching auction halls.

What I would like to see is a game in which the stages of gameplay are drastically changed. A game where individual achievements are rated and rewarded higher than co-operative accomplishments. Think about it. If you manage to manage to complete a quest, kill a foe or figure out a riddle without the help of others, shouldn't the reward be higher than if you get help?

By no means do I want to eliminate the cooperative aspect of current MMORPGs! I just want to see a game where every single bit of content can be cleared and explored by an individual player if he has the will and skill. One important consequence of this move would be the total elimination of the third stage of the classic MMORPGs... no more raids with massive 24 people groups! The three new stages would thus be:

  1. Solo: You can pretty much play alone. You can pretty much handle every dungeon and onster out there. Granted some might be harder than others, and you might simply fail to complete certain encounter because you lack he right gear or skill.
  2. Group: In the mid to late end of the game there are encounters and quests you can decide to tackle with the help of a couple friends. The role of groups in a MSORPG are quite similar to the classic MMORPGs, but with some important differences which I'll explore in a later post.
  3. Solo end game: You hit the stage where you are max level and skill. Now you're pretty much ready to be a true hero and start some solo adventure. If you feel you lack the required combination of skill and items to comfortably solo, there is always the group content to dive into.

That's it for this post. I think I outlined some important changes. I hope you see where I am going with this, keeping in mind that a MSORPG is still massive (big, many players) and still online (there is interaction and cooperation). Otherwise I would be satisfied playing Baldur's Gate with one character :P.

The lonely hardcore gamer

Posted by Otrantor Wednesday December 30 2009 at 8:56AM
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This is the first blog entry of a lonely, former hardcore gamer wandering aimlessly from game to game trying to find a new home.

I'm longtime mmorpg player who got on the big train when Everquest left the station. I played casually on one server before becoming a hardcore gamer on Firiona Vie. As the story goes, somewhere along the road real life kicks in and gaming hours start to dwindle fast. Eventually you miss the launch of one expansion or another and the game throws you from the high speed train without mercy.

I've always found that getting back on board is fairly impossible, especially if you wanna get back out there with the real trailblazers. It's like when you used to play MTG (yes, the card game) and somehow wanted to start again today... the learning curve and the required commitment simply is too steep. So your only option is to get on one of the other trains about to start rolling. So I played many different games over the past couple of years, often being out there on launch day. Some only a couple weeks, others for a few months. The list is endless. To list a few Planetside, SWG, CoH, EQ II , WoW, GW, Vanguard, DDO and finally LotR. It might seem a bit hopeless, desperate even, but with the exception of LotR none made it past the half year mark.

It is clear that something is lacking in these games.

The main reason why I in the end stop playing or lose interest is the simple fact that in every single game you hit the point where being a lone player doesn't cut it anymore. Sadly, none of the current MMORPGs allow me to explore all the game contents, let alone acquire high end loot, despite skill and will. The reasons are diverse but the main reason is simple. Not everyone has the time it takes to be part of a skillful and active guild.

It might sound a bit petty that one would dismiss a whole gaming experience because he can't get to all the loot, content or exploration, but that's the kind of thing I want. One thing I want to make very clear is that I am not frustrated by the fact that others do manage to open up content earlier and quicker. There must be differences between individual gamers, not only because of a difference of skill, but simply because everyone invests a different amount of time. It just hurts that you cannot be out there despite having paid for the game just as much as everyone else.

So much for the ranting. Time to be constructive. For some time I've been thinking about what kind of online game would keep me captivated for a longer time while keeping the charm, interaction and grandness of your typical mmorpg. I believe the answer would be a Massive Solo Player Online RPG. Not just a single player game that happened to be online (e.g. Diablo, shooters,...), but a massive online game that happens to be catering to a single player.

What I mean by this, and how such a game would look like, I'll discuss in further posts. I hope you engage in the discussion.