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|| The 'K'asual Pa's'ifist ||

x% contains MMORPGs' related rants and opinions while the remainder x% are subjects left open as food for thoughts. No.. there's no % left for discussions, you can do that OFF my blog and in the forums. Ugly please :)

Author: Suo_Eno_1357

"O.O.B" Analysis - Part 1: Stuff we can learn from private servers' ops and runners.

Posted by Suo_Eno_1357 Saturday September 8 2007 at 10:06PM
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No I'm not taking OOB as in "out of body" experiences but rather out of the box thinking. A crude way of figuring an acronym for that I know but I figured that going for a 4 lettered one would just add to the title's clutter. This will be the 1st in my non-regular series of some 'distasteful' subjects for the industry, devs or publishers mostly and possible ideas/what ifs from those that may yet contain a lot of sobering factors for considerations.

    Private servers, grey shards, free shards, 'alternative public server projects'...Call it what you will but they all share the same prickly traits in all. They're illegal, a pain in the ass for some of the current p2p titles today, lunch thieves even and the BIGGEST taboo in the industry than using hairy drag queens as booth babes.

QUESTION:   How many of you here had any experiences in any of your chosen private servers or are you actively playing in one?

ANSWER:   I'm not gonna bother to post statistical evidences (not like there's any anyways) so I'll just answer this for some of you instead. I myself have several previous experiences in ones that emulates Lineage II, RF-Online, WoW and DAoC. Spanning back from 3 years ago.

Here's some interesting findings as to what I'm trying to convey for this entry:-

1.   The ratpacks that doubles up as teams of devs, admins, mods and GMs (I'll use the term privateer from this point onwards) in the majority of private  servers are;

- relatively young and falls BELOW the 25-30 age bracket.

- armed with high levels of 'elite' programming and community management skills.

- and seem to display near Godly abilities of managing between real life commitments (literally the majority of these guys/girls aren't doing what they do in full time mode) to this hobby of running a renegade MMO server for a small community.

- coupled with no known or clear steady income sources apart from plastered on banner ads and donations.

- the devious ones that goes for illicit profit making chances are the smaller half (and rising unfortunately..) from the ones who's merely in this for the technical and personal challenges' factors.

- interestingly the ones based in Europe are more dilligent in their efforts, knowledge exchanges and more open than any other privateers from different regions or countries.

2.    Assuming that these types obviously enjoys the lower costs via shortcutting through reverse engineering IPs that they don't have to build from scratch themselves. It's still is weird in seeing that even with CLEARLY OUTLINED legal implications that they're risking their necks in and have full knowledge of, to see that some of the most 'successful' private servers aren't your typical flash in the pan operation. Some had spanned a healthy 5 years average and most display the same determination of their 'borrowed' IP holders' staying power by weathering out fluctuating player bases, hardware and data centers' moves and struggling with on-going operational costs.

3.   Believe it or not, some of the more hardcore supporters that makes the bulk of loyal donators aren't even categorically active as players and are willing to voluntarily promote, help to manage the community and contribute ways to sustain these operations.

    Done that and now I'm gonna level those up...For point no.1, it's pretty evident that we can see serious talents/technical prowess that's necessary to sniff out packets, mod out game clients, build up own anti-hacks, figuring server and bandwidth allocation configurations and even, mods for additional maps,contents and features to start for a smooth running private server op? Now we're not only talking about guys/girls with lesser paychecks (if any for most of them) than what's legally perceived in the mainstream MMO industry, we're talking about groups of people who are in fact doing what they do with career risks that you won't ever wish for even on your most hated dentist that is FBI arrests/raids and possible jail times?

    What's my point exactly? Is it the industry side's obsessive fixation on college degrees, previous working experiences in other game companies or individual fames gained for some 'star' lead designers of today that had driven these young and rebellious talents to NOT go the legit way? Is this really the case? What's the proactive steps taken or being discussed right now in the industry to lure these people in and to properly reeducate and distribute the talents for proper causes?

    I ask because I believe that there isn't such a thing that we can consider as NO shortage of talents and devs. Over time in this day and age, I'd doubt it if anyone is in favor of 'outsourcing' to Asians should that critical need arise (maybe it's already happening..) and I'm saying that even though I'm Asian myself.I ask because litigations and punitive measures alone are not the productive solutions in handling this ongoing illegal activities and the activists behind it. I ask because now there's ample reasons to 'source out' some work to these privateers and harness additional creative forces with legally binding assurances. How we ask? Has anyone from the industry had really held out their hands in reaching out to the privateers? If so, when, how frequent and how fair was that initiative in favor of both sides barring from any slightest signs to demonize the privateers, causing them to continue what they do with added angst and that much more solidified "against the establishment" ethos? Has there ever been a round table or brainstorming session from those typical game conferences that had seriously touched on these specific issues?

    I've been in private servers that can dish out fast updates (an impressive feat in my book, considering that a private server can barely achieve a 3 man scenario for most works) and yes I DO mean updates by own critical bug fixes, patches and content changes. Some can go as far as adding custom items, warp functions, tweaked default in-game events and skill trees even o_O?

    So yes this part of the analysis series mostly revolves around potential talents (tested and proven with varying degrees of success rates, results and moral standings of course) BEHIND private servers' activities, the questions surrounding the subjects' viability for the legit MMO industry and what measures that makes sense in answering those.

AGDC: BioWare's Walton On Making MMOs Post-World of Warcraft - Commentaries

Posted by Suo_Eno_1357 Friday September 7 2007 at 3:25PM
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<DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT a WoW fanboi! I have learned that for some things in life, you don't have to like some to respect some...End>

I read through Gamasutra's coverage of AGDC with this piece of the same title for this entry that I had borrowed, for my sudden temp loss from coming up with an original one =p.Gordon Walton, the co-studio director at BioWare Austin, summarized 12 'lessons' learned from WoW's massive success and where and how to apply those said lessons to prepare for imminent post-WoW's phase for new MMOs' creative and for profit initiative challenges ahead.

    IMO...There's a few hits and misses in Gordy's rundown through the list and as I attempt to highlight a few of those (edited for a better read), please clarify with the supplied link above to avoid confusion. Coming from a Bioware guy, it's still filled with perilous uncertainties.

Lesson 1
...although Blizzard were not experts in the genre -- in fact, the company had never shipped an MMO before -- Blizzard learned well from the genre's past. Essentially, Walton posited that taking a critical look at your genre rather than being a fan or having experience developing it is of utmost importance.

    The 1st lesson is pretty cut and dry in the rawest of terms. The usual "don't fix if it ain't broke" approach. It makes adequate sense from a business standpoint, but what if we're dealing to cater out to masses unfamiliar with a product? Holding on to a genre's tested and proven securities, guarantees the fast and short term returns but what of the longer term when it's time to innovate?

    Some clear lines needs to be drawn between sticking to what works best from the same tact being made as an excuse or an allowance to be complacent in disregarding or rejecting genre evolution?

    The arguments gets even messier if we're talking about genres that had span an average of 5 years to date? Future relevance? Has anyone found that Holy Grail-like genre to rule them all already? (oh and spare those LoTRo sniggers please, honestly that wasn't what I had in mind here..)

    Whatever happened to that "Winners takes chances!" motivational war cry?

Lesson 2
According to Walton, another success of WOW was Blizzard's insistence on keeping system specs low. He railed against developers' addiction to high-powered gaming PCs -- asking the crowd how many replace their rigs every year, every two years, every three. He noted that regular people simply don't replace their boxes that often, and that "there's a lot more real humans than there are us."

"This is not about getting some more customers -- this the opportunity to get lots more. Like 4-10x more. There is maybe one game a year that drives hardware sales... they get a lot of hype, but look at their numbers. How much do they sell?"

    Let's be clear about a few things here...The last thing I'd ever strive to do is to take an anti-tech stance when it comes to gaming and MMOs in general,as I'm a part time PC enthusiast myself. But having said that, it just means that I'm well aware of the intricately thorny relationships between the OS of choice for gaming (Windows..what else?) and its inclusion of DirectX (DX) APIs in shaping and forcing GPU makers to follow suit, along with platform abiding game developers.

    OK Ultima Online is still here (post Trammel or not). Runescape is still here. Ragnarok Online is one most widely emulated title for private servers available today. And all 3 shares the same trait for post-WoW MMO generation's 1st reaction...that they're all (in choice leet speak) butt fugly to look at. And yet they're all still here? Why?.........because GAME PLAY is GAME PLAY is GAME PLAY = God of atheists! (ok I went overboard here, give a guy a break will ya?)

    For a rough analogy, if anyone's familiar with that pornstar Tera Patrick. Well just imagine an 'improved ' version of her (just how do we do that is beyond me to say the least); more toned, agile, same blessings of naturally well endowed physical attributess BUT with the SAME old, lousy missionary position as the only trick that she can do? Just because that's the best, tried, tested and proven trick that made her as the bona fide star in all of her career, so all she needs is just seasonal makeovers? Makes you wanna pay for a new adult PPV or try out new fetishes right?

    Vanguard is a prime example of what can (and already have..) go wrong if design philosophies are rushed with graphics and visual extravaganzas on top of the list over core game contents and bug fixes. It's a complete pain in my eyes to have read numerous random accounts from even users with 3.0ghz clock speed CPUs, GeForce 8 class GPUs and above 2gb of RAM who had ran into craptacular headaches to eke out 50-60 frame rates in towns? Absurd is definitely an understatement...

Lesson 3
"Quality counts." This one was interesting because it sounds so obvious, but as Walton pointed out, in the MMO world... it's not quite the case.
"What was consistent about every MMO pre-WoW is that they were buggy as sh*t. They were rough. Even if they were fun, they were rough. They all launched with hundreds, if not thousands, of known bugs. Everyone basically ran out of money and launched their games."

He continued,
">>>>What's the biggest mistake? What everybody did without exception -- shoving it out the door." He admitted that he was guilty of doing the same thing in the past (we can thus infer that BioWare will not in the future.)

    I got nothing more to add to this, as it's pretty obvious that these days 'oversights' like this are being packaged and delivered as patches/updates and even expansions. Conveniently to work charms on the player pop as thinly veiled PR stunts or "We care about you! We work round the clock to bring this update for you!" BS. Kinda like the way Microsoft treats 'full releases' of Windows until service packs comes kind of thing.

    And sadly enough, when a title can't be saved for some parts or simply out of creative juice for solutions, nerf more can?

Lesson 4
One thing that WoW is frequently recognized for is its solo play. Walton's fourth lesson was: support this, because gamers want it.

    I'm getting mixed signals here as solo play on standalone definition in most MMOs are pretty much straightforward. Most hardcores won't even mind to grind with apathetic anti social behaviors thrown into that mix. The rest of the player types would still adhere to sub par lore play through quests.

    If anything, I think WoW only had managed to mask over the reverse psychological effects by facilitating "less than noticeable grind" feel from quests in execution.

    Obviously the current hot topics of sandbox and dynamic contents here in mmorpg.com sounds more relevant than ever to especially tackle this aspect.

Lesson 5
The next point was another design tip, and became mildly convoluted (like the issue it tackled, ironically.)
"Simplify the damn GUI!" Walton exhorted. "MMOs have the worst and most complex GUIs because we have so much sh*t you can do in the game. We want to give players all that stuff!" He judged WoW's interface to be "as simple as it can possibly be and as fun as it can possibly be." An audience member correctly added "...but no simpler."

    I think it's more accurate that most of us wants customizable and fully functional UIs rather than straight up simplicity of forms. UIs are 2nd base to me (don't know about you guys..) if or when default ctrls, movements and free keys' remaps are fluidly done.

    Although with that being said, I agree that more can be done to reduce system side textual craps that most of us can really do without.

Lesson 6
Moving on, Walton wryly noted, "Content sucks. Content takes people to build. You can build systems, but systems suck because we pattern match 'em real quick. Content is custom-crafted things for people to do." He described the concept of the "player horizon" -- a player should not perceive all that she can do from the beginning of the game: something tantalizing has to hang out of reach.
"If I can visualize everything that will happen to me by the end by level 3, the game's over."

    Finally! A dude from a big name game company sees that.Structured or pre-meditated contents are on its way out. We need that sense of unpredictable excitement to come back.Enough said..

    What's weird is..he actually seen this done in WoW or am I missing something here o_O?

Lesson 7
Another sticking point for many designers (and gamers) is PVP content. Walton thinks strong PVP is essential. He also offered up this thought: besides the core PVP gamers, "a certain percentage of people [who exist] don't know that they want to compete once they have some mastery." But from a developer standpoint, "it's hard to balance PVP and PVE together."

    Ok now this is just funky and I'm a little lost here since Gordy's using WoW as the reference point. Strong PvP? I think it's more accurate to say that WoW encourages 'accessible' PvP not strong at the base of that criteria.

    I'll be damned if he thinks that WoW's brand of PvP is the way forward for the rest of post-WoW titles?

Lesson 8
"Don't tune for the hardcore."

"I was thinking about crazy people! Crazy people can finish the game in 50 days, but crazy people are not who we should be thinking about.... where's the real market, our real customers? If anything, I think people should make games that level faster than WoW -- that have the right content to hold up."

    I can predict that spears are being shaken right now along with clenched fists and ready to throw Molotov cocktails abound for his lack of subtleties when he said those words out.

    I'm casual myself but I think it's only fair to lose the typical hardcores' stereotyping. I think it's more along the lines of harnessing replay values than to outrightly disregard hardcores, are the more favorable approach in this area. It's starkly different actually.

    The fear from us right now is the notion that WoW style of carebearizations spells out 'CASUAL (wrongly perceived to mere lowered game difficulties?)' + 'REPLAY VALUES' = success?

    Gordy must have missed his meds when he arrived to this part of his talk obviously...

Lesson 9
"City Of Heroes taught me this before WoW --
a game that you finished and felt good and you'd re-up." But with other games "they quit because they'd stayed too long... the only way for them to escape was to demonize the game."

    Replay values...No more no less...Oddly enough, I think there's more ex-TBC refugees in more f2p titles I've seen, even before this latest expansion had came out and they never went back? But evidently, they're that minority that didn't make the 9mill cut admittedly. Still...you can't help but ask about the real statistics of recurring subbers vs. new entrants from the 9mill pie in this matter?

Lesson 10
Walton discussed an issue that comes up in many games -- and one that generated a little debate in the audience. Suggesting you should direct your players' experience of the game, he asked, "Are you Disneyland or are you a sandbox?" Noting "the interesting thing about sandbox games is that they tend to have a ton more griefing" he suggested
"an accessible game is directed. You never leave them in a place where they go 'what do I do next?' The vast majority of customers -- particularly when you get out of the hardcore -- need the signposts."

    I went like "What the fuck...!?" at this when I had done reading and was left a tad disillusioned. Gordy made a COMPLETE U-turn from 'Lesson 6' at non-structured directions? He touched on availability of options for players and the 'qualities' of EVERY option. To add to the confusion, I'll quote;

"a common developer mistake is to give people good choice, bad choice, medium choice. They need to all be good choices. People want to feel like things are complex, but they don't really want them complex. You have to give them the illusion of complexity but keep it super-simple."

    I'm hoping that Gordy was referring to balancing ease of play against a well thought out risks/rewards/implications from choices made, not about subscribing to watered down challenges?

    Bleah..now he's having second thoughts...I left out Lesson 11 since it's largely a continuation of the above and lesson 12 is pretty much self explanatory.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Conclusions:-

1.   I've been careful to shape my comments as neutral as possible and with equal amounts of weariness towards this talk delivered by a rep of the industry (or as some would have it...'The Man'). It seems like WoW still casts that lingering effect on rival competitors to STILL copy some if not more cues from it, instead of motivating them in taking bolder chances and try uncharted pursuits of innovations.

2.    It's fine if the industry takes the littlest and most basic charms of WoW to emulate, but to take too much examples out as the new MMO 'designs for 9mill success' Holy Writ?...We're all doomed to get back to square 1. The industry needs to realize that it's illogical for each and every dev/publisher to score a constant x mill and growing future subbers' count? Success need not be on subbers' counts at peak highs? Success needs to include longevity with good and even spread of sustainable player bases.

    Business = profits = money..To which any of the lowest IQed advanced primates we call idiots knew about already and no one's arguing with that. But to insult the intelligence of the revenue source; US the players with the same plays from an overused and spit on play book is just whacked....

    Let's just hope that these 'lessons' wasn't meant to be as an on-going prep course for the next 5 years for devs/publishers to get things right.

    I'll convert to consoles if I can foresee that to happen >=O!!!

 

Enough with the racket. Try 'replay value' instead?

Posted by Suo_Eno_1357 Thursday September 6 2007 at 2:35PM
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1st off, here's the rough definition (as blatantly plagiarized and ported to here from good old Wikipedia);

Replay value or replayability is a term usually found in combination with video games, but it may be also used to describe other kinds of games, movies, music, or theater plays. Video and computer game players use the term replay value to describe the entertainment value of playing a game more than once. In some cases, factors that influence replay value are the result of the game's programming (extra characters, alternate endings, etc). Other times, the replay value of a game might be based entirely on the individual's tastes; a player might enjoy a game because he likes the music or graphics, finds the gameplay entertaining, or (in the case of licensed products) because of loyalty to the product line.

    Now for some overviews when it comes to MMOs;

    The 'racket' - subscriptions model -> time = money

    Now one can easily see (not from the marketeers/business strategists' viewpoints) that this formula is a broadly generalized assumption across ALL categories of players in the potential or current subscribers' base, which means there's a definite guarantee that a good portion from that slice in a pie WILL get genuinely screwed depending on:-

A.     game play in a title.

B.     the variety of available options of things to do in play.

C.     whether there's vaguely hidden yet 'forced upon' motivations (if we can call it that) for players to                   engage the grind rat race until the next addition of so-called expansions/patches/updates. A carrot             with a LOOOONNGGGG stick if you will...

    Regardless if you're that sort of a "Oh! I'm here to kill, crush and get all of it RIGHT NOW!" type of dude or if you're more into "I wanna see how fast I wipe out these packs of mobs with different builds" type of plays, you'll notice a distinctly disturbing 'detachment'. Let me elaborate.

    Let's just say that I'm holding my box of Neverwinter Nights right now... Now ask ourselves how long has this game had been out and why am I still holding it instead of donating it to the nearest bargain bins of my neighbor's garage sale or start a "SAVE the illiterate console role players! Donate your old games!" donation drives? Some easy answers would be that it's nostalgic for a good game. You can easily reroll, get the quests redone and repeat everything without the added pressures of that sense of 'incompleteness' as too apparently dressed as end games in MMOs. There's still ample 'new to the game' feelings on handling those PvE engagements with classes/builds you haven't done before WITHOUT the restraint of worrying about gear 'changes' (so far I've never seen that happen in a single player..unless after rebalancing patches which by the time you'd done the game already mostly) or major contents/features' modifications. It's the same box for fuck sake? And mind you, you can 'win the game' with multiple rerolls in a lot of good time done compared to a single leveling run in a MMO at starting from mid before high levels.

    It's like girlfriends...It's hard enough to enjoy one with erratic mood swings? What can we expect with one who suddenly goes into schizophrenic mode after years together and all of a sudden she gets lousier in bed? (Disclaimer: take this part with grains of salt please, not intended to offend)

    In economic terms, one can easily accuse me of clear misjudgments. What's roughly $5 these days and functions as a single player CRPG can't possibly be compared to MMOs, in whatever aspects. But that's besides the point really...How many of us here have renewed old subscriptions and logged back on to our choice MMO titles? How many of us here can lay the claim of we can come back, do everything "as it were" and relive the old glories? Some of the hardcore UO players may agree with me. More so to newer batches of MMO fans that's fast becoming jaded with shoddily done and overly watered down 'reruns'?

    So you see..I can't really give a shit about developmental and operational recurring costs. This is a player to industry question so to speak.

    To throw another element into this sticky mix, when contemplating on a good MMO's REAL timeline to value's amount, you can arrive to a good 1 year tops when you factor out everything. Replay values may add to that ever tricky break dances of design philosophies vs. for profit initiatives gone into a title and may pose as a hindrance for future growth of one title should it be confused as a call to 'make everything stay the same'.

    But sacrificing replay values totally over to psychological tacts deployed in minute introductions of features to players? Prolonged exposures to routines done to get to a specific point to even use an armor, makes 'Pay to play' becomes 'pay to login to check out what's new? and that widens the detached feeling in players? Pray tell how anyone can realistically expect 'growth' for the long term? Unless we consider 5-6 years of server merges and dwindling player counts as growth?

    What's so hard to visualize? If a dev/publisher expects a good 5 year run, then give us good reasons to come back?

   

The term 'end game'...MUST DIE!

Posted by Suo_Eno_1357 Wednesday September 5 2007 at 9:04PM
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Scoured through the search function for one of my more favorite reads; Opinion: Skill-based or Level-based? from The Pub section of the forums. Interestingly while I was engrossed in that most woefully debated subject of character progressions, I noticed that a much more meaningful aspect was left out...The end game dilemma.

    I mean for what other reason(s) or why is that we as players; hardcore or casual, had never failed so far to persist at discussing the 2 different progression branches, as it's overdone, over-analyzed and yet..it still is relevant even when done repetitively?

    The deal is because contents/features/competitive means are indefinitely 'locked' or exclusive to certain level intervals. And it's safe to assume, whether if you're a hardcore or a casual type of player, the word 'grind' rings a much heavier tone than it should after copious amounts of multiple MMORPG titles. The glaringly obvious predicament of having to log in, run off to certain training zones/maps, kill x amount of mob A, hit the next level just to spend another skill point to finally use the higher chosen skill in the tree. Yes now we're a tad more 'skillful' to uhh....oh no? Oh! Added another dmg boost for more..trains...*sigh*

    There's no lowbies' exclusive open fights in PvP to break the rut. There's no way anyone can skip the arduous task of gathering crafting materials to start off at a lowbie set of armors because there is none. The skill points' rates are tied to exp gains instead of skills' usage, so that means more grinding just to even out the 2....And for fuck sake you ask yourself "Wow? I need 5 levels more to get a job class and to PvP?".

    It's even more daunting since we haven't touched if the game is proportioned around items' stats > builds type of mechanics. The usual level requirements rule must apply and that adds to the conundrum.

    So we figure "Hey? Maybe I don't have to hack and slash at those butt fugly mobs right now?Let's do some quests just for breathers..".

    NPC: Go kill x amount mob B and bring me back all of the furs.

    Player: "Uhh O_o!?"

    Long story cut short, there's no added incentives from helping a fellow lowbie. There's no specific set of quests to allow for some peer assistance.There's no introductory combat stages to familiarize lowbies for an open ended PvP environs and there's definitely no other diversions to break up the grind routines, just to get to a specific level for some phat lewtz or to finally gank a pack of noobs out of boredom.

    The so called challenges through probably a series of ongoing PvE fests of grouping against tough or unique mobs right up to special types of mobs are left out at medium stages from the max level cap. For every action and level gained, there's no real auto effect on other players. No effects on the storyline and there's no moral alignment system to keep you on your toes, as you can only go evil by ganking (for example). Political and social aspects are largely controlled by guilds and not by collective actions from independent players. The economy is whacked out as long as there's still the word 'farming'.

    Lowbies can't build villages/towns or zone out their own lands and even when they can finally do that, they'll need a guild crest to do so. Lowbies can't organize PvE events or 'capture the flag' sieges like guilds do, even on unwanted lands.

    Because out of every starting towns, the world is not theirs...just yet...