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The staff of gets together to bring you some behind the scenes insights on stories, the industry and the site itself.

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Contributors: BillMurphy,MikeB,garrett,SBFord,Grakulen,

Community Spotlight: Your Most Looked Forward to MMO?

Posted by MikeB Thursday May 27 2010 at 3:15PM
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This week’s Community Spotlight focuses on one of GeminiStatic’s many recent simple but conversation sparking threads, namely, “Your Most Anticipated Upcoming MMORPG And Why?” where GeminiStatic simply polls the community on their most looked forward to MMOs.

While we do have a hype meter here at, it’s often interesting to hear what people are saying overall.

What’s GeminiStatic looking forward to? Some of the usual suspects, with one exception:

“For me...

I have a few... 


The Secret World

and ... the most anticipated one for me is Guild Wars 2!”


MysteryB notes the “dry spell” of MMOs at the moment, and offers his own list of his most anticipated titles:


“There are so many coming out, I just wish they would start releasing more, its like we are in a dry spell of MMOs. I have played many games and I dont want a game just to play a game, I want an MMO home, somewhere to meet with friends almost everyday, a game that is fun for years not just for a month or 2. Anyways here are my most anticipated games:

SWTOR - Could be the Star Wars game that Galaxies never was, Bioware has alot to prove since alot of people still have a bad taste in their mouth about Star Wars MMOs.

Blade and Soul - I like NCsoft and this game looks like alot of action and alot of fun. Maybe not a long lasting apeal but little is known about the game so its hard to tell.

Continent of the Ninth - Looks very interactive, beautiful graphics and skill based gameplay. Could be really laggy though and no american release has been announced or even confirmed.

Guild Wars 2 - The new questing system sounds awesome and the first guild wars was great for pvp so hoping they raise the level cap on this one and improve the gameplay, could be a great game.

DC Universe - Though I am skeptic about SOE screwing up another MMO I am a long time City of Heroes player, that game has lost its magic and many of its players so a new superhero MMO needs to come along and take the title of king. I thought at one time Champions could be that game, than I played it and realized Cryptic lost their touch.

APB - Looks like a grand theft auto MMO, who wouldnt want that?

Dragonball Online - Yes I said it. I loved Dragonball as a kid and the game looks awesome, no american release has been announced but it is getting good reviews in Korea and Japan. Though they love to grind over there so who knows, hoping its not another Aion.”

Alberel and Dalgor are feeling the Final Fantasy XIV love:

“Originally posted by Dalgor

Final Fantasy 14 because they are the first AAA company to go back to skill based, free roaming MMOs

Going with this one here myself. The game is more of a hybrid than a complete return to a skill based progression system but the fundamental outcomes are the same in terms of being able to customise your character with whatever skills you want from any class. SE have also proven that they know how to build a positive community through game mechanics so I'm looking forward to seeing what they accomplish this time around.

I have to mention GW2 though purely on the grounds of it being so experimental. They're the first dev team in nearly a decade to attempt to fundamentally alter the advancement systems in an MMO (Level grinding >> quest grinding >> dynamic events?).”

Sulthar’s been bitten by CCP’s World of Darkness:

“World of Darkness :

CCP is the only one that can make a realistic world to fit White wolf's concept of WoD. Perfection would be acheived if you can play all the factions inside WoD like Vampires, Werewolves, Wraiths, Mages, Inquisition, Pentex corp. Fomories, even the all the Kindred of the East if they got time to include it, or as an NPC faction to be able to grind a bit !!  etc etc THIS GOING TO BE AWSOME!!! I also hope that they will make it in the good WoD Time line, and not bogus it.

I dont know how they will work on char advancement; is it like EVE or a level system based on XP and generation/rank or whatever clasification your type of char has. Sure thing, White Wolf wont let this game out if it aint WoD enough at their taste!

Great thing they work with the creators of the IP on this game so there will be no setting bogus ... well i hope :)”

Many of you who know me here at can probably figure out that I’m pretty unabashedly excited for Star Wars: The Old Republic (though like everyone else, I’ve got my reservations) given the fact I am a huge Star Wars geek, but there are many other titles I am looking forward to as well. My list below:

The Secret World – Funcom dropped the ball majorly for me with Age of Conan, especially since they seemed so aware that they needed to avoid screwing things up given what happened with Anarchy Online, but with that said, Age of Conan has turned around tremendously since its tumultuous launch in the summer of 2008, and Ragnar Tornquist has never done me wrong with Funcom’s singleplayer adventure games. I’m looking forward to what Ragnar and his team put together with The Secret World, and I’m a huge fan of the theme, which leads me to…

World of Darkness – I’m a huge horror fan, and naturally, White Wolf’s World of Darkness IP, what with its werewolves, vampires, and more fit really well here. I received my first Vampire: The Masquerade rulebook as a birthday present when I was 10, and I’ve been in love with the World of Darkness IP ever since. I played the crap out of Vampire: The Masquerade: Redemption and the now defunct Troika’s VTM: Bloodlines. CCP has a track record for really pushing the envelope and fostering emergent gameplay, something I’d love to see paired up with this particular IP in the World of Darkness MMO.

Warhammer 40K – Truth be told I used to vehemently hate the Warhammer, and especially Warhammer 40K IP. My friends played tons of the original Dawn of War RTS and incessantly bugged me to play with them, but I simply scoffed as I couldn’t stand the IP. I had the same feelings about Warhammer Online during the lead up to both Conan and Warhammer’s launch. However, once I gave up on Conan and gave Warhammer Online a whirl I really found myself digging the fantasy IP, and after further exploration, the 40K IP as well. With that said, I’ve read up tons on both since then and played out Dawn of War 2, leaving me pumped to hopefully get my Eldar on in Vigil Games’ upcoming MMO. We’ll find out more about the game at E3, and we can’t wait to share it with you!

What MMO or MMOs are you most looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below!

World of Facebook

Posted by garrett Wednesday May 26 2010 at 8:48AM
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World of Facebook
This week I wrote an editorial on how FTP and Casual games are now being designed as virtual shopping malls.  I guess my continuation to that article is here. I once heard that Facebook will be the WoW killer, interesting right?
First of all the game industry needs to get passed the WoW Killer mindset. There is no WoW killer. Like all Blizzard games WoW will go on for years and years. They will be making money on WoW in 2019 at its 15 year anniversary. It is the game that defined the genre, the end.
However, Facebook has made huge leaps and bounds in the last few years with social networking. Old friends re-united. Affairs spring up, marriages are ruined, all blamed on Facebook. Hurray welcome to the human race online. It is no different than offline.
Facebook is simply a tool to define a generation. Just like the Internet did 10 years before. Now we have access to people’s everyday lives, if they choose to share them online. So my big question is…. How is this a game?
Sure there is Farmville, Petville, Mafia Wars, and all that fun stuff. However, we have yet to see a fully functional MMO, persistent world, boss fights, PvP, seige, death match, explosion that operates within the boundries of Facebook. Will it ever happen? Well some game companies, even some big names in MMOs are starting to try and make it work.
Will we see an in depth MMO on Facebook in the near future? Yes. Will it take us away from our work days? Yes. The question is what will it be? My hope and the reason I wrote this blog is we see something that is fun, bottom line. Many of the Facebook games right now are just grinds and virtual malls. Hopefully someone will build a game that challenges us and gives us a reason to reconnect with our old D&D groups.
Just my two cents for the week…

How Should MMOs End?

Posted by BillMurphy Tuesday May 25 2010 at 4:24PM
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Like millions in America this week, I can’t stop thinking about LOST and its recent series finale.  I’ve been watching the show since it first premiered, and like so many fans and haters of the show I’m left with a weird post-finale feeling: sadness.  Let me be clear.  I’m firmly in the camp that loved the finale.  I believe there are two types of LOST viewer: those that are along for the ride and the relationships, and those that are along for the mystery and the answers.  The finale was bound to please the former and annoy the latter.

I grew really attached to the survivors of Oceanic 815, and I’m now saddened by the fact that I’ll not be seeing any more of them other than in reruns and on DVD.  Part of me wishes to see a spinoff Fantasy Island-esque take on the island as run by Hurley and Ben, but I know it’ll never happen and I know it really shouldn’t.  Just as part of me would love to watch a cop drama with Sawyer and Miles playing Starsky and Hutch.

But all the LOST-centered thinking got me wondering about how other forms of entertainment that seem to go on for years come to an end eventually, just like anything else.  And I began to wonder if MMOs shouldn’t have send-offs in the grand tradition of TV finales.  Perhaps not all of them are suited to the notion, but theme park styled MMOs are very much like seasons of our favorite TV series.

There’s a story that is delivered to us through content updates.  We follow along by playing the content, developing our characters, and taking part in different portions of the storyline.  One of the worst things about an MMO going dark is all the time we invested in our characters.  But another is the world we spent so much time playing in is being wiped from existence.

And since all MMOs will eventually not be a sustainable form of business, I think it would be nice if developers began treating their final days in the same fashion as television producers and writers.  Too often these days games don’t get to stay around long enough to get through the complex narrative their designers craft, but for those few that do a conclusion at the end of it all would be a welcome way to close down the servers.

Imagine the far off day when Blizzard’s World of Warcraft is shut down.  Setting aside the fact that the game will likely spawn a sequel (if it hasn’t already by the time the original is shuttered) and setting aside the fact that the closure of WoW is probably a decade or more away… what would that day look like?  What final events would Blizzard create for us all to gather around and say farewell to Azeroth with?

Would the Alliance and Horde have to work together one last time against a final evil?  Or would it be something like Rocky 3 with Thrall facing off against Jaina Proudmoore in a boxing ring?  I like the way we’ve seen some games go down thus far.  Currently the last day the servers are on is like one big party for the game’s loyal fans.  But what happens when LotRO’s designers eventually take us all the way to the final battle at Mordor?  The servers aren’t going to go dark after the Dark Lord is destroyed, but they’ll have to eventually.

And when they do, I wouldn’t mind it if I got to watch as Gandalf, Bilbo, and Frodo sailed off to the Grey Havens instead of just partaking in some massive mayhem with Balrogs traipsing about the Shire.

The Customer is Not Always Right

Posted by Stradden_bak Friday May 21 2010 at 11:49AM
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Despite the old adage, the customer is not always right. That just isn’t the way the world works in reality.
The saying itself makes a lot of sense on its surface in a capitalist society. After all, it is indeed the customers who pay for the products or services from the companies who in turn pay their employees, etc. etc. etc.
The reality though, in my experience, isn’t so cut and dry.
I say this because I’ve seen this cliché used a lot lately and I’ve read it as an excuse for rude and offensive behaviour from gamers as it relates to the games that they play.
“As a customer, I’m entitled to having what I want, when I want it. The customer is always right. If I want to call the devs out on being lazy, unprofessional, greedy people, I have every right to do so, because I’m the one who pays their salary. The customer is always right.”
I’m sorry, but I read this kind of post and I can’t help but wonder what world some people are living in. In my 30 years, I’ve worked a lot of different jobs, from milk man to call center representative, to game developer, to teacher to journalist. Never, with the possible exception of my time in game development, was I ever told that I had to put up with abuse because “the customer is always right.”
Working at the call centres (for two distict national chains, I might add), if a customer became rude and abusive, the policy was always the same: hang up on them. As a teacher, I was told time and time again that we did not have to take verbal abuse from student or parent. On more than one occasion, I spoke to parents who I told that I would speak to when they could approach the situation in a mature fashion. I also have had enough friends working in the food service industry to know what happens when customers are rude and abusive in a restaurant.
From the worker’s point of view, the result is the same: ignore it. If a customer comes to you in a reasonable and measured fashion with an issue, do everything that you can to accommodate them, but if they are abusive: ignore them.
Sure, the illusion of “the customer is always right” still exists. Marketing departments all over will tell you that their company will bend over backwards to give their customers the best experience possible and work tirelessly to resolve any issues that they might have. That just isn’t generally the end result.
The reason is simple: In most cases, we as individuals, don’t mean a whole lot to a company’s bottom line. Companies, especially large companies like, say, video games publishers, don’t deal in small numbers, they deal in large numbers where the individual is lost.
If I choose to be rude and abusive, the company can and often does decide that it doesn’t need my business and can afford to ignore me.
In the world of large companies dealing with big numbers, the individual consumer’s power has never been weaker. We do have recourse. We can always vote with our wallets, and get any people we might have influence over to do the same. Organizing boycotts on as large a scale as possible is an excellent way of having your voice heard by companies. Or, there’s always trying the polite way, approaching a company reasonably with an honest grievance.
Whatever you own personal means of protest against what you perceive as an injustice might be, please don’t cling to the antiquated notion and bad cliché that “the customer is always right.” It won’t get you anywhere. That’s just not how the world works.

Community Spotlight: Your Worst MMO Memories

Posted by MikeB Thursday May 20 2010 at 4:24PM
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This week’s Community Spotlight focuses on the thread “The MMO Memories that make you cringe” by Azen77. In the thread, Azen77 polls the community on their worst MMO memories, though he put it in a far more interesting manner than I just did:

“Ever been thinking of going back to some beloved game? Reveling with a buddy over the nostalgia of how awesome it was, and how games aren't like they used to be, when suddenly you remember one of the ACTUAL tasks and are like, "OMG NOOOO!",throw up a little in your mouth, and say screw it because you remember some gameplay mechanic/experience that just turned you off forever?

Thought it would be interesting to see what people absolutely hated/despised about their MMO games to the point it makes your brain scramble to GTFO of your skull before being made to do that again. Here's some of mine off the top of my head.

·      EQ2: Heritage Quests...

·      EQ1: Camping specific species of animal to extinction, or at least what should have been extinction.

·      AC1: The death animation and sound effect followed by the portal...permanaently scarred with both the humour of it and the pain of knowing I had no idea where I died...oh and finding my last taper...

·      WoW: Quest hubs...I swear to god I'm never playing another game where I have to run around mindlessly clicking ! people to then just follow waypoints.

·      Allods: Bag raid...! hubs...

·      LoTR: Killing

·      DaoC: c...r...a...f...t...i...n...g.......b...a...r...........”

Needless to say, this should be therapeutic!

JSchindler offers his own list:

“EVE - Being reduced to a pod before the loading screen ends by squads of zone-in campers.

WoW - Repeating instances I hated for my only missing set-piece that just .. did .. not .. drop.

LOTRO - Chasing "the Undying" deed only to die thanks to a client crash at level 19.

SWG - Being unable to solo the Corellian Corvette. And the NGE.

UO - Being unable to place a small house due to all the castles for sale on eBay.”

Comnitus the lumberjack recalls some fun times in Runescape:

“High level woodcutting in RuneScape. It was even harder because when I played, I was young and had a short attention span. Luckily, Toonami Jetstream was still around (Cartoon Network never should've taken it down or removed Toonami completely), so I watched episodes of Megas XLR, Samurai Jack, and other action cartoons while my little avatar chipped away at magic trees for a couple of hours to garner a few thousand exp.

Good times. Good money, too (before the invention of the Grand Exchange, which made selling a hassle but also meant I could get pretty high prices if I knew how to sell it right).”

Robsolf despises ladders:

“LotRO:  Crafting quests that gate progress.  I hear everyones irritations regarding the wolves/spider/boars quests.  I keep them if I have room, but I usually just cancel them.  There are far more than enough quests to advance you through most of the game without them.

AoC:  stupid "ladder-gates" in the crafting villages.  At climb of 50 in Tortage, I was able to climb down a 100 foot pillar with ease.  But I need 300 climbing to go up a 10 foot ladder to turn in my crafting quests?  Seriously?

SWG-pre-NGE:  Hearing half a dozen light sabers powering on/off all the time in Starports.

Tabula Rasa:  The annoying roachy things with ridiculous armor ratings...

DDO:  Collector items.  Seems like you could have 5 million types of fungus to collect, and 50 million NPC's that only take a few types of fungus.  You travel all over stormreach to turn in these items for other items that you probably won't be able to use.

Also... everytime I see an ooze.


Girlgeek offers a litany of cringe-worthy memories:

WoW - *sigh* where to begin?  Let's see...cringe memories:

When they added BGs and I first realized that there would be hardly any more Tauren Mill / Southshore "football games," and that hardly anyone would ever want to just raid Stormwind, Darnassus, or IF any more just for fun.

The first time I had to trade in epic armor on common armor that was better.....GD that pissed me off. Armor that  I had had to raid to get, losing the rolls repeatedly (we didn't use a DKP system) and FINALLY getting it after so so SO many hours of raiding and then taking it off to put on a common item from a quest reward. F.U. Blizzard.

The day they sealed the fate of the server-wide community once and for all by adding the Looking for Cross Server PuG tool. LFD tool, pffft....whatever.


The original crafting that required so many combines and stuff made by people that were never available when you needed them and therefore you had to pay a King's Ransom for help from someone outside of your guild. Grrrrr.  Let's put it this way...when SoE changed that....I LITERALLY danced.


Trying to solo with a minstrel because the game is so top heavy and there really isn't any incentive for anyone to help a lowbie (or at least there wasn't when I was playing).


Holy hell....from grinding soul-less BGs in WoW to grinding scenarios in WAR. WTF? I thought this game was going to be better than it was, and the disappointment still tastes like sulfur in my mouth when I remember.  And it always seemed the game was stuck on popping the SAME scenario. The game world felt about the size of a pea because to level, most of your time was spent in a virtual box....a tiny tiny area.  BLAH.


Introduction of the FoD debuff.  Oh sure.....that's brilliant.  NOT.

Perfect World

Finally reaching level 30 when open PvP really starts and realizing that you're up against people that are paying real money to have a character that will kick your butt any way but sideways while never running out of power or health. And I was really enjoying myself up until then.

Runes of Magic

I'm sorry, but having to level the same character twice through the same content almost immediately after having done it just to make sure your secondary class is an exercise in tedium. I'd rather just level ONE class and then make an alt LATER. At least THAT way I've had time to sort of forget the content in those early levels. 

Fallen Earth

The moment I realized that it was going to take me about 10 years (this is only a small exaggeration) to build my motorcycle. I'm semi-patient with most things in games, but seriously....that just took the wind completely out of my sails after having worked so hard to get all the crafting skills high enough to start making the motorcycle parts.”

There are countless others, as you would expect, but for those of you who are interested, these are some of my most cringe-worthy memories:

SWG – Wanting to go out and do missions and realizing 2-3 hours later I’d just gotten done preparing to go out to do missions after waiting in line/searching for buffs, food, entertainer buffs etc. And of course the requisite “NGE!” can’t forget that, Holocron grinding too, glad I didn’t do much of that!

Oh, and one memory that makes me cringe with regards to SWG isn’t something that was wrong with the game – but my embarrassing level of douchebaggery that came with being a teenager at the time. I had been running around the Krayt Dragon Graveyard on Tatooine wearing this stupid silly flowery hat, just running around in circles out of boredom after having gone out there to look for Krayts to fight, and in comes a stumbling newbie who was incredibly curious as to why I was running around in circles wearing a stupid hat. I explained to him that running around through the Krayt dragon bones while wearing the silly hat and then eventually fighting and killing the Krayt dragon by dropkicking it in the throat and cutting off its air supply unlocked Jedi (this was before the Holocron craze).

He believed it, and wanted to know where he could acquire his own silly hat. I found this hilarious enough to immortalize in a number of screenshots, which I am too embarrassed to share with you all – the story will have to suffice. Clueless guy, if you are out there and reading this, I'm sorry for leading you astray!

Other than that, thinking about City of Heroes at launch gives me some cringe worthy memories. Doing each mission in a story arc 8 times for each member of your team so we were all on the same part of the story (before shared missions were implemented) was really no fun at all.

So, what are your most cringe worthy MMO memories? Share them with us in the comments below!

A fashion designer, an economist, and a linguist walk into a studio…

Posted by BillMurphy Tuesday May 18 2010 at 4:52PM
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It sounds like a bad joke (and thanks to me, a bad title of a blog post), but it’s the truth about the evolving state of MMO development.  With today’s hullaballoo about Guild Wars 2’s fashion design (which looks absolutely enticing from an artistic perspective), it’s become clearer and clearer just how diverse and involved the development of an MMO has become.  Studios hire economists to help develop functioning economies in a game, linguists to create a tongue for some of their game’s races to use, and of course fashion designers to get the looks of their character’s just right.  Well that’s a bit of a misnomer.  Kristen Perry’s not a fashion designer, she’s a character artist for ArenaNet.  But hot damn, looking at the characters highlighted in the blog, she (and the rest of the team working alongside her) could likely get a job on any number of film and television sets making sure the actors look appropriate.   

So that title’s a bit off given the fact that Kristen is not a fashion designer.  But what I’m really trying to convey is the increasing compartmentalizing of game design.  More and more game development is becoming something akin to Hollywood.  Budgets are inflating, the credits which run after you beat the title are longer and longer, and the launch of hotly anticipated titles are surpassing the earnings of some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters… a fact that is certainly partially owed to the high cost of our hobby, but still.  It’s worth mentioning.

Roger Ebert famously defies the growing opinion that games are indeed art.  And to that I must simply remind the man that he knows film.  He does not know games.  For that reason alone he may never understand why Ico and Shadow of the Collossus are such a big deal to so many enthusiasts.  He is a film critic, and he knows a great deal about that medium, but unless he's got some insane jonesing for Pac-Man or God of War tucked under his belt somewhere I doubt he has much authority to determine whether or not videogames qualify as an artform.

When I sit down to play Alan Wake later, I'm no doubt going to be moved by the narrative as I have been by so many thousands of movies I've seen over the years.  The developer had a slew of artists and writers, a director, and so many people working on the actual systems.  And any programmer will likely tell you that writing code is not so much a science as it is an artform.  So how is Remedy's new Xbox game any different than the next film you go see, outside of the fact that it's interactive and not a passive experience?

I'm not really sure where I'm going with all this.  Ms. Perry's costume work for Guild Wars 2 just strikes me as yet another step of videogame development being closer to film production and I felt the need to prattle on about it. 

What do you think?  Are games art, have they always been, or will they never be?

Star Wars vs. Warhammer 40k .....

Posted by garrett Monday May 17 2010 at 2:48PM
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Storm Troopers and Jedi vs. Hordes of Orks, Space Marines, and the Chaos Gods...who would win?

This year at E3 we are gearing up for an epic show down in MMO history. Rumors suggest that Star Wars: The Old Republic will have blasters blazing for this E3 (they certainly did last year). Yet, we will also get our first look at THQ's Warhammer 40k MMO...DAKKA DAKKA DAKKA!!

The two massive space epics with, oddly enough, more action taking place on the ground, will clash in four weeks time. News, screenshots, interviews, editorials, speculation, and pure enthusiam will come flying out of E3 like Nurglings from the mouth of Chaos.

So what can we look forward too? That is the big question. I for one think both games will put their best feet forward. Bolters and Blasters ready to wreak havoc on your imaginations. The issue is will the tough questions be answered? Will the devs step up and throw down talk about the ever-changing theories on MMO design? My guess is no.

These two titles are so heavily anticipated that they will drown us in marketing talk and stunning visuals. While hordes of non-believers will be dazzled. The rest of us will be left wondering how these games will truly play out? Will Star War's story driven depth and deep character development win out against, and this is a total guess....the fast paced game play of 40k PvP?

Here at we usually do awards for E3. This year we'll have a full staff at the show and will be sitting down to discuss the awards. Who wins Best of Show 2010?

By June 15th we will finally see for ourselves...and do out best to give you the info as well. If you have serious questions for either of these games...which I am sure you do....kindly post below. We'll try to pick a few that we can ask and get a reasonible answer.  I know I have about a million...

Community Spotlight: An MMO Without Progression?

Posted by MikeB Thursday May 13 2010 at 3:12PM
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 This week’s Community Spotlight focuses on the thread “Would you play a MMO without character progression?” by jusomdude. In the thread, jusomdude wonders if we would play an MMO without character progression since he believes that most players are into end-game raiding these days:

“It seems many people are all about end game raiding these days.

So would you play a MMO that was all about raiding, and gear progression with no character progression?

You could still customize your character with talent trees or something.

If there was a game like this, I think there would be a ton more raid content than current games, since developers wouldn't have to make content for leveling.

Personally, I don't know if I'd play a game like this, because I like advancing my character through levels and abilities more than just getting new shiny pieces of gear. And I don't like raiding that much.”

Jenuviel offers an interesting perspective, suggesting perhaps the opposite would be ideal, a game with tons of levels and remorts (clearly a MUDder, I haven’t heard this term in forever!) entirely absent of raiding:

“I'm actually on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. I'd happily play a game with 500 levels and unlimited remorts (the ability to start over at level 1 with perks gained from the previous incarnations) and no raiding or pvp whatsoever. For me, that forward momentum is my primary source of enjoyment. I'm all about character growth, but not particularly about "stuff accumulation." If it had grouping all the way similar to the grouping in CoH, I'd group all the way. If it didn't, I'd solo all the way. Either way, I'd be happy.

I sit at a desk typing in patient information all day, every day, and I typically feel like very little (if any) progress has been made. When I get home, it's a relief to sit down, spend a couple of hours, and walk away with that sense of "getting somewhere" that levels give me. Sure, they're meaningless in the big picutre, but that part of me that needs to be putting one foot in front of the other gets temporarily sated by it.

Once I reach a level cap, I generally reroll (if there are any other classes or skill combinations I'm interested in) or leave. With a mechanism in place to allow virtually unlimited leveling, I'd stay subscribed for virtually an unlimited amount of time. A game like that would probably have to throw away quest-based advancement entirely, though, and revert to pure grinding. I think those days are behind us forever, so I'm basically a virtual tourist now. Play game, see sights, move on. Getting shinier, spikier armor just doesn't motivate me in the same way, nor does lateral advancement. That's sad for me, but good for the industry; I buy a lot of MMO boxes.”

Kyleran wouldn’t play such a game, he instead argues that character progression is part and parcel of defining the MMO experience:

“I'd have to say no, I wouldn't play a game w/o some form of character progression, though I'm not a fan of "leveling" per sec, I like EVE's system much better. (where the focus isn't on "working for your progression".

I've been playing Fallout 3 lately and over the weekend I hit level 20 (the max w/o expansions) and suddently found myself wondering what my goals in the game were.  I went ahead and finished the mainline quest and ended the game even though I haven't seen almost 1/3 or the game at least.

I'll go back and continue to play of course, esp since I can still find items that will improve my character, but its not quite as much fun knowing I'll not get to allocate new skill points or gain new perks. (except of course, I did buy the expansion, time to install it I think)

But back to MMORPG's, character progression is a defining element of MMORPG's, otherwise you are creating basically an "adventure" game like Myst and I never cared for playing those style of games.”

Dreamscaper suggests that she would be interested in a game without character progression, as long as the gameplay itself was as fun from moment to moment as City of Heroes is to her:

“If the game was built like City of Heroes, then yes.

It's really the only MMO that I've found to be fun for the sake of it, not because of progression. It's because of the combat system - combat in the game is simply fun in a way that I normally only find in non-MMOs. I love tossing baddies around with my storm/energy defender, or completely controlling the battlefield with my ill/kin controller. You can take away the XP, enhancements, and it would still be fun to jump into a group with some of your friends, turn up the difficulty, and start blasting away.”

I on the other hand would probably not play such a game. I love the progression in MMOs and it’s partly what drives me to play them. If the only progression for me was the raid to gear, gear to raid cycle, I don’t think I would be interested, and it is one reason I often don’t really get into the raiding scene.

I enjoy being able to chart a progression of my characters abilities from a total newb to max level, and being able to look back at how he has changed both in look and ability since I started him out.

Axehilt brought up an interesting point in the thread as well, noting how progression was important and how he probably would not have played Modern Warfare 2 as long as he had were it not for the game’s progression system (which borrows heavily from MMOs). Modern Warfare 2 also has a Prestige mode which lets you reroll your character once you’re max level in order to re-level it again to earn more coveted Prestige ranks. This sort of ties into Jenuviels point earlier with regards to having many levels and “remorting” or gaining bonuses from your previous progression and starting anew. I think such a system might be an interesting alternative to your typical endgame.

Would you play an MMO that was all about the endgame and consisted of essentially nothing but raiding? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below!

The Godslayer Doth Rose

Posted by BillMurphy Wednesday May 12 2010 at 4:44PM
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Age of Conan’s first major expansion released yeserday, and I for one hope it is the true turning point for Funcom’s dark fantasy MMORPG.  Of course the long down time extending into Wednesday morning was a little bit of an early hiccup, but things will hopefully be smoother today.  Last year we gave AoC our most-improved award and quite a few folks scoffed at the idea.  But I’ve been playing the game off and on myself since launch and have been right there to witness the turnaround.  Craig Morrison, much as he did with Anarchy Online, has taken a bit of a wonky game and slowly turned it into something worth my subscription.  And with the launch of Rise of the Godslayer, I’m pretty sure I’ve found a place to hang my gaming hat for a little while.

What Godslayer doesn’t add in terms of vertical advancement for your character it more than makes up for with a diverse and involved “Alternate Advancement” system.  Reminiscent of EQ2’s AA system, it’s a great way to add skills and abilities to your character without the need of adding pointless levels to the game.  Age of Conan was light at launch on content for leveling, and this expansion wisely decided to build upon the mid-game and end-game without stretching the existing content too thin.

It makes me think about other games that would benefit from similar treatment.  Champions Online is for sure in need of more leveling content, and Shannon Posniewski has already stated his intent to flesh such gaps out.  My favorite part of nearly every level-based game is the climb through the ranks, watching my character grow, experiencing the narrative of the myriad zones.  But that only really works for alt characters when there is more than one path to the top.  Godslayer seems to be trying hard to create that branching road to level 80, and Champions Online with its natural tendency towards alts would be rightly served by such an addition.

Therein lies the problem with theme park games, I guess.  Like Sandusky Ohio’s Cedar Point, the nostalgia for the place will always be there.  The thrill of the coasters will always be there.  The smell, the look, the overpriced food… it’s always consistent.  But without the new rides and changes each year the park would start to become less and less of an attraction for people.  The problem is that most games need to be successful to add the wealth of content needed to keep subscribers happy.

I had a point when I started this rant.  What was it again?  Oh, right.  Rise of the Godslayer is out.  And it’s pretty awesome.  Gotta go.  I need to find out how to raise my tiger-kitty.

(PS - Told ya.  It's not exactly Blizz MAKING the thing, but this was sort of my point.)

The Frazetta Legacy

Posted by garrett Tuesday May 11 2010 at 9:34AM
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Frazetta Legacy
Sometimes people come along who can change the way we all view things. Frank Frazetta never changed anyone’s view, he created it. Being a huge Robert E. Howard fan I truly believe that Conan the Barbarian was as much a product of Howard’s writing as it was of Frank Frazetta’s artwork. If you watch the old Conan movie with Arnold, they literally tried to put Frazetta’s vision on that screen.
Not only can we thank Frank for the image of Conan in our collective consciousness, we can also thank his influence on Games Workshop’s Chaos Warriors. Look at pictures of the Death Dealer, then look at Chaos Warriors, then think about how amazingly cool it all is. Sure there is High Fantasy, we can thank Tolkien for that. Elves and heroes and hobbits are all fighting against the dark forces of the world.  Then there is Dark Fantasy, at least that is what I call it.
Dark Fantasy is not as black and white as High Fantasy. Dark Fantasy’s heroes are not “good guys.” The anti-hero concept has always been fascinating and dark fantasy stories that were written have always been enhanced with artwork from Frazetta. I do read both genres very much and have to be honest that I am sad no one has made a dark fantasy MMO. Sure, Conan fits that bill easily enough. Yet no one has created an original IP around a dark world with barbarians, savages, demons, and beasts.  I guess you could say that Diablo is that world in many ways. There is another game Frank had an influence on.
Yesterday, Frank Frazetta passed away at age 82. Who would have thought that a kid from New York City who wanted to play for the Yankees would give us a collective work that created the visual concept of dark fantasy? If you have a chance, if you have time, I highly recommend two things. One is the movie Fire & Ice found here. While a bit dated by today’s standards, this movie was put together by Frank Frazetta and Ralph Bashki. It is still damn cool, with characters that mirror Elric and Conan. Another movie is called Painting with Fire. It can be found here. It tells Frazetta’s story and shows where his art came from.
So thanks to Frank we have Conan and Diablo, and endless music, inspired artists, comics, games, movies (heck I have heard George Lucas owns several original Frazetta paintings), and most of all we have images that stay with us for the rest of our lives.

Community Spotlight: Why are Instances Bad?

Posted by MikeB Thursday May 6 2010 at 3:38PM
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This week’s Community Spotlight focuses on the thread “Why Instances bad?” started by SEANMCAD. A fairly simple premise to an often controversial topic, SEANMCAD simply wonders why many gamers consider instancing a bad design choice:

“Why? I do not undertand. I am not supporting them becuase I dont understand what the issue is at this time.”

Mardy explains that instancing isn’t bad per se, it’s only bad when it negatively affects the “massively” part of an MMO:

“Instances isn't bad.  It's when a game overuse instance technology and fill the game up with nothing but instances.  So you feel like you're playing a mini game by yourself, rather than with "massive" amounts of other players.  Unfortunately most games do overuse instances.”

Angorim is strongly anti-instance, and explains that singleplayer RPGs offer a better storyline anyways, so the reasoning that instancing helps with storytelling doesn’t really hold for him:

“I've seen people make a terrible comparison between "zoning" (via single player games or load screens in MMOs) and instancing (multiplayer based, particular MMO only) which separates you from the game world in your own private "room." 

Instancing breaks the MMO aspect for me because I want a world full of people, not a single player game with light multiplayer functions.  If a story cannot be told within the context of a large player base and must be done with in an instance, then it really has no place in an MMO for me.

I get way better game play and storylines in single player RPGs than MMOs anyway.”

Emhster sees a purpose for instancing, especially when it comes to games focused on PvP:

“About instances in PVP Games:

Yes and no, it depends how it is implemented. Most FFA PVP games I've played ended up with major lag issues that needed to be taken care of... Its often due to client-side or network limitations:

  • Shadowbane had a lot of lag issues during massive raids. One of the widely used defense strat was even to stack as many players as possible so attackers would be lagged to hell while their client was suddenly loading every characters, turning them into sitting ducks.
  • Aion had some major lag issue in the Abyss during GvG. I'm not sure where it's at right now.
  • World of Warcraft had to limit the number of players in Wintergrasp, because their servers couldn't handle the load on heavily populated servers.

Instances is just a mean to help companies to deal with such issues... :P”

Echoing many other readers, lethys doesn’t find an issue with the concept of instancing, but more with how it has been used:

“They CAN be good but most of the time instances are used in such a way that I feel like none of my actions matter.  If I lose in a PVP instance I can just queue up the same one five seconds later, and if I clear a dungeon with a legendary dragon then I know that I'll be doing it again next week so that I might get the sword I want. 

It's all pathetic, mostly.  A good use of instancing will be APB, which tracks progress of action that takes place in instances.  Plus the instances are used in such a way that they don't seem like instances and they are also massive.”

Mehve’s take runs contrary to Angorims earlier point against instancing, highlighting the many ways instancing actually helps create better and more interesting challenges for players as it can be much more finely tuned and scaled properly:

“As already said, instancing offers a means to create more focussed, controlled challenges for players to undertake, that would be in too much danger of being wrecked if other bystanders were allowed to interfere. You can also tweak a given instance (i.e. alter mob levels within) on the fly, depending on who enters them, or allow multiple groups to undertake a challenge at once (some people may like camping world boss spawns for hours/days on end, but not me).

Or sometimes it lets a developer do those things, when they're just too lazy to make something work open-world. By it's very definition, it involves seperating the involved group/person from the main community, at least to some degree. So any time you do it, it's important that the benefits outweigh that fact.”

I don’t have too much of a preference myself. I would say I don’t really like “hub style” instanced games like Dungeons & Dragons Online, because I do actually want to be in a game world, and not what essentially amounts to a lobby. At the same time, I don’t need the game world to be as open as say Star Wars Galaxies originally was to have a good time. If I go back through my history of games I’ve played many games that used instances heavily (City of Heroes is a great example) and just as many that didn’t.

Bottom line for me is I want to feel like I’m in a believable game world, and using instances properly doesn’t really impede that for me. A fully instanced world, however, does.

Also, as a community manager I feel extremely heavy instancing sorely diminishes the value of community in these games, as depending on the game’s particular LFG system, you’re basically just trying to get bodies in for an instance, or using some form of matchmaking to take care of that for you. Having an actual game world allows you to meet other players more naturally, instead of simply out of necessity, and I think this kind of experience is really conducive to making friends and fostering a good community.

What do you think about instancing? Let us know in the comments below!

Could Call of Duty Online Be Blizzard's Next MMO?

Posted by BillMurphy Tuesday May 4 2010 at 4:47PM
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I know that blog title seems a bit sensationalist.  But blame Br3ntbr0 over at ITG for this meandering Tuesday afternoon thought.  The blogger starts pondering about the possibility (and it’s all just a big what-if at this point mind you) of Blizzard’s next top-secret MMO being Call of Duty Online.  Michael Pachter of Wedbush Morgan seems to think that a big change in the franchise is on the way stating, “Activision intends to transform the game from a packaged product only to a subscription multiplayer game.”  Could that be where Blizzard comes in?
Not to draw more unnecessary attention to the Infinity Ward drama, but what if one of the reasons for the shakeup is because the former studio heads didn’t agree with the direction Activision wanted to take their series in?  Pachter believes that a game like Call of Duty Online would need two to five million subscribers “to keep the franchise's revenue levels up and create higher margins.”  And if there is one thing Blizzard seems to know, it’s how to get those kinds of numbers and keep them there. 
Still would a CoD MMOG actually be any good?  Is Blizzard really the studio that would be the best fit for accomplishing such a task?  Provided that such a project really is under consideration, Blizzard has some things going for them.  They’re a company that’s built on the notion of taking a genre and honing it and refining it in a way that no other development house can while simultaneously opening said genre up to the masses in terms of accessibility.  They did it with the RTS, the Action RPG, and the MMORPG.  Is the FPS next on their list?
Pachter believes that that Activision wants to work towards more subscription-based revenue models and that Jason West and Vince Zampella simply did not want to work on such a game, leading to their departure.  Activision sees the success of World of Warcraft and knows they have Blizzard in their stable… would it be so farfetched of them to look towards the venerable developer to bring home the bacon for the world’s most popular FPS franchise?
Even so, if Blizzard is making such a game, will their name alone automatically make the title the success it needs to be and the success Activision is looking for?  The realistically set war-games Infinity Ward is known for are not exactly Blizzard’s milieu.  Not to mention the fact that the company has never designed an FPS before (though one assumes they would be pulling plenty of talent from the CoD studio on the project). 
Blizzard says that their next MMO project is something wholly different from WoW and won’t be pulling from the same audience.  Many have speculated this means the team is working on something along the lines of Club Penguin.  I do believe they have stated that it will be a new IP.  So maybe all this talk about Call of Duty Online is just wishful thinking.  But then, the CoD IP would be new to Blizzard, wouldn’t it?
This is all just fun and pointless speculation.  Br3ntbr0 made me do it.  But man, a wide open war-torn world with CoD’s mechanics and an ever-changing political landscape does sound like a dream.  If an online Call of Duty is ever made, I just hope we’re not tasked from the outset to kill 10 generic bad guy soldiers and then take some supplies to the nearest “Inn-firmary.” 
Ha.  I made a funny (a bad one).

MMOs With Feeling

Posted by garrett Monday May 3 2010 at 2:44PM
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I wanted to talk today about what events in MMOs ever had feeling or meaning. Many players claim MMOs to be mindless grinds.
Many of them are... However there needs to be a point in MMOs that is fun and gives the player a reason to play. No I am not talking about loot or achievements. I am talking about feeling.

For me MMOs are always about meeting up online with your friends and adventuring together. MMOs should feel like an adventure and many times they do not. The development concept of populating the world with rats and having people collect rat feet is lost in many ways. Look at WoW's current end game for Lich King. Almost all PvE content is instanced. PvP content is instanced as well. So groups of friends can do tasks with a point. However, beating ICC every week gets a big old. You still wait for your shield to drop...been weeks waiting on my shaman caster shield...but still you strive on. Yet in WoW I have no reason to play other than to do ICC at this point or maybe Wintergrasp.

This got me thinking about things in other MMOs I had accomplished that made the game fun. Dark Age of Camelot was PvP no question. Also I used to actually enjoy grinding through Darkness Falls to level up my friends and realm mates. I say realm mates because groups would form that were not just for one guild. In Ultima it was PKing or going out with my Blue to fight the other PKs. It had a purpose that was not put there by the game itself telling me I had to do XYZ. I could just log in and do what I wanted.

With instancing the issue stands that players can group together, but there is a limited number of instances. We will quickly figure them all out. However, what about desiging leveling so that it could be done through adventuring. I know DDO has done this, but in its early days you could not solo in DDO, big mistake. Solo is needed, more than anything for a player who has time to play but does not have his or her friends online to play with.

If a game is designed with feeling it gives players goals and objectives without making them part of the game specifically. Those reasons are given without them having to be spoon fed to you. They just evolve over time and soon you are playing for goals that you have set for yourself or your friends. Not goals that have been set for you.

Helping new players level should be rewarded, realm pride fights should be rewarded, passing on a piece of loot that you may need but someone who has worse gear needs it more should be rewarded.

All these things have feeling, and are lacking in MMOs right now. It is just a theory but finding reasons to play outside of the shield drop or emblem runs is a sign of a good game. Not that WoW is bad, but it has lost its feeling sometimes as to why we play it.