Archive for the Editorial Category

Ye Olde Game Journalism Debate

Posted in Editorial with tags , , , on January 10, 2010 by howtoloseyourlifetoanmmorpg

Psychochild has a new post up about journalistic standards within the video game industry.  I largely agree with these posts, whenever they pop up.  To me journalism is journalism, and the integrity, standards, and legitimacy should cover every aspect of journalism(including writings on video game culture).

I thought it was a good opportunity to share a bit of how I operate and why.  I come from a very academic background in writing.  From that viewpoint, I don’t think I am a very good journalist or reviewer.  I try and feel I’ve come a long way, but still have a long way to go.  I’ve always tried to be at my utmost professional when I wrote for other sites(even when I included snarky humor).  When I represent my self as a journalist, I can be obsessive about grammar and spelling.  This site, however, is my personal platform.  I’ve actually had to work at being more casual with it.  That opens up a lot of room for me to make errors.  Errors in judgment, and grammar have found many places within many of my posts.

As a rule, if I’m writing for someone else, I want to do the best job I can(as a reflection of the job I can do, and upholding standards of writing).

To that end, I probably should take more care and effort in my postings, as it does reflect on who I am and the quality of my writing, but I still defend it by saying that this is my personal blog, and I don’t hold it against other blogs.  In fiction, whenever you are writing dialogue(when you have a character speaking), grammar is not important, and that is how I view it when I write many of my posts.  Many of my posts are streams of thought, so I just go with it.

Reading Psychochild’s post has made me re-evaluate this blog though.  In light of me changing my template and name, I probably will try to achieve a higher quality of writing.

Thanks Psychochild.

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The Worst Thing About Free-To-Play MMORPGs Is That They Are Free-To-Play

Posted in Editorial with tags , , , , on January 2, 2010 by howtoloseyourlifetoanmmorpg

When F2P (Free-T0-Play) MMORPGs hit the scene, players were introduced to some really fun virtual worlds at no cost.  What quickly developed though was a not so fun implosion of Pandora’s Box.

Besides all the benefits of micro-transactions within these MMORPGs, The box that these games were contained in were opened wide to let in a floodgate of negative socio-economic aspects.  Now instead of excepting the nice hermetically sealed contents of the game, we have people from all walks of life and all walk of money able to alter their gaming experience in a similar way they can altar their lives.  The real world has impacted F2P MMORPGs like nothing else before.  If I want to speed up my progression, have an extra pet, or have a permanent mount, I can- if I have the money.

In a weird twist, if you take away the freedom that micro-transactions can provide, players will tend to be more accepting, because beyond what anyone can equally altar within the game, it’s the way the game is built.  It doesn’t mean players won’t complain.  Visit any game’s forum, especially World of Warcraft’s, and you’ll see plenty of people complaining about various ways the game operates.  It is the same, and then some, with F2P MMORPGs.  You’ll have all the regular criticisms and to exacerbate those, you have a whole new plane of complaints brought on about feelings over paying to get what you want.

Perhaps as an unfortunate downside to being free, these MMORPGs have to contend with players being able to bring their real life woes and negative feelings over money into the games.  When players start to look at their gaming experience as it relates to their socio-economic status, well, a lot of negativity can ensue.

From this perspective, how do you try to handle game development?  Or can you even affect it?  Do you even try?  Do any and all complaints that fall under Item Mall complaints get ignored outright?  Because how can anyone expect an MMORPG development team to try and altar game play experiences based on the players socio-economic status?  Some players work 40 hours a week to afford a minimum of in-game purshasable items, while others have near unlimited funds and free time.  Should anyone expect an MMORPG too cater to these diverse situations?  Most micro-transactions are already fairly small, per purchase.  Many games let you spend as little as 5 dollars per purchase to obtain a majority of items in-game.  Beyond that, what can a F2P MMORPG development team do?

I tend to be pretty strict with my opinions on some subjects, but I admit that my opinion(s) may not be the best.  It appears to me, that a micro-transaction based F2P MMORPG affords some fun features, being free to play not the least of them.  But they also shed a lot of responibility that is placed back into the hands of the players.  That, to me, opens up a whole new can of worms that I’m not going to even try to get into with this post.  But I felt it worth mentioning as food for thought.

Hardcore Casual

Posted in Editorial with tags , , , on December 15, 2009 by howtoloseyourlifetoanmmorpg

(Haha, yes I swipe it and turn it into a titular blog post.)

I’ve been thinking about Hardcore Casual while reading a lot lately on raiding.

I may be wrong on different nuances here, please feel free to correct me.

Raiders(hardcore if you will) usually find an instance to farm, loot, gear up, and raid it again. It’s a cycle full of adrenaline junkies, I suppose. It’s fun. I found it fun, intense, and rewarding.

But what seems apparent to me is the ones that only do this, or subscribe heavily to the idea that all an MMORPG is made for, or the pinnacle that an MMORPG can provide, is for high level, end game raiding- even the unknowing player that hasn’t even realized until after 100 instance runs that they are in this cycle. Yes it comes with various forms of baggage. You’ll have elitism, etc… but at its core it’s a very simple pattern that easily excludes many other parts of an MMORPG. Socializing? I don’t think there’s much room for that. Not when you know you’re needing to run 20 raids in the next week and you have X hours to spare. It’s a min/max hardcore world right?

When I look at what these hardcore people are doing, I see something similar to what the majority of the gaming world would call casual.

Casual game play. All those little games on Facebook immediately come to mind. I have a sneaky suspicion that all you Mafia War fanatics tend to love Halo and MMORPG Raiding. And within just MMORPGs, you probably socialize little, just enough to not be overly selfish when that’s all you want to get to the top, because the top is where everyone has to be, right?

That’s almost exactly the definition of casual games. All the Bejeweleds and Peggles of the world, they provide a singular purpose, a cyclic repetition of increasingly harder levels, and expanding time doesn’t fit into the equation either. Reducing time is the only logical step. Getting to the top as quickly as possible is the efficient logical way. Even if fun does not equate to logic, people derive fun in many different ways.

So are you hardcore? or are you casual?

P2P and F2P Communities

Posted in Editorial with tags , , , , , on December 9, 2009 by howtoloseyourlifetoanmmorpg

Are they fundamentally different? or fundamentally the same?

I started playing MMORPGs over 2 years ago with F2P.  My first impressions of MMORPGs in gerneral could only be based on the F2P variety.  At their core F2P have not only been similar to each other, but identical.  For the most part, it’s why they get the name “Asian Grinder”.  They’ve primarily been much smaller MMORPGs imported from the Far East, using a micro-transaction business model, with killing mobs in a non-situational environment as the main mode for leveling.

Do players weened on F2P develop differently?  Do they have a different mind set?  and Is the core group of F2P players fundamentally different than subscription based MMORPG communities?  We know that F2P MMORPGs tend to be smaller and thus have smaller communitites.  We also know there will be overlap between many different types of players.  To some extent or another, you’ll have ex-WoW’ers, crafters, raiders, sandboxers, casual, longterm, etc… touching on F2P.  Lately I have been considering the idea that the majority core group of F2P communities are different.  To be more specific, I think F2P games in the past, have lacked communities at all.  I think once the game is turned off, no one cares.  There seems to be a huge void that isn’t explained by the communities just being smaller.  I believe we may find that the majority and core group of F2P players, that are also the majority bouncing from one new F2P to the next, are primarily tech savvy min/maxers with tendencies toward raiding.

In F2P games, mechanics-wise you have a system where there isn’t a whole lot in the way of options in-game.  The light shines brighter on level cap because there is no crafting and in many cases no auction house, to name a couple reasons.  So people are clicking away and upgrading gear using random tables and drops, plus EXP and other potions purchased with real money via micro-transaction.  Sure you can chat and have other forms of fun.  I played an older F2P for almost a year and had a great guild where we had loads of fun, but it was through us creating that fun.  The game left us with just kill at our level, and chat.  This limit of options leaves the focus on upgrading and becoming as strong as possible.  I believe this either cultivates or attracts a significant number of min/maxers to F2P MMORPGs.

You also have a smaller game in general, that tends to have a quicker gameplay.  It’s not an argument to say “But you have to grind forever, so it’s not quicker”, because they add the grind to try to slow down the experience.  If all you did in WoW was quest and nothing else, you could reach level cap in probably a week or two(depending on your play time).  But there is also so many more options, that just as many players(if not more) take much longer to reach level cap.  In F2P games, you may have PvP, server war, or another similar option, but the only thing keeping you from it is level, so the majority of players spend all their game time doing that one thing-leveling.  In response, F2P games have been “plugging” in systems that consist of smaller bite-sized chunks of fast game play elements.

Another significant filter, that I think determines the personality of the player, is actually how you access the game.  Accessibility and approachability.  Out of over 30 F2P MMORPGs I have had only one of them that had a perfectly smooth process.  I was able to download, install, update, and register on the website without a hitch, but I’m guessing that wasn’t the case for everyone playing that game.

We end up with smaller core groups of players.  Within those smaller groups, a higher percentage of min/maxers/raiders based on the core design of F2P MMORPGs.  The games can cultivate the mentality that the most important thing that provides the most fun, is to reach level cap and that is only obtained by min/maxing and getting more drops quicker.  In some respects when players move to a game that actually has more to do, they may simply ignore it, because they’ve never known anything else.  On top of that, the games are a lot quicker.  These players reach level cap and try all the content very fast and then want more, exacerbating the mentality that these games have an end, at which point the player needs to move on to another game.  All of this usually happens in quicker bite-sized chunks which has players tending to get overly annoyed when moving to WoW, EQ2 or other MMORPGs where they need to devote more time in different in-game systems.

All of this translates to an out of game “community” that, to me, looks very similar to online forums where players discuss single-player console games.   It’s primarily asking how to do something, where do I get more of X, and how can I get it faster,  some guild recruitments, and the rest is how the game sucks because players didn’t have 100% success rate in one part of the game or another.  The game is free, and quicker to jump in and out of in lieu of other new F2P MMORPGs.

Am I wrong? Do I see a skewed side of some imaginary numbers?  I wonder?

As a side note: This conclusion I’ve come to will be interesting in light of two F2P games that break the F2P mold.  Runes of Magic, and Allods are very western style games, that are breaking F2P molds.  I already believe that this F2P core group have hit a brick wall that is confusing to them, when they delved into Runes of Magic.  There has been a lot of complaining over the past year in the forums, followed by how the game is just another Asian Grinder.  Which anyone would tell you anywhere online that it breaks that mold in different ways.  Yet, I don’t think I’m only seeing a minority.  I think I’m seeing a segment of this core group that has only known the F2P animal, and is trying to find how something new to them equates to what they know.

Is Inaccessiblity Choking the MMO Market?

Posted in Editorial with tags , , on November 23, 2009 by howtoloseyourlifetoanmmorpg

I recently downloaded the Allods beta.  I still haven’t recieved an email with a beta key, but I wanted to get the game installed and patched so I’d be ready to jump in.  I installed to get a corrupt file warning that fixing didn’t correct.  I uninstalled and tried 2 more times before redownloading.  The new download was the same.  I checked the forums to find a large thread that had various techno-babble that “might” help solve this problem for some people.  It is now the next day and I’m redownloading so I can attempt one of these manual fixes.

This is a typical scenario for many free to play MMORPGs.

For me and some of my past game jounalism acquaintances, we always loved to discuss the business side of the gaming industry as much as the games themselves.  I came to a personal belief that one of  World of Warcraft’s biggest claims to fame is its accessibility.  The game is extremely approachable by many demographics.

I found that playing WoW was about as easy as playing a game on my Playstation 2.  I just pop the disc in and I’m practically up and running.  It had me thinking of all the people that aren’t playing other MMOs because they take more effort on the users part.  Many people aren’t some determined MMO lot that is accustomed to this, or even understand how MMOs work at all.  They just know that it’s a game that looks fun and would like to try it.

I consider myself to be averagely skilled with computers and am still reaching a frustration level cap with getting Allods to work.

Runes of Magic, my current favorite game, is not without this problem.  We see new posts from new players daily on the official forums with errors and other problems just getting the game started.

Two good friends of mine, who aren’t really MMO players as much as they are video game players, loved WoW but they’ve told me they want stuff to work period.  If they are buying a game, if it doesn’t work it’s total and utter useless junk to them.  These are guys who’ve owned every gaming system imaginable and have played PC games for over 10 years.

I played the Vanguard trial over a year ago.  I had extensive problems and confusion over Sony’s Station.com site with registration, getting ID codes, and the like.  Personally I went through it and loved the game, and plan on playing in the future, but I’m one of those determined type that will go the extra mile and know how to.

MMOs in general are not always as easy to play as console games.  Adding a flood of free to play MMOs with constant corrupted file problems can immediately make a persons decision of whether they will ever play that game or not.

Have you had mainly friendly experiences with MMOs? What games do you think do a great or poor job with handling accessibility?

Should companies start beefing up tech support and waiting longer to put out well tested downloads, and making user experience smoother and more easily understood.  Or is this too fine a line where people have it too easy and just need to put the work in, if they want to play?

Alganon First Impressions: Human Soldier to Level 8

Posted in Editorial, review with tags , , , , on November 19, 2009 by howtoloseyourlifetoanmmorpg

The Alganon beta is very laggy at times. This is no doubt exacerbated by my bad wireless connection. Even though I was getting booted, and had to slow down my progression due to lag, It was a good experience. After 8 levels, I was able to get many quests under my belt, study a few skills, if that’s what they are calling it because there are other skills that you get through leveling, and delved into crafting a bit all while seeing a good sized chunk of the extremely large starting zone.

My first 4 levels were filled with acquainting myself with the game and world. Creating a character seems average to any other MMORPG. Not super in-depth, but not shallow either. You can pick hair, face, all that jazz. Unique is the family names you choose from. Each race has 5 families to choose from. These are an attempt to help group players to other like-minded players. Each family is related largely to one field of combat or study. There’s an adventuring family, a crafting family, and so on.

I took a human soldier which starts me in Asheran Forest. It’s a gigantic zone, and has the most pleasantly diverse terrain I’ve ever seen. The layout for all the terrain seems natural, full, varied, and never gives a feeling of repetition(Hey I saw that exact shape and size boulder 2 kilometers back).  There are some nice animations with swarms of bugs, tree tops gently swaying in the breeze, and other little incidental novelties that actually felt like it brought the world more to life.  This zone is also immense. I could only hazard a guess that it may be like taking the zone Stormwind, from WoW, and quadrupling it in size. It’s a colorful world. It has a cartoon-ish look, but high texture and water details make it look sharper, more focused, and a bit less cartoon-y than WoW.

Quests are standard, nothing new here. fetch, kill, find are the norm. Tutorial based quests will get you accustomed to the controls, and your surroundings. There’s a built in quest tracker, to find where you need to go. Some may think this takes away immersion or is too easy. For a first time player I found it very helpful, as the zone is huge and easy to get lost in.

I clicked my study icon to get started with what I could. It’s a time based skills system that lets you select from about 3 studies after character creation, and as you study, more will open up. I found it fine. I started with bladesmanship, then went to crafting related studies. I was only level 5 when I did the novice craftsmen which completed within one play session. It opened up specific craft related studies such as natural oils, alloy, etc… I chose alloy, and suddenly it’s taking 24 hours to get that study. I felt that it was a huge jump from the first level of studies I took. I am not at all familiar with EVE and its time-based skills, so I will have to have some more…uh, time with this part of Alganon.

My first 5 levels kept me pretty close to the starting area, and then the quests lowly moved me further down a road to the town of Greenvale. At level 6 I found out I could have already been crafting at level 1. So I jumped in, asked developer chat a few questions and got started. There’s honestly not much I can say beyond “If you’ve played WoW, you know everything you need to know about Alganon crafting”. It doesn’t just look the same, you’ll feel like you’re playing WoW at times, if not for the graphical differences, with all the similar movements you’ll be going through.

Crafting is the same system used in WoW. It looks like they ripped it out of WoW, put it in Alganon, and just renamed items, recipes, and ingredients. That’s not saying it’s bad, I think it speaks more volume to say “It’s familiar” and I’ll get to that more in a bit. I found a blacksmith, purchased mining, and blacksmithing. I then went out mining which was a pleasurable experience. This is a one-click gathering system. You get a tracker. In my case I could locate ore, but there was a small extra perceived sense of hunting on my part. Even when you near a node, it can take some looking for. It may be behind a tree or rock, or just hiding down in a depression in the ground. It also could be nicely placed amongst some mobs requiring some skill to reach if you are equal or even above the mobs level. Some clicks landed me copper, limestone, and sometimes a jewel along with the others. The most I ever received from one node was 2 copper, 1 limestone, and 1 jewel.

There’s a vendor in town selling some reagents that you’ll need to go along with the ore when crafting. I also found, with the beginning recipes, you’ll quite often also need to refine the ore and get some drops from mobs to create the item(s).

From level 7-8 I went on more quests which sent me further along the zone. I was done crafting for the time being, after feeling used to it, and I wanted to see more of the great graphics in the zone. There are plenty of hubs with lots of NPC’s. Many of them just stand there, but they all have voiced greetings for you. The houses are nice. I always love many buildings you can go into. Just like the terrain, the buildings are varied in size and shape. Asheran Forest lends itself to log cabins and small wooden houses. There’s a few 2-story houses that I explored. This is where the camera flaws really showed up.

I found myself constantly zooming in and out, whether in the forest or in town. The trees are so lush with wide tops, and the camera doesn’t snap below them, so any trees in your way will have to be avoided by zooming in. Same goes for inside a building. There seems to be an attempt at camera snapping, as you enter a buildings doorway then turn right or left it snaps to the characters back just fine, and you can easily rotate around to get the interiors layout. But many times, especially in the multi-storied buildings you have to zoom in to avoid staring at the floor above you.

The most unique and exciting feature in the game, to me, is the Library. It’s simply defined as an in-game repository of information on everything in the game. It’s not simple though, as it has everything. If WoW had this, it would be like taking Thottbot, and WoW Armory, smashing them together, and then letting you access that info all without alt+tab’ing out. There’s also a slew of Alganon world lore to look up. It’s a very nice interface.

Apart from crafting being identical to WoW, the difference for Alganon is how they plan to get items into players hands. They’ve said that they plan on balancing the really good weapons and armor between crafting and drops. You’ll be able to get that Uber Green Glowing Demon Sword+1 from a series of challenging crafting tasks, or from a challenging raid. It sounds like they are trying to create a dichotomy of equality. That is to say, it seems they’re trying to create equal feelings of work and time invested for both the crafter and raider after the same item. I’m very curious to see how this plays out. Unfortunately no instances are available in the beta. Any real world testing will have to wait until after the game’s launch.

To sum up, I felt the game was very polished visually.  The server snags and lags quite a bit right now, but that’s to be expected in beta this young.  It plays very much like WoW in many respects.  I felt torn whether I should dislike this or not.  You could almost disassociate yourself from the graphics and you could simply believe you found some brand new zones in WoW.  I never used the term WoW clone before so I do not use it lightly now.  The interfaces from crafting looked ripped directly from WoW, as does a few other interfaces, and also the way you interact within those interfaces.  Ultimately it doesn’t make me dislike the game in the least.  It’s not a bad thing to be a clone.  And it really has it’s own look graphically.  At the end of reaching level 8, I find that apart from the knowledge base called the Library, there isn’t much in the way of innovation.  I don’t need innovation when a game uses many approved standards of play that agree with me.  I find myself wanting to play more to see how beautiful the rest of the world is, if nothing else, and to see how the crafting implementation will affect the player base and my enjoyment level of crafting.

Where Should the Best Loot Come From?

Posted in Editorial with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2009 by howtoloseyourlifetoanmmorpg

I don’t state this to try to add validity to an argument, just to let you know that I respect where the opinions are coming from.  I’d very much like to hear what others have to say.

Some of my friends, I used to play WoW with, I’ve known for a long time and have come to really respect their opinions on all sorts of subjects.  They are all very well educated, very well-rounded, and are intuitive as all get out.  So when we discussed where the best loot should come from in a game, and they agreed with me, it not only fed my lovely ego(which I do love, no matter how small it is), but I really focused my thought on the subject for a long time.

I’m of the belief that the best armor and weapon loot should come solely from crafting.  You can still have good crafting that people will partake in, as I would point to any existing crafting system as flawed yet obviously working.  But to have anything less than the best armor or weapons come from anywhere else undermines crafting and takes a way the one purely viable reason to have crafting in the first place.  Otherwise you don’t really have crafting, you just have the aucton house where people play online “economists”.

In the strictest sense, I would call all current crafting systems economy systems.  They solely feed into the economy.  That’s their highest and most valid priority.  Sure you are crafting “stuff” but what is the number one reason you are crafting it?  In WoW, you may find some alternative uses for crafting early on, but once you pass level thirty, the crafting system takes a nose dive off a thousand foot sheer cliff, and turns more into a money maker where most people stop after refining and don’t actually get to the crafting part.  They refine material to sell in the auction house.

There’s a place for this, but there’s also no tangible use for the fully crafted goods.  We call these crafting systems?

Are we undermining raids and battlegrounds, if we take away their gear drops?  I don’t think so.  It’s shifting responsiblities back into their proper places, and improving the game dramatically.  Can’t there be other uber drops in raids and battlegrounds?  I don’t see why not.

If players and/or developers feel that one area of the game ends up having to take priority over the other as far as where the best loot comes from, then I still see the logical conclusion that it should be crafting.  I personally don’t see it undermining raids or “end-game” content because there is plenty to achieve in doing raids, and players will still have a source to obtain the best gear to run more raids and gear up for battlegrounds.

I’m still a bit skeptical about the inner working of Alganon, that is now in beta.  But they mention this very aspect which made me smile knowing that others agreed with me.  We all love that.  But that’s not the only reason for me to push a subject like this.  I think it stands on it’s own two feet when it comes to what role different parts of a MMORPG should play.