Jack of All MMOs, Masters of None?

Liores from Herding Cats got me thinking today. And of course, whenever Twitter’s 140 character limit can’t encompass my rambling, out to the blog I ride…

Her post, “MMOs are dead and I don’t feel so good myself” did a good job of capturing my melancholy over MMOs for the past 3, (4?!) or more years, ever since my WoW guild broke up and we lost our passion for that game. People started to dabble. We thought we could support multiple MMOs. But the truth is, MMOs require mastery, and we turned into dabblers, those Jacks of All Trades, who master none.

My problem with how things changed in WoW, and how they have changed with my MMO play in general, is complicated. My lack of real passion for Wildstar, a game that should have pushed a lot of my buttons and didn’t, comes from some of those other factors. You can only package the same basic game concepts in different wrappers for so long before they all start tasting like ramen noodles; and we all know how eating only ramen noodles for too long can make you start hating them. I lived on them in college for WAY too long, and to this day I still can’t bring myself to buy them. I could probably eat them again and enjoy them by now, but I remember how much I started to loathe them and that is enough to trigger my avoidance instincts. WoW’s endless dungeon and raid repetition and the gear treadmill did the same thing to me where MMOs are concerned.

The sad thing with becoming more jaded over MMOs is that they have a lot of the things I really want in online gaming. Sadly, they still contain, and are structured around, a lot of the things I no longer want in online gaming. And, for the most part, they are built to supply the need for cooperative exploration and adventure that things like MOBAs (shudder), don’t. But one problem with being jaded, and having a lot of jaded players, is that we are pretty much impossible to satisfy.

Ever since the old days of Neverwinter Nights’ multiplayer mode, where me and several friends could hop into the same online modules and adventure together, I’ve loved that type of game. We put up with the bad graphics and the movement issues because the stories were interesting and we could experience them together.

Considering how much nostalgia I have over the player created mods for that old game, you would think I would have hopped into Neverwinter Online with a vengeance. But I didn’t, and it took me a while to figure out why. Aside from the inventory hassle within the F2P game model, not enough of the people I knew were willing to jump into that game with full commitment and enthusiasm. There were too many other games still holding sway over us. (This is the common thread in all of my game attempts over the past several years.)

I enjoy an epic single player RPG as much as the next person, but there will always be a special place in my heart for sharing adventure and exploration with my friends. We still get together and role play over a good Pathfinder module face to face, but that leaves out a lot of people who no longer live close by. And it doesn’t cover those times when you want to sit in your PJs in the comfort of your own home and just get lost in adventure.

Once my online gaming friends got scattered like seeds to the winds, none of us have managed to sync up our gaming interests and stay committed to the same game for long enough to settle in. I’m getting gun shy about it. I only want to invest time and money into one game at a time these days, and I don’t want to pick the wrong one and then end up adrift, constantly trying to find a group of people I’m comfortable sharing adventures with. It is one of the reasons I didn’t buy Wildstar. I was fully convinced, turns out I may have been right, that people would turn into the usual content locusts, devour every fresh green shoot in that game, and then look at the desolation and swarm away.

Really great games, games that can capture your imagination, require immersion. They require commitment. And they require a group of enthusiastic friends who are in the trenches right there with you. MMOs are designed to be that way. They enable solo play, but the really good stuff, the stuff with staying power, calls for density of a committed player base. Really great games are going to die in droves if we keep treating them like fields of grain to be devoured, especially when there are fresh fields being planted around us.  They also require new content. A lot of new content. Constant new content.

Lately, SWTOR has had staying power for me because it has enabled me and 3 other friends to get together over Skype and run around in a high quality online game questing and slaughtering pixels to our hearts content. No other game has the cinematic group dynamics that it has and none has been scaled to 4 players the way it has been. We keep hoping for something fresh and new to fill this niche, since we’re on our 3rd set of characters by now and stuff is feeling stale, but nothing else has quite done the job.

We tried Defiance, which let us run in the size of group we wanted, for the most part, but it wasn’t quite the group adventure environment we were looking for. It was a bit too frantic on the massive explosion and shoot or be shot front. We kept getting distracted by bright shiny objects, but that kept us from ever feeling a sense of progressing through the story.

We really should go back and give Neverwinter Online a try, but I worry that it has dwindled into a place where it can’t survive as an MMO and wasn’t built to support being played as a small group (still takes 5…) or single player experience. And it has to support really good group play. I’m past the days of putting up with a single player game that just happens to support multiple people playing it together.

So here I sit, wondering if I should go buy some instant ramen noodles and see if I can stand eating them again…

 

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Where Have All The Game Posts Gone (Long time passing…)

Even though I should have a lot of time on my hands lately, I actually haven’t been gaming much. I dabbled in Wildstar (still can’t get into this game), did a little bit of Defiance (inventory management still drives me nuts), played a bit of SWTOR (nothing feels new enough right now), read a few good books (Skin Game right now) but mainly I’ve been doing real life projects and getting back into medieval combat again. I am really looking forward to a few books coming out this summer and of course Dragon Age Inquisition in the fall.

Wildstar certainly has its own personality and several things that are unique, but at the end of the day the overall feel of the game isn’t that much different than any other MMO. I wish I hadn’t had such a long hiatus from Defiance. I’d like to get back into the crossover elements between the TV series starting up again and the game, but I’m too far behind right now and can’t put in the time to really get back up to speed.

Fixing armor, building arrows, and sewing tabards and gambesons doesn’t leave a lot of time to spend at my computer. I forgot what a rush it was standing in the face of a push of metal-clad combatants. This time I’m at range rather than the one holding the shield, but helping stand off a charge in real life is still pretty amazing.

SCA combat archery

Shooting people in the face/helm IRL.

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Love the Star Wars Fandom

I love seeing the Star Wars fans come out in droves today to wish each other a happy Star Wars day. My Bounty Hunter and her intrepid crew have a wish for you.

Bounty Hunter Crew

May the 4th be with you, Always.

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Accentuate the Positive?!

Been doing a little bit of Wildstar beta this weekend and I am sadly appalled at the character models. I was expecting cartoonish, I was expected exaggerated, I was even expecting large breasts on the female toons. I was not expecting how the movement and posture differences were going to really bother me. If I buy the game, I suspect I will just stick with playing male characters. They are over-exaggerated too, but don’t bother me nearly as much. Looking at the females makes my back hurt and really annoys me. I don’t mind characters drawn with sex appeal. I do mind them drawn with boob thrust. Really, really tired of boob thrust… I shall illustrate below:

This is puffed chest

This is puffed chest

This is boob thrust

This is boob thrust

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two heavily armored genders with the same posture...

Two heavily armored genders with the same posture…

Fem-Shep and Male-Shep have their shoulders and arms in pretty much the same positions, but Fem-Shep is clearly drawn to be more sexy. It is a little silly, but not down-right disrespectful. At least some game artists seem to understand my point of view. Maybe some day the rest of them will learn how to stop being… stop designing… just stop.

ME3Marc

ME3Tori

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How Perception Shapes Reality, or Expectations FTW/FTL

rakghoul effect on a trooper

How cool are those eyes?!

We have another one-week-at-a-time in-game event in SWTOR, and opinions on it have been very mixed. Some people love it, some people hate it, some people think it is okay… the usual mix of Opinions. Me, I think the event is fine, but I went in knowing what the event was going to be, and what it was not going to be. My expectations were well in line with reality, and it left room for me to be pleasantly surprised by this event.

As with most of these one week at at time game activities, I know that my enjoyment of it will be limited. Eventually I’ll have seen all I want to see, gained all the rewards I wanted, and get bored. I’m still unsure as to the long term return on investment that these types of events pose, but that depends on how many new people constantly come into a game where the content is new to them.

The people I’ve seen who hate the event are, in general, bitter and unwilling to allow their perceptions the room to enjoy it. This is not what they wanted, and (some) like children they are expressing their unhappiness. “No! I won’t eat that, I hate it, it looks weird!” Those I’ve seen who love the event are either pretty new to the game, or like me they went in knowing that this wasn’t going to be the same thing as when the Rakghouls plagued us before. We’ve left our reality some room to find the fun in what we have been given.

I’ve been happy with the crafting mats gained, the experience points for several of my alts, the bolster effect that allowed our guild to bring in some of the lower level characters to raid the Operations boss, the relics, the artwork, and the overall design of the event. They even added some hidden little secrets like a limited time mini boss in their Rakghoul themed Flashpoint Kaon, that drops a coveted pet.

Cathar plagued

Outraged much?!

This was a nice break from the norm but not so intrusive that I can’t get back to the business of saving the galaxy as soon as I want. Oh sure, some people think the virus sharing is very intrusive, but because they are too lazy to go see a medical droid about their problem, I have no sympathy for them. I get frustrated with the attitudes that want to mock my enjoyment of an event like this as some kind of fangurl problem of mine. I know that my enjoyment of it is limited, which I take personal responsibility for, but that my willingness to allow myself to find the fun in it makes me a much happier person than they are. And finding happiness playing games is what it is all about, right?

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Crafting For Fun And Profit?

Word of warning on this post, I am not all that enthusiastic about crafting in my MMOs so keep that in mind when you read my opinions about this topic. Maybe this is because I’ve never played a game where crafting was exceptional, or maybe I just don’t enjoy a certain play style, I just know that while I learn and do craft things in games, I don’t relish the activity.

complicatedI tend to cringe a lot when people talk about how unfair it is that crafting has become so quick and easy and how other games made you really work hard to become a special crafter. It is almost as if they are looking for the kind of tedium (my assumption here), and work in their game that they have to put up with in life. I understand that you value something more that you had to work hard to achieve, but I tend to think that work and game are not compatible words. When it comes to how much grind I’ll put up with in a game, crafting is one of the areas where I just don’t tolerate much of it.

I craft to support my altaholocism and sometimes my guild. I’d like to craft to make money, but it never works out that well for me. I’m not ruthless enough or willing to spend enough time undercutting the competition to make it worth my while. I know people who do make money crafting in the games I play, but they have to really work hard at it (there it is again, that “work” word). When I log in I want to play, not spend hours juggling an assembly line. I know that for some the assembly line is their play, but I also assume they could find that outlet in other games (Minecraft maybe?).

Player economies are one area where the few can skew things for the many. It is definitely an area where the casual vs hard core player comes into conflict. Is it fair that someone who is unemployed and spends all day crafting in a game to make money gets to benefit over someone with a job who comes to relax for a few hours? I’ve known people in RL who found ways to exploit the heck out of WoW and I’ve seen enough ‘bots in games farming materials to really dislike a system that spawns cheaters.

Despite all of this, I do think good crafting systems have value. Even bad ones have some value. Games are certainly designed to integrate crafting and players spend many hours involved in the activity. It keeps people playing and gives us something to do outside of just questing. So while some of my biggest frustration and dislike of games comes from the crafting grind, I still maintain hope that a game will develop a crafting system that would entertain me and make it worth my while.

I wonder if that will only work if a game supports both a general purpose crafting system for casual players, similar to the “easy mode” (not my description) many complain about in most current popular MMOs, and a complex and multi-faceted mode for the really hard-core crafters. For “easy mode” you make things, you sell things, you support your character and guild activities and that is all. For “hard core” mode you earn XP, you take on quests, you explore and at the end you can make things for yourself and your characters that let you use your imagination. The fact that you can earn XP and special achievements makes this path more worth the time and effort.

SWG custom crafting

Custom description and special qualities in SWG items.

Maybe with unique craft items you can pick from a set of looks, a set of weapon types or combine stats in different ways not normally provided from regular quest gear. In my opinion, the special items shouldn’t be for sale, but they should be things you can make for alts or even for your entire account. They have to be worth your time while at the same time not causing balance issues within the game. There is nothing more annoying than jealous whiners in a game and there is nothing more frustrating than people who exploit crafting or cheat for resources. Removing the hard path crafted items from the player economy, while it will make many unhappy, preserves the “purity” of the path IMO.

Games still should at least try to make the time and energy that the easy mode crafters put into to learning and selling items worthwhile. There are several craft skills in SWTOR that I find completely useless as the “special” items I worked to learn and build became wasted due to gear introduced by the developers. Overnight, things I had been selling became bag fodder. Imagine if I’d gone through a massive time sink and grind to learn those things, rather than the relatively easy path of learning them. Ragequit!

Do I think this “ideal” dual craft world is realistic or likely to happen? In this competitive environment, I doubt it will. Companies have to focus too heavily on getting the most bang for their buck, which means they will roll the dice on the crafting style that will make the most people happy and stick with only that. And as we’ve seen from a sub game converted to F2P, they will also focus on what makes them money over what is most fair to their crafters.

The TLDR part of this is that I think crafters should be able to attain bragging rights and special items for their efforts; I just don’t think those same crafters should be allowed to dominate the in-game economy because they can put in the time to make things that everyone feels they need in order to compete. That starts games down a very slippery slope.

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Dissecting New MMO Content

Another recent topic on Twitter has been hopes from Star Wars The Old Republic’s players for content from the game in 2014. It will be a year of many new game releases with new stories and worlds to tempt away the players of existing MMOs. Many of us hope this will bring out the A game in our current titles, while fearing they won’t have the resources, will or vision to bring it and compete.

As I think about new content in games and expansion packs, I find one of my big frustrations is being forced to work toward new levels in order to experience it. I get tired of my gear becoming invalid as my epic gear gets overshadowed by green quest rewards. I don’t need the XP bar to be turned back on in order to experience new story or lands, and yet that is the mechanism that most MMOs use to motivate players.

I understand how this happens. There are lore, story and an underlying conflict arc that have to evolve. You can’t always insert new content into the middle of the game and have it ignore where players are within their story experience and have it be relevant, and yet that is exactly the kind of content that players tend to love. Not trivial or non-relevant, but new, accessible to most levels and universally relevant to all factions. Trivial content isn’t the solution either, it only has a limited shelf life.

Plagued Bounty Hunter

What do you mean my eyes are glowing?!

Let’s dissect the Rakghoul event in SWTOR as an example of the kind of content I think we need a lot more of. This was a very popular piece of new game content and spoken of with great nostalgia. It had its flaws, but overall there were some very smart things that the event did for the game.

  • It came as a complete surprise which made it feel more realistic and more relevant.
  • There were visible signs all around that this was happening.
  • It was available to most players, not just those who had hit max level.
  • It included a scavenger hunt which, while it wasn’t totally without flaws, was still interesting and rewarding enough to do at least once.
  • It included gear that was unique and different, useful to most levels, and not designed to reward or replace only high level gear.
  • The fights scaled to the level of the player, provided a means to gain XP, but weren’t designed specifically to increase level cap.
  • There was story and cinematic content included with the event that didn’t contradict or invalidate the overarching Empire vs Republic theme, but was still interesting.
  • It included a common enemy and could be done anywhere within the planetary and class story arcs as long as you could survive on Tatooine.
  • It was fresh, it was new, and we resolved it.

This is the type of content that I would love to see happen a lot more in SWTOR. I don’t want to have to level my max level characters, but I’d love to see them have more chances to interact with the world around them, with interesting NPCs and particularly with their companions. While I’d love class-unique content for all, I know that isn’t as attainable. However, Makeb showed how all of the classes and both factions could experience the same content and still have a somewhat unique flavor to it. I just wish it didn’t include the gear treadmill and new levels and was re-playable for longer.

The Bounty Hunter and Gree repeating events do meet some of the benefits I’ve listed above, but their very nature makes them interesting and relevant for a limited period of time. Repeatable content does give more bang for the buck, but it is one of the facets of MMOs that I eventually start to loathe and eventually stop doing. So in the end, how much bang for the buck does it really provide?

Chevin speeder

Think it might explode?

The Chevin scavenger hunt event was also an interesting experiment in sudden, new, limited-time activities, but for some reason it fell flat and didn’t have the staying power or player investment that we saw with the Rakghoul event. I think it was how some of the activities were designed as well as the fact that they felt less important in the grand scheme of the galaxy. Some of the activities turned out to be more frustrating than fun. I just know that I have very few fond memories of that event, even if I do have a few fond rewards from it.

I don’t want a repeat of the Rakghoul event itself, but I do want many more events like it, things that happen despite the war going on that give the galaxy a feeling of existing outside the conflict. That is the kind of content that doesn’t require raising level cap, although I know that the storytellers have a lot more ground to cover in the Empire vs. Republic arc that has to evolve the game. I almost wish there were a way to include that evolution without including gear and level inflation too, but I know that isn’t easy or realistic. I do hope the game has both the will and the resources to compete in keeping players and gaining new ones despite the new games being released this year.

Posted in gaming, MMO, Star Wars The Old Republic, SWTOR | 2 Comments