I started talking yesterday about dying in today’s MMO games. I labeled it as “Part 1?, though I wasn’t really sure what I would write for the second part. I knew, however, that writing the first article would get me thinking about it, and I would probably have at least something more to add later on. Well, after stewing on the issue for a little while yesterday and this morning, I have that little extra something to add: Part 2!
I made an effort yesterday to point out why I don’t believe that a death penalty exists to “add playtime” to the game, for any reason. I’d like to clarify this point and, at the same time, chance my stand on the issue a bit. I said yesterday that there are plenty of ways to force (whatever it means to be “forced” in an online world) players to play a bit longer and thus increase your subscription, but I don’t believe that death is one of them. I still believe this. However, coupled with a larger world, longer quests, a more detailed and consistent set of background lore to fulfill, and longer battles, a death penalty could serve to increase the playtime of many people. The glory of the MMO generation is that if your game has even a slightly large population, having this increase in playtime applied to everyone uniformly would add up to a very respectable total. So, to be sure, I don’t believe that death on its own is more than a negligible contribution to additional playtime (at least for the majority of a given playerbase, who will quit the game after reaching the cap level).
If not to benefit the greedy capitalists, what are death penalties for, anyway?
Well, to answer this, I think it’s good to start with some of the responses from the original mmorpg.com forum thread that started this whole discussion in the first place.
First idea, put forth by an mmorpg.com user:
I don’t know about most people but I like death penelty because of the feeling that if I lose I’ll actually lose which makes me play better and actually gives me a bit of a rush when pvp as apposed to other games were I lose nothing so theirs no reason for me to feel like I need to stay alive Hope thats clear
First of all, that sentence is so long that I drifted off in the middle of it. I started watching this video, which, as bad as the video was, was a better investment of time than trying to decipher that sentence.
For many folks the thrill in the game comes from the risk of loss….the great the loss, the more fun they have….
This is an idea that was brought up many times during this discussion, and I feel it’s a very important point to consider in its various forms. MMO and RPG developers were once (or are still) MMO and RPG players themselves. Wouldn’t that somehow imply, then, that they are putting their ideas and visions of the perfect MMO or RPG into play during the game’s creation? Vanguard may not have been the best game ever*, it was Brad McQuaid’s ultimate vision, and for him, probably one of the best RPGs he’ll ever play (err, that’s up for debate).
If we know this, then we can surmise that the reason for a death penalty at all (and the reason your character doesn’t simply stand up again after death) may be to impose some kind of heightened sense of accomplishment for not dying. It’s a simple concept, really. You’re in a battle that will push the limits of your level and your skill. If you die, you know you are going to lose your last hour or so of work, and you’re going to have to run back and perhaps brave this area again. If you die, you’re going to be very unhappy, and perhaps even frustrated with the game or with your course of actions. However, if you live, you’re going to be equally as happy, your body will release those lovable endorphins, and you’ll become even further drawn into the world of psychological addiction** and intrigue that is MMO gaming. So yes, the original idea is a good one, and could perhaps be a compelling reason for a death penalty. As anyone in economics, finance, or gaming will tell you: with no risk comes no reward (except, as pointed out to me by a friend, in riskless money markets, where the reward is ~5% APY).
Second idea, not really an idea, but I’ll talk about it anyway:
Losing exp is no fun […] Losing gear? I can’t get down with that. […] Running back to my corpse isnt really much of a penalty. Neither is paying for armor repairs, even though it could get expensive after many deaths.
Ah, this person touches on something that many MMO players, especially new ones and those in “denial” (they won’t acknowledge that an online society is just as complex as a “real” life one, whatever that even means) don’t realize. Time is money, so losing experience and having to pay for repairs are fundamentally one and the same. However, and I think many people will agree with me on this, I think that repair costs are far less psychologically and emotionally taxing on a player than an experience loss. Experience loss is one of the most horrific things that can happen to you as a player. There’s some big, evil hang that reaches into your character and takes what you’ve earned. Not fun. Paying repairs, however, can be normalized to the point where, at least when the servers are new, the time it takes to make the money to repair is the same as the amount of time it takes to earn back that lost XP. Of course, in a game like WoW, where there’s only repair costs and no experience loss, the effect diminishes greatly for alts, wherein the player’s main can fund almost unlimited repairs for the alt with only a nominal time investment.
Maybe EQ2 hit the nail on the head with their system: repairs, which are expensive but not horrendously so, and a system of experience “debt” wherein the player earns only half of their regular experience. That way, nothing is taken from the player directly, and the time investment can be smoothed out over hours of play. There’s no interruption of the “moving forward” aspect of the game that most people are so fond of.
It keeps people from being complete idiots in groups.
This is a good one — imposing a penalty for death means that, in a group, imposing your lack of skills on your teammates will result in not only wasting your time, but their’s as well. No one likes the guy in the group who keeps wiping them. In all fairness, there are more situations in a group in which people are likely to die, but the cause is usually reasonably transparent. To me, this is one of the most compelling reasons for a death penalty. With an online society like is present in most MMOs, getting a name for yourself as being bad in a group is not the kind of reputation you want. This is more of a “social darwinist” perspective on the situation, but I think that, out of the reasons outlined in Part 1 and Part 2, this is the most fundamental to the online experience.
Anyway, this post is dragging on somewhat, so I’ll gather my thoughts and maybe there’ll be a part 3 that’s actually interesting!
**not scientifically proven… yet
According to this article at Bloomberg, Nintendo’s market share rose to 6.57 Trillion Yen today, topping Sony’s struggling , pathetic market value of 6.48 Trillion Yen.
From the article:
Sony, which overtook Nintendo as the world’s biggest console maker after PlayStation 2’s introduction in 2000, suffered production delays and slow sales at its latest player. Wii’s lower price and a wand-like controller that players swing like a sword or tennis racquet helped Nintendo widen its sales lead over the PlayStation 3 in Japan last month.
Reasons cited as the cause of the fluctuation? The increasing popularity domestically (and internationally) of Nintendo’s DS Lite, which is taking PSP by the balls.
Its two-year-old handheld DS player, Nintendo’s best-selling game machine ever, uses a stylus instead of button controls, making it easier for users to play Frisbee with their virtual pets, practice calligraphy and draw pictures. Nintendo is also looking to capture an older audience with a “brain-training” game and tutorials for cooking and languages.
While this doesn’t really actually mean anything, maybe it’s a testament to the fact that sometimes more fun is better than more pixels. Then again, nothing really matters unless it’s in dollars anyway, so we’re right back to square one.
In a time when making a PC game without online capabilities is suicide, having a generous pool of out-of-house testers is an invaluable asset to a company. Any gaming company with enough skill in marketing to create the slightest amount of buzz about their upcoming game is sure to have more than enough hands to make quick work of the network and non-ai testable features of the game. For a given game beta, who knows how many will apply? Certainly more than are needed. So who gets to play, and who gets the shaft? More importantly, why?
Personally, I’ve filled out so many applications for game betas that it doesn’t even phase me any more: I probably won’t win, but at least I can show my support for the game. I know that the person who will win in my stead likely has more hours per day to devote to the game, more background in beta testing games in general, and has probably even played through far more games than me in his lifetime. However, in all likelihood, this person will probably have a smaller social network, and will thus not be able to market the game as effectively as I could if I were chosen. So who is the right person to pick in this (somewhat polar, contrived) situation? Do you want someone to find bugs in the game, someone who will ceaselessly play the game for you so you can log his every move and figure out where the bugs are?
This person basically serves the same purpose as any well-scripted bot that the company can produce themselves; the only difference is that the human can be used to balance more aspects of the game, since it’s terribly difficult to script intelligence in bots to the point where weapons, maps, and other niche aspects can be balanced effectively. They’ll raise their own skill in the game and be better at it when it releases, and maybe even discourage some new players from continuing their patronage. This last scenario doesn’t matter in a one-time-fee game, but for online subscriptions it matters a great deal. Most subscription games, however, don’t allow persistence of your character from beta to release anyway.
On the other hand, there is the semi-hardcore gamer who will spend enough time playing your game to have made it worth your while in ways other than finding bugs. He still might find a bug or two, or at least get himself into a strange situation which will give you a good enough stack trace to figure out where the bug is. But, more importantly, and perhaps more valuably, he will talk with his friends about the game, raise hype, network socially with others online (and in person) and probably do more to promote the game in general than the introvert in the first example. To me, this seems a more valuable person to choose.
I say all of this because of a trend that seems to happen in gaming these days. Too many times, on too many beta applications there are so many small, finicky, nit-picky questions that are clearly there to weed out those who haven’t already beta-tested for 10 games in the past. How many games do you play in a given week? How many of those games are online? If this is an MMO/RPG, how many MMO/RPGs have you played in the past? Which ones have you spend more than 100 days playing? It’s questions like these which make it very obvious exactly what the company is looking for. However, none of these questions will yield anyone like the person from the second example, the socialite. If you want someone to actually test your game, fine. If you think your company is strong enough that it can’t use some free marketing (and really, who is so big that they can say that? if they can say that, then they probably won’t be staying big for very long).
In my opinion, the “beta test” marketing scheme is one of the best, as it gets people excited about your upcoming game. It gets people talking. If it’s a bad game, then bad news and reviews will come out before you’re even done. So what? For those who remember, the upcoming game Tabula Rasa was completely different in it’s first phase than it is now. It was so bad, so bland, so generic that the team actually listened to the people who would be playing the game and re-did it in it’s entirety. Now, that’s what I call useful beta test information. Alternatively, a game getting strongly positive hype in beta (a la, WoW, Halo 3, FFXI, EverQuest, need I go on?) will produce (I predict) a far greater stream of revenue in the beginning of the game’s life cycle than would a game without this same hype.
I’m not saying that game companies shouldn’t try their best to get the best candidates for the job; all I’m saying is that sometimes the best candidate for the job isn’t the introverted, downward-spiral game “g33k” who skips his own wedding for a raid. Sometimes, the best person for the job is the person who will make you the most money. Bugs can be fixed, but a game never releases twice.
With an amazing list of games on his record, developer Tetsuya Nomura of Square Enix has certainly come to be a driving force in their productions. Having started there in 1990, with so much history, the games he has produced have certainly changed. So we can only wonder: What will his next project be like?
Having finished his most recent work, Kingdom Hearts 2, Nomura’s new title Final Fantasy XIII Versus is not quite stealing the spotlight for most anticipated games. Perhaps due to it’s brethren being released under the simpler title Final Fantasy XIII, it hasn’t generated too much individualistic excitement. It so far is merely being considered as just another title in the subseries Fabula Nova Crystallis that Square Enix is so hard at work on. So what sets it apart to have been crowned as Versus?
Simply put, Nomura has finally gotten a chance to produce a game with the theme he has always wanted, namely darkness. The game is reputed to be much darker, much more serious, with an outlook attempting to elaborate more on the human aspects of the characters and the realism of the world that is supposedly only linked mythologically with Final Fantasy XIII’s world.
According to Nomura himself,
Nomura: “There’s been times when I’ve wanted to take FF in a completely different direction than the game’s producer has wanted. I’m not saying that his or mine opinions have been right or wrong, just different. One thing I’ve always wanted to explore deeper is human emotions. By going in that direction, you risk to make the target group for the game narrower, and FF is appreciated by a very large audience. But with Versus XIII, it feels like the right time to take that risk. Since the script isn’t done yet, I still don’t know exactly how far I dare to go, but I know I want to squeeze humanity out of these characters. I want Versus to feel in the entire body.”
It’s exciting to see a company willing to put faith in their developer enough to take a risk like Nomura describes it. Both exciting and refreshing.
Nomura has also said,
“When I produced Kingdom Hearts, I was in a world so bright that I almost got blinded. So now I want to do something completely different. Maybe it has something to do with my love for extremes. FFvXIII is about man in the real world. In that sense, the game will contain less fantasy than usual. We’ve created some dark environments and shown them in our trailers. But the entire game won’t look like that; we’ve only just begun.”
Even more evidence that the project will be very unique, and will incorporate very new ideas. For instance, Nomura has been quoted saying the game will even include more “real-world events”. His goal is to create a world the player truly believes in. This time around however, it will be integrated with the real world. Exactly how they will blend this together is a mystery, but an exciting one.
What this all means we have yet to see, but all together it seems Versus will surely stand apart as a next-gen RPG.
EVE Online’s new expansion: Revelations hit gamers today. Literally. Some of the EVE players probably even had to log off for the first time in 4 years to install it.
While it looks like they’ve added a ton of new features, the question remains: Does it matter at all for new players? I’ll admit that I haven’t played EVE very much, but the time I was playing was filled with a sense of hopelessness and intrigue, two feelings very similar to what I’m feeling right now. With all of the skills and abilities simply on timers, how could a new player possibly catch up to some of the mega/mondo players who’ve been online since the game was released?
They’re giving away their signature 14-day trial, and they claim to have some new features to help “rookie” pilots catch up faster, but I’m still not sure that I buy it, unless the attractive feminine voice goading new players through the tutorial has some way to speed up time or send you back to 1999.
For anyone interested, here’s a link to the 14-day trial. I’d suggest firing it up and giving it a shot if you’ve never played. It’s a really fun game, but I’m just not sure that it had what it takes to get me hooked.
Well, anyone who’s been to the site in the past couple of days has probably noticed some changes. First of all, I changed the top of the site, mostly because the theme I started with in WordPress was well designed and coded, but hideously misshapen (the top part of the site was seriously like 30% of the screen, and there wasn’t even anything up there). I whipped together that little EyesLikeOurs logo that you see now, but I’m not sure I’m sold on it. It would look better on a white background, so that may be the direction I take it from here. Hopefully, at least, the site looks a bit more roomy.
Second, and most importantly, I’d like to announce a new feature of the site. It’s something I worked on for a surprising number of hours last week and have finally got in a condition where I don’t feel bad showing it off. It’s the MMO Breakdown, a meta-database of all the information you could ever want to know about any of the most popular MMO games, at-a-glance. It’s by no means complete yet, but I’ve got what I consider the major players in the industry on there right now, and I’m working on getting all of the data up in the near future. After that, more games will be added, and after enough games are added, more features will be added.
It seems like there is some demand in this niche for a way to compare games more easily, and that’s one of the goals of this system. The main feature I’m working toward is the ability to quickly select two or more games, click “compare” and get a readout of the strengths and weaknesses of each system. This could be for the sake of discussion (black and white comparison of given game features), as well as a helpful guide for someone looking for a different game to play.
So, I’d be honored if you took a look at the new MMO Breakdown section of the site, and suggested any changes or additions you would like to see!
Lastly, I’ve rearranged and reformatted some of the ads, as well as added a new EVE online affiliate ad on the right side of the page. I’m trying to keep the ads as transparent as possible, but still in relatively good positions just to keep google happy. On a sad note, the addition of the MMO breakdown and my use of wordpress templates therewith has apparently broken the wordpress.com stats package that I loved so much. It says that there are no views to the site for every day that I’ve had the MMO breakdown there. Also, my blogtopsites counter reset to 0 inexplicably, which is extremely annoying.
One thing that games nowadays aren’t missing is quests. There are plenty of quests everywhere, some of them to kill ten rats, some of them to take this letter to the other npc, and some of them to guide you to the next step of your journey. In fact, there are so many quests in today’s MMOs that there are entire databases devoted to cataloguing them. So what? Maybe the reason that all of these quests need be organized and stored away on some too-often-visited website is because they’re so incoherent.
One of the main differences between offline- and online role playing games is the coherence of the main storyline. Why has such a crucial element to both character- and world-development been neglected for so long? Has the focus, up to now, always been on making a decent world for players to thrive in rather than giving them the means by which to thrive?
Playing the epic quest line in The Lord of the Rings Online has reminded what it’s like to have a strong storyline guiding your progress as you adventure throughout the world. While keeping to these quests is optional (and, of course, this is probably preferable to some), the development of your own character through the quest rewards as well as the development of other characters within the game world makes them very worthwhile. After having played World of Warcraft and EverQuest 2 for so long, I’d forgotten what it’s like to have such a strong storyline driving my character. Guild Wars has a similar emphasis on storyline, yes, but the Lord of the Rings story is one that I already know so well.
It seems to me that the one way, above all others (one way to rule them all), for Lord of the Rings to be successful was to get players engaged in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. I think that by adding such a tightly-knit series of quests that lead your character through the war of the ring was the best possible method by which Turbine could have achieved that goal. Sure, the environment is great, the graphics are superb, and the combat is acceptable; without the back story, though, all of those things matter little. For each of those categories there are games which beat out Lord of the Rings Online; It’s when they’re combined, though, that this game really shines.
How is it that the EverQuests and World of Warcrafts of this decade were able to hack it with but barely a hint of a centralized plot? Sure, EverQuest has some lore that it always seems like they made up after the fact and, yes, World of Warcraft has like 8 books out which somehow makes the back-story more “legitimate”. These facts come up very often in game to anyone who already knows about them. Where’s the personal journey, though? I thought I was playing these games for myself, to have fun. Why would I want to do anything if it’s only going to bring some out some dark prophecy that was written about 4 years ago by some struggling fiction writer?
The thing that Lord of the Rings Online has that these games don’t is the way that it really makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger that’s happening within the world. Instancing open areas within the world really emphasizes this, as it makes you feel like you’re having a bigger effect on things than you really are. Helping warn a group of rogues that one of their own and one of your newly-found friends is after their lives is one of the many things I’ve had to do so far on my character, and the process of doing it in this game feels more like a single-player driven story than any other MMO I’ve played. I just never really “felt it” in any of the other games.
Seeing that flaming ring above an NPCs head, I think, is going to be just the thing that could keep me going in LoTRO for quite some time to come.
Being a big fan of the original Fable game for Xbox (as well as embittered by how short the entire game was), seeing an article at gamespot about the upcoming Fable 2 piqued my interest.
Though information on the game is sparse at this point, according to the Gamespot article, there are 2 very interesting things that they seem to be developing:
In the finished game combat will controlled using three buttons: one for melee weapons, one for ranged weapons, and one for magic. For the purposes of the E3 demo there were no guns or magic attacks, though, so all combat was controlled with just one button. […] Tapping the button does a melee attack, holding down the button blocks, and releasing the button after a block performs a special attack. How hard you push buttons and how long you hold them for will have an effect on the attacks that you perform, as will your weapon choice, and your proximity to other enemies or environmental objects.
I wonder how the pressure sensitivity will work out. It seems to me that most games in the last 5 years touting “pressure sensitive” controls usually end up sucking at it, not because the intention is bad, but because in the heat of the moment all I want to do is press that damn button. Hard.
When you “die” in Fable 2 you won’t actually die, and you certainly won’t have to return to a previous save or a checkpoint. Rather, you’ll collapse on the ground, where enemies will continue to attack you. When you eventually get up you’ll be scarred for life, and those scars will affect the way that some other characters treat you.
This is actually pretty sweet, but I thought I remember Molyneaux saying before the first Fable came out that there would be scars that your character would wear forever, and by which other characters would “judge” him. Maybe they left it for the second game to work out the bugs.
Does this mean that when you kill bandits, they just lie on the ground for a while, too?
One other thing I hope they add is the ability to woo women more easily. Spamming one button to make sexy noises like “ungh”, and “heeey” got pretty old, especially since I do that pretty much all day in real life.
Well, after having played Lord of the Rings Online for a couple days after my initial reaction, I’ve changed opinions on a couple of points (and I’ve also gained opinions on a couple of new points!)
First of all, I’m not quite sure that I like the map.
I can’t put my finger on it, but the map bothers me in a lot of ways. Don’t get me wrong, the map is useful, and it tells you quite a lot of information about where you are, which direction you’re facing, and (sometimes) where important locations are, but it just seems to vague. Not to mention the fact that it’s sometimes hard to tell which areas you’ve been to and which areas are unexplored. For example, my map of Bree-Land didn’t have the “Old Forest” on it. I realize now that it wasn’t there because I hadn’t been there yet; well, great. I also haven’t been to Nen Harn yet (and according to TAGN, I probably I won’t be for a while), but that’s still on my map. Why would Turbine do this? I think they either need to show the entire map, or none of it at all until you’ve explored the said areas. That was always one of the things I liked a lot about other third-gen MMOs: there was an element of uncertainty regarding the map. You had to uncover it. Why the back pedaling?
Secondly, I am loving the Epic quest line.
During my stay in newb town (Archet), I was keeping up with the main (epic) quest line (I’m human, so I had my adventures with Amdir the Ranger). Then, in the second town, the epic quest line turned into a Fellowship quest. I didn’t really want to group at that point, so I figured I would just outlevel the quest by a huge margin and then solo it. Well, I got so caught up in grinding all of the deeds in Bree-land that I forgot about the quest, and didn’t get to it until I was level 14 (it’s a level 9 quest). At that point, I figured it would be time to try.
After finishing that portion of the quest, moving into Bree, talking with Strider, and starting the “Book 1: Chapter X” quest series, I really regret not pushing forward with this quest and joining the fellowship when I was designed to. The Book quest line is one of the most engaging I’ve ever played in a game, and if I had to put my finger on one thing that’s really keeping the game sticky for me right now, that would be it.
I think the reason the quest line is so interesting is because it follows the story in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but from a distance. It adds characters into the mix that aren’t there in the book, just to give an idea of how complex the “journey” actually was. Turbine clearly took some creative license here, but I’m glad they did. They’ve taken an already intricate story and weaved in new characters and drama points in seamlessly. I enjoy doing my part to ensure the success of the fellowship of the ring!
Third, the travel quests are fun and the world is beautiful, but stop making me run so far!
I can’t believe how much travel there is going on in this game. Good lord. I seriously do not remember running this far in any game ever. The horse paths are great, but, is it just me, or are they the most expensive things ever? Considering that my highest payout from a quest or item yet is 2 silver, paying 15 silver to ride from the Lone Lands back to Bree (a 3 minute ride, 7 minute run) seems atrocious. Unless there’s some incredible inflation going on at the upper levels, I don’t really know how they got that number. Those horse ride charges should be based on supply and demand, but that’s a whole different blog post.
I’ve heard that Vanguard has a reputation for being very travel intensive without a means for doing so quickly. If that’s the case, maybe Lord of the Rings Online isn’t so bad and I’m just a whiner. Maybe I’ve been pampered by one too many carpet rides across The Sinking Sands and maybe just a few too many interconnected flight paths in World of Warcraft. Then again, maybe they’re just making me run too far.