Encouraging group play / Friendlist minions

I’ll try and visit some possibilities to encourage group play in modern MMORPGs. I’ve given reasons for ultimately playing solo most of the times and still like playing in the genre. The thing is, i’d also like MMORPGs to be a social experience where one can chat with people you know and get to know new “players”.

I think, one reason for social networks being so successful in these days- or even messenger apps like WhatsApp- is their asynchronous nature. If i want to contact one of my friends, i can do so- it doesn’t matter if they’re working at that time, taking care of their child or whatever. When they are free to do so, they’ll read my message and reply.

So, one possibility to encourage social play in MMORPGs could be to give asynchronous options- i’m not the first one to mention this, of course, and i could point you to Mark Kerns column over at MMORPG.com, where he mentions this idea. The whole column is worth a read- even if you’re thinking “why didn’t he apply this to Firefall?” half of the time. He mentions an asynchronous communication method that could be implemented in the games. But as i sat here and tried to come up with my own ideas, one thing came to mind and wouldn’t let go, even if it probably has some problems and will be a rough idea- i’m no game designer, after all.

Let us be our minions!

The minion/follower system of Rift and World of Warcraft is liked by many. What if a game would allow you to give these tasks to friends and guildmates instead of NPCs/trading cards? The idea started small, but the more i think about it, the more possibilities come to mind. The easy way, of course, is to have 1-person tasks that could be handed out to friends and guildmates. But you’d also have to think about a reward. So how could it work?

Simple Tasks, rewards for both parties

The easiest way to do this, as mentioned, would be to give players the ability to assign tasks to friends or guildmates. These tasks could range from gathering resources, crafting of items to just killing mobs. If we’d take the easiest road, kill-quests would probably be it. You’d also have to have ingame rewards for people to use this system, and i think there are games that already have nice ideas.

Such as FFXIV and Wildstar. In FFXIV, after a dungeon run using their dungeon finder tool, you can give a recommendation to one player. They can later use these recommendations to get some rewards. In Wildstar there’s a similar currency, though i think it’s used more often there and it is gained by simply grouping up. Now that i think of it, SWTOR does have this system, as well, though i’m not so sure what players get out of it.

So, the player who’s assigned to a task gets this currency and also XP and loot from stuff he or she is killing. Since the currencies in Wildstar and SWTOR didn’t really encourage more group play, the rewards for doing these “Minion-Tasks” would have to be huge- maybe even as good as, say, raid loot.

The player who’s assigning these tasks could get XP, of course, and maybe ingame currency as well as the “social currency”…and maybe even get some kind of “Task Master XP” that allows him or her to assign bigger/harder/more rewarding tasks in the future.

I know this is themepark talk- i’d do it differently in sandboxes (more economical, less xp and special currency. Also, i wouldn’t provide a user interface tab but something like player vendors who stand in the open world).

Basically, this would be a player-to-player quest system.

Expanding

Now throw in gathering, crafting, maybe searching something as well as the potential to use special tasks for certain character classes/professions and maybe even group tasks, and there should be a lot of possibilities.

The group tasks could be sequential, consosting of mutiple steps, with each step tailored to one class/profession or both. Or they could consist of only one step designed for more than one player. And here we are again, you’d need group areas in the open world for this. Suddenly, there’s the possibility to meet other people doing the same task, maybe socialize, expand the friendlist and so on.

What game could do something like that?

I really don’t know. Maybe those who already have the Minion/Follower system in place; World of Warcraft, Rift, maybe Star Trek Online and SWTOR. And i think it would be becoming in most sandboxes.

So why am i playing MMORPGs?

Whenever someone admits to playing MMORPGs by themselves, the suggestion will come up that singleplayer games are better suited to their playstyle. The gameplay would be better, as well as story and the delivery of said story. So, after yesterday’s reasons for me playing solo, mostly- and by the way, this isn’t out of some kind of principle since i’d also like to group up and do stuff with other players- i’ll look into reasons for still playing MMORPGs.

They’re relaxing

I didn’t like Wildstar very much, although i’d say the gameplay is quite good for an MMORPG. But it wasn’t relaxing to me- the UI shot information and stuff to do at me like there was no tomorrow. Quests, Challenges, these solo-instances, crafting, gathering, housing and others. The combat is very active and involved, so much so that chatting with guildmates became a difficult thing to do. Almost every time i got a tell i had to move out of some spawn zone.

But the other games, especially stuff like Everquest 2 and/or SWTOR, i find to be very relaxing. You can do quite a lot of different activities like questing, housing, yeah, pretty much everything i’ve mentioned above. But where i felt “bombarded” in Wildstar, other games pace this stuff a lot better. I can do whatever i’m in the mood for, whatever fits in my schedule and i still get to do it with other people.

Crafting, for instance, i found to be a tedious and senseless affair in singleplayer games. I don’t know why that is, but i couldn’t get into it- maybe, because the economy was missing. Which brings me to the next point.

MMORPGs are still social, even when soloing

You don’t have to group up or do dungeons to have your MMORPG be a social activity. Of the top of the hat, there’s guild chat, tells/chatting with friends, the economy/auction houses, helping others out in the world (without grouping up) and, of course, seeing other characters in the world. An MMORPG always feels more alive than singleplayer games, because they are (except if you’re the only player in a zone).

Your gameplay will also be influenced by others- for instance, in the economy, if it isn’t borked in some way. Or by meeting others out in the world, maybe appreciating their equipment or looks, maybe cursing, because they stole a resource node or a quest mob or in a positive way by doing this together. This is why i’d tend to put Elite:Dangerous in the “almost-an-MMO”-bucket, too, because storylines and the economy depend on other players in the game and not on your actions alone- even when you play the “solo online”-mode.

MMORPGs evolve

Singleplayer games do have DLCs, but MMORPGs change in a course of years. You can begin playing one right now, stop, return in 5 years and it will be almost like a different game. It’s always nice seeing expansions or content updates for MMOs. The last expansion of EQ2 was the reason i went there (again) in the first place.

There’s lots to do and see

Housing is back- 2 years ago, there were almost no MMORPGs that featured it, but 2014 brought it to a lot of MMORPGs and it seems to be somewhat of a standard feature again. MMORPG worlds are big, there’s always a nice scenery, a quest hub or other stuff to explore. For someone like me, who doesn’t play that much, it’s practically endless stuff to do, sometimes it’s even a little overwhelming, as is the case in EQ2. There’s systems to look into, zones to explore and goals to set everywhere. Singleplayer games are quite directed in the most cases, and deviating from that linear progression is, in most cases, ineffective.

Not so in MMORPGs- you can do it all, at your own pace. And it makes sense. Even in todays very streamlined and often “linear” themeparks, you can often change course and do something different if you drop the experience-point-glasses and just look for entertainment.

Out-of-game community

We’re legion. ;) Massively, MMORPG.com, all these blogs that i’m enjoying and reading, the out-of-game-community is very much alive, and, in most cases, made up of nice people (yes i know there are many trolls, but usually they’re quite easy to avoid and, to me, the positive outweighs the negative by a landslide).

Of course there are- at least i think so- similar communities to be found elsewhere, maybe in the Skyrim-Department (i don’t know about a active blog just focussing on that game’s content, though) or others. But, see two points above, the MMORPG community will always have more to talk about and discuss- play styles, patches, new games, expansions, in-game-stuff and so on. Or we’ll just open up events for ourselves, like the NBI or the Bloggy XMas. I don’t think you’ll find that in other gaming communities.

Why i play solo

Solo-play in MMORPGs seemed to be the hot topic yesterday. Massively was looking for the best Solo MMORPG, Keen looked into reasons for playing solo and offered some suggestions to encourage grouping via game design and Syncaine also chimed in. So i’d like to visit that topic, too, because i feel every article states something that’s worth mentioning.

Massively’s Bree mentions, for instance, that soloplayers are often seen as “violating the rules of the genre” by other players and sometimes even as one of many reasons the genre’s not doing so well. This doesn’t sit well with me, too, because i think there are valid reasons to solo in a MMORPG.

Being a father of an 18-month-old toddler i can tell you; grouping up with me often isn’t as much fun as it should be. When he wakes up, i’ll have to take care of him until he falls asleep again. This can take 5 to 60 minutes. So when i group, i need my groupmates to be understanding on the one hand, so that they won’t hold a grudge on me for leaving quickly and maybe for a longer stretch of time. On the other hand, i’d like to know that they won’t just stand there and wait for me while their mood gets worse with every minute. I need to know that at some point, they’ll just log out or continue without me. Now, there are people i know who fit this description, but there are only two of them and i know them for quite some time. Nowadays, i don’t think i’ll be able to get to know someone on that level in an MMO.

It’s not really about the games, though

While Keens observations are good and valid points themselves (i also preferred the lfg tools over the lfd tools), he’s looking at game mechanics mostly. I think the reasons for people playing solo- at least those in a certain age, or let’s just say living a certain kind of life (job, other hobbies, friends, maybe neighbors, kids etc.)- are mostly found in our lives, which doesn’t mean game design can’t help us out, but “quicker progression”, “boring group classes”, “ability to do everything” aren’t really the reasons why i most of the time end up playing solo.

I think TSW has found a sweet spot in the “quicker progression”-part Keen mentions- the mobs take time to kill; you’re always having an easier time if you can find 1-2 other people doing the same quests. But still most people play solo and TSW is often mentioned as a good solo mmorpg in that Daily grind on Massively.

Here are some of my out-of-game-reasons for playing solo mostly:

  • i can go afk whenever i want without feeling guilty. A bio break, getting a drink or something are easy, but what about a friend calling/visiting, a toddler crying/waking up or the wife wanting to discuss something? These are not “finished” in a few minutes and while it is true that in the beginning of WoW, this would be just fine and resolved with a quick message, i think the normal players don’t really put up with stuff like that. You won’t be added to friendlists as quick as others
  • i can play the game at my own pace. Even if nobody says something, i always feel pressured to not-read-quest-text/skip cutscenes/not enjoy the scenery/don’t look over that hill/don’t gather ressources when grouped up. I don’t like that.
  • This is something that turns up in guilds, mostly, but still: i don’t like voice chat very much. It used to be that i preferred to listen to music instead. Nowadays, my talking might wake up our son. “But you can just listen”, i hear you say, but really, 99% of conversation via voice chat is small talk, i don’t see a reason why this couldn’t happen via chat.

So, what can a game do?

I think the best solution might be some cross over between GW2’s “alone together”-mechanics and TSW’s ttk (time-to-kill). Also, stop putting group content in instanced areas- i think it would help a lot if you could just meet people willing to group up in the world. Aion comes to mind, with the Elite/group zones they had in 2009. Don’t know if they’re still there, but they came quite early in the progression and while you could do the quests there solo…somewhat…it was difficult and slow. So people grouped up, spontaneously.

LFD-tools don’t help, either. The other players are often treated as if they were npcs, so there’ll be no socializing. And i agree with Syncaine here when he writes that the social bonds are going to help players grow roots in your game. But i think those social bonds will grow better if their seeds are planted in the open world, not in instanced dungeons.

So another general suggestion would be to stop pulling people out of the worlds- battlegrounds, dungeons, raids, housing- put it in the world. Also, a game should provide more than one hub where players can get services.

Finally, yes, please, bring back lfg-tools (Blizzard has done it in the latest expansion, don’t know if it is used by the player base).

What i’m playing

So, Syp from Biobreak has this little widget on the right side of his blog, containing games he’s playing and goals he wants to achieve in each of those titles. I’d like to take his lead, as well, and see what i’m playing, what i want out of these games and what my goals are. Also, i think it’s a good idea to get a handle on the games i play/i want to play because the list isn’t getting smaller, unfortunately. I was hoping for 2014 to be the year i finally settle in one or two MMOs, but that wasn’t to be.

So here goes.

Everquest 2

I’m still enjoying this one and it feels like there’s lots to do and explore in EQ2. Right now, i’m a little split up between two characters- Triupia on Antonia Bayle, an Inquisitor, who’s in a guild and supposed to be my main. I’ll continue to focus on her when i’m playing alone. I’d like to get her to adventurer level 25 and then get the complete quested Inquisitor armor. After that, i’d like to catch up in crafting.

The other character i’m playing is Eshaunia, a Fury on Valor, the german server. I started a project in my multigaming guild, basically moving from one f2p-title to the next with a group of players who vote which game to go for and then playing it in a group. Eshaunia will probably stay where she is after the project is finished, because i have the Inquisitor and Valor is quite empty.

Star Wars: the old republic

I started an Imperial Agent, because the storyline is generally viewed as the best in game and i haven’t even finished one of them. I’d like to do that. Right now, immediate goals are to finish the first zone and get a hang of the class and story.

Elite: Dangerous

Some people describe it as “Euro Truck Simulator in space”- but really, i like it this way. I want to improve my flying skills while doing simple delivery missions, maybe trading and exploring as a medium term goal. If i get into fights, i’d like to be able to hold myself. Also, i want to get involved in the storylines the game presents.

The Crew

No real goals here. First one would have to be to level up and finish the main storyline. After that, it will be a fun ride of completing skill trials, finding hidden cars, exploring the mini-US and drive coast-to-coast or go on a virtual “Route 66″-tour.

World of Warcraft

I bought into it when they had the discount on the basic game. My wife plays, so i thought i’d like to join her, but we haven’t played together all that much. Still, i think the Explorer and Loremaster achievements are quite attractive goals and i’d really like to see the content of the game, because we spent a significant amount of money on this game if you add it all up and i didn’t play past the vanilla Un’goro crater.

Single Player

There are some singleplayer games i’d like to visit, as well. Endless Legend, The Wolf among us, Civ:beyond earth, Divinity: Original Sin are some that come to mind.

All in all, i think i have enough on my plate to spend 2015 without buying any new games. But i also know it won’t happen, sadly. For 2015, i’ve made the resolution to curb my spending on MMORPGs, though. With all those alpha-accesses i bought in 2014 it was an expensive year without much success in this regard (Landmark is still quite rough, AA is broken, Repopulation still not released.

Elite: Dangerous or EVE?

Now i know this is a dangerous question to ask. There’ll be proponents of both games and some others might point out that the true question would be “Star Citizen or Elite: Dangerous”. But that’s not the question i was facing yesterday, when a sudden urge to explore space grew and i needed to decide whether firing up E:D or resubscribing to EVE would be better suited for me.

Now, there are articles by others who list the differences between those two games in an objective manner- i can recommend Elite:Dangerous is not EVE by EliteNinja if you’re looking for that kind of thing. I’m taking a more subjective approach to show why i decided to play Elite: Dangerous as my space sim of choice for now.

Elite: Dangerous is not an RTS

See, i like EVEs approach. But i prefer the first-person-actiony-stuff from E:D, because it offers the opportunity to improve my skills over time. When i completed the first training scenario, where you shoot some toxic barrells in space, i was flying like a mad, drunk monkey. Later, when i started the “real thing” i was already somewhat capable of interpreting the radar and moving my ship. Now, i didn’t meet anything when i played (in Solo mode) and it was for the better, to be sure, but still, i felt like i was improving- without skills, levels or stats. It was my ability to play that was improving.

Also, it is new (and shiny)

The second most important reason i chose E:D was that it is new. Most of us like to read about exciting EVE news and think about how great it is that a game is able to deliver experiences like that. EVE is about the only game that does that right now and maybe even in the future. But there is the possibility that E:D also shapes up like that, given time (and money)- and this time, there’s the opportunity to be there when it begins.

The social experience

E:D is not about the PvP; in fact, you can play Solo, but you’re still not playing alone. The market, the political structure of the systems etc., everything is influenced by all players. Sure, technically E:D doesn’t count as an MMORPG in a sense we are used to, but i think if thousands of players influence whether a certain trade is profitable or not, they influence my gameplay in a much deeper way than all the other players in the normal themepark MMORPG. Of course i can see them in WoW et al, but usually, they won’t impact me in any way. In E:D, other players have an impact without necessarily involving pvp.

It’s not only about the players

EVE is great because it’s player-run. There are NPCs, but from my understanding, they don’t change the course of the universe. Today i read the interview with David Braben over at mmorpg.com, and here’s a snippet i found to be very interesting:

There was a rebellion in a city where the Federation has raised taxes, and the rebels are objecting to this. They want to secede, they want to become independent. During the beta, lots of the backers were supporting the rebels. They were running guns and supplies to the rebels and fighting for them—the Federation brought in a big battle cruiser—until the rebel leader made a speech saying “Comrades, excellent, we’re winning the battle against the Capitalist oppressors!” And it was very clear from his language that they were Communists. Now, everyone knew they were Communists, but they hadn’t really realized the connection. After that, all the backers started supporting the Federation.

Somehow, the players influenced things. But the NPCs influenced the players, as well. I didn’t know E:D intermingled these things in such a way, but it does, and i like it very much.

400 billion stars

This is endless. Even if E:D might have 1 million players, the galaxy won’t be mapped out and “won” in a few days. So here’s an opportunity to play, explore, trade, in a vast “world” where travel matters and markets are regional/local. I always wanted to see stuff like that in fantasy mmos, but none have managed to realize this to its full potential. Great to see it in a space sim.

Of course, there are other reasons for choosing E:D over EVE, but these are the most important ones. Can’t wait to explore the galaxy!

Everquest 2

Why it took so long

I think it’s quite unusual to “fall in love” with a game that’s been out for 10 years, but it might have happened to me and Everquest 2. I tried the game on several occasions after it went free-to-play. Before, i was one of the WoW crowd and was under the impression that EQ2 was somewhat older than WoW. While i like some of the systems in old school MMORPGs, i can’t overlook the production quality of those titles.

In the case of EQ2, there were several issues i had that made me stop playing it after dabbling in the starting areas. First of all, the human avatars- they don’t really look so good.

The environment grew on me, though
The environment grew on me, though

The other thing was a feeling of detachment from my pressing a key and my avatar reacting. There’s some kind of lag, i don’t know where it stems from, but i think it isn’t my internet connection or the server location. It feels quite slow, somewhat comparable to the combat feeling of Lotro.

What drew me in

News of the coming expnasion. I don’t know why, but the general excitement infected me, as well. Also, since SOE got rid of ProsiebenSat1, i can judge the developer on its own merits, and generally i can’t say too many bad things about SOE. Yeah, that Vanguard thing- but really, i think it’s because of SOE that it was available as long as it was. I have no connections to SWG, either, so the CU and NGE stuff doesn’t apply to me. What i see, though, seems to be a company willing to take some risks and approach the genre in new ways (Landmark, H1Z1, EQN) as well as providing their playerbase with new stuff to do (expansions in EQ, EQ2) and good value for their money (All Access). So they have my goodwill, now, and my money, as well.

Of course, all of that wouldn’t matter if the game wasn’t appealing to me, but strangely, now it does. I still think it would be good to have a starting area that’s more like a medieval european landscape, since i’m not really into giant mushrooms and dark woods…and Faes, for that matter, but Greater Faydark pulled me in, nonetheless. It’s a huge zone with many landmarks to see, orientate oneself by and many, many quests.

I also like how complicated it all seems to be- of course i looked for a newbie guide but couldn’t find anything that seemed up-to-date. My first instinct was to level as fast as i could, get to 20 and leave the starting area. The double XP weekend seemed very suitable to do something like that. But now, as i understand it, it seems that i would miss out a lot- equipment, a free mount (although i don’t know if it’s still provided in the quest series), gathering nodes and so on.

So i backtracked. Because i had to, since the timeline quests often seem to build up on one another and i really want the free horse. And that’s another thing i like about the game: there is a quest progression. It’s not enough to be of high enough level to do something, there are quest requirements.

So i went and did level 8 quests with my level 16 Warden, until i could do the Tuathil Laeds quests which, according to one guide over at TTH rewards a mount at some point. The wiki doesn’t mention the horse as a quest reward, so it might have changed in the meantime- nevertheless, i’m eager to find out.

 

Goodbye Vanguard, welcome back FFXIV and nice to meet you, EQ2

Welcome back

So yeah, it’s been a while since i posted. I guess having a baby at home gets in the way of gaming and especially blogging about it. So what happened in the meantime? Not much, of course. Last year after my last posting i didn’t play much- i think Raptr counted 30 hours, mostly in SWTOR, if i remember correctly. This year i saw ESO and Wildstar coming and going (for me). I knew they weren’t games designed with me as a player in mind before going in, but i couldn’t resist. Needless to say, i dropped both of them. Also, we moved. New job and all that.

So here i am, still trying to figure out and find “my” MMO home. The three candidates that made me start this blog still haven’t released yet, so there’s still hope for me. A lot more of it, to be frank, because SOE dropped ProsiebenSat1, so EQN is on my radar once again.

On a side note: i stumbled across old (guild) friends of mine and rejoined a german guild because of them- the guild/community i joined last year is the best organized guild i ever encountered and they offer great community-related stuff, really great people, i can’t complain. The new, german one is a lot more casual in their together-ness, but they’re also very nice. One thing i miss is some structure- but honestly, i never was in a german guild that also had a good organization (maybe i’ll post about that another time).

Goodbye, Vanguard

When the year 2014 came, i had a bad feeling concerning Vanguard. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but some news coming from SOE made me think Vanguard might be nearing its end by the end of 2014. So i subbed, thinking i might spend 2014 with getting to know Telon in my own pace. One week after i subbed, SOE really broke the news about Vanguard closing. But much sooner than i thought. With a closure in the end of july, there was no hope for me to see as much of Telon as i’d liked, so i stopped playing. But that’s not the point.

A huge loss

The point is; i think Vanguard was the last of the more old-school, world-orientated MMORPGs out there. It had an open world, a great crafting system and diplomacy. There are other games with an open world, of course, but they also have that “zone”-feel. Go from Elwynn to Westfall in WoW and it isn’t a slow and steady but a sudden change of landscape. There’s only one game i know of that doesn’t have that as much- and that’s ArcheAge.

Also, character progression should take almost forever. That’s how i like MMOs- open world, a variety of activities, a good ingame economy, lots of opportunity to socialize. I’ve never been one to “finish” MMORPGs, Rift being the only game i maxleveled a character, but still…endgame is not for me. At least not the WoW-inspired raiding endgame.

So the loss of Vanguard made me think about that, and that’s why i knew ESO and WS wouldn’t be for me, but i didn’t know what else to play. Also, i wanted to make a “decision”, to stick it out with one MMORPG for quite some time. But which one. As it stands, i am now committed to two games.

Final Fantasy XIV

I liked FF14 very much when i visited it- there was one thing i didn’t like, though: i thought levelling crafting was a huge grind. What i didn’t know is that you can do these Levequests for gathering and crafting, as well. Those help with progress, a lot. Also, my new german guild is also actively playing it, so i am not alone. I’m really looking forward to playing this to level 50…and i will!

Everquest 2

News of the new expansion made me curious, once again. The player base seems to be very excited for the expansion coming 11/11. I don’t really know anything about EQ2, but the excitement carried over nonetheless. Everquest 2 is mentioned very often when it comes to full-featured themepark MMORPGs. The housing and crafting systems also get a lot of praise. Also, it is the successor of Everquest, to which Vanguard was the spiritual successor. Somehow i thought, maybe this is the game one would play if Vanguard was no longer available.

I decided to get All Access, as well. The perks SOE gives out aren’t that interesting for me, yet, but still…and now we are coming out of a member-double xp weekend that was so well-timed that SOE might have read my mind (went All Access one day before they announced the double xp).

I’m playing a Warden right now (Broshia), got to level 16 and just started levelling as an artisan. I haven’t decided on a crafting profession, yet, but i think it might be tailor.

In the case of EQ2, i plan to play it as “second” MMO. Soon there’ll be ArcheAge (my guess is a release in late september), so it’ll become third. I like it so far and think i should have looked into it much sooner. I can also see it being the “casual”, “fall back to” MMORPG that in reality gets the most of my available play time.