Dual Wielding LFG – fostering community, player edition

Dual Wielding: LFG Editionsometimes a topic is just too big for a couple of bloggers on their own. That’s when we send out the call, and see who steps up to help us with the challenge. This week, in the last edition of Dual Wielding, we’re tackling the question, “what can players do to foster community”?

Make sure to read the other posts, too:

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Play by the rules of game and society

Normally, i’d point to the Wil Wheaton rule of internet usage: don’t be a jerk. But if Game of Thrones showed us something, it was that you’ll be a jerk to someone, somewhere. Even in Themepark MMORPGs, there’s the possibility that your actions are considered impolite towards somebody else. Take cutscenes in LFG-dungeon groups as an example: while i, personally, think the polite thing to do is to let everyone go on their own pace, watching cutscenes if they like, i’ve heard people complain about this behaviour, stating that it’s a waste of other people’s time. While i personally think it’s best to go into a dungeon unprepared to make encounters surprising, challenging and a riddle to solve, in the general population it is considered very impolite to queue for an LFG-dungeon without at least reading up on boss mechanics.

When you go further into sandboxes like EVE, it becomes almost impossible to play that game without having ingame-conflict with other players. So in the end, what it comes down to is this: play by the rules of your preferred game(s), remember and follow the “code of conduct” of that game’s community, and whatever you do: don’t take the ingame fights to the human sitting behind the character. Deriving your own fun out of ruining someone else’s experience isn’t good behaviour. There’s absolutely no reason why ingame-enemies can’t be out-of-game friends.

While reading “Empires of EVE”, i was surprised that in the early days, there was a “honorable” way of fighting wars. The author of the book compared it to duelling; the fighting parties were expected to set up a fight, gather at the location, fight it out and reach consent on who won. With time and players more and more willing to do what it took to win wars, that faded away. Now EVE is a game with some tough, almost non-existent rules, and pirates/scammers and whatever type of player you’d normally put on the “Dark Side” will be able to find like-minded players who don’t see them as jerks, but as fun to be around.

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Find likeminded players

Whether you are polite or impolite, a friendly or competitive player, behaviour alone won’t help you in fostering your game’s, or even your own community. The easiest thing to do to foster community is to find likeminded players. It doesn’t matter if what you like is dressing up, building your dreamhouse, running dungeons or mining rocks in EVE, there’ll be other players enjoying these activities, as well. Find a guild that fits your preferred playstyle and personality. Chances are that there is one guild out there that is the perfect fit for you. I can remember times when my friendlist contained more players than the guild i was in, but nowadays that’s not the case anymore.

It has become quite difficult to form lasting relationships in MMOs, and in fact, i do blame the dungeon finder tool for that. A well-organized friendlist used to be our LFG tool. In WoW, i had a couple of tanks and healers on my list and would ping them when we were in a group that didn’t fill the role. While Dungeon Finders are convenient, they removed some social interaction. If you add in cross-server functionality, they even discourage you from creating bonds to the people who are sharing the dungeon running experience with you…as you’ll be unable to stay in contact.

So finding a guild is essential if you want to enjoy MMORPG with a sense of community. And if you’ve found one that seemed to be a good fit but it turns out that it wasn’t, leave the guild in a polite way. Good guild managers will want to know why you left, but will understand if you state your reasons.

If you can’t find a good fit in existing guilds, you should consider creating your own, to find likeminded players and get yourself some company. That’s what i did and i have to say, for now, it seems to work out perfectly.

I love scenes like this one

Get involved in your guild

If you found a guild, it’s time to get involved. The easiest thing to do is to participate in what your guild offers- be it an active guild- or voice chat, forums or whatever. As a guild manager myself i can also tell you that whatever feedback you’re offering is welcome, as long as it is constructive. The most frustrating thing i experienced as a guild leader over the years is when you put a lot of thought into something, put it out there and there’s nothing flowing back. Lack of interest is not a problem- if i make a suggestion and nobody’s interested in that particular activity or policy, that’s fine- if it is expressed. Taking part in discussions, knowing what your guild is up to by reading the forums or talking with guildies will take you a long way into building up your own private community.

If you find something wrong in your guild, consider making suggestions for improvement before leaving. Now, this doesn’t make sense in all scenarios- if your guild is a big, but loose circle of players, it won’t make sense to suggest transforming the guild into a small, tight-knit community. If your guild is casual but you’d like to seriously get into raiding, it’s very possible that it can’t be done in that guild. And lastly, if you’re new, you shouldn’t be pushing change too much- if you feel so inclined during the first months, it’s probably because the guild is not a good fit for you. Don’t worry, just continue looking- there’ll be a guild for you.

At this point, most players will feel content with the community and connections they’ve built up for themselves, and that’s fine. If you still want to do more, you could consider taking some responsibility in your guild- create events, activities, dungeon groups or whatever.

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Participate

All of the things above help you in building your own, private community around yourself- but what if you’d like to get more involved in your server’s, game’s or genre’s community? You could offer help via general chat- not actively, but you know how oftentimes, it’s the same questions asked again and again in general chat? Did you see the trend that what is answered willingly and politely in the first days of a game’s life gets rougher answers as time passes? If you see someone asking a basic questions that’s quick to answer, simply provide the answer.

Depending on your server and game, there might be community events spouting up- i know that The Secret World and Lord of the Rings Online offer much in this regard- look them up and go there.

Does the game of your choice have game-specific podcasts and blogs? Look them up and read or listen to them. Even when simply doing that, it will make you feel and be more connected to your game’s community. Genre-related, i’ve found the same to be true while browsing the genre’s websites like Massively Overpowered, MMORPG.com and mmogames.com – reading those sites and maybe commenting from time to time builds up your ties to the wider community.

Looks quite different than the artwork, doesn't it?

Join the fun

There are additional ways to get connected, and their number is climbing. Social networks do their part- the gaming community is quite active on Twitter, for instance. Then, there are gamer specific networks such as Anook and Discord. Just take a look if your server/game/podcast has a presence there- for instance, i’m a member in three Discord groups- one for the “Tales of Tamriel” podcast, one for gaming bloggers and one for my small guild.

I’ve also found blogging to be a great way to fostering community- Dual Wielding is just one example for this: Ironweakness and i thought it would be fun to do something like this and we’ve also been joined by others in this adventure. It did create some private connections between Ironweakness and myself, going so far as to say that if i were to travel to the US, i’d like to meet up.

Just like i did in the last edition, i think taking the community out of game and maybe bordering real life is a great way for players to foster community- i mean, what would Elder Scrolls Online be without Tamriel Foundry, World of Warcraft without Alternative Chat / Blizzard Watch and so on?

Thanks

So i’d like to thank everyone who’s helping in making MMORPGs more than simple games- bloggers, of course (too many to call names), the podcasts i listen to: Tales of Tamriel, Crossing Zebras, Massively Speaking- as well as those i don’t listen to regularly (too many to call names), guild leaders for taking time to create communities within their games and guild members for being willing to connect to others. They all contribute to the feeling of community we have in the genre- the one thing that really sets the genre apart.

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Goodbye, Dual Wielding

I’m sad to say, this will be it for Dual Wielding, at least for now. Ironweakness chose to take a break from MMORPGs and blogging, and i wish him all the best. Maybe he’ll return to the genre or blogging, maybe not, we’ll see. I’ll take some time to think about other ways to continue the fun experience of blogging with others, but whatever i’ll come up with, it won’t be Dual Wielding- it can’t be, without Ironweakness. I’m going to miss it, as well as reading Ironweakness’ blog or seeing him active on Twitter, but of course he has my full support.

I’d like to thank Justin from Massively Overpowered for featuring this thing on their site more than once, and i’d like to thank Aywren, Syl and Wolfyseyes for joining us in the LFG edition- it was huge fun and an honour.

Most of all, i’d like to thank Ironweakness for this coop-blogging-experience, coming up with topics, his opinions and the great times we had doing this. Even after his last break when he didn’t want to continue to blog in regular fashion, he was still willing to rez Dual Wielding. So thanks for the great times, Weakness!

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Dual Wielding LFG edition: fostering communities

Dual Wielding: LFG Editionsometimes a topic is just too big for a couple of bloggers on their own. That’s when we send out the call, and see who steps up to help us with the challenge. This week, in a special LFG edition of Dual Wielding, we’ve put together a four person team to tackle the question, “what can developers do to foster community”?

Make sure to read the other posts, too:

Intro

Let me just state how happy i am about the LFG special edition of the coop blogging post. Thank you so much to Wolfyseyes and Syl for joining Ironweakness and me today. I’m sure it’s going to be fun!

So how did it get started? By a Twitter discussion between Ironweakness, Wolfyseyes and Syl about “confusing” design decisions in Black Desert Online or Tree of Savior, for instance. It’s actually quite difficult to get one Tweet that shows it all, but here’s where one big question showed up.

So, if a game is more complicated- does it foster its ingame community to become closer? And what are other ways of encouraging social behaviour in MMORPGs? Forced grouping and the trinity would be more intentional ways to get players to interact with each others. In the course of this discussion, it became clear that this is quite a complex topic- so we chose it for this month’s Dual Wielding and asked Wolfy and Syl to join us.

Intentional vs. coincidental

In that discussion, there’s an interesting point in differentiating ways to foster community in intentional and coincidental design choices- is a good community in games like Black Desert Online and Tree of Savior a byproduct of the complexity of the game? Is offering or forcing your players to do group content and role management working as a pillar for community building? Is there anything game developers can do to improve their ingame communities? Let’s take a look at examples first.

No negative interaction

Guild Wars 2 employs a “no griefing” approach- in GW2, there’s almost nothing another player can do to lower your enjoyment of the game. When you meet others, you won’t sigh or hope you’ll make it first to the resource node, because everything regarding ingame progress is there just for you. You get as much experience, loot, resources when being in a group as if you were alone. Of course, that makes grouping beneficial, as you can kill mobs faster, tackle more difficult encounters and so on.

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Does it work, though? I’d say no. To be sure, GW2’s community is more on the friendly side of things, but the interaction outside of WvW, sPvP and maybe world bosses is very limited. Yes, you play with others, but they might just as well be displaced with NPCs. Sure, you could say hello and get to talk to others, but the on-the-fly grouping makes pick up groups come and go so quickly that there’s actually no need. The Guild Wars 2 game design is one of the best examples of “alone together” design- i mean, that’s better than being solo all the time, but it’s not meaningful interaction.

Another example of this way of game design would be Rift, where PUGs happen organically all the time- when closing Rifts, preventing Invasions, doing Instant Adventures and so on.

With both examples, i think a good way to improve on that design might be to make the content more difficult or meaningful.

Forced Grouping

As seen in Final Fantasy XIV, for example. In FFXIV, you’ll come to a point where the main story questline asks you to do group content- and that’s putting it nicely. As progress in terms of game features is tied to your progress in the main story, you have no choice. You’ll have to do group content to be able to trade your goods, get a mount and open many more options in the game. And the first time it asks you to dungeon delve? It’s not one, but three dungeons.

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Again, Final Fantasy XIV is an example of a very nice and friendly community, but i don’t think the forced grouping really helps in fostering it outside of guilds, possibly. For those, the forced grouping coupled with level scaling is a boon, as there’s always someone you can help, content you can do together and get to know each others. For players outside of guilds, this presents a challenge- on one hand, you have to go find a group in that dreaded LFG tool. On the other hand, but this is of more importance to casual players like me, you are stopped in your progress with a wall of “dedicated game time” in front of you. These three dungeons have been the reason for cancelling my sub/not playing the game two of three times- because i’d need to set the time aside and make sure that i wouldn’t be interrupted while in the dungeon. In the one case where it didn’t lead to me unsubbing, it took me two weeks to get through these three dungeons.

Socialising, though? Didn’t happen- it was a PUG, after all, and the pick-up groups for forced grouped content are basically the same as the pugs for optional dungeons in WoW, for example. There was a higher percentage of players saying “hello”, but that was it.

Another example could be Elder Scrolls Online. Now, there you aren’t forced into doing group PvE content, but for trade, you have to join trading guilds. I’m member of one with over 300 members- the chat is more silent than the guild chat of our small guild where 3-5 people are online in the evenings.

So no, in my opinion forced grouping doesn’t work.

Complex gaming mechanics

I’ll use Black Desert Online, EVE online and Fallen Earth as examples here. Black Desert Online has the reputation of not introducing players very well into the features of the game. Exploration is a big part of BDO, as well, and other players telling you where to find a horse to tame or certain plants and whatever are a thing there. EVE Online has the infamous learning curve. And Fallen Earth, while unfortunately being almost forgotten, was a Sandpark before Sandparks became a thing. These three games have one thing in common, albeit to varying degrees: you are actually dependant on out-of-game resources and help from others inside the game.

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It’s been a few days since i last played BDO, so i won’t comment on its community. EVE and Fallen Earth, though? In my opinion, those are the games with the best communities out there. Sure, especially EVE has lots of shadow in its light, too, but it’s here where things like EVE University exists. EVE and Fallen Earth offer a newbie help channel that’s actually helpful and maintained by friendly players.

As EVE is one of my two current games, i can tell you that when you begin to dive a bit deeper into the EVE community, it’s almost like a parallel universe. I could easily double my MMO related feed reading if i were to follow all those EVE blogs out there. Of those 98 game-specific podcasts listed by Justin on Massively Overpowered, 13 are EVE podcasts, World of Warcraft has 15.

EVE has one thing up on the other two, though: interdependancy and different means to interact with other players.

The odd ones

There are two games with great communities i haven’t mentioned above, because it’s more difficult to pin down the reasons for why these games have such great communities- Lord of the Rings Online and The Secret World. But thinking about it now, there is a connection: out-of-game engagement and assets. As with BDO and EVE, these games are not self-contained. Lotro makes use of one of the biggest IPs we have in the gaming world and The Secret World…well, it makes use of conspiracy theories as well as lots and lots of modern tale storytelling like Zombies, Vampires and other themes that have a connection to the real world.

The other thing here is- and maybe that is tied to the out-of-game resources, that they’re both very roleplaying friendly.

What fosters a good community?

I think fostering and maintaining a good community is not about removing or creating obstacles within the game- it is about providing more than “just” a game, invoke emotions in the player base and feel them connected to the game, its world and its players. It is about creating the opportunity to have meaningful interaction with these elements both within and outside of the game.

Make it more than a game

The games don’t carry themselves- they need to be accompanied by out-of-game resources and interactions. For interactions, as i haven’t touched on them above, a developer needs to employ a very open conversation channel with all of their players- offer popular builds on your website, introduce guilds and talk about planned features and what you’re working on as well as your intentions in changes to the game. Hold community meet-ups. Know your bloggers. Stay- or get- in touch.

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If the game in question is set in a widely known IP, they are halfway there, but even then, developers need to offer resources outside of the game or encourage players to create them- for instance with a design philosophy of “systems over features” (that can make a post on its own). In my experience, if a game offers a connection to the “real world”, either by links to IPs of books, movies, real world legends or even other games (as is the case with WoW and FFXIV), when it is able to make use of connections between the game and real-world experiences of players, it has a leg up in terms of building community.

Create and maintain interdependancy of players

Self-sufficiency is nice and all, but if it is offered, even as a hard-to-reach goal (like leveling all crafting professions in FFXIV), nowadays players will try to achieve it. It’s easier than to try and make connections to other players. Picture interdependancy as the “system” version of the “feature” forced grouping. It’s easy to do in crafting- just don’t let anyone craft everything by themselves (ideally not even by making use of alternative characters) to “enforce” player trading- but don’t make it more difficult than it needs to be. Also, let things break to maintain this interdependancy. Or allow certain crafters to repair stuff / create repair tools.

It can be done in PvE, too, if we think about Entertainers in Star Wars Galaxies who were able to remove debuffs from players in cantinas. The trinity is not enough, combat-wise, there have to be more roles on offer- like debuffing enemies, buffing players, support roles and so on. Another thing to note: being grouped up with other players should always be beneficial.

There should be an inherent need for having other players around and it should span more than the odd dungeon or world boss.

Allow interaction on different levels

Most of us have noticed that MMORPG players have changed. There isn’t a big influx of young gamers into the genre- they play specialized games, and the genre fans have been getting older. That means having less time to play and less will to dedicate huge chunks of time to gaming. I think many of us are still in this genre for the other players we can meet and interact with, but at the same time, we are less willing and able to put lots of time into this.

One of my favourite articles (really, go read it) introduced the idea of asynchronuous interaction- it is what makes Twitter, Facebook and E-Mail work so great- all of them enable their users to communicate even when the other one isn’t there. MMORPGs haven’t toyed much with that idea, though. For most of the things we can do together, we’d both need to be online (auction houses being the excemption).

Trading is the obvious one here- i can offer something for sale while you’re offline and you can buy it when you log in. But this is faceless interaction; it is needed for the general community of a game, but it doesn’t offer the individual the satisfaction of doing something with others. There is one feature, however, that makes this possible: housing. If i can own a housing plot and allow others to help me build it, we can create something together even if we’re not online at the same time. I think this could be expanded- for example by allowing us to create contracts or quests in game for PvE or crafting content. Now, these systems often end up being exploited, but that’s not my problem today 😉

And then….let it scale up. Offer something for two players to do together while they’re both online, or not. Offer the same for groups of 5, 10, 20, 50 or 100 players and you have a solid base for building communities of all sizes.

Have a vision and make it last

This one is hard to grasp, but i think if we’re looking into the examples i mentioned above, they all have in common that the games in question have a vision. They want to offer something special and they stick to their guns. Be it TSW’s creepyness, Lotro’s world-creation, FFXIV’s compelling themeparking, EVE’s cutthroat philosophy and so on. Even World of Warcraft with all its changes has stuck to one vision: creating and maintaining an accessible MMORPG.

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Others have changed focus, hunting for new/more players instead of keeping their current customers happy or miscommunicated their vision before launch. Some of them do well, money-wise, some don’t. Some still have good communities, but really, would you say that the Star Wars community isn’t capable of doing much more than what happens around SWTOR? Yeah, me neither.

Whodoesit?

What game does it best? In my opinion, even before returning to it, i’d say and would have said EVE Online. They have the fanfest, blogging events, the whole ingame economy is player-based, even the lore and history is. EVE started in the game and was only that. But players were enabled to take ingame events and such to the outside. We’re talking about a game with concurrency numbers in the 30-40k area, but the community has created so many assets, from tools, to websites, blogs, videos, even books and history, that EVE is much more than just the game now.Ingame, there are huge advantages to flying in a fleet without debuffs, xp bonus or some other “artificial” benefit, but because of the game’s inherent systems.

Dual Wielding: is it dead yet?

Dual Wielding: A series featuring two bloggers writing on one topic and answering the question, “If the pen is mightier than the sword, what happens when you dual wield?”

Make sure to check out Ironweakness’ take on the subject.

Introduction- did that just happen?

When Ironweakness and i decided to pick our Dual Wielding series back up, we also decided for two topics, to be published on a monthly basis. The last one has been about Negativity in the MMORPG community and this one was to be an outlook on the genre. We figured it might be a good time for that post, so shortly after the release of Black Desert Online and The Division (as well as the Thieves Guild DLC). Little did we know what was bound to happen last friday- namely the cancellation of Everquest Next and layoffs at Carbine. Since these news broke, the question whether the MMORPG genre is dead has been tackled countless times, by bloggers as well as MMORPG-related Outlets and even general gaming sites.

I’d like to be brief here, because this post is about looking ahead, not at the past. I’d like to say, however, that both news didn’t come as much of a surprise, i guess, to people who were watching these games closely. We haven’t heard anything from EQ Next since what seems like forever, Landmark hasn’t seen significant developement during that time, either, and Wildstar clearly failed to get much attention, players and most of all money following the shift to free-to-play. Here’s what i think both of these news have in common and give a little hint at what’s coming next: the WoW days are finally behind us, and i do think this is a great thing.

Not in Azeroth anymore

Wildstar is basically “WoW in space”, and that’s not just relating to the art style. Sure, it has more features, but the whole thing is still very close to the WoW generation of MMORPGs. Everquest Next, as it was envisioned, was to be an evolution of the same thing- it still took the WoW-style MMORPG as a blueprint for what they thought should be improved in the genre- and furthermore, they took a Triple-A approach to that whole thing.

The MMORPG genre chased WoW numbers for 12 years now and threw evergrowing budget at their games. The idea was, of course, to build something “mainstream” enough to make the success of World of Warcraft repeat itself. While it was clear quite early on that simply copying World of Warcraft wasn’t enough, the thought that it might only take a few iterations on the concept lingered in the newer games of the genre.

All the while one thing has been mentioned but didn’t find consideration in game design: WoW was also that big of a success because the basic feature of MMORPGs- laying with hundreds/thousands of other players- was quite new at that time. That feature alone was enough to inspire awe in players. But with years gone by, contacting other people through the web has become normal- and we, the players, found ourselves isolated more and more, choosing to play with friends or people we already knew instead of with strangers from the web.

We all know now that throwing money after that problem doesn’t work, either. And we’ll be better off for it going forward.

Alone together

Playing alone together still is interesting and unique enough, but one has to see there still are technical limitations to what developers can do if they design a game around thousands of players playing at the same time- gameplay-wise, few if any MMORPGs are very compelling and i know for a fact that on the one general gaming site i read (Rock Paper Shotgun, you should, too!), players and authors alike pity MMORPG players because of the games’ repetetive, grindy and boring gameplay. So it seems unlikely that the normal, persistent, shared world MMORPG would be able to gather the masses for quite some time. Investing here really was and is throwing good money after bad. But designers came up with a solution.

Alone together in Guild Wars 2
Alone together in Guild Wars 2

There’s my MMO in your shooter

The Crew, Destiny and The Division are three games where you’ll find MMO elements as well as a semi-persistent world combined with a single player or simple multiplayer game. These games incorporate most of the “mainstream” elements of MMORPGs while offering a different kind of gameplay. Think about it: there are hubs where you see other players (the “alone together” part of open world MMORPG play), you can also join a few friends and tackle content together (similar to going into MMOs with your friends or doing some guild activities) and even grouping up with random players (just as you’d do with Dungeon Finders and the like). These games are basically an essence of what MMORPGs have become, but they shed a few shackles that put them in gameplay or feature-constraints.

When you think about it- maybe ArenaNet did it the wrong way around- releasing the hub-centric semi-MMO Guild Wars in a time when persistent, shared worlds were popular and then releasing Guild Wars 2 in a time where, maybe, stronger gameplay and storytelling would have won them the day.

There’s also Elite Dangerous and the upcoming Shroud of the Avatar, Shards Online and all these survival games where you can rent/create your own server where it’s possible to play the same game either totally alone, with friends or in a shared environment. While these are a different sort of game than the titles i mentioned earlier, they all give the option to scale the “Massively” part to comfort.

We have only seen early entries here and i think this is where you’d need to look in the future if Triple-A MMO-ish design is what you’re looking for. We should all be happy, because the “mainstream” will go in that direction and there will be huge hits releasing in that “semi MMO” genre.

Welcome back into my MMO, RPG!

On the other site of the fence we have “classic” MMORPGs- but fans of persistent, virtual, shared worlds can be happy about the demise of the triple-A MMORPG, as well, because now, the masses are chased elsewhere. We’ll be getting more niche products more fitting to our respective playstyles- think about Shroud of the Avatar, Shards Online, Camelot Unchained, the Repopulation, Crowfall and others. They mark the return of the classical western MMORPG. I have to cite something here, because i think this is spot-on.

The very problem was using AAAs as a measure of stability, success, and fun. AAAs broke us. Why be sad when they pack up their tents and move on? Clearly the core MMO playerbase will still be catered to; it’ll just look more like the early 2000s than like 2012.
– Bree Royce, Massively Overpowered

We’ll continue to get new MMORPGs, and if the current crop doesn’t meet your preferences, chances are the next wave will, because for once, after 10 years, we’ll be getting games that do something new or concentrate on a particular part that made MMORPGs great in the first place. Then again, if you want Triple-A MMORPGs, they are still going to come, but from the east instead of the west. And, to be frank, they always have. I think Lineage might just be the MMORPG that’s “really” the most successful- released in 1997, i think, it’s still the best earner for NC Soft in Korea. Black Desert Online shows how the next iteration of a shared, persistent, “alone together” world looks like, there’ll probably be others.

It’s not

As you can see, i’m really looking forward to future developements in the genre- all in all, it seems to me that it has matured and evolved into more specialized subgenres- we have MOBAs, the semi-MMOs like Destiny, we have Survival games and we have the classic MMORPG, and i probably missed something along the way. All these subgenres will provide players with different parts of what makes MMOs great, with different amounts of “massively” in their multiplayer options. The classic MMORPG will return to its genre-bending roots while also being specialized.

Fishing in Black Desert Online
Fishing in Black Desert Online, one iteration of “next gen” MMORPG

In the coming years, we’ll be better off and happier with what’s out there. If we like the current crop (as i do- i love Elder Scrolls Online), we’ll be happy to, again, stay with the titles we love for the longer term instead of always wanting to check out the new shiny. If we were unhappy, the next generation will provide more specialized experiences. And if we liked parts of what MMORPGs offered as a whole but disliked other parts, there will be games offering that, as well.

I wanted to touch on more than that- the shift in business model (buy-to-play is becoming the norm) and design (MMORPGs can’t afford putting the fun behind a grindwall anymore), but i’ve gone on rambling long enough (and really need to pack). I might get on these other topics another time, but in essence, i view both of these as getting better now, as well.

We’re not in our last moments here, we’re entering a new era in our genre and should be excited for it!

Dual Wielding: On Negativity

Dual Wielding: A series featuring two bloggers writing on one topic and answering the question, “If the pen is mightier than the sword, what happens when you dual wield?”

Make sure to check out Ironweakness’ take on the subject.

Personal note

Continuing with the Dual Wielding post series was one of my resolutions for 2016. So far, probably with the exception being the “budget” thing, i’ve been doing well. The budget, i will break, i know this already. But that’s not today’s topic- i’m really happy to do this thing again as it is a lot of fun to do.

Ironweakness and i decided to make this a monthly thing now, allowing for a more relaxed pace and maybe providing us with topics along the way. This time, we wanted to tackle Negativity in the MMORPG community.

Negativity is a thing

To be honest, we’re a bit late on the subject- i think it started with a post by Tobold called Hate Blogs. Tobold stated that he didn’t write much about MMORPGs anymore and also refrains from reading MMORPG blogs mostly because they’re very negative. Now, i don’t want to weigh in on every post on this subject, but since this one is the post that made me notice the subject, i’d like to point out two things about it.

First, i agree with Tobold insofar as that certain blogs surely are the way he describes: grumbling about new MMORPGs because we’re not in Britannia anymore- or complaining about other players, although i don’t read much of that. But i also have to disagree with the post because Tobold leaves the impression that most MMORPG blogs nowadays are like that. That is not the experience i’m having when browsing through my Feedly- i see lots and lots of people writing about the games they love.

There have been other entries around this topic, such as Bhagpuss’ description on why he’s more positive nowadays and doesn’t dwell on thinking about that “perfect MMO” that might or might not come in the future.

There have been more, of course, but those two are the ones that caught my attention- well, it’s been three, actually, as i also follow Syncaine.

The MMORPG subculture

A lot of what is happening with the community in regards to negativity reminds me of the developments in other subcultures where something is cool and edgy as long as it isn’t popular. When it becomes popular, you’ll have the veterans telling everyone who wants to hear it how they liked this thing before it was. And all the new stuff will only really copy the old in a bad way or be created without the “spirit and soul” of the original thing.

In MMORPGs, we have World of Warcraft that turned things around and made a subcultural genre popular. Of course the “cool kids” will tell everyone that before WoW, MMORPGs were actually good and different. The funny thing is: these games aren’t gone. If Ultima Online, Everquest and/or Dark Age of Camelot are better for your taste, they’re still there to be enjoyed, and they wouldn’t mind getting more players. Two of those are even subscription-only MMOs. Just like you can still listen to pre-Teen Spirit-Nirvana albums, you can also go and play DaoC.

The player base

 

Sometimes, i feel as if we, the players of MMORPGs, are the toughest gaming customers out there. We are very, very demanding and complain just about everything that doesn’t meet our increasingly high standards. We might also take offense on something and seem to be rejoicing in a game’s, a company’s or- even worse, a human’s failure (remember SWTOR in the early time, Trion/NCSoft, Smed, McQuaid).

We’re hard to please and very critical of just about everything. Of course the newer breed of MMORPGs, those who truly are an evolution of the genre (ESO, The Division), do everything in their power to avoid being categorized as an MMO. If they’d do, they’ll possibly have us as their customers- and while they want us to spend money on their product, they don’t want us going into their game with the expectations we have regarding MMORPGs.

Regarding the “normal player” in-game, i’ve found negative behaviour most often excused with the opinion that other players behave badly, as well. Things like “i have to run for this resource node or the other player will get to it first” or tagging mobs first. That one really bothers me, because frankly, you have a choice here. For that other guy you are the one rushing to get the resource node, you are the thief. Everytime one is doing something like that, another player with the same mindset is born.

The choice is yours to make

All of this doesn’t mean there’d be no room for criticism- there is. There is no need to put a positive spin on everything- that’s the marketing departement’s job. But there’s a difference in being disappointed by how ArcheAge turned out and wishing Trion bankrupcy- or Funcom, for some failed launch 15 years ago.

In-Game, it’s possible for every one of us to behave differently. Going for the same quest? Build a group. Going for the same resource? Take a step back. Share advice if “dumb” questions are asked in general chat.

And it’s the same thing with blogs, opinion, or comments- instead of focussing on all the shortcomings of the games in this genre and reading about them, thereby leading you to believe that your current game of choice is on a downward spiral, a buggy mess and generally a lackluster attempt at creating an MMO, we could go out and read forum posts, blogs or listen to podcasts created by people who love their respective game, the genre, the community. Because there’s many of them and they’re much more sustainable. MMORPGs aren’t easy games- sure, some of them might lose you as a player, but when they keep you, you’ll continue to find things you like while playing. You’ll also find a few things you dislike, but that’s nothing bad in itself.

The turning point

But here’s what i truly believe: we are the best community in the gaming world. We are the ones who made Massively Overpowered and Blizzardwatch possible and still fund both via Patreon, we are the ones chipping in for the wife and a child of an EVE player who died in San Bernadino as well as medical care for Matthew Rossi, one of Blizzardwatch’s authors.

We write a ton of blogs (take a look at Syp’s Blogroll while i set mine up) and are connected via Twitter, Anook and other means- we support and engage each others with projects such as the Newbie Blogger Initiative, Blaughust and so on.

It’s us who are also actively driving in-game communities like guilds, we provide events like Weatherstock in Lord of the Rings Online, we host radio stations like Radio Free Gaia. We create useful websites providing guides and character builds for our favourite games or fashion blogs for players who really dig cosmetic outfits in MMORPGs.

It’s in this genre that you’ll find tens of podcasts to listen to, both game-specific and general.

There’s one thing that hasn’t changed in those 20 years the genre as we know it exists- those who love it, or remember earlier times/games fondly, they almost always remember experiences with the community in a wider sense- a great guild, chatting with other players while waiting for a boat, the pre-Warhammer-blogging wave.

The MMORPG community is a very passionate one- sometimes, that passion turns a bit negative, but on the whole i’m of the opinion that the MMORPG community is a great one that makes me actually proud to be a part of it more often than not.

Dual Wielding: pay-to-win edition

Dual Wielding: A series featuring two bloggers writing on one topic and answering the question, “If the pen is mightier than the sword, what happens when you dual wield?”

Don’t miss out on Ironweakness’ take on the subject.

Free-to-play as a business model comes in many forms. You’ll have the mostly free experiences of games like TERA and the free-to-play-but-we-really-want-you-to-subscribe model of games like Star Wars: the old republic. Whenever free-to-play is mentioned, there’s another term coming up: pay-to-win. Almost every developer that transitioned one game from sub to f2p will have the pay-to-win question in their FAQ. The answer is always the same: no, this game won’t be pay-to-win. The interesting part is, that when you think about it, this is both an impossible thing to state and true in every case. In the end, it depends on two things: the player perspective and the game design perspective.

What is pay-to-win?

Wikipedia has the following to say:

In some multiplayer free-to-play games, players who are willing to pay for special items or downloadable content may be able to gain a significant advantage over those playing for free. Critics of such games call them “pay-to-win” games.

I have to say that i agree with this definition but would add that gaining an advantage in most themepark MMORPGs isn’t something one should worry about. For the advantage you buy there has to be some impact on someone else who didn’t pay- this impact doesn’t really exist in most of the current MMORPGs.

What is winning?

This is another question you’d have to answer in order to really understand and define pay-to-win. In a recent “Perfect ten” column on Massively Overpowered, Eliot Lefebvre wrote:

[…]what qualifies as a “winning” advantage varies between person to person. If you really try at it, you can argue that paying for anything at all is winning because it involves getting an advantage you wouldn’t have playing completely for free.

That’s because (themepark) MMORPGs aren’t lobby shooters; in most cases, you don’t fight other players much and even if you do your pvp battlegrounds, it’s not an even playing field at all- players can join them when they are in a certain level bracket. A level 11 player will have trouble fighting- and winning- against a level 19 player. In times when World of Warcraft didn’t give out experience points for playing battlegrounds, there were “pvp twinks”, mostly level 19 and geared in a way that “normal” level 19 characters didn’t stand a chance against them. So if we’re talking normal battleground pvp and even open world pvp, it’s rare that every player is on an equal footing. And when/if they are- by game design- the devs won’t sell statistical advantage for their version of pvp.

In most other cases, it’s a matter of definition and what your own goals in a game are. If you’re an achievement hunter and a certain achievement will grant you some gear with just the look you want for your character, you could consider it pay-to-win if another player was able to just buy that stuff from the ingame store. If World of Warcraft sold flying in Draenor, plain and simple, you could consider it pay-to-win, as well.

Good MMORPGs are of the “Win. Your way.” kind- there are all kinds of goals to strive for. Since you can’t really define winning, “pay-to-win” is equally hard to define and, in most cases, both true and wrong.

Impact

On the other hand, there’s no impact. If you went out of your way to get that achievement for the cosmetic gear, that’s your experience and you’ll probably like the way to get there as well as feel rewarded when you finish it. It’s the experience, the journey, that counts here. Your journey wasn’t worse or less fun if “Killerrabbit1337” bought the same item in the store.

In most themeparks, there is no impact. Even if i were to buy a set of raid gear in Rift, all it would do is allow me to access content faster (or at all). In most cases, i couldn’t sell the gear on the auction house because of it being bound on aquire.

But, of course, there are ways to impact other players. And this is where, in my opinion, pay-to-win is a thing- and it’s a thing to be avoided. This is the case when it undermines fundamentals of how a certain game works. Let’s say you’re designing a crafting and economy oriented MMORPG- then selling crafting materials and/or the ingame currency would be a bad, bad thing, because if a player were to buy loads of crafting mats from the ingame store, he or she could hurt the price of these items in the auction hall. So there’s impact on all the other crafters who’d like to sell their goods in the auction hall.

So, in my opinion, for a game to be considered pay-to-win, there must be impact on other players either through pvp or the ingame economy. Using this definition, i can only think of two games i’d consider pay-to-win: EVE and ArcheAge.

In EVE, progress is measured in two ways: skill points and ISK, the ingame currency. While there is no way to increase skill point gain, you can simply buy ISK by buying PLEX and selling it on the market, giving you a huge advantage for instance in choosing what you fly- after all, one of the big rules in EVE is “don’t fly something you can’t afford to lose”- so skill point being equal, i could use this way of getting ISK to fly a better ship into battle- and that includes pvp.

In ArcheAge, a game i haven’t really followed up on after being disappointed by hacks and cheats, there are the labor point potions in the store. Labor points are used to craft and even to open up certain loot. As i wrote in another post, it’s a mechanic i like to a certain extent- by using up your labor points, you are encouraged to specialize/concentrate on certain aspects of the game/crafting. Labor point potions increase your ability to craft items- and while ArcheAge has somewhat moved away from being a crafting/economy centered game, it still is one of the huge qualities this game has. So buying labor potions allows the buyer to create more items, thereby influencing the ingame economy.

The future

Right now, there are several upcoming games i take a huge interest in. Namely, the Repopulation, Shroud of the Avatar and to a lesser extent Shards Online and Albion Online. Most of these games might be quite crafting/economy centered or allow for such a playstyle, at least. There are many ways to ruin these kinds of games when they are free-to-play or microtransaction based in general. Jewel has already voiced some of her concerns regarding the influence of free-to-play on Albion, and i agree.

I have seen how stuff like that, especially coupled with hacking/exploiting/botting can ruin a game experience for some players, but all i can do is hope the devs know what they’re trying to achieve with their games and try to keep the impact on the game design as low as possible.

Conclusion

Pay-to-win can be everything or nothing. Once again, i find myself agreeing with Eliot here, who also stated this.

When you can’t define conclusively what is or isn’t enough of an advantage to qualify as “winning,” you are using a term that you have to define before you make any use of it, which makes it inherently useless.

So the whole post is useless. The term is useless- in my opinion, as well, because we should talk about the business models in a more distinctive way. We can’t absolutely state that game x is “pay-to-win”, we always have to explain why we think it is. So the better way to say the same thing would be to state that “i don’t like the business model because they sell item x,y on their ingame store and it makes me feel like striving for the same goal ingame isn’t worth it, anymore”.

Dual Wielding: let’s talk business models

Dual Wielding: A series featuring two bloggers writing on one topic and answering the question, “If the pen is mightier than the sword, what happens when you dual wield?”

Don’t miss out on Ironweakness’ take on the subject.

Now this is a topic you probably haven’t heard of in a while: business models. Is free-to-play a bad thing to happen to MMORPGs? Should they all be subs? What about buy-to-play? What is a fair business model? Let’s take a look at that, shall we?

The curious case of Wildstar

No surprise there

Since Wildstar’s announcement that the game will go free-to-play, there seems to be a discussion going on- you know, like every time an MMORPG makes the transition. And it still is viewed as a failure of the game in question. Before i get to my opinion, i want to express something first: a transition to free-to-play is in the plans of every newly released Triple-A MMORPG. The “suits” already know that their game will change business models, i’m pretty sure about that. Maybe the devs don’t know, but those responsible for giving the green light to a shift do. Since the Turbine leaks we also know that subscriber numbers are being kept somewhat secret even within the companies.

If we continue to be “surprised”, think that there are ways to avoid that transition or think of an MMO as “failed”, because it switches its business model, i think we’re playing those people into their cards who have no real interest in the games. We “punish” the devs by saying something along those lines- and you know what? The devs are the ones who are enthusiastic about what they do. So i think we should stop pretending that “we knew from the beginning” or “why haven’t they launched the game as b2p/f2p to begin with?”. The answer to the latter is: because it makes them more money faster.

What went wrong?

However, i do agree that the switch wasn’t expected to come quite so fast- we know Wildstar isn’t doing well because of the NC quarterly reports. I think the reason might be something else than the obvious. Of course, i’m dangerously close to extrapolate my experience/opinion on others, but for me, the main reason i didn’t like to play Wildstar is that i couldn’t relax while playing it. The housing spot might make a difference, but out in the wilds, mob count was too high, spawn time too quick and the game was constantly shouting things to do at me. All of this won’t change when Wildstar goes f2p, but the difference is that i can just log in without financial commitment when i feel like playing.

It’s not about “playing for free”, it is about “logging in for free”.

Business models

Let me begin by describing my personal situation: i’m a husband, father and i have a job. I also have the desire to do something else in my free time than playing an MMORPG. This leads to a wide range of play time during any given month. Sometimes, there are months when i play 20 hours- in another month, i might come close to 70. That’s about the range we’re talking about here. I’d be fine to pay a monthly sub in either case, if i were happy with one game only. Alas, i’m not. I play different games at different times, even if i expressed my will to stop doing that several times on this blog already. There’s no ideal game and there are almost no (commonly known) MMORPGs that i really dislike.

The subscription

Many pro-subscription arguments revolve around the fact that it is a “fair” business model and the only one that guarantees content updates. I think it is neither.

When a new subscription game releases, there will be the launch hype crowd- the servers will be full, everybody’s rushing in to get started and everybody is excited. I’ve seen people plan their holidays around game releases – they’ll play 2 weeks straight, finish all the available content, cancel their subscription and wait for new content to arrive. They paid 50 bucks to see everything. Meanwhile, i need a lot of real time. The only case i can make really fair comparisons is when Rift released. I played this game exclusively for three months. I needed 3 months to reach the max level. I paid about 90€, to see the same content all those who cancelled earlier saw for 50. Now tell me this is fair.

When you buy a book, the author gives you all the time you need to complete it- you don’t pay him 0.50$ a day to have his or her permission to read it if you’d like.

As for content – well, there are three subscription MMORPGs i know of: World of Warcraft, EVE Online and Final Fantasy XIV. EVE and FF14 do provide a steady flow of content- WoW doesn’t, and it is even charging extra for expansions, mounts and whatnot. On the other hand, f2p MMORPGs also evolve- SWTOR added many systems to the game since going f2p. The Secret World expands, as well. Maybe it is slower, but the company isn’t asking for any money in the meantime.

And don’t get me started on the deadly EX’es – PLEX, REX, APEX, CREDD, whatever they’re called- they are a way to monetize newbies in favour of loyal players- you could view this as a just reward for the veterans, but i see it as the squeezing of newbies.

Free-to-play

Free-to-play isn’t quite fair, either. Usually, in this system, you’ll need to pay more if you are more deeply involved. That isn’t so good, either. Usually, there will be some kind of mechanic that involves the cash shop, some kind of convenience veterans find useful.

Also, it’s exploitive- by using lockboxes, for instance, allowing people to spend hundreds of dollars on virtual goods.

Buy-to-play

Let’s come to the fairer models of buy-to-play. Sure, usually, there’s also a cash shop involved, but basically, these games sell content. Everybody pays the same for the same content- discounts aside. Ideally, these games would sell content only, but of course they rarely do. I still find TSW’s business model to be the best around, followed by ESO and Guild Wars 2.

See, content really should be what studios charge for- of course, this wouldn’t be the most profitable route for them, but it would be the fair business model for us, the customers. There may be some concerns regarding the separation of the community, though, but as far as i know, that’s not really a concern for The Secret World and Guild Wars 2.

The minute sub

Another way of making everybody pay the same would be to charge by the minute- or, more general, ingame time. They could even charge a “monthly” sub (30 days ingame) and charge that time everytime i log in. So i’d have 30 days, and when i log in, no matter if it is for 5 minutes or 5 hours, i’ll have 29 days left when i log out.

Conclusion

In the end, i’m fine with all the business models out there. One might be better suited to me than the other, but if a game is good, i’ll pay a subscription, as well. But then again, i have to say that i overspent only in subscription games- by paying for subs i didn’t need in the end, for instance. The other options allow me to spend some money on my time- and they also allow me to log in everytime i like to, without charging a subscription. So in the end, it is more likely that i play a f2p or b2p game.

Dual Wielding: not the bonus xp you’re looking for

Dual Wielding: A series featuring two bloggers writing on one topic and answering the question, “If the pen is mightier than the sword, what happens when you dual wield?”

Don’t miss out on Ironweakness’ take on the subject.

Introduction

When my current favourite game, Star Wars: the old republic, activated the bonus experience gain for class quests, i was excited. With this bonus, a max-level character seemed to be within my grasp in a reasonable amount of time. I enjoy planetary questlines, but the possibility to have one character at the level cap quickly was a very welcome one- credits would roll in faster, i could experience the most recent content additions and might even be able to join a guild and be able to play with the other members. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite pan out that way.

Mind you, this is from the perspective of a player who hasn’t ‘done it all’ on another character but tried to play his first character to level cap with the 12XP bonus activated (i didn’t come far, but that’s mainly because of a kindergarten/nursery strike going on here).

Effects on the leveling experience

Our last topic in the Dual Wielding series was all about the leveling process. My take on that involved a lengthy process, neverending at best, that accounted for all activities being provided by the game while still being heavy on the story side, giving weight to content, providing choice and not turning around when endgame comes.

I really liked this environment
I really liked this environment

If we take a look at 12XP with these entries in mind, you can already see the problems i am facing with it.

Neverending

Leveling with 12XP activated is a quick affair. When i was using it, i felt like hurrying from quest(hub) to quest(hub), sometimes gaining even two levels for returning one class/story mission. Usually, the rotation went like this: get the story quest, go into the area where it takes place, finish the quest, return the quest, visit the class trainer, read about the new abilities, continue through the storyline.

While this isn’t exactly like buying a high-level character as a newbie in Everquest 2, related to the skills, it did have similarities. Sure, i was reading what the new abilities were doing, but i couldn’t really test them- in the early stages, you would outlevel even the class quests quickly. Reading alone doesn’t provide a lot of insight- after a while, i didn’t know what my skills were doing.

Screenshot_2015-05-21_22_46_57_361451
Now…why are spaceships in the Star Wars making sounds when in space yet seem to be of no disturbance hovering over big cities?

 

Now, this might change a bit later on, and maybe there are class stories that are more centered around fighting and allow you to experiment with your skills, but muscle memory won’t build up.

Choice/weighted activities/use of all activities

With 12XP, SWTOR becomes what i call a “quest grinder”. There are some really great and interesting games out there that i have trouble to connect with because they’re basically all about questing. If you read everything, immerse yourself in the questing experience and go off-the-rails on your own from time to time, there might be some variety to be experienced anyway, but these games (Lotro and TSW, for instance) are basically all about the questing. After a while, this bores the heck out of me.

12XP isn’t forcing itself on you- you can deactivate it or apply other work-arounds to lessen the effect it has on your leveling experience- more on that later. But if you were to make full use of it, you’d just do the class quests. I read that you can experience the class story this way in about 10 hours of playing, but it would take me longer, personally.

Crafting falls off the side in this case- of course, you could still try and level your crafting by sending your companions out to gather resources, but all by yourself and by only doing class quests, you’d be very short on resources. Also credits. The characters i played with 12XP in mind were broke.

Story-related

This, of course, is the strong side of 12XP. If you don’t care about planetary storylines because you’ve already experienced them, playing only class quests is an interesting affair, story-wise, since there are no interruptions. One quest leads up to the next, the story is focused, you don’t have to play hours worth of other quests or flashpoints to continue with the next step. 12XP allows you to stay connected to your class story.

Effects on the staying power

In another edition of Dual Wielding, Ironweakness and i were discussing the viability of SWTOR as a resident MMO. Its’ strong points, in my opinion, were that the game makes use of the ingame currency, credits, and lets you spend it in many interesting ways and that by now, there’s a variety in content. The game is still a bit thin when it comes to non-combat activities, but there are strongholds and outfits, at least. One could also venture forth and go achievement hunting or fly a spaceship into battle.

Unfortunately, 12XP renders everything besides the class quests as side-content. Everything else is still there, but it isn’t even ‘optional’ anymore, basically everything else enters hobbyist territory.

For me, and going by the hints given by Ironweakness in some of his other posts, for my partner-in-dual-wielding as well, that made a huge dent in our enjoyment of the game. Nobody is forcing us to use the buff, of course, but deactivating it feels wasteful. Doing anything else besides class quests does, as well. While we do know 12XP is going to be around for a while, we don’t know how long it’ll be, exactly. In my case, i’m wondering if i’m able to level one class in the traditional way before moving on and play another class with 12XP.

The verdict

12XP is not the experience bonus i was looking for- as a matter of fact, i prefer 2XP- it gives a faster levelling experience without rendering everything outside of class missions “useless”.

There are ways around that, of course. You could deactivate the bonus, but it really seems to be a waste. In fact, i think that allowing to play through the game and being able to sometimes skip a planet or a dungeon is helpful in keeping the game fresh for alternate characters.

Another way i could think of is doing class quests only when they give less experience. Unfortunately, i lacked the time to test this, but if you’d, maybe, outlevel class quests by two or three (or four?) levels before finishing them/turning them in, they’d still give a considerable xp boost without rendering everything else a hobby.

Finally, you could also do them last- move to the planet they send you to, do the planetary story quest first (i received a hint by Shintar; just take all quests in the first hub of the planet, finish them all- there should be one quest left that sends you out to the next hub: this would be the planetary storyline) and then move on to the class story. This way might turn out to be similar to the previous one, but it is only viable for PvE-quest-players.

Personally, i think i’ll try all of these options, as well as playing with 12XP, on different characters. After all, i am willing to play the Trooper, the Sentinel, the Imperial Agent and another class (maybe Smuggler or Inquisitor), so i’d have enough characters to play around.

Remember, though, that this is coming from someone who hasn’t leveled to cap yet- if you already have, and experienced all the planetary content and/or can dash through the class stories quickly (as in 1-2 weeks, maybe), you can find enjoyment in playing with 12XP- the side-activities would be there, waiting for you and you’d even have credits to play around with them. If you take longer because of available time to play or because you enjoy doing this-and-that while playing, you might be better off by turning 12XP off.