Category: Games

The cycle

I play MMORPGs almost exclusively- there used to be only one, World of Warcraft, although i didn’t linger there for as long as most players do- i played for about 6 months before questing in Stranglethorn Valley and the Un’Goro crater put an end to a fun progression and made it a grind. Since then, i’ve gained maxlevel only once, in Rift, and that was because i had great fun in a great group- i think i did play only dungeons from the mid-thirties to level 50. Everything else i played, i got stuck in the early mid-levels. Let’s say level 30 usually is when i hit a wall. Curiously, i’m not alone in this, as Ironweakness has a post up to announce a series on his blog about levelling from “One to X”.

That post made me think about reasons for my not being able to do something like that, as much as i’d want. There are some.

Something else beckons

I like most mainstream MMOs that are out there. Often, when i return to a game, i wonder why i left/didn’t continue/don’t put more deliberation in that particular game. It really doesn’t matter which game it is we’re talking about- i cycle through Lotro, The Secret World, Final Fantasy XIV, SWTOR, Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2, Marvel Heroes, maybe even EQ2 and World of Warcraft (not really) all the time. It’s offers and updates that are calling me.

Just to take the more recent events- i’d like to play FF14 and Guild Wars 2 for their respective expansions. I wanted to get into SWTOR for their housing system, always want to continue Lotro for its story and world, The Secret World for the New player experience and so on. But while i am on game x, there’s always something happening in game y. I really wish i’d be there, at the level cap, to witness all new content. If i were to make an effort to play “One to X” in each of these games successively, i’d be in a happy place.

It gets cumbersome

The early levels of many MMOs are quite fun. Even when you are a time-challenged casual player like myself, you’ll be able to make some progress- even if it’s just “finishing one quest” in MMOs where one quest really matters, like in ESO or TSW. In Guild Wars 2, even in the higher levels, i manage to get a level out of most play sessions while mostly just taking a look around.

But sometimes, it’s just getting very cumbersome to make any progress in the games. So much so that i’ll need a whole play session just to figure out where i left, what my goals were and how to play my class. Quests and other ingame goals take you to places all over the virtual worlds, the inventory is cluttered and i don’t even know what is useful and what isn’t. Mobs take ages to get down and so on. Life in the midlevels is busywork.

The most recent example in my personal experience would be Final Fantasy XIV, where i simply wanted to get the main story quest up to the level my character is. It took me about two months and still i didn’t reach that goal. Of course i did other stuff- i made progress in crafting, different combat classes as well as gathering. Unfortunately, this all didn’t really feel like progress because i was merely catching up on all positions- trying to get the gathering and crafting jobs as well as the main storyline up to par with my combat class level- and it took ages.

Zone design

I don’t believe in worlds- even virtual ones, that are devoid of any humanity. Often, you’ll have the starting zones and they’re happy places- there are villages, woods, beautiful sights all around. All this vanishes when you hit the early midlevels. Think about Lord of the Rings Online- you start either in the shire, bree-land or Ered Luin – all beautiful places, with villages and signs of humanity all around. Then you’ll continue to the Lonely Lands- ok, they’re named fittingly, but all you get there is an inn. The North Downs aren’t much better- from the second area up until Moria you’ll only get ruins, cabins and other small places. There’s Rivendell, of course, but not much of cities in other ways. And then…comes Moria, the epitome of boredom in zone design (in my opinion; it’s designed in a very good way, but these are still basically caves).

And later on, there will be desert/lava zones. Nobody wants to see something like that. Of course, i can see why dangers must present themselves and an all-green happy-place world might be equally boring, but i still can’t understand why people build great cities in the early game and live in tents from level 20 onwards.

Ways out

So i was thinking- how could i do something like Ironweakness and Syp, who also plays a bajillion MMORPGs but somehow manages to be at (or almost at) the top of the content curve in all of them? Of course, one way to do it would be to not play 30 MMORPGs at the same time and instead reduce to a number i could handle- namely, one at a time. This won’t work, of course, because diversity is the spice of life, after all.

“Going buy-to-play”, as i’ve mentioned in my previous post, would be another way to reduce the amount of concurrent MMOs as well as lifting some pressure off me. There would be three games available- Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World. They would offer a diverse diet as well as some depth in their gameplay. All i’d really cut out would be Final Fantasy 14, SWTOR and the newly-returned-to EVE. And Lotro. But frankly, i doubt i’ll ever make it through Moria.

So i don’t know, this is still a topic. It’s a funny thing- this blog was created because i wanted to document my finding of a new MMORPG home- i guess it worked in that way. Unfortunately, when i started it i was of the opinion that i’d found it by now.

 

What to play and going buy-to-play

The recent weeks didn’t see much of MMORPG playtime. I was sick, playing singleplayer games, sick again and on vacation. I briefly considered taking an MMORPG sabbatical for some time, because right now i just feel i’m not in the mood of playing regularly. Gaming, and especially MMORPG-related gaming, tends to become so much of a focus in the private life that launching a game becomes the standard option of things to do in free time- and i don’t want that to be the case anymore. I don’t want to “automatically” sit in front of the PC as soon as i have some room to breathe, because in these last weeks, i found that to be suffocating. I don’t know if you can relate to this, but that’s where i’m coming from right now.

So now i’m going to give gaming a lesser focus in my free time. It won’t be the standard option anymore- see, raising a child for the last two years saw me getting out of touch with some other hobbies of mine- reading and watching tv-series or movies, for instance.

Anyways, this is still my gaming-related blog here, so let’s take a look at what i’m planning right now.

Final Fantasy XIV

As it happens, each and every time i play this game, somehow when i lose focus and momentum, interest goes full on zero. There are reasons for that, of course, the main one being that this game, despite its mechanics, also doesn’t appeal to me on many levels- the relatively small zones, the kind-of-grindy gathering/crafting, the cuteness and the fact that it is- well, i don’t know how to put that in words, but i find it cumbersome, sometimes- it’s almost as if everything in FF14 needs to be done in a deliberate manner.

Another reason is, of course, that i don’t have social ties in the game. Right now, i’m kind of waiting for my current guild to kick me for inactivity (they will, despite me being in the community) and i will look out for other groups when i return to the game next month.

Now, having already bought the expansion (it’s quite cheap on greenmangaming VIP, by the way), i plan a return somewhere around may to make an effort and see where i will be when the expansion hits. Having done that is one of the reasons i didn’t make the titular deliberate choice of going buy-to-play yet, but i kind of expect to do so come the end of the year. Or maybe not. Deliberate choices in MMOland don’t go particularly well for me.

EVE online

Now that’s funny, considering the above paragraphs and the contemplation to go buy-to-play (i’ll muse on that later), but as of today, i returned (if you can call it that) to EVE online. See, EVE is the only MMO out there that provides the features i’m looking for in an MMO- the local/regional markets, the player driven economy, distance being a part of gameplay. They had an offer to reactivate for some discount, and this time i took it- after being three years absent from the game.

Most everyone will tell you that EVE is not a game to play casually and/or solo, but to be honest, i don’t really believe that. EVE is a game where you set your own goals, so when i set my goals accordingly, i don’t see why one couldn’t play it casually and/or solo. Of course, i don’t know the game very good, the learning cliff is still waiting for me, and i fully expect to fall off of it again, but i’ll give it a try nonetheless.

Here are my loosely drawn-up goals:

  • get some capital by doing the tutorial(s) and maybe some mission running to get a feel of the game
  • start mining
  • at some point, i’ll do station trading- when i feel i have some money to play around with (the mining should help with that)
  • way further down the line i want to become a manufacturer- as far as i understand it right now, miner – refiner – industrialist is my preferred “progression path”, if you can call it that- the goal is to become an industrialist and trader. The path should help me getting an understanding of the process involved as well as capital. I also don’t know if being an industrialist really is soloable.
  • maybe i’ll take a look at exploration

I’m at the beginning of this process, my current capital is 8 million ISK (haha! :D) and i’ll need to learn a lot. It’s going to be slow, as well, but this time i didn’t want to miss the offer- i missed it two or three times already and every time i wanted to get back into the game it wasn’t valid anymore. We’ll see how it goes.

Elder Scrolls Online

Some project also “requires” me to play ESO, and i’m glad for it. I’ll not talk too much about it now, but i’ll start a Templar (continue my level 7 Templar) in an attempt to re-explore the game and try to be a combination of healer and dps, as i always try to be in MMOs.

Age of Conan

The guild project will move to AoC tomorrow. As it looks right now, we’ll be almost two groups of people who play and i’m really looking forward to it.

The Secret World and Guild Wars 2

TSW brought itself back into my MMORPG diet with its New Player Experience. I like what Funcom did there and plan on playing TSW on an irregular basis.

Guild Wars 2 fits into my “going buy to play” plan and would be a good addition to the other two b2p games out there- Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World would be a great combination of games to play- if one was in the mood to play, i think these three games combined provide almost everything an MMO player needs, if paying a subscription fee is not what this player is looking for.

Going buy-to-play

Yeah, the title is misleading in this way. I’m not. But remember when i wrote about priorities in the first paragraphs? Subscriptions really don’t fit into this- for me, at least. When i’m paying a sub, it’s not that i want “as many hours as possible” out of the games, but there’s still the nagging feeling of “i’m paying a sub. I should play that game (if i’m playing at all)”. It seems a waste to pay a sub for FF14 but launch Guild Wars 2, for example.

Most free-to-play games are hybrids with an optional subscription. When i play, say, SWTOR, i will sub up because i find the experience to play it without subbing severely lacking. The same would go for ArcheAge, if i were to play that game.

So that’s when i thought about going buy-to-play, and if my EVExperiment doesn’t work out, i might still do just that. The b2p games out there are of a high quality, they don’t have intrusive cash shops, they don’t try too hard to make you subscribe. Buy-to-play is the business model that fits best with my priorization of gaming in my free time.

If i were to make the deliberate choice of only playing b2p games and it would make my (gaming) life so much easier- first, i might not always be tempted to take offers the f2p/p2p games put out, there would also be a very much smaller selection of titles that i’d consider to play on a given night when i want to play and there would be no pressure at all- imagined, self-imposed or otherwise- to play more often than i’d really like to. It would be a good choice for me.

For now, though, there’s still the EVExperiment and Heavensward in my plans.

Funcom – the new good guys?

I don’t know about you, but for me, i’ll always support the “good guys” in the genre. Last year, i thought SOE might shape up to be the new good guy on the block, but since SOE went Daybreak, the news we got were more in line with what happened to Trion after Scott Hartsman returned to the company as CEO. Remember Trion? They are the company behind Rift, and they were- i think- the most popular developer of MMOs up until Rift went free-to-play, although Defiance had put a stain on their white vest already. When it was announced that Trion would be publishing ArcheAge, it was met with great positivity.

Nowadays, Trion isn’t so popular anymore. And even pressed hard, i don’t think i could come up with any studio that’s regarded in a similar way. City state entertainment (Camelot Unchained) seems to be quite popular, but in reality, this is easy for people who haven’t released a game yet.

If we’re looking for a good guy in MMORPG development space, for me, there’d need to be some qualities i’d like to see:

  • quite open communication
  • an honest, straight-forward business model in their game(s)
  • a noticeable will to do what’s best for their games and players
  • not outright abandoning any games that don’t perform so well

With all that in mind, my current favourite would be Funcom. Yes, they messed up launches in the past- Age of Conan and Anarchy Online are famous for that. And maybe there were “misunderstandings” when you played through Tortage and realized that the game was quite different later on. Also, they seem to be unable to create a compelling crafting system/economy. But i have the feeling, they’re doing the best they can.

Doing what’s best for their games and players

We know their financials aren’t looking too good, and it seems The Secret World is carrying the weight of the other games in Funcoms portfolio- so it is understandable that their main focus in development would be in TSW. But they haven’t forgotten Age of Conan. New content has been released, the achievement system, while not content in a strict sense, is a system where you can play around even if you are a dedicated long-time veteran of the game.

Still don't like Tortage, though
Still don’t like Tortage, though

With the focus of the guild project turning to AoC, i also found that the atmosphere in AoC is interesting, very unique (i thought about another MMORPG with that kind of mood, but i don’t know any) and very well done. Funcom were able to deliver on that even before TSW.

Also, their games feel different. The Secret World moreso than Age of Conan, but to call any of them a “WoW clone” would be quite wrong. You won’t find a game similar to TSW (yet), with the huge focus on story, a brave attempt at cutting down on quest log entries which in effect makes quests more noticeable and important as well as easier to follow and pick up again after some absence.

For instance, in TSW i relogged into my character in the Blue Mountains and it was an easy return- she only had one quest open (two if you count the main story quest) and only one hotbar with abilities- getting reacquainted was an easy task. I also found out how their EPE update made life better- the current quest took me to fight Ah’kabs…lots of them. See, i’m pretty sure they were the reason why i logged out the last time i tried to play TSW and haven’t really returned since. This time, they were still annoying, still not easy to fight mobs, especially when you pull more than one of them, but fighting them was enjoyable.

So they also do what’s in the best interest of their games and players- i’m including the current sales which seem to have brought a lot of new players to the game. In game, it almost feels like a relaunch similar to what happens after a business model change.

Business models in Funcom games

I find The Secret World and Age of Conan to be honest in their business models, as well. They are different- TSW is buy-to-play, Age of Conan basically is free-to-play for levelling and a subscription game at level cap. Both heavily rely on dedicated players to pay the bills which is a nice change to all those PLEX/REX/CREDD/WoW token games that monetize new players. With TSW’s sales, you can get all the currently available content (with the exception of the side-stories, maybe) for 50$.

In the laundry
In the laundry

 

In Age of Conan, i looked for a reason to subscribe, but there’s really no reason to if you aren’t at level cap. My main reason for looking is the ability to unlock a character with a level above 20, so i could create a guild for the guild project- the perks i’d have for subscribing would be menial, though. A little Alternate Advancement that only really starts at level-cap, anyway, more bag space and…that’s it, i think. Well, some Funcom points.

I can’t talk about Anarchy Online because i don’t know the game and business model, but these two, i find to be quite easy to understand, fair to the players and sensible in what they do.

Yes, it seems there is a little bit of complaining around as somehow deals for new players to join are seen as “screwing” their loyal customer base. I don’t agree- games always go into discount some time after release and, especially in MMOs, free-to-play, item shops and digital sales have stabilized prizes somewhat. I mean, Elder Scrolls Online, for instance, was sold for 20$ in january, when they announced the change to buy-to-play. Nowadays, it’s 60$ again, and still one of the best-selling games on Steam and Amazon.

Open communication

I don’t really know how it is nowadays, after Joel Bylos went to his new project, but when he was around, he communicated very open and honest in the official game forums.

So, for now, i declare Funcom my current favourite developer. I feel like they’re doing their best within their financial abilities, they treat their customers like adults and they aren’t afraid to try new things in their games or change their games in ways that ultimately benefit all their customers.

Looking good, Tamriel Unlimited

I just took a few minutes to patch up and launch Elder Scrolls Unlimited to take a look at the “Crown Store” / ingame story as well as the actual prizing of “Crowns”.

Prizing

Concerning the prizing- there will be some people that’ll tell you a subscription is the way to go, the main reason being that you’ll get:

  • 30 days of membership (DLC available)
  • 1500 crowns
  • +10% bonus on progression-relevant stuff

for the same prize as 1500 crowns are going to cost you, so if you’re comparing 30 days of subscription with the purchase of 1500 crowns (which would buy you about one horse and one set of cosmetic armor), the sub is the better deal.

Of course, Elder Scrolls Online offers discounts when you buy more than one month of subscription and more than 1500 crowns.

Crowns USD Euro GBP
750 7.99 6.99 4.79
1,500 14.99 12.99 8.99
3,000 24.99 20.99 14.99
5,500 39.99 34.99 23.99

So, if we’re to use the dollar pricing as base, if you buy 5500 crowns, it’ll cost you 40$, which means a dollar’s going to buy 137.5 crowns- this is a hefty discount. You’ll get 120 crowns a dollar when you buy 3000 crowns. Let’s compare this to the 1, 3 and 6 month subscription option (wait, the 6 month sub is back- i thought nobody bought those and that’s why they were removed?!?).

30-day

USD: $14.99 / Euro: 12,99€ / GBP: £8.99

Crowns: 1500

Crowns per Dollar: 100

90-day

USD: $13.99 / 30 days / Euro: 11,99€ / 30 days / GBP: £7.99 / 30 days

USD: 42$ / Euro: 36€ / GBP: 24

Crowns: 4500

Crowns per dollar: 107

180-day

USD: $12.99 / 30 days / Euro: 10,99€ / 30 days / GBP: £6.99 / 30 days

USD: 78$ / Euro: 66€ / GBP: 42

Crowns: 9000

Crowns per dollar: 115

Conclusion

As you can see, it’s not really that easy. Consider, as well, that with the ESO plus membership, you’ll only “rent” DLC- if you drop your sub, you won’t have access to DLC anymore. I don’t know if DLC will be purchaseable without using the ingame shop, but even if that was possible, it would be additional cost on top of the sub prize.

Actually, i think this is a pretty smart prizing strategy that’s also quite beneficial for the customers- if you are a “ESO only” player who loves to log in and play pretty much every day and care for the +10% benefit in experience, gold, crafting research and crafting inspiration gain, a subscription might be the way to go. I’d advise against subbing for longer periods for the crowns, though, because the discount is somewhat marginal when compared to buying crowns directly.

Of course, they kind of sweeten the deal by giving you your subscription crowns all at once in the beginning of your sub period. So if you sub up for 6 months, you’ll get 9000 crowns immediately.

If you’re more casual, i’d go with buying crowns, i think. Sure, you’ll take a little bit longer to level and gain gold (ESO is a game that’s quite frugal in giving you coin, at least in my experience), but it might not matter that much to a casual player.

In the end, it’s a matter of personal choice- do you care for the +10% bonuses the membership grants you? Would you like to own or rent the DLC?

For me, this is a great move- Elder Scrolls Online has some interesting concepts; i count not having global auction houses as one of them, although i think there should be another way of doing things than to join multiple guilds for trading. So being able to explore Tamriel on my own terms without paying a mandatory sub is a huge boon.

The store

I gave the store a quick look, and we know it will be expanded upon by selling xp potions and the like, but what i saw looked great- i might even buy a pet or something. It looks both “high-quality” and “fitting into the world”. There are no flying carpets or giant squirrels to ride on. There could be more choice in cosmetic gear, but i’m sure this will also come. The prizing is reasonable- about 700 crowns for a mount or a cosmetic armor.

In my opinion, if they don’t go overboard with the crown store, this business model is great for both the developers and the customers, because it provides options. Options are good.

On a side note: i wonder if b2p is the “new f2p” in terms of business model conversions. Granted, many MMOs just launch free-to-play now, but if this is a trend, i have to say i like it. Selling a box and later content (DLCs), while also maintaining an ingame store and a (truly) optional subscription service puts the dev under less pressure to “trick” or “force” their players into paying for something. It seems more honest and fair than pure f2p, while maintaining the advantage of not having to sub up to play for a night/a week.

Worth a trip: Permafrost

If there’s one thing that impressed me in our guild tour of Everquest 2, it’s the dungeon design. Sure, Everquest 2 offers a wide range of activities, but as a group, we haven’t explored them much. We went for Dungeons, though. We’ve been to Stormhold, Crushbone Keep and Kaladim before we made a detour to the Riverlands to get some heroic progression quests going. Friday, we went for Icespire Summit and Permafrost in Everfrost.

Icespire Summit

The Icespire Summit is short enough- we cleared it in about 10 to 15 minutes. But it contains at least one enemy worth fighting- a X2 heroic mob (X2 would mean it has originally been designed for 2 groups, but i think this isn’t really accurate anymore), and a trap!

Pretty obvious trap- i went in, nonetheless
Pretty obvious trap- i went in, nonetheless

It’s nice, short and somewhat beautiful if you don’t mind the age of the game. There’s not much to explore and, besides the ice-cold beauty of it, there’s not really a reason to visit. We went there because i estimated we wouldn’t be ready for Permafrost with two of us in their very early 40s and me being level 44.

Permafrost

It turned out i was somewhat correct in this, but also incorrect- Permafrost turned out to be tough, but not impossible on the whole. And here, in Permafrost, you can see many reasons for why EQ2 dungeon design is great.

It’s open

Not all dungeons are instanced in EQ2 and Permafrost isn’t, either. While there is a door and a loading screen, there is the possibility of other groups joining in- and that might be a good thing from time to time, i’ll get to that in a minute.

Permafrost is easier to find than the Icespire Summit
Permafrost is easier to find than the Icespire Summit

It’s huge

The estimated time to “complete” Permafrost is one hour. This might be true if you go in with level 50 or something, but if you’re entering it being level 45, you won’t be so quick. And there’ll be obstacles.

This guy's level 55 heroic (X4)
This guy’s level 55 heroic (X4)

In the mid-40s, you won’t be able to fight the dragon. It might be possible to circumvent it- there was a way through the dungeon that put us on his right side, after all, but when we accidentally pulled it, it basically one-shotted us.

And that’s another reason why other groups could be good- not that you’ll ever meet other groups in this level range on the german server- maybe you’re in the mid-40s, but another group is in their mid-50s; maybe you’ll join forces and kill this dragon. Or the other group does and you can get past this room while it hasn’t respawned yet.

Permafrost has 4 levels- they aren’t of the same size and the basement, for instance, doesn’t take long.

It spans a whole level range

While you can repeat dungeons in other MMORPGs just fine, there’s not much of a reason to do so (except if you’re looking for that boss to drop just this weapon). In EQ2, dungeons cover a level range, in the case of Permafrost, there’ll be mobs from level 45 to level 55, so you can go there to level your level 45 character, slowly exploring the dungeon and advancing the character. You’ll see mobs you can’t attack then, but you can of course come back later.

There be giants
There be giants

And i have to say- i really want to tackle this dragon. Unfortunately, our trip to EQ2 is almost at an end, so we won’t be able to kill it this time, but maybe we’ll do it later.

We haven’t looked for or accepted any quests not directly related to the dungeons we went to since level 20 or something- with the exception of mount quests and some quests over in the Riverlands, “grinding” mobs in Everquest 2 is a viable route to go in a group- but more than that, i’ve found exploring the dungeons very worthwhile and satisfying- they aren’t linear, in some of them you can get lost, especially since often, there are no maps (in game), you can revisit them and spend a lot of time in them.

The Secret World: it had to be done

The Secret World just released its new player experience, which is a patch/update containing lots of quality-of-life improvements for players. Of special note are the ability to travel from anima node to anima node, reducing mob spawns and cutting on the time-to-kill of mobs. The latter causes some trouble for longtime players- you know, the usual “catering to the casuals” stuff. I kind of understand the problem; one of the things i liked about TSW was how it encourages group play instead of forcing it by simply making it a lot more convenient to do quest content in small groups instead of solo. So it seems this isn’t very valid anymore, but we’ll have to see about that.

But i think it is wrong to talk about “difficulty” here- the mobs in TSW weren’t difficult, they were annoying. How many comments are there in TSW-related articles on MMO websites that basically state “good game, great story and atmosphere. Couldn’t stand the combat”? I think it’ll go into hundreds if not thousands of individual players- but i don’t think the combat is necessarily the issue here. Yes, it is a simple “builder builder builder consumer” combat that makes you press one attack again and again and again sometimes, but honestly, combat in most MMORPGs isn’t great- generally, i’d say if you (can) use a macro, the combat is tedious, because either it should offer strategy and adaption (for non-action combat) or movement, positioning and ability (action combat). I haven’t seen an MMO that fit the bill, with the exception of perhaps Wildstar and/or Firefall. On the strategy side, there are a few- EQ2, Tera, Guild Wars 2, FF14 among others. TSW fits this bill, as well- the ability wheel is there to provide some strategical depth while the combat itself is somewhat action-oriented.

On my way to Tokyo- kind of.
On my way to Tokyo- kind of.

I think the main problem was the time-to-kill. Everytime i tried to get back into the game, mainly for story and atmosphere, as so many others, i rolled my eyes every time i pulled one of the more sophisticated mobs- it wasn’t dangerous; it was tedious.

So here we are, with the new player experience, and by the looks of it, many players (who didn’t play the game regularly last week) like what they see. I’ve not been able to take a look myself, although a new character was born yesterday late in the evening- i brought her to the sheriff’s office in Kingsmouth and logged out there.

If Funcom is able to get some players back into the game, more power to them. They have to do it, we know financials aren’t looking stellar, and personally, i think it’s a pity- here’s a small developer who cares for their players and tries its best to provide unique experiences (say what you want, but AoC isn’t exactly a WoW clone, Anarchy Online is its own beast and TSW is three steps away from what usually gets released), aren’t easily shutting down games and do have some interesting business models without exploiting them.

Onward to Kingsmouth
Onward to Kingsmouth

The Secret World’s business model aims to sell content to players- which, in my opinion, is one of the fairest business model out there- because the “hardcore” player who powerlevels through the game pays the same as someone who takes his or her time to play. Sure, there are cosmetics and other stuff in the store, but i don’t think this makes the monetization worse. But once all your current players bought every DLC, you won’t be selling much, so getting back those former players who might then buy DLC is a good idea- not only for Funcom, but also for all who like TSW for what it is- after all, it’s the money that’ll get new content made.

AoC takes a different approach- you can play just fine as f2p player, until you go into expansion territory, then you’ll have to sub up. This might not be as fair, but at least it monetizes the dedicated players and not- like all those PLEX, CREDD, REX, WoW token games those who aren’t loyal customers.

So i’d like to see Funcom succeed, in my eyes, they deserve it. I know there have been some troubled launches and player experience hickups (Tortage vs. the rest of AoC), but this is a truly independent MMO dev.

Hanging out in NY
Hanging out in NY

I think TSW is one of the handful of great “second MMOs” out there- for me, it would lack something to play it regularly and often, but it has its very, very strong points, as well- story and atmosphere are about the best you can get in MMO land. And it is somewhat of a “play-to-finish” MMO, you don’t need to devote everything you have into TSW to “achieve” something. One quest is good enough.

The game caters to roleplayers in a way MMOs rarely do. First of all, your role isn’t exactly the super-hero that saves the world all by him-/herself, the setting allows to roleplay in a way that you have lesser things to work around (like whispering, death and so on), you can take the RP out into the real world, as well (to Twitter, for example) or take the real world into the game world. It’s quite “easy to do” in TSW, so i might take this angle (without the twitter stuff, i don’t have time for that), but i haven’t decided yet.

What i can say is, that at least for the zombies you fight early on, they’re taking me more time to kill with my current (blood focus and assault rifle) than with my usual weapons (sword & assault rifle), but i wanted to do something different this time around and so i’ll probably go and try some kind of leeching build.

Lonely worlds: there are singleplayer games!

The premise and ongoing topic on this blog are MMORPGs and my journey through them. In the last couple of days, though, i (re-)discovered singleplayer games, albeit a very special breed that’s only resurged recently: the isometric solo RPG. A friend bought Wasteland 2 in this weekend’s steam sale, and he liked it despite not really being an RPG guy (more a turn-based-combat player). So i read on and on about that and finally, when i ran out of time, i purchased Wasteland 2, as well.

WL2logo-800x600

Although i wished he’d bought Divinity: Original Sin, so that we could play together, i can kind of see where he’s coming from: there’s shooting instead of magic, and there are no orcs. Playing Fantasy MMOs almost exclusively since about 2007, i can relate to the annoyance in what seems to be the same setting, every time.

Now, if you’d want my very first impressions of Wasteland 2, i’ve got to cut it short and say: it’s so very relaxing. I spent yesterday’s evening with creating my party, talking to the first NPCs i met and setting out to travel to the very first “mission scene”. Since it was late, all i really wanted from travelling out there was an encounter- i got that, fought, won, saved and quit the game. There’s a lot of reading involved in Wasteland 2; it’s a game that takes (your) time- and if you’re in the right mood- that would involve a willingness to read and take your time- it is a great experience.

Gameplay-wise, i don’t know- to me, it seems to be what i’d expect the enhanced versions of Baldur’s Gate to be like- it’s just so….90s. This can be a bad thing, especially if progress is what you aim for- there are a lot of little annoyances pointed out in different reviews (like many clicks to perform some action, clunky inventory management etc.), but i think some of them stem from the fact that these reviewers are, for sure, in a hurry. They need to get their review out there, so they want to see what the game has to offer. That criticism, at least to me right now, isn’t so prevalent when you play on your own and take your time.

Divinity: Original sin is both similar and totally different. I feel like dialogues make more of a difference in D:OS than in Wasteland 2, where they are mostly used to bring the story along.

It’s huge fun when you really “roleplay” your characters, when you assign different personalities to them (you can also set an AI to that personality, so that you’ll choose the dialogue options for one character only) and get to the rock-paper-scissors minigame that decides which character will have their way.

DivinityOriginalSin

D:OS also plays a lot better- it’s what you would expect a game to play like if someone would decide to bring those isometric RPGs back into this decade. As a sideeffect, it feels a bit quicker than Wasteland 2. It also features an open world instead of the “travel map” of Wasteland 2 (and boy, this travel map is oldschool, even more so than in Shroud of the Avatar).

When trying to decide whether to buy Wasteland 2, i looked around for advantages WL2 has over D:OS, and i couldn’t find any. The setting is mentioned, and it is said that your actions have more consequence than in D:OS, but i can’t vouch for that yet. So far, my experience has been the same as the experience of my friend. In D:OS, my latest attempt at starting the game is already vastly different than my first one. For one, i kept the rain scrolls, so i could fight the fire on a boat in the first city. Then, this time, after an argument between my two characters, i killed the drunk guards on the way into that city instead of letting them bring me to a mage. I don’t know what difference this makes in the long(er) run, but it sure feels impactful.

There are advantages for Singleplayer games, especially this kind of games:

  • session length doesn’t matter. Sure, you’ll get more immersed when you play longer, but really, it doesn’t matter if you play 10 minutes or 10 hours
  • you’re always into something- in MMOs, when i log in, i always take a few seconds to look where i am and what my current goals are. In Singleplayer games you load up your savegame and continue what you were doing
  • sometimes, it is relaxing to be alone. I used to have “secret alts” for this in MMOs, but there are still other players around and in some ways, this leads to, well, unrest. The other players are there, they’re maxlevel, there’s an expansion coming and so on- even when playing alone, MMORPGs don’t stand still. This can be an advantage, and i think in the grand scheme of things, it is. But sometimes, it’s also very convenient to find something the way you left it

Needless to say, i’m kind of glad i’m a one-mmo-guy in the moment, because i can see some lonely time ahead of me, as well: with these two games, Cities: Skylines arriving today and Pillars of Eternity also looking quite rad, there’s bound to be some me-time coming in.

100 days and 25 levels to go

Final Fantasy XIV - Heavensward

 

We have a release date. Preorders for Final Fantasy XIV’s first expansion, Heavensward, will open on 03/16, headstart will happen on 06/19 and official release will be 06/23. If you’re interested in what it contains, just head on over to Massively Overpowered for an overview. There’s new zones, three new classes/jobs, flying, 20 new Triple Triad cards and one or two new races.

100 days

I have thought about the best possible way for me to handle that release date. It’s a little bit farther down than i expected (by a month or so), so it should make me confident i can be level 50 in that time. But i don’t really know about that. I could, of course, push for it, and in some ways i might do that- but if i were to “rush” to 50, there’s also the chance that this hurry might kill my enjoyment of the game.

Instead, i’ll just keep doing what i do. First, i’ll try and get the Conjurer up to the main storyline level by way of normal levelling. The Arcanist will not do that anymore- instead, i’ll also play this class “properly”, to gain levels faster, but also to open the game up for me. The Botanist and the Weaver will try to hold the pace of the Arcanist. Until the expansion hits, i’m going to ignore all other combat classes and “Alts” (sorry, Cactuar) and limit the other crafting classes to a slow burn, by maybe doing quests for my Grand company.

25 levels

My Arcanist is level 25 right now, and i’m curious to see how far i’ll go before the expansion hits. Of course it would be very nice to be in the flow of the players with release- to be where everyone else is, to experience this MMO with many other players around who are also new to the content. We’ll see if i can make it. My strategy so far amounts to these things:

  • this is going to be tough, but i want to get my levequest-allowance below the cap. I always have 100 and it really shouldn’t be there. So i’ll need to play a few days in quick succession and do at least 10 of these things to get the counter down. I think when i do that, i’ll level quickly. I’ll probably use it for the gathering/crafting, mostly, and for the Conjurer to bring the class up to par.
  • Ironweakness told me i should keep an eye on the Challenge log to level quicker- i’ll do that. Thanks for that!
  • I’ll try and run dungeons/guildleves more often. Still haven’t got access to Hatali, so i guess that’s one thing my Arcanist can do now

And here’s the kicker: in reality, i don’t need those 25 levels that quick.

Or is it five?

Of course i’m interested in the new zones, they look great, and big, and interesting. But so do- in my opinion- the snowy zones i’ll be doing, i think, in the mid-thirties. But there are other things in this expansion, as well, namely two of the three new classes that i find interesting enough to try them.

The Astrologian is a main draw

My main interest goes toward the Astrologian, although we don’t know that much about how it works- which is a good sign, in my book, because it’s such a new concept that, while i’m able to guess the direction this class is taking, it’s not an educated guess. We know the class will use a deck of cards in some way- probably as skills, but really, i don’t know. I mean, there is Triple Triad, already, so i can’t see them working in a class that makes use of a CCG-style skill system, but something in this direction is my best guess. I do like the look of the class, however, and that’s a thing i can’t say about all classes (the Scholar outfit, for example).

And then, there’s the Machinist.

The surprise entry

I didn’t count this class in, because i thought it would be a pure dps class- but at PAX East, it was hinted that it can be played in a support-role way, as well, depending on what gadgets you use while playing- and this makes it interesting to me.

Both classes won’t make use of a base class, but you will need to be level 30 to access them. This makes it so that my real goal before the expansion is level 30, and i’m pretty confident that i’ll make it. I’m going to preorder the expansion, don’t know if i’ll do that in this month or later- this also depends on what you’ll get in the preorder and the two editions (only two editions! That’s modest nowadays).

Free-to-play?

Haha, oh no, they won’t do that. Of course not. Just watch and read all those blogs- i’ve been following some of them for a long time, and i can honestly say that i’ve never seen all these people being more or less in the same game- but right now, it seems “everyone” is playing Final Fantasy XIV, the game has gained the “WoW momentum”- it doesn’t need WoW numbers, it doesn’t really want that, but it’s gaining ground and is the one and only successful subscription MMO released in recent history. So i really don’t know why you would ask that question.

 

WoW tokens, unfair monetization and random things

So, i’m having otitis, which does some things for me. First, i’m not really in the mood to play right now- i don’t know why but i feel kind of “isolated” in myself right now because i can’t hear properly. Furthermore, i can’t listen to audiobooks, because, well, putting headphones in sick ears must be bad. This results in me reading Peter F. Hamiltons “Judas Unchained” instead of listening, because frankly, it’s so good i don’t want to take a break- so that also cuts into my game time- in the end, this means i don’t really have much to write about. But still, there are a few things happening.

WoW Token

World of Warcraft is introducing its own ingame-subscription-currency you can buy with real money and sell for ingame gold. I guess this is a good move for Blizzard, it probably will further increase revenue and customer loyalty, because my guess is you’ll have to play a considerable amount of the game to be able to have your subscription continued for “free”.

Of course, it isn’t free. Someone has to pay for the token- and this is where i don’t really like these subscription currencies, because they end up as a way for new/casual/slow players paying the subscription for more hardcore/veteran/power players. One could say that this is fair because, well, the veterans probably already paid Blizzard a lot of sub and expansion money, they play the game and are “content” like the free players are in a f2p game. I still don’t like it. Besides some kinds of f2p model incarnations, the MMO space is a place where people who play less pay more (per hour played).

I don’t think that’s fair and i’d really like to see someone offer some kind of “in-game-subscription”, either at an hourly rate (with an optional way of paying a flat fee for a “normal” sub) or just make the “30 days sub” so that these days will only be used if you log in. It’s obvious, though, that this wouldn’t be in the best intentions of the publishing studio. First of all, it doesn’t put pressure on the players to log in as often as possible- in contrast, if they’d substract 1 day subscription just for logging in, many players would think twice if they wanted to play on any given day. And they wouldn’t get all the money they gain from people who forget to cancel their sub in time.

Last but not least, i do wonder- is gold really something that you need if you play WoW? Aren’t there some dungeon tokens and other alternate currencies at work for getting loot from dungeons etc.? What would you need gold for? I haven’t played the game in quite a long time, so i don’t know, but i have to say, excluding maybe Guild Wars 2, ingame gold has never been an issue for me (not even in FFXIV….yet).

Star Wars: the old republic promo

SWTOR gave all former subscribers 7 days of subscription time. Being me, i took advantage of that offer, of course, and did 2 or 3 quests, played 1 or 2 hours and haven’t been back yet. I’d like to see the story in this game, and from time to time, i really like to log in and play- i was especially impressed with the way dungeons work in regards to the communication options- they’re interesting and since you don’t get your dialogue options in every time, you might see the story develop from a different angle than you would if you were alone.

They also have an offer up that gives 60 days subscription, 2400 Cartel Coins and the Shadow of Revan expansion- for 35€. That’s actually quite a good deal and i’m thinking of maybe taking advantage of that and become a free/preferred player going forward. There are some nasty restrictions, but i have accumulated some shop currency to maybe make it worth a try to play without a sub.

On the other hand, there’s Final Fantasy XIV and i don’t really need anything else- especially considering the fact that soon, Cities: Skylines will be released and i’m hopeful that this is going to be a citibuilder worth playing….so, there’s really no need.

Other games

Crowfall

There has been the start of the Crowfall Kickstarter campaign and it has been wildly successful. I’m not in on this, because i’m not really a pvp player, but the premise looks interesting. I’m also quite a huge fan of A Game of thrones, and they are for sure trying to take advantage of the hype around the books/tv-series. While i’d like my MMOs to be virtual, persistent worlds, in this case i find the resetting of the worlds very interesting. This might be the reason for me buying it…when it releases.

Scree starts building a guild for this game and i have to say, i really look forward to reading more posts about the planning and realization of his guild. So far his “Series on the creation of a Crowfall guild” has three posts up. Guild leadership/creation and the inner workings have always been one of my favourite topics in MMO space and i think it’s a topic that’s somewhat too rare on blogs (i don’t know why that is, really), so i really appreciate Scree writing about it.

Skyforge

Just a short paragraph concerning Skyforge. I think it looks decent and may even provide a nice gameplay like, for instance, Wildstar/Neverwinter. For my tastes, it seems quite shallow on the virtual world front, but then, not every game needs to be- sometimes a change of pace is nice. The setting seems interesting, although i have to say i’m not a fan of “becoming god”- while i’m not very religious myself, i don’t think we, as humans, should strive for that- and, yes i know, it’s just a game, but it doesn’t appeal to me very much in games, either.

They’re selling founder packs and surprisingly, they’re reasonably prized. I’m tempted to opt into the lowest tier- but then again, why would i do that? We’ll see.

Final Fantasy XIV

Sometimes, i do play FF14- and i have made some progress, mainly bringing the Weaver to 20, the Botanist to 21 and the Conjurer to level 11. Next time, i might start the first experiment in growing my friendslist- by running FATEs for some time. I don’t know if this is a good way to socialize in the game, but i’m curious to see if it works.

The guild project

The guild project is moving away from Everquest 2 at the end of the month and it seems we’ll be starting up in Age of Conan. Well, i like the game, but i think it will make it hard for me to plan for the group (or even groups)- it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of group content in the form of dungeons and something like that. I know that you can enter Elite versions of all the zones- but i don’t know if it will become more interesting that way and also, what would we do if we were to split in two groups? If you have any suggestions or experience  in regards to playing AoC in a full (or even small) group- content-wise, i’d appreciate it if you’d let me know about them.

4 million accounts and a free weekend

So apparently there are 4 million registered accounts for Final Fantasy XIV- i think you can call this a success, even more so considering the V1.0 disaster. There’s a free weekend coming, although i think there’s a typo in the newspost– it’s stating the dates from 02/27 to 03/09, which would be more than a week. Now, i don’t want to complain, but i always think that these weekends should be free to subscribers, as well. Of course i can understand the desire to get old accounts reactivated, but i also feel that companies should do good on their existent customers, as well.

4 million accounts

This is interesting. Of course we don’t know subscription numbers, but my guess is that FF14 has proven itself as a success, which begs the question why this game seems to be doing just fine with a subscription model. I think there might be a few factors at play here.

Cultural reasons

Well, this is an uninformed opinion, but i read somewhere that FF14 is basically the MMORPG in Japan. I don’t know if this is true, especially since it seems like the most populated servers are in NA/EU. Still, it could be a reason.

Content

The delivery of meaty content additions is always stated as a reason for Final Fantasy XIV’s success, and this is surely true and one of the most important reasons for it doing so good for itself. It seems there’s always something substantial coming in patches- since i’ve been keeping an eye on the game again, there’s been housing, 2 new classes/jobs and of course the Gold Saucer. And that’s not even factoring in new dungeons, the continuation of the main storyline, new dungeon modes, quests and so on, which are mostly taking place in endgame. Endgame is not in sight for me, so i tend to skip those content additions. But as you can see, there’s always something coming even for low-level or inactive players. Next up is the expansion, i think. And if we’re still thinking in roughly 3-month-spans, it seems to be coming in may (which is good for me, maybe i’ll be able to prepare in this time).

Momentum

The “social” momentum, i think, is one of the main reasons for WoW’s success. And it seems FF14 has gained the critical mass of players necessary to benefit from this factor, as well, and it’s a factor not many MMOs have going for them- mostly new launches, but they lose traction fast. FF14 is in its second year, and it’s growing. Just look at how many bloggers are in this game now, having a good time, and to me it looks like there are always bloggers and people coming back/trying it.

It’s slow

Let’s use the phrase “designed downtime” here. Actually, there’s none of that in Final Fantasy XIV, since you don’t have to wait for boats/ferries/airships, but FF14 is a slow game. It is relaxing. It enables the players to form, build and maintain social relationships. There are also systems that encourage asynchronuous social play (like tending the garden in the guild house) or socializing in game, like the newer additions of Triple Triad and Chocobo Racing. Since housing is semi-instanced, you might also get to know your neighbors in the district your house is in.

It “gets” and gets the MMORPG audience

All of this leads to FF14 catering to MMORPG players instead of gamers in general, a mistake some of the newer MMORPGs made. MMORPG players are happy in FF14, and they should be- it offers almost everything the subgenre (Themepark MMO) has to offer- in spades, at that. Now, themeparks may not be your thing and you want an MMORPG with huge, open zones, few instances, a completely player driven economy and stuff like that? I agree, i’d like to see that, as well. But there’s only EVE doing that. And FF14 offers enough “virtual world” stuff that it earns its place, in my opinion, of course, as the best currently available MMORPG- it’s a complete, broad experience, and i’m savoring it right now, taking my time, making use of all the systems and i try to resist the urge to race to 50 in preparation for Heavensward while still keeping an eye on this goal.

I tried to express this a few times already, but i’ll just repeat: i think, with the lack of high profile releases in this year, many MMORPG players are going to “settle” in 2015. There’s no game coming out that “does everything right this time, really”, so we’ll be playing what suits us best instead of looking for the perfect game. It’ll come and if you’re truly unhappy with the genre, i hope one of the more focused titles coming out will be for you.

If you haven’t tried FF14, you really should. I can’t even compare it to another MMORPG- i mean, the WoW comparison was used, but i don’t think they have that much in common- maybe the dungeon/raid-type endgame progression, but there’s more than that in this game. And i’m kind of looking forward to what they’ll be adding content- and more importantly system-wise after Heavensward released, because, really, i can’t think of much that’s still missing in FF14.